How do you do, Kathmandu!

I am sitting on a rooftop in Varanasi, India, inhaling dust and chai, and reminiscing my time in Nepal. In just 10 short days, I learned so much from so many different people from all walks of life. I still can’t believe what a thoroughly awesome experience Nepal was. A big chunk of that owes to the fact that all the Nepali people I came across were genuinely kind, open-hearted and so full of life, and I felt welcomed.

Feven and I arrived in Nepal with absolutely no expectations but the eagerness to be out of Beijing. We had done little research on the country as the bulk of our travels this winter would be spent in India; Nepal was just a stopover. We obtained our luggage and visas within 30 minutes on arrival in the unlit immigration hall. It was a breeze. Little did we know this would reflect our next 10 days in Nepal.

Durbar Square

We exited the airport already with a new friend, a German farmer, and together were greeted by a rush of enthusiastic taxi and tuktuk drivers. There also happened to be a fiery red sun setting over the mountain across from where we stood. We stepped into a miniature cab to take us into the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu, down narrow lanes, past goats, past barefoot children and elders, past a zillion signs advertising language and study abroad programs in countries from Japan to Latvia.

Our hostel was located right outside Thamel, a maze-like neighborhood lined with souvenir and trekking shops for tourists. One could not walk down the skinny lanes without nearly getting run over by motorbikes, nor without receiving offers of hashish. We settled on Thakali Thali (dal baht) for dinner at “Kathmandu’s best Thakali House”, one of several million; a curry, dal baht (lentils), stir-fried green, pickles, and a heap of rice served on a large round metal tray. The highlight of this dish came with the unexpected second-helping of each item, including another helping of white rice. All-you-can-eat, no complaints here!

On our second day in Kathmandu, the German farmer, an American volunteer nurse, plus Feven and I headed towards Boudhanath, a beautiful and holy white Buddhist stupa to which devout followers make their pilgrimage from mountains away. There were little and old monks chanting, and men and women from different countries prostrating under Buddha’s eyes, or walking clock-wise around the stupa spinning the prayer wheels. Tibetan prayer flags stretched from every corner to the tower of the stupa, adding color to the otherwise simple structure.

Boudhanath

A surprising but lovely fact about Boudhanath, and I realized reflected in Nepali society in general, was that regardless of it being a Buddhist temple, Hindus and Buddhists alike worshipped together. There was a small section at the entrance of the stupa with Hindu gods and decorations. Earlier we had passed a temple with a sign that read, “Followers of all faiths welcome.” And at the Royal Palace Museum we saw signs that labeled resting areas not for the disabled, but for the “differentlyabled.” How inclusive and loving to all! That explains another sign I read on the mountain during my trek in the Annapurnas–N-E-P-A-L: Never Ending Peace And Love. Amen sister.

One evening, on our way home after a 10-hour stroll in Kathmandu, we were approached by a super outgoing Nepali girl. Her name was Bika, she was 16, supposedly spoke 20 languages, including perfect Chinese, English and German, and was a henna artist by trade. She was also HILARIOUS. At first, I was cautious of being “too friendly” in case she turned out to just want our money (which happened a lot in Sri Lanka). But after a few laughs, she just handed us her hand-made business card and told us to call her if we ever wanted henna done. We bumped into her again on the following night, and this time I did get henna done. Alas’, overpriced, but so worth it.

Bika had joined me and a group of other travelers for dinner, but she was noticeably uncomfortable. At one point, I asked her if she wanted to study abroad someday since she spoke so many languages. She said she would love to go to Australia or China. I gave her my contact information and told her to contact me if she ever did come to China. During this exchange, I noticed that her eyes got watery, and she became quiet and subdued and didn’t look up at me or laugh as she usually did. I couldn’t help but feel sad for her, wondering if her fate had been predetermined.

Humanity for Sale

The last moments in Kathmandu were spent on the balcony of our hostel, chatting about life. We came from Germany, China, America, Ethiopia, Israel and England, but something brought each of us to Nepal, and we would each leave with something unique and special to us. For me, I left Nepal with the reminder of what humanity is, or at least what it ought to be. I’ll have to save the elaboration in another post, as well as the stories from other parts of Nepal I visited.

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What is Happenning in Istanbul?

İnsanlık Hali

To my friends who live outside of Turkey:

I am writing to let you know what is going on in Istanbul for the last five days. I personally have to write this because at the time of my writing most of the media sources are shut down by the government and the word of mouth and the internet are the only ways left for us to explain ourselves and call for help and support.

Last week of May 2013 a group of people most of whom did not belong to any specific organization or ideology got together in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Among them there were many of my friends and yoga students. Their reason was simple: To prevent and protest the upcoming demolishing of the park for the sake of building yet another shopping mall at very center of the city. There are numerous shopping malls in Istanbul, at least…

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Sunshiney Day

It’s one of those days where everything is dandy and not necessarily coming up roses, but pretty yellow weeds.

My view

The sun is up, the sky is blue, the pollen content is off the charts, the wind is strong and all the girls (including me) have to hold down their skirts because they didn’t wear the right underwear today.

I’m enjoying a very romantic moment by myself, waiting for my department’s International Friendship Day Picnic (yes, do laugh at this!), sitting in a little park on campus next to running water from a man-made pond, pondering the meaning of friendship and wondering if there will be enough food at the picnic. 

What a perfect afternoon…

**SNEEZE** 


Two Weeks in Malaysia and Sri Lanka

These past two weeks of island-hopping in Malaysia and scrambling around in Sri Lanka felt like months I had been out of China. Now I have returned to Beijing tanned and exhausted, but still, good times never last long enough. 

First stop: Malaysia

Feven and I spent a week on two islands in Malaysia — Pulau Penang and Langkawi. Islanders everywhere are generally Bob-Marley-loving, friendly people, but I felt it was especially true in Malaysia. Locals were surprisingly gracious to foreigners; they smiled, they were willing to give directions, and most satisfyingly, they didn’t give “tourist prices” (at least not that I was aware of). Best of all, Penang with its array of cuisines was absolute heaven for a food-junkie like myself. Let’s just say I’m all curried out…

One of the best things about traveling is meeting new people and being totally incapsulated by their stories as well as their ability to drop everything and travel for months and even years. Feven and I met a group of backpackers in Malaysia which consisted of 7 people (including us) from 7 different countries with diverse backgrounds and personalities. But the desire to see the world brought us together, squeezed in a car, touring Langkawi, enjoying one another’s companies and the island’s relatively untainted natural landscape. 

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The most unforgettable site was 700 meters high up in the mountains (thank goodness for cable cars) watching the sun set over an island in Thailand, and then getting engulfed by clouds. 

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As soon as Feven and I arrived back in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, to catch our flight to Sri Lanka, the contrast between the bustling city and the chilled island life was scarily drastic. But I suppose that’s true all over the world. 

Next stop: Sri Lanka 

Eight days was not nearly enough to see all that I wanted to see in this tiny island country. Between ancient cities, wildlife, the hill country, tea plantations, and beaches, Feven and I made tough choices to squeeze in as much as we possibly could. That resulted in cutting most hikes out and breezing down to Unawatuna beach for a couple days of rest and relaxation before returning to reality. 

Sri Lanka was an interesting experience for me and a particularly tiring one. I thought the Chinese were bad when it came to haggling, but OH MY WORD Sri Lankans were 10x worse!!! Unlike Malaysia, everything was at tourist prices, even the so-called “local prices.” Don’t even get me started on tuk-tuk drivers who depend on commission and will take you anywhere except where you asked to go. 

Most of the people we came across were men, usually because they worked as tour guides, in the guesthouses, as tuk-tuk drivers. Very rarely did women speak to us, and those who did could not speak much English. At first, the persistent haggling drove me to the point where I did not want to speak with any local men because I couldn’t trust them (i.e. our hotel manager insisted that we avoid the southern coast because of flooding and heavy rains and suggested we head over to Trimcomalee in the northeast instead, but we arrived to sunshine and perfect waves in Unawatuna; the ticket salesman at the train station sold us tickets at 100 rupees more than the listed price; a “monk” brought me and Feven to the altar and pressured us to donate money; on and on and on). Later, I relaxed and began to find their ridiculous schemes quite laughable. Simply ignoring them helped too. 

I think Sri Lanka is in an awkward in-between phase of increasing tourism and lagging infrastructure to host. It was awesome to be able to travel from place to place on public transportation with the locals at (mostly) local prices, but once I, the tourist, arrived at a popular tourist site, I’d pay up to sometimes 200 more than the local counterpart for admission. Of course it is wonderful that locals should not have to pay ridiculous admission fees to visit places within their own country, but when I’m ushered to the booth that says “Tickets for Foreigners”, am told to pay 2000 rupees to enter Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage when the Sri Lankan at the local booth paid 100, am tricked into paying another 1000 rupees to the staff who just offered to take my photo with the elephants, and then spot the “Foreigners Only” restroom…well, talk about segregation! 2000 rupees, or $15, is not a lot, but it adds up and worst of all, it gives you a feeling that it is unfair to have to give significantly more just for being a foreigner. And that in turn might drive (poorer/backpacking) visitors away in the long run.

On a positive note, there were parts of Sri Lanka that were absolutely stunning (including the elephant orphanage)!

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If there’s one thing I loved most about Sri Lanka it would be the train rides, particularly the one along the southwestern coast. Just like in the movies, I rode those trains hanging out the doorletting the salty wind sweep up my bangs. It was a glorious feeling. Even when I got an orange thrown at me from a group of boys hanging by the train tracks. 

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Unawatuna, a beach town off the southern coast of the island, was the perfect place to end our Sri Lanka adventure. Feven and I stayed in a fancy little hotel called Banana Garden at one end of the U-shaped beach, literally right on the water during high tide. Thanks to monsoon season, we were the only guests and we felt like royalty! It was such a wonderful stay that I left them a good review on Trip Advisor! Waking up and falling asleep to the sound heavy ocean waves felt like a dream that I didn’t want to wake up from. But alas, all good things come to an end. 

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It’s difficult for me to sum up how I feel about Sri Lanka. I guess it’s somewhat of a love-hate relationship (hate the incessant haggling, love the natural beauty) but if I ever have the chance to go back, I would definitely say yes because there is SOOO much more to see. 

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Attn: Friends with horrible exes, Christmas/Hanukkah present ideas

lostnchina

If you’ve ever questioned your man’s love for you, just take a look at the presents that you’ve received from him during the course of your relationship.  Perhaps you can the remember the story behind that 50th birthday diamond necklace, or the memories from your 10th wedding anniversary when you were whisked away to a remote tropical island, where there were straw huts with thatched roofs and monkey butlers serving you meals in hollowed-out coconut shells, while playing The Girl from Ipanema on their mini-accordions.

But if you’re like me, you’ll wonder why you have a soup ladle that’s larger than the size of your head and ass combined.  It may also take several months for you to realize that no amount of washing and drying that size “L” Turkish bathrobe is going to bring it down to a “XS”.  And, despite your best efforts, you discover there really are…

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to be a kid again

If Peter Pan showed up at my window and asked me to join him in Neverland, I would fly away in a heartbeat. I’m only 23, but I can feel that as time ticks away, so do bits and pieces of things I treasured most in my childhood, like my imagination.

When I was little, the rooms of my dream house were connected by tunnels and slides. I built forts out of sofa cushions and blankets and it never felt small. One year the Tooth Fairy left me a purple crystal with my tooth in it, and other years she left me money under my pillow. But now that I’m an “adult” who “knows better,” I won’t expect an allowance under my pillow when my teeth begin to fall out, because that’s Life, as much as I wish it wasn’t.

The other day I noticed a little girl, maybe 2-3 years old, who stood wide-eyed before paper butterflies that hung from the ceiling at a mall entrance, marveling at the slight flapping of their wings from the breeze of the swinging doors. I had walked by this display earlier and thought how cheesy the decorations were, but watching the girl in fascination over the fake flowers and butterflies, I realized how much I miss seeing beauty in the ordinary. For a second I tried to envision what the girl saw–a thousand rainbow butterflies floating above a colorful meadow, sparkling with reflections of the sun. In that moment, I too could see the beauty of the cheap  display at the mall entrance. But a moment later, I walked out the swinging door and yelled at a driver for running a red light.

One of the reasons I love kids so much is that I am fascinated by them. They find beauty in ordinary things; they can make things come alive; they find life in obscure places and aren’t afraid to approach them; they don’t complicate things unnecessarily; they don’t discriminate; and they are fearless. Life can be taken at face value when you’re young and untainted. And when Life gets hard, kids can escape to worlds conjured up in their own minds, whereas adults hide their pain behind beer and pill bottles. It’s a shame we have to grow up.

Before I got into my first relationship, I remember wanting to feel heartache. I thought it was part of growing up, of  being human, and I wanted to experience it. Of course it hurt a lot when it actually happened, and rather than having spent hours upon hours analyzing what went wrong, I wish I could’ve just escaped to Neverland, or to an island where the Wild Things live. Reality would have been much easier to cope with.

After my parents’ divorce, I was glad to be far away from them so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Unfortunately, like Dementors, Life seeped its way across the ocean to interfere with my usual cheerfulness. During that time I often wished to be a kid again, where living in blissful ignorance innocence veiled any and all miseries.

No one should have to grow up “too fast” but when they do, it’s nearly always a painful process. My family members often tell me how 单纯 (danchun), “simple, naive” I am, a fact that I think is ascribed to my Americanized upbringing. My cousin, on the other hand, grew up in China with divorced parents — still a taboo at the time — and a mother who didn’t act like one. While her parents carried on with their own misery or when her mother was absent, my cousin had to fend for herself. Besides what she dealt with at home, she saw ugliness outside too. She learned about Life and all its hardships at a young age when kids I grew up with in Brookline, Massachusetts were playing tag and painting pictures at daycare. Now at  22 years old, my cousin looks, acts and thinks far beyond her age, and definitely far beyond me. The painful part of all of this besides a lost childhood? She wants to be close to her mother.

Perhaps this is a generalization, but from my observations and conversations with adults and children alike, I’ve concluded this: Chinese kids grow up too fast. By the time they’re teenagers, imagination is drilled out of them. One of my biggest difficulties when teaching is getting my students to be creative. They are not yet adults, and they are playful, but their minds have been molded to fit exam bubbles. And this is just the result of the education system; Life, as it was for my cousin, is the other predator.

I started volunteering at a migrant worker community center on the outskirts of Beijing a couple weeks ago. Just being around the kids there is uplifting and even refreshing. They remind me how even the simplest things, like throwing a hackeysack in the air by yourself, can be fun. And getting dirt on your clothes, hands and face is no big deal (as long as you wash up with soap before sticking anything in your mouth). My responsibilities at the center are lacking, but just spending time with the kids is worth the 1 hour 45 minute commute.

As you can probably tell I’m reminiscent of childhood (but I wouldn’t go so far as to start acting like a baby). I like to believe that some of my imagination is still intact and that the rooms of my future house will be accessible by slides. Also, perhaps as subconscious resistance to growing up completely, I find the most enjoyment in stories/plots with child protagonists. Stories like The Little Prince, Where The Wild Things Are, Harry Potter, and Millions take me back to the best days of my life and remind me how precious it is to be a kid. Yes, they are all written by adults, but by adults whom I admire very much for their ability to tell stories from the point of view of size 2 shoes, a wolf suit, and a crown.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m living at home again, or the fact that babies are everywhere in China, or the fact that Life throws negativities once in a while that has stirred me to think about my childhood so much lately. I also recently read Dave Eggers’ The Wild Things. More likely, though, it is a combination of all these factors. I can’t remember when my first time saying “I wish I were a kid again” was, but it has since become a commonly used phrase in my life. I know it’s never going to happen, but maybe if I wish for it at my next birthday and blow out all the candles, it will come true.

Meanwhile, I’m just “drafting through Fairyland…”

I thought I should mention, as I was writing this post, “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell came on, brilliantly summing up everything I just babbled about and gently bringing me back to earth. The world works in funny ways, even for adults, doesn’t it?

Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star

Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like when you’re older must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game *

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels thru the town
And they tell him take your time it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

– Joni Mitchell


Feelin’ Like a Goof

Rereading what I wrote last night, this is how I feel about it:

kinda like a goof. I guess the smallest amount of alcohol really does alter the state of mind. It causes word-vomiting and secret-sharing. But then again, I wasn’t going to tell my mom all that, so who better to share my inner and outermost thoughts with than to you all, my faithful blog readers? On the world wide web? Thanks for listening to my rambling 🙂