Happy Chinese New Year

Happy New Year, Good luck and prosperity to you for the Year of the Pig.
Gong Hey Fat Choy!

I am having precious insight into the preparations and traditions around celebrating the Chinese New Year as I am currently staying with two young Chinese women. Decorations, mostly in red and gold have been up for several weeks in the shopping malls and recently also in private houses. Grocery stores are selling the traditional NY food, packeted in red and gold and heaps of cartons of mandarine oranges which people bring to each other’s houses for good luck and prosperity. Last week I visited a Chinese Temple and enjoyed the sight of hundreds of red lanterns leading to the entrance of the temple in preparation for the NY.

Houses are cleaned, depths paid, cars and clothes repaired and at least one new item to wear on the first day of the New Year is bought, ideally this new item is red, but also any of the beneficial colors that goes with the animal of the starting year is ok.

Shopping malls are attracting shoppers with special CNY presentation. On Sunday Don and I went to see an acrobatic lion dance performance. The accompanying loud drumming and the wild and daring dance are believed to send all evil spirits away.

You want to welcome prosperity into your life for the beginning new year.
I have learnt that traditionally the Chinese live and eat simply for the whole year and only for the beginning of the New Year they get out their best plates and do not hold back to buy the best food they can afford, again to attract abundance for the year to come.
My airbnb host invited me to come with her to the family’s reunion dinner on the eve of the NY.
It is very important to come together as a family and enjoy good and specially prepared food on this day. I was the only foreign guest for the evening and really enjoyed the abundance of different dishes, none of them tastes much like anything I normally eat, the most extraordinary was pork prepared in rice vinegar.

There is lots of travelling going on before and over the first days of the NY. Chinese whoses families live in far away towns are expected to travel to meet family and friends. My hosts’ friend took the whole week off work to travel to the South of Malaysia and then from there to two other places to celebrate. All people in Malaysia enjoy a public holiday for the first and second day of the year. Everybody is emanating good vibes as good as they can, the general mood is upbeat. Also roads in KL are much quieter these days as many, particularly Malay and Indian people take the opportunity to go for a holiday.
My time in Malaysia is coming to an end tonight. I will be leaving very early tomorrow morning to go back to Berlin. It has been a colourful and rich time with ups and downs, some unexpected turns and lovely encounters. I am grateful for the two months I spent here.

Botanical Gardens

For my last three weeks in Malaysia I have moved to another neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur (KL). Living here gives me a new perspective to the whole experience of being which I like. When I browsed the airbnb offerings, this one caught my attention because it is situated in an area that I already knew a little bit from coming here with Don for getting a sim card and the regular shopping trip for groceries. Small streets with lots of little shops and cafes where I like to sit and watch people or read. Also it is not too far away from the Botanical Gardens where Don and I used to go for our morning walks. I knew I wanted to continue this morning ritual. The walk in the park has such an alivening effect on me, and I love to get up when it is still dark and walk into the sunrise. I also enjoy meeting the other people who come to the park almost daily, with some I started to say hello and sometimes exchange a few words. I am amazed how many people get up so early in the morning to walk, run, practice chi gong or do yoga. The park itself feels very alive too, it is KL’s first recreational park right in the heart of the city, it was established in 1888 back during the colonial times, so some of the trees are old and very interesting. There is a bird park nearby and some interesting sounds mix in with the whole experience. The park is set in a hilly area, so depending on how sporty I want the walk to be, it is possible to integrate steps or sloped paths. Starting with an impulse in December to run up a set of stairs, skipping every second step, I integrated the stairs into my morning walk. It adds to me feeling alive and I like to feel the strength in my legs. Also last year during my Ayurveda class and coaching that I received, I was pointed to the fact that this sort of high intensity training is good for my type and since then I find myself wanting more of it and I do not hold myself back anymore when I feel like running fast at the beach, running up a hill, etc, yes, it suits my type. When I do not run up the stairs, my intention is to walk with my walking practice and to connect to the place. Which means I have started to connect to the spirit of the park. I like to float with it, practicing being with it and the trees which feels very relaxing. Much more relaxing than being with other humans which I find often difficult. Maybe the spirit can teach me how to apply a sense of trust that I seem to have when being in nature, to being with humans. Actually a few days ago it felt like the spirit was leading me into a sense of just being with others, a looking at them with interest.

Two weeks ago I had one of those moments, when I desperately needed to be all by myself, which lead to my move into the airbnb. And being all by myself does not really mean always alone, but maybe 80% of the day. Inbetween I enjoy meeting my colleagues from the online class in explorations of consciousness online. Also sometimes when I come back from my morning walk in time before my host and her friend leave for work, we enjoy inspiring chats over breakfast. And I have met Don for a concert in the impressive concert hall in the Petrona Towers which I enjoyed.
My observation is that only when I allow myself to be alone, things can come through me which before were softly knocking, however could not make themselves be heard. The process of allowing myself to be alone is still messy. I think I can feel the knocking, but the first impulse is to suppress it. Then I get moody and I project my unclear feeling of impatience onto my surroundings. When I finally allow myself to be alone, often people have been hurt. I am sorry, I am intending to become clearer in myself with this need to be alone and gentler on the people around me.

This time when I moved into solitude, my book started to talk to me, the book that I already had in mind when I started my walking journey more than two years ago and which now, as I am coming to an end of my travelling (at least for now), wants to be written. In facebook I stumbled over a 5 day writing challenge, which got me excited and inspired to think about my book more seriously. I received great tips, wrote a vision for this year and now committed to a ten month online class that will teach me all sorts of things about writing, how to stay inspired and most of all will get me have my book published by the end of this year. That is my new commitment.
So far it feels great. I am getting more interested in the process of creativity itself. After finding Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love in a hotel library on Bali (yes, I was on Bali for 10 days in January), I felt like wanting to read all her books and found her ‘Big Magic’ in the library of my current home. If you do anything creative, I can recommend it highly. And another book came to me through the writing challenge ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield, it is about resistance and all the ways in which it can show up when we want to create. Super interesting read.
When reading those two books, and also before Eat Pray Love and another book that I found on Bali I devoured them. I surprised myself by the intensity I can bring to reading – I thought I was a slow reader. Maybe this is an expression of a longing for intensive living which I somehow do not allow myself when I am spending time with other people? Maybe because I want to control the level of intensity and am still learning to say stop? Well, there are still a few questions and inquiries left for this year.

Merry Christmas from Malaysia

This Christmas I find myself in Malaysia, an invitation from my cycle friend Don brought me to this part of the world and I love being here. I like the heat, the rain in the afternoons, the mix of people from different cultures, the Malay people who have been living here for a long time naturally and then people from China and India who came here mostly during the last 200 years. The cultural mix also makes for a great variety of food. I have grown fond of the spicy Malaysian food and some interesting Chinese dishes and for a change sometimes an Indian curry mixed in.

While in Kuala Lumpur where Don lives, we go for early morning, pre-breakfast walks in the Botanical Gardens. Lovely to start the day, to actually walk into the day and listen to the birds and insects and admire the tropical plants on the way. A good place and time for my walking practice.

Don took me to some interesting places in Malaysia, we went on a trip recently to Penang in the Northeast of Malaysia, a place full of history. And although only 25% of the population of Malaysia are Chinese, in George Town on the island of Penang, most places seemed to have a Chinese feel to it. The Chinese came here in the late 18th century to work in spice trading as Penang was one of the main trading ports in the Malacca Strait besides Malakka and Singapore. Some families still live in Jetty houses on stilts and inside the town we visited the Khoo Kongsi clan house, a impressive sign of the dominant presence of Chinese in Penang. The Clan house entails a beautifully decorated temple, a theatre and the houses in which the clan members used to live.

On the way back from Penang we took a detour through the Cameron Highlands, where soon after leaving the coast line, the hills get very high and steep. The climate is different here. People have come to the highlands for centuries for a break from the heat at the coast and my first impulse was to wear a fleece jacket with the temperature here only going up to 18 degrees, not the usual 32. I was impressed to see the rolling hills of the tea plantations up here in the highlands, the plants seem to like the combination of steep hills, hot sun and plenty of rain.

Another highlight was a four day trip to the National Park, Taman Negara, in the North of Malaysia. I read, that the rainforest, or parts of it, are more than 130 million years old. It feels good to know that this part of the forest is protected. Visitors can explore certains areas on board walks or on the fairly muddy paths. At least this time of year, during monsoon season, most of the paths are muddy and some of them were closed due to flooding. To get to the forest we booked a combined trip, first in a mini van with a few other travellers for a few hours up to Jerantut, and then by boat with yet more travellers, a meditative 2.5 hours up against the stream of the river. During the ride we got to see some water buffalos and heard new bird sounds and songs.

While being in the National Park transport by boat was common, this is the way to travel when paths are narrow and difficult to walk. We joined a trip to an Orang Asli settlement. On the way to the settlement the boat had to pass through some rapids and to make it more fun to everbody our captain rocked the boat so that by the time we arrived everybody was completely drenched. I wonder if we needed to be drenched to meet the Orang Asli in their home to somehow prepare us? Orang Asli means First People, they are the original people of Malaysia and have been living in the forests for thousands of years. And they continue living in the same way they have for many generations. Small communities find a place, build simple huts as a shelter from the weather and eat the animals that they hunt with poisonous arrows blown through a long pipe. The women choose the man they want to live with and when somebody of the family dies they leave the body behind in the trees, as an exchange and gratitude for the animals they killed. Then they leave everything behind and move to a new place. There are different groups of Orang Asli and some live closer to the towns, most prefer to live in the forest. But there is not so much forest left in Malaysia, most of the forest has been destroyed to create palm oil and rubber plantations. On the way back to KL from the park for the first time I got an impression of the immensity of forest that has been destroyed when we drove past miles and miles of palm oil plantations.

And I am thankful that I had a little taste of the rain forest, although we really only touched the frinches of the forest. One beautiful evening we took our flashlights to a hideout. While it was getting darker and darker the sound of the insects and birds envelopped us, a sound mix, getting louder the darker it was, something I had never experienced before, with some very high pitches mixed in that felt uncomfortable at first and then gradually I liked to get used to them.

The following photos are of a beach we visited on a half day trek through a rainforest on the island of Penang and the view from a restaurant in Georgetown.

Belfast – Honest and Alive

I had no idea that this trip would take me to Belfast, until Monday last week when I woke up and knew I had to come here. And I am so glad, I did come here. From Barmouth, I travelled to Dublin and felt so unsettled there that I did not know for a while where to go and what to do. Although getting to Dublin had been quiet enjoyable, by bus through the West and North West of Wales, then on the train from Bangor to Holyhead and via ferry to Dublin. In Holyhead I had a few interesting encounters, one after the other, one with an Irish couple who were waiting for the train to Birmingham, while I was getting ready for the ferryride. In our conversation we somehow landed at betting as a passion of the Irish. The gentleman had an interesting theory about the passion having been born during the hardship of many centuries of many an Irish man, creating the need to believe in or bet on an opportunity that would come their way.

Travelling to Belfast was enjoyable too, a 2.5 hour bus drive to the North from Dublin. My heart opened again when I caught a glimpse of the Mourne Mountains in the East before coming into Northern Ireland. Belfast was my home for two years, in the late 1990s. A bit of story here: In the mid 90s when I first came to Belfast for a project meeting, while working in a European project with partners in Northern Ireland, I fell in love with the place, completely taken by the beauty and aliveness. I followed my bliss and moved here after the project in Germany ended, found a new job as research assistant at the Queens University of Belfast and enjoyed a very alive and rich time here. I somehow had forgotten about that phase of my life, which now feels like a time full of opportunity, dreams fulfilled, fun and social activity.

While being here in the 90s I trained and ran for a marathon – the 1998 London Marathon – which had been a dream of mine from back when I was 17 when I started to love long distance running. Some of what they call cross training for the marathon, I did walking in the Mourne Mountains with my friends from the university walking club. Also I had a racing bike made to measure to do some of the endurance training on the bike. And there was lots of music and language learning. I played my viola in the local university orchestra, one very interesting experience was as part of the orchestra, to perform a piece by John Cage called ‘Ocean’, finalised by his assistent Andrew Culver who rehearsed with us, in the then brand new Waterfront Hall. The orchestra players encircled the audience, way up high in the hall, each player with a clock that started to run backwards when the piece began, there was no conductor, we played according to time, on no notes either. As we played our sounds, on the circular dance stage the Cunningham dance company performed movements which had been defined by dice throwing and the I Ching. The Waterfront Hall attracted other famous artists, I remember being in the audience for a performance with Philipp Glass. Language: I started learning Irish for fun and went to weekend classes in the West of Donegal where I met another inspired linguist from Belfast and we henceforce met up in the lighter parts of a pub to read Irish poems and little stories with the help of our dictionaries. The same friend helped me to revive my Russian before I travelled to a conference in St. Peterburg where we presented the findings of the university project. I in turn helped him to bring information about the party program and plans from door to door in North Belfast when he stood for the Green Party. In the beginning of my stay, violence as part of the troubles was still escalating, soldiers and tanks on the street were part of the daily picture, also helicopters circling certain areas in observation flights. Other parts of the city were clearly not adviced to go to. And during the marching season, around 12th of July, when a group of protestants are still celebrating their victory over the Irish in 1690, one either bought enough food and stayed in the house for a few days or left the city. On coming back the odd burnt car or bus could be seen. Then in April 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement, things calmed down. But you would still not go to certain areas and I changed the route I was taking on my bicycle to visit a friend, when a group of children threw stones at me when I was waiting at a traffic light. There was something about the violence around which I had the privilege to avoid easily enough, inspiring aliveness and openness for activity, creation and innovation as an expression countering the fear maybe. While all the memories of my time here are slowly coming back to me as I am walking the streets of Belfast, visiting cafes I used to frequent and going to the university cinema and reconnecting with friends I had not seen for 15 to 18 years, I enjoy feeling the aliveness of this city again.

I wonder what let to me somehow forgetting this fruitful and inspired time I had in Belfast. Maybe a difficult time in Belfast, when I had a job offer from a computer training company in New Jersey and spent a few weeks waiting for my working visa, the difficult energy of waiting, not knowing if and when I would be able to move? Or later in 2009 when I turned my back to my career in computer training and e-learning and had to somehow make that part of my life to be ‘not so good’ to allow myself to dive into connection to myself and nature. Anyway what is happening now feels like a late honouring of that phase of my life, accomplishments and friendships. And maybe here in this still torn city a coming together of two big parts of me is possible. That is my wish for todays new moon to help me integrate the more goal oriented and very capable part of me with the part that feels and loves, enjoys intuitive living, following her impulses, is drawn to the mystical and magical, to trees and mountains.

Below photos from my hike onto Belfast’s Cave Mountain on my first day here. The mountain felt full of energy and joy that day, or maybe it was me. And below also a photo of the rose garden as part of the Botanic Garden which I visit often.

Crop Circles on the Beach?

This morning (Wed 24th October) after my morning beach dance ritual, I witnessed some strange workings on the beach, in the afternoon it looked like this from my favorite spot Dinas Oleu:

I asked the man who was directing the digger operator, what this was for: There will be a motorbike race going on over the following weekend. And the forcast is for temperatures around zero and some snow. It feels like a good moment to travel on after having had such a beautiful and intense time here; heading to Dublin via the ferry from Holyhead tomorrow.

While in Barmouth I did continue my morning beach dancing practice which was fun. I did not quite follow the plan to write a post every day. Possible titles could have been: Playing the Bass Drum, More from the Mawddach Trail, The Last Haul, etc.

My time in Barmouth has been very rich and I want to say eventful, although most events somehow took place inside of me. Outside I connected to friends and colleagues online and I went on my walks and regular visits to the lightful Dinas Oleu. But instead of meeting new people in Barmouth, I seem to have met a few new parts of and in myself who I had not really appreciated until now. It feels great to welcome them and have them be part of my life from now, some I do not find so easy to love, but still happy I found them. The title of my blog ‘Walking to Wholeness’ becomes true, I am walking towards more wholeness inside of me. The two weeks in Barmouth feel like some of the most transformative times in my life. I shall take care to integrate what I learnt and felt.

Regarding some of the outside activities, playing the Bass Drum was fun. In my attempt to meet local people, I joined the local Batala Bermo group for one of their evening practices. The group had advertised in the local event magazine, always on the lookout for new members for their Samba percussion group which is part of the global Batala Project. On that evening 12 to 15 drummers gathered in the local discotheque, one of the drummers had brought a second drum, he wanted to try a lighter drum that evening, and I was given his bass drum. Somebody else provided me with knee protection (!), the drum is hanging around knee high, and drum sticks. As one of the bass drum players, my task was to keep the rhythm for the other players to follow. I enjoyed that and it did not really matter that I only slowly learned to follow the signs of the conductor, the smaller drums needed to be able to read, but the bass drums hardly ever played something different than the basic beat which seems to come quite naturally to me. The whole event was loud if not to say noisy, everybody was wearing ear protection, I stuffed paper tissue into my ears. In the break I talked to some of the other players and had a little tiny taste of their lives, most came from other towns along the coast and are driving to Barmouth once a week to join the group.

I did walk the Mawddach Trail backwards, took the bus to Dolgellau and walked along the estuary towards the sea. When walking into the land, I had been so taken by the beauty of the surroundings and felt very energized at the end of the day, now walking towards the sea the experience was different, it seemed to be about letting go. Particularly around Penmaenpool, where I walked over the bridge to the other side for a little break in the sun – the side I was walking on was mostly in the shade – I felt like something was dropping of my back, a nice freeing feeling. And then more of that further towards the sea. On the trail, I met a couple, two cyclists, first at a gate at the beginning of the trail and then again later when they were on their way back after having had lunch in Barmouth. When we met the second time they stopped for a longer conversation around what it means to connect to nature while in it, there seem to be so many different ways of being in nature. They were concerned that young people these days who spend time in nature, do not appreciate it or even see it, as they continue to stare onto the screens of their phones. I also learnt something new about the history of the area when walking the trail for the second time, during the 1860s Dolgellau was at the centre of a little gold rush with two gold mines and jewellery from that gold apparently is still produced and sold. Non of my new parts inside of me bought me a golden ring yet 😉

Above the bridge at Penmaenpool. Some additional information on Penmaenpool on this sign:

Last Haul is the name of a sculpture of fisherman haulting nets from the sea, a memorial to Barmouth’s once flourishing fishing industry. It was commissioned by Barmouth council for the Millennium celebrations. The interesting part is that it is from white Italian Carrara marble from a ship wreck that was found off the cost of Barmouth. The marble must have been in the water for a long time before it was found by local divers in 1978, then one block of marble was raised. The ship carrying the marble sank in the early 18th century, I read, and that it is not clear where the marble was being transported to.

Finding Dinas Oleu (Citadel of Light)

More from Barmouth. Tuesday when I was sitting at the beach for a while I asked the land if there was any message for me. One of the things I heard was to write about Barmouth every day. So here I am doing my best to follow that guidance.

I really like it here, the atmostphere is lovely, something very happy here, particularly after the storm has passed. When I came back from my morning walk to the beach Tuesday, I noticed a ‘new’ bar/restaurant and something on the menu attracted my attention. I followed the attration and had my lunch there. The food was lovely and when I looked around I noticed a sign across from my table at the wall, Myrddins the name of the restaurant:

Leylines in Barmouth? On the same leyline as Glastonbury? That made me curious and I googled Barmouth and leylines. What I found was not so much about leylines, but a pointer to a piece of land called Dinas Oleu (Citadel of Light) above Barmouth, further up the rocky hill against which Barmouth is built. It was clear that my after lunch walk would take me there. Delightful, just a few hundred meters up a very narrow street, I found the land. With wonderful views of the coast and town and green gorse covered paths climbing further up the hill. The name is definitely pointing to something, this place felt very lightful. I walked and sat for a while and felt like enveloped in love, very happy to have come here. Thoughts are coming to my mind if I could live here, in Barmouth I mean. Would need or want to learn Welsh then though.

The land of Dinas Oleu once belonged to Mrs Fanny Talbot and became the first area of land that was donated to the National Trust in whose hands it still is. The area is described as an open air sitting room, yes I can very well imagine to bring my book the next time I come and sit and read and enjoy the soft energy that the place is emanating.

I am so glad that Barmouth called me and decided to extend my stay for another week, there just seems to be so much to explore and so much beauty to take in. Also I feel comfortable in my little cottage and get to write more than I have been for a long time and I am having plenty of video meetings with my friends and collegues from the online class. So no time to feel lonely really. It feels like a time of deepening and integrating, and something new is coming through too. Another message at the beach yesterday was to come dancing to the beach every morning to bring there whatever I have to bring. I have gone out to the beach every morning since and moved, still need to work through some self consciousness in dancing or moving outside, but it feels so good so will persevere and let myself be guided by my longing to express also in that way.

Some views from Dinas Oleu:

And a photo of the information board:

Walking along the Mawddach Trail to Dolgellau

In my research around Barmouth I had read about the Mawddach Trail, a 15km walk along an old railway track beside the river Mawddach. After two days mostly spent inside, I felt ready to walk for a few hours on Sunday. I put on my new wellington boots expecting puddles and small rivers to wade through, but none of that happened, but luckily the boots turned out unexpectedly comfortable.

To get to the trail I first had to walk over the single-track wooden railway viaduct crossing the river estuary. The bridge was built between 1864 and 1867, with major renovations in the last century. While walking I admired the wooden structure and noticed the silence, I was out early, not so many people around, the wind had completely dropped, a curious eery feeling.

And looking back:

The Mawddach Trail has been prepared for walkers, cyclists and wheelchair users, so walking was easy and comfortable. The views were stunning and relaxing back into my walking practice, I entered an enchanted state, so soft and calm and beautiful the views over the water and the surroundings. See for yourself.

And looking back to the railway viaduct:

The trail:

Paenmenpool was the first small settlement on the way, where I had hoped to get some food. Interestingly I was not very well prepared, in my backpack I had just a flask with tea and a pack of oatcakes. The local pub and restaurant was being renovated, at the toll bridge over the river I was told, no food today and 4 more km to go to the small town Dolgellau. Lots of food options there. And the sun came out when I reached the town and no way I would go inside for food. I found a little fish and chip shop and had chips and tea, sitting on a plastic chair in the sun.

Opposite I noticed the bus stop and after filling up chips I checked the bus times, there was only 1 bus in my direction 2 hours later, perfect timing to explore the town. It looked very artsy, shops with art supplies and wool. In one shop window hundreds of knitted squares were stacked, some of them sewn together to make a scarf and the scarfs they said would be sewn together to make blankets for the homeless. I love the idea and hope to be able to contribute at least one square myself.

When entering the town I saw a stone circle, but it looked ‘strange’, I walked around it during my tour of the town and did not feel like entering it. Later I read that it is a modern stone circle. On my next visit – Thursday is market day in Dolgellau – I am intending to find out more about the circle. Also the views must be even more stunning going from Dolgellau towards the sea along the track. Next time bus in, walk back.

Maybe then there is also time for a stroll through one of the two little oak forests which took my attention on the way, reforested after most of the oaks had been used for the busy ship building industry that was once situated here. The ship building stopped around 1850 and then the railway track was built to bring summer sea resort guests from the cities to Barmouth.

Closing this post with a picture of a statue in a small park near the river in Dolgellau named ‘roots’.