In March, I met my sister and three friends in Las Vegas. Monica (sis) is getting married this fall, and for a while she’d joked about how much fun it would be to do a Vegas bachelorette. It turned out that the plan made a lot of sense! We were coming from different cities in eastern and western Canada, and it was a good excuse for us to travel.
This was my first trip to Vegas, and I’d conjured up this weird, wonderful land in my mind, where my senses would be overloaded by sounds and lights day and night. When I saw the slot machines in the airport, I knew I hadn’t been far off!
As the hotel shuttle weaved on and off the strip, I craned my neck to see the oversized landmarks and famous hotels and casinos, smiling like crazy about how I was actually physically in this place that had always sounded like fiction. Here are five things I learned and loved about Vegas, the city that seems simultaneously so real and so fantastical: Continue reading “Vegas: 5 Things to Love That Aren’t Gambling”→
This past weekend was the first in a long while that I didn’t have to do any school work. (Master’s complete! Woooo!) Naturally, that meant having a to-do list that’s been steadily growing since, ooh… September 2015! But after prioritizing filing our taxes on Saturday, Kyla and I decided to take advantage of a sunny day yesterday and go for a hike. Luckily, our friend who owns a car was free to join us, which meant we had way more options to choose from! We decided to head out to Mystic Beach, on the Juan de Fuca trail on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
This one’s an oldie – it’s one of the first posts I published on this blog. I’m currently in the home stretch of my master’s degree, so it’s rerun time for blog posts!
I’m a major introvert. I like meeting new people and hanging out with friends, I but need a good dose of alone time afterwards to curl up in the fetal position re-energize. When travelling solo, I will almost always choose to spend time touring around on my own, rather than with a “new friend” (i.e. person I just met who I have to make small talk with).
When I visited Japan, I was feeling particularly introverted. I hadn’t travelled across the Pacific to get there; I’d come over on an hour-long flight from Seoul, where I was living at the time. I really just wanted to see all the cool things (and eat all the food) during the day, and retreat to my hostel to read and hang out in the evenings. I was a little worried about whether I would be missing out, but it turns out Japan is a great destination for solo-travelling introverts!
Here are 4 reasons why Japan might appeal to other solitary souls:
Eating at the counter.
My biggest worry about being on my own was that I might miss out on dining experiences. In South Korea, there are a lot of meals that simply aren’t available to people eating solo. In Japan, this wasn’t the case! Lots of restaurants have counter seating available (or as the only option), where the chef cooks right in front of you. This is awesome! You’re essentially getting front row tickets to the most rewarding cooking show ever, and there’s no need to fiddle with your phone or guidebook while you watch.
Shrines, temples, and gardens.
Though there may be lots of tourists at the well-known ones, shrines, temples and gardens in Japan are all great places to quietly get lost. Most people don’t choose sanctuaries as their go-to sites for meeting new travel buddies, so you should be safe! At Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, I was able to find lots of empty walking trails and tranquil tea houses (in November). Ironically, the times I ended up running into chatty travellers who wanted to hang out for a bit were at a temple and a shrine, so I could be way off with this one! But, ya know, it can be nice to take some breaks from alone time 😉
This was not on my radar when I was in Japan, but what could be more introvert-friendly than sleeping inside of a person-sizedcapsule?!? Apparently the hallways can get a bit noisy, but who cares when you are inside your own little cocoon of happiness?! That is like my dream.
If the novelty wears off, another option (if you’re on a budget) is to stay in a small dorm in a hostel. I chose 4-person female dorms at K’s House hostels in Hiroshima and Kyoto, and had great experiences with quiet and respectful dorm mates. These hostels have great (but not obnoxiously loud) common areas, if you do feel like mingling!
Getting lost in the crowds.
While being an obvious foreigner isn’t exactly the key to blending in in East Asia, Tokyo’s large population makes it easy enough to do. Whether you’re hanging out at a busy Starbucks, crossing the scramble intersection in Shibuya, soaking in the sensory overload in Harajuku or Shinjuku, or people watching in Yoyogi Park, you can easily spend all of your time around people, absorbing the wild vibe of the city, without letting it drain your energy.
I definitely would go back to Japan with friends or a partner. It would open the door to going out (more fun in a group, IMO!), trying things like karaoke, and splitting costs. However, I’d probably be just as happy to go back on my own! It’s a great place for an introvert (or an extrovert, or those of you who wish to remain vert-less) to be both engaged and introspective, and to hide in crowds or get lost in quiet spaces.
This one’s an oldie – it’s one of the first posts I published on this blog. I’m currently in the home stretch of my master’s degree, so it’s rerun time for blog posts! This is one of my absolute favourites, and since I’ve been dreaming about these warm spas lately, it seemed like the right choice!
One of the best ways to relax in Korea is to strip down and spend a day at the jjimjilbang, or public bathhouse/spa. If you’ve never been before, it can be a little overwhelming to figure it out. Namely: when should you be naked and when should you not be? (Coincidentally also one of life’s greatest questions.) Here are some guidelines for your first time.
Arrive and pay the entrance fee.* In exchange, receive a key with a locker number (on a plastic bracelet you can wear in the baths), two little towels, comfy shorts and a t-shirt for the lounge area, and access to the place all day (though some have a time limit).
* At Dragon Hill Spa, it costs about 12000-14000 won ($14-16 CAD). This is on the pricier side, but the facilities are really nice. The price is higher if it’s a weekend or if you want to stay overnight.
Take off your shoes and put them in the locker that matches the number on your key. I know you can’t wait to undress, but don’t take your clothes off yet!
Find the entrance to your changing room.
If it’s your first time, go into temporary shock as you take in all the naked bodies in the locker room. Politely avert your eyes, but subtly glance sideways, wondering if your bod is adequate enough to bare. The feeling doesn’t last long! You quickly realize that your body, like everyone else’s, falls somewhere along a diverse spectrum (a spectrum of amazing to amazing).*
* If you have tattoos, check the rules beforehand. They aren’t allowed at all spas.
Find the locker that matches your key, and get undressed! If you’re nervous, my advice is to just suck it up. Strip down like you’re ripping off a band-aid! Be free!
When I first visited a jjimjilbang, I was really looking forward to the experience. I figured that by putting myself in a situation where nude was the norm (the only option, really), I might begin to feel more confident in my own body. I was right! I felt comfortable quickly, and by the second time I went, I was eagerly peeling off my clothes. (Should I be revealing how much I apparently like taking my clothes off in public? Oh well.)
Bath time! Spend as long as you like soaking in the tubs. Each one has the temperature and health benefits posted. Some contain medicinal herbs (like ginseng), others are extremely hot or cold, and some have jets. There are saunas as well, and some spas have outdoor baths.
Get scrubbed down, if you dare! I cannot recommend this enough. The baths have a section with massage beds (plastic-covered doctor tables, to give you a visual) where you can pay a little extra to have a scrub or massage.
Who will massage me? An ajumma, or feisty, older Korean woman! Wearing lacy black undergarments. Yep, she will be your masseuse!
Will it be relaxing and gentle? Hellzzz no! Are you also expecting frangipani to be floating around in the tubs? She is an ajumma! If you get a massage, she will pull your limbs from their sockets (with your body’s best interests in mind, of course). Your knots will take a (much-needed) beating! She will walk on you! If you get a scrub, she will rub until you feel raw! Your dead skin will roll off of you in spaghetti noodle-sized flakes! She will leave *no* parts un-scrubbed. Be prepared for her to get all up in those cracks, and to have your armpits rubbed relentlessly as you try not to explode in a fit of ticklish laughter.
Will she reassure you, let you know that everyone produces this much dead skin? HAHA what? NO! She will scold you (with a twinkle in her eye, and a little smile). You should be doing this more often!
Umm… then why should I do it? Because your skin will feel like butter. Your muscles will feel loose. You’ll want to go back every day. Seriously you will never regret a body scrub.
When you’re pruney and scrubbed, rinse off and head for the locker rooms. Change into your comfy t-shirt and shorts and head to the mixed-gender lounge area. You can also do the baths and lounge in reverse order. The communal areas vary according to the spa, but there’s usually a combination of arcade games, noraebangs, snack bars and restaurants (scan your bracelet and pay later), warm floors to sprawl out on, and special rooms. These rooms have medicinal benefits; there are different types, like oxygen, salt, and very hot (essentially an oven) and cold rooms.
The rooms at Silloam Fire Pot Sauna are great; there’s tons of variety. Dragon Hill’s have fun themes, but fewer to choose from. Your preference will depend whether you want to prioritize the baths or the rooms. Overall, Busan’s SpaLand is my favourite bathhouse; they had great baths and an awesome lounge area. There are also some women-only jjimjilbangs; Spa Lei in Sinsa is lovely.
When you’ve maxed out on relaxing When you absolutely have to go, get dressed; don’t worry if you forgot your hair dryer or moisturizer, they’re both available to use (for free) in the change room, as well as a few other toiletries. Pick up your shoes on the way out, and pay the balance on your key bracelet. Head back into the cold air, and start planning your next jjimjilbang day!
If you feel nervous about the naked part, remember this: the jjimjilbang is a place for friends and families. Communal bathing is an ancient tradition (as it is in many places), and many people frequent the sauna for the health benefits. Everyone’s at their most vulnerable, entirely exposed, and no one’s in a position to be judgemental. So essentially… you’re naked with a bunch of strangers (and probably some of your friends)… in public… but no one cares. It’s a comfortable way to become comfortable with yourself.
Last month, Meg Cale (a queer blogger who happens to be a long time favourite!) put together a fantastic list of Lesbian Travel Blogs/Vlogs/Podcasts. I was really honoured to have been included, and it inspired me to put together a post about some of the great events for lesbians (and queer folks in general, in many cases) that happen here in Victoria. This list is nowhere near comprehensive, and I would welcome additions!
The thing about Victoria is that regardless of whether you hit up any gay events while you’re in town, it’s a beautiful, safe city* to explore with your same-sex partner, or to meet up with a group of queer locals. It’s also a great jumping off point for exploring this magical island, and a short ferry ride to both Seattle and Vancouver. There’s a lot to be proud of in Victoria! Victoria’s public school board recently passed a thorough new gender identity policy, the city explodes with rainbows during Pride, and hey – our wonderful mayor is an openly gay woman! Tourism Victoria even created an awesome map of all genders washrooms in the city and surrounding area.
Hold on, you might be thinking, I heard that Victoria is a small city with a disproportionately high retiree population?!? You heard right! But there are way more people living here who are below retirement age! It might seem quiet at first, but have no fear if you’re young and queer: there’s lots to do in this city, if you know where to look!
Happy 2017! I have a couple of posts in the works at the moment, which I’m excited to share on here soon! In the meantime, I wanted to look back on three favourites from last year:
Ways that Coming Out Surprised Me: In 2016, I reflected and wrote a lot about coming out; it was my 5 year coming-out-iversary last February! Yes, I keep track of it! It changed the way I communicate and how confident I feel, among other things.
Faking Extroversion: Making Connections in New Cities: Some strategies I picked up after lots of moves overseas and back, and across the country. Adventure and change are invigorating but the social aspect can be overwhelming for the introverted-soul! A year and a bit after moving to Victoria, I’m continuing to expand my social circle, and I still use these tools.
Wanting the World: This one’s a little cringe-worthy; a letter I wrote to my “future self” 6 years earlier about the importance of travel. So yeah, it’s from my baby brain, but it reminds me that’s it’s okay to prioritize travel, and that being passionate about it (a little obsessed with it?) is part of who I am.
The day after the US election was a strange time to head down to Portland. The trip had been planned for months, but it still felt like we were going the wrong way at the border. My girlfriend and I tried to fend off the post-election haze with hugs and talks on the ferry over to Port Angeles, but had given in by the time we set off in our rental car, and decided to make a game out of the dark reality of President Voldemort and keep a tally of T***p signs we passed on the 101. Coincidentally, this was the exact number of times we flipped the bird out the window! We also passed a lot of (legal) pot shops, so that provided some balance!
The reality sunk in in other ways, too.* So it was a weird vacation, but what better place for weirdness than PORTLAND! I had an amazing time, and loved so much about the city. You really can’t go wrong. Here are some of the things we did, ate, and drank that we loved:
It’s been a little rainy lately, but I’ve learned that when you’re living on the Wet Coast, you pretty much just have to suck it up, put on some rainboots (*note to self: buy rainboots), and find things to do until at least December when it’s more acceptable to to start hibernating. Plus, the big crowds of tourists are gone, there’s still lots of sun and blue skies between showers, and there are so many amazing things to do in and around the city this time of year! Here are 10 ideas:
I turned 30 last month; a lot has changed in the past 10 years! Here’s the TL; DR of the longer intro I’m not going to write: I turned 30; here are some ways that I’ve changed and some things that I’ve learned along the way about travel, sexuality, introversion, and wisdom teeth.