Drinking the rain

I’m on Koh Lanta, a long island almost touching the mainland. The sky is overcast, teasing with rain but rarely giving it up. The entire day had been spent within 50 meters of the room and the beach. It’s been utter indulgence. Reading, writing, exchanging messages with friends and family, so close on the other side of the world. A perfect day.

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“I want my thoughts to be as patient and slow as the heron standing at the water’s edge fishing the incoming tide for as long as it takes to catch the treasures swimming by. Or I want them, like the barnacles opening up to feed when the tide comes in, to filter the plankton newly streaming around me, so rich and abundant that what I can’t find here hardly seems worth wanting.”
Drinking the Rain, by Alix Kates Shulman

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Transitions

A taxi, a train, a plane, another plane, a taxi, a hotel, a van, a ferry, a longtail Thai boat. About 30 hours of travel. It was worth it.

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Last meal in Japan with Eri and Mari

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Touchdown in Phuket

One night in Phuket…one was enough. We hopped the first ferry in the morning.

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Ferry to Phi Phi

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Awesome woman riding the wind

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Getting closer

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Longtail heading to our beach

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Arrived

Hello paradise.

Up in the air

I’m up in the air, in more than one way. I’m 40000 feet up, off the coast of Vietnam. Kyoto is behind me, Thailand in front.

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Writing for this trip has not been as expected, at all. Inspiration came all the time, so much happening all around, and inside. But the writing had eluded me. I need a theme. I’m trained to write that way, knowing the conclusion before I even begin. But this kind of writing is something else completely. It’s just a seed, and the ending is unknown; I have to make it up as I go, without understanding where I’m heading. And I’m very uncomfortable doing that. It’s the source if my strongest anxieties and fears as I face down the very end of my 20s.

I find myself on a trip that is both very solitary and filled with people. Eri works–an amazing job, by the way, for HUB Kyoto–so I was alone during the day. And at night, people buzzed around me. And the same, innocuous question kept hitting me in the gut.

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“What do you do?” There are several answers, and I would surprise myself by which came out and to whom. “I recently got married, so I’m being a wife right now.” “I own a business.” “I used to own a business.” “I live with my family because my mom was very sick.” “I am looking for inspiration. I trust that the universe will illuminate me at the right time.” “Nothing.” “I want to do more, but I don’t know what to do.” They’re all true, they are all aspects of my life. But none of them are enough, or will ever be enough, will ever be big enough to color me properly. There is no good answer to that question, and it doesn’t help me to describe myself in such small terms. I’m tired of looking at life like a series of labels to choose from, like choosing a major at university. It hasn’t served me well. The world is full of insecurities that infect everyone, that makes us all so afraid of the wrong label, wrong choice, wrong image. And we judge each other at the same time, at least the scared child in us all does, and only because it feels a little less scared afterward.

On this flight, I discovered that Beyonce made a documentary, and I’ve been watching it. I am so glad I am.

“It’s difficult being a woman. There’s so much pressure. We need that support and need that escape sometimes… We’re all going through our problems but we all have the same insecurities and we all have the same abilities and we all need each other. You know, I have been around the world, I’ve seen so many things, I love my husband, but there’s nothing like a conversation with a woman who understands you. I grow so much from those conversations. I need my sisters.”
-Beyonce, in her documentary

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Another amazing, perfect gift from the universe today. I needed to watch this. She’s way, way more inspiring than I realized. I’m so happy to be seeing this right now, as I feel up in the air and confused and ready and insecure and grateful, all in one tired body.

And I feel more okay writing with only a seed for inspiration. I hope that translates to my life choices also.

PS. I write this on Friday afternoon. Internet in Thailand it’s tricky  😛

Morning rituals

Register daylight. 4:30am. Back to sleep.

Peek through one eye. Brighter. 8am. Feel heat pressing in all around. Wish for cool but realize have forgotten when that feels like.

Eri pokes head into room, looking squinty and cloudy. We acknowledge each other, but too hot for words. She wanders off.

Cold rinse in shower.

Coffee. Make peace with heat of stove for benefit of caffeine.

Second cold rinse. Stand naked in room, starting at clothes. They radiate heat. Dress.

Close eyes. Breathe. Alive. Healthy. Free. Gratitude.

Ready.

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Learning when you don’t understand a damn thing

I’ve now been in Kyoto for almost five days, long enough to have no more jet lag, and enough time to realize that travel blogging (blogging in general?) can be tricky. Within half a day of being in Kyoto, I realized that if I tried to make this a sights-and-tourist oriented blog, I’d have no time to do anything but write. There are literally thousands of temples, shrines, parks, gardens, palaces, mountain backdrops, and unknown surprises in this city.
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And for someone like me, when surrounded with Japanese and no English, everything seems poetic and beautiful. I’m never told, “do not enter,” “wrong way,” or “no parking,” because I just don’t know what anything says. The streets are easier to take in because I’m not distracted by ads or glaring signs. I also mostly have no idea what’s going on around me.
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What Kyoto had taught me, so far:
1. In July, it is very hot, and very humid. That makes things unpleasant. That’s all I’ll say on the subject, because otherwise this post will be entirely about how hot I am all the time.

2. It’s really not that intimidating. I thought I’d struggle to get around, and getting to Kyoto required navigating a surprisingly English-free airport, train station, another train station, the subway (!), and a semi-residential neighborhood at what was the middle of the night for my body.  But aside from maybe three extremely confusing and awkward minutes in the middle of a very busy subway platform (wish there was a photo of that moment, I’d frame it), I’ve not felt lost once. I’m not taking full credit though, having a smartphone with GPS is a lifesaver.

3. I dislike the tourist thing.  Paying admission day after day gets old very quickly for me. I much prefer just seeing how people live–ordinary, everyday life. And in Kyoto, that travel style can be both perfect and terrible. Terrible, because some of the most popular tourist sights are actually among the most impressive I’ve seen in my life, even though they’re teaming with people, and I’d go back again and again to see them. On the other hand, some everyday, ordinary life things also happen in absolutely remarkable places, like the onsen (bathhouse) near Eri’s work, which happens to be one of the most iconic bathhouses in Japan. It’s been bathing people for over 100 years, and if you pass by in the evening, it’s full of local men and women who pay $4 to relax with their neighbors. To me, that is awesome. Coincidentally, it’s not in my tour guide. Thank God.


4. Riding a bike had never been easier or more welcome. Eri, being awesome, arranged a bike for me to use everyday. A Japanese bike. Which means it’s the best bike in the universe. It has three gears. That’s all you need. It had a little battery pack to give you a boost up a steep hill. It has a build-in lock with a key so you can literally park it anywhere, unattached to anything. Its lights flash when you ride it, and automatically turn off when you get off. My good friend Sayaka once had one in San Diego, and one day it was stolen. It was the only time she ever complained to me about not having a material possession. Now I understand why. And I can basically explore all of Kyoto on it, which is absolutely perfect.

5. I discovered that I really, really love my husband. Before you laugh, I’ll just say that I wasn’t prepared for how I felt being without him in those first days. I thought I knew what “absence makes the heart grow fonder” meant. I didn’t. It’s been one of the greatest moments in my marriage. It’s so amazing to have such intense confirmation that I love him more now than ever before. And even beyond that, I’m feeling so much more gratitude for having–and actively creating, with a lot of intention and energy–such a wonderful, special marriage. I am feeling incredibly blessed for everything Mike is, more so than ever before.

6. Kyoto natives may not smile at the drop of a hat like we do in the US, but they are possibly the happiest, and among the kindest, people I’ve encountered while traveling.

7. Women (and men) wear traditional kimono like summer dresses here. Eri keeps insisting that they’re not kimono but something else, and while I understand the distinction, to me, it’s a still a kimono and it’s an absolutely beautiful element of the cultural.

8. Caucasian people really do stick out a lot here. It’s quite funny, actually.

9. I have yet to see anyone eating sushi. Just like I’ve never seen anyone eating burritos in Mexico. Aside from tourists.

10. I learned that you shouldn’t drink the tap water here, after four days of drinking gallons of the stuff. All’s well that ends well.