Uncontrolled

b10

Girl
Woman
Mujer
What do you call yourself?

Chica
bonita
Why is “pretty” so important?
Fuck it,
eat chocolate
stay home and watch movies
laugh!
but then

guilt
worry
I’m fat
ugly
not worthy,
he left me because I’m dirty

undeserving

You’re told
“You gave it up too fast!
Men like a challenge
And a nice ass”

Damn it,
Gym
Squat so he cries
over what he lost

he couldn’t care less but

Play hard to get
but not too hard
Be real, be you
Bite off more than you can chew
But not literally
,
Because
Skinny
diet!
Eat less,
be dainty
#bestrong
what now?
Confused
If I had a daughter…

Damn, I hope I have sons.

But sister
I swear, if anyone ever hurts you
But he will
and so will he
Out of control
Just like me

Trying, self-promoting
Why is no one liking my shit?
Am I ugly?
STOP COMPARING
Be daring
But a mystery
history
it haunts you
That one night
you shouldn’t have
What if…?
Then it comes

Your period
thank God.
It’s love and hate
Roe v. Wade
My God
At 19 years, that is a lot to take
Now you’re 20
Twenty-five
it’s been a wild ride

it’s not over
moreover,

Will you ever find true love?
No control
Trust your soul
mate, it’s a goal
You will feel whole

But then:
“Cutie,
So sexy, let me see that smile!”
NO.

Validation
Liberation
Which one guides your mind?

It depends on the day..
Is a feminist ok?

Wear no bra, why not
The straps make me hot
They’re tight, and this thong
Sisqo even made a song
about this stupid piece of clothing
My kryptonite and loathing
ok, just relax
Breathe in
sit back

Baby girl,
It’s ok
I got you any day
Lean in
Lean on
Who can tell us what’s wrong?

What’s ok?
Behave!
Only Momma had that say.

So my sister,
Hermana
friend
I care

I’ll fly across the world,
(if money grew on trees)
to make your heart soar
Spend good energy on me
so I can love you some more

Don’t worry about the rest
no control
could be best.

Sit back.
Relax,
breathe, amor
You can do it
even without knowing
what it is

Live the moment
in control
the present moment
you control

Relax
your control
right now

you are whole

Saltwater

12790181_1680068065592546_1147510004_o

I put one slender arm around your body but you refused to turn and look at my face.

You knew you would see my eyes loaded with the weight of saltwater barely held back and at this moment, it was too much for you to carry. I believed it might be too much for you to ever want to carry. How capable are you of letting someone lean on you?

Or perhaps you are more than capable but I wasn’t the one you were willing to offer your shoulder to. I knew you’d loved before, and I couldn’t help but feel pangs of jealousy towards your past loves, unfamiliar to me, yet strangely too close for comfort, having once inhabited the heart I was trying so hard not to lose.

You said the time was wrong but in my anxious mind, I was convinced you found a situational excuse for an emotional motive. Or maybe I was just too romantic, emotional and idealistic and you were the sensible voice of reason. The wind around us whispered that it was you who was right. But what does the wind know about matters of the heart? It blew in cold.

As the tide rose, your breathing fell out of sync with mine and I tried to remember the last time our bodies moved to the same rhythm.

In a way, they never had. We fell in love instantly, we didn’t have time to match the pace. We became fire before the spark. I know that’s impossible, but impossible was us. Too good to be true and one in a million. A matter of seconds. Yet by modern standards, we never consummated our relationship properly, neither online in the net nor offline in a bed, in fact, on paper, there was not much to show except the beginning of the most unbelievable romantic comedy. And I say comedy because there was once a time when you made me laugh like a child running towards the sun.

The ocean now seemed crude and unforgiving as it encroached closer towards us, with its waves rising and falling uninterruptedly. Fuck those waves. How dare they keep rolling when other things fall apart so easily.

I closed my fingers around the tip of your sweater, squeezing it in hopes that the fabric could guide my next move. But since all my moves towards you have always been instinctive, no amount of advice from cotton or polyester could have stopped or started what I wanted to do. How do some people control their care? It just comes pouring out of me like rainwater. Lucky for you, when you were thirsty enough.

Some people think there is always one person who loves a little more, not in absolute terms, but relative to the other.

In true love, shouldn’t all things be equal?

I realized we were never equal because I put you first, and you put yourself first.

The equator for both of us was you.

This is why I’d wake up in the middle of the night to make sure you were still breathing, as if you were a newborn child, newly born into my world of affections, but you, you slept soundly as a baby no matter when the sun was rising in my hemisphere, undisturbed by the sleep I was losing over you.

You never lay awake for me.

And I realized that when your effect on someone is weaker than coffee, your worth to them is scarcely a cup of decaf. In a world where 99 cents can buy that, our story now scares me.

Then my hand floated up towards your jawline, beautiful and so different from mine, your features aren’t delicate, they are bold, jagged and unequivocal like rocks, I could spot you from oceans away. And I think you are the most beautiful creation for everything that in this continental scope is considered raw and imperfect, and I realize that I will probably never cease to believe that. I mean, I probably will, but I can’t imagine it.

The clouds smiled at my innocence.

So the sand became damp as my fingers landed on your cheekbone and you flinched ever so slightly, as if my touch electrified you the way my sight did the first time you laid eyes on me.

I remember that. You didn’t even try to hide it. I could feel your gaze from all angles as my back grew its own pair of eyes and I wasn’t taken aback by your shameless stare the way I would have been had it come from any other man, woman or child.

In a way I wish I could unlive those moments. Where it was you who searched for me in the crowd. You who spoke first. You who initiated every contact, from the first to the next to the last. It was you, from beginning to end, who made the decisions, and I would have gone along with most, as long as they did not infringe upon my self-respect too much. I made excuses for you. You became king of benefit of the doubt.

I should have realized that this set the tone for us. It was always you who dictated our Terms and me who signed the Agreement without reading the fine print. It would have warned me that loving and losing is a huge emotional burden for a heart as open as mine was at the time, a heart that had only just begun to reopen and found itself whole and content without romance.

But I don’t remember you even giving me this contract. The one you preached sounded completely different. You seemed so sure of our success, you don’t half-ass things. I wish you’d never said that because when I admire someone, I believe their words. But yours were only written in sand and, with every rising tide, washed away letting you rewrite them anew with me shores away, out of sight. I should have realized the impermanence of our nature – I myself move from sea to sea effortlessly. But I draw roots to every soul I encounter and yours in particular I wanted to entangle with forever.

Now we are searching for each other in the billions of grains of sand with every drop of water mudding our vision more. I wanted to reach for you the way a mouth reaches for an impending kiss. Like when we kissed. Of all kisses, ours I could never forget. Hesitant because we cared so damn much, natural because you and I were meant to kiss in this lifetime. Shy and nervous because to each other, we weren’t just another.

To you, kissing me was like kissing a new universe, you trembled just before entering it and I wish you would have gotten lost without return before landing back on the concrete of your previous realities. But I’m not good at playing games so I never hid the key. Of course, young hearts thrive on the chase and yours was too easy, I was open and raw.

Just as easily, I was done.

As darkness fell, I knew the day was over and the pain was one I recognized from long ago. I knew I would get through it as I had before, but every time that pain hits, I swear to God you think you won’t make it.

But I had to. My sea stops for no one.

Finally the pull to be washed clean from your scent became stronger and with the next rise in tide I let myself glide into the waves.

You saw me go but thought I was just taking a dip. I’d be right back.

This time, it was me who didn’t disclose all my plans because since there was no longer an “us,” you had no free entry into my mind. That mind was now full of thoughts never meant for you to discover.

So I drifted further away until you had to stand up to see me. You lost your balance in the wet sand and it surprised you. In the distance, I disappeared and reappeared time and time again and you started to feel seasick though standing on solid ground.

I could sense it – you don’t know it, but I can feel what you feel no matter what you communicate to me.

You still tried to communicate a little. You threw the occasional seashell to remind me of your existence, always catching me by surprise. Some of the shells opened up with a beautiful pearl, others cut me with a sharp edge. At the end, the pearls faded into dust and the cuts left little scars that I could see more or less, depending on the light that day.

As you kept looking you realized there were other creatures around. Some you barely noticed but others were beautiful. One in particular, you knew from before. She was from the land just like you, she was pretty, too.

And she wasn’t me.

She was well known and close by. You started to think about her more and less about me. With two desires in your mind, you realized the other body was much closer to you geographically while my physical distance remained unchanged. My emotional distance, you didn’t know, was growing too.

Women of the waves have this instinct: we know when our beloved’s lust has been cast on another.

I never met your new fantasy but I created my own fantasy about her in my head. I never asked you about anything. But my instinct was enough and the pebbles you threw at her in attention skipped past the ground into the sea and carried ripples throughout the water. We all knew.

From then on every shell I got from you turned into a cut. I started to duck. Swam faster.

When I reached the horizon, you saw me in my full essence. The sun set over the sea identical to the tattoo next to my breast that you never touched. You began to undress me in your mind. Your heartbeat accelerated as you imagined my breath quickening underneath all your weight, all the emotional weight I used to take for you as well as your physical body now, you crashing into me like the waves into shore, entering another part of my universe.

Would we never make love there?

The thought scared you, but not long enough to resist the earth. The other girl was fast ashore, her world was accessible now and I was at the dawn of something mysterious. My planets moved further away from you with every stroke. Some may have loved that but for you, it was too much. Too much because the orbit was not around you anymore, an arrangement unacceptable to you.

I wanted a love where your ending and my beginning were confused, you wanted a love where for both, you were the muse.

With water washing through every pore, I finally knew I didn’t want two you’s and no me’s.

At the beacon of sea and sky, I waved you goodbye.

You blinked,

saltwater hit your eye.

 

The Resolution Anytime

The New Year.

There’s a Chinese one, a Jewish one, the Hijri one – there are so many “New Years” in the world, but since the main one in the Western world is around the corner, I’m addressing this one in particular. Yes, the one where hundreds of thousands of people stand in freezing cold Times Square to watch a massive ball drop (trust me, tried and true: it’s better enjoyed from the warmth of your home via TV, stampedes and frozen fingers foregone).

With the New Year comes the idea that we might, since the calendar date switches up by a year, wake up a new person. New and improved, the You 6S, the Me 5G. “New Year, New Me” is all too enticing to many of us, and a good way to set some kind of transformative life goals…

… or a recipe for disappointment due to unrealistic expectations.

Guys, let’s be real – just because the New Year is coming does not mean you, your boss, your boyfriend or your parents will miraculously change (I still believe in magic in other scenarios, but this would be too easy). This is where we get to the big word of the New Year:

Resolution.

The resolution to:

  • Quit smoking (amazing intention, but then your job gets stressful again mid-January and…)
  • Take your partner on a weekend trip every month (very sweet, but easily forgotten once routine takes over)
  • Run a marathon (seriously, you people make me doubt why I have knees in the first place)
  • Give up sugar (and then that time of month hits, and NUTELLA is your best friend)
  • Wake up at 5.30 am every morning and meditate (ok but actually, try to do this one! Except maybe at 6 pm, after work…)

Branching off the last one, my yoga teacher in South India always started his meditation sessions by saying “Resolution… to… meditate”, in his slow, deep voice. The decision to do something and commit to it, is often half the battle. So in short, it is definitely wonderful to make resolutions – it shows you have the will to make a positive change in your life, and that is only commendable.

However, I would like to propose that the fact that the infamous ‘New Year’s Resolution’ is so common and almost expected from each individual, it actually diminishes the seriousness of the resolution made by most of us. Personally, I can’t remember a single New Year’s Resolution I have made, let alone kept, ever.

It’s an inescapable question at every holiday party: “So Bob, what’s your resolution? Oh yeah, I’m trying to learn Russian by February too, spasiba man, let’s do it together!” The intentions are good, but often entirely unrealistic and perhaps not really intrinsically motivated.

Reading an article in Forbes Magazine, I was stunned to learn that only 8% of the population actually achieves their resolution.

According to Forbes, simplicity and tangibility are the key factors determining the success of your resolution.

To that, I would like to add sincerity and urgency.

For instance, the most common type of resolution each year is health-related, usually to lose weight, eat healthier, or exercise more. Now, if for instance you realized you were not in optimal shape in September, the lure of the New Year just gave you 3 more months to eat bacon chocolate, sit on the couch and internally tell yourself it’s ok, mañana, mañana. Come New Year, you may have let yourself go so much that it’s much harder to get motivated, and you don’t even know where to begin. You feel like it’s such a huge task, and the only thing holding you to this loose commitment now is the New Year – not an urgency to feel better, or a true commitment you made to yourself, here and now, independent of any external factors (like the ominous date) or societal expectations (no Bob, I will not learn Russian with you.)

So if you are truly committed to improving your health and felt it was a necessary change to make on September 8th, why not start on September 8th?

The relative proximity of the New Year is often an excuse to continue with certain suboptimal habits because let’s face it, change is hard, video games are more fun than studying for the GMAT, but procrastinating on something too much either means it scares you shitless, or that you are not truly committed to it. If the latter, that’s a personal choice you make, prioritize as you wish.

However, I believe a lot of us actually avoid making changes in the here and now because there is an occasion to stall the daunting jump to do something that is tough, but ultimately worth it.

As we know, most things worth having don’t come too easily.

This is where Mindfulness comes in – the only moment you have is now.
If you think about it, it’s not so different from making your happiness contingent on external factors.

“I would be so happy if only

  • I could sing well
  • I were richer
  • I were skinnier/taller/stronger
  • I had a new partner/dog/car

Etc. “

What we often don’t realize is that this attitude will never lead to happiness or true self-growth. Once you have that extra cash, you will want even more. Your new phone won’t be new for very long. It’s like with plastic surgery: People start with rhinoplasty to “fix” their noses, and once that’s done, they notice their breasts could use some tweaking, or their jawline could be a little sharper…

It’s a vicious cycle of depending on potential future moments and things to feel what we deserve to feel with very little, in our current everyday moments.

The only happiness that can be felt intrinsically, and therefore unfalteringly, is the one that is independent of external factors and conditions that have yet to be fulfilled.

This is not the same as having goals – having goals is great, wonderful. Something to work for and look forward to is, in fact, a key ingredient for most peoples’ happiness. However, instead of being happy only after a certain condition is fulfilled, we can be happy to have the will, resolution, and opportunity to work towards improving our lives, relationships, and careers. We can be fully happy on the journey of fulfilling more goals; no less than once they are fulfilled. The excitement of new possibilities, overcoming challenges and learning from life are only some of the happy thrills of the journey before the finish line.The only difference is the feeling of accomplishment, which definitely gives an extra high. However, the same level of internal happiness can remain with us even before we’ve attained our next big outward achievement.

Now look at resolutions the same way.

Love yourself for having the true desire to grow as a person. I’m rooting for all of us to keep up our self-motivated energy to aspire and inspire.

However, if your desire isn’t really intrinsic, it runs the risk of fizzling out all too fast. There was no foundation – or if there was, there was too easy of an excuse to let it crumble before it could ever become a palace.

The only time is now. Yes, even December 26th is a better time to start than January 1st. Sure, you could get four more days of pushing off your dream, big or small, but why? Will those four days of procrastinating be worth it? Or will starting because you truly want to do something, even a couple of days before the ‘big date’, just give you a little head start that might make all the difference?

Whatever you really want in life is worth starting now.

At 5 pm of the day you decide on it.

The next morning, even if it’s a Tuesday.

On January 15th, April 6th or September 2nd.

Take the New Year as a moment to manifest the good changes you have already committed to.

Smile internally, knowing you are on the right track. It’s the biggest gift you can give yourself.

Love always,

Sim

The Power of Silence

Do you ever feel exhausted after small talk, or a seemingly standard conversation?

Do you ever regret saying something because you spoke before thinking?

When was the last time you truly let yourself think?

My first year at university, I lived down the hall from a kid named Zeus, who spoke like a waterfall. He started talking before you were barely halfway through your sentence. It seemed like he thought of his responses the second you started to begin pronouncing yours.

He was very clever… and slightly annoying.

Then one day, while having a late-night chat with him, he said something that surprised me: “You know Simone, we Americans are not comfortable with silence. That’s why we say ‘like’ all the time, and we interrupt each other constantly.”

I was delighted at his recognition of a common flaw that he himself displayed so prominently. Realization is the first step to improvement! (Funnily enough, when I ran into him on the street of New York’s upper West Side one summer, he didn’t even pause to breathe as he told me he was “going to work, so crazy busy, omg, ciao!”. Hey, it’s hard to change!)

Nowadays, through technology we are constantly able to share things with people, even when we are technically alone. When we talk, we are often focused on preparing our responses more than listening to what our company is saying.

At first glance, you might wonder what the problem with this is. And in many ways, it is not such a huge problem. I like talkative people. They are entertaining, fun, bubbly. It would be quite the strange society if we all sat in absolute silence all the time.

But what if you are talking when you don’t really want to?

I believe many introverts have trained themselves to talk more due to social norms and expectations for various careers, yet it can actually be quite harmful. Let me share my own experience with this.

People don’t think I’m a quiet person, and they laugh when I tell them how shy – even uncomfortable – I feel in most social situations. They don’t believe me because I have become so good at creating an extroverted persona as it’s simply more practical when navigating the world on your own.

However, I  have noticed for a long time now that some conversations leave me excruciatingly drained. Whether they happen in person or virtually, I found, time and time again, that there were people whom speaking to left me with surprisingly low energy, and not because of what they said – because of all that I  had said.

During the month of Yoga Teacher Training in a south Indian Ashram, I finally realized that I often spoke because it was expected of me. That I didn’t want to speak as much as I did, but that it was like a reflex to talk. Kind of like eating that last cookie because it’s there, not because you really want it. Habit, and social conditioning.

One evening, a bunch of us were having a normal dinner-time talk in which I had no essential part. Yet I felt I needed to say something, since I was sitting right in the middle. What I said started a joking argument, yet I took it really personally. I got defensive and felt horrible over nothing. After dinner, I sat at the table in shock, having realized that the entire episode had been so trivial, and only sparked by a social obligation to speak.

So the next day, I went into silence for 24 hours. My friend gave me a little sticker badge she crafted with duct-tape that said “silence” and I mounted it to my shirt.

People were surprised. My Spanish friend even said “En silencio?? TUUU?!!” and laughed. That’s when I realized how much other peoples’ expectations of me to speak had been affecting my honestly desired level of speaking.

Those 24 hours of silence, I felt more calm and energetic than I could remember. I realized how much energy was drained through trivial conversation, how often we comment on things like the weather, the time of day, the smell of something – things that are so obvious and not really in need of being discussed, yet we say them to fill the silence. As I observed this around me, without partaking in it, something clicked.

Silence allows you to connect with the world on a very deep, profound, and personal level. By observing in silence, you learn, grow, and have time to think. Being one with my thoughts instead of thinking of ways to share them before they fully developed, connected me with a part of myself I had ignored for a very long time.

Of course, there are times when we speak nervously. If you, like me, have ever spoken to (unnecessarily) explain yourself, or can’t help blabbing when you’re around people you feel you need to impress in some way or are anxious around, I can only tell you it’s normal, human. It is incredibly hard to turn off the verbal sharing mode. However, the resolution to be silent, even for an afternoon, can open up a whole new world inside your beautiful, wild head, that only you have access to in those moments. It’s like a secret garden only you can enter, an intimate secret you share only with yourself.

Then when you are ready, whatever you outwardly share with others will be more thoughtful and profound, too.

Identify the people whose company allows you to share without force. And take note of when you are speaking because you have been conditioned to do so. Even if it means you share less with people – that is your absolute right. No one should expect you to be a certain way, and if you have become calmer than you used to be in the eyes of some, take it as a sign of growth and nurturing your internal world.

Try a morning, afternoon or even full day of silence. Demuéstrate cosas solo a ti mismo. Be one with your thoughts, and recharge your energies from the inside out.

Love calmly,

Simone

Travel Treasures: Gangwon-do in South Korea, Where the Sky Meets the Sea

Most of us know what feeling in love is like…

But with a place? There are few times we feel emotions of craving, longing, deep emotion and even heartbreak over a geographical location.

Gangwon-do is the province in the Northeast of South Korea, bordering North Korea, and not a place I had ever heard of before.

koreaprovinces

That is part of the magic. I feel like the most beautiful places in the world are largely untouched, blessed by the vibrancy of the locals without the interruptions of commercialism and consumer-oriented vibes coming in.

In general, South Korea is not a country on your typical travel list. As half my ethnic heritage is Korean, this makes me a little sad (why can’t my countries be cool and popular like Japan or Thailand?) But I actually think the special ingredient to Korea’s deep beauty is its lack of overexposure. I actually remember begging my parents to take me to Tokyo (specifically Harajuku, props Gwen Stefani) during our first Korea trip, only to find myself confused by all the Hello Kitty merchandise everywhere, missing the authentic mystery of Seoul. Funnily enough, at the time I had no idea there was still so much more to Korea than its bustling metropolitan capital.

When my Imo (Korean for aunt on your mother’s side) invited me to come along to Gangwon-do, I had to Google it. It looked nice. I mostly saw pictures of trees.

Blessed to travel with my Imo and her young-at-heart (and super fit!) friends, we took off for Yongpyeong, right where the 2018 winter olympics will be held. On the way, we had the most delicious potatoes I have ever tasted. How is it that, in the countryside, things like butter corn and potatoes taste better than your most extravagant 14 dollar ice cream sundae in downtown Manhattan?

IMG_0353

After a 3 hour trip, we arrived and proceeded to take the cable car up to the top of the mountain in Yongpyeong. The views and foliage were just breathtaking.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1278.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1282.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1288.

It looked like a fairytale, or the gateway to heaven, or something out of your happiest daydreams. Some famous movies were even filmed up there, as my Imo enthusiastically confirmed with the life-size actor cutouts 🙂

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1276.

The next day, we went to a beach called Jeongdongjin. It instantly reminded me of the paradise beaches in the Philippines or the Caribbean. I couldn’t believe my eyes – I had never heard of Korea having such beautiful beaches! As a sea lover, I was overwhelmed with joy and surprise. The truth is, the famous beaches like Haeundae in Busan, are not that beautiful. The East Sea is a secret tip not even known to all Koreans, but it is undisputedly the beautiful side of the peninsula, in terms of seaside landscapes.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1375.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1380.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1385.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1388.

Amazingly, this white sand treasure is just behind Jeongdongjin Train station, which connects directly to Seoul. On the Lunar New Year, many Koreans come here to watch the “first sunrise”, as it is the exact East in relation to Seoul.

In the little town, squid is drying on clothes lines and local shops move at a sleepier, tropical pace (compared to “bali bali” Seoul!)

On the drive down, my Imo told me that, as a child, she lived with her grandfather in Gangwon-do for a couple of years after the war. I never knew this, but my great grandfather was a Makgeolli (Korean rice wine) farmer! It was meant to be. Me and rice wine and Gangwon-do, destiny had it all planned.

makgeolli

So in love with this region, I had to go back. When my friend suggested we go up for 2 days, I jumped at the opportunity. Driving in his K7 (don’t laugh, I know little about cars, but this Kia is the bomb diggity), with my Reggaeton and K-pop playlist (mixed kid status right here) blasting at full volume, we rode up to Seoraksan, the most famous mountain in Korea.

We entered the national park and strolled along the base, which is an enormous forest with waterfalls, little pathways and multiple hiking paths. It would take you 10 full days to hike all of Seoraksan, even at breakneck-Korean ajumma speed. They are so fast. But Seoraksan is so big.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1406.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1416.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1418.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1425.
Korean Shamanism believes that rocks stacked on top of each other lay a path to heaven. If your rocks are untouched at your next visit, your wish is granted.

IMG_0338

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1432.

IMG_0288

After walking around, we took the cable car to one of the main peaks. I know it’s cheating, but we didn’t have 10 days off work to hike! Aigo.

I was so excited about everything that ChangOh couldn’t stop laughing. He said it must be a dancer’s disease, because I was dancing even on an 80 degree incline up to the flag pole top. I don’t know about Salsa on a mountain, but I was overwhelmed by the natural beauty. Yeah Korea!

I almost cried when we got to the top. I’m sure I’ve seen beautiful things before, but perhaps my eyes where not mature enough to appreciate the beauty. Remembering the dramatic rocks contrasted by the gentle, warm sunset and fierce autumn colors still gives me the chills.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1511.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1460.

I remember reading a story about a climber who voluntarily died on the peak of Mount Everest because being there was the fulfillment of his life. Not that I wanted to die, but I did not want to come down from the Seoraksan peak. I jokingly told ChangOh to bury me there one day, but I don’t think he quite understood. 😉

After the thrilling afternoon, we went to the local town by Yongpyeong to have dinner and rest. The food was out of this world. Spicy dried and grilled fish, seaweed soup (Miogkuk), a million side dishes (Panchan) straight from the farms. Korean food is so healthy and delicious, but Seoul’s city food pales in comparison to the freshness of the smaller towns’ and countryside’s produce. Of course this shouldn’t be a big surprise, but I was still overwhelmed by how we were able to feast, for under 10 dollars a person. This may be TMI for some of you, but only in Korea do I not have major digestive issues, thanks to all the vegetables, fermented food and lack of bread and nonexistence of dairy. Of course, the cities have now been overtaken by coffee and churro shops, and our friend MSG, but the traditional food is so, so healthy.

IMG_0072

The next day, I kindly (but firmly, no nonsense here), requested ChangOh to take me to the beach again. He kindly agreed, but insisted on taking me to a different beach.

Meu Deus no céu, if I thought Jeongdongjin was beautiful, Gyeongpo was that slice of paradise multiplied.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1550.
Footsteps of multiple creatures, crystal blue and the signature Korean striking rocks as if molded by perfection and natural roughness at the same time.
Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset
After a lunch of Seafood tofu stew and side dishes as luxurious as spicy raw crab and seaweed from the southern Jeolla province (all for just 9 dollars per person which my Swiss mind couldn’t really believe) we strolled to the expansive white sandy stretch, speckled with romantic rocking chairs.
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset
It was blissful to sit and watch the calm of the ocean on a mellow fall afternoon…

In the evening, we made our way back to Yeongpyong, where many shows are held and famous K-Pop bands like ‘Big Bang’ make regular performances. That night, it was an empty stage, so of course I had to go bring out my inner Beyonce/Madonna/Rihanna, but really, just a high-on-life almost-yoga-teacher dancer with the excitement of a five year old at the circus.

IMG_0252 IMG_0266

The crisp nighttime mountain air reminded me of Switzerland, a surprising but welcome change from the humid Korean summer months.

On the final day, we (really, me) wanted to check out the famous sheep farm. Changoh was very excited… well he was, for the supposed sheep barbecue skewers that (luckily for me) ended up being a myth! But seriously, Koreans are funny to pretend there’s a sheep farm where in the hills, kids (and 22 year old giant kids, ahem) go pet and feed the fluffy cuties, later descending to a barbecue of the animals you just loved. Aside from Buddhist monks, Koreans don’t get the concept of vegetarianism whatsoever, and having come from a starving, war-torn past, I don’t blame them. Still… I was pretty happy we didn’t see sheep skewers. What we did see was this:

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1564.
The ‘shepherd show’ was about to start
DCIM100GOPROGOPR1568.
I love how in touch kids can get with nature in Korea. I think it’s really important for children to be exposed to animals and nature, where things come from naturally.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR1569.
🙂

Finally, it was time to drive back to Seoul.

Even the drive home was breathtaking. Korean sunsets are so steady and wide that it feels like the whole world is changing moods one breathtaking moment at a time. Just watching from the car made me emotional… and the window picture may not do it justice, but imagine seeing these colors among the stillness all around you, spanning over the horizon into the fields, away into eternal distance down the highway.

IMG_0357

Gangwon-do is a magical land, from another time, where you can go from striking mountain peaks to paradise beaches in 40 minutes.

They say life should be measured by the moments that take your breath away, and just in a few days, I’ve had an incredible share of just these moments.

I think many of the most beautiful places are the unknown ones, or the ones almost impossible to get to without an insider. If you are lucky enough to discover the purest of a country’s original essence, don’t hesitate…

To me, Korea is will always be the land where the sky meets the sea, glued together in eternal rotation by sunrises and sunsets otherworldly in their beauty.

Travel with your Heart,

Sim

Being Humbled Through your Imperfections

12032511_1629918040607549_1464886523_n

One day at the public pool, at the age of 13, the boy I had a crush on started laughing hysterically:

“OH MY GOD, does your dad beat you with a stick?!”

Flustered, I turned my tomato-red face to see him pointing at my lower back, where a colony of red horizontal stripes had spread from one end of my waist to the other. I never forgot the incident (and the horrible assumption this boy made about the origins of my marks). I looked around the pool: All the girls around me had perfectly milky smooth skin, like newborns. The only woman I spotted with anything close to my stretch marks was a pregnant lady. This was the beginning of my struggle with an obvious, irrevocable imperfection.

I have stretch marks everywhere. I have them across my back, on my thighs, on my butt, on my chest. Just a few days ago, I tried on a pair of shoes and turned around to check out the heels. Thanks to the store’s bright lighting, for the first time ever I noticed I even have stretch marks all along my calves. Up my entire leg, from heel to derriere.

Essentially, the only place I am not permanently marked with my rapid physical growth is on my face. Silver lining?

Aside from that tactful boy in 5th grade, I have had doctors, physiotherapists, friends, romantic interests and total strangers comment on my stretch marks. Most comments are neutral, along the lines of, “You grew really fast, didn’t you?” (judging by all the comments I have ever received on my height, I should legally be a giant), “Did you know you had these huge mark thingies on your back?” (yes sister, but thanks for the reminder anyway), “Woah, were you once really fat?” (not even as a baby, unfortunately) and one time even, “Hmm, your scars are kind of hot” (…awkward silence).

And so the obsession started. I bought creams and oils that were supposed to reduce the appearance of the marks. I looked at the smooth, perfect backs of all other girls, short and tall, and wondered why my skin hadn’t been able to keep up with my growth rate. Then I felt annoyed at being tall in general. I’d look at my mother’s perfect, bronze, smooth-as-a-baby Korean skin and shake my head. Then I looked at my dad’s slightly less-smooth, dry skin, and understand. But understanding wasn’t enough to calm me. My internal dialogue went something like: Why me? Why am I branded like this, for life? I’m never having kids, then I’ll have stretch marks on my stomach, too. These creams don’t work! Oy vey. I’m a human zebra.

Over time, my stretch marks turned from red to white, so they started to blend in more. However, when I got tattoos on my back, I couldn’t help but notice how much I wished my stretch marks weren’t there at all. I wanted a smooth canvas for my body art. But I didn’t have it, so I tried to suppress my feelings.

The summer between my junior and senior year at college, I worked at an Education non-profit in New York City, and deeply admired all of my coworkers. One of the supervisors, in particular – let’s call him Juan – was so cool, funny, charming, and handsome. About midway through the summer, the whole school went to the beach for the day, and I glanced over at Juan’s very beautiful body, only to notice that he, unbelievably, had prominent stretch marks across his shoulders and upper arms. The fair lines were even more noticeable on his darker skin tone.

And amazingly, the first time ever seeing stretch marks as large as mine on another person (and a very attractive person to boot) felt liberating. I actually found his stretch marks attractive. It was incredible to me, but something about them screamed true growth, experience and strength. Ok, maybe it was the combination of his overall persona and the pronounced muscles beneath that made his stretch marks extra attractive, but what I realized was that, if you find a person attractive, something like scars or stretch marks will not make them in the slightest less attractive to you. It may even add to their appeal in some unique way.

I felt liberated. For a while, at least.

I still noticed how few people have scars as pronounced as Juan and I. After that summer day, I never saw anyone with equally prominent marks on their body. A few more years have passed, and I find myself in a state of ambivalence.

People say their imperfections make them beautiful. I have learned to love some of them.

But my stretch marks have reached a place of ambivalence. I neither love, hate, nor accept them. I still feel sad when I see the silky backs and smooth thighs on other girls. I feel I look old, somehow marked, not as youthful and innocent. It’s ridiculous, because I’m 22. But sometimes, on a bad day, I believe I look kind of worn, inevitably scarred for life.

Then I think back to Juan and remember how cool I found his stretch marks. Many guys have muscly arms, but his wore a visible badge of honor.

Unlike Juan’s intentional muscle-building, it’s not like I chose to grow too fast for my skin to keep up, but it still felt like I could make a decent comparison between the meaning of our scars.

I think about how flaws can be part of your ticket to success. Take Giselle Bundchen, the top model of the last decade. She was told she should get plastic surgery on her “big” nose (people be crazy). Aside from being all-around gorgeous and a great model period, her nose is what made her face different, what made it more unique and intriguing. The same goes for Cindy Crawford’s beauty mark, which apparently she was told to remove at the beginning of her modeling career. She didn’t, and it became her undisputed trademark.

However, I don’t believe my stretch marks will ever be considered particularly beautiful, or my defining best feature. But I do believe that I learned, first-hand, that we can be inspired and humbled by our imperfections.
For example, I love tigers, and was inspired to call my marks “tiger stripes”, to the point where they, at times, made me feel more badass. In a Mike Tyson ugly-but-badass kind of way. Ok, maybe not quite like Mike Tyson, but you catch my drift.

I don’t think I will ever love my stretch marks, so I am not urging you to love your flaws. But I am urging you to let them do something really powerful, that I believe may be even more valuable than seeing yourself as unflawed.

Let your imperfections humble you.

I am humbled by the fact that random people will innocently draw attention to something I used to almost cry over. It reminds me that I literally wear my unintentional imperfections on my skin. I am human through and through, and my so-called flaws are plain for everybody to see. I can’t hide them – just like we shouldn’t be able to deceive others by hiding our true character.

Nobody should be forced to love something they don’t, so if you can’t love it, let it humble you. Let it ground you. There are many things I am proud of, but my stretch marks exist as a reminder of the fact that, no matter how hard one tries, absolute perfection is impossible.

Nobody in this world is perfect anyway, at least not by some nonexistent universal standard. It’s all relative, a matter of perspective and personal taste.

In the wise words of Missy Elliott, “Nobody’s perfect, but you’re perfect for me”.

Imperfection is relative. Perfection is relative. And perfection is an imprisoning goal if we apply it to our physical bodies in the absolute sense. But acceptance and humility is a liberating, grounding goal to strive for.

We can achieve a kind of gentle perfection through absolute self-acceptance. Your gentleness towards your own body and mind will set a premise for how you treat others. Be kind to yourself. And be humble.

Love and perfectly real vibes,

Sim

On Loneliness

IMG_8818

I am writing this post because it is long overdue, and because there are some things I must clear up with both those closest to me, and those who may be observing my life from a slightly greater distance.

Social media tends to magnify the pure highlights and make everyone’s life seem like one big party or a Condé Nast cover story. To many, it seems that my life these past years has been a breeze of travels, excitement and fun.

And this is true to an extent. However, the much greater, and more profound part of it has been filled with (self) discovery, challenges, and a dose of loneliness I believe few people in their lives experience, at least not at such an early age. I am not complaining at all – much of my ability to be so free and work and travel around the world comes precisely from the willingness to forfeit the comforts of home and security of the known.

However, after over eight years of spending most of my time alone, (I left my parent’s house when I was 14) I realize that one thing has reached a point where it has become unhealthier rather than not: Loneliness.

I distinctly remember once asking my mother, a clinical psychologist, why we need people. I was probably upset over a disagreement with a friend, and concluded we’d all be happier as hermits. My mother responded, somewhat dumbfounded, “We just need people. To live, to be happy. Human beings need other people”. While this answer did not provide my sociologically-minded brain the empirical evidence it much desired, my mother’s certain tone and professional training in all things concerning the human mind gave me no other choice but to believe her.

Now, years later, I know she is right. I know so from my own experience.

After four years in Philadelphia, I realized that many of my friends and I drifted apart, usually naturally, but at times, I resisted the drift. The loss of once-close friends is a byproduct of geographical distance, but it is painful nonetheless. Seeing relationships virtually disintegrate left me anxious about the stability of connections I once had so much faith in.

While in Rome, I met several people, but not really many people I felt on the same wavelength with. You know, the ability to be your complete self around people, no stress and anxiety involved in how you look, what you do, or say? That emotion is rare, especially for the shyer, more introverted kind. My social anxiety used to be so bad that I would rather buy a shirt the wrong size than speak to the salesperson. I know many find this unbelievable, but for some people, it is a struggle to even leave the house without feeling uncomfortable around strangers. This emotion is magnified when you don’t have the comfort of someone close to you to calm it. In Italy, I often felt very singled out, due to pretty frequent racist comments, mainly. I felt exposed and vulnerable as a single young female of color, and there was no one close to me to buffer those feelings and re-instill confidence. No one I could be myself around on a regular basis. And so, I started to doubt myself. I started to lose myself.

During longer stints alone, I would sometimes befriend people I know I would have avoided under more comfortable circumstances. Nobody really bad, by any means, but I definitely let certain people (especially men with less than gracious final intentions) take up too much of my time, just to have some company. Yes, even a coffee chat is “too much” if the person does not have your best interest at heart. Had I been around close friends, or my kill-you-with-one-glance mother, or kill-you-with-my-growing-bicep little brother, I know they would have not hesitated to tell me that certain people were not a good investment, time and energy-wise.

In Korea, it’s a different kind of loneliness. Koreans don’t do anything non-work-related by themselves. I’m not kidding – you will not find a (younger) Korean shopping, working at a café or even eating by themselves, unless they absolutely have to, for a pressed lunch perhaps. Otherwise, everyone is in couples or large groups of friends. Never have I felt like more of an oddity being by myself. So much that, when I have company, I feel my entire body untense.

The funny thing is, up until not too long ago, I brushed off my feelings of loneliness as moments of normal solitude. I almost got used to it, until I realized that this is not really normal – or healthy – in the long run.

My mother came to visit me for just a week, but for an entire week, I started my day by saying good morning to someone in real life. Someone wished me a good day at work. I looked forward to meeting a loved one every day, and sharing my meals with this special person. I could give someone a good night kiss and share laughs and talks about deep and trivial things alike, no matter what.

Once my mother left, it hit me: I don’t have anyone to talk to in real life. I go weeks without giving or receiving a hug, kiss, or deep, in-person talk. When I’m sick, no one can make me soup or tea. I have to drag myself to the pharmacy and gesticulate like an Italian on steroids (limited language problems) to get some medicine I have to trust kind of blindly. Most nights, I buy instant food from the kiosk. I don’t remember what it feels like to travel with someone who can watch my belongings while I go to the bathroom. I cram my bags into tiny stalls and, sweating buckets, attempt to do my business hoping I didn’t leave anything unattended in the taxi/waiting room/train. Most of my conversations happen over text/Whatsapp/Facebook messenger and, when time zones align miraculously, FaceTime or Skype. Ironically, I don’t like being in front of the computer or phone much, but if I’m off it, I would go days without any more human interaction than thanking the cashier for my change. I find myself staring at my own reflection wondering what exactly I’m doing so far away from the people I love for so long, but then I remember that the people I love are not even in the same place, so there is no way I could be near them all at any given point in time.

A few days ago, my family asked me if any of my students or local Korean friends had invited me to dinner at their house. I answered no. My mother (who last lived in Korea in the 1960s before its economic miracle that brought a capitalist culture of much success, progress and high education levels, but also intense competition that manifested in saddening superficiality i.e. excessive plastic surgery) was shocked. “That’s so weird!” she exclaimed. “Don’t they understand how hard it is to live in a room that just holds a bed for months, with no relatives around? We always invite people into our homes.” I answered in their defense, and in defense of everybody everywhere – most of the population – who does not live this ‘lonesome modern day cowboy/girl’ lifestyle. “Mama, they just don’t know what it’s like. It’s not their fault, they just can’t imagine it.” And it’s true – many people go straight from their parents’ home to living with a partner or spouse. The only hiatus in between may be a few years in college or the military, where many live with close friends or extended family, and there is arguably too little privacy to ever feel devoid of human interactions.

So here I am, on the plane from Seoul to Manila, on another trip I worked hard hours and long, lonely days to take myself on. However, I am meeting one of my best friends on the trip, and we are traveling together. The thought of having a close soul with me for ten days lifts me to another level of spiritual happiness. Just the thought of alleviating loneliness puts me in a natural high.

All things said, I love my adventurous lifestyle, and I feel I am learning about the world at lightning speed. At age 22, I have visited almost 40 countries, many of them by myself. But I also realize that I will one day be ready to turn from an ever-migrating bird into a tree with firmer roots. The lonely lifestyle has its exhilarating moments, but it is not healthy in the long run. Loneliness is a powerful inhibitor; it nags at your confidence and overall health. For example, I eat to distract myself from my loneliness, and the unnecessary weight gain resulting only leaves me upset with myself. Humans need human contact, in a close and warm way.

Much is uncertain, and I am a firm believer in not planning life too strictly so that you do not forgo the room for adventure, chance encounters and spontaneity. I feel that those who never truly lived alone may be missing out on much crucial growth and introspection, or at least the appreciation and value of human company. When I see couples in nice restaurants argue over little things for hours, I internally cannot help but feel sad. But then again, it may be that they cannot value the specialness of being close to someone, because they don’t know what it’s like to be totally alone. Often times, we need to experience something to understand it fully.

I know I will someday make my own roots. I will probably have more than one home of choice, for I have already made the world my home. I hope to have a place or two that I can always come back to. I love my friends in Spain, New York, and Tunisia. I love my family in Chile, Israel, and Los Angeles. I have more than one place I call home already. But I now know that one day I want to build a steady rhythm in a place or two, a rhythm that beats to the drum of community, trust, and belonging.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to try to recognize lonesome people, old and young, and reach out a warm welcome into your heart (and maybe home) whenever you can. And to the solitary wanderers amongst us, enjoy the freedom and endless possibilities to your fullest. Leave every place with more joy and beauty than you found at first. Contribute to the communities that touch and welcome you, and spread your wealth of travel and discovery to those who care. It is the greatest wealth we can acquire on our own.

Much love,

Simone