adventures

Intersection of Two Dreams: San Francisco & Southeast Asia

A city is a set of opportunities and possibilities. [San Francisco, CA | 3.21.17.]

A city is a set of opportunities and possibilities. [San Francisco, CA | 3.21.17.]

Standing one week in between the city of my dreams and an island of mystery, this is an ode to San Francisco, the city I have loved.

I fell for you the first moment I touched your rain-kissed city streets, soaked in your seaside sunshine, and tasted your crisp ocean air. Something deep within me remembered you.

I remembered the wind howling as my great grandparents sailed across the Pacific Ocean towards you. I remembered the newfound hope they felt when they saw you. Courageously leaving everything they knew in China for an unknown but promising life here.

Growing up in Arizona I always wondered why artists sang so many songs about Cali. Californians who would visit would have this air about them like, "this is cool but you don't even know." 

I remember writing in my diary in middle school about my first trip to San Francisco Chinatown where I was so excited to meet my "asian homies". 

Imagine my surprise when I did make it to Chinatown and I didn't fit in. I realized how ABC - American Born Chinese I was.

That didn't stop me.

I loved the culture, the food, the creativity, the treasure-hunting, the exploring, the art, the diversity. I couldn't put it into words but I could feel the vibration.

"Double Rainbow", Edwin Church [DeYoung Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, CA]

"Double Rainbow", Edwin Church [DeYoung Fine Arts Museum, San Francisco, CA]

In college I was clear I would move here. I wanted to do fashion design and saw SF as the spot. Any opportunity to be here, I came. But after one Spring Break trip and a series of unsuccessful interviews, I realized it would take more than a lofty dream to make it here. So I deferred my dream and spent three years focusing my efforts on making a difference in my own local community, Phoenix.

Then in May 2014, a job opportunity fell through and I had space to dream again. 

My wise mentor said, "Isn't this exciting? You get to pursue your dream of living in the Bay Area."

I remember exactly where I was and how my heart felt when she said that.

It was as if my future self pointed her finger directly at the center of my being and said, "GO."

For the next 3 months, I worked 80 hrs a week to save money for the voyage. I didn't even have a job lined up but I was hellbent on making it happen. My hustle paid off, just before I made the leap, an amazing opportunity in SF came through.

"Up in San Francisco where the forest meets the bridge." — Foxygen [3.21.17.]

"Up in San Francisco where the forest meets the bridge." — Foxygen [3.21.17.]

Today, I step outside on Bush Street and Webster in Lower Pac Heights for a run. The sun is shining, wind is whispering, the rain has momentarily subsided. I smell the sweet sea breezes and feel the crisp ocean air as if for the first time. 

And I wonder, why am I leaving this place? Off to Southeast Asia for the next several months to chase a wild unknown adventure, to find some uncovered part of me. While Asia is an alluring vision, why would I release this longtime dream?

I made it.

But that's the thing, you can't hold a dream in your hand. This was never MY city, this magical place is for Artists, Activists, Futurists, Lovers of all forms to find sanctuary. Some for a short time while others until the day they die. After being here for the last three years, I can see that SF is a sanctuary fighting for its soul. SF is the most expensive city in America but it isn't immune to real suffering: privilege, prejudice, and gentrification threaten the very culture we are all enchanted by. But SF is rooted. It was fashioned by love, founded in justice, and it will survive.

San Francisco is a survivor. A beautiful one at that.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA 

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA 

And so I soak her in, I receive her majesty. I accept her suffering. I cherish her resilience. I celebrate her optimism. I feel for and fight for her existence. I honor the hope she has given so many immigrants and dreamers like me.

Thank you, San Francisco, no matter where I grow, I will forever love, believe in, and dream of you.

SFondly yours, 

Kelsey Lotus Wong

---

My SF Treasure Chest for those find themselves in San Francisco:

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO:

  1. Ecstatic Dance Bay Area - Wednesday nights in Oakland and Sunday mornings in SF. Go to the SF one at The Church of 8 Wheels it's beautiful. They have yoga at 10am and dance from 11am-1pm. https://www.facebook.com/ecstaticdance.sfbay/
  2. Golden Gate Park - it's huge and incredibly beautiful, go for a long full day exploration by foot or bike. There are a few museums next to it including the DeYoung Fine Art Museum, California Academy of Sciences, and the Butterfly Museum. 
  3. SF Museum of Modern Art - one of my favorite museums for stunning modern art from around the world. Free night is Thursday from 6-9pm https://www.sfmoma.org/visit/
  4. Mission Dolores Park and Birite Market - Mission Dolores park is well-known as one of the sunniest parts of SF. People do everything here from yoga to juggling to lovely picnics with friends. I recommend going to Bi-rite Market on the way. It’s a tiny market right next to the park that is quite famous for its selection of fine goods and delicious deli. https://www.facebook.com/DoloresPark/ | https://www.facebook.com/biritemarket/
  5. California Academy of Science Museum - Such a wonder to explore this center dedicated to learning about the natural world. Highly recommend checking out the Night Life every Thursday where the museum is open late. http://www.calacademy.org/
  6. The Center - Tea, Movement, and Community, the Center is a Teahouse open 7 days a week with lots of conscious community events and movement classes. It's right next to the Church of 8 Wheels, which is an old church converted into a roller skating rink that hosts Ecstatic Dance on Sundays.  http://www.thecentersf.com/
  7. Bike Golden Gate Bridge - Rent a bike and ride through Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. It can be a bit challenging with the hills and fierce wind on the bridge so be prepared! Pack a lunch or stop in Sausalito for some lovely views and take the ferry back. I rented a bike once but usually I have my own bike. Many visitors use Blazing Saddles or Bay Area Bikes. You can also do a Segway tour of the city which is super fun. https://www.blazingsaddles.com/san-francisco/routes-tours/self-guided-tours/bike-bridge-sausalito-tiburon
  8. Chinatown - such a fun place to walk around, people watch, and eat. It's quite dense and full of color and mystery. If you like Chinese Food I highly recommend eating at R&G Restaurant. The crab is amazing!! http://rnglounge.com/
  9. Favorite Neighborhoods - Mission District - this is my favorite arts district of SF and a truly eclectic intersection of Mexican barrio meets hipsterville. Take a bus or LYFT and tell the driver you want to go to Mission St and Valencia and you’ll find many beautiful blocks to wander. Another favorite neighborhood is Haight-Ashbury, which is more of a Burning Man meets flower child spot. Its fun to explore vintage shops and cafe's.
  10. Favorite Juice & Tea Shops - Samovar Tea (all time favorite!) especially their turmeric tea latte and Ocean of Wisdom tea. The one in the Mission has a delightful egg jar with brown rice, sprouts, salmon, and sprouts! Beloved Cafe is new and I hear really a treasure as well. https://www.samovartea.com/https://www.belovedsf.com/

SOCIAL INNOVATION + DO GOODER COMMUNITIES:

  • Starting Bloc - highly recommend this social innovation institute. Sign up for their email list and apply for a future institute: http://startingbloc.org/
  • Hive Global Leaders - An amazing network of world shapers and do gooders, they host regular global leaders programs in SF - http://hive.org/

ART & CULTURE COMMUNITY EVENTS:

GENERAL BLISSREGARD: VIETNAM

The only way to tell the adventurous tale of Vietnam is through food. In Vietnam, every region has it's own dish and every dish has a story. For the Vietnamese, eating is more than curbing hunger; it’s a way of life.  Instead of “Hi, how are you?" locals greet each other with, "Ăn cơm chưa”, or “Hey, have you eaten?”

My travel companion and SEAsia Sista, Vickie’s Mom grew up in Saigon and she gave us an epic list of must-try regional dishes. We started our travels in the city of Hanoi where we were transfixed by “Bún chả”, grilled pork (chả) over white rice noodle (bún) with herbs, fresh greens, and dipping sauce.

Bún chả, Alleyway, Hanoi, Vietnam

Bún chả, Alleyway, Hanoi, Vietnam

In Hanoi, we also enjoyed miến lươn (eel noodle soup) with miến (cellophane noodles), fried lươn (eels), fried shallots, bean sprouts and Vietnamese cilantro with tasty donuts.

Miến Lươn, Hanoi, Vietnam

Miến Lươn, Hanoi, Vietnam

From there we toured Cat Ba Island. Largely untouched and wild as ever, Cat Ba Island is a true jungle gem. Right alongside one of UNESCO's New 7 Wonders of the World, Halong Bay, Vickie and I found ourselves kayaking, exploring, and discovering Cat Ba in nearly complete solitude. 

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

"Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

"Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island, Vietnam

Monkey Island, Vietnam

SEAsia Sista's top three dishes in Cat Ba Island:

1.) Seaside feast with the most gracious Vietnamese family.

The Captain caught a fish while we were kayaking and his wife cooked it up aboard the ship. She made fresh papaya salad, rice, and pork with hoisin sauce. Later, their five year old son, Kai also fed us fresh clams as a snack.

Homemade Seaside Feast, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Homemade Seaside Feast, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Kai feeding us fresh clams!

Kai feeding us fresh clams!

2.) Banh xeo (bahn SAY-oh)

A popular street crepe throughout Southern Vietnam made of shrimp, pork and served with greens. You roll the banh xeo up in a leaf of lettuce with nuoc cham dipping sauce then pop it in your mouth.

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe), Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crepe), Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

3.) Garlic, lemongrass crab and fresh papaya, peanut, and squid salad served at the Full Moon Restaurant (Vickie so happy!).

Full Moon Restaurant, Cat Ba Island

Full Moon Restaurant, Cat Ba Island

Next, we visited an Ancient riverside town in Vietnam called Hoi An, which was an absolute treasure! We stayed at Leaf Homestay, hands down our favorite spot. It's a beautiful four bedroom guest house run by an amazing family.

For $14/night you can have your own private room and bathroom with A/C. It also includes your choice of breakfast. Our go-to was homemade pho, banana rice pancake, and mangos with ginger tea. They also have bikes for you to ride around town and a lovely orchid garden. We had planned to stay two days but upon the first we changed it to five. 

Breakfast pho,  Leaf Homestay , Hoi An, Vietnam

Breakfast pho, Leaf Homestay, Hoi An, Vietnam

While there, we discovered the famous Cao Lau Noodles only made in Hoi An.

The first ingredient that had us salivating was their char siu pork — Cantonese-style barbecued or roasted pork, seasoned in a five spice marinade. The Char siu was accompanied by an array of fresh locally grown mixed greens including fragrant mint, basil, Vietnamese fish leaf, rice paddy herb, crisp lettuce, and shrimp chips. All this atop the turmeric-marinated Cao Lau noodles with crispy bean sprouts.

Delicious! 

Cao Lau Noodles, Hoi An, Vietnam

Cao Lau Noodles, Hoi An, Vietnam

The other dish we died happy eating was "banh bao vac" or White Rose Dumplings. Another Hoi An specialty, the little white roses are made from translucent white dough, filled with spiced minced shrimp or pork and bunched up to look like little white roses. These darling little dumplings, come topped with crispy shallots and served with a unique dipping sauce made of shrimp broth, hot chilies, lemon and sugar. We could’ve had five plates each!

White Rose Dumplings,  White Rose Restaurant , Hoi An, Vietnam

White Rose Dumplings, White Rose Restaurant, Hoi An, Vietnam

We also loved wandering the ancient streets of Hoi An's Historic Oldtown District. There we saw festive lanterns of every size, shape and color. On the night of the full moon, we took a boat ride across the canal and lit floating lanterns with our intentions for the year ahead. 

Oldtown, Historic District, Hoi An, Vietnam

Oldtown, Historic District, Hoi An, Vietnam

In Oldtown, we were delighted to discover Reaching Out Teahouse. Reaching Out Vietnam was founded in 2000 with a vision of providing opportunities for people with disabilities to learn skills and gain meaningful employment. In 2008, they created a teahouse with the intention of enjoying the beauty in silence. Guests are encouraged to whisper.  

Another experience Vietnam is known for is it's tailor-made attire. Vickie and I had traditional Ao Dai dresses and silk pants made at Duna Tailor where the staff really went out of their way to ensure we were happy with our fitting.

Tailor-made traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai dresses

Tailor-made traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai dresses

Finally, our last stop was Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon. Damn that city moves! Everyone from teenagers to grandmas strap in, mask on, riding through those crazy streets. I witnessed a family of five fit on ONE motorbike and another with an 8 foot sheet of glass wedged between two people. Safety first!

The Vietnamese leg of our journey ended in style with Vickie’s cousin's wedding. I had no idea what I was in for. With three days of ceremony, it was the most elaborate affair I have ever been to. Truthfully, I didn't understand most of it but the food I understood. We ate our weight in banquet-style dinners (typically 8 courses each) and even though I probably gained 10 lbs, I would do it all over again. 

This was truly a once in a lifetime experience and at first, we jokingly called it "General Disregard." In Vietnam, it is encouraged to throw your trash on the floor after enjoying your meal. It is normal to see someone pee on the side of the street ("General Pissregard"). Families of five get from point A to point B without helmets on a single motorbike. 

But by the end of our trip, the "General Disregard" transformed to "General Blissregard." The Vietnamese could care less about social status. They are focused on everyday survival and the simple things in life. As Westerners, we are conditioned to think we've got it all figured out and yes, we have historically had more freedoms and material goods, but the Vietnamese place value on what's real. 

Floating in "Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Floating in "Mergoddess Cove", Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Riding through jungle islands on motorbikes, floating in a peaceful paradise, enjoying a steaming dish of hot rice noodles and dumplings. These were the moments of bliss that reminded us not to sweat the small stuff and to enjoy what we have here and now.

Special thanks to Infinite Mirror Mirror Sister Sister, Vickie Lau for planning this extraordinary, unforgettable adventure. Traveling together and getting back to our roots is something I will treasure forever. THANK YOU. 

Check out the full Vietnam photo album on Facebook and next time you're heading that way hit me up!

In bliss, your Southeast Asia Sista,

Kelsey Lotus Wong

Stop Wishing + Start Doing = Southeast Asia

For three years I was a broken record about Southeast Asia. When I left my job at CO+HOOTS I vowed to travel there. At every global impact conference I attended, my ask was for recommendations for fellowship opportunities based there. It was to the point where I was becoming “the girl who cried Southeast Asia” and never did anything about it.

Then in November 2016, one of my dear friends, Vickie told me she was planning a trip to Vietnam for her cousin’s wedding in January. She had known it was a dream of mine to go and asked if I wanted to come. “HELL YES!” I said. She followed up with, “and what about Thailand too?”

The rest, as they say, is history.

One month of epic adventure and new discoveries.  Two weeks in Thailand, two weeks in Vietnam. Another friend, Anna aka Disco Squirrel Queen joined us for the first leg of the journey in Thailand. 

We named our trio the Infinite SEAsia Sistas (full name: Infinite Mirror Mirror Same Same Sister Sisters) and spent weeks planning it out. When I say we planned it, the credit really goes to Vickie. She is the MVS (most valuable sista) in this lineup. Words cannot express my gratitude for her in launching this vision into action. She researched every city, booked every hostel or Airbnb, found our transportation and flights. She is a true pro with a passion for travel and it shows!

Paying tribute to the MVS (Most Valuable SEAsia Sista) Vickie Lau! For making this trip happen. 

Paying tribute to the MVS (Most Valuable SEAsia Sista) Vickie Lau! For making this trip happen. 

Though one month, in the broad spectrum of things doesn’t sound that long, when every day is completely different and you travel to eight cities, it feels like it’s own lifetime, a crack in the Universe.

And that’s exactly what this experience has given me, a glimpse of life beyond America and Europe.

I felt the call years ago and it took a series of fortunate events for it to come to fruition. I realize the timing was even more divine because I wrote a post in December 2016 where I made a call out to the Universe, I said "Something is missing: ALIVENESS. I want to swim in the ocean of this deep blue mysterious planet and be swallowed whole by bliss. I want to sit at the edge of the known world and make eye contact with the unknown Universe."

To say I feel blessed is an understatement. 

The true gift of this is less about the sights themselves, it's about believing in the POSSIBLE. It's about listening to your callings, sharing your visions, and to keep pushing to make your dreams a reality. 

Okay, you get it. Now what about Thailand??

Thailand has become a major tourist destination and there is a reason. Culturally, it is a place of sheer wonder. Geologically, the area is lush, the food is fresh & juicy, and the cost of living is amazingly low. Beyond that, the Thai people are such a joy to be around. They are gentle, communal, and unbelievably welcoming to travelers.

Highlights included:

Going from Urban Asians to Jungle Asians.

Going from Urban Asians to Jungle Asians.

Bathing baby elephants at the Elephant Rescue Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. 

Bathing baby elephants at the Elephant Rescue Sanctuary in Chiang Mai. 

Visiting heavenly temples including Wat Pho in Bangkok and Doh Suthep in Chiang Mai.

Visiting heavenly temples including Wat Pho in Bangkok and Doh Suthep in Chiang Mai.

Exploring tropical florals at the Chiang Mai Flower Garden.

Exploring tropical florals at the Chiang Mai Flower Garden.

Coconuts on coconuts and in this case a delicious coconut curry inception! NOM NOM NOM.

Coconuts on coconuts and in this case a delicious coconut curry inception! NOM NOM NOM.

Setting New Year's intentions and lighting up the night sky with so much love.

Setting New Year's intentions and lighting up the night sky with so much love.

This experience has activated a whole new way of seeing, being, and living. So much so that it has inspired me to return. I plan to go back in April!

Stay tuned for my next blog post on Vietnam and check out the full Thailand Album on my Facebook

Whatever you do, don't stop believin',

Lotus

The journey is the journey. Iceland 2016.

I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.

— Mary Anne Radmacher

Wow, what a journey. I am returning feeling totally LIT UP inside.

My affirmation | mantra | intention for this adventure: SURRENDER TO THE MAGIC.

 Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

 Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

For someone who likes to take the lead, is paid to plan, and considers herself the captain of her soul, surrender is harder than it sounds. 

Lucky for me, I had the freedom and privilege to totally surrender as I traveled with a longtime Icelandic expert and Aurora Chaser (one who seeks out and photographs the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights), Jamen Percy.

An International Award Winning Photographer, Designer, Dreamer and Doer, Jamen is magical. But his magic doesn't just happen, it takes intense dedication and persistence to master the art of Aurora chasing. With 10 years of experience and a lifetime of passionate curiosity for art and wildlife, Jamen has become dialed into the natural and modern worlds. I'm convinced he's part jaguar. 

 Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

 Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland

Jamen and I met at Burning Man one serendipitous sunrise two years ago. I walked by wearing a vibrant rainbow fur coat and he was shooting his, What is Burning Man? Project where he profiled 100 Burners and asked them the age old question, "What did you come to Burning Man for?". He asked us to each choose one word.

My word was: DEEPENING

We stayed in touch and this year at Burning Man we did another photoshoot together, which was definitely a highlight of my burn. I was especially grateful for his epic shots because I didn't take a single photo. I did this purposefully to be fully present but that also meant I left capturing the experience up to chance. 

After the burn, Jamen casually invited me to go Aurora chasing, it was one of those, "oh if you're ever in town or have a week off and nothing to do you're welcome to join me!" and though I'm sure he was sincere, I doubt he thought I'd take him up on it ;].

Life is either a great adventure or nothing.

 — Helen Keller 

With an invitation like that, even if it was more of gesture, felt like a full-bodied HELL YES to me.

So I said "YES" and we made plans. Little did I know, Jamen spends 6 weeks a year in Iceland chasing the Aurora every year. He even started a small company that leads tours called Aurora Chasers. No big deal, right? And all I can think is --->>>WHO ARE YOU???!!!

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

— Confucius

Fast forward to 10 days in Icelandic, Viking territory and all I can say is, the journey is the journey.

It was never about the Aurora. 

It was about getting lost in the majestical and experiencing moments of highly potent bliss. 

Black Sand Beach, Vik, Iceland

It was in the pure joy I felt galavanting across the black sand at Vik Beach.

Myvatn Nature Baths, Iceland

It was in the deep peace and serenity I felt floating in the geothermal hot springs at Myvatn Nature Baths. 

Hverfjall, Lake Myvatn, Iceland

It was meditating in the snow of the Hverfjall volcanic crater underneath a blank canvas sky.

It was Zumba dancing with Yule Lads (Icelandic version of Santa only there are 13 Yule Lads and they are part troll part human!).

It was seeing the human within the superhuman. The diligent, behind the scenes work of capturing just the right lighting at Grjótagjá, the geothermal lava cave. 

BT7A3528.jpg

And waking up in the wee hours to line up the perfect shot of a starry midnight production at sea.

The word "passion" comes from the Latin root "pati", which means "to suffer". To a man as passionate as Jamen, suffering for his art is minimal in comparison to capturing the great wonders he sees and the awe he hopes to inspire.

For me, this journey was about filling my love cup up until it overflowed, gushed even.

It meant COMING ALIVE and allowing myself to be RAVISHED BY LIFE.

I often say my end game is to live a life rich in life experience and I don't take that commitment lightly. Yes, I have a strong sense of purpose, a grand vision, I want to make a difference and do work that matters in the world.

I also want to surrender to the magic, knowing we are only promised this one wild and precious life.

So the questions is, what will you do with yours?

At present, my passion is travel and adventure. Not to see sights, but for the education. It's about being challenged, taking risks, expanding my comfort zone, and making eye contact with the unknown universe.

So whatever it is that is calling your spirit, whispering ever so softly or maybe maddeningly loudly to your sweet soul, answer it. And when someone invites you (however casually) on a once in a lifetime opportunity, I implore you to say YES.

DISFRÚTALO (enjoy it!)

With love and gratitude,

Lotus

*All photography by Jamen Percy, Badass Aurora Extraordinaire.