Another Snippet of Unintended Adventure


Then there was the Swaziland adventure. We had driven for five hours from Johannesburg to the Swaziland border (Swaziland is a kingdom in South Africa, and is considered a separate country), and were now going through immigration there. We had our passports at the ready, certain of the impending monotony of showing identification and filling out forms as necessary. But when we got to the window, the immigration officer said that, because I was a minor, I was not allowed into the country without a birth certificate. Apparently, a very new law had gone into effect stating this in order to prevent the human trafficking of children. But it just so happened that I was bound by this new, very inconvenient law, and I had no means of giving them a legal document that was more than ten thousand miles away.

Luckily, as had happened with our lost luggage, my dad was persistent, and insisted on talking to the supervisor. Sure enough, he let us go, especially after being informed of our reasons for coming to his country– to better the lives of his own people with solar cooking. But he warned us that we would be unable to get back out of Swaziland once we were in the border, unless we got a certified copy of my birth certificate.

Thus began our slightly stressful efforts to enable me to leave the country of Swaziland. I did see multiple billboards advertising the local universities there, and I even considered enrolling in a few in case I was unable to go back home to attend UH Manoa ;). Luckily, I didn’t have to do that; we were able to get in touch with people back home, get it certified, and cross the border to get back into South Africa, and then home. If we’d been unable to do so, I might be going to the University of Swaziland right now.



A Few More Crazy Stories

IMG_6275As I wrote about these wonderful places I’ve visited in a romanticized light– if the country wasn’t the best the people still turned out to be amazing individuals– I had gotten so caught up in the prose that I had completely forgotten a few key crazy adventures we’d had to endure in the meantime.

First of all, there was our baggage disappearance. As we left Niger, we went through Ethiopia to Egypt. Supposedly, our precious baggage was supposed to have been transferred from one plane to the next and arrive at the same time and place as us. Yet, after many hours of flying, we landed in the Cairo airport only to wait at the conveyor belt in the dark hours of morning for bags that never arrived.

We were reassured by Ethiopian Airlines that we could expect our bags to arrive the next day. However, that day passed and we still didn’t have our bags. We’d sweated in the Egyptian desert wearing two-day-old clothes, and still carried close to no other possessions. In a way the experience was almost freeing, if only I could’ve been reassured that eventually we would get our bags back. But we were in the middle of this drama, so we were just weighted down by the dread of never seeing our bags again.

The next day, they still didn’t arrive. My dad ended up getting a cab at 2:00AM to go to the airport and catch the Ethiopian Airlines reps as the flight came in. He did bring something back– his own bag. Yep, only his luggage had come over after forty-eight hours, and the next day we were due to leave for Greece. By this time it had seemed a bleak situation, one in which my mom and I would never see our bags again (if it was just clothes that were lost it would be fine, but I had one of my journals from many past trips in my bag, along with many stories I’d written).

We left the next day (it literally took us three cabs to get to the airport; but that’s another story) for Greece, mostly resigned to our fates. When we arrived in Athens, we had to find the closest department/convenience store where we could get essentials. We bought clean clothes and toiletries, and spent the rest of our stay there enjoying ourselves. But throughout our stay, we were yet to find our luggage.

When we left Greece, we had to stop in Egypt before flying back to Ethiopia. When we got into the Cairo airport, my dad insisted he be allowed to look into the storage rooms where lost bags were left. At first he was told that none of our bags could be found in their computer system. But he persevered, and thank goodness he did, because when he came back to meet with my mom and I he had her luggage in his hands. There was only one to go.

The climatic moment happened when we returned to Ethiopia. I was still wearing my short-sleeved rompers that we’d salvaged from Greece, but now instead of being a relieving cool garment, the surface of my skin sprung up into goosebumps in the cold weather of Ethiopia. We waited for about an hour before we were able to talk to the man in charge of baggage. When we finally were able to, we gave him the luggage number, he looked into his computer, and said, “It says here that your baggage had an email address written on it: Is this your email?” We had found my bag! He got it out of storage and, after a week, I finally had my possessions with me once more. It had certainly been a crazy ride.

Here’s a Glimpse into Greece…

I’m going to be honest with you; I wrote this while I was on the trip and it somehow was never published 😉

Well, I’ve gotta say, as amazing as the pyramids were (and they were utterly impressive) I have a soft spot for Greece. After all, I spent pretty much my entire childhood reading Greek myths and pretending I was a demigod (if you’d like to know, Poseidon was my parental choice).

Seeing these ruins right in front of me, feeling the ancient marble beneath my shoes and taking in the entire view of the great Acropolis, I felt like I’d been pulled back in time, back to the stories of Athena’s strange birth from the head of Zeus, and her claiming Athens as her own with the Olive tree. It made me truly feel the immense age and rich culture that had passed over the very land on which I stood, and on which so many have stood before me. There was a magic to it all, and unlike in Egypt, we were undisturbed by hustlers the entire time (you don’t know how many people in Egypt told us they didn’t want any money for our time; they all wanted to be our good friends). Instead, we were able to truly experience the great structures for ourselves, letting the many crowds of tourists drop away and leave only us in the great presence of the very face of ancient Greece. It was beautiful.

So…We Really Did It

Gosh, looking back at the amazing adventures I’ve been through over the past 3 months makes it hard to believe that it had all been real; thinking about these crazy experiences feels more like a mere recollection of a complex, surreal dream. Was I really right there, in the presence of the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon?! Yet here I am once again, at the kitchen table, having been brought back to the much different adventure of everyday life.

Usually, when I come back from a trip like this, when one no longer really knows what cultural values are right or wrong anymore, I usually feel displaced when I come home, as if my real world isn’t real at all. Instead, what was out there in the bigger world would seem much more solid a manifestation, as I saw people truly living from one day to the next.

However, this time it’s different. This time it did indeed feel strange coming back to the monotonous existence of home. But instead of my world seeming less significant, it seemed to have been placed in a new light, and I could now see my life as if through a perception-changing filter. I’ve come to notice the subtle signs of people’s mindless following of convention, and find myself discarding some of my own, and integrating pieces of other cultures into my own identity. Of course, I’ve also felt myself become more open to it all than ever before. I guess you can say that with so much new experience comes a new you. It’s quite fitting, actually, to have come to my own little epiphany and taken on a new perspective, as these are all things to put under my belt for my new upcoming adventure: College.

Yep, We Went to Egypt

Throughout our lives, we’ve heard of the ancient pyramids and the sphinx of Egypt. But I couldn’t believe it was the real thing when I saw it. They were all massive, each block alone weighing more than two tons! And for what– the immortalization of a pharoah. Indeed, there seems to be a pattern in history, spanning from the Taj Mahal to the Great Pyramids: there is always the tendency to create great things for individual, important people and the powerful motive that is faith. These ancient people had so much faith in there being an afterlife for their mummified pharoah, and were convinced of his godliness regardless of cruelity or any other imperfect human characteristics he had shown them. In one sense, the sight of these ancient structures is miraculous, in another it is utterly disturbing. Yet seeing it in yet a different light, it is maybe not living proof, but it’s surely immortalized proof, of mankind’s potential for a faith that is strong a pure. This of course is a danger in a sense of blind faith, but it is also reassuring that we have the capacity of taking the leap, despite opposing forces.

Whatever you take from this, seeing these ancient structures was amazing.

An Amazing Family in Zinder


We went to Niger, taking a flight from the capital of Niamey to a smaller city called Zinder. In fact, this had been the one country that we’d been slightly worried about going to, because there are many warnings on the internet that say how extremely dangerous it is. But we heard that the danger is mainly in the north, and so we went regardless.

What we found there was a fantastic surprise: a new family. We had come to Zinder to meet with one of my dad’s partners. But this man is not just any local of Niger; him and his family happen to be the only caucasian residents in the entire city, and may well be an extreme minority within the country as a whole. Their purpose there is an extremely important one: to be able to utilize native plants for food products that would’ve otherwise been replaced by foreign food stuffs. In this way, not only do native plants get protection, but less trees are cut down and the local people are given jobs to do in their own community. My dad’s technology comes in as a means of debittering these native Hanza seeds. Although they have other methods as well, this local family values the environment as much as my family does, and therefore tries their best to achieve environmentally sustainable methods.

But that’s all the technical stuff, and the reason why we came. But what we experienced when we got there was much more special. My dad’s partner had three beautiful blonde girls, one of which is only two and has a total attitude towards anyone who’s not her mother (I still love her though), and the other two of which became two of my closest friends within the span of only two and a half days. The authenticity of their entire family is so precious and so hard to come by in this age of materialism and short attention spans, that the connection between our two families became apparent instantly. And now I have to take back with me some wonderful memories that I will never forget, and two new great friends leading very different lives than my own.

Ouagadougou: The African Capital No One’s Ever Heard Of


The country of Burkina Faso is where the majority of our Blazing Tube projects are distributed. They’ve been sold at subsidized prices to many families in the city, as well as to UN refugee camps in the country. We got to go out in the field, well, actually to the bush (pronounced boosh in Africa), experiencing the immensely bumpy roads and the beating sun. In fact I almost fainted in one of the villages. It’s certainly not something I’m proud of, but being out in the sun so long must’ve really affected me without my being conscious of it.

Regardless, Burkina Faso is the African country I’m most familiar with, and it’s so nice to meet the people that are using the solar cookers and give out candy to the little children peeking at us full of curiousity. We even met a man from Brussels who spends much of his time in the country, helping out at a school for very poor children and feeding them with the help of our solar cookers. His perserverance to help people, even at the expense of his own comfort, really inspired us to do more with our efforts.

The Taj Mahal: A Great and Terrible Beauty

Yes, we saw the Taj Mahal…the Taj Mahal. I know, it’s only one of the most iconic historic mausoleums in the world, made completely of white marble. It was pretty intense, with walls of white marble encrusted with semi-precious stones like jasper, agate, and malachite, as well as coral and mother of pearl. Just one stone inlaid flower about an inch and a half in diameter consisted of sixty four individual pieces of stone. All as a symbol of love. Beautiful.

But terrible. It had taken about twenty years to build, with more than a thousand elephants required to bring up the giant marble slabs needed for its creation. Yes, the grand building had been built for the rememberence of great love, and has since become a symbol of this as well as the history of Indian culture. But to think of where it came from, how a man so greedy to have spent fortunes on this dream’s manifestation had to be thrown into a sort of prison by his own son in order to be prevented from building yet another on the other side of the river. History is beautiful but crazy. And so was the creation of this great monument. Nonetheless, it was a great site to see, if only to take in both its breathtaking beauty as well as to remind ourselves of the two sided nature of all of history’s greatest architectural achievements.


Exploring Rural Bangladesh

There’s no experience quite like journeying to the Bangladeshi countryside and meeting face-to-face with the village people. Although there was a major language barrier between us all, in this instance the face said it all. Everywhere we turned there were curious faces peeping out between the palm fronds and tall grasses. I’m sure they’d never before seen any facial features other than those of the familiar Bengal face. But there we were, my strange family trio consisting of a white haired white man, a Chinese woman, and me, the strange in-between specimen. Like before, a crowd of people followed us wherever we went, trying to catch a glimps of our alien faces, and exchange smiles. And there were many smiles; genuine, thankful ones that spoke of joy regardless of poverty. The women hid their faces and laughed when we pointed our cameras at them, the children ran by us giggling, sometimes chasing wild dogs. Visiting these people, and seeing them retrieve water from the very rain-catchment systems we’d provided them, really gave our abstract philanthropic organizational some solidity, some more authenticity. I had always wanted to support those in need, but such an experience as this one was a wonderful reminder of what we take for granted in the developed world, what many are deprived of, and most of all brought inspiration and passion back into our project. The Bengal people had thanked us for their drinking water; now I thank them for bringing meaning into my life.

A Surprisingly Discriminatory Visa Refusal

Sorry, this post is a bit late considering that we’ve passed through four countries within the last two weeks. We left Taiwan on July 15th, and when we landed in Hong Kong we had gone to the visa office to get visas on arrival for China. We decided to do this at the airport instead of getting our visas back in the US because we did our research and had been reassured that they were available on arrival. But two things happened. First of all, I was not allowed to get a visa, since only two months ago a new law had gone into effect that stated that all passports issued after 2015 must get their China visa from the US. And if this wasn’t bad enough, my mom was also refused for an even worse reason: because she was born in Taiwan. Yes ladies and gentlemen, in the year of 2017, a modern era that supposedly values freedom and condemns descrimination, my mom was refused a China visa due to her origins at birth from an opponent country. Not to mention that she’s now a US citizen. So long story short, we had two extra days in Hong Kong that we did not expect. It’s been an exciting adventure so far, I would say. Lets see how the rest goes.