Standing At Opportunity’s Edge, Vigorously Clutching Wingsuit

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

From The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

~~~

Too much consistency is as bad for the mind as it is for the body. Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.

From Texts and Pretexts by Aldous Huxley

Opening Narrative: “Oh my—what the hell have I done?”
[reflective shock, told by amused man holding cold glass of whiskey against head]

On January 12th, 2014 I will board a plane in Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport bearing a one-way ticket to Bangkok, Thailand. What happens after I board that plane? Who knows? No concrete plans, no deadlines, no return date, no must-do’s or have-to’s. A wandering transient, thoughtful, and liberated. Open road and open mind.

How did I get to this point? There were many factors–too many to list–but I can trace back one irritating gnat-bite realization that helped catalyze the itch. It goes like this: after 20 uninterrupted years of education, I was feeling burnt out. In the past couple years, I’d tell my friends:

“You seen that movie Scarface? You know, the part where Pacino is sitting on his gangster throne, tonsils deep in a mountain of cocaine, with the SWAT team closing in to blast his coke-addled brains out? Yeah, that’s kinda how I feel these days in school, [sip of beer] minus the cocaine.”

See he looks burned out too…or just completely frosted.

You see, on the outside I was killing it: worked in a research lab, published a paper at a top-tier conference, taught my labs with gusto, and aced my coursework. But inwardly, I wasn’t into it. The work was losing meaning. And the image of myself as a tenure-track college professor–my personal carrot on a stick–began to fade.

I took the hint. I switched my focus to the Master’s track and prepared to graduate. Initially, my thought was to teach for a bit or find a more fulfilling place to complete my PhD. But as I investigated these options, I would catch whiffs of that same acrid burnout. More school, more burnout. No, I needed to break the cycle..“and now for something completely different.”

And so here I am. About to embark on a somewhat brazen quest for a rejuvenating change of pace. Some enlightening (and likely sobering) experiences. And a smattering of unplanned, unanticipated “whoa that was crazy, but I’m glad I did it” fun. I was on the academia riverboat cruise, and instead of transferring onto the next boat, I decide to hijack a canoe and sail for open waters with little more than a backpack full of gear, some money, and my name. Some people probably think I’m crazy, hedonistic, or naïve. I think I’m 25, intelligent enough to adapt, fortunate to have this opportunity, and ready to be unceremoniously dropped on my ass a few times. [EDIT] See my next post for how right I was about the last one.

So, as of now I’m breathing fairly easily. I’ve done some crazy things and been in some crazier situations, and most everything worked out swimmingly. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I survived them. I’ve maintained all of my appendages and most of my grey matter, and I’ve managed to avoid all the classic hangups—jail time, venereal diseases, unplanned children. What else to do, but fly halfway across the world and live vicariously? Makes sense to me..but maybe that’s part of the problem.

Motivations: “Why? Because.”
[Academically sincere, told by bright-eyed college graduate living out of backpack]

There are innumerable reasons why I am going on this trip. I like adventure, loath sitting still, and fear entropy in all its forms. I’ve wanted to solo travel since my first trip abroad to Egypt back in 2010. That trip fueled a desire to see the world on on my schedule, unfettered by group schedules and curfews. Most importantly, I’m mindful of the dwindling energy reserves of my mid-20s, the kind of energy that genteel and comfortable folk occasionally crave—frantic, feverish, near-blind momentum that sweeps you up and tumbles you for miles and miles and miles, leaving you breathless and exhausted and fulfilled.

In the waning light of my academic career, I made some goals for this trip. I like how these goals structure my trip—not quite like a wood beam frame that must be filled in, but more like a fully constructed door, standing alone, that I will step through. Trip goals:

  1. Reconnect with the cultural heritage that I left behind at the ripe age of 6 months old—ride the Diasporic wave all the way around back to Asia, returning as a true foreigner.
  2. Experience firsthand how technology shapes culture and vice versa in southeast and east Asia— apply my degree for mental (and monetary) gain.
  3. Climb, hike, dive, explore, and otherwise participate fully in the natural wonders of the continent I left so long ago—gorge my senses with wanderlust.

These three goals fit me. I’m a Korean immigrant comfortably raised white, middle class, and suburban. I appreciate my upbringing, but I’m conscious of my superficial identity and interested in exploring my cultural heritage. I’m also a computer scientist and programmer, solution-driven and engineering-minded. I see designs, models and the potentiality for improvement through these lenses, and I’m looking to internationalize my gaze. Lastly, I’m a young and energetic adventure-seeker. My future is open and expectant, awaiting experience in the same way the empty pages of my journal await the pen.

Thanks: “I couldn’t have done it without you”
[Cheerfully grateful, told by an Elliott]

Like any good-natured and humbly-raised Midwestern gent, I have countless people to thank for making this trip possible. My family deserves the bulk of the credit. I don’t just mean that they fed me, put a roof over my head, and cultivated my strengths and interests, and all that. They taught me how to work hard, inquire thoroughly, and respect the janitor and CEO equally. Their lives demonstrate how happiness comes from those you hold close and care about. They delivered a much-needed kick in the rear during college applications—thanks Aunt Roxanne and Uncle Dave! They gave me a much-needed home base for some wild adventures—thanks Aunt Sue and Uncle Big John, and Aunt Jan and Uncle Bruce! Today, they give me more support and love than I could ever repay. This blog is partly dedicated to them, [brief relapse into witticism] the rest I dedicate to my dwindling memory cells. [End wit.]

Of the remainder of those I’d like to thank, I will single out a few notables in semi-chronological order with equal importance:

Thank you 405 crew, for fueling a raucously good time. Thanks especially to Pat, for getting me into rock climbing.

Thank you Kara, for fueling my envy of foreign travelers.

Thank you Dr. Stewart and Dr. Berque, for helping me get into graduate school.

Thank you fellow CIS graduate students, particularly Joe, for helping me psychologically survive graduate school.

Thank you Mike, for your incredible photography and your unique brand of confrontational logic.

Thank you Eugene crew, for fostering eccentricity and new frontiers.

Thanks to everyone who gave me advice and contacts for this trip. Thanks to those who helped me springboard 2014 as a backpacker-to-be in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks especially to Kourtni, for your commitment to my time in South Korea.

With that, I’m off–the road less traveled awaits.

[Thanks YouTube for the media]

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About wheresthecrux


6 responses to “Standing At Opportunity’s Edge, Vigorously Clutching Wingsuit

  • Aunt Laurie

    Paul – loved, loved, loved your first post! Heard you got quite sick before you left. I hope you get your strength back quickly so you can start this journey in good health! Take care of yourself!!! Love you and so, so proud of all you’ve accomplished in your young life! Safe travels! You’re in my thoughts and prayers!

  • Hop

    Twenty years of academia implants a great deal of knowledge but little wisdom. Experience,explore,savor,fill up the void that exists inside you.
    Always remember, in the words of your grandma’s namesake, that ruby-slippered maiden from Kansas,” There’s no place like home.”
    Be safe,
    Uncle Hop

  • Aunt Jan

    Hi Paul…on plane to the Baja…seems like I am going to Buckley after reading your blog! Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!!!
    More to come. We love you. AJ band UB

  • Mingwei

    The prince is coming!

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