Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's DR. Froyoyo now (Graduation Weekend)

Graduation was a whirlwind weekend. Not only did I have two ceremonies, my sister was also graduating from Georgetown the same weekend and also had 2 ceremonies to attend, one of them on the same day. My poor family. During my med school graduation ceremony, they left immediately after I was called down and hooded and sped through DC traffic to make my sister's convocation ceremony. To add to matters, some of my aunts and cousins were visiting from China and New Jersey, respectively, and so our house was full for the first time ever. The whole weekend involved one event after another, with my ceremony #1 and her convocation on Thursday, my ceremony #2 and her gala on Friday, a family reunion lunch and her commencement on Saturday, family dinner and then my good-bye party on Saturday night. I even squeezed in some kayaking in Annapolis Sunday. 

Though it was a chaotic and frenzied couple of days, it'll also be a weekend I will never forget (The thousands of pictures that were taken probably help too). It was the last time our med school class would be together, all 160 of us. It was the last time I would see some of my friends in Baltimore. It was the last time I would see my remaining college friends in Maryland, too. It was a time for celebration, but also bittersweet. Unlike when I graduated college, my medical school graduation had a feeling of finality to it, especially since I was moving across the country.
My friends are going all over the country! From left to right, NJ, LA, SF, DC, NC, SF, PA, Baltimore, and NJ

I was so grateful to my friends from both near and far who suffered through my commencement ceremony (with the worst keynote speaker in history) to see me graduate. S is one of my best friends in Baltimore. We met as random roommates on Craigslist but that year turned turned out to be unforgettable because of the lifelong friends I made in that creaky old Victorian. As much as we both have our issues with Bmore, it was still an important chapter of our lives, and I'm glad to have shared it with S. I'm hoping she can join me in the Bay Area soon! 
These guys are some of my oldest and bestest friends in the entire world. R & D especially flew in from Chicago for the weekend to attend my graduation! And J took a day off work and came up from DC as well. These guys have been my sounding board for 12+ years now and I have no doubt will continue to be be wherever in the world we are.
BFF pelicans forever
After the ceremony, we hustled over to the inner harbor for a photoshoot in our graduation garb before everyone scattered with their families. Gotta showcase that $120 cap and gown.

Special shoutout to W who took over my camera and took hundreds of candids, every blogger's dream. Your statistical signifiance might have been low, but the sample size was quite high! And it was fun sorting through my range of facial expressions.

Posing in Davidge hall, or as Maryland likes to brag, the "oldest building continually used for medical education in the US." The first doctors who trained here used to perform dissections and watch lectures from these very seats over 200 years ago.

On the second day of graduation (the first day was just our medical school graduation), the University wide graduation including schools of Pharmacy, Dentistry, PhD, Masters, Nursing, Social Work, and where we officially received our diplomas, we got a pic with our University president!
Again, special thanks to A's dad for being the best photog and getting these pics. Nothin like having not one, but two dads being your personal paparazzo's on your graduation day!
With my dad, or paparazzo #1
The people I spent 99% of my time in med school with!
Last photoshoot on our apartment's roof
My med school besties! So thankful A will be in SF with me. But will miss my roomie C so much!
Redwood love forever
Post-grad toast in A&W's apartment
The whole graduation crew

That evening, I rushed back home in rush hour traffic to get dolled up for Georgetown's senior gala, a celebration for all the Georgetown graduates and their families at DC's Union Station. 
Mommy and me date
After speeding through the DC monuments and waiting in the ridiculous line to get into Union Station, we finally met up with my sister and her roomies.

The next morning, we woke up to a full house as two of my aunts and my cousin and her husband had all arrived from New Jersey (one aunt came from Beijing). Usually it's just my parents, my sister and I in Maryland and with the exception of one cousin and her husband in NJ, our extended family is all in Beijing. So to us, the fact that so many could come down to see us graduate was a big deal. We had our first family reunion brunch nearby and then drove down to DC for JJ's commencement ceremony. 

First ever family reunion celebrating the two graduates

JJ and her best friend/roommate K! And my future roomies in SF (anxiously awaiting your arrival...)

After JJ's ceremony, we went back home for a home cooked meal by my parents to welcome JJ's bf's family to Maryland (they're from Palo Alto) and then I went off to a goodbye party with all of my remaining friends in Maryland. 
In the final months of med school, I haven't kept up with my college friends as much as I should have with all of the away rotations, interviews, and world traveling I was doing. As a result, I hadn't seen some of them for almost a year! 

Thankfully, many of them came out to say goodbye and we had one last night to catch up and go out, College Park style. I'm past the partying phase I went through in college, but something about these guys brings it out of me again. I'm just happy I didn't Yoyo out! 
London friends, 5 years later. Older and wiser perhaps?
Blair forever--K is staying in Baltimore for her ophthalmology residency at Hopkins, that smarty pants.

Andddd then my memory goes blank after this. Not a good start to Dr. Froyo, but at least it was spent in the company of those I love most. Thank you again to everyone who shared in my graduation weekend with me! I'll never forget this weekend (except the night with me vs. R's Honda Accord).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Bear with me for one last Thailand post! 
Luckily, it's a good one. 

Exploring the islands of Thailand in Phang Nga Bay and the Andaman sea were some of my favorite memories from my SE Asia tour. Koh Phi Phi, our last stop, was straight out of a movie (The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio is the most famous movie filmed there) or postcard. I've never seen such clear, tranquil, and nearly deserted beaches before. It helped that is took around 2.5 hours to get there from the mainland (Phuket) and our resort was only accessible by boat...
Songkran on Bangla Road, famous backpackers' road in Phuket 

After recovering from my illness and basically skipping out on Bangkok, I recovered just in time to fly to our last destination, Phuket, at the southern tip of Thailand for some beachside R&R. Phuket was famous for being the resort town devastated in the 2004 tsunami, but it seems like it has made a full recovery. We were there during the lively time of Songkran, Thai New Year, a holiday that has turned into Thais happily soaking each other (and bewildered tourists) with water guns for a whole week. The tradition stems from washing away evil spirits to usher in the New Year, however everyone in Thailand has taken it to a whole new level by stopping all activity, buying super soakers and buckets, riding around on the back of pick up trucks, and spraying each other with ice cold water. It is also the deadliest week in Thailand, with an average of 300 deaths from the amount of drinking and traffic accidents the festivities cause. Locals had no sympathy for anyone who didn't want to get wet, hosing you down mercilessly or pelting you with baby powder, which represents the sins of the past year meant to be washed away with water. I mean, I couldn't even walk next door to the 7-11 without being soaked! At the end of the night, we put on our raincoats to go out and didn't even think about bringing our cameras. While it was fun to experience the madness and chaos of Songkran, I was greatly relieved that Phuket only celebrated it for one day, and that the next day, business resumed as normal.

In Phuket, we stayed in the impressive Burasari Resort, across the street from the beach and facing in towards this sparkling wraparound pool. While our room had some issues, Burasari definitely had the nicest pool and breakfast buffet, with both western and Thai dishes. 

We mainly used Phuket as a base to explore Thailand's well known islands and didn't spend much time in the city itself, which seemed like any other beach town honestly. And full of spring breaker types, mainly Europeans. We signed up for a one day speedboat tour of Phang Nga Bay, where we saw caves, critters, went kayaking, and ultimately I dunked my camera into the ocean. I couldn't let that ruin the trip though, so I carried on with my iPhone. But thank goodness it was at the end of the trip! 
Boarding our speedboat

Kayaking around the James Bond II island

Fresh oysters!! Emi ate them off the rocks and she didn't die of vibrio.

James Bond Island--my last shot before I dunked my camera in the ocean and it died  =(

After reeling in shock the rest of the day, I picked up my iPhone again and resumed taking pictures the next day. We said goodbye to our third musketeer, J, and it was me and Emi once again going to our last and final destination, Koh Phi Phi. We woke up early to take the 2 hour ferry to Phi Phi island, and arrived just as a storm was rolling in.
Once on Phi Phi island, we transferred to another longboat which would take us to our resort. We actually didn't know our resort had pickup included and so were stressing about how we would get to the resort. Would we find a taxi? Hire a boat? Once we deboarded the ferry, we saw a guy holding the sign for our resort and start shrieking in relief (which we have been known to do). The journey in our longboat was actually a rough one, taking twice as long as normal, and because the waves were so strong we had to stop in the middle of the ocean and walk the rest of the way to shore. Needless to say it was the most unique disembarkment I've ever had!
Hotel boys met us out in the ocean and carried our suitcases on their backs!
The guests' turn.
We made it to shore!
On land, the hotel boys continued to carry our luggage into the woods and up a million flights of stairs to our private treehouse. The whole way we were huffing and puffing on the dirt paths just walking it and watching in amazement as the hotel boys scurried along the paths with giant ass suitcases on their backs. At the end, we basically threw money at them for tip, we were so impressed.
Now, our final resort was a bit different. As soon as I heard of Koh Phi Phi and saw pictures of the islands, I knew I wanted to stay in one of their famous treehouses. No air conditioning, no electricity, no keycards, just an outdoor shower, a mosquito net, and the wilderness. Well, at least for one night. While I don't think I could have survived more than one night, we got an unbelievable view from our private porch and hammock, and the ocean was just a few steps below.
Relaxing on our own hammock
So happy and hungry

As soon as we arrived in our resort, we felt like we found paradise on earth and wished we had skipped Phuket and just stayed in Koh Phi Phi longer. We had less than 24 hours on Koh Phi Phi, so we made it a priority to just relax and lay on the beach, finally doing nothing after our nonstop tour of the rest of Asia.
Viking Resort's private beach

Sunset at Viking Nature Resort
That night, we trekked over half an hour in the dark to Koh Phi Phi's downtown area and cash dwindling, had ice cream for our last dinner in Thailand. We walked around for a while and then walked another half hour back to the resort on torch lit paths while getting bit by mosquitoes the whole way back. 

The next morning, we woke up at 6 am, crawled out from under our mosquito net, and hiked over to the beach down the hill to catch the sunrise and sleep on the beach. 
On our way back to our resort for breakfast, we finally got some shots of the colorful longboats KPP is known for. Just like that motivational poster! 

Tempting flyer
Famished from an early rise and swim, we were excited for our resort's generous breakfast (only $5 extra per night!) 

As soon as we finished, we rushed back to the beach again so we could soak up as much as we could before we had to check out just a few hours later. We were literally and calculating how much time we would have on the beach and running over there so we could frolic in the beach one last time.

We <3 KPP
Even though we rushed there and rushed back, I'll always be glad we went back to the beach one last time. I had a lot of favorites on this trip. Favorite hotel was Khmer Mansion Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Favorite skyline was Hong Kong. Favorite food was in Taipei. Favorite pool was Burasari Resort's pool. Favorite overall experience was probably Angor Wat with the four of us girls. But that last morning, laying on that white sand beach with crystal clear water lapping at my feet, cemented Koh Phi Phi as my singular favorite locale on this trip.
I call this my kabuki (mineral sunscreen) face. Waving goodbye to Koh Phi Phi!
After a whirlwind trip back to Phuket (2 hours on the ferry, 1 hour to the airport, freaking out that we might have to check our bags, then relieved when the ticket agent seemed to turn a blind eye), we stumbled onto an awesome lounge for Bangkok Air passengers that apparently only we knew about. With literally no Thai money left, we were miraculously able to enjoy our long wait in comfort with free coffee and hot snacks!
After a quick one hour flight to Bangkok, it was finally time to say goodbye to my traveling buddy and bestie from med school. We were off to separate weddings on opposite coasts of the US, and the flight back was a long, lonely one. But I'm glad we'll always have these photos to document our epic SE Asia adventure. As I'm sitting here, shivering in San Francisco, the start of residency looming over me just three days away, I wish I could go back to this trip so much. I guess we'll have to plan the next one in oh...three years?