Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Magic Exists in our World and it's in Ubud, Bali

I chose to stay on a family compound and had breakfast out on my private porch one morning. 

My final destination was Bali and as I sit here at the airport waiting to start my 30 hour trek back to San Diego, I am sad to leave a place that has so much magic, paradise and what I imagine to be a form of heaven. From Tokyo, to Saigon to Hanoi to Bali, this has been an experience unlike any I have ever had before. The people that came into my life throughout my travels, the places I experienced and the challenges I faced all contributed to my feeling of nothing but gratefulness, joy and laughter.
The people, the food, the landscape, culture and the environment in Ubud, Bali was more than I expected. As soon as I stepped into my room on a family compound, I felt like I was at home. My plan for this part of the trip was to relax, write and read and do some deep work with personal reflection and healing. But, my time in Ubud did not exactly go as planned in all ways and I am perfectly fine with that. Allowing my days to just “come as they are” was part of what made each day perfectly amazing. A typical day consisted of me waking up, walking 1km to the gym, showering, then stopping by a local juice cafe to order a fresh pressed juice (usually papaya and lime or a green detox of some sort). Next, I would walk about halfway  back to the area I was staying and find a really great place to eat breakfast. I would then relax with a book and eat and read. Afterwards, I would explore the area. I might go shopping, take a painting class, stop and hang out with some friends I made or walk throughout the town and see where it  leads me. Most of the time, it led me to a spa where I would get a foot massage, full body massage, body scrub, manicure or my hair done. There is something to be said about getting a massage everyday, I have to say! I always had my camera ready because capturing the beauty of Ubud was also a big part of the fun. I had no schedule and nowhere to be and that feeling of freedom is beyond the best feeling in the world!
I met Dewa when I saw a sign for an art lesson while walking around town. He shared with me his art and we became instant friends! 

One night, I caught a traditional Kecak Fire and Dance show steps from where I was staying, but most nights, I would have a late dinner after meandering around town and then go to bed. Most of Ubud is dark and quiet by 11pm which also made it a perfect place for me!
What I Love Most about Ubud
Offerings. Waking up and walking throughout town with the smell of incense burning and the reminder with every offering I pass that I have so much to be thankful for. Everyday, the Balinese give offerings of thanks and hope for prosperity. It’s a small square made from palm leaves with flowers, candy, food and maybe a hand rolled cigarette. Placed on top is a stick of incense that is burned on a regular basis throughout the day. These offerings are placed outside of homes and businesses. I never knew I needed the scent of incense so much in my life. I think I bought at least a thousand sticks to burn when I get home!

The food was absolutely amazing! Literally every single meal I ate was fresh, tasty and made of whole foods. Each morning, there is a local market that opens from 4am – 9am. It’s there that the restaurant owners will stock up on fresh produce, meats, fish, eggs, coffee beans, breads and spices. The food sold at the market is always harvested and sold within 24 hours. Ubud values gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarianism, vegan foods, organic produce and fresh juice. Basically, any healthy food option you like to indulge in, Ubud’s restaurants will have it for you. One night, I ordered lobster and spinach gluten-free raviolis with a ginger tea and a gluten-free brownie made from organic dark Balinese chocolate oh, and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls because I was missing Vietnam that night.

Fresh pressed juices deserve a category all their own. Ubud’s residences make freshest and most interesting and yummy concoctions out of fresh fruit and veggies. I had detox mixes, super hydrating mixes, stomach soothers, energizing juices, calming juices and cleansing juices. They all were created for me on the spot and were never pre-made. Everyday, I would have 2-3 different juices in attempts to keep a feeling of cleanliness throughout my body. Part of wanting to somewhat cleanse myself spiritually, I also wanted to cleanse my body and eating and drinking in Ubud, well that’s the perfect place for it !

The people in Ubud are some of the most sweetest, kindest and genuine people I have met throughout the world. There is a sense of trust and I think their belief in karma plays a big role. One day, I took a painting class with a artist named Dewa. We spoke and got to know each other during the 2-hour session in his studio. He talked about a time when he was really sick and the doctors couldn’t tell him what it was, so he went to see a spiritual healer as a last resort. He told me that she said someone was jealous of him. Throughout bouts of laughter, he explained that he was so surprised to hear this from her because he always tries to do good and think about good things, so having someone be jealous of him didn’t make sense.  The healer gave him oils to drink and different oil to rub on his body as way to rid the negative energy being sent his way. He said within a week he was feeling better. I told him about my chronic back pain that I have been trying to fix for close to 13 years and how I would love to have someone help me with that. Right away, he offered to take me to his healer. He said it would be 20 minutes away on his motorbike and we would have to stop to grab an offering for her on the way, but he wouldn’t mind taking me, if that’s what I wanted. We continued to talk and after the 2 hours and a completed painting of Buddha, we were on our way to his healer. Throughout the rest of my time in Ubud, Dewa took me to his healer three times. We became friends and I learned a lot about Balinese culture and what it’s like to live in Ubud.
Ibudessa is a beautiful soul and woman. She performed healing sessions for me a few times while I was in Bali. Although we don't speak the same language, we were able to communicate in other ways. Her generous spirit helped me to cleanse my aura and keep grounded while I experienced another part of our beautiful world. 

The architecture in Ubud had me fascinated the moment I stepped outside. From the brick roads and mosaic lotus lined with green moss to the family compounds that still remain exactly as they were built many, many years ago. Several generations of families reside in these compounds, karangs, and each structure within is built and placed in a specific part of the compound. To enter, you will see a beautifully carved, small door to walk through and immediately notice a small shrine that is honored with flowers, incense and/or rice. The small door and shrine are to help ward off any spirits that would be unwanted. The family compound reflects the human body and each building within is placed in a specific manner. For example, the family temple is built facing east as it will be the first to see the light of day. I couldn’t help but stop and notice these beautiful homes and I was very lucky to be invited into some and also stay within a compound through Airbnb (highly recommended you do this if ever you visit Ubud!).

This street led to where I was staying

The atmosphere in Ubud is literally breathtaking! One day, I got up early and visited the rice terraces before all of the crowds and before farmers harvested crops for the day. It  was absolutely stunning with lush greens and quiet creeks running between the palm trees and flower bushes. Besides the rice terraces, the town of Ubud is also unique in it’s lush greens lining each street and random statues and shrines outside of homes and businesses.

I feel so incredibly lucky to experience such a magical and unbelievable place. I think Ubud, Bali was the perfect last stop in my trip throughout Asia this summer. It was a great place to reflect on my gratitude for having so much in my life and to cleanse my mind and body before returning back home and start my 13th year teaching!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Value of Experience in Vietnam

Having now arrived to my third and final country this summer, I am noticing a pattern of how each of these explorations begin. At first, there is trepidation because I have no clue about the area, where to go or what to do, but as soon as I immerse myself into it (which is always just to hit the streets and start walking), that wall crumbles and I feel completely confident in becoming a part of the community in my own, small way. There is no judgment as to what I choose to do because I am alone and no one around me really cares what I am doing. I also make sure to embrace the opportunities as they offer themselves to me. Today, I was walking down a street and saw a sign for art classes. The owner of the art studio came outside and we spoke briefly. He asked if I would like to learn how to paint and of course, I said YES! Tomorrow I have my first lesson.

Suddenly, I started to feel more connected with people and places as I am striving to get that feeling of overwhelming beauty or awe (my ultimate goal every time I go somewhere). Walking around, talking with people, or just observing what is happening around me, I begin to tap into the ideas within me that aren't yet  fully formulated, but soon construct themselves through exploration, questioning and thinking. The more I expose myself to the new people and places, the more I feel like I am not only learning about them, but I am also learning more about myself.
The challenges where I know I am in charge of building my own safety net in the midst of it all happening are the kinds of situations I sometimes hate while they are happening, but when I look back on them, I am so incredibly grateful. I continue to learn that the second I say I am ready to quit, if I just keep going, what's on the other side is beautiful, beneficial and worth more than I could have ever imagined.

"Okay everybody, how are you feeling? Are you done?" The tour guide asked us this question after we cycled about 20km in a heat index that was well over 110 degrees. I looked him dead in the eyes."Yeah, I am done." I said it, but I must not have actually meant it because I kept going. My head was spinning, I was well past a "runners high", my water was empty and I barely remember that stretch of ride. Even in the shade, I felt like there was no escape. At that point, I wantedto give up but, not enough, because I didn't. The energy from the group and the fact that I would have been the only one who actually stopped, helped me to keep going. And I am so glad that I did because if I had given up, I would not have experienced sitting in a basket boat on a river with an old Vietnamese tour guide making rings for me out of palm leaves and I wouldn't have experienced listening to CCR on the ride back through the rice paddies thinking about what it  was like for the people of Vietnam in the 1960's.

If I had given up after an 11 hour train ride, 3 hour bus ride in (still) 100-something degree weather with a stomach ache, no sleep and no food and no traditional bathroom to use, I would not have experienced the life of people in a village where the first hospital was built in 2015 and they were given electricity in 1995. I would have missed out on looking up at a house built on stilts and seeing two children screaming "hello!" and waving frantically at me. If I had given up after finally rinsing the sweat off while standing next to a toilet only to be covered in mosquitoes and more sweat, I would have missed the home cooked meal the family was so proud to make and serve for us. I wouldn't have experienced freshly squeezed sugarcane juice or learned how 4 generations of families live in a one-room home. I would have missed out on the first hand experience of seeing how happiness can come from simplicity at its most basic definition. 

There are so many things I learned while spending time in Vietnam, but one for sure, is to never give up when times get tough. These are just some fun examples and don't compare at all to life's most toughest of times, but today they are serving me as a good reminder.

Life can suck, but if we give up or take the easy road, what are we missing? If you stop when it gets difficult, you know what the ending will be and it involves you surrendering. But if you keep going, the possibilities are endless and who doesn't like a good surprise?!

Below are some of the highlights of the trek through Vietnam. I hope you enjoy!

Art combined with nature

His motor bike wasn't making it, so another man helped him over the bridge.

Woman making rice paper


Year of the Monkey

Hand stitching with silk

Boats on the river in Hoi An

Many couples come to this setting to get pictures taken the day before the wedding.

Ride up the mountain

Mom making sticky rice

Sisters enjoy a game together

Rice Fields against Beautiful Mountains

You haven't had an adventure until you tried riding a bike through traffic in Vietnam![/caption]

I learned how to make rice noodles! A great cause that teaches kids English and hospitality. (Planterra)[/caption]

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