HOW DID ALL THIS BEGIN?
My initial plan was to teach for a year then return to my computer business I had started and was doing well at. In April 2009, I packed my bags and was on my way to South Korea to teach in a small town called Pyeongteak.
I had no idea what to expect. I was afraid, I was nervous but I was sure it was what I wanted. Fresh out of college what did I have to lose right!
But before I tell you about that, let’s go back, way back where it all started.
Don’t let it go to waste
A friend said to me the other day, Tate, with all your travels maybe you should start putting some of your stuff online. The stuff is years of videos, photos, notes, diary entries, stories of people and all the places I have been to in the past 12 years. You can imagine the amount of stuff.
I told him I just never know were to begin. Where to begin? He asked as he leaned back on his seat. How about at the beginning? – he added before I could say anything else.
And just like that I decided to finally do it, to put everything I can still find out there, including the book I wrote my second time in Korea. Thus I began. And like he said, let’s start at the very beginning.
My name is Tate. I spent my early years without my parents. And I think this is the reason why at 35 years old, I still feel like I don’t belong anywhere. It’s a feeling I have had all my life and if I am honest with myself, I think that’s were it comes from because often times, I feel more comfortable around people I don’t know.
My parents are from Cameroon. They moved to the United States when they were young. They had me, and being young parents who hadn’t experienced their lives, they decided that I was better off with my grandparents.
I found myself without them in Cameroon. It was me, my grandfather, his dozen children and my grandmother. So, I spent the first nine years of my life not knowing anything about my parents. Only that they were in the United States.
I went to school as instructed. Listened to my grandparents, did my chores and did extra chores for an over zealous uncle who felt I was his personal servant as well. Until this day I can’t stand him but that’s another story. I am sure we all have that one family member.
My over active imagination did not always allow me to focus and study well. So I just made sure to get the B+ grades in my classes to ensure I didn’t get a whooping from my grand-dad. His motto and constant reminder that education is everything has stayed with me until today.
As he read and loved books, so did I and as he went off to explore the woods, so did I and as a kid without parents, he meant everything to me. He was a great man and a mentor. It went on like that for as long as I can remember.
And when I left for the city before I was to board my flight to the United States to finally be with my parents, I did not understand because to me, he was my parent and I did not want to leave him. My greatest fear at the time was that I would not get to see him again. And while in my dorm room in college, the same year I was graduating, that fear was realized.
I had never cried in my adult life until the day he passed in 2008. No pain and suffering has topped the pain I felt that day. He was gone and although I got to speak to him two weeks before his death, I was distraught.
It was one of the longest talks I had on the phone with him, something was up and he knew. He said my things I did not understand at the time. And he reminded me of one of his lines he used often as a kid. On the day I left he said to me, “you are meant to do things I wasn’t able to because times were different when I was in my youth”. And I believed these words as the bumpy road swung the car left to right as the rain beat the ground like a short tempered child. We arrived at the airport in Douala (largest French side city of Cameroon).
Scared, excited, yearning, confused and so many emotions went through my body. I did not know what to expect. I had only seen pictures of my parents, heard their voices rarely through the phone. It wasn’t like today with infinite means of communication. In the early 80s and 90s, there weren’t so many options.
Welcome to ATL
I arrived at Hartsfield International airport in Atlanta. It had not been changed to Hartsfield-Jackson international airport as it is called today. It was busy and I easily could have gotten lost if it wasn’t for a really nice flight attendant who looked after me until the hand over to my parents.
I saw them from a distant. I walked closely to the flight attendant. I was in awe at the airport. The many lights, noises, people and so much that was going on scared, fascinated and surprised me all at once. I was a stranger. And I had just read the book by Albert Camus and I could hear the echo of my grandfather’s voice, “you too are not meant to play the game, create your own path in this world and follow it without making excuses”. We got closer to them.
Meet the parents
My mother was short and a bit bigger than the pictures I had seen. She was not like I remembered her. She had aged and the American lifestyle of consumerism had taken a toll on her. She had a pleasant expression as she smiled though with a bulging gap between her two front teeth. She was wearing a black suite jacket with a blue shirt with silver-like buttons around the neck with long pants. I kept thinking how healthy she looked.
At the time all I could think of was how rich they must have been. In most of Africa, fat represents wealth. It means you are able to eat well and live well and thus you gain weight.
My father also wore a suit jacket with a black t-shirt jeans and white shoes. He had a normal expression and I could not tell what type of person he was. I knew him the least. It was literally the first time meeting him.
Fast forward a few years and I still don’t know a thing about my father. We just never got on. He wasn’t into the sports I liked like football, American football etc. He was a baseball and tennis type and we just never found that common thing.
The longer I lived with my parents, the more that feeling grew of wanting to be somewhere else, exploring, living and doing my own thing. There was always a feeling of not belonging. I didn’t know what the feeling was at the time but I felt it there, deep in my heart.
Middle school came and went; it was a breeze. Became a geek, took apart some computers at home while reading some books on windows, built a few gaming computers, played some Mortal Kombat and Killer instincts on Snes and Crash on play station with some friends. That was pretty much middle school.
High school was about the same, except I was a better athlete, soccer mostly; thought of myself slightly cooler, (keyword thought of lol) grew some facial hair, became focused because I knew my parents didn’t save for my college. So it was either I get myself there or get a job. I wanted very much to go to college so I horned my soccer/football skills and eventually got a scholarship.
University didn’t change that feeling of wanting to get away. In fact, it grew as I met students from around the world. Korean, Chinese, Norwegian, Swedish, Greece and so many students that attended my university taught me just as much as my professors.
Like the plans I made in middle school, I studied English literature and self studied computer engineering. And since I had also horned my skills building computers while in high school, I turned my focus on designing websites in college. That was another way I supported myself through college.
Whle in college:
1. I got to go to Brazil to play soccer there and my love for travel grew even more. I was 19 years old playing football in Sorocaba. It is still one of my best momories.
2. Got selected as McNair Scholar – I did research for the university and presented my findings at other universities.
3. Met many students that showed my that life was just as great where they came from and my desire to get out of college and see the world wasn’t as expensive as I thought.
When I graduated, I worked for my university, Georgia Southern University, as a web developer. While working there I realized two things. The first was that for a new graduate, I was underpaid at $10 an hour. The second, was that I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. So I started adding to the little I had saved. Taught myself to how stocks and stock options worked among other things.
Then I started looking into ways to travel the world. I read numerous articles and ran into a number of blogs. I read Chris Butts’s blog – Chris in South Korea it was called, Time Ferris, Rolf Potts (later on) and I remembered a conversation that I had with one Korean student at the international club at my university. He said to me that many Canadian graduates were often in his home town in Seoul teaching English.
I started looking at jobs teaching english and I started to talk about it with friends and former professors. And I remember one of my favorite professors Dr. Dudley saying, “you are going to stand ooout” quite a bit in Korea.
When I told my mother she said, Korea, what are you crazy? A lot of my friends were more to the point, Don’t do it dude, get a job and start making some money. You are just running away from the real life but you gonna have to face it one day.
And you know what, they were right, well, to some extent at the time. But as I sit here and write this year’s later, I like to think I was right by making my choice, my decision and taking control of my life.
The more I travel the more I wanted to keep traveling. I have traveled 65 countries as I write this. My goal is to hit 120+ then take a break, and go after my dream of owning a hostel before continuing.
I quite my job and I went home to Atlanta, leaving behind my university town that was no longer appealing as an employee of the university rather than a student, I could hear my grandfather’s voice in my head always saying, yes this is it, go go go and see the world, forge your own path.
A month later, I was offered a job in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. I accepted and began running back and forth to get the paper work in order. April 2009, I left the USA. 12 years later I am still traveling and supporting it teaching English.
But to make sure they (friends and everyone who said, “don’t do it”) weren’t right, after teaching in Pyeongtaek for a year I went back home. I was in Atlanta then to New York since I hadn’t been there in some time.
I fell in love with New York the first I went while on vacation from Korea.
So after my year in Korea, and after visiting Atlanta for 6 months, I took off. I took off to New York my defacto home and there I met a family that lived in Aulnay Sous Bois, 20 minutes outside of Paris. The kindest people I have met in all my travels.
And before my stay in New York City was over, they had invited me to France. I went and later found myself in Portugal, Spain, Germany and so many countries in Europe trading stocks (another hobby of mine that has become very liberating) to fund my journey; I had explored the countries I wanted to see so I decided to return to U.S after 11 plus months in Europe. And my base while traveling all over Europe remind in Aulnay Sous Bois, I came and left and the family I met in New York always had their doors open for me.
Then I moved to Germany for a bit, then back to South Korea, then from Korea back to Europe, then Asia and explored as much as I could.
THen I was off to South America, explored for months then I took a teaching English job in Saudi Arabia. After nearly three years there, I took a job in Dubai. I have been in Dubai now for 3 years.
Follow and see where I will go next
I have kept my rule that if I have stayed in a place less than 3 days, I do not count it and the rest, well, I will attempt to put it all on this blog.