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!