Steeper than a hill

Much like Moana, I have always been called to the ocean. From scuba diving to swimming, even to my bachelor’s degree, I never had a doubt in my mind that the sea was for me.

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The ocean is best admired in the absence of pants.

But lately, I mean the past couple of weeks lately, I have been lusting over the mountains. Probably because of the film Mountain that was featured at Busan International Film Festival left my mouth gaping open.

Regardless of the movies that I watched, Korea is the place to fall in love with mountains. 70% of Korea’s topography is mountainous, so I might as well like it.

My non-romantic partner, Justine, invited me to climb Jirisan. I thought of the mouth-watering drone footage from that inspo-doc (a word I just invented for an inspiring documentary) and said yes. It’s the second-tallest mountain in South Korea.

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It doesn’t look that big because it was cold.

We ascended before dawn. Right as we hit the trailhead I felt like I was going into cardiac arrest. I had to sit down for more than a few moments. I breathed thinking “I am connected” and waited until I couldn’t feel my heartbeat in my eardrum. Bless my patient friends.

This hike wasn’t as technical and scary as Sinbulsan (and my ankle wasn’t sprained this time), but it was still challenging. I had to repeat my mantra throughout the duration of the hike. I realized that challenging yourself physically takes a whole different form of mental strength that I am not used to exercising (ha).

Back at home, I would hike. But I would usually go by myself, climb high enough to get a view of my car, then come back down. There was no such thing as “summiting”. The trails in Korea are often steep and difficult, but always rewarding.

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Don’t let my nonchalance fool you, my legs felt like jello.

While I’m probably not going to give up my current life to become a dirtbag in Yosemite, I have a found a new way to challenge and become a better version of myself.

Proverbs from an essay contest

Homework is your flesh and blood.

Daym. The study culture here is no joke. This was a student quoting their dad.

Next day my mom will hitting me with her hands.

Not doing homework is not an option. Daym x2.

Finished off the Voldemort

Fuck yeah, you did.

The hero is very coor

“Coors” and “Cool” are essentially synonymous.  Coors lite anyone?

Maybe I’m tired… and die

Maybe this particular mother isn’t going to kill their kid for not doing their homework, but the monotony will.

Happy birthday to me

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It was my birthday recently. A month ago — but still. For the for the first time, this birthday I woke up actually feeling a difference. Perhaps I felt healthy from Justine’s vegan mac n’ cheese. Or maybe the wine was good quality and didn’t leave me hungover. Whatever the reason, I observed a healthy detachment. Twenty-five is going to be a good year for me as it was an album for Adele.

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My friends got me an adorable cake! Feelin’ hashtag loved.

I am ready to spring into action. I wake up the perfect amount of tired. I fart. I trap my fart by making my bed. I have a solid morning routine. I have shifted my focus from getting my shit together to mastering myself. I’m moving on from my breakup. I got a tat I’ve wanted for a long time. I even got a new digital watch to reflect my inspired change.

 

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New ink

 

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Cropped out my impressive pit hair

Life seems like a dichotomy. I’m either traveling and all the Instagram worthy things or I’m sitting around, writing my 750 words and waiting to press my coffee.

It is scary for me to feel settled. Change is when I overcome challenges, grow, [insert synonym here]. The present feels like I am in-between cups of coffee. The same feeling I had in the year building up to come here.

But the reality is I still don’t know what is going to happen next. I can write anything.

 

Entropy observed small children

“Hello class, how are you?!” I try to embody a Disney princess even though I dress like an exhausted version of my seventh-grade biology teacher.

“So-so”
“Tired.”
“Hungry.”
“Mad.”

My students don’t know a lot of English, but they know enough to complain.

I came here with the expression “I don’t like kids” branded into my brain. I would be lying now if I were to say that was true, though I wouldn’t be caught dead saying it.

Maybe it’s not the kids I like or their age-related sass. I think my almost-fondness towards children boils down to what everything boils down — the second law of thermodynamics. My nipples just got hard too.

The second LOT states that in any cyclic process, entropy will increase1 (or will remain the same, but we’re not going to talk about that.) Entropy is the universal tendency towards chaos.2 It can be seen everywhere and observed in anything. What was once in a neat, organized state gradually became a shitshow.

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This cyclic process can be modeled as my daily routine. I come into class prepared, only to realize I am not. I try to make my students laugh and they make me laugh. Sometimes they even learn some English. Facilitating group activities and hands-on learning, I am the exact type of teacher that I hated when I was a teenager. Ugh.

Accommodating to these kid’s busy hands and minds tend to spiral into anarchy. Er… entropy.

 

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I think the intention of this image was to show gas particles, but you can reimagine it as my students’ desks before and after class.

 

I know what you’re asking: Can this chaos be reversed? Yes, it can! A la energy! Energy in the form of heat. The heat of my anger, the heat of my co-teachers breath yelling in Korean, and the heat from the four cups of coffee in ingest before 10 AM.

These children need constant structure, guidance, and instruction. It is exhausting but sometimes (and boy do I emphasize that sometimes) it is amazing.

A child’s reaction to AC/DC is simply inspiring.

A little electric guitar gets these kids PUMPED to use English. If I had the same kind of motivation and energy, I would have written five books by now.

Jokes aside, my favorite part of working with small humans is their innate curiosity. Before a certain age, they don’t give a fuck about making mistakes or looking dumb. They are just trying to wrap their heads around the millions of bits of data floating around them. It’s this stoicism I admire.

It makes me feel less bad about not pursuing academic science. Kids are scientists and it’s bloody incredible. Perhaps there is more than one way of becoming a scientist. Exploring curiosity, making mistakes, and facing your fears; that’s what my students do every day in English class. They inspire me to do the same.


  1. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2017, from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/thermo/seclaw.html
  2. entropy. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved June 1, 2017 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/entropy

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.

 

 

The Philippines

 

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Knife in one hand and a fork in the other, I ate my pizza. My eyes focused in on my Drishti, or focus point that happened to be the wall. Baby cockroaches scurrying across the wall were challenging my focus. Where the fuck has my pizza addiction brought me, I thought to myself. It was 8:00 P.M. and the only accommodation I booked for the entire trip fell through. I was in the country not even four hours, and I fell madly in hate with the city of Manilla.

I asked a kind employee of Cockroachland where is a place that I can stay. Thank God everyone spoke English. She pointed me into the direction of the City of Dreams, a bougie hotel mega-complex with a casino. I sauntered in and knew I did not deserve to be there. At my age, the only thing that should be hanging from the ceilings is Grateful Dead tapestries, not chandeliers. But in I walked to the front counter where I met my Manillan savior, Miguel. Miguel hooked it up. He gave me a free upgrade to one of the nicest suites and booked me a flight to Palawan the next day.  I supplied my credit carded and decided not to look at the bill. 

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Filtered the shit outta this pic

After an afternoon of waiting for a delayed flight, I was happy to be in Puerto Princessa. It was the second of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Even though it’s a marketing scheme, it’s my personal quest to check them all out.

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I felt safe in this life vest with a broken zipper.

 

The underground river is a trip. It’s a HUGE cave and complex ecosystem. We had to listen to a prerecorded tour with our one sided earbud to omit noise pollution. It left me with my mouth gaping open, something the audio recording reminded us not to do because of bat poop. It was simply stunning even though everything had slight Christian undertones. There were so many stalagmites and stalactites named after Jesus, I felt like I was in church. Nonetheless, it was amazing.

 

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The view from my room.

I spent the rest of my trip in El Nido.

My favorite day was island hopping. I choose tour A because my drunk neighbor recommended it. My favorite part of traveling was meeting other spunky travelers. I met a couple of guys from Israel that were the life of the party. They took epic pictures and shared all their snacks while the Americans hid theirs. Cultural differences.

I swam, snorkeled, and forced people to take pictures of me on a boat. I made fun of some girl sticking out her butt for pictures which made the crew laugh. It made me feel less bad telling them how to take pictures from strategic angles.

 

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You bet this was a series of photos.

 

I saw tons of parrotfish, triggerfish, and a clownfish so big, Finding Nemo lied to us. I also saw a lot of dead coral. It made me sad to think what was once one of the most biodiverse places in the world was ruined by tourism. It made me think twice about where I want to go next and what the kind of impact I want to have (and not have) on this planet.



Things that I learned on this trip:  I am an ok packer. I wore everything I brought but I regretted not bring my Chacos.  Those shoes ruined my life in Vietnam, but they would have been ideal for island hopping. If I go to the Philippines again I would not go to Manilla. I would scuba dive every day and I would plan a loose itinerary in advance. I didn’t plan that well, so I ended up staying in El Nido longer than I wanted. I wish that I was more ambitious and explored another island. I do appreciate the experience and have learned for my next trip.

Borderline plus size

My favorite thing after a long day is to plop down in front of my laptop, block of cheese in hand. Cheese and I have a long history. Our relationship complicated when I came here though. It’s difficult to find. I rarely see Cheese now. At night I drift off to sleep, dreaming of Cheese’s comforting embrace.

It’s bullshit.  Not only am I deprived my favorite hobby, eating a block of cheese and watching Cops, but I am still Chubbs McGee.

 

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Oh god

 

I wish there was a vibrator equivalent for cheese.

It’s ridiculous. I purchased a lint roller to get the crumbs off of my bed.  I look at cheese pull gifs late at night and feel naughty about it. When am I going to fundamentally change as a human being?

Oh, I have to do the work myself? Damn.

I thought my fluff was going to melt in the land of kimchi. Alas, it has not. I am trying to make some lifestyle changes (barf). It’s difficult when Pizza Hut is closer to my house than the grocery store.


I am exercising more while I battle my addictions to pizza and convenience store ice cream. The only exercise I like, besides sitting down, is swimming. I was once a dolphin, I am sure. Luckily there is a pool near my house. It is also near my school. I have run into my students several times. Naked. I felt mortified, yet honored to educate the youth on nipple diversity. It also felt great to get into the water again. Until I started swimming.

Back in America, land of the free, home of the Michael Phelps, people finish their lap to completion. There is usually a deep end, leaving no opportunity to bail mid-lap. This pool is completely shallow, which I am cool with. But one woman, whom’s stroke of choice was the doggy paddle, would stop and walk the rest of her lap. Either she was recovering from hip surgery, or exhausted by the inefficient stroke. It was annoying, but not that big of a deal.

It became a big deal when she started practicing her kicks alongside the end of the pool, as depicted in my diagram. Not only did I have to swim against the current she was creating, but now she forced me to bail on my lap too! I was so upset I had to leave and get ice cream to cool down.

 

 

Original art a la me.

 

 

But my favorite story is from attempted to skip the pre-swim shower. A woman chased me and my friend down and mimed for us to scrub our butts and genital regions. I haven’t skipped the shower since.

 

If I lost a pound for each time I got yelled at in Korean, I would have reached my goal weight. But I’ll just keep swimming.