안녕히 가세요, Korea: Some Things We’ll Miss About You

This week we head back to America, which for all its school shootings and conspicuous consumption, will always be home. We will return to a pretty similar version of the life we left there two years ago, kids a little bit older, location a little more central, but essentially the standard NC middle class teacher existence.

We will always hold this place in our hearts. Korea has been special for us in a ton of ways. Living abroad is challenging, and especially so when transitioning between Western and Eastern cultures. Living here, thriving here, taught us a lot about ourselves, our resiliency, our ability to surmount obstacles together.

And there are a laundry list of things we’ll miss about this place. Here are just a couple:

1.  Cheap, delicious food eaten in the company of good friends (WITH CHOPSTICKS):

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Dalmaji Hill

A couple weeks ago, Ric and I took a much-needed break from work and planning our triumphant return to America and spent the day hanging out at Dalmaji Hill.  We mostly just walked around, taking the train road up and kinda/sorta following the boardwalk path back down with a brief stop by Cheongsapo fishing village.  Here are some photos from our little outing.

An old military lookout post, viewed from the train road

An old military lookout post, viewed from the train road

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Mother’s Day 2014

To read last year’s Mother’s Day post, click here.  

It’s 2AM in the States, but I know she’ll be up.  Mothers of twin toddlers never sleep, and my amazing sister is no exception.  Their to-do lists are enormous and almost never completed.  Their too brief periods of sleep are punctuated by baby noises or waking up unable to remember if that last load of laundry went into the dryer.  I don’t know how she does it.  And she doesn’t just do it.  She excels at it. My sister is an awesome mom for a million different reasons.  Here are a couple of them.

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Samgwangsa

If you’re in Busan in the weeks leading up to Buddha’s birthday, Samgwangsa is a must see. The Seomyeon temple, while beautiful in its own right, becomes amazing during this time of year, when it is decorated with over 10,000 lanterns to celebrate.  Not only did Ric and I have an awesome time wandering through the temple and taking photos, we also got to climb out a window (!) onto the temple’s roof to photograph the vista with like 50 other folks who were visiting on the day we were there.  As we climbed out onto the narrow roofway and began to take in the sight that lay before us, a photographer looked over and said, “Welcome to the Temple.”

Welcome, indeed. 

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Lotus Lantern Festival

This weekend is a four-day holiday here in Busan, which is super-rare in Korea because Koreans tend not to take vacations that often.  As I was telling my sister this morning, this is the first day we’ve had off work since Lunar New Year in late January.  Koreans will be celebrating both Children’s Day and Buddha’s Birthday this week, so the city is full of traditional lotus lantern decorations.  

A couple weekends ago, we went to the Lotus Lantern Festival at Yongdusan Park (near Busan Tower, Nampo subway stop, exit 1).  While by no means as massive as Jinju’s yearly lanter festival (which I am just now realizing I have never posted about–I will remedy this posthaste), this is a nice way to spend an evening.  Ric and I had a fabulous dinner at Arun Thai then walked off all that yummy pad thai checking out the lanterns and folk crafts in the park. 

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Sewol

As I’m sure you’ve seen in the news, South Korea is devastated over the loss of life in the Sewol Ferry tragedy.  There are confusing, conflicting responses to this tragedy, really the first major national catastrophe since the country was created after the Korean War.  For a culture that so highly values trust and respect, the idea of departmental and government oversights causing a loss of life this immense is overwhelming.  Just today, the country’s prime minister 정홍원 (Jeong Hong Won) resigned amid a hail of controversy about government inefficiency.  Distraught parents have threatened to march on the Blue House (South Korea’s presidential residence) in protest and are vocally and emotionally castigating a government they feel has failed to save their children.  

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For The Bookworms

For me, one of the hardest things about being in Korea is all the excellent reading I feel I’m missing out on.  Back at Hibriten, we were so lucky to have access to a great school library (and great school librarians), so I had almost anything I wanted to read for free.  It was a luxury whose full value I did not realize until we moved here to Korea.

Obviously, two years’ worth of reading material is not one of those things you can justify packing in the two suitcases allotted for Trans-Pacific travel.  Ric and I did what most expats do and sprung for e-readers (we chose Kindles), hoping they would provide a smaller, lighter way to meet our literary needs.  

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In Black

If you would’ve told 18 year old me that I would one day be a martial arts black belt, I would’ve exhaled the smoke from my hippie chic clove cigarette and laughed in your face.

At 27, I would have told you sadly that they don’t give black belts to fat girls.

By 30, I might have been interested but still a little incredulous. By that time, I had shed fifty pounds and was starting to learn that almost anything is possible.

Last week, at 33 and some change, I did something I never actually thought I would do, even when I started taking classes two years ago.  I  became a certified, card-carrying (for real, there’s a card, like a license to kill or something) 1st degree black belt in hapkido, an accomplishment I share with at least a third of Korean ten year olds.  But, still, it’s a big deal to me.

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For Those Hard to Find Expat Food Items

Some stuff is just hard to get over here.  Like biscuit mix or enchilada sauce.  And other stuff is insanely expensive in Korea–like multivitamins.  Add to this the logistical (and potentially financial) nightmare of having stuff shipped from your home country, and your food situation can start looking pretty bleak, especially if you live in a small town that doesn’t have a lot of retail options.

If you’re not already using it, let me recommend iHerb.  This website has hands-down the best prices on vitamins if you’re an expat living in Korea.  They also have a wide array of health and beauty products and food items that can be tough to find in Korea.  We order stuff like quinoa, wheat bran, enchilada sauce (by Frontera–it’s amazing), and vitamins from them.  Shipping costs about $4.00 to anywhere in Korea, and delivery is fast.  If you’re stateside, the prices are still great on a  lot of items and shipping on stuff over $20 is free.  

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