Saturday, November 27, 2010

Clashing Cultures

Growing up in two worlds, I had never really thought much about it – the world being full of sound. As I watch my roommates talk to their family and friends on the phone with ease, I am jealous. Envious of the fact that they are able to easily communicate in so many situations. On Wednesday nights, we tend to go to the local bar, Humphrey’s, for Pennies night. The crazy, chaotic atmosphere provides good times for all, but it is simply another challenge I have to get through. Even though I always have a good time, I am rarely at ease with myself. Every waking second, I am working hard to keep up with the hearing world. There is no sense of true belonging. When I am with my hearing friends, I often think about how the situation would be so different if everyone was deaf and signed. When I am with my deaf friends, I wonder how my hearing friends are and desire to be with them as well. It truly is remarkable, the fact that I can easily cross between the two worlds. But it is lonesome most of the time.

Although I have always interacted with hearing people, I did not live with one until my freshman year of college. It was quite the experience at first. I had anticipated frustrations, challenges and lots of awkward moments. Needless to say, it was not what I had expected. Haley and I lived with mutual respect and understanding. Communication was generally very easy and superficial. My sophomore roommate, Caroline was a bit different. Even though we are great friends, living with her was not quite what I had expected. I think this time, it had to do with the living environment. We had a wall that split our room into two. She had her space and I had mine. And we lived in the dorms. So it wasn’t necessarily living together. We also had different circles of friends.

This year is the year that has really put things into perspective. Hearing people are so fascinating! My roommates, Mary Beth and Sarah both are huge fans of music and in particular, Taylor Swift. They play music as much as they can, especially when cooking or eating or pretty much anytime they’re in the apartment. Sometimes I feel a bit left out watching them belt out the words to the song. Living with two hearing people certainly is different than living with one hearing person. The conversations are a bit faster paced but lively. They have unknowingly made me a better listener. As they converse, I work hard to read their lips and listen. Externally, it may seem that I am listening as intently as I always have, but internally, I struggle. It is not their fault; it’s just the way things are.

I’ll admit that I was nervous about living with them. I realize that I require a bit more attention and help than the average roommate. Initially, I did not want to test their patience, see how much of my deafness they could handle. Fortunately, I was being ridiculous. My worries and fears diminished the second I felt their warm welcome.

Living with a deaf family has its advantages, staying up late and making as much noise possible are two of the great advantages. Mary Beth and I had a bit of a squabble about the annoying things we did. I would close the door a bit too loudly in the morning when I would go off to class and she would turn on the bathroom light when I was headed to bed. So far, these mini issues have been fixed.

Funny story – Apparently, I brush my teeth in a very weird way. I brush my teeth in a certain way which doesn’t seem normal. According to my roommates, it sounds very circular and slow, much unlike theirs. It was then when I realized that I had learned things in a completely different way. Most children learn certain things such as teeth brushing through sound and model it as they heard it whereas I did not.

These lovely ladies have changed my life so much over such a short period of time. I owe them much gratitude. I cannot believe a semester has already flown by. Each day I spend with them, I feel incredibly lucky. Recently, I noticed Sarah becoming more conscious of how to make things easier for me in terms of communication. We were walking back from the BSC with another friend and he was telling a story. Sarah walked in between me and him, suddenly, she walked over to the other side of our friend because she knew it would make it easier for me to lip read Geoff. While that moment may seem like a typical thing to her, it meant the world to me. That single act of kindness showed me the trueness of our friendship. Mary Beth has always been such a great friend of mine, but it seems that living with her has strengthened that bond. Both Mary Beth and Sarah have been learning sign language throughout the semester and it has been so much fun signing with them. When we go out with multiple friends and I get lost in the craziness of things, I know I can look over to one of them and they would rescue me. For that, I am forever grateful. I will always hold them dear to my heart, no matter what happens in the future. They truly are amazing, beautiful, and wonderfully weird women. I am proud to call them my roommates and great friends.

In the words of Winnie the Pooh “If you live to be 100, I hope I live 100 minus 1 day, so I never have to live without you.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Consequences of an Olympic Dream

A year ago today, my teammates and I stood on the Olympic platform before the world, recognized as champions. The feeling was incredible, phenomenal, and unexplainable. We had worked extremely hard to get to that place. We were united, though from different walks in life, contrasting lifestyles, and diverse philosophy. When we fell, we picked each other up and carried each other. The Deaflympics were brutal, bloody, painful, but glorious. I walked away with more confidence and pride in myself, my teammates, my coaches, and my country. I will never forget.

Today, as I sit in my classes, listen to my professors lecture about philosophy, media, and society; I yearn to be back in Taiwan, celebrating with my teammates, feeling on top of the world. I really do miss it. The realization of a dream happens in the blink of an eye. It lasts a moment and then it’s gone, part of the past. A lifetime of training and sacrifices were confined into this one moment. What a life changing moment it was. I look at the world differently, I see myself differently, I observe people differently. That day changed me forever. On September 14, 2009 I had done two things, I achieved my dream and I destroyed my dream. No one ever thinks about what happens after the dream is accomplished. We always think about getting there and being happy once the journey is over. We definitely do not think about what happens afterwards.

The aftermath was, in short, confusing for me. I had lost myself; I did not know what to dream about anymore. The Olympic dream took over my life. I had sacrificed everything for it and did not think about what to do after. I still don’t know what my new dream is. It is perplexing; I don’t know what to sacrifice for, why to live, how to create a new dream. It is all new to me and I ache for that moment of clarity and achievement I had in Taiwan with my teammates.

The gold medal currently sits in my room, on my desk, safe in its wooden box, collecting dust. The pictures have become permanently imprinted in my mind, every time I close my eyes, I see the smiling faces of my wonderful teammates celebrating, crying and laughing. Don’t get me wrong, life after Taiwan has been amazing. Studying abroad expanded my horizons so much more and I would never trade any of my experiences for a billion dollars. But nothing beats the Olympic dream I spent 21 years chasing.

I never imagined the glorious feeling I would share with my teammates, we are forever linked because of that. Though we have been apart for a year now, I still carry them in my heart and hope for a happy reunion in the near future.

A year ago today, my team and I smiled proudly with tears and sweat streaming down our faces as we watched the flag rise, what a powerful moment.

I miss you Team USA 2009!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Cheerio London!

Looking back on the past four months of my life, I cannot believe how much I have experienced and grown. I do not look at the world the same way I did when I first started my semester abroad.

The experiences have enriched my life in multiple ways, stretching my horizon as far as the eye can see. My comfort zone has changed completely. In a way, I believe I gained so much more independence, more than I had ever anticipated. My life in London is completely different from the life I had growing up in the US. I am more comfortable with myself, especially with traveling and exploring by myself. I know exactly what I can do, thanks to the multiple experiences I have gained. The London Underground, aka the Tube, will always be one of my favorite means of transportation. It is a symbol of my newly found independence. When I was on my 10 hour flight back home, I thought about how I was going to be able to continue the lifestyle I had adapted to. Honestly, it really is not easy to figure out. The public transportation system in Colorado compared to Europe stinks.

The cultural shock affected my perspective of people, their lifestyles and ideals. Granted, I did embarrass myself in front of suave Europeans. But, I definitely learned how to listen and learn more about cultures and people. It is truly amazing how much there is to see in the world and how many people there are to meet. Every person I met along my journeys across Western Europe has affected me, whether it was in a small or big way. I am thankful for each person because it helped change my life. Brit-speak eventually became a language I easily understood and actually applied to my everyday language. I think I have absorbed a bit of the British accent, I can say a few words with a flawless accent and I am quite proud of that fact!
Academically, I struggle in the beginning. Regents College (pictured above) tends to fall into the British methods. The British education system and methods are quite the polar opposites compared to the American version. Basically, the Brits like to have 2-3 hour classes once a week and assign at least a gazillion pages to read for the next class. Each class is based on lectures that expand from the readings. Luckily, I did not have these complete British classes. My classes had the British mindset, but I was not assigned to a weekly gazillion pages reading assignment. However, my professors did not do what American professors tend to do: review our reading assignments and discuss. They expanded off of what we were expected to read. I did not do well assimilating into this education mindset. The grading system is also completely different. A 70 and above is considered an A, if one were to get a 80 or 90, it is considered perfect. When I got my first paper back with a 75 on it, I freaked out a bit. My professor found this funny and explained that my paper was essentially an A. Thankfully, I was able to work my way through to the end and I did just fine.

Above is a river within Regents Park, it is one of the rivers I saw everyday. I enjoyed watching the beauty grow through the winter into spring. The animals clearly prefer spring over winter. Below is one of the many squirrels that live in Regents Park. They are massive and psychotic, but definitely fun to watch.
You know you are in a royal park when you see one of the royal gates at the ends of the park. The gates symbolize the majestic reign of the monarch family.
The last few days in London were somber. I did some last minute sight seeing and walks around Regents Park, one of my favorite London spots. When I returned from Switzerland, a few of my friends remained in London and at Regents College. Sadly, I had to say goodbye so soon because they were leaving the following day. Since school was out and the dorms were being filled by summer school students, I was not able to stay at the dorms for the last nights. Thankfully, two good friends of my family opened their home to me. Mark, a friend of my dad from high school and his wife Melissa were absolutely fantastic.

Angel in the Fields was one of the many pubs my friends and I enjoyed meeting up and hanging out. It really is a one of a kind pub. I miss it.

When I returned back to the US, one of the most common questions asked were "Which country is your favorite?" I know that I have said so much about each place I visited and each time I said that I loved the country more than the last one. No matter where I went, the grass was always greener. Even though I went to so many fabulous places and spent hours exploring in each place, there is no way to see it all. Don't get me wrong, I am beyond grateful for being able to experience everything I experienced in the past four months.

Above is one of the roads the lead to Regents College and Regents Park. I frequented this road nearly everyday. Below is one of the last pictures I took of London, the bridge is Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic bridges in the world.

Four months in Europe, that's all it took. Four months in Europe changed my life, my perspective of how the world works and what makes it spin round and round. I can only wait until my return to Europe. I hope it is sooner, rather than later.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finding Neverland in Switzerland

To celebrate the end of a challenging semester, I took a trip to Switzerland, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Before coming out to study abroad in Europe, I knew I wanted to see Switzerland at some point. It had always been a desire of mine to see this country which holds such a strong and solid reputation. I made the decision to go to Switzerland by myself because I wanted to have some time to myself and to learn more about myself as well as how I do in different environments.
I spent the night before having last pints with friends and saying goodbyes. It was not an easy night. Most of the people I met out here are really awesome people. They all changed the way I see things now. My flight was too dang early the next morning, but I wanted to make sure I made the most out of the 6 days I had in Switzerland. I did not know what to expect, I was putting myself in a very interesting situation, I was going to a country where English is not a national language and I had no idea what to expect. It was going to be an adventure of the semester, 2 1/2 days in Geneva and 3 1/2 days in Interlaken.

Mary, a friend of my family, picked me up at the airport and whisked me around Geneva for a little bit. She told me several interesting things about Switzerland: it is nearly impossible to have a house, most people rent a house or live in apartments. In fact, most of her friends (Mary is a mother of two teenagers-just to give you an idea of where she is in life) live in apartments. The Swiss tend to stick to the "Less is more" philosophy. There are no slums or "bad areas" in Switzerland. Everything is beautiful and up to government standards. Everything costs three times as much as it would in the states (this shocked me too). Mary took me out to lunch at a restaurant right by the gorgeous lake. We had this luscious fish, fresh from the lake!) and delicious salad. I knew it was the beginning of a very appetizing week. After lunch, Mary needed some time to work on her projects, so I got on a boat and went to the other side of the lake to visit a small town called Yvoire. This small town happens to be in this meant I was just, you know, taking a 20 minute boat trip to France for a quick look around and some big deal.

The picture above is her backyard, what appears to be yellow flowers are actually rape seeds (yes, rape) and the house in the back is in France, so according to my passport, I have been to France once, but I really have been to France twice!

Lake Geneva is absolutely beautiful, unfortunately it was cloudy most of the time, so I was unable to really capture the beauty of the lake and the mountains in the background. There were beautiful lilac flowers everywhere near the lake, the purple was so rich, it made the sky so much bluer.

Yvoire is charming, tiny and beautiful. It is filled with all kinds of small shops and cute homes. I felt like I was in a whole different part of France compared to Paris. It truly was the French countryside.

The castle looking tower was the first thing I saw in Yvoire, or at least, I thought it was a castle. Below is another picture of the same castle looking tower with Switzerland on the other side of the lake...pretty sweet huh?
I pictured Europe as a continent filled with quaint villages and shops like the picture below. Yvoire was full of them and it felt like I was in a completely different world.

Mary is a very busy woman, she is involved with several charities and churches and it is incredible how she is able to attend meetings, organize fundraisers whilst being supermom to her family. Since she was unable to take me around Geneva, she arranged a lunch for me with a guy named Ibrahim the next day. I'll admit I was a bit nervous about Mary leaving me with this guy whom neither of us had met before...yeaahhh. It turned out really well actually. Ibrahim is very cool and really impressive. I enjoyed lunch with him and he gave excellent suggestions on where to go in the city of Geneva. After lunch, Ibrahim went off to work and I was left alone, in Geneva where the language is French and every fourth person speaks English. There are three official languages in Switzerland: Swiss-French, Swiss-German and Italian, so that meant that I was in a country where English was not exactly everywhere. And I sort of kind of did not have a map. I had a google map of the town to use as a rough guide. I wandered around Geneva, climbing and ascending hilly streets, finding all kinds of fascinating statues, windows with shutters, and unique architecture.

There are quite a few parking spaces designated for bicycles and mopeds. When I saw my first one, I thought I was in Taiwan again. Confused, I looked around to see if there were any Taiwanese signs or delicious chicken dumpling carts. During my semester abroad I have learned that no matter where you go, there are all kinds of interesting people, especially when you go downtown. There was a guy walking around with a musical cart with his cat sleeping in the front. Nervously, I walked by him and turned around quickly, snapped a quick shot and then walked away as quickly as I could.

Mary had recommended a few places for me to see in Geneva, I figured it was a good place to start. The first place I went to was the Saint Pierre Cathedral, I really did not want to go into another Cathedral and see the same kind of stuff I had seen all semester. It's a good thing I went anyway because this cathedral had the most interesting basement! Yes, that's right, basement. I went down to the foundation of the church and amazingly, the church had been built upon another church upon church upon church, FOUR churches in total. Really fascinating stuff. My jaw dropped as I walked around, reading about the structures and history behind it. It became an archaeological dig when it was first discovered and there were several different cultures that built the churches. After picking up my dropped jaw, I went to see another suggested place, the Reformation Wall.

The entrance of the church was not exactly what I had pictured. It appeared to have a dominant Greek theme. The stained glass was absolutely stunning. I never get tired looking at stained glass in various churches. I think it is amazing how beautiful the colors are when the sun shines through. It is one of my favorite characteristics of churches.

St. Peter's has quite an history, there are several churches underneath the present church. People are currently theorizing the lifestyles of those who once walked through the halls of the churches. I thought it was eerie how several churches had been built upon each other, the thought of what lies beneath brings goosebumps to my skin.

For those who don't really know anything about religion or in particular Catholicism and protestantism, the Reformation actually took place in Geneva, a man named John Calvin took a stand and began a huge Reformation movement. It changed the world and created more branches of Christianity. To commemorate the huge impact this movement had, Geneva set up a huge wall near the University of Geneva and called it (they were really creative with naming it) the Reformation Wall! Ta da! :) There are several famous figures of people who changed religion somehow on the wall. Oliver Cromwell is one of the few men who are on it.

Surprisingly, there is a world famous flower clock and it is quite popular with tourists, especially those who like flowers and those who tend to snap pictures like their life depends on it (I hope you know who I am talking about). I kinda like flowers and thought I'd see why it's so famous....really, it is just a clock that ticks and there are flowers that mark the numbers of the clock...whoo hoo. However, it is beautiful and was worth taking a look see, just once.

I did not realize how much time had passed because I had been walking around all over town, taking all kinds of pictures of the (as Mary calls it) "ugly" Swiss architecture. I actually thought it was so cool because nearly every single building has shutters on all of its screamed European to me. When I finally checked my phone, it was already 5ish and Mary had said something about meeting sometime before 6. I had two texts from her asking what time to meet and where. I started a text and sent it....but it wouldn't send! I tried several times aaaannnnddd nothing! So, I looked at the situation: I am in Switzerland by myself with a phone that has full power but is absolutely worthless and every fourth person speaks English and to top it all, I can barely understand anyone (go figure)...surprisingly, I didn't panic. I just pulled out my google map and saw that there was a train station up ahead of the road and I walked in the direction of the train station. While walking there, I thought up different possibilities of how to reach Mary or how to get to her house. Thankfully, I am quite resourceful :) I ended up going to a phone store and told my story to one of the salespeople. Naturally, I used the deaf card to pull some heartstrings and gain sympathy ;) The phone salesperson called Mary and told her to meet me at the train station at 6pm in Nyon (a village near her home). I hopped on the train and found her waiting for me in the parking lot. I learned a lot about myself during this whole experience: 1) I really don't freak out easily and 2) I really love my deaf card! When I got into the car, Mary had this look on her face, she was so impressed with how I handled myself and could not believe how calm I was. I really am impressed with how I handled everything as well. I am surprised how I didn't freak out or anything. Chalk one up for me!

The third day in Switzerland was memorable, Mary remembered that in a town called Lausanne was a pretty significant museum. Can you guess what this museum is? Mary described the museum to see if I could guess. IT IS THE OFFICIAL OLYMPIC MUSEUM! I got so excited and could not sleep the night before. Lausanne, by luck, is on the way to Interlaken. So, instead of going straight to Interlaken, I stopped over in Lausanne to see this wonderful museum.

I had absolutely no idea the Olympic Museum was actually in Switzerland...I know, me, one of the ultimate sports freaks you'll ever meet, no idea whatsoever. When I first saw the museum, I could not stop smiling. I felt like I had found my holy grail. I was as giddy as a school girl. I ran up the steps, into the reception area, startling some of the employees, and smiled this big smile. Clearly, I was excited to see my temple of sports. I went up to the counter and asked for a ticket, student admission. As I was about to pay, I realized....hmm maybe I could try my Olympic card to get in free. So I asked the woman about their paralympic exhibition and she told me a little bit about where it was and then I asked, " there anything about the Deaflympics?" The look she had on her face...oh I wish I had a camera because she looked like a deer caught in headlights. She had absolutely no idea what I was talking about and I was not surprised, naturally. I explained that she wasn't the first person and explained a little bit about it. She asked why I had asked and I said "Oh, I competed in the most recent Deaflympic Games last September for USA in soccer." Her eyebrows rose and she asked how my team did and I said casually "Oh, we won gold. I have a gold medal for women's soccer." I swear this woman's eyebrows could not have gone any higher. The employees who were nearby turned their heads and looked at me with a look of shock. She asked if I had the medal with me and I replied "haha no, it's at home, collecting dust." She was in disbelief and couldn't say anything more. I could tell she was embarrassed about the fact that she had never heard of the Deaflympics and she was being told by an Olympian about it. I really was not surprised but I was disappointed. And no, the Olympian card did not get me free access, but it did get me some extra attention.

At the entrance of my sports temple, there is a high jump thingy. I thought about attempting a jump, but it was at world record height and knowing me, if I had tried, I would have definitely either embarrassed myself to the extreme or gone to the ER. The possible outcomes were not desirable so instead, I just walked under it.

The exhibitions were amazing, I felt all kinds of emotions as I looked at the torches, pictures, MEDALS and video clips. There were several films that were playing, I went in one of them. This one was about the emotions of the Olympics, which meant they showed the hardships of training, the look of triumph and defeat. I'll admit that I cried, tears streamed from my eyes as I watched the athletes' faces shine when they knew they had won the battle and when they received their medals. I thought of my team and realized how much I had missed them. I wanted so badly to text/e-mail all of them and tell them how much I love them. Sadly, I was not able to do that. I really miss them and that video made me realize that. It was so awesome to be able to relate to the athletes in the video. I know exactly what it feels like to stand on that podium and wave to the crowd as the world's champion(s). It is an incredible feeling that will always stay with me.

I was extremely shocked and disappointed with how small the Paralympic exhibition was, it was TINY. If I wasn't so immersed with everything, I would have easily missed it. The museum will be hearing from me sometime soon...hopefully I can make them think twice about their Paralympic exhibition and perhaps add an exhibition recognizing the Deaflympics.

My journey to Interlaken was quite easy, I had one minor bump though. I had to change trains in Bern and I nearly missed it. I must have been emotionally drained from the Olympic Museum, I fell asleep on the train and if it weren't for the guy sitting across from me, who knows where I might have ended up? Oops...
On the way to Interlaken, I made a friend! I do not know his name, but he surely was not too shy to come by and say hello. It made my train ride :)

The hotel I stayed at was incredibly cute and small and by chance, there was a mexican restaurant in it and by luck, it was actually pretty good mexican food! FINALLY! :) Swiss keys are really interesting....they are not quite like British or American keys.

I would like to say the picture below was the view I had from my room, but I would be lying. I had a nice view of another building, haha. Interlaken is a beautiful town, it reminded me a lot of Denver. Although the Swiss Alps are much closer and up close than the Rocky Mountains. If I weren't so used to mountains, I would have thought the Alps were incredibly all-up-in-your-face.

I started my Interlaken adventure bright and early Thursday. I went up to Wengen, a ski area where the next Ski World Cup is to take place!! Mary had suggested a few places to visit and Wengen was one of them. (Side note: I learned the hard way that in Europe, especially in Germany and the German part of Switzerland, people don't say their Ws, Wengen is pronounced with a 'V' in replace of the 'W') I got to the town thinking I was going to see a ton of interesting things and nope. Everything was closed and no one was walking around town. It appeared deserted. I went to the tourist information office and asked about the Ice Palace I had heard about. Apparently it is not in Wengen, but it is in Jungfrau. Naively, I went to the train station and bought a ticket to Jungfrau. The woman gave me the price and I nearly fell backwards, it was 149 CHF!!!! I asked why and she said it was because Jungfrau is the top of Europe (big whoop) and it just is expensive. So, I swallowed my pride and bought the ticket hoping I had made the right choice. The train ride up was so freaking long, I think it was an hour long. I had to change trains a couple times, and there were so many stops. Eventually, I made it up to to the Top of Europe. There was so much to do up there and it was all included in the ticket price, which helped me realize why it was 149 CHF. Duhhhh....

I noticed that most of the churches in Switzerland, in particular, up in the mountains have a similar strucutre. I think it is really cute and beautiful, especially with the invasive and overpower alps in the background.
The waterfall is not in Wengen, it is in Lauterbrunnen, one of the villages where I had to swtich trains. This waterfall is one of the famous ones in Switzerland. Apparently there are a lot of art work and pictures of this particular waterfall. It is massive, I could not get a picture of the entire thing.
I did not haev a clue to how small Wenegen is until I rode up the mountain on the train and looked back down. Below is a picture of what appears to be the peak of Jungfrau. Do not be fooled, this was actually at the 2/3 mark of my journey to Jungfrau.
Here is the view I paid 149 CHF for! Well worth it, wouldn't you say? :)

The ice palace was pretty cool, I liked sliding all over the place :) There was a plateau that allowed people to go outside and see the sights...well, since it was really cloudy, all you could see was snow and white...that was about it. Nevertheless, I went outside and walked about the snow squinted to see if I could see any peaks, no luck. BUT, I did see quite a few people wipe out. There was a big population of Indian and Asian tourists who had absolutely no idea or experience of how to walk on snow. So, their wipe outs were really funny and I tried really hard not to laugh or even snicker. I failed....and let's just say, I didn't make any friends up there. The ride back down was really long. The whole trip actually took up the entire day! geez!

For make sure I did one of the must-do-when-you-are-in-Switzerland thing, I had fondue!!!! It was absolutely delicious and I could not have enough of it. Interestingly, there are not quite as many choices with fondue in Switzerland as there are in America...the Melting Pot really tops it all. Still, the fondue was excellent and stinky and I went to sleep with a happy stomach.

Friday was probably my favorite day. One of the main reasons I picked Interlaken to visit is because of its extreme sport reputation. It is one of the best places to do all kinds of things such as paragliding, skydiving, zorbing and all that know, things I LOVE TO DO :) I started Friday morning with paragliding. Comparing paragliding to skydiving is like comparing David to Goliath, paragliding is extremely relaxing. I felt like a bird gliding through the clouds. It was a great way to start the day. I wanted to feel the adrenaline pump in my blood and paragliding was not thrilling enough, so I signed up for bungee jumping :) The appointment was set at 4pm. I had a lot of time to kill before 4, so I did some shopping and bought too much Swiss chocolate (it really is that good). I also had some lunch up on Harder Kulm, a very small peak near the town of Interlaken. It was great eating up there, looking down on Interlaken and seeing all the things I had already seen earlier from paragliding.

The hill in the picture above is the hill we ran off to take flight. As you can see, it was cloudy. However, on the plus side, I had always wanted to fly through clouds. So, no complaints from me!
Harder Kulm has a train that takes people up to the top for lunch. It is a great way to see trees :) Below is the view I had from my lunch table, pretty sweet eh?

4pm came up before I knew it...I really was nervous because I had no idea what to expect from bungee jumping, except for the fact that my life would be hanging on a rubber band. The guy - he looked like the typical extreme-sports-are-my-life-and-I-know-what-I-am-doing kind of guy- from Alpin Raft came to the hotel, picked me up. There were two other people in the van waiting for me. I started talking to them and it just so happens that these people are from Highlands Ranch, COLORADO!! My first Colorado people since my family's visit. It helped with all of our nerves. We didn't get to the canyon for a while though. There were several other people who were being picked up and we were finally on our way by 5:45ish. The drive up was really nice, we got to see some nice country/mountain side. Side not: there are a lot of cows in Switzerland...a lot. It probably is their national animal or something.

When my fellow Coloradoans met the other people who were canyon jumping (something very similar to bungee jumping, only instead of being yanked back up, it's a giant swing), they realized that they would get their money's worth from Canyon jumping and switched over from bungee jumping. They convinced me that canyon jumping was so much more intense and it didn't take much to convince me. So, instead of bungee jumping, I went canyon jumping. It was exhilarating. I really really enjoyed it thoroughly and I only wish I could have gone a thousand more times. Basically, you are on a platform at one end of the canyon and you jump off that platform feet first. You free fall about 2/3rds of the way and finally, the rope catches you and you really take off, swinging across the canyon. It really is a liberating experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I don't know if you can see the platform I jumped off, but it is the white thing near the top of the canyon on the left side. Best of luck finding it!

I met some of the coolest people during this whole thing. Everyone was from all over, some were military, some were roadies (one is working for Whitney Houston and her current European tour!), and those Coloradoans really helped make it all that much better. I ended up hanging out with the roadie and the military guys afterward.

My last full day in Interlaken was quite busy. I went to Kandersteg, another ski resort place that was about an hour and half away from Interlaken. The train ride up to Kandersteg was amazing, the view of the mountains were just mind blowing. These Swiss Alps are not what I had expected, they truly stand on their own, apart from the Rocky Mountains. It's interesting, I thought I had seen it all when it came to mountains and Switzerland proved me wrong. I definitely have a lot more to see, especially Mount Everest...perhaps one day?
I mentioned the massive population of cows and the possibility of cows being the national animal of Switzerland, well the picture above is a picture of the cow bells that are supposed to hang from their necks. There are several places that hang these bells and when the wind breezes through, it makes that sound that may or may not annoy some people :)
The picture above is the best ski run I could find. I am still trying to visualize what it would look like in the winter. The ski runs have a very different terrain compared to the ski runs I am used to. In other words, I was confused when I was trying to figure out what was actually a ski run and what was not.

The biggest thing I wanted to do in Kandersteg was see the famous Oeschinensee, a lake up in the middle of the mountains. Mary raved about how beautiful it is and I knew I just had to see it. The hike from the gondola to the lake was great, I was able to see some of the ski runs. I'm telling you, I have skied all my life, I know what a ski run looks like, even in the summer and in Switzerland, I could not figure out what was a ski run and what was not. The structure is completely different! Oeschinensee was well worth it. As I hiked on the trail, the Alps were incredibly huge and I could not get enough pictures of it, in fact, I could not get a couple peaks in one frame, they are that big. The lake shimmered with icy blue beauty. The mountains towered over the lake, giving off a powerful feeling of shelter. There are so many waterfalls in Switzerland, in this lake area alone, there were about 6 or 7 of them. The lake appeared fairly small, I had anticipated a much bigger lake. Apparently, the waterfalls come from the snow capped peaks of the alps and will fill up the lake to its fullest size as the summer goes on. I guess I'll have to come back! (Oh, what a bummer....I have to go back to Switzerland...ugh haha).
As I hiked back to the gondola, I nearly killed a living creature. It scared the heck out of me. I was trying to beat the rain and this poor poor creature just happened to be in my path and good thing I was looking down before I stepped or else there would have been an ugly swishy/cracky sound. It was a snail! A really big one too! I've never seen one so big and pretty before and naturally, I took a lot of pictures. I probably scared it with my camera and heavy breathing. Yes, I got down on my knees and took a ton of close up shots.

As I traveled through Switzerland I noticed that there are four flags that tend to appear everywhere. One is the national flag of Switzerland and I believe the other three are flags that recognize the different cultural parts of Switzerland: Swiss-German, Swiss-French and Swiss-Italian.

When I headed back to Interlaken, the sun finally came out! Oh, I forgot to mention, the weather was awful the entire time I was there. It was cloudy, cold and rainy at some But, the sun shone at least once and that was good enough for me. I decided to take advantage and went paragliding again :) It really was beautiful and worth every penny.
To get to the liftoff site, we have to take a short hike. The view is breathtaking, especially when the sun is shining and the clouds are not quite as prominent.
(Above) The exact spot where I ran to take my first paraglide flight, wouldn't you say it was such a big improvement now that the sun shone and the clouds were not hovering?
(Below) Round two of paragliding (that's why I'm holding up two fingers). I know I look pretty cocky, but that's because I deserve to be. :)

By Sunday, I was definitely ready to head back to London. Being alone is great, but only for so long. I am definitely a people person, I like to feed off other people's energy...does that make me a vampire? hmm... Anyways, Mary and her family wanted to take me out to lunch before I went back to London (I had a long layover between my train arrival and flight). Remember how I mentioned how my phone did not work out in Switzerland? Well,that problem arose again. This time, Mary and I had to arrange a meeting time and place and I didn't have access to a computer the entire time in Interlaken. I had been using the computer from the train station to check my emails. I knew I was going to take the early train to Geneva Sunday morning in order to make it back by 11:15ish. On my ticket, it said that the earliest train was 8:52 am and I figured if I got to the train station a little bit before 8:30, I'd have time to check my email one last time to see where to meet Mary. Sunday morning came around, I checked out with no problems and headed over to the station with no difficulties. In fact, I got there at 8:30 on the dot (I got distracted along the way to the station). I checked the train schedule and my stomach nearly dropped out of my butt. The train for Bern (where I had to change to get to Geneva) was coming in 3 minutes and leaving in 6 minutes! I had absolutely no time to check my email nor let Mary know what was going on. I hopped onto the train and brainstormed. When I got to Bern, I realized that I could still receive texts from Mary, so I turned on my phone and there was a text from her asking if 11:30 at the airport would work. Now, my biggest problem was contacting her. My connecting train had already arrived and there was no way I could go to the station, get on a, I decided to use my best trick-the deaf card. I tend to target women when it comes to these situations, it is much easier to pull their sue me.

Since I was in a country where English is not a national language, I had to ask people "Do you speak English?" and asking the Swiss was like insulting them, I felt incredibly stupid asking, but I was trying so hard not to assume that everyone in the whole wide world speaks English, you of those ignorant American stereotypes. When asked the first woman "do you speak English?" I had already insulted her, so when I told her the situation, pulled out the deaf card, pointed at my ear and asked if she could call Mary for me. She looked at me, shook her head and said "um, my phone does not have enough minutes to make a phone call, sorry" and walked off. I turned around and saw her making a phone call....ah the Swiss really are nice people. I decided I'd try again once I got on the train, that way, it would be much more difficult for them to say no, you know, trap them on a moving train type of thing. I spotted a woman wear a lime green outfit and thought to myself "she seems like the kind of person who would care enough to see that I really am not trying to scam people or accidentally insult anyone." She was really nice, spoke little English, but enough for us to understand each other. After I explained everything to her and asked her to call Mary, she said sure and handed me her phone. I said she would have to make th call and then she asked why and I said because I'm deaf (keep in mind I had already told her I am deaf and unable to talk on the phone). She looked so puzzled and asked why I was deaf! WHAT A QUESTION! Haha, I am still laughing about it now. I ended up texting Mary and it all worked out, we set a place. Crazy, crazy people!

The train ride back to Geneva was beautiful. Above is one of my absolutel favorite pictures of one of the lakes near Interlaken (I can't remember the name). Below is the best snapshot I have of the farmland of Switzerland.

Mary and her family took me out to a small restaurant and I had that delicious fish delicy, so good! It was really good to be with a family again, especially on Mother's Day. It was a nice reminder of how much I am looking forward to seeing my family so soon! Below is another picture of Lake Geneva, one of the most prominent lakes in Switzerland.

All in all, Switzerland is awesome. I am glad I went by myself, I think I was able to enjoy it more than I would have if I had gone with a friend. Canyon jumping really highlighted everything, I had wanted to bungee jump for my birthday in Germany and it was not in season. It was an awesome adventure, I felt like I was in Neverland with the lost boys and Peter Pan. I shall return soon because I definitely do not want to grow up :)

Oh, Did I mention? - my family had no idea I went to Switzerland by myself. I can only imagine the reactions they are having after reading this blog.