I have now survived 2 earthquakes, a hurricane/typhoon, a presidential impeachment and the ever present North Korean foreigner-targeted kidnapping threats.
Winter was really nice and spring, even better.
I’m importing a lot of things from overseas to stay sane.
Well actually… just peanut butter.
Things I crave/miss in Vancouver:
– The Naam. The entire menu.
– Craft beer. Specifically, a bottle of 33 Acres of Sunshine
– Plastic-free attitudes
– Wearing shorts when it’s 20 degrees and it being appropriate
– Quiet beaches and forests.
Things I’m digging in Korea these days:
– Face masks
– My after school English storytelling class
– The cost and speed of the Korean health care system (free allergy test at school, holla!)
– Kimchi everything
– Spring flowers (even better than Vancouver’s)
– The word for elephant in Korea, 코끼리/Kokiri. So cute.
– Using “I’m a foreigner” as the excuse for every strange thing I’m caught doing
Winter has come and gone, and I feel like I’ve experienced many lives here in South Korea.
However, I can’t complain.
This winter in Ulsan, was the sunniest and warmest winter I’ve ever experienced. There were barely any cloudy days, and the lowest temperature midday was -5C..
And yet, I felt so cold…
This was due to the fact that schools don’t heat hallways, only classrooms. So if you wanted to venture outside the classroom, you needed to wear your winter jacket to pee or grab some water. Students wore their winter jackets in class, and I often wore my toque at my desk. Being cold inside made the outside even colder.
The crazy thing is when I’d walk outside, the outdoors was warmer than the school.
I’m gonna stop myself there, though.
I know Vancouver got dumped on by the abominable snowman (I wrote abdominal snowman the first time…) for the entire winter.
For those reading that aren’t from Vancity, it means
1) buses and cars got stuck forever because “what eez snow tirez?”,
2) yucky slushy brown streets and
3) ski bums having the time of their lives.
I came back from Vietnam and Thailand, deskwarmed for a couple of weeks. I started a new and exciting, ass-kicking, tree-hugging, consumer-focused blog. I had to say goodbye to my first amazing co-teacher but now have a new amazing co-teacher, and we’ve been killin it in the classroom every since. Look at this amazing cake she brought me on my birthday!
In Febs my Kiwi friend, Rachel, came to visit me! She was on her way home from a 1 year exchange in Osaka, Japan. We both have lived in NZ and an Asian country, so we bonded over the differences and the difficulties of leaving and returning home. We watched Moana together in a theatre (Korean subtitles, English movie), and shared our common love for New Zealand. See you in Aotearoa soon, my friend!
In Febs, the temp warmed up enough to go hiking on Gajisan, or Gaji Mountain. I hiked with my girl Autumn and we somehow arrived at the top unscathed. There’s a little shack at the top where a kind Korean ajeoshi (older married man) gave her some gloves for her frozen hands, and we bought a Maxim coffee to warm up. The puddles were frozen and the wind was strong, so we couldn’t stay at the top for long.
I just wanted to show you what a foreign food breakfast looks like in Korea. Korean people typically each rice for breakfast, so this is a luxury.
Here’s the rule: In Korea, if you buy foreign food and expect it to taste like home -it won’t. As long as you know that, you’ll… still probably be disappointed… lols
Here’s a generalized list of things to expect when eating in South Korea:
– Everything is red – and that means it’s spicyyyy
– Everything tastes sweet: potato chips, bread, cheese crackers, garlic bread, pizza, chili. Just expect it to be sweet.
– You will be full before your food arrives because of the free side dishes
– No one cares about food waste
– Korea loves mayonnaise
– Lattes may not contain espresso (make sure it’s a cafe latte or 카패러때)
– It’s not a Korean meal without at least one kind of kimchi
– meat meat meat meat meat meat meat – but beef is expensive
I took some pictures of my hood.
Korea is such a strange combination of modern and ancient culture. I am always amazed at the pockets of gardens here, for the sake of growing vegetables. There may be a tiny triangle piece of property, squished between an apartment and the sidewalk, and you’ll find garlic and lettuce growing there.
In fact, here’s a paradox I still don’t understand.
In Korea, we don’t drink tap water. People rent filters for their homes on a monthly basis, personally, I have a Brita filter. Fruit is generally peeled, I was told because their may be pollutants in the skin. I was told not to go swimming in Ulsan because of the polluted waters from the industries (I will be coming home with webbed feet). And yet, Dong-gu boasts about amazing seafood, of which we eat often, and families are eating the lettuce from the soil next to the busy streets and sidewalks.
Side note: I dropped food on the ground.. and ate it of course (5 second rule) and you should’ve seen the look I got…
Houses aren’t commonly come across in Korea, as most people live in apartments. My neighbours are always drying seaweed and making the entire neighbourhood smell like the ocean – can’t complain.
This old house is no longer used, but has the prettiest effects of age.
Notice the bamboo, old rooves, and hanging fish.
My parents came to visit me!
Over their stay, I discovered that my parents are the best travelers ever. It’s not as if I didn’t before, but I was never old enough to notice when we traveled as kids.
Instead of waiting for me to finish work, they wandered around the area and found something exciting to do every day. On the weekend we went to Busan, and the next weekend we went to Jeju Island. When I came home from work, my mom would have a cup of tea and sliced fruit or veggies waiting for me <3<3<3
The plastic in Korea is unavoidable. When I ask why, it’s because it’s considered cleaner, and just more convenient. These are pics from one grocery store, in a country of 50 million people. There is no reduce or reuse, but they do have a decent recycling program here (so I’m told). I’m not sure if plastic wrap can be recycled.
The three of us met up with my Korean brother, and we went to Jagalchi market. There, we ate hagfish – a prehistoric jawless fish that excretes slime to get away from predators.
The reason we agreed to eat it is because he called it an eel. That, my friend, is no eel.
We stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the middle of nowhere, and then woke up to a gorgeous morning. We hung out on Haeundae beach together and mom and dad acted like they hadn’t seen the sun in years.
and then we went to Jeju Island together!
We walked a lot…
..until we had to stop for coffee and rest at Yongduam Rock.
We went on a Hana tour of the West side of the island. (Ragrets- apparently the East Coast is cooler).
Our first stop was the Spirited Garden (생각하는 정원) where we saw incredible bunjae (Korean bonsai) and realized how special and cared for each tree is.
Canola flowers are a thing in Korea. On Jeju, some people just grow them to charge tourists a dollar to step on their property and take a picture.
This place is called the Dragon’s Head Coastline, or Yongmeori (용머리해안).
Apres ca, we saw these funky rocks. Jusangjeolli (주상절리) Cliff was formed when the lava from Hallasan Mountain erupted into the sea of Jungmun.
It’s also the perfect place to learn how to take selfies!
Our tour brought us to Yakcheonseo (약천사) Temple.
It is to this day, the most beautiful temple I have ever seen.
These guys reminded me of my bros back home (derpy and making certain types of jokes… Miss you dudes.)
Like I said, the Korean folks that met them raved about how great of an impression they made on them, even if my dad needed to use a fork instead of chopsticks.
And suddenly Korea was pink!
Photo walks with my chingus lead to photos like these.
We ran into some exotic animals and their exotic owners taking them for walks..
For my birthday I peace outta Ulsan to my friend Fatima’s tiny city near Seoul. Four of us did nothing but chill at home, play with her cat and eat crap food. Birthday well spent!
On Easter Sunday I decided to hike Mt. Gajisan alone to spend some quality time with God. The entire day was amazing! I broke a new personal record – it is still to date one of the steepest hikes I have ever done.
I don’t think many people see foreigners on the mountains, let alone solo female hikers, so some ajeoshis would exclaim “AIIIIGOOO” when I greeted them. I decided to jog down the mountain like my sister and I always do, and I ran into a group of hikers. They asked to take a picture with me, pink and covered with sweat.
When I left, in true Korean fashion they told me I shouldn’t run down and to be careful.
I bowed, thanked them, smiled… and ran. My knees and ankles held up.
It’s Buddha’s Birthday on May 3rd, so all the temples in Korea have colourful lanterns.
I made sure to notice all the small things. Look at all the pretty flowers! I also saw a wee snake.
It was still early in spring, but the azaleas are already blooming on the mountain. Many mountains in Korea turn purple, just like in autumn they turn orange.
Korean seasons are absolutely worth witnessing.
The same guy that served Autumn and I coffee from his little shack at the top of the mountain got a new puppy! It’s a Jindo, the Korean dog breed. His last dog was also a Jindo, and he had quite a reputation. I read about him on some other foreigners’ hiking blogs, but I never got to meet him.
Look at these baby greens. I’ve officially seen Seoknamsa in all 4 seasons. To compare them, I made a hashtag on instagram (#sarahs4seasons), and I’ll post them side by side in another blog post later.
It’s already 22-27 degrees some days during the week, and it’s not even May. Rainy season is coming and I’m ill prepared, mentally and wardrobe-wise, after all this sunshine.
At the of April, my NZ exchange best friend came to visit me on her way home from her trip to Japan. We spent less than a day together but it was still the best ever (even with a fever).
I still can’t believe how normal it feels to live in a completely different culture. I am now used to my routine, my role as a teacher and my role as a foreigner in this country.
I am still learning patience and understanding and recognizing that there is no such thing as paradise. I’m also learning that home is any place you are growing and loved, making Korea home, even on the days I hate it here.