American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life 7.14-15.2012

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me – Psalm 23:4

Today was dedicated to performing at American Cancer Society California Chinese Unit’s Relay for Life. Since I misplaced my driver’s license last night, my lovely boyfriend woke up super early to drive all the way from San Francisco to be my chauffeur. We arrived early to make my 11am rehearsal time. I worked with the sound technician for a thorough sound check, and went through a false alarm over midi sound channels – I almost had to switch all of my songs last minute. Thankfully, sound check was cleared, and I found myself dubbed on the program with a rather interesting nickname: K歌女王 (Karaoke Queen). I’m flattered, but definitely have a long ways to get there!

RFL

Foothill Stadium on a sunny Saturday

The Stage!

After successful sound check!

Emcee Char Char!

At 4 30pm, the emcee introduced me, I stepped up on stage, and launched into my performance. The audience was dynamic, the weather was amazing, and all was good – until a bug flew into my mouth in the middle of my second song. Literally in my mouth. I choked mid-verse, but managed to finish the song with the bug in my mouth. Blergghh…disgusting experience.

Vincent!

After my performance, K & I spent the rest of the day hanging around the performance tent. K and I settled on the grass to cheer on our new friend Vincent. At a mere age 17, Vincent has an amazing voice. He powered through 9 songs and blew us away. Soon, my ‘dad’ Charlie showed up to prep for his night ceremony emcee gig.

The absolute highlight of my day was meeting my idol from the Taiwanese Idol Superstar Avenue – Alisa Galper. She has a gorgeous voice, and captivating stage presence. She is super down to earth and friendly in person, and I could not believe that our names were on the same performance program. So starstruck.

Alisa & I!

After enjoying Alisa’s performance, K & I headed out to meet up with his friends in San Francisco. Today has been extremely meaningful to me – I met one of my singing idols, dedicated time towards a meaningful cause (definitely way more personal after this summer), and spent a lot of quality of time with amazing individuals.

M

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Coffee Shops, Photography & Wanderlust.

Coffee Shops

A few nights ago, Michael took me out to a cafe called MeToo. Designed and launched by 6 esteemed interior designers, the cafe screamed alternative chic. As it quickly became apparent, this was the cafe I’ve been translating marketing materials for. On a rainy Tuesday night, business was booming.

We slipped into cozy white sofas near the window on the second floor, sipped MeToo’s signature creamy Winter Wonderland coffee, and sat back to soak in the cafe’s unique ambience. MeToo is one of the city’s first successful forays into the realm of organic lifestyle themed cafes, and I must say they know how to do it well.

I think I’ve found my favorite cafe in Hangzhou. Despite my love for traveling and adventure, one of my most favorite pastimes is to sip a cup of coffee and curl up on a corner sofa with a good book.

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MeToo Cafe

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Rainy Tuesdays

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A creamy cup of coffee

Photography

When I was in Jejudo, my new friend Yuandi was shocked when I told her I’ve using my IPhone 4S for all my photography. Armed with her Canon 5D, S100, and IPhone, she was quite horrified at my complete lack of a ‘real’ camera. ‘Girl, don’t waste your travels!” Haha.

While I’ve been extremely happy with my IPhone and its slew of photo apps for effects and filters, I do agree it’s time to step it up a notch with a real camera. Any suggestions?

On Wanderlust.

Today on RenRen (China’s answer to Facebook), I read an incredible account of a Chinese guy’s solo 87-day journey from China to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, India, Nepal, Tibet and back. He saved up for a whole year before embarking on his journey, and went for it despite intense disapproval from his family. Having grown up in a typical Chinese family environment and received a typical rigorous Chinese education, Bao Long Xiang wanted to go out and see the world on his own terms. He represents a new sub-group of the ‘Little Emperors’ Generation – those who have not given up on the Chinese education system in favor of Western countries, but are looking for more. They have acquiesced to the will of their parents and society’s expectations, and most likely enjoy relative success with school and possibly work. However, with heavy exposure to international media, technology and social media platforms, and an extra bit of spending money, more and more young Chinese people are aspiring to the backpacker lifestyle. Popular routes range from following the Silk Road, the popular Southeast Asia track, to Europe. For many, its the first time they are completely on their own. With a backpack, some money, and absolute freedom to go wherever they want and do whatever they want…its exhilarating, terrifying, and liberating.

My wanderlust is back. Oops.

Bit by the travel bug. Again.

M

Farewell and Thank You, Jejudo

Last day of island paradise. Last night Yuandi, Youm & I checked out Aroma nightclub, the hottest entertainment venue in town. And with great reason. The venue was spectacular, the strippers/singers/performers were hot, and the music was bomb. As icing on the cake, it’s splendid gigantic ceiling opens at midnight to reveal Jejudo’s clear night sky. After a beautiful light show, “snow” flows down on the audience. Us three new friends chatted over beer and enjoyed the amazing concert-like shows. A night to remember.

This morning, I took a bus out to the horse pastures and watched the horses graze. As I sipped banana milk, a little horse started to wobble toward me. He looked at me, head slightly cocked. I looked back into his eyes, and….sneezed. He snorted, and trotted away. How anticlimactic, haha!

After some retail therapy at The Shilla Duty-Free, I feasted on jajeongmyun for lunch. Since its my last day here, I wanted to take things easy and just soak in that Jeju sense of inner peace.

I took a very simple and peaceful visit to the Jeju Natural History Museum to learn more about the sea women and Jeju geological wonders including the lava tubes.

Then, it was time to go au naturelle, Korean seawater sauna spa style at Yongdu-am Sea Water Sauna Spa. After 4 full days of intense travel, the spa was literally heaven on earth. Korean old ladies really know how to treat their bodies right. After eating the eggs Korean-drama style, I ventured into the Sea Water Korean Fire Sudatorium. I felt like a pork dumpling, slowing steaming away in a black iron pot.

After this heavenly escape, I met up with Yuandi and a few new traveler friends and explored the popular JunGang Underground Street. The place was teaming with vendors and teenage Korean girls. We wandered around and ventured above ground in search of Jejudo’s famous sashimi. Due to lack of industry pollution, Jejudo has extremely fresh seafood. The 4 of us split a “small” assorted sashimi platter for 60,000 won which turned into a 5 course feast with everything from tempura, 10 different sashimi types, raw crab, to live abalone. Live…as in it was still moving and curling its body when a chopstick drew near. Motivated by soju, we demolished our table. Epic last meal on Jejudo with 3 new friends!

Thanks for the memories Jejudo. Thank you for reminding me how therapeutic it is to travel somewhere alone from time to time.

M

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The Jeju Journey Round II: A Closer Look

Top 3 Observations of Jejudo, South Korea

1. The air is amazing since the island has no factories.
2. The island has been infiltrated by mainland Chinese tourists to the point almost every store employs a Chinese speaking sales associate during peak hours.
3. The insects here are HUGE. I swear…it is highly probable for a future invasion of gigantic mutant ants.

Today, I joined a tour to head East. After Korean ginseng (perfect gift for my grandparents: check!) and Korean cosmetics duty-free shopping, we headed to Jeju Indigenous Village.

I learned so much about the amazing “sea women”. In the village, the women start going out sea at age 10 to collect sea produce for a living. Jeju sea women do not have wear oxygen masks, so all sea women can hold their breath for 3-6 minutes at a time. In the village today, most sea women are 50+, with the oldest in her 80s. Since they perceive retirement as a move toward death, they keep moving and going back into the sea daily. Amazing.

When the Mongol conquest ended, they left most of the horses behind on Jejudo. The sea women rely on a powder ground from horse bone essence to protect water damage to their bones.

The society is structured so uniquely. The women do all the work, while the men only do 3 things all day: smoke, drink, and procreate. Due to the shortage of men caused by conquests and lifestyle, men are treated like kings and have 3-4 wives. While now the village had adapted towards more modern and equal perspectives, the culture remains fiercely intact.

For lunch, we feasted on the famous black-haired pork KBBQ. Select a tender piece of meat, smear with special sauce, add kimchi/seaweed, wrap in fresh lettuce leaf, and devour. Then repeat. Delicious!

Straight after lunch, we clutched our pot bellies and rushed to the pier, where we hopped on a boat towards Udo. Due to typhoon season, Jejudo’s waves got rather feisty. I almost got thrown off the deck, and most people looked super seasick. Finally, we made it to our destination in one piece.

For the next hour, I explored the 30-meter underwater world of beauty and mystery off the coast of Udo…in a submarine called Yonggoongho. The fish, the coral & the swank submarine experience were incredible. Even the horrific boat ride became not as horrific and totally worth it.

The day was far from over. Next stop: Seongsan Ilchulbong. Like Vietnam’s Halong Bay, if you haven’t been to Ilchulbong you haven’t been to Jejudo. The sun was a bright blue, the clouds were beckoning, and the mountain top was calling. So I dragged my slightly seasick and extremely fatigued body up to the top. The view was beyond breathtaking, and just being up there made me feel carefree and happy with the world. I celebrated my workout with some tasty Turkish ice cream.

Then we were off…to Seopjikoji. The area was uniquely formed by red volcanic ash scoria, and the natural stones formed unusual formations. It’s most well known of course, as the set location for popular Korean dramas, such as the iconic All-In starring Song Hae Gyo. Such a romantic area!

After stuffing my face again at dinner, I asked around and split a taxi with other travelers back to the hotel.

Time to recharge, and head back out to explore more! Time flies on this amazing sanctuary of an island.

M

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The Jeju Journey

Last night, Yuandi and I had a blast befriending the 13 gorgeous female bartenders of Moon Bar. Over drinks and cute Korean snacks, we shared stories from our respective hometowns. Despite the language barrier, I really enjoyed my company. My favorite was one girl, who had porcelain skin, a super sassy personality, and a jolly belly laugh. We got along super well, and one of my missions is to find her a cute boy from San Francisco who can outdrink her. Difficult task!

Today was so great. We decided to kickstart our morning by heading to see Arirang Party, Legend of Jeju Show. There’s nothing like a triple whammy of half-naked buff black belts beating each other up, beautiful traditional dance, and epic breakdancing for an early morning adrenaline rush. Definitely kick started my day.

We went for a completely different mood by visiting the beautiful Songak Mountain. I made my way down the black volcanic sand beach and ran into the crashing waves. Poor Yuandi was caught off guard by a rogue wave, and her red leather shoes were drenched. I wandered off to explore the cave where a signature scene from Dae Jang Geum was shot. Bad choice of footwear, since I almost slipped and died on my way down.

We decided to go with our new Korean friend we met in my hotel lobby to another mountain, where we visited an old Dutch ship, drooled over adorable Korean children frolicking on the beach, and drank real mountain water from a nearby famous temple. We also made a wish by sticking rocks in the cracks a large tower-like culture symbol. I pray and pray that it will come true.

Having a Korean-speaking friend is life-changing. We celebrated our new friendship with honeydew Melona bars and Jeju’s iconic banana milk. Since he’s an avid soccer fan, we somehow made it to the Jeju World Cup Stadium from the 2002 games hosted in Korea. We snuck in, and for some reason I had a flashback of walking on the field of Memorial Stadium before working game concessions, slipping under the radar with my apron and my attempt to look important.

After a quick perusal of the wax museum, I begged him to lead us to Teddy Bear Museum. My wish was granted, and I was the happiest girl in the world. I was in teddy bear heaven, and mind blown by the sheer creativity and cuteness emanating from every corner. Emerging with 4738595764 pics and a bag of teddy souvenirs, I was quite the happy camper. Teddy Bear Tesseum was definitely my favorite Jeju experience so far.

To top off our wonderfully packed day, our new friend took us to Olive 9, one of Jeju’s most popular buffet restaurants. We stuffed our faces literally til we dropped.

Happy, stuffed, and content. That’s how life can be like every day.

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M

Shanghai Roamin’

Currently sitting on a crate by myself in the Shanghai Airport. The massive
terminal is silent, aside from the occasional cleaner, stray passenger, and beep from machinery. And of course, my IPod. Nothing like a little Jay Chou to liven up a long, lonely, and eerie night as a hobo.

My journey to get here was insane. Having checked out sleepinginairports.com, I decided to save the hotel money for more escapades. I rushed out amidst a raging rainstorm for an intense taxi ride with a sly two-timing scammer. Many near crashes and arguments later, I made a mad dash for the train station before he could run me over.

I waited in the never-ending line teaming with sweaty Chinese old men . What seemed like eternity later, I purchased the earliest HSR to Shanghai, which left in….4 MINUTES?!!!! Mad dash it was all the way to my seat.

The HSR ride was short and sweet, since I received a lovely call from K. Once in Shanghai, I decided to pay a revisit to XuJiaHui.

Literally as soon as I arrived, my phone died. K’s call depleted all my minutes/data, and there I was cut off from the world. I wandered into one Sham Shui Po-esque electronic store and successfully discovered a shady back shop. Number charged, problem solved.

I roamed alone around Xu Jia Hui, reminiscing about all those summers past. Memories flashed back, happy, painful, exhilarating. I settled down at one of my favorite Starbucks in China and chilled on the patio. Sipping my latte and chomping on Starbucks’ new Chinese rice dumpling, I sat back and enjoyed the view. I chatted with the shy Indonesian exchange student next to me and helped her with Chinese homework.

Next stop was DaPuQiao, destination TianZiFang. Tian Zi Fang is my most loved and most hated place in Shanghai. Loved for its utmost beauty, quaintness, and artistic vibe, and hated for a painful personal memory. As I traversed the intricate narrow alleys adorned with various artistic craft and alternative cafe bars, I realized the memory was but a shadow. I fell in love with Tian Zhi Fang again, as I did every time.

I was reunited with CeCe for dinner. We met four years ago in Hangzhou, and it was so nice to see her again in Shanghai. We decided to try out the adorable Teddy Bear Thailand Restaurant in TianZhiFang, and found ourselves in a building overflowing with a vintage,artsy cuteness and audience of bear bears. For the next 4 hours, we were engaged in amazing conversation.

We walked all over TianZhiFang, enjoying the beauty of the night. At 10 40, we headed to the metro.

The metro was eerily empty, and a lady ushered us to board the last trains, saying the last train to Pudong Airport had ended. Uh oh. CeCe and I parted ways and I embarked on my quest to reach the airport.

I made it to Century Ave, where I slid past gate openings to jump into the train the split second before it closed. My jacket strap caught. Yank!

We continue toward the airport, when the train went pitch black. Everyone got out. I asked and asked, but to no avail. Finally, a nice guy told me to wait. Five minutes later, the train left and a rickety old one with dirty gray floors rolled into the station. We got on.

3 stops later the train came to a complete standstill. People got on, hollering about rides to Pudong since the transfer ends at 10pm daily. They looked unprofessional, but I was in need. Just as I was about to answer, the nice guy pulled me back. He told me about the rigged ‘black car system’ and how they rip you off before letting you leave. We started chatting, and conversation flowed from Shanghai to The Wealth of Nations.

The exit area was virtually deserted aside from tinted unmarked cars and shady hustlers. He walked me to where the legit taxis were, and made sure I was safely on board. Thank you, Yin Chun Zhi!

The taxi driver was a funny and sweet old man, as well as an amazing driver. We chatted about his job, since Shanghai taxi drivers have to drive entire day and night shifts (they get alternating days off). He told me horror stories about the worst customers he’s encountered.

The ride was too short. I bid my new friend goodbye and strolled into my home for the night. Woohoo. I’m off in search of comfy chairs.

M

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Happy Days

She lurks in the corner, eyes glistening, whiskers quivering. I playfully pounce at her, and with a yeow she dives beneath the bed. I creep around the bedpost and gently lower myself to the floor. I pull up the bed sheet slowly, and peer under the bed. In my awkward kneeling position, I wait. My chin a mere inch above the hardwood floor, I look straight into her piercing green eyes. Silence. She purrs softly. I stay still. The clunky fan in the next room stutters a little. Something changes in her eyes. She takes the first uncertain step forward. She’s still wary. I smile, and maintain eye contact.

Step by step, she comes forward. Meow. She’s right in of front of my face. She sniffs my cheek, and tickles me with her whisker. I chuckle, and wait. She purrs, and rubs her pink button nose on mine. So precious.

Happy & I

Happy has added so much happiness to my life these past few days. When I came back in January for Chinese New Year, I brought Mimi over for a playdate. Happy terrorized him.

Even it’s only been a week, Happy and I have become an item. She has the biggest personality, intellect, and heart. She is pro at hide-and-seek, cuddles near my toes almost every night, and siddles over to lick my hand when I’m emo. She’s my kitty soulmate (Mimi too).

Happy was also a stray. When my other uncle was driving home one day, he noticed a small quivering ball of fur in the middle of the road. He immediately pulled over and swooped it off the road. Disheveled, filthy, and mewing in terror, baby Happy was most likely accidentally left behind when his mommy cat migrated. Despite my uncle’s allergies, he fell in love with her. He took her home, bathed her, and soaked his pinky in milk for baby Happy to lick. He took Happy to the vet, nursed her to health, and adopted Happy into the family.

Happy is a big girl now at 8lbs. She is ridiculously beautiful, lovable, and happy.

M