Distant Matters and Distance Matters: In Memoriam

I meant to get this blog out so much earlier, in memory of two people who I wish I had the chance to know better, but never will. The time, however, is long past for regrets. There never is a time for regret. Only for memory, respect, and celebration.

—–

The world has never been smaller. We’re so used to living with all this technology that instantaneous communication is just a fact and way of life. Our access to places on the globe has never been more vast. With daily access to WiFi and my data plan on my phone, I can check up on my friends and family in Europe, Asia, the US, and of course the place that was our address for a very long time, Hawaii — all within a few minutes. It’s crazy. I was Google+(ing) a friend a few weeks ago (me in Vallendar and he in Hawaii) and we could still talk just as we did last semester. Reception was perfect, so  everything was in real time. We both thought it was pretty amazing how the thousands of miles were no obstacle at all. It would have made no difference if I had called him from two doors down or (in this case) 7,400 miles. 

But the day finally came when I could feel the impact of physical distance, even in this age. I checked my email in class, read something odd, investigated on social media, and then all the news started pouring in. I was too late. Two people from completely different parts of my life…gone on the same day.

School never seemed so trivial.

And it’s been so long since I felt so far away and helpless.

In Memory of My Uncle

I met one of my uncles, Raymond, some years ago. One of the most adorable old men you ever will or did see. He was a war veteran, so he’s seen his fair share of action. He had a wife, my aunt, who was much younger than him. Here’s one of my favorite stories of him – it tells a lot about his personality and free will:

I was with my parents and Uncle Raymond and my aunt at his favorite place for Happy Hour. Years ago. Every single member of the staff (and even some of the patrons) knew him and treated him like family. By the time I finished my virgin lava flow, he already had five drinks (two of which were whiskey and brandy). By Jove, my uncle could drink.

And he was already 90 years…young. Was still cracking jokes and telling stories and whatnot. My aunt, who felt she was missing out on the show I suppose, kept telling him to stop drinking so much and quit embarrassing himself. And this is what he said, and wouldn’t stop saying:

“You know, I’ve had so many doctors in the past, and they all said that I was as healthy as an ox, and would continue to be if I could just stop drinking.”

“So, Uncle, did you ever try stopping?” I asked.

“Oh no, never. Thing is, every one of those doctors have already met the Maker, and I’m still here!”

I have never seen him stop grinning.

My uncle passed away peacefully and quietly in his own bed at home. He always refused trips to the hospital, even when he would fall and get into some trouble in his old age. I like to think he woke up in the middle of the night, heard a voice, understood the sign, and fell back asleep into the Holy Spirit’s arms knowing it was finally his time.

In Memory of My Friend

This one is a lot harder to start, write, and finish.

In July 2012, I met this sweet, quiet girl named Shae from Pearl City for the first time. Eager, bright-eyed freshmen straight out of high school, we were about to have an amazing buffet dinner at the Willows Restaurant in Honolulu in celebration of our good fortune to be part of the 20 freshmen to receive a full-ride to the state’s flagship campus. You can tell she had potential and the brains, but also the heart and humility to make you love her for who she is.

When we got our dorm assignments, my roommate and I were neighbors to her and her roommate. I would see her in passing from time to time, but since we all had different schedules, I did not notice anything at first when I didn’t see her for weeks.

Until I realized she had left school.

Shae had been battling her sickness for a while, and I was shocked. We had no idea. My roommate and I would check up on her Facebook, just to see if she or her family would post updates on how she was doing. Despite all the complications, she would still sound so optimistic. Not “sound,” no, she was and has always been optimistic. She was not only bright of mind, but also of spirit.

Before I left Hawaii, I’ve heard of developments that she was close to finding a donor, and even though she was still in and out of the hospital, it seemed she was staying more at home and would continue school soon, if not already with the new semester. She could still graduate with us; I just knew it.

She had to.

—–

I’m sorry I can’t be home in Hawaii to pay my last respects. I’m grateful for every smile and good word I said to my uncle and Shae during my brief time with them. I’m happy that my last memory of both of them was their smile.

So, 7400 miles, a breath, and a heartbeat away, I want to thank you both for inspiring me to realize that joy and peace come with acceptance, thanksgiving, and a healthy dose of laughter and humor.

Till we all meet again.

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Belgium on a Budget

One of the (many) expectations I had and others had for me when I decided on doing my semester abroad in Europe was that I would be traveling and seeing EVERYTHING. I’ve had a couple of countries checked off my list by now, and I am definitely in a position to say that every country is absolutely amazing in its own right, and there is no way possible that I will be seeing all the things worth seeing. But you know what? That’s okay. Because this opportunity to be here, living a dream, is more than enough in itself.

My first trip out of Germany involved a 5:48 train from the Vallendar station, bound for Bruges, Belgium.

5:48. In the morning.

As you can imagine, I barely had sleep that night. Not that I stayed up packing (well, to a certain degree I did), but I was so paranoid I wasn’t going to wake up in time that I just couldn’t fall asleep. We all made it to the station on time, though we did have a few scary moments when we were missing two of our party—even as we saw the train approaching. Just as the train was slowing down to a stop, we heard them running to the platform. Talk about getting there in the nick of time!

Bruges was a very quaint town—old, small, cozy. We stayed at a hostel about 15 minutes by foot from the old city center, which made a really nice walk as the weather was pretty nice. My heart was stolen by the beautiful and old architecture, and of course, the chocolatiers. They call Bruges the “Venice of Belgium,” and we could see that for ourselves. The canals were pretty prominent and visible from almost every main street. I think my pictures can speak more about Bruges than I can, but I was absolutely charmed by this city.

The only damper about the trip was when we went looking for a restaurant for dinner. Many of the sit-down restaurants in Bruges were quite sophisticated and very nice—which also means they were very expensive. The town got very quiet as we continued to search for a place, and many small diners were closed already, so we settled on the cheapest place we can find before long, which was an Italian eatery that was still open. The cheapest thing on the menu was a margherita pizza, for 9 Euros. It was…decent. What we also had to deal with was that our server would not let us NOT order anything to drink, otherwise we couldn’t sit down and dine in the restaurant. I forced myself to get a tiny bottle of Coke (or cola, as the Europeans call it) for 3 Euro because I did not want to pay 2.50 Euros for a glass of tap water.

Thinking back, even though I almost regretted eating at a restaurant that night, since it was the night of Chinese New Year, I suppose it turned out to be a good thing. It was an okay meal, but I shared it with great people, in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are so many things that can be improved, but I wouldn’t have it another way. 🙂

It’s hard to say which I prefer: the whimsical charm of Bruges, or the historical glamour of Brussels. But holistically speaking, if I had to pick a place to return to, it would be Brussels.

My highlights of our trip to Brussels were pretty much all of the below, in no particular order:

–          The majestic and beautiful Grand Place (or Grand Square)

–          Becky burgers – A Brussels specialty with one of the best sauces I’ve had. Even more amazing on a cold day. But great anytime.

3 euros... pricey for my standards, but reasonable because it was so good, and it was in Belgium!
3 euros… pricey for my standards, but reasonable because it was so good, and it was in Belgium!
The cool burger stand in the middle of the square, with an even cooler server

–          Being serenaded by a wonderful cellist in an old, nearly empty stone courtyard.

Thanks to him, I might go hunting for my own instrument now. He made me miss making music so so much. Thank you for sharing your music, whoever and wherever you are.
Thanks to him, I might go hunting for my own instrument now. He made me miss making music so so much. Thank you for sharing your music, whoever and wherever you are.

–          The Rene Magritte Museum. Surrealism is the closest thing I’ll ever get to modern art, and it was a wonderful museum. One of the best 2 Euros I have spent. Probably ever will.

*Pictures are probably not allowed. I say probably because we were allowed to bring cameras with us. And I told quite a few pictures by the time one of us got told to not take any.*

But here are some of my favorites:

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The Human Condition
The Human Condition
One of my favorite paintings of all time...the name of which escapes me at the moment...
One of my favorite paintings of all time…the name of which escapes me at the moment…

–          Seeing a HUGE chocolate Mannekin Pis, directly across the narrow street from the actual Mannekin Pis.

–          The best pralines, tiramisu truffle, and salted caramel chocolate I have ever tasted. Ever.

–          BELGIUM FRIES. Oh my goodness, we lived on that stuff. 3.90 Euros for the best combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, special cocktail sauce, perfectly caramelized onions and the best golden fries you will ever see.

And here is where we got them.
And here is where we got them.

–          Seeing the European Union Parliament. It’s a beautiful building with recreational open spaces surrounding it. There’s even a basketball court, where we saw children shooting hoops. It must be quite a life, just to say, “Let’s go shoot some hoops today at the EU.” Yep.

–          My Liege waffle with Speculoos—this amazing cookie butter spread that I never knew I would like. Yay for trying new things!

–          Finding out that our hostel was actually a hotel, and a hotel chain at that.

The Meininger Brussels
The Meininger Brussels

–          Getting to the beautiful Museum of Military History at the perfect time. We took great pictures with the columns illuminated by the setting sun.

Waffle trucks are strategically placed around the city...
Waffle trucks are strategically placed around the city…

–          And more fries.

–          Our Brussels excursion that turned into a karaoke jam sesh when we joined with the other Tauschies staying at the same hotel.

–         Seeing the bright sun for the first time in days! It was beautiful!

The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace

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One of the prettiest shopping boulevards I've seen.
One of the prettiest shopping boulevards I’ve seen.

My first trip out of Germany was quite a success. Including my gifts and food and chocolates, I spent about 35 Euros for the whole trip, thanks to the amazing (and filling) Belgium Fries. I couldn’t wait till my next trip!

It’s the Journey, not the Destination, that Really Matters

At one of the first socials we had at WHU where we got to meet the German students, we asked them, “Which city do you think is the most beautiful in Germany?”

Yes, it’s an unfair question, but we figured we’d get a nice variety of recommendations for future travel plans. We did get a quite a few answers (Munich, Cologne, Berlin, etc), but one city kept cropping up.

Heidelberg.

Which I was planning on going to anyway.

So when one of the 2nd semester Tauschies casually announced that she was planning on going to Heidelberg for a day the following Friday, I jumped at the opportunity.

As did 30 others.

It was almost the same thing that happened when we went to Cologne.

We all met in the morning at the Vallendar Mitte bus stop to go to the Koblenz main train station. From there, we worked the logistics of splitting up into groups of 5 in order to get the Deutsche Bahn group discount. (*TIP for traveling via DB) We got a day pass ticket that involved a lot of transfers, but it only cost us 15 Euro each.

When we got to Heidelberg, we got off at what looked like the city center, but it looked nothing like the Heidelberg postcard pictures we saw when doing research online. (*ahem* research on traveling) Nevertheless, we took a light rail to see the Heidelberger Schloss – the iconic Heidelberg Castle. As most castles are, it was on the top of a hill, so it was quite a steep trek to the top. Especially since my boots were a bit big, and I was so not prepared for a hike. But when we reached the castle, it was absolutely beautiful, and this is what we saw:

And THIS is probably one of the most postcard-esque pictures I have taken.

Unfortunately, we had to pay to actually go in and see the ruins of the castle. I think it was 4 Euros, but I know it is 6 Euros to take the tram (round trip) and for entry into the Schloss. That way you don’t have to hike up that hill. But it’s a very scenic way to burn some calories!

At that point, I didn’t have much to burn because I was getting hungry. Some of us stayed back at the castle, but a dozen of us decided to head to the historic city center to find the university and get food. And that was when we saw the sun.

After being in Hawaii for so long and being so used to diving into shade under the trees, the sun had never looked better, shining over the quaint architecture and medieval ruins.

Oh, and did I mention the glorious pastries?

Of course, I succumbed and split a chocolate snowball (the little brown spheres at the top left corner of the picture) with two others. Chocolate on the outside surrounding some sort of angel food cake, with a chocolate-hazelnut creme center. It was divine.

We continued walking till we reached the river and the bridge. On the other side of the bridge, there was a hill where there are remnants of World War II history, a coliseum, and a monastery. The hill looked pretty steep, but the website promised us there would be “strategically placed benches along the trail.”

Part of the hill, as seen once you get to the other side

The story goes that we decided to go up the first part of the hill and see how we felt then whether or not we wanted to grab lunch after. More specifically after the first couple of benches or so. Fair enough.

Three minutes later of trekking up on a 50-degree incline of uneven cobblestone, I regretted it. So much. All we could think about was, “WHERE are those benches?!” Haha.

But when we reached the first bench (like a million years later), the view was amazing.

After climbing some more and asking some passerby who knew the hill better than we did, we surmised that the monastery and coliseum weren’t too far from where we were. So we decided to press on and find them before getting lunch.

The cobblestones disappeared and soon we were literally hiking through a forest on a dirt path. We were high enough to see the river wrapping around the hill and the sun beaming down on the little houses on the other side. It was perfect. The weather was warm, but cool enough to make the walk refreshing. In good time we saw a biker, who told us that both paths in the upcoming fork in the road would lead us to the monastery, which was close to the coliseum. We took the high way, the one that branched off and escalated above the path on the right. This hike was beautiful, scenic, and relatively easy considering this was completely spontaneous and unplanned and the fact none of us were in hiking attire.


“Relatively easy.” Or so we thought.

30 minutes later, when the trail started getting soft and muddy, and the trees were getting thicker, we realized we must have taken a wrong turn. The website said it would be 45 minutes from the bottom of the hill to the monastery, but even at the quick rate we were walking, we saw nothing, and it had been almost an hour since we crossed the bridge. Should we turn back? Keep going? Are we committed to finding this? When should we get lunch? But being the adventurers we are, we kept going.

At this point, I was EXTREMELY grateful for my previous decision of getting that snowball. Because that was the only thing keeping me moving.

Back in Vallendar, we knew the sun would start to set at around 4:30pm, so by 5:00, the sky would be nearly dark. None of us wanted to be stuck here at nightfall, so we decided to keep walking until a quarter before 3:00 to make sure we would be out of there by 4:00. We eventually turned back, and on our way downhill, we found the path we should have taken.

Which reminded me of:
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
I took the one less traveled,
and that has made all the difference.”
(credit, of course, goes to Robert Frost)

Even though we were tired, hungry, and unsuccessful in finding what we were looking for, it was one of the best hikes I’ve done, and it was totally worth it. Our little group bonded through our excursion, and we got lots of great views of Heidelberg we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. If I ever have the time (and proper hiking attire), I’m definitely coming back to find what we first set out to see. But that’s another story 🙂

I’ll conclude this post with one of my favorite pictures of all time (taken by yours truly)

Because the beauty of life and nature lies in the details. Seek patiently and you shall find.
Because the beauty of life and nature lies in the details. Seek patiently and you shall find.

For more pictures, please visit:
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