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As I begin writing this post, its currently 3:36am in Tanzania. Around this time we’d be starting our final push from Crater Camp and aiming for summit of Kilimanjaro at sunrise, roughly 3 hours from now.

In the past 40 days since I got the call that the trip was cancelled, I’ve been struggling. I don’t (and didn’t) know where to put this energy crescendo that had been building and building and building for 13+ months. You know how your body can get the shakes after an intense moment has passed but the adrenaline valve is still wide open? That’s been my mind – trying to understand how something I’d been training for so long has to (understandably) pass me by but no one reminded me to turn off my other valves and there’ve been ‘shakes.’

I’m eating like I’m still walking 5-6 hours every Sunday or impulsively ordering frivolous items on Go Puff (you guys, the Lady Gaga Oreos were so overhyped (I mean, they’re cookies, who can be mad, but not even good cookies)) and skipping several workouts, intentionally losing myself in video binges or Youtube spirals and it’s suddenly 11pm on a school night. But not all the time; I’m 70% fine, functional socially and at work and doing well cleaning the bathroom or dishes and 30% shakes. I don’t know what the ideal ratio is, but I’d say that’s where I’m at right now. And this week has at least been an upswing from last week.

It’s a song you’re listening to that just abandons the listener – each lyric had been perfectly aligned, every instrument coming together in harmony, and just as the singer took a deep breath to belt, to take us to the emotional climax – just

stop .

How can you not feel unsatisfied? It makes me want to grab the conductor and shake them, begging them to resolve the chord. It can’t just stop, songs don’t end like this, it can’t be. The whole orchestra feels it – the unease, giving each other side eye – the strings, my stomach, my foot blisters, the gear I’m hiding from myself, trying to keep out of my eye line so I don’t remember it’s not being used. It feels like the conductor is patting me on the shoulder, saying ‘see you in 7 months and we’ll resolve the song then’ and I am left alone, standing on the stage alone as the tech shuts off the spotlight. The cello hides behind my laundry hamper in the closet and the timpani squeezes under my bed behind the suitcases. Hiding and squishing down the song so it doesn’t have to be seen, because seeing is remembering and remembering the song as it should be is painful. The words and names – Jambo!, Diamox, Malarone, HAPE, Barranco, Uhuru, Kibo, Ngorongoro – tucking themselves into hyper sleep pods for 7 months. And now I’m just here, on this square with no path for now:

It’s fitting that I started my period today. While my mind has struggled with how to dump excess energy/information I clearly see my body’s way of dealing with a production line that has nowhere to go – it’s painstakingly prepared a warm little cocoon, lovingly lined with healthy goops and soft blankets probably made of biological micro modal fabrics – and throws the cocoon off the cliff into the ocean roughly every 42 days. And begins the same process again.

But the body is built to do that rise and fall, to build cocoons and throw them out. It isn’t an abrupt aberration of the song – at least in my perspective. Maybe a better description is it’s built to rise and either continue rising or fall. A/B. Built to usually fall (A) but sometimes actually continue rising (B). Prepared for either option, even if one is much (MUCH) more common. If anything, a bigger shock to the system would be a B, if there was an occupant to the cozy nest. I imagine my body’s shift foreman, “Hey everyone, Day 41, we’re calling it,” the worker bees sighing and doing the usual monthly rituals – boxing up the nutritious goops and embroidered blankets – and suddenly running into each other on the way out the door as a little egg knocks, whispering, ‘Hey y’all, is this the AirBNB I reserved for the next 9 months?’

That song seems designed to crescendo and diminuendo; I know it could be A or B. That makes sense to me. As someone who has devoured stories all her life – I get rises and falls – the hero’s journey, the mentor’s passing the torch, the darkest night. I know all the generally different paths (A-Z) it could take. All stories are a song that begins and ends, rises and falls and swoops and laterally changes keys and resolves the chord. Maybe all songs are also stories? Possibly just Taylor Swift’s discography. They don’t just stop . Usually. Unless that author got a 3-book deal and this is the end of book 2. Do the characters know they’re in only book 2 of 3 or do they just despair?

I guess what I’m saying is. I understand stories. And songs. And my period. I know there are rises and falls and resolutions and beginning again-s. There’s rarely a surprise, and never one like this. I hadn’t prepared myself that there would be a sudden book 2 cliffhanger and no ETA on when book 3 would come out, if it would come out. I didn’t realize living in the deep breath at the end of the bridge before the key change into the powerfully belted chorus would be a 7-month breath. It was an emotional blind spot and now I’m in a holding pattern for 7 months and not sure what to do with my emotional passengers as we do 4-leaf clovers above ORD.

Of course, it doesn’t help that this came in the coldest season in Chicago, with record-tying massive snow dumps, below 0F temps and in the middle of the still-happening pandemic amid a lost year we’re grieving. That I live alone and the only other life in here are the chlorophyll gang of plants I’m trying to keep alive (and whatever mold was growing on the inside of my shower window until yesterday’s bleach-a-thon). I had nothing on the calendar post-Kili until climbing Mt. Baker with my sister in July. And suddenly, from January 12 until late July/Baker – nothing. A calendar void. A desolate 6-month stretch of another March, April, May and June in isolation. Waiting for a song, any song, to play. I thought Baker would be Mountain #2 and here it is, suddenly the batter up to the plate and still wearing warm up sweats. The team manager jamming the batting helmet on the her head, handing her the bat and saying ‘yer up! Go do us proud.’ Poor kid barely out of t-ball and doesn’t even have her cleats on yet.

It’s snowing yet again right now in Chicago. We’re another hour closer to summit. Probably above 5,500m/19,000ft. Moving pretty ‘pole, pole,’ at that altitude. A porter softly singing somewhere ahead or behind me.

I took last Friday (2/12) off work as a personal day. It’s when I would have flown out. I thought it would be a tough day so I filled it full of warm ‘me’ items to recharge. And it was truly a great day. A great weekend.

  • Croissants and Cafe Au Lait from La Boulangerie – tastes like this little place in New Orleans off Royal St.
  • Dash through Ravenswood Used Books – a place I once described as a place I’d want my brain to live to a therapist 5 years ago
  • Haircut – nothing fancy, keeping it cute and healthy
  • Nails in a fun, silly design – I said “I want to look happy when I see them” – and I do
  • Slept in – woke up only 15 mins after the usual alarm
  • Made a hearty, delicious breakfast – aka pancakes
  • Hung up my hammock as a type of…swing? Something different in this small lil place – it was fun

And yet somehow, I didn’t really think about how hard today might be. Or rather, tonight. Which would have been summit morning (Tanzania is +9 on Chicago) of the trip. I hadn’t prepared myself to feel emotional today or put words to the last 40 days of lethargy, of the grief of the trip not happening. It feels a little like how I was very mentally intentional about taking care of myself on Election Day but then hadn’t realized we’d kind of need to ration out that serenity for a week until the election was decided/fully over and that Wednesday-Saturday would feel absolutely trash until then.

As someone who likes stories (and songs) I’m kind of realizing this post doesn’t have a true ending either. I’m looking for an out, a button, but I haven’t done improv in so long that I’m out of practice. Maybe a fade out? Just a slow pull until you realize you’re the one humming but the track has ended.

I don’t think there is a button on grief. For this lost year, for the lost moments. The hugs that haven’t happened, the Kilis that haven’t been climbed. The delayed weddings, the skipped holidays, the milestones set to the side (or missed entirely). Kili will come – the mountain has stood a long, long time without me – and she’ll be there after September too.

So many of you have celebrated wins with me – cheered me on, said you feel inspired by me attacking this health and mental and physical challenge – and many of you have held space for my disappointment in the last month. I’m grateful for that. Me continuing to struggle does not and should not diminish your words of support, which are still so valued. They feel like a crackling cold Diet Coke to my aspartame-starved brain on a Monday at 2:47pm.

But also, I want to be honest about the struggle too. If you’re struggling, whatever it is, and you think you’re alone – you are not. It doesn’t have to be BIG Trauma (whatever that means to you) to be considered worthy of pain. You don’t have to excuse or explain it away. We know as grown ups that more than one thing can be true.

I remember talking to a therapist about 5 years ago and we were discussing something emotionally painful from my college years and she said, “that sounds like trauma.”

“Oh, no…” I sputtered, “it’s like, people have gone through so, so much worse, so…”

“Yes, but,” she calmly said. “this is also trauma. You can view it as ‘small t’ trauma rather than ‘Big T’ trauma if that helps, but it was traumatic. It is a wound you’ve been carrying that hasn’t healed.”

Trauma is not apples to apples, or apples to oranges. It is apples to plywood pallets to size 6 sandals to mummified teeth to glass jars of pickles. There isn’t a common measurement and there’s not clean 3×4 inch box to dealing with it. It defies boxing. Pain is pain is pain, my friends. This one feels like a dull ache over the past 40 days. Maybe yours is a sharp twist. But we’re almost all hurting in some way and we don’t need to rush out of it or hide it under the bed with the timpani.

It’s 6:33am in Tanzania. The sun officially rises in 8 minutes.

I spent the better part of today watching Kilimanjaro YouTube videos – soaring drone shots of Lava Tower and happy, chattering, brightly-puffer-clad influencers chirp about their experiences – I don’t know if that was more mourning or emotionally pornographic to watch as my heart siren wheezed like a sad old bike horn, watching the dream clouds roll in over the lower valley from Arrow Glacier Camp. I’m not a parent (see: cocoon throwing off cliffs every 42 days, above), but I’ve heard that a vital part of raising tiny humans is letting them cry themselves out and self soothe. As a 33-year old full grown adult – I might need to do both tonight.

It’s 6:41am in Tanzania. The sun is breaking over Uhuru Peak.

I’m staring at this tapestry of Kili on my wall that I bought to inspire me and I’m angry and sad and frustrated and alone and mostly so, so mad there is no one to blame. No one to rage at. Nothing to point my finger at but a virus. There are no plates to break (I like all of mine, they’re thrifted) or place to run (the sidewalks are icy) and there is no conductor to shake at the song that has just stopped. I understand why the trip was cancelled and I know my guide company made the right call in protecting me, the porters, the support staff and the people we could have come in contact with.

It is 210 days until September 19th, 2021.

209 sunrises to go.

209 beats of rest in whatever time signature this song is in.

209 blank pages until book 3.

Holding Pattern

I’m grown enough to know that bourbon and tacos aren’t a healthy coping strategy. But also, living alone during a pandemic and facing a large pile of disappointment? Yeah. It could be worse than bourbon and tacos.

Yesterday I texted my therapist, asking for a session to talk about the fact that in 30 days, I planned on leaving the US for my Kilimanjaro trip. I was struggling to reconcile being a good global citizen with pursuing this dream. We talked through the issues being 1) do I feel safe and more importantly 2) am I afraid of others’ perception of me traveling right now? And yes. Yes I was afraid of #2.

Today, I got a call that due to new US restrictions on international travelers entering the country, that my trip was cancelled, with the next dates available in June, 5 months away.

My guide company, who are phenomenal, awesome people – do not have access to guaranteed resources to get me COVID tested in Tanzania, 48 hour turn-around-time for results, take off to Amsterdam, layover 6 hours, then fly to the US within the 72-hour time frame. That’s 63+ hours if everything goes perfectly. And if you’ve ever traveled, you know that’s a big if. So they’ve made the difficult (and in my opinion, right) decision to cancel the trip rather than risk leaving me and my trip mates abandoned in airports flung across the globe.

It sucks, it sucks, it sucks it sucks it sucks. And yet I know there are a thousand things more important. The country is in the grips of civil unrest, there’s a damn pandemic still GAINING GROUND on us and here I am, sad no one will let me climb a big ole’ mountain. There are people without jobs, legitimately fearful of eviction, first responders beyond burned out and I’m soft drunk on my thrifted big red chair, crying that my trip is delayed (for the second time).

But if everyone’s Tad Hamilton to someone then by God, we all have got Kilimanjaro’s worth of disappointments from this past year. My Kilimanjaro is Kilimanjaro, but someone else has to cancel their wedding. Someone else’s new baby hasn’t met friends, coworkers or grandparents. People have lost their family members to COVID. Kids without classmates, triathlons delayed, reunions by the wayside, dream jobs abandoned, graduations deferred, one-in-a-lifetime experiences – gone.

I know I’m one of many. But it still hurts. And I feel, more than ever, so aware that I am alone in this apartment. That the only person who can soothe me is me. That the only way through it is through it.

Tomorrow can be for rallying. Tonight is for tacos, bourbon and sorrow.

Why I’m Climbing Kilimanjaro

It began with a massive crush on Justin Gingham, which is not his name, but I’m not here to somehow accidentally link a 10-year-old crush to someone’s professional life on LinkedIn via the technological witchcraft known as Google SEO. I am always down to clown on my life and tomfoolery but when it starts to involve others I AM A SOFT BOILED EGG. Also doesn’t Justin Gingham sound like a kind soul in a folksy parable? It fits.

Let’s talk about one of the factors that has contributed to me committing to climbing the truly bonkers number of 19,341 feet (5,985 meters for the rest of the sane, measuring world) in (probably) February 2021.

It begins with a crush–which birthed a mental image I’ve carried for over 10 years–which was naturally followed by a massive lie but we don’t have time to go into the lie and it’s unrelated. Y’all, I said we do not have time to go into the lie this is not the point of the story. OK sidebar for the lie since I can feel some of you salivating and I know you will not move onto the actual reason for this post; here’s the short(?) context for the lie: October 2009ish, senior year at ORU there is NO SHORT CONTEXT FOR THIS STORY I feel like this:

(Inhales deep breath) Justin Gingham was the…whatever the like, regional coordinator (that cannot be the right title) was for ORU Missions Trips, overseeing the trip I was going on to Morocco as an Assistant Team Leader. Oh, and he was my church small group leader and I had a massive crush on him. Those 3 things could not continue all being true. He asked me once directly about it? did he? someone important did. Maybe it was my team leader at the time? WHOEVER IT WAS someone with sway directly asked if I had a crush on him.*

I knew in my bones that:

1. The shame of telling the truth would be Great-Wave-off-Kanagawa levels of destruction in so many influential areas of my life: this mission trip, this church that was getting me through a very tough life season, my close-knit friend group and even my intramural job since we had a mutual boss. Our lives had so many similar/overlapping threads and it would truly be devastating to lose any of them.

2. ORU Missions had (has?) a no-fraternizing in the leadership hierarchy (Assistant Team Leader, Team Leader, Assistant to the Regional Manager, Houston Mission Control, This Mission Should You Choose To Accept It etc) policy. They would reassign me or him or both. Something public and difficult and it would be VERY AWKWARD because everyone would be like ‘oh why is Bailey and/or Justin Gingham reassigned’ and it would be irresistible ORU gossip catnip for @twapel

3. YOOHOO, HELLO, SHAME, AGAIN, THIS TIME JUST PERSONAL CRUSHING SHAME OF ‘WHAT IF HE DOESN’T LIKE ME BACK,’ DON’T FORGET!

And SO I lied and said, “NO, I DO NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON JUSTIN GINGHAM *scoffs*”

I remember immediately going to the always abandoned stairwell on the 7th floor of Claudius dorm (no one went there, we were all elevator folk THE SEVENTH FLOOR AND THE BASKETBALL TEAM WERE NOT STAIR PEASANTS) and wept. Genuinely wept. Heaving sobs. Sticky, wet shuddering heaves for a very-long-feeling but what probably amounted to 4ish minutes. Because I knew I’d have to sit in that lie for a long, uncomfortable time. And it sucked.

*Editor’s Note: We ran this blog draft past DB, who stated that actually, Justin Gingham asked him, to his face, ‘Does Bailey have a crush on me?’ and this absolutely platonic prince of my heart is the one who stone cold Steve Austin lied to JG’s face, saying “No, she does not.” DB and I are two sides to one coin (I’m heads and he’s CLEARLY tails, regardless of which currency we’re talking about) and so I somehow have internalized this story in my head canon to be me lying. As soon as DB told me this story though I remembered – he had called me on the phone as soon as it happened. I ran into the stairwell, panicked, my heart thumping some 5/4 trap rhythm. The most visceral memory of the story is that I cannot forget how searingly cold the stairwell landing was on the side of my face, which was hot and swollen from sobbing. Memories can be weird, pals.

Also, I don’t feel bad/weird/strange saying 1. I had a crush and 2. Lied about it because it’s 10+ years later. I’ve cycled through many a crush since then and since he’s been happily married for 7 years per some light Facebook creepage IT ALL WORKED OUT FINE FOR BOTH OF US *cackles, sips gin alone in Chicago apartment in a pandemic*

Flashback to Fall 2009 and JG the Crush (honestly, put that on a shirt) went to Clemson, SC to see a friend (Fun Fact for long-time listeners: that friend ended up being my actual replacement team leader on the Morocco trip in June 2010, an even longer story that has even less to do with Kilimanjaro) and they climbed some kind of mountain at sunrise.

Sidebar 2.0? 6.5?: I know the Appalachian Mountains exist because I watched “Last of the Mohicans” BUT I’m not going to expend the energy to google what mountain it was near Clemson because as we said, there is a pandemic, time is precious and democracy is at risk. Move on.

2009. Such a simple time when we used to upload whole albums of photos to Facebook. And if your crush is uploading an album – be honest – you’re going to look at all.the.photos. So here’s a few I went and screenshot (YES I DID GO BACK 11 YEARS AND FOUND THEM THEY ARE NECESSARY TO THIS MOMENT):

Breathe those in. Take a minute, pause here in on the internet. Scroll back up a scooch. You can taste that clean, crisp air. It makes the insides of your lungs feel like a Listerine strip. Sit and lazily watch the clouds roll past, forming puffy shapes and disintegrating into ethereal wisps. You’re in no rush. Watch the sun rise, showing off colors that are flamingo and fawn and plum. You probably hear a song faintly in the back of your mind; I hear Enya’s “May it Be” and I don’t feel bad about it.

And so, sitting in Tulsa, Oklahoma clicking deeper and deeper into a crush on my 2006 Dell Inspiron laptop, this little worm of an idea crawled its way between my ribs and took up shop in a nook of my heart: I want to stand on a mountain and look down at the clouds.

This wee dream started living rent-free in prime heart real estate, twiddling it’s thumbs, waiting for the moment. A brief look at Sagada in 2015 has the mental tornado sirens go off as I research day trips in the Philippines, but alas, it’s rainy season and no safe guide will go.

So I tuck the dream back into the garden apartment of my heart, mollifying it with ‘soons’ and ‘somedays’ as it grumbles and shakes its tiny wispy fist.

And there it hibernated for 4 more years.

And I started to dream about the clouds.

The dream began to rub the sharp lil sleep crusts out of its eyes and the siren let out a few shaky coughs. My browser search history started seeing ‘tanzania’ and ‘Kilimanjaro’ and ‘fitness level climb kili’ with regularity.

This image I fell in love with from a crush that I lied about, wept about, carried to North Africa and back and and tucked safely into the pockets of my soul started to align with something I was scared to even say out loud to another person: I was going to climb Kilimanjaro. I’m going to look down at the clouds. I can. I’m capable. It’s happening.

…to be continued…

“‘Pokemon’ Is Short For ‘Pocket Monster'” and other things in Japan

Not my best title, I know, but I’m writing this over a month later after returning from Japan, so…a lot of brain cells and one egg have died since then, so I’m not on top of my game. Yep.

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It always felt that my time in Asia wouldn’t be complete without visiting Japan. For $50 you could fly from Busan to Osaka and stuff yourself full of sushi, roll in piles of Doraemon swag and perfect the art of karaoke, so that was the easiest decision ever. I finished up 2 years of work at K. Hogwarts and left for 10 days in the land of the rising sun.

Continuing with my Philippines tradition, I went makeup-less and packed just a backpack to carry on my flight, only to run into one of my bosses at the airport, so it was a great start to the trip. After landing on the island airport of Osaka (no, really, it’s an island)

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I realized that I couldn’t remember the address of the hostel I was staying at, and in immigration there was no wifi…so I lied and wrote “friend’s apartment in Osaka” and cried a little in the line after copying the phone number of the guy in front of me. Sorry Marty (and Japanese immigration official) and random stranger. I just was dumb and forgot about the paperwork part, I didn’t pre-plan to fraud everyone I JUST WANTED THE DORAEMON SWAG.

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After renting a data ‘egg’ and slowly, awkwardly reading train signs, I made it to Osaka Station. I…was not prepared. It was like Seoul Station on crack. There are at least 7 lines running out of there, and sub-stations and new letters and new solar systems and *cue hyperventilation and hypoglycemia* someone finally came out to help me because I was sweaty and awkward for too long. I finally made it to my hostel in Osaka, and it was perfectly cute and quaint–Air Osaka Hostel via AirBNB in Kitagaya was warm and friendly. They also included a map that pointed out some awesome hot springs (that I visited twice), a delicious, cheap restaurant (again, twice) and a sushi place (once, because money).

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LOOK AT THAT DESTRUCTION. I am the destroyer of Japanese foods. I also visited the Pokemon Center in Osaka and…well…

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Squeeeeeee. I never got into Pokemon as a kid, but who doesn’t like Pikachu? I bought myself a soft little squishy Pika and a coin purse because anything less than a 1000 yen note (around $8USD) is a coin. SO MANY COINS. Also of note, the only ONLY song that plays in the Pokemon Center? The Pokemon theme song in Japanese. On loop. I fear for their employees because they must walk in to work hoping for–

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After more Osaka explorations, including a 3-story Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store, Osaka Castle and a peaceful, rainy Shinto shrine:

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I then lovingly tucked my Pika into the backpack and took off for Fukuoka!

In August 2014, I got to lead a program of 60 Japanese students from Aso College, in Fukuoka and 60 Korean students from my parent school, Yeungjin College in Daegu. We mixed together the students for a 5-day, 4-night English intensive camp, and it was one of my favorite teaching experiences ever. So I was unbelievably excited to see several of my Japanese students again–they even let me stay with them, they COOKED, we talked–it was so much fun. Plus, OWL CAFE.

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You pay 1500 yen (about $12-13) to hold these handsomes. The first 15 minutes you read some safety tips, including “please don’t forget owl is rapacious bird” and “when you see hate signs while you touch owls, please stop touching owls right away.” I don’t know what a hate sign is, but look at this bro, who was bestowed the name “Nuts.” HOW COULD HE EVER HATE SIGN?!

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The next day, after a delicious homecooked meal from Tati, my students took a taxi WITH ME to the airport. They refused to let me pay and they even bought me some Pika swag from the Fukuoka Pokemon Center! I’m so happy to have met them and been their teacher and their friend too. I was a little sad to go on to Tokyo, but off I went, backpack bulging with Pikas and gifts from the Super Daiso that I had gotten lost in. Thanks so much to Tanya, PJ, Tati, Ryota and everyone else I got to see!!

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In case you are planning to go to Japan, you need to know that Narita Airport is in the middle of Egypt nowhere, so plan accordingly. I made it into my hostel in Tokyo’s Shibuya district around 10 at night, a little lonely and ready to eat my own hand. I walked up the four flights of stairs, ran down to find food and smack into a guy staring at his smartphone exactly the same way I had been 5 minutes before. I asked, “Are you looking for the Geekhouse?” He looked up, and stammered “ah 애, yes” and when I looked closer, I saw the telltale signs of Korean 20something guy–Carhartt and white socks with white tennis shoes–I replied “진짜?!” and laughed, watching his jaw drop. It had only been 6 days, but I’d already missed speaking in Korean and feeling halfway knowledgeable in a foreign country. He threw his bag upstairs and we got ramen and a beer together on the corner, talking about our lives in Korea and our travels in Japan. When we figured out that we wanted to see the same areas the next day, we ended up walking around all of Shibuya and Harajuku together–Won Geol and I, the photographer and the makeup-free white girl. (You can see him peeking his head into my otherwise flawless pano of the Meiji Jingu below)

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Over my last 2 days, I discovered a shop that sold $20,000 original, single, hand-painted animation cells from classic Studio Ghibli films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Totoro,” stood in Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, and walked an hour back to the hostel, letting myself crack a little and grieve about leaving Korea soon.

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I left Japan after not-so-gently shoving my Pika and all his friends into my backpack, and hoping that Peach didn’t have weird restrictions on carry ons since my bag weighed as much as the Sherpa I would need to carry it, and headed home to gimbap and soju, ready to live up my last 2 weeks in Korea. Pictured below is me and my Pika:

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A lot of people have asked about the differences between Japan and Korea, especially my Korean friends, so here’s a brief list of things I noticed that may or may not be unique in my experience:

1. It’s quieter. There’s less noise, less ambient music, less screaming, less “Oppppppppaaaa” and less honking. Every city I was in was just calm. Even the busy areas–even in Shibuya crossing, it was remarkable. No one is talking unless they have to. Everyone is respecting everyone else’s space. Even Won Geol said, “it’s more quiet than Korea,” so I feel this one is true.

2. The food–obviously these are different places and no one does a food like a home country but DAMN. The ramen, the udon, the SUSHI, my god, the sushi, where is this drool on my chest suddenly coming from…? But wow. Japanese food is glorious, full-bodies tastes. From restaurants to home-cooked meals and even convenience store sushi, I never had a bad meal. tumblr_logdznWf4X1qzbb14o1_1280

3. Hot Springs/Onsen: Korea has jimjjilbangs (짐찔방) but while similar to Japan, there are some definite differences, chief among them, not staring. This matters when you’re a very naked, very white, very alone, chubby white girl. If they did stare then they were truly CIA-level because I felt perfectly calm and alone. Also, fun fact–the onsen I went to switched sides every other day. I went on one day and the door was the left one, and the next day, it was the right one! Amazing. However, had I never been to jimjjilbangs in Korea, I would have been quite lost in Japan.

4. They drive on the left side! I guess somewhere back in the deep recesses of my lizard brain, I knew this, but after about 5 minutes of confusion, I realized that something was wrong with the street and it was not opposite day. This did a number on me because not only do you have to be conscious while crossing the street, you also have to be aware what side of the street the bus comes on, an error I made while standing on the right in Fukuoka, watching the bus I was meant to be on drive away. Across the street.

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Anyways, that’s all for this wrap-up–you can see more pictures on my Facebook of foods and owls and temples–I’ll try to sum up the last month here in America this week and we will be *GASP* up. to. date.

ありがとう, Japan–thanks for the best food, and even better people. Especially you, immigration guy. I’m sorry I was shady I DID IT FOR THE POCKET MONSTERS!

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Baguio, Baby! Reincarnated Dogs and Questionable Meats

So, I’m as bad as a network season finale cliffhanger for that last post, am I right? “I’ll post tomorrow,” I said. It’s only been (counts on fingers)…it’s been more than “tomorrow.” My bad. I have excuses, but most of them are flimsy and since y’all all WHEN YOU GON’ UPDATE, sit your Bellatrix selves down for the rest of the #PhilippinesAdventure.

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You’ll recall that day 1 in the Philippines, was, to use the colloquial, a shit show. I was seriously looking into tickets back to Korea that night, but I didn’t want to face the peanut gallery of “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST GO TO EL NIDO I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU I TOLD YOU” and since I am a dumb woman who repeatedly forgets that pride goeth before the shit falleth, I couldn’t have that.

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I asked my new AirBNB host, Nick, for some advice, and what I got was advice AND DINNER, y’all. At a place that was like “The Hangover,” pre-hangover.

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AND HE PAID. Yes, y’all. This dude definitely paid more for my dinner than I paid at his hotel. And it was crazy delicious. He (and his business partner) both recommended that since my first choice place of Sagada was supposed to be raining all week, I should try for Baguio, which was “just 5.5 hours away.”

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My main goal in this unplanned trip to the Philippines was to relax and unwind and just be around green things, which, in a nutshell, was what it was like in Jeju for me just 5 days before, and they assured me that Baguio was like that, and they had contacts there. So I folded myself in half in a tricycle, YES a trike, and went to the bus station. I then proceeded to think “don’t pee don’t pee don’t think about peeing you definitely don’t have to pee, you’ve never peed in your life” for the next 5.5 hours, which I am sure my sister the nurse would not be proud of.

Watching the scenery go by, I saw more and more green, making my heart excited. However, I’ve got to tell you guys that the ratio of Celine Dion songs I heard to hours I spent on that bus was just unreal. I was in love with the guy next to me by the time our ride was finished. Upon arriving to Baguio, I checked into my new AirBNB place and promptly got rained on. But the view, even in the rain, was magnificent.

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Originally, I’d just planned on staying 2-3 days in Baguio, and getting ideas for somewhere else. But, like all places, there were people that changed my mind. My new AirBNB place was hosted by Robert, who was convinced that his dog, Bruno, was reincarnated and could tell bad people (barking) from good people (no barking), and that since Bruno and I got along like gangbusters, I was a good egg. Just look at this fool, who clearly has superpowers.

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Robert fed me, answered questions, and let me just chill and be myself on his balcony for hours. I also met 4 girls who lived in the house–they are from neighboring provinces and are in Baguio for jobs/training/schooling for a temporary time, and they are awesome–they took me to night market, to bars, on walks, and got me to eat new foods, all while chatting and talking about life. They completely made my trip worth it.

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I ended up spending 5 days in Baguio–and I have to say, I never anticipated in my life being crammed into a Toyota 4 Runner taxi with 4 Filipino girls, eating corn kernels that were coated with macaroni cheese dust out of a plastic cup, and rocking out to “Gangster’s Paradise.” Sometimes when you just let the journey take to the weirdest places, it treats you to pretty wonderful experiences.

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Highlights in Baguio:

-The night market–at 11pm they close down one of the main streets in Baguio for a clothing, shoes, and trinkets free for all that is manic and wonderful and super cheap. You should all know that I really restrained myself in not buying you all vintage Nike tees. And then I ate some weird foods that I’m still not sure about.

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-Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary–aka one of the weirder things I did in Baguio and I…I’ll just show you some pictures. This is touted as a garden, and as I was here to see green things, it seemed logical…To start with, this is how this starts:

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YES. Am I right?! I  swear, if there was just a weed scent, this would be right at home in the Pacific Northwest. This place/garden has a “history of the world” theme, and it did not disappoint with the weirdness. There were dinosaur eggs, mini-caves, and even weirder religious motifs. I wished so bad that RoyGene had been there to livetweet it with me, because it was glorious. Also, there *were* beautiful flowers, but I was too lost in the hilarity of strange.

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-Mines View Park–WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING BADGES to look at a bunch of hills that once had mines that produced valuable stuff. Not the most exciting pit stop, but a cool view indeed.

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-The Mansion–aka where the President goes to get away from the oppressive heat of everywhere else in the Philippines. I know it looks like the gates to Arkham, but I swear this is the summer white house.

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I returned to Korea, a little wiser and with mostly healed cheesy thunder thighs, and missing the one guy who knows me inside and out: Bruno. I mean, seriously, look at this fluff basket. He knows what’s up.

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TL;DR: #PhilippinesAdventure

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So if you go to the Philippines, either 1) plan better then I did or 2) just go to El Nido already and you’ll probably love it. I don’t regret going on my journey of strange, as it’s made for some awesome and horrific stories but I could have saved a lot of hours and several inches of chewed of fingernails if I’d planned better. But the Filipino people made my trip a glorious bag of experiences and for that, I’m pretty damn grateful.

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Next post: How to end your job gracefully without crying, by Not Me, #JapanAdventure and OWLS. Yes, Anderson Cooper, OWLS.

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How Not To Start A Vacation: Philippines Style

You know how people are like, “don’t plan out your vacation! Just let it take you where it will and you’ll discover blah blah blah its the journey, not the destination?”

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Such crap. I mean, like, half crap. At least when it came to my Philippines trip.

*sidebar: this coffee shop I’m at right now has an amazing, killer iced Vanilla latte. Think Sonic cup ice and creamy, glorious vanilla tears of a mermaid–it’s great. However, I was like, YES, I would like a chocolate muffin with it and this muffin tastes (and has the texture of) ground up Cheerios boxes. Not Cheerios. The cardboard box that holds and smells faintly of Cheerios. Like, I wouldn’t feed this to chickens my worst enemies anyone. But I bought it so I am damn well gonna eat it. Stupid pride. Anyways…*

Philippines. I finished up my aforeblogged Jeju trip on Monday, May 18 (happy birthday, older bro! You’re 30! I should shut up now!) by flying back to Daegu in the morning, then showering and discovering I’d been attacked by what looked like angry gnomes…I had countless bug bites, scratches, scrapes, tiny sunburn on the tops of my feet (knew I’d missed somewhere…) and the cheesy maiming of my thunder thighs. Everything hurt in that shower. Did I really want to leave the country again for 6 days? I mean, sure, the $168 round trip flight from Seoul to Clark was too Dutch to pass up and I am an adult female woman person who has pride, power and is a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody so HELL YES we are going to go and…have fun…and whatever. Also, it was my last week of vacation at K.Hogwarts, so I *had* to use it.

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Everyone who knew I was going to the Philippines was all “OH MY GOD EL NIDO EL NIDO PALAWAN (that’s it, right? I have a sneaking suspicious it might be Padawan but that could also be a Star Wars thing) YOU’LL LURVE THE BEACHES” and I’m all, “please look at my skin tone and tell me about how perfect I am for beaches and snorkeling, please.” No. I was going to the MOUNTAINS and having HIKING TIMES and FINDING MYSELF like that lady from Oprah…stuff.

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So I get to Seoul, get on the flight, and immediately, start to have a weird feeling about the trip. Not enough to break aviation law, but I did have a “which sickness gets me off of here without thousands in fines” thought and I will confess to thinking about throwing nuts at a steward but I did not because I am not a chaebol lady pre-apology. I shrugged it off and said to myself “IT WILL BE AN ADVENTURE,” confirm texted my AirBNB host about the car picking me up, and then departed from Korea.

I landed to…nothing. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. I landed, went through customs, whole shebang, got the stamp, got my bag searched, walked out the doors to…nothing. No sign for the car I had previously arranged. No person saying any version of my name, mangled or otherwise. Just looking at about 200 Filipino people looking at me as they were sitting, and waiting, for other people that were NOT me in the 84 degree heat at 11:22pm at night.

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I could not figure out what brand of cross-cultural muckup I had walked into here. I frantically tried to connect to the semi-shady free wifi spots at this tiny, useless airport (that $168 ticket price tag is starting to make sense, isn’t it?) to check my AirBNB app for something, anything from my host to discover why my already exhausted, possibly hungover, bug-bitten, sunburned, cheesy maimed ass was alone in a new country and up shit creek. To add insult to these various injuries, I was an IDIOT and forgot my foreign credit cards. I know. I blame it on the Jeju magic; I’d still been in Korea in Jeju, so I was able to use my Daegu bank cards and Korean ATMS (my Korean cards wouldn’t work here. I checked). I was now in a foreign country with just under $404 in Philippines pesos FOR THE ENTIRE 6 days.

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I used 400 ($9) of my precious pesos to buy a SIM card to contact the AirBNB host, since she’d given me her number to call her in the event of…anything. Nothing like hearing the message “this call cannot be completed as the receiver is either out of service or this number has been disconnected” to make your heart sink. I hadn’t eaten in almost 9 hours, and it was just past midnight and hot and dark and I was, to be frank, scared. Yeah, I was. I was alone, and knew no one in this country. I don’t want to lie to you guys. I wasn’t totally in panic mode, but I’ve seen “Taken” and I couldn’t go back into the main airport without a ticket (which I wouldn’t have for 6 more days) and I was rapidly approaching some unattractive tears. I had no credit card to get any more money, I had no sleep options (this airport is 15 minutes from anywhere), and I was feeling really dumb about the whole trip.

I frantically tried to book different places on AirBNB, since I could use my credit card number online to pay, but since it was past midnight, I couldn’t book for the night I was currently living (18th/19th), but rather the next night (19th/20th). I still hadn’t cried by this point, but this wasn’t a moment of pride for me. In desperation, I posted an SOS on Facebook, which prompted a text from my best friend saying “you know your mom is going to freak out, right?” Yeah, I did. But it felt like a legitimate post to throw up there since I was literally sitting against a wall in a strange airport in a strange land without any plan other than “don’t get kidnapped or robbed or sold into slavery.”

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At this point, a guy wearing an official-ish badge walked up to me and asked in a not-unkind way, “what are you doing?” By now, I’d been pacing around with a constipated look on my face for about 2 hours. It was just shy of 1am and as I blurted out my story, he said he knew of a close hotel. I informed him that I didn’t have much money, which probably was mostly sold by the fact that I only had a small backpack on and smelled like anxiety. He said his job was “taxi chief” and that he knew of a good, cheap place that was safe, including “guard have gun,” which, after living in Korea for so long…is kind of unsettling…but whatever. I’d already created a frightening backstory for a lot of the guys walking around the airport, so the word SAFE SAFE SAFE was circling my head like little Disney birds. He bundled me into a cab (500 pesos) and told me the hotel would probably be about 1200 pesos.

It is possible that in the dark of the cab, to the dulcet tones of 1980s Whitney, that I maybe shed a few tears of thanks and frustration but I hid it real real well under all the makeup I was not wearing. But you can’t prove that.

10 minutes later, upon arriving at a hotel that looked not unlike the motel/gas station from the movie “Cars,” I paid 1400 pesos (you win some, you lose some) and collapsed in twin bosoms of air conditioning and fast, fast wifi and actually, did, cry for about 30 solid seconds. I opened my messages to read replies and tips from friends from all over the world, plus family who was praying for me and a message from a college friend who hooked me up with names and numbers of her dad’s missions contacts in the Philippines. It was almost 2am in Angeles, and I was exhausted in every sense of the word. Despite the fact I was 88% sure there was a lipstick cam in the ceiling (it just had that vibe), I stripped down to my underwear and tried not to think about the sheets as I passed out.

I woke up 7 hours later to some emails from AirBNB customer service (awesome, awesome people) and messages from more people (yet, never ever heard from my original AirBNB host by email, messenger or phone). AirBNB hooked me up with some credits and helped me book a place that night. I spent the rest of the morning lazing about in the air conditioning and watching some form of an “Underworld” movie before deciding to check out and walk to my new place. But since this is getting long, I’ll save the rest of the story for tomorrow–including tips on how not to pee yourself on a 5.5 hour bus ride!

TL;DR First night in the Philippines:

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How to Sneak Home for Christmas

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box Make sure you can actually do it. Check the dates, BUY the ticket and make sure you can get to/from your destination. Without this, all the other steps are just duuuuust in the wind.

Step 2: Find an accomplice. (Ron Weasely level) in this case, my older brother was up in the middle of the night (thank you swing shift/young baby) and so I called him and booked it on the phone and we had a 30-second awkward white kids dance party as I got the confirmation email.

Step 3: Misdirection. Here comes the Hermione Granger level–DETAILS. I told my mom specifically what I was “doing” over the break. “A bunch of teachers from here are going to the Philippines and it’s so much cheaper and I can visit a new country and a beach and yaaaay” and I was totally about it. As she said how hard it would be and how she would miss me I said, “yeah, me too but it will be SUCH an adventure, Mom.” The truth is that several teachers WERE going to the Philippines so I got flight numbers, details, etc. from them to pad my throne of lies. Buy all your stuff using a card/account that your parents are not co-signers on since you live overseas.

Step 4: EXECUTE. Sneak up to Seoul for your birthday (True) and fly out (Secret). Tweet nothing. Facebook nothing. Have Philippines teachers tag you in their posts “LOL going on vacay!!!” Land in Seattle and turn off Location Finder and go full-on Airplane mode on your phone. Go ghost. Text Accomplice that you have arrived; he has already gotten invited himself to dinner at parents’ house. Catch bus. Have Accomplice #2 (sister-in-law) pick you up from bus station. Drive to parents’ house for ‘dinner,’ adding the last push over the cliff text to Mom, “boarding the flight to Manilla, Love you!!” and feel 87% guilty as her reply, “we will miss you but have fun and be safe,” comes back. Have small bubble in stomach as you pass neighbors’ houses. Do not give up now.

Peek head around car and shout “MERRY CHRISTMAS” at your parents who are standing outside greeting Accomplices #1, 2, and Baby Accomplice. Watch their very shocked faces take 3 full seconds to stare at you in the darkness. It will feel like the longest pause of your life thus far. Grow swiftly concerned as mother sinks down to sit on steps and opens her arms because you think “oh my god she’s fainted and this was terrible” but father says “what’s all this?” in that happy voice you know only too well from when he was immensely pleased with you growing up and she didn’t faint but she’s crying so you should probably stop recording this and enjoy the hugs.

Step 5: Bask in the glow of happiness. You are happy. They are happy. The accomplices are happy. The internet is happy for you. The world is happy. Every Christmas song you ever heard was right. Every time you thought about not coming home for Christmas with that peach pit in your gut was right–you’re meant to be here. You might not always have the freedom and funds to do it. But here in this moment, everything in the entire world is gloriously, wonderfully full and whole and perfect.

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And here. we. go.

Made it past the I-5 bridge collapse. Survived family goodbye, but only by pretending to be Spock and have no emotions. Snuck both suitcases under weight. Made it through security despite the pat-down and laptop search. Leaned right on the train to international “S” gates. Found a bathroom. Now a Smart Water. And finally, the blog! The infamous blog! It LIVES!

Welcome to http://www.baileysaywhat.com!

I’ll try and post often (but not, like, too often, where you feel the need to hide my updates on Facebook or pretend you have “plans” so you don’t have to see me kind of often). If you want to, I think there’s a submission or “ask” box where you can ask questions or say hi–and of course, there is always a comment box at the bottom of each article. Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@alyssa_bailey, or just click the link on the right side of the blog) as well for smaller, quippier anecdotes. 

Without further ado, 

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The Night Before Christmas…

2 Suitcases, filled to oh-so-close-but-still-under 50lbs

1 Carryon, filled with various “stuff,” plus a northface and wool coat

1 Personal item, holding laptop, iPad, (now SIM unlocked) iPhone, wallet, visa, passport, itinerary, glasses and gum

1 very nervous woman, trying to remember everything

Korea: it’s time.

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