Birth Day

The story goes that when I was born my mother cried. She didn’t cry from joy, but out of the sorrow that I was yet another daughter and not a son. This isn’t that shocking considering it’s the Korean culture and that my father’s family name would end with me with him being the sole surviving male of the Won family.

I don’t know if my dad also cried that day, but what I do know is that he has never made me feel inadequate for being born a girl. Just the opposite actually. 

Growing up he would take me to Dodgers games, camping, and feed me red meat with horseradish sauce that made my nose crinkle. But he also loved buying me dresses, and cultivated my quieter, bookish side. He would often tell my sister and me that he would choose us over a truckload, no, a million of boys. 

And now at the eve of my 30th birthday, his card to me states that I’ve done things that surpasses what most men would do and for that he is so proud of me. 

So fathers, tell your daughters that they can do and be anything. Tell them that you would pick them over a gazillion boys because they will internalize that message and one day become stronger than they even believe themselves to be.


WANDERLOST


I leave Europe while already plotting my return. Watching the midnight sun burn in Sweden, strolling through the mystical gardens of Dordogne, and swimming off the shores of Santorini are all goals still left unchecked. But most of all, what I don’t want to lose is a traveling spirit.


Travel, like anything else, becomes better with practice and I was fortunate enough to have had a lot of practice over the past 2 years. And what I found was that traveling brands you with invisible tattoos. You see places, people, and customs you’ll never see anywhere else and as a result, you are forever changed.


There is a fear that all of this wandering will leave me feeling more lost than found, but I was wanderlust even before I set foot in the UK and wanderlust I will continue to be. There’s just so much of the world to see.


I first saw it while flying 34,000 miles above ground from Spain to London. It was an impossibly sunny day and I saw these magnificent chalky white cliffs hugging the coast. Just as I was wondering where in the world we were flying over, the pilot came on the PA and announced that we were passing Beachy Head. I made a note of the place in my phone and 3 months later I found myself atop that very cliff I was admiring.

That experience pretty much sums up my past 2 years in England which is that you can make any dream come true. Any harebrained scheme that pops into my head can become reality if enough motivation and work is put in. And sometimes the reality isn’t as good as the dream. Sometimes, it’s even better. 

I’m won’t go as far to say “Don’t listen to the haters who want to crush your dreams” because most people don’t outright “hate”. It’s much more nuanced than that; they worry instead. They project their fears onto you which doesn’t help seeing as how you’re human and you share the same exact fears. 

But if you believe in your dream enough and you feel like it’ll add some good to your and/or others’ lives then nothing is impossible. Whether it’s Flamenco dancing in Spain, camel trekking in Morroco, or teaching in Uganda or wanting to Tango in Argentina, hike through the Appalachians, and volunteer in Vietnam, keep calm and dream on. 


I find myself at a ledge, barely mustering the courage to overlook a waterfall that’s 114 feet high as my guide hands me a rope to repel myself down with. With my legs growing numb from the ice cold spring water gushing past me and the fear that’s working its way down my body, I wonder why I not only find myself in such scenarios but pay to be placed in such scenarios. 

I found myself asking the same thing before I bungee jumped the past summer and paraglided the year before that. But I swing over obediently and let go of the death grip I have on the rope to slowly, glacially, make my way down. Midway down, my right foot slips on the algae covered ledge and I swing face-forward into the waterfall. My now trembling legs desperately try to find stable footing as I come back out of the waterfall looking like a sodden sewer rat. I make my way down even more slowly (if such a thing was possible) and safely jump into pool of water below. 

But unbeknownst to my guide, I’m terrified of deep water and as he’s trying to pull the rope back up for the next person, I am not so subtly freaking out and pulling the rope with me as I try to reach the shore in a very splashy doggie paddle. I’m gulping for air, ignoring my guide’s call for the rope from above, and yelling at the guy at the shore who went down before me to come help me.

He dutifully swims the very short distance from the shore to me and frees me of the rope as I reach solid ground and start coughing up water on all fours-not pretty. But if you asked me how my Adventure camp week in Spain was I would’ve summed it up as “awesome” or “nature is just overpowering”. 

But I also wouldn’t hesitate to doing something like that again not because I’m brave (as evidenced) but there is a guide, a sturdy rope, and carabiners all to ensure maximum safety. However the real risks in life-going for my dream job, opening myself up to someone, committing to something-those are the truly terrifying activities that test one’s courage. I think I take on physical challenges in the hopes of being brave enough to face the internal ones one day.


Had we but World enough, and Time

image

I don’t know how I ever taught without youtube. For that matter, I don’t know how I ever learned without youtube. 

Psychology being a subject that lends itself wonderfully to videos of experiments, lectures, and movies, youtube is an essential tool. 

I’m currently covering reciprocity and as soon as I saw that word, I heard the song “Reciprocity” from the Jungle Book in my head. So I headed straight to youtube to see if I could find a clip from the movie to tickle my students’ brains with. 

The problem is, there is no song called “Reciprocity” from the Jungle Book. I had so desperately wished for an awesome clip to show my students that I had deluded myself into thinking that “Bare Necessities” was titled “Reciprocity”. Goes to show the power of wishful thinking. 

If I could, I would write my own song about reciprocity and sing it to the tune of the real, actually existing song. And of course my students would learn it and be coerced into a full on sing-a-long (dancing though heavily encouraged would be optional). So many things I wish I could’ve done. So many things I still want to do with them. 


Yesterday I overhead a group of 5th graders reminiscing their 4th grade year. One of them stated, “When I was younger, all I wanted was to get older. If I’d known this is what I was signing up for, I would’ve wanted out!”

The girls continued their jaunt down memory lane as I walked away laughing, wondering where kids pick these things up from. 

Later, in my room, I’m sifting through old pictures on my computer. I rarely do this as my photo album is a hugely disorganized mess and by rarely looking it, it only becomes a bigger mess. But today I felt nostalgic and I looked at photos from the summer of ‘09. I was amazed by the places and the people I had seen. At the time the places didn’t feel all that awe-inspiring but looking through the pictures, the sun (oh God, the sun!) shone on some of the most beautiful beaches and hills of LA. And the people, the people who love me for no good reason, seeing their faces made my heart ache. 

And it hits me-all those moments when I’m feeling happy, depressed, bored, passionate, apathetic, inspired, anxious, and at peace-life is happening.

Although it may seem silly to reminisce on the not-so-distant past, doing so makes one realize that each day is a snapshot that gets added to the slideshow of life. 


Family Day

image


My family is like the Californian weather. I’ve grown up with and have taken both of them for granted. That is, until I moved to England. 

Sunday is family day for me-it’s when I make my round of calls back home. First up is my dad who always manages to make me feel happier by the end of the conversation. This time he told me about my sister and brother-in-law who had come to visit him and had covertly left an envelope of money in his desk on the day that they left. This left my dad dumbfounded as he is financially secure but he was deeply touched by the thought behind the gesture-I could hear it in his voice. 

And then he proceeded to tell me about his future house in the Korean countryside for the 100th time but I didn’t mind at all. I love hearing him talk how he’ll invite me to his small but well-equipped country home one day complete with a vegetable garden. I love it because he’s saved up for it for so long and I’m so proud of him. I told him that I envied him because contrary to how he makes it seem, it’s not easy to lead a good life.  He replied that there is no reason to envy him because his dream house will be my sister’s and my house one day, and then future our children’s house. 

I always thought that my dream property would be located in some small French village, but a house that’ll allow me to feel my daddy’s love dwelling in it? I’ll take that (and good Korean food) over a French chateau anyday!  

My family is like the Californian weather-the eternal sun that melts my heart. 


image

I still can’t believe that instead of watching Notting Hill,

I’m in Notting Hill.

Beautiful people pass by me,

and a cherry blossom tree is blooming in front of door 24.

I enter a cafe and sit with a cup of tea.

The brutal cold from my cheeks thaw

and I relax into London’s embrace.


Saharan Desert-Part 2

The descent down wasn’t quite as glamourous as my fear of heights began to numb the soles of my feet. But thankfully with a friend to guide my steps and a flashlight in tow I made it through the darkness back to the campsite. 

We were ushered into the only tent with a lamp in it and we sat on the floor around tables with our impromptu families for the night. My friend and I happened to be sitting at the rowdiest table composed of mostly 21 year olds (which I know due to witnessing the endearing activity of watching each of them announcing their age followed by a groan lamenting how old they are). But after breaking bread with them (literally) and digging into a massive communal tagine of chicken and potatoes, I felt like a 21 year old myself. 

Then we headed outside where there was a small fire encircled by flimsy mattresses. We huddled around and got an unadulterated view of that amazing star-speckled sky. There was no wifi or 3G to distract us from enjoying the drumming and riddles told by our guides (e.g. What is born with 4 legs, then gets 2 legs, and dies with 3 legs?). 

As the fire died down my eyelids drooped with it and I headed off to sleep in the berber tent which incidentally did not contain any of my luggage inside of it. So I slept in my hoodie, leather jacket, and 5 layers of blankets with the tip of my nose freezing but my heart still sizzling from the warmth of a magical night. 


SAHARAN DESERT-PART 1

The dromedary camels sit languidly in the red orange sand, looking bored by our presence as we tourists dutifully ogle and flock around them like pesky flies. With two heart-stopping lurches the camel is up with me perched on top of it. 

Our tour guide walks our line of camels along as we soak in the Saharan desert. The silky sand is rippled in symmetrical waves and the world is quieted with the only noise being that of a gentle wind and the plodding of our camels’ hooves into the soft sand. 

Before I know it, a berber tent appears out of nowhere-mirage-like. With our guide’s murmurs the camels abruptly plop down triggering a huge roller-coaster-drop-gasp from me. 

Once off my camel’s back I scurry on over to a nearby sand hill to watch the sun setting behind the dunes. Grains of sand fall from my palm and scatter in the wind as the setting sun slowly bleaches out the intense orange from the sand. 

As night draws in and the crescent moon grows brighter, a group of us start climbing the biggest sand dune. It would have been a terrifying climb had it not been for the sand that securely anchored our bodies with each step we took. With the orange and pink gone from the sky, the purples and blues dominates and the sand around us darkens. Then the sky turns black and innumerable stars appears like pinpricks in the black ceiling. I reached the crest of the sand dune and lay with one foot on each side of the mountain, looking up at the vast, impossibly speckled sky.