LOVE by Shaun Ventulan

It's been a while. I've been meaning to write to you, but life happened. I've been too busy getting the most of what life has to offer. I am living. I am loving. I am happier. I am healthier. 

For those who live vicariously through my curated social media account, my life looks stellar. Anxiety and depression has ruled my life for the past two years. It's either a constant bombardment of irrational fears, a cringe worthy statement I made on a random Thursday years ago, or the feeling of emptiness - this is what goes on my mind. This is what anxiety and depression is - the feeling of constant fear or the feeling of nothingness. I'm not sure which one is worse, but this is something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. And no, depression doesn't mean I no longer want to live, but a sigh that I have to get on with things. There are times where leaving my room feels like the impossible. Having high functioning anxiety also means that I may look calm and collected, yet my body is ready for fight-or-flight. Death seems imminent sometimes when my anxiety reaches eleven - a scratch can be interpreted as MRSA, an ache could be some sort of myeloma, or a headache can be equated to glioma. Behind some of my laughs and smiles is unease. 

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The thing is, life will never get better if I do nothing to quell my feelings, or the lack of. So I lived. I lived life and faced my fears. I found a hobby that has brought peace to chaos. As paradoxical as it may sound, I fell in love with climbing, despite my intense fear of heights. I find tranquility in the difficulty that climbing has to offer. When my hands become too sore to climb, I am near the ocean to enjoy the cool breeze  - nature is always free. And that's what I did to take care of myself. I loved myself, and focused on what makes me happy. I put myself before others, and stopped caring about things beyond my control, i.e. politics. I got rid of what's toxic and focused on personal growth. I may not have a lot of friends, but I am beyond satisfied knowing that I am fortunate enough to have a really tight circle of friends. Quality over quantity. I know that with my friends now, we are headed for success. 

Life will not always be rad, but it won't always be sad either. Just like the ocean, life comes in waves, and we just need to keep surfing. When life knocks you down, you get up. When you can't get a certain climbing route, you take a step back, breathe, and do it a different way. Life is all about that - trial and error. A life without risks, mistakes, and sadness is a life not lived. Life is just as good as you make it to be. And for myself, I make the best out of it. Self-care is self-love. Do what makes you happy. Always love yourself.

Your friend, 

Shaun Ventulan

by Shaun Ventulan

My last post was drafted on the 22nd of January.

It's been quite a while, my friends. 

I felt like I lost. 

The joy was no longer there.

I no longer mourn. 

I can breathe again. When I lost, I thought I lost the meaning of joy. My weekends no longer felt as stellar. I had nothing to look forward to. My life withered again. 

What I failed to realize is that this was a result of the lack of love. Not love for another, but a love for oneself. 

I ventured again. This time, in solitude. I learned to enjoy my own company again.

I can confident enough to say that my life has truly bloomed. I am a warrior. A weekend warrior with no reservations. 

Join me. 

- Shaun 

24 by Shaun Ventulan

24.

Twenty-four, oh, you have defined who I am.

I lost myself. I fell deep into a tar-laden pit of angst. A constant battle between fear and loathing was burdensome. As the blood in my veins infused anxiety all around, routines became an obstacle. At twenty-four, I felt as if defeat had embraced me. A life of fear will be the life I will live.

Fuck it, I said to myself. A life lived in fear is a life not worth living for. At twenty-four, I ran away. I bought a ticket to Tokyo after I was inspired by Murakami’s novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. A beautiful mess it would be for a claustrophobe to get lost in the unknown. Running away was survival as my disdain for the mundane drove me mad. At twenty-four, I lost a friend. I learned the day of my arrival back from Tokyo. The man who smiled the most carried the heaviest burden.  

I came back with the immense feeling of liberation. I conquered. I lived. I explored. The wanderlust had been satiated temporarily. I craved more. I craved so much more that I still remember the vibrations of the speakers making its way throughout my body. I vividly remember crossing the bridge invigorated with euphoria, feeling so much love from everyone. As my fingers glide through the cold and smooth rails, my anxiety faded away. The feeling of belongingness that I found in travel was found not too far away. A little haven called Lightning in a Bottle was my first music festival.

Ah, the angst of graduation. The confusion. At twenty-four, I felt vulnerable. I studied a major without definition. I felt like a Rothko situated next to a Michelangelo. I was scared. I feared the inability to succeed. My irrationality became my own weakness, so I inebriated it by running away. Again.

The ultimate testament to my bout with uncertainty and anxiety was to do a grueling pilgrimage by myself. The thought of being alone without knowing a single soul terrified me, as it would with others. My legs trembled as the tires hit the tarmac. I knew that this very moment meant that I am now on my own. I am now on my own. Solitude frightened me as I’ve always had a fear of being alone. I no longer had arms to run back to, or a shrink to talk to when my mind starts to run. Many times throughout my travel, I had panics, but I lived. I thrived, despite the difficulties of being alone. Solitude became my friend. Walking through the unknown embraced me. I learned to appreciate myself. At twenty-four, I discovered myself again.

The strap dug down my shoulder as I traversed up the rocky path. Yosemite epitomized heaven on earth. The cool air was of abundance. The water flowed without hesitation. The silence evoked solitude. I felt at peace. I fell in love with life during my trip to Yosemite. This was a journey unlike any other. I also fell for someone else. We became warriors after this trip. Our passion for adventures is what brought us together. Santa Barbara became our escape, but La Jolla became our home.

 Oh, love. I feared love. Rejection and heartbreak elicits unbearable pain and mental fatigue. Fuck it, I said to myself. I dove right into it. I looked forward to holding her whenever I started drowning during my adventure. At one point, she was mine as I was hers. We lived. We loved. We became warriors. We grew together, learned together, and shared ideas. I learned so much from her. Most importantly, I learned to love again. I gave her my all. We cannot have it all. As we spiraled out of love, I started to feel the hurt again. Rejection and heartbreak, the duo that I’ve been avoiding, has embraced me again. I regret nothing as the void and suffering means that at one point in my life, she was significant. I know that at one point in her life, I was significant too.

 At twenty-four, I got a job that will steer me towards my career. My fear of finding a job became obsolete as I found a job the very same week after my trip. I ran away. I came back with what I was looking for. I found myself, and found a job. I owe a lot to you, my friend. Now, I feel security. That’s one less burden.

 To find oneself again is quite a beautiful feeling. Despite my recent heartbreak, I love life. I am happier than I was when I turned twenty-four. I grew a lot. I got to know myself a lot better. I learned to live and love. I found myself again.

At twenty-five, I am hopeful and I will thrive. Twenty-five will be mine.

 

 

Madness by Shaun Ventulan

The trees were layered with sheets of ice. The field, which once held life, was draped in fresh snow. Heat was coming off my warm red camper mug that was lying on a layer of ice. The smell of stale packet coffee swathed the chilled air. My breath radiated heat as if my soul left my body each time I exhaled. My sighs felt truer. I sat on a cold iron chair, laid my feet on the fence adjacent to the patio, and began contemplating about follies of being human. The serenity allowed me unadulterated thoughts that echoed throughout the day.

I wrote on my beige Shinola journal, and saw a trend in my recent writing. My cold fingers flipped through the pages prior to my latest entry, and had a startling realization. I sighed deeply. Condensation encompassed the pages. Stress has embraced me. It’s touched my lips, and corrupted my mind. I no longer write about the joys of life, but the dissatisfaction of my current affairs. The thought gave me so much anxiety, that my mind dove deep into despair.

The folly of humanity is the fact that we, as a race, endure pain and suffering expecting different results over and over again. Is that not madness? We endure jobs that mentally exhaust our minds for the hope of a promotion. Some stay in unstable relationships for companionship to soothe their loneliness. Others put a façade of radiating joy in denial of how they truly feel. When endurance manifests itself in inevitable circumstances, one can blossom. When one endures self-destruction, withering becomes the inevitable. Sanity is discerning what will make us thrive. Sanity is self-love.

I stood up. Sighed one last time. I brushed specks of ice off my brown moccasin shoes, and went back inside the warm cabin. I fell silent that day, because this thought pertains to many. I see it in everyone.

I am hopeful, though. You should too.

 

 

 

 

 

FEAR by Shaun Ventulan

fear

ˈfir/

noun

  1. 1

    an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

    "drivers are threatening to quit their jobs in fear after a cabby's murder"

    synonyms:terrorfright, fearfulness, horroralarmpanicagitationtrepidationdreadconsternationdismaydistress

verb

  1. 1

    be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.

    "he said he didn't care about life so why should he fear death?"

    synonyms:be afraid of, be fearful of, be scared of, be apprehensive of, dread, live in fear of, be terrified of; More

 

Life without fear is life not lived. 

I conquered many of my fears last year. I spearheaded myself into what frightens me - what gives me anxiety. I realized that if I do not address my irrational fears, then a life towards betterment will be unachievable

I've always feared of being lost and alone. When the anxiety starts to manifest itself, who will I run to? Who will help me find composure? I feared that I will be too reliant on a psychologist to tell me how to cope. I was fortunate enough to have been given to offer to travel wherever my heart desires. Although the thought of traveling alone secretly frightened me, I figured it would be the best way to desensitize myself away from the negative thoughts.

I went away for 5 weeks by myself. I walked the streets of Europe alone. I explored, got lost, felt lost, and frustrated myself countless of times. After days of doing everything on my own, all sorts of social anxiety went away. I was content being alone. I started drinking coffee again; my beloved drink that I had to avoid in fear of a panic attack. I felt normal again. Normalcy is all I wanted. 

 

Tokyo was quite the same. This was during the peak of my issues with anxiety. I left with my friend Zach, and the other bunch to go to the Owl Cafe. It was fun having a companion during my trip, but again, I felt too reliant. I felt that if I lost them, I won't be able to find my way back home. So, I left. I went ahead of everyone - charged my rail pass and headed towards the station. I felt uneasy, as I did not know how to navigate around the subway station, but I eventually found my way home. It was liberating. I felt free. I conquered. 

 

I feared love. I dreaded the thought of losing someone again - recovery always felt awful. Fear and doubt hinders ones ability to fully experience love. To accept all uncertainty, in my opinion, is the bravest thing a human can do. So I loved again, fully. I did not once doubt how I felt, despite some turbulence. It is a rewarding feeling, no matter what the outcome, because I lived life. I no longer feared rejection. I learned my best to compromise. Most importantly, I learned to love again. 

Page 365 of 365 by Shaun Ventulan

December 31, 2016

Personal growth.

I lost myself during the beginning of this year. Stress encapsulated me. I knew nothing, but to live life through a rain of anxiety. I lost all interest in the things I loved. I had to escape to retain my sanity and gain my identity. Life felt rough then. The idea of feeling better felt impossible.

 

I did end up escaping. I quit my job, and bought a ticket to Tokyo. I vividly recall talking to the lady next to me in class, and asked her if she wanted to come with me. I did not know her then, nor did I know how significant she'll become in my life. She was the stranger with silver hair. Hair that changed every time quarter, the girl with the Ron Paul shirt who loved eating at Kosuke.

Tokyo was a blast. Exploring the city early in the morning till dawn, then parties at night to live life to the fullest. Life was perfect, from our sober days to nights when hitting the floor sounded like the best idea. I made tons of friends, and I learned to be social. When I arrived home, I had learned that my old college science partner through chemistry and physiology, succumbed to his inner demons and died by suicide. I mourned silently. 

Lightning in a Bottle. This even lifted me away from grievance to joy. Normalcy filled me again. I recall giving Melanie a ride after class, thinking she did not have a car. It was just after the rain, damp and cold. I did not want her to walk alone. She accepted my offer. As she sat, she started to convince me to go to a festival with her. It took days of convincing until I said yes. I made good friends. I met her side of friends who grew on me - especially Mattheu. I also met his partner, and Melanie's best friend, Sasha. She's fierce, intimidating, and kind - a good role model for young women. I had the time of my life. I vividly recall sitting on my lawn chair waiting for the sun to rise. The dust on my clothes, the smell of food, the $8 showers, and the good vibe that ruminated the entire camp ground made me appreciate life more.

Graduation came abruptly. It's as if life flew by. I made amazing friends towards the end of my school year. Jessica, we struggled together, and pulled each other back. Lorie, her contagious smile and snorts. Melanie, the special friend who I loved dearly, and who became partner. Life felt confusing. The angst of life after college. The thought of instability was a real fear, especially for our major. I felt the need to escape again. 

Europe. I learned to be independent. I was alone, I struggled with my anxiety and mild bouts of sadness. When panic ensued, I had to fight it head on. I didn't have my psychologist to help me cope, I didn't have a safe space to return to. I did learn how to make friends. I did not laugh alone. Most importantly, during my solo travel, I learned how to love myself. As I walked the streets across Europe in solitude, I learned that happiness is dependent on my perspective. I felt at peace towards the middle of my travel. My anxiety slowly dissipated, and I felt normal again. Sending out postcards to the silver haired lady kind of became a countdown to my return

Arrival. Groggy and red-eyed, I was back home. I stood outside Tom Bradley Airport looking for a white Nissan Juke. I opened the back, moved the rolls of bubble wrap to the backseat, and laid my abused Terra 65 backpack. I got a big hug, and the burger that I've been craving for months. We started seeing each other more, and started planning for Yosemite. In between my arrival to Yosemite, we had spontaneous trips to La Jolla and Laguna multiple times. Santa Barbara too. We became beach bums and adventure seekers. 

Yosemite made me appreciate nature more. Fresh air, beautiful silence, and the warm sun made life simple. Stress was non-existent. The trip was filled with laughs and smiles. At one point, my double sock combo smelled so gnarly that I tried to blame it on her. She laughed it off. At one point, I took a plunge into freezing water because I haven't showered in a day. It was fun. I had the time of my life. This trip satiated my thirst for travel. I was surrounded with beauty. This is what I needed before I joined the corporate world.

Life after became a weekend adventure. Every week, something was planned, whether it would be eating in Korea Town or an impromptu trip to San Jacinto or Joshua Tree. November became the highlight of my year. Snowboarding, dinners, hiking, and adventures every week. Bone broth and croaker became the staple.

This chapter of my life ended quite different than I expected, but I can't complain. I had the time of my life. I grew a lot, lived life, loved again, and traveled a lot. I will certainly miss you and my routine. I regret nothing. 

Meditation by Shaun Ventulan

Cold fingers, wet shoes, scrapes on my knees and hands. I made across the lake. The traverse was intense, but I made it. 

I sat on a slab of rock, laid my pack, and took a deep breath. I spent quite sometime reflecting about myself and how I am as a person. I've always strived for self-improvement, but sometimes, you just miss a few things. I was upset with myself knowing I've become impatient and prideful. Ego, and the lack of understanding has controlled me. I felt shame. 

My time alone allowed me to deeply think of my situation, dilemmas, and solutions. All my experiences now, as well as issues, will mold me into a better person. I feel as if I have a better understanding on what I need to work on. My attachment to the idea of freedom, has chained me. Knowing this, I will strive to become a better version of me. 

Growth by Shaun Ventulan

From an outsider perspective, life seems great. Traveling across Europe, an impromptu trip to Japan, music festival, fitness ideals, exploring the wilderness, indulging what La Jolla has to offer, and good food - 2016 looks stellar. I mean, how could I complain?

Despite my adventures, 2016 has been by far, the most difficult year. I started off my year with high levels of anxiety. Every waking moment felt like I had to battle Goliath. Academics, a mundane job, internships, and the angst about graduating was a concoction of chronic stress. Mentally, I was defeated. I was exhausted. I was overweight. I lost all feelings of joy, which was never really me. I lost friends, a friend succumbed to his battle with depression, lost a loved one, and the list goes on. Life felt really hard. Everything felt like a cascade of anguish. 

Strength. These tribulations have helped me grow. In contrast to my state months ago, I am far better off now. I've come far. I'm slowly acclimating. I'm now content with life and what it has to offer. I have genuine friends, built relationships, and started to live more in the present. Life is getting better. I feel lucky, and I also feel loved. 

 

The Travel Blues by Shaun Ventulan

I have an insatiable thirst for travel. The idea of living a rather nomadic lifestyle is something I yearn for, and I am sure some share the same sentiment. Travel, to me, is not an escape from reality anymore, but a mere confrontation of life’s what ifs. This confrontation is significant, because if one does not confront ones hesitations, it becomes an experience lost. If one does pursue uncertainty, nothing gained can be lost. The outcome may not always be fruitful, but one may learn lessons applicable to life.  

Ultimately, the beauty of travel is uncertainty. Every waking day is how one makes it. One becomes the artisan of life. Each calculated step becomes a major feat towards self-fulfillment and self-discovery. Travel is when one will realize the infinite possibilities in our finite time, and why we should wander. Every interaction is a door to unbounded opportunities. I personally think this factor is what sways most to wander. The allure of living days of spontaneity is what we all desire, as opposed to a lackluster routine. We wander not to escape the harsh realities, but to seek the thrill of uncertainty.  

Travel does have its foreseeable concerns. Once a traveler returns to stagnancy from a long venture, assimilation takes a while. We become so consumed over a dynamic lifestyle that finding joy becomes a temporary scarcity. Of course, this is a fleeting emotion that one will encounter. My humanity is ultimately based off an intrinsic need for curiosities and answers. As for now, I will continue to look up and imagine myself traveling without reservation.

Confusion and Hope by Shaun Ventulan

“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” - Paolo Coelho

21 days. 

The comorbidity of life after college. 

The concept of life after college has always revolved around the unrealistic allure of having a piece of paper that magically opens the doors to opportunities. To a certain degree, the piece of paper does open doors, but requires misdirection and networks. Liberation is a enthralling experience, one filled with uncertainty, confusion, and hope. After years of education and indoctrination, I've become an accumulation of theories, concepts, and facts. I may know these theories, concepts, and facts, but I was not groomed to the realities of adulthood. I am a simulacrum. 

My fear was to walk a life without direction. Chained with myopic objectives, I felt lost. Fear and doubt consumed me during my first week back after a five week bohemian escape. Reality set, and urgency to get my life together ruminated. The idea of not finding a career opportunity was a lingering fear factor that needed to be extinguished. Luckily, I have a flourishing network of friends. As I wait for a response from my last interview, I have another career opportunity in a few days. As I read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho for the third time, I was reminded of my favorite quote: “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Unchained and liberated, life becomes a thrill of uncertainty. Fear is primal instinct that we all share. Facing these fears is what life is about. If we do not encounter grief, confusion, fear, excitement, and optimism; we are not living life. Walking a life without direction does not entail that one is lost and needs direction, but voyage of new experiences to mold a better version of oneself. Despite our finite existence, we will all figure out who we are and what our purpose in life is. Do not forget to love yourself. 

Reality by Shaun Ventulan

 

Day 3. 

It still feels a little surreal to be back stateside. I went from a rather nomadic lifestyle moving from one city to another to stagnancy in the suburbs. As much as I enjoy being a wanderer, being home is a sigh of relief. Familiarity and consistency is a pleasurable feeling. Life, however, as a traveler is a mix of euphoria and doubt - you just never know what to expect. In turn, traveling becomes an obsession. It's the perfect escape from reality. Maybe the ultimate utopian fantasy of action and adventure. 

Transitioning back to normalcy can be rather hard. Although I cannot attest in terms of longevity, but travel becomes a life changing experience. It's a revival and loss. The more you walk through bustling streets of unfamiliarity and foreign tongues, the more insight you gain, which makes you want to be a better version of yourself. To aspire and inspire, I suppose. This is what I miss about being in a small city, where walking is the means of transport. Every step is an opportunity, rather than a destination. 

Although the idea of living a utopian fantasy of constant wander sounds appealing, being back to reality or normalcy is just as exhilarating. It's what we make out of life. As of now, I feel an urgency to become an adult, while others prolong the transition with escape. I think its a craving for stability and self-reliance, as well as wealth. Just like everyone else, we all long for the future rather than focus on the now. Despite my worries, I know I'll make it out alive, and successful.

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

35 Days of Exploring Unfamiliarity and Conquering Fears. by Shaun Ventulan

Growing up, I've always considered myself a paradoxical introvert. I keep to myself, yet I am surrounded by friends. I suppose an isolationist with a sense of being a social butterfly and explorer. Prior to my departure, I was fueled with anxiety as to how I'll manage in ten countries, fourteen cities, and a total of 36 nights. The fear of getting lost knowing no one in a city far away from home ruminated. For 36 nights, I'll be alone and every decision I make will be a leap of faith. Realistically, travel is filled with healthy anxieties and elation - humanity. 

Paella, tapas, and cigarettes. I vividly remember my arrival to Barcelona - over encumbered by an overpacked backpack looking for the nearest foreign exchange booth. The signage, announcements, and people all speaking Spanish or Catalan. At that point, it sunk in that I'm on this journey on my own. I questioned my bravery, because the realization that the next 35 nights will be how I make it. The first two days was true exploration. Jet lag and sleep deprivation did not stop me from getting lost. I wandered. I walked the streets of Barcelona in awe that I am thousands of miles away from home. My first four days wasn't flawless. At some point, the lack of sleep made me anxious, which was remedied with cigarettes. Sleep was futile, as 50mg of Unisom backfired. Despite some turbulence, I did enjoy Barcelona. I loved every single step of my journey in the smoldering heat. I also met a life long friend who I met up again in several of my travels across Europe.

Carbonara, lasagna, and gelato. Confidence and acclimation. I fell in love with Italy. I felt a connection with the cities. The cobblestones, humidity, and bustling streets gave a welcoming allure. The Italian streets felt like a veins and arteries leading to and from the heart, as every turn lead you to something of significance. I walked around Florence as if I've been there before. I guided a friend to the Vatican and around Rome with ease. I navigated through the Venetian labyrinth without maps as if I was a Venetian myself. The Vatican reinvigorated my respect for the Catholic faith. Although I loosely follow my religion, the second I walked in the Sistine Chapel, I lost it. I stared at the ceiling in shock. Everything felt surreal. The images felt as if I wore some sort of 3D glasses. My eyes were infused with warmth. I shed a few tears in admiration for Michelangelo and his devotion to his art. Italy was a much needed reinforcement to my ability to navigate and explore. It challenged my doubts and hesitations, and molded an explorer with emotions. 

Escargot, creme brûlée, and macarons. Paris is truly a romantic city. The morale behind my trip to Paris was to relive scenes from Midnight in Paris. I walked in the rain, I crossed the same bridge Gil stood on, and I pondered over Monet's Water Lilies. It all felt surreal. I kindly asked a Parisian exploring the L'Orangerie if she could kindly take a photo of me looking at the lilies. She nodded, took a picture, and handed me my phone. I proceeded with a merci. The photograph that she took brought the feeling of deep appreciation, which was enough to trigger an autoimmune response - my lacrimal glands shed a few tears. I sat back down with a realization that I am in Paris. The last time I shed tears was in the Sistine Chapel. Paris made me embrace the fact that despite being in a city notorious for romance, I am content with being alone. As dangerous as that may sound, I'm sure someone specially will come along. Most importantly, it is important to show humanity by expressing ones appreciation of art, nature, or life. 

Moules-frites, frites avec andalouse, and Mary's Chocolate. I arrived in a bit of a shock. The streets filled with tagging as if I was driving through Boyle Heights. Most stores were closed and Arabic signages were dominant. I expected a homogenous population. I had been warned several times to avoid Brussels. I'm glad I didn't listen to anyone and ventured to Brussels. I enjoyed every second of Brussels. The food was amazing, the beer was strong, and the people are genuine. During my time in Brussels, I decided to do a day trip to Bruges. As much as I enjoyed Paris, I found Bruges to be far more romantic. The narrow cobble stoned streets, overgrowth, archaic bridges, and the Lover's Lake is the perfect for a romantic novel with an ambiguous ending. First impressions are important, but never base your entire assessment on one scenario. I think the best part of travel is the surprises you encounter along the way. 

Cheese, hamburger, and joints. Amsterdam is unique. The red lights illuminate the doors, which cast a rather intriguing hue on the rivers that breathe throughout the city is a sight to see. The smell of marijuana wafts through the bustling coffee shop. My first two days in Amsterdam was rather fun and insightful, but I decided to spend the remaining days in Vondelpark. I walked a few kilometers away to escape the city scene. I brought my compact towel, journal, and a pen with me. I was laying on the grass, looking at the greenery, and contemplated. I did this for two days. Remember, it's totally acceptable to do something outside the norm. 

Kebab, Curry Wurst, and Jägermeister. Berlin. During World War II, this was the breeding ground for extremism. I saw the Reichstag, the bunker, the wall, and the many memorials. Despite the atrocities during the war, one can't help but appreciate how far they've come in terms of acceptance. The German children have their history lessons based on the atrocities in a way to deter sympathy for the Nazi party and acknowledge the violence perpetrated by the old regime. One must remember that half of the citizens during the time did not believe in the Nazi ideology. It's a stark reminder of how things are going on back home: politics and racial tension. 

Surströmming, ham, and bread. Copenhagen is a rather small city with gorgeous architecture. Bikes outnumber cars and the sidewalks are mostly ankle breakers. The parks are scenic. I've never seen so much greenery and wild flowers. Beauty surrounds Copenhagen. There's a taboo free city, which is a sight to see. Copenhagen was memorable for several reasons, but it was also the first time I spent a day out of my 36 nights, to lay in bed all day. I needed that rest. When traveling, listen to your body. Rest is essential. You never really lose a day when traveling. You may lose opportunities, but ones health is far more essential. 

Strömming, Satay, and Carlsberg. Stockholm is one my favorite cities in Europe. It's laid back, shy, yet welcoming. Biking through the streets made me feel like a child again. I memorized my way throughout the city with ease as if I've lived there for decades. I met up with an old friend, and explored the city with a new friend. Stockholm is the perfect place to unwind, although finding things to do after midnight is a rather challenging one. We did find a club that closed at 03:00.  Galma Stan is beautiful, especially around 04:00. The empty streets, closed shops, and the early morning breeze is perfection. Ending the day 5:00AM staring at the Baltic Sea, with feet dangling on the pier cannot be matched. Stockholm will forever be with me. Stockholm made me appreciate that not all sleepless nights are bad nights, and the best things in life are free.

Hotdog, chicken, and oranges. Oslo reminded me of Brussels at first. Our hostel is located in a rather underdeveloped part of town. I felt a deep feeling of regret at first and wished I had chosen Bergen instead. I was wrong. I explored almost the entirety of Oslo today and I fell in love with the city. The architecture is perfection. The infusion of nature in the city and appreciation for the ocean speaks to me. The more I walked, the more I enjoyed my time here in Oslo. The City Hall is my favorite monument in the city as it is the epitome of equality between classes. Oslo taught me to be patient. Good things do come if you wait a bit. 

Traveling has really taught me to manage my anxiety and overcome my fears. Each day is a progression to become a better person and new realizations. In actually, I never really traveled alone. No one ever does. Friends will come your way, and when they do, they'll be your friends forever. I am beyond thankful to be able to embark on such a life changing experience. I feel like this will be a good lesson to my transition into "adulthood". Cheers! 

P.S. 

Thank you, parents! 

 

Belgium by Shaun Ventulan

Brussels, Belgium. Bruges, Belgium. 

Prior to my departure, I have been warned multiple times about the dangers of going to Brussels ,and superfluous reasons as to why I should avoid it at all cost. Travelers I've met throughout this trip have all be wary about this tiny city. A few days before I left, there was another report of a threat within the city, which I read on one of the news sites I follow online. Ultimately, I ignored everyones advice of skipping Brussels. 

I took a high speed train from Paris Gare du Nord to Bruxelles Midi. The ride was rather interesting. I read a significant amount of Game of Thrones hoping time would fly. When I arrived, I had mixed feelings about my destination. Heavily armed military personnels, Africans and Middle Easterners dominated the station. I had an assumption that the city would be homogenous. It caught me off guard. As I took the 51 tram to my hostel, I was welcomed with heavy graffiti on the walls, cigarette butts, garbage on the streets, and tons of clothing spilled throughout the streets. At that very moment, I thought I made a huge mistake. I really thought I fucked up my travel itinerary as to how aesthetically unappealing the small city is. 

Traversing through rain and exhaustion, I made it to Meininger, a renovated hotel to fit a hostel. I was in awe. The signage stated that it's a hotel, and that made me doubt myself. I casually walked in and asked about my reservation. Freight kicked in. I was told my reservation had been canceled via Hostel World. Fortunately, they still had openings in the hostel. I was given a four person room with a comfortable bed and fast wifi. My misfortune became a blessing. 

My first day in Brussels was a rather dull one. A casual stroll along the city looking for something to do was my itinerary. I ended up finding a small restaurant at the exterior of the galleria. I had an overpriced piece of shrimp croquet, which was amazing, but not for its value. I powered through the city, still starving and thirsty. I found a relatively cheap restaurant serving moules-frites. I was a bit unimpressed as I could easily make this dish back home. I decided to end my day a bit early. The thought of sleeping on a comfy bed resonated. 

Day two in Brussels was so much better. At around 10:30, I went on a free tour around the city. The group was lead by an enthusiastic guide from Dublin. We walked through the square, Manneken Pis, and all sorts of touristy sights. To my surprise, the small city has deep rooted history. My favorite part of the tour is something guides never usually talk about, and that is the abuses of Belgium during its conquest in Africa. I was floored when the guide talked about the rubber trees and missing limbs. I deeply appreciated the fact that he addressed the taboo. Atrocities should never be forgetting. Mick, the guide, thanked us for coming to Brussels, despite all the warnings and the travel advisories. 

After the tour, the group had a rather wild one. The beer tour was a somewhat shallow overview of brews, trappistes, and history. Without beer, there wouldn't be civilization is what I gathered from the guide's explanation. Rochefort, Chimay, St. Bernardus, and Delirium Tremens. The combination is enough to put down a horse. The walk back home with my friend Ryan was an adventure on its own. 

The third day was spent in Bruges. Before I left California, my friend Daniela convinced me to go to Bruges. I was a bit hesitant to explore the west of Belgium. Bruges reminds me of a Colin Farrel film that I never finished. I had explored so much of Brussels that I had nothing else to do. I woke up around 8:00 with more hesitation. The comfy bed and dehydration made it almost impossible to get up, but I pushed through. At 10:30, we were on our way to Bruges. Remember the homogeneity that I mentioned earlier? Bruges is not as diverse. 

Bruges is a UNESCO site for a reason. This place has to be the most photogenic city. A duel between nature and gothic architecture - this place is just out of this world. I could easily say I enjoyed it more so than Venice. Bruges in comparison to Venice and Paris is far more romantic. The uneven cobblestone, archaic buildings, cool breeze, greenery, towering trees, swans, the murky river, the Lover's Bridge,  and the Lake of Love - felt like I was walking through a novel. 

A life without risks is a life not worth living, in my opinion. My journey was graced with wonderful views and great stories, something that cannot be done if you shelter yourself. I'm glad I ignored everyone's advice and went on with my journey. 

June 30, 2016 by Shaun Ventulan

I have been traveling across Europe for the past two weeks – Barcelona, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Venice, and now Paris.

Growing up, I’ve always been the anxious type. I can’t help, but live for the future and fear it as the same time. It’s an intricate balance between excitement and fear. The manifestation of fear tends to occur when one feels lost and completely out of control, which is typical for the anxious. Traveling solo has been an enlightening, yet frightening experience due to the fact that you are in a city where no one knows who you are, but at the same time, it opens opportunities to get known and develop friendships. What differs between solo and group is the fact that you’ve got a companion, which significantly lessens the feeling of loneliness. From what I’ve gathered from making friends throughout my travels, all of us go through waves of loneliness, which gets a little bit amplified with anxiety – especially those sleepless nights in Barcelona. There is, however, a really enlightening experience with travel and that is surrender. It is a misnomer to define it as defeat, but one should always equate the definition to acceptance. One learns to live life, as it is, travel freely, and enjoy the wander.

 

 

Italy by Shaun Ventulan

Italy is a country of contradictions, beauty, and culture. Florence, Pisa, Rome, and the Vatican are so rich in symbolism that one has to find inspiration. Italy is a romantic’s heaven. Nature, nostalgia, and art flow throughout the city.

Florence is a city full of contrast. The algae infested waters that flow through the river, the deep blue skies, and the archaic hues of orange that span the homes in Florence defines untouched beauty in a modernized world. Florence, with its small streets and cobbled roads evokes an intimate appreciation of the city. Deep inside the vein of Florence, one will find the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, a monument that spans a hundred and fourteen meters. The massive construction that started in 1294 is an explicit reminder of the pinnacle of human perfection. Traversing the dome is a challenge on its own rite. The twenty-five minute excursion felt torturous. The narrow passageways and the slender, but steep steps became an immediate obstacle. When one does reach the top, the reward is the splendor of the city. An unobstructed view of the city brings about the thought of human ingenuity. Florence is indeed a magnificent city. I now understand as to why Michelangelo wanted to stay in his beloved city. The preservation of the past is important. One must not forget his or her roots.

Pisa is a beautiful mess. Although the monuments that surround the Leaning Tower are quite beautiful, nothing quite captures ones attention like the tower. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a reminder that mistakes can sometimes become a blessing. Had the tower been proper, would it be as significant? When one thinks of Italy, imagines of Coliseum, the Vatican, and the Tower are immediately evoked. Flaws are beautiful and once we accept ours, we become a piece of art.

Rome is amalgamation of the new and the ancient. The city itself feels like a dichotomy. Poverty is evident, yet Audemar Piguet and luxury boutiques are thriving. Gypsies and foreign migrants roam the streets hustling and begging, while others enjoy luxuries. That’s life. Although I did not enjoy seeing the polarity in the social classes in the city, I did find life in what is dead. The ruins of a great civilization can be found throughout the city. The appreciation of what was once great, but no defunct is a reminder of life and its climax. Everything great eventually has its end, but nothing truly dies. The coliseum evoked a mix of emotions – an appreciation of how humans achieved such a feat, but at the same time, disgust as to how the feat was achieved. Lives were lost in that stadium. To truly appreciate something, one must look beyond its aesthetics.

Throughout my time in Italy, the Vatican inspired me the most in terms of my appreciation of art. The Vatican itself is inhuman as almost all works are near perfection, but one also feels disgusted as to how the artifacts were truly acquired. A walk through the gallery is a reminder that one is walking through time. Every piece is a piece of history. Although one may say this criticism, is an attack, it is not. It is an observation. The Vatican does live up to its grandeur as the symbiotic relationship that the chain of Popes shared with various artists helped build a Fabergé in the middle of Rome. None of its grandeur would be possible without the help of Michelangelo. Michelangelo epitomizes the ultimate archetype of a true genius. From what I learned through traversing the halls of the Vatican museum with the help of an energetic guide, Michelangelo was inspired by one piece that defines his work. Michelangelo’s obsession with the torso can be seen throughout his work. The Sistine Chapel is truly a feat of human perfection. Whether one is religious or not, one feels a presence that cannot be explained. The paintings feel as if they are alive. Michelangelo’s dedication and sense of perfectionism can truly be seen in the paintings. Through his quest for perfection and dedication comes turmoil and despair. He slipped into deep depression after completion of the Sistine Chapel. The façade of perfection is at a cost. One should take life as it is and try to live it to its fullest. Obsessing over control and perfection only leads to despair.

Why am I doing this kind of analysis? I feel as if travelers often overlook the true beauty within the cities they venture. The appreciation of aesthetics has its limits, but appreciation of possibilities and interpretations are limitless. One can even find meaning in the ankle breaking cobblestones that span the entirety of Italy. What I’m trying to get at is the fact that if one truly enjoys traveling, one should learn to appreciate deep thinking. Sit down, people watch, breathe, observe, feel the textures, eat the food, and think. That is traveling. It’s not just about the pictures and passport stamps. 

06.20.16, BCN by Shaun Ventulan

Traveling solo has its perks. Leisure and the freedom to explore with spontaneity is most definitely the best part. The sense of independence is beautiful, especially when it comes to exploration. Independence does come with its drawbacks, which not a lot of travelers talk about. When one thinks of travel, it's the idea of escape or masking familiarity with something abstract. The idealization of what life is all about is a common plague for travelers too.  

While getting lunch in a tapas bar next to my hostel, I made a friend - another solo traveler. Both jet lagged, we talked about our first travel experience as solo travelers. Despite all its glory, we touched on the subject of loneliness and the feeling of being homesick, which is both new to us since we've always traveled with company. During my time in the Tokyo and Bagan (Myanmar), I was with either family or friends, which negates the feeling of unfamiliarity and loneliness. At first, I thought it was only I who felt this way during my sleepless nights in Barcelona. I was no longer alone when she explained her situation and I gather that it is within normal to feel that way. 

Commonality is how you make friends during travels. From my recollection of my insane nights in Tokyo, where getting shit-faced was part of the itinerary, most of the friends I made had something in common. We all long for adventure and an escape from the busy metropolitan life, if not, we were trying to figure out what life is all about. My new friend and I decided to go to Park Güell to enjoy the scenic view of Barcelona. A 4km walk uphill was brutal, especially for her who wore sandals. After the torturous walk to the park, we were blessed with a gorgeous view of an old city with rich history and the never ending ocean that surrounds the city. At the same spot, we made a new friend from Colombia who is traveling to Lyon to meet a friend. As we debated whether or not to walk or take the metro to la playa de Barcelona, he asked an interesting question. Although I don't recall his exact words, it was themed after the meaning of life and what will I do after the journey is over. As we walked to the nearest metro station, we all talked about our history - who we are, why we travel, and where our next destination will be. The three lone travelers now became a trio. 

Although loneliness comes out in waves when in a country where you know no one, life does eventually lead you to find friends, and when you do, they tend to be life long friendships. Travel, no matter how long or how far, will always reward one with new friends. The longing for familiarity is what makes us human. 

06.19.16 by Shaun Ventulan

Jet lag is one hell of a barrier when it comes to travel. The body is physically exhausted, yet the mind is wide awake. At one point, I started to fall asleep, well, felt like falling asleep. I figured that if I take 50mg of Diphenhydramine (also known as Unisom), it would make me sleep a minimum of 8 hours. Luckily, I asked my friend tonight if I should double dose, and his advice was to assess why it didn't work last night. Anti-histamines can do the exact opposite of sleep, which was its effect on me last night. It's as if I took two scoops of pre-workout for the first time. I literally shut my eyes from 22:30 all the way to 08:30 without any progress. The fact that my room is located -1 floor, or known as the basement in my native tongue, is hellish. Fresh air is non-existent and the fact that 12 people reside in such a small space intensifies the heat. I suppose I was spoiled during my stay in Anne Hostel Ryogoku, or maybe the end of winter made it pleasant. My day may sound unpleasant, but I eventually fell asleep around 09:00 and woke up around 12:40. It took a relatively heavy breakfast and two cups of milk for some tryptophan to surge and put me to sleep. All I needed was a few minutes of REM to make me feel refreshed again. 

Jet lag and the fact that I haven't been working out has really affected my sleeping habits. I feel way too energized all the time. For the past two days, I've averaged a 9 mile walk, yet all that cardiovascular exercise hasn't really dragged me down. I need to figure out a routine for when I leave for Florence. 

Although I had a rough start and started my day a little bit late, I still managed to enjoy my trip. Solitude isn't bothersome when you're exploring something new. Perhaps I do miss some aspects of traveling with a group (having someone to take a proper picture of you), but having a spontaneous itinerary is exciting. At one point, I decided to look for the beach. I just walked the general direction as to where the port is and ended up in Colon, a towering monument in the middle of the port. The walk was a 3 mile stretch from my hostel in a battering 85 degree weather. The port is pretty interesting. It's a diverse crowd of locals and tourists enjoying the sun. 

The best part was getting to the port. I had no idea where to go, so I followed a signage pointing towards the Picasso museum. The more I explored the area, the deeper I fell in the heart of Barcelona's gothic district. The architecture is an explicit reminder of the Catholic churches influence. It's both beautiful and frightening as something immaculate also had sinister intentions during its glory. The Barcelona Museum was a waste of time. I was expecting more of Catalan history, not Asian and Samoan relics. I ended my day with the realization that stores are not open during Sundays. I walked a 4 mile stretch with 90% of retail closed. I did, however, get to eat paella. The mixture was delicious, but the rice had a bit of a tough texture, which is not that appetizing. At least I was able to try the food that the city praises.

Tomorrow, 06.20.16 will be my last day in Barcelona. I'm thrilled as I get to explore the cities of Florence, Rome, and Venice. I think of Italy as a romantic city. The medieval architecture sounds appealing. Despite my excitement, I do feel a little homesick. It's a little bit different to travel with someone familiar. 

Barcelona by Shaun Ventulan

06.18.16

10:30 AM, the sun is out with a slight overcast. It had rained this morning. The concrete slabs, park benches, and the trees were damp. The smell of petrichor and a hint of roses is strong throughout the city. So far, the people have been really nice, despite my inability to speak and understand Catalan. My bastardized understanding of Spanish would have probably helped had I been in Madrid, but Catalonia is totally different. The city expresses itself with a mixture of gothic, yet modernized architecture. Cigarettes and coffee. That's one of the observations I've made through my eight mile walk around Barcelona. 

I was constantly lost throughout my adventures. At one point, I lost my map with detailed instructions for my route home. By home, I mean, hostel. It's the only thing familiar in a country I know nothing about. A lesson I learned today is that feeling lost is totally normal, whether its where you're headed in life or your travel destination. It's part of life. If we don't get lost, we're not living life.

Feeling lost is rather subjective. When we yearn for the past, we tend to forget that a journey is making new paths in life. I learned this lesson when I tried to trace my steps back to my hostel without a map, despite how close I was, I still wasn't there. I did, eventually, find my way home. 

 

Arrival by Shaun Ventulan

The journey to Barcelona feels a little bit surreal. The fact that I spent most of my day on the 16th exploring Los Angeles made it into a destination itself. Who knew there was so much to do in Silver Lake and Echo Park? A hidden gem in an ever expanding city. 

Why would I write about my moments prior to departure?

Despite making it to my flight with an hour to spare, it made transitioning easier. A huge adrenaline pump with a mixture of increased dopamine levels took over me, which is also known as excitement. In contrast to my Tokyo departure, this was far from anxiety filled paranoia. A cup of fair trade vanilla latte and good vibes prior to my departure really skewed my perspective before embarking on a long and unyielding flight. I sat in the middle of two Englishmen, who were game developers for Rare (creators of Banjo-Kazooie). John, who became my new friend, walked me through his game and the joys of working for such a company, which made the 9 hour flight feel a little bit shorter. Sleep was futile. The more I tried, the more I focused on the fact that sleep was difficult. 

 

Pre-Travel Contemplation by Shaun Ventulan

I am about to embark on my first ever adventure as a solivagant. My enthusiasm and thirst for adventure is clouded with doubt and anxiety, not because I am traveling alone, but due to the fact I am in full control of how I decide to make use of my time. I do not fear harm from others or calamities. I do fear that solitude of being in the parts unknown make me lose my sense of direction in life, but at the same time, it could also be an opportunity for self-realization. This journey is significant. It is crucial to who I will be in the next few books of my life. I do not seek eternal happiness, but a sense of direction as to who I am and what I need to become. This journey is about discovery of oneself in the midst of a transition from being naive to someone capable. Inspiration from cultures, lives, and people is what I crave from this travel. Our lives are too cluttered with the idea of living a busy life that we tend to lose our humanity. Maybe this trip will inspire the thought of wander. 

"Not all who wander are lost" 

Although this is a defining line for many, one must not forget the rest of the poem.

"Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king." - J.R.R. Tolkien