Tapas

Perhaps it’s the recent Republican takeover of the United States Congress. Perhaps it’s the fact that my Spanish boyfriend is moving to Tokyo soon due to visa expiration and a job opportunity*. Whatever it may be, as I sit here eating my tomato soup, I have a deep longing to Move Out Tha Country.

But wait- shouldn’t I work on operation Move Out My Mama’s House first?

Can I work on both simultaneously?

Here is my current statistical information: I dropped out of university with one year to go. I am a few hours away from completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training, and today I had a really great second interview for a yoga teaching position. I work part-time at a minimum wage job.

I love, more than anything in life, dancing and performing spoken word poetry.

I can carry on a “deep” conversation in French and speak extremely broken, present-tense Spanish.

I’m a little bit all over the place.

In yoga teacher training, we learned the importance of slowing down, of appreciating the present moment, and of living through the “boring” moments of life with passion and vigor (the name of the latter concept in Sanskrit is funnily also a Spanish word: tapas). That means vacuuming with a lust for life. Appreciating the present moment also encompasses letting go of over-thinking, worrying, and overly planning for life. I am for sure one who struggles with overly planning for life. If we are always planning ahead then one day we will just die having never really enjoyed life. It is in this regard that maybe I shouldn’t be so focused on the end goal of leaving and should have fun in and appreciate my current life.

However, they say that Moving Out Tha Country requires a plan. On all of these travel blogs in which the authors describe their ability to afford going abroad, they tend to emphasize having a clear-cut goal, working like a madwoman or man, and living like a pauper for X amount of months; for example: I want to backpack around Southeast Asia for 9 months. I will work 60 hours a week. I will significantly cut back on my social life and eat as cheaply as possible. I will stop pampering myself. I will put away X amount of dollars per month so that I will be able to leave by X date. They say that this saving-up lifestyle is pretty miserable but ultimately worth it once abroad.

In yoga, though, one also learns the importance of ahimsa, or kindness and compassion to both others and oneself. Therefore severely denying oneself in order to save money is, in my opinion, not very indicative of kindness to oneself. How can I be a yoga instructor, telling other people to relax and eat healthy, enjoy life and not work oneself to death, all the while metaphorically (and probably literally) starving myself? Additionally, many travel bloggers talk of moving back home to save money on rent before the big trip. I am saving so much on rent but am ultimately denying myself my own sanity by living at home.

I have all these schemas in mind: go back to school in Fall 2015 (when admissions at my nearest university are next open) and study abroad in Southern France for Spring 2016 (back when I was at university, I was majoring in English and minoring in French); save up for a TEFL course in Barcelona and find a job teaching English there (Spain is one country that doesn’t require a Bachelor’s degree in order to obtain an English teaching job) (I also have some issues with the morality of teaching English abroad, but that’s a whole other essay. I could probably also get over these issues if teaching English really does provide such an easy and fantastic means of living abroad.); try to find a job working at a yoga retreat in a beautiful, exotic location; see if I can find a regular yoga teaching job in a city abroad (Barcelona? Maybe that’s where I belong, as it’s the city that keeps coming to mind); save up (or don’t save up) with no real goal in mind and see where the wind blows me. Maybe Spirit will guide me to the country of my subconscious dreams at the right timing.

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^Some girl doing yoga on the beach in Barcelona

*Trust me, I’ve already been through the whole thought process of “Maybe I should move to Tokyo to be with him,” or “Maybe one day our paths will reunite in Spain,” or “Maybe he’ll get a green card and come back to America and then I should stay here,” or, “I’m not going to make a life decision based on a guy,” or, “Life decisions based on a guy are beautiful.”

My brain, man.

New York City

I was feeling like kind of a lame-o because it’s been about a year and a half since I’ve left the country (gasp!), but then I remembered the Dalai Lama’s quote, “Every year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” I realized that someplace new is any new place- not just out of the country! In 2013, I went to Miami for the first time and didn’t even think to blog about it. Now, I just got back from seeing New York City for the first time- in fact, I had never even been on the East Coast before (well, except Miami, but that doesn’t count)! I had quite the marvelous time in New York and figured that I would share it with you all today.

I arrived in the wee hours of Friday morning, having taken an overnight flight on which I did not sleep. Like the boss at public transportation that I am, I figured out how to take the subway (I also kept calling it the metro, whoops) without a GPS all the way to my friend Kelly’s place- the girl who so kindly let me stay with her. I ascended out of the station into Greenwich Village and gasped in awe and excitement at my surroundings: brick buildings taller than any that exist in Los Angeles lining the street all the way down the horizon as far as the eye can see, cute shopping, early morning commuters getting their coffees on their way to work, the crispness of the morning enlivening the city with excitement for the day. I felt like this was the New York that people fall in love with.

After meeting up with my friend at her place and taking a much needed, long nap, I explored the area around Union Square and Washington Square park. It was quite the sensory overload to take in so many people in the streets- especially since everyone was so fashionable. I was seriously considering taking photos of each person whom I thought was wearing a cute outfit and starting a fashion blog based on it.

Me at Union Square:
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Anyhow, once Kelly was done with work for the day, we set off to the Neue Museum- a small, modern art gallery near Central Park that is free on the first Friday of each month. However, everyone else in the city had the same idea as us, and the line was impossibly long. Instead, we decided to hit up a restaurant/bar called Lillie’s that someone had recommended to me. After googling it and having a drink there, I realized that we were at the wrong Lillie’s. We finally went to the right one afterward- it was an adorable, Victorian style establishment filled to the brim with people. I was falling asleep in my Mac ‘n’ Cheese, however, so we decided to call it a night early.

The wrong Lilly’s:
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The right Lillie’s!:
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The next day, we had brunch at a cute hippie café- and also the skinniest café in existence- called Mud. It was packed, and maybe two people could stand comfortably side-by-side in it. However, the outside patio where we ate was cute and garden-esque.
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Later that day, I had the highlight of my trip: I met up with my friend David! You may recall that I met David, a guy from New York, at my hostel in Barcelona when I was traveling in Europe. My gosh, this is my favorite story to tell. Okay, so Barcelona was the last place that I went to before I came home, and it was also David’s last stop on his backpacking trip around the continent. We just so happened to be leaving Europe on the same day. Conveniently, we decided to ride to the airport together. We then realized that we were on the same flight! The flight was Barcelona to New York and then to LAX, and we were on the first leg of the trip together. How weird is that?! Our flight also happened to be empty, so we were able to sit next to each other and bond. He told me to hit him up if I ever came to New York. So, I did!

David and his wonderful girlfriend, Alexa, actually live in Pennsylvania now, and they so kindly drove up two hours just to see Kelly and me! They took us to get food and drinks and drove us around the city. Later that night we all went to a biergarten. I just felt like life was so beautiful- I mean, how often do you meet someone in Barcelona, end up on the same flight home as them, and then see them in New York again a year and a half later?

David, Alexa, and me eating waffles with gingerbread ice cream om nom nom:
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The next day, Kelly and I made the trek over to Brooklyn for the Smorgasburg flea market! I feel like, lately, I hear perhaps more about Brooklyn in the media than Manhattan; on the one hand, I listen to 90s rappers such as Mos Def, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z who discuss the gang banging and drug dealing happening on Brooklyn’s rough streets. However, in the indie world, Brooklyn has now seemingly become the hipster’s paradise in the last several years. Many claim that this resulted from starving artists being unable to afford living in Manhattan; others bemoan of gentrification (one of my favorite Urban Dictionary definitions is that of gentrification: “when a bunch of white people move to the ghetto and open up a bunch of cupcake shops“). Anyhow, I didn’t see much of Brooklyn, but from what I did see was that part of it wasn’t so nice and part of it was. I didn’t see that many record stores or organic, fair-trade coffee shops, but maybe I was in the wrong neighborhood. The flea market ended up being a bunch of food vendors patronized by well-dressed people with an amazing view of Manhattan:

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Kelly’s coconut:
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That night, we saw a Broadway play! It was called Motown: The Musical, and it was wonderful. It told the story of Motown Records and was filled with music by Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder… it was awesome. Afterward, we had some New York pizza (I think in New York they just call it pizza) at a place called Joe’s that apparently is frequented by celebrities. We saw a photo on the wall of Lenny Kravitz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Bradley Cooper all eating there. Who knew the three of them were friends?

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The next morning was my final day in the city! I went out for breakfast with my cousin Megan who lives in New York and whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was so wonderful to be able to reunite since we aren’t able to see each other often enough!

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And finally, the last thing that I managed to squeeze in before my flight home was going to the Museum of Modern Art. My gosh, I could have spent days there, but I only had about an hour. I was able to see “The Starry freaking Night” by van Gogh as well as “The Persistence of Memory” by Dalí and some of Monet’s “Water Lilies”. I was starstruck.

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Then I went home, and I was sad. I fell in love with New York and felt like there was so much that I wasn’t able to see. As David said, “A lot of people who travel here just end up moving here.” If the climate weren’t so awful I could totally live there; I just can’t handle winters that dip below 60 degrees, ya dig? Yet, I loved how there were seemingly endless things to do, places to see, and people to meet. New York always has something happening somewhere, and I think it’s impossible to get bored there. It felt like the most European city that I have visited thus far in America, what with its metro- I mean subway!-, arts, theater, cafés, well-dressed and interesting people, nightlife, and so on. Ugh.

A Year Later

Holy shit. One year ago today, my mommy and daddy dropped me off at LAX, and I ended up in Istanbul. Well, I landed in Paris and had 20 minutes to go through security and sprint to my connecting flight, somehow accomplished that task, and then landed in Istanbul. I’m also 98% sure that I saw Harry Styles from One Direction at LAX.

Anyhow, I remember feeling weirdly disconnected from the whole experience. Any other time that I have been at the airport, about to embark on an exciting trip to a new, exotic place, I had felt, well, excited; this time, though, it just felt hazy and surreal.

I had spent the past several months of my life feeling hazy and surreal.

My weekdays were spent studying literature- an endeavor that was increasingly becoming more pointless in my eyes- that were punctuated by weekends of underage getting-as-drunk-as-possible at house parties or, when I was “dragged” to them, frat parties. I spiced things up by salsa dancing and serial dating.

I was afraid of being alone; my growing distaste for alcohol was trumpeted by my fear of being alone on a Friday night while all my friends went out to parties. I always, always had to have a guy in my life- even if he only treated me well half of the time; even if he was an ex-boy whom I chose to forgive; even if, deep down, I knew we were wrong for each other. Having someone, even if that someone didn’t make me feel like a Goddess, seemed better than having no one.

Here I was, twenty years young, releasing my own power to be at the whim of others’. My parents, peers, and society at large were telling me that I had to be in school because that’s what you’re supposed to do and if you take time off you’ll never go back- even though I was growing more and more discontent. I was releasing control over my own actions every time that I drank way more than my lanky frame could handle, all in the name of wanting to fit in with my friends. I released control of my self-esteem to the mercy of flaky, hormonal college boys.

This didn’t all cease the moment that I saw minarets intermingling with trendy shopping in Istanbul.

Everyone who read my travel blog and saw my pictures marveled at how much fun I was having and how adventurous I was being. It honestly was very fun, but in the name of not wanting to reveal my personal business to all my Facebook friends, my mom’s entire email list, and some random people on the Internet who found my blog somehow, I hid the difficult stuff. Sure, I would reveal getting sick of being in hostels or finding Athens to be uninteresting and not pretty, but I wouldn’t reveal learning unpleasant things about my personality or having one of the worst days of my life.

More so than being “fun,” traveling was both difficult and important for me, with those two concepts inseparably intwined.

I learned that traveling with a friend sucks.

I have a pretty calm, “go-along-get-along” type of personality. This can be great for traveling, given traveling’s knack for throwing unpredicted events your way. It’s not great, though, when you let your friend make all of the decisions, and you end up disappointed that you didn’t see something that you wanted to see, that you spent more money than you wanted to, that you hung out in the hostel bar more times than you wanted to, etc. In traveling, and in life, I learned that I need to speak up. And travel alone.

Because I also learned that I LOVE traveling alone, and that I am independent and resourceful enough to do so. I can do what I want, when I want. I can easily meet people in a hostel or via Couch Surfing; I can hang out/sightsee with them if I want, and if there’s something that I want to see but they don’t, or vice versa, I do my own thing without worrying about abandoning someone.

I learned that getting very drunk in foreign countries is not a good idea. I also learned that it’s possible to have a couple of drinks or, gasp, no drinks, and still have a very fun night out.

I learned that taking back ex-boys is never, ever, a good idea, particularly right before you leave the country.

I learned how spoiled I was. It had to take me missing a train from Nice to Paris- which wasn’t the first train that I had missed- and subsequently getting very, very mad at myself to learn this. I learned just how entitled I felt, how expendable money seemed to me, and how little responsibility I truly had for myself.

I learned that learning doesn’t always come from a textbook or a classroom lecture.

And I learned all of this the hard way.

It’s now one year later- a lifetime later. I look back at that twenty-year-old girl, and I see someone very young and not in control of her own self. The past year, both from traveling and from other life circumstances, has forced me to grow up- not just, “Oh, I’ve been thinking about this and that, and I think it’s time for me to start acting differently in regards to it.” It’s more like growing up has been shoved into my face, and I’ve been forced to eat it. So here I am, a human still evolving, yet a human who is so much stronger and finally feeling in touch with inner power.

Traveling is like life sped up, amplified, and looked at with a magnifying glass.