Birthdays and Birthday Suits
Compared to April and June, May was a pretty laid back month for me. I celebrated my own birthday, my favorite student Tomato’s birthday, Buddha’s birthday… and stripped down to my birthday suit in a room full of people in the name of art. Judge all you want, but it was a very tasteful figure drawing class, and there was nothing slooty or raunchy about it (just like JC Penny catalogues – shout out to you, Guri).
It takes a hell of a lot of confidence to 1. strip down, and 2. sit in the middle of a room full of strangers who are not only observing all of your flaws, but also scrutinizing and recreating them on paper. Like most women, body image is an ongoing struggle for me, (especially living in the plastic surgery capital of the world), so I really pushed the limit with this one... but that's what this whole Seoul journey is all about - Pushing limits, becoming more confident, and discovering who I truly am. When you strip yourself of material things, you are raw, human - you are YOU, 100%.
As luck would have it, a night of soju and norebang-ing the weekend before the art class had caused me to take quite the tumble on a very slippery staircase. It might actually have been a couple of tumbles, and, thus, resulted in me having a bruise the size of Jupiter on my butt cheek.
After many failed attempts to heal and cover the bruise, I gave up, but decided to do the class anyway. I took off my robe, sat in the middle of the room, picked a pose that concealed the goods, and proclaimed (in my mind), “Here I am… flaws (bruises) and all… now draw them.” Thankfully, only one person drew Jupiter… a girl who also got kicked out for using her phone to take photos during the class.
Maybe I’m just incredibly hyperactive, but I can't believe how painful it was to sit absolutely still for such a long time. One thing is for sure - my ADD ridden brain worked overtime to make up for the fact that my body was not to move a single inch. I contemplated everything from our humanity to problems like global warming and world hunger… and solved neither. I left the class that night feeling absolutely invincible - and I still do. Because if I can do that, I can do anything.
This check on my bucket list taught me to be brave, be bold, be raw, and always be myself... regardless of what anyone has to say about it. After all, have you ever met a hater doing better than you? ...Me either.
It was a weird, wild, bucket list experience… but, hey… When in Korea…
It’s a good thing May was mellow because June. Was. Nuts. I started the month with a short, impromptu trip to Manila… and when I say short, I literally mean I was in the country for all of 36 hours. Those 36 hours were some of the most eye opening and life changing hours I’d had all year.
Thrilla in Manila
Most people who go to the Philippines either skip right over Manila or are forced to stop there because of a connecting flight... and it’s no surprise. This is definitely no five-star, up-scale, tourist destination.
There’s a famous quote that says, “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries,” and I think that’s pretty true for Manila. I received many warnings and comments that I should be careful… namely from my dad who responded with crickets when I jokingly asked how much ransom he’d pay for me if I were kidnapped, (which, for the record, was his concern not mine).
Despite the warnings, I really enjoyed wandering around and experiencing Manila. We stayed right across the street from what was supposedly the red light district, and, I must say, though there were many ladyboy/prostitute/lady boy prostitute sightings, (which is to be expected), the area was pretty tame.
There are good and bad people everywhere, and good and bad parts to every city. No matter where you go, you should always be careful. Because of my experience in Manila, I decided to never let someone else’s opinions and experience, (or, oftentimes, lack thereof), deter me from traveling to a place and experiencing it for myself.
One of the locals I was lucky enough to encounter in the city was an overly cheerful 23-year old named Russell, “like Russell Wilson.” With his jokes about free Wi-Fi and air conditioning, he somehow managed to talk two very frugal travellers into taking a tour around in his “Ferrari.” His jokes sold us, and we hopped in to his Ferrari, (which was actually just a bicycle with a little wagon-like cart attached to the side).
When we told him we were from the USA, he responded cheerfully with, “I’m from the USA, too!” He later drove us to his home… the USA, or United Squatters area. There were families bathing on the side of the street, people sleeping on cardboard boxes, kids wearing shirts for pants, and others wandering around with no shoes on at all in the blistering heat.
Despite their less than favourable living conditions, EVERYONE I encountered was friendly, happy, and welcoming, always offering a smile and a hello. Their joy was genuine, and the sense of community in “the USA” was so much stronger than that which you’d find in most white-picket fence American neighbourhoods.
The pedicab tour with Russell was the highlight of the trip. He had a contagious positive attitude and an adorable three-year-old daughter who rode around with us for part of our tour. He told us he was working and saving to send her to school because he wants to make sure that she will have a better life.
Though the Philippines’ “USA” wasn’t an intended destination on our tour that weekend, the experience was so incredibly eye opening. I was reminded that no matter how bad things may seem, there are people in the world who are far happier with far less. I’ve since tried to stop stressing the little things and to start being grateful for the life I live, even on my bad days… because, all things considered, the life I live is a pretty damn good one.
The rest of the trip can be summed up as eating cheap food, getting a $10 one-hour chocolate massage, consuming one $1 Red Horse too many, and getting majorly annoyed with my travel partner for thinking, and loudly voicing, that all the cab drivers were out to rip us off. We did get MAJORLY ripped off on a ride from the airport to our hostel, but there was no way for us to know that at the time, (and even what we paid wasn’t that much by Western standards).
Shit happens, and you shouldn't let a few bad apples who dupe you ruin your perception of an entire country of cabbies. Bottom line: learn from my mistake! If you fly in to the airport in Manila and are approached by some seemingly official guys holding a laminated sheet of paper with cab fares, talk down their price or tell them you will only take a metered ride.
Once I returned to Korea, I had a four-day work week and another busy weekend to look forward to – Ultra Korea! It was my first big music festival and definitely lived up to the hype. Though I only went for one day, when you do it right, sometimes one day is enough.
As it was in Korea, there wasn’t quite as much dancing as I’d like, but I still had a good time running around between the various stages, drinking way too many red bull vodkas, and getting soaked in the periodic torrential downpours. According to this photo, I went to Ultra Tokyo, too.
Crossing the International Date Line
Tokyo Round 2
The weekend after THAT, I actually did take a trip to Tokyo. It’s still funny to me that I’m able to go on international weekeenders with nothing but my small backpack, but with the flight being just over an hour, it’s totally doable. The price was right, so I booked it.
You’re probably thinking, "You already went to Tokyo. Why did you go back?" The short answer is that I wanted sushi, and hadn’t yet discovered Hana (my favourite sushi spot in Seoul, which you can read about here). The long answer is that, though I’ve never been a huge fan of tinder, I sorta, kinda had an epic international tinder date.
To make a long story short, this cute Japanese Irish guy and I matched on Tinder when I was in Japan in February, again in April when he was in Korea, and finally decided to meet in June while I was visiting Tokyo. Potentially the most epic international tinder story of all time? Maybe. (Just wait until you read about October). Regardless, technology is cool.
After matching for the second time, we had also become Facebook friends, (so I knew he wasn’t a massive creep-o and that I wasn’t getting cat-fished). We bonded over our Irish roots, love of whiskey (he works for Jameson), and had a really awesome time exploring the city. At Asakusa Temple, my "omikuji," fortune telling strip, was a good one, and Tinderfella relived his childhood on Nakamise Shopping Street (minus the temper tantrums).
It’s easy to get lost in Tokyo (both literally and figuratively), so it was cool getting a feel for the city through the eyes of a local (and someone who could speak the language). We Tokyo drifted around Shinjuku on our bikes, and went the coolest hole in the wall places that I never would have known to go to on my own.
It's really rare that I actually meet up with people from Tinder, (especially internationally) but I'm really glad I took a chance on meeting Tinderfella in Tokyo of all places. No, we didn't have some magical happily ever after moment, but I did make a really good friend. It isn't often I meet someone who shares my loves of whiskey, traveling, and video making - AND who also puts up with my bad jokes. Tinderfella is now killing it in Canada as a rep for Jameson, and has a girlfriend who I'm told I would love (and hope to meet when I make it to Toronto).
The weekend was over before I knew it, and, before long, I was jetting back to Korea and in to July.