Hey there, I'm Jimin.

Your little dosage of everything and anything.

What Keeps Me Grounded

These push-and-pull days feel like tidal waves: when one task leaves another comes, straddled gallantly atop an endless to-do list of invigorating tasks diluted, unfortunately, to something common. When there are so many things to do, and to do well, it’s easy for the most interesting things to become yet another chore.

Easy, but melancholy. I’d hate for these incredible four years to go to waste. And so I do what I can to punctuate my life with moments that ground me: conversations or tasks or movements that remind me how lucky I am to be where I am, but that this fortune should never come at the cost of what makes me human.

I. The Orange Apron

After a summer of clearing churrasco and championing financial independence, I decided, upon my arrival at Princeton, to join the ranks of the Dining Hall staff. Once a week I don a notoriously orange apron and spend three hours re-stocking the cafeteria that feeds up to 900 mouths a night. Twice I’ve worked in the dishwashing room, where the industrial dishwashing machine swallows and spits plates and cutlery at a pace that I, a newcomer, have never been able to keep up with.

At times I enter my three hour shift with a niggling sense of doom: here, where time is a commodity, the idea of spending three entire hours shifting plates and pans seems like a call for impending overload of work. Time spent waiting for plates to be cleaned is often tinged with anxiety.

Yet I end each shift with a welcome calm that I can’t fully achieve elsewhere. There is contentment to be found in little things, which eventually amount to a lot: greeting friends who have come to dinner and laughing with them in the middle of work; sharing conversation with my colleagues over heavy crates of cups; entering the underground corridors of industrial fridges and freezers where no other students really go, or getting half my daily step count and feeling a well-deserved sense of exhaustion post-work.

The best part? For three hours I’m no longer accountable to piles of work. I’m just another cog in a machine, eager to be helpful somehow.

II. Dinner Conversations

The beauty of living in a closed campus is the access you have to everyone. It is no secret that all humans need to eat — and hardworking students more so. Over the past couple of days, I’ve attempted to schedule lunches and dinners with people who I want to get to know and enjoy spending time with.

Last Friday I had dinner with Camila, a wonderful individual with whom I shared a room back at Bridge Year orientation and whose nine months in India I was very eager to hear about. For almost two hours we talked about the things that went very right and very wrong on our respective years, our mutual difficulty in answering the question ‘Where are you from?’, and various other social and identity issues that had been bubbling within me since my arrival at Princeton.

Suffice to say, it was an incredibly refreshing experience — and a meal I’ll never forget.

III. Movement

For a long time I thought I was forever destined to be a dad dancer and only a dad dancer. In other words, that person who pulls the embarrassing moves at clubs and parties. Well, here at Princeton I have found that this, thankfully, will not be the case: after a year of joking around with Asia about joining Raqs, Princeton’s belly dance troupe, I can now proudly say that I have, indeed, done so.

Suffice to say, this is a different experience: I’ve never identified myself as a ‘dancer’. Yet whenever I’m at a rehearsal with a group of girls who are as unique as they are talented, I feel like I am capable of being anyone I want to be. As someone who has struggled  — and is currently struggling — with body image, I find it empowering to see myself in a mirror and observe myself in harmony with my own body and those of others.

After watching a yellow-skirted, red-shoed dancer doing the lindy hop this summer, I realized that all bodies are extraordinarily beautiful when in movement. The specific aesthetic of one’s physicality no longer matters when the capacity to harmonize takes center stage.

V. Here, in the Hamilton Courtyard

I cannot end this post without mention of where I began: seated on an inclined deck chair positioned haphazardly in the center of Rockefeller’s Hamilton Courtyard, the sun illuminating each individual dust mote on my neglected laptop screen. The fall cold is chilly on my bare fingers and toes, but the brightness of day — and the prospect of lunch — is warming enough.

This was a moment I never anticipated would be a part of my day. After several hours spent watching video lectures, however, I decided to take advantage of the noontime sun and the green spaces that make Princeton so exquisite.

There is room for spontaneity here, after all; it is waiting, longingly, to be filled, and all one needs to do is find it.

And when one does, the result is sweet: like the green of a sprawling lawn against the blue October sky, idling lazily up above.

IMG_3856

Hamilton Courtyard at sunset. Spot the deck chair!

 

Advertisements

College, Clichés and Challenges

Hello blogosphere! How long it’s been since I last checked in!

Here in the warm vastness of Princeton’s Firestone library, I find it appropriate to write about where I’ve been. Closing my life in one place and starting anew in another is a feat both exhilarating and exhausting, and recently it’s been a little skewed towards the latter: yesterday I attended my first, very sweaty and sugar-filled Lawnparty, and the rest of the week has been filled with scheduling and shuttling to meetings and shows and classes.

But prior to flying to the United States, I set myself a goal of writing at least one blog post a month about college. I have so much to write yet not much at all, as I — a lover of cute categories and fittingly alliterative titles — can’t really think of a theme to begin with.

So I guess I’ll start with what’s been the challenging parts of my experience. A little clichéd, but somehow I’ll make it my own (plus it’s good for the alliteration).

***

The first great challenge of college is meeting people. At very few points in your life are you thrust into a massive community in which everyone is vaguely lost. The upside of this scenario is that everyone is willing to make friends; the downsides are the generic conversations, the constant need for energy, and the occasional, ironic feeling of being lonely in a big crowd.

Coming into college, I was lucky to have around me a community of familiar faces from Bridge Year, high school and other motley identity markers of my past. This didn’t exclude me, however, from the same overwhelming feeling of wanting, yet failing, to know everyone around me.

The orientations were tiring, and what remains with me are two things: first, a general intolerance for lackluster conversations that include the question ‘What’s your major?’, and second, a handful of special moments shared with friends both old and new — like taking a long walk by the tow path with Gilron, my Israeli neighbour, during international orientation; dancing in the room next door with my sweet roommates, and walking to Hoagie Haven after a night on the Street (i.e. an avenue of suburban mansions-turned-clubs) with some fellow Bridge Year friends.

What I’ve found is that there is only so much emotional energy you can expend in the first few weeks of making friends, and you might as well prioritize making special moments with certain people as opposed to spreading yourself too thin.

***

Another, greater challenge has been the courses. Classes started last Wednesday and I’m already finding them kind of hard. Coming into college, I believed I’d be fine; academics in high school are straightforward and pretty much fit on a checklist of key words and spoon-fed facts.

In college, I can already sense that it’s different. Classes exist to truly test one’s intellectual rigour and curiosity, and there is no individual guidance: you are given the resources to take advantage of as you please. The independence is challenging as I often find myself wondering how best to interpret the readings and lectures I am given. Whenever I catch myself trying to memorize certain concepts, I always question: so what? Simple memorization won’t suffice. What is the importance of these ideas?

I’m hoping that the intellectual demands of college will help me ground myself. My whole life I’ve felt like an outsider looking in: whenever I read the news or learnt about certain subjects, I felt like an observer who was purely absorbing the information for no concrete good. Here, the challenge is to understand how the information I am receiving can be directly applied to my daily life, in the hopes of one day serving the world.

I guess that’s what I owe with this very expensive and privileged education. What I’m scared of, however, is over-intellectualization: I don’t want to run the risk of hyper-analyzing concepts to the extent where I become a machine of academic jargon. I don’t want my education to be exclusive, and I need to find a way to make it applicable. 

***

My classes in themselves have raised some pretty interesting reflections about myself, my learning style and my character. This fall semester, I’m taking a sociology class on the relationship between languages and national identities, a Portuguese language and culture class, a comparative world literature class and, finally and most dauntingly, an introduction to computer science.

It’s pretty obvious what I’m interested in when one looks at the selection above. For me, the most difficult choice was (unsurprisingly) the CS course, as I’ve never ever coded anything in my life. A part of me took the course because the language-lover in me has always wanted to adopt the language of code and the world of opportunities that come with it. Another part took it because of my sister (who is a CS major), in the hopes that her explanations of interesting personal projects will finally make sense.

The course is incredibly challenging, and there have been times in the past few days when I’ve considered dropping it. But I find that studying it is a true test of willpower and character; besides, the added incentive of getting to know my sister better adds a soft, human element that assuages the theoretical confusions I encounter. At college, I’ve found that it’s important to stay human despite the constant scheduling and responsibility. Doing things that’ll last beyond one’s academic year is what will ultimately be most rewarding, and so I see these tasks (such as writing this blog post!) as equally important as doing well at school.

Portuguese has also raised some interesting thoughts. As I’ve never studied Portuguese in an academic environment, reading about Portuguese grammar in a textbook feels very surreal. Sure, I have a lot to learn, yet I can’t help but feel a certain kind of sadness when my mind tries to wrap itself around concepts and grammatical specificities. I miss the days when learning Portuguese was just conversing with a street vendor about Korea or delicious Bahian food, and I miss the easy flow with which I used it without necessarily worrying about the correctness of the language.

IMG_3821

And they say Bridge Year is like a cult… 😉

But I know, in the long run, that this is worth it. By learning a more academic form of Portuguese, I’ll be able to tap into Brazil — and the rest of the Lusophone world — in a more intimate and meaningful way… which I guess is my ultimate goal.

***

Lastly, but probably most significantly: the independence. I now understand why being an adult is so hard. Somehow I have to juggle more intuitive college things like studying and taking part in extracurriculars with minor yet important tasks like laundry, scheduling, getting around, earning money, eating well, being punctual, etc. At night I like to mentally go through my day, and I’m constantly shocked by how jam-packed it was.

The independence can be great. I can leave my table an absolute mess and no one will shout at me for it (sorry, mom). I can eat cake after dinner every night if I want to. I can spend as much time with friends as I want, I can wear anything I want, I can choose to go to any event I want without anything but conflicting commitments to stop me.

Yet I’m still learning the ropes. Ideally, I want to develop better room-cleaning habits so the space is a little less cluttered (I can’t even begin to imagine what a mess my space would be if I wasn’t an aspiring minimalist). I also can’t wait to develop a better sense of what my on-campus activities will be, so that I can schedule accordingly.

***

As for the rest — I guess we’ll wait and see. 🙂

 

Becoming Strong Again

This week, I’ve decided to take a break from the gym. As I write this post I’m eating a hearty breakfast and not feeling guilty about it, even if I did eat two-thirds of a box of Krispy Kreme donuts, by myself, after work last night (bless my parents, who surprised me after a month of daily donut cravings).

And I feel good. I’m feeling calm, content and no anxiety to ‘compensate’ for indulging: a state of being which I wouldn’t have imagined possible a mere three weeks ago.

Because three weeks ago, things were very different. After coming home from Brazil, I was itching to do a lot of things I’d wished to do during our last month of routine-less travel: I wanted to try ‘tracking my macros’ as I’d seen people do online, I wanted to go to the gym on a regular schedule, and I just wanted to feel more comfortable in my own skin.

There’s a really powerful Sylvia Plath quote that goes as follows:

“If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at once, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”

In a nutshell, I’m pretty damn neurotic when it comes to my body. Sometimes I think I don’t have enough muscle (which is somewhat true — I don’t have much of it), in which case I want to build myself up. But at other times I think I’m too ‘big’ and wonder if that’s why I can’t see the (non-existent) muscle to begin with. And so I cut myself down.

At the beginning of the summer, I was in the ‘cut myself down’ kinda mood. Like really, really intensely in that mood. And being the kind of person who is very goal-oriented, I gave myself a numbers-based goal to reach before I started college.

And thus began a process that, although regretful, has led me to where I am today.

In the beginning, I used macros as a fun tool that helped me great creative. I’d come up with different recipes and foods that I liked making and I’d know all about their macronutrient content. Going to the gym was something I genuinely enjoyed, and craved — there’s something wonderful about the endorphins that come when you move a lot and lift heavy things, and the calm you feel after you’re done.

I continued doing pretty much the same thing, sans the macro counting, when I got to Korea. The macros were gone not because I wanted to stop tracking, but rather because I couldn’t when the weighing scale was on a boat heading my way. I continued to mentally count calories and macronutrients however, and also experimented with something called ‘intermittent fasting’: I wouldn’t eat either breakfast or dinner to make sure I was falling into the ‘calorie range’ for my ‘goal’.

When the weighing scale arrived, the macros continued. When I ate communal Korean-style meals with my parents, I’d weigh out my banchan (side dishes) separately and get overly worked up about my bowl of rice. Sometimes my parents would start eating without me as I took too long to measure and track everything to the gram. Whenever I ate out I would always mentally calculate my macronutrients and calories, which meant that whenever I was eating something deemed too ‘calorie dense’ I’d get anxious and lose my appetite. The worst part was when I was eating with friends and family who mean a lot to me — I couldn’t bear the idea of not being emotionally and mentally present for a loved one because my mind space was too occupied by food anxiety.

IMG_3292

Yup. The family contrast is real. (And not worth it, unless I’m really craving something fresh.)

Throughout it all, I was working out at the gym 4-5 times a week. In the beginning it was really great to get my body moving, but at one point I began to get, well, bored. And easily tired. I’d get dizzy whilst lifting weights lighter than what I’d lifted before, and I wouldn’t feel too good afterwards. I continued this all while struggling constantly with food-related anxieties, and the combination of the two just hit me one day — quite like a truck, one might say — and I realized that I was doing something very, very unhealthy.

I thought that a condition for me to ‘grow tough skin’ was to endure a demanding physical and mental process to help me reach an ideal goal. But I realized that regardless of how I looked, I’d always find something I wanted to change about myself. Part of it is because I am image-conscious, but I believe it goes deeper than that. As someone who’s a stickler for control, I wanted to prove to myself that there was one pillar in my life I could have total control over. Throughout the whirlwind of the transition to Korea, fitness and nutrition were two things that I knew how to tailor and tailor well.

Having this realization was perhaps the biggest eureka moment of my summer. I understood, for the first time, that the most beneficial thing was not to exercise discipline, but to let go of it. What would make me happy with my body — an ultimate goal — was not reaching a certain ‘look’, but rather not worrying about how I look at all. Eating intuitively as opposed to eating with anxiety. Working out because I want to, not because I ‘have’ to. If I could achieve this as a homeostasis of sorts, my default way of being, I knew I’d be a lot more content to be who I am — and not feel the need to always be ‘fixed’.

Besides, feeling terrible for the sake of looking good is really just not worth it. 

So for the past three weeks, I’ve been trying to achieve a greater sense of balance. I’ve used a food measuring scale maybe once. Bathroom scale? Never. I’ve eaten out as much as I wanted to, and I’ve let myself eat whatever and whenever. I decided to take advantage of the renovation happening at my apartment gym and take a week off.

Sure, some things are difficult: there are times when I get antsy because I feel like I’m missing something. Sometimes I still feel a little guilty after eating too much of something, or eating really late at night after I finish work. Calorie counts still filter in and out of my head, and I sometimes worry about whether or not my fitness journey — something that gives me a large sense of purpose — has pretty much come to a dead end.

But when I look at the big picture, I know I’m on the right track. This is the healthy, motivating goal I needed all along. When I went to visit my aunt in Gyeongju, food played a big part of our reunion — and I enjoyed all of it whilst being completely present for her and her husband and her beautiful home (not to mention, her adorable dogs). I’ve been going out to see friends for dinners or lunches where I’ve been focusing more on conversations and generally having a really good time.

IMG_3366

My aunt, my uncle and their dog Hun at their local bingsu (shaved ice dessert) spot! It was delicious!

However quixotic this may sound, I think I’m becoming better at treating myself like I treat others. I’m a lot more patient with myself than I was before: one stressful evening, after eating a lot more snacks than I anticipated, I just told myself you should rest, cleaned up, promptly went to bed, and woke up the next morning and continued on as usual. In the past, this ‘slip-up’ would’ve left me paralyzed with guilt and the need to compensate for my lack of self-control. This time, however, I felt a strange, yet welcome, sense of calm. I knew that worrying about things wouldn’t make anything better — and that ultimately, my goal was to treat my body fairly. In this circumstance, I knew that I was going through a lot of stress and that my body was probably very, very tired, and for that reason I made a mental effort to not compensate, to not fast or go to the gym, and just be. 

Being is both physically and mentally liberating. After many, many years of struggling with food and body image, I know it’s time that I stop beating myself up for something that’s actually quite insignificant. The only significant part is the root of it all: the need for control. This is something I’m still struggling with, but by cutting off one unhealthy habit at a time I hope I’ll eventually get better.

I know that there are lots of people out there who can relate. And if you’re one of them, I just want to say this: that being interested in your health and fitness is great, but you should be wary of when you grow fatigued, unmotivated, and feel not-so-optimal. Remember, your health — both physical and mental — come first. You have the rest of your life to work hard on whatever goals you may have, but what matters before it all is getting into a healthy head-space that’ll make the process sustainable. We can do it together. 🙂

From One Dreamer to Another

A few weeks ago, I told my mom I wanted to go on a solo backpacking trip. I’d like to visit Germany, I said, and Canada as well. My goal was to do so before graduating college.

My mom’s reply was blunt, somewhat jolting but not at all surprising. She said: sure — but only if you pay for the entire trip on your own. You see, my mom doesn’t want me to travel alone, and so she sees no reason to pay for a journey she doesn’t endorse.

Which makes sense. If you’ve worked hard to earn whatever money you have, you have the right to do what you want with it… because it’s yours.

It was in that moment that I decided the following: I want to be financially independent by the time I finish college. If I want to have agency over my own life experiences — in other words, if I want to live in the spaces that enrich me most, with the people who inspire me most and doing things that I love most — I need to be able to afford my lifestyle choices.

Thus, I decided that, this summer, I would begin this journey to financial independence. Whether I’ll actually reach the aforementioned goal is somewhat dubious, as my current savings don’t look too promising thanks to my money-related ignorance throughout my adolescence (which I now regret).

Several weeks into the summer, however, I thought it’d be interesting to share my progress with the wider world. It’s definitely not a get-rich-quick kinda set-up, but it’s certainly a this-is-worthwhile-so-you-might-want-to-consider-it kinda deal. Because beyond experiencing the freedom that well- (and honestly) earned money brings, becoming financially independent opens doors to many, greater journeys, like understanding a city or a place better than you would’ve otherwise, becoming more empathetic and self-aware, and understanding that once you see the human faces of ‘scary’ adult concepts like investing and saving, they don’t seem so scary after all.

***

 

I’m very lucky to say that he most rewarding part of the journey has been the work itself. Working at Tabom has exposed me not only to the sheer diversity of Korea’s non-Korean population, but also a series of faces and names — namely, those of my colleagues — that give me a sense of home. Nowadays the work feels like muscle memory, and in place of the previous stress there exists a certain rhythm that keeps me rooted despite the uncertainties of a new city.

But all work isn’t made equal. I recently started a teaching job that hasn’t been the easiest — the preparation and expectations involved have required a lot of mental and emotional energy from my part, and of course it’s very draining. It’s important, however, that I understand that the reality of money-making is that it’s hard. That’s why they call it earning money, and why each dollar spent deserves some acknowledgment of what was endured to earn it.

So here’s where the difficult part comes in. I think it’s important to be mindful of where money comes from, but there’s always a risk of being overly mindful. After the first week at Tabom, as I was getting into the groove of using my own well-earned cash, I started getting very anxious about how I spent even the smallest quantities of money. I’d pick up a Coke at a convenience store and put it down again because it’d cost me twenty minutes’ worth of work at the restaurant. When I ate out, I’d try to find cheaper locations — and never feel fully satisfied, as I always ruminated over the option of a) something cheaper or b) something more soul-filling. When friends or family suggest I do an activity of some sort, I’d always hesitate if it involved spending money.

To make a long story short, it was unpleasant. But on a minimum wage, it was inevitable — and I only got out of the anxiety once I found my second job. I’d made budget sheets and everything for my first job, and I was set to end the summer with a fair amount of savings only if I’d continued as I’d done. Which just goes to show that, again, making and handling money is difficult. Truly understanding this fact not only on an intellectual level, but also on a visceral, day-to-day level, is an important skill I think all teenagers should have.

And speaking of important skills, I think financial literacy is so, so underrated. It’s problematic that we don’t learn how to do things like save money at school, let alone learn what investments are, how to create budgets, learn about financial risks, etc.

Because the truth is, the earlier someone starts saving, the more money they’ll have after a certain period of time versus if they’d started later on in life… which means more opportunities to do the things that you love, and less stress when it comes to emergencies. I could explain this concept in more depth with information on interest rates, time value of money, etc, but all I’ll say, for now, is this: take advantage of the internet and educate yourself!

There are lots of awesome free online courses that teach you the basics of money management, and it’ll do so much good in the long-term. I started my four-week Coursera course ‘Financial Planning for Young Adults’ as someone who didn’t even know how credit cards worked. After the course, I can’t believe I didn’t learn all of it earlier — and I want, more than anything, to spread the word that these courses are available and accessible and so, so important for everyone. Besides, good courses will teach you that concepts like mutual funds and interest rate formulas are not scary, alienating topics reserved for the financial geniuses out there. They are intimidating buzz words, but beneath them all are simple human experiences — like being able to go on a vacation, or pay for college — that provide the empathy that makes this whole process worthwhile.

It’s also worthwhile to take advantage of other technological tools that make money management so much easier and less stressful. One thing I’ve been doing is using an app to track my expenses. I can use it to see how much I’m spending on certain things — like eating out, transportation, leisure — per week or per month, which can then help me prioritize how I want to spend my money. Tracking things on an app is much easier as it’s visually and systematically easier to navigate. I’m currently using an app called Dollarbird, but there are tons of other free options online that you can peruse.

(Wow, this post is sounding almost ad-like, which feels a bit strange. But it’s for the greater good!)

***

I may sound confident and knowledgable about this whole money-management affair, but the truth is quite different.  To this day, there are still many financial concepts that I have yet to understand, and there are times when I’m still anxious about doing things well. Am I saving enough? Am I using the tools that I can take advantage of? And so on and so forth, the anxiety continues — and it doesn’t really help with the other stresses going on in my life (like sometimes working two jobs a day).

But at the end of the day, it’s important for me to take a step back and have patience for myself. The journey to financial independence is a steep and difficult one, and I deserve self-appreciation and respect for even taking the first step. This applies to most other personal projects, and it is necessary that I commend myself for even the smallest things. This is the first time that I’ve ever prioritized making and saving money for myself. This is the longest length time I’ve lived my life without much financial support from my parents. And I’m doing it all in a country I’ve never lived in before as an adult.

Choosing not to be anxious about certain things is also important. If my primary goal was to save as much money as possible by the end of the summer, I’d probably tell myself that it was necessary to undergo this level of overthinking. But with my primary goal being to do the best that I can whilst taking care of myself, I’ve made the conscious decision that I’ll allow myself certain joys without worrying — like eating out at places I really want to try, with people who mean a lot to me. (Of course this comes with a level of privilege, which I wholly acknowledge and am grateful for.)

And again, as stated before, this whole money management thing is a very human affair. It’s not all figures and diagrams and fancy words. It’s about the freedom with which one lives their life, and I find that incredibly uplifting.

On that note, I hope this post inspired at least one person to embark on a similar adventure, because it is so very worth it. If you decide to do so, then I’d love to hear about it. 🙂

IMG_3254

Found a cute picture of these two (Ju Young and Won Hwa, who work with me at Tabom!) on my phone, and I thought it’d be appropriate for this post 😉

Omnivore’s Guilt

After three and a half years of pescatarianism, I have returned to eating meat.

And it isn’t easy to share. I think the biggest reason why I’m ready to share it now, as opposed to three weeks ago when I ate meat again for the first time, is because of my new commitment to being honest and open with myself especially with matters that make me uncomfortable. As one can imagine, my contemplation regarding my lifestyle change hasn’t been without its struggles: compounded with all the other doubts I’ve been feeling towards myself in recent weeks (more on which I’ll write throughout the summer), my straying away from a philosophy I care deeply about — and which consequently forms a core pillar of my identity — had me think that perhaps I was not the selfless person I wanted to be, and, even worse, that my capacity to become this person had been suddenly compromised by the ‘selfish’ act of making a dietary change for the benefit of no other being but myself.

But before I share further thoughts — both positive and negative — that I’ve ruminated over in my mind, I think a little context would be appropriate.

***

Throughout the past few months, I’ve experienced almost daily episodes of intense fatigue. I noticed my episodes of light-headedness, dizziness and general fatigue became particularly frequent in Brazil, which is why I was ceremoniously meme-fied as ‘the deficient’ one in the group of able-bodied, college-age kids. I mean, I’ve always stayed active — as many know, I like to lift pretty frequently and have been doing so ever since I returned home — and I’ve always gotten by. It was just exhausting, both physically and emotionally, to feel exhausted all the time when there were so many things I wanted to do… and I didn’t have a single clue as to how I could remedy it.

I would take naps, and the fatigue wouldn’t fade. I’d spend time at home, as opposed to walking around all day — still tired, even when I didn’t exercise. The final factor was perhaps the most intuitive, but one I was afraid of taking seriously: my diet. I wondered if things would change if I became an omnivore again.

I visited the doctor for a general pre-college check-up and talked to her about what I was going through. I found out that I felt weak and dizzy most likely because of low blood pressure and a lower-than-average heartbeat (oh, my poor heart). The doctor, however, also suggested I try eating meat again — including red meat, which I was reluctant to do — and taking iron supplements.

And so I did.

I find this difficult to admit for several reasons. Firstly, it might give off the impression that I pursued pescatarianism without a genuine conviction— a claim far from the truth. Still today I have a strong desire to reduce unnecessary animal suffering and the damage my consumer choices can do to the earth. (For a deeper insight into why I chose to not eat meat, you can read my post on it here.)

Secondly, I feel like my situation might mislead some into categorizing dietary changes — specifically ones that don’t include meat — as universally detrimental to one’s health, when it isn’t. Every body is as different on the inside as it is on the outside. I want to emphasize that just because I personally returned to eating meat for health reasons doesn’t mean that vegetarianism inherently affects one’s healthThere are many marathon runners and cross-fitters and super epic athletes who live a vegan lifestyle, and they feel better and stronger when they don’t consume animal products. On the flip side of the coin, there are women whose periods stop after a month of not eating meat. Every body is different, so a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t appropriate in this case. The general rule of thumb then becomes: you do you!

For me, I think the reason why I started feeling especially weak (I’ve always had dizzy spells in the past) is because I’ve been doing more weight training in the past year. Perhaps my body needed other kinds of nutrients in order to combat the extra stress or assist in the changes in body composition, and my feelings of weakness were a sign that something was missing.

(One could say that this pastime is a little selfish, especially if it does affect my consumer choices in this manner. Yet it’s something that helps me feel a sense of accomplishment, focus as well as physical strength and relaxation, and I think it’s important that people are able to do what helps them live their life feeling good and present.)

To be honest, eating meat and taking supplements haven’t changed things tremendously. There are still days when I feel fatigued and lethargic and light-headed. But it has reduced the frequency and intensity of these episodes to some degree, and I think if I started eating more (and if I stopped being so anxious about food) (more on which I’ll write later in this series!) I’ll feel better. It also probably has to do with how much stress I’m putting on my body, which is a lot more than at the beginning of this summer / in Brazil — working as a waitress and being on my feet for so many hours is really, really tough.

Lastly, the biggest reason why this ‘confession’ is so hard is because, well, I haven’t been going about the whole ‘Return to Omnivorism’ business in the way I want to. Personally, I’m not against the idea of eating animals; I disagree with the inhumane methods (e.g. factory farming) that are used to kill animals, and the consequent perception that livestock are mass-produced entities as opposed to actual lives. I believe in ethical omnivorism, which directs consumer dollars towards — and consequently increases traction for — ethical animal raising practices. This might include free-range farms (the real kind, not the miserable-patch-of-grass-beside-dingy-cages kind), antibiotic-free feed, certified sustainably-farmed practices (in the case of fish), etc.

The truth is, ethical omnivorism is hard. Sometimes it’s facilitated by certain markers — for instance, at our local supermarket there’s a special range of free-range eggs with clear certifications and the names of the farms from where they were sourced — but at other times the process of sourcing one’s meat can be muddy. It isn’t impossible: one can find one, or two, reliable supplier(s), research into them and buy their meat. This would make eating meat at restaurants hard, but you could always eat vegetarian when you go out. Having said that, however, I’m living proof that this is easier said than done.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been quite an indiscriminate consumer in recent weeks, partially because of the new excitement of eating Korean foods I grew up with and haven’t had in a while, and partially because I was developing a level of food-related anxiety that really hurt my emotional health. One thing I’ve consistently tried to do, however, is eat meat that was raised locally, because at least that reduces my overall carbon impact — even if it is greater than if I ate vegetarian.

I admit I’m ashamed; and yes, I know I can be trying harder and doing better. But in the spirit of this series, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to take my time when I make certain lifestyle changes, especially in the interest of my mental and physical health. For now, my focus is returning to a balance where I feel physically strong and mentally able to eat (and do anything else, really) without overthinking and ruminating. When I start college in the fall, I’m planning on developing certain habits that make my meat consumption sustainable and ethical in the way that serves both my body and the earth best.

Until then, this summer is one of experimentation and learning to take care of myself. It’s important to remember that the act of self-care is never selfish; as an act that can often make you feel comfortable enough to be present for others, arguably it can even be selfless. In my situation, there’s also a lot of gratitude involved as I think about the lives that contribute to fuelling my body, and the ‘welcome home’ that flavours the traditional foods that family and friends offer me with love. There are so many things to be grateful for.

***

If you want to know more about my meat-free experience, I’ve written several posts about it in the past. I’ve linked one of them above, but I’ve also written about why and how I started, the ways in which it changed me and tips I wanted to offer omnivores. 

The Summer of Growing Tough Skin

I’ve debated writing this post for the past week, and only now have I decided to make it happen. It is with a nervous yet hopeful heart that I write what will perhaps be one of the most vulnerable posts I’ve shared on this blog, and the wider internet realm in general.

It begins with a simple premise: these days, I’m not very happy. The past few weeks have been really tough for several reasons, all of which contribute to one another such that they form a vicious, messy web that only grows and grows in a cycle fed by positive feedback and confirmation biases all pointed cruelly and accusingly at myself.

Those are just words. What I mean is waking up after many hours of sleep and still feeling incredibly tired. Feeling physically drained for a large portion of the day and not knowing why… talking to doctors and juggling potential what ifs that confuse more than clarify. Living and working in a super homogenous and exclusive society where I physically look like a local, but don’t talk, dress, or speak like one, and consequently am seen as something ‘other’ when all I really want is to feel appreciated and belong for the first time in years. Not feeling appreciated as a complete human being in any other circumstance, least of all by myself. Feeling generally uninspired to write or create; not feeling the urge I used to feel for writing about beautiful moments or sensations or things, and wondering if it’ll come back. To make up for it all, trying to seize control of every minute of the day in order to ‘maximize’ the pseudo-virtues of productivity and perfectionism… and ending up struggling with bouts of anxiety when it comes to the smallest of things, even basic things such as not knowing what I’ll eat for lunch or not being able to write a blog post. Not being surrounded by people or things that particularly inspire a want to change. And, when the next day begins and things are still the same, constantly thinking that it’s my fault, that I’m not doing enough, that I don’t know if things will change and that perhaps I won’t ever be the creative and prolific person I once was.

And trust me, for a control freak like myself, that thought is terrifying.

For those who know me well, it’s not a surprise to hear that I’m incredibly strict with myself. I may be very generous in my dealings with others (in the act of, say, giving advice or consolation), but very rarely do I offer the same patience to my own way of being. Having high self-expectations is the sharpest, ugliest kind of double-edged sword: on one hand, I can easily attribute many of my ‘success’ and achievement to my tendency to always out-compete my previous self, be it in the gym, in the prolificness of my artistic expression, in academia, etc. I work really hard, but — damningly — I rarely give myself time to rest… which leads to feeling a constant sense of anxiety over whether or not I’ll continue to perform at a high level, not only in tangible areas like writing but also in intangible areas like relationships with others. If my sister or a friend was going through a hard time, I’d tell them to have compassion for themselves and take their time. For me, after a day of anxiety I’m already scolding myself for pitying myself too much and not ‘getting on with it’.

Because this sense of control has done me so much good, I’m unable to shake it off and embrace a more spontaneous, less high-strung / achievement-based lifestyle. I guess you could say it’s kind of like unhealthy dieting for someone who wants to look a certain way: although the method is dangerous and inadvisable, one is tempted to continue on because the tangible outcome looks so ‘good’.

It’s tough, but I’m trying to wean myself out of it. Why? Because I’m rational enough, at this point, to prioritize my long-term well-being. I know that if I let the mental habit fester, I’ll only dig myself into a deeper hole that may prove to be even more difficult to climb out of later on, when I’ll have a bunch of other real-world issues (i.e. adulting) to worry about.

And so I’m taking myself by the hand and trying to help myself, one step at a time. One of the ways in which I’ve been doing that is by expressing my vulnerability with more candour — yet this process hasn’t been without its ups and downs.

I think it’s important to be vulnerable and to be able to talk about your fears and weaknesses. This is what makes us human, after all, and to be relatable is one of the biggest services you can do to a world where many feel like they matter less because they’re not ‘enough’, and consequently are unable to flourish and contribute to the world in the way they could. Yet during the past year, whenever I talked to one of my Bridge Year peers about my perceived flaws, I always felt like I was unnecessarily down-talking myself and painting myself to be weak and flawed to others, which meant that they would see me in that way, which meant that it would essentially confirm my initial doubts and thus make me even weaker and more flawed.

If a tree fell but no one heard, did the tree fall? Likewise, if someone was hurting but no one knew, did the person hurt at all?

Of course they did. But we live in an age of constant judgment and scrutiny, in which for many, if not all, people, there’s a lot of pressure to be doing well, and being honest about not doing well can sometimes be hurtful for your self-image and how others perceive you. And so sometimes we think it’s the better option to stay silent and just deal with it, because then at least you’re still ‘achieving’ in the eyes of others.

Well, even if publishing this post means that someone could hypothetically see me as more flawed and weaker than they thought I was, I’m happy with my decision. I think there’s strength in honesty, but even if there wasn’t, then this is me, and I think the first step to getting better is embracing all of my highs and lows equally as part of who I am.

Besides, I think it’s fitting that I start considering these ideas now, just as I’m about to head off on one of the biggest (and probably most daunting) adventures of my life: college. I’ll definitely be alongside some pretty amazing and accomplished people, and I know for a fact that I’ll sometimes slip into the old ways of comparison and wanting to be perfect all the time. That much is inevitable. But what I can do now is start teaching myself that it’s okay not be okay, and that this summer is a good example of that.

For those who may’ve read my blog for a while (which I really appreciate, thank you so much!), you’d know that every year I like to write different kinds of series — for instance, last year’s series on my European travels, my Scandinavian series, etc. This summer, I’d like to start a new series that’ll hopefully inspire and motivate me to take care of myself better. Let’s call it The Summer of Growing Tough Skin. I’d like to write once or twice a week about, well, my life as it is, positive habits I’m developing, things I’m grateful for and other small but hopefully interesting topics. At the end I hope to have a collage of a summer dedicated to self-love, after years and years of summers and winters and autumns and springs dedicated to overachieving and expecting myself to exceed my own expectations.

I’m excited to see where this goes!

To end, I’d like to write a few side-notes (out of love). In no ways is the intention of this post to receive pity, nor is it to cry for help. Instead, I’m trying to do two things: first, by writing this post I’m essentially both subconsciously and consciously convincing myself that what I’m experiencing matters and I need to take a step back to address it (i.e. that I need to take care of myself instead of distracting myself with other things); and second, I’m trying to emphasize the importance of compassion, especially for yourself. And in that spirit I hope that whoever reads this post understands that a lot of people, even those who like to write about their cool life experiences in upbeat and flowery language, go through tough times and that ultimately, it’s okay. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.

And I guess that’s why I decided to write about all of this in a blog post as opposed to a journal entry. I’m a regular journal keeper, and so inevitably I’ve written a lot about this summer’s struggles in the ol’ pen and paper fashion. Yet when I write on the blog, I feel like I’m talking to someone other than myself, which I find beneficial in this circumstance. It tells me that I’m not alone.

And that, for a moment, makes me a little bit happier. 🙂

P.S. How fitting is it that, on this day last year, I donned by backpack and headed to France? It seems July 15th is a day of many adventures. 

A Baiana Coreana

“Eu vim da Bahia cantar, eu vim da Bahia contar tanta coisa bonita que tem na Bahia, que é meu lugar…”

So go the opening lines of Gilberto Gil’s Eu Vim da Bahia, a song Alejandro sang — and consequently memorialized as a Bridge Year classic —  at our farewell party in Salvador before we left for Palmeiras. The song illustrates the visual beauty and joie-de-vivre that characterize (an idealized) Bahia and the baianos that make the region what it is.

I may have left Bahia, but Bahia certainly hasn’t left me. Less than a week after my move, my saudades led me through Seoul’s Itaewon — a neighbourhood known for its cultural diversity — searching for a way to stay connected to the people and language I’d grown to love. In a country that loves its unlimited bulgogi and other marinated meats, it wasn’t a surprise that I came across several churrascarias serving Brazil’s answer to Korean barbecue.

Lo and behold, I lucked out: not only did I get to speak Portuguese to various Brazilians that evening, the next day I received a phone call to let me know I’d landed a job as a waitress.

Over the past four days, I’ve worked daily six-hour shifts at a churrascaria named Tabom. I’ve learnt that waitressing is no easy feat: it’s a complex choreography of knowing where to go and when, how to interact with different people and how to manage multiple tasks at once whilst maintaining incredible stamina. I’ve learnt how to work cash machines, explain wines, serve beer from the tap, navigate a crowded kitchen, set tables, greet customers and all the usual things, sometimes doing all the above in very quick succession when the night is busy.

(I’ve also learnt that it’s a good idea to look in a mirror every once in a while — towards the end of our busiest night, I went to the bathroom and discovered half my braid had fallen out and that my baby hairs were a mess… and I’d been rushing about, serving customers, in that fashion. Now that was embarrassing.)

As cheesy as it sounds, I feel the happiest I am in Korea when at Tabom. It helps that I work alongside a loving Brazilian family that offers me everything from caramelized slices of pineapple to cheeky brincadeiras (jokes) on nights both busy and calm. Taeho, the only other Korean, sings loudly and shamelessly when making caipirinhas and explains the restaurant trade with patience. When all of us are together, conversations are a melting pot of Korean, Portuguese, and English — to varying degrees of fluency, but with consistent camaraderie.

Truth be told, I’ve found the transition to Korea a lot harder than I thought it’d be. I think I’ve cried more times in the past week than I have in the past two months, and a lot of it has to do with how I still feel like a foreigner despite, ironically, having returned ‘home’. I left Hong Kong hoping to learn what it’d be like to have a sense of place, in a country where I’d live with people who share a mutual language and history. Instead, I’ve found that people don’t see me as one of their own. Many a time I’ve been asked where I’m from, and when I stumble in my Korean — for example, when trying to figure out bank accounts and such — people talk to me in English, often condescendingly, as if I don’t speak Korean at all. Surprisingly, just because you share a common culture with someone doesn’t mean they become friendlier. In my case, I’ve found that it creates the expectation that either you’re in or you’re out. And as an outsider, I can’t help but feel like a sore thumb.

Which is why a lot of me misses Brazil. I mean, I was always conspicuous in Bahia— yet I never felt like an anomaly, largely in part because everyone was unique in their own way. Besides, even if I’m not Brazilian, neighbours, friends and even strangers would claim I was basically a baiana; or, more frequently, of a hybrid identity: afro-coreana. Like that, people were willing to accept me as part of the culture even if I wasn’t fully part of it linguistically, historically, spiritually, etc.

I find the contrast with Korea startling, and kind of heartbreaking. But I am who I am, and the individual I am, it seems, does not belong to any single nation, but rather a collection of places and cultures that cannot be placed in a single box.

And I’m learning to tell myself that that’s okay. And this is yet another reason why I love Tabom: when I’m at the restaurant, it is okay. I’m all the more useful — and interesting — for the fact that I hail from a variety of different places. In four days, I’ve interacted with customers in English, Portuguese, Korean and even Chinese. When all of us in the kitchen don’t share a universally mutual language, it matters less what languages we speak, and instead what matters are our characters, the way we laugh through a particularly busy shift, the way we converse over dinner when the buzz dies down, the tales we tell about our little intersection of Korean and Brazilian worlds.

(Of course, the whole Brazilian hospitality / acceptance stereotype still holds true. Everyone in the kitchen claims I look like a baiana, thanks to my many-colored maxi-skirts and headbands.)

So there you have it: the story of a baiana coreana waitress. I’ve only done four shifts, but I already feel like I’ve done many. Perhaps I won’t ever feel completely ‘at home’ in Seoul. But it consoles me that there are little pockets tucked away in its many neighbourhoods in which I feel appreciated for being who I am — a mix of many things, often wonderful.

IMG_3249

Well, the bathroom walls were yellow and green…

The First Three Days

If we count by the hour, then it’s officially been three days since I arrived in Seoul.

Or should I say, since I arrived home?

The change in diction hasn’t been as black and white as I initially thought. Korea is my motherland, yet there are moments when I feel so incredibly and unmistakably foreign— and not just because Korea is probably one of the most homogenous nations in the world, ethnically, linguistically, normatively, culturally, etc. (It’s funny: to a certain extent Seoul offers a contrast to the mosaic of Hong Kong, and yet in both places I feel like a foreigner. I call myself ‘rootless’ for a reason.)

It begins on the outside, with what I wear— or rather, what I don’t. When my aunt came to visit on Sunday, she looked and me and asked if I ever use make-up. In a land where every young female has pale, pale skin dabbled over with shades of pink and red and beige, my tan skin — my most visible souvenir from Brazil — and absence of make-up makes me an anomaly. Stylistically, I definitely don’t wear the edginess of the girls who sport their cool fabrics and pant-cuts and patterned hairbands, all of which can be found on the streets and metro stations of traditionally ‘hip’ neighbourhoods. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t know how to pull it off, and so I stick with my minimalist maxi-skirts and cotton shirts.

d106852d57412424b84893db536b8158

So edgy! So hip! So… not me!

So there you have it: an image of me, a tan, make-up-less, not so fancily dressed young female on the street. Take me to a store or to any situation of human interaction, and you’ll notice the next sign of my foreignness: the Korean language.

To clarify: I can speak, read, write and understand Korean. Fluently. I live in a very Korean household and I communicate with my parents exclusively in my mother tongue. But like most third-culture kids who grow up speaking their native tongue solely in the home environment, I may be able to use conversational Korean but not necessarily its formal counterpart. I’m fine in a convenience store or in a simple passing interaction… but I find my vocabulary is pretty lacking when it comes to politics, the environment, the economy, technology, medicine, the terms and conditions for pre-paid data plans and the like. Which is frustrating to say the least.

It’s frustrating because I’m legally an adult, but I don’t feel like one. I always feel like I need someone else to help me navigate what should rightfully be my own business, with this ‘someone else’ more often than not being my mom or my dad. Yesterday I went to get a medical check-up for college, and encountered several instances in which someone uttered a barrage of medical terms only to receive an uncomfortable silence in response. Then one of two things occurred: either they then repeated their question in ‘simple’ Korean, which was obviously a little ego-damaging, or my mom had to step in and continue the formal-speak. Both instances definitely left me feeling very, very small and ashamed and, most upsettingly, plain stupid.

A medical check-up is done on my body. This is the body I’ll live in for the rest of my life. How sad it is, and how profoundly absurd, that everyone else understands what kinds of tests will be done to my body when I don’t. And how exceedingly bizarre it is — and downright frightening — that the person who speaks on behalf of my body is not me. 

Losing agency is a really demeaning process. Suffice to say, after an hour of consecutive tests (one of which required me to swallow a bunch of stuff and be moved around on some tilting machine) (and another of which involved withdrawing blood… my biggest fear! Ack!) I was so exhausted and simply done. It didn’t help that, later that afternoon, I found myself at a phone store trying to purchase a phone plan with Nicole, a friend from Hong Kong who’s spending the summer in Seoul. Not only did we stay there for an hour without getting any SIM cards, but the man on duty was also the most condescending person I’ve met thus far, constantly asking the question ‘Did you… under…stand what I… just… said?’ in a mocking baby voice when yes, I understood, even though I may not speak Korean in the same way everyone else does.

It seems the theme of linguistic disconnect seems to haunt me everywhere I go: in Hong Kong, my inability to speak Cantonese was always a little humiliating; in Brazil, I struggled a lot initially to get basic ideas across, and now, in Korea, I’m facing the same problem. And gosh, what I’d do to feel the comfort of being completely and wholly understood and respected as a human being, like I was towards the end of my time in Brazil, or I guess how I feel (but not especially… a story for another time) in the US.

But in spite of the cultural hiccups, there are elements of my first three days that remind me there’s a reason to why I’m here. I may be the prodigal daughter who has returned, somewhat repentant, to re-learn the history and culture I inherited, yet in many ways Korea forgives me and reminds me that all hope is not lost.

Eating wholesome, Korean foods with family is muscle memory to me. Sitting around a grill eating kimchi and tofu and lettuce wraps and octopus with my aunt and her family felt so familiar. Watching my parents turn red from the soju felt so normal too. From walking down red-bricked streets to breezing past convenience stores selling the crackers of my youth, there are things I do that evoke memories from when I was last here. Whenever I get on a bus, I look around and marvel at how familiar everyone looks, and feels, to me— which is why I find it a bit eerie that strangers never exchange greetings (suffice to say, my time in Brazil has made me want to bellow the equivalent of E aí? or Bom dia! to the wayward passerby). I think having lived overseas, where fellow Koreans always share a certain unspoken camaraderie, has trained me to think all Koreans are pretty chummy with one another. Entering a reality where that isn’t the case has been kind of strange, to say the least— but I guess it’s something else I’m growing to learn.

Although things are moving pretty slow (and understandably so — we’ve just moved our whole lives to another country!) this first week, I’m pretty content to just sit back and observe a little. At the moment, I’m trying to find some odd jobs so that I’m forced to navigate the city on my own and get to know other people. We’ll see how that all pans out in the days, and weeks, ahead.

The Sentimentality of Things

I’m a sentimentalist, but not a hoarder.

I don’t feel particular attachment to stuff. If anything, the process of moving out has proved that I’m a little ruthless: as drawers and cabinets are opened for the first time in months, the plastic trash bags bloat and beg to be emptied. Before that, however, my mother — the original sentimentalist — scours through the depths of items deemed obsolete (in my eyes, at least) and yells at me for having put aside that half-used notebook she could potentially use in Korea, that empty CD she believes has a purpose, the dulling, unused pair of earrings she thinks could be gold, but she isn’t sure, so we should keep it.

Ugh. Moving demands so much patience. 

Granted, I used to be a hoarder myself / still kind of am. I’m particularly fond of things that were handmade or handwritten by myself or people I know. I’m not attached to yearbooks, but I’m stubborn about keeping my old birthday cards, journals (even the Korean school ones) and portfolios I had to make in primary school.

Purchased physical objects, however, offer a different story. Why? Minimalism: the art of having less stuff, or rather, maximizing what you do have so that less becomes more.

rzv9z

Image credit: http://i.imgflip.com

I can’t call myself a minimalist at this stage: I still own various versions of various things, and my room is closer to cluttered than it is minimalist. Yet it’s a concept I’ve been thinking about with greater frequency as we grind through the move, and certainly something I want to practice in the years ahead.

To a certain extent, my nine months in Brazil inspired the change. Living out of a backpack shows you just how little you actually need in your life. I ended up buying more clothes, but in the end I the outfits I recycled were more or less sourced from 60% of that wardrobe. I left a lot of things in Brazil before coming home.

My time in Brazil also showed me how much happier I am in less cluttered environments. I mean, I’ve always known that I’m neat, but being in a room where everything I owned could fit inside one closet was such a refreshing feeling. I feel more creative in spaces where I’m not constantly distracted by little heaps and messes, and the time I’d otherwise spend cleaning can be spent doing other, more rewarding, activities (like writing and reading, which I did a lot in my room in Salvador).

IMG_2975

Upon returning from Brazil… 

I grew up as an indiscriminate consumer and never thought of being otherwise. I totally bought in to advertising and found myself wanting things simply because people subliminally told me to, or because I thought it was a cool thing to do. In middle school, one of my favourite hobbies — no joke — was shopping at H&M, ‘because it was cheap’. Whenever I ‘needed’ something (like a water bottle), I’d go out and buy one even when I had a bunch of water bottles lying around at home (‘oh, but they’re not the type I want’). You get the idea. 

But as I get older — and, in that process, as I get exposed to different lifestyles and life-philosophies — I’m realizing that consumerism isn’t really my cup of tea. I derive more net frustration from objects than I do joy. I don’t find myself wanting much anymore, and when I do, I think of ways to make it myself with what I have (for example, my crochet bucket hat — which, ironically, I haven’t really used since making). I derive a lot more pleasure from being creative with what I have, and being more mindful of the decisions I make and the impact it has on the environment and on my own psychological well-being.

So, with the express goal of living a more minimalist lifestyle, I’m intent on making small changes in my life — a process I’m willing to document if not for myself, then for others who may be interested in a similar endeavour. On top of the awesome benefits minimalism has for the environment, I also think it’s a great practice in self-care, and creating mental and physical space that would otherwise be taken up by valueless things. 

Little things I’ve done so far to get one step closer to being a minimalist (as expressed in list form) (how minimalist!):

  • I’ve donated* a lot of things I probably won’t need or use in Korea. If I feel like an object won’t add value to my life, but would bring greater value to someone else’s, donation is a simple win-win. The sorting and transporting may require a little more effort than simply throwing things in the trash, but trust me — it makes the tedium of moving so much more enriching. (For more details on donation, I’ve written about some cool HK-based resources below.)
  • I’ve changed my souvenir-buying habits. I used to think that I had to get souvenirs for friends and family whenever I travelled; but, thinking about it, how extraneous is it to buy something for the sake of buying it? Besides, after too many trinkets and charms thrown in the trash, I now know that there are many other ways to commemorate an experience with a loved one. The really minimalist version (and personally, my favourite one) would be to not get anything at all — or rather, not feel obligated to get anything — and share stories in a more intimate context instead. But if you’d like to bring back something for others, which is fine, why not bring back local foods or candies instead of non-perishable keychains or magnets? I brought back a bunch of paçoquitas from Brazil and everyone I’ve shared them with so far have loved them. I’m also planning on making a meal of moqueca and feijão (com farinha) for my parents once we settle down in our new home!

    1

    The best little lembranças ever!

  • I make an attempt to purchase local or second-hand (if I need to buy something to begin with). Minimalism and environmentalism go hand to hand so intuitively: when you consume less, you impact the earth less. When your options are reduced, you naturally grow more conscious of the decisions you do make. And consciousness makes a difference: whenever I buy groceries, for example, and find that the only cheeses available have all been shipped from Australia, I re-think my perceived ‘need’ for cheeses and get something else instead (if anything).

When it comes to lifestyle changes, it’s impossible — and inadvisable — to change everything at once. Inevitably, contradictions may arise. For example, I can’t really be a ‘minimalist’ if I’m intent on keeping every Christmas card anyone has written to me ever. But for now, when I’m not in the emotional position to start sorting through these piles, it’s fine to live with said ‘contradictions’. You don’t have to make your life harder by thinking in boxes (and I don’t say this only because of the hellish process otherwise known as moving). One day, when I’m ready, I’ll probably try and fit the letters that mean the most to me in a single shoe box; and until then, I’ll develop in other ways. Like with minimalist clothing, furniture, etc.

Having said all that though, I cannot end this post without mentioning the most poignant part of our move. Yesterday, my dad and I lugged two bagfuls of stuff to our nearest Salvation Army Family Store, where we donated a lot of toys, books, bags, accessories, stationery (notebooks, etc) and miscellaneous re-sellable objects (like plastic containers, bike pump, etc). We wanted to take one of our big bags back, so the lady on duty emptied the entire horde — which happened to include my dolls — into smaller baskets.

Seeing the sheep doll my aunt bought me when I first moved to Hong Kong made my heart hurt a little. The same happened when I saw the owl my parents bought me when I spent my birthday in Singapore’s Jurong Bird Park (I remember crying because I wanted the flamingo). Then there was the cheetah toy I used to sleep with, and my sister’s tiger counterpart…

But before I could run back and take them all back in my arms, I took a moment and thought about it. I’ve committed to this thing called ‘growing up’, which includes embracing new reflections and philosophies that may help me live a more enriching life. Back in the day, the dolls were what gave me joy. Over the years, I’ve changed — and that’s okay. I’m sure the sheep and the owl and the cheetah would’ve been proud of me too.

***

*If you find yourself de-cluttering / moving out of your house (or even Hong Kong!), here are some resources that will help you make the process a lot more sustainable and meaningful.

As mentioned above, my dad and I took a bunch of stuff to The Salvation Army. The process was super simple: we took our two bags of stuff to the Family Store closest to our home, delivered them to the staff working there that day, and that was it! So easy. You can find information on what they do and don’t accept / where the collection centers are here.

We also had two old, broken laptops lying around the house. Since I found it somewhat fishy to throw two electronic goods into the regular trash, I searched online for a computer recycling center and came across the Environmental Protection Department’s Computer and Communication Products Recycling Program. Basically, technicians either refurbish working laptops and donate them to those who need it, or — in the case that the device doesn’t work — the computers are dismantled and useful parts recycled. It turned out that one of the collection centers was right next to my house, so I went over, handed them the laptops, got a receipt and voilà! Again — super easy. You can find the list of collection centers here.

 

Meditations on Moving (A Country Away)

After fifteen years of mountain trails and double-decker bus rides, my family’s time in Hong Kong has almost come to an end. In a few days, my parents will board a one-way flight to Seoul with our cat as a carry-on, and in a short week or so I’ll follow.

***

The news was unexpected, but unsurprising. There was always going to be a journey back. And what better time is there than now, after I’ve spent an entire year marvelling over the way many Bahians are so sure of their cultural and social identity?

I’ve never known a ‘home’ in the way others have. I’m Korean, but I couldn’t tell you about my ancestors’ pasts. I couldn’t tell you about the music and the art and the dance that make my culture what it is. Heck, I couldn’t explain half of it in the language to begin with!

What I could tell you, however, is how much I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to completely and unconditionally identify with a place and all of its historical joys and sorrows. To live in a place where I can interact with everyone in their mother tongue, with the added knowledge that we share a common heritage that brings us closer somehow.

To a certain extent, I regret not having been able to do this with Hong Kong. Sure, I’m not from the city, but I often wonder what my experience would’ve been like if I’d spoken Cantonese and spent more time with local people— like the way I did in Brazil. I regret the complacency I feel after fifteen years of living in a bubble, and I regret how difficult it is to come out of complacency once I am within it.

So, even though I’m technically moving to the US in the fall, I’m hoping this summer will be my chance to finally know something I’ve wanted to know my whole life.

***

For now, I live in uncertainty. The only certainty lies in the piles of boxes that grow taller by the day, and the evenings my parents and I spend in a living room that becomes emptier and emptier, eating the same meals with ingredients that need to be finished before we leave.

I find it to be a great lesson in patience. Without the silence of my own space, I learn to share spaces with others. I learn to prioritize the process instead of focusing on the end goal. Sure, I can’t wait until I’m back in a room of my own, decorated with the photographs and the colors I envision for myself. But for now, what matters are the morning promenade walks with my mom when she wants to take a break, the afternoon hikes with my dad when he wants a break, and the time I carve out for myself to write when need a break. And from this process of taking care of oneself and others, I realize that ‘waiting around’ isn’t the redundant ‘in-between’ I often deem it to be. As cheesy as it sounds, this ‘waiting around’ is also known as ‘growth’, if you let it be.

***

And of course, waiting around also comes with its fair share of precious moments.

The other day, I took all my books down from my bookshelf and decided to categorize them in various piles. There’s a belief that you can tell who a person is by looking at her bookshelf. In my case, the tallest stack consisted of fiction, whilst the second — surprisingly — were books in Spanish.

After coming home from Brazil, I’ve admittedly grown a little lax about my Spanish; without a doubt, it partially stems from my newfound love (and somewhat obsession) for Portuguese. But seeing the pile of Spanish books was a humbling reminder that Spanish has meant a lot to me before, and — I realize now — still does. After all, it was Spanish that built the bridge between myself and the beautiful sing-song nature of Brazilian Portuguese, and it was Spanish that got me hooked to the art of learning language.

Coming across old photographs, journals and Christmas letters has also been a treat. The other day I came across my first travel journal, which I wrote when my family visited Paris and London in 2008. Once upon a time, my favourite kind of hat in the world was the beret, and I thought my Legoland-issued drivers’ license was the best thing in the world.

***

Even today, the process continues. Outside, it rains and the city feels quiet. In moments like these, I wish I could write an ode for Hong Kong, yet my current self cannot muster the energy to produce something fantastic.

It is important that I remind myself that things of beauty take their time to grow… and that, perhaps, their expression isn’t always intentional. If I could collate the individual moments that most characterize my years here — from the playground days of primary to late-night, post-graduation tram rides — I’m sure that the resultant collage would create something I never intended to be wonderful, but in the end has turned out to be the best goodbye I could give.

And so, these memories and conversations and lights and energies are what I’ll take with me, and what I’ll speak of in conversations as the years go on. And at college, when I face the inevitable question Where are you from?

I’ll obviously respond: Korea. 

But after that, there’ll always be a spotlight on Hong Kong.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 1.47.27 PM

A shot taken during our backyard hike to Tai Fung Au (Mount Parker).

 

I’ve written about not having a ‘home’ in a previous post, which is entitled ‘The One Thing I Want (But I’ll Never Have)’. This post was also semi-inspired by my original ‘Meditations on Moving’, which I wrote when I moved in to the house we’re about to leave.