TRAVEL

ON TRAVELING ALONE IN NORWAY

When I'm traveling, I'm met with temporary spaces: hotel rooms, hostels, and Airbnb apartments. After dropping my bags off onto the floor, I put a bit of effort into making the temporary space feel like home. I’ll unravel the sheets, pour myself a glass of water, and make sure the temperature is just right. In every living space, comfort is a priority.

In September, I packed a duffel bag with five outfits, a pair of trusty hiking boots, and a rain jacket for two weeks of worth of travel. Bergen, Norway was my first stop. I sought out a place where I could find silence and solitude. I chose Norway specifically to escape from the noise of the city and a place to be simply left alone.

Airports are one of my favorite places. The idle time sitting in airports leaves room for people watching and observation: parents calming their children, couples falling in and out of love, over packers, minimal packers, and eavesdropping on interesting conversations. When we allow our minds to wander we discover something unique about ourselves. Traveling has the power to soften my understanding and eliminate preconceptions I have about the world. It allows me to engage and connect with other people for short periods of time. Small talk conversation in airports can be viewed as mundane, boring, and even callous, but they have a potential to bloom into something unexpected. I have exchanged laughs and cries over stories from strangers on my travels. Stories are one of the best souvenirs you can take home. As humans, we are wired for story. They’re tiny delights that carry on.

I prefer to travel alone. As an adolescent, my worldview was built from fantastical places I read in books and watched in movies. Upon my arrival, I was met with the Osterøy Bridge basking in its afternoon glow. Every aspect of what I was seeing felt fictional. I was met with the deep mountain ranges and bodies of water surrounding it. Everything was illuminating with radiance. When I am at home, there's a sense of hardness comes along with living in a city: ambulances, police sirens, public transportation delays. It goes on. As I have gotten older and more mindful of the effects that environmental stress has on our bodies it becomes an inherent need to retreat to natural places to escape. 

A sense of immediate calm rushed over after stepping out of the airport. I was greeted with the crisp, cold air. There wasn't a trace of anyone feeling rushed. I took the Skyss Bergen Light Rail from the airport to the Airbnb. I spent the half hour journey on the train eavesdropping on other people’s conversations in foreign languages. I studied the architecture of homes: colorful, cozy, tucked away from stress. I admired the mountain ranges surrounding the city. I wanted to study the mountains, become their friend,  and leave no trace.

After settling in, I spent the afternoon tracking down a grocery store, pharmacy and explored the Fish Market. If you decide to visit, I would advise that you don't breathe in too deeply while walking through the Fish Market. The smell is pungent. You can find fresh salmon, caviar, roe, live crab, crab legs, and anything else you can imagine. I tried the fish stew with salmon and it didn't disappoint. I was also surprised and happy to see how many people were outside eating McFlurry’s and soft serve ice cream. 

The next day I packed my backpack with a bottle of water,  a notebook and pen, and some snacks for my 2-hour train journey up north to Myrdal. Hazy eyed, I tried my best to stay awake before the train conductor came to inspect my ticket, but I ended up falling asleep and missing a few views along the way. I arrived and embarked on my walk through the trails without a sense of direction. No one was around. I didn't know what I would find through the steepness of the trails. Along the way, I was met with untouched wilderness, roaring waterfalls, and an incredible view of the rich fjords. It was a place to be still and quiet. 

On my third day in Bergen, I took a boat tour from Bryggen's Hanseatic Wharf. I stood on the top deck of the boat in the pouring cold rain for 3 hours photographing the fjords. I seemed to be the only one on the top deck while everyone remained inside. It was worth it. If you decide to visit, I advise that you pack a reliable rain jacket and a plastic bag to protect your camera. The fjords through Mostraumen resembled a fairytale. The cascading waterfalls graced behind tiny red, white, and yellow houses and cabins. I wanted to linger for a while.

My trip was dwindling down and I wasn't quite ready to leave. On my last day, I hiked up Mt. Ulriken, the highest mountain in Bergen. As I made my way up the mountainside, the fog came rolling in and I lost sight of where I was going. I discovered grazing sheep, unoccupied cabins, and endless streams. I felt joy and gratitude. The rain came in and the trek got muddy. After getting a little lost, I was ready for a hot chocolate and some warmth. Luckily, there was a small cafe on top of the mountain with pastries, tea, beer, and hot chocolate. 

Travel can humble our everyday experiences and make us realize the things we take for granted. Traveling allows me to experience something that’s out of my control: the passage of time. It allows for me to practice patience and reflect on the ways I utilize my time. It has the power to enable the possibility of giving ourselves room to grow and discover second chances. When we allow this door to open, we can begin to uncover things we didn’t know not only in ourselves but in others.

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Ulriken
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Norwegian Fog

On Public Speaking

Our insecurities and fears debilitate us from unlocking our true, authentic selves. Heights, the dark, spiders, ghosts: words that can cause one’s blood pressure to increase. Fears haunt us in our waking life everyday and attack when we allow them to. They're alive and raw. 

When I am standing in front of a room presenting a project the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I allow a series of what if  questions to overcome my preparation: What if my mind goes blank? What if everything I've prepared is a complete waste? What if the intonation of my voice isn't loud enough? By nature, these questions diminish any form of confidence I had once built myself. It's true, we are our own worst enemies. Most of our insecurities and fears are rooted in the unknown, the possibility of not knowing what is to come, and ultimately the fear of being rejected.

A few years ago, I was asked to speak on a panel to offer advice to incoming freshman wanting to pursue journalism as their career choice. Before that I hadn't been up in front of a room to speak formerly in years. The build up caused a great deal of nervousness. I needed to appear intelligent, in the know, and confident. At the moment, I work in the world of publishing where everyone I meet is smart and well-spoken, but we all share similar anxieties and fears about public speaking. I have spoken to professionals who have been presenting for years and years and they still get nervous when they speak in front of a crowd. 

In retrospect, my participation on the panel gave me insight on how to read an audience. Not only that, but it allowed me to pay attention to my breath. When I am speaking before a room I have the strong tendency to rush through my words. Rather than being in the moment with where I am, I think: When is this going to be over? This year, I need to practice on being more patient and becoming more fluid with my speech. 

Growing up, I was accustomed to balancing and learning three languages simultaneously: Chinese (Cantonese) and Vietnamese at home with my parents, and then English when I entered school. But in order to succeed in school I had to lose my Chinese and Vietnamese accent. My parents encouraged me to stumble into the English language, embarrass myself as much as humanly possible, and grow from the experience because they did the exact same when they immigrated from Vietnam 25 years ago.

Language influences our thoughts and actions. It's deeply rooted in how we communicate and interact with our world. As human beings, we possess an inherent curiosity to share and absorb stories. It's something that is heavily hardwired into us biologically. One of the reasons why I am motivated to improve upon this skill is that I value the art of storytelling. This is how I was able to balance all three languages, and all three cultures, within myself. But because of societal pressures, I lost my accent, and therefore a part of myself, at a very young age. I felt like my value as a storyteller slowly diminished.

For my entire life, I've admired presenters who have the power to captivate and connect with their audience on an emotional level. After listening to successful presentations, I am aware that being a masterful storyteller takes practice. No one is born a public speaker. It takes time and practice. After everything I've been through, gaining and losing languages and accents and dialects, I know I have the power to shape my reality. We are able to bring the best versions of ourselves in every situation we are faced with. I recognize my capacity to improve. I'm human after all.