Well. This is one for the records.
Admittedly, I was considering starting this post with a pun about the world not ending in 2012, but still being explosive (harhar), but then thought I’d spare you. We could do with less cheesy hyperboles. But honestly – it’s difficult to explain the immensity of this year’s significance for me. In the past four months alone, the experiences I’ve had were completely unexpected, blindsiding me one after the other and changing plans faster than I could have thought them up.
2012 has been life changing, quite simply. Now to look back in preparation for 2013.
The beginning of the year saw me still on crutches from a broken leg, waiting far longer than I expected for the green light to start walking again. I was in Seoul at the time, finishing my last contract, and as soon as the doctor said the crutches could go, I booked a ticket to nearby Japan. The cabin fever had gotten that bad!
After a week in Osaka, where I Couchsurfed, biked up and down the city (good for recuperating muscles), visited temples, worked in a bar, and reignited my adoration for Japanese cuisine, it was back to Korea for a week of work (boo!).
Borneo was next. Two weeks moving through the Malaysian territory of the island (and briefly into Brunei) saw some serious adventures, such as getting SCUBA certified and diving Sipadan, seeing jungle wildlife up-close-and-personal, and becoming even further intrigued by Southeast Asia.
Back to work! The reality of my impeding leave from Korea was settling in. I spent the month quietly, street art hunting, cafe hopping, and socializing – a slow goodbye to Seoul.
April and May
These were the months of goodbyes to Korea. We travelled all over the country when we could get a weekend away – to Jeonju, for a film festival; to Sokcho, for mountains one day and the beach the next; to Damyang, for a bamboo festival. Two friends even got married in a traditional Korean ceremony (and I got to do their wedding portraits!).
And for Buddha’s Birthday, my father came to Seoul – the first time I’d seen him in almost two years!
This was the time for socializing. T minus two months til departure and I was starting to lose it. There wasn’t a single moment I wanted to lose to lethargy – there were things to do, places to go, people to see!
I saw the crazy Korean-Western style wedding of a coworker’s son, and then we took a weekend trip out to Gangneung for the Danoje festival, one of the most important Korean shamanist festivals. We washed our hair in iris water, got good luck talismans from female shamans and watched some truly perplexing ceremonies.
Two of my favourite ladies and I spent a weekend in Jeju Island, a massive semi-tropical island off Korea’s southern coast. It was the height of summer and massively humid, and there were adventures caving, scuba diving (some of the best I’ve seen!), harassing balloon animals and visiting a very inappropriate theme park…
And so, the last chance to enjoy Korea arrived. I finally visited Suncheon Bay and Samseong-gung (the latter, a shamanist temple run by Korea’s equivalent of the Amish, and one of the strangest things I ever saw in that country), and my tribe and I had one last weekend away in a pension on the beach.
Then, I said goodbye to Seoul. And my heart broke.
But thankfully, a massive distraction was coming my way – my one-way ticket from Seoul landed me and one of my closest friends in Beijing, where we were about to start the Trans-Siberian railway. After five days in the city (somehow, I still don’t feel as though I’ve really been to China…), we scrapped our way to Mongolia in a 2.5 day journey. I can’t even remember how long I’d wanted to go – it seemed so far away from everything I knew – and we were quick to get lost in the steppe.
This is where things started to get really crazy. Caitlin and I arrived in Russia, where we met up with two of our best buddies who had come west from Vladivostok, and the four of us continued the Russian leg of the Trans-Siberian together.
Through all of the Russian cities we hit up, Olkhon Island remains like a brand in my mind – and the one place you should never go. To have that trip, and that place, as one last hurrah with three of my best friends when we all left Korea…well, it was a damn good idea.
I was planning to continue with them from Moscow up to St. Petersburg, but then the news that my grandmother had passed away nixed that. Though the news was horrible, I was so, so thankful to be geographically close enough to attend her funeral – she was 90, and the reality of her passing was something I worried about when I was in Korea – and I flew to Germany the day after we arrived in Moscow.
After spending a few extra days in Germany to see my father and reconnect with family, it was off to Spain for TBEX and the opportunity that seriously screwed with my head, upending plans, reorganizing priorities, and opening up an entirely new world to me. There are no words to express how thankful I am to have applied for and attended the Bloghouse.
September was crazy with the sheer amount of running around, but October is where things just got weird. I followed through with plans to fly to Istanbul via Athens and visit a friend, but that’s where the old plans ended.
Because of the experience attending one travel blogging conference in Spain, I started seriously thinking about attending the next big travel convention in Europe. WTM was in London, a little over a month away, and seemingly everyone from TBEX was talking about it. So, one night, in the span of about an hour, I weighed the options, made a decision, rebooked tickets, and changed all my plans.
With a month suddenly open in my schedule, I moved to Tbilisi. I needed somewhere to prepare for WTM, and to stay somewhere in Europe until it happened. Even thinking about that move now is still baffling. Did that really happen? Did I really go to Georgia, find an apartment, develop a social circle, have a work schedule, and regain a sense of normalcy?
It’s surreal to think about now…
It was finally time for WTM, and I spent a week in London for the convention. It was a learning experience, to say the least, once I (partially) got over the (massive) nerves I felt on the first day. Good connections were made, and I’m damn thankful I went. I even had some time to explore London a bit more, and wound up changing my opinion about it for the better.
And then, it was off to Bangkok, to begin the Southeast Asia backpacking adventure I’d been dreaming of for almost three years. I spent the month meandering up through Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pai, and was even in time for the festival of lights, Loy Krathong!
After a month in Thailand, I had to do a visa run to Jakarta for a week, then promptly returned and heading straight to the beach. One of my favourite friends from Korea, Ellie (who runs an awesome blog about expat life in Thailand – check it out!), invited me to chill in the beach town she calls home, and then it was back to Bangkok for two days of pre-Christmas / Apocalypse adventures with fellow bloggers Dylan and Ian. Peach even made an appearance, after figuring out the BTS ;)
Thankfully, the world didn’t actually end!
As for where I am now? Well, I’ve been sucked into the island vibe again.
I came out to Koh Chang, an island by the border with Cambodia, for Christmas shenanigans…and somehow haven’t been able to leave. It’s been a week of chilling, then working; sunbathing, then swimming; scooter adventuring, then late-night partying.
And I’m not entirely sure that I want it to end.
And next for 2013? I have little idea. I know I want to spend the year in Southeast Asia, bumming from one country to the next. Maybe two months of work, volunteering and learning up around Pai, then Burma in March, then Cambodia and Laos, and later to spend the hottest months of the summer in Malaysia and Indonesia. But with how quickly plans change – I’m certainly not making any.
For as crazy as 2012 was, I have a feeling 2013 can top it.
After all…we did survive the apocalypse.