Up Close With Ceilen Lau
Posted on 16 February 2017
It's always a blessing to reconnect with friends you haven't seen in years, to find that you haven't skipped a beat. The chemistry is still there and you've suddenly time travelled to age 15! Our first profile is of my bff from high school, artiste and eccentric traveler, Ceilen Lau. We recently spent the New Years in her new home and it inspired me to start this Global Nomad series. Here's but a short page out of her volumes, on rhythm, her journey last year and how she came to settle in Bali.
M: You spent 9 months of last year travelling around the world, what spurred you to go on that journey and where did it take you?
C: It all began with a trip to Bali three years ago and a college dream to live on an island making crafts living in a bungalow. I was living in Shanghai at the time and feeling a little tired of the city. By 2016, I had decided to move to Bali. Just to make sure it was not premature I decided to travel around the world first. I had just two criteria; no where colder than 15 degrees and I must follow the sun. I started off in L.A, then to Hawaii before leaving for Central America and Europe. Barcelona was the only place I had in mind to live there for a month. From there things just spontaneously rolled out. I joined with a good friend Robin, to go to Berlin, Lisbon, south Portugal and ended with a month in Morocco. By the year's end, Bali was still in my heart calling to me, so relocated just in time before 2017!
M: What was the most inspiring place and why?
C: I spent a week in Lisbon in the Alfama quarter, the oldest part of town. I stayed on the ground floor of a cobble stone street, going down a steep hill to a small park surrounded by cafes. There were shops, galleries, and bakeries interspersed with locals' homes, usually with their front doors open. And as I was living on the ground floor, all the hustle and bustle of community life surrounded me. Lisbon is a palette of pastels with a particular love for baby pink and cheerful quirks. During my week long stay on that street, I really felt the rhythm of a beautiful old city sprinkled with the icing of modernity. But the real cake is still very much the soul of the city itself.
M: Where was the most beautiful place?
C: The Moroccan desert! To be more correct it was on the long drives getting to see a new geological terrain. Bone dry, jagged mountainous rocks in all shades of black and grey across the beautifully barren lands of Morocco, winding through ominous mountains for hours at a stretch. The landscape is covered in rock formations, stacked on top of one another made into piles of circles. Since they are everywhere and made from the same monotone rocks as the surroundings, it actually looks like part of the natural features. I was kept amused on my journey across Morocco pondering these man made circular designs across the entire country!
M: Did you have any frightening experiences while in Morocco?
C: I encountered nothing but hospitality in every place we stayed and peaceful citizens everywhere I visited. However, Marrakech was perhaps the most unnerving destination although absolutely beautiful was filled with "guides" working together as one network. It didn't matter if you said no, ignored them or just walked on your own, all the guides knew each other so someone's name will always be called out to continue "guiding" you.
The children were part of it too. Only the women remained passive so one gets a sense the entire medina is one huge extended family. On more occasions then I could count it was nearly impossible to walk without a "guide". Although nothing dangerous came of this other then annoyance, twice when it was close to night time we were being guided into dead ends... Had my friend not seen it on his GPS who knows what would've happened.
M: As an artist finding inspiration is always elusive. Which place inspired you and your work the most?
C: Chefchaouen, it's like a blue pearl on the hill. It's a stunningly beautiful city painted in every shade of blue from its walls, pavements, doorways, ceilings, and everywhere you look nested in a fortress on the hills. Small intertwining cobbled roads connect the alleys up and down hills washing you with blue, inducing a cooling psychological effect that's hard to describe. The locals are usually dressed in Djellaba which are lose fitting robes down to the ankle sometimes with a hood. However the Djellaba in Chaouen were all in different pastel colours from baby pink, turquoise, baby blue, teal, or lavender embroidered with complimenting accents.
Tea drinking and smoking is huge part of local culture so combine it all together and I felt like floating in the clouds cushioned in cotton candy. Vibrant pastel powdered dyes stored in small open potato sacks lined the streets, shops with shelfs from floor to ceiling of every kind and shape of soaps and essential oils in different jars or gorgeously coloured glass. There were henna dyes for every possible use including raw Kohl eye makeup in your own mini wooden vase. Often times walking into a store was like stepping into a Harry Potter shop as everything was hand made down to the very carpets, stools, and the shops themselves were carved directly out of the mountain.
M: Did you ever feel homesick? How did you make yourself feel at home while being on the road for that long?
C: I didn't feel homesick because I was prepared for a year of nomading. On the contrary, when I did not know where the next destination was , it made me research for more. Lucky for me, I traveled with a seasoned world trotter whom took care of the unfolding adventures. The only thing hard about being on the road for that long was packing. Growing up a city girl, I am not used to not being properly prepared for whatever occasion I might find myself in. As a nomad I learnt how to abide by the strict limitations on what one can pack. The Djellaba saved me.
M: How did traveling for 9 months change the course of your life?
C: It uprooted me entirely from all urban living. I'm now absolutely certain my college dream of being an islander is in my blood. Nomading showed me just how easy it is to leave modern comforts and above all else, that there are infinite ways of living one's life. I tried to stay a minimum of two weeks everywhere I went, preferring a month as the hardest part is finding one's rhythm beyond being a tourist.
Now having lived in Bali for three months, after a full year of travels, I really notice the hypnotic contrast of urban cities, smokey mirrors over real quality of life and basic clean air. It's astounding how much just this on its own is enough.
M: Now that you've settled in Bali, how do you take care of your wellness? What's your regime?
C: My waking and sleeping hours in Bali follow the sun, so I get up usually 6:30am and in bed by 10:30pm. In the mornings I will take an hour walk down the beach meditating on a mantra then practice qigong with my boyfriend before heading off to the gym. My best friend is also my PT so we train three times a week.The early hours lifestyle in Bali is so conducive to healthy living. There are health bowls everywhere with every kind of smoothie mix, freshly squeezed juices down every street. It feels amazing getting so much done before lunch as my afternoons are usually spent in cafes working on my current project.
M: Tell us a bit about your work. Where can we see it?
C: I work as a freelance illustrator doing murals, private commissions and the occasional editorial. My current project was inspired by my stay in Morocco. The first Riad I stayed at, my bed was carved into the rock of the mountain which embraced me romantically and cradled me to sleep every night. This inspired me to work on a narrative illustrative book of the Arabian tales!