- 2017 Essay contest: 3rd Place Winner
My head was always heavy and half asleep in the mornings. It happened a year and half ago, when spring was awakening from long silence of the cold. I had gone through four successive semesters, each of them as demanding as the rest, and suddenly something (maybe a main engine) in me stopped. It was a mid-college-life crisis. When every day had become something to be endured, I realized I needed to start living differently. Therefore, on a remarkably sunny day of the end of March, I took a break from school. On day 1 of my quest to learn how to live differently, I was amazed by how a day could be full of many colorful activities. I was reminded of diverse possibilities that had not been tested yet in my life.
About two months past the beginning, I got used to the new pattern of my life and was lackadaisical from torrid heat that had come too early. I needed to break the circle and make the best out of the time. Thus, I decided to go on a trip. Among a few candidates, I chose Sydney as my destination. I thought the city should satisfy my needs in many ways. For one reason, the city’s vast natural sceneries and commendable public transportation system were attractive enough for an admirer of nature with clumsy driving skills. Also, as being located in the southern hemisphere, the place should provide the seasonal atmosphere that was just opposite to where I was, which felt magical. There seemed to be no better place to take adventure in.
Literary connoisseurs would know that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was originally titled First Impressions. To my surprise, my first impression on Sydney was worse than that of Elizabeth’s on Darcy. After more than ten hours of flight, I stepped in a land far away. On the first day, dissonance was created between me and the city every minute. A clerk appeared at a public transportation card booth, right after I purchased a one way ticket to the city’s center. Then, out of the airport, I could not be sure of when my new u-sim card would be activated, so I had to find my ways by an old method: looking into a heavy guide book. Besides, a front desk staff at my accommodation was very rude. All these things and some others felt more annoying in my lack of sleep and with the city’s dismal late autumn weather. I was tired, and everything was out of sync.
Like life, trips have their ups and downs. Mine to Sydney had a steep downhill and a steady uphill. I was surprised, again, to find myself rapidly growing on the city starting the second day. People were a lot nicer afterwards, and the city was a perfect combination of exciting urbanity and tranquil nature. On fine days, I soaked myself in majestic nature. On rainy days (unfortunately, most of the times), I enjoyed museums that were open to everyone, free of charge. At nights, I marveled at the beauty of Vivid Sydney, an annual lighting art festival. The readers of the novel also know that the protagonist loves the man in the end. I too wanted to marry the city, if I could. There was more to the city than meets the eye, and the days in Sydney were fresh and liberating.
Back home before the trip, I felt crowded both physically and emotionally. I had a million thoughts and a thousand things to care about, and it felt like I was pushing my way through them. Obviously, I usually was either too sleepy or too conscious. Being a bit of workaholic, I always felt slightly responsible to be engaged in some work. During the little journey, I realized that because my head was liberated, so were my senses. When my mind was less occupied, I could notice my sensations with more attention. On the seashore of a suburb, where I felt the warmth of sunlight and coolness of winds, I knew that it was part of life. People know they are really living, through their accomplishments, but sometimes by their simply being and feeling. It is good sometimes to turn one’s presence in ‘I think, therefore I am’ way to ‘I feel, therefore I am’ way.
The trip sure had effect on me. However, life does not flip so easily, and no striking change happened. It was more dramatic than everyday life and less so than The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Short trips are more of collecting clues than a game changer. I gained memories of walking in the city and suburbs, feeling connected to the world, and experienced the feeling of living with heightened senses. That was enough for gradually starting living differently. Life needs space, and Sydney was where I learned it. Like Walter finds out that a little bit of courage can bring himself closer to his dream life, I came to know that a little more space in life can lead me to quality times and new sensations.
Along the tides of life, from time to time, I still wonder if I could go anywhere, if I want to. I do not doubt it, however, as often as I did in my crisis. While I was touring around Sydney, I listened to Sia’s Reaper and Charlie Puth’s Some Type of Love many times. Puth sings in the song, “when the world’s on fire, we won’t even move.” I suppose that is what the city gave to me, the strength to go through toil and something to hold onto in storms. Now, when I feel crowded, I recall the trip, and I remember myself standing in front of the greens and blues and looking at Harbo(u)r Bridge and the opera house. Then, like Sia’s lyrics, I am reminded of the fact that “I got good things to feel in my life.”
Essay review by Managing Editor Hong Ki-yeon
Everyone feels at least once in their lives that what one needs is to simply get away from the place that has been one’s home and prison for so long. However, the reality nearly always proves to be more powerful than one’s urge and need for an adventure. There are assignments to get done, family and friends to keep in touch with, and the fundamental fear of leaving behind the comfort zone. The essay shows how the writer braved all those scary shackles of the familiar and mundane, to discover something new in a strange and beautiful land. May the strength that she found on her journey stay with her throughout her life — and may it also challenge the readers of her writing to search for their own adventures, and find their own strengths.
Woori Ko firstname.lastname@example.org