Hong Kong: Seven Million Lights

There must have been seven million lights ablaze on my first night in Hong Kong. I gazed out of the car window, unable to close my eyes for a second, not wanting to miss even one moment of that drive. As we passed high-rise after high-rise, the driver turned to me and said, “Behind each of those lights is a person. Seven million people; seven million lights.” That was the first time it hit me: an overwhelming desire to know the people behind the lights.  My roommate Sandy’s light was dazzling. She laughed generously and shook her head when I tried to wash my own dishes. She always insisted I let her do them instead. When one of us struggled, we cried together, and as she cried, her dark eyes glittered with warmth. She taught me how to play the harmonica, and we would spend hours playing duets together in the dimly lit, one-bedroom apartment that we shared with two other girls. Some nights Sandy and I would climb up to the top bunk in our tiny room, hunched over to avoid bumping our heads on the ceiling. We lit up that cramped apartment with music and laughter as we fumbled our way through our favorite songs. And although Sandy’s English was almost as poor as my Cantonese, as she taught me to play the harmonica, our friendship became unshakable. Several months later, I moved to Macau, leaving Sandy behind in that beloved, memory-filled apartment. My new apartment was rather run-down, with large glass doors that led out to the balcony. This balcony overlooked the city and directly faced...

The Expanding World of Languages in Slovakia

“I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions,” said Vaclav Havel, a Czech playwright and human rights advocate who became president of Czechoslovakia, replacing the communist government. Despite the power of words in their country, Slovaks were not always able to learn many other languages. As of 25 years ago, they are allowed to learn languages besides their native tongues and Russian. Language learning has soared since 1989, and now children can begin language learning in school as six-year-olds. Andrea Palenikova, a Slovak native, explains the change since the fall of communism. “The transition is always hard. My parents . . . were growing up in communism, and then it just collapsed and they had to really . . . change basically their whole mindset and everything. So, because of that, it is sometimes hard for us younger generations to understand that.” She muses, “I can’t . . . imagine not to be able to have this opportunity, you know, to learn, because I just love it so much.” Palenikova’s enthusiasm for learning other languages started young. At home, she grew up speaking mainly Slovak. However, her paternal grandmother only spoke Hungarian, thus Palenikova was exposed to another language. Listening to accents of family members from near the Polish border and watching a German TV show at a friend’s house further sparked her curiosity with foreign tongues. Palenikova began learning English early, but as she says, “[Slovak children] can even take other languages really early right now, like when they’re...

Dingle Peninsula: The Slea Head Drive

Dingle Peninsula The Slea Head Drive Vibrant emerald foliage grows from rocky cliffs and glacial Atlantic waves crash against rocky shores as sheep wander aimlessly, grazing amidst ancient ruins where historic tales are locked deep inside the remaining stone walls. cc Dingle Peninsula, located along Ireland’s southwest coast, contains a 30-mile (48-kilometer) loop called Slea Head Drive that wraps around the land mass, allowing visitors to tour this picturesque portion of Ireland. The road starts in Dingle, the only substantial town along the peninsula. Dingle fits the traditional Irish mold as a major fishing port. The city also features a very unique resident: a bottlenose dolphin named Fungie. Since 1984, Fungie has taken it upon himself to lead vessels in and out of the harbor and has become a local celebrity: Dingle has immortalized their flippered friend with a life-size bronze sculpture located on Main Street near the harbor. Luckily for landlubbers, Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours depart on the hour every day (weather permitting), allowing people to watch Fungie splashing about in his natural habitat. As you leave Dingle, you’ll quickly approach the Ventry Village. This Gaelic village is home to numerous ruins, including the Rahinnane Castle, which was built on a sixteenth-century ringfort and where the Knight of Kerry resided. Today, three of the four walls remain as well as the stairs leading from the first floor to the second floor, which you can still climb—carefully. The ruins are located just off of the highway and through a pasture, so you may want to wear boots. Once you have hiked back to the road, you will soon see...
Backpacking Your Way

Backpacking Your Way

Backpacks are the unsung heroes of adventuring. No matter how gorgeous the mountain view or how hypnotic the sounds of the babbling brook, if your shoulders are chafing, you won’t notice any of it. How, then, should you go about choosing a backpack? What you look for in a backpack largely depends on what you’re planning to do with it. The backpack that takes you to the top of Kilimanjaro might not be optimal for a foot tour of St. Petersburg. Among other things, it might not fit into the overhead compartment of an airplane. Here are some tips to find a bag that fits your style of fun. For the Avid Hiker When planning a hike, look for backpacks with wide, padded hip and shoulder straps and a centered lumbar pad, all of which will help support your load. Easy access to your water bottle is essential; mesh or stretchy side pockets are the way to go. And, of course, check the fit (especially torso length and hip size), since mild discomfort at the beginning of the hike can escalate into screaming pain a mile later. Take a look at Gregory backpacks for examples of good hiking bags. www.backcountry.com For the International Connoisseur If you’re looking for a backpack for international travel, make sure the backpack fits the carry-on dimensions of most airlines. Common restriction sizes are 9” x 14” x 22” and 10” x 16” x 24”, and some airlines also have weight limitations of 35lbs. Straps and buckles should be the hide-away sort to avoid damage in transit, and a zipper that goes all the way...

Sledding through a Finnish Wonderland

  When someone mentions winter, we often think of poor driving conditions, snowplows, and never leaving the house. It’s easy to forget the magical side of the season—the crispness of freshly fallen snow, adventures in the chilly night air, and evenings spent sharing stories with loved ones at home around the fire. Jussi Eiramo, owner and founder of Finland’s Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, hasn’t forgotten about this magic. He has created a wonderland based on the mystical essence of those cold nights. The perfect getaway location to remind anyone of the beauty of winter, Kakslauttanen is complete with frosty snow caves to sleep in and even glass igloos where visitors can watch the swaying northern lights as they drift off to sleep. Hidden away in the frozen tundra of Finland, Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort provides a unique experience for anyone looking for an enchanting getaway in the dead of winter. Accommodations range from modernized glass igloos and snug, timbered prospector cabins to Santa Claus’s own bedroom, which glitters with twinkling lights and smells of pine. But don’t expect to spend all day inside one of these quaint rooms. Though open year-round, Kakslauttanen is best known for its variety of winter safaris. Options include a reindeer or husky safari, each of which gives anyone a chance to drive a sleigh through the snow-soaked landscape as they are pulled by his or her very own reindeer or dogsled team. From December to April, Kakslauttanen also provides a cruise known as the Icebreaker Sampo. During this cruise, guests have the chance to go on a nautical daytrip which explores the large Sampo Kemi ship just...
Dîner en Blanc

Dîner en Blanc

“Did you get the email?!” “Yep. Liberty Park, in Salt Lake.” I was giddy. Austin and I had been waiting all day for the email telling us where and when to meet up with dozens of other strangers, all dressed in white, to eat a picnic dinner. Austin had heard of the event only a couple weeks before the actual night, and we’d spent that time rummaging through thrift stores trying to find any white articles of clothing we could. We lucked out and even found the perfect basket to carry our picnic dinner and white dinnerware. A few hours later, we sauntered onto the gazebo island in Liberty Park with other guests in their white finery and mingled with people from all over Salt Lake and Utah County. The park was the perfect backdrop, as the setting sun shone over the pond and swimming ducks. As we ate dinner and chatted with new friends, a live band played in the background and a magician roamed the tables doing tricks. The night was capped off with a fire juggler and sparklers. Before Austin had mentioned Dinner in White, I had never heard of anything like it. I knew of flash mobs dancing in Grand Central Station and even on my own college campus, but a flash dinner? As the day of the dinner approached, I talked with more people about it and did a little digging. Salt Lake wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last city to hold a Dîner en Blanc. The first of the dinners was held in Paris with barely a handful of close friends....