Leo's Letter #38 // Musings on Medellin

An eye-opening experience

Hey, it’s great to have you.

Long time no see!

I hadn’t written anything in months - nothing on the trials of early-stage startup life, my trips to Miami, Charlotte, or brief visits back to NYC, nor trying out keto for a few weeks.

However, my recent trip to Medellin, Colombia left such an impression that I HAD to write about it.

It goes deep, so strap in.

In This Letter:

  • Essay - Musings on Medellin

This is an issue of Leo’s Letter, where we share actionable ideas on content, commerce, and culture.

Musings on Medellin

My style of travel consists of making some loose plans and then mostly winging it. 

Instead of mapping everything out step by step, the most research I’d do before going to a place involves finding out the destinations to visit. Afterward that, I improvise getting to the location, exploring it, and then coming back.

Naturally, this leads to surprises - some pleasant ones, such as randomly stumbling across a large shrine in Tokyo while wandering around Tokyo Tower, and others not so much. During my recent trip to Medellin, Colombia, my friends and I got on the wrong bus, went for what was basically a rollercoaster ride down a winding path in the mountains, and somehow ended up in one of the most dangerous parts of the city (even locals exercise caution while in El Centro). 

I only bring this experience up now as a funny story to reflect on my trip with fond memories. Here’s a compilation of thoughts from spending a little over a week this past Labor Day weekend working remotely in Medellin.

But first, a few highlights on what I actually did during my first time in Latin America:

  • Saw the sights, from the graffiti walls at Comuna 13 to the scattered islands of Guatape

  • Rode the cable car to the top of Parque Arvi

  • Lived in the artistic Manila neighborhood of El Poblado and enjoyed the restaurants in Provenza

Culture: more carefree and curious

Picture a city the size of Los Angeles but with the chillness of San Diego (but keep the traffic and add in a hint of lawlessness to the driving). That’s what I thought of Medellin, a very liveable city built in a valley and integrated with nature. The hills of San Francisco have nothing on those here.

Things moved at a slow but purposeful pace. There were less rules and less self-imposed pressures of having to rush all the time. Instead, friends and families shared each others’ company on a weekday night, whole blocks of restaurants became viewing grounds for soccer whenever Colombia played, and more people were just relaxing. Living life.

It also felt that the people knew their past but never dwelt on it, instead working towards a brighter future - something the USA can learn from (how long will it be the “greatest” nation if things keep going on like this? Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?)

Travel: working to travel, not the other way around

It’s hard to plan when you don’t know how much free time you’ll have in the day.

This is especially true with variable workloads, with the main culprit being “fire drills”, things blowing up at work. Think about balancing a day’s work with one’s own plans for the day, along with the need to plan for the next.

I felt like I was always on the move during those days. Exciting and fulfilling then, but requiring some time to recover afterwards.

And so I wonder how some remote workers, especially founders, are able to even step out to actually enjoy the beach their AirBnB is situated right next to on a tropical island.

Personal: as if a weight were lifted 

Move a person from Siberia to NYC and he/she will most likely be happier that it’s not constantly snowing.

Now move them to Los Angeles and his/her situation will improve even more, with all sunshine (and maybe even some rainbows).

In my visit to Medellin, I felt like a Siberian who was directly transplanted to LA.

How so?

  • In the USA, I sometimes feel weighed down

  • In Asia, I feel normal

  • In Latin America, I often felt uplifted

I won’t go into the extent of each, nor share too many specifics, but one crucial factor is how Asians are perceived in different parts of the world.

In the USA, Asian Americans must work harder in college admissions (good grades, extracurriculars, and leadership roles are table stakes). We’re portrayed by the media as the nerdy, comedic-relief characters (though this is getting better). Lastly, we’ve been painted as the new red scare with fingers pointing at China (rather than domestic issues such as the rise in income inequality, polarization in politics, crumbling infrastructure, etc.)

Now you know why I saved this for last. 

But to end on a more positive note, like the weather, sometimes cultural and political situations can offer better environments. Kpop has taken Latin America by storm so much so that Asians are perceived less like Ken Jeong and more like Jay Park. Trade flows more freely than in the land of the free, giving people access to budget-friendly and advanced Huawei and Xiaomi phones.  


All this being said, I acknowledge that these are only my limited observations from a 9-day trip to Medellin. 

I don’t have the full picture - I have no idea how hard life is for Colombians, who’ve had to deal with their own hardships such as the pandemic (where many jobs literally can’t be done at home) and the recent protests. I also recognize that visiting as an American citizen affords me certain privileges.

Instead, think of this as an account from a person who mostly saw rain, but had the clouds clear up for a bit.

I just have to have the temperance to not get burnt by the sun.

Until Next Time

Thanks for reading! Have any thoughts to share? Comment on the post!

Find me at leolu.info or on Twitter.

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