Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ubud Adventures

I still can't believe how quickly my five days in Ubud flew by. Ubud had quite the reputation to live up to, and not only did it exceed my expectations, but I was genuinely sad to leave! My days there were so jam packed with exploring and feasting and adventuring that I never even had time to take a yoga class, or sit in a coffee shop and fill out postcards, or see a Balinese dance performance, or check out any temples. There is just way too much to do in this incredible city.

A perfect Bali afternoon starts with a coffee at Seniman Coffee
 and ends with dinner across the street 
at Fair Warung Bale, a non-profit restaurant

Alchemy- a raw/vegan cafe and shop

I'd say this is a city to check out when you want to reboot and get your health in check. If you've considered a raw diet, or experimenting with yoga, or been wanting to try reiki or a colonic or buy a bunch of hippie pants, if you love organic locally-sourced coffee, or you just want to stare out at the rice-paddy fields and contemplate your existence, then Ubud is the place for you. My visit to Ubud began with a 30 kilometer downhill bike ride near Mount Batur.

This bike ride resulted in my epic farmer's tan
that I will now sport for the rest of winter

The whole region is very food conscious- vegan and raw restaurants are in abundance, as well as chocolate and coffee farms to visit. Most of the restaurants I went to in Ubud had some sort of view, of rice paddy fields or epic valleys or waterfall packed ravines. Bali is just stunning.

Old trees near the monkey forest

My days in Ubud were really action-packed- although I did manage to squeeze in a massage and a facial, of course! My heart was stolen by some critters in the monkey forest, and after randomly bumping into some friends on a path in the park, I was whisked away on a fun day trip of white water rafting.

I was SO SO SO excited about this monkey

That's me in the front about to get a wave in the face

For the last two nights in Ubud, I splurged and stayed at a resort called Bisma Eight. Oh. my. god. This was hands down, the nicest place I have ever stayed and probably ever will stay. I mean, where do I begin? The infinity pool? The rooftop terrace breakfast? The turn down service at night (who does that?!) My private hot tub? The chic coffee shop, stylish decor, and impeccable service were way too much for me to handle. I couldn't stop squealing in excitement, and it was really hard for me to leave the hotel after checking in. One night I did peel myself away to check out a night market in a neighboring town and eat some suckling pig in the street, only to find that bed time cookies had been left on my pillow for me by the hotel staff. Seriously!!

My garden suite at Bisma Eight

This pool. This life! 

I love Bali. So now what? Do I go back? I've got no April break or summer plans as of yet (although it's looking like I will be going to Nanjing AND Sri Lanka in February!) The eternal traveler dilemma- do you return to a place you know you love, or venture on to somewhere new and exciting and out of your comfort zone? Because surely Bali is in my comfort zone after this trip. It was easy to travel there, but I still got to squeeze in some adrenaline pumping cycling, rafting, and scuba diving. No matter what type of traveler you are, Bali has you covered. To my next travel destination: I challenge you to be half as perfect as Bali. Go on, I dare you!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bonkers for Bali

My American teacher counterparts are missing out on a little secret called October break. In Hong Kong, not only do we get TWO spring breaks (February and April), yes, we also get a week off in October for fall break. In the past I have gone to Thailand and Taiwan for this vacation, and this year I chose to go to the infamous island of Bali. I was expecting beautiful temples, serene landscapes, lazy beaches, flavorful food, and Bali did not disappoint!

The front door of a typical Balinese family compound

For the first part of my trip, I stayed in Sanur, a smaller resort town on the east coast of Bali. Four million people live in Bali and there are some bigger cities, but I wanted a more laid back approach so I avoided Seminyak, Kuta, and Denpasar. Sanur was more family friendly, but also more budget friendly. I had a private villa right next to the beach for about $25 USD a night at the Kesumasari Beach Hotel.
My patio where breakfast was served every morning

I used Sanur as my base to go scuba diving through Joe's Gone Diving. On our first dive in Padang Bay, we saw reef sharks and a sea turtle, and on a different dive later that day, we saw manta rays! The water was bitching cold so a second wetsuit would have been appreciated, but I was so distracted by the reefs and coral that it wasn't too bad.

Padang Bay was the launching point for some awesome dives

Sanur was a great little beach town. The food was slamming, it had a 5 kilometer path along the coast, and there was a plethora of quirky little cafes, restaurants, spas, and boutiques. This was not a party spot, but that was ok by me. Beachfront yoga at Power of Now Oasis was one of the highlights of the trip for me. After Sanur, I headed to Ubud, which will be my next post!

Can every yoga class be in a beachfront bamboo structure?

Luhtu's Coffee Shop on the beach was one of my favorite finds-
in part thanks to the unexpected company

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Yoga Studio

I began a regular yoga practice about a year and a half ago with a life-changing yoga retreat in the Philippines. This was a part of my healing process after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress after leaving Ecuador. Yoga remains a therapeutic part of my routine. After developing a home practice as part of the Yoga With Adriene online community, I decided to branch out and join a yoga studio in Hong Kong.

Mostly for logistical reasons, I chose Pure Yoga. There is a branch 15 minutes from my house that I can walk to, they gave me a corporate discount, and the space actually has 5 studios, so that there are constantly classes running that work with my schedule. What became a practical decision far exceeded my expectations, and I now go to my yoga studio 3 or 4 times a week. It’s a big part of my life here in Hong Kong.

Some downsides? Yes, it seems expensive, but at $100 USD a month for unlimited classes, I definitely get my money’s worth. Classes are jam-packed, and yoga mats are placed about 8 inches apart. I’ve gotten totally used to this, although it did use to bother me when I first started at Pure. My biggest complaint, however, is the online sign up system. You can register for any class starting at 9 AM two days before the class, but if you forgot to log on the app and register, the classes normally fill up within the first hour. What’s with that?! To be fair, most of the time I am wait-listed, I eventually get into the class, but it makes me think that Pure either needs to offer more classes or limit membership.

I find that yoga provides a moving meditation. I focus all of my thoughts on one concept or mantra each practice, and use the sequences to settle this idea in my bones. At the beginning of class, when I scan my body, I listen carefully and try to intuit what it is I need. Some of my regular mantras include:

Energy- When I go into yoga feeling completely exhausted, I try to tap into my inner energy source in each pose and feel alive. By the end of class, I am invigorated and have a new spring in my step.
Integrity- Sometimes I need to feel like I am coming from a place of honesty and strength. With each yoga pose, I build from a place of integrity and rise up out of my bones, knowing that when I get back to the real world, I won't be cutting any corners.
Connection- If I ever feel isolated or socially anxious, I try to move in sync with the other yogis in my class. I notice how our bodies move through the sequences together, and then when I meet up with friends later, I feel like I am a much more agreeable person to be around!

I want this over my bed!

Pure Yoga Soundwill Plaza is my branch, and I LOVE some of the teachers there. Dana is my absolute favorite, if I could just attend all of her classes all day everyday I would, but alas, real life beckons. Dana is infectiously enthusiastic and clear in the way she describes poses. We get to use fun props and she guides us through sequences that build up to more difficult poses, like forearm stands and wheel. Nitai's classes are thoughtful and more deliberate, while Marcus motivates us through an hour of fast-paced yoga fun every time. Maurice's classes are probably the most physically demanding if you want a real workout, and Eswar is always very straight-forward but clear in his directions. There are a few other great teachers but these are the ones I go to regularly.

Pure Yoga has many branches all over Hong Kong, and if you live here, I would highly recommend doing a free week long trial at any one of them! However, drop in classes for non-members are $350 HKD per person, which is absurd in my opinion. For more affordable and adventurous yoga, check out the free Sunday Sunset yoga in the park series! In a city that is moving so rapidly at all times, yoga is my favorite way to slow down and self-reflect.

The last Sunset Yoga in the park was a blast

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Happy Birthday to my Mom!

My mom has always been supportive of my decision to leave the United States. Not only does she not ask me when I am coming home, she comes to visit me once a year no matter where I am. This has included a trip to Guatemala, two trips to Ecuador, and two trips to Hong Kong. I know this is not normal and I so appreciate her willingness to hop on a plane to see her kid.

Portuguese eats in Macau with my mom a few months ago

The pool at our resort in Macau

September 27 is my mom's birthday. It's hard to celebrate these special moments when you are on the other side of the planet. Sending flowers AGAIN felt stale so I've decided to do something a little different this year. My mom has always had a thing for Bruce Springsteen, so I put together a special medley just for her on her birthday.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Peter Pan Syndrome

It is a modern tragedy that so many people in the expat bubble suffer from this chronic disorder. Symptoms include refusing to grow up, putting off further education, blowing a large disposable income on sins, abstaining from investing in a house or car, rejecting a walk down the aisle or familial prospects.

Hong Kong's adult playground, Lan Kwai Fong

That being said, Peter Pan Syndrome has its benefits. These include embracing spontaneous travel, choosing a new adventure each day, having time to catch up on all those back episodes of Walking Dead you’ve been putting off, indulging yourself and buying that new Kate Spade wallet you’ve had your eye on because it’s not like you have to spend your salary on your kids.

Friends from every corner of the Earth 
living in an expat bubble

I am in a bubble where time stands still. My friend group varies in age by about 15 years because age doesn’t matter when we are all really at the same point in life. Single, energetic, detached, motivated professionals. A lucky few are in on the secret of the expat bubble, but once you reach the inner circle, it feels like time stands still. My friends on the outside are growing up whilst us in the expat bubble remain in a hedonistic cycle of lavish vacations and champagne brunches.

Ya hear?

On the show Parks and Recreation, Tom and Donna have an annual ‘Treat Yo Self’ day where they splurge on luxury goods and spa treatments. Whenever I watch that now, I can’t help but think of how lucky I am that I can get a cheap massage pretty much whenever I want in Hong Kong. For a lot of international teachers, it’s fun for awhile but then they feel the need to get back to the ‘real world.’ They marry and move back home and buy property and move on with their life. Even if that is my inevitable path, I’ll be happy knowing that at one point in my life, every day was Treat Yo Self Day.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Refugee Solidarity March

Saturday, September 12, was the International Day of Refugee Solidarity. Here in Hong Kong the Refugee Union held a rally/march to show support not only for Syrian refugees, but also the thousands of refugees living in Hong Kong struggling to meet their basic needs. I attended with a few friends, handmade posters in tow.

Lots of community support at the rally

To be a refugee in Hong Kong is to live a hard life. While Hong Kong permits asylum to around 10,000 refugees from all over the globe, it doesn’t actually provide for them once they are here. These asylum seekers fleeing dangerous conditions do not have the right to work and can remain in limbo, fighting to get by on an unjustifiably small stipend. Many of them resort to begging and live in makeshift shelters.

This picture of my friend and I ended up in a local news source

So what can we do about it? Support rallies organized by the Refugee Union, of course. I have volunteered with an organization called Vision First on Saturdays in the past. They have a women’s knitting group of female refugees who make beautiful handicrafts which volunteers like myself then take to artisan markets around the city to sell. There is an organization called Crossroads that can facilitate mass donations, so once a year I have my students make up hygiene and sanitation packs to send to Syrian refugee camps. If you live in an area with a refugee presence, reach out.

There were many passionate speakers in attendance

If you don’t have money to make a donation, give your time. No matter what your skill set involves, it can be of service. Teach a class on computer skills! Help a local refugee agency redesign their website, or simplify wordy legal documents. I know refugee children in Hong Kong always appreciate English support or homework tutoring. If the Syrian refugee crisis seems far removed and you still want to help, try thinking local.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Being 26 Is Weird

I’m too old to wear a crochet croptop and neon plastic sunglasses and sit on a guy’s shoulders at a music festival. I have actually looked around at a club and realized I was one of the oldest people there. At 26, I’m in between. I’m not a university student and I’m not inclined to do body shots and getting chased by the police doesn’t sound exciting anymore. I’m not fresh out of university, looking for a job and crashing with friends and living with shitty roommates. But I’m also not quite at that point where my friends are starting to pop out babies left and right and buy houses.

The way I spend my money is slowly evolving as well. Instead of torrenting like a bandit I am starting to shell out cash for media consumption(tv shows, music, ebooks), because I understand the feeling of really working for your money now. Sometimes when I travel, I even stay in hotels (gasp!) rather than hostels.

I hear 27 is a big year? That it’s a year when a lot of people begin to feel like a sophisticated, responsible adults? I'm not sure about that yet, but I do know that being in the middle of your 20s is weird. When I go shopping, I actually wonder if certain clothes are age appropriate. Since when do I care what’s age appropriate?!

Ok, not everything has changed

In the last year or so, I have wanted more routine and stability. Even dating has been affected, because cute flaky artsy types aren’t going to cut it anymore if they can’t really be a partner and keep up with my ambitions and lofty life goals. Basically, I think about the future more. I think about the implications of my decisions on others and the role I play in my friends’ lives. I take my well-being more seriously. My career comes before socializing, something that would have been unfathomable a few years ago.

 Cheers to growing up with minimal kicking and screaming along the way.

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