Not Good Enough

I’m not good enough. 

There are days where negativity bullies its way in to haunt my mind, jabbing at my frustrations of things that I can’t control. It leaves me helpless, my thoughts trapped in a never-ending cycle of discouragement. My inability to do things with my life that I want to because I am restrained by society’s expectations. The incessant need to prove myself. The words that I can’t speak elegantly enough. The constant questioning of whether I’m a productive member of society. Whether I have become lazy. One thought after another, weight added onto my shoulders.

I fight to push these thoughts back. Watch a movie. Read a book. Talk to family. But it’s still there- lurking in the back of my consciousness. It doesn’t work. Gray as a heavy thundercloud right before a storm. The tension builds up so heavy with so many thoughts in my head that I want to explode.

I read somewhere that to be happy, one should write down 10 things they’re grateful for everyday. I’ve been doing that on and off for years. The first time I wrote, I only came up to six. The more I practice, the better I get at remembering the things that I’m thankful for. It’s easy to take for granted the things that you have and should appreciate. So, to cheer myself up today, here are 10 things I’m grateful for:

  1. Loved ones who are always supportive of who I am and what I do. Whether they know it or not, talking to them always makes me feel better. Supported. Loved.
  2. Independence and freedom to do the things I want to. I am not being forced to do anything I don’t want to.
  3. My health. I’m able to get up everyday. I’m healthy. I’m happy with my self image.
  4. Books and online educational resources that allow me to improve every day.
  5. Beautiful weather. I love seeing the flowers blossom in this time of year. I love hearing the rain prattle softly outside.
  6. A roof over my head, a bed to sleep on, and public transportation to get around.
  7. Food. Today, strawberry and rocky road ice cream, topped with a sliced banana.
  8. Music. Lately, it’s been slow jazz and classical.
  9. Coffee. I love drinking coffee on early mornings, with a book in my hand. <3
  10. This Blog gives me a sense of purpose. It gives me room to vent and think things through.

Regardless of how unfair it is, there are people out there having worst. Finally, I hear it. All the negativity… pouring from the sky like a torrent. The sky lightens up. All the pent up anger dissipates. The pouring of rain hides the tears of relief on my face. I’m free. 

So, let me ask you this. Can you come up with 10 things your thankful for in your life? 

Daily Prompt: Gray

Like a Mother

We love her. She is beautiful and full of life. She’s is gentle, yet strong. Her anger inspires the worst of fears, but she forgives easily. Her love is bottomless. She gives and gives and gives. She is protective, giving us all that we need to survive. Our food, our shelter, our history. She nurses us into life, and embraces us when we pass on. 

A Response to Photo Challenge: Earth

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Hanging Lake, Colorado

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Rainbow Falls, Hawaii
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Zion National Park, Utah
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Volcan Acatenango, Guatemala

Avid: A Blog Response from Kids

As I sat, pondering which avid interests I should write about, I was struck with a genius idea: how would children respond to these one-word prompts? I decided to launch my project right away. I called my siblings (they live 15 hours away), and asked if they wanted to write my blog with me. They were really enthusiastic and agreed.

I gave them the prompt and the definition:

Avid:
1:  characterized by enthusiasm and vigorous pursuit :  very eager and enthusiastic avid readers/avid movie-watcher/avid gamer

I waited anxiously, curious to see what they came up with. Because I don’t see them every day anymore, this was a great time for us to bond, have fun, and improve their writing skills. I received their response in a few hours, and typed them up below. I included my comments on their responses.


My brother, 3rd grade, wrote: 

I experienced Avid when I was downloading Minecraft Story Mode. Even if Chi (big sister) is in New York right now, I didn’t give up, cool. 

But the game in the first episode was hard. Also, I could only play one episode, not cool. 

I experienced both avid and not avid of when I go on a roller coaster. Sometimes, I have my hands in the air like I just don’t care. Others I hold on the seat only for safety. I mostly hold on for safety. 

My thoughts on his response: I thought it was adorable. I laughed when I saw he ended his sentences with “cool” and “not cool.” I thought it was cool that he mentioned me in his response ^_^. His story about the roller coaster was adorable. It laughed hard when he said, “Put my hands in the air like I just don’t care.” It’s true, he sometimes loves coasters, and sometimes is terrified of it. I guess it really would be phrased “avid gamer” and “avid roller-coaster rider”? Overall, not the most grammatically correct way of using “avid,” but his heart is in the right place.


My sister, 5th grade, wrote:

Avid: The Day at the Dog Park

One day, I am very avid (very excited about something) about going to the dog park with two of my funny and amazing sisters, my big sister’s boyfriend Magic, and my little brother. My parents were working. We always ask for their permission when we are going somewhere. We bought some water bottles when we got thirsty. We said “bye” then we left.  

The ride didn’t take long. After we got off, my older sister told us about us going to a human park before going to the dog park. Everyone was okay, but I was a little disappointed. But it was fun, I was doing parkour with my brother. After that, I went on the seesaw with both my sisters. My brother when on, too. Then Magic came on too. We all stood in the middle of the seesaw, then we took a selfie. It looked so cool.

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When I read my sister’s response, I went back to find the selfie she was talking about. Here’s us at the park!
Anyway after the picture, my big sister let us go to the dog park. “Yay!” So off we went. We went past the gate and went through the big dog section. There was a couple we didn’t there. We asked them if we could play with their dogs. They said yes. Then we saw one of the dogs digging, so one of my sisters started digging with the dog. But the dog walked away. So me and my brother started playing fetch with the dogs. Then I notice there was another dog. coming in. The dog looked lazy and it had black fur. I looked at the dog playing on their own. The dog just chilled next to my big sister and Magic. I told my brother I would go chill. My brother said he’ll come later. So I chilled my other sister was done digging my brother was done to. The two white dogs left and more lazy dog come in. So we all just chilled. Slowly, the dogs left so we went into the car and left. 

“One the road again,  can’t wait to be on the road again, can’t wait to be on the road again. Oh, sorry I just can’t help it.” Anyway, I was tired so I slept on the car. When we got home, we didn’t do anything. We ate and watch a movie then slept. Really fun day! Bye! 

My thoughts on her response: I thought it was hilarious and adorable! The first thing I noticed was that it was long. I asked to make sure she knew it could have just been 1-2 paragraphs, she said yes- she just wanted to keep writing. Looks like she would be an excellent blogger. I loved that she included the definition of avid in parentheses in her intro. She also is very detailed about that day. Funny, the things that children remember. When she wrote, “I was doing parkour with my brother,” I called her to make sure she knew what she was writing- she did. I was surprised that she knew what something like that means, and found it incredibly amusing that my two younger siblings were “parkour-ing” in the playground. In this case, I guess her phrase should have been, “avid dog enthusiast?”


Finally, I had an excellent time reading their responses today. It’s hilarious because neither of the responses made sense grammatically. However, I loved that they tried to write with it regardless of knowing exactly how to use the word. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about each of them. I realized their writing techniques are really different. My brother uses prompt examples that backs up his writing. My sister weaves a detailed story, highlighting everything she remembers. She writes as if she was telling a friend about her day. They both write about the things they’re passionate about. My brother loves video games and hates roller coasters. My sister loves playing with dogs-and it’s true- she really is enthusiastic about everything. Perhaps living far away has made me miss parts of their lives as they grow up, but doing something like this makes me feel like I’m there.

What do you think of the responses? Are you wondering what your young friends would write? Let’s connect!

via Daily Prompt: Avid

Finding Closure: Returning to my Birth Country to Say Goodbye

I left my life, my school, my friends, and everything I knew behind when I was eleven. My parents were refugees from Vietnam, escaping the mistreatment of the communists. They snuck away on a small boat and sailed for seven days on the open water of South China Sea. I was born in a refugee camp in Philippines with poor conditions and corrupt camp officials who pocketed donation funds for themselves. My parents were struggling to feed themselves. At the time, my entire life revolved around getting out of the ditch. Most Vietnamese refugees around us were leaving the camps with an opportunity to seek asylum somewhere brighter, better. United States, Canada, Australia, it doesn’t matter, anywhere was better than the camps. It usually took 2-3 months, our case took 15 years.

When my parents escaped the refugee camp, we created a life for ourselves. We joined a small and close-knit community of Vietnamese refugees in a city called Ilo-Ilo. That city is everything I knew in my life. Slowly, we gave up on the idea of going anywhere else. I made three close Vietnamese friends and all my classmates. My fondest memories were made here. We would take weekend trips as a group to go to the beach, the zoo, the mountains, etc. We slept outside on the sand, listening to music, and looking up at the starry night sky. We had birthday parties where all my friends attended and gave me presents! I was in a dance group and sang in competitions in school. Christmas was the best time of the year, because we would all go to the central park to look at Christmas lights. Everything I knew was here. 

We received notification of our case status approved to immigrate to the States. My parents were overjoyed. They said our lives will be better, that we will have a future. I looked around me, what was so bad about our lives?  I don’t remember much of what happened during the weeks after that. I was eleven. I didn’t fully realize what was going on. Before I knew it, we were on the plane on our way to America. I missed my friends, my teachers, my school, my life.

Fast forward ten years. I graduated college. I made closer friends. I made a set of brand new memories. I have come to love the United States. I also became a traveler, but the Philippines still held a magical place in my heart. I wanted to return, see my friends,… and to say goodbye. When I had the chance to go back, I didn’t hesitate to but the ticket. The country where I was born and raised was something like a mystical dream to me. I was so nervous on the flight there. I spent my life thinking about what I would have done if I had the opportunity to say goodbye. Now that I was coming back, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

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Sitting by myself on the beach we used to visit yearly. Same country, different people. @Boracay Beach, Philippines

The air was the same, the food, the landscape, the school, the beaches were the same. Same country… but different people. Our close knit community broke apart after we left. People moved, went to school, got jobs elsewhere. I revisited my old schools, my old home, stores I used to buy snacks from. People whom I used to bond deeply with are now completely different. The playground I spent so much time on was smaller and emptier. I realized the country has moved on without me. Overwhelmed with nostalgia and sadness, I could only wis that I had appreciated my childhood more at the time. I struggled to keep my mind in the present, reminding myself that I had my friends with me. I needed to be in the now. I had wanted to show my friends my home country. The past is the past, and I can’t change that.

I made my peace and goodbyes with my past. I met new people, made new memories, and learned to love my birth country all over again in a different light. Filipino people are the kindest, most adventurous people I’ve ever met. Having only met for about ten minutes, we had jumped on a pickup truck of a group of Filipino backpackers and had the ride of our lives! What adventures? … to be continued another time. 🙂

Couchsurfing: Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers for Free!

People often ask me how I can afford traveling to so many places. Truth is, traveling doesn’t need to be expensive. In my recent post, I wrote about ways to travel cheaply. In this post, I would like to elaborate on Couchsurfing, and how it changed my life.

Couchsurfing a worldwide cultural exchange program that brings together millions of hosts and travelers. It is popular with budget travelers and backpackers, and the best way to connect with locals and experience culture. Best of all, it’s a free service for all! Especially in expensive cities where hotels costs over $100/night, Couchsurfing is a lifesaver.

I have been using Couchsurfing since 2014. My first host was an expat living in Hong Kong. He lived right by the beach, where he took us on a walk to see the sunset. We had long conversations about everything. He also gave us very helpful advice while exploring Hong Kong. I felt very safe and welcomed in his home, my only regret being that I wish we could have spent more time with him! Since then I have couchsurfed in Washington, DC, Chicago, Asheville, Honduras, Guatemala, New York, Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, and more!

My Awesome Experiences with Couchsurfing: 

Authentic Culture and Traditions. Living with locals is the most immersive way to experience culture. We share a house with the host, sometimes with their family and pet, too! Once we’re in the house, we’re practically family.

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Here’s a photo of my Couchsurfing family in Bacalar, Mexico

Depending on the host, we sometimes also get an opportunity to meet other couchsurfers, too! Hosts often take surfers to local hangout spots (which are especially fun on national holidays) that we would never have found on our own.

Couchsurf hosts live a very interesting lifestyles. Some have traveled all over the world, some choose to live off-the-grid, and some who love meet and talk to people from all over the world. They love sharing their local culture, history, and traditions. There is always so much to learn.

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Staying at a Couchsurfing off-the-grid cabin powered by solar panels in the Big Island, Hawaii.

In Hawaii, we had the opportunity to stay with a wonderful host at an off-the-grid log cabin in a tropical jungle. We were surrounded by fruit trees on all sides. We were able to walk around and pick passion fruits, jackfruits, coconuts, and other fruits to eat (for free)! We did not have access to the internet, which gave us an opportunity to write on our journals.

Food. I’ve eaten the most authentic foods while Couchsurfing. They are usually foods that locals would eat every day, and are incredibly tasty. In return, we would share our own traditional Vietnamese/American foods!

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An El Salvadorian dish prepared for us by our host’s mom.

Contributing. Unlike hotels and Airbnbs, Couchsurfing is a community. Once you stay with them, you’re like family. That means you do dishes, chores, and cooking. One important principle of being a surfer that a host once taught me, “Carry your own weight.” Contribute and don’t be a free loader!

Things to Know:

  • Read the hosts’ profile. Do not copy and paste your request to all hosts. Most host will ignore your request if your message is not personalized. They will usually include something in their description page saying, “Please include ___ in your request or I will ignore it.” It is their way of telling whether or not you’ve visited their page.
  • Be careful when sending Couchsurf requests to stay. It is important to check the hosts’ previous references and description page. Not all hosts are good people. We’ve met a host with strange behaviors and opted to leave the same night. That said, 99.9% of hosts are fantastic people. I like to see a full profile, complete with photos and hobbies so that I know more about the host before staying.
  • Each hosts’ preference is different. I’ve seen hosts who only host single travelers. I’ve seen hosts who live the nudist lifestyle (and will be walking around naked in the house). These information are written in their host profile upfront.
  • You may be sleeping on the couch, floor, bed, or tent. Over the years, I’ve met hosts who literally just have a space to set up on the floor.
  • Hosts may not spend time with you. Hosts have busy lives. They might not be there during work hours. In these cases, I like to spare my nights to spend time with hosts and get to know them.

Planning a trip and want to try Couchsurfing? Check out this article on 16 Places to Couchsurf in 2017.

What’s on your travel list this year? Please leave questions/comments below and let’s exchange!

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8 Ways to Travel the United States Cheaply and Comfortably

As with any long-term traveler, the biggest goal is to make the amount of money we have to last as long as possible. If we must spend money, the goal is to spend it as efficiently as possible. To prepare for our big road trip around the United States, Cuong and I gave away all our possessions, save a few boxes of mementos. We chose the things to bring with us very carefully, with two things in mind: practicality and comfort. Travelling the US is expensive, but it there are ways to lessen the burden. We had to decide on what we needed to take that makes sense in the long run. Through our experience, we have learned a few things.

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Took a picture of my partner taking a picture of me on one of our side trips.

car is the most versatile method of transportation;

R1: Interstate buses can only takes you from point A to point B, usually between two big cities like Manhattan and Atlanta. What if you wanted to stop by a nearby state park for a day out? A car can take you anywhere we want to on the map. We frequently took side trips to national parks and Six Flags. Unlike most buses, we could charge our phones in the car!

R2: What we spent on gas, we saved on rent and hotel cost. With the right setup, enough blankets and pillows, my car transformed into a comfortable bed. We usually chose brightly lit gas stations, fast food restaurants, or rest areas to spend the night. We have not had a problem with any of them.

R3: It functioned as our storage; it was a luxury that we don’t have to carry everything on our backs. When we get hungry, we just post up, grab some food from the trunk and go.

One thing I would change: I wish that I had bought a new set of tires. On the mountain back roads of Colorado, my car did a 180 degrees spin that made my heart drop to my stomach. Luckily, there were no cars around and I made it without a single scratch mark.

One thing to know: There will be lots of driving. Yeah, duh. But it is really important to ensure that you don’t get fatigued by driving too long. Cuong and I scheduled our driving time. We made it work  by driving in five hour intervals and taking turns sleeping. Planning and spacing it out made our trip as efficient and relaxing as possible.

2. Our Tiger rice cooker functioned as our portable kitchen. Eating out costs. Our solution for long term food source is using a rice cooker. For newbie cooks and veteran chefs alike, it is so simple to cook up a bag of ramen or a quick vegetable stir fry in a rice cooker. We take advantage of chain fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, with their abundant amount of power outlets to cook up a meal.

3. Pack for Rain and Shine. In just Hawaii, we experienced seven different climate changes; that is just one island. Through our trip, we’ve been through blizzard conditions, tropical rainstorms, as well as humid summer weather. I found these packable dawn jackets to be lifesavers as they’re light and incredibly. The more prepared you are for diverse sets of climates, the less likely you will be spending on new clothes.

4. Couchsurf and Airbnb to save on hotels costs. With every destination, we like to find Couchsurf or Airbnb host in the area who can show us around. It gives us an opportunity to meet people, refresh from sleeping in the car for so long, and take care of our hygiene. To learn more about this awesome community, see my short guide to Couchsurfing.

5. Shop at the right places. In highly populated cities like DC, New York, and Los Angeles, prices for food can be much more expensive. To save on grocery costs, we typically stock up when we find a budget friendly store. On the east coast, we shopped at Dollar Tree and Aldi for all our snacky needs. If you’re a fan of Waffle House, take it all in before you go over to the west side. On the west coast, keep an eye out for 99 Cent stores for your one-stop shop needs.

6. Knowledge of budget airline flight deals. We flew Allegiant Air from Los Angeles to Hawaii at half the going price. Beware, budget airlines typically have very strict carry-on rules, and they will charge you for every extra thing. You get what you pay for.

7. Get the best travel cards.

Charles Schwab is an excellent checking accounts card that has no ATM fees whatsoever. 

Capital One Quicksilver and BankAmericard Travel rewards card gives you 1.5% cashback on every purchase. 

8. Make long Term Investments. We don’t nickel and dime everything. We did spend on a few things that we considered an excellent use of money.

  • Six Flags Season Pass- $70/year; Roller coasters throughout the country!
  • National Parks Pass- $80/year; We hiked at Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite, and more!
  • Miscellaneous passes such as NYC CitiBike pass, metro cards, etc- biking around NYC can seem scary with all the crazy traffic and people, but it is an experience that made us want to come back.

I would love to hear from you! If  you have any budget travel tips, please share. 🙂 

Stop for a Moment: Get Off Your Phone

Ever since returning from Central America, I stepped out of a world where no one needed technology to a world where everyone is dependent on it. I want to share a couple of stories.

Story of my Life 1: As a backpacker, I loved my phone. I took all my photos on it. Ancient ruins, traditional clothing and cultures, foods, landscape- you name it. I used it to keep in touch with my family and friends. One day, on our way to a new destination in Guatemala, I reached for my phone in my backpack strap- it was gone. Time stood still. It felt like one of those horror movies, the moment where you realize going down the cellar was a huge mistake. I thought back to the last few hours. I racked my brain until I remembered that earlier the same morning, a friendly Guatemalan man had helped me lift my backpack to the overhead compartment on the bus. He must have felt through the pockets and grabbed my phone, along with all my money in it. How typical of a tourist can I get, letting a stranger handle my bag? I went through the rest of the trip without my brand new iPhone 6 and credit cards. In the chaos of my panic, I suddenly felt a strange calmness. I was jolted out of that world and the need to be constantly connected. No more distractions. I was not going to be that one person checking my Facebook every second, because I didn’t have the ability to. I can immerse myself in the beauty that I was surrounded by. I can actually listen to people who are talking to me. In the end, the only truly important items that I missed were my travel photos.

Story of my Life 2: After two years of not seeing each other, I have finally reunited with my close friend from college. We’ve known each other for 5+ years, sharing countless of memories with each other. We had so much in common: parents, interests, personalities, cultures, etc. I was really excited to see her. After weeks of planning our reunion and $200 spent for an entire weekend in a Hyatt hotel in downtown Atlanta. When it was finally time for us to hang out and catch up, it became glaringly apparent that she wouldn’t stop using her phone. I’m not being over-dramatic. She literally checked her phone every other minute, responding to her boyfriend or chatting up her hometown friend, who both have seen her a few days ago. I tried to engage her with questions about her life, enticed her with all the different things we could do with our night out, etc. She would talk to me absentmindedly and half heartedly, then checked her phone every so often. I suddenly realized that I was interrupting her time with her phone. I brought my concern to her attention, told her that I was upset. She insisted that she didn’t think it was a big deal, that I should have told her earlier, that I was over-reacting. I was heartbroken; it was so unfair. It has now been almost a year since I have spoken to her. I took it to heart never to get carried away with my nose stuck in a device that I don’t see the people around me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. Without it, I would be very lost- literally and figuratively. Luckily, my body has a very natural way of preventing me from getting too technology dependent.  I get a headache from staring at an electronic screen for too long. I think that everything should be enjoyed in moderation. When you can’t control your urge to check your phone every 2 minutes, it becomes a problem.

  1. You become rude to people around you. Are you really even spending time together at that point?
  2. You become reliant. When used excessively, the devil’s box ensnares the mind. Just like the moment I realized I lost my phone. People don’t know how to cope without it. Technology, used excessively, dulls the mind, making it inept. How can you learn or remember anything when a quick Google search answers the question? It kills the curiosity that drives people.
  3. You become constantly unmotivated and distracted. When was the last time you read a book without being interrupted by the buzz of your phone and a quick Facebook check-in? Are you playing video games through the night and neglecting your dinner? Do you binge-watch TV shows on Netflix?

What am I going to do now that I get off my phone? Surprisingly, not all people in NYC glue their faces to their phones in the subway. They do a variety of things- listen to music, read, or just sit and relax before/after a day of work. In a fast-paced, high efficiency environment, I figured they learned that it is a good balance in life.

  1. Spend time with people. They’re much more interesting in person than on your chat box, I promise.
  2. Read. It might be cliched, but reading is awesome in many ways: improves focus, jogs memory, expands imagination, relaxes the mind, and takes you on an adventure! You then can talk to people about it.
  3. Play an instrument. Whenever I’m overwhelmed with work, TV, life, I like to switch gears and play some music. I play the same chords on the ukulele with every song. It’s not hard to learn. It’s just nice to hear something real once in awhile. I also like to sing. 
  4. Take a walk. I’m not a very active person on a daily basis (though I should be), but I love taking a refreshing walk once in awhile.
  5. Board games. We have an entire shelf stacked up to the ceiling of board games hoarded from over the years. Play them!

I recently bought my little brother a Minecraft Book Series Boxset for his birthday. If you have any kids in your family, you’ll know that they are obsessed with Minecraft. At the time, the box set competed with Pokemon plush toys, cool gadgets, and new clothes. As months passed by, all his toys became boring and he began to read the books. Through them, his imagination was able to expand. He still reads and re-reads them because he loves the world so much. It was not video games, but his imagination had taken place of his other senses. Imagination is the most powerful thing you have and it must be nurtured. 

I’m still trying to teach my little brother and sisters to take enjoyment in doing other things than technology. Learning to balance relationships, self, and technology is very important in happiness. Don’t let your phone take control of you. You take control of it.

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Review: Sunset Boulevard Starring Glenn Close on Broadway for $55

There’s nothing like waking up Saturday morning and finding out we won lottery tickets to the Broadway production Sunset Boulevard for $55. Widely considered the highest level of commercial theater, we were quickly hooked on Broadway performances. Typically, Broadway shows usually range about $100-$500. In the past four months, we have won over ten Broadway show lottery tickets consisting of Tony Award-winning shows Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Chicago, Kinky Boots, and School of Rock. Because we win so many shows in a short amount of time, when we won Sunset Boulevard this morning, we had to decide whether it was worth going to. Never hearing of that production before and running out of time to get there before the show, I concluded it was too much hassle to buy the tickets.


With that decision, I went about my usual morning routines. Out of curiosity, I did a casual internet search, which surprisingly revealed that the production is a revival from an award-winning Tony Musical in the 1990s with the award-winning lead actress herself performing today. Gaping at the success of this strange title, I only had minutes left before the purchasing window closes, so I quickly bought the tickets. We had just enough time to grab $1 pizza for lunch, then rush to the theater.

Sunset Boulevard tells a story of a Hollywood silent film fading star, Norma Desmond. She yearns for the glory days of the past, taking the audience through her emotional roller coaster of frustrations, insecurities, and everlasting hope. Wishing to make a “return” to Hollywood, Norma writes a script for a film. When a struggling screenwriter, Joe Gillis, accidentally stumbles into her mansion, Norma hires him as her editor. She then takes him on her roller coaster ride of a life. Without much freedom to decide his fate, Joe is forced to accompany Norma through her bouts of depression, bordering insane.

The female lead role is played by Glenn Close, the same lead actress who won the Tony Musical Award for Lead Female Actress twenty years ago. Close performed a chilling performance, her character was so fragile, determined, hopeful. Since her performance twenty years ago, Close came back with a role that matches with Norma Desmond. Both were huge stars in the past, and now coming back into the performing world. Her performance was so real, it was difficult to tell if it was Norma Desmond or Glenn Close who was on the stage. Her special return to Broadway did not disappoint. Halfway through her song “With One Look,” her voice cracked, as if it was too much strain on her. Whether it was a real strain on her voice or if she is just in character as Norma, it was hard to tell. However, it was unanimous by the end of the night that her portrayal of Norma is ever more fragile and bitter than twenty years ago.

In all the hype of Glenn Close’s performance, it might have been easy overlook other supporting characters. However, it was Michael Xavier, playing Joe Gillis, that took us into Norma’s mad world. It felt as if I was following Alice and her bizarre, wonderful and terrifying journey through Wonderland. Xavier did a fantastic job depicting the lurking horrors of the mansion through the song, “Sunset Boulevard.” Max, Norma’s trusted companion and butler, shows undying loyalty towards her. He supports her by directing all her performances and protects her from people who may hurt her.

Sunset Boulevard embodies several key themes. Norma is consumed by her desire to be famous. She is blinded by that, only believing that she is still the star the audience is waiting for. She had manipulated Joe into staying with her by threatening to suicide. Max lied to Norma to save her feelings from getting hurt. Hollywood was fake, and the fakeness is contagious; to be part of it, Joe becomes fake too. Unbeknownst to him, Joe becomes a victim of the Sunset Boulevard life.

Like many other Andrew Lloyd Webber productions such as Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, and Cats, his musical score turned Sunset Boulevard into a masterpiece. There was that familiar Webber signature in the theatrical  music that made it his own. While listening to the music pieces, I detect similarities that could be something from Phantom, School of Rock, and Cats.

Despite my skepticism of the musical in the beginning, I was immensely glad that I had purchased the tickets. The chilling, theatrical musical scores spun with story will keep me humming for the weeks to come.

Free New York: Food and Music Festival in Brooklyn

New York is a giant hub of free things to do. There are always free performances on the sidewalk of busy streets in NYC, from street art to live music, from people on stilts to break dancers on subways, there’s a little bit of fun for everyone. My recent favorite is listening to a saxophonist who plays breathtaking music every morning on my way to work on Wall Street. Of course, I can’t always rely on chance to lead me to these free things to do. For free, fun, non-spontaneous day outs, I rely on a mailing list that updates me on big events that go on throughout the week.

This weekend, we decided to go to the Atlantic Antic Festival and Americana Music Festival right in the heart of Brooklyn. A mash of food, music, clothing, and culture can be found at the annual Atlantic Antic Festival where 10+ blocks of Atlantic Avenue closes for hundreds of vendors to sell and thousands of people to walk through.

Being vegetarian travelers, we have learned to never expect people to have food for us. Especially in Central America and Southeast Asia, “vegetarian” can mean very different things.  I have always been very careful while eating out. One can imagine my distress when I found small chunks of chicken in my “vegetable” soup (being vegetarian isn’t really popular in Central America). That said, having food protects us from making rash and costly decisions to buy everything in sight and smell.

We walked past cool buildings full with graffiti of New York innuendos.

At the end of the Atlantic Avenue lies the Americana Music Festival. How awfully convenient for us. We were met with an amazing view of the NYC Skyline, a great crowd in high spirits, and a band that is already playing music. It was a beautiful day to be outside, good thing we came prepared.

 

With our books and sandwiches, we found a spot to sit and picnic while listening to great American Folk music playing. Brooklyn Americana Festival celebrates its 2nd anniversary this year; the festival features country, blues, and folk music in streets, bars, and piers.

As I listened to a banjo player telling the story of an interactive West Side Story, I thought of how a year later, we are once again gazing at the Manhattan Skyline as the sun sets. About this time last year, we had began our road trip around the United States, New York being one of our first destinations. I had fallen in love with the city and was determined to return. Now, here we are, living the dream life. Work on weekdays, travel in one of the world’s most touristic cities on weekends. We’ve come a very long way to get here, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

About 2 hours after settling down, we were greeted with a beautiful view of sunset over the Manhattan skyline. Growing up in the mountains, I never knew what skyscrapers were, or been on subways, or used a bike to get around. Here, in New York, I feel like the possibilities are endless.

The festival was beautiful all the way to the very end. We watched the sun go down as the stage back light and the city skyline illuminate the night sky, a marvelous sight to behold. As the festival was coming to an end, we packed up our things to head home, looking forward to the next adventure.

Floating on the Clouds: Volcán Acatenango

Everyone who visits Guatemala must visit Antigua, and anyone who visits Antigua, must try to climb Acatenango, a dormant volcano since 1972. It is the dream destinations for activities as a backpacker. Cultures, nightlife, colors, foods, nature, ruins… Guatemala has it all! One of the many reasons why Guatemala falls on the top of my favorite list is Acatenango.

Why must you climb this volcano?

Reason 1: Acatenango is a twin peak. That means, sitting right across from it is a twin sister, Fuego, who happens to be a very active and angry erupting volcano. The twin volcanoes Acatenango and Fuego draw hundreds of visits from travelers every day. Fortunately, there have been no casualties of people hiking to see the eruptions.

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Fuego, photo taken atop Acatenango

Reason 2: At over 13,000 feet high, Acatenango is the tallest volcano in Guatemala, and the third tallest in Central America. To put this in perspective, Grand Canyon is only 6000 ft deep. Therefore, scaling it is not for the faint of heart.

Not only is Acatenango very tall, the incline is ridiculously steep throughout the hike, averaging about 20 degrees incline. People who wish to scale the volcano are recommended to join a group guided hike. Cuong and I, being budget travelers and very, very brave individuals, decided to go on this trek by ourselves- no guide.

Going up 13,000 feet stressed the importance of traveling light. I only took the things that I truly needed: cellphone (which unfortunately got stolen on the bus ride there), tent and sleeping gear, outerwear, 4 liters of water (heavy, but paid off), 2 giant bags of red beans, 1 bag of apples, 1 bag of tortillas, and 1 bag of bread. All these things were essential in supplementing our energy. We also invested in two sturdy hiking sticks in preparation for the steep hike.

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This is the outfit I chose for the big hike.

The Hike took blood and sweat to climb all the way up to Acatenango. With the incline, I felt as if I was trying to climb a vertical wall. About 30 minutes into the hike, I was already out of breath. There was still over 8 hours left!

We took frequent breaks, and were able to admire the beautiful views of the nearby Guatemalan cities.

About an hour into the hike, we encountered park officials, who required that we pay an entrance fee of 50 quetzales (about $7, a pretty hefty fee for Guatemala). We thought that they may just be extorting money from us as corrupt officials. So we haggled it down to about 40Q.  It turns out they were legitimate, and were there because they started collecting fees to deter criminals and thieves away from the trail– perfect.

We set off again on long trails of dirt paths, switchbacks into the woods. Once we’re high enough, we started to see beautiful lush green floras. Large vines, thick shrubs, and huge trees surrounded us. The one downside of going on a grand hike without a guide is the inability to know where you’re going.

About halfway through the hike, we were lost. To make it worse, it started to rain. We weren’t going to make it to the peak before nightfall. Thankfully, we ran into two guys who were also hiking to the peak. Misery loves company. We were so happy to meet people who also don’t really know what they’re doing. We set up our tents next to each other and huddled to keep warm and talked through the night. Careful to not deplete our food supply, we restrained ourselves from eating large meals.

The higher we climbed, the colder it was and the thinner the trees became. Pine trees were abundant in this section of the volcano. Soon enough, we reached the cloud forest. It was bizarre to hike through the clouds, and see it around us. I thought of how being above the clouds meant that we can’t be rained on anymore.

Each we start again on the torturous, I would be reminded of why we took the break in the first place. In my head, I was kicking, screaming, and deeply regretted my decision to do this hike.

…. and then…

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Above the clouds!

There it was. A deep rumble coming from within the ground. It’s difficult to describe what I felt at the time. It was a mixture of excitement, adrenaline, and fear. It reminded me of the first time I scuba-dived with a whale shark, completely out of my comfort zone.

It was so large, dangerous and strange, yet so natural and comforting.

We were just a two miles from the lava erupting from Fuego.  We were close enough to hear and feel Fuego. The angry twin sister erupted every five minutes. Every moment I lost hope on this seemingly never-ending hike, Fuego erupted again, and renewed my determination to finish the hike.

Finally, we’ve reached the top! I thought this moment would never happen. Hours and hours of scaling up the massive volcano.

What they didn’t tell us about the peak: it was freezing cold. 

You’d think being on- or near- an erupting volcano would be at least tropical warm. Wrong. There was nothing shielding us from this force of nature. The air is paper thin, the wind is vicious, and it’s absolutely frigid cold. We set up our tent right across from Fuego, seeing first class views of the bright eruptions throughout the night.

That night, we laid wide-awake, freezing, breathing in ashes, and listening to the volcano roar. We watched as the lava fill the night sky with angry, bright red. We were enthralled by the rumble, captivated by the colors, and felt fear of mother nature’s true power. The satisfaction of watching Fuego far outweighs all the hardships we’ve been through. I can’t wait to come back.

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We set up our tent right across from Fuego, giving us first class views of the eruptions.

I would love to hear from you! Please leave your thoughts, comments, questions, and let’s exchange stories!

via Daily Prompt: Climbing

Robot Restaurant Adventures

How often can one say that they’ve been to a robot restaurant? In Japan, the strangest things in the world are easily accessible. As an avid anime and manga enthusiast, I’ve always been fascinated by Japan and its culture. One can say using “unique” to describe Japan is an understatement; Japan comes up with the weirdest and craziest inventions known to the imagination. When I first heard of Robot Restaurant (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like), I knew this was the crazy-Japan-adventure we’ve been searching for. For $40 dollars per ticket, I secured the coolest surprise dinner show for my boyfriend and I on our third night in Japan.

Robot Restaurant was located in Shinjuku- which, in my opinion, is the nerd party central of Tokyo (where you find maid cafes, anime figure collections, manga kissa hotels, pachinko arcades, etc).

Here we are with our very own robots at the entrance of the magical land of robot awesomeness.

Once we passed the entrance, we went down what were probably the best five flights of stairs of our lives. These stairs, walls, ceilings, floors, nooks, and crannies are filled with a million sparkling gems, musical lights, and glittery animations. There was always something to goggle at, and no way to see it all.

If this was all there was to the Robot Restaurant show, I would have already been impressed. But no, this was only the beginning. Once we reached the bottom of the stairs, we arrived at the waiting room before the show. The lounge, if you can believe it, was even more impressive than the staircase.

The bar lounge / waiting room was littered in colorful neon lights. Each table had several miniature robot dinosaurs walking around. While we enjoyed our drinks, we also had the entertainment of a lady-band clad in metal bikinis with wings playing soft lounge music for us.

 When it was time for the show, we were led to another room and were assigned our seats. We were then given our two bento-box meals and two drinks, which were included for us to enjoy while we watched the show.

Dinner items for us vegetarians: sushi rice with sesame seeds, radish, tofu, and fried tempura. As with most bento meals, these were very presentated. The food reminded me of dim sum plates back home. I was skeptical of whether one of the chewy-moist sides was vegetarian, but decided it was probably either mushoom or daikon (radish).

As the show started, we were introduced to beautiful set of drums decorated with dragons and phoenix.

Standing behind the colorful lantern drums are the belly dancers, beating their drums and dancing fiercely. It was an exhilarating and very attention-grasping introduction.

The hour flew by, one performance stranger than the next. I felt as if I was Alice in Wonderland. However, in a nutshell: by the end of the show, we saw Amazonian warrior fights, boxing robots, an alien-eating shark robot, huge motorcycles, a giant snake, and definitely a kung-fu panda warrior. Yes, each of the performers were masked with bright LED lights and accompanied by pounding music. The creativity never ceases; there is always something shiny to look at. I would love to take the kids here one day.

Giant Robots dancing
Robots twirling in their one-wheel motorcycles

Unfortunately, because we were in dumb-struck awe for most of the show, we were only able to take pictures of some of the acts. It was not the most romantic date in the world, but my S.O. and I walked away feeling like champions, having enjoyed a night full of fun, adventure, and feeling like kids again.

Couchsurfing in Yokohama

Couchsurfing is a traveler’s best friend. For those who don’t know, it is a community of traveler-friendly enthusiast who host people as well as “surf” couches. A CouchSurf host is a friend in a who is also eager to foster cultural exchange; it’s the best way to experience local culture. To learn more about this awesome community, see this post for my little guide to Couchsurfing.

Our best Couchsurfing friend in Japan is good guy Keisuke. Our relationship with him as a little different as he did not host us in his house (which is typically the norm). I had just finished studying a semester abroad in Singapore, and he had helped us by holding on to my luggage while we were traveling in Japan.

We had met him at the Yokohama train station, which was daunting for several reasons. We chose to not buy a sim card, therefore we did not have data to text him. From two of his profile pictures, we might not have recognized him in a sea of Japanese people. The station was bustling with activity, so we weren’t sure if we would miss him. As we paced around, fretting, it turned out we didn’t need to look for him. Two people standing around, looking lost, with 2 luggages, and two backpacks tend to stand out. He found us pretty quickly. We liked him at first sight. He was so friendly, polite, and considerate. He offered to help me carry my luggage to his car. He had a car! Awesome! In the 6 months that I spent in Southeast Asia, I have only walked, taken the bus, or used the metro station. Keisuke had a car! I felt really spoiled.  As we kept thanking him over and over for how awesome he is, he was very humble and said it was his pleasure. He drove us around for a long time, taking us to different places. He didn’t mind, that he “loves to drive!!” I’ve never met anyone who is so excited over driving. ^_^ After walking and taking the metro everywhere in Japan, it was an amazing change to ride on a car. He explained that he only recently received his driver’s license, and that he should thank us. Where could we find a Keisuke in the US, please???

He took us to a mall where we had our first Japanese food court meal. We both had Yakisoba, which were delicious. Keisuke kept insisting on paying for us, as we are guests in this country. He spoke limited English (which is much more fluent than our non-existent Japanese), and occasionally we needed to use a translator app to get our thoughts across. It was a really interesting experience.

He then drove us to his work place “Trattoria Pesce D’oro”! We tried a delicious dessert sampler platter, courtesy of Keisuke, as he had employee discount.

The restaurant has delicious dessert!
Our dessert sampler!
My favorite photo with all of us together!

Keisuke welcomed us warmly and was incredibly helpful in recommending things for us to do in Yokohama. One of his best recommendations was to go to the Cup Noodles Museum, which I never knew existed! I love noodles. I’ve been a fan of ramen since I was born (a little exaggeration). I would eat if everyday, if my family didn’t stop me.

Does anyone else see that this is a logo of a girl falling? That’s the first thing I noticed about it, and apparently only I was able to see it…
AnhEm
 Thanks to our fantastic host, we were able to take a photo with the famous Yokohama Ferris Wheel. We will always remember him as the best host in Japan. <3

Spending Time with Kids: Asheville Weekend Trip

Growing up in a small town in the mountains, there weren’t many things to do. My parents, who were constantly busy, didn’t take us out much. That’s why whenever I get the chance to come home, I love to take my brother and sisters out to fun day trips. We lucked out this weekend by getting permission from our parents to stay overnight at a big event about 2 hours away.  Whoo-hoo!

Day 1: NC Mountain State Fair – Asheville

Parking was free, surprisingly, but entrance fee was not. The dense mountain fog did not allow us to leave until 9:30 am. No matter, we’re getting out of the house, and everyone was in high spirits. Right off the bat, we took advantage of the vast amount of heavenly, greasy, inaccessible-at-home foods: Blooming Onion, Corn, Funnel Cake. One of the coolest acts of the mountain fair was the pumpkin chainsaw carving. We watched him carve a bear out of wood and sold it for $70! Afterwards, he made a minion (Stewart) and gave it to Winthanh when she asked for it. AWESOME guy. He said yes! We brought our pumpkin friend with us and named him “Bob.”

Next stop: swings. I don’t know how they do it. Just two rounds on those things would make me want to throw up (yes, I have thrown up from a swing ride before). I’ve never really had a great liking for rotating rides merry-go-rounds, teacup rides, etc.

Fairs are always so colorful; so many things to look at… and buy. It is a wonderland for kids. After walking around in the hot sun for awhile, we found a building where tons of booths were set up. We took free samples, ate food, and walked around. In the large performance area was a Kenyan Acrobatic Show. Their performance was passionate, energetic, and amazing that it made me want to do cartwheels and dance with them (I’m no good at either). Leaving the sweet air-conditioned building, we walked around some more before stumbling upon this money pit: pony rides. Children as they are, they begged me to let them ride on ponies. What a money pit this fair is! $5 per child for barely 2 minutes! I can’t wait ’till they grow and understand the concept of money. I guess moments like these are hard to recreate when they get older. I’ll probably look back and find it worth it just to see the smiles on their faces.

Who doesn’t like sliding down a giant inflating dino slide? Me. The friction on the way down burnt the bottom of my feet. That expression of pain was real. Note to self: wear socks. Ouch!

Kids love the hypnotists. Something about creepy mind control hypnotism is just appealing to these little humans. I was skeptical of the “hypnotism act” at first, but I came out a believer. He  chose an unlikely group of 15 people, and brought them onto the stage. He then hypnotized them to do crazy random things that I could not imagine, like fall asleep in the middle of walking, making them believe that a normal belt is a snake. Whenever he makes that sound, the hypnotized people will see a snake. The belt belongs to the one of the girls, so it was really funny seeing her put it on and have it turned into a snake. The boy threw his shoe at the man and hit him on the face. What a fun night! I would love to see another show like this again.

Day 2: Elaida Corn Maze

We left the hotel at 11 am. On our trip there, we saw several streets named after medieval queens and knights: Lancelot, Arthur, Gweneviere, Merlin. There was an air-conditioned room with stage and an inflated pumpkin. The kids watched the movie on display. It was hot day and we were all sweaty but there were lots of things to do at the corn maze! There was a giant jumping pillow, corn box, giant checkers, spiderweb net thing, tic-tac-toe, hay ride, oh, and of course the corn maze.

I’ve never been to a corn maze before. Lesson learned, mazes are hot! We did all the other activities before going into the corn maze. The path we went on was also very long. There were 5 different maze trails. The Elaida trail one took over an hour. Luckily, we brought apples and we ate them to hydrate from the long trail. We didn’t have enough water and we were lost for a long time because Tam refused to use the map. We were exhausted when we finally finished the maze, and immediately seeked refuge at a nearby corn box.

I have also never seen a corn box before. It is bizarre seeing a box full of corn kernels. I thought that it was somewhat a waste to just have an entire box of kernels for filthy, sweaty kids to play in. As soon as I sat it in, I understood why it was there. It was amazingly cool and strangely soothing (like running your hand through rice). As you can see, Winthanh and Winthien wasted no time burying themselves in the corn. The corn box was surprisingly fun and we stayed there for a long time as we recovered from our long maze hike. Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with Waffle House before going home. A fun filled weekend drained the energy out of everybody. We were ready to go home and watch some TV.

Looking back, when I ask them what their favorite parts of the weekend were, it’s very interesting to see what they remember fondly. Winthien’s favorite activities were jumping on the big trampoline pillow, diving through the corn box, and receiving the Minecraft sword gift. Winthanh’s favorite part was the corn box. Lastly, my favorite part is that the children will remember this weekend as a quality time spent together.

What is your favorite trip to take with children? What are good quality time activities to do together?