Love in Southeast Asia: One Last Thing

Five months ago, I landed in Los Angeles on a plane from Seoul, Korea. Twenty Eight days of international travel. Eleven flights. Four Countries. Nine Atavan.

Countless lessons.

Writing about my trip has been a way to relive it. To soak up the powerful moments and deepen their meaning.To share my experience, and my insight.  To feel gratitude for the courage (and everything else required) to spend an entire month abroad.

Writing my final blog stirs feelings from my last night in Cambodia: reflection, sadness, humility, love.

My deepest love is for my seven travel partners.

In Bangkok: the fearsome foursome. Parker, Edward, Werner and Me.

Werner, the storytelling, sarong-wearing, little brother I never had. The sweet and sensitive boy who is a compassionate, middle-aged man inside. Traveling together, I could picture him in the future, vacationing with his kids. Creating goofy traditions and friendships out of chance encounters. He will both embarrass and enlighten them. He will tell them about reading Steve Jobs’ biography on the Indian Ocean and how we almost died at sea. He will teach them how to say “we own the Green Bay Packers” in all the languages of countries they visit. He will make his whole family feel cherished and loved.

Edward, the center of our social universe, locally and abroad. The most considerate man I have ever met. Edward is part frat boy, part diplomat. In Sri Lanka, Edward taught us about “fan death,” the mythical child-killer of Korean-American parental folklore. In each new destination, he attended to our diverse group’s spectrum of needs. He balanced all the emotions, intentions, desires and quirks. He handled every. group. check. He indulged me in mid-Ocean heart-to-hearts as we dove through cresting waves (Phuket) and relished the glassy stillness (Phi Phi).

In Sri Lanka, our group swells to seven:

Diana, the source of an unexpected female friendship. Within hours of being together, I wanted her to be my best friend. I fell in love with her the way women of my generation attached themselves to the fictitious Carrie Bradshaw. She is soft and confident, doesn’t take herself too seriously, and is visibly present in each moment the way I can only struggle to be while meditating. I will cherish connecting with her on our trip long after the memories of our moments together fade.

Manal, the would-be mean girl who isn’t. She is open-hearted, loving and accepting. She is one of the most gorgeous women I have ever met, effortlessly stylish and flawless. She was the President and social chair of our law school, a woman who could easily be catty and exclusive, but instead is warm and inviting. She gives me hope that we can all be good to each other.

Priyan, our tour guide and native host. A man with a perfectly executed hairstyle, even in ninety-percent humidity. Priyan educated us about Sri Lankan culture and history, occasionally exaggerating for dramatic effect (“that’s Pride Rock, where The Lion King was filmed”). He is brilliant and sophisticated, high-brow with a social justice sensibility. A rare combination of elitism and a lightweight sense of humor. I adore him from the depth of my soul. I could make a life as his partner if only our gender and sexualities aligned in a more practical way.

In Southern Thailand, Fred made a triumphant appearance. He is a survivor of monsoon-season jungle trekking and under-vaccination. Fred gives the best hugs of anyone I know. He wraps everyone up like a treasure, holds them firmly against his heart. He has easy-going energy that relaxes everyone in his presence. He is sincere and genuine, thoughtful and smart. He made us laugh and surrounded us with love.

And of course, Parker.

Every day. Every meal. Every flight. Every hotel room. Every night and every morning. Every, single, minute.

Parker was there.

He is both my alter ego and my other half. We are simultaneously soulmates and adversaries. He is relentlessly practical and efficient, I am whimsical and disorganized. He is fearless and task-oriented, I am anxious and easily distracted. He is worldly and well traveled, I was brand new to every experience on our trip.

To him, my biggest thanks. For planning every detail of our incredible adventure. For his patience with my fear of flying and picky-eating. For looking out for me like a big brother, and for telling-it-how-it-is like a best friend. For listening and understanding. For talking about feelings, over and over again.

Even early in our friendship, I knew I could trust Parker with everything. There aren’t many people who could get me on a twelve-hour flight to spend a month away from the comfort of familiarity and my compulsive routines. Parker lives his life saying yes to opportunity. Yes to change and newness and progress. He dives head first into everything, without hesitation. With him leading this way, I found the willingness to follow. Following him, I was able to take the most incredible journey of my life.

Love in Southeast Asia: “I forgot the Umbrellas”

“It won’t stop raining.”

Our hotel driver tells us, solemnly, about the uninviting weather pattern in Siem Reap.

“You should come back when it’s not raining.”

Parker and I glance at each other. We exchange a silent joke about the ridiculousness of that suggestion. In the moment, we share an appreciation for the rarity and specialness of this trip. We share sadness that it’s coming to an end and gratitude for how far we’ve come. The magic of it all. To be in this van right now. On this road. In this country.

This once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

This miracle life.

The tiny, developing streets of Siem Reap are cluttered by Westernization. Every two hundred yards there is an elaborate, ornate hotel. They all look abandoned. It’s like a rainy, Vegas ghost town.

We pull into a beige, stucco monstrosity. All of the sudden I feel like we’re trapped in one of those tourist horror movies that Parker taught me about when we first met. We were flipping through channels late one night after dominating our friends as partners in a sweep of board game night. He paused the scrolling to summarize Touristas, “These movies are all the same. The dumb-ass Americans get wrapped up in some sort of organ harvesting scheme and everybody dies.” Weeks later I agreed to come on this trip with him.

My stomach feels queasy.

The inside of our Cambodian hotel is more whimsical than our previous accommodations. It’s clear Siem Reap has embraced its position at the center of exotic tourism. The hotel attendants are clad in elf-like, gold and green uniforms. There’s a chance it’s an homage to traditional culture, but I’m suspicious it’s an appeal to Western excess and essentialism.

Alone in the lobby, we are suddenly swarmed by six, eager employees. One has a welcome drink, the other a local pastry, four more are there to ensure we feel like the two most important people on earth.

I breathe a sigh of relief. For now, it seems I’ll be returning home with all of my vital organs.

The next day, we hire a local guide to lead us through Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.

He’s small and stoic. He doesn’t grin from ear to ear like Neil, or pay us effusive attention like everyone working at our hotel. He delivers lessons like a task-oriented high-school teacher. No frills. No nonsense. No attempt to glamorize Cambodia’s brutal history of conquest and imperialism. Just the facts.

We make it from an early morning start to the noon hour under an increasingly dark and threatening sky. So far, no rain.

A torrential downpour interrupts our midday meal but subsides before we’re out and about again.

As we wind up the dirt road to the back entrance of Angkor Wat, the clouds are the color of school-yard asphalt. It’s the type of darkness that blurs the passage of time. Where even 1pm looks like twilight. It’s misty and majestic. The lush, green, swampy background. The ancient ruins.

Five minutes into the tour of the most famous temple in the world, it’s pouring again. Our otherwise poised and pragmatic guide is suddenly fidgety and uncomfortable.

“Is Cambodian rainfall secretly deadly for American tourists?”

We maneuver through every inch of the temple before reaching the front entrance.

It’s still raining. With each falling raindrop, our guide looks more and more distressed.

Parker and I take one more glimpse at the weathered stone walls, then stand at the brink of the dramatic entryway, ready to leave the temple.

Our guide looks up, frowns, then lowers his eyes.

“I forgot the umbrellas.”He says it like he’s telling us we can’t leave the country without giving up a kidney.

Parker and I try to assure him we’ll survive the weather. He’s unconvinced.

The next few minutes are filled with awkwardness and anticipation. In the midst of pacing and contemplating, I think about this quiet, simple man. He devotes himself to sharing his country with eager tourists who land in his life for only hours at a time. He doesn’t rely on recurring business, or building a client portfolio. I can’t Yelp him when we leave. In the absence of traditional incentive structures, he pours his heart into his work.

This trip has been filled with heartwarming encounters among unlikely friends. Over and over, we’ve been met with varied manifestations of love and goodwill; with reminders about the far-reaching impact of small acts of kindness, of how easy, and meaningful, it is to be nice.

I let the rain fall on my eyelids, then my mouth. I twirl with my face to the sky and my arms wide open.

Tropical storms have followed us all over Asia, but right now the air feels special, and unique.

Love in Southeast Asia: Cookies for My Facebook

About three times I week I decide to delete my Facebook account.

I call my best friend:

“I’m going off Facebook.”

“Oh great, I should do that too.”

She knows I’m full of shit.

I imagine all of the life-enriching consequences: All that free time! A break from my computer screen! A unique, non-digital identity!

But Wait! What if someone gets married or engaged? How will I know when to feel bad about myself?

I call my best friend:

“I can’t do it.”

“It’s o.k., maybe next time.”

At the Hanoi Cooking Centre in Hanoi, Vietnam, Priyan, Parker and I are taking a break from rice paper rolling and banana flower chopping. I’m eying three giant cookie sheets lined with freshly baked chocolate cookies. I haven’t seen a cookie in two and a half weeks. My first thought is to stash a couple of them in the front of my dress and sneak out to the patio to eat them.

Somehow, I resist.

As I’m ogling and drooling, a tiny Vietnamese man appears. He’s an inch or two taller than me and weighs maybe eighty pounds. I’m wondering how he ended up here, and not on the disney theme park circuit playing Tinkerbell.

He bounds in front of us wearing a flour-dusted black Cooking Centre apron.

“Do you want a cookie?”

Yes. He speaks my language.

“I like to bake cookies and put them on my Facebook.”

I almost fell over.

I am on the other side of the world having a magical moment at the intersection of globalization and social media.

I look up at my friends and I see their acknowledgement. This guy is my Southeast Asian soulmate.

I squeal with delight, “I bake cookies and put them on MY facebook**!” We jump up and down uncontrollably yelling nonsense back and forth. The words don’t matter. We are having a moment of pure, human connection.

Our cooking instructor calls us back to attention at the front of the kitchen. I reluctantly leave my new friend behind.

When class is over, we head upstairs to feast on our creations. I look longingly towards the oven in the back of the kitchen hoping to get a glimpse of my Vietnamese keebler elf.

No luck.

I sigh, it was good while it lasted.

Then, at the top of the staircase, I see him, beaming.

LET’S BE FACEBOOK FRIENDS! I scream in his face without even greeting him, “hello.”

With complete sincerity and uncensored satisfaction he says, “really? that would make me so happy.”

Minutes later me and Link are Facebook official, posing for our first tagged photo together, still overwhelmed by the joy of the entire experience.

Before we leave, my new friend invites us out for a beer with him in Hanoi to celebrate Vietnamese Independence Day.

When we say goodbye, I squeeze Link extra tight. I hold him in the space of our similarity, in awe of our unlikely exchange, moved by the first-hand experience of the truth that, deep down, we are all the same.

I traveled all the way to Vietnam, to finally find something beautiful, positive and life-affirming, on Facebook.

** I love to bake. I bake cookies. Frequently. I’ve never once put them on my Facebook. But my ideal self does. She posts exquisite shots of perfectly rounded, delicately browned, elegantly arranged chocolate chip cookies. In that honest moment with Link, my ideal self was talking.

Love in Southeast Asia: Meeting Heather on the Halong Bay

“I can’t stop looking at her.”

Parker reminds me that there are only 10 other people on this boat, so I should try to control myself.

We’re out for our first excursion aboard the Paradise Four. It’s nine billion degrees on the Halong Bay, but it feels like Heaven. The view is majestic in every direction.

I’m captivated by a short-haired woman in her early sixties. She’s wearing a purple tank top and her hair is dyed a deep violet-red. It’s clear she spent her pre-gray years as a vibrant red head. She’s traveling with her husband who appears quiet and loyal. She radiates with a huge smile and palpable enthusiasm.

I can’t stop looking at her.

“I know you think this is just more of my hippie-voodoo, but check it out.”

I scroll through my Iphone camera roll to a picture from a year ago. I pass the phone to Parker. Heather’s beautiful, freckled face fills me with joy and heartbreak. I watch his eyes soften into a silent apology for doubting me.

“That must be weird for you.”

I don’t feel weird about it, but if I keep this up, she might.

Just after sunset, Parker and I join the grown-ups on the top deck for cocktails. We sit in a haphazard circle of beach chairs and relax in the eighty-five-degree darkness. I inch my chair as close to her as possible, observing a boundary line for the personal space of a complete stranger. My boundary lines have always been a little fuzzy.

She speaks with a rich australian accent. Her vivaciousness and effusive language make her unique intonation even more dramatic.

I want her to tell me every detail of her life.

She and her husband raised their two boys in four different countries. A year in Sri Lanka, 3 in California. Some time in London, and of course, Australia. The boys are grown now, but they still travel as a family. She and her husband share a strong partnership, a love for exotic destinations and a taste for good wine. They love their kids deeply but live full, independent lives. I can tell just by listening, their family is something special.

I want to squeeze her so tight I can feel her bones. I want to tell her I love her. I want to reveal that we are soul sisters, and share about my loss. I want to cry in her arms and feel Heather’s spirit comfort me. I don’t want to get off the boat because I can’t say goodbye again.

At dinner I watch her and her husband invite new friends over to share their table.

“That’s so Redford.”

Later, I see her disappear into the cabin deck and emerge with a buffet of stomach medication. She thrusts them in the lap of a total stranger and tells him to take what ever he needs.  She says, “I won’t humiliate you with questions about your symptoms. I know it can get crazy down there around these parts,”

She would.

The next morning I drag myself to Sunrise Tai Chi. I meet my friend and her husband, the only two people brave enough to sweat it out at 6:30 a.m.

At 7:30, I find a seat next to her in the dining room and fill up her coffee.

We talk until Parker, and breakfast, emerge.

For over an hour, we chat and laugh and connect. We joke about the traffic in Southern California and share ski-weekend memories from Northstar at Tahoe. Her love surrounds me, just like the first time we met.

It felt like sharing moments with Heather that could have been. The conversations we would have had, the milestones in her boys’ life she might have witnessed. Her patient, sweet husband. Their beautiful life.

I wanted to cry but didn’t want to have to muster an explanation. I drank up the light in her eyes.

When we got off the boat, I whispered: I miss you my dear friend. I’ll see you again soon.

Of course, I should have known.

Heather’s soul is transcendent.

Love in Southeast Asia: I didn’t plan for this.

Southern Thailand is indescribable.

The water stretches all the way to the sky. They blur together at the point where my eyes lose focus. It’s that green-blue color I was obsessed with as a kid. Back then I called it “aqua-marine.” Today, I don’t even have a word for it.

In the days when I wanted my bedroom, my backpack and all of my clothes to be aqua-marine, I was afraid of the Ocean. I’d watch my brother fearlessly tackle giant, human-eating, white-capped swells. Every time I’d watch him go under I’d hold my breath until he appeared at the surface.

“Phew. That was a close one.”

For two days on Phi Phi island I swam hundreds of feet out in the calm, warm water. I felt peaceful and powerful. I soaked up the rare beauty of being in this quiet, remote place.

On the third day it rained. Hard. Harder than I’d ever seen. Harder than the year the River City Magic won a state championship at Cherry Island during “El Nino”, the worst winter any of our parents could remember.

We spent most of the day snuggled inside our dark bungalow. We watched Armageddon. And cried.

We read our books and snacked on garlic cashews.

We took a short break from all of the hibernating for an adventurous pool dip in a thunderstorm.

We wondered how were were going to get off the island in this weather.

At breakfast on the fourth day, the sky looked threatening. At 8a.m we caught a water taxi on the shore of the resort. Before we climbed in the all-wood boat, it started pouring. 400 yards from our hotel, the wind picked up.

We sat huddled together on the splintered seats. The rain splattered against our faces from all directions. We looked out over the bow of the boat and watched the size of the waves steadily increase.

We had a collective, unspoken thought: We didn’t plan for this.

I kept a steady eye on my garbage bag-wrapped suitcase. I imagined it flopping out of the boat and sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I felt confident I would survive going overboard, but I knew $800 worth of Lululemon couldn’t swim.

With our destination in sight, things got ugly. Our driver directed the boat sideways to cut the impact of nine foot swells. Every five and a half seconds felt like a new victory for survival. I felt my early morning sense of adventure transform quickly into fear.

At 8:52a.m, our tiny, resilient boat pulled into the pier. We scrambled onto the wood plank and dragged our suitcases frantically toward the ferry.

100 yards into our sprint we get backed up behind a swarm of angry travelers expressing frustration in a variety of languages.

The ferry is full.

The biggest monsoon over South Korea in fifty years is causing widespread upheaval up and down the Asian coastline, and Southern Thailand is no exception. Ferries to other islands are cancelled or delayed and we are stranded.

My travel partner, our resident alpha male, swings into action. We connect with a group of five other post-bar law grads who appear to be our east coast dopplegangers. Everyone is soaking wet, freezing cold and looking pathetic.

Glancing around the strategy circle it’s clear: We didn’t plan for this.

Our alpha promptly returns with his alpha counterpart, and options. We can take a speed boat for $200 per person to get to Phuket in time to avoid re-scheduling our flights. The water between Phi Phi and Phuket is raging with up to thirty-foot waves. A speed boat filled with 30 vacationers capsized the previous day leaving 29 of them in the hospital.

“Apparently we’re going to be here for a while.”

We slosh through the muddy roads to an internet cafe and plan our next move(s).

An hour and a half later we’ve rescheduled flights, changed hotel reservations and emailed our parents.

“For now, we’re safe.”

At 1:15p.m we board the ferry to Phuket. An hour later the ferry staff is passing out complimentary motion-sickness pills and barf bags.

Twenty minutes into the bumpy ferry ride, all of my friends are passed out. Parker is on the floor sleeping on my yoga mat. Edward is still clenching a half-full bottle of Chang beer. Werner and Fred are peacefully cuddled next to each other, dead to the world.

I am wide awake. Feeling every huge wave, hearing every sick passenger.

Praying we get through this alive.

Each time the boat shifts left or right, I brace for the worst. I start to wonder whether I should wake up my friends, get to the top deck in case we capsize, or take three Ativan and hope I join them in sleeping ignorance.

I start to think about the irony of dying in a boat accident. All of those years I’ve hated flying and all of those months worrying about getting on a plane to Asia sure would be wasted if I went down in a ferry accident trying to get back to Phuket.

“Maybe my friends and family will take comfort in the humor of it.”

“Maybe it will help them deal with the loss”

My worst-case-scenario stream of consciousness is interrupted when the sound of the engine disappears. Our forward motion comes to a halt and I wait for an audio confirmation of my anxious suspicion.

“Yep. The engine is dead.”

I didn’t plan for this. I planned to fall out of the sky in a violent explosion. I planned to feel every bump on an airplane and evaluate whether or not it meant we were going to crash. I planned to listen for sounds of safety, and vulnerability. I planned to be on high alert. Just in case something happened, I would be ready.

But I’m not ready for this.

When the engine comes back on the boat lurches forward. Eventually we’re cruising again, at a decidedly slower speed. I decide to keep my guard up to prevent further disaster.
Safely on land, I’m sitting in the Phuket airport, thinking about my plans. I think about all the fears that run my life. All of the things that stop my heart or speed it up when I worry about them happening to me or the people I love. All of the ways I plan to avoid them.

I started thinking about the real life things that have made my heart stop. Or speed up. Or break completely. The day last spring when I crashed my mini cooper, the death of my invincible friend Heather, my brother’s motorcycle accident. Countless moments of unexpected challenge, emotional struggle and sadness in between.

I didn’t plan for any of it.

Hours and minutes of attention and energy I spent planning I could have spent doing a million other things. I could have  been a more careful driver, a better friend or more connected sister. I could have made my friends laugh or cuddled with my mom. I could have been grateful for the moment I was in instead of fearful for the one I might face.

I could plan less and live more.

Love in Southeast Asia: At the Top of the World

Damn it’s hot here.

The four word mantra that never gets old.

My travel partner, the manliest man I know, is wearing a Sarong to increase ventilation. And happiness. And sex appeal.

Maybe not that last one.

The heat is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. This includes all eight years of summer camping in Sacramento.

At 2 p.m., we leave our lavish accommodations. Even the synthetic magic of Luon can’t keep my shorts from getting stuck between my butt cheeks.

The mood in the van is part excitement, part dread.

At the base of the rock fortress we learn about killer wasps. The top of the rock is covered in wasp nests the size of my (old) mini cooper. Everywhere we look we see handwritten warning signs in questionable English translations.

In our group of seven, there are several bee allergies and at least one paralyzing fear of heights.

Morale is plummeting.

Amidst an enthusiastic debate about the proper way to survive a wasp attack, our rail-thin, wide eyed, Sri Lankan guide appears. Neil. I feel attached to him immediately. He has sunken eyes and a long face. His hair looks like Donnie from New Kids on the Block, circa 1991.

We follow Neil fifteen shuffling steps to a rectangular ditch carved into the red clay dust.

At first, he speaks softly. I turn my body to the right and aim my good ear at him.

He explains about the fortress. About the King who buried his dad alive in the side of the rock. He tells us about Buddhism and Karma, and that, when it finally came to him, the King had it coming. We learn about the 500 concubines and natural irrigation. One by one, each of us is pulled in.

The group energy is shifting as we make our way towards the first of over five thousand steps.

Neil talks about the fortress like he grew up in it. We all feel transported. The eroded cliffs take the shape of a thousand years ago.

We climb up a spiral staircase that juts out over the edge of the rock face. Looking down feels nauseating, and exhilarating, all at once.

A landing at the top of the staircase marks the base of the highest point on the fortress. Two giant lion paws reach out from the base. We look up and see the wasp nests. At first they look like solid masses of black ash. When we look closer, we notice the wasps are moving in a constant, rhythmic wave. They look industrious. And threatening. They’re up there buzzing about how they’re going to kill the next batch of tourists.


A makeshift tent houses two racks of dark green protective suits. We measure ourselves against them, make our choice, and zip-up.

“Let’s do this.”

Thin metal slats run straight up the side of the rock. We take each one gingerly but efficiently. Every time I look down I get woozy. Every time I look up, I see the wasps.

10 minutes inside my suit and my entire body is covered in sweat. The whipping wind feels cold against my skin.

“Do I really feel cold right now?”

I squeeze everyone in celebration.

“We made it.”

Instantly, it’s the most incredible experience of my life.

“It’s like we can see the entire country up here.”

I lean into the wind and take in my deepest breath of the trip. I open my eyes and notice the clouds are touchably close and the ground is almost invisible.

The seven of us sit perched on a ledge overlooking miles and miles of undeveloped, tropical beauty. For the first time I feel like my friends are my family. I feel proud of them, and grateful for each of them making it all the way up here. I feel lucky to have this experience and joyful that we made this journey together. I want to look each of them in the eyes and tell them I love them.

Everything is clearer at the top of the world.

Love in Southeast Asia: A Yanni Concert and Old French Fries

“How are your fries?”

“They taste like McDonald’s.”

“Oh, YUM!”

“They taste like McDonald’s shipped them here three weeks ago and they’ve been sitting on the counter in the kitchen ever since.”

It had been a long day. We’d traveled many miles into the Sri Lankan high country during a five hour van ride. Each one of us was weakened from multiple battles with car sickness and bladder control. We’d seen a culture show, the country’s most sacred temple and a tooth from the Lord Buddha.

We’d staggered into “The Pub” and taken our seats at a long, rectangular table in the middle of the room.

We’d passed around menus and ordered drinks.

We’d silently perused the small selection of Western food.

“How long before it’s appropriate to go back to our hotel?”

My french fry ordering friend could barely keep his eyes open.

One beer and eight stale french fries into our evening, the giant projector screen on the wall of the bar started humming.

Three minutes later I look up and see Yanni, standing in an orchestra pit surrounded by keyboards.

“Is the pub making fun of us right now?”

My memories of the nineties are dotted with images of Yanni as the biggest cultural inside joke of the decade.

“They can’t be serious about this.”

I order a plate of roasted cashews. Moments later,  I’m glued to the screen.

At first I resist it, like romantic feelings on a first date with a known womanizer.

I try to cover up my immediate infatuation by making sarcastic remarks and witty jokes.

I’m powerless against it.

Before the cashews arrive, we’re all enthralled.

The Yanni concert is mesmerizing.

Yanni stands at his keyboards making seductive faces with his pre-hipster, non-ironic, mustachioed grin. His likeness to my best friend Nick Stamos is making the entire experience twice as good.

He points at various musicians to cue them to go to work. Smiles. Occasionally moves his hips.

It’s a phenomenon.

I’m like a middle aged housewife home alone on a Friday night in 1995.

We toss around guesses about how Yanni got so famous. We collectively wonder how he’s captivated our attention more fully and dramatically than anything else on our otherwise spectacular trip.

We are all baffled.

“He doesn’t sing.”

“Or play an instrument.”

“I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even write this stuff.”

For an hour we fill the pub with joyful exuberance and, at times, uncontrollable laughter.

I have tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.

When it’s over, we give digital Yanni a standing ovation.

It’s better than hologram Tupac.

It’s the weirdest. Most unexpected. Best night of the trip.

Love in Southeast Asia: At home on the Indian Ocean

Maybe it’s jet lag. Or anxiety. Or excitement. But on our fourth travel day I’m wide awake at sunrise.

I brush my teeth and slink out of our quiet, dark room.

I step softly over the sand to the concrete cabana. I unroll my yoga mat with a view of the Indian Ocean.

I drop into child’s pose and find my breath.

With my eyes closed, it feels and smells like home. Like rubber and sweat. Like my sinking hips on my heels. Like a wave of relaxation coming over my body. Like a calm mind.

The sensations of familiarity fill me with joy.

Right now my yoga mat is blowing my mind.  Seventy inches of pure magic.

I take myself through a detox flow. Later, I try to convince my skeptical travel partner that my yoga mat is the solution to all of his current, travel-induced issues. Maybe a few of his ordinary issues, too.

He is resistant to my persuasion.

My body needs no convincing. I feel open and radiant. I feel light and fluid.

I feel like I feel when I get off my yoga mat, every time. Only better.

Today it feels extra special. It feels like I’ve tapped into some secret resource for weary travelers. I want to bottle it, sell it, and retire from lawyering before I even start.

In savasana, I listen to the waves of the Indian Ocean.

I’m having one of those moments that I judge people for when I read about them on Elephant Journal.

One of those moments yoga bloggers describe using words like divine and awakening.

I spend the rest of the day connected to my body. It feels easy to laugh and swim and relax. I am present with my friends.

I am reminded why I fell in love with yoga. So simple. So accessible. So powerful.

Here, there, and everywhere else.

Love in Southeast Asia: Getting High in the Rain

We left our hotel room at 4:00a.m. By the time we landed at the Colombo airport it felt like we’d been awake for a week and a half.

Today is a struggle and it’s not even noon.

Our friend Priyan, native Sri Lankan and gracious host, meets us at the airport. He’s dressed in chic South Asian attire. His hair is perfectly styled.

My hair is matted to my forehead and I’m wearing crusty Lululemons.

We drive towards the capitol city and he educates us about his home. The longer we’re on the road the more I lose hope in the sugary-caffeinated beverage I’ve been dreaming about.

Two hours and two iced coffees later we arrive at our first destination. Priyan’s friend is running a school/shelter for Sri Lankan street kids and they’re anxiously awaiting a visit from the exotic American tourists.

We walk through the primitive playground into a small building. My tall travel partner is practically on his knees trying to squeeze himself through the doorway.

Inside, 50 skinny kids are crowded around short, metal tables. They are staring up at us, wide-eyed with anxious enthusiasm and wonder.

My first instinct is to drop low to them, smile and wave.

Immediately though, I’m paralyzed.

None of them speak English. Only a percentage speak the same language as Priyan and some barely speak at all. For the first time in my life, I’m in front of a group of kids with no idea how to act, what to say or how to keep their attention.

They crowd around me kneeling on the floor and we stare at each other. Still smiling.

For five or six minutes I struggle trying to translate through Priyan. I can feel their energy bubbling to the surface and I still have no idea what to do with them.

I look up at Priyan, “can we play?”

Before I get a response, I walk out onto the playground. A six year old boy jumps up behind me and touches my back.

“Thank goodness.” “I know this one.”

I start chasing the little boy around the tall metal slide. He climbs to the top delighted with his escape method. I pretend to be frustrated trying to jump up to tag him. He laughs hysterically at each of my failures.

“Yes, I can do this.”

Before long, twenty kids and I are playing a game I’ve played a million times with eight hundred kids in the United States. I run around. Freeze. Make a face. Do a dance. Strike a pose.

They mimic and follow me. I growl in their faces, start chasing them and they scatter. Screaming, giggling, screeching with delight.

I am winded. And sweaty and blissfully happy.

Thirty minutes later the sky erupts in a furious down pour. My new friends cling to my waist and drag me inside.

We dance and play keep-away. They show me their favorite toys.

I feel alive, invigorated, inspired, loved, connected, full.

I feel like the best version of myself.

When it’s all over I have tears in my eyes. I am flying.

My friends can’t believe what’s come over me.

I try to share my feelings with them but all I can come up with is “I’m high from all of it.”

The entire afternoon felt like a miracle.

I’ve been babysitting since I was eleven years old. I’ve been working with kids for over a decade. Again and again I’ve been humbled by how kids are so loving, so expressive, so honest and unconditional. But even in all my experience and wisdom, I feel overwhelmed. In disbelief.

On the other side of the world I walk into their lives a stranger. I don’t look like anyone they’ve ever seen. I don’t speak their language. They have been through all the trauma and heartache that would leave any human heart untrusting and closed off. And yet, they embrace me. With love and laughter. With hugs and smiles and boundless energy.

I am moved beyond expression.

How could I ever be a lawyer?

Love in Southeast Asia: Sacred Space

I was 22 when I first stepped on a yoga mat. I was an atheist gym-junkie who was too busy to stretch and had little interest in OM-ing about anything. I used to read, listen to my Ipod AND watch TV on the treadmill.

Back then, I had most of the world figured out. I knew for sure that sitting still and silence were waste-of-time activities that should be reserved for the elderly and boring people. I was far too young, vibrant and interesting to stop moving between waking up and (barely) sleeping.

I liked power yoga. I could get a vigorous workout without having to poach a cardio machine from a sorority girl at the John Wooden Center.

6 years and seventeen billion sun salutations later, I’m in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

It’s a labyrinth of exquisite temples. Each one has an ornate gold roof. They are adorned in shimmering stones, meticulously placed and impossibly well-maintained.

I’m in awe of everything, everywhere I look.

Hoards of noisy, bustling tourists obediently remove their shoes, cover their shoulders and enter each temple.

Inside, our collective energy is calm and meditative. We are quiet, reflective, introspective. We pray, we listen, we pay attention.

There is something magical about sacred space. Space reserved for worship, devotion, prayer, humility, kindness, compassion. Space that transforms each of us, as soon as we enter it. I look around and see people of all ages, cultures, religions, nationalities. Each of them has a look of serenity and appreciation.

We are not all Buddhists, but each of us is filled with respect and reverence.

I wonder what it would feel like if more space was sacred. If Starbucks, the freeway, the Santa Monica parking garages, were all areas in which we spoke softly, tread with awareness and honored each other. How it would feel if in ordinary places, we honored the silence.

I sit in meditation and gratitude. I feel myself get calm and still. I think about how far I’ve come. How many miles from home, how many lessons in letting go, how many breaths, how many yoga practices, how much work it’s taken to get to this moment. To be in this space.

To share it with my friends and the strangers around me.

I feel indescribably blessed.