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

Advertisements

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!
    img_1403
    cabbage sitting in salt
    img_1407
    red pepper seasoning for the kimchi!
    img_1408
    Kimchi has anchovy sauce in it.

    img_1409
    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!

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….

 

 

 

 

 

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!