I was watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown this past weekend, specifically, the episode where Tony goes to visit Japan with the head chef and owner of Masa (from NYC), Masayoshi Takayama. (Not that it matters to this story but Masa is supposedly the most expensive restaurant in the USA where meals apparently cost $600 pp, not including drinks.) During a scene in the episode, Tony was sitting around a traditional Japanese indoor cooking fire (an “irori”), having delicious-looking food and drink with chef Takayama and some local friends, when Tony mentioned something about having a wonderful time. At this point, chef Takayama elaborated on a saying that I find beautiful.
My first experience with an orphanage happened when I was very little, maybe 4-5 years in age. My family went to visit this orphanage because my cousin was there. Why was my cousin there? He was mentally challenged. At least that’s what my parents told me. He wasn’t born to my uncle and aunt. He was adopted. And when my uncle and aunt found out he was mentally challenged when he grew up, they gave him up for adoption. This visit was my only time seeing him. My only remaining memory of this visit was seeing my cousin (whose face I don’t recall now) come up to me and started touching my feet as I was carried by my dad. I am surprised that this memory still stayed with me until this day and I still wonder from time to time, what happened to my cousin?
Fast forward many years later. It is the end of 2010. I was unceremoniously dumped on the side of a street at 4 am in the freezing morning in McLeod Ganj. Despite the rough start to my stay there, my time spent in McLeod Ganj was one of my most memorable during my gap year. Among many reasons for this is because of my visit to The Children’s Village, an orphanage located about 30-40 minutes on foot from McLeod Ganj. I still remember vividly my hike there and what I saw during my brief visit. Little did I know, a seed was planted in me and has been germinating.
Last week, I read somewhere that a short documentary called “Tashi and the Monk” won an Emmy. It is about a former monk (himself an orphan) who runs an orphanage filled with “uninvited guests in this universe”. The documentary is (but may not be for much longer) free to watch on Vimeo. I finally got around to watching it today. It moved me in a big way. Recently, I had been bouncing the idea around in my head of how much I’d like to one day, possibly in my later years, volunteer at an orphanage, possibly as a teacher. I don’t want kids of my own, that I am certain of. However, there are so many unwanted children out there and with my belief that education is the key to escaping poverty, I hope to pass on what I know. Basic math, English, science? I think I can do that. Maybe throw in whatever life wisdom/thoughts/philosophies I may have learned along the way. I want to help them navigate this maze called “Life”. There’s a lot more to say about all this but that’s for another day.
Took a trip to Japan in September 2016 with my parents, sisters, bro-in-law, nephew after our visit to Malaysia. It’s not often I get to travel abroad with my entire family and I had such a blast with them.
I don’t think Japan is a stranger to anyone. We all know visitors go there for the food, culture, history, and to see “weird” stuff. No, I did not see any panty vending machines but I saw more drink vending machines on a single street in Shinjuku than I did my entire year in USA. I loved Japan and would like to go back another day for a more in-depth look at other parts of it.
I had previously volunteered at this retirement home teaching the residents how to use Facebook, Skype, YouTube etc. You know, trying to make them “hip” and “cool” except I was only making them as “hip” and as “cool” as myself, a tech-dinosaur in comparison to the current generation. After these lessons, I gave out an email address asking the residents to email me anytime they had technology-related questions, or if they needed help setting up their computers or phones.
A few months after my last official lesson, my cobweb-filled inbox receives an email asking for computer help. I pop over to the lady’s place and proceed to fumble my way through the process. As I chatted with her, I learned she was a well-traveled person. This was evident by all the Spoils of Travel I saw adorning her apartment. There were tiny statues of Buddha and Ganesh. Paintings from Cuba and Peru. Walking sticks from various countries in Asia. A variety of smaller knick-knacks and collectibles which looked foreign.
I started thinking about all the spoils I’ve collected throughout my travels, or lack thereof. There are the Nepali prayer flags. The unframed canvas painting from Malawi of a woman balancing a jug on her head, something I purchased because I gave in to the persistence of someone I wasn’t even sure was the actual artist. The…the… that’s all I got. My apartment is minimalistic in decor and charm. It is basic (read: boring). Anyone who visits will think I’m plain vanilla Ken and maybe I am. They’ll never see (and then ask) about the hand-drawn self-portrait created for me by a 7 year old orphan girl in the mountains in McLeod Ganj, or the rare thousand-year-old smuggled Egyptian papyrus art showing Horus and Seti embracing, or the rare gold medallion I won from a battle with a Shaolin priest in Henan province. They’ll never see any of it because I never obtained any of them. OK, so they are all fictionalized but you get the point.
What I’m trying to say is that I’ve done my fair share of travel but through it all, I did not have room or money to buy many souvenirs. My backpack had finite space and mailing souvenirs home was not exactly economical nor convenient. If you think the US Postal Service is horribly inefficient, wait until you are in Tiny Village, India. All I have are my pictures (why did I not learn proper photography skills my first RTW trip? I’m too embarrassed to print and hang them up), my gradually-fading memories, and this blog.
If you took Austin, shrunk it, surrounded it with lush greenery, put a snow-capped mountain in the backdrop, added convenient public transportation, added light rain, and threw in a beautiful beach just outside the city which required a scenic drive to get to, you’d get Portland. It had that laid-back weird eccentric vibe, much like Austin, but with more liberals and fewer guns.
Underground pools of fresh, clear, cold water. Stalactites and stalagmites. Fish.
It’s quite another experience swimming in a cenote. It’s recommended during the hottest and sunniest hours of the day though, because the sunlight that penetrates the holes in the roof is the only element warming up the waters.
That’s what they’re calling “escamoles” or ant larvae. Cooked in a buttery sauce and priced the same as actual caviar (not that I would know), escamoles is a delicacy that one has to hunt around a little bit for around Mexico City. Or visit one of the restaurants listed on Lonely Planet.
Frida Kahlo. She of the unibrow and colorful dresses. Although I recognized her name and have seen multiple pictures of her work, usually self-portraits complete with unibrow and colorful dresses, I never actually paid close attention to who she was and why she was such a big deal. They even made a movie about her, starring Salma Hayek.
A blue-walled museum dedicated to her located in the cozy neighborhood of Coyoacan opened my eyes. This museum was formerly the home of Kahlo’s and her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. I dislike large museums because I lose interest about an hour in and realize I only covered 25% of it. But the Frida Kahlo museum was just the perfect size. After all, it was a home, albeit a large one with plenty of rooms, halls, and a massive backyard, perfect for any creatives who need space, fresh air, and solitude.
So what’s the big deal about this museum visit and why am I writing about it?
Every time I talk to someone about scuba diving, they give me the same reply: “I don’t like being submerged in water”.
Water covers roughly 70% of the Earth. I’d consider scuba diving a form of travel. We are traveling to parts of Earth that can’t be reached by train or plane or walking. To visit the “cities” and meet all its “citizens” in these parts of the world, you have to wear some special gear, your Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. Getting Open-Water Certified is like getting a passport to travel to cities beneath the waves.
When you fear what you don’t understand, seek to understand and your fear will disappear.
Took a while to get this crossed off the bucket list but it finally happened.
Went to San Marcos with a coworker and his buddy. Arrived 2 pm, geared up around 5, jumped out around 5:15 with my tandem instructor Chris and my videographer Yoshi. Felt tiny bit of nerves prior to arrival but then again, doing any new activity is always like that. To be honest, I didn’t feel anything but excitement when I was on the plane and ready to get thrown off.
It all went by real quick and was a blur. Here’s the video of my jump: