Bangkok to Kolkata

068589C2-6274-4077-83C8-8A6C6CC9771EArriving in Bangkok, I was quick to remember just how HOT it can get this time of year. It gets so hot in Bangkok that there’s a huge water festival called Songkran where businesses close down and most of the city engages in one big water fight for several days. That was happening in a couple weeks.

Before I headed over to India, I stayed a couple days at a Couchsurfer’s house. Now, for those who know me, I love the social travelers network Couchsurfing. Most may think the motivation for utilizing the site is to save money while traveling, which was also my first assumption when I joined it in 2007 after hearing about it constantly from fellow traveler friends. Yet, after using it, it quickly dawned on me that the friends I was making through the network were almost always amazing individuals, full of openness, generosity and kindness. Lifelong friendships were easily forged and adventurous memories made.

So, it was no surprise to me when I came across a profile in Bangkok that had over 1,000 unique positive references that this person would be kind and generous in spirit.

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Old CS saying back in the early years of the social network..

I stayed at “Toom’s” house for a few nights and inside one can see the hundreds of personalized notes of thanks for hosting and sharing the local Thai life with them. A trend developed on the walls too, which was posting ones extra passport photos. Looking at the wall, it was a living memory of all the fun traveler experiences that were had at his 3 story house outside downtown Bangkok. There were literally thousands of mementos spanning as far back as 10 years ago.

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Notes of thanks from travelers through the past decade

I had been a few times to Bangkok and I wasn’t looking to visit any touristy spots, but Bangkok is known for it’s good food, and so I engaged in nightly excursions to indulge in street food stalls, soaking up all the flavors the city had to offer.

Toom is one of those couchsurfers who hosts multiple guests at the same time, as he has a big house to accommodate. There was an Italian guy, coming to Asia for the first time to learn Thai massage , a Cyprus couple traveling around for a year around Asia, a Belarusian girl who travels and does tattoos and teaches yoga, an Austrian who is practicing Tai Chi from masters and also doing community based tourism, and a couple from the UK who have been bicycling for 11 months from England and plan to go to Indonesia, Australia and then the US.

All sorts of travelers, nomads, seekers… I have been that full time traveler too, but just don’t do it full time as much these years.

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Couchsurfing Host – Toom
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Decided I would take one bite of chicken blood to appease a friends dare

I flew to Kolkata on a late night flight arriving at 1:30am. For those that don’t know, I have spent about four months of my waking life in this crazy bubbling city in India.

It was the city that really rocked my world as a 21 year old. I witnessed suffering on a level I had never experienced before and the realities of our humanity were in my face stronger than ever. Back then, it was hard to see entire families on the street with nothing but a mat along with little babies sleeping next to the mothers on dirty concrete surfaces and people dying due to under-resourced hospitals and seeing all sorts of human deformities caused by polio and other infections.

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Rooftop view from friends house in Kolkata

It was the city that Mother Teresa found her calling to work in for her life and I could see why she was moved as well back then. While she was a Catholic, she never tried to convert those to her religion so much as to just give love to those who need it. I learned in Kolkata that simple acts of love and compassion can mean so much to someone. The act of sharing a smile and eye contact with someone who is otherwise disregarded as useless or a nuisance to the society can mean the world. I shared my smile, my eye contact, and handshakes that stayed as longer holds.

This time around, I was only in Kolkata for a night before flying up to the North East region of India, so I booked my pre-paid cab at the airport, and drove to my friends house to catch up.

Wasim was also a friend I met through the Couchsurfing community in Kolkata and is one of those lifelong friends that was made. We were happy to see each other after 3 years, and eat some sweets, drank tea, and stayed up all night talking.

Around 6:30am, I felt it would be nice to visit the Mother House of Mother Teresa’s organization, where I went as a young  volunteer. Anyone can volunteer with her organization, and no matter your background or beliefs, all are welcome to serve in their hospices and orphanages across the city.

As I congregated with the volunteers for that day, I was reminded of my younger self back then, as many of the volunteers looked about that age, coming from Italy, Spain, Latin America, China and other places. I talked with one guy from China who said he felt inspired to help because in his country there are not as many opportunities to do so.

I ate some chapati, eggs and potato from Wasim’s mother before heading back the airport to get to the Northeast part of India.

and we’ll save that one for the next post…

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Thai newspaper cover…Politicians and…Cats?
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Welcome to our Hotel, your durian will have to wait outside
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Ronald MacDonald – Thai Style

Back in Asia After a 3 Year Hiatus

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It’s been just over three years since I was last on the continent of Asia. As I become an older traveler, I realize that time can just fly by faster and it’s good to pursue the opportunities for adventure/discovery/opportunities abroad when they just seem too good to pass up. My philosophy regarding traveling has been simple over the years: Listen and follow your heart.

Sometimes we worry about our commitments, responsibilities, finances, pets, “cross-cultural ineptness” and so on and we end up not pursuing that opportunity to travel. I’ve learned though that any of these worries can be shelved temporarily and that your inner circle of family/friends/community is willing to help you if you’re willing to ask.

So, why am I back in Asia? The last time I was here was when I lead a tour group through South East Asia, going to Thailand, Cambodia and Bali. Then I went to India to go to my friends wedding and checked out the beaches of Goa as a conclusion to that trip. That was in October – December 2015.

Now this trip has a few purposes: The main one stems from a Whatsapp message I received about three months ago from a friend I met in India on my first trip to the country in 2004. His name is Apen and he is from the Northeastern region of India, commonly known as the “Seven Sister States.” His state is Nagaland and his tribe is  Konyak.

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I met Apen through a study aboard program I participated in back then 15 years ago. I haven’t seen him since, but thanks to Facebook (after inputting a email address I had of his) we have been able to keep in touch. A few months ago he told me out of the blue that he wanted to create a classroom for the children in his village who don’t have many opportunities and come from low income families. He invited me to help co-create this project.

Initially, I told him that I would be happy to provide the funding for this project while he can help identify partners/educators in the local region to create the program. I attempted a few times to setup a video call for us to discuss the plans yet Apen was insistent though that I come to Nagaland to meet in person to co-create the project and that I come for his tribes most celebrated gathering; their Spring Festival.

This Spring festival is not only about celebrating the coming of Spring and the planting of physical seeds but also symbolic of new beginnings and new relationships. While Apen and I met 15 years ago, we are embarking on a new relationship and a new project together. I find this invitation strikingly human and something that has permeated throughout the course of human history. It is a ritual of sorts that just doesn’t nearly exist as much as it used to. Friendships and relationships can begin as simply as a click and there aren’t too many indigenous tribal gatherings too as the world becomes more globalized and connected.

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While we can do the planning and project managing all online for this project, it seems the best way and the next step is to celebrate life together in the highlands of the Himalayas, meeting the Konyak tribe and participating in their gathering.

So, here I am… In a guesthouse in Bangkok before getting up to NorthEast India, a region of the world I have wanted to visit ever since Apen invited me 15 years ago (and telling me he would get permission from the chief for me to come). I haven’t done travel blogs for a few years now and it seems due, even though blogposts have been replaced by podcasts to some degree. Either way, hope you enjoy the next posts for the following few weeks. There are other purposes to this trip too and I’ll share those later.

It’s nice to be back…To experience the smells, the kindness, the sounds of the street and even the humidity…More to come…Enjoy the reading 🙂

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After 14 countries this Summer, it’s back to INDIA and NGO Work ~

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Ok Ok Ok Ok~

It has been a while since I posted an update. Sometimes, when I am moving so fast from place to place, there isn’t really much time to reflect. I have learned more and more to live in the present and experience the days fully. Only now do I really have some time to give an update on the past and what is happening now.

Some have requested a new post and to keep blogging, so here it is and thanks as always for the support through reading and commenting, whether online or in person.

When I posted last, I was in India and it was the month of May.

Now 5 months later, I am back in India in the the city of Kolkata. My last post highlighted my experience with this Mother Teresa figure I have been friends with for 10 years. His name is Francis and shortly after I posted on his life, he sent me an email requesting me to come fill in for him while he is gone in Europe for the Fall.

Well, can one say no to Mother Teresa if she asks you to help? Haha, after some short reflection, I felt it was time for me to do some volunteer work again. It had been years since I last was involved in such work, yet it felt right to do it. So here I am.

But before I go into the details of this work, I will quickly update on what just happened for the past 5 months.

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After Darjeeling in May, I flew to Israel for a month. It had always been a dream of mine to visit the land, and it was one of the more amazing experiences I have had. I loved Israel and the Israeli people. I was welcomed with open arms everywhere I went and made some amazing friendships. I was also there when the tension began with the unfortunate killings of the teenagers, and I left right before the Israeli Defense Forces were mobilized. Many I met did not want conflict at all, but what would you do if your home country was attacked? Conflicts aside, Israel has a special place in my heart and I will continue to go back as the years go on…I recommend everyone to visit and have a good time there. Let me know if you want contacts to meet.

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Midburn Gathering, Negev Desert , Israel
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After Israel, I flew to the Balkans and traveled around Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia. In the month of July, this region is beautiful. I had visited Romania in 2000, and now 14 years later, I visited friends I had made back then. The same family that hosted me back then, hosted me again. I love how with the help of social networks today, I can keep in touch with my friends from all over the world.

Then after the Balkans, came that thing in the desert and this year was nothing short of spectacular again. I was there in the Black Rock Desert for two weeks and had a nice time there.

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Then it was off to prepare for India and this is where our story continues….

Francis works with the children and youth that have grown up in the massive train station called Sealdah in Kolkata. It is one of the busiest train stations in India and indeed the world, with hundreds of thousands of people in and out everyday. It is bustling with porters, people going to work, street merchants, and from 6am-11pm, there is a sea of people that take some keen navigation to move through and along. Being back in India, one always has to be aware of where you walk.

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The boys of the Railway station are a tight crew. They look out for each other and some do little jobs to make some money, such as carrying luggage or goods. They sleep at the station, just on the ground, some live with their families, some have no family. Some are married (because it is common to get married at a young age) and some are fathers at age 18. Some have a wife that is expecting and some have mental and physical disabilities.

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The list goes on. But like any boy, they like to have fun, and they like to have freedom. Most of their lives, they have had no formal education and the local government has not been able to assist their lives in any relevant way. This is where Francis and his Pilgrims of Charity Friends Organization comes in.

The work of Francis’ work involves just being present like a big brother or father to the boys. He provides them food, his smile and is there to help with any problem that they may encounter. For instance, one of the boys fathers had passed away and the mother had no where to go. Francis was able to arrange accommodation for her and a place to work.

Besides, being with the boys and giving them education twice a week, Francis also has a host slum where he provides basic first aid to the occupants of the slum. Most of the people who live in this slum are Bangladeshi and don’t have the same type of opportunities in Kolkata. They are slightly discriminated but the situation for them in Bangladesh isn’t much better, so they live there near a river (picture the water black) and the train station.

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So, I have been here for a week already and I have been the new “Big Brother” to the boys. They all met me in May, and were all happy to see me again. They enjoy having an American as a friend and are curious about all sorts of things. I also have visited the slum and have been addressing the medical needs. There is everything from common lacerations and abrasions, to skin, eye and ear problems. For more serious matters, I bring the person to the local hospital and with my NGO card, I can get them in right away for treatment. I have seen some pretty bad skin issues, because the fact is that the people don’t take as much showers as they should. Common hygiene is not really practiced or known, and with the treatment I administer, I also educate as best I can.

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Besides, the slum and Train station work, I also visit the local government hospital a couple times a week and it is still is as difficult to see as it was for me 10 years prior when I came as a student. Yet even though the conditions are difficult to see, the simple human to human connection is still needed. And the very simple action of going to an old man, who is looking dazed and to hold his hand and look him in the eyes with a smile and respect can bring even him to some grateful tears. It is sometimes the most simplest actions such as these, that can spur life into the temporarily broken bodies and spirits in the hospital.

I am grateful to be here, but it is also another one of the most difficult experiences in my waking life I have ever experienced. To see so many on the street, disabled, hurt, diseased. After so many people, it sort of becomes commonplace and one can just accept that everyone in this environment is struggling to eat but that somehow no one is really starving. The Bengali people do look out for each other, but can only give so much of their own resources.

Now for these boys, they can live in the train station their entire life. And to be honest, some of them probably will. They love the station, it is their home, their identity and family. Yet, it is not the best place to raise a baby or a family, and of course there can be exploitation or even kidnappings, as it happened to one of the little babies of a young man we know.

When I visited the boys earlier this year, I got an idea to bring more education resources to them through the use of laptops and technology. I felt they were more than capable to interact and learn programs, and that with the right initial directions, they could self teach themselves and add to their own livelihoods.

Now, 5 months later, this idea has transformed into raising $5,000 seed money and acquiring 8 laptops to kickstart the classroom/computer lab project (link here). The simple mention of my decision to help these boys has inspired 4 of my friends to come volunteer alongside and contribute collectively to make the classroom a reality for them.

Just a couple weeks ago I proposed the project to the boys and asked if it was something they wanted and they all raised their hands enthusiastically. When I asked them a good location for them so they can all walk there easily, they gave me the best location and district.

Next week, my friends arrive and soon the classroom (titled Avasar Shala) will begin in addition to the existing work of the Pilgrims of Charity. I am writing from an internet cafe now where I pay 15 cents an hour and listening to some deep house music. It is the weekend, and I will definitely take some needed rest after my first week here.

Thanks for reading, for the continued support at this time. I launched a small campaign for the project and if you want to contribute financially, you can. Or if you want to visit me while I am here, come. I will stay till Dec 20.

Cheerio and Connect with me on FB if you ever want to chat more deeply.

CIAO!

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10502390_10154809883165717_5626502655377406327_nAll photos used with permission by Tara Beth Currah

 

2014 Travel~Living Update

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Well, I have been getting some periodic requests to post an update as now some friends and followers know I am traveling abroad again. To me though, it’s just living. I have this dance with life, and the floor I dance on isn’t limited to the corner~
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There has been a whirlwind of movement this past month, and it’s not normally how I have moved in the past. These years, I enjoy finding a special beautiful place and setting up shop there for a month, where I can enjoy community, do my work and eat new exotic foods. Well, for the Month of May, my travel has been~ USA-Netherlands-Belgium-Qatar-India and now Nepal. Tomorrow it’s Jordan and Israel.
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I’m used to it, and can manage and adapt myself at the drop of a mango. Yet, it does take some energy. Currently, I am writing from the town of Nagarkot, Nepal. From this mountain village, one can see 360 degrees of Himalayas. I am in the “Ganesh Cottage,” my little house for a few days. It has nice views from the cottage, and has some prayer flags sprinkled through it along with fabrics. My hotel is called “Hotel at the End of The Universe.” With a name as such, I had to stay there ~ It’s owned by a Nepali / Dutch couple and it’s a tranquil place.
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Some friends have asked me, “Why India?” And, the simple answer is, I felt the pull of my spirit to go there again. I had gone there ten years ago in 2004 serving with as a volunteer for 3 months. That time was life changing for me, and I was curious to see how this vibrant and massive country called India has changed and continue my experience with it.

One the Worlds largest Banyan tree, India 2004
One the Worlds largest Banyan tree, India 2004

As an American citizen, I was able to obtain a 5 year multiple entry visa, and so I can move in and out of this vast and rich land as much as I want for the next few years, so this trip was not about “seeing it all.” I sort of used to move that way when I was 18-20, but now I just like picking a few spots and “soaking” it. So I flew to Mumbai, stayed a few days there. Flew to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and stayed there a couple days too. Then it a train up to Siliguri, there I caught a land rover to Darjeeling, the mountainous town famous the world over for its tea.
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It was a diverse town, with a mix of Tibetans, Gorkhas, Nepalis and Indians. The entire town is built on a steep incline of a mountain, and my guesthouse sat right on the top. I worked on my writings there, and took a 5 day trek through the Singalila National Park/Ridge. I hired a Sherpa named Tsering and together we hiked about 10-11 miles a day, stopping in very little Himalayan villages for tea and meals. The highlight for me was the opportunity to see with my own eyes the highest mountain in the world: Mount Everest.

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Another highlight so far for me has been to reconnect in person with a friend I made ten years ago in Calcutta. His name is Brother Francois, and he is a Franciscan priest serving the poor in the city. Most of his work revolves around addressing the needs of orphans living in the train station and also visiting those in the hospital who need support of any kind.
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When I volunteered with him ten years ago, it became the most intense day of my life as I saw the reality of a broken hospital system. I saw people who could have survived with available care, die and witnessed also the reality of young boys living on their own in a harsh environment.

Since then, Brother Francois has been doing this work EVERYDAY. To me, he is one of the most courageous and kindest humans I have met on this planet. When I surprised him, he was overjoyed to see me. And I came to a realization that I had not been aware of. As I talked with Francois, he made it clear to me that one of the main reasons he continued with his work in Calcutta in 2004, was because of my willingness to go volunteer with him when he asked me in the Mother House (Where the sisters of Mother Teresas order, Missionaries of Charity, live). At that time, he was still exploring the idea, since he was from France. The funny thing is, is on that particular day in 2004, I felt a strong pull in my spirit to go the Mother House. I was serving in an orphanage far away, and even though all the international volunteers met there each morning for breakfast before volunteering, I would not go because I needed to ride the bus for 45 minutes to get to the orphanage I was serving at. Nonetheless, I felt a pull early that morning to go. And that morning I met Brother Francois.

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I knew then I would have a friend for life, and through these past ten years my family and I have sent clothes to the children he serves. And, for the short couple days I had to spend with him in Hot Calcutta a couple weeks ago, I was blessed and also reminded of realities. I was reminded, because I went back to a hospital with him where he serves. There, I had flashbacks of the lack of cleanliness and care available. The elevator had dried blood in all the corners, the casualty ward had used gauze, urine and dust on the floors. The beds were simple and each patient, was just sitting up, basically getting what care they could from their family members, and an occasional checkup from a physician. I actually didn’t see any there, but it was towards the evening. What I did see, was a young man named Sambath. He was extremely thin and only had his Mother to offer what little care she could. Sambath had rectal cancer, and it was terminal. For a man who was 22 years old and was just in med school the year before, it was a difficult site to see. This is something a normal citizen of my home country just doesn’t get to see. Untreated cancer in your face.

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I was stronger to accept the reality than my last time ten years ago, but it reminded me of the fragility of life and how life is valued in other places. I gave Sambath a postcard from Hawaii that had a couple Hibiscus flowers on it. I hoped he would find peace until he moves on..

While the hospital visits were still melancholy, the next day Francois invited me to speak to the boys from the station. He gathered them together and for a couple hours I shared with them lessons of geography, and showed them photos of my travels around the world on my laptop. They were fascinated to see images of massive Redwood trees, European architecture and scenes from the movie “Samsara,” a movie that travels around the world. My intention was to expand their horizons a bit, and by all the smiles and affection after, I think I succeeded.

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There of course, are other highlights, such as traveling in the Netherlands with my Mom, who is Dutch and had not been back for 39 years, and visiting a tea factory in Darjeeling but for now I will sign off. A new adventure awaits, and another dream will be fulfilled: To pilgrimage to Israel.

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Thanks for your encouragement and thoughts, prayers through the journey~ Some more photos below… IMG_0788 IMG_0867 IMG_0756 IMG_0952

A Grand Year of Adventures in 2013~Now onto Another Trip Around the Sun

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Well, as I write this morning, I am in a spiritual retreat center on the north shores of Maui in the islands of Hawaii. The weather is so nice and energetic here and its been a few years since I last was in the islands. Sunrises on top of volcanos, spectacular coastal drives and trekking through rainforest to ancient Hawaiian swim holes are a few recently made memories that will bring smiles to my face in years to come.

I hope to those that keep up with my updates and travels all had a wonderful holiday and New Year. I am truly happy to share life with friends, be it in person or through a blog. I haven’t posted for a few months now, so I figure it is time to give some “juice.”

In 2013, I went around the world. I traveled in early February to Europe where I spent two months in the Netherlands, with side trips to France and Germany. It was then off to South East Asia, where I spent close to four months venturing Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. And then it was right over to good ole’ North Dakota just in time for 4th of July Fireworks and one of my best friends weddings. From there, I hopped on a ride share across the northern part of the States to California, where I spent a majority of the rest of the year. It seems I’m destined for another round the world journey in 2014, yet this time flying West.

Of course this wasn’t a vacation, as some can assume. Throughout the entire time being abroad, I was writing. Both in my professional 9-5 job with Visual News, and also with book projects I plan to publish. Personally, I find more inspiration being in a completely different environment than my own home country of the West Coast. While I love to see my friends and family in the states, I’ve personally evolved to a place where I need the chaos of a foreign context to shape and stimulate my heart and mind.

Each day is anew, filled with tones, noises, tastes, weather and relationships. And more.

I’ll give a few highlights from last year I enjoyed throughout the movements~

Carnival in Netherlands

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Carnival is widely celebrated in Holland, and the Dutch recognize that the best festivities are held in the South of the country. I happened to be in that particular area at the time it was happening and though it was quite cold outside, my spirit was warm with song, dance and of course, beer!

Yoga in Thailand

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I began my Yoga journey finally in Thailand. I had waited until I could learn directly from my cousin, who has been a Yoga Ashtangi for over 20 years. Her practice is quite well known around the world and I was privileged to learn from her on a beautiful island.

Friendship in Langkawi

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After spending time in Thailand, I went over to the Island of Langkawi in Malaysia to explore, meet up with a friend and check out sailboats. I found a wonderful expat community there whom I had a lot of fun getting to know. Langkawi itself is a great island to check out as it is unique in its own way. Definitely stay at Soluna Guesthouse if you get there and tell Claudia I said hello.

Art in Black Rock

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It was another year of art installations in that special place in the desert. It was a wonderful year again full of expression, exploration and community.

Hiking in NorCal

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I spent some of the Autumn writing in Northern Cal/ Southern Oregon. To be in the quiet stillness of the vast forest is renewing and energizing. In a world where the race gets faster by the millisecond, finding these sanctuaries are more important than ever, and I was lucky to find such raw nature so close by to my SF bay home.

Well, I’m back to Hawaii Life now and am already making great memories for this year. I hope you do too, because really, anything is possible if you project your intention into the universe enough~ Thanks for reading as always~

The Unknown Island of Langkawi, Malaysia

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I came to Langkawi in search of sailboats.
Until I had come to Southern Thailand, I had never heard of the small 500 square kilometers island in Northwest Malaysia before. Close to the Thai border, Langkawi I discovered has quite a bit to offer. I came expecting to stay 3-7 days and now I’m going onto the 4th week here.

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There are some really nice yachts out here and I’ve been hounding the marinas, talking to Captains, brokers and long term expats about getting a larger sailboat here than what I currently have back in Seattle. Basically I’m looking for a 30-38ft cruiser that is able to make coastal passages through the straits of Melacca, the Southern Burmese archipelago and of course all of Indonesia. There are just too many islands here along with genuinely friendly human beings that make such an adventure hard to resist.

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This Malaysian island of Langkawi has the potential to be a base for such adventures. There are plenty of business opportunities both on the island and virtually and with an international airport on the island, one can get to practically any major Asian city in less than 5 hours for those occasional city fixes.

There’s sailing, there are beaches, mountains, jungles, bald eagles, high cable cars, waterfalls and lakes, foods of all sorts and literally people from all over the world here. This island doesn’t attract just the western crowd, but there are quite a few tourists from China, India, and the Middle East. Everyday I meet citizens from countries all over. Just yesterday I spent some time with a young Syrian man named Ahmed who fled the country from Bashar and is running a little stand selling middle eastern products in the mall. We’re friends on facebook now. 😉

Soluna Guesthouse, where I have been staying
Soluna Guesthouse, where I have been staying

The longer I spend out the country, the more I realize just how integral it is in my life. My family has a vibrant international history and my upbringing incorporated American, European and Asian traditions. While it’s more natural for me to be overseas than in America, I still appreciate the vastness and beauty of America. What I don’t like about America is that citizens are given only two to three weeks vacation a year. The culture is “live to work,” and it cripples Americans because they work so hard, and even when they take vacation, there are sometimes still the concerns of projects they attempted to leave at home.

This is why in the two months I have been in Asia, I have only met 8 Americans. Four of them quit their jobs to travel, the other 4 were either a post grad or long-term expat. It’s just too much to go to Asia when you only have two weeks holiday and the flights there and back are going to eliminate a couple of days already. So Americans float to Hawaii, Mexico or even Europe. It makes sense, But I tell you, Asia is “where it is at.” This is my 5th time back and I love it more and more every time I come back.

Get to Asia, eat all sorts of food, meet many interesting people everyday and make friends, enjoy the nature of mountains, jungle, oceans, reefs and underwater worlds. It’s all here, and it’s not going away.

I’m doing alright and feeling right at home. Hope Summer is beginning to treat everyone nicely~

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Left Thailand and now in Malaysia~

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Wow. I must say in the past 20 years that I have traveled internationally, I have never come across a place as magical as I just did. I mean, there is Burning Man, and that can be quite a wonder filled environment, yet it’s not its own country (in some ways it is) and it’s temporary. Where I just came from is in another country and has been thriving for some time now.

This place was so special that I’m not even going to disclose where it is. I will just say it was on a Thai island.

It’s really nice when you can discover a beautiful natural environment, yet when one can come to a beautiful place and also have a beautiful community, then it’s perfect.

I came to this bay and met some amazing people, I danced all night, I swam everyday, I ate healthy nutritious food, I laughed, I smiled, I made friends, I loved. I created stars in the water, I explored exotic reefs and jungle, I connected and reconnected with myself.

If you come across this place I describe, it was meant to be for you.

I’m thankful for the memories, the people, the family and will return when the wind draws me near~

Now I’m in the historic Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia and soon I will venture to another island and South ~

Thanks for reading as always~

and…a song that I am feeling is a theme song for the past days~

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Pilgrimage as a Form of Travel

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I just left a mass from a large cathedral here in Holland and its focus was to bless the many “pilgrims” that are walking the famous Camino de Santiago trail. While participating in the service, I felt inspired to write a post about the idea of pilgrimage as a form of travel.

Map of the pilgrimage trail the Camino de Santiago. The most traveled route is in Northern Spain, and many routes go to that direction.
Map of the Camino de Santiago. The most traveled route is in Northern Spain, and many routes go to that direction.

Some of my past travels have been spiritual in their nature or involved traveling to very spiritual countries such as Tibet and India. While some of these travels have seemed distant to me at times, I was reminded today about some of the joys I felt when I was in that place in my life. A young man seeking answers to life’s mysteries and taking a bite of the world in the process.

While I didn’t get all the answers I was looking for then, I found enlightenment in my own way. And I expect each person will find their own as well if they decide to pursue it.

I went to Tibet for the summer in 2002. It proved to be a life-altering experience.
I went to Tibet for the summer in 2002. It proved to be a life-altering experience. Photo by my travel companion Jared Kachurak

I think the idea of pilgrimage can conjure up thoughts of it having to only apply to someone who believes in deities and a spiritual world, but I think it applies to each human. The act itself can be beneficial to each person. While there can be many ways one decides to journey as a “pilgrim,” I think there are two ways I would like to spotlight from my own experience. Let’s call them the “slow way” and the “fast way.”

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The slow way is exactly what it implies; Slow motion. In my mind, this mostly involves the idea of walking for a period of time. Although I think it can also apply to sailing and possibly even tour-biking. There is something that happens in this act that I have found magical. I wasn’t expecting it, but after sailing slowly in the raw and vast ocean away from news, cars, computers and phones, something happened.

While “pilgrims/travelers” may walk for a couples days to countless years, I find that if someone is committed to a journey the slow way, they may start to realize a very different reality that they were used to. I had this epiphany when I was sailing in Mexico for two months.

Image of the sailing trip in Baja, Mexico
Image of the sailing trip in Baja, Mexico

One of the first things I noticed was I began to lose track of time. The idea of time was invented by humans, and so much of our lives can be determined by time. Yet, in the open ocean it didn’t matter. I found my schedule revolved around waking up when the sun rose and going to bed not too late after the sun went down.

Initially, I lost track of the hours, and eventually I lost track of days and even weeks. But it was of no matter, I was engaged in the present. There wasn’t telling what the wind or weather was going to be like, so focus was on the now. As a result, I felt an amazing liberation and every action of the day was that much more meaningful and exciting.

During this voyage, I remembered a scripture verse in the Bible told that I heard when I was younger and it said:

So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

-matt 6:34

That’s a fairly difficult mantra to live by it seems, but I found supreme peace in living in the present and not focusing a majority of my energy on the future. There’s another verse in this chapter that says:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

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I found a peace with these sacred words as well because instead of worrying about if we are going to survive for years to come, it encourages the idea of trusting that our needs are going to be provided for us, and to focus on the present. Some may consider this a false reality and hope, but I think there is a release on worry and stress to consider such an idea.

If the “slow way” is pursued, detached from the busyness of life, it most likely will prove to be beneficial that person. One may find themselves further “enlightened” by this action if their heart is open to listen and experience daily.

Ok onto the “fast way.”

FPP

The “fast way” is in a way another form of pilgrimage. To me, this term involves the act of travel but not solely focused in just one form of transport like walking or biking. It can be that one travels by train, plane, bus and car, but because the individual is seeking something in their journey, they will be inspired in their own way.

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For example, someone could be seeking to experience the idea of community. In their journey, there wasn’t a set plan or place to go, it was just a “mission.” And in that journey, that individual may have found themselves accepted by a group of people, sharing meals, dancing, laughing and drinking and finding a satisfactory answer to what they were looking for. Other examples could be seeking friendship, faith, learning others ways of life or even love (though we all know that could be risky 🙂

There doesn’t even need to be a focus really. Just the idea of going with an open heart and mind to receive is enough. Personally, I always try to travel this way. One can travel with a very set agenda, with all the places they researched before on the schedule. It’s one way to travel, yet if someone has the option to stay and travel longer with flexibility, then it’s rewards will definitely be much more than the short-term option.

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In a way we are all pilgrims, seeking answers to life, contemplating ideas of Truth, existence and purpose. There are many opinions, and each person has their own thoughts. The thoughts we are exposed to when we are young in our home environment are just that: thoughts we know at our local environment. The world is much bigger than that though, and when one goes to other environments and exposes themselves to other ideas and ways, one will definitely find themselves more “enlightened,” and maybe that is pilgrimage too.

Thanks for reading, feedback is definitely welcomes 🙂

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cami

Time to talk about Paris

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I’m sure many have been able to visit Paris at some point. For me though, the first time I was able to explore this famed city was last week.

On my first trip to Europe in 2000, I did go to the Paris airport. But that experience was only limited to eating a croque monsieur, buying Cuban cigars and finagling a customs officer to stamp my passport. Hardly the experience.

And even though I had been to Europe many times after, and spending the better part of a year throughout the continent, Paris never happened.

Maybe I was dissuaded by the tourism of cities like Paris, Rome and Venice. I much rather preferred smaller towns and cities with less cameras and tour buses.

But this is February, in the heart of Winter and not many people travel during this time (at least not to the Northern hemisphere.) I had a friend who had moved to Paris three years ago and I promised to him that when I was in Europe again, I would visit him. So to honor that promise and to finally check out Paris, I hopped on a ride to the City of love, arts and baguettes.

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From Maastrict, Netherlands to Paris I caught a ride share for 22 euros. A train would have cost close to 100 and a flight the same. I had used ride share in the US and am always happy to make new friends through the activity. While some people have an issue meeting and interacting with strangers, I have found it to be quite fun. I also promote the idea of renewing trust between people, so in a way I promote this through the action. If you do find yourself in Europe and want to find a ride, check out the website here.

I arrived in Paris and upon parking the car, I see an artist painting on his easel and hear a semi-pleasant voice singing opera from a 4th floor building. Ah, Paris. City of the arts! 🙂

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Upon my first walk, I saw the famous Notre Dame cathedral. From a distance it looked massive and the front was one of the most impressive facades I had seen.

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I got to a Metro and met my friend Jason Brown , whom I had been friends with since university days. It was nice to make his acquaintance again after a long 3 years. There was a lot of catching up to do and catch up we did.

The following day I met up with another friend Astra from the UK, who happened to be in Paris studying French. The funny thing about Astra besides her personality, is that we always seem to see each other every time I come to Europe. The past 5 times I have come to Europe, I have run into her. Sometime for just 15 minutes and sometimes for a few days. I have love for her and she’s a good friend.

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Together, we walked to the Eiffel tower and Wow, what an amazing structure. I mean, yes, it’s the Eiffel tower, but some monuments lack the awe upon seeing them (such as the Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall for me) but the Eiffel tower really was a treat. We of course went up after waiting for only 15 minutes in line and saw some nice views.

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We walked to the Trocodero, to the Arc de Triomphe and finally to the Champs Elysees. It was sort of surreal day to me because, you are somewhat raised seeing these places and then you actually see them all in one day. It was a good day, I took the metro back to Jason’s and rested that night to prepare for the next couple of days of tourism for me.

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The next day Jason and I traversed around the city. We checked out some nice viewpoints, the front of the Opera house, a really nice Starbucks (you’ll see the photo below) and some art districts. One of the crazy highlights was the consuming of “Steak Tartare.” That’s straight up raw ground beef, mixed with a little soy sauce, tabasco and some other flavor. I don’t know why I did it, I guess Jason sort of “egged” me on. It was his first time trying it too. I didn’t get sick, but I definitely felt weird after and proceeded to eat a whole lemon and get drinking some beer real quick. What the @#@@ was I thinking?? Ah, this is what travel is all about 🙂

Ah, steak tartare...
Ah, steak tartare…

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Yes, this is a Starbucks
Yes, this is a Starbucks
Ah, Europe
Ah, Europe

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The day was nice and it ended with me of course going to a Couchsurfing meetup in Paris. The pub where it was held got seriously packed out with “CSer’s” and I met many people from all over the world as I always do. It’s always a great and fast way to make friends and get great local advice on the region you’re traveling to. If you’re in Paris, every Monday night at the Lions’ Pub at 8pm is the meetup. Good times~

My last day was spent visiting some museums. I decided to skip the Louvre for the next trip and went to the Musee D’Orsay and Musee Rodin. Together I saw some pieces of art I had wanted to see for a long time and Rodin is my favorite sculptor, so it was a treat to see some of his works. He truly had a gifted hand. I couldn’t take photos all the time of these works, so I’ll post which art I really enjoyed below.

Renoir
Renoir
Van Gogh
Van Gogh
Monet
Monet
Cabanel
Cabanel
Tiffany Vase
Tiffany Vase
Rodin
Rodin

I had an amazing time in Paris, there is so much to see. It was a wonderful 4 days, and I hope to spend more time there soon. Thanks for reading, and if you need tips on traveling there or anywhere, feel free to connect with me on my facebook.

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Unexpected theme from last week: The Fandango~

Olé!

Well maybe not olé, but rhythmic movement to the strums and hums of eight guitarras. The Fandango! No, it is not Fandango.com and I’m not offering any movie tickets, but it is a dance…a dance originating 400 years ago from Veracruz and  a dance that still exists today in the halls and houses of those who dare to participate in its embrace.

I was on my sailboat and I have had a book in there for some time. It made the cut for selected books in the small space when I moved from a house, for it was a classic for sailors: Two Years Before The Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

It’s the story of a young sailor in the 1830’s. A young sailor who was previously a student at Harvard but left on a sea voyage due to his “tiredness of the tedium of a slow convalescence.”

It is wonderful to read a book written by Dana during the adventurous age of sail. Stories of Old California in all its natural wild and wonder, of wild horses riding around, beautiful blue ocean and the fandango. Wait…Did you say the fandango?

Yes…I did. While these young sailors spent the better part of a couple of years in their brig named “The Pilgrim,” collecting hides from the coast to bring back to Boston for trade; they also had, upon occasion, “liberty days,” to go to shore and explore a bit on land and in the local pueblos of San Juan Capistrano or Santa Barbara amongst other California coastal towns.

“The Pilgrim”

Well, the local agent for the ship’s trading company was getting married. He was getting married to the lovely Donna Anneta, and they were having the wedding and gathering in town. With weddings during these days, it was “on these occasions no invitations are given, but everyone is expected to come, though there is always a private entertainment within the house for particular friends.” The father of the brides home was one of the established in town and it had a courtyard that could easily host a few hundred guests. This would be a good party needless to say.

When the bride came out of the church with the bridegroom, the flags from the ship that were seen in the distance were raised and the sailors fired a 23 shot salute in succession. Her flags lay up all day in their beautiful colors honoring the wedding celebration and when the sun came down, 23 shots were fired, her flags were lowered and the sailor boys got ready uniform to come ashore for the fiesta and fandango.

With all the guitars and violins, the music played. Hundreds of people were at the gathering, and the fandango was danced. There were some great dancers such as Don Juan Bandini, “who dressed in white pantaloons neatly made, a short jacket of dark silk, gaily figured, white stockings and thin morocco slippers. An occasional touch of the toe to the ground, seemed all that was necessary to give him a long interval of motion in the air.” The ladies loved Don Bandini, and he led a wonderfully dance with the brides sister to which everyone loudly applauded.

It was beautiful. There was love in the air, young men were looking at young ladies and the young señoritas were smiling and enjoying the festivities. There were all sorts of ways the young and single courted about. Techniques  such as placing your sombrero on a lady while she wasn’t looking was a male technique. She would have to wear the hat and  guess who the culprit was. If she found out who he was and was accepting of the suitor so far, she would wear the señors hat. But if she wasn’t particularly attracted to him, there was a point during the song where the ladies could all toss their hats if they pleased. This action was usually followed by lots of laughter amongst the ladies. There was also talk about ladies crushing eggs on the men as a way to let them know they liked them…Ahhh, the good old days!

Two days later, I find myself at a Fandango dance unexpectedly. It happened to be going on at a launch party I was attending for a new blog called the Globalist in Seattle. It’s focused on covering stories that are international in their scope drawing from Seattle’s diversity. While attending, the Seattle Fandango Project had come to offer their music and teach the dance. And as I sat next to my fellow Israeli couchsurfer friend while enjoying a bit of hummus and a dolma, I got up and walked over to participate, because when there are opportunities to dance, I rarely pass them up. And while I may not have had my Moroccan slips and silk robes on, I did have my Indonesian Batik and silk cowboys scarf, so Don Juan Saleme was ready to prance.

As I learned and enjoyed moving my feet to the steps and stomps, I took periodic sips from the drink in my hand, listened to the strumming of 10 something guitars and watched some great fandango from the lovely mujeres of the dance.

Learning of this historic dance  and dancing it in two days makes me love the variety and surprises of life. It became a theme for last week and I may have to go fandango’n again..

Ahhh…It was a nice surprise. Now I shall sign off for some sipping on my yerba mate. Thanks for reading~and keep dancing the fandango of la vida. 🙂 Ciao~