F*ck Cancer

This is the fourth time my son is fighting for his life. The first time was when he was diagnosed at 5 years old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He only did two months of chemotherapy but it didn’t work (this is called refractory leukemia). We had his older brother tested to see if he was a match for a bone marrow transplant and fortunately he was a perfect match. After four years and seven months, he relapsed. The search for an unrelated match was an uphill battle (him being biracial). Usually your donor should be the same ethnicity as you. But by God’s grace, we found one all the way from Germany. She is full blooded German though which is interesting. Her stem cells were infused on September 2, 2015. Three years and eight months later, he relapsed again. That was just two weeks ago (May 6, 2019).

Cancer, we will beat you again. And thank goodness for science, we have a plan to kill you for good.

I’m angry and bitter but I can’t keep feeling this way. I need to be strong for my son. I need to fight for him. And cancer can go fuck off!

Hiking in Patagonia: Condor’s Viewpoint

I haven’t been active here for several months now. My drafts have been left unfinished, finding no motivation to write lately.

My heart had been silent for so long and when it spoke, it only spoke of its sorrows. I tried everything to alleviate the sadness. I traveled, I hiked, I wrote, I drank. The battle continues. I contrived to stay afloat with my fighting spirit. But I can’t fight on almost empty. I was spiraling down to a place of total darkness.

Hence the lack of motivation.

Someone suggested I should go back to blogging and so I revisited some of my old drafts and was surprised that I haven’t posted anything on my hiking adventures in Patagonia. Imagine that! Hiking in Patagonia was my over-the-top, hiking dream trip and yet I neglected to write about it. It’s been almost ten months since I went there but the memories of Patagonia still lingers.

So here it is, get ready to read about my ass-kicking hiking experience in this part of the world where they call the last frontier of South America!

If you’re a control freak like me, forget about planning that perfect hiking trip in Patagonia. The weather, first of all, decides everything for you. Before I arrived in South America, I had planned to hike the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine. Unfortunately, as soon as I got to Patagonia Camp, I wasn’t too happy to hear from the guides that the hiking we were going to do in the next few days were all dependent on the weather (and most likely hiking the French Valley and the base of Torres del Paine were quite dangerous due to the wet and slippery conditions). They talked us into going to several locations (where it wouldn’t be as windy and with less rain). Knowing I wouldn’t have the chance to hike the two most popular hiking destinations, I was disappointed to say the least. Eventually, we decided to to do the Cuernos + Condor Viewpoint Hike the following day, which marks our first day of hiking excursion.

Our day began at 8am, right after a sumptuous breakfast buffet at the camp’s main dining area. Our guide introduced us to six Americans who were going to be our hiking mates for the day. They were married couples— two couples from California and the other from Texas. They’ve all been friends for years and two of the gentlemen went to medical school together. They were older than us and if I had to guess their ages, they must be in their young sixties. Our hike started at El Salto Grande, a waterfall that’s 15 meters high. But as soon as we got there, it began to rain hard and the wind was blowing so heavily that I thought my body was going to fly and be thrown off the cliff. I could feel the rain coming down hard on my face which felt like little pebbles. No one moved from where we were standing, in fear of being blown away. But as expected with Patagonia’s crazy weather, the rain and wind stopped after a few minutes.

We continued with the hike, despite the on and off rain and heavy winds. Our guide had to change the plan and directed us towards a different path where he thought was safer. Everything around me was stunningly gorgeous. I was surrounded by beautiful landscape, abundant wildlife, and picturesque trails.

In all honesty, Patagonia was not even included in my travel bucket list. I was just curious and fascinated to be somewhere far away, to this fabled edge of the world! My aunt from Chicago, whom I ran into at the airport in Dallas before embarking on my trip, asked me where my destination was. When I told her I was going to South America but mainly to go hiking in Patagonia, she was shocked to hear it is actually a place. She thought Patagonia was just a brand of clothing. Well, this is why I chose to come here, a place somewhere on earth where many haven’t visited or even fathomed it existed.

Our guide announced we would stop for lunch, picnic style. To our surprise, he and the driver had set up our table so elegantly. Besides our packed lunch, we were offered wine served on real wine glasses (not disposable cups), beers, snacks and each of us had a tupperware with our sandwiches. I had smoked salmon and the regional Calafate beer. During lunch, I noticed my friend was drinking more than she should (I was worried she might get tired especially we still have the rest of the afternoon to do more hiking). But knowing her, she can outdrink anyone I know, thus I was confident she will be okay.

After lunch, our guide informed us we would be hiking to Condor’s Viewpoint. He told us that the hike difficulty is moderate although we will be ascending for a whole hour. Not knowing what to expect, I was excited to finally be hiking with the rain gone and with a little bit of sunshine. Well, shit, this hike isn’t the same as the flat terrain I’m used to back home. I was climbing uphill for what felt an eternity and worse…on a muddy trail! Using my hiking pole really helped especially the trail was quite slippery. I was getting tired and starting to run out of breath! When I looked up, the Americans were already way ahead of me. Holy crap, I was embarrassed and felt defeated. These people were at least 10 to 15 years older than me yet they seemed much more fit and way faster than I was. I looked behind me and didn’t see my friend. I knew she was trailing behind me but she was nowhere to be found. I waited for at least 15 minutes and still has not shown up. I began to panic. What if she fell off the trail and died? I started to blame myself for taking her to this trip. It was my idea to go on a hiking trip to Patagonia and now she is dead because of me. I was picturing a scenario on how I’d break the devastating news to her family!!! I looked ahead and saw our guide waving at me with the Americans looking impatiently. I didn’t know what to do, whether to wait for my friend or proceed ahead. I really wanted to catch up with the rest of the group but I felt responsible for my friend’s well-being. A few minutes later, I saw a glimpse of her body, moving very slowly. She did not look good. I asked if she was okay. She tried to catch her breath but didn’t say anything and instead waved at me to go ahead. I yelled and told her to stop and wait right where she was and take a rest. There was no point to encourage her to catch up. As exhausted as I was, I didn’t want the Americans to think I was a weak and inexperienced hiker. So I began my ascent and was determined to reach the summit. When I finally caught up with everyone, I apologized to my guide and to the six Americans. I blamed the delay on my friend who was resting down below. (It’s okay she couldn’t hear me and will never know I put all the blame on her)…LOL!

The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking! This hike was definitely unforgettable and if it hadn’t been cloudy that day, a panoramic view of Lake Nordenskjold, Los Cuernos del Paine, Valle del Francés and the Patagonian Andes would’ve been visible. As we made our descent, my friend joined us and told us about her low iron level which explains the lack of oxygen while ascending.

This was definitely a difficult terrain, but then again, I’m not a skillful hiker. It was quite easy for the six Americans who have been hiking most of their lives. I wondered what would’ve happened if I did the base of the Torres del Paine or the French Valley. I’m not sure I was ready for them after today’s experience. I was convinced that I need to do a lot more hiking in the future to be ready for any type of terrain.

Arriving at the camp, we wanted to chill at the bar after a grueling hike. We were introduced to a regional drink called Calafate Sour. It was so good that I must’ve had two or three glasses before dinner. All the dinners at Patagonia Camp were awesome. The first night was a buffet that included lamb (which was a Patagonian specialty). The second and remaining nights we were there, we were given a choice of an entree—with appetizer, dessert, and unlimited amount of wine.

Luckily there’s that unlimited amount of wine I indulged in after this first, difficult, and miserable hike.

Tomorrow, however, is a different story…..

I’ll always have Paris… 

“I need to move around a bit. To shuffle my surroundings. To wake up in cities I don’t know my way around and have conversations in languages I cannot entirely comprehend. There is always this tremendous longing in my heart to be lost, to be someplace else, to be far far away from all of this.”

My life had its share of ups and downs. It has seen a lot of heartaches and disappoitments. After my son’s relapse with cancer, life hasn’t exactly gone back to normal. Life at home is just as stressful as it was. Besides tending to my younger son’s medical and everyday needs, my husband has been suffering  from anxiety attacks. I used to think it was just a once-every-few-months occurrence but lately the attacks have  been occurring with increasing frequency. They often strike out of the blue without any warning even when the atmosphere is relaxed. I also worry about my older son. He recently came out and it was revealed to us in his blog that he’d been bullied in high school. Since this revelation, I’ve been worried sick about him. I’ve been concerned about his happiness and finding love, as I’ve been made aware by my gay friends that a homosexual lifestyle can be very lonely. I think about him a lot and sometimes I make myself sick by overly agonizing about his well-being. And as for me, I believe I still have PTSD. I’ve had countless of sleepless nights drowning  in sorrow. I have done everything to help alleviate the loneliness. I walked. I hiked. I wrote. I read. But no matter what I did, there’s always that feeling that something was still missing.

Perhaps I needed to take time away for myself to recharge my batteries and travel somewhere I’d always wanted to go. In a city where I could do as I wished without regard to what a traveling companion wanted to do. Where I was entirely alone and free. And to be far away from all of this.

I’ve always had this fantasy of being in Paris alone. To wander in the city, without any destination in mind. To go where the moment takes me. To stop rushing from place to place. I want to experience Paris. I want to take chances and have adventures. To learn the art of talking less. To take my time and savor each Parisian minute. To stay at a cafe and survey the scene. Take pictures of anything and everything that catches my eye. To contemplate. To have Paris all by myself, my way.

And I did just that….and more.

I also got to do some of the (touristy) things I missed out on in my previous visits. I have stood in front of the Eiffel Tower many times before  but never got the chance to climb it (that’s because none of my companions wanted to).
And so it was the very first thing I did on this trip.

I didn’t only climb the Eiffel Tower but treated myself to a wonderful lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel.  For about $50, I had a three course lunch with wine and tea. Was the food good? It wasn’t spectacular. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

I also learned to use a tripod, and taught myself to be self-indulgent by taking a lot of pictures of me. I loved it for a change!

Like the Eiffel Tower, I have never made it on top of the Arc de Triomphe in my previous visits.

And so once again, I climbed another famous structure! The benefits of solo travel!

I took a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower in various filters. Regardless of how many times I have seen this tower, I can’t get tired of it. It never gets old. Paris never gets old.

I wanted to get lost in the moment, to go anywhere without a destination in mind, to walk around aimlessly, and…I did! My wish, granted: I wandered, got lost, but found my way back. Now I know what it means when people say do not be afraid to get lost!

But once again, I got lost…this time in the company of books at Shakespeare And Company,

Someday I’ll remind myself these words by Hafiz: I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.

And to also remember that little things can instantly bring a ray of sunshine such as a free bench.

I went for a walk at Jardin du Tuileries, to contemplate life…

and to admire the beauty of the autumn leaves.

Reminding myself once again that no matter what life brings, it is still beautiful just like those flowers in bloom…

To always stop and appreciate the moment. To look around me in awe and be grateful at how lucky I am to be surrounded by such beauty.

One of the great pleasures of being in Paris, that is truly très magnifique, is the art of cafe-sitting. And no one can deny that this city is a gastronomical dream!

I had tea at Mariage Fréres.

I indulged on a cup of rich hot thick chocolat at Angelina.

They say, “To err is human. To loaf is a Parisian.” My daily petit dejeuner were croissants and baguettes.

I drank wine. Every. Single. Day.

But I also ate light on some nights and had this fantastic Salade Nicoise with tuna at a bistro near my hotel. It was so good I went back twice.

I looked up at every building and swooned over the architecture,

and took pictures of whatever that caught my eyes.

I declared that my most favorite metro station is the Abbesses,

and spent a whole afternoon in the Bohemian and artsy Montmartre.

And there, in Montmartre, I found the wall. No, not Donald Trump’s wall, but a wall where love comes together in every language: Le mur des Je t’aime,

I love you wall.

Although Paris is the city of love, it is the perfect place to be alone. It is perfect for strolling by yourself without the constraints of pleasing somebody. Since I usually travel with my family I didn’t realize that this adventure gave me the opportunity to be completely selfish–something I don’t normally get to be when I’m at home. I almost forgot what it felt like to not have to worry about anyone but myself.  It took a lot for me to finally take a step and just go. I left feeling lost, lonely, and wanting to escape life. I was hopeful that during my alone time, I would find myself in the mystery of a new place.

I pondered each night on how much I learned about myself on this trip. I wrote journals with pensive thoughts: what had happened, I wrote, to the woman who loved spontaneity and great adventures? Had she disappeared?

Somehow, when I disconnected myself from the usual habits, I reconnected with myself. Perhaps this is what traveling alone usually does: you rediscover and reconnect with yourself.


Oh, but then again, I wasn’t completely alone. Paris was there with me the entire time–to accompany me on my journey of self discovery. And whenever I start to feel lonely again, or feel that life is passing me by, I will remind myself that I’ll always have Paris.

 

Upclose and personal with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

I was that troubled water in the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, but fortunately I’ve been provided with so many bridges in my life to help ease the heartbreak. Because bridges have that profound meaning in my life, I have added something in my bucket list—to cross (on foot) every bridge I come in contact with. You can guess that when I flew to San Francisco, I had one itinerary in mind.

I don’t know about you but when I see a beautiful bridge I get all the feels. I just don’t see a structure providing a path but I see something profoundly more meaningful than that. Bridges symbolize many things.

 For me personally, a bridge symbolizes hope, resilience, and love. I have experienced depression in the past and my anxiety attacks came in different forms. I believe I was (and most likely still am) experiencing post traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD) after my son’s first cancer diagnosis (and worse especially after the relapse). Besides my son’s distressful journey with cancer, I’ve also dealt with other heartbreaking situations. My anxiety had resulted to too many sleepless nights.  I have reached a point when I thought life wasn’t going to get better, that my happiness will always be limited. I was that troubled water in the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, but fortunately, I’ve been provided with so many bridges in my life to help me ease my pain.

I have also learned to worry less today, to roll with the punches, and to accept whatever difficult challenges life throws at me.

Because bridges have that profound meaning in my life, I have added something in my bucket list–to cross (on foot) every bridge I come in contact with. You can guess that when I flew to San Francisco, I had one itinerary in mind.

This week was my older son’s spring break. After a 4-day trip to Portland, I decided we’d stay one night in the city before he goes back to Stanford.


From our hotel in Union Square, the best way to get to the Golden Gate bridge was to take an Uber to the Welcome Center Information Center. From there you will get amazing views of the bridge.


Fortunately, it was a weekday and there weren’t too many people on the bridge despite the beautiful weather.

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It only took us over 20 minutes to walk all the way to the end. My watch showed 1.04 miles one way but according to the official record, it’s 0.8 miles (4200 feet). I’m not exactly sure where it officially starts, but I set my watch from the beginning of the paved walkway on the bridge.


I was taking a ton of photos every few steps and my son jokingly told me that all my pictures will eventually look the same. “Just keep walking and enjoy it, mom! Stop taking pictures,” he said.


I was just really excited that I was able to cross my first bridge. I didn’t think today was going to be possible since just the day prior, the weather forecast was showing heavy winds in San Francisco. One more thing, I was also satisfying one of my personal challenges that I’ve been working on this year (by the way, this marks my 5th personal challenge).

 I had a preconceived idea that crossing the bridge was going to be long and challenging. In fact, it was short and easy.  Perhaps just like life, when we’re faced with a difficult challenge, we always perceive it to be more difficult than it seems. But if we are willing to face all the obstacles and not lose hope, it turns out that life really isn’t that bad after all.

Easter Sunrise

I feel more spiritual now than I have ever been but it has nothing to do with religion. My new found spirituality is centered on being more open and accepting of things I have not been accustomed to.

We did something unconventional this morning. We woke up at the crack of dawn to attend the Easter service at Oak Point Park, an outdoor amphitheater near our house. But that’s not the reason why it’s unconventional: it wasn’t a Catholic service.


I’ve  been raised in the Catholic faith all my life. I went to Catholic schools since kindergarten until we migrated to California when I was fifteen. I almost attended the all-girls Catholic school near  my dad’s office in Los Angeles, however, my cousin convinced me to go to the public school she attended. Boys, she said, were important part of any teenage girl’s life. And so I did (which was almost shocking that my parents agreed).

It was a beautiful service this morning. They had a band singing gospel songs. The pastor’s sermon was about coming back to life, both literally and figuratively. It’s about appreciating every moment of your life. The sermon felt as if it was intended for my family since we have “died”, not only once but twice  before. And both times we have gotten back up, picked up every broken pieces, and moved on. However, we were much stronger the second time around. My younger son reminds me that this is not his second chance at life. In fact it’s his third. At a young age of 12, he is ahead of his years. He has experienced life not many adults have.

As for me, I feel more spiritual now than I have ever been but it has nothing to do with religion. My old self  would’ve thought going to an Easter service, other than Catholic, sacrilegious. But my new found spirituality is centered on being more open and accepting of things I have not been accustomed to.

This year, I decided I was going to be a new person, challenging myself to new adventures and experiences. I have actually amazed myself at keeping up with my personal challenges, no matter how difficult it was. Going to a religious service that wasn’t called “mass” was a challenge. But I did it and it’s uplifting to be less constrained by my own ideals or others people’s ideals.

This is my personal challenge #5!

Happy Easter!

First Easter without our older son!

Life, interrupted

I’ve been crying lately, losing sleep over my dream trip to Nepal. For eight months I held on to this dream which kept me feel alive and inspired. Unfortunately due to uncontrollable circumstances,  I had to postpone my trip indefinitely. My fantasy of trekking the mystical Everest region may have vanished this time but the hopes of making it a reality someday has not.

Story of my life…..

On a lighter note, I’d like to share something I found that revealed about my past: an old journal!  One day I was frantically searching for something (which I can no longer remember what) but to my  surprise I found my  1997 journal instead. I rarely keep things this long because I’m not sentimental in that regard, but now I’m glad I did. Reading through my journal, I realized how different my life was.


1997 was full of excitement. My husband and I traveled constantly, loving the expat life in Tokyo. He had a busy 1997, flying all over Asia on business trips. I didn’t tag along each time but I had a busy life of my own, mostly socializing with friends (having lunches out and discovering new places in the city).

In April of that year, we went to Beijing on vacation.


“Lots of taxi hustlers. Heard Celine Dion and Prince on the radio,” I wrote on our first day there. It’s interesting that I thought Beijing resembled Mexico City. I believe I pictured it with bikes everywhere but it was also congested with automobiles, just like any other big cities.

On our way to The Great Wall, I was relieved to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city, passing through small farming villages. I wrote: “Women gathered around, having small talks, with no regard for time. Life must be really simple for these folks.” I wonder now if life in Beijing is still that way after almost twenty years. With China’s economic boom, I highly doubt it.


“Great Wall was spectacular! It’s hard to believe we’re standing on a structure built thousands of years ago. At the same time, I thought of the thousands of peasants who suffered and died building the wall.”

Yeah, I’m not surprised if those pensive thoughts even crossed my mind. Sounds a lot like me–always reflecting on the deeper side of life. I can never relax and simply enjoy what’s in front of me. I always find guilt in any pleasure.  😊

We ran into my husband’s boss at the airport in Narita before boarding our plane to Beijing. He told us about a great Peking duck restaurant in Beijing and invited us to go with him for dinner. He was right about it being great because I still remember how much I loved the food. But I wouldn’t eat duck now. On my daily walks, I pass by the lake nearby that is  often visited by ducks. Watching them go about their day gave me so much  pleasure. Hence I can no longer justify killing them for food.

shopping in Beijing near the American embassy

In the month of July, we were off to Europe for another vacation. Pondering on the great life I had then, I know why I’m so depressed now–unable to jetset anytime I please. Traveling is a big part of my life and it’s the reason why I became a flight attendant fresh out of college (even though my major was totally unrelated).


On our way to Madrid, we had a two hour layover in Amsterdam. Alhough we would  stop there later for two nights coming  back from Spain.

We spent most of our time in Spain touring the Andalucia region by bus. We used the company Pullmantur. I wonder if they’re still around.


In my journal I wrote,”long drive to Córdoba. It’s so beautiful! This is how I perceived Southern Spain. We saw the Mezquita. Words could not describe how I feel. We went on to Seville, had dinner at our hotel, Hotel Macarena, and saw a flamenco show by the Torre del Oro area.


In the morning, we did the city tour in Seville and stopped at the Piazza de Spagna where I bought fans, very  typical Spanish.


Everything I’ve seen here is just so incredibly beautiful. We went strolling down by the Torre del Oro and had some drinks by the water.”

We visited Torremolinos, in Costa del Sol, which I didn’t particularly like. I loved the Alhambra in Granada. I thought that was impressive. We also stopped at the Straits of Gibraltar. According to what I wrote in my journal, going there felt like a waste of time. We were back in Madrid on August 4, did some shopping, and left the next day for Amsterdam.



I am guessing from what I wrote (above), I didn’t like Amsterdam as much. It felt scummy. “Prostitutes behind glass windows, drug shops, and all the scummiest people from all over the world are probably hanging out here.” Anyone can assume where we were–the Red Light District! I’m no longer that prude though. Tolerance is a quality I’ve acquired over time. Certainly a lot can change in nineteen years!

On October 31 we were off to Singapore. This was quite a memorable trip because I brought a pregnancy test kit with me. In the early morning hours in Singapore, I found out I was pregnant with my first son! The funny thing about this trip (and only because I was pregnant), I had developed a disdain for Asian food. I remember gagging when the Singapore rep took us to eat curry fish head, a must-have delicacy there. After that, I asked my husband to take me to American restaurants where I can eat bland foods for the rest of the trip. Hooters and Burger King became my go-to restaurants. It’s perplexing because I’ve always had an eclectic taste and eating the regional cuisine is something I always look forward when visiting a foreign country. Eating buffalo wings and burgers in Singapore is blasphemous! Surely I can blame it on the pregnancy.   😊


In December, we went to Manila, Philippines, to celebrate Christmas with my parents.


An afterthought:

1997 surely was a great year of traveling for us. With the birth of my son the following year, life–with a baby–was not quite the same. But we had new experiences that were as equally gratifying–the love of a child.

I also noticed I don’t do handwritten journals anymore. Instead, I use my iPad. I hardly see my handwriting nowadays, which I think is sad. I still collect notebooks because they make me happy but I should make an effort to type less and write more.

Another thing I didn’t realize back then was that I had an amazing, mind-blowing experiences while living  in Tokyo. Unfortunately you will never know how good you have it until it’s gone. When I look back at the things I complained about–the overcrowded  subways, the language barrier (the  difficulty of learning a new language that was completely foreign to me), and the peculiarity of the people–I realize now those things made living there more magical.

I’m always faced with difficult situations, experiencing the highs and the lows. I  constantly battle with life’s unpredictable nature and to keep my sanity, I go for long walks, take deep breaths and reminisce the good times. Yes…especially the good times! Because they are a reminder that life doesn’t always suck.