Today = possibilities

“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

— A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Winnie-the-Pooh’s got wisdom. (See Tao of PoohTe of Piglet)

We’ve made it to our last big stop  in our round-the-world adventure: Asilah, Morocco. Here we’ll stay for a month, at the edge of North Africa in a quiet artistic town with a fusion of Arab, French, and Spanish culture. It’s a good place to reflect.

What did I learn on this trip? (So many things.) What I’m most grateful for is…gratefulness. Because this trip was not perfect. I’m not perfect. But now I can appreciate the imperfections because they give life texture. And no matter where I am in the world, Today means Time. And Time means Opportunity to do-something-see-something-make-something.

That’s a pretty good deal.

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Traveling yogi: planning ahead while staying present (on a budget)

The last couple days M and I have spent about 3 hours each morning to plan for our upcoming travel: our journey from Luang Prabang, Laos to Singapore in two weeks, our first week in Europe (Amsterdam+London/Essex+Bruges) coming up in a month (!!) and now our month in Morocco in March (post-Italy, pre-NOLA for my friend’s wedding)…this shit takes time! Doing all this on a $50/day ($75/day in Europe) budget can be challenging.

But it leads to finding gems, such as staying in a small artsy town outside of the big city for less than $500 a month and renting a motorbike to explore more of the region — and local life.

What brought me here to Luang Prabang was yoga teaching. What this opportunity has brought to me so far is a Gorgeous 2-day boat ride down the Mekong River, an unforgettable teaching experience at Luang Prabang Yoga, and a long weekend  of trekking and chilling in the luscious and local mountain town of Nong Khiaw.

Sometimes my soul is pulled forward: where will we be next year? What if my plan of applying to grad school in Italy falls through? What will we do if we run out of money? Or, on the flip side, look at all the possibilities! I could teach here, or there, or gain knowledge studying at this center, with that teacher…And sometimes my soul is so content exactly where it is: absorbing my surroundings with a good book and a cup of tea. Going to bed when I’m sleepy and waking up when I’m rested. Being in the moment, connected with my students during class. This is where the yoga practice comes in for me: understanding that life is about balancing and flowing with opposing forces. Prana and Apana. Drawing the outer left heel back but rotating the left hip forward. Letting there be “good” days and “bad” days, productive days and unproductive days, hard days and easy ones.

The bottom line is, whether I’m flying or falling, it’s all part of the yoga practice. It’s all part of life.

Drifting down the Mekong: 2 day slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, Laos

As much as I wanted to document each leg of my one year of travel around the world, I cannot resist soaking in the place that I am at the moment. I’m so appreciative of travelers that came before me who do due diligence in recording and sharing photos, stories, tips and prices of their journey: it makes it possible for me to Google what I want to do (and how I want to do it) and go! 

The slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, Laos was one of the defining experiences of my trip so far. Two days of breathtaking views on the Mekong: jungly mountains, buffalo/pigs/goats grazing on the banks, and untouched scenery dotted by small settlements. The weather was overcast and a bit rainy, which gave the ride a mystical feeling and made for some fantastic photos. It was the perfect time to enjoy some hot cup-o-noodles!

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Vietnam part II: Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An

I wrote this post while sitting on a bus from Ben Tre to Can Tho in the Mekong delta. Rain is pouring and we’ve stopped at the beginning of this journey to load at least 2 dozen boxes of stuff. There are also two woven handbags with live chickens, who I’m surprised aren’t more agitated in a dark confined space. Have I mentioned that the buses in Vietnam also double as delivery vehicles? Lucky for us, there’s A/C.

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Chickens in the wicker bags. Nothing to see here

So we spent three weeks in Northern Vietnam based in Hanoi. M had enough Hilton points that we could stay there for free, and it was a great launching point for checking out the beautiful landscapes in the region.

But this post is about the next part of Vietnam we saw.

Hanoi–>Da Nang
We did this via the local night train. There’s a significant distinction in quality between the local and express trains; more on that later. Tickets were 1.5 million Dong for 2, or about $65 USD. The train left at 7:30 pm and we arrived in Da Nang at around 5:30 am. Though food was served on the train, our online research told us that it wasn’t very good so we opted to bring a few banh mi on board, which cost about $4. Bonus: we picked up a bag of Munchies from an international food shop for $6. Treat yo’self!

The train ride was fine, though not very pleasant. It was full of locals smoking and chatting loudly, so it was basically a moving Vietnamese street experience, minus the motorbikes trying to squeeze between you and tables of people having dinner/drinking coffee/smoking cigarettes. The A/C was either blasting or off, which led to alternating between sweating and chills throughout the night. The bathroom in our car had toilet paper (hallelujah!), but only for the first couple hours. After the roll ran out, you were on your own. The custom of spraying everything down with water after you finish is alive and well here. There was a dirty mop hanging in the corner that the employees would “dry” the floor off with. All the surfaces of the bathroom looked like they could use a good power washing.

Each berth has 4 beds, which were fine comfort-wise. The bottom bunks are definitely better because they offer more head room to sit and chill when you’re not sleeping and also a table to set your things. I never felt unsafe sleeping with two strangers, though for Western standards there wasn’t much sense of personal space.

Da Nang:
A beach town/the Vietnamese government’s pet city, it was an unremarkable experience for us. It was raining the two days we were there, and I was recovering from a cold that started on the train. The locals seemed to enjoy early morning swims. This is also where we watched the 2016 US presidential election results go down, which gave it a bit of an otherworldly experience for me.

Da Nang–>Hoi An:

Since I wasn’t quite at 100% yet, we took a cab directly to our homestay in Hoi An. A comfortable 30 minute ride for 300k Dong ($15 USD).

Hoi An:
Many travelers we met spoke highly of Hoi An. Known for their UNESCO-grade Ancient Town, the city had its architectural and historical charms and was veer foreigner friendly. A little to touristy for our taste, but it was nice that more of the locals understood English. The town is also known for custom made clothes and accessories, and I got a tailored cotton dress at Bibi Silk for $35. Pretty damn good. I was going to get a bridesmaids dress made there, but they didn’t have the colors I needed. M got a custom made leather iPad case at Friendly Leather Bags for $38. He was very happy with their work. Both of our pieces took about a day to make, which was great for our travel schedule.

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Small beach just outside of Hoi An affected by typhoons

The place we stayed at, Pham Gia Boutique Homestay, was very nice and reasonably priced (though I paid with travel points). We had a big room with a sizable private balcony and hot showers. Breakfast was great: eggs your way and fresh baguette or toast, and plenty of fresh local fruit. Drip coffee and Lipton tea was also available, which is pretty standard in Vietnam.

Hoi An–>Hue
We backtracked and took a bus back up north to Hue. Because there’s no train station in Hoi An, going back to Hue allowed us to take the train directly to Ho Chi Minh City afterwards.

The bus was arranged at one of the many travel agents in Hoi An. Tickets were 100k Dong or about $5 USD each. They picked us up by motorbike from our homestay and took us to the bus station, where we boarded a pretty standard bus. The ticket guy pushed us foreigners to the back of the bus and seated the locals up front, which is apparently not uncommon but it was the only time I personally experienced it here. It was a smooth ride.

Hue
Hue was cool for a launching point to the Vinh Moc tunnels, a series of tunnels the Vietnamese people made and lived in during the Vietnam War. We stayed at Hue Serene Palace Hotel, a highly rated hotel on Trip Advisor (paid with points again) that was located in an alley right by all the bars and restaurants. This was the first city where motorbike taxi drivers openly solicited us for weed, and we soon found out why: there’s a decent party scene here, with many restaurants and bars turning into clubs after dark. Promoters stood outside waving over groups of girls, and buses of young backpackers got off in front of the restaurant we were at and joined the river of imbibing foreigners. We had a drink at the aptly named DMZ Bar after dinner, complete with camouflage furniture and grenades used as trim.

We visited The Citadel, another UNESCO World Heritage Site (how many are there in Vietnam??) and enjoyed the Chinese architecture and ponds of colorful fish.

Our main attraction was the Vinh Moc tunnels, about 100 km north of Hue. We rented a motorbike for $20 and took turns driving there and back. The drive itself was an adventure; it was our first time driving in Vietnam. It was exciting, exhausting, and we saw some breathtaking views of the countryside and the ocean. The back seat was pretty uncomfortable after 15 minutes, so we switched off driving. Other than Hue, there wasn’t much traffic, though it became clear that roads here are used for more than transportation. It’s where life happens: people taking a stroll, children play, dogs and chickens and cows hang out, rice is laid out to dry, snacks and drinks are sold, coffee is had. A way more happening place than a busy Manhattan street.

The tunnels are a must see. It’s 40k Dong/$2 USD per ticket and includes a small museum with photos from the war and a map of the tunnels. It includes a guided tour of part of the tunnels too. Our guide was a friendly guy in his early 30s who didn’t understand much English but knew enough to point out the different uses of each part: bedroom, kitchen, meeting room, ventilation, toilet, hospital. Most of the tunnel requires ducking, and some parts were wet and a bit slippery. But it was pretty awesome to see how people survived the war.

We had lunch afterwards at the little food shop before the entrance. They had instant noodles jazzed up with veggies and your protein of choice (beef or egg), which held us over just find for the 3+ hour ride back to Hue.

That wraps up part II! The third and final part to Vietnam will be Saigon and the Mekong delta.  We are leaving tomorrow on a 4-5 hour ride to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, so there will be down time to write. Woohoo!

A moment of relaxation

I’m sitting in a hammock in Ben Tre, Vietnam, a small town in the Mekong delta. After an afternoon of exploring the neighboring island by bike (the ferry across was 10 cents!), it feels good to relax with a beer after giving my legs a nice workout.

Rain is pouring and I’ve yet to make dinner plans. And that’s fine by me. This trip has been about the practice of enjoying the present, exploring my individual yoga practice and finding my way as a yoga teacher.  So far, so good.

(Next up: Can Tho–>Chau Doc–>Phnomh Penh)

Art! Stay wild

Nature is awesome. It never fails to bring me closer to the present. When I practice yoga in nature, it’s like getting a zen boost. Chris Burkard really captures the AWE-someness of being surrounded in it. If you can’t make it out there yourself, this is the next best thing.

stay wild.

 


Image Credit: Chris Burkard

 

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.

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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!

 

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

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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.

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:

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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!

Can I get fries with that? Last day in the USA!

Holy shit, it’s happening. Today was our last day in the US — tomorrow morning we take the Amtrak up to Vancouver, where we will board our flight to Tokyo.

M and I rounded out our week with his parents here in Seattle, and we caught up with some of his old friends as well. We stopped by Deception Pass State Park on the way  into Seattle:

And we indulged in a touristy visit to the Space Needle. Ivar’s Salmon House had an amazing seafood menu — I highly recommend if you’re into that kind of thing.

Finally, we just chilled. And then there were two…

For lunch today, we thought about food we would really miss when we left the country. We couldn’t think of anything we wanted badly. Maybe we’re ready for this trip after all.