Newly Discovered: Australia and New Zealand

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34 hours later I was in Australia. 15 flights and two weeks later, and I was back. It’s out of my mental reach to think about how one’s concept of time changes when time zones and jet lag seem to blur all of the boundaries.

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This trip was semi-last-minute. When she was visiting me from Seattle, Stephanie and I briefly mentioned spending New Years Even in Australia. A few months later, and we made it happen!

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Upon arrival in Sydney, we immediately went to the Great Barrier Reef where we saw turtles and hundreds of different species of fish and coral.

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IMG_9706We then returned to Sydney, where we relaxed over drinks and indeed caught the fireworks from a ferry, after some confusion about where to go and how to get there.

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We had to forego passes to an outdoor picnic, but ended up having dinner closer to where our ferry departed, which to our surprise also had 9pm fireworks.

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For me, it was mostly a piqued curiosity about how people celebrate New Years Eve — at Manly Wharf, it seemed to be about the family — reservations for dinner had long-been made, families lining the boardwalk and the pier in celebration.

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The year was off to a good start! Climbing a bridge in Sydney, going on a walking tour, seeing the Opera house, salsa dancing, having my first Servas homestay with Margaret and John, going on marvelous hikes in some of Australia’s national parks and seeing kangaroos with them.

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I initially could not find Margaret and John’s address, which I had erroneously copied onto my phone from the directory …

I was then reunited with Stephanie for a rainy day in Auckland and a wonderful dinner with Servas host Liz and her friends and then more intimately between us three girls for a wine night, again filled with wonderful conversation.

IMG_0046With Liz, Stephanie and I learned a lot about New Zealand, including how well they cultivate work-life balance, overall valuing quality of life, which is not limited to human life.

IMG_0074The following day we were off to Queenstown, which, after a mistake with the dates scheduling our Milford Sound tour, we went on a wine and cheese cruise that evening, which was really lovely.

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I survived driving on the left side of the road for the first time in my life, which proved my ability to do so — but not without a few mistakes — the hardest part was remembering that the blinkers were on the right handle instead of the left!

We returned to our BnB at Jack’s Point, which was wonderful, surrounded by unscathed nature, which was complemented by our time at Milford’s Sound, which UNESCO rightfully declared a World Heritage Sight.

Stephanie and I parted ways, I heading to Wellington where I spent my last days in New Zealand walking along the board ward, going on a walking tour and exploring the beautiful views from Mount Victoria, where I met some Spanish tourists with whom I had dinner and great conversation with – a lovely way to end the trip indeed!

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AUSTRALIA:

Best food had: Tim tams – amazing!

Best thing done: Bridge Climb!  – I thought it would be underwhelming, but everything about the experience was really lovely

Favorite City: If I had to choose — I would live under water with the fishes at the Barrier Reef!

Interesting things learned: 

  • On the plane, a guy telling me how the US was a prisoner colony and how Australia was founded directly after the US gained independence as a result of them looking for another piece of land where to place the prisoners. The British began to send people over in ships, which took 9 months at the time, often bringing women into the country who were pregnant “from the voyage” — it took until 1990 for the country to level out the gender gap, and in between, taught these people how to face adversity, in a  land where the seasons were reversed and a land that is not so fertile (perhaps why the food is so heavily proceessed/portion sizes are relatively larger too?)
  • The spirit of Australia, according to him, is not one of competition, but one of collaboration — dating back to the times when they had to collaboratively look for food. When the British refused to eat “dirty” oysters and that was all they had. They are the only country with ex-felons one their bills and less judgmental because of it.
  • A lot of signs in Chinese and English – sign of incredible Chinese influence & foreign direct investment
  • “Healthy disregard” for authority – given their history as prisoners
  • Macadamiaat the time, the governor of Australia went to Hawaii where he was transferred and planted them there – now really well-known for being Hawaiian but actually Australian
  • Ewing and the kangaroo are on the coat of arms because they can’t walk backwards and don’t want Australia to do so either
  • They first thought it was uninhabited, but turns out aboriginals were living there for a time that is undetermined
  • Initially, in part because the Aboriginals first thought the British were ancestors — ghosts from the past because of their pale skin. Torn between fear and respect — there was seemingly friendship and understanding, but they quickly turned into victims, killed by diseases they were not immune to. Aboriginals currently make up 1.5% of the Aussie population
  • 75% of all of the new settlers were convicts
  • England refused to send money for a hospital, so they focused on other means. Australians liked rum — so in exchange for money to build the hospital, the government began selling licenses which allowed individuals to sell rum to Australians – the hospital has since been referred to as the Rum Hospital
  • Sydney has never been under heavy attack. Napoleon wanted to, but the British began to use a military base that was crucial for the success of this attack, so they did not succeed
  • Australia: first to establish plastic money
  • Can top up metro card at the supermarket – cap at $15 a day, no matter how far you travel around Sydney that day, not the case at the airport, as it’s privately owned
  • 1965 construction of the Opera House paused, as the new government did not like how much money/time it was taking. They reduced the Danish architect’s budget (one who won the global contest for constructing the venue) by 100,000, but did not complete the structure for 15 years afterwards and for 1— million over budget
  • Flying doctor – in Australia, the land is so vast and expansive that they have flying doctors that are sent off on planes and are equipt with just about everything needed to maybe even do a surgery!
  • Barbecues and barbecuing is huge
  • Bush fires are a problem, but some are started on purpose with the hopes to decrease the impact of ones in the future!
  • Lyre bird, native to Australia – copies and memorizes all of the sounds made by its surroundings, flutes etc.
  • Bush, beach, mountains all in once at national park  Kuringai chase
  • Oldest continual culture in the world – aboriginals in Australia

NEW ZEALAND:

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Best food had:  Omelet at Jack’s Point

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Best thing done:  Driven on left side of road, Milford Sound

Favorite City:  Queenstown for the nature, Wellington as a place I could potentially live in  

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Interesting things learned: 

  • Known for having: “4 seasons in one day”
  • Very intense about customs – 1/2 of population died with arrival of Europeans / deforestation. Strictly won’t let you come in with produce / with dirty boots if you’ve been hiking in a risky place (fear of mouth and foot disease)
  •  There is barely no security for domestic flights — no need to take out liquids etc or to go through security — can just walk through to the plane. For this reason, it is standard to be present just one hour before a flight
  • New Zealand has no large predators: no wolves, lions, snakes, etc. making it a great destination for hikers. They want to get rid of all of the species that are not native to the land by 2014 like possums (from Australia), rats, ferrets, and maybe even cats! – which is causing a division here
  • “In Australia the animals will kill you, while in New Zealand, the earth will swallow you whole” due to the number of tsunamis, geysers, and earthquakes they have every year — what an incredibly resilient society!
  • Use rubber in between concrete to absorb the shock from buildings from these natural disasters — the rubber then needs to be replaced every 30-40 years
  • Birds first inhabited New Zealand
  • 99.9 percent of all trees in New Zealand are evergreen
  • In the year to June 2009, dairy products accounted for 21% ($9.1 billion) of total merchandise exports
  • Free healthcare for all of New Zealand
  • Shortage of houses – people selling it to foreigners instead of locals because they earn more
  • New Zealanders love to shorten words: pressie – present; they “get it” from the Australians
  • The Māori are theIndigenous population in New Zealand: Polynesian completely different from indigenous “aboriginal” Australians who are of African descent. They were the first people to inhabit this country about 800-1000 years ago before the Europeans 300-500 years ago.
  • Māori were forced to not speak their native language after world war 2.
  • Now, translating things official things into both languages – English and Māori, representative of the attempt at inclusivity by the government
  • Māori chiefs often open conferences thanking ancestors for land
  • Just now starting to accept “happy holidays” instead of Merry Christmas
  • Here required to tell others about heritage when starting a new position in a job, makes people more accepting of other cultures
  • She’ll be alright! – phrase said to promote optimism when things don’t go your way
  • Get lots of cars from Japan because of very strict emissions in Japan, so they get new cars every 3 years
  • 1970s – not many coffee shops in New Zealand, and is now the second most consumed beverage after tea
  • “Centrist”: usually referring to a political party in New Zealand that generally appeals to the elderly — they are really against change: against immigration, young people, and anything that disrupts the status quo
  • Wellington is progressive when it comes to transgender and gay rights
  • Every Saturday, Wellington hosts a Saturday night food market, where they invite new restaurants from different cuisines that have opened to showcase their foods
  • Common to order food and sit down for food — even at a relatively fancy restaurants
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ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: MALAYSIA  

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Breakfast in Thailand, lunch in Malaysia. Thanks to Asia’s generally condensed geography, I was able to meet my friend Rachel, whom I had met at a CS gathering in Paris in 2013. A bit of food poisoning got me down, but not down enough to keep me from exploring the food market that had been set up outside for the first day of Ramadan. It was my first experience therof in a majority-Muslim country.

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We relaxed by her pool to this view before heading over to a speakeasy hidden in a mall. Quite an Asian experience, I think.

Gabe left for a day in Singapore the following day, while Rachel and I pampered ourselves, catering to my self-indulgent side — a facial, makeup class (Rachel is a professional makeup artist), and hair blowout later, we were ready for a dinner at a food+fish farm about 30 minutes from KL.

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In this fashion, I welcomed my birthday — surrounded by more love, food, and happiness than I could’ve asked for.

 

Highlights:

Catching up with friends!

KL’s beautiful views

Experiencing Asian-Muslim culture during Ramadan

 

Favorite thing(s) eaten: Steamed bread and kaya ❤

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Interesting learnings:

-They drive on the left side of the road!

-Malaysia is a majority-Muslim country

-Plane is sprayed with disinfectant before landing, required by Malaysia — announcement on plane “cover head for fumigation

-They eat with fork and spoon, pushing the food into the spoon and eating off the spoon

-There are Malaysian-made cars! The most common brand is: Myvvi

-The Quran is most often translated into Malay, although some people do study Arabic

-Movies used to take 3-4 months to be streamed in Malaysia because of censorship; my friend joked that “50 shades of grey was ‘all white” and only 20 minutes long LOL”

-There are so many malls in Malaysia that they call the airport, “the shopping mall with an airport” — after passing through dozens of shops before getting to a terminal, you understand why that is the case..

-Yet to be determined, but my theory of why the ATMs I used don’t charge fees is because of the Quran’s verse on not charging interest/tithe for borrowing money

-Men in Malaysia can marry more than one wife ; max 4, but most likely are very wealthy, as whatever is given to one wife must be matched for the other

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: INDONESIA

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Lunch in Malaysia, dinner in Indonesia. My birthday dinner, actually, which was shared with about 30 Australians, who seemed to follow us, or whom we seeemed to follow to the bars. The truth is Kuta is a hub for Australians. As I learned, the winds blow from the shores of the Australian coast, inspiring intense waves (the most intense I’ve ever seen) and attracting the Australians with them.

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I celebrated my birthday at Sky Room, an 8-floor dance club, which seemed to be the hub for tourists in the Legion beach area.

The next day, we were off to Ubud, where in February of 2015, I won (for the first time in my life) a 2-night stay at the 5-star Alaya resort.

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My trip advisor review for the hotel says it all:

“My stay at Alaya was nothing short of magical. My first day there happened to be the day after my birthday, which Ayu at the front desk meticulously noticed, providing me with my one and only birthday cake of the year, a complimentary massage for my partner and I, and assistance in planning the rest of our time at Alaya, which made our time in Ubud seamless and worry-free. Many delicious meals later, I got to meet chef Siharta personally, whose passion was evident in his creations and in his warmth in his communication with the patrons. He not only greeted us with interest, but with genuine engagement, requesting our attendance again that evening and asking for us to meet with him again before our departure. I can honestly say that at Alaya, there is no discomfort or distance that can come with hotels of this caliber. No request is too lavish or minute to at least be considered. With no attachment or connection to the resort, and as a frequent traveler, I highly recommed your stay here. Special thanks to Yasa for facilitating the booking all the way from NYC!”

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Shortly after our arrival, we headed towards the monkey village, which was one of the best moment of my life, No joke. I actually Youtube monkey videos all the time and wish I could have one as a pet, but it’s illegal where I live.. womp.

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Anyhow, my desire for one was shortly satisfied as I got to feed, play, be bitten by, and briefly be a victim (one bit me after I tried to return his leaf, another one tried opening my backpack zipper, and shuffling through my hair which was hiding the earrings that he was going after) of these adorable creatures.

IMG_3085.JPGOur last day of the trip was quite eventful with a healing (perhaps because of the spiritual nature of simply the energizing pressure from the water fountains) visit to a water temple, an instructive coffee tasting of “the most expensive coffee in the world”,

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a visit to rice patties,

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and having dinner with a motor taxi/ property manager who took me a bit outside of Ubud to explore the places where Eat Pray Love was filmed — succumbed to the chill of the downhill winds and under those bright Balinese stars, the trip came to an end.

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Favorite thing(s) eaten: 

-I greatly enjoyed the complementary snake fruit (called so because of its scaly skin) at the hotel — unlike any fruit I’ve ever tried

-Nasi Goreng, fried rice, is quite unique in Bali given the traditional Balinese “spice”, which is actually a combination of spices

-Aside from the “cool” factor of the cone-shaped rice, the Nasi Raja, is historically important, as only kings had this dish in the past; it is filled with options from land and sea, and most definitely satisfying any palate

 

Highlights:

-Massage in Bali

-Free cake & dinner & massage @ Alaya for bday

-Monkey forest

-First time river rafting

-Visit to coffee plantation

-Learning from Wira, our driver to the hotel that “yoga” could be anything Couldn’t find uber/ he canceled so ran into nearest guy I knew, hot even, and took me; told him about maxi, smoked a menthol cigarette, learned that yoga can be anything that makes my soul happy — so dancing can be it too!

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Interesting Learnings:

-Ladies on thier period can’t go into the temple / inside the pool at the water temple

-In Bali — 60% of a new structure’s architecture must retain a Balinese style

-If someone dies 4,000,000 Indonesian Rupees (about 4k) is neededfor the ceremony, but if a monk dies around the same time, you can share the ceremony

-Our driver said he didn’t have enough money to bury his uncle, so he keeps him buried until he has the money to cremate him/partake in a ceremony for him

-Rice patties – manually picking rice because it’s not possible for tractors to go up because it’s high and on an incline– harvest is 2x a year in June and January; because we were there in June, one could see many people processing through the streets, partaking in rice festivals at various temples

-They consider thier Hindu religion to be a trinity of a monotheistic religion: Brahma- fire; Vishnu – water; Shiva – wind

-Bali operates on a 5-tier caste system — at the top is the priest

-Graves also serve as temples

-People in Bali feel like it’s its own country, separate from other Indonesian islands, each one has its own language

 

On Lewak/Balinese coffee:  

-Male coffee is more bitter, with two coffee beans instead of one; Bali coffee is a mix; espresso is just male coffee

-How cofffee is made: Roast coffee bean for one hour – then grind the coffee beans – then sift to get powder very fine

-No milk is added to this Balinese coffee, just palm sugar and honey ; 30% coffee

-Lewak– eats only good quality coffee & ferments it turning it into protein filled coffee w/ low caffeine

-Lewak coffee is more expensive in the world; about $50 USD a cup, made from cultivating and cleaning the coffee beans from the feces of the animal

-Interesting — difference between good and bad (real and fake) lewak coffee i.e lewak coffee has this thick residue at the end when finished drinking

-How to make from powder: two teaspoons of powder and (very) hot water, so that the coffee is diluted and doesn’t just sit at the top

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FROM WIKIPEDIA:

-With 18,110 islands, 6,000 of them inhabited, Indonesia is the largest archipelago in the world.

-Portuguese colonization reflected in some of the words like “meja” for table

-80-88% of the population of Indonesia state their religion as being Islam (Sunni) making it numerically by far the largest religion in the nation and Indonesia the largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Nevertheless, Indonesia officially remains a secular state.

-The most significant season of the year is the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan. During its 30 days, devout Muslims refrain from passing anything through their lips (food, drink, smoke) between sunrise and sunset.

-During Ramadan, all forms of nightlife including bars, nightclubs, karaoke and massage parlours close by midnight, and (especially in more devout areas) quite a few opt to stay closed entirely. Business travellers will notice that things move at an even more glacial pace than usual and, especially towards the end of the month, many people will take leave.

-Indonesia imposes the death penalty on those caught bringing in drugs.

-Indonesia is a very ethnically and linguistically diverse country, with around 300 distinct native ethnic groups, and 742 different languages and dialects.

ASIA ADVENTURES 2016: THAILAND 

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 The adventure begins on a cold evening in December 2015, at a Lower East Side bubble tea shop. At that point the goal was: Asia. My travel buddy and best friend, Gabe and I knew nothing more than that we wanted to spend about two weeks on an adventure there, arguably one of the most complex trips I was to plan.

Having Gabe was a blessing, not only because of our often-shared perspectives on our experiences and overall companionship, but also because of his complementary ways of planning, researching and ever-structured way to facilitate everything, realizing our plans in a seamless way. Without him, I probably would’ve seen about half of the things that we did together.

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These three posts are a tribute to our 2016 summer adventure. A bit more tan, a bit more fit, and a bit more knowledgeable, we survive to tell the tale.

Thailand. 

40+ hours after our departure from JFK, and we arrive in this bustling city, the humidity immediately (I mean 30 seconds or less) transforming my hair into a ball of frizz. We lounged at the mall to drop of our luggage while we awaited the return of our CS host, Poom, from work.

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As I expected, the MBK mall in Bangkok was not a dissapointment. Not only are malls in Asia the best, most lavish, and most delicious I’ve ever encountered (yes, the food is G.R.E.A.T), it is a haven for people watching, and quite frankly a perfect place to experience Thai culture. I chose to experence it through an incredible ginger tofu dish, which tasted like it could cure every ailment in my body — in the most positive sense.

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The rest of our time in Bangkok was spent visiting Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and similar tourist attractions (John Thompson House, Sky Bar, River Tour, Bangkok Cultural Art Center) which are undeniably musts — all of these somewhat intese physical activites were counteracted by the constant sprinkling of massages we got on a daily basis… I think I ended up averaging 1-2 a day… sounds silly, but a. I’m a huge proponent of massages as mental and physical healers and b. a good Thai massage is less than a cocktail back home, so… why not?

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We flew to Phuket for a more relaxed time, relative to that of our highly structured time in Bangkok; with a beachfront AirBnb — it was hard not to be highly satisfied just enjoying the view.

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The nighlife called, however, which promised us a great night out. Gabe and I  ended up in different nightclubs, but with groups of people that made our nights equally enriching. I don’t think I EVER danced as much as I did that night in Phuket. Special thanks to my three dancing buddies (Xelliot and co.) that night!

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The following day was basically spent “at sea” on a ferry from Phuket to Ko Phi Phi. Although our stop was brief, simply enjoying a lunch we had won from entering and winning a raffle for a free night at this hotel, our brief séjour was quite awesome. Special thanks to Pilar for raffling off (and us winning) her hotel stay! The picture says it all.

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Bangkok had us back before our return to the US, allowing us enough time between our flights to enjoy the Chatuchak market.

The food @ Chatuchak was great — as a CS friend suggested, try the coconut ice cream!! — I didn’t have energy to explore anything else.

This market is the largest in Asia, where I ended up losing Gabe before meeting him at the Terminal 21 mall — themed with different regions and countries on each floor — where we played Mario Kart and ended our trip watching a break dancing competition. I won first place in Mario Kart 🙂

 

Highlights: 

La Rueda Salsa Club — great for social salsa + bachata dancers!

Night out in Phuket — White Room is so fun!! — great DJ

Massage at Wat Pho, the birthplace of Thai Massage — interesting that they say a prayer before massaging you! // massages in general!

River tour from Sathorn

Learning about Thai culture from Poom, our CS host

Parasailing in Phuket – first time! ❤

 

Favorite thing(s) eaten: 

-Of course, the ginger tofu chicken @ MBK mall

-The coconuts were also to die for.. I averaged 2/day!

 

Interersting learnings:

Despite the hustle and bustle, when elders wish to cross the street, people stop for them

-Of-the-menu veggie options are available if you ask

-Thailand requires leaving every 90 days so there was a guy on the plane to Malaysia leaving again that night — with plans to just eat and shop in Malaysia

-“Bye bye” means that it’s ok — don’t worry about it

-They drive on the left side of the road!

-Parasailing in Phuket —  first time ever! ❤

-Male monk was free to enter the Grand Palace but lady monk/ nun had to pay

-Bangkok is super rectangular shape, which can be seen from the plane

At the Dentist 

Under the gaze of his googly eyed glasses, I’m lost in thought.
Every January and June, I have an appointment with my dentist, but also with myself. January is the start of the new year for most humans, and June, the start of a new (different kind of) year for me. My birthday’s in June, so no matter what, whenever I’m laying down under some routine dental procedure, I’m contemplating some existential life thought: something to the effect of, what has happened since I last sat here? Often stimulated by Dr. Ravelo’s banal question of, ‘how’s it going?’
From one visit to the next, I — got braces, got them off, started college, graduated college, started a company, fell in and out of love, got a dog, lost a friend, gained a friend, lost a few pounds, gained a few pounds. I think it’ll slow down at some point, but for now, a lot happens in 6 months.
I’m not on my phone — Not even reading a book to distract myself from reality.
The brightness of the lamp reminds me of the unrelenting shining of the sun, strong enough to force my eyes shut.
And eyes shut. Hands free. I’m gone.
The only distraction from my thoughts are when he asks me to lift my fingers for the X-ray or to ‘rinse’; the rest of the time, my body is under his care, my thoughts, free to wander.
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Needless to say, I love going to the dentist, not for the process of whatever is going on in my mouth, but surely for the silky smooth feeling I get after running my tongue across these tiny bones.
Mostly though, for that feeling of freedom, that which you get when there’s no place you have to be but in the present. No distractions. Just you and the drill.