I have never had an issue with traveling alone. I actually prefer to travel alone to a new city where I can have a sense of anonymity. Only after I’ve experienced a city on my own a few times will I ask someone else to return to the city with me. I don’t know why I’m this way, but it’s just personal preference I guess. On this trip to Seoul, however, I learned that I may not be all about going solo after all.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t leave Seoul feeling sour. In fact, despite some quirks I didn’t anticipate, I fell in love with the city even more. I just wasn’t really into being there — somewhat — alone. I had a couple friends who were also visiting South Korea, but they were in different cities and had certain schedules. We only really met up twice, with just a few short hangouts in between. I also spent a day with my aunt and uncle who came in from Incheon. But during most of my time I was in Seoul, I was left to get lost on my own.

I didn’t mind it, since I’d meet up with Tara after she’d get off work. I also had some really good company at the guesthouse for the first few days. But when I was alone, I would sometimes wish I had a travel buddy. I never felt that way anywhere else I’ve traveled alone, but for some reason I had this lingering feeling all throughout this trip.

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Little Things About Seoulites

On my first morning in Seoul, I was pretty beat from the travel day before. I didn’t know exactly what I would do, and the fact that it was blazing hot outside made me want to stay indoors and hug an air conditioner for the entire day. But I didn’t.

I explored my surroundings a bit. I was lucky that Tara had been so nice and created a general itinerary for me. I was staying in her area, so she gave me suggestions on places to check out nearby. I spent about an hour just hanging out, people watching, and getting a feel of the kind of community I’d be around.

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#TravelBackThursday: Beijing, CHN

A couple of posts ago, I hinted that I wanted to go back to China. Particularly, with the same arrangements I had last year. The deadline for applications feels like it’s coming sooner than it actually is, but I think that’s because of my indecisiveness to attend again. On one hand, I think it would be great to go back and see some of the teachers and volunteers, maybe even some of my fellow campers. Part of me feels like going back sort of makes the trip less special because I’ll always have the memories from last year, and I’d have to readjust again this year.

Nonetheless, if I do or don’t go, I’ll let you all know. For now, let’s take a look back at some tidbits from Beijing!

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#TravelBackThursday: Seattle, Washington, USA

Holy cow! I can’t believe I haven’t been back to Seattle in more than a year. In 2014, I made the trip to Seattle 4 times! So I kind of got in the habit of visiting Seattle very few months. It started becoming like a second home to me. My best friend is there, so I really do feel right at home whenever I’m in town.

In 2015 I traded the domestic flights for international ones, and I didn’t have a chance to visit Seattle at all. Lately, I’ve been missing The Town! So this week, without further ado, let’s journey back to one of my most favorite places!

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#TravelBackThursday: Ilocos Sur, Philippines

So many times I’ve said that I would blog while I’m traveling. Or, I’d blog as soon as I get back. I’m not very good at either. I actually am no good at all. I often recount my travels weeks after I’ve come home, sometimes even months!

I think most of this is because as soon as I land somewhere, I want to be completely immersed in the experience. So I put down my phone, don’t worry about documenting everything, and just ride it out. But I’ve come to a realization that it really is important to document the people and places I’ve seen. It soothes the travel bug just a little bit and takes me back to a happy place.

In the next few weeks (give or take), I’ll be taking a trip back down memory lane to recount my steps around the world. First stop: Ilocos Sur, Philippines!

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Impressions of Forbidden City

Before my trip, I wondered if the people of China knew the enormity of their history and how remarkable this is for everyone else on the outside looking in. Thousands and thousands of years of stories and monuments are still marvelously preserved. That, in and of itself, is profound. Yet, I somehow thought that Chinese people just see this passively and that’s not in a bad way. Merely, China is so rich in history that it’s just part of everyday life.

On the second week of my trip to Beijing, we spent an afternoon going through Qianmen, Tiananmen Square, and Forbidden City. On our way there, I spoke with my class’ head teacher and asked, “So, how old are these places?” Her answer gave me an insight into the mind of a Chinese person living among such historical places. She said, casually, “Oh, not very old. Maybe five or six centuries.”

Maybe five or six centuries.

Let that sink in for a moment. Mind you, let’s compare that to the United States which, as a nation, has only been around since the 18th century. On China’s scale, the USA is a baby barely able to speak or maybe even walk on its own two feet. Granted, the Great Wall and earlier walls date back to the 7th century or maybe even further. My knowledge of Chinese history is still a bit lacking. I understood by our head teacher’s answer that there were much older sights to marvel.

As we walked through the Forbidden City, I wondered if the people we saw, souvenir sellers, the workers at the drink stands, or tour guides found it as daunting as I did. Daunting, in the sense that remnants centuries old were still kept in the same rooms they had been left.Everything seemed to be untouched, as far as the emperor’s things were concerned. We stopped at one end of the palace, which would have been the Emperor’s quarters. Pictures were allowed, but the windows and the room looked like no one had been inside to clean them, respecting the souls that had left them as they were. I had taken a couple photos, but to my disbelief they all came out pitch black. Perhaps that was a sign that I should just leave what I saw in my memory, that it was sacred and something that should only be seen by those lucky enough to walk on these grounds.

What I found most astonishing, in a good way, was the unbelievable detail of every corner of every roof, wall, banister, even the bricks on the ground. I questioned just how prosperous the Chinese empire was, and how carefree they must have been to be able to think with a clear mind exactly how they wanted everything to look.

If these were just ordinary people, these quarters would just be bricks stacked together to make something pretty. But that’s not how the Chinese work. Everything has a meaning, a purpose, a superstition beyond us all. Red and gold trims were everywhere to invite good fortune and balance. Dragons sat on the roofs, symbolizing nobility, heroism and perseverance. Although eye catching, it’s hard for me to believe that all of these were built just to get a second look.

I suppose that’s what I find the most beautiful about Chinese culture. This is a culture of thinkers, believers in entities beyond what we know in our natural world. Although I wouldn’t call Chinese people the most religious, China is in fact officially an atheist* country, they are spiritual in their own sense. In that, there is still a conscious belief that what we see in this world, everything we live through, none of this ends where we are. For that matter, symbols are important. Symbols that will help us lead a wonderful, joyful, fulfilled life seem to be reoccurring themes within Chinese culture. And, to this day, these symbols persist.

I can’t help but think that the cultural sights we are lucky enough to visit in China stay intact because of the staying power of Chinese tradition. Places like Forbidden City aren’t just cultural sights that drive the tourism industry. Places like it have been preserved because of the history and connections to the empire’s past. It is absolutely extraordinary how well-kept everything is, with its keepers paying special attention to the ancient meanings of each crevice and ornament.

Our afternoon at Forbidden City came to a very abrupt end. As soon as we sat down at the last corridor, it was time to leave. In any other part of the world, picking a time to close would be an easy task. You go by your own schedule, or what you think would be most practical for the kind of business you are. Not in China. Most of the historical cultural sights in China close at 5:30pm. The reason isn’t because this is convenient for those who work to maintain each sight. Our head teacher said that cultural sights close at this time because it lets the souls wander about their quarters as they would have in their ancient times.

“These places are only open for a short time everyday. It’s not meant to be for common people like us.” She said to our group. So we left, and I had never felt closer to history than I was on that day.

*China is officially atheist under the Communist Party. However, the government also recognizes Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, and Taoism as religions present in China.

A World In Us

I’ve always believed that the people we meet, circumstances we find ourselves in, and how we come out of it all are no accidents. I don’t believe in coincidence; I much more like the idea of fate. When I look back at who I’ve met, what I’ve been through, and when it all happened, I take away little bits of new understanding or a rejuvenated outlook on life. Call me a sap, but that’s how I think of the people we meet, even if it’s just a passive, small wrinkle in time.

This is how July came and went for me: Imagine for a second, you’re in a completely new country. You don’t know a lot of people. Yet, you’re sharing the same experiences, the same space, the same environment. Presumably, you are forced by the universe to connect with each other. And, you do this without question. I mean, you can’t question the universe, because nature controls us all anyway. It takes a bit, but you do it. The second that you finally feel like you’re exactly where you should be, it all ends and you’re sent off on your way back home.

Although Beijing has remarkable attractions, I might not remember years from now what this building or that street looked like. It really isn’t a matter of what I’ll remember, but who. I’ll remember the talks, funny happenings, that God-forsaken song we heard over and over, and the stories we were all a part of. So, thank you, to every person I met on this trip. It might have been in passing, but the time we spent together was truly an experience needed by everyone at least once in a lifetime.

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

— Anaïs Nin

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