Category Archives: Korea

Today I Miss . . .

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Gyeongju, South Korea

  • My shoes. It turns out I was too successful at making sure I didn’t overpack. I wound up bringing only one pair of acceptable winter shoes. My feet and legs doth protest.
  • My oven. It’s officially fall. That means baking time. All the baked goods. All the time. Unless you don’t have an oven. Then it means drooling over social-media proof that elsewhere around the world, there are ovens. And they’re taunting me. Taunting me, I say!
  • My family. The rapidly cooling weather (and all Korea’s fantastic options for presents) are nudging my thoughts toward Christmas. This year there will be only a week where the original four of the Layman family are all together, and it’s simply not enough.
  • My friends. Y’all. This time difference is no joke. And America’s Daylight Savings change is throwing me off more than ever! Up until now, I’ve really taken for granted the simple almost-guarantee that if I’m awake, my friends are too.
  • My coworkers. How awesome is it to work somewhere that makes you actually miss going into the office?! I didn’t know that was possible.
  • My couch. With Gilmore Girls on Netflix now (which Neil agreed to watch because he’s the best), I just want to sprawl out on the couch with a blanket and pretend I live in Stars Hallow. [As an explanation, Neil’s apartment has chairs but no couch. In most ways it works out better like that. Just not for Gilmore Girls binges.]
  • My home office. Okay, so in a lot of ways that’s the same as missing my couch. But I do have a dedicated workplace at home and somedays I just want to sit in a desk chair and work without having to buy a latte.
  • My Tex-Mex. Don’t get me wrong. Korean food is straight-up 맛있어요 (delicious). (Yes, I did just write that in Korean. Because I can!) But I could really go for an beef enchilada. Just one. . . . And guacamole. And chips and salsa. And queso. And chorizo. Maybe throw a tamale or two in there for good measure. While you’re at it, bring on the tacos.
  • My church. This beautiful fall weather needs Sundays filled with old-fashioned hymns. Contemporary Christian music just doesn’t cut it the same way.

Yesterday marked two full months that I’ve been on this whirlwind Korean adventure. How time flies. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. But today, I miss America (the one with Neil in it, too).

Love to all of my (most likely sleeping) readers!

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Yoga, Art, and the Ocean (or, Why Overseas Friendships Are Awesome)

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Haeundae Beach (해운대해수욕장), Busan

One of the best things about this trip thus far has been Neil’s compatriot ex-pats (I couldn’t resist that word combo.) From literally my first full weekend here, I’ve had invitations from an awesome group of ladies simply because I’m a fellow “waygook” (foreigner) living in Korea. The bonds of friendships made when living abroad run deep; there’s a level of intimacy to learning how to navigate a foreign country together that just can’t be duplicated in other situations. It’s amazing to be invited into that so openly and unreservedly.

So the first full Saturday I was here I headed out on a 45-minute walk to meet up with eight total strangers, go to a Korean Arboretum, and do some yoga. Like you do. I figured, I like plants. I like yoga. I’m in. We arrived, did exactly two sun salutations, and were promptly kicked out. Because, according to the security guard via a translator, “This [referring to a big field with people lounging about and running around] is not a park. It is a place for children to learn about plants.” Also known as “We don’t want you bending over in public.”

And that’s fine–it’s a different culture. Things that seem fine to you may be unacceptable in your new environment–and things that are totally unacceptable to you may be no big deal in your host country (more on that later). But needless to say, it wrecked the yoga vibe. We decided to give up on health and just go back for some art time. Though the reach of my art skills extends only to drawing a tree, the time was filled with laughter, good conversation, and the sincere efforts of friends to welcome a newcomer. Which is what matters, in the end.

Yoga and art night led to an invitation to go to the beach the next weekend. WELL. A girl can’t pass up that opportunity. When would I get another chance to go to the beach in Korea? So, alas, I abandoned Neil once again on my second full Saturday in Korea and headed to Busan. (He’s such a good sport!)

This trip led to my first train ride (minus the ride from the airport, but it was dark then). Watching such beautiful scenery go by, I was struck time and again by the novelty that I’m actually in Korea. 

Some of the lovely ladies and me on the train. If you squint, you can almost see rice fields out the window.

Lovely ladies and me on the train. If you squint, you can almost see rice fields out the window. (Credit: Anna Natzke)

I loved the beach at Busan immediately. The weather was spot-on, the sand was perfect (many of you know how much I love sand), and the water was deliciously refreshing. But rather than wax poetic about a beach–I mean, what can I really say that hasn’t been said a thousand times over?–here are things I learned during my first experience of Korean beach-ing:

  • Koreans* do not go out into water. In fact, it’s a bit strange if you do. You might get some weird looks. There is plenty of wading and playing in the shallow waters, but not much action further out than that.
  • Koreans** do not wear swimsuits–at least, not in the Western definition. I saw one person get wet above the knees, and she was sitting in the water fully clothed.
  • Many Korean men see no problem in taking photos of you if you are wearing your swimsuit.
    • My favorite illustration of this fact is as follows: Our newfound friend Simon was acting as photographer while we took the obligatory jumping-in-the-air-because-we’re-on-the-beach-and-are-too-pumped-to-stay-on-the-ground pictures. While this was going on, a Korean man in a full pink suit–complete with pink shoes–came up, stood beside Simon, and whipped out his phone–covered in a pink case, of course–to take his own photos of us.
  • Late September is the perfect time to go. Most people stop heading to the beach around the end of August/beginning of September, so there’s much more room. There’s also much less of the aforementioned staring and photographing.
  • The beach is the ideal place to perfect your handstands, headstands, and generally all gymnastic activities.
  • Obvious foreigners want to talk to other obvious foreigners. In my short month here, I’ve already learned the magnetizing pull of hearing someone simply speaking English.

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But lest you think Neil is getting no attention while I’m in Korea (ostensibly for him), I did come back that evening in time to meet him downtown to experience Daegu nightlife. It can all be summed up in this picture:

Yes, those are cocktails in bags. A downtown Daegu tradition.

Yes, those are cocktails in bags. A downtown Daegu tradition, apparently.

*Obviously this is a generalization. Don’t get up in arms.

**I repeat, this is a generalization. Stay calm.

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First Hike: Mt. Palgongsan

IMG_6327 Well, it’s taken me a while to write this, but Saturday, September 13, I went on my inaugural Korean hike! We headed to Mt. Palgongsan, one of the larger mountains in Daegu, with some (new to me) friends. First of all, you need to know that hiking is a big deal in Korea. It’s right up there with taekwondo, which is the official national pastime. And people dress the part. I’m talking full-on color-coordinated pants, shirts, and jackets. And! Walking poles! I’m telling you, it’s legit. There’s generally no doubt about who’s going hiking. We got to Mt. Palgongsan around 11:15, and the weather was lovely. We wondered about for a bit in the hopes that we were headed toward the “big Buddha.” Everything along the way was decorated with beautiful lanterns, which I think were left over from Buddha’s Birthday celebrations. It made everything feel so festive and wonderfully Asian! IMG_6331 The architecture was beautiful and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of everything. It’s hard to choose what to include in here!

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Don’t you think all stairs should have dragon statues instead of handrails?

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These guys were truly ginormous--maybe twelve feet tall. And you can't see it, but they were crushing people (presumably their enemies) under their feet.

These guys were truly ginormous–maybe twelve feet tall. And you can’t see it, but they were crushing people (presumably their enemies) under their feet. It’s a little blurry because I wasn’t sure I was allowed to take photos.

We finally made our way to the big Buddha at Donghwasa Temple, and I found it so serene. This was my first experience of a Buddhist temple–or an Asian temple in general–and it was impressive. I didn’t enter any of the shrine areas; it would feel disrespectful. But I didn’t need to in order to get the effect. It was powerful just to see a holy place in the midst of nature. It made me want to go to church on top of a mountain. Let’s get on that, ATX. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?Buddhist beauty. IMG_6336 Post-Buddha we made a few wrong turns and somehow missed pretty much every trail opportunity. We ended up walking on the road all the way back down to the beginning. But not just to the entrance of the park–all the way to the foot of the winding uphill road that leads to the entrance of the park. As in, the road the bus had driven us up before. It was quite the hike just back to square 1. After some revitalizing ice cream, we decided to make the actual hike up to the hermitage. It started with an intense set of stairs, as if to tell me, “Oh, so you think you can hike? Well, welcome to Korea.” But it was beautiful anyway–the weather was perfect; we were in the shade; and at various points we were accompanied by the sound of running water. About 2.6 km later, we made it to the hermitage.

Doesn't he look thrilled?

Doesn’t he look thrilled?

Buddha carved in a rock.

Buddha carved in a rock.

Ancient pagoda.

Ancient pagoda.

Hanging out at the hermitage.

Hanging out at the hermitage.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t an exhausting hike for Neil and me–maybe not so much for everyone else. But it mainly pumped me up for all the other hikes we’re planning to go on while I’m here! The weather keeps cooling off bit by bit and the leaves are starting to change colors. I can’t tell y’all how excited I am to experience a true fall. And in the mountains(ish), no less!

To adventure!

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Well, I Live in Korea Now

I made it to Daegu, South Korea! After a ten-hour flight, a two-hour wait, and a three-hour train ride, Neil and I made it safely back to his apartment on Saturday, 9/6! *Cue the cheering crowds*

First things first. If Korean Air wanted to pay me to wax poetic about their awesome service, I would be all over that. But even though they haven’t offered (fools!), I’ll do it anyway. Y’all. This is by far the best airline I’ve ever flown. (It helped that the flight was mostly empty so I had my own row.) But from the moment I entered the plane, it was a lovely experience. Classical music played over the loud speakers while everyone boarded–and we all know that classical music levels up pretty much any experience.

Let’s talk meals. Meal #1: traditional Korean bibimbap; fruit; tea; and two glasses of complimentary wine. (The wine gave me hope that I’d be able to sleep, but no such luck.) Awesome first Korean meal!

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Meal #2: Chicken and rice; salad with tiny shrimp and Hawaiian pineapple dressing; fruit; roll; coffee. No wine. 😦 (Also, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to take off the foil before I took a photo.)

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Later they came through and handed out some snacks. The lights were completely turned off, though, so I couldn’t see what the choices were. She said one was a brownie, so I reached for that (duh). After the flight was over I looked at the package and saw that it was indeed “Real Brownie.” Good thing they didn’t stiff me and give me a fake one.

I managed to watch four movies on the flight–so obviously I got a lot of work done. Chef, The Other Woman, Maleficent, and Mom’s Night Out went by as everyone around me enjoyed about eight hours of shut-eye.  Neil has since informed me that, as a people, Koreans seem eerily adept at falling asleep anywhere at anytime. I envy them!

Finally I got my first glimpse of Asia! Don’t be too intimidated by the quality of my photos; I’m pretty professional.

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This was when things finally started feeling real. Up to this point, I’d just been taking another trip. But it really started to hit me that I was about to see Neil for the first time in a little over six months. Truth be told, all I could think of was that I needed them to turn the cabin lights back on so I could put on some makeup. A girl can’t have a reunion like that without at least a touch of mascara!

Immigration took about an hour and thankfully my bags were waiting for me beside baggage claim when I was done. It had taken Neil a week to get his bags whenever he flew in, so I was paranoid that the same thing was going to happen to me. Shoof!

Then, finally . . . it was time to see this guy! 

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Check out those cacti. Shout out to the Lone Star State!

Let the adventure begin!

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