Making Good Habits

The coming year is The Year of Do.

"Doing" over and over again leads to forming habits. It's important to form good habits because doing so allows us to be not only inherently healthier, cleaner, or more knowledgeable (depending on what type of habit we form and commit to), but it also allows us to be more productive and efficient with our time. A habit is an action, good or bad, that one does with little thought as to the mechanics or steps of the process.

New tasks require a lot of brain power--a lot of RAM, if you will. We must think about how to do the task, our timeliness, ways to do the task better, ways to correct our mistakes, and so on. New tasks are mentally draining. Taking on new tasks can sometimes seem so overwhelming, that we opt out of doing the task all together. The more times that we do a task, the less attention our brain must devote to the task. We have more free space in our brain that we can use to think about other things. Completing a task that has become a habit becomes less mentally draining and causes little if any anxiety.

Unfortunately, bad habits form sometimes without our realizing it. Bad habits can be difficult to break. The good news is good habits can be easy to form. They take just a bit of time, practice, and repetition (about two weeks of repetition for daily habits and 5 weeks of repetition for weekly habits).

 How to start good habits: 
1. Give tasks the necessary time that it takes to complete the task. Deliberately set aside the appropriate amount of time it takes to do a task (for example, if it takes 20 minutes to wash the dishes, give yourself that 20 minutes to wash the dishes every day after dinner. Don't promise to squeeze it in when you have 15 minutes in between waking up and leaving for work because you'll end up being late to work or not doing the dishes).

 2. Do daily tasks at the same time every day and weekly tasks at the same time every week. That's not to say that you must wake up at 6 a.m. sharp, leave work at 4 p.m sharp., run at 4:30 p.m.sharp, and have dinner by 6 p.m. sharp every day. Too strict of schedules become overwhelming and don't allow you to make last minute plans for social and leisure time with friends. Instead of keeping a strict time schedule, form sensible and productive sequences like: cook after running, wash your dishes after dinner, tidy the apartment after brushing your teeth, prepare your lunch and backpack for the next day before going to bed. No more putting things off for an unspecified time; just do it. In the beginning, commit to these routines

 3. Enjoy your routine chores. There's no way around it: as an adult, you must keep clean, you must prepare and eat healthy food, and you must keep yourself physically active. You may as well find ways to enjoy doing these things. I listen to and sing along with music while I wash dishes. I listen to radio podcasts while I cook. I wear running outfits I feel good in and think of my next blog topic when I run.

 4. Make just-for-fun habits. Some of my fun habits include going bouldering (rock climbing) every Wednesday and watching my favorite shows every week. The beauty of habits is that it's easy to have time for these activities because you already have a blocked out time period in your week when you don't have anywhere else to be or anything else to do. You tend to plan around your set set activities. Better yet, join or build a community of people who will expect you to come to bouldering every Wednesday. Good habits built into your days and week will guarantee that you will have done at least those productive activities each week. As each activity becomes habitual, you're able to add on yet more productive tasks to your daily routine. It's a win-win situation; no goal-setting required. Nothing to it but to do it.



I'm independent, I don't need anyone. I've moved from city to city all my life. I've had to make new friends more times than I can count. My family hasn't lived all together since I was 18.

Lies, lies, lies... these are all lies. Well, OK, they're all true, but that first sentence is a lie.

I've made it as far as I have because of my family and because of my chosen family who adopted a nomad girl like me. My parents loved me so much that they raised me to be an adventurous, adaptable, and curious person. They knew that when I turned 18 and moved out of the house that they were releasing me into the world.

I stand on my own, but I do need people. I've always needed my family and friends. I still do.

The holidays and the cold wintertime is a difficult time to be away from family.


Year's End

2012: The Year of Taking on Fears
This year, I did a lot of things that scared me: I learned to stand up paddle; I went surfing; I ran multiple off-road races; I paraglided; I went canyoning; I jumped waterfalls in Hawaii and in Japan; I went zip-lining in the Philippines; I traveled to foreign countries without ever having been there, without an itinerary, and without speaking the language; I moved halfway across the world (well, I moved twice within a year of each other, a quarter-ways across the world each time) to a country whose language I do no speak; I climbed Mt. Fuji; I ran several races; I made friends from all over the world; I taught in many different arenas outside of my comfort zone (elementary schools, classes of adults who speak different languages, Japanese high schools); I traveled by myself, risked getting lost and having to rely on my in-progress Japanese speaking abilities and problem-solving skills to figure my way out through new situations; I traveled by bike more in the past few months than I ever had in my entire life up to a few months ago; I started bouldering every week, in which I take on climbing trails, leaps, jumps, and falls that scare me.

Most importantly, I taught high school students in classes as small in size as 10 students and as large in size as 45 students.

I know that that last one shouldn't be a big deal, but it means a lot to me that I'm getting back into the swing of things doing what I aspired to do for so many years. I still get nervous each morning before I do a lesson, but continually feeling that nervousness and then going into the classroom and teaching through that nervousness has proven to be much more rewarding than doing any task that didn't scare me to begin with.

In 2011, I turned down many opportunities to face my fears. I would say that I felt sick, was busy, or wasn't ready to do X. In a way, it was true: I felt sick with nervousness, was busy trying to put together better and better versions of, for example, lesson plans until I had something that I felt was perfect, and I definitely wasn't ready to go get 'em and teach.  I should have recognized these moments as "ready as I'll ever be" moments. I should have gone in to face the fray, assessed my losses, and strategized for how to have an ever-so-slightly better lesson the next day. I should have at least focused on showing up day after day despite any anxiety I had in order to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

2012 was different. 2012 was the year of facing my fears. And, in order to keep things interesting, I made sure to face many different fears as often as possible. I faced small ones and big ones. I can't say that I am now fearless, but at least I can say I did it. Even though the thought of climbing Fuji-san in the cold and pitch dark for 6 hours each way still scares me, I experienced personal growth in some way or another when I did it this past summer.

2013: The Year of Do
Next year will be the year of Do.

Too often, I fall into the trap of putting off a task because the goal I set for myself is too daunting and, to be honest, downright unachievable. I'm a "goal-oriented" person: I write goals for everything--What I Want to Achieve This Year; What I Want to Achieve Today; Things To Do This Week; Things to Do On My Vacation in Thailand. I then go about my days with these heavy lists that looming overhead and make me feel worse and worse about myself as each goal remains untouched. I want to move away from being someone who gets her feelings of accomplishment and self-satisfaction by checking off items on a goals list, towards being someone who gains a feeling of fulfillment.

For example, last week, I set out to run. I went out and did (run, that is) without pausing to think it out, set a goal, or plan. I didn't think to myself, "Today, I'm going to run 6 miles in an hour" only to proceed to sit in my living room and muster up the courage to get up and run and eventually become so overwhelmed at the task at hand such that I I decide not to run at all. This time, I didn't do any of that. This time, I just when out and did. I went home, ate a snack (I always run on a full stomach), got dressed, and ran. I ran until I felt about half tired. Then I turned around and ran the rest of the way home. When I checked my route, I found that I set a personal record for longest weekday run (over 8.5 miles).

This is the year of Do. Last year, I did things that scare me; this year, I'm doing little things that add up to big ways of taking care of myself. I'm forming habits without any thought as to measuring my success. Success lies in the act of doing, not in achievement.



I could look at it as I'm without my old friends and family this year.

Or I could look at it as I spent time with new friends doing new things this year.

I could look at it as I made my friend walk with me through the cold night for two and a half hours, back and forth, searching for my lost phone on a deserted sidewalk with nothing but a small flashlight... and found my phone with a destroyed screen...

Or I could look at it as I have a few angels by my side, in the form a great friend and kind strangers who found my phone, brought it to the police station, found me, and got my phone from the police station for me and brought it back to me.

I'll choose the latter of both cases.



Today is the third Thursday of November. In Japan, that's all it
is--the third Thursday of November.

In Hawaii and in California, the most important people in the world to
me are getting together for an evening of feasting on delicious, down
home Filipino-American(-and more) fusion food.

I don't usually get nostalgic and sentimental for things of the past,
but all this talk of Thanksgiving in my classes (as per my
co-teachers' request) has got me all sappy and thinking about family
and food.

I browsed pictures of big dining tables covered from end to end with
various trays of hot and savory dishes and dinner plates brimming
with five or six different colored foods all side by side, each dish
dripping its flavor onto the border of its neighboring dish.

This typical American-style meal is very different from the set meals
of little bowls and little plates in a Japanese-style meal. I kinda miss American-style eating. Also, you
can't eat mashed potatoes with chop sticks, so I haven't come across
restaurant lately that serves mashed potatoes. I miss mashed potatoes. Damn, I
miss mashed potatoes. With garlic. And butter.

I miss the Angeles-Abalos-style Thanksgiving. The families get
together at 3:00 p.m. (because the moms agreed that we'd get together at
12:00 and the Abalos family is always 3 hours late), which is when we
start eating "dinner". We lay out all the serving platters of lumpia,
pancit, some kind of fish, maybe turkey, definitely mashed potatoes,
some kind of beef, some kind of salad, and always, always, always our
moms' special recipe for what we call Korean chicken (most likely no
relation whatsover to Korea, be it North or South). We begin eating
dinner in the afternoon, rest a bit, maybe have some dessert of
cheesecake or fruit salad, and then repeat this cycle of eat and rest
for the rest of the evening and into the late night. Us "kids"
entertain ourselves in various ways, depending on how old we are that
year. Parents always watch The Filipino Channel and talk and laugh
loudly downstairs in the family room. Thanksgiving was always with
family. Thanksgiving always promised lots, and lots, and lots... of
food. Lots, even for a Filipino party.

In my Thanksgiving lesson, I taught students not about Pilgrims and
Indians, but about being thankful. I handed out "placemats" to the
students, on which they thought about and wrote down things they are
thankful for. We sat at a "dining table" (desks pushed together) in
groups of about six students and laid out a table cloth, knives and
forks, cups, and the placemats.

Some students were excited to start "eating". They had drawn and wrote
down foods that they wanted to eat on their placemats (there was a
picture of a plate on the placemats next to the space where they wrote
what they are thankful for). Some students quickly picked up their
knives and forks before they were given directions. "Wait! Not yet!" I
said--fake frantically "We have to give thanks". This is a familiar
tradition to Japanese people because before every meal, they say
"itadakimasu", which basically means "thank you for this meal".

One by one, students went around the dinner table and said "I'm
thankful for... my family, my friends, my teachers, my soccerball..."

Then, we started to "eat"! I taught students how to use a knife and
fork. They were amazed at the fact that Americans don't pick up their
plates and bring it closer to their mouths to eat. They were amazed
that we load up our plates from a serving dish in the middle of the
table. We had a convesation about what we were eating for Thanksgiving
(practice dialogue: "What are you eating for Thanksgiving? I'm eating
_____."). Afterwards, we played some games related to giving thanks
and vocabulary words around the dinner table ("Please pass the
butter!" "Sure, here you go!"). The lesson was fun, lively, and

In between classes, I sat at my desk and planned out the (belated)
Thanksgiving feast that I'm going to host for my ex-pat friends out
here. I'm planning on cooking chicken adobo, vegetarian Thai green
curry, mashed potatos, basil toast, and some kind of salad. One friend
is bringing pecan pie. I don't know what other people are bringing
yet, but something about the thought of so much and so many different
kinds of food all together for one feast picked up my spirits even

I'm so grateful to my parents for making traditions for my family
throughout our childhood. We don't have any reason to celebrate
Thanksgiving -- I come from a family of first-generation immigrants --
but I'm glad that we did anyway. I miss those dinners so much that it
made me well up in the middle of the day, in the middle of the staff
room, while I was describing this tradition to one of my coworkers.
With Thanksgiving weekend only being four days long and members of the
Angeles and Abalos families living in three different parts of the
world, there's no telling when the entire Angeles and Abalos clan will
be together again for a Thanksgiving dinner.

I'm finding though, that sharing my traditions with my students and
new friends is helping to ease the homesickness, as well as preparing
for a big meal, practicing cooking, sharing meals, and starting
traditions of my own. I guess these are all things that I can take
with me anywhere I go, even when I am separated from family.

Here's to a Happy Thanksgiving :)


Friends Like Me

Each time I move to a new place, I meet and make friends who are more and more like me.

Maybe it's because I get better at seeking out and cultivating friendships with people who I think are interesting, kind, and have many common interests with me.

Or maybe with each friend I make, I'm the one who changes to be more like them than the best friend whom I left behind at my previous home.

Regardless, it's interesting to think that many people avoid relocating homes out of fear of losing friends or not making any new friends. My experience has been the opposite. I say this at the risk of offending my friends of past homes, but I hope they read this in good faith. When I moved to the Bay, I became friends with ambitious, compassionate people--. I was most close to friends who would pull all-nighties with me, accompany me to community rallies and protests, and talk with me for hours about our experiences as eager new teachers. When I moved to Hawaii, I made friends with people taking a break from the high stress of mainland U.S., adventure-seekers, and--best of all--my parents.

Now that I am abroad, I've made friends with one of the best friends I've ever had. It's a bold statement to make--am I publicly confessing my love for someone who I've only met 3 months ago? Perhaps. But I'm amazed at the fact that after having moved halfway across the globe, I've found someone who shares my taste in music (and not just a love for the music, but the same emotional, other-level connection to it), will talk politics with me (share my views and teach me about other perspectives), is also in the process of developing a positive, make-things-happen attitude after coming out of a draining yet ultimately life-hanging experience, watches all the same shows as me and knows what shows, movies, and books to suggest to me, aims to see the world, will talk with me on the phone for hours, appreciates a good cup of coffee, knows much about and is curious about Filipino culture (and is also one of the most 'down' White girls I know), is supportive of me in my interests that she doesn't share, and teaches me about interests that she has and I have no experience in.

Meeting her and making friends everywhere I go does much for me in making the big, scary world feel much smaller and cozier. The world has less barriers. The list of reasons NOT to e.g., move to a new place, try a new activity, talk to strangers, or have faith in an ultimately good outcome becomes shorter and shorter. I can do anything with the support of friends and an endless desire to make more and new friends.



This is my first time studying a foreign language. In high school and college, I took the easy route and "studied" Filipino as my foreign language. These classes were certainly valuable and not a complete waste of time--though I understand Tagalog almost as well as I understand English, it was helpful to study it closely to expand my vocabulary and get more comfortable with verb tenses.

Now that I'm studying a new language, I have a new appreciation for language and our ability to conceive and express incredibly specific ideas, needs, and desires. When I hear English or Tagalog, I don't think about syntax, sounds, letters, or syllables. My mind gobbles up strings and floods of words without even realizing it and starts processing the meaning behind these words straight away. Text is printed all around us on road signs, on book covers on the shelf, and on brand names and ingredients on food packages, and our brain just takes it all in without realizing that we are combining and making sense of symbols, words, and phrases.

At least, that's how it was for me until now. Now I have to actively decode strokes on a page and syllables spoken in seemingly indistinguishable combinations. Words and sounds are only slowly, slowly, slowly becoming linked directly to their meanings in my head rather than taking the long and tedious detour to its English translation before finally making any sense to me.

I often accidentally speak English to non-English speakers and use culture-specific pejoratives ("Oh! I see, I see, I see..." "Really?!" "Hmmm.. Okay." "Uhhhhh...." "Yeah!"). These sounds and phrases and their meanings are not inherent--they're learned. And yet they come as naturally out of me as my hair grows out of my head.

It's interesting landing in the middle of a largely homogenous country and not speaking the language. My vocabulary consists of only that which I need at the store, at work, on my commute, and so on. My realm of understanding is very specific. I easily forget words from my studies that I don't use every day (like hippopotamus, car accident, and fire), but other phrases in Japanese such as "I hope to work well with you in the future", "Please write your name on your paper", "Please look up, please listen", and "Order please (at the restaurant)" or "¥5000 bus card please" tumble out of my mouth without my having to give it a second thought.. Almost to the point where after the fact, I'm not sure if I spoke in Japanese or English. I guess this is how practical language acquisition feels.

Anyway. Language and human need/desire to express ourselves and connect with one another is fascinating.


"You are no longer approachable"

I took a strange personality test today. It involved choosing from a series of black and white photos; it had strange questions and answers like "Inside..." Choose one: 1) bird cage 2) frog 3) needle 4) anatomical torso. Strange, strange, strange. I thought it was BS even as I was taking it and didn't think that the result would strike any kind of chord with me... My results said:

"You are fiercely ambitious and a leader. You fear becoming stagnant and bored, therefore you are always moving and seeking adventure.

You fear being influenced by others. You want to be as independent as possible. You do not seek to please. Because of this, you are no longer seen as as friendly and approachable as you once were."

Eh... Creepy and kind of depressing. Weirder still, I was just thinking about all this last night. I was thinking about how I am more choosey about who I spend my time with nowadays and how I don't try make any effort to try to get people to like me. I'm busy doing my own thing--whoever cares to join me is welcome to tag along; otherwise, I'll see you later (or not). I try to maintain deep relationships with friends, but I'm mostly just trying indulge my (thus far) unquenchable thirst for adventure and do awesome things. I'm less concerned about other people around me; I'm less likely to put up with with people I don't want to invest my time and efforts in.

That's not to say that I act rude and inconsiderate... I hope I don't. I'm just saying--you take care of you and I'll take care of me. I got a long ways to go in this journey of life; I ain't wasting any time.

Is this change in attitude just a sign of growing up?


Around the World in 8 Months to a Year

I like to take my time getting ready in the morning. I try to wake up 3 hours before work, which is 2 hours before I leave for work. I try to get in some running, yoga, a good breakfast, and God knows what else before leaving for the daily grind.

During my morning piddle-paddling today, I played a mental game with myself: What would I do if I could do anything I wanted? Dream big... dream big... Hmm...

Then, I remembered last year's no-way-no-how Big Dream of the moment: to travel around the world non-stop for 8 months (to a year). 


I Was Here. I'll Go There, Too.

"I did, I've done, everything that I wanted
And it was more than I thought it would be
I will leave my mark so everyone will know I was here.

I just want them to know
That I gave my all, did my best
Brought someone to happiness
Left this world a little better just because... I was here."

Another piece for the scrapbook.


Church Girl

As a kid, it’s hard to have control over your own attendance at church—you’re five years old and don’t want to go? Too bad, you gotta put on your lacey white socks, shiny dress shoes, and frilly dress. You’re a pre-teen and would much rather sleep for 12 hours on the weekend? Nope, you’re going to church. Besides mass, I went to CCD every week (the Catholic equivalent of Sunday school, which in my experience, is never on Sundays) from first grade through 10th grade, after which, I taught CCD to the little kids. I was an alter server well past the appropriate age to be an alter server, and was involved in establishing a youth group at my growing church in the suburbs. When I went to college, I joined the Eucharistic ministry at the local church and helped out the music ministry. After college, I changed churches to one that was majority Filipino. This church became my home. Although the parishioners all grew up together, they took me in like family. I showed up at church and hour and a half before mass to practice with the choir and stayed at least an hour after mass for hospitality (lunch and community bonding).

All of this, amidst an ever-evolving antagonism for the Church (with a capital C). When I got accepted into a very liberal school in the San Francisco Bay Area, my mentors at my church congratulated me, encouraged me, and were generally excited about my acceptance-- but they also warned me of the dangers of becoming “too” liberal. I solemnly accepted their words of wisdom and prayed to God that college wouldn’t corrupt my mind and soul. Seriously. That happened.

The church I found in Berkeley was indeed a liberal Catholic church. During the General Intercessions, the congregation would pray for such healings as equality of marriage and understanding and empathy towards gay men and women (our church even had an LGBTQ group) and freedom of choice for women, as well as protection for women from physical and sexual harm and harm from anti-abortion protestors. This church followed the same rituals and routines that I had grown up practicing, but showed me a loving and understanding God, rather than one who merely condemns and demands so much of His people.

This church had late-night, candle-lit masses. It was nearly impossible to see other parishioners in the darkness; you were forced to focus on only the speaker at the podium, the beautiful acoustic music (which consisted of one folk-singing, classical guitarist), and your own thoughts and prayers. The architecture and interior of the church itself had a rustic feel with its wooden pews and high vaulted ceiling, cement walls, and plain fixtures. I never get really close with the church as a whole, but I met some inspirational people and appreciated the services for what they were. It was at this church and at these services that I felt closer to God than ever before.

When I finished college and thus was no longer on the late-night/late-morning, college-student schedule, I started attending mass in Oakland. This church had a Filipino congregation. The church itself was beautiful and the homilies were usually interesting enough, but in all honestly, I was more focused on the music and the order of mass than in time with God. Church became somewhere to be and something to do on Sundays. I liked it, though. I got to spend my Sundays singing and eating down-home Filipino cooking for lunch with women who reminded me of my great aunts and little kids who ran around with each other as their moms followed them around the room with a plate of pancit, trying to get them eat lunch one “subo” at a time. Church members would bring out a few instruments and play music for the old folks to dance to. This church may not have provided me time for contemplation, but it gave me a new way to appreciate God’s blessings to me.

This church was much more conservative than my Berkeley church. In fact, quite a few homilies had me questioning the Church and its beliefs. It was my love for the community at this Oakland church that got me coming back week after week even if it meant having to squirm through sermons and prayer petitions that I did not agree with.

In Hawaii, I sporadically attended mass at different churches on the island. If my Oakland church was conservative, it was nothing compared to the church I sometimes attended with my parents, which was catered towards military personnel and their families. My favorite church in Hawaii was the one just down the street from my house. It was on a hilltop, was led by an African priest, and was run by Catholic immigrants from more countries than I can count. It had bay view windows, which were usually wide open to let the breeze pass through the church as it made its way to rustle the leaves of the palm trees just outside the veranda. The members greeted and treated newcomers like me with the warm and welcoming spirit of aloha. I never made a home for myself at any church in Hawaii, but it was nice finding such a place where I could make into my home if I stuck around long enough.

Now, I’m here in Japan and once again in search for a community or church that will give me the same (or a new) sense of belonging or closeness with God. I've attended two different churches here so far, one of which was a protestant Christian church with a resident Japanese-English interpreter for its wide (as in, five people) base of foreigners. The other church was a Japanese language-only Catholic church.

As much as I enjoy feeling like a leaf floating in the breeze in a new country, I also need some sort of anchor in my weekly routines. I need the support of a community. I need guidance, beliefs to agree with, beliefs to hold my own against, and beliefs to disagree with. I am building a meditation room in my apartment (“building” of course means I bought a yoga mat, a couple of floor pillows, and house plants and threw them all into my empty spare bedroom. I also hung my navy blue sarong with a print of gold elephants from Thailand on the wall in an attempt to pass the rectangle of cloth off as a piece of tapestry), but bridges to God and inner peace aren't built by one person all alone. I can’t grow in my faith in God alone any more than a student can learn math, science, and history without teachers and classmates.

My relationship with God and beliefs about who/what He is and what He does is far from any kind of finished product, but it'd be nice to have some company while I sort that all out. Sure, church communities aren't perfect and neither are the people that comprise them, but I don't indent to blindly follow any group of people and heir beliefs. I can't build, sculpt, hone, and rebuild, and polish my own faith by staying at home and thinking as hard as I possibly can. I can't be strong for myself all the time. I can't be unwavering in my faith by myself. I need a community for all its love and imperfections. I need a community.


Lest I zoom headlong through my journey of life only to crash to a halt when I meet my Maker without having taken notice of life as it was happening

Never have I felt so at peace with my life. That's not to say that all things have fallen into place, but that's fine by me; at any rate, I think that all things falling into place marks the end of life--in other words, death.

But I digress.

I admit, I love living by myself and I love my apartment. It's old and grimy, but it's mine. Other ALTs around me were given furniture and furnishings for their apartments from previous ALTs, but I basically started from scratch. Nearly every item in my apartment was chosen and paid for by me. I'm enforcing a "no junk" rule in my apartment; I only fill it with things of use or things of beauty.

I never noticed how many by-myself hobbies I have and like to do in the peace of my own home. I like writing. I like reading. Playing a little music. Sewing (believe it or not). Watching House (guilty pleasure). Cooking. Yoga. --I love having my own space to do these things.

I like hosting friends. I've already lost track of how many dinners I've made for evening company; I have a guest bedroom and I enjoy making it comfy and homey for my guests. I like making tea in my tea pot and serving it with snacks on a tray. I like setting up chairs on my balcony on summer mornings and having long conversations with new friends, music from Hawaii playing from my phone.

When I get lonely, I simply call up some friends and make plans. A favorite activity of mine this past year has been hiking. Our hikes can last for as little as two hours or as many as twelve. I enjoy the company of friends who like a little bit of adventure, appreciate nature, enjoy a little bit of physical activity, and (most importantly) can keep up a conversation for hours on end about the funny, the emotional, the thought-provoking, and the little things in life.

I'm getting better at enjoying the moment. I still take pleasure in planning adventures for the future (in what country will I live next? what job will I have next? what other languages do I want to learn? what other adventure sports will I try? what hobby will I pick up next?), but I also purposefully slow myself down to notice the things around me.

How do I slow myself down, you ask? I read in a self-help blog post about how to live in the moment. These incremental, concrete steps are quite helpful for those who are constantly told to slow down (if not stop) and smell the roses, yet don't know how:

  • Notice your environment; exercise your senses. What do you smell? What does your skin feel--the warmth of the sun? the crispness of an autumn breeze? the moisture of an ocean spray? What do you hear--the hum of traffic? unidentified birds cawing in the background? children playing? the chirping of cicadas?
  • When eating--what ingredients do you taste? what colors are in the food? what textures do you feel with your tongue, your cheek, your throat? 
  • Physically ground yourself: feel the ground beneath your feet, your back against your chair, or any other contact that you're making to stabilize yourself. Notice whether or not you're in a comfortable position, or if you have been straining your body to maintain a certain position. Stretch, if necessary.
Another thing I do to help center myself and slow myself down is I imagine a jar half filled with sunflower seeds next to a small pile of sunflower seeds. I imagine myself moving one sunflower seed from the pile to the jar each day. Each seed is a reminder that daily progress is small, but endurance over time yields large payoffs.

With regards to teaching, I look back on my days as a high school student  and I notice that only sporadic "teachable moments" (intentional and perhaps unintentional) have stuck with me until today, serving as granular lessons that shape me to be the person I am now. Many of my high school teachers might have gone home each day thinking "wow, I really rocked that lesson" or "that lesson didn't go so well, I wonder how I can make my lesson better tomorrow?". Despite their self-reflections, neither they nor I would have no idea what nuggets of information or life lessons I'd take away from the lesson that day. For this reason, I as a teacher now have no other choice but to give it my best each day but not beat myself up on days that don't go well. Each day is but one sunflower seed in a jar of many seeds. 

At the same time, the small things that I learned each day as a high school student added up to my being able to read and write fluently today, calculate and convert prices and measurements, and get along with other people. All in all: don't put too much pressure on each individual lesson in the classroom, but know that in the long run, teaching children is a meaningful and impactful profession.

I think that compulsively planning and keeping things ordered is a part of perfectionism. One part of perfectionism (for me) is the false mindset that I am a performer and the world is my audience, or worse, judge. I'm supposed to teach perfect English, speak perfect Japanese, act with Japanese modesty, nurture perfect relationships, and so on. Such a mindset is mentally and emotionally draining and unproductive. The task of trying to balance on a tall, shiny pedestal is daunting and purposeless. The truth is: No One is Watching. Remember that every person you meet is fighting their own battles; they don't have time to critique your every word and every move. Generally speaking, people are more likely to want to like you, so they'll take notice of points in you that they find attractive or inspiring. In fact, I theorize that people mostly only notice the persistent aspects of your character or personal habits that you don't realize are there or can't control. For this reason, do things and act in a way that makes you feel at peace with yourself for yourself; don't live a certain lifestyle to impress others.

Going back to the theme of living in the moment: life is now. The dwelling that your currently reside is not a temporary space to store your belongings and your self in the evenings; this is your home. Your home is no longer the place where you were raised; neither is your  home a concept for the future, when you have a spouse, kids, and a family pet. Your home is here and now. Make it comfortable and keep it clean. Your job is not a temporary means of income to hold you over until you're spending your days doing things you "actually" want to be doing. Your job and how you spend your time is your life. Make it happy and fulfilling. Weekends and vacations are not getaways from life; they are life's joys. Make them adventurous and uplifting.

Choose to take notice and choose to be happy.



In contrast to all my meticulous planning and constant worrying, I'm not so careful with every decision I've ever made.

In fact, the most important decisions were made with almost no thinking at all:

1) choosing to go to Cal
2) quitting my first job
3) every relationship I've gone into and ended (which is every relationship I've been in...)
4) escaping mainland USA and eventually USA altogether

Maybe these decisions were made with my gut. Or my heart.

Or maybe none of these were my decision to make; the universe simply tugged and pulled me in the direction her Majesty wished.

Wondering what the next Big Step in life will be and if my mind will have any say in the matter...


Last night, I looked though my balcony sliding glass doors and saw a storm cloud rolling in from the West. I snapped a few photos of it.

'This must be the storm cloud that Noël was telling me about,' I thought. She lives about two hours away from me which, coincidentally, is about as much time as we spend talking to each other every phone session. I live by the beach whereas she lives nestled between the mountains.

I went into my kitchen and turned on the gas stove. I started boiling water for my dinner: ramen. Legit ramen. OK, so the noodles were store bought, but still--boiling water, miso paste, veggies, an egg, tofu, and ramen noodles. In Japan. That's about 99% legit, if you round up.

As I added ingredients to my soup, the kitchen lights flickered. Lightening flashed. Before I could react, my apartment rumbled with the rolling thunder. Strange, strange weather for a Cali girl like me. Did I mention that it's about 80 degrees Fahrenheit? At night?!

I turned off the lights to try to get a better glimpse of the bolts of lightening. The view of my town appeared hazy through the thick sheets of rain.

Flash. My neighbors' houses appeared as though bathed in a split second of daylight. Rumble.

Flash. Rumble. Again.

Flash! Rumble! And again.

The lightening must have been striking on the other side of my apartment because there were no bolts in view from my kitchen glass door. I was ready with my camera (I was curious about my modest point-and-shoot's capabilities), but unless I actually ventured out into the night, I wasn't going to catch any lightening for a picture this evening.

I had my piping hot bowl of soup alone in my dining room while I listened to the sound of pouring rain and rolling thunder. Later, I fell asleep to the lullaby of gentle rainfall.

This morning, I biked to school in bright, sunny weather. The air was cooler than usual and smelled fresh and clean.


Anxiety Blah Blah Blah

(Apologies for the lame and misleading title. I slept late last night and have slept late for the last few nights, but I've upped my caffeine intake, so my mind is in that state where connections are being made fast and in abundance, yet thoughts are foggy and nonsensical.)


Just wanted to share this piece I found about anxiety disorder: 


I cringe at the term "anxiety disorder", not for the first word in the phrase, but for the second: Disorder.

Does that word bug me because of it's loaded meaning, because of the stigma behind the word, and for a fear of being labeled, judged, and ostracized from humanity and civilization?

Or does it irk me because "disorder" is a synonym for chaos, uncertainty, and mayhem?

In this blog post, I would like to explore my nature as an anxious, nearly-grown woman.

I always fancied myself a happy and healthy human being, if not a bit neurotic and overemotional. And yes, as I bring up time and time again in my blog posts, I also am a bit of a stress ball.

Moving to a new place and meeting brand new people (I like putting "meeting new people" that way because it makes me believe that they didn't exist until I met them. It's like they come to me as fully programmed human beings with rich histories and a single, poignant purpose for crossing paths with me) is teaching me plenty not only about my new environment but also about myself.

For example, I've learned that even by disciplined, respectful, polite Japan standards, I'm a pretty straight and narrow, type A, type. I pretend that I relate to Britta in NBC's "Community", but I'm really more of an Annie Aderol. This may not be the impression that I initially give off at work in Japan, what with my piercings and refusal to wear overly professional and conservative clothes in this hot and humid weather, but underneath the bright colored clothing and the flower tattoo, I'm your run-of-the-mill control freak.

That link that I posted is a blog post about the sunny side to anxiety disorder, or "anxiety super powers" as I like to think of it. The writing is a bit confusing--like mine--and the writer loses me with some of her analogies ("as wax is to crayon"? ¿que?), but I whole heatedly agree with her arguments about anxious people winning at life. Not that life is a giant competition (yes it is), but if it were (and it is), I'd probably be pretty far up ahead with all the winners. Winning.

And now you've stopped reading because you're repulsed by my conceit. Sore loser.

Some things I've learned or am learning about anxiety:

Anxiety decreases when you have your own living space to control.
Having my own apartment means being able to fully escape from irrational annoyances like loud noises, incessant hums of soft noises, people who talk too much, people who are creepily quiet, hyper toddlers-both of the crying and the laughing type, bad music, boredom, strangers, loved ones, and small animals.

When I come home from work, I get to do whatever I want because it's MY place, MY rules, MY naked butt on MY sofa.

...if I wanted to sit naked on my sofa, anyway. Not that I... I mean, you know, sometime you just... Moving on.

I can clean incessantly without judgement. I can leave messes in categorized piles without trespassing or vandalizing communal territories. I can skip a night shower, go to bed stinky, and go to work the next freshly showered. I can sit in perfect silence or I can put "Lesson Learned" by Alicia Keys and John Mayer on repeat for 5 hours.

Control over her environment is every anxiety super-powered girl's dream. It's also the dreams rapists and serial killers. Unrelated. I think.

You-Can-Never-Be-Too-Preparedness is a gift, not an embarrassing character flaw.
...especially when living in a new environment with no friends from your previous life and when you don't speak the local language. In such foreign lands, maps aren't in English, bus maps looks like an old fashioned telephone operator board, money is confusing to manage, you don't have the things you need, and the things you need are often difficult to find and to attain.

Anxiety super powers has allowed me to Keep Alert and Carry On ("calm" is hardly in my vocabulary). Bring on your newness and foreigness, Japan. I got this.

I Never Skip a Beat.
Fact, all beats are present and accounted for. I keep lists categorized by the following: "Things to do Today","Things I did today", "Skils I want to get better at", "Things to do for fun", "Groceries", "Big things to buy for the apartment", "Small things to buy for the apartment", "Fun things I want", "Books I've read", "Books I want to read", "Goals for the year", "Languages I want to learn", "Goals for life", "Ideas for blog posts", "Ideas for dinner". I have many little notebooks tucked away in purses, backpacks, and bookshelves in my apartment containing these lists.

I produce.
I write, I play music, I teach, I run. I get shit done, son. Perhaps "inspiration" and muses are little more than adrenaline and caffeine rushes.

Self-Betterment can be a by-product (product?) of anxiety.
Anxiety oftentimes is nothing but the desire for order and efficiency; part of becoming an overall more productive, self-controlled, and cheerful adult means learning to control and dial down my anxiety as necessary so that my super power can be use for good, not evil. Anxiety can come in the form of concern for a loved one or smothering overbearingness. Anxiety can start as cute, diligent attention to detail only to unwittingly evolve to obsessive compulsive super power.

So, I'm learning to let things go. I'm in the perfect environment to practice this: few people depend on me to get things right the first time around, mistakes I make can be blamed on my "gaijin"-ness (foreigness... That is, the noun form of the nature of being foreign, not like foreign and princess put together), and as I am new to the place, I don't have a lot on my plate or much in my calendar; I can take life little by little and slowly build up and reshape my life as I please. No need to take on more than I can handle.

Anxiety. Adrenaline. Attention to detail. April Angeles. That's me!

*・゜゚・*:.。..。.:*・'(*゚▽゚*)'・*:.。. .。.:*・゜゚・*


The Trails and Trials that Led us to Cambodia

I admit, I knew next to nothing about Cambodia before I came. Even as I first stepped foot in Cambodia, all I knew was what I could read in the first couple of pages of my Lonely Planet guide book. I had an idea that Cambodian people in America were more likely refugees than immigrants, but I only knew one Cambodian-American boy who was born and raised in America.

Brian and my first experience on Cambodian soil (or headed to it) was not pleasant. We took a slow train to a border town in Thailand from Bangkok (I’m talking six hours on a standing room only train, with no conditioner, to travel about 150 miles—the distance from San Diego to Disneyland. Granted, the ride only cost us each $3, but still, it was bloody uncomfortable). A man on the train was so hospitable and kind as to offer his seat to a couple of travelers on the train. So many times, I witnessed Thai people being gracious and friendly to travelers.


The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

"I'm either lucid dreaming right now, or I'm in a video game."

These were the thoughts that entered my head as I stepped onto the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The colors that greeted me were brilliant -- not brilliant like British speak for "this is awesome, yo", but brilliant like vibrant, rich, and breathtaking. The shapes and magnificent sizes of the structures seemed otherworldly. Due to being misdirected and conned by the peddlers outside of the palace walls, Brian and I missed the 2:00pm free tour in English of the palace, so we had no choice but to explore in complete ignorance and naivete. I had no idea what any of these buildings were used for, how old the buildings were, or what they looked like from the inside. No matter, there was plenty to see on the outside, and the mystery added to the structures' mystique.


Bangkok: Making Mistakes

A successful trip to the National Museum
One tip of the many I was given by close friends who have traveled in the area was“prepare to be ripped off. Just accept the fact that you will be. The sooner that you can accept this, the sooner you’ll get over it when it happens and the more you’ll enjoy everything else about your adventures.”

This piece of advice paints a picture of the traveler as a fairly innocent bystander being taken advantage of by the big, bad scammer who promises cheap seats on a riverboat to the best local eateries in town... until the wide-eyed traveller is left with nothing but overpriced tickets and, at best, decent food made by a chef who collects money and makes sandwiches with the same unwashed hands.

Bangkok: New Arrivals

When Brian and I first arrived in Bangkok, a new anxiety hit me. I was excited and a little bit afraid for my life. I  relate the feeling to being next in line at the county summer fair’s rickety roller coaster: you figure it’s safe enough because hundreds of people do it every year, yet you know that one wrong turn or small lost piece in the system can send the entire thing crashing down, thus ruining your summer and maybe your life.


I still believe all things happen for a reason.

This topic may seem unfitting for my travel blog, but right now, it fits. I have a scheduled flight bound for LAX in four two, a hang out sess with my sis one and sis two and a ride from LAX to Irvine to SD approximately five hours after that. I have to attend a church service (the very reason for my visit) to SD tomorrow morning, a Padre game with my best friend, Brian, and his cousins. I was planning on attending the Del Mar Faire, my happiest place on earth, a place where I have not visited in years on Monday. Tuesday was scheduled to be brunch with elementary through high school best friend and taco Tuesday with Kuya and family. Wednesday was going to be a romantic, long car ride up the Western coast with Brian. Thursday was going to be rock climbing in the South Bay. Friday was going to be a day in Oakland and Berkeley, lunch at Brazil cafe, meet up with my beloved former roommates, and dinner with sorority sisters (a date/time/and location which was chosen by yours truly). Saturday was going to be a 10K race in Antioch followed by a JET all day orientation in San Francisco. Sunday was going to be a nice, leisurely flight back to the islands with Brian.

Instead, none of that is going to happen.



I'm currently in the process of bridging the following:

First: Malcolm Gladwell, Mitch Albom, David Sedaris, Orson Scott Card, Ayn Rand, my mother, my father

Secondconocimiento, mabuhay, aloha, yoroshiko onegaishimasu

Third: Judaism, Buddhism, the Bahá'í faith

= = =

Regarding the first...

These authors and people have captured my imagination by bringing together seemingly unlike concepts and comparing them in interesting and even humorous ways. They are introspective and investigative about human nature. They are reporters and artists. They write captivating stories, fictional and nonfictional, that allow others to think differently about the world and imagine a different world. They do it without being outright political, sensational, or activist in nature. In fact, I wonder how political some of these authors are at all. I don't share many, if any, of these authors religious or political beliefs, yet I admire their writing and their creative minds.
My mom is one of the -- if not the -- best listeners I know. She's quiet, yet extroverted. She meets strangers at storefronts and store check outs, on airplanes and in airport lobbies, at church and at work, and everywhere in between. She walks away having learned entire life stories of strangers, many times without disclosing much information about herself. She quietly listens to me as I verbally work out my life plans: to move away or stay in one place; to teach, or not to teach; to date and marry, or to stay single; to have a career, or have kids, or have both... She listens without judging me and without lecturing me. After I finish my long, one-person-yet-two-or-more-sided debate, she shares her own experiences and her own thoughts. She's a great listener.

But she wasn't always that way. I remember growing up and trying to let my mother into my life as a teenager, a feat made difficult enough by the simple fact that I your typical, run of the mill, closed off and depressive suburban American teenager. My mom was a full-time working woman with a fifteen-year-old teenager, an eleven-year-old preteen, and a ten-year-old child. Her husband was off at war in Iraq. My only snatches of one-on-one time with my mother was while she was driving and I was in the passeger seat. My drama-filled stories were often interrupted and punctuated with responses like "Do we need milk?", "I can't remember if I turned off the stove", "Help your sisters with...", "Shoot, I missed the right turn", "Can you turn down the music, I can't concentrate on driving", "I can't focus on what you're saying right now, I need to concentrate on driving."

I would pout, slouch in my seat, and give up on my story.

Fast forward a few years. I'm now 23, one year out of school, and living with my parents. My mom has lived in Hawaii for about three years. She's a changed woman. She spent one year has a stay-at-home mom, attending to her youngest daughter as she finished out her last years of high school, before returning to work. During this time, her two older daughters are somewhat grown up, or at least, away at college and not living at home. My mom started spending much of her day exercising, gardening, preparing and eating healthy meals, and reading and watching TV shows about healthy living habits.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a small, plain, unimposing notebook. Being the paper and notebook collector that I am, I rifled through a few pages of the notebook, assessing its previous use and deciding whether or not to take it and stash it with my personal pile of diaries, legal pads, and stationary sets. I came across a page titled "Goals" in my mom's handwriting. I immediately felt guilty and unforgivably nosey. I recalled how I felt the time that my parents found and read my diary in high school. I didn't want to violate my mom's privacy. And yet...

1.) Listen to my daughters. Really listen.

My mom's number one goal was not about herself, but about her daughters.

All of this to say, my mom has lived up to her goal and then some. She elicits personal stories from people and coaxes them into sharing their wisdom while examining the paths they've carved.
My father and I spend the better part of our time together either disagreeing or bonding over shallow, materialistic things. We have a lot in common interests-wise. We have too much in common personality-wise to have a smooth-sailing relationship (ha ha). My dad is an introvert. He's thoughtful and critical. He's a man of few words in conversation, but of many in personal letters. He writes letters to express his love for his wife and daughters. He writes letters to explain his frustration with me to me and writes letters of apology to respond to my letters of frustration with him to him.

When we finally have a conversation, though, it's about politics and war tactics. It's about trends in history and society. It's about the places he's seen around the world. It's about the inspiring chaplains and people of God he meets. It's about language and culture. It's about our family history -- the mysteriousness of it due to repressed memories and untold stories over generations and the people in our families whose lives were either taken by or deeply affected by war.

All this to say, my father is compassionate and curious about human nature. He's awed by the goodness of people and quiet about his own. Conversations with him are few but thought-provoking. Hes' an excellent writer.

= = =

Regarding the second...
Conocimientomabuhayalohayoroshiko onegaishimasu. All of these are words in other languages whose meanings continue to develop in my understanding. We don't have direct translations for these words in English.  

Conocimeniento - acquaintance with a person (place, or thing), compassion, understanding, oneness, solidarity.

Mabuhay - long live, cheers, hello, God and life be with you, welcome, peace be with you.

Aloha - hello, love, kindness, peace be with you, I acknowledge the life within you, I acknowledge your humanity, may there be compassion and mercy between us.

Yoroshiko onegaishimasu - nice to meet you, let's be kind to one another, thank you for helping me, please help me, best regards to you.

While it's important on an interpersonal level to learn new languages in order to better understand and (obviously) communicate with each other, it's also helpful personally and spiritually. It'd be arrogant to think that every thought, every emotion, and every idea can be expressed in one language alone. Every culture has a history of philosophers and followers who, over generations, develop explanations about God, humankind, and the universe. Only by learning each other's languages can we begin to conceptualize ideas beyond our own language's (and culture's) limits.

= = =

Regarding the third...

I am a born and raised, baptized, and active Catholic parishioner. I'm sometimes quiet about my faith, sometimes defensive about it, and always welcoming about it. I question it, am weary of the Church (capital "C", as in Rome, the Pope, the Bible...), am liberal, have not read the Bible in its entirety, do not abide by all Catholic doctrine, sometimes daydream during sermons, and robotically cite memorized prayer and gesture motions because I don't understand what I'm saying or doing. I find community in some Catholic churches, but not all. I find peace in some Catholic churches, but not all, and in some non-Catholic churches, but not all.

I've had trouble finding a church in which I truly feel the presence of God since I arrived in Hawai'i. I say this after having tried at least five Catholic churches. My faith began to falter or fade, I'm not sure which. Most churches were too "conservative" for me (mostly in denouncing women's right to choose her live above her unborn child). Many churches were led by old white guys whose sermons were difficulty for me to relate with. Some churches were either bare and lacked history or a personal touch; some churches are ornate and have been here for over 150 years.

Last Sunday, I attended yet another Catholic church. It was my first visit. The pews and decor were warm and welcoming. It had two parallel walls of endless bay view doors to let in natural light and natural airconditioning. Most of the parishioners were locals, Filipino, or of descents unfamiliar to me. The priest was young, funny, self reflective, wise, and kind. He's from Zimbabwe. The lectors and cantors greeted the congregation with Hawaiian words -- "aloha", "mahalo" -- and traditions -- leis for newly anointed eucharistic ministers and warm greetings of aloha and gifts of rosaries to newcomers of the parish. Everyone who spoke from the pulpit or podium had accents from Africa or parts of Asia. Even members of the church with accents of parts of the mainland were foreigners in this mixing pot of a church, out in the middle of the Pacific ocean. As a newcomer and outsider, I felt just as much as an insider as everyone in the church. Surrounded by strangers, bathed in Hawaiian sun and cooled by the gentle cross breeze, I felt God's presence in my prayer.

Between church hoping, I've also been learning about the faiths of others. I've engaged in long conversations with coworkers, students, friends, and strangers about their religion, their personal history with their religion, and God. I'm never looking to convert anyone, nor am I looking to change my own faith. I know that the latter sounds closed minded, but after two decades of slowly developing my own faith -- learning what the Church believes, deciding what I believe, and mixing the beliefs of others in with my own -- I'm not ready to jump ship and start from scratch with an entirely new religion.

I visited a Japanese Buddhist temple for (surprisingly) the first time yesterday. I visited it with a Korean Buddhist friend of mine. I've dropped in on a Thai temple once before -- I dropped in with non-Buddhist friends, meandered about the statues and ornate fixtures, and then shoved my feet back into my shoes and made my bad over to the cheap, Thai temple brunch -- but that was the extent of my Buddhist experience. I bought a book about Siddhartha a few months ago, but I'm too ignorant about Buddhism to understand any of what I was reading.

Before arriving at the temple, my friend laid some groundwork for my understanding. I should mention, she's an English language learner. She's grown up as a Korean Buddhist and knows the basics about other sects of Buddhism. She also speaks Japanese and has lived in Japan. In fact, she's even lived in the Philippines (this only came up when we were browsing books in the temple souvenir shop, and to our delight, we found a book about Buddhism in English, Korean, and Filipino translations). We compared notes about our own upbringing, differences and commonalities in the languages we share, and our religions in order for her to begin explaining to me the history and fundamentals of Buddhism.

She was so sweet as to buy me a book about the Buddhist faith and even bought one for herself in the Korean translation. She asked me if I wanted the Filipino version, but after quickly thumbing through the table of contents and a few chapters, I quickly realized that I would give up reading the book after stumbling on $5 Tagalog words such as the words for "glorified", "faith", and "wisdom". I was proud enough to understand the phrase walang hanggan (eternal) but I only recognized it because that's the title of the Filipino soap opera that I'm currently following with my mom.

She promised that we would study Buddhism together. I pointed out to her that she probably already knows everything in this book, which was essentially a beginners guide or the ABCs of Buddha. She insisted that she's interested in learning more.

I want to continue this study of religion with other faiths as well. Judaism is one that I've had the opportunity to partake in some rituals and celebrations in with close friends and have recently been reading about (in the book I'm currently reading, it's actually being Juxtaposed to a Christian Baptist experience). The Bahá'í faith is brand new to me. I learned about it from a British coworker of mine. He is ethnically Iranian, but has lived the bulk of his life in England and many years in China (he speaks Chinese). He tells me that the Bahá'í faith acknowledges all religions and believes in one God -- one God in the universe and one God for all religions. The faith encourages religious discussion between faiths.

= = =

Unfortunately, I don't have a way to neatly tie and unify these three thoughts together. Maybe these chapters all belong in three different books. Regardless, it feels good to iron out some of these wrinkled, newborn thoughts on white paper.