Positive Ending, Positive Beginning

Times Square!

With my green-card process, 16 years in the making, reaching the final stages, my lawyer and his assistant advised against my leaving the United States until my travel document is approved; therefore, I had to postpone my original plan to travel to Europe for a second consecutive December and closed out 2017 exploring New York City, New York, and Atlanta, Georgia, with family and friends. I find traveling an efficient way to free myself from the stresses of my lonely and unhealthy environment, living in the present of freedom. This decision also encouraged me to reflect on the past 365 days of roller-coaster rides.

Holiday markets

I try not to focus on the negative so that I do not blur out all the blessings I have been gifted with in 2017. Most memorably by a mile, I finally accomplished my ultimate athletic dream of covering the 100-mile distance, the pinnacle of ultrarunning, (plus two) in April. When I think about how long and consistently I and my close ones prayed for this former fantasy, the hundreds of dreams I had on competing and finishing, all the free time I sacrificed for training (even on business trips), and of course race days and what I had to endure to complete this ambitious goal, this once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment from over half a year ago still feels fresh and surreal.

The Starry Night at MoMA!

Central Park in the evening

One dishonest individual who made my life and the lives of my close colleagues miserable for years and really should have been imprisoned was finally removed from our workplace after bizarrely slow two years of investigation. I felt relieved, more than happy, to observe justice semi-served; however, now, I feel slightly embarrassed that I as a Christian never even attempted to go out of my way to love this enemy and severely disliked him as a person rather than hating Satan in him. “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47)

A few days prior to my end-of-the-year domestic vacation, I received joyful news my Employment Authorization Document for the green card was approved, implying I should receive my green card soon and will finally feel and be free in America, where I grew up since 2001.

How could I, mere mortal, comprehend the plans of my Creator? However, confident my Father watches over me and only provides me with the best for me, I cannot wait to experience what the Author of my life has in store for me in 2018.

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Different Side of the World

After recruiting students from Nepal and India for the University of Nebraska at Kearney for over a year, I finally traveled on business to these two destinations for the first time ever from August 22 to 25, 2017, before flying into Korea to wrap up my trip. A colleague who has explored India for a month almost a decade ago informed me on the economic and social difference between the country and the places to which I am accustomed, that I would experience an underdeveloped country. I had assumed Nepal would be similar to India due to the two countries’ physical proximity.

Waiting for my Uber by the Delhi Airport, I sweated profusely as if in the sauna due to the humidity level at what I assume to be nearly 100%. I had believed drivers in South Korea to be the absolute worst in every sense of the word until I heard honking every second and saw zero drivers sticking to their lanes and every driver impatiently cutting. The original Uber driver who was connected to me canceled after making me wait twenty minutes, and the replaced driver was immediately stopped by the police for “not wearing a uniform,” or a formal attire; the latter driver was allowed to proceed after paying a fine of Indian rupee’s equivalent of just over $1. Line simply does not exist in India. As I waited to ask about my boarding ticket to Chandigarh at the Delhi Airport, one clumsy man cut me as if I had become invisible, and I asked, “Are you with these two?” pointing at the pair of men next to him. I then said, “I am in line,” at which the cutter looked confused and to which a tourist from a different country said, “That doesn’t exist here.” A couple more individuals cut me seconds following, and I had to almost push others away for my turn. As I presented my boarding pass to Kathmandu to a security officer and he examined it, a man behind me reached for the officer over my right arm with his own boarding pass. Each time I went through security, a group of Indians tried to cut and/or stayed so close to me I could feel their bodies touching me. However, just like honking, cutting is deeply ingrained and the norm in Indian culture that no resident considers that to be rude. I cannot even attempt to count how many times I instinctively said in frustration and disbelief, “Excuse me.”

In Kathmandu, I noticed drivers did not honk as much, as doing so “is illegal in Nepal”; nevertheless, their hazardously cutting and staying out of their lanes felt similar to India. Each time I opened my eyes and looked straight, they were struck by dust and I had trouble opening my eyes.

My first time in India and Nepal, I felt I was observing the Republic of Korea of 50 years ago. The majority of buildings in Chandigarh remained under construction to the point I wonder where the city will be in two or three years. I could see why entrepreneurial-minded individuals say India, especially with its immense population of 1.345 billion, offers many business opportunities. Rather than complaining about the discomfort as I might sound like I am in this post, I was humbled and realized how much God has blessed Korea, the United States, and virtually every nation in which I had ever set foot.

The World’s Happiest

Over the summer of 2016, I booked a round-trip flight ticket to Copenhagen, Denmark, flying out of Denver, Colorado, on Christmas Eve, arriving on Christmas, and returning the eve of New Year’s Eve. What more refreshing way to reflect on another victorious and grateful year than a familiar solo adventure to the happiest country in the world? With in mind my peaceful and faith-strengthening experience in the world’s second-happiest country in Iceland, coincidentally formerly part of Denmark, I prayed that to be the case again at the conclusion of 2016, especially as this year has been the furthest thing from easy.

Landing in Scandinavia on Christmas, I prioritized finding a church to worship Jesus and remember His birth into the world. With the support of a bright young Danish girl on my plane from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to Copenhagen, I conveniently located the Church of Our Saviour near the Copenhagen Airport just prior to the 10:30 AM Danish service. I do not speak the language, but I could feel what the female pastor was speaking of based on some of the biblical words I could make out. Due to the time of year, I did not spot too many tourists as I normally do when I travel and somewhat struggled with fulfilling one significant goal: befriending fellow visitors from all around the world. I should have anticipated this bearing in mind the sun rose around 8:00 AM and began setting close to 3:00 PM and generally families choose to be with one another for the holidays. I was pleasantly surprised by the climate; I had been warned multiple times by my close ones to make sure to pack heavy winter clothes, but both Denmark and Sweden felt tens of degrees warmer than Nebraska, where I work, and I even oftentimes sweated in my legitimate winter jacket.

Regardless of my detailed itinerary, I for the most part moved about spontaneously with hopes of seeing as many tourist attractions as time allowed and checked almost all activities I had researched. In five days, I covered virtually every popular indoor and outdoor site in Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden; I visited Malmö mainly so that I could say I have set foot in Sweden. These locations include, in chronological order, the Church of Our Saviour, Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg Palace, the Little Mermaid, the National Gallery of Denmark, various local sights on the culinary and sightseeing tour, Rosenborg Castle, the Knotted Gun, the Sankt Petri Church, Moderna Museet Malmö, Malmöhus Castle, Turning Torso, the National Museum of Denmark, Christiansborg Palace, and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Walking to and in the majority of these destinations and considering how my body felt after each day, I am confident I traveled between 30 and 40 miles on foot; however, I refused to slow down because my time was limited. The immense smoking culture made the walk quite painful because I had trouble breathing for as long as I remained outside; seven or eight out of ten people in public held cigarettes in their hands, causing me to frequently instinctively grunt. In Malmö Central Station, although fully prepared for such ordeal, I managed to get my round-trip train ticket pickpocketed. Understandably I was initially frustrated but then began to appreciate not losing my passport, wallet, or iPhone instead; the thief stole the one possession I could afford to relinquish. As my father told me over the phone that evening, “It was an important yet inexpensive lesson.”

Each night in my minute hotel room with a bathroom where the toilet and shower without a tub or glass face a foot across each other and my knees almost touched the wall when sitting on the toilet, I thought of how privileged my life has been. I for the first time while traveling even felt lonely in that clogged environment. I shared this room observation with the friendly and intelligent tour guide of the culinary and sightseeing tour, and she replied, “That is actually very common in Denmark because a lot of old buildings were renovated” and reminded me I cannot fairly compare the typical room size of Denmark to that of the US, again providing me with a reason to thank my comfortable and spoiled life.

My first of three flights back from Copenhagen to Denver on December 30 was canceled due to fog, and I spent a large portion of my final evening in Scandinavia seeking an ideal alternative. Once I did, my new first flight out of Denmark arrived in Washington, DC, thirty minutes later than scheduled, and with my bag being one of the last to come out of the baggage claim, I had no choice but to sprint over a mile to barely make the final flight to Denver. Here, I felt thankful for all the running I have done in the past half a decade, as I of early 2012 may not have been able to pull this off.

2016 has been a year of constant ups and downs, but I always try to remember how much God has blessed my life and hundreds of millions of people in this world would long for my worst possible day. This lone journey to Western Europe helped me once again realize how fortunate I am with a compassionate Jesus-following family, good health, a stable full-time job, and the ability to eat whatever and travel wherever whenever I desire. I cannot wait to witness what my Father has in store for me in 2017.

Thanksgiving Every Day

The morning of Thanksgiving 2016, I participated in the Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 in Pickrell, 40 miles south of Lincoln even most Nebraskans have never heard of. Before Nebraska became unbearably cold for me to even consider running another race in the state until winter has passed, I felt a desire to squeeze in one more in spite of having completed a technical trail half marathon only a few weeks ago. The Wild Turkey Chase 13.1 took place on an entirely flat trail, boosting my confidence in no part of the race should I struggle; however, I did slightly worry I may have been recently overrunning for my legs’ liking. In light of Thanksgiving, I spent much of running in the wilderness reflecting on my privileged life and giving thanks to my Father. Due to the freezing and windy weather, my iPhone acted up and shut down towards the end of the course, forcing me to run the final 2.5 miles without music, which I am not accustomed to; nevertheless, I refused to complain but rather tried to maintain the grateful mindset. I finished in 2:02:48, not my best but irrelevant because I did not take part for the purpose of setting a new personal record.

Badlands National Park!

Badlands National Park!

Early next morning, only hours following feasting on several rounds of turkey, stuffing, mashed and sweet potatoes, apple and chocolate pies, ice cream, and apple cider and sparkling water, I finally drove to South Dakota after repeatedly saying I would for an entire year. Each time I thought about going, I realized South Dakota to be quite a distance away for a neighboring state of where I work. In one day, I spent ten hours in the car from Kearney, driving to Badlands National Park, to Mount Rushmore, and then back towards Badlands to my hotel; I originally planned to divide visiting these two monumental tourist attractions into two days until I found out about the one-hour time difference between western South Dakota and Nebraska. I spontaneously climbed brutally steep trails at Badlands, which had me giggling internally as I had just run a half marathon and my body was probably saying to me, “What do you think you’re doing?”

Locate my shadow!

Locate my shadow!

Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore!

I had never imagined the drive up to South Dakota through western Nebraska to be so full of awe-inspiring nature and unending hills. Seeing hardly any cars or buildings on various lengthy routes, I felt bored at times, but watching more of His beautiful creations only encouraged me to be thankful and pray passionately, my main motivation to visit South Dakota. In the past four days of driving close to 1,300 miles since leaving work for Thanksgiving break, I four times came verging on car accidents due to careless and reckless drivers on the road, which reinforced the God of angel armies always shields me. Perhaps I should not be surprised, but my body finally caught up and told me in a more direct way to rest by giving me a cold and severe right shoulder-ache the day I returned to Kearney. Regardless, I appreciate the nature-driven lone time I shared with my Father in Heaven and wish to maintain the thanksgiving mentality every day.

Takk, Ice(less)land!

Since receiving my bachelor’s degree roughly thirteen months ago, I have been consistently seeking H-1B visa sponsorship to legally work in the United States while interning, volunteering, and running long-distance races. I have applied for hundreds of jobs and even to a graduate program to no avail. Highly goal-oriented but without a full-time job and on the verge of being forced out of America, I felt depressed like a helpless child with no purpose in life. I needed to put myself in an environment where praising God could come more easily; thus, I searched for a nature-driven destination to travel for a few days. After juggling with several options, with the help of an amazing vacation package deal, I landed on Iceland. I researched and discovered renting a car to be the only realistic method of transportation, as metro stations appeared to be available only in Central Reykjavik. I figured I would be encountering wondrous landscapes and planned to soak up the greatness of God to bring a ray of hope into my job situation.

Once I arrived at the Keflavik International Airport and picked up my miniscule car, I headed to the Blue Lagoon, only fifteen minutes away. The sceneries of the highway with almost no man-made object were breathtaking, and I became elated and relieved from the stresses of the real world. Upon reaching the Blue Lagoon, one of the world’s top twenty-five wonders, I ran into a college friend who currently works and studies at Emory University. We looked at each other and, after a brief pause, realized the accuracy of the banal expression “small world.” She had begun her honeymoon with her husband, whom I met last year with her at a gala event. As much as I love hot baths, I seldom stay in hot water for over ten minutes, but I did not even think about exiting the geothermal hot springs for three hours. Befriending and chatting with numerous strangers and employees inside may have played a role. I drove to the National Museum of Iceland in Central Reykjavik following, expectedly getting lost around the area for a couple of hours and even coming close to a car accident because of a driver’s lack of focus on the road. Though many exhibits were closing soon for the day, most museums in Iceland required less than an hour to be carefully examined due to their teeny buildings. I stopped by exhibitions of the Northern Lights and settlement history featuring wax figures, the Sun Voyager, and Hallgrimskirkja, the nation’s largest church, prior to returning to my efficient three-star Icelandic Health Hotel back in Keflavik. I can safely say I got lost over a hundred times on day one.

The next day kicked off with a whale-watching tour, my most anticipated and desired event. However, the tour shaped into the worst nightmare of the trip. Based on how the Elding website promoted the event, I expected to be surrounded by various kinds of wild whales, but I only saw a few from miles away and vomited five times due to seasickness. The nausea lasted for days. After waiting out the symptoms in my car for twenty minutes, I entered the Vikin Maritime Museum next to the harbor, succeeded by the National Gallery of Iceland that for whatever reason displayed a painting of a North Korean soldier and the infamous Icelandic Phallological Museum that garnered hundreds of penises from different creatures. I will refrain from describing the latter. When I returned to my hotel, I registered for the Golden Circle all-day tour online for day three. With the help of a tour guide, I quickly grasped the history and culture of Iceland, in addition to witnessing some of the most beautiful sights I have been exposed to even on the Internet. The tour consisted of walking around Iceland’s largest lake, Thingvallavatn, most powerful waterfall, Gullfoss, splendid Geysir, monumental Sumartonleikar i Skalholtskirkju, and the country’s primary and the world’s third-largest power plant, Hellisheidi Power Station. I met a fellow amiable and bright lone traveler from Russia, and we shared a large portion of the tour. Standing a foot behind the continuous spouting of Geysir marks the most awe-inspiring memory of this travel, as I could be wonderstruck by God’s creativity and perfection. Rather than heading back to my hotel immediately after the tour, I moved to the top of Perlan for an opportunity to pray to my Father looking at His astonishing creation. I had never felt so peaceful since my college graduation, and I had no doubt He brought me to this majestic place.

I woke up the next morning under the weather, so I slept in and took this final full day lightly. I drove to the Viking World Museum near my hotel to start the day, followed by a three-course meal at Apotek in Reykjavik. I ate (minke) whale for the first time, and, despite its smooth texture and high quality of taste, I felt guilty consuming my favorite animal; nonetheless, I could not let that prevent me from experiencing one of Iceland’s most popular delicacies. After shopping for gifts and absorbing more arts and settlement history from the Sculpture Museum and Reykjavik 871±2, I went on the Taste the Saga tour at Olgerdin. Not much of a drinker, I only signed up to visit the brewery, but the bridge that connects to the factory broke down and the group instead drank diverse beers only available in Iceland while learning about the country’s alcohol backstory all night (though always bright in the summer).

Despite losing my apartment key, countlessly getting lost without a GPS, throwing up on the ship, and catching a minor cold, I cannot think of any of my previous travel experience that comes even remotely close to how much I enjoyed this lone trip to Iceland. The Keflavik International Airport made me check in my luggage and assured my bag would fly directly to Atlanta. I was taken to the back of customs for additional questions about my visa status during my layover at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, and on my way out through the baggage claim, I just happened to walk towards my luggage, standing by a sign. Had I taken a different route, I would have lost my bag due to the misinformation from Iceland. I had more to thank God even after leaving Europe. With the support of benevolent Icelanders, this voyage put me in an exponentially brighter mood, and I would do it a thousand times over. I understand why the World Happiness Report ranked Iceland the second-happiest country in the world earlier this year. Takk, Ice(less)land!

Ongoing Europe Investigation

Prior to the lone exploration of France and Belgium, I learned of the French’s common disinclination towards speaking English due to their pride and history of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) with the United Kingdom. With Paris being one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions, I assumed the majority of the city residents, especially those employed in hotels or restaurants, were obliged to study English. However, oftentimes when I sought assistance with directions, I noticed the civilians’ frequent deliberate avoiding, ignoring, and even mocking me. One evening, I heard an arbitrary ignoramus call me the b-word in Korean a couple of times on my way back to my hotel, but I had already walked too far to turn around and retaliate. Regardless of what kind of behavior some strangers carried, I took this traveling experience to further educate myself on people of different cultures. The natives of France, though many were gone on vacation, appeared either overly generous, such as buying me a subway ticket when I was lost, or inexplicably rude, like utterly disregarding my questions and presence as if I did not even exist. I did not spot anyone in-between, neither benevolent nor malevolent. The progressive stressing of my feet from walking and dehydration drastically wore my patience thin, and I at times instinctively threw cruel phrases I should have kept under control.

Bonjour, France & Belgium!

Bonjour, France & Belgium!

Upon my arrival in Paris, after checking into my two-star hotel room about the size of a standard apartment bathroom, I proceeded to the bus tour to examine as many historic sites as time permitted. Consequently, I crossed out most plans on my six-day travel list on the first day and hence needed to search for additional activities to pursue. With a friend’s suggestion, I reserved the following day solely for the Louvre, the largest museum in the world. Because I seldom focus on every piece of art on display in detail, I underestimated the immense size of the building and quantity of artworks. In spite of how quickly I walked through each object, by the time I left the museum, I had still spent nearly eight hours inside. With Paris being neighbors with Belgium, I used the third day to travel to Brussels, once again riding on the bus tour to apply the time wisely and to the fullest. Due to the minuteness of the city, adventuring in a vehicle helped me witness virtually every significant tourist attraction, including the top of the Atomium, outside the Royal Palace, and various cathedrals, in a few hours. Misplacing my twenty-one-euro bus tour pass in-between caused a temporary panic; nonetheless, the bus I hopped on next to explain the situation to the driver coincidentally ended up being the same bus where I had dropped my copy of the receipt, letting me retrieve official access to the tour without any added cost. Brussels’ tomato soup and spaghetti momentarily flew my soul to Heaven, but the city’s incomprehensible refusal to offer free water brought my conscience back to Earth.

I chose the Palace of Versailles to spend the fourth day. A lack of signs and clarity near the initial gate led to line confusions, as I waited in the wrong line for the first forty minutes until a man in front of me informed me I needed to purchase an admission ticket first elsewhere. He saved my spot, but reaching the box office before he entered the palace appeared unlikely. Luckily, a couple who bought an extra ticket for a person soon sold that to me, as that person did not show up. The ornateness of the palace motivated me to become successful and, one day, live in a house remotely as decorated. I chased after other tourist attractions in Versailles following the royal tour, but the city did not offer much else. I completed the final two days visiting two more celebrated museums, Les Invalides and Musee d’Orsay, and shopping, though Le Tour de France on the day of departure prevented me from sightseeing world-famous shopping street Champs-Elysees.

To gain cultural experience, I utilized my friendly and outgoing personality to converse with and befriend numerous individuals from diverse countries. Since Europe comprises many of the world’s prominent tourist attractions, traveling on this continent creates various opportunities to interact with those outside one’s background and comfort zone, widening his or her perspectives on the world. This third trip to Europe in a year certainly served this purpose, opening my eyes to aspects previously unfamiliar to me.

Cruising to the Bahamas

I was originally scheduled to leave for a cruise to the Bahamas two weeks earlier for four nights on Carnival Sensation, but the unusual delay of my employment authorization document card delivery prevented me from leaving the United States without taking the risk of being forbidden to return. With the travel ticket being nonrefundable and nontransferable, I did not want to see that money go to waste. Following a series of persistent phone calls with managers of Priceline, where I purchased my original ticket, I eventually was connected to a benevolent experienced representative, who rescheduled the cruise to two weeks after for additional fees and an extra night on Carnival Fantasy, departing from and arriving in a nearer port to my home. I bought the cheapest round-trip bus ticket available online, but the company’s vagueness threw two bullets at me on my way to Charleston, South Carolina, from where the cruise departed. The bus was prepared to leave at 4:30 in the morning, and until five minutes to departure time, I waited at the bus company’s headquarters instead of the bus station. The gate was locked, and the 24/7 helpline remained unresponsive to my calls. My brother, who drove me, estimated where the bus should have been and took me to the proper location; I arrived two minutes to 4:30. I sprinted to the front desk to print out my tickets, but the clerk, observing my desperation, decided to play with my emotions, sluggishly chatting with other customers behind me during my turn and asking me, “Am I supposed to hop up and down for you?” I had never longed to knock every one of someone’s teeth out that badly. I safely made it onto the bus, but the driver soon required I bring a tag for my bag. I ran back inside the office and filled out and brought back a tag, but he was requesting a confirmation tag from the front desk. The aforementioned classless clerk had deliberately not printed out my tag when I received my tickets to make me come back. While conversing with a man beside me on the bus, I fell asleep for a couple of hours. A minute after waking up, I heard the bus driver announce that passengers going to Charleston must step off the bus and transfer. I did not know I had to switch onto a different bus, and had I remained asleep for minutes longer, I would have missed the cruise. I could not help but accredit God for saving me twice and safely bringing me to the ship.

Traveling alone on a cruise while most people came in couples or families, I felt awkward from time to time, but this also allowed me to befriend numerous strangers of different ages from various parts of the world. Most people appeared to enjoy my company. Food was unlimited, and once I purchased limitless soda, my instinct forced me to abuse the heavenly deal. I, on average, ordered four to five plates of expensive luxurious appetizers and main dishes and three to four desserts every dinner. I likely had the travel ticket’s worth of food, if not more. I caught an arbitrary cold on the second day and felt feeble until the end of the trip, especially the two days the ship landed in the Bahamas, first in Freeport and second in Nassau. Therefore, I sought and participated in short and inexpensive events, going to the nearest sea in Freeport and riding on a ferryboat to Paradise Island in Nassau, and returned to the ship fairly early. Carnival Fantasy itself offered countless games and shows, involving music, trivia, auctions, gambling, and parties, that guests could never run out of entertainment sources.

The most memorable yet embarrassing event must have been the 18+ competition. I was wandering around and just happened to sit in the room that held the contest without knowing the details minutes prior to the hostess’ appearance. I volunteered for two games, one of which required dragging a towel on all fours and the other that asked for blowing up three balloons and popping each of them with a female partner in a new sexually stimulating position. I, inexperienced and ignorant in this world, did not comprehend these suggested innuendos. I blew up the balloons and my partner tied them. We successfully popped the first using our chests but failed in the next two stances: doggy and cowboy styles. When the crowd cracked up and the entertainer shared dirty jokes, I caught up on what the game portrayed. My partner’s children being in the audience did not help me cope with the inexplicable embarrassment. Following, other participants were told to find a pair of pants from the viewer and wear them. One of the only guys in the front row, I became one of the first targets. I resisted but had no choice but to relinquish my pants, and the woman who wore them did not return them to me when she was supposed to, leading to her disqualification and my prolonged humiliation. I essentially sat down with my pants off in public for nearly fifteen minutes. I was awarded medals for partaking in these two games, and these medals will continue to remind me of this uncomfortable experience.

One unanticipated event, artwork auction, granted me the greatest contentment on the journey. I had never attended an auction; thus, I used this as an opportunity to educate myself on the subject. I visited two and eventually won two raffles for artworks. The host also generously offered a free painting to those who stayed until the end of each auction, giving me four valuable free paintings, which may easily sum up to a few hundred dollars, by respected artists. Abusing the bliss of unlimited food and free artworks, I felt I had earned more than I had paid for the travel.

When I returned home from the same sketchy bus ride, I noticed my body uncontrollably swaying back and forth. With the constant instability on the ocean, my muscles had become accustomed to the ship environment. Throughout these five nights, not once did I think of anyone or anything outside Carnival Fantasy. I refused to pay an irrational amount of money for slow and unstable Internet; consequently, I was disconnected from the outside world and had only the ship service to rely on for amusement. I could understand why numerous people choose sailing to be temporarily liberated from the stresses of their own world.