When Teaching Overseas, Like > Love

So it has been a LONG time since I have posted anything on our blog, but I have been bouncing this idea around in my head for a while and decided I would finally get it written!

We all love our spouses(hopefully!).  We probably would not have decided to stay with them until “death do us part” if we didn’t.  However, loving somebody and liking them are really different.  It is often cliche to say that “I don’t just love my partner, they are also my best friend!”  It is a great sentiment and perhaps true for many couples, but since moving overseas I have really noticed how much that is put to the test.

It occurred to me in year 3 of our overseas adventures how important it is to truly LIKE your spouse when making a move like we did(granted it’s good to do in ALL situations, but hear me out!).  Back when we lived in Austin, we had our own lives on top of our shared ones.  I had my school, coaching, and advocacy work and all the wonderful people that were involved in those worlds, and Ana had so many friends from college and her work that we had separate worlds along with our shared one.  I would wake up in the morning, have a quick breakfast, and then off to teaching, coaching, and the occasional late night school board meetings.  There were days and even the occasional week where Ana and I would spend probably less than a few waking hours together because of our separate worlds.  We were happy and it all worked.

Since moving overseas, our worlds have changed drastically, and luckily as it turns out, for the better.  When moving overseas, you are hitting the reset button on your life.  Everything we had built separately before we met was now half way around the world, and everything moving forward became “OUR”.  OUR school, OUR friends, OUR life!  I would imagine for many people that might be an intimidating thought.  Rarely are we thrust so fully into our partners lives on a daily basis, and for some it can be difficult.  I can say unequivocally that is not the case with us.  I think the most surprising thing I have found since our move is how much I truly LIKE my wife! 🙂  We commute to work every morning together for an hour.  We work in the same building all day.  At the end of the day, we commute home together when our after school commitments permit it(we even will occasionally stay a little longer if it means catching the same shuttle bus/subway home).  After all that, we still spend our evenings together going over the day and catching up on yesterday’s TV (avoiding social media where we can….stop ruining Walking Dead people!).  It is amazing how much closer we have grown as a result of these 2+ years in Singapore.  For the first 2 years here, I would have lunch with Ana and her middle school colleagues.  I remember people saying in the beginning, “that novelty will wear off”, but you know it never really did.  Sadly, this year my schedule has changed and we no longer match up for lunch.  I now find myself discovering other times throughout the day where I can stop by her classroom and steal 15 minutes to catch up and say hi.  It is a privilege I will never take granted after this experience.

The other piece of moving overseas which really requires your friendship with your spouse to take center stage is just the transient nature of the expat world in which we live.  People will come into your lives, make them wonderful for several years (or sadly sometimes less), and then they are gone again to hit the reset button on their lives and move on to their next adventure.  In a revolving door world like this, your one constant becomes your spouse.  They are the one friend who never leaves, the travel companion always ready to go, and the north star in your life even when the seas get rocky(and trust me with moving overseas, they will at times).  I truly love my wife.  It has also been amazing to find out just how MUCH I like her 🙂

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100 Years of Beauty Series

Back in November, I was trolling around on Buzzfeed and saw a mesmerizing video featuring the evolution of beauty over 100 years. It was beautiful to see how the standard of beauty changed throughout the years in America and how the makeup artists captured the various styles on the model she used.

A couple months later, the same website, Cut.com, continued their video series by featuring a gorgeous African-American model.

It now seems that every month Cut.com is creating more videos to add to the 100 Years of Beauty series, which not include Iran and Korea. I have loved watching these so much and hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

A Taste of Thaipusam

Getting to experience different cultures and their festivals is always a privilege when living overseas. Today, I experienced what is probably the most intense, bizarre, and fascinating festival I will see in for many years to come. Thaipusam is highly symbolic Hindu festival celebrated by Singapore’s Tamil community. It is an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. It is celebrated in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil. Thaipusam is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month, called Thai, which falls on various dates depending on the year.

Last year, I only witnessed Thaipusam from afar on my walk to school. I live next Little India, where the procession starts, and was blown away when I saw the individuals making their pilgrimage. I swore that I would go and see it from the beginning the following year, and was not disappointed by making the time for this experience. I arose at 3:00 a.m. and shot for about 2 hours with my pals Shaun and Jay, who equally enjoy witnessing and photographing wild human rituals.

Photography never looked so sexy.

Photography never looked so sexy.

Walking around the temples and getting to photograph the festival was really out of this world. You would see men and women working themselves into a trance before piercing themselves without showing any sign of pain or discomfort. It really is incredible what the human mind can do. I really appreciated how open and welcoming everyone was in the temple with us taking photos; religious rituals are deeply personal and shouldn’t have to be shared with anyone. Every person who I photographed welcomed me with a smile on their face.

Along with the photos I took this morning, I also made a short 1 minute video giving you a glimpse of what I saw during my time in the temple. I was really focused on taking pictures this time around, but plan to return next year and make a short film about the Thaipusam in Singapore.

For some reason, I can’t embed my Flickr slideshow into this blog, so if you just click the photo below, it will take you to the slideshow with all of my photos from this morning. I hope seeing these photos gives you a glimpse into an element of Singapore that not many expats or Singaporeans know about. This country is diverse in so many ways, and I love discovering all of it. Until next time!

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Tips for Traveling a la Gach

The Great Gaches love traveling. LOVE IT. And when I say love, I mean the kind of love that haves us stock piling away all of our savings so we can retire early and get to traveling full-time sooner. I suppose it’s how people look at their children; yes, they can be unpredictable, smelly, and at times, the worst, but you love them through all of it because you know at the end of the day, it’s all worth it for the beautiful memories.

Before we moved overseas, Daniel and I really made an effort to travel as much as we could within our financial constraints (Texas public school teachers aren’t exactly in the 1%), and from those travels we learned something new every trip. Now that we are overseas and leave the country almost every other month, Daniel and I have our traveling routine down to a science. So, as parents love to share child-rearing advice, I now share with you my sanity-saving traveling tips that have kept us from ending up like the film EuroTrip.

Booking flights & hotels early: I feel like this is an obvious one, but you would be surprised how many people I know wait until the last minute to book flights and lodging in hopes to get that crazy deal only to be stuck with an insanely expensive plane ticket and hotel. Booking early for the Gaches has always been our smartest first move because it gives us time to get the best seats on a plane, request a particular room or floor in a hotel and be likely to get it, and also give time for our family and friends to join us if they like. We usually start researching our flights about 7-8 months out, and then depending on where we are heading to, purchase them anywhere between 3-6 months before. Flights back home to the States get bought especially early because they fill up so fast with all the expats heading home in June. For trips in and around Southeast Asia, we usually book around 3-4 months before. Hotels come soon thereafter.

Pumped to have an entire row to ourselves on our flight to London from Houston!

Pumped to have an entire row to ourselves on our flight to London from Houston!

Stalk Trip AdvisorI can honestly say that 80% of our amazing travel experiences has been because either myself or Daniel took the time to do some research on Trip Advisor before checking a place or restaurant out. I know there are those travelers that are all about not planning, going with the flow, and traveling like a local, but I am not one of those people. When I travel, I am a tourist and I want the best experience every. single. time. Trip Advisor also ties in with your Facebook friends, and will have their recommendations from them pop up when you are searching a location, which is evil and genius. Besides spending time reading Trip Advisor reviews, I also write them every time I travel. In my opinion, it only makes sense to return the favor and send good travel karma vibes back out to the interwebs. You can read all of my reviews here.

Swear by Google Maps and Google Translate: These are my most-used apps on any vacation, period. Google Maps I use for mostly public transportation and walking routes, but there have been several times I’ve used to make sure cabbies aren’t taking me on a scenic to get more money from the trip. And obviously, traveling in Asia requires knowing a bit of the language, which I have none of. Knowing how to say something in a country’s language will make things move faster by leaps and bounds, and Google Translate has it down to a science now. Plus, it is a great way to connect with locals; every local I have used Google Translate with has been so pleased by the cleverness of the app, the exchange always happens with a smile on both of our faces.  

Get data roaming or rent a cell phone: Oh man, did I really used to fight this one, especially when I lived in America. I cannot begin to tell you how having data service in a foreign country has completely revolutionized the way I travel. Before getting data roaming, I would obsess over where I could find wifi in order to get an idea of where I was or how to get to my next location, which can stress any traveler (and their spouse out). I would even go as far to download like 10 Google Maps of various routes for our next traveling day so I knew where to go. Now, I just pre-pay for data (it’s super easy in Singapore) and use my phone like I always would. I know cell phone rentals are popular in some countries too, so check it out. It will change your trip for the better.

Use public transportation: Don’t be afraid, people! Now with Google Maps, using public transportation has really never been easier. It is always the cheapest option (besides walking), and it’s such great people watching. I could spend hours on public transportation wondering about the passengers’ lives. It also really helps you get orientated quickly because you see everywhere you are going and also other ways to get there for the next trip. Each country has apps for their metro and buses, which I always make a point to download ahead of time and play with so I know which is the best way to get around. If you absolutely MUST have a car, there is a fantastic website called RelayRides that is like the AirBNB of car rentals. You search up cars in the area you are planning to visit, and can rent a car from a local for a far cheaper price than from the usual rental companies. They also have an airport rental option which is such a time saver.

Cruising on the Vietnamese night train, the main way we got around the country.

Cruising on the Vietnamese night train, the main way we got around the country this past summer.

Don’t be ashamed, check out a guide book: I know a lot of people have a problem with this one, but I love guide books. They have great information about all aspects of the city or country you are visiting, from history to demographics to translations. I even go further and will watch shows like Rick Steves’ Europe or Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations because it’s great to have a visual to get excited about where you are going. Both are available on Hulu or to check out from your public library, so stop by the DVD section the next time you need to check out a travel book and see what’s there.

Just TRY and pry this guide book out of my hands.

Just TRY and pry this guide book out of my hands.

I hope you find these tips as helpful as I have! Everyone has their own way of traveling that suits them, and these tips have helped shape mine. Until next time, keep on traveling!

I Am A Whittier Teacher

Being a teacher, it is only natural that I have an obsession with what life is like for teachers all around the world. Tonight, I came across this video while reading an article on NPR about an entire community in Alaska that lives in the same building year-round. The video features a grade school teacher, Erika Thompson, and how she lives her life there. Check out the video below, and if you want to read the article or hear the story, you can do so here.

Tekka Centre

Anyone that knows Daniel and I personally, knows that we love Tekka Centre. Tekka Centre is our neighborhood wet market, where most locals and some expats get their groceries in Singapore. I have written in the past about what a difference shopping at a wet market is compared to the expat grocery stores here like Cold Storage or Fair Price, but Tekka is really a place you have to experience in person to understand what it truly is.

Yes, Tekka Centre can be smelly, steamy, and sticky, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It is truly the one place where Daniel and I get to interact with the locals and feel like we are locals as well. The people running their stands know us, tease us, tell us what to cook, and make us smile. Who wouldn’t want to see those people every week?

Since all of you can’t come with Tekka Centre with us every week, I felt like I had to make some kind of a film for people to get a visual idea of what it is like. I was fortunate enough to have not only Daniel with me that day, but our lovely cousin Brianna who was traveling through before she goes to Africa for some volunteer work. You can follow her at her blog here. I hope this video helps you understand our love of Tekka and motivates you to visit if you come to Singapore!

Morning Commute

Since beginning our 2nd year in Singapore, I have been exploring different ways on how to bring our lives here to our friends and family overseas. One aspect of Singapore that I adore sharing with people is our love for the Singaporean public transportation. It’s the main way we get around the island, especially the MRT.

For some time, I have been wanting to make a video of our morning commute for quite some time and finally found the time. Our walk to school is an uneventful one, but there is I find that there is always beauty in the simple things we do in life. Video is quite shaky because I filmed on my iPhone 5 and was carrying about 3 bags. Much love to my guy, Dan, for putting up with me filming at 6 a.m. Although the video doesn’t show it in the beginning, he really is a happy person all the time, just not when his wife is sticking a camera in his face for an hour straight. What’s your morning commute like for you?