tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:/posts CC+BG+Family 2024-04-06T03:55:45Z Chris tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1999907 2023-07-14T19:21:45Z 2023-09-15T03:26:41Z The Return

The departure, September 2022

The return, July 2023

They all told us that the return would be hard. Like, really hard. I also assumed it would have stages, like a kind of grief. Perhaps we are currently in some kind of fog stage, wandering around sunny, beautiful Vancouver (yes, I know – it’s only an oxymoron ¾ of the year), wondering if indeed time has passed since we left.

And the stuff. How much STUFF we have! I of course wrongly assumed that our Olympics-honed packing regimen of pack/unpack would apply to the return home. But I somehow forgot that it wasn’t just our trip bags, but all of those niceties we squirrelled away, forgot that we needed – or wanted. And here they are, complicating things again.

I asked Emmet and Asa yesterday, "you just survived a year with only Legos. It was essentially your only toy (they brought others, but they slowly faded away) and you were happy with them. In fact, you looked forward to them each morning. Now you are surrounded by mountains of things to play with. Do you think stuff makes you happier?" 

To which they both replied matter-of-factly, “You can be happy with either.” I think that’s kind of the running script these days – you can thrive in all sorts of places, cultures, lifestyles, and environments. 

So we are settling in and wondering about time, how to tell our stories, who we are now, and how to apply who we are to our new context. I can’t say any of those thoughts are intentional right now. It’s more a blur: a slow entry, remembering how to be social, taking it one step at a time, trying to remember those feelings/perceived identities of freedom, stufflessness, flow, agency, flexibility, and often, seeing more forest than trees. Travel certainly wasn’t perfect, but there was a spaciousness that allowed us to be who we wanted to be, or at least have a throughway to that sensed vision.

So I think a final trip post deserves something of an overview of that forest, so here it goes.

10 countries

US (Orcas, Boston, Rochester, NYC, & Michigan at the end)

Thailand (Chiang Mai and surrounds, Pai, Koh Lanta, Bangkok)

Maldives

Vietnam (Hoi An/Da Nang, Hue, Phong Nha, Hanoi)

Malaysia (Penang, Kuala Lumpur)

Taiwan (Taipei, Hsinchu, Tainan, Qilai Nanhua trail, Wulai, Yangmingshan) 

Sri Lanka (Negombo, Sigiriya, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Kandy, Ella, Weligama)

UAE (Dubai for a day/night!)

Italy (Florence, Venice, Bologna, Elba, Sorrento, Naples, Atrani, Siracusa, Noto Valley, Stromboli, Palermo, Agrigento, Sardinia, Rome)

Corsica (Bonifacio, for a day!)

All kinds of transportation (truly a Richard Scarry book)
On the rails: bullet trains, steam trains, subway trains, ferry-riding trains. In the air: large and small planes (20 flight legs!), gondalas. On the water: hydrofoils, ferries, kayaks, SUPs, motorboats, sailboats, rowboats, basket boats. On the road: buses, cars, tuk tuks, songthaews, pick-up trucks, taxis, bikes, bicycle rickshaws, electric scooters. Self-powered: walking, running, swimming, snorkeling!

Favorite moments (impossible to say, but let's try)
Asa: we had just arrived in Jaffna. It was sunset. We walked to the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil (Hindu temple). We looked at the temple and went in. We took our shirts off (the men/boys have to). We waited a bit and then looked around, saw the people praying, saw the priests use fire around the gods. We watched in one area of puja where they said prayers and rocked the god to sleep. Then they would walk to another god and do the same. We followed them to put all of the gods to sleep. [no photos allowed inside the temple]

Emmet: we had to return our scooter in Hoi An. We waved to an older woman who was farming the rice paddies. On our walk back on the trail through the paddy, we saw the same woman, but now one of her water buffalos was on the trail blocking our path. The woman motioned for us to go around it. And then, when we were on the other side, she invited me to ride the water buffalo. And I did and it was so fun! It wasn't too hairy, but very warm. 

Obie: we hiked to a small lake, accompanied by five elephants in a rural village outside of Chiang Mai. These huge creatures descended into the lake, seeming to love the feel of water and splashing. We bathed with them, washed these giants. It was a mix of awe, surprise, and humbling to be alongside these creatures.

Me: our first hike in Chiang Mai, through the steamy jungle, threatening monsoons, drip drip drip, fears of snakes (me) and tigers (kid) (I know, there are no tigers in the jungles of Chiang Mai, but fear is fear), whines of worry. And all of the sudden, the beautiful Buddhist temple of Wat Pha Lat emerges through the thick vines. And we realize the value of the unknown, pushing through, being together, awash in something akin to peace.

Chris: so many, but one of the first indelible memories: we had heard from a friend about a houseboat you could visit deep in a Thai national park. We had a longtail boat drive us for an hour up the long winding lake past increasingly remote jungly mountains. We finally arrived at a set of hand-built floating wooden houses and docks lashed together -- completely empty except for us (!). We spent the day with the owner who welcomed us, chopped the head off a fish of our choosing and grilled it for lunch, showed the kids waterslides and trampolines, and took us all in a boat deeper into the jungle to explore an abandoned Buddhist temple. Uncertainty, exploration, magic -- a perfect travel day. 

Places we might consider living in the future

Asa: Hoi An, Hue, Trincomalee, Jaffna

Emmet: Hanoi, Hue, Florence 

Obie: Chiang Mai, Florence 

Me: Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Rome

Chris: Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Rome also :)

___________

So what now? We start our lives, slowly. We unpack and throw away stuff that doesn't spark joy. Emmet and Asa start day camp on Monday. Emmet and Obie leave for sleep-away camp in a few weeks. Obie’s friends threw him a surprise party the day after we returned, and he luxuriates in friends, newfound Vancouver independence, a new basement room in our house, and embracing the matured him. Chris is starting a new chapter of learning to code, while planning hikes and re-envisioning Vancouver life 2.0. I slowly emerge from my sabbatical bliss, put some professional feelers out there, and start my PhD program in the Fall. 

And for this blog? I think most of my writing energies will slowly be transferred to my intuition blog, so I might pop in here and there when the inspiration hits! Thank you for sharing in our journey. It’s been a grounding and important touchpoint for me to chronicle this time, stay connected with community, and jumpstart a certain writing/creativity that had been dormant in me for some time.

None of us know how this trip will impact us as we embark on our new-old life in Vancouver. But as Obie said to me in our last days in Rome, “I don’t know how this trip changed me, but deep down, I know that I am changed forever.” So we go with that. And as it feels like we are slipping into the banalities of life – the to-do’s and the weight of logistics and balancing acts – I believe it’s important that we keep the faith that we have been deeply moved by this experience, and to have trust that its teachings will appear when we need them most.

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1994618 2023-07-03T20:34:04Z 2023-07-06T18:37:25Z Snapshots of Three Kids in Time, on the Precipice [Rome]

I recently read a thought provoking but nihilistic article existentially making a case against travel. Always good to froth up how I see the world, and contradict our current life choices.

So cast your mind, instead, to any friends who are soon to set off on summer adventures. In what condition do you expect to find them when they return? They may speak of their travel as though it were transformative, a “once in a lifetime” experience, but will you be able to notice a difference in their behavior, their beliefs, their moral compass? Will there be any difference at all?

So will we come back changed, preferably in a positive direction? I hope so. But I don’t really know.

I have gotten much better on this trip with pauses, with stopping time for a second to reflect and watch the swirl of humans in my orbit against these changing geographical backdrops. As our trip comes to a close, I want to shine momentary spotlights on each kid, where they are in time and space, the process of becoming. Would they have evolved in the same way without this year? Maybe. Will there be a moment when we truly understand the impact of this trip? Who knows.

Please note as I kvell – there is nothing Pollyannaish in this post. As we get closer to the ‘end,’ we also endure many moments of impatience, projection of grumpiness onto each other, and I have no doubt that this will only escalate, particularly once the honeymoon of Vancouver ebbs. I find myself asking the kids multiple times a day: what do you hope to accomplish with this conversation? Are you finding it productive? See this real-life picture from day 1 in Rome.

Obie / On the Brink
As we wound our way through Roman cobblestone streets, Obie inquired about my university experiences abroad. Through markets and across bridges, we discussed my program in Kerala, how it changed me, and where he might want to travel as he gets older. I marvelled at this conversation, knowing that the reality of this possibility likely would not be as vivid for him if not for this trip. He listed off the places he might go, what he loves about discovering new places, what challenges he embraces and what he eschews, what educational tracks he might be interested in exploring. At this moment of precipice, between child and teenager, he is so aware of how he sees the world differently and how much he does not know. He does know it’s all about to change. High school, friends, independence. He started to see glimpses of the future, unfathomable and magnetic.  

Emmet / Discovering Passion
Emmet has always had a creative brain and a drive to achieve. He is more discovering in himself a disciplined passion that is uniquely him, sometimes frustrated that others are not as committed as he is. His creativity once encapsulated in Legos or building things from random trinkets or rocks is now blooming in concert with tech. Inspired by the architecture of the different places we have traveled, his brain is on fire with building – first a scavenger hunt app for worldschoolers, now an app where you can design your own city. He commits to their building everyday, longing for our often limited attention and support. He is constantly creating in his head, drawing on paper, exploring rabbit holes of functionality and design, inspired by the differences in architecture, monuments, art, and environment of the places we have traveled. He is beginning to know himself – how these drives can be all-encompassing and what tools he needs to find his own sense of balance.

Asa / Budding Confidence
What a day last week. For those of you who know him, Asa has struggled with shyness and engaging new people. He also is an unbelievable reader of mythology across cultures, connecting the colourful detail of myth with the religious philosophies that animate them. We had to shift him over to Greek mythology during this trip, as his knowledge of Hindu mythology was so intense that we couldn’t find any other books in English to support him. This week, he has shined in a way in which I have never seen him. On a tour with a lovely tour guide through the Capitoline museums focused on Percy Jackson (but really, Greek mythology), Asa was the star, sharing his knowledge, deepening the tour guide’s presentations. Our guide was enamoured. What was remarkable to me was the confidence Asa exhibited. He is usually the little one, standing behind his adept older brothers, extraverted Obie or articulate Emmet. For the first time, it was Asa – deep and thoughtful – graciously sharing his passion. We are seeing this time and time again, moments of boldness and the steady embrace of who he is. 

______________________________

So have they changed? Have Chris and I changed?

I really don’t know. Will the kids struggle to re-enter a traditional life? Probably. Will it have been worth it? I’m not even sure what that means. I suppose at this point, I am just guided by faith. Which means take the next step, one foot in front of the other. Trust in what appears. Trust that they have enough love and grounding in each of them, in each other, to persevere. Trust that we all do.

So here we are, the end of the international part of this trip (I know, the US is international, but...).

Here are some photos of Rome, our final stop before our first step back into the world - to Michigan - to reunite with family, and then home to Vancouver.

Street/Random Ancient Things

Capitoline Museums
Colosseum + Gladiator Training + Roman Forum
Pantheon + Trevi Fountain + Vatican
Ikono Adventure
Final Date Night (including scooter ride) + Final Gelatos + Final Family Dinner 

Also, I bought a pair of Italian shoes that makes me so happy. So with all of this faith and spiritual and growth stuff, let’s remember that Italian fashion is everything.

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1990637 2023-06-22T19:33:24Z 2023-06-23T18:56:24Z Almost Last Stops [Palermo + Sardinia]

It is truly unfathomable that we are on the final legs of this trip. We had our last day in stunning Sardinia today, and it's onto Rome (our final stop in Italy) tomorrow.

People keep asking how we feel about the transition towards home. In short, it’s complicated! Here are a few of the many emotions I am experiencing:

  • Giddy: for some of the creature comforts I have missed (kitchen, food, soft couches and beds, reliable internet)
  • Can't wait: to restart a regular dance routine
  • Neutral: returning to Vancouver, with its combination of wonders (friends, family, beauty, food) and foibles (dark, long winters, the way its weather imprints on its personality), but buoyed by our resolve to re-pattern some of our old habits
  • Conflicted: the thrill of having personal space with the knowledge of how special, unique, and fleeting this time is – when the majority of our needs are met by proximity to and intimacy with each other / conflicted also to watch the kids apply this transformative year to their Vancouver lives, and/but will likely struggle in ways they can't foresee
  • Gentle dread: the growing list of real-life to-do’s, the balancing act of personal/spiritual fulfillment, family, marriage, making money, the loss of the spaciousness of travel
  • Wary of: getting again swept up the seeming significance of those to-do’s and the reprioritization of what is important
  • Peace: feeling grounded knowing it’s time to go home

Sardinia has been the perfect place to dig in before the anticipated chaos of Rome. It’s beautiful and wild, with terrain that feels sometimes otherworldly. We are based in the small town of Santa Teresa di Gallura, hanging out with our good friends, Nina and Steve. What a gift that they met us here. We explored local beaches and rocks, spent a day in Bonifacio, Corsica, and rented a boat to adventure around La Maddalena archipelago. 

Rewind a week back to the north/west side of Sicily: We had a great time in Palermo, though I think I might prefer to live there (or better yet, be a university student) and dig in deeper, rather than be tourists. Past its busy, edgy exterior, you could only just feel its underbelly of art, markets, family, food (gelato in a brioche, pistachio pizza, so much seafood). Palermo was thinking someone was yelling at you in Sicilian, gesticulating wildly, but then breaking into a big grin and giving you a fist bump. Always that edge. So much I didn’t understand. Yes, the driving was chaotic, but it just gave Chris fond memories of Asia. Yes, there was a lot of trash strewn all over the streets, but that just made it easier to toss our Airbnb garbage. 

We also went to the beautiful beach town of Cefalu (see Emmet's sand construction of one of the many volcanoes we have seen on this trip), Agrigento (ancient Greek temples), and the gorgeous Scala dei Turchi. 

Also, Asa turned 7 in Palermo!!! We had a day of pancakes for breakfast, a hike to a wild beach in the Zingaro reserve, sushi for dinner (with a sushi birthday cake), and general lavishing of love on this sweet, thoughtful, mythology-loving, existentially-aware little being.

Also, whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Onto Roma!!!

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1988054 2023-06-16T08:29:44Z 2023-06-24T03:11:25Z Coming Clean! What’s Professionally Next For Me...

The juxtaposition of our time in Asia and our time in Italy has been enormous and deep for far too many reasons to articulate. But one thing I am left with is this sense in Italy (and likely more broadly in Europe) of the importance of legacy. History and monuments and towers and art and dilapidated stone, crumbling but left intact. Everywhere we go there is an opportunity for our family to dive into the threads of the history that is told and retold, to learn about the plastered remains of Pompeii or the old paper mills of Amalfi or the underground histories upon histories of Napoli. [I won’t get into whose histories we are learning, but that’s for another day…]

In Thailand and Vietnam, where we spent most of our time, these stories were harder to come by, despite the rich histories and cultures. Is it simply that our poor Thai/Vietnamese skills limited our ability to dive into these histories? Less financial means to memorialize these histories? Or is there a different relationship to history and legacy altogether, retelling in different spaces, with different edifices, with different audiences, with different prioritizations?

In this midlife moment of pause, I’ve been thinking about legacy. There are some people I meet who have this drive, this animating force to erect vestiges of self that live on. And others content to witness those vestiges in their nurtured loved ones. And others who experience 'self' itself as illusory, all things moving in the mystical labyrinthian workings of the cosmos, less concerned about the calcification of the ego and its echoes.  

I am sitting here, bracketed in a corner of our Airbnb, as light streams over the Atrani hills. [Note for astute blog readers: we're actually in Palermo now – I wrote this while we were on the Amalfi coast.] Light here is a slow and beautiful thing to witness. As the sun rises in the sky, each portion of the interconnected houses built into the mountain becomes illuminated, the sun slowly sweeping across the valley. Asa and Emmet play Legos quietly in the corner. Obie and Chris sleep in the other rooms. I have my earphones on, immersed in my morning’s wanderings.

My relationship at this point in my life to legacy is tenuous at best. For a long time, I have played with the idea, leaving a particular stamp upon the world, in and beyond my family. I wanted to write a book or to leave a mark on a particular issue. And yet, I couldn’t find the right fit. It was like the draw to legacy was misguided, was not the creative force, an empty façade without the mountain holding it up.

Here’s what I’ve come to. For me, the drive towards legacy lacks both grounding and firepower. What I have come more in tune with over this trip is a magnetic draw to purpose, a clarity of something I have been drawn to throughout my life in different forms, in different moments of lucidity. I don’t care about this self, its temporary form, or the structures it leaves behind. I think for me it is much more a question of harmony or alignment. Like there’s this symphony or synchronization of frequency, weaving threads into a story of my life.

In the same way that having kids felt like part of this story, and I listened to that, so do I feel like various forces have coalesced around something simultaneously new and old: studying the experience of intuition. Intuition has always been a character in my life - often only a bit part and relegated to the wings. At this point in my own evolution, it has now taken center stage. 

So as far as what’s next for me professionally, here’s what I’ve come to:

  • I will begin an online part-time PhD in the interdisciplinary study and practice of intuition in the Fall.
  • I will continue my work in the organizational design/strategy world, seeking out a position based in Vancouver (likely an operational role in an academic institution), so I can nurture more local connections to the world and people around me.

You can follow my new blog - Into Intuition - as I dive into my explorations of the practice, experience, and deepening of intuition. This first post explains a bit more about 'why intuition' and how I ended up here. 

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1986304 2023-06-10T19:50:50Z 2023-06-12T21:12:52Z Peace and Ferocity: Living in the Shadow of a Volcano [Eastern Sicily + Stromboli]

Stromboli: the Most Active Volcano in the World
Yesterday we departed Stromboli, one of the Aeolian islands, after living on the island for three days and climbing the volcano two nights ago.

As you would imagine, this island is dramatic, the volcano very much playing the role of lead character. Black rock/sand beaches line the island set against white adobe houses, dotted with blue and red windows and doors. Our place was pretty sweet, with views of the water and the volcano, and a beach we could drop down into. 

The volcano looms eerily above. It is the most active volcano in the world, puffing grey smoke almost constantly, and spitting out fire every twenty minutes or so. But the only time you can witness these explosions is at night. The sun sets and you are privy to a fireworks’ show of red sparks emerging from its crater.

The hike up was not so bad – about two hours of steep uphill, but doable. It was a night hike, and as usual, our kids were the only kids on the guided hike (you can no longer ascend the volcano to the highest viewing point without a guide). As the sun began to set, we noticed a looming cloud threatening our remarkable views of the volcano. Alas, the gods of weather were not pleased that night: total fog-out as dusk descended. Oh well! We turned back to go down the mountain around 9:30 pm, got a peek about halfway down of the pyrotechnics as the fog lifted, and finally dragged ourselves into bed at 11 pm. We were beat.

The next night we did about a quarter of the climb again, up to a restaurant where you can eat pizza and drink wine on the terrace while watching molten magma spew out of the volcano. What magic.

Living – even only for three days – on a tiny island that is essentially all volcano is truly awe-some. I have always been an ocean person, awed by its enormity, mystery, power, and contradiction of quiet and ferocity. I have never felt that deeply for another natural phenomenon until my brief stint on this island. While I have visited other volcanoes, this one felt different. Alive somehow.

[And yes, it did inspire many conversations about what is life, is a volcano alive, what constitutes sentience, is there a spectrum of what we perceive life to be, etc.]

Residents of Stromboli basically live almost at the summit of the volcano; two miles tall, only the very top of the volcano is above water. It looms large, peaceful, and grounding, yet utterly unstable, dangerous, and wild.  

I recently read a 2021 New York Times article on Stromboli. The article cites an inhabitant of the island, who works with scientists to present and share their work: “… residents get to know the volcano, and its personality, as if it were a living thing. 'It’s strange. It’s like a person,' he said. 'You really miss it when you leave here. You feel lost.'"

I can’t explain it, but I really felt that.

Other Adventures in Sicily
Last we left our heroes, I was getting my feet wet in the transparent waters of Sicily. It’s been a minute over here! Before Stromboli, we spent a week in Siracusa, traveling to: 

  • Oritigia/Siracusa: lively market, crumbling facades, ancient remains of Greek/Roman theatres/buildings in Neapolis Archaeological Park, incredible cannoli and first sips of granite, touring an ancient Jewish mikvah dating back to the 6th century BCE. [When the Jews were forced out of Ortigia at the Spanish inquisition’s orders, the Ortigian Jews - 25% of the population at the time - covered the mikvah in dirt. It was only discovered in 1987!]

  • Noto: processions, art lining the long-stairways, markets, eating/drinking at the famous Caffe Sicilia for granita and brioche, and then a drive to a local beach, Spaggia Reitani, where we ate Italian sushi (with tomato and basil on top!)

  • Necropolis of Pantalica: now this was a doozy. Thousands of rock-cut chamber tombs dating from the 13th to the 7th centuries BCE. Hiking cliffs. No one there. Spooky and exhilarating. Avoided the release of the looming thunderclouds. Freezing dip by Emmet and Chris in the river.

  • Taormina: reveling in our White Lotus fantasies, glitzy, an incredible meal, ancient theatre, eel sighting in the waters of Isola Bella

  • Catania: dropped in for dinner, what a cool city! Lively square, graffiti mixed with ancient, happened upon a Catholic procession – boys clothed in white, Virgin Mary paraded, tubas belting out their tuba sounds

Final Thoughts on Schooling Abroad
Most of you know that we were doing ‘school’ through a program called Self Design, which really meant that we were homeschooling since the program itself provided little support. Throughout the week, we would informally but consistently do math, daily writing, lots of reading, and then of course studying the places we explored (geography/history/religion/art/science).  We concluded our year of homeschooling about two weeks ago.

Another branch of the worldschooling community is unschooling (the world is your teacher / you follow the kids’ leads in their learning). We were not doing unschooling for a variety of reasons, namely not wanting the kids to miss a year of school and likely our less-than-radical personalities. That said, what has been interesting is that about a week ago, freed from the shackles of everyday ‘school,' the kids had an idea for an app while traipsing through the ancient (and largely un-signposted) Neapolis Archaeological Park. They saw an unmet need for worldschoolers around gamifying travel education and – on their own – worked together to create the concept for an iphone app, draw out possible screens, prototype it, and continue to learn coding in order to build it. The flame might die tomorrow or maybe it continues to live on. Who knows!

What is more interesting to me is that the kids found their inspiration on their own when we took the have-to out of school. I will never be an unschooler for a variety of reasons, but it does illuminate for me some of its potential: that the creation of space can reveal inspiration.  

That said, am I so excited to expunge from my resume the role of formal teacher and for them to be back in school next year????? Give me a ‘hell yaaaaaasssss!’

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1982123 2023-05-31T09:34:23Z 2023-05-31T23:24:56Z As close to perfection... [Atrani plus...]

I am writing from my dream morning nook/expanse. As you by now know, mornings are sacred for me and one of the challenges of this trip has been space. Most often, one of the kids is sleeping in a common room which means that my morning time of coffee, writing, reading, meditation, etc. is compromised. But today I wake up, after an unbelievably long + obstacle-ridden + lucky travel day, in Siracusa overlooking the Sicilian coastline. Check out this view from our terrace.

But that’s besides the point. I wasn’t supposed to write about Sicily yet because I know nothing about it – outside of fishing boats in the distance, sparkling clear ocean, lapping waves, illuminated horizon, and some mysterious hullabaloo at 2am when it seemed like a Sicilian family was down in the water doing something shady (I’m sure they weren’t – my Sicilian skills are worse than my Italian skills).

Rewind to Pompeii + the Amalfi Coast

Pompeii
We had a few more days in Sorrento, where the highlight was a day in Pompeii. We had an incredible guide who was rather taken with our kids’ knowledge of Pompeii and ancient Roman civilization. We had done ‘school’ that week on Pompeii, so they were armed with some contextual understanding of the place, all of that on top of the smaller ones' obsession – I mean, healthy interest – in Greek/Roman mythology. So while our kids and the guide were mutually enamoured around Roman history and mythology, I must admit there were times I kind of trailed off... Favourite kid parts: the 'fast food' soup restaurants, the street fountains, and the syncretic Egyptian gods wearing Roman togas.  After that, another gondola ride up high for the boys (having built sufficient character in this department, I decided to pass and go shopping in Sorrento).

Atrani
Ok, here is where the perfection comes in. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a place fit so well with us like this seaside town. Recognize it from these Escher drawings?

Atrani is a tiny town next door to the more famous and wealthy Amalfi. There are a few restaurants in the square, a small market and a produce shop and that’s about it. For us, it was a dream. We had a rooftop terrace overlooking the town, the sea in the distance, hanging of laundry on clotheslines, gossip across roofs, church bells ringing, the delicious sfogliatelle, etc. It was perfect for us because we immersed ourselves in the experience of living in a little neighbourhood; by the end of the week, we knew all of the restaurant and shop owners, and the kids could explore Atrani totally on their own – winding up and down passageways, paint peeling, echoes of civilizations and civilizations, beach combing of pottery-encased rocks. 

Beyond this, the perfection lay in the access to hiking paths. Each day, we would walk for miles and miles, up and down – over ancient rocky staircases and under arches, wandering to unexpected vistas and mountaintops, neighbouring towns, encountering virtually no other hikers, returning back home on ferries and buses. It gave us the independence to explore, the comfort of nature, and the proximity to more urban infrastructure if we needed. We dropped in on the gorgeous but overloaded Positano and Amalfi a couple of times, but always sought sanctuary back in the lovely Atrani. At this stage in the trip, this may in fact be our happy place. Long hikes dotted with new restaurants or foods/drinks and friendly shop owners. Then back to the beach with our legs throbbing in all the good ways. Here are a couple of day trips:

Hike on the Path to the Gods
A 5 mile hike from Bomerano (long, winding bus to get there) to Nocelle, on to Montepertuso, and then dropping down 1700 steps into Positano. Very steep, spectacular views. We anticipated a long, four hour hike, but we did the main route in 1.5 hours(!!), ending at a cute little restaurant in Nocelle to refuel. The last couple of pics are waiting shots – for a ferry home that was delayed by an hour (after we had already been waiting for it for two hours!). One plus of this trip is that the kids have become habituated to waiting and figuring out how to pass the time. One shot shows Emmet and Asa having collected a bunch of sea glass and making a game of it at the table; another shows them beach combing while we were all enduring the chaos trying to figure out what happened to our boat.

Hike from Atrani to the Santuario Santa Maria del Bando
Just 750 steps up from our house (at this point, that was nothing!), stood what looked like an ancient church/sanctuary. We had tried to go up there on our first day, but it was closed. We messaged the caretaker and made an appointment to come back in a few days to visit. What an experience. This caretaker of the sanctuary had, during Covid, DISCOVERED ancient ruins in this cave (Grotta del Paradiso) that had been enshrouded in overgrowth - likely a monks' sanctuary from the 10th century. He was still in the process of excavating it himself – archaeologists are scheduled to come in the fall – and we explored the cave and the sanctuary with him.

Hike from Atrani to Pontone to the Torre del Capo di Atrani and back
Chris did this one alone with the kids. Obie and I sat on the beach and read. Winding cobblestone roads through orchards, steep paths, fortress ruins on top of a razor-sharp ridge overlooking Amalfi and Atrani, and a watchtower dating from the Amalfi Republic days. 

Hike from Atrani to Ravello down into Minori
Sweet hike that led us up to the high-up town of Ravello overlooking orchards and the beautiful coast, and then down to the beach town of Minori where we experienced our first lido. Limoncello spritzes underneath a beach umbrella! And then a relaxed ten minute ferry ride home.

A few Amalfi pics (paper making, wandering, lemon sorbetto)

Train to Sicily
Yesterday was a ridiculous day. We knew it would be long. It feels tedious to write about it and I will most definitely forgive you if you bow out on this one (all except for my dad the train buff, who will be salivating at the train mishaps). But if I don’t, it will likely get memory holed into the unconscious reserves of my mind, so here it goes – in bullet points because that is the type of prose worthy of the day.

First, to set the stage. We have A LOT of bags. Like, a lot. Like a large check bag and a backpack per person. I wish we were those carry-on families who boast about everyone shouldering their own pack, but we are not. So take that into account as a I regale you with the last 24 hours.

  • Wake everyone up at 7am. Another move from a place we love. It’s starting to wear on us.
  • Out the door at 8am. Picture the scene: our place is up HIGH overlooking the town. The "streets" are winding narrow stairways and paths. A car cannot come there. So we have to carry a lot of very heavy bags down the many, many flights of stairs. After several round trips, with the kids waiting in the town square with our bags, we are sweaty and done.
  • The driver is late. Miscommunication where to pick us up. Then he comes about 10 minutes late.
  • Long, windy road to Salerno (really, it was only a bit over an hour) where we get the train. It’s beautiful, but we all for some reason feel carsick (despite the fact that only one of us gets carsick), but the lovely driver doesn’t read the room, so he talks endlessly of the sights along the way, the towns that specialize in very pungent anchovies and the distinct smell that only some people enjoy.
  • Haul all the bags into the train station; Chris stays with the kids. I run several blocks away to the Budget car rental in Salerno. You see, we had a car rental in Catania (Sicily) originally booked for noon, which we needed to change to 6pm, but Budget in Catania does not pick up its phone. The man at the counter tells me that even he cannot get in touch with Budget in Catania.
  • Run back to train station, waiting to see which platform our train will be on. ALL trains on the screen have been assigned a platform, except for ours. The clock is ticking. Fifteen minutes before our train, the platform number appears; we have to of course climb a bunch of stairs with our many, many bags. We leave the little ones guarding the remaining luggage, run the first round up to the platform, then back again and again. Finally we do it.
  • Just two minutes after we lug all our bags up to the platform, the train arrives. We rush to find where Coach 2 is. We leap onto the train, lugging bags, Chris going back and forth to fetch the bags at top speed, kids inside. FINALLY ON THE TRAIN.
  • Sweaty, again. Walk to our seats. Someone is in our seats.
  • Guess what, WE GOT ON THE WRONG TRAIN. Ours came three minutes later. This train had been delayed, so it arrived to the same platform as our train at approximately the same time. So we are on the wrong train. Bear in mind, this is not a short train ride. We are embarking on an 8-hour train ride that crosses the sea to Sicily. 
  • The train person who was lovely and had helped me with the bags in the chaos of getting on the train, reassures us. Because we are traveling in the same direction, she says, we can get off the train in an hour at the next stop and re-catch our original train. So we temporarily settle in to our right seats on this wrong train, with all of the Italians around us warmly telling us that it is no problem, just enjoy the ride.
  • We get off the train after an hour. Lug all of our bags off. Which again is like a sprint because we have ten bags and approximately two minutes before the train takes off again. Wait 25 minutes because the train is thankfully delayed.
  • Our original train approaches. We wait on the platform where we anticipate Coach 2 to be, basically where we got off since we were on Coach 2 on our wrong train. The train arrives – we do the chaotic dance of bags and children and multiple trips and hoping the train doesn’t leave without us. We go to our seats. Occupied again?!! We are informed that this is Coach 7. 
  • So we are at the opposite end of the train we need to be on, with a stack of luggage and kids. I wait with all the bags while Chris goes with the kids to find Coach 2 and our seats. He comes back with a look that tells me something is wrong again.
  • Train trivia time! You train buffs out there will know that this is a renowned train because it goes on a ferry (Richard Scarry’s fantasy) to cross the waters over to Sicily. Well, it turns out that before the train is loaded onto the ferry, it is literally divided in two, with one part going south to Siracusa (ours), and one part going west to Palermo. It already has an engine car in the middle of the train ready to go after the split. Unfortunately, coach 7 where we embarked is part of the Palermo-bound section, so all this is to say that we cannot walk through the train to Coach 2 and our seats because there is an engine car in the way.
  • We settle into some seats behind this mid-train engine car, and wait another 50 minutes. At the next stop, we dash off of the train, down the platform two cars with all our bags, and lug every last bag and child back onto the correct half of the train. As we triumphantly and exhaustedly make our way to our correct coach, we find again there is someone sitting in our seats. This time, it is they who are wrong! Invader ousted, we collapse into our chairs. 
  • The next four hours were fine, but a bit confusing. Train boarding the ferry (actually quite cool), stuffy and hot on the train with the AC turned off, no announcements to know what was going on, no food on train, stop in Messina station for a long time. It felt like we were back on some of our train rides in Asia; we just had to abandon our need to know.
  • We finally reach Catania, our station. Now you might be wondering why we are going to Catania if our house is in Siracusa, another hour down the line. Funny you should ask! We got a rental car reservation months and months ago that allowed us to do a one way trip, dropping our car in the town where we take a ferry to Stromboli (our next Sicily destination after Siracusa). We could not for the life of us find another rental car that would allow us to do that. So we decided we would keep our original rental car, but get off the train an hour early, take a taxi to the rental car place at the Catania airport (15 min away), then drive the last hour to Siracusa.
  • From here on out, everything went right. Train to taxi. Taxi to rental car. Rental car Carplay actually works – English language, music, and maps. Rental car to grocery store. Grocery store to Siracusa house overlooking the water and some very tired kids. 10pm to bed.

If you made it this far, here are a couple of train & ferry photos, including the first one when we figured out we were on the wrong train. Now off to our first day in Siracusa. 

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1978290 2023-05-20T11:02:55Z 2023-05-20T11:02:57Z The In-Betweens [Tuscany + the Amalfi Coast]

I suppose much of this year has been an exercise in navigating the in-betweens. Perhaps not the majority of Thailand, where we settled in and truly drank of the present. But other phases have had a distinct before and after, eyes looking forwards and backwards, in spite of my renewed morning meditations. Here now, even more so. Looming return to real life, what's-next musings and taxes, weekly place hopping, one of many tourists sometimes on and sometimes off the beaten path.

Several days ago, we left the sweet security of our agriturismo in Tuscany where the kids were able to run free, truffle hunt with dogs (a surprising favourite for all), horseback ride, make pasta, play soccer, foosball, and ping pong, meet some other kids, and generally drink in the Tuscan countryside. 

We day tripped to towns that dotted the rolling hills – Volterra (atmospheric, enshrouded in fog, downpour led us to wander through the eerie Museum of Torture), San Gimignano (epitome of an adorable Tuscan town, climbed a tower, alabaster abounded), Siena (explored the upper recesses of a gothic cathedral, saw lots of relics, bones and a severed head!), and Pecchioli (our fave, juxtaposition of ancient town and modern art, interspersed in the most surprising of places) – and generally appreciated the open countryside, blooms of scarlet and yellow flowers, surprise thunderstorms, and labyrinthian (and sometimes unpassable!) gravel roads. It was pretty dreamy; there were definitely a few tears upon our departure.

We are currently staying in Sorrento, a town on the Amalfi Coast populated with upmarket tourists and freakishly oversized lemons. You can see on their faces (the tourists, not the lemons) a frustration with what has been an uncharacteristically cold and wet Spring. For many in Italy, though, it's been more than inconvenient; disastrous flooding in the Emilia-Romagna region has left tens of thousands homeless. Happily for all, the weather has been slowly turning. Each semi-cloudless day in Sorrento unleashes troves of brightly colored sundresses and strappy sandals, the colorful fruits of months of outfit planning. I don’t blame them – I would if I could! – but the tattered garb of our Southeast Asian travels exposes me as a total fraud. The city is sweet and perfect, expensive, and touristy. We hiked down to some ancient Roman baths which were more off the beaten path, and have generally wandered through the polished kitsch in the little streets, tasting limoncello or granite here and there. Not a huge amount of interesting things for the kids, but they roll with it.  

Yesterday we went to Napoli, a city that - my lord - is ridiculously polarizing in the online traveler world. We fell into the 'loved it' category. And like all travelers who spend such little time in a city, I am aware of how my fragile opinion is simply a concoction of mind, intention and luck. We felt more relaxed in this city – surrounded again by Italians and forced to recall our fading Italian vocabulary, watching people across the socio-economic spectrum living their lives, the place emanating a distinct vivaciousness. We took a shortcut and found ourselves on a narrow cobblestone street off the busy avenues; with all of the safety warnings about this place, we wondered if we should be concerned. But it was the perfect caricature of a city at work on a weekday morning. Uphill cobblestone steps, old women leaning on balconies surveying the scene below, younger women wringing out their laundry, animated conversations between neighbours, a lone man smoking a cigarette, dogs wandering, celebratory banners and streamers of the football team’s victory strewn across every step. It was real life. And of course we ate delicious pizza. When in Napoli...

Here are a few photos/videos from a tour of Napoli's underground tunnels, which have 2400 years of history from the ancient Greeks to the Roman aqueducts to WWII safe havens. Tight passageways 40 meters down into the ground. Our kids of course wanted to lead the pack and regaled the guide with their many global adventures navigating caves, dark passageways, and hundreds of stairs up and down.   

And how are we? I would say we are good, but stretched by these in-betweens. It’s almost like we are not fully here in the way we once were. The kids are more checked out. We wander the streets and they immediately depart into a fantasy world of conversation that only the three of them can inhabit; once in a while, Chris gently nudges them to notice their exquisite surroundings. They are still taking it all in, and we still have moments of growth – like Emmet’s newfound identity of cold water swimmer in the currently frigid Mediterranean waters (anyone missing Sri Lanka about now???) or Asa’s slow emergence as the philosopher in the family or Obie’s adolescent growth spurts – but these moments of pause feel fewer and farther in between.

Also Obie's new favourite thing to do - creepily lurk behind and crouch when we are taking pictures of the two of us. Here are a few winners.

From here on out, we have a few more days in Sorrento, where we will travel to Pompeii and perhaps another nearby town, and then move on to our second and final stop in the Amalfi Coast – Atrani.  

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1974469 2023-05-10T10:24:52Z 2023-05-13T11:05:21Z On the Move [Bologna, Leaving Florence, the Marathon, Elba, Pisa]

A Quick Day Trip to Bologna
A few days before leaving Florence, we traveled by train to Bologna. Absolutely loved this city, a bit grittier than Florence, a history of university and revolution, incredible food. Revolution + food. My kind of city. 

Leaving Florence
It was finally time to leave Florence, despite how much we loved the city. I have learned now that there is only so much time we can stay in a place without a grounding set of activities. In Chiang Mai – because the city was full of expats, because some activities were offered in English, and because of the informality of certain classes – it was easy to enrol the kids (and Chris/me!) in activities. This offered the guise of routine and meant that Chris and I did not have to play the role of tour innovator each day, which we did in Florence. I am also finding that while the kids do love cities, they seem more grounded with frequent nature touchpoints. So we left, knowing it was time to go, but also deeply appreciative of the time we spent in this city. Encounters with history and art around every corner, incredible food, connections with friends, and a culture of prioritizing time with loved ones – Aperol Spritzes in hands. Here are a few shots from our last couple of days in Firenze, including leaving our home in a very packed COMPACT-size car. 

The Marathon (Elba)
When Chris had this wild idea of training for a marathon in Vietnam, I only half-listened. Not because I didn’t believe him, but because it all seemed so far away and perhaps even farfetched. I couldn’t imagine being out of Asia. I couldn’t imagine he would figure out how to adhere to an arduous training schedule in places where running just seemed so very out of place. Honestly, I was having a hard time even fathoming our lives four months in the future. But he did it, with a perseverance, discipline, and spirit that impressed us all. Every long run (and sometimes the short ones too) seemed to be an adventure. Never too dangerous, but sometimes just unpredictable enough to keep him guessing about what would show up around the next winding turn.

What was perhaps even more impressive than the discipline of this enterprise was what an incredible vehicle running is for truly seeing places. The villagers in central Sri Lanka who helped him run up a mountain and then invited them into their shack, or the army cadets in northern Sri Lanka who filled his water bottle when the oppressive heat had drained him of water, or the warm smiles and conversations in central Vietnam with villagers in places travellers rarely pass through, detours he had to take around water buffalo, or the many un/wanted animals on his runs – snakes, monkeys, cows, wild dogs, etc.

Anyway, he did it. Trained with discipline, finished strong, and drank in the beauty of the Elba coastline route. Also note the final video in this series in which Chris saw a VIPER during the marathon. He really attracts these animals.  

Elba
What a dream that Chris’ marathon took us to an island that we would probably have skipped simply because we are overwhelmed by ‘what to see in Italy.’ 

Our final day after the marathon was for adventuring around the island. Chris planned the day in his Chris way, knowing that our first activity would probably not be on my list if I had indeed known what was in store for us. But he knew that I would have no choice but to go along for the "ride."

All I knew was that we would ascend a mountain on a gondola. Now, some of you may know that heights have never been my thing, but that I have persevered and intentionally pushed through the fear. Chris has been a strong partner in this regard, never pushing me too far beyond my comfort zone, but just far enough to allow me to stretch. His personality is also not one to indulge this fear of mine, so he generally will just move forward when it seems like I’ve gotten the complaining out of my system.

Back to the gondola. I have been on my share of gondolas no problem. Sometimes when I get stuck up high because the machine stops my heart leaps into my throat, and well, that’s not my favorite moment, but really – I don’t consider gondolas a problem. But then we arrived on Monte Capanne.

Obie, my compatriot in not loving heights, looked at me with a somewhat pained/disbelieving expression on his face and we guffawed in unison, “HELL NO.” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Chris laugh so hard. I think even he did not realize how rickety these gondolas would be.  

Let me describe this gondola to you if it is not crystal clear from the pictures. They are very small yellow jails that can hold two adults at most and swing on a precarious line above you. You stand in it. Like a bird cage that stops at your hips. This structure does not stop as you get on and you run alongside to hop in and hop out. 18 minutes. 18 very long minutes.

At some point I realized that I was not going to be able to bow out of this one. I also wasn’t going to be able to save face. It was decided I would go with Emmet, who had no fear. We ventured in. I told Emmet he would have to distract me with stories throughout the 18 minutes of hell, I mean, glorious beauty. Over the chestnut trees, then the sheer ascent past steep cliffs and boulder fields, views of the island behind us, dots of red roofed villages in the distance, a ring of ocean. It was stunning, though I saw little of it on the way up. 

Emmet did not distract me. He would not go along with my requests for storytelling. But intermittently, between the hundreds of photos and videos he was taking, he would say, “Mom, you will never have this moment again. This is a once in a lifetime experience. Isn’t it amazing?” And I realized he was simply parroting my own words back to me.

After exiting the gondola and hiking up to the top of the mountain, it was then sneakily revealed by Chris that we would in fact have to take the gondola again back down (he had told us at first that we would hike down, but it turned out to be a two-hour hike and we didn’t have the time/food to do it). On the way down, which admittedly was much easier (I actually opened my eyes), Emmet asked, “Would you ever do something like this on your own?” And we talked about how I likely would not do that on my own, and I blessed him to find partners in his life who could complement him, who could challenge him to do the things that scared him.

As my kids get older, it’s harder to hide from them those moments of the real me. At another stage of parenting, I might have been stiff lipped about being freaked out by a rickety gondola. They would probably have sensed it nonetheless, but I figure at this point – be honest about who I am, how those things have served/not served me in my life, and let my kids decide who they want to be as they grow into themselves.

That day in Elba was pretty incredible. The low-lying clouds lifted. We hiked on crystal-strewn rocks around blue-green seas and baked in the sun. We ate lunch in a charming little town with a friendly but possibly rabid cat.  Chris and Emmet jumped into freezing crystal clear waters. The combination of adventure, a little fear, beauty, sun, exploration – everyone was pretty blissed out. A good day.

Pisa
We left Elba yesterday for a week at an agriturismo in Tuscany. En route, we stopped in Pisa, falling prey to ridiculously posing next to the leaning tower. How could we not?

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1970364 2023-04-28T09:27:49Z 2023-05-03T04:52:10Z Florence, Venice: Traveling, Touristing, Saturation

I have a cold, I didn’t sleep well, and my mind is somewhat foggy. It’s sunny outside, but we are all sniffly. We are all battling some lightweight lethargy.

We recently returned from a few days wandering the narrow alleyways and canals of Venice. It was postcard beautiful, heavily touristed, and all of the caricatures one would expect of Venice. We did all of the usual Venice things - visiting museums and the former Jewish ghetto, listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons in a church, riding vaporettos, and making our own glass bracelets/keychains. My favorite part was the perpetual confusion of Google Maps; we were always lost. As a family, we would play the game of rotational navigator – winding our way through the labyrinthian paths, dizzied even a block away from our target destination, our laughter, emboldened echoes in the hollow passageways.

Chris and I have recently felt like the move to Italy transitioned us from travellers into tourists. What does that actually mean? I’m not sure there really is a difference, but perhaps it just means a shallower experience of a place. Though I’m not sure that fully encapsulates it either. I think perhaps in Asia we allowed ourselves to follow an inner magnetic force to experience and transform deeply. And now that we have transformed, we are a bit saturated, like the body and all that it entails can no longer hold being moved quite as deeply. And given that saturation, there is a limit to how stirred we are by what we see around us. 

I spoke yesterday to Obie about this, as we wandered through the Accademia in Florence, beholding David in all of his magnificence. Obie had a rather lacklustre look on his face; “I prefer Buddhas,” he remarked casually. And I understood what he meant. He intellectually thought it was really cool - glorious and rich and marble and gold and impressive. And that's the truth - we are all enjoying ourselves. The kids are talking about coming back to Italy to study or to work. We are having fun. We really are! 

But there is something more superficial about this part of the experience. Is it the place, a country that efficiently serves up polished tourist experiences? Is it simply that we are in the last leg of our trip and everyone is filled to the brim with experience and mind-/heart-bending transformation? 

I’m not sure. But as always, we explore the terrain together, one foot in front of the other, taking down days when we all need a break.

For me, despite the cold, I am appreciating that I have finally allowed in a certain slowness and expansiveness that I was so sorely lacking in Vancouver. I am reading voraciously again – fiction, spiritual memoirs, autobiographies, an intermittent nonfiction piece. Somehow those early parent years drained me of being able to truly read without goal. It was like without a predetermined purpose, my mind could not create the space to be moved by a book, by the release that it required of me, to wander through its passageways, to get lost. The metaphors of one’s outside and inside worlds, different worlds taking leads at different times, an openness to traveling on all of the levels of one’s being.

In any case, here are some shots of us throughout our time in Florence, including our wonderful language classes in the first two weeks of our time here, climbing the Duomo, visiting the nearby town of Fiesole, sweet restaurants, the Accademia, wandering, and more. 

From here on out, we have one more week in Florence, then off to Elba for Chris' marathon, and then to an agriturismo in Tuscany!

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1966469 2023-04-16T07:38:48Z 2023-04-17T19:49:04Z Culture Shock

It’s Sunday morning here on a partly cloudy, crisp morning in Florence. We have now been here for over a week, though it feels like forever. Forever since we laughed at the monkeys playing outside of our jungle treehouse in Sri Lanka. Forever since we swam in the bathtub blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Forever since our travel snafu turned luxury in the Dubai swim-up pool.

Florence is wonderful, as they said. Yes, swarmed with tourists. But we live just outside of the city center and it’s teeming with locals seemingly living the good life. Drinking, eating, socializing at all hours of the day, looking chic yet comfortable, confident yet down to earth. I really like this city. I like living here. Winding through labyrinthian markets, slurping up pasta, washing it down with local wines. I like the cramps in my feet after thousands of wandering steps each day. I like the way the language sings and (though we struggle in language class!) how its melody is starting to make sense to me.

And yet, I feel adrift. There were those first few days. Adrenaline and heartbeats on fire and cheese and spritzes and seeing friends and oh I hoped it would never end. And then, the crash. What is this crash?

Is it that I have been holding it together in the unfamiliar, only to now let down my guard in the more familiar?

Is it that the consumption of this place makes me want to dig in more to my body, exercise, and lead a more routinized life?

Is it that the city's flair makes me want – fashion, art, jewelry, s t u f f – desires that I have not had in months, so thirsty all of the time, unquenchable? 

Is it that the wealth and Renaissance and Christian ground feels to me distant, disconnected, and spiritually ungrounding? 

Is it that the reality of return – and all of the unknowns of that re-grounding – is beginning to materialize?

I really do not know. I assume it is fleeting. It is how culture shock catches you off guard. I walked into Italy feeling like I owned this transition, would effortlessly steward my kids through this first time experience. How many times have I moved from Asia back to the familiar West? I was beyond this surprise, wasn’t I? And yet, I guess that’s culture shock. It is always dizzying - throwing you off of your center of gravity.   

So for now, we dig in. One more week of language school, a quick trip to Venice, day trips from Florence, Chris training for his marathon in the Tuscan hills, all of us settling in and finding our groove. 

*********

Also ps – Emmet would now like to become a Florentine mosaic artist, so if anyone knows of any apprenticeships that will accept foreigners in about 10 years, he’s surveying his options :) 

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1962605 2023-04-07T16:11:31Z 2023-04-07T21:15:44Z Goodbye Asia: Not with a Bang but a Whimper

After seven months in Asia, we made our exit from Sri Lanka abruptly and without ceremony. The universe always the existential comedian, it is not lost on me that we left on Passover; we too did not have time to wait for the bread to rise.  

It is 10pm Sri Lanka time, nearly 30 hours before we are set to depart for Italy. Our flight is scheduled for 3am (ugh), two days from now. Chris leisurely clicks on the check in button and is shocked to see that our departing flight is now at 10am – 12 hours from now. This must be an error, we think, our hearts already racing. We are four hours away from the Colombo airport where we must arrive three hours before our flight. We are not packed. 

We get on the phone with Emirates who tell us that our first flight had been rescheduled, turning our two hour layover in Dubai into an 18 HOUR LAYOVER. We have three choices: (1) find a later flight to Dubai, which would then connect with our existing second leg from Dubai to Pisa; (2) move both flights’ dates altogether; or (3) take a hotel/meal voucher in Dubai for the 18 hour layover.

I will not go into the details of the long conversations with Emirates’ agents that follow, but they cannot find any other flights with seats for five people within the next week. The only option is a travel voucher. The woman on the line mysteriously says to call back in an hour to receive confirmation of the voucher.

11pm. Work with our homestay owner to find a driver to get us to the airport at 4am. Homestay owner drives his scooter to the next town to pay a guy to confirm the taxi for us. Lose money for the original taxi already reserved for the next night. Pack with steady urgency. Call Emirates back. Our hotel voucher is denied. Plead three small kids. They try again. Tell us to call back at 1am. Call back. Denied again.

1am. Sleep.

3:30am. Wake up. Call back Emirates. Voucher denied again. Wake the kids. Tell them what is going on. 

4am. Six hours after the initial check-in attempt, we are in a van to the airport.

Chris and I had planned a reflective last day in Sri Lanka. Journals out, a family beach swim, pondering the milestone. Seven months in Asia soon behind us.

Instead, the world decides to shake things up. There is no marking of the moment, no reflection. 

What is astounding though, is how unfazed our kids are. They see it as an adventure, just another wacky thing in this journey. As we wake up the kids, Chris sees what the kids need more than I do.

We had joked that what we went through over the past few hours was akin to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief (of course, on a very inconsequential scale). There was the initial denial (this is not happening), then anger (Emirates is a *&(*$%$*), then bargaining (we have three kids, this change was unannounced, what can you do for us), then depression (we lost our final day in Asia), and finally, acceptance.

Waking the kids up, Chris wisely models to the kids the expansive possibilities of dealing with the unexpected. The kids watch us, and Emmet inquires – “Is this a good or a bad thing?” And in that moment, we have a choice. Is it a good or a bad thing? Well, at first it seemed like a very, very bad thing. But is it?

In the end, a narrative emerges – from that mysterious brew of our intentions and the kids’ reception of them. We calmly tell them that it indeed was unexpected. But even though the Emirates’ bureaucracy did not approve a voucher in advance, once we arrive in Dubai, I beseech them in person and they finally cave. We end up in a lavish hotel with a huge pool in fancy Dubai. The kids love it and take in how different Dubai is from anywhere else in our travels. It is ultimately easy, everything is accounted for, and we split up two long flights. Just another step in our wild year of travels. Not a tragedy. Perhaps even luck.


Nearly three days and 8000 kilometers after that first moment of incredulity, here I am. It’s 8am on our first morning in Italy, sunlight streaming into our Florence apartment. Emmet and Asa are playing lego in the other room. Obie is reading. Chris is listening to a podcast. We are both drinking delicious Italian coffee. I had a hot shower. The internet is fast. We have separate rooms from the kids and a real kitchen. It all feels utterly luxurious. We are in a brand new country, and yet there is a palpable relief, like we can now relax a bit more into this new stage of travel.


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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1959069 2023-03-30T04:29:08Z 2023-03-30T04:29:10Z Sri Lanka -- Part II / Perspective [Trincomalee, Kandy, Ella]

We have tried to slow down these last few days, perched in our treehouse cabins, listening to gentle winds, birdcalls between branches, and scuffles between monkeys and dogs. 

On the heels of Wilpattu’s jungle safari, Jaffna’s off-the-beaten track discoveries, Trincomalee’s expansive beaches (snorkeling with sharks and turtles!), Kandy’s temples, and the epic train ride to Ella, we needed to slow down a bit.

So here we are, at a rustic but peaceful homestay among the trees in Sri Lanka’s jungly hill-country. The only guests here, we have landed in a town once overrun by tourists and banana pancakes, but that now – amidst the fallout of the country’s financial woes – struggles to stay afloat.

We do one activity a day – hike to Ella Rock, visit a tea plantation, bathe in a waterfall. Then Chris trains for his marathon (only marginally deterred by the steep gradients of the surrounding mountains), the kids do school and zone out on iPad, and we all venture into the town for meals.

It is our second-to-last stop in Sri Lanka; Friday we leave for Weligama, a beach/tourist town in the South of the country, for a final stretch of Indian Ocean before departing for Italy in a week.

We have been talking as a family about perspective. About how perspective is constructed and then solidified in hindsight, a complex concoction of ingredients: experience (comparison to what was and to what will be), intention (the 'texture' of how you want to view something), some mess of chemicals and chemistry of the bodymind in the moment, and of course the unknowable. What would Sri Lanka have been to us if it was our first or second stop on our journey? What if we had allowed moments of negativity to fester and permeate our impressions of place? What if our current stores of impatience – with food, with bugs, with the limitations of GB in our Wi-Fi usage – are more about our Italian future than our Sri Lankan present? We are not unhappy, but the gravitational pull is elsewhere. We are each, in our own ways, having to intentionally pull in the reins to keep us present and appreciating this life.

The wondrous complexity of this place - its softness, political/economic despondency, beauty, vibrant mixture of people, cultures and religions - seeps into us, but not in isolation of our place in time, of Italy on the horizon.

We are studying Italian, sharing articles about how to discern good gelato from the tourist stuff, and salivating over the familiarities of pasta and pizza, espresso and wine.  We are also anticipating the inevitability of culture shock. Of more senseless/sensible rules (we have warned the kids – no more 5 people in a tuk-tuk soon!), more tepid engagement with us as visitors, faster tempo, higher prices, lower temperatures, of a singular way to do something. And even though it may seem more familiar, Italy will also be a totally new culture, language, and set of rules by which to abide.

In the meantime, we do our best to drink in the beauty of this place, while acknowledging the drumbeat of anticipation in our psyches. Mountain peaks dotted with verdant tea plantations and rice paddies, gentle and sweet interactions with strangers, the mystery of what bug or frog will end up in our beds tonight.
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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1955851 2023-03-22T02:04:37Z 2023-03-23T23:20:35Z Sri Lanka - Part I [Sigiriya, Dambulla, Jaffna]

It was 2002 when I traveled to Sri Lanka for the second time. I had first visited rather spontaneously in 1998 on the backside of my study abroad in Kerala, India. That visit was astoundingly wonderful. I landed in a geography and a group of cultures where, for no rational reason, I truly felt at home. I can only describe the feeling of a life reprieve – I could relax my muscles, I breathed easier, I knew the place in my body. Was that even possible?

Four years later, at the end of my graduate studies, I longed to escape the academic ivory tower of studying international conflict transformation and gain some experience in a place that had lived conflict. It was a moment of celebration in much of Sri Lanka, with a freshly brokered ceasefire after nearly 20 years of civil war. I worked at the country’s largest NGO and basked in the – what turned out to be – fleeting moment of levity, while witnessing the embittered consequences of decades-long strife, the insidious remnants of a colonial legacy that pitted ethnic groups against one another, and the ways religion and politics can have a nasty way of co-mingling. I left the country for the first time truly in love with a place, complexity and wrinkles and blind spots and beauty, as with any place and any group of humans.

I can’t believe how old I am when I say it’s been twenty plus years since then and am now taking my kids to see this place. It is so different here now, but some things remain. The sweet smells of burning trash, curry and coconut, the thick, humid air, bikes carrying 1-2-3 people grinning as they pass, students in their white uniforms strolling to and from school, cows wandering, an openness to talk about the war, the more recent economic struggles and the corruption of the government, and a real feeling of welcome.   

We started our three-week journey in Sigiriya and its environs – a well-trodden path – so my kids could get their Sri Lankan land legs and begin readying their mouths for Sri Lankan curries (for me, the most spicy curries I have ever tasted). We climbed Pidurangala, a mammoth rock adjacent to the famous Sigiriya, that had been occupied by Buddhist monks who lived in the caves around the rock for over 2,500 years. The climb began at a temple and then traveled straight upwards. It was utterly wondrous.

Of course, we had to get a tuk tuk back to our lodging because...

And then the well-known trek up Sigiriya/Lion Rock. I have now done this climb four times and each time I bury the utterly terrifying stairs to the top of this rock somewhere way deep in the crevices of my consciousness (watching your three kids and just hoping they don’t fall through the stairs – what a test of faith!). But we made it, marvelling at the wall frescoes and views at the top. On the steepest descent, wobbly knees, two sprightly monkeys jeered at us; we coaxed each other to ignore them and just continue the descent. Focus, one foot in front of the other.

A few more day trips:

Dambulla – 153 ancient carved Buddhas (and a few Hindu gods and Sri Lankan kings) in caves. Quiet, hollow, so many memories of my first sightings of these.

Wilpattu – a national park that was closed during the war as it was used to transport wartime supplies. We went on a safari here, as well as a night and morning bird walk. It was much less traveled than some of the safaris down south, so we really felt on our own during much of the four-hour, bumpy, video game-like, dodge-the-bushes jeep ride (poor Chris got whacked in the nose by a rogue branch!). We saw mongooses, crocodiles, birds of so many gorgeous varieties, spotted deer, bathing water buffalos, peacocks doing their mating dances, snakes, and then a gorgeous lightning storm that lit up the sky at dinner. No leopards or sloth bears, sadly!  

Where's Waldo!!! Can you find the snake in this picture?

We are now in Jaffna, in the very north of the country. In 2002, I was able to come to Jaffna as part of the NGO – through many security checkpoints with threatening officials wielding guns. A region besieged, bullet holes and bombed-out buildings. More than a decade after the end of the war, I so wanted to visit and show my kids this place. Also, as some of you know, Asa loves Hindu mythology; he really wanted to see the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, and visit a part of this country awash in Hindu temples and Tamil food. Here we are! 

It’s definitely off the beaten path, particularly because the train line connecting it to cities in the south is currently being upgraded. Seven months of travel have readied our kids for this - unpaved roads, finding ourselves in places without restaurants so they had to survive on biscuits instead of meals, long car rides, sweaty walks and boat rides, cultural practices that require them to quickly adapt, dodging rickshaws and scooters and bikes, not to mention cows, goats, duelling gangs of dogs, and today, a surprising donkey. 

That said, this place is a total wonder. Gorgeous temples, long lagoons, sand dunes, coastlines, incredible food, ancient forts. I am so glad we did the work to make it out here. And it's been so sweet to watch Asa bond with our Sinhalese Buddhist driver by walking him through Hindu temples - showing him the gods and explaining to him their stories. 


Driving around to the northern-most point of Jaffna and around the coast to Casuarina Beach


Bumpy roads, island hopping, sitting on the roof of a slightly sketchy boat, exploring Hindu and Buddhist temples (and all of their animal inhabitants) in Nainativu


Of course, no off-the-beaten-path trip would be complete without driving adventures. 

In the middle of sand dunes and washed out roads, working with Tamil villagers with whom we cannot communicate to figure out how to get our van through a washed-out road

Onwards, to the east of Sri Lanka!

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1955866 2023-03-21T14:05:00Z 2023-03-23T12:21:42Z 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. 

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1948060 2023-03-03T04:22:01Z 2023-03-03T06:32:58Z 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.

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1944903 2023-02-24T03:48:53Z 2023-03-03T06:39:34Z Transitions

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.

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1937790 2023-02-06T03:38:59Z 2023-02-06T20:26:10Z 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! 

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1936321 2023-02-02T11:12:50Z 2024-04-06T03:55:45Z My Experiences in Penang, Malaysia: January 21st - 30th [Emmet]

We arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport at two o’clock. Our ride, a large green and white van, was waiting for us outside the airport. The ride was so tiring. If we had to stand up for the whole ride, I would end up curled up on the floor. It felt like being in jail for 8 hrs. Nothing to do but wait. Our eyelids felt droopy, we started to nod off when we got there, but we had to get out. We slowly arrived at a stopping place for dinner (that had stuff like McDonalds and Dunkin’ donuts). We had dinner at a hot dog stand, and ate in the car. We bought a fizzy drink, with sweet corn in a cup as well. My brothers and I started playing video games after dinner. Our eyes were getting zombified. We were zonked when we arrived. We began to see Penang at 11:00. 

The ride from Kuala Lumpur to Penang totalled eight hours! We started unpacking our things, and making the apartment livable. Midnight, 12:00. We started going to bed, but apparently, it was Chinese New Year, so there were a bunch of fireworks. We saw people shooting them out. It was kind of disturbing, but also cool. Pretty loud. I watched them as I started to drift off. Finally, I went to bed at 1:00. Too late.

Day 1: Georgetown

We woke up at 10:10, but we didn’t want to get out of bed. When we realised that it was a chill day, we started going back to sleep. You would think that we would want to get up and have breakfast slowly. But no. Still tired.

But, you think our parents would let us sleep anymore? Nope. They pulled our covers out of our beds and said get up. We groaned, but started getting up. We had breakfast, a yoghurt and eggs. They said that we were doing no worldschooling meet-ups today, but were starting tomorrow. We went to Georgetown because it was Chinese New Year. We ate some food for lunch and walked around Georgetown. My parents bought a dessert for me. They bought me a rainbow ball made out of shaved ice and it was really big. My little brother, Asa, bought a rainbow heart which was made out of the same stuff. It tasted very sweet grape-like and my mom said it was too sweet for her.

Personally, I loved it. It tasted sweet, with all kinds of flavours buzzing in my mouth. Apple and grape, strawberry and orange. It is one of my favourite desserts I have ever had.

We walked around Georgetown for about half an hour. It was great. So many things to see! Red and yellow everywhere. It was like a party planned just for us. We saw a couple people doing henna. Some with boa constrictors on their necks. So fun! We took a car back to our apartment, and settled in more. On the ninth floor, there were games and a reading room and a gymnasium. A pool was there too. We figured that we would come back to this floor sometime. 

Our floor was the 27th. The place was pretty good. Enough beds for all of us. The only problem was that there was one bathroom! One person could go to the bathroom at a time! That was the hard part. Our view was five stars… just perfect. We could see the hills and other buildings. The streets and villas. Nothing better. We did homework and played video games. It started to rain so we chilled inside. It cleared up and our parents went to get us some food. We had dinner and had a conversation about what we did that day. We went to bed and closed our eyes in peace. But! The fireworks went on the same as last night. We all looked out my window and saw the nightscapes and the fireworks. It was truly amazing. We went to sleep at a reasonable time and had a pretty good sleep that night.

Day 2: Hindu Temple
Going to the Hindu temple was an easy hike, worth the work. We took our shoes off and walked inside, We heard the Priests' chanting to the Gods. The marble floor was squeaking under our feet as we calmly walked through the temple. 

We gave some money as an offering, and were given some sweet beans, which we ate with our hands. They were out of some orange sweets that are called “Prasada.” We hear the chanting as the people stand in line to get blessed by the Priests. The Priests put ash on the people’s forehead while we eat the sweets and watch. We look at all the shrines that have Hindu gods in them. We slowly walked out of the temple heading to the smaller temple, just to the left of the main temple. There were a few people praying with one Priest behind them. We put our shoes back on, and started walking back down the hill. 

While we were waiting for a car to come, some Indian people gave us some noodles, and chai (an Indian tea you can get anywhere in India). While we snack on that, our parents bring some more food out. Obie accidentally dropped his red bean bun, and someone said to him, “no,” while he was picking it up. He threw it in the trash and I gave him some of mine.

Day 3: Penang Hill
We hiked up Penang Hill. It took us 2 hrs and 50 min to get to the top of the hill. It was very rainforest-like, but we didn't see any snakes and only one monkey. It was a tough hike, but we had a seven year old (who was walking ahead of us leaving us in the dust, while holding her dad’s hand), a ten year old, a twelve year old (which was my brother), my smaller brother Asa (also my brother), and me, an eight year old. It was very tiring, but the sights were amazing. We had a choice to go on a minecart that looked like a subway, but we chose to hike up. There were a bunch of stations where we could stop and ride the minecart, but we just kept on hiking. 

When we reached the top, we were exhausted. Everyone was so relieved that they were done. We decided that we deserve ice cream after some other fun things. We went on a trail (paved), and we saw monkeys and insects. 

We also saw a stand that had no one in it, but clearly was part of Penang Hill. It said “Insects of Penang Hill.” There were two scorpions, spiders (each one was in a jar and dead), a snake and a couple of beetles.

We kept on walking to find the canopy walk. We found it and started walking up the painted metal.

Then a guide whispered to us, and crouched down and pointed to a green vine snake. It looked like a green rope, with a pointy nose. He said it wasn’t venomous, but had a painful bite. 

We kept on walking across the canopy, until we reached the end of the walk. The next thing was the treetop walk. The treetop walk was a big arena shaped thing with poles sticking out and as tall as the canopy. It wasn’t that scary, but the sides were made out of rope, and it didn’t feel stable. It was like a design “x” pattern rope below the railing, and you could push on it. It felt like you were leaning on the canopy, and were about to fall. 

We bought some ice cream and said our goodbyes. Then we started making our way to the subway/minecart. It was a five minute wait; when we crowded into the subway, it was packed. Good thing it only took us ten minutes (or less) to get down. When we came down, we started to go to the taxi area. We hailed a taxi, which was way overpriced. 

We came home and started doing homework and video games.

Day 5: Countryside Stables
The countryside stables is a place in the countryside of Penang. You can ride, pet, and feed the horses. We had friends there with us. We bought tickets, and started feeding the horses. You can put hay on your hand and hold your hand flat for the horses. You can also get a long piece of hay and hold it by the side, and let the horse take it from you by the other side. We did a lot of feeding. We bought tickets to ride the horses. My horse was a big white one. It had a way of walking where you wobble to each side. You get used to it though. We mounted them and took some pictures, walked around with them; then, we dismounted. It was a really fun experience that I’ve had in my life. I love riding horses as much as I like riding water buffaloes. We went back in our van for the next thing.

This is me in Hoi An, just randomly riding a water buffalo...

Day 5: Bike Ride
We did a bike ride which started on a gravel road, which I did not like. Then we started biking on some paved roads that were better. We finally reached the end of the bike ride. We went to a pier where we took some pictures and could explore. I took a lot of pictures with my camera. It was a truly great experience. Just an amazing sunset. We biked back on the same way and started the van home. We went back home and went to bed.

Day 7: Leaving Penang - Orangutan Island and the Batu Caves
Pictures below!

Orangutan Island

Batu Caves 

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Emmet
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1935488 2023-01-31T03:29:20Z 2023-02-03T12:27:58Z 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. 

Arrival
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
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! 

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Beth
tag:ccbgfamily.com,2013:Post/1930206 2023-01-18T02:07:30Z 2023-01-18T15:55:44Z It's Not All Roses Over Here...

We’ve been quiet recently and inquiring minds want to know. And I figure the truth is that if we completely leave out this part of the trip, then we would be lying – both to the small outside world that cares and to our present and future selves. As partially expected, leg two of the trip has not gone as planned. Why that is the case is a concoction of variables that end up adding up to a big fat ‘meh.’ So here it goes.

Hoi An is a small town on the east coast of Vietnam, right in the middle of the country, a bit south of Da Nang. It is known as a romantically colored (and highly touristed) town, with sprawling rice fields, faded yellow colonial buildings, and lanterns dotting the town and the boats that wind through its river. It truly is magical – that is, when it’s not raining.

The draw for us was its size. Compared to Chiang Mai, we thought it would be small and welcoming, we could find community quickly, and we could take advantage of having bikes and spend leisurely afternoons wandering through rice paddies and venturing on bikes to the beach. There truly have been a couple of days like this.

But the real story is this. It is winter here. You would think that 60s/low 70s (low 20s) would be warm enough, but it’s just too windy and rainy. You can’t bike during those times. No one, I repeat, no one is at the beach. The cute collection of restaurants and shops at the beach is a hollowed-out ghost town. The Vietnamese government changed its visa rules since Covid, so travelers can only get 30 days entry into Vietnam. That means that Hoi An basically cleared itself out of foreigners – one person told me it once had 4,000 long term expats, and it has now dropped to 300. Finally, we are here before the big new year holiday of Tet, when people take off and go visit family for long periods of time. It feels empty or like the town doesn’t have a center of gravity. The end result is that we just can’t get a foot in here – we go to a restaurant, no one is there. No activities are happening. Where is everyone???

And then there is the house. It should be awesome, shouldn't it? Look at this pool, and our cute bikes and scooter!

But there just have been SO MANY ridiculous things. This will bore you to tears, but we just had to have a repository to store the mishaps of this house.

  • No blankets, not enough sheets, no lamps, no side tables, no towels, no cleaning supplies
  • No hot water
  • Water stops altogether
  • Small centipede on couch
  • Electric shock from microwave
  • Can’t turn TV volume down
  • Power completely out
  • Still no hot water
  • Cockroach in bathroom
  • Low water pressure in shower
  • Shower water never gets to right temperature - either scalding or freezing
  • Large centipede in bathroom
  • Electric kettle breaks
  • Loud karaoke from neighbours every few nights (which is somewhat endearing)
  • Microwave back - shocks Chris again
  • iPad charger tips lightly shock us
  • Large spider in house
  • AC doesn’t turn on
  • Battery compartment corroded in AC remote
  • Rat nest inside AC unit
  • Dead large lizard outside house
  • AC is dripping in neighbour’s yard "preventing chickens from laying eggs"
  • Many spiders inside house
  • Giant grasshopper in living room
  • Tin roof clatters constantly every time it rains 
  • Loud banging on same roof every time wind gusts
  • Landlords speak no English (and our Vietnamese is definitely lacking) so we have to communicate through realtor
  • Chickens and roosters loudly crowing 24/7, dog barks during the night
  • Pool guy shows up 5 times in 2 days
  • No screens on windows so can't open doors because of mosquitos - things in bathroom getting mold all over them 

So we’ve decided to jump ship a bit early. This slightly breaks our hearts, because we know that things will improve with both the weather and the environment after the holiday. That said, when there are enough signs that something isn’t quite right, then it is best to listen to those voices. So here’s the new plan:

  • Hop over to Penang for a 10 day worldschooling hub this weekend
  • Come back to Hoi An for a few days, then venture off on a trip to Hue and Phong Na
  • Back to the house for our final few days and then fly to Hanoi
  • Hang out in Hanoi, go to Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh
  • Fly to Taiwan to visit our dear friends for a couple of weeks
  • Fly to Sri Lanka for 3 weeks
  • Then start our Italy trip (the final leg!!!)

The world is now looking up since we’ve settled on a new plan. And things haven’t been all bad. Obie has finished up his 8th grade applications/assessments, Emmet has found a new passion for poetry (along with photography), Asa has been inspired by the incessant karaoke of this place and pushes for nightly karaoke dance parties where we all go up to the attic, put on a disco light, play music, and sing and dance. Chris has been restarting running training. I’ve done some Pilates and have been exploring a possible academic return. We have times of biking and scootering through rice paddies. We’ve had a couple of sunny days at the beach. We have seen the dragon bridge breathe fire and water in Da Nang and explored some incredible sights such as My Son Sanctuary, Marble Mountain, and Lady Buddha. 

My Son: ruins from the Champa Kingdom in the 4th-13th century, with origins of Indian Hinduism (bombed heavily during the American/Vietnam war)

Marble Mountain: five limestone mountain peaks with interlocking caves filled with Confucian and Buddhist shrines

Lady Buddha and Linh Ung Pagoda

Da Nang, including the fire/water breathing dragon bridge