Tag: travel (Page 1 of 14)

Spirits, banquet, smoke


A stout white tower rises from the mountainside. Sloping blue roof. Lotus fountains and twin temples at the base. We drive through the mist and into the heart of the mountain. Take an elevator up. We are greeted by long corridors of polished wooden cabinets, and the ocean-deep silence of the dead.

We seek my grandparents. We find them. My cousin unlocks a cabinet on the top row, and I can read my family’s name inside. Hello, A-ma. Hello, A-gong.

We speak without sound to the ashes of our loved ones. Their spirits listen. The language barrier doesn’t matter anymore, but still I wish I could offer something more than love and regrets expressed in the wrong tongue. Next time I will bring a note and leave it on the tiny golden shrine.

Next time it won’t be thirteen years since the last time.


Tonight we are celebrating. Celebrating my marriage. Celebrating the long-awaited return of my mother to her homeland. Celebrating four generations and countless branches of family.

Looking around the room, I see my mother’s chin, my grandmother’s eyes, my grandfather’s nose. Pieces of myself echoed in the faces of people I hardly know but fiercely love. Their voices make a strange song, loud and lovely. Their laughter is like wine, loosening my thoughts and filling me with warmth.

The lazy susans spin with an abundance of food. Lightly fried frog legs, and fish simmered in a golden sauce. Gelatinous sea cucumber, and a steaming bowl of abalone soup. Fat pink prawns. Crisp green beans. Soft taro. Fresh-cut fruit. It’s an endless dance of dishes. I’m dizzy by the end.


On Chinese New Year’s eve, we gather at my uncle’s house. My aunt has been chopping and stir-frying all day, and a savory steam fills the air. But before we sit down to eat, my mother leads me and my husband out to the living room. She hands each of us a slender stick of incense and then motions to the family altar. She wants us to bai bai.

My husband looks to me for guidance, but I’ve never done this before. I glance at the dark red lacquered wood, corners carved into dragons. The main shelf is crammed with sculpted buddhas and other deities. Red and jade and gold. There are fresh flowers, and two small urns with sticks of incense already burning. Smoke rises in thin, lazy drifts.

We step forward to light our incense, then press our palms together, trapping the incense in between. We bow our heads in prayer. I wonder what my husband is saying to my ancestors, or if he is speaking to his own.

That’s none of my business. I pull my focus back. I thank, and I ask, and I thank again. My hands rock back and forth, the glowing tip of the incense swaying with them. This is tradition. Foreign and familiar at the same time. Like my family. Like me.

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May in photos

Over Memorial Day weekend, Andy and I traveled to Los Angeles for the wedding of two of our best friends from college. We made a whirlwind vacation out of it, as we often do. Highlights include: The Getty, Santa Monica, the original Los Angeles Farmers Market (which is really more of a food stall market now), a Warner Bros studio tour, Joshua Tree (very cool but a looooong drive), the wedding itself, the Channel Islands, Disneyland, Manhattan Beach, and last but not least, U2 in concert. Enjoy!

I'm not a fan of hot sunny weather, but this guy is. #grumblepup Strange and lovely. #flowers

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And for your listening pleasure…

(Here’s the link for anyone who can’t see or play the embedded video.)

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Berlin and Copenhagen in photos

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London in photos

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60,000 miles

This month, I finally made use of a present that Andy gave me two Christmases ago.


First, I spent a week in England with my dear friend and critique partner Sarah Wedgbrow. It’s been nearly two years since she moved away, and even though we’re constantly in touch, I still miss her every day.

Next, I hopped over to Berlin and Copenhagen to meet up with two of my oldest friends so that we could celebrate our 30th birthdays together. (Okay, mine isn’t until November, but theirs were both within the past month.) Unfortunately I caught a cold, which took me out of commission for a couple afternoons, but I still had a marvelous time.

I feel lucky to live in an era when technology enables me to keep in touch with people I care about, even across great distances. But there’s nothing like that face-to-face connection. There’s no substitute for the sweetness of a child’s hug, or the smell of a Sunday roast. The way my friend’s eyes crinkle when she laughs. The closeness of our bodies crammed onto a single small bed while we whisper about life and love late into the night.

Twice this year, I’ve traveled halfway around the world to spend time with family. Twice this year, I’ve been reminded that family often transcends my definitions. Twice this year, I’ve seen that family is its own kind of magic.

And what is it about getting away that allows us to become closer to ourselves?

By the way, I know it seems like I’m traveling all the time — and truthfully, travel is a priority of mine — but I swear, I do have a permanent address, and I’ll be staying put for a while now.

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