Teaching in Japan: Part 1

My first week in Japan

by Rachael Hornsby

After months of saving for flights, researching jobs, and attempting pretty unsuccessfully to learn some basic greetings in Japanese, I was eager to get over to Japan and find out for myself what it was like. I packed up all 25kg of my life in my snazzy new Tesco suitcase, said goodbye to all my friends and family, and left my lovely England once again so see what the homeland of sushi and sumo was to have in store for me.

Having caught the travel bug teaching in Thailand for a year, I had decided to set my sights on a new Asian adventure, and since everyone I’d met who’d been to Japan had loved it, and there are such great TEFL opportunities there, it seemed like an ideal place for the next step of my journey. Rather than choosing one of the many jobs I perused online, I decided to play it safe and follow a friend to a job and location I knew she had loved, and took a position teaching kindergarten in Kurume, a small city on the island of Kyushu in South West Japan.

After a long flight from Heathrow, and a short stopover in Seoul, I finally landed on Kyushu in Fukuoka, a city closer to North Korea than it is Tokyo. It was evening when I arrived, so my first sights of the island were just of big city lights on the drive from the airport with my colleague, with my main impressions being ‘why is everyone driving around in tiny white toy cars?’. My hotel on for the first night was pretty much like any other hotel, apart from the shower that only reached as high as my chest (the first of many ‘tall girl Japan problems’), and of course the infamous Japanese toilet, with its innumerous temperature, direction and pressure settings for your post-business ‘shower’- even more impressive than my beloved ‘bum gun’ in Thailand.

After a little tour of the not-too-exciting Wednesday night down town Kurume, my friend took me for my first Japanese meal to a gorgeous little yakitori restaurant. We sat at the bar eating sticks of meat and fresh salmon sashimi (my first ever!), surrounded by a strong aroma of tasty barbecuing and annoying cigarette smoke (it’s still legal to smoke inside here).

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Salmon sashimi, part of my first meal in Japan

I moved into my adorable little apartment the next day, which made me feel yet more like a giant (I get through my door ways with about an inch to spare above my head). The flat has all traditional Japanese sliding doors separating the rooms. The bedroom floor is all tatami (Japanese straw mats fitted together). The furniture is low to the ground, and the bath is deep, almost cube-shaped (my first few bath times were a bit of a floating somersault act!). It was one of the most stereotypically Japanese buildings I’d see yet, and I half felt as if I was moving into museum exhibit of what a period Japanese house should look like! I was also given a little moving in guide, complete with an ‘earthquake preparedness’ check list, which told you about how to get ready for an earthquake- it sounded just like the stuff we were learnt about in geography at school, so felt weirdly unreal, like I’d jumped into a textbook. Little did I actually know how soon this information would actually become relevant!

Other new essentials handed to me by my school included my inkan, which is a little bamboo stamp with my name on the end that I use instead of a signature for all my important documents (they could only fit the Japanese kana for my first name on- レイチェル, ‘Reicheru’), and my company car (woop!). I got off to a slightly awkward start driving. Having never driven an automatic car before, my foot tried to find the clutch and slammed the break down on my first drive, with a truck behind somehow avoiding crashing into us. But luckily Japan drive on the same side of the road as the UK, so after getting to grips with their road rules I was soon buzzing around town with ease down the city’s tiny roads the width of driveways. (Although I still sometimes set off my wipers instead of the indicators, as they’re on are the opposite side to my car at home. Some habits are hard to shake!)

My little automatic car ❤

The timing of the school year in Japan means that new teachers are lucky enough to experience the infamous ‘sakura’ season (the blooming of the cherry trees) almost as soon as they land. In my first week the blossom seemed to suddenly appear everywhere at once, making, for example the carp-filled canal below our building look even more picturesque. The way the blossom it is anticipated and celebrated in this country, helps you really make the most of it and appreciate the beauty. It’s a great example of the stunning nature of Japan that drew me here, and the people’s special relationship with nature that I think we should all try to emulate. As wishy washy as that is, they still know how to celebrate like any country here- with a good helping of friends and alcohol, specifically, in my experience, day drinking their way through cool boxes full of beer and sake under the blossom!

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Blossom at a park on my drive to school

At the Hanami (the picnic held under the cherry blossom trees) I had my first experience of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. This is done at different events throughout the year in Japan, and put simply it is someone serving you a cup of tea, but it involves a precise process carried out by professionally trained tea ‘makers’ (no idea what the term is for that!). Ours took a quarter of an hour or so, and I could write a whole blog post on all the elaborate steps, but basically we knelt beside a lady in a kimono who was preparing the tea with a little traditional stove, were given a sort of swan-shaped sweet to prepare out palette, and after its long preparation, were each served a bowl of bitter green matcha tea, before watching whilst everything was methodically cleaned and put away. (I have since found out there are many different ‘schools’ of tea, with their own unique ceremonies, and this is just one specific style). The whole thing was so slow and delicate it made you feel quite peaceful, giving a nice contrast to the noise and energy of the party, but afterwards I still had a bit too much sake (not wanting to be rude and turn down drinks from my new acquaintances of course!) and ended up cycling home along a slightly wonky line…

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My first week here was crammed with many more episodes, including starting my job at school, taking a trip to a stunning nearby temple town, and trying my first 100 yen sushi. And my first month here was even more eventful when the island was rocked by its strongest earthquake in on record…

The Korean Hogwan

Before embarking on a career as an ESL teacher in South Korea, you will have to make one decision: EPIK or Hogwan?

A Hogwan is the name of a private academy in South Korea. Thousands of Hogwans are located throughout the country and offer all types of learning! From piano lessons to English conversation classes, from soccer academies to conversational Japanese. They cater to all ages, even from as young as one years old.

Every year thousands of companies hire native English speakers to work in these education centers. Working hours can vary from job to job, but can start from as early as 6am and finish as late as 1am. (Recent laws have made this less likely).


It is important to note that every Hogwan is different and they should not be mistaken for a Korea public school (EPIK).

It is recommended to use a recruiter when applying for jobs at a Hogwan because at least if something goes wrong you have a second point of contact.  But be warned – you should never ever pay a recruiter for this service.

Below is a brief list of the benefits and negatives of a typical Hogwan:

Pros

Salary

Generally, Hogwans pay well. A starting salary normally varies between 2.1 and 2.3 million Korean Won, depending on qualifications and experience.

Free Accommodation

The majority of Hogwans also provide free accommodation and free school meals, which cut your costs each month and allow you to save more of your money.

Severance Pay

The completion of a one year contract normally means the employer will give the employee severance pay, which is equal to a full month’s salary.

Flights

Almost every Hogwan will provide you with a free one-way flight to Korea. Many also offer a return ticket upon completion of the contract, but unfortunately, this is becoming less common over time.

Paid Vacation

By Korean law, Hogwans are obligated to provide their employees with 2 weeks paid vacation a year. Most allow one week off in July (summer vacation) and one in December (winter vacation).

Unfortunately, like with everything, there are also some negatives to working in Hagwon…

Cons

Parents

The students’ parents have too much involvement in most Hogwans. They can be very generous with gifts on special occasions, but equally as critical and moany every other day of the year. Ultimately they are paying a lot of money for their kids to attend school, so as annoying as it is, I can see why they hold so much power.

Closure

Many potential teachers fear that the school they are applying to will close down. This is not common, but unfortunately not a rare thing to happen either. Hogwans are ultimately businesses, so when they are not profitable or the owner has had enough, they can be closed down just as easily as your local corner shop. In most circumstances though, the Hogwans are bought out by investors who keep the current teachers employed.

Money First

As I just mentioned, Hogwans are businesses and money comes first. Sometimes the decisions by management and staff are not made in the best interest of the children or the teachers, but due to a financial means.

Before accepting a job at a Hogwan in Korea it is important to weigh both the pros and the cons. Do your research on that Hogwan and try to contact current teachers if possible!

Check out the A-Z Guide to Teaching English in South Korea:

#TRAVEL – Taiwan: Taipei 101

#TRAVEL – TAIWAN: TAIPEI 101

In 2004, Taipei 101 (formerly known as Taipei World Financial Centre) was declared the tallest building in the world.  101 floors high, it stands out in the Taipei skyline and is visible for miles (pollution depending).

Taipei 101 lost it’s ‘Tallest building’ title to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, 2009.  As of 2016, Taipei 101 is now the 10th tallest building on earth. However, it is still well worth a visit!

Earlier this year, I was visiting Taipei on a budget (shock). I only had 2 days to explore the city and wanted to hit all the ‘MUST SEE’ places.  After doing some research I found that Taipei 101 made most Top 10 lists and in many cases was the #1 thing to see/do in Taipei.

Taipei has an efficient subway system that covers the main areas of the city.  To get to Taipei 101, simply get off at the conveniently named ‘Taipei 101‘ stop – SIMPLE!

The bottom floors are mostly occupied by food courts, shops, and tourists.  The real spectacle is on the 89th floor: the 360 Observation Deck.

Initially I was put off by the admission price to go up (12/11/2016 – NT$600), However, after seeing that you are taken there in the worlds fastest elevator, I pulled out my wallet.

The view from the observation desk really is incredible.  It gives you a panoramic view of the city and allows you to see so much you couldn’t from the ground.

I always love visiting the tall buildings in cities (e.g. Tokyo Skytree and the KL tower), the birds-eye view you get always leaves me temporarily speechless and can be appreciated at both day and night.

Admittedly, this is a short experience and quite expensive, but it is worth it.

  If you are in Taipei, don’t leave Taipei 101 off your list!

If you’re heading to Taiwan, you can’t go wrong with this travel guide –

#TRAVEL – SOUTH KOREA: THE DMZ

The North Korean way of life is perceived negatively throughout most of the western world, but many of us are equally fascinated by it. North Korea is located north of South Korea (SHOCK); the two countries have been separated since the 1950’s, and now a 150 mile long & 2 1/2 mile wide barrier runs between them. This barrier is known as the DMZ or the Demilitarized Zone.

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Anybody visiting or living in South Korea (it’s highly unlikely you’ll see many South Koreans there though) can visit the DMZ as part of a tour. The majority of the tours depart from Seoul and most companies offer both morning and afternoon options.

When I visited in 2015, I used a company called VIP Tours. They were very helpful and provided a great service. I’d recommend them!

You can check them out here VIP TRAVEL

VIP Tours and most other DMZ Tour operators offer several different options, two of the most popular being:

1) DMZ TOUR

The cheapest and most common option allows you to visit several interesting places –

The Bridge of Freedom – A park full of statues and monuments, built to console the families of both the North and South Korean people.

Dora Observatory – From here you can look into North Korea. On a clear day, it’s very impressive.

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Dorasan Station – A brand new railway station built to connect South Korea and North Korea. However, in 2008 the North Korean government stopped the service accusing South Korean government of a confrontational policy. So now it stands empty.

DMZ Theater & Exhibition Hall – Full of artifacts and information on the Korean war and the DMZ itself.

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The Third Infiltration Tunnel – My favourite part of the tour! In 1978 a tunnel was uncovered. The tunnel was built by North Koreans trying to pass under the border. The tour allows you to travel deep underground and see for yourself.

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2) DMZ & JSA TOUR

The second option allows you to visit all of the above AND the JSA or the Joint Security Area. The JSA is where North and South Koreans discuss diplomatic engagements and negotiate.  This option does cost a bit more and require a but more time, but a good experience for those who are interested.

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If you are interested in the Korean war and/or are curious about mysterious North Korea, or maybe you just have some time to kill in Seoul, I’d definitely recommend checking this tour out!

If you’re going to South Korea, make sure you take your guide to ensure you don’t miss anything –

#TRAVEL – Indonesia: Peace in Ubud

I’ve never read the book Eat, Pray, Love, nor have I watched the movie. But, nonetheless, I heard Ubud, Bali was an interesting place to visit for reasons other than “It’s where that really good book/ film is set”.

I was right.

Ubud is located about an hour north of Bali’s main airport and is easily accessed by bus, van, car, and bike. If you are visiting after spending a few days in Kuta, the tranquil and relaxing atmosphere will be a welcome breath of fresh air. Many visitors go there to practice yoga, meditation and detox. Ubud boasts many health-orientated stores and calming areas, making it the perfect place to unwind and get back in touch with yourself.

That said, despite being a peaceful and chilled setting, there are actually quite a few things to do:

Monkey Forest

The most popular tourist attraction in Ubud is the monkey forest. For a small price, you can enter a reasonably large area of temples, trees and wilderness to observe wild macaque monkeys run around and interact with each other and their paying visitors (hold onto your camera with a strong grip).

Rice Fields

Turn left, turn right, go north, go south…Ubud has no shortage of rice paddies! I would definitely recommend renting a scooter and driving out of the town center to check out some of these beauties. They are oddly fascinating and undeniably beautiful.

Pools

Just because you’re away from the coast, don’t think that you’re going to miss out on some great waters (you are in Bali after all). The majority of hotels and homestays in Ubud boast spectacular swimming pools, many with infinity pools looking out into stunning green scenery.

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The Streets

Ubud’s streets are full of quirky cafes, homestays and old buildings. Hours can be spent walking around marveling at the various types of architecture and having a browse at what interesting products are for sale.

Chill Nights

The nightlife in Ubud is a world apart from Kuta. I love to party, but visiting Ubud allowed me to experience a more relaxed and cultural vibe. Whether you see a puppet show, walk the beautiful streets or have a cold beer at the jazz bar, you’ll always be wearing a smile across your face.

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If you’re in Bali, don’t skip over Ubud.

.. and don’t forget your guide!

TEFL TIPS #4 – Verb of the Day

Verbs are the skeleton of any language. Most ESL learners know the basics:. ‘eat,’ ‘go’, ‘play‘ etc., but expanding this list is vital to those working towards achieving a higher level of both spoken and written English.

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In my classroom, I introduced a method I call ‘verb of the day’. It’s pretty simple but effective.

Every day I spend a few minutes introducing a new verb and ask my students to use that verb in a sentence. In a few weeks, my students progress from using standard verbs: ‘I eat‘ ‘I go’ & ‘I like‘ to the more advanced: ‘I climbed’, ‘I jump’, ‘I travelled‘.

The more creative you are at introducing the verb (you could use a song, dance and games), naturally the more the class will learn. For the smaller kids, acting out the words can be very effective.

A list of verbs I use to teach in kindergartens – elementary school are as followings:

– stretch
– push
– pull
– visit
– bend
– think
– cry
– rush
– throw
– move
-chase
– bite

The older or more advanced the students the further you can go:

– quit
– shake
– whisper
– scare

I find these Verb Flashcards from Amazon super helpful in my online and brick and mortar classroom:

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong

Top 5 Things To Do In Hong Kong


Hong Kong is one of the most famous places in the world. In February 2016, I was lucky enough to visit for a few days, and experience some of what ‘Asia’s World City’ had to offer.

Here is a list of my TOP 5 Things to do in Hong Kong –

The Peak

The Hong Kong Peak is normally described as “Hong Kong’s #1 Thing To Do”. I can see why. The Peak provides visitors with a panoramic viewing point looking down at Hong Kong City and the ocean. I don’t think I’ve drunk a coffee with a view like it before!
The best way to get to The Peak is by using the infamous ‘tram’ service. At some points during the journey, you will fear for your life – I am not exaggerating when I say that the tram will travel almost vertically, but just hold on tight & you’ll be fine!

The Cable Car & The Tian Tan Buddha

The cable car ride to the top of the mountains is optional, but really, unless you are down to your last dollar or have an extreme fear of heights – there is no option. This was my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong and I would recommend anyone visiting to do it. The price is HK$130 for standard & HK$180 glass bottom (roughly $16/$23 USD).
The cable car to the Tian Tan Buddha is a steady, but fantastic experience. The higher you get, the more of the unusual landscape of ocean, buildings, and mountains will be revealed.
Soon enough, the outline of a giant Buddha will begin appearing and the buildings in the background will fade away.
At the Tian Tan Buddha itself, you can explore the immediate area of historical monuments, temples, and stores… just be careful of the cows. You could also choose to walk the 268 steps up to the Buddha itself.
The photos really speak for themselves…

Markets

I’m not a “shopper”, but damn, the street markets in Hong Kong made me want to buy a lot of shit I didn’t need. “Temple Street” and “Ladies Market” (not just for ladies) are just two of the night market areas in Hong Kong that boast everything from food to clothes to even wild stock.
It is easy to spend hours meandering around the bright colorful stalls, browsing the wide (and I mean wide) variety of products on sale. The hunger-creating smells of nearby street food and restaurants are the only thing strong enough to entice you away.

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Not just a city

The most surprising element of Hong Kong to me was it’s natural beauty. It really is more than just a city. Hong Kong has no shortage of mountains, islands, and beaches. Most of these can be accessed by public transport for little cost. If you’re in Hong Kong for more than a couple of days, I’d highly recommend venturing out of the city and seeing some of this spectacular terrain. It’s worth mentioning that 2 of the most popular islands to visit in HK are Lantau and Lamma.

Promenade

The most stereotypical selfie taken in Hong Kong is taken at the promenade. The promenade is a spectacular area at both night and day. I can see why many joggers choose to run along the waterfront and I can see why tourists flock to get a photo of the stunning electronic landscape across the water. It’s completely free, so it’s worth walking along it if you get the chance!

I hope this gave you some ideas of what to do in Hong Kong or provided you with some nice flashbacks of your time there. Is there anything you think should have made my list?


Feel free to comment below!

If you’re going to Hong Kong, buy your travel guide below. It has everything you need and more!

Village Life in China – Brain Scans & Bamboo Weevils

Traveling Tales: Village Life in China—Brain Scans & Bamboo Weevils

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I first met Ting selling fruit along a busy highway in Leshan. Streetwise with a slight build and dark eyes, she’s a jack-of-all trades: a receptionist by day, fruit stall worker by night who also sells plants online, educates on winemaking and collects lamps from around the world. At this point I’ve been in Leshan a few days and quickly found myself running out of things to do, so when Ting invites me to spend the day with her family I jump at the opportunity.

The next morning I meet with Ting, her aunt, her cousins, and her grandfather—a gaunt man with paper-like skin, who seemed so fragile even the wind could make him crumble. In his quaking hands he carries recent scans of his brain to deliver at our first stop, a village hospital an hour away. We somehow manage to squeeze 8 adults into a car meant for 5 and we take off. Once past the highways of Leshan we find ourselves on narrow winding dirt roads which had been previously closed and blocked off by concrete barriers, many of which had been crudely deconstructed by locals leaving behind piles of rubble and broken hammers. Expertly navigating the maze of roads she’d grown up on, Ting gets us to our destination with relative ease.

The hospital itself is a depressing site—the entrance is devoid of doors and visitors ride their motorbikes and scooters directly into the dark, somber hallways. It’s here that the family works to settle their patriarch into a stained bed to receive an intense-looking cocktail of IV drugs. It all seems so routine to them, as it turns out they make this trip fairly often for treatment. Though he lives in the city now, he is only insured at the hospital nearest the company he worked for years before.

After ensuring he’s fully prepared for his hospital stay, the family meander through the nearby market greeting old friends and doing some light shopping. Resting along a curb with bowls of sweetened douhua, the cousins are getting a bit giddy recalling their childhoods while watching the local kids run through the streets. A few feet away a pair of toddlers in kaidangku chase a rooster among the food stalls while their mothers have their nails painted. Behind them, a man works to jerry-rig an outdoor kitchen with a few car batteries. At first glance it seems like we’ve stepped back in time a ways, an illusion quickly shattered by the persistent ringing of message tones and snapping of phone cameras. Our douhua quickly turning soupy in the summer heat, the group decides it’s time to head out to the countryside and so we pile back into Ting’s car for another trip through the serpentine roads.

In a matter of minutes we’re deep into the surrounding farmland, arriving at the farm that supplies their fruit stall in the city. The farmers greet them like family before immediately entering negotiations for bushels of limes. The business side of things concludes almost as quickly as it began and the women of the house begin to prepare dinner while the guests pitch in on the field work. The afternoon is spent harvesting jujubes and grapes. Our baskets full and the sun sinking lower in the sky, the cousins decide enough work has been done and that we’ve earned ourselves some playtime.

The whole group—aging aunt included—take off for the dense trees and bamboo surrounding the area. As I’m unsure of what we’re doing, Ting hands me an empty water bottle and informs me we’re going to make fans with giant bugs (none of which made any sense to me). Following them through woods filled with massive spiders and occasional snakes, I watch in awe as they spot bamboo weevils from 10 yards away. We spend nearly an hour tearing the beetles from their hideouts and slipping them into the bottles.

Back near the farmhouse, we plop down in the middle of the road next to a pile of sticks and proceed to make strange, bug-powered hand fans often constructed by children as a summer pastime. In the simplest terms, this involves:

  • Connecting two very thin, light sticks into a cross
  • Removing the bottom half of the legs on two bamboo weevils
  • Inserting one arm of the cross into the front right leg of one, and the other into the front left leg of the other.
  • Placing the long end of the cross into a hollow piece of bamboo

As the panicked insects fly in opposite directions, the cross spins like a helicopter creating a fairly strong breeze. If you can get big enough bugs and light enough sticks, they can sometimes lift out of the bamboo like a chopper. I realize many people will find this practice cruel, and while I’m apt to agree I’ll admit I did learn a great deal from the experience and that the overall vibe was light-hearted and playful. Still, there’s something surreal about seeing a little old lady in a pristine dress, hair done up just so, squatting in the middle of a dirt road ripping the legs off bugs.

The sun setting and our fans beginning to slow down, we headed into the house for dinner. The homes, while spacious and clean, are essentially bare. Often one finds a large open room with a table for eating, and unfurnished bedrooms with sleeping cots and a pile of clothing. If not for the food in the kitchen, were someone to stumble upon such a house they would assume it unoccupied. The lack of belongings and creature comforts is a strong testament to the hardworking nature of the countryside—they have little need to furnish their homes because they are rarely inside, spending their days in the fields.

Following a hearty meal of duck and eggplant, they load the trunk with limes they intend to sell and we head back to the city. A day of nostalgia for them was rife with new experiences for me. Seeing one day in the life of a single fruit-stall worker from a city of millions reminds me that the world is filled with an unfathomable number of stories and experiences, each rich & complex in its own way.

-Ashley

#TRAVEL Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Disclaimer: In case the title didn’t tip you off, this article is going to be a real bummer.

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One of the most amazing things about traveling is how much you learn along the way—about people, about culture, and about the world itself. Reading about something in a book is a far cry from seeing the remnants of history with your own eyes, and as we explore we uncover parts of the past that are often fascinating, sometimes amusing, sometimes confusing, and occasionally downright horrifying.

However, knowing the misdeeds of the past teaches us what to avoid in the future and so there is no history that should be forgotten. No place is this more true than in the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

A Bit of History

The Killing Fields are a dark vestige of the Khmer Rouge Regime, which took power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 – 1979. During that time, nearly 3 million people were executed in a country of only 8 million total. The cities were emptied and those who weren’t arrested were sent to agricultural projects as the government sought to both “purify” the population and bring the country back to a simpler time. Much of this was accomplished through the use of crude prisons and mass graves, which still exist today as a haunting reminder.

Choeung Ek

Choeung Ek was originally an orchard that was turned into arguably the most notorious extermination camp in Cambodia, containing thousands upon thousands of bodies. Located outside Phnom Penh, there is an entrance fee of $6 and includes an audio tour which guides you through the site providing the grim details of the events that took place—many patrons are moved to tears while listening as they solemnly walk the grounds.

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You’re continually reminded to watch your step, as teeth and bone fragments still regularly make their way to the surface. Upon arrival your eye is immediately drawn to the memorial stupa, a Buddhist monument with towering windows displaying more than 5,000 human skulls that have been recovered from the site.

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Those carrying out the executions were not well-equipped with weapons or ammunition, so executions were to be done quickly and cheaply often through barbaric means. For this reason, you will immediately notice how many of the skulls on display are cracked or smashed in.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of the site is known as the “Children’s Tree,” against which the youngest victims were beaten. Today the tree continues to grow and is covered in bracelets and ribbons visitors have left in memoriam to those lost.

Tuol Sleng

Within the city limits sits the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. The classrooms were divided into crude, tiny cells; the windows were barred and the grounds surrounded by electric fences & barbed wire. Inmates here were each photographed and ordered to provide the details of their life, only to be tortured into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. Wall upon wall of prisoner photos line parts of the museum, with gaunt faces of men, women, and children staring back at you. This prison was a true house of horrors, the site of everything from waterboarding to medical experimentation. Many of those not executed at the prison itself were eventually marched 15 kilometers to Choeung Ek, where they ultimately met their demise.

It’s baffling to think something so horrific had taken place in such recent history, but a truly eye-opening experience for those visiting Cambodia.

-Ashley

If you’re going to Cambodia, don’t forget your Lonely Planet travel guide –

Top Ten Films to Inspire your Inner Traveler

Top Ten Films to Inspire your Inner Traveler

Sometimes inspiration can come from unexpected places. So don’t expect to see The Beach or Into the Wild on this list—great movies for sure, but I want to share the ones that really keep me going.

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“There’s this theory: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. That means that every event is inevitable, including those that are impossible. That’s as good an explanation for all this as anything else.”

More or less a roadtrip movie, Interstate 60 (2002) stars Jason Marsden on a quest to find an answer to his life as he travels down an unknown highway said to be where all the “roads not taken” converge. Guided by a Magic 8 Ball, he faces life-changing forks in the road in the peculiar towns he finds along the way. Genuinely creative and amusing, it’s a great upbeat-tale that stresses the importance of choosing your own path despite how unpredictable life can be.

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“You truly love each other and so you might have been truly happy. Not one couple in a century has that chance, no matter what the story books say. And so I think no man in a century will suffer as greatly as you will.”

If I need to tell you what this movie is about then you definitely need to go out and see the world, ’cause you’ve probably been living under a rock. The Princess Bride (1987) naturally appeals to your sense of adventure, offering tales of love, greed, revenge, and honor. A diverse cast of perfectly flawed characters draws you in and makes you yearn for a taste of their world where you play the hero, conquering the Cliffs of Insanity, surviving the Fire Swamp, or even out-swimming the Shrieking Eels.

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“That’s what everyone thinks. But kind people find that they are cruel; brave men discover that they are really cowards. Confronted with their true selves, most men run away screaming.”

Of course, no list of inspiring movies is complete without a fantasy quest and you really can’t beat The Neverending Story (1984). Atreyu embodies what all travelers aspire to be: fearlessly stepping into the world alone and defenseless; finding the will to keep going when the whole world is falling down around you; trusting a new adventure is just over the next hill. Staying home and reading about another’s adventures is simply no comparison for getting out there and exploring on your own (even if it means trudging through a literal Swamp of Sadness).

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“I miss everything. I miss my friends, I miss my dog, I miss my family, my house. Everything. I even miss the things I hated at this point.”

Essentially another roadtrip movie, Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006) takes place in an alternate afterlife peopled entirely by those who committed suicide. While the hero sets off on a journey to find his ex-girlfriend, he and his companions struggle to deal with perpetually broken headlights, lose everything of importance to a blackhole under the passenger seat, encounter insignificant miracles and desperately seek to regain their ability to smile and see the stars in the sky.

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“Ironically the loneliness gave me the chance to get to know someone.”

The Teacher’s Diary (2014) is a Thai love story about a school teacher who is moved from the city to a floating boat-house school in the middle of nowhere, where he discovers the journal of the former teacher and slowly falls in love with her. While not actually about travel or backpacking, this movie is really jam-packed with nostalgia for me, as so many of the situations the hero finds himself in are reminiscent of some of my first experiences teaching abroad, as well as my experiences in Thailand itself. If you want insight into teaching in rural Thailand, this is the movie to watch, and if you like sappy love stories and cute kids you won’t find a better film!

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“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”

Set in the 1950’s, Stand By Me (1986) follows four kids who set out on a quest to find a dead body. Traveling across the county on foot, they each learn to deal with the various troubles in their lives including loss, abuse, and neglect. This movie does a fantastic job portraying the strength of friendship and the importance of overcoming obstacles together. Beyond that, the time period helps inspire me to disconnect; those boys have the adventure of a lifetime with no cellphones, internet, or even cameras—just rucksacks, sleeping bags, and an old radio.

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“With enough time and enough money, you could spend the rest of your life following the summer around the world.”

The Endless Summer (1966) follows two surfers from California on a round-the-world trip as they seek to live a perpetual summer of warm waters and great waves. Along the way they teach locals of different countries how to surf while experiencing new cultures themselves, all set to a stellar soundtrack. I’ve seen this document more times than I can count and the idea of a truly endless summer is all the motivation I need to keep exploring.

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“Hello, and welcome to Amsterdam’s finest and most luxurious youth hostel. We feature one medium sized room containing 70 beds which can sleep up to 375 bodies a night. There is no bathroom. Nor is there one nearby.”

Purely a teen comedy, Eurotrip (2004) follows four friends from Ohio who spend the summer before college backpacking Europe on a quest to find the main dude’s penpal/love-interest. This movie came out when I was in high school, and seeing those kids just take off for London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, and even the Vatican with no rules or schedules really just clicked in my brain. It was one of the first times I remember thinking I could totally do that.

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“I took the trip because I wanted to get something out of my system…but it doesn’t work, because I think the one thing that’s changed about all of us, we take this trip, is that a normal life really doesn’t seem that attractive at all anymore. I can’t imagine not traveling again.”

A Map For Saturday (2007) is a documentary by Brook Silva-Braga following his nearly year-long backpacking trip in the early 2000’s. It gives astonishing insight into the life of a backpacker, the amazing types of people you encounter, the realities of hostel life and the highs & lows of long-term travel, as well as the realities of going home again. Whenever someone says, “I could never do what you do,” I tell them to watch this movie. For many, it’s the push they need to finally give up everything & hit the road.

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“Chester Copperpot! Don’t you guys see? Don’t you realize? He was a pro, he never made it this far. Look how far we’ve come. We’ve got a chance!”

One of my all-time favorite movies in existence, The Goonies (1985) is truly the perfect adventure story: outlaws, pirate ships, hidden treasure, wishing wells & first kisses. Sure, they may not travel the world but the Goonies have more adventure in their small town than most people have in a lifetime. Friendship, perseverance, understanding, and courage…I get more inspiration from those kids than any other movie I know, and not just from Mikey’s “Our Time” speech.

If you’ve got any films that inspire you to explore, feel free to share!

-Ashley