meditating at the W hotel in a bikini

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: A Staycation Saves the Day

Sometimes the answer to all of your problems is a staycation. What’s a staycation? It’s the vacation where you stay close to home, you don’t have to get on a plane(because who loves TSA lines?!?), and you need to escape your own life for about 48 hours.

One of my most memorable staycations happened when an old boyfriend broke up with me on my birthday. I thought we’d be spending it together poolside, enjoying the warm July weather that washes away the June gloom, signaling that summer is finally here. But instead, it appeared he had made “other plans”. When I hadn’t heard from him a few days prior, I messaged…

“It’s my birthday tomorrow so I thought we’d be spending it together.”

“No, I have other plans.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You didn’t think we were exclusive, did you?”

OUCH.

Shocked, I don’t even remember how I responded, but I remember sitting in my car sobbing as the gas pump clicked, signaling me to move on – literally and figuratively. With my gas tank full, I picked myself up off the proverbial floor, and drove home stunned. What would I do now with a free weekend, no beau, and no birthday plan in place? I called my best friends to tell them what had happened and they suggested the perfect solace: a staycation.

My staycation proved to be just that – a quick salve for my broken heart. Surrounded by friends, laughs, and my favorite part about L.A. summers – great pool parties! – my short visit to the W Hotel was exactly what I needed. Soaking in the sun, I felt my sadness melting away. This quick getaway was just what I needed!

Slipping away from the bouncy beats at the pool, I wandered away from the crowd. Peeking at me through the bushes was a little figurine meditating in lotus pose. I took this as a serendipitous sign to do the same.

I prostrate in gratitude for all those who made me suffer and helped me to become mature after hard times.

I first heard this mantra when I was at a Buddhist temple in Seoul last year. During an evening recitation of the 108 mantras, this one stayed with me as I reflected on different exes. As much as I suffered at the moment, I learned the lessons I needed to learn from that relationship. No bitterness. No regret. Just resolve.

A friend wandered down the same path, wondering about my whereabouts. “We miss you – come back to the pool!” With the pure love and support of my friends, I knew I’d be okay. This particular birthday was a rebirth of sorts; a painful release of the old, and an uncertain step into the new.

Looking back at this photo, I realize how much I’ve grown since then. Not in spite of my suffering, but because of it. And because of my daily meditation practice that pushes me into a more positive space.

I originally posted this photo on Instagram with the caption: Love is a gift of one’s inner most soul to another so both can be whole. – Buddha. Here’s to a future of fearless gift giving.

To learn more about meditation, click here.

a staycation saves the day at W hotel

praia vermelha in rio de janeiro

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: The Break Up

Everyone who has been in a relationship knows the terror when you hear the phrase, “can we talk?”. You’re never sure what lies on the other side of those words. So when a boyfriend asked to meet me one Sunday night to talk, it felt ominous. Sitting across from him in a small cafe in Botafogo, the casual banter didn’t last long as it was evident something weighed on him.

He broke up with me, citing various reasons, much of which I didn’t absorb, too shellshocked to understand what was happening. I honed in on his excuse of focusing on his business, which seemed lame and legitimate at the same time. I guess when someone is breaking up with you, it’s never what you want to hear. This wasn’t the first time someone had broken up with me, but the pain was just as fierce.

Met with the shock of the news, I fought back tears. Not wanting to be like one of those dramatic women you see in the novelas that screams and throws things at her man, I tried to keep myself calm, but the tears came dripping down anyway. As I tried to wipe my face with those damn Brazilian napkins that are more like wax paper, I excused myself from the table to find solace in the real tissue in the bathroom. Sobbing into scraps of toilet paper, I quickly gained composure and returned to the table.

He looked defeated. I didn’t speak. And so it was the way we ended our talk. We walked together in silence to the metro, where we rode to the end of the line in Ipanema. He went one way, I went the other, neither of us looking each other in the eye.

Soothing my sorrows the day after, I decided to go to my safe space – the ocean. I left my hotel distraught, with no real plan in mind, other than to push pause on my vacation and absorb what had happened the night before.

The beach, nearly empty since it was a Monday, was the perfect respite. Waves lulled me to sleep as the hum of fishing boats buzzed in the distance. I eventually awoke to a couple taking wedding photos. Are you fucking kidding me? This was the last thing I wanted to see after having my heart ripped out the night before.

I laughed at God’s joke. As the bride and groom traded out props (a sign, a champagne bottle, flowers), I sipped on my Heineken and studied their interaction. He looked visibly uncomfortable; she looked determined. As much as I was familiar with all of the anecdotes from miserable married friends and statistics about single women being happier than married women, I had to wonder, “Would I ever find a man who would do something this ludicrous just to see me happy?”. As they came over and set down the champagne bottle, I gave them a nod with my beer and uttered a congratulatory “Parabéns”. She gave a giddy “obrigada”, and then I rolled over and turned my focus to the sea.

The young couple eventually wandered off, hand in hand, not knowing that I had snapped a few of my own photos of their shoot. I don’t know why I did. Lying on the sand looking at the waves, I noticed a doll head bobbing in the water. As it rolled up on to the sand, it stopped a few feet from me and we made eye contact. I burst out in tears. The flood gates had opened.

Staring at the doll head through swollen eyes, all I could think of was the scene from Clash of the Titans when Thetis’ head rolls to the ground and utters some sort of curse on the marrying couple. I stared back stunned. I felt just like this doll head – separated from my body, torn from my love, strewn from the wreckage.

Back at my hotel, shellshocked from the previous 24 hours’ events, I fell onto my bed and cried some more. With barely enough energy to eat, I uploaded the doll head photo to Instagram, giving it a blue filter. I captioned the photo “Blue Monday”. Just like the song, my mood, my broken heart.

Learn more about how to have a healthy relationship wherever your travels may take you: https://blog.sivanaspirit.com/lv-sc-golden-relationship-rules/

breaking up is hard to do

my dad sitting on a beach in anacortes

Father’s Day: Before and After

I could always depend on a summer trip with my dad. Whether it was for his birthday in August, or Father’s Day in June, we always made it a point to reunite for a week during these summer months. Most of the time, we took advantage of the glorious weather in the Pacific Northwest where he lived, but sometimes we made the occasional trip to San Francisco for our favorite rivalry games between the Dodgers and Giants.

But it wasn’t always this way. There was a short phase in my life where my father and I didn’t speak. I recently remembered when I told him not to come to my Stanford graduation, which also fell on a Father’s Day. Looking back, I can’t imagine how it broke his heart, but he had a different perspective. Years later, he told me that he made peace with it by knowing that I was comfortable voicing my opinion, and that his daughter “wasn’t going to take shit from anyone”.

Maybe you’ve been in one of these emotional droughts with a loved one, so you’ll understand. Luckily, my dad and I reunited and developed a meaningful friendship that evolved with every conversation and interaction.

Those interactions go all the way back to my childhood memories on this beach in Anacortes. My dad lived there for many years, and my brother and I would trek up to Washington each summer to enjoy this magical season called summer. We built rafts, roasted marshmallows, picked apples, and created memories that would last a lifetime.

In June 2015, my dad and I drove to this beach where he used to live over 20 years before. The new owners mentioned that they were thinking of selling the property in a few years, but my dad and I both had a bit of sticker shock when they told us of the price.

As we made our way down the steps in silence, my dad and I found our respective rocks on the shore. I don’t know what was going through his mind, but I could feel the heaviness in the air. I gave him some space.

After a moment of repose, I came and sat next to him on the sand. I could tell that he had been crying. Tears of what I don’t know, but we hugged each other in solace. I don’t remember what I uttered, maybe a mention of happy memories of days past. I guess at that point, the words really didn’t matter. What mattered is that we had this time together and the chance to travel around one of our favorite parts of Washington.

That was our last trip to Washington together as my dad died the next summer. Our last Father’s day spent cruising around Puget Sound. Our last summer trip.

happy father's day

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words: My Homeless Photo Assistant

rio de janeiro mural

What separates great photographers from the rest is composition; knowing what to crop out, and what to capture in those unforgettable images. And anyone who is in marketing, photography, or media knows that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to a great image.

I recently cleaned out my photo database, while reminiscing on all of the memories and adventures of where I’d been and the story behind the photos. So I decided to write this series to tell the story of how I got a particular picture, and to provide my audience with an authentic angle of what had really happened. This is the first…

I had just come from the most famous bakery in Rio de Janeiro where I had interviewed their head chef about the history of this iconic landmark in the center of Rio. He generously gifted me with enough food to feed a small family, and I gladly gathered it all up in a to-go box as I left to my next stop.

As I walked down the winding streets of Rio’s downtown, trying to find a mural that an ex-boyfriend had shown me months before, I turned a corner into an alley. Coming towards me was a homeless man – barefoot and broken. My initial instinct was a bit of fear, but it would have been odd to turn and go back, so I assertively advanced towards him. As we got closer to each other, I asked him if he was hungry.

I wasn’t sure what he mumbled, but I immediately handed him the box of goodies from the bakery. Partially as a gift, and partially as a distraction from the rest of the stuff I was carrying(purse, camera, tripod). As a woman traveling alone, I’m often hyper-sensitive to being robbed or assaulted, given all of the grim statistics. I wasn’t sure what would happen next, but I was relieved that he was seemingly preoccupied with the food.

When I realized that this homeless man had no interest in my stuff after immediately sitting on the curb and tearing into his lunch, I set up my tripod and camera to take this picture. He asked what I was doing, and so I told him a bit about my job and my plans in Rio.

Trying to attempt a photo shoot in an alley alone is no easy feat, so I quickly realized that I would need his help to angle my camera on the tripod, and eventually tell me where to stand. “Esquerda!” he yelled, as I moved a little to the left…”Mais…isso”, signaling the perfect stance.

Eventually a couple wandered down the alley, with raised eyebrows, since my photo assistant with dirty and torn clothes, in contrast to my outfit of a silk skirt and stark white bodysuit wasn’t quite what one would expect. We were definitely the dynamic duo!

In that moment, we needed each other. I provided food. He provided artistic direction. As I gathered up my goods, I thanked him and wandered along the cobblestone path, turning the corner to my next destination. Walking along Rio’s downtown, I wondered how he got there. How long had he been homeless? What life crisis led him to end up on the streets?

And I guess that’s true with any homeless person. There is a story of how they got there. A series of unforgiving circumstances that led them down their own dark alley.

To read more about the plague of homelessness in my hometown of Los Angeles, California, click here.

 

Where to see art in South Korea

Seoul of a Nation: Where to See Art in South Korea

Where to see art in South KoreaNo matter where I go in the world, I always make sure that I visit a museum, art gallery, or exhibition of the local culture. I find it is one of the best ways to provide insight to the history of the country, and the sometimes untold narrative of its people.Where to see art in South KoreaMy visit to Seoul was no exception. In between my visit to a Buddhist temple, Seoul Fashion Week, and numerous foodie stop-offs, I made sure to get a sense of the South Korean art scene. I arrived to Seoul on a Friday night, and luckily didn’t have much jet lag, so when I woke up on Saturday morning, I had a full day of exploring ahead of me. Where to see art in South KoreaWhere to see art in South Korea

Where to see art in South Korea
Black on White Phantasy at All Me Art Space

I came upon All Me Art Space gallery by accident, which is always the best way to find hidden gems while you’re traveling. Wandering through Insadong neighborhood, I had two things on my tourist “to-do” list: register for my Buddhist templestay and find a famous stamp carver and calligrapher that I had seen on Instagram just days before my trip. After a warm bowl of bibimbap in my belly and my to-do list complete, I aimlessly strolled up the street and found All Me Art Space. Lucky for me, the artist was in the gallery talking to the owner and walked me through his exhibit “Black on White Phantasy”, telling me why he chose the Korean mulberry paper as his medium, and how he came to get his signature black ink for his work.

 

Taking advantage of the gorgeous fall weather in Seoul, I ventured to another favorite place to see art in South Korea – the Seoul Arts Center. This center is a collection of architecturally stunning museums, galleries, an opera house, an outdoor water display, and manicured gardens that will enchant you at every turn. Plan to spend at least half a day here. Where to see art in South KoreaWhere to see art in South Korea

Where to see art in South Korea
Alain Bonnefoit at Seoul Arts Center

My first stop at Seoul Arts Center was a temporary exhibit featuring the work of French painter Alain Bonnefoit. His delicate designs of the female figure were displayed amongst a backdrop of alluring piano music. Truly sublime! His nudes, with names like Melancolie, Filomana, and Isaura, pushed me into a reflection of my own femaleness, fragility, and fleeting emotions.Where to see art in South KoreaWhere to see art in South Korea

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Dongdaemun Design Plaza by Zaha Hadid

Across town, but easily accessible by Seoul’s extensive metro system, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza is a must-see masterpiece. The chosen site of Seoul Fashion Week, it is the perfect frame for fashion shows that draw the best names from all over the world. Famed architect Zaha Hadid left behind her signature style in Seoul with the structured, yet sensual curves of this massive structure. Hadid, the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize, has woven her genius into the crevices of this building – the largest 3D amorphous structure in the world. Plan your visit and become enchanted by DDP’s numerous galleries and public sitting areas, with plenty of opportunities to look up in awe!

Where to see art in South KoreaWhere to see art in South KoreaWhere to see art in South KoreaAdjacent to Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace, I hit the art lover’s jackpot. Leaving my favorite jeweler, Tentacle, I wandered down to a neighborhood filled with art galleries. A few of the most memorable: Another Way of Seeing, which is an art lab for the blind, Arario Gallery (not to be confused with Arario Museum across town), and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. As I pored over the descriptions of each piece, I finally understood why governments around the world have a history of censoring, limiting, and sometimes imprisoning artists. Artists push boundaries. They use their art to challenge our thinking. Sometimes the powers that be see them as a threat to “order”. Watching a video of the Okin Collective, winners of the 2018 Korea Artist Prize, one of the artists stated this sentiment succinctly: “The question, ‘Why it is as it is and why do we live this way?’ is, I think, unavoidable.”

Where to see art in South KoreaWhere to see art in South Korea

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Captive entrance at Arario Museum in Space

So why is it as it is? I was pushed to think about this question further at Arario Museum in Space. Climbing up a gorgeous, yet dungeon-like stairwell, I arrived at Dongwook Lee’s provocative sculptures of tiny nudes. With names like Drive and Hooker, I stared at these small works that scream at you to challenge social constructs. The man strapped to his Mercedes – how many of us are held captive by material goods? Ensnared by shiny objects that distract us from our souls? I literally felt like I was in The Matrix as I walked through this exhibit.

Where to see art in South Korea

Where to see art in South Korea

With my brain, body, and soul cracked opened by the art at Arario Museum, I took a moment to sit in their lush garden. The smell of sweet cinnamon wafted from their cafe, Fritz Wonseo, and lured me to stay even longer. As I sat and reflected on my visit, a fellow museum-goer mentioned that he had reservations for Arario’s Michelin star restaurant on the 5th floor, Dining in Space. Ok, so what did Arario Museum not have?!? Besides this French restaurant at the top of this eye-catching building, there is also a Korean restaurant serving traditional royal cuisine, and an Italian brasserie. Wishing I could stay another week so that I could come back and dine at Arario, I immediately texted my dear friend, Jiuhn and thanked her for telling me that there was more than one Arario and to “see them both.” Duly noted!

Where to see art in South Korea

Where to see art in South Korea

My friend Jiuhn is the epitome of “cool”. An art consultant by trade, she used to be my English student when I was teaching over 10 years ago. She exudes a demeanor that defines that word, but with no effort. She just is. So it was without a second thought that I followed all of her recommendations on where to see art in South Korea. Where to see art in South KoreaI had already visited the tourist hot spots, but Jiuhn’s list led me down the hidden path. Quite literally! Finding Piknic at the end of a winding road was a treat. Piknic is a amalgamation of art gallery, outdoor garden, exquisite cafe and wine bar, and event space that is tucked at the end of a small street in Hoehyeon neighborhood. With the bright blue sky above, I sat on their patio and wrote in my journal, thinking about all I had seen on this magical trip to South Korea.

Where to see art in South KoreaWhere to see art in South Korea

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Art from the Joseon Dynasty

Magical? Yes it was! As I wandered through the immense collection of ancient art at the National Palace Museum of Korea, I was transported to another era in the country’s history. The ornate relics from the Joseon Dynasty mingled with powerful sculptures of dragons, and symbols of longevity like cranes and deer, filled in my understanding of Korean culture. Sitting on the steps of this historic landmark, I was again reminded of why I travel – to understand a little more about this vast world, and the beautiful diversity that it brings.

Where to stay: Conrad Seoul

When to go: May for Art Busan International Art Fair, September 2019 for Korea International Art Fair, Fall 2020 for Busan Biennale.

What to eat: My top picks

See you in South Korea!