Journal

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Life of an Expat- The Beauty of Hoi An

Just another day in the life of an expat in Japan.

Another benefit of living in Japan is the proximity to other awesome countries. This week I’m in Hoi An, Vietnam, writing a story for SavvyTokyo and getting in a bit of rest. It’s only been a couple of days but it’s really hard to miss how beautiful everything is in this town. One of my personal hopes is to improve my photography skills. Hoi An is the perfect workshop.

Hoi An is a small town on the central coast of Vietnam, about 30 minutes from DaNang. Less popular than frenetic Ho Chi Minh and more commercial than rural Hanoi, Hoi An has deep history in craft culture.  hoi-an-silver

Everyone is making something. Everyone is selling something. Silver, ceramics, silks, lanterns. Yes it’s touristy. And oh my yes it is lovely. I’m going to get back to vacation, but here are a few snaps I’ve taken thus far.

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Lanterns aglow, Hoi An Night Market

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17th century door, Old House Quan Thang

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Artist Duong Tramuu (first name pronounced Yung). Simple ink on rice vellum. I caught an instant art crush on him and bought two. I’ll mount and frame them once I’m back in San Francisco. He’s showing at the An Phuc Gallery in Ancient Town. Worth a look.

Beauty is everywhere in this charming little place. It’s hard to get anywhere because I stop every 2 meters to take photos. And there’s still so much to see!

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There is always more to see, isn’t there?

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Not Exercise: Why I Do Yoga

Balance, flexibility, strength. Yoga has been my friend for about ten years now, but more of a passing, casual friend-of-a-friend kind of relationship. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been doing Ashtanga yoga almost every single day. No classes, no sexy gear, just me and my cheapo mat, in my micro-palace, focusing on the primary series and inversion work. Yoga is now my one true companion. Daily, I learn something new from it, and daily, it pushes me to my limits.

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The Ashtanga primary series is a group of moves that are considered the standard sequence for any basic Ashtanga class. There are variations for beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, so you can adjust your practice as you improve, and challenge yourself to try new poses. I’m an intermediate practitioner, so I tend to focus on the core moves and increasingly add more challenging inversions and flexibility work into my mix.

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What I love about practicing at home is that is requires zero prep. I get up, brush my teeth and wash my face, turn on the zen sounds, and do my thing. I only practice about 20-30 minutes a day, but I do it every day… yeah standing on my head has become a minimum requirement for me. I have to get massages every so often because a lot of the inversion and back work requires muscles that have gone largely unused, so I’m sore a lot, but it’s that “hell yeah, I feel great” sore, not the “owow-something’s-wrong” sore.

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I’ve noticed physical changes for sure. My arm strength has increased dramatically and my legs are more defined. But any instructor will tell you, yoga is not fitness. It’s a discipline of the mind. There is something wonderfully peaceful about transmuting your energy and thought direction into a single, pointed, physical act. When I’m done for the morning, I’m never tired (maybe a little sore?). Usually, I feel revived. Not happy exactly, but content and level, ready for the day.

Meditation and yoga have worked for me in oh so many ways. Yes, peace of mind and a tighter physical form, but more importantly, they’ve given me insight into who I am and what matters most. The people who love me (and how to recognize and accept that!), my creative enterprises, and the notion that my identity in the external world is merely a veneer I apply to get on with it all. And the people in my world? Their veneers aren’t who they are either. Being still and focused and connecting: to me, those inner worlds are where life is really at. Vast, unfathomable, and so so lovely.

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Being in Tokyo has given me the time and space to discover so many things about America, Asia, and the magicland that is Japan, but most importantly, it’s helping me learn that I don’t need to “find myself,” or figure anything out. I’ve been here all along, and for the most part, life reveals itself as it should. And it’s beautiful.

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True Beauty in Phuket

Where to begin. Blogging about my time in Chalong is almost pointless because so much of what happened is so beyond words.

When most people think of Phuket, they think of beaches. Partying. Great shopping and dining on the cheap. I wanted none of that (okay… maybe the beaches…). I went to a (near) silent meditation/yoga retreat in southern Phuket to take off my makeup and turn off the laptop. Just be quiet. I’m writing an article for a Tokyo publication about all of the whats and wheres, but I wanted to quickly share what I learned about beauty in Phuket, after a few days of spiritual lessons and very healthy living. I won’t get too in depth… these are just the Cliff’s Notes, beauty blog style.

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Mind chatter isn’t who I am. I’m underneath all of that. When I enter a quiet state, I can get there. Staying there is the trick. Like in yoga, when I do a headstand, it’s a fine balance, and usually I fall when I think too much about what I’m doing. Taking time and space to be quiet and open up was the most relaxing experience. I feel like I actually might look better because I’m not all tensed up. When I’m at peace I’m in the best possible place I can be. It’s the only time I think I’ve ever truly felt completely beautiful. Not happy, not sad, not wanting, needing, lacking… just —. Just lovely and real and here.

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The above said, I’ve learned I’m insecure in ways I didn’t even realize– both inside and out. For me, makeup or medication won’t fix this… but daily wellness seems too. It’s harder and it’s worth it. Eating and sleeping well, daily yoga, and taking really good care of myself makes me feel better in ways no compliment, affirmation, product, or gadget ever could. I still love beauty stuff (let’s not get crazy) but holistic wellness produces the best results, period. I guess I always knew this, but putting it to work in a concentrated time frame really showed me results.

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Beauty–true beauty– is ageless, timeless, formless. Sometimes I’ll see older women,  gray-haired, crinkle-eyed, grinning ear-to-ear, happy, active, often doing something creative. I think to myself, I hope I can get to that place. I’m using physical descriptions to describe these gorgeous creatures because words cannot capture the energy I want to describe. She’s a person truly at ease with herself. No mask of fear. Just her.

I could go on about true romantic relationships and friendships and family and selflessness, but for the sake of staying on topic, let me just close with this thing my teacher said:

“You know when you’re holding a little puppy? That feeling you get? That’s loving kindness.”

That’s true beauty.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

San Francisco. Friends, gifts, dinner, love. When I think of anything romantic, the first man to pop into my head is always Pablo Neruda. Here’s one of my favorites. 

Sonnet XVII: I do not love you as if you were brine-rose, topaz

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Wishing you lots of love. <3

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Lessons from Mom

I’m taking some time off the usual blog rundown  to remember my mom, who passed away two days ago. We weren’t very close, but we didn’t hate each other either. I saw her for the last time three weeks ago when I went to America for a visit, and we had the most lovely, warm, connecting visit you could muster between two people who should know each other better than they did. I know it sounds weird, but it was really nice. It was just our way.

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I’ve been writing about the things I remember about her when I was young. Here are a few of my favorites:

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She was beautiful—like crazy beautiful. She didn’t wear a lot of makeup, but she had the most amazing hair, long, straight, silky. She always wore black liquid cat eye eyeliner and mascara. She had the best pro trick for putting on mascara—tilt a small table mirror under your lashes to make sure you get them completely covered, or tilt you head way up to get the roots. I still do it every day!

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She’s responsible for my love of literature. As a kid, she made sure I had a library card no matter where we lived. I remember her taking me to the library for the first time, and letting me check out a HUGE stack of books. I kept thinking, “I get to read all of these for free? This place is great!” She made sure I knew the walk to the library. She bought a huge set of Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedias from a telemarketer, which I still have, and she always let me buy as many books as I wanted from the Scholastic book club flyers that came to school in the 80’s. I bought as many as I could. Stacks. The library is still one of my favorite places to be.

She made the best scrambled eggs, maybe ever. I don’t know what her trick was (milk? low heat?), but she’d pick me up from pre-school and take me home and make me seriously the most incredible eggs ever ever. Scooby Do came on at 3, and I’d be in front of the TV, eating the best scrambled eggs ever with the most Beautiful Woman In The World. I had it pretty good.

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When I was 10 I wanted to shave my legs, because my best friend Ronnie was shaving hers (I think she stole her sister’s razor from the shower but I’m not entirely sure.) Class Picture Day was coming and I was not going to wear a dress with fuzzy legs. I was burning with fear, whisper-practicing my argument for why I should be allowed to shave my legs. Finally I sat down and trembled it out. She sat back and lit a cigarette– and was almost professional about it. Like I was about to be interviewed to shave my legs.

“How old are you?”

“10.”

“I see. Hmm. Ok, let’s think about it. I really don’t see why not… but 10 is a bit young.”

I was so sure she was going to shut me down. But she didn’t. She treated my request with respect—I think she knew how nervous I was to ask.. It was never brought up again, so I just stole my whoever’s razor was in the shower for Picture Day. She saw my awesomely smooth legs and never said a word about it.

Smart, gorgeous, and in those early days, a lot of fun. Thinking about the good times really helps. Sometimes, with family stuff, we get so deeply invested in our positions of being “right.” Right about being mad, or resentful, or whatever thing it is we need to hold onto. Let me tell you how nice it is to let all of that go and just focus on the good for a while. She was a really good mom sometimes, and a beautiful person always.

Unabashedly love the people who matter in your life.

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