travel truths

Travel Tales: Fado Problems and Hair Flip Solutions

If you read any guide on what to do in Lisbon, chances are you’ll come across fado.

This traditional Portuguese music is moody and sad, and, for whatever reason, seems to be best paired with dinner and drinks.

Dinner with a fado show is a super popular activity for people visiting Lisbon (and Portugal in general), so, as it goes… it’s also a pretty common way for tourists to get ripped off… which is what almost happened to us.

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We decided late in the afternoon on Andrew’s last day in Lisbon that we would go for dinner and a fado show to celebrate his birthday that night. We did very little (ie zero) research on where to go or how to avoid getting scammed, soooo, basically… we nearly fell into one of the aforementioned tourist traps.

(Side note: are you noticing a theme here? I literally did not plan annnything prior to this trip)!

Long story short… shortly after deciding on our fado dinner plans… like literally less than two minutes later, we walked by a cute restaurant with a big sign out front that said “FADO SHOW TONIGHT!”

…and then we went inside and booked a table for the four of us that evening!

Perfect, right?! It’s like the universe had been listening to our chat!

Well, not quite…

First mistake: Going into the first place we saw.

Turns out, there was a cover charge of 10 Euros a head… something the hostess didn’t tell us until after we had given her our name and contact information.

This was a bit of a red flag. In hindsight, we probably should have backed out then, but I hadn’t done any research to know any better, so I thought, “Well, technically we’re seeing a show. I guess paying a cover is normal,”

…and then, in our excited fado frenzy, we forked over 40 Euros.

Second and third mistake: Paying 40 Euros cover. Not looking at the menu.

As we continued on our walk back to our AirBnb, we started seeing (ie noticing for the first time) loads of restaurants with signs advertising fado shows that evening… many of which also had another one of my favorite words - “FREE!”

Still, we had already paid… so we decided to give the first spot a chance.

When we came back that night we quickly realized that this restaurant was a weeeee bit out of our “Nearing the End of a Two Week Holiday” price range

…and then (even more quickly) began concocting a “Let’s Get Our Money Back” and go somewhere else plan.

After a little hair flip action and some Oscar worthy acting from Lindsey and Andrew, we got our money back and began the hunt for a more affordable place to get our fado fix.

We found a buzzing restaurant with a bit of a wait, and though they still charged a per person cover at the door to reserve a table, 100% of this money went towards our bill at the end.

Our experience here was much more intimate and cozy… not to mention a whole lot easier on our bank accounts.

The fado singer found out it was Andrew’s birthday (because she was basically standing right beside our table the entire time) and gave him his own little encore.

I wish I had photos of this because a picture is worth a thousand words… but I don’t… so HERE’S A GIPH INSTEAD. That’s gotta be worth at least a million, right!? Just look at those birthday boy dance moves!

Despite the little mishaps along the way, our dinner + fado evening ended up being one of my favorite nights of the whole trip, and proof that it IS possible to get a great meal and a fun fado experience without paying an arm and a leg.

The moral of this story isn’t to do your research… because going with the flow actually turned out pretty well for us in the end.

The moral of this story is that even the most seasoned travellers make mistakes… and that there’s no problem a sassy little hair flip can’t solve.


Have you been to a fado show?

Was your experience as cool as Andrew’s? ;)

Let me know in the comments below!

Why I Loved Teaching English in Korea... And Why I Left



If you’ve been following this blog, you probably already know that my round the world travels began in 2015 when I quit my jobs, packed up my life in North Carolina, and moved to the big city of Seoul, South Korea.  

For over a year I’d talked about teaching abroad.

I took a TEFL course after graduating college, and I’d started considering where I wanted to go… but even to me, the thought of actually DOING it seemed absurd. So absurd that even I kind of doubted that I ever actually would… until I did. Twice. 

Teaching in Seoul was a great experience and Korea was an amazing, highly underrated country.

Here’s why I loved it… and why I left.

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Throughout my time in Korea, I taught literally hundreds of students ranging from Western age 4 to 14. I wasn’t properly prepared, trained, OR certified to do so, but I quickly found myself teaching MUCH more than just English.

I basically taught everything, but IN English… basics like the ABC’s and phonics to subjects like science, debate, social studies, art, and even cooking. Though some of these posed a real challenge for me at first, they also made me get creative and put my teaching ability to the test. 

I really enjoyed teaching and living in South Korea. I was able to learn about a new country, got involved with local organizations like Teach North Korean Refugees, and learned a little bit (but not nearly enough) of the language. I discovered a passion for education, language, culture, (food), and a deep love for the innocence, hope, and joy that comes with spending time around children.

Unfortunately, for all the positive aspects of this experience, there were several negative ones too.

 

The education system in Korea is extremely intense and competitive. From a very young age many kids are involved in numerous extracurricular activities. They go from their regular elementary school to academy after academy, and, when they finally come home, they study even more, sometimes with an in-home tutor.

As a teacher at one of these private academies, called hagwons, I found myself going through multiple textbooks a month with my kindergarten students, giving scantron tests to seven year olds, and memorizing speeches with kids who, months earlier, didn’t even know the English alphabet. At school and at home, many of them never have time to just play and be kids.

In a parent teacher meeting at my third (and last) school, I had a mother tell me that, lately, her child didn’t want to study at home… that he seemed to be getting burnt out on phonics. This came as a surprise to me because this kid loved phonics at school…. Every day he would literally choose to practice writing new vocabulary words over having playtime with his friends. 

After spending hours at school (then going to whatever afterschool classes and extra-curricular activities he was involved in), I can only imagine that, once he got home, he wasn’t too keen on studying anymore. After all, he was only 6… and already learning about the silent k in “kn” and that “ph” actually makes an f sound.

A few minutes after trying to reassure her… since she seemed concerned… she then expressed that she felt he wasn’t learning enough in comparison to a kid in their neighborhood. This competition between parents is not an uncommon occurrence.  

Parents are highly concerned with their kid’s success… and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what some of them fail to understand is that more textbooks don’t necessarily mean more learning. Unfortunately, in my experience, the administration at many hagwons will cater to these parents and allow them to call the shots…. Making it feel more like you’re working at a business than a school. If the parents want more books, then you’ll find yourself cramming more material into your already rushed lessons.

The heavy emphasis on fast, textbook learning is stressful on teachers and students, and, overall, it isn’t doing anyone any favors. In my experience, kids who may have been incredibly book smart lacked skills like creativity, critical thinking, and were unable to work as a part of a team. They were afraid of making mistakes… a harsh reality that likely comes from not getting nearly enough time to play, explore, and just be kids.



I worked at three different schools during my time in Korea, and while the overall job was pretty similar, each one’s administration and organization was exponentially worse than the last. The expectations became higher, the pay and resources become lower, and my stress level absolutely sky rocketed.

At my final school I took a significant cut to my salary. I initially didn’t mind because the working hours were (seemingly) much shorter. I quickly found out that less working hours doesn’t necessarily mean less work.

Though I was supposed to be out by 5 pm every day, I found myself staying anywhere from one to two hours later, just so I had time to finish correcting books, writing comments, and preparing for the next day. This happened multiple times a week, but was never considered overtime, and I was never compensated for it, since it wasn’t technically “teaching hours,” (just the time it takes to prepare for teaching, which, in my opinion is almost more important… but, anyway, I digress)…

I was doing a lot more. Making a lot less. And dealing with a lot more bullshit.

This school was the most unorganized by far. The constantly changing administration had zero clue what they were doing, and frequently sprung things on teachers with little to no notice. They didn’t take into consideration the time or effort that went into doing the job and doing it well, and were constantly raising their expectations and our work load.

Though my students were tough to handle at times, they were nothing compared to the stress I felt working under such a disorganized and inexperienced administration.

 

“Comparison is the thief of joy” is a pretty adequate quote explanation of the situation I found myself in here…. because even though the school and its management were an absolute mess, I still really loved teaching and all the little monster students in my class… (even the one little bundle of energy and enthusiasm who couldn’t sit still, colored on the walls, and plugged the sink, intentionally flooding the hallway a few times).

If I hadn’t had my previous schools to compare it to, I probably could have stuck it out here… but, I DID have those comparisons… and I knew that this school was seriously ripping teachers off, and taking advantage of the ones who didn’t know any better.

 

Despite the negative circumstances I left under, I still love Korea - it was my first overseas home away from home, and the place where I met the love of my life. I loved teaching, and will never forget my students or the close connections I made.

Moving there and documenting the travels that followed allowed me to rediscover my love of writing, and uncover new hobbies like photography and video. Due to my draining, toxic work situation, I found myself with little time or energy to dedicate to these personal passions… so finally, after having two different directors, and three different co-teachers in a three-month span, I decided enough was enough and put in my notice. 

After roughly three years of teaching in Korea, it was time to move on…

 

I took a few weeks to detox in Vietnam, took advantage of some pretty big partnerships while I was still in Asia, then made a quick stop through Thailand before returning home.

I decided that it’s time to pour more of my time and energy into fulfilling my own goals and less fulfilling every unrealistic whim of ungrateful, parent-pleasing, hagwon bosses. It’s time to be closer to my family and friends… and to be around for the things that are important.

 I loved Korea, but it was time to leave.

It’s time to begin new adventures and take on new challenges… So that’s what I’m going to do.

 

So, what’s next??

Well, stay tuned, y’all… cause I’m moving to Europe!


*Disclaimer - My perspective of teaching in Korea and my decision to leave was entirely dependent on my personal views of education, and the experiences I had in my work environments. Other individuals may have vastly different views depending on their experience and the type of schools they worked in.

For example, teaching in the EPIK program is very different from teaching at a hagwon, and each hagwon varies greatly. Other factors like the neighborhood you live in, the status of your housing, and personal relationships with coworkers and other staff also come into play.

I have both lived, and heard my fair share of horror stories when it comes to teaching in Korea, but still believe there are plenty of great companies to work for.

For legal reasons, I’ve chosen to not fully disclose any names or specific situations I dealt with, but if you are considering teaching in Seoul and have any questions or concerns about the interview process, contracts, or specific schools, feel free to contact me for the full, unedited scoop.

Meeting Mandalay, Money Mishaps, and Other Myanmar Reflections

 
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When I arrived in Myanmar last spring, I was just about overcome by an irrefutable combination of feelings... I was excited... Nervous... A little bit puzzled, a whole lot mystified... and extremely hungover...

Here's a little back story.

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The weeks prior to my arrival in Mandalay had been spent packing up my life in Korea, travelling through Hong Kong, and making my way from bustling Hanoi alllll the way down to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

The days prior had been spent quite literally raging in Bangkok.

You see, when I realized I'd need to have a stopover in the city anyway, that was the only excuse I needed to make it a little extended layover, and to visit my friend who lives there.

It should be noted that the friend I was visiting is one of my wildest university friends. We've had a couple of reunions in our Asia adventures, and they've always been epic, but nothing could have prepared me for our March and April shenanigans.

I flew in to Bangkok on St. Patrick's Day... That in itself was a good time... but, as luck would have it, there was also a music festival the next day... (which I, of course, was grooving at til the early hours of the morning... before heading to the airport to catch my flight to Mandalay).

I smile (and get a headache) just thinking about it.

It was a great weekend.... had a blast... lost all of my photos from that 40ish hours... (which I'll explain later)... but, would I do it again?? 100%.

...When I woke up the next morning, I felt justifiably horrible. So much so that I was only slightly revived by the 711 Toastie that Brad brought me in bed. For reference, these little convenience store grilled cheeses usually work hanger, hangover, and munchies miracles... but on that particular morning, it did not.

I got in a cab who proceeded to drive me to the wrong airport. When we were back on track, and I'd arrived at the correct airport, I spent the next hour running around looking for a place to print out another copy of my e-visa approval letter. 

Finally got it all sorted and made it to my flight just in the knick of time.

Sooo, yeah... that's a little backstory on my arrival to Myanmar.

*note - the glitch at the 0:09 second mark is me tripping over a rock in the temple*

 

In fairness, I knew Myanmar was going to be a bit mind bending regardless...

At the time, I hadn't known anyone else to travel there, and, therefore, had literally no clue what to expect. To be honest, I kind of liked it that way. I didn't want anyone else's experiences or perspective to influence my own - I just wanted to go and wander and take it all in.

The plane landed in Mandalay and my brain kicked in to high gear. I felt those, "I'm about to explore somewhere totally new!" butterflies in the pit of my stomach... the kind that are always accompanied by mixed feelings of excitement and fear.

I grabbed my backpacks, breezed through immigration, and then headed to find an ATM.

I am an English teacher. Math is not my thing... Numbers make my brain hurt... especially when I'm tired (and hungover)... but I thought surelyyyy I'd worked out that USD to Myanmar Kyat currency conversation properly.

You can imagine my freak out when the ATM spit out the this massive wad (and I mean WAD) of colorful, elephant clad cash. I let out an involuntary, "Shitttt," before quickly shoving the money in to my wallet as best I could. I didn't want anyone to see how much money the solo girl with the too-big backpack had just withdrawn.

I walked away thinking, "OH MY *expletive* GOD I MUST HAVE ADDED AN EXTRA *expletive* ZERO AND JUST CLEARED MY ENTIRE *expletive* U.S. ACCOUNT,"... but trying to look cool, calm, and collected, I went to sit down and put on my best, "Hey all good - nothing to see here," face.

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I tried to link up to wifi to figure out just how much *expletive* kyat I had just crammed in to my too small wallet... but there was no wifi. *Expletiveeeee* (Side note: Since thought filters apparently aren't a thing for me, I figured I'd try a bit of censorship for my mum's sake. Better, ma??) 

I didn't find a wifi connection, but I did spot a counter selling SIM cards. I went over to get one, and, by the time I'd finished, the crowd by the ATM had cleared. Trying my best to look casual, I walked back over to try to redeposit the money - (lol). As it goes, the only option was withdrawal.

After setting up my SIM card, I realized I had been stressing over nothing. One of these bills was actually worth just around US$3.

Crisis averted.

I still didn't quite feel comfortable toting around a fat wad of wash without pepper spray on me as well, but everything turned out okay.

It's all very funny now - BUT IT WAS NOT AT THE TIME. 

I bought a bus ticket, and, after waiting a bit, was on my way to Ostello Bello, the hostel where I'd be spending the next few days.

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Side story: When deciding whether or not I'd go to the festival in Bangkok (which didn't take long), I rationalized my decision by saying, "Oh I'll just sleep on the plane and the bus and when I'm dead." I got ZERO sleep on the bus ride in to the city... as this was quite literally the bumpiest bus ride I have ever had in my entire life.

Even if it hadn't been a bumpy ride, I'm not sure I would have been able to sleep. I was  staring, wide-eyed, out the window... soaking in all of this crazy landscape that I'd never seen before. Though it was business as usual for the people of Mandalay, it was extraordinarily foreign for me.

Confused as hell by the writing on the road signs, I attempted to scope out places I'd return to in the following days.

When I finally arrived at my hostel, my hangover had passed but I was exhausted. I took a shower, had some dinner, and completely crashed. 

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The next morning, I woke up early, ate the free (surprisingly delicious) hostel breakfast, and rented a bicycle for the day for 3,000 kyat ($2.14).

Like I said before, I had no real plans for Myanmar, so once I'd gotten my very rickety set of wheels, I just cruised around the city. This was low key terrifying because I had no clue where I was going... and because the roads of Mandalay were just as mental as most other big, Asian cities.

I was greeted with  warm hellos and "Mingalabahhhh"s from little kids on the back of motorbikes as the zoomed by. These hellos came from faces, adorned with smiles and Thanaka, that radiated nothing but good vibes... and, so, within an hour of exploring, I was at ease.

Myanmar had been (and still is) a mystery to me... but I knew I had nothing to fear here.

Photo by Jeff sainlar

Photo by Jeff sainlar

I ended up cycling over to Mandalay Palace (into the wrong entrance), and was told by a very stern, military man that I'd need to enter through the foreigners entrance.

This Palace was actually pretty surreal. There wasn't too much to see... well, rather, there wasn't too much you were allowed to see. You had to check in, wear a visitors pass, and, as a foreigner, were not allowed to enter restricted areas... which was most of them.

I parked my bike outside the gate, as instructed, and walked straight down the road towards the palace... (which was also the only direction I was allowed to go).

After exploring the Palace Grounds a bit, I removed my shoes and wandered in to one of the many buildings, and, very quickly, all eyes in the room turned to me... before I knew it I had a cue of people waiting to take photos with and of me. Bet you can guess who my favorite was.

Later on, I met and exchanged emails with a school teacher who's class was out on a field trip, then practiced English with her students.

Photoshoots and English lessons are tiring, and at this point, I was hungry... so I cycled to the closest restaurant I could find, and brushed up on some conversational Burmese with the help of my waiter at lunch.

After getting some food, I biked/walked up Mandalay Hill, and was absolutely amazed once I reached the top.

It was sparkly and authentic and magical... and, though I'm trying, I still can't quite put that place in to words.

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I again, was greeted by a group of young girls wanting to chat to all the foreigners and practice their English. Pen and paper in hand, the asked, and jotted down the answers to a million personal questions.

For each question I answered, I got a sticker... one of which stayed faithfully stuck to the back of my phone case long after I returned home.

As the sun went down, I started to walk back down Mandalay Hill to where I'd parked my bike... but then my sandal snapped... and after walking barefoot for awhile, I very willingly accepted a ride from a woman heading down on her scooter. With her baby in the front, and me on the back, she quickly whizzed me back down the hill to my bike.

So much for not accepting rides from strangers. Sorry, mum.

On my way back to my hostel, I stopped at another temple, and browsed through the world's largest book at Kuthodaw Pagoda.

I chatted with monks and locals, other travellers, and made friends with the cutest Burma pooch.Then, after returning to my hostel, as you do when you're backpacking with minimal shoe options, I duck-taped my broken sandals back together - Good as new! 

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All in all, Mandalay was a magical start to my Myanmar trip.

I had been SO nervous to come here... just because I didn't know anyone who had ever been... but, I guess that's the whole point in this travelling thing - seeing new places and meeting new people for yourself... finding out that the world isn't such a bad place, and the people in it, no matter how different they may seem, are mostly good.

If you want to learn and grow and challenge yourself, you've got to go beyond where the people you know have been before, beyond where you're been before, and out of your comfort zone entirely.

The Burmese people were so kind and helpful, I felt silly for having been so worried.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MYANMAR?

The Truth About Making Friends in Seoul - Memoirs of a Small Town, Introverted Extrovert

One of the biggest questions I get asked, right after the annoying, post-college small talk starter "So... what's your plan?" and the very common "How do you get a teaching job in Korea?" is "How do you make friends in Seoul?"

Chances are, if you've ever asked me the latter of these questions, I've put my rose-colored glasses on and given you a highly sugar-coated response about how it's really easy to meet people here. 

If we've had this conversation... I'm sorry... because that's kind of a white lie.

Sure, it's easy to meet people... what's not easy is meeting the good ones. So, here's the truth... Making friends in Seoul kinda sucks.


Seoul is a massive city... one of the largest in the world... and, when I moved here in 2015, I was so overwhelmed. I come from a teeny tiny, North Carolina town called Pleasant Garden. A place that, for much of my childhood, was a one stoplight town. I hadn't practiced "the art of making friends" in a REALLY long time. Most of the people I'd met at home just kinda WERE my friends by default I guess.

Let me paint a picture of my small Carolina town for ya. There is a cow pasture beside my house... a house where my parents still live. I spent my summers playing outside, walking back and forth to my cousins' houses, fishing at the pond, and getting yelled at for playing with (chasing) the cows. I knew the majority of my neighbors (because I was related to most of them), and many of my friends and acquaintances were people who I'd grown up with.

When I went to University, I went as far away as I could... just not over the state line (because have you SEEN those out of state tuition rates). This led me to four years in Wilmington, North Carolina... a little beach town made famous by One Tree Hill.

Again, this was a fairly small town. I ran in to the same people on campus, had the same people in my classes, and spent my time with, mostly, the same group of friends... just not the people I went to high school with (because, at that point, I'd realized that some of them kind of sucked). Actively trying to make new friends wasn't ever a thing... Because when you work together, study together, and see each other everyday, you might as well get along and enjoy the occasional two (or 20) beers.

The big city vibe was NOT something I'd ever really experienced before, so, for me, Seoul might as well have been the largest city in the universe. When I arrived here and started my first job, I did it with the small town mindset that everyone I met would just be my friend... We were, after all, in the same boat, right... Foreigners abroad just wanting to meet people, travel, and have a good time, right? Wrong.

 

Enter... let's call her... D... - coworker, Cali girl, and unbeknownst to me, my arch nemesis. She, for whatever reason, had it out for me from the start, and proceeded to shut me out and exclude me from virtually every office outing, joke, and conversation.

This threw me for a huge loop. I'd encountered plenty of girls who were mean for no reason, but never one who was so upfront and in my face about it.

Looking back, D was both a blessing and a curse. A curse because, for awhile, I was pretty sad and miserable about being excluded from everything... A blessing because she made me wisen up to the harsh reality that not everyone is going to want to be your friend... and that's okay.

 

In the beginning, I spent my fair share of time feeling sorry for myself. I resented D and my coworkers who blindly went along with her. Then, one day, I snapped the hell out of it and realized that I did NOT come this far (7,071 miles to be exact) to let my happiness be determined by one catty individual. I decided to enjoy the new city I was living in, whether it was with other people or not. 

I went to art museums by myself. I went to bars by myself. I read books, taught myself to read hangul, and spent hours writing by the river. I sought out volunteer opportunities. I tutored North Korean refugees. I did things that made me happy, and, even though I was doing them alone, I didn't feel lonely... because, after a certain point, I'd started embracing my solitude. I found that when I started doing things I cared about, I was meeting people with similar interests and passions... and even when I didn't meet people, I didn't care.

I thought I was pretty selective from that point on, but, in hindsight, turns out I'm still a pretty horrible judge of character.

When I tell you I've had horrible experiences with friends and relationships in this city, I mean it with every grain of my being. I have some downright tragic tales to tell.

You see, unlike the small town vibes that I was used to... in big cities, people don't have to be nice to you by default. Most expats know they won't be in Seoul forever, so they're reluctant to get too attached... and they probably don't give a damn about your feelings. The likelihood of them ever seeing you again is slim to none. Those are facts... Facts that empower a lot of people to be dicks (like D) for no reason. (Every Seoul friend I've talked to about this has agreed... we're all guilty of it).

When everyone's putting up this hard, cold, front, it makes it really hard to meet good friends... and so, for a long time, I didn't.


 Okay... this all sounds really sad, and this isn't meant to be a sad post... but it's the truth. I let myself be disappointed by other people more times than I care to count, but that never stopped me from continuing to try to find the diamonds in the rough.

I think that, no matter where you are in the world, the older you get, the tougher it is to find people who you really vibe with... and who also vibe with you. That's life.

Thankfully, when it comes to Seoul, for every shitty person you meet, there's about a dozen good ones right around the corner... but, if you hole up in your apartment feeling sorry for yourself because a couple people didn't like you, you'll never meet the good ones.

The key to making friends in this city is this - Grow up.

Make like Amanda Bynes in She's the Man and rub some dirt in it. 

You're not everyone's cup of tea and everyone doesn't have to be yours either. If you can make plans to pack up your life and move to a massive city on the other side of the world, then you can let the actions and opinions of a few shitty people roll off your back.

Keep doing you. Be yourself.

 

Instead of sticking your nose in the air when you see other expats around town, like you've somehow "assimilated better" than them, SAY HELLO. Don't be a dick. When you come across someone who's new here, take them under your wing. Show them the cool stuff. Go on group trips to new places with a bunch of, possibly super annoying, strangers. Maybe you vibe with them, and maybe you don't.

I've made friends at bars. I've made friends on random weekend trips. I've made friends by joining one friend at a group outing where I wasn't going to know anyone else. I've even made friends from apps like Tinder and Instagram (yes, tinder). Some of them I still keep up with, and some of them fizzled out.

When it comes to making friends in this big city as a small town, introverted extrovert (who loves going out and doing all the things, but also staying at home), the bottom line is this... if you want to make friends here, you will... as long as you don't close yourself off to meeting new people.

 

Of all the lessons I've learned as I (continue to) master the art of making friends, these are the most important.

  1. It's not supposed to be easy. Stay true to yourself. No matter how many assholes you encounter, don't let it reflect in the way YOU treat people. When you meet someone who sucks, make like a duck and let it roll off your back. Not everyone is for you.

  2. When you find good people, hold on to em! Tell them you appreciate them in the name of good vibes and positivity (the world needs more of it)!

  3. Everyone who comes here has their own goals, plans, and, likely, is headstrong afffff (because it takes a special kind of soul to up and move to a country where you don't know anyone). You WILL butt heads with your best friends sometimes... know when to get over it.

  4. The friends you meet in this city will come from all over the world. They will have different experiences, speak different languages, and challenge the way you see things. Your nights out will be a mix of making fun of each others accents, sharing childhood stories, and teaching each other new expletives.

  5.  Not having everything in common with your friends is a GOOD thing. This allows you to learn and grow.

 

And the NUMBER ONE lesson I've learned in this massive city is that the most important relationship I need to work on is the one I have with myself. 

 

All the "friends" who turned out to not be so friendly after all, made me much more self-aware and self-relient. I realized that, whether you live in a small town or not, you should never be friends with someone by default. Choose your circle wisely... and when someone shows you their true colors, believe them.

To the people who have literally screwed me over... I genuinely wish the best for you (and luck to all who encounter you). I hope that you eventually see the light, and change your ways. Moreover, I thank you... because you showed me exactly how NOT to treat people, and gave me a firsthand glimpse of the type of person I never want to be.

To the amazing, beautiful, kind souls who have entered my life since I began this Asia adventure, I am so grateful for all of you. You make life sooooo much more fun, and I wouldn't trade the hours, days, weeks, or years I get to spent with you for anything.

 

Bottom line: If you're moving to Seoul... fear not when it comes to making friends.

It will take time, but you will find your people.

In the process, be prepared to find yourself.

Thoughts From A Stalled Speed Boat in the Bali Sea

Let me paint a picture for ya…

When I originally wrote this, I was sitting in the back row of a stalled boat in the middle of the Bali Sea… stuck somewhere between Lombok, Indonesia and Padang Bai.

We apparently hit a piece of drift wood, which in turn broke one of the propellers on the back of the fast boat...

 
 

 

Lots of people are freaking out… one girl is demanding another boat be sent to pick her up so she doesn’t miss her flight… another girl is yelling at the staff for laughing with one another while they work to fix it. An Indonesian girl finally translates what is going on for the rest of us on the boat… which still doesn’t keep the shouting blondie from literally losing her mind. She’s stands up to record the “incident” on her phone, and starts asking the rest of us why we aren’t speaking up about not feeling safe.

Though I did have many words to say, I only spoke up long enough to tell her to calm down and stop yelling at the men so they could do their job. Perhaps I was just still in an island state of mind, but I felt fine… and I’ll tell ya why.

 

Let me put the situation and their reaction in to perspective.

Though we were asked to get to the boat company’s office at 2:45 in the afternoon, it wasn’t until around 5pm that we actually boarded a boat. I was fine with all this… it gave me time to chill on the beach and grab another smashed avocado toast from Banyan Tree, (which was conveniently located just across the road from where we were waiting).

I can’t say that other people felt quite as relaxed. The same girl recording the boat incident… we’ll call her Blonde and Boujee… had been shouting at the guys from the boat company before we even left the island. At 3 p.m., when our boat hadn’t arrived, she wanted to know exactly what time that we’d be leaving. I’ll hand it to her… it is a bit frustrating having to wait around without knowing an exact time of departure… but, like most things in Bali, the boats run on island time… Meaning they get there when they get there.

 

If there’s anything I learned from the two entire days I spent getting to and from Gili Trawangan, it’s that it’ll most likely take an entire day to get to or from Gili Trawangan. Booking a flight for the same day, or expecting that you’ll be able to make it to your destination an hour or two after the quoted departure time is just not realistic… (and very poor planning).

No, it is not ideal to rush to get to the beach early for a boat… I scarfed down my delicious lunch, rushed back to check out of my villa, and then sat and waited around for hours before it was finally time for the boat to depart. No, it’s also not ideal to be on a boat that breaks down in the middle of the ocean as the sun is going down... But here’s the deal… shit happens. And when it does, you deal with it.

 

The men on the boat quickly responded to the mishap, and got to work fixing the back propeller. So what if they were whistling while they worked? They were likely joking around and making light of the situation so as to not alarm anyone on board. When asked when the boat would be fixed (by the girl who feared she’d miss her flight) they responded with “Waiting… Ready… Go,” and I don’t think I could possibly describe “island time” any better. Their candidness was totally counteracted by the various bitching blondies who quite successfully raised my very chill blood pressure a few hundred points.

Within the half hour, the men had the boat running smoothly and we were breezing (quite quickly) over fairly choppy ocean waters. It made me a bit nervous (thanks to my raised blood pressure), but it wasn’t my first boat ride and we all arrived to Padang Bai in one (slightly stressed out) piece.

 

Overall, if you plan on travelling by boat to and from Bali’s surrounding islands, remember these few things...

  1. Keep your "timeliness" expectations low.

  2. On that note... Be flexible

  3. Take your pills - (both your sea sickness meds and your chill pills).

  4. Relaxxxx. You’re on a flipping island (or commuting to/from one).

 

This was not the first time I found myself on a non-functional boat in the middle of the water on my Asia trip. No, it's not the most picture-perfect scenario... but I've found that real, RAW travel rarely is.

If you can’t enjoy the ride, despite the curve balls or driftwood that may come your way, ya might as well just keep your uppity ass at home.

 
 

25 Korean Years Old & My Premature Quarter-life Crisis

According to the Lunar New Year, I turned Korean age 25 over the weekend… and boy did the quarter life crisis hit hard. My newsfeed was chalk full of engagements, sonograms, toddlers, wedding photos, and anniversary posts… It probably wasn’t actually any more so than usual, but it sure did seem like it. Seeing my friends running through all of these massive life events like it’s some sort of race sometimes makes me wonder when all of these things are going to happen for me.

The truth is, at times, it really sucks not having someone to share my experiences with. I feel like maybe I’ve made the wrong move, and feel guilty for being so far away from my family. I wonder when I should join the rat race and get a job, a retirement plan, a car, and, I don’t know… maybe settle down with a boyfriend or a dog or something.

Then, I snap the hell out of it.

After a well-deserved long weekend of relaxation and running (rather, sliding) around the freezing city, I’m going in to February with renewed vision and a sense of clarity.

 
...I wonder when I should join the rat race and get a job, a retirement plan, a car, and, I don’t know… maybe settle down with a boyfriend or a dog or something.

Then, I snap the hell out of it.
 

This Lunar New Year holiday was the first time since moving to Korea that I have not gone on a trip during a school vacation. The combination of not having plans, and being stuck in the arctic tundra that is Seoul, sent me spiraling into a bit of a funk.

To paint a picture of this funk, I spent the first evening of the break with wine, Netflix, and a huge bag of popcorn. I binge watched a show that’s entirely in Portuguese… and finished the whole first season. The massive bag of popcorn? Well, it is now half gone… so perhaps when I said I was in a “bit” of a funk, that was a bit of an understatement.

Saturday was spent attempting to adult. I did laundry, cleaned my apartment, and got rid of more clothes to my pre-backpacking purge. I spent the rest of the day and night with a couple girlfriends. I love them to death and had so much fun, but, as they’re both happily in serious relationships, my Single Sally, quarter life crisis funk got worse. I drudged through the weekend feeling cold, lonely, and tad a bit sorry for myself.

Finally, I decided that something had to give. I planned to go for a hike Monday morning, as, in my experience, the best remedy for feeling low is to get high… and in Korea, the only legal way to do that is to climb a mountain. Then my friend messaged me about going sunrise roof-topping, and I figured that’d be even better… a not so legal way to get high. Just before the crack of dawn on Monday morning, I channeled my go-to “freezing hobo” aesthetic, put on several layers, and skated through the black ice filled streets to the train station.

 

Jason and I met outside the subway station, looked both ways before riding the elevator to the top floor of the building, snuck up the fire escape, then, despite the cold (and my lack of gloves), I clutched the freezing rungs of the metal ladder, and climbed from the first level of the roof to the top. Hiking and roof-topping are nice de-stressors… because I’ve found that the higher I go, the smaller my problems seem. The closer I get to the edge, the clearer I see things. Slightly dangerous (and possibly illegal) activities are where I find my zen – sorry, mum.

For a good portion of our time on the roof that morning, I wasn’t taking photos or climbing things (which is totally uncharacteristic of me). Jason kept laughing and commenting that I looked like I was waiting for something. I wasn’t waiting for anything, (other than for the feeling to return to my fingers and this dreadful winter to end). I really just like being up there, and was in deep thought.

 
 

With the beginning of my Korean 25th birthday came recollections of grade school days past. When young Kirst was asked what she’d be doing at this point in her life, she always imagined that she’d have it all figured out – that she’d be settled in to a life with a handsome husband, a cool job, a house, and a couple dogs. This prediction could not be further from 24 (Korean age 25) year old Kirst’s current reality.

Ya see, I’m more single than a slice of American cheese. I have no car and no pup. In a month, I’ll be jobless for the first time in 9 years, and homeless for the first time in my life. As excited as I am for this backpacking journey, and whatever the next chapter of my life holds, I’d be lying if I said the uncertainty of it all wasn’t a bit unsettling. I guess that’s one of the most redeeming parts about the 9-5, get married, buy a house, have babies path of life... It’s comfortable and predictable… but, at this point in my life, I don’t want predictable.

I realized on that rooftop that I love this crazy, random, life. I love living on the edge of it, taking in all it has to offer, making the most of my days, and spending them the way I want to. Sure, it can get lonely… but I’d rather spend time figuring things out for myself than to spend it in bad (or wrong) company. Kid Kirst thought she’d surely be a wifey by now, but smarter, slightly older Kirst wouldn’t settle, and had dreams of seeing the world. I’m glad that I’m living a life that would make my older, wiser kid-self proud.

Pictured below: A very young, but very wise, Kirst with her priorities totally in order. Ain't nobody got time to eat cake batter like a dainty princess. Grub now... clean your face later. (Not much has changed on this front).

 
 

It’s really hard being so far away from home… but when I dove out of my comfort zone and in to life abroad, opportunities arose that I never could have imagined. I realized just how much I’m capable of, and that I can achieve whatever I’m willing to work hard for. I’m thankful that I made the decision to create my own path, and to do it alone, even though it may be uncomfortable.

The clarity I regained on that rooftop Monday morning was reinforced this afternoon in my grade five literature class. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our curriculum had us reading Aesop’s fable, “The Dog and the Wolf.” For those of you who may not be familiar, it goes like this:

 

There was once a Wolf who got very little to eat because the Dogs of the village were so wide awake and watchful. He was really nothing but skin and bones, and it made him very downhearted to think of it.

One night this Wolf happened to fall in with a fine fat House Dog who had wandered a little too far from home. The Wolf would gladly have eaten him then and there, but the House Dog looked strong enough to leave his marks should he try it. So the Wolf spoke very humbly to the Dog, complimenting him on his fine appearance.

“You can be as well-fed as I am if you want to,” replied the Dog. “Leave the woods; there you live miserably. Why, you have to fight hard for every bite you get. Follow my example and you will get along beautifully.”

“What must I do?” asked the Wolf.

“Hardly anything,” answered the House Dog. “Chase people who carry canes, bark at beggars, and fawn on the people of the house. In return you will get tidbits of every kind, chicken bones, choice bits of meat, sugar, cake, and much more beside, not to speak of kind words and caresses.”

The Wolf had such a beautiful vision of his coming happiness that he almost wept. But just then he noticed that the hair on the Dog’s neck was worn and the skin was chafed.

“What is that on your neck?”

“Nothing at all,” replied the Dog.

“What! nothing!”

“Oh, just a trifle!”

“But please tell me.”

“Perhaps you see the mark of the collar to which my chain is fastened.”

“What! A chain!” cried the Wolf. “Don’t you go wherever you please?”

“Not always! But what’s the difference?” replied the Dog.

“All the difference in the world! I don’t care a rap for your feasts and I wouldn’t take all the tender young lambs in the world at that price.” And away ran the Wolf to the woods.

 

The moral of the story is that no amount of comfort, or good food, is worth as much as freedom. And so that’s where I’m at – (even though I do miss my mum’s cooking). For me, the mark of a collar would be the mark of an engagement ring on my finger. The chain would be a mortgage or car payments… and *shudder* children *shudder.* Again, these things are right for some people, but not for me. Not yet. Right now, I’m perfectly cool with loving on my kindy kids, and sending them home to their parents at the end of the day.

Truth be told, a certain level of sweetness comes with loneliness that I’ve, until now, made out to be a negative thing. If I want to get sushi for dinner for the fourth time in less than a week, I can. If I want to take an impromptu trip to Japan, it’s fine. Eat sushi there too, home girl. Having a last minute girl’s night in a city over an hour away? Cool – you don’t need permission. Wanna go sunrise roof-topping with a guy friend? Sure, why not! Bring gloves this time, ya dumby.

I can spend a day being super productive and running errands around the city, or a night in drinking cheap wine and watching an entire season of a Portuguese show on Netflix. The fact that I choose how I spend my time, makes me accountable for this time, and for my life. If it’s a bad one, I have no one to blame but myself.

I do look forward to the day that I find someone I want to share this journey with, but, for now, I am young, and I’m loving all the places this adventure is taking me on my own. There's just one more month ‘til I continue the adventure of a lifetime... and I cannot wait.