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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Some Highlights of 2015

2015 is over and 2016 is here, the year of the Monkey..Oooo oooo ahhh ahhh!

I hope it was an alright year for everyone, with learning and growth I hope..

I’ve posted highlights of 2011,12,13 & 14 on this blog before..So here are a few for 15! I’ll start from the beginning of the year and work my way to the end….

Ecstatic Dance at Kalani in Hawaii232526_web_Ecstatic-Dance-featuring-Shaman’s-Dream-at-Kalani           Over on the East side of the Big Island in Hawaii is a retreat center called Kalani. It is a special place that has existed there for 30 years and provides a communal sanctuary full of spirit.  Each Sunday is Ecstatic dance, and here in this particular community it really was a special experience because it was here that the idea of Ecstatic Dance began. I recommend everyone to go to an Ecstatic dance in your local area, or create one if your area does not have one! It’s super liberating and sometimes we just need to let it out in dance, with no one judging how we move.

Experiencing Sydney, Austalia

This year marked my first time to the land down under and I spent about 3 months in Sydney, Australia.

sydney-aerial-view Sydney has a high standard of life, with superb coffee, bakeries, and an ample choice of restaurants to choose from. I lived in the district of Potts Point, right across from the offices of George Miller, the creator of Mad Max.

While there, I got to preview the Mad Max vehicles before the film was released internationally. They were quite the setup and was fun to see. I had actually never watched any of the Mad Max films before, and a local theatre was playing the old ones, so I did the trilogy marathon before seeing Fury Road. Good film and good fun.

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Really enjoyed the sourdough bread and sailboats of Sydney as well. And made some friends too, but I also was happy to part after 3 months… Need a little more ‘flavor’ in cities for long term living..I think I will check out Melbourne and Byron Bay next.

Taking a trip to Joshua Tree and Camping under the stars

A full moon, a secret location between massive boulders, and one of your best friends to share a memorable summer night camping. It was enlightening and fun and I recommend everyone to do a little summer camping trip over there at the national park.

Anyone can ‘wilderness camp’ if you are at least one mile from the road. So go on google maps, check out where there may be a good place and blaze your own trail. But remember, bring enough water 🙂

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That Thing In The Desert 2015 “Carnival of Mirrors”

If you have been reading my personal blog for some years, you know I go to “that thing in the desert” and it makes this list every year.

Again, it was a wonderful year and this year especially was nice for two reasons:

One, I gifted a ticket to one of my best friends who I had been trying to convince to come for many years. He finally did and we were able to connect and make some wonderful memories out there. This year, we hope to make more.

Two, I got to participate and gift my energy to the CouchBurners Camp, which is the couchsurfing camp. I love couchsurfing as many know, and together we had a stellar crew where lots of fun was had. So many good friendships forged out there. Sending love to anyone reading this who was part of that experience this past summer :*

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(Jaybol and I making coffee for those looking for a hot cup)

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(Art crew for Compound (i) this year, I took a break from the team, but she shined lovely as always this year!)

Quality Time with a Good ‘Homie’ known as BENNY D

You know, sometimes you need some good time with a friend, and it was due for my good friend Ben Davis and I.

Some believe in universal connections and for some reason, this guy and I always seem to run into each other around the planet. I’m talking like, on the same flight from Beijing to Tokyo, highway driving, large gatherings type of connections.

And a couple years ago, we traveled together for 2 months. No conflicts at all, in fact, I’ve never got in an argument ever with this dude. And that’s saying something when you travel and live with someone for a bit. Benny and I hung out for a couple weeks at his place and we caught up after not hanging for 2 years. Good times. Go see your good friends and connect with them if they can. Then when you are 70 or 80, you can laugh about the memories you shared when you were in your younger years .

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My led South East Asia Trip (Thailand, Bali, Cambodia)

Over the years, I have prepared and led trips for non-profit organizations, and I decided it may be time to go into business myself with all the travel mojo I have accumulated over the years.

Thus, a trip was prepared for South East Asia, and it was a blast. I took a group of friends to Thailand, Cambodia and Bali, and we experienced everything from Palaces, Angkor Wat, villages, fire dances, rice fields, temples, and a variety of cuisines. All in all, it was a successful trip and I look forward to doing another one later in 2016.

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My first Indian Wedding in Pune

My friend Priyank was getting married and he invited me. Of course I had to come!

Even though I had been to India multiple times, and spent almost a year there, I had not participated in a proper Indian wedding. Let me tell you, everyone should experience at least one in your life!

Lots of eating, lots of dancing, and lots of love. I had a wonderful time there and congratulations again to Priyank and Prapti.

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GOA, INDIA

As a traveler, eventually you always hear about Goa, about it being the end of the famous ‘Hippie trail’ from the 60’s/70’s and the evolution of it’s nostalgia and magic.

But in recent years, you hear it’s been overrun by Russians and it’s played out.

So, I never really pursued it as a destination to go to, yet, since I was attending Priyank’s wedding 12 hours away by bus, it seemed like a good idea to go and check it out. AND, I had a partner in crime to join me in this adventure, a fellow traveler, couchsurfer and sailor known as Miss Cristina Limon!

And I have to say…I was surprised on how much I enjoyed being there.

Yes, there were a lot of Russians, and yes, it was a little played out commercially like many of the best places are unfortunately these years.

But in the midst of the saturation, there still remains a spirit and culture to the area. There are still many old timers who came decades ago and still come back. Honestly, I don’t run across too many places like that.

And there were open mic nights, and drum circles, bonfires, and endless meals with fellow travelers there on the beach.

I had a wonderful place on a hilltop close to an early place where travelers congregated to in the 70’s and the place still retained a sanctuary feel as I looked out watching dolphins jump in the distant ocean as the sun set vibrantly. Absolutely magical.

So, if you get to India, and you happen to be there from November to April, check out the northern beaches of Goa and you may just find yourself there for a while. You may find other special things too.

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Kona Town for the Holidays

It’s the 3rd year in a row I am in Hawaii for new years. It’s always nice to be with family at this time and to reflect on the year past.

Now onto 2016! Hope everyone has a wonderful year ahead and make the most of life! 

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ALOHA! 

and Mahalo for Reading!

Criss Crossing the Equator

It’s November 4 around 8pm and I’m in my room on the Khao San Road in Bangkok. Now to be honest, I’m not really a fan of the Khao San area. It may have been a chilled hangout for the hippie travelers back in the day, but now it’s quite the gong show each night, each restaurant blasting its music they think westerners want to hear be it reggae, classic rock, pop or trap, combined with food stalls, buckets of any combination of booze, spontaneous ladyboy lap dances (whether the tourist knows or not), and smells of smoke, sweat and college.

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So why am I here? Well, I’m not here for my own personal pleasure, that’s for sure. Been there, done that when I was as young as most of the revelers around here are. No, this time around I am leading a tour group around South East Asia on my own custom tour. And you know, each person has just got to experience the vibes of Khao San at least once if they are to go to Bangkok. There really isn’t many other places like it..

I’ll tell you what..When I was last here in 2013 for the SongKran (Thai New Year), there were tens of thousands of people were all blasting each other with water guns and buckets full of water. I along with 90 other couchsurfers from 15 countries went out in full force each day and I got to say, that was pretty fun.

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But besides my rants about the vortex that is Khao San, Bangkok has been a pleasant visit. Went to the Royal Palace again, yet this time around it was quite saturated with swarms of Chinese tour groups. The Chinese are really venturing out and with lessening travel restrictions and more disposable incomes, it will be a matter of time before they will traverse everywhere it seems. Look out for big white buses..china1

I don’t really have an issue with Chinese tour groups, as long as they respect the local lands they visit. Everybody is expanding their horizons in their own way.. I must say though, my last trip to the Palace in Bangkok with hardly anyone there in 2011 felt a bit more of an authentic experience as opposed to feeling like I was leaving a baseball game.

Bali….

Prior to my arrival in the BKK, I spent the better part of 2 weeks visiting friends in Bali. For me, this was the first time on the fabled island, even though I had several opportunities to visit in the past when I visited Indonesia. To be honest, all the travelers tales about Bali made me feel that the island had lost a bit of the original charm it once had due to over saturation of tourism.

And well…I just avoided places like Kuta, because, the photos paint a good enough picture on Google images for me to know that it’s not my cup of tea, ever.

But in the end, Bali was a unique experience, although I have to say I had some unrealistic expectations. And I try not to have expectations, but it seems  subconsciously I had some for this land..

Expectations such as seeing vast open rice fields, serene settings for miles, little traffic in some parts, a small pleasant island really… Sure Kuta was partied out, but Ubud and other parts? They were still unspoiled in my mind… I pictured the beautiful scene in the movie Baraka showing a local carrying fruit on her head walking on the rice terraces.

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I had an idea Ubud was a special sanctuary of a place, attracting conscious spirits around the world, where people chilled in organic cafes, practiced meditation and walked around the countryside from place to place. It sure seemed as such when I was considering renting villas a couple years back there.. But what those photos and films failed to show was the businesses, the shops, the traffic and the burning of trash.

And as I drove into the area of central Bali for the first time, feeling it was a bit of a pilgrimage of sorts, I was not met with the open fields and serenity… But rather was met like how the rest of large cities in Java are. Narrow roads with endless shops. This time it was a bit more spiritual with the selling of glittering Ganeshes and Buddhas, glamorizing the spiritual factor.

As the drive was happening, there were hardly any vast natural settings, as it was all occupied by some form of business, and to be honest I got a bit emotional and needed to have my friend pull over the car, while I contemplated what the hell happened to this beautiful island and to shift my subconscious expectations to the reality.

It bums me out to see any country that holds a beautiful place in their hands, and then allow it to be sold off to the highest bidder with little or no regulations and fail to consider the long term effects all these businesses and merchants will have on the environment and the culture of a place. Sure, everyone would like to make a living, but not at the expense of spoiling a special place. It’s more important than ever to protect the beautiful parts of the planet.

As travelers, we all hear the stories of the old days from those who went before us, traveling in the 80’s, the 70’s, 60’s and before that to the 30’s and the centuries before.

These lands and cultures were unique, open, and fairly preserved. Life was a bit more simpler then and people connected in a slow way.uuuSometimes I wish I lived in those days…

The reality is that Bali the paradise island is a short flight from many countries including Australia, China and India. And this land sees  some 2.7 million visitors a year coming for all sorts of reasons whether they want to rest, party, surf, eat, pray or love. There also are more and more Indonesians coming from Java, Borneo and the rest of the country coming to make it on the island too where the opportunities are greater.

Yet in the midst of the craziness, the traditions still exist. The rice is still grown, the incense and flowers are still given to honor the spirits (along with candies, cigarettes and rice, because you know the spirits like that too), the children still sing songs and the prayers are still prayed. It just happens in the evolving context of a bustling tourism market. And if you really wanted to find some peaceful place, you can. It will take some effort to get there though..

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I had fun in Bali. I saw some good friends, ate some good Mie Goreng, Bakso, and Ayam amongst all other Indo foods. I channeled the my Dutch-Indo heritage (my family lived in Indonesia for a long time before WWII), and I got to attend the 12th Annual Ubud Writers Festival, where I got to connect with amazing authors including Pulitzer prize winner Michael Chabon and also Jono Lineen, who walked 2700km in the Himalayas and managed hospitals in war zones for Doctors without Borders (MSF). Lots of amazing authors and people there..Program-Launch-Concept-2

I got to witness poetry slams from Indonesians, Australians and Americans, witness ceremonies from the indigenous tribes of North Borneo talking story and honoring the spirits on what was Halloween night, and watch the sunset while the surfers caught their finals waves of the day.

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And I’ll be back there in 5 days with members of my tour group.

Tomorrow I will depart the 10 million strong city of Bangkok and fly away to the exotic lands of Cambodia to visit again what I consider one of the most special human made monuments in the world: Angkor.

I hope the Chinese haven’t discovered it yet…

Good night all, I’m off to meet some couchsurfers at a local pub, talk some travel stories with locals and travelers alike.

Thanks for reading as always~~~More posts to come during this time..

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Indonesia and back to USA

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After being in the quaint and memorable island of Island of Langkawi, I flew to Indonesia to see my friends before heading back to the US.

I remembered there why I loved Indonesia and why I didn’t like Indonesia. For the positives aspects, the Indonesians are some of the most friendliest, caring and hospitable people I’ve ever met in my life. When I came to Indonesia two years ago, I realized this and during my hiatus away from the country, I kept in consistent contact with the friends I made there. I had to see them before going back to America.

I spent the first 5 nights with my friend Yudha and met his new wife and enjoyed having good conversations and trying out other Indonesian delicacies I had not yet tried. After this time, I bussed over to Bandung, where I met with my friends and do what most Indonesians do in their country, eat and chat together!

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It was nice to see my friends, but I also realized how much I despise the Indonesia traffic. I mean, I have experienced some fairly bad traffic in my life. Los Angeles, India, Egypt etc… Yet, in the 4th most populated country in the world (300 million) some %75 of it lives on the small island of Java where I was. Traffic is not relaxed in Indonesia, it’s a fight from the time you leave the carport to wherever your destination is. The roads are small lanes and new roads have not been built. Motorbikes abound.

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I’m not one to get frazzled easily, but this traffic saps your energy quick. After 45 minutes, one needs to focus on positive thoughts 🙂 I’m sure if I lived in Indonesia, I could adapt, but it got annoying and I preferred to stay close to the places I was staying. Yet even if I wanted to venture 5-10 miles away, it would take an hour due to the streets, one ways, and the sheer amount of cars and motorbikes. You need to go to experience it, it’s quite absurd at times and doesn’t make sense, but hey, this is Indonesia.

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After the traffic subsided as I flew away on a plane to Singapore, I took 4 more flights to get to the good old American town of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Here I was in the open plains, wheat fields and single farm houses that dotted this land. I came for my good friends wedding and I arrived after 45 hours of transit just in time for 4th of July fireworks. I had a juicy burger with harvati cheese to celebrate.

Now the wedding it finished and it was good to see my friend and enjoy a weekend in the Dakotas. Now I am in Minneapolis and I’ve decided I’m not ready to fly back to San Francisco and have opted to join a rideshare instead that will take 3-4 days across the western United States. Then after the open roads, camping and beautiful sites, I will arrive in the city by the bay and rejoin with family and friends.

Talk soon, I need to go~

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Bangkok and some Island Life

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So it has been a while since I posted, and for good reason too. At the moment I find myself on an island where everything a healthy and able human may need. There is quality nutritious food, physical activities, the sweet ocean air and good people to become friends with. It’s quite a gem I’ve discovered and I’ve enjoyed the better part of a month here, still while working along the way.

After Pattaya, I went to Bangkok and it just happened to be the Thai New Year and the Songkran festival. This is basically one massive water fight in most of the cities and villages of Thailand where everyone including Grandma is armed with a water gun or a bucket and all proceed to engage in battle for 4 days straight. In the month of April, which is considered the hottest month in Thailand, it serves as a nice refresher.

So of course, when I found out this was going on I had to participate. I opted not to tell my friend Ben, who was arriving the day of the start of the festival, and I checked in with the local Couchsurfing community in Bangkok to see if there was any organized activity for the festivities. Sure enough, there was something going on that already has over 120 people confirmed to attend. It was called CS Songkran Bootcamp.

I arranged to stay at the hotel where most of couchsurfers were to be staying and for the next four days, we went out in full force. Can I just say that this festival is NUTS. Thousands of people all over splashing everyone. Ben and I decided the bucket option was a better weapon than the watergun because you really shock someone with a bucket of water in their face. Especially if it happened to be ice cold water, which was available for 5 baht or 15 cents. 

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Typically we would go out for a couple hours and then come back to recoup and charge for the next session. After one day of being in Khao San road, we went over to Silom, where the waterfight took another level with multiple fire hoses shooting into the crowds. I was on the metro up top looking down and I had a good position to get the firetruck below. I scooped up some water, threw it hard and bam! Hit the truck straight on. Then all of a sudden, the firefighter looked up at me, and proceeded to aim his hose at me! Haha, it’s fun to experience water force from 50 meters away come up at you and everyone around you. Luckily I had some cover to hide behind, but it was on~ I scooped up and did the best I could to retaliate. What a good time, where was I?

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I made some great friends, danced a step or two, and enjoyed the city of Bangkok in its most craziest time. Otherwise, I may not feel so inclined to spend that much time in the city. 

Ok, back to Island life~ There are truly some amazing gems in the world, you just need to put yourself out there to find them. 

 

Shackletons Incredible Voyage (and Survival) to Antarctica in Color

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In 1914-17, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 men endured one of greatest feats of human survival in the past 100 years. With intentions to be the first expedition to land in Antarctica and traverse the entire continent, their ship got enclosed by floes of ice and the ship eventually froze over and cracked. They had no other option but to sail in their small lifeboats in the rough and cold antarctic seas to an island where a whaling station existed. After three long years enduring harsh conditions, loneliness and eating only seal meat, the entire crew of 28 survived. It is one of the greatest adventure stories to exist today.

While stranded stuck in ice, the crew continued their daily routines of keeping the ship in order, gathering food and keeping inventory. Frank Hurley was the official photographer on the expedition and with his camera, he captured the life and the ship as they continued their journey. The blog Retronaut sharpened the original black and white images with color to make the images that more moving.

The ship “Endurance” with it’s expedition leader Shackleton and his crew of 27 is an amazing story about an adventurous crew that survived the harshest conditions in Antarctica. If you are interested in learning more of this historic voyage, check out the book “Endrance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” by Alfred Lansing.

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Swimming in the Cube

You ever swim in a massive bubble cube that lights up at night into a colorful kaledeiscope? Oh. I guess they don’t have them everywhere. Sigh~ se la vie

Here is where Michael Phelps won his 8 Golds and made Olympic history. The Watercube is part of the Olympic Village here in Beijing and it was something I had been wanting to check out. The stadium is absolutely massive. Remember what it looks like?

There were lots of people about the Olympic area, enjoying their holiday with the family, taking photos. It was a nice hot day and so my roommate Andrew, a Scottish architect, and who also swam competively were keen to check out the famous watercube and do a few laps..

It was refreshing to be in this Olympic size pool, swimming underwater and being all waterguppy like. I love water and being able to swim in it. In this populated metropolis of Beijing, one can find a peace of mind swimming and moving in this pool. If I ever worked here, I would probably make myself here once a week.

MUSIC!

Yesterday, I trekked with an Israeli rock climber and a German trans siberian train traveler to one of the several major music festivals happening in Beijing this past weekend. Here is the perfect place to see the creativity and artistic flavor be tasted in this country. Through the tens of thousands of 20’s and 30 somethings, music was listened to, Chinese folk, metal, rock, pop, electronica. 5 stages I believe, people dressing up, hairstyles, clothing styles, and a sense of rebelliousness. This generation is not like anything of the previous that accepts what is given to them and says thank you. In time, this generation will stand up and I pray people don’t get killed.

It was a fun festival, I met a lot of “Cool” Chinese. A nice change from the day to day busy beijing. This park that hosted it was great.

Ciao for now, photos to follow….