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reflections

from
liminal
space
1.

April 28th, 2017

I woke up on the top bunk of Kuba’s apartment I remember looking up ways to avoid that, and one
in Prague and snapped this photo. I particularly tip was to blot the bacon with paper towels before
liked the drawings on his wall, some of which cooking to remove the excess oil. It didn’t work,
were done by his friend Martin. I took a liking and Kuba continued swearing. Kuba was my 10th
to the drawings of the stocky black figures with host out of 14, and with the weather slowly
curious facial expressions- that is something I warming up, I was counting down the weeks left
would consider getting done as a small tattoo. on my journey.

We made breakfast every morning- rather, he “Hello, I’m Josephine. Nice to meet you. What meals do
threw a random assortment of items together you enjoy? How do you decorate your space? What are
and they became sandwiches. He kept getting you reading? How do you say “thank you” in your
burned by bacon oil that popped off the pan. language?”
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Going on my first long-term, solo
backpacking experience, I must have asked
those questions at least a hundred times.
In every new country, I stayed with friends,
or strangers from the CouchSurfing app that
would eventually become friends too.

The number of interesting and kind souls


who let me into their homes taught me the
immense joy of getting to know complete
strangers in a matter of days. I cracked open
my first Croatian beer with an Australian
who was cycling his way across Europe, and
explored Florence alongside a young
Australian couple aiming to travel for as long
as they could.

I sprawled on air mattresses and couches


belonging to a seasonal snowboarding
instructor in Switzerland, a businessman
working with an up and coming Hungarian
fashion designer, a polyglot MMA fighter
and a young Turkish boy who longboarded
across Europe. I debated about America’s
greatness, or lack thereof, with a Maltese guy
on a nude beach in Barcelona, and explored
the old communist mines near Karlštejn with
a Czech paramedic.

Before traveling solo, I took my group travels


for granted. I knew we would stick together
because we’re all tourists with the same to-do
list. This was the first time I was required to
take a step back, and that helped me develop
a newfound appreciation for the kindness of
strangers and the ability to share experiences
with others.
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2.
June 5th, 2017

Morocco was my first country in Africa. Only recently did I leave my bubble and moved
It was fascinating and one of the first, true culture out for University. That is when I began to meet
shocks I’ve been through. The tiniest things excited people of different backgrounds. Compared to
me. Did you know dipping your boiled egg in salt the homey suburb I grew up in, Morocco might
and cumin made it THAT much better? Neither did as well have been another planet.
I. Part of a hearty, traditional Moroccan breakfast.
As much as I embraced the unfamiliarity,
I liked being pushed further away from my the tourist harassment did not make me feel
comfort zone, but it was also more excited about walking through the busy medina.
overwhelming than expected. During my I understand that this is how people make a
childhood, I was very sheltered. I was raised in living, but shouting “ni hao” or
a predominantly east Asian suburb in Toronto, “konnichiwa” at me does not make me want to
where I felt comfortable simply because everyone stop and browse their shops.
looked and sounded like me.

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On two occasions, full grown adults threw racial helplessness that brewed in the pit of my
slurs at me to “fucking go back to China” just because stomach. I was frustrated with my inability
I replied “no, thank you” to their desert bus tour sales to think on my feet and react in emergency
pitch. Their words were enough to make me feel situations. I was over thinking about alternative
uncomfortable, but never threatened. outcomes and what could’ve been done instead.

I lost a lot of energy after nearly being robbed by To me, personal growth means acknowledging
some guys. It wasn’t even 10PM, and my friend and learning from mistakes, achievements and
Mandy and I were simply walking back to our everything inbetween. Consciously choosing to
hostels. They tried to get our attention and grabbed ignore certain events paints an incomplete
our shoulders. When they attempted to reach for picture of an experience, and I would never want
our phones, we caused a scene and they ran away to do that.
when people started to slow their motorbikes down.
For me, I would love to return to Morocco and
And those are tales I tell when I think back to explore other parts of Northern Africa, but this
Morocco. This could have happened anywhere, but I marks the first time I felt overwhelmed and
will never forget this unfamiliar feeling of anxious to be alone.
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3.

March 19th, 2017

Backpacking forces a minimalist


lifestyle because you are always
on the go. I don’t have the time or
strength to carry heaps with me.
For instance, when I’m in the
comfort of my own home, I have
a 30 minute bathroom routine
because materials are at my
disposal. While traveling, my
morning and night routines
usually consists of 3 (sometimes
4 if I choose to floss) things-
brushing my teeth, messily
splashing water on my face,
and putting on or taking off my
contacts. So now, with things like
only having two pairs of pants
(black and blue) to choose from,
the question of “what do I wear”
amongst other habitual thoughts
vanish immediately.

It’s replaced with, “who will I cross


paths with?” and “what new words
can I store in my memory?” and my
favourite, “what will I learn today?”

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4.

May 5th, 2017

I want to do a quick shout-out to the Holy Trinity about what to buy, to grabbing packs of chorizo
of the European Shoe-String Budget diet- bread, from a Sainsbury in London, UK and popping
cheese and cured meats. These were the three them in my mouth like potato chips.
things I grew up disliking, but became the three
things in my main diet during my time abroad. Truthfully, it took me time to develop respect for
the Holy Trinity because I used to be so afraid
Not only were they super affordable, but the of eating specifically bread, cheese and cured
selection of bread, cheese and cured meats is so meats. I was raised on a diet of rice, seafood and
much more impressive than the brand name, vegetables.
mass processed foodstuffs I’m used to in North
America. It has taken me 22 years, but I refuse Rice was my main source of carbohydrates, and
to stomach another slice of Kraft Singles. I went bread could not compare once my taste palate
from cautiously scanning the shelves in a tiny was developed around rice. I thought cheese was
grocery store in Dubrovnik, Croatia, unsure stinky and left my mouth feeling dry.
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I then convinced myself that I was 30% lactose intolerant (I’m not) and refused to go near cheese. My
mom cooked every meal with the least amount of salt possible, so I had very bland meals growing up.
A little bit more sodium and I would be overwhelmed with my food, even experiencing stomach aches.

But 2017 changed everything. At one point, my friend Gaby asked me if I was worried about having
high sodium levels. We were at her family’s cottage in Hungary and I kept devouring their cured
meats at an abnormally rapid pace. I looked at her and kept eating.

This is the year I finally developed a love for sodium that no longer churns my stomach. The year I
willingly stuffed goat cheese in my mouth. The year I found bread dipped in olive oil with a little bit
of pepper to be delicious. After all, a peasant’s meal is a nobleman’s appetizer. (Spoiler alert: I’m the
peasant).

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5.

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April 17th, 2017

Sushanth, a hairstylist from India


doing his masters in Amsterdam,
contacted me via Couchsurfing.

He was trying to expand his


portfolio, cutting hair
wherever he goes and
donating hair to charities. The catch
was, the cut had to be a pixie or
shorter for it to be free.

He told me if people were willing to


leave their comfort zone and try
something new, he’d gladly lend a
hand.

At first, I was uncomfortable with


cutting my hair that short. I’ve never
had my hair above my collarbone.

What would people think?

What if it didn’t match my face?

How would I go out in public?

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A 1 hour conversation later, I summoned my courage and went with it. He
said a couple things I never acknowledged wholeheartedly until I heard it
aloud.

“The less hair you have, the more attention drawn to your facial features.”

“My face isn’t ‘round’- it’s oval and heart-shaped.”

And for the last no-brainer...

“Hair grows back!”

Before he began, he had me pose for a before-and-after video for his


Instagram. In hindsight, being in front of the camera was more daunting
than chopping most of my hair off.

He told me to think about all the negative moments and experiences that
happened in the past few months. He told me to channel it into my hair, so
he can remove the negative energy once he cuts it off. At that time in life, a
new beginning was definitely something I was searching for.

We made some falafels and deep fried cheese pastries while watching The
Price is Right before saying goodbye and parting ways. That day, I placed my
trust in the hands of a new friend. The left side of my head carried most of
the weight while the right side felt fuzzy, and I donated hair for the first
time.

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6.

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June 10th, 2017

Before March 2017, a significant chapter in my life ended. I was stuck in liminal space, unsure of
how to proceed. I was hurting and didn’t know how to pick myself up again, so I chose to leave
home. I thought I’d be proactive and start the next chapter in my life with this trip. I recognized the
opportunity I had in front of me and I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste any second of it.

I always believed the excitement and new discoveries that came with traveling was the most natural
way to go about a healing process. But I also felt like I was running away from my problems. There
were days I let myself hurt and over think, feeling trapped in the past rather than living in the
present. In Sevilla, Spain I scrolled past something on Facebook that made it hard for me to breathe.
I decided to walk it off and explore the main areas of Sevilla. But as I wandered along the cobblestone
streets and passed by the colorful architecture, I barely took notice of the city’s liveliness. I was having
an internal dialogue with myself, calming the voice inside my head.

Another time, I let myself drunkenly sob into the arms of a new friend in Cologne, Germany, after a
personal talk and too many shots. After that night in Cologne, I realized that it was easy for me to be
triggered by the slightest memories, and that I had trouble dealing with them by myself.

After coming to terms with my personal issues, I started to heal. I learned to control my overthinking,
because nothing screams “waste of time” like dwelling over hypotheticals. I used to think that I was
incapable of feeling hurt and upset. That unrealistic notion has shifted completely- I vent whenever I
want, wherever I want.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and now I realize my time abroad was, in fact, spent in liminal space. I
wasn’t floating around passively, as I created a sense of control for a set amount of time. I thought I
was starting a new chapter in life but being away all those months just gave me ample opportunity
to alter my immediate reality. Waiting at bus stops and airports and long train rides also gave me
ample time to think about what’s next for myself. On a larger scale, everything remained the same
until I was able to face my problems and work on myself. Although I didn’t return home completely
healed, I definitely went through a transformational phase, matured and gained the ability to analyze
situations through different perspectives.
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With traveling comes a lot of waiting.

Waiting to go from one place to the next.

Waiting inspired me to create a photo book,

with musings from my journal ahead.

reflections from
liminal space
by josephine tse