Ooh de lally (Thoughts on Solo International Travel for Work)

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I often pass this fella on my way to my company’s Hong Kong office from my hotel.  Undistracted by passing traffic and immune to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, he looks like he’s listening to a storyteller weave a fascinating story.  // 35mm film photo, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, August 2016.

I travel a lot for my job.  I am largely responsible for my department’s function in the Asia Pacific region, which means if I’m not visiting our Hong Kong or Japan offices, I’m attending conferences in Singapore, Malaysia, and other places around the region.  This year alone, I’ve been to Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.  This doesn’t include local travel within the continental U.S. that I’ve also had to do.

The travel affords me the opportunity to shoot in a variety of locations, and, between my love of exploration and my love of photography, I am pushed to leave the confines of my hotel room to explore my surroundings and seek beauty in a new city and country.  (I have a growing backlog of photos documenting my travels that I have queued up for blog posts.  One of these days, I promise, I’ll get around to sharing them with the world.)

The perks of work travel are great.  But, today, I’m focusing on the not-so-wonderful aspects of traveling for work.

Solo International Travel for Work

The majority of my Asia trips are solo.  The reason for this is because my team is lean, our budgets are tightly controlled, and we usually can’t spare extra people to travel without good reason.  Plus, Asia was the reason I was hired.  So to Asia I go.  Alone.

Due to the frequency and length of my travel, my fiancé can’t accompany me either.

So I go it alone.

And, despite the perquisites of travel to a new and exciting place, it still kind of sucks sometimes.

The Californian and Asian time zones are as diametrically opposed as time zones can be.  It’s better when I am staying through a weekend and can plot out an entire day of true explorations.  But when it’s work travel, the majority of the days are spent in meetings or talks/discussions, when “home” is still awake.  By the time I have freedom in the evenings, everyone back home is asleep.  This means that there is a rare sliver of time in which folks back home are awake and can talk.  The rest of the time– especially that time right around dinner and before bedtime– it’s radio silence.

When I don’t know a soul in a new city, and I’m faced with only a few hours each evening to spend on my own, it’s a bleak look I have on life.  The loneliness can ache.

People have different takes on this: Some stay in their hotel rooms and eat club sandwiches and watch on-demand movies.  Others, like myself, try to explore to the best of their abilities.  Many meals have been eaten alone while wondering about how friends and family are sleeping back home.  I’ve become much more introspective.  Perhaps I’ll begin writing again.

It’s during this travel that my Kindle and I have become best friends.

I wrote about this on Instagram a couple months back:

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(Quote from my Instagram post in October 2016)

International travel by yourself can be lonesome, even if the cities you are visiting are exciting and packed with millions of people. Literally.
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But I don’t know these strangers, and they don’t know me. We scurry about in our tiny lives, oblivious to one another’s presence. I’m a random face passing them by momentarily on the streets of their life. They, the same, for me.
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Even my local colleagues, though friendly and willing to devote time to me, have their own lives and families. I try not to infringe on their time.
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It’s especially difficult when it feels like everyone I know in the world is asleep. The witching hour at home is hustling and bustling here in Hong Kong.
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I’m still here. Alone. Watching people flow through their lives while mine feels like it’s standing still.
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It’s not so bad, most of the time. I’ve been devouring books like I haven’t done since grade school. So something good is coming of this. And I’m exploring a lot, so the strange is becoming familiar. So there’s that.
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One more week.
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Bird’s eye view of tiny, tiny human beings in The Gardens by the Bay, Singapore.

I have a couple months of respite to recover from the travel and the jetlag.  I’m off to Shanghai in January, and I’m looking forward to it.

But for now, I’m resting.

 

James Turrell: “we are dwellers at the bottom of the ocean of air.”

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James Turrell is a master of light.

We went to the de Young in San Francisco to check out the Ed Ruscha exhibit a couple months ago.  We had tickets to see the museum, too, and we were excited to explore properly.  A friend of mine was married at the de Young years ago, but we weren’t able to fully explore the museum then.  Plus, I wasn’t too interested in photography yet.

Thus, years later, we devoted a day to exploring art.  In addition to the Ed Ruscha exhibit, a main push to visit the museum was my desire to visit the James Turrell exhibit just outside of the de Young: Three Gems, 2005.  (For those of you in San Francisco this fall, the exhibit will be open on Friday nights with a light show.)

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The sculpture is a calm dome of space, and one could sit there indefinitely, watching the atmosphere flow by overhead, contemplating peace and quiet.

In fact, I was almost embarrassed at the loud clack of my camera as I pulled light in to rest on film.  A silent agreement to observe in silence was made.

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We were in a vase of air, the frogs at the bottom of the well, believing, even for a moment, that the sky was merely a changing disk of light at the top of the upturned bowl.  The soft curves of the walls drew me in, held and cradled me like a babe.

Nothing could find me here, I felt.  A breath of a moment.  A slice of peace in our tumultuous world.

It was literally poetry for my eyes.  For my soul.

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Things I think about when I’m left to the whims of my brain:

  • How do I get the same feeling of peace on my own, when I’m not surrounded by a structure that was carefully crafted to force upon someone a feeling of gentle surrender?
  • How did James Turrell decide on the angle of these curves?  What inspired him?  What inspires me?
  • Why don’t I go to art museums more often? Why don’t I seek out art more often, when it makes me so happy?
  • Then, darker . . . What am I doing with my life?  Why did I choose my career path? Why didn’t I choose art?  Wouldn’t sculpture or photography be better?  Where was I going?   Was it the right place to be, at the right time?

Perhaps I should spend more time on my own, thinking, browsing, feeling.  Soul seeking is always a good idea, I think.  I haven’t done enough of it, recently.  Instead, I hide behind a curtain of work and the fog of daily minutiae, never confronting what my teenage self once relished– the art of picking myself apart to find my weaknesses.  But then picking myself up to face the next day all over again.

How long could I have sat there, pondering?

I didn’t want to leave.

But I kind of did, too.

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So off we went.  Sculptures awaited outside, and we walked those green gardens for a while.

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The entire De Young is a work of art, from the artwork hanging within its halls to the surfaces that form the building, and, with an entire afternoon to meander quietly, we did so.

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For those of you who wonder what I look like.  Hello.  I need to cut my hair.

Sidebar: Tomorrow is our election day.  Let’s see what happens.  May there be plenty of James Turrell to go around if the results go awry.

//35mm film photos taken with my Canon AE-1 at the De Young in San Francisco, CA in September 2016.

Last Summer Hurrah (in Napa, CA)

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From a technical, Western standpoint, summer is still here.  The autumn equinox isn’t occurring for another seven days.  A week.

Yet it already feels like fall.  The days are crisp, and the everything feels fragile and delicate.  I grow melancholy in the evenings as the shadows grow long too soon.  Long days shorten.  Nights grow long and cold, and spicy scents fill my nostrils as I go about my day.  For those of us who celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, the full moon watches over us and declares that it is fall.

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However, today I am not talking about the fall.  No, sir!  Today, I’m talking about the summer!  About how I’m still trying to grasp the last wisps of summer before they escape and give way to the chill of the winter.

I think I cherish summer more so than the other seasons because I’ve been without one for so many years.  Summers in San Francisco are chilly affairs, filled with fog and cold and no-sun.  So any day when the sun emerges or I’ve left the San Francisco bubble and entered the sunny, hot days of summer, I am excited.

Napa, California is one of these places.

California wine country is a hop, skip, and a jump from our home.  In fact, it’s probably faster to get to the fringes of Napa or Sonoma than it is to get into San Francisco proper.

So we frolic.

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The strands of full berries greet us from vineyard to vineyard.  Winery to winery.

We aren’t tourists.  So we don’t try to cram as many wineries into one day as possible.  One, maybe two, at most.  Otherwise, by tasting flight three or four, the wines all the same, tannins puckering our lips and taste buds.

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Instead, we take our time, joy ride in the sun, and stumble upon random wineries in Napa.

As a last hurrah for the summer before our friends and we went back to teaching, working longer hours, etc., we went for a joy ride to Napa.  We found this gem, a quiet winery in the lazy wine country with outdoor seating, wood fired pizzas made to order, and bocce.

I am spoiled.

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//35mm film photo, taken with my Canon AE-1 with Kodak Portra 400 film.  Sonoma, California, August 2016.

Climbing a Mountain (Figuratively)

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I think it’s the 79th anniversary of Golden Gate Bridge. Happy birthday, dude.  You rock.  Keep on going.

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This used to be my view every. Single. Day.

I miss it.

It probably still could be my view, if I didn’t mind paying an arm, a leg, and my firstborn (and possibly my second) in order to afford rent in San Francisco.  I have come to the conclusion that those kids living n San Francisco (they’re all kids, no matter their age) must fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Independently wealthy (from the parents or perhaps because they sold their start up for at least $500 billion)
  2. Work at one of the few places that pay enough salary to accommodate for housing prices in San Francisco
  3. Under the age of 35, childless, and relatively new to San Francisco

I do miss it.

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I am flying to Hong Kong tomorrow.  It’s the eve before I fly, and I haven’t even finished packing.

Oops.  I should get started on that.

But before I do, some background about these images.  These are all photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from different vantage points. These were taken over the course of the past few months.  Look at the hills: they’re still green, which means we were still enjoying a Northern California spring at the time I took these photos.

Nowadays, those hills are yellow in hue.  We’re not called the “Golden State” for nothing.  Those hills are pure gold.

So these photos were all taken after work one day.  Some days, when I drive in to the City after work, I take a break from the traffic to seek out the Marin Headlands and the Golden Gate Bridge.

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How is this not absolutely breathtaking?

When I took this photo, I had to shove a middle school kid aside and out of my way.  (Punks!)  It looked like a school field trip to the Golden Gate Bridge.  Dozens upon dozens of students getting into my shot.  So I was lucky to get a few.

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It’s been a long week.  Maybe it’s time to go pack.

See you in Hong Kong.

//35mm film photos of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge taken from the Marin side.  If you look carefully, you can see Sutro Tower in the background.

Roses in Napa

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Somewhere along the way, I was lost.  But then I found myself.  Or, at least, pieces of myself.  Step by step, like Hansel and Gretel picking up the crumbs they left behind, I am following the crumbs of who I am.

I’ve gone through many iterations of “me-ness.”  My haecceity.  (That’s a new word I learned this past weekend from reading a young adult book.  Makes me wonder about the level of my vocabulary– or it’s saying something about the authors when I can still learn new words to add to my lexicon.  Anyway, this is a very verbose way of say– look it up.)

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Many of my friends are still figuring out who they are– what makes them tick and keeps them going.  Is there a midlife crisis before you’re in your midlife?  Because that’s what’s going on.  Many of my friends are changing their careers, leaving lucrative, high powered jobs, departing the known to pursue the unknown.  Others have hopped around, seeking the right fit.

How do we find the right fit?

I have friends who left and are now writers, calligraphers, artists.  That wasn’t the plan when we started out.

But then again, who were we, to presume to know our futures?

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I changed direction, too.  I’m a million times happier now than I was two years ago, but it didn’t happen overnight.  I write a lot when I am stressed, and maybe one day I’ll do a photo shoot of the notebooks I write in.  Page after page, I dug into my soul with ink.  It was a stream of consciousness, rambling much like I am now.  Stormy ideas and thoughts, tumbling rough and unpolished, onto paper.

It helped a lot.

I’m not at the final stage of discovering who I am– and I may never really find that out.  I sometimes wonder why I’m not doing something different.  For now, though, I’m still following that little stream of clues of haeccity through life.

I’ll figure it out as I go.

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{{Oh yes, these are 35 mm film photos of roses taken outside of the Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, California from a couple weekends back.  Aren’t these petals dreamy?  The grain of the film (Portra 400) makes me so happy, too.  I fall in love with film every time. }}

Taipei Cafe Dreaming

 

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Every now and then I have an out-of-body experience.  This isn’t to say that I actually leave my body and experience the supernatural.  Rather, I am suddenly thrust into the realization that the life I live is truly what I’m experiencing.  It isn’t someone else’s story that I’m reading or watching pass by.

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No.

This is my life.

And a pretty spectacular one, I might add.

I may not be a millionaire or billionaire like Trump, and I may not be famous or supermodel status (definitely nowhere close, if I can be frank with myself).  But I can have no complaints.

For example, I’ve been traveling abroad since I was an infant. (I say this quite literally; Mom managed to take 4-month-old me + two suitcases + all other baby materials to Taiwan by herself and back. She’s superwoman.)  I’m highly (some would say overly) educated, and I live in one of the most expensive areas in the United States.  I have a lot of first world problems.

But I digress.

What I’m trying to say sometimes is that I do find myself somewhat bewildered that my life is what it is.  Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?  I’m ever thankful for the life I’ve been given.

Each new experience is savored, like the droplets of an ’86 Bordeaux . . .

Oddly enough, though, I seem forget many of the details of what I experience immediately after I experience them.

Bam.

Good-bye, moment.

Maybe that’s why I love photography so much.  The hoarder in my mind is grasping at every and any opportunity to retrieve some of those thoughts and experiences and relive them.  And each snapshot is one more desperate window into my past.

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Reviewing old photos, I relive those moments, relishing the wonderment I experienced as if I were there all over again.

My hope is that I never lose that wonderment.

I think photography helps with that, as well.  I’m pushed to think and see from different perspectives, so that the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

I’m never bored, that’s for sure.

//Top photo, 35mm film photo taken at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei, Taiwan, in January 2016.  It’s a totally “Me” kind of place.  Edgy, artsy, and a little bit all over the place in a controlled confusion.

//Bottom two photos were taken from inside at the same cafe/shop with my iPhone.

 

Someone Else’s Childhood (in Taiwan)

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There’s something unsettling about nostalgia that doesn’t belong to you.  The bittersweet melancholy of realizing you’re witnessing someone else’s memories is poignant.  Stories others have told have painted hazy images in my mind’s eye, and I can recognize snapshots from their memories as I go about my adult life, but it’s just not the same.

My mother grew up in a town in Taiwan where everyone knew everyone else.  Her father was the principal of their local elementary school, as was his father before him.  Schools were a hub, and my mother’s family lived in tiny Japanese-style homes that were specifically built to house teachers on the school campus.

Why were these teacher-homes Japanese-style?  Because Taiwan was under Japanese occupation from 1894-1945.  My grandparents grew up speaking Japanese in school, and all other languages were banned.  (Fun fact: My grandfather’s earlier books were written in Japanese, and it wasn’t until he taught himself how to write Chinese in his mid-20s that he translated those books into Chinese.)  Later, when the losing government from China took up residence in Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese was mandated, and other languages banned.  My parents, therefore, grew up speaking Mandarin.  What was spoken at home?

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So what’s it like to witness someone else’s childhood?  This is what it’s like.

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These are the semi-abandoned remainders of the teacher housing from fifty years ago.  My mother’s home is this one:

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My mother’s childhood home in Longtan, Taiwan.  Somewhat renovated, this house appears somewhat like it did when my grandfather and his family were still living here when was still a teacher, fifty years ago.  The calligraphy engraved on the wood panel was written by my grandfather.  [Digital photo because I wasn’t able to capture it with my Canon AE-1]

How strange.  How weird.  How funny!

But it’s not just my mother’s childhood that I’m surreptitiously reliving.  It’s also my father’s.  It’s also my fiance’s. My parents grew up in Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s, and my fiance grew up in Taiwan in the 1980s and 1990s.  And yet, their childhoods are very similar.

This is what an elementary school looks like.

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So different from the elementary schools of my childhood in the U.S.

To them, the outdoor sinks directly outside the classroom, the mops hanging on the wall, the shape, size, and color of the buildings itself . . . These are their childhood memories.  These memories are not mine.  They will never be mine.  I can experience their childhood through trinkets and remaining edifices now, as an adult.  And that is where the bittersweetness floods in.

For good measure, because it was the Taiwan elections when I was in Taiwan in January, I’m including a photo from the Taiwanese elections.  I had to capture the historic, historic day!  The day a female president was elected! Tsai Ing-wen, now the most powerful elected female in the Chinese speaking world.

(So much passion lie behind Taiwanese politics.  I will address it some other day.  Today, I celebrate something that the U.S. hasn’t been able to achieve– the election of a powerful, opinionated woman to the helm of a country with a complicated, convoluted, and confusion past.)

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It wasn’t as crazy or exciting as the TV showed Taipei was, but Longtan’s elections, held at the local elementary school (my mother’s), was fantastic in its own right.  Quietly, people (the majority of the people of Taiwan) voted.

Yet another memory that isn’t quite mine.  I merely bore witness.

// 35mm film photos taken in Longtan, Taiwan, mid-January 2016 by a Canon AE-1.