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San Carlo de Bariloche
Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina

Since 2008 I have been saying that I will go to Argentina. Every year will be the year that I go. But life had its own ideas, showing me that there is a perfect equation for all things to come to fruition.

Preparing for this trip was a smear of tasks: coordinating, planning, Skyping, packing, forgetting, remembering, all in all, making endless decisions. My week was blanketed in nervous energy. As I inched closer to the date of departure, ambivalence surfaced and I was awash with emotion – excited, nervous, anxious, fearful, liberated, hopeful, longing, empowered. Many years have passed since I have taken an international non-work /school related trip alone. I have justified the costs of being abroad by working or studying – earning my joy. But today, it needs no justification – disfruta!

Airport drama: making my flight was an adventure in itself. I had researched flights plans for so long that I confused my purchased plan with a previous option. My actual flight departed at 11:45, 2 hours earlier than what I had remembered. I planned everything (a ride to LAX, check-in time, coffee time) thinking I was boarding at 1:30. My plan to orchestrate a calm, relaxing departure was an epic fail. That would have been the worst of it had I been informed sometime when purchasing my ticket that I would also need to pay an entry tax of $160 online and bring a printout of the receipt to prove my adherence to Argentine rules. This I learned at the check-in counter. A wee bit of suppressed panic surfaced as I did not have my portable printer handy (note sarcasm) and I had to race through terminals (plural) to locate the phantom printing service at LAX, with a suitcase large enough to fit my person inside of it (I’m really not a high maintenance traveler, I was just bringing gifts and winter clothes). Long story short, I made my flight thanks to my helpful company.

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AA custom Gf/Df bfast.

I arrived well thanks to a nice risposo in the Admirals Club lounge in DFW, a kind offer by my neighbor on the first leg of the trip, and a GF/DF breakfast prepared especially for me by a flight attendant who grew sympathetic to my food issues having witnessed my oatmeal diet (attention American Airlines: a vegetarian meal with cheese on it is not equivalent to gluten and dairy free). After 2 flights, a brief shuttle sojourn through Buenos Aires followed by a third flight, I finally arrived to Bariloche. My heart was filled with sentiment as I watched my good friend who I haven’t seen in 2 years since he moved from the OC, descend from the staircase, Argentine flag cued in the background.

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BRC

Small talk completed, he commenced to share with me his experience returning to his home, his country, after leaving for 13 years and making a life for himself in the US. Returning to Rio Negro divorced, unemployed and in recovery (more on this later) was difficult. We talked about living to work and working to live. Nothing new about these words – we are all familiar with this tug-of-war. He viewed his life in the US as one filled with living to work. Now, he is working to live and enjoying his work.

I found myself reflecting on my own crossroads. The Chinese work ethic is deeply ingrained in me. Life is work. My parents taught me that if I didn’t work, I was wasted flesh. I began working at age 15 and haven’t stopped since. The American work ethic is very strong as well. Identity and ego are tied to our professional status and financial success. The integration of these two cultures have made me a hard working, young professional – an identity in which I take pride. It is also an identity that grips me and makes me wiggle. At times I hear myself repeating silently “I am more than a psychologist…I am more than a psychologist…”

My friend was notably happier than he had been when I last saw him in the US. Sure life had its challenges in Bariloche, but nature and community healed him. Friends and family ate together, people were always around, and work was important but not everything. He was painting again, producing, creating and found the strength to fall in love again. “You’ll see Mama,” he said to me.
Dale, vamos a ver…

A few weeks ago, a friend suggested a documentary called “Happy” which was based on interviews conducted in Japan, Brazil, India and elsewhere to understand happiness.

The relationship between happiness and exercise, connection, community, cooperation, and compassion are uniquely explored. A magnifying glass is held up to things we’ve been taught will make us happy, like success, money, and beauty.

It probably isn’t surprising that they found people in third world countries reporting higher levels of happiness than developed and wealthier countries. In first world countries, the focus on work and financial success appeared to absorb more simple joys in life i.e. spending meaningful time with our communities. Simple lesson, hard to live (in the US)…

It was a synchronistic moment for me… an amalgamation of questions and answers brought forth by a casual conversation taking place while driving the sinuous roads heading toward the oldest National Park in Argentina – Nahuel Huapi. So, will I spend my life making my vocation my identity and legacy, or do I learn to treat vocation as a means to an end? A way to support a desired life? My answer will shift many parts to my systems. But for now, I am enjoying the scenery.

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Nahuel Huapi – Rio Negro Patagonia