This site contains the archives of my travel blogs from 2010-2016.

I'm now blogging via Medium. For other life updates, including opportunities or requests to collaborate, visit my personal website.




Saturday, December 31, 2011

One Last Lesson in 2011

I've always pushed myself academically, physically, psychologically, intellectually, and professionally; not because I've felt pressure from others to do so, but simply because I know that I am capable of doing more and doing better.  It's only right, I feel.  My thinking is that if I've been given the ability to do something, then I should give it my best effort. Giving it anything less would be ungrateful.

Operating under such a theory can get you pretty far, but there comes a point when you realize you're just doing too much - or at least too much to be effective in any one pursuit.  And toward the end of 2011, this is the point I reached. My schedule had me spread too thin to do much of anything very well, and I was no longer able to put as much effort as I wanted into any one task because there was always a list of thirty more behind it, all needing to be completed by sundown.  The self-inflicted pressure has started to wear on me, to say the least, and I've realized during the past few weeks that I need to stop feeling guilty about taking a little time to relax.  In fact, I've found that some time off during the past few days has rejuvenated me and boosted my motivation and productivity during work time.

One evening in mid-December it hit me that I only have about a month to get my grad school applications together, and that's on top of starting my last semester and finishing my thesis, as well as preparing for job interviews (in case I don't get into either graduate program).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Welcome to the New, Flat World

Thomas Friedman, political journalist--turned 21st century philosopher, brings us his thought-provoking thesis on globalization in this video from MIT. 
I've read several chapters of his revolutionary book, The World is Flat, as well as most of another, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.

In an Information Systems for Business course I took last semester, I was challenged to think about the following questions while listening to Friedman's lecture. These are themes I'd been periodically mulling over for a while, so I welcomed this opportunity to draw a few conclusions and support them with anecdotes from my own experience.

What does a flattened world mean for you as a student looking for employment in the near future? 
A flattened world puts each of us as individuals in direct competition with the rest of the world for jobs. As Thomas Friedman mentioned, everything can be (and is being) outsourced.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jackie Evancho

Everyone knows I have a soft spot for child prodigies.  The raw talent of these individuals blows my mind on a regular basis.  This little girl simply takes my breathe away!

Miniature opera sensation Jackie Evancho was discovered on America's Got Talent a few years ago. Here's her latest performance - at the Wall Street Journal's Christmas Party. Here's the catch: She's 11 years old!

Want to see more?  Google "Jackie Evancho" - and prepare to be amazed :)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

2011: Where We've Been

After work one Friday, a few weeks ago, I literally collapsed.  I sat down on my living room couch around 6pm - for what seemed like the first time in ages - and within minutes had fallen asleep. At 9am the next day I finally awoke, figured out where I was, and was astonished to realize how tired I had become.

I started to piece two and two together when thinking about the past year in review, as I always tend to do when December 1st comes around.  I've covered so many thousands of miles this year, and I'm so thankful for all for your notes of encouragement and support through all the journeys.  Let's see where we've been!

  1. Belgium...I was here with my beloved Belgian host family the entire, wonderful month of January. What an incredible time to rekindle old friendships and reminisce on the life-changing experiences I shared with them in 2006-2007.
  2. Spain...Meeting up with old friends from my exchange year in Belgium was one of the highlights of my travels in western Europe this year.  Victoria, from Britain, was studying abroad in Zaragoza, Spain this spring and invited me to visit!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fathoming Amazon - an infographic

When Michael Hyatt blogged about the Amazon Empire earlier this week, I was flabbergasted.  I certainly love my Kindle, whom I've affectionately named Oscar, and get so excited about buying books and having them magically appear in Oscar's table of contents literally within seconds, but my personal satisfaction with this one product line is about as far as my ponderings on the company went.

Apparently a lot of people are big fans of Amazon just like me.
This infographic, compiled by FrugalDad, (and yes, "infographic" is a word), speaks for itself...

Amazon Infographic
Source: Frugaldad.com

So, are you impressed?  Intimidated?  Do you think the Amazon Empire can last?

As someone who best absorbs and processes ideas, and conceptualizes new ones via graphic representations, I get so excited about quality infographics.  Here's an article on 3 Trends That Will Define the Future of Infographics.  I'm especially looking forward to the applications for real-time data visualization!

Monday, November 21, 2011

UK is in Kentucky?

As the oldest of six kids, I'm know I'm under close watch -- not in a bad way, just in the sense that there are five sets of little eyes constantly waiting to see what I'm going to do, how I'm going to do it, and (hopefully) ready to learn from the things I mess up. I step back from time to time and try to think about how I can set the best example for all of them; what I can do to help set them up for success is this crazy, fast-paced world; and how I can encourage them to take off running towards what they really want to do in life.

It's not always easy being hundreds -- more often, thousands -- of miles away from them for 50 weeks out of year, and even with cell phones, texting, and the magic of Skype, I still haven't figured out a way to tele-port myself to my sister's soccer games....not even when her team won regionals this year.  But every once in a while one of them will do or say something that brings a huge smile to my face and lets me know I'm doing something right.

This note from my mom today definitely was definitely one of those happy occasions...

Shirah, I'm reading your blog right now. Raam just walked up and saw the UK’s Patterson Tower title under the pic you posted and he asked, “UK...Wait is that the Ukraine or United Kingdom Patterson Tower?”  I said, “Neither, it’s the University of Kentucky’s Patterson Tower.”  Pretty neat how all of your traveling has opened up his world.  

I left home when Raam was just 5 years old; I think all he's really known is a big sister who's constantly in strange, faraway places with weird names, always bringing home odd toys and souvenirs.  I never thought about it before, but we should really sign this kid up for a geography contest.  I LOVE that he has such a global perspective already at this age!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lexington & the UK PhD in Management


This weekend I enjoyed a trip to Lexington, Kentucky, where I had the chance to learn more about a PhD program at the University of Kentucky's Gatton School of Management. My specific area of interest is in social network analysis, and Gatton has some of the world's leading researchers in this field; it was such a treat to spend the day getting to know them, hearing about their current projects, and sitting in on an afternoon seminar with other students currently in the program.

In my continuing survey of PhD programs I found this website on online PhD programs being offered by several US colleges. Even though it doesn't seem like something for me, I found it interesting to learn that there are opportunities to complete a doctorate without having to regularly attend campus. While online education is emerging as a viable and cost-beneficial way to complete a degree, most colleges are still focusing on traditional campus based education and the benefits that arise from in-person interaction between students and professors.

The drive to Lexington was beautiful, especially on Friday morning as I drove east toward the sunrise. Lexington itself is a quaint little town compared to Nashville, and it's set in rolling green hills neatly partitioned by the white picket fences of the horse farms for which the city has earned itself global renown. Navigating the campus of a huge state school was much different from Belmont; luckily the folk were friendly and, apparently not trusting my internal positioning system, always insisted on walking me to my destination instead of leaving me with even detailed directions.

UK's Patterson Tower - view from the walking bridge

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


I started to write: "I'm in one of the moods tonight that's a perfect mixture between introspectiveness and appreciation for social fellowship; a healthy balance of quietness and exuberance; maintaining focused thoughts yet finding myself on the brink of complete awe and wonder at the world around me."
But then I decided I could say all that in one word.  Peace.

At peace is a most wonderful place to be.
And it is here, where one is most vulnerable to feelings of overwhelming enthusiasm when presented with even the littlest joys of life, that I came upon one of the most awe-inspiring phenomena of the natural world that I've ever seen.  Just look for yourself....

Murmuration, by Sophie Windsor Clive A chance encounter and shared moment with one of nature's greatest and most fleeting phenomena.
Shot 14 days ago on the River Shannon in Ireland.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Fall Foto Frenzy

Autumn in Nashville always inspires me to pull out my camera that's been tucked away since my return from summer travels.  I feel compelled by the beauty around me to capture a snapshot of what feels like nature's annual celebration; the trees seem to put on their best outfits and even the sky steps up to the occasion with a deep blue, cloudless background that provides incredible contrasts with the reds and golds nearer the earth. 

During October and November my point-and-shoot never leaves my purse; I keep it at an arm's length so that opportunities to soak in the Tennessee magic are never missed.
Here are some highlights from this week...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Two Takes on the Context of Living

I recently saw this poem-proverb posted somewhere, and copied it down in my planner...only to find it a few weeks later with no recollection of where I originally read it.


Overall, this modern proverb seems to hold some generally good advice for living life to its fullest.  There's one problem with it, though - in my opinion.  The last phrase kind of irks me.  "Live as if this is all there is."  Doesn't that sort of suck all the hope out of an otherwise uplifting piece of literature?  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Travel the World Without Ever Leaving Nashville

I've heard people over and over tell me how jealous they are of those who get to travel; they complain that they themselves could never afford such experiences.
Au contraire.  Let me remind you...
We are a nation of immigrants!  All over America you'll find pockets of first- and second-generation immigrants who are holding on to and cherishing the traditions of their forefathers, and would you believe...they are not only willing, they are ecstatic when individuals outside their community take an interest and come to learn about and share in their traditions. If you've never encountered a community of immigrants who have preserved the customs and traditions of their motherland, you might be surprised at how spending time with them will sweep you off your feet, transporting you millions of miles, to anywhere in the world.

You'll try foods you never knew existed; learn songs and dances whose names you might have read in a history book; hear stories that would blow your mind...

I'm incredibly fortunate in that I landed haphazardly in one of America's most international cities.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Building "Thinking" Into My Schedule

It wasn't until my schedule for this week got so crazy it required an Excel spreadsheet, that I realized something big. This graphic representation screamed at me something bold: I'm always doing, producing, meeting, collaborating, presenting, etc. I'm never simply thinking.  It never crossed my mind that I would ever have to do such a thing as pencil thinking time into my calendar. Have you ever scheduled time for thinking?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why a Major in International Entrepreneurship might not have been so off-the-wall


I ran across this article today and thought, Hmm, looks like people with expertise in international entrepreneurship could be in high demand in the near future - right here in the U.S.  

I discovered during my first year abroad (in Belgium in 2006-07) that I wanted to work in an international environment, and I wanted to do something that embraced and promoted the entrepreneurial spirit.  It's no wonder these objectives led me to Belmont, where I was all too excited to find out that I had the opportunity to actually create a one-of-a-kind personal major, tailored precisely to my research and career interests.  I decided right off the bat that my eventual goal would be to open a business consulting firm catering to small- and medium-sized enterprises with high growth potential and the desire to expand internationally.  The fun I see in this is a perpetual game of "connecting the dots" -- across borders, languages, cultures, and different markets' needs. 

What I didn't realize was that it might not be so much about exporting goods as it could be about importing entrepreneurs If this "U.S. Startup Visa" pans out, who is going to educate the foreign entrepreneurs that are queuing up, undoubtedly ready to rush our borders? Who will know enough about how the system works in their countries of origin, so as to be able to best explain the major differences in how we do things here in the U.S.?  Who will these aspiring business owners turn to when they have questions about business terminology? -- anyone who's studied a foreign language knows that there are lots of  "false friends" (words in language A that look or sound the same as words or constructs in language B, but actually represent quite different concepts) and these can be exceptionally deceptive once you start navigating the business and financial lexicons.  

With a lot of research and continued travel & language study, I'm hoping to get on the front end of this new trend and be ready when the entrepreneurial expats come flooding in.  Navigating a new country and culture is hard enough as an individual. Pair that with the pressure of meeting all the alleged seed capital, investment, and sales thresholds required to keep your visa (see the article for vague details), and the uncertainty of starting a new business skyrockets. If someone offered to guide you through that process, ultimately allowing you and your family to maintain residence in the U.S. and even profit from a private enterprise, how (and how much) would you be willing to compensate that business coach when your new company gets off the ground and starts seeing success?  

No really. I'm curious. I'd like to hear your thoughts. Comment below or email me: shiraheden(at)gmail(dot)com 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Don't Want to Follow Directions from a Jumbotron!

Every September I help out with the International Student Retreat for Belmont's incoming exchange students.  The relationships I've built with our international students have been some of the most rewarding and enriching of my college career, and I am always amazed at how much I learn from them every day -- not only about their countries and cultures, but about my own as well.  Their observations and remarks about American life; the things they find strange or downright weird; their stories (of both horror and joy) -- they crack me up and provoke some intense reflection on our own beliefs and habits here in America.

Belmont International Student Retreat 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Learning by Leaving

I have immensely enjoyed the opportunities I've had this week to sit down with classmates, old friends and professors who all want to hear about my travels in Eastern Europe. Their questions - whose answers are often "so obvious" to me - have been incredibly insightful and helpful in reminding me how much I actually learned while I was gone. Their reactions to my responses have ranged from utter surprise to indifference, from "I told you so," to "I'm so glad you're still alive!"

I am among only a handful of seniors who still have a meal plan at Belmont's cafeteria, so when I'm not hurriedly trying to finish reading for my next class while munching my veggies, I'm often joined by one of the four other seniors whom I might run into there. These past few days I've eaten a few times with Steven, an accounting major with whom I used to work as a Resident Assistant in one of our dorms.  There couldn't be two more different students at Belmont, but we always seem to get into serious life-planning discussions.  Steven has lived in middle Tennessee his entire life, and would be happy to stay here indefinitely. Tonight I heard the most adventurous statement he's ever made in my presence:  "I might consider moving across the country if I had to."  I first thought I had heard "to another country" and almost fell out of my chair and flung a carrot across the room, but he quickly confirmed that it was across "the country" -- the one and only country worth living in, in his book -- the United States of America.
There's a simple sweetness about Steven's contentedness here; his happy-go-lucky and laid-back personality make him unassuming and easy to be around.  His genuine interest in other people's life and experiences and willingness to listen give us license to be genuine and unworried about being too quickly judged.

My neighborhood church.

Looking at the Admiralty from across the Neva.

Tonight Steven asked, "What was life like in general over there?"
I told him about registering with the city government and the need to re-register with the municipal authorities of a another city, should you visit for more than three days. I talked about the über-high cost of living in the big cities; $10 cups of coffee in St. Petersburg; a subway line that is so far underground, it takes five minutes on an escalator to get down there. I told him about the warm, genuine, intelligent people I met and their curiosity about the West.  I even told him about my good friend Yuriy, the photographer with whom I effectively covered most of downtown St. Pete on foot.
Steven stopped me halfway through my first sentences, exclaiming, "...And you want to move back there!?"

I had to think about it for a minute.  "Well, yeah, for a time," I said. "There are a lot of things about life in Russia that I miss."
"You know," I told him, "there are things about every place that I've lived that I miss.  It's like being a little bit homesick for six countries at once.  But I like it that way.  I don't take any day for granted, and I know that I make the most of every day because wherever I am, I live in constant awareness that I won't be in this place for very long."
We were both silent for a minute; the din of students eating and laughing in the background faded out as we both lost ourselves in contemplation.
Finally Steven said, "Wow, that's an interesting way to look at it.  It's like not taking anything for granted because you know you could die any day -- except you're not dying, just leaving.  For all of us that just live here, we get into a routine and sometimes it becomes about just getting through the day."
I completely understand what Steven is saying, and I see the truth in his observation. But to me, what he is describing is a tragic existence.

A canal near the Hermitage.

"I just couldn't live like that..." Steven went on, "...I couldn't live in a place where there are so many rules and regulations - especially with the government and everything." Another friend I saw this week prefers the safety of America to the many, many (both perceived and real) threats and inconveniences of daily life that expatriates and inhabitants of other countries face. I can't say that I blame her, but I approach life from a completely different angle.  It's a challenge and a game for me -- to see how fast I can adapt to life in another place; how quickly I can fit in seamlessly and be taken for a local; how uncomfortably I can live and still be happy; how many oddities and quirks I can find and embrace in a new culture; how low-maintenance I can become.

Downtown St. Pete.  A big pole falls and no one shows up to put it
back in place.  No orange cones. Nothing.
I actually got stared at while taking this photo,
as if this is an everyday occurrence.

Sometimes it takes a conversation like the ones I had with these friends to realize the logic that underlies our daily actions and attitudes. Sure, I'm aware that every morning I open my eyes, remember where I am, and pick out all the things I want to do that day that I know I can't do anywhere else. I just hadn't taken into consideration the fact that everybody else isn't doing exactly the same thing.
Speaking of taking photos for people...I snapped this shot for my brother
Jared.  It's "his" car - same make, model & color as the one my aunt
gave him as his first car!  And I saw it in Russia!!
For me, leaving and exploring new places and meeting new people is as much about cherishing my old home and friends and past experiences as it is about exuberantly embracing the new.  I remember walking to work every morning in St. Petersburg - 45 minutes in many degrees below zero - and smiling as I thought about all of you. Some of the pictures I took were for me, because I came upon a nice view or some unusual scene that made me laugh; but honestly, most of them were for you. 90% of the time I pulled out my camera because something triggered a memory of one of you and I thought, Oh my, so-and-so would LOVE to see this! 
Now I walk to school every morning - 10 short minutes under the warm Tennessee sun - and think about the community I left in Russia....my wonderful co-workers at the Consulate, my passionate film- and music-loving young friends, the man with no legs who wore black fingerless gloves and scooted around between traffic on a little square board with four wheels, asking for spare change.
Just as traveling introduces you to parts of yourself that you might not have ever otherwise encountered, it also prompts the discovery of your home in a new light and from a new perspective, namely, the perspective of an outsider.

The giant poster reads: "Russia. Land of Opportunity."
Wait...wasn't that America's trademark??

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Culture Shock - Southern Style

On my many walks through campus today, on this first day of fall classes at Belmont, I realized (for the fourth or fifth time in my life) how much more intensely I feel the culture shock when re-entering my own culture than when  initially leaving it for another.  As I strolled up the newly repaved paths from my apartment in Belmont Commons to the Massey Business Center at the top of the hill, I was puzzled by the happy faces making eye contact with me as I passed and even - gasp! - smiling!?  I kept thinking, "What's going on? What do these people want from me?"  

I learned very quickly in Russia - and was reminded during that first month in Western Europe - that making eye contact isn't the proper way to conduct oneself while walking on a city street.  And smiling is simply out of the question; socially acceptable only as a kid or teenage girl, and even then - only when greeting very close friends or family. To smile at a stranger is downright provocative.
(No wonder I had a perpetual trail of Russian guys behind me those first few weeks in St. Petersburg...)

There are other things I'm still getting used to, too.  Like driving.  Everywhere.  It was nice to rediscover my personal vehicle upon my arrival in Nashville, and even nicer that I could profit from its use while moving into a new apartment. But I'm still in the habit of forecasting the day's mileage every morning when getting dressed and selecting footwear from my closet, and frankly I'd rather be out in the fresh air, using the legs God gave me - than scrunched up lethargically in a car. 

Yesterday I ran across this long-abandoned journal entry on my desktop, dated February 17th, the anniversary of my second week in St. Petersburg.  It seems that adjusting to life in Russia, though much different, wasn't that hard after all. 

February 17, 2011 
It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to a new place and a new way of life – even a new mindset. I’ve noticed this week that I’m really getting the hang of things around here.
I don’t cringe anymore when I turn on the faucet and a stream of rust-colored water pours out. I expertly navigate sidewalks and street crossings and can spot black ice several meters away. I can pile on seven extra layers and be ready to go out in about 30 seconds flat. And I’ve learned that when I find a product from the States that I like, or think I might need in the next few weeks, I need to buy it on the spot – there’s usually only one or two on the shelf and when those are gone there’s no telling when, if ever, they might reappear.   
A prime example of the black ice of which I speak...
This photo was taken at about -18 Celcius. See the water frozen in the pipe?
Oh look! Lucky Charms!! What a find!

And they can be yours for the low price of only 
Thank you, Russia. My grocery bill
(for one rather small person) in St. Pete was
often $80 per week - and that's just cooking at home!
"Kracks" - one example of the many foreign knock-offs
available in Russia. Usually found on the shelf alongside
their more expensive American equivalents, these knock-off
brands in their almost perfectly identical packaging can fool
some consumers. But don't be mistaken - companies like
 "Kracks" cut corners wherever possible and quality is
sacrificed in favor of bringing something to market that is
actually affordable for the middle class. 

On the positive side of culture shock, I stopped by the offices of many of my current and former professors today, and was completely overjoyed and delighted to remember how supportive and caring are the faculty at Belmont. Some have stopped me in the hall, welcomed me back, and said they loved traveling with me via my blog; others welcomed me and encouraged me to continue writing and traveling and studying. I couldn't imagine a nicer homecoming. In contrast, most of the professors that I met in Russia (and the two that now follow my blog are certainly the exception) - when I explained my research project and asked for their assistance - weren't quite so enthusiastic about helping in any way.  Only one of them really thought my project was "cool."  When I did manage to elicit any sort of support (i.e. the promise of assistance in recruiting students to complete my research survey), it was quickly squelched when the professor realized they would have to put out any effort to participate in my research...namely, reserving a half hour time slot for their students to take my online survey in the computer lab.  Honestly, it's hard to hold it against them. Things just work differently in Russia, and for all I know it could be a bureaucratic nightmare to reserve any room in any academic building.  The piles of paperwork I had to do (including a tuberculosis test, HIV test, and x-ray of my lungs) just to live in a public dorm in St. Petersburg is enough to deter me from ever pursuing such a living arrangement again.  And if you could have seen the place!  View some of the photos of my room in this blog post.

I do miss my friends in Russia, and even many aspects of life there.  But I'm certainly glad to be back at my home in Belmont, and - once I get used to it again - I'm certain the South will suit me just fine for the next few months.

My Dutch roommates, Debbie & Marlou, and myself, enjoying zakuzki (midnight snack) hosted by the friendly
Russian and Turkish guys in the adjacent room.
Sergei and Pasha (in the green jacket and white tee, respectively) were such interesting people - very curious
about our countries and lifestyles - and patient with our Russian! Even though they spoke no English whatsoever,
and at that time my Russian was pretty poor, we still communicated a lot of different ideas and became great friends.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Moldova: Who/What Are You? A country in the midst of a major identity crisis

**Written July 24, 2011.  Published August 15, 2011.

The road to Moldova...Sunflowers for as far as the eye can see!
Last Thursday night I was thinking about the weekend ahead and decided spontaneously to make a trip to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.  Two of my friends from Belmont - Stas and Eugen - are international students and are back visiting their family in Moldova this summer.  (In fact, Stas just graduated this spring and got married this weekend -- a big congratulations to him and his new wife, Mariana!!)
Stas and Eugen have told me a lot about their country during the past few years at Belmont, and I always told them one day I would visit them in Moldova.  Now, living just 180 km away, I couldn't pass up the opportunity!  So on Thursday evening I walked into the kitchen where Anna, my Austrian roommate, was eating a buterbrod
, and said, "Hey Anna, I think I'm going to Moldova this weekend.  Do you wanna come?"
When I pulled my water bottle out of the fridge and turned around she was just staring at me.
"Are you serious?" she asked?
"Yeah, of course.  Let's just go for the weekend; spend one night; see the city a little; and come back by Sunday afternoon -- we'll still have enough time to do our homework and take a nap!"

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"Kid History" Short Films

The themes of my blog posts are definitely indicative of both my current mental state and physical location.  Already two posts about kids this week...Can you guess where I am?
Home, with my five younger siblings, of course.

They always have some hilarious youtube video that they're absolutely dying to show me. Half the time I'm thinking, how do they come across these things anyway? Inevitably, it's a friend of a friend who's cousin showed them the video on an iPhone while at a sleepover for some sports team....or something equally complex. But most of the time they do turn out to be pretty funny, if you can get past the initial oddity.

These are the latest in my fourteen-year-old sister's youtube discoveries...
Give these short films a try; they just might make you laugh!

People's Republic of Beer


"How one man’s yeast research is propagating China’s craft beer culture"

I read an article about the proliferation of micro-brewing in China in Beer West magazine this afternoon while sipping a glass of Pinot Gris at Southern Oregon Brewing Company, our neighborhood brewery and taproom where my parents are regulars. Unfortunately S.O.B. doesn't offer any gluten-free beers, so I'm restricted to wine (but really, with a plethora of award-winning Southern Oregon wines at my fingertips, I can hardly complain).

Visiting with my Grandpa Rick at Southern Oregon Brewing Co.

What stood out to me most in this article about Yan Gao's new enterprise is his innovative solution to the obstacles posed by China's often hostile business climate, which can be especially unfriendly toward small businesses. Beer West's Emily Hutto writes,

"While microbreweries in the U.S. receive tax breaks if they're producing under a certain amount of beer, microbreweries in China must comply with macro-brewery laws, which dictate higher tax rates and expensive facility requirements that most small breweries can't afford. That is, unless they find a loophole.
Yan Gao inspecting yeast cultures in his lab.
photo by Bjoern Walter
In 2008, Gao opened Nanjing's first microbrewery, Oktoberfest Biotech Co.
While friends and imbibers recognize Oktoberfest as a fully-licensed production brewery, the state recognizes it as a yeast research firm. It's illegal for Chinese companies to dump their byproduct, in this case beer, so Gao drinks and sells it instead. 'I know how to deal with those dummies,' he says of the Chinese government. 'In order to grow yeast, we need to make beer. And in order to save the environment, we need to "recycle" the beer.'"

I love this nothing-will-stop-me entrepreneurial spirit and passion for his craft.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Where Children Sleep

Every so often a book comes along that really captures the soul of its subject.  James Mollison's Where Children Sleep does just that, and in an unconventional way -- by photographing the bedrooms of children around the world.

I read this NYTimes article about Mollison's new book, and, after browsing through the sneak peek photo gallery, look forward to purchasing a hard copy of the tome.

P.S.....I hear the cover's glow-in-the-dark.  All the more reason to add it to your library!!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ukrainian Summer

One day, a few months ago, I turned on my camera to snap a shot of something interesting and accidentally flipped it to the video dial.  Later, while uploading and reviewing my photos on my computer, I ran across this video clip and was so happy about the mistake -- seeing the 15-second clip really brought back to life the memory and the experience of that day.

And so here and there, whenever I remember, I try to catch little clips of the day - both the exciting once-in-a-lifetime moments and the everyday routines.  Things like riding the tram, grocery shopping, and hanging out with friends at the pub are so easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of continuing life in yet another new city.  I wanted something dynamic to remind me of my summer in Odessa. While sitting in Kiev's Borispol Airport this weekend I compiled my clips from the last few months in Ukraine and voilà...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 2011 - A Whirlwind of Excitement!

It's hard to believe that it's been practically an entire month since I've updated No Journey Wasted!  I appreciate the concerned notes from family and friends, but I don't want you to worry -- I've really been quite well (and busy!) and just haven't had a chance to upload any of the hundreds of pictures I've taken during my recent trips to Kiev, to Yalta (in the Crimea region of Ukraine), and to Chisinau (Moldova).  These have all been fantastic journeys during which I've met wonderful, interesting people; been confronted by a mixture of beautiful scenery and impoverished peoples; and experienced some events that I will surely never forget.  Among these: Watching dolphins in the tranquil, early morning waters off the Black Sea coast in Yalta; Playing cards all night in the train with an adorable Moldovan girl and her ballerina mother on the way back to Odessa from Simferopol, Ukraine; and randomly meeting one of my best childhood friends who was vacationing in Odessa while on leave from his deployment in Afghanistan.  Life continues to be full of surprises!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Adventures in Odessa

I just updated my blog subscription list and realized I have a whole new problem - in the best sense of the word.  My friends and blog subscribers include English, French and Russian speakers...and I want to keep in touch with all of you, so where/when possible I'll try to add translations for stories and captions.
Je viens de me rendre compte que, de nouveau, j'ai fait des amis uniquements francophones et russophones - donc je commence à faire des traductions pour que tout le monde puisse suivre :)
Поняла, что мои новые французкие, русские и украйнские друзья, не говоряющие по-английский не будут мочь читать эти истории.  Поэтому переводу когда возможно.

Between classes and homework I've been trying to fit in a few daily excursions around Odessa.  These often include a trip to the beach -- a convenient ten minute walk from the language school.
Après les cours nous avons beaucoup de temps libre et on va souvent à la plage boire un verre ou bien nager. L'école se trouve seulement dix minutes de la plage donc on se promener jusqu'à la mer presque tous les jours.  C'est là, où se passe souvent des histoires mémorables.
После уроков мы с другими студентами часто ходим на пляж или погулаем по городу. Школа находиться только 10 минут пешком от пляжа поэтому, почти каждый день мы ходим к море - или загарать или пить пиво и капучино в наше любимое кафе на берегу моря....Кафе пиратов!

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Little Team

As the big sister of a lot of little soccer players, I loved this short documentary.
Above all, it's coaches with attitudes like these that make the biggest difference in a young person's life!

l'equip petit from el cangrejo on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This made me laugh! Especially when I read this comment by another viewer:
"Two guys made this video after being stuck in an airport in Dallas, with their flight delayed overnight. Homeland security is wondering how they got away with this."

STUCK from Joe Ayala on Vimeo.
While on our way home from photographing Formula Drift Palm Beach, Larry Chen and I found ourselves stranded over night in Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) as our flights home were canceled. The following is a brief summary of the events that took place that night.
Check out our other videos at vimeo.com/tod

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quote of the Day

So there's really only one blog that I consistently follow, and this is because it's fun and whimsical, doesn't take much time, and always brightens my day. Her name is Anne; she's the mother of a beautiful, tender-hearted six-year-old daughter, named Capucine, and a fun 11-year-old boy name Aliocha.  Even though I've never met them, I almost feel like I know this family because of all the stories I've read about on the blog. I would welcome the chance to meet them someday.

From time to time Anne puts up little quotes and conversations from Capu and Aliocha's interactions with their friends and family. This one really cracked me up! Can you imagine how her dad, Hervé, felt after this?

Hervé :I'm sorry Capucine, but I won't be able to attend your school party on the 28th. That's the same day as this concert I told you about, you know, the one I'm going to with uncle C. I can't miss it. I'm really sorry, honey. But Mom will be there and she'll take pictures and videos for me.
Capucine :Oh... It's ok, Dad, don't worry !
Capucine :Will you be there for my wedding ?


Read more on Anne's blog.

The Entire French Language Condensed into One Word

I happen to know that the girl that made this video loves French, Paris, and everything that has to do with France; so please, dear francophone friends...don't take offense.  You have to admit she's pretty cute!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How well do you perceive color?

Take the Hue Test and find out.  I scored a 4.
It's interesting to see which areas of the spectrum you have problems perceiving.

A perfect score is 0 and the worst possible score is 1520.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Fontanka Most Project

While living in St. Petersburg, I crossed the most (bridge) over the Fontanka canal every morning on my way to work.  Sometime in the first few weeks I started to notice that the view from the most could change drastically from day to day, and I got into the habit of stopping to shoot a photo every few days.  It gave me a moment to pause, relax, be thankful for another day, and then continue my forty-minute commute with a new vigor.  While tidying up and cataloging my photos this weekend, I ran across this collection and it made me smile as I thought back on my time in St. Pete and the little things that made each day special.


Privoz Market

Privoz is Odessa's biggest and oldest open air market. It occupies three huge warehouses, an awning the size of a football field, and tons of semi-permanent and completely temporary stalls.  People sell their goods off of anything.  Some just squat around the perimeter of the market and display their garden herbs on a piece of cardboard. You can buy anything at Privoz - from homegrown veggies to knock-off coach bags, plucked chickens that are so fresh they're practically still moving, to freshly-squeezed juice, q-tips, and screwdrivers. And it's open 24 hours. At about 6.30 pm the consumer-oriented day-sellers go home and the bulk goods vendors quickly file in.

For the mixer we hosted at our flat last night, my house-mate Adrien and I went on a wild shopping adventure at Privoz. We quickly learned some survival methods...

Phonetics and Russian Poetry

Russians love poetry. Especially St. Petersburgians.  I've never met a group of people so well-versed in poetry and literature. Not only do they burst into spontaneous poetry recitation in daily conversation (usually when the topic of discussion reminds them of a good poem), they also highly revere the persona of Russian writers and can provide extensive information about their lives, their families, where and when they wrote, and the symbolism and meaning of their works.  It's also interesting to note that this love of literature is not class specific.  I've heard professors, office workers, students, museum guides, a slightly-not-all-there guy on the street, and even a babushka selling flowers (what some would call a "bag lady") reciting poetry.
The Cyrillic Alphabet

This week I've been taking advantage of my private lessons to work a lot on phonetics, so I've been paying extra attention to intonation, stress, timbre, and rhythm.  And, following the advice of my professor, I've been reading aloud to myself to practice all of these things and to increase my reading speed. (Since Russian is written using the Cyrillic alphabet, learning to read in Russian is quite literally like going back to Kindergarten. It takes time to learn to sight read - to recognize new and ever-bigger words without having to sound them out.)  After running across a short poem in my new Russian textbook a few days ago, and then reflecting on Russians' love of poetry, I decided that reading and memorizing a few poems could give me some interesting conversation material when I'm making new Ukrainian friends, and could also really help убирать ("remove") my accent, as they say in Russian. The word is pronounced "oobeeROT" but spelled "ubirat" and for some reason it always makes me think of the English word "obliterate."  It's funny how our brains make such connections, often subconsciously. Bottom line: I'd really like to obliterate my accent.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Recipe for "Syrniki" - Russian Cheesecakes

I translated (and elaborated a little on) this recipe for a friend, and decided to share it on the blog as well. This is for the Syrniki we made with Sergei last week.  You can view the photo gallery of these delicious little cheesecakes and our cooking session in the original post.

Here's the original recipe, and below, my translation.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Cooking Class With Sergei

My studies in Russia and Ukraine have been organized through SRAS - the School of Russian and Asian Studies.  I've been overall satisfied with the assistance provided by the organization.  I heavily corresponded with Renee, the director, for two years as I tried to set this up.  It seemed like no matter what time I emailed her, I always got a response back within 1-2 hours.  SRAS helped me obtain the priglashenye (invitation) to study in Russia that was needed for my visa; they set up my housing, enrolled me in the school, met me at the airport, and provided lots of information about the places I would go.  They also provided the comfort of knowing that I could call a local resident an any time if I needed help.  But other than that they have been pretty hands off, and that's the way I like exchange programs in general.

One thing that I've really enjoyed, however, is participating in some of the optional tours that SRAS offers.  Do you remember Sergei's guided walking tour of downtown St. Pete?  It was absolutely a wonderful time. The same multi-talented Sergei (a professor and culture enthusiast) took us to a play by Gogol at the Aleksandrinskiy Theatre, on a tour of The Russian Museum, and invited us over to make and eat syrniki -- the highlight of today's blog post.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Odessa: Ultimate Eastern European Vacation Destination

I've been in Odessa for less than 48 hours, and already I've explored downtown on foot, eaten at some delicious local restaurants, refreshed my wardrobe with attire appropriate for the 95F (35C) weather, attended a spectacular performance of Madame Butterfly at the world-famous Odessa Opera House, spent a morning sunning on the beach (during which I fell asleep in the sun and will continue to pay for that nap as my sunburn becomes more and more painful), swam in the Black Sea, and made Ukrainian friends at the Irish pub next door to my apartment.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

St. Petersburg Center: A Guided Tour

Last week one of the coordinators from the School of Russian and Asian Studies, named Sergei, led Sarah, Hillary, and I on a walking tour of central St. Petersburg.  It was a warm, clear day and perfect for walking.  It turns out Sergei is a professor at one of the universities in St. Petersburg, and he is a wealth of great information.  Beyond simply knowing an immense amount of information about Russian culture and history, he is able to detach himself from his Russian identity and talk about issues objectively and in a global context.  

"Dom Knigi" ("House of Books"), otherwise known as The Singer House.
It was the first building built in St. Pete by an American company,
(Singer Sewing Company), and at one time it even housed the
U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Sunny Day in St. Pete

A while back, I started using a site called DailyMile as an exercise log. It has a neat feature that allows you to map your routes, and even save commonly-used routes such as a daily commute.  I realized that my daily commute to school and back totals about 3.5 miles of walking (and about 40 minutes on the metro each way). When I plugged this in, and then added my other walking excursions, I was surprised to find out that I walked 29 miles last week!

I know it sounds unbelievable, but I happen to have 29 miles worth of photos to prove it.  And we've had lots of sunny days lately, a climate which always inspires me to pull out my camera.  In a city like St. Petersburg, I just can't resist the temptation to snap a photo of almost every building I pass.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Counting My Blessings

I was looking around online tonight, hoping that by some miracle all the credible sources would tell me that Fruit Loops are gluten free.  You see, they've come up in conversation several times over the past week, and my walk through the cereal aisle tonight seems to have triggered a craving for the brightly-colored, entirely unnatural, sugary rings.  

Unfortunately for me, I will never eat a real Fruit Loop again.  There may be some knock-off gluten-free, lactose-free, casein-free, egg-free, lame excuse for a Fruit Loop that tastes like cardboard, but I'm not into allergy-free counterfeits.  I lived too long as a glutenarian (a word I made up for people who eat gluten) and the memory of the "real thing" is still too fresh. If I can't have the original, I'd rather not eat it at all.  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quest for King's Gate

On my last day in Helsinki, Kiri and I took the ferry to the island of Suomenlinna, where we spent the afternoon exploring the old fortress.

Our first stop when the ferry landed was the Visitor Information building, where I picked up a map and immediately started looking through the "special attractions" page.  I don't often follow the guides very closely, as my sightseeing strategy falls into the "wander and see what happens" category, but I always browse the recommended достопримечательности (say "dostopreemyechatyelnostee," the Russian word for "tourist attractions") and usually pick one or two of them to set as my destination.  You should never wander without a final destination.

We decided that King's Gate would be our terminus, and very quickly our capricious exploring turned into the "Quest for King's Gate."

Waiting for our ferry to depart from the mainland,
we walked around the market at Kauppatori
(in Finnish 'kauppa' means 'market' and 'tori' means 'square')

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Efficient & Happy Traveler

In all my years of traveling, I've learned a lot of things the hard way.  But I've also honed my ability to pack a bag that will equip me to do everything from working in a professional environment to hiking any mountain I come across.  Here are a few tips from my suitcase...

Always pack a towel if you're leaving the United States. Even if you think you'll be staying in nice hotels during your entire trip, you never know when your hotel room could be coincidentally double booked.  Or you might show up in the middle of the night and not be able to take a shower because there's no one around to ask for a towel.  I recommend this one from REI -- it's a high-absorption microfiber that dries you off quick and dries out completely within an hour.  My favorite thing about it is that it's super thin and comes with a little polyester/mesh sack that packs it up the size of a thin paperback book. I bought one large one that I use for both a washcloth and towel. But they're available in many other sizes and weaves as well.

Consolidate products. Unless you have the means to hire a personal butler for the entirety of the trip, you're not going to want to lug around your whole bathroom cupboard. Picking which items to bring depends on the trip and the climate you're traveling to, but try to minimize as much as possible; creams and liquids are very heavy! Invest in one lotion that you can use as hand/body lotion, face moisturizer, and makeup remover.  I love Gold Bond's Aloe Vera lotion, but haven't found it sold anywhere outside the States.  If I have to restock while traveling, I buy Dove Intensive Nourishment Hand Cream.  Both are multi-purpose and work great! All Gold Bond products are gluten free, and most Dove products are as well.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Return to St. Petersburg

I feel like I could burst into tears at any moment. Arriving in St. Petersburg for the second time has been one of the worst experiences of my life.  

The three-hour train ride from Helsinki to St. Pete was okay, but it was all downhill from there. A driver from the university was supposed to pick me up at a friends house where I was keeping my luggage. He finally arrived, but said not a word during the entire 30-minute drive across town.  My efforts to make conversation were met with silence.  

We parked in front of a few high rises and dragged my suitcases over a mud path covered with wooden planks. Walking up to the kiosk adjacent to a ten-foot high barred fence with giant turnstile gate, my driver, who apparently works for the university, silently left me and approached the counter.  He presented some papers and eventually I was let in.  Inside the fenced area are a number of buildings surrounding a grassy quad. I was led into one of them and right inside the door the driver put down my suitcase, handed some papers to the lady at the desk, and shoved a xeroxed copy of a map in my direction as he turned and headed for the door.  I started after him and began to say, "Wait, I don't know where I'm going or even where I am. You have to show me where I live."  He kept walking away from me but flung his left arm out, pointing to the desk -- obviously suggesting that I should direct my inquiries to the women there.  And without a word he was gone.  
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