First morning in Istanbul

The view from the restaurant on top of the hostel I'm staying at.

So I’m here in Istanbul, Turkey. I got in around noon yesterday, and I’m meeting up with Ashley and Marissa tonight. Istanbul is just as beautiful as everyone has said. Just look at that picture! If I turn around from that position, I see the Hagia Sofia two streets away!

The hostel I was at last night (Istanbul Hostel) was really great. Not the nicest, that goes to the hostel in Shanghai, but it has the best feel to it. Breakfast is included, and I woke up this morning to a cup of coffee, a plate with a block of feta cheese, sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, a hardboiled egg, and all the French bread I wanted. And I ate it on the roof.

Fun story. You know the saying “It’s a small world.”? Well, traveling makes that saying sound dumb. Cities have similarities, but the time it takes to get everywhere and the vast differences in cultures make America seem very removed from the rest of the world. That is, until you realize that there are four other USC Class of ’11 grads staying at the same hostel you are in Turkey. It’s a small world.

The books I’ve been reading

Since I graduated, I’ve been on something of a reading binge. Santa brought me a Kindle for Christmas, but up until recently, all I’ve used it for is reading long articles that I find online (Instapaper is a great service if I may say so).

Here’s the rundown of what I’ve gone through (in semi-chronological order):
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Room by Emma Donoghue
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Gunslinger by Steven King
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
The Drawing of the Three by Steven King
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Bossypants was hilarious. I love Tina Fey, so I enjoyed reading her first-hand account of start at SNL, how 30 Rock came to be, and her subsequent return to SNL to do the Sarah Palin bits.

Room has been on the best-seller lists for a while now, and the premise of a mother and son living in a room (written from the 5 year-old’s point of view) intrigued me. It was a great read, and I’m always game when an author is willing to sully the purity of a protagonist.

The Little Prince is a kids book. But like all of the best kid stuff, there’s plenty of depth for an older crowd to dive into. I was given this book as an end-of-year gift by a friend from school; it’s his favorite book. I can definitely see how if I had an attachment to this from my childhood, this story would stick with you for your lifetime. I loved it.

The Giver was a re-read, but I’d like to think I got more out of it this time. I don’t remember connecting so much with the bigger themes or messages when I read it as a child.

The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three are the first two parts of Steven King’s seven-part Dark Tower series. They are not horror in any way/shape/form. On the contrary, they fall into some weird combo of the western, fantasy, and action genres. I think they’re good, but not great. Actually, The Gunslinger was just OK, but I think the series builds on its momentum, so I think I’ll keep going.

Ender’s Game and The Life of Pi. What can I say? I finished The Life of Pi about ten minutes ago, and my mind is reeling. It’s no secret that these books are incredible. Ender’s Game is arguably the best sci-fi novel ever, and The Life of Pi has received heaps of accolades since it’s publication about ten years ago. The only fear that I have about reading all of these books back-to-back in rapid succession is that I won’t process them enough. These two definitely need processing.

In other news, I’m in Turkey on the second leg of my travels. I’ll give a quick update of Hong Kong (amazing) and Singapore (less so) soon.

Leg One: Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Hong Kong, Singapore
Leg Two: Istanbul, Kolkata
Leg Three: Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Paris, Madrid
Finale: New York

Goodbye Xi’an (and the guy crying outside of the bus)

Traffic to the South Gate in the afternoon from the Bell Tower roundabout.

We’re on the bus to the airport, and this guy is standing outside crying because his girlfriend is on the bus with us. They’re talking on the phone. I have no idea where she’s going, this like a horrible chick-flick that Tim would watch.

Joel wants him to come on the bus with us and just fly with her wherever she’s going. I think they clearly need time apart.

So yes, we’re leaving Xi’an today and flying to Hong Kong. Xi’an was great, and for people who don’t speak Chinese, really easy to get around in. There’s no subway, but their busses are fine, and the city is walkable enough.

We started our two day stay by going to the Terra-cotta Army on Monday. Although our hostel had a tour group that goes everyday, we decided to go on our own so that we could go at our own speed and see what we wanted to see. As was recommended to us, we saw the three halls in reverse order (3-2-1) so that it’d get better as we went. If you ever go, definitely do the same. As for my impressions, I don’t think I have a very original take on the site, but it really is amazing that things like this were ever constructed. The army is considered the eighth wonder of the world for a reason.

We wandered around the center of the city for the afternoon and wound up in the Muslim Quarter. It’s essentially a big market with tons of little shops and restaurants to check out. Pretty much the perfect place to people-watch.

(side-note: I’m listening to NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast right now, and this group BOBBY is incredible. The song called We Saw builds like the best of ’em.)

Yesterday was our walk-around-te-city day. We left the hostel around 10:30 (also, I’ve dedicated myself to making 24-hour time second nature before I get back) and took off for the Big Goose Pagoda which was outside of the city walls. Throughout the day, we hit up the Big and Little Goose Pagodas, an antique marketplace, a Buddhist temple, a Catholic church, a Taoist temple, the Bell Tower, and wrapped up with dinner and haggling in the Muslim Quarter. I snagged a pair of super-real looking Ray Bans for 20¥ (the shop owner started at 170¥, so I’d consider that a successful buy.) It was a day filled with walking, and we were dead afterwards, but it was worth it.

Now we’re at the airport waiting to board our flight. Fun stuff.

Can’t wait to get to Hong Kong to meet up with Pat and Andrew again. We’re also going to see some old ‘SC CC (Catholic Center) friends Thomas Chow and Brian Lang.

Good ‘ole KFC (in Xi’an)

Don't judge. You can't understand until you've been here.

I know what youre thinking. He went all the way to China, and he’s eating KFC?! Believe me, I’ve been plenty adventurous when it comes to trying local food, but sometimes you just need a taste of American fast-food :) These crispy chicken sandwiches are better than I’ve had in the states, and like everything else in China, they’re cheap.

In other news, Joel and I split from Pat and Andrew a couple days ago when we flew to Xi’an and they to Hong Kong. The air polution isn’t as bad here as in Beijing or Shanghai, but it’s still noticable. Sunday afternoon, after checking in to our hostel, we walked around the area nearby the Bell and Drum Towers in the middle of the city.

While wandering around in a market, a bunch of young guys who were locked together with heavy metal chains ran by yelling, so naturally we ran along with the crowd to see what was up. We all wound up down a side alley onto what seemed like someone’s doorstep where some sort of party was hapenning. Not sure what the celebration was for, it could have been a protest for all we know, but it was more likely some sort of engagement party (what else could the chains mean?) or something like that.

The city seems pretty cool so far; really touristy, but clean nonetheless. I’ll update more on Xi’an in a bit, possibly while sitting in the airport waiting to go to Hong Kong.


Roof view out of the Shanghai hostel

Not sure if this qualifies yet, but it’s raining cats & dogs out there right now.

Love me some summer thunderstorms :)

Patio of our Shanghai hostel (pretty nice place)


We arrived in Shanghai two days ago after our flight from Beijing was delayed for three hours. So far, I like it better than Beijing. Something about it feels like a more developed city. Things like subway rides and taxis are slightly more expensive, but it’s still way cheaper than in the U.S.

My final time in Beijing was spent with Joel’s class as they gave their final presentations for the projects that they had been working on all semester. It was pretty cool to see how the students from Taiwan, Beijing, and Los Angeles worked together for the past six months. That night everyone got together to go out, and we ended up with splintered groups going every which way until we all meet up at a small club called Propaganda. Prior to this, the group Joel and I were with wandered down an alley and sat for a while eating what Joel has dubbed ‘meat-sticks’ (ie. lamb, chicken heart, beef, etc.)

Our hostel in Shanghai is the nicest I’ve ever seen (even though its only my third.) The city is great, and the skyline across the Bund is incredible. Last night, we went to an acrobatics show that cost us just 80¥. We found our way over to the 280¥ seats, and the show was impressive – not Cirque status – but still cool.

I’ll try to get some photos up soon.

Hello world (Beijing)

Flight over from Seattle
View from the plane from Seattle... taken at 1am

So for the next three months or so, this blog will become the place where I put as much stuff about my summer travels as possible. Most of my posts will come from the iOS WordPress app, so posts will be short but hopefully frequent.

Today is my second full day here in China.

I flew in to Beijing at 10:30pm on Saturday night and stayed with my friend Joel who’s finishing up a class here. We’ll be traveling through the rest of China starting Wednesday. Yesterday we went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square early in the day, and then I headed back to the airport to pick up our friend Dan, who’ll be studying at Nankai University. We took a bus to the school in Tianjin and found an awesome dive bar to celebrate Dan’s birthday at. Luckily his roommate speaks fairly good Chinese already, so he helped us get around.

I’m back in Beijing today. To get back (because another two hour bus ride didn’t sound too fun) I took the bullet train that runs between the two cities. It was awesome (350km/hr.)

Just checked in to my hostel for tonight and tomorrow night. It was impossible to find, but it’s really nice.

The air here is horrible, but that was to be expected. I wish I spoke Chinese, so I’m going to work on that in a few minutes. Things are pretty cheap, but I’ve spent more money than I intended to. Guess that’s just because I’ve been back and forth between here and Tianjin, and it was Dan’s birthday. Not a big deal.

I have some cool pictures on my phone, but I can’t seem to get them onto the blog.

This is going to be an interesting summer.