How Gangnam Style Ruined My Summer

In the past, I have often tried to force a “summer song” upon myself. Be it a well-timed release date or a subliminal-yet-conscious (wait, what?) effort to listen to the same song on repeat while day-drinking in the sun, my summer song (or more generally speaking, my summer record) is of great importance.

Every time I hear Shake the Streets by Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Cheap Girl’s Find Me a Drink Home, or even anything by The Descendents, I am immediately brought back to a certain summer, a certain somewhere. A time when I couldn’t stop listening to that song, that record, that band.

My calendar has recently reminded me that Autumnal Equinox (which may be the most ridiculously romantic sounding season of them all) begins in a few short days. But because Korea seems to lack any sort of relationship to climate changes, summer could very well go on strong into November. Regardless, my summer in Korea sucked.

And I blame it all on PSY.

Yeah, that guy.

When it came to choosing a summer song or record, it’s like I didn’t even have a fighting chance this time around.

I tried to play Help by Thee Oh Sees at every available gathering. I opted to spend bike rides listening solely to the Japandroids’ newest release. I even tried to get back into The Promise Ring (I know, I know).  But these failed attempts were only mocked further by a man, sporting sunglasses indoors, and transporting himself through the streets of Seoul by means of uh, galloping.

When I didn’t have white headphones plugged into my ears, this song was everywhere. In my newsfeed, in my bakery, even in my favourite kindergarten class.

I mean, come on. Do you know how hard it is to teach ESL kiddies about equal halves and symmetry when they are all repeating “Oppan Gangnam seutail” to themselves?

Well, do you?

What began as a joke in the lunchroom among fellow teachers has morphed into a total game changer for the last four months here in Korea.

As a song, “Gangnam Style” lacks direction.

Consequently, so does my summer.

There’s really no need to get into specifics. No one wants to read about my summer of close calls (and some even bigger falls). (This is a probably an absolute lie. I can think of, like three people, who would totally feel positively affirmed after reading about a struggling Sarah.) But even if I was honest about my aimless summer, you and I both would never be able to discern if I was speaking figuratively or in relatives.

Or maybe that’s a total cop-out. And instead, I just can’t seem to concentrate on completing sentences when a song about a guy taking his coffee in one shot is making it onto CNN.

“Gangnam Style” is an image-heavy, completely unchallenging, disconnected look into one of Seoul’s wealthier districts with the exact same descriptors.

I hate that people appreciate this song.

And I hate that it, by no choice of my own, became the song of this summer.

It’s an uninspiring song which leaves no motivation to trace the rings of condensation on sun-bleached picnic tables. It’s an intolerable tune which I can’t listen to as I ride passenger to the farthest camping spot, the nearest ice cream shop, or the somewhere in-between cottage owned by your friend’s significant other’s dad’s business partner.

Both “Gangnam Style,” and the fact that parodies continue to pop up under the Recommended Videos tab on YouTube, has ruined my summer.

But as I mentioned before, Fall Autumnal Equinox is coming up.

And every season has a record.

And, appropriately so, I’ve recently rediscovered Jay Reatard’s Watch Me Fall.

It’s good.

Decisions: Things Not to Make While Hungover in El Nido

Don’t make decisions whilst you’re hungover.

And don’t use words like “whilst” either. You’ll sound like an academia failure. And no one likes a failure. Or academics.

Deciding between blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes is difficult enough whilst (see?) experiencing half-bouts of nausea, clouded short-term memory, and almost debilitating waves of regret. So don’t make it harder on yourself by making actual decisions. Especially those related to travel. No one is that qualified.

But unfortunately, these decisions cannot be avoided. So they happen as such:

  • Get the van from Puerto Princesa to…wait, scratch that. There’s already gaps in this story.
  • Get drunk in Puerto Princesa

Feed off your travel buddies’ giddiness and consume buckets of San Miguel like you’re an aged upper-middle class white male “just here on business.” (This is no doubt said with a sly wink  and an even skeezier nod towards a group of oogling local women one-fifth his age.) Order shots of tequila because it’s the cheapest thing on the menu. Reconsider your niche as a “budget traveller.” Disregard the fact that tequila isn’t really necessary at a time like this. Wake up covered in rice and beans. Try to recall if you ate either.

  • Decide to go to El Nido instead

In a moment of clarity, leave your buddies and the predetermined destination of Sabang. Come to terms with the fact that you will never be able to keep up with these males and their pace of drinking. Hear something. Realize it’s your liver. It just breathed a sigh of relief.

  • Take the van to El Nido

Convince yourself that your kidneys are failing. Realize it’s just some minor San Miguel backlash which thankfully, passes before the first rest stop. Try to stomach a package of chocolate chip cookies. They’re stale and smell like tequila. Oh wait, that’s you.

  • Commit to sleeping on a deserted island

Take an easy boat tour of the archipelago of El Nido. Have an “ah-hah” moment when you realize you’ve been pronouncing “archipelago” wrong all these years. Say it quietly under your breath a couple times to commit it to memory. Spot Seven Commandos beach. Learn that you can sleep there overnight, completely on your own. Agree without a second of hesitation. Start saying “yes” to everything else presented that day. Drive a boat with a small piece of wood for a gas pedal. Book a “free solo climbing” thing with a local. Google it later. Pretend the descriptor “if you fall, you die” wasn’t actually written. Give the bartender a rhetorical look at Balay Tabay when he asks if you want another glass of mango rum. After all, a website tells you that you could possibly die by simply climbing some limestone rocks.

  • Go Free Solo Climbing

Forget breakfast. Congratulate yourself for showing up 15 minutes early. Realize your 30 minutes late. Overestimate your ability as a rock climber. Underestimate your ability to tell time. Enviously watch your 18-year-old guide clamber across these centimetre-wide rocks in knock-off Havanas flip-flops. Debate turning around every time your Adidas cross trainers slip from a natural crevice. Turns out you’re actually kind of afraid of climbing tall rocks. Remain silent on the descent. You’re too busy salivating over an upcoming breakfast at The Alternative. Stop at Midtown Bakery on the way. You deserve it.

  • Get to this deserted island.

Sleep the night in heavy downpours and lightning. Hold your breath for that elongated second between hearing the crack of a palm tree branch and the “thud” of it hitting the ground just meters from your tent. Stay warm by sipping gin. Wake up cold, wet, and fantastically giddy from spending the night completely on your own. Realize you still have to take down your tent. Stumble over pegs and plastic. You’re a spectacle, that’s for sure.

  • Take that awful van AGAIN

Don’t make the mistake of buying stale chocolate chip cookies for the second time. Congratulate yourself for choosing the bag of Cracked Pepper Lays instead. You’re a seasoned veteran, after all.

  • Leave El Nido

Recount the decisions that you made in El Nido. Sober, sort of drunk, and especially, hungover. Agree with yourself that yes, they were all perfectly amazing in that my-heart-is-bursting-because-I’m-so-happy sort of way. Wonder why you ever made the absolutely ridiculous decision to get into a van directed back to Puerto Princesca. Oh that’s right, you’re not hungover for this one.

How to Piss Off your Travel Buddies

I leave for the Philippines this week.

It will be my third time there in less than two years.

Now if it sounds like I’m bragging, that’s definitely not the case.

When I think about my time in the Philippines, I can’t help but just sort of shrug a little and talk about that one time I met a tout with 11 fingers. An occurrence which despite the weather, and the beaches, and the papaya-mango fruit shakes, remains my ultimate highlight of the country.

So, just to be clear, I’m visiting a country for the third time. A country which probably doesn’t even get a notable mention in my Cusack-inspired Top Ten Beaches of All Time. A country in which, when visited for a second time, I spent most days trying to decide how I was going to leave.  

So, why, with my mediocre opinion of the country, did I make the decision to go to the Philippines again?

Well, I guess the fact of the matter is, I didn’t.

If someone were to ask me to describe myself as a traveler (but let’s be real, everyone is too self-involved to do that sort of thing), I would probably say I am incredibly enthusiastic about overnight buses.  But if they prefer something vaguer, I would muster up a descriptor like “easy-going” and then go back to talking about nighttime bus rides.  

I generally go along with things. It’s the easiest thing to do. And as someone who struggles to apply myself in situations which do not require it (see: work, dating, separating my darks from my whites), I’m very eager to do what is easiest. To me, all possibilities seem absolutely fantastic and I never want to miss out on one by committing to another. 

When it comes down to it, I don’t have any real hardcore preferences about most topics. (Besides your standard stuff like say, the depleting ozone layer, The Replacements’ Let it Be album, and the Seoul Metro Subway System.)

Well, as it stands, this is absolutely without a doubt NOT the definition of “easy-going.”

Not even close.

All those carefree thoughts about wanting to try every single possibility before committing to just the god-awful lonely number of one?

Turns out, I’m indecisive.

Discovering and coming to terms with your own personality flaws is one of the most miserable things to do to oneself. 

And do you want to know the shittiest part of being indecisive?

No one likes it.

That’s right. Even your Mom will roll her eyes at you when she asks what you are thinking of doing in the future and you reply, “Not sure, Ma. Just see how this travel stuff goes.Well, either that or something else really really cool.”

And do you want to know what’s even shittier than having vague future goals like “something else really really cool” because of your inability to make a decision?

The indecisiveness is intensified when travelling.

From setting out on one route over another to deciding if you want the Dairy Queen employee in Chiang Mai to dip your cone in either chocolate or caramel sauce.

All of it- it’s so hard.

To avoid the complexity of decisions, I just limit all my choices. But when traveling, this just sort of translates into doing less research.

I’m pretty confident (only because others have blatantly told me) that when you travel with an indecisive floater like me, your patience is consistently tested. There have been countless times when I’ve told a travel buddy I will “look into” something and they find me, one hour later, with about 800 tabs open on my desktop- researching anything from to how to get cheap international flights with JetAbroad to the origin of chocolate milk (FYI: it’s Switzerland).

Travel pals in the past have complained about my unrealistic expectations to do absolutely everything instead of deciding what I would rather do. Consequently, they are left with a lot of the pressure that comes along with choice. The success of a plan becomes your responsibility. (Now I don’t mean you as in YOU specifically. I just mean you know, people other than me.)

I am travelling to the Philippines with two dudes from work. For the most part, they have taken care of destinations, accommodation, and looking up sweet stuff to do in a handful of cities.

But anything I have to decide independently? Well, I still haven’t actually got there yet.

It took me something like two months just to book my return flight to Korea. (Perhaps this isn’t really related to my indecisiveness and instead, speaks volumes about my lack of excitement to return to this country.) 

So if you need a reliable way to piss off your travel mates, refuse to make any decisions. “Hmm” and “haaa” over even the smallest of choices. Refuse to mask the hesitance in both your face and your voice when they ask you to commit to absolutely anything. Believe that flight times/ dates/ anything involving numbers, are all just rough estimates.

But since I’m all about things like personal growth, and you know, not pissing off my travel buddies, I’m going to try making some decisions.

I’m going to order the chocolate-dipped ice cream with confidence. I’m going to stop being utterly terrified in the finality of making a decision. Maybe I will realize that some decisions aren’t THAT big of deal. Maybe I will rid myself of this intense phobia of decisions (yeah. right). 

So I’ve decided to go to the Philippines for a third time.

Hopefully I don’t piss off my travel mates. But it’s okay. Because even if I do? Well, at least it was my decision. 

___________________________________________________________________

Toothbrush Disclosure: This post was brought to you by JetAbroad . But don’t blame them if your travel buddies stop speaking to you. They had nothing to do with that.

This is the Story of 195 Kilometers

It’s 9:30 AM on a Wednesday Morning.

I’m sweating and absolutely starving. And depending on my coworkers’ aptitude to “just have one more,” I’m probably a little hung over.

I’ve almost gotten hit by both a commuter bus and an angry cab driver. Both of whom possess little forethought to glance in the review mirror before carelessly changing lanes.

I arrive at some generic coffee shop which features an overpriced Iced Americano with an atrociously off ice:americano ratio.

This is the best part of my day.

It’s here where I meet her. A smaller than small woman with a rounder than round face. She doesn’t enjoy sports. She prefers Canadian boys to all other ethnicities. She hates the fact that coffee causes her to break out. She drinks it anyways. She hasn’t seen her parents or other family members for over five years. She speaks to them for less than 10 minutes only once a year or at least until “they cut the phone away.”

She is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea.

I volunteer with an organization called PSCORE. This is an NGO which strives for the successful reunification of North and South Korea.  In the process, PSCORE assists and supports North Koreans who have recently defected to Seoul and the surrounding area. They provide transitory support and things like 1:1 tutoring once they have “settled.” (A term which I’m using quite loosely because admittedly, I have no idea if this is possible.)

For the sake of confidentiality, and my own misunderstanding about the popularity of this blog, I’ll skip the identifying factors.

Regardless, twice a week I meet with her. I look forward to rearranging my sleeping patterns, skipping my morning yoga routine, and paying triple for an exceptionally shitty cup of coffee. It’s absolutely amazing.

Having defected well over five years ago, she’s no stranger to living in South Korea.

But attempting to learn a convoluted language based on countless exceptions and strange placements of the letter “h” when it is really not all that necessary?

Well, she’ll get there.

I’m “supposed to” be her English tutor. That’s technically my job. But technically, I’m not actually working or getting paid. So I’m taking the whole “supposed to” thing quite liberally. Besides, volunteers aren’t obligated to follow rules all of the time. It’s not in our contract. (Guys, that’s a total lie. But I really had you going for a second there…)

She brought a book of Tolstoy to our first English lesson. At the end of the session, its spine remained unopened.

Instead of talking about an anarcho-pacificist (which believe me, usually tops the list of things I like to discuss), we talked about ourselves. We talked about ourselves in that curious way you do when you assume that if you open up a little about yourself, then the other will too.

I complained that the antiperspirant in Korea needs to redefine their idea of “anti.” She complained that the humidity in Seoul makes her hair “sticky.” (Note: Add “frizzy” or better yet “an absolute rat’s nest” to the list of new vocabulary words to teach.)

She asked about my experiences dating in Korea. I asked her if she thinks she will ever get married.

Soon our sessions were more about her fights with her long-term boyfriend over a future with/ without children. Soon I started to rant about people always throwing their garbage in my bike basket.

We share an intense fascination with the other’s upbringing.

We translate funny things on her phone. Things like “athlete’s foot” and “precarious.”

Sometimes I see Tolstoy or another Let’s Learn English in the Most Impractical Way Possible textbook popping out of her oversized purse. But neither of us seems too worried about conjugating the word “go.”

Instead, it’s here where the distance of more than 190 kilometers, becomes the shortest route to friendship.

The Secret’s Out: I’m a Shit “Travel Blogger”

People can justify anything.

If you’re feeling creative enough; things like infidelity, cannibalism, and even littering can all seem pretty excusable.

Perhaps I’m purposefully confusing “justifications” with “imaginative explanations.”

I tend to do that sometimes. You know, mix up definitions. Mispronounce words. Mistake word-unions which I ingeniously created some night and have been using ever since, for actual established dictionary entries. (Read: the feeling of hanger, using the word “tops” to describe things other than a t-shirt, and occasionally spelling “your” with an “e” instead of those other two vowels.)

Admittedly, I also pause every single time I’m about to use “invisible” or “invincible” in a sentence. I will often do a quick Webster’s brain-check to make sure I’m using the correct one and then just kind of mumble one of them and hope for the best. And for some reason, these words come up A LOT in my daily vocabulary.

See? There I go again.

I just tried to justify my brainless mistakes by making myself seem all quirky and forgetful. But, seriously. I have never even bothered to look up invisible/ invincible in a dictionary.

I’m lazy.

And that, forgiving readers and those choosing to waste internet time on a blog like this, is exactly why this space has been dormant for the last month.

I’m lazy in the sense that sometimes, I would just rather be doing things than writing about them. (In actuality, that’s really not laziness at all, but I’ve got a theme going here and I don’t really want to waste it.)

Which is actually quite strange. Because next to the joy I experience from explaining why I don’t know how to pronounce “ambiguous,” I actually quite like writing.

So I got lazy. And for those who have never experienced the feeling of being lethargic (Tony Robbins, Carrot Top, Jimmy Fallon most days of the week), laziness can be a real dick.

Being lazy can produce these ultimate moments of self-reflection. But because you can’t be bothered to internally reflect on anything in fear of exuding even a breath of effort, you consequently can get quite down on yourself.

Battling an internal dialogue of my intentions with this blog, coupled with the suffocating overtones of apathy, I questioned myself a lot.

If I really hated a place, would I accurately write about it?

If I pulled some stupid stunt with less than favourable outcomes (but makes for a generally amusing story), would I bare the wrath of judgmental commenters and post about it anyways?

I’m not sure.

And if I can’t be honest with my own, poorly-maintained WordPress site then really, who can I be honest with?*

I want to be honest.

I want to write about absolutely hating a lot of places which I had felt pressured to love.

I want to write about the things I’ve done which would cause most mothers to shake their head and say to themselves, “Shit. I’m so glad my own daughter didn’t turn out like that.”

I want to write stories in a similar fashion to my in-person demeanor. Slightly offensive. But with 3/4 good intentions. And throwing in descriptors like “tops” which are sort of catchy in the way that you will inevitably find yourself dropping them nonchalantly in conversations next week.

So I’m done pretending to enjoy certain parts of Thailand. I’m over keeping it a secret that I spent a week on an island in Indonesia stealing other people’s flip-flops because I had lost my own. I’m sick of trying to write about my travels in a chronological order for the sake of sequential organization.

The only thing I’m still really into are justifications.

Because those handy excuses?

Well, they’re pretty much tops.

*The truth is, LOADS of people. Turns out, I’m pretty open about my own achievements with the whole “think later” methodology. But I was trying to be dramatic. I think it worked.

Farms, Forks, and Foreigners: Eating Locally on the Road

Given the opportunity, I would have eaten palak paneer for every meal while in India.

No wait, that’s not true.

Given the opportunity, I would have self-constructed an IV-drip bag of the pureed green goodness and pumped my veins full of that stuff every time I was feeling low on vitamin D, cumin, or anything else blended into that glory bowl of curry.

Continue reading

A Diwali Story (minus Ralphie Parker and the Red Ryder BB Gun)

Diwali is the Christmas of India.

Except with a lot more fireworks.

And you know, probably a few less Ferrero Rochers.

And since most Christmas evenings end with me gripping my stomach and rolling around in hazelnut-overdose agony whilst simultaneously surrounded by gold tinfoil wrappers, this whole firework-Ferrero trade-off is completely fine by me.

I mean yes, most holidays get exponentially better when they include golf ball-sized servings of whipped chocolate. And yes, these chocolates only seem to taste that much better when arranged in pyramid formation to resemble a seasonal Evergreen tree….

But again, Diwali has fireworks.

Continue reading