Category Archives: happiness

dark magic

ImageCoffee is one of my favorite things in the world. When I was in college, and young and stupid, I used coffee for its caffeine, which gave me the fortitude to pull all-nighters and write ridiculous papers in Spanish. As I got older, I fell in love with the sweet and creamy beverages at Starbucks, adulterating my coffee with sugar, cream, syrup, “flavor”, and whatever else they had on offer. To be fair, if you’ve ever had an actual cup of Starbucks coffee, you’ll understand the need to hide in amongst all the fluff. But Starbucks, not unlike the tobacco industry, has managed to create a brew that nearly doubles the traditional dosage of caffeine in a cup of coffee and in the process created a new generation of supposed “coffee-lovers”. Continue reading

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blogging from the emerald isle

I’m blogging again. I’m fairly terrible at this. But when I was in Mongolia, I was mostly consistent about it, so think maybe I can be the same here. Mostly though, I’ve found tremendous value in reading other people’s blogs, and so perhaps one day my accounting of my experiences can be helpful to someone else. First up: a status  update.

On March 11th, I flew to Ireland. A few weeks before that, I left my job (of approximately 10 years) and became an independent consultant (note: if anyone needs a global health writer, hit me up). I’m in Ireland to undertake the process to be with my partner of 3 years, and am having not only the very personal experience of transition, but also the possibly more stressful challenge of navigating the bureaucracy to establish myself as a legal resident.

There is a decent amount of information on the internet, and some very nice people have posted the steps they’ve taken to make this work. I’m hoping to emulate their processes (tailored to fit my circumstances of course) and have the same success.

The goal is a de facto relationship visa. It will give me permission to stay (and work) for a year at a time. It is not an easy process however, and the first step is just figuring out what we need to apply. Stay tuned….

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Turning 35

I’ve come to terms with not being a blogger. But I’ve also realized that I have a lot to say. While the posting might not be too frequent, but it’s still important to get the words out when I can. So, reboot. Again.

I turn 35 in 5 weeks. 5 is a nice number – one that resonates well with me. 35 is something of a turning point too. So, in anticipation of the auspicious occasion, I’m hoping to bring 35 with a full embodiment of my dreams, values, and goals, and spending the next 5 weeks in doing so.

Step One: Resurrect the daily sadhana. In the past, this was waking up at a decent hour, taking a few moments to tidy up my space, brew coffee, and then meditate or yoga (or both). In the evenings, usually I sit and sometimes incorporate some mindful movement (or all out dance). Lately, this has been less than daily. And lack of routine has found its way into other parts of my life. Bringing this back, even in the smallest form, will help re-center and re-focus.

Step Two: Get serious about health. I’m working to make boxing 2-3 times a week, and personal training 2 times a week. I’ve also gotten a pedometer, and trying to reach 10,000 steps a day. Next up will be to clean up the diet. In mid-late October, I’ll undertake a 2 week detox to jumpstart that process.

Step Three: Declutter. I’ve been accumulating a lot of papers, and other stuff lately. Time to start cleaning house.

More steps to follow, but I’ll allow them to arrive organically.

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and…. back to asia

After 3 weeks back in the US, I took off for Asia once again.  This time, I’ve headed to Thailand, for 10 days of detox yoga on Koh Samui.  I’ve been to Thailand before, but the last time was 12 years ago, and I’ve never been south.  This time around, I arrived late at night at the airport, and flew out relatively early the next day, thereby bypassing Bangkok in the midst of politics and violence.

The rest of Thailand is untouched by the happenings in Bangkok, and nowhere would that be more evident than in the islands, where an entirely different Thailand resides.  Here, the main currency is tourism, and foreigners flock to the resorts, bungalows and beaches for some R & R and/or late-night partying.

Koh Samui is popular, but it’s possible to avoid much of the crowd by staying in some little retreat or hideaway tucked away from the beach.   In this case, I’m at Absolute Sanctuary, home to some great yoga and a fantastic kitchen.

I’m doing 10 days of yoga and good food, no caffeine, no alcohol, and very little of the outside life, internet not withstanding.  We have a TV, but it’s small and not really worth watching.  There’s a gorgeous pool, a nice view of the ocean, and did I mention that kitchen?

So, Day 1 consisted of some pranayama and two low-key yoga classes.  Breakfast was some amazing vegan concoction involving tofu and peppers and divine spices, plus some coconut-based yogurt and tropical fruit.  And pineapple juice with ginger.  Lunch was even more yummy, with fresh corn in a sweet potato soup, spicy papaya salad, the most amazing sauteed kale, and a wonderful coconut curry over brown rice.  I am sure dinner will be fabulous too… but before that, it’s time for my daily massage.

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And, in direct opposition to the previous post, here’s a little shout-out to decadence.   Brunei isn’t tops on most people’s travel lists.   It’s a small country, there’s no alcohol, and it’s a bit expensive to get to and be in.  Unless, of course, you are already in Borneo and the border lies only an hour or so away.

So to Brunei, I went.  And stayed at what is probably the nicest place I’ve ever been in.  It wasn’t phenomenol by today’s standards – I imagine most swanky hotels in Dubai would blow it away.  But for a 25-year-old hotel, it still manages to awe, and holds a charm that modern hotels have yet still to earn. 

The hotel is the Empire, and it hearkens back to a nonexistent colonial era.  It’s thoroughly European (as this American would picture it), but with a distinct Asian flare.   The service is impeccable, the decor is gold-plated and ivory, and the rooms are furnished in an outdated whimsy that somehow manages to charm, despite being distinctly unstylish.  It helps of course, that the bathroom is the size of a small apartment, the balconies face the ocean, and the pool is a lagoon, complete with white sand covering all 11000 sq m of the floor.  Stunning is an understatement.

But the sultan’s brother didn’t stop there;  the hotel also boasts several shops, 5-6 restaurants, water sports rental (for kayaking in the aforementioned lagoon), 2 private beaches, 2 lookout points, a full golf course, spa, and probably a bit more.  It’s a miniature city, and is it any wonder I never actually got to see the rest of Brunei?

Not entirely true – I did see some oil rigs, and Shell Oil-owned homes.  But the highlight, of course, is the Empire.

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isle of whims

Wow.  So….  2 weeks since my last post.  I have no really good excuse for that, except that things slowed down a bit (though still just as fun) once I left Sabah.   In Sarawak, I headed straight for Kuching, spent about a day in the city and then booked for the countryside.  

I ended up at a little place in a village called Santubong, right on the South China Sea.   It’s really quite astonishing to go from living in a land-locked country to seeing so much water.   I’ve pretty much spent the past 2 months near (or right on) the ocean, and I’m still overwhelmed by the vastness.   In Santubong I stayed in a cute little retreat, far away from the real world and quite idyllic.  It was the perfect getaway and soooo relaxing after running around Sabah.

Then it was off to Mulu Caves to meet my cousin.  Mulu is a World Heritage site, and while it’s something to see, it’s not quite as phenomenal as I was expecting.  Partly, it’s been built up for tourism, so you feel a bit like cattled being herded through the caves.  I realize, of course, that you can get off the beaten path (go to the Pinnacles for example), but it’s kind of a lot of effort.   And since Borneo is such an easy place to travel, and perfect for the lazy traveler, it’s a bit hard to muster the energy to attempt a trek through the jungle.  And yes, I realize how silly that sounds.  The whole point of going to Borneo is to trek through the jungle, but since when have I been the typical traveler?

So I did the spa tour of Borneo instead.  Starting in Mulu, heading to Miri, and then Bandar Seri Begawan.  The hotels are beautiful, the ocean views gorgeous, the beds enormous, the sunsets fantastic, the spas blissful.   Nothing like a scrub/soak/massage/facial extravaganza to make life goooood. 

This is the nice part of traveling (not-so-nice part:  so sick of my clothes!) – being able to change up your plans and, on a whim, check into a fancy-schmancy hotel (with a movie theatre!!) and eat nachos by an 11000 sq m pool.  

In Seoul now.   More spas.  But sadly, it’s cold.  I miss the warmth of Borneo already.

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malaysia, truly asia

So a week in Borneo, and I’m finally getting around to an update here.  It’s been pretty hectic – we really packed it in this time, mostly because my friend is only here for the week.  And I want to spend more time in Sarawak, so we planned back-t0-back adventures here in sabah.

And adventures they were.  First, we climbed Mt Kinabalu, all 4000+ meters of it.  As usual, I didn’t quite know what I was getting into, and the 2 am ascent to summit before sunrise was a bit of a surprise for me.  But totally doable, because we were just coming off a full moon so the landscape was lit up beautifully (once we cleared the jungle and were on the bare granite).  It was not the easiest climb, but coming back down was much much harder (still waiting for that bionic knee surgery….).The sunrise was stunning.  I got a few decent pictures, tried not to freeze, and generally just enjoyed being on top of the world (or, at least, Sabah).

Then back to KK, in time to pack, drop off laundry, and get some sleep before an early wake-up to head to the airport to fly to Sandakan.  In Sandakan, bleary-eyed and quite sore, we cabbed to Sepilok, and Uncle Tan’s B&B, where we dropped our bags and headed out to see the orangutans at the sanctuary.

My little secret:  I LOVE LOVE LOVE orangutans.  They are absolutely adorable, like little orange grumpy old men.  If they wore clothes, you know it would be golf pants pulled waaaaay up.  Too cute.  Got a couple good pix, and then headed back to Uncle Tan’s for some lunch, and our transfer out to the Sungai Kinabatangan.

The Kinabatangan is the largest river in Sabah, and used to be deep in the jungle.  Nowadays it’s more like deep in the palm plantations (let me take this minute to note: palm oil = bad!  stop buying it!).  Still you really feel like you are far away from civilization, sitting in a jungle camp in the middle of nowhere next to a muddy river.

But Uncle Tan’s Wildlife Camp likes to make you feel like home.  Though sometimes, I felt a bit like I was back in UB, what with the karaoke singalong.  Minus the absurd humidity.  And heat.  And bugs.  And water.  And, ok, not like UB at all.

It’s a lot like summer camp, in that the guys that work there act a lot like camp counselors – singing songs, taking you on nature walks, boating around running into sandbars, and cooking some pretty freakin’ awesome food.   Also, they told me I look like Preity Zinta, and who doesn’t love a guy who says things like that?

We saw lots of wildlife, and got really lucky on our expeditions.  Plus my group of “elephants” was pretty damn cool.

Tomorrow…. Kuching!  Goodbye Sabah!

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no debt, no regret

Recently I had one of those conversations with a friend about living a life of leisure and never having to work.  Of course, secretly, or maybe not so, a life of leisure wouldn’t suit me at all.  I definitely need to keep myself busy and be passionate about something, and if I get paid for it, then even better.

But in this conversation, we hit upon an important point.  To work because you want to, and not because you have it, is a really small but majorly significant thing.  For some of us, it means the difference between misery and happiness.  Knowing that you are doing what you do because you love it is an intensely rewarding experience.

Which brings me to the subject of debt.  It’s probably not a surprise to anyone (or actually, maybe it is), but I used to carry a large amount of debt.  Embarrassingly, it’s not even “good” debt, but more the accumulation of random spending sprees on nothing important.  But it adds up when you don’t pay attention, and my creditors loved me.

They still love me, but maybe not so much now that I net them no interest (on the other hand, they don’t have to worry about my defaulting…).   I paid off my debts in a very short amount of time, once I decided it had to go.   And it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Because here’s the thing.  There’s nothing wrong with random spending sprees on nothing whatsoever.  What’s wrong is when you don’t actually have that money to spend.  Living on borrowed funds isn’t much more fun than living on borrowed time.

Ironically, being in debt was helpful for my ability to save – once the debt was paid off, the additional money went into savings, and frugal lifestyle changes I had incorporated managed to stick.  There’s room to breathe, of course, hence my current 2 month vacation, but there’s also a sense of fiscal responsibility (even on vacation) that I think will always stick with me.

So today, when I walk into the restaurant for dinner, I’m going to order whatever sounds tastiest, and not have to worry about whether I can afford it.  Because I can.  No regrets.


after the ecstasy…

Jack Kornfield has this amazing book called After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.  It is about what it sounds like – life after enlightenment, and all the little things you still have to do to lead your life.

In some ways, I’m reminded of that book right now as I sit here in an internet cafe. I’m halfway through my decadent yoga holiday, in which, for two weeks, I do nothing but sit on the beach, do yoga, and eat fish curry.

All of which I am doing (though less fish curry and more banana lassi and thoran, I find).  But that’s not all.  I also diligently sweep my room and clean my bathroom every day, and wash my clothes (by hand) every few days.  I’m also planning next moves (ie, Borneo and Korea), job hunting, getting my eyebrows threaded, figuring out how to pack everything, working out my finances, and basically everything else I do when I’m not on yoga holiday.

Which all leads me to think two somewhat different but in some ways similar things: 1) that “vacation” is an exotic-sounding term we use to describe something that is NOT our regular lives (and therefore, in some ways, an unattainable nirvana), and 2) who needs vacation when we can transform our seemingly mundane daily lives into something more profound?  I mean, if I still have to do laundry and wash my hair and assess my finances in nirvana, why wait til nirvana to feel like I’m on holiday?

The laundry has to get done anyway.  And on vacation, I have to wash by hand – far more work than my washing machine back home.  So instead of making some false distinction that makes more sense in fantasy than in reality, maybe instead I’ll take my normal, every day life and turn it into a permanent vacation.

Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying that instead of waiting for some idealized perfection in some distant future that will never happen anyway, we can just enjoy how things are in the moment, because you know, enlightenment isn’t that great.  You still have to do laundry.

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So after a few hectic weeks of travel, I’m on the beach in Southern Kerala – Kovalam to be exact.  I’ll be here for 2 weeks, doing yoga twice a day and generally just relaxing.  It will be a welcome break before I head to Malaysia for more hectic travel.

Kovalam is pretty touristy, but I’m sure it is nowhere near the scale of Goa.  Still, it’s pretty hard to avoid sellers, tour operators, money exchangers, restaurant hosts, etc, haranguing you to come and “have a look” in their shops.  I’ve already succumbed and had chappals made, and a couple pairs of pants.  Tomorrow’s errand might have to be the post office….

The ocean is gorgeous, though I haven’t brought myself to go in it yet.  Maybe tomorrow. 🙂

In the meantime, lots of fruit (even mangoes!), fish, coconut, lassi, and fresh lime soda!

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