Tag Archives: travel

I’ve been traveling since May, which is why it’s been so quiet here. But having been on the road for less than three weeks, I had lots to learn and experience. It was also my birthday yesterday, hence the need to write something.

The story of my life. @_@ #adaptordie

A photo posted by Catherine Young (@catherinesarahyoung) on May 14, 2016 at 10:35pm PDT


Starting in Graz, Austria, I felt that my life was like the charger for my Macbook Pro. I have to adapt each time, adding another block to my already modular one. I was happy to spend some time in this lovely and idyllic city, where I lived in a convent (the irony is not lost here) while watching Game of Thrones and Eurovision clips on my downtime, and spent time with friends and colleagues.

A photo posted by Catherine Young (@catherinesarahyoung) on May 21, 2016 at 7:45am PDT


In Amsterdam, the Netherlands, I learned about roadblocks, challenges, and unexpected friendships. I was there as a finalist for a sciart competition. My team lost (bummer) but it was a great experience and I loved meeting the researchers I was working with. We even went to the coast to do some field work. It was awesome! I can’t say much about the project now (since not winning means we actually have more time to work on our proposal), but I’m happy to still have determined collaborators. Did I mention I love postdocs?


I came home from the Hague (where the competition was) to Amsterdam in a sad daze, because I was exhausted physically (I fly on at least 10 flights on this trip—more on this later), emotionally (I was sad to lose a competition yet excited for my next gig and for all the new experiences I was having), and intellectually (it takes a lot of brain power to come up with mildly interesting ideas, you guys). Amsterdam could have been another impersonal city, yet  strangely I met a number of new friends in the ten days I was there, largely because of the broad spectrum of emotions I was on. Having setbacks means gaining more time, and I was determined to learn new things. I even learned how to bike! (This is one of my worst nightmares, and more on this in a future post as I’m still recovering).


I’m writing this in Bogota, Colombia, where I will soon be en route to another residency in a nearby city, Medellin, for an art residency about The Apocalypse Project, which I happily sense I’m doomed to do forever. Bogota has been a very interesting city to explore. It feels like Manila, where I am from, in a lot of ways, yet also very unique. This is my first time in South America, and I’m incredibly excited for this new adventure. The food is incredible, the graffiti is spectacular, and I’m always thrilled when I realize there is still so much of the world I know nothing about. Many people have cautioned against coming here, fearing for my safety. I think this is why I was even more determined to go. So far, the people have been nothing other than kind and respectful to me. Asians are a rarity here, but at least they look and don’t touch (unlike in some other places, ahem!). We can breed less hate in the world by getting to know our imagined enemies. Plus, Bogota and Manila are very similar in many ways, and so Colombia’s risks are those I’m familiar with.


For more than ten years, I’ve been floating around the world like this. My Spanish-speaking friends often use the word “inquieta”—restless. I’ve met so many people I care so much about yet I’m not even sure if I’ll ever see them again. Do nomads love more because precious moments are fleeting, and are they loved less because they represent man’s natural restless and curious spirit—a three-dimensional breathing Hallmark card their absent friends can lock away in their memories? Each hello and goodbye feels like an echo of the many journeys I have made before.  I love traveling the world, yet I know one day I would want to pick a place to stay put for a while.


My suitcase (which finally broke and is being held with tape) is packed and I return the keys of another hotel tomorrow. The journey continues! Turning another year isn’t so bad.

This art/science residency is winding down, and my penchant for sentimentality is going up. At the risk of sounding like a Buzzfeed listicle, here are some of the smaller, yet unforgettable moments. Most of these images were taken using a crappy smartphone, but hey, I’ll take it. I’d like to remember Singapore, the fifth country I’ve lived in, with this hodgepodge of memories:

1. The constant mixture of cultures as well as the combination of the traditional and modern.

This guy in Balinese dress was on his smartphone during an intermission. This was a student performance at NUS.

20131120_203343This cosplayer on a photo shoot and the class happening a few feet away. (I’m unsure what the latter is, and I didn’t want to interrupt them. If you think you know what this is, let me know in the comments. I’d like to be enlightened.) This was at Singapore’s Japanese Garden.


One of my favorite works in the Asian Civilisations Museum: “Mustafa” is written in sini script using a Chinese brush, by a Muslim Chinese calligrapher.

4 A DSC09250

2. Random people working out.

This guy doing a handstand near the Singapore Art Museum. 

20130925_143032Or these skateboarders at Esplanade Station. They remind me of those outside the MACBA in Barcelona.


3. Seeing Venus.

Ok, I’ve definitely seen this before. Let me clarify: seeing Venus and knowing it’s Venus. Thanks to the Meetup group that organized this at the Singapore Science Centre.

20131025_2002574. Random things that grew in my apartment.

This seedling peeked out of my kitchen sink.


A second mushroom  sprouted in my shower.


5. Professor Greg Clancey’s cat, Misty, who lives next door to me at Tembusu College.

She went from being scared of me to not caring when I walked past.


6. Being at my desk at the Future Cities Lab and seeing the people walking up and down the stairs.

The lab occupies the sixth and seventh floors. I think that how they use the stairs reflects their personalities.


(On that note, seeing this guy repeatedly use the hand rail as a ballet bar is the reason why I stopped touching it.)

7. Attending lectures for the sheer enjoyment of them. 

Such as this one by Pico Iyer sponsored by Yale-NUS at UTown.

Pico Iyer

Or this one by Jonathan Ledgard at the Future Cities Laboratory, whose book, Giraffe, I read and loved last year.

Jonathan Ledgard

8. Working with scientists. 

I loved seeing their less academic side. Like so:

The Apocalypse Project smell mask

9. Getting into emoji chats with my taekwondo master in Korea (since we still can’t understand each other). 

I love my current project the most, but I definitely adjusted faster in Seoul.


Hurray for Kakao Story! Thanks to interaction design, communication between two people who do not speak the other’s language is completely possible. Guess who did pass her second degree black belt test after all. Now to figure out how to ship it to me. Hmm.


10. Holding Apocalypse Workshops and getting into uncontrollable fits of laughter.

Because, well…


This gig went by too fast, too soon. I’m in the goodbye-presents-and-thank-you-notes stage. Wasn’t I just doing this a few months ago? Vagabond problems, oh dear.

So I’ve decided to move to South Korea. Seoul, to be precise.

When I tell my friends I’m moving to Korea, I have three common reactions:

Common reactions to my move to Korea

Common reactions to my move to Korea

But seriously, it’s to do an art residency in Seoul. While it will be my fourth home city (“home” being anywhere I’ve lived in for at least six months because really, it’s probably the only criterion I have left), it’s my first time to live in East Asia.

Seoul, my fourth home city

Seoul, my fourth home city

A big part of choosing South Korea among all other countries is, duh, taekwondo, which I have realized has way more impact on my creativity than I think I give it credit for. Yes, I expect training after studio hours to be the most badass there, so I have high expectations for Dojang/School #15 and Sabonim/Master #29.

Korea, land of taekwondo. Oh la la! Hurray!

Korea, land of taekwondo. Oh la la! Hurray!

I only had a few weeks to pack as much Korean in my head as I possibly could, as I don’t think taekwondo terms will help much. For future expats in Korea, check out the incredibly helpful and hilariously engaging videos of Eat Your Kimchi and SweetAndTasty, which I’ve also written about in a previous post.

Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi

Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi


Professor Oh and Friends

Thanks to the internet, I have come with things like deodorant, bedsheets*, and bras that will fit me—things that are apparently very hard to find in Korea.

Things I was advised to pack

Things I was advised to pack

And so the past two weeks were of doing what I now call The Expat Thank-You and Farewell Rounds (Part 7) of saying goodbye and having conversations with close friends and mentors. Closing another chapter through conversations, no matter how short that chapter was, is important to me, hence the lightning round of brunches, coffees, lunches, dinners, and drinks that make me question the human need of saying farewell over carbs. It’s quite sad to leave again, but I choose to look on the bright side. I am looking forward to uninterrupted time of continuing my work in a country that values tradition, skin care, and taekwondo as much as I do. Woohoo!

Ciao, friends! See you soon!

Ciao, friends! See you soon!

In the past nine years, I’ve always headed out west, and so this should be quite an adventure. Truthfully, it kind of feels like I’m going to another planet, or a parallel universe. I’m going to pretend the entire country is a dojang to minimize any untoward cultural misunderstandings. The bowing, the removal of shoes before getting in the room, shaking hands while touching your elbow—I’ve been doing this in taekwondo for the past 16 years.

Thanks to taekwondo, I feel that the chances of me unwittingly insulting a local are radically decreased.

Thanks to taekwondo, I feel that the chances of me unwittingly insulting a local are radically decreased.

It seems like only six months ago when I packed up my life and said goodbye.

Oh wait, it was.

Well, here goes nothing.

*Edit: So I’m here in my studio and they DO have bedsheets, or at least something that covers the bed. What the hey, internets. 

Up, up, and away!

I think the flying bug just caught me, you guys! Full disclosure: I was just a passenger on this ultralight (my first taste of a non-commercial flight), though the captain let me work the controls a bit when we were up there. I’ve been traveling for years, but this is the only time I’m actually considering the possibility of being at the controls.

And hey, I don’t even drive.

More updates (as well as how this ties to art, science, design, and everything else I do) soon!


Barcelona Kawaii (December 2009), Digital illustration

Blessed are hard drives, for they shall reveal files gathering digital dust.

I did this digital illustration years back, for an exhibit called “Des de Fora” (From the Outside) in Sants, Barcelona. It was a time when I was getting over the hump of learning Adobe Illustrator. I completely forgot about this drawing! But I suppose this influenced my doodling habit later on.

The theme reflects on being a foreigner in Barcelona; I wanted to portray the increasingly multicultural nature of one of my favorite cities in the world. Futbol, Feast of St. George, Bicing, Gaudi architecture, etc. are all things I will remember Barcelona for.

It was also the year that it snowed in Catalunya for the first time in years:

Snow in Barcelona (March 2010)

It was also a time when I saw double AND triple rainbows on the day my friends and I were eating calçots and writing poetry:

Double rainbows over Barcelona (April 2010)

Look closely: Triple rainbows!

I t was also the time I was first part of the Poetry Brothel in Barcelona, which was probably one of the most influential times of my life from a creative standpoint and made me look at science from the point of view of poetry:

getting made up by Violet (Photo by Joe Wray)

I accidentally unearthed that cheongsam / qi pao the other day and was quite amazed by the wear and tear it had to withstand amidst all those poetry readings and performances.

I’ve been in Manila for five months now, and it’s been a time of looking at the city I grew up in from the outside. Despite living in multiple countries for so long, cities never fail to surprise me.

Perhaps, like cities, poetry whores, and the weather, humans, too, can pause and look at ourselves from the outside.

It’s just one of those days.

A winter sky in Reykjavik, Iceland

First, a thank you to science. The researchers who have, by the scientific method, concluded that travel is indeed good for creativity. Pop the champagne! It’s not just the coincidence of people like Hemingway, Stein, Picasso and company who produced creative work while having well-stamped passports.

In 2009, William Maddux of the business school INSEAD and Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management, reported their results in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. They subjected 155 American business students and 55 foreign ones studying in the US to a creativity test called the Duncker candle problem. These students were given a candle, matches, and a box of drawing pins. They were then asked to attach the candle to a cardboard wall such that no wax would drip on the floor when the candle was lit. Maddux and Galinsky found that 60% of students who had lived abroad solved the problem, while only 42% of those who had not lived abroad did so.

For the past eight years, I have lived abroad. I have moved countries and changed lives for a total of six times. It does not get any easier, for goodbyes are never something I look forward to. It does, however, get more routine. It is a cycle that I think will repeat itself ad nauseum for most of my adult life.

For me, it is important to use travel for creative purposes. It’s the only way I can justify the price of a plane ticket and rising rent; I must use that time to further my projects. And so I try to make each trip count, making sure I have more to show for my trip other than photos to be uploaded online. The professions I now claim are many—one can read scientist, journalist, editor, visual artist, poet, student, communications director, graphic and interaction designer in my increasingly eclectic resume. Perhaps because one word can mean a variety of things in different countries, I have long been wary of labels and instead choose to tell stories about the projects I have run. (An example of which is DrawHappy, which will be in the Learning section every Monday. Go draw!)

Naturally, a thank you to the cities. I can recall stories, experiences, mishaps, and projects in in every one of them. Manila, Barcelona, and New York—places I have lived long enough to call home—are all port cities. They have been among the intersections of migratory or trading routes of humanity. All have very diverse cultures and colorful histories. Each time I return, I find that many things have changed. The dissolving streets, weather, landmarks, and people have all, in their minuscule ways, contributed to my worldview and identity. Each city’s definition of beauty has given me the impetus to compare and contrast their sunsets, cloud formations, art, and architecture. It is difficult to be a traveler without reading and rereading Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities), Jorge Luis Borges (everything), and Sun Tzu (The Art of War) as though they would give me a refresher course on the world, as though they were operating manuals for a life on the road.

Third, thank you to the cities’ inhabitants, particularly those who have opened their hearts and homes to someone who occasionally did not speak their language or understand their ways. The first time I traveled, I was more acutely aware of how different they were from how I was raised, from the food to the accents, the government, and the customs. My notions of what was “right” and “acceptable” were gutted and destroyed. Each city and country has the same familiar struggles and questions about government, national identity, and race. The more I traveled, the more I realized that human beings are more similar than different. Today, some of my best friends include those whose communications with me have necessitated dictionaries and Google Translate. Language and culture stop becoming barriers and instead become bridges.

But thank you, too, to the ones who have made me feel like I was “The Other.” The ones who have made me feel ostracized and have made me uncomfortable. It has taught me endurance, humility, and patience. I think the best way to judge a person’s character is how he treats you when he underestimates you. It has taught me to be grateful for everything I have and accomplished, and to focus on the important things.

Thank you to the grants, schools, and organizations that have given me purpose. I always hit the ground running once the plane has landed in order to accomplish the things I promised the powers-that-be I would do. My most recent stint was to do my MFA in Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts, which was made possible by a generous grant from Fulbright. I learned to work through bad weather, sickness, ungodly hours, and alternate time zones. To this day it’s difficult for me to be idle. Creative travel, especially those involving contracts, has taught me accountability, responsibility, and a heightened sense of time.

Thank you, too, for all the things that have gone wrong. When you are out of your comfort zone, the things you fear will go wrong often will. I have taken detours, lost friends, and given up significant things for the choices I have made. Everything becomes a tool for teaching me something, whether it’s something as small as an iffy Internet connection, or something more devastating as losing relationships. It has taught me to let go of material things, because many are just too darn hard to pack.

While I can’t say that traveling is constantly great and wonderful, I know that I have always been changed by it, and that I would never have reached this level of personal and professional growth had I chosen to be anchored in one place. Not all travelers are creative, and not all creative people are travelers. (And that’s ok.) But for me, traveling has taken me outside of myself and opened worlds I never knew existed. It has been kind so far; it has taught me that the world is my home.


Five Ways to be A Creative Traveler (Passport not always required)

1. Try something new everyday. It doesn’t need an expensive plane ticket to have the mindset of a traveler. Even the office that you have been walking into for the past ten years can be a venue for personal growth. Try a new spot to work in, a different flavor of cereal, or a new email password. The fact that your mind is jolted to the newness can trigger your creativity.

2. Learn a new language. Last March, the New York Times reported that people who know more than one language have been shown to be smarter. While I suppose multilingualism is inherent for most Filipinos, I guarantee your mind will be squeezed (in a good way) when you try a language that is far removed from what you usually know. Try Russian, Hebrew, German, Bisaya, or any language with an unfamiliar pattern. You will learn not just grammar and vocabulary, but also the culture of a people in that way.

3. Reserve at least 15 minutes of your day for a creative habit. I would strongly recommend using the same medium, such as writing, drawing, photography, etc. That way, if you look back at your work after a month, you would realize that these small multiples add up to an awesome project. Put them all on a blog and help inspire other people, too.

4. Read everything. Don’t limit yourself to a certain genre. If you like science fiction, read the occasional children’s book. If you read novels, make time for a biography. Books are the windows to the world—past, present, and future. The more possibilities you realize, the more you will break through creative blocks.

5. Have a conversation with a stranger. While you’re at it, don’t limit yourself to the same type of people you spend time with. Make friends with those whose daily routines are radically different from yours. If you are usually stuck in the office all day, have coffee with someone who is always on his feet and outdoors. If you have conservative beliefs, talk to someone whose worldview is the complete opposite. You will discover that there is so much more to life than the things you are accustomed to.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Learning Section, page H4, on 6 August 2012, and on their online edition on 5 August 2012. 

Returning to a city after many years is both pleasurable and vexing.

You are both resident and stranger. The shapes, sounds, and smells have both changed and remained the same.

My three major “homes” so far—Manila, New York, and Barcelona—are all port cities. In both historic and modern times, they have been the site of international trade, cultural intermixing, and political upheavals. Their faces dissolve and stabilize with the ebb and flow of both tide and time.

I am reminded of Cities of You, a beautiful project by Brian Foo, a web developer and “joy evangelist” whom I first encountered online when he submitted a sketch for DrawHappy.

Cities of You is a project that envisions people as imaginary places. It was inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Each artwork represents a person and also a relationship. Brian writes:

“I travel through each city and describe their special properties—how the buildings are built, how the people live, its history, culture, and reputation. As the project progresses, I revisit some cities, describing how they evolve over time or enter unexplored parts of the cities. The intended result is to be able to imagine relationships as dynamic spaces in which one can visit, walk through, and explore.”

I enthusiastically backed his Kickstarter project, which surpassed his initial goal of $2,000 and raised $11,000. The project is the publication of the first 41 cities he designed. His book is a gorgeous labor of love, alive with drawings, paintings, and prose. An overwhelming response from his supporters also led him to upgrade all the rewards, including a lifetime of gifts. (Yes, you read that right. I and 140 other backers are looking forward to receiving annual presents for the rest of our lives.)

Cities of You, volume 1. Image by Brain Foo via his Kickstarter project page

A couple of weeks ago,  Brian drew me as a city, too. Voila, I’m City #44! It’s quite an honor. Even though we haven’t known each other for very long, I think he nailed it:

“If you walk through the city of Orynnaci, the buildings are tall, bare, and ordinary. However, if you stare at a building, look away, then look back again, the building may change. Or sometimes, a building can disappear, or merge with another one. As a tourist, you may begin to recognize past cities you have visited if you stare long enough. Some buildings lose their form entirely. Walk down Main Street and you will see most citizens standing still with their head tilted back, tracing shapes with an outstretched arm. On the face of city hall, three words are inscribed in Latin, loosely translating to ‘Imagination, Perception, Metaphor’.” —Brian Foo

City #44: Orynnaci
24 x 18″, Gouache and Colored Pencil on Paper
Image and Text copyright by Brian Foo

Visit the project’s site here.