Día de los Muertos

The Day of the Dead is a celebration that takes place in Mexico, most of Latin America, and other Catholic nations. This holiday commemorates the dead. Relatives and friends who have passed from this life are remembered. Altars are built for this purpose. One of the more famous aspects of this holiday is the painting of sugar skulls on people’s faces.

San Antonio, Texas heavily celebrates this holiday due to the large number of Hispanics in the city. This year, I had my first experience with Día de los Muertos by attending SA’s festival, which took place downtown at La Villita.

Here are a few of the altars I saw. They included some items that the ones who had passed found special, such as their favorite book or food.





There was a big altar in the main plaza as well.


The artwork there was amazing and included papermache as well as hand-crafted jewelry or decorations that were for sale. My favorite was the artwork on the lamp posts.


And of course there were many people with their faces painted like skeletons, which are called sugar skulls. I loved it! I asked a few people, and they told me it usually takes 1-2.5 hours to pain their faces. That’s dedication!


There were also bands playing all weekend. I was able to listen to some mariachi music, as well as a local band called The Sugar Skulls. Both were excellent! And you can’t beat listening to music at the Arneson Theater at the River Walk. It’s kind of magical there.


All in all, San Antonio puts on a fantastic festival, and I’m glad I got to experience my first Día de los Muertos.

My 1st Hanukkah Celebration

Blake is one of my new colleagues this semester. He is now teaching history at my university. He and his wife Renae are about the same age as me, and we have become close friends in these last few months. Renae asked me if I wanted to join them for their Hanukkah celebration. I was confused at first because they, like me, are Christian. She told me that this will be their 3rd year celebrating this Jewish holiday, and they began their observation of Hanukkah due to curiosity and interest in this Jewish custom. And you know me; I’m all about learning different customs and cultural traditions!

Eight of us gathered to eat a Jewish meal, say a few Jewish blessings, and light the menorah. Renae started by reading us a children’s book about this celebration, so that we could have a better understanding of it.

Christians celebrating Hanukkah

The story of Hanukkah is about the struggle of the Jews against a Syrain king to continue to worship their God instead of the Greek gods. Judah Maccabee got a group together to fight, who were called the Maccabees. The Maccabees prevailed and restored the Jewish temple. When the temple was reclaimed, there was only enough oil to light the religious lamp for one night. However, the lamp stayed lit for eight days. This is why Jews celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah and why eight candles are lit on the menorah. Menorah simply means lamp in Hebrew. The ninth candle is used to light the others. Hanukkah is also referred to as The Festival of Lights and can also be spelled Chanukah.

If you are familiar with the Bible (Old and New Testaments) or the Torah (the Old Testament), you may be wondering where this can be found in those books. Well, it can’t. It is found in the books of First and Second Maccabees, which are Jewish apocryphal books. Jewish apocryphal books are Jewish traditional texts written in the time period between the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. Many of the Jewish festivals are based on happenings from these texts. Jesus himself, as a Jew, celebrated Hanukkah. That is something I have always wondered about…what the tradition was based on and where the story could be found. Ah ha!

During these eight days, Jews eat special foods made with oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts. We had chicken (no pork is a must!), salad, brussel sprouts, latkes, and several traditional desserts. Yum!


Hanukkah food

Special games are also played during this week,so we couldn’t pass up a chance to play one of them- the dreidel game! It’s basically a 4-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The letters stand for the acronym “A Great Miracle Happened Here”. Each person takes turn spinning the top and each letter landed on has a corresponding action, like take half the pot, put one of your items in the pot, etc. You can use coins, chocolate, nuts, etc. as the “pot”.  My dreidel was not so lucky, and I lost all my Hershey Kisses quite quickly.

Celebrating Hanukkah Dreidels

I really had a nice time learning about Hanukkah, and I hope you did too through this post! Please share this with others who might want to learn a little bit more about this Jewish tradition.

I’ll leave you with a Hanukkah song that I remember singing in my middle school holiday pageant called  “Oh Hanukkah”. The scary thing is, I don’t think I’ve heard this since the 5th grade, and I still remember every word!

Do Cruise Ship Stops Count?

Sometimes when people find out that I like to travel, they’ll let me know how many states or countries they’ve been to and which ones. And I am genuinely interested to hear about it. However, I’ve found that everyone has different ideas about what counts as having visited a place. Here are some situations people argue about:

– airports

-driving through

-cruise ship stops

-living somewhere

I know that I 100% don’t count airports. All airports are the same everywhere, no matter the state or the country. You can see as much culture and as many different nationalities in the Columbus, Ohio airport as you can see in the Beijing, China airport. You don’t even step on the land itself. You see people from other countries more than you see the natives of that place while in an airport. I have been in more airports than I can count on my fingers and toes, but I don’t count a single one of them. Yes, I have been to the LA airport; in fact, I have even stepped on LA’s ground because you have to walk outside to change terminals. However, I have never been to LA.

Driving through. Oh, this one is argued about quite a bit. If you drive through a state to get to another state, does this count as having been there? If you’re going to South Carolina and drive through North Carolina, does that mean you can check North Carolina off your list? But what about if you stop to eat there? Or what if you just open your car door and plant your 2 feet firmly on the ground. Does it count? In my humble opinion, no.

When people tell me their cruise ship stops, I am a little hesitant to count those as countries visited. Yes, you may have stepped on the shore of Puerto Rico, but does 4 hours there actually count as having visited the country? Especially when you have only seen the touristy parts that your cruise guides you to….I know when I only get to stay in a country for a week, I feel like I haven’t got to experience even 1% of the country- its people, its food, its culture. How can a few hour stop allow you to understand a country’s essence?

I also wonder when people speak of “living” in a country. I heard a student say that she lived in Italy once when referring to staying for 2 months of the summer during a study abroad experience. I would venture to say that a person needs to have a permanent address before they can say they lived in a country. I guess my best bet would be to see if the locals consider you a neighbor, if they see you as a permanent part of their space in the world.

To know a place means to experience its food, its language, its religion, its people, its traditions, and its government. Perhaps you don’t have much time to spend in a country or a state. Well, spend some time learning about the place beforehand, so that you’ll know what you’re seeing when the time comes. Every time I visit a new country, or even a new area of my country, I try to read the history of the place, know what the racial makeup is, learn what the dominant religion is there and so on. When you get there, browse the local market or grocery store, walk around a college campus, try the local cuisine, and talk to the people. This will help you know the place you are. Then, you can say you have been to a place.

What are your rules about where you’ve been? Am I being too strict? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

State lines

Danshui River Walk

Taipei City is a huge metropolitan of more than 2.6 million people. There always seems to be hustle and bustle. And heat. On the weekends, many city dwellers like to go a little outside of town to get away from it all, cool off  from the ocean breeze, eat some snacks, and play a few games. Recently I had a chance to visit Danshui, where the Tamsui River meets the Pacific Ocean. It was a perfect respite from constantly being in the city center. travel in Taiwan

Taiwan Danshui mountains

The mountains were beautiful!

Snacks in Danshui Taiwan



Danshui Taiwan

Is this not the tallest ice cream you’ve ever seen?!

Taiwan Beach

Playing games

Playing games

Temple in Taipei Taiwan

There were even a few temples there


Danshui Danshui Taiwan

Man's Silhouette in Taiwan

Salut and Ahoj Infographics!

I’m pretty sure I’m obsessed with infographics. I mean, what could be better than learning something in an easy-to-understand, visually-pleasing format? I’ve done a post with some before, which became quite popular. And now, I’ve found a site that has tons of them- http://visual.ly/.

Here’s a sample. How to say hi in 21 languages. Useful for all us travelers and all us language nerds!



How many of these did you know? I knew 6. Do you have any really interesting infographics that you think I’d love? Please share the link in the comments section below.

Tea, Chai, Cha, Te,

Do you prefer tea or coffee? I favor tea. However,  I am in the minority in the US for having that opinion. 75% of Americans favor coffee, while only 25% would rather have tea.

tea and coffee around the world

If you go to the actual link, you can interact with the infographic and see the percentages in each country.

Tea is overwhelmingly embedded into cultures.  It speaks of hospitality, of tradition, of history. The tea ceremonies of Japan, high tea in England, the offering of spicy chai in India when a neighbor visits.

It is said that tea was first discovered in China in the Yunnan Province probably before 1000 BC, so tea has been around for quite some time. The legend is that Emperor  Shen Nong was boiling water to drink when some leaves fell into his water from a nearby bush, and he decided he liked this new drink. Tea traveled from China into other areas of Asia, then to Europe, and then on to America.

Did you know that tea is grown on a bush? If left untended, the bushes turn into tea trees, which can grow to be 50 feet tall. The tea fields are beautiful because of the arrangements of the rows.

I had the chance to visit the Longjing (Dragon Well) tea fields in my Chinese hometown of Hangzhou. It was amazing to see the beginnings of a beverage I love so much- the picking of the leaves, the roasting.

Longjing Tea

Chinese Woman Picking Tea in Tea Field

American drinking green tea in China

Tea was constantly offered to me in China- at meetings, in people’s homes, from complete strangers! It is a way to connect with people, a way to show hospitality, and a way to socialize with friends. While bars are the most common places to consume a beverage in the West, most Eastern countries spend their time in teashops. I wish America was more of a tea culture still like it was in the revolutionary days. I need more people who can understand my need for a good cup of black tea with milk and sugar in the morning! I’ve even had my girl friends over to my house in the US for tea parties, and we really had a lot of fun. I am trying to single-handedly bring back the tea culture to the US!

American girls drinking tea

Iced tea was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair when a tea plantation owner couldn’t sell his hot tea to fair-goers because of the high temps, so he dumped a bunch of ice in his tea, and it became a craze. And now southerns can’t live without it! I have an IV of sweet tea that is pumped into my bloodstream daily. Southerns in America use sweet iced tea to show hospitality to their guests, much like the hot tea traditions around the world. In fact, 80% of tea consumed in the US is served cold.

Tea is thought to have quite a few health benefits, especially green tea. Cancer prevention is one of the greatest of these benefits. Tea may help cardiovascular health, improve metabolism, and help fight viruses. Drink tea for your health!

As a language teacher, I’ve always wondered about the word “tea” and its origins.  I’ve always heard that tea comes from the Chinese word, but I know the Chinese word is cha, which sounds nothing like tea. So, one day my boss and I, the language nerds we are, looked it up online. Apparently, it comes from a southern China dialect in which it is “teh” or “te”, which is how we have the English word tea. The word  probably traveled out of a port in Xiamen and moved on to Europe.  However, many languages follow suit with the more Chinese-sounding cha, while many middle eastern or western Asian countries stick with a variant of chai.

German- tee                    Spanish- te               Swedish- te

French- the                      Italian- te                 Indonesia- teh


Korean-cha                      Persian- cha            Tibetan- ja

Japanese- cha                  Thai- cha                  Punjabi- chah


Aramaic- chai                Ukrainian- chai        Turkish- cay


Only an English teacher would make a chart about the etymology of the word tea! Please don’t tell anyone I did this! I’ll never admit it. :] 

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water. Now can you tell me if you prefer tea or coffee?

Please share on your social media if you think someone you know might enjoy reading about tea!

Why Do Asians Always Do The Peace Sign?!

I sent a few pictures to my Dad of my recent field trip with my ESL students. He said, “Why do Asians always do the peace sign in pictures? They always did it when you lived in China.”

Anji, China

In China


“When you visited Korea and Japan, they did it too. ”

Koreans Doing Peace Sign

In Korea

Japanese people doing the v

In Japan

“They do it in the US. What does it mean and why did it start?”

I was able to explain that it actually is a “v” for victory, not a peace sign. But what does it really mean, and when did it start? I wasn’t able to give an explanation. So, I thought I’d do a little research on the topic.

The V sign began to be used during World War II by Allied troops.  Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice, suggested the V sign on his 1941 BBC news broadcast as a way to rally support for the war. It spread through Belgium and moved on to France and the Netherlands and eventually all of Europe. Even Winston Churchill used the V for victory sign.

US President Richard Nixon went on to use the V sign for victory in the Vietnam War. However, protesters and hippies who were against the Vietnam War, changed the v from “victory”  to “peace” by holding up the same sign but saying “peace” as they did it as a subtle protest of the war. They wanted this hand gesture to change from its meaning of war to a meaning of positivity and happiness. 

The V sign probably became popular in Asia through an ice skater named Janet Lynn, who was a peace activist. She was often photographed in the Japanese media in the 1970s doing this sign.  Although the Japanese knew the V sign as victory because of WWII, Janet Lynn often displayed this sign as peace.

Another story says that a famous Japanese actor named Jun Inoue starred in some camera commercials in the 70’s where he flashed the V sign, thinking it was popular in the West, and it caught on from those commercials.  All in all, a lot of Asia copies Japan. And more importantly, Asia copies the West. Whether or not it was from seeing this ice skater make the V sign and thinking it was a popular thing to do in the West, we may never know.

China, Taiwan, and South Korea are also well known for doing this sign in photos. They say that the symbol means “yeah!”, like they are feeling good. But, really, Asians do so many poses for photos. They have the need to do hand gestures  in almost every informal photo.

There is one that guys do in China that means handsome. They might even just throw up a fist.

Chinese guy pose for photo

My students Cole and Soul doing the handsome pose and a fist


When girls do the V sign, it is usually close to their face. My Chinese friends told me it is a good chance for them to cover up some of their fat face. (Having a fat face is a big issue that many Asian girls dread).

Asian girl doing peace sign


I had to include this photo of me and my friend Ben in a bowling alley in China. Here I am being all fierce and competitive, and he told me he was doing a pose like a flower!

bowling in China


I even started doing the V sign after living in China for 2 years and traveling there in the years after.  It just became natural. In fact, it was nice to actually have something to do in a photo instead of just standing there awkwardly with my hands down to my sides.

Americans in China

Not a single Chinese person in sight, but here we are in China doing the V sign


American and Chinese on Great Wall of China


So the general rule of thumb is for that every month you live in Asia, you are 5% more likely to throw up your V sign in a photo. And, actually, it can be kind of fun. :] So I’m still not sure I fully understand why Asians do the V sign, but hey, sometimes with cultural differences, we don’t need to and can’t fully understand certain phenomenons, and there’s a real beauty in that.

Russian Police Officers Are Trying to “Get Lucky”

Like many people, I was interested to watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony for the winter Olympics is usually not as grand as the one for the summer Olympics, but Russia really wanted to try and outdo its buddy, China. I think they put on a high-quality performance, which highlighted Russia’s contribution to dance, literature, and music. It was strange at times, but I think, overall, it stayed pretty classy with the ballet and the opera. However, they didn’t show one very, um, interesting performance on television here in the US. There was a choir of Russian police officers who sang Daft Punk featuring Pharrell’s hit from the summer “Get Lucky”. Not only is the performance very awkward, but the song choice is very awkward, in my opinion. And as an ESL teacher, I have a theory on it. They chose an upbeat song to try and show Russia’s fun, carefree side. However, they really have no idea what the song is about! Most non-native English speakers know the word “lucky”. In fact, luck is often talked more about in countries outside the US, because people strongly believe in luck.So, perhaps the Russians were thinking this was a fun song about luck. Maybe they thought this song would bring luck to their Olympic athletes. Here are the lyrics to the chorus of the song:

We’re up all night ’til the sun
We’re up all night to get some
We’re up all night for good fun
We’re up all night to get lucky

This song is talking about a hook-up, about sex! I am almost completely sure that the Russians don’t realize this. They don’t know that “getting some” and “getting lucky” are synonymous with casual sex. How could you know these idioms unless you’ve learned them before? I highly doubt that the Russians would want their country to be known for police officers singing about having sex as they present themselves to the world during the opening ceremony. It also surprised me because the Russians are so conservative about many things, sex and homosexuality being just a few of them. Maybe this is something only an ESL teacher would think of; I don’t know.

Here is the video:

It’s strange to watch. Some members of the choir look like they were forced at gunpoint to sing this song. And there are some parts that I can’t quite understand what they’re saying. What are your thoughts on the performance? Are you a non-native English speaker who didn’t know what “get lucky” or “get some” really meant? If you’re an ESL teacher, do you think your students would know?I don’t think most of mine would. Oh well, I hope those police officers get lucky from being so famous for their performance! Share this post with those who you’d like to see this fun performance!

The Great Language Game

A travel site I follow on Facebook shared a link to a great game. It plays someone speaking in a certain language, and you choose what language it is from 3 or 4 choices. While I wouldn’t say I’m good at learning languages, I definitely have an ear for languages. I can usually tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean. I can tell if a language is from Eastern rather than Western Europe. I can figure out that a language being spoken is Middle Eastern. It’s actually kind of strange. Anyway, if you like languages, culture, or travel, give this game a try by

clicking here.

I got a score of 900 on my first try! I’m kinda proud of myself if I do say so. Play the game, and comment with your score. Share this post with others who you want to challenge to this game.


I Got Threaded Today

My sister Katie, my friend Lisa, and I got threaded today.

Before we continue, please cast your vote about what you think threading is:
a) getting really high on prescription pills
b) being cut by an enemy with barbed wire
c) a beauty procedure

Ding, ding, ding! You win a prize if your answer was C. Oh the things we women will do for beauty! We get procedures preformed on us that sound like things that are done to you on your first night in prison.

My sister has been raving lately about having her eyebrows threaded, so Lisa and I wanted to give it a go. Threading seems to be fairly new, at least in this area. However, it has actually been around for quite some time.

Threading has been a preferred method for women in India and many Arab countries for centuries. It is a way to shape the eyebrows and remove unwanted hair. Thread is used to pluck the hair a line at a time. This method is faster than plucking individual hairs and is less irritating to the skin than waxing.

My sister had been to this particular threading joint several times before, so the owners were friendly enough to talk to us and let us take a few pictures.

Eyebrow Threading

Notice how the thread is anchored in her mouth. And it’s done so quickly! If you’re thinking about giving this a try, I will say it stings a bit. It hurts less than getting your eyebrows waxed though. The results last for about two weeks. It’s pretty inexpensive at $10, which is about the same price you’ll pay to get your eyebrows waxed.

Eyebrow Threading

Just like I enjoy trying food from other countries or listening to music from far away places, it’s also an adventure to try things from other countries you wouldn’t normally think about, like beauty procedures. I always like to do something different. This was my different for the week. :]

Have you ever tried threading? What did you think? If you haven’t, would you? Have you tried an even weirder beauty procedure while living abroad or even in your own country? I did have my eyelashes chemically, semi-permanently curled while I lived in China. But, that’s another story for another day…