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?

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Pepero Day in Korea

Today’s blog post was a no-brainer, because it’s one of my favorite holidays in Korea: Pepero Day! Yes, the holiday is totally invented by corporate magnates who wanted to sell more of their Pepero. Yes, there is no real meaning behind the holiday, and it’s only on November 11th because 11/11 looks remotely like four Pepero sticks in a row. I get it, I’m buying into the system and it’s stupid, etc… but look. I’m a teacher, so I’m pretty much exclusively on the receiving end of this tradition. So celebrate it, I will! I love Pepero Day!

In Korean, it’s spelled 빼빼로, which if I do say so, looks adorable.  Pepero is actually a brand name and it’s also acceptable to buy the competing brand named Pocky. (Like when you buy Puffs instead of Kleenex and still call it a Kleenex.) Pepero are essentially just pretzel sticks, unsalted, and dipped in chocolate. They come in multiple flavors and this year, they came out with some pretty rocking new ones. I received just the classics, though.

Today's bounty of deliciousness.
Today’s bounty of deliciousness.

The typical flavors are: plain chocolate or chocolate with pieces of almond in them. An older but less popular flavor is the reverse of a classic Pepero, where the chocolate is inside of the tube. The new flavors are pretty awesome: strawberry, melon (surprisingly incredible), and the best flavor ever and ever and ever, cookies and cream. There may be another flavor I’m missing, but it doesn’t matter. Oreo.

pepero oreo
Creatively called “white cookie” in Korean. Nom.

So the tradition itself is really quite simple. Buy Pepero and give them to someone. The boxes even have blank space for writing notes on the back to the lucky recipient, if you’d like to go so far. So when 11/11 rolls around and it’s Veteran’s Day in the USA, maybe the best way to remember those brave souls is to give them a box of Pepero, available for purchase on Amazon, of course.

Happy Pepero Day, Happy Veteran’s Day, oh and Happy Birthday to my little brother! I love you almost as much as I love “white cookie” flavored Pepero.

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Foreign Movie Pick: “Friend” (2001)

Recently, I’ve been trying to watch some Korean movies. Mostly they’ve been okay, maybe a little too bloody (cough, cough, Tazza) or a little unrealistic, but enjoyable none-the-less. But this most recent movie really surprised me. Not only was it not way too bloody (just a little bit), but the story was pretty fascinating. Somehow, I actually enjoyed a movie about Korean gangsters, with little to no love story involved. Miracle.

The movie follows four friends as they grow up in Korea, and what they do with their lives (and how they diverge). Which is why the film is called “Friend” (or in Korean, 친구 / Chin-goo), of course. An obvious title for a not so obviously awesome movie.

Friendposter

So, I’m passing this movie on to you. Why would you watch it? Well…

Gangsters

I don’t know if you’re into gangsters or not, I’m not really, but Korean gangsters are interesting. When you think of seedy organized underground crime, you don’t really think about coordinated bowing and respect, but it’s actually a huge part of the gangster culture. At the same time that they bow to leaders, they also terrify me poopless. Impressive.

Historical References

You know how Korea went through that huge economic boom in like 50 years and it was crazy? Well you can watch a little bit of that transformation and really see the implications of it in the film. It chronicles friends growing up together, so you see bits of the 70s, 80s, 90s and a little of the new millennium. Maybe it’s just the nerd in me, but that’s COOL.

A Cool Girl Band Named ‘Rainbow’

Okay, so the scene is less than five minutes, but girl bands are freaking awesome. That’s all.

It’ll Make You Cry

I know, there’s no love story, so how will it make you cry? The movie is still fully based in relationships, but they’re just between friends. It gets deep. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I will say no more.

It’s Based On A True Story

The director wrote the film about his own friendships growing up, which sounds plausible now that you haven’t seen the film. But once you watch the movie, your mind will be blown that it really happened. Blown!

So, if you’ve never seen a Korean movie, then check this one out. It’s a little bloody, but still gets my vote, especially because it doesn’t revolve around a love plot. A breath of fresh movie air, yes? And to top it all off, you get a nice, interesting slice of Korean culture with it. Done deal.

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How To Stay Warm in Winter Like a Korean

Before I left for Korea, my grandmother asked me one question that I remember clearly: “Are you bringing a warm winter coat? I heard winter in Korea is bitter cold.” At the moment it was June, and I knew her knowledge of Korea’s weather primarily stemmed from news that troops were freezing their balls off during the Korean war, which (at least during the winter months) was fought closer to North Korea. So I brushed it off, seeing that the latitude was similar to Pennsylvania and thinking that yeah, North Korea is probably bitter cold in the winter, but I’ll be in the South!

Well, imagine my surprise later in the year when the freezing rains became freezing snow and then it was dry and just plain freezing. Freezing, I tell you! I’ve never been so cold. I’ve also never been to Russia, Canada during winter months or anywhere with much of a temperature drop in comparison to Pennsylvania. So I was caught off guard, to put it simply. Grandma, you were right, dang it! (That’ll teach me to ignore advice from smarter, older people.)

I suffered a lot during my first winter, because I didn’t have a good jacket at first, didn’t own a lot of leggings and couldn’t figure out how the heating worked in my apartment. Eventually I figured it out, though, and I’m much more prepared for this upcoming winter. Part of my preparation comes from picking up tips from the Korean winter experts, themselves: Korean people. They look stoic in the winter months, not shivering, not uttering words of complaint. Sometimes I like to imagine that Koreans are actually just immune to temperatures and have special Asian skin made for horribly, painfully cold temperatures. Totally not true, they just know what they’re doing cause, you know, they live here. All the time.

Except for those girls in short skirts, there is definitely magic going on there. You girls be crazy.

So, if you’re new to Korea and don’t understand why your coworkers aren’t chattering their teeth and losing limbs to frostbite, I’m about to break open their secrets. None of them are particularly genius, really, but for those of us with little cold-weather sense, they make a big difference. This is how to stay warm in the winter, like a Korean.

The Clothes

First, you need a serious thick sweater that goes with everything, so you can wear it everyday. You’ll want all of your shirts and sweaters to cover your butt, so buy them as long as you can find. Bonus if it has a hood. Then you need thin, warm underlayers. They are the foundation of everything: under your pants you’ll need thin leggings, under your long sleeved shirt you’ll need a thinner, long sleeved shirt. Those girls you see in Seoul wearing only leggings in the bitter cold? They have a secret weapon, a fuzzy, fur-like lining inside the leggings. Back to the top, even better if you have a thin tank top underneath that thin long-sleeved shirt. Think layers, tiny layers and way too many layers. Don’t just embody an onion in layers of personality, dress like an onion. (Don’t smell like an onion, though.) As for your footsies, buy the super fuzzy socks or if you need to put shoes on top, wear two pairs of socks.

Like these!
fuzzy socks

Outerwear, you’ll want a scarf and a hat (duh), maybe with cute ears attached to it (double duh). Get cell phone friendly gloves, the ones with magnetic magic in the tips of the fingers so you can use your phone from the warmth of your finger blanket. Your jacket needs to be hardcore: multi-layered, fuzzy or fur inside, rain resistant and long. Spend money on your jacket because it will become your dearest possession when those temperature digits start growing, but in the negative.

Most popular among older people and children, cloth face masks must be mentioned, even if they make people look like they’re sick and trying not to spread disease. In reality, they’re just keeping the air warm before they breathe it into their lungs, and I can attest from personal experience that not only does it work but it’s wonderful for freezing cold morning runs. (I just look ridiculous, that’s all!) You can grab them in plenty of colors, with cute pink animals adorning the front or in a simple frill-free white.

I mentioned so much about underwear/clothes, because that’s the big secret: be the onion. And then wear a good jacket.

The Housewares

The big Korean secret that you’ve probably heard about but don’t quite understand the gloriousness of (until you experience it) is ondol, the underfloor heating system, where warm water flows through pipes below your feet. There is nothing better on a freezing cold winter day than putting a blanket on the floor and laying down on a warm surface. Nothing compares.

Another secret, which once again isn’t such a big secret, is using an electric blanket. During the worst months when six blankets isn’t cutting it because your face is still exposed to cold air, the electric blanket will do the trick. (But making a cave and tunneling under all your blankets won’t hurt, either!)

I do a stock image search for "blanket" and this is what it comes up with... really?
I do a stock image search for “blanket” and this is what it comes up with… really?

If you must, there are also space heaters, but that opens up a whole new can of worms called “how not to set your house on fire while you’re sleeping”, so I’d advise just figuring out how the ondol works and cuddling up with the below.

The Noms & Drinks

Asians are pretty stellar at having seasonal foods and drinks that should be consumed dutifully only during particular times of year. Koreans are no exception.

While Koreans eat hot food for pretty much every meal, throughout the year, no matter what, the fare gets a little heavier when it’s cold outside. Rice porridge becomes more popular, instead of only among sick people. Soups become meat-heavy and rice is given in excess. While roaming the streets, one of the most popular (and spectacularly tasty) items to buy is hodeok, a pancake-like thing filled with warm cinnamon and nutty goodness. Also good are red-bean-paste filled pastries, served warm, mandu or Korean-style dumplings and pretty much anything else warm that can be eaten. Another one of my winter favorites is no nonsense, baked sweet potato, peeled and eaten as is.

It's warm, but ANYTHING BUT THIS. [Read about how I got food poisoning and it was all my fault, here.]
It’s warm, but ANYTHING BUT THIS. [Read about how I got food poisoning and it was all my fault.]
As for the drinks, there are a plethora of coffee/milk/unidentified warm drinks ready to go at every convenience store. My favorite of these is definitely the honey and ginseng drink, which is exactly what it sounds like: honey, ginseng and water. (Ginseng in general is considered a winter necessity, in whichever form.) Koreans use warm drinks essentially as hand warmers in the cold months while at work, cupping their little instant coffee and only occasionally sipping it. While this goes for all year round, as well, drinking soju and makgeolli warms even the coldest body up.

The secret: eat warm, drink warm, and be warm.

[For a full list, see Seoulistic.com’s article: 15 Popular Korean Winter Foods and Snacks]

The Big Secret

You’ve become the onion and draped a giant coat on top, embraced the ondol (and the heating bills that come with it) and begun consuming a steady stream of warm food and drink. If you’re still cold, the last secret I can give you is this: ignore it. Pretty much your only other option would be to become Korean, and if possible, I’m both impressed and in favor of that transformation. But as far as I can tell, if a Korean is cold, they’re not talking about it. They’re ignoring it. I think that’s the final weapon, the last ditch effort against a constant affront of freezing wind and really cold feet. Don’t think about it. Go where you’re going. Move on.

And with that, you’ll be warm enough.

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