Category Archives: Uncategorized

A visit to Provincetown

 

Race Point Beach
Race Point Beach

As a kid my childhood memories going away on vacation have always been up on Cape Cod. I can vividly remember climbing up the sand dunes and watching the seals come to the shore.  Warm bowls of clam chowder after a stroll through Commercial Street in Provincetown still fill my belly with nostalgia after all of these years.

With my boyfriend visiting me this summer from the Philippines I decided that I needed to make a quick decision getaway and I looked no further than the Cape. As vast of a land that the USA is we decided to stay close enough to Connecticut so that we could easily wander and have our own adventures but come back to rest and visit with family. A short drive up to Ptown was a quick solution to get away and enjoy all that it has to offer. There is no place like Cape Cod in the Philippines. Jayson was in for a surprise.

Once we began our road trip one of the first things Jayson mentioned was how wide our roads are compared to home and how badly Americans tailgate each other on the highway. “You’re too close,” still buzzes in my ear as a reminder that I am one of those Americans that drives just a little too close to my neighbor in front of me. Oops!

cape cod

With the start of our trip with less than lovely weather we enjoyed plenty of visits to the indoor heated pools for some laps, happy hour raw bar at Victor’s and of course dinner at the Lobster Pot. Seriously guys, you can’t go all the way up to the Cape without a visit to the Lobster Pot (as my dad always  says).

We booked an Airbnb right outside of Provincetown center on Commercial Street along the bayside. We were well equipped with a kitchenette, deck, and sweeping views of the bay not to mention access to an inground heated pool and jacuzzi for those dreaded cold and drizzly days we had at the beginning of the week. Being able to have access to a kitchen was the perfect opportunity to cook our own breakfasts while also saving money on eating out, and practice living together outside of “shiplife”. As much as I love enjoying local seafood bites my body doesn’t like all of the meals out.

Don’t miss out on the tip of the upper Cape where you can either ride your bike or drive up to Race Point beach to capture the stunning views of the sand dunes, miles of biking paths, seal watching, and sweeping waves.

seals

One of the best things we did while up in the Cape was seal watching up at Race Point on the sand dunes. There was a huge group of seals playing in the waves and we caught a glimpse at the best spot in the right moment.

After a stroll through Commercial Street and a toasted almond latte later from the Wired Puppy we took a quickpeek at the jetty outside of Ptown. I was here two years ago with my family but thought it was an obvious place to to Jayson around. It gives you a nice perspective of the Cape outside of the crowds. I think he quite liked it.

The most fun we had was on our last day (and something I definitely recommend doing) when we rented bikes from the center of town and rode up to through the sand dunes visiting  Herring Cove and Race Point Beach. The weather held up quite nicely and we were basking in the sunshine riding through pine trees and stunning dunes.

One of our last stops on our bike ride

Of course as in life all good things must come to an end. You can’t be on vacation forever, right? After a relaxing and scenic four day stay we had to head back to Connecticut. One of our final stops was at Long Nook Beach where we caught in the massive waves and gently breezes.

Long Nook
Long Nook Sand Dunes, North Truro

One of the reasons why I like coming up to the Cape is because it is far from attractions, long lines to silly places such as amusement parks and the fact that it’s right in nature. Cape Cod is only a four hour drive west of where I live and it’s a place that is retreatful to return to time and time again. There are new restaurants that pop up and there are places that I enjoy to return to such as The Mayflower and the Lobster Pot on Commercial Street. There are foods up in the Cape that you can’t experience anyplace else. These are the treasures in life that we must reminded of that we can always return to.

 

20 Things I learned before I turned 30

It’s almost the big 3-0.  It’s kind of scary, it’s kind of not.. It’s time to embrace three decades of being on this planet called earth. Much has been learned. All experiences we face shape us into who we are today to be stronger, better, brighter, and happier.

Before setting out on my first journey abroad to South Africa nine years ago and then onto South Korea followed by a treasure trove of adventure, confusion, laughter, and fun this is the letter I would have written to myself.

  1. You are going to be given a dog (I know you don’t like dogs now but just wait) and her name will be Katie. Don’t worry, you will love her forever.

cavalier king charles

2. People change. Deal with it.

3. You don’t realize it now but writing in your journal is going to cause you a lot of laughter and confusion when you decide to read them over many years from now. Really think what you are writing about. Keep all your thoughts in your head. You don’t want anyone to read these antics.

4. Don’t compare your life to anybody else’s. What you see on Facebook might overwhelm you. You might think that you really don’t have your shit together right now, or still by looking at what “they” are doing,. Stop it now. Get off Facebook and go live your life.

5. You might not imagine it now but you are going to work on a cruise ship. No really. I know you can’t imagine it now but get those sea sickness tablets ready.

6. Keep life simple. Don’t over complicate things. Always stick with simplicity.

7. The end of a relationship is not the end of your life. When you find out why it didn’t work out you might be shocked but nonetheless you will be better because it’s over. They end for a reason. MOVE ON.

8. Don’t follow the crowd. It’s ok to be different. You might feel like an outsider from time to time but that’s because you are a happy loner. It’s more comfortable to follow what you feel is right.

9. Time is very precious. Fill your time with what you love. Even if that means studying maps and watching Samantha Brown for days.

10. Stay in the moment. Try not to plan too far out in advance.

11. Don’t assume. There is nothing wrong with being direct and no, it’s called being outspoken.

12. Friends are people who make the effort to keep in touch, reach out, and are there for you in the good and not so good times. Don’t waste your time worrying about those who are no longer in your life. Fill your time with people who make you feel good about yourself.

Vatos Tacos

13. You are easily deceived but don’t let that stop you from learning from your perceptions and move forward from those mistakes.

14.  You will really miss the life you had in Korea but you will forever stay in touch with those who touched you. Never lose contact with them. You are always welcome back to visit.

15. Treasure the time you have with your grandparents.

16. Worry less about your future and focus on the present and how you are manifesting greatness into your future.

17. There is always something new to learn. Don’t focus on just one thing. Open your mind to the many avenues that may arise to new opportunities.

18. Inspire others to live a great life. That might be through a story, opportunity, or a smile. Think about others often.

19. Don’t be small minded. Focus on the greatness of the big picture. Imagine your darkest day. The biggest trial you faced. It’s called adversity. It’s how you grow and learn to move on.

20. Your health is the most important thing you have. Feed your body well. Practice mindfulness and patience.

Bali

 

 

Dear Norway, you’re beautiful!

In my opinion, the best way to wrap up a long contract on the high seas is to a place where you can completely lose yourself in nature, get off the ship alone but not feel alone, and get lost on a path that leads you to waterfalls. There is no better way to conclude that time in any other place but in Norway.

I’ll tell you why.

The endless weeks after weeks that turn into months on end in the Caribbean filled with sun filled beach days drinking cocktails on the sand with your eye on the clock to get back to the ship can sometimes feel daunting (I’m not complaining even though it might sound like it). It’s great to visit the Caribbean but honestly not to ever live there. It’s great to visit but it gives me perspective on what I need in my daily life on land to be happy and not many checks are marked off in places like St. Kitts or Antigua (even though there’s nothing wrong with these places). Some ports you begin to favor and enjoy more than others sticking to your favorite go to restaurant joints as a system of finding comfort away from home like how I visit Tamarind in St.Kitts because I need my Indian fix.

sunset

Once our ship began the transatlantic crossing en route to Lisbon it all became smooth sailing. With long days at sea the reward became closer and closer. At night after a long day at my desk and a glass a wine later I would put my head down on my pillow to dream about the Portuguese tarts and warm cappuccinos waiting for me. Eventually once we reached Lisbon I enjoyed an entire “me afternoon” with those two things plus a little shopping to follow. Norway was next.

I did the same itinerary last year so there wasn’t a ton of suspense as Bergen, Alesund, Flam, Stavenger, and Geiranger were all on the itinerary but I couldn’t wait to come back to my favorite spots, cafes, parks, and fresh air!

waffles in Norway
Waffles in Flam

For any crew member who gets the chance to go to Norway take the first offer that comes your way. Why? Because there is no place like Norway in the world. Maybe New Zealand a little bit, but still. Cruising through the majestic fjords truly took my breath away. It was nothing but glorious. The cold fresh air and snow covered mountains left me speechless. Late sunsets at night took my breath way. I was glad to be far from the Caribbean and back into a magical land covered in snow where I could eat fresh waffles at a top of a mountain in Flam in slow motion. I don’t know many other experiences more magical than that. Truly.

The time I spent off the ship in Norway eased my exhaustion, worry, and mindless thoughts my thinking does to me from time to time. It’s the end of contract exhaustion I’m talking about. Where seven months of your life have been compacted into a small cabin, you have seen so many friends come and go, a few tears, lots of smiles, but you’re just ready to go home and cuddle with your dog and sleep forever.

Immersing myself in nature was just what my mind and body needed. After eating yummy Vietnamese food at the Zen Cafe in Bergen Jayson and I walked through a beautiful park to see flowers in full bloom. We were both equally surprised to see such greenery come to life and how multi cultural Bergen was as the second largest city in Norway. There were so my families from all over the world who seemed to be locals (speaking the language). I’m talking Chinese, middle east, Indian, and so on in Bergen. Super cool! I kind of lost myself in the local park at the greenery and spacious paths. It felt like time stood still a little bit and then I looked at the time and had to go back to work.

Bergen

Thank you nature,  snow, fjords, yummy Vietnamese food, excellent coffee shops, and flowers Norway. It was wonderful. I can’t wait to meet you again.

waterfalls

Bergen

For more information on how to get a job on a cruise ship check out Amanda’s guides here. Amanda at Get a Life at Sea has more than ten years of experiences working for a handful of cruise lines with a variety of job skills. She is the go to lady to talk to if you are serious about working on a cruise ship.

Crew members: Finding time to get off the ship

“Do you ever get to get off the ship?” This is just a snippet of the questions crew members are asked while working on the ship. If I wasn’t able to get off the ship and explore these amazing ports of call I would most definitely not be working on a cruise ship at all. And do I live on the cruise ship? All crew live on the cruise ship, together.

Kotor

Perks of being a crew member:

One of the coolest things crew members get to experience are the ports of call and to take tours all over the world when we’re not working. Depending on the position you have on board this will be the deciding factor for the length of time you have off. If you are a stateroom attendant or cleaner then your time will be a bit limited. If you are working in the casino you will be able to enjoy more time in port due to the fact that the casinos close when the ship is docked. Even activity hosts and dancers can enjoy more of the ports because shows and game shows are not scheduled while the ship is in port. It’s in the evening that the entertainment is picked up and schedules become bombarded with production shows in the theater, guest entertainers, and happenings around the ship.

Batu Caves, KL

 

Getting off the ship:
Depending on the job you have on board your time off the ship will differ from other crew members. As a youth staff counselor we have rotating schedules and everyday we work different hours. I like this very much. We have different roles we fulfill on the ship from assisting guests around the ship to handing out tender tickets when the waters are too shallow to dock in port there are various duties we do on the ship. With that said everyday is a different work schedule, a different port, and different duties. I like this change and rotation. It keeps me on my toes.
Keep in mind that the amount of time you get off the ship differs between departments. Enjoy your time wisely. Double check the time that crew need to be back on board. I have known two people who missed their ship! If you plan your time off the ship you can see so much! Across all cruise lines the housekeeping department works very long hours especially in port and have very limited time off. Know that depending on your department you work on the ship you will work various hours. For me, my hours fluctuate from day to day and I love it that way.
Villefranche
Breathtaking Villefrance

Sometimes I have those days where I just want wifi to connect with friends all over the world, check in with emails while drinking a latte wherever that place may be. I may have a nice break from work but I don’t have the energy to go sightseeing. If I get off at every single  port my body cannot keep up with taking tours and spending hours sightseeing. You are bound to slowly overexaust yourself leading you to get rundown and catch a cold. Been there done that!

To sum it all up:

The experiences that we take back with us are ours forever. From Cinque Terre (Italy)to snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) to swimming in the clear crystal waters of Bora Bora (French Polynesia) to rainforests in Costa Rica (Puerto Limon) I have taken these opportunities to discover more of this beautiful world with my free time. After three years of working on a cruise ship I can tell you that the world is truly majestic and full of more treasures than I ever thought possible.

I am so blessed for the lessons I have learned, the friendships I have made, the places that fill me up with wanderlust, the delicious foods I have been able to try and the opportunities that I have on board to grow and develop my skills. Until I feel #done with #shiplife I am going to continue falling in love with exploring the world.

For more information about #shiplife you can watch my videos here.

Building a unique skill set on cruise ships

Enjoying the St. Kitts railway

Did you know that people who work aboard cruise ships develop a very unique skill set and are faced a multitude of situations that actually benefit them when trying to apply for jobs on land? I am here tell you how crew members build and develop a unique skill set while working at sea.

Character Building on Cruise Ships:

To begin, before working on a cruise ship I didn’t exactly have the social graces that I have today. I wasn’t able to talk to anyone I met especially when I was meeting people from all over the world. Fast forward today and I can definitely tell you that its a very different story. Why? Because crew learn how to be adaptable, problem solvers, and outgoing while working on a cruise ship. It is our job to talk to guests and invite them to join our activities that we offer and make them feel welcome while they are on vacation. But I think I still have many moments off the ship where I despise having “small talk” with people I don’t even know.

I guess I have what you might call stranger danger. I don’t like it one bit. I really get exhausted having small talk with strangers. Unless I’m in a “mood” to chat and sort out the details of my day to be honest I really don’t bother. In fact, this happened to me the other day on the subway as I was on my way into Chinatown in NYC. A man about my age sits down next to me and sees my purple carry on. He asks me where I was coming from, what I was doing there, and how he just moved from Miami to NY (I just want to get to chinatown. I really don’t care about this conversation. Just get me there already). The conversation just got awkward fast so I occupied my fingers with my tablet looking at my map of how I could find my way to my hostel. Out in the real world I really don’t enjoy conversing with strangers. There is no need for me to have it. Back on the ship however it’s quite reversed.

Having an outgoing personality:

With more than 4,000 crew and guests in total on board my cruise ship you have to enjoy being in a small space and smiling and greeting guests. It comes so natural to me to have a flowing conversation and it’s very cool to get to know people from all corners of the globe. I have learned so much from where people call home from Samoa to Kuwait to Sweden to meeting a family from Saudi Arabia (mind you I have never met a person from Saudi before in my life so I got excited). I had already known quite a bit about life in Saudi for a woman so I had so many questions to ask this mom from SA. She was so impressed that I even was able to pronounce her capital correctly. You sharpen your conversation skills into becoming a natural in this kind of environment on board. Catch me off the ship and I find myself socially awkward!

One of the top skills you need to work on board is communicating effectively. You have to be able to get your point across immediately and over your own shyness quickly. Our ship represents over fifty nations and our spoken language on board is English. No matter where you come from you speak in all guest areas in English.

There is also no time and room for “dilly-dallying” on board. Problems need quick solutions. Solutions need answers. If something needs to be done, it’s done now, not tomorrow or the day after that. Guests pay a lot of money to cruise on modern luxury ships and customer service needs to be at tip-top shape to help and assist guests with their questions. Back on land we aren’t exposed to the same situations in our jobs that we face on the ship. I really believe that my speaking skills have greatly improved in the past year. In my workplace I give “open house” to parents and have to explain our program, hours of operations and so forth. I am speaking with parents and children from all over the world.

In conclusion:

Depending on what you do for work crew members sometimes have to speak in front of large groups of people (not one of my strengths) but I have improved very much since I started hosting youth talent shows and running my tender duties to guests as we arrive in our ports of call. That involves small talk (my favorite) and speaking on a microphone. Learning to speak effectively to other human beings is a life skill and I am in the process of mastering it!

Smile and be confident!

Unhacked: Being a vegetarian and working on cruise ships

Sharing a “veg” meal together in the dining room

Choosing to be veg

I am a big time foodie. I love my food.  I love eating fresh foods that are natural and prepared with care. I love exploring different cuisines, tastes, and flavors. A life without good food would be a very sad life indeed for me.

I want to begin by saying that deciding to be a vegetarian is a powerful lifestyle to reaps many benefits. Those who choose not to consume animal meat (as vegetarians) have made this decision for various reasons.  I have been a proud vegetarian the past seven years and I have reaped the health benefits in many forms; able to maintain a healthy weight (no yo-yo-ing), clear and bright skin complexion, etc.

I had a feeling that before working on ships that it might not be easy to eat the same way as I had been eating at home. Being a vegetarian at sea is not the easiest when you are away from your kitchen and all the foods that you know you need (that you can’t find). I am use to cooking my own meals based on fresh ingredients with no animal products. So it was no surprise to myself that being a vegetarian on a cruise ship turned out to be a little tricky and a constant work in progress.I will tell you that you CAN be a vegetarian on a cruise ship but you will definitely have to prepare well and know what your body needs to function and feel your best.

Let me explain.

Most meals prepared for crew in the mess are mostly meat based and also high in carbohydrates such as endless breads and pasta dishes. If you are going to work on a cruise ship expect to see a lot of choices full of carbohydrates. It can be hard and you might have to find quick solutions such as buying products off the ship or making special dining requests . I usually don’t eat a lot of pasta or breads anyways so this became a problem. With all the extra carbs I had been consuming I was feeling a bit more sluggish and tired and in the danger zone of a B12 deficiency. Nearly at the end of my first contract  my waistline had grown a size and I wasn’t feeling so great.

I felt a bit uprooted in my first long contract not having the foods that I loved on the ship so I had to seek a solution fast for my next contract. So while I was in port I found myself in the local grocers buying heaps of nuts, dried fruit, instant noodles, blueberries, greek yogurt, and local fruits. This made a huge difference right off the bat in the way that I felt and to maintain a healthy diet. Now I always scout out the best meals off the ship and the best snacks to take back with me to my cabin.

Finding the right supplements

Iherb and I have become the best of friends these days. This is my go to site for all things healthy and nutritious that I can ship directly to my ships warehouse and receive my products on embark day.

In order to truly survive eight months at sea I had to order supplements and snacks from iherb. This website has everything that you need when it comes to nutrition so I had to act fast. This is my absolute “go to” when I need to order a food haul. When ordering off the internet make sure that you type in the correct mailing address for your ship. For me, our home port was Miami so orders came in fast and I was able to pick them up on embark day (every Sunday). Having enough B vitamins and probiotics helped me out a lot because on the ship I’m not working idly, I’m always on the move and doing a lot of walking.

If you are new to iherb I highly recommend this site for all your healthy go-to’s. Products such as coconut oil, probiotics, crips, and aloe vera shampoo are my favorite items I like to order. When you are working away from home and you don’t know what products you can get abroad I just cut to the chase and order products that I can rely on from iherb.

For a complete list of my recent order from iherb you can view it here.

Eating in the crew mess

Aside from the crew mess, crew members working in the Entertainment department (staff) can enjoy the foods in the guests buffet as long as it isn’t too busy. Now this rule changes between cruise lines but for me I was able to enjoy the buffet upstairs as long as it wasn’t too busy. I was able to  enjoy fish (excellent source of

I found that my body reacted a bit badly to some of the prepared foods because simply said: I’m not use to foods prepared in all the sauces and butter. I never cook with butter back home and I eat very simply. I love whole foods cooked in extra virgin olive oil, quinoa, wraps, salads, and soups. I love to eat but not with all the sauces and extra caloric ingredients. Probiotics helped me out a lot on the ship to help me digest my food better end remove waste from my body because my tummy was getting bloated and I had a lot of gas at times.

 

When in doubt, do Chinese

#FOODTRIPS in port

To be honest one of the best adventures for me was going on a #foodtrip while docked in port. This became a ritual that I really looked forward to each port day. I would do a little research beforehand so that I had something really exciting to look forward to during my time off the ship. I will never forget my super healthy and fresh salad I got at Vegan Restoran Vin Tallin, Estonia. If you are a veggie or just want to experiment with a meal  other prepared with any meat products, I highly recommend giving this resto a visit. Food tripping is an actual hobby and has become my passion. Exploring different parts of the cities in port I would just soak up all that the menus had to offer and eat what my body was craving. This is a great way to learn more about a place.

Looking forward to finding the best foods in ports became a ritual that I really looked forward to. I can remember especially this summer doing a little research before we docked so I had a few top options of places that served vegetarian meals and also international fare that I love such as Vietnamese, Indian, and Korean. While sailing through the Caribbean and Baltics I was always craving korean food but believe it or not the only official Korean restaurant that I discovered was in downtown Southampton, England that had just opened up called Manna. The owners were really friendly and could not believe how much food my boyfriend and I had ordered. I remember the owner sharing with me how he left South Korea to live in England because competition in schools was very difficult for Korean kids so he decided to give his children a better experience growing up in England.

Keep in mind
Note: If you vegetarian and working on the cruise ship, you can make it happen. If you put your mind to and can find what you like in port and balance that with what is available on the ship then you can make it happen. Know what you like. For me, I loaded up on plenty of salads topped with plenty of beans (fiber and b vitamins) and lots of fish and eggs. While in port I picked up a lot of snacks that I love: berries, dried fruits, yogurt, fresh juices, dried seaweed, ramen noodles, and tons of peanut butter. I kept that stash in my cabin and that was my “go to” when I still felt hungry in between meals. or at the end of the day when i was starving. Check out iherb and have all your favorite groceries delivered to your home port.

With that said this was the best way to make my eight months at sea enjoyable. I really believe that if I cannot eat well I am unable to perform well. I love to eat well and food nurtures my body and helps me be my best. I know what I like, it’s just a matter of finding it. So while I port I always stock up on all the things that I love and eat local. Good luck to you!

For more information on how I manage my diet while working on ships you can follow my Youtube video here.

Malling in the Philippines

Welcome to Manila

With more than ten million people in the Metro Manila area malling has become a growing cultural habit of most of it’s population. Still considered a developing country the Philippines is packed with hypermarkets and major names such as the Mall of Asia, SM and Ayala. With the high humidity and heat most of the populations pass time by strolling through malls to stay cool.

Manila is full of surprises if nobody forewarned you about them. Intense heat, loads of traffic, jeepneys galore, lots of honking, lots of sweating, and your body begging you for more cold buko juice. In the metro Manila area part of the lifestyle of living here is to go “malling” to stay cool and get your errands done in one place. When I visited the Philippines for an extended period of time two years ago I was shocked by how often my boyfriend wanted to go to the mall to “cool off”.

“Malling” in my family happens usually during the holidays when we are shopping for gifts and usually this isn’t done as a family. We usually go on our own and at our own pace. So when my Filipino boyfriend asks me to go strolling to get out of the heat I have to understand how way of living too. Here in the Philippines you have to stop comparing to how things are done at home. Some people go to malls for window shopping or just to browse around while others go to malls to tackle many tasks at one location. Malling in the Philippines is how Filipinos come together to share a meal, go grocery shopping or have a break from the heat.

Malling Culture

Whether you’re visiting the metropolitan Manila area before heading to another destination keep in mind that you are going to do some serious people watching while strolling. If you head over to Starbucks or Bo’s Coffee you will find many students with their books open and a frappachino studying for endless hours. Security will greet you at the door and even open it for you with a lovely “Hello Ma’m or Sir”. Back home we usually go to Starbucks to meet up with friends to catch up. Starbucks is usualy a good meeting place for business or quick coffee dates. I think that any traveler will be surprised by the security greeting you from all entrances of the mall with wooden sticks briefly checking through your belongings making sure you aren’t carrying weapons. But how carefully are they really checking through your bags?

What is Malling?
It’s sometimes overwhelming to discover which mall you actually want to visit because there are too many to choose from; SM Manila, Mall of Asia, Robinson’s, and so forth. In the Philippines, shopping malls offer so much more than just shopping. For many people in western countries going to the mall isn’t an everyday habit to “kill time”. We actually go when we literally need to buy something or window shop. But in the Philippines you go to the mall to eat meals with family and friends, pay bills at SM, do some grocery shopping, browse for home goods at Lowes, get a massage or foot spa, mail or send parcels, drop off the kids at kiddy play zones for a designated amount of time, watch a movie in the theater and also for other entertainment purposes.

Why do Filipinos spend a lot of time in malls?
Some families walk the mall together to just simply get out of the house because in some cases they don’t have Air Con in their dwellings and want a change of scenery. I find this phenomenon and way of living mind blowing compared to the reasoning for malling in the west. Back home I never go to the mall unless Macy’s is having a sale and I have a surplus of coupons to shop around and buy what I need getting unbelievable deals to show my mom when I come back home. Strolling through the mall in the Philippines is for multipurpose task running where you can get a lot of errands done in one place instead or driving around the city trying to find parking spots for all of the individual places you need to visit to get your errands done for; massage, mailing a parcel, grocery shopping, eating a meal, buying a lightbulb, and finally breaking for a coffee with friends or family.

Snacking your way through the malls
I always work up an appetite for something delicious while trolling through the malls. Be sure to sample some of most typical Filipino snacks such as buko juice, brownies, bibimka bread, and lumpia. I have come up with the conclusion that the reason why you will be paying a quadruple cost for the lumpia (usually 10 php each) in the malls is because you are essentially paying for the aircon that comes along with it! Take note at the salespeople in the store as you browse around. They usually greet you with “ma’m and sir” followed by “what are you looking for today?” as they follow you around the store. One thing that I like about retail in the Philippines is that you are never ignored! I can’t even come up with how many times I actually had a question or couldn’t find an item in the mall and could not find one salesperson to assist me or one that looked like they were interested in assisting me. Get ready for plenty of pleasant greetings, some good people watching, and oh..some Air Con!

My best Mall picks

  • MOA (mall of Asia in Pasay) is the biggest mall in all of metro Manila. You can easily spend a day here if you need to do grocery shopping, eat, and stroll some more. Located on Seaside Blvd next to the sea this mall offers an indoor ice skating rink, a huge food court, plenty of restaurants on the first floor and fireworks each Saturday at 7 P.M.
  • Robinsons Place in Ermita is my favorite mall because you don’t feel the crowd as much and the lights aren’t as bright compared to SM Manila Mall. Mr. Choi is my favorite restaurant there with delicious dumplings, noodles, and smoothies. You can check out the menu here.
  • SM City in Baguio is a open air mall up in the norther region of Philippines (about a seven hour drive north of Manila). What I like most about this mall is the cool air and the less crowded feeling. There’s a really great Korean restaurant (Wood Nymph) nearby Starbucks.

Keep in mind that most malls open at 10 A.M. When I first arrived to the Philippines last September I was super jet lagged. Wide awake at 6 A.M. my boyfriend took me over to MOA to begin our day malling only to find ourselves starting our day with a warm bowl of lomi at Chowking outside the mall.

How I fell in love with Singapore

 

 

I love Singapore

I am a self-proclaimed Singapore junkie. I love many things about Singapore. Starting with the food. Food always seems to fascinate me especially when it is delicious and available for vegetarians. I love the vibrancy of colors at night in Chinatown. I love testing my taste buds in Little India trying new Indian dishes. I love getting  lost inside the Mustafa Centre with all the latest electronics, clothing, shoes, and wellness products at the best prices. Don’t believe me? Check out my video on Youtube where I explain a bit more.

 

Singapore food.JPG

Reasons to love this beloved city-state

As one of the busiest city-states left in the world Singapore (located in southeast Asia) has many things to offer to a hungry traveler. With a little over five million people living on this multicultural island Singapore marks itself as “The Lion City.” Rest assure as there are no lions roaming the city however at the Promenade you will be sure to see the Merlion fountain spitting water into the bay. With many waiting in a que for a selfie with it.

What attracted me to want to explore Singapore started over six years ago when I settled into my new job in South Korea. Many of my  expat friends were visiting Singapore on short layovers with AirAsia on their way to and from Bali or Malaysia. But for me I wanted to dig a bit deeper to really get the full picture of what Singapore is really like. With mentions of great foods at the hawker stalls, the pristine flora inside Gardens by the Bay, and enjoying the views of the city from the top floor of the Marina Bay Sands I was hooked.

The organization and system that this country follows was very apparent to be when riding the MRT. Singaporeans que up in the proper lines when getting on and off the trains. There are some interesting rules that people must follow in order to not pay a heavy fine. Take for example the exotic fruit, the durian. As this prickly fruit is compared to eating ice cream out of a toilet bowl, the smell in fact is atrocious (to me). With strict fines of up to $500 SD people are banned from carrying this fruit with them onto public transportation, into hotels, and restaurants. There is a reason why nobody wants to smell this fruit! Gum chewing is another rule that you really don’t want to be caught partaking in.

singapore.JPGGum Chewing in Singapore

As our ship was preparing to dock in Singapore our HR team on board trained us the rules of the land. Starting in the early 90’s bans on gum chewing were enforced because of the vandalism it created around the city with people sticking their used gum in many places.  With that said, “No gum chewing!” If you are caught chewing gum anywhere in Singapore you can be charged a hefty fine.  I found the sidewalks so pristine with zero garbage anywhere. The ques that people follow an the organization of the city really drew me into immediately falling in love with Singapore. People really care about keeping it clean!

Super Accessible Mass transit!
With the convenience of cheap and accessible trains you can literally visit the most popular destinations without paying more for taxis. Gardens by the Bay located near the Promenade and Marina by Sands at MRT Bayfront. It is a place that I highly recommend to travelers because the exotic flora from all corners of the world is so magnificent. To keep cool you can browse and check out the flora inside the domes for a small fee ($12 for one conservatory)  for the day or you can check out the gardens outside free of admission. Either the early morning or later in the evening is the best time to go to beat the sun and heat midday.

I would come back just to eat!
Chinatown was quite impressive with a monstrous food scene. Whether you like noodles, laksa, Chili crabs, soups, Chinese food, Malay, or Indian fare you are sure to find it all in Chinatown. As a multicultural island-state with four distinct languages (English, Malay, Mandarin, and Indian) you are sure to find all the foods that represent these languages: Western foods, rice, spicy dishes, meats, dumplings, ramen, fried rice, curry, lassis, briyani, and the list will go on and on.

Hawker Stalls
As a lover of international cuisines I was in food heaven (soon to be food coma). Once I arrived at the MRT in Chinatown there huge food stalls everywhere. From specialty Chinese dishes, to fresh juices, to sliced fruits, to noodles, I had so many choices of delicious things to eat. From there I did some souvenir shopping, sampled Chinese teas, ate some dumplings, watched monks pray in a Buddhist temple, and people watched by snacking at Maxwell Food Court with a cold local Tiger beer.

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Inside Gardens by the Bay

Singapore is highly user friendly. I find it super easy and accessible to find my way around the island and it can all be done by the MRT. As a traveler who loves creative cuisines, night markets, hawker stalls, and ease with getting around Singapore is a touchdown for me.

Accommodation

I booked with Agoda to sort through the best deals in Singapore. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Bugis and it was beyond awesome. The breakfasts that were included in my room rate each morning were exceptional.  Starting with the fresh pressed juices of my choices (beets, orange, watermelon, ginger), an array of Indian fare, omlettes, and fresh fruits, it was excellent. The staff were great and it was very luxurious. I would gladly stay at the Intercontinental in Bugis (MRT) because of the location (very close to the Sultan Mosque) and the proximity to shops, dining, and entertainment.

Have you ever been to Singapore before? What did you think?

Credit card convenience in South Korea

Getting around South Korea is mindlessly easy when paying with a credit card. Many small businesses and companies accept a wide variety of cards. Compared to many other cash based travel destinations I have been to, South Korea is the most convenient and user friendly when it comes to ease when making purchases at train stations, restaurants, cafe, and shops.

Can you imagine traveling around a country where literally almost every place accepts your card for each transaction? Buying an expresso at Cafe Bene ? Swipe your card.  Ordering take out cham-chi kimbap from a local fast food joint? Swipe away. It’s really that easy. As most street food carts only accept Korean won as well as subway tickets around Seoul, Daegu, Busan, and Gwangju you can literally pay for just about anything else with your card (including small businesses).With all this information in mind try to have a credit card with zero international transactions fees so that you don’t rack up fees.

As South Korea is a generally safe place to travel around I still don’t like traveling with paper money because of my personal travel style but keep in mind that getting robbed can happen anywhere in the world as there are crazies everywhere. I recently revisited South Korea for a week beginning my sightseeing in Seoul. Beginning with buying my AREX ticket from Incheon Airport to Seoul Station and popping by GS20 to find my favorite drinking yogurt I was paying with my card. Buying over the counter medicine at a small pharmacy (yak) to lunch in Itaewon to purchasing my train ticket to Daegu, I was swiping my credit card left and right. This really makes travel so much easier because you don’t have to keep checking your wallet for how much money you have left. You don’t have to worry about accidentally dropping money or keeping track of cash when you can just use your card. You can easily access wifi and browse your recent transactions online which I prefer hands down.
Another benefit of using your credit card is that you can continue to rack up your points. With my Capital One Venture card I don’t have to pay for international transaction fee and I am constantly earning points for my purchases that I can redeem later for gift cards or airfare once I have enough points. If you are paying with cash for everyday purchases you can say goodbye to these points when traveling around.

TWO PLACES WHERE USING A CREDIT CARD MAY NOT BE ALLOWED:

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A LOCAL FARMERS MARKET
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YOUR LOCAL KIMBAP SHOP

IN CONCLUSION:

Overall, out of all the countries that I have visited I was completely blown away by the convenience of credit card acceptance around the country. Don’t have any won left? Just swipe your card. Lastly I always recommend keeping spare cash in the case that credit card machines are down or your purchases are cash only. There are delicious streets foods to try in and around Korea including tteokbokki, hoddeok, and these corn bread muffins baked with an egg inside. There is new grapefruit craze at food stalls where the pulp and juice is blended and poured back inside the grapefruit that you drink with a straw. Who knew?! I specifically found these all around Myeongdong and I know for sure that the food stall owners aren’t accepting your visa for that. Happy travels.

Note: Mastercard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards in South Korea in hotels, coffee shops, eateries, and for paying for train stations. When purchasing subway tickets you need the Korean currency of the won. Street foods and outside markets only accept cash.

Setting your sights on teaching English in Korea

 

Teaching English in South Korea is a very lucrative position that offers the foreigner a deep look inside life in the ROK. With many things in Korea much cheaper as opposed to life in the USA such the public transportation system, meals out, entertainment, and site seeing there are many reasons why many foreigners to give it a chance on a one year contract.

A few months before graduation I had decided to take a job as a Guest English Teacher in South Korea for various reasons. To teach for EPIK I would have the opportunity to gain teaching experience, live abroad, and earn a decent salary with many benefits. Looking back when I was applying there were many deciding factors that I was unable to answer on my own. With little information on the internet seven years ago I was getting advice from the few people I knew who were already in Korea teaching.

There are many pros and cons in the decision making but overall you want to make the right decision based on your personal and professional needs. After three years in the ROK I can safely give you the best advice based on my personal experiences, my friend’s comments, and the information available to you on the internet.

Aside from which kind of institution you would like to teach at keep in mind the fact of your placement; you may be placed rurally. Be sure to be specific as to your preference of rural of city living.

After living in rural Korea for more than a year I will say this now and say this again to any prospective English teacher: I would much prefer basing myself in the city so that I can easily get around by train and enjoy all the things that will make my life a little more convenient to have when living abroad: international dining choices, cafes galore, international expat meetups, choices of shopping, KTX and train stations to get around on weekday and weekends.

If you are based in a rural placement you will be literally spending your Monday to Friday after school there with limited bus times returning to your town in the evening. Know that you can always visit countryside temples and hiking national parks on your weekends.Remember thought that you will be limited with what you can do after work on your weekdays.

English Program in Korea (EPIK)

Public Schools in Seoul and Gyeonggi (province)(GEPIK)

Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education(SMOE)

KNOW: The English Program in Korea hires Native English Teachers in the provinces of Gangwon-do, Gyeongbuk-do, Gyeongsang-do, Chungcheongnam-do, Jeallanam-do, and lastly Jeju-do.
PROS:
• FREE accommodation provided by employer (Usually a studio or one room apartment)
• Regular working hours Monday-Friday 8:30-4:30
• Weekends OFF
• All national holidays OFF and PAID
• Communication with your regional coordinator in the case that you have questions that your co-teacher is unable to answer or solve
• Winter and Summer Vacation days OFF and PAID (At least 15 per year)
• Health care coverage (half is paid by your employer while you pay the other half; approx. 70,000 ($66 USD) deducted from your salary each month
• Regular monthly payment (25th of each month)
• Resigning bonus
• Regular contributions to pension & severance pay upon completion of your contract
• Free flight to South Korea provided by the government. Reimbursement given to you upon arrival
• Free orientation training in Seoul upon arrival

CONS of teaching in a public school:
• Last minute changes in the schedule that means that you may be teaching last minute classes or your classes are cancelled
• You cannot exactly choose your placement by city or town. You have to understand that many logistics change last minute so you are placed on need
• End of semester summer and Winter desk warming. Even though you are not scheduled to teach classes on these days you are required as per your contract to be at school during regular desk hours. This can possibly last for up to a few weeks.
• Choosing your vacation dates is planned last minute based on the dates of your schools summer and winter camp dates that the head co teacher usually decides. you cannot book ahead of time your dates for going home or elsewhere plans of abroad travel until vacation dates are planned
• Your co-teacher can make or break your teaching experience based on their personality and teaching style. That means, begin your contract on the right foot with your best intentions set
• You will be the only foreigner at your school. This can be good or this could be bad for you. If your coworkers and co-teachers are not very friendly to you or they are too shy you might feel very lonely and wish there were other foreigners there teaching English with you

Private Schools (Hagwons)
{Hagwons are located all throughout Korea in all metropolitan cities and small towns in the nine provinces through South Korea}. Keep in mind that Hagwons are after school study sessions that Korean parents pay to the private institution for their children to study and practice English with foreigners.
PROS:
• Later teaching hours ( after children complete public school at 4:30 they head to their private institutions to study with a foreigner)
• No co-teaching. You are the one in charge teaching the little monsters all that there is to know about English.
• Severance and pension contributions???
• Health care coverage (half is paid by your employer while you pay the other half; approx. 70,000 ($66 USD) deducted from your salary each month
• FREE accommodation provided by employer (Usually a studio or one room apartment)
• Free flight to South Korea provided by the government. Reimbursement given to you upon arrival
• You will have many foreigners at your workplace to socialize and mingle with to make the adjustment to living in Korea a bit smoother
• No desk warming EVER

CONS of teaching at private institutions:
• Hagwons can close at a minutes notice if there is not enough business which means you are out of a job.
• You have less vacation days per year in your contract compared to teaching at a public school. I have met foreigners who only get five vacation days per year.
TO SUM IT ALL UP:
After weighing out all of my options I think that hagwons (as long as you research well) might be the best option for teaching English abroad. With little to non-existent desk warming you are at your workplace to work, not wasting time on youtube or fiddling your fingers thinking of how to spend your day at your desk.

My biggest concern with EPIK was the amount of time wasted with next to nothing to do when my classes were cancelled due to testing and the desk warming I had to due before and after winter/summer camps. My co-workers were very busy with grading and paperwork so many times I felt completely forgotten about. Lastly I realized that there is no upward mobility in future career aspirations being an English teacher at a public school in Korea. There are no opportunities to raise the bar or expand your job experience outside of being a guest English Teacher.

I recommend Dave’s ESL Cafe to browse through job opportunities in South Korea and abroad. Most teaching contracts are a year long. For information about life in Korea check out my list of vlogs on my Youtube playlist. Good luck to you on your future choices.