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adventures

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I want to be a stranger in a new town

I want to start over. Move to a new town. Make new friends and acquaintances. Live in a new home. Not necessarily have a new job, though (that is, if I work remotely).

I love that refreshing feeling of being new to a place, when every face you see is unfamiliar and getting lost is inevitable. It’s something that’s completely out of my comfort zone, yet I also crave that inevitable stage of discomfort, knowing that it’s temporary. After a while, I’ll find a hiking spot, stop getting lost (as much), and settle into a routine. I’ll cherish this stage of comfort – and start over again. I want to relive this stage of discomfort over and over again. I find it necessary to go through different transitional stages in life in order to grow.

This ‘transitional stage’ does not need to be so big. I don’t need to move to an entirely new country, nor do I need to move at all. But I do need to step out of my comfort zone every once in a while, and most often this means physically living the home that has become my haven of comfort. 

Another, more insecure, part of me craves moving to an entirely new place every few years because I’m somewhat afraid of seeing familiar faces in the places I frequent. I hate running into people I know at the market a few blocks from my place, at that new restaurant that I wanted to try out, or even walking around town. I hate running into people, especially when I’m not in a good state of mind and all I want to do is hide from everyone. Even when I’m doing ok, I fear running into people as much as I hated answering the phone as a kid (I’m pretty sure I had a phobia for phones as a kid). I hate being recognized by someone I took a class with, bumping into an old acquaintance, and having to make small talk. Sometimes it’s no big deal, but other times it can be awkward and preferably avoidable.

I know this trait is unhealthy and implies underlying insecurities, but as of now, I don’t have a solution for it. And this part of me screams at me to run away, to leave when they still have a good impression of me. I guess it also comes from my constant conflict of wanting to befriend people at times, yet not wanting to see them at other times. Sometimes at the same time. Thus, I want to be a stranger in a new town. But I can’t be a stranger to everyone forever, so I have to move.

-Michelle

you should be learning a language (like, right now)

Ever since college started, for the first time in my life I decided that I wanted to improve my Chinese. I’m Taiwanese and my family is Taiwanese and Chinese, but I’ve lived in Peru before I mumbled my first word. My parents made sure we only spoke Chinese at home, so I’m fortunately able to speak Chinese quite fluently at a conversational level, but I’m pretty much illiterate. What’s more, living in a predominantly Spanish and English-speaking environment made my focus my attention in attaining fluency in these two languages before some language that I only spoke at home. Chinese didn’t seem important, and the only teaching method my parents knew how to teach me was memorization of Chinese characters – which I found too hard and tedious.

Regardless, I learned some basic Chinese characters when I was really young (and still docile), but later attempts to improve my Chinese were futile. It wasn’t until the year before I went to college that I reevaluated my goals and realized that I needed, and wanted, to become fully proficient in Chinese. I didn’t want to be able to just speak conversational Chinese, I wanted to be able to read, write and be fluent in it. I wanted to talk to my parents about more complex issues without stumbling on every other word, listen to the news and understand the heck they were saying, and simply be more cognizant of the culture that defines so much of me. So, I sent my mind to learning Chinese in college, and my goal is still as strong two years later.

Learning a language goes beyond just learning to handle the language. You don’t just learn to “translate” a language, you learn the nuances in the language and the varying interpretations that are not translatable. You cannot go to a country with an automatic translator in hand, and expect to understand and be understood by the other party. It doesn’t work that way, and for good reasons. A language is rich in years of history and meaning, and you get to brush the tip of that when you learn a new language.

When you learn a new language, you’re essentially becoming a child again. When you have enough vocabulary and grammar to formulate basic sentences, you have to set your dignity aside and put your knowledge into practice in the real world. Your pronunciation might be off, your tones might be wacky, and you may stumble a lot – but that’s how you improve. You really have to shed your “I’m a perfectionist” attitude aside and be a fool in front of others. You need to get rid of the self-imposed shame that comes when you’re in the lifelong process of learning a language. My Chinese-learning process is different in that I grew up speaking the language, so I haven’t had to make (as much of) a fool of myself when talking to others. But, with this blessing I’ve also picked up some poor habits that are costing me to get rid of.

A small portion of learning a language takes place in a class. You may learn all the basic stuff in class, but the real learning happens when you take these foundations and put them to use in the actual world. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they’ve taken 4 years of Spanish in high school, only to be too shy to practice it with me or to say that they’ve forgotten everything. Like any other skill, it’s useless unless you embrace it as part of you. This realization has made me see that this class-life connection is necessary for any other thing you learn and want as part of your life.

The best way of learning a language is, of course, when you immerse yourself in that environment. I’ve spoken Chinese at home ever since I was born, and I’ve taken 2 years of Chinese in college already – but I still can’t read the menu and order food. I may be able to read like a few words here and there on the menu, but to be frank – I barely even try. I’ve grown used to just relying on my parents to order what I want, but this summer things changed. I came to China to study at a language intensive program, and I’m struggling to do a lot of the mundane things I didn’t have to bother with before. I’m struggling and slowly learning to read the menu, the food labels, and street names. These are things that I need to learn to live a very basic life here, things that you will never learn in a classroom.

Continuing my learning in Chinese is particularly important to me because it essentially helps me understand the way I am. There are things, some customs and traditions that are passed down from each generation, that I’m slowly getting to understand better as I learn more about my culture. Some I’m also learning that there are a lot of things that go unspoken in my culture, but are nevertheless important gestures in my culture – which makes them important to me.

Knowing that my Chinese proficiency is gradually but surely improving gives me the comfort in knowing that I will have more freedom to choose where I can live and work in the foreseeable future. Reducing the language and cultural barrier is a something that will enable me to travel more and find new homes. I love getting to know a new country by living in it for an extended period of time, rather than just traveling for a short period and only seeing the beauty places. I don’t like being a tourist, in part because I find squeezing all the touristy places into a 3-day schedule too exhausting, and in part because visiting these places tells me nothing about the actual, present place in itself. I like to see the place one step at a time, preferably disguised as a local. It gives me time to soak in the new environment and to formulate new ideas from daily interactions.

So, I urge you to learn a language, if and when you can. I urge you to set it as one of your lifelong goals. I urge you to make it a priority in your life. You may think that you’re all that because you know English (or whatever language you grew up in), but I’m here to tell you that you couldn’t be more wrong. Learning a language is a way to understand that you, and the language and culture that you’re currently immersed in, is not the center of the world. To learn a new language means to learn a new way of thought, a way to understand others more intimately, a richer way to live life.

-Michelle

yosemite, a temple of beauty

This picture above is probably my favorite scenic shot from Yosemite. I was trying to capture the misty essence of the weather that day, and I feel that this picture not only captured that, but also the booming greenery and the fiercely strong wind that got me back in the car seconds after taking the picture.

I had the wonderful opportunity visit Yosemite with my dad a few weeks ago. Spring was just coming to an end, and the weather seemed ideal for an outdoors trip. Having never been to Yosemite before, I had a very vague idea of what to expect. I knew there would be nature and hiking, and that’s pretty much all. We stayed at Mariposa, a town just on the outskirts of the heart of Yosemite, and drove to Yosemite early in the mornings.

We visited Yosemite for two full days, and got to see the polar opposites of the weather in this short time. The first day had a beautiful weather – it was bright and sunny all day. As we drove into Yosemite, we had to make several stops because the scenery was just too mesmerizing to not stop and gaze at it.

The weather was also hot (but not unbearably so), especially when we were hiking to the top of the Yosemite Falls and the sun was directly above us – but the view, the view was absolutely breathtaking the higher we went up.

The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is hands down the most difficult hike I have ever done. It took us six hours to complete the hike – taking into account the multiple pit stops that we had to make along the way and the nearly one hour lunch break that we had at the top of the trail. The hike going up was hard because it was mostly walking up an eternally long and rocky hill; the trail going down was just as hard as it was both rocky and slippery, and I did not have hiking shoes so I had to be extra careful. Thank god my dad was there for me to lean on whenever the path got too slippery.

We were so proud and happy when we got to the top. But when we got back down, it was almost like we couldn’t remember how to walk like normal people anymore. We spent the rest of the day replenishing our bodies with good food, resting, and doing some light walking.

The next day was so unexpectedly gloomy and cloudy. My dad and I were pretty beat from the 6-hour hike the day before, so we did not do any massive hiking, and instead went to some places that only required some walking. This also meant that we had to drive around Yosemite a lot, and man, it was hard to see the road with the clouds and mist blocking our view.

We could barely see the beautiful scenery hiding behind the clouds too, *sigh*.

But there were moments in which the mist would subside and we would get glimpses of the untainted nature behind it. It wasn’t summer weather yet, so part of nature was still transitioning into the incoming season, which made the view even more colorful and mesmerizing.

At times when we were walking, we would stumble upon the creatures of this beautiful temple. I wasn’t sure how to approach them (and I didn’t), so I just zoomed in on my camera and captured them in their natural habitat.

One of the best things about this trip to Yosemite was that it felt like we had stepped into another world – literally. Everywhere I looked seemed like a painting that was too beautiful to be real. I would then look around me, and see everyone else gazing at the beautiful scenery, and realize that only nature has the power to create such a flawlessly beautiful landscape. Though Yosemite has been somewhat urbanized to allow for tourist visits, it is still highly a temple of nature. Walking around with my dad and occasionally passing by other people gave me the sense of comfort of being alone, but not lost, in the deep wonders of nature.

Compared with the intense purity and cordiality and beauty of Nature, the most delicate refinements and cultures of civilization are gross barbarisms.

Thank you, John Muir.

-Michelle

blissful morning walks

I love when the sun rises early in the morning, and sets late at night, making the days seem longer and fuller. I enjoy walking out of my building and being greeted by the sunlight, even when it sometimes greets me too fiercely. I particularly relish my weekend morning walks around other parts of the neighborhood that I don’t normally pass by during the week. I love how the college dorms here are not inside campus, but rather in the areas surrounding it; it gives me the freedom to explore other parts of this town-like place, and it allows me to take these blissful morning walks. I am someone who believes in enjoying the small things in life, especially when nature is part of it. Taking a walk is the simplest way to wind down from the frenzy of life that surrounds us each day.

Taking a walk means challenging life’s demands. When I find that I’m overwhelmed by the demands of life, I make a conscious effort to walk in the places where nature is my surrounding company. It reminds me that I can choose to either rush my day to get as many things done as possible, or do a few things with thoughtful consideration without overstimulating myself. The world won’t end regardless of how much I squeeze into one day, so I might as well choose to spend it in the best way possible for me.

Taking a walk means doing something for yourself. By yourself. We easily spend so much time stimulating our senses artificially  that we deprive us of true alone time. We listen to music on our phones whilst we type away on our laptops, we watch videos or read articles online when we’re bored, we text people while we walk. Whenever we’re not interacting with others one-on-one, we fill our voids with the immediate stimulation that our devices can offer. But when we do this, we lose being in the company of ourselves. Taking a walk means listening to your footsteps, looking at the path in front of you, and noticing the details that surrounds you. Though I often feel like distracting myself with a good movie or burying my head in a book, it’s good to ground oneself back to reality at the end of the day.

Taking a walk means noticing our surroundings with a childlike curiosity. There are increasingly more places to see, cities to travel, and adventures to have. It’s always fascinating to go on a roadtrip adventure or visit an exotic place, as it’s literally an escape from our more mundane reality. It’s fun and important to travel somewhere where the culture and reality is different to that of your own, as it’s a valuable experience in itself. But it’s also important to remember that the things that surround us every day can be just as special. You don’t need to travel long distances to find novelty; you can find it exactly where you are right now, if you choose to do so.

I believe that it’s important to accept this before you decide to go out and explore more. It’s important to accept this because only then can you see everything that surrounds you with curiosity, not just the grand exotic places. It’s important to appreciate the richness in all the big and small things.

So, take a walk around your area, but take a different path this time. What story are behind the homes that you see? How do you feel, walking along a calm residential area as opposed to a busy city street? What sounds do you hear – are they human, animal or nature sounds? Welcome any thoughts that come into your mind as you walk along.

-Michelle

moving away for the first time

It feels weird, when I say it, “I’m moving 7,200+ miles away from home“. I always knew this was going to happen when I went away for college, and even though I’ve had an extra year out of school to prepare for this moment, it still feels weird.

The people that I’m leaving behind are my parents and a few close friends. These goodbyes will be hard, because they’re the people that I’ve grown used to spending most of my time with; to depart from them and only be able to talk to them virtually is something that will be hard to get used to. I’m also saying goodbye to several amazing teachers from school and elsewhere. Though I’m already used to seeing them less frequently – some more than others – they have each left an impression on me that I’ll carry with me wherever I go, whatever I do.

And then, there’s home.

I’m saying goodbye to the country that raised me. To the roads that I’ve roamed countless of times, the places and parks that I’ve visited for years, the vibe that I’ve gotten used to. I haven’t always been very fond of my country, but I have grown very comfortable and used to this lifestyle. Leaving this place and the comforts of my cozy home, and starting the next stage of my life somewhere anew will be nothing short of daunting. Even having spent most of my gap year on my own and working on myself, I’m hit with a pang of nostalgia whenever I think about all that I’m leaving behind. I don’t even know how I’ll say goodbye to my room, knowing that I’ll probably never sleep on my bed for more than a few weeks a year from now on.

Missing home and fearing the future; longing for the past and holding back the future. I have always been like this. A sentimental girl, always finding things to long and feel sad about. A cautious girl, never really crossing the line in fear of what the other side may hold in store.

But coupled with this fear also comes the knowledge that I am indeed ready for this change. I know now that I can and will adapt to any situation that I’m presented with. The change may be anything but comfortable initially, but I trust that my choices and decisions will take me down the path that I’m destined for. I will welcome any change with open arms, and accept whatever form of discomfort or struggle that I will most certainly meet. No matter how rocky the journey, it will all work out at the end.

Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?

(Quote by Elif Shafak, from ‘The Forty Rules of Love‘)

-Michelle

read the world | reading challenge

A few days ago, I listened to a TED talk about a woman who spent an entire year searching, seeking and reading 196 books from all 196 countries in the world. Her name is Ann Morgan, and she didn’t just read the world. She traveled across countries within her mind, got a glimpse of every culture and custom she came across with. She traveled the world through the eyes of people of different ages, nationalities, customs, and experiences. She did it with the help of many people who supported her along the way, but made the decision and took the steps herself. I want to take on this challenge as well.

I want to live inside the minds of those who have different values to me, who see the world in a completely different way than I do. As a bibliophile, I know how books have and can change a person. Though I’ve read books of different types and genres, but I have also enclosed myself within the Western-based literature. That will change now. As a wanderluster, my traveling experiences have always been intrinsically meaningful and unforgettable in their own unique ways.

By combining these two personal interests together, I shall travel the world.

How many books from how many countries have you read so far? How much do you really know about the world that you live in? Can you really call yourself a true bibliophile if you haven’t even books from most countries?

These were a few of the questions that I asked myself after listening to the TED talk. No matter how much I read and how many genres I touch, I’ll still be living in my happy little bubble if I don’t try to truly step out of my comfort zone. Read books of cultures that completely baffle me, written by authors I’ve never bothered to learn about before. It took Ann Morgan 1 year to complete the challenge, but it will take me at least a few years to choose, get hold of, and read all 196 books. And that’s alright, because the purpose is to achieve this challenge regardless of how long it takes me.

I have made a page to record my progress on this challenge – which I will start by May 2017.

-Michelle