Friday, April 5, 2013

Taking it all in

First off big apologies for taking so long to compose this blog. I have been quite busy this semester and just have not found the time to write this. It’s already been 5 weeks and I cannot believe how fast the time has gone by. In two and a half months I will already be on a flight back home. I have very mixed emotions about this. For one I love Seoul and have made some amazing friends here; both last semester and this semester. I love being abroad and I love living in a different culture. I am also very nervous about coming back home. How easy will it be for me to just step into my previous life? It sounds cliché, but by the time I come home I will have been abroad in Asia for nine months. I am both excited and nervous for this experience. I miss you all and am very excited to see you guys again, but in the meantime I am trying to make these last 2 or so months count.
Right now at Yonsei I am taking 18 credits, which is 6 classes… Yes it is just as busy as it sounds. On top of that, I will be taking an online “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” class to receive a certificate to teach English abroad. This semester I am living in International House, which is a little different from my old dormitory but in a good way. The majority of my guy friends left last semester, so I made new ones this semester and it was gone extremely well so far. Interestingly enough, the majority of them are from North America, while last semester it was almost the complete opposite. My time abroad, however, has taught me that where you grew up isn’t too important. Everybody is essentially the same and looking to enjoy the best things life has to offer. I just realized I haven’t even written a blog about my time in Southeast Asia…my bad. I suppose I’ll start with that. This blog would be far too long to write day-by-day accounts so I’ll just list some of the more memorable things.
I started in Hanoi, Vietnam with my mother for 4 days. While Ha long Bay was amazing, my best memories of the city is drinking wonderful Vietnamese coffee (seriously it’s amazing) on the rooftop with my mom talking about life. As I have grown up, I have learned to appreciate more and more on what my mother has to say and soak up every bit of advice she gives. She has helped me through some of the toughest hardships in my life and having the chance to talk about everything from politics to social peace in Hanoi was truly special.

After leaving Hanoi, we went to Hue, DaNang and Hoi An. As my roommate will tell me (he is from Hanoi) I pronounce these cities terribly. Hue is the old imperial city and we got to see the old imperial palace, which was pretty special. Da Nang is a beach city where we ate some excellent sea food and got to enjoy the ocean life. Hoi An is a historical city in Vietnam known for its famous silks. I bought a couple of girls gifts from there and also got myself a Kimono robe (in case you were wondering, I look spectacular in it).
After departing from Mom, I made my way to Nha Trang. This was a very touristy beach city, but turned out to be a very rewarding experience for me. I spent one day working at a children’s orphanage for Agent Orange victims. Agent Orange is the chemical the United States used in the Vietnam War (also called Napalm) and devastated their countryside and affected many innocent victims. Unfortunately, one of the more powerful side effects of Agent Orange is that it becomes genetic, so 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th generation children still show the effects of Agent Orange; which includes deformed limbs, enlarged heads, and loss of limbs, etc. It was very powerful helping these children and see how happy they were that a foreigner was there to spend the day with them. It was an activity a little different from the rest of my trip but I really enjoyed it. After Nha Trang I went to Ho Chi Minh City. I loved Ho Chi Minh City. One of the coolest things I did was visit the Coo Chu Tunnels, which were the tunnels that the Vietnamese army dug to surprise the American forces. I also got the chance to shoot a real AK-47, which was thrilling.

One of my more memorable moments of Vietnam was at my hostel in Ho Chi Minh. One of the nights we spent on the roof, drinking Vietnamese beer until the early morning hours discussing world problems and solutions; you know the usual things college-educated dreamers talk about under the influence. It was refreshing to meet people traveling who had very similar mindsets to me, even though they grew up in different parts of the world. The people I met along my trips made the actual trip itself that much better.

After Vietnam I made my way into Cambodia. The most memorable thing about Cambodia for me was visiting the Angkor Temples. The famous one is “Angkor Wat”, but there were so many temples that to see every one of them would take about three days. Since my Australian buddy and I only had one day to do them, we started at the crack of dawn until 6pm. While it was a long day, it was very worthwhile.

This was at 5 am!

 I enjoyed Cambodia but unfortunately I did not have enough time to experience the more cultural part of Cambodia. I didn’t have really set time-tables for my trip and I ended up spending a lot more time in Vietnam (because I liked it so much) then Cambodia or Thailand. If you are to travel Southeast Asia, that is how you should do it. Don’t have everything pre-scheduled. It’s easy enough to find a hostel once you arrive somewhere and it is more fun to be spontaneous about your travels. You end up meeting different people and seeing different things outside of the usual back packers route. After Cambodia I headed to Bangkok, Thailand for my last 5 days. I think you could spend a month in Thailand and not see it all. Again, unfortunately I did not have much time left (pesky school) so I had to contain my trip to just Bangkok. My hostel was just outside Khao San road (called the main back packers road in the world) and it lived up to its hype. So many things to buy and the craziest food to try. I partied one night there and that was more than enough. My last day was my most memorable in Thailand. I wanted to get a tattoo in Thailand to kind of cumulate my trip as a whole. I decided to get a Sak Yant tattoo. This is a holy tattoo in Thai Buddhist culture. It is performed by a Buddhist monk in a Buddhist temple. I had to travel about 70km outside of Bangkok (that itself was an adventure) and I arrived at the temple around 9am. While waiting in line, I realized how spiritual this whole experience is. Everyone in line is bowing to the person getting their tattoo done. The monk is constantly chanting while doing your tattoo. When it was my turn I had no idea what to expect. You do not choose your tattoo, the monk chooses for you based on your spiritual aura. He also chooses where it goes. I thought I’d be ready for the pain (since I already have two large ones) but it was a different type of pain. He uses a long bamboo stick and constantly pricks you to make the tattoo. It took about 20 minutes yet no breaks. While tattooing you, he’s chanting and you have two other monks holding you down. Once done, I still had no idea what tattoo I got (it was on my back) and did not find out until I got home (about three hours later)! For all I know he could have part “I hate America” and I would have no idea. However, I love the tattoo and the story behind it.
A bad picture but thats what it looks like, right in the middle of my back

That’s it, five weeks just flew by. I cannot way to travel again and I highly recommend it to all of you. Do not be afraid to travel by yourself. It ended up being the best choice I made. You meet so many other single travelers that it does not matter. This is a quote I found from the book, "The Backpacker" and it perfectly sums it up. 
"Every day was different, often spent with different people from every conceivable background, and usually in a new place, which I loved. You get the same buzz when you're introduced to someone you fancy for the first time. It's addictive, I couldn't get enough, it's like the best Friday night you've had, when everything clicks; people and chemistry, mood, drink- except suddenly it's every day. Freedom, in its absolutely purest form, freedom from any ties whatsoever. It's the compass; not just the little head ruling the big head, though that's part of it. It's the natural instinct of following your heart, your eyes, to move from place to place, country to country, and do what you feel inside, to find out what you feel inside. How can you find yourself if you stay in your country of birth? It's important, vital, to stand aside and take a look from a different angle, to look with a fresh pair of eyes. As my friend from back home said, 'Go for it John. you only live once, and when you're dead, you're dead for a very very long time'."

I was happy to get back to Korea, yet I came back with the urge to travel free-spirited again (and I know I will have that urge forever). I am back into the Korean routine and I love it. I have midterms already in two weeks, then I start my online class and a quick ( L) 8 weeks later back home. I know this blog is long but I hope you enjoyed it!! I will try to update again in a quicker fashion but no promises. Hope all is well back home.

Oh and by the way for all you guys wondering about the North Korean situation, here is my insight. First off the American media is blowing it completely out of proportion. In 2009 the US and South Korea renewed military agreements and North Korea reacted quite similar to how they are reacting now. While Seoul is about 7 minutes away from a missile attack from North Korea, it will never happen if Kim Jung Un knows what is smart for his country. His regime wouldn’t last a week, much less a month, in a war. Their country is starving and while they have a large military force, they do not have the provisions to sustain a war. Now, if Kim Jung Un acts irrationally and does attack, then his regime will end but unfortunately it will end in bloodshed. Hopefully this does not happen, and so far it looks like it won’t happen. However, with the United States moving missiles to Guam it might cause an ill-advised reaction from North Korea (Does the United States not remember the Cuban Missile Crisis?????).  It will be interesting to see how this plays out but no, South Korea is not in nuclear lock down and no, South Korea isn’t freaking out. In fact if you ask anyone in Seoul if they take the North Korean threat seriously they will laugh and say no. That’s my two cents about it but who knows, this time next week we could be in a surprise war.

Anyways I am done now, enough writing. Talk and see you guys soon.
Love, Sam

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