Photoessay: Stunning Sunsets in Rural Korea

My area, particularly Waymok Beach is actually quite famous within Korea for its incredible sunsets. I live a few kilometers from the famed beach view, but my view of the sunset is usually pretty stunning, regardless. Framed by seemingly endless rice paddies, some beautiful cloud formations and a distant ocean, I’ve managed to capture a few killer shots. I also took a little trip to the nearby seawall to capture the photographs with the pagoda in them.

So enjoy this assortment of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve seen in my area, and my attempts to catch them on camera. Whoever said that the countryside was boring obviously didn’t look around long enough to catch these beautiful moments.

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iPhone Photoessay: St. Hilarian Castle in Cyprus

Did you know I went to Cyprus? And I barely even told you about it, shame on me. Almost a year later, I’m going to make this up to you. While I was in Cyprus, I wandered through the ancient ruins of Salamis (I just probably put those pictures up, too…) and spent lots of time with some family friends that live on the island. They introduced my mom and I to a gorgeous castle on a mountainside: St. Hilarian Kalesi. I can’t help but say the word “hilarious!” immediately following mention of the castle’s name. I dare you to try it and not do it ten times in a row.

Some history (thanks Wikipedia): the castle began as a hermitage site and then a church during the 10th century, and finally it became a castle. Once it was a castle, you know how castles with excellent lookout points go… people fight over them, over and over. Some 500 years later, people starting taking it apart to reduce the upkeep of the building. I presume the ceiling was about to fall in and they figured it was easier to just pull out the ceiling and give everyone winter coats than build a new one. Jerks.

In order to get to the castle (located in Northern, Turkish Cyprus), you need to drive there and past several military installations and soldiers. If they’re doing training in the mountains, you may have to choose another day to head up to the castle. If they’re not, you’ll probably have the entire place to yourself, except for the random Brit that seems to show up at all those deserted European sights, alone. Uncanny.

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When you get there, they’ll probably be a castle-residing stray dog that’s both super friendly and desperately in need of a bath.
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Looking up, it’s amazing to see arches that (hopefully) won’t fall on your head as you walk through.
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No, no, I’m not climbing rock formations at the top of a really tall and sheer cliff.
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But at the top of unsafe climbing await breathtaking views of the island.
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Oh boy, these people even had interior design skills. Look at those stripes!
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If you get stuck at the bottom with fear, or only climb half, you can still enjoy the view of that top section instead of actually going there.
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Or you can climb, don’t worry, there are safety railings!
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Sheering cliffs, coastline and a panoramic view? Yes, please and thank you.
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A gorgeous old watchtower that was just a little out of reach for my hiking skills.
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The building blending in with the mountain makes it simultaneously beautiful and confusing. Am I on the mountain now or still in the castle? Hmm…
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It’s best to climb immediately next to “danger” signs and live voltage.
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Because it’s prettier at the top of those rocks.
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The view is definitely breathtaking.
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I feel like a princess with really long, braided hair is missing from this photo.
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Goodbye, it’s been terrifying and fun!

Looking back, I really wish I would have bought a DSLR camera already, my iPhone does zero justice. I guess I’ll have to return! And to anyone thinking of visiting the Turkish side of Cyprus, it’s highly recommended and although Wikipedia describes it as “illegal and internationally-unrecognised”, I can assure you it’s also quite safe.

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White & Pretty in South Korea

A complete stranger: “Hello!”
Me: “안녕하세요.” (Hello.)
Stranger: “오! 한국어 잘 하시네요!” (Wow, you speak Korean very well!)

White, pretty, female privilege. What does it look like?

Two laborers, doing construction work: “Would you like some Makgeolli?” (Korean rice wine)
Me, walking past them on my way home: “No, I have to drive later. Thanks!”

How much of it is privilege and how much is simply a welcoming, kind culture?

Me, at the local coffee shop: “One waffle and one Americano.
Owner: “One thousand Won, please.” (About 95¢)

Are discounts because I’m foreign? Are they because I’m pretty? Are they because I’m white? Are they because I’m a “guest” in Korea, expected to leave within a year or so? Are they because I’m a girl? Is it simply because the shop is new and it’s my first time coming here?

A coworker’s mother-in-law’s funeral. As my coworkers each put money into an envelope for the family of the deceased, I realize I don’t have any cash.
My coworkers: “Oh no, you don’t need to give any money.”
Me: “Are you sure?”
Coworkers: “No, no, no. It’s fine.”

Should I feel grateful or ostracized, knowing that others likely won’t get the same treatment?

Walking around with my Korean boyfriend in Seoul. No one spits at, grimaces or insults us. No one assaults us. We are served a free soft drink at dinner, just because.

Which part of my foreign, female, and pretty identity exempts me from the idea that foreigners “dirty” the Korean race? Why do Western men and Korean women get treated differently, disdained while I walk around, unscathed?

An acquaintance of my boyfriend sees us together. Behind my back, he gives my boyfriend a thumbs up.

What part of my identity makes me a plus as opposed to a negative? If I was fatter, would the reaction be the same? If I was skinnier and less pretty, what then? What does it take to flip the scales and push me into “unwanted foreigner” territory? What if I was really from Russia, but looked the same? Would anyone notice?

My coworker: “Oh my gosh! I forgot to tell you about the staff picture! You aren’t in it!”

When should I insist on being treated the same, when it affects me negatively or when I’m served free food and drinks for my skin color? (Or is it my long eyelashes?) When I’m forgotten in the staff photograph or forgiven for missing the school assembly? If I put my foot down on special treatment, will that offend the Koreans I work with? The Koreans I meet? Would they listen?

I don’t take put any kimchi on my plate during lunch. No one says anything.

Can I ever be anything other than just an “other”, even with my culturally desirable white skin, skinny body, pretty face and fluency in English? I spend time understanding Korean culture and learning Korean, but is it enough to be accepted? If I speak fluent Korean, will that be enough?

I fear not.

Should I be upset about it?

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Those that came before me:

Understanding Racism in Korean on Seoulistic

A Huge Cloud of Shiny Whiteness: On Being White and Privileged in South Korea on The Unlikely Expat

“Because you’re foreign…” Western, White and English privilege in Korea by Sarah Shaw

“Be White” on Scribblings by The Metropolitician

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Photoessay: Nature Walk in the Countryside

I’ve often walked down the one lane roads that wind between rice paddies for miles and gawked at the excess of natural beauty, but it was only this week that I let my camera in on my little secret. Get ready for plants, lots of green, rice sprouts, a guest appearance by a snake and so, so, SO many spiders. (Maybe don’t look at these pictures before bed if you’re prone to spightmares.) Otherwise, enjoy the mid-morning walk in my sneakers, except for the leftover spiderwebs sticking to your face.

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Photoessay: Butterfly Festival in Hampyeong

In southern Korea, in a small village named Hampyeong, there’s an annual butterfly festival. The festival is this town’s “thing”, so throughout the streets you see butterflies everywhere. The lamp posts, the sidewalk, the fences, an entire bridge… you name it, it’s butterfly themed. All year long, it seems as though the residents of Hampyeong look forward to their annual claim to fame.

The festival has really interesting fauna exhibits, including goldfish, wood beetles, larvae, and an entire building full of cacti. After walking through the cool plants, you can also see lots of interesting displays, like elder women who are hand weaving a straw mat. And the shopping: everything from green tea powder to baby wood larvae to take home and raise.

Continue reading Photoessay: Butterfly Festival in Hampyeong

Photoessay: Cherry Blossoms in Korea

In Korea, this past month, it was an important time of year: cherry blossom tree blooming time! Japan may be most famous for cherry blossom trees, but Korea definitely doesn’t disappoint. Because the trees only stay flowered for a few weeks, if you’re lucky and it doesn’t rain, it’s important to pay attention and not miss it.

So, one weekend in April, I researched the cherry blossom tree festival in Seoul and made solid plans to go. I didn’t want to miss out!

I woke up early, packed my bags and camera and headed out to Seoul. Two hours and some wandering around later, I found the park and festival. Imagine my disappointment (with myself) when I forgot to pack the battery for the fancy camera. Even more disappointing, though? The trees were barely blooming! What?! And it was still crowded… go figure, Seoul. Continue reading Photoessay: Cherry Blossoms in Korea

Photoessay: Reconstructed Village Near Chunguisa

Every so often, the education office in my area organizes a little outing for the English teachers. This outing was a particularly nice one; we stopped at the Chunguisa Buddhist Shrine, visited this traditional village and then headed over to Sudeoksa Temple.

Korea is full of reconstructed traditional villages and many of them are quite beautiful, with blooming trees, streams and flowers. This particular one is located between Dangjin and Yesan, across the street from the Chunguisa Buddhist Shrine.

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Gyeongju

Gyeungju. so pretty. so historically rich. so ancient.

more photographs from a city who’s greatest days are indisputably behind it. if there’s any place that makes me wish I could go back in time, this is it.

except that they probably wouldn’t have those cookies

Rail Car Makeover

have you ever done a bicycle rail car? this stretch of railway off of route 7 on the Eastern coast lets you do just that. the scenery is beautiful. it was such an interesting experience. you even go through a tunnel portion which is slightly useless, but the trippy lights and strange interior decorating make it entertaining at least. can’t change the railway, right?

it begins at Samcheok and the ride is some 5 kilometers. don’t worry, it requires little to no actual physical exertion.

highly recommended: the Korea tourism info page about it

Pyeongtaek Meandering

wandering in Pyeongtaek, I had a few hours to kill. I stumbled upon a small temple area in the city with just a few buildings and this monument. it was quite peaceful and when walked out of the area, I found a gorgeous neighborhood with narrow streets and historic architecture. it felt more European than Asian and lasted a few blocks before, suddenly, I found myself back in the hustle and bustle of Pyeongtaek. ugly signs and misspelled English words… the typical Korean city scene.

kind of like stepping out of the closet into a boring bedroom and leaving Narnia behind. except I could have turned around and gone right back, so maybe it’s nothing like that… oh well. a beautiful change of pace.