Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: accomplishment

Grand Canyon Hiking Expedition

I just got back from four days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was there with four of my favorite people, hiking and camping and challenging myself. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little bit of moral support, confidence, and training.

My parents had done this hike – down to the canyon floor – seven times already, so they were pros. The others of us were new to this particular hike but are all hiking lovers. And it was an amazing experience for all of us, both the novices and the veterans.

For those of you wishing to do this yourselves, here is how it all worked.

There are two choices for staying on the canyon floor – Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Campground. For Phantom Ranch, you need to call a year in advance, and from what I’ve heard, you’re on the phone for hours, on hold, using multiple phones at the same time, hoping to get through. Knowing this would be too difficult, we opted for applying for a camping permit. There’s specific timing for when you need to fax in your permit application, so since we knew we wanted to get dates in March, we submitted our application in November (four months before). Check out the link for Bright Angel Campground above and all the details are there.


We got accepted for our request about a week after we submitted the application. And all together the permit cost us $40! Pretty good deal!

Once we got our dates set for two nights (the maximum allowable) at Bright Angel Campground, we started planning – travel to Phoenix where we met up, camping equipment, plans for our meals, our itinerary.

Here was our itinerary:

Day 1: Drove up to the Grand Canyon National Park, about a four hour drive from Phoenix. Once we arrived, we went to Xanterra Livery Barn where we dropped off duffel bags that would be carried down by pack mules which had all our camping and cooking gear and food. This was a luxury we chose to indulge in because we knew it would be a challenging hike down, so instead of carrying all our stuff down on big backpacks, we used the mule duffel service. If you’re not a hardcore backpacker, this is a great option. For the rest of the day, we walked around the main areas in Grand Canyon Village, catching views of where we were headed down the next day. That night, we slept at Maswik Lodge, one of the many accommodations available in the national park.


Day 2: We awoke around 5:30am to catch the 7am shuttle nearby to get to the South Kaibab trailhead. It was a brisk morning, but we knew it would warm up through the day as we descended into the canyon, so we just made sure to have lots of layers. All we carried on our backs were our snacks, lunch, and water for the day (about 3 liters per person) for the day. It was a little over a 6 hour hike down the 7.2 mile trail. The trail going down is pretty steadily downhill, not too steep but just a continuous downgrade, which did a number on our legs and a few of us had knee challenges. It warmed up pretty quickly, and the trail was really dusty, so it wasn’t the easiest hike. But we enjoyed the views, ran into some mule packs and friendly fellow hikers, and made it down in one piece. Boy, were we tired!


Once we got to our campground, we set up our tents, got situated with our whereabouts, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, getting used to the gurgle of Bright Angel Creek, enjoying the lack of mosquitoes, and congratulating ourselves that we had made it this far. We had our first meal that evening (pretty early because we weren’t sure when it would get dark. You’re not allowed to have campfires down there, so we were going to have to rely on our headlamps after dark). Each of us brought something different – instant soup, freeze dried meals that you just add water to, and Trader Joe’s indian curry in a bag that you can heat up in boiling water. We used these great Jet Boil stoves that heat water in something like 10 seconds. And that was our day! We were exhausted, so we went to bed pretty much right after it got dark!


Day 3: We had a leisurely morning, comparing muscle soreness, hobbling around the campsite. And after breakfast, we walked the River Trail that loops around the Colorado River, just near the campground. We crossed two bridges – Black Bridge and Silver Bridge and were able to witness the mighty force of the Colorado River.

After a lunch of homemade bread and cheese, we went deep into the canyon, following Bright Angel Creek upstream on the North Kaibab Trail. The trail goes through a box canyon with beautiful canyon walls towering above you. We walked over four bridges, not quite making it to Ribbon Falls which we heard was really pretty but was just too far for us to manage, with sore legs and tired bodies. It was a nice flat walk, following the creek in a mix of sun and shade.


We got back for dinner. And this time, some of us got to eat the Phantom Ranch canteen. When you make your reservation to go down into the canyon, whether to the campsite or Phantom Ranch, it’s fun to call ahead to see if you can get a meal in the canteen. They serve pretty good breakfast and inner, all family style. You can only dine there with a reservation, so it’s best to do that when you get your permit. We managed to get a few reservations, and enjoyed some vegetarian chili, beef stew, fresh salad, and chocolate cake!

Following dinner, we sat in on a ranger talk, which they do twice a day. This talk was about the history of Phantom Ranch and was a well-told story. Here’s a video that captures some of the story the ranger told. And in fact, I think our ranger was the one in this video.

Before bedtime, we marveled at the expanse of stars we could see, including the Milky Way (though some of us could not see it!). Living in a city, I don’t get to such a multitude of stars, and I have this cool app on my iPhone that allowed us to see what constellations there were in the sky. You hold your phone up to the sky and it connects the dots of the constellations for you, even if you don’t have cell service! A must-have when traveling to places where you’ll see lots of stars.

Day 4: Our last day, we arose at 4:30am because we had to pack up all our things for the mule duffel service drop-off at 6:30am. We got our tents and sleeping bags rolled up, packed up our food which we had been storing in metal lock boxes, and wheelbarrowed our duffel bags to the drop off point at the ranch. After breakfast, we started the ascent up Bright Angel trail.

The 9.5 mile hike took us about seven hours. I was prepared for horrible, grueling, and impossible and instead was pleasantly surprised that it was just strenuous at points. The trail was prettier and more interesting than South Kaibab and was a little more of a gradual grade. We stopped at the various rest points and enjoyed the views both ahead of and behind us. The higher we got, the more amazed I was at how far we got in pretty short time. We hiked with the sun and the sky was a perfect spring blue.


The only thing that wasn’t so pleasant about the hike up was that the higher elevation we got, the more crowded it was. March is a popular time for tourists – spring break, perfect weather (before it gets too hot) – and Bright Angel trail is a popular trail for tourists to meander down for a bit before heading back up to the top.


We got to the top and celebrated with an ice cream cone and hot dog at the Bright Angel Lodge. We made it! We survived!

I highly recommend this trip if you’re into hiking and seeing the natural wonders of the world. It’s such a different experience to see the Grand Canyon from down below, a trek that they say 1% of the visitors to the park actually make. It’s beautiful and peaceful at the bottom.

Aspirations Revisited

It's been awhile since I checked in on my aspirations. For those who haven't read all my posts or my other pages, my “Aspirations” were developed as part of a course I audited at UMass Boston's Critical and Creative Thinking program called Action Research for Professional, Educational, and Personal Change (I think that was the full title). The Aspirations were goals that I set for myself and then I was going to check back in on them after I took various Action Steps over time. I was hoping that these Aspirations would set me on a path of personal change and growth to feel more life fulfillment and purpose.

So here are those Aspirations. They all are really being solidified and developed during my New Zealand WWOOFing and travel in different ways:

  1. I want a job where I can be in a team of colleagues that are smart, action-oriented, and creative where we are pushing each other to think and act innovatively. Being at Seresin, I've seen that it is possible to have a work environment of passionate, committed, and caring people who are motivated by a common goals both at personal and professional levels. I've also seen that where I worked before coming here. The big thing for me will be to find a team again when I return to the U.S. to pursue whatever my career path and plan becomes (I have some burgeoning ideas which aren't ready to be shared for the blog. Stay tuned…).
  2. I want to live in a city/ community where I know my neighborhood and where I can be involved in making positive changes. I'm definitely feeling solid that going to a local level (local economies, neighborhood based change and connection) is really where my heart is at. I think the question still remains about “where” that place will be concretely when I return to the U.S., but wherever it is, I want to look into things like co-ops, co-housing, community gardens, and other structures that enable community and neighborhood building. I've seen the importance of that in the two WWOOFing experiences I've had thus far– the importance of supporting local economies instead of corporate, globalized institutions.
  3. I want to make travel a part of my life. Traveling in New Zealand, my love of being in new environments and meeting people from other backgrounds has been confirmed. I love seeing new landscapes, hearing different accents and languages, and trying new foods. And WWOOFing is a really cheap way to travel and to have a more meaningful experience than the typical tourist's sightseeing madness. I'm not saying one type of travel is better than the other, but for those who feel that travel is beyond their means, WWOOFing is definitely an affordable option.
  4. I want to be more involved with food justice and systems, alternative economies, social entrepreneurship, social change initiatives and innovations. This aspiration keeps coming up again and again in my WWOOFing experiences so far. I'm developing a stronger critique for the food industrial complex and an understanding of the magnitude of our dependence on fossil fuels. We HAVE to change our ways proactively or it will be thrust upon us. And to me, it's as simple as starting to grow your own food, getting the hang of it, and then helping others do the same. I think gardening is a revolutionary act. And not gardening just for oneself, but collective gardening– to feed ourselves, our families, and each other.
  5. I want to take more risks. Just quitting my job and coming out here with no idea of what I'll be doing next was a big risk. Probably the biggest I've taken yet. I'm still playing it pretty safe by setting my plans weeks in advance. But I'm trying to try new things and not hold back too much.
  6. I want to learn to trust my inner voice, my gut feelings (which I haven’t always done which has caused me to hesitate and not take risks.) Along with the previous aspiration, I'm trying to do this more, just by virtue of not having a return ticket home, as one example. Or not having my entire itinerary planned out more than few weeks ahead at a time. That's big for me, a Virgo-organizer. It takes a lot of will to just let things go a bit and not be so hyper-organized and planned-out about everything. Along with this, though, I am learning to live in and enjoy being in the moment more– breathing in the fresh air, looking around at the mountains and the trees and just soaking it all in, listening, really listening, to all the different birds around. I haven't been using a watch and time just passes and I'm really enjoying that aspect of life– going through the hours and just being what I am doing at the moment– weeding, pruning branches, flinging cow-poo-spray, drinking a cup of tea, listening to the wind.
  7. I want to build more structured reflection and action planning into my life. The blog has been helping me do this, and I've also been doing personal journalling. The blog helps me to be more structured in my thinking, and getting comments from readers has been wonderful moral support but also a sounding board for what parts of my writing resonate with people. I still need work on being more systematic about some of my reflections, but the blogging has been a great tool for documentation.
  8. I want to become a yoga instructor and practice moreI'm really thinking about this seriously. Trying to practice a little each day (even 10-15 minutes of sun salutations and some other asanas), and I'm going to be researching yoga teacher training programs when I return to the U.S. I was hoping to do a training while I was out in Southeast Asia, but the timing for programs doesn't work. So I'll go back and do an intensive course when I return– hopefully a program that's like full days for a month, living at the premises and eating, sleeping, breathing yoga. I'd love that! And then I would love to teach youth, elders, and others who don't usually have access to yoga classes.
  9. (added June 2012) I want to train for and enter a triathlon. This requires more intention. I really want to do something like this and build up toward it. For now, I've just been walking a lot. Biking a few times to and from the Home Block (a 3 mile ride), which shows me how out of shape my legs are for biking. I'll have to work on this more.

I'm grateful for this opportunity to leave behind all my responsibilities and trappings to come on this journey. All that has led me here– support from family and friends in all its forms (spiritual, financial, moral, intellectual)– has enabled me to have these experiences. This blog is one way of giving back– my learnings, my education, my experiences hopefully hold tidbits of hope, knowledge, and inspiration for others.

The Power of Community and Culture

I've been at the Seresin Estate for a little under a week, and each day has been different. What a change from my previous place where I was pretty much weeding a home garden everyday, which was really nice and rewarding, of course! Here, there has been a lot of variety, which has also been really educational and interesting. And I've been eating self-cooked meals everyday which has been nice for a change.

Front view of the house where I'm staying. Cozy, quaint. In the middle of vineyards!

  • Monday afternoon: I arrived and we weeded. By “we” I mean the two other WWOOFers, the head gardener, and his apprentice. A nice team of five with lots of chatting, storytelling, and jokes. Made chickpeas and veggies with rice for dinner.
  • Tuesday: in the morning, we did more weeding (a different area from the day before– maybe it was onions?) and then all afternoon we did the biodynamic preparation 500 that I explained in my previous blog post. And that “we” included our team and about 20 other volunteers and employees from the vineyards and winery. Made swiss chard and pasta with feta and colby cheese and cooked up some lamb sausage from the farm for dinner.
  • Wednesday: we continued weeding onion plants, a challenging job because the onion shoots were not much bigger than the weeds! And that was it for that day. This was the most tedious work we've done so far, but enjoyable because of lots of conversation and nice weather. Made falafel and pita with the others in our house for dinner. YUMMM!!!
  • Thursday: we prepped a section of land to plant potatoes using stakes and string. And in the afternoon we planted a few hundred potatoes in teams of two with a few more additions to our team of five. That was cool– planting all these spuds by hand (most people nowadays do it by machines, especially when doing on the scale we were– a lot!). Made grilled cheese sandwiches with swiss chard and spinach for dinner.
  • Friday: planted more potatoes, the rest for the land that had been prepped. Good morning's work. Filled some packets of wonderful composted soil for tomato plants which will be planted in a few weeks. Then after lunch did the preparation 500 again at the other estate, Raupo, which is the biggest area and where the best grapes are grown. Extra long day but felt quite accomplished at the end! Had some pancakes that one of the other WWOOFers made for dinner.

Strawberry patches in one of the garden areas on the estate.

To give you an idea of how each day works here, here's a typical day's schedule:

  • Wake up with the sun (I have my shades open for this reason) around 6:30 or 7am.
  • Lounge in bed a little.
  • Do my morning routine.
  • Eat breakfast– usually some muesli and yogurt or milk and a piece of toast with tea.
  • Read or take a morning walk.
  • Go to the estate (which is about 3 miles up the road) by one of the WWOOFers van or by walking (about an hour walk) or by bike (about 20 minutes).
  • Arrive at the estate by 10:30am-ish just as the employees are finishing up their morning tea time– a break where they eat snacks and drink coffee and tea. They start at 7:30am, but not us!
  • Get started working. Go until about 1pm when we break for lunch in their “smoko” room– basically the break room which is called “smoko” because it used to be where people would take a smoke for breaks; but people don't smoke here.
  • After a half hour lunch, work some more until about 4:30pm. And then head home.
  • Get home and relax a bit.
  • Make dinner with the other WWOOFers.
  • Take a shower. And then relax for a few hours– read, write, check email, just sit and chill.
  • Go to bed by about 9:30 or 10pm.

I'm outdoors all day which is wonderful. Such a reversal from life before where I'd be in an office all day with a glimpse of the outdoors on my walk to and from the train station and maybe during lunch if I had to go buy my lunch that day. Being outside for at least 6 hours a day is really do-able here in New Zealand. Even if it's a little cold or cloudy (or rainy), it's so beautiful. And there are the sounds of the wind, the birds, nature.

One thing I'm really getting exposed to here at the vineyards is the power of community. Even though it's a company– producing wines for sale all over the world– there is a feeling of family and closeness among the employees and even with the managers and higher ups.

Every Wednesday, they have a company smoko where all the winery and vineyard staff get together with the managers to give updates over some kind of food that they take turn preparing. Last week, the person on made amazing cheesy scones. So everyone hears the company updates and gets familiar with how the business is running. They also hear updates about the garden, which isn't so much part of the company side but is really about keeping some biodiversity and using the land for positive and meaningful things. The WWOOFers are also acknowledged at this meeting, which was held, not at a stuffy conference table, but standing around on an outdoor patio, over coffee and scones.

In addition to that meeting, I get the sense from the people I see daily over morning tea and lunch, those who work in the vineyards, that they all have each other's back and enjoy each other's company and respect each other. They truly believe in the organic and biodynamic principles. They really value each other as individuals. They value the earth and the animals on the farm. And they get paid doing this!

I've learned that the winemaking/ vineyard industry is really that, an industry as any other, and that few growers and winemakers think about the impact on the earth as Seresin does. Why do we have to rip up and destroy the earth to get what we want out of it? If we take an approach of respecting and giving back to the earth in exchange of what we take out of her, everything is more beautiful, sustainable, harmonious and productive.

Here's an example:

Notice the difference in these two unedited photos of vineyards. The top photo is of a conventional vineyard which uses herbicides and chemicals. The bottom photo is of one of Seresin's vineyard rows. Notice the color difference– brown grass on top, green grass on the bottom. Notice the feel you get– dry, brittle, a bit barren on top; lush, gentle, relaxed on the bottom.

So good wine here is about a holistic view– from the soil to the plant to the grape to the production to the people to the gardens amongst the vines to the treatment of their animals and people. It's about building a culture of sustainability, of respect, of value and love. Something I also really believe in and want to bring to anywhere I go and work and live.

I'm learning to read the earth these last few weeks. It's like learning a new language: what are edible plants, what are natives versus exotics, what is herbicided versus organic, what different birds are, etc. I can't wait to come home and see if I'm able to read the earth as I'm doing here.

A view outside the house where I'm staying. Hello, tree, said the bush.


S is for “Success!”

Being Korean American, I grew up eating kimchee.  It was just a part of meals every night, and I didn’t really think much about it.  I liked it, didn’t LOVE it, didn’t hate it, just liked it.  Took it for granted.

After I moved out on my own, I realized how much I had developed a taste for my mom’s kimchee.  I’m sure every Korean kid says that (at least if they like kimchee), they like their mom’s best (if their mom makes kimchee, that is).  And it might not even be that great, but you get used to it after eating it for 18 years of your life!

When I moved to Boston, I just ate less kimchee because Korean food in Boston is pretty bad, so I just didn’t go to Korean restaurants; Korean grocery stores’ kimchee wasn’t quite right– I’d try buying some and I would never finish it because I didn’t like that taste; and most of my friends were not Korean, so I didn’t feel the need to eat it as much– I was mostly eating Chinese and Vietnamese food.

Also, my mom stopped making kimchee for awhile, so even when I went to visit my parents, I didn’t eat a lot of kimchee.  In recent years, though, she picked up making it again, and I’ve been having cravings for her kimchee, which is amazing, by the way.  I’ve been on the hunt around here for good kimchee, and once found it at Koreana, a local Korean restaurant, and I bought a container of it after eating there one night.  But since then (that was about a year ago!) I’ve been on the hunt.

My mom has tried teaching me how to make kimchee many times throughout the years, but I think I just had a mental block.  Kimchee is like the holy grail of Korean cooking!  I’ve learned the basic soups and dishes that I like, so I can replicate those things, but KIMCHEE!!!!  I’ve just been afraid to try.

But about a month ago, I went to visit a friend (who isn’t Korean, not even Asian!!) who has loved kimchee since I and some other Korean friends in college introduced her to it.  She was craving it one time, and she looked up a recipe online and made it!  That astounded me!  How did a non-Korean person sit down and make some kimchee?!?!?!  So when I went to visit, she said she had some cabbage, and asked if we could make it together.  I brought a recipe that my mom had given me, and we did it.  And it wasn’t as hard as I thought!  I left that batch at her place, but it did LOOK right, so I figured it must TASTE right, too!

Last week, I got a cabbage in my CSA, and so I set out to make kimchee again.  This time on my own!

And, voila, SUCCESS!  A hurdle jumped over!  A mountain climbed!  A bucket list item checked off!

This year has been full of accomplishments like this:

  • doing handstands against the wall in yoga for the first time ever!  This was last summer.
  • traveling abroad alone for the first time– to Paris back in March.
  • quitting my job and setting out to travel!
  • playing keyboard in a band and improvising a bit.  I’m classically trained and never thought I had what it takes to play pop music on keys!
  • starting a blog!

It’s been an amazing year– I’m coming up on my birthday, and I must say that a lot’s happened in the last 12 months.  And a lot more to come!

P.S. Here’s the recipe that my mom sent me through email one time for making kimchee.  I’ve left in all her grammatical idiosyncrasies:

How to make kimchee
1. wash the bae choo (cabbage)
2. Cut to bite size
3. put in salty brine water and take out let it stay in the salty condition for 3 hours

for one gallon kimchee
chop garlic for one gallon need one whole garlic
2 or 3 medium bae choo
one bunch scallion chop one inch
ginger 2 teaspoon
sugar 1/3 cup
salt 1/4 cup to taste right amount
little shrimp in brine two table spoon chop extra fine
fish sauce 3 table spoon
red ground pepper 1/3 cup to taste wash the wilted bae choo in clean water 2 times
drain water very well.

mix above and put in jar and push down lightly. pray that this kimchee be tasteful. very important. I pray to God , Jesus, Mary , Pancratio, Agnes, Sophia, Philip, Paul and to all the saints.
Winter time need 2 to 3 days to fermentate. summertime 1 to 2 days
every morning you push down lightly to have the juice cover the bae choo.
when you take out kim chee, do not mix top to underneath. it ruin the taste of freshness.

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