Folks, do people “categorize” you when you visit their country? I think wherever you go people just make assumptions about your origin based on your appearance. Here are my experiences:

USA: Chinese/Korean American

South Korea: Japanese

Japan: Japanese (!)

Indonesia: the arrogant expat Chinese Indonesian who doesn’t speak Indonesian (!!)

Malaysia: Chinese

Singapore: Chinese

Vietnam: Korean/Japanese

France: Chinese French

Germany: Korean/Japanese


American Starbucks: Kate (!!!). Why? Here’s the story:

NYC, 2007

Starbucks guy (with weird moustache): Hi, how may I help ya?

Me: I, uh…will have a caffee latte please. Uh, tall.

Starbucks guy: Sure, what’s your name? (they write the customer’s name on the cup)

Me: Uh…”author’s real name”

Starbucks guy (puzzled): What?

Me (louder): Uh, …”author’s real name”

Starbucks guy (louder): What?

Me: Whatever, just call me uh… Kate. (the name popped into my mind because I just read a review on a film starring Kate Winslet)

Starbucks guy: Uh, okay?!

Folks, that’s the reason why I go by Kate when I’m at an American Starbucks.

The Only Way In Is Out

There are three things about Bunny1 that I thought you should know:

– She is lazy

– She is a very good friend*

– Wisdoms come out of her mouth mostly in comical situations

I don’t think her laziness has ever caused her any serious troubles but I guess it has delayed a few things in her life. Such as her internship/study aboard. We’ve been talking about this a lot and as soon as she announced that she will be out of town for a while I got that satisfied and I-told-you-so look in my eyes because I’ve been urging her to do this since forever. Anyway, Bunny1’s been dreaming about South Korea for a while now and likes loves to drool over its fake-looking wannabe actors/singers etc. I personally think that the South Korean independent film industry is much more interesting and should deserve more international recognition for its burgeoning creative energy but yeah, who am I to decide? Speaking of countercultures, I’ve been wondering whether there are real subcultures in Vietnam and how they differ from the Western ones. I’ve done some research but haven’t found enough info to write about it. What’s your take on this? Shoot me an email or post a comment.

Back to Bunny1: to her dismay, she won’t be staying in Seoul though and will have to live in a small town. I’ve been to this city once (Christmas 2009) but those four days were not enough to paint a descriptive and comprehensive picture of Seoul. Sure enough, this city is beautiful but I somehow felt that I have only seen its surface and there is more to it than meets the eye. It sounds strange but Christmas is definitely not a good time to visit Seoul. You will have to claim your territory on the streets with a bunch teenage couples in their overly lovey dovey mood and lala happyland. The streets will be packed with tourists, vendors and promoters in ridiculous Christmas themed outfits and it is still not clear to me why so many couples need to enjoy their precious twosomeness with millions of other people who apparently want to do the same thing.

Her departure reminds me of my time in NYC. To say that I enjoyed it would be an understatement because it has revealed my strengths and weaknesses. It was a journey of self-discovery where I found out that I’m quite different whenever I’m on the road. Believe it or not, the quintessential quiet kid in me suddenly starts to talk. My posture changes, my body language changes, I even flirt. New York has taught me so much about myself because it gave me a chance to test my boundaries. I relied on the help of strangers. I dived into spontaneous encounters. I skipped classes just to walk around the city. Somehow every backstreet had a little secret to offer. It was enthralling, exhilarating and refreshing: a complex web of emotions rolled into one. The sheer momentum of it made my blood rush. So if I were to give advice to Bunny1 on how to make the best out of her stay, I’d say:

– Pay attention to the monuments but focus on the people

– Walk. Walk. Walk.

– Go beyond. Go local. Go “underground”.

Whatever the outcome of this journey will be, I’m sure Bunny1 will enjoy it as much as I do whenever I’m in another country. Perhaps she will come back with one or even two OTCTTTs. I guess what she will experience in the next few months is exactly what one of my favorite writers, the man who invented my childhood hero (if I had a son, I would name him after this little guy)**, once said:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Go East, young lady!

* a very good friend is someone who pulls at your hair/pants/(t)-shirts, tortures/pummels/hits you, jumps and sits on your back, attacks you from behind a door/wall/tree, plays pranks on you, laughs at you but at the end of the day, helps you.

** Update (10/02/12): I can’t name my son after him. According to German laws, it’s not allowed. Here is the reason why:,1518,765415,00.html