Weekly Travel Theme: The Moment

I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t traveling. Ever since I was little Dani Tami, my parents constantly took us out of Agoura and onto either the open rode in a 15 seater van, or piled us into a plane to some country at the other corner of the globe. It is something I’ve always known. Spring and winter break never meant staying in town, and while looking back, these are trips that I am so grateful to my parents for. From a young age, they made me have to wander, whether I knew it then or not.  So really, they shouldn’t be shocked at my current locale now should they? The answer is no.  So Mama and Papa Schaeff, it’s all your fault!

This week’s travel theme is about “the moment”. The moment that you know your life is changed by travel either by a place, thing, time, person, whatever.  I actually quite frequently get this feeling of absolute content whenever I’m traveling that’s much different from the feeling of the normal day-to-day. It’s one of those feelings that sparks so often, even in doing normal everyday things like taking a shower, that “real life” feels so far away in that second. Actually, since living in Korea, I’ve had so many of those moments. So many “I’m so happy I’m in Korea” moments, which helped me realize that moving here was the best decision I’ve ever made.

That being said, It’s kind of hard to pick just one moment that changed my life, so I’m going to pick two. The one that started it all, and a more recent one.  Full circle that shit.

I can pinpoint that moment when I knew I needed to live abroad. I was in 4th grade, on a spring break trip with my family to Paris.  I remember standing in a little street shop wanting to buy one of those collectors silver spoons that people used to collect like shot glasses. Maybe they still do, but I don’t.  Either way, my dad gave me a few Francs to buy it, and then we made a mad dash out to the main street and into a random burst of hail.  Across the street were the larger-than-life green and gold statues gleaming down at me in my yellow puffy jacket and red beret. The cars were driving haphazardly, yet somehow weaving in and out of each other in some fashion of chaotic order which I still to this day can’t place, even with my most likely ADD. We were trying to catch a Mercedes Benz taxi. A Mercedes Benz taxi!  Wow, “Paris is rich!” I thought!  That smell of the ice smashing on the pavement is one that I still catch random whiffs of in moments that are fleeting, and I am instantly transported back to Paris as the little girl in the jacket that could stop traffic.  After that trip, while wearing our matching Sorbonne University sweatshirts, my sister and I both told our mom that we were going to go to college at Sorbonne and live in Paris.

That didn’t happen for either of us, but I still look at that certainty as the pivotal moment of when I just knew I wasn’t going to spend my whole life living in the States.

Flash forward to adult woman “mature” life and my first solo trip to the stunning, magnificent, lush Bali! I had found a guy named Gusti who offered to take me on a half day excursion on the back of his motorbike to see some temples and a Luwak coffee plantation.  The plantation was actually something that I thought was going to be a scam and I’d be just nodding my head in a polite effort to get it over with. However, after about a minute of meeting Oher, and listening to him tell me about harvesting the different kinds of coffee beans, I was totally interested. I knew I wasn’t just asking random questions to appease him. Instead, I started to find him remarkably charming in a sweet old man kind of way.  After teaching about all the different kinds of beans, showing me how to crack them open, introducing me to the pooping Luwak, and letting me smell all the various herbs, we sat down to taste some coffee and indulge in conversation.

Over 10 little cups of coffee and tea, Oher asked about the places I’ve traveled, explained how he’s studied English for 4 years just by talking with customers, told me about his 10 year old daughter, Wayan, who loves Hello Kitty, and how he has been raising her on his own since his wife of 25 years passed away 2 years ago, a subject that actually brought him to tears.  As he teared up, it reminded me of why I am so in love with experiencing all the world has. I love meeting people on these journeys and getting a little glimpse into their world that’s so different from my own, but fundamentally so similar when you get down to the bare bones of being a human. Here I was sitting at a hand carved wooden table with a 45ish year old man who looked well into his 60s, who spoke remarkable English for being self-taught, some snakeskin fruit and 10 empty cups of coffee, enjoying one of the best moments I’ve had while on the move.

I actually happened to be wearing a Hello Kitty ring that I bought in Korea for 2,000won. I gave it to Oher as a gift for his daughter from an American girl. He was so shocked that I was just giving it to him. I said I could buy another, it was no problem.  He said thank you about a million times and was so eternally grateful for that small plastic piece of jewelry that it just made me smile.

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These are moments that remind me of why I’m so happy I’m staying in Korea another year. Another year of exploring this whack but stunning continent, and after that, who knows what the next moment will be 🙂

 

I decided to start writing some weekly travel theme pieces that other travel blogs will be changing up each week. So look out for some random variety 🙂

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KoKo’s Resident Klutz

I was sitting with Jeewon, Tim and Andria Friday night at a failed evening of watching Reservoir Dogs on the rooftop at Platoon in Gangnam, and somehow my still (almost 2 months later) sprained ankle came up.  Then I got to pondering all my epic falls since coming to Korea.  I mean, if anyone knows me you know I’m a klutz, but ever since coming to this country I seem to have forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other.  It’s a bit absurd, I’m the first to admit.

Well, I made a tiny list of some of my goodies so they’ll never ever be forgotten once the bones heal and the bruises fade.

1 – ~6: Winter 2011

While still learning how to walk on snow and ice, I had quite a few tumbles that first winter. Many of them were in the Family Mart right by my school.  And many came back to back, as in right after I got up I fell back down again, and took down a few bags of chips with me. Actually, I could probably tack on a few more falls to that number up there, but we’ll just keep it at ~6 for my own sanity.

Remarkably, this past winter I don’t recall falling in the snow.  Job well done, me.

Note: Don’t wear Uggs in the snow.

7. Japanese Karaoke Room during a typhoon

During a typhooning evening in Kyoto, Japan,  30 bottles of sake took over a karaoke room.  Somewhere between not all of it making it into the appropriate glasses, and my own sheer excitement over singing the next Celine Dion or Disney tune, I collided with a puddle of sake on the ground and nearly broke my hand.  It didn’t feel right for a good month afterwards, but somehow it healed itself, and Japan will go down as how I came to be Noraebang obsessed.

8. 80s Roller Derby

This is easy.  I hadn’t legit roller skated in a really long time and someone had extra WD40’d those roller skates because were really slippery.  It was a given that I was going to plummet either face first or tuchous first. Thank heavens I’ve been blessed with a padded posterior.

9. 90s Dance Off for Namibia

The floor was slippery, I was in tap shoes.  It was a recipe for disaster.  At least I can say I tapped my ass off and we WON.  Let’s relive it again, shall we? It gets good at 2:26. And really good at 2:34.

10. I FELL OFF A BUS

2 weekends ago was Buddha’s Birthday so we had a 3 day weekend.  Andria and I decided we wanted to breathe some fresh air, so we headed out of Seoul and up to Paju, about 45 minutes away by bus, and about a hop, skip and a jump from the North Korean barbed wire border. Despite the locale, it’s a really cute little town with lots of coffee shops and random little art and chatchky galleries that we were excited to take advantage of.

But that’s besides my point right now.

Before I even stepped foot in Hyeri, the area of Paju that we were going to, my fun had already begun!

As I was swiping my T-Money card to get off the bus, I somehow missed the middle step in my footing, and in a nanosecond my whole body went repelling downwards.  I was caught somewhere between a lunge and a split from the top to the bottom step, and GOD BLESS my cat like reflexes, because if I hadn’t jut my arms all the way up and back to grab those metal bars I surely would have eaten that pavement and my teeth straight off the bus. My wallet went flying back and all I could scream to Andria was “SWIPE MY CARD!” Heaven forbid I get charged an extra 2,000won on the return having not swiped out on this journey!

Shockingly, the whole bus of Koreans let out gasps of horror, which is quite unusual, as people are so mum here and usually have nothing to do with people when something horrific or embarrassing happens on any mode of public transport. Anyways, I hoisted my lame body up and *gracefully* moved out of the way of the bus, let out a few cryscreams at the side of the rode as I held my aching knees, and checked to see if my tights had ripped (they hadn’t). Then I let out the heartiest laugh.  OF COURSE I FELL OFF A BUS.

This is what my left leg looked like the next day.  BATTLE WOUNDS.

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Fallin’ all over the world since this epic fall at the Colosseum of Rome in 2006.

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Six Months Shmix Months

With my 2nd contract winding down, I have just under 6 months left of my time living in my home away from home in this lovely little nook under that big nuke up north.  Just as a heads up, all is fine and dandy over here, life carries on like normal and I guarantee that the American media blows up everything far bigger than it even feels while living about 1.5 hours south of that big scary border.

I’ve been doing a bit of pondering lately about the things I’m going to miss about Korea and here are some things I threw together quickly over the last couple days.  Maybe this will persuade some of you to get your tuchous’ over here just under the wire 😉

  1. Kimchi.  I went like three days without it at school, I don’t even remember why because there is never a shortage of kimchi, but I was really depressed without it in my life for those three days.  Hard to believe I was scared to try it for the whole first week I was here.
  2. Instant built in friends.  Coming with EPIK/SMOE made building a network and getting oriented like it ain’t no thang. We had the chance to meet a crapton of people at a week-long orientation, and from there got to weed through the masses weekend after weekend at Hongdae Park and Zen 1 until we managed to find the ones who clicked with our own brand of weird.  From that crop some pretty spectacular people sprang 🙂
  3. What’s anxiety? Yea, until about oh, the past week, I haven’t felt that for the past year and a half. Now I need to think about life after Korea and the happysadanxious feelings are once again having their reign.
  4. THE KIDS. Oh the kidssss. I don’t think I have seen cuter kids on the face of this here planet than Korean kids.  I shit you not they are the most adorable babies ever.  Until they are in about 6th grade.  Then they suck.
  5. Playing the dumb foreigner card always has its perks.  Lots of get out of free cards, not having to listen in meetings (even though I still don’t know why I have to attend them), and also having no one to report to or check in on me….ever.
  6. Going to the doctor is mere pennies.  Back at home I never went to the doctor until I was practically dead and my mom was twisting my arm to go, because I couldn’t afford it and had no health insurance.  Here, it costs ~$3 to see the doctor and then ~$4-7 for meds. Ka-ching! Slight cough and I’m all about Dr. Kim or Lee or Kwon or Oh.
  7. Seoul has the best subway system, hands down.  The buses aren’t bad either, except for the kimchi fart rubber smell on occasion.  But that’s everywhere.
  8. Incheon Airport.  Praise all things holy and glorious. I love this airport so much I could marry it.
  9. Kimbap triangles, namely the tuna kimchi ones.  Best snack on the go.  It’s basically a triangle of rice with kimchi and tuna in the center and wrapped in seaweed and you have to unwrap the fancy wrapping correctly or you mess the seaweed up.
  10. Everything is convenient. Ripped your tights? Need some flats? Forgot your eyeliner? Oh, right this way.  You hungry? Everything is always at your fingertips. Even a double eyelid (surgery OR tape).
  11. “Marting” the art of sitting on the sidewalk in front of 7-11 or GS25 on plastic lawn furniture and drinking makkoli, soju or mekju (beer) while enjoying some fine people watching and conversation.
  12. Which brings me to my next point.  Makkoli.  Sweet sweet makkoli.  My beverage of choice in Korea.  This delicious milky fizzy rice wine is found in the marts in a green or white bottle, or served in makkoli bars out of a kettle or bowl with ladel, with bowls for drinking.  My personal fave is to add strawberry or melon ice cream to it. Nom.
  13. Noraebang. I regret to admit that it took me a year to discover my favorite Korean hobby, and I had to go to Japan to figure it out.  Norae (sing), bang (room)….essentially a singing room where you go with any number of friends and just sing to your wildest heart’s content.  Disney is my personal fave.
  14. Multibang. Basically consists of noraebang, PC bang, DVD bang and Wii. I went here on a couple dates and they were the best dates I have ever been on.  SO MUCH FUN.  Many Korean couples also go to these for some privacy, ifyaknowhatimsayin.
  15. That awkward feeling of being stared at, even by the baby who is barely two, yet also feeling like a celebrity at the same time because you obviously look different and even the baby can tell something is off about you. But it’s cool.
  16. Rice.  Though I can surely live without it, I will miss it. Damn you bap!
  17. Hearing “nice to meet you” everyday for two years straight by the same kid. Groundhog day all day, e’er day.
  18. SO much nail polish!
  19. OH THE SHOPPING! It’s freakin everywhere!
  20. The cafe culture.  There are just so many adorable cafes all over Seoul.
  21. Reading Hangul (the Korean alphabet).  It’s like a puzzle to me.  I feel like my brain is always working since I’m always reading everything around me trying to see if I can understand it. Definitely gonna miss this big time.
  22. ONDOL.  Sweet beautiful heated floors how I will miss lying on you so.
  23. Daiso.  It’s this amazing dollar store where everything is essentially between 1,000~5,000won. I always want to buy everything.
  24. Deli Manjoo, which are these custard filled little cake bites, which I actually recently found out are actually not even bad for you because apparently they are made from something called “wellbeing flour” whatever the heck that is.  But apparently it’s not bad for you.  THEY ARE SO YUMMY. Someone correct me if I had selective hearing on that one….
  25. Everything is too cute.  I had to succumb to the Hello Kitty bling bling iPhone case, duh.
  26. The fastest internet on the planet, even if I have to be hooked up to an ethernet chord in my apartment.  Oh, and wifi is literally everywhere.  Even on the subway.  You are never without connection in Korea.
  27. Korean food is so bomb.  Especially the soups.  Especially Mul Naengmyeon in summer (buckwheat noodles in an icy beef broth with julienned pears and cucumbers and a hard boiled egg, served with lots of dijon mustard and vinegar to taste).
  28. My personal fave….the what I like to call “just click print” shirts.
  29. Anytime I say “hi” or “thank you” in Korean to a Korean they are always impressed and think my Korean is amazing, as if I came to Korea yesterday.
  30. Over abundance of cute socks, and Obama socks.
  31. The Korean cartoon song from the 90s that plays every morning on the school speakers.  I love it and have no clue what it’s about!  Jin actually told me it is the theme song from her favorite cartoon when she was little!
  32. I will be getting my eyes lasered for less than triple the cost I would pay to get it done in the states. YAY SURGERY CAPITAL OF THE WORLD!  More to come about THIS process in a later post….something which has been added to my anxiety!

I’m sure there are plenty more that I am surely forgetting, but for now these are some of the things that I am going to miss tremendously about Korea.  The next six months are going to fly by and I’m already starting to get anxious about it, and not in a good way. Never in a million years did I think i would fall in love with the weirdest country on the planet and call it my second home.  I’m sure I’ll add to this as time winds down, so keep your eyes peeled.  Oh, and a post of Thailand and Laos to come soon, sorry I’ve just been supa busy as a bee!!

ANYEONG!

A Pupu Platter Of 2012 Whathaveyous

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!

Wow, another year has come and gone, and I must say, 2012 was my favorite year of my almost-29 years gracing this planet.  So much that I had always dreamt of in years past same to fruition this year, and I can honestly say I am in the best place I have ever been in my life.  And it feels damn good 😉

I had made the resolution in 2011 that by the end of the year I would be living a life abroad ~ check.  In 2012 I promised myself I would do absolutely as much traveling of Asia as possible.  I came to Korea to conquer this continent like a blaze of fire, and in looking back I can say I did just that.  Along with the travel resolutions, I really put my best foot forward to work on getting what I really want, and making that start from within.  I try my best to communicate what I want, but a lot of time it fails when walls get put up, or life just gets in the way.  So, I’ve really tried to be as self-aware as possible just be the best version of myself and hope that it brings with it what I truly want.  That being said, 2012 has definitely been the happiest and most honest year to date 🙂

Now I’m just gonna throw together a few highlights from each month of 2012. Badabing herrrrrr goes!

I began the year on the beach in Koh Phangan, covered in florescent body paint and drinking liquor by the buckets with one of my dearest and oldest friends on the planet ~ my fave biatch and sista from anotha mista, Miz Diamond ❤

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January marked my first birthday to be celebrated away from everyone I’ve always shared my (obviously) favorite holiday with.  I felt a little down about it, then in flew a gift from THE BEST sista ever ~ Sista Schaeff in the flesh, in Korea!

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On her last night here, she snuggled my foot to sleep.  BY CHOICE! ❤

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In February I visited two of my favorite countries so far ~ Vietnam and Cambodia. I saw some of the most beautiful snorkeling waters, caught my first fish, shot my first gun, ate a bowl of pho a day, wondered why they allow Americans in, and saw my life flash before me about 1million times while in ‘Nam.

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In Cambodia I visited the most breathtaking temples I have ever seen, spent an afternoon with beautiful children in an orphanage on the river, saw insurmountable beauties in some of the deepest poverty stricken eyes, and struggled to hold back tears while walking through a living history at the Killing Fields and S-21 genocide museum remnants from the Khmer Rouge of the 70s~80s.

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In March I visited the happiest place on earth, AKA the DMZ, for the second time.  This time we rode bikes along the most intensely guarded border in the world, all while Obama paid the peninsula a visit and peered over to the North with us.

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April means Passover, which also means the sea parts in Korea.  I made the trek down south with a homie and we met Moses, crossed the parted sea and drank makkoli while doing so, obvi.

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Later in April, my favorite story to date came to be.  A couple morons went to a Lady GaGa concert.  They got all gussied up in the hottest of pink and the tightest of attire, only to miss the whole thing whilst trying to attain the most coveted seats in the house during the “GaGa cover band”…. *face palm* At least we looked sexy.

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In May, Wawa came for a visit.  We did many things, but by far our favorite day was our “Day of Culture.”  We visited Gyeongbukgong Palace, learned about the creation of Hangul (the Korean alphabet), ate a traditional lunch, drank tea in a lovely tea house, dressed up and cracked up in Hanbok (traditional Korean dress), and wrapped up with a journey to the Noryangjin Fish Market.  Twas a wondrous day!

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Then came June, and Buddha’s birthday.  A crew of us high-tailed out of Seoul to Gangneung, a little beach town on the East Sea. There were makkoli and soju spurred chicken fights, sexy man-wrestles, toasty bonfires, crashing of high class fancy Korean booking clubs and frisbee games resulting in broken pinky toes and racial slurs. The Buddhaman had an awesome birthday!!

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Then came July and two events which could be classified as the greatest events of the century. One more than the other, but one got more hype than the other according to the Facebook.  You can use your own judgement on that one.  One required us to dress to the nines to bid adieu to all the homies we grew to call family, and also the ones we grew apart from because a lot of people that came with us were weirdos, let’s face it. The other required some prior temple-sculpting, lots and lots and lots of soju, mudmudmud and practically no clothes. Mud Fest was by far my favorite event of 2012.  Shit was CRAY TO THE MAX!

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August was the most bittersweet month of the year I’d say.  It was sweet because I took a 2.5 week summer jaunt on over to the Philippines with my lovely lass from home, Brianne.  We saw some of the most picturesque islands, snorkeled and ate our faces off, hiked miles in our little warrior Havaianas, posed with stalagtites, missed the whale sharks, got in a fist fight with a very mean typhoon, and let tempers fly with shitty budget airlines.

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August was bitter because our contracts ended and some left KoKo and I had to face the harsh reality that the world as I knew it was shattering before me.  Well, that’s an over-dramatization, but that’s how it felt at the time dammit. I also got thrown into my deathbed by some plague I contracted in the Philippines.   So, not only were my friends leaving, but I was deathly ill and partying with an IV in the hospital, unable to hand out proper goodbye hugs. NOT COOL WORLD.

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Then on rolled September.  Grabbing my bearings on who was still left in my Seoul-cial circle happened naturally.  I got back in the go-out mode (at least for the time being), and some friendships from the previous year had the chance to blossom.  Late in the month for Chuseok holiday, a group of us gals decided to pop off to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan with boy toy Joshy. We frolicked by bicycle all over Kyoto, made the most of the typhoon stricken city by stuffing our faces with enough sushi and sake to fuel an army, and tore up (literally) a karaoke room.  Best weekend ever!!!

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October was of course Halloween, and we got down with our bad selves…and Bob the Builder.

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In November I actually had a REAL Thanksgiving, none of that Pho shit (pardon me, it’s just not suitable cuisine for Thanksgiving).  Josh Rich was also in town as my 6th visitor to the Orient. A Happy Happy Turkey Day it was!

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And last but not least, I think the winner for best December event goes to my dance crew’s (WORD TO YO MAMA’S HIGH WAISTED JEANS) epic ass kicking in the 90s dance battle for the African kids. Real winners put in the effort, and effort we put in. Obviously you would know this had you been at our latke-rehearsal party, our cheese and crackers rehearsal party where Matty ripped his jeans, and our final rehearsal party that almost interfered with us attending the actual party because we were too focused on perfecting our dance.  What a BOMB DIGGITY way send out 2012!!!

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As you can see, 2012 was quite the year, and it’s been a pleasure looking back on it with you. Here’s to an even better 2013, and going home to America in 10 days!!!!!!!

PEACE & CHICKEN GREASE, HOMIEZ.

A Year Ago.

I’m feeling a bit reflective today after failing at yet another Skype date with my MayMay and just missing my lovers back home….or rather in the States because practically no one lives at what I call HOME anymore.  Sad face.

A year feels like such a long time, but I’ve come to realize shit flies by! A year ago last month I was “let go” from my jail sentence of a job that I thought I had really really wanted, filed for unemployment and was almost denied it by the prison warden, then high-tailed out of LALA with Brianne on a 2 week cross-country road trip to New Orleans for that disgusting, festive, boob-baring celebration called Mardi Gras, so we could both check that off our bucket lists and have an amazing excuse to belt out “Born This Way.” Leaving that job and going on that trip was probably the best transitional thing to ever happen to me.  Some highlights of this journey included:

Falling off a seesaw and knocking the wind out of myself.

Rejuvenating a long-time friendship that had wanted reconnecting for a really long time.

Kissing a plastic frog beaded necklace and thinking I met a prince (who turned out to be a toad)….but I believe I met for a reason.

The reason being Korea. Had we not met, hit it off ridiculously well and then decided to go together on a whim, I really don’t know if I actually woulda grown the balls to pick up and move across the world 5 months later.  Well that relationship crashed and burned, but the plans did not.  We both made it to Korea but on our own devices.

He doesn’t play a part in my life these days (thank god), except for the random “I’m in Seoul” texts every now and then, but I am grateful for having met him. It’s not often you meet someone who you click with and find that you both want a lot of the same things out of life.  That was a freakin year ago.  Seems like it was just yesterday.

It’s also been a year since the first of my LA lovers picked up and became NYC transplants. Jeanette and Kayla (and then Sammy) moved almost a year ago, and this time last year we were “celebrating” their goodbyes 😦

I think I just really miss all you bitches back home and wish I could be better with time zones and realize the time we set Skype dates for, but I’m sorry for my epic fails.  Erg. But more importantly, I was just thinking about how so much growth and change can happen in one year and how you don’t even really realize it til it’s happened. A year ago I decided to get serious about moving abroad for one year, and now I’m starting my second semester of school and getting ready to renew for another year. I’ve traveled far more than I thought I would in  a year, met a lot of super interesting people, some annoying as fuck people, dated some ratards, and realized the difference between what I used to look for in a person and what I want now – the complete opposite and something much more.

That’s really it.  I spent the morning Skyping with Sista and Presley (and my mom via speakerphone), found out Brotha had his head stapled last night after falling and drinking too much (but he’s ok, thank god), and looking at old videos of the Baller dancing which bring an eternal smile to my face.

Now I’m just sitting in a cute little cafe with a sleeping Mandu and his teddy bear beside me.

Also, a year later history repeated itself.  I had another epic tumble. This time I was also completely 100% sober and just couldn’t master one-foot-in-front-of-the-other.