A man called Alice

“I’m bored.”

For a second, I wasn’t present. I used to admire pictures of Gwangan when I was applying for EPIK. The illuminated bridge was not just the background of my laptop but a metaphor. Bridging my life to something more interesting, adventurous. Now I was there, chainsmoking, trying to forget the set I just bombed. I let the sea kiss my toes and take me to California. No matter where I am I’m dreaming of another place.

I saw him sit down during the tail end of the show. Was he bored by my hosting? I did my best. He didn’t think I was funny? I liked his cartilage piercing. Maybe he’s woke. His shirt had a lot of holes in it. It looked like an old towel my dad would use to protect an instruction manual from the seventies, but I knew its fashion.

“Should I stay here or should I go?”

A white guy started yodeling The Strokes but I didn’t care. Everything faded into the background. I focused with laser precision on the man with the holey shirt. Should I stay or should I go? He was asking me. He balled up his destiny and put it in my hand like an unwanted receipt. It made me feel beautiful.

I gave him my phone with a magic 8 ball loaded. He spoke to it with the same urgency as if he was asking Siri how to operate and AED.

‘Reply hazy, try again later.’

I reloaded the page. “Han bon doe.” It didn’t even phase him that I said ‘one more time’ in Korean.


“OH YEAH BABY! I like the sound of that V8!!” He wasn’t talking about vegetable juice. He was moaning at the sound of foreign cars.

I should have known from the way his nipple peaked out of his shirt — this boy was ready to reveal things. He was the ripe age of 21 and the black sheep of his family. He lived in Busan but swore his life would be better abroad. We pinky promised to dance together.

“I am a unique Korean.” He was vivacious enough and didn’t need to put it into words. He told the taxi driver where to go. It was my first time hearing him speak in his mother tongue. The tone of his voice was much quieter and deeper. I could feel that he was a different person. His Korean was intuitive but is his English let him be whoever he wanted. I was jealous. I wanted to feel like a different person too.

“I’m unique too.” I tried to convey some sort of conviction.

“Prove it.”

“Well, I wear a shark tooth necklace.” If nonconformity was a race, a shark tooth necklace would be the finish line. He ran his thumb around the serrations to test its legitimacy.

“Alright, that is pretty cool.”

“If a shark were a car, what kind of car would it be?”

“Hmm… well, a whale would definitely, definitely be a muscle car because of the size.” I kind of liked that he changed the question. “But I’m not sure about a shark.” I paid for the cab.

He went behind the bar to change the music. I felt like I was in that scene from Goodfellas when the protagonist takes his unknowing wife on a date. They skip the line and go through the kitchen of the restaurant. A not so subtle privilege. He pays off the staff as they welcome him with smiles. Similarly, everyone knew Mr. Holey Shirt. But his mobsters were drunk expats in heels. I made the conscious decision not to be insecure.

“What do you want?” He gave me his card to buy drinks while he made his rounds.

“A coke.” Was he in recovery too? Nah, alcoholics order club soda with lime.

We danced. I sipped my Seagrams. I waited around for a good time as if it was just around the corner. It never came. A black hole germinated in my stomach. I wanted to scratch to get out of my own skin.

I stepped outside to smoke. Smoking is the saving grace of my sobriety. I have an unhealthy relationship with them, beyond the fact that they are poison. Awkward silence? Cigarette. Punched in the face by a vagina during jiujitsu? Cigarette.  Trading discomfort for dependency and sitting back to watch it happen. Part of me doesn’t care. I was handed a bucket of emotions around day 20. Now I’m desperate to dump it out before it overflows. Cigarettes are the easiest and most opportune way. But my favorite is on stage. Performing is a release on its own. But adrenaline and nicotine make one handsome couple. After doing a set, I feel fucking cool power walking through a crowd with a cigarette dangling out of my mouth — no matter how good, bad, or ok it just went. But really, cigarettes gives me something to do at a bar that I shouldn’t be in.

What am I doing here?

I couldn’t answer. So, I left.

96 days sober today.

 

Pink clouds

Like the humidity in Korea, my optimism is rising about 5% each day.

I’ve had a great week. I taught my students the word for butt chin and I ate a pizza with avocado on it. It feels like I could stay in Korealand forever.

My life is starting to come together like paper mache. I’m putting in the work to make myself happy. It’s a lot of work. I’m perfecting my routine consisting of writing, studying, and learning jiujitsu. The class is completely in Korean and my body is covered in bruises. I love it.

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Welcoming the 외국인

It’s not being sober that feels good, it’s overcoming something every day. It’s the delayed gratification of changing my habits and rewiring my brain. This is the euphoric stage of sobriety. Everything is lofty and I’m floating through my sober life on a pink cloud. I am holding onto it with my newfound jiujitsu grip before it melts away like cotton candy.

I’m on guard for a hiccup. Last night I had a dream that I broke my sobriety.  Exercise and staying busy distracts my urge to drink but doesn’t take it away. There is still a shark in the water.

There is this saying, “Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.” But resistance offers nothing except tension and misery. To me, alcoholism is an impulse. This impulse is a huge part of my identity —  it’s not just an impulse to drink. It’s that unfiltered thing I say on stage doing stand-up comedy. Or booking that plane ticket to Okinawa (Japan, I am coming back for you!! xoxo). The yin and yang of spontaneity is regret and reward.

If you see a shark while scuba diving, you’re supposed to back up against a reef to reduce angles of attack. Always keep your eye on the shark and remain calm. It’s scary and seems like a threatening situation, but the shark isn’t an aggressor. It’s just a shark doing its job in its ecosystem. The diver should respect the shark by giving it space. In the same way, I am trying to respect my addiction. Coming from a place of observation instead of trying to harpoon it in the face.

Maybe this is just a hippy-dippy metaphor. I could be happy because of the rotation of men pinning me down almost every day. But if didn’t stop drinking, nothing would have changed. I wouldn’t be pushing myself to refine my sense of character.  I’m feeling more confident in myself and in my decision to be sober, but I’m keeping an eye on my shark.

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Dairyfest

My drool woke me up. I have been back in Korea a week but my circadian rhythm hasn’t realized it yet. Turn my ondol on, turn it off. Browse Tinder and hate it. Open the window. My ankle hurts. I twisted it cramming my foot into my shoe at the airport. It’s been swollen ever since.

I don’t know what it is about 5 AM that makes me introspective. Am I thinking the clearest or the least clear of the day? Blanketed in unnecessary anxiety, but it’s fine. A lot of changes are coming my way.

Maybe it’s all the dairy.


I landed in California. I knew I was home but didn’t feel like I belong anymore. Things felt familiar, but not the same. Reacquainted with old friends, familiar scenery and drugs. Life is good but surreal. I took the requisite pictures one would in California. The beaches, dogs off leash, even the Golden Gate Bridge.

Something besides the California sunshine blinded me though. It was the revelation of the network of badass women that I am fortunate to have. Hold on to your hat, it’s about to get sappy y’all.

From my mother to Lady Gaga. The women in my life are amazing. I am lucky to have made connections with such independent women abroad. It took me a year away to realize that I have as strong of a network at home. Or maybe it’s because I just read Orange is the New Black. Either way, I am glad that now I know.

My mom never forced me to practice the piano. Rather, she always supported me trying new things. Oh, you want to play soccer? I’ll drive you to practice. Oh, you want to be in a play? I will go to every performance. At the time, I wondered why she didn’t force me to stick with one thing and become an expert. I was always bouncing around from hobby to hobby. Instead, I became an expert at adapting — the now necessary skill for my chosen lifestyle. Learning new things, and loving it. I understand now.

Intelligent, beautiful women are invaluable on my journey. I didn’t grasp it until we sat down for brunch. The importance of life is the people who listen to your stories without a punchline. It’s people who tell theirs and you genuinely care.

Sure, you can quantify life by age. But the people you love make it qualitative with shared experiences.

Everything has built up to this point and will continue to build to the next. I love to think that I’m independent, but I’m not. I would not be who I am today without these lovely life-changing people who shaped me along the way. At the time I thought I knew, but I didn’t viscerally appreciate. Years of self-doubt, insecurity, family problems, eat disorders, clinical anxiety. They built me up when I was below sea-level.  If you are in doubt that I am writing this about you, I am definitely writing this about you.

And I love you.


I landed in Korea. I knew I was home but still didn’t feel like I belong. Things felt foreign in a familiar way.

The USA took home silver and bronze in Big Air (holla). In Seoul, I reunited with a friend on her last night.

It is crazy how one person can influence your trajectory. I hate to admit it, but I was so scared coming to Korea. Terrified. I connected with Justine deeply, who made my year all OK. Crazy coteacher? Let’s drink some wine. Sprained ankle? I’ll buy you dinner. Also, let’s climb this INSANE mountain, Sinbulsan.

The tragedy and beauty that is being an expat are the people you get to meet and have to say goodbye to. I have learned so much from her. She taught me how to efficiently chop an onion, pack for a trip, and navigate Ulsan. She helped make me a strong person that I would want to look up to as a kid. She is a forever sister. And I hope this post makes her cry.


I’m crying, but I haven’t lost anyone. I am so blessed, even though I hate the religious ties to that word.

I guess, what I am trying to say is: always have someone in your life to climb mountains with.

Lucky for me, I have dozens.

 

A breakup abroad

“You don’t have to wait for me,” I said.

I was laying in his bed on my side. My back faced him as I looked into my relocated fish tank. Ludwig van’s silky red fins rippled in the water and calmed me. He was exploring his new surroundings. In a couple of weeks, I would be doing the same.

“I can be very patient.”


He entered the bathroom while I was in the shower. My friend, the one we were visiting for a few days, must have gone out to collect more firewood.

“Please,” he said stroking his shaft.

Ten seconds later I used the running water to kick his little Jimmies down the drain. Taken aback, yet flattered.


We listened to Hamilton on our way to Disneyland for the last time. L.A. traffic was at high tide and my emotions began to swell. I wore my sunglasses even though it was raining. I couldn’t pinpoint the emotion, but I could pinpoint the reason: it wasn’t going to work out.

Still, I held on.


Every day after work I would call. The time difference was harsh and he would wait up just to speak with me. It was sweet, but I would find myself dragging my feet on my walk home.

He asked me basic questions to imply a surface level of curiosity.

“How was your day.”

“Fine,” was an adequate enough response. I was careful not to share too much because he seemed sad when I did.

“I’m going to Vietnam in May!!”

“Oh… cool.”

or

“I’m going to get a tattoo in a couple of weeks!!”

“No, you should wait. Don’t you want to get one with me?”

I liked this one too:

“I’m going on a trip with my friend for Christmas!!”

“Oh… I thought we were going to spend Christmas together.”

We had obligatory phone sex once a month. We talked mostly about colleagues from a job that I was trying desperately to move on from. That’s how we met and had in common. He still worked there and would relay stories of shitty customers. His details made me feel like I still worked there too. But I didn’t. And I didn’t want to feel like it anymore.


Shangela and I were on the bus to Dong-gu to get some pizza. She was (still is) in a long distance relationship too. That’s how we bonded.

“When you talk to your boyfriend, do you like it?” I was trying to articulate the bitter taste in my mouth.

“Yes…”

“Oh.” Shit.

“Are you excited about him visiting?”

“No.”

“Isn’t he staying for a whole month?”

“No. Five weeks.”


My friends watched me bang my head against the wall all summer. To have him come to Korea, or not.

He already spent the money.

I already have everything booked.

I don’t love him and I don’t know if I even like him anymore.

Rationalizing emotions is futile. These were the thoughts running through my head.

My mother raised me to believe that honesty is the best policy, but that doesn’t vibe with my non-confrontational personality. He bought the tickets and even quit his job. He called to tell me about his new backpack for travel. My head was screaming, “NO! NO! NO!”


I performed my breakup script to him over a Kakao call. This was the second time I’ve dumped some via phone call, and I must say the key to a successful breakup call is preparation. He cried a lot and told me his dreams were being crushed. I hung up and had brunch with my friends.


That was that. Haha, just kidding! I called him to tell him I changed my mind.

“Come visit me.”

And then called him again to tell him not to. I was a yo-yo for a couple of months.


He came up from behind at the airport. He came out of the wrong gate. He bent down to give me a wet kiss which made me realize two things: that I had made a big mistake and I needed to get drunk asap.


Day 2 in the Philippines I told him he had to end his trip early.

“What do you mean?” As if I threw him a curveball.

“Let’s not worry about it now, but you can’t stay with me for five weeks. And you’re not coming to Jeju.” I was proud of myself. Sure, I was being a dick. But I was an honest dick.

Vacation in the Philippines was not terrible. Beer cost a dollar, so.


We arrived back to Korea. We were tired. I had been suffering from diarrhea for four days. He changed his flight but it wasn’t for another, like, ten days.

Readers, this was a test of my character and I failed miserably. In the Philippines, he got a blistering sunburn and it started to peel. Skin flakes were coming off in sheets and floated down to my floor like winter’s first snow. But it was in my apartment and it was DEAD SKIN. I would come home after work and have diarrhea for ten minutes. Without saying anything, I would get my broom and sweep the skin while crying softly on the inside.

Time moved on. But after having diarrhea for a solid seven days, I broke down. Pooping that much does something to your soul. I yelled at him. A lot. About how he shouldn’t have come here despite my pleading.  About money. About his skin.


The morning he left I took him to the bus stop. He seemed sad even though I treated him like shit. After he got on the bus, I went home and cleaned my apartment like a crime scene. For the last time, I swept up his littered skin and washed my sheets to rid his smell.


I learned a few things from this experience:

  • Balance is finding the right volume to watch TV with headphones without causing ear damage while drowning out your ex-boyfriend crying.
  • Your heart is a dumb asshole.
  • TBH your mom is probably right.

Me, my selfie stick and I: Jeju Island

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“Why did I order this? I am trying to be vegan.”  With a fork I toyed with the muscle in my seafood pasta. I was reliving dissection lab from Invertebrate Zoology three years ago. It’s difficult to find something appetizing when you trying to recall functional anatomy. Regardless, I was enjoying my time alone with a mouth full of bread.

IMG_8080.jpgThat was until I an unsolicited visitor joined me at my corner table. Short and bald, he had an accent thicker than the sauce of my pasta. “Hello there! Mind if I sit?” He asked after he had already sat.

“You are sitting here all by yourself. Why are you alone?” We introduced ourselves to each other. I can’t remember his name, but I can remember the alcohol that scented his breath: gin. “You seem like a normal, nice person. I am not coming onto you, you just seem like a normal person and I wanted to give a friendly hello.”

If I had a piece of chocolate every time I’ve heard this from a white male 50+ years old, I would have diabetes.

He continued his monologue. I stopped eating.  He told me I should leave Korea. He said that I am not happy and my heart isn’t here. He said that I will start drinking and drinking more if I don’t go and pursue my passions. I sat there and nodded my head until he went to tend to his nicotine fit. I paid my bill and skedaddled.

This interaction didn’t sit right with me. It took me a couple of days until I understood why. It wasn’t what he said, it was who said it. Drunk, older men trying to give us life lessons. Fuck them. They are answering questions that no one asked. They do not know the secret to our happiness. This small behavior, this “friendly hello” is actually oppressive.

And then I realized that this small island had made some big changes. I won’t say that I have found myself, but I have become more comfortable with who I am.

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Solo travel is wearing cargo shorts and still feeling sexy.


My impromptu itinerary

Day 1

Land in Jeju and head towards the beach in search for a fabulous brunch spot.

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Samyang Black Sand Beach

After wandering for two hours I acknowledged this brunch spot no longer exists. I settled for the place that it turned into. As serendipity has it, they had one of my favorite beers that is only sold seasonally in California. I ordered one at 11:00 AM.

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“Enjoy your meal,” said the man serving  my morning brew.

Day 2

Scuba diving! I walked into the dive shop early in the morning and told them I wanted to go diving. An hour later, I was on a boat headed towards this island:IMG_7640

We were dropped off on the island and lugged our gear onto the rock. There were tons of soft corals and tropical fish. I was lucky enough to see tuna hunting in a school of sardines. It was some of the best diving I have ever done! I felt like I was in a BBC documentary.

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Me and the eccentric dive master

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Meandering after dinner.

Day 3

I decided not to dive again because I am lazy. Instead, I visited a bunch of waterfalls and went to the healing forest.

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Seojeonbang Waterfall and the effect humidity has on my hair

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Jeongbang Waterfalls

 

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Cheonjeyeon Falls – 1st tier

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Cheonjeyeon Falls – 2nd tier

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Cheonjeyeon Falls – 3rd tier

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This is not a waterfall.

In the afternoon, I went to the Seogwipo Forest of Healing because I had some work to do. I was denied entry on account of my flipflops. I was perplexed. They warned me there were snakes and getting bite by a snake would do the opposite of healing. They called me a taxi and I went home to change my shoes.

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I immediately took off my shoes to enjoy this foot massage.

Day 4

I set this day to tackle Mount Hallasan. An early morning and $30 cab ride later, I discovered the mountain was closed due to bad weather. Vanquished, I made my way back into town to come up with a different plan. I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful scenery unique to Jeju.

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Jusangjeolli cliff

These cliffs were formed from the cooling and solidification of lava from 250,000 years ago. The columns are formed when molten lava contracts during cooling, which splits the rock into polygonal columns. It is called columnar jointing and is pretty badass.

Next I went to Love Land. It is famous for it’s plethora of dick statues. Everyone is immediately immature upon entering. A group of giddy young men behind me giggled as they grazed the exhibit.  It was also refreshing to see a German woman directing her daughter how to pose with pornographic sculptures.

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Love Land


I was sad to leave Jeju but I will be back in the winter. I am excited to see how the island has changed over the different seasons. Until then, I will continue to have adventures on the mainland of Korea.