If I could summarize my Asia trip to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea in three words, it would be: connectedness, laughter and fulfillment.
When Michelle moved to Korea to teach English, I knew I was going to find a way to go visit her and other countries along the way. I was determined to go, even if it meant going by myself. Fortunately, Betty made her schedule work and Sissy (my sister Christina) mapped out her Asia trip to coincide the same time as us too. Betty flew to Taiwan from Los Angeles, while I flew to Taiwan from San Francisco. We felt the butterflies up until the point we were united – it was surreal to be out of the country together! What better way to say hello than taking a selfie at the airport’s “beach?”
Betty and I embarked on our journey to meet with Sissy in Hong Kong, and a week later, Michelle in Seoul. There wasn’t a dull moment. We got lost or took the longer route sometimes, but always made it to our destination. We saw sights so beautiful, it made the mosquito bites, blisters and trek worth it. We secretly played a game of who could eat the most, and all came out champions. We shopped endlessly at what was basically the same store over and over again, but with different packaging/bargaining opps. We “accidentally” cuddled at night and slept in daily with no rushed agenda. We were definitely no strangers to each other’s resting bitch face and bathroom routine. We laughed loudly and uncontrollably over nothing and everything. We shed “I’m grateful and I miss you” tears upon separation. Yes, we were more connected than ever on new heights. As we get older, we have more means to travel, but also more work/relationship commitments and less time. I appreciate how invested we were into carving out time from our busy lives, in different cities, to literally meet halfway around the world. The adventure we unraveled together is already a timeless tale of “Remember when…” stories.
In a large way, Hong Kong felt like home. I naturally felt connected and comfortable because of the familiar sense of culture. I grew up speaking Cantonese, watching TVB dramas/HK action flicks, and of course eating Chinese food. Our family went to Hong Kong in 6th grade, but going back as an adult, without my mom and dad, was a different experience. Hong Kong was the place where we wandered and lived like the locals. We stayed in old-school buildings for our AirBnBs – narrow hallway, no elevator, white lights, gated silver door, tiny space. (This was not so fun when I had to haul all my luggage down 5 floors.) When I told my sister how surprised I was that the natives could understand my Chinese, she rolled her eyes and said, “Why wouldn’t they?” It’s reassuring to know that my level of fluency isn’t broken or overshadowed by an American accent. I feel proud to have scored so many good deals on customized wedding items because I was able to communicate in my language! My parents did an amazing job of raising us and connecting us to our heritage.
When we got to Taipei, I instantly fell in love. After years of learning Mandarin at Chinese School, binging on Taiwanese dramas, crushing on Leehom Wang, living in Irvine, venturing 626 (LA neighborhood), being surrounded by Taiwanese friends, I finally got to experience the land of legit stinky tofu, beef noodle soup, and boba. It was beyond all I hoped for and more! As for Korea, it was eye-opening to explore the city in real life, instead of holding onto the fantasy world of K-dramas.
With the Universe
Every time I travel, I am captivated by the profound beauty I see and feel around me – a leaf, flower, pond, waterfall, mountain, architecture, city lights, sunsets, warm rays, smiles of other human beings, and the list goes on. It serves as a reminder to embrace everything that is in the present moment, right in front of me. It also leaves me with the deep thought that there is so much more to this world that I have yet to discover.
With My Inner Child
For as long as I could remember, every year until I reached 20, I received some sort of Hello Kitty gift for my birthday. The little girl inside me was ecstatic with cuteness overload in Asia. I walked around Raohe Night Market with the biggest smile on my face carrying the My Melody cotton candy. I also have no shame in admitting that I enjoyed every minute of the Hello Kitty flight from Taipei to Seoul. Yes, it was a bit embarrassing to call Eva Airlines in advance to request a special kid’s meal, but oh so worth it. Even the guy who sat next to me looked over at my plate and wondered how I got the good stuff. I rarely ever eat airplane food because I can’t stand the smell, but I finished my entire meal for once this time. My childhood dream came true :).
I love ice cream as much as I love laughing. Together, however, is not a good combo. I managed to choke on my ice cream from laughing too hard, TWICE on separate occasions, for reasons I vaguely remember afterwards. That was a huge theme of the trip…we just couldn’t refrain from laughing! Even as I’m writing this now, I’m chuckling out loud to some of the flashbacks. I’m going to sound extra cheesy, but pure laughter reflects our happiness, silliness, level of comfortability and us at our carefree state. I guess pictures serve a purpose for triggering the memory long after.
You may be wondering, “Why is there a leaf on her head?” Well, Michelle sprung this little sprout on me. People in Jeonju, Korea wear these plant-based hair clips – daisies, LED flowers, mushrooms. It is a popular trend. As if couples aren’t already in sync enough with their matching outfits from head to toe, they literally top it off with some plants on their head. Michelle enthusiastically exclaimed that it makes them very happy, that they love it! My instant response: “It makes me happy…when I take it off.” As ridiculous as it felt roaming the street like this, it provided us some good entertainment and it turned out to be pretty cute after all.
On the other end, the shrimp picture is much more complicated. It is a story of laughter out of joy, shock, confusion and sadness combined. On our last night together in Hong Kong, we wandered into a grand opening restaurant that specializes in steam hot pot. This was the first time either of us have heard of steam hot pot. Instead of regular hot pot where you cook everything in a soup broth, steam hot pot is where fresh food is steamed under a basket in front of you. The water from the steamer then drips into the pot underneath to cook the porridge. We felt like were A-listers for getting in on such a busy night – everyone there seemed to know the owner and we were given free lobster. There was even a photographer for press there who took our picture. Unknowingly, we also ordered food as if we were celebrities too. Those fresh jumbo shrimps were as big as our faces! No sauces were needed for flavor because they tasted so sweet and juicy. Our expressions changed once we got the bill. It turned out that each shrimp cost $22 USD. We ordered 4. Whoops…YOLO. That was certainly a “cultural experience” we’ll never forget.
All my food cravings and desires were fulfilled. The dim sum in Hong Kong was first class. Even a seemingly simple toast with scrambled eggs tasted gourmet. Boba was spot-on everywhere. I’m not joking when I say that I would fly to Taiwan for a weekend JUST to eat! Foodgasms were on another level there. There was nothing more satisfying than devouring a cheesy-egg-filled spring onion pancake on the street with a side of fresh watermelon guava pineapple juice. We went back twice for it. Every tofu dish I had was also spectacular – from the stinky tofu, to the sweet icy tofu pudding, to the tofu ice cream made for hot pot. We tried a memorable dish in Korea that we never ate in America before, called Andong JjimDak. It’s a braised chicken stew that is tastefully accompanied with potatoes, zucchinis, carrots and glass noodles. Among the four of us, no to-go box was needed.
Of course, my fulfillment goes beyond food. On the last day of my trip, a flash flood hit Taiwan’s airport which resulted in long delayed flights, no air conditioning, and outbreaks of fights from frustrated people. Even though this day was challenging and quite miserable, I was sad to leave. In as little as two weeks, my best friends, sister and I created a lifetime of memories that I’ll treasure close to heart. These days, I’m lucky if I see my friends even once a year. In an age where technology is enough to help us keep in touch, where schedules are based off work, where different priorities take precedent, where “someday” is common language, I am thankful for the time we deliberately shared. For a brief moment, we pressed the pause button of our daily routine and ventured across the globe to embrace this journey together. That meant the world to me.