Thursday, February 26, 2015

On Code Switching

After living abroad for almost ten years, my spoken English has gone from bad to atrocious. I used to take pride in my perfectly enunciated English (even supercalifragilisticexpialidocious couldn't trip me up). Now, I stumble over the most mundane words like car park. Do I roll the Rs or do I ignore them, as in cah pahk. Well, whatever, I'll just say parking lot.

I blame the American English. Why do they have to be so different from the British English? Now that I'm back home, I'm trying desperately to code switch back into Singlish (Singaporean English) , which has its roots in the British English, just because we used to be a part of the British colonies back in the days. I'm so self conscious when talking to my local friends for fear of accusations of jiak kantang which literally means "eat potato", a colloquial expression for being too Westernized. The potato, and sometimes the banana, refers to an Asian with a Westerner's mentality - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Funny, but also not quite amusing.

I have been saying bathroom with an eh sound instead of an ah sound, and then realizing that everyone else here says "toilet". And then I give up. The other day I had a conversation with my ex employer, a very well spoken English lady, who suddenly made me super self conscious as I spoke. I had to, on several occasions, correct myself on using the term "children" instead of "kids", because everybody knows that kids are merely baby goats. Not that she minded, I just thought it was respectful. We are after all, speech and drama teachers.

This code switching exercise is like brain gymnastics, and it's giving me a massive headache. I think I shall work on my equally atrocious Mandarin instead.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Happy baby!

Met up with this little bundle of joy! 
That was all that I needed today!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One bad day...

I've been bickering a lot with my mom. Mostly, I've been an insufferable little twat, being so short with her. In all fairness, she has been unwittingly egging me on, asking never ending questions, demanding answers. It could be something as simple as, what would you like for dinner tonight? I know I sound ungrateful. But on some days, can somebody just take charge? I don't want to make any decisions, and she will not take no for an answer. And so we go back and forth.

Today was a bad day. I didn't do anything but sit around and moped. Tried to read, I couldn't manage more than 10 minutes in one sitting. I just couldn't concentrate. I ended up spending hours playing Words with Friends with the autobot, because my live friends have a life. I'm beginning to regret my decision of spending a month back home.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Singapore - Da Vinci: Shaping the Future

Let's give it up for the supposably travel savvy moi. I couldn't have picked a better time to break in those new kitten heels, especially when I had plans to be out all day. Just brilliant. Took the almost empty train to the ArtsScience Museum to see the exhibition, Da Vinci: Shaping the Future. Just as well there was nobody in my section, I don't think anyone wanted to see me adhere 4 plasters (you say Band-aids I say plasters) on each foot. Not a very pretty sight.

The exhibition was well curated. Each section was accompanied by a Da Vinci inspired installation by different artists. I learned a lot more about Leonardo in this exhibition than the one I saw in Italy. Maybe because I really took my time today, or maybe it also had interactive exhibits that engaged me more than the Italian one did. My favorite section was of course all about Leonardo's paintings -- you learn about his techniques such as chiaroscuro and sfumato; discover Leonardo's principles of symmetry by which he had composed a very balanced and aesthetically pleasing The Last Supper; watch a video that compared Leonardo's Last Supper to the restored version by his pupil Salai.

This exhibition also included original pages from Leonardo's largest notebook Codex Atlanticus which featured pioneering technological inventions and sketches. To say this man is a genius is probably the understatement of the century.

Although I would have loved to spend a couple more hours at the museum, my feet were killing me. I was close to tears at the thought of having to walk another minute in those evil red shoes. So I bit the bullet, flagged a cab and headed back home.

I have also forgotten how finicky Singapore's weather can be. When I left the house again, (this time wearing more sensible flip flops) it was bright and sunny. Then I took the train, emerged from the station, right into a tropical thunderstorm. According to my friend, it hasn't rained in days, but the heavens decided today's the day to turn my day from bad to worse. Of course, the umbrella was the last thing on my mind, even though it should be a staple in every Singaporean's bag. Maybe I was just supposed to stay home today.

But I visited Julia, met up with Shoba, and had a very pleasant end to the day, thank god. I just checked the weather app, and I think I'm just gonna stay in tomorrow.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nostalgia and reminisces

I am so jet lagged I have been sleeping almost all day everyday. Haven't really had the chance to go exploring in this new city I used to call home. It's strange to see buildings in places where once there were just empty lands. The last time I was back it was perhaps about 3 years ago. So much has changed. But I do appreciate the lush greenery all over the country. It is so green everywhere- you drive down the road and trees flank you on both sides, and even the medians on the roads are dotted with shrubbery and plants. It's right hand drive here in Singapore, so I'm doubly disoriented. I'm not going to try driving anytime soon. The last time I did, I turned into oncoming traffic. Not a good idea.

Going through a couple boxes of my stuff today. Mostly books which I'll be donating to the library. I found my old journals, one was labeled "Shanghai Inspirations", containing mostly drawings and sketches. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I loved sketching human figures and designing my own fashion line. But they're mostly whimsical, like what I think  fairies would wear. Not at all practical. I figured I wouldn't make much money selling those. Another was a travel journal I kept of my travels around China. Maybe one day when I run out of entries for this blog, I'll type them in here. It was interesting to read through them. I had cuttings of brochures and pictures and long hand written entries... Time before the iPad. Lots of good memories of Justin and I.

Also came across photos of my teaching days. I would take pictures of all my favorite kids in my classes and compiled them into albums. These were also days before Facebook or iPhotos... When pictures were developed into prints. Ah, the good old days.

I suspect next week will be a little more hectic. I'll try to be a tourist in my home country again, to seek out places to go and things to do. I really want to check out some exhibitions, visit the bird park, go swimming and hike some new trails, just to name a few... But right now, I'll catch up on my sleep yet again. Good night world.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

On life and death

I went to visit my uncle at the hospital today. He is brain dead and lies in bed, a vegetable. Alive, nevertheless. His family had the medics resuscitate him twice when his heart failed, not realizing that they were saving his body and not his mind. Perhaps death would have been a kinder option. I think it is against the law here to pull the plug on his life support. When we asked how long he will live, the doctor said he'll probably outlive us all. Is that living, though? He worked so hard all his life for his family, and it comes to naught. Was it worth it? Life is so short, every minute so precious. I have to do something meaningful with mine. I can't go back into the rat race and live just so I can pay my bills?! I looked into his unseeing eyes, trying hard to decipher if he's still in there, somewhere, trying to reach out to us. My mom stood next to me, crying in despair and sorrow. There has been so much sadness in her life.

A week ago I thought about this other question. Is it tougher to be divorced, or to live through the death of a spouse. I couldn't decide which would hurt more. Then I thought till my head hurt, and I decided I was an idiot to think that it mattered.

I hate to spend the first day of the New Year in such sorrow and pain. I'm heading out to the temple again to ask for deliverance, I have a lot of people to pray for.

And below, I share my favorite prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

Oh divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
It is in dying that we are born into Eternal Life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Singapore: Chinese New Year eve

I time travelled to the future and arrived in Singapore two days after I left. It's Chinese New Year eve today. I hurriedly met up with my friend Jiani before she leaves tomorrow, and also met Nikolai for the very first time! What a lil cheeky monkey! He was slow to warm up to me, but eventually did, because how could he refuse a walk to the fountain to count the stone lions, or watch the skies for birds with Auntie Chewy? I still have some tricks up my sleeve. I sometimes wished Justin and I had a kid, I wondered how he/she would've looked like. We were going to name our son Ernest Dexter Russell (Dexter had been a long standing family name) and if it was a girl she'd have a Chinese name Min Rui, which means sharp, as in sharp as a tack.

I am so jet lagged I slept through my family's reunion dinner. And I was so looking forward to the spread! I woke up three hours too late, and now there are only crummy leftovers in the fridge. Well then, it's time to catch up on my sleep again. Happy Chinese New Year fellas!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Universal Studios Orlando: Knockturn Alley and the Mardi Gras parade

Our last day in Universal Studios!! We did some last minute shopping at the Weasley's' Wizarding Wheezes, getting candy like the Nosebleed Nougats or the Every-Flavor Beans. Jess and I each got ourselves a shirt - mine says "Butterbeer". I really couldn't justify the price of the Time Turner necklace so I settled for the Time Turner key chain instead. In the words of Priscilla, I spent my money buying nonsense but I loved it! I also got myself a Gryffindor backpack and a luggage tag. Uh, can you say dork?! But I totally needed all these things!!!

To deviate from the Wizarding Worlds for awhile, of course there are plenty of other areas in the theme parks. In case you need a recommendation for rides, my top favorites are Rip Ride Rock-it (a roller-coaster that lets you pick your own music to ride to); the Hulk (where the exhilaration begins right from the start); the Dragon roller coasters in Hogsmeade are awesome if you get first row seats; the Quidditch game was the best of all simulator rides, even though my heart skipped a beat when I first rode on it. Daniel Radcliffe looked just like Justin when he had those round glasses.

The Simpson's ride was hilarious (even though Jess and I were the only ones laughing...Guys? Do you not have any Simpson's humor??) but we skipped all the water rides just because it was much too cold to be standing in lines soaked. We also watched Fear Factor Live, Sinbad's Voyage and Shrek's 4D movie. And you will definitely need to ride the Hogwart's Express in both directions. Walking through the lines in the Wizarding Worlds is definitely another experience. Even though you'll need to deposit your bags in lockers, keep your phones with you so you can snap pictures as you walk through Hogwart's or Gringott's. I have been totally impressed by the attention to the tiniest bits of details that makes the Harry Potter experience complete.

Tonight was also the Mardi Gras parade. We planted our butts and weary feet on the sidewalk as we waited for the parade to begin. I've never been to New Orleans or attended any Mardi Gras parades, so I didn't know what to expect. I loved it!! The beautifully lit floats went by, one after another, carrying people who threw beaded necklaces at the crowds. The boy next to me hurtled in front of me every time beads flew in my direction. There are plenty of beads to go around, son! He stopped intercepting my loot when he realized I wasn't competing with him, especially after I kept giving him my beads. I think he was a little embarrassed. He even tried giving me a broken necklace once, as sort of a peace offering.

After the parade we hurried back to Diagon Alley because we realized that we had missed Knockturn Alley completely, had I not examined our maps closer that evening. Diagon Alley definitely has a more sinister feel than Hogsmeade, and Knockturn Alley even more so. Practicing spells in the dark also gave it a more magical feel. Although satisfied with our Wizarding Worlds experience, we reluctantly left Universal Studios to prepare ourselves to return to Muggle world. Ah the sobering effect of reality. If only I could live where broomsticks fly and dragons breathe fire.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Universal Studios Orlando : the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley

Second day in Universal Studios and this morning we head on down to Diagon Alley for our free breakfast in the Leaky Cauldron. I had the best pancakes breakfast with a side of hot Butterbeer. Yesterday, Jess and I tried both the frozen Butterbeer (slushy version), and the cold Butterbeer (carbonated version). They both tasted absolutely perfect, but a lot of people had voted the hot Butterbeer as the best. I couldn't for the life of me imagine how a hot version could ever be better than the cold ones, especially when the word 'beer' was involved. However, Butterbeer is not really beer, but a yummy caramelized non alcoholic drink. Nevertheless, I remained skeptical. The temperature this morning was in the 40s. When I took my first sip of the said drink, all my suspicions were dispelled. Hot Butterbeer, topped with foamy caramelized whipped cream, runs down your throat smooth as silk, especially when the temperature of the drink is just right. Consumed in the early morning chill, even better. Hot Butterbeer for me is like what Starbucks is to Muggles - I could be addicted to that sh**.

I got ahead of myself, talking about food and all. The grandeur of Diagon Alley begins when you first step in and behold the magnificence of the fire-breathing dragon who sits atop the Gringotts Bank. There is really no where else to look. Your eyes travel the long cobbled pathway that leads your gaze to the Gringotts Bank at the end of the street. Your gaze continues to trail up the building before you squint against the glare of the sun (or perhaps from the dragon's fiery display). It breathes fire upon the hour, and tons of people gather around to take pictures and videos of this great moment. In the Gringotts building, you can ride the simulator down to the vaults of the bank.

Jess and I chose our interactive wands today and began practicing our spells in earnest. Her favorite character was Professor McGonagall, but they were out of her wands. She eventually picked out Sirius Black's. I love Luna Lovegood, but her wand didn't really do anything for me. In the end, I picked one that was made from Ash wood, even though I was torn between others. Although my birthdate dictates I should have picked out the Hazel wand, the description of the Ash wand really called out to me. The description says that Hazel wood is associated with wisdom, protection and magical skills. Hazel people are often wise beyond their years. They make inspiring teachers, combining creative talent and practical knowledge. That's totally me, isn't it?! However, I didn't care for how the Hazel wand looks, so I picked the Ash - wands made from Ash are especially productive as Ash trees are known to attract energy. Ash people are kind and generous with a gift for seeing what is beautiful in the world and in others. I'd really like to attract some positivity and I liked the wand, so Ash it was.

A map accompanying each wand shows the different locations where you can cast your spell. You look for a medallion cast into the ground that not only gives you the spell, but illustrates the way to wave your wand. When Jess and I first started out, we weren't sure what the medallions looked like. We saw an unassuming golden round disc on the ground and excitedly jumped on it, waving our wands around waiting for something to happen. A witch politely pointed out that we were really standing on a sewage system marker, and guided us to the right medallion. Flushed red with embarrassment, and feeling like total Muggles, we immediately saw that the proper medallion had carvings and words and arrows on it. Our excitement quickly overrode any feelings of shame as we resumed our incantations. Ascendio and descendo made things rise and fall; incendio made a bird burst into flames; aguamenti and the water fountain spouted water. Jess was practicing this particular spell when she accidentally splashed water onto a bystander. I was corrected on many occasions by Jess that it was "Wingardium Levioooosa" and not "Wingardium Leviosaaaa". Swish and flick, swish and flick. Whatever, Hermione.

Tonight, we got tickets to watch the Blue Man Group, courtesy of our friend Mark, who had the proper connections. I loved every minute of it, and it made me wistful for my theatre days in school. Mime, music and visuals were the key elements in the performance, but the power of these elements cannot be underestimated - no spoken words were necessary. There was also heavy use of technology which in turn was used to make a social commentary on how we are all so dependent on it. It was funny and clever, and you get a sense that these guys must have a lot of fun brainstorming, writing, rehearsing and performing.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Universal Studio Orlando: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade

On my flight to Florida, the plane flew into the sunrise. I watched the colors of the sky change from a deep burnt orange, to the color of gold. I met Jess at the Orlando airport before checking into our hotel at Universal Studios. The hotel is fairly new, with cute 50s decor. We brought our bathing suits but no way we were going to need it today. The temperature was a high of 64, with lows in the 40s. I had just come from LA and Hawaii, this was not what I was expecting. Come on Florida, I didn't sign up for this!

Wasting no time, we dropped off our suitcases and headed straight for Islands of Adventure, home to one of the two Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. Islands of Adventure was the smaller of the two theme parks, so we decided to tackle that today.

Hogsmeade was everything a Harry Potter fan could ask for, and more. We were greeted by the Hogsmeade Station at the entrance with lines snaking around the corner. The Hogwart's Express transports visitors between the two theme parks, so we didn't ride on it until we needed to get to the other side. I don't think I could adequately describe the authenticity of Hogsmeade. From the music in the air, to the snow covered roofs and the cobbled streets, the attention to details was impeccable! It felt like we were in the movie, heck, I felt like JK Rowling's books came to life! All the people who worked there were in character ALL the time, referring to regular tourists as "Muggles" using our "Muggle Plastic" credit cards. For those not in the know, Jess is possibly the world's no. 1 Harry Potter fan, and I couldn't have picked a better travel partner. Every time we saw something, Ike the Triwizard Cup or the Pensieve, I would gasp in faint recognition, but Jess could tell me exactly what we were looking at, which book and which part of the book it was from, and possibly quote a line or two (or a whole paragraph). Every time she second guessed herself, she would turn to me quizzically. I returned her look with an equally confused and incredulous stare that read, "Me?! Are you seriously asking ME???" Think Hermione versus Ron. I felt bad I didn't have more enthusiasm to offer ( and I was already darned excited!) like I was letting her down with my incompetence. I knew I should have studied before this trip!

Jess and I gave most of the other rides in a park an obligatory try, but eventually returned to Hogsmeade for more Butterbeer, to walk through the stores for the nth time, and just to soak up the whole atmosphere. It was great to see children and adults alike, dressed from head to toe in Hogwart's robes, carrying their wands and practicing spells in earnest. This is for real!

We walked into Ollivander's Wand Shop for the thousandth time, unable to decide on which wand to pick, even though technically the wand chooses the wizard. If you were there you would understand our dilemma. You could pick a replica of favorite character's wand, you could also pick a wand from a selection of different types of wand wood. The wood type you pick is determined by your birthdate according to the Celtic calendar. And then there were regular wands and interactive wands. With the interactive wands, you are given a map that shows you where you can practice your spells. There are areas in the town where you can make things happen with a wave of your interactive wand. Now tell me, how on earth do you decide? This is no trifle affair, guys! We decided to sleep on it tonight and pick one out tomorrow. After all, tomorrow we will be heading to Diagon Alley.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Los Angeles - Hacienda Heights

Taking it easy today after having one too many drinks at King's Head the night before. I decided to drive out to Hacienda Heights to visit one of North America's largest Buddhist temple, the Hsi Lai Monastery. The Buddhist temple consisted of 2 halls - the main hall housed 3 Buddhas -- Amitabha Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha and the Medicine Buddha. I walked into the hall without any knowledge of the significance of each Buddha and promptly planted myself in front of the Medicine Buddha to offer my prayers and to meditate. Imagine my surprise finding out afterwards that I had subconsciously picked the Buddha that heals all physical and emotional wounds. A coincidence? I think not.

Sara and I took her dogs out to the park at Hollywood Lake, where the famous Hollywood sign was prominent enough for me to take some cheesy touristy shots. That was the extent of my Hollywood experience, and it was enough. We then went for a much needed massage, only to find out those guys are from China! They are everywhere!!! When I got a massage in NYC, we had Chinese masseuses too! I didn't realize how much I miss the Chinese massage until my massage lady sought out and rubbed fervently at my sore spots. She knew exactly where to find them. Amazing. Can I pack her into my suitcase please?

I had intended to try the much talked about In-n-Out Burger but after that massage, greasy burgers were out of the question. Sushi, however, sounded absolutely divine. Sara brought me to Yen Sushi on Ventura Boulevard which was uh-may-zing. The sashimi was so fresh that every bite was an orgasmic explosion of flavor. Why would anyone choose burgers when they can have this?! They also served edamame drenched in garlic and spicy peppers. Enough said.

I leave tonight, so there wasn't anything to do after but my laundry and pack. I'm glad I had my own unique experience of the city instead of trying to do the usual touristy stuff. Having friends in different cities show me around has been the best decision ever. This has been a such a well paced vacation, I hate for it to come to an end!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Los Angeles - the Getty Museum and the Griffith Park Observatory

We started the day off with another first -- a Pilates class for me. Pilates is very much like yoga...Not. The only similarity lies in using your core. But how do you sit on you that bench-press-looking-machine and pull at the handles with your stomach muscles, when all I want to do is use my arms and brute force?? a very strange activity, but I made it to the end of the hour. Somehow I think I'll have sore arms instead of a six pack tomorrow.

Sara had to work today so I was once again left on my own to explore the city. Only this time, she let me use her car as it was impossible to walk to anywhere. I decided it was a good day to visit the Getty Center, a museum that holds a collection of ancient European art pieces to those of the early 20th century. I love art from the Renaissance period. When I was in Italy, I was like a kid in a candy store. The gilded mosaic tiled churches, the sculptures, the famous works of Michaelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, all brought tears to my eyes. Not really, but close enough. I remember admiring the Sistine Chapel, reflecting on how anyone would be a Christian convert just by looking at those awe inspiring murals! Have you seen those images of hell? They scared the bejeezus outta me!

The Getty Center consists of four main wings and plenty of outdoor grounds to roam around. The weather was perfect this morning for visitors to lounge outside for a picnic or to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Renaissance pieces aside, I spent the most time in the gallery of the Impressionists -- Renoir, Monet, Cezanne. What an exciting time it must have been, to be a part of a new movement, deviating from the traditional to a more experimental technique.

When I was done with the Getty, I headed back to pick Sara up from work. Driving in LA was yet another first for me. I was not used to driving in anything other than my Toyota Avalon, and her new age hybrid Prius doesn't even have a key?! It has this strange key fob thingy and it takes only $20 fill up her tank? What crazy awesome gas mileage is that?! Even so, once I got used to it, driving in LA was no different from driving back home. The crazies will always be crazies, they drive the same no matter which state you're in. I had just a little less road rage because I'm on vacation.

We met up with Sara's friends for dinner before heading to the Observatory in Griffith Park. Tonight, the Observatory had telescopes out for public viewing. We saw Jupiter and its four moons, the Orion Belt and the Trapezium, a constellation made up of four of the universe's newest stars (only about 100,000 years old!) Justin got a telescope the first Christmas we moved back to NC. It stood about as tall as I did, each lens costing twice as much as our monthly grocery bill, if not more... He would take it outside to look at the stars, sometimes even in the dead of winter, as we stood frozen to the spot, fascinated with the worlds and universes beyond his grasp.

The night view of the city of LA was just as amazing as the view in the day. The streetlights pulsed, literally like the city was alive. If I was still in Hawaii, I could have easily mistaken it for lava flow. I didn't want the night to end because the stars brought me just a little closer to my Justin.

Los Angeles : Topanga Canyon, Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice

Five years and two dogs later, Sara, my host for the LA trip, still looks amazing as ever. We spent a good part of the morning catching up over breakfast, in a tiny little cafe called Pat's Topanga Grill, sharing adventures, lamenting love lost, celebrating new journeys.

Topanga Canyon is home to quaint little stores, restaurants and cafes. We stopped by a store called the Spiral Staircase because it's sign read: "New Age Shop" and also "Unusual Things". That caught my attention. How can you resist walking into a store full of unusual things?? We didn't get anything, but the shop assistant recommended a few religious sites we could visit. Now, I am not one for visiting Hollywood, nor am I enticed by the city of ritz, glitz and glamour. But Hindu temples and Buddhist shrines, hell yeah! Bring it on! So we wove our way around the mountains and valleys. The view was incredible. In the far distance, you could catch a glimpse of Malibu beach, where the sky and the ocean melted into one. Where does the sea end and the sky begin??

Our visit to the Malibu Hindu Temple was impeded by the fact that it was closed between the hours of 12 and 5. We decided to drive to Santa Monica and Venice instead.

Santa Monica pier was pretty much as expected - a tourist trap with plenty of souvenirs for sale and seagulls to dodge. There was a little old lady named Psychic Jude who had her hands full, reading fortunes one after another, saying things like "you may or may not remember..." Venice was a lot more exciting with different characters to see -- buskers, artists, vendors selling their craft. I was out on a mission to find myself a dreamcatcher. I've wanted one for the longest time, and one soon caught my eye. It had a huge Rose Quartz in the middle, and many tiny quartz pieces around the edges. Rose Quartz is a crystal of unconditional love, and carries energy of compassion, love and peace, tenderness and healing, nourishment and comfort. I think that was what called out to me, although I really didn't need to buy one more thing. Strolling up and down the beach, we finally found a nice little bar to enjoy the setting sun, have a nice cold beer while we listened to the tunes of the busker Mr. Biff.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Oahu: North Shore

Last day in Hawaii. Headed out to the North Shore for breakfast at the famous Kono's Beach Cafe, where you'll get a discount if you are kama'aina, or a local or long term resident of Hawaii. Molly and James are trying to get their Hawaiian licenses for kama'aina perks. Me, I could probably pass off as one, given that my skin has been tanned golden to a crisp in the last six days. Not to mention I'm Asian.

We spent the rest of the morning sitting on the North Shore beach, mouth wide open in awe of the majesty of the waves as they crash into shore. Here on the North Shore are some of the biggest waves I've seen on the island. Perfect for experienced swimmers and seasoned surfers. I was quite happy watching people get tossed around, thankful that that wasn't me.

Today is exactly two months since Justin's passing. It seemed like it happened so so long ago but has it really only been two months? They say time flies when you're having fun, which was how this past week had been. Time is only relative. I remember vividly everything that happened two months ago. From the time of David's call, to my excruciating drive home from Charleston. From waiting to hear from the police to the never ending line at his wake. Time had stretched out to infinity then.

I'm still waiting to hear from the medical examiner. Why does it take so long? Do they always make families wait like this, in the dark abyss of the unknown? In agony? Can somebody explain the process to me to justify this wait? 60 to 90 days is a damn long time to put a grieving family through hell. Is this me in the second stage of grief then? Is this anger? Am I then past denial, and do the stages work in a linear way?

Let's try to turn this entry around again. As I sit here in my seat on the plane, let me perhaps quietly list in my head all the things I'm grateful for.

And guess what, nobody is sitting next to me on this flight either.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Oahu: Manoa Falls

So this morning I found out that the Hawaiian alphabet has only thirteen letters, five vowels and eight consonants. Which explains the number of recurring vowels. In fact, the Hawaiian name for the state fish is twenty one letters long. Are you ready for this? The state fish, the triggerfish is also known as the humuhumunukunukuapuaa. Now say it fast, three times.

And while we're on the topic of state symbols, the Hawaiian state flower is the hibiscus, and the state bird is the nene (Hawaiian goose) pronounced nay-nay. I thought i would get a glimpse of it today as we embarked on a morning hike, but it is not as common as you'd think a state bird oughta be.

Crazy trees in Manoa

We journeyed inland to Manoa to see the waterfalls. Here lies the lush green rain forests of Oahu, where it rains almost every day. I managed to catch sight of two more new birds for my life list -- the Red-billed Leiothrix and the Saffron Finch. Pretty stoked about my lucky birding experience! The falls, however, was a different story. It hadn't rained that morning so the waterfall was unimpressive to say the least. James showed me a picture of the waterfall when he was here another time. Now that was a waterfall. This was a mere trickle.

With mixed feelings about the birds versus the falls, we headed out to the west coast to White Sands Beach Park, where people go to surf. I am done with trying new things for awhile, so I gave surfing a miss. Instead, I spent my time combing the sands for pretty shards of seashells, daydreaming about the jewelry I could create with them. My prized find was a tiny heart-shaped shell of the prettiest shade of maroon, though I wouldn't be surprised if the shells crumbled to pieces before I could do anything with them. I had to cram all my belongings into one carry-on. How did I manage to fit everything in the same suitcase before??

That's it. Tonight is my last night in Hawaii. Tomorrow, I visit North Shore, and then I would have covered all four corners of the island.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Oahu: Ala Moana Beach Park and Chinatown

So how was it 63degF (17 deg C) this morning? I woke up nestled under three blankets. And I walked to the coffee place in long pants and a sweater on. Am I glad I packed a sweater in place of hiking shoes! No, not really. Still amazed at my imbecile life decisions, but grateful for the brief lightbulb moment when the sweater went into the suitcase.

Also received my first valentine from the people that stole my heart - the Zamora kids. Sebastian, Stella, Christian and baby Alexander sent me a card with their names handwritten. I'm so proud to have been able to watch them grow. I love the family,  the kids were always so easy to look after, and so much fun. I still cannot believe they paid me to play with their kids!

Not that I'm expecting any more valentines. Justin and I were the least of gift givers. Special occasions were celebrated with food, and extra special occasions were celebrated with home-cooked food. He will always be the world's best Master Chef in my heart, even though he sucked at remembering important dates. I believe he never got our wedding anniversary date right, ever. But that was what made him him, if you know what I mean.

Another first for this trip - I signed up for a stand up paddle board yoga class. I don't know what's up with the weather this week, but it was super windy on Waikiki. I started out for the Ala Moana Beach Park for the class hoping for calm seas, only to be dismayed by the choppy waters. Well, at least I wasn't going snorkeling today, right? Apparently the instructor had to cancel several classes this week because of the Wind. Luckily she didn't do it today. It was, however, a great challenge to my balance. First of all, we couldn't paddle out to sea, so we stayed in the shallow waters. Secondly we were given anchors(?!) to keep us from drifting away. Lastly, we had to modify every pose because standing up on the board just wasn't happening. Nevertheless, I had a great time. Heck, maybe I should teach SUP yoga too!

I was determined not to be a bother to my hosts, so I insisted on walking home, taking the scenic route on the famous shopping stretch that is Kalakaua Avenue. Have you noticed how fun Hawaiian names are? There are always more vowels than consonants and it's a challenge to say them right! The GPS says them all funny, according to Molly, who apparently is our local expert. :)

Molly took us to Chinatown for dinner and the First Friday event. You know you have arrived in Chinatown when all the road signs start to include Chinese characters. Every first Friday of the month, Honolulu turns into a huge block party for artists, performers, galleries and stores. Or simply put, just another excuse for people to jumpstart their weekend getting really wasted. The Chinese lion dancers were also out in full force tonight, visiting stores, setting off firecrackers, drumming up good fortune for the new year.

We had dinner at J.J Dolan's on Nuuanu Ave (try saying that one!), which has famous kickass pizza. We had ourselves a spinach and garlic pizza that had a creamy quiche like topping but was certainly not too garlicky; although you wouldn't want to talk to any one after. Wash it down with a cold glass of beer, aahhh pure heaven.

Oh and did I mention I caved and bought myself a pair of walking shoes?
Now I'm really ready to take on the world.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Oahu: Waikiki

The week is just flying by. I had a late start to the day and because my gracious hosts both had to work I was pretty much left to my own devices. This has been a trip of firsts, so I decided this morning I was gonna get myself a nice cuppa with almond milk. Yeuuccchh. Never mind the health benefits. Oh and then right before I left the house for coffee, I discovered some neighbor locked me in. The main gate was padlocked, so I parkour-ed over the low wall. Also a first.

I hadn't planned anything for the day so I was going to hit the beach on Waikiki and get some obligatory souvenir shopping out of the way. No but seriously, I enjoyed every minute of the retail therapy; the beach on Waikiki, not so much. This has got to be the week of high winds. Every time I sat down I got sand blasted. There was sand in my hair, in my bag, up my nose. I know, first world problems right? I will stop complaining. On the upside, that makes for some good exfoliation. 

Dinner with Molly was good ol' Chinese/Cantonese comfort food. We relived some Shanghai moments as we munched on our char siu and qie zi bao. Good times. 

On a side note, I read an article about some locals trying to make SPAM from scratch. I know they're trying to be health conscious and all but isn't it a little antithetical to the concept of SPAM? I say live and let loose a little already.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oahu: Hanauma Bay

Today's weather is more in line with my idea of Hawaii, although Molly pointed out that there is a part of Oahu that rains every morning without fail. Unthinkable! We went to Kaimuki for breakfast at Koko Head Cafe. Molly tried to teach me how to say Kaimuki without sounding like a tourist. Kai-mu-KEE, with emphasis on the second K. I couldn't hear the difference for the longest time.

I had udon for breakfast! Whaddya think about that?! Molly ordered one of their signature dishes Cornflakes French toast - toast fried in cereal, topped with bacon and ice cream. She said when the ice cream melted it tasted just like cereal in milk. I thought that was too much sweetness to break my fast. I prefer savory Japanese noodles with creepy bonito flakes.

 We headed towards Hanauma Bay to snorkel. I was a little apprehensive, given my last failed attempt in the waters of Cancun, Mexico. Justin had taken to the ocean like fish in water, I was like a fish out of water, desperately flopping around. I had had a major panic attack, turned around and headed back to the boat. The waters were too choppy, my mask kept slipping off... Getting me to snorkel this time would not be an easy feat, but I was determined to give it a second try.

 All visitors to Hanauma had to watch a compulsory 9 minute educational video. I thought that was pretty neat. You can't prevent one million visitors a year from stepping on sea life, but you can most certainly try to educate them and hope for the best. The walk down to the beach was spectacular in itself. The coastline was dotted with tourists, the ocean different shades of turquoise, azure blue. You could see the dark patches of reef against the white sandy seabed. It's so beautiful I almost feel confident about snorkeling again.

 We parked ourselves right by the lifeguard tower, for intangible security reasons. Molly and I stepped gingerly into the cold waters before affixing our masks and flippers. I had trouble getting my mask on comfortably much to the Molly's chagrin. She was, however, very patient as she waited for me to fuss over my hair, mask and flippers. I second guessed my ability to swim with flippers and decided against them. Once again, Molly patiently waited as I removed my flippers, trudged back to shore and return to the waters. We finally paddled away when I stopped almost immediately. I was breathing too hard, my lungs hurt, and why were the waters so cloudy?! I tried again, and again. Started and stopped. After my tenth try, I convinced Molly to go ahead without me. I was gasping for breath, I felt embarrassed about my panic attack, I just couldn't do it! It was Cancun all over again.

I watched Molly paddle away from the safety of my beach towel. She returned to tell me about the huge purple fishes, striped fishes, schools of fishes. I decided I would stick to watching documentaries. Twenty minutes later, I got up, put on my snorkel gear and decided to practice close to the shore. I will snorkel or at least die trying, dammit! With every swim, I ventured a little further away from shore. My breathing eased as I got used to breathing through my mouth, but whenever water got into my mask, or when the waves slapped me around too hard, I panicked and reached for the ground with my feet. I gave up, and decided this was all the snorkeling I was doing today.

 Finally Molly had a brainwave, we could try snorkeling on the other end of the bay where the reefs were much closer to the shore. Read: I didn't have to swim too far out! I don't know why we hadn't thought about it earlier, but this was when I got to see the purple fishes, yellow stripes fishes, schools of shiny fishes and even a weird sand-camouflaged creature. I was about to put my feet on the sand when something moved. I freaked out a little but remained calm enough to watch the flat sandy looking creature scuttle away.

 I was triumphant. I conquered my fear and did one more thing I never thought I would have been able to do. Justin would have been so proud of me. We were famished after ALL that snorkeling so we stopped by the 7-11 to try spam musubi, which was basically a giant sushi with a slab of spam on the top. It was probably delicious only because I was hungry, practically inhaled it. For dinner we went to Home Bar and Grill, which was a local sports bar. It was probably the brightest sports bar I've ever been to, and they had the Seahawks flag on the ceiling. Just was glad they didn't put up a sign that said "back to back Super Bowl champions". I saw a picture of a guy on Instagram with that tattooed on his arm. Unfortunate decision, poor man. This place has amazing tuna poke "Negri Toro", Parmesan truffle fries, seared Ahi Tuna and wings. Yes, that was what we had for dinner. I must have gained ten pounds since I landed on Hawaii.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Oahu: Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail

Rainy morning. I dutifully spent the morning on a crash course of Hawaiian birds while James and I waited for Molly to be done with half a day of work before we head out to the Makapu'u Lighthouse Trail.

We drove to Makapu'u in torrential rain, hearts sinking with every minute of the horrible weather. I checked my weather app constantly for changes in weather. It said "Light rain", which made me question what their "heavy rain" might be. This rain looked like a pretty severe thunderstorm to me. We made several pit stops along the way to take in the sights along the coast, albeit a little cloudy. But no sooner than the downpour started, it stopped. By the time we hit the trails, the sun was out in full force. Of course, no one had the foresight to bring sunscreen. What? Sunscreen on a rainy day? Pfffttt. Very soon we had the sun beating down our backs. No whale action today, but lots of birds for my life list. Japanese white-eye, zebra doves, red-vented bulbuls, red crested cardinals.

 Molly pointed out the tide pools down below, which we couldn't get to because we all wore our Locals. Why on earth did I not bring my hiking shoes?! We found the lighthouse, which was inaccessible to the public, and looked out at the amazing view. Blue upon blue. As the sun continued to beat down on us, I actually got a little burnt on my shoulders, plus acquired some weird tan lines.

 Went to Kailua for some frozen yoghurt at this fun place called Yo Mama. Lychee seems to be the to go choice on this trip. I had the most amazing combination of lychee and mango yoghurt with gummy shark toppings. I thought it was very apt for this beach vacation. Hurried home so Molly can go back to work for an hour before we headed out again for some Korean BBQ dinner, and Karaoke with Molly's friends.

 Lesson learnt: when in doubt, apply sun screen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Oahu: Diamond Head Crater

I headed out to conquer the summit of the Diamond Head crater. 1.6 mile round trip hike. My only regret was leaving behind my hiking shoes, in favor of kitten heels and ankle boots. Seriously? What was I thinking? So I flip flopped around in my $2 pair of Locals. Everyone wears them around here, so you can't get anymore local than these Locals.

I embarked on my hike feeling a little self conscious, wary of the weird looks I might get for wearing those insensible "shoes". I relaxed a little when I saw quite a couple of other girls in flip flops. Probably for similar reasons of vanity. I must still be in pretty good shape despite the recent beer bingeing. I managed up and down the trail without my lungs collapsing on me, while all around me people huffed and puffed. I constantly looked around to make sure no one had stopped breathing.

 I recalled all the hikes Justin and I used to do. Emei mountain in Sichuan, the Yellow Mountain in Anhui, the Grand Canyons in Arizona. Diamond Head was nothing compared to those. I still wished he was here with me.

 Got texts from family and friends everyday to check on me. One from Michaela, she had arrived in Barcelona, and encouraged me to buy my ticket out there to see her. David called to check on me, and to thank me for Silas' present. It's nice to hear from everyone (writing this for your benefit :p)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Oahu: Ko Olina Lagoons

It's Super Bowl Sunday. Seahawks vs the Patriots. After Justin's passing, I no longer took any interest in football. Molly and her boyfriend, James took me to the Ko Olina lagoons. The beaches were pristine, the waters clear. There were a total of four lagoons, so visitors were evenly distributed. No crowded beaches.It's interesting to note that all beaches in Hawaii are open to the public. No greedy resort monopoly there. Admirable.

 Seahawks lost the game due to a final bad play call. I wonder what Justin would have to say about that. I saw a thing on FB which was a picture of Russell Wilson getting ready to throw a pass. The caption goes "Hey Russell, want another Super Bowl ring?" "Nah, I'll pass." Touché.

 We saw a turtle near the shore, just frolicking around, although it seemed like it was stranded to me. I saw a heron catch a crab, stretching its neck, and deftly catching the unlucky crustacean between its beak. There were several egrets, although I can never differentiate between the species. Gotta brush up on those birding skills, so I downloaded this birding app for $10. This is now serious business, y'all.

Aloha Hawaii

In the entire day of traveling, I've not had a single soul sit next to me on the plane. Not from Charlotte to Atlanta, not Atlanta to San Francisco, not San Francisco to Seattle, or even Seattle to Hawaii. It makes me think I've had Justin sitting right next to me the entire time.

 I was excited about the airport in San Francisco. It has a yoga room. I walked into the empty low-lighted studio and did a full hour of yoga and meditation, interrupted on occasion by announcements over the PA system. Nobody else came in. If they did, they always left immediately, apologetic about the disruption. Really? We can share the room!

 Molly welcomed me at the airport with a lei in hand. "Welcome to Oahu!" as she garlanded me. I've been lei-ed.