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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Five Books to Make You Feel

The following is republished with permission from my travel blog, You Are (Queer) Here.

It’s been a hard month-plus for a lot of us since Trump was inaugurated, and as my friend Joanna jokes, whenever I run into trouble, I turn to books. In my last reading list, which I posted shortly after the U.S. election, I suggested five books to read on race. This time, I’m focusing on feelings.

One of the best things stories offer us is a chance to walk around in someone else’s skin. As President Obama so rightly noted when describing the importance of reading in his life and presidency, books allow us “the ability to slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in someone else’s shoes”—and if we need nothing else at this time, it’s certainly more empathy. (The full transcript of Obama’s interview with the New York Times about books and reading is beautiful and available here.)

So here are some of the things I’ve read recently that have given me feels and made me feel more human. I hope you might be moved by them, too.

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann

5941033I’m gonna be honest—this is my second time reading this book, and I read it before the election results were announced. I’d filled out my absentee ballot. I’d scanned and sent it from the lovely Airbnb home I was staying at in Pokhara, Nepal. Trump wasn’t even on my radar.

But Nepal was a weird time for me. I was overwhelmed by Kathmandu, unsure about how to face the legacy of colonialism in the Indian subcontinent that I’d just traveled through, confused about how to deal with my economic privilege in the midst of a lot of poverty, and had been on the road for almost six months.

I’d retreated to Pokhara for a couple weeks, to a lovely rustic property up the hill from Phewa Lake, to write and regroup. As much as I needed the quiet time, I was simultaneously struck by a feeling of aloneness (with the good and bad that goes with it) and self-defeating doubt.

I hadn’t felt invested in my fiction writing in a long time. I doubted the usefulness of stories. I didn’t know where my voice had gone, or why.

So, I turned to Let the Great World Spin, a book that I’ve counted as one of my favorites since I first read it a few years ago. So often, I’ve viewed literary fiction as a place of sadness; so infrequently have I found literary fiction that puts some hope in the bottom of the box.

Let the Great World Spin is an aching, dizzying, resonating piece that does just that—while sorting through realms of grief, longing, loneliness, and connection. Told through multiple viewpoints, McCann takes the reader deep into the lives a series of narrators who are connected by a thin thread (thicker for some than others) via the moment in 1974 when a man strung a tightrope across the World Trade Center towers in New York and walked across it. Each voice layers on top of the other, giving each greater meaning, and pulling the reader across space and time, into living rooms and antique cars and subway tunnels and the tops of towers, inviting us in for coffee, inviting us to share in one another’s grief and, in the end, to land on love.

Let the Great World Spin reminds me of how intimately we are connected, how deeply grief and loss can affect us, and how love and empathy can draw us through the even darkest of times. Continue reading

Five Books to Read on Race

The following is republished with permission from my travel blog, You Are (Queer) Here.

As a writer, one of my favorite things to do is to read. All throughout my journey around the world, and especially after the election, I’ve been trying to pull together books that will help me see the world in a broader light and make me a more empathetic human and effective advocate.

Here are five books that have been on my shelf the last couple months. Hope you might enjoy (and learn from) them as much as I did!

Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow: An Organizing Guide (Daniel Hunter)

njc-coverAfter the election, I felt pretty powerless in terms of how to respond and also realized I needed to learn more about engaging with the racial justice movement and integrating anti-racism work into my other advocacy. This book was a great primer for me regarding work being done to end the prison industrial complex (and its inherent racism) as well as an awesome guide for movement-building in general. I recommend it for anyone working in advocacy and activism and for all my non-profit sector friends. Find out more online here. (Available on Kindle for only $0.99USD!)

 

Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)

9780812993547This compelling non-fiction work is written as a letter from Coates to his son, explaining the America he’s growing up in and the racial injustices, progress, and setbacks the author has seen in his lifetime. I’d recommend this book to anyone, but especially to my white friends (or those who are from outside of the U.S.) who want to understand more about structural and individual racism in America, especially via this personal-political lens. Check out an excerpt adapted for The Atlantic here.

 

The Color Purple (Alice Walker)

the-color-purpleYes, and oldie but a goodie. In fact, I hadn’t read it before, but a fellow feminist I met in Kathmandu passed it along to me. Queer, black, feminist/womanist fiction engaging with everything from domestic violence to racial oppression and liberation—who could ask for anything more?

Check out Alice Walker discussing her Pulitzer-prize winning novel here.

 

Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

americanahAmericanah follows two young Nigerians who are compelled to leave their country and are confronted by the trials of suddenly becoming immigrants and racial minorities in the U.S. and U.K., respectively—countries that had seemed to promise them prosperity but come full of racism and economic disparity. Beautifully written, intelligent, with plenty of heartache and healing. One of my favorite parts is the insight Adichie offers on racism in the U.S. and U.K. from an outsider’s perspective—i.e., What happens when you move from a country where you’re in the majority to one in which you’re the minority? How does race play out differently among American black people vs. the non-American black population? And when you leave the place you came from, which will be more different when you return—the country itself or you? Check out Adichie’s interview on NPR’s Fresh Air to learn more about how her life and her work.

Also recommended: Adichie’s amazing and now-infamous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” and her long essay “We Should All Be Feminists.”

 

The Warmth of Other Suns (Isabel Wilkerson)

cover_bookThe Warmth of Other Suns is a well-crafted piece of non-fiction that sheds much-needed light on the Great Migration—i.e., the mass movement of people of color out of the American South from 1915 to 1970. But don’t worry—this isn’t some dry, historical text with only facts and figures. The strongest element of Wilkerson’s work is the way she grounds this history in the lives of a few individuals who left during those decades, stories that are threaded through the work and offer touchstones for broader historical content and a personal, emotional context for the push and pull factors that brought these folks to the North and West. But it lays the academic and intellectual groundwork, too, for a reader to gain a better understanding of systemic racism and race relations in the U.S. today. Listen to Wilkerson discuss her work on NPR’s Fresh Air here.

 

Stay tuned next month for the next installation of “The Traveling Bookshelf,” featuring five more books to add to your to-read list!

What have you been reading, and what do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

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“Solve for X” at Columbia Museum of Art

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Photo by Bert Easter

This summer, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work on a collaborative poetry project with Columbia Poet Laureate Ed Madden. Along with a number of other local artists and writers, we were invited to respond to the recent Andy Warhol exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art, with a focus on the theme of “Identity.” Ed and my project, “Solve for X,” focuses on gender identity and sexuality and takes the form of a wall-sized collaborative, collagistic poem and accompanying chapbook (including the individual poems we wrote and later used to create the collage).

Find out more about our take on the project and our process here, and come check out the exhibit through Sept. 27.

“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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