“Yes, but I think they’re only open for skiers this time of the year…”
And so, my day with my favorite Canuck officially began as I pushed the door open to the crisp Canadian air. Inhale. Exhale. I was starting to smell like my cup of caramel macchiato. Good morning, Grouse Mountain. Also, hello Eugene – it’s been three years.
I met Eugene during the summer of 2010. He was in theology school back then, and was assigned to intern for my home church in Hong Kong. During the three months he was there, he was assigned to run youth groups and give a few sermons. But despite the complicated descriptions of his role, we all knew that his job was intrinsically simple – he just had to be available for the teens at church. And he was. Or in other words, it took him no time to earn our respect and trust. A month into his internship, we were already bringing him to all our favorite spots around Hong Kong. My childhood friends and I introduced him to, in his perspective, relatively strange Asian snacks, and satisfied his thirst for “North American food” by taking him to Canadian chain restaurants. We taught him how to take the minibus and spend weekends at Stanley. In the sea of conservative Asian Protestants, he dashed out of the water as a laid-back aspiring youth pastor. For most of the teens at church, he was “Eugene, the sort of, somewhat mentor.” But for me, he felt like the best friend I never had.
After that summer, we returned to Boston and Vancouver for school respectively. Kudos to the invention of smartphones, keeping in touch has never been difficult for us. Sometimes, we’d talk as often as everyday. At times, it’d take us a few weeks to respond to each others’ messages. Yes, I am proud of how well we’ve been able to stay connected. However, virtual conversations can feel a little flimsy at times. Sometimes, after being rejected by a dream college, all you want to do is sulk in front of a good friend. That’s why when time came around to make Thanksgiving plans this earlier this fall, I decided to pick up the initiative to head over to the West Coast. First of all, my best friend and I have been hoping to break out of the East Coast bubble. Secondly, we wanted to be in a warmer climate. But most importantly, I wanted to visit Eugene.
That week, Eugene took time off from work to take me around Vancouver. In some ways, it was his chance to introduce me to his hometown. It was his opportunity to make Vancouver shine. And he did make it happen. In the four days I was there, I was thoroughly amused by everything I was surrounded by. We bought a Groupon deal and indulged in a decadent fondue dinner. We visited the Canucks team store, strolled around for a good amount of time before I finally made up my mind to purchase a relatively overpriced crewneck. I asked him to take me his favorite coffee shop. He did. We caught glimpses of the Lions Gate Bridge. We ate doughnuts on the logs of English Bay. We overlooked the skyline of Vancity at Stanley Park. On the last day I was there, we hiked up Grouse Mountain bright and early. After the three-hour hike, we ice-skated with toddlers by a hut that was modeled after Santa’s Workshop. By the end of the trip, I had a stack of unsuccessfully developed Polaroid pictures and a pair of sand-filled flats that I have no intentions in wearing again. But, it was all worth it. In retrospect, it really was an adventure.
I’m not referring to the physical act of traveling to the West Coast. That was not my adventure. This Thanksgiving, I was reminded of one of the most courageous adventures humans can always choose partake in – the act of opening up to someone.
I once heard someone tell me “you cannot be impressive and be a friend at the same time.” This holds true for Eugene and I, and shouldn’t it hold true for all of you as well?
On my way back to Syracuse, I reflected on this so-called “serendipitous” friendship. The truth is, it was not “serendipitous” that I was able to connect so well with someone from a relatively random part of the world. It was not a “happy accident.” It wasn’t random, lucky, or spontaneous. For all it matters, our friendship consisted of the adventurous act of disclosing scars, embarrassing life stories, and whatnot.
Adventure time, as cliché as it sounds, means laying down one’s weaknesses and shedding the idea of “I want to sound somewhat put-together.” At the end of the day, life is messy and no one is perfect. Adventure time means figuring that out. Adventure time means understanding that. Adventure time means putting that idea into action. And yes, it takes a whole lot of guts to do that.
“Eugene, I think my sister is on antidepressants. Can I call?”
Earlier this year, I woke up to a message from Kelly. “Mavis, let’s do something this summer.” The previous night, I was up drowning myself in incoherent chunks of text on mass culture and pop culture. (I mean, who knew there was a difference, right?) So when the back of my screen lit up with a message from one of my favorite people in the world, I was ecstatic to be engaged in human interaction for the first time in ten hours. But most importantly, I wanted to “do something” as well.
Last year, when we graduated from high school, most of our friends and classmates went on graduation trips. Our Facebook homepages were consequently flooded with photos of their trips to Phuket and Koh Samui, which are Asian equivalents of Florida or Nantucket. Most of them spent a week of two sipping Mai Tai’s by pool sides and took an excessive amount of photos of themselves in floppy hats. Or, if your parents loved you enough to let you splurge a little more, some found themselves in Maldives’ water cottage. Or even the beach resorts at Cancun. Unfortunately for us, our parents decided that family trips should always outweigh any other options. Hence, we didn’t board our planes for any exotic islands last summer. Instead, we slipped right back into our local Hong Kong lifestyle and sought solace in the peace of mind it offered.
But, being the somewhat ungrateful and subconsciously bitter teenagers we were, we decided that we would make that graduation trip happen at all costs. When the second semester of college came along and people were aggressively mapping out their summers, we knew we had to do something.
Four months later and here we are – sipping on our green tea lattes at Incheon International Airport. We ended up opting for a city location – we figured that getting lost in subway stations would be more stimulating then frolicking on beaches.
We met up with Min and Seunghun. In all honesty, I’d like to think that we’re friends – but we weren’t completely there yet.
Kelly and I met them at a club a the first night we were at Seoul through a couple of mutual friends. Under a serendipitous twist of fate, we found the four of us bonding over painfully relatable topics, despite the disruption of loud Daft Punk anthems. We alternated between small talks on the dance floor to sipping on lightweight beverages by the bar – I loved how we had no problem remaining sober despite massive amount of “influenced” people around us. The night ended with us hopping on the car, frivolously looking for their profiles on Facebook – something all teenagers do but seldom admit. When we dove headfirst into our beds that night, we asked ourselves, “Who were these incredibly charismatic gentlemen who blocked us away from creepy middle-aged grinding creatures?” In addition to being extremely well mannered and well dressed, they are also twins. Were they serious when they said they would take us around Seoul? Regardless, the thought slowly slipped away. We quickly dozed off in uncomfortable positions with eye shadow smudged on the palms of our hands.
We woke up the following morning with crystal-clear memories of what happened the previous night. When we hoped onto the underground subway during lunchtime, they could miraculously reappear in our lives.
Well, I guess they did.
They took us around a relatively modern and vibrant part of town – it felt like strolling down the streets of Soho. We looked around local boutiques, picked up things that we wouldn’t mind having in our closets, and then proceeded to putting them down when we glanced at the price tags. When the clock struck five that afternoon, we ate chicken and drank draft beer. The popular Korean snack combo, also known as “Chimaek,” made us honest beings for three hours that afternoon.
Min and Seunghun were born and raised in Seoul, Korea. On why they spoke perfect English, the explanation was simple – intensive English school. There we go – the commonality that binds an ample amount of Asians together. Once we uncovered the common feature of our life stories, the rest of the day felt like catching up with some old friends. Kelly and I learnt how to tell the twins apart, listened to their mischievous twin tales as we emptied the pint of beer. We wiggled our thumbs against the glasses, drew smiley faces on the vaporized surfaces, and exchanged sympathetic glances upon relatable struggles.
“I’m transferring to Penn this year, by the way.”
“Why? Didn’t you like Northwestern and Chicago?”
“Yeah, it was chill. But I realized we sort of grew pretty lost without each other. I guess at the back of my mind I knew I’d always want to go to college with him if I could.”
“So you guys are really inseparable.”
“Sort of. I think we’re we’re gonna head off to the army together after junior year.”
“Wait, we want to know about your summer in the monastery.”
“Nah, we just figured that our lives have been pretty smooth. We wanted… Some sort of hardship. So I guess shaving our heads and locking ourselves away in a monastery sounded pretty solid.”
“It was all good… Until we both ran away.”
“We figured we’d get our dosage of sweat and pain in the army. Which will happen soon. So.”
We indulged in our last piece of chicken, grabbed the check, and decided that we’d treat the twins this time. Though immensely impressed by their compatibility, Kelly and I were perplexed - shouldn’t twenty-year-old brothers be a teeny bit more dysfunctional than this? Min and Seunghun spoke in close to perfect harmony, had plans that complemented each other’s future, and chuckled at the same pace. What is this? Utopinan twinland?
“You guys are welcome to come to the party we’re heading to… The kids who are there are super chill too. They all go to US colleges as well, so you guys won’t be bored.”
“No don’t worry about it – you guys were so nice to take us around today. Go to the party! Don’t make us wait.”
“You sure? We’re happy to have you there you if you guys aren’t too tired from all the walking today.”
“We’re meeting with Mavis’ boarding school friend tonight for a quick drink. You guys have been so so sweet.”
We bid our farewells with a thousands questions hanging off of our heads and a deeper understanding of the word “serendipity.”
This summer, a big fat adventure came crashing down on us when we shook those unfamiliar hands on a dance floor. Sometimes, adventure means amplifying the possibilities and neglecting the inevitable strangeness in situations.
Sometimes, adventure means spending a day with a pair of Korean twins.
I’d say life was busy that time of the year. It was March – the month of unforgiving midterms, an overly indulgent Spring Break, and the anticipation of summer. Life was sizzling with adventurous vibes; life was happening. But in all honesty, Spring Break was not all glitz and glamor. – I went to London.
Wait what? London for a week? Does your dad shit gold bars? No, he doesn’t. And now that I think about it, I regret coming up with that metaphor. One of my best friends is in a study abroad program in London, and had been inviting me to visit her and her luxurious suit since the beginning of the school year, so when time came around to make Spring Break decisions, London was the first on my list. Besides, I had a handful of childhood buddies studying in the city as well. So that solved my parents’ concerns about who I would be hanging out with. “Nicole! The girl who chewed on your wallet when you were caught up changing my diapers!” Of course, I had an insatiable desire to binge on fish and chips as well. So in between submitting last minute proposals onto Blackboard and procrastinating on Tumblr. I hopped on a plane. To London. To see the people I’ve known since the beginning of time.
I stepped out of the plane with an adrenaline rush and a desire to hug every single person around me. When Gerald located me at the Heathrow terminal, he was perplexed at my exuberance.
“Aren’t you tired?”
“No. I’m nocturnal and hungry. Please feed me.”
He then proceeded to helping me with my luggage and stuffing my face with a yogurt parfait. The rest was history – we had the best time.
Being each other’s “childhood bestie” allowed for a lot of cut-though but heart-to-heart conversations to happen. Gerald and I tried to give each other haircuts. We strolled around thrift stores and felt like hipsters. We bought strange-looking toques out of spontaneity. We stayed true to our cultural roots and drank boba tea from Bubbleology. And we ate rice. Way too much rice. Till we gave up on that and went for raviolis. We paid visits to posh department stores and didn’t break anything. We took the train to the Warner Brothers Studio, met Dobby, and had Butterbeer. We bought chocolate frogs for our friends and realized that spent way too much money on Harry Potter related souvenirs. Regardless, we stocked up on Percy Pigs and rescued some moments with one of those savvy iPhone apps. We splurged on overpriced French pastries, but said no to cab rides. Eventually, some of our mutual friends joined us. So we walked. And walked. Until we surrendered to our tired soles, crawled into indie cafes and fell asleep on each other’s shoulders. When the caffeine finally worked its magic, we found ourselves energetic to take over town again.
For most part of it, the holiday was a beautiful, short-lived, cruel tease. When I boarded the plane back to New York, I was left feeling betrayed and uninspired. Utterly uninspired. It made me feel as though all the energy I had before happened in a drunken state of happiness. There’s a saying I have no problem bring up again and again, just because it’s so poignant and relatable – “the world never needed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 until he created it.” Some people, some things are so, so golden you sometimes wish you’ve never met them. Because in their absence, life is just happening. And that is all. Like you’re flipping through the pages of a book written by a famous stranger. It’s powerful. It’s intoxicating. But you have no place between those lines.
And then there are those people who made me feel this way in the past, but no longer do.
That person was Michelle, the girl who hosted me for most of my trip. Remember how I said I have a friend who was kindly inviting me to visit her? Yep, it was her. The realization hit me when we were lining up for Belgium waffles in Notting Hill – we were trapped in each other’s uncomfortable silence and I couldn’t seem to find a way out. We discussed our old friends’ Facebook albums, cracked a few jokes that made us somewhat nostalgic of our younger years, then retreated behind our smart phones. When the waffles were ready, we photographed the rainbow sprinkles in different angles then proceeded to inhaling them. The awkwardness was implicit and brutal. At the end of the day, I drained from soaking in the silence. How did the girl I spend nine years in school with end up making me feel so subtly uncomfortable? She seemed to have nothing to tell me about except from her penchant for Instagram.
That night, I called Gerald, who had already returned to his university campus for some mandatory university activities.
“I can’t. This makes me want to cry. We’ve become people who talk about mundane things like the weather. What am I supposed to do – I have another day with her tomorrow? You know what – I bet she feels the same as well.”
“Waffles. Sushi. Instagram filters. That was all she had to tell me about. Nothing about school. Nothing about her classes. Not even the people in school. I’m confused – shouldn’t college be more than the things you eat? By the way, how doe she stay so skinny with the amount of food she consumes?”
“Erm, I’ve never met Michelle so I’d say just chill out and stop overthinking.”
“Ger, come back. I would much rather gobble down kebabs with you then go out for a fancy dinner with her tomorrow.”
“Again, relax. You’re supposed to be on vacation, remember? Plus you’re in London – there’s much to rejoice about. Life happens, you know? You guys have been in very different places since middle school. There’s bound to be some sort of change right?”
Gerald was right. First of all, I had much to be grateful about. London was a charming and refreshing change of scenery for me, despite it being a little rainy. Secondly, although I still couldn’t shake off the disbelief, I know he was right about the “life” part. Somewhere in between occasional “I miss you so much” messages and choice to ignore her Skype calls, Michelle and I have slowly become acquaintances. There was no one or nothing to blame but our shifting priorities – we were no longer each other’s number ones. And maybe that’s okay.
I survived the following day, mainly because I was becoming increasingly comfortable for the concept of “the only constant is change.”
I guess that was my adventure – reuniting with people and finding out if they still make you feel the way they used too. Sometimes, the truth can be gentle and kind. Sometimes, the truth can be really be a damper. But no matter what, you should be proud of yourself. Because at the end of the day, it’s takes a certain level of courage to let the truth speak to you.