Day 1: The Purging

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In Bali, three times a day offerings are left for God.

It’s been six months since I wrote my last post. Six months since I’ve posted a photo to my  Simple blog, and more than six months since I have written a poem or a short story. It’s as if I have given up on myself. It isn’t as if. It is as it is.

I do interesting things, at least it appears to be that way on the outside looking in, but I have to forcibly remind myself that my life is interesting or that it has some measure of value. Much of the time I feel disconnected from everything, like I’m a replicant just posing to be a part of the human race in hopes that I don’t get killed by Harrison Ford- although I guess if Harrison Ford or Ryan Gosling were the last people I saw on the planet it might not be so bad.  I travel quite a bit. I live in different countries. These are privileges that not a lot of people get to experience, so I understand the immaturity of complaining of feeling bad. What right do I have to feel bad when I live in a different country-by my own by choice? What right do I have to feel bad to have when I’ve just returned from a vacation in tropical wonder? What right? It isn’t a right. It is an inability to stop the feelings no matter where I go. No matter how beautiful the sunset, no matter how fun the party, no matter how exciting the adventure I can not escape the feeling that I’m fucking all of this up and doing it wrong. I didn’t connect enough, I didn’t have enough fun; I don’t look good in the photos; my photos aren’t spectacular; I feel lonely; I’m outside everything; I don’t feel it enough; I’m not adventurous enough; I’m not wise enough; intense enough; beautiful enough; young enough; never, never, enough. Who do I live for? It’s supposed it is me, but I’m not really certain.

A few years ago, I discovered that traveling doesn’t save me. I now know that no matter where in the world I am, and no matter how amazing the place is I’m also there too, and if I am not in the right head space then the place will not and does not change me. Sometimes, when I speak or tell stories to people I feel like I am lying. Like I am a fraud. I’ll walk away from a conversation and think to myself, I talk too fucking much. Why do I talk? Is that story even real? I have grown enough to have had many of self realizations, but not enough to know how to change the way I think about myself within those realizations. Meditation, yoga, self-help books, therapists, I suppose I’d try religion if it wasn’t so vulgar in its abuse of people. Still, the seeking of spirit is still there. I can’t see the progress. I’m sure there has been some, but I just can’t see it. I had a lot of dreams that I ignored for the same feelings that I have in my travels. Not enough, not good enough. I know that everything takes practice and experience, but I have the hardest time applying this well known truth to my own life. Somehow, I am outside of all of that truth. Anyone can be anything they want except for me. I’ll never improve; I’ll never be good at something; I’ll never have a successful relationship; I’ll never be worthy of the life I have been given; I’ll never live it to the fullest no matter how many hashtags of “livetothefullest” I post to my instagram. I am aware of the ridiculousness of this thinking, but training myself out of this thinking has been the most challenging thing in my life. It’s a constant battle. I’m a tired warrior fighting a never ending war.

The first time I left the U.S. I went to Europe. I was 25. I was heartbroken from a lost relationship that I thought was going to last forever (even though I didn’t always treat it as if I had believed it was forever). I thought Europe would save me. It would feed my soul and I would forget my former love. That’s how it is in the movies and the books. You never read a book about the person that goes to a new country and spends the entire time crying over their former lover leaving them. This is because no one wants to read that story. We know that feeling and we don’t like it. We want the good stuff. I didn’t get the good stuff because I couldn’t open to it. I was too busy wallowing in my self. When you can’t let go of an idea or a vision of what you thought you wanted or believed you would have, you can never be open to receive your new vision. This makes you rigid, closed, and disconnected to the magic around you. I know this because there is magic all around me that I miss every day, and I have missed for years. I see the magic in my friends. I see the magic in strangers. I’m grateful that I have the eyes to see at least that much. Europe didn’t change me the first time, or the second or the third time. At some point, perhaps it was in the 13 year break I took from traveling, I realized that I had wanted the place to change me. If I could go to a new place I could be a new person, but this never happened because places don’t change us- they effect us, but we change within ourselves. I couldn’t change the person I was to match the image or idea of the place I was in. I knew that it didn’t matter where I was in the world, that if I didn’t work on myself then I was never going to be happy or find the happiness I was searching for. Am I actually searching for happiness? I’m not even sure of that. If you don’t know what you are searching for then you most certainly will never find it.

Now, when I go to a new place, I don’t expect it to change me. I know it will effect me, but change me…no… I must find the way to do that within me, and that can happen anywhere even at home. Although, China changed me, but it was more likely my mother dying while I was in China that truly changed me. Well, not changed, but set the wheels in motion. Three year’s later and I’m still dealing with her death. Last night, after returning from a trip in Bali, I was overwhelmed with how lonely I felt in Korea. I looked at the room I was in. The closed walls, the tight space, the towering high-rises, the silence in the elevators, the lack of eye contact, the hours sometimes days without communicating to a person in person. I compared this to the open space of the place I had stayed in while in Bali. Every morning I had the staff to speak with, and how friendly they were, how easy it was to speak with people, how Balinese people would always say hi when you walk past on the street; the noises, the daily offerings of banana baskets of flowers on the ground and on the doorsteps. The openness of everything. My space had been huge, the sky had been huge, and suddenly, I felt all the smallness of my room in Korea. I was struck with an overwhelming loss. I had missed my mother. I missed being tied to someone, to belonging to someone. I think my friends would ask me why I don’t leave Korea if I feel so lonely there, and I suppose I would give the same answer as I had in China. I just want to see it through. Now, as I am about to begin a graduate program in TESOL, I will possibly have to stay even longer in this lonely yet intriguing country. I know when I leave it is unlikely I will ever return to Korea. I did say the same thing about China, and now I would like to go back to visit, but Korea, doesnt have the same effect. I have no animosity toward the country, but it is a place for the young. Korea doesn’t want us aging people, it doesn’t even want it’s own aging people-unless they are rich. Maybe there is a bitterness in this from me, not being able to stop the process of my aging, and Korea here to remind me of it. I’ve always struggled with loneliness and now I am on my way to invisible. I’m not afraid of it. I am painfully uncomfortable with it. The pathway to acceptance is a painful one. It’s less traveled because it is unpleasant. There is also no promise that you will feel better once you’ve reached the end of that road. I think only death brings that peace, if you can not find the peace within yourself while you are alive. I believe this peace is possible, but I don’t believe it’s possible for me. That’s my demon. What is all this about? What is this self-flagellating about? It is my purging. The beginning of a new task. I new process that I have added to my lists of processes to teach my self to enjoy the process.

There have been some times when people told me that I was talented, but I never allowed myself to believe them. Which is insulting to the person praising because you discredit their point of view by not taking the compliment, but most of us are selfish in our thinking, and we don’t see the gift that people are giving us. We wait for the insults because for some reason those are more believable. I’ve forgotten my praises, except one, and I imagine I remembered it because for years I thought of it as an insult. Once a teacher described me as tenacious. When I first heard this it made my heart drop. It was during a certificate ceremony when myself and others were receiving our degrees from a writing program. This same teacher had previously praised all the other students with words about their work, and their talents, and how people should look for their work in the future. When it was my turn he said nothing of my talent and nothing of my work, only that I was tenacious. I felt dejected by this statement. It yet again reinforced my belief that I was talentless, and that I was not enough. I also felt like it wasn’t accurate. If I was so tenacious then why did I quit acting? Why did I quit writing? Why didn’t I pursue the other arts I desired like dancing, or art or photography? I gave up every dream- how is that tenacious? Yet, as I look back on his comment, I know that it is the truest thing said about me. I am tenacious, even though I don’t always face my life in full awareness, I don’t give up. The fact that I am alive is a sign of my tenacity. I have stood at the edge of a window frame on the 13 floor, at the edge of a busy street, and the lip of a bridge, and just wondered if I could just let go and end this life. Those are not even my darkest moments, and yet, I hold on. Even after the death of my mother the most important person in my life, I still hold on. Even when I don’t know why or what I am holding onto I hold on. As if I am digging my soul out of the earth I grasp to improve my being and to grow. I search, and I finally know what I search for. I search for my freedom and my joy.

There were times when I was younger and I felt I had something to offer; when I could feel passion in my veins, when I felt like my inner self was bigger than my outer self and I longed for a bigger body that could fit my soul. My skin felt tight around my inner being. I want this feeling to return. I make these tiny painful steps toward rebuilding my inner life. It feels like rehabilitation from an accident I don’t remember. I need the physical therapy, but I don’t know why I need it. I started listening to podcast about change, reading books about change, motivating my inner thoughts to be aware of my choices about holding on to or letting go of my feelings. I started focusing on my habits and trying to change my life through changing my habits, like the habit of not liking any choice I make. This is habitual. It is habitual to think I’m not enough. Here is the point of this purge: I give myself 30 day challenges. 30 days of meditation every morning. 30 days of yoga. 30 days of not buying coffee. 30 days of waking up at 6:00 a.m. It can be anything. Behind every 30 day is the motivation and the intention to better myself by facing my habits and changing them. My measure of success is completing the 30 days. An even greater measure of success is turning that challenge into a habit. 30 days of letting shit go (this is a tough one). This here is 30 days of writing.

Day one is this confessional. I have four blogs. Poetry, photography, short stories, and this one. It doesn’t matter where I post or how much I write as long as I do it every day. What’s the intention the motivation? To be a good writer? To be prolific? To be seen? No. The intention is to make this writing a habit. A real habit. That my day doesn’t feel complete if I don’t write. To feel cleansed after writing. This is my intention. I don’t know if I will ever feel like I am enough or feel connected to this earth and the people in it, but maybe one day I will. My only legacy will be what I place down in a public place. It may not be much of a legacy, but because I am a human being in this world reaching out to grasp something, the same as all the billions of other human beings on this planet, I feel a need for a legacy. A small legacy and fantasy legacy, but a legacy all the same. To me that is writing.

With all of the self induced suffering and suffering caused from living in the world, and the apathy that leads to wanting to give up on this life, I still want to live an extraordinary life. I want to be amazing. I want to be amazing to me. I want to receive the magic, and if it takes me a life time to get there I will still try. There are times in my life when I can feel it. The beauty the enormous beauty of it all. I don’t know what gave me the gift in that moment to see life, but I’m so incredibly grateful to have received it. I want more of it. And I know it is there even if I don’t always believe it is meant for me. Life is fleeting. I’ll ride this suffering like a dragon into a storm. I don’t know if the storms will pass, but I’ll ride to the edge of the world, and if you want to grab my tail, you are welcome to do so. Purged.

Day one.

 

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Let’s Take Teacher to Kaifeng Part 1.

I left Portland in the summer of 2013, to begin a new adventure in China as an English Literature teacher for EFL Chinese students who were prepping to move to the U.S., and Canada to continue their educations. It was really a whim. I had been feeling trapped and stunted, doing my usual, what am I really accomplishing in this life lamentations. This a usual lamentation that I’ve been singing since I first left college in 1997. It’s a familiar song that is on a fairly continuous loop kind of like when a horrible pop song gets stuck in your head. In truth, I’m sick of the song, but at times it can lead me through interesting doors, albeit I’m generally singing the same tune too loud to be able to pay attention to my  immediate surroundings. Surely, more then once I have missed an opportunity to grasp some enlightening notes to help me in the great quest of purposefulness. Regardless, if I had the overwhelming desire to be a great teacher or to experience China, or to be an avid traveller (all of which I have at one time or another felt) I ended up in China. It was more a case of who I knew than what I knew, but the outcome was the same; I was in China.

As I write this post from a coffee shop in Busan, South Korea, the days tick away from my time in China, and four years have past. Since China I have moved to the Czech Republic and traveled to parts of Eastern and Western Europe then returned to Portland, and now I sit in cafe called Coffee Farm in Saha-gu in Busan. This post will remain static on this page, and the days will continue to tick. Perhaps you have stumbled across this blog while looking up something on China, and as you read, five more years have passed since I’ve posted, and who knows what I’m writing and where I’m writing. Will I still be traveling? Will I be writing? Will I be alive?  I haven’t posted much about my experiences because thoughts have been in the way, more personal, more emotional thoughts and feelings that have been an impediment to sharing my general experiences in China, and in the other places that I have been since then. Occasionally, I am able to force myself to the page, but the moments are far and fewer between. Yet, that need to record my life, maybe in some attempt to have some relevance beyond death, is still there; small as a wisp, but still there.

There are moments when my thoughts are drifting and some brief yet strong memory from my year in China resurfaces. I never know what triggers it, but it always brings a smile to my face, and a slight nod to my head, which at times baffles and amuses me because I struggled in China. It goes to show that things can become better when nostalgia sets in. Even though I discount my pleasant experiences there I will state that it wasn’t all a struggle or at least that there weren’t moments of joy in the experience of struggles. I do hope that in the coming years that I can and will devote more time to the practice and art of writing so that one day I can accurately and succinctly convey the emotions, and the experiences that triggered those emotions, in a way that can take my readers to China. Can I reach the ability to tell my history like a poetic story? Can I transport you with my words to this place without sounding sentimental or whiney? I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to do such a thing, but if it’s true that practice and deliberate practice bring about true growth, then I have to look at each post, be it about an event from the past or this current present, as a step toward learning to create that transportive storytelling.

Here is the beginning of one such deliberate practice of a storytelling:

Once upon a time, I had a complete and total meltdown at school, number 47 middle school, where I taught high schoolers,  in Zhengzhou, China.  I was in the office talking to one of my best and favorite students when one of the staff dropped a little bomb on me. On all of us. In a typical Chinese administration fashion, a set holiday was taken away from the teachers and the students in a very last minute non ticket refundable manner in order to use the school for Gaokoa practice testing space. Gaokao is this brutal future life determining test  that all Chinese students who want to attend higher education have to take in order to have a hopefully prosperous future. It is considered one of the most difficult tests in the world. Post test results are the top students have their photos in the national papers, and a number of suicides which are not reported in the same papers. It is stressful, and also status building. So it means nothing to the administration to forgo much needed and desired vacation time for students and teachers in order to be the poster school for testing. I, of course as can be determined by my current tone, don’t think this test is the be all to life, and at the time pretty much lost my shit at the knowledge that I just lost my vacation-days days before they were to take place. I had no concern for mianzi or guanxi. These are Chinese words for saving face or keeping up appearances and relationships that are far more complex, yet central to Chinese society, then I can effectively explain. Needless to say, my “face” exploded. I lost it in full view of my student and my Chinese co-workers.

When I think back on this 20 minutes of pure fury which I experienced in some bizarre out of body fashion, I wish that I had a camera rolling so I could watch the horror that my co-workers appeared to show on their faces and in their bodies, and the shear madness that I was unable to control. I really went mad. I was a thin line of consciousness from physical destruction. It was this outer body entity of myself that was watching me lose it that was the only thing that managed to keep some small about of sanity about me. I screamed and railed about how this was the very reason why people hated China; and no wonder they don’t return; and how the administration and the bosses treat people like shit even their own citizens; and it just keep going.  I’d grip a desk with a blinding passionate need to over turn it, but this calm voice of reason would wash over me and say, “you look crazy, right now, and this is not their fault, and your student is standing right there. Let go of the table.” So I would release my grip of what ever object I had in my grasp with a rapid snap of force, and scream out, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I know it’s not your fault!” And, immediately my wrath would return, “BUT this is bullshit!” and I would frantically pace the room seething and looking for something to destroy. It was truly a moment of madness where my personalities had split. I would even begin laughing at myself at the ridiculous irrationality of my behavior. I would laugh thinking, oh my god you can’t un-do what you are doing right now. The terror on my co-worker’s faces would only mildly pause my raging. It was only my student who was able to calm me. Unlike my adult co-workers who couldn’t move and just stood in shock staring at me, it was my 16 year old student who threw her arms around me and pulled me into an embrace, and held me in her arms. “It’s okay teacher. It’s okay.” I wanted to cry and collapse into her arms, but a new I needed to pull it together and be the adult I was supposed to be. “We won’t let this happen.” She said, and then she ran from the office.

I slumped into my chair, my head drooped forward over my desk, tears heavily forming into the base of my eyes. “I’m sorry.” I whispered to the still stunned Chinese staff. “It’s just…it’s just not fair.” I sighed, and looked at them. “I know it’s not your fault. I know it ruins your vacation too.” The head teacher held her hands up in a calming manner and said, “just, just wait, I will talk to the President, maybe something can be done.” And she left the office.

I don’t remember much else except that my student returned to the office to declare that her and the other students had decided to protest the change and that they would refuse to go to school on that day. “And if that doesn’t work teacher, we’ve decided that we will take you on a vacation after school is over.” I smiled lightly at my student. I had just incited a tiny revolution, which although oddly charming could result in me getting arrested for subversion, but what a story that would make.  This mini-revolt didn’t take place because the President of the school decided to allow our department the day off. I assume that the head teacher painted a very clear description of the foreign teacher’s utter decent into raving madness. It ended up making me a minor hero among my Chinese colleagues because they were able to maintain guanxi yet keep their vacation time. One teacher came in and spoke to the lead teacher in Chinese and after a moment leaned  toward me and whispered, “Thank you.” I may have been permanently marked the unstable one, but I had my uses.  I know that other foreign teachers had had outrages, but based on the frozen fearful faces of my co-workers I was fairly certain they had never seen anything like what came out of me on that day. Hell, I had not experienced that level of a tantrum soberly in a long-long time, and it was more than I had ever released. I knew it stemmed from the pressures of work but more so from the repressed grief that I had been carrying over my mother’s death. Still, I was shocked by my behavior. I didn’t know that I had an actual demon possession lying dormant inside me.

I suppose in all other circumstances I would have been embarrassed, but China had a way of taking bizarre events that would have what you would think to be a predictable outcome and flipping it into an unpredictable result. Everyone went on vacation, and at the end of the school year, six of my rebellious students took me on their mini vacation which was a complete surprise and a contradiction of expectations.

“Teacher.” My student said during the last week of school. “We want to take you with us on our holiday. Will you come. You just pay for your room and we will do the rest.”

It seemed a little unprecedented to me a teacher going on vacation with students–not as a chaperone, but as invited guest on their trip. It would never happen in the states. I said yes. My students took me to Kaifeng. It was me, six teenagers, and three e-bikes.

First Impressions of Busan, South Korea

CIMG9592The day is August 9th, and I am sitting in my hotel room to avoid the sweltering heat in Busan. A heat that I am not accustomed to as of yet. I’m not certain one truly acclimates fully to heat and humidity, but people do live in it.

My first days in Busan began with angst. I had flown from Portland to San Francisco on Virgin America, and then from SFO to Beijing to Busan on Air China. Two transfers, two airlines, three security checks (China’s was the toughest) and because of the time difference it seemed like it took me two days. I had left on the 4th and I arrived on the 6th. What happened to the 5th? But, more importantly, what happened to my luggage? Somewhere in all of that transferring my luggage was lost. I wasn’t calm about it, but also there isn’t much I can do. It felt like a big loss, and not the best way to arrive in my new foreign city.

I’ve moved to Busan; for at least a year, and I was feeling apprehensive about the move. I can’t say why I felt or feel apprehensive. This will be my third time moving out of the U.S. on some crazy adventure that I don’t plan well. It’s the fifth foreign country I’ve moved to, and my second Asian city to live in. One would think that by now I would feel more comfortable with the whole affair, but apparently I don’t. Apparently, I have a hard time doing it, but by the time I return to the states, I no longer remember my trepidations, and I do the damn thing all over again. I’ve never lost luggage before though so it is an added challenge. I tell myself, as my friends also tell me, “I have to believe things will work out. It will come back to me.” I try to put my faith in this thinking, but it didn’t stop me from crying my eyes out thinking about certain things I had in the case. That awesome jacket. My shoes; the one’s I loved. My brand new external hard drive that I had meant to put in my carry on, but forgot to. Then of course, my travel journal that is filled with pictures of my mom and home- it is something that gives me peace. That’s what really hurts. That can’t be replaced. So, I cried my first evening in Busan. I cried because my luggage was lost, and I cried because as per-usual, I don’t know what I’m doing nor do I know why I decided to go this route, and I’m afraid. That’s all normal for me. The thing is, I do know what I’m doing. I know more now this time then ever, but it doesn’t stop me from doubting myself or my choices. That too seems to be normal.

A friend met me at the airport. I was very grateful. I had felt uneasy on my arrival, what, with exhaustion, loss of stuff, and second-guessing my life choices. It was good to have a familiar face greet me in an unfamiliar place. Nikki, who I had met at Angloville in Poland a little over a year ago, guided me onto the subway and into the city where I am am being put up in a hotel near Nampo district. I’m to be in this hotel during my training period for my school. It’s about two weeks. I am not officially hired until I successfully complete the training. So who knows, maybe I will be back in the U.S. in two weeks more broke and in debt than ever, and with no clothes. Let’s hope not.

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Nikki and I wander a bit in the heat till we found a little restaurant where we ate cold noodle soup and kimchi and other delightful Korean snacks. As we walked around in the district of my new Asian city, I couldn’t help but compare Busan to Zhengzhou. Asian cities are so different from European cities as they are different from American or New World cities. The smells are different. The architecture, and the urban planning is all different. I don’t know a lot about Busan yet, but I believe a lot of it was destroyed in the Korean War so much of the urban planning is post- 1960’s. Also the land scape is hilly so that creates a different type of planning. There are some similarities to Zhengzhou in one particular smell and in the people, but they are only subtle similarities, and there were differences in what seemed familiar. Immediately, I noticed that it isn’t nearly as crowded here. In fact, the side streets were often empty. When it comes to the hustle and bustle of the subway people seem to be more polite here. There is some pushing, but nothing compared to China. If someone pushes past you they seem to be from the older generation and not to aggressive about it. In China, I found it to be very aggressive and all ages. I felt a bit like there was a sense of panic in Zhengzhou like a person needed to push everyone out of the way or they’d be left behind. Plus, in China there was the whole cutting in line (which really annoyed me) which I haven’t encountered here at least not in my one day. There was a similar smell. It wasn’t all over or as potent as in Zhengzhou, but it was the same smell. It is a terrible sewer smell that is sharp and pungent. It was very prominent in Zhengzhou, but I would only occasionally catch a whiff of the smell in some alleyways in Busan. Sewage actually smells different in China and Korea (in the two places I’ve been) then in American cities. It all smells like shit and bad, but it also has a different kind of bad. A sour kind of bad. Oddly, I find that fascinating. I imagine it is what we eat and how we live.

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After Nikki left I returned to my room, and cried a little. Then stared out at my view. I do have a nice view of the port from my window. I am far from the popular beaches but I can see the bridge that lights up like a rainbow bridge at night and connects the Yeongdo-gu island to the mainland. I can also see Mt. Bongnaesan and all the lights from whatever and whomever is living over there. Looking out the window calmed me some, and my exhaustion overwhelmed me. I tried to read a bit before going to sleep, but I was out before 9 p.m.

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In the morning after struggling to contact Virgin America, and not getting much help via chat (I have no phone right now so it adds more to the difficulty) I had another cry, and then told myself, I needed to get it together. I’m here. There’s not much I can do but hope. I can cry all I want, but it isn’t making anything better. Although, it did feel pretty good to cry. I ate the complementary breakfast offered in the hotel. It was kimchi, and rice, and some quail eggs. There was also some cakes that I think may have been fish, and a finely grated white cabbage salad. It wasn’t amazing, but it was fine. I am already a big fan of kimchi. After eating, I was determined to try and explore. I wandered a bit through some streets until I found my way to Yongdusan park.

Immediately upon stepping under the trees of the park I was surround by a cacophony of buzzing and caterwauling. I can only guess that it was insects. For a moment, I had thought the caterwaul was coming from strange birds, but the consistency and pattern of repetition and tone matched with the other buzzing which I knew to be beetles. So I’ve concluded, that indeed, there are some monstrous bugs living in the trees above us. There were subtle things that captured me as I wandered melting in the humidity that was already high by 10 am. The insects that I could hear, but not see. The bark of some of the trees that seemed to look as if it was melting, and the soft shapely pinecones that sat delicately side by side in a tree as if they were siblings. They are siblings. I enjoyed the Busan tower, and the various Korean design of some of the buildings, but really it was the nature in the park that was the most interesting part. I took some photos, and as I did a man offered to take my picture. I’m sure he wanted money for it, because he was trying to pose me. I’ve never been all that comfortable with strangers taking my picture- especially when they offer it. I don’t think I photograph all that well so I’m pretty awkward about the whole affair. Still, he took them and I walked away. I began to feel damaged by the heat and I gave up my exploration. I felt a little better, and I was glad I got myself away from myself.

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As I wandered back to the hotel I discovered art and murals in various alleyways and I saw a numerous amount of coffee houses. I had thought I would be giving up coffee for a year, but it appears like Busan has more coffee places in just this neighborhood than all of the city of Portland. It is good coffee too.

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