I want to write, but…

…I hate screens.

I really do.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I can’t get myself to sort out photos from LAST YEAR to put onto Facebook, or blog more regularly, or even type decent responses to messages from friends. I have no better reason than: I hate looking at screens.

The only time I’m willing to watch a screen continuously for more than 3 minutes is when I watch superhero movies at the cinema. At this stage I’m even struggling to look at my kindle long enough to read a chapter. I would rather stare at the ceiling, honestly.

All my teaching work is on computer – I teach using Powerpoint mostly. So free periods are spent planning and preparing and creating presentations (I do them all from scratch). When I get home in the evenings, the last thing I feel like doing is to be connected to a screen.

So bear with me as I try to remedy this.

For now, though…

524a

I’m outta here.

 

Week 1: An update

Yes! I’m here!

Huge thanks to all my friends who have kept in touch since my departure. I’d love to type out an extensive, personalised reply to each one of you, but I’m unashamedly dedicating pretty much every free moment to keeping in touch with my mom and The Boy.

My mom and I, we’ve done this. It’s not our first rodeo, and thankfully she has waited patiently for email and voice note updates. The time difference makes weekday Skypes a bit impossible, but that’s what weekends are for!

The Boy and I talk every day. He’s a night-owl, thankfully, so he waits up a little later and I get up a little earlier than we usually would to have a chat while I get ready for work. I like that it gets my day going on a positive, homely note. It takes the pressure off weekend chats as we’ve already covered the regular daily things by then.

Instead of getting myself into a dead panic over the unanswered messages and emails I’ve received over the last week, I’ve combined all the questions you’ve asked and I’ll try and answer them all here. Things won’t always be this crazy. For now it’s just difficult as I don’t have a local SIM card/data on my phone yet, and I’m either without internet or busy doing lesson planning at work, and unpacking/faffing/shopping/settling in in the evenings. Soon everything will start feeling like it’s supposed to and then I’ll be a good friend again.

Here we go, in no particular order:

Did you eat?

giphy1Ja, Ma! 🙂 It’s impossible to go hungry in Korea. With restaurants staying open until midnight/2am/all night, convenience stores that never close… It’s all good. I’ve actually eaten more Korean food than Western, which I never would have seen coming.

Did you find your way to school? How far is it from your apartment?

After a bit of a panic over finding my school again, it all turned out okay. My co-teacher took me along a winding back road at 11pm and after spending more than 24 hours travelling, my brain was not in a position to retain information. Thankfully the next day was a public holiday and the foreigner I met showed me an easier way. It’s a ten minute walk between my apartment and the school, a nice flat walk. It’s going to suck in the rainy season though, as there aren’t any buses between the two. I got so lazy in Munsan, where it was sometimes easier to take two connecting buses than to climb the hill to my school.

How is your new apartment? Was it clean? Do you have adequate bedding?

I have a nice apartment, no complaints. It has a nice layout and I actually have a separate bedroom with a door! Not much of a view though so I think cabin fever could become a problem. The previous teacher left it clean, but she also left it completely empty. She moved to Seoul and obviously took everything with her, which meant I had to go out on the first day to buy cutlery, crockery, etc. There was only a fitted sheet and pillowcase, no blanket! My co-teacher told me to bring one with me and I told him I wouldn’t be able to. Who moves to a new country and dedicates several kilograms of their baggage allowance, not to mention space, to a blanket?! I found a cheap comforter at the supermarket, so that’ll have to do for now. Proper bedding will have to wait until after my first paycheck, which is mid April only.

On the upside, the previous teacher managed to get the school to buy her an oven. I became quite masterful at using my oven in Munsan and was planning to buy one here, so this is definitely a win.

As far as cooking is concerned, I’ve been quite lucky in Korea first time around as well as Malaysia, and somehow ended up in places with electric stovetops. My luck has run out though. Despite my initial panic about not being able to get the gas stove to turn on and burning all my food, I’ve become quite good at boiling water without incident. I’m slowly starting to experiment with actual cooking as well, and I’m sure I’ll be a master in no time.

Are you sleeping?

Haha, yes. Jetlag was rough the first few days. I got maybe two hours sleep the first three nights and I was in full zombie mode. Lucky for me, the school hadn’t organised my laptop yet so I had an empty desk and no planning to do, which meant I could nap a bit during work hours. I’m gradually falling asleep earlier so hopefully my body is good to go in no time.

Have you found bedding?

Fotor_145749343784752[1]For now, yes. It’s so terribly mismatched, but it keeps me warm and that’s enough for now. After payday I’ll spoil myself with some nice things I don’t mind looking at every day.

Priorities, though. Paul Frank’s Julius already has a prime spot on my bed!

Did you eat?

🙂

What does your building look like? Where is it located?

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View of my building. Accidentally selected this filter but decided it beats the natural grey of Korean winter. My entrance is down the alley to the left.

It’s a small, newish building similar to the ones most of us lived in in Paju. There’s a beauty salon out front (maybe my nails will finally grow). I’m one floor up from the ground floor (1st floor if you’re from the real world, 2nd floor if you deny that the ground floor exists). I’ve joined the keyless ranks and now gain entry through typing a secret code into a very fancy keypad. In a bizarre twist, I actually have to walk past a supermarket to get to the nearest convenience store. But we’re still talking about only three or four minutes, so it’s hardly a complaint.

I’m a stiff walk from the train station, but the buses and taxis are much closer. There’s a Tom n Toms coffee shop just across the road, and I suspect that avoiding it will be an ongoing challenge.

There’s a lot more shops compared to Munsan. There’s a variety of restaurants just around me, including the usuals like Pizza School, Mr Pizza, Lotteria… And Paris Baguette, Dunkin Donuts and Ediya are all close enough to make me fat.

And then, there’s the worst temptation of all temptation. McDonalds. Five minutes away.

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I don’t even like McDonald’s. I just want it.

Have you met your neighbours?

No, but I’ve heard them. When my bathroom door is open, I can hear my upstairs neighbour do his thing. This usually happens around 11pm so at least he’s predictable. Not living next to my best friend (and not having any other foreigners in the building at all) is going to be an adjustment.

Are you ready for this thing?

Sure, why not.

Did you eat?

What’s the school like? What’s your co-teacher like?

I’m at a public middle school teaching grades 7, 8 and 9. It’s your average school building, though a little older and more worn than the shiny new Jayu Elementary School I taught at in Munsan. The teachers here have been very friendly and welcoming, and they’re a lot more willing to speak English than my previous lot of colleagues. There are a few English teachers and some teachers who have taught English before. The biggest surprise was the Vice-Principal, who is a kind and approachable man with great English. He’s made a point to chat to me every time we’ve been in the same room.

My co-teacher has a sharp and interesting sense of humour. He speaks English confidently and that makes communication less stressful. He seems constantly overwhelmed by the volume of his work – he’s a homeroom teacher as well. We have a good working relationship and that’s all that matters. I haven’t actually got a schedule yet and I don’t know whether I’ll be co-teaching all my classes with him or alone or what. There are other English teachers as well and they are all really nice, so I guess we’ll wait and see what the deal is.

How close is the nearest Daiso and other fun shopping?

Daiso! Oh, how much I love that place! It was, in fact, one of the first questions I asked my co-teacher on the night I arrived: where is the nearest Daiso. He wasn’t sure as he doesn’t live in town, but I was lucky to come across a medium-sized store on my own and another foreigner pointed out a bigger one on the bus route. There’s also Daiso sections inside Lotte Mart. It’s already becoming very difficult not to buy ALL THE THINGS. I haven’t done a whole lot of other shopping and exploring – mostly waiting for that first paycheck. As soon as the weather’s better I’ll be out and about more. This town is so much bigger than Munsan and I’m sure there are little shopping gems to be discovered.

Have you met any expats yet? How is your new social community looking?

One. I’ve met one other person in my town. I found a Facebook group for the area and posted on there that I needed to kit out my apartment. A girl who lives in the same town said I was welcome to join her when she went to the big E-mart in the next town over. She has been exceptionally helpful and generous. Another foreigner who has finished up gave the entire contents of their kitchen to her, which she basically passed right on to me. I now have the world’s most extensive collection of baking tins (no muffin pan though, WTF?!) and glass dishes. But there was some very useful stuff in there and it definitely helped get me started.

There aren’t a lot of foreigners around I’m told. It doesn’t sound like there are a lot of schools, and so many schools have lost their funding so teachers are finishing off but not being replaced. It’s only been a week though and I’m tired and broke so it hasn’t been top of my list to go out and find people. All in good time.

Arriving here has definitely once again reminded how extremely lucky we were in Munsan/Paju to have had the community that we did. I don’t think any experience will ever quite match up.

How are you feeling?

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Tired, mostly. Even though I’m a stranger in this town, I’m no stranger to Korea which means at least that I’m not completely overwhelmed by my environment. I also know to just wait it out and see what happens in my job. No use getting worked up. The culture is different and thankfully I know that by now. I’m also still just avoiding really sinking in emotionally, if that makes sense. I’m dwelling on the surface a bit as I fear that there might be a massive implosion if I really dig in deep. All in good time.

And dry. Travelling, stressing and all the internal heating have really done a number on my skin. I’m trying to up my water intake, but that never goes as well as planned.

Did you get pizza yet? Is it still as good?

I have not! There are a few of the old dependable pizza places around me, but I’ve resisted the temptation (and the price – the conversion to Rand is just awful!). I’m sure it’s still as corn-y and potato-y amazing. I’ll spoil myself soon enough.

Did you make the right decision?

I didn’t make the wrong decision.

 

A new start, or something like it

Hi kids,

Yup, it’s been a while. I was all kinds of ready to move on from Korea and have this mind-blowing experience as an expat teacher working my way around the globe. Well, mind-blowing it was, but not the good kind. However, we live and we learn, and I have learnt a great deal from my mistakes. So let’s pretend the last year and a bit didn’t happen, and move on to more positive things.

For a whole list of reasons that I may or may not go into in the future (probably not), I decided to return to Korea once again. I’m still in the ‘holy cow I hope my documents are in order and I get my visa in time’ stage of it all. I am starting to feel the excitement trickle in.

I do enjoy the experience of fitting my life in a suitcase, arriving somewhere unfamiliar and starting with a clean slate each time, and I most definitely like making big money, but this time I also kinda wanted to stick around my hometown for a little while longer. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a job (I had ONE INTERVIEW in six months!). And, well, I’m not all that ready to properly repatriate and kiss expat life goodbye. Korea is a good place to make some dough while living a pretty good life, so it felt like the right place to start.

So in a month’s time, I start my new job. I’ll be in a new city far from the one I previously lived in, but close enough to Seoul to keep this city girl happy.

I’m hoping to use my blog as a bit of an online journal (cos I know you really want to read my innermost thoughts 😛 ), as I spend great deals of time just talking to myself anyway, and I might as well use that time constructively.

Well I’m off to go make lists and sort and pack and freak out and all that stuff.

get

We got this, Sheldon!

The dentist.

A good friend of mine (and far better blogger) recently wrote about her visit to the dentist in Korea and her post prompted me to write about my own (singular) experience. I’m even using the same title as her, because, well, it says it all!

I’ve never particularly hated the dentist, though it took a long time for me to find one that I felt completely comfortable with and I’ve been going to her since 2001. I was really fortunate and didn’t need to go to the dentist during my first year in Korea. When I visited home between contracts, I went for a check-up and everything was in good, working order.

You know how the dentist always tells you to floss? Well, I never do. And the one time I did, I chipped a filling. Talk about failing at dental self-care! I was perfectly adamant that I’d deal with it when I went home in May. This was at the beginning of March – not the best logic.

But I had my reasons!

My teeth are really special, and I trust my own dentist implicitly to do what’s best in my mouth. I would sooner not eat than be unfaithful to her.

I am so over the communication frustration when seeking health/medical care in Korea. The novelty of being a foreigner apparently never wears off, and after almost two years of regular interactions (yes, regular – remember my back injury) with medical professionals giggling away because I’m in the room, I just wasn’t in the mood for any more of it.

Several sources have described dentistry in Korea as a money-making endeavour. From what I’ve heard from friends and blogs, dentists will insist on the most extreme treatment. A friend was once told that she had eight cavities that required fillings and when she returned home a few weeks later, her dentist told her they’re nothing more than stains and promptly polished them away. Many people that I’ve spoken to who went to the dentist here, had root canal treatments done. Now I know it’s a real thing, but in all my years of problem teeth, I’d never needed one. A friend of mine who lost a filling had a root canal done – and it cost her half a million won (R5,000)!

Another Korean oddity is that dentists cover the patient’s face with one of those surgical cloths with an opening for the area they’re working on (in this case, the mouth). I’m all for being treated as more than a set of teeth, so having my eyes covered during any procedure I was conscious and awake for didn’t exactly appeal to me.

A few days after my filling chipped, the rest of it broke off, too. I envisioned making the trek to Seoul that weekend to see a dentist who specialises in treating foreigners (read: charges astronomical rates for speaking English). But after a day of painful eating efforts, I headed to a dentist in Munsan and hoped for the best.

It felt like walking into an upmarket spa. The decor was very modern and after reporting to reception (read: handing her my ARC and not ever speaking to each other), I had a seat in one of the most comfortable sofas imaginable. If I wasn’t so hungry, I’d have had a nap for sure! There was a sink with disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste for some pre-visit freshening up, as well as a water dispenser and tea and coffee facilities. After waiting less time than it took to watch an infomercial on the giant TV in the waiting room, I was escorted to the next room, which had a row of dentist’s chairs separated by glass dividers. Each of the five chairs had it’s own TV (!!!) and I could finish watching the infomercial. 😛

After a bit of a wait, the dentist came over. His English was more than adequate for us to communicate, so at least I wasn’t anxious about that anymore. After taking an x-ray and showing me that the tooth wasn’t damaged by the filling coming out, he squirted ice water on my tooth and knocked at it with his little hammer to test the sensitivity. I explained that I only experienced discomfort when chewing, and no, there was no temperature sensitivity. His assessment? “You will need root canal treatment.” I kindly turned him down, and said that a regular filling would do just fine. After some back and forth, and me promising to get a root canal in South Africa, he surrendered and 15 minutes and 10,000 won (R100) later, I had a brand new temporary filling. And even better – he didn’t cover my face with the little cloth! I left, mentally preparing for three months of soft foods…

I’m pleased to report that six weeks and plenty of popcorn later, said temporary filling is still going strong (touch wood!).

 

And if you’re curious, you can read all about Shauna’s experience at the dentist here.

April Photo A Day Challenge

At the beginning of the month, a Facebook contact shared a photo challenge that she’d be doing. I had a look at the source, and figured it’d be a fun way to document my last full month in Korea – one random photo at a time.

You can read about the full challenge here, or cheat and just check out the daily topics in the image below:

Alrightie then, let’s do this!

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3rd grade introductions

New year, new students! This year there are four 3rd grade classes, which means a good 100 students who’re in my class for the first time. Although I remember quite a few of them from daycare and camp, it’s the first time they’re doing syllabus English, so of course there’s a lot of introductory work to be done.

For their second lesson, each student had to prepare a three-sentence introduction: “My name is ~. I like ~. I don’t like ~.” Many students attend English Academies (extra classes at private institutions), so it’s not like they’ve never spoken English before. This is just to get them to be like “Oh, right, I have to transfer this knowledge to a different setting.”

Listening to 100 repititions of the same three sentences can be… enough. Most students stuck to the obvious things like spaghetti, pizza, ice-cream, oranges, kimchi, and other Korean/Konglish terms. Surprisingly, things they don’t like included carrots, onions, brocolli, spinach as well as ‘vegetables’ as a whole. Thankfully, a few were more original in their approach.

Here are my favourites:

My name is ~. I like watermelon. I don’t like speaking Korean here . [‘Here’ being English class.]

My name is ~. I like pizza. I don’t like spinach, no… onions, no… carrots! I don’t like carrots.

My name is ~. I like ice-cream. I don’t like 시금치 [spinach]. [Looks innocently at my co-teacher] I don’t know English.

My name is ~. I like food. I don’t like my mother.

New beginnings

Well, it’s official: I won’t be renewing my contract in Korea. It’s time for a new start. To celebrate this, and to get over my publishing inertia, I’m relaunching my blog under a new name.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll review and publish the more than 10 blog entries sitting in my drafts folder. Promise!

And with a little bit of luck, I’ll change my ways and publish as I type. Ha.

Singapore Days 6 and 7: Winding down :(

By Monday, 25 February, there wasn’t much we hadn’t done in Singapore. Both Trevor and I were relieved that we were able to tick just about everything of our Singapore wishlist. There were really only two more things to do: go grocery shopping, and eat durian.

And yes we did.

Trevor and I headed to a nearby supermarket with our host, Jennifer. We went a little mad buying all sorts of things we couldn’t find in Korea, but it would have been a lot worse had we not been limited by the amount of luggage we could take with us (a measly 15kg). Among our loot was our favourite chocolate, Milo cereal, Maggi instant noodles, instant mashed potatoes, spices, vanilla essence, Colgate toothpaste and more chocolate. Priorities and all that.

In the evening we headed out in the worst bout of rain we’d had all week. It rains every day in Singapore (give or take), but usually only lightly and not for very long. But on Monday night it came down hard, which meant wet shoes, frizzy hair, and getting poked by lots of umbrellas.

We met up with Scott and some of his work colleagues at a fruit vendor. Trevor and I were both jealous to see how cheap fruit was in Singapore compared to Korea, and how much bigger, brighter and more colourful everything was. (Apples, bananas, kiwis and oranges are only so appealing, and then it gets old.) We watched a durian being chopped open and weighed, and then it was time. Yes, it really does smell that bad and yes, it really does taste that… strange.

And when in Rome! We made use of the opportunity to try a variety of tropical fruits. It was fascinating to see the insignificant insides of the massive jack fruit. Although I didn’t enjoy peeling the dragon fruit, the taste wasn’t bad at all. We had one or two other fruits too, all of which escaped me soon after.

On the way back, everyone stopped at a vendor for ice-cream sandwiches (literally). A block of ice-cream is folded in a slice of (coloured) bread. I passed on this due to my very particular relationship with bread, but those in the know said it was tasty. I was just too happy to take their word for it!

On the morning of Tuesday the 26th, it was time to face the inevitable – packing. With all the groceries and souvenirs, both our bags were full before we’d reached the weight limit, so we put our problem-solving skills to practice in order to fit everything into our check-in luggage.

Far too soon, we were on the plane and outta there. We arrived back to a cold, icy Munsan early the next morning.

Singapore stole my heart. If given the choice to ever return somewhere I’d been before, even if it means doing all the same things again, I’d pick Singapore hands down, no contest.

To see all the photos from Day 6, click on me:

Dragon fruit fingers!

Dragon fruit fingers!

To see the last few random photos from Day 7, click on my kitchen:

The loot!

The loot!

Singapore Days 4 and 5: A slower-paced weekend

Saturday the 23rd of February was not an easy day to get out of bed. Trevor and I were both exhausted from a week filled to the brim with excitement and new experiences. But there was more to see and do!

We headed in the direction of Chinatown and met up with one of Trevor’s friends, who’s currently studying in Singapore. She showed us around a bit and we visited a beautifully decorated Hindu Temple. We also discovered the Tin Tin merchandise store. Photos inside the store weren’t allowed, but we had some fun at the entrance.

Gardens by the Bay was next on the itinerary. We didn’t head to the Skyway, but we took a relaxing and enjoyable walk through the park. We parted ways with Trevor’s friend, and headed back to where we were staying, as an afternoon nap was high on the to-do list.

Our hosts were hosting a barbecue for Scott’s colleagues in the late afternoon, and they were kind enough to invite us. We headed down to the complex’s swimming pool and entertainment area, and spent a relaxing evening meeting some interesting people and comparing expat stories.

On the way back up to the apartment, I was amused to see that the vending machines held bread. And different varieties at that! But maybe that was just the tiredness showing through.

To see all the photos from Day 4, click on the Gardens:

Gardens By The Bay

Sunday the 24th was museum day. I’m not particularly cultured like that, but I traded Trevor a museum day for going on all the rides at Universal Studios. And I’m glad I did!

Our day started of at The National Museum of Singapore. We started off at the special exhibitions and came across one titled “Being Together: Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang“.

As described on The National Museum of Singapore website:

This exhibition explores the theme of the ‘Family’, the central building block of Singapore society, by looking at Singaporeans’ sense of identity, rootedness and connection to their families both in Singapore and abroad, in cities such as London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Being Together: Family & Portraits – Photographing with John Clang draws from the artist’s personal experience of being separated from his family, and touches upon a predicament that many Singaporeans of various ethnic groups face today. It is a journey of appreciation of who we are as a people, in the context of today’s globalised world.

Being an expat myself, I identified with the photographs and stories, and by the time we were done, I was far more emotional than I ever thought I could be at a museum! I only realised after that I didn’t take any photos, but I found them all on John Clang’s website. Click here for photos of Clang with his own family, and here for the photos featured in the exhibition.

Museuming made us hungry, and we found a restaurant where I could have my steak fix.

Tummies full, it was time to get our art on! The Singapore Art Museum, split into two buildings, was our next stop. I don’t recall every visiting an art museum before, and I enjoyed this new experience so much! We took a few photos here, but mostly we just allowed ourselves to be swept up by the interesting and impressive art around us.

Despite not particularly looking forward to culture day, I had to admit that this day was just as much fun as any other!

To see all the photos from Day 5, click on art:

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Singapore Day 3: Fun on Sentosa

On the morning of 22 February, we set off early for Sentosa, an island resort with lots of exciting things on offer. We had only one goal: Universal Studios.

Source: travelandbeyond.org

Layout of Universal Studios Singapore

I love me some thrill rides, and even though it took some convincing to get Trevor to go on all the rides with me, we had an absolute blast. We chose to visit on a weekday, and arrived just as the park opened, so there were only short queues, if any.

Each of the themed sections of the park were so spectacularly designed and decorated, with restaurants and kiosks that matched each theme perfectly. It felt almost impossible to take it all in!

We started the day off in “New York“, with a mild but super fun ride where we joined the Sesame Street characters find spaghetti in space. Next up, without having any idea of the awesomeness about to ensue, we headed for the Transformers ride in “Sci-Fi City“. And all I can say is this: it blew our minds so much that we returned to it at the end of the day, and stood in an endless line, just to experience it all again!

Despite having not yet seen Madagascar and missing a lot of the references in the “Madagascar” theme section, Trevor took a liking to the penguins. And yes, we watched the movie shortly after returning to Korea. “Ancient Egypt” was a lot of fun to walk through, with its oversized buildings and statues, and some rather intimidating Egyptian gods. We had just as much fun working our way through “The Lost World” and “Far Far Away“, taking in the impressive decor and design as well as having fun on more rides than I can remember.

Battlestar Galactica: Human vs. Cylon in “Sci-Fi City” was pretty awesome. At 42,5 metres high, it’s the tallest duelling roller coaster in the world. Two separate roller coasters are intertwined and run simultaneously on different coloured tracks – red for humans and blue for cylons. We started off on the red track, which has traditional cars where your legs and feet are secured, but your neck is left unsupported. I’m not a fan of these, but it was a great ride regardless. After catching our breath, we headed over to the blue track, with typical thrill ride seats where your feet dangle but your head and neck are supported. It had been a good while since a ride had properly left me breathless, and I was super impressed by the experience. I would have gone a second time, but the lines were getting long, and there was still plenty ground to cover.

On our way through “Hollywood“, we came across a really interesting attraction called “Lights! Camera! Action! Hosted by Steven Spielberg”. A special effects display is set up on a sound stage. Steven Spielberg narrates a little something about special effects and just how awesome they are, and then you get to watch a strong hurricane tear up a boat house – complete with breaking windows, explosions, and water splashing the audience to add to the experience.

When our hosts heard of our plans to head to Sentosa, they recommended we head to the far side of the resort and seek out the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. After bussing over and watching the sunset from the beach (where we also had a lovely view of the lights of the more than 1000 cargo ships lined up to enter the harbour), we made our way over to the area. It was a really cool moment!

Before heading back, I let my inner voyeur out and read some of the Chinese New Year’s wishes that were hanging on the nearby trees.  I was struck by how many of the wishes were for other people – partners, friends and family members.

By this point, we’d been on vacation for exactly a week, and we could definitely feel it! All that go-go-go was taking its toll on our bodies and our patience, so we headed back and vowed to have a laid-back day the Saturday.

To see all the photos from Day 3, click on us:

It's Universal Studios, baby!

It’s Universal Studios, baby!