Starting the #365grateful challenge

You’ve seen these kinds of things before #365grateful, gratitude journals, how to be more grateful articles, etc. And while I think it’s a good idea, especially if the practice is new to you, I’ve refrained from participating publically. But for my 43rd birthday, I’ve decided that the time is right, the timing is now.

Noticing things is something that I feel I’ve been aware of for many years simply due to the way my life has unraveled. My father’s untimely death when I was a child jolted me out of childhood dreaminess and brought to consciousness one parent versus two parent households.

In junior high, we moved from tropical Hawaii to the desert of California and I went from having an outdoor playground to finding escape indoors. It was also my first time being a minority. Mililani Hawaii is primarily an Asian population and Barstow California was not.

At this time, I can’t say I was mature enough to understand the concept of gratitude, but these big changes created the kind of inner earthquakes that brought me to my knees.

In high school, a couple of my good friends had close family members (a mother and a sister) in wheelchairs. It was a little strange to walk into a home built for a woman who functioned in a wheelchair. My friend’s sister was not so fortunate to be functioning, her family caring for her every need and as best as I could I mentally held M’s hand during sad moments.

High school was also the time we returned to Thailand after 10 years away. I saw the kind of poverty and neglect that most Americans are never faced with, my 15 year old mind wrestling with the limbless beggars on the street, children asking for money, and the fact that my Thai family received their first refrigerator because my mom just bought one for them. It was green and they still have it.

So, high school was the time when being grateful started to come into focus. I remember feeling grateful for my limbs, walking, eyesight, nice clothes and hot showers especially after experiencing ‘bucket baths’ at my Thai family’s house – and what the heck, even toilets that didn’t require me to squat over a hole in the ground.

During my senior year, I remember having a breakdown of sorts outside my drama classroom. My teacher listened to me as I tried to tell her that I could no longer complain about my problems when there were greater ones. She reassured me that my problems were just as important as others because they were important to me, and that this didn’t make other people’s problems less important. We were out there for a long time, it seemed, and I felt like a baby for crying in the first place, but she was kind and patient.

It’s funny, recently I taught a reading lesson about luck and I asked my Khmer students if they considered themselves lucky. Not one of them raised their hands. I was surprised and then launched into a short speech, “What!? Of course, you’re lucky. You’re in an air-conditioned classroom learning English. You have 10 fingers and 10 toes. You have a house and enough food to eat. You are lucky.”

Closeup of tree (photo by EW).
Beautiful colors of a tree’s bark.

During my 20s and 30s, I went through self-help, self-development books like candies in a sweet shop. I prayed, read mantras, did guided meditations, had gratitude journals and basically tried to be a more forgiving and enlightened person. But during my really hard days of being a Waldorf teacher, I made the mistake of writing a gratitude journal to counteract the hell I was living through.

It was a kind of denial, really. I mean, yes, I knew there were things I needed to address and even accept, but I foolishly thought if I focused on the positive, then things would get better. I’d have a better attitude. I’d be doing the work. But I stopped writing, I had stopped pouring myself on paper and my gratitude list was just another way of living in dysfunction. It had become the equivalent of writing “I’m happy” over and over again – when I was clearly not happy.

So, I’m a bit cautious of these kinds of things now. Being grateful is easy, especially if you’ve been massaging the message for as long as I have. But feeling the punch behind those words, well, that’s a whole other thing entirely.

I have to confess Cambodia is not an easy place for me to live especially after the ease, convenience and years of living in Thailand. There are regular and frequent power outages here. I know this is something that other places struggle with, my Nepalese American friend said power outages in Katmandu were every day at scheduled times. But in Siem Reap, we are often caught off guard, left literally in the dark wondering how long this one will be.

Expats joke about tubs of ice cream melting, food spoiling and of course, we complain about the insufferable heat when you can even turn on a fan to cut through the humidity. We’ve had 100+ degree days and we’re in the middle of a horrible drought. Folks in the countryside are without water and the expat community has been rallying water trucks and donations to get water to them. Now there is talk about rotating scheduled water cuts in the city.

Blogger Jenni in Chiang Mai recently posted on FB that she feels like she is at ground zero for climate change and I have to agree. All we’ve been experiencing seems apocalyptic. So if I haven’t been online then you now know it’s because of the power cuts and/or the fickle Internet. It’s been hard to be grateful these days and I don’t feel any better knowing that I’m experiencing what many around the world endure silently. Privilege is so relative.

I’ve been on a complaining campaign lately and I don’t like myself when I feel like there is nothing I can do, but wait and endure. I’ve also been getting sick a lot, leading up to my last one that was particularly lasting and horrible. Yeah, so, let’s just say it’s been as challenging as peeling off wet jeans, giving a presentation, and heading to the gym, to be positive, grateful and pleasant behind closed doors.

I didn’t want to do another gratitude list. Although, I do write down something awesome that happened yesterday in my journal (Thanks Tim Ferriss!) everyday. It takes no time and has easily become part of the morning routine.

Then while I was doing my pathetic yoga stretches, I remembered seeing my friends posting their gratitude posts on FB and thought, hey that might be a nice idea for Instagram. It’s not part of the New Year resolutions rush, the holidays, and life is challenging enough where I’ll need to dig in.

I think remembering to be grateful helps you to be in the moment and appreciate what you have. This is especially important in a consumer world and where it is so easy to compare ourselves to other people through the Internet. But honestly, I’m just going to give this a go and see where it takes me. I’ve felt gratitude on an intellectual level, maybe even on a spiritual one, but I’d like to experience it on an emotional level, too.

I mean, can you imagine if you wrote down something shitty that had happened to you for 365 days, how you would feel by the end of that project?

So, everyday (at least I’ll try) I’m going to post a photo with #365grateful in an attempt to honor friends who didn’t make it to see another birthday and in my endeavor to restore balance in my life.

Would you care to join me for this #365grateful project on Instagram? (Watch the #365grateful video here. Just found it through researching this idea.) After all, there is much to be grateful for.

flower
Flower power.

How do you practice being grateful?

Bangkok Air

Should you become an expat?

Please don't stand under the propellers, sir.
Please don’t stand under the propellers, sir. [Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand, 2016]

I’m regularly asked about moving to Thailand (and now I’m being asked about Cambodia). There was a point when I was emailed so often I considered creating a standard reply, but in the end laziness reigned supreme. Interestingly, I’ve made friends though these initial inquiries. I’ve met up with a few and one time I even received a beautiful pair of earrings as a gift!

But as time has whistled by, I find myself feeling wary about giving advice. Here’s why:

// There are almost always unforeseeables. A family member back home becomes seriously ill and the newly expatriated must return home. The job you got turns out to be a nightmare, but your visa is tied to your employment. The country you are living in suddenly has a military coup, and you watch as friends are asked to leave for xyz bullshit reason. Welcome to the Jungle…

Wires on Sivutha
Wires on Sivutha Road [Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2015]
// Living abroad can create a strain or challenge on personal relationships. I don’t think anything really prepares you for this either. If I had known that moving to Thailand was going to break up my 6+ year relationship, I’m not sure I would have gone. Of course, you can argue that it would have happened anyway, but I don’t think so. We were fairly cozy. No regrets though. That’s life. (And don’t think for a minute, please, that my relationship was the only one. Many couples break up overseas.)

My friend K brought her two teenage kids over and one of them took to Thailand really well and the other just holed up in their house playing video games. He hated it. And so, you have to be okay with this kind of possibility.

All-purpose moto pit stop [Siem Reap]
All-purpose moto pit stop – cause sometimes you need it. [Siem Reap]
// Being an expat just means you are living life, but with the additional work and trials that come with thriving in a foreign land. Obviously, this can be very exciting and life-changing, but it is also stressful as all hell. You won’t believe the amount of things you take for granted back in your passport country. Simple tasks like buying a towel or getting Internet hooked up can become an Amazing Race without the million dollar prize.

// Integrating back to your home country might be your biggest heartache yet – or you might get stuck living abroad. I was terrified when I learned that there were expats who were unable to financially return back home. Then there are those who have used expatriating as a way to “escape,” but now, the U.S. government has the power to revoke passports. Suddenly, you don’t feel as free as you once did.

I’ve also heard stories from former expats having a damn hard time finding employment back in their birth country. Given the economic climate, many find work abroad only to return and face the additional burden of not having any connections + a CV that looks like you played “hooky” for a few years.

Going nowhere [Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2014]
Going nowhere [Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2014]
The longer I live overseas though, the more impossible going back seems. Apparently, US expats are giving up their citizenship in greater numbers. Many are fed up with paying taxes for two countries (as America is the only country that taxes its overseas citizens). I’d consider giving up mine, too, if it wasn’t for my mom and the exorbitant price it now costs to do so.

Then again, I made the decision years ago to not return. Here’s why:

// Life’s an adventure. Sure, there is monotony and the droll of routine and work, but there is also the wakefulness and jolting awareness that you are living in another country. Every expat seems to go through this, “I live in ______” epiphany moment. It’s like a shot of “I’m alive!” that runs through your body and you can’t believe where you are at.

(And trust me, you need these moments of gratitude and wonder to offset those days when you experience great antipathy for your foreign environment.)

Yes, finding a place to eat becomes an endurance test, but each day holds the promise of a cultural encounter, a language breakthrough, and a beautiful awakening. You’re living in the NOW because sleepwalking is almost an impossible poor second choice. You have to pay attention or you might step in that oily puddle of kitchen waste that looks like solid ground (true story).

// Relationships, relationships, relationships. OMG! Never in my sexiest dreams could I have known how many people I would meet from all over the world. America, for all its melting pot ways, is not a hotbed of international individuals. Yes, there are exceptional industries and communities, but for the most part, you’re not going to be working + meeting Brits, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, French, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, South Africans, etc., etc., not to mention fellow Americans from all over, on a day to day basis.

It’s magic.

Back in 2009 when I first started this crazy expat journey, I met Pat and Yui (and attended their wedding). [Chiang Mai]
Back in 2009 when I first started this crazy expat journey, I met Pat and Yui (and attended their wedding). [Chiang Mai]
Now, we are still friends. I saw them last month and they have have adorable twin girls.
We are still friends after all this time (which in expat yrs is like forever). I saw them last month and they now have adorable twin girls. Love you! [via Facebook] ❤
// Being an expat brings out the best and worst in you. There’s something about travel and living abroad that tests every fiber of patience in your body. It’s easy to be enlightened when everything is easy. But when existing feels like a s-t-r-u-g-g-l-e, you GROW. Okay, you have mini-meltdowns, too, but you have to push to survive and thrive.

You also learn what’s important to you. (Do you like to stand out or fit in? How much living space do you really need? Are you okay with eating local? Can you be vulnerable?) You’re perspective on what you need and what you want gets shaken and stirred, and just when things feel like they have settled, they get shaken and stirred all over again.

All those trite sayings about how expanding your horizons make you a better person start to be part of your inner playlist – and it’s a song that can change the way you see yourself and the world.

Finding serenity and bliss [Mae Gnat houseboat, Thailand, 2011]
Finding serenity and bliss [Mae Gnat houseboat, Thailand, 2011].
// Where ever expats end up, the people, the culture, the language and food are sure to be a massive part of the reason why they are there. Learning another language gives you exciting and playful insight into the way people think and view the world. Living side by side with folks so unlike you allows for more barriers to fall away than the opposite (which is radically different than what the media wants you to think). I’ve learned more about my own culture, too. It’s crazy how much we are the products of our culture and how boxed in we can become in our thinking as a result.

At the end of the day though, choosing to be an expat can be another rite of passage, a birth into adulthood (or childhood), but it ultimately depends on you.

What do you think?

Hawaii

(An expat reflects) here versus there…

All hail the king. [King Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands and the people]
All hail the king. [King Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands and the people]
Returning home to Hawaii after six years abroad felt as natural as diving into the Pacific Ocean. It was salty, sweet and refreshing. It was exhausting and revealing in ways that I had forgotten. And it confirmed my decision to stay outside the borders of the United States, coloring outside the lines, looking from the outside in.

Continue reading “(An expat reflects) here versus there…”

North Shore, Oahu

the urgency of today, going home, gaining perspective

Home.
Home.

When you go home, regardless how much you think you know a place, there is almost always the unexpected. I was only returning to Hawaii for 2 weeks, what could possibly happen, right?
Continue reading “the urgency of today, going home, gaining perspective”

Hawaii

I’m going to Hawaii.

What a history, what a State...Hawaii, you are one of a kind.
What a history, what a State…Hawaii, you are one of a kind.

I’m going to Hawaii. I’m going to Hawaii!

Continue reading “I’m going to Hawaii.”

Things I’m liking (sharing the love) #3

cookie-cutter

I don’t know why I don’t do these posts more often. I need to do these types of posts more often. I’m going to do these posts more often.

Continue reading “Things I’m liking (sharing the love) #3”

How yoga helps my writing

How yoga helps my writing

how-yoga-helps-my-writing

I’ve been practicing yoga for about 12 years. I say this not to impress you, but because I want to establish how long yoga and I have enjoyed a healthy relationship. Of course, by now, you’d think I’d be really bendy and flexible, but I am not. I’m not “advanced”. On the contrary, I feel rather beginner immediate.

Continue reading “How yoga helps my writing”