2016: May All Years Be This Good

It’s been a long and crazy year. Let’s start with some basic statistics.

  • Countries lived in: China, USA, Iceland, and Korea
  • Jobs Held: Senior Teacher, full-time volunteer on a Scout Camp, cleaning lady, Teacher
  • Toilets Scrubbed: More than 300 (conservative estimate)
  • Pairs of Shoes Worn Through by Work/Walking: At least four (RIP leathers with the holes)
  • Uniforms Worn: Two (EF and Ulfjotsvatn)
  • Weeks Spent Back ‘Home’: Seven

The year began in a crappy bar in the Koreatown of Shanghai, out far from the Bund where we lived in Minhang. No one else seemed to mark the passing of midnight, when 2015 became 2016. We made a toast and attempted to order a single round of tequila shots. We were served sweet Vermouth in its place, the bartender either not knowing what tequila is or deliberately serving us laowai something weaker.

This year, we got the tequila! For free! With a community of other waygooks from around the world, with Chinese lanterns and fireworks on Gwangalli Beach outside. It was a great New Year’s Eve.

This post will pull the best photos from our year of nomadery, from each month. I started out saying it would only be one photo per month, but we did a really good job packing in amazing experiences. I simply couldn’t do it.

January

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We started out the year by taking a high-speed train to Nanjing, the site of one of the worst massacres in history during the second World War. It was a sobering experience to be in the place it happened exactly 70 years ago, in the freezing cold grayness of winter.

Nanjing itself is a great city and fun to visit. We also did some hiking on Purple Mountain, which would be a theme for the year.

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Shanghai was the coldest it had been in nearly 30 years early in January, and a lot of pipes froze. We could see our breath in our apartment every day.

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February

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Chinese New Year came on February 8, and we actually got some time off from the English Mines. We used the time to relax in Minhang and to finally visit the theme park right near our apartment. It was a great time, and one of the very (VERY) few clear days in Shanghai.

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Massive Shanghai Everbright Convention Centre

March

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Five words: The Great Wall of China. Norovirus notwithstanding, it was one of the best hikes of the year. Up the backside of the wall, onto the Wild Wall, and down.

April

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Handmade Xiao Long Bao

April gets three pictures and a video, because it’s the month when we were finally free of the bonds in Shanghai and went out to explore China. I took the HSK 2 on the 16th to test my Mandarin (I passed!) and I learned how to make Xiao Long Bao, a traditional Shanghainese food.

After our contracts at EF ended on the 23rd, we moved out of our apartment and went on the road. Terra Cotta Warriors and Huashan Mountain were absolutely the coolest.IMG_1943

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They also leave messages, which are beautiful in contrast to the natural colors.

Here’s a video from the crazy gondolas at the mountain.

May

We started May on a beach in Sanya, China and ended it in Iceland! In the meantime, I spent some times in Colorado and established “Boulder Day” to celebrate the town of my birth. Patchouli required.

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June

We travelled to the Westfjords of Iceland and worked on a Scout Camp as volunteers. It wasn’t always warm, but the midnight sun was absolutely incredible. We spent our days working hard in the kitchen and on camp, but the scenery was incredible.

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We also swam in the Greenland sea.

On June 23, two months to the day after we left our Shanghai jobs, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It was a harbringer of things to come in November, and I felt an abiding sense of dread after that day.

July

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Our trusty tent
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Like an alien world

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þórsmörk and the Westman Islands to begin with, and a big fat Scout meetup in the middle. It was so wonderful to be a part of that time at the Úlfljótsvatn | Útilífsmiðstöð skáta Camp, where we danced with an open-air concert and cleaned so many toilets that I lost count.

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Camping in the Westman Islands

It actually started to get dark at night for a little bit around the time of the moot. We played archery and swam in the lake most days, and had a tightknit ‘village’ of volunteers and coworkers around us. I was apparently too busy during the moot to take many photos!

These were days filled with beauty and wonder every single moment. Life-fulfilling and values-affirming days. I felt a renewed commitment to this nomadic life that we continue to choose each day. Validation.

August

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With our staffmates after going through a lava tube
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Whale Watching in Akureyri

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In August, the road that leads to the Icelandic Highlands finally opens up. Ryan and Emma came to visit us in Iceland and we went to the top of the island. We also jumped off a bridge for the second time of three into the lake. jumping

You could feel autumn coming quickly at that time, and our wonderful Icelandic adventure came to a close with a big staff dinner at Ulfjotsvatn. It was like graduation and Christmas at once, and when we walked out after saying, “See you later” to everyone we’d spent the last three months with, it was very dark for the first time in months.

We must go back. 13920483_10153857799300878_7446863482708074595_o14206140_10104278171207503_8732950961375828333_o

September

img_4901img_5059I don’t have many pictures from September, because I was biding time waiting for a Korean visa to come through and mostly doing odd jobs around town. I made a macrame wall hanging with my excess time and did a mini-travel in Colorado on the Peak-to-Peak highway.

On 23 September, exactly five months after we left our jobs in Shanghai, we arrived in Korea to begin living in Busan.

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October

Our daily grind at school is tough tough tough. We have a rough time staying healthy and it’s hard to see the weekends as the light at the end of the workweek tunnel. Wednesdays are particularly dark for me these days.

Luckily, Busan kicks arse! We have so much to do when we are not working. We hike almost every weekend, go to the beach at least once a week, and have a baseball stadium less than a block from our place. In October we got settled, set up our tiny 200 sq. ft. apartment, and began exploring. We saw old friends, and I went in the sea on my 29th birthday.

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I also voted in the 2016 Election, and sent my ballot back to the USA.

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November

On 5th November, we had our own Fireworks Night here in Busan. I burned Donald J. Trump in effigy on the beach, in place of The Guy.

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Then the election came and I could be found with my face against the floor in the locked teacher’s closet, frantically listening to NPR’s livestream with my heart thudding out of my chest. Trump was elected, and I wept on our rooftop in Busan. In response to the world seeming to go insane, we started hiking more and more.

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We started climbing a mountain almost every weekend, and loving it!

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December

The grind was really getting to us at this point. Miraculously, we received the greatest gifts that ESL teachers in Asia could ever have: nine days off work for Christmas. It’s been a wonderful Staycation here in Busan, and we spent the time off reveling in the amazing city we managed to come live in.

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We went to Taejongdae and Iggidae, and led our first hike after being trained in Iceland to guide groups on outdoors activities. We climbed Jangsan Mountain in spite of the landmines!

On the 31st, we hiked across a mountain to the beach. We ended 2016 in Beached Bar on Gwangalli Beach, surrounded by a group of other migrant ESL teachers who were mostly strangers and yet seemed so very familiar, dancing and singing. It was so much fun, and felt just perfect as a New Year’s Eve. More importantly, it finally felt like we are a part of the community here.


At the end of a year like 2016, many have been tempted to say that it is a great thing it’s over. They are saying that it was a terrible year, and that we should be happy it is gone. With the deaths of so many celebrities (which should have been overshadowed by the terrible turns of events in the six-year-long war of attrition in Syria) Brexit, Donald Trump as President-elect, violent attacks in the US and Europe, and two very hard jobs sandwiching the amazing middle of 2016…I understand that feeling.

But 2016 was so incredible for us, and it brought equal parts joy to the pain for me personally. It made my different life choices, hard for many to understand at times, valid. There were many times I found myself saying to my husband, “THIS is why we do what we do!”

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The hardest moment being going from a close, warm community in Iceland overnight to being back in Louisville and separated by the Atlantic from my husband. At the airport in Reykjavik, we stood on a lawn in the sun and wind. We didn’t have a set date for when we would see each other again. One job in Korea had already fallen through. We had to let go of each other and take the next step blindly. There were so many stomach-lurching global events, but that moment of having to watch my husband walk up the terminal stairs was hardest on me.

We live in interesting times, but I don’t see it as the ‘curse’ that people always say is a Chinese proverb. 2017 brings new things to us all.

2016 was true adventure. I dare to hope that every year may be this good.

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