Part 3: Noraebang, Jjimjilbang, Geisha’s Oh My!- Anna

Travelling to Asia for the first time was definitely a culture shock for me. Katherine had traveled to India and Singapore and Ashley of course had been living in Seoul almost one year now.

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Our Harry Potter World ticket!

 

Seoul is an interesting city, it is split up into different districts. Katherine and I have hit just about everyone including Gangnam. Seoul is always busy with both the young and old running to get somewhere.  I don’t think anyone sleeps here, because you will see people asleep on the train and yes, I have had heads end up on my shoulder. Every district is known for something. Eg. Itaewon (my least favorite) is the international district. Here you will find the most diversity in food, shopping and people. This is also where the US army base is so there are many many bars. Subways are deep underground as they can be used as shelters. The one in Itaewon had the most where I counted over 150 steps plus an escalator that had another 100 or more.  I guess possible artillery threats are taken seriously here. Myeongdong is known as a big  shopping district, but it is wall to wall people and no shortage of beauty stores, on the same street there will be 6 to 7 stores and sometimes the same store 5 doors down. Namdaemun is a large food market where we bought lunch, yummy kimbap and freshly squeezed fruit juice, we ate these along the Cheonggyecheon stream that was once hidden but now revitalized into a beautiful waterway in the city center.  Dongdaemun is a market where you can buy everything from socks to electronics. It is open from 10 am  to 5 am ( from 11 pm to 5 am mostly for wholesalers).

During our stay we had a Thanksgiving get together with Ashley’s co-workers. From all over the globe we came together to enjoy good food, and company. The best part was rocking it out at the Noraebang (Kareoke) where, yes, I belted it out to Justin Timberlake’s SexyBack, along with many other songs.

 

My pet peeves: be prepared to have people cough and sneeze without covering their mouths. Spiting on the floor (it’s not considered rude) pushing, shoving (more so on the trains). All kinds of smells, eg. The ginko tree fruit, when it falls and gets stepped on it smells like vomit.

But when you look past all these things the food is very good (and they love their hot peppers). It’s fresh and just about anything you can think of. Blood sausage, fried fish cakes, fried rice cake skewers, ice cream filled waffles and very yummy egg bread. But of course nothing beats the Korean barbecue. You sit at a table with a built in gas barbecue. Where suddenly your server arrives with a variety of small bowls filled with different condiments such as kimchi. The meat usually pork is then placed on the grill and romaine lettuce is used to create little packages of all these yummy ingredients.

Hiking is another favorite past time that I grudgingly agreed to. Gwanaksan 632 m high was a challenge but in the end we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the city and a beautiful temple. The girls continued onto the top, while I sat and enjoyed the serenity and beauty that was around me. Katherine and I also conquered Namsan – where the North Seoul Tower can be found. Again we trudged on to be surprised with a spectacular view of the city but also a Starbucks at the top. Honorable mentions; the War Memorial of Korea. Free admission, beautifully laid out with lots of information regarding the past conflicts including Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The Hanok Villages, the beautiful campus of Ewha Women’s University, picturesque Nami Island.

Although Seoul had much to offer, Kyoto Japan remains my favorite. The combination of old world mixed with modern world, was just the right mix. The Bamboo forest the many temples all unique and beautiful in their own way. Seeing the elusive Geisha was a treat too!  Osaka was too crowded and noisy to appreciate. Miyajima was peaceful and picturesque. Fushimi Inari Shrine, where we unexpectedly found ourselves hiking through the many vermilion coloured Torii’s to the 233 meter high Mount Inari.

All in all this trip had taken me out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion: visiting the many palaces while wearing the traditional Hanbok costume and asked on more than one occasion to have my picture taken with the locals, skirting around the crowded neighbourhoods, trying new foods, and my favorite, the claustrophobic subway rides coupled with the many many stairs. (Although the upside to this is my butt got a great work out). Jimillbang is a Korean bath house. I put aside my inhibitions and stripped off all my clothes and proceeded to bathe along with roughly 30 other women including my girls. I wasn’t brave enough to try the massage or scrub down tables but did enjoy the hot and cold baths, my own scrubbing, relaxing rooms and a delicious meal.

But the adventure was well worth it because I experienced it with both my beautiful (inside and out), smart, confident daughters. It also helped relieve my worry about where Ashley was staying and her life there, and I applaud her courage to have this experience.

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Lots of love and kamsahamnida,

 Mom

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Part 2: Be Mindful of Even the Small Trivial Things- Katherine

Hello family and friends!

It feels like it was so long ago that I was on a plane ride to be a part of Ashley’s adventure on the other side of the world, and what an adventure it was! It is always exciting and challenging travelling to a place so different from what you are used to but Seoul wasn’t as different as I had imagined it to be. In a lot of ways it is very much like Toronto in that there are different districts and neighbourhoods to explore, restaurants and bars galore and lots of tourist sites (albeit a lot more of those things that were a lot more interesting than in Toronto). In the couple of weeks that my mom and I were in Seoul we were able to see and do so much thanks to Ashley’s careful planning and research, it would be nearly impossible for me to go through it all.

The part I enjoyed the most about this trip though was getting some insight into the everyday happenings of life in Seoul. Ashley Teacher was of great assistance in this aspect as were the long subway rides where you can comfortably people watch from a seat if you were fast enough to get one. For example when handing money back and forth in a shop, it is polite to hand it to each other using two hands or if handing it in one hand, to touch your forearm with the empty hand. It is such a small act that you may not even notice it unless it was brought to your attention and it made me think about the subtle body language I use back home to interact with others. Some more specific travel memories include dressing in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and strolling from one palace (Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeokgung Palace) to the next before heading back in time to the streets of Bukchon Hanok Village (a traditional village in Seoul).

It was interesting to see school groups, couples of all ages and teenagers longboarding at Gwanghwamun Square all decked out in their hanbok attire. It was a fun way to interact with the culture, the sites and the people around us. It was the same day in Gwanghwamun Square that we happened upon a cultural festival (the Seoul Arirang Festival). The first booth we visited we chose Korean proverbs (from a heavy book of hundreds to choose from) that were written in beautiful Korean characters on delicate rice paper. “Be mindful of even small trivial things” seemed to fit my feelings about this amazing trip.

This also wouldn’t be a good blog post if I didn’t give a shout out to the amazing food we had including: BBQ, tteokbokki, bulgogi, gyeran-bbang, kimbap (both cylindrical and triangular) and bimbimbap to name a few. Thanks also to Ashley’s friends who included us in their Canadian Thanksgiving dinner which made us feel right at home. Here’s to more global adventures!

Part 1: Kyoto to Seoul- Ashley

October 6th-October 23rd

So this is post one, from me! I decided to write about my favourite day in Japan. The memories from Korea are too close to my heart. The times I loved the best are the small and seemingly mundane moments. They are times like coming home and watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race while feasting on sour candy and chocolate or racing onto a subway train to beat those darn ajimmas and ajusshis to a seat (which we did by the way and it felt SO GOOD!). I am blessed to have had the opportunity to share with them the beautiful life I’ve made for myself. Without further ado, the most memorable day of Japan!

Japan Day Four:

Fushimi Inari Shrine -> Kinkakuji Temple -> Nishijin Textile Center -> Kiyomizu Temple -> Gion District 

Our fourth day in Japan was by far the busiest and most trying for us as a Nunes trio. We started with the incredible Fushimi Inari Shrine which was conveniently located near our airbnb. When we arrived, we were immediately in awe of the large vermilion coloured torii in front of the temple structures. Like the silly and under-prepared tourists we were, we thought that was it! We noticed a map and saw that the Fushimi Inari Shrine was actually quite large and wound its way gracefully up and down Inari mountain. Feeling adventurous, we decided that we might as well climb it and see what it was all about despite our poor clothing choice of jeans. Wandering under old and freshly painted torii draped with spiders alarmingly big, through a tranquil and mysterious forest was a treat for the senses. There was a lot of complaining (mostly from my mother and I) but our excellent cheerleader Katherine kept our spirits up the whole way. Approximately two hours later, we finished the loop and returned to the base of the mountain sweaty, and foolish.

The Kinkakuji Temple was our first zen garden. It was intriguing and confronted our understanding of what makes a garden. It also struck me how much intention can be put into a garden and how it can manifest our values and ideas about the world. Basically, it was cool.

As is the way of travelling, we changed our plans and headed to the Nishijin Textile Center next so that mama could look for a yukata (a less formal kimono). Although we limg_9241eft sans a yukata, we did find some other treasures to bring home and the nice textile man made Katherine and I a bracelet from leftover thread!  He tried to make one for each of us but struggled with our Western-sized wrists. In the end we laughed a lot as he told us apologetically that we’d have to share. Luckily, we are used to that! As is the way of travelling, the detour to the Nishijin Textile Center meant that we missed out on Nijo Castle. The outer gate looked cool though! 😛

By the time we arrived at the Kiyomizu Temple it was already dark. That didn’t stop us from making the most of this ancient wonder- there is not a single nail used in the entire structure! Admittedly, we rushed this part and didn’t get to appreciate as much as we wanted… that’s travel!

Last was our short visit to the Gion District. We were a little sour by this point having missed two major spots but within 5 minutes of being there we actually spotted a Geisha! She happened to be getting into a cab and leaving the area but it was still a lucky sighting! Other than that moment, I wasn’t that impressed with this area however I was happy we saw it.

This day was fun, busy, difficult, and amazing all wrapped up into one. You can look forward more memories in the next post written by my lovely sister!

Annyeong!

Nunes Ladies in Asia: A 3 Part Series

October 6th-October 23rd

Hello beautiful people!

So as you all probably know my lovely mother and sister came to visit me last month! It was a whirlwind vacation for them as we tried to tackle all the sights Seoul, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Miyajima had to offer. This is the introduction to three posts that I will be posting over the few days, as I invited them to also write about their experiences. So, let’s set the stage a bit and start from the eve of their arrival.

The week before they arrived was stressful and riddled with anxiety. On top of preparing for three grown-ass women staying in my tiny apartment, I was busy at work, and my online course started! At least I had something to do that night as I battled excitement-induced insomnia.

That Friday at work was a blur, as was my bike ride home. I knew they were waiting for me in my apartment, as Katherine thankfully eased my anxious mind and sent me a message earlier, “it’s nice….but small!”. I was trembling as I opened my door to an apparently empty room with the lights off. Typical of my family to try and play a joke on me after 10 months apart! I probably shouted some swear words which caused my mom to spoil the ruse and grab me in one of those tight mother embraces I had missed so much. What followed was- I know I’m dramatic but for real- 3 minutes of uncontrollable sobbing by my mom and I. Katherine hovered around the edges laughing at us, obviously. Our reunion is a memory so powerful and one that I will never forget. All the negative emotions that has taken me over the week before fell away. I didn’t have to be competent, smiley Ashley that helps everyone; I could be baby sister Ashalina who was blessed to have her favourite people in this world standing in front of her… in Korea!

Over the next 3 days you can look forward to each of us sharing or best memories and giving an overwhelming overview of what we did on this trip. Stay with us!

Annyeong!

Jeju Island

July 26th-31st

Hello everyone! This post is solely dedicated to the 5 days I spent on Jeju Island for my summer holidays. I was joined by Nicole, Bethany and Sam for this unforgettable trip! Enjoy!

Jeju Island Day 1: Arrival, Donnaeko Valley Waterfall

We awoke early on Tuesday morning and made our way to Seoul’s smaller airport- Gimpo. It was an easy subway ride, with no transfers and thankfully seats so we could sneak in a few more hours of rest. Our flight to Jeju was blissfully uneventful and took only 1 hour. As we stepped onto the tarmac into the blazing sun, our excitement was perceptible. We had set an important ground rule for this trip- no negative work talk- which made me giddy with positive intentions. So with bright eyes we jumped on a shuttle bus to the car rental shop and soon enough we were packed like sausages into our tiny, albeit adorable, KIA Morning. Nicole, having her international license, bravely agreed to drive the entire trip and thanks to her superb planning, we found the hotel easily. We stayed in Seogwipo which is on the Southern part of the island. The hotel graciously let us leave our luggage while we set off to fill our bellies and soak up some sun! We ended up in the Donnaeko Valley. After a 1 km stroll on a shaded forest path, we emerged into a clearing with a breathtaking waterfall. It was filled with laughter and courageous people somehow enjoying the icy water. Without a moment to spare we threw our belongings down and explored the giant rocks that hugged the water. When we felt hot enough, we too swallowed some courage and ambled in. I was last of course. We spent a few dreamy hours swimming, reading, and relaxing in this idyllic place. The rest of the evening was a blur-  we enjoyed shabu-shabu for dinner and  called it an early night in anticipation of the big hike we’d be doing the next day.

Jeju Island Day 2: Conquering Mt. Halla

After arising far too early, we hopped in a cab and were off to conquer the highest peak in Korea- Mt. Halla (1,950m). The plan was to hike up the steeper side and down the other however, life had other plans. We were told that there had been a landslide on the steeper side of the mountain so we turned the cab around and rolled with it. We started our accent at ~6:30am. The beginner section of the trail (~5km ) took us about 2 hours. Along the way we naturally divided into 2 groups- Sam+me, and Bethany+Nicole. Tortoises and hares, respectively. Sam and I took our time, stopping briefly and infrequently. The intermediate section (~3km) took us another 2 hours and by this time we were pretty spent. We rallied our spirits, steeled our nerve and embarked on the last section! This advance part (~1km) took us a grueling hour to complete but the view at the top was worth the effort. We expected Bethany and Nicole to be waiting for us at the top, but to our surprise we made it up before them! Sam and I had a good laugh; maybe fairy tales really do come true. Turns out they stopped at the rest station for an hour which is when we unknowingly passed them. The peak was incredible. Mt. Halla is a dormant volcano and is  home to the magnificent Baekrokdam (lake-filled crater). After we shared laughs and congratulations at the top we made our slow and careful descent. It took another 4 hours to return to the  base without any twisted ankles. That night we had well-deserved pizza and a hallabong (oranges from Mt. Halla) drink as a treat from the local market. Needless to say, we slept like the dead that night.

Jeju Island Day 3: Mt. Seong Ilchulbong Peak, Udo Island

Like masochists, we got up early again to do another hike! Grumbling and stumbling, we made our way into the car and off to the North-Eastern part of the island. We arrived at Mt. Seong with what seemed like half of the other tourists on the island. It was busy. Knowing it was only an ~20 minute hike, we slathered on some sun screen and hauled our asses up. I’d like to look back on this hike with rose-coloured glasses but I just can’t do it. The weather was unbearable- I was drenched in about 2 minutes, the path was packed, and the constant steps were killer on my already exhausted body. With all of that said, I will never regret the view that waited for us at the top. We saw Jeju sprawled out behind us, and Udo Island teasing us from a distance. Ilchulbong Peak is the iconic image of Jeju. Seriously, google it. When we felt our sun screen wearing off, we decided to descend and make our way to Udo (AKA cow island because it is said to look like a cow lying down… I didn’t see it). The ferry ride was short; ~10 minutes. We practically ran for the much anticipated and most famous restaurant on the island: Pungwon. After adding our names to a list, we dipped into the adjoining cafe to enjoy some peanut ice cream. Udo peanuts are widely acclaimed for their superior taste and texture. I thought they tasted normal, but the ice cream was still delicious on such a scorching day. A short while later, our number was called and we entered the crowded restaurant. We squished ourselves down onto mats at a traditional Korean table. The meal that ensued was both delicious and theatrical. The server used the food to tell us the story of Mt. Halla forming Jeju and Udo so many years ago. As the server intensely stared into my eyes telling the story, I couldn’t help but laugh. It was playful and definitely a highlight of the trip. Bravely, or perhaps stupidly, we left the wonderful AC to cycle around the island. The Jeju Olle Trail was 13km and took us ~ 3 hours to complete (with frequent water, picture, and sun screen re-application stops). The trail only had one hill (which was actually part of a wrong turn) and mostly paralleled the water. Despite the heat, I loved this part of our trip. Just look at my beaming smile in all of the photos. Having had our fill of sea-views we returned home to Seogwipo. Dinner that night was another first for me- BBQ lamb! YUM 🙂

Jeju Island Day 4: Folk Village Museum, Hyeopjae Beach, Jeju City

Finally we decided to treat ourselves to a little RnR. Well, that is after we strolled around the Folk  Village Museum located on the South Eastern side of the island. Although I did soak up some historical facts, I was mostly concerned with not being in the sun and figuring out how to not sweat by just breathing. Driving back through Seogwipo, we arrived at Hyeopjae beach on the North-Western part of the island just after lunch. Feeling like old-pros, we rented an umbrella easily and set up camp for the remainder of the afternoon. The last time I went to a beach in Korea I got burnt to a crisp so I tried to be a bit more responsible this time. I patiently (*complained) while we waited for our sun screen to dry before jumping in the water. The tide was out, so we waded through knee-deep water for a while before submerging ourselves. For a while we were lone foreigners splashing around in a sea of Koreans on colourful flotation devices. It was a perfect afternoon. It was countless hours of repeated actions- swim, relax, eat- and though nothing eventful happened, these were my favourite moments of the trip. As the tide began to come in, we showered and set out for Jeju City. Still giddy from our day in the sun, we savoured mouth-watering pizza and refreshing beers from Magpie Brewery. Post-dinner we strolled along a seaside path beside a happening downtown rec area. Sleepily, we spent our last night in Jeju driving home late and collapsing into bed.

Jeju Island Day 5: Love Land, Departure

Exhausted from the past four days of intense activities, we took our last day nice and slow. Love Land is an outdoor sculpture park all about sex and was our last adventure in Jeju. For a country that is so conservative, this park is an extremely progressive oddity. The day was hot but overcast so there were few visitors besides us. As I would like to successfully get a teaching job one day, I’ve censored most of the pictures I took. If you do a little googling, you can have your fill of the funny, graphic and sometimes aggressive sculptures. The best part of this park was watching others interact and selfie with the art. Our last meal in Jeju was the renowned Jeju Black Pork. It was delicious but tasted a lot like the samgyeopsal we eat in Seoul. It may have been even fattier than what we usually enjoy so not really my top pick for best BBQ I’ve eaten in Korea. We dropped off the car earlier than expected so we had to entertain ourselves in the small Jeju airport. With another uneventful plane ride into Seoul, I was back home in my apartment for 9pm.

This trip was very go-go-go but I left Jeju doing and eating absolutely everything I wanted to. I probably won’t be back for a very long time, but I highly recommend this trip to anyone who happens to find themselves in Korea!

🙂 Annyeong

Leading with my heart…BRING IT

June 23rd – August 21st

Hello hello to all of my beautiful family and friends. Welcome back to my blog! I apologize that I haven’t posted in so long, but in my defense I’ve been very busy! This semester has holistically been the best of my time here in Korea. Work has been challenging in good ways, my health (both physical and mental) has been a priority, and my friendships have grown even stronger. I am soon going to be faced with change that is hard to accept- my Canadian s(e)oul sister Sabrina is leaving for her next incredible adventure!

Soon my life here is going to be completely different. Who will I fight the people of Seoul with cycling to work? Who will share my dream voodoo that floats one floor above to her apartment? Who will stroll  with me to the market every Sunday? Most importantly, who will keep me grounded and remind me to be grateful for the beauty that dances all around me?

Moving into my last three months is going to be like starting all over without my sister by my side, but I know that I need to move forward with my heart open. There are 106 more adventure-filled days to be lived, 2,544 more inspiring hours to be savoured, and an infinite amount of thank yous to be breathed into the universe.

Here are all of the extraordinary moments I have experienced in the past 2 months (excluding Jeju Island- that post is still to come).

Adventures with Marianne and Mario: Sab and I enjoyed two adventures with this rambunctious couple. We popped bottles and devoured an apparently healthy meal as we “burned Friday”. This is a phrase Marianne says means we drink away Friday to relieve the stress of the workweek. A month later we traveled to an idyllic park to experience the lotus flowers. Every moment during this meetup was bitter-sweet as it was probably the last for us 3-amigos (plus Mario).

Canada Day and my Amazing Students: Canada Day was so very special. I was actually one of a few teachers who were chosen to be filmed by headquarters for promotional material and instruction for other teachers. Needless to say, I was a bit stressed but that all went away when I threw a Canada shirt over my dress and stuck flags in my hair. I was AMPED UP and the kids loved it. This was the day that my Ocean class won over my heart forever. These kids are so adorable and bright. They made up a Canada song and Dana even made me a Canadian flag the next day. Heart=melted.

Mural Village and Bukcheon Hanok Village: Seoul is filled with cultural and traditional experiences if you know where to look. I first visited Ihwa Mural Village with Sab, Rose and Rielan. I love graffiti and street art so this was a dream for me! Sadly, two of the major pieces were vandalized and painted over recently in response to high tourist traffic. This had us a little miffed but we brushed off our disappointment and made the most of wandering through the quaint streets… quietly. On a separate weekend I joined my co-workers for another weekend get-together. We took a free-walking tour of the Bukchon Hanok Village. Hanok are traditional houses which have long gone by the wayside in nowadays bustling and bursting Seoul.  The tour guide was really sweet and it was cool to learn a bit of history as we meandered around the neighbourhood.

Random Wanderings: This section includes our adventure to Eurwangni Beach near Incheon, to a raccoon cafe, and to see the sleeping Buddha.

Straight  up random…

I had so much fun writing this and I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the best days here in Korea! Last semester- BRING IT!

Annyeong! ❤

 

Stay Playful, Stay Mindful

May 8th-June 22nd

Anyone that has spoken to me in the last two weeks knows that I have been non-stop discussing the heavy topics that I’ve heard on The Current and This American Life podcasts. I’ve had many conversations with my family and dearest friends about privilege, human nature, and our own role in this world. Overall I’ve been feeling very disenchanted with this world and the life I am living here in Seoul. I’ve been plagued with questions like: Am I really making the world a better place? How many other issues does my privilege allow me to ignore? What can I do to enact positive change?  In the end, my hero and sister Katherine said it best, There are so many battles to fight but being self-aware of our own behaviours and being a positive influence in the relationships we have… helps in some small way to make the world a little better.

So this edition of my blog is going to focus on staying playful. This idea comes straight from my yoga practice. In times that are difficult, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, we need to remember to smile. So often, I am overwhelmed by negative emotions when I find myself in a difficult situation UNTIL I give myself a dose of perspective and realize that I have the choice to laugh, and smile, and  be grateful in those moments. Thus, the second focus of this blog is staying mindful. Continuously self-reflect in this life and never stop growing!

Here are some of the incredible moments that happened in my life  since my last post. Enjoy!

Suwon Fortress 

Amanda, Nicole and I visited Suwon fortress. It’s amazing that back in the day these walls would protect Seoul from invasion. Now Suwon is splayed between the bricks and boasts almost 1 million people!

Headstands and Feeling Healthy

Whether I’m working out on the Han with Nicole (which is impossible now due to the humidity), going to my yoga studio or searching Seoul for healthy food, finding ways to feel good is always on my mind! There are endless nooks and crannies of this city to explore 🙂

Accepting Change~ farewells for now

Woah, this past month was emotional. I have been with the same bunch for 6 months and they have meant the world to me! Coming to Korea alone and not meeting any other new people at training, I relied on these people at and outside of work. It may sound cheesy, but these beautiful people will always be my family! Thinking about Andrew and Charlie not being here still brings tears to my eyes, but I know I’ll see them again! Love you two! Thankfully, we got two amazing additions to our team~ Olivia and Bove 🙂

Camping

So I crossed another one off the bucket list- CAMPING! We headed out on the long-weekend with bags full of beer and soju, and  an unclear plan of how the weekend was going to go. When we got to the campsite (after 6 hours of travel time due to traffic) they told us there were no spots! Thankfully being nice and flashing our waygook smiles caused them to pity us and they got us a spot! All I can say is that this weekend filled me with such joy! Sleeping outside beside a mountain, which we later climbed, sharing stories and laughter with the people I love, and of course eating all day made this trip a highlight of my time here in Korea.

Bukhansan Hike Pt. 2

So Nicole, Olivia, and I hiked Bukhansan again! I’d like to say we didn’t take a wrong turn this time so I’ll just skim over that part… With legs that felt like lead, we climbed/crawled our way to the very top, and boy was it worth it! The high I get from climbing mountains is addictive and I’m already planning my next one!

Random!

Enjoy these random shots…

Wow! I hope that wasn’t too boring! This posts mirrors my life right now…. an emotional roller coaster ^^ Thanks for reading ❤

Annyeong!

My Purpose

April 2nd-May 6th

Hello loved ones! I hope you are all doing splendidly 🙂

It is a beautiful Sunday here in Seoul. As I write this blog, the sun is shining down on my back and the sounds of families enjoying the day surround me. Sitting here, beside the Han River, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of joy, of fulfillment, and of accomplishment. These feelings are juxtaposed with the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that had me curling into a ball yesterday and kept me in my apartment for most of the day. In preparation of writing this month’s blog, I reflected upon the past blogs I have written. I came to realize that so far I have been a little unbalanced in my descriptions of life here painting it, perhaps, as a non-stop party. This past month has been less of a party, and more of a non-stop roller coaster of emotions. The beauty of this chaos is that it has me finding me center again and returning to the intentions that brought me here. I came to Korea for all the obvious career reasons but also to do some self-discovery and to really learn how to be alone. I look back on the ups and downs of April not with regret, but with a renewed sense of purpose and appreciation of my resiliency. I hope you enjoy this more balanced look into my life here in Seoul!

My Bicycle!

A definite highlight of this past month was finally getting my bicycle! It’s an ivory and brown cruiser with a basket and I love it. This bicycle has allowed me so much freedom and thus has paid for itself tenfold already. Besides riding to and from work (cutting my weekly transit costs to zero) I have been able to enjoy exploring the Han River.

The first time cycling the Han, Sab and I made our own kimbap, packed our own snacks, bought some beers and set off. We spent the afternoon leisurely biking and taking breaks whenever we felt like it. We made it all the way to Ttuekseom Resort Station where we refuelled on beer and melon pops before returning home.

The second time was last weekend with Nicole.  Again, ready with snacks and beer we set off for a few hours. We picked a nice grassy spot where we chatted and set some intentions for the month of May. My list includes: studying Hangul for 30 minutes once a week, catching up with someone I love once a week, counting to 10 when I feel stressed, meditating every night and going to my yoga studio 3 times a week.

My Friends!

I can say with certainty that I would be in shambles without the beautiful people I’ve made friends with here. A part of me is a little critical of my co-dependency and I wonder if I should make more of an effort to be comfortable on my own. Then I think that I have a lot of love to give, and I wouldn’t be myself if I wasn’t around people and sharing that love. Here are a few of the happy memories we made this month.IMG_7654.JPG

After work one Friday, we joined up to eat some BBQ in Sab and I’s neighbourhood. Then Nicole and Charlie came over to Sab’s for a HP night! We drank wine, chatted, and stuffed our faces with candy all while watching A Very Potter Musical. If you enjoy Harry Potter, the books or the movies, you will cry laughing at this play; it is so good. I cherish the thought of this night because it was so different than other nights here; not based on how much soju we could drink but about enjoying each other company in the
simplest way.

IMG_7715.JPGThe start of April was cherry blossom season! Advice to anyone wanting to experience the festivals, make sure you go see them on time. It might be busy but so worth it. I have learned this the hard way as I went at the end of the season to Seokchon Lake with Sam. There was only one tree that bloomed late, and the rest had a mere shadow of their once beauty. We stilled enjoyed being a little active before work and exploring a place we’ve never been before. I always enjoy chatting with Sam as I find she balances my perspectives and often humbles me.

I was able to knock an important item off my bucket list- watching a Korean baseball game! Baseball is huge here and I got to see once of the biggest teams, the Doosan Bears, play. The ticket was only ~$10 and the seats were awesome! The way it works is that the more expensive seats put you in a cheering section where you sit with others cheering for either the home or away team. Each team has their own songs and dances with dedicated cheerleaders to keep the crowd screaming all game! The songs are rip-offs of Western songs and it was a lot of fun learning the cheers. Nicole and I also played a little drinking came of our own invention to liven things up a bit. We had a big group of about ten people and it was nice seeing some new faces and chatting with people I’ve never met.  We also happened to see Andrew there with his basketball friends and enjoyed chatting with him.

A highlight of this month was the Soul of Seoul Tours Scavenger Hunt I entered with Nicole, Bethany and a new friend Kathryn. There were a total of 80 people competing in this 2 and a half hour long photo scavenger hunt around the downtown core of Seoul. As Kathryn is fluent in Korean (a requirement for the degree she is completing at Ehwa Women’s university- so cool!) we thought we might have a bit of an advantage. Despite Kathryn and I’s insistence that we were not very competitive, as soon as we got our clues we ran like the wind to the first photo site. The afternoon passed with a lot of laughter and the joy of exploring some new places. Our favourite moments were asking two foreigners to squish into a phone booth with us and  taking a photo with a boy in a tae kwon doe uniform who proudly showed off his new medal and 4 gold stars. I’ve included my favourite pictures below!

Sab’s boyfriend Adam was visiting so we treated him to godbar, Itaewon, dak galbi and noraebong. I’ve already written about all of the above, so I’ve just included the pictures below. There are also some random pictures of other hangouts throughout the month.

Work Blues

Work this month was a huge source of stress and frustration. The fight for control of my NK Telescope class continued causing me to approach every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with anxiety and apprehension. We were also preparing for an event called Children’s Day that happened on Friday. This brought with it a lot of extra planning and preparation on top of our regular work. Many of us could be seen cutting out pictures or doing book reports while completing our weekly phone calls to our students. Children’s Day went off without a hitch and I had a lot of fun! I was stationed in the Musical Dance Off Room where I got to dance around in front of a disco ball and encourage kids to dance during the game all day. It was exhausting, but much better than teaching!

Additionally, we had 2 book checks and student comments due on top of our regular work this month. Thankfully my book checks were approved without any drama! I was the unfortunate victim of other drama however, involving dress code at work. I was singled out as wearing shorts of an inappropriate length to work last week. The rub of it all is that Sab wore shorts of the same length that week too and most of the Korean teachers wear shorts and skirts even shorter than mine on a regular basis. Although it was never blatantly said, I experienced discrimination at work based on my size and I have to admit, it didn’t feel nice. As much as I have come leaps and bounds in accepting my body, it was still hurtful to be told that I looked indecent because I have a different, albeit larger, body type that most Koreans. Again, I am so thankful to my coworkers who let me cry a bit and vent at work without thinking me silly. As much as I am going to try and let this one lie, the sight of K-teachers in their ridiculously short shorts and skirts is going to grind on me. Perhaps more drama to come next month!

My Dose of Nature!

This month I went hiking twice. Seoul has so many beautiful mountains and I want to climb all of them!  Spring has really been heating up and now at the start of May, the weather feels like mid-summer in Canada. Apparently we only have a few weeks of hiking weather left before it is unbearable to be outside!

This month’s first hiking excursion of Namhansanseong with Marinne, Mario and Joy didn’t go so well. It turned out to be a miserable rainy day and quite chilly. As we marched on, we tried to keep our spirits up but the weather was too much. I started coughing and sneezing during our rainy picnic, at which time we decided to turn back. It was still an adventure and as always, a lot of fun spending time with our yoga friends.

My second hike was of Bukhansanseong with Nicole, Sam and our new friend Stephen. Now this mountain is huge and has a lot of trails so we went with one peak in mind. Of course, life had other plans for us and we ended up on a different trail leading us to a different peak. None of us really minded this “mistake” in navigation however, as this trail was less used and much more peaceful. The view from the top was nothing to laugh about either! Having made it to Wonhyobong peak in good time, we decided to keep hiking and attempt the original and more famous Baegundae peak. With about an hour still from the top, we had to call it and turn back. At this point we had been hiking for ~5hours and had run out of water and food. We enjoyed some delicious jeon (seafood and kimchi) at the base of the mountain which ended our trip perfectly. Nicole and I said goodbye to the boys on the train and headed off for some much deserved R&R at Dragon Hill jimjilbang.

Overall I have experienced a lot of joy and some pain too in my pursuit of a good and happy life in Seoul. I still have these humbling moments where I can’t believe I’m really here doing what I said I was going to do. It makes me feel like a child in the best way, looking at the world knowing that anything is possible. I hope this month has been filled with your own growth and reflection. I miss and love you all dearly!

 

Annyeong!

 

 

 

Spring Vibes

March 8th-April 1st

Hello family and friends! Spring has finally arrived here in Seoul and I could not be happier. It is amazing to me how my lifestyle has changed now that the cloudy and cold days are (mostly) behind us. I’ve been busy crossing off items on my bucket list this month and keeping up a positive attitude at work, despite having one really challenging class. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Cooking Classes: Making Kimbap with our Emo, Marianne

As you may remember from an earlier blog Sabrina and I befriended the nicest Korean woman named Marianne on our first day of yoga class. We have continued our friendship with her and her husband, Mario, which has been nothing short of a blessing. They are two kind-hearted and free-spirited people that are a joy to be around. Marianne invited Sabrina and I to her house so that she could teach us how to make some famous Korean dishes. We made kimbap and tteokbokki the first time and more kimbap the second! We are thinking of opening up a kimbap restaurant called Emos 😀 (Emo is a cute term for a friend, similar to “Auntie”)

Exploring Seoul: Common Ground, Hangang Park and the War Memorial Museum

Sab, Tara, Rose and I had a relaxing Saturday visiting Common Ground, a container mall close to Konkuk University. We had delicious monster pizza (a favourite post-bar joint in the best neighborhood to dance- Hongdae), beer and fries. We enjoyed people-watching and counting the endless selfies that were happening every minute. The selfie game is shameless here in Korea.

Another Saturday in March was spent going to the market and then meeting Charlie and her friends at Hangang Park- Ttukseom Resort station. The park is huge and beautiful; I’m not certain of the exact size but it spans 12 Seoul districts. Hangang Park is also where I go running with Nicole, and where Sab, Nicole and I have commenced our boot camp. We meet every Tuesday/ Thursday morning at 8am and take turns leading each session. You can see all of the outdoor exercise equipment behind me in the picture; there is outdoor equipment in almost all of the parks I’ve seen in Seoul.

The War Memorial Museum was impressive in size and in the quality of the exhibits. There were interactive components in almost every area which were all available in English. We only spent a few hours wandering the different rooms so I will definitely have to make a trip back.

Hiking Seoul’s Mountains: Gwanaksan and Namhansanseong

The past two Sundays I have spent hiking two of Seoul’s many beautiful mountains. Hiking is extremely popular here, especially for the elderly. Gwanaksan is located in southern Seoul and took about 40 minutes on the subway to get to. We used the blog Adventure Strong Hiking to navigate our way to the trail-head. It took Tara, Rose, Sab and I about an hour and a half to reach the summit. The terrain wasn’t challenging, but there were a lot of steps! The views of Seoul, Wongaksa temple and Yeonju-dae, a shrine perched on a cliff, were breathtaking. In true Korean fashion we shared makkoli on our way down and had some ramen at the bottom. We were visited by an 81 year-old Korean man who told us he was in the CIA for 5 years. The people you meet!

Namhansanseong, located southeast of Seoul, was also incredibly beautiful. Nicole, Bethany, Sam, and I set out rather late last Sunday but again the hike wasn’t rugged by any means. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the top of the mountain where we explored the undefeated Namhansanseong Fortress. The fortress wall spanned 12km and was on level with the mountain ridges around it. We followed the wall for a while and then made our way into the fortress center. We enjoyed a light lunch of delicious kimchijeon and mandu! Back down at the trail head there were performers, so we clapped along and watched drunk old people dance. It was the perfect end to our hike!

 

Sab and I are heading to Marianne and Mario’s on Sunday to learn how to make kimchijeon. We are also going to dress up in traditional hanbok and go hiking with them and their dog, Joy! The arrival of spring also means that the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom so I’ll be checking out a few festivals in and around Seoul. April is promising to be a spectacular month… stay tuned 🙂

 

Annyeong!

When you say you are not going to Noraebong…

February 11th- March 7th

Hello my loved ones! So today, March 7th, is the official 3 months of my being here in Korea! I have settled into my new apartment and in a lot of ways I’ve fully settled into my life here. However, as many of my wonderful and wise friends have told me, 3  months is about the time when you start feeling homesick… they weren’t wrong! I have been having reoccurring dreams of my family as well as walking into a Tims and ordering a donut (priorities right?). Thankfully I have a fantastic friend group here who I can speak to about these troubles openly and some amazing friends back home who will skype me at a moment’s notice. To these people I say, thank you, thank you. thank you.

Given that I haven’t blogged in a month, I am going to be super breezy. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

On Feb 13th I joined Charlie and her friends to attend a Brazilian dinner and dance party. The food was incredible and the music got us all smiling and moving. My favourite song was Mas Que Nada.

On Feb 19th we officially welcomed Adrian to the Avalon team! A night that started out as just dinner quickly snowballed… I’ve learned that when you speak the words “I am not going to Noraebong” you pretty much guarantee that’s what you’re going to do. With a scratchy and sick voice I somehow stuck it out until 6am with the rest of the crew. Sadly that next morning I had to go into work where my biggest accomplishment was not hurling on a student. #winning

On Feb 21st Nicole and I went to a dog cafe! Cuteness ensued.

The following week was really fun at work! We were winding down the semester so I tried to enjoy everything. Included in the pictures below is a fun science experiment proving that the shape of an egg makes it a strong structure, my fantastic drawing skills, the graffiti wall I pass on my walk to work, my Langcon crew at BBQ, and lastly my newest attempt to stay healthy here in Korea. I went to the doctor who told me either my immune system is shot because I’ve never been exposed to the viruses and bacteria here or I’m allergic to the air.

Can you guess where Nicole and I were in that second picture? yup, Noraebong. I joined Nicole’s old co-workers in welcoming 3 newbies to their campus. It felt good not be the “youngest” in a group! We went from dinner to noraebong to dancing to Taco Bell and Nicole and I didn’t get home until 8am! It was a fantastic night though. That next Tuesday we got a day off work for Korea’s Independence Movement Day! Nicole and I visited Cheonggyecheon stream. It was once covered by a highway during Korea’s industry boom but has been restored to an 11km pathway through the heart of Seoul.

That brings me to this past week and weekend! We have started a new semester at work which means I have quite a few new students. Since these were technically my first, first days I tired not to be so hard on myself when nothing went right! I have a challenging class again first-thing M/W/F BUT I am not going to let them bring me down. I told my co-teacher Claire (the sweetest K-teacher at Langcon) that we are going to make this class work. I may have actually used the phrasing “break them” but I was very frustrated at the time.

After a fabulous Saturday night out with Sabrina, Rose, Andrew and all of his friends I hauled my but out of bed yesterday to hike up to Namasan Seoul Tower with Nicole. It was slow-going given my uh, condition but it was a beautiful day and I’m so glad we did it! The views of the mountains and the city were incredible.

 

That has been a month’s worth of my shenanigans! The weather is warming up here and I am so excited about the spring and summer. I’ve already booked a flight to Jeju for my summer vaycay and am making plans for Amanda’s and Katherine and my mum’s visits! Looking forward with a happy heart!

Annyeong 🙂