SET YOUR MIND STRAIGHT

Throughout the last 2 years I have been to Asia and back four times now. I am here to admit that traveling can be overwhelmingly frustrating. You will see sides of yourself that you did not even know could possibly exist. And once you experience yourself in this light, you will shamefully hope that it never bellows out of you again.

[ Even if you are not a traveler, keep reading. Imagine yourself on a day to day basis where you may find yourself appalled by your reactions. You may not be appalled by them. You may not even be noticing them. ]

So picture this.. Its quite a normal situation actually.

You finally step foot off of that 20 hour long journey - hungry, tired, agitated, and bewildered. 

Whether its a boat, train, or a bus, your journey was most likely delayed at least 3 hours, but alas you arrive and you begin to think "Yes, I'm finally free!"  

Your first pleasant thought is quickly shattered and interrupted by about 30 men fighting to take you on their taxi. 

And the emotions roar.. 

You will talk to people in a way you never imagined you would. There will be times where you will simply lose it if one more person tries to sell you a sarong, tuk tuk, or an elephant ride.

I am not talking about cussing somebody out in your own foreign language, which I have seen happen.. I am talking about avoiding eye contact, ignoring that a human being is talking to you, and I am talking about letting all of your anger out on the wrong person. 

But let me tell you this.. 

Nothing has bothered me more while traveling than watching the way that I would react during times of frustration. 

Second to that, would be watching the way that other travelers respond to certain situations.

This is not, however, a post on how to treat humanity. This is meant to become a discussion on leveling your mind to avoid these states of being completely. 

I began to develop a new mindset. It really all stemmed from surviving a Vipassana meditation course.. I started to observe all of my thoughts and responses. From this, my behaviors have changed. 

Here are a few things that I have realized when it comes to the mind. 

1. Observe your thoughts.

You are in control of your emotions. Give yourself a little chit chat.

Pause and think before you open your mouth. 

When you sit back and look around, slap yourself into reality. You will realize that you are the luckiest son of a hardworking individual to be able to experience these annoyances. They are so miniscule. 

Take a look around. Turn your thinking into how grateful you are. Look around at those less fortunate and give yourself a bit of perspective.

This all aside, any situation you are in, observe your mind. Follow your thoughts without any judgement. Just recognize that you are not in your best mindset and figure out what it will take to get there.

2. Happiness is perspective. It is a choice. It is a way of life.

Happiness is such a relative state of being. It doesn't depend on what you have, where you are, or who you are with. It depends entirely on what is going on inside of you.

You can live the same life as somebody else. One may have the best life in the world, the other may be entirely miserable. 

Watch the way that you look at things. If you are on this journey and it lasts 3 extra hours and slowly develops into a tumultuous 20 hour trip, then change the way that you are thinking about it. Change your thoughts. Look around at each of the people and come up with a story in your head.. Better yet, TALK with these people, experience, get to know the humans surrounding you. 

I have a feeling that soon enough, your mindset will switch. Happiness is quite contagious as they say.

3. Patience is learning to live in the moment and enjoy the ride.

Mmm.. this is a big one you learn while traveling.

It should seem obvious that it is all about the adventure while traveling, but really these all relate to our regular everyday lives. Whether you are standing in the grocery store at home or you are sitting on that 20 hour train ride, it is all the same. Patience is the difference between a magnificent experience and a miserable excursion. 

Learn to live in your mind. Learn to entertain your thoughts. 

Look around you. Observe. Write. Read. Write down a list of everything you could possibly dream of doing in your lifetime. Breathe. 

Accept the fact that you have no control over the amount of time you will spend in this situation. Acknowledge that you do have complete power over how that time will be spent.

4. Unmet expectations are the root of disappointment. 

The main complaint that I hear about Americans while traveling is that we always complain. That and that we are arrogant, uneducated about the world, and quite obnoxious at times.. Oh and did I mention our politics? Gun control? Education system? Healthcare? 

Buuuut anyway... lets get back to the complaints. Its obviously not an American thing. It is humanity. If we set our expectations at any certain level and they are not met, immediately the mindset about the situation is changed. 

You could be presented with the most extraordinary hotel room, a nice clean double bed with a hot shower and even shampoo on the sink, and you could still be disappointed. (Oh what I would do for a room like this most nights..) If you were expecting to have wifi as fast as your home office or Redken shampoo and moisturizing conditioner stocked in the bath, then yes your expectations were unmet. You are now unhappy. 

I have numerous examples that are more practical for my line of travel.. 

You presume that there will be toilet paper in the bathroom. Perhaps you even assume that you will be using a regular western toilet as opposed to a hole in the ground.

For some strange reason you may even expect that you will have your own bed on a night bus only to find out that a stranger will be cuddled up next to you.

All of these are simply presumptions based on what you have known before but you are indeed in another country. Isn't that the point of it? To try new things and to live a different way.. Traveling aside, learn to laugh about it. I am sure that the time will pass and it will be a comical memory soon enough. 

5. SMILE. Then, you will become happy.

The best way to set your mind straight is to give yourself a smile. Open that mouth and curl your dimples up. You will just become happy. 

If that doesn't work, look for a child. Let their radiating smile project onto your frown.. It will put you just where you need to be.

COLORFUL KANDY

What a day today has been.. 

It was quite uneventful but extraordinarily fulfilling.

This morning I woke up earlier than usual and started off with a bit of yoga and some reading.

Feeling extra productive, I intended to sit at my laptop, edit pictures, and write all day. That really just didn't last too long..

I decided to go for a stroll. The second that I went outside, the rain came pouring down.

It was glorious.

I walked in the rain, singing, yes singing.. for about 45 minutes. Anybody who knows me is aware that I really am not fit for any sort of singing. I have some raspy, out of tune vocals going on, but it was such a liberating adventure. I even made up my own song. It didn't matter if anybody heard me because they would have thought I was mental enough for running around with the raindrops. 

Ah.. but it was marvelous. I felt so free without a care in the world, singing my songs and getting completely soaking wet.

I didn't know where I was going but my favorite thing to do in a new city is get lost. So that's exactly what I did. 

After winding around a bit, I turned left continuing up a hill toward a temple. For some reason this little street invited me in. It was the first time I had turned in over 30 minutes.. It was simply just calling my name. Once I got around the corner, my eyes were drawn away from the Hindu shrine and toward the community that I was about to enter.

I came across a few colorful homes with some children outside. It looked like the most inviting dead-end I've ever seen. I curiously continued. I had my camera out and started interacting with some of the kids. When i began taking photos of one little girl, her mom brought out her sister for some family portraits. 

At first, the kids weren't the biggest fans...

After a while, they relaxed a bit and started to enjoy this strange situation. 

The neighbors were all noticeably curious about the white girl walking around with her camera in their hidden sanctuary but they kept a distance at first. One by one they started peeking their heads around the corners to check out the scene. 

 

The mother of the two girls invited me into her fuchsia pink cement home. As I was sitting there, a man entered. He quickly became my tour guide for the next hour or two. His name is Prem.

As we walked outside of the house, I turned the corner to find an entire group of kids awaiting me and my services. They came fully prepared - matching outfits and modeling poses. 

 

After my next photo session, Prem guided me along through an alley way. This lead to dozens and dozens more vibrant homes with children poking their heads out of every crevice. I was amazed.. I couldn't believe how many hidden apartments there were lining these narrow streets. 

These humble abodes were decorated with every color imaginable. It completely changed the energy of these little dwellings. Walking through the lanes was absolutely marvelous.

I was stepping into a dream filled with people it seemed that I already knew. I never wanted to leave.

Prem guided me along numerous passageways, shouting into each home for the family to come out for a photo.

Quickly, I became the town photographer.

Little girls ran all around me flirting with the camera for over an hour. They were so shy yet secretly wanted to be photographed. It was the best game of hide and seek that I've played in ages.

Everywhere I looked there more children peaking out from behind a brilliantly colored wall.

 

Each of the families were welcoming beyond belief. Considering it was raining, they were all inviting me into their homes, which were even more vivid and colorful on the inside. There were a few houses with photos taped on the walls, but for the most part, the homes were just filled with a whole lot of love.

This community that I stumbled upon is one massive, beautiful, welcoming family.

The children, the elderly, and everyone in between played their part in making my day absolutely magical. 

STRANGER'S SADNESS

6 March 2016

I had one of the most intense moments of my life yesterday. In words it may just seem like a calm, strange experience but it brought upon feelings and emotions that have never been inside my body before.


I have been living in Faridabad, India for nearly two months teaching the children living in the slums. Throughout my time here, I have been walking the same path, smiling at the same strangers, and occasionally snapping some photos. This week I printed the pictures then went knocking on doors, asking neighbors if they know where the person lives and ringing door bells to distribute these photographs.

This is the last woman I needed to find after over 50 deliveries.

The first time I saw her I said namaste and gave a 'how are you?' in Hindi. I suggestively lifted my camera with a smile. This was the outcome. The next time I saw her, she was sitting just the same way a bit further down the alley. I bought some chocolate biscuits and brought them over to her.. She didn't really say anything and I couldn't even tell if she was happy so I just went on my way.

 

This expression that speaks so loudly seems to be the only one that this woman wears. To me it screams a story of sadness, struggle and pure loneliness.


I found out where she lives and peeked my head over the gate. After my Indian mum shouted a few things in Hindi she noticed us and waved around signaling her family to let us inside. She was sitting on a bamboo bed inside a courtyard surrounded by apartment style homes. She excitedly waved me over to sit with her and held my hands. She could not have been more overcome with emotion by the photo and the sight of this reoccurring stranger.. She was so happy yet inexplicably overcome with sadness.


I quickly found out that this woman is paralyzed. About a year ago she lost the feeling in her legs as well as the ability to speak. She cannot speak a word..

 

We sat there understanding each other through her own way of communicating. For an hour she hugged me, held my hands, and cried touching her throat whimpering the only sounds that she can make. I never wanted to leave her side.. Leave her sitting there in this empty silent life drowning in her trapped thoughts. 


Despite the tears, her happiness showed that she got exactly she needed.. People who finally listened to what she wants to say

FEEL YOUR FEELINGS

Travel brings about certain feelings that you just must let out in some sort of expressive manner. I suppose that is just life, but when you are alone in a foreign country, you feel life intensified.

 It seems as though all of your emotions are extremely heartfelt, whether a moment of sadness, frustration, or elation, it is felt in its entirety.

You become consumed.

There is nobody around you to pawn your thoughts off to or to ‘distract’ you from your own mind. When are you alone, you are wandering, marveling, and interacting.

The smile you exchange with the wrinkly, bright-eyed Burmese woman is felt through your entire body. It captivates you. It is pure, raw and felt from each layer of your heart.

You are lost in that moment, sinking deeper into the depths of life’s connections. Your mind drifts off to wonder about her family, her upbringing, her daily life, and her happiness.

Instantly, you are brought back.

Dogs are barking all around you, chasing one another, scavenging for food, and trying to impregnate their friends. There are about 15 of them now circling each other. Some are trying to play and others are trying to escape. You become wrapped up in it, thinking about this society of dogs. All around you these dogs exist in various parts of their cycle – eating, sleeping, barking, chasing, itching, sleeping, eating.. More thoughts arise. These dogs are free. They roam through the fields and through the city, doing whatever it is that they please. Are these dogs happier than those of our western homes? Are dogs meant to be immersed in a community of similar creatures or to be loved gently by a human?

Sounds of laughter break up your train of thoughts and as you look up you see three little girls covering their mouths as they ride off on their bicycles. As you lock eyes and share a smile, these squeaky giggles echo louder.

Two young monks walk past, sharing an umbrella.

Your eyes shift off to the women in the distance. Their sweaty, winced faces are covered by pointed bamboo hats as they work, keeled over in the fields.

How much money do they make? Do they do this everyday? Is that woman carrying a baby as well?! What would I sound like if I did their work for even just one day? I am so privileged..

My god it is a beautiful day.. The entire scenery just paints a scenic portrait. These three little birds sitting along the telephone wire above these incredible women perched up in the tall green stalks with the bright blue, clouded sky decorating the expansive ceiling.

Life is truly so breathtaking.

The sound of life existing around me right now is whispering the most peaceful, delicate tune in my ear. Closed eyes, open heart; I pause, soaking in all that is going on inside of me. There is as much to observe on the inside as there is on the out. 

A soft smile appears. I feel it. Then eyebrows raise and one sweet tear glides smoothly down my cheek.

Happiness. Love. Beauty.

 I am engulfed in it.. It overwhelms my whole being causing this drip of life to inch its way out of my eyeball. I am so affected. It is just an incredible thing to feel life so strongly.

Let life move you. Let yourself drown in its ups and downs. Cry when life is too good. Cry when you see tragedy and suffering.

 FEEL. SMILE. LAUGH FROM THE DEPTHS OF YOUR BEING.

Live with no barriers. Allow yourself to feel without limitations.

Breathe in everything around you and watch how it fills your body. Use your empathy. It is your greatest tool to connect you to the world around you.. We are all one entity. Empathy could save this world of most problems.

We only inhabit this Earth for this one life. Why limit yourself from feeling it to the fullest? Experience it. Sadness deserves to be felt in its completeness as well. Sometimes, life is sad. Embrace it. Feel it. 

 

STUCK IN A DESERT DAZE

There was a time that I got stuck in a city. That tends to happen to me as I enjoy traveling slow. I was in Jaisalmer, India. It is an area in the Thar desert of Rajasthan. Travelers go here to enjoy a camel safari and a night under the stars.

I met a group of friends, who quickly became family… When I say family, I mean we were plucking each other’s eyebrows and washing each others’ feet.

You just need good people sometimes.

It had been about four days that I was in this town and I had all the intentions of leaving to explore the rest of India. Some friends were leaving the morning and I insisted that I was as well..

That, of course, didn’t happen.

The Dutch boys I was traveling with offered up a nice, home cooked meal and I caved. It was a gorgeous meal.. It was one of the best that I had eaten in weeks.

That isn’t the best part. In exchange for slowing things down, sticking around, I gained one of my favorite nights of travel.

Our group had become great friends with the most fascinating man of Rajasthan, Abu. He is the owner of the hostel we were staying in and is also quite famous in the traveling circuit of India. Abu calls himself ‘Camel Boy.’ He is truly one of the funniest characters I have yet to come across. We had been spending some days with Abu, playing Indian games and hitting all the best local spots of Jaisalmer.

That night, however, Abu said that if we stayed one more night then we could have a desert party at his luxury tent resort.  He would provide the whiskey, traditional Indian food, luxury accommodation and even a cultural show. With so much more of India to see, I questioned it, but yet again, I caved.

The next night, we all set off to the desert once again. The first night was spent around a campfire getting to know one another after riding camels across the sandy dunes. This time, we were back for more. After we watched the women in traditional Rajasthan outfits dance and play music, we began our own show. Our second night in the desert was spent learning Indian dance moves with some local college students. We had dance offs among the men and women and learned the rhythm of the shoulders.

We shared whiskey, laughs, and an understanding that we are all the same. There were probably seven or so nationalities represented but we all shared one thing in common. We shared a magical night together in the Indian desert.

Abu cut the tunes. He insisted that we get the group together for another adventure. Without hesitation, we followed this desert man toward the darkness.

The gang piled into the back of a truck and we set off zooming through the desert. Aha, we quickly realized that the plan was to go dune surfing. Three dutch boys, an English girl, myself, and an Indian boy, stood together clinging to one another as we squealed with laughter. Heads bobbled up and down and bodies flung from side to side, as we soared around happy as can be. Standing in the back of this truck attached to new family, I felt invincible. After what seemed like an hour of exhilarating fun, flying through the desert sands, we stopped.

We piled out of the truck and laid in the sand. A blanket of the world’s brightest stars covered us from head to toe. The crisp, calm desert air soothed our beating hearts. That was it. That was all we needed.

The feeling of life can be so incredibly beautiful.

In that moment, I needed nothing more. Life was perfect. The universe was perfect.

Sometimes we are meant to stick around. Sometimes life is supposed to be lived slowly for you never know what is in store. We try to rush off to the next bigger and better thing when life is really just in front of us waiting for us to slow down and feel it.

SLOW DOWN

I am going to start a series called “What I have learned traveling long term…”

I am no professional. To some of my friends at home it may seem as though I am so well traveled and experienced, but to those out on the road, I may be another yuppie. I am not trying to declare myself anything, just a girl roaming around trying to figure out little bits of this world.

So what have I learned thus far while traveling..?

Slow things down!

This is a marathon, not a sprint. This is your life.

It is okay if you miss out on that last temple or volcano hike. There will be other opportunities. If your body is telling you that it needs to sit this one out, it probably does.

The last thing that you want while traveling is bed rest. Well… now I can think of about 200,000 things that are worse while traveling, but nonetheless, if your body needs rest, take it.

You cannot have this “FOMO” while out on the road because it will run you down.  Trust me, I have acquired issues from double ear infections & sinus infections to the flu to questioning dengue fever and MUMPS.. I mean really, who gets mumps?

Things come up. You will get strange insect bites and wounds from your motorbike. Viruses and infections and everything in between will come your way.

I could go on to write about the hospitals in each country that I’ve visited, which may actually be a good idea. The point that I am trying to make is that traveling is not going to be easy. It is not going to be luxurious all the time. It is not going to be something you want to shout from a mountain top when you come across your first trip to the hospital or the first time you really mess things up. It will however be worth it.

In every trip that I have taken within the last few years I have had disaster after disaster occur. I won’t even talk about everything that I have had stolen… But really, situations have happened, but you know what? Each of those experiences shaped me.

Flights missed, doctors visited, and Iphones stolen have each turned into their own story. I can now laugh at the encyclopedia of traveling fuck ups that I have accumulated.  And man.. they are pretty funny. Stick around and I may shamelessly expose a few of them.

For the good, the bad, the sticky, frustrating, ugly, and glorious moments, slow things down.

You won’t get much rushing from country to country – temple to temple – or mountain to mountain when you don’t stop along the way to smell the flowers.

Even if you have the most kickass immune system, your body can’t move as fast as your spirit can.

Take the time to reflect, write in your journal, paint a picture of that mountain, whatever gets you going. When you are sitting at home, wishing you were back on the road, you won’t be wishing you saw that last sight. You will be wishing to have one more day spent experiencing.

From my past trips, I have realized that the moments that resonate the deepest are those that are the subtlest. A lunch spent with a local family or laughs shared with friends from around the world are what I think back to.  I treasure the companionships that grew from sitting on rooftops or trudging along on another grueling night bus together. When I go home, what I long for the most are the slow days with the best company. I dream of the little moments that I would have missed had I been hurrying along.  

So there you have it.. Some people may tell you differently. Some people may enjoy rushing along checking off different countries on their bucket list. For me, slowing down my travels typically brings about some life changing moments that I would not have encountered otherwise. I don't push my body to its limits because I have learned that it will always backfire. Breathe, relax, and enjoy the rollercoasters of this grand adventure because it slips away into nostalgia real fast.

T O K Y O

Well well..

I had the privilege of finally broadening my Japanese exploration outside of airports, train stations, and strange internet cafes. The past few days completely changed my views about this lively, eccentric city. I didn't have any intentions to explore Tokyo on this trip but it just sort of landed in my lap due to some stand-by struggles. I had traveled through Japan once before but it was sadly a string of unfortunate, peculiar events of which I will spare you the details. Nevertheless, I was eager to see what Tokyo is all about so I scrolled through Hostelworld and Booking.com until I came across somewhere magical.. 

Toco Tokyo is a traditional Japanese style home turned into a hostel with delicate, minimalist decor. The charming lobby and bar area is decorated with dried flowers along the walls and colorful wooden stairs. This little sanctuary is an oasis nestled in the midst of the city.

Once you walk through the bar area, double doors open to the outside into what looks like a Japanese tea garden. There is a beautiful walking or meditation area with rock sculptures dispersed throughout the greenery and stone paths. The footpath leads up to a sliding door where you leave your shoes in your cubby and put on house slippers. The wooden floors and "shojis," or Japanese style sliding doors, open up to a large living space with beds on the floor for the staff. A quaint kitchen area with the same humble yet intricate details provide for a lovely space where the crew cooks breakfast for guests each morning. Breakfast at Toco Tokyo includes corn on the cob, miso soup, and "onigiri," which is essentially minced tuna packed inside of a rice ball. 

Tokyo, in general, surprised me quite a bit. The area that I stayed in has such a charming character, decorated with succulents, flowers, and old-fashioned bicycles.

I did not spend too much time in Tokyo before heading off to Myanmar but there was one spot I will never forget, Shibuya Crossing. It is supposedly the world's busiest intersection where up to 2,500 people cross the street in just one light. It is said that 45,000 people cross this four way intersection in a 30 minute period...! Many of the people were just tourists, like me, taking photos and standing in disbelief amongst the organized chaos.

The rest of my time in Tokyo was spent people-watching, eating sushi, slurping noodles, and getting lost with my camera. It sounds like I have described this sweet, sincere little neighborhood but as we all know, that is not Tokyo. The culture and style in Tokyo is about as diverse as their varieties of sushi. The streets are filled with human sized Pokemons, eclectic outfits, and all the different hair colors imaginable. You will find yourself amused and lost amongst the many towering H&M, McDonalds, and Starbucks just as any other bustling metropolitan of the world. Since I was only in this massive city for just a few short days, I was not even able to touch the surface of Tokyo's depths.  I kept some Japanese Yen tucked away as a promise to return and give this city the proper time that it deserves. Until then, I am off to Myanmar to explore the best kept secrets of Southeast Asia. 

SPICES OF INDIA

Khari Baoli

What a place.. I am not even sure how many people know it as Khari Baoili but the name dates back to the 1600's when the spice market was first built. The streets are lined with narrow, deep shops one after another, each overflowing with various spices and nuts. Some of these shops have been there since the market opened and run by the 9th or 10th generation owners.

enter the unknown world

 

Millions of hardworking, stinky men pour in and out of the alley ways, each contributing their parts to intertwined chaos. As you stroll along the sidewalk your eyes are constantly shuffling around, scanning the scene at all there is to be seen. It is complete and utter overstimulation.

 

Somebody taps your arm and you look down to see a barefoot, messy haired little girl holding a half-naked baby as she asks you for milk money or a pack of biscuits. As if that doesn't tug on your emotions  enough the ravenous dog behind her limps around through the sewage sipping on some black street water and eating plastic wrappers. Men surround you everywhere you look. They are either in full power work mode or passed out in the streets reeking of p i s s. There is no justice in calling it pee, urine, or tee tee in the streets of Old Delhi. It is piss and there is no other way to describe this abundant rancid stench.

 

You bump into tourists from all over the world because no matter where you are going your eyes are much too occupied to be staring at the ground in front of you. Shop owners are shouting about offering mango tea or cashews for the road. Sales are taking place right and left: jasmine tea, dried papaya, himalayan salt, and rose water. It seems like you are in the midst of all of the action until you venture off into any of the small winding alleys. You keep walking through this rabbit hole of incredible perfumes pouring into your nostrils interrupted by the occasional sneeze. 

working to eat

After you spend hours wandering and wondering, you fall back into the main street, which is quite obvious because you recognize where you are even if you have never been there before. You are back in the piss filled fragrance of the beautiful, bustling disarray of Old Delhi, India. I do believe my eyes have been graced by some of the most striking scenery on this Earth from the beaches of Thailand to the Alps of Switzerland, but there is something so mesmerizing and captivating about India. It is the way that the pieces all fall into the most miraculous and complex puzzle. It is the way that your mind can be taken away in an instant by a life changing moment. It is the way that you can feel your heart actually growing and molding from feelings you did not know that you could feel. That is India. That is Old Delhi.. It will move you, change you, shape you, and completely rock your entire concept of life as you've known it. Just ride around the city on a rickshaw around 6am and you will never feel the same way about life ever again.