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Sunday, October 31, 2010

10-day silent retreat starts tomorrow

Hey everybody - We're out of touch until at least November 12th for our ten-day silent meditation retreat here in Dharamsala, India in the foothills of the Himalaya (where the Dali Lama lives).  This is going to be tough!  Talk to everyone soon!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 13, 2010: TWO NEPALS

Nepal has been a journey of extremes from the poverty and assault on the senses in Kathmandu to the human strength and capability reflected in the hearts and flesh of the Buddhist Sherpas. In Nepal we have seen the best and worst of humanity. While in Bali and Thailand we grew to understand more about Hinduism, in the Himalayas we began a journey into the Buddhist traditions. Our bodies experienced 18 days of high-altitude trekking, culminating in a breath-taking heavy-footed height of 18,200 feet. We touched greatness in the form of the two Erics from Boulder...Eric Larsen, who summited Everest days after we visited him at basecamp (and now has fulfilled his lofty goal of reaching the „three poles“ in a year’s time), and Eric Weinmyer (also an Everest summiter), who was leading a group of disabled military veterans to the peak of Lobuche. In our reflections on Nepal, this land of such extremes, we ponder the relevance of Buddha’s teachings of „the middle way.“

Brief History Lesson
The Kingdom of Nepal, as it was known for centuries, is a land that shares a southern border with India, and has many similarities to it's neighbor. Yet, lest we forget, Nepal was never a British colony; and to be sure, it is in a different time zone...15 minutes later than India. In Kathmandu, the capital and historically the heartbeat of Nepal, streets are filled with Hindus donning red tiki-dotted foreheads, brightly colored saris, and men hanging out of suffocatingly packed local buses. Scratching under the surface, though, we find that Nepal is a blending of Buddhism and Hinduism, castes and karma, prayer flags and deities. The city stupas, including Bod'nath near which we slept at the Dragon Guesthouse, are centers of Buddhism, often populated by red-robed bald-headed Tibetan Buddhists, many of whom are in exile. Sidartha Gautama (Buddha) was born in the Kingdom in the 6th century BC, but swiftly left to tour what is now northern India, and it wasn't until the 5th century AD through the marriage of a Nepali King to his Chinese Buddhist sweetheart that the land of Nepal became Buddhist. Oh, the power of love! Nepal went through a protracted dark age until establishing a prosperous trade route through Kathmandu, marking the beginning of the golden age and wealth for Nepal. The centuries-long Hindu Shah dynasty began in the 1700's. The first Shah king, using his ruthless and skilled Gurka fighters, conquered and united all of Nepal, and kept the Shahs in power in varying degrees up until the 1900s. Following this major (and bloody) unification, Nepal cut itself off from the outside world between 1812-1951. In the meantime, up to 300,000 Nepalis fought in World Wars I and II for the Allied troops. Upon opening it's doors in 1951, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa promptly made history with their Everest summit at the height incompatible with life of 29, 035 feet (8,850 meters).
Politically, the now Republic of Nepal became a democracy in 1990, or what would be a decade of corruption under the guise of democracy. In 1998, the communist Maoist party was elected (yes, election of a communist party) with an overwhelming majority based on it's promises to support the people, who had lost any faith and trust in the current „democracy“. The Maoists had been fighting the "People's War" by terrorist means for the last decade. (The U.S. had siphoned billions of dollars to the government of Nepal to fight the Maoist terrorists, the same organization who now hold the power.) Two years later, Nepal still awaits a new constitution draft and the support and services promised.

Brett and I were quite aghast on our arrival to Kathmandu at the physical, social and political conditions. The city is a sprawl of clay brick buildings of no more than four to five stories high in various levels of disrepair and dilapidation. The infrastructure is poor with narrow pitted dirt roads, inadequate traffic control, and crowds of people spilling into streets due to lack of walkways. Trash collection is inadequate, and rolling black-outs of electricity occur regularly. Our first meal, at the Yak Restaurant, was complete with a rat at our feet and roaches crawling across the food preparation area. Although we came out unscathed, we stuck to more upscale joints like Flavors Cafe on the Bod'nath Stupa square. The square was our respite, complete with resident cow, a flock of doves, monasteries, incense-filled air, and elderly women circumabulating the stupa clockwise while turning the prayer wheels and whispering to Buddha, Shiva and Brahman. The social conditions are no better. Trafficking of girls is not uncommon, and women have few rights. Only 33% of women are educated compared to 67% of men, which keeps women at home, in the fields, and subordinate to men. One of the young U.S. tourists, a college student we met along the way, had a frightening experience being pressed between men on a crowded bus and fondled. As we had heard such amazing things about Nepal, Kathmandu was shockingly uncomfortable place to travel, especially for me as a woman. Orphanages that house the clusters of city street children can do little more than put a roof over their heads and provide a diet with little nutritional value. The prospect of providing a bright future for these children are slim. Health care, from clean water, to access to care for the largely rural population, to availability of modern technology and medicine, are pipe dreams for most Nepalese. We found a retired Nepali economist named Ram at the Bod‘nath stupa who publishes a journal called „Quarterly Development Review“. He has, in his retirement, dedicated himself to creating awareness of the social and political issues of Nepal, many aforementioned. He is also accruing Hindu karma points in the process!

Frankly speaking, Kathmandu was a necessary evil en route to our big Himalayan adventure which was to start at the domestic terminal of the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. We were filled with excitement on our way to the airport. Four days later, we found ourselves dragging ourselves out of bed, repacking our backpacks and returning to the crowded and increasingly irritated mob of travelers in the Tribhuvan airport, with little hope that the weather had cleared in our Himalayan destination Lukla, in order to land at the most dangerous airstrip in the world. And to add to our experience, we learned that two planes had crashed in the last two months, killing most people aboard due to poor visibility and difficult landing conditions. The icing on the cake was when we were finally offered the last two seats on a plane to Lukla. On this fourth day (of what was becoming hell), the corrupt man working behind the Nabil Bank counter refused to stamp our tickets to show we had already paid the airport tax. I paid him again, and he took my money and handed me our tickets back STILL unstamped. In disbelief and almost in tears, they escorted me away from the counter. Brett returned, and the crook of a man took even more of our money from Brett before finally giving us a stamp. On the bright side, during these four days we got a chance to get to know Gopal Chetri, our faithful cab driver with the Ganesh charm hanging from his rear-view mirror, who was to be found every morning waiting near the Bod‘nath stupa. He is one of one million Nepali men that has had to leave Nepal at different times to find work. Our proprietors at the Dragon Guesthouse always welcomed us back with a warm welcome and a shared look of pity for our plight. And we made friends with fellow travelers who were stranded with us.


~"Nowhere else are the earth and sky so alive. The glaciers melt, rocks tumble, cold wind cuts through ravines and across bluffs. The Himalayas are an amalgam of growth and destruction, as shifting earth pushes the peaks skyward, and the elements and human activity simultaneously work the earth, the stone, the waters slowly back down, right before the eye."

The fog finally cleared, we landed safely at the Tenzing-Hillary Lukla airport, and we began the journey through the magical mountains of the Himalaya (hima=snow, laya=home/land). I deleted the death note to my parents from the draft section of my e-mail. Brett was ecstatic, with child-like enthusiasm. I felt that we had entered another world, but reminiscent of the crisp, clear, mountain air of home. We marveled at the numbers and heights of waterfalls. We were told by a local that Nepal is second only to the Amazon for numbers of waterfalls. We were joined by our three new airport friends, Scott, Oliver, and Sam, with whom we had commiserated over the last four painful days on the journey upward, through which would be our last cloudy day for the remainder of our trek! (That is, until we reached Lukla at the end of our trek, at which time the clouds rolled in and sat heavy for another four days, grounding the planes.) The next 18 days were to be spent trekking a roughly estimated 100 miles, with the „The Snow Leopard“ by Peter Matthiessen to accompany us on our journey. What follows here are some random journal entries during our days at altitude, engrossed in discussions on Buddhism and spirituality, surrounded in natural beauty, tea houses, the Sherpa people, and some seriously stinky feet. Read: twenty-one days with one shower, two pairs of socks, and Gortex water-proof shoes.

September 27, 2010
The same altitude as the summit of Long's we are in the Himalayas at Luza, 4,390 meters, at Khang Tega View Lodge run by Chumjee, a beautiful Sherpa woman with one gold tooth, traditional grey wool floor-length dress, hair tied back in a colorful scarf, and a Mountain Hardware down puffy. (Brett and I took to calling them "down comfys“). The lodge sits cradled on all sides by hills covered in short grass and stubby bushes, granite rock formations over which a wide gurgling stream passes, traveling toward the 500 meter drop-off toward the roaring grey river below. Flanking the lodge are meandering stone walls meant for the yaks to be contained and feed in the summer months. The sound of cowbells on the wind surrounds us. Above it all, sharp craggy monsters of bright white peaks encircle the hills, the stream, the lodge on all sides, while the hovering misty clouds meander half-way, buttressing the tallest crags.
Chumjee. She is humanity and compassion. As Brett stands, peering out through a clear morning sky, she sidles up to him to share the view, few words spoken. As I ready myself for yoga, she watches, and picks little white down feathers and stray hairs off of my black sweater. She notices me sitting on a hard flat granite wall, and offers me a pad for comfort. She is constantly watching, anticipating our needs. She has a poster on the wall of 25 different deities, which reflects the influence of Hinduism in the Tibetan Buddhism she practices. Village life may be hard, but although suffering may exist, it seems that they are spared the petty sufferings of the "modern" world, the existential angst of having too much choice, the neuroses that come with having too much time to ponder the navel, the creation of problems where none exist.
What is ideal? If one was able to miraculously steer the fate of world cultures, would one isolate them, or enculturate them in western ideals, that invisible shroud passing over the world and homogenizing everything in it's wake?
Tears come easily in this land. Spontaneous beauty, an unexpected smile or act by a Sherpa, finding Brett's silhouette at the top of the mountain, seeing him waving both arms dramatically so I can find him on the horizon.

September 29, 2010
We gained 1.400 feet today. (Maddening, isn't it. I keep switching the unit of height. And so it went for the entire trek-feet, no, meters...) We both have headaches in the occipital region of our brains. We stayed in Luza for two nights since I ended up with a bit of nausea and a decent headache yesterday morning. Some minor headaches are to be expected. Today we stopped by the British-run emergency clinic in Machermo. For 100 rupees, we had our oxygen saturation checked. Mine was 91%, and Brett's was 89-90%. Not bad for above 15,000 feet. Later in the evening, I sit listening to all of the languages being spoken at the tea house, and wish I could speak them all and join in the conversations.
Tea house: A building with simple rooms and a common area attached to a kitchen. Stone on the outside, thin plywood walls and flooring on the inside. One shared squat toilet. Twin beds in the usually tiny rooms with random colorful and often dirty comforter covers. Common area set so that everyone sits on a permanent bench under the windows facing the center of the room, where an iron stove burns dried yak and dzo dung, paper trash, or juniper branches. On the menu: potatoes, eggs, pasta with yak cheese, dal bhat (lentils), sherpa stew, garlic soup (for headaches), and tea. Ginger tea, hot lemon, hot orange, mint, tea with milk.

October 1, 2010
In the village of Gokyo. Pasang, the son of our lodge owner, is a 25 year-old Sherpa who is studying the humanities in Kathmandu, focusing on sociology and computer graphics. He is well-spoken. His goal is to return to Khumjung to teach the kiddos there. His family runs the Lakeside Lodge in Gokyo, and were very welcoming. Brett and I were the only people staying at the lodge. (As a matter of fact, it was pretty quiet and we got a lot of time with the locals all the way up the valley to Gokyo.) Pasang's little sister was charming. A three-year-old Sherpa girl with a squinty smile, squeaky voice singing Sherpa songs, and red circles for cheeks. She is dressed in warm puffy clothes, and walks around observing and parroting everyone. Pasang says he didn't appreciate his home in the mountains until he spent time in Kathmandu. He joined us for yoga on the morning we left, and although a bit inflexible, he took the session seriously and without ego.
This was our second day in Gokyo. We would have left yesterday, but for a failed attempt to find our way across the glacier to Dragnag. Following the (outdated) map, we found our way to the (old) trail, and made it half-way across the lifeless glacier, the trail abruptly ending at a cliff with rocks and ice dripping down the side and surrounded by water. Quite sketchy! Pasang said that he remembers playing on the glacier 15 years ago when it was covered in snow. Now it is a vast wasteland of gray rocks covering underlying ice, interspersed with expanding lakes.

October 4, 2010
Climbed our highest elevation today, Kala Patar, at 18,200 feet! We both have colds, and slept very little last night, waking every few minutes gasping for breath. Brett received a promise ring from his love with the inscription "Om Mani Padme Hum" at the top of a very windy Kalapatar, witnessed by the big peaks...Everest, Ama Dablam, Nupse, Lotse, and various other 7,000 meter peaks. Tomorrow to basecamp to leave a Snickers and a beer for Eric Larsen, who should be summiting Everest this week. Also today, we found a bucket of hot water and shaved. This only happened once.

Om Mani Padme Hum: The Jewel in the Heart of the Lotus. This phrase is spoken millions of times a day, it is cast upon the wind through prayer flags, and carved into mani stone displays. It is at once a proclamation to the powers that be, and a reminder of our ever-lasting journey as we attempt to rise above the temporal human suffering to achieve the diamond-like enlightenment of nirvana. A Buddha is a living celebration of the human potential.

October 5, 2010

Eric caught wind that we were in Gorak Shep and ran down to say Hi! (What takes most people three hours takes him one...badass.) He leaves to get to Camp 3 tomorrow, so we would have missed him. He looks strong. It is said that at the death zone above 8,000 meters, the body begins to lose vital functions and is slowly dying. He is climbing with only five Sherpas. He says his company found five young motivated Sherpas who make Eric feel slow. Eric tells us that while he is doing the Everest step (left foot, breathe, right foot, breathe), one of the Sherpas is skipping along behind him chatting on his cell phone. Eric is very conscientious, doing a lot of the work himself to climb Everest, unlike many others who are not so conscious of the fragility of the environment and of human life. Sir Edmund Hillary may have popularized the Khumbu region of Nepal, but he also spent the rest of his life giving back to the community...building schools, planting trees, creating environmental awareness. Unfortunately, many people have come to Everest in a selfish quest to summit at all costs. Those costs include the environment and human life.

~“Human life is far more important than getting to the top of the mountain.“ Sir Edmund Hillary

October 7, 2010
We take step after step, heavy-chested, as a 25 year-old Sherpa catches us to talk. He is going to market at Namche. He tells us he has a two-year-old. Oh, and he has climbed Everest. Twice. We chat, then he darts up the path, running, leaving us feeling as if we are standing still. The distances the Sherpas travel on foot through these difficult mountains breeds a realization of the capacity of the human body and spirit. And how we haven't reached it.

October 12, 2010
After four days of praying for clear skies in Lukla, the town was becoming crowded with more and more trekkers waiting for the planes to begin flying. We had a flight out today for Delhi, India. We weren’t going to make it. Until a Singaporean woman offered us two seats out on a helicopter. We left at 8:00 am that morning, and arrived in Delhi that afternoon, with a mad rush in Kathmandu in between to return our rented gear and even do a little shopping!

Thoughts on our Exploration of Buddhism:
Buddhism arose in 500 BC through the Pali Canon, as an offshoot of Hinduism. There are many forms of Buddhism practiced throughout Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Nepal, Burma, and Bhutan. The principle components are a belief in reincarnation, karma, and meditation. Through meditation, pursuit of knowledge and moral virtue, ignorance and selfish desire are overcome, the cause of human suffering is removed, and nirvana is attained.

At first blush, Buddhism contains many attractive qualities. It is a peaceful religion. It teaches one to live a virtuous life. It relieves one of the suffering in life, and of the fear of death. It teaches benevolence and compassion. These are the qualities of most world religions. (An interesting observation--during my readings on Buddhism I have found many similarities not only with Christianity, but with Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics as well.) Yet, you really have to believe in reincarnation to be a Buddhist, in the strictest sense. The cosmology of many forms of Buddhism is likewise very complex, and difficult for our rational brains. Also, Brett and I have had many discussions about finding the balance between playing the part of the Buddhist dispassionate observer watching without judgement, and reacting to the emotion we encounter. How do we discover what we percieve as injustice, evil or pain, and not judge? This seems to be a paradox. Yet, what Buddhism seems to say is, that we do not react in the moment, but we find and use our unique talents to unleash on the suffering of the world in a thoughtful way.

No matter, this passage from Matthiessen’s "The Snow Leopard“ speaks to what I feel is the heart of Buddhism and being. Here he is talking about his young son Alex...
„In his first summers, forsaking all his toys, my son would stand rapt for near and hour in his sandbox in the orchard, as doves and redwings came down on the warm wind, the leaves dancing, the clouds flying, birdsong and sweet smell of privet and rose. The child was not observing; he was at rest in the very center of the universe, a part of things, unaware of endings and beginnings, still in unison with the primordial nature of creation, letting all light and phenomena pour through.“

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thailand: Tonsai - Brett

We load up the kayaks with climbing gear, water, and extra food pilfered from the morning's buffet. A 20-minute paddle later we glide up to a rickety bamboo ladder reaching down from the cliff above. We tie off the kayaks and soon I am climbing some of the most fantastic limestone the world has to offer. David says there have probably been a dozen people to ever ascend this route. Cool. A whole wall of 5.8-5.11 routes becomes our playground for the day.

As the week glides along Jenny and I find ourselves not wanting it to end. The relaxation. The yoga. The conversations. The amazing views. And, of course, the climbing. How can we make this last? We certainly can't stay at the Paradise (way too pricey for our budget), but David offers us a tempting alternative. Tonsai – half a day's journey away, is the Thailand climbing that everyone dreams about. We're sold, and with David's copy of the guidebook in hand, we take the boat-boat-bus-taxi-boat journey to what will be one of the all-time highlights of our trip.

Once again we find ourselves hopping over the edge of an old boat, flip-flops in hand, landing knee-deep in a bath-water warm sea. Once again we wonder if this really is our life...

Tonight, as we lay on the deck of the Freedom Bar, staring up at the stars and listening to the waves gently lapping the sand not ten feet away, we contemplate just staying right here for a while. Jenny led her first climb outside today – a nice 5.9 right off the sand. Tomorrow morning she will lead me and our new friends, Jeff and Brandon, in yoga on the beach before heading out for more of the same. And by week's end Jenny will be leading 10b's and following 11a's.

Tonsai is truly a magical place with $6 bungalows, 5.13's on the beach next to the bar, and phenomenally sublime rock. There is so much to explore and so many great conversations to be had sitting out under the stars. Oh yeah, and somehow, in all of this, I seem to have forgotten about the food. Thai food in Thailand is as good as it gets. Absolutely the best food we've had so far. A bowl of coconut milk red curry and a glass of freshly squeezed lime juice will cost you $3. Mango sticky rice for breakfast is about a buck.

The laid back vibe here is perfect and Jenny and I continue our spiritual journey through brave new conversations with other wayward souls. After a rough couple months, my heart is at peace, knowing that I am finally on a path of true discovery. We are approaching the Truth from the fringes and I can feel the faint echoes of ancient mysteries calling out to me – drawing me in.

The monsoon is ending and it is time to head on. Our time here has been all too short. Thailand has been one of those perfect mixes of fun and personal growth, and we head into the next chapter with anticipation. The Tibetian Buddhism of northern Nepal will surely be a fitting follow-on and I can only imagine that the soaring peaks of the Himalaya might just be the perfect backdrop for additional contemplation.

Thailand: Koh Yao Noi - Brett

Not a day apart in three months and we were feeling it. We haven't been shy about the difficulties of being with the person you love 24/7 for months on end, but it was time to do something about it – for real this time. We had about two weeks before we needed to be in Nepal and the beaches of Thailand were a short flight away. Jenny was talking about a yoga retreat or maybe some meditation or maybe going to a tea plantation or... I decided a manly week of surfing in Phuket, maybe followed by some climbing in Krabi/Rayley would be good for me... A week apart. Whoa – this was going to be a change.

I left for the airport with tears in my eyes, already missing Jenny but knowing that this was for the best. I bucked up and tried to look at this as a great adventure and a time to get my mojo back, spend some time doing pretty much whatever the hell I wanted. Surf my ass off. Chill out in a cool beach-side cimbing town. No one to answer to.

As I walk through the Singapore airport I spy a sign, “Free Internet”. Well, maybe a quick note to Jenny would be nice. “At the airport. Missing you.” You know, just so she knows I made it to my flight okay. Some hottie trying to pick me up as soon as I walk out of the airport in Thailand. Casual conversation, but I put the brakes on quickly as she moves in for the kill. (So this is what it's like to travel alone...) Empty hotel room and it's raining – surf is flat. Wonder if Jenny is online. I'll just Skype her real quick to see if she's decided what she's doing yet. Dinner alone. Back at the hotel and Jenny calls to say goodnight. We talk for a long time. We miss each other. I fall asleep restelessly and wake up early. The computer buzzes. Jenny is getting on the next flight to Phuket to go to this yoga/meditation/spiritual retreat on the island of Koh Yao Noi nearby – do I want to join her? I pack my bags and pick her up at the airport – total separation time: just over 24 hours.
The speedboat skips across the glassy surface as a large eagle soars easily above. I smile at Jenny, sillouetted against the setting sun. As we round the corner the roar of the engine softens and we settle slightly into the soft sea. The Paradise Koh Yao Resort comes into view and we glance at each other in disbelief. THIS is where we are going to spend the next eight days? It is perfect. A white crescent of sand with nothing in sight but palm trees and orange sandstone cliffs. We are greeted with a cool wash cloth and an icy glass of lemon juice with sugar. I have a feeling this is going to be a good week.

The yoga studio
 What is it, exactly, that we are looking for? We are at that place in our lives where many people end up eventually. Our basic needs are taken care of. We have good careers. We are financially stable. We have a great group of friends, a ski house in the mountains, and we are healthy. We love our jobs. Why do we feel like there should be something more? “Someone once said that God offers man the choice between repose and truth – he cannot have both.” (Peter Methiason) Which will it be, the red pill or the blue? We chose truth and, in the process, have stripped away the comforts of home and accoutrement of modern life. I tell myself that we can always go back, but can we? Once we have glimpsed a different path, can we return to our former selves? We set off on this journey not knowing where it may lead. To a strange place? Or, just possibly, back home.
The week proceeds with an easy rhythm as Jenny and I are drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery. Our instructor, David, exists within and among and between the machinery of everyday life. We are his only students this week and the days flow by. Our bodies and minds are responding well to the twice-daily sessions of yoga and spiritual instruction, and he joins us most afternoons for climbing, massage, kayaking, cooking classes, mountain biking, and even more soulful discussion. I am discovering a place of stillness in my heart previously unknown to me and, for the first time in my life, my mind is quiet enough to really contemplate – to follow an idea all the way to completion. Jenny's and my conversations become deeper by the day as we immerse ourselves in the ideas of Chopra, Lazlo, Hawkins, Govinda. David's philosophy is probably more Hindu than anything else, but he easily mixes new age spirituality with reverence for the pantheon of the old wisdom. Syncretism – the blending of religions, ideas, philosophies, and immortal truth. I honestly don't believe that anyone has figured out the mysteries of the universe, so this approach is more appealing to me – much more my style. The saints and the mystics of most major religions seem to agree on the basic tenents. It is the details that get in the way. Be a good person. Treat others well. Act with intention and integrity. That's about it. Quite simple, really.

The week slips away all to quickly and suddenly it is time to say goodbye.

David – We came to Koh Yao for yoga and relaxation, wanting more but with little expectation. On our parting you've changed the wind's direction, slightly altering our trajectory. We are learning to listen more openly to the universe. Thanks for providing a sacred space for discovery and renewal. Namaste (the spirit in me honors the spirit in you).

Singapore - Brett

What would you do if you had complete control to develop a nation to your liking? The answer would probably come out looking something like Singapore. Clean, modern, tightly controlled, and very pretty, with an extremely low poverty and unemployment rate; high, stable wages; a good health care system; and a seemingly happy, driven, and well-integrated populace. The city-state's motto is, “Democracy, Prosperity, Peace, Equality, and Justice.” It's a tall order for the racially mixed city made up of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and “Other” (mostly western ex-pats). But Singapore pulls it off with a healthy dose of self-control and a little bit of heavy-handed threatening. You get the feeling that people are aware of the freedom that they have given up (mostly reflected in an inability to criticize the government – or chew gum in public), but have chosen to accept this trade-off in exchange for a clean, safe, and generally very pleasant life experience.

Our time in Singapore was short, but it was a welcome relief from the past three months of dirt roads, pollution, and questionable food. Ah, to drink the tap water! The first couple days were spent wandering around, eating wonderful food (Mmmm – Little India!), finding a great brewery (spicy, bold, “white” IPA with hints of banana and clove – 7% and about 90 IBUs), and sleeping in air conditioning. I even celebrated all this cleanliness by shaving my beard. We were fortunate enough to have several friends of friends in town and really enjoyed drinks and conversation, long runs through the park, and a very insightful look into the ex-pat lifestyle.

This latter experience came thanks to the incredible hospitality provided by Sonya and Ole Jacob and their two beautiful children. Sonya is Jenny's friend Cathy's sister (from her Boulder cycling team) and originally just met us for a run in the very scenic McRitchie Reservoir park. But Sonya took pity on us and graciously invited us come stay at her home for the week which ended up being filled with delightful meals (Ole Jacob's pepper crab was to die for!), good wine, and trips to the swimming pool. We also learned what it took to transplant your family to a foreign country, where you (as the wife) are not allowed to work, and adapt to a strange culture of live-in “help” and international schools. Just what these two weary travelers needed.

The rest of our time in Singapore was spent wandering the National Museum (a great look at the history of Singapore and some insight into how it was “planned” from the very beginning) and the Asian Civilizations Museum (which pulled together a lot of the pieces that we have been learning over our last three months of travel). We perused shops, strolled through Chinatown, took the elevator to the 70th floor of the Suishotel building (what a view!), and walked along the recently renewed riverfront Quays people watching and reflecting on our journey. As always, my mind goes back to the same questions? Where are we going? What are we really trying to accomplish with this trip? I feel like I'm still searching...

And, as so often happens, bits and pieces of the answers start to come when you least expect them. Ambling down a small street next to a beautifully painted temple in Chinatown, we stop in a small shop with some peaceful, soothing music playing in the back. A few words are exchanged with the shop owner and, somehow, an hour later we are still standing there raptly engaged in a deep conversation (via broken English) about the mysteries of the soul and the subtelties of various Buddhist philosophies. I left that conversation with head and heart spinning and a renewed commitment to seeking out more answers, more wisdom, and more Truth. Little did I know what was around the corner.