I always say that people are their at their realist around a campfire. Something about the woods entices the swapping of honesty. We gut out our fears, skin things down to the truth in a way that can't happen elsewhere.
This past Memorial Day I traveled with a longtime friend to Francis Slocum State Park near Wilkes Barre, PA for just that kind of escape. In the middle of the forest, it was just us two. Cooking up meals, wearing flowers in our hair (and hands). We were just here to see what beautiful things nature had to send our way. The one-on-one time, us and nature, left no room for facades. It was all real. It was all authentic.
It's rare that you find the right person and situation for such sentiments. There's nothing like some good ole camping with the best friends who get you through life. With all the hectic moving weighing on my mind, lord knows I needed it. Thanks Dani for getting me out of the city and reminding me why I love camping (and you) so much!
(all image sources can be found here)
It's a four day weekend in celebration of Memorial Day and I couldn't be any more relieved! I'll be off camping and enjoying a bit of nature before I head back to the city to move out of my apartment. For those of you relishing in some downtime & surfing around the internet, I thought I'd give you a list of interesting links to make the long weekend worthwhile. Check out below a few of the things I've been inspired by lately!
1. Working on a project & need something to listen to? Stream this Ted Radio Hour . I caught it while painting my new living room last weekend, and felt my eyes opened in enlightening ways.
2. Wish you were hiking? How about here?
3. Endless scrolls of good design.
4. One thing I will be trying with my homegrown herbs this summer.
5. Thanks to the modern age we can now livestream yoga classes! Just signed up for my free 15day trial :)
6. A whole Tumblr full of pretty things
We made it to Wuhan, the province of Hubei's largest city, and the rain was pouring down! Luckily we easily found my sister-in-law's father who had been waiting for us all day. He was with another man from their town who had driven a van to come pick us up. We stood under the airport's awning, wondering about running to the car. I couldn't speak Chinese, but I whipped out my umbrella and quickly handed it to her father to give our driver. He made a run for it and came back with the van to pack us all in. From there it was about a 3.5 hour drive to the small town of Mengxi.
Mengxi is a one road place. A fairly modern strip of buildings line either side. Each is connected to the other, like row homes with no space in between. Open front mom'n pop shops fill the spaces. Some are selling live pigs, others household needs or alcohol. Jiao Jiao's uncle and aunt own a hair salon that fills one of the spaces. None if it is clean. Dust floats everywhere. Small trucks and motorcycles whiz up and down the road, as do bicycles and wagons. Beyond the strip of buildings lining the street, rice fields and farming stretch on for days. You may find a small cluster of homes sprinkled throughout, but for the most part it's just open fields. The homes are shack-like concrete structures that you can walk through on dirt foot paths. People sit around in doorways, groups of men work on a neighbors roof, and chickens run about.
My brother has bought Jiao Jiao's parents a new apartment on the main road. Its sparkly clean and sleek on the inside. This is where we'll be making our home for the next week. Jiao Jiao's parents, my parents, Ben and Jiao Jiao, me and Ilario, all under one roof. I take the couch, as we all know that I love sleeping on couches and I can snooze through just about anything. It's a natural fit, and the rest of the week I rise at 6am when her parents wake. I get to see the inner workings of a Chinese couple's early mornings. There is no power when we first arrive because of the rain, and so we head down the street to the only hotel where they have a generator and we can get some food. Family fills the place, we have it all to ourselves, and we eat like kings.
The day before the wedding we head about 10 minutes from Mengxi to Nanping, the next town over. Jiao Jiao has to find a wedding dress! Can you believe it? Any American bride would have had her dress for months, but in China it's not uncommon to go and rent yours the day before. That's right, rent.
We then head the big hotel in town, where Ben and Jiao Jiao will get married the following day. We eat lunch, and then rent a room so we can shower. The apartment is still without power, and by this time we're a group of very smelly Americans, so it's pretty much needed. Afterward, we wander into Nanping, check out the street food, the shopping...I go to bed very happy that night.
Our last day in the province of Hubei, we venture to the nearest city, Gong'an. We head there so that Jiao Jiao can get a new ID, and so that they two of them can file for their marriage license. The Chinese culture is all very funny, and we have to bring cigarettes and chocolate to bribe the workers. Can you believe it? This makes it so that, perhaps, Jiao Jiao can get her id in one week rather than five - or, their marriage license will be ready the following day rather than in a week. I can't believe it, but it's true, and oh so funny.
We eat our hearts out in Gong'an on street food. At one point I have a red bean matcha green tea milk tea. It's so delicious. We also gnaw on some sugar cane, and share spicy street noodles.
Every which way you look it's so interesting. There are no stop lights, people drive and honk like maniacs. Things are dirty, buildings look run down, yet the people are very put together and some shops are fancy as can be. The juxtaposition is so strange and foreign to me. I love soaking it all in and taking it for what it is.
To start things off, I'm going to begin with saying that this is not going to be a formal travel guide. I'm not going to tell you what sites to see, what restaurants to eat at, or useful phrases for getting by. Rather, I'll take you to the places I went, and best capture the scenes that played out before me. It will be a recount of my voyage from Philadelphia, PA, through Shenzhen, and to Hubei province in the heart of China. I'll let you in on the alleyways my brain wandered down while discovering the two small towns of Mengxi and Nanping, along with the city of Gong'an. It all starts on the second story of a Philadelphia row home...
People would ask me if I was excited to go to China. Of course I was, but I had to admit, I had no idea what to expect. Nobody told us much of what would happen or occur once we arrived. I knew my brother was getting married. I knew it would happen in my sister-in-law's middle-of-nowhere hometown. But beyond that I had nothing to grasp. I was headed for China, that in itself signifies an adventure, and that's all I really needed to get excited.
To prepare my bags, I had a mental checklist of musts to bring along. As a seasoned traveler, I recommend the following for anyone getting ready to set out on a big trip:
1. A small note book & writing utensil
I always used to bring along my big sketchbook. As nice as it is to have, the added weight just isn't worth it. Keep a small notebook for your thoughts, things you want to remember, and leave it at that.
2. Your favorite jewelry
By bringing along jewelry, it means you can pack less clothes! Change your look day to day by switching up the necklace. It saves room in the suite case, and helps to make you feel like yourself while traveling.
3. Two new books
If you're like me, traveling is the best time for reading. Bring along one book on something you've been wanting to learn more about, and another that is just a good story. Especially if you're in a group, you'll find a lot of moments where you're waiting on other people, so they'll be good to have. They're also great for the plane/airport. I usually bring one in my carry-on, and keep the other in my suite case.
4. Digital camera + lenses
You're going to get the best photos of your life while traveling. Simple as that. If you've been thinking about getting a new lens, get it a couple weeks before your trip, and bring it along for the ride. These are moments and scenes you'll want to remember forever.
5. An adapter
Honestly, I'm the girl that sticks her phone in her suite case and doesn't take it out the whole trip, but it's still good to have an adapter on hand. In case you need an alarm clock one morning, you can plug your phone in. If you're big into music, you'll definitely want your phone charged. I can also guarantee that someone will need to borrow it at some point and they'll be very happy you brought it along.
So I was all packed. Hopped on a nighttime plane off to San Francisco where I would meet up with my brother, Ilario. From there the two of us flew to Hong Kong together. We arrived at 6am, the airport was empty, and we flew right through. Once on the other side, we found the groom to be, our big brother Ben. It had been about two years since I'd seen him in person. He's grown so small living in China over the years. Almost like living there, he's turned into a little Asian man himself.
From there we took a shuttle to the Chinese border. This is always my favorite part. The landscape around Hong Kong is like an epic scene from the future. Tree-covered mountains jut out of the water. Massive elegant bridges create a highway from one to the next. They look as if the aliens built them they're so beautiful. As you look around giant skyscrapers, like something out of The Matrix, pop up in clusters. Everything is graceful. Nature and humanity's power combined.
We arrive at my brother's complex in Shenzhen. It's a new building and you're able to book unrented apartments like a hotel. Ilario and I get a little home all to ourselves. I have a tiny comfortable room. It's simple, it's white, and it has a private balcony. I look out over a sea of skyscrapers. This is nothing you ever see in the US. They don't end. The go on for days. And to just think, 15 years ago this wasn't even a city.
Our day in Shenzhen included some hair washing, massages, manicures, and tasty food. All set for the wedding portion of our adventure, we went to bed exhausted. In the morning we woke at 5:30am to head to the airport. Our plane got delayed because of bad weather. It was the beginning a holiday weekend in China, and so all the other flights and trains that we could take in case of a cancellation, were booked. It was a little scary, and we didn't know if we would make it to the wedding. I knew that the universe couldn't be so cruel though. It might tease us, but there was it wasn't going to get us there. So we ate, played some cards, and a few hours later were able to take off. Wuhan, here we come.
I love this line from weekly horoscope on Free People's BLDG 25 blog this week. What good advice that for anyone. I'm not going to pretend that I never judge people or get annoyed with their flaws. We all do it, and we all should stop. So long as the way a person is isn't hurting anything or anyone else, they have every right to be that way. Letting people be themselves is what makes this world interesting and beautiful.
As I packed my bags for China I dreamt of rice fields. I'd stumbled across so many photos, eaten so much rice, but never actually seen a real live crop. When my brother told me that we'd be heading to rural China I knew that my chance was finally here. We ventured to Hubei province by air and then drove into its depths, ending up in Mengxi where we'd be making our home for the next week. More to come on Hubei and the town, but for now I want to start off my China recap with the fields.
While we were in Mengxi, we drove past the growing rice every day. I told my brother that my only request before we left was to go walk by the fields in person. I wanted to see them up close. I wanted to physically visit and spend time. Our last day in Mengxi my dream came true. We spent the afternoon walking around in muggy heat exploring the fields. Farmers worked away, water buffalo patiently waited tied to the ground. There were big drainage systems to fill and empty the plots with water. It didn't matter that we didn't own the land, we were welcome to wander the pastures.
To me those field represent a rustic and primitive way of life. People working the land. Going home to concrete building full of family members, and all eating one big dish. Comfort isn't something they find much of. What makes them happy are no bumps in the road. The same meal their whole lives, thriving crops, that's what they need to get by.
Extending for days, the rice fields were one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I will never ever forget the experience nor the culture they represent.
Back from vacation & loving these washed out snaps from Threadsence's spring lookbook, Untamed.
Promise to share photos from the amazing trip soon. So many to wade through!