My New Chapter

Many things have happened since the last time I updated you on my life. Last thing you probably remember is me announcing that I am quitting my job, leaving, and traveling for a while. And then I went silent… The past few months (9 months to be exact) has been eventful and a lot happened – not just physically but also emotionally. I’m hoping to tell you all those things when I’m ready to put them into words. For now, I just wanted to tell you the state I’m currently in.

Through my travels, I had a lot of time and opportunity to think about myself, my situation and my future. I got the chance to realize and rediscover what it is that I want to do and what makes me truly happy. I weighted those thoughts with what I think is best for me and my plans changed… immensely.

If you follow me on my Facebook page, you’ll know that I am currently in Korea, a place I call one of my ‘homes’ but have a hard time connecting myself to. I was also here few months ago. There are a few reasons why I’m back here but one of my main reasons is that I decided to give Korea a chance and stay here for a while.

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Deciding to live in Korea:

As you may have read, I am Korean but I left Korea when I was 7 years old. Ever since then, I visited a few times but never really had the time to connect with this place – a place where I understand the language, love the food and look like everyone else but a place, where its many cultural aspects were puzzling and frustrating to me.

When I came to Korea couple of months ago, things started to change. I thought ‘maybe, I should give it a chance… If not now, when will I ever have the opportunity to come back and live here? If I really hate it, I can always leave.”

That was exactly what I thought and decided to do – but when I went to Cambodia, my thoughts started to change again.. ‘I’m not ready to settle, work and live the conventional life I left… I’d rather spend this time exploring and living in other places and doing projects that are worthwhile. I want a free life.’

But, I’m back. I’m in Korea. I have mixed feelings about it still but right now, I’m pretty certain about it. I’m going to give it a chance – be it a month, year, 2 years or more. After all, I am a Korean. If I don’t try living here now, I’ll never know. It’s unfair for me to not be here because of my prejudice and expectations.  And I seem to have found the right type of people who stop me from doing anything conventional. What will I be doing here? I’m going to be learning new things I’ve always wanted to learn, be it dance, sports, a language, etc. I’m going to try jobs that I’ve always wanted to try – be a bartender, barista, freelancer, teacher, yoga instructor etc. I’m not going to pressure myself to be a certain type of person.

I’m pretty confident. I’m pretty excited. I think it’s time for me to let go of all expectations and give this new chapter a try. 

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Boston grows on you

During my 4+ years in Boston, I always thought that Boston was a temporary place. I never felt like I was ‘home’ and always knew that some day, I will have to leave. I never tried to get to know the city better or gave it time to approach me. But, clearly I was wrong. Boston and its amazingness had crept on me without me noticing it. As I sat in front of limited wifi, reading about what was happening in Boston, my heart ached. My heart ached not just for my friends and the people I knew, but for the city. Without realizing, I was treating Boston as one of the many ‘homes’ I have. A lot of times, when people ask me what it’s like to live in Boston, I say “Boston is a place that grows on you,” not because you don’t like it when you first get there but because you leave it feeling like you are a part of it and it’s a part of you.

I posted an article titled “You May Leave Boston, but Boston Never Leaves You” on my Facebook page because I couldn’t agree more.

“Millions of Americans came of age at Boston’s many colleges and universities. For them, Monday’s tragedy is a reminder of how much the city still means.”

Even though I was away physically, I was still attached. The familiar streets and how my life evolved around those places, the people who are known to be cold-hearted but are actually the nicest city people I’ve met and the feel of community it has, which we witnessed last week – these are all the things I was being sad for. And when life in Boston was starting to return to normal slowly, I too was relieved. Last week just made me realize how much I miss Boston and that the city will always have a place in my heart.

So Boston, I miss you and I love you. Thank you for growing on me and being part of who I am today. 

Encountering Racism

I’ve encountered racism many times before but have been lucky to grow up being surrounded by diverse and educated group of people who appreciate cultural differences. Growing up attending an international school, you learn, at a young age that everyone’s equal no matter where they come from and rather than seeing ‘different’ as weird, you embrace it and try to respect it even if you may not understand it. I’ve encountered subtle racism and am pretty good at not being offended by it… those subtle things happen because people just don’t know better. In Boston, I was faced with more racist comments but those comments didn’t offend me because people didn’t make those comments with bad intentions. Simple things like ‘Are you Chinese? Japanese?’ can be considered rude instead of asking ‘Where are you from?’ and saying ‘Ni hao ma’ or ‘Konichiwa’ as I walk past can be annoying but according to the situation, I’d either ignore them or turn around and smile to correct them. Asking me if I’m from North or South Korea, I’d just wish you were more educated.

Growing up with friends from all around the world.

Growing up with friends from all around the world.

However, being in Europe, traveling to isolated towns and cities, I’ve encountered a lot more racism than I have – ever. Simple things from group of school kids chuckling and pointing at me on the bus to old men assuming I am one of the immigrant workers have all been part of my travel experience. I see this happening not only to me but to other non-white travelers as sellers go up to them saying ‘Filipino? Chinese? Japanese?’ to their faces. A lot of the people who make racist remarks think that I don’t understand what they are talking about because I don’t speak the language – but like in any other languages, you know when someone is talking about you even if you don’t understand a word they are saying. It’s written in the gestures and the interactions. People staring at me as I walk past is nothing compared to everything else I’ve witnessed and experienced.

Should I be angry? In all honesty, I’m not. I’m a little uncomfortable, just as I would be if someone was talking about me for any other reason such as my clothes, weight, hair, big zit on my nose, etc. but I’m not angry. When that old man handed me his room key as he was checking out because he thought I worked there, I laughed. It’s unfortunate but that’s the mentality he grew up with. I feel sorry for him but I know he didn’t do it to insult me. However, when kids, teenagers, point, whisper and laugh, I’m a little sad – sad for them and the society. I’m sad that these kids are not educated to respect other cultures. I’m sad that they are stuck in their little bubble and really don’t know better. We say that the world is ‘globalized’ today yet kids are still growing up not knowing anything about respecting differences that are out there in the world. That being said, I was on the bus when a group of middle school kids started talking to each other and chuckling as soon as they saw me – I knew what was happening and ignored it. Then, one of the teachers went up to them and started lecturing them. I looked over at her and smiled but secretly wished we could live in a world where the teacher didn’t have to do that and kids grew up in a society where respect for all types of people despite race, skin color, economical status, body shapes, etc. were embedded deeply in everyone’s minds and attitude.

I’m more than grateful that I grew up in such a diverse community and was brought up to embrace and respect differences.