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One year ago today, Ben and I were exhausted. It was the day after our wedding and I remember waking up extremely hungover, and trudging my way to our farewell brunch. One year later, I look back on this to be the best year of my life. The Phillies won the World Series (an Altschuler favorite), Obama became our president, I lost my job, I was accepted into graduate school, I officially embarked on a career in writing, I traveled to five countries in Asia over the span of 10 weeks, and most importantly I married my favorite person in the world (click here to see us featured in Utah Bride and Groom magazine). This last year has included major blips in my master plan, but they have turned out to be the best surprises to happen to me yet.Claire in cyclo

I have slacked on my updates of Asia, but I should tell you about our final days in Vietnam. We met up with our Park City friends who have been living and working in Ho Chi Minh City for the past 15 months. They graciously toured us around the city,  showing us the life of an X-Pat, dining at the best restaurants, going for drinks at the chicest bars, shopping at the “real” boutiques and where to land the best bargain. The most exciting part of visiting HCMC (or Saigon as they call the city in ‘Nam) was the cyclo tour.

Make sure to agree upon a price and a few destinations before you head off on your chauffeured cyclo. If you have fears of traffic, this ride is not for you. But if you can brave it, your driver will take you to the grittiest, most interesting parts of Saigon, the real HCMC. We spent almost two hours weaving through the gridlock streets, narrowly escaping the sideswipe of a passing bus. And then it rained, poured, and they wrapped up the cart in rubber sheets, the only hole at eye level. I still managed to get drenched.

We left Vietnam (our favorite SE Asian country) for Siem Reap, Cambodia, a destination we almost skipped, but thankfully we were convinced otherwise by the Four Guys. When we arrived, our $16 a night hotel (Golden Temple Villas) offered a free pick up from the airport. Our Tuk Tuk driver was waiting for us and just when we left the airport, it started to rain, then harder, then the streets flooded and I could only imagine our little motorbike carriage tipping over into the pools of rain. Somehow that didn’t happen, which was a miracle for sure. I guess when everyone told us that it was the rainy season in Asia, they weren’t kidding!

On our first day to see Ankor Wat, a collection of 40 temples spread across 100 km of lush green planes, we hired a Tuk Tuk driver to navigate us to the furthest temple, about 35 km from town. It was nearly deserted and we felt like pioneers discovering ancient ruins for the first time. I have not acquired the vocabulary to describe the majestic quality of Ankor Wat, that is what graduate school will help me to accomplish. I can only tell you that I have seen the Coliseum in Rome and the Great Wall in China and this far surpassed my amazement in what can be accomplished without modern tools and forklifts and cranes. My favorite temple was featured in “Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie, and I know why they chose it for the movie setting. The temple was exquisite but the mountainous trees weaving through the stone like over-sized thread were the centerpiece of the dramatics. If you venture to Ankor Wat, I would also suggest renting bicycles, which we did the second day. We biked to the closer temples, which was a fun, easy ride, but the true excitement came from the children waving from nearby villages, and racing Cambodian teenagers on our bicycles and meeting monks and stopping to watch the wild monkeys jump from the trees into the stream below.Meeting monks

Next post (promise it will be sooner than later) is about Thailand. And more to come about teaching in China!

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Matchmaker, Matchmaker

My first shitach came to fruition. And now you must be wondering what in the h-e-double hockey sticks does shitach mean. Simply, it’s a Yiddish word signifying a set up between two people. And I stand here to declare that my Yenta ways (see Fidler on the Roof) finally paid off. I set two people up, well sort of, and they got married this past weekend.

I should clarify the set up part. I inadvertently got them together by embarrassing one of them into speaking to the other. If I had been allowed to make a speech at the wedding (I think they were afraid I’d embarrass them once again) it would have gone a little like this…

In April 2006, I was in a fratastic bar in the West Village called Fiddlesticks. I was just a few days from moving out west and was enjoying my last moments in New York City with my girlfriends. We found an actual table with chairs in the corner of the bar and proceeded to tell dirty stories, per the usual. But then a boy walked up. Not a douchebag as would be expected from the type of bar we were in, but an actual nice guy and he was cute as well. He was desperately trying to speak with my friend – we’ll call her friend A. She turned her back on him multiple times. He didn’t give up. Instead he made light conversation with friend A’s friends at the table. He and I spoke about snowboarding and I thought, here’s a decent guy who’s intelligent, funny and not a tool. Friend A fiercely ignored him, not because she didn’t like him, but she was used to speaking with idiots and assumed he was the same as all the rest.

I called her out…big time! Out loud, in front of him and the rest of the table, I told her she needed to give him a chance because he was nice, smart and cute…and he has good hair. Both of their mouths dropped open in reaction to my lack of self-filter. But…it worked. She spoke with him…for a while. When she excused herself to the ladies room, I caught her on the way. “Do you like him?” She replied with a few big nods and a smile, one that had been missing for too long. While she was gone, I spoke to the cute guy with good hair. I let him know he was safe to ask for her phone number. He didn’t believe me, but I persuaded him that she would not bite his head off as he presumed.

Not exactly your typically shitach, but one that I can be proud of accomplishing. I sensed integrity in this guy and took a chance on cajoling my friend A into submitting herself to an uncomfortable, but ultimately rewarding, experience. Their wedding this past weekend was fantastic! It was so nice to be with my best friends and completely love and respect the person they chose to be with. That can be a deal breaker, not liking your friend’s person. Luckily, I haven’t been to a wedding in which I didn’t appreciate both parties in the union and I hope I never do.

Next time a matchmaking opportunity arises, go for it. The worst that happens is that it does not work out between them and they hate you. Better luck next round. I will never tell which round this match is!

For your viewing pleasure, a foul-mouthed Jewish number. Don’t feel sad if you need Jewish translation.

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Today is my six-month anniversary of being married and although that is not a long time, I am confident that we are a forever couple. We heard that the first few months of a marriage could be the most problematic. This has not been the case. Since we lived together before we made it official (yes, we are sinners), being married has been exactly the same as being engaged, just without the nightmare of a wedding to plan. But now we have the incessant questions from friends and family about when we will start making lots and lots and lots of babies. In due time, mom and mother-in-law, in due time.

I have been thinking about relationships because I want everyone to have the happiness that I have found. I have not always been lucky in love, quite the contrary. I spent a really long time with someone who brought out the worst in me. And it was amazing how long it took for me to realize that I was a bitch for 5 ½ years. My friends noticed my transition back to normalcy after we broke up. They called me Paula 2005 because I was brand-new starting that year. They’d be like, “Paula 2005 is so much more fun than Paula 2004… we can tease you again and you won’t scratch our eyes out!”

I look at my friends now and we all had a similar path. Dating the wrong guy/girl for too long, then we dated everyone who crossed our path and finally, we found the person who suits us best. I’m at the age of the wedding, and every month I either attend a wedding, get invited to another or hear about a new engagement. It’s frightening and exciting. I look at these friends and think they have truly found their partner in life. This is because they found out the secret: a good relationship should not be that hard. Of course there is compromise in any relationship, but the ones that seem to work the best and last the longest are the easiest to maintain (like a good diet).

In the past, I have been quixotic (note: this is a GRE vocab word and I’m practicing using these words in my writing) about love and pictured the knight in shining armor as a slick-haired metro-sexual, wearing his Gucci suit, raised in Connecticut, working on Wall Street. Hallelujah, Paula 2006 ran away to the mountains! The reality is that I want to spend the rest of my life with one person where everyday is enjoyable, void of argument and more than anything, fun. I wanted the opposite of what my parents had. My parents, after 33 years of a silent marriage, called it quits. Not recently, so hold your “I’m sorry.” Can you imagine living with someone that you don’t want to have a conversation with? What is crazier than that, as a child, I found this behavior normal. However, being that I’m a loquacious (again, GRE) speaker, I found someone to marry who can talk more than me (not impossible, I tell you).

The beautiful thing in life is that the vision of what you think you want pales in comparison to the reality of who you could end up with. My hubby the hippie, with his untamed hair, blithe demeanor and insistence on only wearing flannel, is what I was always looking for, just in a different package than I imagined. He is my favorite.

The video below captures one of the most unique relationships I have ever seen. As the newscaster says, if they can make it work, anyone can.

And just because I cannot stop laughing when I watch this, here’s the latest digital video from Saturday Night Live (bad language kids):

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