Sunday, March 3, 2013


Drafted last November, but never posted.

So, I come from a bubble. A little ivory tower of privilege in middle class America--a nuclear family of Western European descent with the dog and the cat and the approximately 2.5 kids and the nice backyard with a swimming pool. I have never had to think about survival--for my entire life, I've lived with my subconscious under the illusion that "things all work out in the end". The largest problems I have ever had pertain to philosophy and social acceptance.

Due to some silly circumstances having to do with a bank transfer, for the first time in my life, for about three weeks last semester, I had to get by with nothing. I'm fairly experienced with self-induced fasting, remnants of my spiritual and self-loathing days. However, this was the first time I can remember in which I so desperately wanted food for days, but could not have it. And I'm in no way trying to compare my situation to that of the extremity of the global poverty situation or claim that I'm any expert on deprivation, however, the past few weeks have given me a glimpse outside the bubble that I had not been able to achieve to such an extent by trying to run away. I've learned a couple of things--about myself, and about life. If anything, hunger is enlightening.

I've learned that pessimism benefits you very little, particularly when you're alone. I suppose that if you whine and complain to the right people, you can accomplish something to save your situation. However, when you're alone, it simply does not help you to feel sorry for yourself or dwell on the pain. You can change the future by doing, but as for the immediate moment--that doesn't change. You might as well take a look at the parts of life that are awesome, because honestly, pain is all relative, and circumstances are entirely founded on perspective.

Yet as I previously stated, you can change things. Humans are autonomous enough that there is always an outlet out of your situation. Granted, that outlet may not be to your liking--because of objections, due to morality or general fear, yet there is an outlet. And even with the brief taste I had of desperation, I learned a lot about what exactly I would do for a Klondike bar.

Erroneous Thinking Exposed by a Backpack

After backpacking through Southeast Asia for nearly two months, I've spent a good deal of time alone. And not merely alone in the sense that I often had no other person with whom I could aptly communicate, but also in the sense that because I was without my usual distractions of my studies, romance, and extra-curriculars, I was left with only my own mind to explore. Let me tell you, it's a frightening place.

Perhaps it's just my own personal character flaw and perception of criticism as insinuation of inferiority or failure, but it's funny how many people will tell you something over and over again, but it takes time for it to really click. So is the case with many of the realizations I came to about myself while travelling. Ever since my freshman year of high school, I've had this desperate love for the world and just how transient it is. I accumulated mementos and trinkets to commemorate those portions of life that were especially precious, thinking I would see those items and never fail to appreciate the impact certain events and people had on my life. This thought process is flawed for a number of reasons. First, because just like every past event, my souvenirs from my past just accumulated, forming indistinguishable piles of junk. Instead of being a tool for memory, it dissolved into the dark abyss of the landfill that was my room. (One could liken this to the part of Watchmen when Dr. Manhattan tells Laurie Jupiter that he realizes that although each human is novel and special, there are so many that the novelty of each being is lost.) Don't get me wrong, that doesn't make the past events any less special--it's just there's an awful lot of wonderful things in life, and regardless of what I do, a lot of it is going to die a forgotten death. 

But you know what doesn't fade away? The present. As long as we are sentient, we always perceive the present. The present is never blurred by time or fuzzed by emotion. And in my quest to hold on to the past, I've often neglected the present. The things I accumulated--piles of books, papers, reminders of home--had gotten in the way of my life in the current moment. When I traveled, and was more free of the burden of my precious past, I realized just how liberating living life can actually be. 

Yet another realization: I am so afraid of failure. I have such this huge apprehension that because I didn't do everything I could, I will not succeed. And if I can honestly say that "I tried my hardest", no one can criticize me. It's not actually failure if it was destined to happen. After a while "trying my hardest" turned into "being in as much pain as possible". I wasn't seeking productivity or success--I was seeking avoidance of blame and punishment for when I did fail. and so, I sought out pain. I morphed myself into this zombie-like robotic being that slept less than anyone I knew, never complained or sought assistance, even in the face of starvation, and devolved into a state of masochistic pseudo-martyrdom, punctured by periods of absolute numbness and no volition to do anything. My consequent desire to feel anything led me to pour toxins into my body because I wanted so badly to be allowed to have emotion, and because the slight burning pain of alcohol made me feel like I was doing something right--in my mind, everything right came with pain, and every pain led to something right. 

And then, I realized I was wrong. Productivity is about doing as much as possible of the things you love (or convincing yourself that you love them).It is not correlated to the amount of pain I am in. From this realization, I've decided to make some changes in the way I work. To eliminate the excess and the distractions. To try to stop doing things that hurt me or that I don't want to do. To actually do things I enjoy and that make me happy, and not feel so bad when I do them. There are changes in my life that need to be made, and this semester, I'd like to start making them.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

gagweonsa conclusions

The past couple weeks have been weird for me. I mentioned awhile ago in a blog post that certain aspects of living an ungrounded, relatively migratory lifestyle can be emotionally taxing. I'm sure that eventually, I'll adapt to this whole thing where people have a limited, brief impact on each other's lives, but I'm not there yet. I get so invested in anyone who will let me, and then, when they're gone, I revert to this hermit-like, detached state (people are starting to become annoyed by my refusal to pick up the phone, answer text messages, or charge the darn thing). It's not pretty.

So that's how I've been for a few days. I took a trip this past weekend, on a whim. Just me. I really just wanted to get away, you know? I'm not sure what it is I want to escape... I just want to. It's kind of relaxing to separate yourself from your life for a bit, lose your identity, and run. So, I went to the train station, covered my eyes, and picked a random city, ending up in Cheonan, which is a city about halfway between Seoul and Daejeon. I thought up an alter ego, in case anyone asked my name. No one asked. I'm not sure if I'd prefer anonymity or a new identity altogether.

I did a bit of people watching, tried some street food I couldn't identify, and did that thing in which I sleep in a sauna with a bunch of random strangers, just because it's so cheap. I read a little bit of Anne of Green Gables (my ultimate escape-from-reality book), tried the most ridiculous face mask I could find, and in the morning, saw one of the most beautiful things I've seen yet in Korea (second only to the sunset on Docho Island).

각원사 (Gagweonsa) is supposedly one of the largest sitting Buddhas in Asia, constructed over a period of three years in attempt to reunify Korea. At 15 meters (about 50 feet), it is a massive human construct, though oddly in perfect harmony with the changing leaves of 태조산 (Taejo Mountain). I've read a bit about Buddhist philosophy, but I don't pretend to be a practicer or understand its implementation and the little idiosyncracies between the little sects. I honestly don't know if the observers of Buddhism that paid tribute to Gagweonsa believe the statue to be imbdued with holiness, or if they view it on a more symbolic level. For a couple of hours, I sat a fair distance away from the statue, and watched people bow to the statue, roll beads in their hand, light incense, and make laps around the feet of the statue. For some, it seemed like a ritual. For others, it was different.

Sitting in silence with only the natural beauty of the surroundings, my thoughts, and numerous cultural barriers, I came to a few conclusions. First, I came to a realization regarding people, and it's a bit harsh: from the moment we break free from the womb, every person in our lives is expendable. Not the roles that they fill, but the people who fill them. I mean, don't get me wrong, people are still precious little snowflakes, it's just that there are an awful lot of snowflakes in the blizzard that is humanity. Yes, people need various forms of attention, affection, and love, but it's purely luck that the people who are involved in our lives are the ones to fill those roles. Any attachment that we have to those people is not an attachment to the actual identity of that person, but to their contribution to our lives. And they are not the only people capable of making that contribution. Sure, it's convenient to keep them around--trust me, it's frustrating to constantly replace the cast of your life's theater. But honestly, we are not in love with people, we are in love with the roles they play and ideas of people that our perception has pieced together. I found this thought to be oddly comforting, and simultaneously painful--it made me feel a bit more strong, but for some reason, also more guilty.

My other conclusion: I am so petty. So, so ridiculously petty. The world is this huge weight, this incomprehensibly complex system containing so many overlooked majesties and so many ignored problems, and the discretion I use to choose what to appreciate or what to lament is purely based on proximity to my own affairs. The most relevant example: when a person's timeline progress diverges my own, I care only about how it affects me--how my life is changed by time and the world. A self-involved being, it's very difficult for me to put the emotions of others in front of my own.

The only explanation manifesting itself in my mind at the moment is my constant struggle with the idea of reality. I have no way of knowing that the world around me is an accurate representation of reality--that everything I know isn't just my own mind or a massive hallucination, or that I'm not actually a psychological patient in an asylum who fabricated people and events or a character in an RPG that my larger, more complex existance may be playing. There is absolutely know way of knowing what in this world is real, and ultimately, all I have is myself. Only recently did I come to terms with the fact that, while an interesting topic of speculation, dwelling on the real-ness of "reality" does not benefit me one bit, as I cannot change the way I perceive reality on the grand scale. I'm still accepting that it doesn't matter whether or not people are "real", because this "reality" is the only "reality" I will ever know under my current capacity of knowledge.

Which brings me to the corollary of my conclusion regarding the pettiness of my concerns: I need to be more concerned with the way every entity interacts, observe the amazing structure of the microcosmic world, and find ways to benefit the grand scheme. Although I am but one actor in this massive system, infinitely large and infinitely small, I cannot be so naive that the best way I can benefit myself or the world is to be concerned only with things that are obviously relevant to me and my interests. There is so much need in this world, and it's so easy to ignore it unless it clearly applies to me. And yet, while there is so much to worry over, there's also so much to admire. Too often am I overwhelmed by worry, that I miss exactly how extraordinary my life is. How extraordinary everything is. Every. Little. Thing.

When I stopped, in front of Gagweonsa, underneath colorful lanterns dangling with prayers, sounds of chanting and distant gongs enveloping me, I was confounded. And when I stop now, typing on an artifact of human ingenuity in a mechanical engineering building representing the progress of an old culture into the advancement and formation of an entirely new cultural identity, I am also blown away.

That's the thing--people need to just stop more. The world needs to stop more. But it doesn't. The world moves so fast, and it's remarkably hard to cope with the rate things flash by. There is so much to take in, so many missed opportunities, so many problems and there just isn't enough time.

The world is just too much.

Monday, October 29, 2012

kaeri field trip

As a field trip for Introduction to Thermal Nuclear Hydraulics, I recently visited the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI). Over the course of the visit, I was able to see some really awesome test reactors and research labs, primarily relevant to thermal hydraulics applications in reactor safety--an excellent aspect of nuclear technology to familiarize myself with, as this is the primary focus of my research lab at KAIST.

As the tour was given in Korean, one of my fellow peers translated for me. Consequently, there may be gaps, inaccuracies, or misconceptions in some of the information I am able to provide. Nonetheless, it was nice to see the implementation of the diagrams and equations we've been covering in the thermal hydraulics course, as well as in the literature I've recently read on critical heat flux and boiling processes.

ATLAS (Advanced Thermal-Hydraulic Test Loop for Accident Simulation)
image taken from KAERI website

One of the major highlights was the ATLAS (Advanced Thermal-Hydraulic Test Loop for Accident Simulation), which is essentially a scaled-down version of the APR1400 (an Advanced Pressurized Water Reactor developed in Korea), except without the fission process. The primary application of ATLAS is to evaluate the consequences of LBLOCA (large break loss of coolant accidents) and SBLOCA (small break loss of coolant accidents) through breaks and ruptures at various points in the system. In other words, ATLAS is used to find out what exactly would go wrong if the hydraulic system has a break or rupture. It was a really awesome experience to crawl around in the various lime green levels of ATLAS and see the various coolant loops, as well as gain perspective as to the actual size of an APWR.

FTHEL Facility
photo taken from KAERI Thermal Hydraulics Safety Division website

Another aspect of the tour that was particularly interesting to me was the Freon Thermal Hydraulic Experimental Loop (FTHEL), which is used to evaluate critical heat flux. This facility uses Freon (chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC) as opposed to light water. Because Freon is a nontoxic, noncorrosive, nonflammable refrigerant, CHF conditions can be obtained at lower temperatures than with water.

In addition to the above facilities, I was also able to observe the operation in KAERI's equivalent to NASA's mission control. The tour also covered numerous other exhibits which my memory is having difficulty fully recounting, ranging from laser applications in CHF to research facilities I can't begin to describe.

Overall, it was an amazing visit, and I'm very fortunate as an American engineering student to be able to witness the developement of nuclear technologies in Korea firsthand. Korea is definitely gaining traction with its role in the field of nuclear technology, and it will be interesting to read the researched produced by KAERI and its real-world implementation over the coming years.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


the gang

It began with the seven of us, huddled in the rain at the campus taxi hub. The only other girl to RSVP had dropped at the last minute, on account of coursework, and so it was myself and six guys, representing Germany, Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and good ole ‘Murica. And so, we got into the taxi, initiating the routine of myself telling the first taxi where to go, then getting into the second taxi with the remainder of the bunch, and having the exact same conversation in Korean as I have with every other taxi driver. It usually goes something like this:
Katherine: Take us to ------, please.
Taxi Driver: -------?
Katherine: Yes, ---------.
Taxi Driver: Ah, yes, ---------.
[30 seconds to a minute elapses]
Taxi Driver: You speak Korean well.
Katherine: Oh, thank you, I studied it for a year in the United States.
Taxi Driver: Oh, you're an American? Are they American as well? (pointing to back seat)
Katherine: No, they're from Norway/Germany/etc. We're exchange students at KAIST.
Taxi Driver: Ahhhh, exchange students.
Katherine: Yes, and we're going to ----------.
Taxi Driver: Yes, ----------. It's very pretty.
Katherine: Oh, really? That's good.
[conversation proceeds with discussion of the weather and surroundings, or silence]
 However, this taxi ride to Seodaejeon Train Station occurred during rainy rush hour trafic on a Friday evening, and consequently took about four times as much time than it would take normally. Needless to say, it resulted in the taxi driver cussing at traffic, swatting things with a newspaper, and taking really sketchy and poorly paved side roads in order to get to our destination.

When we finally reached the station, we purchased our tickets for the cheapest train to Mokpo, and the guys ordered the most revolting burgers I have ever seen, as I watched in disgust and sipped my lemonade, passing time until we had to board our train.

waiting at the platform. my posture is sucky.

If you weren't aware, Korea has an excellent public transportation system. Trains and buses enable the populus to travel in style to anywhere they desire. Our train to Mokpo, a southwestern port town, was equipped with noraebang (karaoke), video game systems, a fully-stocked concession cart, and likely other things I neglected to investigate.

Prior to leaving for the trip, I had heard of brilliant lit archways that decorated Mokpo. Upon arrival, I was rather disappointed--as it was fairly late in the evening, the Mokpo that greeted us as we exited the train station was a desolate ghost town, void of any traces of life, stores closed, and brilliant lights of legend shut off. In fact, the only activity we found in the city was two blocks of night life, somewhat near the jjimjilbang (Korean spa) where we slept for the night, also in proximity of the location at which I left my camera in a taxi cab, lost forever to the clutches of South Korea.

I'll cover the jjimjilbang and its glory later this week, but I should note that the guys were not fully aware of what exactly a jjimjilbang is when I said that we were going to stay there overnight. For 8,000 won (<$7.50 USD), we were given a set of uniform clothing (to be used only in co-ed areas), and allowed overnight access to saunas, hot springs, showers, and a hard wood floor on which to sleep. I'm a big fan of being naked, and am not opposed to sleeping on the floor, but I can't say that the guys were as excited about the prospects as I was. My only lament: that I didn't have an alarm clock, and was forced to constantly check the clock throughout the night in paranoia, so as not to wake up later than 6:30am for the next day's activities.

The following morning, our first task was to acquire ferry tickets to an unchosen island. Initially, we had intended to go to Jindo, an island with a reputation for its breed of dogs. However, the internet lied to me, and I was deceived into thinking it was accessible by fairy ferry, when in fact it is only accessible via a man-made bridge (or by the "Moses Miracle", at which the tide recedes and creates a land bridge during late spring). But, the spontaneous youths that we are, we decided to board the first ferry off the mainland and found ourselves taking a high-speed boat with a cabin resembling that of an airplane to Docho island.

couldn't resist including this--such a wonderful picture. little girl looking out the window at the ferry terminal.

really super fancy ferry

Docho Island (도초도) is connected by a man-made bridge to the larger Bigeum Island (비금도), comprising two of the one-thousand-and-four known islands in the Shinan (시난) island group, also referred to as the Angel Islands, as the word for "one-thousand-and-four" and "angel" (천사) are the same. Together, the two islands have three recreational beaches, a national park, numerous mountains, a good number of jangseung (장승) and a thriving salt industry.

We were very fortunate in that the first person we encountered on the islands was an English-speaker and curator of island history and folk art at the Shinan Cultural Center, Secretary General Kim Gyung Wan. He flagged down a mini-van taxi, and gave the taxi driver an itinerary of a tour of the two islands. And so, the seven of us crammed into the van for the strangest, most wonderful taxi ride of my life.

just using my communication skills. saw a noticeable improvement in my language skills after this trip.

The taxi driver first wrote down a paragraph of text that I presumed to be the itinerary in poor handwriting (which I spent the day unsuccessfully attempting to translate) on an oxford notebook I thought to bring, and then took us on a tour of Bigeum island. Bigeum has two beaches, the first of which is referred to as "Heart Beach", because of it's shape. The entire time we were in its proximity, the taxi driver kept raising his eyebrows and motioning for me to kiss any of the six guys sitting in the middle and back seats, a proposition I politely declined (this wasn't the first, nor was it the last time a taxi driver attempted to matchmake me).

heart beach, picture taken by the taxi driver

On the second beach of Bigeum island, the driver fearlessy floored the pedal down the length of the beach, less than eight feet from the water. The feeling was surreal. We were a little confused, as he started to do donuts in the sand, only to stop the van, and get out. Pressing our faces to the window, we watched as the taxi driver bent over, and picked up a two-foot-long dead fish that had been washed ashore, and attempted to shove it into a closed umbrella. One of the guys in our group caught on to what the taxi driver was trying to achieve, and handed him the plastic bag he was using to protect his camera bag from the weather, and the taxi driver dropped the fish into it, the tail still exposed. And then, he put the fish next to me. The taxi driver picked up a dead fish off the beach, and sat it next to me. In the taxi. That, itself, is extremely strange, however, the feeling of "what the **** is going on?" (I get that feeling a lot here) was heightened by the fact that I have an irrational fear of fish. And a fish rode in the taxi next to me, all the way back to Docho, where we were dropped off for lunch, as the taxi driver left us to presumably sell or prepare the fish.

couldn't make this up if I tried

We ate a very traditional family-style Korean lunch at a small in-home restaurant on Docho, called Jinmi Shikdang (진미식당). It was the best meal I had in Korea up until that point--the rice had a slight lavender tint, the kimchi absolutely blew the kimchi of the cafeteria away, and the various side dishes were amazingly delicious.

all sorts of delicious

After leaving us to our lunch, and taking care of the fish, our faithful taxi driver returned to us for a tour of Docho island, whose attractions primarily consist of jangseung. Jangseung are shamanistic statues, usually made of either wood or stone, intended to protect a village from spiritual intruders. Think: the Korean equivalent to gargoyles. Or spiritual scarecrows. They typically have humorously "frightening" expressions, and protuding teeth. Very fun to imitate.

At the second jangseung on the island, the taxi driver had us get out to take pictures, and then he left us. The jangseung was in the middle of the field, which was next to a rural road, with little actual civilization in visible sight. And so, we occupied our time by taking pictures, infringing on the jangseung's personal space, and wondering if the taxi driver was actually going to come back (spoiler: he did).

wooden jangseung and alternative energy

stone jangseung

Another Jangseung later, our driver took us to the national park on the southern coast of Docho, where he directed us to a beachside pension, at which the seven of us stayed the night for about $91 USD. Pensions are a little hard to describe--they're sort of like time shares. Ours had two rooms, a kitchen, a television, adequate bedding, porno lighting, and no furniture whatsoever. Once again, I have no opposition to crashing on wooden floors.

Once we dropped off our things and freshened up a bit, we immediately made for the beach. The water was a bit on the colder side, but it wasn't too bad--we didn't stay in for very long. The sand was much more interesting--it was so fine and densely-packed that if you lay on the ground with your ear on the sand, you could hear the footsteps of someone twenty feet away, or the finger taps of someone ten feet away--we had a bit of fun with that one. After a short time of being on the beach, the seven of us found ourselves passed out on the sand, asleep for hours. This was an excellent idea at the time, however, as pale as I am, several weeks later, I'm still marked with the repercussions of my poor decision-making.

a beautiful place to crash

After we had finally regained consciousness, we individually attempted to wash off the sand in the sad excuse for a shower in the pension, and then headed down the road to a small outdoor seafood restaurant. As we walked toward our dinner, we looked out to the sea, and noticed the tide had drastically receded--so much that boats which were previously anchored in water were now completely dry. We had an excellent dinner, during which I forced myself to swallow fish, and was immensely thankful for an ample amount of non-seafood kimchi. Over the course of the dinner, a drunk old man I presume to be the owner continuously sexually harassed me and made suggestive remarks toward me, marking the first time I was not thankful in this country that I have a moderate knowledge of the Korean language. But, this is what happens when you're the only girl travelling with a group of guys--you get singled out a bit.

Frustrated that he couldn't completely convey his drunken remarks to us, as a result of the language barrier, the old man went next door to fetch an elderly innkeeper who had taught English in Egypt and Argentina, and now occupied his time as a farmer and an active biker. We scheduled an appointment to hike the surrounding mountains with our new English-speaking friend, and then watched the sun set on the beach, lighting the coast with a neon glow. I have seen very few things in my life more beautiful than that sunset--no picture does it justice. It was the kind of beauty where everything just stops, and nothing else matters. A good way to end the night.

my torment

stunning picture, but nowhere near the majesty of seing it live

And end the night, it did. By 8:30pm, five of the guys were asleep (even sleeping through my mocking their old lady sleeping habits), and the other pair of us ended up crashing a little after 11:00pm, after an hour or two of introspective chatting.

The next morning, we took a hike up the mountains that surrounded the beach, with the former English teacher. I should note that while it was very beautiful, we don't really have mountains in Houston, so I was slightly wiped out by the end of it. I'm a little bit of a wimp when it comes to the outdoors. I'm getting better, though.

we don't have this in houston

me after the hike--not staged at all

The taxi driver greeted us slightly after 7:30am, and took us to the island port, where we bought a conveniences store breakfast and our tickets, and boarded a slightly more sketchy ferry than the one we took to the island. Instead of chairs or benches, the ferry had two empty rooms, resembling a yoga studio, where in normal Korean style, we were obligated to remove our shoes. I have no complaints as to the seating situation of the ferry, as (once again), I do not mind sleeping on the floor. Actually, I don't remember too much about that ferry ride, as I spent most of it unconscious from the excitement of the weekend.

that's me, curled up near the upper right corner

And so, after we arrived back in Mokpo, we boarded the KTX train to Daejeon, equipped with stories, sunburns, and stronger friendships.

(Yes, I know that was a super cheesy conclusion... I couldn't come up with anything better.)

***Major photocreds to Tormod Haugene and David Kalwar***

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

To my fifteen-year-old self.

Hey, Katie.

It's so strange that people call you that, you fifteen-year-old, you. Most people don't any more. Prior to graduating from high school, you are going to decide that it would be symbolic and stuff to transition to a more mature name, recognizing your more mature identity. Maturity takes awhile. And over the next couple of years, it's going to be thrust upon you so hard, sometimes you won't know how to cope.

These last two years of high school won't be easy, but you've gotten this far. You are going to hate yourself for being incapable of believing what the people around you believe. You are going to feel so much shame for your identity, and the people that are supposed to support you won't always be there. In fact, most of the time, those people are going to be the catalyst for your internal hatred and shame. But it's important not to blame them. You and I both know they're just looking out for you, in a weird, twisted way.

Over the next three years, you are going to make incredibly close friends. These people are going to carry you through the hardest times of your life. And then, you're going to lose them. And that loss will be partially your fault. Those people will be invaluable resources to you, and you will love them so incredibly much, but you can move past them. You're stronger than you think you are right now.

Your capacity to make rational decisions is incredible--sometimes, the choices you will make astound even me. But making the most rational decision isn't always easy. You will alienate people. You won't have of the chaos and emotion and horrible mistakes that make life so beautiful. But ultimately, it's up to you to decide if that decision is worth it.

And I'm not saying you won't make mistakes. Because you totally will. You are going to hurt people--people you vowed to yourself that you would never hurt. And you are going to do things that you won't be able to take back, as much as you want to. And these are just some things that you're going to have to deal with, but once again, you're pretty damn strong.

It's pretty incredible, actually. How strong, and independent, and hard-working you're going to be. After you deal with all the crap that surrounds being an agnostic in a small town, you'll go to college. And the first semester is going to be awesome. But then, what will seem like the weight of the world is going to be thrust upon you. Don't worry, though. You can carry it. I mean, don't get me wrong, there will be people along the way to spot you, but you end up pulling through.

You cannot even fathom how awesome the person you will become in three years time is. Frequently, I think about you, my former self, and I wish that I could go back, and give you a good look at the person you will grow to become. It would blow you away. And I know you're pretty adorable now, but if I do say so myself, you are going to be so stunning. You're going to realize that there is nothing wrong with who you are, and that there's no point in hiding yourself.

I know you realize you live in an incredibly sheltered bubble, but your impression is nowhere near the magnitude of reality. You have not been told many things, and it's up to you to discover them yourself. Staying ignorant to the world is definitely easier, but you should never try to deprive yourself knowledge. Try to educate yourself as much as possible in every aspect of the world. Keep an open mind to new ideas. Be as loving and accepting as possible to anyone who needs your love and acceptance--there are more people out there than you'd think.

Hang in there, champ.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

the south korea diet

The difference between day #3 and day #10 of living in Korea--the top row would be from a week ago, and the bottom row, from today. Click to enlarge, if you simply must have a closer look.
Koreans are notorious for their concern for aesthetics and beauty. And in many respects, the stereotype holds true. Department stores allocate what seems to me, a girl who can't live with out her artificial face, too much area toward the cosmetic industry. Clothing stores sell only one size, not because the clothing is versatile, but they expect everyone to conform to the same body shape and ideals of what "beautiful" means. Always yearning to stay busy, fitness is glamourized, as far fewer Koreans lead sedentary lifestyles than their American counterparts. Out of fear of becoming "Korean black", countless people walk around with umbrellas in broad daylight so as to avoid getting a tan (ironically, I have yet to acquire sunblock here). Korea sets a high standard for their people, and many are able to meet that standard.

Stair-climbing machines in a park on campus
Although Korean society does at times ostracize those who don't conform to the template, fitness and health is a much more accessible concept here than anywhere else I've been. Although there are "junk food" options in convenience stores, the average cafeteria meal, always consisting of rice, kimchi, and some form of protein, is much more healthy than the pizza at North Avenue Dining Hall at Georgia Tech. And while the primary gym is expensive and has a lottery to determine eligibility of membership, nearly every park is adorned with fitness equipment, and nearly every residence hall has a gym with all of the machines you need to fine tune every aspect about you.

Some equipment in the main gym, which permits
 entrance based on a lottery system
As someone who wanted to form healthier habits, and become a better form of the person I am (or am leaving behind), Korea is an excellent place to establish a new lifestyle. I'm on track to get back into running 5Ks by the end of October, and hopefully from there, 10Ks by the end of the semester. Side note: people from outside of America get really confused when I refer to a five kilometer race as a "5K". This week, I'm cranking up the bodyweight fitness and ab work, hopefully undoing any damage freshman year at Georgia Tech may have done to my body. And even though I didn't expect to see visible progress after only a week of being here, I definitely have. But I guess that's what happens when you walk everywhere, eat only Korean food, dance like a maniac, and actually start putting conscious effort into your fitness.