I woke up on new year’s day to a text from my neighbor asking me if I wanted to head out to the countryside with her and friends. As an annual tradition, they have a picnic out by the mountains, and I am still so humbled by her invitations to include me in her gatherings. I would have hesitated because I had loose plans to do absolutely nothing but I told myself I’d never say no twice in a row to the same person. I couldn’t go to her friends’ Shin Jilth party because I wouldn’t be able to prepare in time for the formal event, and I was about to go overdrive on Shin Jilth with my school, my coworkers, and everything else in between. Excuses, excuses, blah blah.. So I climbed into her friends’ sedan and we went off to the snowy mountains.

About a year ago, my friend Hanna and I tried to go hiking in Washington near Mt. Rainier. On the way, we ended driving up a sketchy road covered in ice. Our annoying optimism ran out when we hit a patch of powdered snow that we couldn’t drive through with my car. But we ran into a group of guys who were four wheeling in their muscle cars and they pushed us out and helped us turn around. They made us feel a little bad for trying to get up there, and fretted over our safety. Quiet and a little frazzled, we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking beers and skipping pebbles at a lake by the highway. Mongolians would have laughed in our faces for turning around, because they’d be stepping out of the backseat and push us out as we’d bulldoze through. So naturally, in our little, tiny, plastic-like, Japanese sedan, we slid around on an unpaved, snowy path for an hour until we got to our picnic spot. I chuckled at the memory. We didn’t have a fancy four-wheel drive truck to get through the snow, but we did get from Point A to Point B, just not very safely.

I was energized by their enthusiasm and apparent love for each other and their children. If I tried to understand every word that I heard, I’d know that it was probably very universal. “Give me that plate” or “Can you cut me off a piece of that goat head?” I enjoyed everyone’s general happiness, and drank Chinggis Gold vodka to keep warm as directed. I had spent time with them earlier in September for a hair-cutting ceremony, but the bruises on one man’s face and the excessive not-very-fun and ceremonial drinking put me off. I was also annoyed that my coworker who had brought me left me there without telling me. But as I watched the same man who had the bruises fawn over his daughter and throw her up in the air as she giggled wildly, I could feel his love for his family radiate brightly. Isn’t that what its all about? Love?

We took group photos, ate marmot, played in the snow, drank champagne, laughed, and judged a potato salad contest. Usually I’m incredibly shy in large group settings with so many people, but I felt so at ease and comfortable.

While this becomes my home more and more everyday, I keep having vivid dreams about the ocean. I found solace in the sea. I’d keep going back time and time again. I’d watch the tides and the currents; it was the rhythm that never stopped despite our stupid, hectic lives. It was the beat that can’t stop for anyone. And yet I’ve found myself in a landlocked country, isolated from any large body of water, in a town surrounded by gorgeous snow-capped mountains. I miss the ocean desperately. I miss the times I’d throw myself into the thrashing waves of Montara Beach and emerge without catching a single wave, or when the tides would slow and I could watch peacefully from a perch on a cliff. It was at some beach somewhere that I’ve made every serious decision in my life, and I sometimes feel like a suspended monkey looking down on it only with clear memories burned in from hours spent.

When I was eighteen, I went to Hawaii with my best friend and our parents. They took us to a fortune-teller, and that fortune-teller told me that I would be only happiest if I lived close to the ocean. I’m not sure how she came to that conclusion, but maybe she’s right—once a water baby, always a water baby. I thought about that when I decided to come here, about how far from the ocean I’d be, and how hard it would be to find a sense of peace when I don’t have my crutch. I thought that maybe if I completely transplant myself, I’d really, truly, know who I was. Maybe like a sort of “self-banishment for the greater good.” Who knows. Life goes on. Home will always be there, and it’ll be there when I get back.

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