Carnival, Rio de Janeiro

As many may know, the celebration of carnival in Brazil is the biggest event of the year. It starts Friday, the week before Lent and goes until the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The majority of people travel all throughout Brazil to their desired location to spend the holiday. For myself, I was extremely fortunate to spend carnival in the best place in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.

Hard to see but Christ the Redeemer

Hard to see but Christ the Redeemer

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Sugarloaf Mountain

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Due to the traffic of Carnival, our 6 hour trip took more than 12 hours, making our arrival time at 4 AM. Since many of the streets were blocked off due to the festival, our GPS could not find the house we were staying at. Instead, it kept taking us in a small circle around one of the smaller favela. After seeing the panic on my roommates face, I decided that paying a cab driver to direct us to our place of stay would be the best option. Thankfully we did because their was absolutely no way we would have found it on our own.

Besides this first mishap, everything else about the trip was phenomenal! Every morning we had this amazing view of Rio that was almost surreal.

View of RIo

My first monkey/lemur. I don't know which one it was.

My first wild  monkey.

After overlooking this view for a bit every morning we would go straight to the bakery 6 houses down and buy some awesome bread for breakfast. Actually, one thing that Brazil really lacks credit for is how amazing their bread is. From there on, absolutely every moment was an awesome and exciting adventure. The first day we walked for miles around the city getting the chance to see some of the more famous landmarks in Rio de Janerio.

Steps Selarón

Steps Selarón

In front of the Steps Selarón

In front of the Steps Selarón

Everything throughout the city and most of Brazil is extremely vibrate with colors. One thing I have come to love is the Graffiti. It truly is an awesome form of art and if done with permission, it’s encouraged!

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Since I went to Rio with all Brazilians who have been there before, I did not get the “touristy” experience of Carnival I was expecting. The main celebration  takes place in the Sambadrome but it was to expensive for the others to go. However, we did do what over a million others were doing, celebrate in the streets. This to me was still a great time! Everyone dresses in the most outrageous clothing with hundreds of local bands that play the famous Samba music from Rio.

Street Carnival

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IMG_1085 (1280x956)What I found to be so amazing is how nice and controlled everyone was. Their were times were we walked for literally 25 minutes, shoulder to shoulder, to have enough space to move. For having such enormous crowds I did not see one bad incident the whole trip. Everywhere you turn there is someone something. Fortunately their were many people also selling Brazilian Barbecue which was delicious!  With absolutely no complaints, for three full days this is what during the day carnival consisted of for us.

My roommate Marcelo

My roommate Marcelo

One of the nights we spent at Copacabana beach which was a blast. The streets again were flooded with people and everyone followed a float that had a band playing Samba on top of it. The people on the beach were playing volleyball but only with their feet and head. How they were able to do it, don’t ask. We then slept in one of their friends high-rise that was located right next to the beach. The view was spectacular, overlooking the lit up favela to your far right and  the beach to your left. However finding our way home at 7 in the morning dragged out to be a two hour adventure.

Copacabana beach the morning after

Copacabana beach the morning after. I was very curios if people were sleeping in those tents.

 

Finding our way home. The city was covered in trash the next day following Carnival.

Finding our way home. The city was covered in trash the next day following Carnival.

Like any other normal human being, be the forth day of Carnival our bodies need to recuperate. So instead of joining the party we had a beach day and  went back to Capacabana. The beach was packed with people who indeed did where Brazilian bikinis. This was the first true culture shock I have had this whole time in Brazil. From what I was told, Rio is one of the few beaches that this is a norm and plays a large role in its popularity. Merchants would walk up and down the beach selling awesome beach towels that I found to be great souvenirs for my family.

Following my trip to Rio, I most definitely am going to revisit the city before I leave Brazil. There are so many more adventures, sightings to see, and activities to do that I missed out on.

Exploring Rome!

We were given a walking tour of Rome by tour guide. This day provided some of the best pictures of our entire trip! One of the biggest stops being the Colloseum. Our tickets to get in were already paid for with the cost of the trip and our guide walked us through and provided us with the history. We stayed together as a group and after this was finished the tour was over. The students were then free to explore Rome as much as they wanted until our welcome dinner at 7:00. Students went their different ways. Some went shopping. Others got food. One student, Matt Shaver, bought a day pass for the train and got off at every single stop and explored!

O-H-I-O in front of the Colloseum!

And again

The whole group!

Another stop during the day was the Pantheon. It was unbelievable being inside of a building with so much history.

In front of the Pantheon

Night time on the river.

View from the top of Rome

Overlooking Capitol Hill

 

 

Freshman Global Lab Day One Travel

We were finally leaving! Everything was packed, and we left for the airport around 8:00 am. Our first flight was from Columbus to Chicago. Due to the time zones we were leaving at 11:01 am and arriving at 11:16 am. Not everyone had chosen the faculty flight, but a majority of the students did and we were able to meet up while waiting for our plane. Once we arrived in Chicago we got food. I was wearing a drawstring bag with the OSU logo on it and got an OH-IO from a stranger within the first ten minutes. The first one of the trip!

The plane to Germany was huge! There were three rows of seating with two aisles in between. Our group was scattered throughout the plane. We had these awesome video players in the head rest of the seat in front of us. We were able to watch television shows, movies,  and documentaries. They had a great selection too. I counted at least 50+ comedy movies alone. These screens also provided information about the flight like the speed, ETA, and the current location.

I actually ended up sitting next to a Michigan fan on the plane! She commented when she saw my OSU bag. What are the odds? We were all tired but excited at the same time. We had a big day ahead of us! We still had a flight to Florence from Germany and then a train from Florence to Rome.

I had a window seat and was able to see a beautiful sunset. It was golden on the horizon against the silhouette of the plane wing. At that point it was 7:20 pm Chicago time and 2:20 am Germany time. When we flew over Manchester we saw the city lights and the highways. You could spot each town by the clusters of lights and see all of the roads connected them. It was like little lit up spider webs all over the landscape.

Excuse the dirty airplane windows!

While on the flight I woke up from a nap and looked out the window just in time to see the Swiss Alps! It was crazy. They stretched as far as the eye could see. I had no idea that we would be flying over them. We were close enough to see the ice caps and the green valleys.

Swiss Alps

Alps again

The flight finally arrived in Florence. We made it! We were in Italy! Mellisa, our faculty director helped group everyone together. The worst thing possible happened to me. My luggage was lost!! I was devastated. I could not believe that this happened the first day of the trip. Turns out it was just in a different part of the airport. Mellisa was able to speak with the airport workers and find it for me. It was hard because Italian was their first language. At this point it was Saturday May 11.

No sleep! After arriving at the Florence airport and everyone claimed their luggage we boarded our private coach and met our tour guide. We arrived in Florence at 11:00 am. Upon arrival we were given ear pieces in order to hear our guide speak to us as we were walking. Our walking tour began as soon as we got off the bus. The guide was very thorough and explained the history of the town of Florence along with the buildings and statues that we passed by.

This building is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Construction for it began in 1296and it was completed in 1436. The exterior of the basilica is faced with marble panels in shades of pink and green.

This is the roof of the dome of the Basilica.

I was surprised at how elegant so many of the doors and gates were in Italy.

This part is inside the Duomo. In the photo above you can see the designs on the wall. According to the tour guide people are actually buried in the walls behind the designs.

Our tour lasted until 1:00 pm. Then we were given three hours to explore the area. We split into groups and did some shopping. A lot of the girls bought leather goods. We were told they make excellent purses and belts and wallets. We were also free to grab some food. We stopped at a restaurant and had our first pizza in Italy! We also got some gelato.  We met up again at 4:00 to board the train to Rome.

The entire global lab!

Waiting for the train.

At this point we had all been up since 8:00 am the previous day. We had naps on the plane but no actual good rest. The train left at 5:04 pm and took an hour and a half. Nearly everyone fell asleep.

Jack and George couldn’t take any more and caught some shut eye on the train ride.

At 6:30 pm we arrived in our hotel and checked in. We settled down and unpacked everything and got dinner. I don’t have any pictures of dinner because my devices were dead from travelling and taking pictures all day. We were able to explore the area around our hotel a bit. We also found a great gelato place down the street!

Yum!

This was the view from our hotel room!!! It was gorgeous. Some rooms had balconies. Others had multiple windows. We were on the highest floor with no balcony. Since we still didn’t have phone service we had to write down everyone’s room numbers to go visit them. We had a blast checking out how each room was different. Jack was my roommateand we got along well. Our room had a bathroom and two beds. The hotel workers were very courteous and friendly. We unpacked everything and laid out our clothes for the next day and went to bed! We were all exhausted.

Perfect view from the 10th floor!

Weekend in Cambodia

This past weekend I traveled to Cambodia and I had an amazing time. I traveled with a group of three other SMU students. We flew in Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) on Friday and we left Monday afternoon (taking advantage of my 3-day school schedule!).

On the first day we arrived in Phnom Penh, our flight was delayed so we didn’t arrive in the city until 6pm. As soon as we got there we took a private taxi to go up north to Siem Reap where the great temples of Angkor Wat are. The trip took about 6 hours including a stop for dinner. It was a long ride so by the time we go to Siem Reap, we checked into our guesthouse and just went to sleep.

Riding the tuk-tuk from the airport to the center of the city

The next morning we woke up and set out to explore Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a magnificent Hindu/Buddhist temple complex. It’s dedicated as a UNESCCO World Heritage Site to further protect and conserve the ruins. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century under the Khmer Kingdom. There are many different temples but Angkor Wat is the entrance to the entire park. It was the biggest and grandest temple.

The magnificent Angkor Wat!

We spent two days exploring the temples and there was still more to see! I could of easily spent another day exploring as the temples were so peaceful. Also, since it’s currently low season (rainy season) for traveling in Southeast Asia, there were fewer tourists around which made it even better. Luckily for us, the weather was in our favor; the most it rained was an hour during one day.

A part of Tomb Raiders (featuring Angelina Jolie) was filmed in this temple!

The best part about Angkor Wat was that nothing felt contrived. Although some parts of the temples were obviously restored, nothing about the temples felt perfect which made it even more beautiful. For example, there many statues that had their heads cut off because there was a period when riots happened and people stole Buddha heads to sell off to foreign countries. This didn’t make the temples any less beautiful, it fact it made it even more authentic.

If you look carefully, you’ll noticed that one of the statues in this picture is missing a head…

Although the temples were beautiful, I was more surprised by the poverty I saw in the surrounding area of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, and villages not too far away from the city. Outside the temples, there were many food and souvenir vendors and every time we got off our tuk-tuk (motorcycle bike with rickshaw attached) to visit a temple, hordes of children would surround us and ask us to buy bracelets and postcards for a 1$. These children were very young too. All of them were barefoot and their clothes looked like they haven’t been washed in months. They were extremely clever as they tried to persuade you to buy their items by saying things like “Buy 1 post card get 9 free!”. Another young girl asked my friend to buy some bracelets for his girlfriend and when he responded that he didn’t have a girlfriend, she said, “You know why? Because you no buy these bracelets!”.

It was sad seeing this because it makes you wonder whether these kids go to school or if they don’t have time because they have to help support their families by selling souvenirs to tourists. After coming back from Cambodia, I researched more about it and found out that despite the tourism that Angkor Wat brings in, 36.6% of the population lives below the poverty line (less than 45 cents per day). Many Cambodian children go to primary school (80%) but less go to lower secondary school (25%) and even less go to upper secondary school (9%).

I witnessed even more poverty when I traveled back to Phnom Penh on Sunday afternoon. We drove pass beautiful green rice paddies and along these rice paddies were houses where the farmers and their families lived. The houses are better described as simple shacks as the whole thing consisted of only one room. Even though we were only driving by, I could tell that there was no kitchen or electricity in the shacks. Bedding was just a blanket on the ground or a hammock outside. Kids ran around barefoot and naked but they all appeared to be very happy and carefree.

I didn’t realize that Cambodia is still so underdeveloped (which sounds very ignorant of me), but I’m glad at least now I’m aware. I wish I could of done more to help but we had such a short amount of time there.

I’ve realized that the most important part about traveling is not seeing new things or famous sights, it’s about learning and letting these experiences shape you.

Beautiful Milan

During my first week in Milan, I traveled out to the center of the city.  When I say the center of the city, it is literally in the center of the city of Milan.  In the center, there is a main cathedral called the Duomo, which is a term used for church, more specifically a catholic church.  The Duomo is literally in the center of Milan.  Then from the Duomo, the city is built as a circle that radiates outward.  The structure of the city can be described as a small circle as its center point, and then a circle of buildings built around the center, and so on and so forth as it keeps radiating out.

The Duomo of Milan. It was absolutely stunning.  Of course this picture does not do it justice.

Above is a picture of the Duomo that I took from behind.  It is absolutely stunning.  The building is so large, with hundreds of handcrafted sculptures of famous disciples, and people described in the Holy Bible.  This church took about 600 years to build, and it is still under reconstruction (if you notice to roof of the building)!  I know from pictures it just looks alright, but it is similar to looking at a picture of the ocean, and actually going to the ocean; two very different experiences.

This is a picture of me about 100 meters from the entrance of Duomo. It is absolutely huge!

I was not allowed to go into the Duomo the day I took the picture above, because I was wearing shorts.  The entrance guards were really strict about what kind of clothing one could wear when entering the cathedral.  It was understandable, because they viewed this as a place to meet God, and they wanted people to wear respectable, very conservative clothing, so I have yet to still go inside, which I am sure is just as beautiful.  This small encounter with the entrance guards was a slight culture shock for me.  At my home church, which is a protestant church, I am allowed to wear whatever I please as long as it was socially appropriate, so shorts and a T-shirt would have been no problem back in many churches in the States, but here at this specific cathedral, they wanted people to dress better when entering a building of God.

Moving on from the Duomo, I was walking around taking pictures of everything around the center plaza and my friend was taking some pictures of me too when a man came from nowhere, just grabbed my hand, and put bird food into my hand (see picture below).

Getting hustled my first day in the center of Milan.

He lifted up my hand and walked away, and right after that, pigeons flew towards me and ate everything in a matter of a few seconds.  First, I hate pigeons…I sometimes see them as rats with wings.  And secondly, once the pigeons (although the picture has just one pigeon, about ten came) landed on my hands, I immediately thought of bird flu.  After that very unenjoyable experience, the man walked back towards me with another friend of his and he pointed to my hand and gestured for money.  He spoke to me in Italian but I understood what he probably said, which was something along the lines of, “You used my bird food and now I want my money from you”.  Him and his friend kept getting closer and kept asking for money so two thoughts flew into my head.  First, for some odd reason, I was quite enjoying this experience.  Maybe because it was the first time I got hustled and I was waiting to see how I would react.  Secondly, I was thinking that they chose the wrong girl, because if they knew anything about my father, they would have known that he has done a good job teaching me not to waste money, and I was sure not going to spend money on these guys. So I told them I did not have money.  They kept following me still so I said in a harsher voice, “I don’t have any money” and walked away (which was quite an obvious lie, since I had a very visible fanni-pack).  They followed me and kept gesturing for a couple minutes but I walked quickly and made sure I was by other people so they eventually gave up.  I know this situation could have been much worse if it was later in the night or if I was alone with not many people around but thankfully that was not the case.  After this experience, I noticed that there were so many people trying to hustle money from tourists or people who looked foreign.  I realized that just because I am Asian, I will probably be targeted more often than other people of Caucasian ethnicities because I will have a harder time “looking” like a typical European.  Also, it won’t help my case that Asians often come with the stereotype that we are all rich, and innocent…especially since I am a short Asian girl.  From this experience I learned to be more aware of my surroundings, to not let strange men give me bird food, and to not wear a fanni-pack around.

Near the central plaza of Duomo, there are hundreds of stores just around the corner selling beauty products, clothing, and accessories.  Milan did live up to its title as the “Fashion Capital of the World”.  There were several malls in which only designer products were sold.  Just below is a picture of a shopping mall that only sold designer products.  There were many expensive cafes next to the shops as well.  Some stores even had their own cafe such as with Gucci, in which they had their own Gucci cafe right outside their store.  The architecture of the mall was beautiful as you can see in the picture below.

This was a designer indoor/outdoor shopping mall right next to Duomo.

Of course I could not afford to buy anything, but I was happy to just walk around and take everything in.  It was a beautiful day, with blue skies, nice friends, and a lot of experiences,   with many more to come!