Friday, June 15, 2012

A Farewell to Maps

Hello all,

I kind of dropped the ball on this, my bad. It's been a while since I got back to Houston and I am finally getting around to putting one last post on here, ya know, for closure.

June in Houston, wish it were a little hotter (no I don't). My first day back we went straight from the airport to a Tex-Mex restaraunt, so it was a sweet homecoming. Yeah, the food here has kept me pretty busy, that and getting into all kinds of trouble. Actually I just started my summer internship so I've been going to bed at like 9:30 every night, don't worry Mom.

I am CONSTANTLY thinking about and remembering TBB and the amazing friends I made this year. I love them all to pieces. Not an hour goes by when something doesn't remind me of them. I want to sing "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys loudly (and badly) with them again, I want to laugh at Chris's little plushie toys again, I want to be in Atahualpa grumbling about the walk down to the center of town with the North Shore Fatties, I want to gawk at the beach-goers in Plettenberg bay. And I really want some of that Indian coffee cake again...

I try to keep everything I learned this year in mind in my daily life. It's been a little bit of an adjustment being home and trying to slip right back into things but it's nice to be back with the old friends and family (or at least Patrick, till the Parisians come home). I'm excited to head off to college in the fall. St. Louis... I guess I'll be needing maps again.

Ha, see what I did there? Maps? Badwithmaps?

Thanks for keeping up with me this year! 

Love from

/ Clara / Xiao Mai / Clarence / C-Rex

Saturday, March 31, 2012


We have arrived in our final country! One week in Cambodia and then I'll be on my way back to the US for a weekend visit with the parents in New York and then one more month of putting together everything we've learned.

Cambodia is REALLY HOT - it feels like Houston in the summer. Luckily our hotel has a pool, where we have already spent hours. We've visited lots of temples at Angkor Wat - this morning we got up at 4:45 to catch the sunrise there with the lake reflecting it in front. Beautiful! We are climbing a little mountain tonight to watch the sunset. Other plans for this week include visiting a floating village and a pottery class which I am really excited for. And, of course, hanging around Siem Reap and enjoying the town.

Since there was no blogspot in China I feel that some picture updates are overdue. Just kidding, they won't upload with this internet so enjoy the only two that loaded in like half an hour!

Monday, March 5, 2012


Well in addition to Facebook, Blogspot is also blocked in China so I am emailing this blog post to my mother who will hopefully pass it on for me.

SORRY THIS IS LONG, you are excused from reading it.

So, China. I got properly excited for China before arriving by watching “Mulan” with Julia and I must say so far the real China has been just as good.

We arrived in Kunming, the City of Eternal Spring, a couple weeks ago and unpacked in Yunnan Nationalities University’s dorms. We were staying in the dorms during orientation which was pretty cool – we felt like real college students! Plus campus was beautiful. Actually, all of Kunming was beautiful – it totally lived up to its name as the city of spring! There were pink cherry blossom trees everywhere and big willow trees, tons of grassy parks with lakes and pathways.

We walked through one of these gorgeous parks to get to our welcome dinner from our partner organization on our first night in China. It was delicious traditional Chinese food, bowl after bowl after bowl of vegetables and fish and more vegetables and, of course, rice.

Somehow I didn’t see it coming that I was going to be seriously struggling with chopsticks in China. I guess I just figured that there would always be forks and knives, but I was mistaken, and at the welcome dinner at least 20 minutes passed before I was able to successfully grasp ANYTHING with my blundering chopsticks. Scott made me a pair of cheater-chopsticks out of a hair band and a napkin so I was able to eat, but since then I have been fending for myself and slowly getting better at them. I was surprised that I was the only one having trouble with this – seriously, when did everyone learn how to use chopsticks??

Anyway the food continued to impress for our whole week of orientation – there were so many good restaurants in walking distance of our dorms. There were two streets in particular, which were dubbed Noodle Street and Western Street, that we ate at pretty much every day. Noodle street has all the good Chinese food you could ever want: delicious dumplings, all kinds of tea with those weird bubble things in them, fruits, noodles with spices, everything. We got really good at asking “how much?” in Chinese and I learned a couple food words on noodle street. Then on Western street there were French bakeries and pizza places and coke floats – yeah, sorry about my obsession with food. It might have something to do with travelling for a long time.

OK but about orientation. We had an amazing week of learning about Chinese history and culture and social norms (like that we shouldn’t give our host family a white gift because it’s got something to do with death). We explored the Western Hills, a pretty big tourist attraction in our area. It’s a gorgeous area way up in the mountains with a great view of Kunming. We got to climb all along these pathways and stairs on the mountains, stopping at little temples along the way. We discussed all these orientation topics inside the Huating Temple up there – I’ll try to add a picture of it later, you should google image it though – it was so surreal, felt just like Epcot at Disney World. There was a whole big hall full of golden Buddhas, a billion of them, all with different faces and doing different things. And of course the cherry blossom trees and those kind of buildings you’d see in Mulan with the roofs curved up at the corners.

We’ve been taking Chinese classes every day and we had them for two hours during orientation! WHY is Chinese so hard! The pronunciations are so awkward for me. We’ve learned to introduce ourselves, numbers, colors, time, all kinds of vocab about food and where things are. But I don’t think my host family can understand a thing I say. I keep accidentally slipping into Spanish.

Mijal had her birthday during orientation and we blindfolded her and walked to one of the beautiful public parks near the dorms, and then Kayce led a yoga class in her honor. It was kind of hilarious because we drew quite a few spectators taking pictures and video, and a few imitators as well.

We also visited an organic farm (China has extremely high standards for what can qualify as organic) and a museum on China’s many minorities, since we are staying in a village of Bai minority people.

We took an overnight train to get from Kunming to our village, Shangqing. Shangqing is a very rural village of like 280something people, almost all farmers. It’s surrounded by fields of crops and it’s bitterly cold and windy all the time and it’s also really quaint and nice.

When we arrived we were split up into our homestay families. Karelle and I are sharing the same family, which is kind of awesome for me because Karelle took Chinese in high school and therefore is my savior. We are sharing a room. Our house is L-shaped, half of the L is outdoor areas like the kitchen. All our livestock and random piles of crops take up the courtyard. We have a huge water buffalo, a ginormous pig with tons of little adorable piglets, bunnies, chicks, chickens, and a dog.

We mostly spend time with our host mom, who told us to call her Susu. She is really cute and always smiling and she probably thinks I am the biggest idiot ever since I can pretty much only say “thank you” correctly. She is also a huge boss, she does all the field work without gloves, which doesn’t sound that cool but is actually really insane. Also, on the first day we gathered weeds around these broad bean plants for like three hours, that pile of weeds was quite considerable, and then she heaved them all into a big basket and looped it around her forehead and carried the whole thing, towering way above her, all the way back to our house. It was amazing.

So yeah – on a typical day we will get up, have breakfast with the family (we also have a host dad and 23 year old host brother). Food in the village is basically the same for each meal – some vegetables, lots of rice, usually some pork. It’s really good stuff. Then we go out to their fields and do various activities, mostly slicing garlic stalks to extract the seed chute thing. It’s kind of meditative. I like it, except it gets tiring after 3 hours. You need to get a mental picture of this because it seriously feels like we’re in a movie every day – us and our host mom in the middle of a HUGE, endless field of crops just swayin’ in the wind, bent over and slicing up garlic, wearing our Chinese hats (yes, the straw ones). It’s cool.

After lunch at 2:30 we’ll have Chinese class and then maybe seminar or work on our media projects.

Time is passing quickly and I’m kind of freaking out that we only have something like 4 more weeks in China. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Xiao Mei
(my new Chinese name, since my family saying “Claire” would have been too good)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

No MoRe TuKtUkS!!

Today is the last day of India's enrichment week, which has been fun, but I will for sure be ready to leave for China at 1:30 tonight (love these flights). After 7 weeks of near death in the streets of Indian cities, almost getting run over by tuk tuks (the auto rickshaws) and ACTUALLY getting run over by bicycles, I'm ready for some peaceful Chinese country village time. And for some plain white rice, please - I got food poisoning this week which was awful and ruined my perfect attendance record.

But enrichment week HAS been cool. If I weren't sitting at the most rundown internet cafe in Delhi I'd post some pictures of sunrise at the Taj Mahal and various other tombs and forts we visited. We spent a little time in Agra but have mostly been exploring Delhi, especially the markets around our hotel. We also discovered a restaurant, Chokolat, that has waffles and delicious shakes, though sadly I've been too sick to really indulge.

Oh, I forgot about the whole leaving Jaipur thing. It was really really sad saying goodbye to the women in our computer class. On our last day we had a little party, playing musical chairs and singing and dancing instead of working (shhh). They gave Karelle, Julia, and me a lot of bling as departing gifts - bejeweled earrings and hairclips and bindis - and lots of hugs. I will miss those sweet ladies!

I'm not sure what to expect from China. We're studying agricultur and we'll be working on our host families' farms so we know it will be a rural village. We're going to be taking Chinese lessons every day, since our families won't know English and I probably can't even say Nee-how right (HA). I'm excited for the change of scenery and I'm excited for all the surprises.

This is taking me eons to type since none of the keys in here are functional so I'm going to be ending this post here. Wish me luck with the Chinese y'all! Off to frolic in the farmlands.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pancakes in Udaipur

Independent Student Travel was quite an adventure! Julia, Katie, and I went to Udaipur for the weekend and it ended up being possibly my favorite place so far.
The weekend didn't start out so great, though... it actually started out with what was probably the most miserable night of my life. It was traumatizing. We took an overnight train and the horror of that night will never be forgotten. First our train was delayed by like 3 hours until 12:30 AM so we just hung out at the train station waiting. Basically the train was just extremely uncomfortable and REALLY REALLY cold. There were these 3-bunk-beds with really small little pad things on them. It was too small for me to curl up so I struggled to retain body heat and by the time we arrived in Udaipur the next morning my whole lower body was ACHING with the cold. I was basically convulsing with shivers and could see my breath and hadn't moved for the whole ride because I didn't want to change positions and touch a cold part of the mattress pad. I was very concerned about frostbite.

So after that eventful night, it was kind of an out of body experience when the three of us arrived at our hotel which was SO nice and sat down at the rooftop restaurant in the sunlight and ordered - surprise - chocolate pancakes! I have been dreaming about pancakes for a couple weeks now so that was perfect. Slowly I began to believe that this might be a world where I could be happy again. And sure enough, the next couple days were amazing.
We ordered chocolate pancakes every morning (and possibly for lunch one afternoon though you can't prove that). We wandered around Udaipur browsing the markets and buying random souvenirs that I don't really need. We stopped in to many rooftop cafes with beautiful views of the famous Udaipur lake. I mentioned in the last post that a James Bond movie was filmed in Udaipur and pretty much every restaurant claimed to be playing it in the evening but no one ever played it. It was OK though because the food was so good. We tried to visit the City Palace but didn't want to give our cameras to the security people so we just viewed it from the outside. We thoroughly enjoyed our hotel which had comfy beds, a real shower with warm water, AND hbo on TV. It was a very relaxing, scenic weekend. Perfect in every way minus the death train.

In other news, my beginners group at the computer class has moved from mastering control of the mouse to inserting tables into microsoft word. I'm very proud. This is a picture of Asha and me - she is one of my new students who loves the camera.

Hope everyone is doing well!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jaipur *headbob*

So it's been about three weeks since my last post I think, and Jaipur has continued to grow on me. We've done a lot of sightseeing on weekends - I'm pretty sure we've visited almost every major attraction such as Hawa Mahal, Janta Mantar, the City Palace, Albert Hall, Amber Fort... all beautiful. Our host mom took us to Bapu Bazaar, a market in the Old City, and helped us barter with all the shop owners. We went at night and the market was all lit up and busy and loud and crammed with stuff to buy, it was awesome. I have continued to foster my growing love of Indian food, SO GOOD, and we're taking a cooking class in one of the coming weekends. I'm obsessed with warm chapatis and lentils and pineapple and different sauce things that I can never remember the name of.

We started up our work project. Karelle, Julia, and I are working at a women's empowerment center teaching computer literacy women and young girls. It has been fun getting to know the women and we've found out that they hope to apply for jobs with their computer skills or teach them to their children. It's really challenging sometimes because the communication is a bit strained - I'm working with the group of women who are least experienced with computers who also happen to have the least experience with English. But they are all really sweet ladies and they make me laugh. I make them laugh, too, since they make me sing Hindi songs that I don't know the words to for them at least once a week, it's kind of awful.

We also are "beautifying" a school room at one of the government schools, basically repainting and cleaning and possibly doing another mural. We keep pretty busy.

Last weekend was Jaipur's kite festival. We spent the day on the roof with our host family. It was an incredible experience - all our neighbors were out on their roofs too and we put down a sheet so we could lie back and watch the colorful kites that were flying everywhere. It was like stargazing, the more you looked, the more you saw. So beautiful! We had a picnic lunch up there on the roof, too, including festive food like POPCORN and these delicious lentil ball things. Our host family tried to teach us to fly a few kites but it was really difficult - they don't use the nice structured kites we're used to but just tissue paper kites with wooden frames. The next day kites were all over the streets and in the trees.

We also got henna'd. A woman from IDEX gave us all beautiful designs that go up to our elbows and down all our fingers. It's supposed to last for two weeks - it's really cool but I keep looking down and being caught off guard by my ink, so not used to my tattoo. It is awesome, though.

And OK, this all sounds great, but there are two things I have to complain about, I just need to vent, sorry. The tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) drivers here drive me CRAZY! They are infuriating. They always try to rip Julia and me off, charging crazy prices, and when we refuse they just drive away without even looking at us, it's really annoying because sometimes it'll take like 15 minutes just to get a ride somewhere. Plus the driving in this city is out of control, once our tuk-tuk driver hit a motorcycle and they guy fell off and we just kept driving. "Wasn't my fault," he said. Cool. Also, we signed up for the gym near our house which is called Veight Watchers with a "V" and it's nice that we have a gym but the staff there are always hovering over us and won't leave us alone and they also won't let you use a machine for more than 15 minutes at a time. The first time one of the staff guys tried to get me to move I pretended not to see him trying to get my attention behind me... it only worked for a couple of minutes before I had to acknowledge him. Well anyway everything else is great.

IST is coming up and Julia, Katie, and I are going to Udaipur. I'm very excited - a James Bond movie was filmed there once and it looks awesome on google images... It's also known as "Venice of the East" because it's built around some huge waterways. I'll report back on how the weekend goes!