“One time, one meeting.”

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.

Ichi-go ichi-e”. “One time, one meeting”.

From Wikipedia:

Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会 “one time, one meeting”) is a Japanese four-character idiom (yojijukugo) that describes a cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people. The term is often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.” The term reminds people to cherish any gathering that they may take part in, citing the fact that many meetings in life are not repeated. Even when the same group of people can get together again, a particular gathering will never be replicated, and thus, each moment is always once-in-a-lifetime.

I find that in this life, we must try to cherish every moment we have with others. I admit, I am not often seen as the most sociable person in the world. It takes me a while to warm up to others, and others to warm up to me, at which point the people who were destined to like me, will (I hope) like me, and those whose personalities, communication styles, and interests are on a different wavelength, will do everything they can do remove themselves from ever crossing paths with me again.

But the point is, no matter what the final outcome of our temporary meetings are, we were together, interacting, in a particular place and time. And we should take time to appreciate the uniqueness of that moment, which can never be replicated again.

I am going to try to embrace this concept of life whether I’m traveling and making (mostly) temporary connections with others, or whether I’m home with family and friends. Just be in the moment, paying attention to the details of an interaction, memorizing and appreciating the moment that will never happen again.

Ichi-go ichi-e”.

Where do I want to rest forever?

Early 2014, before I set off for my trip to South America, I had reached out to the family of a teenager who shot himself after an argument with his mother. I remember the grieving mother saying that she had her son’s body cremated and was asking people via a viral Facebook story if they could help take (some of) her son’s ashes to special places so he could “go see the world”. I was motivated to take her son to the Galapagos, believing her son’s spirit would like to be an eternal part of such a beautiful place on this earth. Sadly, it did not materialize.

But I began to ask myself, “Where would I like to rest forever?” And although the seas around Fernandina Island aren’t too shabby a spot, one place stood out even more; Sipadan.

For me, diving in the waters around Sipadan Island was a special experience. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s also part of Malaysia, my homeland.

Here’s how I envision my soul being put to rest; family members will make the journey to Sipadan. They’d put on diving gear, take my sealed can of ashes, and go dive in Barracuda Point. Once underwater, they will “release me”. And for eternity, I’m part of earth again. It sure beats being put in a coffin and being buried. How constricting and boring would that be? Even in death, I’d like to “travel” wherever the currents take me.

Is it morbid to think about this sort of thing? I don’t know.

Tashi and the Monk.

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.

Science saved my soul

As I sit here on the Hikari 462 shinkansen screaming past rural Japanese towns between Kyoto and Tokyo, I rewatch Phil Hellenes’s “Science saved my soul”. At the end of the video, Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” comes on. I gaze into the never ending sky and contemplate how small I am. How small we all are in relation to the universe. How we all came from the universe, the product of supernovas.

I want to savor every moment in this short life I have.

The boxer in the mirror

Life is a grind.

I often envision myself as a professional boxer, jumping rope in front of a mirror, body pouring sweat. I am staring into my own eyes, determined. I remind myself that preparation is hard work but I need to do it if I want to win the battles ahead of me.

This vision of myself lends me strength when the grind has worn my soul down.

The Spoils of Travel

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.

Finding Equilibrium

With so many negative events happening in the world each day, and me spending most of the day taking in that negativity, I find myself spending more nights finding equilibrium by watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and reading books by Robert Fulghum. I was starting to forget that there is so much beauty in humanity; my travels have taught me that. Watching Parts Unknown (a form of travel that will make do for now while I plan for the real thing) and reading the wise, insightful words of old man Fulghum, helps me to end my days with a warm, hopeful smile.

Today, I “went” to Iran.