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Gratitude

A prayer of gratitude and grounding.

I heard some excellent advice recently. As a fan of Dr. John Gottman’s works, I was thrilled in hearing a speaker reference one of his great pieces of wisdom. For 1 thing that’s bringing you down, you should have 5 reasons to be thankful. An attitude of gratitude is excellent for your overall health, especially emotionally.

While away in Vietnam and Indonesia, there was a lot of downtime in my hotel room. I made the most of it by meditating, praying and listening to sessions by Eckhart Tolle and Mooji. Their offerings were sage and timeless reflections on mindfulness. Mindfulness is the best starting point for gratitude.

I don’t subscribe to any one religion. That’s a conversation with many layers for me which I don’t care to bore you with. However, I made a point to start my days out on my hotel balcony, looking up at the clear blue skies or out on the ocean and praying:

Thank you for waking me and allowing me to see another day.

Thank you for providence.

Thank you for putting me here and keeping me safe.

Thank you for these people, this beautiful land and sea.

I am here to do good things.

I am here for joy.

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#Throwback – Good Hangover…erm, Breakfast Options in Shanghai

Being a relative newbie to Shanghai has its perks. Your new, built-in social circle of expats shows you the ropes and invites you out to a bevy of F&B gems. You wind up at some solid after-hours hangs, down 1 or 2 more gin & tonics than you would have liked…before you know it, you wind up waking with a banger of a headache and that gnawing need-some-greasy-goodness feeling in your tummy.

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Cherub watching over a hungover morning at Munchies

On the first new city hangover, a friend and I headed to Munchies in Jing’an on Wuding Lu. The name and decor clue you in to their easy-going, free-spirited nature. The menu is packed with classic American comfort food like pancakes, omelets, burritos, and hamburgers. My friend is a fan of their chocolate peanut butter milkshakes and hamburgers while I opted for the veggie omelet this go round. While not the best brunch/breakfast meal I’ve had here yet, it was certainly filling and budget-friendly.

In my opinion, Mr. Pancake House is a step above. They offer a very similar menu with similar pricing. The unfortunate bit is that whether you dine in or order online, there’s at least an item or two that they no longer offer or have run out of. Such was my luck with I received a call from the store and Sherpa’s that they were out of chocolate chips for my chocolate chip pancakes (!!!) and asked for my approval to substitute with chocolate syrup. The espresso martinis of previous hours begged for the chocolatey, buttery goodness of these pancakes so I forged ahead. Here’s hoping they can make positive changes to improve their stock since their food is consistently flavorful.

Finally, I cannot resist the berry-chocked, lemon zesty, rich, buttery goodness that is the dish you see below. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lazy morning where I don’t feel like making breakfast or if the previous night ended in a dive bar with dance-worn feet and a liter of Asahi, I will always crave this beauty of a stack. Enter Blueberry Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes from Al’s Diner. The menu features many American classics like omelets, skillets (Purgatory Eggs for hot-and-spicy fans), sandwiches and pasta dishes. The Key Lime Pie, priced right and well-balanced, offers a great finish for any Al’s meal. Gracie’s Ice Cream offers a one-two punch for Al’s fans as their unique flavor combinations like miso-caramel and balsamic strawberry shine. I’ve already shortlisted their banana split for my next post-post-party hangover meal.

 

My new guilty pleasure: Blueberry Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes from Al’s Diner
My new guilty pleasure: Blueberry Lemon-Ricotta Pancakes from Al’s Diner

 

#Throwback – Le Baron

*In advance of the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff gracing Shanghai’s Le Baron on November 18, here’s my quick review from a late May visit.*

 

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Gin and tonic with juniper and cucumber, Le Baron, Shanghai

A fishbowl glass of gin and tonic. The black-and-white luxury swank decor washed out in a flood of red light. Densely-packed dance floors on 2 levels where you’ll feel another’s heartbeat as you pass through. Beautiful expats gyrating to 15-second snippets of today’s hits with little to no time for crossfades. Suddenly, the poppy 4/4 thumps give way to some sexy, murky, subwoofer-breaking trap. That’s your typical Saturday summer night at Le Baron in Xuhui district.

Dress well and good luck at the door.

Hangin’? Nha, Trangin’!

[Image description: Vietnamese coffee and salted caramel topped creme brulee – Story Restaurant; mahogany wood water-bearing woman sculpture; mango ice cream rolls with chocolate toppings; chicken vindaloo, butter naan and masala chai – Omar’s; Nicoise salad, negroni and salmon bruschetta – Story; Tom Kha soup, white rice and salmon bruschetta – Story]

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[Image description: Busy pedestrian night scene on Tran Phu Street.]

Vietnam is home to many popular tourist hotspots like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The beautiful beaches, rich cultural attractions, native hospitality and low prices on food, lodging, and transportation make it a wonderful place to get away. Many expats I spoke to prior to my trip mentioned all of the above. Very few mentioned Nha Trang so I was eager to set off into unfamiliar territory. Here are my three takeaways from my weeklong visit.

  1. Nha Trang is a fun resort city with plenty of amenities.
  2. The food and beverage scene is very good.
  3. There’s a huge Russian influence here.

Life’s a Beach

As I didn’t give myself any beach time in Bali, I more than made up for it here. The skies were very good although October tends to be peak rainy season. Early morning showers did not stop my chances to soak up rays. Parking in a beach chair will cost you 150,000 Vietnamese Dong (VND) or $6.60 USD. For the more adventurous there are a lot of hubs where you can rent jet skis and Hobie cats to take out onto the water. On the right and just out of the frame is Hon Tre Island, home of the famed Vinpearl Amusement Park and Resort.  The nearby islands are quite accessible and island tours range from fun and frugal to luxe and sophisticated. Do your research before you book! There are also several reputable travel agents on the Tran Phu strip who can help you find the best itinerary.

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Pho-nomenal

Vietnam is well known for their delicious Pho and Bahn Mi sandwiches. Toying with the idea of bringing you reviews of pho at several different establishments, I abandoned that idea.

 

Above, you have spicy beef bun bo hue, beef pho and Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk from Tuan’s. Forgive me for getting halfway through my pho before taking a picture. That was dinner after a long day of walking tours capped off with a long spa trip. To be more precise, 3 hours of services including a heavenly 90-minute Lomi Lomi massage at Pure Beauty Spa were well under $50 USD.

As you can see, the portion sizes are Tuan’s are healthy. The rich broth was well-flavored thanks to old school preparation and traditional spices. Both bowls had just the right amount of oil beading at the surface and a perfect portion of unctuous beef slices. The chili, cilantro, lime and green onion garnish added an extra, quite welcomed dimension. To boot, these were the cheapest meals I had all week. A bowl of either will set you back 39,000 VND, $1.72 USD and a cup of coffee is only 19,000 VND or .84 USD.

Getting over my soup kick, I headed over to Story Restaurant and Nightclub. This is a gorgeous multilevel establishment with an Alice in Wonderland theme. While I didn’t venture down to the nightclub, the main level has a large bar, dancefloor, two pools with deep-seating lounge areas and open-air dining area with excellent beach views.

The name Story could also refer to the fact that this place’s food and drink menus are a volume each. They have well over 100 dishes showcasing an array of American, Russian, Vietnamese and Thai flavors. In spite of the myriad offerings, the food is great quality. They even offer extra hot water for the coffee so that great flavor lasts and lasts. Adult beverages are nicely made, not over poured and won’t set you back more than 250,000 VND ($11 USD). My meals as seen above did not go over the $15 USD mark.

 

Indian food is always a winner for me as I am a curry fanatic. Omar’s shines through with complex yet balanced traditional flavors.  My butter naan, chicken vindaloo, and masala chai made for an awesome dinner. The helpings are generous as witnessed by a tablecloth-sized naan. The owner and his sons head a speedy kitchen with very courteous waitstaff. While my dinner was excellent, my White Russian (see the theme yet?) came slightly curdled. The culprit citrus was barely detectable but they surely have better options.

Last but certainly not least, did you notice that delectable cup of cool sweetness near the hotel phone? On my last night, I decided to investigate the kiosk that was causing a metallic tap-and-grind solo every few minutes outside the hotel. Lo and behold, it was made-to-order ice cream. I avoided street food all trip but why not end this week on a sweet kick? For $2 USD, you can choose from 30 different flavors (coffee, oreo and peanut butter to mango and green tea) then have that 3-ingredient ice cream blended and chilled to your delight. How was it? Some bites were cloyingly sweet and tasted of condensed milk but it satisfied the taste buds.

The Russian Influence

You’ll notice that a lot of the signage in Nha Trang features Vietnamese and Russian. With over 700 direct flights from Russian cities to Nha Trang, the coastal city is a big, budget-friendly draw. I did a little research on another blog but seeing the sea of Russian travelers for myself was another story.

Ball out on a budget!!! 

While a round-trip air ticket from Shanghai set me back about $400 USD, six days at my 3-star hotel was under $220, six days of dinning skimmed $150 and $50 for a Vietnam visa (see entry & exit requirements here) kept my spending well under $900.

 

#Throwback – First Impressions of my new home

The city hums, industrious and traditional, metallic clangs and soft chimes, feels like home with different faces of many hues. The smells that waft from store fronts, street carts, clandestine alleys vary from rich meat broths, offal slices, succulent produce, centuries of rich culinary heritage. Many of them curious about my own. I wonder how many think I darkened myself with years of sun or pounds of dark chocolate. Who knows that my ancestors have worked alongside theirs for many, many generations. How many think I am from some foreign land, closer to that of my mother’s mother’s mother’s. How many think I am rich because I am simply here. Teens, Millennials, thirtysomethings hardly glance. They have seen us before, grown up with us in their social media feeds, have seen us on television or heard our songs on the radio more times than they can count. My presence is accepted, at least in front of me as I am sure my back could tell another tale. Children and middle-aged or old stare me right in the face as we walk side by side on already crowded sidewalks. No one seems to know what to make of me. Dark brown skin that won’t rub off, jet black kinks and coils of dreads beg a touch.

The city, expansive and teeming with possibility. The skyline ever-changing as the years go. Much like home, like Chicago threefold and shaded in different hues, with different languages and landscapes. For us newbies, the limits are within our own minds.

Would I do this all over again? Without a doubt. I have to stop my mind often from getting too far ahead of itself. The habit of pursuing instant gratification is extremely difficult to break considering American culture and tendencies. There is beauty in the details and the process that you can’t see if you make the time and effort to see them. The most important thing here is staying in the moment and only going as far as needed for the time being. There’s no real need to get ahead of oneself. Sitting in the airport, I calmed myself by thinking “What are you so jumpy for? You only have the rest of your life to look forward to!” This experience has started to force change within me, often much-needed changes.

Unlike anywhere I have ever been, this city is filled with learners young and old. Schools of every discipline, after-school and enrichment programs, library centers, conversation clubs. Four-year-old Kindergarteners beginning to learn English. The society learns and grows together.

#ThrowbackThursday – One month down, countless to go…

Journal entry from December 2016

At times, it’s hard to believe that a full month has passed. I have learned so much through this remarkable change of life. I know that Shanghai is part futuristic metropolis, part remnant of the Old World. I know that the people are mostly warm, passionate, curious. I know that a handful are resentful and bitter at change and the influx of expats. Some are curious about my chocolate skin, wide nose, almond eyes, my long, black, faux-goddess locks. The hair gets stares for sure, the occasional thumbs up from lil’ ol’ lady shopkeepers. Some might instantly dismiss me because I am a dark-skinned black woman for one reason or another. Little do they know that I am so content with the very notion of being here, finding my place here, gladly embracing their culture. Little do they know that I gladly wake up daily to educate their own. Little do they know that I wake up to and run home to just that: home.

In a taxi bobbing and weaving through Shanghai morning rush hour, on the way to work as an English language arts teacher, hair of long black faux dreadlocks with deep-spiral curled ends, wearing a dark rose satin bomber jacket and Uniqlo black skinny jeans, listening to Solange with my twin flame waiting for me at home. This is how I ended 2016. Everything is a far cry from the overweight, ceaselessly unhappy, couch locked dreamer that I began the year as.

Eat, Pray Self-Love Part IV

This new moon is ushering in a healing, restorative cycle. My best friend said she spent the previous two weekends planning for a successful 2018. “About to reap a good harvest,” I told her. I can say the same for myself. Since returning from Bali, my spirit needed some extra attention. The summer had been non-stop meetups and meet-and-greets, team meetings and pressing deadlines, finding new tribes and untried haunts. All the while, I was half-awake, continually moving, coming home at late hours only to rise early and start again. On the trip, my subconscious caught up with me in a really unsettling way. This was a clear sign to reset and reinforce my intentions.

The last three weeks have been emotionally and spiritually intense. I’ve had to relearn the importance of true surrender and fruitful stillness. Showing up to adult at work and on projects was becoming automatic. Showing up to work on myself was sliding out of view. The trip reminded me how vitally important working on myself needs to be.

This new moon calls me to manifest what I need and I sincerely wish the same for you. To manifest truth, forgiveness, clarity, strength, and perseverance. To manifest light, to educate, entertain and inspire. To always be clear about my intentions and purpose. To give selflessly where needed. To be a blessing to others. To see the grace in others and allow them to see the same within me. Most importantly to make way to receive love and light. May we all breathe beautifully to end this year and shine into 2018.

Eat, Pray, Self-Love Part III

The blazing sun peeks just enough through the courtyard’s palm trees. The rays heat your typing fingers, sandal-bound toes and brown bosom in a green, red and yellow crochet bikini top. The typing comes from boredom, the last thing you wanted to encounter on this hard-earned, exotic Bali trip. Get out of your head, you think and say to yourself all bloody day. There’s a new world out there but you’re too “something” to escape. An island paradise awaits on the other side of the busy, high-trafficked roadway.

The locals are beautiful dipped in every shade of caramel and chocolate, their language rhythmic and lyrical. Where’s your curiosity? What happened to that sense of adventure you promised yourself? Instead of letting last night’s surreal dream keep you in the throes of subconscious paranoia, let go. Remember why you are here. Divinity. Peace. Reflection. Renewal. Not reviewing old ways, no more post-mortems of loves that were never built to last. Accept and overcome. What’s keeping you from you? Nothing. That changes here and now. Loving the sight of black people in non-traditionally black spaces is the move. Be in that. Don’t talk a good game and fail to live up to it. Now is the time and more than ever.

It doesn’t take a plethora of megahertz frequency YouTube meditation videos or enough vibration raising pressure point tap and chant combinations to escape the fact that you are you. It doesn’t matter where in this world you are at or who you are with. You are you. Embrace and own that shit in the full. Change your mindset. Failure comes in living yet not truly living and making the most of every step, every breath. Tomorrows are never promised so make the most of today.

Stay outside long enough to see that chocolate skin of yours turn to a deep mahogany. Go run your toes through the white sands you have been dreaming about. Go see the Indian Ocean from this side of the bay. Go. Seek. Do. 

Go be free.

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Pura Taman Ayun – “Beautiful Garden”

 

In the coming days,  I will post some additional reflections from my Bali trip. For now, I want to highlight the beauty of Pura Taman Ayum. When your guide, a local driver, looks at your pictures and says, “Is that your hotel,” you know that you are in a place of great beauty and prestige. There was a sense of calm and inner peace with each temple that we visited but this was a unique experience.