Introducing My Gang


A lot of people have been asking what I carry with me when I’m on the road. I thought I could explain that to you by making a photo of my entourage and introduce my loyal travel buddies to all of you. There is a story behind them. So here we go:

My entourage

1. My American Ipod. There is an engraving in the back: Never forget where you come from.

2. My Swedish sneakers (the brand’s name is Vagabond. Cool, huh?)

3. My Japanese SLR Nikon camera D60 (bought from my first internship salary in 2008). It’s old but I would never sell it or give it away.

4. My American Iphone

5. My South Korean “You cannot stop NYC” shirt (bought in Dongdaemun, Seoul (!))

6. My French body lotion bottle (brand: Occitane, the fragrance is jasmine)

7. My Vietnamese pen with my name engraved on it (done by the old man sitting besides a tree close to Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. He is been sitting there for more than 50 years now. I visit him each time I fly back to Hanoi. Here is his story (unfortunately only in Vietnamese:http://www.hohoankiem.org/hon-nua-the-ky-ngoi-khac-but-ben-ho-t33/ )

8. My German passport

As you can see, the gang is quite international. I’m so glad that they are with me all the time. What do you carry with you when you are on the road?

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Lost and Found


Hi,

I hope life has been treating you well. Okay, probably not because you are in high school now and I know you are going through a hard time because you are still in that small town in East Germany. I know you hate it. I know some of your classmates are using you and you let them use you because you just want to fit in. I know some of them are making fun of you just because you are different. I know you are a little bit lost.

I just met a girl. She was like you. A loner. She reminds me of you. I know you can’t hear me now and I know I can’t help you because you can’t read the lines that I am writing right now. But I hope they might help other boys and girls who are going through the same thing. I know it’s easier said than done but you gotta do your best. Promise me you will.

  • Don’t let other people’s voices drown out your own. Especially your Asian parents’ voices. You know they care about you but their thinking is from the past. If you like languages and want to study American literature, then do it. Your parents might think it’s rubbish but you can prove them wrong. I know it’s hard to do this but you have to stay strong and have faith in what you do. Find your own path. I repeat: Find.Your.Own. Path.
  • Be proud of yourself. Don’t hide who you are. You are you and you are awesome. If you like reading books (mangas are books too!) all of the time, then do it. Don’t be afraid of other people’s reaction. If you like getting good marks just because you are ambitious and just want to fulfill your dreams while your classmates just want to get drunk and do ‘fun’ stuff, then do it. Seriously, you might have noticed that some of your classmates are just a bunch of losers. They are not worth your attention.
  • Dream lots of dreams and have the courage to fulfill your dreams. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Never. Period.

That’s a lot, huh? Hey, I know you are gonna have some doubts. Oh you will be so doubtful and insecure so many times in your life. For example, when you think that you are not good enough for that scholarship. Or when you just end your non relationship -relationship because, well, it is too early and too late at the same time. Or when you apply for jobs and don’t get invited to interviews. Or when your friends start getting married and having kids. But in the end it’s your happiness and you have to define it yourself. I’m sure you will make it because I wouldn’t have been the person I’m today if you hadn’t made it. You have done a good job of loving me and embracing all my rough edges.

Keep swimming, will ya?

Me.

PS. I’m in Berlin now, thinking about my next trip to the US and Canada with two of my bunnies ( it’s not what you think!). I did get that scholarship that you are thinking about. I have been to a lot of other countries, went to graduate school in funf**kingtastic NYC* (Oh don’t get me started why it’s awesome!),  worked in Tokyo (awesome!) and Indonesia (awesome!). I am now planning my next move (pssst). Of course it is not always a bed of roses but I can safely say that I am leading a happy and privileged life. Thanks for believing in me.

* Yes, I know you want Ireland because your love for Oscar Wilde but somehow it turns out to be NYC!

Twelve Shapes of …Ethiopia


Welcome to the country where you can visit your great-great-great10 grandmother regardless of who you are.

Welcome to the country where local people will just beam at you whenever you talk in their language even though it’s only a ‘ hi, thank you and goodbye.

Welcome to the country where coffee will be your best friend. Where sometimes your body will move but your heart will stay still.

Welcome to Ethiopia.

My adventure in this country started with a coffee (buna is the term for Ethiopian coffee ceremony) and ended with a tea (lots of sugar!). It was the first time during all my years of travcoffeeelling that a street vendor gave me something without asking for (more) money. She was a woman who sells coffee in Bahir Dar, next to Lake Tana. The coffee was 5 birr and I didn’t have enough small bank notes with me and needed the big ones for my hotel payment. She simply smiled and shook her head. It probably meant nothing to her but everything to me.

As expected, the most common question that I got asked whenever I mentioned my stay in Ethiopia was “Is is safe?”, followed by a few skeptical eyebrows after I said yes. Maybe I was just lucky (even Bunny 1 says that) and met the right persons in the right place at the right time. Maybe someone watched over me. Or maybe, yes, it is possible, the world is quite a friendly place and there are many people who just want to help and protect me. Without asking anything in return.

I am not saying that we should walk around with our head in the clouds and ignore all safety cautions. I’m just saying that at the end of the day most of us are actually helpful and care about other people’s well-being. I’m also saying that mass media play a significant role in giving us a very simple picture of Africa. What you think you know about this continent is only a fragment of reality. To feel and understand you need to visit it yourself. This also goes for any other continent or country. Yes, poverty is a big issue. Yes, danger is a big issue. And yes, there are people who just want to help. For those of you who want to travel and explore the world I have only one advice: throw away your prejudices (I know you have them. I do, too). Come unprepared. And you will be rewarded with the most intense and wonderful experiences.

Seeing is believing and here is what I saw (I sent them as postcards to 12 people. I know some lines are cheesy but it is how I feel about this country. The listed postcards are in random order):

1. Berlin, Germany

Here are my ingredients for a perfect adventure in Ethiopia ( and the rest of this wonderful world):

  • 1 cup of curiosity
  • 1 cup of spontaneity
  • 1 cup of openness

Mix them together. Smile (as often as you can!). Take a deep breath and carry the mix inside your heart. Are you ready? Let’s go.

2. NYC, USA

My journey in Ethiopia started with nothingness and ended with 8 days, 11 hours and 40 minutes of complete happiness, contentment and entertainment! I have to thank Ethiopian people for that.

3. Berlin, Germany

As usual, my best travel moments are almost always unplanned. I don’t mind risking for the unknown. Ethiopia has shown me that this is the best strategy to get the most out of a country.

4. Karlsruhe, Germany

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried on the third day of my stay in Ethiopia. Imagine an Asian woman sitting alone on the ground of the Menelik Square, listening to a group of solders playing the Ethiopian national anthem. What a bizarre situation. What a wonderful moment!

cry

5. Cologne, Germany

Life is on the streets of Ethiopia. It is a miracle within itself. I find beauty in everything I see.

6. Berlin, Germany

Oops, I did it again. I told my life story to a complete stranger on the streets of Addis Ababa. We chew khat (I didn’t feel anything!) and drank sweet tea and I talked and talked and it felt good. A perfect therapy session!

7. Hamburg, Germany

The fourth day in Ethiopia smelled like summer 2009. I felt light and free. I happily indulged in the normalcy of the moment. Watched rain drops falling. Another. And then another. Wish I could stop time.

8. Chemnitz, Germany

Met a little boy, walking alone on the street. Barefoot. Big innocent eyes. Dirty face. Dirty little hands. So brave. He smiled in a way that made me cry inside. Played with the money I gave him. Carried him to find his mother. Found his mother. She smiled as well.

9. Berlin, Germany

Yes, even amid the crassness and cynicism of our time there are always people who will help you without asking anything in return. Ethiopia is the perfect example for that.

10. Zürich, Switzerland

Life is simple here in Addis Ababa. Even a stray dog can make me laugh. I met one in the city center today. We discovered the city together!

dog

11. Berlin, Germany

Today I inhaled the fresh air of Bahir Dar; it filled my lungs gorgeously. I found my Vietnamese childhood memory in Africa: a banana tree.

banana

12. Göttingen, Germany

Ethiopia has taught me that whenever in doubt, smile! When life throws lemons at you, make the best out of them. Use them for tequila. Use them for your food but don’t stay still and watch them rotten. What an important lesson.

———–

More photos of Ethiopia on my Instagram Account. You have to scroll down a bit to find them since the most current ones are about Berlin.