Tag Archives: music

Travel Guide: Yunnan Province x2

I’ve been very privileged to be able to travel abroad to wonderful places with students. Just like last year in Yunnan and the previous year in Battambang, Cambodia, my school worked with the JUMP! Foundation who develop, design, and manage our programs. As trip lead for the past three years, I have a close relationship with JUMP! – and in all honesty, they make me question my career choices every time. It is an honour to work with them.

Yunnan is in Southwestern China. It borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam.

For many students, this was their first time playing backpacker. We took an overnight train, three bus rides, and a short train throughout our trip. There’s a lot to see and do in Yunnan and we were all over the place in our six days of travel.

Our first stop was the town of Baisha. We arrived there after flying from Singapore to Kunming and taking a nine-hour night train from Kunming to Lijiang. This was my third experience on a night train and I slept surprisingly soundly. The earplugs probably helped, as perhaps did having the lower bunk. From Lijiang, Baisha is only about thirty minutes away by bus.

Like most of where we go on these trips, Baisha is a small rural community and it’s beautiful.

I was particularly fascinated with how buildings are constructed and how space is used.

Our primary reason for being in Yunnan was to engage with the environment around us and the minority groups that live there. Our first real activity was a hike up to Fuguo Monastery, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery that has been around since 1601. The hike was beautiful and we really enjoyed the cool air. We don’t get air like that in Singapore.

I’ve been to many temples and monasteries and I really enjoy them. I enjoy their beauty, their quiet, and their overwhelming sense of peace. I do sometimes wonder if that comes from shutting out the outside world and its problems, but that did not seem to be the case here, such as when the monks utterly defeated our students in our annual basketball game.

Our exploration of the landscape continued the following day. We hiked up to a reservoir located just outside of town towards the monastery and then down to a village located alongside Wenhai Lake. The terrain was steep and damp from the previous night’s rain and it changed as we walked. Once again, the air tasted different from the air that we have in Singapore and the wind came from a different direction. There were times during our walk when I lost myself in the forest and in the sensations of being somewhere foreign yet completely familiar.

It is a true pleasure to feel like I’m somewhere new and to look around at a completely different sky. Singapore is dense and full of tall buildings; our time in Yunnan gave me some much-needed solace and an escape from a world that I often feel is moving too quickly.

From our forest walk, we visited the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute where we learned traditional Naxi Dongba calligraphy. The symbols are pictographs that can be combined in a variety of ways to create many different messages. It was a lot of fun to use the calligraphy brush! We also learned traditional embroidery, which the kids really enjoyed and which reminded me of the sewing I used to do in elementary school.

We did not stay still in Yunnan, however. After two nights in Baisha we took a three-hour bus ride to Laojunshan. If I’m going to return to any part of Yunnan on my own, Laojunshan is it. I didn’t know it before I arrived, but the area is China’s traditional climbing heaven and as soon as we got there, I understood why.

The buildings are beautiful, too, and fit so completely into the red sandstone that was everywhere.

Many people from the Lisu minority community live in the area around Laojunshan and are known for their music and dance. We visited the home of famous Lisu musicians who have performed as far away as France. We spent an afternoon with them to make bamboo flutes and learn traditional Lisu dances. A week later, my flute still tastes and smells like wood and smoke, which I love.

Later that evening we had the opportunity to put our Lisu dance steps into practice, which was great fun. Laojunshan is basically one long street and the nightly entertainment is dancing! We gathered with the community after dark in a large courtyard with lights, tables, and benches and followed along as best we could. The Lisu women had beautiful costumes and many men were involved in the dance, too.

When we left the dancing, I looked up at the stars. It was so dark and there were so many stars. We don’t see that in Singapore.

Another thing we don’t see in Singapore is mountains. The following day we climbed Thousand Turtle Mountain, which was astonishingly beautiful. The views are glorious and the day was fresh and new from rain the night before. I loved watching the light and the mountains appear from the mist. I took some time to write and to sit and breathe the air; there aren’t many occasions when the world feels right to me but this was certainly one of those, for which I am grateful.

Thousand Turtle Mountain feels like a different world from anywhere but it was starkly different to Lijiang, our final destination that afternoon. Lijiang is about three hours by bus from Laojunshan and the home of the closest airport to where we were. At just over a million people, one of my Chinese colleagues pronounced it tiny. Considering we’d spent the week in towns so small that you could count the number of streets, Lijiang felt huge.

Rather than spend any time in the city, though, we headed straight to Lijiang Old Town, which used to be the market district. It maintains that character and flavour through winding, twisting, narrow streets full of shops but the shops today are for tourists. They sell souvenirs, food, and beverages of every kind. I do enjoy a market in any form and it was fun to wander around and see what there was to see. I really did like the architecture, too. Most buildings in the parts of Yunnan I have visited have exteriors far grander than I would have expected and it always catches me by pleasant surprise.

Throughout our time in Yunnan, I photographed flowers. We have lots of flora in Singapore but I love exploring the beauty of the places that I visit. It’s all so different! And there were so many purple ones!

The following day, we were back at the train station for a high speed train to Kunming to catch the flight that would take us to Singapore. We spent six days in a different world and I am grateful for each one of them, and for the people I spent time with along the way. It is experiences like this that make me feel right in the world and this one came at a good time.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. – John Muir

These Are a Few of My Favorite Rochester Things

Rochester, New York is a lovely place and I’m not just saying that because I grew up here. It feels like a community and the people of Rochester are very proudly Rochesterian. There’s even a wiki by the people, for the people! As I suspect is true of most places, I lived in a very different Rochester as an adult than the one in which I grew up. I have very fond memories and warm feelings of both and if my dreams were different, this would be a satisfying place to remain.

At any rate, Rochester is my summer home and it really is a good one. What have we been up to? Read on!

Jazz Fest

The Rochester International Jazz Festival is an annual event that began in 2002. My dad really loves jazz and I’ve been going to Jazz Fest possibly for as long as it has been around. I have distinct memories of a particular night when I was in grade 10, but that definitely wasn’t my first experience. My photos don’t capture the pulse and atmosphere or the sounds, rhythms, and cheers that fill the streets but hopefully you’ll get a sense of why it’s something we look forward to every year.

Most of the shows aren’t free but I really enjoy the experience of those that are. And there are at least four free shows per day so there’s no good excuse not to go! It’s a really good feeling to share moments of joy with others, strangers or not, and I find a lot more of that during street performances than the indoor shows. Indoor shows are smaller, though, and the intimacy of that setting is a treat.

The people-watching at Jazz Fest is always a highlight in itself and the food trucks serve just about anything. It’s also a great way to run into people I haven’t seen in a while and immediately gives us something to talk about. Jazz Fest is one of the events that makes Rochester look and feel like a destination, which we always appreciate. It’s the same week of June every year, rain or shine. I was sorry to miss it last year and I’m really glad to be back.

Public Market

I’ve waxed poetic about the Rochester Public Market before and I was tempted to leave my camera at home this time because having free hands makes it easier to shop. But it really is a lot of fun to take pictures and I wasn’t doing a full order like I used to so the camera came along!

The Public Market has been in its current location since 1905. It’s the most diverse place anywhere in the city, in my experience, and a remarkable display of how much work it takes to feed people.

The market also sells dry goods, locally produced alcohol, artisanal products, and various flea market goods like clothes and kitchen supplies. And, apparently, flags!

There are also restaurant staples, the most popular of which is Juan and Maria’s. That was the first place I ever had an empanada. The Market underwent a renovation of the indoor section in the last couple years and there are a few additional restaurant stalls in addition to the meat and cheese sellers who operate there. And there are also a few food trucks!

In addition to everything else, the market sells herbs and flowers. So everything, really. When I was living in Rochester it wasn’t uncommon for me to get everything I needed for the week early Saturday morning at the Market. I loved it every time and it’s something I really miss living away.

There’s a pretty good street art scene in the area, too, mostly due to Wall\Therapy, another fantastic community project that aims to improve life in a city that can be very harsh. There is a lot of work to be done here.

The Market is open year-round Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The greatest number of vendors and widest variety of people come on Saturdays and it’s really good fun, even in the rain.

Wine Tasting

Rochester is located in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, the part of the state known for its wine production. Cayuga, Keuka, and Seneca Lakes are all famous (really!) for their wine trails. I’ve been to wineries on Cayuga and Seneca multiple times and have been drinking Finger Lakes wine since, well, before I was legally old enough to do so.

The wineries here are better known for their whites than reds because of the climate but there are some vineyards that produce excellent reds. The best part of wine tasting is that you get to do just that – taste! And spend time in pretty places with friendly people. That’s another best part.

Many of the wineries are pet friendly and the staff tend to be very knowledgeable and also friendly! Some have restaurants on site while others have meats and cheeses and various accoutrements that you can purchase to enjoy along with your wine. And if you decide to buy a bottle (or ten) there are lots of options.

In Conclusion . . .

. . . there’s a lot to love about Rochester in the summer and I’m really glad to be here. Let me know if you make it out this way! I’d love to show you around.

We are very proud of our Flour/Flower City logo

The First Time

I don’t often listen to country music, though that has changed recently since it’s now the soundtrack of the summer in my mum’s car. This is funny because the rule in our house growing up was that the only person allowed to swear was rap artist Eminem, which is a far cry from country music. On a recommendation from someone I’ve known a very long time, I listened to “For the First Time” by Darius Rucker. While it didn’t do it for me in terms of a song, I do like the question it contains:

When’s the last time you did something for the first time?

Thinking about my own experiences (I’ve recently tried flotation and partied at a gay club) led me to pose this question to a few people. Answers ranged from doing yoga to finding one’s way without directions to scuba diving to going to the beach alone. Everything was new at one point, even those things that have become routine, obvious, and easy.

As with most things, I thought about this question in terms of students. I expect that young people more readily do new things than the average adult. Part of that is certainly that young people have had fewer experiences overall so more things are new. As a result, though, they’re also probably more willing to be beginners than those of us who are used to being experts in our fields.

Being a beginner can be scary. It means asking for help and guidance, which might feel strange to people who are used to guiding others and giving instruction. Being a beginner means feeling awkward, asking questions, making mistakes, laughing at yourself, and figuring out how to do it better next time. That means being vulnerable, which many of us dislike. We all know that it’s easy to say, “So you’ll mess up. What’s the worst that could happen?” and smile helpfully to novices in our own fields. But we also know that errors can be jarring when we’re used to doing everything right.

When’s the last time you did something for the first time? Was it so long ago that you can’t remember? Was it just yesterday and you’re excited for the next new thing? Have you kept at it or decided it’s not for you? Are you going to give it another try? Or bring a friend?


At the beginning of 2018 I bought a wall hanging that says, “If you want something you have never had, you must do something you have never done.” It has encouraged me to take chances, do new things, have difficult conversations, and treat myself with the warmth, acceptance, and compassion I show to others. Admitting that I’m doing something for the first time has grown easier. Admitting discomfort and uncertainty has grown easier. Being content in the moment lasts longer and I’m happy just being where I am.

Doing the new thing, the scary thing, the thing for the first time has made it easier to look at the world with fresh eyes. Wonder and curiosity have become a deliberate part of the choices that I make and I’m much happier because of it. There’s less cyclic questioning, less second-guessing, and less worrying about what might happen if. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve let myself be new.

So be inexperienced. Admit uncertainty. Make mistakes. Ask for help. Be gentle with yourself. You’re the only self you’ve got.

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways — and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings. – Alain de Botton

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