one month of finding balance.

two full months on the road based out of our van, moby clit. aptly named by my auntie because ryan insisted that our big white van was not big enough to be called moby dick. plus all cars are ladies right? you can call her moby or mc for short.

month one…

our first destination was red rock canyon national conservation area, just outside of las vegas and part of nevada’s mojave desert. we spent three weeks there hanging with a gang of lovable canadians. it was a gentle ease into van life with such a major city only a 15-minute drive down the road. with friends for ryan to climb with, it also allowed me to keep up my full time job and not feel guilty that he had no one to belay him.

that is one thing that i am realizing about van life, it is hard to keep up on all the work i have to do. before when i was on the road, i had multiple clients who only expected a few hours of my time each week. but now, i have one main employer who expects 40 hours of my time each week. so just like everyone else working the 9-5 grind, i am basically a weekend warrior. i might switch out a tuesday for a saturday, but i pretty much only climb three days a week. and i’m sure ryan is getting over the fact that we need to wake up at 7am and find cell service for a couple hours before we head up the rock and off the grid.

but welcome to real van life. it is not all play, but it is worth it.

it is worth it to experience things like the stark juxtaposition between city and nature. las vegas is a weird town to begin with, but when you seclude yourself amongst the rocks for several days and then saunter into a casino covered in sweat and dirt, you really feel out of place. we treated ourselves to one night in old las vegas, but otherwise, we tried to stay out in the wilderness.

since this was our first destination, we had to get back into the swing of climbing. our fingertips needed to turn red and raw before callousing. our forearms needed to tire out entirely. our calves and gluts needed to get used to the long, uphill approach hikes. our minds needed to reacquaint themselves with the innate risk that comes with climbing.

but eventually, our bodies adjusted. our brains adjusted. and our way of life adjusted.

we spent our days climbing the red rock and our nights playing cards or sitting around the fire. and on rest days, we filled our bellies with cheap mexican and unlimited wifi. it was wonderful.

then, the clouds rolled in and the thunder roared. it was time to move… the climbing life is always dictated by the weather.

the whole group relocated to one of my favorite small towns in california, bishop. it is at the foot of the sierra nevadas and near mammoth lakes. although most people go there for the bouldering, we found ourselves hanging out on the beautiful granite cliffs of pine creek canyon.

i had to remember how to trust my feet on tiny granite crystals. i had to remember how this magical rock could be sticky and slippery all at once. i had to remember how to crack climb. (i had to do this in red rock as well.) and i had to remember why i love to climb.

it is easy to be unmotivated when you live on the road. since there are no time constraints, there is no pressure to cram it all in. leisurely mornings (sometimes too leisurely) have become our standard. we’re lucky if we have put on our harnesses by noon. some days, i am all for this, but other days, i wish i could find a little drive. a little more excitement to conquer the rock.

“wherever you are, be all there.” – jim elliot

this quote is on an old tea bag tag taped to the back of my phone. so far, i am finding it hard to heed these words on the road. when i am on the cliff, i am worried about missing important emails. when i am staring at my computer, i am worried about missing epic climbs.

but, there are moments where it all comes into balance. even if it is just that one minute where i am at the top of a climb looking out over the canyon below with my best friend by my side realizing how lucky i truly am. or that one minute where i am sitting in bed catching up on emails next to a campfire realizing this is an amazing life i lead.

but back to bishop…

aside from the amazing rock climbing that is in and around bishop, the town is one that we could see ourselves spending a bit more time in. it is close to skiing, climbing, hiking, hot springs, and lots more. it is four hours to los angeles and las vegas, give or take. now if only the ocean were a little closer and had good surf, i don’t think ryan would ever leave…

before heading north to catch my mom in san francisco for mother’s day and visit my aunties, we celebrated a friend’s birthday at whitney portal.

wow. what a stunning area. with views of mt. whitney, unique rock formations in the alabama hills, and gorgeous pine trees lining the bottom of giant granite walls, this detour was well worth it. and so was the taco truck and pub in lone pine, population 2,035.

now if only i had starred in one of the hundreds of movies filmed in this area

coming up in month two: san diego, joshua tree, and yosemite

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van life: red rock canyon (video tour)

we left portland at 9pm on thursday, april 12th with red rock canyon, las vegas, nevada set in our google maps. we were so excited to hit the road and sleep our first night in the van, that we didn’t even care that we would only drive about three hours before needing to pull over and go to sleep. so excited, that we totally didn’t even think about the fact that the pass over mt. hood might have snow… which it did.

despite the chain requirement warning, we slowly pushed through the pass and safely found our way to the redmond, oregon wal-mart, our first home away from home.

it was freezing. we didn’t think about the whole snow thing at all. we curled up close in our new cozy bed, too lazy to unpack our extra sleeping bags.

in the morning, we woke up and hit the road again. i worked for 10 hours while ryan drove for 10 hours. and then, we arrived in vegas. our first climbing destination.

we met up with some friends who were in town from hawaii and were treated to a true las vegas luxury dinner (from a famous chef that i can’t remember the name of) after a full day of exploring red rock canyon state park. it was so great to share our home with some good company. plenty of space for four… thanks nate and nancy!

after a few days of climbing and a few nights camped out in a casino parking lot, we met up with some other friends and moved out to campsite closer to the canyon.

it’s been almost two weeks since we landed in vegas and since we moved in our new van life. these first couple weeks have been full of learning. learning what works, learning what doesn’t, learning what we’re missing, and learning what we love.

life is pretty great. i am so proud of ryan and the home he has built us. it is cozy and has everything we need for the life we love to live. it is a blessing to wake up every day and look around at the beautiful creativity of my partner. thank you ryan.

and now, what you’ve all been waiting for… a super awkward video tour of the final product!

beginning van life: week 8-10

so it turns out that ryan isn’t great at documenting a van build… since i was working full time (and overtime) while we were stationed in portland for the past two months, i could not help get footage of the amazing process ryan underwent to produce our new home.

since my last blog post, we have completed the van!!!

it took about 4-5 weeks of full time work, and i am still totaling the expenses, but probably around $8,000 for everything including the vehicle. more details on expense breakdown to come soon.

in the final weeks of the van build, a lot of things came together…

ryan framed the kitchen and modified a piece of bamboo donated by my boss for the counter top and pull out table/desk.

he built out the cupboards and drawers. complete with soft close hinges! and then, he gave them all a couple coats of oil to protect the wood and make the grain pop. our van is majorly cedar, including these beautiful cupboards.

 

as everything came together, some of the last details were finished up. we added a vent fan over the bed to draw air from the front windows throwout the van, and ryan finished up all the electrical.

the sink was custom made from a bowl to minimize depth and allow space for our pull out table/desk.

 

and then there was the one thing that i contributed to the van… the curtains. i will admit that i cannot even take full credit for them since a friend of mine did assist with the sewing. thanks elana!

and then, we unpacked our storage unit into the van and moved in…

now, to hit the road…

beginning van life: week 1-7

the number one question from everyone these days has been, “how’s the van coming?” so, i guess it is finally time to do our first update on the pending #vanlife chapter of our lives.

it has been seven weeks since we arrived in portland, and we have been super busy. ryan thought he would have all the free time in the world while on a break from work, but he was very wrong.

our first three weeks here were pretty mellow. lots of craigslist searching and alert setting, checking out various vans, and daydreaming about creating our new home. since ryan was not working full time like me, there was also a lot of boredom and anxiety to get started on this next adventure. that boy does not like to sit still for more than a day or two at a time…

we joined a climbing gym in portland, which gave him something to do while we continued to scour the internet for our perfect van. we needed to get back in shape anyways. our forearms and fingertips were definitely not up to climbing road trip status. but, after seven weeks, they are starting to get there.

after about two weeks, an alert popped up in my inbox: 2004 chevy express 2500, 164,000 miles. i forwarded the info to ryan, and he went to suss out if this could be our glass slipper.

turns out that it was. but it also turned into a hilarious example of a craigslist fiasco…

after getting the van home and getting ready to register it, we realized that we had the wrong title. what?! for the next several hours, my brain thought about every possible scenario. was this a stolen van? did we just get swindled? it turns out the answer was no. we bought the van off an electrical company that was selling off a couple vans from their fleet; we just had another van’s title.

during this time, ryan also realized that the transmission could use a little work. lucky for us, the owner had to meet us to exchange the titles. when we picked up the new title, we learned that the vehicle we had purchased was actually a 2003, not a 2004.

this was used to our advantage as i tapped into my schneider debate skills and negotiated a partial refund due to the less than perfect transmission and older than expected vehicle. threatening legal action (without actually knowing anything about the laws surrounding craigslist purchases and bill of sale stipulations), we got them to agree to a partial refund.

with the actual title now in hand, we registered the van in our name and dropped it off at the transmission shop for a makeover while we headed down to lake tahoe for a little snowboarding fun with friends for week four.

we returned to portland in early march, and ryan got straight to work. he joined a community workshop space, so he had access to all the tools he would need. and now what you’ve all been waiting for…

week five:

  • removing the stickers from the outside
  • stripping the inside of shelving and cage divider
  • insulating the walls and floor
  • sanding the wood wall panels
  • waterproofing the wood wall panels (the only thing i have done to contribute thus far)
  • starting to install wood wall panels

 

 

 

week six:

after endless hours researching and unsuccessfully finding a van bubble topper for a decent rate and reasonable turnaround time, we abandoned the idea of adding a higher roof onto our van. at least for now. standing up in the van is definitely a very exciting luxury, but in an effort to save time and money, this part of our plan has been postponed.

  • finishing installation of all wood wall paneling
  • insulating the roof
  • installing wood ceiling boards
  • wiring the van for our ceiling lighting and mood lighting
  • online research and ordering of parts

week seven:

  • installing LED mood lighting
  • prepping holes for ceiling lights
  • building bed frame
  • oiling wood wall panels “to make the grain pop”
  • designing (and arguing about) under the bed storage compartments
  • designing and planning out the kitchen
  • more online research and ordering of parts

and there you have it! three weeks of hard work and ryan has already created an amazing new home for us. i can’t wait to see what else he has in store for _______! (we are taking name suggestions. “rowdy” has been suggested as a throwback to the previous owner’s company “gowdy electric” but we’re still open to ideas…)

taiwandering.

without googling it, can you picture where taiwan is on a map?

besides the fact that your favorite shirt was unfortunately made there, do you know anything else about taiwan?

before our detour to visit ryan’s sister-in-law’s twin sister (carly) in taiwan back in january 2016, my answer to both of those questions would have been no. taiwan was a country somewhere in asia that i would probably never visit and didn’t really have a desire to learn anything about.

and then we flew in from japan (thanks for the free upgrade to first class delta.) and quickly realized that taiwandering is actually a pretty enjoyable pastime.

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from the temples to the mountains to the beaches to the hot springs, there is plenty packed into this often forgotten asian island.

taiwan has an interesting history, a sort of back and forth struggle between china and japan, and the influence of these cultures is apparent. after coming from china and japan, taiwan felt like a happy medium. the chaos and the calm.

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our tour guide, carly, has been teaching in taiwan for the past three years and knew all the perfect places to take us adventuring tourists.

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a ride on the “fastest moving passenger elevator” to the top of the taipei 101 tower to take in the full scope of taipei. to take “the journey that’ll change your life.”

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building upon building squeezed together and butted up against the layered mountains. this has become a tradition of ours. pay the ridiculous fee to go to the tallest tower and stand in awe of the view from above. get our bearings. discover new things. feel small.

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taiwan has a lot of things to make you feel small. the mountains, the markets, the bottomless hot pots… we got lost in it all. literally…

a bus ride from the city up into the hills to find the hidden bayan wild springs. carefully watching the little blue dot on my google maps app as we tried to follow carly’s instructions to the hot springs.

we preemptively hopped off of the bus (at my direction) and found ourselves at the bus stop before the one we actually wanted. it was raining. it was cold. ryan was not happy with me. but we walked down the highway with our rain jacket hood strings pulled tight and eventually found the dirt trail that led to our magical forested escape.

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once you slip into that sweet sulfur stream, every care in the world disappears. the cool raindrops become a blessing, and the foggy skies meld with the steamy waters. i could have stayed there forever, covered in mud (said to be good for your skin) and loving every minute of it.

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the head-sized breaded chicken at shilin market stole my heart (or clogged it) as well. rows upon rows of vendors showcasing their hilarious t-shirts and kitschy trinkets. fresh fruit waiting to make your fingers sticky and hundreds of people moving together through the maze.

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and ending up at the all you can eat hot pot restaurant. (if everyone wasn’t going there, they should have been.)

imagine a buffet of meats and seafood and vegetables just waiting to be thrown into the boiling pot of broth at your table. endlessly. i’m glad carly warned me to wear a my fat pants otherwise i definitely would have left with my top button undone. yum.

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speaking of yum, my memories of taiwan all seem to come back to food. besides the hot pot and oversized friend chicken, there were michelin star soup dumplings and thai burritos and of course, the insane scallion pancakes that were right below carly’s apartment.

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there were pork buns and taro buns and questionable meat buns that ryan still ate. and to wash it all down, there was bubble tea. lots and lots of bubble tea.

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so in the end, i left my custard heart in taiwan and gained a hot pot belly. perfect for my new life of living in bikinis and sarongs on oahu…

thanks for taking us taiwandering carly.

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japan in january.

it is always on airplanes that i find the space to write. write for me. not for a client’s blog, not for a paid article, but for my mind, my soul, my sanity. something about this metal tube soaring through the sky – and probably my limited access to internet – focuses the words in my head.

i haven’t been on a long flight for awhile. perhaps the last one was from japan to hawaii. (that’s a lie, we flew back to australia for a wedding in march, but i’m going to stick with the lie because it works as a perfect segue.)

that flight signified a new chapter, but the old chapter was never written. this blog holds no words about that time i crossed off “visit japan” from my 35 before 35 list. until now… 🙂

the old chapter

part one: niseko

they (whoever they is) say that niseko has some of the best powder you will ever ride. and they were right. i’m guessing “they” is made up of all the snowboarders and skiers who have showed up to the stunning mountains of hokkaido not knowing what to expect and left with their minds blown. i am now one of this they.

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niseko slopes are not quite as steep as some of the BAMFs would like, but the continuous fresh powder and ungroomed glades make up for its gradual declines. and for me, it was perfect.

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cutting in and out of the trees until it got too narrow for comfort, then easily popping back out on the powdery edge of the groomed runs. not to mention, catching an edge becomes immensely more fun when you face plant into a mound of snowy goodness instead of ice. that is until you have to try and stand back up…

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for just over a week, we let ourselves sink into ski bum status. wake up, put on thermals, look outside, high five (because you can’t see past the huge white flakes), eat breakfast, gear up, grab board, walk to slope, ride ride ride, drink drink drink, go to bed. repeat.

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life is pretty simple in a ski town. life is pretty perfect in a ski town.

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when our lift passes ran out, we headed south to see what else japan had to offer. stoke was high, and i had no idea it was about to get even higher.

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part two: tokyo

i have traveled a lot of places, but japan was only marginally on my radar until recently. my older brother had lived there for quite some time and RAVED about it. at the time, i was like, yeah cool whatever. japan seemed faraway. on the wrong side of the globe. i was a north and south america type of girl. maybe a dash of europe. then i visited india. then i started dating an australian. all the sudden japan didn’t seem that faraway at all. and it sort of looked pretty cool.

sumimasen nikon. i am sorry i ever doubted your awesomeness.

we arrived late at night in tokyo. the airport was quiet and everything seemed to be shutting down. thanks to an old college friend who is currently living in tokyo, we were well-equipped with step-by-step instructions.

  1. find baggage counter and have snowboard bag shipped to apartment. check.
  2. take the ____ train and get off at the ______ stop. check.
  3. get on the _____ line and get off at the ______ stop. check.
  4. walk 15 minutes to apartment.
  5. key is in mailbox.
  6. make yourself at home.

wow. even half asleep, we were able to navigate the brilliant tokyo train system. talk about well-constructed public transportation. there is no need to rent a car in tokyo. the rail will take you basically everywhere you want to go. for cheap.

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as we walked to my friend’s apartment, the city was asleep. it was also short. after my visit to hong kong, i had the impression that tokyo might be similar. i was oh-so-wrong. the buildings are low and sprawl outward forever. there are areas of densely packed skyscrapers, but for the most part this city sits low, which makes it feel way less daunting that other big cities.

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it is also clean. and quiet. and for those of you who know anything about japanese culture, you are nodding your heads. in japan, you do not eat or drink while you walk down the street. you do not talk loudly on the train. you do not blow your nose in public. you are polite. you are very polite. you are probably too polite.

with limited time, we made sure to tackle the important things:

  • yoyogi koen in harajuku on a sunday – if you like people watching, this park is magical. from students practicing their latest hiphop moves to gray-haired street performers setting up their pantomime shows to japanese popstars-in-training belting out their cheesy vocals, yoyogi has got it all. as ryan put it, “these people are parking the shit out of this place.” the dog park adds at least 30 minutes of entertainment as well.
  • maid cafe in akihabara – you’ve gotta do it. yes, you’ll probably pay too much for your magic-infused drink and regret it later, but you still have to experience the weirdness of this popular dining experience.

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  • shibuya at night – switch your iphone to the time-lapse setting and squeeze your way into the lineup of cameras hovering around the second story starbucks window. the famous shibuya intersection is truly something to observe. thousands of humans dancing their way through each other amidst the bright city colors before the traffic light turns green.

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  • sensoji temple and sky tree in asakusa – sure it’s touristy, but once you get past all the kitschy shops, the temple is stunning. and seeing the city from the sky is definitely an interesting perspective. tokyo goes on forever.

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  • tsukiji market – if you want good sushi, go to the market in the morning, the earlier the better, most of the restaurants close by the afternoon. also, if you’re looking for a sweet japanese knife, this is a good place to find one.
  • golden gai – we didn’t actually go here, but we did find our way to another strip of tiny bars. these little establishments are so unique. with seats for only about 5-6 people, the bars offer a cozy way to end your day.
  • kobe beef – we found it, we ate it, we loved it. (and all the other delicious food!)

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  • see snow – you probably won’t be able to do this as it is a pretty rare occurence, but we did. what a magnificent sight to see this pristine city covered in a blanket of soft white snow.

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  • karaoke – even ryan did it. everyone has to do it. rent a room and let your favorites rip.
  • sumo tournament – saving the best for last. if you are in japan and happen to time it when one of the sumo tournaments are on, go. i had no clue how into this sport i would be. there is so much history, so many intricate regulations, so much beauty and performance. after attending the ninth day of the tourny, i wanted to buy tickets for the rest of it. luckily, we happened to catch the winning match on tv at the airport. what a huge win! japan on top again… take that mongolia. yoisho!

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i’m sure i’m forgetting some things above, but our time in tokyo left me wanting my brother to move back to japan so that i could have an excuse to return. i guess i don’t actually need an excuse…

part three: kyoto

my brother spent a lot of time in kyoto and had given me these instructions: in kyoto go to kinkakuji, ginkakuji, heian shrine, downtown, and the gardens.

we boarded that bullet train and headed south.

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after a few days, our feet were sore and cold (the snow followed us to kyoto as well), but we walked around to every temple and shrine and garden that we could find.

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kyoto’s old japanese charm is palpable. you can meander the streets for hours just taking in all the cute storefronts and ornate temples and shrines. every corner has a hidden space to uncover. if you’re into history, this is your city.

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in order to tap into the japanese culture a bit more, and fully embrace our absolute obsession with japanese food, we took a cooking class in kyoto. we crafted a bento box complete with tempura shrimp, sushi rolls, teriyaki chicken, spinach salad, and miso soup. i was pretty impressed with the results. and yes, i still have the recipes if you happen to want to sample my newfound skills. yum.

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with only a few days in kyoto, we spent all day every day getting lost and finding our way. finding our way to unknown temples off the tourist track and taking the time to let ourselves get lost in their majesty.

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japan was magical. a perfect introduction to our new home… hawaii.

p.s. as i finished this blog, i realized i lied some more. after japan, we went to taiwan before we officially moved to hawaii. stay tuned…

paris in the rearview.

life happens. before the hands can transcribe thought to script, the moment is gone. you keep on living. the details fade, and you can’t remember why you wrote that note about the ________.

but maybe it’s not the details that are important tomorrow.

today, six months later, i look at my notes: 

paris day three:

work, buy a french wardrobe due to climbing clothes selection

head to the louvre – seeing masterpieces i studied in college, things i wrote papers about, huge endless rooms of the world’s best art, surrounded by soldiers, never felt unsafe but rather safer amongst it all

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mona lisa thoughts, masterpiece thoughts, all the thoughts

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ice cream at the famous place on the island, patron saints of paris watching over

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meditation with aunt and friends followed by dinner, another night falling asleep as my auntie drove me home.

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by the bastille

paris day four:

breakfast – family does a mooc about versailles but it’s in french, so i do work

opera bastille – l’elisir d’amore by gaetano donizetti – lead female was amazing, a fun comic light hearted performance, fun to get dressed up, black and white – the colors of france

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paris day five:

church

Versailles food market for some lunch fixings, baguettes, cheese, crepes, french yelling

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family bonding – funny how us schneider women are all the same, the “outlaws” instead of inlaws

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sunday – slow and simple

roasted chestnuts (french word for that = marrons chauds), i thought it was just a song

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paris day six:

city tour…

train in by myself

notre dame – eavesdrop on a tour guide

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shakespeare and co.

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le procope

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wander around latin quarter – get lost, curving streets meandering and turing into dead ends, endless cafes and creperies

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tuileries garden stroll

champ elysees christmas market

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petit palace / gran palace

arc de triomphe

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crepe – egypt man

centre pompidou – pollack, matisse, different vibe, outdoor escalators reminded me of hong kong, best view from the top, tired legs, tired soul

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eiffel tower always in the distance, standing tall watching over its city

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day seven:

wake up in the french countryside to a crazy sunrise

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versailles – palace and gardens, meandering with audio tour, wondering what it would be like to have a bedroom like those…

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thai food for lunch with annie and jim

movie night – hunger games mockingly part 2

day eight:

rest?

day nine: 

museo d’Orsay – prostitutes exhibit, one elite parisian prostitute with last name schneider, maybe a past life… women in photography exhibit, giant inner working of clock, my monets

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tour with ethan’s mom – local view, born and raised, best pastries, stories from long ago

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thanksgiving dinner with family complete with my favorite, a delicious homemade pumpkin pie

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day ten:

fly home via iceland and maryland to st. louis to meet family for thanksgiving weekend

today, six months later, i remember:

i remember the graffiti. after coming from hong kong, the artistic expression flying by me through the train window was comforting. back in a space known for its creativity. the culture and language that gave us avant garde. without stalking the historical cafes where artist after artist stewed over music and poetry, i felt it in the air. in the architecture. in the opera. in the fashion. in the people. there is a certain hype that surrounds paris, and i will remember being entirely swept up in it.

i remember the aloneness. i haven’t walked around alone in a big city in quite some time. aimlessly wandering the streets with no specific destination in mind. seeing where a left might take me instead of a right. missing a subway station on purpose so i can backtrack by foot through the chaos. walking around paris reminded me of when i lived in buenos aires. they say it is the paris of south america, and if i had to go by the way both cities made me feel, i’d have to agree. the magic is palpable. to passerbys, my joy probably was too.

i remember the meals. my aunt and cousins sat down together for dinner almost every night. the bell would ring and supper would be served. the busyness of the day would come to a pause as we all gathered around the table to fuel our bodies with food and minds with conversation. perhaps they don’t do this all the time. maybe it was because i was in town. but, either way, it was a cherished gift. a chance to get to know the relatives who have lived so far away all this time. a chance to learn and debate and laugh and eat fresh baguettes and drink french wine.

i’ll always remember what i remember. the specifics aren’t really that important anymore.

alone in paris: settling in

paris.

you hear so much about the city of love. and for me, it lived up to every word. a lifetime of expectation entirely exceeded. ten days to soak in the french and their palace of a city…

when i arrived at the airport, instead of being welcomed with a hug from my auntie, i was greeted with a text message telling me to pop on the train. that the terrorists (i arrived days after terrorist attacks.) were being seized in a neighborhood near the airport and that traffic was a nightmare. so, i figured out how to get a ticket to the country and stared out the window for an hour or so, doe-eyed.

straightaway my cousin-in-law swept me up from the train station and started his tour guiding role. a stroll around the castle of la madeleine, a beautiful medieval fortress overlooking chevreuse.

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a quick stop for lunch at an all frozen food store, then home to their cozy house in saint remy.

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after the chaos of china, it was so nice to settle into family life. meal times and routine were a welcome change.

despite jet lag, i rallied and joined my aunt for a night out in paris. a delicious vegan meal with some longtime expats followed by a truly french musical performance in the small one room basement of a small one room bar.

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it was the sort of thing you’d imagine reading about or seeing in an old film. in my overly tired, dazed and confused state, it all felt so surreal. i wish i could have stayed awake and soaked in more, but alas, after the first performer (a friend of my aunt’s friend) i could not manage to keep my eyes open. but i had heard and seen enough already to know that i could easily fall in love with this city.

and on day two, i fell a little more.

despite a little rain, we strolled down near a canal and fantasized about owning one of the homes hugging the water’s edge.

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there is so much history in paris and its surrounding towns. my imagination was in overdrive flashing back to what it must have been like back when people hung out their windows to wash their clothes in the canal. or seeing the opening scene of beauty and the beast come to life before my very eyes. bonjour. bonjour. bonjour, bonjour, bonjour…

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we escaped the rain into a cute restaurant that apparently gets overrun by motorcyclists on the weekend, but today it was just us. i indulged in the traditional duck confit for lunch and profiteroles for dessert.

i had not yet gone into the city, but my family time in the country was just what i needed. every meal was filled with abundant conversation and rolling laughter. since my aunt, cousins, and second cousins have lived in france my whole life, i don’t get to see them nearly enough. and yet, it was evident upon arrival that we were indeed related. once a schneider woman, always a schneider woman (regardless of last name).

with jet lag dissipating and a good night’s sleep ahead, it was time to finally head into paris and see what the fuss was all about…

hong kong and beyond.

from tsim sha tsui to central, from lamma island to shek o, from macau to kowloon, i soaked in as much of hong kong as i could before departing china for my impromptu reroute.

tsim sha tsui is made up of rows and rows of “mansions” filled with tailors, money exchanges, massage parlors, and other random shops. most cheap lodging is found in guest houses that really are just apartments morphed into hotels. small and sketchy. cleanliness is optional but slow elevators are required.

the streets are bustling in this tourist district. you can slip into sync with the masses and march down one of the main drags to the jade market. although kitschy and overpriced, it is an excellent space to browse and take in old chinese men eating noodles over their suitcases of jade and antique wares. the surrounding area offers other food and knickknack markets to further fuel a truly intriguing people watching stroll.

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first and foremost, tsim sha tsui visits need to include crowding down on the water’s edge to take selfies in front of hong kong’s central skyline situated across the bay.

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then, come back around 8pm to take in a spectacular of lights. electricity dancing over the metal giants and shooting across the foggy night sky.

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a few museums make their home upon this promenade as well as the ferries. by the end of a week, we had mastered the ferries. by the end of a week, we were over tsim sha tsui.

across the water, central hong kong stands tall packed with bank buildings and business suits. double decker street cars move 9-5ers from point a to point b and back.

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an endless vertical incline of escalators takes pedestrians up through the mid-levels, full of trendy bars, health food stores, organic restaurants, and spas.

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at the top, signs direct you back down through a sad excuse for a zoo.

but the real treat in central is victoria peak, or the peak as it’s called. don’t buy a roundtrip ticket for the tram that takes you to the top. take the tram up and the bus down. after spending hours looking down upon hong kong’s jungle of skyscrapers in amazement, you won’t want to wait in the massive line to take the tram back down. the view from the top is epic.

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go right before sunset and watch the city shift from blue skies to fireflies. it’s like your own time-lapse…in real time.

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head to happy valley at some point and bet on the ponies. every wednesday night it’s themed. we went on james bond night. figuring out how to bet in chinese took me at least an hour, but in the end i won $18 and got to watch a couple ridiculously ripped men flagpole off each other. all in all, a win. plus ryan made friends with a swiss banker, plastic surgeon, and yacht salesman. rubbing elbows with the upper class at the races (and getting ready for the boob job i might need one day).

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after a few days of city life, we were ready to escape. a quick ferry ride to the outlying island of lamma island offered a pleasant change of scenery. within minimal, if any, roads, this little island is green and lush. one end of the island has a small town housing hippie boutiques and quaint apartment complexes.

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“the family trail” takes you for a 4k walk to the other side of the island, a strip of seafood restaurants on stilts above the water.

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tanks and tanks sit on the sidewalks filled with sea critters of which i have never heard.

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after a leisurely walk (and a few days in hong kong), a delicious seafood meal overlooking the sunset was a much needed recovery.

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you always see more interesting things when you know a local, and when our friend patrick arrived, we discovered shek o. his friend lived there and was living the good life. steps from the beach. steps from town. this cute little area sits away from central and feels like an entirely different world. the beach atmosphere. we drank through an entire cocktail list at their local beach shack pub and then headed to the next, on the backside of the town.

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it was nice to be away from the tourist scene. a night with home cooked food, too much spirit (in all senses of the word), and wonderful company. i spent the evening attempting to drunkenly learn turkish, and boy did i feel it the next day. but, not as bad as ryan. as we piled into a taxi in the morning, poor ryan sat shaking armed and ready with a plastic bag to puke in. windy roads did him in, but not a drop made it into the taxi. what a champion.

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however, our itinerary for the day involved taking an hour ferry ride over to macau, the vegas of china. we returned to our hostel room for a brief regrouping, only to find that someone else was in our room, and all of our luggage was missing. the receptionist informed us that they had switched our room. that our stuff was “downstairs.” all i could do was laugh.

turns out our stuff was not downstairs but just moved to the room across the hall. we regrouped and rallied. by lunchtime, we were riding the luxury boat (free upgrade) to macau with hopes to win big. we studied the possible casinos and decided to start at the venetian.

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after pat lost a quick few bucks on the roulette wheel, we filled our bellies with dim sum and headed back to plant ourselves at the cheaper roulette wheel.

turns out ryan hasn’t gambled much and had quite a bit of beginner’s luck. as he quietly hoarded his chips in the corner, looking surprisingly well after his morning of looking like death, patrick and i rode the waves of wins and losses. zero never did hit, but twenty-two did!

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it was our last full day in hong kong. as we headed home, i was tired. i was ready to head to paris. since china would not let me in, i would go to the city of love. alone. i would not let terrorist attacks stop me. fear should never dictate.

the next morning, ryan boarded a train and started an epic journey into rural china, ready to rock climb. pat and i wandered around kowloon after checking my bags in at the station. (yes, apparently you can check your bags before the airport so you don’t have to take them on the train. how great!) we found our way up to sky100, a 360 degree viewing lounge 400m above hong kong. another place to stare out over this monster of a city.

hong kong you are a beast.

that is all.

meant to be a city trip.

“don’t you love cities at night?” a friend said to me, visually overcome, as we drove into salt lake city a few years ago. growing up near chicago, i was used to seeing rows upon rows of skyscraper windows glowing like stars in the sky, but it wasn’t until that moment that i really understood just how beautiful these collection of human creations could be.

now take that experience and multiply it by a thousand.

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as i flew into hong kong last week, my comprehension of “city” was shattered. in the dust of its dissipation, i pressed my face against the taxi window and strained my neck as i gazed up in pure amazement. column after column flickering in a sea of structure. surrounded and intertwined with the green giants standing tall in the distance.

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what was this place?

i was only supposed to be here for a few days. arrive sunday night, leave thursday morning. just enough time to secure a visa to mainland china. a brief stopover on the way to yangshuo, a popular china climbing destination. it was not meant to be a city trip. it was meant to be a climbing trip.

but if this week has taught me anything, it’s that things don’t always go as planned.

on monday, i filled out my application for a ten year multiple entry tourist visa to china. i wrote down my name. i wrote down my address. where it said occupation, i checked the box for “self-employed.” where it said company name, i wrote down “saradipity media.” i filled out everything effortlessly and honestly.

that night as i returned to the hotel, i was handed a message. the visa office needed me to contact them as there had been a problem with my application. my heart sunk deep into my stomach, and i instantly knew what i had done.

prior to traveling to mainland china, i had done a lot of research. running your own online-based marketing company from a country that bans the use of facebook and other such websites, requires a bit of pre-planning. i had surveyed all my chinese connections and read every article regarding the “great firewall of china.” i was all set to get around the communist control of the internet.

and then i let my guard down.

i was in this city. this chinese city. this magnificent chinese city where i could still check my gmail and facebook and wordpress. surely all would be well and good.

“sensitive” is what they deemed me. when i asked the travel agent why my visa application was rejected, she pointed to the word “media” and informed me that that was the only reason.

one. fucking. word.

our brains tend to slip into what we know. we forget that words have different meanings and connotations for every individual. what means one thing to me, means another to you. i have never been the best at picking the right words. at consciously choosing the appropriate syllables for the occasion. but this is an instance where i really wish i was.

a month long climbing trip foiled by one word. a puzzle piece of my travel itinerary lost forever under the couch. after deciding that ryan would still head to yangshuo and meet back up with me in america in mid-december like we had originally planned, i was left in my least favorite place…the land of choices, conveniently located near the land of questions.

did i go home? where was home? portland? chicago? should i leave tomorrow? stay in hong kong? visit family? visit friends? see a new place?

it’s been the first time in a long time where i’ve needed to make a decision purely involving me. what did i want to do? where did i want to go?

well, to start with, i wanted to be present in hong kong. i wanted to learn how to say thank you in cantonese and not just mandarin. i wanted to haggle over some jade jewelry.

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i wanted to stare down from victoria peak at this beast of a city.

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i wanted to experience the ponies.

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i wanted to get lost wandering its busy sidewalks.

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and i wanted to eat all the steamed buns i could find.

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so i did.