Nerdy Cat Scuba Travels

A Cat Lovin' Engineer taking a career break by traveling, doing a divemaster internship, and diving around the world

Author: wangleslie@gmail.com (page 1 of 4)

Why I chose to go a destination wedding in Jamaica

Part 2: Why guests should go to a destination wedding…

Not too long ago, I went to my cousin’s destination wedding in Jamaica.  After going to countless weddings of friends and family, I would say that the decision to go to a wedding should be based on the following questions:

  1. Can you afford it? (Better question- will you NOT hold a grudge against the couple on the amount of money you spend to get there?)
  2. Will you know at least 3 other people at the wedding?
  3. Is the location somewhere you can see yourself having fun?

If the answer to any of the questions is NO, then I would skip the event and send a gift.

The good news is that I answered yes to each question. And above all, I love my cousin and wouldn’t miss her wedding for anything.

 

Wedding Activities

All of the guests stayed at the Idle Awhile Resort and Villas. Two smaller hotels on Negril Seven Sands Beach.

Being from the bride’s side of the family- all of us stayed at the Four bedroom Oceanfront Almond Villa with a butler and chef.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by our butler holding 4 Red Stripe Beers and small Mango spoon treats for us.

My first thought in the Villa- This is how RICH people live. The house had high ceilings, and giant windows all around to capture the beach front views. We also had an outdoor dining table, lounge and pool.

Beyond the villa is another private beach area with lounge chairs, kayaks, and paddle boards.

The Beach – Seven Mile Beach, Negril

Our hotel and villa is right on the Seven Mile Beach in Negril. The swim area is marked so that only guests swim right in front of the hotel. The water is light blue and warm!

The Bride!

Melissa arrives to see how we have settled into the villa. She has perfect glowing tan, long lashings, toned arms. It’s game time. She’s getting married.

The Rehearsal dinner

Pushcart Restaurant– West End, Westmoreland Parish – Jamaica

On a cliff overlooking the ocean. The sunset has so many colors it looks fake. We drink pina coladas and take pictures with friends and family.  Dinner includes curry goat, oxtail, spicy jerk sausage and bammies.  There isn’t one dish I dislike.   After dinner, we gather to the front to hear some bridesmaid and groomsmen speeches. Holly’s speech was short and full great memories of being Melissa’s sister.

“it feels like yesterday we were dancing to reggae in the living room and doing karaoke to Celine Dion… “

“She taught me how to shop. She taught me how to love harry potter. And she taught me how to navigate the subway.”

The speech gave me a small tear in my eye. My cousins have a strong sisterly bond. I see similarities between them as I do between Wendy and I.  Weddings have a way of bringing out those warm fuzzy feelings we usually don’t talk about.

Karaoke Time

Karoake definitely is not my favorite activity. Both Paul and Melissa take turns singing songs and bringing friends up to the stage as back up singers. At one point, there are more people on stage singing the song than at the tables.

 “A little Respect” Erasure

“Soul, I hear you calling
Oh baby please give a little respect to me”

The night ended with a new wave classic. We all belt out the chorus with our hands in the air. At some point I think I close my eyes as Andy Bell’s voice fills the room. Laughing, Jumping and Dancing around.

The Big Day of the Wedding

The skies switch back and forth between blue and grey. Fears of rain prompt the hotel to put up a jumbo tent over the dining area.  The ceremony is set right in front of the beach.  Melissa’s dress is a light gray satin dress with detailed embroidery and beading.  All of the bridesmaid are in unique tiffany blue dresses. The groomsmen sport linen pants and gray suspenders. Huck Finn Inspired.

For the next hour we mosy over to the tent and eat appetizers while the wedding party takes photographs. Coconut shrimp for days.

Delayed Dinner – and cranky people

Dinner hit a slight snag when the kitchen discovered a gas leak. While most didn’t notice the delay in meal service, some guests didn’t get served dinner until 10pm. I luckily had eaten so many appetizers that I didn’t mind the delay. While its easy to get annoyed and cranky, I think most guests took it in stride. You’re in Jamaica, on a beach, at a wedding. Life could be worse.

How to give a Best Man and Maid of Honor Speech

Each BFF presented a cute anecdote about how long the couple dated before getting married. Referencing how Melissa is the patient one, waiting for Paul to  establish himself before proposing.  How Paul and Melissa named their dog “Ted E Bear.” I couldn’t help but have glassy eyes and a wide smile.

The Party Goes On

More Dancing. The father-daughter dance and the mother-son dance.  Melissa dancing with Uncle Paul made me instantly tear up. Happiness filled my heart as he held her hand and gently twirled her around.

Cake Anyone?

The tradition of feeding each other with cake at a wedding seems weird to me. Everyone gathers around with their phones and cameras to record a couple slicing into cake and shoving into each other’s faces. Melissa, wide mouth open, ready to receive the cake, gave out a pout of disappointment when the piece was a mere morsel. “Why such a small piece?”

Sky Lanterns – Thailand Traditions

The last time I lit Lantern… Melissa and I were celebrating New Year’s Eve in Phuket, Thailand. It’s said that the lanterns at weddings represent a couple leaving their individual courses in life and start on a life together. For me, setting one of these lanterns in the air symbolizes letting go of my troubles and starting a new beginning. I feel resilient and confident of good things to happen upon my return to the Pacific North West.

Morning After Brunch

The breakfast is a perfect mix of American favorites- eggs, bacon, and pancakes and Jamaican breakfast, Ackee and Fish, bammies, curry goat, rice and peas.

Hair of the Dog? Mimosas seem to do the trick.  We swap stories about the drunken guests that passed out on the tables and Rick Ashley dancing. We are all close family now. Bonded by Melissa’ and Paul’s Tiffany Blue wedding.

Sunset Catamaran Cruise

In fear of the ominous afternoon rain, the cruise is moved from the sunset to just after brunch. We sail along the coast towards the West and Rick’s Café. Stopping along the way to snorkel and slide off the boat. The boat included drinks- by this time no one really wanted to drink anymore.  The crystal clear waters entice us to jump in. There’s a giant slide off the boat. We take turns splashing off. Everyone enjoying the sun. I don’t think anyone wanted the mini vacation to end.

Note- some of these photos were taken by Uncle Morris. 🙂

Part 1: Off the beaten Path of Jamaica, Traveling Solo to Port Antonio

“Don’t worry about a thing ‘cause every little thing gonna be alright” – Bob Marley

Romantic, Adventurous, Relaxing, and Beautiful. A vacation in Jamaica is just the remedy I need to cure my Pacific Northwest long gloomy winter.

Touch Down – Arriving Montego Bay Airport

Rumors of difficult immigration and customs arrivals proved true. For the first time ever, a customs agent  didn’t believe the address provided on my entry sheet and sent me to the travel desk to get more details on my entire stay. I had only listed one address, despite a planned family visit in Port Antonio.  No entry to Jamaica until I write down the address in Port Antonio.

The travel desk includes a group of nicely dressed Jamaican Women helping idiots like me. For  $1.50 fee, the travel agent would call my aunt.  As I tried to call, I noticed a bit of miscommunication between a Chinese man and another Jamaican travel agent. I stepped in and started speaking Chinese. He speaks Chinese, they speak Jamaican- English. Lots of confused looks and “sign language.”

I hear both sides and realize his friends arrived before him and made arrangements for him to be driven to a hotel. I relay the information, and the man departs to meet his friends.

“Ya want to werk a little here?” Chuckles all around. My translator skills earn a free call to my Aunt.  I get the address in Port Antonio and head back to immigration.

A few minutes later I passed my followup immigration questions and get myself an overpriced taxi to Montego Bay city center.

Gritty. Busy. Real. Mo’Bay.

“MEOW!” Cat calls a plenty. Walking around town, it was obvious I wasn’t from Jamaica.

“HEEEYYYY!” I turn and look at the man. Who then says

“Can I help you carry your bags? I’ll even carry them on my back all the way to china for you”

These men really know how to cat call a lady. I chuckle and acknowledge his talent and walk away.

If ever a woman had any doubts of her beauty, she need only to walk around downtown Montego Bay.  One marriage proposal later, I hop into a cheap shared taxi for about $1 USD to visit Wendy (sis).

Even in the taxi….

“You’re the most beautiful women these eyes have seen. I’d like to treat you right and hold your hand”

All inclusive resorts – Are Guests Allowed?

Wendy’s hotel is a fancy place secluded from the nitty gritty Montego Bay. Its all barred up, so much so I can’t even enter the grounds. Eventually my nice personality warms up the security guard and she lets me in for a free 30 minute visit.

$80 later and I have a day guest pass to Wendy’s all inclusive resort.

Wicker chairs, bars everywhere and countless beautiful views of the beach. This place reminds me of Las Vegas. Everything you would ever need is located within the hotel. There’s nothing out in Montego that would compare to the quality of service found at the inclusive resorts.

The taxi fare back to Monetgo Bay is about 10 times the price I paid in the morning.  I call it the fancy hotel tourist tax.

One hello later, and the taxi driver turns on the charm:

“One love . its not just a story you know… I want to hold you in my arms and show you real love”

I chuckle and politely decline the offer of Jamaican man’s arms, and go back to my hotel solo.

Is an all-inclusive resort worth the price?

My $80 day pass included all access to beaches, all you can eat buffets and restaurants, beer and cocktails.  Wine is not included.

Outside my hotel, a roasted half chicken from the local market costs about $5. At a touristy restaurant, the price would be increased to about $10. Free pristine beaches with lounge chairs are few and far between in Montego Bay.

If you are a couple or family looking for a relaxing Jamaican beach, then yes, an all-inclusive resort is an easy way to plan a vacation in Jamaica.

For me, the single traveler on a budget. Spending over $250 a night on a hotel just doesn’t add up. On the other hand, staying in the city center of Montego Bay didn’t match up to the picture perfect relaxing beach life.  Instead, the city felt chaotic with a dash of good cheap food and nice people. The solution? Don’t stay in Montego and go to Port Antonio!

Taking the Knutsford Express From Montego Bay to Port Antonio

I show up at the bus station and tell the ticket lady I booked online. “Leslie Wang?” “How did you know?” You’re the only one that pre-booked. $25 later and I’m on my way to Port Antonio. The bus is relatively empty during the week without the need to reserve a seat. However, if one is traveling to Kingston on a weekend, I would recommend booking a seat to save yourself from worrying about it.

On the bus, I meet a young blind boy on his way to Kingston.

You like Reggae?

Yes, Do you?

Of course mi favorite is Bob Marley!

From there I receive a nice background of all the best reggae artists. Quite informative actually. Eventually the kid changes buses, and I change to an almost empty bus to Port Antonio.

Port Antonio – Hidden Gem of Jamaica

My uncle, born and raised in Port Antonio, picks me up at the bus station.  He’s with a car full of Chinese Jamaicans. What does that mean? Well in simple terms, they are Chinese descent and speak with a Jamaican accent. Its awesome.

First stop? Tasty’s Beef Patties. Beef patties are flaky delicious “hot pockets” filled with spiced ground beef. I ordered three (beef, curry chicken, and a beef and cheese). For less than $3 each, this would be my go to Jamaican snack for the remainder of my trip.

Little Portie – Hope Bay

Known to be more plush, this side of Jamaica looks “greener.” It’s filled with rainforests, waterfalls, rivers and beaches. My first dinner in Port Antonio is at a remote beach in Hope Bay, where the Rio Grande meets the ocean. Lily pads float in the river and the fresh water slowly mixes with the salt water beach. The beach on this side of the island has coarse sand compared to Montego.

Definitely less tourists.

The restaurant serves traditional Jamaican food. Deep fried fish, Stone Crab, Bammys, and festival. and Don’t forget that island MUST – a large fresh coconut. The only downside of eating at this beautiful location are the mosquitos. Jamaican mosquitos are everywhere. The locals tell me that zika isn’t really a big deal as the media makes it out to be. However, just shortly after that statement, the radio broadcasts a story about the worst mosquito infestation in the last 5 years. Entire towns need to be be sprayed in an effort to reduce the numbers.

Rio Vista – Rio Grande Rafting

My hotel is nicely situated on a hill overlooking the Rio Grande.  I spend my down time either in the pool or hiking up and down the stairs to the river. I wish I had more time in the area, so that I could  book a two hour river rafting tour. I am told that there is a restaurant only accessible via the tour that serves some of the best food in the area.

Instead of the rafting tour, I decide to do the beach and waterfalls tourist option: blue hole / lagoon, Frenchman’s cove, Winnifred Beach , and my favorite – Somerset Falls.

Somerset Falls

A large forest/waterfall/swim park.  We pay the fare to get in – and are the ONLY people there. On tripadvisor Dunn’s River Falls and Park waterfall is the most popular. However, if you want more of a secluded waterfall experience, I would recommend Somerset instead.

The man working the waterfall takes us on a boat to the waterfall. A nice slow paddle upstream to the waterfall.  I jump in the river and swim around the waterfall and climb on a rock. Standing on the other side- I take a giant dive through the water and into the lagoon.

Boston Jerk Center- The birth place of “jerk”

An absolute must visit place in Port Antonio. These guys spend the entire day slow BBQing pork and chicken in a open cement shack. We order everything on the menu. Juicy and delicious. The pork fat has this crispy outer edge, then soft butter like content before reaching the juicy meat.  Each bite has the perfect amount of smokiness.

Priorities. It could be just my family, but food was the second most important attraction on the “Things to do in Jamaica” list. . Let my food porn speak for itself:

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Villas on the Coast

There are no shortage of multi-million dollar villas in Jamaica. On the edge of the blue hole, the villa I visit features 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms, a private chef and butler. For about $250 a night per couple, a group of friends or family can enjoy a vacation home in Port Antonio.

My last day at Port Antonio we have a hosted dinner in a villa. The private chef makes all the Jamaican favorites: pumpkin soup, curry shrimp, lobster tails, Jerk Pork (from Boston Jerk Center), Acki and Salted Fish, and some salad.

My cousin’s dad’s side of the family is relaxed and fun to be around. They love food and simply spending time with each other. They show me photos of their latest family reunion cruises (all with matching t-shirts). I’m filled with family love that such a great extended family exists. Long live Chinese Jamaicans. One love.

Stay tuned for part 2, the wedding!

 

When is it ever time to say good bye to a pet?

After 17 years of gracing my presence and meowing her way into my heart, I had to say good bye to my sweet cat Jade this weekend.

This morning I woke up without the usual “MEOW.” A quiet room. Walking to the bathroom I found an empty space. No more cat litter. No more water bowl. No food bowl. Emptiness filled my heart and I let out a long sob. Good bye my Jade- I hope you are in cat heaven with Anderson.

Humor Is the best shield for Sadness

To distract myself from the inevitable, I used to crack jokes of Jade’s age and how she would live to 25. Masking the trepidation of the one day I wouldn’t hear her voice. “Darn old cat- meowing all day!” I’d say.
“Meow!” 5 am. “Ok Jade. God damn it. I’m up. Mommy’s getting you food. Hold on you crazy cat.” Spoiled Cat. Only the best food for you. Not in the mood for beef? Ok, let me open up some chicken. Some days it looked like a cat buffet in the bathroom.

Kittens and College- The Memories

I adopted Jade and Andy from a pet shelter in Summer of 2000. Both 6 weeks old and 2 lbs. Almost all my college friends have one or more stories about these crazy critters. I even remember driving Jade to my boyfriend’s house. She peed all over me. Even then she knew she was boss. I was merely the human taking care of these cats. They trained me well.
How time flies. I can’t imagine my life without her. Yet here I am. I can go anywhere in the world now, and yet, all I would like now is for a cat to complain to me. To hold me down and sit on my neck while I sleep.

Carcinoma – Liver Cancer in Cats

You just know something is wrong.

 I could feel that something was different with Jade this week. Over the past few weeks she was on a steady decline. Even more finicky with food. A little weaker. Howling to go outside.
Then Wednesday she threw up. I immediately gave her anti vomit medicine and some pain meds. I waited a few hours and then proceeded to open 4 different cans of food. I even went out to a weed store and bought her CBD oil. I never tried it myself, but I didn’t want her to be in pain. Please don’t be in pain.

I could see sadness emanating from her dark green eyes.

After multiple trips to the vet, I checked Jade into intensive care for an ultrasound, biopsy and fluids. A few hours later I received the call.

Cancer. Tumors. No alternative. Euthanasia.

Nothing could have sounded worse. I didn’t want to hear it.
I knew in my head the time had come. My heart just wouldn’t listen.
I brought Jade home and she was tired. She couldn’t look me in the eye. She barely moved. I fed her ice cream, cheese, some onion dip – whatever she wanted.
The next morning, she tried to avoid me. Hiding. I knew it was time. But I couldn’t call the vet. Tears streamed out of me. I didn’t want to do it. I can’t do it.

Friends to the rescue

Trung saved me- he called the vet and drove me to the appointment. For an hour I sat in the room with Jade. I switched back and forth on hugging and holding her to petting her on the table.
The sedative made her feel like a rag doll. Eyes wide open. Heartbeat fast. Purring stopped.
Can she hear me? I cried and mumbled into her ear “I love you Jade. Now you can be with Andy. I’m sorry for the pain. I’m sorry I left you last year. I’m sorry I wasn’t always there by your side.”

Guilt stabbed me a million times. Why was I such a bad mom? Why did I ever leave her side? Could I have stopped the cancer with love?
The vet consoled me. It was the right thing to do. She was very sick and would never recover.
It took only 2 seconds. Once the final injection started, Jade stuck out her tongue and I could feel her heart stop.

The End

Then it was over. Life left the room and I picked her lifeless body up one more time and kissed her good bye. The pain and sadness I feel right now is hard to describe. Sometimes I forget and I can do other things. Write this blog. Make coffee. Other times, I sob and cry.  I miss her. I wish she didn’t have to die. Life is too cruel.

Rest in Peace Jade. May 2000- May 2017

Top Hipster Things to do in Seattle – Pacific Northwest

Welcome to Seattle. We should hang out. Maybe.

Is Seattle the land of passive aggressive friendships? Is it the weather that gives Seattle locals a bad rap?

At first look one would think Seattle is full of hipsters, but then I realize they aren’t hipsters, they just have beards and flannels on.

Powering Through the Awful Weather

Grey Skies don’t mean a thing. I’m embracing outings with college buddies, making new friends and even doing things solo.

Anytime a local has recommended something, I’ve jumped. Concert? Yes! Hike? Yes! Coffee? Yes! Since quitting my “real job” I’ve tried to stay active regardless the day of the week.

Top 6 things I’ve done in Seattle that aren’t your typical Lonely Planet’s Recommendations

  1. Driving out of Seattle.

Ask anyone and they will say the landscape is what makes this place beautiful and unique. On most days, the clouds will hide the mountain ranges around the city. Based on a local recommendation, I drove out to Deception Pass State Park.

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Since It’s spring time, I made a quick stop in La Connor to see the Daffodils bloom. Acres of beautiful yellow flowers. I imagine any local man could take a person here for a movie –esque proposal.

The most visited state park in Washington. Its got a perfect combination of giant trees and hidden trails for hiking, Cook out spaces on the beach, navy jets roaring around the Naval Air station Whidbey Island, and countless breathtaking views.

  1. Live Music.

It seems like every other week there is another band in town.  Seattle has many local convert venues. I’m able to walk / bus to different venues without worrying about parking or uber.  In Los Angeles, oftentimes, shows are sold out or just far away enough to deter me from going.  So far I’ve been able to see The XX, RJD2, and Powers.

  1. Pioneer Square.

Most people visit Pike’s Place Market, but I would say the real hidden gem is Pioneer Square. Its Seattle’s first original neighborhood. The first place to host an artwalk in the US. The neighborhood reminds me of what San Francisco was like in the late 90’s. Filled with young people going to work, occasional tourists, and homeless people. Every First Thursday of the month, the area features an Art Walk. Intrigue Chocolate Co. does a great job on these art walks melting down all their truffles to create a free sipping chocolate for visitors.

  1. Edmunds Underwater Park and Ferry.

Of course no list would be complete without a scuba spot.  If you scuba dive, I highly recommend this spot. Not just because I volunteer here, but because it’s a great example on how scuba divers can make any location a diving location. Bruce Higgins has spent 40 years adding different structures to this park for divers. Each week I help to pull cinder blocks into the water to create trails for divers. The site has grown so large that the cinder block trails have morphed into streets. The sunden wooden boats have deteriorated and provided lots of carbon food for the wild life. I’ve seen link cod with heads larger than mine.

In case you don’t scuba dive,  you can walk along the beach and then drive onto the ferry for a quick trip across the bay to Kingston. Each ferry costs less than $10. You simply drive onto the boat, park and enjoy the ride. I parked, and took a walk around the ferry. There’s a great viewing spot at the top of the boat, along with a cafeteria.

  1. Spring Time – Cherry Blossoms in Seattle.

If you are lucky enough to visit Seattle in March/April, I would take advantage of all the cherry blossoms around town.  University of Washington has a great quad that highlights the bloom. Most don’t talk about the history of these cherry trees, but a local told me some interesting stuff. The first trees were planted just before WW2 (1939).  3 years later, 400 Japanese American students were sent to internment camps.  Most recently, 18 new trees from Japan were added in 2014.

Outside of the university, I found that my Capitol Hill / First Hil neighborhood is filled with Cherry Trees. Pink Blooms, White Ones, Reddish flowers. The rain doesn’t seem so bad with a pink backdrop. I know I’m not in California anymore when I spend 45 minutes walking in the rain without minding it.

  1. Museum of Pop Culture

A nerd’s dream come true. I spent 3 days at this museum. Each installation struck a cord in my inner nerd being. Here are some of the exhibits featured:

Horror Movies – The art behind what makes something scary. See props from Friday the 13th, Hostel and other movies. Watch clips of the Exorcist and see why it’s the scariest movie ever.

Fantasy – (Magic, Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit)

Invention of Games and Independent Games – Watch interviews, play games, interact with

Born in Seattle, Jimi Hendrix’s career was short but intense. This exhibit features information on his rise to fame as well as his journal.

Interactive Music Sessions ( Guitar, Drums, singing, Mixing, Turntables, singing): I spent 10 minutes pretending to be a DJ with a complete lesson on how to “scratch.”

Sci-Fi Movies – Fifth Element, Star Trek, Star Wars, Men in Black clothing and movie props.

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Enjoy it while it Lasts

I don’t know how long I will stay here, nor do I know where I will go next. But as long as I am here, I will continue to enjoy the live music. Coffee. New and Old Friends.

 

Until Next Time…

 

What My Rescue Diving Course Didn’t Teach Me

Are you sure its a dead body?

Yup- this was a thought in my head this weekend. In my rescue diving course and my divemaster course, I learned so much about reacting in a calm manner to distress calls. Methodically performing CPR in the ocean, disassembling a diver’s gear, dragging them out of the water. What I didn’t expect was what happens in the real world. What happens when someone is dead in the water?

During the Rescue Course – Lifting Heavy People

Lets be honest, I’m about 5’ 4”, and about 130 lbs; most divers outweigh me. During my divemaster course, I cried because I failed during my first attempt. The cold water. The heavy “volunteers”. I couldn’t calm down and rescue them. Sobbing because I wasn’t strong enough. Was it unfair that I went last? I was exhausted. Boo hoo on me.  Eventually I got over feeling sorry for myself and passed with out issue.  It felt great knowing I could actually rescue someone in distress. I think it was this experience that helped me prepare for Saturday.

Edmunds Underwater Park

It was a calm Saturday and the skies were clear and bright blue. For a change, I decided to bring my weights to the bench by the beach. No rhyme or reason. Just changing things up.

Then I heard it. A LOUD whistle from the ocean. Someone waving their arms in distress.I look around, no one else is immediately around me.  I call out to them- “Are you ok?!” They show me an OK, but then continue to wave at me.

Adrenaline pumping. I look around. A woman and her son on the beach are looking at the divers. I ask her to “zip” me up so I can swim up to them. She zips my drysuit closed. I tell her to call 911.

I pace over to my hood, gloves, fins and mask. My hands are shaking.

Running into the ocean, I dive in. Water seeping into my suit… the zipper slightly open. I try to pull it shut, but there’s too much adrenaline. I forget about the wet cold feeling. It doesn’t matter now.

I get to the divers and there’s a man face down. Should turn him over and do CPR?

He responds “I think it’s a recovery.”

When a Rescue Dive becomes a Recovery

That’s when I realize it. This is a dead body. The man is half floating in the water. Body rigid. Fully clothed. Not a diver.

Without thinking I grab the man’s arm and help swimming him to shore.

He feels like a bag of cement. Strangely plastic.

The swim feels long and never ending. Firetruck sirens are getting louder. My heart is pumping so hard now. Keep swimming. Don’t stop. Get him to the shore.

Once in standing water. I throw off my fins into the waves.  We flip the man over. His arms frozen near his hips. Legs stiff. He still has his shoes on with the laces tied neatly. His eyes closed. We try to lift him, but he’s so heavy it as if we didn’t try at all.

The waves start crashing on the man’s face. Eyes flick open. Blood shot and empty gazing.  I gasp. I look down at his shoes instead.

Grabbing the shoes, I push hard towards the sand. We finally get him to the shore. EMT staff are waiting for us. They move him to a stretcher. I look away.

Exhaustion. I almost fall over. I can’t catch my breathe.

A policeman puts his shoulder around me. “Thank you for your help. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I know nothing. I just swam him to shore.”

Shaking- I walk over to the bench take off my hood and gloves and walk away. I go to see my friends and try not to think of the dead man.

Shortly afterwards, the authorities have moved the body off the shore and question the divers that found the body. He was in about 15ft of water, visible from the surface. Nothing else was in the water around him.

Later, a tow truck arrives and we find out that the man’s car was left in the parking lot. I google the story a few days later to find that the police suspect “suicide.”

Rest In Peace

I hope that this man found peace and comfort in his last moments.

Lessons Learned from my First Rescue Assist

  1. Practicing helps. If not for my previous strenuous course, I would not have been prepared to swim so far with such a heavy load.
  2. When a rescue dive turns into a recovery effort, you can pace yourself. Don’t exhaust yourself.
  3. Be respectful of the body. Don’t drag it or toss it around. This man just died. Be gentle and do what you would if it were your own family member.
  4. When you hear the distress call- don’t rush into the water. They teach this in the course, over and over. But it’s the #1 thing to remember. You can’t save anyone if you are drowning yourself.
  5. Second victim – I feel disconnected. I’m still at odds on what to feel. I didn’t discover the body, and I can’t imagine the affect that would have on a person.

In all, I’m thankful that I was trained properly. This was my first real world assist. I just wish it had a better outcome.

 

Until next time…

Moving to Washington Right Now

Coffee. Music. Flannel. Rain. The perfect combination to convince a hipster to relocate to Seattle. If you asked me a couple years ago if I would ever leave Santa Monica for Seattle, I would have laughed in your face.

Santa Monica vs Seattle

Santa Monica – Sunny skies. Permanent year round 70 deg F weather. The beach. Local shops. Three twins ice cream. A dream come true.

Seattle – A new opportunity. Pacific Northwest. Seasons. Snow. hiking spots. Beautiful skyline overlooking the water.

The Journey

It seems that I couldn’t have picked a better contrasting city to Santa Monica. I don’t know how long I will live here, however, I do feel the pressure to commit to a life of normalcy. Being a nomad is quite difficult when you have a cat and responsibilities.

Adios Santa Monica. I wake up at 8am. Have some coffee and pack up my car. I spend an hour trying to figure out how to use ratchet straps for the first time. Seriously doubting my engineering skills. So frustrated with my performance, I skip breakfast/lunch and drive. I manage to make only one stop on the drive up for gas and a bathroom break. I grab a bag of Organic Sweet Potato Purple Chips and bounce. Gotta Love hippie California.

I make it to San Jose within 6 hours. Not bad at all. I unload all my belongings into Wendy’s attic. My entire life now resides in a small crawl space area in vacuum seal bags. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Of course, nothing is easy. I start checking weather and the Doppler 4000 shows a storm front coming in. The swirl simulation doesn’t look good. Ice and snow. My s2000 isn’t exactly a snow mobile.

Family meeting. Wendy and Dad help make an executive decision. No S2000. Use the “Yellow school bus.” Yup. My stylish convertible sports car has been traded to my dad for his Yellow Xterra. 14-18 MPG. A small part of me dies inside.

Destination – Seattle (881 miles away)

Next morning, I wake up at 5 am and meet my Dad for a #1 egg mcmuffin meal at McDonalds. We hug and I take off. Let’s start the 10+ hours of podcasts please.

The weather is nice. Too nice. I drive quickly through northern California without anyone else really on the road. I make it Oregon and its chilly. No snow chain warnings.

I pull over in small city to get gas. Some lady comes to greet me. She’s going to pump my gas. I don’t know what to do with myself.

I take a bathroom break and grab a burger. I ask the clerk about the full service thing. He responds, “ You know. A governor didn’t like to pay the tax on pumping your own gas. So he banned it. Let’s me keep my job.” Um ok.

I tip the lady $2 and pray that I can have enough gas to make it to Washington without getting gas again.

Arriving in Washington

Washington State lines. Rain. The sun is setting and its starting to rain. I’ve been listening to podcasts for over 10 hours. I’m tired.

I start to call my friends and chit chat while driving. I should do this more often.

I get to Tacoma around 6:30pm. My new home is still a little more than hour away. I decide to crash at a friend’s house and call it a day. Sleep Now.

Morning. I pick up Jade from the Cat boarding facility and make it to my new digs. She’s meowing. Kinda pissed. Sorry Jade! It will all be ok, I promise.

Day 2. I wake up to see snow falling gently to the ground. A soft fluffy floor of snow all over the backyard. I’m debating whether or not I can drive. I call Dad. He says its safe. Done. I do some grocery shopping and errands.

Amazing. I’m in Seattle. In January I was living in Thailand, and now I’m here. In a parka. Most of this weather reminds me of Iceland. Time to dust off my thermals and gloves. Back in the cold North.
(Here’s some proof that I can survive in the cold. Throw back to my time in Iceland)

Hello Seattle.

 

 

 

A Eulogy for my Grandfather

Most times I dedicate this blog to all the fun things in life. But sometimes life gets in the way. My grandfather died. Normal day in a suburb of Long Island. Watering plants in the living room. Falling to the floor, still clutching the water can, he never woke up.

One day someone is here, and the next they are in another place, unreachable.

Every time I spoke to my grandpa on the phone, the conversation would go like this:

Me: Hi Grandpa. Its Lei Lei.

GP: Oh Lei Lei! Hello. How are you? I miss you

Me: I miss you too grandpa. Merry Christmas (or insert any holiday here)

GP: Merry Christmas! I love you, I miss you.

Me: Me too grandpa

GP: I love you, miss you, take care of yourself ok. Ok good bye. Bye. Bye.  

Click.

Yes- each conversation would last no more than 3 minutes. My grandpa was from an era of MCI long distance phone bills. Being ever so efficient, he used few words as possible to get his message across.

I don’t remember having long conversations with Grandpa. He kept things simple. Instead, I remember Ralph Lauren Polo shirts. Brooks Brothers suits. A garage full of his favorite things. That forever clean Lincoln town car.

A side effect from divorce, we only spent two weeks out of year with our grandparents in New York. Short summer trips. We all made the most out of the time we spent together.

Niagara Falls. Toronto. Clamming. Shopping. Disney and more.

Here’s an old photo of us crabbing- Me in junior high, Wendy in high school, and Grandpa enjoying retirement.

My grandpa was stylish even at the pier. I was in my frizzy hair phase… don’t laugh.

Thinking about these things make me smile and cry. I miss those simple happy moments. I’ve been MIA the recent years, but I hope he knew that I loved him unconditionally.

After the funeral

After things settle down, we transition to logistics. I Go into my grandpa’s room and clear out his things. I find at least 20+ new shirts. Countless boxes of unworn shoes. I don’t know what I should keep and what I should donate. I fight the urge to hoard everything. Its best to let go.

Emotions running high

I bet my grandpa tried yelling from the spirit world to “Stop! Don’t fuss over me.”

We didn’t hear him.

Arguments. Crying. Anxiety. Headaches.

I don’t deserve to complain. My grandma and grandpa have been married for 65 years. When I leave for the airport tomorrow, she will be alone in the house for the first time ever. Sometimes she is ok, and other times she isn’t. You can tell when she forgets momentarily that he is gone. As if he stepped out to pick up something from the grocery store. I wish we could keep pretending that he is going to be back any minute.

William Chow’s life ended on February 4, 2017. Rest In Peace Grandpa. You were the balance to our madness and we will miss you forever.

If I could phone my grandpa one last time, I would simply say “Hi Grandpa. Its Lei Lei. I miss you and love you. Don’t worry….I’ll take care of myself. Good bye.”

 

 

Diving in Myanmar with Smiling Seahorse

At peace. That’s how I feel when I am underwater. Fishes swimming. Plants swaying to the swell of the ocean. Weightless. With only my air bubbles to tell me which way is up.

Outside of the water, I’m awkward. I don’t know what I want in life. I forgot something. Where am I going? Its too much to think about.  Diving is much easier.

My parents phoned me with hesitations in their voice. I imagine they think I’m venturing into Somalian pirated waters or something. Danger lurking over each wave. Is it safe? Where will you be? Is there cell service?

Yes, its safe. In the middle of nowhere. No connections to civilization whatsoever. No need to worry.

The Dive Group for Trip 3 – Hosted by the Smiling Seahorse

The Smiling Seahorse

MV Thai Sea – my home for the next 5 days. The owner, Frank, works as the dive instructor on the boat, and his wife does the business side. It’s a nice and small independent diving operation. The boat has room for 12 guests, with a ratio of 4 divers to one divemaster/instructor.

At first, I have my hesitations. I get on the boat and its French. Like Tres Tres Tres French. All the other divers minus one other diver- Choy, are French. Queue La Vie en Rose please.

Le Bienvenue speech. The Suisse dive instructor (Julien) translates. I’m somewhat irritated. My spoiled Americanness kicks in.  Why can’t everyone just speak English. Then I think about Trump and realize I’m being stupid. Relax.

The first night I’m a little cranky and shy, so I take some seasickness pills and go to sleep.

The next morning I wake up to the sound of “630! Dive briefing!”

I put on my swim suit and a shirt dress and head to the back of the boat. We form our groups and prepare for diving. Each day will follow this schedule -Dive. Eat Breakfast. Sleep. Dive. Eat Lunch. Sleep. Dive. Eat a snack. Relax. Dive. Eat Dinner. Drink.

The Dive Group: Me, Luc, Julien, Choy

A day later, I start warming up to my new French family. We exchange stories about all our travels and drink Richard, the drink of the Bordeaux French men. It’s Licorice tasting madness.  The 4 divers in their mid 50’s traveling sans wives brought a huge bottle of Richard for all to drink. The perfect recipe for laughter and fun. After some shots of Rum, a dance party with flashing lights forms on the top deck.

By the third day, all my stupid American prejudice about the French boat are gone. We exchange stories of the fish we see underwater while eating all the delicious treats the Thai team cooks for us. One day banana fritters and ice cream. Next Day, crepes with fruit.

Night falls and we jump in for another night dive. I float around flashing my light at fishes. A lonely barracuda passes by. I name him Mr.B. Mr.B is rather curious and swims towards me. Maybe a little too close. At first it feels fun, but now its makes me uneasy.   Circling me, I can feel his irritation.

My heart rate is up. I’m afraid to shine my light into the darkness. I’m unsure if I want to see Mr.B staring back at me. I swim over to my guide and hope that Mr.B disappears.

Moments later, Choy swims up next to me and Julian. He’s rubbing his shoulder. Forming a fist into a palm, Choy signals to me that a barracuda shoulder checked him. Or at least that’s what I interpret. It must be Mr.B. Like 2 young kids afraid to cross the street, we stay close to Julien and look both ways before swimming ahead.

Not seeing Mr.B anywhere, I start doing my own thing again. Rock here. Fish there. Mr.B. … WHAT? I quickly flash my light somewhere else. Swimming away,  scared.

A minute passes. I see a distant light shaking frantically. I swim over and Choy signals to me that he sees Mr.B again. We stay close together and search the seas. No sign of an imminent attack.

The dive ends and we pop up to the surface. Instantly we are two kids chatting to Julien about this barracuda. Julien laughs.

I have to laugh at myself. Like what is this fish going to do to me? I have a knife for Christ sake.  A big knife. One slice and its sashimi time.

The rest of the dives, we kept an eye out for Mr. B, but he must have found someone else to punk. Instead we saw more seahorses, octopus, puffer fish, and angel fish. Each time we circle reefs the song of the little mermaid pops into my head.  The schools of fish seem to freeze at times. Every clown fish is named Nemo. Every blue angel fish is named Dory.

Unable to explain the vastness of the sea, I’ll use my video to show my the rest of my trip experiences from under the sea:

Special Thanks to Luc for his photos and video. Thanks to Smiling Seahorse for providing such a great experience!

Who wants to go to Vietnam for 2 days?

Visiting Hanoi

A short $100 hop away from Bangkok. Reason to go? Coffee.

No really, I’ve been drinking this powered candy in Thailand that tastes like what coffee companies would make for kids if they wanted to get them interested early. Like those packs of gum that look like cigarettes. The complete look of a frothy cappuccino without the real punch. A piece of me dies each time I drink it.

Arriving to Hanoi airport around 9am, I order an uber and go to Old Town. The driver drops me off in the center of the city. Chaos. Frogger on Crack.

Crossing myself, I take a deep breath and go for it. I’m sure if I crossed a busy street like this in America without a cross walk someone would run me over. Over here, all the drivers seem to be on alert and slow down. After this crossing, everything else seems rather easy.

Its behind Here!

Like a speakeasy, the coffee shop is hidden in an alleyway behind some tailor. Once inside, the space opens up and you feel like you are inside, but outside at the same time. There’s a garden in the center of the house and the rooftop is open. A woman greets me and I already know what to order- “Ca phe sua da”. I walk up three or four flights of winding stairs to reach a beautiful roof top deck with a view of the lake. The first sip of caffeine gives me a new life.

Shortly after my relaxing coffee, I go to meet up with my couchsurfing host- Quynh. Vietnam is very affordable, so I didn’t need to really crash on someone’s couch, it was a means for me to make friends with locals. Sometimes traveling solo can be a bit lonely. Quynh recently got married and quit her job to start her own private tour company. Funny weekend. She told me she has to file a lot of paperwork to get the government to give her approval for her business. So for now she’s practicing with couchsurfing.

She takes me on her motorbike to Dai Kim and we eat Bun Cha. The meal was $1. Next, we go to Old Town. I walk about 6 miles wondering the streets in a mix of fake north face bags, nike gear, Hanoi shirts and souvenirs. Half way between my walk I decide to book at tour to Halong Bay for $30. My negotiation skills are pretty bad. Quynh stated that she pays 500,000 dong as a local, but I should expect to pay 700,000 dong. Later on the boat, I find out that everyone else paid 600,00 dong. Not that big of difference but still. American fail.  A

After Old town, we go to another coffee and get the famed” egg coffee” fantastic.

Halong Bay Tour for $30 – Is it worth it?

Halong Bay is about 3-4 hours bus ride away. As soon as I get on the bus, I’ve realized I booked the wrong tour. I sit in the back by the backpacking Brazilians. One of them has their flip flop off and their black dirty food dangling off his knee. Its constantly in the corner of my eye.

On the tour boat, I meet 2 Polish gay guys, 2 Koreans, and a Bosnian. We eat lunch together. We form a bond together when the guide tells me that my tour didn’t include a kayak tour because I didn’t pay extra. Everyone starts complaining for me. I simply tell him, I paid 100,000 dong extra than everyone else. So why doesn’t it include it? He finally gives up and throws me a coupon for kayaking. Saying- oh fine. Then take it. I would have skipped it, but I’m thankful that my new friends were sticking up for me.

We sail around the bay and take a trip into these beautiful caves. Since I’m on this crappy tour- my guide says nothing. So really I have no idea why there are caves at Halong Bay. I can’t tell you anything about it. James Bond movie. Thats about it.

A few hours later we finish the trip and start the long journey back.

Free City Tour Guide in Hanoi

The next day I have a private free tour around the city. Khanh Nguyen Phuong, or “Katie” for short, picks me up at 9am. We zip over to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and watch the changing of the guards. She tells me about the greatness of Ho Chi Minh and how he liberated Vietnam. I’m scared to ask her questions about communism and the conflict between the people that left versus people that stayed. Nowadays, I’m sure the dynamics have changed. You can see capitalism everywhere. I mean, just look at my Halong Bay Tour.

Next, we go the house where Obama stayed during his visit. This giant yellow French Mansion was supposed to be the “White House” but Ho Chi Minh dubbed it too fancy and stayed at the house down the way. The “Uncle Ho” house.  The house he lived in is traditional Northern Vietnam style. Reminds me of some of the houses in Thailand. One thing Katie points out: All the clocks in his home are set to 9:47; the exact time he passed away.

At one point, Katie asks my age and gives the most shocked face response to me. I can’t tell whether she thinks I am younger, or if she is concerned to be so old traveling alone. I too would look in horror as an old maid traveling solo. I find out she’s only 22. She’s lived in the Hanoi area all her life and has never traveled abroad. She hasn’t even been to Halong Bay.

We go to a few more sites around the city: Temple of Literature and the Hoa Lo Prison. In the prison, there’s a section on USA POWs. The image and impression I got was that the time in these prison camps was filled with Christmas celebrations and men playing ping pong. All the the photos show Vietnamese helping John McCain and treating his broken bones. Katie called it the “Hanoi Hilton Prison.”  Really. Her tour included a 5 minute talk about how well Americans were treated in prison. Despite the fact the next room showed men in shackles and solitary confinement rooms. Can someone say propaganda much?

Even though I didn’t agree with the politics, the tour itself was really informative and I enjoyed Katie’s young and dedicated spirit. She is a college graduate in Interpretation and told me about the lengthy process on getting the job as a free tour guide, Lots of tests and interviews. She’s a little shy- but at the same time- is quick to yell at solicitors to get out here. Just hanging out with her makes me wish I was 22 again.

I didn’t really go into depth about the food. But really. Its insane on how good the food is here. Most of the time I spent about $1 a meal. For lunch alone, I ordered 4 dishes and began stuffing myself like a little Fois Gras Duck. Must eat everything.  Full of carbs, I felt accomplished and flew back to Bangkok.

Till next time Vietnam…

 

 

 

Siem Reap in 2 days or less | Top Travel Recommendations

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Siem Reap – Visa

Christmas day and I’m feeling good from the Christmas lunch celebration. In the evening I catch a flight to Siem Reap. Looking for a pen to fill out the immigration form, I started up a short chat with my neighbor, US foreign affairs employee in Myanmar. We exchanged travel stories and our thoughts about Thailand. Krabi Good, Phuket, Bad. Tourist sites, local sites. Stuff Like that.

The plane lands and I do the Asian Hustle. Meaning, I jump into the aisle and scramble to the front.  No standing and waiting for anyone to get their bag from the overhead compartment. Normally I would be courteous, but really, this is the norm. Don’t expect anyone to give you space while you get your stuff.

In the immigration line. Passport- check. Photo- check. Money… uh where’s all my money? PANIC.

I really shouldn’t be allowed to travel anywhere. Between checking in and getting into this immigration line, I lose all my $20 bills. I mentally start retracing my steps… hmmm.

I think it must have been when I was pulling my passport out for all the different checks between the check in gate, the immigration line, the ticket boarding process, the visa application forms on the plane… the possibilities are endless.

I’m really starting to panic now. How am I going to get into this darn country? Why am I always like this? AHHHHHH.

By chance, my middle seat neighbor comes along -“what’s wrong?”.

I lost all my money. My face is flushed between sweat and redness. He pulls out a $50 bill and hands it to me.

“Here’s some money. You can pay me back later.” WHAT. How are people so nice and trusting? If there’s anything that I’ve learned from travelling, its that there are more nice people in the world than scam artists. Let yourself trust people. This guy doesn’t know if I’m a serial killer or a drug smuggler, yet he had the trust to give me money without knowing if I would ever see him again.

Saved by $50, I pay for my visa and then wait in another queue.

Here’s my email address, my google voice number, my thai phone number, and whatever other promises I can think of so that he can believe that I will return the money.

Cleared from the airport, I find my name on a hotel sign and a nice man waiting to take me to my hotel. The middle seat guy meets his friends and we part ways.

Tourist Itinerary Angkor Wat and more

The next morning- Nina’s friend, Andy arrives from Singapore. He’s in full blown cold mode. Determined to “power through” it, we go to a pharmacy and get some drugs to hide his misery. The first day itinerary in Cambodia is this:

  1. Angkor National Museum
  2. Old City Market
  3. Lunch somewhere tripadvisor recommends
  4. Walk around some more
  5. Relax at hotel – swimming
  6. Getting our Angkor Wat tickets
  7. Sunset tour at a Temple
  8. Night Market
  9. Dinner at Khmer Kitchen
  10. Tuk tuk back to the hotel

Andy “Powering Through” it – Tuk Tuk Ride

I have to give Andy credit. For his American vacation, he squeezed 5 cities into 2 weeks. I forget that Americans only get a few weeks for vacation, so they have to pack everything into a short period. I hate that abour corporate America. Why can’t we relax more? Even our holidays are stressful.

Next day, 430am: Pitch black and quiet. Our hotel gives us our breakfast goody bags and off we go.

I use my powerbank’s flashlight so we don’t eat shit on the stone walkway to the temple. By 530am, all of us tourists are huddled around the reflection ponds. I huddle in my Asian squat and curse the world as bugs continue to bite my legs.

Snap. Snap. Snap. I take about 100 photos. One of them has to be ok.

 

Sun is up – Let the temple extravaganza begin. Most people do the “small tour” which includes the top four temples. Not being shy from a challenge- I arrange a big and small tour that hits up 10 temples. Essentially all of the temples close to Angkor Wat.  To say that there are some Chinese tourists is an understatement. There are about 20 tour buses sitting in the parking lots across from the temples. People posing in front of all the faces. The Hot sun beating down on us. The mixture of sweat and dust creating an icky sticky mess.

11 hours later, we did it. All the damn temples.


Back at the hotel, I run, jump and plunge into the pool. Ahhhh. The soot of the dirty temple dust washes off. Andy passes out sitting upright in the hotel lobby.

 

Siem Reap. Out.

 

Note- I was able to see my $50 guardian angel in the airport on my way out and return the money. Cheers to friendly strangers.

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