24 Before 24

23 Moments

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

It’s my 24th birthday today, and I wanted to keep up my tradition of looking back over the past year and taking stock of some of the lovely experiences I was lucky enough to have. I’ve done this when I turned twenty-two and twenty-three as well, and it’s always such a wonderful reminder of what’s important to me. Here are my 23 favourite moments from this past year of being 23, in no particular order.


Seeing my mom at the tiny, deserted arrivals area of the Busan airport.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

The first time we saw White Beach, bright and early our first morning before many of the tourists were out, and just laughed our way hysterically into the water.

That magical afternoon Dylan and I trekked out to the magical fountain of dreams even though we were so tired and it was so far away. We jumped on an old trampoline at this tiny dilapidated arcade until we couldn’t breathe from laughing and our sides were killing us, then watched the sunset sitting on some rocks and talked, did handstands on the beach and saw the hilarious water and lights show set to classical music.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

The whole day of the Busan Fireworks Festival.

The Sunday afternoon after my eye surgery, realizing that I could see all the way to the beautiful bridge and all the detail of the gorgeous glittery water without wearing glasses or contacts.

Walking through the old wood forest in Japan, all alone, just before sunset during magic hour, just thinking “thank you thank you thank you thank you”.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

That late summer picnic at Igidae when we rushed out after work and caught the train, brought our own beer and chips and kimbap and chocolate bars and ate on the rocks with the most perfect view of the city in front of us as the sun went down.

The happy hour we spent at Spider House bar on Boracay. Everything was perfect: the drinks, the sunset, the company, the food, the bamboo ladder that led straight from the restaurant into the water, the two swims we had, the vibe.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

Running my first 10K race across the Gwangan bridge in Busan. The views were incredible: on one side you could see the beach and the mountains, and on the other side just sparkling ocean.

Dancing onstage at the M.I.A. show at Ultra Seoul.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

That whole day we went surfing. Perfect weather, belly laughs, wet tangly hair, playing jenga in the streets, watching a drum parade, and dancing with ajummas outside of Thursday Party.

Each night at dusk in Kyoto by the river, sitting by the bridge with new friends, running up to the Lawson corner store for more cheap Japanese beer, listening to nearby acoustic guitar and ten different languages, watching the water and looking at the lights.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

The baseball games on weekend afternoons where we bought cheap beers and laughed at all the chants and tied orange plastic bags to our heads in bows and balls.

Watching the sun set over Haeundae beach from Vesta spa during lunar new year weekend with two great friends, feeling totally blissed out.

Walking the beach during magic hour and then going on the Viking ride at the tiny carnival with my mom. She thought I was crazy for making her go on it but the views from up there were amazing and it just felt like pure joy. That whole day did, really. The whole week did.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

Sitting on the rocks on the far side of the beach at dusk, reading a book I was sent in the mail by someone I care about.

Being driven around on the back of the mini truck inside the Tsujiki fish market in Tokyo by a kind man with lots of character, who dropped us off at his favourite sushi restaurant for lunch.

Hiking along the coast to Oryukdo just in time to see the sunset.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

Anytime the owner of our favourite Mexican restaurant played the violin, but especially the time when my mom was here to experience it

That sneaky shot at Fuzzy Navel.

Watching the sun rise with Dylan in the lifeguard chair on Haeundae beach on his last morning in Busan. We were exhausted and it was hot and we were sweaty, but I was also really and truly grateful.

23 Favourite Moments >> Life In Limbo

That day Katie and I spent derping around Gyeongju on bicycles and the night that followed of sitting on the roof at happy hour. I was so close to leaving Busan that I felt nostalgic already.

Finishing up my year in Korea, sending a box home, packing my bag and getting on a plane bound for Bangkok.

Honorable mentions:

  • All the times I watched the sun set (examples: 1, 2, 3)
  • Every time I saw the Diamond Bridge and remembered where I was lucky enough to live (examples: 1, 2, 3)
  • All the times I was on a roof at dusk

I have had an absolutely incredible year of being alive. I feel both proud and totally humbled that I have created such a life for myself, thrilled but also a bit disbelieving. When I was 18, I would have told you I was too anxious to travel or live away from home, but I’m so happy that I’ve started to learn how to do scary things before I’m ready. I also feel deeply grateful for all the amazing people I am lucky enough to know, care about, and be cared for by. If there’s one thing I learned this past year, it’s how valuable my relationships are – how they are the most important thing.

At the risk of getting too sappy (too late), I just feel so lucky and so blessed. Today I spent part of my birthday swimming in the most gorgeous natural pool of the bluest water you’ve ever seen, under a waterfall in the middle of a jungle in Laos. I’m not entirely sure how I got here, but I plan to do as Cheryl Strayed says: “Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits.” If this year is any indication, a lot more crazy beauty awaits. Bring it on, 24.

How My Mother Fed Me

How My Mother Fed Me

John Green says that creativity is about making gifts for people, and this is a gift for my mother. A tribute to all the millions of tiny, loving actions she gave us that we never thanked her enough for and that I’ll never be able to repay.

HWY Magazine is no longer around, but you can find the piece reposted below. Thanks for reading.

How My Mother Fed Me

Published in HWY Magazine, October 2014

I’m seven. I’m flipping through a book with my younger sister as my mom cleans up lunch. It’s a book with a different activity for each letter of the alphabet – we pass glitter, paper dolls, magic card tricks, and water balloon games. We land on J, jelly doughnuts. There are a handful of different options: eat a whole powdered doughnut without licking your lips, feed a friend one while both of you are blindfolded. We’re thrilled. She must have left, it can’t have been magic (in my memory, it’s magic), but then we’re in the freshly mown backyard, a box of raspberry jelly doughnuts between us, bright bandannas tied over our eyes, our smiles big and sticky. With five dollars, she has taught me what pure joy and a sense of possibility feel like.

I’m eighteen and idealistic. I read one book and announce that I’m a vegetarian forevermore. It’s only later, when I’m away at university, that I realize being a vegetarian could actually be a challenge. At home I got handmade five cheese cannelloni, delicious salads, black bean burgers formed by hand and slipped onto the grill alongside turkey burgers, all meatless versions of all my favourite meals delivered to me. How could I have known, when in our house my vegetarianism was a fun excuse to experiment with deep-frying tempura vegetables, taste testing different brands of tofu sour cream, deciding whether I preferred tempeh or seitan. Without knowing it was happening, I learned so much about unspoken support, creativity and the fun that can be found in a challenge.

I’m sixteen and late for work, which of course is my own fault. I sit on a stool at our kitchen island with its cool, forest green tiles and watch my mother make me pad Thai in ten minutes flat. It’s quiet except for the hiss of tofu and eggs frying in the pan, the drip of the noodles steamy and draining in the sink, the hollow stirring sound of her big wooden spoon. She’s quick and smooth and practiced in her movements. Then she’s finished, sliding it all into a Tupperware container for me, and we’re out the door, leaving piles of crushed peanuts and chopped cilantro and a cutting board soaked with lime juice in our wake. It’s a lesson in efficiency and choice: the decision to make instead of buy fast food to feed your family.

I’m eight, or ten, or seventeen or any of the years before and between, bleary eyed and inevitably cranky before school. I’m at the kitchen table with my younger sisters, all of us in various states of readiness. On these mornings we eat malt toast rounds, two with butter and two with margarine. I always eat the ones with butter last because of course, they’re better. Occasionally we wake up to homemade pancakes or fresh Pillsbury cinnamon buns with huge bowls of fruit salad. Sometimes we eat eggs and toast, my mother standing at the stove (she’s always standing in the mornings, reading her newspaper and eating her granola) like the world’s best short order cook because she always remembers what you want. She knows how we like our eggs cooked, our toast cut (soldiers, on the diagonal, in half), and whether or not we like ketchup. Once, at lunch, my father tries to step into this role and I realize just how absolutely I’ve taken for granted that other people should know my personal condiment preferences. On birthday mornings, we have 3 layer cakes, baked in secret and covered with chocolate frosting, candy and cute cake toppers. By the time I leave for university, I have had a home-cooked breakfast nearly every school morning for my entire life. I will be proud if I can ever embody a fraction of the care, patience and true love required for such a feat.

I’m twenty-two, and about to leave for a three month solo backpacking trip through Europe. It’s summer, and my mother, self-employed, takes the day off to be jittery and excited and terrified with me. We go hiking together and afterwards she offers to take me out for lunch. For once, I don’t want to, so we end up at home, quietly slicing up yellow peppers, mango, and avocado on our big wood cutting board. We make a dipping sauce with soy and citrus and green onion for the little packages we form with delicate rice papers. The freshness doesn’t soothe the butterflies in our bellies but at least it doesn’t make them worse. Less than a year later, I’m 23 and about to leave for a year teaching in Korea. We make spring rolls again, turning it into a ritual for the days that we can’t make it through a single song without getting emotional and when our appetites are uncharacteristically non-existent. Unsaid is the understanding that the things that are very hard can only be weathered, something more easily done with someone you love by your side.

For a long time, I thought that all kids got from-scratch Belgian waffles, blueberry and raspberry preserves and whipped cream for special Sundays. I thought it was normal to get still-warm croissants on Saturday mornings and have bread baking in the machine on a random Wednesday after school. If you’d asked me then, I would have complained about the little plastic Ziploc bags of potato chips and the rareness of miniature chocolate bars in my school lunches. I would have been indifferent about my thermoses full of homemade chili or stew, which had been filled first with boiling water in the morning so that my food would stay hotter for longer. I would have told you I looked forward to lunch money days when I could buy greasy pizza or dry popcorn chicken or giant sour keys. Now of course, as I learn to feed myself and others, I’d give anything for one of those hundreds of lunches carefully packed by my mother. Now, I miss the quiet, small celebrations we had in our household, like breakfast for dinner on Shrove Tuesday, latkes on Hanukkah despite our lack of religion, apple crisp on a weeknight as soon as it was the season, stretching out pizza dough with flour-covered hands, or taco night with heaping bowls of toppings on the lazy Susan and tortillas my mom always insisted on warming up.

Once I shared some of these memories with a friend. After a pause, she told me that I’d described the childhood she desperately wished she’d had, and that momentarily, I’d made her feel like she wanted to give that childhood to someone else. I know what she meant, because that’s all I want too. With every elaborate birthday cake I make, every heavy-handed glass of wine I pour, every pasta sauce I add extra garlic to, I want to embody the warmth and love of my mother had every time she hugged me or fed me. I want to do the work it takes to make everyday moments magical, and to breathe generosity and care into the food and the moments I share with the people that I love. I know I may never live up to my own childhood, but my mother gave me inspiration enough to last a lifetime.

24 Before 24: Run a 10K Race!

Photo by race photographers
Photo by race photographers

You may remember that a while ago, I announced that I was going to be doing the Busan Half Marathon this fall. I started out that journey feeling really motivated and positively, but unfortunately my body had other plans. After about a week of running high mileage days every day, my knee started complaining and eventually went on strike one morning and I could barely put weight on it, let alone run, without it screaming in pain. I am very stubborn and did not want to give up, especially since I only had 3K more to go to meet my training goal for the day (…) but finally I was forced to listen to what my body was trying to tell me: “too much”. Having started my training a bit late, I wasn’t able to take rest days or chip away at it over a longer stretch – it was all in or nothing, and my body had decided for me. I went to see a specialist at the hospital who didn’t speak much English and told me, in essence, not to run. Ever.

Busan 10K View

After that, I decided not to be an idiot – a surprisingly difficult thing for me to do. I knew I could run 10K, since I’ve been happily working on my 10K endurance this whole running season, and so I could give myself a break in training and still do the race. Also, considering the fact that I’ve never run a 10K race before it should have been my logical first choice for my birthday list goal in the first place. So I amended my goal to be a 10K race instead of a half-marathon. This sucked for me because I really hate changing goals and because I had just announced I was going to do the half here on the blog so suddenly I was embarrassed as well as disappointed. Thanks to some good friends telling me (in kind words) not to be an idiot (I need constant reminding), I got over it. I took some weeks off and then went back to my normal running schedule of about 2-3 times a week. And then this Sunday morning I woke up bright and early and ran one of the most beautiful runs of my life with a seriously great personal best time.

Busan is home to the Diamond Bridge, a beautiful suspension bridge that stretches across the water connecting two parts of the city. Along one length of the bridge is Gwangalli beach and the mountains, along the other side is ocean as far as you can see. It’s absolutely stunning from the mainland, especially at night, but it turns out it’s just as beautiful of a view when you’re actually on it with thousands of other people on an impossibly beautiful, blue-skied, windy day.

Busan 10K

Due to a strange flaw in the registration system for the race, our alien card numbers weren’t accepted and our registration was rejected after the deadline so we couldn’t try to register again. We’d heard from friends that in years past it’s the easiest thing to run it without registering but I was still nervous about not being a registered runner. Up until we were on the bridge I felt sure someone was going to pull me off to the side and tell me no. I needn’t have worried! It was easy to get in (really, no sneaking of any kind was required as there were no barriers or blocks) and nobody was checking.

The race itself was funny, as so many things in Korea are: there was no security at any stage of the race, people walking in totally normal clothes carrying shopping bags, little kids walking along with their mothers, selfie sticks everywhere, and people stopping smack in the middle of the bridge to take photos of each other from every angle. At the water stations they were giving out water and….wait for it….choco pies. Yeah. I also saw a mom and son walking the wrong way up the very narrow shoulder into oncoming running traffic just as the route had narrowed for the final burst to the finish line, presumably to try and cheer the father on from the least ideal spot imaginable. The bridge speakers loudly played some seriously bizarre music, it sounded like the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic action movie. And so on and so forth.

Busan 10K

Walking up to the start and for the first kilometer we were moving slowly, shuffling basically, in an enormous crowd of people of all shapes and sizes. Many people were using the race as an opportunity to just walk across the bridge and I don’t blame them, it was beautiful – I only wish there had been more division of lanes so that the people walking wouldn’t have stretched out so much across the wide bridge that the race, at certain parts, was an endless dodge of people walking or pushing the occasional baby stroller. That being said, there were great volunteers clearly showing people where to turn back for the 5K (it went halfway over the bridge and back) or which lanes to stay in for the 10K.

After the first kilometer, it opened up a lot and I was able to run, albeit sometimes needing to dodge people like I said. Having never done another 10K race I don’t know if this is normal or not! I almost instantly lost my friends after agreeing on a spot to meet up at afterwards, but it was for the better anyways, I prefer to run alone. I turned on my music and my training app and just enjoyed myself, the breeze, the beautiful view and the blue sky. I’m so used to running alone that it was bizarre to be around so many other people. I had to remind myself to just try for my own personal best, to dig deep when I needed to and appreciate myself for trying when I needed to.

Busan 10K

I only stopped once for a split second to take a picture, and the rest I ran at a steady pace. Within the last 3K, two of the half marathoners passed me – the half marathon did an 11K loop before running our same 10K route – and I marvelled. They were so beautiful – two African runners with the most effortless gait I’ve ever seen up close. And they flew past me and everyone else, practically catching up with the car that drove slowly ahead showing their time. They had run literally double what I had in the same amount of time and it really fired me up. I dug deeper and ran the last 3K much faster than the previous 7, in the end shaving close to 30s off my average time per kilometer! I had started my tracker about 0.2 km into the start of the race, but I ended up running 9.79 km in 1:03. I trust my app measurements, and that means I ran at a pace of 6’26”, which is a personal best for me.

At the end I felt amazing. It had been like a wind tunnel on the way back, and my ankles were a touch sore, but I sprinted to the finish line and felt totally incredible. I got a little medal saying I did the 10K race and I am still so proud of myself. It would have been foolish to try and run the half marathon, I know now that the 10K was absolutely the perfect goal for this stage in my life. After the race, I found my friends and we were all feeling great. We stepped around picnics spread out everywhere on the pavement with tons of bottles of makgeolli (rice alcohol) and beer and lots of Korean food – all at 10 in the morning! We hopped on the subway and treated ourself to some delicious, well deserved brunch before heading home.

Busan 10K

I’m so excited I did this race, and it only inspires me to try to do more scenic races in different beautiful locations in the world. I’m so happy to call this one crossed off my birthday list.

24 Before 24: Get a Manicure


I have never been much of a nail person. In fact, I’m probably about the furthest thing from a nail person – I’ve always been a horrible nail biter. It’s a habit I want to quit, so that’s why “get a manicure” made it onto my 24 list. It was there to represent the fact that I’d stopped biting my nails, at least long enough for them to grow out to an acceptable manicure length. I also wanted to see what it would be like to have a manicure in Korea, the land of perfect nails.

Turns out, getting a manicure in Korea is not as simple as back home. Nail shops are regularly staffed with two or more ladies who tend to sit around on their phones when the shops are empty, as they often are. But if you walk in during one such time, as my friends and I did at a half dozen (empty) places one Sunday morning, they frown and say that you need an appointment. Or if only one of them is doing nails and the other two are just sitting around – still, you need an appointment. Many places seem to only take one customer at a time, one per hour regardless of their number of employees, so it’s really a wonder there are as many studios in business as there are. This is one of the things I don’t quite understand about Korea.


However! After learning my lesson, I dropped by a nail studio in the lobby of my old apartment building on my way to work the other afternoon and made an appointment for a few hours later. Happily, the girl at the place I chose was friendly and welcoming and when I went back I had no idea I’d be in for such a treat. I asked my good friend and fashionista Adrienne for nail colour advice (I believe I said “what nail trend is really hot right now?!”) and she gracefully acquiesced. For my $15, I got the whole shebang – cuticle care, a hand massage, nail colour, and then free star decals! I don’t love them, but my nail artist liked me and wanted to give them to me for free and who was I to say no!?

We actually had a lot of fun, despite the language barrier. She and I listened to some Maroon 5 and Taylor Swift on my phone (after I found out she liked them), and spoke some broken English to each other; she also gave me a plate of noodles to eat and started following me on Instagram. For a nail newbie, it was pretty much the best manicure ever.

And I’m very happy with the results! I love the colour, could do without the decals, and am really pleased that I managed to grow out my nails to the point where they look nice. I never thought I was capable of having nails that looked pretty – I thought they just didn’t grow properly. Luckily I was wrong, and I’m looking forward to treating myself to manicures in the future. I might just be a nail person after all!

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