Animals, Asia, Culture, Farm, Food, Health, Missions, Travel

Ride or Die

 I’m still trying to catch up on my posts from Vietnam.We moved around a lot from place to place while we were there, which provided lots of travel time to write. However, what I lacked was the time to actually post what I was writing. If you know me very well, though, my delay should not come as a surprise.

                                                              

I ate a cricket this morning. And it was surprisingly refreshing. Not because it tasted great or anything. But, because I wasn’t going to do it, then I decided that I could handle it. So, I did. Pushing the limits you set for yourself can be a good thing.

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My carefully selected snack

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 I also rode an elephant. It wasn’t a first or anything. But, I was in the hotel room in the middle of the afternoon and I got a phone call. I answered, of course, and the voice on the other end said: “do you want to go ride an elephant?” No hello, no this is so-and-so, just elephant ride? And what’s your natural response for a phone call like that? Sure.

                                                              

So, we went on elephant excursion number three. This one was pretty typical: elephant, basket, little boy sitting on his head while we trek around. But, the seating arrangement was different. It was a wide metal basket with a narrow bench and no harness or strap of any kind. I’ve only been in bamboo baskets, which create for a little more traction. But with the metal bench and my denim shorts, I was sliding all over the place. Combine this with the fact that we were climbing down a steep embankment and the “driver” kept hitting the elephant on the head with a metal rod: I was sure I was going to topple out of the basket any minute.

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Treacherous looking basket

 But, I survived. Upon dismounting from the basket, the animal wranglers were offering other various rides. I had never seen anyone ride an ostrich, but they had them saddled up and ready to go, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It kinda made the elephant ride feel safe.
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Taking in the view

 The “saddle” has handles on the front and the back, and you are encouraged to hold onto both. Because those things take off like they’re trying to buck you off. Me and my ostrich were pretty in sync though for the most part and it was calm. We settled into a little routine. In fact, in most of the pictures, we even had the same facial expressions.

                                                              

Until the boy with the metal rod came around again and started hitting him. Then he took off and I nearly fell off again.

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Trotting along

I’m thinking some animals just weren’t meant to ride. But, then again, there’s a first time for everything.
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America, Asia, Celebration, Food, Travel

Statistic Stories

So, I checked and out of the 31 days in January, I was gone 22 of those days. My life is becoming a little bit ridiculous.

                                            

Apparently, at the beginning of every year, my blog site sends out an informational email to show you how you’ve done for the year. I’m still very much a novice, but the statistics are kinda cool, so I’ll share them with you.

                                            

                                

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 Almost 500 pictures is crazy! Blonde Beijinger is kind of a strange post to be the most popular one. I wouldn’t have guessed that. Here are a few of my faves (in no particular order) :

                                                                        

                                

It is really hard for me to choose my favorites because I lived all of the stories, so they each seem special to me in their own ways. Luckily, they provided me with a statistic on the posts that got the most views in 2015. And, it looks like I chose some of the popular ones in my list too. Enough is Enough and Checkmate can be found here if you want to check those out again!

                                                                                        

                                

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They also included my posting patterns, which isn’t super interesting to me. But, here they are anyway.

                                            

                                

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And finally, where does everyone come from?

                                                                                       

                                

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While I’m sure all of this is really interesting to everyone, I also created some statistics of my own because I feel like mine may give you a better idea of my life.                                                                                                            
Since I began this blog, I have

                                

– travelled to 12 countries (South Korea [x2], Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, China, Canada, Italy, Jordan [x2], Israel, France, Hong Kong, and Germany)

                                

– endured 174 hours of being stuck in an airplane (just calculated it, that is over a week straight of flying. As in 7 whole days, plus some. And that doesn’t even account for the amount of hours spent in airports. Mind boggling.) Here is my favorite post from an airport: Moving On

                                

– Eaten 353 enchiladas. See Cinco Celebrations for reference.

                                       

– Grown 3432 pounds of produce in the garden. Peas, Please!

                                            

– Embroidered 782 hats, in case you want to know what a Day In The Life Of Me is like.
                                                                                         

                             

Most of these are approximations, but probably close enough to true to be legitimate estimations. Which essentially tells you my life can be split into four categories: travel, work, Mexican food and gardening. Which actually really is accurate.

                                            

So, here’s to 2016 and all the stories yet to come!

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Culture, Family, Food, Middle East, Travel

Cereal Comfort Zone

So, in all of my travels, I have actually never stayed for any extended period of time with a family. Mostly because it’s usually me and Jake traveling together and it’s more of an imposition for families to keep two people. And also because Jake doesn’t like staying with people. He’s American to the core and personal space rules the day. So, no family visits.

I, on the other hand, love putting myself in the middle of things like that. I don’t know why, but I like the unpredictability of it. I guess I kinda crave being out of my comfort zone a little, in a strange way. No choices. You eat what they eat. You sleep when they sleep. You go where they go. It’s a true experience.

 

My cute host family

Most people probably don’t know this about me, but I love breakfast. Not the actual meal. But the morning time surrounding it. I love the preparations, sitting around drinking coffee, talking. I just like it. And I like the food too. At home, I’m usually up around 7 am. I eat a bowl of cereal every morning and drink coffee. That’s my routine.

Let me go ahead and re-emphasize that nothing in Jordan resembled anything from my life at home. So, out of my comfort zone is an understatement. I’ll also go ahead and tell you that I spoke to no other native English speakers the whole week. Most everyone knows English, but it’s everyone’s second language so there is still a barrier there. Needless to say, I picked up on a little bit of Arabic.

 

Can you pick me out of the crowd?

So, let’s take a Jordanian breakfast. First, it starts around 10:30 or 11 am. I was staying with my friend, Hana, and her family and her dad was cooking us eggs for breakfast. She invited me to the kitchen for coffee, which looks like this.


So, definitely not Americano.


But, the smell of it is amazing. Every country has a smell for me and this is the smell of Jordan. It’s spicy and rich. I love it. And it’s always made like this.

Apparently because the coffee is so strong and bitter, you have it with a sweet. Which, at Hana’s house, turned out to be chocolate. Coffee and chocolate are not a bad way to start breakfast.


Then, after that comes the main course. Which are a bunch of different dishes. With bread. Toasted like this.


You kind of just dip and assemble as you please. Hummus and olive oil are the standards with everything. Then, there’s lebaneh, which is similar to plain yogurt. It’s really tangy, almost like a cheese.


And homemade olives. Because there are olive trees everywhere. So everyone cans their own. To go with the main breakfast, you drink tea, which for us was slightly sweet and minty. You finish up around noon and you’re good until lunch, which commences at roughly 3 to 4 pm.


Cereal, anyone?

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Asia, Culture, Food, Funny, Travel

Curly Fry Chronicle

This picture pretty much describes us 100% accurately.

Jake loves us, he really does

 

Jake and Jordan are so bad for each other. We stopped by a McDonald’s for a bathroom break on our way to dinner. Side note: bathrooms are really hard to find in Asia, but McDs usually always has one. Anyway, Jake felt obliged to buy a drink in exchange for the use of their bathroom so I went to sit down while he and Jordan stood in line. They came back with not only two drinks but a bag of curly fries. When we’re on our way to dinner.

Why?

Because they both agreed with each other that they had to try them because we don’t have them in the US. Logical reasoning, right?

Second side note: I did try the curly fries and they were really good. McDonalds, just why don’t we have these in America?!
This post is mostly for Jake and Jordan, so the rest of you can just read along. Last year, when we were in Korea, I did a really good job (if I do say so myself) of covering Korean foods and most of what there is to know about it. But, Jake got a new camera for Christmas and sold me on the purchase by claiming the new camera would be “great for the blog!” He never needs an excuse to buy gadgets, but he usually always has one.
So, almost every dish we had here got a professional looking cover photo. Which I now feel obliged to show everyone. Because it really is top notch photography.
Jordan had never tried Korean food before coming on this trip, so this can serve as a guide for her to tell people what she had. (You’re welcome, Jordan!) I feel like I should also tell you that she had never used chopsticks either. And at most restaurants, they dug out a couple of random forks for her and I because they got tired of seeing us struggle.
Andong Jjimdak: this is my absolute favorite Korean dish. Andong is a province in Korea and is known for “country food”. Jjim means stewed and dak translates to chicken in Korean, so it is chicken that has been simmered in a delicious soy based sauce with carrots and potatoes and served with glass sweet potato noodles. It is so good! And this picture makes me want some right now.

Bulgogi: a Korean classic, bul means fire, gogi means meat. So it’s a grilled meat dish. We usually have this one with beef. It’s thinly sliced and marinated in a sauce made of garlic, sesame oil, soy sauce, and mashed apple or pear (to add sweetness) The first time I had this, one of my friends cooked it for me at home. And after adding the raw beef to the marinade, stuck her finger in it to taste it to make sure it was right. Why she waited til she had the raw beef in to taste the marinade, I’ll never know. But, that’s what I remember most about this dish.

 

We cooked it at our table

 

Kimbap: this is a Korean snack food that is similar to sushi. Kim means seaweed and bap is rice. We had this at the same market I wrote about last year. The one where I had the pig intestines stuffed with the blood noodles? If this isn’t ringing a bell, you can go back to the beginning and read about it. Anyway, these particular kimbap are called mayak (which loosely translates to drug) because they are small and addictive. They have Korean radish, carrot, and scrambled eggs in them and they’re coated with sesame oil.

 

They’re the little rolls over by the staring lady

Bimbibap: another rice dish (did you notice bap in the name?), this one is a standard. Bimbi means mixed. It’s served in a stone pot that is roughly 396 degrees (it’s seriously hot, don’t touch). And when it’s served, you mix it around really quick to cook the egg that’s been cracked on top. It’s kinda bland because they serve the sauces on the side so you can make it how you like.

Ssambap: notice “bap” again. More rice! Ssam means wrapped. These are essentially lettuce wraps you make at your table. You order your meat, which you grill at the table (AKA Korean BBQ) and then are brought a basket of “leaves” and all the sides. You put rice, meat, sauce, and garlic in the leaf and enjoy! And this dish is even better because it always comes with a show, which consists of a lady coming to your table with a slab of meat and kitchen scissors and cutting your meat for you while babbling in Korean. A true two for one deal.

Ttopokki: pronounced “top-okie”, this is honestly not one of my faves. It’s chewy rice cakes simmered in a spicy sauce. I don’t like the texture and I don’t like the spice, so this one isn’t really for me. But, I’ll eat it when I have to.

Samgyetang: this was a new one for me and I really enjoyed it. Sam means ginseng, gye means chicken and tang translates to soup. So, ginseng chicken soup. It’s served with a whole small chicken, which you tear apart with chopsticks and dip into a small saucer filled with a salt and pepper mixture. (Jake tried to put the salt and pepper in his soup, which is apparently a no-no. Don’t deviate from the custom.) The chicken is stuffed with sticky rice, so it takes a little eating before you locate your rice. It comes with a little whole ginseng in the soup, which is prized for its major health benefits and can be super expensive.


Also praised for its “medicinal properties”, a round of ginseng liquor on the side. We were told that old Koreans have a little every day as medicine. And I know why, because that’s exactly what it tastes like.

Bingsoo: a Korean meal with friends is never complete until you’ve left the restaurant and located a dessert cafe. And bingsoo is, by far, our favorite. It consists of milk ice flakes that are the consistency of powdery snow, with various toppings, depending on how you order it. It’s served in a big bowl and meant to be shared, so you must have it with friends.
Injeolmi bingsoo is Jake’s favorite. It is topped with a roasted soybean powder, sliced almonds, and little chewy rice cakes. Then, doused with a good helping of sweetened condensed milk.

Strawberry shortcake bingsoo was Jordan’s favorite. It was my first time to try this variety and it didn’t disappoint. It consists of a layer of shortcake on the bottom, a layer of strawberries, a layer of whipped cream, a layer of the milk ice flakes and a scoop of vanilla ice cream buried in the middle. Sounds awful, right?

There were a few dishes we couldn’t convince Jordan to try though.
This one is a pork leg that you pick up and eat like a turkey leg at the state fair. Except you pick it up by the hoof, from this steaming bucket, so maybe next time.

And as tempting as this lady is making octopus look, we decided to skip out on that one too. Seeing as how the cut the legs off the octopus and serve them to you still moving, with the suction cups sticking to your tongue as you fight to swallow it, I thought I could miss that experience for now.

Check please!

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Asia, Beauty, Culture, Fashion, Food, Travel

It Takes Two

I never wear lip color. But, Jake and Jordan were busy buying gold face lotion (yes, it actually has gold flecks in it and is apparently some of the best face lotion on the market in the world right now, as told by the girl selling it) so I used all the store testers to give myself a new look. Jake was less than impressed that I used the store tester lip gloss wand, but it looked pretty clean to me.

Pucker up

In other news, I’ve won Jordan over to the dark side. I was literally having a meltdown. I think I’m borderline hypoglycemic because sometimes it feels like my blood sugar just drops off the map. I was having a moment and all I wanted was street corn. As in cobs of corn that they cook and sell on a street. God heard my request fast because as soon as I said it, we walked right up to a stand.

 

Street corn stand

It’s maybe a little odd to some people, but I love it. And now Jordan does too. You get two street corns for two dollars. They only sell them in sets. You can’t buy one corn for one dollar. You have to buy two. I don’t really know why, except for the fact that everything here is made for couples. Even the street corns. I think it’s a conspiracy, ya’ll.

 

Subway hat shopping and corn eating, no shame in my game

Did I also mention that Jake, Jordan, and I are all currently single and all have no prospects of changing that anytime soon? So, we don’t exactly fit into the couple culture here. And, yes, it is very much a culture. You’re not somebody unless you have a somebody. And they go to extreme measures to let you know they go together.

 

Singles in Seoul

 

Couple clothing. It’s a phenomenon.

They literally buy matching things as a couple then wear them at the same time to let you know they’re taken. Here are a few examples:

Winter coats: to me, this could almost be construed as seasonal, so it wouldn’t be my first choice of couple clothing. I feel like it says, we’re together for the winter, but once spring hits, I’m out! However, the cost amount of a coat may indicate a more serious status in the couple clothing world. Also, it is an essential, so maybe if your guy wants matching coats, you should go for it.

Shoes: this one is the most popular (and the most difficult to get a picture of). We saw a ton of matching shoes. This is also a little more costly purchase, however, I think it indicates a medium amount of commitment. My thoughts are that it says: we’re officially established as a couple and we’re semi-serious, but we’re probably never getting married.


Hats and scarves: totally seasonal, not a costly purchase, not too much thought put into it, you’re definitely not marriage potential. But, you’re cute, so keep doing you.

That pretty much covers the main bases on attire. The options vary some in the summer: matching t-shirts, matching shorts, etc.But, I’m not really concerned about finding someone to share fashion with. What I’m really concerned with is finding someone to share delicious street corns with. Jake is no good because he hates corn, unless it comes in the form of a tortilla. But, me and Jordan make a perfect match.

My true Seoul-mate.

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Celebration, Food, Mexico

Cinco Celebrations

I currently have three drinks in the car. This is a habit that drives the people around me crazy. I have a lime water, coffee and tea. I like to stay well hydrated, what can I say. Plus, I have 9 stops on my list today, so I’m gonna need the proper amount of caffeine to make it through all of this. My brother thought it was a good idea to make Teacher Appreciation gifts to give out at local schools with our business information on it. Good idea? Yes. Driving around Northwest Arkansas to execute the good idea? Me.

Our

Our “In a Crunch and need shirts fast? Call us!” promotional (idea creds: me)

Since its Cinco de Mayo and since I have an admittedly involved and tangled love affair with Mexican food, I thought that deserved a special post. Am I right or am I right? My mainstay: a little taco shop where they let you pile on as much cilantro and onion as you please. This gem was discovered a couple years ago and me and Wanda (the owner’s daughter and my order taker) are on a first name basis. She also knows my order, which makes it super convenient for me. Is it bad that I get the same thing every time? Maybe. Is it bad that I go here often enough for someone to know my order? Probably.

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You order at the counter and then when your food is up, they yell your number from a window, in either English or Spanish. I don’t know how they know which language to use, but trust me, they always know. Your #1 job at this point: know your number. And, as soon as they yell your number, you better be hustling because they’ll continue to yell it until they see it’s claimed. It holds up the whole process if you don’t get up there quickly, so you’ve always gotta be on your toes. This is Mexican food, it’s serious business.

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Ok, let me take a side road here into a different topic, but still related. The place I just told you about is a taqueria (meaning they specialize in tacos and burritos, although this one also offers sopes and tamales, both of which are delicious as well, but I digress). There are also pupuserias (specializing in pupusas, a special and altogether different delicacy from El Salvador) and panaderias (specializing in baked goods) in our area. Rule #1: don’t go into a taqueria and ask if they have pupusas. Rule #2: don’t go into a pupuseria and ask if they have chilequiles (a Mexican dish with eggs, don’t forget: you are {hypothetically} in a Salvadoran restaurant at this point.) A pupuseria will typically have tacos but taquerias won’t have pupusas. It’s confusing, I know, but seeing as how I basically have a degree in Latino dishes, it all makes sense. Just trust me. These are pretty hard and fast rules. But, there are always exceptions. Doing this is essentially the equivalent of going into a pizza place and asking if they have fried chicken. Which, come to think of it, they might. This is America, after all.

Not the mainstay, but another very good option

Not the mainstay, but another very good option

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, Mexican food. So, I have my standard orders at all my different places, but sometimes when you see something different, you should try it because you never know. So, I ventured into La Super Quesadilla (not as Americanized as it’s name would lead you to believe, don’t be fooled.) It’s weird how walking into a place where no one speaks English and everyone stares at you because you are literally the only white person there can make you feel so at home. I decided to order the most difficult thing to pronounce on the menu. Tlacoyos. And when I executed the pronunciation correctly in my first try, my waitress seemed thoroughly impressed, like maybe she had judged the blonde girl all wrong. (Thank you Mrs. Henson for all the Spanish you did and didn’t teach me. Remember: today is Teacher Appreciation day)

I ordered mine with chicken

I ordered mine with chicken

Tlacoyos is one I’ve been wanting to try for awhile. It is pretty much a huge tortilla with a bunch of vegetables and nopales on it. And in case you aren’t up on your Spanish, nopal is cactus. And I have to tell you, it was really good. I would definitely order it again. If you see it on a menu, it’s a must try! Plus, this was the biggest tortilla I think I’ve seen in my whole life. And, trust me, I’ve seen a lot of tortillas in my day.

And, no, I didn't finish this whole thing, in case you were wondering.

And, no, I didn’t finish this whole thing, in case you were wondering.

And to end this post, I feel it is my duty to have us all take a moment to remember General Zaragoza (of the Mexican army circa 1862) and his victory over the French army and thank this kind man for making a day where it is appropriate for millions of Americans to gorge themselves on Mexican food to honor a victory in a battle in which we didn’t even fight. Amen.

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Food, Mexico

Talkin’ Tacos

I’m cutting up my first melon of the season, which makes me pretty happy. Except that I didn’t grow it. But, I did buy seeds for four different types of cantaloupe. So, come July/August, I hope to have some homegrown. That remains to be seen.

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I drove by this sketchy little Mexican restaurant the other day while passing through a small town in southwest Missouri. Delivering t-shirts takes me in a lot of interesting directions. But, I saw the sign and thought: I have to try it.

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It just so happened that one of my friends was going to be in town and wanted to have lunch. Word to the wise: don’t ever give me the choice of where we’ll eat unless you are feeling adventurous.You know how sometimes you just know when someone gets you? Yeah, that’s Christina for me. I think she might be my oldest friend. We started out in children’s church together and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s like the little sister I never had.

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And, she was happy to go to the Mexican dive with me. I knew it was authentic when we walked in and sat down and one of the other customers whistled loudly to a man, who dashed out from the back to bring us menus and three different types of “salsa”, which I titled hot, hotter, and hottest. Apparently, whistling is the secret signal for new customers.

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We took a while to order, mostly because the entire menu was in Spanish and because we were busy catching up. Finally, we got around to figuring out what we wanted. So, what did Christina order? Tacos de la lengua. And in case you haven’t brushed up on your Spanish lately, that translates to “tongue tacos”, as in beef tongue cut up and wrapped in a tortilla, and topped with a generous portion of cilantro and onions.

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So, three hours (yes, we literally talked for three hours) and three tongue tacos later, we wrapped up lunch. I knew we were best friends for a reason.

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