This One’s for the Girls

4 02 2016

After years of “retirement,” I’m returning to this blog to document a brand new “wander”: six weeks traveling through Hong Kong, Macau, Myanmar, and Cambodia. It occurred to me last week, while making the final preparations for this journey, that this adventure, perhaps more than any I’ve undertaken thus far, is steeped in “girl power.”

This whole thing started because of a dear friend from New York, one of the fiercest, most fearless ladies I know. Gina D’Ambrosio owned the studio where I established my salsa obsession: Her energy and commitment (and gorgeous dancing) created a wonderful community of New York dancers, of which I was so grateful to be a part. Now, it’s her courage (in picking up and moving across the world) that has allowed me to come to Hong Kong for a visit. I admire her greatly, I’ve missed her a lot, and I am excited for some good long conversations and many new adventures with her.

I should note, though, that my resolve to visit is also a result of some serious feminine intuition. When Gina initially invited me for a visit, I had recently returned to California, and was getting ready to begin my apartment search. While the adventurous side of me recognized the opportunity in taking off (while not having the burden of rent), the practical part of me (that was not feeling awesome about being a grown woman back with my parents) was hesitant. Then, my sister Denise (who had no idea that I was grappling with  this decision) insisted on giving me a birthday gift a month before my birthday, because she was too excited to wait. My only explanation was that this was some kind of feminine intuition, because that gift—a wall hanging with the quote “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”—was just the reminder I needed that I must live b my favorite word, and that embarking on an adventure did not make me “flaky.” It just made me who I am.

With the decision made, I could turn to a project: Seeking out my deceased grandmother, who grew up in Hong Kong. Gaga was the stuff of legend around our house when I was growing up. This is a woman who grew up in Hong Kong, spoke seven languages, threw extravagant parties, married my sea captain grandfather in Japan, and (when he returned to his ship) set sail all alone to set up house in the distant world of San Francisco. As a child, I was always envious that my siblings knew here and I did not, but as an adult I realized that she’s in me too. I am the grandchild who seems to have inherited her sense of adventure, and she has certainly “accompanied” me on some of my other travels. But this trip is about returning to her roots. I’ve been researching our fascinating ancestry, and though I don’t know a lot of specifics I’m going armed with a few details and hoping to suss out a bit more of this larger-than-life woman, in her own place of origin.

But this trip is also turning out to me about girl power on a bigger level. One of the things I”m most excited about is Phnom Penh, where I will  have the privilege of working with the bright young women who form the next class of SHE-CANS (Supporting Her Education Changes a Nation). This incredible sponsors bright young woman in developing nations, helping them to attain admission and scholarships to U.S. universities, so that they may gain education, internships, and other experiences that will allow them to return and make a difference in their nations. All the way, each scholar has the support of her own team of mentors, made up of brilliant and caring professional women, who guide through the application process and act as safety net and support system for young women very far from home.

I get to meet the newest scholars, to tell them about the college common application, and to lead some writing exercises that will get them thinking about their college essays, and when I met last week with Barb, SHE-CAN’s fearless leader, I was overcome by this incredible sense of the female capability. Women are creators and nurturers and connectors. We’re also fearless and tenacious, sassy and empathetic, and most importantly able to come together to support, whether it’s through a close female friendship or a mentorship across the world.

And so, I dedicate this trip to all the mothers and sisters, girlfriends and grandmas, teachers and role models—to all the girls!