November 24, 2015

People Everywhere

Twelve days into Hong Kong and the stages of adjustment are  playing out more or less as anticipated, but living-breathing-moving-functioning through them iss o much more  simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting than I had expected.

Of the many stages one goes through when moving to a new country, I'm only at stage 1.2--the adrenaline of landing here and sussing out basic needs is complete and now my body is craving routine and normalcy, which I now savor in the tiniest of doses.

I'm building little routines: waking up early to practice a bit of yoga at my temporary apartment, after which I take the exact same route each day walking to work. Then in the office I try to strike a nice balance between being a total newbie and picking up where I left off in Seattle.

All of these things sound familiar and simple enough, but they look and feel like nothing I'm used to.

Take the commute, for example. I'm staying a convenient 15-minute walk from work, which is made even easier by the above-ground human freeway that snakes one story above the cars, shops and sidewalk below.

The mass of people in Hong Kong is incredible. During commuting time, it doesn't really matter if you don't know exactly where you're headed, because you very literally just go with the flow of traffic. 

Human feet far exceed the intelligence of cars in a traffic jam, there's something intuitive about people walking with one another despite the variance in speed and cadence of steps. It's only when some poor human tries swimming upstream that near collisions occur. I've unfortunately been said human a few times this week.

Among the mass of bodies, it's fun trying to make some sort of interpersonal connection, even if only for a split second--catching a "yep, we're in this mass together," glance. Though it's more difficult than one would think, it seems the majority of folks I join on the great walk every morning have been hypnotized into complacency after taking it day after day.

There are few cities in the world that command energy like Hong Kong. It's like New York, Shanghai, and I imagine maybe Tokyo and Mumbai, in that the city is like it's own creature living, pulsing and feeling the collective highs and lows of its inhabitants. 

It's only when a place achieves a certain mass of people that it can force you out of your individual self and into the collective beat of a population. This is something I have never experienced on a daily basis for any length of time, and is something to work on growing accustomed. I am simply a cell in Hong Kong, fortunate to have the chance to pulse through her veins.


November 16, 2015

Dr. Chao and his magic medicine

I've been in Hong Kong now for five days, and each day I work towards convincing myself that I actually live here and that I'm not on vacation. Every day there are moments of "WOW, this is my city now!" followed rather quickly by "Holy cow, why did I think moving here was a good idea?" It's safe to say my heart and head aren't fully in sync with the move quite yet.

Five days in, I can't say I've had any monumental adventures, but I have started carving out pockets that feel a bit more familiar. The side streets in Wan Chai, the neighborhood where I am staying, are packed with little shops, stalls and  restaurants.

Each morning I set out in a different direction to find a noodle soup breakfast at a dai pai dong style cafe, which is more or less a small old-style restaurant. Breakfast is simple and inexpensive, a bowl of macaroni with ham and broth and a cup of milk tea (dark-brewed breakfast tea with evaporated milk and a bit of sugar) costs less than $4 USD. 
dai pai dong style breakfast

The morning has been the time I've felt the best, so that's when I've done most of my exploring. I arrived in Hong Kong with a nasty cold that began in my nose in Seattle and settled into a nice chest cough by the time I landed in Hong Kong. As such, a good chunk of my time has been spent in my temporary apartment watching survivalist documentaries on Discovery Channel or reruns of NHL or NFL games. No joke, I saw the second period of the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal hockey game three times on two different days.

However, I am very fortunate that my good friend's father is a Chinese medicine doctor in Hong Kong. My friend is a former coworker from Seattle and she moved home to Hong Kong a few years ago. We met up on Sunday to check out a vintage market in Mong  Kok then went back to her home. She gave me some medicine her dad recommended to calm my cough. 

The medicine came in a tiny plastic bag that contained approximately a teaspoon of reddish-brown powder, she mixed it with a bit of water and told me to drink it. The mix was gritty, thick and bitter, but no worse than a shot of cheap vodka. 

Her father, Dr. Chao, arrived home an hour later.He had been in Taiwan for a week and walked in the door tired with his hands full of luggage. He immediately set down the luggage and walked over to me to take my pulse.

Then he walked away and quickly came back with a face mask on and a stethoscope. He listened to me breathing and took my temp. Meanwhile my friend and her brother were on Google Translate trying to figure out the English words for what he was describing.

Google's answer from Chinese-English was something like "hyperactive respiratory tract," which didn't really help. So then I pulled out Google Translate and keyed in "bronchitis." The English-Chinese translation was exactly what he had been describing to my friend.
Google Translate magic
TCM herbal pill packets

"Not quite yet bronchitis," he said. Best diagnosis ever.

He then gave me sets of herbal medicine to take three times a day. Each packet of medicine contained ~10 pills to help with my symptoms, six of which were the nasty reddish-brown powder in pill form.

Happy  to report that now, two days later, I am feeling much better. My cough is still a bit pesky, but I more or less feel like myself. All in, my first experience with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was a big success. 

Most of all, I feel very fortunate for my friend and her father who were able to help me out so quickly. Their generosity and kindness have been early seeds in the start of my yet-to-be-formed Hong Kong community. 

November 7, 2015

Asia Part II: Hong Kong

Hi there, the farlang lady is back! This time I'm off to Hong Kong, specifically on I'm moving to Hong Kong on Wednesday. That's four days from right now.

This blog started out a whopping five years ago when I moved to China fresh out of college. If you dig around in the 2010-2011 archives, you'll find some hilarious gems of me discovering China in the most awkward, beautiful, and entertaining manner.

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and had zero expectations of what China should or shouldn't be, which is what it made it so damn difficult and comedic. It was the first time in my life I was in a place where I didn't understand the language or culture yet I had never felt so curious.

Now, five years later, I'm going back to the city that captivated my attention from the moment I crossed the bridge from Shenzhen into Hong Kong. After being in the city for only one day, I was determined to live there at some point.

China never actually left me. Somehow she was in the back of my mind when I decided to pack up my car and drive to the west coast with my dad in 2011. China was the linchpin that landed my first job in Seattle at an ad agency and was a motivator when I took a chance on a contract that bloomed into the amazing job that I have now. Hong Kong kept calling and I kept listening.

It turns out listening to and acting upon a dream are really difficult. My roots in Seattle are far deeper than I realized, even though I always knew in the back of my mind that I wouldn't be here forever. Willingly walking away from an incredible home and community feels totally ridiculous and sad.

The logistics are also a small horror. Yet, I know that I have it easy: no kids, no dogs, no man and no couch to complicate the move. But it still feels decidedly un-adult of me to start from scratch after just getting up on my feet and figuring out nifty grown-up things like health insurance deductibles.

Further deepening my feeling of regression is that I'm once again living out of a suitcase, sleeping on the floor of my living room. It's both strange and comfortable being a guest in the apartment where I've lived for three years. The movers came to take away the majority of the artifacts that make me feel like me. The next time I see them again, will be in my own high-rise flat on the other shore of the Pacific.

If I strip away the move logistics, goodbyes, and crumpled sleeping bag on the floor, the real gold of the story is quite simple: The bizarre and wonderful journey of following a dream requires relentless patience and enough of a degree of illogical gutsiness such that your mind doesn't scare you out of giving it a shot. Above all, the work has to come from a genuine place so that you don't have to go it alone.

"When you want something, all of the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it," -- The Alchemist.

Broadcasting next post from Hong Kong--

March 29, 2014

Expectations in Yoga Pants and Life

This morning broke a six week stint of wearing exclusively stretchy yoga pants outside of working hours. The spell was broken when I squeezed into a pair of jeans that had been stiffly folded in my drawer for a month in order to dress for a volunteer project. 

Everyone has a standard-issue after work comfy pants / t-shirt look, and I’ve been extra dependent on my stretchy pant uniform since beginning a yoga teacher training program early in February.

With jeans on and hiking boots laced up, my crew of fellow yogis and I trudged out in the pouring spring rain to clear ivy with an Earth Corps group in the wild woodlands of Mercer Island (Seattlites, this surprisingly does exist, if only in a half-acre spread). We’re in week six of the teacher training program and today was our turn to generate some good karma for the world.

As only one portion of a larger volunteer group, our crew had decidedly intense conversation topics. It was the first time we’ve had an opportunity to spend time together outside of the studio, so we not-so-casually chatted about chakras, stress, mental blockers--obviously regular conversation topics during manual labor. The general tone of conversation went a bit like this:

“How’ve you been feeling after Wednesday’s chakra lesson?”

“I’ve been an emotional wreck! I’m intensely sad, I woke up crying and I have no idea why.”

“You, too? Man, I cried like a baby Thursday night and I don’t know why, I couldn’t help it!”

Unsurprisingly, the other volunteers gave us looks  as though we were a troupe of esoteric spirit guides.

Earlier in the week, we had a lesson on chakras, the seven centers of energy inside of the body, and practiced a series of poses that ignited all of the chakras. Apparently it unlocked a flurry of pent up somethin’ in all of us and has left the majority of our class in shock and awe since mid-week. It felt good to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt crazy for having spontaneous breakdowns since Wednesday.  

We all joined the teacher training program for different reasons and we’ll all graduate with the same foundation of skills to successfully guide a flow-style class. The program is two months or so long, with plenty of classroom time, large binders, and yoga workout requirements. It’s a huge time commitment and ripe for expectation-setting.

I had expected a time commitment, what I didn’t anticipate was having to bid temporary farewell to almost all of my friends, especially those living outside of the pacific coast time zone.

I had also expected a big physical demand, but surprisingly I find myself strapped for opportunities to get to class. When I am able to make it, my movements are slow and calculated, leading to perma-bruised triceps from twists and wacky arm balances.

I had naively expected a total life transformation, which in retrospect was a bit like Oprah convincing us all that we can live our best lives by following 10 simple rules and one easy diet. I mean, really?

Yoga is about non-judgement, being present, compassion, and opening up, among other things. Currently, I don’t have enough mental energy to devote to judging anything from what would be good to cook for dinner to critiquing someone's approach or philosophy. The grueling training schedule combined with a busy season at work has shoved presentness down my throat, as I think on an hour-by-hour schedule to stay on top of my game.

As far as compassion and opening-up? Well, I mean my shoulders and hips are super open and I have even more compassion for parents raising kids, who have a schedule a million times more intense than my own. That counts for something, right?

In a few weeks, I’ll have plenty of free time again. Time to plan, judge, and analyze the minutia of a decision; time to happy hour and time to pick out nice outfits from my closet that aren’t 100% Lycra.

While it’s true I’m not nearly as enlightened as I had expected to be at this point (I’m half-joking), ultimately we all know the beauty of experiences is in what we don’t anticipate.

However, it’s safe to expect the common thread linking today to tomorrow will be my gloriously stretchy and colorful pants.



December 31, 2013

Unintended Consequences of Achieving a New Year's Resolution

Last January, I set out to write something everyday. I bought a beautiful pack of Moleskin journals—one of each month, one page dedicated to each of the year’s 365 days.

The resolution was mostly to get back into the habit of daily writing, but I also had the intentions of using the daily recaps as a way to observe and reflect on my current state of affairs. With the exception of four days in June, I achieved my resolution and have a thorough record of how every single day of 2013 was spent.

Early in December, I read through every single day of the year. I read about each day that was sunny in Seattle (more than you would think), recapped each happy hour, dinner with friends, and any extra meaningful conversations. Each job interview, every awkward/semi-terrible date (the handful of goodies, too), and a daily account of a love story grace the smooth ivory pages in my messy, loopy script. Broad threads of cliché seasonal transitions knit the months together into what appear as a dozen neat chapters.

I have all of this—all of this reminiscence and nostalgia—and with only a couple of hours left in the year, all that I really want to do it rip up and throw away the notebooks.

I wish I could say I found some grand insights into myself and the direction I’ve taken/am going, but really I just have a lot of words on record that maybe weren’t meant to live on past the moment in which they occurred.

It’s the cumulative dinners, happy hours and conversations that lead to friendships. It’s the pattern of feelings (good or bad) that, over time, prompt you to act. The little moments in between that fully capture the greater meaning are the moments we tuck into memory. The ones which are easy to draw from when one of our senses is reengaged to provoke the memory.

But all of the others--the day to day highs and lows—I’m not convinced they’re designed to be remembered with such clarity.

This is the time of year when nostalgia is practically shoved down our throats. The pressure to live up to traditions of yesteryear and create monumental moments during the holiday season is incredibly high. Juxtapose that with the promise of a new start with the New Year – your chance to “press the reset button,” to swear that this year you’ll do better and challenge yourself in new ways.

The combination of nostalgia and future-forward introspection lends to making it nearly impossible to just be in the present.

Social media doesn’t help either. Facebook encourages me to “Remember the best parts of 2013” or to list the “Top things you want to remember” in my About Me section. Not unlike the goal of writing something down everyday, Facebook has successfully recorded our lives in as much detail as the day-to-day minutia.

The idea of scrolling through my seven years of Facebook records is horrifying, it seems like the ultimate exercise of narcissism and borderline self-deprecating. Yet it’s right there for all of us to mindlessly scroll through and look at our lives any time we’d like.

My pride got in the way of simply throwing away December’s notebook, I was too close not to just finish it. Instead, this month’s pages are filled with no more than 10 words per page. Many days just have a single word written on them: a mantra, a statement of gratitude. Nothing resembling a daily rundown.

The writing during the year became secondary to the recap. It instead became end of day reminder of what had already transpired that I had no way of undoing.
In 2014 I will do the opposite. I won’t live in perpetual nostalgia, nor will I live in perpetual planning. It’s going to be a day-by-day thing and it most likely won’t be documented anywhere.

Sorry, future grandkids, no juicy goodies to discover in the pages that might make up bits of my 2014.

Wishing you all a transformative and spontaneous 2014.

 think. improve.

July 15, 2013

The Neighborhood Hangover

Neighborhood observations made my me, a shameless morning person, over months of early morning outings for fitness, food, or general exploration.


This neighborhood is not an early riser, not even on Monday mornings. Not even when it’s an 8:00 a.m.-required day at the office. To be fair though, it’s nearly impossible to function the morning after a heavy night of drinking.

Except that almost every night is a heavy night of drinking.

Capitol Hill groggily blinks open an eye around 5:30 a.m.—about the time baristas arrive for their morning shift and when cleaning crews begin clearing out liquor bottles by the bag-full, tokens of the excess indulgences left from the night before.

Sure, there are the rogue joggers and small handful of morning fitness fiends, but each vignette of life at that time of day is contrasted with another instance of the neighborhood clumsily hitting the snooze button.  

Buns and bits of fried onion and hotdogs are smeared on the corner of 10th Ave and Pike Street just like the stagnant moss that grows overnight in your mouth from the whiskey cokes and 2 a.m. pizza metabolizing in your gut. The crows and seagulls are as uncertain about nibbling on the street corner grub as you are about the decisions made in a drunken stupor the night before.

Despite the grime, hopefulness for a quick hangover cure slowly starts creeping in around 6 a.m. The air is the best indicator of this—the universal morning smell of energized oxygen bits created from several hours without sunlight (take a whiff tomorrow morning, you know the scent) is mixed with this neighborhood’s special marinade of the tangy aroma from the dumpsters outside of Julia's or the Comet Tavern, hints of salty sea air, and general damp from the excess of vegetation.

If the night was warm-ish and dry, the park is speckled with bodies and mini camps of homeless or vagabonds. With the sun shining bright shortly after 6 a.m., a few stir to find shade and relative darkness, but many people lay, oblivious to the day unfolding above them, perhaps hoping to extend whatever trip they started the night before.

By 7:30, the city has usually rolled out of bed, at least on weekdays. By that time, the middle-age Hispanic man, short and strong like my dad, is usually sweeping the last few cigarette butts off the sidewalk outside a concert venue that had a sold out show hours earlier, as his adorable four-year old granddaughter dances around, antsy to go off to preschool.

Buses are buzzing with more frequent stops at that point, delivery trucks have finished up most of their rounds, and the sidewalks are starting to fill with bleary-eyed 20-somethings dressed in anything from a three-piece suit to scrubs or gender-neutral skinnies with a crop top and chunky boots. The common accessory among them all is the steaming latte in their hand.

The hangover is gone around lunchtime. Cured by coffee, a Bloody Mary and eggs benedict, the neighborhood is back to its bizarre, all accepting yet still cliquey, “super hip” self.  When the sun starts to sink later on, Capitol Hill is again ready to wear its party pants into the wee hours. The bright summer sunrise inevitably arrives too quickly, and the neighborhood whispers a wish for the cozy blanket of the omnipresent grey winter sky.


May 9, 2013

Pro Tips From Our Grandparents: Using Generational Lessons to Shape the US Future

Despite the overwhelming barrage of terrible things happening in our world, I have always maintained the belief there is enough compassion and brilliance among the human race that can out-maneuver the most egregious atrocities.

Ok, ok... so that might be a bit idealistic, but if I didn't think there was an ounce or two of legitimacy towards that belief, I would have let it go years ago. 

Every generation is born into different circumstances, each of which have provided moments of trial and poignancy. My grandparents' generation is frequently referred to as "the greatest generation" in the US -- having come of age during the Great Depression only having to immediately fight in World War II afterwards. Though the Baby Boomers were blessed with being born into America's golden age, they were the generation who cried out for civil rights, gender equality, and protested against the Vietnam war. 

Generation X rose during the  Clinton years and pre-internet and housing bubbles and watched as environmental and new international crises emerged. As a Millenial, my generation is old enough to remember September 11 and its implications, but were young enough to acquire a different perspective on how the events and crisis that followed impacted our country and culture. Certain character traits start to emerge once you remove the events and begin to understand how generations respond and grow from the circumstances. 

Last month, I attended Creative Mornings in Seattle. It's a monthly lecture series with a single topic unifying chapters around the globe, each with a different speaker and perspective. April's topic was The Future and August de los Reyes gave a fascinating talk on how understanding the future can lead to smarter design decisions today. What better way to understand the future, he argued, than to have a strong understanding of patterns from the past. (Have 35 minutes? I strongly recommend watching it).

From the American perspective, it's easy to recognize a pattern of four distinct life cycles that make up an entire lifetime, there has even been a theory developed around the it. According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory, the four cycles are:

1. High
2. Awakening
3. Unraveling
4. Crisis

Since the high in the 1950s, American society has traveled through an awakening period where institutions and cultural norms were questioned (1960s-70s), followed by unraveling driven by extraordinary economic booms/busts, new environmental concerns and international turmoil (1980s-90s), and crisis (post 9/11 - now). At this rate, my generation is set to hit the high and prime of our nation's prosperity in the middle of our lives. 

Each of the cycles contain personality profiles that are most often associated as a result of a society's circumstances.

De los Reyes commented that the Millenial generation places a high value on community and social space, whereas the Generation X-ers place a strong focus on preserving the individual. Neither is better or worse than the other, it's just a matter of understanding how the two can work together to mitigate long term impacts of the crisis.

As Claire Thompson puts it in an article shared by one of my [brilliant] friends, 
"We’re already the harbingers of a profound demographic shift in this country; our children will be the ones who fully flesh out this new, diverse, interconnected America (in 2011, for the first time, children born to people of color made up more than half of U.S. births). Included in our necessarily more pluralistic, progressive, tolerant worldview is an acute awareness of sustainability and the need to find a place for it in a political system that increasingly does not reflect our changing values."
Our society is at an interesting threshold right now, the recession has crippled the job market. The majority of the freshly-trained and educated Millenial generation is now thrilled to land a low-skill minmum wage job in order to slowly hack away at their (re: our) massive load of student debt. Meanwhile, many in Generation X are figuring out how to support aging parents while trying not to drown in mortgage woes. The retiring Baby Boomers who were once depending on decent pensions are now looking at the reality of not being able to afford retirement while relying on a social security check too small to stretch very far.

We are evidently in a crisis phase, but looking in the past, we've been here before. Sure the details were a little different in the 1930s compared to today, but the general themes remain consistent: environmental concerns, alarmingly low bank account balances, international upheaval  and a general lack of confidence in many of our country's institutions.

Of course I'm selfishly looking forward to the day when my fellow 20-somethings and I can have a legitimate savings account. But I can't help but be encouraged by subtle societal shifts that are placing stronger emphasis on community, health and wellness, minimizing environmental impact, and a new international dialogue.**

Again, Ms. Thompson: 
That’s why it looks like we’re [Millenials] flailing (and make no mistake: We are flailing, when it comes to achieving any semblance of financial security). We have huge potential and desire to innovate, but we also recognize that we can’t fulfill that potential without same basic safety nets. Things like health insurance. Some level of student debt forgiveness. Infrastructure that supports the kind of smaller-footprint, sustainable lifestyles we’re already creating for ourselves: compact housing in vibrant, walkable communities; functioning public transportation; streetscapes that prioritize cyclist and pedestrians over cars, urban gardens and farmers markets; regulatory room for sharing economies to thrive. -(Seriously, read this article. Especially if you're a flailing 20-something).
We've been in crisis before, yes. And we've made it out ok. We'll make it out just fine again. Our country won't look the same, but I'm confident the changes will be for the best.

**Admittedly, the trends I notice living in Seattle are more widespread and encouraged... America is a massive country, and it's going to take a lot more collective energy to see tangible changes.