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.”

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