Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kathmandu Day Tour

I was given a private day tour of Kathmandu today with a driver and a guide. I normally frown upon such arrangement but as soon as we got out of the door I realized there is no other way to sightsee here. The road condition is terrible. Very few of them are actually paved. The bumpy ride is met with an overflow of motorcycles everywhere. Then, throw in a variety of other vehicles, pedestrians, and no traffic lights or rules, you've got an impossible commute.

The poor traffic condition makes am even poorer air quality. Many people walk around with a face mask. The dust and smog is visible from Swayambhunath, our first stop in the morning. Swayambhunath Temple sits on top of a hill west of Kathmandu and is home to tons of holy monkeys, hence the site is also known as the monkey temple. The sky looked amazingly blue above the white stupa.

Next, we stopped at Kathmandu Durbar Square, where the royal family once resided. There are a collection of different temple designated to individual Hindu deities. We also visited the House of Kumari. Later I read that baby girls are selected to live there and worshipped as the human incarnation of goddess Taleju until they reach puberty. This reminded me of the vestal virgins in the Roman tradition. Here, only born Hindus are allowed to enter into the house to worship the kumari, hence the sign for no entry for foreigners in both English and Chinese!

The guide informed me that the Chinese make up the largest portion of tourists here. For some reason that really surprised me. I asked if they do any hiking here, since native Chinese are not the most physically active people. The guide said no, very few people hike here and the ECB is a tough trek. Just about all of the Chinese tourists come here to visit culture sites and take pictures with their fancy cameras. Now I feel less Chinese with my camera phone. For $2500+/hour people can take a helicopter ride to the base camp to see Mt. Everest. I guess I better stick to the cheaper way of walking there.

On our way to Boudhanath Stupa, I asked how much is lunch going to cost me. The guide said around ten dollars. Wow, that's really expensive, I responded. I recall people mentioning stay in Nepal on $10/day including room and board. Besides, $10 for lunch sounds expensive anywhere. But it made more sense once we arrived at the restaurant with a beautiful balcony overlooking Boudhanath Stupa. A cat came to visit me during lunch. Before i left in the morning someone said I'll see lots of monk activities today due to the festivity. But monk activity is kind of an oxymoron since all the do is sit. I felt strange eating while watching and listening to monks pray for world peace below me. I likely would have avoid such touristy spot myself.

After lunch, the guide asked if I would like to see the crematory. Now, that's a question you don't hear everyday. I looked perplexed and said, sure, why not, if it's a part of the tour. The guide explain some people prefer not to see dead bodies burn. For some reason I envisioned the crematory as a nice building to look at from the outside, not as literally burning dead bodies outside on top of a pile of wood as seen in movies about India! Lucky for me there were three bodies burning away as we walked up the Bagmati River. The smoke was overwhelming. According to Hindu tradition, bodies must be burned within 24 hours of death. The process takes four hours and the family members wait around until the end to release the ashes into the river.
The Pasupatinath Temple is just up the river from the burning bodies, above the spot reserved for members of the royal family. This Hindu shrine is dedicated to Shiva. The singing and dancing created a stark contrast to the mourners less that 20 meters away.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

First Day in Nepal

I slept for six hours and woke up at 6am local time with warm hands and feet. What a good feeling. The last thing I remember was crawled up in fetal position in a cold bed. I doubt things are going to improve from here on. I might have under-packed by an average tourist standard but I'm still traveling with a mobile home accounting to the ultralight hiker Jay Jardine. The intent is to stay warm through movement and wear all my layers to bed at night. And like running a race, a trip like this is no time to test out new gears or hiking boots. Fortunately we'll not be camped outside so at least we'll be out of the elements. Accommodations will get more basic once we start our trek. That's OK. I don't feel strongly about taking showers in this kind of temperature anyways. If I ever get on the PCT I'm shaving my head.
High altitude sickness is a major concern of mine. Having had two rough trips to Cusco this year I'm hoping the third time will be the charm. Wherever I describe my ordeals to other they always shake my head and say, man, that sounds awful, don't think I'll be doing that on my vacation. I'm no fan of throbbing headache from brain swelling or projectile vomiting, but the prospect of being out there, in the mountains, with thin air and all, draws me like nothing else. This is the time to do this while I'm in good shape.
I'll be 5,550 meters up this time, over 19,000 feet, much higher than I've ever been. The air contains 40-50% less oxygen up there. Prolonged exposure to oxygen deprivation is no joke. Acute mountain sickness feels like the worst hangover you'll ever have and can be deadly. Once someone starts to lose balance and comprehension skills the only life saving cure is oxygen and rapid descend. I hope the more gradual ascend on foot will be easier on my body. Only time will tell. I brought Diamox, the high altitude medication, with me. Thanks to my doctor for the ineffective. I would prefer not to take it but I need to avoid getting to a cyclical state where I can't keep anything down in my stomach because by then it'll be too late for anything except oxygen and IV for fluids. I won't be eating much on the trek except trying to get enough carbs for energy and easy digestion. I have a small supply of granola bars and energy gels in case I can't get quality food or having a hard time with digestion in the mountains. From this point on staying healthy is the key.
Breakfast at the hotel consisted of potatoes, fried eggs, sautéed cabbage with baby corn and ham. I scarfed down everything and refrained from getting a second serving. I sat alone at a table for four and drank hot black tea with soft modern Buddha chanting music in the background. There was a decorated Christmas tree on the counter and other around the window. I watched people go by on the small street outside. The day awaits. I'm in no hurry.

Arrival

After traveling for nearly 24 hours I have finally arrived at the opposite part of the planet: Kathmandu, Nepal. Everything went smoothly once I left the gravitational pull of NYC. The flights were on time, I got some shut-eye, caught a dozen episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and even enjoyed some surprisingly palatable airplane food. The last leg of the flight from Abu Dhabi came with fish biryani.

The director of the tour company, Balaram, met me at the airport with a sign with my name on it. Silence is easier to practice when you don't speak the language. What a relief!

Except Balaram has a good command of the English language and he used it to express some concerns over my pack. He asked:
Do you have everything you need for the trek?
Yes.
Even a sleeping bag? A down jacket?
Yes.
Your pack looks small!
I tried to pack light because I like to carry my own gear. I have everything I need, even trekking poles.

It's true I saw other tourists with packs three times larger than mine with big water bottles on the sides and walking around in brand new waterproof hiking boots. I have finally graduated into a discriminating backpacker.

I tried a couple of more times to reassure him that I have everything I need and I can carry my pack for the trek. I don't think I succeeded in convincing him but we were allowed to move onto other topics such as payment and the weather. Guaranteed departure date is always one of my biggest concerns for this kind of trips and a major reason why I choose this tour company. A couple from Singapore just delayed their trip so it looks like I'll be getting a 16-day private tour.

The drive from the airport didn't take long. It was dark outside so I couldn't really get a sense of anything. My hotel is in Thamel, the tourist center of the city. I guess it's easy to tell from the wide variety of restaurants in this neighborhood. Someone once told me he had the best pizza in Kathmandu. I hope to find some local cuisine. The room is simple and chilly. A few minutes after I checked in the power went out and came back on.

It's past 10:30pm local time now. Nepal is GMT +5:45, or 10:45 ahead of New York. It's my first time in a time zone not rounded to the whole hour. Thanks to the precision I now have to perform rudimentary math calculations. I'm a bit hungry but I think the best thing to do now is to get some more rest. There will be a breakfast tomorrow and a city tour starting at 10am. The rest of the itinerary is online at: https://www.nepalhikingteam.com/everest-base-camp-trekking.php

Nightmares Before Kathmandu

I can't count the number of days I survive off the kindness of others. The older I get the more I collect and the tougher it is to get away. New York is an amazing place to live but a lousy a home base for travel. The thought of paying a month of rent for an UWS apartment while traveling abroad turns my stomach.

I had originally rented the place out to an opera singing couple for the most part of my winter break. I then booked my travels according to those dates only to have the renters cancel on me in the middle of my final exam period. As a last minute resort I found another couple from Paris to rent the place for a week between Xmas and New Years. Although they sounded pretty normal from the booking correspondences, it made me feel uneasy that their profile had no reviews and even less comfortable since I wasn't able to meet them at check in.

Since I was scheduled to be in NYC for one night and I wanted to meet them in person to make sure everything was on before I fly out again. I tried to contact them numerous times via email, text, call, waiting outside the building, and knocking the door. I got no response. When I finally I went inside to check on the cats. They had no water. My place was a complete mess and smelled like cigarettes even though there's a no smoking policy. The renter was inside and started to screaming and cursing at me. The woman complained about lack of closet space in her underwear. She was drunk. They're French. I apologized repeatedly but it was no use. I asked if they want to check out now and I can refund then the remainder of the rent. They said no. I gave the cats fresh water, cleaned the car litter, took out the garbage, and left. Dear God, it was dramatizing.

Thankfully I found a reliable person to cat set in January on a short notice. She's one of the volunteers I meet during my training. The previous cat setter left them unattended for six days. I can now leave knowing she'll be there to make sure everything is OK.

We had coffee together before I went to the pharmacy for my refill. There's no point going to the base camp without a sufficient supply of Diamox. I probably wouldn't even get half way up with my sensitivity to high altitude.

I had no plans or a place to stay last night so I decided to got in touch with a friend from school to catch up. Fortunately he was free and didn't mind company. He treated me to a tasty burger near to his place on W14 for the times I've helped him out. We've been waiting to do this for a while now but everyone was always too stressed out with school to have a semi normal social life. It was nice to finally catch up. Afterwards Gabe invited me to stay at his place. His physical illnesses, chronical stress and personality aren't great for keeping a tighty place so we did a little cleaning up before settling down for the night. It's good to know good people.

I stayed awake for much of the night trying not to worry. It was such a relief when daylight came so I could get back to JFK. In the end I dealt with everything the best I could with the time and resources I had. This is the hidden cost of traveling. The more we carry the harder it is to break free. I know I'll feel better when I get there.

No Buffet

Four hours layover in Abu Dhabi. For some reason I thought I was supposed to transfer in Dubai. That tells you how well I know my geography in this part of the world. Still, it was lovely seeing the snow capped mountain ranges near Iran.

Rose mentioned some fantastic buffet at the Dubai airport with a giant chocolate fountain. Unfortunately the choices here are McDonald or Burger King, neither of which seems appealing to me. I have a feeling this is going to be the start of my 20-day involuntary dieting program.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sunday, December 21, 2014

When Things Fall Apart, They Come Together

Sometimes you head out on a trip as a pair and you end up having to finish it solo. Such was the case for our Arenal excursion.

The morning started off with my phone sounding an alarm at what I thought was 5am. As I tossed and turned in bed trying to gather enough will to prop myself upright, Anna said, "did you realize it's only 4am local time?" She sounded grumpier than a habitual morning person. Finally at fifteen after five, Anna dashed out for coffee at the 24-hour restaurant around the corner. I slowly got dressed and gathered my things. The sky looked just as reluctant as it attempts to light up behind heavy clouds. Anna was kind enough to have brought back a small cup of coffee for me, with milk, just the way I liked it. I drenched myself in Deet in preparation for a day of hiking in the forest. Minutes later, I sat on one of the rocking chairs on the balcony outside of our room trying to soak it all in as I watched Anna leaving through the courtyard in the rain.

Giovanni told us the night before, if the sloth is sitting high up on the tree it means we'll have a sunny day the next day. Well, the sloth we saw last night obviously needs to be talked to, I thought. Still, I was glad to see dark clouds and rain. It made the air feel cooler and the forest more mysterious. After all, what's a rainforest without rain?

The light at the reception office came on at 6am. I showered myself with a second generous dosage of Deet, packed all of our things, surveyed the room, dropped off our packs at the luggage storage, and checkout of the hotel. A day of adventure was waiting, even more adventurous than I could have imagined.

Anna and I sipped our coffee while watching a parade of colorful birds feeding on the bananas Giovanni hung for them on the flower branches next to his porch. We even saw a Baltimore Oriole on his southern vacation. What a spot! I thought. Afterwards, we walked through the same 2km trail as we did the night before and said good morning to the sloths high up on the trees.

We had planned to finish the tour just before 8am in order to catch the only bus going to Arenal National Park. I kept a close eye on the time and got more anxious as the morning progressed. If we miss this bus the only other alternative would be a $30 taxi ride. For whatever reason I found the second option supremely unsatisfactory. Anna, on the other hand, couldn't have cared less about going to the park even though I thought that was our principle reason to come to La Fortuna. At last, we finished the trail with ten minutes to catch the bus. As we said good bye to Giovanni, I reached into my pocket and gave him a white string bag. It wasn't anything special, nor did I plan to give him a gift. I simply thought he could have put it to a better use. Giovanni smiled and said, Oh, a gift! Merry Christmas to me! We made less than 20 feet from the porch before being called back. "Hey! The toucans are here!" Oh boy, we must go back to see the toucans! They were such beautiful birds with their vibrant feathers and exaggerated beaks. It made us happy to see them feast on the large bananas. After a photo op, we started to run towards the bus stop. Unfortunately, I had to stop by the hotel next door to use the bathroom. When I hurried back I saw Anna nonchalantly sucking away her cigarette. Just as I was about to say, hey, let's go, Anna said, "I think I'm going to go home now." She gave me a second to comprehend those words and said, "I don't think I want to do anything else here. Seeing those toucans made me really happy and that's a perfect way to end the trip for me. The hotel here has a shuttle to Palmares for $20 and that's a more direct way to get back." "What time is the shuttle?" "It leaves in 10-15 minutes."

I stood there and breathed in second hand smoke, trying to find an appropriate response. I had no dilemma or hesitation. There was no question that I was going to stay and go see the damn volcano we came here to see. The question is, how the heck will I go back? Up to that point I literally had no idea where I was. Despite Anna's numerous attempts to get me to look at a map I simply refused to think about anything after my law school finals. And now, with this sudden change of plan out of nowhere, I wasn't in the mood to think or discuss anything either. Finally I said, "I have to stay to go to the park. Why don't you write down the direction back for me and I'll go back on my own." I could tell Anna was slightly worried about the whole thing and started to apologize for the abruptness as she took out her note book. I heard names of different towns for bus connections in her voice but I wasn't in the mindset to compute, nor did I respond. Please just write them down, I can figure it out later. Then the 8am bus went by. "Oh, I'm so sorry Liren." "It's ok. I'll ask around to see if there's any other way to get to the park." Anna got her bag from the hotel and waited on the side of the road with yet another cigarette. That was the last time I saw her that day.

I was fuming and frustrated. I asked the hotel and different tour companies about transportation to the park. No one had a solution except to take a taxi or sign up for a tour. I hate tours and I can't take a taxi out of principle. I thought about running or walking there but was hesitant because no one seemed to be able to give me a precise distance. The range went between 15 to 25km. I thought to myself, just because I ran a couple of half marathons now I think I can run anywhere, how absurd. Th last thing I want is to be stranded on an unfamiliar road with no sidewalk or shoulder. I tried to call Rose on Skype. No answer. I wrote her a short email to complain. She's the only person who knows both me and Anna. I know she couldn't have helped with the situation except to put me into a better mental state.



A mindful person knows all we have is this life. A wise person knows all we have is this moment. And it takes a bird specialist to know every moment is fleeting. He sat on an rocking chair next to me. I closed my eyes and said, "it's time for bed." "No, I want to sit here and watch you because I will never see you again after tomorrow. You are beautiful just the way you are." I smiled. "I wish you could be my baby." "You could rock me to sleep like a baby." Like that, the hammock swayed into the silence of the night.














Friday, December 19, 2014

Watching the Bananas Ripe

I can't remember when was the last time I slept so well and so long. I worked up until the last minute before I had to catch my flight out of JFK the previous night. I was exhausted by the time Anna and I got back from dinner. We identified Orion's Belt from Anna's front porch before I plopped down on the bed. I listened to the crickets for a couple of minutes and fell fast asleep. Nothing woke me, not the rain, not the dogs or roosters. I didn't get out of bed until almost 10am.
We had no agenda for the day, other than to stop by the market nearby and watch the bananas to ripe. Anna made my first cup of coffee for me. After that I took great pleasure in making coffee with a small burlap sack. I sat on the front porch for a while and took my pants off to enjoy the strong sun. "I have shorts you could borrow." "Why bother." There was nothing on my mind and I didn't mind that.

The market the took place every Friday. We walked down the drive way, over a small dirt hill, and crossed a small highway with traffic. "Just like the mountain lions crossing the freeways outside of L.A." I said. The place was overrun by gringos, both buying and selling. It wasn't big but we took our time walking around. Anna talked to everyone, asking questions and making small conversations with whatever Spanish she knew. I understood every word but had nothing to say. Maybe when it comes to languages I'm more of a spectator rather than a participant. The chicharrón guy was happy to see me. "Chinita!" he exclaimed. It made him even happier when I said hola! and smiled. There was no way for me to walk pass mouthwatering pork fat without getting some to go. That must have made his day. Our trip was fruitful, figuratively and literally. I carried back a pineapple, two papayas, a sack of papas, cebollas, pimientas, jalapenos, queso, yogurt, and ajo.

Even though I hadn't eaten anything all day I wasn't particularly hungry. I was perfectly content just to sit outside again. A bit later I sliced vegetables to the local jazz radio station, Dave Brubeck's Take Five, while Anna browsed the New Yorker and the news on her laptop. You could tell a chief lived here from how sharp the knife is. "Law school enrollment is at an all time low since 1973," Anna read. "How wonderful! Please stop reading before we run into anything terrible" I said. I watched the fatty pieces from the chicharrón sizzle as they greased the pan. The sauteed onion and peppers was nothing special, neither was anything else. That's all I've ever wanted. 

First Night in Costa Rica

I arrived. The connecting flight out of Miami was delayed. At first they announced that the fire sensors for the wheels needed to be repaired. When the repair failed, they decided to fly with the wheels exposed. The pilot assured us that won't be a problem for the 3-hour flight. Then there was further delay, since the inefficiency from the exposed wheels meant more fuel was needed. I'm just glad they topped off on the fuel because planes have been known to drop out of the sky from fuel depletion. Despite a rather hard landing, I have arrived. Anna spotted me as soon as I emerged from crowded exit. She looked radiant in her sundress, white short sleeve linen shirt, and a white sunhat, while I baked in my black REI pants. I insisted on taking buses to her place rather than getting a $30 taxi ride and the bus system was complicated enough that Anna thought it was easier just to meet me at the airport than to try to explain to me and hope I'd get to the right place.

The second bus from San Jose to Atenas was pleasant. The streets lined with small stores and cafeterias soon gave way to mountains and lush vegetation. The breeze felt amazing on my face. We talked for a few minutes. Soon after I realize Anna's eyes were closed I dosed off myself. I woke up when the bus guy snapped the tickets out of my hands. I smiled. He looked young, dark, and hansom in a white polo.

I know nothing about Atenas, other than that it's a small town outside of San Jose with the "best climate in the world" as its claim to fame. There's nothing remarkable here. In fact, you would probably miss it entirely if you blinked as the bus went by. We walked to the supermarket from the bus stop to pick up wine for the dinner gathering tonight and milk for my coffee. Along the way we saw a police DJ under a tent playing bachata music. He was happy to see us. I wished I could ask him for a dance.

We walked 20 minutes to get to Anna's casita only to stayed long enough for me to change into a pair of caprice. Anna called for a taxi and it showed up as soon as she hung up the phone. I was mucho impressed. Anna has assembled a collection of transplants here and developed a fairly active social life. At this point I think anyone's social life is more active than mine. Cathy is a southern lady in flowing colorful clothing with a fairly sizable estate on a hill overlooking more hills. The view at sunset was quite beautiful. The day was an anniversary for her and her partner of 39 years, who had passed away recently. Cathy preoccupies herself with home renovations, transforming a hot tub into a aquarium and building a rock garden. Much more work than I would like but then, I have no idea what it is like to lose a partner of 39 years. 

There were just 4 of us at dinner: Cathy, two New Yorkers, and moi, a recently New Yorker. Conversations about TV shows and a different era completely flew over my head. I don't think I even activated my vocal chord except to comment on how delicious the burger was.

The temperature dropped a bit at night. I sat close to the fire pit and watched the stars above. It was extraordinary in the sense that nothing was extraordinary.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Silence

Another day went by where I didn't speak to anyone. Is it by choice? I don't know. I long for conversations over warm beverages but I can't think of anyone I really want to talk to. I live in a beautiful apartment in a beautiful part of the city. As long as I remain inside, I'm never going to see anyone other than the delivery man.

Maybe this is why I feel relieved to travel in foreign lands or hike in the mountains or run in the park, alone. Non verbal activities don't require excuses for silence.

I treated myself to a movie tonight. Wild. I read the book two years ago. That's when I started fantasizing about hiking the PCT myself. By now I've read a bunch of other books on the PCT and hiking, some personal accounts some technical. I gathered gears for Peru and now Nepal. One of these days I'm going to finally get a tent and get on the trail on my own.

Some people can watch things from the sideline and feel content from being entertained. I watch people play concerts, run marathons, hike thousands of miles, go to law school, become single moms, and I think to myself, sure, I can do that. Maybe I'm just a pompous asshole. Maybe I just need to meet my match.

As I walked home in the rain, I saw a young couple kissing at the corner of my street, 72nd and Columbus. I wish I had someone to kiss. But the truth is, I had many people to kiss. I pushed everyone away. One by one, however painful, I let them go.

The thing is, how would I know when I've found it if I don't know what I'm looking for?

Still, someday soon, I will be on that trail. If Cheryl can do it, so can I. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

Relapse

Summer came and went. Now fall will quickly pass too. One thing for certain is that time stops for no one.

There was a problem with the 1 train yesterday. I got way uptown and had to take a taxi to St. Luke's on 113rd. When the nice taxi pulled up to the ER entrance, the driver turned towards me, looked into my eyes and said, "take care of yourself." I returned his glance, paused for a moment and responded, "I will, thank you." And just like that, we made a pack.

I started my 40-hour training to become a volunteer advocate for the Crime Victim Treatment Center to provide comfort and support to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence at the emergency department. I feel grossly inadequate to help anyone given my recent poor mental state. Still, I hope to find strength in bare witness to people stronger than me. Healing is contagious.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ten Miles

The only thing better than crossing the finish line is leaping over the start. If you're lucky enough to live in the metro NYC area you can qualify for the New York Marathon by running nine qualifying races with NYRR and volunteer at one event. I've started and finished eight races so far this year and I distinctly recall smiling at the start of each of the races.

I like running. At the moment I have reached an equilibrium point between overcoming physical struggle and reducing thought processing. Meaning I struggle just enough to minimize anxieties about the future but not enough that I have to stop running due to physical discomfort.

The Bronx 10 Mile is especially fun for me because it's the first out-and-back course I've done. I saw the first returning runner at mile 2 and half. I cheered him on. I continued to cheer others and felt energized. Maybe it was because the deep breathing from all the hollering. The first female I passed was an older lady, who looked like she was well into her 50s. I was surprised, inspired, and proud. Needless to say, I cheered her on. And just seeing her made me want to continue, now and in the future.

The run went extremely well considering I haven't been running all summer. Ironically, I had an extremely busy summer doing none of the things I loved doing. After a solid 13 years on the dating scene I finally realized my inability to balance my priorities and interests with those of another person and as a result, I inevitably feel trapped and resentful whenever I get into a relationship. And after the privilege of dating some really wonderful people who loved me deeply, I realized what is most important in a partner is not a list of defined qualifies or even love, but rather someone who can inspire and help me to become a better person, someone who sees me, really sees me, all of my past and future, and someone who have experienced the world on a deep level and come out full of hope. I've experienced all these things and more from different people. To find all in one neat package is a lot to ask but dear universe, that is what I am seeking. I've come this far and I will not settle for anything less than what I can bring to the table.

I'm ready to cheer you on to go farther, reach higher and catch you when you fall. Will you do the same for me?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Night at the Opera

"Where are you from?"
"I live here." Pause. "How about you?"
"I live in South Hampton but I was born in Peru."
"oh, nice, I was in Peru in May. I went to Lima, Cusco, and did a hike to Machu Picchu."

Second Act of La Boheme
Intermission

"It must be very expensive to live here. Do you live by yourself?"
"Yes, I got very lucky and found a good place."
"Would you mind if I ask how much you pay for rent?"
"$3000/mo but I have a very large one-bedroom. It's a good price for what I have because I've looked at a lot of places around here. Most of the apartments are very small."
"That's very expensive! I'm worried about my children."
"How old are they and where do they live?"
"My daughter is 23. My son just turned 21 and lives in DC."
"oh he lives close by."
"I don't seem them much."
"You must see him on holidays?"
"Yes, I married an Irish American guy. My kids are white and very spoiled. I worked while their were little so they spent most of their time with my husband. We're divorced now. Unlike families in Latin America, my kids are not very close to me. They don't talk to me about anything. Maybe they're closer to their friends. They don't know what they will do and they're not worried but I am."
"Yes, parents always worry. I'm sure they will find their ways."
"My daughter lives in Israel now. She is very beautiful, tall, intelligent. She was the president of everything, every year in high school and then the sorority in college. She studied in George Washington. She was dating this guy from Israel for 4 to 5 years. I was so proud at first. He was a captain. She moved to Israel with him last year after she graduated from college. She could have been anything here. She could have worked for any company because she's so beautiful, smart and well-spoken. Now she lives in Israel. She doesn't speak any Hebrew or have any friends there. I don't know how anyone can live there. I read the news everyday and they are killing innocent people. I'm worried about her. Would you have moved there?"
I hesitated.
"Have you been in love?"
"Yes"
"You have been in love? When you were younger?"
"Yes"
"Would you have moved with someone?"
Ten seconds flashback of my serious relationships. "Not when I was 23. I mean, there are so many other things I wanted to do at that age."
"Exactly! She's so young! She could have done anything! Doesn't she want to do other things?"
"Is she happy?"
"She says she's happy. She wants to marry this guy and have kids with him. He's very religious."
I tried to conjure up an image of a young, beautiful Peruvian Irish girl in Israel in my mind but I couldn't. Instead, I looked at the lady, smiled in the most comforting way possible and said, "as long as she is happy."
A pause.
"I read the news everyday. News from Europe and other countries because we don't report anything here. We bomb and flatten whole villages. The Muslims are peaceful people; they pray for peace everyday, and they are always getting killed. I see little kids suffering. They have nothing to eat. I see videos of kids eating tiny bread crumbs off the ground like little rocks. I want to go and take those kids into my arms and hold them. I want to give them food and keep them safe."

My eyes watered up. I could feel the plead of a mother. A mother who didn't quite get the chance to nurture her own kids. A mother who feels the pain and suffering of others. And a mother with strong maternal instinct. I had nothing to say. I just nodded.

"I am well to do. I made a lot of money as a chef with a catering business. I invested my money. Now I have over a million dollar worth of real estate in Long Island. I'm retired. I want to do something to help people. I want to do something with kids. I think about cashing in everything I have and go help those kids."

Another smile and nod from me. "Yes, I understand. I want to too."

Lights dimmed. Music started. Third Act of La Boheme.

Tears came down my cheeks. I don't know if they were for the kids without food, old love, or Mimi dying.
Before the opera was over she said "I have to leave now."
I nodded for one last time. She was gone.

I sat in sadness. I wanted to talk to her some more. Maybe over a cup of decaf latte at Magnolia's. I wanted to tell her about myself, my life, my dilemmas.

I got up from my chair and ran after her. I asked the usher at the lobby which way she went. He pointed to the elevator. I looked down the atrium and saw no one. I ran down the stairs, out into the plaza. But she was gone.



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Letter to Rose

Dear Rose,

I was awarded the fellowship I interviewed for a couple of days ago. I want to share some information with you. It looks like a great program and a chance for me to network with new/important people in the field.
Law school is always stressful (heck, what grad school is not stressful?). I think different from the first year, where I was more stressed out about classes, this year I'll be more preoccupied on making career/life decisions. People in school are constantly talking about how many interviews they have, who's got what offer, who's paying how much salary. It's easy to get wrapped up in all those comparisons. What I need is discipline. Discipline on staying positive; discipline on doing the best work I can; discipline on knowing who I am and feeling secure about that; discipline on finding what I want and what is most suitable for me; and discipline on associating with people who bring positivity into my life.

The reality is that sometimes I have doubts about school, work, money, relationship, family, children, etc. Uncertainty about the future brings anxiety and it is magnified when I don't take time to see, to be grateful for and to trust in life. I know that I have lived a very fulfilling life so far. I've been to a few places, seen a few things, and made a few tough decisions. I know I am capable of getting things done when I need to. I know happiness is a choice I can make. And most importantly, I know life is this miraculous, at times unpredictable and always exhilarating thing I'm so privileged to experience. People like you remind me of all those things. 
And even though I want to say things like as I enter into the "next chapter" or "the crucial year" I know and believe life isn't fragmented. There aren't any chapters. Every little step I took along the way brought me here and every little action moving forward will take me further along the path. Life is continuous. And like our breathe, each step is just as crucial as the one before and the one after. I understand it's the little decisions I made everyday on what I do, where I go, who I talk to that determine where my journey leads to. The tough part is to stay focused on pursuing what is for me and leave the rest. Thank you for checking up on me.

Love,
L

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Falling

So this is what it feels like to fall back to sea level. Who knew 40% more oxygen could be so stifling. The city has a way of occupying all your senses, strip you free of your identity and the dream you thought you dreamed. Still, what was seen can't be unseen. What was felt, I knew, was real.

Week three of the eight-week internship. I'm preoccupied by busy work. The thing is, time flies whether or not I'm having fun. It passes the same for everyone, without exceptions. Time passes and opportunities are lost. I see it. I don't like it. And there's nothing I can do about.

I get the unsettled feeling that there's something more I should be doing, something that would guide me to my true calling, some kind of life altering step, somewhere I should go, someone I should meet. I don't know what I should do or if I should be doing anything at all. I have no answers and for the majority of the time I don't even know what the questions are. I feel like I'm not doing enough but what is enough? I don't know. I want to watch the stars with someone who understands, in silence.

When he asked me, what are you thinking? I said, I don't think. And it was true.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Weekend

Efrain was in town to visit his friend, who's been in the hospital for the last two months waiting for her second heart transplant. I don't have the first clue on what to say to someone waiting for a new heart. There's nothing smart, humorous, or profound. I can't even say I understand because I don't.

Despite all that, we had a beautiful weekend together. There dinner at my favorite Peruvian place, Pio Pio, followed by dinner on Saturday at a great Cuban place, Guantanamara, and then Ravi Coltrane at Birdland, an evening stroll, an impromptu look at Saturn's ring, late night key lime cheese cake, talk until exhaustion. I got up at 5am on Sunday to run Queen's 10K. I gathered a variety of foods for a very New York picnic on Sheep's Meadow.

We laid under the sun on the first day of summer. At some point he put his arm around me. It felt good, almost as good as sitting with him the nigh before at Birdland. Sometime from now I won't remember what the music was like but I will remember the feel of his heartbeat against my skin.

Me: you need to go to the airport
Him: another half hour

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Other End

Days turn into weeks. Weeks will go into months. Before long, we will become strangers again. And before I forget, I want to remind myself that it was real and not a dream. 

Maybe what I'm looking for isn't a suitable career or something I want to do but rather a way of life. Maybe we've been approaching it from the wrong angle. Maybe I need to focus on how I want to live and do things that would enable and/or contribute to the lifestyle. Just a thought.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sunset in Red Hook

From Anna's roof we watched the last ray of sunlight fall below the horizon. How odd is it for the mountain people to never see such thing? I waited for the stars to appear but only a handful came. How different is the big dipper in the northern hemisphere. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Life

This is the life I would have killed for ten years ago. Now that I'm here I just want to be killed.
But that's not true. As much as I despise the white walls I know I can excel at this just as I have before and just as I have with other things. I'm a cat with nine lives. There's the musician, the dancer, the tangoera, the runner, the traveler/adventure seeker, the corporate climber, the law student, the zen practitioner, the homemaker, the writer, the lover, the introvert, the extrovert, and whatever else I come up with. I'm not sure if I could ever be content with any particular one, although I'd like to think I would be willing to trade in many things to lay under the stars. Frankly I'd trade in everything to watch the stars with my guide.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Pretty Girl

The door man, not my door man but the building next door, said, "hi pretty girl." It made me happy.

Real

I cried all night last night. The rain took over this morning, unrelenting rain. It was the Monday of all Mondays. I spent five hours in traffic today to and from NJ. I wasn't in a hurry because I had no desire to go where I needed to go. The thought of going to the office suffocates my soul. How many times does it take for me to put my hand in the fire before I learn that it burns? I cried on the drive back. I don't think people understand. I feel misunderstood these days and that makes me feel lonely. I feel trapped in my own world, unable to express how I really feel. I have no one I want to talk to. I wonder if this is clinical depression.

I want to be seen and understood. I feel like things are so out of wrack that we can no longer feel the pull of gravity. I want someone to look up to the sky and be just as shocked to not see any stars from here. I want someone who knows what a real conversation sounds like outside of text messages. I want to feel real.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Tango on the Pier

Me: I loved the mountains in Peru. I want to move there.
Ale in BA: but you fit in so well here with your red dress.

That's the problem of being in two polar opposite worlds. I'm never quite satisfied in a particular place, at least not for long. 
This evening, I traded in my hiking boots for tango shoes on the pier. The breeze felt amazing but I know what's better than DiSarli in the sunset. It's not here.

Resistence

I woke up this morning and thought how unfair is it to have to miss someone who is the embodiment of the stars, mountains, ancient walls and endless trails?

There are always those me-s in alternate universes that stayed in Buenos Aires, or married, or had babies, or went to Peru and never came back. How is it fair that we're only given one life to live out all of our inklings?

Non-attachment and letting go is the fundamentals of zen practice. I sat for 30 minutes today but I don't want to let go. I find myself clinging to images, memories, sentiments like a child with her favorite toy. I don't want to let go.

On the last leg of the trek we walk 10km along the railroad from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes. He handed me a rock he picked up from the ground and said, this is what the Incas used as to carve out stones. I felt its weight in my hand and never sat it down. And as I hold it in my hand now, I never realized how much life existed in a rock.


When something bad happens, when you step into the quicksand of your own anxiety and doom, when your thoughts begin to race, fear strangles your breath, despair wrenches your heart, and doubt suffocates the light right out of your day, pick up a rock and hold it in your hand. Yes, any old rock will do. Any old rock will bring you back to the here and now. Faith in the here and now is faith that never leaves you. Besides, what else do you have to go on?

—Paradise in Plain Sight

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A Long Walk

There are no stars here. Instead, I turned my futon facing the windows to pierce into the lives of all those who live in the red brick building across the street from me. On these nights, I like to open the windows to indulge in the cool evening breeze. There's nothing more satisfying than to sink into the couch while propping my feet on the window ledge. Last night I feel asleep here. Maybe I'll do the same tonight.

I went for a long walk along the river today. Every now and then I run into people who despises New York, calling it a concrete jungle. This place looks like an oasis compare to Shanghai or Seoul. New York is beautiful. Even Manhattan is bigger and greener than most people realize. I fall in love every time I run in Central Park. I can walk all day without seeing a skyscraper.
Along the Hudson you can see people pushing their kids, pulling their pets, a loon with a silvery fish, and me with my Ospray Exos 35. I love the feel of the weight of my pack on my back. I wonder if this is how a snail feels. It feels like home. I had lunch at Riverside Park and continued north until I reached Ft. Tryon just after 2pm. I plopped down on the first flat patch of grass and napped under the blazing sun. I was hot but I was more tired. I miss being out in the elements. That's where I belong.

On my way to the subway station on 190th, a man sitting on the park bench asked what was in my pack. I tried to explain to him that I was simply carrying some weight for a walk. He was perplexed. His lady companion didn't share such puzzlement. I told them I just came back from Peru. They immediately became intrigued. The man is a retired lawyer, the lady, an ageless Russian beauties: blond hair and big translucent blue eyes. I lingered with them for awhile, sharing with them my enthusiasm for seeing the world while concealing what really happened out in the mountains. No amount of nature should bring this much joy, at least none that I've experienced. At the end the man asked for my contact and said, "thank you! You are an inspiration. I wish I was like you."

Friday, June 6, 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Revelation

I lost my first toe nail today. It wasn't painful. I earned it. I know it was real because I woke up with more blackened toe nails than before.  My calluses got thicker and my heart grew a little stronger. The plane took off and landed. Somewhere between 55 degrees I made a revelation greater than all of the world's wonders combined.

I've always been more of a get-out-of-my-way kind of person. I have faith but not in organized religion. I like to tour but have been known to drop out from organized ones. I went where my heart took me and I waited for no one. The idea of being led and the desire to follow is so foreign to me I've never even contemplated their existence. And yet, just when I least expected, somewhere in the mountains of Peru I found my guide.

It was only later did I realize that I would have followed him to the end of the world, blindfolded. All of the sudden I understood why believers followed the messiah and soldiers followed generals into battle. I would go anywhere with him. This is what blind faith feels like.

I don't know if or when I'll see him again. What I do know is that I am capable of such feeling and there is at least one person in the world who could invoke it. With that I am happy and grateful.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Thousand Goodbyes


It's four in the morning. Richard and Ashley are getting ready to be picked up for their Lares trek; Adam is taking the bus to Cachero to embark on a 7-day trek through Choquequiraw; Herlin is making his round to pick up the latest batch of tourists to go on the Inca trail; I am leaving for New York. All roads lead to Machu Picchu yet sooner or later we must all go back to where we came from.

As the taxi sped out of the old town I turned back and took one last glimpse of the white cross. The focus went away as my vision blurred with tears. I took a deep breath. Out of all the uncertainties the only thing I know for certain is that I never want to stop falling in love, even with the sadness of a thousand goodbyes. Some people can't learn; I just won't learn. My name is Liren and I am addicted to falling in love.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mass and Pisaq Market

It was still dark when he left. I didn't realize how early it was until I looked at my fitbit later. I had lost my phone by then. 2am. I couldn't go back to sleep, not that I was sleeping before. I buried my teary face into him as he got dressed. He put his necklace on me and said, come back when you can, I will be here. And with that, he was gone. I locked the door and laid motionlessly in the dark, drowning in incomprehensible thoughts.

I didn't want to stay there but it was too early to go anywhere. I had no idea where I was or if I would be able to get a taxi if I went out to the street. I tried to focus on my breath but it was hopeless. Still, I tried. One to ten. Just get to ten. I drifted back and forth between verge of hysteria and unconsciousness. Finally at the first glimpse of daylight I got into the shower. The water wasn't really warm but anything was better than trying to lay still. I got dressed, took a quick assessment of my mental state and decided I was going to be fine.

An unmarked car came by. San Pedro. 3 soles. I opened the door and hopped in, thinking, this is too easy. I'm beginning to recognize the streets by now. As he came up to the market I told him to pull to the right. I got out in front of the cathedral, draped in the sunrise, crimson as if it was on fire. I've been wanting to attend a Sunday service. This is perfect. I found my place in the last row and followed the others as they stood up, knelled down, and returned to seated position. Somehow being there made me feel closer to him. Later a young man took up the empty seat next to me, reeked of alcohol. I had no judgment for him here. We're in the house of god. Even if everyone dies I still don't know if I would I get my turn. Besides, I'm just as fcked up as he was. On my way out I dipped my fingers in holy water and made a sign of cross.
It was still early by the time I went back to the hostel. I didn't want to go back to my room to wake everyone up. I had some tea in the common room and grabbed a book off the shelf. Adam walked by and was surprised to see me there. Good morning! I smiled, what's the plan for today? I need to get to the bus terminal to get my ticket to Cachero for tomorrow. How do you say for tomorrow? mañana. What about tomorrow morning? Mañana por a la mañana. I have no plans for today. I'll come with you. We can go to Pisaq from there.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Night I Saw a Shooting Star

I saw a shooting star!
Yes, I saw it too. It was over there! Did you make a wish?
No
Make a wish!
(my brain scrambled and nothing came up)
Say that you'll be back here.
(tears rolls down from the corners of my eyes as fast as the shooting star).
I'll be back here.

In that instant, the past and future converged into the present. As I laid in my sleeping bag in the wet clearing, underneath the most spectacular blanket of stars, I knew I was watching the same ones the Incas saw when they lived across the valley. My struggles were theirs; their exhilaration was mine. It mattered not what the future will hold because I've already accepted it. This moment is the summation of all that came before and all that is yet to come. I was there, the most beautiful moment of all moments. It came and went in a flash but there was no doubt that I was there.

Only later did I realize that happiness is when you see a shooting star and have nothing to wish for.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cuzco Day 1

Arriving in Cusco, I was greeted by cool crispy air. I made my way through the insistent cab drivers and made my way to the hostel the local way, a 50 cent bus ride and a few blocks up the hill. The scene that followed resembled one of those dreams I don't want to wake up from: warm mate de coca, a vase full of Callas lilies, Coldplay and every acoustic version of their songs, me crawled up on a bean bag in front of the heater on a cold night in a foreign land. In an instant, the world as I knew it gave way to a crimson horizon pregnant with new possibilities.This is what I live for.

What started as a dream turned into a nightmare when I woke up this morning with the worst headache imaginable. In an instant I knew it was altitude sickness. I can be healthy as I'll ever be but altitude sickness has no regards for that. My head hurted so much I felt like my eyeballs were going to pop out of my skull. I listened to mama and didn't eat anything when I arrived last night. It was a good advise because when the morning came I couldn't even keep water down. I was miserable. I stayed in bed until 2pm and finally mustered up enough energy to talk to the trekking company to check in. I needed to off load the cash I've been carrying. I told the guy I was very ill. He seemed unemphatic at first. Asked where I was from. NY, I said. He snickered and commented, "ha, a sea level city." Now there's a reaction I've never received before for mentioning NY. When all the paperwork was done he directed me to the pharmacy on Sol to get Sorojchi for altitude sickness. He then handed me a business card with his cell phone and told me to call him anytime if things get worse since no one will be at the office tomorrow, Sunday. I left feeling hopeful. By now my illness has subsided a bit. It was nice to walk around because Cusco is beautiful. The houses on the hold reminded me of Granada. There are beautiful plazas and cathedrals everywhere I turn. The sun was strong. It feel good. I dodged into a tiny eatery full of locals watching the national championship soccer match. For 13soles I had a pea soup with pasta and potatoes and chaufa con carne. The food wasn't anything to write home about but it was goos to finally eat something. I needed carbs.

The temperature cooled as the sun approached the horizon. I read the instruction for the medication before I took it. One for every 8 hours, not to be taken with Advil or other OTC pain medications. All my symptoms went away by night fall. I found a boy from Connecticut in my room. Are you traveling alone? He asked, is this what you do? I liked him instantly, something about being young and nice looking. I told him about my nightmare with altitude sickness and sold him a third of my pack. He accompanied me to get some food before meeting with the rest of his cohort. This is his first big trip outside of the US. I could see the start of a life long passion. This is the right time to do it, I said, you have to take every opportunity you can. Do you travel a lot? He asked. Not so much now but I used to. Well, you're still doing it. I smiled, I guess I am!

I ate my pollo ala brasa back at the hostel with a Swiss archeologist. He's worked all around the world and was last stationed in Chile. He's being traveling for himself since last September. I chatted with him about Lima and Cuzco. I asked if he was doing the hike to MP and what his next stop is. Maybe the rainforest, he said unenthusiastically. Sounds like you have a case of traveling fatigue. Yes, he laughed and said, how did you know? Are you a psychologist? We talked any my favorite place in earth, El Chalten. I asked him about different places he's been to and the Galapagos.
In the meantime Justin relayed my nightmare to his group and scared everyone into getting Sorojchi. I walked around with him and another very young couple from MS to find a pharmacy and some food. I liked seeing hopeful young travelers in training.
On our way back Justin played and danced with the locals. It was a great sight to watch. For once i wishes I had some dance moves or knew how to play the drum.
Sleep found me easily. Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Recovery

I've been feeling sick this week, throbbing headache, stomach cramp, and unending nausea. People say it's stress. I don't think it is but my body can't lie. I retreated to bed at 7:30 yesterday. Got up a few hours later to force some food into my rebellious stomach. I listened to the unrelenting rain on my skylight. How beautiful it is and how fortunate I am, I thought. The sound was louder in the stairway where the large glass dome hung above. What's with all the hype about breaking through the class ceiling when we can sit under it and be mesmerized by the sound of rain? I brought a stool to the hallway and listened. I read few chapters of KMM's new book Paradise in Plain Sight. Faith is the pause in between each inhale and exhale.

The reality is that no one comes to Zen as a matter of choice. We all come to it kicking and screaming, much like the way newborns are brought into the world, I imagine. I came to it because Lorazepam didn't work and I thought Lorazepam was my last option. I wasn't on the verge of dying a physical death but I felt the spirit that once burnt so bright was fluttering away. Without that we're just an empty shell, and what's the point in that? And then, I found my place on a small round cushion called zafu. It propped my body up into the mountain pose. I didn't know what I was doing. I still don't. I don't continue because it makes me happy or because I think it's going to help me to attain some enlightened spiritual state. I sit because I don't know what else to do, because there are no other options, because it is the only way for me.

I slept for twelve hours. I drank coffee. I sat. I feel better, as well as someone can be on a continuous journey of recovery. This is faith and I am love.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Reality

Things don't always turn out the way we imagine them to be, as in a perfect world. And for all the rest of the imperfect times, we call them reality.

Friday night was for opera at the MET. But to add a small twist, I was to leave the opera a bit early to meet a friend I haven't seen since my undergrad audition at Cleveland thirteen years ago. The scheme in my head goes something like this:
I come out of the MET and appeared into the empty square with wind in my hair. As I moved closer to a lone figure leaning on the fountain, he stood up and slowly took a step towards me. When our eye finally met it was as if no time had passed. We smiled and stood facing each other for a long time as if neither one of us wanted to disturb the perfect silence.

In reality, I left the opera in the beginning of the third act, came out of a tourist packed square, saw a bunch of shadows around the fountain but none looked familiar. It was a beautiful night and once again I was alone. 15 minutes passed before my phone rang. He was running late. Another ten minutes later his car pulled up to the steps and I jumped in with the sound of cars honking around us. 

It was getting late. The only place I could think of in the neighborhood was the wine bar next to my building. You think we would have lots to talk about after all this time but we didn't. Was it because we just understood each other without further elaboration or was it not that much as happened. I got married and divorced; he's got a 5 year-old daughter. I traveled a little; he traveled much more. I lived in BA for a few months, he lived in Germany for a few years. I got out of music; he's becoming a recognized concert pianist. In many ways we have gone in diametrical directions but in many ways we're still the same. In the grand scheme of things we really haven't changed that much.

I didn't have to explain to him the difficulty of getting out of music. He didn't have to explain to me the difficulty of staying with it. That's the beauty of communicating with musicians. It comforts me.

I was really stomped when he asked me, "how's your personal life?"
Well, I've never evaluated it before. Should I have? It's been two years since I've really dated someone. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. I meet people every now and then but no one's caught my attention. I'm single and I'm happy. I guess that's a good thing.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Love

There was a time I was so sure of everything but I wasn't. Now I know nothing and I've never been less doubtful.

There was a time I marched to the sound of my own drum. Now I'm starting to see the beauty and harmony of falling into the beat that is now, to be perfectly in sync with the moment.

To meditate is to focus on the breathe. And to focus on the breathe is love. Things were said during Dharma talk at the retreat, most of which I never remembered. Life is a futile attempt at escaping reality. Like all addicts, we are in a constant state of recovery. When your mind starts to wonder, bring it back to the present, back to now, now, now, nothing more than now.

That is the truth and not a lie. I knew when she looked at me, us, and said, I want to sit with your for the rest of my life. I cried. It was love, trust, dedication and compassion all rolled into one.

That's love. It needs no reason, no rationale, no foundation, no expectations, no conditions, no judgments. When all is stripped away, love remains. It's the only kind of love. There is no other truth. At that moment I knew that's where I want to be. I don't know how or when or what or whom but someday, I will get there. Someday I will love and it will be the only truth I've ever known.

My name is Liren and my practice is my breathe.

The teaching is transmitted face to face. We sat face to face at dokusan. I smiled because I knew I was seen. She asked if I was happy. I nodded and when my smile stretched to its limit, tears fell, so much so that I couldn't speak. But that was ok. I didn't have to. She asked if I had any questions. I shook my head. I knew nothing and yet I felt so certain that nothing needed to be known. This is the way because there is no other way.

Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Those were the saddest words I've ever heard. I couldn't stop crying after she said that. Three days of sitting later I can't say I was enlightened because I wasn't. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and disgusted by my inability to switch of my wondering mind. I'm addicted to thinking. It was my coping mechanism for so long and it had served me well at times. Now it's time to let it go, not just thoughts but feelings about those thoughts too. No more embarrassment or frustration. This is me, no more no less. 

I came back and started to sit each morning. Some-times it goes by better than others. But that's ok. I am a musician. The word practice comes with the privilege of imperfection. Maya Angelou said to do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. Here, I don't know how much there is to know. I practice to get better. That's enough for now.

I realized that I've been running on and off for 18 months now. I'm not a natural runner. I've never had an easy run. When people ask if I liked running my answer was always no. Then they ask why I run, I tell them may be if I run long enough I'll like it.

So I ran. My calves were hurting and I was always struggling. Surely, to run ten plus miles in snow and below freezing temperatures gave me a sense of accomplishment but I still didn't like running. Even running the NYC Half did nothing. After all the training, crossing that finish line was the most anticlimactic thing ever. After 13.1 miles and an artificial line I got to walk. That's it. I got to walk!

I got tired of sitting at school today so I came home. I ran in the rain. Six miles. The park was empty. It was chilly but it was beautiful. With each breath I reminded myself that's love.

Today will go down history as the day I fell in love with running.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

NYC Half Marathon

Harlem to Wall Street. I could have gotten there by car, by train, or by bus but there's nothing like getting there on my own feet. Someone once said running is a equalizer, especially at marathon distance, it has no regards for what you declared on your tax return last year, what kind of car you drive, or the type of posh gym membership you have. As the miles go by we are leveled down to our core with no pretenses, privileges, or prejudices.

A half marathon seems rather insignificant but it was a big milestone for me. I've never been a distance runner. When I walked out of the door this morning I had to give myself a prep talk. I can do this. I've trained for this twice already! I trained with Champaign's Second Wind Running Club last winter but decided to not run the race due to problems with my calves. This time I got to the starting line in the best shape possible, no pain! It was such a huge relief since nagging pains are so common in running. I had ordered a customized race jersey and decided to go with it at the last minute. 31 degrees, 18 mph wind, and I was wearing a sleeveless tank. Yikes! Still, I'd rather suffer at the beginning than to overheat for the rest of the 13 miles. I'm glad I made the decision to dress light. I felt surprisingly comfortable the entire time except for the way home. It was all worthwhile.

Brooklyn Half is next. My goal is to 1-figure out what to do with nutrition, and 2-be disciplined about a negative split. I got out of Central Park in great shape and slightly ahead of my pace. I realized that having ran in the park for nearly half year I have become extremely comfortable with ever step of it. When I got to West Side Highway around mile 9 I was really starting to feel the energy drain. The wind and monotony didn't help. I tried to wash down an energy gel but the timing was off. I should have sucked that thing down at mile 6. The last few miles were really tough. My legs felt great but I just had no energy. Overall I'm happy with my result. 1:57:58 is the time to beat for Brooklyn.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Long Flight, Short Visit

Five days and five plate lunches later I'm back in the city again. It was good to leave before I started to look like a Hawaiian. The flight back was just short of ten hours. When we finally landed at JFK I realized that I had missed here. After all the traveling, going to and from places, this is the only place I can picture myself in at this time in my life. It's a good feeling.

The trip back home took a bit longer than anticipated. Just as I was walking out of the airport a Chinese girl caught up with me and asked me for directions to Wall Street in Chinese. She said it was her first time visiting and that her English wasn't very good. I was more than happy to help her out since we were going toward the same direction. The good thing about speaking Chinese is not that everyone knows the language but rather the fact there are tons of Chinese people scattered in just about every corner of the world. I've never visited a Chinese-speaking country outside of China but I have asked for directions in Chinese in quite a few places, the last one being Vienna. It's always good to see your people in foreign land. Now it's my turn to pay it forward.

20 degrees felt refreshing at first but my noise started to hurt on the two-block walk home from the subway station. When I got in the door I was greeted by a hot inferno. The room temperature had been set at a perfect 72 degrees all winter but now it's all out of wrack. It's as if someone wanted to make sure I come home to a warm cocoon. I was too tired before I pulled the blanket over me and slept for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Saturday, March 8, 2014

First Snorkel of the Day


Roman was leaving to go back to Cali today, but not before his last snorkel. Rose suggested that I tag along. I'm not a swimmer but snorkel in calm shallow water is ok. We showed up at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve Park just after 7am hoping to avoid the formalities but alas, the park opened at 6am! So much for island time! I had to watch a safety video before getting into the water. The bay looked beautiful even under the gray sky. I got my snorkel and flippers on and instantly, I was in a tropical fishbowl! Whoa! There were so many different colorful fish! It's too bad I didn't get my GoPro to function properly for the snorkel. At one time I even saw an octopus! Rose said it's very rare to see one mostly because they blend in so well with their surroundings. It was a slightly windy day. When I took two gulp of salt water I grabbed onto Roman and shoved him into a reef. I felt terrible but Roman was a good sport about it. He calmed me down and led me to other parts of the bay.


I stayed home while Rose took Roman to the airport. It was nice to have some quiet time. I thought about sitting outside for a while but the weather had cleared up and it was too hot under the sun. I got hold of Gary over the phone and planned to meet him for lunch once Rose got back. The reunion was sweet and the food at Moke's Bread and Breakfast was delicious! I was a happy camper!
The rain started again and there was no sign of breaking. We decided to drive to Waikiki for a tour of the touristy spot. I have no interest in looking at hotels and shopping malls but Waikiki was worthy of a stop just to say I've been there. It was nice to catch up with Gary over some caffeinated beverage. He moved to HI for college ten years ago and never left. Gary is in his element here. I don't see him moving away anytime soon. Rose was born in HI and lived there for the last 17 years before spending a year in BA and 5 in Dusseldorf. I'm a none Hawaiian and don't really see myself living here. The scenery is nice but there are inevitably strip malls everywhere. I'm done with strip malls for a while. 

We took in the view from a nice lounge in the pink hotel. Later on we walked along the coastline as the sun fell below the horizon. It was a beautiful evening. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Gray Hawaii

The forecast showed five solid days of rain for Honolulu but it didn't bother me. I never had much interest to visit Hawaii in the same way I had no interest to see St. Thomas. Those are places people vacationed. It goes against my inclination for travel and adventures. This time it was a good opportunity to see Rose. Having recently returned from her 5-year stay in Dusseldorf, Rose found a gig in Hawaii for a few months just in time to escape the harsh winter in Ohio. She has yet to decide on a home base in the U.S., so for the time being, she's house setting at Baerbel's. Since we had talked about meeting up in HI, I felt that I needed to keep my words. Rose and I met each other in BA seven years ago and have met up in a few different countries over the years, but never in the U.S. We have a habit of following through with our plans and this was not going to be an exception.

Thanks to the time difference I landed around 3pm local time, with plenty of time left for the day. Rose was to pick me up at the curb but it took us an eternity to find each other! The sky broke open over Honolulu and it poured and poured as we tried to maneuver through the Friday-afternoon gridlock. Having lived in NYC for over half year you'd think I'm used to seeing traffic but I'm not. I travel underground and almost never see traffic in the City. We picked up and dropped off Rose's friend Roman from one job site to another. I desperately needed something to eat so we stopped by a ramen place on the way. It wasn't my top choice but it got the job done.

Baerbel's house is situated on Mariner's Ridge in Hawaii'Kai, Honolulu, overlooking Maunalua Bay. The sun had already set by the time we got in. The little lights from the opposite valley reminded me of the Albayzí. The view was breathtaking.

We cleaned up for the evening's milonga, which was typically held in the outdoor garden at the State Art Museum but was moved inside tonight due to the rain. Once again we picked up Roman at his job and rushed to the milonga just before it ended. I had forgotten to bring my tango shoes but luckily, Rose wears the same size so I was able to steal hers for a while. There were only a few dancers on the floor but I got in two great tandas. It was my first time dancing this year. How lovely! We were hoping to run into Gary there but he had left just before we got there. Gary is the one responsible for introducing me to Rose at Salon Canning. I haven't seen him since my first visit to BA so this reunion was long overdue.

Flight to Hawaii

I sat my alarm clock at 5am and woke up at 6:45. I jumped out of bed, ran around my bedroom and threw on the first set of clothes I saw, my running shirt and shoes. Waking up late to something is a terrible feeling, even worse when it's my flight to Hawaii! AH! Thankfully I had packed my backpack the night before. I did a quick last minute check, keys, credit cards, phone, charger, feed the cats and ran out of the door. I have never gotten out of my apartment so fast. I ran through the transportation options in my head a couple of times but I was too frazzled to think straight. Instead, I waved down the first taxi I saw on CPW.

Somehow I managed to go from bed to terminal 5 in 45 minutes. That's got to be some kind of new record. Getting through security is enough to give anyone a drinking problem. I got to the gate just in time to board the plane. The flight was great as the 6'4 guy next to me moved to a different seat. With two seats all to myself I was able to perform a number of contortionist movements. For the most part I crawled up in fetal position and tried to get as much sleep as I could.

My rest was interrupted by meal and drink services. I had whatever they served since I hadn't had anything to eat or drink since I went to dinner last night at Hummus. I finished reading the book I Promise Not to Suffer by Gail Storey, the fifth book I've read on the Pacific Crest Trail. I looked up at our flight path. We were somewhere over the Sierra Nevada. As the map zoomed in I recognized names of towns the PCT come close to, Palm Spring, San Bernardo, Mojave desert. How appropriate, I thought, someday I'm going to be down there.

By now I've started to recognize names of trail towns, landmarks, mountains, other hikers and trail terminologies. I moved along with Porter-and-Gail and cried when she cried. We are where we should be and no time was ever wasted. I think back to those words from Maezen often. I remember walking into my first Dharma talk not knowing where to sit or what to say. But words are just words. I don't look for them for reassurance. Rather, it's the way our lives unfold that gives them meaning. Gail made it through 900 miles before flying back to Huston. Her husband forged on while she commanded supplies and logistics. Months later, she accompanied her mother on her last leg of the journey as she passed away from terminal illness. When the book was done I thought about my own mother. I thought her mourning over the recent death of my grandmother. The guilt she felt for not having been there, to help, to comfort, to just be there. She fainted at the sudden news. I could hear her wailing next to the phone. She gathered herself for a brief moment to tell me she's ok and that I should focus on my studies. She's been saying that for as long as I could remember. For her there are no other priorities in life. I don't disagree with her. I have a good opportunity here and I will not squander it. But studying alone doesn't fill my soul, at least not the study of law. There so many other things I want to do and experience. In time I will. Mother's pain goes much deeper than grandmother's passing. She was always plagued with remorse for picking the wrong husband that led to a failed marriage, having not always been there when I was young, and not having spent enough time with grandma.

If I could have one super power it would be the power to take away pain, physical and emotional pain. But letting go is something we can only do on our own. No one can do it for us, or convince us to do it. There are no short cuts, tricks, or special techniques. You don't need a book, a class, a religion, or a life coach. Letting go is something you decide to do and practice it over and over again even when it seems impossible. The repetition is very much like running or meditation. Cry and let go of your tears. Recognize and let go of your fears. Feel the deepest sorrow and highest joy saturating every ounce of your being and release them like you would with a hummingbird. There is no other way because our capacity to love is directly proportional to our capacity to let go. As the common Buddha inspired saying goes, "in the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Run with Me

I took my GoPro out for a run and made my first video. Working through Windows was so painful I had to take a dinner break. I couldn't get the AVI conversion to work to export the video out of GoPro Studio for the life of me. After weeding through online forums I decided to uninstall and reinstall my graphic card. That took forever and I almost freaked out when I couldn't figure out how to reinstall after I uninstalled the damn thing. The joy of running Windows 8.1! Anyways, I stayed up all night to get this time to work and then frantically cleaned up the place to get a couple hours of sleep before my flight...