15 weeks in my home country of Romania has come to an end…
I never thought I would “make it this far”, so to speak.
On July 12th, when I first came for my cousin Andra’s wedding, I had no intention of staying into late Autumn.
In fact, I thought I would return to Asia after I’d had enough of Romania, thinking sometime late September.
The problem was I’d never had enough. And I don’t think I could have ever. So I had to make myself move on.
Romania is one of those places you could explore for years.
And Cluj-Napoca is an amazing city.
Now, I’m not just saying that because it’s where I’m from, my origins, but because of all the people, events, and organizations that make it so you could find ANYTHING you want to do there. No exaggeration.
The past months in my home country were absolutely amazing, in ways I couldn’t have expected.
Here is how they passed:
July 12- August 1st The first 3 weeks, all of July, were spent with my family.
My parents and brother arrived in Cluj as well… our family was reunited! We spent our time together visiting relatives, traveling in the area, & bar-hopping. One day we took a trip to the village where my father is from, another day we ate at a restaurant overlooking the city, another evening we went to an organ concert and then ate (too many) desserts from one of Cluj’s delicious cafes.
August 1st- September 3rd After my family left, August was spent going to festivals and exploring.
Throughout the summer, I saw beauties of Romania (with a group called “Clubul Montan Apuseni”) such as the most haunted forest ever Hoia Baciu, the fields and forests of Padis, the mountains of Vladeasa, the gorge Cheile Rametului, and the mountains of Retezat.
On random day, I also went to visit Maramures, hitchiking across the lovely countryside, and cycling to the Merry Cemetery.
In between these trips I went to festivals and events of all kinds in Cluj.
From UNTOLD, a giant music festival, to Zilele Culturale Maghiare din Cluj, celebrating Hungarian heritage through musical performances, food, and art, to Transylvanian History Days, many many other art shows, socialization events, and games throughout the city… I began to fall in love with Cluj.
September 4th- September 25th September was spent sharing Romania with my favorite person in the world.
For three weeks Faisal and I traveled Transylvania- including all corners of Cluj, the Apuseni Mountains, Turda, Targu Mures, Sighisoara, Brasov, Bran (& Piatra Crauilui) Sinaia (& Bucegi Mountains), Sibiu, Sebes (Râpa Roșie), and Aiud.
Honestly, it was the kind of “vacation” that leaves you in need of another vacation… alot of googling, phone calls, blablacars to buses to trains, hostels bed & breakfasts, homestays…. It was a good test of my tour guide skills (& patience), and of course I got to travel beautiful (& cheap) cities and mountains with my best friend. What more could you want?
September 26th- October 26th In October, the final month in Romania, I got attached to Cluj.
I began Smile Project RO to show people what physical and mental health benefits a smile and positive thoughts can have on your reality.
This idea stemmed from my culture shock noticing people in Romania are upset-looking… smiling is not the default facial expression. (My mom told me this is remnants of the mood in communism)…
Inspired from Asia, I wanted to show people that we can chose our own happiness, it comes from within! I wanted this project needed to be simple & lead to conversation.
The following weeks, I stood in the Central Park with a sign that said “Did you smile today?” (In Romanian) and either chatted to passerby, called out wishing them a wonderful day, & encouraging them to smile because life is beautiful.
I met people of a group called Nefiresc (whose events I went to in August) and together we created unique events around Cluj.
My own event Invisible Conversations, (blind conversations to rid ourselves of prejudice, & talk more profoundly) became a hit… so we did a part a part 2. I realized how much I enjoy event planning, and connection/communication projects.
Later I met people of Makuma, another awesome group aiming to help people step out of their shell, talk and connect.
Finally, I went to all kinds of EVERYTHING…. dance events, independent movie showings, music language classes, performances, etc… every day.
Feeling bored in Cluj is not an option.
Although the people don’t seem to smile, most are open, friendly, curious, and genuine.
Even though Romania is my home country, I didn’t know much about it before this summer.
Now that this has changed… I can’t wait to share Romania with the rest of the world.
I may even be my favorite place in the world so far… well, at least Vietnam has competition 😉