The ‘Take a Hike’ Marathon, Training Regiment, and Decreasing World Suck

A marathon in Australia. That’ll be pretty awesome, eh?

I ran my first half marathon last spring of 2015 in New York.

I ran my first half marathon last spring of 2015 in New York and soon enough, I will run my first marathon fall 2015 here in Brisbane, Australia.

I am happy to announce that I will be running the 4th annual Take a Hike Brisbane 42 km/26.2 mile marathon on a bright and early Sunday, 11th of October. This running event is a fundraiser to raise awareness for child autism, a permanent disease that persists from childhood and causes problems in social interaction and intellectual development. 1 in 68 children worldwide have been diagnosed with autism and efforts by the AEIOU Foundation (Austism Early Intervention Outcomes Unit) have supported these children. Donations by runners and sponsors will go toward educational and therapy programs for autistic children and this will decrease the amount of “world suck” as Youtubers John and Hank Green would have it.

My life has not changed a bit in terms of my self-indulgence in running since I left Boston for study abroad. In Boston, I was athletically involved in my summer senior staff job at the Boston Common coaching children tennis skills. This was coming off a fall sophomore season of cross country in Geneva, New York at Hobart College. In my first few weeks since I have been in Australia, I have trained by running up and down huge, colossal hills that dot the small little suburb of Annerley. Compared to Boston, the hills are a big difference, while prevalent bike routes and sunny, ozone-less Australia make a warm subtropical climate that is nice to run in.

My training schedule includes a mountainous peak in the middle like Innerly and long runs on Saturday broken up into two. So far, I have been following it, but not entirely. Hopefully, this schedule will work out in the end!

Some issues I have had related to training for a marathon is my increasing hunger for food. This is the result of my longer and more frequent runs, burning up lots of calories, compared to when I am sedentary during most of the days of the year in college. It has been shown historically in my life that running correlates directly to my increased metabolism. During my time as a cross country athlete, since sophomore year at Brimmer and May High School in Newton, Massachusetts, I used to eat so much during the fall seasons to compensate for the loss of calories. And even more so at Hobart, where I dropped 7 pounds in perhaps 2 weeks.

During the early part of this semester at University of Queensland (UQ), I was able to go out for an early morning jog, but now I have switched routines by running in the late afternoon. After coming back from UQ late afternoon, I would go through all the snacks we had bought on Sundays at Woolworths, which is a big supermarket here in Australia. Running also takes so much time and energy out of me that it is definitely a challenge to incorporate training with school.

My solution is to plan out my meals and consume small fruits or crackers, as well as water to stay hydrated, before and after my late afternoon runs. Things have been made easier by my ability to eat at home rather than at a dining hall.  My incredibly masterful Australian host mom, Anne, makes scrumptious dinners— sausages, pasta, burritos, and curry. Without the need to go out to eat and be able to eat home-cooked food, it is definitely a big positive thumbs up in my opinion. Though there are times I have wanted to just collapse on my bed, I have managed to train for 3 weeks, following my schedule and cross training on days that I cannot run, such as hiking or biking.

I would implore anyone interested in supporting the AEIOU Foundation to visit their website and read more about their fundraising efforts and fun events here in Australia.  Also, please support me online in my fundraising goals of $500 or in person on October 11th, 2015! It has been my goal since I started high school cross country to run a marathon and studying abroad in Australia has enabled me to do exactly that. It is the perfect setting—the scenic Brisbane River located in the West End near South Bank. There is no stopping on my way to 26.2 miles.

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Cheeky Cuisine in London

I must start off this blog with this: BRITISH PEOPLE TOAST THEIR CREAM CHEESE AND BAGELS AT THE SAME TIME. Also, they spell bagel “beigel”. I’m not joking. I wish I was, but I’m not. The cashier handed my friend her beigel with cream cheese and directed her to the back of the store to have it toasted.

Jade: “Wait…but… isn’t the cream cheese already on it?”
Man: “Yeah…”

Jade: “But… if you put it in the oven… isn’t the cream cheese gonna get hot too?”

Man: “Yes. That’s usually what happens when you toast something. We don’t do it how YOU GUYS do it.”


English cuisine is pretty bland. Compared to America, there is a lack of culturally diverse options. The grocery stores are teeny-tiny. Yesterday, the only fruit my Tesco had was pineapples, apples, and blackberries. In America, the stores can be as big as a football field and stocked with twenty different flavors of pop-tarts. I miss it.

Pret, an organic sandwich chain, is London’s McDonalds. They’re absolutely everywhere. The fact that a small-portioned, healthy, all-fresh chain reigns king here is pretty representative of how Londoners approach food. There are no artificial flavors or weird scientific sounding ingredients in any of the products you buy. Here, Coca-Cola is made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. It makes you feel a little bit better when you’re chugging one back.


My favorite restaurant/haven is Nandos, which is popular for its Afro-Portuguese peri-peri chicken. Nandos isn’t some trendy, underground place. It’s like Britain’s Applebee’s or TGI Fridays. But I don’t care. Their spicy grilled chicken quarters are to die for. By the way, look up “cheeky nandos”. It’s a popular phrase here and you’ll get British street cred if you know what it means. My Resident Assistant mentioned it during his neighborhood tour. “Buzzfeed had to write a whole article on it because you guys just didn’t get it,” he laughed. Immediately after the tour, my flatmates and I went to Nandos hoping an epiphany of understanding would occur while chomping some peri-peri chicken down. It didn’t happen. But when we passed our RA the next day, we nodded our heads and shouted, “Cheeky Nandos, eh?!” He smiled in pride. After a month of trying to wrap my head around it, I’ve finally got it. It’s like when you take an extra long lunch break with your mates to go to Nando’s even though you know you should be back at work. You know… like you’re doing something a little naughty. You’re pulling a cheeky Nandos, mate! (I hope you’re not cringing too hard at my faux-Britishness.)


I’ve had fish and chips, of course. I ordered my inaugural fish and chips from Poppies, which won a National Fish and Chip Award. Yes…there’s a National Fish and Chip Award. It tasted WICKED!

There’s a great sparkling drink here called Elderflower. It’s really sweet, as if you’re drinking pure sugar, but much healthier and natural tasting. Lastly, my favorite snack thus far is Digestives. No… they aren’t what they sound like… They’re a great soft and yummy biscuit covered with milk chocolate. My friend Rachel forced a pack of them on to me and I’ve been addicted ever since.

Overall, British food is pretty similar to American food. They just have nice quirky regional dishes and products. I hope I’ve made you hungry. You should book your ticket right now, skip work, and come on to London to have a cheeky Nandos, mate. You won’t regret it, I promise.

(By the way, totally munching on a Pret sandwhich while writing this. I’m addicted.)



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I Woke Up in Russia

Before finally sitting down to write a summary of what are becoming the most fascinating days of my life, my host mother made sure I was fully equipped with my Russia starter pack: tapachki (slippers), chai (tea), and layers of clothing. Sure, St. Petersburg’s far north geographical location may be the primary reason that I am constantly reminded to dress warm and comfortably, though I spot reasoning that is far more submerged.


Two weeks into Russia and I still haven’t experienced this concept of “culture shock”. I thought I would be hiding tears or trying to phone my mommy on poor internet connection by now, but instead I am already planning on when I can return to Russia in the future. I will have to credit my upbringing for this smooth transition.

Being born and raised in Bulgaria (not even a decade into post-communism), I can say that I have many moments where I feel more at home in Russia than in America. I’m sure that this sentiment is already getting some eyebrow raises, but believe me. I say that I am feeling very comfortable in Russia because the picture is all too familiar- Soviet style urban planning, conservation of food and household utilities, Cyrillic alphabet adorning shop windows, and gloomy faces that commute on foot or by public transportation.


As a child, I too lived in a small, hallway-sized flat, whose graffiti at the building entrance welcomed me each day. I understand the past Soviet policy of providing mandatory housing for all of its people and the rapid growth of the city at the time, which all lead to the construction of enormous, plain (and today, rundown) housing blocks that may not attract hoodlums on the outside, but are decorated and made cozy in the inside nevertheless. I can relate to the shorter showers and the two differently sized buttons on the toilet when needing to flush. Growing up, I have gotten used to the stoic faces of strangers that are unsatisfied with their meager monthly pensions or are worrisome about the lack of possibilities for their child’s future.


Today, I am grateful to be studying in a city that is rich in history and also plentiful in its fur shop establishments. St. Petersburg was built to be an imperial capital, one of grandeur, as a monument to Russia’s greatness on the European stage. It was Peter the Great’s grand city on the Gulf of Finland, one filled with palaces, cathedrals, museums, parks, canals, and squares. It was his “window to Europe,” and for over 200 years it was Russia’s imperial capital city.

The Russia living essentials (see first paragraph) do not just show you how to prevent a cold, they are inanimate representations of Russia’s very animate past. Since heating is expensive and is turned on at certain dates, the unpredictable forecasts cause feet to get cold (wear tapachki); the water filtration system is not of great quality and all cooking and drinking water must be boiled first (have a cup of tea, darling) and while you are out, make sure to wear layers because here in St. Petersburg, it will rain one moment and shine the next.


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Destination: Amman, Jordan

As cliché as it sounds, studying abroad has been a dream of mine since the day I enrolled into college. Having never travelled outside the States, I rightfully yearned to explore far beyond their borders. To put things into perspective, I was born and raised in New Jersey, the same state where I attended school, shy of a 15 minute commute from my home. Indubitably, over the span of my academic career, I seemingly developed an intense desire to experience an academic environment both out-of-country, and out of comfort zone.

Just a few months into my junior year, I decided to turn my dream of studying abroad into a reality. One year, and one International Studies Abroad acceptance letter later, I find myself sitting inside of my student apartment in Amman, Jordan writing this very post.

At this point you may be wondering, why Amman, Jordan? Why didn’t I opt for a more ravishing European scene, where the sandy coasts of Barcelona, or the picturesque Isles of Greece would surely attract any first time abroad student? Albeit alluring, I based my choice upon a passion for Arabic language, culture, and an academic pursuit within degrees of Political Science and Middle-Eastern studies. Studying abroad in Jordan would make it possible to learn Arabic in an adequate setting, all while embracing authentic Middle-Eastern culture to the fullest. Besides, if I ever wanted to branch out of my comfort zone, studying in the capital city of Amman seemed like a good start.

I arrived a day earlier than expected (my original flight was actually cancelled & re-booked due to a pilot strike), and I was subsequently faced with the daunting task of making housing arrangements for the night. Equipped with a rusty Arabic vocabulary and an eager mindset, I stepped out of the airport with an intent to engage in conversation amid surrounding locals. Among the first things I took notice of upon exiting the airport was the geography. The barren landscapes were met with a sense of tranquility and calmness. Surprisingly enough, the weather allowed for a dry, yet comfortable atmosphere. Despite soaring temperatures, the air lacked a sense of humidity, and surely enough trumped any summer day in New Jersey.


Nevertheless, my first real experience of Jordan was during a tour of downtown Amman, referred to as “Al Bilad”, or the old country. Upon a tour of the city, I instantaneously fell in love with its cultural affluence. Between breathtaking mountainsides and photographic horizons, my eyes drifted into an astonished daze. One of the stops along the tour was a renowned restaurant known as ‘The Hashem Restaurant’. We ordered a round of hummus and falafel, which was undoubtedly the best of its kind. Stomachs full, we successfully ended our day with our first taxi ride back to the apartments.



My newfound love for Amman was not solely influenced by its cultured downtown region, but rather solidified through an excursion made to the ancient Roman Citadel in a district known as “Jabal al-Qal’a”, or the The Castle Mountain. This historical site remarkably distinguishes itself from the booming metropolitan area just a few hundred feet below it. Standing tall are the archaic Temple of Hercules, and the Umayyad Palace; both of which illustrate previous occupations by the Assyrians and Persians, whose influence still linger across the scene even thousands of years later.



My time spent in Jordan falls short of one week, and I can assure you it’s been the most culturally shocking, frenetic, and rewarding weeks in my entire life. In the short week that I have been here, I have experienced a variety of cultural differences, environmental adaptations, social adjustments, and academic challenges. Simple things that are taken for granted in the States seem to be absent across Jordanian norms, including long hot showers (Jordan lacks an abundance of water resources), or being able to wear a pair of shorts in public without being deemed as unprofessional. Despite facing a variety of personal challenges, the experiences I face while in Jordan will allow me to grow both as a student, and as an individual. As difficult as they may be, I personally promise to approach each situation with diligence, and utilize every experience (including the tough and ugly ones) as a tool to learn and grow.

And even though I’m still in the honeymoon phase of my experience, my time here in Amman, Jordan thus far has been unforgettable. If things continue going the way they have been, I may not get a chance to feel homesick!


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Learning the Way of Life in London


I landed in London’s Heathrow airport two weeks ago, sweaty and confused. My plane ride from my hometown, Dallas, Texas was nine hours long and I was majorly jet lagged (London is six hours ahead of Texas). My biggest fear was something going cinematically wrong as soon as I stepped off the plane: being arrested at customs, getting lost in the airport, someone stealing my bag, etc…

But everything went frustratingly smooth.

Which is nice. But it doesn’t make for a very good story, now does it?

Preparing for studying abroad in London was a lot of work: visa forms, proof of support, passport…blah, blah, blah. Also, I’m sure my wallet shed a single tear when I converted from dollars to pounds (Britain’s currency). Great Britain’s currency is stronger than the U.S. dollar. It takes one dollar and sixty-four cents to receive one pound. That makes it very important to me to be money conscious. But that’s hard when there are so many great stores in London: Topman, All Saints, Selfridges…I should stop!

The only real calamity was my denim jacket becoming decorated with sweat stains. After three months of nothing but dog-hot summer days, the Texan in me shivered when I saw it would be sixty-degrees Fahrenheit when I landed. But because of all the lethargic drizzling rain and sad grey clouds, London’s really humid. It’s important to dress in layers because it can be nice and sunny one second and then raining the next. It’s amusing how insignificant rain is to Londoners. They just walk through it, no umbrella or hood over their head. That’s because it’s usually a mild drizzle and only lasts for fifteen minutes.

Prior to my arrival, there were talks of The Tube going on strike the day I arrived (The Tube is London’s subway system). The Tube always closes at midnight, however the city wants to begin all-night service on weekends despite Tube workers’ protests. Thankfully, the strike was called off. However, as a precaution, my university (New York University) had ordered double-decker buses to transport us students from the airport to our dorms. I forced myself to stay awake and take in everything as we drove through the city. Immediately, I was surprised by how many American chains are here: American Apparel, KFC, Starbucks, Urban Outfitters, etc. There are enough similarities to America (especially New York City) to make me feel comfortable, but enough differences to make me feel excited.

The gates of Buckingham Palace.

The gates of Buckingham Palace.

Of course, the good Fashion Journalism major in me took in everyone’s street fashion. Londoners dresses sharper and more polished compared to New Yorkers. In New York, wild hair colors and wearing black head to toe is the name of the game. In London, even young twenty-something guys can be found wearing Burberry trench coats, loafers, and cable-knit sweaters. To be fair, NYU’s London campus is located at Bedford Square, a more posh area of London. South London is the more funky and young area. There, it felt more like New York. There were girls with completely shaved heads and some with purple hair. The teenagers were wearing an eclectic mix of clothes they’d purchased at vintage stores.

One misconception I had was that everyone would be snobbish as soon as they heard my American accent. For the most part, everyone seems to be really warm and interested in hearing about my life back home. They do poke fun at Americans’ large portion sizes (a size small drink is the only option at their fast food restaurants), and different way of doing politics. Through the deep conversations I’ve held with Londoners, we’ve seen that America and Britain share many of the same fears and issues- they are just wearing different outfits.

I am beginning to miss the familiarity of America. In Manhattan, the city is always alive. If you have a late-night craving for a dollar slice of pizza at 2:00 a.m., you can roll out of bed and go get it. Here, most shops close at 9 or 10 p.m. It’s really weird for such a big city to have such an early bedtime. Also, there are a lot of differences in British slang that I always forget until I receive playful laughs from my British friends. For example, here, “pants” refers to underwear. “Trousers” is what you’re supposed to say. So next time I go shopping I have to make sure I don’t say, “Do these pants fit okay?”


Then there are differences in how Brits say time (14:00 is 2 p.m.), measure weight (170 pounds is 12 stones) and measure temperature (70 degrees Fahrenheit is 21 degrees Celsius). It gets frustrating but then I have to remind myself: the world wouldn’t be interesting if everything was the same.

I really love it here. What I want to bring back home isn’t a post card or key chain. It’s politeness. People are just so nice here. And in a very real, unforced way. When I had trouble figuring out the correct change to give my cashier, she took the time to go through each one and explain their value to me (there are so many!). It may just be because all my NYU friends and I are obvious wide-eyed foreigners but still, everyone just seems so much happier and relaxed compared to Americans. So that’s definitely something I’ll try to take back home with me. Hopefully I remember this the next time I’m on the 6 train and have someone’s sweaty armpit inches from my face.

So far, London has been a rainbow of joy.

So far, London has been a rainbow of joy.

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Becoming Part Foodie – Snags and Cooking Class

Food! Brisbane has many things to offer in the culinary arena. I have two events to share that happened the last two weeks that were both on a whim, and not necessarily planned out as you will see. The first happened during my first foray into South Bank with my friend Harry, and the second took place at a food class that I signed up for online.

On our first weekend in Brisbane, 31/08/2015 (the day goes first in Australia) my housemate, Harry, traveled with me to South Bank to walk around, explore, get purposefully lost, but also see what kind of events and food Brisbane has to offer. Harry and I turned into the gardens near the famous ferris wheel in South Bank, and walked into a street set up with wooden tables and large tents that had sellers hawking and displaying their wares for sale. We saw kangaroo wallets, clothes, jewelry, bracelets, and bars set up along the pathway. It was such a lively atmosphere of commotion and revelry.

Turning around the corner to head out, we saw a stand selling sausages, or what is known in Brisbane as “snags.” They had different varieties of snags such as the cheese kransky and smoked bratwursts, topped with helpings of sauerkraut and sautéed onions. Of course we were hungry, so we had to try it out.

I elected for the cheese kransky, which was so, so savory. The hot oils inside overflowed in my mouth, giving me a taste of Brisbane’s offerings. The only minus was the sore mouth I had afterwards from the hot oil, but that was from eating it while it was too hot and because it was just so tempting to eat. Harry had the beef bratwurst, which was just as good! We had eaten our snags by the time we reached the bus station to go off on the rest of our journey.

I also went to a food class last Sunday 06/09/15. The cooking class I chose was by a company called “The Golden Pig.” Going into the class, I had no idea what to make of American or Australian cooking. I am a Cantonese Chinese Bostonian that has grown up in a Chinese culinary household and I have no idea what exactly Americans eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at home.

My recipe guide and apron for the day.

My recipe guide and apron for the day.

We first learned how to crush and chop garlic into mince, then we worked together in groups of three to put together a three course meal and dessert! I did feel very lost at first. Where are the extra cups? Where are the whisks? How do I use this stove? How about the convection stove? But, I was just like—go for it and see what you can do yourself.

So I pushed to action. I grabbed a pan and spatula and started putting together the stuffing. The butter went in first to help add flavor and serve as a non-stick surface for the food. Then the onions, bacon, garlic, and herbs were added. And afterwards, the other ingredients: bread crumbs, figs, pine nuts, and lemon zest. As a group of ten in the class, we ended up with fish, beef, chicken, ratatouille, and an apple and frangipane tart.

Beef Fillet with Béarnaise Sauce

Beef Fillet with Béarnaise Sauce

Mhmmm... bacon.

Mhmmm… bacon.

The fish was sweet but meaty like a nice charred steak. Beef and chicken came next, and they were the centerpiece of the meal. The stuffing was agreed upon as the highlight of the evening. The ratatouille was served next—a complex combination of vegetables creating a stock of incredible flavor. The tart was last, which was light and sweet, to end off the heavily buttered 3 course meal. All good work in the days work.

Chicken with Fig, Bacon, and Hazelnut stuffing.

Chicken with Fig, Bacon, and Hazelnut stuffing.

Apple and Frangipane Tart.

Apple and Frangipane Tart.

Food in Brisbane is incredible. There is so much flavor that I have not tasted yet. The simple and subtle flavors in Cantonese cooking is very different from Australian and American foods—oily and greasy, but also much of the same in terms of chicken and beef. In Brisbane, my mouth has never come across so many good flavors at once. It is the few things in life that you can appreciate instinctively. In these two instances, it completely swept me off my feet.

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Deciphering Chinese Dialects

One thing that eluded me until I studied abroad in China and started my intermediate Chinese studies was the countless number of dialects. What many Chinese teachers neglect to tell their first-year students is the fact that Mandarin itself, or the concept of a standardized language, is called“国语”(In Pinyin: guó yǔ). Directly translated it means “country language.” This idea dates back to the early 1900s, but was only created and implemented in the mid-20th century, but I’ll spare you all a long history lesson. What I’m trying to get at here is that every region of China has its own unique, and for the most part indistinguishable dialects, but they’re essentially entirely different languages. For example, the city my study abroad program is in has its own dialect, and lucky for me, it’s very similar to Mandarin. Sometimes, dialects vary from province to province, or even city to city, which can make the task of communicating quite difficult. Of course everyone speaks Mandarin, but for many Chinese people the first thing they learn is their dialect, and use the way they speak their dialect to speak Mandarin. This is mostly why you get so many variations in pronunciation among the Chinese. I asked almost all of my teachers if their grandparents could speak Mandarin, and they mostly told me they only spoke their dialect (I even had one teacher whose grandma spoke French!). From what I observed and heard, the elderly mostly speak their dialects, unless you’re in an area near Beijing.

Some of the main dialects of China are: Yue, Ping, Xiang, Hakka, Gan, Hui, Wu, and Min. (Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list. Many minority groups have their own language, and there are many different variations between cities and provinces.)

Some of the main dialects of China are: Yue, Ping, Xiang, Hakka, Gan, Hui, Wu, and Min. (Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list. Many minority groups have their own language, and there are many different variations between cities and provinces.)

To Americans and other outsiders looking in on this phenomenon, it seems so foreign and daunting to fully grasp. The way I like to think of it is that the Chinese have retained their languages and culture for almost four thousand years, and the way their dialects work is very similar to how the Native American tribes were. Each tribe had its own distinct language, and whenever I think of dialects I just think of it as the same thing, but the Chinese were never uprooted like the Native Americans were.

Since we’re on the topic of history, I came across this huge diorama of what Kunming would have looked like in ancient times. You can’t see everything (it was in a glass case, it was a pain to take a picture of!), but I wonder what life was like living there?

Since we’re on the topic of history, I came across this huge diorama of what Kunming would have looked like in ancient times. You can’t see everything (it was in a glass case, it was a pain to take a picture of!), but I wonder what life was like living there?

Just thinking about what life would have been like before Mandarin is exhausting! I can barely understand people talking amongst each other at the airport, let alone somewhere where the people don’t speak much Mandarin. There is one failsafe though: if you don’t understand what the people around you are saying, write out what you want to say. Although different dialects use different characters than Mandarin for certain words, if you write things out they’ll understand your meaning.

For example, people who don’t speak Mandarin but another dialect could read the sign.

For example, people who don’t speak Mandarin but another dialect could read the sign.

I know I barely scratched the surface of this topic, but I hope you find it as interesting as I do! It’s pretty much impossible to describe the differences in dialects, so if you’d like to hear the differences, check out this video of Frozen’s “Let it Go” sung in Chinese dialects, which should give a general idea of how the sounds differ, but there’s always some words that sound similar. A random goal of mine is to learn Cantonese, a dialect spoken in Hong Kong and the surrounding areas. Alright, until next time! Stay wonderful!

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