Where in the World ~ My Top Ten List

Where in the World ~ My Top Ten List

Note to self:  when in shelter-at-home, do not, I repeat, do not leave your cell phone plugged into the charger 23 out of 24 hours in a day!!  Why?  Because just maybe your battery will overheat, expand, and cause your phone case to separate.  Then you must purchase a new phone, which isn’t always a bad thing, but one I hadn’t planned on.  So, I purchased a new phone, now I had to sync the phones.  Do I really want to transfer all 22,000+ photos to my new phone?  Not only that, but in the process, I discovered that not only had I backed up to OneDrive and Xiaomi Cloud, but also to Google Plus.  Well, I haven’t seen some of these pictures in years.  Do you know how many hours you can waste looking at old photos?  Let me just say, it is a good thing we were on lockdown because I don’t want to admit the amount of time spent.  What wonderful travel memories they brought back.  Having been to 37 countries, I started thinking about my favorite places I have visited and made a top ten list.  Looking at my top ten list it included countries, cities, places, and moments. I didn’t think it was a particularly good list combining whole countries with cities and some places. Then, I realized that my list mostly comes down to the memories or moments that were made in these countries, cities, and places.  Where in the world are my top ten?  I couldn’t decide on a definite number one.  Of 2 places, which many of you can guess, Paris and Bali are neck and neck.  I have started saying, “Paris is my heart and Bali is my soul”.  Starting with Paris, since I am currently in Europe, followed by Bali and then the rest of my list in no certain order, I’ll tell you why they are on my list.

Ahhhh, Paris the city that stole my heart.  They (who the hell are “they”? But you know what I mean) say you never forget your first time in Paris.  My first time began like this… “It was our first evening in Paris. Night was falling as we entered the metro.  Rain was in the forecast, so I had our umbrella.  We were headed to a wine taste.  A light drizzle met us as we exited the metro station.  The sounds of the city and the glow of the streetlamps surrounded us.  As we tried to get our bearings, he spotted a street vendor selling cre51499486_941665969369719_5981130164594016256_npes.  Huddled under our umbrella, sharing a warm crepe… Paris in the rain…I was in love.  Was I in love with the city, the man, or the moment?  Probably, all three. 

As cliché as it is, from “Midnight in Paris”, there is something about Paris in the rain and you never do forget your first visit to Paris.  Many more trips to Paris and a short time living there, Paris and more specifically, Montmartre, has my heart.  You can read more about my love affair with Paris here.

Bali you are my soul.  It is interesting while living in China, I learned the Chinese word for Paris is Bālí.  Also, while living in Paris, I met a girl at a café. She told me about her dream of moving to Bali.  I promised if she made the move, I would come to visit.  It seems these 2 worlds were destined to collide.  She moved from Paris to Bali and I planned a trip.  Arriving in Bali, I spent several days in Ubud, more specifically Peliatan, before going to visit my friend.  I found a random homestay with a local family and my soul was stolen.  They included me in their Balinese traditions, took me to special places on the island, and even took me to a Balinese wedding.

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Their friend, Made, drove me 2 hours to take one photo at the now Instagram famous, Lempuyang, or the Gate to Heaven.  Before leaving Peliatan, they asked me to return in a few months for a special ceremony that takes place once every 3 years in their community, a Ngaben or Cremation Ceremony.  Ketut’s mother would be cremated and I would join the family in the celebration of her life and the ceremony sending her to the next life. Those few short days I spent with them learning about Balinese culture and traditions, I knew I would return. I did return that August for the cremation.  I spent 8 days going to Temple and experiencing the Hindu religion firsthand.  I was with the family at 2 am when we exhumed the body for cremation.  Each day sucked me in deeper and I knew my next visit would be for an extended period.  When I arrived back in Bali July of 2019, it would be for 4 months.  I again stayed at Kenari House which I consider my Balinese home.  I also spent 6 weeks volunteering at a Balinese school for special needs children.  Although I feel at home in most places I visit or live, I cannot explain the way I feel in Bali.  I feel as if I was meant to be there.  I’m thankful my worlds collided.

Currently living in Warsaw, Poland, I plan to return to Paris as soon as possible after coronavirus restrictions open Europe to travel.  After my time in Poland is up and no, I don’t know when that will be, I plan to return to Bali for another extended period. I need to keep my heart and soul in balance. “Om Santih, Santih, Santih, Om”, I wish you peace in body, speech and mind…until we meet again. You can read more about my Bali life here.

No certain order, the rest of the list…

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Lake Placid, New York…this may seem like a strange choice, but it is a place where my adult life revisited a trip of my childhood.  We were taking about 2.5 weeks and traveling from Warren, Ohio through Pittsburgh on to Philadelphia, New York, Boston through a small town in Vermont, and a visit to Lake Placid before heading back to Ohio.  This was a great road trip, but 2 things stuck with me. First, visiting friends in a small town outside Burlington, Vermont, I experienced darkness, as in nighttime, like I have never seen.  It recalled the Eagles song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” talking about a billion stars in the sky.  It really seemed like there were a billion stars in the sky, but what stood out, even more, was the silence.  The only way I can explain it is that the silence was deafening.  The deafening silence and a billion stars made for a night I will never forget, but on to Lake Placid.  I was probably 10 years old the first time I visited Lake Placid with my parents and younger brother.  I remember being fascinated by “snow” in the summer (homemade but put out on the streets as an attraction).  We hiked up Whiteface Mountain and took obligatory elevation photo.  Revisiting as an adult brought back all the memories.  The “snow” in the summer was still on the street and we made the hike up so I could recreate the obligatory photo at elevation 4867 ft.  It is great recreating memories of your childhood, but even better when you can make new ones at the same time.  It had started to drizzle (can you tell I love rain?).  When we came down the mountain, we stopped at a bar that was doing prime rib outside on a grill…the aroma overtook us and soon we were sharing a bottle of pinot grigio and eating prime rib sandwiches before returning to our hotel on Mirror Lake and our hot tub.  I can’t explain why certain trips, when you have taken 100’s, are embedded in your heart, soul, and mind, but this was one of them, so it makes my top ten list.

Talk about seeing a billion stars in the sky…Majorca/Mallorca, Spain, the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean where we spent nearly 3 weeks. Palma, the Island’s capital is known for its beaches and is a popular tourist destination for Europeans.

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Fornalutx

We stayed in a small village across the island called Fornalutx.  No cars could get into the village, so you had to park on the outskirts.  It was a village of stone streets and stairs.  Our home for the visit was a 400-year-old stone house.  Our bedroom was open-air room on the top of the house and was the “drying room”.  Fornalutux was tucked in a valley and we didn’t see the sun between the mountains until almost 10 am.  We would then wander to the center of the village and sip our café con leche and watch the locals go about their business.  We took day trips around the island visiting Valldemossa where Chopin met George Sands and they became lovers.  My worlds often seem to collide, as I am now living in Chopin’s home country of Poland but visited his home in Mallorca.  After Chopin and Sands’s visit, the locals fearing tuberculosis burned most of the furniture and rooms as Chopin had been ill with “a cold”.  The museum in Valldemossa has letters, manuscripts, his Majorcan piano as well as Chopin’s death mask and a lock of his hair.  We often walked to the nearby village of Soller and caught the tram to the bowl-shaped Port de Soller where we sipped sangria on the sea.  Cala Deia became a favorite spot.  We had to hike down a small trail to the sea.  We lunched on cheese, olives, bread, and wine and then swam naked in the sea.  We visited Banyalbutar and Cap de Formentor where we drove and finally had to hike the rest of the way up to the remains of a medieval fortress.  But by far, the most memorable night was on the outskirts of Fornalutx.  Restaurants don’t start serving dinner until 9pm.  We bought a giant pan of paella grabbed some box wine and headed up the mountain.  Spread our blankets, ate paella, got drunk on wine, and lay and looked at the billion stars in the sky until near daybreak.

 

 

As long as my head is in the stars, we may as well go to “the rooftop of the world”….Tibet! Since I have been a young girl, I have had a dream of meeting the Dalai Lama and seeing Tibet.  Now I realize the Dalai Lama is in India and not Tibet, but when you live in China, you can at least realize the Tibet portion of your dream.  While living in Hunan Provence, I decided this would be the best time to go to Tibet.  Thank goodness I did a little research before I just jumped on a train to Lhasa.  An individual cannot enter and tour Tibet independently.  You must book a tour through a registered Tibetan Tour Operator.  Not being one that usually does tours, I had no choice and found one that had an itinerary that matched my wish list.  2 things were important to me, first, an overnight on Mount Everest Base Camp and second, I wanted to end up in Kathmandu, Nepal.  These criteria being met, I left Changning in Hunan Province where I had been living and working and headed to Guangzhou for a sort 3-day holiday before the long haul to Tibet.  I chose to travel by train as I read that it is easier to acclimatize to the altitude by train versus flying to Lhasa.  I boarded the train in Guangzhou for a 9-hour train ride to Chongqing.  This is where the trains to Tibet start in this part of China.  I decided to spend one night in Chongqing because the next leg of my journey would be 44 hours on a sleeper train, slowly climbing to nearly 5000 meters ( 16,404 ft) in the mountains before descending to 3,656 ( 11,900 ft) the altitude of Lhasa.  The berths were equipped with oxygen and as we ascended, oxygen was automatically pumped in.  Honestly, the trip was not that bad, and I would probably do it again should the opportunity present itself.  Arriving in Lhasa, the train is met by armed guards to which you much show your passport, China visa, and Tibet travel permit.  Then you are escorted to immigration and met by your tour guide.  I had arrived 2 days before our official tour began so I could have some independent time in Lhasa.  Although nearly everyone had cell phones and homes had satellite dishes, I felt like I was in the land that time forgot.  I wandered around Lhasa.  I saw the Potala Palace, monasteries, temples, and even met some locals. Before I knew it, it was time to start the official tour.  I soon met the 9 other people I would be spending the next week with. I’m not going to get into the whole once in a lifetime trip but just tell you about the defining moment that will forever stick with me.  I will say, there was a bond created between our group that was amazing and I’m happy to say has led to friendships to this day.  The defining moment for me was base camp Mount Everest or Qomolangma as it is known in Tibetan.

We arrived just before sunset.  Sadly, the peak of the mighty mountain was under cloud cover.  We got settled in our tent, I was rooming with George and Phillipe, who I had become quite close with during our time together and a French couple who had also hung out with us during most of the trip.  It was nice being just the 5 of us in our tent.  We were still getting settled in when we heard a bit of a ruckus outside.  Dropping everything we went to see what was causing the commotion.  I got outside and everyone was looking toward the peak of Everest.  The skies had opened, and we witnessed the sun setting on that magnificent summit that has claimed the lives of so many, so many who are still buried in her breast.  All I could do was look to the sky and cry.  I turned to George and Phillipe and we all knew we were witnessing something amazing. The peak of Mount Everest, a glowing orange triangle bathed in the setting sun.  They gave me a squeeze and we just stared in silence.  I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt at that moment in time.  Later, early morning, maybe about 4am I woke and stepped out of our warm tent into the brisk air and could not believe I was here on the mighty mountain.  I was once again filled with awe as I stared up at the shining moon amongst what looked like a billion stars.  If you don’t believe in God or a higher being, you might start here.  You can read my Mount Everest story here.

Where to next?  How about Vietnam.  So far, all my choices have had kind of an Ah-Ha moment that defines them.  I can’t say that I have an ah-ha moment for Vietnam.  I just know I am drawn to the entire country, its people, its beauty, its cuisine.  I’ve only been to Vietnam 4 times, but each experience has been amazing.  My first visit was only to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City.  The second time was HCMC and the outlying areas. The third, I started in Hanoi and traveled north to the border of China, stopping in very rural homestays in villages of 400 people with livestock living under the stilted homes.  The last time I was there, I spent 3 weeks and traveled from HCMC to HoiAn.  I kind of fell in love with HoiAn.   Of course, HoiAn is charming on its own, but I meet a young girl who had a homestay next to the one I was in.  I wandered over one evening for dinner as they also had a bar/restaurant. I was the only one there and Sen chatted most of the evening with me telling me about her family.  Her father had made all the furniture for the homestay out of bamboo and by hand.  He also fished the river from early morning until near sunset. Before I left to return to my homestay for the evening, she invited me to take a tour on the river the following evening.  She said her father would take us.  I didn’t want to impose on her father, but she was insistent and the next afternoon, I found myself climbing into a small wooden riverboat at sunset. Even after working/fishing the river and then selling his catch at the market, Sen’s father proudly and happily toured me up and down the river for well over an hour.  Sen and I keep contact and I hope to see her and her family again sometime in the future.  How can I talk about Vietnam and not mention my addiction, my crack…PHO.  I discovered it on my first trip but became a bit more addicted to every visit and I think I ate it EVERY.SINGLE.DAY during my last visit.  Living now in Warsaw, I found a Pho Shop and eat it at least a couple times a week.  As much as I love my pho, it is truly the people you meet along the way that create the moments/memories you take with you.

 

In China, there are 2 holidays that are extended holidays, Chinese New Year, and Mid-Autumn Festival.  Living in China makes for easy travel around SE Asia.  I decided to take advantage of this, one year during Mid-Autumn Festival and tick a bucket list item…Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Having just been back in the states, I mentioned my whirlwind plans to travel from Thailand to Cambodia and finally Vietnam.  People often tell you they want to join you on your travels, but few do.  This time, I had a friend from the states meet me in Bangkok and we toured Angkor Wat together.

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I chose a rural village outside of Siem Reap for our accommodations.  It was definitely rural, and we had also arrived during the rainy season.  So rainy, the local children were swimming in the ditches which had also turned the road into a giant pond.  The rain, however, changed my plans of watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat, but it didn’t deter us from visiting the temple site.

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Our host arranged a tuk-tuk to pick us up and escort us to the site.  He called his tuk-tuk our BMW.  We did have to wade up the road in knee-deep water, which the children were swimming in, to arrive at our “BMW”.  90 degrees and humid we started out in the earlyish morning to the “city of temples”, Angkor.  Angkor Wat was built during the Khmer Empire at the beginning of the 12th century.  It is a UNESCO Heritage Site and the largest religious monument in the world. Originally a Hindu complex built for Vishnu, it later became Buddhist and went back and forth for centuries.  It is now predominantly Buddhist and you can bump into monks around the complex.  We also visited Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm (used in the film Tomb Raiders), but Angkor Wat was awe-inspiring.  I guess maybe I am drawn to Eastern religions, but places like this I feel in my soul.  During the Cambodian Civil War in the 70s, the temple did not sustain much damage aside from the visible bullet holes you see today.  Although I have seen the movie “The Killing Fields”, I had forgotten what horrors took place on Cambodian soil.  Under the Khmer Rouge Regime (1975-1979) which took over after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1970-1975), it is believed that 1.7 -2.5 million people out of a 1975 population of 8 million were killed and buried in what is now known as Cambodian Genocide. The experience of seeing Angkor Wat did not disappoint and easily makes my top 10 list.

 

 

The Western world commonly associates “Transylvania” with vampires thanks to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Transylvania is a region in central Romania known for medieval towns, mountains, and castles. It was also the birthplace of my significant other at the time, Tom’s grandparents.  Since we were already going to Europe for a transatlantic cruise, we decided to spend a week pre-cruise and tour Transylvania.  Right from the start, I should have known this would be a trip to remember.  Flying out of New York, through Paris and on to Bucharest, we checked our luggage together, but upon arrival in Bucharest, my luggage was left in Paris.  Our travels were looping us from Bucharest through Sibiu, Sebes, Sinaia, Sighisoara, Vinerea, Miklosvar, Brasov, and back to Bucharest.  My luggage didn’t make it to Bucharest before we were scheduled to leave, they would send it to Sebes which had a small airport and I could pick it up there.  Long story short, that never happened and I traveled Romania for 8 days with what I had in my carry-on, some of Tom’s t-shirts and the 1 shirt Air France provided me.  In Sibiu and Sebes, we wandered the streets, visited cemeteries, and ate the local food.  In Sinaia, we visited the German neo-renaissance Peles Castle which is now a museum.  Sighisoara, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the home of Vlad III the Impaler, prince of Wallachia and inspiration for the fictional Count Dracula.

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In Miklosvar we stayed in a guest house of Count Tibor Kalnoky dating back to the 1800s and furnished with local antiques.  We visited the city of Brasov which consists of 5 villages, one being Bran.  Bran is home to Bran Castle.  Because Bran Castle is the only castle in all of Transylvania that fits Bram Stoker’s description of Dracula’s Castle, it is known throughout the world as Dracula’s Castle.  These were all wonderful experiences, but the one that stands out the most (well other than the 2 times Tom got pulled over by the Police…thankfully with the name Craciun we somehow worked our way out of the situations) is the visit to Vinerea.

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When we arrived in Vinerea, it was truly going back in time.  Families were traveling by horse and cart and the village was just getting running water to the homes.  Up until then, everyone had a well for their needs.  Of course, no one spoke English and Tom knew like 3 words in Romanian, but after showing them his name was Craciun (which means Christmas and is a somewhat common name) someone ran off to the school and brought back one of the teachers who spoke basic English.  We had an address that we hoped was the home of Tom’s grandfather.  Laura, from the school, led us to the home of Ana and Maria.  When they answered the door and Laura explained who we were their faces lit up and they took Tom by the arm and led him to 2 photos which they excitedly dusted off.   One was a photo that Tom’s parents had taken when they visited in the 60s (?) and the other was a photo of Tom’s grandfather.  We had indeed found his home and these ladies were Tom’s cousins. It was a very emotional visit with a few tears being shed.  They invited us to stay but we could only spend the day.  We did share some homemade wine they were making from the grapes they grew.  Even though it wasn’t my relatives, it easily makes my top ten list.  I received a message from Laura after Tom passed from coronavirus and it brought back all the memories of our time in Transylvania.

 

8 down and 2 to go…Xiashan, China a rural village not even on a map.  My first “home” in China and the place that is nearest and dearest to my heart.  I really didn’t know what to expect when I decided to move to China to teach English.  I knew I wanted to stand on the Great Wall.  I knew I wanted to see the Terracotta Warriors.  I knew I wanted to visit Tibet.  What I didn’t know was that a 6-month stint would turn into 4 years and that small village of Xiashan would be the reason.  When I first arrived in China, I spent 2 weeks in Beijing for training.  During those 2 weeks, I ticked my first bucket list item when we visited the GWC….a magnificent experience!  Along with training for teaching English, we had classes on Chinese culture and traditions, including some basic Mandarin.  We even had tai chi lessons and a dumpling-making class.  At the end of the 2 weeks, I boarded a train along with 2 others who would also be going to Xiashan.  The train took us as far as Weifang and then a car took us to Xiashan about 1 hour away.  We arrived in the evening, after being treated to a fabulous dinner, we were taken to our apartment and settled in.  Waking the next morning, we were met by a representative for the school who would also be our liaison.  Alina took us to get something to eat, took us to the school, and showed us around the village…at least we had a nice supermarket. We learned we were an hour and 20 minutes by bus from Weifang which is a fairly large city.  We really were in the middle of nowhere.  During these next 5.5 months, I fell in love with Xiashan.  I loved going to the local market, even if they did slaughter the sheep right on the street or kill the chicken for your dinner right outside the restaurant.  Other than a few trips to Weifang, I only left Xiashan once to travel to Inner Mongolia and the Gobi Desert during Mid-Autumn Festival or Golden Week.  I didn’t realize how much I loved my life in the village until my contract was over.  I wanted to stay on, but my visa was only good for 6 months and I had to return to the USA if I wanted to get another Visa, which I did.  Sadly, by the time I would return, they would have had to replace me.  Thankfully, they let me keep my things at my apartment until I could return and move to the next teaching assignment in Hunan Provence.  I would return just as Chinese New Year was kicking off.  Alina excitedly invited me to her family’s home in the countryside, an even smaller village than Xiashan.  I would stay at their home and eat a traditional Chinese New Year Dinner.  This ended up being one of my most memorable experiences during my time in China. CNY fell at the beginning of February and it is quite cold this time of year in this part of China.  Alina picked me up by scooter and it took about 20 minutes to get to her simple home.  When I say simple, it is because their home had no running water.

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Thermos with the hot water and our washbasin

Her mother got water from a well/pump.  She boiled the water over a coal-fueled “stove”.  She filled several thermos bottles with the hot water.  This water would be used for tea and washing.  In the morning she would prepare a washbasin with hot water for Alina and me to bathe.  The main room of the house served as an eating area and also where her parents slept.

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For boiling water, cooking and heating

They slept on a concrete slab that was heated by a small coal “furnace” from which a pipe ran through the wall and under their bed heating the concrete.  On top of this were mats were they not only slept, but we gathered to watch television. Yes, they had electricity and satellite.  A couch and a table and chairs were also in this room as it was the warmest in the house.  Alina and I shared a bed in her room with plenty of quilts to keep us warm through the night.  So, I am 50+ at this point in my life.  Sometimes nature calls in the night.  With no indoor plumbing, I had to get up, find my shoes, and find my way outside to a concrete wall, behind which was a hole in the ground to do our business.  After you finished, you had to get water from the barrel and flush the “toilet”.  The paper goes in a bin, never ever flush TP in China.  The morning of Chinese New Year, we woke, and after we bathed, her mom had made baozi for our breakfast.  These are the most delicious pork filled steamed buns you will ever eat.  She then told Alina to take me and show me around the village as she was making the preparations for our feast.  What a feast it was.  Her brother came home and that evening we watched the festivities on TV and feasted on more food than you can imagine.  At midnight there were firecrackers and we ate dumplings.  Other than Alina, her family spoke no English, but we spent the evening laughing, smiling, eating, and celebrating.  A defining moment in my China Life.  An experience I will never forget!  A family who did not know me had never seen a foreigner (a first for her parents), and lived a simple life was proud to share their home, their life, their traditions, and their culture with me.

 

 

Finally….if you have made it this far, I commend you.  Maybe I should have chosen my top 5, but I don’t know if I could have made the cut at 5.  I can’t talk about places that have shaped my life without listing my hometown in my top ten list…Warren, Ohio.  Why?  Warren, Ohio helped make me and shape me into the person I am today.  Not only my family but friends and most importantly the teachers I had in Warren City Schools.  I grew up on a small dead-end street that most people never heard of with my parents, an aunt who lived with us, and a younger brother, Mark.  I’ve traveled to 37 countries and seen more than most people in a lifetime, but that younger brother gave me the most amazing moment of my life on January 9, 2020.

My parents and aunt gave me not only love and values, but they gave me wings to fly.  I played little league and learned to bowl. We had a tree fort and always had friends sleeping over.  A neighborhood where we were all family.  From showing movies on a building at the end of the street to riding bikes and catching lightning bugs…moments…moments of my life.  I get angry when people put down Warren, Ohio.  As many times as I say the “world is my home”, Warren is my hometown and I am proud of it.  There are too many people who have touched my life and supported my journey to name everyone.  The friends who open their homes to me when I blow into town for a few short days.  The ones who pick me up at the airport and come bearing Sunrise Pizza.  The ones who send me off with care packages.  The ones who have a special gathering to welcome me back for the time being.  The ones who laugh because I do something stupid and must cancel dinner plans.  The ones who day drink because I’m on holiday. The new friends I just met on my last trip home made me feel like I have known them for a lifetime.  The teachers who gave me a love of geography, history, and English which pushed me to experience this wonderful world first-hand.  It really is the people you meet along the way…..thank you all for following my journey, for your support and most of all your love.  I remain Warren Proud!

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Choose Kindness – Be The Change

Choose Kindness – Be The Change

China isn’t the most popular country on the planet right now, thanks to 2019-nCoV, coronavirus, COVID 19 or the politically incorrect, Chinese Virus.  This isn’t the first time China has given the world a virus.  There was the Asian flu in 1956, SARS in 2002 and H7N9 in 2012.  Being one of the oldest cultures on the planet, many Chinese people still believe in TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine.  For many Chinese, especially the older generation, this is the first step in treatment when they feel unwell.  They will go to the local practitioner and will be treated with acupuncture, cupping, herbal remedies, etc.  These treatments are not effective for these viruses, thus allowing the infected individuals to return to the public, infect others and sometimes giving us a pandemic.   Although, this coronavirus may go down in history as the one that stopped the world.  When the virus first appeared, the world looked on, watching and waiting, not expecting the world to stop turning.

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My massage/TCM guys

There is a lot of negativity toward China right now.  I see hundreds of posts saying China lied to the world…the numbers are fake…it (the virus) was created in a lab for bio-warfare…general hate messages about Communism and the government.  I get it.  I understand being angry at China. I understand the “buy American” sentiment in the USA and I support it…to a point.  China was my home for 4 years and yes, sometimes I got mad at China. Some things about China, I will not miss.  I don’t want to turn this into a political post or “I hate China” or anything negative in general because China isn’t all “bad”.  During the Han Dynasty, 202 BC-AD 220, China gave of us one of the 4 great inventions of the ancient world, paper/papermaking.  Along with paper, they also gave us the compass, gunpowder, and printing (woodblock and moveable type).   These 4 discoveries are considered to have had a major impact on the development of civilization around the world.  I don’t want to talk about what China has given the world.  I want to tell you what China gave me during the 4 years I called it home.

China gave me the chance to see, touch and walk on one of the “Seven Wonders of the New World”  The Great Wall of China…With a total length of 21,196.18 km (13,170.70 miles), equal to half the length of the Equator, the Great Wall of China is the longest feat of human engineering.  The 2,700 year-old structure is not a single long line but a series of many walls sometimes doubling and tripling itself.  I have visited 5 different sections of the Great Wall including LaoLongtou or Old Dragon’s Head where the wall ends in the Bohai Sea.  And, just for the record, it is not true that the Great Wall of China is visible from space.

March 29, 1974, some farmers in Xi’an, Shaanxi were digging a well and uncovered terracotta pottery.  This pottery was the funerary art of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China (210-209 BCE). This 8000+ army complete with horses, chariots, officials and acrobats was meant to protect and entertain the emperor in the afterlife.  To see this massive UNESCO Heritage Site was overwhelming.

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Stove fueled by yak dung

Tibet, “Land of Snows”, “The Roof of the World” is still a controversial place when you speak to mainland Chinese.  Is it part of China or not?  The PRC (People’s Republic of China) claims Tibet is an integral part of China while the Tibetan Government-in-Exile maintains that Tibet is an independent state under lawful occupation.  What I know is Tibet is a magical place that I was fortunate to visit.  It was like the land where time stopped.  I was afforded the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Dalai Lamas.  I learned about and experienced Buddhism first hand.  I rode a yak, ate yak meat, had yak cheese and butter.  When I camped on Mount Everest Base Camp, our tent was heated by burning yak dung.  China gave me a dream come true in Tibet.

 

Food…China introduced me to “real” Chinese food.  You can read more about Chinese food here, because Chinese food in China is nothing like what we have in the USA.  I have eaten many strange things in China and things that I know some of my friends frown upon.  Donkey meat for one.  One of the communities where I lived, was known for raising donkeys, not only for the meat but for making Ejiao which is important in TCM.  If you are going to immerse yourself in a culture, sometimes you have to overlook your personal feelings.  I had no problem eating donkey meat and if I tell the truth, I loved it.  I also view it very similarly to countries that raise cows for meat, milk and their hides for leather.  If you choose to be vegetarian or vegan, great, that’s your choice!  I just happen to be a meat-eater.  I also learned that the Chinese do not waste any part of the animal and most everything is consumed.  Much of this stemming from years when the country was suffering widespread famine with the most recent between the years 1942 and 1961 during which as many as 45 million people perished.  Ahhh, then there are the controversial markets.

Every big city and every rural village has its markets.  I have seen animals slaughtered and have purchased the meat.  I have seen all the bugs, snakes, starfish on skewers and sold as snacks.  Some I have even indulged in myself and most I didn’t care for.  These markets don’t only exist in China but all over Asia and SE Asia as I have visited many and have enjoyed more than a few meals at these markets.  If you know anything about me, you know I have an obsession with noodles, especially noodle dishes from Asian countries.  Thank you, China for introducing me to Lánzhōu Lā Mǐan.  Honestly, I mostly thought rice when I thought about China, but I learned that noodles are just as popular.  Actually, noodles are popular in the more northern areas of China while more rice is consumed in southern China.  Just for the record, I do not like chicken feet.  The other thing I learned about food is the Chinese have a way with vegetables that is amazing and I can’t talk about the food without mentioning dumplings.  I never met a dumpling I didn’t like.

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During the 4 years I lived in China, it gave me some of the most amazing experiences of my life.  It is a beautiful country with a lot to offer.  Most of all, China has shown me the beauty of its people.  They are kind, they are generous, they are hard-working.  They are proud of their country.  What I want to say here is; we may not agree with their government, their traditions or their way of life, but as a whole, they are good people.  I will always consider the people that crossed my path during my time in China as friends, some as close as family.  Marlon, my student in Qingdao and his mom are near and dear to my heart.  My Chinese co-workers at my first job in Xiashan, the small rural village that made me decide I wanted to stay in China a bit longer.  Rabbin and his family in Changning, Hunan that treated me as part of their family.  Peter and his extended family in Dong’e that cared for me during my broken back journey.  The doctors and nurses that cared for me without prejudice…my “noodle guy”….my “littles”… my sweet Alice…my neighbors…all my students, some I got to know well and some just part of the overcrowded classrooms that I would only see once every two weeks.   China, thank you for putting each and every one of these souls in my life.

 

I’ve heard the phrase, “China is the country you love to hate and hate to love”.  During these times when China is the target of much hate, I am choosing to remember the things I love about China.  I will choose to buy American when I can.

downloadAfter all, I am an American born and raised, but I will not choose to hate an entire country that showed me kindness, love, and gave me joy.  There are things I did not agree with while in China but those things are not for me to try to change.  I can hope that the people of China will choose to make changes in their society.  That they and the rest of the world will come out of this stronger and more conscious of how the actions of a few can affect the many.  China, thank you for the 4 years of love you gave me.

Random Easter/Quarantine Thoughts

Random Easter/Quarantine Thoughts

2020 started like many other years…champagne toasts, noisemakers, and laughter.  One difference for me was I was home in Warren, Ohio for the first time in seven years.  My home was overflowing with family and friends, my heart was happy, and everyone seemed ready to put 2019 behind them and jump into the new decade with both feet.

I saw family and friends I hadn’t seen in a year and a half, I met new friends and I experienced the most amazing night of my life.  But…that three-letter word with big implications…but, I was ready to leave again.  Little did we know then, that today, Easter Sunday, we, as in most of the world, would be in quarantine following shelter-in-place rules.

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That most amazing night

February 2, 2020, I left Warren, Ohio USA for Warsaw, Poland.  Packing a bag with only what I can carry and taking off on my own comes easily.  As a kid, I couldn’t wait to get my bag packed and head off to summer camp.  In 2014, I packed a bag, moved to Paris without knowing anyone and only basic language skills.  2015, repeat, except this time I moved to China with no language skills, little knowledge of the culture and knew no one.  2020, repeat and move to Poland and a language someone told me was as difficult as mandarin.  That I can’t say I agree with, but they did create a full language using the last five letters of the alphabet…ha-ha. That’s a joke!

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After I had been in Poland a couple of weeks, during a conversation, one of my newfound friends commented to me that she knew I was “a loner”. Her comment took me back for a moment, had she touched on my secret?   “But”, there’s that word again, wouldn’t being a loner also make me an introvert?  Introvert, loner, extrovert, sociopath, psychopath, empath, narcissist…what/who am I? Don’t know, don’t care!  I am who I am and have no idea where I fall in the personality type spectrum.  If I had to choose one, Angela, I would agree, that I am a loner.  Although, I prefer to call myself a nomad.

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I grew up in a small, somewhat isolated neighborhood and had 1 best friend a year younger than me.  Starting school, Barb was still my closest friend and I didn’t add many more.  I usually went home for lunch so I could watch Jeopardy with my dad. I preferred that to staying at school and playing.  I pretty much stayed this way right through high school.  I did go to football games, but rarely attended house parties or other social activities.  My brother, on the other hand, was the host of many house parties, so I guess I got my fill through him.  Although, nowadays, I think I would put him in the “loner” category with me.  I still require a lot of alone time, which is probably why quarantine isn’t a problem for me.  If you know me or follow my travels/blog, you may ask how I can be a loner and have friends all over the world.  I will answer this by saying, I think by travelling solo, you have the advantage to meet more people.  These people are often like-minded solo travellers…also loners.  How is this possible?  You can’t be anti-social,  a loner, and yet meet and click with hundreds of people around the globe.  Think about it.  When you travel as a family or even a couple, how often do you reach out to solo travellers?  I mean really connect!  We aren’t anti-social, I prefer socially selective.

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The ability to be alone is an important part of the nomad lifestyle.  You meet people you may be with for 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week or even 1 month, but you have to accept the fact you most likely will never see most of these people ever again.  Sure there are promises to stay in touch or I’m going to come to visit you in your home country, but…you move on and meet the next person and the next person, you don’t forget those people for they have all left a mark on your soul.

I know this a totally random post, but a couple of things got me thinking this morning.  Yesterday, I was chatting on the phone with a friend back in the states, he asked me, “do you wish you were back here during this quarantine?”  and last night I was on a Zoom chat/trivia/drinking session with a group of girlfriends who often got together at the local watering hole and restaurant, Jacked Steakhouse, which is right below my condo in Warren.  At the end of the session, everyone was commenting on how great it will be to get together once this “situation” is over and “I can’t wait to see you” or “I can’t wait until we are all together again at Jacked”.  Both situations made me uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable because I had to tell the truth and I know the truth hurts.  I had to tell Bill, “no, I don’t wish I was back in the states during this time.”  I’m right where I want to be.  Life may not be as I thought it would be right now, but I’m happy right here in Warsaw.  I’m used to being alone and I like it.  I live alone when I am in Warren, so it’s not like I would shelter-in-place with other people.  Although, truth be told, its easier to follow the #stayhome movement in a city where you have no car and know few people vs downtown Warren where I most likely would sneak downstairs or down the street while attempting to keep social distancing…Then, I had to tell my girlfriends, sorry, I love you guys and when this is all over, I’ll join you via some long-distance video chat while you all get together at the bar, but I want to be right where I am.  It’s hard to convey these feelings to people you care about and enjoy their company.  I guess I have been training for this moment since I decided to to take on the nomad way of life.  It has made me a professional at social distancing. To those, I have met on my journey and I will never see again, I won’t forget you.  Family and friends, I had an amazing visit to Warren and loved each minute I spent with all of you…God willing, I’ll see you again.  For now, I can share my journey with you from where I am and know you are welcome to join me along the way.   Happy Easter!

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Love in the Time of Coronavirus Part 3 – 2020 the Year That Changed the World

Love in the Time of Coronavirus Part 3 – 2020 the Year That Changed the World

By the time Easter arrives, I will have been in “lockdown” for a little over one month. Why? Coronavirus, known as COVID 19. I am living through this global crisis, now a pandemic, outside of my home country. Just over three months ago the world was welcoming a new year, a new decade. We knew little of what was taking place on the far side of the world.

It was on December 31, 2019, a city of 11 million people, Wuhan in Hubei Province China notified WHO (World Health Organization) of a strange pneumonia in their city. WHO, once an unknown acronym would soon become a household word. An unknown virus seemed to stem from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. It was infecting people at an alarming rate. On January 7, 2020, it was announced a new virus named 2019-nCoV was identified as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. On January 11th, China announced its first death had occurred two days earlier. On January 13th, WHO reported a case in Thailand. The first case outside of China carried by a woman that has arrived from Wuhan. January 16th, Japan reported a confirmed case. January 17th the second death in China was reported and the US announced that 3 airports would start screening people arriving from Wuhan. Soon more countries had confirmed cases and on January 20th a Chinese expert confirmed human-to-human transmission. Because it was coming up on Lunar New Year in the Asian countries, there was widespread fear of a major outbreak as millions travelled to their hometowns in China. On January 23rd, Wuhan and it’s 11 million residents were placed on quarantine. All air and rail departures suspended. Beijing cancelled events for the Lunar New Year on January 25th. February 2nd, I boarded a flight to begin life in Poland.

For most of the world in February, life went on as normal and the coronavirus was still an Asian problem now affecting South Korea and Japan. That is until the end of the month as reports were coming out of the Middle East and Italy.

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On March 11, 2020, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. On March 11th, life in Poland ceased being normal for me. Poland closed all schools and announced borders would be shut down at midnight Saturday, March 14th. This meant that all air and rail traffic in and out of Poland would cease. The border could be crossed in a vehicle at certain checkpoints with medical checks and possible quarantines. I began to receive emails from the US Embassy in Warsaw. These emails updated me on travel restrictions of most countries in the world but more importantly on what was happening in Poland. The US Embassy was urging US citizens to return to the United States immediately, not just from Poland, but from all corners of the world or plan to shelter in place for an extended period of time. It also stated that US citizens living abroad could choose to stay. As I had a job and place of residence and was considered an American living abroad, I forwarded the emails to my brother and we discussed my situation. I decided to stay in Warsaw. A decision I don’t regret.

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As I watched my home country from afar and was living by the shelter in place rules of a country where I was considered a foreigner, life was far from normal…here and there. In the USA I saw pictures of empty store shelves and heard of people fighting over toilet paper, not following social distancing guidelines, spring breakers still flocking to the beaches.

Here in Poland, I was working remotely. I witnessed well-stocked shelves, people queuing up at 1.5 meters outside the post office and groceries without being asked. I saw the police driving around the city and heard them make announcements regarding the stay at home orders. I heard from my students of police breaking up groups in city parks and sending them home, sometimes with a fine. I saw pictures on the internet of eerily vacant cities around the world. Around the globe, Easter services would be going virtual. It seemed that the more distant we had to become the more people were connecting through technology. I read something recently that stuck with me, “COVID 19’s legacy will be, not only alone together, but together alone”.

Yet, the reality of this didn’t hit home until after my last 2 blog posts. I said that this will affect everyone sooner or later and that everyone would know someone. April 1, 2020, my reality hit home and it hit right in the gut. My someone, someone that I used to love, lost his battle to the coronavirus. A virus unknown to the world until a couple of short months ago. A couple of short months that have changed the world. A couple of short months that have changed me. I was deeply saddened when I found out Tom had succumbed. My heart ached for me, for his family and our/his friends, but then I looked at the numbers around the world and my heart ached for everyone. I took a lot of time to think. To think about past differences and how when faced with a shared global threat those differences pale.

I never dreamed I would see Vatican Square in Rome…vacant, Times Square in the city that never sleeps…silent, or the traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris…empty. What I did see was YoYo Ma virtually offering a daily song on his cello, yoga instructors offering free online classes, museums giving virtual tours, adults taking time online to read books to children and friends getting together for virtual happy hours. I saw kindness, love, compassion and joy.

We don’t know when this will end, but we all have hope that it will. When it does, yes, the rules will change. There will be a new normal. I think we will see the revival of parks, the revival of family time, more voice control technology so we don’t have to “touch” things. We will appreciate the simple things in life and be more aware of our global community. As time passes, it is easy to forget. We forget the pain, we forget the horrors, we forget the isolation, we forget…Let’s not forget the kindness…the love…the compassion and the joy we did witness.

That love, compassion, kindness and joy came to me when I needed it most, thousands of miles away from family and friends…Love in the Time of Coronavirus – 2020 the year that changed the world!

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Virtual trivia and drinking bubbly!

Love in the Time of Coronavirus Part 2 -Someone That I Used to Love

Love in the Time of Coronavirus Part 2 -Someone That I Used to Love

I woke up this morning, with a headache and was nauseous, not sure if I slept or was awake in a bad dream. When I wrote my last blog post just 5 short days ago, I said that sooner or later, everyone would know someone…

After a few minutes of being awake, I remember why my mouth is dry, eyes a little swollen and I have a headache and am nauseous.  Little did I know, my someone would be someone I that used to love.

Like I said in my last post when I first heard about this virus, I never dreamed it would affect my life.  I was moving to Poland to start a new adventure…I was enjoying the company of family and friends in my hometown…I had nothing to worry about except keeping my luggage under the allowable weight.

Slowly this mysterious virus leaked over the borders of China and started appearing elsewhere, but still, I didn’t know anyone.  Not even after spending 4 years in China meeting and making 100’s of friends and Wuhan, China being ground zero…I still didn’t have a someone.

February…I arrive in Poland and go about setting up life in a new country.  A month goes by…I have a job, I have a flat, I hear stories from South Korea, Japan and soon Italy, but I still don’t know “someone”.  March 11, 2020…I am at my job at a company in Warsaw teaching English.  I learn the CEO of the company, who lives in Belgium, has tested positive for the coronavirus, now being called COVID 19.  Now I have a connection, but still not my someone.  Next thing I know, schools in Poland are closed and Poland is closing its borders.  People all over the world are questioning these drastic measures even as China is still battling the disease.  As most of Europe is starting to shut their borders and order social distancing to flatten the curve, people in the USA are still going to bars and restaurants, spring break has begun, the weather up north is still unpredictable but “Opening Day” is on the minds of sports fans and many think the rest of the world is over-reacting to this “the flu kills more people than this made in China virus” called COVID 19.  Next thing I know, my home state begins to close the non-essential businesses, but people still aren’t staying home. Then I find out my hometown has its first case of coronavirus.  Wow, I find out I know this person.  Not that many weeks ago, if you would have told me I would know someone that has coronavirus, I wouldn’t have believed it.  This “someone” was an acquaintance and not someone I knew well and this someone recovered and went home.  COVID 19, although it was the common conversation topic, I pushed it to the back burner again.  Other than the stay-at-home orders, working from home and restaurants closed to dining in, my life was still not really affected.

Then, late last week after I posted “Love in the Time of Coronavirus”,  I got that text message, “Wendy, call me about “Someone”, he is in the hospital with coronavirus”.  I sat and stared at that message for I don’t know how long before making the call.  Is this real?  I made the call…it was real.  “Someone” had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.  In the hospital, fever, can’t breathe on his own, sedated, ventilator, the words kept running in circles in my head after I hung up the phone.  This was my someone, I knew him well, he was stubborn, he could fight this, he was sedated so the body could heal.  I shared the news with my family and a few close friends and went about day to day life which consisted of waking up, dressing, teaching English, eating, reading, all those things you do when you are on quarantine/stay at home orders.  You have a lot of time to think when you must shelter in place.  No matter the current situation between me and my someone, he was someone I used to love…did that love just go away? No!  I smiled as I reminisced about what used to be.  More than anything, I would never wish him any ill will and prayed for his recovery.

Several days went by and I received messages of no change and the body needs to heal.  Then, last night, the message that “someone” had taken a turn for the worse and his body was shutting down.  As of this writing, he is still with us, and I have been overwhelmed with a plethora of emotion.  Emotions that were more than I expected.  The thought of this outcome has been in the back of my mind but last night my emotions bubbled over, out of my control.  The good times all came pouring back.  The bad times I buried deep.  A reminder that in times like these, it’s the good memories that count.  It’s the fun times, the laughter, the trips, the meals, the friends we hung with, all the things that make me smile… that’s what I want to feel…that’s what I want to remember!  Because… He is, after all, someone I used to love!

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Friday morning, March 27, 2020…I have been in Warsaw Poland for 54 days. It’s cool, 50 Fahrenheit or 13 Celsius and it’s partly cloudy.  Some days I feel like I’m still in NE Ohio based on the weather.  Warren, Ohio sits at 41.23 N latitude and Warsaw sits at 52.22 N latitude making Warsaw part of the 52nd parallel along with Berlin, Amsterdam, Ipswich (north of London), Cork, Moosonee (Canada), and the remote Kiska Island (Alaska).  So, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the weather, after all, Warsaw sits about 758 miles further north (each degree equals about 69 miles) than Warren, Ohio. I hope that means I can look forward to a pleasant summer.  From what I have read the average temperatures during June, July and August are about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, with June being between 52 and 72.

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The first time I was in Warsaw, was the beginning of November 2014 and only for 3 short days.  My first impression of the city was that it was cold.  I don’t mean cold as in outside temperature, although the temperature was frigid.  It seemed monochromatic, a city of greys, lacking a vibrancy, exactly what I thought an Eastern European country would be like.  Whatever that is…other than some warped vision probably placed in my mind’s eye from the media.    Poland has always been considered a part of Central Europe, up until post-World War II era, when because they were under the “sway” of Russia, they were considered “Eastern European”, but now they are back to Central Europe.  Regardless, I arrived the second time in Warsaw again in a cold, yes temperature-wise, and grey season.  This time, however, I had arrived to make Poland my home for the next year to year and a half.  Little did I know that on day 38 of my new life, the entire world was about to change.

Before I jump into day 38 and a new normal for the world, let’s go back to the beginning.  As the new year of 2020 was beginning, word of a virus in China was just starting to get out.  On January 23rd and the Chinese New Year coming up, the world learned that the Chinese government had locked down Wuhan, source of the virus and a city of about 11 million people. A city with roughly the population of the entire state of Ohio.  This occurred 10 days before I was leaving for life in Poland.  The entire world looked on, often criticizing the Chinese government and the way of life of the Chinese people.  Everyone thought this was a “Chinese” problem and looked on with sometimes morbid curiosity and a lot of joke/meme-making about this “corona” virus.

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China had the problem, not the USA, not Poland, not Italy, not South Korea, not Japan…just China.  Yes, China had the problem…UNTIL…the US, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and South Korea had cases by the end of January.  China’s numbers were snowballing, but even though the coronavirus, soon to be known as COVID 19, was now outside the borders of China…the world kept turning.  I got on a plane on February 2, 2020, and life outside of China was normal around the rest of the world.  China was still being criticized for the handling of the virus. They shut down the controversial “wet markets” with their exotic animal sales, more cities closed their borders, soon, the whole of China was CLOSED.  Other countries then began to close their borders to Chinese nationals.  Yet, the world kept turning and it was still “China’s” problem and my life in Poland began normally.

I arrived not knowing in what city I would be working or even what age group I would teach.  I rented a flat in Warsaw through Airbnb and began organizing my life to live in this country.  I had started the process on my work visa back at the beginning of December and was waiting for it to be approved so I could then get a PESEL (Tax ID number).  I had to also find a permanent flat because I needed a rental contract to file for the PESEL.  After that, I would need to get my residency permit which also meant I had to have a work contract.  Life in those first few weeks was very busy and although I followed information (mostly on Facebook) regarding the virus, I wasn’t remotely concerned about it affecting my life.

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Bam, I had 3 jobs teaching Business English for 3 different companies in Warsaw.  I did some touristic stuff around the city.  I learned to use the public transportation system.  I hung out in Warsaw Old Town a few times.  I found a flat. I started work. I moved into my flat in the city center.  My work permit was approved.  I got my PESEL. I could walk to work. I found a beautiful fresh market across from my work.  What could go wrong?  COVID 19 won’t affect my life.

I was into my third week of teaching at a development company with headquarters in Belgium.  By now we were hearing that the virus had crossed the border of China.  It was in South Korea and was working its way through a cruise ship off the coast of Japan.  Stories of the virus in Italy were making the news.  Suddenly, it didn’t seem so far away.  As we started class on that Monday morning, I soon discovered this COVID 19 was indeed about to infringe on my life.  The CEO of this company (he lives in Belgium), had tested positive for coronavirus after returning from a business trip. Later, 2 more employees in Belgium also tested positive.  We were all questioning what this meant to us, here in Poland.  We quickly learned.

wp-1585393611457359436777.jpgOn Wednesday, March 11, it was announced that all schools in Poland would be closed beginning the following day until March 25th.  This would also change as schools are now closed through April 13th.  This too is subject to change.  It was also announced that at midnight on Saturday, March 14, 2020, Poland would close its borders.  There would-be no incoming or outgoing flights or trains.  Cars could cross at designated checkpoints and only Polish nationals and foreigners with work or residency permits would be allowed to enter the country.  Medical checks and quarantine orders were in place.  I was also notified that face to face English lessons would be cancelled and we would go remote.  At least I still had a job.  As the situation around the globe was changing rapidly, so was life in Poland.  Soon, all non-essential businesses were ordered to close.  Restaurants were closed to dine-in customers but could do carry-out and delivery.  “Social distancing” and “flatten the curve” were the new buzz words around the world.  Grocery stores were enforcing social distancing by allowing a certain number of customers in the store.

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Check out lines had people queueing up 1.5 meters apart.  Public transportation even had rules…1/2 capacity on seating.  Was all this necessary?  I have to be honest, I questioned what seemed to be extreme measures.  Sure, it was starting to happen around the world, but when it dramatically changes your lifestyle, all of sudden it is questionable.  Seriously though, how much is it affecting MY LIFE?  I am working.  I can get the essentials, groceries, toilet paper, alcohol, etc.  I have a roof over my head.  All those books I want to read, I have time.  Most importantly right now, I am healthy.  Socializing, I wasn’t missing.  I haven’t met a lot of people here and I have my almost daily online classes to chat with my students. My life wasn’t affected…or was it?

Activist, singer and journalist, Henry Rollins said, “A great way to learn about your country is to leave it.”  I chose this as a topic of my English lessons during my first week of remote teaching.  Living abroad this has always been true for me.  Now, more than ever, I was seeing my country, land of the free and the home of the brave in a whole new light.

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Signed in convention, September 17, 1787, and memorized in school, “We the people…establish this constitution for the United States of America.”  Our Declaration of Independence speaks of “…unalienable rights like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   Maybe living in a country that was once under a communist regime made it easier for the people of Poland to conform to this new normal.  Seeing the USA from afar, people not wanting to give up their freedoms, people still gathering, people in pursuit of happiness.  Then, my home state shuts down…schools closed, then restaurants and bars and next came the shopping centers, large gatherings were banned, people hoarded toilet paper.  I soon realized, this COVID 19 situation, this coronavirus was indeed affecting my life.  My friends were out of work.  I had friends make the difficult decision to close their businesses until this passes.  Friends who work in essential businesses are worried about being exposed to this virus.  Healthcare workers struggling with long hours and lack of equipment.  I know people who have tested positive for the coronavirus.  This isn’t a “China Problem” anymore.  It’s a global issue and sooner or later if it hasn’t already, will affect everyone’s life.

As I am finishing this up on Saturday morning in Warsaw, Poland, I am thinking about when this ends and I have faith that it will.  Will we as a global community have learned anything?  The world has already changed because of it.  So many negatives have come from this, I can only hope somehow the world becomes a better place. That families reconnect, that people are kinder, that businesses come back stronger and that “We are the World”…

“There comes a time

When we heed a certain call

When the world must come together as one

There are people dying

Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life

The greatest gift of all

We can’t go on

Pretending day by day

That someone, somewhere soon make a change

We’re all a part of God’s great big family

And the truth, you know, love is all we need”

As I sit here, I am truly blessed to have so many friends around the globe. Today, I am thinking of each one of you.  My friends in China, you flattened the curve and life is returning to normal.  My friends in Bali, my hope for you is that tourism will return and your homestays will once again be filled.  My friends throughout Europe…stay strong!  Most of all my friends and family in the USA, I think of you every day!  Soon we will be talking about life before and life after coronavirus.  Life will never be the same and we will adjust to the new normal.  I love you all!  Take care and stay well!

A Love Story

A Love Story

When I was in the States this past holiday season, I moved into my condo. As you are opening boxes of things you haven’t seen in 4 years, some even longer as you had packed them up when your mom died nearly 20 years prior, you get caught up in memories.  I opened a box and I found some papers clipped together with a magazine page from the June 2000 Ladies Home Journal.  It was an essay contest called “Our Life Stories”.

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Attached to the clipping was a cover letter and my essay, which I never submitted.   As today is the 20th anniversary of her death and, like then, a leap year, I have decided to post it on my blog. It is not a story of travel, but it does tell a story that has inspired the journey of my life.  I have changed very little from the original essay…here’s my story…

Every woman, indeed, has a great story to tell and mine begins with a girl in the flower of her youth, my mother – Jeannine Marvin. 20 years ago, I said, farewell to her for the last time.  Upon her passage, the past blossomed before me.  I found letters…these encapsulating jewels of cherished joys, startling discoveries and romantic moments.  These letters reveal a girl and a boy eternally in love.

The greatest and saddest moments often occur simultaneously…without warning…without ceremony.  Like the whiplash effect of a car accident, good precedes bad just as light ends darkness.  On Monday, February 28, 2000, at age 60, I lost my mother to primary sclerosing cholangitis while waiting for a liver transplant.  PSC is a rare liver condition which also claimed the life of Walter Peyton.  My mother never drank, smoked and rarely ate red meat.  Recently, it is believed the underlying cause of the disease is linked to autoimmunity.  For nine valiant years, she fought the disease, seemingly – at times to defeat this ailment by unyielding faith and perseverance.  Her will to live inspired me.  Her love of life humbled me.  In her struggle, I saw the girl my father must have seen long ago when the flowers of her youth had begun to bloom.

Her passage devastated me.  Her reunion with my father – Dale, whom I’d lost on July 9, 1997, however, enchanted me.  True love endures.

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Destined lovers.  If two people were ever fated to spend their lives together, it was my mother and father.  They met in storybook fashion.  He was the handsome soldier stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, and she was the naïve, captivating beauty working in a dry-cleaning business, Marvin’s Cleaners, in Warren, Ohio, when the owner mentions she should meet his son when he returns home.  My mother wasn’t interested in meeting some soldier stationed some great distance away.  Her dance card was already full of local fellas.  Why meet another fella?

Fate intervened.  My mother’s insistence melted.  They met and eventually married on October 15, 1960.  Happily ever after didn’t quite follow that day, but the Cuban Missile Crisis did.  My dad was recalled to active duty.  Great and sad moments simultaneously occurred.

Fort Meade, in the state of Maryland, courtesy of Uncle Sam became my dad’s new home.  My mother would join him some months later and they set up house in Glen Burnie, Maryland.  Life was again perfect.  They had each other.  Uncommon love nestled them into the grandeur of life.  Their perfect love endured, but such loves are often tested.

On January 13, 1962, a knock on the door beckoned the horrific.  A man in uniform greeted my mother telling her Dale had been in a serious jeep accident.  While on maneuvers, he was in the back, the jeep driver fell asleep.  They went over an embankment; the radio equipment went into his head.  With 36 facial fractures among his injuries, they didn’t expect him to survive.  This tragic news was made all the more catastrophic by an unspoken pregnancy.  My mother had to face the possibility of losing her husband and raising a child alone.  She stayed by his bedside, unable and unwilling to leave.  She willed my dad to come out of his coma, whispering of a life growing inside her.  Their love endured.  He awakened.  2 days after I was born on August 11, 1962, he received a medical discharge from the US Army and they returned to life in Warren, Ohio.

My brother and I lived a dream in our youth.  Our home reflected my parents’ love.  It was a place of congregation, where neighborhood kids met, and parents socialized.  Our vacations were picturesque…snapshots of wood-grained station wagons driving down lush countrysides.  My brother and I played little league.  We raced in soapbox derbies.  Laughter filled our home and lives.

Fast forward to 1996.  My dad was diagnosed with bone cancer.  A year later he died.  Jeannine endured long nights.  She had been a comfort to my dad, then she comforted my brother and me.  She prevailed, despite having been previously diagnosed with the rare liver disease, primary sclerosing cholangitis.  She prevailed and comforted until Christmas 1999.

My mother and I had an extraordinary Christmas Day.  She awakened and told me of a dream where my father wanted to know if she was happy? If we were happy?  Christmas was grand.  The next day she started feeling ill.  It is my belief, my father spoke to her heart in that dream, that he reassured her of his love and devotion, and it was alright to yield.  Her struggle against the vicious attacks of sclerosing cholangitis had been long and trying.  I believe my dad told my mom; it was time.

Her liver disease raged.  In a days’ time, upon her insistence, I was in Florida and she ended up being rushed to the hospital.  She spent the next two months in and out of the Cleveland Clinic.  The wait for a liver transplant was now a nervous race against time.  It was a race destined for loss.

About a week after her death, I was going through her things.  I found two small cedar boxes, which contained letters my dad had written to her, while he was in the army and her letters to him which he had also saved. These precious professions of love were the most beautiful letters I had ever read.  My brother and I were so completely moved by the innocence of their love.  We read them with a voracious curiosity, devouring and delighting with each revelation.

In this time of sorrow, we had found joy.  I did not then need to say farewell to my mother, nor did I say goodbye to my dad, as their love eternally lives in these nearly 100 letters and in their love of life which I now seek in my journeys.

Today, as I am travelling the world fulfilling my dreams and my brother is fulfilling his by developing our hometown and having restored a magnificent historical theatre, I know they are looking down and guiding our way with pride and joy.

Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Am I Being Truthful When I Say, “I Miss You, Too”?

Homesickness – a feeling of longing for one’s home during a period of absence from it.

Wanderlust – the wish to travel far away and to many different places.

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Growing up in small-town, Warren, Ohio, one of my favorite things about summer was church camp.  Every year that I was of age to attend, my parents put my suitcase in the car and off we went to Seneca Hills Bible Camp located somewhere in the mountains of Pennsylvania. It was only about an hour or so from Warren, but it seemed far away.  They would drop me off, help me find my cabin and I was ready to say goodbye.  There were never any teary eyes that didn’t want to stay, those showed up at the end of the week when I didn’t want to leave to go back home.  Not because I didn’t love my family, friends or home, but because I just loved going places and experiencing things.  I can still remember the way the woods smelled first thing in the morning, damp with dew and a chill in the mountain air.

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Aunt Jackie and Dee in Florida

When I was older and could drive, I had an aunt, Jackie, who would call me out of the blue on say a Wednesday evening and ask if I could drive her to Florida on Friday. If I was available or could make myself available, I almost always said, “yes”.  What adventures we had.  She was a bit eccentric in choosing our accommodations, a certain city, a certain floor, things had to be just so, but what fun.  When we arrived at our destination, it was usually 2 days on the road, I might stay a day or two or a week or sometimes she put me right back on a plane home.  I loved these journeys as they were always an adventure.  Even the time she wanted me to drive her to Texas.  We stopped and enjoyed Nashville on our way there.  We arrived late in the evening in Pilot Point, Texas, our destination.  We visited a bit with our relatives we were staying with and then went to bed.  When I woke up in the morning, Aunt Jackie told me she changed her mind and wanted to go back to Warren.  So, we got in the car a few hours later and headed back to Warren, Ohio.  No, I wasn’t upset, it was Jackie and just part of the journey.  My dad used to say, “always expect the unexpected”.  Maybe those crazy trips with Aunt Jackie helped mould me into my current solo travelling self.  I have learned to not let disrupted travel plans upset me and I can usually quickly adjust to just about anything thrown my way.

Once when I was living in Paris, I decided to take a trip to the countryside by train.  I got off at the wrong stop.  I decided to walk to the village, after all, it was only a 3 km walk…WRONG…it was 8 km (I didn’t put on my glasses and the 8 looked like a 3).  Oh well, it was flippin’ hot, I didn’t have any water, but I got to see some beautiful French countryside and got a little exercise.  When I arrived in the village and found a bistro, I remember thinking it was the best glass of wine and meal I had ever tasted.  Not really, but, if you can make the best out of a bad situation, you will be much happier and if you don’t, nobody is miserable but you.

I have spent the better part of the last 5+ years travelling.  Not just travelling, but also living abroad mostly on the other side of the world, 10,000 km (6700 miles) from home.  In the beginning, I would return to Warren, Ohio for a couple weeks every 6 months, then it turned into a year, and most recently, a year and half….I have just left Warren, after being home for the longest period in over 5 years.  I spent 2.5 months in my hometown.  It was great seeing family, friends and making new friends. As you are going through a whirlwind of activities, meeting for coffee, doing lunch or dinner, going to events, visiting people’s homes or just out shopping, the one thing you always hear is, “I missed you”!  The natural response without even thinking is, “I missed you too”. Then, it’s on to the questions, “how was Bali?”, “do you miss, China?”, “how do you like your place?”, “are you glad to be back?”, etc.  You get the idea.  Being it was also around the holidays and the opening of my brother and sister-in-law’s theatre, the Robins, it was a constant flow of events.  It was a never-ending cycle of crazy, mad chaotic, fun. But truth be known, as February was drawing near, I was ready to leave.  Ready to get on with my nomadic lifestyle.

 

February 2, 2020 rolls around.  After what was at least a weeklong send-off, I boarded a plane and am now in Warsaw Poland.  I plan to be here, there, everywhere, probably Bali too, for at least the next year and a half, maybe longer.  Two nights ago, I had a video chat with a group of girlfriends playing trivia at the bar of Jacked Restaurant in Warren.  The place was packed and hard to hear at times, but the phone got passed around and all the I love you; I miss you’s were said. Near the end of the video chat, someone asked, “don’t you miss us and wish you were here”?  Well, a couple of seconds passed, I didn’t answer, and my friend Teri said, “look at that face, that tells it all”.  All I could do was shrug my shoulders and give a half of a smile.  I chatted with a few more people and we ended the call.

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For the last two days I have been thinking about that question and my response, or should I say, non-response.  Was it snobbish?  Does it seem like I don’t like life in Warren/America and the rest of the world is much better?  No…I know my friends know me better than that. They know I love to travel and it is what I want to do currently.  I am living my dream. But, am I being honest when I say, “I miss you too”? Now I want the chance to explain my non-response.

The first time I left for an extended period, I went to Paris, France for nearly 7 months.  Honestly, I didn’t miss anything while I was there.  It was a dream come true.  I didn’t miss any foods from home, I didn’t miss my stuff, I didn’t miss my family or friends.  I do think social media had a lot to do with it on my first extended trip.  Facebook whore that I am, my life was and is pretty much an open book.  The other thing, my family and friends knew this was what I needed at exactly this time in my life.  They also knew I had an end date, a date when I would return for what everyone thought was long term.  I arrived back in Warren, Ohio and discovered more than anything I missed the adventure of living abroad.  I seriously missed being gone and soon made plans to move to China.  Again, this had an end date.  My visa was only good for 6 months and I had to leave China whether I wanted to or not.  I returned to the USA and immediately got another visa.  This time good for 10 years and I returned to China without a return ticket.  Although I would return for a brief visit after 1 year. During that first 6 months and the 3.5 years that followed, I thought I missed things, especially cheese.  I quickly learned that I could live without these things.  The things I was seeing, doing, eating, experiencing far outweighed what I thought I was missing.  I also realized that some of my feelings were really FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  Missing out on family and friend’s life events.  Missing that wedding, that “special” birthday, that funeral, that birth…but the more I thought about those things the more I knew that my family and friends understood that I could still love them without being geographically near.  They know I share in their joys and sorrows. They know I am a text, a Facebook post, an Instagram picture or a video chat away.

I don’t think I have ever felt homesick.  The closest I may have been to homesick was when I broke my back.  But even then, that was probably better described as feeling helpless not homesick as I had to have a caregiver assist me with everyday simple tasks.  Yes, I have a bad case of wanderlust.  I have met so many beautiful people along my journey, I must honestly say, I will miss many of them.  That is because I know I will never see them again and they have taken a piece of my heart.  So, friends and family, when I say, “I miss you, too”, I am being honest, but I miss you in a different way than I miss those I will never see again.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but not always in our home environment.  I miss you and look forward to seeing you, but my wish is that I could see you and share with you the geographical and cultural situation I happen to be in at the time.  I know this isn’t possible for everyone and I hope you understand when maybe I don’t answer that question, “don’t you wish you were here”.  Maybe that’s why I always say my theme song is “I Wish You Were Here”.  Because I really do wish you were here. Thank you all for being a part of my journey, I love you.

I’m going to end with a quote from Hannah Arendt.  “Loving life is easy when you are abroad.  Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than any other time.”

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Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

Yayasan Widya Guna-Volunteering at a School for Special Needs in Bali

After leaving China and before I returned to Warren, Ohio for the holidays and most importantly the Grand Re-Opening of the Robins Theatre, I knew I wanted to first travel to Vietnam and then on to Bali, Indonesia.  Having been to Bali twice previously, I wanted to spend an extended period on this trip.  But what would I do for nearly 4 months?  Yes, I had friends coming to visit me!  Yes, there is a lot to see.  Yes, I wanted to take a side trip to Singapore.  Yes, I had my Kenari House family, but I felt like I wanted to “do something” while I was there.

Okay, so what kind of “something” can I do?  GTS…. Google That Shit!  But first, I knew I better check immigration laws.  A work visa was out of the question, but a social visa was a possibility and an extended stay visa even more doable.  After more research on the social visa, being that I was living in BFE China, I would need to travel to the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing and most likely need to spend 5 to 7 days.  As an American citizen living abroad, the task was a bit more difficult than applying in my home country. I would have to find a sponsor in Bali, they would have to write a letter and then I had all the hoops to jump through.  Since I didn’t have “something” to do yet, finding a sponsor was, well, not likely.  A little more GTS and I learned how to go about an extended stay visa.  As a US citizen, I had 30 days visa-free without a fee.  I found out that upon arrival if I paid $35 for a visa on arrival, I could extend it for another 30 days at the immigration office in Denpasar. The free visa cannot be extended.  This would mean I had to make 3 trips to the immigration office and more hoops, but, if I used a visa agency in Ubud, for a fee, of course, they would jump all the hoops and my visa would be extended for another 30 days.  Since I also wanted to go to Singapore for a weekend, I just had to go before my 60 days were up. Then because I had left the country, when I returned to Bali, I could go through the whole cycle again and easy peasy, I had my 120 days in Bali.  Just for the record and if anyone is interested for future travel to Bali, it is 120 days, not 4 months.  They count days, so if a month has 31 and you leave Bali on that 31st  or 61st day, you will be fined 1,000,000 rupiahs for overstaying your visa.  It is 1,000,000 rupiahs fine for each day you overstay.  Yes, they check because I know people who had to pay the fine.  They don’t take immigration lightly in Indonesia.

Now I knew how I could stay for 120 days, but I still didn’t have “something” to do, it was back to GTS.  Since I had spent the past 4 years teaching English, I started with teaching opportunities.  Of course, without a work visa, I would have to volunteer my time.  That is how I found Yayasan Widya Guna in Bedulu, Bali.  It was a mere 15 minutes down the road, by car or scooter, from Kenari House.

Yayasan Widya Guna is an Indonesian non-profit organization whose focus is their children’s learning center.  It serves Balinese children who come from unfortunate situations.  They have taken in orphans and provided them with food, shelter and an education.  They support children with all ranges of physical and/or mental disabilities, including but not limited to; downs, autism and cerebral palsy. They also offer English lessons to the village children after their regular school day is over, free of charge.  Their mission is to: Educate the underprivileged Balinese children to be independent and bring them a better future with their own knowledge, culture and skills.  I decided I had found my “something”.   I contacted the Yayasan and they welcomed me to volunteer and sent me all the information to get started.  I decided I would give them 6 weeks of my stay in Bali.  This left me plenty of time to entertain my guests, visit Singapore and just enjoy Bali.

I spent the end of July and all of August at Kenari House.  It was during August that my guests from the USA came to join me at Kenari House and discover Bali.  On Sunday, September 1, 2019, I left Kenari House and moved to Ketut Sadia Homestay which is a 2-minute walk from the Yayasan.  Ketut Sadia is the founder of the school.  He encourages volunteers to use his homestay.  Just like at Kenari House, I paid for a room in the homestay.  By using the homestay of the school, the monies you pay for accommodation directly support the school.  Also, in exchange for your volunteer time, the homestay provides 3 meals a day at no additional cost.

I was the only volunteer at the homestay when I arrived.  This is because many of the volunteers leave the area and explore Bali and the surrounding islands on the weekends.  Our volunteer hours were Monday – Thursday and from 10 am until noon and from 1 to 3 pm, unless you were teaching English to the Village kids then you worked from 2 to 4 in the afternoon.  I spent 1 week of my 6 teaching the English class.  Finishing at 3 or 4 on a Thursday makes for a nice long weekend.  Being it was my 3rd time in Bali and I would have 6 weeks free after my volunteering time, I often chose to stay in Bedulu and enjoy the solitude of the weekends.  By Sunday evening, most of the volunteers had returned from their adventures.  We had “kids” from the Netherlands, Germany, China and Australia when I arrived.  I say “kids” because they were all mostly between 21 and 25 years old.  There is a constant turnover of volunteers at the Yayasan.  Some come for 1 week, some 2, others 3 to 6 months.  I met a lot of great people during my 6 weeks and became good friends with several of those “kids”.  I also learned as we sat around and chatted that first evening that many of the volunteers were students and this was fulfilling an internship requirement, many of them in Physiotherapy.  They also filled me in on the ins and outs of a typical day and a bit about some of the students.

I’m not sure if it was because of my age or I just got lucky, but the rooms at the homestay were all doubles or triples.  I had my room to myself for the entire 6 weeks.  In the mornings, I was usually the first one up…ha…imagine that…me who loves to sleep.  Well, it wasn’t exactly the wee hours of the morning.  Breakfast was served at 9 and we didn’t have to be at the Yayasan until 10.  So, I was usually on my porch around 8:30 so I could sip my coffee and get ready for the day.

Day 1…. I walk to the Yayasan with the other volunteers at about 9:55. It really is no more than a 5-minute walk.  The kiddos (students) immediately noticed a new face…me!  I was bombarded with hugs and “what’s your name”? By now it was time to get started with our day.  Every day begins with 30 minutes of meditation.  WOW!  I can’t tell you how great this was.  I honestly think it made a difference in not only the kids but the volunteers as well.

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Morning Meditation

After meditation, its time to head to the classroom.  I was assigned to what I later found out they called “the zoo”.  It was the largest and most active class.  Each class has a local Balinese teacher and then us volunteers.  The number of volunteers changes from week to week.  All I can say is by 12:00, I was exhausted.  Not only day 1, but every day after also.  From 10:30 until noon Monday-Thursday is spent in the classroom with a 15-minute snack break about 11:15. While the classroom sessions are going on, some of the children are also receiving physical therapy.

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The “zoo” with a few missing

Many of the children receive therapy every day.  Along with the volunteers who are doing their internship, the Yayasan also has Balinese therapists on staff. We also had 2 deaf children that were learning sign language.

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Monday Lung – Nasi Goreng

 

After the morning session, we headed to the homestay for lunch and a much-needed rest.  As a side-note, the other “younger” volunteers got worn-out too. It is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging working with these children.  But more than anything, it was very rewarding. The morning sessions rarely changed, but afternoons were different every day.  Monday afternoons were spent doing arts and crafts.  Often making things to sell in the small gift shop.

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Music Class

 

Tuesday afternoons were music.  A Balinese volunteer brings a keyboard and some rhythm instruments, and the afternoon is spent singing, dancing and having fun.  I think it is the kid’s favorite day of the week. Wednesdays are yoga.  Again, a volunteer comes to the Yayasan, the kids get the yoga mats and practice yoga.  After 1 hour of yoga, the last hour is spent dancing.  The volunteers don’t work on Fridays, but Fridays are when the local teachers help them learn traditional Balinese dances.

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Yoga

 

They also have several older students at the Yayasan.  They prepare the morning snacks; they assist with preparing lunch and spend time working in the garden.  The Yayasan has a large garden a few minutes’ walk from the property.  Here they grow herbs and vegetables to be used in the preparation of the meals.  There are also many fruit trees; papaya, banana, mango, guava and avocado on the property.  Everything grown is used at the school or at the homestay.  After I left, I found out they were going to open a café so the students could learn not only to prepare food but wait on customers and take money.  They want to teach the students to be as self-sufficient as possible. The older students are also responsible for the daily offerings that are an important part of Balinese culture.  One of the older boys also taught me how to make incense sticks which they sell in their gift shop.

You will often see parents hanging out at the Yayasan.  They assist with clean-up and general maintenance of the property along with any other needed tasks.  I really felt like part of a big extended family during my volunteer time.  It was hard not to get attached to some of the kids, parents and staff, and I must admit, I had a couple favorites.  It was a wonderful, rewarding experience and I’m glad I found my “something to do” for 6 weeks of my time in Bali.

I’m going to end with two sayings that were painted on the outside of two of the buildings:

We are all from the same seed, growing to the same sun.  Together our love will color the world.

Allow differences, respect differences until differences are no longer different.

Why I Came Home

Why I Came Home

I am sitting in my temporary home in Ursus district of Warsaw Poland, having just spent 2.5 months back home in Warren, Ohio after leaving Bali, Indonesia in mid-November.  Why?  Simple…my brother, Mark and my sister-in-law, Lori.  Did I come home to see them for the holidays?  Not really, as I hadn’t spent the holidays in the USA in 7 years.  I came because they had turned a dream into a reality.  The historic Robins Theatre in our hometown…opened in 1923…..closed in 1974….sat vacant for 45 years….was re-opening January 9, 2020.  It was re-opening because Mark, Lori and a crew of dedicated workers spent 2 years restoring it to its original glory.  Although he had developed other areas of our downtown, the Robins Theatre was the crown jewel of his vision.  Mark and I had always been close growing up.  He will always be my best friend.  Lori and I worked together for years at the local YMCA and that’s how she met Mark.  There was no way I was going to miss sharing this evening with them.

How do you begin to describe the most amazing evening of your life? I keep an album of quotes. One I look at frequently is “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet!” I’ve had some pretty amazing moments/days/nights. I have sipped champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower at midnight with who I thought was the love of my life, my bff and her hubby.  I have overnighted on Mount Everest Base Camp where I witnessed the most glorious sunset. I’ve dined at the Captain’s Table on a cruise ship somewhere in the Mediterranean.  I’ve walked the same path the Dalai Lama walked in the Potala Palace in Tibet. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China and visited the DMZ between North and South Korea.  I’ve stood at the Gate to Heaven at Pura Lempuyang, Bali and have seen the 2200-year-old Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin in Xi’an, China.  In 2002, I watched the funeral procession of the Queen Mum in London.  I’ve ridden a camel in the Gobi Desert, had an “elephant massage” in Thailand, visited Angkor Wat and exhumed, cleaned and prepared a body for cremation.  The list could go on, but right now nothing can top January 9, 2020.

Mark is a structural engineer by trade.  A little over 2 years ago he purchased the Robins Theatre in our hometown, Warren, Ohio.  Prior to that, he had developed several other properties in the downtown area, including 10 condos and some restaurants.  But the Robins Theatre would be the star, the House That Mark (and Lori) Built.  Living in China for those 2 years, I was always excited when he sent me updates, photos and news articles about the Robins.  It seemed all of Trumbull County was getting excited.  I was too.  It was also bittersweet, as the 2 people, our mom and dad, who would be most proud, where no longer with us.

I arrived on November 15, 2019, and my life was a whirlwind of activity.  With a 13-hour time difference from Bali to Ohio, I only slept about 2 hours that first night/morning.  I know Mark is an early riser and would be at the theatre as time was getting close to the “soft opening”

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Sure enough, I found him in coveralls and a bandana at 6:30 am working on last-minute details for the December 7th trial run.  I was “blown away” is an understatement.  From a paint peeling, broken down, dilapidated building, to the hidden gem it was…..it was breathtaking!.  The “soft opening” took place with a few minor glitches, but it had NE Ohio buzzing about January 9, 2020.  The theatre also held 2 Christmas Eve Services which were attended by nearly 2000 people.  The city couldn’t wait for the Grand Re-Opening.

The big night is getting close, the grand piano has been delivered and is centre stage.  Much to everyone’s surprise, Mark sits at the piano and begins to play.  A talent no one knew he had.  He had studied with a woman who had trained students for the Metropolitan Opera, Audrey Benedict.  I wouldn’t write this here except a video of Mark playing got out to the news.  He studied under her for 11 years.  At the age of 12, she enrolled him in a 4-year course from the Sherwood School of Music in Chicago.  Between the ages of 10 and 16, he won four local, three district, three state and 2 national piano titles.  He also won a Beethoven, Bach and Sonatina national piano guild title in each category.  But the stage January 9th was not about him.

January 9, 2020, finally arrives with headliner Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and 3 local musicians with National Fame, Dana Morgan, Cheryl Warfield and Dennis Drummond.  But they would have to wait…wait until the true stars were introduced.  First, I need to backtrack.  The night was like the Oscars.  The marquee was lit and flanked by spotlights seen for miles.  The red carpet was laid because all of Warren, Trumbull County and NE Ohio were the stars. Swag bags were passed out by the high school football players.  It was a black-tie night and I was in my gown.  I live just around the corner from the theatre, a one-minute walk at most.  At about 6 pm, a white stretch limo pulls up and Mark, in his tuxedo, gets out of the car and walks to me.  He puts his arms around me, and I immediately start to cry.  This is the night he has been waiting for.  He escorts me to the limo and once inside, pours me a glass of champagne and says, “here’s to mom and dad”.  The limo pulls away and drives around the block and Mark, Lori and I, along with our family and friends walk the red carpet to the most amazing night of my life.

The theatre is buzzing, people are oohing and ahhing and I know my brother is behind the curtain.  He told me as he stood back there, the pride he felt was unparalleled in his time on this earth.  He walked out to a standing ovation.

The theatre was at capacity (1350) and they all stood for him, but as he soon told them, not for him but for every single person who had a hand in the restoration.  He then, one by one introduced his tuxedo-clad crew.  They walked head held high and proud across the stage as he introduced each one and told what their part in the restoration was.  Then, he asked if everyone liked the chandelier and all the bling in the theatre.  Hands clapped and patrons yelled yes as he introduced the person responsible, the “person near and dear to his heart”, his wife, Lori.  It truly was a night to remember and the best night of my life, so far!

 

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