Traveling around Korea

While living in Ulsan, I was fortunate to make it all over the country. Thanks to my frisbee team that traveled almost every weekend, different music festivals, skiing in the north, and beaching in the south I was BUSY!

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EXPAT-ING ABOUT

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The pics say it all….. Two years of loving the life I lived in Korea.

There is no way I can share EVERYTHING… But I think this page is a good summary.

 

LOTS of RUNNING

While living in Korea I ran a 10K, four half marathons, and one full marathon. The night before the 10K my friends and I had a few bottles of wine – each? The next morning with stained red lips we called a cab and showed up to our race that was an hour north of our city just in time to make the start time by TWO minutes. Not a care in the world. We ran the race; I PRed and got a satisfying 50 minutes, and we went and drank Magkeolli out of frisbees and trash bins post race in the park. That’s just WHAT YOU DO. A beautiful day for a little bit of exercise. 

LOTS of 맥주 (BEER)

Yep – beer, magkeolli, soju, somak, you name it. Prep a little soju cocktail outside of a 7-11 before a night out. Alcohol is VERY cheap in this country and it is RUDE not to drink if offered by a Korean (especially a superior). 

LOTS of ULTIMATE FRISBEE

I played ultimate during my two years in Korea. This was really the reason that I loved my life so much at the time. My Ulsan teammates were my family and we would travel almost every weekend to play across the country. I was also able to fly to Jeju for an international tournament and my team won the championships in the spring of 2014! This kept me sane and active the whole time I was abroad. 

LOTS of EATING

Just. Eat. Everything….                                                                                                                   well except the smelly dried squid, beondegi, and live octupus. 

LOTS of KOREA-ING

Hiking culture

Dress in your brightest apparel, get as drunk as you can, and huff up that mountain. Please, mountain, make sure that there are absolutely no switchbacks, way too many stair cases, and the climb should be straight up. 

 

One day my friend Stacey & I were hiking on a mountain near Ulsan. As we were frolicking up the mountain we ran into a 70 year old man named “Mr. Jeong.” He spoke English well and asked if he could join us for the remainder of our trek. We chatted and enjoyed the outdoors together for the next few hours. When we got to the top of Munsu we relaxed and enjoyed the view. This was only the start of the fun. Mr. Jeong offered to buy us beondegi and magkeolli post climb so, of course, we accepted. It is very common for Koreans to drink magkeolli throughout the entire hike. Well, it’s common for Koreans to drink all of the time. 

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Mr. Jeong wanted to continue his free “tutoring” lessons and I ended up going on a few more hikes with him. On our next outing it was pouring rain and he was dressed just perfectly for the occasion: nice slacks, a button down shirt, dress shoes, and, of course, his umbrella to keep him from getting wet. We trekked to some rolling hills and had a “picnic” of ramen and magkeolli in an old abandoned hut. He was pleasant to be around. 

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Stacey and I would often be outdoors and made our way one summer day to Sinbulsan. It took us a couple of bus rides to get there from Ulsan and it wasn’t easy. We got there with not a plan in mind on how we would return. We drank our magkeolli, made our trek, lit fireworks (it was American Independence Day), and ended up in a little hut eating pajeon. After a few bottles of magkeolli post climb we were feeling pretty warm. And how were we supposed to get home? We were at least 20 miles outside of Ulsan and the buses had no regular schedule out on the mountain. 

Luckily, we found a guy in a van and hitched a ride. I offered him 20,000 KRW ($20) to get us back to the city. He didn’t speak any English so we just kept shouting “ULSAN” assuming he would be heading that way. We drank in the back of his van and found that, yes, we were going in the right direction. He ended up taking us back but started veering away from our destination. We ended up a bit scared so jumped out of the car at the next stop light and ran the remaining three miles home. 

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So, if you want to ever go on a little Korean trek, bring the magkeolli and plan on making friends. 

Buddhist temples

Make sure to do a temple stay if you go to Korea. I spent a weekend at a temple with some friends. We were given nice meals, had tea with the monks, and learned about Buddhist culture. It was a very relaxing and zen weekend away from our crazy and busy lives. That night we went to bed early and slept on mats in a small room just across from the temple. We woke up at 4 AM to meditate and did that throughout the morning. As the day went on we would try to meditate for longer periods of time. I would like to pat myself on the back because I lasted a whole 45 minutes without looking at my watch. We also practiced Tai Chi, went on a meditation walk, and learned a bit about the history of Buddhism.

Thanks to my friend David who took my waygook buddies and I away for the weekend. He taught us well. Here is a bit more information on Buddhism in Korea and a bit about Buddhism in the western world.

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Dad does the laundry

Dad came to visit me in the ROK about a year after my mom and sister did. He was there in January 2014 for a week. 

I taught him how to stay up until 3AM at the bars, how to use chopsticks, and how to drive a scooter.

He taught me how to read a label on the laundry bag and helped me realize that no, I had not been using detergent for the past year and a half – OOPS. 

Here were some of his reactions to KOREA:

  • It was surprising to watch the locals drink soju and just collapse on the sidewalks
  • Squatters
  • Loved the the fast KTX train and all of the public transportation
  • Nice parks along the river walkway
  • Very impressed with the restaurants and food
  • Surprised by the racism
  • Enjoyed the cat cafe
  • We did a DMZ tour

Playing tour guide is always fun. 

Chocolate pie in North Korea

The DMZ is about a 2.5 mile (4km) wide border line between North & South Korea that runs 160 miles (250 km) long.

Here is a bit about what I learned while taking notes on my first tour in late 2012:

**History**

  • From 1910-1945 (end of WWII) the Japanese had control of Korea.
  • Post WWII North Korea was support by the Soviet Union and South Korea by the Americans.
  • NK then wanted to unite and become a communist country and that is when the Korean War began (1950-53).
  • After the Korean War there were 10 million people displaced from their homes.
  • The war ended when the armistice was signed and that was when the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) was created. The north and south both have 2 km.
  • The DMZ area was violated so now there are many armed camps and it is one of the most heavily armed places in the world.

**FUN Facts about the DMZ**

Please note that this was all just told verbally to me by the guide and I didn’t have any other sources at the moment.          After the fact I looked into the accuracy of what was told to me.
  • As we were heading up north on the bus from Seoul our tour guide told us about the barbed wire fence along the river. The further we got, the higher up and more armed the fences became. There were soldiers stationed along the river the whole way. North Korea used to send out spies along the river which is the reason for the barbed wire.
  • In SK, all men are required to do two years of military service. In NK, men are required to serve for ten years and women for seven years.
  • Hunger is still a huge issue, even for those in the military.
  • People are constantly trying to escape due to the fact that there is no hope. A great read about a prisoner who escaped is the book “Escape from Camp 14”.
  • A common phrase in SK is  “당신은 먹었” (Have you eaten?) because their biggest concern from the prior two generations was that people were always going hungry. 
  • When we arrived at the DMZ checkpoint one of the military officers had to check our passports.
  • To be in the military you must fit these three requirements:
    1. Must be 175 cm tall (5’7”)
    2. Must be trained in one martial art
    3. Must be handsome (tour guide was a jokester).
  • The light green uniforms were for American soldiers and the dark green were for the Koreans.
  • We drove over “cow bridge” or “bridge of no return” which has its name because the man who started Hyundai came from NK with only his cow (source from guide).
  • During the time that the DMZ was being created there was a lot of tension about borders. There were a million landmines placed within the area. The SK army had only recovered about 10% of them so there are still about 900,000 left.
  • There have been four tunnels found at the DMZ. They were built by the North Koreans and were heading towards Seoul. Three were found in the 70’s and one was found in the 90’s. It is still believed that there are more. We were able to walk inside of the third tunnel for a few hundred meters until the barbed wire stopped us and we could see the North Korean side. The whole tunnel was about 2 meters wide by 2 meters high.

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  • The tunnels were painted black so that if they were discovered it would be thought to have been used for coal mining.
  • In 1980 there was a “flag pole war” in the DMZ area. Who could have the tallest flag pole? NK won and now has the third tallest flag pole in the world. Congratulations! This was near a “Propaganda Village” on the N Korean side and now is populated with residents.
  • We went to the lookout and saw the village mentioned above. Our tour guide informed us that they may look the same as the South Koreans. We saw people walking around and riding bikes. It was a bit eerie. There was a line that we couldn’t cross and take photos otherwise the guards would take our cameras and phones and erase all of the memory.

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  • At one point, the N Korean factory workers were given $110 a month and two pieces of chocolate pie per day. That kind of money goes far in NK and the pie was a luxury as it is not heard of in that country. People would sell their pie on the black market for about $10 a piece. When that was found out, the government started rewarding people with more pie so that it wasn’t such a rarity.
  • In North Korea there are over 25,000 statues of the leaders.
  • We went to a deserted train station, Dorasan, near the border. From 2007-2008 it was open and went to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang to transport goods back and forth. In 2008 a South Korean woman was killed by a North Korean soldier so the train was closed. The station is now currently deserted. There is hope that the train station will open again one day.

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  • In the northernmost town of SK the people are not required to serve in the military or pay taxes (because it’s dangerous to live in that location). That used to be the case for the second most northern town, as well, but then they all became wealthy farmers so now have to pay taxes and serve in the military.
  • On the way back from the DMZ we saw “Freedom Bridge.”It is the bridge that the prisoners crossed over after the Korean war to go back home.
  • In 2000 there was a museum built in SK that was supposed to have relics from NK. But NK broke their promise and never gave them any relics so now it is just an empty building.

Our tour guide told us that we had seen the past, present, and future. The past was that the tunnels were built and we got to go inside on of them. The present was standing at the observatory and looking into the village with the North Korean people. The future was the train station and the hope that it can be reopened one day and that the countries can be unified.

**For more information about life in North Korea watch the following:

THANKFUL

I missed two American Thanksgivings in a row and was a bit mopey.

 

But, no time to be sad. I have this amazing life abroad and get to hang out with super cute kids. I made them do a little project on what they were all thankful for.

Here’s a bit about what it looked like:

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  1. I’m thankful for my family isn’t sick leave.
  2. I’m thankful for eating many foods. Because some countrys can’t eat many foods or can’t eat food. 
  3. My country have peace. (no war)
  4. I can study in good place. because some people can’t study or studying in bad places. 
  5. I can leave (live) in Korea.
  6. I meet good parents. than I can go
  7. Parents bring me and two sisters because many familys are busy and don’t go trip not much. 
  8. I can communicate with god. because some people can’t communicate with god, but I can. 
  9. I’m not bad or rude child, because some children are very rude or actions is bad.
  10. I can study with Roran (Lauren) teacher!!

The above may not be PERFECT English, but still is very cute. 

Where am I?

A little bit of culture shock…. 

  • I have a remote control for my AC and heated floors. On my first day I couldn’t figure out how to turn my floors off and my feet were burning!
  • My shower in my apartment is a hose in the wall. The clip broke so I literally hose myself down while standing in the middle of the bathroom floor.
  • Slippers are worn indoors. I wear them in school and at home because you don’t wear shoes inside.

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  • Meals are not eaten at a table with chairs. You eat while sitting on cushions on the floor at dinner parties with a low-standing table.
  • There are random fake “cop signals” flashing all over as a warning. But I have not once seen a cop car.
  • Going 100 km per hour in a 50 k zone while in a taxi with no seat belts is completely normal. If you put on your seat belt the driver will laugh at you.
  • I can get away with riding a motorbike without a license. It’s fine to ride on the sidewalks, run red lights, smoke, talk on your phone, etc. I was stocked by a cop once, but turns out he just wanted free English lessons so I told him to go away.
  • Old drunk men in business suits are constantly stumbling out of 7/11 or the bars and shouting “Hello! Hello!” Seriously, I would wake up early and go for runs and see men passed out on the streets. It smells like piss everywhere.

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  • Bars don’t close until the booze is gone.
  • Soju is only 1000 KRW ($1). Don’t turn it down at a work party. You can also drink in public and most convenience stores have little outdoor seating areas where you can post up before a night out.
  • I once saw a cute little family walking along the beach – there was a naked baby hooked up to an IV on it’s mother’s back.
  • Smoking while on an IV is common outside of hospitals.
  • Noraebangs are very popular. I’ve never sang so much karaoke in my life.
  • Kids go to school year round. Summer break might consist of a few weeks but it is likely their parents are just throwing them into summer school or other private lessons to continue their education.
  • I bow to my elders – and the kiddos bow to me.
  • Make sure to wear a bag on your head at baseball games. You can also bring in your own beer and snacks.

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  • I live a few blocks away from a little reservoir where I go for morning runs. While I am burning up and sweating in my shorts and tank top everyone else is covered head to toe – long sleeves, visors, long pants, gloves, the sun is evil!
  • Whitening cream in Korea is just as common, if not more, as tanning cream in the states.
  • Along with Korean beauty, EVERYONE has plastic surgery. Most girls get their eyes done before their 18th birthday.
  • Everyone wears a mask.
  • Couples wear matching outfits!
  • Ajummas (old women) are always pushing you to get out of the way, especially on buses.
  • Old women will scrub you down in a jimjilbang. Don’t be shy.
  • Cat cafes are all over the place.

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  • Whenever I was out of town I would stay at a Love Motel. They usually were between $20-40 per night. Not for the purpose you would expect, just cheap accommodation. They usually charge hourly….
  • Fireworks are legal and people are always blasting them off wherever they feel.

 

  • There is not one homeless person in my city of Ulsan.
  • There are outdoor workout stations EVERYWHERE.
  • Korean age is different.
    • If you are born on December 31st, 2000 you are 1 years old; the next day on January 1st 2001, you are one year old; then each January your age increases. So although I got to Korea in September of 2012 when I was 22 western age, I was 23 in Korea, and I turned 24 on January 1st, 2013 although I was still 22 by western standards.

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  • Annnnd just more random stuff you have to laugh at.  

The good vs. the bad: After being abroad for 6 months I wrote up what I liked and didn’t like about living in Korea.

THE GOOD:

  • Foreigner community
  • Easy to read the language
  • Everyone is nice and hospitable
  • Kimbap is delicious
  • The kids are adorable
  • I am treated well at my school – beg to differ later on
  • The beach is close to my house
  • Public transportation is amazing
  • I feel VERY safe
  • Ultimate frisbee
  • Trivia nights
  • Small markets
  • Traveling
  • Meeting people from around the world
  • I love chopsticks
  • Noraebangs
  • Sharing food – everything is in the middle and you dig in
  • Korean BBQ

THE NOT-SO-GOOD:

  • Random smells
  • Overpopulated
  • The kids go to school for way too long
  • I can’t fit into the shoes
  • The coffee is bad
  • The pork is gross – maybe just at my school
  • I can’t understand anything
  • The food at the school is the same every day
  • No diversity
  • Taxi drivers are scary

 

**I would love to hear opinions from other expats who have lived in Korea!!

Sister turns 21

Surprise!

Happy 21st birthday Heather. What better place to spend it than South Korea? After working for a bit over 6 months and being out of college I felt like I had a stable income. NO RENT OR CAR is always nice. So I bought my sis a ticket for her birthday to come visit me in the ROK. However, as my dad is obsessed with travel deals, he then bought my mom a ticket for HER birthday. So both of the ladies were off to see me in March of 2013. It would be a week filled with soju, KBBQ, going to the beach-ee, and of course me working because who has time for vacation while living this Korean life?

It was a late Saturday night in Incheon (Seoul airport) when I saw two blondies making their way through the gates. We hugged, laughed, didn’t cry and headed straight to our hotel in Gangnam where we would be staying for the night. Luckily I could just easily hop on the inexpensive KTX train and travel across the country in just over an hour and a half to meet up with them. We spent the weekend in Seoul site-seeing. We visited Gyeongbokgung Palace, went to the largest Christian church in the world (which apparently has a bit of controversy – oopsy), walked through the markets and ate everything. Ask ma about the egg-in-a-waffle – mashisayo!!

During the week they hung around Ulsan while I was teaching. I brought them to class one day to show them how I do my thing. When the kiddos saw the two other “Laurens” they were shocked. “Teachuhhhh, I am going crazy!” They also spent time at the beach, read in the sunshine, and enjoyed the local 7 Elevens. We went all around the city during the evenings. The night markets, good restaurants, and the beach were SO CLOSE to my house. I made sure that we were constantly eating because that’s what you do when you visit a new place. DUCK BBQ was my favorite restaurant that I took them to. 

We spent the following weekend in my favorite city, Busan, and hung around Haeundae Beach for a day. I also took them to Gyeongju which is the historical capitol. I definitely got us very lost in Gyeongju for about three hours while we were heading in the wrong direction from what I had intended to bring them to. More eating, drinking, walking, busing, and Korea-ing.

Heather loved the hiking, Shabu Shabu, the talking toilets, the squatters, the markets, the different coffee shops, and buying soju from 7 Eleven – how does it only cost 1200 WON ($1)!?

Ma enjoyed seeing her wonderful daughter and was really impressed with all of the outdoor workout stations.

Showing them my home in Korea was so much fun. I love living across the world, speaking my bits and piece of Korean – 맥주주세요, and making sure others around me are having a good time. 

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