Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Red Thread

An Ancient Chinese proverb says “An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, despite the time, the place, and despite the circumstances. The thread can be tightened or tangled, but will never be broken.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Taste the fullness of life."

Today, while sitting at my desk, I came across this article. It was too beautiful, too pertinent, & too honest.  I couldn't feel more connected to this piece. As I sat reading, line for line, I could not help but feel that it was something I needed to share.  If not for the reason that it spoke to me as an individual, then in hopes that it reaches other young people who have the courage to take a leap of faith in leaving all that is familiar behind (if even for a short while.)  I have posted the article below, and I have included subsections where I wrote my reactions to Goins' viewpoints, specifying how his words directly pertained to me. 

3 Reasons to Travel While You’re Young

The other night, I had a conversation with a young woman who had a number of decisions ahead of her, one of which was whether she should go to grad school or travel the world.
I told her to travel. Hands down. No excuse. Just go.
Travel While You're Young
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)
She sighed.

“Yeah, but…”

Never were more fatal words spoken.*
Yeah, but… what about debt?Yeah, but… what about my job?Yeah, but… what about my boyfriend (or dog or car or whatever)?
“Yeah, but…” is pernicious. Because it makes it sound like we have the best of intentions when really we are just too scared to do what we should.
It allows us to be cowards, while sounding noble.
Most people I know who waited to travel the world never did. Conversely, plenty of people who waited for grad school or a steady job and traveled still did those things — eventually.
Be careful of the yeah-but. The yeah-but will kill your dreams.
I was so stirred by this conversation that I shared it with a group of about thirty young adults last night, many who were asking these very questions.
The beginning of this article is the part that really spoke to me most. While reading this, I looked back on the months before I had arrived in Korea. Making a move to the other side of the world was a scary thought.  As adolescents, the world pushes us to plan for the future.  That's what I had been doing for the past four years: working hard in college to secure a good job (one which I would enjoy) and hoping to eventually become an independent. When I looked at where my life was heading, and where I wanted my life to go, I realized that there were some uncertainties.  Sure, I had gotten what I wanted, a teaching job out of college, and  a degree  hard earned that no one would ever be able to take from me. However,  I started to crave the world.  I started to realize that I was young and able, and that although a secure job was what I was  looking for, I wasn't ready for it yet quite yet. I have seen too many adults in my life struggle through hardship and life changes.  When my elders were young, the idea was to settle down, get a job, and start a family.  Some of them passed this notion on to us, perhaps not in the form of relationships & marriage, but in the form of career and independent life. However, if you listen to your elders, many of them will often say, "if I could have done that when I was young, I would go back and take the opportunity." Perhaps, it's not that they would change their lives, and the decisions they made, but that they would enhance it by taking more risks. I decided, I didn't want to be one of those people. I wanted to know, then when I age, I will be able to tell my children to chase their dreams and fight for what they want, take opportunities without hesitation, and look back without regret, don't live a life that follows the norm, live a life that leave you breathless, that enhances your learning, and that inspires you and others.  I want my children to know that I was brave enough to live a life like that, and they can as well. I wanted to travel the world.  I believed that if I went away, I would have a better understanding of the world, of people, and mostly of myself. 
Then came the "what ifs" and the "yeah buts." I can't even begin to explain how many "yeah buts" there actually were. I had days where I really questioned whether or not leaving my secure life was something worth doing.  I had days where I would cry because I was scared to leave behind all that was familiar and all that I had worked for. Yeah but:  my family, my teaching job (will I be able to get another one?), my friends (can I live with out them?) , my parents (I will not  be able to lean on them for help), my car (oh, I had just purchased her... and how in love we were!), i'm going to miss out on things at home. YEAH BUT, YEAH BUT, YEAH BUT... WHAT IF I WAS BURNING BRIDGES BY UP AND LEAVING...  were people going to be upset with my decision? Would I be upset with myself for leaving if things didn't work out in the end?
Jeff Goins, have we met? Are you sure the girl you met and chatted with was not  me?  It sure does sound familiar.  Believe it or not, this is a conversation that I too had with complete strangers one night while working at On the Border.  If I could hug those two today, I would. I still remember their names, Bill and Jeanie, from Colorado Springs.  Upon first meeting, they pushed me to take the initial step in beginning to plan for this incredible journey I have taken. Their advice was seemingly similar to Goins' and it's as simple as he put it... "just go." To Bill and Jeanie, and Jeff Goins, thank you for being an inspiration to young people to chase their dreams.

The life you’ve always wanted

When you get older, life seems to just sort of happen to you. Your youth is a time of total empowerment.
You get to do what you want. As you mature and gain new responsibilities, you have to be very intentional about making sure you don’t lose sight of what’s important.
So if you still have a reasonable amount of control over your circumstances, you should do what really matters. Because life won’t always be just about you.
During early adulthood, your worldview is still being formed. It’s important to steward this time — to give yourself opportunities to grow. A good way to do that is to travel.
So, young person, travel.
Travel wide and far.
Travel boldly.
Travel with full abandon.
You will regret few risks you take, when it comes to this. I promise you.
"Your youth is a time of total empowerment." THANK YOU GOINS and if I can say so,  "AMEN to  THAT." I am 23 years old and I feel so alive, so absorbent, so untouchable.  The world is before us with open arms, yelling out to it's youth, just as Tree does in Silverstein's famous book, The Giving Tree.  "Come , come, and play child ... swing from my branches, sleep in my shade." If now is not the time to play, the time to break free, the time to experience, then when is? 
"Life won't always be just about you."  Surely, it won't.  Most of the time, it is not.  Being selfless is one of the most noble acts in the world.    However, as a young person, you are given the divine right to be selfish... if only for a short time.  There's a big difference in being inappropriately selfish and being appropriately selfish. To be inappropriately selfish means you don't like to share your cookies  or give up your swing so that someone else might have a try.  To be appropriately selfish means you listen to your heart, and your heart alone... it knows what it wants.  Be appropriately selfish. Leave everything behind. Leave everything, because, it will be there when you come back, and during your youth, it may be one of the only times that you can be reassured of that. Later in life, you won't be able to leave your husband, your children, your dog and the mortgage on your house.  If you do, surely, those things won't be waiting for you when you come back... and if they are, it's probable that you will return to anger and a lot of debt. 
There are three reasons to travel while you’re young:

1. Traveling teaches you to live an adventure

When you look back on your life, you will have moments of which you are proud and maybe a few you regret. It’s likely that the following won’t be on the latter list:
  • Bicycled across the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Appeared on Italian TV.
  • Hiked a Mayan ruin.
  • Learned Spanish in three months.
  • Toured Europe by train.
They’re not on mine (fun fact: I’ve done all of the above).
What, then, will be?
  • Holding back.
  • Being afraid.
  • Making excuses.
  • Not taking more risks.
  • Waiting.
While you’re young, you should travel.
You should take the time to see the world and taste the fullness of life. It’s worth whatever investment or money or sacrifice of time required on your part.
It’s not about being a tourist. It’s about experiencing true risk and adventure so you don’t have to live in fear for the rest of your life.
My heart literally, just sank.  I'm not totally sure that Jeff Goins isn't speaking to me directly. "It's not about being a tourist. It's about experiencing true risk and adventure so you don't have to live in fear for the rest of your life." I literally don't know that I have the words to express how directly these words speak to me.  It's not shocking news (to anyone who knows me) that I am actually quite fearful of life itself.    I'm afraid of making mistakes. I'm afraid of ending up with the wrong person. I'm afraid of feeling mediocre  living a day to day life, I'm afraid of losing my youth, I'm afraid or being committed to one thing or one person.  I can recall my words to my mother verbatim. Before leaving, I had said, "Mom, you might not ever understand this, but I feel as though I need to leave and come back in order to understand if this is where I want to be." I was fearing my future and what it would be like without some kind of great adventure.  What if I wake up one day realizing I have never done anything truly adventurous?  What if in that moment, I want to run away? I  need to do it now. I need to take a risk. I need to leave behind everything I know. I need to make a change, but not a small change, a bold and courageous change.
 And so, I put aside my reservations. I moved to the other side of the world. As Goins suggested, it has absolutely been worth every sacrifice of time and every investment. After I leave Korea, and before I return to the states, I plan to backpack South East Asia, or volunteer abroad in Kenya.   Doing that also means, it's likely that I will come home empty handed and completely broke, but as far as I'm concerned, I will be the richest person in the world.  I will be rich with experience, rich with cultural understandings, rich with appreciation,  rich with compassion, and rich with the love of  people from all over the world whose lives have crossed paths with mine.
I don't think I will be living in fear for the rest of my life because of these experiences.  If I do, it will be because, I will live in fear that the magnitude of my life at home won't match the magnitude of the times in my life I spent adventuring the world.  However, I have a funny feeling that it will.       

2. Traveling helps you encounter compassion

In your youth, you will make choices that will define you. The disciplines you begin now will be with you for the rest of your life.
Traveling will change you like little else can. It will put you in places that will force you to care for issues that are bigger than you.
If you go to southeast Asia, you may encounter the slave trade. If eastern Europe, you may see the effects of genocide and religious persecution. If Haiti, you’ll witness the the ugly side Western paternalism.
Your heart will break.
You will begin to understand that the world is both a big and small place. You will have a new-found respect for the pain and suffering that over half of the world takes for granted on a daily basis. And you will feel more connected to your fellow human beings in a deep and lasting way.
You will learn to care.
The truth in Goins' words here are so appropriate. It's simply put and needs no further explanation, "Traveling will change you like little else can. You will learn to care."  I am living in Korea, a country that has risen from a  once third world country, to a now booming economic powerhouse.   It's hard to say that Korea has made me realize how easy I have life at home, simply because life in Korea is not so hard.  In some ways it has opened my eyes... but still they are "spoiled" viewpoints.   Life here certainly isn't as much of a 360 as it would be living in a third world country. [I have learned a lot about the struggles and horrid ways of life just across the border in North Korea. That in itself is enough to break your heart. A country once connected is now divided by war and communism.] In general I surely see more hardship living in the city than I did at home, but it's not excessive. This is what I can say, however.  Living here, has made me far more open minded and more than anything, it has made me  CRAVE more cultural diversity.  I have a new appreciation and understand for the way that others live their lives.  I  want to go to a country where people have to walk two miles to fetch water. I want to sleep  under the stars with a Nairobi tribe in Africa. I want to work with children in Cambodia, who walk to school without shoes on. I want to give my love in other parts of the world. My eyes and my mind are open. I want to learn, I want to see, I want to appreciate, and I want my heart to feel it. There's no greater gift in the world than being able to feel true compassion and appreciation for others.

3. Traveling allows you to get some culture

While you’re still young, you should get cultured. Get to know the world and the magnificent people that fill it.
There’s nothing quite like walking alongside the Coliseum or seeing Michelangelo’sDavid in person. I can describe the city of San Juan and its amazing beaches and historic sites to you, but you really have to see it for yourself to experience it. You can read all the books in the world about the Great Wall of China or The Louvre, butbeing there is a different story.
The world is a stunning place, full of outstanding works of art. See it.
Do this while you’re still young. Do not squander this time. You will never have it again.
You have a crucial opportunity to invest in the next season of your life now. Whatever you sow, you will eventually reap. Please. For your sake, do this.
You won’t always be young. And life won’t always be just about you. So travel. Experience the world for all it’s worth. Become a person of culture, adventure, and compassion.
Culture is such an incredible thing.   I was taught, as an education major,  in America (the great melting pot), that cultural understanding was one of the most importance concepts in modern day America (and in our schools).    I have read books, I have attended classes, I have made text sets of children's literature, all  with the purpose of  promoting and understanding cultural diversity.  It's not something you can understand until you have experienced it. "Get to know the world and the people that fill it," says Goins.  He is absolutely right. The experience is invaluable and it's not something you can get from a class or from a book. I have learned this first hand from living abroad in Korea. What better way to understand culture than to live it?  Culture is pure and rich and deep.  Culture is a way of life,  it is deep embedded with  history, ritual,  architecture, religion, and meaning. It's ever changing from place to place. True understanding in itself is  simply astonishing and something I am very grateful to be able to experience.  

“What if I’m not young?”

Travel, anyway. It may not be easy to do, but find a way to get out of your comfort zone. It’s really never too late.
But if you haven’t gotten sucked into the routine of life yet, I implore you — travel. It will never be easier than it is right now for you to do that which really matters.
AMEN . Thank you Jeff Goins for this article. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Smell the Roses

It's easy sometimes to let the small details of this incredible life pass us by.  If not for the reason that modern day society pushes up down the fast lane, instead of encouraging us to take our time on a road less traveled, then, in part, due to our own inability to slow down and appreciate our surroundings.  As the old saying goes, "take the time to stop and smell the roses." This phrase has been around for as long as I can remember, probably as long as my grandmother can remember, and her grandmother can remember.  Yet, we all must still be reminded.  Listening skills= KURPLUT. It's true for all of us though, is it not?  We almost need to be reminded, just as an eight year old needs to be reminded not to sit too close to the television screen (you will go cross eyed.. just like your mother always told you). We are always looking forward to what comes next, planning, contemplating (myself, a number one offender of this).  Sometimes, in doing so, we forget to appreciate the here and now.

With that said, I came to Korea with the understanding that I would only be here for a year.  One year of my entire life seems like such an incredibly tiny chunk of time in the grand scheme of things.  Naturally, I want to jam pack this year with as many minuscule or extravagant experiences and memories as possible. With this in mind, I seem to be constantly looking ahead, thinking about how I can make the most of my time here. I'm continuously looking towards the weekend when the week begins. What can I do with my free time to make sure that it will be memorable?  Sometimes, I forget that just living daily life abroad can be satisfying enough. When summer vacation was approaching- my mind was warped with ideas and thoughts about what I should spend my time doing.  How would I make the most of a two week break? Did I have the opportunity to take a trip? NOPE. Broke. Could I fly home? Not an option. Spend time with my friends? Many of them were going away.  Meet new people? Eh, too much effort. Never once did I think, "take your time," until, I did.

It dawned on me. I don't need an extravagant plan, a fortifying experience, or something sketched in stone in order to solidify a two week vacation.  I realized, I have been in Korea for six full months.  How much of the city had I really seen in that time? Had I really taken the time to appreciate Seoul for what it is [one of the largest cities in the world]?  I'd like to say that I had, because, as stated in a previous entry, senseless journeys, days of wander with no destination, and midday or midnight strolls have brought me to really appreciate this monstrous city.  However, I realized, that due to the size of Seoul, and the size of me, and although I'd felt like I'd seen a lot, when I mapped it out, I had actually not been to a lot of areas in Seoul. This understanding brought me to the conclusion that I would use my vacation as more of a "stay-cation," and I would take the time to take my time wandering through and around the city.

My two weeks consisted of me cruising down roads & city sidewalks, between buildings, up mountains, and places in between, with nothing more than a pair of walking shoes, my wallet, and a camera hanging at my neck. I did get the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some friends as well, where we too, wandered around together.  Sometimes it ended with some photos of new and interesting findings, and other times it ended with a group of foreigners wandering home slightly tipsy on a week night (when in Korea, you don't say no to soju!).  Either way, there were always some good shots involved (pun intended).

Here is a quick recap of the places I went in Seoul and the things I saw, some memories recapped, and of course, some pictures! Here's my list that I dedicate to smelling the roses!...

1. Hyewa: One evening, I made it a point to find my way back to Hyewa, where orientation was held.  I climbed the treacherous steps we had once discovered there, and waited around on a wall that I like to call "The Great Wall of Hyewa," so that I could capture a beautiful sunset sky draped over the city's sky scrappers. One of the things that I love about this spot is that it shows the city and the mountains as one.

2. Gwanghwamun Square- Considered to be the "times square" of Seoul.  Here you can see the famous statue of King Sejong, Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, a beautiful backdrop of Gyeongbokgong Palace, and Bukaksan mountain in the distance. This was perhaps one of my favorite wandering points during my two weeks off.  The day was incredible with blue painted skies.  It was so incredibly hot that they had the fountains shooting up from the ground in front of the admiral's statue. There crowds of children laughed and splashed while parents watched with joyous smiles. What a wonderful day.

a look at the square from afar
 King Sejong, Gyeongbokgong Palace, Bukaksan Mountain

 King Sejong
 Gyeongbokgong Palace

 the square, facing the opposite way
 Admiral Sun-Shin watching over the children playing

3. Dongdaemun & Namdaemun traditional markets- So they say, if you can't find it at Namdaemun market, it doesn't exist.  Namdaemun market is the largest traditional market area in Seoul.  While walking along these markets you will find everything from sumbrellas, to sports clothing, street food, shoes, books, pig's feet, oriental medicine, dried squid, and everything in between.
 Dongdaemun Gate

 Dongdaemun market
 Yes, in Korean, women carry things on their heads... usually with no hands.
 Dongdaemun Bridge
 Second hand book stores like this one lined this entire street. It was beautiful.
Namdaemun Market

4. Ttuksom Resort: Jill and I decided to adventure here one day, mostly just so we could get pictures of the cool spaceship looking architecture, while dipping our feet in the Han River. It was a beautiful day, followed by incessant eating and drinks at Sam Ryan's in Itaewon.
 Han River
 View of the city and the Han from Ttuksom
 Sitting with our feet in the Han

 Jill enjoying the day!
 Ttuksom Spaceship Shots

 Fountain wall at Ttuksom
 The Korean perception of aliens seems to differ from the American perception.
 This was just weird.
" What exactly is going on here? Not sure, let's get a picture." 

5. Soyosan Mountain: Due to the fact that the heat throughout our two week vacation was scorching and ridiculously humid, I could not find anyone to man up and take a hike with me.  Being determined Rachel, I decided to go about this journey alone.  Soyosan is the northern most part of Seoul, (closest to North Korea.. dun dun dun).  During my soyosan hike, I built some prayer rock piles, found a secluded Buddhist temple in the mountains, and sat next to some small waterfalls while taking in the scenery.
 A small Buddhist shrine nestled in a small cave where people stop to pray.
 Prayer rock piles, one of my favorite Korean traditions.
 Prayer rock pile in front of a waterfall
 Archway where you ring a bell as your pass through.
 View at Mt. Soyosan

 I spy a pathway to a hidden temple!
 Buddhist temple burrowed in the moutains

 Buddha figurines left behind for prayer purposes.
 Cute elderly couple sleeping on some rocks in a naked river bed.
 Background on this picture: I originally stopped to get a picture of the man sleeping in between rocks, then found that behind him, there was a lively old woman going to town dancing alone. She can be spotted in the back left hand corner in a blue scarf.
 Korean style... this was quite interesting to observe. The stream ran down the entire length of the mountain and there was not one spot where people were not sprawled out either sleeping, sitting in the water, bathing, playing games, or eating.

6. Suwon: The clan, that I like to call my friends, decided to actually go and do something cultural one day during vacation. On the train, we ventured an entire hour and a half to Suwon, which is on the Seoul subway line but is technically just outside of Seoul.  We chose this destination because there are supposed to be some nice temples and historic sites.  Of course, due to the fact that we arrived hungry, we decided to eat barbecue first, which then also led to drinking flavored soju and makgoli. It was mostly all downhill from there. After eating and drinking, we managed our way up a massive hill, where we thought we would find some sight seeing.  Instead, we ended up lost, laying in the road while sweating, and exhausted.  Instead of venturing on, we decided that drinking in Suwon sounded like a much better idea.  We figured by subway it only cost us 3,000 won round trip, what's another trip in the future? Maybe next time we will actually do something productive.  However, this time ended with us going to barbecue, to hill from hell, to rainbow cafe, to a GS 25 where a Korean man so kindly purchased a bottle of whiskey for us (cheers to people who like foreigners).  The rest is history.
 Kim & I on the subway, destination: Suwon.
 A beautiful day in Suwon

 Holly the Makgoli Master
 Korean barbecue, flavored makgoli, & flavored soju
 Kimberly & I at barbecue.. strawberry makgoli/pineapple soju!
 Mehdi says, "We need more soju with our flavored soju."
 Cheers to summer vacation!
 Kiwi soju= delicious heaven in a pitcher.
 Holly, Chris, Mehdi, James, and Conor! 
 Holly has had about enough of sun, hills, and sight seeing.

 The boys in Suwon

 Conor & Chris

A small bottle of whiskey to end the night.. thanks to a generous Korean man!

Stay-cation proved to be a success. I had some relaxing me time, some good times with friends, and some good times with the city.  I have been back to school for two weeks now and I have actually done much more over these past two weeks worth mentioning, however, I will save that for another post! :)