Connectedness

A few years ago, my ex asked me who I’m closest with: friends from home, friends from school, or friends from abroad.  I never answered him, but I’ve since thought of that question on occasion, and I have come to the conclusion that I’m not more or less close to each of the groups; the levels of friendship and connection are just so different.  These people are part of significant phases of my life, and perhaps each group knows me in a different way than the others.

My friends from home have known me since I was ten years old, and they have, no doubt, seen me grow the most.  These people have watched me change, and vice versa.  There’s something about growing up constantly surrounded by the same friends, seeing slow evolutions in each other, and sharing experiences that shape us both as individuals and as a system.  All of this transforming brought us to a level of friendship that can only be achieved with time.  And all of this time has brought us ups and downs that only continue to bring us closer.  They are my cornerstone, the building blocks of who I am, the very core of where my growth began, and one of the main ingredients to my happiness.  My friends from home are the ones I am glad to always have.  No matter how far down the road, I know I will have them to come home to.

It was hard to imagine who my college friends would be and what role they would play in my life until I found them.  Turns out, they’re some of the best friends to have around.  College friends get to know you in incredible ways–at house parties and bars, hungover in dorms, during all-nighters at the library, and every other second in between.  These are friends who live with you–sometimes literally–and get to see who you are while you’re in the process of finding yourself and potentially, who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.  They are there to watch you overcome the most difficult challenges you will ever face, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be right next to you every step of the way, making the same exact horrible decisions.  I have formed unbreakable bonds with my college friends, and with them I’ve learned how little time can affect friendship.  They are my support networks and secret-outlets, my squad, and the bottom line is that they get to know me better than most people ever do.

Sigh.  Sevilla friends.  These are people with whom I have created an entirely new bubble of friendship.  They are there, living in the stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life.  These friendships formed exceptionally fast, and I think that might be the reason for our extremely high comfort levels with each other.  Suddenly I found myself in a foreign country with just a suitcase and this group of people to hold on to.  And I did.  We all did.  Fortunately I don’t think we will ever let go.  What we’ve been through were some of the best moments of our lives, and that is not something to be taken lightly. We’ve seen the world, pushed through borders and boundaries, and fell in love with the same city together. Through all of this, and in less than half a year, what we did was more than travel. We left parts of ourselves with each other, in all corners of the world, and if that doesn’t bond you for life then I’m not sure what does.

Since this question was posed to me, I entered a new phase in my life which has brought yet another incredible group of people into my life: my Seoul friends. The last three years in South Korea have been life life life, and I couldn’t be more grateful for all my experiences here. I’ve grown part of different communities–teachers, foreigners, local yogis and runners–who have welcomed me and helped me to see the life I’ve built in this country. I hold close the group of friends I made within the first few days of arriving, and I think that through meeting them I became solid in who I already was. We all got to know each other exactly as we were and as we still are, and I have nothing but gratitude for the fact that we loved each other through flaws and mistakes.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about the running and yoga families I’ve come to know and love here in Seoul the last two years. When I first walked into Zen Yoga studio, and first went to an open run for Crewghost, I never thought it would become a completely engrained and habitual attendance. Now I go to my yoga studio 5-8 times and to a crew run at least once or twice, both per week. Spending as much time sharing a mutual passion with a group of people for hours at a time brings you together without even trying–certainly regardless of language. These two communities have brought me joy and support, and a family to back me in the goals that no one else can understand.

As I come to realize that I have just five short months left before a new adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I’ve spent my years with. And as I get ready to leave this group of friends to visit the others, all I can feel is gratitude. To have so much love from around the world. To know that I can turn to so many to receive all kinds of needs. To understand that I can be a different version of myself and still be loved for it. To find that I am open and lucky enough to be able to connect with so many souls. And to recognize that with time, I am changing for the better. How do I know all this? Because each time I come back to all of the people I love, no matter how long it’s been or how far I’ve gone, I never doubt that the love and connection and friendship remain.

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You’ve got my love to lean on darling, all the days

Before I left for South Korea three years ago, my older sister told me that she’s a little bit sad that I’ll miss some important “growing up” moments in my niece’s (her daughter’s) life in this next year that I’ll be in South Korea. Well, I’ve been here for three years and it really pains me that I’ve missed out on my nieces’ and nephew’s youths. What if they have their first kiss? What if they get bullied and don’t know who to turn to? What if they get in a fight with their parents and want to talk to me about it? All these what-ifs went through my mind, so I started writing letters to my eldest niece. I put them in a box, and I hope that when the time comes, she’ll pass it on to my other nieces and nephew, and that it will be helpful to them while I’m gone.

This was one of the letters:

To my little one,

There is so much that I want to teach you and tell you and learn from you. I hate to be absent for any part of your beautiful life, but while I’m away, I hope you remember some of what I’ve already tried to teach you.

Be patient and kind, to everyone, always. Including yourself.

Do not believe in luck. Believe in gratitude. Feel it all the time.

Treat every human being as exactly that: a human being. Show respect to everyone, even your enemies, and do not tolerate being disrespected.

Your feelings are YOURS and there is never a need to explain why you feel them.

When you learn something, don’t forget it. Intelligence is extremely attractive and invaluable.

Never, ever, ever, ever assume. Never assume that someone ignored you, or that someone is mad at you, or that something was your fault. Because anything can happen at any time, and we are not always aware of everything at once. Don’t disregard coincidence.

In confrontations and arguments, express only how you feel. Do not tell people what they did, but tell them how they made you feel.

Living well is the best revenge. Don’t believe in revenge.

Work hard. (Be lazy, but only sometimes.)

I once sat next to an old German man on a train and he asked me what my dream is. I told him that I want to travel, and he told me about how he moved to the U.S. from Germany as a young boy with nothing. He went to school, became a doctor, and now he teaches at a university in New York. He offered me this advice: “Keep a positive attitude. Don’t compromise your dreams and something will come and open up your universe. You younger generations need more confidence. Just know that us older generations believe in you. Let the universe come to you—invite it.”

Too much of anything can turn into a bad thing. The keys to happiness at its finest are balance and moderation.

Tell your parents goodnight before you go to bed. Tell the people you care about that you care about them. People need to be reminded of that.

Not everything lasts forever, and that’s okay. Look back and remember the goodness of all things, and be grateful for having it.

Ask yourself questions all the time. It is important to be able to answer to yourself, and be true to yourself.

The earth is a precious place, and you are just a visitor. Treat it well. Save as much life, energy, waste, and water as you can. Nothing is unlimited.

An excerpt from one of my favorite articles: “We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.”

Stories are gifts that we give to each other. They can be happy, or sad, or scary. They are real, and they are meaningful. Remember as many of them as you can, especially the magical ones. Hold onto them and don’t forget that they can be very, very real.

“You are responsible for the energy you put into this world.”

Travel opens your eyes and your mind to both realities and dreams. Always keep going.

Try not to raise your voice, and try to always smile. Try new things often.

Know that the world we live in is a big one. There are millions of different souls and perspectives out there. You should never feel alone.

Power comes in many forms. Music, stories, writing, expression, art, thought, knowledge. Power is from within. Use yours—you have so many!

Self-discipline and patience are very necessary strengths. Learn them as early as you can.

Avoid any and all feelings of jealousy. Never wish to be anyone else.

Never burn bridges because you never know when you might need to cross them again.

And most importantly, never doubt that you are loved.

Love always,

Auntie

A Hard Word To Define

Recently, I visited the place that was my very first home (for ten years) for the first time since 2001. It was a very moving, emotional, and exciting time, and I find it hard to believe that I spent so much time away from there.

Most people don’t take fourteen years to go back home. And while I called New Jersey “home” in the interim, I have always considered the Philippines my real home. What else would you call the place you grew up?

Before leaving the Philippines for the U.S., I think I already became the person I am today through my experiences there. So many of my beliefs and values were formed there, in my first ten years of life. I have held on to the kindness, patience, determination, hard-working attitude, and yearning for simplicity that I think are engrained in Filipinos. Going home did not only allow me to return to my roots, but it also proved to me that much of who I am is because of where I came from. And I am so, so proud of that.

I know that I became a totally different person than I would have if I never moved, but I still feel so deeply connected to my country and the people there. Everything came back so fast. I remember what it was like to shower with a bucket and a water heater, and to look around and see families living in shacks alongside the road. I remember what it’s like to see cockroaches and small lizards everywhere, and even what the local markets smell like. Those feelings and images and smells have never escaped me entirely, but they were nothing more than blurred memories until just a few weeks ago.

In this short amount of time, one thing has become very clear to me about the definition of home: I will never have just one. There’s a Pico Iyer quotes that goes like this: “Home is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”

Somehow, I am lucky enough to be able to say that that both parts of that quote describe the same place for me. I am also lucky enough to say that I am who I am thanks to more than just one or two places. In the last few weeks, I’ve learned that I have called many places “home” in my twenty-three years of life, and as a result of that, the very definition of “home” is constantly changing for me.

The home that I was born in is the Philippines, but the home that I grew up in was across the world in New Jersey. The home where I built an entirely new, separate life was in New York where I went to college, and the home that stole my heart was Sevilla. Now, I’m breathing the air in a country that is my current home: South Korea.

With each change of home, I have felt this growth in myself, and each place has made me a better person in its own way. Through constant movement, I am learning more and more about the different corners of our world and the people in it, and it makes me hope that everyone could also have many places to call “home.”

I Am Not Scared

In about five months I will be graduating college and entering the so-called “real” world.  Unlike many (dare I say most?) soon-to-be college grads out there, I am not afraid.  And I’ll tell you why.

What is there to be afraid of?

That’s why.

The world has been real since the day I was born, and I have been living in it just fine.  There’s really no reason to be scared.  It feels like everyone is freaking out about graduating because everyone else is freaking out about graduating.  This spiral effect of learning fear from each other is not okay.

So what if we actually change the course of this entire process and stop being scared and influencing others to be scared too?  Well…then graduation would be a lot easier on everyone.  There would be so much less pressure and so much more embracing of the moments.  There would be more inspiration.  Less paralyzing, long-term thoughts.  More excitement.  Less fear.  I think that’s what we need.

If you don’t know what you are afraid of, you can’t be afraid.  Post-graduation does not mean the end of your life.  In fact, it means the beginning.  It signifies this HUGE accomplishment and the many more to come.  Sure, nostalgia will come and visit a little more often, but that’s not so bad when you have beautiful memories to look back on right?

RIGHT.

My pledge on this January 14th of the year 2014 is to not be scared.  I will enjoy these last few months, as if the end of my college career is not right around the corner of April and May.  And I will accept that whatever plans I have or don’t have, and wherever I am or am not, after graduation, it does not have to be permanent.  Change will always be around the corner of tomorrow and the next day…so let go of expectations, and embrace to the beauty of not knowing instead.

Life will be real whether or not you haven’t entered the “real” world.

Once Upon A Time…

I’m in this New Year and soon-to-be-college-graduate mindset, and I have come to the following conclusion about life:

You know people by the stories they tell.

…if they have any at all.

I want to always be the person in the conversation who has a story to tell.  Whether it’s about love, life, or even death, I hope I can provide a little anecdote with a happy ending.

People who share stories are the ones who have lived.  They are the ones who we turn to when we need to form an idea of what’s to come.  After all, your future is someone else’s past.  Or so I’ve heard.

When I’m 100 (and I will be someday), I want to tell stories about the time I learned how to surf in Portugal, or the time I camped out under the stars in the Sahara Desert in Morocco after a four hour camel ride.  I want to share with people the memories from my high school and college years, and I want to say beautiful things about all of the incredible souls I have been so lucky to encounter in my lifetime.  Most of all, I just want to leave something behind for others to remember, so that they, too, can have a story to tell.

Summer for grown-ups

Summer isn’t summer anymore.

Well, maybe it is.  Summer is always summer I suppose…but it’s not the same now.

I remember my first summer in America.  I was 9 years old, and we went to Disney World.  I got Mickey and Minnie’s autographs, met my favorite Disney Princesses, rode teacups and roller-coasters that I was tall enough for, and I was not in the least bit concerned about wasting time or money.

This summer, right when it began, I went to Disney World again.  This time, I was 21 years old, and my eldest niece was 9.  I remember the day she was born, and suddenly there we were at the happiest place on earth, where I too made memories as a 9-year-old.  It was mind-blowing to say the very least.  I didn’t know time could be so fast.

Instead of buying endless rounds of cotton candy and souvenirs, I opted for eating the kids’ leftovers and buying a single postcard.  And instead of needing to hold someone’s hand while walking around the parks, I was the one whose hands were clutched tightly by one or all three of my nieces.  Instead of waiting in line for the Disney Princesses, I wanted to wait in line for the Disney Princes… I mean, Gaston and Prince Eric were kind of nice to look at.  Ten years from now my family will be at Disney again, and I bet my nieces will have moved on to the Princes too.

Our day at Magic Kingdom this year turned out to be a magically bittersweet day for me.  We watched the fireworks over Cinderella’s castle (only the most iconic symbol for Disney World there is) and I cried the entire show and then some.  I stood in a crowd of thousands, with my youngest niece in my arms, my entire family around us, and a real-life fairytale ending in front of my eyes.

My eyes were waterfalls for a number of reasons.  I wasn’t 9 years old anymore.  I just came back from Sevilla, Spain, where I spent the last 5 months gallivanting with new friends and living my dream of doing nothing but traveling, writing, jumping off cliffs, spending time in the sun, and meeting people from every walk of life.  I’m almost two years into my twenties.  I’m an aunt.  I’m entering my senior year of college.  I’m finding the version of myself that I want to be.  I’m looking into what will be my career and full-time job.  It felt like the culmination of my life as a girl and the beginning of life as a woman.  And it hit me like a firework.  It’s time to grow up.

And so began the beginning of summers for grown-ups.

I’m working in New York City and also from home.  My weekdays consist of work and routines instead of sitting by the pool with my friends like we did back in the summer for kids.  No more trips to theme parks or concerts or beaches.  Every weekend is packed with plans because that’s the only time anyone has time.  My alarm goes off at 6:30 am–something I thought was unthinkable in the summertime.

It kind of hurts and feels weird and makes me tired, and nothing’s worse than associating those negative things with Summer.  But I will not let change get the best of me for there is always happy hour, weekend trips and adventures, backyard BBQs, bonfires, and always always always a way to have too much fun.

Summer is for grown-ups too.

twenty13

This year I learned a lot about people and friendship, travel, time, and myself. The lessons I learned were simple, and it feels like we should just know them as a common sense but it seems like even when we think we know, we don’t.

The people in my life have always been at the center of my world, and for good reason; I’ve always considered myself the luckiest person for being extremely blessed to know so many amazing people. I value my relationships with people and I’ve always thought myself to be considerate and empathetic and reasonable. I like to think that the people I choose to associate with are the same way, but this year I’ve seen darker sides of friendship that I wish didn’t exist.

The lesson here is that people can be fake and pretentious. They can let you down, and they can ruin relationships. I watched friendships fall apart and people grow apart this year, and it just reminded me that as we grow older, we tend to be more selfish and less selfless. It’s a dog eat dog world, and it’s not until we make these mistakes for ourselves that we learn the lesson.

So one of my resolutions this year is to be a better friend. The world needs more of those.

With all the traveling I was lucky enough to do this year, I learned plenty about the hardship and reward that comes with it. The importance of experiencing travel, seeing the world, spending time away from home, and–as cheesy as it sounds–“finding oneself” will always be aspects of life that I want to acknowledge. For me, travel is the purest and hardest (but best) way to experience life. You learn to expect the unexpected, deal with problems and people, and see the real beauty in what you’re looking at.

My travel resolution of the year and for the rest of my life is to never stop.

2012 also helped me realize just how sneaky time is. It’s quiet, quick, and so extremely priceless. The other day someone asked me how old I was and it took me about six seconds to answer. It feels like the last two years have gone by so fast that I still feel like I’m 19. And I suppose that’s a good thing!

Lastly and most importantly, the last year has taught me plenty about myself. I hate comparing, but I guess it’s the best way to see ourselves as part of this world. So I like to compare myself in terms of what kind of person I am. And my resolution is just to be a better one.