019 People, 019 Planets

 
serene Kenya 2.jpg

01.  Back to the Past:
Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya, Africa

Bump… Bump… Bump… My heart nearly jumped out of my chest as I watched the battle between the ox and the lion. Roaring, the lion stood up on its hind legs, grabbing on to the ox, piercing its fangs into the ox’s flesh. While, the ox, howling in pain, fights eagerly to get loose. The lifeless, wilted grass almost seemed to resurrect, swinging left and right, following the path created by the intense slashes of the ferocious lion. The blazing sun with no trees blocking it, penetrated from above, observing a match between two fierce lasted for what seemed like infinity. Aware of the slightest sounds, terrified of interrupting their battle for survival of the fittest, I hid behind the chair of the safari Jeep. Nevertheless, as curiosity arose inside me, I slowly lifted my head, peeking out the window, witnessing this bizarre battle between predator and prey. This cruel, bloodthirsty, horrifying battle for survival of the fittest is the true wild, where only the strongest survive and where the weak perish. However, this was just the beginning to my extraordinary experience of the wildlife in Kenya.       

Lake Nakuru National Park is located at the center of Kenya. The park is populated by hundreds of different organisms and far away from the influences of new technology, this is the true world, where humans are one with nature. The guide, a local conversationalist proudly expressed the importance of preserving nature and how the national park was merely one of the many Savannah conservations located in Kenya. He told us a little bit about the history of this park, how the park hosts over 400 bird species, and how it is one of the world’s safest habitats with the highest concentrations for Black Rhinoceroses. Throughout the ride we passed by Lake Nakuru, where the scene was unreal. It was like we had driven into a painting, for the surface of the lake was inherited by hundreds of pink flamingos, creating a hot pink colored garden. We drove through roads cut away from knee high, bushy grasslands, stopping awestruck as we waited for a herd of giraffes to cross the road.

After passing through bumpy roads and beholding a variety of astonishing sights of wild animals, we finally arrived at our next destination: The Masai Mara Village. This was the home to the Maasiai tribe, an ethnic group inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. Walking out of the jeep, I spotted peculiar looking housing. The houses were not made of bricks and cement, they were made of what seemed like a combination of mud and hay, forming a rectangular looking shape. The houses were linked together creating a circular fence, protecting the citizens and land inside. Eager to know what these unusual looking shelters were, I ran over to one of the huts to take a closer look. Though my running quickly changed to walking as a gust of revolting odor struck me, the houses stunk like cows, causing swarms of flies to surround them. The guide later explained to me that these huts were called the Bomba, with structural framework formed of timber poles fixed directly into the ground and interwoven with of small branches of wattle. The plaster was a mixture of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, human urine, and ash – all contributing to the harsh smell. These construction materials were specially tailored to their climate: since they have rainfall quite often the cow dung is used to seal the roof and keep the inside dry. The guide also explained to us that the locals work as a big family, they treasure their family relationship extremely dear. The more successful family members were responsible for supporting the weak family members, therefore living closer together would make life easier. 

In the center of the village surrounded by the Bomba, laid a few wooden stands. On the stands sat varieties of unique, handmade, colorful accessories. Next to one wooden stand sat a lady who wore a red and white checkered wrap: a Shúkà, traditional clothing with various simple colors and textiles that envelopes the body. She was threading tiny, simple colored beads into thin strings, crafting varies of bracelets with unique and complicated patterns. Then as we walked closer, the middle aged woman from the Massai tribe held up a neckless advertising it to us, using their tribe’s language: Maa. My eyes popped as I saw a humongous, blazing white tiger tooth, secured onto that neckless. It was unbelievable -- the only tooth I have ever seen detached from a body was my own. Never would I have thought to feast my eyes upon real tiger tooth other than in a museum. The local woman attempted an explanation for how the tiger tooth was acquired but all I heard were mumbles, as she only knew the language of the Massai and I only understood English. Luckily the guide translated what she explained to me:

Here at the Massai village, when young men move into adulthood, usually in their mid-teens, we host a coming-of-age ceremony. This ceremony is one of the biggest milestones for the young men of the Massai tribe, it is taken extremely seriously. In this coming-of-age ceremony, they get a chance to demonstrate their bravery, which is usually shown by the killing of a wild animal with their bare hands. The tiger tooth is just a memento for such an eventful time in their life.

This trip showed me countless reasons to why we should protect the nature, teaching me how fragile nature can be. The citizens of the Massai tribe demonstrated the importance of keeping a careful relationship between humans and the wildlife, as well as enlightening me with intriguing new facts about their culture. The safari taught me the significance of conservations, educating me of the reasons for why we must preserve these delicate locations, before they get completely devoured, buried under the complications and conflict caused by wars, poverty, and new technology.

Words have a limitation in expressing the amount of greatness you will experience in Kenya. So if my travel experience hasn't grabbed your interest yet, I suggest you go to Kenya and have an individual travel experience of your own, learning new astonishing facts every second of the day. I promise you, you will never regret the decision of coming to Kenya and you will definitely enjoy your stay. What will you experience? What scenery will you behold? What knowledge will you acquire? There is only one way of knowing.

- Serene S

 

02: There:
Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea

Do you miss there?

Because, I do.

Everyone possesses different memories, experiences and nostalgias. Everyone has there, somewhere inside their heart. There is a place full of attractions and old memories, but also the place that makes you feel melancholic. There is a palette of emotions.

In my case, I miss my hometown. More specifically, I miss the beach of my hometown. I’m from Busan, South Korea. Busan is the second biggest city in South Korea. It is full of buildings and attractions. But if someone wants me to recommend one place to visit in Busan, I will recommend my ‘there’, Haeundae Beach. Haeundae Beach is one of the most famous beaches in South Korea. It’s about 12km long, a great place to walk. Gwangan bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the country. Of course every summer it becomes really crowded, because of the people who come to swimming. That is why I never visit there during summer. But, I love to go there and play on the fall with my family, friends or alone. Last time I visited South Korea was that case.

It was fall, with little leftover heat from the summer that hadn’t dissipated yet. I met my friends at a café, and stood in front of my old elementary school. I had three best friends in South Korea: L, G and J. The meeting was less frenetic than I anticipated it would be. I thought we would cry, shout and run around, but it was very calm. We just shared some ‘good mornings’ and drank some expensive beverages (I expressed irritation about the high price). I loved it, because it made me feel ‘ordinary’. and talked about our life. It was absolutely same. I talked with them as if I was in 6th grade.

After we finished the conversation, we decided to go to Haeundae Beach. It was improvised opinion. We rode a bus to Haeundae. Even no one really knew how to get there, we arrived safely. We little bit walked to the beach, and tried to remember signboards at the street for later, when we come back to the bus stop. We, finally, arrived at the beach.

We had to have a little dispute, whether do we have to wear our shoes or not.

“Are we going to take our shoes off?”

“Obviously. Well, Like always! It’s a beach!” G shouted.

“Well, that’s true. We always have a quarrel above this topic, but the answer is one,” that was me.

Suddenly the conversation terminated, and we decided to not wear the shoes. We quickly take our shoes and socks off. L little worried about thieves, but J persuaded her that no one would steal our socks. We jumped in to the sand. It was a bit worm, so we try to get to the water as fast as we can. Sand under our feet changed in to saturated dirt. Small footprints were drawn on the brown paper.

“Look up!” G shouted. I turned my neck and faced the blue sky. I smiled.

It was blue. The sky was blue, and the water was blue. The bridge was white, reflecting shiny sunshine. The salty water saturated the sand and waved back. The white line move back and forth and made a strange painting. I tried to take a picture, gave up as fast as I could. Even I could take the greatest picture in the world, it wouldn’t be as beautiful as I could see.

First, we tried to not get in the water. Wet feet were the most difficult thing in the earth to manage. But, we realized that it is impossible to stay outside from the cool water, especially in front of the best beach in the country. Simultaneously we ran in to the water, and made some big splashes. Waves were strong. Actually, stronger than our thinking.

“My pants!” it was J, but no one helped her, because everyone has spoiled their pants. We started to splash salty water to each other. After that, we were completely out of control. We jumped, we shouted, we sang, and we played. For three hours.

When the sun started to disappear, we decided to have a supper. It was little early to have a supper (it was about 4 o’clock), but we thought that would be better. We enjoyed the beach enough. Even there were many restaurants around the beach, it didn’t take long to decide the menu. One choice was too strong to make us to consider different choices, I think.

The choice, was a fried chicken.

“Wasn’t it quite obvious?” J said. I nodded my head, with a huge chicken leg in my right hand. Others also nodded in assent.

“Fried chicken is the best thing in the universe, everyone knows that,” G said, drinking coke. Actually, a fried chicken is very famous, especially for midnight snack. Crunch, crunch. Yellow, crispy batter and warm, thick meat. No one could dislike it.

After we finished eating, we had to decide where to go or what to do. The sun was still high upon the sky, the wind wat hot. We had ice-creams for dessert and looked around the street.

“What about a karaoke!” what, a good idea. It was my idea, and I felt like a genius when I said it. We quickly ran in to the karaoke (it was at the second floor of a building). The karaoke was small. Actually, very small. Barely two people could fit in there. But we were four! Obviously, it was too small for us. But we were young on that day. Like 6th grade, we ran in to the room and fit ourselves in the room. Two sat on a sofa, one set on a window frame, and one just stand. What a stupid idea, but it worked. We sang, we videotaped, and we played. It, was happy.

When we came out, it was completely dark. I checked time, and realized something.

“My god, we spent four hours…” I said. I was really surprise. Four hours? Surely something was wrong with us. J, G and L laughed loudly. I always think, this friends make time goes so fast.

We walked the dark beach. Not right next to the water, but road that touches the sand. It was crowded. Obviously, Haeundae Beach was a great place at night, too. One of the biggest factor that makes it special, is Gwangan Bridge. The night view of Gwangan Bridge, the landmark of Busan, is one part of its reputation. The white bridge dyed with colorful lights is of course one of the best attraction. If you can see at high altitude, you will be able to see a fantastic night view of Gwangan Bridge and ‘Marin City’. Marin City is the wealthiest part of Busan, with great lights from high apartments. I heard a conversation (about their wealth) between my friends.

Loud noise made by people and cars, songs of busking people, good smells from restaurants… All of them made me feel ‘happy’. If I can walk here all night, I thought. But I knew, I had to leave, left my memories behind.

That was my story of there. The place full of attractions and old memories, but also the place that makes you feel melancholic. My palette of emotions. So, visit my there. It will become your there.

- Judy P

 

03: Trolls, Museums, and Monkeys, Oh My!
Seattle, Washington, USA

The scent of damp pine-needles waft up at me through the cool, crisp air as I walk through my driveway and into our family’s car. I rush into my seat, fastening my seatbelt hastily. The next thing I know, my friend jumps in after me, climbing through to the back of the minivan.

“Anywhere you want to go, guys?” My dad asks from the front seat, bringing the car to life with one click of his keys.

My friend and I both exchange excited glances before screaming out in unison;

“THE FREMONT TROLL!”

“I dare you to climb up to his head,” my friend snickers.

A sly smirk crawls onto my face, “I dare you to pick his nose.”              

When most people think of Seattle, a picture of the Seattle Space Needle pops up. But, and this is a confession here, being a Seattleite myself have only once been to this famous landmark. Back when tickets only cost about ten dollars each, now, being almost triple that, the Space Needle is notoriously known as one of the most expensive attractions in Seattle. Not including the “Seattle Great Wheel” at Pier 57, of course.

Seattle is a very artistic city; it has always been that way. But the truth of the matter is that many of her gems are quite well hidden. A perfect example of this would be the Fremont Troll, lurking under the George Washington Memorial Bridge. His rough, spider-like fingers that are tightly grasping a real Volkswagen. His long, knotted, snarled, stringy beard and the glassy sparkle in his huge eye creates a horrifically life-like, unique statue. Inspired by the Norwegian fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff, this marvellous creation was built in the early ‘90’s to rehabilitate the area under the bridge which was becoming a dumping ground for drug dealers.

Now, however, it has become a climbable statue and a fun and quirky pass time for many in the area. It is a great place to go on a slow day for it is also close to many restaurants and shops, creating a perfect day plan. As someone who has known this big guy for most her life, I can honestly say that this is a fantastic activity for all ages. Tot to elder.     

Considering Seattle’s circumstances, there is no surprise in learning that this city is huge in cultural diversity. Originally belonging to the Native Americans, Seattle had a very small white population until it became a more notable site on the Oregon Trail and immigrants started flowing into the Northwest.

Fast forward a couple hundred years and it’s the turn of the century (19-20th), Scandinavian and European immigrants start pouring into the Seattle and Ballard area (Which of 1907 officially became part of Seattle). The neighbourhoods were then split into the different nationalities; you lived where the majority of your country did. And even though now this isn’t the case, in certain areas or neighbourhoods you can’t help feeling a strong cultural vibe whether it had belonged to the Norwegian, Swedish or Italian.

Now, if you want more than just a vague, historical sensation. I’ve got the perfect place for you.  

The Nordic Heritage Museum is a must-see stop in your guide to Seattle. Prepare yourself for a journey back into the past as you enter a life-sized replica of old Seattle houses, shops and farms. Enjoy learning about the life of an immigrant as you visit their gorgeous farm houses, the dirty city slums and the deck of the ship that brought hundreds of people into America. Meet full wax sculpture of an old Seattle priest as he stands in front of his church, greeting passers-by. Walk along the train tracks of the old Seattle railway. Escape your worries and enjoy a simpler time.

Seattle is an incredibly diverse place, with too many cultures to identify it with just one. This museum is a humble attempt at presenting our many different colours.

Now, when your journey slowly comes to an end, pay a visit to the gift shop filled with quaint Scandinavian clichés. Pick up a small Pipi Longstocking doll, a Lukke Troll and some candy. Make sure to stock up and stay buckled in, for yet another activity awaits!                          

We’ve visited a grumpy old troll lurking under a bridge, inspired an ancient fairy tale. We’ve gone back in time, learning of a bygone, yet never forgotten, era. But now it’s time to enjoy the present. For our next, and final, adventure it is time to visit an iconic, and very politically correct, Seattle Christmas tradition: The Christmas Monkeys.

The Christmas Monkeys can be seen in many store windows in Greenwood and Phinney in Ballard.  These lights were put up to give a universal sense of festivity during the holidays, without dealing with the mess of excluding or offending any religions. It is simply a way to send joy in a language that everyone can understand.   

If you ever find yourself driving down Greenwood or Phinney make sure to catch a glimpse of these merry mammals and have them remind you of the kind of people walking and driving around you. These people would rather put up monkeys than create a slightly more narrow-minded community. From years of immigrants pouring into Seattle it has made a sense of open-mindedness that has imbedded itself into the city’s culture. Such a unique feeling can only be found in Seattle.

Now that you’ve gotten a quick glimpse at some Seattle attractions and history, perhaps you’ll consider paying a visit to this once hidden town. Behind it’s modern day guise of Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks never forget Seattle’s deep Scandinavian, European and Native American culture. It’s artistic, creative lifestyle and its incredible love affair with coffee is something you could only find in this city. Whether this is your first or one hundredth time to Seattle, I genuinely hope you have a great time and wish you good luck. Especially when navigating the twisty roads and surviving its heavy rain showers, mais c’est la vie.        

- Siri C

04: Smell of the Salty, Sweet Breeze
Maldives

There is a place, where ever people talks about it, they all mention the sea, island and the hotels. But never talks about the local people, who have give up their own identity and their own paradise land to serve others.

At the one step out of that air conditioned plane, I was faced with the ‘warm welcome’ from the Maldives islands. Sunny, clean humid air and the smell of the salt blue sea - a true tropical paradise. For a student who was locked in the classroom in a polluted city for a good six months, the sun feels hotter than ever. This transition is too sudden but I'm ready. My family came this very place, that left only good memories to visitors with a simple plan. we are here to get the best out of it before it fade into history by the rising sea.

From Male we flew on a old style propeller plane to Dharavandhoo, the capital island of the Maalhosmadulu Dhekunuburi atoll in the middle west of the country, then rides a boat to our destination, Anantara resort on the Kihavah island. The hotel float out of the water, looking toward the endless sea i could see the island itself. We docked at the hotel’s wooden dock, checked in and enjoyed the rest of the day resting in our Mediterranean style beach house hidden in thick walls of tropical plants.

Even that i know I'm on a isolated island, this place never felt remote. Well built, lots of water activities and even full wifi coverage, it feels just like in a Miami beach side resort. Open the door and the view of the foaming wave and strips of colds filled my eyes, smell of the morning sea breeze took away the tireless from yesterday’s travel. Ready to go I stepped on to the fine sand and put on my slippers, We walked toward the port, looking toward the small village of Kudarikilu island just next to the horizon where the sea and sky meets together. Soon we will be visiting there.

The port of Kudarikilu was poor, rather than a port, its more like few slaps of rotten concrete built on the edge of the beach. Stepped out of the boat the sand fells also nice and warm, short coconut palms dotted the soft land, few young girls wearing t-shirt and jeans climbing trees trying to grab the fresh, green coconut. The village was built by stone brick walls and metal plates roof, painted in bright colours; blue, yellow, green and purple. We walked toward the Kudarikilu public park - a soccer field drawn on dirt. Next to the vegetated park sits few women and a old grandma, weaving container and bags out of dry palm tree leafs. The roads of Kudarikilu was nothing but pure sand, women wearing hoods and kids gathered in groups chatting in Dhivehi and siting in front of the Laddu restaurant. farther down an old, abandoned mosque sits in the corner with a patch of green tall grass and blocks of stone grave. Dead and silence, just like its surroundings.

How can five star hotels and poor villages like this exists such closely together? We entered a very out sanding souvenir shop, its the only building in this entire village that have a solid, concrete roof top and a very clean outside wall. “Assalaamu Alaikum! Welcome!” the shop keeper greeted us in very good English, which surprised me, where did she learn her english? She explained to me, still in good pronounced English, that every one who participate in hotel service has to know English and learn western way of greeting - And thats about every one in Maldives. “This island was set to become a tourist island since that hotel was built, and from then, every teenagers start to learn english and women start to cook western cuisine so they can greet visitors.” Which explains why the only restaurant on this poor island actually serves hamburgers. “This is how we survives and earn money, to serve visitors who came to our beautiful island kingdom, its our pleasure.”

This is the place, when ever people come to here, they only see the sea, island and the hotel. But never notice about the local people, who have give up their own identity and their own paradise land to serve them.

Maldives, the island kingdom, such unique in its geographic design and the pure sea it has. Despise how surprising and fun it is staying on the archipelago, the truth is, the country is being devoured, by both natural and cultural. How can the shopkeeper be proud when her country’s culture is being polluted? perhaps I will never know. But do go and enjoy the beach, activities and the tropical culture, before the very last bit of it vanishes into the rising sea.

- Henry Y

 

05: The Island of tradition
Öland, Sweden

I feel slightly seasick as the ferry reaches the shore, the deep blue waves hitting the sides of the rocky cliffs angering the seagulls resting and causing a cacophony of screeching. Taking that as a welcoming invite, I step ashore on the worn down jetty, the same one I’ve walked on for much of my childhood, taking in the scent of seaweed and fish that wafts in with every wave. Before I walk in to the familiar town centre with red wooden cottages, I stop briefly for a moment to look back at the ocean. The sight of the sun, the sound of the sea and feeling of the wind reminds me of where I am: Öland, better known as the Isle of Sun, Water and Wind.

We step into our car and start diving northward. I remember reading in my dog-eared worn-out books about the history of the island. According to ancient folklore, Öland was created by a giant who took a handful of mud and threw it into the ocean. Research instead suggests that the island is the remnants of an ancient coral reef, although the former story is more amusing. It is easy to dream away and imagine the giant towering up above you as you stare out onto the sea. Human settlement on the isle is much more recent, with of settlements show that the island has been populated since the Stone Age. As I’m driving through the island, I ponder about how the first settlers must’ve felt. Life on the island has always been harsher than in the mainland. The land I see covered in short grasses, succulents and completely devoid of trees. It looks more like a cliché postcard of Kansas than a Baltic island.

We step out of the car, immediately taking in the distinct scent of pine trees. We’re in a town called Skäftekärr, a charming but tiny little village. The town lays near the border where the coastal forest meets the dry steppe, a meeting point between two worlds. Usually, everything on the island seems to move twice as slow as the rest of the world. The island is like a happy, worry-free enclave that is landlocked in a world where everyone is stressed and busy. But today is no ordinary day, and so the people behave in no ordinary way. It’s the 24th of June, the longest day of the year. We call it Midsommar, and it’s the reason for our travel to Öland. Although an ancient pagan tradition as old as time the Swedish people still take it quite seriously. To celebrate it, we’ve driven all the way up to a meadow outside of the town. The grass almost looks like an ocean as it sweeps in the wind, gently waving from side to side. In the middle of the sea of green grass lays a piece of timber with its bark and sticks cleared off, clad lavishly in lush leaves and fragrant flowers. This is known as the Majstång, or Maypole and is the centrepiece of the celebration, sort of like a Christmas tree but in summer. People move in and tie more leaves and flowers to it, covering every barren space. It’s a communal activity that seems to unite all these people who otherwise would have no reason for starting conversations with each other. Soon, the pole has been covered and is being raised by a group of men whilst the rest of the people look on. After several cheers from the onlookers the Majstång has been raised, standing at around four meters tall. It’s clear to see that it’s a remnant from the pagan era, almost resembling a Native American totem pole. But a second, shorter log has been tied horizontally to the trunk, forming a cross. When Christianity arrived to the nation, it changed many traditions to fit the new religion. A folk band gathers around the pole and play traditional songs, encouraging the people to start dancing around the maypole and soon enough we’re all running around, laughing and dancing along to “Små Grodorna”, a song about frogs with accompanying dance moves, sort of like an 18th century version of the Macarena. I sit down and look at the scene that lays before my eyes, hearing the music and feeling the scent of sweet summer and newly cut grass. In my daydreaming I imagine the ancient settlers dancing around the very same Maypole we’re celebrating, which is plausible considering it is such an ancient tradition. It really hits me how in a modern first world country in the era of technology almost everyone, both young and old recognize these old traditions and know them by heart.

Many things are unpredictable about summer, but one thing that seems to stay constant is that it always tends to rain when you least want it. And true to that soon heavy drops drop down upon the celebration, sounding like drums whenever it hits the roofs. I jump into the comfort of our car, my shirt sticking to my back at my hair wet and messy. We try to evade the rain by driving away a couple of kilometres north, the rain smattering on the car’s roof and pouring down the windows. We end up at a place called Trollskogen, a forest protected by the government. Its name means the fairy forest, and it is truly a magical place. Right at the northern tip of Öland, it sits just by the northern azure coast. The heavy winds that flow in have shaped the trees, twisting and turning them into snake-like trees that seem to creep rather than sprout. Local legends say that fairies and elves dwell in the forest, and it’s not hard to picture why. The proximity to the coast means that mist sweeps in every now and then, rendering an almost eerie vibe with the shadows of the trees dancing around and seemingly coming to life. Words can’t describe it precisely, because it’s so magical you have to see it with you own eyes. And although most people understand that there’s science and not fairies behind it, most people still believe in fairies because of tradition.

Traditions. Why do they exist? We all have our traditions, whether they are eating turkey on Thanksgiving or getting red packets on Chinese New Year. My day on Öland has come to an end and I’m in my family’s summer cottage. In one day I’ve seen countless traditions, from the Midsummer celebrations to the fairy forest. My journey has taught me how much Swedish people value their traditions. And I understand why. Because traditions give life reason. They explain why we do certain things and why certain things exist. Moreover, traditions are remnants of when people weren’t connected and connect people. Sitting on my bed and staring out of my window I watch the brilliant glimmering moon rising like an orb made of marble. I think of the legends told to me as a child around a campfire. The moon had the power to turn ordinary people into fierce werewolves. Everyone knows that that’s a myth but for the people of ancient times it explained why strange things happened and allowed the people to feel safe knowing the reasons why things happened. I’ve come to realize the importance of keeping these traditions alive. We live comfortable lives but still celebrate ancient pagan festivals. Because traditions remind us of who we are and where we came from. And traditions let us believe in a world more magical than our everyday lives, letting us escape to the time of our ancestors. I lie down and fall asleep, dreaming of fairies and elves dancing along to the frog song in the mist of the fairy forest.

- Kenny D

 

06: A Beautiful Beginning
Melbourne, Australia

Chatterbuzz…I quickly walked through the crowded streets of Melbourne Australia, following close behind my mom and my friend. It felt like pushing your way through a herd of cattle. I tried fanning myself, but the tiny cool wind could not beat the burning hot atmosphere of the warm summer’s night beating on me. Melbourne usually wasn’t swarming with people this late at night but it was New Year’s Eve and it seemed like almost everyone in the entire city was gathered around near Federation Square. I remembered when I was young and wasn’t allowed to stay up until midnight to see fireworks. But now I was back years later to see them with my own eyes.

It was an average warm summer night at Melbourne Australia. I passed a kind woman selling those cheap lit headbands. It was fun so we decided to buy a couple. Later the three of us sat down on the gravel in Federation Square. The ground was clean and didn’t collect as much dirt and dust, so it was pretty much safe to sit on. The air was dry, just like how Australia usually is. It would’ve been nice if I went to the beach at daytime. It was so hot and so convenient since Melbourne was a city by the ocean on a country entirely surrounded by ocean. But now was time to wait for the New Year’s countdown. Melbourne is a small city with not many people in it, just like there isn’t so much people in the entirety of Australia. But today was a special occasion and it seemed as though the population duplicated. Around me, people were bustling about or sitting down chatting, excited about the fireworks and talking about a new year.

My mother suggested we eat some food. I wasn’t very hungry but it was still a couple hours until countdown and my food-loving friend would’ve probably gotten hungry by then if we didn't buy something to eat. The three of us went to the nearest café. On the way, I turned my head to the sound of guitars, drums and singing voices. I wasn’t the only one who heard it because my mom and my friend turned the other direction to take a look. There were a bunch of people crowded around a single stage. Pink, purple and blue flashing lights danced around a band of four men with guitars and a drum set. The music rang loudly throughout the square. It felt as though they wanted their voices to be heard not just in the square, but all of Melbourne. My thought bubble was broken when my mom suggested we get to the café. I glanced at the food they had. They had all these different pastries. I chose a simple croissant to eat while my friend chose a hot dog. Typical for people to choose hot dogs at this time of year. Just typical.

 We sat back down at the spot we were before. There wasn’t much time left until countdown but not very little. My friend began to explain those New Year’s Eves before this one. Every year, they set off fireworks from buildings not just in Melbourne but everywhere. Not like those cheap fireworks they have in China but large. We talked long about the fireworks. The time ticked on faster. Suddenly, on the big screen in Federation Square, there appeared a couple of numbers. One minute to new year. I quickly tried to think of a couple of New Year’s resolutions, but I was too excited about the new year and the fireworks. 30 seconds to new year. The people around me were getting hyped up, including my mom and my friend. 10 seconds. 10. 9. 8. 7. 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! Beautiful bright flowers of fire and light burst out everywhere. Booming. Blooming. Almost like real life magic popping out at me. I was mesmerized at the sight. It was a fairy tale dream. I felt glad to be able to see the Melbourne new year’s eve fireworks.

The way back was crowded like a thousand herds of cattle being squished together on one truck. It didn’t matter as much anymore. The fireworks occupied 70% of my mind. Years ago, I’d never seen the New Year’s Eve fireworks with my own eyes in my own hometown. Now I was back years later, and I’ve seen those fireworks with these young eyes for the very first time. I can still hear those booming and cracking sounds and I can still see those colorful flowers of fire. A beautiful way to start a new year. A beautiful beginning.

- Jenny S

 

07: Petronas Food Paradise
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I sucked in the fresh, dense, earthy air. I’ve finally arrived at the capital of Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur! Even though I was extremely exhausted, I was still hopping from one foot to the other like a little girl and I was not ashamed one bit. I was deliriously happy, giddy even. Nevertheless, the sun showed no mercy as it’s boiling hot temperature attempted to steam me alive. The air was hot like it was fresh out of a bread oven, rising to blast our open eyes and kiss our faces with its fiery breath. Sweat poured from my body and evaporated in seconds. My ever so tasty water was half-finished, and the humidity was just adding on to the burning flame. I must rely on the bus air conditioner now.

 Zrooom! The bus door automatically slid to the side as I got on. Something wasn’t feeling quite right though. Something felt odd. Something. Was out of place. It didn’t take me long to notice that I was getting on from the left side of the bus. The driver greeted us with a warm smile and gestured us to keep going. He was sitting on the right side of the bus. Countries with right sided drivers were once colonized by the British in the 1950s. There were not many people in the airport either. After all, there were only 30 million people in Malaysia.

I took a seat on the cool bus. The bus glided smoothly along the highway roads as I peeked out. A vast ocean of greens surrounded what made up the rest of the city. It was like seeing a real live tropical rain jungle with birds dancing and singing in it! From far away, pointy buildings stood out like palaces that refused to be unacknowledged. They were mosques, temples that are used for Muslim religious services. There were two mosques just from this one tiny part of Malaysia. That’s thirteen percent of all of the mosques in Malaysia! My eyes narrowed into slits until I saw two huge “rockets”. We gradually went deeper into that jungle, arriving at a parking lot. I stood in the shadow of a huge object. The towering shadow stood strong like a giant. It was like a neverending black hole that was swallowing everything including me and what now seemed like an ant-size bus. Right in front of us stood a huge tower: the Petronas Twin Tower.

Tall and gigantic skyscrapers are very common in every urban city in the world, but you don’t often describe a tower as beautiful. If you could see the Petronas Twin Towers, you’d only say “Wow.” The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are currently the tallest twin towers in the world. They stand 451.9 meters tall with 88 occupied floors. Today, they are the headquarters of the Petronas Company, the government-owned oil and gas company of Malaysia. Not only are they a picture of human advancement, the Petronas Twin Towers also represent human resourcefulness. Because of the scarcity of steel and the cost of steel importation in Malaysia, the Petronas Twin Towers were primarily built with high-strength reinforced concrete. The material made the towers very heavy, but it also made them less likely to sway, and therefore, more stable. The Petronas Twin Towers were also designed to represent the rich culture of Malaysia, specifically its Muslim faith, as Malaysia is a Muslim country. For this reason, Malaysia dishes doesn’t include pork. The cross section of the towers would reveal the shape of a Rub el Hizb, the Islamic symbol of two intersecting squares making eight points. If you look closely, the architectural patterns of the tower reflect Islamic art. It also resembles a mosque, only that the towers are slimmer than the mosques we usually see. In addition, the tower contains some of the largest malls in Malaysia! Generally, people around the globe comes to Malaysia and this is a usual tradition to shop here. Shopaholics will have the time of their lives running in and out of different stores.

At that moment, that was exactly what I was doing: having the time of my life while running in and out of different stores. Excitement poured out of me like sunshine through fine white linen; I glowed from the inside out. I felt more alive than I had ever thought possible. Everyone here was smiling. Most that passed me were wearing a khimar or headscarf. The sound of several different languages mixed into one. Being a multicultural country with a big variety of ethnic groups, there were many festivals as each ethnic group celebrated different holidays. As I passed through the crowd into the hawker stalls of the food court, my jaws dropped to my foot. I had the kind of face you could read like a book. Right now, it said, “Chapter One: Surprise.” I felt as if I’ve discovered another planet. Blinding lightings and colors made up the aesthetic mall. Mouth-watering odors struck my nose. The clattering of plates and dishes echoed through the tower.

A woman in a stall beside me gave me a welcoming smile. An irresistible force dragged me over to her “Malaysian Snacks” stall. A wide variety of delicacies awaited to be savored behind the clear glass container. I asked her about the dishes. The lady frowned and shook her head vigorously. I tried again with Chinese this time. She smiled and went “Aha!” while pointing to the food and trying to explain with a mixture of Chinese and Malay. It took me a long to time to decide what I wanted to purchase. At last, I made up my mind and purchased two snacks from the lady: kuih lapis and nasi lemak. She sure was energetic and kind! The food court was still buzzing with people at 9 pm. Eating out (especially at night) is very common for Malaysians because it’s cheaper than buying the ingredients and cooking it. I held my food up to my face to observe it. The kuih lapis is a steamed nine-layer cake. Every layer has a different colour. Its sweet coconut scent lured me in as I took a layer off and placed it on my tongue. The soft, smooth treat immediately melted in my mouth. What makes it special is the you eat it; you can choose to bite into all nice layers or peel off and enjoy the layers one by one. Before I knew it, the entire kuih lapis was in my system. The second snack I got was nasi lemak. It’s aMalaysian national dish is made of a little banana leaf parcel that cradles a bes of coconut rice with spicy sambal, dried anchovies (ikan bilis) , roasted peanuts, cucumber, and egg. It’s a showcase of flavors and textures, from the delicate coconut to the brash belacan, the tender bite of rice and the salty crunch of anchovies. Crunchy, salty, sweet, chewy, it’s got it all! The dish looked a homespun masterpiece. The rice was as fluffy as a pillow, the peanuts roasted brown. Everything was flawlessly perfect. The sound of me chewing gradually got muffled by the windy sounds outside. Outside, the clouds were covering the sun. Shrooo! It began as a whispering in the air. The day had been beautiful and the sky was like a dome of plasma blue. The clouds had looked like airy anvils drifting under the gleaming disc of the sun. The first few splatters of rain struck the tower. Droplets of moisture began to drip down from the exterior building walls. Then the rainfall became more intense. Drops of rain were drumming against the sparkly ceiling. So much rain was falling that a sound blurred into one long whirring noise that couldn’t be silenced by the thick walls. Eventually, the noise lessened and the rain faded into a musical chime as I took my last satisfying bite before we parted our ways. Malaysia is truly a spectacular place with different cultures, people, and food. It will definitely give any tourist a wider vision of the world while enhancing one’s open-mindedness.

- Kelsey F

 

08: The Treasure that We Couldn’t See
Hainan, China

What does paradise mean to a traveler? As a middle school student, paradise, for me, is a combination of colorful festivals, fresh seafood, and scuba diving.  When summer vacation creeps near, I start daydreaming about Hainan, China.

Hainan, a small island port off the east coast of China is a wonderful place to stay and relax in without any concerns of homework, jobs, or other stresses. Unlike some other travel locations where cities can be crowded and hiking can be strenuous, in Hainan, you can really erase your stress by enjoying the shiny sun, and the smooth, comfy sand. Step after a step, the footprints you leave, makes you think of always going back again.  Every summer I return with my family and while I return to favorite activities, I also discover new cultural attractions and the beautiful environment.

As I walk down the street full of coconut trees, both adults and students interact, smiling as the fresh air flows over the water and into the bodies of the travelers. Golden sand sticks to my feet outside of the Hilton Hotel, giving me the impression of calling Hainan: the island of Gold. I look up at my favorite seafood boardwalk pulls me into a world of food stalls: all kinds of fresh fish, crabs, lobsters, all swimming in tanks -- great meals to consider and savor.  After dinner, jogging back to the hotel, slowing cracking up the door, the relief of the smell of the strawberry shampoo and sparkling fruits are prepared for me as I fall into slumber.

Hainan is a gorgeous heaven to live in. I spent all my time with my family over the Christmas break. It was a fabulous weekend, I have wished that I could come here every break because this small, blue island has keep some of my best memories in my life until now. The fishing festival is one of the finest festival to me, we get to sit on the old hand blowing fishing boats, the engine weaving sound is attractive yet amazing us because we don’t get to see this in Beijing. The fishing net, the only tool we, the visitors get to use, I thought it was the best to play with and top fits me. The crabs and small fishes we catch, are free for us to take home.

After the fishing, going back to the hotel, the first idea coming up my mind is the beach. Trotting over the beach, letting my feet to take a bath in the sunshine soak, the ocean, the home of all Hainan citizens praise for and depend their survival on. From the ocean to the local food, Hainan is the god of seafood. the local minority groups depend on selling fresh seafood to visitors to survive. All the seafood hawker stalls provided from the hotel, all of my family members loved it. We get to peek around and look for our own beloved sea taste.

My crush on Hainan isn’t on the hotel or the other entertainments, it’s the local color that really attracted me. The fire play after dinner and the fireworks lifting up in the sky, the thought popped up my mind. I’m at paradise. While still standing in the fireworks, I can see denizens with flowers running around us. the way they cheer and communicate is a total contrast to Beijing even though we share the same culture. When we were walking around the hotel, the monkeys were coming towards us.

Hainan, an island of extreme scuba divers. Sanya Bay, a great place to scuba dive. Crystal blue water, color mixed corals, I look back nostalgically. After all the fun at Hainan, with my family and all the other activities, I passionate for the days. When I was on my way back to Beijing, at the airport, my body still resists to go back to Beijing but begging me to stay for few more days. the time when I stepped on the plane, I already started to miss the times.

Hainan, I appreciate it... for what you put into experiences there, memories return in full.

- Alex Z

 

09: One Land, Two Paths
Bangkok, Thailand

As the sun slowly started to disappear below the horizon, the multicolored, vibrant neon lights flickered on one by one, declaring the commencement of night life in Bangkok. Beep—beep—vroom— In the middle of bustling night market streets, cars and local three wheeled motor cycles, named the tuk-tuk, attempted to steer through crowds of wandering citizens. The sound of conversation and beeping of impatient cars joined together to form a peaceful yet lively harmony, a sound familiar to every Thai citizen. Being the capital of the tropical country, Thailand, it is the most populous city in the entire realm, and a home to over 8 million people.

My stomach grumbled as traces of luring scented food drifted into my nostrils, ushering me to the sides where vendors are busy managing their stall. There were stalls occupying every single part of the street, each looking extremely appetizing. There was rice, noodle, fruits, meat, sweets—anything you could possibly think of. But rice seemed to dominate the stalls, and I recall from my research that in Thailand, rice is eaten with nearly every meal. As I hesitated on which stall I should choose, one of the stalls caught my attention, surrounded by layers upon layers of people both waiting and watching. I squeezed through small gaps in the human wall and found a man making shrimp noodle, labeled Pad Thai Kung. The line was far too long, so I made my way out, and soon my place was filled by other eager citizens, and I decided to go on a tuk-tuk.

Through the sizzling sounds of cooking and uproarious sounds of chattering, and of course, through the noisy sounds of the motor engine, the friendly driver told me a lot about the Thai. We passed a group of children playing a game, and the driver introduced to me that it is called takraw, a local game whose aim is to keep a rattan ball in the air without using hands. Our conversation led to the conclusion that what we saw in the night market was a minor part of the Thai life. Differing from the lively and bustling night markets, there are places that are the exact opposite. Tranquil, sacred, holy… The temples/monasteries are where the Thai people pray to the god. Buddhism is deeply ingrained in the Thai culture, with most Thai people practicing this religion. Traditionally, all young men were expected to become Buddhist monks for at least three months to study Buddhist principles, but as years passed, this rule became forgotten, or more precisely, ignored. I was deeply fascinated with the local lifestyle, because each is unique, and can be seen nowhere else other than that country.

The humid breeze blew onto my face as we sped out of the boisterous area of the night market and onto a more undisturbed road, and as the tuk-tuk increased in speed, hair flew all over my face and I struggled to get them back. Even though the sun has already disappeared, the remaining heat was still enough to form beads of sweat on my forehead. We sped pass houses and road signs, turns and trees, while I clung tightly to the metal sidebars of the tuk-tuk. The vehicle was going at a dangerous speed, but the driver seemed confident enough and all the other tuk-tuks on the road were driving just as fast. The name tuk-tuk is onomatopoeic, originated to mimic the sound of the engine. They are particularly popular where traffic congestion is a problem, such as places like Bangkok. About 20,000 tuk-tuks were registered as taxis in Thailand, and Bangkok alone was reported to have 9,000 tuk-tuks.

I stepped off the tuk-tuk, legs still shaking from the hazardous ride, and watched as the tuk-tuk sped off into the distance and back into the gleaming neon lights. I stood between two very different areas. On my right side, tall, modern buildings stood defiantly, and on my left, the lively streets start to calm down as vendors starts to pack their belongings. When most people go to Thailand, they tend to be attracted by the ‘better’ and ‘more luxurious’ side, but I have to say that culture is often expressed through the more ordinary daily life, and that’s what really makes each place unique and different from another.

- Joanne T

 

010: Go Before it's Gone
Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Ecstatic yet calm, I stared into the clear blue waves lifting the large boat afloat while the steaming sun glistened across the crystal clear water. Sitting partially in the ocean, the cool water found its way onto my skin, submerging all fear of the creatures that lived within the beautiful, bright, multicolored coral that rested in the ocean below. The Great Barrier Reef, a region full of marine life, is only the beginning of the alluring scenery, history, and society in Australia.

Port Douglas is a small town in Queensland, Australia. This is where my adventure started for me. I had no idea what to expect in Australia and besides the many of my lame ocean puns and giggling probably way too loud in public, going to The Great Barrier Reef didn't appeal to me. The temperature was really, really hot!! I would definitely recommend to bring a hat, sunscreen, and lots of bottled water. My parents, my brother, and I took our tickets and we hopped onto a ferry and off we went, to The Great Barrier Reef. All the way there, I looked out the clear window and into the shimmering, translucent water. The waves were gentle and undisturbed. All the way to The Great Barrier Reef, there were many different sites to see. There were many different landforms and some aged buildings. We had a guide who told us all about the history behind each location and what they were used for previously. On the boat there was a bar with alcohol for adults and juice, water, and soft drinks for the kids. As we finally arrived at our destination, we hopped off the boat and onto a platform-boat.

This platform looked like a boat but was very open. There were two layers and you could go under the boat and look though glass into the ocean below. Below the boat, there was a Queensland Grouper. The Queensland Grouper is said to be the largest bony fish to be found in coral reefs. There was another option to dive down into the ocean below, although that required a diving license, Lastly, there was the small, metal platform that led into the water. It was the way into the ocean for the main attraction, snorkeling. The sight was indescribable! There were many new, vibrant fish of all sizes, shapes, and color, it was experience worth having. But! Be careful while snorkeling. Try not to lose your snorkel in the ocean, avoid touching the coral as it might cut you, and put sunscreen on your back. You may burn.

One of the many famous holidays in Australia is ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day is on the 25th of April and it commemorates the brave Australian individuals who fought throughout World War 1 including the generals, soldiers, fallen soldiers, nurses, etc. April 25th marks the day that the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed in Gallipoli in World War 1.

During ANZAC, many people travel to the Australian Embassy or a war memorial and that is where they start the ANZAC Day parade. During the Parade, they start at one war memorial and march to another. In addition to the march, all surviving soldiers are invited to march with their war medals and their uniforms. Lastly, there is always a moment of silence in respect for the ones who served. Poppies are increasingly being used during ANZAC although the poppy is the representation of Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) on November 11, 1918 on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. On this specific date and time, everyone gives a minutes of silence for every soldier who died in any war, and even soldier who died as far back as World War 1. The poppy was the first plant to sprout in the devastated battle fields in northern France and Belgium. All are welcome to join the parade or to discover other memorials no matter your culture or nationality.

In Australia, the Australian cuisine is a constant-evolving on mix of European and Asian foods. For example: Sausage, steak, French fries, etc. The standard dinner would be meat, potatoes, vegetables, salad, and maybe an ice cream for desert. In Australia, they use slang quite often. For example, taking the example foods: sausage is “snags”, French fries is “chips”, although steak is just steak. They use slang for more than just foods but if I were to make a list, it would be way too long.

Exercise is always a good way to balance your health and weight. The physical fitness, exercise, and sportsmanship are always important while playing sports. In Australia, Cricket is the most popular sport. The Australian cricket team was one of the first teams to participate in “the First Test” match in 1877! Maybe you should try come cricket but if you’re not too into sports, you can always watch a cricket match instead!

For thousands of years, Australian aboriginal art has portrayed “dreamtime” ancestors. These ancestors were said to have created life and the landscapes around us. Rock art, dances, painting, and musicals called “song lines” were made and focused only on these ancient ancestors who were said to have made the world.

In March of 2017, scientists have confirmed that vast amounts of the Great Barrier Reef have already died due to the record-breaking coral bleaching event in 2016. Scientist have stated that this coral bleaching was due to global warming. Global warming has contributed to this coral bleaching since the warmer temperatures are causing that water to warm up. Slowly, the Great Barrier Reef will deteriorate but this is only more reason to go while there is still gorgeous, vibrant coral and the large variety of majestic fish. From many new sites to see, Australia is one country you should visit before it disappears! The coral is dying and the history is fading, soon, it could be that it’s like it never happened at all. Go now, before it really is gone.

- Samantha G

 

011: Cultural Connections
Mali, Africa

If I take someone to Mali i believe they haven't had their full experience without tasting the tea and sharing a cup with a local family. It's everywhere and if you didn't have some then you will not achieve your travel and culture goals there.

As a long time resident in Mali, I have experienced everything you could possible imagine. As soon as you enter the Capital city of Bamako you will be struck not only by the intense heat but also, by the amount of culture present in the country. Wherever you look there is something new to see. Now after a while spent there I have built a strong connection to that place. As an African, getting the chance to discover different parts of Africa is an amazing experience and moving from Cameroon to Mali was one.

I spent a couple of day in this place called Kangaba and i was fairly impressed by the look. Its very very open to nature and implements aspects of the Malian culture. From the hilltop with the swimming pool you witness an amazing view of Bamako. After a weekend spent there you will start loving the place. The grass, the environment, and more.

In the south of Mali you got the little city of Segou, by the river, you can get a little hotel with just what you need and by the side next to the river a little restaurant for breakfast lunch and dinner. Next to the restaurants there are little boat who will bring you on islands on the river with a different population.

When I look back at my time spent I was really stunned by the welcoming community with very much to offer.

- Mell M