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March 2018

Life Unfamiliar

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I was standing a queue with my new friend, a fellow writer from the U.S. who is traveling throughout Southeast Asia and had just bought a one-way ticket to Chiang Mai.  We were on the mainland of Penang, Malaysia, awaiting the opportunity to pay 1.20RM, which comes out to about 30 cents, to board the ferry back to Georgetown on the island.


My first time on the ferry. Unfamiliar to me, a twice-daily commute for everyone else.

I had never been here, and neither had Krista; we were returning from a dinner party. And yet we basically followed the crowd down a walkway and found ourselves standing in line. Without discussion, we paid the man in a glass booth and received a small receipt with a UR code on it. We walked a few steps and discovered the code provided access through a turnstile that led to a waiting area for the ferry. We sat down and had to acknowledge something:

That completely foreign situation did not stress us out in the slightest.

In fact, when ordering from the restaurant where we really could not understand the menu the day prior, we were fine. Figuring out where the bus picked us up? We can do it.

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THIS is the bus map! Note how the bus just magically arrives at a destination without using the roads. Need to change routes? Good luck!

Finding a good place to stay and a quiet place to work (she has a cool blog: Reroute Lifestyle) – we did that too. We’re making friends, seeing interesting places and loving the confronting reality of life unfamiliar. 

How familiar is your life? Do you know everyone around you, know where to buy what food you like? Do you know where everything is at the store, and what places to avoid at night? What is a mystery to you?

For me, I have created a life where I am sometimes shocked to see things that are familiar at all. I am always finding beautiful people to befriend, people with big smiles and kind hearts – so it’s not all odd. But the way I move through my everyday life presents surprises at every turn. Even ordering a cup of coffee: In New Zealand, I had never heard of a flat white (it’s delicious), and here in Malaysia, I had to Google “kopi-o” (you drink it from a tied plastic bag and straw, and it, too, is delicious).

Such is the way of the traveler, I know, which is why so many people enjoy it and so many people hate it. Life unfamiliar is not for everybody. There is comfort in having roots, and life is easy when you have most things sorted. You’ve already figured things out. You don’t have to wonder which key opens the lock. You know to take the umbrella with you because you know what happens when the sky looks like that.

Why ever would you want anything else?

It’s a good question, and one I often ask myself as I am embarking upon more and more  unfamiliar paths. I call it living the “one-way ticket lifestyle,” where I fly to one destination and greatly enjoy everyone I meet and everything I experience to the point of thinking how lovely life would be if I simply stayed. Then I buy a ticket and fly onward.

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
– Robert Frost

I put energy into my root chakra, known as the muladhara. While I constant pull up roots by changing my home every few months, in reality I am growing roots that stretch throughout the world. I am laying a foundation for the expansion of my greatest self. As I am constantly confronted by not knowing and comforted by the knowledge that it all works out, I actually become more safe and secure in my world. A handsome man called me a “poor confused girl” the other day. I had to laugh. Technically, yes – I’m not rich, I wasn’t sure I was in the right spot and I am a female. But in reality? My cup overflows, I was indeed in the exact right spot and I am a strong, powerful woman.

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Catrina and I hiking up the Bridle Path to Lyttleton in New Zealand … We took the bus home.

So how does one turn from being a poor, confused girl to feeling completely secure in a world where you have never gotten on the ferry before and somehow you have to figure out how exactly you’re going to get back home after a dinner party where we all had a number of vodka cocktails?

The trick, I believe, is to have your taproot firmly grounded beneath you. See, I was confident in my ability to figure out the ferry. I was confident that I will have enough to eat and find ways to make money if my current opportunities dry up. I am, at the heart, confident in myself.

I went to the local market here in the peaceful neighborhood of Tanjung Bungah in Penang yesterday, because I wanted to buy some chocolate to add to the cookies I was making for the dinner part. Once there, I saw a man chopping a foreign fruit. Anytime there is a fruit I haven’t eaten, I buy it. Last trip to the market, I purchased a durian. Those spiky fruit have an interesting, pulpy seed that people go crazy for. (Smartest thing

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A durian. My friend Alex likened the consistency to “dinosaur poo.” Nice.

I did all week? Ask him to crack it for me.) This time, I saw my first sea coconut.

“Here, take the flesh and put it on your face. It will get rid of all your freckles,” a man said.

“But I like my freckles,” I replied.

In fact, I like most everything about me. I was talking to this same handsome man other day about needing alone time, and how his last relationship lacked it. He found it hard to believe that me, a woman, loved alone time. When else can I write, play my ukulele, practice yoga, meditate, shuffle about the kitchen and make totally amazing oatmeal-banana-walnut-chocolate chip cookies? The reason I am so comfortable by myself – and at a dinner party and on a crowded dance floor and across the table from a date in a romantic restaurant – is because my taproot is strong. I am grounded even when I have no idea what is going on around me. I may not know how to get to where I want to be, or whether I actually even want to be there, but I have faith in myself that I will figure it out.  THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR.

This isn’t a characteristic that happens overnight. It takes making executive decisions to create a practice of embracing life unfamiliar. When I was considering where I wanted to go to university, my mother took me to visit a college in Ohio. Everyone looked exactly like me and probably thought like me, too. What was I going to learn about life there? Then we visited a college in New York City, where no one looked like me and I had no idea what was going on. Four years later, I knew all kinds of nooks and hidden gems in that city – and in my heart.

Feeling comfortable and rooted comes from feeling good about yourself on a base level. Acknowledge and verbalize the accomplishments you have made when you were unsure, when you step through the fear without letting its flames lick you. Those are powerful moments that help us grow and open. I wish more of those unfamiliar, wonderfully confusing, ego-busting moments in my life – and maybe yours too!