The spring I was 18 I chopped off all my hair, dyed it bright red, and stuffed a green backpack full with clothes, a pair of Birkenstocks, my faded baby blanket, a swiss army knife, and a fat paperback called “Europe ’97: On the Loose, On the Cheap, Off the Beaten Path.” Then I flew to London with my cousin Heather.
For three months we roamed Western Europe together, a journey that started at Heathrow and ended on a wooden dock in Venice, where I boarded an overnight boat to Corfu. Parting ways was a teary affair, but Heather had decided to return to Canada and I had decided I loved travelling more than anything else in the world.
In the weeks leading up to that trip, a distinct sense emerged within me that I already had friends in the places I would go, that they were on the horizon of my life, and I just had to find them. Perhaps this was only a mental device that made leaving the ones at home a little easier. But I believed a lot in destiny back then, and the intuition that I was moving toward inevitable new connections gave me the confidence to tread alone.
As it turned out, the people I met in Greece, Israel, and ultimately England would alter the course of not only that trip but the rest of my life, inspiring a lasting love affair with the guitar, and a 3-week jaunt to Egypt, where I realized that travel to developing countries would be an essential and life-long endeavour.
I felt the same sense of impending friendships while packing for Korea, though my belief in destiny, 13 years later, has sadly waned. The truth is it’s easy to meet people when you travel: an instant comraderie exists between those who choose to venture from the familiar to the unknown. And, if you’re friendly and open, the locals usually are too.
Today I’m introducing People I Meet: a new blog feature which will appear here regularily. Years ago I walked into a club in London to celebrate my best friend Melissa’s 20th birthday. The room was very dark and kind of eerie, but we had a good crew with us and Melissa turned to me and said, “It’s the people that make the place.” Busan is full of wild and wonderful characters. Along with the mountains, the stream, the beaches, the neighbourhoods, the rows and rows of shops, and the sky-high city lights, they are making the place.
Leah’s 24, from Miami, and lives on the 3rd floor of my apartment building. She’s got a degree in finance and marketing, wears pearl earrings, and drives a scooter to school. On Thursday evenings around 9pm you can find her in PNU, standing on her head in yoga class. On Saturdays she volunteers at a local orphanage, and after her Korea stint is up, she’s thinking about joining the Peace Core.
Leah and I share a love of wine, an interest in reiki and meditation, and a penchance for staying out far too late. A self-proclaimed “adventurous eater”, she’ll taste anything once, including silk worms, which, she reports, are disgusting.
Leah has abandoned early attempts at learning Korean. She works out to an exercise video called Insanity, and gets antsy if she’s doing the same thing for too long. Just last Friday at the Starface Bar she turned to me suddenly during an Australian dude’s hip-hop solo and said, “We need to either order a hookah or leave right now.”
We ordered the hookah. And stayed out far too late.
A friendship has been born!