The Words I Didn’t Know I Had

I am a Jew. I will always be a Jew. And I am not here to destroy or replace you.

Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 9.49.10 AM.png

Image from US News

This is the image haunting me this morning, and suddenly I am filled with crippling fear.

The high school I attended was 30% Jewish. On major Jewish holidays, a vast majority of the class was absent, and everyone would take a look around and note that it was probably due to the Jewish holiday. There, I felt normal. I felt the same. It was safe.

Santa Clara has a 2% Jewish population. It is a Jesuit school, but the small number of Jews in a vastly diverse population in the Valley still astound me:

“Of Silicon Valley’s 1.7 million residents, only 35,000 or so—about 2 percent—identify themselves as Jews, according to the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose. Fifteen percent—about 5,000—are affiliated with a temple or other Jewish organization. By comparison, Jews in San Francisco represent almost 12 percent of the population. San Francisco has 28 congregations within the city limits; the entire South Bay, with more than double the population, has 21.” (SanJose.com)

I was the first Jew many people at Santa Clara had ever met. I noticed the ignorance at first, but didn’t pay much attention to it until I felt different.

When I was a sophomore in college, I went to Israel on a Birthright trip. When I came back to school in the New Year, I was more in touch with Judaism then I ever had been. The camaraderie and pride I felt was something I wanted to share, not hide. But, when my friend from the trip visited me at school for my birthday, she felt something different. She came back to sleep in my bed before I got home and was met with harassment from someone living on my dorm floor. “There’s a little Jew in her bed,” he kept saying over and over. This, coming from the same guy, (his name is Trey) who groped and harassed me in the elevator Freshman year of college. I had to push him to get him off me.

Fraternity “pledging” came around, and I was sitting in the cafeteria one day when I noticed one of the new Sigma Pi freshman pledges came in with a Jewish star on a necklace around his neck. He had to wear this all week. My heart started to hurt.

jude.jpg

This is what I saw. A flashback to a time I did not witness. I wondered if these people (the fraternity “bros”) truly understood what it was they were doing. A silly “joke” turned my world upside down. This can’t be Nazi Germany. I’m safe, at Santa Clara in the Silicon Valley in California. These people didn’t mean harm, did they?

I went to the Dean of students. I told him what I witnessed and how it made me feel. He promised he’d keep me safe. I felt momentarily relieved.

Junior year I went abroad for one third of the school year. When I came back, my eyes felt opened for the first time. My school felt different. It felt smaller, like it wasn’t part of the real world. At the end of my diversity class one day, after a rather vibrant discussion led by my favorite professor, I checked my text messages. My Jewish friend from home, Hannah, sent me a text telling me that kids from USC (her school) who visited a Concentration camp in Germany were imitating getting their heads cut off and taking pictures of it. I remember the crushing feeling that day as I sat and wept in the classroom in front of my professor. I felt so lost. I knew deep down that those kids could have come from any school, especially Santa Clara. I know this because Black and gay students were frequently kicked out of off-campus parties because… well, because. I distanced myself from a lot of this because it caused me too much pain. I’m sad to admit that I should have done more than I did.

This is why, when people ask me if I liked my school, it’s hard for me to answer. In many ways I did love it, but it’s hard to pledge allegiance to a place that brought about pain to so many people.

But the images in the media are chilling me, even as I pull the blankets closer and closer around me in bed. This all became so real for me today, and reminded me of 9 months ago as I lay on the floor in a fetal position watching the polls roll in, crying.

I want to take action and stand up against these hateful people, but I’m terrified. Nazis cannot be reasoned with and they are extremely dangerous people with intent to hurt and kill. And at the end of the day, I’m the enemy to them – a Jew who needs to be gone from this world.

Burning Man

I sat down to start writing about my week at Burning Man and I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know how to start. It wasn’t until an hour ago when my thoughts finally came to me and I finally understood how this last week impacted me.

I  just finished an interview with Michael Latronica, the man who runs The Center down the street from my house in San Francisco. I was interviewing him to write an article about The Center for Hoodline, a neighborhood-based news site that I am now freelancing for (exciting!). I came to the interview open-minded and ready for a conversation with someone I was genuinely interested to get to know. I wasn’t thinking of it as doing my job, but more about the two of us having a real and honest conversation. I walked into The Center ready for a new experience, whatever it was.

Recently, I have felt closed off to making new connections with people. I go about my day with my head down, probably phone in my hand, just living in my bubble world and hoping that no one talks to me. Burning Man opened me up to the possibility of spontaneity and discomfort, and finding comfort in that newness. I feel more approachable, and willing to approach others with loving kindness and probably a bit too much friendliness than people are normally comfortable with.

Burning Man for me wasn’t about ~~~*eNliGhtEnMenT*~~~~, but about letting go of expectations and being okay with what is happening in the present. This is something I have been practicing in my everyday life with my mindfulness practice, but became a real-life practice for me during the week living in the desert away from distractions and connections to the outside world.

We had an amazing camp, the Post Office, a group of new and long-time “Burners” (a word I am now using thoughtfully, thanks to Kat), that became a wonderful home for me to rest my head at night. I felt supported in the journey of my week and like I truly had a family around me. I acro-ed a lot, meditated, got a massage, had my hair washed (shout out to Shonna), had a photoshoot with a professional photographer, traversed sunrises and sunsets, and gave a lot of great hugs. The details of the week are special to me and those who experienced them with me, and in the hopes that everyone continues to have their own experience at Burning Man, I am happy to share them privately with you if you ask.

After my interview with Michael today, he gave me not one but TWO great hugs and offered me a month of free tea membership at The Center. That to me embodied the magic of Burning Man – unexpected kindness that comes from those that you may least expect.

Acro Yoga

img_1501

It turns out not a lot of people knew that for the past two months or so I’ve been practicing Acro Yoga pretty regularly. It started back in January (while maybe slightly drunk) when a new friend showed me the ropes on some poses during a party. While I didn’t think about it legitimately until this summer, I decided to start taking some real classes on a weekly basis.

I bought a membership to an aerial studio in SoMa – they also have classes for silks or rings. Think acrobatics, mostly. The other part of the studio is for acro which is what I have taken to. I am so eager and ready to learn more and coming to class once a week has been amazing but very challenging.

I got Drew more interested in it as well, which means that he can be the base and I can be the flyer and then we can jam together in the park when he “works from home” some days. We’re having a lot of fun practicing together and learning how to communicate about different movements and flows between our bodies. For the most part we’ve been pretty good… but that’s not to say Drew hasn’t dropped me on my head before.

The main reason I’ve loved it so much is because I think it’s amazing to watch and I’m so inspired by people who are really skilled at it. I love watching YouTube and Instagram videos of pairs of people doing insane things on top of each other’s bodies that I never thought possible. But then again I didn’t think my body could do some of the things that it has learned the past 10 weeks.

I am excited to sign up for a 15-hour weekend intensive to fully immerse myself in acro. It’ll be challenging to keep my stamina and core strong for that long, but I will come out of it so much better (I hope!). For those of you who don’t know what acro yoga is, watch this video. Maybe that’ll be me one day!

Keeping it Real

Shonna pointed out to me that my social media posts made it sound like I haven’t been having a good time on my trip. While I may have made it seem that way, that absolutely wasn’t my intention nor is it true. But her bringing this to my attention made me think more about what I have been posting and how it may have come across.

Not all parts of traveling are rainbows and butterflies and sunshine. In fact, there’s some downright shitty parts of traveling. Literally. I even experienced shitting my pants on this trip. I never thought I’d share that with the general public, but there it is. It wasn’t pretty or fun, but it happened and I survived.

I may not have posted about me soiling myself in the Singapore airport, but I did complain about the heat and bug bites and probably a number of other things. I think traveling can sometimes be glorified as something exotic and magical because people ignore mentioning some of the everyday and rather unpleasant things that occur when you go to another foreign place. Or maybe because people mostly just don’t want to hear it. But it is real and it does happen.

On our last night together in Myanmar, Taylor and I watched the Anthony Boudain “Parts Unknown” episode about Yangon that was fascinating but also bothered me because he made everything look so easy. Things aren’t so simple when you’re exploring the unknown and not everything you eat is going to be amazing! the best ever! life changing! Some shit may make you sick. Or you may be uncomfortably packed into a crowded bus. Or you could get lost or have to spend 15 hours in transit. These things aren’t all so bad, but they’re all parts of what makes travel worth it but exhausting.

Posting about our travels is just one more way we like to glorify our own lives, but I want to try to always keep it real. I did have a wonderful trip, but I also did have some miserable moments as well. That’s just part of life though, right? What’s the ups without the downs?

Signing off from the Taiwan airport now – one more flight (of 3) left to go then I’m home sweet San Francisco!

Most of Myanmar

The week has flown by with a whirlwind of craziness throughout Myanmar. Last week feels like the distant past, but now I fly home tomorrow…

On my first day in Yangon (last Tuesday), I took advantage of an early morning start and visited a pagoda near my hotel. I got chai from a tea room that was WAY too caffeinated before meeting my airport friends for lunch (at the restaurant that had been closed the night before – and ended up having AMAZING pot stickers) even though I was basically high and jittery after drinking the entire glass of tea. I tried to relax as much as possible while getting a foot massage but that was kind of difficult in my state. After that I walked down the street to meet my SF friend Rebecca’s aunt for dinner.

Rebecca put me in touch with her aunt, Ann, who has been living in Yangon for the past two years since her husband works for the US Embassy. She kindly invited us to dinner with her and her friends Tuesday evening, so when Taylor finally! arrived she met us all at the restaurant. The 6 of us ladies all had a great time laughing and drinking wine and eating delicious Burmese food. One of Ann’s friends, Ellen, a true New Yorker Jew, decided to come out with me and Tay after dinner to visit the Chinatown street market. We bought some cheap pants, ate some crickets, and hung out for a beer. It was really fun.


The next morning (Taylor’s first official day in Myanmar), we went to Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous pagoda in Myanmar. It’s pretty big, and you have to go early morning time or else the floors get too hot and it’s hard to walk around. We now like to fondly refer to it now as Sweat-agon.


Taylor got her palms read, we walked a bit around the lake, had a blind foot massage (it was weird and not very good), got a drink at a rooftop hotel bar, and then had to catch our night bus to Bagan.

Night buses are officially the weirdest thing. I think I basically blacked out and couldn’t figure out what day it was after arriving in Bagan. I kept thinking we’d been there for a whole day but we actually arrived at 5AM. The experience itself wasn’t bad though – besides the fact that the movies they played were the worst American action films of all time (Maxtrix 1 and 2, R.I.P.D. with Ryan Reynolds – wtf even is that?!) In the bus station in Bagan we met these two lovely Italian fellows and had our taxi driver take us to a temple (no clue which one – there’s like 726353) to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful and we were basically alone at the top of the temple for an hour. We quickly became friends with ze Italians and made plans for later.


Bagan. Was. HOT. I’ve never experienced 107F before, and I really hope I don’t again for a long time. The heat really wipes you out, and we mostly couldn’t do anything besides spend time in the pool from 11-4PM, which wasn’t so bad. However, our A/C stopped working in the afternoon and we had to switch rooms. I felt high maintenance for half a second but then was thankful for not getting heatstroke.

We napped, met some people from a hostel nearby and got lunch and rented our e-bikes for later. In Myanmar, motorbikes aren’t as common (like they are in Vietnam) and foreigners aren’t allowed to rent them so they rent us electric ones instead. They’re absolute shit. For 5,000 kyat (about $5) you can have it for the whole day, but if it’s one like mine and Taylor’s the tire will pop and you’ll be stranded on the side of the road after sundown. True story.


After our Asian friends “fixed” our bike (aka shoving toilet paper where the tube on the flat tire flew out), we took a different bike back to town and finally sat down for some dinner. As we were eating I saw some of the hostel friends from Yangon walking by and invited them to come join us. We ended up playing quite a few rounds of Exploding Kittens (this has been a BIG hit our whole trip) and invited them to our pool the next day.

The next morning we were supposed to go to Mount Popa with the Italians, but I was exhausted and slept until 10:30 while Taylor went. I have no regrets; it was nice finally sleeping in one morning. I hung out at the pool with our friends for the afternoon then we met back up with the Italians and went around in a shared taxi to a bunch of temples before hopping on a boat to watch the sunset.


For some reason puppet shows are kind of a thing in Myanmar, and our hotel put on a free one every night and Taylor really wanted to see it. I was really craving pizza for some reason that night, and even though I love Asian food, I just needed one night of western food. It was wood fired and actually so tasty. We brought my pizza back and watched the VERY mediocre puppet performance before commencing some intense rounds of Exploding Kittens.

We paid a reasonably decent amount to stay at a “nice” hotel in Bagan, but the second day we were there the Wifi decided to completely stop working. It’s really common for the power to go in and out throughout Myanmar for no reason during the day, but we basically never had Wifi again during our stay in Bagan. It proved to be kind of difficult in terms of planning because we needed to coordinate meeting our host of the cooking class we were taking.

The last day in Bagan, we got to do a cooking class. Sidebar: if you ever need to get me a present for anything (hint, hint), cooking classes are the way to go. Anyways, we somehow managed to find May and go with her to a local “market.” This was the dodgiest market I’ve ever seen. The meat was appalling with flies everywhere, stray dogs licking up whatever they could find, and the vegetable selection was slim pickins. We did get some stuff though although I was quite skeptical.


May took us to a tea shop (just a local spot to get breakfast), where we had more Burmese tea (man, do they like it STRONG) and these donut things that basically changed my life. I thought the meal could only go downhill from there but I was totally wrong. We proceeded to make chicken curry, pumpkin curry, tofu with tomato and onion, tamarind leaf salad, and cucumber salad. She also served us soup, okra, and rice. It was amaaazing. So much good food. We had this weird sugar cane/rice noodle/tapioca thing for dessert that I couldn’t eat but besides that it was the best $20 and 4 hours I spent during my whole trip.


The last afternoon in Bagan I napped, hung at the pool with the Italians, and tried to teach them how to shuffle cards like a real pro and play the Sommer traditional game of SET. We had to part ways because our buds had to head to Inle Lake as we were going to take the bus to Kinpun (by way of Yangon). It was sad saying bye to them but now I have friends to go visit in Italy! Yay!


I’ll leave you with that to digest for awhile, but the epic adventure continued over the next few days. Now to enjoy my last few hours of Southeast Asia vacation!

Ciao!

Reroute (Through Denpasar)

Well, I’m in Yangon, Myanmar and Taylor… is not. She is currently in Bangkok due to a wee bit of issues with VietJet (and her ticket for the wrong day) sooo Tay didn’t make it on the same plane as me. Instead, she’ll be joining me in Yangon tomorrow evening, about 30 hours later than originally planned. Alas, such is travel. All part of the adventure.


I flew alone and slept most of the plane, but when I woke up, the girl next to me started chatting so I kind of just followed her and her group off the plane and into immigration. The whole visa situation seemed sort of confusing and the customs/stamping line for foreigners was SO LONG so my new friend John decided we should just wing it and go in the “Seamen” line. The immigration people totally didn’t care even though I was really nervous for some reason. Then I ended up going in a taxi with the group to our respective hotels/hostels. They were really nice and I told them I’d meet up with them later for dinner.

Technically, Taylor and I are couchsurfing in Yangon, although the woman I’m surfing with runs and lives at a hotel, so we’re just getting put up in a hotel for a couple nights – which is really nice. The host, Zin, is super friendly and has a few international helpers in the hotel so I spent some time talking to one of her friends who are also “surfing” here. Then I wandered out and walked around this big lake in the middle of the city before heading off to dinner with my new friends.
I met up with the two boys from the plane at a place one of them picked, but it was closed so we waited for the girl, Che, to show up but she ended up bringing her ENTIRE hostel in tow. I sort of rolled my eyes in my head because I hate being that obnoxious group of foreigners. But we settled on a place on the street to have noodles and after talking to a few of the people (there were about 12 in total), I decided they were actually really cool. Except this one girl who was piss-drunk and thought it would be cool to pee behind a dumpster. At 7:30PM. I feel too old for this shit (jk I’m 24, sorry Shonna). We finished dinner and got some really bad ice cream cones from a drug store (…everyone else got beer) and went back to their hostel while I said goodnight to everyone and walked home.

It seems like there’s a good amount of stuff to do and see in Yangon, so much so that I wish we had another day here after Taylor arrives. Not to mention I’m not “allowed” to see anything cool without her here! Not really, but I’m waiting because I’m a nice friend. While walking around the lake earlier, these 3 Burmese teenage girls stopped me and asked for a photo so I just assumed they wanted one of the 3 of them together… turns out they wanted one WITH me. And I was so sweaty and gross (it was like 100 degrees out, no joke). It was hilarious. They kept giggling at me and I jokingly told them to stop and that I was so ugly from sweat, but they called me beautiful for some reason, so you can guess that made my day.

 I’m excited to travel for a week with Tay in a place we both haven’t been yet. She is so comfortable in SE Asia now (or at least Vietnam), so it makes me feel more at ease knowing she’s around.

We had such a good time in her “home” of Can Tho, and our last night out there was truly epic. It started out with a goodbye party for Taylor, mostly with her students in attendance, and ended up at a Biergarten and jumping into a pool across the street. We really weren’t supposed to but it was so worth it.


I’m excited to see what Burma is all about in the next week and hope to write again soon. More to come!

Shrewasia

What is Shrewasia you may be wondering? Shrew, a derivative of Sasha + Drew, not the more commonly used form of shrew, a small rodent, but the “celeb” couple name I gave me and Drew (much to his displeasure). Shrewasia is just Shrew in Southeast Asia. To the dismay of many of our friends, that’s what I’m calling our trip, but don’t worry I didn’t add that obnoxious couple-y hashtag to any of our photos #ily.

I’m writing this now from the side of a hotel pool in Can Tho, Vietnam, where we’re trying to escape the 93 degree heat for a quick sec.


To retrace our steps for a moment, Drew and I started our adventure first in Ubud, Bali, about an hour or so inland from the main airport on the island of Bali. We stayed in a fantastic hotel/Airbnb listing that sort of spoiled us in our first few days. We had free breakfasts (mostly amazing fresh fruit), two pools, and a free shuttle from the hotel into the main town of Ubud since we were about 10 minutes away in a quieter area. We did the typical tourist-y stuff there: visited the monkey forest, nearby temples, and the rice terraces.


Still a bit on the tourist-y side, we took a Balinese cooking class recommended to me by Julius, my German friend, that was one of my more favorite things we did on the trip. Our teacher, Puspa, has been running the class for the last 9 years and is an absolute pro at running it smoothly. She also fondly called everyone “honey” and liked to refer to Drew as my “honeybunny.” You can guess that nickname stuck around after the class. Also the food we made was BOMB.

We also decided to do the sunrise trek up Mount Batur. We went to bed at 7:45PM and woke up at the glorious hour of 2:45AM where we took a van with French couple to the base parking lot and met our guide who took us (slowly) to the top. I was mildly dying the whole time so Drew and I went suuuuper slow and made it just in time for sunrise. It was worth it though.


After Ubud we went to Canggu, a little north of the main tourist spot, Kuta. There we stayed in my favorite Airbnb I’ve ever been in. Our room overlooked the rice fields, had a little treehouse, and a gorgeous pool. The guest house was separate from the main house and even came with it’s own cat!


We (stupidly) thought it would be a good idea to rent a scooter (it costs about $4/day) to see the island instead of take taxis around but that ended up being a huge disaster. Drew took it out for a practice spin and basically didn’t make it out of our driveway – he drove straight into the ditch across the street and 4 Balinese strangers had to help lift the scooter out. It cost us about $47 in damage and we ended up taking taxis anyways.

Overall Bali was different than we thought. While it’s beautiful and lush and the people are so welcoming, it’s also quite busy and not as tranquil as I imagined. The island is completely inundated with tourists and expats now, so you can’t go far without seeing tons of white people. If I ever go back I want to explore the more untouched parts of Bali.

From Bali, Drew and I flew to Ho Chi Minh city for a night. I had the joy of experiencing (for the 2nd time in my life) some traveler’s diarrhea in the airport which was a real blast. We made it to Saigon in mostly one piece and returned back to the listing Shonna and I stayed in 2014. Our host there, Linh, is hilarious and loves to hang out and improve her English so I asked her if she’d take us to get breakfast at the market in the morning.


The next morning Drew and I had to take the bus from Saigon to Can Tho, the smaller town a few hours away where Taylor lives. After buying our tickets at the bus station the people sort of motioned to us so we packed into this teeny tiny van with about 15 other people about to prepare for the 4 hour drive. I thought to myself, “Alright, this is Vietnam. Gotta do it” and tried to get comfortable for the ride. About 5 minutes later they stopped the van and everyone got out and piled into another bus. There we had a bit more legroom and I was thinking, “Okay, this is better. I can handle this” until we were on that bus for a total of 5 more minutes and the same thing happened. This time we got onto a sleeper bus and I knew that was the final move. The ride ended up being only 3 hours and it wasn’t all that unpleasant!

Can Tho has been really lovely. My obvious reunion with Tay after 8 months of separation (the longest we’ve gone without seeing each other since their move to Paris when I was 7), riding around on scooters, eating at all her favorite spots, and getting my nails done for $6. Can Tho is pretty small in comparison to Saigon, but still the population is over 1 million. Insane.

I’m missing Passover at home this year, the first in my 24 years of life, but I’m lucky I got to celebrate Taylor’s last few days in her new home, meeting all her wonderful friends she’s become close to the past 8 months.

Now she and I venture off to Myanmar for a week, where I’m surely going to melt, so wish us luck!