Five Asian Escapes for Writers, Artists, and Quiet Types

As a writer and introvert, one of my greatest quests has been to find quiet places to get away to where I can write, read, and be—without breaking the bank. Here are five places I found during my travels in Asia that gave me the space I needed to write, seek silence, and find inspiration.

Jirye Art Village (Andong, South Korea)

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I stayed at Jirye Art Village outside of Andong, South Korea, for over a week last summer, and it was just the quiet getaway I needed after weeks in the bustling metropolis of Seoul.

The Jirye Art Village is comprised of a series of historical buildings that were rescued from demolition by Korean poet Kim Won-gil. The buildings, built circa 1660, belonged to his family, and in 1990, when they were threatened by a dam being built nearby, Kim managed to get permission to move 10 buildings 200 meters up the mountains to their current position.

The poet envisioned turning the buildings into an artist’s colony, but in recent years, the property has become more of a place for visitors, including retreatants, artists, and travelers.

Nightly rates can be a little pricey for backpackers, but information on making reservations can be found here. However, I visited via WWOOF Korea, a program through which you can volunteer a few hours a day (usually at farms) in return for room and board.

I worked for Kim Won-gil about five to six hours of work a day, doing maintenance for trails, weeding the small plots of produce they grow, and providing other help around the property along with a few other WWOOFers. In return for my work, I had late afternoons and evenings off (days started around 6:00 a.m.), a room of my own (with a beautiful view down to the water), and three delicious meals a day (cooked by Kim’s wife and his daughter, Borum, who was visiting the week I was there).

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While the rooms are maintained in the traditional Korean style (furnished with a small dresser and a sleeping mat on the floor), if you don’t mind not having a desk, it’s an ideal place to write–replete with high-speed WiFi throughout the property. And if you don’t like writing in your room, there’s a spacious building nearby (which used to be the village school) with a low table and a piano where you can create to your heart’s content.

Hiking paths criss-cross the mountains around Jirye, and to say that it is remote is an understatement. But if you WWOOF, Kim and his family will make sure you get to and from the Village as needed on arrival and departure.

Cost: Free (if you WWOOF); make an inquiry about a paid visit here.

Location: On a remote mountain about an hour’s drive outside of Andong, South Korea. Andong is easily accessible by bus or train. From there, you’ll need to either rent a car or arrange transport with Kim and his family.

Traditional Korean House on Jindo Island (Jindo, South Korea)

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Sunset on Jindo Island

I’ve already written a full post on my travelblog about my experiences on Jindo, a sleepy island located off the southwestern coast of South Korea. At the center of that experience was my stay at Edward’s traditional hanok house, a carefully restored (if rustic) Korean home in the small village of Oh-il-shi (오일시).

Jindo Island, and Edward’s house in particular, offer the perfect getaway for anyone looking to escape the hurry-hurry of contemporary Korean life. Edward and his wife were lovely hosts, and Edward offered me great advice on local hiking trails only a short walk away and other great sights to see on the island.

Be warned, though, Jindo is a place to unplug. Edward and his family don’t have internet or Wi-Fi at their house, and Oh-il-shi is tiny (so no coffeeshops for you digital nomads out there). But I was able to get reception on my cell phone, and the room I stayed in had a couple outlets to plug into. Additionally, if you go to one of the beaches or towns that Edward recommends, there are places with Wi-Fi and other amenities only a short bus ride away.

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On the road outside of Ohil-shi

I’ll also say this from a writer’s standpoint about my stay on Jindo: I had more luck centering myself and finding quiet out in nature than writing. The room I stayed was small and dark (just by the way it was designed), and while cozy for sleeping and reading in bed, it wasn’t super comfy for long bouts of writing on the computer or in notebooks. At the same time, the hanok houses traditionally have beautiful, wide wooden porches, as this one did–which are the perfect places to lounge, sketch, or scribble in a notebook.

Note also that, like Jirye, the bedding here is traditional Korean style (which means a soft sleeping mat on the floor).

Cost: $23/night, with a 10% weekly discount and 30% monthly discount; book online through Airbnb.

Location: Oh-il-shi, Jindo, South Korea. You can reach Jindo by bus from many Korean cities, including Seoul, Mokpo, and Gwangju, or a combination of train (I recommend KTX to Mokpo) and bus. You can also take a ferry from Jindo to Jeju, if you want to island-hop, and to a number of other small islands along Korea’s western coast. For more tips on visiting Jindo, check out my full post on my stay there.

Wild Haven Resort (Masinagudi, India)

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Driving in the hills near Wild Haven Resort

I had the privilege of staying at Wild Haven Resort for a few days while I was traveling Southern India with my Korean sister Boyeon and her friend Roshan.

Wild Haven is an old colonial hunting lodge that Roshan’s father turned into a set of lodgings that include spacious rooms and incredible views of the nature reserve that surrounds the property. When I was there in September, the days were mild and bright and nights included quiet bonfires and the sounds of tigers calling in the distance.

Wild Haven brings nature to your doorstep–with all the amenities a writer or artist might need to make it through their days, including free Wi-Fi, delicious food, and spacious, sunny rooms and porches. Plus, I can’t say enough about Roshan, his family, and the Wild Haven staff’s hospitality and kindness.

I only stayed a few days, but I made a mental note to return someday for a proper writer’s retreat.

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Saying goodbye to Roshan and his dad before heading to Bangalore. (Photo courtesy of Boyeon Han)

Price: Prices start at around $55/night, including breakfast and dinner (which were delicious). You can inquire on the Wild Haven website or find them listed on Booking.com and other online booking sites.

Location: Masinagudi, Tamil Nadu, India. The nearest airport is Coimbatore International Airport, which is still a haul away. You’ll probably want to hire a car/driver if you come here; contact the staff at Wild Haven to get help arranging something and/or get an estimate of usual rates.

Nature Home Retreat (Pokhara, Nepal)

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The view from the front porch/veranda

This is the place where I’ve gotten the most writing done during my almost-ten months abroad. Nature Home Retreat in Pokhara was the perfect place to step back, detach, and immerse myself in my writing. The room comes replete with a spacious desk overlooking the lake and hillside, and there are also writing nooks at small tables located at the house’s front  and side porches. Add to that a hammock for hours of reading, a small kitchen (there wasn’t a fridge when I was there, but from the listing, it looks like they’ve added one), filtered water, and reliably hot showers, and you won’t want to leave.

The home is located three kilometers outside of Pokhara near Phewa Lake. I regularly walked in to Pokhara (which is a small tourist town with cafes, restaurants, and more), but you can also take taxis and/or rent bicycles and motorbikes. As the listing states, there aren’t a lot of stores in their small village (Happy Village), but there are some restaurants close by–and there are plenty of little grocers in Pokhara.

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One of the many writing/reading spaces available

There are also walking trails near the house, and Pokhara is a regular launching point for numerous treks and other excursions.

But really, I just holed myself away and wrote and watched the paragliders swirl overhead.

They’re on the grid but also have solar power, so you’ll be able to charge whatever you need. I couldn’t get Wi-Fi while I was there, but I did have cell phone reception. But unplugging was quite nice, to be honest.

A great place to scribble in notebooks, read in hammocks, and finish that novel you’ve been working on.

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View from a short hike nearby

Price: Prices start at $36/night, but weekly reservations get a 43% discount, if you stay for a month, you can get 50% off your rate.

Location: Happy Village/Khapaudi, Nepal (3km outside of Pokhara). Pokhara is accessible by plane, bus, and automobile. I took a motorbike taxi from the bus station to the property but the rest of the time just walked (it’s about 45 minutes to an hour into Pokhara by foot). The home is a small hike up the hill, so just be aware if you’ve got luggage (I had no problem with my backpack).

Dragon Boat Rock (Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam)

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Sunset view from Dragon Boat Rock

Dragon Boat Rock is a little slice of paradise in the middle of rural Vietnam. With a handful of well-appointed bungalows, delicious food, and kind hosts/staff, this homestay/resort can easily become a cozy little home-away-from-home for any writer, artist, and/or introvert. Rooms are private, full of natural light, and often include writing desks and other seating/creative spaces (with power outlets nearby) for folks like me. And with plenty of well-lit communal areas, hammocks, and Wi-Fi in all common spaces, you’ll have a hard time leaving this place behind.

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I wrote a lot here while enjoying gorgeous sunsets, chatting with the local (and international) staff, and learning to ride a motorbike. (Bicycles are free to use and motorbikes can be rented for a small fee.) Plus, the surrounding sights in world-renowned Ninh Binh are not to be missed.

I can’t say enough about my love for Dragon Boat Rock and its hosts, and I look forward to visiting them for another self-made writer’s retreat soon.

Price: Prices start at $20-30/night and include breakfast, but weekly reservations get a 14% discount, and if you stay for a month, you can get a 38% discount. You can book through their website, Airbnb, and a range of other booking sites. I stayed in this bungalow, which was absolutely perfect for writing and introverting.

Lunch and dinner are extra, as are beers, soft drinks, etc. (which are well-stocked in their fridge), but I stayed for over a week and probably spent a total of $30-35/day (including all food and beverages). The food was always amazing, and the price is reasonable, so if you’re going to be holing up there, I’d recommend just planning to eat there, too.

Location: Ninh Giang, Ninh Binh Province, Vietnam. I took the train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh (about two hours), and then Sabine (the co-owner) helped arrange a taxi for me. The rest of the time, I mostly stayed at Dragon Boat Rock, but I also wandered out to Ninh Binh and its surrounds via motorbike a few times.

Do you have your own recommendations for affordable, solo writer’s retreats around the world? Leave a note in the comments below!

Originally published on my travel blog at You Are (Queer) Here.

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“Crosswalk” Heads to North Carolina

I’m happy to officially announce that “Crosswalk” has been selected to be part of the 20th Annual North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in Durham this August! It’s included in a lineup of shorts in a program called “Temperature Rising,” showing on August 15 and 16. 10-passes (which allow attendees to view 10 films/programs for $85) are available online starting tomorrow, and individual tickets go on sale on Aug. 3. Special thanks again to my collaborators for making this project happen, especially to O.K. Keyes (Cinematographer, Editor, and overall film guru) and the rest of our cast and crew: LaTrell Brennan, Kate Dzvonik, Alice Wyrd, Nick Ducko, Rebecca Shrom, and Christine Parham.

Also, while you’re fitting “Temperature Rising” and the other great features/shorts programs into your viewing schedule, make sure you plan to go see “Erogenous Regions,” a shorts program featuring “50%,” a quirky, autobiographical short by the talented SC-based actor/director Elizabeth Houck (cinematography and editing also by O.K. Keyes). This program will be showing on Aug. 14, 16, and 21.

What else should folks add to their viewing list? Check out the full schedule on the NCGLFF website, and let me know what films I should add to my “must-watch” list: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/films/festivals/ncglff

Mark your calendars, buy your passes, and come enjoy this fabulous festival!

TEDxColumbia 2014

Last January, I had the privilege of giving a TEDx talk with my colleague Kayce Singletary from Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands at TEDxColumbia. It was been a long process to put this together, but we were so excited to be a part of this event and grateful to get the word out there about language and rape culture–and I’m excited to finally see and share the video of our talk!

TEDxColumbia was an awesome conference with so many amazing ideas, so if you’re in the Midlands, make sure you go next year if you can.

Check out our talk below (entitled “Sticks and Stones: How Changing Your Words Can Change the World”).

“Crosswalk” Takes Home Audience Award!

It was such a great honor and experience to be included in Jasper‘s Second Act Film Festival last month. I loved seeing the amazing filmmaking talent that Columbia, SC, has, and it’s so awesome to have been part of an incredible, collaborative team with O.K. Keyes, Trell Brennan, Kate Dzvonik, Aaron Wyrd, Nick Ducko, Rebecca Shrom, and Christine Parham. Our team’s film, “Crosswalk,” won the Audience Award, which was a happy surprise to me and to the team. We shot the film in 18 hours or so, and edited it in about week–after writing it and putting it together in a matter of days. This was my first film, so I didn’t realize (until later) that such a crunched time is actually pretty out of the ordinary! There was so much creativity in all the films, though, and it was fascinating to see how differently people interpreted the prompt and brought their own skills and gifts to the project. Great work, Columbia! Special thanks to Director of Photography and my partner in crime, O.K. Keyes, for their guidance and for taking a risk by working with a first-time writer and director like me. I look forward to future projects together! Also, special shout-out to Nick Ducko, who created an amazing soundtrack and soundscape–it’s almost a character in the film itself. So, hope you’ll check out what we came up with and share with your friends!

Crosswalk from O.K. Keyes on Vimeo.

2nd Act Film Festival

Only two more days until the 2nd Act Film Festival! Come check out this innovative new project sponsored by Jasper Magazine. The premise: A select group of filmmakers are given the first few lines and last few lines of a script. Their mission: Imagine and create a 6-minute film using those lines as starting and ending points. In other words, write the second act.

The festival will feature 10 short films (mine among them) that responded to this prompt, created by a juried set of 10 filmmaking teams. So come out and support local filmmakers, and scope out my screenwriting/film directorial debut! (And see the tremendous work done by my talented filmmaking team, including OK Keyes, cinematographer/editor and my partner in crime, as well as the rest of our cast and crew, Trell Brennan, Kate Dzvonik, Aaron Wyrd, Nick Ducko, Rebecca Shrom, and Christine Parham.)

The festival is at Tapp’s Arts Center, Thursday, Oct. 10, 7:00 p.m.  Tickets are available in advance or at the door, as seating allows. Hope to see you there!

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Hot Off the Presses!

I just got some exciting news!  My chapbook, “Fratricide,” has been sent to print, and the publisher is holding a pre-order sale ($1.00 off the regular price).  Check it out on the BLOOM Literary Journal website, and order your copy in advance!

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“Fratricide” was the winner of the 2012 BLOOM Chapbook Contest for Fiction.

“‘Fratricide’ employs its fractured narration for an evident and deeply emotional reason: in the frantic search for self, the story asks, where do we turn? That the story’s protagonist looks outward at a global symbol of division only deepens the wound of how family defines us—and how valuable metaphor can be in understanding where we end up, divided or together.” —Manuel Muñoz, 2012 fiction judge

Finally, a special shout-out to Christin Verkaik for creating such amazing cover art!

Speaking Out about Youth Homelessness

It’s now Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I’m finally getting around to posting the remaining few of our “Why I Am Rising” video series. After some continued technical difficulties and so on, the last videos have finally been uploaded to YouTube and will be released to the public over the next couple of weeks.

And while I’d initially hoped to get them all out before opening night of The Vagina Monologuesincluding them as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is actually kind of serendipitous. In part, it reminds me that rising to end violence is not a one-time thing that coincided with the designated date of Feb. 14, 2013. Rising continues, and it must continue until something like Sexual Assault Awareness Month is no longer needed.

So I hope you enjoy and are inspired by the amazing words and experiences of our video participants.

In this “Rising” video, author Janna McMahan describes how research for her newest novel, Anonymity, revealed to her the startling connections between youth homelessness and abuse/violence. And that’s one of the reasons she’s rising.

Speak out. Break the silence. End the violence.

Making a New Story

While we were about halfway through V-Day USC’s One Billion Rising video project, in which we asked various USC and Columbia people to share why they’re rising against violence against women, our filmmaker OK Keyes asked me when I was doing my video. I shook my head.

“No, I’m just coordinating this,” I said. “No video needed.”

Keyes said I should.  I asked her when she was going to do one.  She said, “No, I’m the filmmaker.”

I shrugged. “I’ll do one if you do one.”

And so the challenge was born.

Why am I rising?  Because I can imagine a world without sexual or domestic violence.  And I’m ready to make it happen.

Join us in making [a new] story—a story of life, not death, of healing, not hurting, of limitless possibilities, and not endless limitations, of people and communities joining together, not being torn apart. We are standing up. We are raising our voices. We are one billion rising.


One Billion Rising: The Movement Continues

On February 14, 2013, Eve Ensler sought to bring one billion people together to protest violence against women in all its forms. But our movement is far from over, and violence in our communities continues every day.

As we continue to take a stand against violence, I encourage you to be inspired by the “Why I Am Rising” videos made by those in our community. We asked members of the USC and Columbia communities to tell us why they’re rising to end violence against women. This series of videos records their impassioned and insightful responses.

Be inspired. And know that while they’re all-stars in our eyes, they’re not so unlike you. Every one of us can stand up. Every one of us can make a difference.

We are one billion rising.

The first video of this series features Zac Baker, a fourth-year Visual Communications student at USC. His words remind us that we are all responsible for ending violence against women in our communities.