When I was 15, I bought a book called something like “The Attitude of Che” (can’t remember exactly), in Chinese, an anthology of Che Guevara’s writing, about his ideology and belief in guerilla warfare and revolution. It inspired me so much to be rebellious that I wanted to visit Cuba and get a Che Guevara tattoo since then. It seemed like an impossible dream for a 15 year-old who barely spoke English and had never left her home country to travel to anywhere. But then I left my home country for the first time at the age of 18, and moved to Upstate New York for college.
I spent the first half of my twenties as a starving student, being mostly by myself, reading and studying all the time, learning everything I can, trying so hard to improve my “competitiveness”. I didn’t start traveling until I secured a job offer in my junior year, and I felt like I had to make up for the lost time.
So starting in 2013, wanderlust became my life. I started traveling to different states, then Latin America, now onto Africa… ever since then, I spent almost all my savings on trips and tried to get away whenever I can. I love the idea of last minute weekends — the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina is great for swimming and trail running in summer and Puerto Rico is wonderful for a long weekend on the beach in winter. The last time I stayed home during a three day weekend was Presidents Day in 2017, and before that was Thanksgiving in 2014… I also like last minute planning, so I often pay for wifi on the plane to research my destination or wait to see what is available on the ground by asking locals whenever possible.
Good conversation with locals is essential, as I speak Chinese, English, Spanish and Japanese, most of the time I can learn a lot from whoever I talk to during my trip. I’m also partial to local jewelry, historical architecture, nearby mountains and hikes…and as many museums as I can handle. As a vegan (though not gluten free but I don’t eat bread), I mostly miss out on local food but I’m more satisfied with no animals being harmed. But I do enjoy authentic vegan food whenever possible. Even when I had a 4 hour layover in Mexico City, I ran out to Zócalo to have some street corn and nopales tacos, and nearly missed my connecting flight.
Between 26 and 27, I was robbed at gunpoint by two guys in Guatemala (in a hindsight it became somewhat a highlight), traveled to Cuba (childhood dream came true), and ran several marathons. I also did a half Ironman, because after 26.2 miles, I thought to myself, why stop there? So I swam 1.2 miles, biked 56 miles and ran 13.1 miles on a course with no shades on a 90 degree day. It was a humbling experience and I’m willing to suffer that again at 27.
I’m not big on birthdays, but 27 seems different somehow. My life never has stayed fixed in one position for very long, and as I decided to never have children, I also never expected to live a long life. Like Malcolm X had said, after living as fully as humanly as possible, one should then die violently. Speculating that my life would end in one way or another in my mid fifties doesn’t disturb me, but in this way turning 27 is a little shocking — halfway to my mid fifties, halfway done. It came with a sense of urgency: time running out with so much still left to do.
It’s interesting to think of the world goes on without me. I remember all those people I grew up with, people I went to elementary school with. We shared my first 18 years of life together. Between 18 and 27, some of them got married, some even had children, and I stopped being part of their lives, like I’d never knew them, and I might go through the rest of my life without ever knowing what happened to my old friends and extended family.
At the age of 27, “someday” doesn’t apply anymore, because there might be fewer years in front of me than behind me. I want to make a list of what I haven’t done, and what I still want to do. I have to do this before turning 28.