My last day of being of 27

TriBeCa sunrise on the sunset of 27
TriBeCa sunrise on the sunset of 27

I woke up this morning, wrapped around in my (lovely) hotel sheets, in a moderate panic. When the sun sets tonight, I will have lived my last day of 27.

I’d become familiar with this panic over the past few months—the kind anxiety that’s been bolstered by my general unease from feeling old and under-accomplished. I’d never felt anything other than right where I should be—starting a career, having an incredible amount of fun—and yet, and yet… this year, I’ve been feeling disappointed in myself.

How quickly that insecurity and doubt casts shadows on a year well-spent. I was almost punishing myself, questioning in the darkness: “What have you done in the past year? How have you changed your life from the year before? Are you getting stagnant, risk averse?”

The mind forgets yesterday when it falls into a psychological slump. Because I as I padded through the gray haze, I started thinking through the things I experienced last year. And as I began physically listing, it dawned these 12 months were, in fact, not a wasted, lost or stagnant year, but rather an incredible year. What was 27? The year that I:

  • Broke my Chicago festival virginity
  • Made some new lifelong friends
  • Saw the craziness of Bermuda at Cup Match
  • Survived Burning Man duststorms
  • Completed the Guatemala/Belize circuit I’ve wanted to do since we skipped it in 2010 (Cyn)
  • Drove a dodgy car through all of Central Patagonia
  • Hiked for 2031282 hours in Patagonia
  • Got serious about writing
  • Started a business with my best friend
  • Found out how deep that friendship ran
  • Joined the +acumen board
  • Had the best Groove Cruise ever
  • Got promoted
  • Launched a website
  • Made it to the crazy Balkans
  • Broke my Couchsurfing virginity
  • Got closer to my parents
  • Made it to WMC #3
  • Got into Ultra for free
  • Hopped four cities in China in close quarters with my parents (and lived)
  • Became a travel expert and writer
  • Became a paid blogger
  • Saw two of my best friends get engaged

This year, I’ve feared that my spirit was turning older, and its flame for life slightly less bright. I felt like I was losing the fight, acquiescing to what a moderate and safe adulthood should look like, and it terrified me. I felt like perhaps the Second Law of Thermodynamics had taken over.

But no, as I actually look over the past year and relive the colors, tastes, smells, laughs and memories, I remember that it—like every other year—is an incredible year to be alive. And I’m only so lucky to embark on the next one. More surefooted. More secure. More ready to face the incredible opportunities that rise with tomorrow’s sun.

Going home to Changchun, China

When I awake, I instinctively look at the clock. The one that sits overhead is broken. 4:35. It’s perpetually 4:35.

I am back in Changchun after three years. I had arrived at the airport after a grueling travel session, spanning 1 ½ hours Chicago to Vancouver; 13 ½ Vancouver to Beijing; and another 1 ½ to finally get here. Whisked away by my Mom, stepdad and Tao Ge, my second aunt’s son, we whiz through the dark streets.

The air is damp and thick with the light smell of smoke, as Mom explains that is a mix of the heavy construction and the season—farmers are burning the stalks in their fields for planting season.

People still burn fields?

It’s nearly 10 when we arrive at the apartment complex—the one that my Grandma and fourth aunt’s family had moved into back in 2007: one of the then most chic in Changchun. In true Chinese style, Grandma already has her helper frying flour patties, and re-heating zhou and vegetables for me to eat.

“Child must be hungry,” she says, wrapping me in a thick hug in her fuzzy red sweater.

My things are promptly whisked into a bedroom.

Just our luck, Mom says, they have exactly two extra rooms. She and my stepfather are sleeping in the extra room in fourth aunt’s condo two stories above, and I’m sleeping here in Grandma’s guest room.

It’s my Grandfather’s old room of course. He has been gone nearly five years now. I still remember coming back in 2007 and 2008, when he had sat in his chair smoking cigarettes and crouching over the small TV, body frailer by the year. You go to hug him and pay your respects. He smiles a bit and hums up the energy from within to shout out your name in enthusiastic exuberance.


And then it’s back to the TV, back to his writing, back to his cigarette. What did we have to talk about anyway? And his ears, growing increasingly deaf, wouldn’t hear my awkwardly loud and deliberately spaced words in limited vocabulary anyway. You’d smile a bit. Give him another hug and retreat—no idea what might be swirling within his mind.

And now the image of him sitting in the chair is frozen in time through Mulberry Child. I’d seen it dozens of times, the scene they replayed from 2008 with my grandfather waving in front of the TV, taking a brief moment from watching the Games. It was when Mom had visited with a video camera when we knew—we all knew—the end was coming. I remember sitting in this house and knowing that this would be the last time I saw my Grandfather—family, and yet so distant from me—alive. That I would be an ocean away when he left us. And I was. In Las Vegas. An ocean away a month later when breathed his last.

The room has been converted, although in the center of the top shelf, there is a portrait of my Grandfather, perhaps in his 60s, with a shock of white hair and slightly smiling, looking dignified, proud and shining from within. Around him, there are family photos, of their kids when they were young—my aunts and uncles—photos throughout the year of when the family got together, all in terrible outfits. Despite the years, they still all pose like an old Chinese photograph—parents in the front, sitting regally—children and grandchildren all about. In some, Mom has terrible farmer tan lines on her arms and gigantic coke-bottle glasses. Those were from the 90s; it didn’t make sense why she had coke bottle glasses.


4:35. 4:35. The time seems to taunt me. The way that time kind of stands still in this room. And my grandfather is immortalized.Grandpa's portrait

Yes, Beijing Capital International Airport has Free Wifi… and a Star Alliance Gold Lounge

However, you do have to go to a kiosk and register to get the user number and password. You will also need your passport to do this.

I’ve only done so in the Star Alliance Gold lounge, which has okay food (you can always find noodles in the lounges in China), warm beer, juice but no booze. There’s a kiosk right by the check-in counter where you can scan in your passport and get a login good for a few hours.

My favorite images of Tanzania

In February 2011, I traveled to Tanzania for 2 1/2 weeks, spending a few days in Dar es Salaam (the capital) before heading into a whirlwind of safari (and gypsy safari), getting lost in the Usambara mountains, to the coastal wonders of Zanzibar. You can find my full itinerary here.

The following are some highlight photos from the trip.