Winter is coming…

So I can say Korea definitely goes through ALL the seasons.  Though I’ve only lived here for 4 months, the raging summer has rolled into a cool and crisp fall season, and the wind has a bite to it that seems to forewarn you that winter is going to be bitterly cold.  Its hard to believe that a few weeks ago it felt like 110 degrees here, and now it barely gets to 70 degrees during the day.  Fall Foliage is rumored to be magnificent here, so I’m excited to watch it all unfold over the next couple of weeks.  Stay tuned for pictures from my fall adventures!

Its been a bit of a hectic few weeks; Zach has been working like crazy, I’m in my final week of the first part of my semester (5 more classes stand between me and my MBA!!!!),  we figured out that getting medical attention on the peninsula is going to require a bit more patience then we are used to, and I was offered a job, which I ultimately decided to turn down.  Work is hard to come by for spouses here, so I’m always on the look out, and saw a posting back in August that looked promising so I threw my name in the hat not thinking I would hear anything back.   It was an entry level position, but with a global organization, so room for growth for sure.  I went in for the interview (which if I’m being honest I didn’t really prepare for) and completely crushed it.  I guess I can thank Target for all those crazy ETL and STL interviews I endured through my career, because I knew leaving that interview I crushed it.  But I wasn’t in love with the role or the organization or the hours (when would I have time to travel and write these awesome blog posts?!? haha) .  It is nice to know I’m still employable after a year gap on the resume, so the search continues.

As for medical attention, we are figuring out that there are not enough military doctors to attend to the number of soldiers and families here.   Its a 3 week wait to get an appointment here on post.  And if they refer you to a civilian doctor or specialist , there has been so much change and movement with closing the installation in Seoul and moving it down here, the doctors can’t keep up with updated forms needed for referral approval.  I’m on week 4 of waiting to get a referral approved to see a civilian doctor:  Its been a cluster fuck to say the least, but it forced me to look into other avenues should there be a true medical emergency.   There is a Korean hospital in town that actually has an international department that will assign you a translator to help facilitate your care while on their campus, so its nice to know there are resources available in case something should happen before the new hospital opens in Nov of 2019.

This weekend we are taking a day trip to Nami Island and then in a few weeks we have a military ball and a planned trip to Busan for a 3 day weekend.  This past weekend was technically a 4 day for the military community, however, Zach ended up working a bit of it, and when he wasn’t working his phone was going non stop.  So we made the decision to go somewhere for Thanksgiving where his phone couldn’t ring and he could truly disconnect and get a break from the fast pace that is his job in Korea.  At first we were planning on going to El Nido in the Philippines, but apparently since this past April that destination has been on the no go list for military personnel per the state department.  So I asked a friend of mine for other suggestions and she mentioned Malaysia.  I have to admit, Malaysia was not on my radar to travel to while we are here, but I’m actually more excited about going there then I was about going to El Nido.  Its going to cost of half of what it would of cost us to go to the Philippines, there is awesome hiking, and the pictures are breathtaking.  So definitely look for the blog post about our first international adventure in Kota Kinabalu! kota kinabalu

In the food world, a new Korean chicken place opened not to far from our house and I have no shame in admitting that I have been there twice in the past 5 days.  If you have ever eaten at a BonChon in the States, this is BETTER!!!!!  Seriously.  img_1352

One thing I have learned recently about Korea is they have some pretty intense libel laws.  For example, if I say anything negative in this blog about a specific business or person in Korea, that business or person have the legal right to sue me…I recently learned this and quickly reviewed all my blog posts to make sure they were not putting me at risk… the panic was real!  haha.  In the states we don’t think twice about leaving a bad yelp review or going on social media and sharing our horrible experience or not so favorable opinions, but that is not the case here.  People have to constantly monitor the spouses Facebook page and delete any posts that might leave someone vulnerable, but luckily, I really haven’t had a negative experience that has moved me to flex my freedom of speech that is not protected here.  But its been eye opening to see just how much we take for granted and to see things from another perspective….

Speaking of another perspective, I can say that living in a different country has given me a new perspective about the United States, and my life there in general, and its been kind of eye opening for me to discover.  I will preface this by saying that this is my perspective, based on the awesome opportunity I have to live abroad, and it may very well piss you off or offend you, but remember, its MY perspective.  I really think it would do every human being (including myself) some good if we would take the time to think of things from another perspective (I am learning so much about the world and even myself through this experience).  You don’t have to agree with it, but I feel compelled to share my perspective, so read the next few paragraphs at your own risk.  You’ve been warned.

Its hard to avoid all the things that are going on in the States right now, and I have to say that living here in Korea has made me look at some stories in the news in a way that I know I would never have if I wasn’t living here.  For example, the headline about the woman harassing Spanish speaking shoppers at a store in Colorado caught my eye.  She felt the need to harass a pair of women for not speaking the native language of the country.  Initially, I saw the headline and moved on because it didn’t surprise me and that made me sad.  But then I thought about my current situation.  I am a foreigner who lives in a country where I do not speak the language, not even a little.  I go out with my friends and my husband all the time and speak English to one another while out shopping and eating in restaurants.   I wonder if the woman who was bold enough to approach these Spanish speaking women believe that our service members and families should be held to the same standard that she expects from the women she harassed?  Would she be ok hearing about a Korean approaching a service member or family member and harassing them because they don’t speak the native language? I can only speculate, but it got me to thinking just how mean people have become.  And also how short sighted they are.     You can read about the situation in this newsweek article.

I have also been watching the dialogue around the #metoo and #himtoo movements from afar, and though I have a firm opinion on those, what I want to share is not my stance on the situation, but how my perspective about how I lived my life in the States has changed since living here in Korea.  There is a viral video going around about how its a scary time for boys (its sarcastic) and as I was watching it and the vlogger was going through all the things she couldn’t do as a female if she didn’t want to increase her risk of being assaulted, I realized that I really don’t have to take those precautions while I’m in Korea.  It also made me realize just how “normal” it was for me to alter my routine in order to feel safe while living in the States. Here in Korea, I don’t walk around with a key ready in my pocket to stab someone if I need to when I walk by myself, I can go for runs without sharing my route turn for turn before heading out, I can walk down the street with my earbuds in, and I can most definitely be on public transit by myself at night here.  I never realized all the steps I took each and every day to give myself some feeling of safety until I came here and realized its not necessary here.  And in some regards, this realization makes me miss home a little less. Its so nice to not have to worry about being taken advantage if I look lost, or turn down the wrong street, or am by myself and not necessarily paying attention to every little thing happening around me. Don’t get me wrong, crime happens here.  Bad things happen here.  I don’t want it to sound like I have completely thrown caution to the wind, but it kind of feels that way because it is different here.   I can say that I definitely feel more safe here in Korea then I have ever felt back in the States.  And that makes me so very sad to realize.  Its been nice to experience life in a different way here and from a different point of view.  But like I said, its been eye opening to see how different my normal is in the States versus what it is here in Korea.

Like I said, you might not agree with me in my perspective, but maybe it made you think about things in a different way.  Because I know I sure as hell am.  And I don’t think its a bad thing.  Until next time….

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Korean Beauty

Before moving to Korea, I have to admit that I did not understand how into all things beauty the Korean culture truly is.  Korea is considered a hot spot for plastic surgery (who knew?) and you can tell by just watching the Koreans that appearance can be very important to them, especially among the younger generation.  There are tons of stores dedicated to just skin products, and to be honest, they are completely overwhelming.  I’m not really all that into a big beauty regiment, but I’ll throw on a face mask from time to time, so walking into a store that is all about skin care is not really my jam.  Koreans take it to a whole new level.  And its nothing to see skin products with placenta, snails, and other delectable delights…..like I said, next level.  I don’t know how true this is, but I’ve been told that Korea is a plastic surgery hot spot because Koreans are known for having great hands (dentist are also rumored to be superb, I will let you know next month).   I’ve also been told that since 80% of the population has a higher education, appearance is a way for them to differentiate themselves from one another in a very competitive market place.  Riding on the subway or bus, its normal to see males and females primping before exiting.  Seems like everyone carries a little hand held mirror and a small arsenal of beauty supplies to make sure they are looking their best.  I was completely blown away by all the women wearing full makeup in 100+ degree weather this summer.  My mascara was melting off my face and they looked flawless in the heat.

So today a few of my friends and I went on a shopping trip and tackled a few of the beauty stores to see what they are all about.   If you haven’t heard of Tony Moly yet, look it up.  You can spend as little as 3 bucks to 60 dollars on face masks alone.  So I picked up like 10 different face masks, will keep you guys posted on if I’m going to fully drink the kool aid or not LOL.  img_12911img_1290

Another thing I’m noticing about Korean culture is how dang adorable everything is.  Seriously, some of my face masks are designed to look like animals, my metro card has adorable characters on it, and I even bought slippers to wear while cleaning shaped like cats.  Seriously.  Everything is adorable.  And I want to buy it all.  img_1292

If you know me well, you know I am a finicky eater.  I don’t do mushrooms, absolutely hate seafood, I eat only scrambled eggs that have been thoroughly cooked, and don’t you dare put mayo anywhere near my plate.  Living in a country where you don’t speak or read the language can be challenging when it comes to ordering food, so I’ve put my finickiness aside and been a bit more adventurous then I would be in the states.   Luckily most menus come with pictures, so today while out exploring, I ordered what looked to be a beef soup.  And it was a beef soup, however, it was a cold soup and the beef was completely raw.  It was delicious, but if I die from food poisoning, please refer to the picture below LOL.  I’ve seen raw meat being put into hot soups before, because the broth cooks the meat, but never a cold soup, so this was a new one for sure.  Not sure that I would order it again (thanks food safety training), but it was delicious none the less. img_1289

 

Otherwise, everything is pretty low key at the moment.  The weather here has taken a pleasant turn for amazing here.  Its absolutely gorgeous here right now.  Mid 70’s during the day, low 60s at night. (hint hint:  visiting in September is a really good idea! haha)  There are flowers blooming now everywhere and apparently the fall foliage is a beauty to behold so I’m excited to soak it all in before winter sets in.  Zach and I found a bike/walking trail along the river near post this past weekend that was absolutely beautiful.  Wild flowers were blooming along the entire trail, and the trail is at least 10 miles long (we only explored a 2 mile stretch of it).  Valcor and Gizmo are living their best lives: since the weather is so nice we keep our windows open 24/7 which allows for all the bird watching.  Its hilarious to watch them.img_1280

That’s it for this week’s update. Hope everyone is doing well!  Thanks for reading 🙂

Forever the tourist

Over the weekend, Zach and I had an opportunity to go on a historical tour of the local area through post.  It was 100% free and we were able to tour a local university, a city council, a Korean War memorial honoring American Soldiers who paid the ultimate price, and the shrine for Admiral Yi, who helped defeat the Japanese during one of their many invasions of Korea in the 1500s.  The tour was put on by a local organization that works to strengthen its local community and maintain the strong relationship between Koreans and the Americans that live here.  There were printed signs welcoming us at every destination (see featured image) and they made sure we felt well taken care of the entire time we were on the tour.   If you notice in the picture, it says “welcome to camp Humphreys”, but should say “Welcome Camp Humphreys”.  I might start a new photo album of all the typos on English signs that are here in Korea.  They are everywhere and quite comical, though I so very much appreciate the attempt at English signs because life would be so much harder here without them.

  • Stop #1 was Baeksoek University in Cheonan, which is just south of Camp Humphreys.  The university grounds are absolutely gorgeous, and is home to a poetry, religion, and art museum, and has about 30,000 students.  Korea has realized that the peninsula itself does not have a ton by way of natural resources, so Koreans see their minds and education as their best resource to prolong their culture and society.  The government has invested a lot in education here, and the university we toured reflected this investment for sure.  Of all high school graduates, 80% of Koreans go to college.  They are highly educated and have one of the best education systems in the world.  You can see how they have shifted from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest economies in the world very quickly.  It was really neat to see and the museums were amazing as well.
  • Next, we were taken to the City Hall of the city of Cheonan, and there we were able to take a quick tour and actually meet a few of the city council women.  Council people are elected and hold their seat for 4 years, and the two women we were able to meet had just been elected this year.  You could see their pride and enthusiasm in meeting us and it was pretty cool to see where all the action happens.  It was also nice to see women involved in the local government, as women haven’t always had an equal playing field here in Korea, so it was awesome to get to meet a few trailblazing ladies! img_1222
  • Cheonan was the location of a battle during the Korean War, where 98 American soldiers were killed.  Every July 8th, the town pays honor to those souls and has a memorial near the location of the battle and even renamed the street and park after Colonel Martin, who lead the US troops in the battle and lost his life during that battle.  It was very touching to see how serious they take this memorial and we even held a moment of silence for those soldiers.
  • To end our tour, we were taken to the Shrine of Admiral Yi, a famed Korean naval commander that was able to defeat the Japanese during one of their many invasions.  The grounds were absolutely gorgeous, and we will most certainly be going back once the leaves start changing in the next month or so.  Although Admiral Yi is not buried at this location, his family and decedents are, and you can even drink from the well that his decedents have.  Koreans take great pride in honoring their ancestors, and this shrine is a great example in the care taken to make sure they honor Admiral Yi and his memory.  img_1254img_1251img_1250img_1249
  • Random Korean fact for you all:  Zach and I have noticed that Koreans back into their parking spots everywhere.  Because parking is tight, it apparently is easier to back in then to back out of parking spots.  And they do it soooooo well.  Its incredible to see.  And its funny when you go to parking lots, because you can tell who the foreigners are by who just pulled into a spot versus backing into it.  img_1226
  • Next week is Chuseok, Korea’s version of Thanksgiving, where they gather with their family to honor their ancestors.  We’ve been told to not travel if at all possible, as you can expect to be stuck in non moving traffic for hours as Koreans travel to be with their families and loved ones.  So Zach and I might be checking out a local trail for hiking, but not much else this 3 day weekend to avoid the craziness.  We are planning a trip to Busan in a month or so and have booked another free tour for the end of the month (because, you know, free!)  More to come from your favorite blogger for sure!

Turn that frown upside down…

So I’m a little behind on the blog post this week, its been a busy one!  Between school and trying to be more involved on post, haven’t had a ton of downtime.  With that being said, I think the honeymoon is over.  Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE living in Korea, but I have to say that my peers have been leaving me more and more frustrated the more I interact with them.  Its not been an easy transition of meeting new people while living here, so this month I decided to become active with the spouses club, volunteer events, and various other activities that Humphreys provides for us in order to branch out and meet like minded people.  It has been a tough pill to swallow to be around so many people who are just so very negative about living here in Korea.   For example, each family is only allowed one car, though they will make exceptions if the spouse works or other extenuating circumstances occur (having kids does not validate you needing a 2nd car here).  I have been blown away by how inflexible Americans truly are on this.  Sure, its a bit of an adjustment to not just hop in the car and get up and go when I want to, BUT, the transportation system here is AMAZING and sooooooo cheap.  We all know the one car rule coming in, yet people decided to not find homes near bus stops and therefore are a little out of luck in that regards.   They figured they would just get approved for a second car because, you know, why wouldn’t they?  I have two feet, a bike, a bus pass, and a can do attitude.  It’s exhausting listening to the negative Nancys constantly bitch about how inconvenient life here is.  Its really not.  I actually think things are more accessible here without a car then they were when I had a car and lived at Fort Leavenworth.    Its been eye opening to see just how much we take for granted in the States and how spoiled we come across sometimes.  Its been a little disappointing, frustrating, and eye opening to see how much time some of my peers here waste time being negative instead of embracing the opportunity to experience life in a different way.

On a more positive note, there are some AMAZING programs hosted through the base here, and I was able to take part in one just last week.  For two days, I did a head start program put on through the local university, where we were able to interact with college student and sit through lectures put on by professors about Korean culture, language, politics, and the various things to do on the peninsula.  They even fed us lunch for free, taught us how to make Kimbap (Korean sushi), gave us $10 to shop at the local market, and gave us a loaded metro card and then took us on the bus and metro to make sure we knew the ins and outs of the system.  It was a great learning experience for us, and also great for the Korean students to practice their English.  On the last day, we were taken to a tradition Korean folk village and it was amazing.  Here are a few takeaways from the experience:

  • I continue to be blown away by the markets here, and found a huge one a short bus ride from where I live.  It is endless, and you can literally buy anything there.  From textiles, to fresh produce, and even seafood that’s still alive, if you can dream it, its in this market.   The lady was trying to scare me with live octopus in the pic below LOL.
  • I have been asked so many times since being here how old I am.  In our culture, its considered very rude to ask a woman her age, but here in Korea, age is very important in their culture because respect to your elders is a very big deal.  How you say hello changes based on who you are addressing and how old they are.  Traditionally, you are only consider people ‘friends’ if you are born in the same year.  I don’t think that holds true as younger people blur the lines of tradition, but it now makes sense why I am constantly asked how old I am by Koreans.
  • Korea has changed very rapidly in the past 70 years.  It was one of the poorest countries in Asia and is now the 5th largest economy in the World.   All of the professors who spoke to us, no matter the topic, talked about how Korea of 10 years ago is not the same as it is today.  Its interesting as I tour around the country to see modern Korea and tradition Korea try to figure out how to coexist.  Its an interesting mix for sure.
  • Koreans LOVE to hike.  The country is 70% mountain, so it makes sense,  but I started putting it all together in my head after it was mentioned in my cultural class.  They also take hiking very seriously.  When Zach and I were in Seoul for Labor Day weekend, I noticed several locals decked out in hiking gear on the train.  I mean, DECKED out.  Zach and I have been hiking twice now, and we look like a bunch of amateurs in our running shoes and lack of hiking bookbag and walking sticks.  Also, Koreans put workout equipment in parks and on top of mountains.  Its awesome.  You can get a great workout without ever joining a gym.  img_1189
  • Korea has the fastest internet in the world, allegedly.   The jury is still out on this one, but I will say I have service no matter where I am here on the peninsula.

 

  • Kimbap is Korea’s version of sushi.  Instead of raw seafood, Koreans through whatever leftover meats and veggies they have and roll them up.  Its like a leftover casserole but way better.   This way my attempt in my cooking class below. img_1168
  • My new favorite thing is honeycomb ice cream.  A friend of mine found this adorable honey café about 20 minutes from where we live, so Zach and I went to check it out this weekend.  They have tons of bee hives in the back of the property, and at the café you can buy different flavors of honey, honeycombs, drinks flavored with honey, and honeycomb ice cream.  Its heaven.  Seriously.img_1192

Besides school and work, Zach and I are trying to figure out our first big trip out of country, probably in January.  I think we are leaning towards going to Cambodia and Vietnam first.  Anyone been?  Any must sees?    Believe me, this is the first of many trips we plan to take, and we are so excited to see what Asia has to offer, but I think we are set on these two countries because otherwise, its soooo hard to decide.  So many places to go.   Until next time, peeps!

 

 

The DMZ aka The Demilitarized Zone

Over the weekend, Zach and I ventured up to Seoul to explore the capital of South Korea.  We had a blast navigating the subway system to check out a palace, a secret garden, the North Seoul Tower at Sunset, as well as a street market.  We stayed at a hotel on the Army Installation in town, Yongsan, and fully understand why the Korean government wants that land back.  It is prime time real estate right in the city,  and I have to say I’m a bit jealous of anyone stationed there because it was too easy to get around Seoul from there.

When we first found out we were moving to Korea, I knew one of the first trips I wanted to make was to the DMZ.  I will confess, I knew hardly anything about the area, or how it came to be, so I was really anxious to get there and to learn how the two Koreas got to the point of needing the DMZ.   You cannot just go to the DMZ, as it is heavily regulated, so the only way is to book a tour.  Because of the American holiday weekend, the Joint Security Area (JSA) was not open to the public, but we were able to see the peace park, a tunnel North Korea dug with the idea to invade South Korea, an observation area where you can see North Korea, and the last train stop in South Korea before the DMZ.   Obviously, I have been paying attention to the news over the past few months leading up to the move in regards to North Korea and hopes of a peace treaty.  I don’t know if a peace treaty will come anytime soon, but I do know that I was absolutely blown away by what I saw and what I learned during this trip.   Here are a few take aways from the trip:

  • From our hotel in Seoul, it took us about an hour by bus to get to the area in the DMZ we were touring.  At one point of the bus ride, we were within 800 meters of North Korea.  About 20 minutes into the trip, I started noticing barbed wire and outposts every few hundred meters along the highway. During the bus ride where we could see North Korea on the other side of the river, our tour guide pointed out a village, which she explained is a propaganda village.  No one lives there.  Its all for “show” to boast of the great lives that are led on the other side of the river.  From what South Korea has learned from defectors, life in North Korea is nothing like the propaganda village that is visible to South Korea along the highway; instead most live in very poor conditions.  (Below is a lookout post along the highway and a picture of the propaganda village we saw from the highway).
    watch tower dmzpropaganda town
  • The DMZ is somewhat of a tourist trap.  All the stops on our tour had souvenir shops and the peace park even has an amusement park for the kids.  It was such a weird vibe for such a somber place.  Most of the visitors while we were there were Korean, and you got a sense of hope that one day soon there will be a unification of both Koreas.  That is the goal and all of what I hear about in the Korean news.  Approximately 54,000 families were separated during the Korean War in the 1950’s, and time is running out for those families to be reunited as father time is taking his claim.  A few weeks ago there was a family reunion event held in North Korea for families from both sides to spend a few days together for the first time since the 1950s, and most likely the last time they will see each other unless reunification happens.   The local channels televised the event, and I couldn’t hold it together for more than a few minutes.  Its heartbreaking and gut wrenching to watch. I dare you not to cry looking at this article.   So after seeing the coverage of the reunions, I found it weird that the DMZ is sort of a tourist trap.  But,  there were so many signs of hope as well.  And that was beautiful to see. fence dmzone korea
  • Over the years, South Korea has discovered 4 tunnels in which North Korea has dug, in what can be assumed to be avenues to be used to invade South Korea.  North Korea obviously denies this,  saying those tunnels were for mining, but South Korea knows about these tunnels from defectors and there is no sign of coal in any of the tunnels found.  This to me was the most mind blowing part of our tour.  Unfortunately, we were unable to take pictures, but we went 73 meters into the Earth (my Fitbit told me it was 27 floors down).  The tunnel we toured could hold 30,000 troops and artillery could pass through.  It was absolutely insane.  And a visual of just how crazy North Korea and their leadership is.  Although 4 of these tunnels are known about, from information gathered, it is believed there are up to 20 such tunnels that are not found yet.  20!  Its kind of terrifying to think about after actually being inside one of those tunnels.  3rd tunnel
  • Though many feel hopeful that a peace accord is on the horizon between the two Koreas, I have to say I don’t feel that optimistic after seeing what I saw from the DMZ.  Its hard to explain, but Kim Jong-un has set a course that will be hard to go back from for North Korea.  The two Koreas could not be more different, and you could see those differences with your naked eye.  Though on the same peninsula, the mountains in North Korea look different than those in South Korea.  Our tour guide explained that this is because Kim Jong-un has trees removed from the mountains on his side of the DMZ so it is easier to spot defectors (you can see the barren spots in the pictures below)   Driving to the observation area, you could see all the areas surrounding the road with caution signs, as the area is still heavy with land mines.  Of all the land mines on the South Korean side, only 35% have been removed so far.   Like I said, it was very weird seeing an amusement park and signs warning of land mines within a minute drive of each other. 65% of mines remainSouth Korea Flag
  • From the observation deck, you can see North Korea as long as its not a hazy day.  I was able to see the UN compound on the boarder, another propaganda town in the distance, the barren mountains, along with the crazy flag pole war going on between the two countries.  South Korea installed a large flag on the edge of its boarder, and in response, Kim Jong-un installed the largest flag pole in the world at the time.  Its now the 4th largest, but our tour guide joked that she wouldn’t be surprised if he made it taller to go along with his ego. (You can see the South Korean flag in the picture above in the right side of the picture, the North Korean flag is washed out by the background unfortunately).   In the picture below, you can see the power lines on the left start out looking white, and then turn to a more metal color once the line travels to North Korea.  A few years ago South Korea was supplying North Korea with electricity, but has since stopped.  But the powerlines was just another visual of the firm line drawn in the sand, on top of the barbed wire that runs along the boarder.  power lines dmz
  • South Koreans do not travel to North Korea because they will be shot on sight, and North Koreans have to find ways to defect other than the actual boarder most of the time.  South Korea does accept refugees and they are offered money and assistance to restart their life in South Korea, however, there is fear that these refugees are spies and that has been the case in the past with some.  I was recommended a documentary, called Seoul Train, that explains the harrowing journey for defectors who have to go by way of China to get to South Korea. Because China plays nice with North Korea, defectors are not granted asylum and are sent back if caught in China.  Its tricky business and there is an underground railroad of sorts to help these individuals who are brave enough to attempt it.
  • The last stop we made on the tour was the last train stop in South Korea on the way to North Korea.  The railroad between the two countries is complete, however, until there is unification, only goods are on the trains that run between the two countries.  From what I understand, those trains are not running right now because of North Korea’s continued nuclear activity.  We were able to buy wine from North Korea at one of the souvenir shops, and was told that it came into South Korea by way of said train, but I’m not sure I believe it or not.  Like I said, total tourist trap, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity, fake or not, to buy wine from North Korea. NK wineOutside of the train station is a huge plaque (picture below), with all the names of companies from South Korea that have donated money to help with the goal of reunification.    The train station itself is a clear symbol of the hope South Koreans hold for reunification, and the plaque just reinforces this hope.  The infrastructure is there, the hope is there, South Korea is just waiting for North Korea to denuclearize for once and for all.   But unfortunately, the matter at hand is so very complicated and not that cut and dry.  Though reunification is on the minds of everyone, only time will tell if that happens in our lifetime. companies

 

This week I am taking a two day course through the local university on South Korea, so I look forward to sharing what I learn once completed.  Check you guys next week!

 

Let’s Talk…Bugs

So far I have painted a really rosy picture of Korea, and for the most part that is absolutely accurate.  However, I must be honest, the bug situation is absolutely awful.  I don’t do bugs.  I don’t like them.  Never have.  Never will.  And bugs are EVERYWHERE here.  I am not over exaggerating.  And not just bugs….spiders.  Big.  Fucking.  Spiders.  They are literally everywhere you look when you go outside.  If they can put up a web, they are there.  I went outside last week to grab our patio chairs before the typhon hit, and two huge spiders had decided to take residence.  Needless to say, I’m never going out on my balcony again. spider2

So we were supposed to get hit by the Typhoon last week, but luckily all we have been getting is lots of rain.  But with lots of rain after a very dry season, all the bugs have decided to come inside.  Zach was in the field over the weekend, and I went to go take a shower.  I was greeted by George.  Even Valcor wanted nothing to do with George.  Like any reasonable person, I got a glass, covered him up with said glass, and waited 48 hours for Zach to come home to take care of him and used the guest shower for the following days.  Totally reasonable.   spider

So consider this your warning:  when you come visit me (and you still totally should), you will see spiders.   Big Spiders.  Big. Fucking. Spiders.  But like the rest of Korea, they seem completely polite and mind their own business for the most part.  Consider yourself warned.

Besides the bugs, everything else is going really well.  I am in week 2 of the new semester, and we are gearing up to head to Seoul and the DMZ for Labor Day Weekend.  I am also officially a Costco member (my inner child is crying a little), but with that membership I was able to find boxed wine for the first time since being in country.  Hooray for being economically and environmentally responsible!  Another fun Korea fact:  it only cost $35 a year to be a member.  You better believe I will be renewing right before we come back stateside 🙂

Until next week, peeps!

 

Korean Cuisine with a little side of Typhoon

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you probably know that we are bracing ourselves for Typhoon Soulik this week.  This is predicted to be the first typhoon in 6 years to directly hit South Korea, so people (Americans) are freaking out.  Living on the East Cost for a good portion of my life, I have witnessed a hurricane or two, so its business as usual in the Palko Household.  Its been interesting to see how Korea handles preparations for the big storm, the biggest difference being that they are proactively cutting trees away from power lines, so we shall see if that helps with overall power outages.  Zach, of course, is in the field this week, but they made the call to move the exercise indoors:  Translation:  he is camping out in his office until the storm passes.  (UPDATE:  after camping in his office for the last two days, he gets to come home tonight!!!!)  Though not ideal, I’m just happy he isn’t out in the field and is under a roof for the storm.  I will keep you all posted on how we fair.  To add some excitement to the mix, there is another Typhoon right behind this one that is looking to follow the same path.  Double Trouble.

Enough about the weather though.  Let’s talk FOOD!

Zach and I live about a mile from post, with the area in between us and post known as “the ville.”  In the Ville, there are probably 100 different places to eat.  Traditional Korean, Vietnamese, American, Mexican, Italian, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Thai…you name it,  there is a restaurant for you.  I’m pretty sure I could eat at a different restaurant every week from now until we leave and still not go to all of them.  Its overwhelming.  And amazing.  And that’s just within a 2 mile radius of where I live.  Pyeongtaek, the local city which is about a 10 minute bus ride away, boasts even more food options, including Outback (apparently Koreans really love Outback steakhouse! ha).   Some observations about Korean dining:

  • The service is superb.  I think it goes along with the culture of kindness, but seriously, top notch service.
  • What’s even more crazy about the service is the fact that they do not tip their servers in Korea.  There is some tipping if you eat close to the base because they know we having a tipping culture, but otherwise that is not something you do while dinning out.
  • Most places have a button on the table for you to call for your server.   If you don’t push the button, the server will not come over.  Its awesome to not be pestered throughout a meal.
  • Because soup is a staple here, your place setting comes with a spoon and a set of chop sticks.  No forks.  I actually ate at an American style restaurant over the weekend that had forks and I felt so strange using one in public.  I’m getting really good at chop sticks.
  • Water is self serve at most places.  The restaurant will  have a water station and the worlds smallest cups and you help yourself.  Its kind of counterproductive with how hot its been, but that’s my opinion.
  • I’ve learned to go with the flow.  Some restaurants you cook your own meat at the table, and at others, they cook it for you at your table.  And if you are cooking your meat ‘wrong’, they will tell you 🙂  Its been a learning experience for sure.  Pork Belly is very popular here, and my personal favorite thing so far is yangnyeom (spicy fried chicken).  IMG_0943
  • Cafes.  Koreans love cafes, and even better are themed cafes.  Today, a few of us tried to go to a honey themed café (think honey ice cream, honey drinks, bee hives in the back yard), unfortunately the owner decided to not open this morning so we were out of luck.  Instead, we went to a coffee shop in a tower that had the most amazing view of the surrounding area.  (pictured is the sweet potato latte.  It was different. haha)
  • Hot dogs are weirdly popular here.  Street vendors sell them cooked in a variety of ways, and I have even ordered Korean Bulgogi that came with a hotdog.
  • Markets:  a great way to get fresh, local food is to head to farmers markets.   You will find street food, local honey, fresh produce, fresh seafood, and other delicious delights.  Zach is definitely fond of the lady who makes homemade donuts at our local farmers market right in front of you.  Its amazing.

I’m seriously in love with the food here.  I have yet to find a place that I didn’t like.  I’m really excited to spend Labor Day weekend in Seoul to really explore the food scene there and all the cafes my heart can handle.  Wish us luck with these Typhoons!   Until next time 🙂