The Best Family Vacation (Ever? Yet?)

Whenever it was my turn to pick dinner in Manila, I chose Din Tai Fung, because they have some of the best dumplings in the world, as confirmed by a Michelin star. These duplings, or xiao long bao, are a miracle of such wonder that they won their own hymn from NPR and also, you know, a thousand years of spreading devotion since their conception in Shanghai.   

I remember having a long conversation with some of the other interns last year over some dumplings about whether or not there was such a thing as one dumpling in all the world that was better than all the others. I argued that there had to be, somewhere, one dumpling that was more perfectly made than any other. It might not last very long. It might never be recognized, but somewhere in the world, there exists the ideal bao, one dumpling that's at least better than all the others.

"But," someone said, "what if the best dumpling doesn't have as good of a soup mix as the second best?" Best gets broken down into elements. The skin, the meat, the soup, the cook time. And then, of course, each of these things can be further broken down. The softest pork, the most perfectly cooked, ect. 

Is there a "best" of anything? Or is there only an infinity of categories in which an infinity of different things can be the best?

That can be a comforting though really. Nothing is lost if it's the best of something. 

Last month, my family went on vacation through Spain, Italy and France, and it was definitively the best of the best at deepening our relationships. Madrid was lively, Venice intricate, and Nice calm, but I think it will be the ten straight days where we actually grew in our enjoyment of each other that sticks. 

I don't know if there's really an explanation for this. My sister and I are old enough to have gown out of a number of our petty fights, my brother is old enough to keep up with the jokes, and I think we were all determined not to let conflict get in the way. It's a beautiful thing when resolutions succeed beyond all expectations. 

Even the annoying parts of the trip, like driving through Italy in a car made for at least one less person than was present or the crushing masses that decided to visit Cinque Terre on the same day we did, will be funny because they didn't end as badly as they could have, I think. 

And the most beautiful part about the categorizing is that this vacation gets to be the best in this category potentially forever. The next one can be the most we laughed or the holiday of the coolest sights. But this one is the best we've done at enjoying each other yet, and I couldn't have asked for much more. 

M A Y

AND WARHOL WAS A HOARDER- Claudia Kalb

MADAME BOVARY- Gustave Flaubert

FATHERS AND SONS- Ivan Turgenev

I was a bit behind this month. I usually read more when I travel, but this time it doesn't seem to have helped. There's always a weird tension between the 'I have to see everything and can't do anything but focus on the place I am' and the hours spent in pretty mindless transit, which are perfect reading time. And this time, there was family thrown into the mix, which of course takes even more mental/emotional energy than friends. 

Madame Bovary was by far my favorite of the books I read this month. Fathers and Sons was probably at least as relevant, at least to my upbringing, but Madame Bovary was so beautifully and gently done. I'm standing by gentle. I think Flaubert writes her with respect and affection, even if it could be read like a straight up morality play. She does indeed make horrible decisions, but I feel like this is one of the earliest books I've read that gives a woman the kind of inner turmoil and external circumstances that would create even a little sympathy for a serial adulterer. 

The American Cemetery at Normandy, a few days after Memorial Day. 

The American Cemetery at Normandy, a few days after Memorial Day. 

The Mexican Art Exhibit at the DMA (or How I Should Have Spent Cinco de Mayo)

Mexican art features some amazing depictions of strong females.

That's probably an artless first sentence, but wow was it the refrain of the visit.

Frida Kahlo's main painting gathered people. I intentionally ignored it, choosing to look first at all the other art in the room, but I was very aware that I had my back to the reason most people came to the exhibit. Kahlo was the only artist whose work I knew at all before the exhibit, and I would bet that was true of a lot of people there. 

I ignored her so hard that when I finally did turn toward Kahlo's work, a DMA volunteer was right there waiting for me. He was fantastic. I learned that this particular painting had been shown in Paris once, but otherwise had never left Mexico. Who would have guessed that Dallas would have been the second place to show it? We talked about the context of the work in Kahlo's own life. Her marriage was crumbling, and she felt torn between two cultures, two obviously closely tied but separate versions of herself. 

I went with an odd group of women for suburban Dallas. We were all at least two years out of college, unmarried and not in serious relationships. There were more people with grad degrees than without.

Anyways, we loved the art, and I loved learning more about Mexico. 

The DMA makes all of their exhibits free on Sundays for Family Day, and when we were there it was packed with families, friends, people on dates, in a really beautiful diversity of colors. I'm very grateful that the DMA chose to put on this exhibit in the face of all the country's unrest over immigration. 

This is so important, right now. In Texas especially, white people are going to have to learn how to get along with and celebrate other races, since we haven't been a white majority state for years. We're going to have to get used to white spaces shrinking, and fine art is a great place for some cultural exchange (past margaritas) to start.  

It shouldn't be 'brave' for a museum to exhibit the culture, even if it is strong female heavy, of a country that is literally their next door neighbor. But it is right now, and I'm grateful.

M A R C H

THE STORY OF A NEW NAME- Elena Ferrante

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE- Agatha Christie

THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY- Elena Ferrante

I'M A STRANGER HERE MYSELF- Bill Bryson

THE PRINCESS BRIDE- William Goldman

 

Disappointingly white and western this month, but hey the girl/guy ratio is alright? 

And Ferrante just keeps getting better. Her deceptively sugary covers are just an added joke to the grit she manages to pull out of some fascinating but overwhelmingly real/normal lives. 

New Year, New Challenges (Same Issues)

A month ago, I was living in Asia. I had a job that I loved, friends and coworkers who inspired me, and a home that always provided something new to learn. (Also, I had an income.)

That's not to say life was fun or easy or glamorous. My job was by turns overwhelming and boring, though it never lacked purpose. New people aren't always what you want, especially when you're living somewhere new. 

Always learning something about your context is just as exhausting as it is exhilarating. But these are the kinds of challenges I love. I enjoy learning by slamming all the dullness of my comfort and confidence into a whole new setting. I took an internship in Asia because I expected, wanted, a challenge made of novelty.

But now, I'm home. And not like 'back in Texas looking but doing something new' home. Nope. I have followed that grand millennial joke and moved back home with my parents. 

There are some true positives about this! I missed my family so much over the 13 months I was away, and it's been good to reconnect with them. Not paying rent is inherently cheaper, which is important to me at the moment... And I'm definitely not alone! I was really surprised by how many of my friends, even the ones with steady incomes, are living at home right now. It's feeling pretty 'all in this together' around Dallas right now. 

But it's also not easy. It looks like I'll be here for the next few months, and honestly that thought makes me want to run again as soon as possible. 

It's hard not to let going home feel like taking steps backward. Living in the same room, seeing the same people, it's enough to make a girl forget the 5+ years that have passed since the last time she was the person who lived in this room. So the challenge this year is not learning new languages or cultures but figuring out how the current me fits into the old ways of speaking and living. 

Reconciling those years of growth and change with an all too familiar setting is frustrating. Working as a barista instead of in the comms department of an anti-sex trafficking organization could feel reductive if I let it. The next few months could fly by in a haze of passivity, where I wait on my family and their schedule like I did in high school.

These things could be anxiety inducing, if they weren't so damn normal. There's definitely an element of unresolved issues here. Home can feel full of things that I got over or ran away from, which means that it's probably, definitely time to confront them. So that's an annoying opportunity isn't it?

So here's to new things in old places and so much more time to read and write. 

Where We Did What: Hong Kong

So in between computer issues, wifi issues, and some nasty Asian bug (also... bedbugs.... more on that later), I haven't been nearly as vigilant about updating as I intend to be. I want to commit to at least one travel post a week, with others sprinkled in, but I may give myself a month before I get there. 

I also want to do a quick, details oriented post like this for every city. I usually spend an hour or two on travel blogs before I go anywhere, and sometimes I just want to know which neighborhoods have cool hostels without having to read a 1000 word anecdote about THE best taxi driver EVER. 

I'm sure he was a god among men, but I'll be splitting my posts up a little more...

So is this where I stop talking about talking less? Well, here's Hong Kong.

Where We Stayed:

Wan Chai, Hong Kong. More specifically, we stayed at the Check Inn HK hostel and absolutely loved it. It's got a weird set up and isn't the most social, but the owner is a gem. Definitely suggest going on one of the hikes he hosts! 

I'd definitely suggest staying on the Hong Kong side of the city, but anywhere near public transportation works.

Where We Ate:

Here's the thing about Hong Kong. You can't go wrong with the food. We pretty much walked into dim sum shops all day long, and nowhere disappointed. Our favorite place was Kam Wah Cafe in Kowloon (!!!), which I covered a couple posts ago and about which I am still dreaming. 

Where We Drank: 

Lan Kwai Fong. There are probably more tourists here after dark than any other bar district I've seen in Asia, but honestly, we enjoyed it so much. Lan Kwai Fong is more or less made up of 4 streets edged on either side by bars and clubs. The atmosphere is great if you're looking for something a little rowdy without being too off color. The streets were packed with mostly foreigners of all ages, talking, laughing, having dance battles... 

There are a ton of great rooftop bars if you want something a little more subdued though!

Where We Touristed:

Hong Kong: Victoria's Peak (hike it. do it. it's great.), Star Ferry, Mid Levels, PMQ (Go to here if you have any interest in design/art/ect!)

Kowloon: Ladies Market, Chi Lin Nunnery, Nan Lian Gardens

Lantau: Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery

Overall, I was impressed by everything we did. I've about had it with street markets after this year, so I would probably skip the Ladies Market if I went back. If you love haggling though, have at it...

 

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