The last email from India

Dear Kevin,dear kevin jpg

I was sitting in the common area of B&C when I was sending you this email (another long one from me you must guess). I met Bibesh and Simar a few hours ago and they were shocked to see me again, tattered after my 17-hour bus ride from Manali. It’s unbearably hot here. The heat put me into a lethargic state in which I couldn’t function properly. The sky of Delhi was still blue maybe because of the wishes you keep sending me. I was lucky enough not to see the grey polluted Delhi sky in any day I stayed here (it must be because I didn’t stay here long enough :P).

It’d been already two months since I met you the first time here but it seemed like everything had just happened the day before. Since then I had met more people, been to more places in India and grown quite a lot. Like a tree, I keep absorbing sunlight and water and I keep branching and changing leaves. It’s a beautiful process. I didn’t have to use any tips you and many other friends told me in order to survive in India. The country and its people treated me so well until my last day. I met some of the kindest, nicest, and friendliest people here. I also met the most humble, welcoming, and caring people in this country. I want to tell all of my friends who still doubt about traveling to India that, “hey, just come here, experience it, and make your own stories, don’t listen to other people’s stories”. I feel blessed, grateful, and happy that I’ve been to this place.

And I came back to this city from which I ran away. I didn’t regret the choice at all. I never regret any of my choices. Different choices lead to different paths and each path has its own beauty. I have learned to embrace the choices I have made and myself for making these choices.

That day when we watched my first sunset in Old Delhi (and your second last sunset in India), we talked, we connected. I didn’t remember much of our conversations which took place in an old building in Old Delhi, in Haus Khaz village, in metros, in the kitchen of B&C, and in many more places but I would never forget those moments of being emotionally connected to another human being. They are just very beautiful. It’s so easy to talk to you, Kevin. Today, on my last day in this country, I decided to meet up a friend again, whom I didn’t have so much time to talk to when I met her the first time, or the second time, or the third time. We had a good but short conversation the last time I met her randomly in Dharamsala, and I knew at that moment that she’s someone I had to talk to again, to get in touch with, to get inspired from, and to learn from. And Kevin, I was right. We laughed, we made fun of life and people, we sympathized with each other’s stories, and we were connected. We are two women who never think of ourselves as women but simply as human beings. It frees us from social norms and it gives us bravery and courage to travel alone as a woman. It doesn’t take much time to get to know someone. I’m glad I decided to meet her again. I’m glad we did spend time together until late night. On the way back, I was on a metro full of drunken old men. Some looked happy some look miserable. I was wondering for a second what their lives were like. Bonobo’s music was on replay and my mind was filled with thoughts. I still couldn’t believe I was about to leave this place soon. But I was happy and content.

I notice that I become generous with my words not only to myself but also to the people I’ve met on the road. Here is a part of a conversation I had with that friend tonight:

Me: “So it doesn’t matter if it’s Kevin or Peter or Tom whom I write to. At first I wrote to Kevin as if I wrote to myself because I feel comfortable doing so and because it’s easy to write to someone whom I feel connected with. But then I started to meet more people with whom it’s so easy to share my ideas and thoughts. I write to another friend about my thoughts, those weird philosophical ones, thoughts that I used to keep only for myself because the magic they hold would disappear if I say them out loud, I used to believe. Then I started to realize I became more open to people. I share my thoughts more. I have learned to express those indescribable thoughts into words. I have learned to express my emotions in ways that everyone could understand. I have learned so much about myself through the act of traveling.”

Friend: “It’s fascinating!”

I caught changes in her facial expression. I knew she listened to every single word I said. And she was busy with her thoughts, too. I guessed she related my words to herself. We have parts of our souls that are so similar that help us to sympathize and connect to each other. It amazes me. It fascinates me. People like us, people like me, people like you are everywhere once we venture out to see the world, once we accept who we are,  adopt unknown parts of our selves, and once we are open to other people.

You mentioned “love” in your last email. Yes, I am in love. But not only with that one person had I mentioned in my previous email. I am in love with people: my family, my friends, strangers, and with myself. The feeling called “love” I’m experiencing is indescribable. It controls my heartbeat, my breath, my thoughts, and my senses. It makes me emotional, sensitive, patient, mindful, and wise. I feel “love” even when I am not with people, when I spend time on my own. I am both the lover and the beloved. This love always resides within me. I was searching for it without knowing it’s here, always here. Love. Life. Life is beautiful beyond words.

I’m coming back home! It’s been almost seven months since I left. I told you I’d come back in Nepal after India but because of the recent earthquakes, I think it’s better to go home and see my family first before I venture out again.  The idea of coming home spontaneously came when I was on a bus from Dharamsala to Bir – a famous spot for paragliding (yes, I did fly in the sky!!!). I was nervous, a bit intimidated, but also excited to come back “home” – a place I’ve rarely been for the past five years. It’s weird that I don’t feel like I belong to a place where I was born and grew up. The city keeps expanding while my love for it keeps fading away.

So, I didn’t go to the famous Taj Mahal, or Varanasi. Among all the places you suggested me go I only went to Jaipur. But it doesn’t matter, as I said in my previous email, I’d been to other beautiful places and I’d met a lot of beautiful people there and I’m satisfied. I found myself moving from one small town to another one. Each of them was one paradise of mine. I’d love to come back in India and I hope we could meet here again, when both of us come back to this magical land.

Hugs

An

Advertisements

Last days in Kathmandu

kathmandu sky

A post sunset view of Kathmandu from Monkey Temple

I found myself strolling around meeting friends in different parts of Kathmandu valley to say goodbye. When I thought I could navigate myself with the bus and tuk tuk system and walking around without getting lost, I was wrong. This valley still has many corners I’ve never been to. Streets look familiar but still get me lost (and don’t rely on the helpfulness and enthusiasm of Nepali so much as they tend to show you a wrong way unintentionally -> the lesson: asking at least 5 people on the street for direction, haha).

I had a very good “review” of my travel in Nepal when my sister came here to visit me before I go to India. I basically took her to all of my favorites places in Nepal. It’s like reading a summary of a favorite book. All the good (and not so good) memories flashed back as if they just happened the day before and I realized I’d indeed experienced a lot of things in this country, and I’m going to miss it and its people so so so much. And you know what, traveling in Nepal doesn’t feel the same anymore. I didn’t really know where I should take my sister to during her 10 days here. Nepal travel isn’t all about trekking, breathtaking scenic views, or historic temples and ancient towns. Instead, it’s also about the people who smile and help you on the street, and who welcome you in their house with their unimaginable hospitality, and who share with you whatever little things they have. It’s also about changes in your lifestyle and your thinking.

And for the first time in months, I found myself totally relaxed, doing nothing, enjoying my last days in this country : )

How living, working, and traveling in Nepal have changed me

shining stone in Annapurna resizedThese days when I talk to either locals or expats/travelers, some are surprised with the amount of information I have known about Nepal. I’m not so proud of myself since I still have a lot to learn about and immerse myself in Nepali culture. Looking back into the past months, I find myself being a changing/transforming process, in a positive way.

  1. I become more patient

Working with kids needs lots of patience. I struggled at first with my job but now nothing can make me happier than talking to my kids. I often find myself smiling when I look at them. They have a bright future and I wish the education system here (I’d like to discuss about it in another post) will not ruin their imagination and curiosity.

Working with Nepali requires much more patience. Everything here is so bureaucratic and therefore very inefficiently done. I personally think some of my colleagues at work are not very professional and they tend to delay things as much as possible. Fixed schedules are luxurious and holidays are plentiful. It drives me crazy even though I’m quite a laid-back person but when it comes to work, I want things to be done productively. Moreover, some people focus more on the surface and they’d either ignore the core of the problem or delay to solve the problem at all, which can be really frustrating.

  1. I focus on what I am doing, trying my best to fulfill my job and my passion and care less about what other people should do or have to do.

But it doesn’t mean that I totally ignore the work by other people. I do think that a big change needs small changes which involves both collective and individual efforts. However, instead of being too focused on thinking what many others have to  do so that changes can happy and be seen, we should be focused on what we can do. Systematic changes do not only require actions but also a changed mindset which comes first from each individual. Furthermore, the big world out there exists way more people than we thought who share the same view with us and who are basically doing the same thing we’re doing.

  1. I’m more open up to myself and to other people. I become more social. I smile a whole lot more.

Many people including people who met me for the first time complimented on my friendliness. I used to be aloof, and anxious but now I enjoy spending time with people. I had changed a lot even before Nepal but I feel like Nepal is the place to improve my social skills. I’ve met lots of nice and cool people here, both locals and nonlocals and I’m surprised at the number of conversations I have had with them. I get to know things around the world and different cultures in the most basic method  – conversations. Conversations come so naturally and some of them are unforgettably inspiring. Also, I’m amazed at the fact that small talks haven’t occurred in a significant frequency. I always find myself engaging in meaningful and thought-provoking conversations which I enjoy so much and always crave for more.

  1. I’m engaging in a minimalist lifestyle. I appreciate food, water, and (natural) resources. I shop less.

I used to possess many things I don’t need or rarely use. Life is less complicated when you don’t have to worry about what you have to keep or bring or what you own. I try to be a light traveler and minimize my belongings as much as possible.

Food: Many Nepali have told me they’re happy when they see me eating happily Nepali food. I used to be very picky when it comes to food. I still am(I do think I have a refined taste when it comes to food :P) but I appreciate the fact that I have food to eat everyday whereas many kids and people in Nepal die because of starvation. I like Nepali Dal-Bhat (bean or lentil soup & rice – a national Nepali cuisine) a lot and many varieties of tasty Nepali cuisines (and eating alone in a local restaurant/eatery/food stand in Nepal can never be boring as I’m always approached by some local people!).

Water is another thing I come to appreciate. Drinking water is daily delivered to where I live and we also use it to wash vegetables as tap water is only for washing clothes or cleaning. Besides, I come to learn how to shower water-economically since I have to go through a daily long process of boiling water, and then mixing hot water with cold water for a only 15 minute hot shower. I’m still clean, smell good, and happy. :)

Electricity: If you live in a country where power is cut off up to 8-10 hours per day, you’ll learn how to save electricity and get work done on your electronic devices more efficiently. Checking the load-shedding schedule would help a lot in scheduling my own working hours (and shower time!!!).

Gas: Nepal  is always on shortage of gas. Many Nepali families cook with firewood as gas is becoming more and more unaffordable. I don’t cook here

Shopping: I’d never been interested in shopping even before Nepal. It’s tempting to shop when you’re traveling but I don’t go shopping a lot in Nepal except for books and food. I bought some souvenirs for friends and family during the first week here and then I stopped. One of the reasons why shopping in Nepal, especially in Thamel and other tourist areas is not that appealing is that I HAVE TO bargain and I suck at it so much (I’m improving a lot these days though after having overpaid so much!). I prefer shops with fixed price and get what I pay for.

  1. I read more. I write more. I spend less time surfing the internet.

I have bought quite many books since I came to Nepal because books here are so cheap. Since I get addicted to spending time in bookstores, I go to bookstores a lot and thus can’t help buying new books!

I’ve written a lot about Nepal and about my life and adventures here, which I’m going to post on this blog soooooooon! : )

My tablet was broken two weeks after I came here so my laptop basically became a main tool to connect me with the virtual world as I’m not using a smart phone. Weirdly, I don’t feel a need to surf the web as I did before. I do check my emails and sometimes my Facebook which I only use its messenger feature. That’s it! Talking to real people and going out to see the real world are way more interesting, yes? : )

  1. I think simple.

I like talking to simple-minded Nepali whose main concern is about food and living but their mind is very rich and I love their way of viewing the world. It’s so simple and beautiful! They might be not rich but they are the most kind-hearted people I’ve ever met. I come to believe that our thinking and attitude decide the amount of troubles and worries we get in life.

  1. I become more and more optimistic but also look at things more critically.

Optimism and criticism are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they complement each other. Many things we see/read/hear should be viewed critically/analytically. What we often do is that we’re pleased with the surface of a thing/phenomenon/problem because looking deeper into something is brain-taxing. I always tell myself not to jump into a conclusion when I see/read/watch/hear a piece of information. Critically looking at a problem does not only provides me a complete view of its but also give insights to other related issues. Optimism gives me ideas of how things can possibly be changed or improved.

8.   I know I’m able to have impacts on other people.

I influence people and in return I also change and get influenced in many possible positive ways. This two-way process is exciting as it feeds my passion and encourages me to continue what I am doing. Moreover, it stimulates my eagerness to learn even more from other people whom I will encounter later during  my journey.

  1. I become more independent and self-confident in many aspects of my life. Enough said : )
  1. I’ve met and found more and more people who are similar to me.

An observation is that the world actually consists of people who have far more similarities rather than differences. Groups, countries, borders, etc. (and our myriads of classifications) emphasize people differences and we are actually more interested in how different someone is from us. Traveling and living in different parts of the world makes me see the world as a harmonious painting of different colors. We regardless of our skin color, race, and cultural background, are actually alike. So why should we focus more on our differences rather than similarities?

I like to see a person as an individual, as who they are rather than as which group they belong to. Everyone of us is unique in different ways and we should appreciate and respect those differences. I’m so glad I’ve found friends here who speak “the same language” as I do, who listen to my stories with a non-judgmental attitude, and who share with me theirs with a welcoming heart.

  1. I regret less. : )
  1. Not sure if this point is relevant but recently many Nepali have told me they thought that I am a Nepali (a Tamang or Rhai – two of many castes in Nepal), haha.

P.S. I’ve just read this article recently and like many other articles on this topic, everything sounds so true :P

Namaste!

candles

It’s been almost two weeks since I first came to Nepal. The country is still fascinating to me and everyday I feel like I’m overwhelmed with an unstoppable flow of information from nice, helpful, and simple-minded people of this country.

A few things I’ve noticed so far in Nepal:

– It’s a poor country. When I talk to the people here I couldn’t figure out why the country is poor when it has these smart, willing-to-learn, hardworking, and curious kids, and adults.

– Social ranking and gender inequality are obvious

– The gap between the rich and the poor is large

– The country doesn’t really have an industry that produces itself necessary products. For example, I went to a supermarket to buy some soaps, towels, and food to realize that most stuff is imported (from Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Philippines, South Korea and of course China).

– Nepali people prefer imported goods and clothes (Western styled clothes) while tourists coming here to buy handmade local products

– Power is cut off for a certain period of time daily

– Sunday is not an off-day

– Public buses are really scary. I mean, really scary, this is the best illustration for how poverty turns human lives into something cheap and invaluable.

– Tap water is nearly lethal and you should always drink bottled water.

– Most streets don’t have street lights.

– Punctuality is not really a thing here. People often delay things.

– People judge you based on your skin color. (So expect to pay more at tourist sites if you don’t have a “common face or skin color”)

– Monks I’ve seen so far seem rich.

– Be prepared to see and move together with humans, cars, rickshaws, bicycles, motorbikes, cows, and dogs on a same narrow dusty street in Nepal.

– Dogs sleep throughout daytime and become active when the night falls.

– The most confusing thing ever: when people turn their head from left to right, it means “yes” or “okay”

Some (big) changes in my daily life since I came here:

– Wake up at 6 am and start a new day at 7 am

– Go to bed before 11 pm

– I have to boil water in order to take a hot/warm shower. And to some who might want to know, I HAVE TO take a shower everyday regardless of the season. To some Nepali, it sounds strange because in this cold weather they just take a shower like 2-3 times per week.

– Eat more beans and potatoes and rice :D

– No more regular/excessive internet usage (no wifi coverage in my room and the internet connection is so bad everywhere…)

Some questions I’m asked almost everyday:

– Are you cold? (When people see me without a thick jacket: no, I’m not. I was also wearing like this during many cold autumns in Holland and felt just fine. My body temperature is higher than most people I guess and I prefer feeling a bit cold to feeling too warm with many layers of clothes, : P)

– Are you from Japan/China/Korea? (and then they’re surprised to know where I’m from. I guess there’re not many Vietnamese people around here)

– What kind of language do you speak in Vietnam? (So many people thought Vietnamese speak Chinese. This isn’t only the case in Nepal but also in other parts of the world where I’ve been to.)

I’m not sure if because of holding no expectations about Nepal before I came here, I find myself amazed at everything about this country. I spend weekdays working and volunteering and weekends traveling, so more updates on my Nepal adventures will be coming soon!

Namaste!

: )

Andorra and Barcelona

I found some photos of Barcelona and Andorra in a recent developed roll of film. It’s from the roll I thought was lost somewhere in Groningen but it’d been staying in my luggage the whole time.

I didn’t have many photos of the stunningly beautiful views of Pyrenees during my 5-day hike there last summer. If you have to carry a big backpack climbing up and down mountains at least 8 hours per day for several days, the last thing you want to have in your backpack is a heavy but delicate camera. Maybe next time I’ll bring less food (I figured out that when you’re hiking, you have no appetite) and take a weatherproof camera or a GoPro with me instead.

So these rare photos of that summer were taken in the cities – Barcelona and Andorra. I nearly went camera-free even after we’d already come back to the cities. Why? Just because…