On My Way Across the Black Sea

What time zone am I in again? Where’s the coffee? Am I really at the Moscow Airport (and am I seeing a TGIFridays in Terminal D with a mini statue of an American astronaut in front of said establishment, boldly busted in the middle of a Russian airport?).

Lots of questions. Also, I forgot how people applaud when a plane successfully lands. Maybe it’s a Europe/Eurasian thing. Whatever I used to take for granted, or see as normal, has become a farrago of customs, habits, smells, foods to me as I slowly (or maybe it’s too fast) make my way to the west side of the world.
Last summer I had seven days off. I spent them sleeping, writing, playing frisbee, and exploring some little pockets of Korea I hadn’t seen yet. There’s so much to discover on that little peninsula.
This summer, I chose to take most of it off. I’ve been on the road for three weeks now. My students weren’t happy about it. I left one of the best jobs I’ve had thus far three weeks ago, and I flew to Japan the following day. After three years overall in Korea, I still hadn’t visited the bold, ancient, badass kingdom to the East. I’ve dreamed of seeing Tokyo for years and finally, I did it, I saw it, I crossed that big intersection and sampled all kinds of JPop and Japanese surfer music at Tower Records. I had a wonderful three days. Lots of Japanese Curry. Lots of getting lost on the subway. I stumbled into maybe 10 or more temples. I centred myself and dreamt of returning one day.
Just like every other time when I’ve left Korea, I was faced with the relentless question of “what’s next?”. Worst. Question. Ever. Leave me alone, please. I’ll figure it out. I’m figuring it out. It’s been figured out. More coffee.
And just like every other time I’ve flown out of Korea, it was a hasty decision.

As I sampled some of Japan, took a few days off from teaching, drank new coffees, teas and beers, I started to realize that I was leaving Asia. I wasn’t only moving on from Korea. I’m making my way to Europe. Plane tickets were bought. I kinda planned it. But that meant leaving Asia. I hadn’t realized that. Somewhere in the Gobi desert, when I was a little sick and slowing adjusting to wandering mode instead of full-time teacher mode, I realized that I only had a few weeks left in Asia. After Korea and Japan, it was Mongolia, then Kyrgyzstan, then a whole lot of I don’t know. What am I if I’m not trying to make a new life for myself in Asia?

In Thailand, China, and of course South Korea, I became a teacher. Those countries and that big continent have served as my salvation for years now. I always run to it and it’s always there for me. From when I was completely heartbroken and I had the big busy streets of Bangkok to distract me. From when I learned to travel well and independently on the big city blocks in Beijing and the Chinese countryside. From when I had to deal with so much culture shock and loneliness in Korea, and it all turned out okay. I had no idea what I was getting into each time I arrived. And within a few days, I’d had a new life, a new routine, and new challenges to overcome. I guess leaving Asia will be the exact same way.

As I spend this month traveling from country to country, reflecting on the times before I left, yet again, over two years ago; as I reflect on the last time I wandered around in the summer of 2014 and let that experience finally soak in, and as I try not to worry about the future-I’ve noticed a few things. The world is one big, beautiful mess. Things remain universal, like smiling at someone to show appreciation for their kindness, racing a little kid down the block, wanting a big coffee in the morning (except in Korea when cafés only open after 10. But things are usually a little different in the Land of the Morning Calm). It’s all the same. Just sometimes the air is different. My sinuses are still trying to adjust. It took me a week to learn how to say “thank you” properly in Mongolian. After another year and a half in Korea, I was becoming a master in Konglish (Korean English-it’s a thing. Check it out). Why do I leave these places? More importantly, why did I show up there in the first place?

Also, as I continue to live rather “freely”, the people I see in the hostels where I choose to stay seem to get younger and younger. I told this to Jean this morning, as I munched on some breakfast bread, spread with homemade hummus. Have I found my people? I think I’m still looking. But any day that starts with homemade hummus is never bad.

Onwards. There are lots of countrysides to explore.
Until next time.
Oh, the Shinto Temples


People’s Wishes. Meiji Shrine in Tokyo on a Saturday afternoon.


Buddhist Altar. Mongolia.


A Stupa before sunset. Ulaanbataar, Mongolia.


Pray time in the park. Bangkok.

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