Hope to visit you again, Cuba

It has been a week since I returned from a wonderful trip to Cuba with Road Scholar. We started from Camagüey and visited several cities across the country by bus, all the way to Havana.

Cuba Map

I think about those precious 10 days often, and I felt really sad when I learned of the new ban a few days ago. To me, Cuba is no longer just a ‘communist country on an island not far from Florida’; it is all the people I met during this trip – artists, dancers, musicians, professors, farmers, doctors, business owners, pedicab drivers, street vendors, and children. They are talented, hard-working, friendly, optimistic; they try to make the best of their lives no matter how dire the situation is, and I was both touched and inspired by them.

Our trip was not a superficial one where people just hang out at tourist sites and ride a classic car in Havana. We used toilets where there was no seat or paper or flushing water; we visited local markets and a ‘ration’ store; we stayed in a small town where we lost power three times; our bus shared roads with horse carts and tractors avoiding water-filled pot holes. We experienced more of the ‘real’ Cuba, even though our food and accommodation were still far better than what most local people could afford.

We greatly enjoyed the many people-to-people interactions, when we talked to various artists, danced with professional dancers, asked business owners questions, learned to play dominoes, discussed with kids about environment protection, etc. We drank a few mojitos every day, made in different ways. I cherished the fun time spent with our group leaders and intelligent, curious, caring fellow travelers. The memories will stay with me forever.

 

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There are so many photos to share and so much to write about. It is a great pity that Americans could no longer visit Cuba to experience its rich culture and art. And Cuba people could not benefit from the gifts we bring in – school supplies, art supplies, powdered and canned food, hygiene products – daily things that we take for granted. I heard it mentioned more than once during this trip, that relationships and policies built on love will endure. I look forward to the day when I could visit Cuba again.

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Why We Travel

For people who are not passionate about exploring different places, we travelers are crazy. Why spend so much money and time, go through all sorts of challenges and stresses, to see a scenery that they can easily see on postcards, travel channels, YouTube, Google Earth, with all the comfort of home? Well, here are my reasons, and I am sure other travelers could add to the list.

  • The ‘wow’ moments – I look forward to those moments, when something magnificent suddenly appear in front of me, that I cannot help exclaiming ‘wow’ or ‘my God’! My eyes widen, my heart beats faster, and I feel like crying. As they say, “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” There have been many such moments in my life, and I want more.
  • Scale – no matter how good the photos and videos are, they can’t really show the scale of many things. You have to be close to truly appreciate their splendor. Sometimes this is the cause of the ‘wow’ moments. A few examples: Grand Canyon, Uluru, Perito Moreno Glacier, giant sequoias, Terracotta army.
  • Nature – different sunrises and sunsets, stars from both hemispheres, creek or lake water that you can drink directly from, waterfalls’ crashing sound and mist, glacier’s groaning, smells of the air, monkeys’ howling, birds’ chirping, absolute silence. You have to be there in person to experience for yourself.
  • People – Interactions with people and interesting travel stories stay the longest in memories. Fellow travelers on the same cruise, outstanding tour guides, and local people we happen to meet and chat with. Remember that interesting Japanese guy on the train? Or that old couple relaxing in front of their big RV? Observe people at different places – Scandinavians in suits ride bicycles to work; Londoners with big umbrellas; Japanese in beautiful kimonos.
  • Food and Drinks – Needless to say, tasting the authentic signature food and drinks from different places is another benefit of travel that you can’t really get at home. I could never forget the huge pig knuckle in Germany, the kangaroo and emu pizza in Australia, the beignets in New Orleans, the rakija in Serbia, and the mate tea in Argentina.

Finally, I drag my exhausted body and satisfied soul onto flights and into cars for the return journey. Lying on my own bed once again, I sigh out loud: ahhh, I enjoy traveling, and I love coming home.

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Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

Write, Write, Write

It has been nine months since I decided to take a break from work and begin a new journey. I am happy to report that I have accomplished most plans I set out – unforgettable trips to new countries; time well spent with family and friends especially my mother during her visit to US; lots of reading and exercising.

However, there was one thing that I fell short of, and that was “write about my trips and family stories”. I did write a few posts here and there, but not the paragraphs and chapters that I intend to organize into a book (or books) later on.

Today my good friend Jun called me and we talked for about an hour. She is a very accomplished author and she encouraged me once again to write. I ended up promising her that I would write 25,000 characters before May 20th, which is about 1,000 per day. Note that these are Chinese characters, not quite the same as English words count. For example, ‘Italy’ is one word in English, but its Chinese equivalent has three characters. But in many cases one English word does equal to one Chinese character. On average, I estimate 25,000 Chinese characters would translate into about 15,000 English words. Achievable in a month, right?

I will write about my various trips, and this would give me a chance to organize my photos. While I am at it, I will also catch up on English writing for this blog. My current plan is to set aside three hours a day for writing. As David mentioned in his post, “developing a writing routine is essential”!

I will start a routine immediately after I return from a trip in five days…

camera-contemporary-desk-905877(Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels)

Books read in 2019 Q1

My book-reading started slow this year largely due to my mother’s recent visit. At one point I was five books behind schedule in reaching this year’s 50-book goal. I am not complaining though – the quality time we spent together was priceless! I have been catching up this week and managed to finish 10 books in the first quarter. Not bad at all with only two books behind now.

Here are the books I finished so far:

  1. Rising Strong by Brené Brown
  2. Police by Jo Nesbø
  3. Grand Pursuit: A History of Economic Genius by Sylvia Nasar
  4. The Power of I Am: Two Words That Will Change Your Life Today by Joel Osteen
  5. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
  6. Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks
  7. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  8. The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks
  9. The Present: The Secret to Enjoying Your Work and Life, Now! by Spencer Johnson
  10. The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

A good list of books – I was captured by the characters and stories in the fictions, and learned quite a lot from the non-fictions. Seven out of the ten books were written by authors that I was familiar with and they all met my expectations. And I was glad that I picked up the three books (#5, #6, #7) by new authors.

Looking forward to reading more!

Books 2019 Q1

 

Mom’s visit to the US

I just returned from Beijing after accompanying my mother back home, concluding her successful 2.5-month visit to the US.

She arrived at Christmas Eve 2018, and departed on March 10th, 2019. She celebrated Christmas and New Year with us while still jet-lagged. We visited my aunt (her younger sister) twice in Pennsylvania and had a wonderful Chinese New Year together. Then I had a very special birthday celebration with her, which I hadn’t done for more than two decades!

My mom wasn’t the adventurous type, but she adapted to the new and completely different environment pretty well. She was creative in setting up her room, and strengthened considerably from being intimidated by the steep stairs in the house to racing up and down without a problem. Every morning, she came downstairs to the living room with her thermos, and a handbag that holds her Sudoku pages, pens and pencils, notebook, phone and charger, glasses, needles and threads, etc., then carried these back upstairs at bedtime. I joked that she was commuting for work from 9am to 9pm.

She cooked often and had a specialty in vegetable dishes, some of which David and I never tried before. I learned a few tips from her, and could prepare decent meals at times. David also successfully tried out new recipes. All three of us were determined to lose weight, so our food was healthy in general. One day both my mom and David had the same comment about that day’s dinner, in different languages, that it was like feeding rabbits. Eating out was a bit fattening but we did once in a while so she could try different cuisines – Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, American, etc. Visiting my aunt was similar – a nice mixture of eastern and western food, home-made and dining out.

I don’t go shopping much on my own, but I did quite a lot with my mom. She was curious about everything in the stores – from fabric and craft supplies to kitchen utensils. Of course, she was happy to find clothes, shoes, and handbags that fit her well. As a result, she came here with one big suitcase, and returned with two.

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We also walked a lot, even though the weather wasn’t really cooperating (arctic vortex, snow, rain, wind). We went to the library where she could read Chinese newspapers and magazines. We strolled on university campus among all those young people. My mom played ping-pong with my aunt during her visit, and also learned to play piano. She spent sometime everyday to watch shows on YouTube and talk to her friends on WeChat. And she chatted with me all the time.

Even with all these activities and the quality time we enjoyed, she decided to go back to China early. Lack of autonomy was her main issue. She couldn’t drive and doesn’t speak English, so she couldn’t go anywhere or buy anything on her own anytime she wants. Also, there were too few people around compared to the lively crowds she saw in Beijing every day. Mostly she missed her friends and the group exercises and the freedom. I totally understand. I am just grateful that we had a chance to be together, with my taking a break from work and her being healthy and energetic to experience new things. I will cherish these memories forever and hope to do it again in the future.

A Good 2018, A Better 2019

books year 2018The year 2019 started a little differently, with my mom and I struggling to get over jet-lag. Now that my sleep is more or less back to normal, I can write my obligated annual “good-better” post. It is quite overdue…

I failed to accomplish most goals I set out at the beginning of 2018, but it was a very good and productive year nonetheless.

  • Read 50 books – at least 5 in Chinese, at most 25 in audio format. Not done. I only finished 48 books but I could argue that with 1,440 pages, Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ should count as three books. 🙂 Only 2 of the 48 books were in Chinese; and 6 were non-audio books. Here are the quarterly book reports: Q1; Q2; Q3; Q4.
  • Visit 5 new countries – Done. And some more. I visited 9 new countries this year! Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore.
  • Swim 50 times; yoga at home everyday. Not done. I met slightly less than half of the swimming goal, and yoga at home even less. I did attend 8 hot yoga classes though, which were much more strenuous than the home practice. 🙂 On average I walked 7,317 steps a day, the highest in recent years. This compensated somewhat for my failed exercise goals.
  • Publish 30 blog posts; write at least 3 full-length travel articles in Chinese. Not done. I only published 16 posts on this blog, and wrote 1.5 Chinese travel articles. 😦 Definitely need to write more in 2019!
  • Learn to cook 3 new dishes. Done. I successfully cooked two new dishes (one pork, one chicken) using my Crock pot. I also learned a dish or two from my mother during the last week of the year (and a few more in the new year. :))
  • Lose 5 pounds. Not done by a wide margin! I actually gained 7 pounds in 2018. I blame it on two wonderful cruises, both times followed by a trip to China. I guess this coming year I should aim to lose 12 pounds…

There is a good reason why I deviated a bit from my goals – 2018 was a year of big change. I started A New Journey, by taking a break from work to travel and spend more time with family and friends. With 88 days away from home, I wasn’t able to carry out read/write/swim/cook routines as usual. At one point I was four books behind schedule, and gaining weight was not surprising at all.

That said, this journey has been very rewarding so far. I did two cruises with Windstar, which gave me the 9 new countries. Plus a 2000-mile road trip in US Northwest from Crater Lake to Glacier National Park via Columbia River Gorge. Awesome trips, great memories.

I also spent quite a lot of time with my family and many friends during two trips back to China (Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong); also with David’s family from three road trips to New England. Starting from Christmas Eve is my mom’s three-month visit in US. I really enjoy and cherish our time together – chatting, walking, exercising, shopping, cooking…

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It is rather difficult to predict what is in store for me in 2019. Besides, it is a little late to think about new year’s resolution. Therefore I am not setting any goals except the usual 50-book challenge on Goodreads. Just let the fun continue, and I will report back on the first day of 2020 what transpired…

Happy New Year!

 

Books read in 2018 Q4

In my last book report I mentioned that I would need to finish 16 books in the fourth quarter to accomplish my 50-book annual goal. Well, I ended up reading 14, therefore I am two books short of meeting my reading goal for 2018. 😦 Given that Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ has 1400+ pages, which is more than enough for three average-length books, I can persuade myself that I did a decent job. 🙂

Here are the books I finished this past quarter:

  1. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
  2. The Stand by Stephen King
  3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
  4. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
  5. 纵有万般心碎,也要笑得甜美 by 谢姣姣
  6. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
  7. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly
  8. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
  9. The Sea Wolf by Jack London
  10. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
  11. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  12. The Outsider by Stephen King
  13. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
  14. Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff

I enjoyed most books on this list, except #4 and #14. Here is a mini book review I wrote on #4; and I didn’t include the meaningless long subtitle of #14 in the list.

I learned a lot from #7, highly recommend. #8 exceeded my expectations. Books from Stephen King, Erik Larson, Haruki Murakami, and Michael Lewis were as good as ever. Looking back, I indeed accomplished a lot in Q4 in terms of reading! 🙂

Just set a goal of 50 again for 2019. Keep reading…

Books 2018 Q4