A Light-Hearted Comparison of China vs. Kosovo

I was talking with my mom about my trip to China in 2012. She suggested I write a blog post, comparing and contrasting my experiences in China with those in Kosovo.

Please note that this meant to be a fun, light-hearted comparison of the two countries, rather than a deep cultural analysis. Also, I only got to spend 10 days in China, whereas I’ve lived in Kosovo for a year. I am more familiar with Kosovar culture than Chinese culture.

Having said that, here are a few fun observations about both countries.

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In both places, I’ve felt like this:

Going through customs.jpg

China and Kosovo are both mountainous countries.

Great Wall
The Great Wall of China
Novo Brdo, Kosovo
Novo Brdo, Kosovo

In both countries, I’ve used “squatty potties”:

We called these -squatty potties.-
Toilet in China
squatty potty
Toilet in Kosovo

There are scorpions in both countries!

Before I went to China, I was like, “I am totally going to eat a scorpion.” I imagined showing my friends and family a photo of me eating a scorpion, and all of them being suitably impressed by my bravery. Well, then I got to China and visited a night market. When I saw all the scorpions wriggling on sticks (they’re still ALIVE!), I lost my nerve. I have come to accept that while I am not a picky eater, that doesn’t mean I am an adventurous eater.

Yummy. Live scorpions on a stick.
Mmmm

For the record, I have never seen a scorpion in Kosovo. I’ve shown the following picture to locals here, and they claim never to have seen one, either. But! A volunteer living up in the mountains took this photo. I’m convinced.

Scorpion in a toilet
Don’t sit down!

American fast food. Yes, it exists.

The only American fast food chain that exists in Kosovo (as of right now) is KFC, although they offer a limited menu. What’s the point of going to KFC if you can’t order gluey macaroni and cafeteria-style mashed potatoes?!

I don’t remember what all I saw in China, aside from McDonalds. (No, I didn’t eat there.)

McDonalds!
McDonalds in China

I engaged with local superstitions in both countries.

In China, I hugged this tree to gain an extra year of life.

Tree hugging for an extra year of life.jpg

In Kosovo, I flipped over a tile on this roof to ensure I will get married.

IMG_2754

So, there you have it. A fun comparison of my experiences in China vs. Kosovo. I realize this post features a lot of toilet pictures. You’re welcome.

 

My Trip to Beijing, China 2012

This time of year (mid-August) always makes me think about the trip I took to Beijing, China in 2012. It was part of my graduate school program in social work. I traveled with 15 other students. Every morning, we attended classes on the topic of International Adoption Policy.

China was my first international trip (unless you count Canada and the Bahamas). I was 31 at the time, and had always wanted to travel internationally. Since my trip to China, I have been to nine other countries (Spain, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, France, England, Italy, Germany, and Hungary).

Before going to China, a friend told me, “This trip will change your life.” After I returned, it took me a while to see how much of an impact the trip had on my life. Sure, it was fun to travel and learn about another culture, but was it life changing … ?

Almost exactly two years after our trip, my professor lost her long battle with cancer. She was a compassionate woman, teacher, and social worker. She had this soft, sweet voice that mirrored her nature. BUT. She was totally capable of cutting right through b.s. (Not that I ever tried to b.s. her!) Since her death I have become very close to her family, especially her teenage daughter. I am so thankful to have them in my life. I don’t think I would be as close to them as I am were it not for our shared experience of going on that trip. So you see, the trip did change my life, just not in any way I could have predicted.

Lynn
My professor, Lynn Boyle

In Beijing, after we attended school in the morning, we would go on various excursions in the afternoon. Some were fun, cultural trips and some were work-focused. We met with several NGOs, visited an orphanage, and got to tour a medical facility where they performed minor corrective surgeries (to fix things like cleft palates and club feet) on orphans.

My second favorite photo
April and the Great Wall of China
View from the Summer Palace
A view from the Summer Palace
We took a ride in this boat.
At the Summer Palace
Me in the Forbidden City
April in the Forbidden City

Visiting the orphanage was an especially powerful experience for me. I have often thought I would be interested in doing some type of work with orphans. Well, an opportunity arose here in Kosovo for me to teach at an orphanage one day per week. I’ll start this fall. It is amazing how life brings us the things we seek, isn’t it?

At the Amazing Hands orphanage

Size, Travel, Home

I have struggled in writing this post. It was in my drafts folder for a while. I even struggled with what to title this post.

If I sound snobby in this writing, I apologize. (“Oh, Kosovo is so tiny, compared to my huge, superpower country!”) It is not my intention to come off that way. What I want to do is share some thoughts about Kosovo, travel, and “home.”

Another volunteer is from Texas. She recently showed me this photo, which kind of blew my mind:

Texas to Kosovo ratio

Before school ended, I talked about the United States with my fourth grade class. No one knew how many states the U.S. has. I told them 50, and I said, “Imagine 50 Kosovos.” But even that isn’t accurate. Kosovo is the size of one of our smaller states. The city where I used to live has a larger population than all of Kosovo, and Chicago isn’t even the U.S.’s biggest city.

Being in Kosovo has made me consider not only how big the United States is, but also how unreachable it can be. The average salary in Kosovo is equivalent to $9,600 per year. Kosovars also have the most restricted travel visas of anyone in Europe (the article I reference is from December 2015, but is still true today). When you consider these factors, buying a plane ticket to visit the U.S. seems near impossible.

I have talked to people here who have told me visiting the U.S. would be a dream for them. And I will admit, I sometimes struggle to relate. To me, the U.S. is just “home.” Having lived in Kosovo for a year now, it is strange to think many people I know have never been there.

Another volunteer friend of mine is from Arizona, a state I have never visited. She went home recently. She told me that while she was there, it was really important to her to visit the Grand Canyon. It is a big part of “home” for her. It is also strange to think that while she and I are both from the U.S., I have never seen the Grand Canyon, nor is it a place that signifies “home” to me.

Anyway, this is just a hodgepodge collection of some things I have been considering lately. Thanks for reading, as always.

My Favorite Photos from the Second Quarter

Without further adieu, here are my favorite photos from Decemberย 2017 until now. By my own method of counting, I have completed my second quarter of Peace Corps service.

pc-christmas
Peace Corps conference in December
po-e-ze
At the Po-E-Ze Competition

Vacation has started! #pristina #butnotforlong

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Eiffel Tower

London calling! #cheesy #tourist #london #england๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Chelsea and April, at a London Pub
charliechelsea-sierra-april
With Charlie, Chelsea, and Sierra, in Prizren, Kosovo

Serbian monastery in the snow. #peja #kosovo

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

park-pristina
A walk in Pristina in February
tabby-cat-blue-rug-grass
Happy kitty!

#Skopje #Macedonia #church ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฐ

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

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Fortress/castle from the Ottoman Empire, Skopje, Macedonia
ecological museum peja female dress
Traditional Kosovar clothing
IMG_5833
Visiting the Ecological Museum

April in Rome Favorite

April in Rome Umbrella Pines
Umbrella Pines
roman forum
Inside the Roman Forum
April Nicole
April and Nicole at Costanza Restaurant, Rome
Brandenburg gate 3
Tim, Rachel, and April, in Berlin
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Easter Eggs
art museum budapest
Budapest

I am so excited to be able to send my grandpa a postcard from his mother's home country! #budapest #hungary #motherland

A post shared by April Gardner (@hellofromkosovo) on

Kosovo village Catholic church
My village in Kosovo
April Mirusha Waterfall
April at Mirusha Wateralls
IMG_2086
April, under a waterfall
dinner.jpg
Anniversary dinner! Shay, April, Christian, Val, and Charlie

As always, thanks for reading! You can see my favorite photos from the first quarter here.

An Unexpected Trip to Hungary

I visited Hungary for the first time over this past weekend.ย I certainly wasn’t expecting to go on vacation so soon after going on vacation, but the opportunity arose and I took it. A friend asked if I wanted to meet there, and I said, “Yes,” and then, “Let me talk to Peace Corps.” One vacation requestย and 84 Euro later, and I was on a plane headed for Budapest.

I’m very close to my grandfather, and his mother was from Hungary. Visiting my great-grandmother’s home country was high on my to-do list while in Europe. I am so glad I got the chance to go!

Budapest (pronounced “Buda-pesht,” I learned), is a much bigger city than I expected. It is everything I thought Berlin would be (but wasn’t) — vibrant and artsy, with an edge to it.

My friend and I spent much of our time walking around the city. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you my favorite things about Budapest.

palace of the arts inside budapest hungary
Intermission during a dance performance of Dracula
palace of the arts budapest outside night
Palace of the Arts, lit up at night
danube morning graffiti
Morning walk along the Danube
food court truck budapest hungary 1
Food truck court
food court truck budapest hungary 2
I liked this deer.
food court truck budapest hungary 3
A 4-Euro lunch, and it was good! Yes, please.
food court truck budapest hungary 4
Cuteness abounds at the food truck court
Danube at night
The Danube in the evening
Szimpla Kert
A bad photo of Szimpla Kert … I encourage you to search for better ones on the Internet. Loved this space!
budapest hungary art deco church
Art Deco church on the “Buda” half of the city
art museum budapest
Museum of Applied Arts — so sad I wasn’t able to visit on this trip. Next time!

Tips and Observations About Budapest:

  • I wasn’t sure what to do my first night in the city, since I arrived before my friend did. After poking around on Google Maps, I discovered the Palace of the Arts was close to where I was staying. I went to a dance performance of Dracula, and really had a great time! Because it was a dance performance, I was able to (loosely) follow the plot, even though the speaking parts were obviously in Hungarian. And the dancers were wearing what I assume were traditional Hungarian costumes, which I got a kick out of seeing. Also, the price was right (only 11 Euro).
  • There is a little alley tucked into the city that leads to a court with food trucks. I got handmade gnocchi for lunch. ๐Ÿ™‚ The food was good, cost about 4 Euro, and the atmosphere was really cute.
  • I had never heard of a “ruin pub” before my trip. I discovered that a ruin pub is a bar inside an old, rundown building, and that they are very popular in Budapest. My friend and I visited the largest, oldest, and most famous ruin pub — Szimpla Kert. My pictures of it stink because it was so dark inside (check out their website if you want to see more). It was HUGE and PACKED! There were so many rooms, with so many different options … a wine bar, a food bar, different lounges, and an outdoor space. The building was rough and decaying, filled with oddball trinkets and eclectic decor. While loud, busy bars are not my scene, I loved the space.
  • My friend and I tried to go to Szechenyi thermal bath (another thing for which I didn’t know Budapest is famous). We got there at about 3 in the afternoon. The place was packed. We would’ve had to wait for an hour or more to get in. Instead, we decided to buy a day pass at a local hotel, and use their thermal pool. It wasn’t much of a cultural experience, but we were determined to do something relaxing, and the hotel’s thermal pool was much less crowded.
  • We decided to have a traditional Hungarian meal on my last night in the city. Based on a local’s recommendation, we ended up at Mester. The food was excellent, and it reminded me of some of the meals my family makes. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Nothing beats a hearty beef-and-noodle soup!)
  • Compared to other place I’ve visited in Europe (which, for the record, are Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Spain, France, England, Italy, and Germany), Hungary had the best crafts and homemade goods made by local artisans. We visited a little craft market, and I could’ve gone nuts buying things (I didn’t). I managed to rein myself in and only buy a few souvenirs for my family.

I loved Budapest,ย and feel like I could return and have new things to explore the next time around.