I was born in ’94, grew up with replays of the Teletubbies, Pokémon and the soundtrack of Titanic on the radio in my living room.
When I was 7, I learned how to type on our 50-pound office computer. When I was 14, MSN was the only way to hold late-night group conversations. Scene became the ultimate fashion trend and my first few regrettable Facebook posts publicized my love-hate relationship with friends and foes.
I listened to Westlife and Britney then Fall Out Boy and MCR, later Daft Punk and Pink Floyd and like my change in music taste, the 2000s became a fast-paced period streamlining happenings as if attempting to accompany the turn of the century
Grew up on the Road
My parents moved across China when I was three months old. Our new apartment perched on top of the rolling hills, a cozy room that overlooked the coast of the South China Sea.
I imagine the change to be as drastic as change can be. The traffic in this newly urbanized fisherman village was dense, the shops and markets were buzzing with chatter. There must have been irritable chaos mixed with the sweet feeling of infinite possibility. It was the early 90s after all.
Having just moved from the ancient capital of Xi’an to the growing metropolitan of Shenzhen, my parents were ecstatic for a new way of life. Although I’m confident that my father tried to hide his angst so that he could appear astute. My mom, on the other hand, was probably taken aback by the tall buildings, massive shopping centers, and diverse vehicles. Despite staying in Xi’an for college, she grew up in a small county 4 hours away. My maternal grandparent’s house sat at the foot of the Qinglin Mountains, where the tallest building was the 2-story government housing and the most common vehicle was a two-wheeled cruiser.
At the age of 6, we moved across the world.
All in all, I had a similar childhood to that of most first-generation immigrants. Considerable reluctance, slight curiosity, and the initial, burning desire to return to a country that’d mothered my 6-year existence.
Unlike most immigrants, this wish was granted after 3 years in Canada. Due to my parents’ work situation, my parents shipped me off to a Chinese boarding school in Xi’an at the age of 9.
Other than street food, complex Chinese characters, and my appointment as the Class English Representative, I recall very little about my four-year venture relearning a language I barely knew. On weekends, I’d stay at my aunt’s house in Beiguan Sub-district 北关 while Sundays usually saw to my squeezing onto overcrowded buses that took me to Xi’an International School, where I ate questionable canteen food and studied from 7 am to 6 pm.
As you might have guessed, I was back in Canada within a few years.
Between 2 countries, 5 cities, and 13 schools, I also developed a huge appreciation for travel and culture.
First Major Trip
Right after our high school graduation, my friend and I decided to re-take China. At 18, we grabbed our bags and went on a 2-month journey across 9 cities in my homeland.
University was the only time that I somehow, had a home for more than 2 years. After moving around for oh so long, we finally settled down in a city near Toronto.
Yet, my travels were mostly completed during these few years.
During my sophomore year, I did a semester abroad in the city of love (Paris). When April hit and school was out, I called up my friend and we began a barely-planned Euro-trip. Three weeks and a lot of events after, she went home to rest while I crossed Europe into Turkey. This was when I started my solo Couchsurfing / backpacking venture!
Till this day, Turkey remains one of my favorite countries. I loved the people, the culture, and the food so much so that I wrote my senior thesis on the Ottoman Empire.
As exciting as undergrad was, I decided to skip convocation and backpack across California instead. With a fund I received from a conference, I was able to do this on CAD 15 a day. Then, I flew to China for my grandparents’ 80th birthday, only to hit the road again for a 5-month trip around India.
With a considerable amount of debt from school, I was still able to repay the loan AND travel some 20 countries in the past two years. For those like myself, traveling doesn’t have to be budget unfriendly. There are so many people who are willing to lend a hand and so many ways to navigate our world.
In the past couple of years, I’ve slept in teepees, bungalows, apartments, beach houses, and cave rooms, on floors, couches, and unwashed mattresses. I was hosted by lawyers, professors, hippies, bikers, and many more. I’ve cracked my head in France, twisted my foot in Hungary, got chikungunya in India. Yet I’ve witnessed hot air balloons in Cappadocia during sunrise, was invited to an air traffic control tower in Beauvais, rode a motorcycle up the Chopta Chandrashila Trek in the Himalayas, slurped fresh oysters by the harbor of Santa Barbara and would not change my experiences for the world.
For me, traveling is not just about tourist sights. It is a learning process comprised of bridging cultural differences, overcoming language barriers, and a never-ending curiosity for an adventurous life. It is the act of overcoming physical borders, the mental frontier and embracing the unknown.