Posted by: Brian | August 28, 2009


If you’re reading this blog, realize this: we’re all done. All of us that were abroad have now returned. The fall semester has started here at our home university of OU. Most of us are still here, though one or two have graduated.

That being said, TSAE isn’t going anywhere. Why? Here’s the thing: writing this blog was meant to tell our family and friends what we were up to, but it was also meant to be used as a resource by prospective students who were considering embarking on semesters abroad themselves. In the spirit of continuing to provide some amount of information, I’m leaving this blog up, at least for the foreseeable future.

If you’re trying to find some information or an answer to a question, please feel free to leave a comment. I’ll see what I can do about getting it answered for you.

Happy travels!

Posted by: Brian | August 10, 2009

In Retrospect

Written on my last morning in China (approx 1.5 weeks ago):

I am leaving China in less than one hour.

I’ll already be in Japan by the time this gets posted, but I’m actually writing it while sitting in Terminal 3 of the Beijing airport. I think the less I say about Beijing the better – it was frustrating, I’ll put it that way – but overall my experience has been a good one. I’ve gotten to see some cool things, met a lot of nice people, and my Chinese has improved tremendously (still not fluent, but that’s life, right?).

Less than one hour. By my rough calculation, I’ve been here for 3,795 hours, give or take a few. From February 23rd until now, July 31st, I lived, slept, eaten, breathed China. I’ve eaten more fiery, taste-bud-consuming spicy food than I ever wanted to. I’ve also eaten a wider variety of *ahem* exotic cuisine than I ever have before, including yak (delicious!), several insects (some palatable, others less so), and cuts of meat that in America we wouldn’t consider fit for animal consumption, much less for ourselves (duck spine, anyone?). Also, I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten my weight in rice. I don’t want to see any for a long, long time. Read More…

Posted by: Holly | July 15, 2009


I can’t believe that I am already back HOME. Last week in Valencia was a perfect ending to my perfect adventure abroad. After listening one last time to my good ol’ Spanish Guitar friends, having lunch with my tandem Anna (a wonderful Spanish girl who I have met with frequently to practice Spanish with), saying good-bye to my wonderful roommates and other friends I have met here, it’s inevitable that I will miss Espana and all the experiences I have had here. While awkwardly walking to the train station with about triple my body weight in bags this morning, I honestly couldn’t believe that I was leaving.
My last night in Valencia I ate a delicious tapas meal and drank endless amounts of Sangria for the last time in Spain with some friends. Afterward we headed to the beach and watched an amazing fireworks show that they do every Saturday in the summer. It was such a wonderful evening. perfect really. The  next morning, I was woken up at 8 am by a parade right outside of my window and gun shots going off- what better way to leave Spain than with one more random fiesta, celebrating who knows what? It made me laugh.
Living in Valencia has taught me so much. Not only have I improved my ability to understand and speak Spanish, but have discovered so much about myself and have gained so many new perspectives of the world. Being so far away from home was incredibly difficult at times, and there were some days where I just felt like giving up, however I somehow managed to pass all my classes and live in a foreign country for 5 1/2 months. I honestly still can’t quite fathom it. I will never forget it, and encourage everyone to study abroad!!

Thanks for allowing me to share my experiences with you!


Posted by: Zach | July 15, 2009

China Doesn’t Like Political Dissent

And thus, Brian is offline for the time being. That said, once he continues his trip and joins me in Japan, you can be sure that if we aren’t partying every minute of free time we have, he’ll give this blog a little love and enjoy true internet for the first time in a while. It’ll probably feel something like seeing light again for the man.

Posted by: Brian | July 7, 2009

156 Killed, 800 Injured, 1,400 Arrested

I originally intended to make a series of posts tonight regarding my finals, various problems with my debit card, and the state of my preparations to depart Kunming. Instead, I feel compelled to provide my thoughts on the recent unrest in the Xinjiang region of China.

The numbers listed in the title provide some basic indication of the state of affairs in Xinjiang. That being said, they reduce what has happened to little more than statistics, devoid of any of the important issues that led to the riots. I’m by no means an expert on the matter – in fact, I’ve only been aware of the situation for a little over six hours, due to news website *mysteriously* being rendered nigh-unusable recently. That being said, there is more going on than meets the eye, and certainly more than news agencies are reporting (or being allowed to report). Read More…

Posted by: Brian | July 4, 2009

Things That Go Boom

Salvadors: the closest youll get to American food in Kunming. Nough said.

Salvador's: the closest you'll get to American food in Kunming. 'Nough said.

So – it’s the Fourth of July. Hooray! Only that’s not celebrated in China. Boo.

My compromise? I’m having dinner in an American-owned cafe, having a bacon cheese burger, fries, and a coke. I don’t have any fireworks, but if I can find any, believe me – I’m buying them. Then I’m buying a lighter. Then tonight, after all the security guards at my university have gone home, I’m going all pyromaniac (is there a better word that involves explosions?) on everybody.

Even though the 4th isn’t the biggest or most important holiday I celebrate, I’m usually home for it, and it feels weird to be somewhere else. The Fourth of July is supposed to include a ritual showing of the musical 1776, burgers, things that go boom, and in recent years, ill-advised street luge-ing escapades.

There are other Americans here, but I don’t know them very well, so I celebrated with a Swede, an Australian, and a German. Cecilia (the Swedish girl) wanted to order spaghetti – horrors! I set her straight, and quickly at that. We all had bacon cheese burgers. Much, much more appropriate.

During the meal, we had a very interesting conversation regarding Guy Fawkes Day, another super-fun celebration of things that explode. Jenny the German girl mentioned that she thought it weird to celebrate the averted attack on Parliament with fireworks. The Australian girl and I laughed and (sarcastically) maintained that the celebration was clearly FOR Guy Fawkes, not against him. She was confused and couldn’t quite wrap her head around the concept of celebrating rebellion and acts of subversion, and we never got around to explaining our sarcasm (all in good fun, I promise), so I think she’s now got very strange ideas about us. Oh well.

In closing, this certainly hasn’t been a typical 4th of July, but I’m getting by, no thanks to my bank (more on that tomorrow). Happy Independence Day!

Posted by: Brian | June 21, 2009

TSAE Endorses: MUST Colombian Cafe

No, I’ve got no idea why this place is named that. Heck, the person who owns it probably doesn’t even know why he/she chose that particular combination of words. There’s nothing in particular that makes this place a MUST for people (it really is in all caps like that), and there’s certainly nothing Colombian about it. Still, it’s got good Wi-Fi and a decent menu, and I can usually expect a reasonable amount of privacy when I’m here. The cafe is on the second and third floors of a semi-sketchy looking building on foreigner’s street, about ten minutes’ walk from my dorm on campus. I come here because it’s not as hot as my room, and there’s usually a nice breeze coming through the third floor. It would be nice if they had decent western food, though. It’s on the menu, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. Here are a few pictures of the place: Read More…

Posted by: Holly | June 18, 2009

Alicante, Guapa, Guapa, Guapa


I suppose after living in Spain for almost 5 months, there are some occasions where I can very effortlessly ‘do as the Spanish do’ and not worry about a thing! My friend Katie and I (another exchange student here from UT) put away our worries and headed right down to Alicante, Spain for a few days this past week to relax, and remember why we enjoy Spain before embarking on our dreaded finals. I must say that while sun-bathing on the beach and swimming in the clear, beautiful blue water I was most definitely not thinking about finals, because I simply wasn’t thinking about anything!
Alicante is the capital of the Spanish province of Alicante, which is the southernmost province of the region of Valencia…put in Holly terms, it is a cute, beautiful little Spanish town located right on “La Costa Blanca”. Our hostal was so perfect, and had air-conditioning!! I realize this might not be very exciting to some people, but now that Spain is hot-hot-hot, not having air-conditioning in my apartment has proved to be a little uncomfortable, so we definitely took advantage of it and cranked that thing until we were freezing- best sleep ever. Another small exciting thing (very un-Spanish) was that Alicante had a Subway-and I am not ashamed to say that I also indulged in a delicious turkey footlong, or four… After spending a lovely day just soakin’ up the sun for the entire first day, we got ready and headed to the port to look for some delicious sea-food/Spanish food. We found a wonderful little restaurant, we had the most delicious croquettas (still my favorite tapa- and these in particular win on my rating scale for sure) and also some ‘arroz con gambas’ or rice with shrimp- yummy, yummy, yummy.

The next day, we walked around the little town some more and found a wonderful little Banana Boat excursion that allowed us to take a little ride out on the Mediteranean Sea, snorkel a bit, and then enjoy the sunset over a few glasses of just doesn’t get too much better than that! The next morning we got up, packed and then went and toured the Castillo de Santa Barbara, an old mediveal castle that once stood as a fortess against the Moors. I get made fun of a lot, but I just love ruins, so I enjoyed being able to see it and walk around for a bit. Alicante was beautiful and like most places in Spain leaves me so content and happy to be able to see, experience and truly enjoy so many little treasures of the world.


1 final down, one paper and 2 more finals to go!

Posted by: Brian | June 15, 2009

Tiananmen Square, 20 Years Later

A little over two weeks ago, after settling down in one of my favorite cafes (read: has wifi) in Kunming, I discovered that I couldn’t access Twitter or Flickr. China had blocked them and a handful of other social networking sites in a preemptive effort to prevent anyone in China from inciting protests or civil unrest over the Tianamen Square Massacre, the 20th anniversary of which was coming up on June 4th.

Such a date brings to mind several questions for your moderately-aware citizen of the western hemisphere. Were there any demonstrations? Did people get arrested? What is the state of democracy in China?  It might be better to check as to whether or not democracy even exists here in the first place. Read More…

Posted by: Brian | June 10, 2009

Doing Nothing: It’s an Art

Chilled pineapple juice. Does a body good.

Chilled pineapple juice. Does a body good.

Xishuangbanna – southern China, tropical, bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar *involuntary shudder*. It’s a fun destination, with a fascinating mix of asian cultures. You can hop the border into the first two of the above-mentioned countries, go see an elephant preserve, visit local villages… all kinds of stuff. What did I do?

Absolutely nothing. Really.

It wasn’t on purpose exactly; that’s just how things turned out. My friends and I took a sleeper bus down from Kunming, and I’m pleased to report that it was by far the nicest I’ve ever seen in China. My German friend Jenny says that’s because the manufacturer was a German company, and I’m inclined to agree with her.

Anyway, we got there crazy-early in the morning, as is typical of these bus rides. After finding a cheap hotel, we promptly crashed and got another three or four hours of sleep. Woke up in time for lunch – a bit too early, in fact; half of the shops and restaurants we walked past weren’t even open yet. This was at noon, mind you. That should some indication as to the pace at which everyone takes life around here.

The weather is hot, sticky, and has been raining sporadically since our arrival. Other than the rain, it reminds me of spring in San Antonio or Corpus Christi. To combat the weather, we’re doing everything slowly. We walk slowly, talk slowly, make decisions slowly; I think the only time we did anything quickly was when we rented bicycles to ride around town for a bit.

Most of our time was spent in one cafe or another – drinking chilled mango or pineapple juice, eating Thai or local Dai cuisine (“ghost chicken” was a highlight), and chatting with other travelers. We met an Australian, an Israeli, some expats, and of course the owners of each establishment. Upon seeing my camera, one Chinese man furiously scribbled down a web address –, I think – and asked me to take a look at it. It’s for photos of Xishuanbanna, he said, take a look at it! I did. It’s one of the ugliest websites I’ve ever seen. Straight-up looks like it came out of the 1990s.

I got some writing done, reviewed some music for Independent Clauses (shameless plug), and generally had a good time. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as some of my other excursions, but it was a nice change of pace. I love weekends like that – slow, with an abundance of food, drink, and conversation. Good times.

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