June 17, 2018

xo, HK Outdoor Yoga

The forecast promised scattered thunderstorms, gusty winds, and steadily dropping temperatures. Yet still, 30 people traveled up to an hour to the beach for a yoga class this March.

Some weeks, folks willingly climb 200 steps and a giant hill. Other times, it's outrageously hot and sunny and still, people show up to practice. 

Two years ago, I taught my first yoga class in Hong Kong. It was made up of nearly every person I knew in Hong Kong. Looking at the photo now, these same people are now some of my closest friends here.

The first class!
I started the classes initially as a way to keep the teaching muscle fresh. It was a rocky start, I was nervous and didn't know if people would show up. It was easier to just cancel class than dedicate half of my Sunday to jitters in the park.

Luckily I had encouragement by a few friends and kept at it. Soon friends of friends started showing up. And then eventually folks I had never met started coming.

It's been equal parts exciting and uncomfortable as the group has grown into itself. The first time more than 100 people RSVP'd to a class, I anxiously checked the growing "yes" and "maybe's" each day and with every new "yes" came a grain of self doubt. Thankfully that anxiety was smacked upside its head by the excitement and encouragement of my loved ones.

Once the number of RSVP's exceeded 150, I panicked and went to the electronics market to buy a microphone and a sky blue hip-pack speaker that cost $60US -- a lot of cash for what I thought would be a one-time use.

 By the time class started, nearly 400 people had responded with some indication they might show up. Incredibly -- and I mean that without an ounce of sarcasm -- approximately 50 people turned up.

I had never been more thankful for flakiness. Or more humbled by the turnout. Never ever had I ever guided more than two dozen people through a class.

After that, "I" became "we" by welcoming more instructors who offered more classes. Today, the group has more than 2,000 members on Facebook and we have a team of volunteer teachers who generously offer classes when their schedules allow.  Over time, the RSVP's got less intimidating and more predictable.

It became easier to estimate class size:

  • Good weather, central location, accessible time and more than 150 "yes" RSVPs? Call for backup, 100 people will probably show.
  • So-so weather, and ~100 RSVPs? Likely 30-40 people will turn up.
  • Tricky class location? Early in the morning? Safe bet that the class size will be smaller.

And that hip-pack mic set? Worth its weight in gold, despite its dodgy sound quality. Also, it makes me feel like Tony from P90X.
Mic pack in action

This "yoga thing" has become a passion project, a side hustle, that "thing I do outside of my job" that feels like I have a point and a purpose here beyond my corporate gig.

We're all craving that space where we feel like we matter and belong, and this group is something I never anticipated would be my unlock here.

This community was a happy accident and has become a big contributor to my well-being in Hong Kong. The group is wonderfully diverse, spanning all ages and races. Each class has at least one brand-new-to-yoga student, some of whom have blossomed into the can't-miss-a-class regulars. Sunday classes feel a whole lot like the atmosphere of the pot lucks after church that I haven't experienced since leaving the Midwest. Everyone brings something wonderful to the table.

The driving philosophy of the group is to be friendly and welcoming. It's such a simple thing that has carried the group--and me--to place I couldn't have possibly dreamed up.

Find us on Facebook or Insta at HK Outdoor Yoga. (Big thanks to pal Stu for the high-quality professional shots in this post).

April 8, 2018

Meeting Farlang

When I wrote my last post, I had been in Hong Kong shy of one yeare. An now, it's been 19 months since I last posted.

It's not that I've forgotten, I've thought often of this blog; nor is it for lack of content to write about. I think it's more of a general settling in, a lack of newness, and a slight clinging to the mediocrity I've now found.

Since the last post, I discovered the origins of "farlang" and have had the opportunity to visit many places, including all but one of the cities that have inspired the blog. Rome is the one holdout, but I'll be back on her streets in a month. (The DC blog is a regrettable one that ranks right up there with my  dismal twitter feed. I can only hope the internet has forgotten).

The return to meaningful places is what has inspired me to get back to this blog and to get comfy with sharing stories, beyond well-filtered vignettes of my life on Instagram.

The day I started this blog was oddly familiar to the setting in which I'm now writing: parked on a beige sofa next to a window in my apartment, catching late afternoon sun and dreaming about the summer. Only then, I was a senior in college in Fargo, very much ready to graduate and live out my hopelessly idealistic dream of a life, while trying not to reply too quickly to my crush on BBM (that's blackberry messenger for those folks over 40 and younger than 25).

I had been reading a travel magazine that day and there was an article about a couple who had been backpacking in SE Asia. The article described a sushi restaurant that served up a "farlang roll"  with peanut butter, honey and bananas to foreigners in the area. Thus, the farlang lady was born.

It's funny now, nearly every time I go to the Hong Kong airport, I feel as though I meet that couple who wrote the story: they're slightly sunburned, wearing baggy elephant pants, a backpack and likely carrying a rattan bag. I've totally been that couple, as have most expats in Asia. I just haven't been in a magazine.

Since 2010, I've been a laowai, gaijin, and my current status gweilo -- all meaning a foreigner. Last June was the first time I became farlang. It was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, my good friend invited me to her hometown and I was privileged to experience homestyle Thai hospitality. It was in the fruit market, where I dared to toss watermelons and bought exotic rambutan and Thai mangoes, that I heard that word "farang" tap me on the shoulder.

The locals in northern Thailand say it "farang" -- without an "l" -- which seems legit enough. I've learned over time that English spelling of non-English words is a subjective thing. It could even be that the magazine, and therefore I, have been spelling it wrong the whole time.

When I was on the plane to Hangzhou last weekend, I thought about whether we have developed too much of a blase attitude about traversing the planet. In the last three weeks, I've covered 25,000 miles (more or less), seen cherry blossoms on two continents, shoveled snow off of the driveway, and been burned from a sun-drenched beach.

It's no wonder why my digestion is out of whack and I'm sleeping as though it's going out of style this weekend.

Being comfortable as a foreigner in a new place is a great privilege and takes practice. While standing outside of my old apartment building in Hangzhou, I was overcome with a feeling of wanting to give 2010-me a big, comforting hug. Seeing my old building  brought on visceral pangs of loneliness, of which I didn't feel elsewhere in the city.

In 2010 I was far from comfortable with owning my foreigner status -- I was downright terrified. But things get easier with practice, as they have in Hong Kong. I'm no longer fussed with the daily grind, but I have a great appreciation for the effort it took to figure out groceries, bills, transportation and medical care. Let alone build meaningful relationships.

At this point, I've been farlang so long that I'm never really a foreigner in spirit anywhere, but yet I'm also a little bit foreigner everywhere. Stay tuned for more stories of that ever-evolving journey.