Taiwan: Friends + Grounding

Our two-week journey in Taiwan was such a salve for our family. Our friends Karen, Phil and their three kids moved to Taiwan over a year ago. We have lived our lives in parallel. While our trips are very different, we are both living experiences that challenge and awe (and sometimes bring us to our knees), and I have been grateful for this shared witnessing. It was never a question in our minds if we would visit them in Taiwan. As I have aged/matured (?), I have realized more and more how important it is to witness each other - whether that be in times of pain or joy, transition or adventure. This was one of those times, and this trip was exactly what our family needed. 

The epitome of hosts, Karen and Phil planned out our whole trip, dividing it into shared family adventures, solo (our) family adventures, and woman-bonding and man-bonding overnights. We did not have to make one decision, and could lounge away in their fabulous apartment when we tired of the adaptations required for travel. They ordered for us, planned for us, created an environment where our kids could be kids with other kids, and manifested a home for us when we desperately needed one. 

Here are some photos of our two weeks of friendship, love, and re-grounding. 

En route! 

Our annoying parents always make us 'reflect' in our journals.

Loving the bullet trains.

So much kid time.

Man time sans kids to climb 3000m mountains on the Qilai Nanhua trail.

Solo Glick-Coldewey family time in Tainan.

Woman time sans kids to Wulei.

Dual family adventure in Yangmingshan.

As our kids said as we left, "it's harder to leave friends than it is to leave places." True that. 

Goodbye Vietnam, Goodbye Southeast Asia...and Happy Birthday, Emmet!

The disorienting/bittersweet/exciting feeling of being in-between places, Hanoi behind us, our plane starting its descent into Taipei. We were ready to leave Vietnam. At the same time, my feelings of connection and familiarity with this country had soared over the last few weeks. Amazing how psychology plays with your knowledge of the future, how emotional barriers relax, become more porous, when departure is in sight.  

I’ve been thinking about history lately. Thailand remained an independent nation for centuries. It resisted the formidable grips of colonizers and played cards of strategy and diplomacy to evade the territorial, political, economic, and social grabs of the 18-20th centuries. Alternatively, Vietnam’s history is a very different one, rife with foreign countries – Japan, China, France, the US – wielding power over place, trade, and people.

When I think back to our time in Thailand, it was very much about us getting our travel legs, me diving into a body-mind-spirit exploration of my next life moves, and pushing the limits of how we each could evolve as a family and as individuals. When I reflect on Vietnam, it was significantly less self-indulgent and more outwardly focused.

Rather, it was a much more profound engagement with place, history, and people. It was a deep seeking to understand a country that exuded resilience, open arms, strength, and stories. It was people loving on our children, hugging them maybe a bit too tightly (for their liking!), overflowing with warmth, care, and stories of aspiration and perseverance. It was going to museums and watching documentaries about its strikingly complex history, learning a different perspective from the US’ caricature.  

Was my draw to Vietnam because I could somehow connect to Vietnam’s colonized history as a white woman with European heritage? Was it because as a Jew I naturally draw towards people with stories of subjugation and oppression? Was it simply where we were in our trip, 6 months in, and the bandwidth I had available? Was it because we never found our three-month home and instead, wandered a bit more with traveler eyes rather than living eyes?

I leave Vietnam with conflicting feelings. In Chiang Mai, fresh off the plane from Vancouver, I could never have imagined missing the luxuries and routines of home. Now after six full months away, I am starting to feel some sort of gravitational pull. I see it in my kids’ eyes too. There is a bit more grumpiness, more impatience, less wow-ness. Who knows if that will wane as we embark on our next round of adventures. And yet, the warmth, informality, vibrancy, generosity, and authenticity of this place – I will miss that. I will miss the me surrounded by that. I will miss my kids’ absorption and reflection of that energy.

Our last day in Vietnam – our last day in Southeast Asia – was Emmet’s 9th birthday. To watch this kid’s evolution on this trip has been an honor. He has blossomed in ways I could never have foreseen. He has turned into a beautiful writer, photographer, astute navigator of Southeast Asian roads, engaging communicator across cultures, and has embodied physical and emotional bravery, resilience, and flexibility many times over.

While we have rules to temper expectations of birthdays on the road, we still try to make them memorable. Not to toot our horns, but I think we rocked this one. The night before his birthday, Emmet requested a 'date' with mom and dad, so we went to a fancy French dinner (without his brothers!). In the morning, we booked a private tour with a photographer to offer our budding photographer some tips and tricks of the trade and to practice on Hanoi streets. Then we met up with the family, ate our final bun cha, came back to our hotel where our hotel surprised him with a cake, went bowling (Emmet identifies as a successor to the legendary Glick bowling hereditary line) and to the arcade (where Emmet found the jackpot bowling game that doled out a gazillion tickets), and ate sushi. It was a pretty awesome day and sweet send-off from this country and region.  

And here are some shots Emmet took during his photography lesson (pre-editing). 

Some final Hanoi shots (from me/Chris).

I write this staring out of the 14th floor apartment window of our dear friends in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I am so grateful to be among friends-turned-family, to have some home time/peer time, and to ready ourselves for the next leg of the journey.


It seems like every post from here on out may be about transitions. We are now at the six-month point, and recently left our home in Hoi An – the last time we will have a ‘stable’ place to live. Our last few days in the town were filled with Hoi-An's best-ofs and life maintenance, including haircuts. We even got some sunny days! The boys finally swam in our very cold pool (we were not able to get out of paying for the near-daily cleaning of this pool, despite the fact that it was cold and pouring rain - see pic) and devoured the long-desired bunny cotton candy of the kids' dreams.  

It’s wild to think that we have been traveling for six months. We are starting to think about our return – what that looks like both logistically and intentionally, while trying to stay fully present to the everyday.

Chris and I recently had a conversation where we both had arrived at the same conclusion – it feels like the kids have reached a point of saturation. Not that they are no longer enjoying our trip or our time together. But what we hoped would be sparked by this journey has – to some degree – been fulfilled...their appreciation and curiosity of difference, resilience in the face of challenge or ‘unforeseen circumstances,’ grappling with socio-economic inequities and historical contexts that give rise to them, and willingness to try new things. And on the other side of that, they are no longer ‘wowed’ by sights like they once were. There is a quiet appreciation, but it has become more ‘normal life,’ rather than oh-my-god-how-am-I-so-lucky.

We are currently in Hanoi (more on that in a bit), and just returned from an overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay. We ended up on a gorgeous boat with floor-to-ceiling views of limestone cliffs jutting out in 360-degree panoramas. It was stunning and iconic. 

I watched my kids take in the magnificent scenery and noticed that the wows had turned into more subtle appreciation, with a tad of been-there-done-that thrown in the mix. This is not a case of spoiled children (I hope!). I believe that it is more of a psychological response to the relentless wows of this trip, as well as legitimately having had a number of similar experiences for context and comparison.

The kids’ time horizons also differ. Whereas Chris and I both feel the fleetingness of this time together, our kids live much more in the present. They know this day-to-day reality as their life - past, present, and future (Obie may be an exception here). We recently asked Asa what he remembers of our house in Vancouver...shockingly little! For him, this is life. The wows, the challenges, the food, overtaking motorbikes, people pinching his cheeks.

And now back to the travelogue. I know I have waxed endlessly about the places I have loved thus far in our trip. But Hanoi. I absolutely love-love-love this city. It’s vibrancy, street culture, mixture of old and new, pride of history, enchanting cafes, winding alleyways and vertical houses, endless balconies and courtyards with plants spilling out. I could go on and on.

Hue, Family Rooms, and Regulation in New Places

On Family Rooms
A good friend recently commented on the human capacity for adaptability. So for all of you wondering how this life works, here’s another slice! We are now on the road, and to some degree, will be for the rest of the journey. While we will have some longer rest stops, we will no longer be rooted in a place for three months. So that demands a certain adaptability. We are currently in Hue, a city of history, legacy, violence, and pride. We truly love it here. Alive, charming, steeped in history and sadness and glory, it’s perhaps my favorite place we have visited thus far in Vietnam.

And there’s one problem. I booked a ‘family room’ in a charming guesthouse. This means we are all in the same, small room. This honestly doesn’t work for anyone. We all need our space, time to recharge, find our groove in new surroundings, etc. and this layout doesn’t really account for that. So besides late-night scrolling through every single booking we have remaining in the trip to make sure I never, ever do this again (findings report: we have five challenging bookings, must revise ASAP), here’s a snapshot of what I have done since we arrived to take some personal time.

I get up early, find the local café, put in earphones, drink a coffee, write, and read. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good solution for now.

So here I am, at a café called ‘Binancians’ [what the what?], reading a fascinating re-imagination of the final months of Ho Chi Minh, and writing, while the endless streams of motorcycles whiz by, a very large and very small dog hump across the street, and a man speaks so loudly on his phone that it breaks through my noise-cancelling earphones.

Collective Regulation
Yesterday, another small moment in a big day of exploration. First days post-travel are often not great. There is this unsettled feeling in the family, destabilized routines, and the overwhelm of unrelenting newness.

So here we were in Hue. We had breakfast at our homestay, on the edge of short tempers and impatience, and then took a taxi to the old Imperial City. We first met a Vietnamese mother and son; the mother was teaching the son English and she asked our kids to ‘interview’ him to practice his English. A very sweet moment between kids across cultures. 

We spent some time with them, took photos, and moved on to explore the humid environs of the Imperial City. Impressive and heartbreaking, lessons of colonialism and intruders and heritage. We were hot and impressed, everyone coping well enough.

We then headed out to find lunch. It was a holiday here, so most local places were not open. Quite hungry after aimless wanderings, we took a taxi to a restaurant near our house, a place recommended by both locals and tourists. We wandered in, famished and hot, to crowds of people – families and friends – no seating in sight, no clarity of how we get a table, loud, hot, voices, coughing, laughter, unfamiliar smells. Finally got a table. Ordered. Half of the food came. Some wonderful, some a bit ‘fishy’ for our palates. Never saw the server again. Waited. Ordered food again. Waited. Nothing happening. Confusion, waiting, fatigue, noise.

And amidst the noise and temperature and smells, our kids’ energy, well, intensified. On edge, louder, slightly unpredictable. It culminated in a drink spilled and small punishments. But what happened next was what was remarkable to me. First, Emmet took full accountability, saying that it was his fault and that the others shouldn’t be punished. Then Obie calmly took accountability and was able to articulate that while they shouldn’t have been behaving in that way, the environment felt overwhelming to them all. The noises, the heat, the fatigue, and that they all found it hard to ‘turn it down.’ It was quite an insight. We were able to talk about it, talk about these moments of unfamiliarity and overstimulation, and how we each handle them.

My kids have become so good at ‘rolling with it’ that we forget that we all have moments of strain, of stretch, of missing, of unsettledness. And our nervous systems cope with those moments in different ways. But what was remarkable was all of us coming together to talk through it, to understand each other, and acknowledge the moments where we all have to call on different parts of ourselves to weather challenge.

Afternoon Pilgrimage at Sunset
It was important to me to visit Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘root temple.’ Thich Nhat Hanh grew up as a Buddhist monk at the Từ Hiếu Pagoda (Chùa Từ Hiếu), located just on the city’s edges. Exiled for 39 years from Vietnam for his nonviolent activism, he finally returned to his root temple for the last three years of his life. Unable to speak after a stroke, those in his presence during his final years remarked that he exuded a deep presence that permeated throughout the temple. Before visiting, we watched a video about his life and then paid homage to his impact on the world, quietly wandering through the forest retreat. 

Peaceful and beautiful, embellished by the non-melodic and joyfully boisterous karaoke of its next door neighbors. Classic.

Asa also thought it would be particularly holy for him to lose his second tooth at this monastery, but alas, it was not to be. 

Ok, time to return to family life. More to come from our last day in Hue and onwards to Phong Nha! 

Reset in Penang

Penang was the reset we needed. Hot and sticky (my favorite!), teeming with other families who opted for worldschooling paths, a reprieve from what felt like a spate of unglamorous meh. In ‘normal’ life, the state of unglamorous meh – while perhaps not desired – can offer something of a soothing appeal; but in this life, where we seek to embody a different flavor of intention, it feels like a waste.

Cue the Penang reset. We hiked the incredibly steep Penang Hill, rode bikes to a gorgeous spit of land in the south of the island, visited the Batu Caves where we beheld the largest statue of the Hindu god Murugan as well as a sadhu lurching his way up hundreds of stairs in the midst of self-mortification rituals, and visited an island that rehabilitates orangutans. It was the palate cleanse we needed to start fresh in Vietnam for our last month here.

So this is a rather odd post because it is comprised of preface (the story of our arrival in Penang) and post-script (our journey back to Vietnam), and a few of my favorite pics from the journey itself. Another post is coming soon by Emmet who will fill in the middle. 

The trip started rather ridiculously. While most people enjoy traveling in some form, I think for me the enjoyment is often rooted in surprise with a good dose of surreal hilarity. Surprise that comes with some challenge, but then bursts through the door, a mixture of awe, serendipity, and someone laughing in the distance.

We started from our house in Hoi An at 8:30 am, drove the hour to Da Nang airport, winding our way through roads adorned with the red lanterns and banners, yellow flower bushes, kumquat trees, and crowds of morning Tet (new year) festivities. Airport security, phenomenal lounge (go Da Nang!), easy flight, and we arrived in Kuala Lumpur four hours later. Now Chris and I had decided that we would get a car from KL to Penang, a quick so-we-thought four-hour drive. Much cheaper than the additional flight, and easier than the train.

We were wrong. Yet another episode of – “I thought my parents had all the answers, and wow, how wrong I was!”

How did we miss that the new year party was also in full swing in Malaysia? As it turned out, we were traveling on Lunar New Year’s Eve. We embarked on this journey along with thousands of other revellers making their way out of the city. “Ok, no problem,” I thought. We have iPads. We have snacks. Our kids are now habituated to travel hiccups. We can handle this.

We started on the trip. A friendly older Tamil man was our driver and I quickly settled into a brief conversation with him. We were on our way.

Then things went downhill quickly. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say our lovely driver clearly had some mysterious ailment which necessitated that I made sure through the duration of the ride that he did not either fall asleep or lose control of his body. Upbeat chatter engaging him in conversation punctuated by several texts between Chris and I negotiating who was going to jump into the front seat and grab the wheel when he lost consciousness.

I will not bore you with other parts of this ride, but needless to say it was not easy to find rest stops (and when you did, they were backlogged with hundreds of cars), we were stuck in too-many-to-count traffic jams, and our driver was shall we say, ‘heavy-footed’ with the brakes. For what turned out to be an EIGHT HOUR journey, I hyper-focused, attentive mama bear, magicking our driver to stay awake, engaging him in frequent conversation about Malaysia, systemic discrimination of Indians, the history and politics of this place, his retirement from government service, and modeling for his children of the importance of hard work.

We arrived safely. Our kids were rockstars. We made our way up to our very small, but gorgeously situated 27th floor apartment, with panoramic views of Penang. It was now 11:40 pm. I lumbered downstairs to the local 7-11 to get supplies. Chris cleverly MacGyvered up beds and separate areas for the kids in this tiny apartment. We began to settle in. All of a sudden, cracking sounds, then ground-shaking bangs, encircled our abode. What was happening????

And slowly it dawned on me. It’s midnight and it’s New Years Eve. We threw open the curtains on the floor-to-ceiling windows and watched fireworks shooting up from every neighborhood, explosions of color lighting up the city in every direction. It was utter magic.

Penang was pretty awesome. We met up with worldschoolers from around the world, participated in lunar new year festivities, Chris and I had an awesome date where we found a speakeasy bar hidden in a back alley, ate a fancy Nnonya meal, and wandered through the town late at night. We even tracked down the elusive paper coffee filters we spent a month searching for in Vietnam. Emmet is about to write an update with all of the activities we did in Penang, so I’ll leave it to him to offer you the photos and summaries of our adventures. For now, here a few of my favorite pics.

A Final Note
As many of you know, much of this trip is about growth – both purposefully cultivated and unpredictable. One of the many reasons we wanted to do this trip is to offer our kids an environment from which grow into themselves without the confines of a bricks-and-mortar school. While we have very much learned throughout this journey that we are not homeschoolers and that donning the hats of formal educators is not our favorite pastime, I very much appreciate what for me has become a purposeful loosening – allowing my kids to grow in ways that feel more natural for them outside of a regimented school environment. So I’ll leave you with this moment.

On the plane yesterday from Penang to Da Nang, Obie was in a row without us for the first time. I watched him engage a middle-aged Indian woman in conversation for nearly an hour. He has this incredible ability to spark conversation with anyone, to ask questions and to show up openly and without judgement. I have seen this again and again on this trip – across cultures, languages, and religions. I believe that is why he has decided on this trip how much he loves learning languages – because it enables him to connect with people. I had to take a picture of this one because this for me is what this trip is about – slowed-down moments out of my grasp where I see my kids not for what I want them to be, or what I think would be best for them, but where their own gravitational pull is powered fully by them.

Also, let's not forget this milestone...Asa lost his first tooth! What the tooth fairy must have had to go through to find him in Penang!