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Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam • Travel with Mei and Kerstin

Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam



It was raining cats and dogs when we arrived in Halong Bay. When we left Hanoi earlier that day, I had no idea we would need 4 hours to reach the Gulf of Tonkin. In Europe, we would have needed only 2 hours to reach a destination of 170 kilometers. But in Vietnam, things were a bit different, especially back in 2014.


Are we on a highway? Oh yes, of course this is one of the most popular highways in Northern Vietnam. Our guide Than sounded proud to be a Hanoi native. So, you cannot drive faster than 65-70 kilometers per hour on this highway? No, no. Not faster! The road is in a bad condition, there are too many motorbikes. And lots of holes. Look, look, here! As our guide pointed at a pothole, our driver suddenly hit the brake. And then accelerated again after bypassing the depression and a few motorbikes hunting from right and left.



You see over there? Now Than was pointing at roadworks in the distance. In a few years, there will be a new highway. Maybe in 2018, you can drive to Halong Bay in only 2 hours. Imagine, you will win 2 hours for one way! You won’t have to sleep in Halong Bay, when you visit us again in a few years. You can make a quick day trip to Halong and come back to Hanoi in the evening. You will save a lot of money and see more of Hanoi!


I looked at Kerstin and we both shot our guide a polite smile. I resisted the urge to explain that we wanted to stay a night in Halong Bay. That we didn’t like to rush when traveling. But I decided to change the subject and ask him about Hanoi’s architecture…


It is still raining, please wait in the “waiting room”. What waiting room, we asked. Oh, the room where you wait for me! I go get the tickets for your boat trip. And you wait here in the room, OK? When we walked into the “waiting room”, a brouhaha of dozens of different languages filled our ears. Hundreds of tourists were sitting and standing in the hall. Americans, French, Brits, Russians, Chinese, Germans… Despite the rain, the heat was still palpable. And in this jam-packed hall, sweat was running down everyone’s neck.


Do you think we’ll be on the same boat as all the tourists here? I sensed Kerstin’s worried tone and didn’t know what to answer. Well, I hope it will stop raining soon. Or what view of Halong Bay will we get?


Victory Star Junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


I wasn’t done worrying when Than’s smiling face popped up behind our shoulders. Here, look, I have your tickets! We can go now. He pushed open the misted glass door and held up a rainbow colored umbrella over us. For a moment, I wondered if the travel agency revealed to all our private guides that we’re a lesbian couple. Clutched to our rainbow umbrella, we followed Than down to the dock. As we boarded the Victory Star Junk Boat, I swiftly heard my father’s voice in my head: never sleep on a boat! Never go on a cruise!


When my family fled Vietnam in December 1978, they became boat people. For eight months, they were “prisoners at sea”, sitting like sardines on the Tung An freighter, off the coast of Manila. Before being moved to Tara Island for four more months, waiting to be resettled overseas.


I was not on that ship. I was not part of the boat people. I was not a Vietnamese refugee, for I was born in Luxembourg a few years later. But growing up, I kept hearing my family’s creepy stories on the sea. My fear of the ocean could never be compared to that of my family’s, nor other Vietnamese boat people’s thalassophobia. However, the terror of a possible death in an ocean was great enough to make me swear I would never get on a cruise.



But then, the idea of spending a night on a boat, feasting on the spectacular seascape of limestone pillars, really tickled me. After all, it was just one night. Aboard a luxurious five-star junk, with only 32 cabins… absolutely human-scale and safe. And it’s not in a big scary ocean, but in a bay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site to be exact.


Are you OK? Kerstin shot me a worried look, snapping me out of my daydream. I grinned bravely and we entered our cabin. Our luggage was already waiting for us, next to an ebony bed. The sea breeze waltzed with the gilded curtains and uncovered a private balcony. I walked over to close the window and caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a sunbeam, fighting its way through the dissipating grey clouds.


Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


When you come from a country as Lilliputian as Luxembourg, chances are that you get to hear welcoming words followed by an exclamation mark. Sometimes by a question mark. But usually an exclamation mark: Oh, you’re from Luxembourg! That’s unusual! How rare to meet someone from such a tiny country! But then, when you really come from a country as small as Luxembourg, you’re probably used to these exclamation marks. We usually simper, nod our head and say nothing more. That’s exactly what we did when the waiter of the restaurant onboard led us to our table.


Each couple had a dedicated table. Each table showcased the national flag of the guests’ country. All the other couples had a flag made of fabric. Ours was made of paper. Clearly it had just been printed less than an hour ago. I hope this is the right flag? The waiter asked nervously, before pulling out another red-white-blue flag from his pocket. Kerstin laughed out loud and said: No worries! This is the right flag. The one you’re holding in your hand is that of the Netherlands. They’re similar, but the blue stripe on the flag of Luxembourg is lighter. Oh yes, I see now! The waiter giggled, nodded his head a few times and finally withdrew to the kitchen.


On the Victory Star Junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


The rain stopped after lunch. When we were getting ready to visit Vung Vieng fishing village, the sky was clearing up. The sunbeam that I’d seen earlier finally managed to find its way through the clouds.


From our junk boat, we climbed into a speedboat which brought us to a floating platform in the middle of Halong Bay. There, four by four we climbed into a bamboo boat, welcomed by a slender lady in a conical hat. When a couple of baby-boomers settled down behind us, the boat started to sway.


Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


The noise of their orange life jackets squeezed between each other and against the vessel’s rim made us edgy. Is the lady strong enough to row our boat? Kerstin whispered in my ear that perhaps we should help her. What? To row? As I turned around, I was even more worried to see the face of an elderly lady hidden under the hat. But when our bamboo boat started to glide on Halong Bay’s emerald waters, she rowed faster and faster, overtaking the other boats.


None of us spoke. We were all savoring the sound of the wavelets pushing against our tiny boat. And marveling at numerous caves inside conical peaks, arches between towers made of limestone and hundreds of virgin islets and uninhabited islands…


Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


The peace and quiet of Halong Bay ceased as soon as our boat approached the Hang Sung Sot caves. Hundreds of tourists were lining up at the grotto’s entrance. We were told to queue up behind them. The family of four in front of us were too polite to not let a group of French students jump the queue. Kerstin and I both agreed that they must be British. Or Buddhists. Or perhaps they didn’t want to offend any representative of France, since it was the French who discovered this cave in 1901?


Our British friends seemed to be familiar with speleology. Since Kerstin is a big fan of grottoes and caves, we decided to follow them for a while, listening to the father as he explained to his teenage son how the karst features were formed. We stopped more often than the other visitors but moved past those who were taking selfies with a massive rock formed as a phallus and lit by a pink spotlight.


Hang Sung Sot Caves in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


The trip back to the Victoria Star Junk took place on a motorboat. It was shorter and faster. Still, I missed our lady friend who brought us to the cave. And regretted that we had not given her more tips for her hard work. A few hours later, we kept talking about her when we settled down on the upper deck. We guessed about her age, her name, the number of hours she had to row in a day, the number of passengers she had carried on her boat…


Slowly, the sun was setting across Halong Bay. Soft pink clouds settled above the faint outline of the limestone islets.


Sunset in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


When I woke up at 5am the next morning, the pastel colored sky from the previous evening was replaced by hues of midnight blue. But on the horizon, I spotted a hint of orange. Catching a sunrise has always been a challenge for me. As a night owl, I get creative when the world goes to sleep. Kerstin always says that I write the best stories when the clock strikes midnight. So, I get to watch a sunrise only once in a blue moon.


Standing on our private balcony, I kept my eyes on the orange tinge, which soon turned into flaming red. It slowly stretched across Halong Bay, revealing one by one the many limestone pinnacles, looming out of the water. Fog patches began to dissolve. But the world remained bathed in silence. Kerstin discreetly joined me on the balcony. Together, we were glued to this blissful spectacle. A daily spectacle that is often overlooked…



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Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com

Sunrise in Halong Bay, Vietnam © Travelwithmk.com


Freedom at the Dune du Pilat • Travel with Mei and Kerstin

Freedom at the Dune du Pilat


Mei turned down the volume when we almost reached the Arcachon Bay. I was going to make a right turn to head towards the town of Arcachon, when I suddenly spotted the road sign “Dune du Pilat”. I hit the break. A dune? What could that be? Mei quickly unfolded the paper map on her lap. Her index finger moved feverishly across the map. Dune, Dune, Dune… I can’t find a Dune on this frigging map!


Mei was getting impatient… and so was I, as I kept checking in the rear-view mirror whether a car was approaching or not. Suddenly, she looked at me. You know what? Let’s just check it out! She turned up the volume, I hit the gas, and off we drove towards the mysterious dune.


A couple of kilometers further, another road sign led us to an outdoor parking hidden in the pine forest. A few remote cars seemed stranded on the deserted parking lot.


photo credit: Archigeek Dune du Pyla via photopin (license)


Should we bring a bottle of water? I knew that Mei usually gets thirsty out of the blue, at the most unexpected place and time. So, I always carry a bottle of water wherever we go. Nah! We probably won’t stay long… Our tiny purses slung across the shoulders, we walked down a narrow cobblestone path through the forest.


From afar, a tetchy metallic sound filled the air. The dissonant jingle reminded me of my childhood and yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on it… The further we trekked, the louder the clapper. When we caught sight of a row of wooden cabins, I finally recognized the sound. Mei looked at me and said: those are wind chimes, right?


Set at the brink of the pine forest, the wooden cabins were actually souvenir shops lining up like solitary sentinels. Most of them were closed. Bonjour! A lady, dressed like a gypsy, came out of nowhere and invited us to take a look at her store. We suddenly felt transported to an eerie parallel world. Or maybe it was the clatter of the dozens of wind chimes hanging outside her storefront. On vend aussi des boissons si vous voulez. Parce que là-haut vous ne trouverez pas grand-chose à boire.


I looked at Mei. Oops! Now that she knew there was no water “up there” (wherever that was?), I was sure she was going to say that she suddenly got very thirsty! In fact, I didn’t even wait until she uttered the desire to hand the lady 1€ for the bottle of water. Mei shot me a huge smile, followed by a shy kiss on my cheek…


photo credit: R3G15 Arcachon via photopin (license)


We continued our trek, which now pointed uphill. All of a sudden, we both came to a standstill. My jaw dropped as we stood in front of a giant dune. Imagine a wall made of sand reaching for the sky… 50m, 80m, perhaps even 100m high? Oh my goodness, what is that? I turned over to Mei and saw that she was as startled as I was. Well, I guess that’s the Dune du Pilat. And just like that, we both burst out laughing. Out of surprise and out of joy to have followed our guts…


We needed a few minutes to grasp the reality and size of what we were marveling at. We finally advanced to a wooden staircase embedded in the dune. A couple with a toddler also reached the stairs. The husband soon started to breathe heavily and cursed about how steep and strenuous the climb was. Do you think they serve beer up there? His wife didn’t seem happy about the question: How would I know! I told you to bring that stupid cooling box! And did you get the diapers for Marie? Mei and I exchanged meaningful glances but kept our mouths shut.


photo credit: Scalino Arcachon – Lacanau via photopin (license)


Next thing we knew, we arrived at the top of the dune and… stopped dead in our tracks. WOW! Someone led out a cry. It took me a moment to realize that it came from me. We were both so caught off balance that we dropped on the sand.


Sitting on top of the tallest sand dune in Europe, a gigantic yellow bosom nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and an enormous pine forest, I felt like I had reached a milestone in my life.


I had just turned 19 and Mei 20. Adult life had just started for us. We were in love with each other. As I breathed in the salty Atlantic air, I felt a liberating sensation, like a rock falling off my chest. The weight I had been lugging around as a teenager. My own ball and chain filled with guilt, shame and regret. I was the serpent that bursts out of its old skin…




I took Mei’s hand. We went rolling down the sandy slope of the Dune du Pilat towards the ocean. Sky and earth were upside down. Sand was embracing every inch of our skin. I remember us laughing, screaming, maybe trying to sing…


When we reached the beach, I ripped off my shirt and raced to the ocean. I felt the crunching wet sand between my toes, a new energy flowing upward through my legs. Still I ran, throwing myself into the water, into the new blue freedom of being a woman.


As I write these lines looking back at what freedom felt like 17 years ago, I see how corny our story sounds. Like a soap opera from the 1990s. But our discovery of the Dune du Pilat was one of the truthful moments that defined us. This truth set us free.

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Freedom at the Dune du Pilat: Europe's tallest sand dune in Southwestern France © Travelwithmk.com

Freedom at the Dune du Pilat, France © Travelwithmk.com

Freedom at the Dune du Pilat: Europe's tallest sand dune in Southwestern France © Travelwithmk.com

Not quite normal yet – My Two Mums

Not quite normal yet

Last week our new normal changed ever so slightly. With the government announcing new guidelines for lock down and new procedures being placed in public places, we decided to venture a little further from the house for some exercise.

We are very lucky to live quite local to the coast, so a drive to our local beach isn’t much more than 25 minutes. We hadn’t planned to visit the beach, but with us passing by on other business, we just couldn’t resist setting our feet down on the sand.

We are an outdoor family, being confined to our home for so many weeks has taken it’s toll on all of us. Both Clara and I have a love of the water, her with her paddle board and myself with my kayak. But due to restrictions, we’ve kept our water sport accessories firmly locked in the shed. Where we would normally launch from is incredibly busy due to the changes and warnings to “stay alert”. So a little paddle in the sea is the closest we are going to get to some time on the water for a while.

clara on the beach
paddling on the beach

The little dude was very happy when we told him we were going to go on to the beach for a little bit. We all removed our shoes and almost felt like the fear had gone, for just those first few seconds our feet felt the sand. But gazing across the beach, it was easy to see how it is not quite normal yet. Shops and cafes remained closed, families sat far apart across the sand and it was incredibly quiet for one of the best beaches in the UK.

Beach time
smiles on the beach

Our time on the beach was short. Due to my health issues I am anxious about being out too long at the moment. I don’t want to add to the work our amazing NHS is undertaking at the moment. But we did promise the little dude that we would return at some point. One day our old normal will return and we want to stay safe so we can see it.

LGBTQ+ app MyUmbrella relaunches – Lesbian.com

LGBTQ+ app MyUmbrella relaunches – Lesbian.com

This pandemic has effected every person around the world. We’ve been thinking about what we can do to help during this difficult time. For the first time, the world is on a collective pause, allowing time for reflection/introspection like never before.

As a result we’ve decided to full pivot to be an online platform that provides a creative outlet for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Unlike other platforms, we invite members of the community who want to share their stories the opportunity to do so, by joining our Writers Cohort. Check out some of the featured stories below.

Explore the site now at MyUmbrella.co.

Posted & filed under News.

Tony-nominated Sydney Lucas Joins EPIC for new virtual series – Lesbian.com

Tony-nominated Sydney Lucas Joins EPIC for new virtual series –

EPIC Players Inclusion Company is proud to release their fourth virtual performance, Ring of Keys from the Broadway production of Fun Home. The video features a duet between Tony Nominated Sydney Lucas and EPIC company member Nicole D’Angelo. The performance is part of EPIC’s new virtual performance series, EPIC Sings for Autism, which was started after EPIC’s spring/summer performances were put on hold due to the COIVD-19 Pandemic. The New York City based neuro-diverse theater company created the series so their autistic performers could have a creative outlet and find some normalcy during this time.

Lucas shared what drew her to collaborating with EPIC, “Fun Home has had such a positive impact on so many people. I recognized this very early on and have always felt a responsibility to tell Alison’s story to the best of my ability. Learning that it touched Nicole (D’Angelo) and really spoke to her, touches my heart as well.” She went on to say, “I wanted to raise more awareness about autism because it’s another story that needs to be told, and another group of wonderful people who need to be recognized and acknowledged. After all, Ring of Keys is a song about recognition. Meeting Nicole over ZOOM was extra special and getting to sing Ring of Keys together with her is the cherry on top. Fun Home has taught me that when you invest in matters that have the ability to reach into another’s heart, your heart is all the fuller for it. It’s really a beautiful thing to experience!”

EPIC company member D’Angelo went on to say, “Fun Home is the reason I am in theater, and in many ways saved my life. It was such an honor to perform a song from the first show I ever saw that made me feel like there was a place for me, a queer, socially awkward introvert, on a stage, and to share that performance with Sydney Lucas, who helped to shape and create the musical that means so much to me.”

Ring of Keys from the Broadway Musical Fun Home

Book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, music by Jeanine Tesori. Featuring Nicole D’Angelo and Sydney Lucas.

In an effort to spread some much-needed joy and inspiration, EPIC’s company members,’ which feature artists on the spectrum, will continue to share a series of virtual performances throughout the Spring. Many of the video’s will be in collaborations with Broadway talent. The company would also like to connect with additional Broadway talent who may be interested in working on a virtual performance with EPIC. Interested individuals can contact Aubrie Therrien at aubrie@epicplayersnyc.org

Individuals living with autism and other neuro-diversities have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered many of their essential resources, programs and supports and left them even more vulnerable to anxiety and distress.

Additional Videos from EPIC’s Virtual Performance Series:

A Whole New World from the Broadway Musical Aladdin

Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Tim Rice. Featuring EPIC company member Jordan Boyatt and Telly Leung who played the title role of Aladdin on Broadway. Accompanied by Scott Evan Davis.

YouTube: https://youtu.be/_tfIqUsJ_NA

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/414538753

Who I’d Be from Shrek the Musical!

Performed by EPIC’s Travis Burbee and Henry Houghton, and featuring special Broadway guest, Analise Scarpaci (Lydia Hillard in Mrs. Doubtfire the Musical!/Broadway). Lyrics‎ by ‎David Lindsay-Abaire, and music by ‎Jeanine Tesori.

YouTube: https://youtu.be/SE2Mqi27pnc

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/410846266

If the World Only Knew

This original song was created by award-winning composer and lyricist Scott Evan Davis who also wrote and composed the new musical Indigo, which workshopped on Broadway this past fall. If the World Only Knew was created for the autistic community and was shared with EPIC for their Lincoln Center cabaret.

YouTube: https://youtu.be/9Ch58BdhYzk
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/404823802

EPIC Players — which stands for empower, perform, include and create — is a nonprofit, neuro-diverse theatre company in New York City. Founded in 2016, EPIC seeks to use the performing arts as a vehicle to empower neuro diverse artists and pioneer increased inclusion in the arts. EPIC also provides free performing arts and careers classes for all participants. The company’s productions feature neuro-diverse artists that work in all capacities of theatre including acting, writing, stage management, design and backstage work. Past productions include neuro-diverse adaptations of The Little Prince, The Tempest, Peter & the Starcatcher, Dog Sees God, You’re A God Man Charlie Brown, Little Shop of Horrors, and numerous cabarets as Joe’s Pub, HBO Headquarters and Lincoln Center.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/epicplayersnyc
Instagram: www.instagram.com/epicplayersnyc
Twitter: www.twitter.com/epicplayersnyc

From Malta with Love… Our Unforgettable Memories • Travel with Mei and Kerstin

From Malta with Love… Our Unforgettable Memories


Have you ever heard of the “Malta Convention”? It’s a European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage. Also dubbed the “Valletta Convention” or the “Valletta Treaty”, since it was adopted in Valletta, the capital of Malta. Due to her job, Mei – who is an archaeologist, as you might know – told me a lot about this convention for the last several years. Mainly, because Luxembourg recently ratified this treaty.


Now, you might ask what this treaty, which aims to protect the European archaeological heritage, has to do with our voyage in Malta? Let me spare you the details: it actually isn’t very relevant. Except for the fact that had Mei not mentioned this treaty every single day for the past few years, I probably wouldn’t have suggested to visit Malta.


Our trip only lasted for four days. But when it comes to travel: quality matters, not quantity. Quality and memories. Because we travel to make unforgettable memories…





It was midnight when we landed in Malta. Not a soul lingered in the city. But as we were driving through the city center of Valletta, our jaws dropped at the sight of the countless historical facades ornated with entrancing details. These buildings were gracefully lit with warm yellow lights.


Only the next morning did the Mediterranean sun finally lift the curtain on Valletta’s exuberant architecture. What the previous night had merely augured, was suddenly unveiled. So, we spent the whole day strolling through the narrow alleys of one of the smallest capital-cities in the world: climbing down dozens of limestone staircases, gazing up at the colorful wooden balconies, unmasking features at every corner. Apparently, the trend to build these enclosed balconies started in Valletta around the end of the 17th century. They revealed the owners’ social status.


However, it’s not sure whether these enclosed balconies have an Aragonese, Spanish, Arabic, or Turkish origin. But one thing is sure: the protruding wooden balconies, the heraldic stone-carved emblems, as well as the solitary church chimes render Malta an interactive storybook. We were eager to turn all the pages…





After a long day wandering around the streets of Valletta, we ended up in front of a small public park. When we set eyes on a miniature Greek-styled temple, Mei immediately wanted to visit the inside. It turns out that this neoclassical monument was built in 1810 as a memorial to Sir Alexander Ball. He was a British admiral, very much loved by the Maltese population, when the archipelago was under British rule.


The monument was encircled by palm trees, rearing their feathery crowns proudly. The stone pillars presented here and there colorful dots. At times, we could see the golden gleam of a lizard before it vanished in a crevice. A lazy cat was sunbathing. It squinted at us before turning its attention to the waving neck of an orange tree.


We settled on a bench, letting the light sea breeze play with our hair. As far as the eye could reach, the Grand Harbour stretched out its giant legs. The Lower Barakka Gardens soon became our favorite spot in the city. Each night, its magnetic vibe drew us in.





Malta is recognized for its clean beaches, reputed to be the cleanest in Europe. But most of them are located in the northern part of the archipelago. In the city of Valletta, there is no beach… or is there?


We chose to stay in Valletta, because we intended to explore its cultural and historical sites. We’re not beach persons. The April zephyr is not warm enough for us to take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. But on the second day of our trip, we stumbled upon a narrow staircase just a few steps south of Fort St Elmo. A little kitten licked its paw, then advanced to greet us with a meow. It didn’t let us touch its sandy fur, but looked at us with intent, before walking down two steps. Then it stopped again, turned around slowly and gave us another meow. So, we decided to follow the kitten down the stairs…


A few meters further, we found several boats turned upside down. Scattered all around, tiny colorful cabins had been built on top of the steep cliffs. We assumed they were abandoned fishermen cottages. Little kitty didn’t seem to want us to stop there. It led us further down, until we reached the sea. And there it was: a hidden stone beach, called Wuestenwinds Beach.





A bus ride between Valletta and the city of Mdina lasts about twenty-five minutes. But it took our bus driver only ten minutes, and a few close-call accidents…


Perched atop a hillside and surrounded by lime-green fields and canary flowers, the fortified city of Mdina looks like a fairytale town from afar. But once inside the Silent City, we felt like history truly came alive! Mdina used to be Malta’a capital from its foundation in the 8th century BC until the arrival of the Order of St. John in 1530.



In Antiquity, the town was called Maleth. Then Melite by the Romans, before becoming Mdina, which derives from the Arabic word medina, meaning “a walled city with narrow and maze-like streets”. This description of Mdina is still accurate today. But unlike in the medinas of Tunisia or Morocco, the narrow alleys of this Maltese walled city are absolutely quiet.


Most tourists stay at the entrance gates of the town or visit the famous St Paul’s Cathedral or the French baroque Magisterial Palace. Some of them stroll on the city wall to catch sensational panoramic views of the surrounding areas. But once we walked into the hushed heart of the city, we were all by ourselves. Perfect to take in the timeless quietude. To feel the heat emerging from the sun-kissed walls. And to get lost in the maze of narrow alleyways…





Compared to the chaotic bus ride we took to Mdina, the one to southeastern Malta turned out to be less hectic. We drove sluggishly along the shoreline, past grazing sheep and cattle… soon, we closed our eyes…


But the unexpected beauty of Marsaxlokk woke us up. We had not seen such a picturesque fishing village for a very long time! We felt like stepping on a Greek island. Not crowded, nor touristy. It was almost noon, but we didn’t want to rush to the first restaurant for lunch. We wandered gently through the little fishing village, marveling at the boats’ coloring and names. Finally, we sat down by the water, enjoying the quiet. A few local fishermen were mending their fishing nets. While others were repainting their luzzu boats… probably getting ready for the high season in Malta.



A group of Buddhist monks dressed in bright orange came out of nowhere. Seeing their genuine smile, we imagined they lived in a jungle-temple in Angkor, or perhaps in one of the many wats in Luang Prabang. Even they found Marsaxlokk scenic enough to take a selfie…


By the way, did you know that it was in the bay of Marsaxlokk where the Phoenicians first settled down when they landed in Malta in the 9th century BC? I like it when Mei reveals bits of history. It soothes me. I put my head on her shoulder, and asked her to tell me more… The name of this village sounds complicated. But its meaning is actually quite simple. “Marsa” is the Arabic word for “port”. And “xlokk” is Maltese (pronounced “shlock”) and means “south east”. I thought that this fishing village was called so, because it was located in the southeast of the island. But in fact, “xlokk” is related to the dry southeastern wind dubbed “sirocco”, which blows from the Sahara.



Some say that sunsets are always the same, wherever you go. We don’t agree. They’re never the same. Not even when watched from the same spot. Let alone, from different places. I love the ones we witnessed in Santorini. Mei loves the ones we experienced in San Francisco Bay. Perhaps, sunsets are not linked to places. But to memories. And to feelings of specific moments, as the ones you remember because you held hands, or kissed.


When the last violet sunrays slid across the Upper Barrakka Gardens, a pristine colonnaded garden with fountains and archways, we felt at peace and in love. It was magnificent…





On the last day of our trip in Malta, we had a few hours to spare. Mei wanted to make one last use of her ICOM membership card, which provides her with free access to national museums and historical sites around the world. So, we walked to Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum. While I sat down under a lemon tree to muse and to write, Mei explored the museum. She sent me pictures of the Knights’ final resting place inside a small chapel. As well as of artefacts from the Normans who conquered Malta in the 11th century. And of several wreckages from WWII’s crashed aircrafts. By the way, did you know that Malta gained independence only in 1964?


Restored only recently, the whole complex of Fort St. Elmo is gigantic. The panoramic views of both the Grand Harbour and the Marsamxett Harbour, which the Fort guarded proudly in the 16th century and again during WWII, were well worth the visit, according to Mei. From the top of the fortification, she waved at me as I finished the last verse of my poem. When she joined me under the lemon tree, I thought that this was life as it should be. For once, without a care in the world. Free to stroll around. We took silly selfies. Kissed. Loved. Looked out into the teal Mediterranean Sea and dreamed away our time…

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Is there a doctor … – Lesbian.com

Is there a doctor … – Lesbian.com

By Lee Lynch
Special to Lesbian.com

It’s that time again. I need to find a healthcare provider.

I live in a rural community where there is a large turnover of medical professionals and a constant shortage of qualified staff. The health organization that provides these services seems to have difficulty attracting talent. It’s common knowledge in the communities it covers that it’s a tough employer to work with.

Which isn’t to say there are not entirely competent professionals devoted to their patients and performing at least as well as their big city peers. I’m the one who’s chosen to live where the question, “Is there a doctor in the house?” may well go unanswered.

My primary provider is pursuing the next step in her career—a step at a deservedly higher altitude. She’s a Physician Assistant, but I couldn’t trust someone with a full medical degree more. She’s perfectly straight, yet never blanched when the issue of my queerness came up. Although she was not taking new patients at the time, she graciously made room for my sweetheart in her practice. How will we ever replace her?

Of course, I asked the same thing when my former doctor left. We all loved her. Once, I had to go into her office and the New York Times was up on her computer screen. Bonding moment! Another time, I answered my phone and it was a call from a liberal election phone tree. I recognized my doctor’s voice and she admitted to thinking she probably didn’t need to give me her spiel. Double bonding! Then she was gone.

This year, for the first time, I chose a Medicare Advantage Plan with the aforementioned difficult local health organization. The lure was partial coverage for dental, acupuncture, and vision, bless their hearts. Now I’m limited to the medical providers who are left on their roster after mine departed. Woe is me.

One of my major concerns is finding a gay-friendly person, preferably female. I’ve always taken my chances, but after the phone tree doctor left, I tried Dr. X. Oh my gosh, what a mistake that was both for me and, I later found out, for all her patients and the staff. It’s not difficult to intimidate me and Dr. X was a master at it. She was medical s&m and there I was, a homosexual beneath contempt—and this in the twenty-first century! I mean, you believe what your doctor says, you trust her, you follow her instructions. But Dr. X was just plain mean. She was expert at identifying vulnerabilities and using verbal ice picks to stab them.

So, I’m cautious now. I’m on tip toes. I’ll travel hours to see someone with whom I’ll be compatible.

My retreating PA had some suggestions, but not one of them is taking new patients in this time of COVID19 and rural staff shortages. I’m grateful she was able to rule out a few pairings she knew would be lethal, to either me or to the doc.

Friends recommended a good woman MD, but she’s employed by the Health District and thus, not covered by my plan. Two other recommendations looked excellent, but are not taking new patients.

Facebook can be helpful once in a while. I posted to a local lgbtq and straight page whose members were generous with suggestions. There was a well-recommended P.A., but the contacts, responding to my search for a female provider, expressed uncertainty that the recommended individual was identifying as female.

Meanwhile, our delightful new lesbian neighbors have also been looking for healthcare, and one actually scheduled an appointment with a woman MD in town, then cancelled when the plague hit, so no input there yet.

Do non-gays have this much trouble finding care? And how do other lesbians approach this headache? Should I simply call the clinics and ask if they employ a professional who is gay friendly, wait for the pregnant pause and assurance that everyone is treated equally, and the inevitable willy-nilly listing of doctors who can squeeze us in?

There’s a neat website, out2enroll.org , which has a search engine for gay-friendly doctors. I plugged in my zip code. The response: “No providers match your search. Try removing some search criteria.” Maybe it works in San Francisco, a ten-hour drive from here in good weather.

And then there’s https://www.outcarehealth.org/outlist/. Same response. HRC has a list, but it only includes hospitals for my state—

Our medical center is not listed. I actually noticed, when I signed up for the Advantage Plan, that sexual orientation is not included in its Equal Employment statement.

What’s a dyke to do? What I’ve always done. Make an appointment with an unknown quantity and hope for an open-minded practitioner who thinks gay patients are as valuable and deserving of respect as heterosexuals. She’s out there, it’s just a matter of enduring a Dr. X or two until I find her.

Copyright Lee Lynch May 2020

A Slice of Tibet in Gansu, China • Travel with Mei and Kerstin

Labrang Monastery: A Slice of Tibet in Gansu, China


It was the windshield wiper that woke me up. A familiar sound. And yet out of the ordinary setting. A noise I know so well from my daily life in rainy Luxembourg. And yet unusual. For it had not rained since the day we started our trip along the Ancient Silk Road in scorching hot China. We had left the Bingling Grottoes behind us hours ago. And the pagoda-shaped mosques of Linxia rising amid the setting sun were gone. It was dusk. But where were we now?


Through the gliding raindrops on my window I kept seeing shimmering yellow torches blinking every two seconds. Our car wasn’t advancing very fast. We suddenly approached a yellow vested person holding an orange road sign. Only that it wasn’t a real person. But a reflective puppet… slowing down our car in the middle of a huge road construction work. Another bridge. In the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by mountains, like shadows standing in twilight.


The first images of Xiahe were not very appealing. The town was quiet, dark, and the main street was barely lit up. Our driver turned in circles, and our guide Frank, who was normally calm, seemed to lose his patience. He explained that they couldn’t find a way to cross the bridge. They had never driven to the hotel we chose before…


I noticed a slight accusing tone in Frank’s voice. So, when the car finally stopped in front of a large misted window upon which we read the sign Hotel Nirvana, we were relieved. Knowing that China Highlights always suggests the best hotels according to our budget and travel style, I felt bad for specifically asking to stay at this one. Our main goal is to support local guesthouses or original boutique hotels and to avoid chain hotels. From what we had read from our fellow travelers, Nirvana Hotel seemed to fit the profile perfectly.


Nirvana Hotel in Xiahe, Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com
Nirvana Hotel in Xiahe, Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com


When we stepped inside, the room was full of people – speaking English, Dutch, French, German – gathered around food. The ladies behind the hotel counter seemed busy and stressed. They were both blond and spoke Dutch to each other. Two Eurasian kids ran to one of the ladies to ask something. They also spoke Dutch. Standing in a room full of Europeans, Frank suddenly seemed lost. I was probably the most Asian person he could hang onto. Once he had arranged the check-in for us, he quickly waved us goodnight and said he’d pick us up at 9am.


The next morning, he waited patiently at the door, without us even noticing his presence until we finished breakfast. Or, perhaps we were too busy talking to Clary, the lady of the house. After all, we travel to meet locals. And even if Clary doesn’t look quite local, it was interesting to listen to her story. Why she left the Netherlands to settle in this little Chinese town. How her husband, a native of Xiahe, decided to open Nirvana Hotel, Restaurant and Bar.


When we left the hotel, we were surprised to see how alive the town had turned into. Unlike most towns and cities in China, daylight definitely makes a difference in Xiahe. But then again, were we really still in China?



Xiahe is in fact part of the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Located on the southern part of Gansu Province, it certainly still lies inside the People’s Republic of China. But neither the architecture of this town, nor the food or the population can be characterized as “traditional Chinese”. There are some Hui and Han Chinese living in Xiahe. But the majority are ethnic Tibetans, living in rural and pastoral areas in and around Xiahe. Besides, the county was named Xiahe only in 1928, which literally means “Xia River” in Chinese, referring to the Daxia River which runs through the county. Before 1928, the town was called Sangqu, which is Tibetan and also means “Xia River”.


Your tour starts at 10am. Frank spoke so slowly, that we thought we missed a few informations he might have shared. What tour? Was he not supposed to be our local tour guide? Yes, but you are going to visit the Labrang Monastery, which is the main attraction in this town. A Tibetan monk inside will guide you through the monastery.


So, Frank’s job was merely to bring us to the monastery’s entrance… Before even reaching the entrance, we heard an unusual sound: a perpetual whirr we had never heard before. And the closer we got to the monastery, the louder the clatter. Frank noticed our puzzled look, and explained that the rattling noise came from the prayer wheels. You see: all around the outer wall of the monastery, there’s a 3,5km long corridor of prayer wheels, called the Kora. And it is actually the longest prayer wheel path in the world. Pilgrims who come to the monastery in the early morning, first walk this sacred way clockwise and spin each prayer wheel, before going into the monastery. When all the prayer wheels are spun at the same time, the sound is totally awe-inspiring.



When we stood in front of the huge prayer wheels painted in bright red, Frank asked if we wanted to spin them. But why do pilgrims spin the wheels, we asked. Well, Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels are used since the 4th century. And they were created for the illiterate and those who cannot read the sutra. So, instead of reading a prayer, they can spin a prayer wheel, which has the same effect as reading a sutra. Today, Tibetan Buddhists, who can read sutras, still spin prayer wheels, hoping their efforts will be rewarded in their next life.


Kerstin is an agnostic, while I was raised as a Chinese Buddhist. Should we really spin the prayer wheels too? Would we show a sign of respect and courtesy by doing so? Or would it be considered as inappropriate since we don’t practice Tibetan Buddhism? Frank seemed confused with our question, and decided to change the subject.



Let me tell you a bit about Labrang Monastery. It is home to the most important Tibetan monastery outside of Tibet. And it’s one of the six greatest temples of Gelukpa, also known as the Yellow Hat sect of the Tibetan Buddhism, to which the Dalai Lama belongs. Founded in 1709, Labrang Monastery now houses about 1500 monks, who study daily in one of the six institutes inside the monastery’s precinct.


As we slowly walked to the main square of the monastery, I couldn’t help noticing the fortified appearance of the architecture. Buildings were rectangular. Walls were slightly inclined inward. And windows were trapezoidal. They reminded me of the Inca architecture we saw in Peru, on the other side of the planet…


Labrang Monastery in Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com
Labrang Monastery in Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com


When our tour of the monastery started, my first question to our guide was related to the architecture. The young monk must have wondered why I was more interested in the trapezoidal windows than anything else. Oh, you have good eyes, he laughed. The inclination of the walls and windows are to protect against seismic activity. And do you know why most of the buildings have a flat roof? To keep the heat inside. Because we are on a 3000m high plateau. So, it gets cold in winter. Besides, on a flat roof, it’s also easier to clear the snow.


Oh, and you have certainly also noticed that many buildings are red. Do you know why? The young monk seemed eager to keep explaining. He continued, before we even answered. So, what is the color red for you? I heard Kerstin enumerate love, passion and fire. Seeing our friendly guide smile, I quickly added that red also symbolizes fortune, happiness and luck in Chinese culture. But I suppose there’s another meaning in Tibetan Buddhism? He nodded. For us Tibetans, the color red is associated with Buddha Amitabha. This is also why our robes are red. He looked down on his garment, as if he wanted to make sure it didn’t change color… Red also represents life-force and preservation. And it is sacred. So, buildings with red walls are sacred places that hold and offer life-force to everyone.



But there are also some white buildings in Labrang Monastery… The monk burst out laughing, holding his belly with one hand. I immediately regretted having expressed my thoughts out loud. Yes, yes, you are right, he confirmed. There are also white walls here. White is the color of learning and knowledge. Kerstin supposed that the white buildings were institutes then. Yes, yes, some are monastic colleges; others are residences or common buildings. We don’t just study in schools, but also in our houses.


During the tour, we only visited a few of the eighteen halls and the six institutes. Despite the high altitude, it was scorching hot in Xiahe. We were glad whenever we could enter one of the halls to take shelter from the midday sun. However, filled with Buddha statues, relics, artifacts and thangka, the halls were always illuminated by the dim light of yak butter candles. And yak butter releases an odor so pungent that we couldn’t stay long inside.



When we were ending our visit of the Labrang Monastery, the monks started to chant their last morning prayer. Hundreds of them were sitting in rows. The older ones in the front of the hall; the younger ones in the back rows. All of them were wearing a red robe and a yellow mohawk-shaped hat. As they chanted all together with their deep voice, we felt like entering a trance. The flickering light and the smell of yak butter lamps certainly helped to intensify the state of trance…


Outside the prayer hall, countless black felt boots were scattered on the ground at the entrance. How would the monks recognize and find their shoes after the prayer?


Before we left the Labrang Monastery, our guide offered us one last fact to reflect upon: to study medicine, the monks need fifteen years in total. But philosophy requires at least twenty-five years of learning! You see how important it is to search for the meaning of life and afterlife? This question lingered in my mind for a while. But I’m a historian. Not a philosopher. So, suddenly it occurred to me that our monk-guide didn’t mention much about the history of the Labrang Monastery.



I knew from Thubron Colin’s Shadow of the Silk Road that the monastery housed 4000 monks at its peak. But in the 1920s, many died during numerous battles between the Tibetans and the Hui people (Chinese Muslims) who lived in the region. When the Tibetans rose against China in 1959, a lot of monks were arrested and expulsed. The library which held thousands of sutras were burnt down. And the Cultural Revolution, which started a few years later (1966-1976), also destroyed many buildings and temples of Labrang. It was only in 1980 that the monastery reopened its doors.


None of these events were recounted by the young monk who guided us through the lamasery. Did he choose not to talk about this? Or was he not allowed to?


I got my answer a few hours later, during our short horse ride through the vast highland meadow of the Sangke Grasslands. The two Tibetan teenagers who led us through the picture-perfect prairie didn’t speak English. I understood them a bit. But my Mandarin was unfortunately too bad for them to figure out what I asked. They used their smartphone to translate our questions and translated their opinions back in English.



We wanted to know if they were Tibetan or Chinese. A simple question… with an underlying meaning. The boys clearly caught our message between the lines, and giggled nervously. Without using his translation app, the eldest of them said in his broken English: we are Tibetans. So, we are Chinese. But if talk too much, then… krik! He made a gesture with his hand, as if he were slitting his throat.


When we finally reached the top of a mount, the four of us stood still and stared at the lamasery complex. With its gilded roofs and spires gleaming in the afternoon sun, Labrang Monastery looked majestic and almost peaceful. Somewhere in the surrounding emerald mountains, a bunch of vultures circled in the sky.


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Labrang Monastery: A slice of Tibet in Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com

Labrang Monastery: A slice of Tibet in Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com

Labrang Monastery: A slice of Tibet in Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com

Labrang Monastery: A slice of Tibet in Gansu, China © Travelwithmk.com

Anderson Cooper grateful to surrogate for his son Wyatt

Anderson Cooper grateful to surrogate for his son Wyatt

CNN’s Anderson Cooper is the proud father of a newborn baby boy. Wyatt Morgan Cooper was born on Monday weighing 7 pounds 2 ounces.

Cooper, 52, shared photos of Wyatt at the end of Thursday’s televised weekly global town hall on the coronavirus pandemic.

Cooper said in his on-air announcement that “I never thought it would be possible to have a child, and I am so grateful for all those who have paved the way, and for the doctors and nurses and everyone involved in my son’s birth.”

“Most of all,” he said, “I am eternally grateful to a remarkable surrogate who carried Wyatt, watched over him lovingly, tenderly, and gave birth to him.”

The news came as a big surprise to CNN viewers, as Cooper had not spoken publicly about his plans to have a baby.

What it’s like living in New York City during COVID-19

deserted brooklyn bridge

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I live under the flight path of JFK Airport, and I am used to hearing the roaring noise of planes descending over Brooklyn as they are making their way to New York’s largest airport – usually every few minutes. Right now, however, I hear barely any planes, and what used to be a familiar sound now startles me every time it occurs. The sound of airplanes over New York City has become rare – which is something that I didn’t think was even possible.empty brooklyn streetEmpty street in Brooklyn

But that’s only one of the many changes that I’m experiencing in New York City right now, one of the many things I am getting used to as I am adjusting to what’s referred to as “the new normal” by the media. When I leave my apartment to go grocery shopping, I don’t double check anymore if I have my wallet and my lip balm – instead, I am checking if I have my face mask and my hand sanitizer. I didn’t even carry hand sanitizer on me on a daily basis until only a month ago. And the only reason I even own a small bottle of hand sanitizer is because a friend of mine happened to find a few bottles in her parents’ pantry (finally, their hoarding of pretty much everything for an “emergency” was paying off.). Because a month ago, it was absolutely impossible to find hand sanitizer anywhere in New York City.living in New York City during COVID-19On 10 March, a friend of mine arrived in New York; she was visiting from Europe. When she boarded her flight in Spain, she didn’t expect to be scrambling to get on a flight back to Europe just ten days later – cutting her 3-week U.S. trip considerably short. But when she arrived, New York City was still “open”. We were able to do some sightseeing, we had dinner at TimeOut Market, we climbed the Vessel, we walked the High Line. On 12 March, I took the subway after work to meet my friend to see a Broadway show when I got a text message that all Broadway theaters were closing until further notice – effective immediately. I was in disbelief. All Broadway theaters closed.. had that ever happened before? I knew what this meant: the city would shut down completely, it wouldn’t stop at the theaters.nyc shuttered galleryAnd within days, everything in New York City changed. In less than a week, the entire city had transformed: TimeOut Market closed two days after we ate there, the High Line closed, all the museums closed. Schools and universities closed. On 15 March it was announced that all restaurants would be closing on 17 March (with the option to stay open for take-out and delivery).living in New York City during COVID-19When I walked through my neighborhood the day after restaurants and bars closed, it already felt considerably emptier. New Yorkers were bracing themselves for a “shelter in place” order, which basically meant a lockdown of NYC. Most of the shops were already closed. Back then, New York City had “only” around 800 Coronavirus cases, and a handful deaths. A week later, New York City had 15,000 Coronavirus cases.

Now, four weeks later, walking through my neighborhood feels strange. New York has been on lockdown since 20 March. All the shops have their roll-down gates down, barely any people are outside. It is eerily quiet. I take a stroll around the neighborhood and see some people outside the few shops that are still open. They all have hand-drawn signs on their doors, stating how many people are allowed inside at a time. Some stores allow four people, others only two. Most people cover their mouths with face masks, while others use bandanas or scarves to cover their mouths and noses. Every once in a while, I see someone without a face mask.brooklyn store sign 2020 COVID-19While walking through this strange new world, I keep hearing sirens. They come and go, but they are recurring. A constant reminder of the fact that I am not walking through the movie set of a post-apocalyptic thriller, but that this is still very much New York City. A city that, sadly, has been hit harder than any other city in the world by COVID-19. Every time an ambulance passes me, I can’t help but think of the person inside the ambulance. A month after the “Shelter in place” order went into effect, New York City has just under 139,000 confirmed Coronavirus cases, and over 10,000 people have died. Over 10,000 people in my city have died from COVID-19  in less than a month – let that sink in for a moment.living in New York City during COVID-19It didn’t take very long for me to be personally affected by this virus: while my friend from Europe was still in town mid-March, someone close to me started feeling very ill. All the symptoms sounded like COVID-19, and she went straight to the doctor. There, they ruled out a number of flu strains, and told her that she probably has Coronavirus, but at the time, they didn’t have any tests to verify their suspicion. They told her to go home to self-quarantine for 14 days, since her symptoms weren’t severe enough for hospitalization.

Since I was still feeling well and was able to leave the house to pick up groceries, I became her personal delivery person, supplying her regularly with fresh produce and the occasional treat, to keep her spirits alive. Seeing her struggle through this disease, which took the typical course of first improving before symptoms worsening a week later, made me even more scared of the virus than I already was. A field hospital had been erected in Central Park to treat overflow Coronavirus patients  that hospitals had run out of room for, and a similar makeshift hospital had been set up inside the Javits Convention Center in Manhatten. My biggest fear was ending up in one of these field hospitals, so other than the occasional grocery haul I stayed away from people as possible, and I became so obsessed with washing my hands that my skin started to suffer.Thank you signsI thought I had seen the worst when I saw a person being taken out of an ambulance outside the local hospital one day, a person that looked to be in such a bad state that at first, I didn’t even know if they were alive. But then I saw the morgue trucks. What I saw first was a flower bouquet on the ground, and a big poster thanking the healthcare workers. I wondered why they’d left the flowers there, on the side of the road, when I noticed the humming coming from a truck right behind the sign. And that’s when it hit me. This was one of these morgue trucks in which they stored the bodies that they didn’t have room for inside the hospital’s morgue. I had a hard time breathing when I realized I was standing in front of a truck filled with corpses.Brooklyn COVID-19These images – the morgue trucks, the sick person on the stretcher, but also my sick friend who I’d see every week through the entrance glass door of her building, and whose face looked ashen, with hollow eyes – are images I cannot erase from my brain, and probably will never forget. The sound of sirens will always remind me of these dark times, and I am not the only one. “I feel their presence in my body as an ever-increasing tightness in my shoulders and neck. It is as though, around the clock, the city itself were wailing for its sick and dying.”, writes Lindsay Zoladz in her New York Times article about the ever-present sirens.living in New York City during COVID-19Going grocery shopping has turned from a routinely task into a wearying and sometimes nerve-wrecking undertaking (depending on how many people decide to shop that day, ie. how many people I come in contact with) that requires preparation and caution. Before I leave my house, I have to make sure that I have some wipes in my bag, my mask, hand sanitizer and gloves. Then I make my way to the grocery store on the bike, no matter if it is raining or hailing – I have only used the subway once since the “shelter at home” order went into effect, and that was when I did my first big quarantine shop. I wasn’t even supposed to be here in New York when the city started shutting down, so my fridge and my pantry were as deserted as the shelves in the supermarkets.NYC Covid-19 targetThat first shop was so big that I wasn’t able to haul it back home on a bike, which is why I took the subway for two stops. But I shouldn’t have been nervous about it: There were barely any people on the train. Every time I went out do my grocery shopping, the restrictions got tighter. First, they limited the amount of people inside the store, which is how I ended up in a line that went all the way down the block one time, thinking to myself in panic, “I am too close to too many people.” The next time I ventured outside for groceries, they had drawn lines on the sidewalk with chalk, marking the required six feet safety distance in between each person. These markers were also added inside the grocery store, so that when you get in line at the checkout, you keep your distance, as well.COVID-19 shopping NYCSince 16 April, masks have been mandatory when entering a grocery store. A day later, on 17 April, the governor announced that “New York on Pause”, which had initially been issued until 30 April, would be extended until 15 May – for now. That means a total of nearly nine weeks of New York City on pause. And to be honest, I don’t think that New York City will ease restrictions in mid-May – at least not to the extent that life in New York City as we know it will be possible.COVID-19 screenLast weekend I ventured into Manhattan for the first time since the lockdown started, and it was a bizarre experience. I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, which was deserted. It was a beautiful spring day, and normally, the bridge would’ve been packed with tourists. Chinatown felt like a ghost town. I only saw two restaurants that were open there, and I saw almost no people out on the street. I cycled up Broadway in SoHo, where you usually find hundreds of shoppers on any given day, but Broadway was empty. I passed only a few people who were taking their dog out for a walk or ran some errands. Some shops were boarded up completely, as if they were expecting looting and riots. This just added to the dystopian feel SoHo had.chinatown april 2020Chinatown feels like a ghost town

I rode my bike past Washington Square Park and Union Square, which, again, would’ve been busy on a sunny spring day. I missed the familiar sounds you usually hear in these places: singing buskers, chatter, laughter, the hip hop music that the dancers usually blast from small portable speakers. The only places that were busy were the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s supermarkets, where people lined up outside. A few blocks further north, in Madison Square Park, a few people were sitting in the park, and there was a line in front of Eataly, but the little square right across the Flatiron Building was deserted.nyc grocery shop line covid-19The line outside a grocery store

Grand Central Terminal felt like a shadow of its former self. On a regular day, you’d see thousands of people rush through the Grand Concourse, on the way to or from their train. Now, all I could think was how strangely quiet it was. The only people in the station that day were people who wanted to take photos of the abandoned station. Instead of announcing train departures, the announcements that came through the speakers were all COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.grand central terminal nyc during COVID-19Grand Central Terminal completely deserted

I walked over to Times Square, and 42nd Street was so empty that I could’ve walked in the middle of the street. Normally, this is one of the most congested streets in Manhattan. Experiencing the city “on mute” was heartbreaking. Not only the hustle and bustle of the city had disappeared, but also that pulsating energy that makes New York feel so unique. There’s usually a vibrancy in the air that makes me walk with a spring in my step, and it made me realize how much of New York’s energy comes from its busy street life. The hot dog vendors, the yelling of people, the traffic noise, even the honking of the cars.Times Square April 2020Silent New York is not the same. You don’t realize how much things like cafes, street kiosks, restaurants, bodegas, and street vendors contribute to the overall atmosphere of a city until they’re gone. Seeing the Broadway theaters shuttered was depressing – theaters, comedy clubs and other performance venues are such a big part of the social life in New York.Times Square without any tourists was something I never thought I’d see. Even when I walked through Times Square at 5.30am in a snowstorm a few years ago, there were more people around than now. I also never thought I’d say this: Times Square without any tourists feels kind of dull.Times Square NYC April 2020I’ll be the first one to admit that I curse the crowds every time I have to pass through Times Square on the way to something, but seeing it so empty changed the entire atmosphere. The ever so bustling area felt like a sleepy square. The only two things that were the same: The glitzy billboards which were still advertising clothes companies and streaming services, and the Naked Cowboy, who was entertaining the few people that were lingering in Times Square.street vendor selling face masksInstead of souvenirs, the street vendors are now selling hand sanitizer and face masks

What’s the most devastating about the city on lockdown is how many people’s livelihoods are affected or even destroyed by this pandemic. My heart breaks for all the owners of the small independent shops, the bodegas, the coffee shops and restaurants that contribute so much to the lively, social atmosphere of New York City. They are now struggling to pay the rent for their shops while they cannot use them, they had to lay off employees, and they may not even be able to reopen their businesses. Every week I read about restaurants that announce will not re-open, about people who were laid off and aren’t able to pay their rent and bills now. Over 40% of layoffs related to COVID-19 happened in the restaurant industry. In a city with a restaurant scene as thriving as New York City, the impact of the lockdown is absolutely devastating. Over half a million restaurant workers are out of work right now in New York State – and this number is still growing.boarded up shop soho nycLife in New York is never easy, even when the economy is doing great, a lot of people work harder than elsewhere to make ends meet. But now, with the city heading into a recession, piling up debt, life in New York will be even challenging, and it’ll take a long time for things to go back to normal. And what does that even mean, normal? Nobody even knows what the “post-COVID-19 normal” will look like. When will the theaters be able to re-open? When can we go to bars and restaurants again and will it be possible the same way it was pre-COVID-19? Will sports bars be ever as packed again for major sports events as they were before this pandemic? When will we be able to enjoy concerts again and watch a baseball game in Yankees Stadium? When will tourists return to New York?park slope shuttered storesAll large parades scheduled for June, including New York Pride, have been canceled. It was announced that public pools wouldn’t open at all in 2020. Beaches may not open this summer either. This summer will not be like any other summer, because most of the things that make New York in the summer so great will not be possible: enjoying beaches, rooftop bars, outdoor concerts and movies, having drinks in a backyard patio of a bar, strolling around flea markets and street fairs.living in New York City during COVID-19 The unemployment rate in NYC was at around 4.3 per cent before COVID-19: in the entire month of February, 137,391 people filed for unemployment in New York City. In the first week of the lockdown, 521,112 claims were filed. That’s more than three times the amount of claims the city usually sees in a month. Unemployment claims have now increased by 2,637%. During the financial crisis in 2008, the entire state of New York lost around 300,000 jobs. New York City alone has already lost more jobs than that. NY ToughThe Mayor of New York City is facing a projected $7.4 billion deficit in the city budget (mostly in lost tax revenue) and the economic impact of COVID-19 can be compared to the Great Depression. This deficit means that many city programs will be canceled, for example summer camp programs and the youth employment program which usually enrolls about 75,000 low-income students. social distancing brooklyn storeEven when this pandemic is over, New York City will struggle to get back to its former glorious self. But instead of with a depressing and gloomy outlook on post-COVID-19 New York City, I want to finish this article with this beautiful video and the optimistic words of New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo:

“And we’re going to get through it because we are New York, and because we’ve dealt with a lot of things, and because we are smart. You have to be smart to make it in New York. And we are resourceful, and we are showing how resourceful we are. And because we are united, and when you are united, there is nothing you can’t do. And because we are New York tough. We are tough. You have to be tough. This place makes you tough. But it makes you tough in a good way. We’re going to make it because I love New York, and I love New York because New York loves you.

New York loves all of you. Black and white and brown and Asian and short and tall and gay and straight. New York loves everyone. That’s why I love New York. It always has, it always will. And at the end of the day, my friends, even if it is a long day, and this is a long day, love wins. Always. And it will win again through this virus.”

Our temporary new normal – My Two Mums

Our temporary new normal

On the 16th March my boss made the decision for us to start working from home, due to concerns in the rising numbers of Covid-19. The little dude was still in attendance at school and Clara was still teaching.

Each day we watched the news covering increasing numbers in cases and then deaths in the UK. Schools were eventually closed and we went into lock down and our temporary new normal was created.

It’s been a very odd time, as I imagine it has for everyone else in the world. The corner of our living room has become my office, the dining table has become Clara’s office and our little dude moves between living room and kitchen for his home schooling.

We’ve tried our best to make the time at home fun for our little man. But don’t get me wrong, there have been frustrating moments and arguments.

Bouncing during lockdown
Shed climbing during lockdown

Our days are a mixture of school work for M, work for both C and I and on top of that we are both studying for additional qualifications. Our aim is to provide a happy space for M to learn what we manage to teach him from his school work, as well as teaching him some life skills and enjoying time in the garden.

Cinema during lockdown

Since lock down started we’ve enjoyed a home cinema trip, a stay at home Camp Bestival, lots of trampoline time and the addition of Disney+ to our lives.

Festival during Lockdown
Bubbles during lockdown

A couple of weeks into lock down I suggested ‘Fancy Fridays’, a day we can get dressed up and either watch a new film or have a nice dinner at the kitchen table. It really made a difference to how we all felt by the end of the week, plus it gives us something to look forward to.

Fancy Friday during lockdown
Daily exercise during lockdown
Skateboarding during lockdown

We’ve decorated our front window with messages for key workers and a couple of rainbows for the NHS, including a gorgeous knitted one from M’s Nanna.

Hot chocolate during lockdown

It all still feels very strange, not seeing friends and family. But we are lucky to have technology that bridges the gap. We’ve played virtual Cards against Humanity with friends, I’ve had a weekly horror film Netflix Party, M has enjoyed games via House Party with school friends and Clara has FaceTimed friends.

Puppy during lockdown

We are so thankful for the NHS and everyone that is keeping the country going. This may change us all for ever, but hopefully the history we are helping our little dude create isn’t too scary.

GLSEN Day of Silence – Proud Parenting

GLSEN Day of Silence - Proud Parenting

The GLSEN Day of Silence is a national student-led demonstration where LGBTQ students and allies all around the country take a vow of silence to protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ people in schools.

This effort was started in the mid 90’s by two college students but since then the Day of Silence has expanded to reach hundreds of thousands of students each year. Every April, students go through the school day without speaking, ending the day with Breaking the Silence rallies and events to share their experiences during the protest and bring attention to ways their schools and communities can become more inclusive. Now due to the unusual circumstances, GLSEN has decided to go virtual.

As a young ally I think that this is an amazing event to rally against the violence seen in schools around the world that target LGBTQ+ students. I myself will be taking part in this day and hope that many others will consider it.

This year we are honoring the 25th anniversary of Day of Silence on Friday, April 24, 2020. Learn more about this incredible event.