3 Days 2 Nights on the Karakoram Highway

The highlight of my time in Xinjiang was arguably the trip my friends and I took to Tashkurgan, the Khunjerab Pass (China and Pakistan’s border crossing), and Karakul Lake. All these sights lie along the Karakoram Highway, which is doable by public transport–a handful of buses run between Kashgar and Tashkurgan every morning–but believe me, for this place, you want your own transport. Mostly so you can stop whenever and ogle at the scenery for as long as you’d like. Continue reading

Xinjiang: China’s Wild West

It’s odd to begin my travels, and my travel writing, with Xinjiang Province, China. For one thing, it’s so far out in western China–it took my friends and I a whole day’s worth of flights, including one layover in Urumqi, to reach the city of Kashgar–that it has its own unofficial time zone, two hours behind official Beijing time. For another, Xinjiang has more in common with Central Asian / Middle Eastern countries than it does with Han China… and there has been a (recent) history of deadly conflicts and riots to prove it.

Grand Bazaar, Kashgar, Xinjiang.

Grand Bazaar, Kashgar, Xinjiang.

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Introducing A Girl and Her Travel Blog

Beginnings are always the most difficult for me. Once I get going, I should be able to let the momentum carry me. But for now, where to start?

Me at the Philae Temple in Aswan, Egypt – Jan. 2013.

I’ve been blogging over at my book blog, Steph Su Reads, since 2009, but decided that it would be challenginginterestingexcitingnervewracking to create a travel blog, now that I’ve decided to quit my job and take at least a year off of “real life” to travel the world. I’m currently in China–yes, I’m starting this blog belatedly, since I’ve already done and seen things and will now have to play catch-up while also keeping up with my current doings–and would LOVE to get to Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia… and that’s just for starters. Yes, I am pretty ambitious. I hope this will be one time in my life where I will let myself live up to my ambitions.

Taking a year off of normal, adult responsibilities is a BIG DEAL for me. Until now, my life has felt pretty much like a straight, expected path: graduate high school, go to college, get a job. In college, I had little interest in other countries, languages, and cultures: I was already juggling two, and doing a piss-poor job of it (I’m a second-generation Taiwanese American). I forwent study abroad opportunities for perceived academic and extracurricular commitments. Boy, do I regret that!

My college campus: gorgeous, idyllic, intellectual… totally not real life. May 2011.

After I graduated college in 2011, I took the biggest plunge of my life up till then: I accepted a job offer as an educational consultant in Shanghai, China. This was my first time living abroad and the first time I had even considered visiting China. (As part of my job interview, I was asked to discuss my thoughts on a current Chinese issue. I started rambling about a segment I saw in a recent documentary about Chinese migrant workers living in cramped dorm quarters and earning less per day than what the average American spends at one time at Starbucks. I’m not sure I was very convincing in that interview segment!) But the job description sounded totally up my alley, and it wasn’t like there were a lot of appealing career opportunities for English lit and educational studies special majors in the US.

Shanghai – Jan. 2012.

My two years in Shanghai taught me more than the rest of my life combined. It opened my eyes to how little I knew of myself, of the world. It left me in tears after a hard day of Chinese city living and also introduced me to the incredible highs of overcoming culture shock. It forced me to examine my identity as an Asian American in China and reconsider how I form my opinions about social, political, and economic issues. There’s a lot more I can write about Shanghai, but I think I’ll save that for another time!

It wasn’t until earlier this year, 2013, when two incredible trips I went on–to Egypt and then New Zealand–opened my eyes to the magic of travel, of backpacking. From being a person who never had much curiosity about international affairs or life-abroad experiences (yes, yes, despite me being in one in Shanghai), I found that traveling more was all I could think about.

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, Feb. 2013. I swoon.

But this was a BIG DEAL. How do I tell all the important people in my life to please be patient with me as I put real life on hold in order to do this spontaneous and strange thing? I, uh, wasn’t very smooth in my announcing of my intentions. In an email to my very accepting, very patient parents, I threw in the fact that I was quitting my job and traveling for “a few months this summer in China, with the possibility of moving on to Europe afterwards.” My poor parents assumed that I’d return home in the fall and study for the GREs or do job applications. Were they ever surprised when I said that I might not return home until 2014…at the earliest!

So here it is, for all the world to see: the declaration of my intention to make traveling my priority for the time being. I have money saved, I have a current inability to stay put in one place, and I’m going to do it, no ifs, ands, or buts about it!

I’m still plotting out my itinerary, and of course this blog is still in its infancy. But there are already a few things that I know this blog will NOT be:

  • A food blog. Food is, um, embarrassingly low on my list of priorities. Like, I can go a whole day without eating if I’m too busy traveling or whatever else. While I appreciate food, I’m totally not a foodie (it feels my stomach, what other requirements should there be? I’m the easiest date ever), and so I won’t be actively seeking out famous local dishes or well-known restaurants and reviewing them. Sure, I’ll write about food occasionally, but it won’t be a focus on this blog.
  • A blog on how to save money everywhere on the road. While no one likes to have to spend heaps of money to achieve their dream, I feel uncomfortable with things such as hitchhiking, dodging entrance fees, dumpster diving, heavy bargaining, etc. (I’m still figuring out Couchsurfing; stay tuned!) Traveling can already be done on any budget by staying in hostels, carpooling, and other strategies. If I have some money-saving strategies that work for me, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I know you can find other websites out there with a stronger focus on traveling for the least amount of money possible!

What you WILL (most likely) see on this blog:

  • Destination reviews, or simply my thoughts and experiences at certain locations or sites.
  • My musings on my cultural identity as an Asian American across the various countries I hope to visit.
  • Thoughts on packing! I’m ridiculous and love to organize my belongings in my free time. My packing list and future iterations of it will certainly be something I will come back to again and again here.
  • PICTURES. I love taking pictures and maybe I will try to do a picture-a-day feature or something similar.
  • My thoughts on issues or features unique to a particular country.
  • Any fun experiences or encounters I have along the way!

Well, I’m going to wrap this post up before my tendency to write too much makes this unbearable. Thanks for reading and being interested in my thoughts and my adventures. Until next time!–which will hopefully be real soon. As in, like, a few hours…