Wednesday, September 12, 2007

news from me to you

Hey loves!

I just put a LOT of photos up. Again, I recommend clicking on the image of the Album, and viewing them in the Details option. The Hangzhou and Beijing Albums are completely new, and the Hong Kong Album has a few added photos.

I also put up a new downloadable class on YogiChocolate, called core :: cardio :: calm. This is a pretty advanced and challenging class, even I cursed myself (calmly, of course) as I took it, so if that’s what suits your fancy, please check it out! And some of you have asked if I receive any of the donation proceeds when you download: YES!

You can otherwise find me on my blog, on my website (there are some new photos in the Gallery, too!), on Facebook (search Leah Kim in the Hong Kong network), or on MySpace. Yes, I’m wildly connected to you all via the world wide web…so no excuses to not stay in touch!

Sending you love, love, and love…Leah.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

11 September 2007: Hangzhou

What a delight it is to travel. I love it. I love what it represents- freedom from predictability, chains, the norm. Literal and figurative flight of the soul. I write to you from the Hangzhou Airport (China). I haven’t been able to post blogs or photos, as those websites are blocked by the Chinese government. At first I thought it was a sketchy internet connection when I couldn’t access those sites; then my friend explained it to me. This is a crazy concept to us Americans, isn’t it…freedom of expression, right?

Hangzhou is a countryside city, with seemingly endless shades, layers, textures of green. The biggest (both literally and representatively) sight is the West Lake, offering stillness, freshness, and reflection (both literally and affectively) (ok, I’ll stop doing that now, I promise) that I received tirelessly. The people here are peaceful and content; the children bounce and giggle and smile contagiously. I captured some of it in some fantastic photos. My absolute favorite photograph from my visit is of the little girl eating cotton candy. She was jumping up and down, exclaiming, “Hao chi, hao chi!” which means, “Delicious, delicious!” You can almost feel her happiness bursting through the 2-D picture. Ah…simple pleasures. Never, ever underestimate the power of simple pleasures. (Tell me, what’s one of yours?)

My 3 days here consisted mostly of strolling, nighttime bike riding, and happily breathing in the freshest air since being out on the waters of Hong Kong. I was told yet again that I was lucky to have uncharacteristically perfect weather for my visit. I’m really starting to think I bring good weather with me wherever I go. Hefang Street can be likened to Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, and this is where my friend Cliff and his wife Karen (who graciously invited me to stay with them) sat for a traditional tea mini-ceremony, ate dragon’s mustache sugary gooey goodness (note: not actually made of dragon’s mustache), and just enjoyed the beautiful Autumn night. We also strolled various areas and parks around the West Lake, including Hubin Road, Beishan Road, and Hua Pu. Most notable was the delicious smell of this flower…the name of which escapes me…but it was incredible, like gardenia or jasmine or the perfect most natural perfume, and it kept popping up all over the city.

One morning I hiked the Hangzhou peaks. It’s a sweet but challenging 2-hour hike climbing 4 main peaks, and offers amazing views of the city off both sides of the mountains. You get immediately thrown into the steepest part of the hike from the bottom of the hill, but it’s encouraging as you hear the city sounds waning, the quiet calm of trees calling, and oh, all the 70+-year old people who’ve already climbed their way before you, indirectly taunting your ego. There’s a whole peak culture. People practicing their various art forms (tai chi, qi gong), teaching lessons, playing cards, reading. It is wildly peaceful and free of tourists. There were moments when I wasn’t sure which way I was going as there are no signs and multiple trails, but I somehow made it to my destination: Lingyin Temple, where sits one of the largest (if not the largest) sitting Buddha statues in China. It was pretty striking, though the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok is still my favorite.

It was a relief to be among spiritual people again. What I experienced of Beijing is pretty devoid of that. In fact, what I experienced of Beijing was pretty devoid of life/aliveness in general. There seemed to be a stagnant, dull, disheartened energy in Beijing. Julie called it soulless, blaming the government for stripping people of their soul when they discouraged creativity and individuality. Even the expressions of children seemed empty. People seemed very much stuck in their daily grind, and I felt a subtle hopelessness permeating their outlook on life. I know my experience was very limited, but this is what I felt when I was there.

Still, I enjoyed my time in Beijing, relishing in the few more days of being hip-to-hip 24 hours a day with my Julie. We did a fair amount of strolling ourselves, visiting Hoahai Lake and walking from home to various parks early in the mornings. We also did a fair amount of feet-dragging, fighting through our laziness that wanted to keep us on our butts at home, away from the crowds, watching Sex and the City DVDs and stuffing our faces with serving after serving of Peanut Bing Sha (icey creamy Chinese dessert…make you jump up and down doing one-handed cartwheels tasty), visiting the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, and the Summer Palace. My favorite was walking amongst the the grandmoms and grandpops at Hoahai Lake. I love sliding in with and catching glimpses of the local lifestyle. Finding ordinary moments within the extraordinary experience of travel and being in a new land. Also, the elderly seemed the most peaceful in Beijing…probably because they don’t have to worry about that dreaded thing called WORK.

Though work need not be so dreaded…so long as you find the proper work for you. Identify your passion…and find a way to turn it into work. It’s what I did, and it makes life so much more fun.

I’m once again flying through the Asian skies, wondering if the clumps-of-powdered-sugar-like clouds I see out the window taste anything like powdered sugar…or maybe like that little girl’s cotton candy (ok fine, or like MY cotton candy; she inspired me to get one too…at 11 in the morning…). My next stop is the motherland: Seoul, Korea. I am psyched to see my family, especially my little brother who lives there and who I think about and miss everyday.

So, til next time, my friends. Byebye!

PS Did anyone notice that the only foods I mentioned in this post were completely unhealthy sugary ones?? It wasn't intentional…but let it be a reminder to allow yourself indulgences here and then…be them of sugar, relaxation, nothingness, yoga, breath…LIFE.

Monday, September 3, 2007

4 September 2007: Beijing

Happy Labor Day, folks (not that we observe that here in Asia)! And greetings from Beijing, China!

Every now and then, I’m awed that I am here: “I can’t believe I’m in China!” But at the same time, it’s just another part of the world with buildings and cars and people doing their life thing. Beijing is enormous, polluted, and congested, but it’s Autumn here, and the weather is beautiful. Sunny, blue-skied days and warm nights just make me happy!

I’ve been reunited with my best friend (aka Sister) Julie for one more week. Even her mom looks at us and tells us we’re like sisters. My mom tells us that too. You know when your own mothers think you’re sisters, there must be some essential sister vibe and likeness between us! This summer together has definitely been a treat, a treasure. I’m staying with her and her parents at their lovely flat; the accommodations and lifestyle are quite different from what I’d grown accustomed to over the past few weeks. Here we have a cook (and therefore home-cooked meals, YEAH!), a driver, a lift, wood floors, marbled counters, stone-walled showers, a view from the 23rd floor, and oh- SPACE!

It’s 7a, and my sleep schedule is mussed, but the beauty of being on holiday is that it doesn’t much matter. I’d been staying up late and waking up later in Hong Kong, but I ended up going full circle one night, so when I arrived here, I started sleeping early and waking early. I’m looking out our huge bedroom window, and can see that the sun is already shining full force, bringing light to the thick layer of smog coating the buildings in the distance. Yikes, and ew. Apparently the traffic and pollution are worse here than in LA, though I haven’t checked official numbers, and apparently even if I did, it wouldn’t be accurate because the numbers are manipulated.

My entire body is throbbing right now because I climbed the Great Wall yesterday, followed by a 90-minute ass-kicking, energy-sucking, sweat-mongering Bikram yoga class. Ok, so there was also a full-body massage thrown in there, but I still had an exhausting day! The Great Wall was pretty amazing. Julie and I got up at 6a because we wanted to get there before the heat and crowds settled in. We spent a couple hours on the Wall and only saw 2 other people during that entire time. Unbelievable…we had the Wall to our silly selves! As we were on our way out, the crowds started coming in, and I understood how special it was that we were able to have quiet, personal, quality-time without other people.

Not that I don’t like other people, but you know the effect that busloads of tourists have on your own tourist-experience!

Likely the most massive thing I’ve ever seen, and snaking its way through equally massive mountains and land, I kept thinking about how you could see the Wall from space. Talk about perspective on just how little we are in the scheme of the world.

Speaking of the world, it looks like I’m going to be on this side of it for awhile longer. I’m absolutely in love. I spent 5 weeks in Hong Kong and will spend the next month traveling China, Korea, and hopefully Japan, and will return to Hong Kong thereafter. I’ve realized it’s actually not just a big city of concrete and neon lights after all. My misaligned, limited, initial perspective has been thankfully corrected, mostly by the hours and hours I’ve spent on my friends’ boats: sunning on the deck, floating in the ocean, and climbing waterfalls. Comprised of 200+ islands, jungles, and harbours, coming upon the best weather of the year, and being the international travel hub of Asia, Hong Kong is now one of my favorite places in the world, and has unexpectedly begun to feel like home.

I am relishing in my somewhat-spontaneous, fully-intuitive decision to journey out here. It’s becoming another example that you simply cannot go wrong when you follow your heart. My dad inspired me to live that way when I was deciding what to do careerwise, searching for the balance between contributing to the world and contributing to my bank account. He said for me to follow my heart, and everything else, including money, would fall into place. I live by my heart, and I can tell you that it’s incredible what manifests.

So that’s your yogi homework for today: Follow your heart, in whatever capacity makes sense for you right now.

Xie xie (Thanks) for reading, and even better, for sending me emails with stories and pictures from home. I heart Asia, but I do miss you. xx