Upon Return

It has been a while since I feel like I could write honestly.  It’s been approximately one month since I returned to the states, and four months since I left to begin my journey this summer.

As it is quite apparent, blogging was not something I went through with this summer, but there are multiple reasons as to why I stopped blogging while I was on my trip.  One, which I immediately recognized upon starting my trip (yet still thought I could find a way to go about it), was that the topic I was dealing with this summer (as opposed to last, or, Europe 2014) was much more personal and less concrete.  This time, listening to people’s stories and emotions, and dealing with my own journey, immediate presentation became difficult.  There was also no immediate meaning I could apply to such experiences.  And I let that be.

This leads to my second reason, and perhaps the more significant one, that I stopped concerning myself with the constant need to understand, prove, and present.  While I was in Europe, I went about things in a very pragmatic way and, thus, had a conclusion that would mark every day as “successful.”  Execution was always X to Y to Z and I always made sure to reach Z.  No detours, no thinking beyond the (and I would like to say, high) expectations I created for myself and for my project. But traveling in Asia, I freed myself from the safety of such an approach.

There is, indeed, much less safety to living a life that is planned and has an understood meaning.  To trust the direction in which your body and intuition is moving you towards, and allowing experiences and interactions to exist as they do in the present moment is a challenge.  I would always find myself asking even while moments were occurring, “What does this mean? Why am I doing this? What am I getting out of it?”, attempting to mold and control my life with my brain.  But to remove myself from the safety that was brain was trying to create was to open myself to living a fuller and more honest life.

As I mentioned in one of the posts I did publish (and there are actually many unpublished posts from the summer), Cambodia Reflections, that there was “an inescapable confrontation: that there was something I wasn’t understanding about myself. […] I realize that it’s okay to be in a state of uncertainty. It can’t be that we are most certain about every decision or every experience we have as significant at every single moment.  Yet […] The unsettling thing is it feels that if I’ve lost touch with my intuition.”  This made me approach traveling this summer in a new way — one that emphasized action over thinking.  I had to teach myself how to follow and trust the direction and sensations of my body.  This challenge was present in every aspect of my trip and project, and I needed the time and space to work through it…This was not a simple question with an immediate answer.

I had to start from the basics and work my way up.  Learning and understanding what it means to live all over again meant understanding the importance of maintaining connection to my intuition, which meant understanding the importance of breathing, eating, sleeping, and feeling.  …And in doing so, learning what it means to live.  This might sound like some BS “Eat, Prey, Love” deal, but I mean it with all honesty.

It was a challenge getting to a place of even knowing how to locate my intuition, and another to go about my days guided by my intuition.  I wouldn’t say I am completely there, but I have a greater awareness of what it means for me, to live.  My time in Asia offered me the vital first steps in building my own foundation, and I have returned with all the intention to maintain it and continue to expand it.  With this, I have also decided to look back at unpublished posts and begin to publish those, in addition to writing about experiences unrecorded previously.  They will all be published on the date that they were originally written or experienced, so they will all show up as posts previous to this one.  They will, of course, be written in the past tense, and I realize it will not reflect the experiences as they happened in real time, but I am ready to look back and begin to understand.

Day 35

A beautiful sunset in Taipei…

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Day 21

Vietnam.

An overwhelming first day. (…so much so that I unfortunately did not take any pictures while I was walking around)

I only spent half of the day outside, but it felt like too much stimulation.  Similar to Cambodia, just being here makes me very tired… Unfamiliar sounds, smells, confusing street intersections, so many cars, so much honking, so many SCOOTERS.

THE SCOOTERS.

I was prepared for this, I was well-warned by the internet that crossing the streets in Hanoi would be a huge task.

…And it’s true. Every time I need to cross the street, I’m throwing myself in a danger zone.  There are rarely any street lights (and even if they are, aren’t followed), and a mix of scooters and cars come from all directions. I feel like it’s a real-life version of the 90’s black and white Gameboy froggy-jump game, where the objective of the game is to get the frog to successfully cross the road and avoid getting hit by cars (…other people played this too, yeah?) …except you really cannot fail in the version set in Vietnam:P

So yes, walking around felt crazy. I also took a bus today and that was an interesting task as well. There are no bus stop names written anywhere, and even when there are announcements made by the driver they are of course in Vietnamese. So I did the point-to-the-map and have the ticket seller point towards the door for me to signal when I should get off. It worked, but I was such a lost child.

I also stepped in a warm puddle of I don’t know what.

But..

there was a highlight,

which was the Temple of Literature, which I enjoyed.

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Recognizing the differences in the aesthetics and the stone carvings from the temples in Cambodia really made me feel like I was on a new land, in a new culture. That’s when it sunk in, that I’m in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Day 20: Cambodia Reflections

IMG_7106 Cambodia has been a whirlwind of information…information processed through visuals…through language…and through emotions. When I think about my time in Siem Reap, the one word that may encapsulate my experiences here might be “exposure.” I had plenty of exposure to new visuals, to a new language and a new culture, and new stories…but most importantly, I experienced an exposure to and ultimate realization of the state of my being at this very moment in time.

I’ve been feeling like I’ve been in a state of uncertainty for quite some time now, and being Cambodia presented an inescapable confrontation: that there was something I wasn’t understanding about myself.  I recognized that I have been feeling very unclear about all the decisions I have been making in the sense that I couldn’t answer, for any of my decisions, the question of why. 

I realize that it’s okay to be in a state of uncertainty. It can’t be that we are most certain about every decision or every experience we have as significant at every single moment.  Yet despite the fact that we face uncertainty, the absolute most important thing is to never lose hold of our core and a connection to our intuition… The unsettling thing is it feels that if I’ve lost touch with my intuition.  It’s painful to admit, but I tell myself that at least I have recognized this, and can move forward with a new awareness regarding my current self.  Cambodia will remain, for me, as a place that holds a reminder of the importance of self-reflection, honesty towards myself, and keeping in touch with my core.

Day 18

IMG_6991It’s a Saturday, and I decided to take it easy.  Nothing planned, no commitments…the kind of Saturday I haven’t allowed myself to take for too long of a time.

I spent all morning and early afternoon drawing. There was a need to draw all the visual information I took in looking at the numerous temples for the past 3 days.  Even drawing at the sites themselves weren’t enough, so I sat, drew, and processed. There’s a level of understanding that I am able to achieve through the act of mark-making, and I was feeling slightly more grounded by around 3pm.

I met with my host and wonderful friend towards the late afternoon. She is Japanese, and was born and has lived there all her life, but recently moved to Siem Reap to live and start a new job.  We had a conversation by the river where she told me more about her relationship to Siem Reap, her decision to move here, and work at a Japanese company.  I asked her if she would have ever worked at such a company if she were living in Japan, and she replied that she wouldn’t.  There’s a balance I can achieve, she told me, working with a Japanese company during the day, and then being surrounded by Cambodian culture outside of that job.  Although she didn’t put it this way, I was curious about how removing herself from Japan allowed her to experience a part of Japan that she wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.  She is learning more about her culture by removing herself. … and maybe this allows culture to be viewed as distant from one’s physical self. And perhaps, by learning more about her culture in this way, she can understand how the culture is affecting her self as an individual…an individual that is not bound to cultural associations/definitions.  The theme of physical displacement that I mentioned earlier is something that I find myself lingering on.

Day 15

Angkor Wat.

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Of course, when in Siem Reap, one must visit the Angkor Wat. This structure has a presence and commands a certain respect…not only through its size, but it’s style.

The Angkor Wat is probably one of the main reasons people come to Siem Reap, as it’s been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. There were lots of tour groups there today, even though multiple people have said that it’s a low season for tourism in Siem Reap. Even though there were other people bustling around, I tried to take it as slow as possible. …and ended up spending 4 hours there.

What I found was an immediate intrigue to all of the patterning throughout. All of these visuals were so new to me, and experiencing a difficulty in drawing them proved a level of unfamiliarity with the aesthetic.

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The wearing and (at times) discoloration of the stone on certain parts of the structure also visually interested me.

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I have yet to look into the history of the Angkor Wat in more detail, yet immediately what I can say is that with exposure to new patterns, new shapes, new narratives, and figures, and in trying to process them through observational drawing, I began to feel somewhat closer to not only the physical structure of the Angkor Wat, but also the greater space of Siem Reap, Cambodia…

Day 14

The heat in Siem Reap…has been a major, physical challenge.  I sit, and I sweat. I stand up, and I feel beads forming above my lip. I take a step, and sweat is rolling down my back. It has been extremely difficult to adjust to.

But, I have a plan for the rest of my time here to save me from the hottest times of the day by heading out in the mornings, taking a break in the early afternoon, and venturing out again in the late afternoon/early evening. Trying to do anything or go anywhere in the middle of the day is nearly impossible for me. I followed through with this plan today, but there was a sudden, huge rainfall around 2:30pm, and it has not stopped.  It is apparently common around this time of the year for there to be very sudden and extreme rainfalls. It will be sunny, and then BAM! raaaaiiinnnn. That’s how it was today, at least.

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On this rainy afternoon/evening, I’ve started to think more about the questions and themes regarding my project. An important part, as I’ve described previously, is understanding space/place and people’s relationship to them, and having this be one way in which I better understand a culture I do not know about. With this in mind, I’ve begun to think more about physical displacement. For many first generation Asian Americans like myself, there is a physical displacement that we experience, and establishment of a completely new relationship to the land in which we inhabit.  It is interesting to consider, in being in these Asian countries, the more perhaps historical, personal and rooted connection people have to the land and space they inhabit.  Reflecting on my personal experiences, I do not feel a strong connection to any physical place, and I instead feel like a floating entity barely held to my home city or home apartment by the familial tie to my parents who have established new lives on new ground. What does it mean to/How does one have a strong connection to a physical place/space? And in what forms does displacement come? What does displacement result in? What does it meant to “belong” to a place/space..?

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