This is not the end of the world

Anger, sadness, numbness, despair, hopelessness, disbelief – is there a word that encompasses all of these feelings? Yes, we do now – a Trump presidency.

For a year now, we’ve all been joking about this, unaware that it would one day become reality. Sure, we joked about being deported, about moving to Canada, and about the world coming to an end. And today, even as reality seeps in, slowly and painfully, I know I am not going to be deported, I know I’m not going to move to Canada, I know I will stay in the US and do my best to actually find a way to stay here, still, and I know that the world hasn’t come to an end.

Because despite being an F1 visa holder foreign student, I’m still privileged. I am here because I had the opportunity to choose to pursue my studies in the first place, and I will still be paid to do so. I will still pay my rent, albeit not without struggle (which is nothing new, really), and I will surely still go out with my friends for a drink or two when I feel like it. Things come to worse, I do have another country to go back to (although things are certainly NOT looking much better in dear old Korea). I also have the luxury to joke and say “Hey, at least we’ve got weed to keep us going on.” (Thank you Massachusetts)

But this is so much bigger than me, bigger than many of us in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I am deeply saddened that people would rather believe they should fear groups of people many of them probably have never met. I can’t understand how people from counties where 96% of the population is white in states like Montana  are so concerned about immigrants they would rather have a racist, sexist, and incompetent leader, and rapist!, for the next four years. I am concerned about the gap between rural and urban areas, and between generations. I am heartbroken to see that many of my students, who exercised their very first vote in this country, realized their votes did not matter after all. I am left without words to see how so many Americans have so little faith in their constitution that they will believe Sharia law will take over their country.

It is devastating to see that fear and hatred of the unknown and mostly of the different, the very basis of the American nation, have taken over the rational and the reason. This is a blow to humanity, not just in the States but everywhere in the world where people feel their fear validated and legitimized to the expense of others.

This is not the end of the world, that’s true, it’s much worse.  We are alive and well to see, feel, and experience the huge step back humanity has chosen to take. It’s not the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, a world in which we dared to believe in love, peace, understanding, and brotherhood.

Yes, the sun did rise today, and will rise tomorrow, but on a world a little less beautiful, a little less peaceful, a little less understanding, a little less united. And to me, that is worse than the end of the world.

Me, Myself, and Writing

I’ve always believed in the power of writing; whether it was to share my thoughts on some ‘serious’ so-called ‘intellectual’ issue, or to pour down personal feelings, which is apparently something I can’t do IRL. Seeing letters come to life on a blank space, letters and words that are far from being unique, but that for that space only, can and do become solely yours, is both rewarding and comforting.

Writing to me is a safe space, which ironically makes it personal and detached at the same time. It’s personal because unlike spoken words, I put a lot of thought and time into it, going back to my sentences and my choice of words, and the end product will depend a lot on my state of mind, not on the consideration of how my interlocutors will think or react. Not that I blurt out whatever passes through my head when I talk, but I don’t exactly spend more than seconds on my spoken words, whereas I could spend days on end on a single post. There are things I would never say out loud or share directly with friends, even close ones; not because they are fascinating and complex revelations about my personality, but… well, I guess because I’m not much of a great talker to start with.

Yet as personal as they can be, I know the number of people who will actually read what I write is limited, and words on a screen are still far from being my actual face, with my instant reactions and facial expressions . The medium of blogs and the computer screen I imagine people will stare at provide a shield I can safely hide behind, with no fear of judgment or ridicule, or even total disinterest.

For the past year however, I have had a hard time managing the delicate ‘personal’ and ‘detached’ equilibrium, mostly because I have come to realize another power that writing provides. Putting your innermost thoughts and feelings in writing is quite a compelling and vulnerable process, if you think about it. It’s admitting to the world, but first and foremost to yourself that you are feeling helpless. It’s not just about knowing that it’s wrong to feel certain things, but acknowledging it. Once the words are written, there’s no going back. Your doubts, feelings, and anxiety become truth. And there are certain things I don’t want to admit even to myself. No, especially to myself.

I don’t want to admit that I can’t do this on my own, that feelings of loneliness engulf me more times than I can count, that at least once a week I want to drop everything and disappear in the farthest, smallest corner of my existence, and not care about how others will feel.

I don’t want to admit that my heart rarely lets my head control my life, that I’m doing so many things against my belief and conscience, that I’m a more emotional being than a rational one.

I don’t want to admit that I need, that I want, help. I don’t want to admit that it would be nice to feel loved from time to time.

Because I’m a fucking 21st century strong woman, for god’s sake. Because I have so many things that should keep me strong – I’m not starving, I have pretty shoes, I have good friends and a supporting family, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. Because there are so many other people who are struggling daily with so little. Because, theoretically, I should be happy.

But maybe happiness is not about being thankful for every single day. Maybe it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s a process, it’s a journey. There are ups and then there are downs. It’s about learning how to maintain your ups for a second longer than your downs. And maybe, some day… my ups will be there for a minute, an hour, a day, longer than my downs.

I am slowly learning that it’s okay to feel vulnerable – it sucks, but it’s okay.

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I paved my way with tears and a smile

Tears for every moment I had longed for the happy moments past,

And a last smile to my true and only friend for the past months,

Loneliness.

‘Close your eyes,’ It said,

‘For you have already witnessed the ugliness,

Enough to make you miss the beauty you have known.

Goodbye. You can let me go now.’

And so I did.

There was no abyss to think of, no fear to indulge.

The icy cold water of winter

That had been lingering beneath all along,

Calling me and pleading with me at times,

Pushing me away and warning me at some others,

Finally welcomed me in its warm embrace.

Peace was nowhere to be seen.

But there were no more tears to hide, no more smile to plaster.

My last selfish act

That would lead me to the perpetual state of selflessness.

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Going home

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: When Home is No Longer Home

As much as I hate and love to say it, here goes.

“I’ll be back home in the summer.”

I hate it because I never thought I would ever say that and refer to Korea as home, when I first arrived in 2002. I vowed that I would only use this sacred word for Nouadhibou and Mauritania, my true home.

Yet I love it, because, well, yes, I’m going back home, even if it is for a short while, and I know this visit is going to be filled with wonderful food and people, and then, some not so wonderful people, because you can never escape those, and then some more fantastic food.

One of the main things that often make me wonder, to this day, whether or not I’m making the right choice to spend $1,500 on a plane ticket, plus more to buy presents, etc, and suffer the scorching heat or the annoying rain of the Korean summer, is … people. Not the ‘right kind’, of course, but the distant family, the uncles, the aunts, the family ‘friends’, and the ‘friends’ I don’t particularly fancy meeting but somehow feel my duty to. And of course with them comes the never, ever, ending question of ‘if I have a guy’ and ‘when I will ever get married’, because, you know, I ain’t getting any younger. It’s not even that I’ll actually ‘see’ my distant family (hopefully) or that I have many of them to start with, but I’ll have to call them and that question is bound to come up. And I know, in my head, that it’s one of those questions they ask without really thinking because they don’t have anything else to ask. But still, they may ask it once and move on, but I have to listen to the same question and awkwardly laugh away for everyone of them. And then I have to tell my ‘friends’/acquaintances that ‘No, Boston is not filled with dashingly handsome guys lining up to date me’ when they ask, with sparkling eyes, ‘So~~~~ any cute guys?’ as if we were still high school girls.

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It’s not that I don’t like men. I do, I absolutely love men, believe me. It’s just that I don’t feel like actively looking for one just now. That doesn’t mean of course that if Benedict Cumberbatch really really wanted to date me right now, I won’t grant his wish. Who am I to deny his one wish, really?

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But, like anything that is worth having or doing, dating is an investment. I know that I would have to actually meet guys, go to places where there is the slightest chance of me dating someone. I know that some guy won’t magically appear at my door step when I decide to stay in because I just can’t bother to take a shower. This means I would have to look for places/groups/gatherings/blind dates and what not, kinda look nice, and then work really hard to look and sound interesting. And… the mere thought of that is exhausting. Yes, maybe, one day, I’ll panic and realize I do need to find a partner for life to come back home to and spend the weekends with and post obnoxious pictures and statuses on Facebook. Maybe, then, I’ll join a dating site. Fortunately, I’m not at that stage yet (and hopefully won’t ever be). I just wish people would realize that I have more to share than stories of guys I met, cute guys I passed by and who, hence, could naturally be my potential soul mates; or even that me not sharing these stories could mean, just maybe, that I want to keep some things private. Why would I keep these delicious stories to myself? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because I’ve too often been bored by the romantic details of others that I know not to impose them on others? I don’t know, just an idea.

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This was supposed to be a post about how excited I was to go back home… hmm… I don’t know what happened, something just took control over the keyboard. You are witnessing the very dangerous result of years of repressed feelings and thoughts and unspoken words.

Anyways… aside from all that, I AM excited to go back home, truly.

I can’t stop listing and picturing the foods I’ll inhale as soon as I touch ground.

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Street food…

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I’m going in the summer… which means I can eat bingsu!!!

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Can’t wait to go to the Sushi buffet behind my parents’ apartment, and compared to that, this picture looks like a joke, no kidding.

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Oh gawd sundae…

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Spicy chicken

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And of course, the best kind of food…Mommy’s food!

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Sorry, I got a little bit carried away with the food…

I am elated to see my dear, true, friends back. The ones that stood by me during the toughest times and happiest times, the ones that know me best as I am now, the ones that know what ticks me off and what makes me laugh.

The friends that make me laugh so hard it's literally impossible to stand still

The friends that make me laugh so hard it’s literally impossible to stand still

And I am looking forward to drinking with these friends. And when I mean drinking, I don’t mean one or two bottles of beer, I mean three, four 3,000 cc beer pitchers, along with a couple of soju.

Korea, the only place where people are secure enough to forego of their sanitary issues to share drinks (this was a vodka-based drink I think)

Korea, the only place where people are secure enough to forego of their sanitary issues to share drinks (this was a vodka-based drink I think)

The actual beer may not be as good as the draft beer here, but gawd I miss those pitchers.

The actual beer may not be as good as the draft beer here, but gawd I miss those pitchers.

It’s not that I’m looking forward to or planning to get wasted. I have absolutely no respect for the people that lie on the streets passed out from too much drinking, or for people who, unable to control their alcohol intake, end up being complete nuisances to the people around them. But gawd I miss those long hours of staying in laughing and talking with friends and then hugging them goodbye as the first ray of sun comes out, leaving with only a vague memory of the night. A good ‘drinking session’ has brought me some great moments, some heart-breaking, some embarrassing, but what I remember from most of them is laughter, talks, and bonds. I don’t know, maybe I’m too old for this, or maybe I’m just glorifying my grad school days in GSIS. We’ll find out.

Maybe I’ll end up disappointed, annoyed at the utter absence of ‘Excuse me’ or ‘Sorry’ or ‘Thank you’ among Koreans, regardless of whether they bump into you in the streets or of whether you’re holding the door for them for an eternity. But at least I’ll have fun being mad at them and giving them the evil eye if when that happens.

Korea is, after all, where 10 years of my life have taken place, and for someone to whom the notion of ‘home’ has gone through years of reflection only to conclude that a clear definition is practically impossible, anywhere where I can find a piece of my story is home.

So, yes, I am excited to go home.

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New year’s old resolutions

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: 2014 Resolutions

Warning: I was too lazy to call for the usual help to my good friend Thesaurus.

2014. A new year. A new beginning.

There’s always something exciting about the end of a semester, a year, a job, any significant period of time, because as good as those may have been, you somehow expect and hope that even better things lie ahead for the new semester, the new year, and the new job. Stupid human beings that we are, always hoping, always being positive, even when nothing rational tells us it is actually going to be so. Even in the most mundane and daily situations I am hopeful. I am hopeful that after I work out and take a good refreshing shower, I will somehow open a text book and study. Yeah well, what usually happens is Thank you shower, Hello again Netflix. So it is not surprising that for 2014, a whole new year, 365 brand new days, I set myself some pretty high expectations and a goal I had never before even thought of. No more the usual “I’ll stay fit” or “I won’t procrastinate”.

The year of 2014 would be the year of KINDNESS.

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My obsession with Kindness began with this article: The Difference Between Being Nice and Being Kind.

I think I’m a rather nice person. Yes I said it. And did I also tell you that modesty and humility are two other qualities of mine? I know, I’m full of surprises like that. I had no problem with being nice (why would anyone?), until I came across the aforementioned article. And it hit me. I am nice, not kind. This was a problem, since clearly, the article was telling us that as decent human beings, we should focus more on the latter characteristic. I have difficulty saying no when people ask me for favors and I have a hard time letting annoying people know that they are terribly annoying. “Sure, (smile) I can translate that 200 word text for you for tomorrow (smile), no problem, my pleasure”. What I don’t add is the cynical and sour “for no fee, when I have tons of things to do for myself, but well, that doesn’t matter, does it.” What is worse, after I’ve smiled my face off, I’ll probably go bitching about it to someone else. I may not like you, but I certainly want you to like me.

Genuinely kind people (…) aren’t concerned with whether or not other people like them. Kind people can be assertive and set good limits.” Everything I’ve said so far contradicts this. I am very concerned with whether or not people like me and I am definitely not good at setting limits.

The nice person is careful not to offend anyone and wouldn’t dream of expressing a “negative” emotion. (…) Nice people stuff down their feelings, not wanting to be a bother to anyone, but the problem with this is that emotions can’t be kept down indefinitely. Feelings and needs are meant to be expressed and when they’re repressed, they find another outlet.” And for me, I think that ‘another outlet’ has been Facebook, not in the sense that I pour down all my feelings online (at least I don’t think I do), but in the sense that I’m easily annoyed by what I see on Facebook, and go into irrational rants about what I have seen.

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Yup, been there, done that. If I blocked more people than I already have, my FB wall will probably show nothing but Huffington Post News and Buzzfeed posts, along with TV shows.

I have only myself to blame because if I really wanted to avoid being annoyed, I would simply quit Facebook.

What could possibly be so annoying on Facebook? Well, what isn’t, I ask in return.

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Ring a bell?

People constantly feeling the need to show off and remind others of how tired they are, how hard-working they are, how misunderstood they are. People desperate for attention, for love, where there is none. The list goes on. I’ve been so annoyed that I dedicated two posts to this ‘disease’ some time ago (here and here).

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Oh yeah, ‘those’ people…

I thus realized that I was not being kind, not trying to understand why people would behave in such ways, and just discrediting them for being stupid and… well, annoying (how many more times can I used that word?).

If I were genuinely kind, as the article said, it would “be in my nature to care“. I wouldn’t for instance, “let my emotions leak, in the form of snarky comments, whining, needling, sarcasm, passive-aggressive behavior or even outbursts of rage.”

So I decided to be kinder, which essentially for me meant not being easily ‘disturbed’ by the general Facebook population.

2014 was going to be the year of Kindness.

But then…

Do you actually know how many different types of annoying people are on Facebook? Do you really, like really, realize how annoying these annoying people can be?

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Yes, why? why?

And…

Do you know how much fun I have talking about these people? Why, I asked myself, would I deprive myself of this pleasure and fun pastime, which, technically, doesn’t harm anyone, when I’m already depriving myself of Twix bars at 10:00 pm or a whole half a pound of truffle brie with some good wine? Why would I quit Facebook when it provides me with my daily dose of joy?

After all, “kind people have good self-esteem and because they love themselves as much as they care about others, they expect to be treated with respect“, the article also says. And gawd do I love myself. And so far, I’ve been treated with respect by people I’ve been nice to. “Kind people are happy people to begin with” and yes, I’m a happy person. “Nice people are needy people who inadvertently create more and more unhappiness for themselves.” – nope, not me. I absolutely abhor neediness.

So I concluded I was both a kind and nice person (I already warned you and made clear that I did love myself) and that if I was easily annoyed by Facebook, there was an absolutely rational reason behind it: some people are just annoying and it is only natural for me to be annoyed.

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It’s you, not me.

So screw being Kind with capital K. I’m kind with small k and am happy with it.

And here’s to my never-changing new year’s resolutions: work out regularly and be fit, try to wake up before 8:00 am, focus more on my studies.

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2014 is going to be awesome.

Disclaimer: Clearly I was just having fun with my own silly interpretation of Marcia Sirota’s not-so-silly and serious article.

Goodbye 2013, Thank You 2013

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: 2013 wasn’t so bad

(The December post has been delayed… like… a lot… due to… erm… busy schedule, not laziness)

As I wave goodbye to 2013, I feel like I have to take a moment to look back at those past 365 days and assess what kind of year this has been. And since I’m usually critical and cynical about things in general, I thought this was a good opportunity to shake off that sarcasm of mine for a while and be, actually, thankful. And thank God, 2013 has given me a couple of things to be thankful for.

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I am thankful for the people; the new ones, the old ones. I am thankful for the new people I’ve met, for teaching me that it’s never too late to make friends, that once the initial awkwardness and dread of ‘mingling’ is over, it will all be worth it. There is something particularly enchanting and heart-warming when a ‘new friend’ picks up a jewelry you’ve been eyeing for some time, turns around, and says “This is so you”. I am more than thankful for the ‘old’ people I had to leave, for they are the only reasons I miss Korea like I never thought I would, for giving me memories to miss and to long for. And both have made me realize that no matter where you are, it’s the people you are with that matters. Boston wouldn’t be such a charming city if it weren’t for my sister (who, suddenly, when I finally join her in Boston, has field work and conferences all over the world but Boston…hmm…) or for the new friends I’ve met. I wouldn’t miss Seoul if it weren’t for the lunches, dessert, drinks and laughs I had with my dear old friends. And I often imagine, how much lovelier and more awesome Boston would be if I had my old friends here with me.

I am thankful for being here, on so many levels. Being in Boston doesn’t only mean I finally got to live outside of Korea, on my own, after I was old enough to make the decision and to go through the petty little things, as well as the big major steps, to make it happen. It means that I finally got back to all the sister-things I used to do – watching movies at the cinema, binge-watching TV shows at home, bursting out in hysterical laughs, having coffee. Maybe this shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind at my age and at this stage in my life. But well, what can I say, it is.

On a more serious note however, being in Boston also means I finally got to open and step in the door that I think is my goal in life, for now. While waiting to come here, I often wondered whether this was not simply a fleeting infatuation of mine, like so many I’ve had. What if I had the wrong idea about what studying more meant? What if after a semester I realized that staying at school was the most excruciating thing ever? What if I ended up disappointed, disillusioned, and lonely? True, not all my classes were mind-blowing and not every single hour felt like a blessing. But overall, I wouldn’t exchange the few moments of excitement and eagerness I had during this semester for anything. I still have only a faint idea of what my main research subject will be in the future, but for once, the unknown is not so scary or daunting. I’m thankful to have the confirmation that I was not living in a bubble and to know that maybe, I’m not wasting my time doing this.

I’ve always loved JD’s last comments on Scrubs on endings. I thought about them when a close friend of mine graduated from grad school, and also when I myself graduated from GSIS. And although his words are about endings, I think they could just as well apply to new beginnings.

“Endings are never easy. I always build them up so much in my head they can’t possibly live up to my expectations and I just end up disappointed. I’m not even sure why it matters so much to me how things end up here. I guess it’s because we all wanna believe what we do is very important, that people hang onto our every word, that they care what we think. The truth is, you should consider yourself lucky if you occasionally get to make someone, anyone, feel a little better. After that, it’s all about the people you’ve let into your life. (…) As to the future, it didn’t seem so scary anymore. It could be whatever I want it to be. And who’s to say this isn’t what happens? Who can tell me that my fantasies won’t become true? Just this once…” 

So here’s to being thankful for what I have, and for what I will have.

The best things to be thankful for are often what we already have.

The best things to be thankful for are often what we already have.

Beauty is truth; truth, beauty

For the purpose of this post, see: Two Sides of a Same Coin
For the ‘other side”s take on this topic, see: What if my science doesn’t save the world?

(A simple background explanation: the topic of this post for the November ‘challenge’ is explaining what our ‘science’ is in our own words. Since we are in very different, almost opposite fields of ‘science’, we thought this was another way to show, once again, our differences, and perhaps, with a little surprise, similarities we might not have known about. Also, due to technical problems from my sister who is currently in Malaysia, her post is on Blogpost and not her usual WordPress.)

This was supposed to be a passionate advocacy for what has now become, basically, the purpose of my life. It should have been a beautiful plea and a moving manifesto of how Social Sciences are awesome and “rock the world”. Instead, struggling under a mass of readings every week and indecipherable numbers and math symbols, with the haunting fear that just one day, a half a day of relaxation and peace is sufficient to bring doom for the following week, I am, for a lack of a better word, disenchanted. I vowed myself that I would never take this for granted, that I would always be grateful for being here, studying for a PhD in Political Science. I wrote posts about the near-ecstasy that the idea of studying in the States had brought me, and posts about how I would always remember I am lucky to be here.

But reading about multipatism, pluralism, the relationship between political regime and welfare in developed countries, and what I can only describe as a petty quarrel and immature bickering among political theorists about who understands the ‘world out there’ better than the other, I am done. I don’t care how Proportional Representation leads to a better coordination and cooperation among firms than the Majoritarian system. I roll my eyes at Morgenthau, Waltz, Wallerstein, Marx and co who furiously write about why they are the right ones in their vision of the world from the safe cocoon of their offices. What is the purpose of all this? How is learning about all this going to help me ‘change the world’? How is reading (barely, rather, skimming) more than 400 pages every week going to help me contribute to stopping world inequality, wars and all that is bad in this world? Surely, helping make i-phones or conducting research that would eventually lead to the elimination of cancer would be much more rewarding and practical?

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As I helplessly try to make sense of countless scholars whose names I forget the moment I see them, only wishing that they would write in a simpler style, easy to understand and not act as a sleeping pill, I am struck by various flashbacks and memories.

Like how excited I was to write a paper on a web cartoon and its soft power and role in promoting social awareness and political participation in Korea. How inspired I was by Paul Krugman and his diagnosis of the financial crisis. How writing a paper in my class for Feminism allowed me to discover sides of my mother I had not been aware of. How during a class I would get sudden inspirations of future paper topics (which would die, soon enough, but well, it’s the thought that counts). How I discovered certain prejudices I had about Africa I didn’t know I had.

And I realize, perhaps with a sigh of relief, that the reason I keep persevering in this field is because a small part in me still believes I can make a difference. It may not be a concrete one like getting rid of AIDS or formulating the ‘right’ and perfect policy to deal with North Korea (is there one?). But it’s what everybody I believe in Social Sciences has, and what keeps ‘us’ going: passion and hope. It’s that flicker of light in our eyes when theories written in papers and books finally start making sense in real life. It’s that glimmer of hope that we can somehow bring a change in the way people think that will eventually lead to actual changes in policies and reality. It’s that brazen certainty that while Social Sciences may not be ‘practical’, it certainly is ‘essential’. The focus doesn’t always have to be on the practical usage of science, sometimes, science just ‘is’. And as it is, it helps shape who we are, our beliefs, our perspectives, our ideas, our hopes and our future. When we shed the ‘what we are for’ and are stripped down to ‘what we are’, that definition of ourselves is shaped by Social Sciences (and Humanities). Especially living in an era where things that can’t be quantified are often discarded as useless and meaningless (and Social Sciences, with its frequent emphasis on quantitative methodology, is not immune to it either), Social Sciences allow us to enjoy and appreciate that which is not measurable.

Please... let's not...

Please… let’s not…

It is often believed that people revolt and desire for change when/because they have nothing to lose. But it isn’t so (and of course, I forgot the name of the scholar who actually argued this). Those who have nothing to lose live day by day with what they are given because they can’t think of an alternative. It is those who have the faintest gleam of hope who fight for change, for the better. And I believe that Social Sciences provide that very gleam of hope that constantly pushes people to seek for something better.

Or maybe this is all just my illusion. It doesn’t matter. This is all I need to keep going for the next 5 years and plus. 

“Beauty is truth; truth, beauty; that is all

Ye know on earth and all ye need to know”

– Keats –

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