Sep
7
2018
WUPdate: Namaste from India and see you in Paris at the Ryder Cup
By Stephanie Wei under General

Hey guys, it’s been a moment. I wish I could’ve written this post eight months ago when I began this journey, but I had no idea I’d be embarking on such a magical, healing adventure. When I left home — the good ol’ USA — it was from Kapalua, the Tournament of Champions, I ran into a player at the lobby bar and had an unexpectedly disturbing conversation that jolted me, like in seismic proportions. Luckily, I was getting ready to leave for the airport for my Mandarin immersion course in Taiwan, which turned out to be an even more of a blessing in disguise than I expected.

To have the privilege and opportunity to take a year away sounds and feels spoiled and selfish, and both are true. But I also consider it brave that having recognized I was in a bad place, a broken shell of my former self, I had the courage to change the path, move across the world, become literate in my parents’ native language, and backpack through some of the most beautiful “shithole” countries on the planet.

I tried so many times to write this update. I’m not sure why it’s been so hard. I think I’ve been scared to write publicly again. I’ve been tentative the past few years because I felt like I’ve lost my voice. I lost faith and trust in myself, but through a difficult, painful yet ultimately rewarding and beautiful journey, I’ve healed and I’m ready to kick some ass! (Not literally.)

Even though I’m not finished with this wonderful adventure filled with stories that will make you laugh cringe and perhaps cry, I feel whole again. I feel like, well, me.

*

I traveled to Taiwan for a cram-style month-long Mandarin immersion course. All the signs starting from the day I set out to walk to the school told me I needed to stay longer. I mean, on one level, duh, you’re not going to master a language, especially the hardest and most complicated one in the world, in a month. I spoke Mandarin at home (begrudgingly) with my parents as a kid, but journeyed 3,000 miles away to the other side of America for college at 18 and basically never looked back.

At the youthful age of 34 (now 35!), it was time to get back to my fucking roots. I was also going to refresh and improve my Mandarin skills for work purposes. In the last five years, I’ve been approached by companies, networks, editors and investors inquiring about my ability to speak Mandarin. Last winter I finally made the scary commitment, and a few other things fell into the place. As I like to think, the universe willed it.

After the language class, the original plan was to reach out to golf and business contacts and Asia and do some traveling for curiosity and adventure, along with hopefully picking up a bit of work exploring golf tourism in countries with emerging markets.

*

Almost immediately after my arrival in Taiwan, I knew that I was actually there to heal and to find answers I didn’t realize I had been searching for my entire life.

Taking Mandarin class with students from all over the world, ranging from ages 18 to 39, was inspiring and invigorating. Most rewarding, I made strong bonds with many younger women, who either had just graduated high school or were still studying at universities. I even earned the nickname “mom.” Which actually became a pattern throughout my travels in different countries.

In February I was feeling down again because the friends I made from my cram program had left and everyone else in Taiwan was on holiday because of Chinese New Year (Asia basically shuts down for a month). I felt like I had made so much progress, but I was still stuck and regressing into depression, and PTSD from multiple traumas in my past that I’m still not entirely comfortable sharing. This was a pattern for me — it often happens when I don’t know what to do next and I’m unsure what I need.

Once again, the universe answered. One of my friends from the January program told me he was signing up for the three-month intensive reading-writing Mandarin class. I knew that was the answer, but was reluctant to commit initially. Less than 48 hours later, I applied and even walked by lazy ass to the university’s office, because, well, nothing is as simple and convenient in many parts of Asia as it is back home.

God, I’m homesick and I’ve been homesick for months, but I’m not done with what I’ve started yet.

*

Other than living in Taipei and studying Mandarin for six months (I speak fluently and now I’m even semi-literate!), I backpacked and traveled throughout Asia. I went to Cambodia, where I saw floating villages, the great ancient ruins and temples of Angkor Wat; I made lifelong friends from all over the world at hostels. I took a motorbike trip with a Swiss-German friend I met outside a hostel on Otres Beach 2 in Cambodia through central Vietnam — from Hoi An to Hue and back to Da Nang. I took another one from Chiang Mai to Pai in Thailand (which is, like, like the epitome of a first-world privileged hippie backpacker cliche) with my Israeli friend Yakir, whom I had coincidentally met on the side of Son Tra Mountain in Da Nang, Vietnam, on the search for wild, rare monkeys.

As a passenger on a motorcycle while we were in Pai, I was thrown off in a freak accident when a puppy ran in front of our bike in the dark at a busy intersection. I saw my life flash by my eyes and I was in the air before being dragged by the motorcycle. I won’t go into details of how incredibly stupid I was, but I’ll tell you I was incredibly lucky. And don’t worry, the puppy survived, too, and we were told he was going to recover.

*

Shit happens. We got stupid lucky that are injuries were superficial. I mean, they were bad, like I couldn’t sit or lay on my left side for two months without severe pain. But I’ve learned to embrace my scars. I love being 35, but feeling like I’m 18 again, except when my body reminds me that I’m not — usually after indulging in too much hedonistic escapades.

I have thoroughly savored telling my age to anyone who will listen. Every chance I got and partly to practice my Mandarin, I would tell random people, like cabbies or sales ladies, that I was 34 and then 35. I love the reactions of shock and surprise and I’ve had to break out my passport dozens of times. I quickly discovered in the first few days in Taipei that I must look super young, even for an Asian. I carried over this habit everywhere I have traveled and always got the same looks of disbelief.

My response is, “Thanks! I know, right?” I usually make people guess, too. It’s fun because there’s no wrong answer. You can’t offend me.

It’s often taboo in most Asian countries for women to discuss their age. Take my mother, for instance, She looks like my sister, but she gets seriously angry if I dare even hint at her age to someone. I’m like, “Dude, mom, people are going to think you got knocked up at 14.” She says she prefers that than revealing her age. It’s a Taiwanese/Chinese thing.

*

I went on the coolest adventures and got back to my childhood outdoor roots where growing up in the Pacific Northwest, hiking and camping were basically a course requirement from grades 5-12. Now, I discovered river-trekking in Taiwan. The first time I did it, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I went with my BFF in Taiwan Morgan, who is an ABC (American Born Chinese) from Indiana, and though she’s only the beautiful age of 24, she’s been my anchor, my partner-in-crime and my sister.

We wanted to hike to the waterfall and there were only two options, the boring one —up the nicely paved road in a car — or getting into the river. It was never a question.

Morgan and I shrugged and started swimming and then climbing up the rocks, trekking a few kilometers upstream encircled by nature and not a soul in sight to reach a beautiful waterfall. It wasn’t an easy trek, but my friends and I think I was a monkey in another life. Toward the end, there was a 20-foot wall of boulders to climb and Morgan was done, but told me to go and see the waterfall.

I ran through the jungle along the limestone rock, jumping across stones in the river. I felt like I was in a scene out of Indiana Jones. Then I saw it. It was glorious. Weirdly enough, it’s called “Sisters Waterfall.”

*

I spent two-and-a-half weeks in Nepal, which was the best trip of my life. I traveled there hoping to trek a route in the Himalayas, meditate at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, and to find God and more serenity.

The universe answered again and I found everything I wanted, but not in a traditional way. I’ve always preferred to take the path more fucked up, anyway. Nepal, the people and friends I met, the experiences, the love, the trippy trips and my multiple #NepalFam #UNZostelSquad #squadgoals helped me become whole again, and I’d like to think I left an indelible mark — actually, I know have on several of them, too.

I’ve met the most diverse, interesting and lovely group of individuals, many of whom have become like brothers and sisters and a global community/family I’ve built in my crazy, made-up universe. They come from so-called shithole countries like my super talented photojournalist/vlogger Mexican friend Alejandro; a super bubbly, sassy and witty lady from Bangalore named Shreya; Dawar, Lalla, and Anuj, my three bros from Allahabad (“it’s a fucked-up place,” they’ll tell you) who are lawyers in the High Court, two of them are criminal defense and the other specializes in tax law. They’re like the Princes of Allahabad — they tell me their reputation around town is that they’re spoiled rich kids who indulge in drink, smoke, etc. They’re privileged and hail from powerful families, and they’re also three of my favorite and most down-to-earth, loving and wonderful individuals in the world.

 

I visited Japan. I went to Tokyo, experienced the Shibuya Crossing, which is definitely a mindfuck and puts even Times Square to shame. I took the incredible speed bullet train to Osaka to meet up with my English mate Joe that I met with my Israeli friend Yakir in Vietnam. Then we went to Kyoto, the city of my adolescent dreams, and explored as many UNESCO Heritage Sites, temples and shrines and Zen Buddhist gardens as possible.

I felt lit with inner peace.

*

The most important and best part about being in Asia and taking a sabbatical from golf was to get away from all the bullshit, the judgments, the hate, the bullying, the harassment, the rumors, the pain, the nightmares, the panic attacks, the trauma. I was told once — and this is what has gotten me through almost a decade of hate mail and mean tweets — that it was better to be talked about than not. Even though that mantra helped spur my career and get me through some tough times, everything and everyone has a threshold.

And I’m here to tell you how wonderful it has been to be an anonymous backpacker/student, journalist-on-sabbatical in Asia.

For the last eight months, I’ve stripped away the material goods, I’ve weaned myself off social media 24/7, and gone off the grid for long periods of time— A/C and hot water are luxuries that aren’t a given. Same with WiFi and even toilets. I’ve gone TWO weeks without checking my email. Same with Twitter. I can’t say the same about Instagram, which has been the only social media account where I’ve posted regularly.

I’ve been alone with my thoughts, which can be fucking scary.

I’ve learned to cherish anonymity, kindness and compassion on new levels. I’ve been reminded to trust my intuition, and not only to believe in myself but to believe in others and try to inspire them, as well. I’ve helped counsel my younger friends through tough breakups, big moves, coping with depression, and more. They tell me they look up to me; they tell me they hope to live as successful and full of a life as me; they want to be like me when they’re 35.

Just yesterday after arriving at the hostel in Jaipur, Ankita, a bright and curious university student from Delhi, engaged me in conversation on the terrace. She asked me where I was from.

“Oh my gawd! New York! I went last year; I LOVE New York!” she said.

Five minutes later after I summarized why and how I got to India, Ankita said, “Have you read that book? Eat Pray Love? You’re just like Elizabeth Gilbert! She’s my hero. You’re my hero!”

Believe it or not, I was almost speechless because Elizabeth Gilbert is *my* hero. When I read her book 12 years ago, I was in awe of her travels, independence and courage. Ankita hasn’t been the first or even third person to make such a bold declaration about the similar parallel. But with apologies to Liz Gilbert because it’s almost blasphemous to mention our names shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence. That’s like comparing the weekend hacker’s ballstriking to Rory McIlroy

I’ve never been good at taking compliments, but their love has yielded me the ability to grant myself patience and to forgive and love myself again.

I’m so grateful for the people I have met who have judged me purely based on our personal interactions and who I am as an individual. It sounds stupid to need such validation, but I was so broken and I had been told, branded and tarnished as someone I wasn’t by various people throughout my life that it got to a point where I felt completely worthless and hopeless. To surround myself with youthful, inquisitive people and global communities in exotic lands is the best thing I’ve done for myself in all 35 years of my life. I’ve been selfishly selfless and selflessly selfish.

Simply just to get out of bed, go outside for a walk — just to *want* to live again is exhilarating. It’s like I’m still on this high after saying, fuck this, fuck everything, take time for yourself, be kind to yourself, and heal; golf will still be there when you return. 

 

*

My good friend Shane Ryan used to say to me all the time, “I wish you didn’t care what they think and say about you; you should just not give a fuck.”

I would protest, insisting I didn’t give a fuck, but it began to massively interfere with my life and livelihood, which made me have to give a fuck. I couldn’t understand what he meant at the time, but now I do. (Hashtag IDGAF.)

I did something for myself and I now walk about the world, knowing I’ve embraced the past, the shame, the mistakes, and even the shit that wasn’t just. I’ve had almost everything that’s truly important and everything that I put value into my self-worth and dignity taken, pissed and thrown away. And I survived. So do your worst — I’m strong and I’m so very grateful. I know who I am and I’ve done the work, so really, try me. Who cares, I’m irrelevant! Whatever the hell that means, right?

I’ve always been super hard on myself. I’ve judged myself more harshly than anyone else and I’ve been *judged.* I do this because I always want to improve, to do better, to grow from all experiences, to feel a spectrum of emotions, to challenge myself to become a more well-rounded, good individual. This sounds incredibly cheesy (and I know this is already so sappy), but I’ve worked extra hard to heal so that I can potentially help others in any way possible.

God knows I’ve fucked up tons of times, I’ve said and written the wrong things, I’ve lashed out publicly at times, I’ve lashed out privately without reason, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve not minced words when I should’ve, I’ve made poor, really fucking stupid decisions, but at the end of the day, I’ve been able to face them. It’s been fucking hell at times — some truths are harder than others and you think you won’t be able to recover from them, but I’m not the first person and certainly won’t be the last to tell you that redemption and forgiveness exists.

*

Now, I’m in India. Why, India? Great question.

Only two months ago, I would’ve said, “Anywhere but India.” There’s a long, hilarious, stressful yet absurd story about just traveling here and getting a visa to enter India (hashtag American privilege reality check), but I’ll save that for another time. In May I had planned to move to Bali for the summer months of July and August to embark on a writing retreat. Then when I was in Nepal in June, the volcanic activity started escalating again in Bali and then the earthquakes in the surrounding islands, including Lombok, where I had planned to spend some QT.

Well, there went that plan. It didn’t exactly sound like the most ideal situation if I was going to spend half the time worrying about evacuating or trying to avoid a natural disaster (and Asia has been hit hard this year by hashtag climate change).

I was with my new friends from India in Nepal, with whom I met in Pokhara and then traveled with for entire week. Me and four dudes from India. If you can survive travel in Nepal in close quarters with four strangers, you’re basically bonded for life. They would often say, “Come to India!” and I even told them that they better mean it and no take-backs, because I actually WILL show up. I figured, why not?

Actually, prior to Nepal and befriending different groups of travelers from India and other non-Indian travelers who had traveled extensively in India, the idea of going solo to India scared me. And I mean, I feel like I’ve been everywhere, notwithstanding war zones. I have always wanted to visit, but it never seemed to be the right time. But that’s also why I wanted to travel India. I’m always pushing to go outside my comfort level and challenge myself, even with travel. I’ve heard if you can do India alone, especially as a woman, then you can basically survive anything, with the exception of like, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.

 

The first part of my India trip was spent being shuttled and hustled from the back seat of cars (often with drivers) and into gates of palaces and houses. No joke. I was in Lucknow, Varanasi and Allahabad, all of which are in the state of Uttar Pradesh. I think I saw about that entire part of the country from the back seat of a car or train or the gates of my friend Sultan Lalla’s (I mean, Vinayak, and he’s not actually a sultan, but close enough) palace or haveli — it’s got 100 rooms, and according to Lalla, it’s haunted).

From there, I went to Delhi with two of my friends because one of their uncle’s was being ordained to the Supreme Court, so he brought me with them, which probably wasn’t the most comfortable situation or phone call he had to make — just for cultural reasons. Bringing a girl to a state function is a big deal, but a *foreign* girl, holy shit! I’m half-kidding.

I escaped “palace arrest” a few days later and spent time in Vagator Beach and Palolem Beach in Goa, but it was monsoon season and wasn’t what I was looking for (excessive partying or excessive chilling out). I asked my friends, where the heck isn’t it raining in India?

*

 

Rajasthan. I took a flight back up to the northwest of the country, which borders Pakistan. It’s filled with so much beauty and rich culture, but so is every village, region, or state in India. I fell in love with Udaipur, the City of Lakes, as soon as I walked outside the airport. Next, I took a bus to Pushkar, home to one of five most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus and a quaint village with a mystical and holy feel combined with a hippie, deadhead vibe.

I want to dislike India so much sometimes, but then something happens and I look up and the universe brings me what or whom I need at that moment. And there’s also an overload of things to love about India, especially for such a “curious” person like me.

My friend Sultan Lalla always calls me “curious.”

He also says, “We’ve changed you, Yoko. India will always be with you and you will always be in India.”

He calls me Yoko because I remind him of Yoko Ono and all of her fabulousness, obviously. No, of course there’s a racial component but we don’t hold any punches when we banter. And it’s my facial expressions, Lalla says, with the giggle of a mischievous child.

Oh, I also unwittingly got entangled in drama. I’m talking ex-girlfriend kind of stuff with a plot line that would put Bollywood to shame.

“It’s like a sociology experiment,” quipped my friend Victoria from Paris.

Indeed. It’s been a fucking awesome experience. I’m learning so much every day.

I’m in Jaipur, the Pink City, for the day, and then off to Delhi again for another week or so. From there, I fly to Taiwan to pick up my stuff in storage, then hop on another flight back to NYC to repack, and eventually, I’ll travel to France.

Yes, that’s right — I’m taking a sabbatical from my sabbatical to cover the Ryder Cup.

See you in Paris in a few weeks.