Searching For My People

Friendship is a fickle beast. One day you’re laughing hysterically, trying to catch your breath and the next thing you know, your friend asks you “how’s work?” and the only thing you can think to say is “good.” Other times you grow up together, attending mutual engagements but keeping your distance, and then a weird circumstance comes out of nowhere, pushing you two together (sometimes with a little alcohol) and it’s like new, vibrant people emerge from your previously static selves. And then sometimes, you meet someone, and it’s like putting on a warm, fuzzy pair of socks. It just fits. (And then your toes are warm, too!)

Over the years, I’ve often found that “my people” are almost always a bunch of dudes. I’ve always been the “cool girl”, the one who rolls with the guys and doesn’t make anyone wait for her to finish straightening her hair before we go out. It helps that my hair is naturally straight of course, but my gang of guys doesn’t usually last. Guys fall in love with me, I fall in love with a guy, we move to different places and it’s not so easy to just hang out (God forbid people put forth effort to meet up!) or any other myriad of circumstances often pull apart my group of friends within a year or so. I keep in touch with the occasional guy friend, but it’s not uncommon that the one-on-one contact throws off the friendship and it doesn’t feel the same. I can count the number of good guy friends I have to this day on one hand, but I can’t say the same for the number of male friend groups I’ve been a part of and fallen away from, eventually. I found the people I was most comfortable with just as quickly as I lost them, time and again.

My original (and forever) crew of dudes: my brothers.
My original (and forever) crew of dudes: my brothers.

In college, I really wanted to break that cycle. So I did what any sane, down to earth “cool girl” would do.

I joined a sorority.

Yep, one of those Greek organizations that stars in all of the USA college movies, the ones that get hammered in three story houses with balconies. I wore the letters. I did the chants. I even did the Halloween frat parties, although I dressed up as a “tree” on at least two occasions by wearing a green shirt, so clearly I wasn’t that into it. And, maybe to your surprise, I even had blonde hair. I was looking for my people.

You probably didn't see that coming.
You probably didn’t see that coming.
Alternative Caption: Pics or it didn’t happen!

And as is inevitable in a group of 60+ girls, I did find a few. We had a warm fuzzy socks kind of connection, we laughed, we lived together and spent a lot of evenings on the front porch with glasses of wine, talking about what we wanted from life one day. They were there for me when my heart broke and when I, more often, broke hearts and felt terribly guilty for it. They were there when I accepted my job in South Korea, I was there when they made plans to move across the country or into a different apartment for their final year of school. And on graduation day, I would have sworn we were inseparable. But the thing about fuzzy slipper socks is that they slip off just as easily as they slip on, and when they come off, your feet feel really really cold.

Two years later, the periphery best friends, the people I wish I could have spent more time with (but didn’t, because I was with my main ladies at the time) are the people that ended up sticking around. I thought I’d found my people in the sorority and I was right, but I just wasn’t right about who those people were. But just because I’d found friendships I could depend on and hold onto, doesn’t mean I actually had someone to hang out with on a Friday night. I was in South Korea. And in South Korea, I was looking for more of my people.

But they never came.

This is what causes me to hesitate when someone asks if I loved living in South Korea. This is why when you ask, “How was it?” I say “It was great!” or “It was an awesome experience,” instead of gushing on about how much I loved living there and can’t wait to go back. Because what I had hoped for, people I clicked with, never came. Old teachers left, new people arrived and yet I felt, to put it simply, friendless. I had friends and people to hang out with, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t feel quite as natural or deep as friendships I’d had before. I met some Korean girls that I got along with, but it was nothing like my friendships in the States and definitely nothing like my gangs of guys. After a while I began to forget what that instantaneous feeling was. I knew my friendships weren’t up to par with a “war council,” but for the life of me I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, anyways. It had been too long. When I left Korea, I knew that as wonderful as my memories with friends were, I’d come out empty in my search for my people.

I offered him a place as my bestie, but it just didn't work out.
I offered him a place as my bestie, but it just didn’t work out.

A month at home, and spending time with those who used to be in the periphery but had now come center stage, confirmed that feeling. I then made it a priority to find some damn friends. So I put in the effort to meet other travel bloggers, starting with two lovely ladies in Pittsburgh. We were only able to meet once, but I’m fond of them, and more than anything else, it confirmed that I need to get out there and start meeting more of the people I converse with on Twitter. Nobody knock Internet friends, because they’re some of the best people I know.

A month in Spain. Couchsurfing, traveling and generally just meeting a shit-ton of people has been better for me than I would have ever imagined. It all started with Linda, whom I met on a tourist bus in Barcelona. We shared headphone jacks (her side was broken) and I was intrigued by her story, since you don’t see a ton of over-40 travelers who are interested in doing the same kind of things I am. We both do photography, we both wanted potatoes without the sauce, and she’s the kind of dreamer who’ll ask me to film her advertisement video pitch at a random ATM machine in the middle of a mall. As the trip went on, I met more and more people with whom I got along easily. I got to meet Olivia from Halfway Somewhere while in Madrid and we talked a ton about travel (surprise!), a subject many of my friends aren’t able to broach. Old friendships sprung back to life as strongly as they ever were, new people made me erupt with laughter within minutes of meeting them. Not all of my new friendships are people I’ll make the effort to stay in touch with forever, but some of them are. Somewhere along the way, while in Spain, I’d met more of my people. And now I can remember exactly what it feels like.

Getting along with people right away + food = a beautiful thing.
Getting along with people right away + food = a beautiful thing.

I’ve now spent a week in Dublin, Ireland and made my way West to the Aran Islands, where I’ll be working in a hostel for two weeks. When I first arrived yesterday, I was led up to a room where I met my roommates, two Spanish girls from Barcelona. Immediately we hit it off and the more that my true self comes out (read: WEIRD), the better we get along. Later, I met a guy from South Korea and we lamented over how much we missed Korean food, mostly bulgogi and pat bingsu. A coworker from France has offered up her time to teach me French pronunciation while I’m here. There were even several guests from Germany staying as guests that first night and we got to talk both in English and in German about tons of topics under the sun. We imbibed and danced and laughed, all of us together, and today I was able to share mate with two Argentines and other friends, an activity I adored while in Argentina. I’ve been here for 24 hours and I haven’t just found some of my people, I might have found an entire youth hostel of them.

While no one can say what friendships will last or not, I’m resting easily knowing that the people I’ve met here so far are fantastic and I’ve never fit in better. But when my two weeks inevitably comes to an end on these gorgeous islands (well, gorgeous when it’s not raining, but that’s Ireland for you!) I’ll be walking away with not just incredible friendships and hopefully some badass French pronunciation skills, but maybe someone I can say belongs on my war council. And at least for now, I’ve found my people.

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What is This Place? Notes on a Return Home

Everyone asks about culture shock, about strange foreign customs and scary food. But as strange as living abroad can sometimes be, particularly in Asia, there is one ugly monster that never fails to rear its head and make me scream while I try to run away at full speed. That horrible nightmare is also known as reverse culture shock.

Now, I’m no stranger to culture shock or reverse culture shock. I’ve been around the block, as they say. I’ve lived 5 months in Austria and had to readjust to the big, bad, high-school world in my hometown. I lived another 5 months in Argentina and had to come back to my University and deal with a mate deficit and loads of people who just couldn’t relax, in stark contrast to the Argentine lifestyle I’d learned to love. Arriving in South Korea and trying to figure out how life works wasn’t always a walk in the park. But coming back from 18 months of expat life? Now that’s some heavy hitting culture backlash. I knew what was coming but I definitely couldn’t have been prepared.

And to be honest, I may have needed all 18 months to be prepared for the return. Somewhere between six and sixteen months, a sickening feeling began to emerge every time I imagined a visit home. The stupidity of uneducated Americans, the ignorance about life outside of its borders and the thought of even having to discuss my “adventure abroad” all seemed like incurable diseases I didn’t want to face. But in the final two months I started having intense cravings for American food, missing Pittsburgh sights and attractions and looking forward to happy holiday times. Without these small bits of homesickness to overcome my fear of a return, I would have had quite a tough time getting on that plane headed back to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Home sweet home, after getting adjusted.
Home sweet home, after settling in.

But, I did. And I’ve been back. And unsurprisingly, it’s hasn’t been quite as horrible as I originally envisioned. Actually there have been some wonderful parts. And some weird parts. And an incident or two after which I realized that my social skills were a little rusty and maybe those Korean tendencies to be direct and extremely nosy weren’t really appropriate for conversations with USAers. But I’m pretty sure I can declare myself adjusted and look forward to fun times ahead.

Now that this serious talk is over and dealt with, let’s have some giggles at my expense. Here are five things that made me tilt my head and nearly curse with confusion, because I’d forgotten that’s what the USA is like for a hot second.

Cleavage, Everywhere

Korea is not so big on cleavage, and their standards of modesty are pretty much the exact opposite of what the USA calls modest. In the USA, showing your upper body (arms, shoulders, chest area, cleavage, back) are all pretty standard and accepted, provided it’s in moderation. In South Korea, those parts of the body need to be covered and if you want to be a little risqué, then a sleeveless shirt or a little collarbone will do the trick. In the USA, a short skirt screams sexy and if you can almost see someone’s butt, then you’re probably trying to force down super judgmental thoughts about that person’s life choices. In Korea, short shorts, skirts and dresses are the norm and there are plenty of times that I’ve caught a glimpse of someone’s undies.

Anyways, I’m rambling. The point is that I arrived in the USA and immediately thought “Oh my gosh, boobies are everywhere! What is this place?” and was very uncomfortable for a long period of time.

Flushing Toilet Paper

In South Korea, toilet paper goes in the trash can next to you when you’ve finished using it. We can debate the merits of this versus flushing TP all day, but that doesn’t really matter. After 18 months of being in the same toilet-using routine, I was pretty caught off guard during my return to the USA. It wasn’t really glorious, it was just weird and flushing toilet paper just felt… wrong.

People “Dressed Up” in Sweats

I understand that everyone has their bad days, but there has to be an end to this weird fashion trend of wearing sweatshirts, sweatpants and other junk clothing, just to straighten your hair and put it in a messy bun on top of your head. And then put on a face-full of makeup. I guarantee you that person showered, too. It’s just ludicrous. What’s so hard about clothes, again?

Wearing Shoes Indoors

“SHOES ARE DIRTY!” Korea said. And now I’m supposed to walk into my house, still wearing them. Because if I don’t, I’ll end up with a wet sock from some puddle of ice that someone else tracked in, while wearing their shoes inside. Because apparently that’s how things work in this weird country where I was born and raised. Whatever.

Massive Portion Sizes and Nothing Healthy on the Menu (Except Salad)

This one seriously drives me crazy. I cannot order healthy food off of a menu, unless it’s in the salad section, and even then, it’s questionable. Or unless I go to one of the “hipster” health food restaurants, which seems a little counter-intuitive to me. Why would I eat unhealthy food, when the whole point of food is to make our bodies keep working? Why are healthy meals not mainstream? Man, the USA needs to get its shit together so I can eat a sandwich that isn’t ten thousand calories or perfectly healthy but three times the size of what a meal should be. (Please note: the exception to this frustration of mine is Pittsburgh’s iconic Primanti Brothers’, where you arrive expecting to clog your arteries and almost explode post-meal. Then it’s okay.)

My diet at American restaurants: bread, bread, bread and bread.
My diet at American restaurants: bread, bread and bread.

It’s not all weird, head-scratching moments, though. I’ve encountered a few things while being home that I forgot were so damn awesome about the USA. And I rejoice every time I’m able to partake in these luxuries.

The 24 hr Pharmacy

I know that Korea has really cool convenience stores, but RiteAid, CVS and the like are America’s version of the same kind of awesomeness. I love walking through the aisles and staring at garden gnomes, Valentine’s day chocolate boxes galore, twenty-five different kinds of hair brushes and my favorite section, the drink refrigerators with Arizona Green Tea. They’ve even got all the candy you could ever need, ugly Pittsburgh magnets, horrible stationary and cards and the print-it-yourself photo booths. All open 24 hours. It’s glorious and I love it.

Delicious Beer, On Tap

Oh, Korea… if there is anything you cannot do for the life of you, it’s all things made of wheat. Your bread is sugary and lame and your beer tastes watery and sad. In the USA, there is a beautiful beer culture where you go to a bar, order a delicious, flavorful beer that you’ve never tried before and then you enjoy it. Sometimes it’s a locally made craft beer, sometimes it’s a local chain, sometimes it’s a popular beer but only in Michigan. In any case, I am soaking up every moment I can with amber ales, dark lagers, bright hoppy brews and all of the other incredible, tasty and wonderful beers that the USA has to offer.

(Oh, and I can’t WAIT to go to Germany again in April.)

Drip Coffee

I’m a coffee addict, and South Korea tried to placate me with those sugary instant coffee horrors. It didn’t work, Korea, you hear me?! I am enjoying opening a bag full of aromatic beans, grinding them, filling the coffee maker with either six or eight cups (depending on my mood) and enjoying cups of coffee all morning, while I’m still in my pajamas. And visiting the coffee shop or a breakfast restaurant and getting cups after cups of delicious diner coffee, instead of an Americano.

Yeah, I probably couldn’t have worked this out in Korea if I had tried harder, but I didn’t and I really missed it.

Although I did have the best coffee of my life in Korea. An exception.
Although I did have the best coffee of my life in Korea. An exception.

Full-Sized Towels

No one will understand why this is so great until they’ve lived somewhere that forces tiny foot towels upon you for all of your post-shower drying needs. May I also remind my readers that I said “foot towel”, as in a towel that is only sufficient for drying feet? And that my hair needs a foot towel of its own, since it hangs only a few inches above my waist? Full-sized towels are angelic, warm, fluffy awesomeness that blankets your cold, shivering and wet body and then makes life happier and full of rainbows. Also known as a bath towel. Also known as the kind of towel the world needs to start using after baths and showers, everywhere. Cough, cough, Korea. *Points an angry finger across the ocean*

Cheese

Korea, why couldn’t you do cheese correctly? I’m so glad I can eat delicious mozzarella and melted cheese that actually stretches and add cheese to scrambled eggs without ruining them. It’s great. And enjoy sharp cheddar and the cheese that’s both orange and white and fresh cheese from a block instead of in slices.

And there are a few things that I miss, now that I’ve departed kimchi-land (and one of those things is not kimchi). I’ll just list them, as they don’t need much explanation.

  • Pat Bingsu
  • Saunas
  • Rice
  • The Korean Won (and prices in 100 won instead of 1 cent increments)
♫And I----I, will always love youuuuuuu.♫
♫And I—-I, will always love youuuuuuu.♫

Time has flown by this month, but it’s now to move on to warmer pastures, literally, because I’m going to Spain in a few weeks. And then I’ll have another five months of travel and I’ll have to face the reverse culture shock beast all over again in July. But hey, I’ve done it before and there’s not a bit of doubt that I’ll be facing it plenty of times over in the years to come. Because in the end, reverse culture shock is the reason we travel. It causes us to question what it is we once accepted as par to the course and it creates appreciation for small things we never realized we would miss. It’s what we’re scared of and overcome, because we have to. Friends and family and loved ones are waiting on the other side. Your life doesn’t change by going abroad, your life changes when you go abroad and come back. That’s the hard part. That’s the part that makes us who we are.

And I wouldn’t change that monster hiding under my bed for any reason.

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5 Must-Have Apps for Travel in South Korea

Traveling in a foreign country is sometimes challenging, and where the language is just a bunch of boxes and lines squished together, doubly so. But South Korea is a country with a lot to offer; Buddhist temples and Internet cafes are within minutes of each other and McDonald’s sit next to traditional fare on many of Seoul’s ancient and packed streets. Thankfully, South Korea is also very technologically savvy, and part of the key to having a great vacation is tapping into their many helpful apps for your smart phone.

Now, some of these travel and tourism apps will be much easier to use if you understand Hangul, the Korean writing system. Have no fear, the strange symbols are actually phonetic and pretty simple. You might even be able to memorize the writing system during your 10-12 hour flight over. If not, you could pick it up once you’re in Korea. I’m not saying you’ll be able to read anything faster than, say, a four-year old, but that’s okay. And if you are a slower learner or just have no desire to learn Hangul, that’s okay too, because some of these phone apps are useable in English too.

Regardless of your Hangul abilities, at least download or install a Korean keyboard on your smart phone. It takes five seconds. If you don’t use it, the Korean you convince to help you will. Ready? Get your phone out and head to the App Store, Google Play, or wherever else you get your apps.

1. Google Translate

google translate

Do I need to say anything about this? Alrighty, good.

2. NaverMap

navermap

The Korean version of Google Maps, you’ll find much more detailed and accurate locations here than good old Google. This is especially helpful because Korean restaurants and stores seem to close and change within 18 months of opening in the first place. There is also a street view, the upside-down teardrop shape with a green and black stripe across it, especially helpful when you don’t want to wander around forever. While you can only search basic English words and get results (like “subway”), the GPS locator will show you exactly where you are with incredible accuracy, which is indispensable.

Also, if you ask a Korean person to help you with directions, they literally won’t understand how Google Maps works, so you better download this one.

3. Subway or 지하철 (Ji Ha Cheol)

jihacheol

If you’re spending any time in Seoul, which I assume you are (who doesn’t?), then this app will help you navigate the huge, complex subway system around the city. Complete with awesome features like the nearest station locator and the exact duration of a subway ride, you’ll come to depend in this app like Grandpa and his prosthetic hip.

You can set the language to English (or Japanese!) and it has subway maps for not just Seoul, but Busan, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju as well.

4. Visit Korea 3.0

visit korea

This app is created (and updated frequently) by the Korea Tourism Organization and is basically a huge database of tons of cool tourist attractions all over Korea. Everything from mountains, wildlife parks, Buddhist temples and shrines, to the weirdest museums are all in the database; they don’t miss much. (However, sometimes they name them weird things, so searching for the Korean name of what you’re looking for sometimes helps.) Addresses, phone numbers, directions and a summary of the attractions are all included in this app.

Bonus hack: Copy and paste the Korean name of your destination into NaverMap for directions. No Korean skills needed!

5. 코레일 or Korail – Korean Only

korail

If you plan on leaving Seoul to see Busan or any of the other major cities, then this app will help you navigate the train system and schedule. Unfortunately, though, it’s exclusively in Korean. That’s okay, though, because if you’re staying in a hostel or a hotel, you can ask the desk person to help you look up schedules or even book your ticket ahead of time.

Bonus: Cookie Run for Kakao Talk

cookie run

Just to fit in with the locals. You know. The middle-school-aged locals playing cell phone games while walking down the street and everything. (Hey, if your face is buried in your phone, it’ll take someone at least five extra seconds to notice that you’re a foreigner!)

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Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page, on Twitter & Instagram or you can subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

13 Defining Moments of 2013

I don’t usually pay too much homage to the change of the year. After all, it is just a number and on some level, the difference between 2013 and 2014 is just an arbitrary 24 hour period that happens to be a special one. Suddenly midnight strikes and everything has changed… not. But as I read through other blogs and their recounting of adventures, it got me thinking about what’s happened to me in 2013 and I started feeling a little nostalgic. I changed my mind; I’ll write about it after all, I’ll commemorate it. Because when I think about it, 2013 has been quite a year. Besides, who can resist the chance to link to at least ten previous posts and substantially increase blog traffic? Definitely not me! (Was that a trade secret? Oops.)

So I sat down and tried my darnedest to write about it. It didn’t go well, I slept on it and my dreams offered nothing. Rude, subconscious. Then someone used the title I was contemplating using, “A Year of Firsts” and wrote a pretty good post to rub it in. Later I searched “2013: A Year of Firsts” on the internet and realized there were about a billion posts with that same title, all over the internet anyways. And now as I sit here and think about it, I’m realizing that it should be my goal to make every year of my life a “year of firsts”. I should always be challenging myself. When I don’t think of the previous year as a year of firsts, then maybe that means I’m actually doing something wrong and I need to do some changes.

So back to the subject, I’ve settled instead on listing 13 things that happened in 2013, a bullet-listed summary of sorts, firsts and otherwise.

1

2013 will be the first full calendar year that I will have the pride (yes, I’m thrilled about this!) of saying I was 100% financially independent. I earned my own salary, paid my own bills, did my own grocery shopping, had to put up the money for those big purchases that my parents love to cover, like winter jackets and running shoes. Although my parents have always been beyond supportive and never put any stipulations on their handouts, it still felt really freeing to be on my own, financially. I guess you can say I’m a big girl now! (Tongue in cheek, I’m five foot three and will never be a big girl, woe is me.)

2

I bought my first car and it was lime green, fulfilling a childhood dream. Driving around my rural community completely changed my mindset; suddenly I wasn’t stuck in the countryside, I was experiencing rural Korea. Later I also sold my car and mourned the inevitable loss of Princess Fiona and her beautiful maroon pleather interior. Maryanne, treat her right, I’m entrusting you with a vehicle of great importance and prestige.

3

Double first, I still have never had an official cavity but this past year I nurtured and grew two troubled, slightly decaying spots on my back molars! I guess 2014 will be the year of more vigorous dental hygiene.

4

This year, I was also completely stationary. I haven’t lived in the same apartment for so long in almost four or five years, so that’s a little bit of a big deal, eh? College had me bouncing between universities, then dorms, sometimes countries and houses but for the first time since high school, I lived in the same place for 18 months straight. (No wonder I was so sick of that apartment by the time I left!)

Home sweet home.

5

I transferred my blog from Tumblr to WordPress this past May and finally joined the official blogging community. It’s been an incredible experience, I’ve made a lot of Internet friends and adore the friendships that have blossomed around my posts and in the comment sections. So now that I’m official… where’s the T-shirt?!

6

Sad but true, this was the year I accepted the loss of a lot of really close friends and also acknowledged that no one I’d met since then would be able to fill that void. Yes, I have a great boyfriend, but this is friend talk. And coming to the end of 2013, I’m realizing that I really don’t have many. But the ones I do have are precious.

7

This year, I made a huge transition, too. There was another frontier that I’d never crossed, and as soon as I felt a Kindle in my hands, I knew that a vast and enriching world had just opened up and I’d never be the same. I’ve always been a bookworm but I’d had to put that passion on the backburner when I traveled abroad previously, not wanting to splurge on expensive English books all the time and break my wallet. Getting my Kindle has reignited my love for literature and I’m now reading more than ever, more intentionally than ever and seriously feeling so… myself. That’s a good feeling to have.

I wish I could own these, but having them in E-book form is the second best option.
I couldn’t have read these books if it weren’t for eBooks.

8

This is a travel blog, let’s talk travel: I stepped foot in Istanbul, Turkey and Cyprus for the first time in my life. This trip was also with my mom, so there’s another first. (Not vacationing with my mom, vacationing with my mom abroad!) We spent a total of 10 days between the two and had a blast. And another first, I’d impulsively selected a city on the map and decided to vacation there, which I’d never done before. As my cousin might say, life achievement: unlocked.

9

One more first when it comes to travel, it was also the first time I really explored Germany. Now when I say that I studied German in college and the next question inevitably is “So have you been to Germany?” then I can concisely say “Yes!” instead of hanging my head in shame and then later explaining the difference between Austria and Australia. (I learned my German in Austria.) Now that some family news has come in, my travel plans for 2014 will give me even more chances to enjoy Germany and its delicious gassy water.

"Hey guys, I'm going to Germany tomorrow, so can someone take care of Mary for the next two weeks?"

10

Two thousand and thirteen will always be the year that my Christmas day was 38 hours long, thanks to cross continental travel and International Date Line magic. It will also be the year that I started Christmas morning hiking a mountain in Seoul and ended it laughing with cousins and gifts, next to a decked out Christmas tree in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

11

This past year, I completely paid off my government student loans and am ready to pay of the rest of my private student loans, which will make me completely free of all debt! I know that a lot of students carry larger loans than me and sometimes I feel guilty, but I also know that I worked my butt off to get to Korea, do well in my job, and get this dollar sign off of my back. And that feels really good.

12

I had a really serious realization this year, too: I hate cleaning. I am not domestic. I despise washing dishes. And when left to my own devices, I am disgusting! It sucks to come face to face with your own weaknesses, but I did this year and I’ll have to face those demons again, someday, once I’m ready to settle somewhere for another year or more.

13

The biggest, bestest, craziest and most life-changing part of this past year was hands down the adoption of my rescue puppy, Mary. I didn’t anticipate becoming a dog mommy at any point and I had to work really hard, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, to take care of her and myself. But I’m sitting here on my parents’ couch in the USA, covered in a blanket, and Mary is now eleven months old and fast asleep, cuddled next to me with her paw over her eyes to block out the light, being breathtakingly adorable. This month may be a bit of a trial for me (isn’t living in your parent’s home always?), but so far Mary has been my comedic distraction, stress release and the best bundle of crazy and cute that has ever existed, buffering me even from culture shock. I think that maybe ten years from now, when I look back at 2013, it’ll be defined as the year Mary arrived; that’s how much she means to me now.

IMG_7182 ED R

Mushy stuff over, it’s number time!

Planes Taken: 6 + 6 + 2 + 2 = 16 (Oh dear…)
Distance Traveled: 4968.5 + 4968.5 + 5090.8 + 5090.8 + 6846.4 = 26,965 miles
Time Spent on Planes: I refuse to do that math, for my own sanity.
Foreign Countries Visited via Airport: United Arab Emirates, China, Netherlands
Foreign Countries Actually Visited: Turkey, Cyprus, Germany, South Korea
Beds Slept In: 10
Apartments I Called My Own: 1
Hours of Christmas: 38
Miles Run With Mary: Countless
Miles Walked With Mary: Countless
Energy Mary Still Has: Countless
Dogs My Father Likes: 1

The Five Most Popular Posts of 2013

  1. 7 Ways South Korea Has Changed Me
  2. White & Pretty in South Korea
  3. How To Stay Warm in Winter Like a Korean
  4. 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best
  5. Meet Mary: Rescuing a Puppy in Korea

Resolutions for 2014

Brush my teeth more often. (See defining moment #3)

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What defining moments did you have in 2013? Are you ready for the new year?

You can find me on the ABOFA Facebook Page or subscribe to the email list, if you’d like.

The 10 Stupidest Things I Did While Living in Korea

When someone mentions they are an expat or living abroad, you might feel like they’re being a little pretentious. Some blogs (cough cough Thought Catalog) like to romanticize the experience, talk about why home will never be the same and generally just drone on and on about what an original experience everything is when you’re abroad.

Yeah, I’m sorry, but I need to tell you the truth. Being an expat is just a series of stupid moments and mistakes that never end. Yes, it’s like no other experience, yes, you’re better for it, yes, you’re automatically a little misunderstood when you go home because no one was there with you. But let’s cut the shit: being an expat isn’t glorious. You go somewhere, act like an idiot and learn enough about patience to accept that sometimes you’re stupid. And it’s okay.

Being an expat is asking yourself this question: how many times in one day can I embarrass myself before I just die?

As I’ve learned from living in South Korea, the answer is, well, a lot. In fact, after all of these stupid moments, I’m still living! I think that’s the big lesson here when you move abroad; it doesn’t even matter. Life goes on. Embarrassment isn’t actually a cause of death and most of the time, except in extraordinary circumstances, you will get out of stupidity alive.

What did I do that was stupid? Oh this will be fun. Take a seat, I’m an idiot, so prop your feet up and settle in for some belly laughter.

I said the word “bitch” to my bosses.

In my defense, they knew I meant the word “year” and just kind of blinked and let me finish talking. But the fact that the word for “bitch” and “year” are the same, but the meaning changes depending on sentence context is just lunacy. Someone change the Korean language.

I gave myself food poisoning.

I was too lazy to go to the grocery store, so I walked half the distance to the convenience store and bought what turned out the be the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth. I couldn’t eat solids for a week after that and I’ll spare you the details of my bowel movements. See the full story here, if you actually want more information than that, ew.

NEVER AGAIN.
NAVER AGAIN.
NAVER AGAIN.

I withdrew $200 from the ATM when I only wanted $20.

In Korea, they count their money in 10,000s, because 1,000 won = ~$1 and it would be difficult to keep track of, otherwise. They even have a special word that means 10,000, “man”. So while I typed in 20 into the screen, which I assumed would mean 20,000, what I was actually typing was 20 ten-thousands. Or 200,000 won. I immediately ran into the bank, shame-faced, with my hands overflowing with bills and somehow communicated to the banker that all this money I’d just withdrawn should go back into my bank account. Never made that mistake again.

I walked into places with my shoes on, multiple times.

In South Korea, shoes do not come inside, only socks or slippers are allowed. I forgot this a couple times, at first, but within five steps there were screams and arm grabs and generally, just a tragic scene of horrified Korean faces around me. This happens to me even now, because some places are a little unclear about what is a “socks only” area. Just two weeks ago, on a ferry boat, I got the death state when I unknowingly stepped one foot into the shoe-free zone.

I agreed to adopt someone’s dog and then gave it back, all before 8am.

I can’t explain this story in only a few sentences, so just head over to the post I wrote about it to see the full story. *face palm*

There she is. Parry.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.

I fell on my ass in public.

Sidewalks during the wintertime in South Korea should be renamed “ice walks”. Need I explain more? People laughed. My butt was sore.

I wore Hanbok to work.

This wasn’t really my own stupidity, but simply one of the most embarrassing moments of my teaching career. My boss told me we were going to the city right that moment, took me to a Hanbok shop (traditional Korean costume), made me choose my favorite and then wear it for the rest of the morning. To work. And show the students during their English class. And show my bosses. And he stopped at the local gas station on the way back so my neighbors could see me, too. (The picture can be found, here.)

I asked where to find the salt in the grocery store.

Who can’t find salt? This girl. It was in clear view, but apparently my eyes just weren’t working that day. I also remember using Google images to show a shop owner a picture of an onion, so she could help me locate them.

Luckily, the tuna wasn't as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.

I ordered food that I couldn’t stand to eat.

Never, ever point to something random on a menu and order it. What comes out might be cold noodles drenched in gochujang, red pepper sauce, and literally nothing else. Within three bites, my gag reflex started up and the cause was lost. Consulting my phone for pictures of what the menu said, I successfully ordered hot food for round two. The giant plate of disgusting noodles sat wayside for the rest of the meal. Yuck.

I went on dates I didn’t know were dates.

Actually, I’m not even sure that they were dates, to this day. I’m still confused about some. But there were several times I went to a dinner or two with my “guy friend” and later found out that his intentions were more romantic than platonic. I usually found this out when he had some alcohol in his system and felt he should confess his love. Even though we might have had frank conversations about how we were just friends. Anyways, I don’t have any “guy friends” that are Korean, anymore. That didn’t work out very well.

G-Dragon_2012_4
My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.
My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.

Those are just ten instances that I remember, but there are probably a few repressed memories hiding in the dark corners of my brain. Even after all of this, though, my self confidence is still intact and I still wake up breathing, every single day. I also still do stupid things. That never ended, unfortunately.

So next time your friend comes back from Paris and starts to drone on about the croissants, stop them. Say, “Tell me about the stupidest thing you did while you were in France.” You’ll be able to laugh instead of rolling your eyes, something both of you will appreciate, and no one will be under the illusion that expat-ing is glorious in any way, shape or form.

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What are the stupidest things you’ve ever done while living abroad? Don’t you wish you were an expat, now? Do you agree that being an expat is more misadventure than adventure?

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Photoessay: Udo, Jeju’s Cow Island

If I were to describe Jeju Island in colors, I’d choose green, orange and black. If I were to describe Udo, a small island off of the big island, I’d say it was black, white and blue. Grey has always been one of my favorite colors, so it’s not hard to imagine that Udo stole my heart from the beginning and never let it go. Renting a motorbike and scootering around the perimeter made it that much better.

Udo means cow island and is named that because the island is apparently shaped like a cow lying down.

udo island map
Yeah, I don’t see it either. Anyways, let’s just move on to the pictures that make sense.

ferry boat udo korea
This is a photoessay about an island so it’s only appropriate that I begin with a photograph of the ferry that took me there.
jeju udo cow island
Black rocks and bright white sand made quite the pretty picture. It looked like this all over the island.
rhodolith korea jeju udo islet beach
This beach, named Seobin Baeksa, is the only beach in Korea filled with rhodolith, which are like coral but unattached to things. You could call them the tumbleweeds of the ocean.
bike black rocks jeju udo
What’s a rural islet without a rusting kiddy bike?
blue ocean black rock udo island islet
Rolling, clear blue waves are one thing I may never see enough of.
hermit crab wild nature rock ocean udo korea
I found a family of hermit crabs, and I temporarily kidnapped this little guy so I could take a picture of him. Which I messed up/overexposed, and have somewhat salvaged enough to show you. Adorable.
coast table beach udo jeju korea
And of course I stopped for coffee, enjoyed at one of these coast side tables.
coffee shop book writing abreathofforeignair
The coffee shop gave you little books to write it while you were waiting for your order, so I took that opportunity to promote myself. No shame.
cat sleeping photograph jeju udo island korea
Aww, a cat sleeping on top of someone’s laptop. Why isn’t that surprising?
udo island korea field black rocks green
Considering that Udo is formed by a bunch of old volcanic rocks, it’s understandable that the attempts at farming aren’t very intensive.
boat water circle island jeju udo korea
Things to do next time I go to Udo: get dizzy and nearly vomit on a speed boat.
sunlight water cliff udo jeju korea island islet
Dramatic views included.
cat jeju udo island islet korea beach water rocks
I spy with my little eye…
udo islet jeju korea rock tower buddhism
Stack a rock and make a wish; these pillars are all over Korea, especially in Buddhist temples, but they suddenly look like precarious feats of gravity when done with porous, volcanic rocks.

white black lighthouse udo island jeju korea beach

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Have you ever been to Cow Island? Did you spy the hiding kitty?

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Review: Fish Tree Guesthouse on Jeju Island

fish tree hostel guesthouse jeju
Fish Tree Guesthouse on Jeju Island: built out of shipping containers.

Korean culture has some charming subcultures, one of which is very similar to something us USAers might call “hipster” or less kindly, “hippies”. This isn’t just limited to younger generations, though, and the owners, builders and managers of the Fish Tree Guesthouse in Jeju are a perfect example of that. This older couple decided to build and open their own hostel and coffee shop, of which the coffee shop is still under construction. Because they’ve aimed to do everything from scratch, the guesthouse is roomy, designed down to the very bones and feels like a home, complete with a wall full of books. Indeed it is a home, as the owners live there too.

book wall fish tree hostel jeju
The “cave” reading area, not pictured is a couch and several chairs for the more sophisticated sitters.

Let’s talk about that homey feel: a wall dedicated to chalkboard messages, another wall covered in (Korean) books, most of the interior “unfinished” as a design style, a kitchen full of ingredients in bottles and jars and other re-purposed and funky containers. Cushions on the ground in the computer area and an entire floor-level cave-like section next to the bookshelf, so you can properly lose yourself in a book. Spiral staircases led to the second floor and rooms and each bed in the dorm-style room had it’s own partition, like little cubicles for sleeping. The outside porch was huge and had several wooden tables and chairs that had me wanting to come back in spring, simply so I could sip coffee on the deck.

fish tree beds jeju island guesthouse
Dorm beds or outer space sleeping pods?!?! Okay, yeah, just really cool dorm beds.

But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows, the coffee shop is still under construction and there is a pension being built next door. The parking lot is literally a bunch of gravel and there’s not a proper walkway, yet. There’s also no WiFi on the second floor, where the bedrooms are, but the first floor is more than cozy enough to spend some time in. The biggest issue you could have here is the couple’s inability to speak English; I would recommend bringing a Korean friend or knowing a few phrases yourself. It won’t impact you majorly, but the couple was beyond sweet and definitely worth getting to know, so not being able to communicate well with them would be a shame.

fish tree hostel owner jeju
ISN’T SHE CUTE! Study Korean so you can talk to her.

When I walked into the hostel, the wife was baking homemade cookies in the kitchen and immediately offered me some. (I can forgive anything with cookies, not that there was much to forgive.) For breakfast the next morning, she freely toasted bread, sliced up some Norwegian cheese that her relatives had sent her and spread homemade (of course) mandarin orange jelly on top to make a strange but yummy breakfast sandwich. And, like the sweetheart that she is, gave me more cookies. That woman really knew the way to my heart, I even forgave her for purchasing Crocs as the bathroom slippers.

kitchen fish tree guesthouse jeju island korea
Do you see the cookies? I see the cookies!

Contrary to the “unfinished” look of the rest of the guesthouse, the bathroom was completely finished and clean and sparkly. It was only on the first floor though, so figure on getting used to that spiral staircase.

bathroom fish tree hostel jeju island korea
Nice bathrooms seal the deal.

Overall, I had a wonderful cookie-filled experience at this guesthouse and if you’ve got even a little Korean under your belt, I’d definitely recommend you give it a whirl. If you have a Korean friend with you who’s interested in design or construction, well, you might have a difficult time dragging them away. Not that I experienced that or anything, ahem, nobody I was with spent 40 minutes looking at workshop tools or metal joints or asking about kinds of paint while walking around the building, definitely not. Nope.

fish tree breakfast guesthouse jeju island korea
Breakfast: caramel Norwegian cheese, homemade mandarin orange jam and warm cookies. Or cereal, if you’d like.
patio outdoor fish tree hostel orange jeju korea
Part of the large outdoor patio; I’m itching to sit on a patio like this as soon as it’s warm enough.

If you end up visiting this guesthouse, drop me a line and let me know. I’d love to hear what you think. I hope you get cookies.

The Dirty Deetz

Name: Fish Tree Guesthouse (물고기나무 게스트하우스)
Address: Jeju Teukbyeol, Jachido, Seogwiposi, Sungsaneup, Samdalli 1037
제주특별 자치도 서귀포시 성산읍 삼달리 1037
Phone Number (Korean only): 064-783-1037
Prices: Dorm Room: 20k/night, Double Room: 50k/night (all prices in Won)
Capacity: Unless they have rooms hiding up their sleeves (possible), I saw 6 beds in the dorm-style room and 1 double/private bedroom.
More Information/Their Website (Korean only): http://blog.naver.com/fishtree72

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What do you think of Fish Tree Guesthouse from the pictures? Where did you stay when you were in Jeju? What’s your favorite hostel look like?

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Photoessay: Korea’s Jeju Island

I love a lot of things, like coffee, new shoes, blankets and hot cocoa, comfortable rides on public transportation; but there’s not much I love more than the sound, sight and smell of water meeting land. That said, it’s no surprise that I adored Jeju Island.

Even though it was November/December, Jeju has just enough of a warm climate to sustain fruit and farming for most of the year. Coming from the bland dead of winter, the green fields and mandarin orange trees were a sight for sore eyes. The island also was borne of a volcano, so the majority of rocks are porous and black and fascinating. Some of the beaches are a normal white and since it’s the end of fall, some areas of the island also sport the browns and yellows of retiring plants.

So when the blues of the ocean, the green and orange and the black and the occasional white or brown or yellow come together, it’s like walking into Toys-R-Us for my eyeballs. I did my very best to capture some of the beauty on camera, but there was nothing like seeing it in person. Here are my best shots.

mandarin orange jeju black rock korea
The orchards and plots of land are traditionally surrounded by low walls, built by these black volcanic stones. Gorgeous.
green field jeju korea
More of those low walls, partitioning off small seas of green.
goat olle trail jeju korea
The local wildlife showed up during one of my walks. While they blend into the black rocks pretty well, they stand starkly in contrast here among the browns.
sunset jeju island korea
Ah, sunset. Nothing better.
boat grass water jeju island korea
Is it possible to be in love with your own picture?
shoreline jeju island blue black korea
The blue water and black rocks were incredibly vivid and beautiful.
jeju statue korea
These little guys popped up all over the island in different sizes, shapes and materials. (Oh, and the flowers too!)
dog hump beach jeju island korea
Sometimes you try to take pictures of dogs at the beach and they quickly get into a weird humping position right when you click the shutter. And then sometimes you put it on your blog, anyways.
star anise to be a whale jeju korea
The star anise that went into the best coffee I’ve ever had in my entire life.
rock shoreline cliff jeju island olle korea
Why are island rocks SO cool? Please explain this to me.
black rock shoreline jeju island water blue korea
THESE COLORS I can’t get enough. They will haunt my dreams.
tree twisted waterfall jeju korea
(This is the waterfall where I saw nearby female divers.)
restaurant ajumma korea jeju
Sitting down to eat “boring” abalone rice porridge.
oranges path jeju korea
One of the many little winding paths that traverse Jeju’s mainland.
shoes sit cafe abstract jeju korea
Just enjoying the view and my coffee (and snapping pictures of my shoes) at To Be a Whale Cafe.
jeju island orange black rock beach water windmill
The picture that epitomizes what Jeju Island is famous for: wind, water, beach, black rocks and a delicious little mandarin orange.

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Which picture is your favorite? Have you ever been to an island similar to Jeju?

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Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate on Jeju Island

I really loved seeing all the scenery on Jeju Island, but I’ll go ahead and admit that it was the weird food that won my heart. Being a Korean island, there are plenty of shops that serve the same old, same old; samgyeopsal, kimbap and noodles are all easy enough to find. But if you’re on Jeju Island, don’t do it. Find the specialties. They are awesome. I know they’re awesome, because I ate (some of) them.

Black Pig Barbeque (흑돼지)

Apparently, in old times, this used to be a shit-eating pig. I kid you not, people would poop in holes and the pigs would be underneath, eating it. GROSS. Anyways they don’t do that anymore, they feed the black pigs real food, so you should feel perfectly fine about sitting down for an order of this, since it tastes like (meat) heaven. (Waegook Tom agrees, he wrote an entire blog post about this deliciousness.) IMG_6301 ED R It also comes with a special Jeju-only dip called Myeolchiekjeot (멸치액젓) which tastes like liquid anchovies, and you’re supposed to drop hot pepper and garlic in the sauce while it cooks on the grill. I’ll chalk that one up to an acquired taste, because I was not a fan. Eek.

Green Tea Ice Cream (녹차아이스크림)

Fittingly, this was consumed during a brief stop at the Tea Museum. I wish I’d gotten the “Twister” though, green tea and vanilla frozen yogurt together, because those first couple bites were like licking green tea powder. Once I got used to it however it was great. I mean, it’s ice cream, how could I not be happy? IMG_6412 ED R

Grilled Octopus (문어구이)

If you’ve never nommed on octopus before, then you should probably give it a shot for the experience. The stuff you get on Jeju, though, is all particularly fresh from those famous female divers pulling up seafood all day. IMG_6549 ED R

Abalone and Rice Porridge (전복죽)

Ear shells or abalones are one of Korea’s, particularly Jeju’s most prized health foods, but they’re pricy as a result. A popular way to eat them without blowing the budget is getting this porridge, which is what Koreans call a “boring food”. The best way to eat it is by putting pieces of kimchi on your spoon with it to add some flavor. I thought it was perfectly fine without kimchi, myself. IMG_6835 ED R

The Best Cup of Coffee I’ve Ever Had In My Entire Life Ever (조르바 커퓌)

Coffee with a spiced twist; it included cloves, cinnamon, other unidentified powders, and star anise, a thing I’d never heard of until they told me the name and I googled it (you’re welcome). I can’t get over how awesome this cup of coffee was, it was like a winter day’s dream, and it was a winter day, so it was a freaking dream, people! IMG_6846 ED R On the other side was a honey mandarin latte, which apparently was also quite heavenly. Details for this coffee shop can be found here, partway down the page. The baristas speak English, but their menu does not.

Spicy Noodles with Raw Fish (회국수)

When you’re on an island, you should probably eat some raw fish. Alright, so just fish in general, but I’m a big Hwae/sashimi fan, so I’d advocate for that. This was mixed in a variation of the spicy pepper paste you can find everywhere and included noodles and lettuce, which tasted pretty awesome together. Which was weird: noodles + lettuce?! But yes. Noodles and lettuce. IMG_6887 ED R

Sea Urchin Egg Noodle Soup (성게국수)

No, I don’t mean egg noodles, I mean sea urchin eggs in the noodles. Their flavor wasn’t particularly anything, but the soup as a whole was warm and made me happy and full. Plus, now you can officially call me a baby killer and it won’t even be a lie. IMG_6888 ED R Honorable mentions include a shrimp as large as my face, a cheese muffin that didn’t taste horrible or even remotely like cheese, and a breakfast the super-nice hostel lady made for me with cheese straight from Norway and mandarin orange jam. This was a horrible post to write in between meal times. See you later, guys, I need a snack.

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Have you ever been to Jeju Island? Could you eat sea urchin eggs? Did reading about sea urchin eggs make you more or less hungry?

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I came, I saw, I did not conquer: Korea’s Jeju Island

Originally I wanted to visit Jeju Island over September, during the five-day “weekend” of Chuseok. Back in June, I checked for flight tickets and was slapped with reality when there were literally no tickets to be purchased. Not a single seat on a single plane. Sold out.

Koreans are serious about their Jeju Island trips, apparently. So, a random weekend later in the year, it was. The weekend straddling November and December was chosen, tickets were successfully found and purchased and off the Jeju I went! Getting to the airport took some time, seeing as I live in a very rural area, but once on the plane, the trip was short. The actual days themselves were also short, and suddenly the ambitious sightseeing plans proved to be not only ambitious, but undoable. There is just too much on Jeju Island for a weekend trip, I’d need to stay a week to see everything I wanted to see.

So this post will be a list: what I saw and what I put on next trip’s itinerary, because yes, I’ve already planned my next trip. If you’re planning to visit Jeju, hopefully this will help you to see the places that I wish I could have seen and skip the ones that were hyped up. Links go to information, pictures and the addresses of the locations. (Photo posts, stories and food are all still to come. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about them!)

I came, I saw:

Hyeopjae Beach (협재해수욕장)
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This beach is apparently quite famous and is dotted with weird naked statues, white sand and black rocks. It’s likely better in the summertime (it is a beach), but it was pretty enough in winter to be worth the visit.

The Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art Grounds and Area (제주현대미술관)
Meh

museum contemporary art statue korea jeju
There were some statues hiding in the bushes. I found them.

While I didn’t go into the museum, I did walk around the grounds and look at statues and some strange houses. Apparently only artists live in the neighborhood behind it and they spend all of their time making… well… art.

O’Solluc Tea Museum (설록차 뮤지엄 오설록)
Meh

pour tea museum osulloc jeju korea
A member of the staff pouring sample cups of tea for visitors.

The actual museum part was closed for cleaning/updates, so I missed out on the cool exhibitions of pottery. I did, however, sit down and eat some yummy green tea ice cream, try freshly brewed mandarin green tea and walk to the roof to see a not-that-impressive view.

Songak Mountain / Olle Trail #10 (송악산 / 화순모슬포 올레 #10)
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goats olle trail 12 jeju korea
Clearly I wasn’t on the walking trail, but the goat trail. Sorry for intruding, goats.

I couldn’t walk too far on this trail, time was short, but what I saw was pretty and interesting. Japanese military dug bunkers into the mountain to prepare for war back in the day, the view of the ocean and nearby island were gorgeous, and I spotted some wild goats.

“Daepo Columnar Joint” aka Interesting Volcano Rock Cliffs (대포주상절리)
Meh

lava column water jeju korea
Beautiful? Absolutely. The same picture as every single other person on that same platform? No doubt.

Honestly, this would have gotten a thumbs up if there weren’t so many damn people on the same tiny platform, staring at the same rocks. Try to avoid the crowds (early morning, weekdays) and you’ll be able to appreciate the strange beauty of these cliffs.

Jeongbang Falls (정방폭포)
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haenyeo 해녀 female diver jeju korea
What waterfall? I’m creeping on the female divers, thanks.

The waterfall isn’t so spectacular, it’s just a small waterfall, but nearby there were famous female divers, Haenyeo (해녀), pulling the day’s catch of octopus out of the water. It was worth it just to see them hauling giant heavy nets over their shoulders. (However, if you have any kind of physical handicap, climbing over the giant shoreline rocks for a good view will be a trial, so this wouldn’t be worth it for you.)

U-Do / Cow Island (우도)
Seven hundred thumbs up

udo cow island welcome jeju korea
Yes, this is the ugliest picture from the entire island. I don’t want to ruin the future photoessay for you, right?

I fell in love with this little island off of an island. Renting a scooter and zipping around the perimeter was the highlight of my trip. The scenery was breathtaking, the homes rural, yet there were several cafes and one of them served giant, delicious-looking burgers (and coffee of course). Super beautiful, super relaxing, super worth your time to see and yes, there is definitely a Cow Island photoessay in the future.

Manjang Cave (만장굴)
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manjanggul cave jeju korea
Sorry, this is the best I could do in low lighting / while very badly needing to pee.

Many people say this is an overrated place to go, but I really enjoyed it. Perhaps because I’m more fascinated by/obsessed with volcanoes than most people. If you want to learn about the science behind the lava tube and its formation, then this will be fun for you. The “big reveal” at the end? Meh.

To Be a Whale Cafe (고래가 될 카페)
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to be a whale cafe view ocean jeju korea
The view of the ocean from the back porch is pretty spectacular, yes?

Apparently this cafe is very famous among Koreans and if you want any evidence that hipster, pretentious Korean culture does indeed exist, then this is the place to see it. They also make incredible drinks: I had a Joeulba Coffee (조르바 커퓌), or black coffee with cloves, cinnamon and other crazy spices, and it rocked my world. So hard.

I did not conquer:

Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak / Sunrise Mountain (성산일출봉)

I KNOW, I know. I didn’t go to the most famous UNESCO Heritage site in all of Jeju Island. Hit me over the head a couple of times, I know I’ve already done it myself. Seeing the sunrise from the top of this peak is on my list of things to do next time along with getting to bed early enough that it’s possible, next time.

Halla Mountain Hike (한라산)

Seeing as this was a weekend trip, a five-hour mountain hike didn’t fit very well into my plans. But it’s something I want to do next time I’m in Jeju, since Mt. Halla is also an extinct volcano and I’ve already mentioned how much I love volcanoes, right?

Olle Trail #12 (무릉용수 올레 #12)

I really adore long, beautiful walks and Jeju Island might be the perfect place to do that, though sadly it didn’t fit into the schedule this time. Most of the Olle trails are beautiful, and they all hug the coastline, but I’d love to do this one that crosses part of a beach, has a cool view of some windmills and generally just looks spectacular.

Samyang Black Sand Beach (삼양 검은모래해변)

Technically I was here, but it was too dark to see anything, including the fact that the sand was black. But the area looked clean and pretty, so I want to give it another shot. Apparently ajummas also like to bury themselves in the sand for the therapeutic effects, and that’s a sight I don’t want to miss twice.

Kayaking in Soesokkak Estuary (쇠소깍)

Technically I was here as well, but it was also at the end of a day and I couldn’t see a thing. The sand here is also black, I was able to make that out at least (so cool!), but what I most want to do is take one of the clear kayaks into the ravine and weird crazy blue-green water.

Jeju Dinosaur Land (제주공룡랜드)

Look, I just have a weird thing with dinosaurs and I can’t explain it. I need to go here.

Overnight on U-Do (우도)

I fell so in love with U-Do that I want to do an overnight, instead of just a morning trip, next time. My pictures of hermit crabs got messed up and I wasn’t hungry when I went to the cafe with giant burgers, so those situations must be rectified.

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Have you ever been to Jeju Island? What did you see and what did you miss? Am I an idiot for missing sunrise mountain like an idiot, I’m an idiot?

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