ROAMoChan: Southeast Asia

One night a few months back, I could feel myself coming down with a cold-the front of my eyes and forehead would tingle and gain weight. In the evening, with toothbrush in hand, I glanced over at my desk to see the pink headphones I wear sometimes. Unexpectedly, they also seemed to tingle..


Inner world affairs always act this way.. you see feelings, hear colors, or might just know you know something new-you just are not aware of what yet.

As I sat on my bed brushing my teeth, I made a conscious note that they “tingled” and then finished getting ready for bed. The next morning as I sat down to breakfast, I grabbed my phone to check the time. 

An app notification asking if I use earphones or headphones was staring back at me from the small screen. Hmm.. Naturally, the throbbing pink of the headphones last night came back into mind. I sketched a rough image of the headphones on a piece of paper in between bites of breakfast. As I finished up, Norm came out of his office to say good morning. I looked up from my bowl of breakfast to see a big sketched pair of headphones on his shirt staring back at me. 

Ok, pink headphones, I’m listening.. 

It was in this curious mind frame that ROAMoChan left for Southeast Asia.


ROAMoChan 2019 Ready to go!

The first morning in Singapore, we woke up before everything else. As we turned new corners and adjusted to the humid morning air, we noticed that we weren’t the only ones up. Roaming led us to a side street where the road for cars ended, but the path for pedestrians did not. 

So what do people do in the early morning, before the appetite sets in, before work and other daily obligations begin? 

First sketch in Singapore

I came upon a colorful temple where a woman was standing-eyes closed-in front of its entrance, her hands pressed together in prayer.

I stood and observed her and the scene, and I listened to it all. I felt something there. It stuck with me, but I didn’t bother to poke or prod it, I just let it be and walked away after awhile.

I listened again the next morning. I stopped in my tracks because I suddenly saw music. A loud speaker on a main street in Little India was playing and many birds sat on a wire bobbing and swaying in dance to it. 

“Birds on a Wire”

On the last morning in Malaysia, I was holding hands with my niece-M- walking around in a small grocery store. Nothing was open yet, so we thought we’d look for the tasty coffee they refer to as “kopi” in many parts of Southeast Asia. “Do you like 3-in-1? 2-in-1?” A grocery clerk was doing her best to help us find the kopi we liked. She gave me a sample in a paper cup which I held in my other hand as M and I continued exploring other aisles in the store. M had something on her mind. She looked up at me and the sample coffee in my hand and asked, “Do you love that coffee so much you could cry?”

The rawness of her emotion pierced directly into my heart. It wasn’t that I listened to what she had asked, it just went straight in. She then proceeded to express her deep love of hatchimals, taking great care to convey to me just how otherworldly the experience of opening a hatchimal is. Essentially, it is the gift of a surprise, you don’t know what kind of magical creature is hiding inside. 

I know that feeling. I’d begun to view my life as an artist in much of the same way. Surprises are always lurking everywhere. Like driving by this short flowering tree just the day before in Langkawi. The flowers were a blazing pink color, not unlike the pink of those headphones..

“Pink Tree” Langkawi, Malaysia

Before I painted regularly, I would feel inspiration or be greatly impressed by things. But it stayed inside or maybe ended up on a page of my private journal. However, now because I go as far as to express a lot of these experiences on paper, I find that I am usually attuned to the potential of receiving incoming inspiration or simply witnessing beauty. To put it in M’s terms, moments in life can become like the hatchimal.

The last evening as we sailed back to Singapore, we ran into our cabin attendant. He surprised us with a hatchimal. Just kidding!! He surprised us with a bottle of champagne. He came from the same village in China that my husband’s parents were from and wanted to wish us well and to enjoy our last evening together. It was a very spontaneous, heartfelt gesture. 

Since then, some internal wandering has led me to the question, “What would the act of giving look like if we took tangible gifts out of the equation?”


“A Blessing in Flight”

Universal Giving

Without material objects, what would giving look like? Maybe it would be reduced to the simple offering of words.. “May you get home safely,” or “I wish you improved well-being.” And maybe we would hold the other person’s hand or touch them physically to further show them the warmth of our thoughts. At that point, our thoughts wouldn’t be just thoughts anymore.. we are offering them to another person, so they transform into something backed with sincerity and genuine emotion.. our energy takes on motion and is imparted to someone else. Perhaps that is what “giving” originally was. 

When I think about it, the kind of energy I summon when I have a feeling I’m trying to capture in a painting, is not unlike the feeling of giving. When you put a lot of energy and concentration into some kind of action, it is an opportunity to practice simultaneous self-reflection and awareness. What am I doing at this very moment? What is the feeling that pervades me? Or perhaps when I am writing, like at this very moment.. something wants to be conveyed, but in order to do so I have to remain relaxed and receptive. 

One of the cultures I come from has a long history of taking everyday actions and through a kind of detailed mindfulness, turning them into art forms.. opportunities to see more beauty, and feel a part of that beauty that you are simultaneously co-creating. Preparing a cup of hot tea for someone, or arranging flowers in an aesthetic way.. even looking at rocks in a garden could all become portals for the heart and mind to align and dissolve into the beauty and clarity of one very long moment. 


Imagine that every time you held a person in your thoughts and sincerely wished them well, a bright colored bird of your choice would soar out of your heart..

Then imagine one day crossing paths with that very bird you had envisioned. It lands on a fence near the table you are sitting at with that very person you had held in your thoughts. How could something you’d never even seen before already be so meaningful? 

How can an everyday occurrence be layered so deeply with significance?

This is how our lives can become art.. we can build many associations into our experiences, and before you know it, there is so much magic in and around everything. Even colors without form can tingle our senses and reach straight into our hearts.


As we watch children and young people experiencing autonomy for the first time, we might assume that because we are adults and we can take care of our immediate needs that there is nothing more to do for ourselves. We have all gone from learning to tie our own shoes, to driving a car, and making a living. However, I think the spectrum for experiencing autonomy is a lot wider than what is reflected in society. What about an autonomy that allows you to create art where the structure or guidelines for it do not yet exist? An autonomy that opens our eyes to more occasions and ways to celebrate life than the current holidays and traditions dictate? Because in many ways, if we cannot do that for ourselves, we may find we are often in a state of “waiting” for beauty or joy to find us rather than taking authentic self-guided action. 

We don’t have to wait for someone to give us a gift in order to see life as a series of unfolding gifts.


On that note, I don’t know how much longer ROAMoChan will be able to roam and compose these travel art posts, but it gives me so much joy to share what catches my eye and persists to tap me on the shoulder. This continues to be such an adventure!

Doing whatever it is you do that lets your heart sing, may we all find it and make time for it~

Me and M

“If Bak Leung was a unicorn, she would live in that sunset because it’s beautiful.”

-M
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ROAMoChan: Paris

It’s 3:29 AM and I’m up communing with my favorite early morning sky. I did so in Paris as well, only those times I was perched on top of the toilet seat with the bathroom door sealed so as not to wake Suki. As mothers get up at all hours for their infants, so too do creatives make themselves present to incoming inspiration =P

One of my quiet internal simmering hopes for this Paris trip was to be exposed to the lives and works of creatives from the past. More than just seeing a painting of theirs, I wanted to see artists’ studios, gathering commons, and walk the streets that inspired Chopin, Fitzgerald, Monet, Van Gogh, and more! So many artists found themselves living in the “City of Art” even for just a brief period of their lives, and here I had the chance to go with my artist sister to see what kinds of inspiration still lurked on those old streets.

However, upon meeting up with Suki in Paris, our own little shared world  came into being and those simmering hopes took a backseat. Suki and I entertained each other with plenty of goofiness as seems to be the trend in our sisterhood. Plus, being greeted multiple times daily, “Bonjour madame,” gave me happy goosebumps, as did many run-ins with street musicians using their gifts to spread the love. Actually, among my siblings I am known to burst into original song when the mood is right.. and the mood was often right in our Paris world.

The last portion of one phrase from such a jingle: “Someone’s a Little Crazy and That’s Ok with Me,” became very useful in processing all the foreign encounters we had. For example:

“Oh, you gotta open these train doors yourself.. (and that’s ok with me)

“French people don’t readily smile so much..” (and that’s ok with me)

“This museum directory is inaccurate..” (and that’s ok with me)

“Hmm, this towel wasn’t clean..” (and that’s ok with me)

“It appears we bought the wrong train ticket..” (and that’s ok with me)

“The hot water ran out..” (and that’s ok with me)

“Oops, we missed our stop..” (and that’s ok with me)

“I don’t know how to say…” (and that’s ok with me)

“Wow, it costs a whole euro to use this tiny toilet..” (and that’s ok with me)

Paris, like any travel destination, was an opportunity to practice life.

♦♦♦

One thing I’ve come to love deeply about watercolor painting is that it asks the painter to take joy in spontaneity by remaining in the present moment being a creator in a state of receptivity. It is like keeping one’s composure whilst navigating through a large moving crowd of people. Little openings reveal themselves only when you are already there in that very moment looking for what is next. Somehow you can harness its unique properties to blend and flow where other media would not, and create an atmosphere like a memory or fragments of thoughts. It asks you not to premeditate too much, and bring a flexible open heart to the blank paper..with a willingness to go with the flow.

Eventually, there is a ‘final product’ and you put the brush down. But as a mentor artist from my teenage years said, “The real art is not the finished painting, it is the process. When you are done painting, the art is over.” Now, through watercolor, I finally understand what he meant. The message is no different from those who have said that one’s life is a work of art. With what mind do you wake up at 3:30 AM from a loud neighborhood rooster’s crow? When impatience besieges you when the many lines you stand in each day move slower than usual? When other people want to share their perceived problems with you?

As with watercolor, in life we are all co-creators. As the day unfolds, no matter how tightly we’ve constructed our schedule and repeated our intentions, something greater unfolds that we are merely a part of. To cultivate the flexibility and willingness to roll with life’s punches and learn to see the little openings that appear out of the apparent chaos is real life magic. The end product is always just a shadow indicating the real presence: the heart and mind behind the action.

All an artist really is, is a finder of this magic.

I am deeply thankful for the many opportunities to roam the globe this year and learn to see my perceived world through watercolors. Also, I am grateful to have shared these roamings with very special people. This entry concludes my ROAMoChan 2018 travels (I think).

I don’t know what I will paint next.. and that’s ok with me~

Boat on Monet’s lily pond; Giverny,  October 2018

“La Pie” (The Magpie) by Claude Monet; Musee d’Orsay, Paris

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ROAMoChan: Stockton

My husband and his family immigrated from a small village near Canton, China when he was just a toddler. They settled in Stockton, California and soon put their green thumbs to work.

Every time we come for a visit, we step into his parents’ world of mysterious child-size hanging squashes, medicinal herbal soups, and more than a handful of surreal happenings. The answer to a not-quite-formulated internal question might fall as an object in the closet. Or as you sit and drink your morning coffee, the bitter melon vines in the backyard might call to you from a homemade apparatus held together by old internet cables. “Hmm, I think I need to go outside,” is the magnetic message you receive daily.

Dreams of my high school orchestra days are induced by an eccentric night-owl neighbor tossing a baton and playing the French horn on his front lawn.  And on a morning jog right as I think of how the subtleties from those dreams spawn and intermingle with more subtleties, I pass by the street sign “Inspiration Dr.”

This place is not just any old random place.. there is so much going on. The pile of freshly cut cucumbers and loofahs that greet us on the kitchen counter each morning is evidence of this. This place is like a library for the avid reader and writer. But instead of books, there are tiny surreal happenings that occur right before your eyes during the unfolding of each day.

Like when I walked under the peach tree days after all the peaches had been picked, wondering if one or two had been missed. I did this a few times, to no avail. And then as if Nature wanted to impress me, today I found one almost in plain sight-perfect in size and shape; untouched by bird and bug.

After getting older, no one ever asks what kind of magic power I would like to have anymore. So I hadn’t thought about it much. I think I’d like to make fruit appear in a meaningful way for people. Like, after they wake up and go into their kitchen they suddenly notice a large mango sitting in the middle of the table. Or on a seemingly unremarkable day, they open the refrigerator door and are greeted by a bowl of delicious lychees that wasn’t there the night before. And in either case, they feel like how I felt when I found that peach.. a startling gift that shifts the ground you walk on just a little bit.

I feel as though it’s like a Narnia kind of existence for me here. The closet opens for me (and even answers my unasked questions). Fruit materializes with a mind of its own, and large dangling squash are encapsulated bundles of light-you can’t help but feel their divine presence. There is a different sort of gravity here.. and of course it’s very fitting to have discovered this right in the family’s backyard!

Inside a delicious ripe fig~ Stockton, August 2018

 

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ROAMoChan: Berkeley

I rolled my little red suitcase from the BART station all the way to the hotel wearing my sister’s Duluth marathon sweatshirt. I’d made sure to bring it on this trip so I could return it when I saw her the coming Sunday. My short trip to Berkeley was about seeing her and my other sister as well as celebrating. Celebrating what? I told everyone I was celebrating my birthday, as it was the weekend right before it, but in actuality I was celebrating something else.

In our culture it’s acceptable-even expected-that we treat ourselves extra well and do something a little out of the ordinary to celebrate our birth and life on our birthday. You won’t be criticized for being selfish and because of its engrainment in our culture, it will force others to be nice and extra cordial to you. It’s the perfect umbrella to be shielded by, once a year.

I was celebrating something our culture doesn’t readily have a name or structure for understanding. There are just “symptoms” that would suggest powerful internal growth. Over the past few years, I’d begun to see the world in a different way although it did not directly result in taking specific actions. As nice or compassionate as people may have told me I was, a part of my heart was still closed. Now, I understand better what part was closed. I closed the area that I had come to believe would cause an inconvenience to others. It was the part that the material environment had guided me to sacrifice for the greater good. The same environment that painted the first picture of the meaning of that very powerful enigma: love.

In Berkeley, the hotel staff greeted me with surreal smiles. The placards in front of the receptionists at the check-in counter were enlarged student ID cards each introducing the name, major, and an interesting fact about the person. I’d chosen a hotel called “The Graduate” hotel. The nice young man whose placard revealed he was a psychology major who likes long walks through the forest, offered me a glass of champagne. The hotel happened to be celebrating its 90th year in business and would be providing free champagne for the whole week.

A mysterious world unfolds itself when one learns how to take full responsibility for one’s life. All validation must come from within. Only inside, is a person truly themself. A great paradox exists in that innermost place of our being. It’s the place where you are a receiver and must learn to discern what is noise and what is not. (No one can do that work for you.) And though you are listening to yourself, you are greater than yourself.. like watercolor.. the painter attempts to let go enough to let colors, water, paper, and the magic of the ether merge. It can become a meditation of setting intention, letting go and losing control.

I plopped down on the couch in the hotel lobby with the champagne and watched the bubbles steadily float to the surface of the glass. I felt the celebration inside me. What a strange new world. Self-love breeds self-validation and the permission the soul needs to come alive. If there is such a thing as a second birth in life, then perhaps I really was celebrating my birthday.

Graduate Hotel complimentary pencil

Painting hanging in Graduate hotel lobby~ Berkeley, July 2018

 

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ROAMoChan: Vancouver

In the last week of June I was in Vancouver, Canada on a mission to help a friend settle in after just having moved there with her family. The bonus was the third tomodachi in our friendship was also able to fly over with her family too, so our strategic gathering doubled as a reunion trip like the ones we used to have annually back in our 20s. I’m writing about that trip now, in August, a time when I’ve found myself roaming in the same garden daily, and in the company of little people once again.

  ♦♦♦

Children-like seeds- are the smallest versions of their someday-selves. They are in their most condensed and “potent” forms. They know exactly their likes and dislikes, regularly display raw, unfiltered honesty with themselves and towards others, and understand many subtleties that many big people no longer grasp. Though they appear small and fragile, they possess a mysterious resilience that is often underestimated.

And yet, don’t they all thirst for attention =D They need parents and others to validate what they do. “Do you see me? Do you see what I made?” And, “Please look! No, look longer and more closely!” They are all learning to feed their own souls, and need a special kind of loving attention to do so. They don’t need your creative ideas or humorous jokes, those are just a bonus. What they really need is that special look in your eye. The kind that seems to fill the entire room and radiates directly into them-like the sun. It’s the look that infuses another solid brick into the inner supportive pillar they are constructing. Trust? Love? Warmth? Whatever you want to call it, I sense that it is what is needed now that will eventually become the source of inner conviction later in life when we must learn to make the transition from seeking validation from others to self-generating it from within.

All the little people in my life are still very small and thirsting for that special kind of attention. And, they remind me in their open-hearted growing selves that all the wonder and dazzlement we could ever seek is in the eye of the beholder. Children in the act of simply being themselves, demonstrate the joie de vivre that so many adults lose in the forest of grown-up land. One of the many blessings of parenthood must be the constant reminder of this when one catches a glimpse of pure joy streaming from their child’s eyes.

As we attempt to teach them our version of love, they in turn infuse us with their version of reality. The flexible companion to a child has one foot in the child’s reality and one foot in their own-practicing the art of leading and being led in a seamless flow.

From a restaurant in downtown Vancouver~ June 2018

 

 

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ROAMoChan: Singapore

Norman and I found ourselves in Singapore for a week in January thanks to genuine interest, some free time, and hot plane ticket prices. We stayed in the most obscure little loft apartment in a very convenient area. It was so small, we didn’t see the entry (a single glass door) even when we were standing right in front of it. It was a perfect little cubby-hole abode for a pair of travelers like us.

We took turns being jet-lagged (ok, it was mostly just me), and during my solo time, I’d put on my earphones and listen to some Joe Satriani while sketching in my watercolor field journal. I knew I’d be turning the paper vertical, after just one day taking in the abundant green growing in and around Singapore’s city buildings.

 ♦♦♦

I was born into a fast-paced world. To the authentic “me” that has struggled to maintain my own pace amongst all the busy-ness, even travelers and vacationers seem so busy. My natural disposition is to be that person who says, “I’m fine with whatever works for the group,” and “hmm, let’s see where this current takes me..” Because on the inside, what makes me come alive is less about material particulars and more of an intrinsic nature.

Maybe while out, I’ll see a random brick that speaks to me. Then I’d probably start hearing stories in my head and feeling the inner me weaving new fabric made of future-present-past inklings, daydreams, nightdreams, and thoughts that are always floating around. This kind of thing (inspiration?) is what bubbles up constantly and me being an artist at heart, cannot feel content until I express whatever it is on a blank sheet of paper. This is my inner “digestive” cycle. My subjective experience of life has largely been one attuned to this creativity cycle as it has given me a thorough kind of fulfillment in life that is difficult to articulate let alone find a substitute for.

I imagine any kind of expression of one’s authentic self will be of a creative nature and have healing properties. It’s not the case that some people are creative and others are not. It’s just some forms of self expression (like painting or playing an instrument) are more recognizable to the masses and shareable than others.

When I meet people, there is a kind of excitement stemmed from a curiosity as to what makes them come alive. Whether the conversation will move in that direction or not keeps things interesting. When it does though, I can often tell, because their eyes light up and their energy dances. It’s one of the coolest discoveries we can make, and it doesn’t require the purchase of a plane ticket.

Singapore at dusk, January 2018

 

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ROAMoChan: Seattle

In Seattle, I didn’t know where I was going, until I arrived. The cute cafe looked and felt inviting so I went in. I contemplated which dark mocha to order briefly, feeling slightly overwhelmed at having so many options. (I always imagine a more simple world where menus change frequently but never offer more than about
3 beverage options =P)

I sat at a small table and was immediately inspired by the panoramic interior before me. I was reminded of curvilinear perspective from an art book I’d browsed a while back. I took out my pencil and began to draw.

♦♦♦

I identify myself as an artist not because of my artistic ability, but because of how my soul feels when I face the blank paper. Line by line, I just draw. I am in flow, and I am where I am supposed to be and I am who I am supposed to be. I feel somehow that each time I translate my experience into a drawing or painting, I am bringing something of importance into the world. Even if, like a delicious bite of food, the painting is seen and quickly forgotten by others, I believe in its “nourishment”.. that it brought a little more light into our world.

I don’t know why I am this way, but I am not so interested in “why” anymore. I just want to tell my story.

..that whether I’m in Seattle, or any other place, the joy of “being” myself lies not so much in where I happen to be, but in the realization that I am allowed to be who I am. I suspect we are all allowed to be who we truly are in our inner-world. In my experience, that is the one “trip” that takes bravery just to embark on. It’s also the only place that contains what I like to call “the quiet joy.” It’s not the joy of anticipation. It is the simple joy of being.

Snowy Seattle~ November 2017

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