Friday, May 28, 2010

Finding Balance

“Life’s energy source rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water.”

This cultural shorthand, used in an explanation of feng shui, which literally translates to mean wind-water, was taken from a passage of the Zangshu (Book of Burial) by Guo Pu of ancient China’s Jin Dynasty. Feng shui is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics, especially when concerning one’s living space, which uses both the laws of astronomy and geography to help one improve life by receiving positive energy and decreasing the negative.

While I’m not sure that I willingly and immediately embrace all the principles of the auspicious Chinese tradition, nor am I overly impressed with the occasional over-commercialization of that same cultural tradition in the interior design offices of the Western world, I am certainly not opposed to welcoming a little more positive energy into my life. So, when Tera, my new temporary roommate and a former feng shui design consultant from Orange County, California, offered Stephanie and me a free feng shui consultancy as a token of her gratitude, we jumped at the opportunity.

Changes thus far: Rearranging my bed placement, so it is facing the door, should help me feel more in control of my life both at home and at the office. Relocating our dining room table has the potential to encourage more social interaction in an often ignored location in our apartment. Stephanie’s addition of symmetrical night stands on either side of her bed may help her to find romance, and the removal of an old Chinese New Year decoration in our entry way may actually lift our energy levels up. Here’s hoping.

I say I am more than willing to try any trick in the book to bring more positive energy into my life, not because I am depressed or in anyway hitting that cultural shock low again…I believe and hope that time has passed. But rather, this plea comes because I need to somehow find a bit more balance in my life. It has been quite a long time since I last wrote a blog entry, but I can, in fact, sum-up my life since May 6 in one short sentence: I have been working 10-12 hour days…every day.

Of course, all the extra work time has occurred as a result of a perfect storm of factors: 1.) I am staying after school almost everyday to practice choreography with the kids in the school musical, because the show opens one week from now (As a side note, this, of course, has been a wonderful opportunity, and I am incredibly grateful to my school for utilizing my talents in appropriate ways. I am also so proud of and excited for the kids to show off all their hard work, especially because my family will arrive just in time for the premier. ). 2.) Mid-year exams left me with 160 essays to grade in addition to 80 short answer and summary scripts. 3.) The end of the term has meant more time is needed to prepare for next term. 4.) The end of the term has also meant a rush to tie up any loose ends, which, in Singapore, of course, always means more meetings.

As a result, when I'm not ordering in pizza and watching movies with Steph, many of my weekends have been spent simply trying to catch up on school work…and sleep. Now that the term is officially over, I will be involved in musical rehearsals, parent’s day meetings (on Saturday), oral communications teaching courses, or invigilation of oral examinations for the next week. See what I mean about needing some positive energy flow?

However, the best cure and the best kind of positive energy that one can have, one’s family, is boarding a plane one week from today and will be knocking on my door, I’m sure, with a whole new positive life force for me to feed from.

In the midst of all the insanity that has been my work life, I have, in fact, been able to find some lovely, if not grand, positive moments in the last several weeks. Yet, in an effort to preserve the energy I have left, and because I am planning an extravagant pasta and wine dinner for myself this evening (yes, there is food involved in my rush to get away, remember who you’re dealing with here), I am going to present you with a brief photo summary of the positive energy moments that occurred this month, which, possibly, my new-found feng shui aura has founded.

Even though it is 90 degrees everyday, there is nothing like a big bowl of chili and some country music to cure any inkling of home sickness.

Hannah and Jacob's Cinco de Mayo party required that we wear mustaches to gain entry...Steph and I found a loophole to avoid sporting a painted-on mustache all evening.

Jacob and company playing music for Cinco de Mayo.

We planned a picnic in the park for Ranu's last day in Singapore. Ingredients for a perfect picnic: light breeze (check), great view (check), wine (check), cheese (check), fruit (check), football (check), kites everywhere (check), good friends (many checks)...perfect. Lisa took the chance to practice the skills she learned while watching the USC football team for four years. Steph also had some sweet moves.
The view from the picnic spot was picturesque...kites galore!
We all gave the football toss a shot (thanks to Dad, my spiral is nothing to be ashamed of)...what a fun last moment in Singapore for Ranu to remember!My roommate/best friend and I...I miss her already and she's only been on vacation in India for a day!

Ranu and I spotted several monkey's on our hike...luckily I didn't bring along breakfast this time.Ella and I decided to take a nap one day to recover...she definitely slept better than I did.
We've all been crazy busy with work, but we did manage to make it out to a dumpling dinner for Joe's birthday.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ten Treasures

Life is sprinkled with very few grand epiphany moments. In fact, we are lucky to have even one grand epiphany in our lifetimes. Even the moments during which the timing is just right, the setting idyllic, and the mind in an Archimedes-like state, rarely bring with them an epiphany on the grand side of the scale.

Standing beneath the gaze of the ancient Forbidden City, one’s heart still harbors the same fears. Climbing through the brave walls of the architectural wonder that is the Byon at Angkor Thom, one’s value set remains relatively untouched. Watching Bali’s rice patties cry in the rain, one’s every day problems are not washed away. Listening to the sea kiss the rocky shore from a rainforest tree house, one still witnesses the same nightmares and dreams the same dreams.

My months spent in Asia, working, traveling, discovering, wandering, exploring, have not been impactful in the way a grand epiphany is. I have learned. I have grown. I have changed in some very fundamental ways. Yet I am still essentially the same person I always have been. No orangutan encounter, journey to the Petronas Towers, or breathtakingly beautiful paradise sunrise can strip away those essential beliefs, values, dreams, fears, passions that make me who I am. Rather than being a chain of one magnitude 8.7 epiphany after another, my experience has been a sort of string of beads knotted together by tiny treasured moments.

How symbolic then, that on a first night in Kuching, Borneo, finding shelter from the rain under the tin roof of a Chinese tea house, Stephanie and I would share a steaming pot of Ten Treasures Chinese soup. Many Asian soups are firmly grounded in traditional Chinese medicinal beliefs, and Ten Treasures is no exception. It is made from a traditional chicken soup broth and dark-meat chicken combined with eight traditional Chinese herbs including Douzou dates, Donquai (a famous blood tonic), Huang Chi (which looks a bit like a tongue depressor straight out of a Western doctor’s office), and ginseng among others. Yet, it is more than simply cinnamon-infused chicken soup. It tastes like a warm hug from mom on a winter’s evening, like a visit from old friends on Christmas Eve, and like a picnic under the backyard willow tree on a Sunday afternoon. Ten Treasures or Shiquan Tang literally translates to mean “wholesome/complete great restorative soup.”

How fitting that on this restorative holiday in Kuching, I should begin my journey with a bowl of treasures. So, in keeping with the theme, for the remainder of this blog entry I will share with you ten treasured moments from my holiday in Kuching, or Borneo’s “Cat City,” beginning with of course,

1.) eating Ten Treasures soup and sipping tea while the hours passed and the rain blurred the time and the world outside into streaks of neon green, purple, blue, and red.

2.) Standing so close to an orangutan that I was able to see the way her face creased just above her mouth when she forced her upper lip into a sort of thoughtful half-sneer. The most surreal moment in Semenggoh Nature Reserve was the sudden realization that the dominant female’s baby wrapped his hand around his mother’s thumb in an almost mirror image of the way in which a human child would grab his own mother’s finger.

3.) Catching a ride back to town from the wildlife reserve and to the weekend market with local family who, “thought we looked like we needed a ride, and were going that way anyway.” Sometimes the simplest gestures can be the most treasured moments.

4.) Sharing an early breakfast of crepe-like pancakes, smothered in peanut butter and jam and made by our very own hostel-owning, tattoo-sporting, guitar-playing chefs, with three friends from Singapore who we literally “bumped into” in Kuching at the same hostel.

5.) Pushing my body through river beds and peat bogs, scaling entanglements of tree-roots dotted with pitcher plants (see picture of trail below), hopping rock-dotted creeks, sliding down wooden ladders attached to limestone cliff faces, sweating, dripping wet in the tropical rain as my muscles pulsed under my tingling skin, all the while feeling continuously more alive and more aware on one of the most grueling hikes I have ever completed in my life…and still feeling it three days later.

6.) Arriving 20 minutes late to a deserted tropical beach in Bako National Park after that particularly difficult trek and the relief that comes from the familiar sound of a motor growing louder in the crashing waves as your boat man makes his way to the sandy shore.

7.) Spotting the rare proboscis monkey, found only in Borneo, moving gracefully through Bako’s secluded mangrove forest.

8.) Collapsing, drearily, dreamlike, into bed to wake up with the sun and remember that you are sleeping in a tree house in primary rainforest with only the sound of ocean waves and hooting monkeys within range.

9.) Visiting the Sarawak Cultural Village for a traditional dance show, a peek into the long houses of Borneo’s native tribal people, and exposure to the crafts, foods, music, and lifestyles of these people. Particularly memorable in this Disneyland-like version of traditional Borneo, were joining the dance troupe on stage for a traditional Malay dance finale, watching the mist roll over, around, and through Borneo’s distant mountains while enjoying a snack of rose cookies (much like the Norwegian rosettes my grandmother makes every Christmas), and watching a beautifully worn Malay woman play a traditional drum-like instrument while singing along in the Malay Town House exhibit.

10.) Saying our final farewell to Kuching in the real "Rainforest Café" overlooking the swirling azures, royals, periwinkles, electrics, Prussians, Tiffany's, and ultramarines that faded from sea to sky and back again.

So, there you have it; my trip to Borneo in tens. Ten experiences, ten feelings, ten moments, ten treasures.
And more than ten pictures...