Vietnam Part I: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and yoga (Re)gains

BAM. M and I have just finished our first month away from the US, two months of traveling total. In the past couple weeks, I’ve started feeling at ease in the groundlessness of traveling and being on the move. I realized that I was neglecting my yoga practice (noooooooooooooooooo) and not making enough time to pursue things that were important to me. I made these changes:

1. Daily asana practice first thing in the morning. Right now I’m working on core strengthening, and I’ve got my eye on parsvabakasana (side crow) next.

2. Reading more. I’m currently reading Pema Chodron’s Things Fall Apart, which is a great read for those feelings of transition or uncertainty. Also, I’ve been reading more yoga articles to get ideas on sequencing, brush up on anatomy, and stay connected to the rhythm of the yoga world.

3. Learning Italian and anatomy/physiology. Technology is a great thing. I’m using the  Memrise app to learn both subjects. It takes about 15-20 minutes each day, and it’s great to stick to a routine and challenge my brain to learn something new. Hopefully I’ll be able to communicate with the locals when we reach Italy, our final destination, and have some background anatomy knowledge when I apply to a physical therapy program next spring.

4. Connecting. With myself via meditation and with others via yoga and mini trips we take.

img_3402

Yoga gains are kinda like gains in weightlifting. I needed to change my workout to suit my new lifestyle and stay engaged. Mind/body/soul. What I did in the US wasn’t working for me on the road, so I started engaging my brain by reading and giving it more to chew on. I engaged my soul with some reading, journaling, photography and meditation. And I engaged my body by working out the muscles I wasn’t using as much. My goal is to check in with my mind/body/soul workout regularly and change it up to stay challenged.

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay are beautiful in very different ways. Hanoi is fascinating for its non-stop river of traffic (seriously, you just need to take a breath and go for it), its intimate relationship with making food (from killing the animal to serving it on a plate, you can see it all on the street), and its culture of pushing the limits (rules are made to be broken). It can be loud and overwhelming after awhile, but there’s so much to explore.

Ha Long Bay is big and breathtaking. We were there for three days and everything we did, kayaking, swimming, spelunking, climbing, even eating, was surrounded by amazing views. If you have the chance to go, I highly recommend at least two nights on a boat. Our full day exploring the bay was relaxing and there were no crowds. I was able to get the feeling of the place without distractions.

We took photos and videos of kayaking and swimming with our GoPro too. We’ll see how those turned out!

 

Advertisements

We are family: three weeks in Taiwan

Damn, time flies. These three weeks in Taiwan have gone quickly, thanks to my family showing M and I a great time.

Here are some of the things we did:

Tuesday, 4 Oct||
Day trip to Yehliu Geopark to check out Queen’s Head rock (crowded and touristy) and the Twin Candlesticks at Shitoushan (great evening hike and awesome view right on the water, not touristy)


Wednesday, 5 Oct||
Hung out at my cousin’s board game shop – yes they’re a thing here! Tried out a variety of games like Carcassonne, Ask Anything, and Tofu Princess…
Thursday, 6 Oct||
Checked out the Miaokou seafood night market in Keelung. Super accessible on Taipei’s train system directly from Taipei Main Station, and at Sankeng station there’s a sign in English (“Miaokou Night Market”) that points you to a tunnel that takes you a block from the market.


Friday, 7 Oct||
Went out with our Taipei Airbnb hosts and their AIT (the US consulate equivalent in Taiwan) friend one night for dinner at a local place, dessert at a popular “smoothie house”, and wine at Café de Vie, a hip and well-stocked wine bar owned by a French guy and his Taiwanese wine. They served us cheese and nacho cheese Doritos with the wine, which was delicious!
Sunday, 9 Oct||
Was invited by our new AIT friend to a movie night at her neighbor’s place. Turns out AIT puts their foreign service officers in a few apartment high rises around Taipei, so we got to check out the nice digs and meet some other officers and their families and friends. We had various Taiwanese snacks and watched Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Reefer Madness, and Killer Condoms. It was awesome.
Monday, 10 Oct||
Celebrated Taiwan’s National day by riding the glass floor Maokong Gondola in Taipei to a mountainside tea house. We had afternoon tea Taiwanese style, complete with all the tea-making tools and soup dumplings for a snack. Cribbage was also played 🙂 We found out on the way down that there were morning celebrations and a parade, but on this rainy day I think we made the right choice

img_3224

Tuesday, 11 Oct||
Spent a night in Sun Moon lake with my uncle H and his fam – rode bikes around the lake, rode a boat across the lake, played a bit of rummy accompanied by some Japanese whisky we brought from Osaka. I got eaten alive by mosquitos here despite putting on bug spray.


Wednesday, 12 Oct||
Took my first yoga class in Mandarin at my uncle’s health club in Taichung, followed by a late night swim/hot tub session in their outdoor pool.
Thursday, 13 Oct||
Took the bus down to Kaohsiung to my dad’s side of the fam. The sun feels hotter in southern Taiwan (but also it was raining much of the time we were in Taipei), so naps are a regular thing here. Yes please. We biked around Love River and stopped at an outdoor art exhibit where the Kaohsiung Film Festival will be held next week. For dinner my cousin took us around Kaohsiung’s big night market – this one was huge. We ate and checked out about half the stalls before calling it quits and heading home.


Friday, 14 Oct||
Drove with my big uncle, aunt and cousin to Shousan to check out the view of Kaohsiung from the top of a mountain. On the drive back we saw the effects of the three typhoons that passed through in the two weeks before we arrived: two boats were tipped over, blown in from offshore, and there were power lines down, trees blown over, and a sinking shoulder on one of the roads we drove on.


Saturday, 15 Oct||
The five of us took a day trip to Meinong, where my dad grew up. Our fam has property there, and every time I go back I stop by my dad’s piece. It was cool to show M where my dad spent his childhood. We climbed Linshan in the morning to get a view from above, and a lady noticed the many mosquito bites on my legs and offered me her cream for them. So grateful for her kindness – this stuff does wonders! We spent the afternoon at my cousin’s grandma’s place. We took a tour of her place, which was a sod and tobacco farm. She also had a few chickens, a rabbit, a peacock (!) and about five dogs – one of whom I fell in love with right away. He was a playful hound pup stuck in a cage during the day because he loves to chase the chickens. We also took a nap on traditional tatami mats during the hottest hours of the afternoon. Then we headed to a giant buddha museum on the way back to Kaohsiung – it felt like a really nice hotel with buddhist statues throughout. Spent the evening having dinner with everyone and then drinking tea that little uncle poured.

Now I’m on a Ho Hsin bus on the way back to Taipei. $20 gets you a business-class experience: cushy reclining seats with a blanket, an entertainment system, free wifi and USB charger, and a fridge with cold water. Definitely unexpected, and enjoying the ride. Looking forward to our last two days in Taiwan, and excited for our next stop: Vietnam.

Unmet expectations = day ruined?

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

— Jon Kabat-Zinn

This morning started off on the wrong foot. I woke up not wanting to get up, but I’d told myself I’d go for a run this morning. Halfway through my workout at the outdoor track, the security guard said it was time to go: it was time fo the students to use it. Then, my yoga practice back at the apartment was met with feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction: it was a cramped space so I felt restricted in my movements, and I was judging myself in the poses I was able to do. After I took a shower, I started reading the news when my dad called me asking how my trip to Taiwan was going. He then launched into a monologue about visiting his side of the family, reminding me to use the correct title for each family member, asking what my plans were and then deciding what I should do and when I should do it. After hanging up with him, I was annoyed. The little things that “went wrong” this morning added up and I was officially pissed.

Now I’m sitting at a coffee shop and reflecting back on the events this morning. Why was I upset?

It began with my expectations. I expected to wake up well rested. I expected to be happy about going for a run, and I expected to run for as long as I wanted. I expected to  feel refreshed and calm from my yoga practice, and I expected my dad to communicate happiness and excitement that I would be visiting his side of the family.

When none of those things happened, I judged the events as bad. I judged my morning as bad. I focused on the last “bad” thing that happened, which was my conversation with my dad. Why was he acting so controlling? Why did he assume that I wouldn’t know what to call each family member? Did he think I failed to be Taiwanese enough?

Looking back, I can see that I wasn’t really upset that each of those things happened. I was upset that I’d “failed” at having a good morning, and that I didn’t seem to be in control of having one. But that’s not true.

Good or bad isn’t absolute. It depends on my perspective. And while I can’t control what other people do or what happens to me, I can control what I do. I can go for a run tomorrow; I can take a nap later if I need rest; I can take some space for myself if that’s what I need; I can still make my own plans during my stay in Taiwan regardless of what my dad insists. Happiness isn’t always about things happening just right. Sometimes it’s about making a decision to create happiness when things don’t.

 

 

 

One week in Japan

Japan is…amazing. I didn’t expect to like it so much. The nature, the food, the people, the architecture, it feels like I’m discovering something that was carefully crafted and maintained with pride and love.

Our first stop was Haneda, a small fishing town close to the airport:

I really enjoyed this first stop. It gave me a taste of everyday life in Japan: quiet, clean, and efficiently beautiful.

Our next stop was Tokyo. Here we used M’s Hilton points to treat ourselves to a two night stay in the Hilton Tokyo. It was a fun two days; we had some down time and enjoyed a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary, and we met up with a childhood friend of mine who lives in the city.

Though sometimes crowded, Tokyo is really quiet! There was no honking, no loud conversations. Not even a loud sneeze! As a former New Yorker, this was baffling.

Then we took our first Shinkansen (bullet train) ride up to Nikko National Park. A small mountain town where almost all the food shuts down by 5 pm. Still, we saw some pretty awesome shrines, temples, and mountain views.

Hiroshima was our next stop. M really wanted to visit, and I’m glad we went. The memorial was beautiful and inspiring. It paid respect to those that died, those that sacrificed for the better of others, and those that will go on to make a better future. I wonder if the US would be able to memorialize a tragedy this way.

Finally, Kyoto. Old Japan. There were plenty of tourists and Western restaurants along Pontocho district, the iconic narrow streets next to Kamo River. We enjoyed a stroll down those streets and ended up grabbing a beer and a simple meal at the end of the night. Gion was also filled with tourists, but it was still nice to see some of the architecture and participate in a tea ceremony!

On our last night in Kyoto, we stopped by Hachimonjiya, a small 3rd story bar/gathering place for artists, writers, and locals owned by photographer Kai Fusayoshi. We had great conversation with Kai and our bartender V, who was from Lebanon and here for her PhD. I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys tucked away local dive bars and street photography. Finally, our last bullet train from Kyoto to Osaka to catch our flight to Taipei:

img_3145

All in all, it was a great if not busy week. We walked an average of 7 miles a day, which just about balanced out all the yummy food we ate!