Travelling without a plan

My current job does not allow  me to take time off. The only down time I have are either on major holidays or the weekends. I don’t know when I’ll be back working in Asia again so I decided to bite the bullet and make the most of my time here.

A few months ago I made a trip to Taipei. To be honest, I’ve been feeling a bit stressed and overworked. Planning an itinerary wasn’t something I wanted to do. Since I  was travelling alone, I decided to just go with a free spirit.

I researched some of the top sites I wanted to see before leaving. Once I got to my hotel I picked up some brochures and headed out the door. Thankfully, navigating Taipei is quite easy. The MRT is incredibly easy to use, and it brings you to most, if not all of the major attractions.

My Chinese is a been rusty but I was happy to be able to use it!

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Day trips from Seoul: Wolmido

The best part about living in South Korea, is the transportation. It’s easy to get from one end of the country to the other on the KTX.

A few weekends ago, my friend and I decided to escape the city life and head into one of the nearby islands in Seoul.

We got to Wolmido right when the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom, so it was a really beautiful sight. There are ferries that you can take to other nearby islands and hike. There are also tons of great seafood to eat. There’s also a mini amusement park for little kids to play at, along with some beautiful gardens for a quiet escape.

It’s pretty accessible to get from Seoul. Just take the train all the way to Incheon Station (Line 1), exit and take any of the local bus (2, 15,23 or 45) to Wolmido. Get off at Wolmido City Tour, Wolmi Culture Street, or Wolmi Final Bus Stops.

 

Flirting in Korea

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Yup. My biggest ‘culture shock’ in Korea is dating. I’m literally the worst when it comes to flirting. I can tell when someone is interested in my friends, but I struggle when it happens to me. Throw in a different culture and I’m pretty much clueless.

So if a guy texts you everyday, tells you to take care when the weather is cold, or that he cares for you, etc. If this was back in Canada, I’d take all these as little hints that someone is interested. However, that’s not the case here.

I’m often told that Koreans guys are more ‘chivalrous’ than their counterparts back in Canada. Showing someone you care about them is just part of their culture.

 

TL;DR Language,crazy taxis, squatting toilets, etc. All of these don’t confuse me as much as dating in a different country 

Growing up and growing apart

Friendships come to an end not just because of distance. Sometimes it’s due to different stages in life: friends who graduated early and started working, friends who married early and started a family…

As I grow older, it seems more inevitable that friendships are always evolving. It’s not like high school, where you see the same people everyday; eat lunch everyday and hang out on the weekends. It requires more effort to keep in touch with those around you. We all have different responsibilities as we grow older. Maybe from work, or from our own families…

I seldom talk to my high school friends and except for a few, I barely talk to my friends from university. Friendships are a two way thing, and I’ll admit my personality is part of the blame. I don’t like texting, I prefer talking on the phone. I don’t like small talk, I prefer serious conversations. I don’t like staying in one place for too long, I prefer exploring.

The latter gets me in the most trouble. It gets hard to keep in touch when you’re always moving. It feels like I’m always making new friends, always getting to know someone. I miss being able to know someone like the back of my hand. I miss being able to call friends late at night and talk about random things…

I’m not the type of person to get attached to people, but it still hurts a bit when a friendship comes to an end. Regardless of how the friendship ended, the relationship is over. And sometimes that realization is harder to come to terms with than anything else.

Reflections upon the 13th floor


Many of my undergraduate days were spent studying on the top floor of the main library. It’s one of my favourite spots to study as it overlooks the city. A picturesque view to study from morning till night, sunrise to sunset.

The last of my results came out today. I’ve finally finished all the required courses to graduate. It’s a totally different feel walking around my campus now that I’m done. My university is known for it’s architecture, a Hogwarts-like feel to the older buildings. But I never came around to fully appreciate it. It’s ranked within the top 20 universities in the world, but I spent most of my studying days hating this place.  The disdain was largely due to my poor health. In my third year of undergrad, my body completely shut down, and I didn’t have much energy beyond my studies. I never went out much from my campus, to see all that this city had to offer. Whenever I reflect upon my university career, there are things I wish I did differently. I could have… I should have…

There’s no point dwelling in the past. In hindsight, I don’t regret studying here. I moved to this city at 17, a four hour flight away from home. The independence from the last four years both had it’s ups and downs; learning to stand up for myself and how to pick myself up after falling.  I don’t remember what I learnt in first year organic chem, or how I even managed to pass that course. But University has taught me skills in other avenues: self-discipline from those late night study sessions and self-control in dealing with pesky roommates….And perhaps these life skills are what matters the most.

An open letter to an ex-best friend

I got the invitation to your wedding today. Has it been nine years?  I remember the first time we met. I was convinced that you thought I’d been following you, as we entered the gym, we sat in the same row and wound up in the same class. I remember our first conversation, we were waiting in line for our welcome BBQ’s and I shyly invited you to join me. I remember our first sleepover, where we stayed up late gossiping about boys. I remember our first trip overseas; the excitement, the fatigue and the culture shock. I remember our fights, our petty arguments, neither one of us wanting to relinquish and our prides got in the way, always wanting to be the sole victor.

Maybe it’s a result of our competitiveness that we’ve grown apart. We both strive to be of a higher caliber than the other. Maybe it’s the fact that we never fully respected each other. We took each other for granted, a loyal companion thrown away the second a better offer came around. Maybe I was too hypocritical. I judged every action with cynicism and failed to see the repetitions in my behaviour.  Or maybe it’s just plain old distance. I  didn’t want to be in a controlled environment, switched high schools and shamefully chose academics over religion. Different universities across the country only separated us even more.

We’d use to talk for hours on the phone, and now a simple one line text from you is rare. We’ve been reduced to acquaintances, the type that meet up once a year for a coffee date. We exchange fake smiles and feign enthusiasm or sympathy depending on the occasion. There’s a new wall between us but it strangely has the same boundaries as before. That familiar competitive spirit, that age-old yearning for praise.. And yet it’s redefined with new experiences and polished with a false sense of maturity.

I guess that’s why our friendship ended. Because despite the intimacy, it’s hard to form a bond with a jealous heart. Is it sad to say that I knew this would happen? Unspoken but communicable, we both knew we were going to cut ties. Our dodgy behaviour, purposefully missing phone calls, cancelling plans.. It was a bit all too easy wasn’t it?

Even then, I still miss you. I miss the way you could read me like a book. I miss the way we knew each other inside out. I miss our serious talks, our petty arguments and our silly code names. I miss talking about our future, our dreams and wishes. I miss gossiping and trading stories.

But it’d be greedy for me to want more, to pursue the past. We’d both put in so much in this relationship to fully commit to walking our separate ways.  Yet we’re both too scared to rekindle our friendship for we know what the other is capable of.

Friendship, relationships… Aren’t they all just a bitter paradox?

Home, a casualty of circumstance

An indescribable yearning to return to
where my skin feels at home,
where my identity isn’t questioned
where I’m not expected to assimilate,
or told to behave like citizens,
the very same ones that never fully accept
me.

But in my country of birth,
I am ostracized
they judge my migrant soles, a traitor
for neglecting my ethnic roots.

And I’m reminded that
No city is ever home
I am the nomad, the wanderer, the chameleon
A foreigner,
Even in my own (home)land.

My awkwardness knows no bounds

Before departing for my exchange in Seoul, I looked up cultural norms in order to prepare me for my trip. One of the things that caught me off-guard was blind dating. Apparently it is quite common in Korea. I wasn’t planning on going on blind dates in Korea, and to this day I have no idea if I was placed in one.

While in Seoul, I had a pleasant chat with one of my security guards  after returning from my trip from Japan.  He told me about his son, 승현(I’ll  abbreviate him as SH) who was around the same age as me.  He asked if I wanted to be introduced to his son, I said no. But when he suggested that I could teach his son English, and SH would teach me Korean, I agreed to dinner on a whim.

It also just so happened that in lecture that week, we were learning about rape. I was already a bit freaked out by meeting a stranger alone, so the school lectures just added on to the anxiety. I called my brother soon after, panicking, unsure if I’ll make it out of this dinner alive. My brother scolded me for being so careless in a foreign land. But he also promised to call before and after dinner to make sure I was safe, as he was convinced that the dad only wants to set me up with his son.

I messaged the security guard freaked out, asking to meet in a public place. He then sent me a photo of his family to reassure me that he wasn’t lying about having a son. I mentioned before in our conversation that I was a Christian, and said that I had nothing to worry about, as we both belonged to God.

Dinner was so awkward. I didn’t know what to say, or when to stop eating. The dad asked why I was so silent the whole time.

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(except we didn’t meet on the internet)

The dad pretty much dominated the whole conversation and SH would occasionally ask  me questions but his dad would translate for him. His dad told his son to call me “noona” as he wanted us to have a comfortable relationship. His dad left after dinner and SH led me to a bar. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me and I wasn’t sure if I was being too intimidating.

Our conversation got a bit better, as he loosened up to me after a drinking a bit. He kept asking “do you have any questions for me?” It was kind of funny/cute when he couldn’t understand me. He’d awkwardly laugh, hide his face with his hands, and ask me to write it down, as it was easier for him to read English.  He walked me back home and asked for my number before we parted.

I got home safely, and contrary to my fears, nothing bad happened. I called my brother to let him know, and after a short lecture from him about safety, we laughed at the exchange.

Till this day, I still have no idea if this was a blind date, or a language exchange.

Bonus: when my friend came to visit, the security guard told her ” I tried to set her up with my son.” Then winked.

My soul misses Seoul

Is it possible to miss a country this much when you don’t even have the right to call it your own?

I spent my summer in Seoul, half studying, but mainly sight seeing. I made friends using a language outside my mother tongue, and my heart skipped a beat whenever anyone assumed I was Korean. I’m not sure what exactly I’ll miss the most. The feeling of being lost, new discoveries, or the joy in finding familiar things in a distant land…

I miss going to Hongdae and hearing the clubs boom with music
I miss going to the fish market and tasting weird delicacies
I miss staying out all night with friends
I miss seeing the couples walking along the Han River
I miss the familiar chime of the convenient store
I miss the luxury of shopping in underground subway stores
But I do not miss those pesky salespeople
I miss being able to see my favourite celebrities and hearing Kpop blasts in the streets
I miss the burning taste of Soju
I miss the cute accessory shops.

One summer. That’s all it took for me to fall in love with this country.

Welcome to the real world

As I’m finishing up my degree this year, I can’t help but think of where to relocate. I moved around about 6 cities growing up, and feel a bit of restlessness in being stationary. I’ve never had a permanent “home” and while in my teenage years I hated this lifestyle, there is a sort of excitement in starting anew.