Hawaii – The Bad (or 1st post)

Okay so let’s start with the bad of Hawaii now and believe you me, there are some things here I truly despise, but above all else (yes even including the astronomical cost of living) is the roads and drivers. 🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬

Roads first, yeah? So Hawaii’s roads are…..horrendous. I mean horrendous. Part is due to the amount of rain and the traffic, I get that, but where taxpayer money goes, I know not because I know it doesn’t go to a) education or b) roads. Both of those are terrible here.

If it isn’t an enormous pothole, it’s construction. Like construction elsewhere, it lasts forever, however here, when they’re done fixing the road…it’s worse. I don’t know how, but they manage to make the roads worse! Unless the replace the entire width of the road, they do this terrible patching job that is completely uneven and at least as rough as the potholes. How a state manages this is beyond me. Hawaii’s roads are worse than China, Korea and Russia and NEARLY as bad as the Dominican Republic…a tiny developing country. I hate driving here.

Now…on to the drivers! First and foremost, signals. NO ONE USES THEIR TURN SIGNALS! Turn signals are such an infrequent sight and that even the DOT uses their huge, digital freeway overhead signs to encourage people to use their turn signals. No one does it. It is impossible to predict where another car is going. Ugh.

Next up is speeding and running red lights. Hawaii has zero, yes zero, traffic light cameras. As such, I see one person run a red light a day. Add that to how fast people drive here (which is nuts considering how bad the roads are)  and the lack of turn signals and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Finally…aloha. Many Hawaiians are courteous drivers…to a fault. Many will unexpectedly stop to let others go or just simply do things and stop in places that one does not generally expect. I truly appreciate how nice it is, but it also causes accidents (two I’ve seen) because people don’t expect someone to blatantly disregard the rules of the road, even if it is to be nice.

All of these things add up to me, Cameron, raging out in the car each and every time I slip into the driver’s seat. There was a time I’d thought road rage was behind me, but then I moved to Hawaii.

Until next time dear Readers, when we hit some more of the good and perhaps some of the weird!

~Cameron

Hawaii – The Good

Hawaii has a ridiculous amount of amazing things to offer. A truly ridiculous amount. While you might think the best is the weather or the beaches, I’m here to tell you it isn’t. It’s the mountains. They are, in my opinion, what makes these islands so amazing. That’s not to say that the beaches or weather aren’t amazing because they are however, I personally have found beaches I’ve enjoyed more (Philippines, Thailand, Dominican Republic, etc.). We’ll come back to the beaches on another post.

The mountains though truly set Hawaii apart (at least in my travels). On Oahu, the mountains are exceptionally steep, considerably cooler in temperature and make you feel like you are in a movie…in fact they film quite a few here (at Kualoa Ranch – more pics below…it’s awesome!). Driving through the mountains feels otherworldly, as you’ve been transported from the concrete jungle to the literal one where all sorts of things seem to be possible in one’ imagination. Now, perhaps this is just me since I didn’t grow up here or anywhere like it. For the locals, it might not be this way, but…maybe it is. Anyways, enjoy the photos below!

Watching for Wanderlust: South Pacific

In the past couple of days, we’ve been revisiting some of the magnificent work the BBC has done on their Earth documentaries: Planet Earth II, Blue Planet, and others. If you can’t travel, it’s a beautiful way to see the world. The people behind these shows have made an incredible job at capturing the beauty of our planet as undisturbed as possible. They’ve also done a pretty spectacular job at getting to hard-to-reach places and showing us things that maybe we wouldn’t see, even as experienced travelers (example: snow leopards in the Himalayas).

This week, we’ve discovered a new little gem among these programs: South Pacific. It focuses on the Pacific Ocean itself as a source of life, and very particularly in the animals and people that have managed to make it to the islands that are scattered among the Pacific, some of which are among the most remote places on the planet. Our soon-to-be home, the Hawaiian Islands, are of course featured, as they are smack in the middle of the Pacific and have pretty unique flora and fauna.

It is just breathtaking to see animals and people adapting to some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Seeing animals living in places where it’s technically impossible for them to live (penguins in the Galapagos islands!) – all because the Pacific provides the conditions to sustain all kinds of different needs that different species might have.

We haven’t gotten too far in it (we’re in the middle of ep. 2) but we are loving it! If you want to see beautiful places, I highly recommend it.

On another note, this show is not narrated by David Attenborough – it’s narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, who does a pretty good job narrating! It was an interesting surprise and would be nice if he would narrate more.

If you have Netflix, I recommend looking into the other documentaries the BBC Earth people have done. It’s just spectacular filming and a wonderful way to see the world, so to speak!

Very excited for our visit to Oregon on spring break (is it here yet?)

Go watch South Pacific!

The Team

Christmas 2017/Jan. 2018 – Coming full circle

Cameron’s first trip abroad was eleven years ago, 2006. He went to Hong Kong, Cambodia and Thailand. That trip started Cameron on a journey that would take him to the teaching profession, his loving mistress Russia, and eventually, the establishment of this Team. When we planned our Christmas break, we didn’t really intend it to be some sort of retracing of steps, but with a week in Bangkok in early January for a recruitment fair, it kind of naturally happened.

We like trying to make room in our trips for going to new places together. This time, it was Singapore for both of us, Cambodia for me. One of the most interesting parts of doing this trip was for Cameron to see the differences between what these places were like eleven years ago, when he first visited, and now. We are definitely different people, but the places we go, even years apart, only become more familiar to us and strangely, we feel very “at home”, or close to home, in many, many places.

We are somewhat sad to bring our time abroad to a temporary stop in June when we leave Korea and go back to the United States so I can take care of some unfinished business: namely, getting USCIS off my back once and for all, and teaching what I really want to teach. We will be moving to Hawaii (Oahu specifically) sometime in July. So it’ll be like going back to the US but not really, as continental US and insular US are very different. Tourism and the military also mean that there is lots of transient people in Hawaii, so that helps. People are used to others coming and going. We fully expect some reverse culture shock (we’ve heard numbers around the 8-9 month mark to start feeling like you can actually feel the ground under your feet) but will do our best to invest in being in Hawaii and not have our heads wrapped around the bad parts for too long.

Our return to the US is open ended for now. Right now we intend to go back out and teach abroad sometime in the future. We don’t know when. For now, we are looking forward to our time in the US, the comforts of home, no language barriers, and to living in an island with more “island-y” weather.

We are excited for:

  • Tropical weather! Much as we love four seasons, we are very much looking forward to sun, beaches, and shorts-and-flip-flops weather all year long.
  • Island living: we’re all for a slower paced lifestyle where it’s not go-go-go all the time. We miss that about the Dominican Republic.
  • Legit grocery stores! – the availability of foodstuffs is key to my happiness. I spend a lot of time cooking, and love to feed people! Having options for food is exciting.
  • Affordable options for harder to find items – certain foodstuffs, like cheese, are expensive in this part of the world, because they’re not part of the staple diet of countries like Korea. We are very excited to live in a place again where we can afford things like cheese and cereal and fresh berries in reasonable quantities considering what you pay for them!
  • Efficient services – banking (although banking in Korea has been a breeze – I have no complains!), healthcare, roads where people know the right of way…
  • Real bars – no fuss places where you can sit down and have a drink without too much going into it…relaxed dress codes, that kind of thing.

We are feeling a bit of trepidation about:

a)   Teaching in the US – neither of us has actually taught in the US so we’re not familiar with how things are done…we’re just wondering how it will go with standardized testing and unions negotiating contracts and parents who may or may not be involved and what kind of home environments our future students will live in and all of that. And then there’s of course, the issue of guns…inevitably, we have to think that by going back to the US, and working as teachers there, we’re moving to a place with A LOT more guns than where we live now, and that means one of us could be in danger at our place of work. School shootings are a reality regardless of the grade level. That’s incredibly scary.

b) Paying taxes again! State AND federal…oh brother.

c) Possible work commutes – it’s still early to know whether we will find a place that is a middle ground between our jobs. We’d love to, because we’d like to only need one car, or maybe one of us being able to take the bus to work.

d) Not traveling as much – yes, we’ll be in Hawaii and there won’t be a need to take a beach vacation for example, but our travel potential will be significantly reduced. How to feed the travel bug in the years to come will be something we’ll need to figure out and it will take some time. It’s also going to be pretty expensive to travel to most places, because Hawaii is really not close to ANYTHING.

e) Not connecting with anyone/having trouble making friends/meeting people – living abroad changes your perspectives, and we’ve found that sometimes people who haven’t lived abroad simply don’t get it, through no fault of their own.

There’s definitely more we want to tell you about our Christmas holiday in Cambodia and Singapore (and pictures to show you!). Those will come at a later time. Maybe our next blog rename should be The Insular Gregors…we do have a thing for islands – Oahu will be the third island we live on!

More on the move when it starts to take more shape…for now, we have a very busy school year to finish!

Cheers to our third island (with a Mai Tai, of course – haha!)

Ana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisit the places that make you happy

I’m really not sure if there is a saying talking about how you shouldn’t go back to places where you’ve been happy, but we don’t believe in that. If you love a place, go back! Go back as many times as you want. We at the Team are all for visiting new places, but we also think that you should have places in your travel rotation that are “a safe bet” and where you’ll have a good time no matter what.

For this Christmas break, we decided to start and finish at our favorite city in the world: Hong Kong.

(New York is a pretty close second after our Spring Break, but Hong Kong remains our favorite).

The main reason, after the Istanbul debacle, why we decided to hop around Asia for this break is because this is probably the closest we’ve been to repatriating in the 5 years we’ve been in Asia. We are still going to a job fair, but our search is much more restricted this time around so if that doesn’t pan out, we will return to the US for a few years so I can finalize my US citizenship requirements. (If you work in an awesome school district that could use two teachers – both Spanish speakers! – with Masters degrees, please let us know! Don’t be shy!)

We hadn’t been in Hong Kong for a whole year and a half (SHOCKER! Haha) so we were excited about possibly returning for a few days. We decided to use HK as a hub of sorts for the rest of our travels, which would include Siem Reap, Cambodia (encore for Cameron, a first for me), and Singapore (a new one for both of us), with a return to HK at the end. We outlined our trip as follows:

First order of business: Find cheap tickets. We flew three low-cost airlines (HK Express, Jetstar, and Scoot – none of which we had flown before). In the end, we managed to get all our plane tickets for the whole time for around US$300 per person. At the last minute, we paid for extra luggage on two flights – about $20 per person per flight, so $80, definitely one of the ways in which low-cost airlines make their money. Thanks to some rewards points in one of my credit cards, I was able to get a travel credit for $40, which helped with the cost. Lesson learned, though – one of my resolutions for this year is to get better at traveling light and REALLY only pack what I need. I’ve gotten worse at overpacking with time, and there’s really no need.

Dec. 17-20 – Hong Kong. We flew out of Jeju (thank goodness for no Seoul business!) on Hong Kong Express. Their schedule out of Jeju is not ideal (departures are very early Thursdays and Sundays), but it would get us to Hong Kong early on the Sunday we left and have pretty much the whole day. We booked an Airbnb in Sheung Wan – a pretty nice 2 bedroom!

Dec. 20 – 24 – Siem Reap. One way ticket on HK Express. We found a great small hotel pretty close to the Angkor Temples (which was the main reason why we were going to Cambodia). We got a 3-day pass to the temples, which gave us plenty of time.

Dec. 24-28 – Singapore. One way ticket on Jetstar – We got a nice Christmas Lunch and mainly just kind of took it slow.

Dec. 28 – 31 – Back to Hong Kong. One way ticket on Scoot – nice new Dreamliner, my favorite of all the airlines we flew – This time we went back to our old stomping grounds in Causeway Bay (also an Airbnb).

Couple of highlights of our first few days in Hong Kong:

  1. Ran into the Byrne family (colleagues from Shanghai) and spent a lovely afternoon with them chasing Christmas decorations in Kowloon, and catching the harbor light show. Saw some new parts of Kowloon we hadn’t seen, which is always nice!
  2. During that light show, we saw the junk boats with the red sails you see in the pictures! We’ve been on a junk boat before, but we had never seen one with the red sails. It’s exciting to see things from pictures and postcards.

Christmas 2017 pt. 1 – The original plan

Let’s keep the ball rolling! (Cameron is writing report cards at the moment – great vacation activity [not!]) so you’re stuck with me and my crappy phone pictures.

Before I go on about our Christmas break travels, maybe I should tell you the original plan…and how it fell apart rather quickly.

Ever since the early days of this Team, we’ve been talking about going to Europe. This, for a number of reasons: 1) Europe is super cool, and because it’s all close together, you get to see a good portion of it even if you don’t have a lot of time, 2) Cameron has gone to Europe and wants to return and see more – it’s been a while, and of course, does anyone ever get to see everything they want to see in Europe anyway?, 3) I really want to go! Europe has so many the things I love!

  • Old colonial buildings
  • Museums
  • Historical places
  • Narrow streets where you can get lost easily
  • Places with beautiful flowers
  • Parks!
  • History everywhere
  • European football
  • Delicious food!

One of the things we both do when we’re down the Interwebs’ rabbit holes is look at what plane tickets to random places look like. So one day, Cameron found really good tickets to Istanbul and Paris for Christmas break.

I’m married to a genius. Istanbul has got to be one of the most mysterious-in-a-good-way places on Earth. The bridge between West and East. The capital of the Byzantine Empire. And then, well, Paris. Paris is Paris is Paris. And Paris at Christmas has got to be magical.

After much deliberation, we bit the bullet, and decided to buy tickets. We found a super cute apartment on HomeAway in the 4th Arrondisment, around Le Marais, which is great for seeing all the important stuff in Paris. So, everything was off to a good start.

Now to the bureaucratic part of the whole thing, I need a visa to go to France. No problem, I’ve applied to Schengen visas before. It’s a lot of paperwork, and you usually don’t get them for very long, but it would do for this trip. In order to get one, I would have to take a day off (an unpaid one too!) to fly to Seoul and apply for the visa, to then return to Seoul and pick it up in three weeks (another unpaid day off). Not ideal overall, but still not horrible.

I had an appointment at the French embassy. I had my paperwork. A ticket to France via Istanbul. I was set to go. And then…

Plot twist!

The governments of the US and Turkey, in a tit-for-tat over some arrests that happened, and other arrests that weren’t quite happening, stopped issuing visas for each other. So at that point (mid-November), Cameron was not allowed to go to Turkey. Which meant either we didn’t go to Turkey and found a different destination for the first leg of our trip, or we scrapped the trip altogether. Going to Paris for two weeks was out of the question – much as we would have wanted to – too expensive. The dispute has been partially resolved, and visas for Americans are again available on a limited basis. Back then, however, we felt it was too risky to wait it out and risk not getting our tickets refunded if need be. See more information here: Americans can go to Turkey again

So we scrapped our trip. Luckily, United refunded our tickets, and our HomeAway host was very understanding. So with a little over a month to go before our break, we were left to decide what to do.

Moral of the story: Stay up to date on visa requirements for the places you want to go to! Check before you buy your ticket, and then check again after you buy your ticket. Can you go without a visa? Can you get an eVisa? (We’ve had some positive experiences doing this for two different countries – more on that on a future post) Can you get a visa on arrival? From experience, it’s not wise to count on airport employees to know whether you’re allowed into a country without a visa or not. It’s not their job to know – it’s yours. They will most likely let you on the plane and it will be up to you to find out when you get there if there are any restrictions. We know people who’ve been turned away from a country for not having a visa in advance, so always stay up to date on visa requirements.

Over the next few posts, Plan B: A 3-country, two-week vacation through Asia.

Cheers,

Ana

2017 Travels: The Happiest Place on Earth

Hello readers!

Coming in hot on the first day of 2018! The goal is to catch you up on our travels for 2017 within the first few days of this year so we can start 2018 fresh.

Ever since the early days of this Team, one thing has been very clear: Cameron loves Disneyland, and Disney World, and probably all forms of Disney Parks. While I went to Disney World with my family when I was five, and it WAS awesome, admittedly, the experience of going to a Disney Park changes as you get older. I confirmed this when we visited Disneyland Shanghai a little over a year and a half ago. Disneyland is fun and magical. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are.

Needless to say, the plans to visit Disneyland (the original one, in California) had been on the books for a few years. Cameron hadn’t visited since well before California Adventure had opened, and I hadn’t visited, well, ever. Over the past summer we looked at some options and settled on it for our fall break, which happens in November.

From our experience, I can make a few recommendations:

  1. It’s not a bad idea to book your vacation through a travel agent. Usually, travel agents can give good deals on multiple day passes, transportation passes, and other amenities you may need, like car rentals. We used Costco Travel, but if that’s not available in your area, I’d say talk to your travel agent of choice. A person, not a search engine on the Internet.
  2. Get a Park Hopper pass. We got a five-day Park Hopper, which meant we had access to both Disneyland and California Adventure during this time. It allowed us to go on our favorite rides multiple times, and to take a break from the busyness of one park by going to the other.
  3. Get a transportation pass for the same number of days you have a park pass.
  4. Get waterproof bags for your valuables, or a locker. Splash Mountain is no joke and you will get drenched, pretty much regardless of where you sit.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes – you will stand around a lot.

Other notables of this trip:

  • We flew the Dreamliner for the first time! United uses a 787 for their Seoul (ICN) to San Francisco (SFO) route – admittedly a lighter plane that can fly higher, where turbulence is less prevalent, and the seats are smaller. Seats are not that comfortable, at least on United. Food wasn’t bad. We had a better Dreamliner experience on our Singapore (SIN) to Hong Kong (HKG) on Scoot (more on that on our Christmas Break post coming soon).
  • I rode two roller coasters! More than once! Including one with an upside-down loop. There was a lot of sheer terror screaming and gasping for breath. It all subsided after the first time riding, and I managed to enjoy them!
  • Cameron fulfilled a childhood dream of eating at the Bayou Cafe on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It was delicious. And expensive. And VERY BUSY! Book well in advance.
  • The breakfast burritos on the cafe in Tomorrowland (by the Star Wars stage) and the beignets at the Mint Julep Bar (in New Orleans Square) are delicious and worth every penny you pay.
  • We caught the last legs of Halloween and the first glimpses of Christmas. A decoration dream.
  • The castle is really tiny! After being at Disney World and Shanghai Disneyland, the Disneyland castle looked like a gingerbread house. Or a dollhouse? It’s still pretty, but I was definitely shocked to see how small it was. I guess you may have not been able to go any higher in 1955.

Don’t be fooled by whatever time of the year you go on. It was the first week of November and both parks were VERY busy! Lots of BYU and Utah shirts, and LOTS of Seahawks jerseys. We suspect there is a fall break in Utah and Washington at that same time (Early November). No big deal.

We didn’t really know what to expect from California Adventure. Turns out it’s either very kid-friendly rides or not kid-friendly at all rides. Except for the Toy Story ride – that’s for everyone and it’s awesome. Worth the line though. It’s super fun.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to California Adventure was to see their water show, World of Color. I hadn’t really heard about it until the Sheldon Cooper character mentions it on an episode late in Season 3 of The Big Bang Theory (“We stayed for the California Adventure water show. It was pure Disney Magic”). IT REALLY WAS!

World of Color is spectacular! It has water fountains. Lights. Lasers. Fire. Music. (Apparently I remember A LOT more of the Little Mermaid songs after watching it on VHS every afternoon for like 3 months, and I didn’t even know English then!) All our favorite Disney characters. I had a really bewildered (stupid?) face the whole time. I don’t care, it was magical.

It was a bit surprising to stop for a minute and notice that in a lot of ways, Disneyland is kind of supposed to feel kind of like a utopian place. It’s so well kept and beautiful, and you’re having so much fun that I suppose that’s what the whole thing is about. If you have kids, though, wait until they’re at least old enough to go on the rides to take them. Toddlers are pooped as soon as they go on one ride and have a churro.

I don’t know that Disneyland is THE happiest place on Earth, but after going, I get the hype.

Enjoy the pictures, the lights and the magic!

The Team

Korean holidays: Seoul for Chuseok!

You know how sometimes you go somewhere multiple times and don’t actually get to see it?

When you live in Jeju, that can be Seoul.

When living in Jeju, Seoul becomes the place where you go catch international flights. International flights are extremely limited in Jeju (pretty much Japan and China and that’s it), so going almost anywhere (especially returning home) involved what we’ve baptized as the Seoul Shuffle:

Step 1: Catch flight in Jeju. There is a flight to Seoul every 15 minutes or so between 6AM and 9PM. You do the math.

Step 2: Fly for an hour. So basically take off, reach cruise altitude, get a soft drink or glass of water from the flight attendants, land.

Step 3: Land at Gimpo International Airport. I think of it as Seoul’s La Guardia. And yes, it’s about that dumpy (#sorrynotsorry) but probably more organized and with a really nice mall across the street to kill time if you have to.

Step 4: Catch a bus (about 20 minutes) or a train (about 40 minutes) to Incheon, which is where you will actually catch an international flight. Incheon is one of the best airports in the world. It has a movie theater. Last summer we watched Wonder Woman (again) there while waiting for our flight to Seattle.

Now, after that tangent…

The thing about Seoul is that if you live in Jeju, you’ve either been a couple of times (thanks to cheap weekend tickets) or may have not been at all. After a year of airport transfers, we decided it was time to go and actually check out Seoul. A city fix never hurt nobody 🙂

Chuseok is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving and involves a lot of family time and offerings to one’s ancestors. It doesn’t really mean that the country stops or anything. Since lots of people leave Seoul to go to their hometowns, it’s actually a great time to visit Seoul. In addition, the main tourist attractions (like museums and palaces) were free for the public holiday, so we got to see a couple of things for free. Not too bad.

The downside of going to Seoul during a public holiday was that the DMZ was closed. The DMZ, should you not know, is the closest you can get to North Korea from the South. It is, of course, one of those things that you do once and probably never again, but something we’ll have to go back to Seoul to visit.

And, in case you’re wondering: South Koreans are, for the most part, completely oblivious to threats from the North and people don’t really talk about it. So, you’re hearing way more about it on CNN than we are on the ground.

Seoul has a lot more hills than I thought. It makes for some interesting neighborhoods. Like in many other parts of Asia, some historic sites have been restored or rebuilt due to damage from war, fires, etc. In a way, it kind of dilutes the old character of some places. This is the case with some of the main historical sites in Seoul.

To be honest, though, the reason why we went to Seoul for this holiday was to EAT. You see, in our neck of the woods, we only have about 5 or 6 takeout options. 3-4 of those involve fried chicken, which is delicious, yes, but sometimes you want/need something that isn’t fried chicken.

For a first-time Seoul explorer, Itaewon seems to be a popular recommendation to stay and be out and about. After being there for five days, we can see why. I would say it’s possibly the most diverse area of Seoul and packs quite a punch in eateries, bars, shops, and people watching. We were pleasantly surprised to find tons of Middle Eastern food, shops, people, and specialty items. I was good and didn’t buy anything I didn’t need…but I really wanted to. We did eat kebab for breakfast twice, because giant cones of roasted meat are hard to resist at any hour of the day. We did ensure our hot sauce supply stays healthy (this household moves through a lot of hot sauce – priorities!) and okay, fine, treated ourselves to a few items during the sales (Cam got a new jacket, I got a dress, a top, and a whole bunch of sheet masks).

We will have to let you know when we do make it to the DMZ – hopefully not on a day when someone decides to defect – SCARY!

In any event, Seoul is a nice respite of modernity when you live in a small island. I wish it wouldn’t have been so dreary out, but that’s the Korean fall for you.

More to come of our fall/winter travels.

Ana

 

 

 

Jeju in the late summer/fall

This year has been strangely warm for the late summer/early fall. It means that the summer was only excruciatingly hot and humid for a short period of time after coming back for the new (academic) year. On the other hand, it means that going outside is generally more pleasant.

In true Team McGregor fashion, our ventures outside in the past couple of months have included ocean views, some high viewpoints, sunsets, and as much greenery as possible. It might not really be “The Hawaii of Asia” (we really do think that’s a bit of a stretch), but Jeju is a beautiful place.

This year we also have the added benefit of former Shanghai colleagues moving to the island to teach in other schools! Periodic “capsule Shanghai reunions” are always fun.

We anticipate that the weather is getting icky for some of our readers, so enjoy these pictures of Jeju. We will continue to try to enjoy as much of the nice weather as possible. It’s late October and in the high 60s. We don’t know what that means for the winter. Hopefully not too windy.

Coming up next on the blog: Going to Seoul and actually leaving the airport!

 

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