Two weeks in Taipei, one in Seoul, and one in Budapest, never have I felt so displaced in one month’s time. Whereas December and January felt like they flew by, February felt sluggish—isn’t it the shortest month even during leap year? Maybe because it was a rich month with new experiences and reflections. One particular new experience is surviving the growing epidemic of Covid-19:
There’s so much I loved and enjoyed about Taipei: the people are lovely; the food is tasty (and super affordable); the coffee and tea scene is on-point; and boba. Special thanks to Jennifer Fu and Andrew Wang for showing me around. Spending time with them was definitely the highlight. We’ve all changed since college: grown a bit hardened, softened on some things, and accepted parts of us—in short, we’ve matured. Are we at the place we hoped back in college? Not really. But we’re living on, and we’ll continue to do so.
Most of the time I explored on my own. I’ve grown more bold (or self-absorbed) to take photos of myself in cafes or when I find some cool background. It’s still more comfortable than asking some stranger. I’m actually super awkward when a stranger takes a photo—you’ll see an example below from Budapest.
I’ve grown to enjoy tours. I guess I’m already a 60-year-old: I chuckle at the tour guide’s awkward jokes; I take so many photos; I enjoy learning about the sites; I walk with my hands behind my back; and I’m exhausted at the end and just want to nap. (See more photos from the tour here)
The tour ended with lighting sky lanterns in Shifen, Taiwan, where they apparently originated. Different colors represent different wishes. Popular colors are red, yellow, and orange representing health, wealth, and love, respectively. Though you can mix and match, I opted for all white, which represents future and brightness. I really chose it because I thought it most aesthetic.
Some victories come in small packages. This one might seem particularly small or silly, but I’m quite proud. This month, I saw, tracked with, and laughed at 이상준X이국주의 ‘오지라퍼’ 코미디빅리그 (Lee Sang Joon and Lee Gook Joo’s ‘Nosy People’ sketch in Comedy Big League, see playlist on YouTube). I understood, say, 70-80%, at least enough to burst out laughing late at night or at restaurants. After being inundated with Korean in Seoul, I felt a dearth in Taiwan. I missed hearing Korean, though I don’t fully understand.
Taipei is a gem of a city, and I would be happy, nay, thrilled to visit again. (See more photos from Taipei here)
Seoul, South Korea
My short week in Seoul between Taiwan and Hungary was more hectic than I had hoped. I repacked my suitcases at least five different times, unsure how to survive six months over two and a half seasons and six different countries. I’m afraid I’ll constantly feel betwixt and between too cold and too hot.
In the frenzy of packing, I managed to squeeze in time to see treasured people—people who made Seoul feel like home. Some are old roommates from college, so we share formative memories—more formative than with my extended relatives, with whom I only have faint memories from the distant past (15+ years) or new ones from these past months. This is not to say I don’t cherish my relatives, nor they me. I’m extremely happy—blessed even—to reconnect with them.
Saying goodbye this time felt uneasy, not sure how to describe it except by a silent, slight frown. I’m hoping to return to Seoul once more before heading back to the States (if Covid-19 lets up), so any goodbyes now are very temporary—less than a year’s time. But, I guess, growing older and having said enough “see you later” that turned into “I don’t remember the last time we’ve met” have made me a bit less optimistic. Or is it more realistic? Relationships change: some die out and others adapt to be much less frequent and intimate. Though these changes feel odious, not all are caused by ill-feelings. Rather, being physically distant shifts the relational ground underneath us more often than ill-feeling and ill-will; sharing common space affects more than we give credit. This is because I think physical distance balloons another kind of distance: indifference. Much like undetectable dark energy that pushes the universe apart, indifference balloons and pushes apart once-intimate relationships. Sometimes indifference arises intentionally but more often, I think, unintentionally—hence indifference.
Am I scared I’ll be indifferent to these treasured people in Seoul? Do I need to be scared if it’s so common and quite inevitable in some form? No, I’m not scared: I have a mental “I don’t care” box that’s ever-growing. I just think this is part of life and of having a finite mind and heart. I’m more afraid of what too much indifference will make of me instead of the other way around. Too much indifference for too long makes the whole person indifferent—shrinking the person’s capacity and availability to care. But being indifferent shouldn’t initially shrink space; in fact, it should free up more space. Space for what? Perhaps narcissism or nihilism but hopefully more compassion. What tips the scale towards compassion is gratitude drawn from the past. Gratitude can make lasting impressions that don’t count on the details being retained. I’m grateful for relationships I don’t even remember, and such gratitude moves me towards compassion. I can’t name all the people that have made positive and lasting impact—unintended indifference had taken its toll—but I’m grateful for them nonetheless.
I’ve left Seoul, and it sucks. But I’m grateful for my time in the motherland.
More parting thoughts are in my farewell.
Budapest, no Europe, is starkly different than East Asia. Old buildings have sagacious charm; there are no skyscrapers, barely any pollution; even the smells are different (more concrete). This is my first time in Budapest, Hungary. How would I describe it? Think of Paris, but cheaper. Cheaper to get around and cheaper to eat and drink but not cheaper in taste and delight.
Budapest is actually two cities in one (Buda and Pest) split by the Danube River. Buda (west) is more hilly; Pest (east) is mostly flat and has the eateries and cafes and tourist sights.
In northern Budapest there’s Margaret Island in between Buda and Pest. It’s a great walking around part of town. Plus, there are these old ruins to take photos with:
Like I said, Europe rarely boasts skyscrapers. Instead, they have beautiful cathedrals. Apparently, St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest is “one of the most Instagrammable Cathedrals”—didn’t know that was a thing. Also, this is the photo where a stranger took a photo of me. As I said above, I look so awkward.
I don’t know what to say about the public transit in Budapest. There are only five subway lines but makes up the gap with buses and trams. They’re mostly clean and on-time (no where Seoul-level, but then again few cities are). What’s most odd is how often they don’t check for tickets. Still, best to get the monthly pass (the equivalent of 20 single-use tickets). Or just walk around and find pretty doors like I did.
I think March will just as chaotic and enriching as February. Indeed, as I finish this post (early March) I’m feeling the weight of newness. Next: Vienna and Prague.