Public Art for Better Space (2020 Quarantine Edition)

Many visitors arrive in Hanoi excited to check out the Ceramic Mosaic Mural which was recognized in 2010 by Guinness World Records as the largest ceramic mural in the world at that time.  Yes, it’s a great tour stop and one could spend hours strolling, inspecting, and photographing this 4 mile work of art.  But I’m never one to focus my time on the “popular” spots!  I took this opportunity to explore a lesser known but (to me) more beautiful work of art…and I’m glad I did.

The Vietnam-Korea Joint Project Public Art for Better Space (NGHE THUAT) Project was initiated as an art exchange project to celebrate 25 years of friendship between Vietnam and South Korea. 

The murals are located along a ~200m stretch of Phùng Hung Street under the railway which leads to the Long Bien Bridge.  There are 19 paintings designed to celebrate the culture and spirit of 1000 years of history in Hanoi.  But this is not just a historical exhibit.  The murals include interactive and 3D paintings which delight visitors and invite them to become a part of the art.  Some are truly incredible!

Some depict scenes of daily life in Old Hanoi…

The Master Caligrapher at Work usually draws quite a crowd!

Many of the murals invite viewers to interact and become a part of the scene.

The murals are not limited to just paintings – they are multimedia art.

This beautiful 3D cutout mural uses a technique called trompe-l’oeil.

And of course, the railway art project would not be complete without a depiction of the bridge to which it leads!

Photos don’t really do it justice, but I really enjoyed this experience. My only regret is not spending more time “interacting” with the murals!  Add it to the list for next time. 🙂

Kawazu Sakura Matsuri (2020 Quarantine Edition)

We’re stuck inside, travel (and other life) restrictions in full swing.  But our minds are still free.  And there are so many things we can learn, enjoy, and discover from the wonders of our own internet-filled living rooms.  So, where should we begin? 

I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the past ~decade.  I actually started this blog hoping to share and process some of those experiences but to be honest, I’m usually too busy enjoying the trip to take the time to sit down and capture it in words!  And when I do, it takes me forever because I agonize over making it perfect – as any self-respecting, detail-oriented scientist would. 🙂 Ahhhh…luckily, I’ve suddenly found myself with a lot of time at home on my hands.  It still won’t be perfect, but at least it’ll occupy a few minutes of my time.  And maybe it’ll be a welcome and positive distraction for you, too.

Instead of debating the perfect opening post, I’m just going with the one that calls me in the moment.  Growing up near Washington DC meant that The Cherry Blossom Festival was always such a big deal.  If you’ve never witnessed first hand the pink and white beauty reflecting in the Tidal Basin, you should really add it to your bucket list! I can’t remember the last time I went, though, because the number of tourists usually outnumbers even the number of blossoms.  That is, if you are lucky enough to catch a peek before rain, snow, wind or any number of other natural “disasters” wipes the blooms off the trees and leaves puddles of pink on the ground.  If I lived within walking distance, this would definitely be the year to try since tourism is limited.  Anybody from DC reading this?  Have you seen them this year? ❤️

In early March of 2015, I went to another cherry blossom festival – the Kawazu Sakurai Matsuri on the Izu Peninsula in Japan.  Cherry trees in Kawazu are some of the earliest and slowest blooming in eastern Japan, providing the more than 1 million annual visitors with a wonderful welcome to spring.

Reaching Kawazu is a relatively easy by train and once you are there, you notice not just the beauty but also the street festival atmosphere during this time of year. 

Families come to enjoy good weather and partake in shows, games and of course food!

Luckily for me, not everything was made of fish…hahahaha.

If you want to learn more about this festival, here’s a great summary.

This trip was for me, at the time, a welcome break from the bustle of busy Tokyo (and life in general!).  Today, it brings back fond memories of a wonderful trip with friends and colleagues.  If you find yourself in Japan, make your way to Kawazu and enjoy!

So, you will never be rich?

Here’s how it happened, on the 10 minute Uber ride from the hotel to the airport.

Kenneth picked me up and as usual when I take an Uber, we struck up some conversation.  Why waste 10 minutes in a foreign country in silence rather than learning something?

We exchanged pleasantries and I told him I had been in South Africa only 2 nights, but had arrived after spending 3 weeks in Mozambique.  He was intrigued – because why would you spend 3 weeks in Mozambique?  I explained that I was volunteering with All Hands and Hearts building schools in rural areas which were destroyed in the cyclone last year.  He asked me why I would take such work.  I said I don’t get paid, I quit my “regular” job and now travel and volunteer because I enjoy helping others.

Then the thoughtful pause…

“So, you will never be rich?”

“No.  Well, maybe.  I don’t know.  I feel rich in my heart.”

This prompted an amazing conversation about how we view possessions vs. experiences.  How we can define “rich” in so many ways.  How society places value on things when that may not actually be the be-all end-all goal. How people are really just people no matter their life circumstances – we have more in common than we realize. He shared words of wisdom passed down from his father. I did too. We enjoyed a special moment.

Yes, it this happened over only 5 minutes and it was with an Uber driver that I will never meet again.  But these are the conversations that color our perspective and cause us to reflect, become better people, appreciate things in a  way which we might not otherwise. We are not so different. Who’s to say who is born into privilege vs poverty. It’s not what we were given, it’s what we make of it.

So I can ask you – are you rich?  Life is too short, don’t miss out on all that it has to offer. 

A Layover in Doha

Have you ever been to Qatar? 🙂  I know….but that’s OK!  I didn’t really know where it was before I planned a 48 hour layover either.  This country occupies the Qatar peninsula on the Arabian peninsula…does that help?  There are nearly 3 million people living here, 80% of whom are expats.   

It’s actually a great layover location – as long as you’re not travelling in June-August when temperatures routinely top 45 oC!  American citizens do not require a visa and Qatar Airways has a fantastic transit program that allows you to book a room in a 4* or 5* hotel for as little as $23USD/night.  Come on…..why choose two consecutive red eye flights instead of sleeping in a comfy bed for a bit?!

Although I knew little about this place, it took only a few internet searches to determine that Souq Waqif was the place to be.  It’s centrally located in the heart of the touristic area – perfect for wandering about in a jet lagged stupor.  I booked a room at the Souq Waqif Boutique Hotels – a conglomeration of 9 small hotels spread thoughout the Souq – and ended up in the Najd building.  It’s new, clean and can I mention has a super comfy bed? 🙂

In an attempt to stay up longer than 4pm, I headed out for some dinner and to get my bearings.  Souq Waqif is bustling at night with lots of people enjoying the evening – complete with street music!.  A delicious meal at Al Shurfa Arabic Lounge (try the Al Shurfa mocktail!) with amazing views of the Doha skyline was a perfect way to end the night.

In the morning, the Souq was (mostly) empty and I had time to check out one of Doha’s more unique sites.  Named “Le Pouce”, this is a statue of a….giant thumb.  Yes.  A giant thumb.  I’ve seen it, read about it, and still can’t explain it but it gets 2 thumbs up from me!

Next, it was time for a three hour tour booked through Discover Qatar.  Our guide took us all around the city to see the major sites.  At each stop we got “5 minutes to take pictures”.  Call it a “Doha Sampler”.  Perfect.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Qatar.  No time to go inside, haha, but it was definitely worth a stop for pictures!  The innovative design is meant to bring together the past, present and future and compliments the collections of the museum which focus on the culture, heritage and future of Qatar.  A longer stop will be on my list for “next time”.

Our next stop was the Museum of Islamic Art.  Another stunning building set right on the water.  You guessed it – snap snap snap and we were back in the van.

We cruised down the Corniche, a fabulous waterfront promenade…

…past the dhow harbor on our way to the Katara Cultural Village.  The Village was pretty deserted, so we made a short stop to view the new masjid and pigeon towers, which are typically used to house thousands of pigeons and collect droppings for fertilizer.

On the way out, we swung by one of Doha’s many high end malls.  No one was ready to open their wallets, but the interesting thing about this place is that it has air conditioning – outside!  Those grates on the sidewalk blow cold air when the temperatures rise.  Clever?  Seems like a good way to encourage spending.  I have no comment at this time about the waste….I mean, “utilization”(!)….of energy and resources.

We next crossed the bridge to visit the West Bay area of Doha.  This is where the business of life happens – in very tall skyscrapers!  People (and, thankfully, traffic) were scarce but we can assume they were upstairs chained to their desks while we were gallivanting about having fun…. 

We were on our way to our last stop of the tour – The Pearl.  This is an artificial island created in Doha, where foreigners can buy condos starting from the low low price of $6000USD/m2.  It reminded me very much of the gated communities in Florida.  Perhaps not surprising, since the project is a collaboration between a developer in the US and the people of Qatar. We got a sense of the project at the Welcome Center, where they have a model of the area, and then had a few minutes to enjoy the sunshine.

Throughout the day, I was intrigued by the signs I saw.  The next time you take your “normal” for granted, think about this! 🙂

After 3 hours I was more than ready to exit the vehicle, and took one more walk through the Souq before calling an end to the sightseeing.  I was particularly excited to visit the Falcon Souq!  Collecting falcons is a national pastime in Qatar.  Read more about this hobby (and sport) here.

I returned to what had become my favorite viewpoint in the city to enjoy a cold juice, take in the skyline views and people watch. 

What a pleasant surprise when we were treated to an impromptu airshow.  I do love a good flyover!  These jets are preparing for the celebration of Qatar National Day on December 18.  Maybe that’s a good time for a visit to Doha? 🙂

We are Waiting for you at Home

Nope….not at my actual home….welcome to Bolivia! I arrived here via blue skies with views of the most beautiful water I’ve seen from the air in a long time. I mean, come on. 🙂

And now, I’m excited to be volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Bolivia outside Santa Cruz de la Sierra in support of their special project, “We are Waiting for You at Home.”. This project supports families with children suffer from chronic diseases and/or disabilities. The goal is to expand and improve existing homes in order to provide a safe, healthy environment for the children to recover and thrive once they return home from the hospital. How could this not be amazing?!

We have just met our partner family. Jassmin is 15 years old but has already had 4 surgeries for retinoblastoma. She also suffers from hyperthyroidism, a speech impediment and an intellectual disability which leaves her with the mental age of a 6 year old. The good news is that she is an amazing, happy, funny, kind, giving kid AND her cancer is in remission, woohoo! The bad news is that in order to achieve this success, Jassimin’s eye was removed. When doctors attempted to place an artificial eye, her body rejected it and it too had to be removed. They hope to try again in the future – more surgery to come.

In the mean time, Jassmin lives with her mom and her two sisters, age 16 and 18 in a one crowded room with limited ventilation. Here they are during our introductions. Cute (Jassmin on the left). 🙂

These girls have had a difficult life. When their mom, Ana Maria, took Jassmin to Argentina for treatment, she had to abruptly return home when she received news that her neighbors were attempting to steal her land. And in an extremely unfair twist, their mom, Ana Maria, is also undergoing treatment for skin cancer. And just this week she was diagnosed with lung cancer. You would never know it to talk with her, this is a strong woman who loves her family fiercely and is so excited for this opportunity to improve her home.

We’ll be working side by side with this family for a week to help them achieve their dream of home ownership. I can’t wait to get to know them better and become a part of their family. <3

In April, I’ll be returning to Bolivia to again work on the “We are Waiting for you at Home” project! I’m currently recruiting teams for La Paz and Cochabamba. If you’re interested in providing financial support for families such as those of Ana Maria, please use the links here and here. Every dollar counts, ¡muchas gracias!

**Information included in this post was provided by Habitat for Humanity Bolivia. Their support is much appreciated.

Exploring and learning while enjoying life and doing my part. Here, there and everywhere…