Get Yo Retro On: Shindig & Gopchang Jeongol

I’d like to take a moment and highlight what I believe to be two of the greatest hidden treasures of the glorious Hongdae. For those who aren’t in the know, Hongdae is a very lively part of Seoul with a really great art university, and some of the cutest coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques around. It’s also where a lot of dignity goes to die every Friday and Saturday night at places like Zen 1 & 3, “The Park” and Papa or Mama Gorilla…. if you’re really feeling like making some mistakes.

Of course I love a good solid night of awful 1,500won tequila shooting and dancing to the same songs over and over again, weekend in and weekend out, but I do enjoy a change of pace every now and then.  Well, I recently discovered the bar Myoungwolgwan (MWG) which holds a Shindig night once a month, where all they play are tunes from the 50s and 60s. And let me tell you, that tiny little wood paneled bar gets all kinds of dirty dancing up in thurrrr! I don’t think I’ve had more fun during a night out in Hongdae than I have the past two times I’ve gone to Shindig! Hatches new visions of Richard Simmons’ sweatin to the oldies.

The first time I literally stumbled on it because my friend Dustin, who recently came back into town for the summer, had a friend DJ’ing. We went, we sang jovially, and we got way down with our bad selves.

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This last one in June was a Tiki/Beach theme (perfect opportunity to rock my dress adorned with palm trees), and was their first foray into live music with a girl group called The Barberettes, and a little Korean man who tried desperately to imitate Johnny Cash. They played some jams to kick off the night, and then the tunes started bumping and the dancing got underway!

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For those who are looking for a way to boogie down and can’t get enough oldies in their life, MWG’s Shindig is located just behind Hongdae Park. When you walk out past the bathrooms, keep going straight and pass Exit and it’s just past it with a lotus sign. It’s 8,000~10,000won cover, and that gets you a free beverage as well as lots of burned calories once you start shakin your groove thang.

My other favorite hidden gem of Hongdae is a poppin retro bar called Gopchang Jeongol.  Andria, Jee and I started our birthday celebration here earlier this year, since we are ajummas and all.  It was only suiting we spent an evening celebrating our long lives to the tune of Korean rock n roll from decades past.

This place has the coolest vibe and is decked out with hundreds of records, photos of old groups, vintage radios and clocks covering the walls.  Granted I can’t sing the songs that play because they’re all in Korean, but they still have that awesome oldies retro vibe that I totally crave in my life. But then there’s that glimmering moment when I recognize an American song redone in Korean and belt it out in my own English bubble. Assa!

This last time I went before Shindig with Josh, Andria and a few of Andria’s friends, for an evening of retro. There was this one table of 2 Korean couples who were so out-of-this-world jammin’ along to every song that came on.  They were having the best time (and as we found out later, smashed out of their minds!) At some point in the night, they got up and came over to our table, where Josh and I put on our ever-present dancing shoes, and started jumping and awkward dancing and singing right along with them.

Here we are all happy-faced out with our new friends of 15 minutes, before the girl in black irked Josh out and fell off her chair. Oopsie daisies!

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We have tried to find this place a few other times, and Josh and I always got lost.  But, should you chose to navigate Hongdae and treat yourself to a feel-good evening (which you totally should), here’s how to orient your internal compass. Go out exit 4 of Hongik Station and walk towards the main street.  Turn left down the street and make your first left. Keep going to the end of the road and take a left and walk until you come to a roundabout. Take the first right, and keep walking down that street until you almost come to the end of the road. It’ll be on your left down a little staircase. You have to order some food too, along with your drinks, but that’s pretty standard for most Korean bars/hofs.

I seriously hope you go, boogie down and enjoy both as much as I do!

Dokdo & Ulleungdo: Where I Got Lucky

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but my luck has GREATLY increased over the past few weeks.  Why?  You ask? Well, because according to Korean thought, if one lands on the island of Dokdo, you are a very lucky person. And well, I am of the less than 1% of the Korean population to have stepped foot on the sacred and prized and heavily disputed over island of Dokdo in the East Sea or Sea of Japan.  It’s all relative depending on your location in the east, or the map you chose to peruse, I suppose.

SMOE (Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education ~ my employer) was generous enough to take 36 of the almost 700 native English teachers in Seoul, on an all-inclusive 4 day 3 night trip to Samcheok, Ulleungdo, and the mighty Dokdo.  Dokdo is comprised of 2 islands that have been in heavy dispute with Japan for many years over who’s territory it actually is.  So, we knew that in signing up for this trip we were in for a weekend fueled by propaganda and many a botched map to take many ganders at.  And it was and we did.

I actually didn’t know much about Dokdo prior to my trip to Japan back in September, when Josh decided to jokingly shout “TAKESHIMI TAKESHIMI” everywhere we went. TakeshimA is actually the Japanese name for Dokdo, so of course this was a controversial stance for a giant white man to make whilst being employed by the Korean government! 😉  Both Joshua and I, and our friend Art, ended up being part of the lucky (highly weird) few to go on this trip, so I was very happy to be in extra FUN company on a long weekend to Takeshimi. 🙂

Our first stop on the trip was Samcheok, where we struggled to listen to the translation of the first propaganda lecture regarding “the correct understanding of Dokdo for peace in East Asia”.  We ogled at some artifacts from the Joseon remains and General Isabu’s time, and took a walking tour down by the water, which was really beautiful.  I felt like I wasn’t in Korea which was amazing on my peepers and lungs.  Being stuck in a concrete jungle can really wear on you.  We also visited a temple which is said to be the coolest (in temperature) place in Samcheok.  Many people would come here to pray before traveling to Dokdo because they didn’t know if they would return to the mainland alive due to the roughness of the water.  Many also used to walk through this rock in hopes of being impregnated with a son, so I took the liberty of forging my way through (without falling) said rock.

Looks like I’m having a boy guys!

samcheok boy rock

When we finally checked into our pension for the night, we were shafted to the one next door to the “nice” hotel we were originally scheduled for. This place gave me and one other interesting fella bed bug bites for days!  I also got cursed with a ridiculously bitchy roommate who got an overdose spoonful of the “Schaeff’s-not-listening-to-you-sideways-up turned-head-tilt”.

Bright and early the next morning, we had Korean breakfast of gamjatang, AKA pork spine soup, and kimchi.  My breakfast therefore consisted of rice and the few bits of kimchi I struggled to shove into my mouth that early in the morning.  With an awful taste in our mouths, we were off to the Sunflower 2, our ferry over to the beautiful island of Ulleungdo.  This journey was about 3.5 hours.

My first thought after landing on Ulleungdo was that it was so strikingly lush and gorgeous. The abundance of green had me feeling like I was in Jurassic Park. We were taken on a tour of the entire island and heard many age-old myths about the different rock formations, the volcanic origin and the people who call the island their home. Currently, less than 7,500 people live on Ulleungdo, and it houses 3 (if I remember correctly) elementary schools, 1 high school and oddly enough, 3 universities.  It’s special delicacies include dried squid (sold in Dokdo packaging), and a sweet pumpkin type bread and pumpkin candy similar to taffy. Brought some of that goodness back for my Principal and Vice Principal.

Here’s me, Josh and Art Turtle Rocking out. This rock is said to have many tiny formations that look like little turtles climbing all over it.

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The walk up to our pension overlooking the ocean.  Seriously beautiful and nothin’ but fresh air for days!

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We went to this temple where we heard an old Korean myth about a young boy and girl who were left behind by their families.  They never came back for them and both ended up dying here. Or so the tale goes.

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And we walked along these massive cliffs overlooking the sea. Super gorge!

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The next day was the BIG day! After all the praying we were told to do, we guzzled down our seasickness drugs, filled out our tickets and hopped aboard our righteous boat to the beloved Dokdo! We took one of the 45 journeys per year that the boat makes, and got inducted into the tribe of the lucky.

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Here’s an aerial shot of the islands that make up Dokdo.  The eastern island is where we went, and the western island is home to the two people who actually call Dokdo their home.

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2.5 hours and no seasickness later, we made the arrival of a lifetime.  We were ushered off the boat and told we had 30 minutes to take pictures with the Liancourt Rocks, signs and guards that protect the land. I’m not quite sure why our stay on the island is so short, but let me tell you, Josh and I with our “DOKDO IS OUR LAND” signs made fantastic use of it! If two grown adults could run around an island like kids in a candy store, that is what we looked like.

We gained some enemies along the way when Joshy “bali bali’d” an old Korean woman to hurry up and take her photo in this exact place.

dokdo rocks

We also acquired a fan club of Korean women who wanted to hop in every photo with us. Here is the sign mandating that this here is Korean territory.  We saw nothing indicating it was otherwise Japan’s. Questionable I tell ya!

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These are the guards who live on Dokdo.  The only time they have other human interaction is when a boat reaches Dokdo.  So, any of the less than 45 days a year the boat actually docks.  You can also see stairs behind us which we weren’t allowed to climb up.  I’m not sure what is on the other side, maybe something Japanese?

dokdo guards

And with that we were off, but not without bidding some fond farewells.

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ajumma phone dokdo

The 3 of us were the last ones to get back on the boat, as we kept getting whistles blown on us to hurry up! Round trip, the entire journey consisted of 9 hours spent on a bus, 7 hours on a ferry and 5 hours on a boat, so we definitely make that 30 minutes count!  That night we met up with our groups to think up a speech to give on our final day.  Josh and I must have been sipping happy water, because when we told our group members that we had so much fun on Dokdo, they looked at us like we were crazy faces from another planet. Sour puss foreigner freaks.

Later we celebrated our new found fortune by noraebanging our hearts out. We bonded with a few others on the trip and shoved ourselves into a massive VIP room for what seemed like 3 hours. I broke a glass, there was table dancing, and no shortage of mic hogging on my part, per the usual.

The next day we were forced to eat fish and tofu soup for breakfast (awful to begin with, more awful when you’re hungover), and then were given a tour of a South Korean Coast Guard ship where we learned that they do not skimp on their entertainment, event whilst at sea protecting Korea’s oceans. This ship was fully equipped with a jjimjilbang (sauna) and a noraebang (karaoke room).

Our last stop was to a little ocean side town.  We stopped to look at some more historical Isabu sites, but we opted to check out the ocean view and vibrant murals instead.  I really find myself appreciating how beautiful Korea is whenever I get out of Seoul and visit places so tranquil and remote like this. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often.

old man and muralsstu ocean

The trip was really wonderful, and I’m extremely grateful that SMOE was so generous in offering such an opportunity to a group of us foreigners. I know we look at the island of Dokdo much differently and with less seriousness than Koreans do, and mostly viewed this as a chance to A) get out of teaching for 2 days, B) take a free trip out of Seoul to a couple islands that we probably would never seek out on our own, and C) a weekend filled with propaganda. However, seeing as so few Koreans actually have the chance to make this journey, I’m very grateful to say that during my time in Korea I got to check off such a huge cultural experience from my list. As far as who’s territory it actually is, I don’t know. I think there has to be something more than fishing rights and lines being drawn on a map, but I think Koreans are so passionate about it because the Japanese have been so awful to them.  So, they want the right to that land. Or there’s oil.  Who knows.

Here’s a video that Jon Pak, the SMOE head coordinator, made of the trip.  See if you can spot me for the smattering of nanoseconds that I make an appearance.

And just for good measure so you can see how serious Koreans are about this island, and because who doesn’t love a flash mob set to the Dokdo song.

America, F*%# Yea!

The 4th of July is arguably one of my favorite holidays.  It’s been mine and MayMay’s *special day* since we spent it together in Zoo Bar with Sammy, his homies and a bunch of Brits in London on Eurotrip 2006.  Ironic place to fall in love with such a holiday, doncha think?! Well, whether we were in London, San Francisco, Newport Beach or Manhattan Beach, we’ve spent each together up until last year. Needless to say, I miss my MayMay tremendously more today than the usual huge amount that I always miss her (and everyone else for that matter).

London 4th of july

The holidays are always a bit odd while living abroad. While I find myself to be the happiest version of Danielle since transplanting into Korean society and traveling my face off, I do get a teency bit homesick on days like the 4th of July.  It’s weird knowing that back in the states it’s a long weekend where all my friends are together with fireworks and beer bottles popping everywhere, and here I show up to work wearing my red white and blue and it’s just any other day.  While teaching yesterday, I actually looked around my classroom and so many of my students were decked out in red white and blue.  Totally unintentional, but it made me smile and think “AMERICA, FUCK YEA!”  Despite noticing their wardrobe, I completely forgot to tell my kids that it was American Independence Day. There went that little cultural lesson.  I blame it on the humidity and the AC Nazis.

There are tons of times when I am totally made aware of my Americanness while living overseas, and one major way came when my co-teacher and I were leaving school. I’m in the midst of getting ready to move from my current apartment in “North Korea” to somewhere more central.  While I’m sitting here not stressing about being able to find an apartment, my Vice Principal has relayed countless times through Jin, and then this time directly to me,  how I should “hurry up and find a place”.  Most Koreans live at home until they get married, or have never made a big move across the world, so the idea of finding an apartment on your own is a big process and takes time and figuring out. After my VP told me I better hurry up, all I responded with was “I’m fine. My Korean friend is helping me. I’ll move when I get back from vacation”, and that was that.  When we left, Jin had told me how well I handled that. It made me very aware of my Americanness and how I’m so used to being independent, moving around (and across the globe!) and handling things on my own in the real world.  While  Americans are typically out of their parent’s house and figuring things out for themselves at 18 years old, many Koreans live at home into their 30s.

The rest of my 4th of July consisted of teaching all day and meeting up for some bomb burgers and a Root Beer float at Salt & Butter in Apgujeong Rodeo with Tim and our funny friend Brian.  Joshua, our *AMERICAN*, and our token Chinese PandaLin were supposed to come as well, but work and rain interfered with that fun. Sadface.

Now to flashback in honor of one of my favorite holidays, and to celebrate the greatest nation on the planet, here are some of my favorite 4th of Julys past spent with some of my greatest loves in the sun!

San Jose with the Baller & MayMay. 2007 was the year I learned that Bretty gets his *unique* dance moves from his awesome mother.

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Puppy time in Newport with my MayMay in 2008.

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Fanny Packs & sunkissed whistle blowing with my JeanellyBellyBluJ in Manhattan Beach 2011.

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Shenanigans in Manhattan Beach with DeBarros and a very patriotic Chizzy.

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Happy Birthday America! Even though you’re sometimes really messed up and I have no desire to live on your soil for a very very VERY long time, you are by far the best country in the world, and home is always where the heart is! Cheers to 237+ more years of beautifully celebrated diversity and freeeeedom!

 

 

 

WTF?! Wednesday ~ A Row Of Phalluses

HI guys! Another week, another WTF?! Wednesday! It totally crept up on me this week because my weekend all blended together.  I was chosen to go on a 4 day trip with the Seoul Office of Education to the island of Dokdo along with 35 other native English teachers, so the weekend and the week have flown! That being said, a post about Dokdo will be coming shortly because that is a very special island to the people of Korea, so you’ll want to hear a little bit about it.  You’ll also want to know why I’ve since acquired a new sense of good luck now that I’ve been there.

ANYWAYS, for this week’s WTF?! Wednesday I’m presenting you with something phallic.  I think it’s absolutely odd that Korea has parks and sculptures enshrined all over the country dedicated to the male member, when anything related to sex is so taboo.  Many Koreans when asked don’t even know the scientific words for penis or vagina.  It’s BIZARRO.

While in Samcheok this weekend, we were walking up to the top of a mountain to pray (for the millionth time) for good weather so that we’d be able to reach Dokdo’s holy soil.  As we were walking, we passed this row of glorified penises. The boys I was with walked right past them at first, but I of course caught wind of them and lept at the photographic opportunity.

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Korea, you cray!

 

A Paint By Number Journey Thru Chiang Mai & Luang Prabang

I know, I know. This is beyond tardy.  It has taken me a year and a day to post about mine and Stephanie’s jaunt to the beautiful cities of Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang back in February, but I am finally getting around to doing it.  Holy moly, I can’t believe it’s been that long.  Shame on me!!!

This time, instead of doing my typical posty post about the entire vaca, what we ate, who we ate with and at what time, I’m going to chronicle my favorite moments of the trip. So buckle up peeps!

1. Our 16 Hour Train Ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Instead of flying directly to Chiang Mai, we flew into Bangkok and opted to indulge in the journey of getting to Chiang Mai.  And what reeks more of wanderlusting travel than the huff and puff of a locomotive train? We stocked up on snacks, including  an accidental choosing of PICKLED mango on Miss Stephanie Anne’s part, ordered a surprisingly delicious dinner on board, got our train bunks turned down by the train maid, tucked ourselves in with a good book (50 Shades of Grey anyone?), and then buckled ourselves into bed for the night.  At least I did in my coffin of a top bunk. We rolled into Chiang Mai bright and early the next morning.

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  2. Our guest house in Chiang Mai ~ Finlay’s Cottage.

Steph and I hadn’t booked a place for our first night in Chiang Mai, and since we were meeting Abby for a night we asked her to book us 1 night at Finlay’s Cottage, the place where she was staying.  We loved this place so much that we ended up cancelling our previous reservations and it ended up being our home base for our entire stay in Chiang Mai, both before and after Laos. We loved it that much! The man and woman who run the guest house are a couple of unlikely friends, but are somehow fantastically hilarious. The woman helped us book all our day trips, got us a great tuk tuk driver, made us delicious breakfasts every morning, woke us up to make sure we ate our breakfasts every morning, cancelled our prior reservations for us and made great sarcastic conversation with us when necessary.  The man is from Australia and just never returned, and the woman lived on Koh Phi Phi for 37 years as a masseuse, but when the tsunami hit she broke nearly all her bones and chose to relocate up north, and has been there ever since. They were top NOTCH!

Finlay's Cottage mommy

3. Thai Cooking Class With Beery.

I love cooking but it’s something that I just don’t really have the patience or timing for.  I like to think of myself as more of a “throw together whatever I have kinda chef” and it always works.  I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class in Thailand since I saw MayMay took one on her trip! I figured Steph and Abby were the perfect people to do this with since they are both chef masters.  We signed up for a wonderful cooking class at Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School and had a fabulously flamboyant instructor named Beery, who was just the cherry on top! It was boot camp in the most fun way possible.  We started with a trip to the local market, then went to the school’s garden to smell the herbs and plants native to Thai cuisine that we’d be cooking with, and then got down to cooking!  I made Pad See Ew (because it reminds me of Jessie), Kow Soi Curry and curry paste (the native curry to Chiang Mai which came recommended by MayMay), and Mango sticky rice.

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4. When I Discovered That Friendship Is Hoisting Your Friend Atop An Elephant.

We went on an all-day Mahout elephant trekking course through the jungle, atop the most gorgeous and friendly and massive animal in the world. We learned key commands to “drive” them, fed them endless amounts of sugar cane and bananas, struggled to hoist ourselves atop their massive bodies, struggled yet again to steer our still hormonal lady thru a jungle trek, squealed with glee whilst sliding down her trunk, and then took the most glorious bath in the world with her even though it was filled with piles of shit, I’m sure.  This is my favorite photo from the trip. I really made an ass out of myself, but at least I know who’s got me from all angles as I migrate through this world of ours.

Elephant ass

5. Taking This Photo For National Geographic While Sitting In Tiger Pee.

We didn’t really take it for National Geographic, but we might as well have.  We spent an afternoon at the Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai posing with a 3 month old tiger, a 5 month old tiger, and then this full grown tiger. We even saw this guy snap at someone.  OPEN WIDE and guard your life!

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6. Getting Annoyed By Chinese Tourists While Trying to Observe the Long Neck Karan Tribe.

The Long Neck Karan tribe native to Chiang Mai is a bit of a circus detour, but I really wanted to see it since this tribe is the one thing that I’ve always remembered since going to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! as a child.  We went, it was awkward and fascinating, and then we got annoyed by the Chinese tourists that always come in loud like they own the place with zero respect.

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7. When Steph Walked Like An Ajumma Up The Massive Stairway to Wat Doi Suthep.

The greatest Wat (temple) in Chiang Mai is Wat Doi Suthep, and it’s located at the tippy top of a massive mountain.  To get there you have to take a tuk tuk, to a red jeep and then walk up the insane stairway.  Here is Steph getting back to her Korean roots en route to the top.

doi suthep

8. Riding In The Back Of A Pick Up Truck While Crossing The Laos Border.

We decided to take the slow boat journey from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang.  This consisted of a 7 hour minibus to the border, where our small group was greeted by a pick up truck, and we were instructed to hop into the bed of it and stand. Obediently we did so.  FEELIN LIKE A CHOLA.

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9. A Dramatic Reading Of 50 Shades of Grey In French In The Middle Of Nowhere, Laos.

We spent the night in creepy cabins in the middle of nowhere Laos as we awaited our boat ride along the Mekong the next morning.  Our fellow companions were a Swiss couple and our newly made travel companion, French lassie Audrey. Their common language was French, and having never heard of the epic 50 Shades of Grey before, our new friend decided to translate the novel for his lady.  It was oh so sexy.

10. The Sweetest Sendoff From Adorable Laotian Babies As We Set Off On The Mekong.

We woke up bright and early and were escorted to our private boat for our Mekong River cruise.  Our escort service couldn’t have been any more adorable if it tried.  Heart. Melt.

11. Our First Laotian Meal Of Various Flavors Of….Buffalo Jerky.

Steph, Audrey and I set out to try our first Laotian meal since arriving in Luang Prabang.  We turned down a sleepy road in the early-to-sleep city, and perused a menu of our selected restaurant.  There were so many oddly named items, so we took it upon ourselves to order the ones that stood out the most to us.  I believe mine was called “Day Meat Smashed Style”. Basically, we all got variously flavored versions of buffalo jerky.  Needless to say, we were not impressed and stuck to baguettes from the street food vendors for the remainder of our stay in Luang Prabang.

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12.  This Pleasant Lady And Her Amazing Baguettes.

This woman had such a pleasant aura about her, and call me a weirdo, but I loved watching her make her sandwiches. She was so calm, and her sandwiches were so amazing. They were massive and I scarfed them DOWN.  I always got her chicken, brie, tomato, avocado, lettuce and cucumber sandwich and boy did it satisfy.  I also loved that she was one of the only street food stands that had all of her food covered and away from the flies.  Sanitation!!!

sandwich lady

13. Meeting A 16 Year Old Monk Who Loves to Speak English With Foreigners.

We were making our way up to Wat Chom Si atop Pousi Hill just before sunset when we met this friendly monk, Bee.  He is 16 years old and was so sweet and friendly.  He told us about how he loves studying English and hopes to one day travel to America, and loves hanging out on that walk up to the top because so many foreigners come through and it gives him a chance to practice his English.  It was so refreshing to meet someone as young and eager as him to learn and practice, especially after working with Korean students who a lot of the time can care less about learning English. We exchanged information and are now Facebook friends! 🙂

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14. Taking This Glorious Photo Atop Pousi Hill.

Audrey was traveling by herself, and was a lovely addition to our stay in Luang Prabang.  Im so glad we got this awesome photo of the three of us!

pousihill girls

15. Going to Kuang Si Waterfall And Doing A Boob Flop Rope Jump.

We made the journey out to Kuang Si Waterfall with Audrey and 5 Germans that we met.  It was a gorgeous hike in, and once there we got to swim in the springs, and if we wanted, jump from the rope hanging from the tree.  I of course wanted to do it, but was deathly scared once I got up onto the tree.  It was SO slippery, and I was trembling as I used the wooden stick to grab the swinging rope to clutch between my shaking hands. I was a ball of nerves!  Klutzy McKlutz over here.  Well, I didn’t hold high enough on the rope, and when I swung I barely swung and BOOB FLOPPED flat into the water so hard that my top came off under water.  FAIL. But awesome.  This is the face I made upon emerging and confirming my breasts were still in tact.

boobflopface

16. Observing A Man In a Diaper Walk Down The Street Carrying A Machete.

As the heading says, a man with deathly leather colored skin traipsed down the street wearing nothing but a sheet-like diaper, while carrying nothing but a machete.  I felt safe.

macheteman lp

17. Temple Hopping And Bicycle Riding.

One thing I always try to do while traveling is spend a day with a map in hand and my tuchous on a bicycle seat.  It’s so whimsical and I think the best way to see a city.  Luang Prabang is probably one of the best cities to do this in because it’s so small and quaint.  So, we spent a day temple hopping, monk spotting and drink sipping on our bikes, and it was a beautiful, hot and sweaty day!

biking lp

18. Bargaining My Face Off At The Most Colorful Night Market I’ve Ever Been To.

I LOVE night marketing while I travel, and the market in Luang Prabang exceeded my expectations.  It was by far my favorite night market I’ve ever been to.  The colors were so bright everywhere I turned, and the handmade items being sold were so fun and vibrant and unique.  I bargained like it was my job and ended up snagging a pretty awesome travel bag for a sweet deal.  I love this photo I took, and every time I look at it I just want to pop back there!

lp night market

19. Meeting New Friends At The All Vegetarian Buffet At The Night Market.

While Instagramming, Steph stumbled upon a guy’s posting of this all vegetarian buffet just off of the night market.  There was a massive spread of food that you put on a plate and then a guy heated it all up for you in a wok.  It was for something outrageous like $5, and was so delicious! We pulled up a seat with everyone else and nommed down on our food. We met some fascinating friends from France, Argentina and Mauritius that we spent the rest of our last evening with.  It’s moments like this when I realize why I love traveling.

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20. Sitting In The Back Of Our Second Pick Up Truck Crossing The Thailand Border.

We did it once, and we did it twice.  Southeast Asia seems to follow Mexico’s lead when it comes to border crossing, because I’ve never felt more illegal in my life.  Sometimes it feels good to live life on the edge.  At least we had a stamp in our passeporto.

truck 2

21. Stumbling Upon This Awesome Art Shop In Chiang Mai.

On our last day in Chiang Mai, we randomly stumbled into this art studio/shop filled with a man’s artwork strewn about with every life and travel quote imaginable.  We spent a wild amount of time wandering and finding the perfect purchases for ourselves and our parents.  We both chose pieces for our parents with quotes about our own need to wander the world, and how no matter where we are they’re always in our hearts.

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22.  These Young Boys Getting Massages In Bangkok.

Because they were such babies and they looked so funny and adorable getting a group massage.  I couldn’t help myself.  They were 18 years old.  BABIES!

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23. These Gangnam Style Sandals On Khaosan Rd.

Well, because there would be no better send off back to Koko than to see Psy displayed on some footwear.

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Well, there you have it.  Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang in a somewhat brief pictoral nutshell.  I hope you enjoyed despite my tardiness! Better late than never!!

KoKo’s Resident Klutz

I was sitting with Jeewon, Tim and Andria Friday night at a failed evening of watching Reservoir Dogs on the rooftop at Platoon in Gangnam, and somehow my still (almost 2 months later) sprained ankle came up.  Then I got to pondering all my epic falls since coming to Korea.  I mean, if anyone knows me you know I’m a klutz, but ever since coming to this country I seem to have forgotten how to put one foot in front of the other.  It’s a bit absurd, I’m the first to admit.

Well, I made a tiny list of some of my goodies so they’ll never ever be forgotten once the bones heal and the bruises fade.

1 – ~6: Winter 2011

While still learning how to walk on snow and ice, I had quite a few tumbles that first winter. Many of them were in the Family Mart right by my school.  And many came back to back, as in right after I got up I fell back down again, and took down a few bags of chips with me. Actually, I could probably tack on a few more falls to that number up there, but we’ll just keep it at ~6 for my own sanity.

Remarkably, this past winter I don’t recall falling in the snow.  Job well done, me.

Note: Don’t wear Uggs in the snow.

7. Japanese Karaoke Room during a typhoon

During a typhooning evening in Kyoto, Japan,  30 bottles of sake took over a karaoke room.  Somewhere between not all of it making it into the appropriate glasses, and my own sheer excitement over singing the next Celine Dion or Disney tune, I collided with a puddle of sake on the ground and nearly broke my hand.  It didn’t feel right for a good month afterwards, but somehow it healed itself, and Japan will go down as how I came to be Noraebang obsessed.

8. 80s Roller Derby

This is easy.  I hadn’t legit roller skated in a really long time and someone had extra WD40’d those roller skates because were really slippery.  It was a given that I was going to plummet either face first or tuchous first. Thank heavens I’ve been blessed with a padded posterior.

9. 90s Dance Off for Namibia

The floor was slippery, I was in tap shoes.  It was a recipe for disaster.  At least I can say I tapped my ass off and we WON.  Let’s relive it again, shall we? It gets good at 2:26. And really good at 2:34.

10. I FELL OFF A BUS

2 weekends ago was Buddha’s Birthday so we had a 3 day weekend.  Andria and I decided we wanted to breathe some fresh air, so we headed out of Seoul and up to Paju, about 45 minutes away by bus, and about a hop, skip and a jump from the North Korean barbed wire border. Despite the locale, it’s a really cute little town with lots of coffee shops and random little art and chatchky galleries that we were excited to take advantage of.

But that’s besides my point right now.

Before I even stepped foot in Hyeri, the area of Paju that we were going to, my fun had already begun!

As I was swiping my T-Money card to get off the bus, I somehow missed the middle step in my footing, and in a nanosecond my whole body went repelling downwards.  I was caught somewhere between a lunge and a split from the top to the bottom step, and GOD BLESS my cat like reflexes, because if I hadn’t jut my arms all the way up and back to grab those metal bars I surely would have eaten that pavement and my teeth straight off the bus. My wallet went flying back and all I could scream to Andria was “SWIPE MY CARD!” Heaven forbid I get charged an extra 2,000won on the return having not swiped out on this journey!

Shockingly, the whole bus of Koreans let out gasps of horror, which is quite unusual, as people are so mum here and usually have nothing to do with people when something horrific or embarrassing happens on any mode of public transport. Anyways, I hoisted my lame body up and *gracefully* moved out of the way of the bus, let out a few cryscreams at the side of the rode as I held my aching knees, and checked to see if my tights had ripped (they hadn’t). Then I let out the heartiest laugh.  OF COURSE I FELL OFF A BUS.

This is what my left leg looked like the next day.  BATTLE WOUNDS.

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Fallin’ all over the world since this epic fall at the Colosseum of Rome in 2006.

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Paws For A Cause

I think most people who call themselves animal people have probably been animal people for the majority of their lives.  They probably grew up with a dog or a cat and that was how that came to be.  Well, I was pretty much scarred of at least household pets from the get-go.  I can pin point the exact moment I became scared of dogs and how it stuck with me for most of my life.

I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, over at Kyla Reef’s neighbor’s house, who happened to have a dalmatian.  Having just seen 101 Dalmatians, I was SO excited to see one of those adorable little pooches with my own two eyeballs and pet with my own fingertips.  Well, that sentiment lasted for oh, a whole nanosecond, when that massive black and white spotted, hyperactive dog came charging directly toward me and chased me through this complete stranger’s house!  I just remember screaming and crying and hiding behind a couch and under a wooden hallway table because I didn’t know what to do and I was so insanely freaked out.

Cue hatred of dalmatians and kind of being scared of dogs for most of my life….

Until Jacquie got these beautiful little babes that stole my heart forever and officially made me a dog person for the remainder of my life.

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Which brings me to the point of my tale today.  Last night I had so much fun, and helped raise $806.00 in a few hours for some foster animals in Korea! As most things go here on the peninsula, soju sells.  And when paired with a good cause, it really outdoes itself!

My friend Andria and two other girls, Kathy and Caroline, had the idea to have a fundraiser selling shots of Korean melon, aloe and jalapeno infused soju to drunk foreigners.  So, we took to the street at Haebangchon’s Music Fest, filled with an overabundance of the intoxicated waygookin willing to support the cause, minus the select cheap douche bags that I had a few choice words with.  My mouth can be intolerant and sometimes gets the best of me.  Can’t help it.  Needless to say, it was a tremendous success, and me, Andria and Jee want to do another go at it since we had such a fun time and felt awesome doing something to help the animals!

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Andria is super involved in Animal Rescue Korea, and is currently fostering a 3 legged terrier named Lola that has lived most of her life on the street.  She’s been taking care of her for the past several months ~ paying her countless medical bills and just being all around patient with her as she tries to adjust to her new life in a home where she’s being cared for.  When Andria leaves Korea in September, she is bringing Lola back to the States in hopes of finding her a loving home so she has a chance at a fresh start.  So, a good chunk of the cash monies that we raised last night will go towards paying for her airplane ticket to America and other miscellaneous expenses towards getting her back on those 3 footsies of her’s.

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Coming from a country where pets are unquestionably a part of the family, it’s really heartbreaking to see the amount of stray cats and dogs that run around aimlessly here in Korea.  Koreans have a mentality where unless something is cute or perfect or young they don’t want it.  That doesn’t leave much to run with for a dog with only three legs.  So more often than not, when a pet has outgrown its “cute” stage, it’s just discarded.  Additionally, as I just found out last night, the city shelters kill after 10 days.  So, if your pet goes missing and a shelter has it, you only have 10 days to hopefully find and rescue it.

I really would love to help foster a dog, or have any dog for that matter!  I want one so badly!  However,  I know what a humungous responsibility taking care of a dog is, and I just don’t think I can devote myself entirely to one right now at this point in my life. As much as I would LOVE to. I actually met Lola for the first time yesterday, and she sat under the table in the corner the entire time shaking because she was so scared.  I know that’s not how all rescue dogs are, but on the off chance, I just don’t know if that’s how I want my first “my own dog” experience to be right now.

In any event, I’m glad I can at least help out in the little way I am able.  It’s really inspiring to know that there are people out there who care so much about animals that they will bend over backwards for these little babes.

 

 

Lucky Number 3?

Remember this post?  Well, scratch that.

Here’s a sentence I never envisioned myself uttering during those tear-fest drives to LAX on August 16, 2011 and January 25, 2013: “Year 3 in Korea is happening.”

Yep. I have renewed for one more year, and the 3 letters W-T-F are still swimming thru my brain.

I knew by going home in January I’d ramp up my anxiety a bit about the future.  I live a rather anxiety-free life, especially in Korea, except when money or big changes are happening, which I think is fairly normal.  However, when it kicks in, it kicks into full blown I’m-not-slowing-down-to-even-let-you-sleep mode.  The past 1.5 years in Korea have been completely void of this feeling, which is the most wonderful thing ever.  That is, until recently. Dun dun dun.

Up until 2, maybe 2.5 weeks ago, I was completely 110% set on the fact that I would be leaving Korea by September 2013 at the very latest.  I had started thinking I’d go to another country in Asia (maybe Hong Kong, Taiwan or China) for a new experience after traveling India and going home for a bit.  Then shit started getting more real.  There’s only 4 months of our current contract left, and I realized I’m almost 30 and need to have a more stable plan in order for that return home, and then the jumping off point after to go off without a hitch. I know myself, and if I were to go home with just the money I’d leave Korea with (which would be a pretty penny after 2 years!) I’d sit and stew at home about my next move, blow that cash in the process, and my anxiety would be left even worse.

So, in the long run, a year is only a year, and for my own sanity it’ll be easier for me to get my ducks in a row this year abroad than it would be to do the same thing at home in the crazy Schaeff abode. Not to mention, I’ll basically be doubling the money that I’m going to be leaving Korea with.  I never thought I’d be here for 3 years, and I thought I’d have my shit together, but turns out that even though this year has been awesome, I feel like I didn’t do anything remotely proactive to make that happen.  So big girl pants must be worn this year.  And I plan to write a lot in the process.

I know my mom is not happy about it, per our 10 minute phone call resulting in a swift click of End Call, and Sista wants me home for her and the pups.  But, after talking to some pretty unbiased close friends who have their heads tightly screwed on straight, my dad, and lots of introspective Seoul searching, accompanied by a very trusty dusty Pros/Cons list, I feel that I’ve made the adult, mature, responsible decision.  Even though my heart is running rampant and can’t flutter straight, my head is the only thing that feels remotely clear, so I’m ultimately happy with my decision, albeit the massive pit in my stomach.  Plus, that means more travel adventures para mi, and there ain’t NOTHIN wrong with that! 🙂

Oh, and I will also be looking into finding a new apartamento in a more central locale, because home girl can’t hang in the boonies of North Korea (not really) for one more year.  And word on the street is that a good handful of my loves will still be around, so that is easing me just a skotch.

So folks, you’ve got 16 more months to find a way to make me even more popular than I already have been in the visitor department. August 2014 will be my OFFICIAL OFFICIAL departure date from South Korea.  You’ve got my word 🙂

And one last OH! I’m going to look into flights home for August.  I know, twice in one year…CRAY! But, this is in order to make Mama Schaeff and Sista a little happier, and to ease my probably forthcoming anxiety if I were to come home in January.  I may try to come to NYC as well, so I will keep all you fine lovelies abreast 🙂

ByeBye, HeyHey ~ Off You Go To “A Whole New World”

I can’t believe I am even writing this post.  It actually pisses me off that I’m making myself do this.  However, I’ve come to use this blog space of mine to pay a little love to the people near and far who I want to give a big virtual hug to no matter where we both reside in the world at any present moment at any present time on any day of dire significance.

This one is dedicated to my beautiful Stephanie Anne Heyduck, who has become one of the nearest and dearest to my heart during this last year and a half in Korea.  It makes me really sad that her time here has expired, but that’s what comes with the expat territory.  Those who we become so close with weave in and out of our lives and that’s that.  I guess it’s what we indirectly signed up for in choosing a lifestyle fueled by wanderlust; bonding together with others who also thrive on that same passion to wander and move about this glorious globe to explore and conquer.

As we’ve cuddled, danced and traveled our way through an ever-growing friendship, it’s always been apparent to me that Steph is totally one of those people who is unbelievably wise beyond her 25 years.   Whether it be in matters of the heart or the world, she always manages to have the wild child in check with the mature adult who’s got their head screwed on straight.   She’s also one of those people that just knows something about everything, no matter the topic.  I only know a few of those kinds of people and she’s one of them.  It always kind of amazes me and I’m just like WHA?!  Where you come from?!  She’s a special one, and I love her dearly.

Now for a little journey thru some of my fave highlights of the past year and a half frolicking thru the far East together 🙂

The first time I met Steph was when Jeanette and Carmen were visiting.  It was maybe my 3rd week living in Seoul, and Jeanette and Steph realized they had practically matching tattoos.  Friends.Seoulmates.WHAT.

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Here’s the first time Steph, Katie, Abby and I officially became a foursome after each others hearts.  We hiked to the top of Namsan Tower and then struggled to take this photo in the geographical center of Seoul! Many of my “I’m so happy I’m in Korea moments” have been spent with these ladies, and they’ll all always hold one of the most special places in my little Korean heart.

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She introduced me to one of my favorite Korean foods, Shabu Shabu, in the Ying Yang pot, one freezing cold night after shopping our butts off in Myeong-dong. Nom.

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We’ve had some shenanigans, and this was one random night out on the town while everyone else got down on a bus filled with soju.  Hey, we all make mistakes. She dragged me, she loves me despite it 😉

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We got money hungry at the Trick Eye Museum. AKA the most fun museum EVER!

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Then we got ballsy and decided to eat some live octopus together for the first time.  Actually not so bad and kinda fun.

Somewhere around this time we decided we’d bare it all and get naked with each other at the jjimjilbang.  We did, and it was weird for like 2 minutes, and then it was awesome, and then we went again, and we became obsessed even though we didn’t do it as often as we thought we would.  But still.  It brought us as close as 2 naked platonic girlfriends can get.  Both in and outside of our sexy jjimjilbang attire.

Her family came to visit, got us smashed to pieces during her mom’s first date with soju, and then Papa Heyduck did a sorority pose in this photo with us all.

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There were a couple girls nights in.  This may have been what they started out looking like.

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And then the aftermath to the tune of some Disney movies and Twilight and makkoli and soju.

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Then we took on a bit of traveling together.  First came that unforgettable typhoon of a trip to Japan where we rode bikes around Kyoto…

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Got our plans “horribly” rearranged by an unexpected typhoon…

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And then relocated ourselves to the nearest karaoke room where Steph gave us this private show (before I inevitably hogged the mic).  Adele or Celine perhaps? The sake won’t allow me to remember.  Whatever the song, her voice sang it magically.  From this moment on we became noraebang obsessed.

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Shortly after, we went to go Barack the vote together.  We were VERY excited to make our voices heard.

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And after he won the election, the two of us rented out the VIP room at a local noraebang in Itaewon (because it was the only one available), drank ourselves silly on a Wednesday night, and sang our Disney hearts wild for 2 hours because we were so happy for our man Barry.  One of my all time fave Steph & Dani moments to date. “I can show you the worldddddddd……”

Of course by far one of my favorite things everrrrr that we’ve done was going to Thailand and Laos together this past February.  You don’t really know someone til you either live or travel with them, and we traveled really really well together.  We had such an amazing time playing with elephants and tigers, cooking exotic cuisine, crossing the border like a coupla Mexican cholas in the back of one too many pick-up trucks, and meeting lovely French lassies and gorgeous Argentinian men along the way. (I have majorly slacked in posting about that trip, but it will be coming soon, I promise. Eeeep!)

Needless to say, friendship is nothin if you’re not there to help hoist your friend’s fat ass up on top of a hormonal elephant…

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Or sit down next to each other in some tiger pee to get those one-in-a-million shots in life!

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Tonight after Abby and I had to fight back premature tears while saying bye to Steph at our 2nd to last dinner together, we were talking about when we first signed up to move our lives to Korea.  We had envisioned living amongst a new culture, with new foods, new experiences, new travels, a new language to make up the white noise in our background, and we knew we’d make friends abroad.  But, we both made the connection that neither of us had really put much thought into the relationships we were going to build and who would soon become our family whilst carrying on our new lives.  I guess you don’t really plan or think about those types of things because they’re organic and happen as they will. With the ending of year one a slew of great loves left, but Stephanie is my first great girlfriend who’s been there since the beginning, to leave Korea, and that’s a killer. Great girlfriends are not easy to find, and she is just one of those friends that I am so lucky to have snatched up.

To wrap it all up, I love you Stepaneeeeee, and I’m gonna miss you, like, times 10 million to the max.  But, I know we are both wanderers and this is just a BIG “see ya later”.  My time spent in Korea would never have been quite the same without you in it, and I hope this next chapter of your life is a lot less (kimchi) smelly, but just as fulfilling as the past 2 years have been.  I love you to infinity and beyondddddddd.

<3,

Dani

Running For Ramen……..Sike

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve obviously heard that there’s been a bit of a ruckus going on over here on this tiny little peninsula in the far East for about the past month or so. While I deeply appreciate all of the concern that Mama Schaeff and all my friends have shown during these very trying times as I’ve been running to the corner mart scouring for the last package of ramen and kimchi and whatever bottles of water I can manage to hoist between my arm and bosom up the treacherous hill to my apartment….I AM FINE. WE ARE FINE.

I just thought I’d put this little piece of work together to reach all of you state side who only have the US media as a point of reference to where I am living and carrying on life as normal. I will admit, yes, I have had some nerves about it because who knows what the hell that fat fuck (pardon my French) will do in an effort to flex his barely-there muscles, and with little to know guidance or from what I’m sure, life/war experience.  I actually got my first ounce of fright last week at lunch when my co-teacher, Jin, told me that her mom was getting scared.  I think, at least for me, that bit of anxiety comes from just the fact that we really don’t know what he will do.  I read an article about the past and present young and reckless leaders of North Korea and when they rose to power.  I thought it to be a bit interesting, and frightening.  It’s like handing a kid a gun and telling him to just blindly shoot in the dark with Kim Jong Un.  Who knows what he’s capable of.

HOWEVER, since all this has gone down, I have pretty much scoured the interwebs and read everything and its mother about what in Gods graces is going on, but I am obviously by no means well-educated, just trying to stay as best informed as I can.  But, just on the basis that I am living here, and functioning, and carrying on life as I have for the past year and a half, nothing out of the normal has changed.  On that note, I’m really not scared in the least.  I don’t think that an attack on Seoul in going to happen.  An attack will probably happen, but that will probably be to an island.  In fact, just this afternoon while on my way down south after school, I snapped this shot of some soldiers riding the subway probably playing Anipang or some new stupid mobile phone game.

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Keep in mind, I live pretty much as far north in Seoul as you can get and just about 4 hours ago, North Korea issued this very “legit advisory” notice to all foreigners (because we always listen to what North Korea says….).  These soldiers must be taking our well-being and their fellow brothers’ very seriously.  The very thought of every foreigner and every Korean storming Incheon or the KTX down to Busan to peace out to Japan makes me want to poke my eyeballs out.  As if I don’t get shoved enough on my daily morning commute.  Eeeep!!!

Until the US Embassy sends out something of more urgency than the following, I’ll continue on my merry little way.

April04, 2013

A Security Message for U.S. Citizens

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that despite current political tensions with North Korea there is no specific information to suggest there are imminent threats to U.S. citizens or facilities in the Republic of Korea (ROK).  The Embassy has not changed its security posture and we have not recommended that U.S. citizens who reside in, or plan to visit, the Republic of Korea take special security precautions at this time.  The U.S. Embassy takes as its highest priority the welfare of American citizens in Korea.  Should the security situation change, the Embassy will issue updated information.

We urge U.S. citizens to keep in regular contact with family and friends.  U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), to receive the latest travel updates and information and to obtain updated information on travel and security issues.   

**Rest assured I am registered with the Embassy and they have all my contact information should I need to be evacuated.

Well, aside from calming your jets on the rising tensions that you’re all reading in the news, I thought I’d include some screenshots that I got a great giggle and smile in my heart from. I know you guys only care, but seriously, take a chill pill. But, and that’s a BIG but, know that I appreciate your love and concern for the schaeff schaeff ❤

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Well, for mine and my fellow peninsular comrade’s safety, I hope the big guy upstairs is just talking a big talk and we don’t get a special surprise tomorrow on April 10th. I would like to stay safe, not have to actually panic, buy ramen, flee to Japan for anything other than leisure, and I’d like the above Mama and lady loves who voiced their concerns to actually book the flights that they’ve been planning to.

Sending lots of kimchi kisses to everyone :*