Kuta, Lombok – No Filter

Lombok is located to the east of Bali. It’s famous for the Gili islands, but we chose to stay in Kuta because we wanted to get away from tourists.

We stayed at Nalua Surf Bed & Breakfast for around $18 per night (breakfast included). It’s a basic accommodation conveniently located in the center of Kuta. Staff is nice and they also offer surf lessons.

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Lombok is very poor. You will see huts falling apart and trash everywhere. This is the truth. Not in ANY of the travel blogs I had read about Lombok’s trash problem, but I think that we, as travelers and writers have to be honest and embrace the positive and negative sides of a location. That’s why I’m writing this post with no filter.

The walk to the central beach was unsettling. There were plastic bottles, cans and candy bar wrappers scattered in every direction. Once we finally found a decent piece of beach we were approached by sarong vendors who sat down next to us to try to make a sale. Talking to them gave us a better understanding of the culture, though. We learned that education is not free and many families can’t afford to send the kids to school. Sometimes the government helps, but not always. Many kids just end up in the streets selling bracelets to tourists.

The day after we decided to rent a motorbike to explore and look for a decent beach. Mawun Beach is beautiful, but there is trash on the shore and in the water. A lot of kids approach tourists to sell fruit. I had the chance to talk to a group of kids who wanted to practice English. They have hope for a better future.

There are a lot of restaurants in the center, some of them are surprisingly fancy. Tourists go there, eat and leave. These places are like oasis in the middle of a poverty desert. People go there to escape the sad reality around. The majority of tourists are surfers and they don’t care much about the situation. They are just interested in chasing the next big wave.

If you want to learn how to surf, Kuta is the perfect spot. The guys at Nalua will give you a lesson for around $30 for half day. They took us to Selang Beach and for the first time we could enjoy the view of a landscape without trash. There were trash cans and a reciclying system in place. We really enjoyed our time there. If you are a girl and it’s your first time on the board I recommend not more than 2 hours (unless you have big muscles). If you do more you will probably get up the day after aching. Up to you.

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We had a very interesting conversation with the owner of the guesthouse. He comes from a poor family but worked really hard to be able to open his first business. He cares about Lombok and tries his best to educate children to respect the environment.

If you go to Kuta, get ready for a complicated reality. Talk to locals and try to help if you can. Give something to support kids education and environmental initiatives.

 

Bali: Culture and Food

Ubud is Bali’s cultural capital. We found accommodation with view on the rice patties, Villa Bugsil, and we spent most of our time there. After running up and down the island to see the temples, if you want to avoid tourists, an accommodation close to the rice fields is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the scenery.

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Cocowayan is a “business” run by a rice patties owner. You will find him sitting on a bench overlooking the fields selling home made coconut oil and herbs. Telling you about the history of Bali and the rice patties is also part of his “business.” We sat down with him one afternoon and listened to his stories. His family has owned the fields since 1700. At the time there were different kingdoms all around the island. When the Dutch invaded Bali in 1906, Ubud’s kingdom was too high in terms of elevation and they arrived later in 1920. In 1975 there were no streets in Bali, just clay, stones and rice fields. Around the year 2000 many hotels were built and Bali changed radically. Many fields owners sold their land attracted by the new money flow, but Cocowayan’s dad told him: “Don’t sell the land. Land is mother.” He never did. Many of the locals who sold didn’t reinvest the money and got poor quickly. We asked our new friend how travelers can help locals and he said: “Stay in the houses of locals. Don’t book your stay before you come. Locals will find you a cheap place to stay.” I think that’s a great idea for young backpackers. Balinese people are welcoming and kind and they will open their houses to the curious explorer.

Bali’s food is simple. Three typical dishes: Mie Goreng, Nasi Goreng (noodles and rice with chicken and veggies) and Nasi Campur (combination of chicken satay, fried fish, egg, veggies and rice). Two of my favorite spots to eat: In Sanur, Anna Warung (recommended dish: tuna satay). In Ubud, Bali Yoga Restaurant (recommended dish: tropical chicken lime) and finally Sweet Orange. This last one is surrounded by rice patties. It closes at 7PM so you can go for lunch or early dinner. The lush green and the melody of ancient Hindu songs will accompany your meal.

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During our car rides to explore the temples we learned a lot from our drivers who often turned out to be precious guides. Bali’s culture is based on rituals, celebrations and symbols. One of the most interesting aspects of it, is that when locals want to build the house, they have to consult a priest to know the best moment and place to build. The Balinese calendar has 35 days and it’s good to pray during full moon days. There is one God and many Lords. You will see a lot of cloths surrounding statues, shrines or outside of the houses. Colors have different meanings. White means Holy and Yellow means Pure. But White combined with Black represent good and evil. When White and Black are combined with Red, they represent the Lord Shiva.

The word that represents what we learned about Bali is: harmony. People live in harmony with each other and with Mother Nature. Three natural elements are always present in their lives: bamboo, coconut and flowers. They build with bamboo, coconut is the main ingredient in the kitchen and they use flowers to make religious offerings.

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If you go to the see the rice patties in Ubud and you’re curious to know more, you can find Cocowayan right in front of the fields: Kajeng Street +62 85 738 481 121

Read more about Bali’s enchanting temples in my previous post: Bali: Spiritual Beauty

Bali: Spiritual Beauty

There are no words or photos that can give Bali justice. Bali is a feeling, a state of mind. When we were considering the places to visit during our RTW trip we wanted to see Bali but we thought it had become too touristy. We were in doubt for a while, but in the end we decided to put it in the list. If you are considering Bali, but you are not sure, please go.

The arrival at the airport can be a chaotic moment. I highly recommend you to fix your transfer before you land. It might not be the best deal, but if you don’t do it you will find yourself in front of a crowd of drivers at the arrivals gate who will compete with each other to get the ride. Later you will learn how to negotiate, but when you are tired after a flight is better to go straight to your destination.

We booked an Airbnb in Sanur: Villa Lotus (around $40 per night). The host, Herman is sweet and caring and will make your stay special. Kuta is the touristy part of the island, but Sanur is less crowded. Our apartment was perfect: private, with swimming pool immersed in the green. The beach in front of the Hyatt (10 min walk) is quiet (the hotel is in construction phase and will open in 2018). You can rent umbrella and chair for IDR 100,000 (around $7) for a day. Food and drinks at the cafe are good and cheap. In Bali, a good meal for two people should be around IDR 150,000. If you pay more it’s probably a touristy spot or they are ripping you off.

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There are two must do in Bali:

  • Learn how to negotiate: in order to get a cab you HAVE to negotiate. The maximum you should pay for a private driver that takes you around to explore for 8 hours is $450,000 (around $30). If the driver is nice you can give him a tip.
  • Buy a sarong: it’s a must have to enter in the hindu temples. You can rent one at the entrance, but if you are considering to see many temples you should buy your own. You can find them for a cheap price. They are beautiful and they will be great souvenir to bring back home.

Bali is not about the beaches. Bali is about the temples. You should see as many as you can. The island’s spiritual inspiration is the reason why you should go to Bali.

  • The Mother Temple. It’s majestic. It’s located on top of a hill. You have to get a ticket and a guide is mandatory to enter all areas. The reason for the location is to ensure protection from natural forces. The temple is open for prayers and families often organize private ceremonies to worship their ancestors. The temple is built on seven levels and has many shrines dedicated to a specific Hindu Lord. You will see doors without tops (good and evil divided) and doors with tops (good and evil co-existing in human nature). Good is on the right and evil is on the left. Locals acknowledge both good and evil and have rituals for both. They pray to the God and the Lords and ask devils to stay away. During the visit our guide told us a sentence that I think embodies the spirit of Bali and I would like to share it with you: “Religion is a way to be harmonious with each other.” In a world of wars based on different values and beliefs this is an important teaching.

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  • Pura Tirta Empul. This is a temple dedicated to purification. You can take a bathe in the sacred water (sarong is mandatory to immerse yourself). Locals pray for their families and ancestors and they leave offerings. Note: if you have a driver that takes you around he won’t be happy to have you wet in the car so don’t get into the water (you can dip your feet if you like).

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  • Gunung Kawi is immersed in the jungle and rice patties. For some reason, it’s less famous than other temples on the island. We were amazed looking around. The shrines emerge out of the green, there are small waterfalls, water streams and ancient caves.

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You can visit the three mentioned temples in a day hiring a driver for 8 hours, starting from Kuta/Sanur.

  • Pura Ulun Darun Beletan. This is the famous pagoda on the water that you can also spot on the RP banknote 50,000. Its unique location gives it the special appeal. It’s probably the most photographed temple in Bali.

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  • Pura Taman Ayun. This is the royal family temple. You can take a tour around the temple but you can’t get in the complex. It’s a square shape placed in the middle of gardens and there are shrines and pagoda inside. The walls are not tall so you can take the photos of the structures from the outside.

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  • Lempuyang. It’s made of five temples. The view of the mountain from the Heaven’s gate (divided door on the top of the hill) is, hands down, the most scenic view of the island. If you want to see the other temples you have to hike 2-3 hours and get ready for possible monkey attacks.

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You can visit the three temples in a day hiring a driver for 8 hours, starting from Ubud. Lempuyang is quite far from Ubud (2 hours). If you have time to stay for a couple of days in different places,  Amed is the best starting point.

If you go and you need a good driver to explore the temples using Ubud as starting point I recommend:

Wayan Suada – Whatsapp +62 8133873530

Read more about Bali in the blogpost: Bali: Culture and Food

 

Trump’s victory in the eyes of a traveler

And so it happened. Against all predictions, Trump was elected President of the United States.

We were in Bangkok on election day. We spent the previous week in Koh Lipe, beautiful island in southern Thailand. Our travel pace has been fast and we were looking forward to finding some peace on a white beach for a week. Only problem? It was the week before the election.

When you don’t have much to do it’s hard to stop the thoughts so we found ourselves in dark conversations where the fear of a Trump presidency emerged. We didn’t think it was a real possibility but clouds were prevailing, in our minds and in the sky above us.

On November 8th we took the boat back to mainland and headed to Bangkok. Rested bodies, restless minds. The night before the election I wasn’t able to sleep. I dreamed about Trump’s victory, I woke up and I breathed knowing that it was just a nightmare. I fell back asleep and I dreamed about it again. This time I woke up all sweaty and scared and I didn’t want to go back to sleep. When morning came, I immediately looked for a live streaming to follow the election marathon.

I never cared so much about an election before. I didn’t vote, I’m not a citizen yet, but I knew that it wasn’t a normal election. It was love & unity against racism & division. I never particularly liked Hillary but with time I grew fond of her because she was the alternative to Trump and all that he represented.

I never felt so nervous in front of the tv. I got away from it just to take a shower. Hours passed by and the U.S. map was overwhelmingly red. My American husband explained to me that the central states close the polls before the others and they are typically Republican. I tried to stay calm. Hours passed by and blue dots appeared on the map. Then Florida went to Trump and the battleground states were dangerously becoming red. My husband told me that cities have big density and they can balance the vote. At that point we were both silent praying in front of the tv.

We left our hotel room when they were still counting votes around 3PM. My husband told me it might take hours before knowing the result. We went to the immigration office in Bangkok and we didn’t have internet connection to monitor the situation. I felt close to a nervous breakdown. Sitting behind us there was Canadian girl and I couldn’t help it: “Hi, sorry can I ask you who won the American election? We left the hotel room and we don’t have the last minute news.” “It’s Trump” she said. There, in that moment, something broke inside me. I started to cry, loud. I couldn’t stop. All the tension, all the fear and the hope that I had kept inside exploded all at once. Boom. This was my election day and I imagine many people had a terrible day too.

We are away from the U.S. traveling and our thoughts are stuck at the election day, trying to process what happened. I wake up every day and I have to repeat to myself that now we live in a world where Trump is the elected President. We want to enjoy our trip, but we feel angry and sad.

Trump is against all our core values and ideas. He said so many disgusting things about women and minorities that can’t get a pass. We believe in the power of a globalized connected world where everybody is treated in the same way and everybody has the same rights. We believe in travel as a way to overcome barriers and get inspiration to bring back home. We are idealists with a heart full of hope.

On one side it’s good to travel and take time to process before going back to the U.S. but on the other we feel more and more isolated, sometimes we don’t feel part of this world. Today, we face an America that chose an ego maniac racist business show man to run the most powerful country in the world.

I am an Immigrant and I fight against the broken system in the U.S. and the gender bias of the laws. How do you think I can tolerate the direction where America is going? The racist episodes happening after Trump’s victory are as scary as hell. Do the people who voted for him and claim are not racist see this? Do they realize what they have done? I’m in shock and still trying to process all this. We can’t make America great again together with Mr. Trump for two reasons:

  1. America is already great.
  2. We are not racists.

Chiara Townley

Singapore: The Asian Melting Pot

Singapore is a model of social integration. The residents are people from all over the world, the majority from Malaysia, China and India. The country is proud of its diversity and people respect their differences.

Hawker Centers are a great example of cultural integration. They are open areas where you can find stalls with food from different countries. These centers are equipped with tables, bathrooms and sinks to wash your hands. Sanitary control is strict to ensure food safety and the stalls are a cheap alternative to restaurants. A meal is around $2, perfect for backpackers wallet.

My favorite neighborhood is the Arab quarter. Haji Lane is pictoresque and the walls are decorated with unique graffiti. At sunset the sun’s rays hit the mosque and paint everything with a golden light. Another cute neighborhood is Tiong Bahru. The Tiong Bahru bakery is the perfect spot for breakfast, then you can take a stroll in the “wet” market, so called because they sell fresh fruit, meat and fish.

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Collyer Quay is the touristy part of the city where you can admire the view of the Bay. It’s nice to take a stroll but food and drinks are expensive. On the other side of the Bay you can spot the Sky Park. On the top of the three towers hotel they built a fancy private area with the shape of a surf board. The public can access it to enjoy the view, but it’s expensive. If you are looking for a panoramic point to watch the sunset with less tourists I recommend Marina Barrage.

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The highlight of our quick visit to Singapore was, with no doubt, Gardens by the Bay. The attraction consists of two domes: one is called “flowers dome” the other is the “cloud forest.” You will see flowers and plants from all over the world surrounded by beautiful architecture. I recommend to see them both (around $20 per person), it’s worth it. They did an incredible job and the experience is a reminder of the natural beauty of the planet, to defend and preserve. After the visit you can stroll in the park and admire the “Big Trees” another peculiar structure of the gardens. You can go on top of the platform they built to connect the trees but you have to add $8 per person to your budget. We didn’t do it. The photos that you can take from the bottom should be enough to satisfy your photo hunger.

It’s easy to get around with public transportation and everything is in English.

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Gender inequality in immigration is real

The U.S Immigration policy is designed for both men and women, but there is a gender bias hidden behind the laws creating many barriers for immigrant women.

There is still a long path to go to reach gender equality in today’s society. Women struggle to be heard and recent data shows that the issue touches many different fields, but not many people talk about the gender gap that exists in immigration.

According to The Institute for Women’s Policy Research there is a 20% salary gap between men and women. Recent research also indicates that women only make up 20% of the tech industry and only 36% of U.S businesses are owned by women. Most of the H1B visas are granted for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries (STEM). It is not surprising that most of these visas go to men and recent data from the U.S. Immigration Statistics shows that only 30% of all the H1B visas are granted to women. It is not hard to imagine that things get very complicated for immigrant women if they lack a STEM background.

Expatriate women are NOT considered in the US Immigration policy. We need to raise awareness and call for a change.

The many challenges and barriers immigrant women face when building a life in the United States will be revealed in the documentary “One Foot In” whose trailer has just been released.

Many expat women come to the US as spouses of H1B holders. They are allowed to stay but they cannot work, at least not until the green card process is at the second stage. The process can take up to six years. As a consequence, thousands of women have no other choice other than putting their careers on hold. Even if they want to launch their own business and create new jobs for Americans, they are not allowed to work.

The situation is not easier for female students looking for an H1B sponsor. They have to find a job within three months after graduation or leave the country. This policy also applies to men, but women have fewer chances than them.

Foreign mothers of American children aren’t allowed to work either. They can not bring income to the household and risk deportation at all times.

The truth is that gender inequality in immigration is real and there are many stories to tell. The “One Foot In” documentary gives a voice to these women, raises awareness and calls for change.

Check out the trailer of ONE FOOT IN

From my upcoming book “One Foot In”

Today I would like to share with you some quotes from my upcoming book with the same title of the documentary: “One Foot.” It’s the result of interviews to immigrant women, experts’ opinions and data coming from different sources that will be mentioned in the book. If you want to know more about the challenges immigrant women face in the U.S. read the quotes:

“This is the first thing to keep in mind when you think about the immigration laws for partners in the U.S. The laws are certainly valid for men and women but the latter pays a higher price. The majority of partners that can’t work in the U.S. are female.”

“If you consider that it’s already hard for a woman to get heard in the tech industry, you can imagine how much harder it can be for an expat woman to find her path in city like San Francisco and generally speaking in a country where the majority of the Visas for special skills go to the tech industry.”

“Analyzing the different phases of immigration, we find that a large number of women migrated to the United States as a result of the 1965 Immigration Act that allowed the reunification of families.”

“While the new laws created after September 11th, 2001, are not focused on immigrant women, some of them deeply affected them. The fear of deportation might dissuade battered immigrant women from reporting abuse.”

“Despite their hard work and educational achievements, immigrant women earn less than foreign-born men, and less than native-born men or women.”

“Data from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicate that female immigrants are more likely than male immigrants to come to the United States through the family-based class of admissions, rather than through employment.”

“Immigrant women in the labor force had an annual median income of $32,015 in 2012, compared to $38,514 for native-born women, $36,802 for foreign-born men, and $50,283 for native-born men.”

“Living in the U.S. I discovered that, many of the people you meet have an immigration story, but they hardly talk about it. When you tell your personal story, though, they open themselves. It’s like opening the door to a hidden garden where the moss covered all the walls and stones.”

“The truth is that you can’t really feel you belong to the U.S. until you get the American passport. Before that moment, there is always something that reminds you of your temporary status.”

“She was devastated because she knew she was a good fit for the position, but unfortunately, not all the job openings are eligible for an H1B sponsor. The H1B is usually used for positions that require very specific skills and especially for the STEM field.”

“Companies usually decide to sponsor the Green Card after a couple of years plus the process takes a long time. By the time these dependent women receive it, it’s clearly difficult to go back to the job market.”

“She doesn’t like to depend on her husband. All the bureaucracy has to go through his name: she doesn’t have a Social Security Number and she can’t even open a bank account in her name. Women give up so much to follow their partners. They make a huge sacrifice just to find more barriers.”

“The immigration laws don’t allow the partner to work so they lower the family income. This means that the family will spend less money and contribute less to the economy.”

“She had always worked and had always been an independent woman. This situation affected her self-esteem and she felt as a useless unproductive part of the society.”

“She had lost her identity and she didn’t feel comfortable socializing because in the back of her mind she was always thinking that she wasn’t allowed to work.”

“She started to dislike herself and the woman she had become without independence. She was qualified and felt she deserved a chance to work.”

“The immigrations laws don’t affect just the life of dependent partners. They can also create huge barriers to foreign-born mothers with American children.”

“She thinks that immigration officers suspect that all women that come to the U.S. are looking for an American husband. Once again, another black mark for women in the eyes of the law.”

“The Visa situation can be very stressful for international families and immigration laws are not understanding. They had many difficult moments trying to figure everything out and make everybody happy.”

“As women, we risk way more than having to deal with a horrible boss. Maybe you have been sexually harassed in the workplace, but instead of being free to quit, you still have to go to an immigration lawyer, spend money and prove that you should be allowed to leave your job.”

“They especially take a toll on the life of expat women that have to build a professional life but also take care of the house and the family. Immigration authorities need to take responsibility and laws need to be more flexible.”

“Immigration laws limit creativity. It’s especially difficult for women that also have to take care of the family. After a lot of dedication and efforts, you end up wondering if your idea will see the light of the day because of the Visa issue.”

“There are a lot of women that want to become entrepreneurs but they face two major problems: the Visa limitations and the lack of a supportive ecosystem. The community needs to come together and understand the challenges to eliminating them.”

“Expat women face more barriers than men. A lot of dependent partners are turning into entrepreneurship as a hobby because they are not allowed to work. These laws are costing America economic growth because these women are already here and could contribute to the economy.”

“A small percentage of women looks for venture capital and is able to do so. If the systematic gender bias gets improved the community can move in more diverse directions.”

“They encounter the same obstacles of native born women when trying to start a business, like the gender bias of certain industries, with the additional challenge of being an immigrant.”

“Entrepreneurship among women is on the rise worldwide and this phenomenon increases the likelihood that new immigrant women will arrive in the United States with some entrepreneurial experience, ready to open great businesses.”

“More and more, immigrant women are coming to the United States not as the dependent relatives of immigrant men, but as workers. According to the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS), there were 13.1 million immigrant women workers in the country.”

Check out the trailer of ONE FOOT IN

 

Everyone should Fight for a Cause

I do believe that FREEDOM is the most important human right.

The first time I had to deal with the U.S border, as a girlfriend of an American, I realized that my love feeling was seen as a potential threat for the country. You can find the description of the episode in my first book “2 Years 4 Months 2 Hours.” The short recap is that, being in love with an American, made me a potential “criminal” willing to stay in the country illegally. I will never forget the treatment I received. The U.S. immigration laws impacted my personal freedom and my relationship. Even after I got married, I didn’t feel welcome. My husband and I had to get a lawyer to help us with the tough Green Card process and we had to appear in front of a judge with the power to decide our future. I’m aware that scam marriages are a dirty business in the U.S., but I believe that, if the U.S had a better immigration system, scam marriages wouldn’t be an issue. The only thing I know is that I do NOT want to pay the price of the broken immigration system. But I did. For years I had the sensation that I was temporary, I always had just foot in the country.

“One Foot In” is the documentary I have been working on, in collaboration with filmmaker Enrica Cavalli. The idea came from the stories of expat women that I met during the years I spent in San Francisco. Many of them followed their partner that was working or studying, but they weren’t allowed to work. I started see a gender bias in the immigration laws.

I researched more info and found out that more of 70% of the H1B go to men, and as a consequence, the majority of partners are women. That idea took me the conclusion that the gender bias in the immigration laws happened in different situations, tied to each other. Dependent wives, female students, foreign mums of American citizens and expat women entrepreneurs were all part of the same issue: immigrant women are NOT considered in the U.S. immigration policy.

For the first time after publishing my first book, I considered the idea of writing a second one about the challenges expat women face when building a life in the U.S. When I met Enrica Cavalli, filmmaker, she told me that the topic was interesting and she offered to help me raise awareness with a documentary.

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Calling for a change in the immigration laws is my cause. What’s yours? I know that there are wars and kids dying every day, which is way more important than immigration issues. If each one of us decided to fight for a cause, even little, the world could be a better place. Have you ever thought about it?

This post aims to tell you more about the project I’m raising funds for and it also wants to make you consider the idea of finding your cause.

Check out the trailer of the documentary and if you like it help us finish the project and spread the word: ONE FOOT IN

 

 

 

The Trailer of ONE FOOT IN is Live!

Hello readers,

I will take a quick break from the travel updates from my RTW trip to concentrate on the campaign for the documentary: “One Foot In”

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This documentary is related to travel, and in specific to relocation. It aims to raise awareness of the challenges expat women face when building a life in the US.

We are giving a voice to women who want to share their stories and the impact that immigration laws have in their lives.

Did you know that more than 70% of H1B visas go to men? The laws are for both men and women but the latter pays a higher price. In this documentary we will explain to you why.

We asked subject experts for their opinions and we asked expat women to tell us their inspiring stories of resilience.

We want to shed a light on the side effects of the broken immigration system and hidden gender bias behind the immigration laws.

We need your help to complete this documentary and create a social impact.

What inspired us:

I am Chiara Townley and I am originally from Italy. I wrote my first book, called “2 years 4 months 2 hours”, because I wanted to share the love story that brought me to the United States. After I was reunited with my love, I found another big obstacle: I was hindered by the Immigration Laws.

As soon as I had one foot in the United States I started to constantly hear so many inspiring and challenging stories from expat women.

These stories deeply touched me and inspired me to make a documentary so these voices could be heard.

Enrica Cavalli, an experienced video producer from Italy, was also very touched by these stories and joined me in the adventure of creating this documentary to make these voices be heard.

Join the conversation:
Help us completing this documentary and making a call for change #women1footIN

Live on Indiegogo:

ONE FOOT IN Trailer

 

Hong Kong: A Doorway Between UK and China

Hong Kong is very international. You can see people from all over the world running around, especially business men. As the country used to be a British colony the English influence is still strong. A lot of people speak English, there are double decker buses “London style” and the names of the streets are in both English and Chinese.

The city structure is peculiar. There are many above ground walkways to help traffic and help pedestrians cross different areas. A huge shopping mall stands between the downtown and the central station. It’s the shopper paradise with thousands of fancy shops, owned by the biggest international brands. If you prefer a more modest style, you can find local shops in the alleys and a more Chinese vibe. The city is built on different levels and there are many staircases around. This structure gives it more personality and reminded me of Lisbon. There are a lot of cool bars with open doors and tables facing the street that reminded me of Spain.

Po Hing Fong and Tai Ping Shan are two nice neighborhoods next to each other. You can take a stroll and look at vintage shops and art galleries. “Chachawan” is the perfect spot to grab a bite. It’s creative Thai kitchen with great flavors. If you sit at the counter you can admire the skills of the amazing cooks.

Hong Kong is famous for the beautiful skyline and you have different options to admire the panorama. You can take the Star Ferry and go to the other side of the bay (Tsim Sha Tsui). There is a promenade that offers a great view and takes you to the Hong Kong walk of fame and to the statue of Bruce Lee. The best panoramic point is “The Peak” on top of the hill that overlooks the city. The terrace opens at 10AM and the best time to arrive is right before opening time. There is no line to purchase the ticket for the tram and once you get to the top of the hill, you can admire the view from the balcony just below the building where the panoramic terrace is located. If you want to avoid lines don’t go at night.

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The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery was completed in the 1950s and it’s located on top of a hill in the Sha Tin district. From central station take the red metro, change at Mong Kok and take the green line until Kowloon, then take the light blue line until Sha Tin. The metro is fast and it will take you around 30min. When you arrive at the Sha Tin stop, you won’t find any signs for the monastery because not many tourists make their way there. Look around and you will see its red shape coming out of the green forest on top of the hill. Cross the freeway, pass the mall on the left side and you will see a small path and a sign for the monastery. As soon as you turn the corner you’ll see the Buddha statues path. The surprising thing is that once you get to the temple on top of the hill, you will see more statues and more shrines. Go up until you find a peaceful and purifying waterfall with a white Buddha statue.

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The best way to top off your day is enjoying a cocktail at the Sugar (Bar Deck) where you can admire the night skyline without tourists. It’s a bit pricey, but because it’s not centrally located, it’s less expensive than others. If you get there around 8PM on a weekday, you will get a prime spot on the terrace. We got two cocktails each and shared a pizza for a total of $80. This is not exactly backpackers style, but the view is stunning and the cocktails are amazing. “Victoria’s Secret” is probably the best cocktail I have ever had in my life (vodka, strawberry, pineapple and passion fruit). The best thing you can do to balance the expenses is eating at a cheap Mc Donald’s the day after and that’s what we did.