Saturday, February 26, 2011

Life in Rishikesh pretty awesome.

Sometimes I hang out on a rock by the Ganges and can easily while away an afternoon. Sometimes I go to a yoga class and find myself missing my Ashtanga practice dearly. I hope I recover soon and I can return to it...

I took my first Indian "bucket" shower yesterday, since the shower didn't have any hot water. This was following my first Ayurvedic massage and shirodhara session, so I was drenched in oil (especially my hair). The "bucket" shower didn't suffice to clean out all the oil unfortunately. But it's a surprisingly water-saving way of showering!

Am meeting Nepali and Tibetan people this trip, making me more and more curious to visit those two areas on the world. So much to see and do! My mom has always wanted to visit Nepal and Tibet, so perhaps we can do that one day!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dalai Lama quotes

"This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness."

"The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness."

"Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk."

"We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection."


Ahh...what a breath of fresh air to arrive in the holy city of Rishikesh on the banks of the Ganges River! After more than a week in the chaos and filth and swindling of Varanasi, it was an immense relief to reach Rishikesh, where the roads are three times wider and you're not being constantly pestered at every turn of the road ("Boat, madam, boat??").

This is a place I can stay for a while...

I know this to be true: I have a lot of head knowledge, but little of it is practical experience. And right now that head knowledge is slowly being forced into practice and transformed into the knowledge of experience.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Today is my last day in Kashi (Varanasi) - tomorrow morning, heading to Rishikesh!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Life in Kashi

This is the first time I've traveled and stayed in one place for an extended amount of time. Rather than going from tourist site to tourist site, I've kept my schedule purposefully open - NO schedule, really. Every day is an exercise in living in the present. It's a totally different mode of traveling, I'm realizing. I came to India largely also to study yoga, meditation, and Buddhism. In Varanasi, I had almost given up on finding a yoga teacher, because there are so many "fakes" in the tourist/backpacker ghetto. There was one elderly man who almost chased my friend and me down the alleys to convince us that we should study with him (he teaches Hindi, yoga, meditation..."anything we want"). I spent a little time looking online to see whether there was any real yoga at all, since Varanasi is famed for being a major educational center in India (Benares Hindu University is here, after all). I saw a listing for a yoga center near Shivala Ghat, and when my friend and I passed by one day, we decided to walk up and explore. We basically walked straight to the center unknowingly, and once outside the door, I was able to recognize the Devanagari script written on the sign. We walked in and were led to Guruji after a short wait. After some deliberation due to my "short" length of time in Varanasi, the teacher decided to take me on. It turns out that the teacher is Dr. Vagish Shastri, who apparently even taught Sanskrit pronunciation to Madonna! I've been taking classes with him one-on-one lately, for as long as I will be in Varanasi. It is NOT exercise, but truly traditional yoga. I learned 25 physical postures, and am currently learning pranayama (breathing exercises), which is sadly very ignored in American yoga. Today I will continue studying pranayama and also mantra yoga, which I've never done before. I had to buy two flower mala and two pieces of fruit for today. Not sure why...guess I'll see!

Life along the Ganges is very interesting. Varanasi is extreme in sacredness and profanity. Sometimes I experience the sweetest of sweet moments, awed by the common humanity we share amongst each other, and sometimes I am so angry and frustrated at how cruel and disgusting people can be to each other.

The world is such a big, crazy place. How can I go through life without experiencing it?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Banaras, City of Light

Hello from Varanasi! It is a place that is hard to explain in words. Today I got to row a boat on the Ganges River and later went to visit Sarnath, one of the four holiest sites for Buddhists (Sarnath - Deer Park - is where Buddha preached his first sermon, and is considered the site where Buddhism was founded). I have another week here in Varanasi, where time seems to stand still and life seems to exist in an alternate reality.

I am meeting the most interesting people. It is giving me ideas for the future, and most of all giving me HOPE for the future, my future.

I am learning more about people and what it means to be human. I am starting to let myself experience the inherent goodness within all people.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

From India

Hello from Bodhgaya! I arrived here about two days ago, via Kolkata. I landed in Kolkata on the evening of Wednesday, February 9, and the first thing I noted is that I will remind myself next time to arrive in India during daylight hours! The prepaid taxi service stand was closed, apparently (or at least nobody was manning it!). I strode out of the international terminal (which wasn't very large at all! Rather makeshift, actually) and was immediately accosted by numerous taxi drivers. Someone tried to convince me to take a 890-rupee ride to the Kolkata backpacker ghetto. Luckily I didn't fall for that. Nevertheless I was already reeling from 42 hours of travel, so I found a relatively more decent deal and went with it. The next day, I visited my first backpacker cafe and had the most typical India backpacker food - banana pancake! Then headed to Kolkata's Kali Temple and was immediately latched onto by some temple priests who proceeded to take me through the rites and then demand an exorbitant amount of money. I didn't give them as much as they wanted, but it was difficult being alone and surrounded by the priests. Ugh. I then squeezed into the most crowded Metro ride EVER (I didn't need to balance at all, people were pressed up against me from every side) to Victoria Memorial. The memorial is for Queen Victoria, and built in a very British Raj style. The lawns and gardens were all manicured and well taken care of, unlike right outside the memorial's limits... I felt like I was being swindled left and right there in Kolkata. The foreigners I saw all had a hardened look (probably all weary of being swindled and not knowing who to trust), and I didn't end up approaching anybody. On a more light-hearted note, I had my first Indian McDonald's experience in Kolkata though. I went to walk along Park Street, supposedly the most "cosmopolitan"street of Kolkata and came across a McDonald's! I tried the McAloo Tikki burger, which was a veggie burger with a very Indian spicy taste to it!

Anyways, I only spent one full day in Kolkata. The next day, I took a plane from Kolkata to Gaya. It was the most empty plane ride EVER (lots of EVERs for me this trip so far). I can't see how it is profitable for Air India to fly a near-empty jet, but at least it made things easier for my jetlagged and somewhat-frazzled self. Along the way, I noticed a band of Chinese Malaysian tourists and we started talking! I was so glad to run into them. One man had been coming twice a year to India for the past 20+ years for Buddhist pilgrimages. He gave me useful advice about Bodhgaya and when we arrived at Gaya Airport, where the taxi drivers again tried to charge me an exorbitant rate to Bodhgaya, he let me tag along with his group in their hotel shuttle! I can't express how grateful I was to run into a friendly group of people.

After dropping off my things at a guest house in Bodhgaya, I headed straight to the Mahabodhi Temple, which marks the site of Siddhartha Gautama's enlightenment. There's a huge prayer meeting at the temple this week for Tibetan Buddhist monks, and it was amazing to be a part of a vast sea of monks headed into the temple and then sitting under the Bodhi Tree. My first night staying in Bodhgaya was extremely rough though. I was staying in a very budget location with a mosquito-infested shared bathroom. Bodhgaya is also unsafe after dark for solo female travelers, so I ended up eating dinner at 5pm (Tibetan momos!) and going to sleep not too late after that. Tried to sleep, that is. My room was so noisy and mosquito-infested that I hardly slept at all. I woke up early in the morning, packed my things, checked out, and headed for the Chinese Monastery (the Malaysian tourist the day before had suggested it to me, but when I arrived there wasn't any room for me yet). Since I was walking outside so early in the morning, men on motorcycles and on foot kept following me, and by the time I arrived at the monastery I was harassed to the point of tears. Fortunately there was room for me at the monastery, and I got to move in...

I realized at every point when I felt like I couldn't take it any longer, something would happen that would brighten up my view of the world again. Not long after I checked in, a few other Mandarin-speaking girls close to my age also showed up at the monastery. I ended up getting to hang out with them, sharing their room, and am heading to Varanasi with them tonight! Again, can't express how grateful I am. I realized how different it is to be completely on my own, traveling. In some ways it is freeing, but in some ways it is more dangerous for sure. I'd hardly been in India a few days and I've been yelled at by a vindictive Internet cafe owner (there were no other foreigners/customers present at the moment) and surrounded by a band of young men as I exited the ATM booth.

I spent the morning reading a small Buddhist tract I'd purchased at the Mahabodhi Temple. It seemed like what Buddha's saying suddenly clicked for me. I'd started to gravitate towards Buddhism and Eastern philosophy in general in recent years, but always had a "soft spot" for Buddha in particular. I felt like I could relate the most to what he teaches, and to his life. I'd always been longing for a way to that "peace that passeth all understanding" spoken of in the Christian Bible, ever since I'd read that phrase. I felt like it was in reading Buddha's words, his message, and seeing his life, that this end of sorrow and end of suffering finally seems possible to me.

Onwards to Varanasi...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hello from Singapore!

Just arrived in's about 1:30AM and I'm not all that tired because I slept really well (for once!) on the plane. It is indeed freeing to be traveling with just the possessions on my back. I wish I had even less stuff, but I'd already narrowed everything down to the bare minimum. I was chatting with the Indonesia-bound woman next to me, and she'd mentioned she was staying overnight in the transit hotel while waiting for this evening's flight to Indonesia (I'll be flying to Kolkata, India). She asked me what I planned to do, and I said probably find a corner in the airport and lie down there. "Like a true backpacker!" she remarked.

Yes. Now I know a little bit more what it's like to be a transient, I suppose. Umm...a bit like a homeless person, I suppose too. It's liberating, in many ways. I love being in the fancy Singaporean airport and not being drawn or tempted into their duty-free shops in any way (I can't carry more on my back! I've already got 20 pounds). It's great being satisfied with what I have and knowing that anything else is unnecessary. Singapore is also so generous with their free Internet workstations and free wi-fi! There's supposed to be a butterfly garden, koi pond, and all sorts of shenanigans in this airport. I will have until 6pm here, so I guess I can get to know this airport pretty well. Or not. I'm thinking about heading to my "corner" now and nesting a bit. I haven't been back to Singapore since I moved away in 1996, and it is making me nostalgic to be back!

I feel like air-travel and airports are "safe" spots. I don't have to worry too much, it's not all that chaotic, not too disorderly. It'll be interesting once I leave the cocoon of the airport once I arrive in Kolkata, how things will be from there. Next time I blog will be from India!

Monday, February 7, 2011

...and I'm off!


I'm off to see the world TOMORROW! I can't believe it's only been nearly two weeks since I got back from Los Angeles already. It feels like it's been a long time, and yet not. I'm glad I'm on my way again though. This waiting around is starting to drive me nuts. At least I'll have the 42-hour travel plan to Kolkata to settle my nerves.

Backpack is basically all packed. I wish it were lighter, but there's only so much I can forego bringing. I've already gone through a few rounds of cutting down unnecessary items. There's only so much I can go without, I suppose.

Who would have thought my current occupation would become that of a professional wanderer?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sexy Is

Since I'm in transition right now and questioning everything and anything in life, I've been doing a lot of thinking about gender roles. What is sex (aside from the obvious physical/biological act meant to produce offspring)? What does being sexy mean?

Movies, advertisements, societal views, culture often dictate the way we think about sex. We're taught that to behave and look a certain way is "sexy" for women, and men must act and dress in a certain fashion to be "sexy" as well. I realized it's not easier to be a man than a woman, nor vice versa. There is a well-worn code and path of behavior for both genders. There is pressure to live up to this standard.

But maybe for someone, sexy is pole-dancing and strip-teasing, while for someone else, it means cross-dressing and chain-smoking(? Too much "Mad Men" for me lately, I suppose). It could be as simple as a meaningful gaze, a caring caress, or letting the layers peel away to reveal the playfulness and innocence of the inner child.

The way one dresses - whether or not it is considered "sexy" by societal standards - doesn't necessarily have to be a means to lure in a mate, a good catch. It can be a way of self-expression and means of sharing one's identity, preferences, and choices. Whether it is dressing simply or ornately, clothing can be a form of "hiding" oneself, or instead, a form of self-expression. I realized I can take two minutes extra to use clothing in a way that expresses myself, rather than hiding myself under an extra-baggy, nondescript sack.

It's about feeling good and not being afraid to feel good. It's about being comfortable in one's own skin. It's about knowing who one is and being unafraid to share that with others.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Quote from My Mom

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already, thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, until they take firm root in our personal experience.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Happy Year of the Rabbit! I love how as a Chinese-American I get not one, but TWO, new year celebrations! It's almost like you get two chances to start the new year off on the right foot. I felt like January 1, 2011 was a bit of a false start for me, high-tailing it out of the Bay Area as though I was fleeing from the wrath of my father (perhaps not entirely fictional at that point). After moseying around New York for a bit, going through a certain degree of emotional turmoil and still not going crazy (yay for hanging on tight!), I am back in the glorious land of the sun, California. Why is it so achingly beautiful here while the Northeast and Midwest are being pounded by the snow?

Pescadero State Beach, along Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway)

Filoli Mansion, along Highway 280