Meandering thoughts and images...
Kilimanjaro, Tanzania February 2019
September 2017, I completed the John Muir Trail, about 210 miles and an elevation gain of approximately 47,000 feet (14,000 m). It was somewhat cathartic losing emotional and physical baggage.
Tokyo & Kyoto, Japan in November 2016
Hallie Morrison from artrelief.net
Upon landing in the Chiang Mai airport, the first person I spoke to, Hallie, turned out to be an alum of RISD. RISD is where I formed my life principles, thus a place I consider to be my birthplace, metaphorically. And that would make Hallie, kin whom I am proud of.
She was returning to Chiang Mai to work for Art Relief International, a non-profit organization which “works to transform the lives of struggling social groups in Chiang Mai, Thailand by offering them the opportunity to express themselves through an artistic lens.” One afternoon I got to join Hallie and her group providing an art craft session at a senior home in Chiang Mai. This was an important experience that brought a different dimension to my experience of Thailand.
Hallie had youthful energy and hunger to grow, combining research, teaching and her own art. She had respect and sensitivity for the local culture and a strong clarity on life that owed me.
When I saw a dragon fruit plant with its cactus-like snaky limbs with red glowing fruits at the tips, I thought, “That is why they are called dragon fruits!”
When I admired the vivid colors and patterns of Chiang Mai’s plant leaves, flowers, and trees, it made sense to me why Thai architectures, wooden doors and textiles are so ornate and colorful.
When I look up at trees, I often saw multiple plants: climbing vines, orchids living communally on the tree branches. Although, I was perplexed by the plastic flowers placed among real plants in temples.
When lotus flowers made me stop on my path to observe their beauty, grace even when the flower pedals fall apart leaving the seed pocket, I could see how they hold such symbolism in Buddhism.
“The lotus flower represents one symbol of fortune in Buddhism. It grows in muddy water, and it is this environment that gives forth the flower’s first and most literal meaning: rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment.
The second meaning, which is related to the first is purification. It resembles the purifying of the spirit which is born into murkiness. The third meaning refers to faithfulness. Those who are working to rise above the muddy waters will need to be faithful followers.
The color bears importance in the meaning of the lotus flower in Buddhism. A white lotus flower refers to purity of the mind and the spirit. If a lotus flower is red, it refers to compassion and love. The blue lotus flower refers to the common sense; it uses wisdom and logic to create enlightenment. The pink lotus flower represents the history of Buddha and the historical legends of the Buddha. A purple lotus flower speaks of spirituality and mysticism. Finally, the gold lotus flower represents all achievement of all enlightenment, especially in the Buddha.
The stage of growth the lotus flower is in represents a different stage of enlightenment. A closed lotus flower represents the time before a Buddhist follower found Buddha or enlightenment. A lotus flower fully bloomed and open represents full enlightenment and self-awareness.
The mud represents an importance in the meaning of the lotus flower in Buddhism. All humans are born in a world where there is suffering. This suffering is a vital part of the human experience; it makes us stronger and teaches us to resist the temptation of evil. When we banish evil thoughts from our mind we are able to break free of the muddy water and become one with the Buddha. The mud shows us who we are and teaches us to choose the right path over the easy one.
Finally, the lotus flower represents rebirth, both in a figurative and a literal sense. The rebirth can be a change of ideas, an acceptance of Buddha where there once was none, the dawn after one’s darkest day, a renaissance of beliefs or the ability to see past wrongs. In a literal sense, the meaning of the lotus flower in Buddhism represents rebirth as a reincarnation, such as in the Buddhist religion, when a soul leaves this world in its present form to be reborn in another.”
Source: Buddhists.org [https://buddhists.org/buddhist-symbols/the-meaning-of-the-lotus-flower-in-buddhism] Sept 30, 2016
Durian and mangosteen are nature’s beautiful packaging designs. In Chiang Mai, I got to try them for the first time. I was told to eat durian first, then mangosteen, because durian gives “heat” and mangosteen “cools.”
Durian looks like a prehistoric weapon with a stink that is probably meant to repel animals. Inside the hard, spiky shell is white cushioning fibers protecting the soft, yellow sacks almost like embryo. It tasted like stinky, creamy, yogurt cheese.
Mangosteen is shaped like a cute round bowl with a bow on top. Inside the inedible deep-purple rind are fluid-filled vesicles shaped like garlic cloves. It’s like a custom jewelry box with a molded in foam surrounding the jewels. The vesicles are sweet, tangy and refreshing.
While walking with a hot cup of coffee through a dark unfamiliar living room early in the morning, I stumbled on an unexpected floor level change and burned myself. I got a first degree burn on my chin and left forearm and a second degree burn on my chest. It was a scary moment. I knew I’d be ok but the scariest thing was my own vanity: What if they scar? Then my younger sister came to my mind. She has scars from a bus accident when she was barely 6 years old.
I was worried about potential small scars whereas she has been living with the scars that prevent her from certain activities such as using public pools or jumping into a lake from a sail boat like I got to do this summer. This incident showed me empathy. I thought about the times I lost patience at her.
Money, class, status, arrogance, cheating, greed, prejudice. Traveling to a place where the dollar goes far does not mean fish ponds and sitting on a swing ride with a great view. You meet on the sentiment of unfairness. Trying to do business, I see the ugly sides from the locals and the foreigners. I remind myself that it’s not about avoiding such unpleasant situations but how I handle myself.
Chiang Mai, Thailand, how did I get here? In September 2016, I worked on a project converting a private villa to a B&B and a place for wellness workshops.
Glorious Cleveland summer 2016; Learning to sail and to race on my front yard, the Lake Erie.
After living out of a carry-on backpack 9 months last year, I came back to my Cleveland townhouse with a hunger to build a strong home base. I indulged in nesting instincts. I hosted many dinners, started an edible garden, organized and streamlined. Then I put my home on Airbnb which turned out surprisingly fun and empowering. It gives me a great sense of pride to share my home that I worked hard to reflect my design philosophy. And I have to say, the passive income feels sweeter than the larger paychecks from my former corporate life.
Oh, the places you'll go... Where I've been July 2014 to May 2016:
LA , CA: family: Jan., May, Nov., Dec. 2015, Jan. 2016
Boulder, CO: ex BF: Dec. 2015
Pittsburge, PA: Domanski’s temporary vows ceremony and mass: July 2015
Virginia, W. Virginia, Maryland, Pensylvania: Hiked 340 miles of the Appalachian Trail: June 2015
Santa Ynez, CA: Visited San Lorenzo Seminary Capuchin Franciscans: May 2015
Monterrey, CA: TedWomen conference: May 2015
NYC, NY: family & friends: March 2015
Guatemala: Chispa, clean cookstove company: Jan., March, Sept., Oct. Nov. 2015
Costa Rica: Blue Spirit Omega workshop: Jan. 2015
Tampa, FL: IDSA Medical Conference: Nov. 2014
Maine-Providence-Boston-NYC-LA: Poptech conference, visited friends & family: Oct. 2014
LA-San Francisco-Seattle: Visited RKS, Lunar, Ideo.org, Microsoft, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: Sept. 2014
Austin, TX: IDSA International Conference: Aug. 2014
At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) held in Las Vegas Jan. 6 - 9, 2016, I helped Everykey, a Cleveland based tech start-up company, on the setup of its tradeshow booth and worked the floor.
Going from Guatemala to Las Vegas was disorienting and perplexing. It’s crazy to think that in today’s world of wearable technology for humans (and your pets), there are places where a chimney on a wood burning stove can be a life-saving innovation. About 3 billion people still cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass.
If it’s not about closing the gap between the rich and the poor, how do you bridge knowledge between the leading innovations and the marginalized people?
My Spanish was not progressing much working and staying in Antigua. Thus, from 10/25-11/21/15 I focused solely on the language and attended Sol Latino, and lived with a Guatemalan family in a much smaller town, Quetzaltenango (aka Xela). Here is my thank you letter after a month of studying in Sol Latino.
“Sol Latino” Spanish School
Diagonal 12, 6-58 zona 1
Yo deseo expresar mi agradecimiento a mi maestra, Anamaria, Sol Latino, y ustedes por esta experiencia memorable, agradable y valiosa. Yo aprendí más español durante un mes con Sol Latino que tres meses de trabajo en Antigua. Ahora, español va a ayudarme en mi trabajo. Tambien, yo disfruté much las experiencias culturales y conociendo las personas interesantes en la escuela.
Yo estoy impresionada con Sol Latino. Las lecciones fueron bien estructuradas, eran dificiles y desafiantes, pero era posible seguir y efectivas. Las actividades eran muy divertidas y educativas que hizo fácil para conocer a otros estudiantes. Que fue un grupo interesante del mundo! Yo aprendí mucho de otros estudientes tambien. Que hay muchas maneras de vivir una vida.
Al final, yo agradezco a mi maestra, Anamaria. Ella demonstró su profesionalismo, compasión, y humor. Ella es una persona bonita en apariencia y en corazón. Si ella viviera en Cleveland, yo sería su amiga, por cierto. Durante el mes pasado, nosotras hablamos de historias de familias, creencias, sueños, preocupaciones y deseos. Yo traté de hablar. Aunque yo hablaba con dificultad, Anamaria siempre me alentába con sus animadas expresiones y humor. Yo estoy muy contenta de mi progreso. Muchas gracias, Anamaria!
Yo doy una fuerte recomendación por Sol Latino y mi profesora. Yo aprendí mucho y voy a valorar esta experiencia toda mi vida.
I am grateful to my teacher, Anamaria, Sol Latino, and you for this memorable, enjoyable and valuable experience. I learned more Spanish during one month with Sol Latino than three months of working in Antigua. Now, Spanish will help me in my work. Also, I enjoyed much the cultural experiences and meeting interesting people in the school.
I am impressed with Sol Latino. The lessons were well structured, they were difficult and challenging, but it was possible to follow and effective. The activities were fun and educational which made it easy to meet other students. What an interesting group of people from the world! I learned a lot of other students as well; There are many ways to live a life.
Finally, I thank my teacher, Anamaria. She demonstrated her professionalism, compassion, and humor. She is a beautiful person in appearance and in heart. If she lived in Cleveland, I would be her friend, indeed. During the past month, we talked about family, beliefs, dreams, concerns and desires. I tried to speak. Although I spoke with difficulty, Anamaria always encouraged me with her lively expressions and humor. I am very happy with my progress. Thank you very much, Anamaria!
I give a strong recommendation to Sol Latino and my teacher. I learned a lot and will cherish this experience.
Sushi chef for one day, Antigua, Guatemala.
Every Friday lunch at my favorite restaurant, Toko Baru, was a guest chef day. Since I frequented there so much for its healthy and satisfying Indonesian dishes and its homemade hot sauce, I became good friends with the owner, Edwardo, and other expats who lingered at this place, not just for its food but also for comradery. On Fri. Oct. 23, 2015, I got to be the guest chef. I made my sushi rolls and served around 35 people who actually paid for my cooking. It was probably one of the coolest travel experience I’ve had all my life. I enjoyed designing the menu, shopping ingredients in a crowded market with Edwardo, cooking with assistance of a real chef as my sou-chef, and seeing strangers enjoying the food. It also happened to be the last day before I was leave out of town to Xela for a month. So, all the friends I’ve made in Antigua came by to eat and hang out. If this design thing does not pan out, I now know I have a backup profession.
Traveling sometimes lends to a magical and precious experience that will be a treasure throughout a lifetime, dispensing its lessons in beauty, adventure, respect, kindness and fun. I had one of those gem today: Sunday, October 4, 2015. About a week prior, I met a beautiful Guatemalan couple, Susy and Dennis, at a movie and croque madame dinner event at Alliance Francaise in Antigua. In a mixture of Spanish, French, English and miming, I expressed how much I like Guatemala, its architecture, colors, nature, people, food… especially pepian. Pepian is a traditional dish that is like curry with Mayan and Spanish flavors. Dennis said his mother makes really good pepian and asked me if I’d like to come to his house to learn from his mother on how to make pepian. I answered, “Si, claro! Mais oui! Yeah, sign me up!” while clapping.
This morning I took the bus to San Lucas where they live. I was greeted by Susy, (I was so unfashionably early, but with flowers to make up), then Dennis’ parents. Totally out of chance, Dennis’ father, Juan, was wearing State Ohio t-shirt. I explained that I am from Ohio and that Ohio State was this year’s winning champion among American college football. I have no idea where that Buckeye Pride was coming from since I don’t follow sports and am a transplant to Ohio. And we are in Guatemala! However, weaving through a vegetable and fruit market was my thing: observing people’s interactions and the colors, shapes, aromas and feel of produce. I relished following Noemi, Dennis’ mom, navigate through San Lucas’ market. What variety of fruits and vegetables!
Noemi is a true chef, an artist. I marbled at her ease, how many times she tasted drips from the ladle throughout the cooking. She asked me in English, “Do you say ‘a few’ salt or ‘little’ salt.” "Well, let me teach you English," as a former ESL (English as Second Language) student…. If I had feathers, they would have been puffed up like a peacock. She gasped at how much younger I look at my age of 41 years old. She asked me what my secret was. I answered her, “sleep.” She corrected me, “being single.” Ok, from now on, that will be my standard answer. I notice that when you banter and joke through language barriers, the harder you laugh. And the more childlike you become!
I enjoyed very much being a part of one Guatemalan family’s Sunday. When the table was set, Noemi led a short prayer before we ate. It was so sacred and precious that even a person without a religion like me, wanted to thank someone for the blessing. It’s like, I did not earn it, but thank you! After a feast on pepian for lunch, we had a sponge cake with milk and raisins. It was a leftover of a gigantic cake that Noemi had made for the community to celebrate the Children’s Day. Rico! I could tell that she is very involved with the community, and her art is cooking.
Then, Dennis played his guitar. It was beautiful. So much emotions and stories that music, his music, can evoke. I felt a string of melancholy that stung from missing home, friends, one particular man. Susy is learning guitar and joined Dennis. I treasure capturing the supportive looks between Dennis and Susy while they were playing their guitars.
To be invited to a person’s home and to share a slice of life is a treasure.
Chispa participated at the local building trade show called Construfest September 18-20, 2015. Majority of the other booths were Guatemalans promoting western brands such as Bosch, DeWALT, American Standard, and Makita. Ironically, we, the foreigners, were promoting locally made wood burning stoves that catered to the marginalized Guatemalan population.
On September 12th, I’ve returned to Guatemala. This is my third visit for this year of 2015. A few days later, I got to celebrate Independencia de Guatemala. Guatemala declared independence from Spain after 300 years of Spanish colonial rule on September 15, 1821. The same cobble streets of Antigua that staged Santa Semana carpets held colorful parades and marching bands.
Trying to earn the “nomadic” in Nomadic Design Studio, I hiked 340-mile long section of the Appalachian Trail that stretched over Virginia, W. Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. It took 24 days from June 19 to July 12, 2015 including 1 day break on the Independence Day. A typical day started around 5:30 am with stuffing the sleeping bag into a tiny pouch and taking down the tent that has been my home for the night. Rain, thunderstorm, or shine, I walked, climbed up and down an average of 15 miles per day carrying a backpack weighing 35-40 pounds. I saw black bears two separate times in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, each time a mother bear with her cub. They were heart palpating, exciting, staccato moments from the zen-like flow of watching your feet choose each step under the green canopy of trees. Taking a tally upon completion, I had no injuries other than the constellations tattooed with bug bites and had held onto all my toe nails.
Now that the post hike fog and the hobbling soreness are gone, I looked for lessons to carry on. First and the foremost, it was about my friendship with Judy who is my mentor/friend/former boss. The idea of the hike started out as spending some quality time with her in nature when I learned that she was attempting the thru hike of 2,160 miles. Even though I had known her for almost 15 years, those 24 days of hiking together were an unmatched bonding time. We flowed in and out from chatting about everything, to walking together in silence, to walking separately for a distance alone in the woods. On the last day of my hike, I made it to the shelter first and waited for a while thinking, “Gees, was I that fast today?” During supper, she revealed handfuls of beautiful wild berries to celebrate the shared hike and the time. Not only did she take the time to painstakingly pick those tiny wild berries, she had even washed them! I felt a pang from her thoughtfulness. Her gesture seemed even more generous and kind because I was too consumed by my feet pain to do anything special. Sometimes my blistered, bandaged, and ducktaped feet hurt so much that I had an image of the Maslow’s Human Needs Hierarchy triangle in my head. The “you–are-here” dot flickered at the triangle’s base, but aimed to reach an epiphany at the top. I did know that rewards come delayed and sometimes, with pain. I am very grateful to have a strong mentor + friend who can share wisdom as well as vulnerability and silliness.
Generosity and humility are visceral sentiments felt by the hikers on the trail. Especially when it’s been a tough hike with unforgiving rocks, you are humbled when you encounter “trail magic” where strangers give you free food. My experiences have been fortuitously proactive and altruistic on the trail angels’ part. They hailed me from a distance, “Hey, are you hiking the AT (Appalachian Trail)? Do you want some food?” They had chairs so you could take your backpack off and sit briefly while you stuff yourself with fresh fruits, bubbly sodas, sandwiches and other goodies that they know are treats for hikers. Whereas trail magic felt like an unexpected inheritance from a distant uncle you never knew you had, hitchhiking with a thumb out felt like being a beggar at the mercy of strangers’ handout. However, I was surprised to find people from all walks of life who would detour from their daily schedules to give you a lift into town for resupply: a guy in a beat up car coming from his shift of climbing trees in the timber industry to a realtor driving a luxury car returning from her morning walk. It felt weird in comparison to the accustomed transaction oriented modern world; I give you this, you give me that. The AT hike seemed like a pilgrimage of a sort where the message was something like, in order to receive the learning of empathy, you have to be hungry and bare first. On a simple, face-value point of view, that human decency and strangers’ kindness are nice. They make you want to give forward. The world could use more of that.
Lastly, the other part of the banter in my head during the hike was asking myself, how far am I willing to go? I had drawn the start and the finish line of the hike but with Nomadic Design Studio, I have barely drawn a starting line. As I seek to collaborate on projects that will take me to parts of the world that are unknown to me whether they be developing or war torn countries, I wondered about conditions that propel me to breakthroughs and the bottom base conditions required to be productive and creative.
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” - Thoreau
The theme at TED Women that personally resonated with me was this bold, creative process of “Get out and go to it. Then, figure it out.” I heard it from various speakers: Memory Banda who led a movement to end child marriage which changed the laws in Malawi; Rich Benjamin, the social observer and the author of “Whitopia” who lived in the three whitest counties in the US; Jenny Chang and Lisa Dazols who made “Out & Around,” a documentary on the status of LGBTQ around the world after they ordered a book on how to make a documentary film. What speaks to me is that sometimes, when you hear your “purpose,” you first have to get out of your comfortable house and follow your gut. The perfectionism in us can paralyze us with self-editing until we reach the shiny, perfect Photoshopped road map with a risk-managed drop shadow. Or we can take the courageous step into the unknown with full presence and see where it takes us. That is what I am doing right now with social impact design.