Hello, 2019!

Hope everyone is having a good start to 2019!  Zach and I have been laying low since we leave for vacation in 3 days, but all in all its been a good start to the year and we are excited to explore 2 new countries in a few days.

Zach and I brought in the new year with some friends of ours, and in doing so we learned that Korean’s bring in the new year by watching the first sunrise of the year.  It was pretty neat seeing all the pictures of the sunrise the following day on social media, and maybe next year we will partake in that tradition.  Since we didn’t learn about this until right before midnight, there was no way we were waking up to see that sunrise…hey, at least I’m honest.  Instead of watching the ball drop, we watched them ring a bell in downtown Seoul to symbolize the new year.  I have to say, it was kind of weird being 14 hours ahead of the East Coast, but still a fun night overall.

We have officially been in Korea for 6 months now, and though the honeymoon stage is over, overall its still been a great experience; its hard to believe our time here is a fourth of the way over!  I guess time flies when you are busy exploring.  I will say that now that the newness has worn off, I’ve been noticing some things that I didn’t in the beginning, and its been pretty eye opening to say the least…

I know racism and nationalism is not something that is only found in the United States, and quite honestly found all over the world, but I will say I was pretty naïve to how prominent those two sentiments are here in Asia.  I had no idea that the Koreans don’t like the Japanese, that the Filipinos don’t like Koreans, and NO ONE likes China.  Seriously, no one likes the Chinese, but everyone happily takes their money because they are big vacationers.  When we were on our honeymoon in Bali, our tour guide made a few off hand comments about the Chinese during our trip, but I kind of just brushed it off, thinking nothing of it.  When we went to Malaysia in November,  both tour guides we had made off hand comments about the Chinese.  Its been eye opening. Right now, there are signs right outside the main gate professing hate towards China.  People actually paid money to print “we hate China” signs.  Multiple signs.  Its a little intense.  Needless to say, its been very interesting observing and learning about why these cultures hold negative feelings towards each other and seeing it play out as we travel and live our lives here in Asia. IMG_2204

In many of my blog entries, I have reiterated how accommodating and nice the Koreans have been towards us, the foreigners as we are called, and that still holds true to what I have experienced so far.  However,  I have been hearing stories about Americans being denied service at various establishments in Seoul,  and even here in Pyeongtaek.  We met a couple at a party a few months ago and they had been in Seoul the night before and were kicked out of a bar for being foreigners.  I have seen posts on our spouse’s Facebook page about this happening to others as well.  And of course these individuals have been outraged: how dare they! Is this normal?   Its also been interesting to see that all of these people who have either posted on the Facebook page or that I met with these stories were all Caucasian.  I couldn’t help but find the irony in the situation being that shit like this happens all the time to people who have a darker skin complexion.  I might have internally said to myself “oh you poor thing…you don’t like that???”  I remember when I first moved to Virginia, I had a friend in school who wasn’t allowed to come to my house because my Dad had some color to his skin.   I didn’t know what racism was until then, because I grew up with a Caucasian Mom and a Puerto Rican Dad…I just didn’t see color.  I lived my life blissfully unaware of assholes like that until I was 15 years old… Thanks Virginia. So, like I said, its been fascinating to see people be the victim to that kind of mentality for the first time and how outraged they have been in response.  And don’t get me wrong, it sucks that it exists and that it happens, and I was really surprised to hear that it was happening here in Korea towards us foreigners, but seriously, worse shit has happened in our own country.  I am by no means belittling what happened to them here, because it does suck,  but a part of me finds it ironic. If that makes me an asshole, so be it. At least I own it.  And then, ironically, I was walking to post just the other day and noticed  “Koreans Only” painted on a door not even 3 blocks from base.   The things that become obvious when you are in tune with an issue; I have literally walked by that “Koreans Only” sign  for 6 months without noticing it. IMG_2203

 

But you know what?  Right outside of base feels a little like an American shopping center…everything is in English, there are all kinds of restaurants and shops that make it feel like home,  and we as a foreign population make little to no effort to learn the language while we are here, not only taking advantage of the hospitality we are shown, but also expecting it.  So shame on us.  While it sucks that there are places that I am not welcome at here in Korea, I kind of get it.  And honestly, I don’t WANT to go somewhere I’m not welcome.  So as much as I hate that it even exists, I’m not up in arms about it like some of my peers are, because overall I have been showered with nothing but kindness and warmth from the Koreans, but realistically I can’t expect for every Korean to be happy we are here and welcome us with open arms.  We have to remind ourselves that we are guest in this country, and unfortunately some of our peers act like grade A jackasses while here, making a bad name for those of us who are respectful of our time here.  Because of these shenanigans, we have curfew and there are establishments that are anti-foreigner:  I’m not going to let that hinder the awesome experience I am having so far, but I will definitely be more mindful  while out and about in Korea to make sure I am wandering into places where I am welcome.

Hope I didn’t ruffle too many feathers with this post, but the purpose of this blog is to share my experience here in Korea: good, bad, and ugly.  And unfortunately, I am learning that there is an ugly side of Korea, but luckily I haven’t witnessed it personally directed at me.  I can only keep treating my fellow humans just as that, humans, and hope that this way of thinking is contagious.

Next blog entry will be about our upcoming adventures in Cambodia and Vietnam!  I am so dang excited for this trip!  After that, we will be taking a few month break from traveling; Zach’s work schedule is cray cray for the next few months and we aren’t made of money LOL.

Until next time…

 

 

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Bye 2018

Sorry its been awhile since my last blog post, just hasn’t been a lot going on and if I’m being honest,  I’ve been feeling more bah humbug then jolly this past month.    2018 was definitely a roller coaster of a year, and though there were some pretty awesome things that happened (I mean, I’m living in Korea!), there have also been some stuff that has not been so fun, and I’m ready to say goodbye to 2018.

I think it’s safe to say that the honeymoon period is officially over, and the things that come with living abroad that were different or exotic in the first few months have officially become inconvenient and annoying.  Its also been incredibly eye opening how much a 14 hour time difference has made it seem impossible to get a hold of people who used to be solid fixtures in my life.  But its also been fun learning about all the different apps that make connecting so easy, no matter the time difference, and though I have been surprised by the radio silence by some, I have been more then blessed with amazing people who make an effort to continue to be apart of this great adventure (Snapchat filters are my new favorite means of communication!  LOL).    Some of the not so fun parts of living in Korea aside from the time difference:

  • All soldiers here have a curfew, and so from the hours of midnight to 5am, Zach must be either at home or in for the night where ever he may be in Korea during that time frame. If soldiers are found busting curfew, there are severe consequences so its not something to mess with.  And though that really doesn’t effect us most days (because I value sleep! haha),  this was a bit of a hassle for the Army Navy game.  Because of that beloved time difference, the game started at 5am our time.  There is a bar/restaurant on post that was hosting a watch party, with doors opening at 4am.  In order for Zach to be able to get on post before curfew to watch the game, he had to get a leave form signed granting permission to come on post before 5am.  Seriously.  Though I understand why curfew is in place, it feels like we are being treated like children.   New Years Eve will also be a pain since technically he can’t be out and about after midnight.  Curfew does not apply to dependents, but you know, solidarity and all.  So we will most likely be having a low key NYE as to set a good example for all the younger folks out there.  booooo.
  • Koreans drivers.  No matter what I describe to you in these next few sentences, I don’t think you can fully understand how crazy these people are behind the wheel unless you experience it.  Before we moved here, I read about how the drivers were and thought to myself, no big deal, I’ve driven in New York City, it will be fine.  It is not fine.  They are crazy here.   Red lights are suggestions if there is no traffic camera and blinking red lights mean GO here.  I have been stopped at a red light like a good law abiding citizen multiple times and had the car behind me go around me (by going over the median) to run the red light with traffic flowing.  Its insane.  And exhausting because you really can’t be a distracted driver here.  At all.  Hopefully I don’t forget all the rules of driving in the next 18 months.  I have a huge fear of forgetting what flashing red lights mean once I get back to the states.
  • The air quality just simply blows.  I’ve been sick all week because we have had poor air quality for the past month, and because I walk everywhere around town, I think it finally got to me.  It really sucks because there is really nothing you can do about it except to limit how much you go outside, but its no fun being cooped up when you have elephants live above you….ok, they aren’t elephants, but it sounds like it.  I can’t wait for school to start back up! haha.  Let’s just say Zach and I will only be living in single family homes, townhouses, or the top floor for the rest of our lives.  Lesson learned.
  • The price of produce is too damn high here.  Don’t get me wrong, we get a cost of living allowance every month, but I can’t seem to find it in me to pay $8.29 for a pack of strawberries, $7.19 for a head of cauliflower,  $3.29 for ONE avocado, and $6.00 for a head of lettuce. And since the commissary charges these prices, the local markets sell these items, but only slightly cheaper, so in the end, its all still a rip off.  I miss avocados. Every once in a while I break down and buy one.  Usually they aren’t good quality.  This one pictured below is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in Asia.  I might have cried for joy when I cut into it.  IMG_1797

Speaking of strawberries, Korea grows strawberries in greenhouses and they are in season December and January.  One day at the local market, there were packs of strawberries for sale for little over 5 dollars which is a steal compared to the price on post.  So I caved and bought a pack.  Best. Decision. Ever.  These strawberries are quite literally the best I have ever had.   So now I begrudgedly pay $6 for a pack of strawberries since they are in season, but they are so damn good.  #takeallmymoney

I just wrapped up another semester, and only have 3 more classes between me and graduation.  I took 6 classes this semester, and it kicked my ass.  But I’m happy to report that somehow I managed to pull off straight A’s, and as long as I survive my capstone, I will be receiving my MBA in May.  One more semester.

Even though Zach is supposed to be working half days until the end of the year, that really hasn’t panned out so we have been pretty low key and just relaxing for the most part these last two weeks.   We leave for Cambodia and Vietnam in 2 weeks and I am so excited to escape the cold and shitty air for 10 days and I know Zach is ready for vacation for sure (its 10:30pm right now and he is still at work….half days my ass)

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I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas, and have a safe and fun New Years!  Until next year….

 

Kota Kinabalu

When Zach and I first learned his next duty station was Korea, I was immediately excited about all the travel opportunities we were going to have while living here.  My list of places to visit is endless, and I know we won’t make it to all of them with already 6 months of our 2 years here gone.  Since our easy bake oven would never fit a turkey, and Zach’s boss already claimed Christmas to go on vacation, we decided that Thanksgiving would be a good opportunity to take our first big trip. Initially, we had our sights set on the Philippines, but Uncle Sam doesn’t allow soldiers to travel to the area that we were interested in going. So I started asking around for ideas, and a friend of mine suggested Kota Kinabalu.  I’ll be honest, I had never heard of KK until my friend mentioned it, and if I’m being real honest, Malaysia wasn’t high on the list of places to travel to while we were here.   But after doing some research, Zach and I were both sold on going for our Thanksgiving holiday:  it is a direct flight from Korea, there was a brand new Marriott right on the water, there were tons of things to do and see, and it was well below our budget for the trip.  SOLD!

I highly recommend a trip to KK. Its a very popular vacation destination for the Chinese, Filipinos, and Koreans, and after going I can understand why.  The air is clear, the water is beautiful, and the landscape is breathtaking.  I’m not sure if this is true or not, and I really hope its not, but I’ve been told that KK is not a popular destination for westerners because 80% of the population practices Islam.  And I will tell you, the entire time there I felt completely underdressed compared to the majority of the women there, and tourist women definitely stuck out like a sore thumb.  There were several mosques throughout the city that were absolutely gorgeous and prayers were broadcasts on a loudspeaker throughout the city throughout the day.  It was lovely to see their dedication to their religion and it was really neat to learn and experience something new.  It was also interesting that pretty much everyone there speaks English, because the island at one point was a British colony.  The main language is Malayan, but most everyone speaks a little English and so it was super easy to get around and explore.

The US dollar goes a lonnnngggg way in KK.  When I booked our Marriott, I was surprised with how inexpensive it was, and then upon arriving, I was blown away with how inexpensive it was.  Zach and I were treated like royalty, and enjoyed an open bar every night, view overlooking the China Sea, and some of the best service we have ever gotten at a hotel.  We took a taxi to the wharf to go snorkeling and it costs less then a dollar for a 10 minute cab ride.  Needless to say, we felt like we were making it rain while we were there! haha.  We converted $200 to the local currency and didn’t come close to spending it all in 5 days.  So much bang for your buck.

 

 

 

Within walking distance on either side of our hotel were several open markets and shopping malls.  KK has a huge farmers market every Sunday, so unfortunately we didn’t get to witness that, but the street markets that were open every day were quite impressive.  You could buy anything from local fruits and vegetables, handmade jewelry and crafts, and there were also men that sat every few feet with sewing machines, where the locals come to get things made or altered.  It was incredible to see the detail they put in their work and how talented they were.   Had I known this was a thing, I probably would have had a dress made while we were there.  The other funny thing we noticed roaming through the streets of KK is that KFC is VERY popular there.  There is literally a KFC on every corner, or so it seems, and when we were driving out of the city, there were signs that would tell you how far you were from the nearest KFC.  Seriously.  They love that chicken apparently. img_1911img_1841img_1914img_1915img_1807img_1808img_1840

We didn’t go to a KFC (but I will admit we ate at a Hard Rock Café so I could have nachos!), we did eat at one of the night markets.  Zach got to pick out his snapper from the counter and they cooked it right there for him.  It was pretty incredible.  I will say, Malaysian food is not my favorite.  Don’t get me wrong, its not awful by any means, its very standard Asian cuisine, heavy in noodle and rice dishes, but I just didn’t think the food had as much flavor.  Every where you go, each table had a set of 4 different sauces, and I definitely was thankful for those sauces, otherwise the meals would have been pretty bland.  Our meal at the market, which consisted of the fresh fish, local chicken, and 2 beverages costs us a total of $11.  That’s it.  So though I’m not dying to go back for the food, I will happily pay 11 bucks for the both of us to eat dinner any day.

 

 

 

We booked two tours to do while we were there, and if you haven’t heard of Viator.com, I highly recommend checking them out.  I was able to book both tours before hand with local companies, and for a reasonable price, they picked us up at the hotel, took us on our excursion, and then brought us back to the hotel.  Viator works all around the world, and it is a great way to see what activities are available where you live or are traveling too.  Our first tour took us to Mt.  Kinabalu, which is a good 2 hour drive from KK.  We were the only ones booked for the tour that day, so it was a private tour with one of the locals who was born and raised not too far from KK.  Initially, we had hopes of hiking Mt. Kinabalu, but they only allow 120 people to hike per day and you have to book it months in advanced. So instead, we opted to explore the rainforest at its base and hoped to see the world’s largest flower while we were there.  Our tour guide was phenomenal, and we had the opportunity to check out the mountain from various view points, wonder through the rainforest that boosts over 1000 varieties of Orchids, and he found us 2 blooming Rafflesias.  Since it was just us on the tour, he was able to share some insight into the culture of the area and  learn about him.  The further inland we drove, the more Christian churches we began to notice.  He explained that he is a member of one of the island’s original 30 tribes, and those tribes were subjected to missionaries who converted them to Christianity in the 1970’s.  His dad’s tribe was the headhunter tribe, and they were the war makers of the island who protected the territory and were known to use machetes to decapitate anyone who encroached on the land.  You could tell this tribe apart from the others on the island because all the men were covered in tattoos and had earrings in both ears.  Though this tribe no longer head hunts, members still get tattoos and pierce their ears to pay respect to their tribe; our tour guide proudly showed off his tattoos and explained he still has his grandfather’s machete (don’t worry, he is a devout Christian now!)   Our tour guide also explained to us that he was fluent in 5 different languages:  English, which he spoke perfectly, as well as Malayan, and then 3 different tribe languages, since his wife is a descendent of a different tribe, and not the headhunter one he is from.

 

Our second excursion was snorkeling.  There is a series of 5 islands that are a protected refuge that you can take a 20 minute boat ride too.  We saw soooo many varieties of coral, we found nemo and dory, and at the end a huge school of needlefish that seemed to have an electric glow to them.  It was amazing.  And though it was beautiful, it was depressing at the same time because there was so much trash in the water. Not as bad as what we saw in Bali, but enough that made me a touch sad.  So as I was swimming, I would pick up the various plastic bags and bottles, and the fish would come right up to me because they thought it was food.  So though I got an up close look at lots of fishies, it was mostly because they thought the trash I was collecting was food.  My PSA:  Don’t be a litter bug.

 

The last full day we had in KK, we made no plans and just relaxed, enjoyed the pool, watched the sunset, and went to a light festival that was right on the water.  Though 80% of KK is Muslim, the city still caters to Christianity and there were tons of Christmas displays throughout.  I had read that Malaysia is a bit of a mixing bowl of different cultures and religions and they somehow all get along and celebrate each other’s holidays together, so it was really awesome to see this first hand.  Never once did I feel like I was being judged for not covering my head, elbows and knees, and it was kind of amazing to see a city 80% Islamic cater to the 5% that are Christians.

 

All and All, I really enjoyed visiting KK and really recommend it if you are looking for an affordable paradise that has a ton to offer.  It was a much needed break from the Korean air, and the sunset every night was magnificent.  So now its back to the grind but we are looking forward to our next trip, which will be in January, when we visit Cambodia and Vietnam.  We will be staying here for Christmas and looking forward to a low key holiday with a few day trips up to Seoul.

Until next time peeps….

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Captain Planet, He’s our Hero….

Hello Everyone!

Hope everyone is doing well!  Its been a bit of a slow week here, mostly due to excess pollution making it hard to be outside, so sorry its been a while since I’ve posted.  This week has been a bit next level with having to deal with air quality, so I figured I would tell you a little bit about my experience of it.

After we found out that we were coming to Korea, I started diving into research to find out what to expect.  The biggest thing that came out of that research aside from culture differences, was the air quality.  Because of the way the jet stream runs in this part of the world, it picks up dust from the Gobi Desert, and then passes through China, where those dust particles pick up pollution, and then get pushed to Korea.  According to what I read initially, air quality wasn’t something we really had to worry about until the Spring.  So I was completely surprised to learn that air quality is pretty much an issue year around except for in the summer, and then the humidity and heat pick up the slack for making going outside awful.  In order for me to come along with Zach, I had to be medially screened in order to be deemed healthy enough to make the journey.  I remember that doctor asking me like 5 different times if I suffered from asthma, which at the time I thought was a little over kill.  Plus, he was looking at my medical file and there is no instance of me being treated for asthma ever, but you know, I guess captain obvious didn’t have room in that screening! haha.  After the last week here though, I get it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m going to die immediately from breathing the air, since I am a healthy individual.  But even with wearing an air mask this week, my throat still burns.  If you are a runner and have ever run outside during the winter and get that burning sensation in your chest, that’s how I feel right now.   There are reports of pink eye going around because of the gunk in the air, and people who have respiratory issues to begin with really suffer under these conditions.  The air quality was so bad on Wednesday that Seoul mandated that only cars with license plates ending in odd numbers could be on the road, public parking lots were closed as a deterrent to keep cars off the road, diesel engine vehicles were banned for the day, and public transportation was free to help people get around in an effort to not make the air quality worse.   I have two apps that help me keep track of air quality, one that rates the quality from green, yellow, orange, then red (red is no good), and another one that mathematically calculates how bad the air the air is by equating it to cigarettes smoked if you breathe the air without a mask.  Wednesday was the equivalent of 8.5 cigarettes.  Hooray pollution (don’t I make that air mask look good???  HAHAHA)

 

Those of you who know me, know that I am a tree hugger through and through (captain planet was most definitely one of my favorite childhood cartoons! See, it started early). I will give you side eye for using plastic bags for your produce in the grocery store (yes, I openly judge you EVERY TIME, but here is a great solution that won’t hurt your wallet),  I have been known to take all the empty wine bottles after wine club to make sure they get recycled, though I’m sure we could apply and get a second car here, I am enjoying my lessened carbon footprint on the world by going carless these next two years, and I most definitely will say something to you if I witness you littering (especially if you are in a national park…get it together!).  I’ve always believed that humans can most certainly have a negative impact on Mother Earth, and living in Korea has really opened my eyes to the reality of that fact.   For all of you that may have been annoyed with my tree hugging ways, I’m here to tell you that my experience here in Korea has only amplified this for me.  When you have to plan your week around air quality so you don’t feel like crap, you start to look up the reasons why air quality is so bad and how it can be prevented.  When I see news articles about our President dismissing the fact that human activity has an affect on the environment, it pisses me off.  If you are one of those who doesn’t think we as humans make a difference in the environment, I dare you to come over here to Korea on a bad air day without an air mask and talk to me about your beliefs and see if you don’t feel like a liar.  Seriously.  I dare you.  Its easy to write it off when it doesn’t necessarily impact you at the moment (believe me, I am guilty of that, then I witnessed smog in Korea and changed my mind).  I get it, making companies be environmentally responsible is not cheap and it raises the costs of goods and services. But I’ve said it once, and I will say it again, I’m ok with paying a little more for goods and services if it means manufacturers can limit their footprint on the air and water that I breath and drink.  I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to how much you value clean air and water.  Before moving here, I would say that I wasn’t overly concerned about regulating companies for the purpose of clean air and water….I mean, logically it makes sense, but is it really necessary in the United States?  But after the past week of continuous bad air (thanks everything made in China), I am know for a fact I am more than ok to pay a pretty penny to breathe fresh air.  Because breathing sucky air just sucks.  And there is absolutely nothing you can do about it once it’s bad except wait for it to pass or hope for rain.  And thank God its raining today.   I literally went for a walk today in the rain to get fresh air.  So have I changed my mind about regulating manufacturers???? HELL YES I HAVE.  Take all my money.

Other big thing going on right now is USFK is having a change of command today, and with that has come elevated protest activity among those who are not happy that we are here in Korea.  Most of these protests are peaceful, and countered with pro America groups, but over the weekend one group got a little over zealous and were throwing objects, resulting in a gate to close until authorities could get the situation under control.  Its been interesting to sit back and watch and at the same time kind of sad to see the stereotype of how some Koreans see us as a whole.  The Pro-America group was blasting “beer for my horses” as their theme song today as they counter protested the anti-USFK group near the main gate today.  Yikes.  But don’t worry, we usually get plenty of notice of these protests and for the most part they are mostly just entertaining and not violent, but its definitely been a spotlight in the events of this past week.

Otherwise, its going to be a pretty low key week and a half, but then we will be spending Thanksgiving in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.  I’m so excited to get to explore somewhere completely new and get away from the air pollution, even if for a few days.

So until next time, breathe easy my friends.

 

Train to Busan

Last Friday was Zach’s division’s 101st birthday, and so they had a ball on Thursday night and a 3 day weekend to celebrate.  Since Zach’s division hardly ever takes time off, even on federal holidays, we decided to take advantage of the down time to travel south to visit Korea’s second largest city, Busan.  (Side note:  They took a video clip of us at ball for the upcoming Army Navy Game on December 8th, so watch out for us with the 2nd Infantry Division….Zach and I are all the way in the back! haha).   Because traffic is awful, the drive would have been 4-5 hours, so we decided to try out the speed train here and got there in 2 hours flat.  It was super nice, roomy, and the countryside along the way was absolutely gorgeous (sorry, no pictures, hard to get non-blurry pictures at 130km per hour).  It constantly blows my mind how beautiful it is here in Korea.  Seriously.  img_1460

Busan might be my new favorite city.  Its a rather large city with public transit, and in one line of sight you can see beach and mountain.  Its like all my favorite things in one place. Since Zach’s job here in Korea is kind of non stop, I made an effort to not make a game plan so we could just go with the flow and take it easy (which was quite difficult with my type A personality haha).  This lack of game plan made me seriously anxious since we don’t speak the language here and were in new territory.  However, the more I continue to go out and explore Korea, I am always pleasantly surprised with the kindness and accommodations that are made to make it easier for those of us who cannot read and speak Hangul;  I think I fall a little more in love with Korea with every little trip I take.

The first day we were in Busan was super rainy, so we went and visited the UN memorial cemetery and then went to the world’s largest department store to wait out the rain.  The cemetery was absolutely beautiful, and you can tell the care and money that is put into its upkeep.   I would be telling a lie if I said Zach and I didn’t get lost in the department store more then once, it was insanely large and sandwiched between two shopping malls.  It had everything from a ice rink, to an American style pub, to everything in between.  Though it wasn’t initially what we planned on doing, we found a Charlie brown Christmas tree since we didn’t bring any of our Christmas decorations with us.  #winning.

 

On Saturday, what was supposed to be a chill sight seeing day was anything but.  30,000 steps and 125 floors later, Zach and I saw a Buddhist temple overlooking the Sea, on of Busan’s numerous  beaches, a cultural village, South Korea’s largest fish market, and a night market for all the street food.  It was exhausting but totally worth it.  My poor husband can’t catch a break! haha.

  • Haedong Yonggung Temple – this temple was originally built in the 1300’s but was destroyed by the Japanese and then later rebuilt.  It was absolutely breathtaking but absolutely jammed with tourist by 11am.  It was very neat seeing people come to worship here and to take in all the beauty of the temple and the surrounding area.   I would love to go back at sunrise, because though it was beautiful, there were almost too many people there to really enjoy it the way I would have liked too.
  • Haeundae Beach – even though it was barely 60 degrees, if there is beach, I will be there.  This beach is beautifully maintained and boasted a beautiful view of skyscrapers, sea, and mountains.  There was a farmers market, tons of restaurants, and they were even doing an outdoor gaming tournament while we were there.  Definitely going to be making our way back during the summer months to catch some rays and delicious street food for sure.
  • Gamcheon Cultural Village –  this might have been my favorite stop on the trip.  It’s considered one of the most Instagrammed place in Busan, and after seeing it, I completely understand why.  During the Korean War, many South Korean’s fled south to Busan to escape the war front.  Gamcheon Cultural Village is the result of that migration of the population:  it was once a shanty town that has now been turned into an art center to turn a dark chapter in Korea’s history into something beautiful.  It’s houses upon houses in the hills of a mountain with curvy alleys and beautiful colors, and it seems to go on forever and ever. Throughout the village, there were different art exhibits, vendors, cafe’s and a museum to educate visitors on the area.   Zach and I had our first Patbingsu, which is a popular Korean dessert made with shaved ice and red beans.  Red beans are a dessert here, and the way they are prepared is sweet, but not overly sweet, and I must admit I was not a big fan in the beginning, but it has slowly grown on me.  We took so many pictures here, and though we were there for almost 2 hours, I could have spent the whole day there.  img_1537img_1531img_1535img_3304img_33011img_3305
  • Jagalchi Market –  Being that Busan is a seaside city, it makes sense that it’s home to Korea’s largest fish market.  Most of the fish were alive, and you could pick your seafood and have the merchant prepare it for you to eat right there on the spot.  They had everything from fish, shrimp, king crab, lobsters, eels, octopus, squid, and Korea’s famous penis fish, because, you know, it looks like a penis LOL.   A few blocks over, there are about 5 different night markets that Zach and I walked through to have our dinner.  From fish on a stick, to tornado potatoes, we ate ourselves silly and loved every second of it.

Although our time was short, we are already planning our next trip to Busan in the Spring.  Highly recommend and it is super easy to navigate despite not knowing the language.

Next weekend we are hoping to go on a hike to check out the fall foliage, but besides that we will be pretty low key until Thanksgiving when we go to Malaysia for 5 days.  So it might be a little slow on the blog front, but who knows what adventures I will get into between now and Thanksgiving.

On a side note,  though I live in another country, its hard not to see what is going on back home and it makes my heart hurt so much.  I wish so much that people could be more like how the Koreans have been towards us, the foreigners.  It would be so easy for the Koreans to not be welcoming, to make things difficult, to resent us for taking jobs from them, for influencing their culture away from their traditional ways, but instead, it is the exact opposite.  Instead of resisting the people that are different, the Korean’s are curious and even accommodating in so many ways, its almost hard to believe at times.   I feel as if we are truly embraced here despite our differences, and I am so eternally grateful for the experience of feeling the warmth and kindness that the Koreans offer.  Just over the weekend, a group of people at a bus stop were enjoying apples and handed Zach and I each one without batting an eye, a woman insisted on taking our picture when we were struggling to take a selfie at the temple, and a bus driver went out of his way to make sure we knew where we were going because we must have had that look of confusion on our faces.  The language barrier was most definitely present in all 3 situations, but the common bond of being human was what made it all possible.  Love one another peeps.  Life is too short and its such a beautiful way to live!  Until next time…img_1502

Korean Cooking For the Soul

Every Thursday, a group of friends and I get together to do something, whether its trying a new restaurant together in town, exploring a new area, or going to spouse events on post.  This past Thursday, one of the ladies organized a private cooking class for us to attend in her home, and it might easily be my favorite thing we have done as a group so far (you have definitely set the bar high, Chie!!!!) .  If you couldn’t tell from my previous post, I’m pretty much in love with Korean Cuisine, so getting the opportunity to learn how to make some of the dishes was definitely a really awesome experience.  A professional chef came, along with a translator, and 3 assistants that helped us along the way.  The translator is actually a director of a center in town that aims to bridge the gap between the local community and the growing foreigner population.  It was really neat to get to hear about the center and it was awesome how they helped coordinate the cooking class for us.

The menu for our cooking class included Korean Pancakes, Japchae, and Kimchi.  What was really neat is before we even started we got a little history lesson on Korean cooking and where or why the dishes we were about to prepare are significant to Korean Culture.  Those who know me, know I LOVE to cook, and am an okay baker.  I’m only an okay baker because you have to measure things and can’t really ad lib so to speak, and I love just throwing ingredients together and tasting as I go, only using recipes as a loose guide to getting to the end result.  Korean cooking philosophy is very similar.   We received recipes, but there are zero measurements and we often asked how much, which to my amusement we got very vague answers.   Koreans believe in putting love in your food, and a sentiments they call “Sonmat” which translates to hand taste:  You will see in the pictures, hands were used to mix and taste the food all throughout class yesterday.  The chef who taught yesterday was a beautiful woman, but you can definitely tell that her profession has been hard on her hands, but she seemed to truly love what she was doing and it was really neat to see the passion she put into creating her dishes.

  • Korean Pancakes:  unlike what we have in the states, pancakes here are not sweet so to speak nor a breakfast food, but rather a savory side or appetizer with tons of veggies and sometimes a protein ( We prepared ours with squid).  It was explained to us that Korean pancakes are popular and normally fried because as they are frying, it sounds like the rain, and there is a long rainy season here in Korea, so during those rainy seasons, Koreans like to prepare pancakes to mirror the sound of nature around then.

     
  • Japchae:  Japchae is considered one of the most popular dishes in Korea, originating from the Joseon dynasty, which had 22 Kings serve during their rein.  If it’s good enough for a King, its definitely good enough for me!  ha.  The dish has tons of veggies, glass noodles, and usually a protein (we used pork).   It was seasoned to taste with some sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and all hand mixed together, because, sonmat.  I foresee a lot of Japchae being made in the Palko household for years to come!
  • Kimchi:  So I have to say I was most excited to learn about how to make kimchi.  Kimchi is a very popular side dish here and involves a lot of patience in making it.  There are two types, the quick version, which we did yesterday, and the winter version, which you get in most restaurants, but it takes quite some time to make because the cabbage has to sit in a cool area in salt to soften.  Because the winters are so cold and vegetables are not able to grow, kimchi was the Korean’s solution to being able to still eat vegetables in the winter.  Historically, they would place kimchi in Kimchi pots and dig holes in the ground so that the Kimchi could ferment.  Now, because of technology, there are kimchi refrigerators and kimchi pots are more decorative then useful in urban areas, but still used in the rural areas.  Our cabbage sat for about two hours in salt before we combined all the ingredients, and though the cabbage wasn’t as soft as what you get in the restaurants, it was still delicious!   Again, all ingredients were hand mixed and I’m already eyeing bigger bowls and strainers to be able to make my first batch of kimchi at home!
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    cabbage sitting in salt
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    red pepper seasoning for the kimchi!
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    Kimchi has anchovy sauce in it.

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    Sonmat in action: putting all the love in the Kimchi!

The class was such a hit for everyone involved that we have plans to do it every other month, so I’m super excited for December to get here so I can learn more dishes to prepare at home.  I sent Zach to work with the leftovers today for lunch and from what I heard it was a big hit.

Other fun thing I have learned about Korean Culture is that when you are out eating with friends, it is custom to have someone else pour your drink for you.  Zach has had a few opportunities to attend dinners and events with his Korean counterparts, and its been fun learning all the different customs from these encounters.

That’s all the fun updates I have for this week.  Next week we are going to a ball and finally heading south to Busan for a 3 day weekend, so more to come on our first experience on the speed rail and our adventures in the south of the peninsula!

Nami Island Adventure and Air Quality

Happy Monday All!

So anytime I see an inexpensive trip through post, I sign Zach and I up.  So this weekend, we ventured to Nami Island with the spouses club on post.  And sadly, this is the first Korea fail we have experienced, though at almost 4 months here, it was long over due.  Nami island is **usually** a 2 hour drive from Camp Humphreys, and is a man made island in the middle of Han River.  Many K-dramas and movies have been filmed there, and with the leaves starting to change, we were really excited to experience something new and behold the beauty that was Nami Island.  The island has it’s own currency and has declared itself “independent”, though I think that’s more of a marketing ploy than anything else.  And don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful there, but it was so crowded that even if you wanted to take a picture of the beauty around, it would be jam packed with the numerous people that had the same idea that we did.  Instead of 2 hours, it took us just short of 4 hours to get there, that’s how crazy popular and busy this place was.  I thought Northern Virginia traffic was awful, but all I can say is: touché South Korea…touché. Luckily, I signed up for the trip with a couple of friends so the company was fantastic.  And it was beautiful, but I’m not sure its worth being on a bus for 7 hours and fighting masses of people to take in a view.   There were some beautiful homes along the river near the island and the island had tons of wild life, to include squirrels, which you really don’t see here in Korea, chipmunks, rabbits, and ostriches.  img_1363img_1376img_0067img_1370img_1357img_1362

We did get photobombed by one of the rabbits on the island so that was pretty awesome 🙂  Thank you Amia for taking our picture 🙂 img_0066

 

Though it was a bust, the best part of the trip was the fact that the area that we visited is where my favorite Korean dish originated:  Dakgalkbi.  Its a spicy chicken stir fry that has rice cakes and cheese in it.  There is a place down the street from where we live that only serves this dish, so we may or may not have gone to two separate restaurants while we were at Nami Island to try the different variations of the dish.  It was spectacular! img_1358

So as you are looking at the above pictures, you might think that they are a bit fuzzy….that’s a true look at how bad air quality is right now.  Its been hazy like this for about a week, and my respiratory system is not a fan.  No medicine works in clearing out the Korean crud, because its not a virus or bacteria, its just plain old dirty air. The best way to describe it is if you have ever opened your eyes under water in a chlorinated pool one to many times, everything looks really fuzzy and hazy until your eyes get rid of the chlorine once you get out of the pool.  That’s how much pollution is in the air right now.  I find myself contently blinking to try to clear my vision and then I remember its the air itself. Korea blames this on China, and the jet stream does move in a direction that would carry pollution our direction, but you never read about Korea taking a little ownership for their share in the air quality, because believe me, they are polluting the air just as China is.  Its been interesting to follow to say the least.  Especially since the US’s current administration is in the process of rolling back regulations on manufacturers aiming to  prevent air pollution.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that these regulations cost money, take away from the bottom line, and therefore cause goods to cost more, but after witnessing poor air quality here and being sick for the past week, I’m 100% sure I’m ok with paying a little more money for goods and services if it means I have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.  Just my two cents 🙂  This picture should be crystal clear but this is what it looks like when companies aren’t regulated in what they release into our environment.  img_1357

Speaking of government regulations, this past Sunday I wanted to go to Costco to make my monthly trip.  However, the Korean government mandates that big box retailers such as Costco, Lotte Mart, Emart (think Target, Walmart) close every other Sunday in order to give smaller businesses a fighting chance to compete.   First thing that came to mind when I learned this was how nice this would have been while I was working for Target.  Its definitely interesting to learn where the government steps in here and where they do not.

Otherwise, not too much else to report.  I just finished up with my last electives for my MBA, so I only will be taking two classes at a time from now until May (thank you baby Jesus, these past two months have been ROUGH!).  I’m heading to Seoul tomorrow to do some more exploring and Zach and I are heading to Busan for a 3 day weekend in two weeks.  Hope everyone back home is doing well!