Monday, June 30, 2008

Why I Will Never Travel Light Again

I thought I had done my research.  I had read the websites.  I had browsed through the travel magazines. I had asked my friends endless questions about everything there possibly could be to know about Europe.  But I still made one fatal mistake.  I packed too light.

Now, you might be asking, "pack too light? Isn't that what you're supposed to do when traveling around Europe?"  Not if this entails forgetting your DEBIT card that you were SUPPOSED to bring on your weekend trip to Chamonix, France to withdraw euros to spend.  I thought I was so badass.  Yes! One duffel bag for the entire weekend!  Easy breezy!  When we got to Chamonix, I headed for the bank (BNP Paribas because it is part of the Bank of America Global Alliance group where you can withdraw money from the ATM in the foreign country at no extra charge, one of the best deals when spending money in Europe). Much to my dismay, I realized that I had left my debit card back in my dorm room in Switzerland.  All I had on me was a credit card and 20 Swiss Francs.  Oh yea, and get this, my credit card was also NOT working because I did not call in advance and inform them that I was traveling. (I didn't know you had to!)  

So for the Friday of our weekend trip, while my friends were off to fabulous Mont Blanc for a hike or shopping around the quaint little town shops, I was wandering through the streets by myself, trying to find some way to access my money and to stop myself from bursting into tears.  

The only thing that saved me was the amazing scenery of Chamonix.

Etiquette 101

We Americans are rude.  Not rude in the French "I stick my nose up at you" way nor rude in the Chinese "push push push through the crowds" way but in the "I have no idea what etiquette is" way.

When dining at a fancy restaurant, do the multiple utensils at the table scare the heck out of you?  Why would you need three knives for one meal? Fear not, Glion has provided me with a crash course in etiquette and now I will translate these tips onto you so that you will never have to look like an uncouth caveman at the table again!

1.  Outside In
You will be able to tell how many course a meal is by the amount of utensils on the table.  A three course meal usually entails appetizer, entree and dessert and the table should be set with two knives and forks (one for appetizer, one for entree) and a spoon.  Always start by using the utensils on the outside. When you are done, leave your silverware on your plate and the waiter will swoop by and pick it up. Then, for the next course, use the next set of utensils on the outside.

2. Switcheroo's a No No
Most of the time we dine with a knive and fork, we would cut with our right hand and fork our food with our left. Then, when it's time to insert said food into our mouths, we would drop the knive and switch the fork from our left hand to our right.  THAT IS RUDE!  Europeans tend to dine with the left hand holding the fork the entire time.  If you find that you have trouble accomplishing this, try practicing in the privacy of your own home first before heading off to the real world.

3. Finished!
When the utensils are separated on the plate, this means that you are not finished with your dish.  When the utensils are placed together, that means you are done and ready for the next course!  

When you place your fork face down, this means that you're unsatisfied with the meal so don't do this unless you want a pissed off or worried restaurant wondering what they did wrong during your dining experience!

So you'd think that after learning all this, my friends and I would have become little Mr. and Miss Manners.  Hah, think again!  Later that afternoon, we headed down to Lake Geneva for a dip and then still soaking in our ultra-junky-looking t-shirts, shorts and flip flops, we stroll into a pretty Italian restaurant and ordered some pizza.  As we started eating, we noticed that the waiters and other restaurants patrons were staring and laughing at us.  We looked around and realized that Europeans eat their pizzas with a knife and fork!  Oops... so I guess we didn't exactly pass our etiquette lessons with flying colors.  But no worries, there will be far more future opportunities to show my mad skills. Just you watch! 

See, this was our second time dining on pizza and we're already pros! Good job guys!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Je Suis Ici!

Most college students spend summertime either summer schooling or traveling.  I've decided to have the best of both worlds (though I really don't see how you can call summer school "best") by enrolling myself in  UC Irvine's travel study program in the breathtaking Montreaux, Switzerland.  

The school is the Glion Institute of Higher Education and the forte is hospitality.  This means that our university is located at the top of a mountain overlooking a splendid lake in Montreaux and all our staff and project assistants (R.A.'s basically) specialize in serving us the finest traveling and schooling experience possible.  Not a shabby deal. 

Pictures do not do the view justice.  I cannot comprehend how students are able to study here, what with the enormous windows revealing Switzerland's finest landscapes.  

When we're not attending FOUR whole hours of class FOUR days a week (ridiculous, right?), we're off traversing through Glion and Montreaux (FYI: Glion is a town located on top of the city of Montreaux located in the country of Switzerland.)

It gets super hot and air conditioning is unheard of in Europe so to cool ourselves off, we run through public fountains.

Local shops and art also catch our fancy.

And, of course, there is the view.

After our excursion through the local hotspots, we dolled up for our Monday night formal dinner.  

A yummy, long meal later leads me to here; updating my travel blog at 12:34 Switzerland time when I have an 8am class in the morning.  I know I'm used to sleeping just 4-5 hours a day but I'm on vacation, dammit! I need my beauty sleep!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The past few days have been packing, unpacking, cleaning, more packing, more cleaning and more cleaning.  In my oft-neglected bedroom, I uncovered many little trinkets that I have packed away and forgotten for so long.  Past yearbooks, old souvenirs and most cherished:

My box of old letters! I used to have three boxes of these but I cleaned up some and rationed myself this one little box to keep some beloved notes and doodles from dear friends and family.  

I love letters.  I remember when I was little, I always wanted to beat my mom to the mailbox in the afternoon because I wanted to be the first one to discover if one of my pen pals had written to me.  If I do receive an envelope addressed to me, I'd tear that poor letter open and hungrily devour every word my letter-sender wrote.  

Alas, busy schedules and temporary addresses make for no regularly routined letters but I do still get postcards from friends now and then. And I always smile whenever I receive one because it meant that someone was thinking of me even as they're jetsetting across the globe. 

So I want to write you, my dear friends and readers, postcards.  Because even if Facebook displays pictures of me having the time of my life overseas, I still want you to know that I'm thinking of you. So, if you love receiving letters in the mail as much as I do, please email me your address. (  You just might be gettin' a little something something in the mail sometime soon.  And I'm not talking about a parking ticket.

Monday, June 16, 2008


At long last, after slaving over books and finals and essays and projects, we are free from the burden of school.  By we, I am talking about Apt. 1, aka the Pink Girls, aka my roommates for the past year.  

Since last June, Kelly, Cindy and finally, Dorothy in September, have been with me through the good times and the bad, the tummyaches and the gym workouts, the baked goods and the Korean food cravings, the smack talk and the praises.

But alas, these good and bad times have now come to an end because we are almost done packing up and moving out to separate summers in lands far, far away.  This is starting to sound like something out of "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants."  Let's see what our heroines are up to, yes?

City gal Cindy will be traversing through the Chilean jungles, trying her hand at all sorts of great outdoor adventures like zip-lining (seen below).

Dorothy will be indulging in her inner fob-ness by scavenging through Taiwan to find all things Hello Kitty. Cheers to finding more Kittys to add to your collection!

and the always cultured Kelly Banh will be flirting away on the streets of Paris (and other European cities) with her dream man. Bring on the chocolate!

And as for me? Well, you'll be seeing my pictures pretty soon... only 5 more days!!