Fitting Julie Hastings into a mold is a little like trying to
nail gelatin to the wall. It’s just not going to work. How can
you explain a nice “California girl” with a degree in
cultural anthropology who has traveled all over the world –
never as an anthropologist – and ended up an accidental
retiree in Chiang Mai, Thailand, teaching t’ai chi? And some
of the stories in between then and now are worth at least a
Julie was born in California in the USA, a
third generation Californian and the daughter of an engineer.
Her mom, true to the customs of the times, did not work outside
of their home. I’m sure that taking care of Julie and her
sister gave her plenty to do. Julie graduated from university
and was ready to continue her studies in anthropology when
reality reared its not too attractive head. In order to complete
the planned Ph.D., she faced seven more years of study. Then she
could get a great job making almost no money and spend her life
traveling to exotic places. Hmmm. Only the “travel to exotic
places” part made sense to her. She says she inherited a
“mutant travel gene”. There had to be a better way.
So she took a job with a Swiss semi-conductor
manufacturing company. She started out as a secretary but soon
worked her way up to U.S. marketing manager for the company.
That meant she was sent to Switzerland for a month every year to
work. The adventures had begun. She just didn’t know it yet.
Her early marriage gradually ended. Single, she set out to work
enough to support herself and her travels. She became a real
Most of us who live abroad have traveled a
lot. But Julie has traveled A Lot. The USA, Canada, Mexico, of
course, but also many countries in South American, most of
Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. One adventure in
particular is quintessential Julie. She signed on for a
three-month sailing adventure, one of twelve people on board.
She learned to do everything that it took to operate the ship
and take care of the twelve adventurers. Their plan was to sail
from Costa Rica to the Galapagos Islands to Pitcairn Island to
Tahiti, and they did exactly that. There was a small side trip,
though, a kind of accidental tourist venture into the French
nuclear test zone while seeking medical care for one of the
twelve whom they feared had made too deep a dive. They met the
French navy before they even dropped anchor. The very polite
French navy, I must add. Their fallen comrade was taken for
medical care, but they were not allowed to leave their ship. But
the French navy personnel were generous to the strangers. Good
wine repeatedly made its way to the sailboat, as did fine French
Her travels continued, and somewhere along
the way she met and married Lynn. He, too, had the mutant travel
gene, but he not only loved to travel, he enjoyed living in
different places every few years. They had a daughter, and
bought a home in San Francisco. Life went on and time passed.
They began to go to Mexico frequently. They both learned the
language, but had several misadventures along the way before
they mastered it. They took a year off from work to live in
Mexico, buying a 250 year old house in the mountains and
renovating it - slowly. Lynn owned his own business, but could
easily commute between the USA and Mexico as needed. Julie
started an import/export business. They loved
their house, and they loved Mexico, but gradually it lost its
They sold their home in San Francisco and
came to Chiang Mai for four months. Then they went back to
Mexico. And came back to Chiang Mai. Their “year off” became
retirement in Chiang Mai.
Julie had studied yoga for fifteen years. She
was ready to take advantage of all of the healing and martial
arts of Asia, and noticed an announcement while having breakfast
in a guesthouse one morning. A local t’ai chi master was
offering introductory courses, and his school was nearby. She
walked over that day, and met Master. She was impressed with how
graceful and beautiful t’ai chi was when he demonstrated it.
She then tried it herself, only to discover that she had seven
arms and eight legs and that they were totally uncoordinated.
She decided t’ai chi must be an Asian trick of some sort. She
almost quit. Then it began to “click”, and she gradually
realized that she liked it. It really is graceful and beautiful.
It’s moving meditation and an excellent stress management
technique. It’s a “soft” martial art.
So Julie decided to work hard enough to
become a certified t’ai chi master herself. She studied with
Master six days a week, two hours a day for three months. It was
intensive and expensive. She began to look beyond Chiang Mai and
researched schools in China. Interestingly, there were few
schools and most were in Beijing. Then she found the school in
beautiful, small Yangshuo, and headed off to China for a month.
Five hours a day, seven days a week, she studied with students
who were much younger. Every other day, she took time for a
massage to sooth her tired legs. She learned to incorporate
several types of Qi Gong into her practice as a meditation
component. She learned to use a fan in her practice. Every day
she saw people in the park nearby practicing t’ai chi, singing
and – of all things – practicing western style ballroom
dancing. She was living her cultural anthropology studies.
As part of her teacher training, she now
leads t’ai chi classes at Hillside Condominiums. She says that
earning her teaching certification was far more difficult, and
more rewarding, than earning her college diploma. The nice
California girl will have a website soon. Check it out.