Funny, Existential Things I Learned About Myself After My First Trip To Korea

I had a planned trip to Korea about four years ago that did not push through. And to say that life had better plans for me, Korea-wise, is an understatement. They say travel heals you, opens up your world, recharges your energy, the list goes on. And I never really took any of these to heart—until the Korea trip finally happened.

I came back from Seoul a changed woman. Well, maybe not monumentally, but Seoul fueled my soul nonetheless. The closest experience I can probably liken the feeling to was when BLACKPINK finally made their long-awaited comeback, after what seemed like years of drought of activity from the kings and queens of YG. And when that BLACKPINK moment happened, I felt reborn. I was a newly-hatched chick in an incubator.

And while I know I'm always realizing things—er, but what is life without constant learning? (Ateneans, this is your cue), here I proudly list down everything I've learned about myself après-Seoul. Maybe it’s to serve as a future note to myself, or maybe it’s to cherish the moments I want to stay with me forever.

1. I still love to shop.

At the end of our trip, my friend Justine and I had a post-processing conversation, and I only half-joked that my learning from the trip was that I still love shopping. Note the emphasis on “still”.

You might ask, what's so unusual about that? Why does it have to be something to realize? But you see, there was a point in my life when I thought I was living a very commercially-driven life and craved for a simpler one. I have been warned about the shopping black hole that is Seoul, and I didn't take it seriously.

Who was I kidding? On our first day in Seoul, I shopped like I've been deprived for years. I realize that it's not so much in the purchases alone that gladdens me. I simply have a deep appreciation for the look of things and the story it may convey. I'm also enlightened by the challenge of sourcing through items and emerging with the best finds. Shallow as it may seem, that is fulfillment for me.

2. not sorry, but I'm all about the look. and it’s more a me-thing than you or the world.

Koreans have a reputation of being overly judgmental, especially when it comes to their outer appearance, and that was evident in Seoul (tbh, Filipinos are judgmental, too but more in a tumaba ka-pumayat ka kind of way, ugh). And I admire the part where the effort and dedication to look good comes in, because unhealthy social pressures aside, I am one who believes in its positive effects.

When I'm asked to go to the supermarket, or I have an errand to run, I automatically think of the look first—a.k.a. what I'm wearing. Forget the to-do tasks and what's on the grocery list, I'm really, honestly more concerned about the fashion. Oops.

Back when my office used to be a walking distance from my home, in several instances, I’d sneak home to change my shoes, my pants, or whatever didn’t feel right. I don’t even think my colleagues would notice, I simply felt like I couldn’t work properly when a part of my outfit felt off.

I don't know why, but maybe that's probably just how I am. I can't think of any other explanation! Or maybe one is that what I wear greatly affects my mood (my blood circulation comes a close second). Another is the philosophy behind the thinking that if you're going to have to get dressed anyway, why not put on a full look that makes you feel mighty fine while you're at it?

The important thing is to embrace what you know and feel is truly part of you.

3. self-enabling is all you need for things that are right for you. that, and a little help from supportive friends.

Throughout the trip, I had a blast shopping and all it entails: sourcing, debating prices, computing from KRW to PHP, fitting, and deciding on purchases. It's activities like these that I don't mind regularly exercising for. I soon realized that when it comes to shopping, I function as my own enabler. I don’t even need a coach or a trainer. I can get up and fight on my own.

Likewise, having friends who give 200% support is a godsend. I can only be thankful to have traveled with my friends (or Seoul Sisters, lol) Gaby and Justine, who even lent me luggage space and credit, and gave looots of shopping recommendations, too.

Therefore, as a life tip, I'd say find what's for you and surround yourself with friends who will support you. You can’t really be forcing yourself into something and simply relying on enablers to make it work for you, especially if at the end of the day, it's not really your thing.

4. I'm a fan of Korean pavements.

I can't be certain if all pavements are created equal in Korea, but so far, I'm in love with the ones in Seoul. To say the least, I was culture-shocked at how all the roads and sidewalks in Seoul are well-constructed. More than making it possible to walk in heels without worrying about your stiletto getting stuck in a crack, can I also fangirl about how the pavements really felt.…. beautiful?

I love how they felt solid, sturdy, and weather-proof, and very unlike the brittle, almost good for nothing roads in Manila, constructed out of a fake, unnecessary, chance-for-kurakot project of the barangays. Am I going to far? I dare think I'm not.

In K-fandom speak, it may be assumed that if you're a fan of a band, you can't be a fan of it's rival,e.g. if you're a VIP, you can't be an ELF. I think it's silly, because I am both a VIP and an ELF, but more a VIP. But when it comes to pavements, I can—loudly and clearly—say that I'm a fan of Korean pavements (or at least the ones I've walked on during our trip), and consequently, have a strong hatred for the poorly-made ones we have in Manila. And I only realized the depth of my feelings now.

5. I love beer.

As a child, I used to have a very deep hatred for beer and all alcoholic beverages. I hated how it turns a Dr. Jekyll into a Mr. Hyde, and I don't really get the fun in having to drag a heavily drunk friend onto his/her ride home. I respect all ideas of fun, though, so if that's your thing, then go forth and drink. My concern mainly lies on its effect on your health, so please do so responsibly.

When it comes to myself doing the drinking, I'd prefer other drinks than beer because I hate how it feels heavy on the tummy afterwards. I also fear having a beer belly.

In Seoul, however, there were gifts from God in the form of Cass and Hite beers. It tasted great, and even greater with their already great-tasting food! One sip and you'll feel like dancing in the moment, because no heavy tummy is weighing you down.

It is from this experience that I therefore conclude that in life, sometimes you think you despite something passionately, but it can also mean not liking only a certain kind of that something. You need to wait for the right one. It's like hating boys after a bad relationship—you can't hate them all, you just need to meet the right one.

6. I'm jealous of Korean rush hour.

At one point, we found ourselves in the middle of rush hour, crowds and traffic and all, yet I never once felt even a percentage of negativity in the air. No one rushing rudely in fear of reaching an impossibly long line to the train. There wasn't a tiny glimpse of worry about whether or not they'd be able to get a ride home.

Don't even get me started about the rush hour craziness we're all forced to deal with here in Manila. Overall, what irks me is not being able to have the peace of mind over things that shouldn't have really been an issue in the first place. An efficient train system? Convenient public transportation? These things are even more basic a necessity than the basic bitch (excuse my term)!

7. I want to be old and strong.

Like in Hong Kong, I saw a lot of mighty strong elderly citizens in Seoul. The ahjummas in particular, who had to drive cleaning machines, were admirable. I was also gladdened by the fact that the disabled can get around by themselves because of the efficient transport system.

While I believe I am to die young (purely a gut feel, lol), I've always dreamed of growing old and happy (don't we all?). I cannot wait for each and every strand of my hair to turn naturally white! But to be more specific, I want to be healthy even when I'm old. I want to be healthy until my last breath. I want the younger generation to see me walking in my sneakers and lola garb and find me cool and aspirational.

To have a peaceful death remains my ultimate dream.

8. Life is full of pleasant surprises.

Not to debunk that life is like a box of chocolates, but recently my life seems to have been well-prepared to surprise me! And no, it didn't even bother to ask if I'm the type who likes surprises.

One good surprise I'm talking about is the Korea trip in itself! After everything that's happened in my life so far (this year alone!), from the spontaneous decision to go, finding tickets, and processing the VISA, the long and winding wait was definitely worth it! Thanks to Seoul, I feel like I can breathe again.

What’s your Seoul-searching story? Tell me all about it in the comments section!

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