I certainly dropped the ball when it came to keeping up this blog. To be fair, I’ve mentioned before that the true purpose of it was to keep my girlfriend and family and friends up to date with my experience in Istanbul. So, coming to South Korea for the summer, where my girlfriend lived and where my family knew I was safe, I sort of lost the drive.
Chris Gone Global was a lot of fun to write. I’m so grateful that I documented as much of my abroad experience as I did. I’m going to put all of my written posts into a single document, more like a book, and maybe I’ll try to do something with that. For anyone who followed along regularly, thank you for reading.
Obviously if I go abroad again, I’ll bring this blog back to life. It’s just not going to do much good when I’m not traveling, ya know? It’s not called Chris At Home.
Here’s to finishing up my week in South Korea, closing a fantastic summer and an incredible 7 and a 1/2 months away from the States. I have no idea what to expect when I’m back in Sacramento, but I’m looking forward to reuniting with my favorite friends and hang-out spots. This isn’t my last post. I’ve got a retrospective post brewing, just need to figure out how to put it all into words.
“I’m not good with goodbyes,” says July, packing away her swimsuits and sunblock. “Let’s not make a big deal out of it.” And just like that, July is gone.
I’m left dumbfounded between the 31st and 1st, unsure of where all the months have gone, like a drunk who’s puzzling over the empty glass in my hand. I could’ve sworn this thing was full a second ago. Hiccup. I’ll sip down the last few dregs and make the most of them, but then it’ll be back to the bartender for me.
“Father Time,” I’ll say, “I’d like another round of weeks, if you please.”
When August comes, we’ll dance and sing and sleep very little. The weather will change with the music and the leaves. Probably, we’ll sweat a lot. Toward the mid-point, I’ll take August with me on a flight across the ocean, and August will be there when I start a fresh chapter in a familiar city. The good thing about time is it never leaves your side, even if it’s always moving.
It wasn’t long ago that June brought me to Jenny, to South Korea. It wasn’t long ago that I was lounging with May on the south campus lawn of a university with my friends in Istanbul. Every month brings with it some change to your life, and while you’re busy living in the moment, getting drunk off new experiences, the weeks will slide by. Try to pay attention, but don’t worry too much about catching all the details. In the end, it’s the feeling of the memory that matters the most.
Were you happy? Were you excited?
I can’t predict what August will bring. For now, I look back fondly on the events of July, the trip to Po Hang for the fireworks festival, the nights downtown, the walks through Daegu, the barbecue dinner, the lazy weekends, the experience I needed for my major, the buzz of the cicadas, the arrival of consistently blue skies, the ever-changing plans for the future and all the little things in between. Hard to picture the summer wrapping up so quickly, but time waits for no man and a whole new chapter awaits in the States.
Summer, Act III, is upon us.
Well the weather got nice all of a sudden. We actually saw some of that blue behind those clouds, and this coming when they were warning of typhoons. However, with busy schedules on our plates, Jenny and I haven’t done too much exploring, at least not on the weekdays. Come weekends, we take trips downtown to meet friends for hookah in perfect little hideaways, or we take walks by Suseong Lake to watch the light show, or we eat pizza in the park. The non-busy moments have been spent writing and reading, mostly. I’ve got a new blog running because I can never think of enough reasons to write, and I’ve been working on a lot of fiction. Finished reading “Jitterbug Perfume,” found it captivating to the last line, and now I’m working on “Memento For Istanbul,” one of the books I picked up while I was in Istanbul, so it’s neat to read about the city I fell in love with. All said, summer is moving along nicely. Couldn’t have asked for a better one.
Here’s some discoveries about life that I’ve made after my semester abroad in Istanbul.
1. It keeps going. The day will come when you’ll board your plane and leave your wild aventure behind, and you’ll think, “Nothing will ever be the same!” True, it won’t, but time ticks on just like it always did, and life comes at you at the same pace as it always did, and within a few days you’ll be finding out that the adventure never really ends, it just changes scenes and characters.
2. Life feels bigger now. You’ve seen the world. You’ve eaten foods you still can’t pronounce correctly. You’ve slipped into the mindset of a totally different culture. If this was your first time out of the country, you’re probably already antsy for another chance to do it again. Not only that, but you’ve met some really interesting people who are studying things you’ve never thought of, or you met foreigners with accomplishments you’ve only dreamed of. Now you’re seeing all the possibilities this world has to offer, all the choices you truly have to do something amazing. Life is longer and your potential is greater than you ever knew. Expect to have a thousand plans and no idea how to accomplish them all.
3. You will not be the same. You’ve grown, not only with time, but with wisdom. Do you find yourself more patient, now? Stopped sweating the small stuff, have you? These are good signs of a true traveller, someone who embraces the unexpected and adapts to the unfamiliar. Most important of all, you appreciate beauty, you appreciate kindness between locals and foreigners, and you appreciate a good sense of humor.
4. You will always miss your host country. For the rest of your life, you will try to figure out a way to return to that country, if only for a few days, just to say hello.
5. People will admire you for what you’ve done. They will be jealous and they might get sick of your awesome stories, but they will admire you and you will be an inspiration for others. They might not go abroad like you, but they will think of their own dreams and feel more inclined to follow them.
6. You will value your home country more. You might want to keep travelling for the rest of your life, but now that you’ve been away from home for a while, you recognize the value of having a good home to come back to.
7. The people you met and the friends you made… You probably won’t stay in touch with them as often as you’d like, but you’ll never forget each other. Thanks to facebook, you can keep in touch indirectly and send them an occasional message when you’re thinking about them, and Skype is still free, so that’s always an option. Without them your experience would’ve been entirely different, perhaps not nearly as remarkable, and remember that. Do your best to keep them in your lives. You never know when you’ll need an international friend’s couch to crash on when you head back out into the world.
Out the train windows, South Korea really shows off its summer beauty. The green, rolling hills and those misty mountaintops, the farmlands dotted with smatterings of traditional houses, a wild, untamed spread of nature with a billion different shades of earth.
Then you’ve got the cities that sprout up like mushroom patches of apartment buildings and wide city streets, E-Marts and telephone wires and freeways that ride on hundred-foot pillars.
The juxtaposition is startling, but through the train window, everything looks like a dream. At times the tracks lift you high above the ground and it feels like you’re Nemo on a floating mattress in Slumberland.
When we arrive at the beach town, Songjeong, it’s already raining. Neither of us adequately prepared for monsoon season, dressed in flip-flops and shorts, we at least have an umbrella. Plus, though a tad chillier than Daegu, the weather even in the rain stays humid enough to feel warm.
We book a hotel on the beach for 55 bucks with a view of the ocean.
Then it’s down to the waterfront, to the gold-bronze sand where a hundred other Koreans have shunned the rain from their concern and come out to swim anyway. Friends play silly games on the beach. Kids squeal as they run from the waves. Lifeguards patrol the area by jet-ski, swerving back and forth along the coast. We walk up into a tree-covered nook that sticks out from the beach and stare down the unfathomable horizon across this blue-gray beast of an ocean before us, celebratory weekend beer in hand. Next it’s time for a stroll along the lapping waves, for our feet to sink in the sand and seashells to catch our attention. The water is colder than the rain, so we don’t go swimming. When hunger is prioritized, we seek a traditional Korean seafood soup house. After this, in the hotel, we take a nap.
That night, the monsoon arrives.
Post-nap, we head out into the weather to seek a sushi restaurant, but the flooded streets never lead us where we want and instead we settle on pork. The city is lit with neon and flashy lights that reflect in the puddles and waves. We’re too bad-ass to take a taxi. We get back to the hotel as wet as a pair of oxygen-bonded hydrogens, watch a few minutes of Korean television, and fall asleep.
We get a break in the morning and a few moments of bright gray sky, but just as the time comes to check out and leave the hotel, it picks up where it left off. I’ve always loved the phrase “torrential downpour” and it’s oh-so-accurate for this scene. Million thread-count sheets of it are falling from the sky. We even get glimpses of hail in the blustery wind, sweeping against our window as if to laugh and say, “You think your umbrella will save you now?”
The elevator is out of order, gone dark from the storm.
In the parking garage, we’re whipped by gusts of storm carried by the heavy winds, daring us to continue. We have no choice. We’re soaked before we even feel the rain, which feeds on us like hyenas at a buffet as we run for the nearest coffee-shop. Luckily it’s not exactly cold, if there can be an upside to a monsoon, and honestly it’s rather exciting to be in the middle of a big storm. You can hear thunder in the gray, sometimes you see the flash of lightning that sparked it.
We eventually make it home fine. The train is delayed from a fallen tree on the track, a victim of the weather. Poor old oak. In Daegu, the storm has passed.
In the end, we may not have been soaking up the sun rays on the beach, but we still went to the beach. We still got our fill of ocean scenery. For California kids like us, we need to step in the ocean at regular intervals or we go insane with land-lock syndrome. We ate good food, as always, had a fantastic little hotel room on the cheap, and left with a story to tell. Can you ask for more?
It’s monsoon season. Humid as a witch’s armpit, with rain that could sink a thousand Titanics sporadically occurring on the daily. Sunny days here are overcast to other countries; you’re lucky to see the sun’s yellow silhouette in the sky behind the blanket of altostratus clouds before they turn cumulonimbus for the storm. Good luck seeing more than three stars at night if you’re living in a city of three million.
But South Korea is not all about the weather, though the weather has a way of affecting everything you do in this country.
It’s also about the food and the people and the experiences. It’s about getting drunk with Koreans over BBQ and spicy Japanese seafood soup. It’s about refilling transit cards and cool subway rides and renting bikes on the weekend. It’s about powdered ice coffee and Dutch coffee and pronouncing coffee like “copy.” It’s about high speed rail and exchange rates and cheaper, healthier diets. It’s about being an ambassador for your country. It’s about language and miscommunication and dialogue breakthroughs. It’s about customs you can’t get used to but knowing they’re not your customs to judge. It’s about not resisting and open-mindedness and learning as much as you teach. It’s about traveling not only to test your mind and soul, but to feel accomplished that in your lifetime you left the bubble of your mother country and took a risk across borders, not to vacation but to live.
In my one month in Korea and my four months in Turkey, I have missed my home but I have made the world my home. I have accepted its invitation to see all that it offers its human guests, explored the rooms of its expansive, elegant mansion, seen its sunsets in faraway places and found overall that people aren’t so different. We strive for similar outcomes. We are but mortals.
On the personal, I am a little under the halfway point of my time in Daegu with Jenny, aiming to return to Sacramento on the 19th of August. After that, it’s back to school for me. I will cherish my time abroad forever and in ways I can’t fathom now, but look forward to catching the tail end of a California summer. We make and change and change again our plans for the future. We imagine cozy lofts and barbecues and front porch talks. We think of gardens and foods we miss and places we still want to go. We have it in our head to align ourselves toward San Francisco, to live there and fulfill the dream of every young person in Northern California. We have it in our head to circle the globe and stop in all the topical paradises, to comb all the beautiful beaches, and take walks at night in the most romantic places. For some reason we are fascinated by the idea of spending time in South America so I better start brushing up on my Spanish.
Life rarely unfolds the way you expect. Even at 25 years old I’ve seen my fair share of curve balls. So we know this. We have our high hopes and realistic expectations. We just want to be happily successful and feel the fulfillment of a life lived to its maximum potential.
So despite the weather, which you get used to. Despite the exchange rate, which is not in our favor. Despite the sometimes suffocating urban sprawl, which blocks your view of the mountains… I really like it here in South Korea. I will spend the second half of my summer making memories, exploring with Jenny, and making sure I leave this rice and kimchi loving country on a good note.
Besides those clusters of bugs that like to hover in clouds at face-height, waiting like krill to be swallowed by our unsuspecting whale mouths, the bike ride to Suseong Land was rather magical.
It starts like many things do in Daegu, with a lazy morning, which is followed by an attempt at socializing with the outside world, which, like many plans do in Daegu, changes according to the weather. It’s goddamn gorgeous today (Saturday) and despite some inconvenient backtracking from the baking store and a few additional swipes of our transit card, Jenny and I are eventually renting free bikes from the Dongdaegu Subway Station and tearing through the city on two wheels.
The last time I rode a bike was in Istanbul on the biggest of the Princes’ Islands, where my biggest competition on the road was a horse carriage. Here, we’re sticking to the sidewalks because the street would be suicide. The bikes are better quality than you’d expect from a free service in a city of three million, which means they’re not being utilized enough, which is a shame. Maybe Jenny’s bike sounds like an old witch hacking up a lung when she changes gears, but otherwise they roll along just fine and brake on command. We spend most of the time on a smooth trail along the Sincheon River, anyway, so it’s not like we need any fancy all-terrain functions.
What made the ride so magical is tough to pinpoint. The weather was ideal—mid-afternoon comedown, with a breeze to battle the waning humidity. People were out and about, celebrating the sunny weekend after a gloomy week, riding bikes, having picnics, taking strolls, racing remote-control cars, exercising, eating ice cream, walking dogs and meeting up with friends. On the ride out, we saw a band setting up equipment on a cement stage on the river’s edge, and on the ride back, we heard them playing to a crowd of fans. We passed a dance party. We crossed the river on a stone path with the water flowing between the stepping blocks and fish trying to leap upstream. At Suseong Land, we rode through the amusements and saw all the families and locals waiting in line for rides and carnival games. We stopped at the lake to watch the swan boats dance in erratic loops along the shore with families peddling inside, then drank our beers and ate our kimbaps before hopping back on the bikes to head home as the sun set behind us. On the way back, we passed some of Jenny’s friends who stopped and chatted with us and made plans for a get-together this weekend.
It was nice to be mobile. The river, as manmade as it is, still has charm and brings an assortment of color and life to the otherwise cement-and-glass feeling of Daegu. Plus the bikes were free to rent, so you can’t lose, and if you’re ever in Daegu without a plan on a Saturday, this one comes highly recommended.