That one time we invented wine yoga… Mendoza Pt. 2

After a wonderful day touring the bodegas of Mendoza, Nat and I decided that it was time to explore the more nature-y side of Mendoza. After all, it would be a huge shame to come all the way here and not see the Andes. After some quick googling, we decided to head to the town of Potrerillos to spend a lovely day amongst the mountains.

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With a backpack full of dulce de leche and wine, we headed to the bus station to being our journey. After buying our tickets, we had some time to kill so we marvelled at more tree porn on the other side of the city. Mendoza is small but it certainly doesn’t lack in character! This particular underpass is probably the coolest bridge I’ve ever been too.

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In what seems to be a recurring theme during my time in Mendoza, I immediately passed out once we finally got on the bus. Next thing I know, I’m suddenly being urgently tapped on my head by Nat. Groggily, I turned to her in my best impression of: 

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But before I could angrily reprimand her, I took a look outside the window. My god. The mountains were even more majestic than I thought they would be. Chiseled and angular, the white peaks stood out distinctly against the greyish sky. Turns out a nice Venezuelan couple had seen me sleeping and had told Nat to wake me up lest I miss out on the view. I’m so glad they did. Don’t you just love the kindness of strangers some times? As Nat and I sat there watching the snow-capped peaks roll by. I had a good feeling about how the rest of our day would turn out.

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Once we got to Potrerillos, we stumbled around until we found the tourism center, a little hut near the base of a series of rusty hills. With map in hand, we headed off to hike around the lake. The clouds had cleared to reveal a brilliantly blue sky that served as the perfect backdrop for the red earth. I felt so calm and so at ease as we trekked along the Mars like terrain keeping the Andes to our right and the peaceful lake to our left. How lucky we are to have this planet, I thought to myself.

After about an hour of walking, we found the perfect spot to plop down and finally crack open our wine. With mugs full of chardonnay Nat and I sat and just took it all in. On paper, we didn’t really do much. Really, we were just sitting on the edge of a lake. But the beauty of travelling with good company (and aided by good wine) is that sometimes doing nothing leads to memories that feel like everything.

In an ode to Argentine wine, Nat and I somehow invented wine yoga and ended up taking these hilarious pictures. We sat on the shore for hours trying laughing, chatting, and otherwise making fools of ourselves. It felt like the entire lake was ours and that the Andes were for our eyes only (this is probably why we both felt comfortable relieving ourselves behind bushes – pro-tip, always pee downhill). But after a blissful couple of hours, the sun started to set and we realised that we had to catch the bus home. Wistfully, we packed up our wine and cookies and said goodbye to the lake. However, Potrerillos still had one more surprise in store for us: a fiery sunset over the Andes.

As we walked to the bus stop, we constantly found ourselves stopping to stare at what seemed to be a neon glow from behind the snowy mountains. Shades of purple, pink, and orange, danced like flames behind the white peaks. We were speechless.

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As we boarded the bus back to Mendoza, I took a moment to look back on the past 48 hours of my life. I had pulled an all-nighter to fly here, stayed at my first hostel, had more wine than I should have, reaffirmed my mural obsession, invented lake-side wine yoga, and had seen the sun set over the Andes. How spoiled am I, I thought, before I closed my eyes, and in classic Rachel-in-Mendoza fashion, passed out on the bus. 

Photo credits to the lovely Nat Yang. Follow her on Instagram @nat_yang_

That one time I went to a BA drag bar…

Latin America gets a bad rep for sexism. Many point to machismo culture as one of the main factors in inhibiting gender equality. I don’t think that I’ve spent enough time here in order to really say anything definitive about the state of machismo culture in Argentina. I am also very aware of the fact that as a visible foreigner, my experience of the local culture will always be somewhat filtered. Though I’ve gained a better understanding of the political status of women in this country through my internship with ELA, I still have a lot to learn about what it is like to be an Argentine women.

Upon arriving, I was expecting the city’s incredible boliches to be one of the places where I could really observe machismo culture up close and personal. And while there have been a couple moments in boliches where I’ve been approached creepily (this one guy stroked my hair – not a cute look), I can’t really say that it was any more sexist than a club in Hong Kong or a frat party in Cambridge. In fact, I can actually report the opposite after a great experience that I had at a very special boliche just last week.

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Every Thursday, Niceto Club in Palermo turns into the aptly named Club 69, Buenos Aires’ premier drag club. It’s not hard to get in. One simply has to sign up online with an email address in order to get on “the list” so Nat and I decided to check it out last Thursday. Not going to lie, even though I had literally just typed in my email online an hour before, it felt super cool to be able to march to the front of the line and say “Hola, me llamo Rachel Chiu, estoy en la lista” (Hi, my name is Rachel Chiu, I’m on the list *insert optional hair-flip).

The interior of Club 69 consists of a long bar, a large dance floor, a balcony, and a stage with flashing strobe lights. What really set Club 69 apart though was that there were these incredible drag queens stationed on the balcony fiercely posing to the trance beat. It was really just a taste of what was to come.

At 2:00am, the performance began in proper. The theme that night was very Little Mermaid inspired and these gorgeous, fishnet clad, red wig wearing, shell bra rocking, snorkel donning, dancers were completely bewitching the audience from the stage. Other than the Hasty Pudding show back at Harvard, this was my first experience dipping my toes into drag culture. I must admit that I’m not very knowledgable of the importance of drag culture and it’s relationship with LGBTQ movements. I need to read up on this. What I do know though, and what I experienced that night, is the fact that there is something deliciously subversive about a group of gorgeous men in sky-high heels, all incredibly confident in their own bodies and their own sexualities, dancing around a stage in front of an adoring crowd.

But aside from the wonderful rupture of socially imposed gender norms, the drag show was just a sheer display of talent. Any one of these drag queens could have been on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance. And no, this isn’t the mojitos talking. Do you think it’s easy looking so sexy while wearing a snorkel? I was so mesmerised by the amount of energy they brought to every routine and the spontaneity behind every improvisation. Everything about the performance worked. The set design: fabulous. The music: so hip, so cool, so edgy. The vibes: so positive, so free, so loud.

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I think what’s powerful about drag culture is that it is so unapologetic. And when it’s done as well as it was at Club 69, it is a great showcase of dance, personality, and, of course, pride. I bet you didn’t know that Argentina was actually the first Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage and the tenth world-wide. I certainly didn’t before coming here. This progressiveness really shows at a place like Club 69 where the crowd was visibly LGBTQ friendly.

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Thanks for a great night Club 69!

I can safely say that this show/club/rave was one of my best night-life experiences so far. And in truth, it was one of the most interesting and empowering experiences from a feminist perspective from my time in Argentina thus far. I am in the process of dissecting the generalised Latin American stereotypes about sexism in this part of the world and while there are certainly fights that must be fought here, I have thankfully had the privilege of experiencing other moments of female empowerment as well. These moments include: that time I watched women taking care of each other on the subway, that time I was inspired by feminist street art, that time I bonded with my host mom over good food and the importance of motherhood, and, last but certainly not least, that one time I went to a Buenos Aires drag bar.

That one time I almost biked into a canal…

No prize for guessing the location of this particular memory correctly. In the list of thing-that-are-so-Dutch, bicycles and canals rank up there with tulips and windmills. incidentally, the latter feature in this story as well.

I was travelling with two of my dearest friends, Balim and Sunaina. We had decided to skip American Thanksgiving in favour of a trip to Amsterdam. We were dedicated to getting as much out of the Dutch experience as possible. After checking off Rembrandt and stroopwafles, bikes and windmills were in order. We decided to pass through Rotterdam in order to reach Kinderdijk, windmill capital of the Netherlands.

Now, at the time, I was the first to admit that I was pretty Type A. Ok. Very Type A. Make-my-bed-every-morning-type Type A. Consequently, I had planned our trip to Kinderdijk to a tee: walk to the train station, train to Rotterdam, ferry to just outside Kinderdijk, bike to the windmills, repeat on the way back. Simple! Luckily for me, the Netherlands as a country is just about as Type A as it gets. The infrastructure: amazing!

The three of us easily followed my plan and made it to Rotterdam. We had some time to walk around this very cool and industrial city before hopping on our ferry.

After hopping on the ferry, we were making good time to Kinderdijk. So far so good. We were having an (type) A+ day! We hopped off at our spot and walked over to the bike rental store. Alas! Despite all my planning the store was closed for the season. I was a little annoyed but don’t worry, I didn’t spontaneously combust right there and then. My particular brand of type A also includes A for Adaptability. Unfazed, the three of us set out to walk to the windmills instead.

Is there anything lovelier than a nice walk on a beautiful day with friends? Yes. A nice walk plus a hearty meal. After hiking along for quite a while, we stopped in a little pub in order to quell our growling stomachs. And, as luck would have it, the pub also rented out bicycles. Don’t you just love it when things work out?

After our little meal, we each hopped on and did our best impressions of effortlessly chic Dutch bike riders (with varying degrees of success – no surprises as to who was the least graceful). We biked for about ten minutes before finally reaching what we had trekked all this way to see: the stunning windmills of Kinderdijk. We had made it!

The three of us excitedly peddled up to the path that would take us in and amongst the mills. We zipped up the land exhilarated at the fact that we were finally here. Now, they say that you never forget how to ride a bike. While this is true, you can certainly be a little rusty after not doing it for a while – a fact that normally wouldn’t be a problem save for the fact that I was surrounded by canals on both sides. This by itself is also not a problem. What really screwed me over were my millennial tendencies. The lovely Balim was right in front of me and she had mastered the art of biking with one hand while taking photos on her phone with the other. Anything you can do I can do better, I thought.

Wrong.

Feet peddling wonkily, handle turning wildly, and hand flailing pointless, I looked less like a effortless Dutch girl and more like a toddler who had just graduated from training wheels to a “big girl bike”. I somehow managed to plunge my hand into my coat pocket and pulled my phone out. Never had I been more frustrated with my lock screen. Suddenly, I careened off the path and had to put both feet down in order to stop myself, phone and all, from plunging into a canal. I stopped seconds away from being drenched in weeds, mill water, and embarrassment. I learned my lesson. Live in the moment. Bike now – pics later.

I caught up to the other two and pretended like nothing happened. Not that they would have cared – they were two busy being mesmerised by the rosy sunset that was happening before our eyes. As we turned around to head back the way we came, the sky was slowly painted different shades of pink and orange. Sunset’s are natures version of HD TV. Never static, the colours faded into one another with each passing minute being somehow more beautiful than the last. We were speechless.

While peddling along in silence, I reflected on yet another lesson I had learned that day. Sometimes, the most Type A and thorough plans fall through for a reason. Had we rented the bikes from the ferry stop, we would have come and gone too early to witness the silhouettes of the windmills against the beautiful magenta sky. We would have completely missed the beautiful show that mother nature had put on for us. It was as if She herself had closed the first bike rental shop in order to ensure that we would arrive at the mills at the perfect time of day.

When we got back and returned our bikes, we realised that we had in fact missed the last ferry back. Somehow wiser and decidedly more chill than I was this morning, I laughed off the scheduling error and simply asked a local how we could get back to Rotterdam. She pointed us to a bus stop where the three of us waited patiently, still savouring the last of the ever-changing sky.

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A fiery sky and a perfect day

The whole experience is truly one that I will never forget. I wouldn’t say that I am no longer Type A. Nor would I say that I’ve turned my back on my picture-taking millennial roots (as exhibited by all the pics that I ended up with in spite of my near disaster with the canal). However, I do find myself putting the phone down more and living more in the moment and I would now call myself Type A-. I still make my bed everyday and my Google calendar is as color-coordinated as ever. But whenever I miss a bus or take a wrong turn, instead of freaking out, I remember the sunset, the windmills, and that one time I almost biked into a canal.

That one time my dad vomited in the Great Barrier Reef…

You know what, I’m just going to leave it at that. The title definitely speaks for itself.

I am however very excited to announce that I will be back in Australia in mid-August to run the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) conference in Sydney. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve glowed up a bit since I was last in this country.

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Excited to have more adventures down under and will be posting about them here!

In the meantime, here are some photos from last year’s Asia conference held in Hong Kong (the greatest city ever):

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*Featured image sourced from Flickr

That one time I was naked in Nafplio…

That one time…

Most of the world’s best stories start with the same four words: “Remember that one time…?”. Say these four words out loud and I’ll bet that your mind fills in the blank the same way google suggested answers pop up in your web browser. This column is dedicated to some of my “that one time” moments. Some (most) of these moments are embarrassing, some are hilarious, some are truly moving, and all of them are truly memorable.


That one time I was naked in Nafplio

Archaeological evidence, and this video by Buzzfeed’s the Try Guys, have proven that the Ancient Greeks were rather fond of doing many activities in the nude. Wrestling, running, dancing, you name it. It would appear that our current conceptions of nudity and public decency are quite different from that of our ancient Greek counterparts.

So, it only seems fitting that I would find myself butt naked on a public beach while studying abroad in Nafplio, Greece.

I can safely say that my five weeks in Greece with a Harvard study abroad program were some of the happiest of my life. As I write this, it’s hard to believe that this time last year I had yet to experience the joy of travelling and studying around Greece with a group of then-strangers who I would now consider some of my best friends. It’s amazing how much bonding occurs during long bus rides, hungover museum tours, and meals consisting of endless amounts of feta cheese.

We bonded to the point that the idea of midnight skinny dipping together really didn’t phase me at all. And so, one night, after a couple swigs from plastic bottles of wine  (still better than Yellowtail), we all trooped towards the beach, stripped down to our birthday suits, and ran screaming into the cool Mediterranean waters.

There’s something very freeing about skinny dipping. While submerged in the water with nothing to separate me from the waves, I felt a profound sense of contentment. Like many, I’ve had moments of doubt where my body image really takes a hit. Late night pizza and the freshman fifteen really hit me hard and I’ve struggled with maintaining a healthy lifestyle ever since going to college.

But in that moment, naked beneath the waves and the stars, I came to the realisation that a body is really just a body. I was drunk on self-love and on the sheer ridiculousness of it all (and let’s not forget the wine). I felt fully comfortable in my own skin and nothing more.

There are plenty of other moments of great happiness from my time in Greece that I hope to share here soon. For now though, here are some photos of my favourite memories from my time there. Luckily for you, and for everyone else on that trip for that matter, there are no photos of that one time we embraced Ancient Greek tradition and bared it all under the Mediterranean moonlight.

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While I don’t have pics of us skinny dipping, THIS exists and is arguably more shameful than anything to do with public nudity.

That one time I became a crazy cat lady…

That one time…

Most of the world’s best stories start with the same four words: “Remember that one time…?”. Say these four words out loud and I’ll bet that your mind fills in the blank the same way google suggested answers pop up in your web browser. This column is dedicated to some of my “that one time” moments. Some (most) of these moments are embarrassing, some are hilarious, some are truly moving, and all of them are truly memorable.


That one time I became a crazy cat lady

I didn’t think it would come to this. Not so soon at the very least. After all, I’m a young, good looking (?), adventurous traveler, on a trip to “discover yourself” and the world. And yet here I was, sipping matcha out of a dainty teacup, and completely surrounded by cats, the only meaningful contact I’ve had in weeks. I’ve found myself in one of Tokyo’s famous cat cafes and I’m asking yourself, is this my final form?

On a recent trip to Tokyo, I somehow convinced my parents that we had to go to a cat cafe. Mom, as always, was game. Dad on the other hand took some convincing.

“If we see one we’ll go,” he said, “but I’m not going to walk around specifically just to find one.” As luck would have it, we saw one in Shinjuku. And so we went. You know, it was a “if you build it, we will come” sort of deal.  The Mocha Cat Cafe was complete with food, drinks, and of course, cats. The whimsical spot was a great respite from the overwhelming hordes of people and the big city vibes of Japan’s biggest metropolis. Upon entering, we took off our shoes, paid a time-based entrance fee, and found ourselves in a incredibly cute little space with a literal tree of cats.

To my slight disappointment though, the feline stars of the show barely looked up to acknowledge me. I suppose they’re used to the attention and frankly don’t give a fuck. Nonetheless, I was enchanted and found myself trying to draw as many of the kitties to me, stroking, patting, and bringing out my best “baby talk”.

Though the world’s first cat café opened in Taipei in 1998, the concept really blossomed in Japan and is now engrained in Tokyo culture. Now don’t jump to the conclusion that this is just a Hello Kitty fetish gone too far. Cat cafes make sense in a city notorious for small apartments, pet-forbidding landlords, and lonely people. There’s a cat café for everyone in this city. There are some that specialize in obscure breeds, in fat cats (hopefully just referring to the cats and not the customers), and even in ex-stray cats. Some cafes even create online profiles for their feline residents, complete with headshots and baby kitty pics that put your Tinder page to shame. PETA freaks can rest easy knowing that every cat café in Japan is required to have a license and is regulated by the country’s Animal Treatment and Protection Law.

Strict regulations have not stopped cat cafes from opening at an astonishing rate, and honestly, after about five minutes in one of these magical little establishments, I totally understood why. There’s a simple joy in being a crazy cat lady, even if just for an hour or so. As I left, I felt revitalized. And yet I wondered, was that just a brief break from the real world? Or was it a dry-run for the inevitable?

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Three happy Chius post-cat lady experience!

That one time I joined a cult

That one time…

Most of the world’s best stories start with the same four words: “Remember that one time…?”. Say these four words out loud and I’ll bet that your mind fills in the blank the same way google suggested answers pop up in your web browser. This column is dedicated to some of my “that one time” moments. Some (most) of these moments are embarrassing, some are hilarious, some are truly moving, and all of them are truly memorable.


That one time I joined a cult 

You know, I never really got the hang of the Spanish imperative until I found myself in a dark room with strobe lights and pounding music.

Let me wind up a little.

Here’s a little grammar refresher for those of you who have repressed the memory of taking the SAT: the imperative mood is a gramatical mood that forms commands. Basically, every time your roommate tells you to “shut up!” (¡cállate!), or your grandma tells you to “eat more!” (¡come más!), they’re using the imperative. This mood was always one of the conjugations that I kind of just glazed over during Spanish class. It’s not that hard to form, and I just gave up on the irregulars. In short, I never really gave the imperative its full due. That is, until I joined a cult.

Given how commanding these words are by their very nature, they’re perfect for any sort of cult-like activity:

“¡Empuja, empuja!” “Push! Push!”

Her voice rang in my ear as I forced my poor legs to keep going. Push! Push!

“¡Pon más peso!” “Increase the weight (resistance)!”

Loathing her, I twisted the knob to the right making my thighs labor all the more intensely with each pedal.

Yup. I joined the cult that is spinning.

While not quite Soul Cycle, the spinning classes at In Out Gym certainly do the trick. My first spin class was quite the experience. I walked in a couple minutes early feeling apprehensive, only to feel even more nervous after seeing some spandex-clad-protein-shake-chugging super stars already on their bikes. Honestly, I was just planning on winging it. So, I just tucked myself into a corner on a bike that more or less seemed to be adjusted for me. Actually, that’s a lie. I tried adjusting my bike but I was too weak to even twist the adjusting knobs but I didn’t want to switch bikes like a fool. In my defence, the knobs were rusty.

Then, Sabrina, cult leader and avid fan of the imperative, walked in.

“¡Vamos chicas, empiecen!” “Let’s go ladies, START!”

Ok, I said to myself. They say you never forget how to ride a bike. And I mean come on! This is a stationary bike. How hard can it be? In fact, for the first couple of minutes I was feeling pretty good about myself. But APPARENTLY, I was doing everything wrong. Sabrina took one look at my form and quickly said “¡Para!” “Stop!”.

Sabrina came over and helped me adjust my straps and pushed my handles to the right height. She then showed me how to hold my arms, elbows in and at 90 degree angles with your shoulders when in a leaning forward standing position. She then went back to her bike and proceeded to completely destroy me.

Now, the reason why spinning classes have often been compared to cults is that in the midst of the pain, and the sweat (so much sweat), and the abusive yelling, and the lights, and the music, everyone actually really enjoys themselves. Was I destroyed? Yes. Did I absolutely love it? Also yes.

As Elle Woods once said, “endorphins make you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands!”. Alternatively, “endorphins make you happy, and happy people keep spinning!”. Like I said in my last post, I’m trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle here in the land of asado (barbecue), alfajores (two cookies glued together by dulce de leche), and malbec (beautiful wine). I’m also sincerely trying to improve my Spanish. So, ¿por qué no los dos? The cult that is spinning seems to really be doing both for me at the same time.

*A note about the pic. Sadly, there are no gross and sweaty photos of me at la clase de spin. However, doesn’t this cool mural that I found in Palermo Soho look kinda cult-y? Yes? No? Oh well, I tried.