Friday, May 31, 2013

Hometown Adventures – O’Leary’s Pub, Danville, Illinois

I’ve been eating at a lot of bad restaurants lately. Not on purpose! O’Leary’s Pub in Danville, Illinois was so bad I had to laugh. I’ve been to O’Leary’s two other times and was indifferent about the place, but I can clearly see the decline that’s taken place the past few years.

For a restaurant that boasts lunch specials and a daily salad bar, O’Leary’s was practically empty at lunchtime. The décor is outdated with various antiques adorning the walls. The booth cushions are filthy with years of crumbs ground into the fabric. I witnessed the waitress cleaning up after a group by slapping a dishtowel repeatedly on the booth. I’m not sure what that did other than spread germs onto the towel, which she then used to wipe down the table.
booths at O'Leary's 
My Great Aunt had a taste for a burger, and the famous O’Leary’s burger has a note on the menu stating to allow 30 minutes for a well-done burger. We joked that they were going to go out back and shoot the cow, because I’m not sure what else could take up 30 minutes for a quarter pound burger patty. She ordered the burger medium-well, and the burger arrived about 20 minutes later completely blackened.

medium well?
She let the waitress know the burger was indeed overcooked and the item was taken off our bill, but I have to wonder why this burger even left the kitchen. On our way out our waitress let us know the chef told her to bring the burger out even though she protested. There is clearly a communication problem among the staff and the blame game is the current way of dealing with conflict.

the lunchtime salad bar 
I ordered the chicken quesadillas and was a bit surprised at the presentation. If I had to take a guess, I think O’Leary’s forgot to add the cheese so just put it on the outside. The quesadillas were served on top of wilted lettuce with a garnish of salsa and sour cream. They tasted ok, but the dirty appearance of the restaurant made me hesitant to dive right in.
inside out quesadillas! 
My mom’s chili arrived with a standard pack of oyster crackers on the side. The beef chili was mostly beans with one exceptionally large chunk of meat. 
is that a meatball? 

I looked longingly out the window at the Steak & Shake across the street, wishing I was there enjoying my lunch. O’Leary’s has clearly deteriorated over the years and needs a big overhaul to compete with all the chains popping up in Danville. Yelp reviews show that I’m not the only one that feels this way:
dining area 

Has anyone else noticed these changes at O’Leary’s? 

Find me:

3540 N Vermilion St
Danville, IL 61832
(217) 442-1485

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Look Inside my Thai Apartment

For anyone looking to rent in Thailand, here’s a look at my extremely basic Thai apartment. It was a first floor walkup with one main room, a small balcony for drying clothes and a bathroom. Most rentals won’t come with a kitchen since everyone eats out. I made due with a hot water pot and mini fridge just fine. The green glow throughout the apartment is due to the light reflecting off the green curtains. Let’s go on a tour!
the outside

My sleeping area consisted of two rock-hard “beds” complete with what resembled couch cushions adorned with teddy bears. My apartment earned the named of Bear's House right away.
welcome to Bear's House!
 Beds in Thailand are notoriously hard, but I’d never seen a bed like this. I’m pretty sure I pinched a nerve in my back from spending so many hours on this bed because half of my butt actually went numb for months! And yes, that is a beach towel on top used as a sheet. Thank you CIEE for my included accommodations!

sleeping area
rock-hard bed!
There was a little bit of space to walk around, complete with a desk and wardrobe. I was lucky that I had air conditioning, so heat was never a problem in my small home.
living area
My bathroom included what I like to call a shoilet. This is a shower inside the bathroom that sprays all over the floor and toilet. Great for cleaning purposes, lousy for keeping the toilet seat dry. This is a very typical bathroom and most hotels will have this identical setup.

This was the grossest part of my apartment – the urinal. It was right next to the toilet too so I had to look at it every time I went to the bathroom.
My view was nothing to write home about, but the sounds that came out at night were something special. Cats in heat, dogs barking and geckos that made an, “UHHH OHHH” sound all night. I also had several small lizards that crawled around my apartment that kept the bug population down. 
my view
While I don’t miss my Thai apartment, I certainly created a lot of memories there. From figuring out how to turn the hot water on, learning how to shower without flooding everything to all the times I slipped and fell on the slick floor – I’ll never forget Bear's House. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Travel Photo of the Week - The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters is a rock formation named after an Aboriginal legend in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, Australia. About a two and a half hour drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are an awesome day trip. The views are spectacular and it's about an hour and a half walk to see The Three Sisters. I went to Australia to take a Global Compensation class at the University of Sydney in graduate school, and gave a presentation on designing compensation plans in Thailand for expats. Who knew just three years later I would be living there?!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Restaurant Review - Cooper's Hawk Winery

In the last month, I visited two Cooper’s Hawk Winery locations for bridal showers. I have to say, I don’t understand the appeal of this chain, but I may be the only one as they are opening up several more locations nationwide. I dined at the Arlington Heights and Burr Ridge, Illinois locations and had mediocre dining experiences both times.

When comparing the two locations, the Arlington Heights restaurant has a much better private room. The upstairs of the main dining rooms features a cozy, lofted space ideal for an intimate occasion like a bridal shower. In Burr Ridge, the private room is smack dab in the middle of the restaurant and wall-to-wall windows look out to the parking lot. The bridal shower lunch menus were nearly identical. Both meals started with a Plain ‘Ol House Salad. Their words not mine! Why a restaurant would name one of their salads that is beyond me, but the name was fitting. Wilted lettuce is adorned with a few salty croutons and roughly cut tomatoes. Arlington Heights featured one special ingredient in my salad – a dead fly! Yup, halfway through I found a plain ‘ol house fly. I’ve eaten bugs voluntarily before, but I’m afraid this garnish wasn’t intentional.
flies are not food!
Cooper’s Hawk is not the place to go for a light meal. Entrée portions are huge, sodium-loaded dishes covered in rich sauces. The Chicken Madeira is a monstrous portion of chicken beaten and flattened within an inch of its life smothered in provolone cheese, mashed potatoes and Parmesan.  A wine and butter sauce tops it off along with a few random asparagus spears. At $16.99 it’s not a cheap lunch and I know Banquet has a much more affordable and comparable option.

gotta love a white sauce!
The Soy Ginger Salmon is a slightly more delicate dish. I wish I had asked for the ginger glaze on the side as the salmon was cooked well, but drowned in salt from the sauce. The mashed potatoes on the side were standard, but what really caught me off guard was the Asian Slaw. A football-sized portion of shredded cabbage in yes, more sauce, accompanied the dish. I would be impressed to find someone with a stomach tough enough to digest all that raw vegetation as I could only make it through a few bites before throwing in the towel.

Moving on to dessert! The Cheesecake with Fresh Strawberries is fluffy and moist with a graham cracker crust. This dish was hands down my favorite out of anything I ordered and would recommend the cheesecake over the Cooper’s Hawk Chocolate Cake.  The Chocolate Cake is nothing special, just a giant piece of cake served with a blob of ice cream. Not that anyone needs dessert after a meal at Cooper’s Hawk, but the desserts outshined all the previous courses I tried.  

Something that I didn’t get to sample was the wine menu. I’m curious to hear what anyone has to say on Cooper’s Hawk wine. I did have a glass of Passion Fruit sangria that tasted an awful lot like Kool Aid, but I can’t speak on the rest of the cocktail menu. Cooper’s Hawk is a run of the mill American chain with a longer wine list that I hopefully will not have to visit a third time. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Should You Teach Abroad?

There are a lot of things to consider before you take the leap to teach abroad. When I finally decided to take the plunge and move to Thailand to teach, it was a decisions years in the making. I always had a reason not to go and it took me a long time to understand that there would always be reasons not go. I just had to decide for myself when the time was right. Now that I’m back stateside, I want to share some things to consider before deciding to teach abroad.

  • Do you have a genuine interest in teaching? I’m not asking if you have experience or a degree in education, just whether or not teaching appeals to you. Remember, you are going abroad to teach. Most countries don’t require you to have any teaching experience, but you should have a desire to gain experience. I recommend anyone that doesn’t have teaching experience to volunteer as a tutor/teacher in his or her hometown prior to teaching abroad.
  • Can you afford it? This is one of the biggest factors to consider. Some countries like Korea and China will pay for your airfare and housing, plus offer a generous salary. SE Asia, Europe and South America don’t offer these kinds of perks, but in every country you will need a cushion of savings. You may not get paid until the end of your first month of work, and expenses will add up quickly. Plan on having at least $1,000 available because emergencies can (and do) happen abroad. Besides the obvious expenses abroad, think about the bills you have back home. Student loans? Unpaid medical bills? A mortgage? Bills don’t disappear when you leave the country and a teacher’s salary may not be a feasible way to cover all your expenses.
  • Consider your reasons for wanting to teach abroad. Escaping your ex-boyfriend, hating your job, wanting to get out of your parents house or just having no clue what to do with your life are certainly reasons people leave to teach abroad. Several years ago when I first thought about teaching abroad I was just looking for an escape from my job that I hated. I was at the point where I didn’t care what country I went to, I just wanted out! Looking back, I’m glad I waited until I had money saved up and actually did some research on what country I would be happiest teaching in.
  • Do your homework before picking a country. There are many factors to consider when choosing a country to teach in. I chose Thailand because I wanted to teach somewhere more laid back with great travel opportunities. I thought I hit the jackpot when I found out I was teaching 60km from Bangkok until I realized I was in fact in the middle of nowhere, and with traffic I was still 3 hours away from the city. It’s important to look up average teacher salaries, cost of living, languages spoken and cultural norms. One country may pay a few hundred dollars more, but if you can’t afford food and housing then you’re out of luck.
  • Can you handle being alone? Some schools may be loaded with expat teachers and you’ll have an instant circle of friends in the community. I ended up in a school alone and spent each night in my apartment by myself. There’s no guarantee you will teach with other native speakers or that you’ll have a support system when times get tough. I went into the experience expecting the worst and I knew I could handle lonely nights far away from home. When I was one of the only people at orientation that got placed alone it wasn’t a shock to my system. I was lucky that I made friends to meet up with each weekend, but I could have easily been placed hours away and been forced to entertain myself all weekend as well. Consider the worst possible living situation – if you think you can handle that, you’re probably good to go.

This post wasn’t mean to deter anyone from teaching abroad. Even though I went through a program (CIEE) that organized my school placement and did a lot of the prep work for me, I still faced all of these issues. There were people in the program that went home early because they didn’t like their schools or couldn’t be away from their families. Some participants were shocked when they saw how little money they would earn each month and that weekend beach getaways weren’t possible.

Take the time to make an educated decision about teaching abroad. You should be excited and nervous about leaving, but you shouldn’t feel totally in the dark.

Is there anything I’ve left out? Have questions about teaching abroad? Email me anytime! JuliaKristinSummers{at} gmail {dot} com

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dream Destination - Tokyo

Having passed through the Haneda and Narita airport for layovers, I feel like Japan is begging me to visit. In just the few hours I spent in the airport I fell in love with the culture. Even the airport shops had me hooked! There were rows of Hello Kitty trinkets, handmade gifts and accessories that I could never find in Chicago. Plus the food! I’m a sucker for a good noodle bowl and new flavor of candy. Green tea Kit Kats are by far the best flavor and I don’t know why that flavor hasn’t caught on in America.
enjoying a green tea Kit Kat at Narita airport

In Tokyo I want to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro. This sushi spot was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and is supposed to have the best sushi in the world. I can’t wait to try all the fresh fish and have a true Japanese sushi experience. It’s one of the hardest restaurants to get a reservation so I might as well book it now!

the best sushi in the world?

Now I may sound like I’m living in a fantasy with this, but I also want to swim in the pool at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. This is the hotel from Lost in Translation and I love the scene with Bill Murray going for a dip with the Tokyo skyline surrounding him.

what a magical pool!
I love big cities and enjoy the chaos of swarms of people, bright lights and sounds. From what I’ve read, Kabukichō has more than 3,000 bars and sounds like a crazy spot for a night out.
Kabukichō District 
 From my past experiences in Asia, there is always a lot of culture shock and I like that. I can’t wait to attempt to navigate the Tokyo subway system and wander aimlessely for my next bowl of noodles. Next time I am in the airport in Japan I’m actually going to exit the terminal and let myself get lost in this electric city. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Quick and Nerdy - Singapore

Quick and Nerdy is written by blogger Meanwhile in Thailand and published weekly. 

·       Anthony Bourdain’s favorite city, the unofficial capital of Southeast Asia and the smallest, nicest country this side of San Marino.
The Merlion
·       274 sq. miles, 5.3 million people. Singapore is the third most densely populated country in the world.
·       The former British colony has experience rapid economic growth since the latter half of the twentieth century and is now one of the most developed nations in the world.
·       Malaysia’s Parliament voted 126 to 0 to expel Singapore from Malaysia after the two countries had merged only two years before.
view from the cable cars


·       Angry Birds Cable Cars to Sentosa – Great views of the port and skyline as they take you from the mainland to Sentosa Island and back.
they really are Angry Birds themed
·       Merlion and Marina Bay – the official mascot of Singapore stands in front of the skyline and opposite the Sands Marina Bay Hotel, shaped like a giant cruise ship on top of three sky scrapers.
Sands Marina Bay Hotel
·       The Zoo – exotic animals, a bird park and a night safari.
·       Hawker Stands and Food Centers – there are a lot, it doesn’t matter just pick a few for cheap eats.
·       Chinatown – cheap food, cheap, tacky stuff and all in a manageable, almost well-spaced environment. Plus, all the pork floss you could ever want.
·       The Waves – spiraling walkways at the beach.

Get Around:

·       You can take a cab, if you want, but the MRT is so good that it and your legs can get you anywhere you want on this small island.


·       Seriously do not bring drugs here. There are plenty of other places in the world that tolerate drug use but Singapore does not. You will hear a lot about littering and smoking but most of the time, you see people doing those things anyway. Just probably don’t partake.
·       Oh and it’s not cheap, especially for hotels as space is at a premium.
·       It’s also small but if you need a respite from the rest SE Asia for a bit, this is the place.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Make Date Night a Great Night

Looking for a romantic spot to impress your date, but not totally break the bank? Look no further than Chicago’s Bistronomic. The restaurant is a step from Michigan Avenue, and while some of the nearby establishments may scream tourist trap, Bistronomic is far from it.

The inside is small and cozy with a European feel. French music was playing when I was there which pumped up the romance factor even more for me. Dim lighting, private tables and candlelight also added to the ambience. A great date night restaurant for has to include mood lighting and minimal background noise. There’s nothing worse than shouting to my potential love interest across the table or feeling like the table next to me is on the date with me.

The menu consists of small and medium plates for sharing, and large plates to serve as entrée portions. While I didn’t sample any of the entrees, all the food I had was delicious and something I would order again. I’m obsessed with beet salads and not every restaurant does a beet justice. The chiogga & yellow beet salad is refreshing and the beets were tender.

Pasta is my ultimate comfort food and the Parmesan gnocchi is savory and not rubbery like some gnocchi I’ve had. My favorites were the melt in your mouth ahi tuna and seared scallops with pearl couscous. Even though everything we ordered were medium plates, the portions were plentiful and nothing was over $15.

I’m always happen to discover a restaurant that isn’t a chain in my neighborhood, and it’s an added bonus to find one with great food that leaves me wanting more.

Find me:
840 N. Wabash, Chicago IL 60611
(312) 944-8400

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lost in Translation

Things get lost in translation a lot in Asia. I would often see packaging, t-shirts or signs that took me a second to figure out. The number of vulgar t-shirts I saw on people in Thailand was incredible. I saw a girl in a t-shirt that read "Top Teen Pregnancy Takes it in the Ass" that took me a good month to figure out. Out of the blue I had an aha! moment. Her shirt was supposed to read, "Stop Teen Pregnancy, Take it in the Ass." Lovely. Another favorite was a "Too Fat to Fuck" t-shirt that still amuses me.

I have a rule of thumb where if I don't know for sure what something says I'm not wearing a t-shirt with it on there, tattooing it on my body, or hanging it up on a poster in my house. Some of the signs I encountered were downright laugh out loud worthy without any text at all.  Here are some of my favorites in Asia: 

please don't squat on a seat toilet

The Romantic is certainly beginning! 

Cheap Charlie's in's a well known rule there

I am imagining the shooting!

This was always on the shower caps at my favorite hotel, turns out they are Billy Joel lyrics!

None of that on vans in Bangkok! Wish this rule existed in America.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Travel Photo of the Week

My Mom’s extended family lives in Merida, the capital of Yucatan, Mexico. Merida has a vibrant social scene, beautiful beaches and rich culture. This picture was taken in Celestun, a small fishing town 60 miles southwest of Merida. There are no crowds and an abundance of beaches. We rented a boat in Celestun and before we knew it beautiful pink flamingos surrounded us.   

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review - Red Garden Food Paradise, Penang, Malaysia

Not too long ago I booked a ticket to Penang, Malaysia. I had no clue what to do there, but Air Asia had a cheap flight from Bangkok, and I’m always up for an adventure. I arrived in Penang early in the afternoon and quickly realized there wasn’t much to do. Luckily, I had company so my companion and I grabbed an overpriced beer and sat outside. The only real research I had done on Penang involved watching a clip of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, so eating seemed like the best option.
the view from our room in Penang
 Red Garden Food Paradise was steps away from our hotel and boasted some of the best local hawker stalls so we gave it a shot. I knew a popular dish in Penang was Asam Laska, so we went out in search of this local delicacy. Asam Laska is a sour, fish based noodle soup spiced with chilies. The temperature level can easily range from painfully hot to you aren’t going to leave the hotel room tomorrow hot. Both of our dishes ended up as the second. 
the inside of the market
From pizza, to rice, noodles, chicken and oysters they have it all at the Red Garden Food Paradise. I got a spicy prawn and noodle dish for around $2 USD and my dear travel partner braved the Asam Laksa for about $1.50. I remember the lady cooking even questioned my choice of the spicy prawns, which should have been a dead giveaway that I was going to be in pain soon. The stifling hot weather combined with all the heat from the outdoor stalls, plus the enclosed eating area didn’t make for the most comfortable dining experience. However, cold Tiger beers and freshly squeezed juices are available from waitresses and were a must to cool our burning mouths.
spicy prawn noodles
I would recommend Red Garden Food Paradise to anyone passing through Penang, but be careful about what you order. Both the Asam Laska and the noodles with prawns made both of us sick for a good three days afterwards. While I may be a more adventurous eater compared to some, authentic Malay food must require some training. After 24 hours in bed we were ready to leave for Kuala Lumpur and try our luck somewhere else. I can see why this is a popular tourist spot with the live entertainment and cheap eats, but I would certainly take precautions going forward. I always make a point to try the local cuisine, but if I find myself at Red Garden Food Paradise again I’d pass on the spice, but welcome other (blander) dishes.

Find me: No. 20, Leith Street, 10000 Penang, Malaysia.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Escape from the City

Sometimes I need to escape from Chicago. As much as I love living in a concrete jungle, a break from the city does me a lot of good. I usually board the Amtrak and within an hour of leaving the city, fields of corn and soybeans surround me

There’s grass on the ground, cows lounging lazily in fields and no skyscrapers. It’s easy to forget that a sprawling city like Chicago is still in the heart of the Midwest. For the next few days I’m on a mini (working) vacation in Champaign, Illinois.

What are some sure signs that I’ve left the city for Champaign?

Grass! The grass in my neighborhood is sparse at best and the view from my apartment is unfortunately another person’s window. I love seeing lush acres of grass and feeling the softness beneath my feet.

Flowers! When I step outside in Champaign this time of year I’m greeted with the smell of fresh flowers.  

Trees! I love looking up and seeing trees form a canopy in my backyard.

There also seems to be more wildlife in Champaign. While Chicago’s rat population isn’t going anywhere, I miss squirrels, birds, chipmunks and of course this little sweetie.
Turns out, I need a little nature in my life. The sound of construction outside my bedroom window every morning and the hours spent on my laptop inside my small apartment probably get to me more than I realize. One of the great parts of Chicago is the proximity to peace and quiet. And when I’m ready for the hectic pace of the city again, I’m just a train ride away. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dream Destination - Yanni Live in Concert

I love Yanni. Being Greek, it feels very natural. My roommate in college even bought me a poster of his face for our dorm room wall. For those of you not familiar with Yanni, he is a Greek instrumental musical artist. Yanni is known for having concerts at major historical spots like the Acropolis, the Taj Mahal, China’s Forbidden City and the Burj Khalifa. When I was a gymnast my floor routine music was his song Santorini. Did you know that Yanni Live at the Acropolis is the second highest selling video being Michael Jackson’s Thriller? Clearly, I’m not the only Yanni fan out there!
sooo good! give it a listen!
I want to hear Yanni live in concert in Greece. Of course I don’t know for a fact that he will ever return there, but he tours a lot and I can dream! In the early nineties my parents bought his albums and we would listen to it at the dinner table on a regular basis. I love his music because it is soothing and beautiful. It brings me back to sitting with my family at dinner and the smell of my Mom’s cooking filling up the kitchen.

that mustache!
When I visited Greece with my parents many years ago I remember visiting the Acropolis in Athens and standing in awe for several reasons. I was obviously impressed by the structure and the fact that I was in front of a historical place I had only seen in pictures, but also I was where Yanni had recorded Yanni Live at the Acropolis! (He played at the theatre The Odeon of Herodes Atticus.) I thought of how magical that concert must have been and how everyone there must have felt very special to be there. 
the ultimate concert
I would be happy to attend any Yanni concert, but seeing him in Greece would be incredible. Especially if he played outdoors. And John Stamos was my date. I imagine the warm breeze on my face, the lights of the city around me, and nostalgia taking over as he plays my favorite hits.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quick and Nerdy - Siem Reap, Cambodia

Thanks Meanwhile in Thailand for another great post!

·       The gateway to the ancient city of Angkor Thom and the Angkor Wat temple.

·       The size of Manhattan and with a number of temples that will amaze, there is almost too much to see.
·       A growing, bustling tourist town in the middle of war-torn and scarred country; the reminders of Cambodia’s awful history are everywhere.
·       A lively, touristy downtown area where tourists can gather in the cluster of bars, restaurants and markets. Happy hours can be found for 35 to 50 cents.
·       Cambodia uses the U.S. Dollar as its currency and don’t be surprised when an ATM spits out a hundred (good luck getting change for that). Change, as in coins, comes instead in Cambodia’s currency (Riel), which runs about 4000 KHR to $1.


·       This one is obvious, but, Angkor Wat. The main temple is surrounded by a moat that is nearly 1 km by 1 km, while the main temple is 187 m x 215 m. It’s huge. Go early and see the sunrise behind the tall prangs, then stay and explore while its cool.
·       Angkor Thom – lesser known and often confused with Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom is the ancient city of the Khmer people, complete with an exhausting amount of temples, carvings and ruins.

·       Ta Prohm Temple – this is probably the second most famous temple, outside of the main Angkor Wat, even if you’ve never heard the name. This temple was left unrestored by the French, in order to show what the temples looked like when they were re-discovered in the early 20th century. It’s a beautiful mix where nature runs over and into the ruins, famous for the root covered doorway.

·       There are so many other temples, honestly, do a little research and pick a few that interest you and explore.
·       Angkor Museum – it’s a little pricey but air-conditioned and extremely thorough.
·       Land Mine museum – It’s on the way back from Bantreay Srei (a set of carvings in the stone of a flowing river at the top of a challenging hike) and it’s educational, informative and you can feel good about spending money there since the museum supports an orphanage.

Landmine Museum

Get Around:

·       Siem Reap is just a few miles away from Angkor Archaeological Park and most of the main temples, but you can hire a driver of a tuk tuk ($10-$15/day) or a car ($20 - $30). They will know where all the temples are and can give you a slice of history, as well as current Cambodian life. You can also rent bicycles or scooters, if you are feeling more adventurous.


·       Passes to the park cost $25/day and can be purchased for multiple days. It’s expensive by Cambodian standards and well worth it any currency.
·       There are numerous volunteer opportunities, along with other things to make you feel good. If you don’t have time, don’t worry, your tourists dollars still go a long way to help.
·       Cambodian people are friendly but even more so, they love to spontaneously burst into song.