About Nathalie S.H.

Music and science fiction had a baby.

Confessions of a 混血兒

混血兒:hùnxuè’ér; a person of mixed race

I am half-Taiwanese, but I wasn’t raised speaking Mandarin. In fact, the only phrases I used in my childhood were “xie xie”and “zai jian”, to my Poh-Poh and Gong-Gong. Besides those two phrases, I could only count to three.

I took a Chinese class with my mom and younger brother when I was about 6 years old. The only words I remember are “pingguo” (apple) and “shui” (water). Through my childhood and teenage years, the idea of delving further into the Chinese language didn’t even cross my mind.

But something happened when I was 20. I’m not sure whether it was the fact that my university was full of international students and I heard more Mandarin being spoken than ever before, that I became more aware of how many Chinese and Taiwanese friends I had that had been raised speaking their parent’s native tongue, or the fact that my Poh Poh and Gong Gong were getting older. I realized that, for the last 20 years, I had been denied an opportunity to grow up knowing a second language.

And so, I signed up for a beginner Chinese course at university. I realized though, that I’d be learning the simplified writing system as opposed to the traditonal one used in Taiwan; that many of the phrases taught were more common in mainland China than in Taiwan. But I figured that it was a start, and I naivley thought that I would have a high level of language comprehension at the semester’s end. Four months later I could finally count and give simple greetings in Mandarin, much to my Poh-Poh’s and Gong-Gong’s delight. But I still felt incomplete.

It wasn’t until eight months later that I was able to take the second level Chinese course. And truthfully, it was harder than I wanted it to be. I wanted to be able to spend 10-30 minutes on assignments and review everyday and see improvement. Instead, I would spend an hour or more and have to keep checking how to write each character, how to say each word correctly, and going back into the textbook for guidance. It didn’t help that at this time I was in 4 other courses that were taking up most of my time, and because Chinese wasn’t part of my degree requirements I pushed it to the backburner more often than not.

However, a new opportunity arose through these struggles. An opportunity to live in Taiwan for two months and take Chinese classes. I applied, was accepted, and found myself on the plane to Taipei before I knew it. For 8 weeks I took daily classes at the National Taiwan Normal University (Shida, NTNU) Mandarin Training Centre. I got to explore the capital of Taiwan, make trips to Tainan and Sun Moon Lake, visit some family that I’d never met, and make a handful of amazing friends who I still keep in contact with to this day. Living in a country where I was fully immersed in the language was (and is) the best way to learn Mandarin (any language, really).

When I got home, I was motivated to keep up speaking in Mandarin as much as possible. I could speak a little more with my grandparents, and once a week met up with a friend who had gone through the same program for conversation in Mandarin. I was also  trying to teach myself new characters through the textbooks I had bought while abroad.

But I was still a university student. Which meant that more often than not I’d only spend 10 minutes a day on Mandarin, if any time at all. School was my priority, and Mandarin became something that disheartened me. I wasn’t getting better. I was stagnant. I wanted to get better. But I wanted it to be easy. I didn’t have to work this hard for anything else, so why should this any different? There were some months I simply stopped my self-study altogether because it was easier than pushing on. The textbooks stayed at the top of my desk, simulteously collecting dust and filling me with guilt.

Now, three years after my summer in Taipei, and I’m back in Taiwan. I’m more confident approaching store owners and buying things or ordering food. Things I should’ve been ok with 3 years ago, but actions that admittingly made me super nervous. What if they don’t understand me? It’s happened before. What if they laugh at me? It’s also happened (and feels super shitty, I might add). This time, I just jump right in. Nothing lost, nothing gained. My level of comprehension has noticeably increased from last time. For the last several months, everyday, I’ve been watching Taiwanese dramas and actively listening, and writing down words and phrases that commonly come up or that I can use. I don’t know if it’s because of this, or a newfound attitude, but I feel as if I can feel my improvement.

As I’ve previously mentioned, it hasn’t been easy. Although I have loads of friends back home to speak Mandarin, I’m nervous to speak with them. A stranger would be easier to talk to. I’m not sure if this is fear of judgement or simple shyness, but I haven’t taken the initative or opportunity to speak that much at home. I’ve already decided that upon my return to speak more to my grandparents. Now that I’m not in university I’ll have more time to go over and visit them

A few months ago my family got new neighbors, a young woman and and her mother. The mother only speaks Chinese, no English, and I desperately wanted to try and converse with her. But again, shyness. One day I had to help translate a request for my mom, and I have no idea if I did well or not, but we everything worked out in the end. And it really made me realize that a few minutes a day learning a few new characters would not cut it anymore.

During my travels I’ve met so many people who are bilingual, even trilingual, and it’s really nailed in that I do want to be fluent in Mandarin, ideally in a few years. I’ve thought this before, but this time feels different. I can tell that I will be more serious about my efforts when I return home.

And now, I have to admit something that will change the tone of this post from motivational to slightly melancholy.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling resentful towards my family for not exposing me to Mandarin when I was a baby to the point that I could speak it fluently. I resented them for not forcing me into Chinese school, even though I know I would’ve hated it. I feel denied an opportunity that could have been easily provided to me. I do realize how petty and terrible these thoughts are, and I wish that as a child or even as a teenager I would’ve realized how badly I would want to be fluent in my twenties so that I could have started learning earlier. Furthermore, everytime I see non-Asians and hear them speaking fluent (or comparitavely better than myself) Mandarin, I can feel a cloud forming in my mind. That’s my language, my roots, that should be me. You have taken something that’s rightfully mine, and made it yours. And yes I’m jealous and yes I realize that these feelings stem from both insecurity on my end, self-pity at my horrid stuyding efforts, and disgust at myself for thinking that I can put minimal effort into my self-studies and expect huge, noticeable changes overnight.

That’s not how this works.

I have to work. A lot. A lot more than I’m used to. This is going to be harder and more frustrating than any university course I’ve ever taken. And of course I don’t hate these people. A culmination of negative emotion and mindsets results in these thoughts, that I AM actively trying to reframe. The jealousy will likely not leave, but if I can use these situations to motivate my studies then I consider that a win.

When I left Taiwan three years ago I knew I wanted to come back for longer; ideally six months to one year for actual full immersion, this time in a smaller city. Even now this is a very important goal of mine, and something I plan to work towards since I want to accomplish it before I turn 30. It’ll take work. And there will be more moments where I just want to spend 10 minutes on Chinese. Or just skip it. But I’ll push on. Through every moment of frustration I can only hope one of equal reward arises.

Panorama of the mountains at 日月潭 (Sun Moon Lake)

(A Whirlwind) 23 Days in Japan

Osaka to Hiroshima to Kyoto to Shizuoka to Tokyo and finally Sapporo.

I’m tired.

I knew this would be an exhuasting 23 days. When you try to fit in as much of Japan as possible on your first trip there (oh you can bet I plan to make more) and end up spending 2/3 days (maybe 4 if you’re lucky) in each city, it’s tiring. Even when I was in Korea, thinking about the upcoming Japan leg was exhausting.

And so, beloved author (moi!) writes this as she goes, because the idea of writing this after her 23 days is just no.


I flew into Osaka from Busan and arrived at my hostel around 3pm. I scored a great deal for about $18/night near the Osaka Loop Line, which meant I could use my JR Pass to access Osaka station (which could then take me to the subway for local sights and Shin-Osaka for long distance trains). This was perfect because my plan was two days of city sights with one major daytrip to Matsuyama.

On day one I explored around Osaka Castle, a convenient 7 minute train ride from my accommodation. Besides the castle itself, the surrounding gardens were gorgeous and significantly less crowded than the immediate castle grounds. I also had a delicious matcha softserve (a definite highlight of the Japan trip in general!).

Day two was a four hour train trip (both ways) to visit and bathe in the Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest onsens in Japan. I chose the second-tier Kami no Yu experience, which gave me access to the more private public path, with tea and cookies after in the lounge area along with a yukata rental (fun fact: the difference between a kimono and yukata is the fabric! A kimono is made of silk while a yukata is made of cotton). I was super relaxed the entire time, and was the only foreigner, and so this felt like a true local experience (until I left, when I saw a European couple come in). Bonus? The onsen allows tattoos.

For my last day I visited the Mamofoku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (also called the cup noodles museum). As my nickname is Noodley, this was a no-brainer in terms of visiting. Admission is free, and I highly recommend renting an audio guide as signage in English in minimal. You can also design your own instant ramen cup and create your own instant ramen mix for 300 yen, but it was in high demand and accepting no more people by the time I got there. Afterwards I headed down to explore Dotonburi walking street. I snacked on takoyaki and beef croquette, took in the giant neon signs, and people-watched (honestly, one of my favourite activities). I bought a drawing from a kind old man (one of the cheapest and easiest things to bring home after travels), and a polka-dot long-sleeved shirt (something I’d been thinking about buying when I returned home, but an opportunity showed itself and I took it). I arrived at around 3:30pm, which allowed me to observe the street in the day, and lit up in the evening.

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Since I only had two days in Hiroshima, I caught an early train out of Osaka. It was a rainy day, and my waterproof jacket finally got some use after the frigid frigid volcanic trek in Indonesia. I arrived at my accommodation around 1pm, dropped off my bags, borrowed a communal umbrella, and made my way to the Peace Memorial Park. Due to the rain, the Peace Museum was quite crowded, but I was of the mind that visiting there first would give me  a greater appreciation for the Park and A-Bomb Dome. I was correct. I’m a self-proclaimed history buff, and as horrific as many war stories and truths are, it’s something we as humans have done for years, and something we need to face, teach, and learn about and from. One thing that really stood out to me was how it wasn’t until the creation of the Shinkansen system that school frield trips to Hiroshima were possible, thus opening the educational opportunities for many kids who will hopefully never have to live through the effects of a nuclear weapon or war.

The rain created a heavy (and appropriate atmosphere) as I wandered the park afterwards, taking in the various memorial sculptures. The A-Bomb Dome was extraordinary to witness in person, and there were lots of educational signs in English. I took the evening easy in order to soak in everything I had just read and seen, and to dry off.

The next morning, after an amazing french toast breakfast at the cutest cafe literally steps from my hostel (Kefe Lega, for those interested), I embarked to Miyajima. I had planned for a few hours on the island, but only spent about 1.5 hours there. The sun was really strong and it was very humid, so I wasn’t the happiest. Or the most comfortable. While the floating gate is obviously the hightlight of the island, I spent most of my time at the Daoshin temple, about a 10minute walk from the ferry pier. I highly recommend making a visit to this temple when on Miyajima. There are loads of beauitfully adorned shrines, and a pathway with about 500 stone figures, all with different facial expressions, and with little crocheted hats. I spent a good hour at the temple and had I not been sweating from my bones could have easily spent an hour more.

Tip: If you’re a JR Pass Holder, Hiroshima operates a free hop-on hop-off bus. There are three different routes, and they all start and end at Hiroshima Station. I used it to see Hiroshima Castle, then got off at Peace Memorial Park and walked back to my hostel. Definitely worth it if you have the pass!

So. Three days here was not enough. Especially if you only have the energy for filling half your day with sightseeing, like myself. On my first day I took advantage of what the forecast told me would be the last sunny day and took the train to Nara. I fed the adorable bowing deer, and visited Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Toda-ji (the temple that houses the largest bronze Buddha in the world). I got a giant mochi on the way to the park, and liked it so much that I bought three more on the way back to the hostel for snacking.

The next day I woke up 7am and left at 7:30 for Fushimi-Inari Shrine, arguably one of the most famous attractions in Japan. The hundreds of vermillion torii gates lead you up Mount Inari, and there is no admission fee. While there were more people at the morning hour than I would’ve liked, it was not comparable to the amount starting the ascent as I ended mine. Plus, it started to rain quite heavily as I finished, but I had used the rainy forecast as a hope that people would avoid outdoor excursions. For the most part, both my tactics worked, as closer to the top of the mountain I had many portions of the trail all to myself. One of my favourite things about this trail was that there are many smaller shrines off the larger path, and you can get them all to yourself if you need a break from people (me everyday). I loved marvelling at the numerous fox guardian statues and little amulets hanging everywhere for good luck. At the end of my adventure I headed out for soba noodles as the many many stairs up the mountain had made me very hungry.

For my last day I had a list of temples to choose from. I ended up choosing Ninna-ji (for its garden) and Nanzen-ji (for its aquaduct). It was raining on and off, but was very humid. I suspect that this gross weather combination was why I had Ninna-ji basically to myself (I saw a total of around 20 people during the hour I spent there). There is something so relaxing about exploring a temple complex and garden with no voices and footsteps to deter from the moment. The rain gently falling on the conifers made this experience something that’s hard to put into words. And afterwards, I headed to Nanzen-ji to look at an aquaduct. Yes, that was all I did.

To visit a friend, and see Mount Fuji. Sadly, during our trip to the Chureito Pagoda, the cloud cover only gave us a small glimpse of the peak (cue my mutterings of “stupid Fuji” for the next 2 hours). We saw some brilliant clear views as we were leaving, of course. But we also enjoyed a giant bowl of udon noodles specific to the Yamanashi region (Hoto). If you’re planning to do something related to Mount Fuji sightseeing, check the weather beforehand, and start early (or even make a day trip out of it). I used my second day to explore the Sunpu Castle ruins, then spent the afternoon in a coffee shop preparing for Tokyo.

I fell in love on my first day. Maybe it had something to do with the teahouse I visited which I imagined visiting everyday if I lived there. Maybe it was the numerous things to do and see and eat, or the fact that I took the most wonderful new style hustle class. Regardless, I am making my way back whether the city likes it or not.

After arriving and checking in at my hostel in the afternoon, I found myself with a little extra energy, and so decided to visit Hama-Rikyu Gardens. I expected something similar to Stanley Park in Vancouver, and I couldn’t have been more wrong, This was basically a nature-lovers oasis in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world. And the most beautiful teahouse where I indulged in delicious matcha and a sweet. I was so calm during that afternoon. As I had arrived around 2:30pm, it wasn’t too crowded. I walked around the paths, photographing the birds and plants, and spent about 30minutes marvelling at the flower garden with the brightly coloured cosmos flowers.

On my second day I made my way to Ueno to spend the morning at the Tokyo National Museum. Admission was only $7 for the 4 buildings that were open, housing Japanese collections, Asian collections (central, south, east), and donated collections. I got there right at opening, which was a good decision. I made my way to the Honkan building first to visit the Japanese paintings, sculptures, and displays. In the Toyokan (Asian Gallery) there was a cool hands on activity where you could design a postcard using traditional Japanese motifs. I’m not the most artisitically inclined, so I wasn’t super pleased with my finished product, but it definitely makes a unique memento. One of the buildings, the Gallery of  Horiyu-ji Treasures, was essentially empty; and thus I recommend checking out its exhibitions should you find yourself in the museum complex looking for a moment alone.

Afterwards I walked along the Ameya-Yokocho shopping street. I scored a $5 dress at a used clothing store and a $7 sweater (muahaha).

My second full day brought the rain and the cold (which I was actually thankful for because I had been sweating so much over the last several months). It set the atmosphere for my walk to Meiji shrine. I got here around 9am and it was just starting to get busy. I bought a fortune (because I drew #16 which is my favourite number) and took some pictures, then walked to Harajuku to look around. Due to the rain, it wasn’t as busy as I expected. My main reason for exploring the area, though, was for pancakes. I went to Rainbow Pancake shop and got their Macadamia Nut Sauce Pancakes which were so delicious and perfect for the rainy day. I took the JR line to Shibuya afterwards to take in the scramble intersection, but it wasn’t as busy as I expected.

With more rain expected the following day, I planned out a super “treat yo’self” day involving brunch at Suke6 Diner, tea and dessert at the Aoyama Flower Market Teahouse, and sushi at the popular conveyer belt restaurant Genki Sushi. Worth it. In the evening I relaxed at a public bath ($5 for an amazing facility) that, to my luck, allowed tattoos (apparently because Yakuza use the baths according to a hostel worker…didn’t see any, though).

My final day, and I found myself on the way to Roppongi for a sunday morning new style hustle class. I was so excited. I never expected to love a dance style as much as I do new style hustle, and to attend a class internationally was an amazing experience. Everyone was super friendly and I realized just how much I missed hustle.


Oh my where to start…as soon as I got on the train to continue from the last Shinkansen station onwards to Sapporo I couldn’t stop looking out the window. Mountains, the ocean, and the most glorious shades of autumn leaves on EVERY TREE. I fell in love immediately (I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said that BUT IT’S ALWAYS TRUE). As I stepped off the train I squealed because, to my delight, IT WAS COLD. Not the type of cold that comes from being out in the rain, but the crisp air that comes with west coast autumn mornings. I likely had the stupidest grin on my face as I walked to my hostel.

Sapporo is unusual in that it was developed in the American style grid pattern, making navigation super easy. I was under the impression that I’d be able to fit in one day in the city itself, with two day trips to other areas in Hokkaido. How wrong I was. I spent the three days NOT leaving the city because there was so much to do. Also I’m very very lazy.

Upon recommendation from a friend I made in my hustle class, I first visited the Ishaya chcolate factory (also known as Shiroi Koibito Park). This Hokkaido company is famous for their specialty white chocolate biscuits. They have a history section with many vintage cups, saucers, and pots for hot chocolate. One of the floors describes the history of the company and how the biscuits are produced. You get to look into the production line as well through a window, which I found fascinnating to watch. There’s also a cafe on the upper floor, with a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. I splurged on a very decadent hot chocolate with orange liquer. No regrets. The gift shop was complete and total mania…tourists left right and centre grabbing boxes upon boxes of biscuits. However, once exiting, I was greeted by a beautiful courtyward area with lots of seasonal decorations. Once I made my way back I stopped off at Odori Park and the underground shopping arcade (which was mainly drugstores…but I did fine some interesting flavours of kit kat to send to my family and scored a $3 top from a lady selling secondhand clothes).

My second day was filled with all things beer (and some cats) as I journeyed over to the Sapporo Beer Museum (I got very lost on the way there THANKS CONSTRUCTION FOR BLOCKING THE ROUTE). The museum is free to enter (unless you want a premium tour but I don’t actually know what that entails) and has english descriptions for the history of Sapporo Beer right from it’s creation up until current days. Afterwards I spent 600 yen on a very generous flight of tasters and if you know me you know I rarely drink so 600mL of alcohol all to myself is a rarity…and needless to say I got very tipsy. I spent the next 20 minutes walking outside determining the best place for lunch, as the museum grounds also houses five beer gardens. I tried the local dish “Genghis Khan” which is essentially grilled lamb, veggies, and rice. A very satisfying day.

I managed to fit in a bit more on my last full day in Japan. I walked around the beautiful Hokkaido University campus and got to witness just how yellow ginkgo trees turn in the autumn. My heart was full of beautiful autumn leaves and my lungs with fresh, crisp, autumn air (seriously I stopped in the middle of some places just to take a few deep breaths). After a brief recharge at my hostel (for my feet and phone) I toured the botanical gardens of the university. While I’m certain spring and summer are the better times to visit since most things bloom in that period, it made for a nice 1.5 hour walk. Plus the greenhosue was warm and housed some interesting species. Afterwards it was time to visit the observation deck on the 38th floor of the JR Tower. There was a decently priced cafe and thus indulged in some cake and tea. It was a wonderful way to spend my last evening; just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views, and watching as the city lit up and afternoon turned to dusk and then evening.

I admit, when this trip was still in the planning stages Japan seemed more of a convenient country to visit between South Korea and Taiwan as opposed to a place I was stoked on visiting. After 23 days though, it is so obvious why people make multiple visits here (despite me not really being able to put it into words). There’s so much I need to come back and do…I want to spend longer than 3 hours in Matsuyama (more like 3 days) and definitely want to explore all that Hokkaido has to offer. Arigatou, Japan; I leave with a few weeks left in this gran travel scheme and thank you for your food, people, scenery, and hospitality.

5 Days in Jeju – A Review

In which I’m the only person in my guesthouse who doesn’t know there’s a typhoon in the area.

Oh well. Yolo.

Ahh Jeju. Where to start. Korea’s southernmost Island. Korea’s southernmost province. “The world comes to Jeju, and Jeju goes to the World.”

Jeju-do is the largest island off the coast of the Korean Penninsula and is home to many natural wonders, seeing as it’s a volcanic island. Hallasan, the highest peak in Korea, can be seen from all corners as it’s situated right in the island’s centre. The island was also voted one of the “New7Wonders of Nature”; a title it holds loud and proud (albeit with some controversy, as there was no limit on the number of times people could vote, and thus the Jeju government spent a load of money on a campaign to get citizens to vote as much as possible). 

I had 5 days on the island, and didn’t get to see as much as I would’ve liked. Although small in area, I didn’t have a car, and was thus limited to the bus system. Although it got me where I wanted, it took upwards of 1.5 hours to reach certain places.

If you find yourself in South Korea I highly recommend taking a few days for Jeju. It’s quieter than the cities (at least when I visited in mid-Sept; but be sure to avoid Korean Thanksgiving). Here’s how I spent my time on the island.

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall and Seogwipo Harbour

A no-brainer, seeing how these were both a few minutes walk from my guesthouse. It’s only 2000w to enter (1000 if you’re a youth age 13-24). Although I saw loads of tour buses in the parking lot, there weren’t a lot of people inside the grounds. The area is pristine, and who doesn’t love a waterfall. Right nearby, Seogwipo harbour is a great walk, as a bridge takes you over the crashing ocean waves onto a small provincial park and island with a walking trail.

World Seashell Museum

I have been aggressively trying to get more people to visit this gorgeous exhibit. I passed it on the bus ride to my guesthouse and knew I had to see it for myself. The director has collected a good 95% of all the shells and corals on display themself (with the other 5% coming from people who want to help). While the price is a bit higher (6000w) I spent a good 2 hours here and had the whole place to myself. The ambience is beautiful and calming. There’s also a cafe on site.


9.6km. That was all holding me from the peak of the highest mountain in South Korea. 8:16am I began the hike. 11:35am I reached the summit. They recommend giving yourself 5 hours to ascend, and of course I took that as a challenge. The last 4 km were brutal as it was basically stairs non-stop (Grouse Grind has NOTHING on Hallasan). I was lucky enough to catch the last sunny day before the mountain closed due to the windy weather, and it was absolutely breathtaking to look down and see the entire island at your fingertips.

Café Day – Villa de Ato

Macaroon smoothie. That is all. 

Jeongbang Waterfall

Another walkable waterfall. This one you can actually walk up close to, and witness it fall directly into the ocean. It was more crowded here than at Cheonjiyeon, even though the weather was clouded.

Jusangjeolli Cliff

Also called Jungmun Daepo Coastal Walk, these columns stretch over 2km along the Jeju coast. They were formed from the cooling and contraction of lava, which results in “stacks” of hexagons. As it was a windy day, watching the waves crash over these pillars was breathtaking. 

Seogwipo Daily Olle Market

Jeju has a lot of markets. This one was right near my guesthouse. I ate dinner there basically everyday. Grilled pork, etiquette, steamed barley bread…andof course, the pictures octopus bread (SO GOOD).

Seongsan Sunrise Peak

More hiking to see a crater. And not at sunrise. It took me 1.5 hours to bus here, but the views were worth it. I would love to come back again for sunset, and take a walk away to get pictures from further away.

And that was Jeju! I’m currently sitting in the Busan airport waiting for my flight to Osaka, so my next post may be about Japan. BUT I also visited Damyang and Suncheon and would love to write a post on those 2 places, so keep posted!

Until next time!

Next up, Japan!

100 Days on the Road.

I’ve been travelling for 100 days.

I originally believed that this 100th day of travel would coincide with the first day of Autumn; my favourite season. It doesn’t. I though September 21 was always the first day of Autumn. It isn’t. Now I know.

Regardless I’m in too deep to stop writing now so here we go.

I’m in Busan right now, having spent 5 days on the island of Jeju (and that reminds me that I have to get started on that post as well…). I arrived 2 days ago and spent my first day bumming in a local café for some writing and trip planning (I head to Japan in a week’s time).

So 100 days. What changes in 100 days. Travel style? Nope I’m still chugging along with my “backpacking but also not backpacking” style. My original travel plans? Not really…I mean my trip to Malaysia wasn’t something I’d planned when Ifirst envisioned this trip, but nothing along the lines of scrapping Asia and flying down to South America.

I actually was just having a similar discussion with someone I met when I first arrived in my hostel.

Something that I suspected would happen, but wasn’t able to fully confirm until the trip started, is that sometimes I just need a day to hang around and not do anything. Whether I just scroll through Instagram at a local cafe, take a walk around the local area and then call it a day, there are days where all I plan to do is nothing. Sightseeing, especially if transitting to multiple locations sprread out across a city, can get exhausting (see my prevous post about my time in Berlin).

The type of people I vibe with…this hasn’t really changed as much as I feel I’ve gotten a bit more confident at initiating conversation with new people. I’ve never taken lightly to fools, incompetent or lazy individuals (within reason…I consider myself lazy but would never waste days upon days when travelling in a new city), or party animals. This is the same even back home, though, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people and personalities that I have been able to click with.

I’m still working on not feeling guilty if I make plans for the following day and then cancelling. It’s my own long holiday, for goodness sake, what’s there to feel guilty about?

Probably the biggest thing I can say changed is my worries about jobhunting and money. Which I know isn’t exactly travel related, but it pertains to my mindset and way of thinking.

I should start by saying that, in complete honestly, I want to be wealthy. My main reason for wanting a good job is to see my savings grow and hopefully retire early and live comfortably and easily at whatever age I end up retiring. To be in a position where my bank account is only depleting, it’s a little hard sometimes. But it was worse when I first started. I honestly contemplated not going on this trip because I knew that it would keep my savings account at a decent level. And then there were a few days I was watching my budget so closely I ended up more stressed and just feel as if those were wasted days I could’ve spent enjoying the city I was in. And while I stay budget conscious (I am sadly not made of money), it’s not something I’ve decided I need to waste time worrying about.

Ironically, while my friends working back home are jealous of the fact that I’m travelling for so long, I find myself jealous of the stability that comes with a job and the aforementioned money. I know this is an unhealthy mindset, but I did pretty much just admit I’m money obsessed.

I planned this trip because I wasn’t able to get bridged into a full-time position at my last co-op job (student work contract). I was heartbroken; I had finally found a job that Ioved and that was relevant to my degree, but a series of unfortunate events and bad timing meant that once my contract was over, that was it. And while I know the desire to travel would have been strong had I begun a full time job ASAP, I had really wanted to keep my position.

Anywho, after realizing that I officially had no obligations after my graduation, I decided that it was the perfect time to take a “gap half-year”, as I keep saying. It would be a way for me to travel places I’d wanted to visit for years, reunite with friends across the globe, take a breather from the last 6 years of school, and, more importantly, hopefully drill into my brain that I can only plan so far in advance. And I admit to worrying quite a bit how the jobhunt would-well, will go once I return home. But no point worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. My worries still pop up every now and then, but I’ve opened up to so many people at this time that it’s easier to talk about, and I hope that’ll make it easier to face head-on once I’m sitting in front of my laptop back at home and searching up postings. I’ve always been a planner, and have loved planning things  in advance, but sometimes, you just can’t.

I didn’t go on this trip to discover myself, try my hand at independence, or escape from anything in particular. I  simply didn’t want to start jobhunting. While some go on a round the world trip to find what they want, I’ve found that my goals have cemented themselves even more in my mind.

But until then, here’s to the next few months of running away from adult responsibilities!

Until next time!

Busan, South Korea

On Homesickness

I could feel the lump forming in my throat and my eyes getting warm and watery. I gritted my teeth and managed to suck back the tears I could feel forming, but the lump stayed. The sudden urge to cry had come on suddenly and without warning, and I wondered if I could find an area to be alone and cry to just get it over with.

If I told you this happened in the first day of my travels, it shouldn’t come as a shock.

How about if I said this happened less than a week ago, the day I left Seoul for Jeju? Approximately 3 months into my trip?

Maybe that’s a bit more surprising. It is to me. I had just skyped my parents the same morning and had experienced a wonderful week in Seoul and my guesthouse. And maybe that’s why. Leaving a place I had felt so welcome and cared for to somewhere different, maybe it was too much of change. The night before I had enjoyed playing trivia games with several friends. The next morning, as I prepared to leave, I was all alone. Maybe it was too much and too abrupt of a change. The video call with my parents may just have reinforced that I was still going to be away from home for another 9-12 weeks.

I didn’t even feel that excited about the next leg of my journey until my plane was preparing to take off. And even then it was just a small flicker of a feeling; something that made me think “Oh I think I’m finally a little excited for Jeju.” In typical Nathalie fashion, I attempted to comfort myself by internally monologuing this blog post during the bus ride from the airport to my next hostel. Yay for moments of creativity in sad times.

On my first full day away from home, back in June, I had the same feeling. A lump in my throat, warm, wet eyes, as the fact that I’d be away from home for 6 months really sunk in. I’d been away for a bit less than half of that amount of time before, but at that time there was a set date to retun back. This time, there wasn’t. Before Christmas. That was all I had as an indication. I (foolishly, I now realize) found myself counting down the approximate weeks until I got to go home.

One day into my solo journey, in Oslo, as I ate dinner alone at my AirBNB, I let the homesickness take over. I full out bawled for a good ten minutes. Besides being homesick, I had convinced myself I was going to be miserable in my next hostel and meet nobody but creepy people. It was overwhelming. I  missed home, I was super nervous about what I was getting into…and I missed my dog (KIRA WAH I still do).

In Denmark, another bout strong enough to drive me to tears. This time, in addition to another round of homesickness, I had now convinced myself that I was going to get robbed in Thailand or at some point get on a bus and be dropped off in the middle of nowhere and not be able to find my way back.

And then in Seoul. Which took me entirely by surprise, but now seems understandable given the contrast between the night before and the morning of.

So. 4 big bouts of homesickness (plus some other factors). Some of the few times in my life I would say I felt a deep sadness and ache in my heart.

But you know what, I do miss home. I miss my family, friends, dog, the feeling of my home, and being at home. Waking up to the sound of rain in my bed and having tea with my mom and lazing on the couch watching TV.

I’m really close with my parents, and I know this isn’t the case for every traveller. In fact, so many blogs I come across discuss how the author was able to sell all their stuff and quit their job and travel indefinitely because they didn’t have a super close relationship with their family. I message my mom pretty much everyday. For a while we were skyping every week. As excited as I am to travel, I’m equally excited to return home, share stories and gifts, and be back in my house (OK my parent’s house…).

And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you find yourself homesick a lot, you’re not alone. If you’ve never felt even the slightest bit homesick, I envy you. More than once I’ve considered cutting my trip short and going home. But I pushed forward. Not out of some sort of obligation that I had to stick to my 6 month travel plan, but because I know I’ll find myself away from home again in the future, whether it be for more travel or for Mandarin immersion or for work, and I have to learn to deal with this sadness that sometimes comes upon me, often at the most inconvenient at times (or the most ironic, like during the aforementioned time in Oslo and I was having soup that I thought could use more salt, and then lo and behold TEARS).

I myself find these feelings slightly ironic because I love alone time. I love eating alone, sightseeing alone, just walking around and exploring a new place and my own pace. When arriving in a new hostel though, I can tell fairly quickly how the atmosphere will be for meeting people. And if the atmosphere is lively and social, I love meeting new people from all over. If the atmosphere is kinda blah, I make the most of it regardless.

In addition, there’s always the loneliness that I feel when I leave a place where I met so many amazing people and made fast friends. This can’t be helped. We meet people, then say goodbye, make friends, lose friends…it happens everywhere. The sadness that comes with leaving (or being left by) an amazing group of people or an amazing place…while heavy on the heart, is how I know that the city and people made their way into mine

Heart and Seoul

Your beloved author (lol) is trying something new. To retroactively write a piece about the city you visited is one thing, but having 8 days in a city is a a fair bit of time. So we find our beloved author (lol) writing this post even before she leaves her current city.

*And at the time of publishing beloved author (LOLLL) was still editing this piece so I don’t even know what I’m trying to get at anymore.*

OK writing in 3rd person is weird. I am your beloved author, and I also hate editing my own work, but looking back on some of the previous posts I’ve written for my travels, it’s come to the point that I really want to try and make my writing as concise as possible, while still keeping a sense of humour and things…flowy (so close).

When I first told people I would be spending 8 days in Seoul, I kept getting told “Are you sure? That’s so long.” It got to the point where I was starting to regret my time there, before I even arrived.

After 8 (OK as I right this, 7 (OK now as i publish actually 8)) days you know what I say? Thank GOODNESS I chose to spend 8 days in Seoul. I have 3.5 weeks in South Korea total, and could have easily spent all of them in the capital. Besides the amazing nightlife, food, and shopping, there’s a plethora of museums, palaces, temples, and cultural and architectural feats to marvel at. In addition, there’s a handful of hikes that take you into the mountains and out of the city and all you have to do is take the subway for half an hour or less.

While not as easy on the budget as Southeast Asia, it’s extraordinarily easy to find cheap (along with a handful of free) acitivites and outings. Many museums offer free admission, and of course walking the local and national parks are always free of charge. With a bit of wandering you can eat meals for anywhere between $4-$10 CAD (with $10 being a very large serving that could be split between friends or used for lunch and dinner). Public transportation is efficient and opens a whole world of possibilty for exploring.

My guesthouse was near Hapjeong Station, in the Hongdae area. Hongdae is where you want to be for nightlife as you can find bars, clubs, noraebangs (karaoke), and a pedestrian street with performers all within walking distance from each other. Not being a night owl, I still found ways to enjoy the vibrancy of this area at night through walking down and window shopping with street food in hand, and going to a bar and noraebang with friends from my guesthouse.

A great, cheap option for a night out with friends? The aforementioned noraebang (karaoke, but named differently here). With 2/3 people, you can pay around $1 for 6 songs. When I went with a group of 7, it was $4 per person for an hour of “singing” (because let’s be honest, it’s screaming/wailing/shouting lyrics and not pretty at all). In the last week I’ve gone with one other friend, and then with a group of 7 total. How I’m still able to talk is beyond me…

Other free activities I’ve partaken in have been visiting the War Memorial and Museum, and hiking Bukhansan National Park. The War Museum and Memorial is, in my opinion, a must-visit for anyone who, like me, has minimal knowledge of the history of Korea and the Korean War. When I visited on a Tuesday afternoon, the military was giving a demonstration on ancient battle techniques and current training drills.

For those looking to escape the city and get a workout, Bukhansan is a must-visit as well. There are many different routes and trails to follow, and you’ll be in the company of older ladies and men who are…for lack of a better word, hardcore (think walking sticks, layers of athletic wear, visers…).

And for cheap shopping, you can’t beat $1 (or less) face masks at Myeongondong, fancy bookmarks at Insa-Dong, and $3-$5 clothes at the Express Bus Terminal underground shopping centre (sidenote: subway stations in general have pretty good clothing selection and price if you’re looking for something less than $10).

How can I forget the rich cultural history and architectural feats. There are 5 Grand Palaces around Seoul, all built by Kings of the Joseon dynasty. I hit up Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung during my time there. Gyeongbokgung is the biggest of the palaces, and covers an enormous area. However, Cheongdeokgung was my favourite. There didn’t feel to be as much empty space as there was at Gyeongbokgung, and I found the colours of the palace and the layout of the grounds more appealing.

For anyone interested, my Seoul itinerary is below. It’s definitely doable to add in more activities, but this was perfect for me
Day 1: Arrival, Hongdae walking steet at night
Day 2: Myeongdong shopping district, War Memorial and Museum, cable car to Namsan Park and Seoul Tower
Day 3: Gyeongbokgung Palace, Insa-Dong shopping area
Day 4: Bukhansan National Park hike
Day 5: Iwha Mural Village, noraebang
Day 6: Jongmyo Shrine, Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden
Day 7: Traditional Korean Tea House, noraebang in the evening with hostel friends
Day 8: Shopping at Express Bus Terminal underground mall

Seoul is one of those cities where if you have 1 day or 1 week you’ll easily find things to do (and eat). As I finish this post up I’ve just finished my first day of activities in Jeju and will be blogging about my time here soon!
Until next time!
Next up, Jeju-do (Jeju Island)

3 Days in KL (Kuala Lumpur) – A Review

Roti canai, teh terik, chicken satay, oh how I miss you.

My trip to KL was not part of my original plan. As I searched flights from Indonesia to Seoul, every option had a layover in KL. Having been told that 9 hours wasn’t really enough to experience the city, I made the decision to spend 3 days in the Malaysian capital.

I was a little apprenhensive about the humidity, having melted countless times over in Bangkok and then recovering in Indonesia. My 3 days were thankfully lacking the humidity levels I feared; the weather was hot and still but not at the levels I experienced in Thailand.

Armed with firsthand knowledge from a friend that had spent a few weeks of her own eating her way through the capital of Malaysia, I was looking forward to food-filled days. Combined with an amazing and cheap Indian restaurant attached right beside my hostel, I was set.

My first day in the capital happened to concide with Hari Merdeka, or Independance Day. Merdeka Square was the site where the British flag was raised and the Malaysian one raised on August 31, 1957. The main square was the sight of a huge parade of dancers, army and government members, and floats. The mood was joyful and festive, and I got to marvel at the mix of British colonial and Islamic archtitecture in the surrounding area.


Military planes fly over the Sultan Abdul Samad Building during the Merdeka parade

Even though it wasn’t humid, the heat got to me quite quickly and after 2 hours I headed back to the hostel to plan out my evening. I decided to find a beef noodle shop along Petaling Street.

At this was quite sick of being hounded by stall owners, so stopped my walk early and sped walked to my beef noodles refuge.

On my second day I made my way to the Petronas Twin Towers. The bottom was filled with people trying to get the perfect shot, and touts trying to get said tourists to purchase selfie sticks. With the skills acquired from the last 3 months of travel, I managed to get some good shots with no selfie stick required.


Tol and smol

And then proceeded to eat the best chicken satay of my life at Madame Kwan’s in the Suria KLCC mall.

Day 3 I made my way to the Batu caves, a Hindu religious site built into, well, a cave. I was a little nervous because the monkeys here are supposedly quite brave, and after being chased by one in Indonesia I didn’t want to be subjected to thtat again. Thankfully, brave didn’t equate to aggressive in this situation. I made my way up the 272 stairs, spent a while wandering the inside of the caves (where unfortunately they were completing a lot of renovation work and had a lot of the areas fenced off) and sweating, and made my way back to KLCC for more chicken satay. And mango sago.


If I had more time in Malaysia I would have planned to spend some more time outside the capital. However, thesse 3 days were perfect for a bit of sightseeing, and a lot of eating.

Until next time!

Next up, South Korea!

Bali Baes (AKA 6 days in Ubud – A Review)

Yes yes excuse the slightly tacky title that me and 2 friends named ourselves during our 6 day adventure in Ubud.

So Ubud is quite a popular tourist destination ever since the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” came out. I could describe my time there simply as “Eat, Haggle, Take-50-pictures-of-friends-so-at-least-1-turns-out”.

We stayed about a 15 minute drive outside of the city at Gangga Blessta Homestay. If you ever find yourself in Ubud book yourself in here because the level of service we received and the friendships we forged will forever stay with us.

We decided to hit the Traditional Art Market in Ubud for our first day. Not so much a traditional market as a souvenir market, the 3 of us got to practice our haggling, to very satisfying success. I admit that I usually am too shy to haggle, don’t feel like I should if the item is already fairly cheap, and always fear that I’m taking away money from the people who sell these things as a living. However, here, where everything is inflated to 3-5x the price it should be, it was time to refine my skills. The 3 things that seemed to work the best for me: Be smiley and have a fun tone when you name lower prices, go for the older stall ladies, and walking away with a smile and “no thanks”. I bought a bit more than anticipated…but I am being mindful of my budget, and am getting things I know I couldn’t find back home.

The next day was a long one. Tegenungan Waterfall and Pura Besakih, the most important temple on the island of Bali. The three of us found our “signature pose” while wandering the grounds with our guide. We also stopped by a coffee plantation and had a sampling tray of some of the most delicious teas and coffees I’ve ever tasted. If anyone reading this ever has the chance to try mangosteen tea and coconut coffee, accept ASAP.



When we fit in Jatiluwih Rice Terraces into the next day’s itinerary, we expcted maybe to spend an hour there. However, with walking paths covering the grounds encompassing no less than 600ha, we took 3 hours to wander and take ‘gram-worthy pictures. I loved these terraces because it was very easy to get away from the crowds. You simply walk a few minutes and you have a wonderful scenic area all to yourself.


The highlight of our Ubud adventures was definitely the sunrise treking adventure up the active volcano Mount Batur. 1am wake up, 2am pickup, 3am breakfast, and 4am start time. We reached the freezing cold and windy viewpoint at 5:30am, and even in leggings and a windbreaker I was shivering like crazy. I had to hold a freshly boiled egg in my hands for a slight bit of relief. Thankfully, after an absolutely gorgeous (but frickin cold) sunrise, walking in the direct sunlight helped to warm us quickly. A highlight of the trip, for sure.


We took a well deserved spa and ice cream filled itinerary the next day. With my skin still recovering from a sunburn I stupidly received in Sanur, and sore quads from the hike, I was most thankful for the full body massage, scrub, and yogurt rinse. Also because I won’t be able to be spoiled like that in Vancouver. Maybe for $200…

Also I am in love with mangosteens and don’t even want to think of what I’m going to do when I can’t find someone in the market or at the side of the road selling fresh mangosteens (sobs).

Ubud is a great base if you plan to make longer trips to the famous temples and attractions. The city itself is busy, but we still found local restaurants that weren’t full of tourists and lots of cute places for small treats.

As for me, it was an amazing energy boost to travel with 2 friends for a week. I love solo travel and alone time, but now that I’m nearly halfway through this trip seeing familiar faces was super refreshing. And I will admit that as much as I enjoy eating alone, it was fun to once again enjoy good conversation over meals!

Until next time!

3 Days in Java

(Aside: I am VERY delayed on these postings and am trying my best to remember the best details to relay to you wonderful readers!)

I can’t remember anymore what exactly I was searching; “Best temples in bali”? “Best temples in Indonesia”? “Day trips from Bali”? The specifics escape me at this point. But what I do remember is a picture of Prambanan and Borobudur temple. And falling in love. And realizing immediately that I had to see this temple. Finding out it was on Java, a separate island from Bali. Searching possible ways to do a one day tour from Bali. Thinking that I wanted more than 1 day for this now definite side trip. Leaving the planning until about a month before I was due to land in Bali, and booking the return flight during my stay in Zürich. I was going to Yogyakarta!




I booked an early morning tour of Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple that lay abandoned following the Javanese conversion to Islam. This meant a 3am wake up time to drive to the lookout point that would provide a view of Borbobudur and the surrounding mountains as the sun rose. It was a slightly foggy morning so the temple outline wasn’t very clear, but everyone was respectful and quiet as the light of day hit us, and I could only imagine the craziness and non-stop shutter sounds if I had booked the sunrise tour at the temple itself.

At 6am we were driven to the temple grounds itself. After milking the fact that I can still abuse my student card for student entrance fee prices (no shame because it was $30 for Borbobudur/Prambanan joint ticket with student card and $50 without), it was time to explore. I had had a very dull and dissapointing first week in Indonesia, and as soon as I took a step into the temple complex I felt complete. The top level, with stupas and amazing mountain views, simply blew me away. Most of the sunrise crowd has dissapated, leaving only a handful of people and making it easy to find areas of solitude.




For the following day, I had an afternoon tour booked of Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple. At 5 hours long, I would be able to catch the sunset at the temple complex. The main grounds were busy, but a 1 minute walk to a trail surrounding Prambanan was basically abandoned. The friend I travelled with and I found a wonderful viewpoint that offered a stunning panorama of the entire temple complex and the setting sun. With the annual jazz festical providing a (surprisingly) soothing soundtrack, I allowed the pride and satisaction of my ability to plan a side trip to set in.



With limited time in Indonesia, I cannot recommend Borobudur and Prambanan enough. It’s even posible to fit both in one day, though I feel as if I may have been “templed out” had I done such a thing.

So for those thinking of detours on their main travels; I say go for it!

Until next time!

“So you’re backpacking?”

“Uhhhh…” I graciously mumble as the question comes my way. The guy asking stares at me expectedly.

“Well yes. Kind of…? I mean, Ihave a backpack but it’s also like a roll on which I mainly use it as especially in airports but this is sort of a gap year trip for me and I have a backpack.”

He blinks. “Sorry, what was that?”


Yeah so I do NOT have a way with words, contrary to what I like to think. But I’ve thought about this question quite a bit: am I backpacking?

This, of course, depends on your definition of backpacking. More accurately, on my definition. Am I using a backpack? Yes. Am I in hostels? Sometimes. On a budget? Of course I’m not made of money (one day. One day…).

So on the surface, wouldn’t it seem like I’m backpacking?

(You’re probably all wondering where I’m even going with this, but hold tight).

Were I to be asked this question again, I would say I’m travelling the world, but not as a backpacker.

A bit of detail on how I like travelling: I will gladly spend more money to stay in a hostel with amazing reviews, especially when it comes to location, safety, and the attitude of the staff. I am not the traveller that is trying to spend as little as possible and is more than happy to stay in $3 dorms. In fact, if I can work it in my budget, I’ll pay for a private room. I need to sleep; I’m not a night owl and if I don’t sleep I feel sick the next day. Over the years I’ve become a light sleeper (curses) and so not having to worry about dorm mates is a breath of relief sometimes. This isn’t to say I won’t stay in dorms; only that getting the cheapest deal is not my priority. Plus I am so picky about bathroom cleanliness so I could be down to my last penny and would find a way to scrape enough together for a place with a good bathroom.

When I was researching for this trip, I came across many blogs and sites that discussed how to travel on a budget. Most (not all, I admit) were able to travel on such a budget because of one important thing: they spent no money on outings. This is understandable, but not for what I want to experience on this trip. My day at the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, out in the jungles of Chiang Rai with a hostel tour, and everything I have planned for Indonesia woud not be possible if I was on a budget of $20 a day or less.

Furthermore, my bag is too big to only be a carry on. I have to check it for each flight I take. Since I’m travelling across a range of climates (cool Scandinavia to humid Thailand and warm north Asia) I have a mix of clothes which can be layered or worn on their own. Important, especially I plan (and have already done) on doing some day hikes while travelling.

So are there actually any aspects where I am closely following a budget and not spending/spending minimal? Of course!

When and where I can, I walk. I plan my days so I can hit multiple attractions within walking distance within one another. This isn’t always possible, but it depends on the city. I eat cheaply. In Europe this meant cooking my own food as much as possible. In Asia this means convenience stores and street food. Just because I spend more to be comfortable and put my mind at ease in no way means I’m throwing cash out like a madwoman.

It’s a balance. I get stressed easily if getting from point A to B seems  bit more complicated than expected. So if it means I pay a little more for a taxi, driver, or a more expensive form of transportation which takes away the guessing on my end, I’ll go for it (this applies more to Asia than Europe). My security and mental state are extremely important, and if I have to pay a little more to be less stressed, I will.

I’m not landing somewhere with my first few nights planned and winging it from there. Even the though of doing that makes me stressed. I’m planning the big things (flights, hostels, 3 weeks-1 month in advance. As far as wha I do each day, that I leave up to how I feel when I’m actually in the city. I know that for a lot of backpackers this takes away spontenaity and can make one feel boxed in. But not me. I like landing in the next place and not having to worry about where I’m staying and how I’m getting to my next destination. All that’s left for me to do is fill in my days with activities. Or not. I’ve spent a good amount of afternoons just lazing around at cafes people watching.

This isn’t everyone’s way of travelling, and that’s OK. Travel how and where you want to your own comfort level. This happens to be mine, and I hope someone reading it (who, like me, may be thinking that all these backpacking bloggers are out there to compete with who can spend the least amount of money) who sees that it’s OK to not backpack. Or whatever their definition of bacpacking is.

So am I backpacking? Well I’m on a half gap year and do have a backpack but it’s also a roll on but I also have a daypack and I’m staying in hostels but not all the time and sometimes in private rooms and I’m on a budget but nothing skin and bones where I only eat once a day (my nightmare).

You decide.

Until next time!