Life, Thoughts, travel

First 24 hours in Spain!

I have been in Spain now for over 24 hours, and what a crazy trip so far!

I left on Friday, March 1st at 12:00pm from Portland, Oregon. My flight was on Alaskan Airlines and was 2 hours to Los Angeles, where I had a layover until I boarded at 7:30pm. I booked my flight from LA to Madrid using Norwegian Air, which is a great airline that connects the US to a lot of European countries for relatively cheap (it was ~$400 for a one way trip).

While waiting to board I had met a few girls that had studied abroad in Spain for a semester, and they reassured me a lot with their experiences. They said that Spain is very safe and I had nothing to worry about, and the only thing that happened to them was that they got their phones stolen at a club (which, they admitted, was probably their fault anyway because they were really drunk while they were there).

My flight from LA to Madrid was about 11 hours long, so I killed the time by watching Crazy Rich Asians and going to sleep. Crazy Rich Asians was an alright movie. I had put off watching it for so long because I thought it would be a sell-out with zero substance in plot, and I was unfortunately right for the most part. I cried with happiness seeing so many fellow Asians cast and starring in the movie, but I was unimpressed by the plot and substance. I felt that it was just another Cinderella story with little character development and predictable scenes. Anyways – back to the trip!

I landed in Madrid at 3:30pm local time. I went through customs with my passport, which was relatively easy as I had my student visa approved and ready to go. Then I went to baggage claim, where I got my bags and followed two other American ladies through another door that led to the arrivals entrance. I realized after I passed through the door that I did to not declare anything in my luggage, and was stopped by an immigration officer who asked me where I was coming from. After telling him I was coming from LA, he let me through. So I’m not entirely sure if I should have gone through the other door to declare the contents of my luggage, or if I was okay by following the other American ladies through the arrivals door. Either way, I made it through with no problems. I met with two members of my host family, Jose Carlos (father) and Maria Angeles (mother) on the other side. They greeted me with open arms and the traditional kiss-kiss-on-the-cheek greeting that they give to women.

The city that I am staying in, Badajoz, is 3 hours west of Madrid. After loading up the car, we made our way to a diner/truck stop on the way to Badajoz and got lunch. I don’t remember the names of the dishes that we ate, but we had potatoes, beef, and cod with tomatoes. It was delicious! During the remainder of the 3 hour drive we talked about various things in English, from the family to what my hobbies were to the history of Spain. Finally we made it to Jose Carlos’ house to unpack and eat dinner before the next part of my night – The Carnival.

Apparently in Spain there are a lot of different festivals that happen, and the Carnival is a festival in Badajoz that happens on the first week of March. They prepared a costume for me beforehand – I was to dress up as the local Spanish police with their eldest son, Jose Carlos Jr. (also known as “Joseka”). The Carnival had lots of different people dressed up in various costumes, from political figures to crossdressers to pop culture references. We left around 10:45pm to go to the downtown area where the Carnival was taking place. Joseka bought rum and coke for us to enjoy at the festival, because drinking on the street in festivals is common and celebrated. We got dropped off right outside the Carnival entrance, where we waited for Joseka to meet up with his brother Alejandro, dressed in a bathrobe, to give him another rum and coke. We then saw their sisters, Irene and Maria, who were dressed up as two devils. Joseka and I walked around until we found his friends, who were dressed up in suits, oreo costumes, and a witch costume. I realized after meeting up with all these various people that I will need to learn Spanish quickly, as the majority of the conversations were spoken in Spanish (with a little English thrown in here and there to include me in the conversation).

The night went very well! Joseka’s friends drank a lot and danced and sang various Spanish songs, and they showed me a good time. The Spanish party hard – I saw many people get very drunk and accidentally break bottles of alcohol. They also party late into the night – Joseka brought me home “early” around 2am, but he went back out to party with his friends until 5 am. When Joseka told his parents he got back at 5am the next day, they responded by saying “Oh, that’s not too early or too late”!

This morning was very pleasant as well. Jose Carlo’s mother gave me a tour of Jose Carlos’ house in Spanish, where I saw the 7 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, kitchen, washing room, exercise room, backyard with two dogs, and pool. I can safely say that I’ll be living a pretty good life while staying and studying in Spain! We had breakfast around 11am, where they served the traditional dish “Migas”, a peasant dish made of bread and various proteins and vegetables. Once we finished breakfast we went to the nearby countryside to visit their 6 horses. Jose Carlos, Joseka, and Alejandro all ride horses competitively and have won various awards and ribbons. After visiting the boys and the horses, we went to Maria Angeles’ townhouse nearby to pick up food.IMG_5684.JPGIMG_5702.JPG

Maria Angeles and Jose Carlos are each other’s second marriages, with children from different spouses. They are a combined household, which is similar to mine at home. Maria Angeles and her daughter Irene live in a townhouse for 4 days out of the week (Mon-Thu). I will be staying with them in this townhouse as well Mon-Thu, and will stay at Jose Carlos’ house during the weekends. This townhouse is relatively close to the other house, about 5 min driving distance and 15-20 min walking distance. Maria Angeles told me that she had moved into Jose Carlos’ house for 5 years before, but after a while she realized she needed her own space and moved back into her old townhouse. Moving from house to house will be no problem for me, as I am used to this kind of arrangement. Since I grew up between four different households at any given time, I’m familiar with packing things for trips back and forth.

We grabbed the food from the townhouse and made our way back to Jose Carlos’ house, where we had lunch. Jose Carlos made a kind of paella with octopus for lunch, which was served with wine, roast beef, and roast chicken. Our meal ended with ice cream and a shot of liquor to “digest the meat”. I’m starting to think that drinking is a lot more common throughout the day than in the United States! Now it is time for the siesta, which I have used to write this diary entry. At around 5:30pm local time we will walk around the city, stop by the river and then make our way back home.

So far Spain and my host family have been wonderful and hospitable! There is definitely a language barrier, but nothing I am unfamiliar with. When I visited the Philippines with my mom, my relatives over there had the same amount of exposure to English as my friends and host family I’ve met here. I can understand what they are saying even though their English is not perfect, and we are able to communicate and hold conversations. I am very happy with everything that has happened so far, and am excited to continue my travels and experiences here! Adios, until next time!

Life, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Au Pair Visa – Preparations for Spain

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Over the past month or so I’ve been talking to family in Spain who wants me to be an au pair for them. I have been gathering paperwork in order to submit them to the Spanish Consulate on January 7th in San Francisco. This week I leave to submit the paperwork and then I have to wait a month to see whether or not it gets approved. After I find out if I get the visa in February, I make plans to leave the country by the beginning of March.

The family I have been talking to is really cool. Out of all the families I had talked to, this one seemed like the most appealing and understanding. I have been talking to the mother of the family mostly, M. Angeles, and she seems very kind. She has been helping me through this process the whole time. She even paid for the tuition for me to attend a Spanish University online in Madrid while I’m staying there. The children are all above the age of 13, which was ideal for me. The other families I had talked to had children that were around the ages of 2-8, which would have been difficult. I like that the children are older because they understand and speak more English, which is good since the only language I’ll be able to communicate with them while I’m there in is English. I also don’t have to actually watch and take care of them, I’m just another member of the family. I wanted to be able to focus on actually getting to know the family, the country, the culture, and the language, so being free from the responsibility of childcare was ideal for me.

I am both excited and nervous about the prospect of being in a Spanish-speaking country. I’m not the best at communicating in English, and my Spanish is really poor. I took Spanish for two years in high school and French for a year in college, but I don’t remember everything from the lessons. People have been telling me the best way to learn a language is to be immersed in it and the culture, so I guess this is the best way for me to learn. I also will be attending a Spanish University online, taking Spanish classes for 20 hours a week, so I’ll be learning the language both formally and informally throughout my stay there.

I have some fears about traveling with my mental health. My mental health has been up and down over the years, and although I have been pretty stable with my new medication, I still have worries that I’ll have another manic episode overseas. This is my greatest fear, because if I have an episode overseas in a country that doesn’t speak my language, I will be in very different and stressful circumstances than my last episode.  My family and I are hoping everything will turn out okay and that I’m healthy enough to travel. I wanted to do this opportunity because I don’t want to constantly be afraid of my mental illness, having it stop me from doing the things I want. I don’t want to be thinking throughout my life, “What if I had done this?” I want to be living in the moment and embracing what life has to offer despite what I’m suffering through.

All in all, I am excited for this trip. I think it will be a great opportunity for me to learn as much as I can in a new country with exciting people and experiences. I have always wanted to travel and explore the world, and this might be the first of many opportunities in the future.

Movie Reviews, Review

Movie Critique: Roma

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Yesterday my friends and I went to watch “Roma” in Berkeley. Set in the 1970s in Mexico City, this film follows the story of a maid who works for a middle-class family. It was written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. I don’t want to reveal too much about the film, as you can watch it in theaters, (soon) on Netflix, and you can look up the plot online.

All in all, this film was pretty great. The cinematography was beautiful and I was thoroughly impressed by the filmmakers’ attention to detail. One of the things I loved the most about this movie is their use of long, sustained, one-take shots. In several of the scenes that played in the movie, the directors decided to film all the action of the scene in one long shot without any interruptions or cuts. What resulted were these beautiful vignettes that captured the life of the characters.

The movie is shot in black and white, which I appreciated. The choice to shoot in black and white placed the emphasis on the characters and their actions, as opposed to what was happening visually. It was still a visually compelling film, but the choice to make it black and white caused me to take in the scenery of the scenes more passively and focus more on what was going on.

I think the length and the pace of the film was alright. It might have been my own restlessness, but in some parts of the film I felt like the pace was so slow that it made me antsy. The filmmakers chose to include a lot of long, slow, sustained shots throughout the movie, which had benefits and drawbacks. Since there weren’t a lot of quick shots that propelled the movie’s actions, it felt a little long in some scenes. However, I think that some scenes in particular benefitted from how long and sustained and slow the shots were, as it increased the immersion into the film and built a lot of emotional depth.

If you’re planning on going to watch this movie, I should warn you that there is a lot of triggering content in the film. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone, but if you have unpleasant experiences with children’s deaths or gun violence, I’d recommend that you hold off on watching this.

Life, Thoughts

Countdown to the Philippines!

My mom and I are very excited for our upcoming trip. It’s less than two days until we fly out from Portland to begin our adventure to the Philippines! We’ve been packing and getting our travel necessities together this past week. I will try my best in the upcoming month to keep this blog updated with our adventures. My dad was kind enough to let me bring his iPad with me on the trip, and we will have internet connection on and off during our stay.

In preparation for our trip, I’ve gathered some helpful tips and tricks from travel blogs across the internet:

https://www.travelzoo.com/blog/20-tips-before-traveling-internationally/
https://www.travelandleisure.com/blogs/12-tips-to-make-international-travel-easier

Book Reviews, Life, Movie Reviews, Review

The Southern Reach Trilogy + Cartopia

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Image from: wired.com

I was blessed to be able to receive the Southern Reach trilogy from my friend, Thom. We caught up yesterday at Cartopia in Portland and had a great time eating delicious crepes and Mexican foods.

The Southern Reach trilogy, written by Jeff VanderMeer, is a great mystery, sci-fi, action, and thriller series. Recently the first book, Annihilation, came out as a movie featuring Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Jennifer Leigh (all-star, all-female cast). Thom and I went to see the movie when it first came out in order to compare it to the books. The movie by itself was pretty good, but deviated away from a lot of what the books reveal. I highly recommend reading the series before tackling the movie, just so you can have a full appreciation for the context of the books.

I don’t want to give any spoilers out for those interested in reading the books, but I will say that the trilogy is one of my favorites I’ve read. VanderMeer is a compelling writer and leads you through an intense exploration of an imaginative world. I cried, got goosebumps, and had sleepless nights because of this series. It features wilderness, spies, relatable characters, extraterrestrial life, and mystery. The series will leave you with more questions than it does answers, and make you think about Area X for a long time after you put the books down. Here is a description of the book from Wikipedia:

“The book describes a team of four women (a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor) who set out into an area known as Area X. The area is abandoned and cut off from the rest of civilization.[1] They are the 12th expedition. The other expeditions have been fraught with disappearances, suicides, aggressive cancers, and mental trauma. The novel won the 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel[2] and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for best novel.”

Check it out!

Life, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Anthony Bourdain R.I.P.

I was on Facebook today and saw this picture posted by one of my friends. As I near the ripe age of 22 and prepare for my trip next Monday, this quote connected to me a lot:

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Source: Facebook – The Chef’s Circle

Anthony Bourdain was highly admired, a star chef, and a lover of life. He showed us the importance of traveling and adventuring and experiencing another person’s lifestyle. In witnessing his exploration of the world I was taught empathy and passion and a love for food.

Growing up, my mom and I spent little time together as she worked the majority of the day and wouldn’t get home until late at night. Most of the week I was either in school or with my grandparents, where we spent our television time watching game shows or sports. During moments where my mom and I would be able to spend time together at home, we took pleasure in watching Anthony Bourdain’s: No Reservations on the Travel Channel. My mom and I loved his poetic and raw outlook on life, and it was always interesting to see what adventures he experienced. I have many fond memories of us watching his trips together, reacting to the dishes he would eat (how we would want to try this or that someday), laughing at his (sometimes crude, but always real) comments, and wishing to one day go where he has gone.

Anthony Bourdain suffered from heroin addiction when he was younger, the same difficult struggle my late brother battled with. While they were both alive, Anthony Bourdain’s triumphs and long life gave me hope that my brother would beat his addiction and life an equally full life.

He also suffered from depression, but didn’t let that prevent him from experiencing the world as much as he could. I also suffer from depression and other mental health issues, but Anthony gave me hope that the world could be better, that I could accomplish and experience things that I’ve only dreamed of. It saddens me that his battle with depression ended this way.  I was told that he never sought treatment, dealt with it by himself without trying to seek help. I am grateful for the community I grew up in and the information I was given about mental health and depression, to be able to seek and receive treatment. No one should ever be pushed to this point in life, where they feel like there is nowhere to turn to.

For anyone reading this: If you feel like you are alone and have nowhere to turn to, know that there are always options to get the help you need and that there are people out there who will care and support you. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Anthony Bourdain, you fought your demons for as long as you could and inspired so many people to live their best life. My condolences and best wishes to your family and friends. Thank you for all that you’ve done to bring the world together.

Life, Thoughts

Hot Yoga

In preparation for our trip to the Philippines next week, my mom and I have been taking classes at Flow Hot Yoga in Vancouver. We wanted to acclimate our bodies to heat before our trip while increasing our stamina. While it’s not our first time taking hot yoga classes, it’s still a pretty difficult and new experience.

Over the past ten days I’ve gone eight times, and it’s crazy how much progress I feel in my flexibility. Every other day they have a different class and different instructors, so there is a wide range of poses to do each week. I’ve noticed in my own body that I have underdeveloped upper body strength and a lot of tightness in my hips. The yoga classes have helped me identify these areas to work on and have given me a chance to appreciate the beauty and strength in my own body.

Hot yoga is different than regular yoga in that we do each session in a hot room. This makes the experience feel a lot more difficult than regular yoga. According to their website, hot yoga allows the body to detoxify, lengthens and strengthens muscles, increases lung capacity and circulation throughout the body, boosts metabolism, and burns 600-1200 calories per hour.

Each time I’ve gone I’ve definitely felt a lot better coming out of the studio. It’s a workout for sure, and lets me push myself and my limits to the max. This week I’m aiming to go every day before we leave next Monday. Hopefully when we come back from our trip I’ll be able to continue the yoga practice as much as possible before school starts up again in August.

Happy Sunday!