Check out Sarah's pages here to get a glimpse into her time in Hong Kong and Kobenhavn. Here's some dribblings from our Skype session last week:
Coat[e]Rak: So what did you do today?
Sarah Chae: So I have two freelance gigs. Before, I used to work full time for General Assembly, there’s one in Chicago, so I did that until the beginning of this year, but I switched to part-time freelancing around June so I do a bit of that. My other gig I work for this woman who has her own company as a creative digital strategist, I’m still trying to figure out all that lingo. Today was my day with her. I work with her on Mondays, or at least 8 days a week….oh sorry, ha. 8 days a month..
CR: You got The Beatles on your mind.
SC: I do! So yeah, today is my day with her. We were going to do a little photoshoot today but that got rescheduled so. But I’m learning creative strategy from her and she’s kind of also been this amazing mentor slash boss. I’ve only worked for her 3 months now, but I’ve learned so much. So I do a bit of research for her and coordinating with whatever she needs help on. I think her company has been around for about a year but she wants to see if she can expand it more.
CR: That’s so great. I like what you had written about enjoying the freelance life and the ability to be flexible, but then have this deep-seated desire to be settled somewhere and have a 9-to-5. I feel like a resonate with that a lot - wanting both. Having flexibility and the time to travel anywhere, but then wanting to have a place to really call home. How long have you been in Hong Kong for now?
SC: 2 years in December.
SC: Yeah. I can’t believe it. We were only gonna be here 7 months, but...here we are still.
CR: What does Zechariah [Sarah’s husband] do?
SC: He’s a kindergarten teacher. He’s learning a lot of patience, which is good, because he’s married to me. He gets a lot of practice during the day then gets more with me.
CR: So has he been doing that for two years?
SC: Yeah. He’s been doing that now for two years and almost done with his third year which is crazy. We’ll see what happens. He’s looking to transition out and find something else to do. There’s going to be a lot of changes this year, I just have no idea where we’re going to be this time next year.
CR: That’s kind of exciting and terrifying.
SC: Yeah. I feel like we say this every year. I’ve learned to accept that we can’t plan everything. Which is really hard for me because I love planning. We literally don’t know where we’re going to living in 8 months.Which is kind of freaky, but fun.
CR: Do you have any ideas? Whimsical or otherwise?
SC: Right now we’re trying to decide if we’re going to stay in Hong Kong. Here’s the thing about being married to me, and to Zechariah: You learn how selfish you are when you get married. When we were dating, I knew he was from Hong Kong, and I was from Chicago, but for some reason you just think - and everything does work itself out - but since we were dating this has always been kind of the biggest issue of home. For me, Chicago suburbs, total home for me. Even though that sounds like, “Oh, who would want to live in the suburbs?” But I dream of living in the suburbs. I just really miss grass and having a car and going to school. Being able to go to Starbucks. You know, Starbucks here you only get 30 minutues of free wifi.
SC: Yeah, so it’s pretty terrible.
CR: Do they have other coffee shops?
SC: There are, but everything is just so crowded here. You either work in a coworking space or just stay home. There are some cafes you can go, but most freelancers work out of coworking spaces. But anyway, for me, suburbs is home and that’s just what I grew up thinking was home and was going to be home. And he’s from Hong Kong where he lives in this seaside village overlooking the water and there’s mountains behind us. And I just grew up with grass and it’s Illinois so there’s...really nothing.
CR: There are prairies, which are beautiful.
SC: Yeah. That’s true. Prairies. But I think both of us are reverting back to what’s comfortable with us and what we grew up with. Hold on a sec...I have to turn on the air conditioning. It’s October, but it is so hot.
CR: What’s the temperature there like? Because in your pages you mentioned it being sweltering.
SC: Yeah. Let’s see. It is currently 81 degrees.
CR: Wow. And it’s 10’oclock at night there?
SC: Yeah. The other day Zechariah and I were just looking at each other and I asked him, “How do we work?”. How does this happen? We’re from such different parts of the earth, yet we still work. So we’re trying to figure out - do we stay in Hong Kong? Do we move back to the States? Part of me feels like it’s not time yet to go back to the States. But then at the same time, it’s just home for me. Right now, without kids, and even if we had kids, after being here for 2 ½ years, I’d be open to have our children grow up “overseas”. Especially with the world becoming smaller, and being in a place that allows for a lot of diversity and travel means a lot to us.
CR: Does Zechariah’s family live around there, then?
SC: His sister is living with us for a bit, and his family just moved to Dallas [TX] because his dad just got a new job. So they’ve been over there for a little over a year now.
CR: Is the town you’re living in the town he grew up in?
SC: Yeah. This is their family home we’re living in. So it’s very sentimental. We thought about moving elsewhere in Hong Kong. But the thing about Hong Kong, too, is that rent is just insane. The space, too, is tiny. We keep picking these kinds of places to live in, because New York was insane and Hong Kong is more insane, rent-wise and property-wise. But the good thing about living here is that you can find really delicious food for really really cheap, whereas in New York you could get by pretty cheaply, but it’d be bagels and dollar coffees everyday. Which isn’t bad, that’s good too.
CR: You have your Masters now, too, right?
SC: Yeah, I did a program called Narrative Medicine.
CR: Whoa. What does that mean?
SC: I don’t know!
CR: It sounds so magical. “Narrative Medicine”. If I ever went into Medicine it would definitely be “Narrative Medicine”.
SC: Oh my gosh, you’d be so good for the program!
CR: What is it?
SC: So everyone has their own definition of it and that’s the blessing and curse of it. For me, gosh, I haven’t talked about or thought about this in forever, but it’s a beautiful program and straddles the general graduate school but also dips into the medical school. A lot of our curriculum is based on suffering and illness and death and dying. It’s kind of like a secular seminary, which is how i ended up viewing it. You have a lot of people who use it as a stepping stone to medical school. It’s bringing humanity back to medicine. A lot of times in med school they teach you to look at the symptoms, but not the whole story. Anytime you go to a doctor, or even a lawyer, or any other kind of service provider role, you’re kind of left with feeling like, “Ok, I just said all these things about how I’m feeling about what I’ve been experiencing but you haven’t really listened to me”. So listening is a huge part of what we study. Qualitative research. Oral history, oral learning. And writing is a huge focus. It’s kind of hard to define what it is. And that’s what I was talking about in one of those pages, I kind of wish I could just have labels for what I feel and what I’m doing. Not to say that saying you’re “doing law”, that you don’t have to explain that. But I feel like there’s a lot of things that I’ve chosen to put myself through that requires a lot of explaining and I look back and think - why did I do this to myself?
CR: Oh my gosh. Same.
SC: But I think during the program that my body was in the right place and that what we were learning I need to hear and go through and learn. Now it’s just putting the pieces together. I’m sure a year from now I’ll be able to look back and say - oh yeah, I needed to do that to get to where I am now. But right now it all feels very...aaahhhh.
CR: Yeah, like - that was great, that was fun...now what? I don’t know, but I feel better for it. That sounds super interesting. And that was at Columbia [NY]?
SC: Yeah, a total 180 from Wheaton [College, IL].
CR: So what’s the village like where you live?
SC: It’s very traditional. Here you have to be a part of the traditional group or be a part of the family to own the property where we live, so we can’t actually own where we live because we’re not a part of the group. It’s pretty tribal in that way. When I first visited Zecheriah, it felt a bit like Europe, because the homes are really, what you would imagine little villages in France or even Greece, to look like. Most of them are three stories and have rooftops and they’re all concrete. We’re on a hill so when you go up to the rooftop you can see all the other homes around you. Out where we live, it’s pretty famous for being a place for people who want to escape from the city life and the concrete jungle and experience nature. So we offer them canopy bike rides, hikes in the mountain, kayaking or boating. There’s a big reservoir with a really beautiful path you can just bike on or walk. And people are barbequing out here. Our village has a ton of stray cats. That’s probably the reason why we don’t have crazy amounts of insects and mice. Because the cats play with them... and kill them. There’s a woman who feeds all the village cats. Sometimes when I leave early in the morning to catch the early bus, and you go through these little alleyways and there’s Ms. Soh with 18 cats, feeding them individually. And it’s like, Wow. There’s a lot of cats here. And they’re so well fed and happy.
CR: So what is your friend community like there?
SC: This has actually been on my mind a lot. Because there are friends you grew up with or went to college with where you have some kind of very deep and rooted connection. Versus friends you make in your 20s. It’s really different. I feel like friendships can be a lot more flaky. Here there aren’t that many Americans, either. There are more Canadians and Brits, which is great. I used to be enthralled by the English accents, but after a while I was like - can you just speak American?? I miss it.
CR: Let’s put a nasal tone on it. Flatten it out.
SC: Friendships are hard, man.
CR: They really are. Especially as you get older. Even here in Chicago, where I live it’s really easy to meet new people - there are hubs of people my age. But there’s often so many other things to do, especially in Chicago, that it becomes really hard for someone to choose to start investing in a new friendship. I find myself doing that now, too, which I hate, because I love meeting new people and gaining new perspectives and having new friends. Which is good sometimes to just be reclusive for a bit, but I notice it, overall, as a culture. Once you “have your people” you aren’t really interested in acquiring new ones. People are busy. For example, my friend Jena, who I featured last week, she’s the DJ…
SC: Oh yeah, she’s hilarious.
CR: Yeah. She’s a new friend. I just met her and we both wanted to be friends, so we just decided to be. She was saying that when she first moved into the city, and went to a bar with her roommate, there was this female bartender they were bantering with and connecting with. So when the bartender was getting of work, Jena asked her for her phone number to hang out, and the woman was like, “Oh, I’m married”. And Jena was like, “No, I’m not trying to hit on you. I just want to be friends”. To which the bartender replied, “No, I mean, I’m married. I’m very busy.” I feel like that just encompasses that whole mentality. Friendships can be hard. That’s why I treasure the friends I have already. Sometimes it’s nice to have times to just focus on just investing in that. I know it’s hard for you being so far away to call or Skype.
SC: But that’s also good, too. If your friendship can make it through long distance, you can make it through anything.
CR: I wanted to say that reading your pages was like watching one of my favorite shows, like Gilmore Girls. Because my favorite shows are often the ones that illuminate the mundane, but have those special moments and I felt like reading yours was like watching an episode like that. And that very last paragraph that you wrote - drinking port, watching Gilmore Girls with Joni, talking about the typhoon signal…
SC: It did go off.
CR: It did? So you didn’t have to go into the city?
SC: We all stayed home and worked. It was nice to just work from the couch and watch the rain fall.
CR: For sure. What time do you usually go to bed there?
SC: Usually 9:30/10 and Zechariah’s knocked out by then, but I’m usually up with my thoughts until 1 am. He’s on his feet all day. If you ever need a male writer, he’s very secretive and doesn’t share his talents. But if you thought my writing was good, what constitutes as one good paper for me is like one sentence for him. He’s one of those secret types, though. Whenever he writes it’s almost always on a typewriter or on the notes in his phone that he never shares with anybody. He’s very stubborn, he has a unibrow, I don’t know if you remember.
CR: Yes, I do. Is the unibrow linked in with the stubborness? Is that a direct physical correlation you learned in your narrative medicine?
SC: Yes. Haha. Actually when I told my dad for the first time that I had a crush on this guy with a unibrow and that I really liked that about him, my dad looked at me very concerned and said, “Oh, Sarah, you know they say men with unibrows are very stubborn”. And I was like, “But dad, I love him”.
CR: And how did you two officially meet? I don’t know the story.
SC: Well, I was really good friends with his younger brother, Micah. Basically, long story short - he was in my Public Health and Nutrition, and for me, it was love at first sight. I mean, I remember the first time I really saw him he was walking across the quad, I knew that he had a unibrow, he was wearing this silk paisley robe with these Vans shoes with lime green lining. And I thought to myself - Oh my god, I’m going to make that man mine. Not even my husband. Just mine. I’m really really bad at boys. Period. Especially around ones I really like. Whenever I like someone that much, I get really gassy, I get really nervous and gassy. One of the first times that Zechariah and I had this connecting moment was in from of the library. I was going in because I really had to go number two really really badly. We had recognized each other because we had started to say hello and see each other around campus. We were just standing out there talking for maybe 15 minutes and the whole time I was like - Omg he’s talking to me. My CFA. Do I look ok? I really have to go poo. And at the end he was like, do you want to grab a meal together sometime, and I was like, yeah I would. He asked me do you have a number, an email address? At this point, any girl would give a guy her number, because I was really flustered and nervous and I really really had to go to the bathroom I said - yeah, why don’t you take my email address. So I was standing there like “S-A-R-A…”.
CR: And giving a guy your email address is like saying - Not interested.
SC: I don’t know why I said that. I literally told him - Ok, I have to go drop something off now. Bye. And actually he never emailed me. The only reason why we ended up getting a meal together was the next time we saw each other we were like, Oh yeah, we should grab a meal. So he actually didn’t email me. So that’s kind of our “meet-cute”, I guess. One of the finer moments in our relationship.
CR: My favorite part is the “I have to go drop something off”. Like. What’s inside my bowels. That’s so great. So - do you do a lot of writing?
SC: Not anymore. But thank you for asking me to be a part of this. I bought a new moleskine a long time ago - the one that I wrote in - it’s one I’ve been meaning to crack for a really long time - I forgot how much I needed that.
CR: You have such a lovely way with words and images, so you should keep writing.
SC: It was really fun. And with all the stress that I have - the secret stress and the not-so-secret stress, living the way that we do. Writing really calms you down. It’s a good way to process. This is also what I was going to say with friendships, too. With writing and time - time is so limited, and I feel like you need to spend time doing things you really love, or as you say, investing time into friendships that you know are going to mean something to you. Even if it’s for a brief moment. But I feel like in writing it all down, you can remember it someday. It’s been a long time since I’ve written, so thank you for that.
CR: Of course.
SC: It’s such a cool project. I feel like some of my friends saw it and were like - this is such a cool project. And I was like - yeah! Go follow her.
CR: Ha. Well, thanks. It’s one of those things where I really don’t know how much of an interest there is for other people to follow along, but I personally love reading what other people are going to write and what their day-to-day thoughts are that I just want to keep doing it for the rest of my life. I like illuminating the mundane. And personally I find the same thing you were saying, and I need to do a couple days myself soon to practice what I’m preaching, the importance of writing and observing. Because otherwise I let all these moments slip by. You can’t be totally on and observant all day every day, that’s insane and unrealistic and tiring. That’s absurd. But if every once and a while you do that, it’s so replenishing for your soul. And I love people’s handwriting.
SC: How did you start this?
CR: I was back in Long Beach [CA] last year and I was really lonely. I was really lonely, but I had my sisters who are my very best friends, and that was really great and fulfilling. But there’s something about having friends outside your family as well where you don’t always feel like your flaws are always being present, not because they’re intentionally doing that but because I just do that to myself. So I really wasn’t connecting - I mean, I was meeting people, but it wasn’t in the way that was deep and intimate, which takes time, of course. So I used to do a lot more letter-writing, but for some reason I didn’t have the energy to do that either, I was kind of overwhelmed by all the people I knew and loved that were far away from me, so I remembered how much I love journaling. And a couple of my friends, when I studied abroad in Italy, we all just sketched and journaled together all the time and were always sending letters to each other, so I knew that I had a group of people I could start it off with - this sampling of people’s days. I know that when I document my randomness in my days and read back and realize - this is actually kind of hilarious or kind of sad, pathetic, but also magical - all the things illuminating the everyday. So I just asked some of my friends that were used to writing or journaling to get it started to see what they would do. I needed something to channel my energy into because I’m so used to and enjoy community building and hosting things, but I just couldn’t at the time, I wasn’t in the right head and heart space when I was there, so I decided to tap into the people who were already in my “satellite community” and it was just this thing that took off from there. I though of a different person the next week and a different person from there...I took a little break from it, from posting pages. And then I thought - there’s all these awesome women I know, mostly millennials, which is my demographic, you know - who I want to connect with more and check in with. So I’m experimenting with doing a series method, and will turn it into a little book, eventually. So. Blah blah blah.
SC: Well, it’s a really cool project.
CR: Thank you. I appreciate that. It’s fun.