Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks

“Why am I here?” I harshly inquired to the tightly crammed room full of chain-smoking Egyptian officials.

Ashes smudged their desktops, which were covered in a mess of documents—the unorganized details of bodies moving in, out, and around their borders. This private office, occupying the innards of the terminal authority in the Cairo International Airport, mimicked a boys’ club—a swamp of officers keen on flexing their might and taking full advantage of their positions within a regime bent on suppressing protestations and requiring lagniappe from whomever.

After Oliver was waved through the passport check, the official behind the counter ordered me to step aside and wait as other male travelers continued to be quickly examined. Holding on to my passport, my captor guided me across lines of travelers to a small airport staff room.

“150 pounds,” one stout man demanded flatly without explanation.

“For what, exactly?” I asked in search of a justification.

My passport was likely one of many that would be taken hostage over the course of the day for violations unnamed or imagined out of smoke-choked air. The serious man who brought me to this back room, after examining stamp laden pages of my passport, stood behind a table among his comrades and lit a cigarette. His momentary grin a break from character brought on by the relief of nicotine, the company of tired fellows, the satisfaction of power, or any combination of factors. Whatever brought on this brief baring of teeth scratched at my core sense of justice as my eyes glared at my passport gripped in his grasp.

“150 pounds.”

“I’m not paying you until you tell me what this payment is for,” I firmly stated to the impassive and bored looking official sitting before me, his affiliates staring in annoyance at the interaction already exceeding the allotment of time for this cash exchange.

“You overstay. 150 pounds,” he announced again with only the slightest detectable emotion beginning to show its presence.

Though from the moment I entered the room, I knew I would exit with a lighter wallet, I refused to do so without some show of resistance. Thinking, perhaps, that this man could be caught in a lie.

“No, I did not overstay. How long is a visa valid?”

This question gave him pause and, comically, he turned it back on me.

“What do you think?”

“How long is a visa valid?” I reiterated, in a display of cat and mouse.

The intense lethargy of his stare asserted that he would speak of nothing until I spoke and perhaps assumed a disproportion between our values of time in this current situation; I had a flight to catch and a seized passport; he had another day in the office.

“The visa is for 90 days, is it not?” I asked.

An admission of defeat, each male present witnessing another back and forth that would end in their favor. These days, and perhaps throughout their entire exhausting careers, the resulting outcome always went this way.

“Visa is for 45 days. You overstay. 150 pounds.”

He commanded this statement plainly without eye contact or feeling, but there was a familiarity in his voice as though only the numerical values changed from day to day in this default.

“Fine. I require a receipt for my boss,” I replied sharply, thrusting three 50 pound notes into the outstretched palm of my extorter.

This demand simultaneously irritated and entertained the men in the room. Their chests puffed out, heads held high, blazers emblazoned with medals of some sort of honor, stacks of cash aplenty on the table. The power belonged to them and we all knew it. And the power continues to belong to them and most of us, myself included, are powerless to cease any of it from them. At least not on our own.


Signs of the South

Signs of  the South
Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks

Breath hollowed, a southern suffocation,
the taste of tobacco and Tabasco filters into lungs,
chicory smoke signals sharpening senses,
attuned to the tunes dancing
through a sun bathed breeze in the afternoon.

The streets are covered in glass confetti,
remnants of last night’s debauchery
when stars glittered like spilt liquor on asphalt.

An entire city floods with freaks and foreigners,
sound-weavers, shaman,
the voodoo you can’t do
anywhere but here.

To Mecca, Malta, Malawi

Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks

Smuggling daydreams in knapsacks,
we hop the border between imaginations
and some place we’re told is real.

Existing in this capsule, an aqueous membrane,
a speck, flake, drip drop amidst the mountains of our universe,
we spin without moving our feet, muscles in constant motion
despite our trusted illusion of stillness.

Craving fanciful moments formed in a daze,
the haze of waking life
separates drones from revolutionaries,
the weary from those chasing thrills.

Whenever will the morning unveil the unfamiliar?
Waves undulating at frequencies our senses suddenly render–
purples uncharted, seas unseen.

Following a dotted line,
my feet make a mess of the sands
that once provided directions.

To Mecca, Malta, Malawi,
westward leaning treetops billowing in the breeze,
nowhere is everywhere I’ve been before,
somewhere I’ll be, in between the fabric,
caught in the stitches of winding, wandering reveries.

Ash and Snow

This past winter was a dark one in my life, marked by periods of mourning over loved ones buried and a loneliness more severe than previous snowy seasons. A blessing and tragedy of living far from family is that when crises occurs, I benefit and suffer from a level of detachment due to the distance that separates; I’m no stranger to that sensation and have grown accustomed, perhaps even too comfortable, with my living in my self-prescribed exile. This particular piece was written shortly after my grandmother passed in December and though there isn’t anything especially revealing about the piece, I required some time before being able to share it. My grandmother was a woman bearing such a kind, generous, and warm spirit, and a woman of unshakeable faith; there’s no other person who has made me want to believe in the heavens more than her.

Ash and Snow
Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks

Frailty failed her lungs,
breaths left dangling in the space above her bones,
the dissolved muscles and grey skin drained of its glow–
the absent sting of sunlight an illusion as bold as sunset.

Life rarely leaves lovely behind,
though caskets cling to the remnants
as if at war with soil’s desire to consume.

I’m told there was a mountain behind the funeral procession,
one which begs the imagination to blur colors of ash and snow,
as if they are not the same.

In earth her body lay buried,
wrapped with silk,
drenched in smooth faith.
Her soul in a distant ascension,
legs a reliquary latched to the stairway made of scripture.

Reverie Trails

Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks

Reveries revealing winding trails to doors ajar,
in nights I waltz through forests
to find you in foliage, eyes shining,
the blue glow of our moon dancing
a train of shivers and sentiments across skin,
glazing with goosebumps.

The breeze whistles, beckoning our stride to the seaboard,
sand sprinkling its jagged glass spheres
over our imaginary fairytale.

When we wake, timezones stretched between us,
our nostrils fill with the scent of sea foam
from the shores of where we always meet,
a place we’ve never been before.

These haunting daydreams grip to all hours,
minds lost–wandering through
the thicket of reverie trails.

Romance of the Typewriter

Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks

There’s something so elegant about the typewriter. It’s clicks clacking, paper reeling, disappearing, reappearing with stamps, our words tattooed onto white skin. I miss the pleasure of punching keys; the tragedy of mistakes, the beauty of perfect lettering and alignment. I miss that commotion that typewriters bring to writing, a symphony lacking from my pen. My typewriter remains on its shrine of silk scarves from Bohemia, awaiting the oil of my fingers to beat it back to life. If only my Corona could come with me to whatever seas my diver directs me to.

48 Hours in Busan

Last, last weekend was Korea’s Memorial Day weekend and to celebrate my coworkers Will and David, our friend Amila and myself decided to venture south to the beaches of Busan to soak up the sunshine, dine on fresh seafood and splish-splash in the salty waters of the East Sea.


The journey began late on Saturday night as we took a 3-hour train ride from Seoul to Busan and since there were no seats left on the train we made ourselves comfortable in one of the standing cars. The trip itself went by fairly fast, no doubt with help from the service cart selling beer at the same cheap price as convenience stores (~2,000 won or $1.50). When we finally arrived in Busan, our first mission was to fill up our bellies and after a little bit of roaming around and swiftly moving out of the sketchy Russian quarter, we settled on a small Korean restaurant for some pretty standard grub; I had a bowl of some scrumptious bibimbap that included some raw fish. After having drinks in a different section of the city that kind of reminded us of Hongdae, we decided to make the trek to a nearby jjimjilbong (Korean spa/baths) to wash and sauna off the day and catch some zzz’s.This jjimjilbong was quite nice with multiple hot baths, a large pool and two saunas, and the common room for sleeping was rather large though a little on the discomforting side due to the extra hot temperature.


Waking up around 11 AM feeling fairly well-rested, we hit the sauna, showered and grabbed a quick bite to eat before catching the subway to Gwangalli Beach.

Group shot at Gwangalli Beach (left to right: me, Will, Amila and David)

This beach was absolutely gorgeous and not too overcrowded, which was rather nice. We basically spent the entire day laying on the beach sipping makguelli, taking dips in the ocean to cool-off and grabbing food, coffee and water just across the street whenever the need arose.

Salty East Sea waters

Amila gazing out at the sea and Gwangan Bridge

My sandy toes

On the boardwalk

After beach lounging for several hours, we had all worked up a mighty hunger, but David and I were specifically craving some spicy cold noodles which isn’t exactly everybody’s cup of tea, so we left Will and Amila on the beach to hold our spots and got ourselves some giant bowls of noodles!


All too quickly our day at the beach was turning into night and for the evening hours we made our way to Haeundae Beach, which though I haven’t ever been to Cancun, I feel confident in making the comparison deeming Haeundae essentially to be Korea’s Cancun. Though Haeundae isn’t the kind of beach I prefer, it made for an eventful and amusing night out, and the surrounding area/section of the city was actually a lot of fun for grabbing dinner, drinks and whatever other entertainment seemed necessary, like noraebonging!!

Haeundae Beach by night

For a few hours we sat on the beach near the water playing drinking games and chatting, listening to terrible bands performing on the giant stage that we couldn’t manage to get far away enough from to allow the sea to completely drown out the sound. One game we played was a number/counting game that sounded too easy at first, but surely enough after a few rounds we were all becoming sufficiently goofy off of our beach beverages of choice, especially Amila who had trouble remembering some of her times tables! With the beach growing chilly and our stomachs rumbling, we went inland to find a spot for dinner that we could all agree on, which took far longer than it should, but eventually we settled for a giant pot of seafood stew and it was thoroughly satisfying to say the least.

Remnants of a seafood devouring session

Will and I had been really aching for some singing time so our next destination was a noraebong (singing room). The first place we went to basically refused us, a sometimes occurrence for foreigners just about anywhere, but the woman was very kind and directed us to a different noraebong nearby. Though we were all in attendance, Will and I were total mic hogs, but Amila and David didn’t seem to mind too much! I wish I could remember the entire tracklist for the night, but of what I can recall I know Will and I did a spectacular job with Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” and Queen, Prince, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones and Rick Astley (yes, we rick-rolled ourselves) all happened at some point.

Will, Amila and David at the noraebong…I think the boys were doing “Kung-Fu Fighting”

This might have to be one of my profile pictures for life

The rest of the evening went as most Korean nights do, unpredictably predictable. We walked around exploring the city at night, laughing at the strange sights and generally causing mischief whenever we foreigners could. David and I “played” a little volleyball on the beach and Will and I dared drunk David to run to the top of a sand mountain, which he did. All was magically well until we made it to incredibly beautiful looking, both on the interior and exterior, jjimjilbong we planned to sleep in only to discover that it was full. I didn’t think this was possible and certainly doubted the front-desk women until she allowed me to take a peek at the sleeping area to see if we wanted to stay there still and it literally was the most packed sleeping quarters I’d ever seen in my life. Fortunately jjimjilbongs are a plenty and after a short cab ride we found a place to rest our weary limbs.


For me, Monday began all too abruptly as an adjumma (someday I will go into all that this single word encompasses and signifies, which is a surprising amount, but for now just know that this is the word used to describe a particular and common type of Korean woman, but literally translates to married woman) woke me by shaking and hitting me with a square brick pillow and in a whispered shout said something in Korean that my mind translated to “get up and move now!” This all happened at 9:30 AM, which maybe in my U.S. days would have been a normal waking hour for me, but in Korea I’m lucky if I’m out of bed before 11: 00 AM. Exhausted and off-kilter from waking in the middle of my sleep cycle, I presume, I headed for the sauna in hopes of sweating myself to a state somewhere closer to awake than I was; it half-worked, but I think the cold pool after is what really did the trick. Or maybe just being surrounded by a ton of naked Korean women starring at me is what did it.

Amila and I were ready to go before the boys had even gotten themselves off the floor (somehow they avoided being rudely awakened by some Korean woman), but we managed to all meet-up for some breakfast before returning to Gwangalli Beach to spend yet another day on its glorious sand. Unlike our lazy Sunday, much of Monday was spent in the ocean playing with the volleyball David brought along. It was super fun running around and hitting the volleyball in the salty water and just being in the ocean like that reminded me of how I used to spend my weekends on the Oregon Coast surfing when I was younger. I’m sure I’d be awful at it now as I was never even that good, but I’m actually looking forward to busting out my surfboard when I get back to America and seeing what I can do.

The day was winding down fast and all too soon it was approaching the hour for Amila to catch a train back to Seoul. For our final supper together we grabbed some Mexican food and mojitos at a restaurant with a patio right next to the beach and it was an excellent meal to bid farewell to one of our posse members.

Last supper all together in Busan

From that point, the weekend was already perfect and extremely memorable, definitely among my favorite weekends spent in Korea. I couldn’t really imagine at the time what would’ve made the trip significantly better, but sure enough we came up with something. While eating dinner, the next mission was determined to be to get onto the roof of a building, specifically with our eyes on the linked twin towers that were so intriguing and architecturally attractive in the skyline.

Before embarking on our rooftop adventure though, we checked out a beach carnival that was next to the buildings. It was a quaint operation when it comes to carnivals, but it certainly created some great photo opportunities. I especially loved the bright colors, neon lights and terribly reproduced popular images.

The Crazy Flip


Loving this DISCO light

The sun was destined to set soon and thus we made our attempt to get to the roof of a building near the sea. The first tower we went up to the fifteenth floor and had no luck–every door was locked despite the deserted appearance of the building. With our fingers crossed, we took the elevator to the top floor of the second tower and as the boys turned to head for the stairwell I felt compelled to at least try the doors to the empty office next to the elevator and to my complete shock the doors were unlocked, as were the doors to the balcony overlooking Gwangalli Beach. We were all so ecstatic and simply couldn’t believe that we had discovered a high up in the sky to call ours for a little while. There are few things in life that I call perfect, but that occurrence and our luck in that moment and watching the sunset over the sea and edge of the hills in the distance of the cityscape really was perfect. Spending whatever time we did up there really was the ideal way to end our trip to Busan.

The view from our claimed balcony at Gwangalli Beach

Busan in the evening hours from up above

Well, that concludes the tale of my 48 hours in Busan. As I’ve already said, the trip was amazing and it was so wonderful to see another part of Korea. It’s finally setting in that I’m leaving soon and may or may not be back. It’s going to be difficult to bid this country farewell, it really is.

26 days and counting….

For more photos and higher quality images from my time in Busan as well as my travels throughout Asia, please visit my Flickr.

A month of stories…Day #2

Orange Juice Stains
Written by Chelsea Marie Hicks

With the scent and spray of citrus filling the air, Jacob sliced an orange into six, all unequal parts, originally intending to make it eight but his knife wielding skills and ability to plan for fractions were embarrassingly absent, especially during the breakfast hours before coffee was consumed. Sydney was the queen of the kitchen and not for any reason involving her gender, but rather for reasons revolving around her superior taste-buds and a keen understanding of how to make miracles from basic ingredients. Jacob always knew, in the front of his mind, that should he somehow lose her, his body would subsist off nothing but cornflakes and skim milk–whole sometimes, on days he was especially in need of sustenance. Eating would become a disaster and then too would waking up grow exceptionally difficult, working would soon follow this trend and maybe, most likely, breathing would become a task too impossible. Living without her would be too hard, he thought.

“Do you ever think about how you’re going to die?” Jacob asked as Sydney chewed on a bite of fresh Belgium waffle covered in whipped-cream with bright red chunks of strawberries. There was a smudge of whipped-cream on the side of her lip that she dabbed away with her napkin before speaking.
“Yeah, I think about it all the time,” she laughed before asking him why he asked. He thought about telling her that he would probably kill himself if they ever broke up, but decided to save that sort of threat for someday in the future that he hoped would never come.

“I guess I think about how I’d like to die and then I feel really fucked up for spending a portion of my day wondering about something like that. Do you know how you’d like to die? I mean, ’cause I don’t. And sometimes I think I should, you know?”
“Well, when I was a little girl I loved The Little Mermaid and always thought that drowning would be a beautiful way to die. Seeing all of those creatures and being surrounded by all of the blueness. I don’t know about that now though, I think it’d probably be…be suffocating,” she said this and continued to open the newspaper as though her statement somehow brought a close to this conversation topic and they could now move on to discussing the funniest headlines, something they did every morning over breakfast.

“So wait, do you still want to drown?”
“Well then, what do you want?” Jacob asked, in a voice too forceful for the tint that the sun brought in before the afternoon arrived.
“I…I don’t know. I guess at some point I just started to assume that I would die alone.”
Again, she said this in a manner that was so plain and felt punctuated in a way that suggested that none of this was worth addressing further.
“Alone? You think you’re going to die alone? What about all of your brothers and sisters?”

He refrained from including “what about me?”, but they were both thinking that this was logically the other question not being asked.

“They’ll die before me. I don’t know if I really want to, but I can tell that I’m going to grow very old. Older than you for sure.”
“How can you say that? Why?” He asked her in a voice strained and stressed, his fingers squeezing the wedge of orange in his hand too tightly so that its juice began running down his wrist and was soaked up by his shirtsleeve.
“Well for one, you’re stressed all of the time and that’s not good for the body. Dear, you’re making a mess of your shirt,” she laughed again as she said this and stood up to find a wet rag to clean his sleeve. Without her here, Jacob would have simply let the sweet juice dry and continue wearing his shirt, though the thought of being chased by bees or other insects lusting after the stain on his sleeve would have made him endlessly nervous.

“There,” she remarked as the stain magically moved from his sleeve to the rag, “now please stop worrying about such morbid things, especially this early in the day!”

Sydney began reading headlines that were funny because they told the whole story or contained bad puns or weren’t actually funny at all, but Jacob would laugh anyway because he loved her and that’s what you’re supposed to do when you love someone. Or at least one of the things.

Jacob couldn’t sleep that night as he imagined car crashes where he was the passenger and then the driver, overdosing both accidentally and intentionally, being attacked by wild animals or vicious people or by a child mishandling a weapon they couldn’t even accurately name the model of. He thought about these kinds of incidences and realized that most likely he would die of some disease he never knew existed. Cancer of the feet or frozen lung disease or sleepy brain syndrome perhaps. He wondered if the disease that would take him was already showing signs of itself, like maybe the fact that he couldn’t properly cut an orange was a sign that something was very wrong with his nerves, or whatever the communication pathway is called between your eyes and hands. As he started to sweat in concern for a death that could come tomorrow or forty years from now, his heart began racing and his breathing came close to panic, but then when he breathed in deeply he could feel Sydney’s pulse beating softly and steadily against his bare back, and the light patter soothed him like no medication or advice or answer ever could.

Death would come for them both someday, this was accepted and understood, but there were only so many mornings where the headlines of the newspaper would actually be funny and where breakfast would taste even better than yesterday’s. This, and her heartbeat is what got Jacob to sleep at night.