Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Vacating thoughts

Well, I'm off! It felt as though this day would never arrive, but it's here now, and I don't think it could have come at a better time.

I'm leaving for Thailand this Saturday with S and J. We'll be gone for just over two weeks, with plans to visit Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Krabi (touching on some of the other islands down south as well).

I can't tell you how much my mind, body and spirit needs this vacation. I never imagined wanting to so desperately get away like this... and for the first time, I'm truly understanding the meaning of the term "vacation".

It's this idea of vacating all that's troubling, exhausting and draining. A two-week reprieve from what's expected and what you don't have control over.

I realize that I've visited a different country every year since 2007: Cuba, India, Korea, and now, Thailand. But out of all those trips, only Cuba's been an actual vacation... of the all-inclusive kind. Definitely not my cuppa tea. All-inclusives are easy, no doubt, but there's something about the homogeneity of it that's not settling.

This trip to Thailand is a new experience; one that I'm sure to grow and learn from, for better or worse. Unlike an all-inclusive vacation, I've had to do all the planning with S and J, deciding on everything from where we're staying to what we'll do. It's a great feeling.

But, here's what I'm looking forward to:
  • Hammocks
  • Sweating... (I might regret saying this, but I miss the sun!)
  • Sunsets
  • Warm breezes
  • A possible sunrise or two...
  • Warm ocean water
  • Waking up and not shivering
  • Writing while sinking my toes in the sand and smelling the salty ocean air
  • Having newer and fresher thoughts than I've had in a very long time
  • Inspiration through photography, words, ideas, sights and sounds
  • Leaving the past behind, embracing the present and NOT anticipating the future
I think that's about it for now. Don't worry, I'll update you all on what happens, once I get back. But... I am sad to leave you all for a couple of weeks. It will be hard seeing or experiencing something and not being able to share it with you all right away. But perhaps it's for the best. I'll keep notes of what I want to tell you, and share once I'm back. Promise.

Until then, take care of yourselves! I hope the days ahead will be filled with excitement, joy and abundant inspiration for all of you, in all that you do!

Kho Phi Phi island - Thailand


Images courtesy of Google Images

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A getaway to get back

I willingly left Seoul this weekend. This has never happened before, in the five months that I've been here. Sure, I've ventured outside the city for workshops and orientations, but those things were scheduled for me, and I couldn't opt out.

The Taebaek train station.

I'm not certain why it took me this long to board the KTX and head to Taebaek to visit T and her friends. But, in any case, I finally made it through the mountains this weekend. There were a few reasons I chose this time in particular. First of all, it's because T will be leaving the ROK and headed back to Toronto in a month, and this might've been the last chance I had to see her before I took off on my vacation (more on that soon).

Secondly, I was getting restless in Seoul. Can you believe that? It might have been a blend of cabin-fever and the fact that I had way too many thoughts floating through my mind, on way too many topics. Writers always do better with a change of scenery, don't they?

And finally, I wanted to go somewhere on my own. Mind you, I had friends waiting for me at the destination, but the idea of journeying by myself was exciting.

It was pretty cheap, so I went ahead and purchased a seat in the first-class compartment on the KTX. On my way out of Seoul, I was accompanied by numerous ajoshis (backpacks and hiking gear in tow), who were absolutely sober when we pulled out of the station. I guess their plans for the weekend included hiking up Taebaeksan... but if the soju coma they fell into held any indication of their state, I'm not certain they even made it out of the train. For three out of the four-hour journey I was lulled into a trance by the symphony of snores coming from men passed out around me. A definite first, I'll admit.

Generally, it was refreshing to be away from Seoul. Literally, I didn't realize I hadn't inhaled fresh air in such a long time. I didn't even know it, because I have become so used to the thick and smoggy Seoul air. I lucked out with sunshine over the weekend as well, and it wasn't as cold out in Taebaek as I feared it would be. Walking around the streets was comfortable... and I didn't have angry drivers trying to run me down. Then again, they didn't have stoplights either, so crossing the street at random was not only OK, it was encouraged.

It was nice to see the place that T has been talking about for almost two years now. Everything from her apartment to her favourite haunts was finally all in front of me.

Hwangji pond in a little park in Taebaek.

And yes, Seoul does have mole hills compared to Taebaek's mountains. While I was out there, I actually felt a little sad that I wasn't placed in a smaller town for work, rather than in Seoul. I always say that Seoul is exactly like Toronto... except with a massive language barrier and triple the amount of flashing neon lights.

I imagined myself there for a long time, getting used to the little quirks that make up the beauty of small towns. Little moments over the weekend made me long to get away from the big city and simply take in the entire experience from this perspective. I was even thoughtful when I woke up this morning and prepared to take the train back to Seoul.

As I headed back to familiar territory, still feeling pensive about what I'd just experienced, I found myself getting anxious (a not-so-fun feeling). But then something happened. As the train turned the final bend in its journey to the city, my face brightened, sending an instant smile to my lips for the first time in hours.

I watched the mountains disappear, being replaced with tall high-rises and the majestic Hangang river. I saw cars and trucks race each other on the freeway, in an urgency I'd put on pause during the weekend. There were cosmopolitan crowds of people hovering over booths in makeshift marketplaces that lined the train-tracks in various pockets throughout the city.

Seoul - calm chaos, February 2010

And I realized how much this all made sense to me. Seoul, in all its calm, chaotic confusion, is currently my home. And although I didn't ask to be here, I am here. I've lived in cities my entire life and it's where I feel most like myself. I treasure trips, vacations and getaways every now and then to help refresh, but at the end of the day, I'm part of the chaos and the chaos is part of me. We work well together. And that's what keeps me smiling today.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Therapy with Doctor Fish

I went to therapy this past weekend. Come on, you knew it was only a matter of time, right?

But before you go jumping for joy, it wasn't the kind you're probably thinking of. This therapy involved treatment for my feet. More specifically, for the dead skin that's built up on my digits and heels over the past few months. This is in part due to all the walking, and largely because of the dry winter in Seoul.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

I'd heard of the Doctor Fish treatment while still in Toronto. I'd read an article in a magazine about it, and then seen a segment on TV. I remember being freaked out at the thought of tiny fishes nibbling at my feet, in an effort to promote exfoliation and beautiful skin.

"When did fish start eating away at us?" I'd thought. Wasn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Since moving to Seoul, I've had numerous friends visit the Doctor Fish cafe in Gangnam (a posh area, south of the Han river). And their experiences have varied from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some complained that it was too ticklish and that the thought of having these fish - who'd eaten away at strangers' feet - get to work on theirs, grossed them out to no extent. While others said they loved the idea of it and reveled in this bizarre but pretty positive experience.

So last Sunday, with the sun peeking out for the first time in months, a bunch of the ladies and I decided to bite the bullet and head down to the cafe for a taste... or in the case of the fish, a taste of us.

We walked in, not quite sure what we were getting ourselves into. I was rather surprised when we got there because, truth be told, I imagined walking into an aquarium. It seemed right: fish = aquarium. Not quite. The elevator doors to the cafe opened to reveal a basic book cafe, complete with the cutsie decor that's expected in almost every coffee shop in Korea.

"Where are the fish?" I asked, while scanning the room.

"I don't know. Maybe they're in another room?" someone replied from behind me.

We were ushered to a coffee bar and instructed to purchase drinks and pay for the fish before it was our turn. We were told that they'd call us when it was time, and be given 15 minutes with the bite-sized nibblers.

Nibble, Nibble

When it was time, we were ushered to a platform that overlooked a busy intersection in Gangnam, complete with the over-sized flashing neon signs.

The view from the pools, overlooking Gangnam in Seoul. Chaotic serenity.

There were two pools with fish in them, and two wash basins. We had to wash our feet before entering the pools, which made me feel a lot better about the hygiene aspect of the whole thing.

S got right in there and made herself comfortable. Knowing S, I didn't expect anything else.

"It feels like nothing," she said, with the biggest smile on her face. "I think I'll come every month!"

J and C got in next, both with extreme reactions. J began a giggling fit, while C started trembling.

"Is it that bad?" I asked, still standing on the edge, waiting for more feedback before I dipped in.

"No, no, no.... I'm just really... ticklish... in one spot," C said, while trying desperately to sit still.

J was still laughing hysterically. Apparently she was ticklish too, but enjoyed it immensely.

I sat on the edge and handed my camera over to S.

"OK," I said, as my feet held a death grip to the opposite edge of the pool. "You have to get this on video, because I don't think I'll go through with it."

S took the camera and began filming, while encouraging me (in a way that's unique to S) to just go for it and dump my feet into the pool.

"It's easier if you just go for it and not think about it," she said.

I couldn't stop staring at the swarms of tiny fish that had gathered at her feet, ankles and calves... nibbling away like she was an all-you-can-eat buffet. My feet curled further onto the ledge.

Deciding that the best way to go through with this was to not look at the fish and just dive, I took the leap.

And it wasn't so bad.

I had my eyes closed for a minute as I felt them swim towards me. When they started on my feet, it literally felt like pins and needles. You know the feeling when your feet fall asleep? Just like that, but more active.

Doctor Fish hard at work.

And with that, I was fine. Unless I looked into the water and saw what the little nibblers were up to. That was freaky.

J, sitting beside me, continued to laugh through the duration of our therapy, while C calmed down towards the end. B, sitting on the opposite edge of the pool (with this being her second time), simply enjoyed the relaxing Sunday afternoon treat while laughing at us. And S? Well, S simply stated without a doubt in her mind that she loved therapy, and that the fish could feast on her anytime they wanted.

Once I settled in, I took in the moment and allowed myself to enjoy another beautiful afternoon with the ladies - good conversations and exfoliated feet included. Thanks, Doctor Fish!

Us, sharing 15 minutes with Doctor Fish.


NOTE: The Namugeuneul Dr. Fish Café is located in Gangnam, Seoul. The way it works is you purchase a coffee or drink from the café, and for an extra 2,000 won (approx. $1.75), you can have 15-20 minutes at the fish spa.

DIRECTIONS: Get off at Gangman station (green line 2), exit 7. Walk straight until you get to the second big crosswalk. The café is located on the second floor of the building next to the Paris Croissant.

CONTACT: (02)-599-1210

Images courtesy of StraightFromTheCurls and JC
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