The Land of the Rising Sun

 

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Hi Friends,

I have just returned from a beautiful trip to Japan where I got to visit my brother with two of my best friends, Megan and Renee. We stayed in three different cities—Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka and did a few side trips to more rural areas as well. Before arriving in Japan, I had this idea in my mind of what Japan would be like from various media sources…the temples, food, people, architecture…but as I was telling my brother on our first night in Tokyo, Japan FAR exceeded my expectations in every way.

What’s That Smell?

I vividly remember meeting Ezra outside an Excelsior café after getting off the bus from Narita airport and smelling a fresh, clean, slightly soapy scent. At first I thought it was a new cologne of Ezra’s, but then I realized that it smelled like that everywhere. One of my favorite things about Japan was how clean and polished everything was: the streets, the buildings, the public transportation, the toilets, and the people. They value tidiness so much that they purposely don’t have trash cans in public spaces so that there isn’t garbage outside. I don’t think this idea would work in an American city like L.A., crap would be everywhere, but man does it work well in Japan. Another cool thing under the cleanliness theme is their bidet toilets. They are everywhere, even at a bathroom at the top of a mountain. I was really excited to try it, but we stayed in hostels and I didn’t feel comfortable using it since we had shared bathrooms. However, my brother tells me that the bidet’s are absolutely life-changing so you should try it if you go to Japan. 

Fashion and Independence

The people in Japan are super stylish and I was entertained just by staring at people on the metro because of how sleek and elegantly they dress. One cultural aspect that Ezra shared with us is that it is normal for children as young as six take public transportation and walk around the city by themselves. While Japan is a more community-minded culture compared to the U.S., they highly value independence and this shines through in letting their kids navigate by themselves. The students wear uniforms and little children on field trips wear adorable colored caps to show that they’re part of a school group. A big difference is that Japan is also a very safe place and I felt secure and respected by people the entire trip.

Another cool thing is that there are public restrooms in most places, so you don’t have to slip into a restaurant bathroom or pay to pee, like if you were in Europe. Despite Japan’s many cutting-edge qualities, one of the darker sides of their country is their intense working culture. Apparently its pretty normal to put in a 60-hour work week but I have no personal experience in the matter. 

7-Eleven

Never have I ever eaten at a 7-Eleven in the U.S. and nor do I plan to anytime in the future, but the food quality of 7-Eleven’s in Japan is pretty darn good. We would stop in for fruit, a warm dumpling, cute Japanese snacks, or onigiri (triangle-shaped rice/seaweed sandwiches). These stores are virtually around every corner so you never have to worry about hunting for a snack. Some of the foods we ate in Japan: ramen, pork dumplings, udon, okonomiyaki (pizza-like savory pancake), curry rice, shabu shabu, dorayaki (red bean pancake), The real mochi, and my personal favorite…matcha flavored soft serve ice cream (truly a divine creation and something you must try). I will say that Japan is a tough place to be for vegans. Megan is vegan and we were fortunate to come across some good vegan restaurants, such as Ripple and T’s Tan Tan, but it was a bit of a challenge and requires some planning ahead. 

Zen Mode

Tokyo is the most populated city in the world. Despite this fact, I felt very at ease and comfortable amidst the high density of people. There is something so streamline and pleasant about Japanese cities that I think has a lot to do with the deep respect and consideration people have for each other. Even when you are packed in the metro like a sardine, they respect your personal space and exude so much kindness. This approach seriously needs to spread its influence to each and every corner of the world because we all would be better off. 

In our ten day trip, we did a lot. On average we walked ten miles per day by wandering through various parks, markets, and temples. One of my favorite things that we did was climb Mount Takao. It was a serious and consistent uphill climb, but the sun was shining, the fall leaves were out, and all the way up the mountain were markets and food stops where you could revive yourself with fried rice balls, warm dumplings, or some soft serve. Walking through the Bamboo Forest was also a special experience because it was my first time witnessing bamboo trees of that height. Just next to the forest we came across this gorgeous turquoise river with traditional boats floating past as the fall leaves drifted in the wind. 

In Kyoto, we stayed at a hostel in which our room consisted of three futons on the floor for us to sleep on and a skinny side part where we squished in our bags. It was not the comfiest sleeping situation, but made for some good quality time with my girls. One thing Renee and I did in town near Osaka was go to an onsen. Going to the onsen is a social outing for the Japanese. It is something you do with your friends or family and is very normal. At the onsen, there are several hot water baths indoors and sometimes outdoors too. The onsen’s are separated by gender and everyone is completely naked. Renee and were the only non-Japanese in our onsen and everything was in Japanese, but we managed to navigate okay. The baths and supposed to be very good for your skin and have healing qualities. It was both of our first times and I liked it honestly. Got in some good bonding time and sweat all the toxins out of our bodies. 

We came across a lot of other tourists on our trip, some young couples but mostly families or older people. I felt extremely lucky to do this trip with two very special friends whom I met my freshman year of college in Portland. Kinda crazy to see our progression since then and reconnect in Japan five years later. If you go to Japan, I highly recommend purchasing the Japan Rail Pass online because it was super helpful for us to take trains from city to city and made traveling much easier. I would be more than happy to give specific recommendations too because Japan is definitely a country worth exploring. 

Love,

Manders

P.S. Thank you to Ezra, Renee, and Megan. You are bright stars in my life…whom I love more than words can express. 

 

The Journey

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One day it’ll all make sense…

the tears you cried, the confusion that clouded your mind, the pain you endured…

the curve balls that caught you off guard, the pit stops, the U-turns…

the random encounters and crossing of paths, the heartbreak, the hellos and goodbyes…

This beautiful blend of experiences has colored your unique life…

It has molded you into the warrior you are today…

There is no telling what tomorrow will bring, but isn’t that part of the joy of living?

Darling, there is no need to worry, no need to hurry…

You are the path…

Give your best, do your part, but surrender the rest to that which makes the wind blow.

 

Photo Credits to my friend Johanna while on a trip to Pakistan

 

Bellingham

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Hola amigos,

The Pacific Northwest has a special place in my heart for a few reasons. It reminds me of my freshman year of college in Portland where I got my first real taste of independent living. One of my best friends from college lives in Bellingham, Washington. And it is a nature wonderland with trees of green everywhere.

This was my second time visiting Bellingham to stay with my friend Megan. The last time was two summers ago right before we went into our senior year of college. Each time I visit it seems that it is during a big life transition and each time the trip gives me exactly what I need…clarity and perspective through nature’s healing and quality time with a friend.

One of the days, we did this hike called Heliotrope Ridge Trail with a gorgeous glacier view at the top of Mount Baker and it was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done so far. On some parts of the trail, it felt like we were in Switzerland, the hues of green, lush trees, wildflowers on the mountain, waterfalls and ravines. It was also my first experience doing river crossings. The water was freezing and strong, but thank goodness for hiking sticks and the Cornwell family for guiding me through that one. 

Love,

Manders

 

Stepping Stones

Hola amigos,

I am back on California soil again and happily reunited with the family.

Leaving this wonderful adventure of a lifetime year I had in Madrid/Europe has been difficult. I’ve been experiencing a variety of strong emotions and a lot of it has to do with the sadness that comes with closing a beautiful chapter of life and moving on to the next one. The responsibilities and existential angst of adulthood have been knocking on my door and I feel like I have been questioning every move I make or want to make in life. “Is this what I really want to do?” “Will this make me happy?”

Especially coming off this high of doing something so life-changing and challenging abroad, I find myself asking “What now?” And trying to match that level of newness and excitement that I experienced abroad to my life now has been a detriment to my mental health. What I do next will not be the same and that is fine. It doesn’t mean it will be any less meaningful for my self-development. I am now faced with a blank slate. Time to start over again and build up my life here in SoCal.

I will say that the greatest reassurance during this time of change and transition has been my family and friends. Knowing that I have them to lean on and support me no matter what makes me exhale a sigh of relief and thank God for their presence in my life.

Another thing that has been helpful is remembering to appreciate the journey—the surprises, the stepping stones, and beautiful moments along the way. The rush that we feel to “get there” and achieve our goals is a trick. Life is not a race and sometimes a miracle comes along that re-directs our path in life to an unexpected place, BUT we have to stay open to see it for what it is and receive it.

Saying goodbye in life is hard. Cry your tears, feel your sadness, but remember that there is abundance and good things coming for you around the next corner. We just have to keep moving forward.

Sending you lots of love and I hope that you find peace on your journey!

Love,

Manders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hasta luego Madrid

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11 months. New country. New culture. New life.

Living abroad is NOT all sunshine and rainbows, but things shifted for me when I started embracing it all—the cultural differences, daily challenges, and the messiness. It was here that I experienced a liberation and empowerment that made me feel so connected and alive. I feel like Madrid broke me wide open…almost like a caterpillar going through chrysalis. At times it wasn’t a pretty process, but it freed me and I am eternally grateful for the awakening it ignited in me. Madrid, thank you for teaching me what it means to truly live and love. You were an unexpected blessing in my life and I will forever treasure my time spent here and the amazing people and experiences along the way.

I think the biggest pearls of wisdom living in Madrid/Europe taught me was how to walk through fire, take things one step at a time, and trust Life. When you learn to embrace the discomfort, messiness, unknown, differences, changes, impermanence, etc. in life, something beautiful happens. A lot us, myself included, live our lives anticipating the future, going from one thing on our To-Do list to the next, but we can lose touch with reality and miss the beauty of the Now when we live like that. Showing up fully and doing our best in the present moment will in turn create a beautiful future and all things will fall into place if we do our part.

What I realized since living abroad is that a lot of Americans live in fear. What if this…what if that…and sometimes we’re so concerned with “safety” that we don’t let ourselves live. Yes, bad things happen and life is tough shit sometimes but living in fear is not the answer. There are always solutions and alternative options available to us. We just have to remain calm, open, and grounded enough to see those solutions that are literally right in front of us. We might not get things right the first time around, but we try and adjust. 

Love,

Manders

Apply for that job. Date that person. Buy that plane ticket. Move to that city. Do all the things that scare you, because they’re worth it.

-Unknown

 

Sparkles of Transcendence

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“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.” 

-Nikola Tesla

Hola amigos,

Berlin and Serbia marked my final travel adventure before heading back to California for the summer. This was a very special trip because I spent 3 nights in Berlin by myself and it was my first time as a free-bird/solo traveler. It was definitely a different experience and I did miss having a travel buddy to share moments with, but it was also refreshing to roam free and re-connect with myself. I also loved how rewarding it felt to arrive at the correct place and figure out the travel puzzles by myself. You realize that everything works out, even if it’s in a different way than you originally expected and there are always people on your path who are willing to point you in the right direction.

Berlin is a beautiful city, rich in history, but now I get the feeling that it is a hipster place. It is quite a large and spread out city and I definitely didn’t get to experience everything so hopefully I can return one day again. I went on a walking tour in the city and also did a boat tour, but besides that I preferred hanging out in the Mitte neighborhood, just north of the main center, where I spent 2 nights. There were gorgeous parks where people would sunbathe and relax, rows of cozy cafe’s, and pastel-colored buildings with flowers hanging from the balconies. Being in Germany made me feel very close to my Oma. Even though I was traveling by myself, it felt like she was there with me, witnessing everything along with me. I highly recommend going on a solo trip, even if its just for a night or two. You learn so much about yourself and the absence of a companion can be very insightful.

After Berlin, I flew to Belgrade for 4 nights and met up with Jetso, my friend/former college teammate who is from Serbia. This was probably the most surprising and jaw-dropping trip I have been on. I didn’t really have an idea of what this country would be like, but going into it I was stoked to explore a place off the beaten path. When I arrived at the airport, I felt like I was in a different world—the language, people, and atmosphere was unlike any place I’ve visited in my lifetime. We went out to eat after she picked me up at the airport and I was astounded at how delicious and cheap the food was. We ate a variety of different meats, salad, and THE BREAD, more fresh than anything I’ve tasted in places like France or Italy. 11/10 for food there.

Belgrade is known for their nightlife and even though I don’t like to drink or go clubbing, I went because I wanted to see it. The club was on the river, where there was a row of different nightclubs, and it was open so that you could see the river, castle, and moon. I loved the setting, but I left early because it just wasn’t for me. Earlier that day we walked to the park and just past the park is a castle/fortress. We spent the afternoon lounging at this Tarzan- looking jungle cafe with couches and swinging chairs and it was absolutely divine. There are so many adorable spots to eat/drink and just pass the time with your friends. Along the castle, we watched the sunset on two occasions over the city and adjoining rivers.

Belgrade has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world at night time. Everything is well lit and the mix of architectural styles is marvelous to admire as you walk about the lively streets. We had a nice moment walking through the park to the largest Greek Orthodox church in the Balkan area. One of my favorite moments in Belgrade was having a traditional Serbian dinner with Jetso and her friends where they play live music and surround your table and sing and play guitar to you. Before driving to Novi Sad, we stopped by the Nikola Tesla museum and were in awe of this man and all that he created with electricity and engineering. I had no idea that he was Serbian and I left the museum so inspired. The drive to Novi Sad, a more calm city just an hour north of Belgrade, reminded me of the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. So much green and lush nature! We visited two monasteries in Novi Sad and this sacred water fountain that is supposed to have healing powers. It was so peaceful and serene to experience and a nice break from the craziness of Belgrade.

This country truly is a hidden gem. One thing I will say is watch out for the mosquitoes and drivers in Belgrade, they don’t have an ounce of patience. They were hot and sweaty days, but this was one of my favorite trips so far…a collection of moments that will stay with me forever and inspired sparkles of transcendence in my being. A HUGE hvala (thank you) to Jetso and the people I met who made me feel at home in their country. Until next time Serbia!

Love,

Manders

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Las Palmas

Hola amigos,

I received some sad news last week that my grandpa in the Philippines, my Lolo, passed away. I am grateful that I was able to meet him once during my trip to the Philippines when I was ten and that he is no longer suffering, but a part of me is very sad that I wasn’t able to really know him. My prayers and thoughts are with him, Lola, my mom, and the rest of the family.

The long distances between family is the difficult part about being a mixed race baby with family in Asia, Europe, and both coasts of the U.S. Growing up I always envied my friends who would walk to grandma and grandpa’s house after school or have them at all their sports games and school events. That quality family gathering time just seems so dreamy to me. What is more precious in life than that? I hope one day if I have children, God willing, that they can grow up with their grandparents close by—to be there for all the milestones and transitions life will bring.

While there has been death, there has also been birth too, such is the dance of life… Earlier this week Encarna’s daughter Eva gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl, Lucía. The excitement and pure joy coming from Encarna is radiant and overflowing and it is a pleasure to witness.

Last weekend, I took a little girls trip to the Canary Islands with Renee and Jo. Two nights in paradise at this adorable hostel called The Little Surf House. If you visit Las Palmas, I definitely recommend staying here. The owner is very friendly, its cheap and clean, and its only a few minutes walking from the ocean 🙂

Our main attraction for the weekend was the beach so we spent our days soaking up the tropical sunshine on the beach—toes in the sand, breathing in the glorious scent of the sea, taking pictures, admiring our surroundings, swimming, picnicking, and reapplying our sunscreen. The ocean was a gorgeous turquoise blue, so clear and refreshing. One of my favorite things we did together was hanging out on the rooftop terrace at night under the twinkling lights, just playing cards, chatting about life, and sipping tea. That is the sweet life. 

Love,

Manders

What if I let my worries and impatience and angst about the future go? What if instead, I got excited about the mystery? What if the unknown people, adventures, opportunities, and experiences around the corner made me feel a glow? A glow of joy, gratitude, and faith. How different would my daily experiences be? How much more free and light and relaxed and at peace I would feel if I just surrendered these details and trusted that what is meant for me, will happen in my life. Maybe these “hardships” were meant to make me the woman I am supposed to be? What if these are tests on my path to make me stronger? What if my heart being broken again and again was meant to break me wide open so that I can live with an open heart and an open mind? What if this was all part of a divine plan? What if this is all On Purpose?