Weekly Local Biography

  Julie Hastings

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 short story!

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 estate agent.

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 bread.

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 exotic appeal.

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.