Saturday, March 28, 2015

Catching Up

I talked to Rose for hours last night, recounting what happened in Russia. You're luck to have a friend but even luckier to have a cheerleader and a confidante. She was there with me, everyday, through all the excitement and agony. I emailed her the night things fell apart. She responded immediately like a paramedic even though I told her she didn't even have to read the email.

Last night she said, "what you wrote was so beautiful. When I read that I thought, that's it, that's exactly how it was supposed to happen." My heart dropped a little. I thought the same as well. What it is like to win the jackpot and have it taken away the next day.

I couldn't run much today. For some reason I'm feeling minor shin splits. I walked a small loop in the park. No green yet. I'll be sure to watch for it. Nature's first green is gold.
Went to a jazz show with Aparna. I went to the same music school with the drummer and recall seeing him play at Java's ten years ago. Ice cream at Herald Square. Catching up after a long winter.

I miss you still. Heart heals. It takes time.
Miss You

Thursday, March 26, 2015


I went to a fancy breakfast meeting this morning at the oldest clubhouse in NYC by Wall Street. The servers told me they were going to throw away all the leftovers. I asked for a box and took a dozen pastries with me. I hate wasting food. 
I could have left the box at the student lounge at school, where it would have been emptied within minutes. But instead, I carried it around with me all day knowing they could better serve someone else. I didn't know who but I knew I was going to see him at some point.

Binna and I went out for Vietnamese food in Chinatown after class. I wasn't hungry but I like her company. We come from very different upbringings but both feel strongly about women's issues. She asked why don't I take a women and the law class. I told her I'm no expert on the abortion debate. I just had two.

We didn't leave the restaurant until it closed at 10:30. I tried to shield the box from the rain, then onto the D train to Columbus Circle. I walked back and forth on the platform but didn't see anyone in need.

Finally the C train came. I stepped into the car and immediately noticed everyone stood at one end while two homeless guys sat at the other. I sat down across from them and handed one guy the box. 

Binna had drew a picture of an uterus on the top so I could show her what an IUD looks like. The guy was suspicious at first but he devoured a danish as soon as he opened the box. I'd like to think he wasn't hungry. 

He then woke up the other guy and told him that I just gave them a box of pastries. The other guy seemed weak and didn't respond. The first guy tired to pass over the box while pointing at me. 

I watched as the other guy struggled to take the box with shaky hands. "I got it. I got it" he said under his breathe. My stop came just in time for me to still say good night with a smile. 

I wish I has taken all of the leftovers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

On Travel

Traveling in my 30s have become very different from that of my 20s. I don't know if the shift was a deliberate one but I do recall the feeling of wanting to get more or something different out of my trips. I wanted to do and feel rather than merely to see.

In my earlier traveling days, going places was about sightseeing. As much as I tried to take local transportation and eat at local establishments, I was still a passive observer. I went on photo expeditions and took beautiful shots. There are great photos in my flickr account from four years ago with my SLR. In the Himalayas, I took photos with my phone and even that was limited by access to recharge the battery. I did meet people and fall in love on the road in my 20s. But they were more coincidental. Things happened to me. They happened to me often. But I can't really take credit for them other than being at the right place, the right time and open to the possibilities. It was intoxicating.

Now traveling is becoming less focused on the destination. My to-do list no longer resemble that of Rick Steve's top ten. As I spend lesser time preparing for what to see before my trip I started to see more on my actual trip. It's easier to let go of other people's expectations. As I become less bound by the expectations of my own, I started to see more extraordinary things in the ordinary.

I now actively reach out to people to build lasting friendships. I've become more connected to people I meet on a spiritual level. Of course, that's predicated on me becoming a more spiritual person in my 30s. 

I was always authentic. But as I learn and grow I gain more realization into what that means and how to share it with others. I'm proud to say that I've graduated into a new class of travelers. And it wears well.

Perhaps traveling isn't about getting to a particular destination. But rather, the destinations serve as little markers, like buoys, on this aimless course to only one end we call life. And what a beautiful course it is. 

P.S. I had a dream about you for the first time last night. You had moved to Toronto like you said you wanted to. You were here visiting as a friend. You called your mom over the phone just as you were about to leave. She said she was going to Montreal. You asked why she didn't say something earlier so you could meet her there instead of going back to Toronto. I offered to drive you to Montreal (I thought I still had my Bug). You looked at me and asked, are you sure? I said, yes, this is what you do for people you like. And then I woke up. I would do anything for you.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


I slept for 12 hours, not counting the two classes I slept through at school before I came home. I guess I was tired.

The soprano that terrorizes the neighborhood, reason 86 why I love this place.

I met with Dieter for breakfast yesterday. It was good to catch up with him. I love seeing people from ESM. They remind me what I consider as the best of myself. And it makes me happy to see good things happen to good people.

Later in the afternoon I attended a school event for scholarship donors:
Me: should I talk to people?
Gabe: No, you don't fit the profile.
Me: damn, I used to be able to stay normal for a lot longer periods of time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


I wake up in the middle of the night, with the thought of you, as if some catastrophic event had just happened. The cut so deep I can feel it with every expansion of my heart, open and close, open and close. I wonder if if you think of me sometimes. But for the most part, I wonder how long it will take for this to pass. This too shall pass, just as everything else over time. And I wonder if I will ever feel the same again.

You talk about the space. I was there, for a moment, beyond the limits of gravity, there was expansive weightlessness, infinite possibilities. It was beautiful. I wish you were there. I can't imagine how it's possible to come back to earth after that. But here we are, back into our own little earthly bodies, carrying on with our own separate little lives.

You said I looked at you like a little kitten. I have no regrets. I looked into your eyes every second I had, even when they were not looking back at me. Even now when I close mine I can see yours.

I don't know how long I will remember. Someday I'll be able to think of you just as a fond memory. Today is not the day.

Gabe said, "you only fall in love with people you can't see again. I have no sympathy for you." 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Moral Standard

Anna: "Isn't it a shock when you find out that someone has such a low moral standard after you've held a high regard for them for many years?"
Me: "No, remember to keep a low standard."
Anna: "You? Speaking of low standard? How can that possibly be so?"
Me: "I've done some pretty bad things and I can't expect others more than what I can attain myself."
Anna: "What about that traveling guy? He was pretty great."
Me: "He was married."
Anna: "Yeah, yeah, we know he wasn't for you but he was a good guy."
Me: "He was with me."
Anna: "I don't understand."
Me: "He was married and he was with me."
Anna: "oh, you guys were together?"
Me: "Yes"
Anna: "oh, I didn't know that. Did he say he was in an open relationship?"
Me: "No, his wife was eight months pregnant."
Anna: "Well, at least he was honest."

NYC Half

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rainbow Tutu

If I can't PR I have to up the fun factor. Who could be happier than this girl running through Time Square? 13.1 miles went like a breeze even though I haven't been training all winter. It was exhilarating. I wish every day was marathon day.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Coming Home

Maybe one day I will able to sit through an entire return flight without crying. This wasn't that flight. For a while I sobbed like a baby and I'm ok with that. I don't want to say that this was the worst trip but it was pretty difficult. I had forgotten the immeasurable loneliness of being in the presence of someone who is not present. And this combined with being on the road was just insufferable. I felt sad, alienated, restricted, and even imprisoned. I wasn't free to express myself, to communicate, and to generate an exchange.

I felt instantly uplifted when the plane touched down at JFK. I could breath again! What a relief! On some innate level this is the land of free and there's nowhere in the country that exemplifies it more than here in NYC. I'm among my people, fellow believers. Anything is possible is our tenet. I realized that freedom and possibility isn't just in our ability to choose and pursue the things we want but also the fact that life, in whatever form it comes to us, could flourish here. I could feel the limitless potential of life in every cell of my very limited body as if it's about to explode. I'm home.

You can dislike me. You can reject me. But you can never tell me that nothing is possible for I am an eternal optimist. I believe in possibilities, not of my own construct but in the boundless force of life. Like the seed of a dandelion, may I stay light and nimble so that it could take me far.

P.S. On the question of whether or not I've been brainwashed by American society on the idealism of freedom and possibilities I must answer to the negative. The fact is that America doesn't make people hopeful but rather, people who feel hopeful come to America. Perhaps there's a positive reinforcement feedback loop. Studies have shown that individuals, who congregate with others with similar beliefs, become more fixated or extreme in their beliefs over time. For hundreds of years, people, including my parents, immigrated here because they believed in possibilities. They left everything they knew and built a new life here. And their decedents, including myself, feel the same way by ways of genetic inheritance and bearing witness to the transformation of life. Don't get me wrong, I can easily fill up a day's worth of complaints about this country. Still, I know for a fact that every positive thing that's happened to me so far in life couldn't have happened anywhere else in the world: two full scholarships, employment based on my own merits rather than family status, a passport that allows me to travel the world, and friends of countless nationalities. My mom couldn't run when she was younger. She had malnutrition for much of her adolescent life from famine as a result of war, political instabilities, and the cultural revolution. My stepfather didn't have sneakers even when he was in college. I can't help but to feel that every time I go running I'm performing a small miracle, especially on a sunny day like today in Central Park. May life always be filled with love, gratitude, hope, and admiration. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Parting Thoughts

I'm getting ready to go to the airport soon. Well, that was my Russian story. I'm OK, only because there is no other way to be. I learned two things on this trip.

One night when he was going through all the reasons why nothing could possibly come out of this he turned it around and asked what I thought. I heard myself say "anything is possible. I'm someone who believes anything is possible." It just came out of me, so clearly, as a matter of fact, like the sky is blue. I think it's always amazing to watch ourselves react in these moments, raw and unrehearsed.

I wasn't sure before but now I do believe there's such a thing as a soulmate. He could be anyone, anywhere, and I think searching for him is a worthwhile lifelong pursuit.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


When Dostoevsky wrote that hell is the place where a person is unable to love, he failed to consider what it is like for other people who are stuck in the same place as the said person, the not so innocent bystander. The two days that followed the first night were excruciating.

I watched it happen in slow motion. The window closed, screens came on. I was tuned out like a white noise. Each breathe more suffocating. Every second an eternally. What it is like to be buried alive in silence, drowning in your own screams. I watched myself disappear.

For two days I tossed and turned in my glass coffin. My tears, unseen. My pleas, unheard. It's as if I never existed. I had no idea one could be so invisible.

On the train ride back to Moscow I asked if he saw a shooting star while hiking in the Himalayas. He said, "there are no shooting stars. Only space garbage."

The Last Scene

The train ride back to Moscow couldn't have been more different from the one we took just two days ago. I sat in silence and counted backwards. Four hours, three hours, two hours... I looked at you but you didn't look back. I put my hand out for you to hold but I didn't want to impose so I retrieved.

You slept. I cried. This is it, the last time we'll be together. Don't you have anything to say to me? I watched the trees go by, fields, frozen rivers. As the train pulled into the station, you said, "it was a nice trip." I hesitated but nodded in agreement. You asked what I was going to do for the day. I said, nothing, just walk around. You tried to make some small talk. I couldn't respond. I knew we were going separate ways long before you spoke. You were gone from me 48 hours ago.

It was a sunny day. We walked together on the platform, side by side. Max the driver took my luggage inside the station. He had such a cordial look to him. I felt instantly comforted. I walked next to him with you behind us. He asked how my trip was and told me he's never been to SPb before. I tried to talk like a normal person.

I knew you were going to take the subway home and I wondered if you would just disappear. As we approached the exit I turned to my right to look behind me. There was no one there. My heart dropped. I kept walking. I was afraid to look to my left but I did. I must have seemed confused. I saw you but I couldn't see you. Then I heard you say, "I'm here."

We walked into the sun. I slowed down, lingering close to you. You stopped next to the subway entrance and said "I'm going to take the subway here." We stood half meter apart. I looked up and saw your eyes. "Ok" I said with a smile. "Don't cry" you said. "I won't, not here." Just as I wondered how we were going to say goodbye to each other you pulled me in and kissed me. When I opened my eyes again the only thing left to do was to turn around and walk towards the car. It took everything I had left to not looked back. It was moment I will never forget.

Once inside the car, I sent you one last text, "if you change your mind about anything, my flight leaves tomorrow afternoon at 2:40pm."

I asked Max to take me to the Tolstoy house. It was a nice visit, something I really wanted to do on the trip. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Full Disclosure

Dear Rose,

I haven't fully disclosed the circumstance and intent of my trip to Russia. I can't sleep tonight so I'm taking the time to recount the story to you.

You see, one night in January after I finished uploading all my pictures from Nepal, I browsed through a few random photos from other hikers. I inadvertently noticed photos that were extremely similar to mine, to a point where I could tell we were looking at the same sunset from the same angle because of the same cloud formation. So this led me to leave a comment for the photographer, something benign like, hey, nice photo, I've got the same one! At that point I had no idea who the photographer is. Two days later I received a casual response and then we connected on Facebook. Still, we had no other communication. Then I randomly saw the cheap flight to Moscow. And upon a closer look, I noticed the photographer is also from Moscow. I casually mentioned the fight to him and suggested that he could be my guide. So then we had a brief chat online about how he would be happy to show me around. 

By this point I had gathered that he works at [XYZ] Moscow, lived in a few different places, California, Dublin, London. He's obviously physically fit, an avid cyclist and practices meditation. He also traveled extensively in China, along with other parts of the world, and he is learning Chinese, even started a Chinese study group at his office. He also has a PhD in economics. I didn't know his age but based on his experiences I figured we were roughly the same. So somehow these factors started to form a rather attractive image in my mind. 

I hesitated on booking my flight to Moscow but I ultimately decided to go for it because I wanted a chance to meet this guy in person. I've never felt so strangely attracted to someone I hardly know but you have to admit that he's got a nice resume. After I told him about my trip he suggested we go to St. Petersburg for a couple of days. At first I thought he meant over the weekend but he said it would be from Monday to Wednesday. I was a bit surprised that he was willing to take time off from work to travel with me. I wanted to think he was interested in me but I wasn't sure.

My flight took off from JFK on Friday afternoon, just as he landed in Moscow from his business trip from Dublin. We met up on Saturday, the afternoon I arrived at Moscow. We were completely comfortable with each other. He showed me the city and we went to the ballet together. Nothing romantic happened but we really clicked. The next day we met again to walk around the city and then took an evening train to St. Petersburg together. The four hour train ride flew by as we talked and joked about different things. It was wonderful.

Misha's friend had booked us a nice room at hotel with a city view. There was one bed. We sat on the edge of the bed and watched the city lights. Then we started to talk about relationships. It was a beautiful and open conversation. The connection was unbelievable as we looked into each others eyes for the longest time. Sure I was attracted to him but I really didn't have the urge for sex. A while later, he leaned in and kissed me, very lightly. Even though it was a romantic moment, to me it felt more like a tiny gesture that said, hi, soul mate, I'm here, I exist. We laid there for a long time just being close to each other. I don't know if it's because I've been alone for a while but I can't even begin to describe the high.

There we were, two strangers who went hiking in Nepal a day apart, bumped into each other online by pure coincidence, one booked a flight to Moscow, and the other took time off from work, now holding each other in St. Petersburg, Russia! How amazing and crazy is that??? So fucking amazing I even started to tear to up from the sense of relief I felt when I realized that I have finally found what I've been looking for all my life. We were like one, transparent, fearless, vulnerable thing. It was a connection I never felt before and can't live without. He wasn't just my soul mate, but someone who is also logistically positioned to start a real life together!

Then things did happen. I was slightly reluctant, but we did. It wasn't fireworks but it was good. We were up until 5:30am. I woke up at 9:30 and went to have breakfast while he slept. Later he woke up and smiled at me. We cuddled for a while. It was so lovely. 

We eventually got out of the door around noon. It was a cold, rainy, and miserable day. We walked for a while, mostly in silence. I really wanted to be in a museum but everything was closed due to a public holiday. We had lunch together and struggled with our conversation. Afterwards I suggested we go back because I felt really miserable in the weather. We had a little disagreement over whether we should walk or take a taxi. I wanted to get a ride back because my shoes were completely soaked and it would have taken us 40 minutes. But I stayed quiet. Minutes later he stopped a taxi for us. I tried to be affectionate when we got back to the hotel and he completely froze on me, said everything is way too fast and he can't do this. I tried to hear his rationale, something about he didn't want to just have sex for a few days (which we weren't) and this is too fast for a relationship. He said he didn't want to have this because he never had it before and when I leave he'll never have it again. 

I wasn't imagining things. I tried to refrain myself from asking more questions because I realize that this isn't some kind of rational debate on logic, where if I win I would get my soul mate back. I would never win anyways. He's a professional and skillful debater. He had completely closed up on me. It was devastating. I cried. He turned on TV as he turned off the connection we shared. He said good night and went to sleep. I laid next to him motionlessly with a loneliness I haven't felt in a long time. I couldn't sleep so I wanted to write to you and document what happened. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

On Russia

I don't pay attention to politics. When I think of Russia, I think of legendary writers and musicians, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, Glinka, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Rostropovich, Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gorky. The list goes on. Yet, on a closer examination, just about everyone was deeply effected by politics. Dostoevsky condemned to labor camp in Siberia, Shostakovitch composing under the terror of Stalin, Gorky and the socialist movement. Somehow political oppression seems a very Russian.

I was only peripherally aware of the increasing sanctions against Russia from my weekly sanction updates from a law firm, a leftover from my work in trade compliance. Since I have told my Russian contacts about my upcoming trip, I was promptly informed of the news on the assassination of the opposition leader. Ironically, I had just watched him featured on an Antony Bourdain's show two days before. He seemed focused on a cause and without fear. It reminded me of a scene from Sennea, when the Brazilian race car driver said during an interview that he'll have lots of time for a normal family life once he retires from racing. He was killed during a race at age 34. The problem is we think we have time, maybe out of optimism, naivety or arrogance. In a documentary on Khodorkovsky, either him or a commentator said, "you don't think things can happen to you, until it does, then you think it could have happened to anyone."

Going to Moscow wasn't in my plans for the year until I saw the cheap airfare. I hesitated for a couple of days before I pulled the trigger. But you see, this trip is long overdue. I have fond memory of making borscht with Misha on a cold winter day during my last year in undergrad. When we first got together I called Tanya, a lady from Ukraine I worked with at TJ Maxx, to teach me to make some Russian dishes. We made Russian salad and stuff cabbage at her apartment in Brighton. I carefully packed our artwork into Chinese takeout containers and called to tell Misha I'm coming over with Chinese food. I still remember the confused and surprised look on his face when he opened the paper containers. It was one of my more creative and memorable gestures. I sort of moved in with him for while, started to read about Russian literature. Eventually I took my first trip to China and then Buenos Aires. Misha sold the house, got married, and moved to California. We didn't talk or see each other again until three years ago when I visited Irvine on a whim. It was as if no time had passed.

Naturally, I emailed Misha soon after I booked my flight. He got me connected with his friend in Moscow. Within days my hotel was booked, along with a private transfer from the airport and tickets to the Bolshoi. I've always been lucky but there is something about Russians I find so very much endearing. I told a few Russians I know about my trip. The next thing I know every one of them and their friends and relatives offered to help. It's possible that I now have more contacts in Moscow than NYC. Nick connected me with Dr. Tanya at ESM. Irina met me for coffee. Natalia at school gave me her brother's phone number in Moscow. Another Misha chatted with me online on the art of negotiating a cab fare. And then there's Eugene, who I randomly "met" online because we posted the same pictures of the EBC trek on Flickr. He's agreed to be my personal tour guide in Moscow and we're taking the train to St. Petersburg together.

I had no idea about any of this when I booked my flight. That's the thing I love about travel and life. Things take on all kinds of shape once you make the first step.