Vinpearl Safari and Conservation Park, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

Safari Park Entrance

The day my family spent at Vinpearl Safari and Conservation Park was probably my favorite day in Phu Quoc, and we almost decided to skip this attraction completely. I’m so glad we decided to go.

I started the day disappointed that our original plans were canceled. We didn’t intend to go to the Safari Park because, despite the good reviews, we watched some unimpressive YouTube videos that made it look like a rather mediocre zoo. Yes, it is a zoo (and my family has been to a number of zoos), but it’s not mediocre by any means.

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Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

Phu Quoc Sunset

In recent years, Vietnam has made a humungous effort to make Phu Quoc Island into the next Phuket. They have built a new airport and have been consistently adding direct flights to the island from all over the world. They have also relaxed visa requirements. While a visa is still required to go to mainland Vietnam, many tourists who go to Phu Quoc, plan to stay on the island, and will leave in less than thirty days don’t need a visa. And it’s worked. Take a short drive around the island and you’ll see all kinds of development projects. Open your ears and you’ll hear a huge variety of languages. While there, we met families from Sweden, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

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A Family Trip to Vietnam

Ha Long Bay Panorama

When I moved to Asia in 2005, I made a list of places I wanted to visit. Vietnam had been on the top of that list from the beginning, and yet for thirteen years I never went. I know . . . how can I come up with excuses for thirteen years, right? But as we all know, life happens. One time I actually had tickets in hand and tours and hotels booked, but Hubby had a health crisis only a couple days before we were scheduled to leave, and we cancelled all of our bookings and thanked God it didn’t happen while we were traveling. After that failed attempt, every time a holiday rolled around, we had other things to do. My son and daughter were born, and we wanted destinations that would be easier to do while toting preschooler and toddler around with us. Or Hubby was in grad school, and we had to forego our vacation to pay tuition (and so he could use the time off work to write those papers). There was always something that took precedence . . . for thirteen years.

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January Favorites (Posts I Love)

Tree Networks Structure Social Media Internet

China

So maybe I’m a little obsessed with reading about China’s air quality, but I’m so excited with the striking improvement, I couldn’t help but to share this article in the Beijinger that gives a whole bunch of facts and figures to show how dramatically the air in Beijing has improved over that last couple years. And I had to chuckle when the article mentions “falling sales for air filtration masks and air purifiers. . . . [and that] retailers are complaining about sluggish sales for anti-smog equipment.” It’s true. The air has been so good that I’ve forgotten to check when our filters were last changed and didn’t bother to buy new masks this year. It was interesting to see how the facts and figures added up. To check them out out for yourself, check out this article from the Beijinger.

Writing

On Genre Types and Skill-Crossover:

A couple months ago, I finished a decent outline for my novel and dove into writing the first draft. I love facts and figures and I like to track my progress in a concrete way, so I have a word-count goal for each workday. Some days I can fly past the goal and reach double the number of words that I wanted to; other days reaching my goal is a sheer act of willpower.

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A Book and a Breakthrough

The Anatomy of Story Cover

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby

I’ve already shared the books that kept me reading the last six months of 2017. (If you missed that post, you can read it here.) Of those twenty-five books, I knew I wanted to write a review for one fiction book and one non-fiction book, but I vacillated quite a bit while trying to decide which non-fiction book I wanted to talk about. I finally settled on The Anatomy of Story even though I know Truby’s book isn’t the most accessible or engaging non-fiction on my list. For example, Queen Bees and Wannabes would be much more applicable to the parents out there. It was a helpful and insightful read. Son of Hamas was fascinating. I learned so much about Israel and Palestine and the history of the conflict there, and the story was told in a gripping autobiographical account of a spy working for the Israelis. It was a non-fiction book that taught me a lot, but I was so engaged, I didn’t want to put it down. The memoir I Have Lived a Thousand Years was touching. I love books that make me cry, and I Have Lived was definitely one of those.

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The Novel that Every Teen Should Read

Before I Fall Cover

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

From the book blurb on Goodreads:

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

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Six Months of Reading

Cover Collage

Back in June, I shared the first twenty-five books I read in 2017 (if you missed that post, you can check it out here). From July through December I read another twenty-five. The list is pretty heavy on Young Adult (YA) fiction, but I did try (perhaps unsuccessfully) to vary the genres I picked up to read.

Just as before, I had some really amazing surprises. One of the novels was written in verse and published back in 2008. It was so beautiful and tragic and scary and hopeful . . . so many conflicting emotions all at once. I can’t believe it took me ten years to find it (Crank by Ellen Hopkins). There are thrillers on this list . . . fun, easy reads that kept me engaged and turning pages (Little Monsters by Kara Thomas). There are old tales from my childhood that I read out loud with my kids and now understand why, after the decades it’s been since I read them for the first time, I still remembered them so well (Charlotte’s Web and James and the Giant Peach). I still feel the stirring of emotions I had when reading lines from a memoir so poignant that I could probably still quote sentences from the book (I Have Lived a Thousand Years by Livia E. Bitton-Jackson).

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December Favorites (Posts I Love)

Tree Networks Structure Social Media Internet

China:

Beijing Air Quality 2015 to 2017Beijing is notorious for having poor air quality. During our first year of living here, I wrote a blog post about the assumptions I held about the air quality and compared them to the reality I found after moving here. We’ve been here for two and a half years now, and each year, the air quality has improved dramatically. You can see evidence of this by looking at this graphic made by a friend using an air visual app.

Winter is usually the the worst time of year because of all the coal that is burned for heating. When it started to get cold this year, I braced myself for those high AQI days that accompany the cold winter, but they never came. I was feeling pretty proud of China and the new policies they were implementing for cleaning up the air—the results of which were clear. But then I read that China made those changes knowing it would leave a part of their population without any heat during the winter. Justine Lopez writes about it in this article for ThatsBeijing.

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Resolutions 2018

goals

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m against goal setting. I’m one of the most goal-oriented people I know . . . Maybe a little too obsessed with where I’m at and how quickly I’m getting there. The problem I have with New Year’s resolutions is more about not wanting to wait until the New Year to take control of my life or fix my bad habits.

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A Few of My Recent Favorites (Book Reviews)

A Monster Calls Cover

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I love reading Young Adult (YA) fiction, but these books sometimes make me so disgusted that I want to throw them across the room. Yes, there are a million elements that work together to make a book extraordinarily good (or bad), but for me, what draws me or repels me is usually the use of emotion. And it seems that YA books seem to portray emotion either very well or very poorly. If complex human emotions are replaced with melodrama—poorly-justified teenage angst—it makes me want to throw up a little bit. But every so often, there is a YA book that, in the simplest of language, tells a story that leaves me gutted—that turns me into a snotty mess and gives me a new appreciation for the unanswered questions and the hard truths and gray areas of life that youth (and adults) wrestle with as they discover who they are or want to be.

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