THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL

“Remember to love yourself, then you can love others”, I closed my core yoga class on Monday night, accidentally echoing RuPaul, an American drag queen, cunningly outspoken as they all are.

We were born and raised to many standards and moral values of our society -our “tribe”. We teach our children the things we were once taught by our parents who was guided by our grandparents and so on the connection continues. Generation after generation, we unconsciously synchronize our tunes with our society and speak on behalf of our tribe, so loudly that more than often we couldn’t hear our own voice. We act based on our society’s opinions of what is right and on the other hand, we analyse others’ actions based on our perception of rightness, which is deprived from our tribe. An endless circle of disoriented reflections!

I look at my 2 and 3 year-old nieces – their fearless personality, refreshingly honest and naive nature, determination to go their ways and endless desire for exploration are so therapeutic. When did we start shielding ourselves with the shiny amour of other’s beliefs and expectations? When did we start living so little for ourselves and so greatly for others?

The last 9 months i have received sympathy, empathy and a great deal of opinions deciphering my decision to be in my current situation. Closer to the family, be there for my mum, take over the family business, etc etc. Trust me part of me used to use all of those to justify myself, too. Yet in truth, I did it all for myself. At some point a year ago, I came to term with my difficulties, accepted them and decided to take care of myself without worrying about what others thought of me for once. Bloody liberating! I still love and care for others of course, but I learnt that by being able to accept, love and live for myself so greatly I love others better.

I currently teach yoga full time, making a modest life and I truly think I will do better, taking one step at a time. For the last 3 years, I got asked a lot about why and what the drive was for me to become a yoga teacher. Is it my calling? I do not know yet but It surely enables me to sustain myself and i think it’s a blessing for everyone. I told people 3 years ago that I liked it for a start and I wanted to learn an additional set of valuable skill to get some additional money and in case I’m out of the real estate work some days, I’d like to be able to feed myself anywhere anytime. Most people laughed like it’s my lifetime joke! Have we forgotten the feeling of raw and all natural honesty?

As I slowly shake off the weight of those shields, and I don’t believe we can remove them all, I feel lighter, calmer & more honest to myself and others. And I think people around me feel the changes too.

So, wake up, shake up – the greatest love of all is right here, it’s you.

Love,

Kate

On African time

England, 2 September 2018


“African apprehend time differently. (…) Time appears as a result of our actions and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even non-existence if we do not direct our energy toward it. It is subservient, passive essence and most importantly, one dependent on men.”

– Ryszard Kapuscinski, 2001 – 

Often we failed to understand the different ways of life in a foreign land. In his book On China, Henry Kissinger  depicted how the separate world the Chinese believed they were living in shaped the whole nation ideology and hence, modern behaviors of our neighbour that we might observe and often judge. Kapuscinski put the African’s ideas of time in perspectives – it’s not that they don’t have any sense of time, theirs are simple different from ours.

I still remembered my sister’s encounter in Burma on the way to Golden Rock. 2 buses both heading to Golden Rock stationed side by side in Yangon, waiting patiently to fill their seats. “The bus will leave when it’s full”. Africans practice this, too. A three-hour wait would make no sense to anyone that is under the spell of European definition of time – one that we have no control over. However in this incredibly diverse continent, instead of be crushed under the definite measurement of time, men create time, manifest time and in their own way stay in harmony with time.

In an earlier post, I mentioned Kenyan did not seem to apprehend “anger”, either. Whether it is stuck in traffic for 2 hours, very late for a meeting or waiting indefinitely for a train to come, they maintain this serenely calm and harmonic manner, with smiles even. We, influenced by European ideology, connect time and the universe, a force we are frustrated to have such little understanding of and influence over. Meanwhile, in Africa, one seems to be so as one with his surrounding that waiting becomes a norm, probably the most activities in one’s life. There is no such thing like “rush hours” or “being late” or “deadline” – why would you do that to yourself when you can make time?

In places where everyone runs against the clock, say New York City (my recent habitat) for instance, we lose it the moment we feel the threat of being defeated by time. We are in constant worry, under pressure to finish some longest to-do list and the world is collapsing if the subway is 5′ late (which happens every single day). Any event that may hinder the physical speed of human being is a serious threat and source of utmost annoyance. In Singapore, it’s small enough of a country to make pretty much everything punctual and assure the minimum waiting time. In Japan, the national railway sent an official apology as one of its train was a 20 second late. Trust me I love and praise punctuality, however, I feel like we are rather in an abusive relationship with time. We are constantly beaten up and at the same time feel so sorry for ourselves.

I really want to learn the secret of the African on their relationship with time!

Here is the thing though – after only a week in Kenya, i feel slightly transformed. If someone tell me 2 years ago that I’d patiently wait 3 hours at the airport for my ticket to get sorted and then happily wait another 24 hours for my flight, I’d had told him a fool. But I did. I was shocked at myself. I’m sure this is partially a result of the last 3 idling resting months that I have got. Maybe African is permanently in resting mode?

“The only ones that try to honk their cars through Nairobi traffic are most likely German diplomats.”

-D.S-

In this part of the world, you see all possible contradictions – where a road makes a nation but no-one can read map; where there was one of the first humans on earth but now a collection of some of the youngest nations; where once lived thousands of tribes scattering around in peace but were forced through  “Scramble of Africa” by the European imperial powers, followed by the independence movement into the now 54 states; where there was told to be so behind the rest of the world but have the most number of countries that totally or partially ban plastic bags, where we see desert and savannah and dryness but one of the biggest flower export in the world, where pizzas are luxury treat but organic kale is an inexpensive stable of every meal. Through evolution and development, Africa is slowly changing.

But one thing I doubt if it would change anytime soon – their ingrained interpretation of time.

A renewed introduction

England, 31 August 2018


A New Introduction

Maasai Mara at Breaking Dawn

I decide to re-start my blog today. I have been toying the idea of  writing more regularly. My friend suggested me to write a book, while I saw myself more of a reader than a writer. And yet today, after almost 3 months into my indefinite career break and after some life contemplating, I want to give it a go. Start small and see what’ll come along the way.

3 months ago, I embarked on a journey that is of questionable nature to many of my friends and family. I resigned from my desirable position at works (in other’s opinions) after 10 long months in New York City. A year before, I scored my relocation from Singapore to New York at many of my colleagues and friends’ envies. After 10 short years in Singapore, I had thought I would make the dubbed best city in the world a home for at least 2-3 years. 6 months in, I knew it wasn’t right. Simply, there was minimum excitement in life and I did not feel the raw energy of carrying a mission that I used to feel every single day. Circumstances and events took tolls on me and in the midst of May 2018, I put my notice on. After my last working day on 8 June 2018, I packed bag and flew to London, starting a 3 months resting and exploring.

Living on a narrow boat in the countryside of Essex for half of this summer, I learnt by fact that I didn’t need much in possession to live and I was surprisingly handy (I’m talking about real manly stuff like fixer upper, carpentry, tapestry and plumbing works!). Visiting to the richest countries and cities in the world, I learnt wealth was not just on the face.  Traveling to Balkan areas, I learnt the astounding history of some of the youngest nations in the world, whose history turned page after the fall of the Soviet Union and was not particularly widely covered by Vietnamese media then. And at last wandering around Nairobi and emerging myself into the wild of Maasai Mara, I learnt some people didn’t have much to live on and well, lions are just big gentle cats.

I have been walking a lot (I’m not runner), painting everyday, reading voraciously, reconnecting with old friends, making new friends and having quality time to think about what’s next. Perhaps I am on the right track, to re-appropriate myself, to embrace the living light and to feel that raw energy again.

This blog is dedicated to the anecdotes, encounters and recorded stories of my traveling, my life contemplating moments and maybe some realizations.

I hope you find similarity and differences, agreement and debates, entertaining and mundane information and maybe in some parts, we can discuss and grow.

I hope you feel the urge to explore.

I hope you feel the urge to hug your love ones a little longer when you can.

I hope the you feel the urge to be yourself.

Love,

Kate

Burma- to “the land of floating time”

Sunset in Bagan, from Shwesandaw

2 weeks ago, rumors said that I was no longer a student. I marked it with a week in Burma.

It’s almost never a question any more about who I am going with but I’m happy to see all the “have a great time”, “safe and sound”, etc on my facebook before any of my trips. This time I broke the pattern- I went with my sister and two of her friends. It was fun indeed. And thanks for them and all the sunrise-sunset madness, a week after Burma, I am still SLEEPY. The views were breath-taking and really worth the effort but even though I loved them so much I don’t think I can afford any of 4am wake-up calls in the next few months.

I arrived in Yangon with a great excitement collected from LonelyPlanet guidebook and that much of exhaustion and sleep-deprivation accumulated from a week before when I was up all night not preparing for my last exam but dreaming that I would miss it. The airport is spacious and the custom went really well. There were two officers at each counter- one manually checked my passport and visa *I’m pretty sure she doubted the girl in the visa photo was not me!* and one typed the details into a black computer screen. No hassle, no difficulty!

Yangon was really hot and humid. After checking in Okinawa Guesthouse, I used the last bit of encouragement for a walking tour around the city. It took me exactly one hour of sweaty walk under the cloudless summer sky of over 35*C to get back to my room and 2 cans of Redbull to give me just enough energy to … sleep. That was a very good 2 hour sleep until numerous banging sound became audible to my ears. That’s my family’s way to wake me up. 22 years and that’s the only effective way though.

“Burma is a strange country. At first you may not put a lot of expectation into your trip yet at the end, it is a high chance that you wish all the flights are delayed or some sudden tornado just sweeps through the country or any wicked reasons you can think of so that you can prolong your time in Burma.

People call Burma the Golden Land. For me, I love to call it the realm of floating time because here at the same time exists things that belong to the 80s  of Vietnam and things that perhaps in the next 10-20 years we will never achieve. Blended in the life and the moral code of social behaviors there, I have never had the slightest idea of time and space.”

                                                                                                           -By Mashi Milu-

She said about Hanoi of the 80s. In my opinion, it should be Saigon of the 50s-60s because it pretty much gives you a very sense of freedom and stability. I don’t talk about wealthy because they are simply not, however, they are happy with their days passing by, with the little money they makes and with the talks they have with perfect strangers. We met hostel owners who could speak perfect English and Japanese at Pyinsa Rupa Guesthouse, tour guide who had an amazingly cool American accent, kids who tried to sell postcards yet ended up taking us to their houses for free thanakha– a local facial cream that can be used any time, drivers who happily stopped in the middle of nowhere just for us to take photos with a cherry blossom tree and secretly hung up a string of orchids in the truck, horse cart drivers who cared more about us than his horse- his livestock, or some amazing boat owner who accommodated four sleeping machine for an hour of a supposed-to-be boat trip. They love to talk. They love to make friends. They love that we love their country. Perhaps it comes from the very fact that almost all Burmese are Buddhist and they have that religiously warm-hearted embracing sharing spirit engraved in their hearts and their minds. We saw a lot of small little huts along the roads where people kept drinking water for pedestrians and wandering monks and it’s hardly true but if you see a mango tree full of fruit, just ask, they will give you everything they have. We saw families chilling out in Shwedagon at night and many others taking a nap in any pagodas we visited. Burmese people are just worry-free, no matter they have to stop half way to spit their chewing betel or not!

Out itinerary in Burma  was quite packed but thanks to the slow life motion there, we felt like we have spent double the time with those lovely people. Yangon- (Golden Rock)- Bagan-Mandalay-Inle Lake- Yangon. With endless hours on horse cart, trucks, minivan, intercity buses, boats, bare foot… we made it through the very heart of the country, and hopefully the people as well.

Most of the things you will see in Burma are pagodas and pagodas. There are like millions of them. The biggest, Shwedagon, stands proudly and fabulously in Yangon. The busiest, Sule Paya, stops all the traffic at the most crowded crosse road of the capital and of short distance to our favorite 999 Shan Noodle and a nameless tea shop that served amazing home-brew milk tea and led by its funny powerful 12-year-old-or-something captain. After that is the city of bagan, home to more than 10000 pagodas/temples, down to about 2000 now, which was built up in a week. We had a great time chasing the sunrise-sunset fame there and thanks to our driver, a lot of stories underneath revealed. People told that the biggest temple, Dhammayangyi, was built as the King Narathu’s atonement for his sin of assinating his father and his brother for the throne. It was built from laid bricks WITHOUT any mortar. For any two adjacent bricks that the King could slide his sword in the building worker would be sentenced to death. Not long before the completion, the King was killed and the temple was never be finished. Another interesting story is about another unfinished temple in Migun, Mandalay. It would be a mighty 150m temple when finished. Yet the King died halfway and after his death, a major earthquake struck the temple by halves. Fate! There are also an array of pagodas, temples and monasteries in Mandalay and Inle Lake as well. Among that I was much impressed by Kuthodaw in Mandalay for it 781 stupas, Phaung Daw Oo pagoda for its 5 funny golden buddhas, and of course the coolNga Phe Kyaung Monastery- Jumping Cat Monastery, in Inle Lake where I was amazed at an old celebrity cat and a number of Louis Vuiton advertisements photographed at the Lake.

To be honest, though I admired all the pagodas there, I couldn’t remember their names and as I am not quite religious, I’d opt to tell you a bit of some unusual things that we did and  about the people I met.

We met and re-united with lots of travelers in Burma. A group of Thai monks who taught us that monks were not to make direct contacts with women– The scene was that one of our ladies exchanged her email with a young monk and what she did was to put her piece of paper on the ground for the monk to pick it up. Those devotees have much less restrictions in Vietnam!  A lot of Japanese and a lot of Vietnamese as well. Our favorite traveler names Tanaka from Hokkaido who has very funny face and gesture . He is taking a gap year to tour around Africa and Asia. We “networked” over  a bottle of palm juice, 2 papayas, a bunch of roasted peanuts and numerous beer.

I had a weird conversation with a female monk while waiting for the ladies on U Bein Bridge, Mandalay. She is in her mid 30s and very beautiful, which is not so strange for Burmese monks, both female and male. Being asked her why she chose this life, she answered me in a sad but still voice – “I used to run after what I thought was my destiny. It’s so vibrant a life back to those days. Yet when it turned out not, I have nowhere to turn back. So I devote myself to Buddha. How about you?”. I told her a bit of my little story saying “I’m taking a rest”. She smiled “You are waiting. It’s ok but don’t wait too long”. A couple of day after that conversation, another person said the same line to me “don’t wait too long.” That night, Bin Laden was killed, taking much of our attention and the two bankers’ worry on the hiking of US$ exchange rate. I was thinking about India.

We chose to stay in Sky Lake resort for a night in Inle Lake. We said we wanted a good rest and treatment. However, surprisingly, as far as we loved the big mirror lake and its cool hazy air, we still couldn’t stand the quietness and tranquility of the resort. So we ran around like some crazy “people-deprived” mosquitoes asking the staff if there were any other people. To break the boredom, we borrowed a boat and paddling around the resort,swimming a bit in that shallow water and of course, making a lot of noise and damages.The staff loved us. I bet it has been really bored for them there with all the oldy tour groups. We also had a short trip to the nearby village where we walked all the way along an U-Bein-style bridge and the scene, as the matter of fact,  stopped many of our heart beats.

Back to Yangon, I spent the last night on my own as the girls had left for Hanoi. So I hung out with some travelers at Okinawa. Nathan, the first American I met there, was on some missionary trip sponsored by UN and his church to buy some thousands of cows and ducks. he told me his amazing 17-year love story with his wife, his first love. Born in Japan, he said “My first language is Japanese. I went to Japanese school. All my friends are Japanese. English, I’m still learning.” When asking what his favorite part of US was, he confidently said “Wherever my wife is. Currently South Carolina.”  A French guy ended  his 7-year relationship with his first love 2 years ago when he set off from Paris. And my neighbor Tim, an Englishman, technically Scot, a SOAS graduate just ended his year of teaching English in Korea and on his Asian tour. That is a guy who reads, who loves classic movies, esp 1950s Japanese movies and who is very much fond of Japanese and Balinese wives. I have no love story to tell but I was happy that love was still all around. Over our many beer, I am amazed at how I enjoyed the talks on politics, poverty, revolution and all sort.

I left Yangon the next day spending my last kiat for a margarita at the airport and again hearing people say “You look like Burmese”.

Much thanked. Much loved. Much missed.

With Love,

Kate

P.S: I was tagged along my friends’ notes as well so feel free to browse their notes.

The ondol of life

whenever and wherever you need ondol

To balance the many times I dipped my fingers in the hot spicy saucy plate of Korean reddish street food, there are the many times I’ve cherished the way a country has made its young eager visitors so much pleasure and surprise when it comes to a good sleeping experience.

It was late February when we visited Korea and I could feel the spring had touched the kimchi land through the way people dressed, or just we were so blessed to stay right in a youthful happening neighborhood. Young hearts, young minds, less cloths! It was not a surprise for me, as at least they still did coats, not as almighty as the British girls I once awed with lots of admires on some fun nights in Leeds. Legs. Legs. Legs. Just another normal scence. The guys were right. It’s a “wow” to show your slim tally legs in Europe, yet it’s slutty to show your cleavage there.  And the opposite situation was on show in Asia. Why? Coz what the point of carrying coal to Newcastle? We all have our own strength ladies.

I talked spring yet I love to feel that winter still lingered a bit longer in any touches of life. We didn’t have to pretend a lot indeed because simply it was freezing. I can recall anytime how we burst into laughter and relief when we first touched on a Korean famous ondol/gudeul . It originally is the underfloor heating system using hot water running in pipes to heat up during winter, the system that is similar to the old water-heating pad in Europe.  Yes everywhere was just so warm. It soothed our tired and freezed feet. It heated up the evening mood. “I don’t mind sleeping on the floor”, said sleepy Ollie. Dear neither did I. I felt both strange and happy again to be able to put on my all-time favourite indoor winter clothes- singlet and shorts. I was not afraid of the cold. I was all warmed top-to-toe.

Koreans are the kind of very thoughtful and smart people to the fact that they bring their ondol everywhere. Seats on metro. Portable sleeping mat. Even the shabby-looking wooden benches in Kwang Jang market offer to warm up the a** while more and more soju and toppoki are serving the hungry tummies. However, there is one thing to warn about the benches. Please so not wear short skirt or mini shorts with tight or thin-fabric pants when all you want is to glue to those seats and enjoy your food. I lost my count on the times we had to stand up and let the cold air cool off our sitting part before carefully sit down again. It’s really hot hahaha. The ondol also goes straight to the bathroom. I used to dream of using the magic toilet once advertised on TV when I was a kid and now so fulfilled I was. A young friend of mine told me that his most fearful moments during winter were going to the loo and taking a shower. Too many layers to be stripped off and too cold to be naked at some parts. Well don’t you dare to tell the Koreans that as they have everything to cater your needs. The magic toilet was heated and installed with all sort of “water entertainment” for you. Hot or cold, shower and bulk… My friend Lan told me it took her quite some time to learn to use it.

From the bathroom to the sauna, there is just a walk. Well westerners often say that Asians keeps so many rules and norms on social dressing-up but here in the sauna at some point, the westerners become more Asian than the Asians themselves. In a Turkish bath in Budapest, there were topless and lots of swimsuits. Here in the middle of a so-called conservative East, I didn’t see a sight of cloth!  Yet a lot of tough scratchy gloves. For that I’m young and well-adapted, it took me more than 5 minutes to calm me down at the scene. The British took it with ease and enjoyment but I have to say it my dear French statue a real hard time. I had no doubt why the British made it all over the world back to their glorious days :D. However it proves our eastern strength when the night dragged us all the fomentation room. Well the British can go up till the bath, yet a hard wooden floor really put an end to their empire. I am, indeed, good!

Sleeping in a basement studio is another experience that I missed. It was not really a basement as when you are in, only half of you is considered under the ground floor. Some steps down, my friend’s studio does have a run-down look and a non-Korean humid atmosphere. Big enough for a girl to live her life and of course it has ondol!

In a Korean modern house, there is one thing that remains as much as the same as in the past- the women’s roles. Only one night in Soo’s house and I really could sense how much love and warmth a woman could bring to a house. We, youngsters from all over the world with the thankful hearts, were pampered again, not by our mums. A late night tea, a morning wake-up and a home-cook breakfast kept us feel home again. Lots of hugs for farewell made us torn of going away. Is it that one and only power that a woman has to strengthen the family root? Or is a woman the real ondol of the family after the door shuts? Has someone destined us women to be life bringers?

Hope you all have a good night in Korea.

Kate

 

 

First post

Never before do I see time flying as fast as this time. A lot of things has happened, something’s good, and of course something’s bad … and happy … and sad.

Sometimes people enter your life and soon after that they leave, perhaps forever. And what we have about them are vague but obsessed images. Sometimes you need to be strong enough to suppress their images deep in your mind, deep in your heart, leave them there and don’t forget. I have learned how to  live with such kind of memory and how to make them my own fortune. They are all part of me which marked some moments, some points in my path and maybe one day when I’m old and look back to my life, I can find my will in them.

With every face I have met in life, I try to remember and store them in my mind with the hope that in some beautiful day, I would meet them again. It’s a very personal happiness that I feel every time  I recognize someone I have come across, and even some satisfaction when I recall the first time I saw them. Somehow I call it my hobby of memorization and recall, something that I played day by day with my father as a little girl. Those days, I was in my father’s arms, safe and sound, playing around saying nonsense things that only he could understand. He’s big and I am  always so small, but we are great friends. Those days I clung to my mother, trying to use a rice cooker to make my very first rice without pouring some water in. Those days I climbed out of my house almost everyday with my sister and hanged out with the kids I even knew for the first time, along the rice field.

Things start becoming different and difficult when we grow up. It’s no longer a bright and pink sky everyday. Sometimes it’s just cloudy and gloomy. Father said that the more people I met and could remember, the richer I would be. I caved it in my heart and believed in every single word of it. But these days, such kind of thing tortured me a lot. I saw him the first time some and we had very short conversation just enough to know each other’s name. An the second time I was rushing to his place, I was standing there besides him saying goodbye. It’s always hard when you know someone will leave you for good, no matter how well and how long you know them. I have a feeling that I accompanied him to his new journey without any action to pull his back to this chaotic but beautiful world. “Life is short, but this time it’s bigger …”

The more we witness, the more we experience, the more we know … the harder our own shell becomes …

People said the day I saw him leave this world was the day I grew up ….