Island Hopping Off Incheon

2 weeks ago marked the last long weekend I will ever rejoice in during my time in Korea. That’s if you don’t count the one during summer camp in August, but I’ll totally be checked out by then and camp will be donezo! My original plan for the long weekend was to visit Haesindang Penis Park on the east coast, close by to Samcheok, where I got a case of bed bugs when Josh and I went to Dokdo last year. Pretty soon everyone started flaking, and as much as I wanted to still go, visiting a penis park solo seems a little too perverted, even for me. Plus, who would document me atop many a phallus?

With that, I decided to head out on my own and check out a couple more islands that are just off the west coast of Incheon. I went to Muui-do during my first Chuseok in Korea and fell hardcore in love, so thought it’d be nice to add a couple more islands to that list. Ganghwa-do is about 2 hours by bus outside of Seoul, and Seokmo-do is about a 15 minute ferry ride from Ganghwa-do. Both islands are very prominent in Korean history, as they served as a fortress island during several invasions by France, Japan and America. It is also as far north as you can get, as it’s just separated from North Korea by the Han River extending out from Seoul.

When I arrived at Ganghwa-do Bus Terminal, the tourist information guy was SO helpful. I didn’t really have a plan, but knew of some sites that I wanted to see. I had also just planned to find a jjimjilbang (Korean bath house) to spend the night at. The man instead told me that Bomunsa Temple on Seokmo-do offers overnight temple stays for 10,000won. It wasn’t a traditional temple stay, but rather a mat to sleep on in a communal woman room, with meals (and snores) all included. I took his advice and headed out to catch the ferry to Seokmo-do.

The bus to get to the port took FOR-EVER. Many people take their cars over to Seokmo-do, so the traffic was horrendous. What would typically be a 35-40 minute bus ride took over an hour, at which point I hopped off and walked the rest of the way to the port. When I got to the port there were tons of little shops selling shrimp chips and special ginseng makkoli. A specialty of the island is their dried shrimp, and the seagulls that follow the boat over to Seokmo-do are very greedy when it comes to those shrimp chips!

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Here is the only photo of myself from the weekend. Not much for selfies, but seagulls aplenty!

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I finally made it to Seokmo-do, and had to figure out how to get to the temple. The guy manning the bus stop was a little flippant when faced with my foreign face even when I was speaking Korean, but I met a couple girls on the bus who spoke really good English and chatted me up. They figured out that I’d head out on the same bus as them on their way to the beach.

When I got to Bomunsa, the base of the temple was littered with old town Korea, which made me so happy. Tons of old women hunched over their little shops of bowls of nuts, and ddeok (rice cakes), and dried shrimp. Tons of dirty fingers handing me samples that I didn’t want to be rude and not try in front of them, and tons of samplings of makkoli. I found myself using far more Korean than I typically do living in Seoul, which impressed even myself that I could verbalize things I thought I only really knew how to understand.

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Getting up to Bomunsa is quite a job for the ass and calf muscles. But it’s a really beautiful walk up, and the temple itself is lovely.

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What I wanted to see most at Bomunsa were the hundreds of Buddhas! Just as you arrive to the top of the hill to your left is a procession of all these white Buddhas with different faces and expressions. I saw a bunch of people also throwing coins to the big statue in the center, so I’m thinking that’s to make a wish or pray or something.

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The rest of the temple was pretty standard when it comes to Korean temples. Very beautiful, but nothing I haven’t seen before, aside from the massive reclining gold Buddha in one of the temples.

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See that flight of stairs to the right? That leads all the way up to the top of that mountain, where there resides a Buddha carved into the side of the mountain. People who were there on a weekend temple stay were doing their daily prayers with the sea breezing behind them.

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No trip in Korea is complete without a selfie or two, give or take a nice backdrop, or not.

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I was also VERY proud of myself for not pulling a Danielle and plummeting down this flight of stairs during my descent. Pat on the back, me!

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When I successfully landed on flat ground, I checked into the temple for the night and went to eat some dinner before it closed. The dinner was my least favorite Korean food, bibimbap, but I liked knowing that since I was at a temple there was no need to worry about any weird meats finding their way into my bowl.

For my slumber, I was given a mat, blanket and a rectangular pillow that I laid out in the middle of a bunch of ajummas for the night. As the only foreigner, I was quite the attraction amongst these women. There were two sisters that I was sleeping next to, and they showered me with Korean melon, candies and ddeok for days. Through my broken Korean and their broken English, we established that one of the sisters has 2 granddaughters that are half whities and were born in America. She then proceeded to call her granddaughters to have them translate all the burning questions she had for me. She even asked if she could come to my house because “she wants to see how I live.” I had a good laugh about that one with her 7 year old granddaughter, Grace.

That night I fell asleep at like, 10pm, after a failed attempt to read my book because they kept tapping me to ask another question. So I just fell asleep instead so I didn’t have to deal. I can’t even remember the last time I went to bed that early. I also had to sleep with my headphones in because there were so many ajumma snores. It was pretty unbelievable.

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At around 5am I was jolted awake with pieces of candy being thrown at me. It was like I was a little sugar animal or something. The sisters were trying to wake me up to have breakfast with them, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up that early, let alone eat kimchi for breakfast. So I continued sleeping for most of the morning. At around 10, after 12 solid hours of slumber, I woke up to them staring at me and asking to have lunch with them, but I wanted to jet out. And jet out I did.

After a quick rinse, and by rinse I mean taking the shower nozzle and wetting my legs and arms, then slathering myself in lotion, I was off. I felt so dirty but I was not about to take a legit naked shower in the communal shower area with flies and weird smells aplenty. So I probably smelled pretty potent.

I grabbed some free fried vegetables for the road, a bottle of ginseng makkoli for later, and admired the delicious kimchi being made. Gotta get me a baby kimchi pot before I leave.

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I also found the ajumma hott spot.

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I caught the bus back to the ferry, and the ferry back to Ganghwa-do, where I popped off to go see the ancient dolmens with these fashionable travel companions.

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The dolmens are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and serve as grave markers for past rulers or high-up people. To me, they looked like a Korean version of Stonehenge on a much smaller scale. I was not impressed, so this journey took me all of like, 15 minutes to get through.

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After seeing the dolmens, I thought I’d go to the Peace Observatory to wave hello to Kim Jong-un, but I was a bit pooped and in desperate need of a bath, so decided to call my little trip over after a wander around downtown Ganghwa-do. I checked out a little flea/produce market, and saw enough garlic to keep all the demons away. It smelled so delicious.

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If you’re looking for a quick, cheap, and easy getaway out of Seoul for a couple days, this is a lovely option. To get there, grab the 3000 bus about a 5 minute walk from Sinchon exit 5 (green line). It’ll take about 1.5-2 hours to get to Ganghwa-do, and busses leave every 15 minutes. Once arriving at the terminal in Ganghwa-do, the tourist information man is extremely helpful. I believe I used busses 1 and 30 on Ganghwa-do, and there’s only 1 bus you need to use on Seokmo-do. You can also use your T-Money card for all busses, and I probably spent about 6,000won in total for all transportation on both islands. Not too shabby!

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Lucky Number ’13

With the finale of 2013 behind us, I thought I’d throw together a nice lil round-up of some of the whathaveyous that occurred, and some of the thoughts, feelings and doings that made this last year my best, most favorite yet. I feel like it’s so cliche to say the past year was the best yet and “2014 really needs to top it”, but when I reflect and look at myself and how I truly feel I’ve grown as a human, I’m entirely certain that this past year gradually saw me grow into the skin I am meant to be in.

Here goes…in absolutely no particular order.

1. A Penny For My Thoughts

As I’m sure you know, I love writing, but I was never one to really keep a consistent journal or diary of personal thoughts until this year. When 2013 started, I found myself having feelings that were getting squashed, and began tormenting me into weird girl-over-analyzing-mode.  I hated that feeling, and I hate not being able to communicate properly, so I really made a conscious effort to carry a journal around with me everywhere I go, in case I just need to jot something down, or get something out of my head and onto paper to at least clear things up for myself.  I also made a point to blog more consistently, and took a crapton of my time to organize, categorize and tag my home on the internet into some semblance of searchable order.

2. I Can See Clearly Now, The Blur Is (Almost) Gone….

Remember this post? Well, unless we don’t talk regularly, you’d know that I finally got my peepers zapped, and for the first time in over 20 years, I can see (almost) crystal clearly with the aide of nothing but my own two hazel eyeballs! As silly as it sounds, in the past year I wavered a lot on whether or not to go through with the procedure. I have come to really love my specs, and they’d become a huge part of my essence, so the thought of giving them up simply made me very sad. In the end, I decided that not perfecting my eyes because I like how I look in spectacles is a stupid reason, because HELLO, fashion glasses! My world of options has just opened up exponentially as I transcend into the world of poser! Not to mention, if I decided to get LASEK back at home, I’d be paying thousands upon thousands (literally) more than I would here, where the procedure is probably done 10x better and more frequently.

I ended up going with Gangnam Saint Mary’s, based off the recommendations of some friendzies, and their super attentive and thorough care. Awesome place if you are lookin’ for that 20/20.

This was me for the first few days post laser blast acid trip:

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3. Lights, Camera, Action!

This year I took the liberty of throwing myself into some performance things that were all my own, and a few for charity at the begging of a scammer (that secretly didn’t need any begging whatsoever).  On a whim, I auditioned for the shadow cast of Rocky Horror Picture Show, something that frankly FREAKED me out, took me well out of my comfort zone, and had me feeling the happiest and most liberated I’d felt ever. I joined a flash mob dance class and found myself crossing “Participate in a Flashmob” off the ol’ Bucket List. I haiku battled Yo Mama to a runner up seed, and then saw my dream of Lip Sync battling (though I wish against one Jimmy Fallon), materialize into full fledged felt lobster claws and a first place redeeming win!

Here’s my latest in the Let Your Freak Flag Fly department:

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4. Signed, Sealed, Delivered

The thing that probably helped me grow the most this year was having the courage to be completely vulnerable and say exactly how I feel, putting it on paper, signed, sealed, delivered the old fashioned way. Even though it didn’t return the results I’d hoped for, it returned something quite necessary to light a fire under my ass to move on with my life. My words are out in the universe which makes me feel amazing, and now I know what I really truly want, and it’s not going to be one-sided work anymore. In fact, I’m glad I didn’t “get” what I thought I wanted, because I gained the perspective to know that’s not for me. You really can’t change people and just have to accept them for who they are sometimes, it is what it is, and exactly how it should be. Even though the situation still makes me a little sad when I think about it, overall I’m 150% happy with what and where we are now. Onward and upward!

5. On That Gypsy Life

The year began with my first trip home in 1.5 years, filled with tons of food, family and the coolest friends who flew in from everywherez. Only to be followed up with training and boating and bussing my way through Thailand and Laos. I played with tigers, cooked authentic Thai cuisine, border-crossed into Laos in the back of a pick-up truck and temple hopped til my feet hurt. I planned my first ever solo trip to Bali and the surrounding islands, where I got my fortune read by the famous Ketut Liyer, got stranded in the middle of the Gili Islands whilst snorkeling, and took the most invigorating yoga class ever. Cori visited me in Asia for the 2nd time, and we conquered Tokyo and its robots. That there is a city which is more fantastic than I had ever imagined. I even became one of the less than 1% of the Korean population to touch down on that sacred Dokdo soil. I’d say it was a mighty successful year for that passport of mine.

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6. Speaking Of Passports…

I added 48 brand spankin’ new pages to mine! Mama Schaeff may think all my passport excitements are silly, but that passport is my most prized possession. And, well, now I’ve got 48 more pages to stamp full of journeys!

7. Anyeong “North Korea”

It was a huge decision when I decided to stay a third year in the Koko. That pretty much involved a 2 hour phone conversation with Papa Schaeff til about 3am the night before my decision was due, and a not-so-hefty Pros/Cons list for me to finally make up my mind. One of my conditions was that it was a million percent vital to move from my isolated studio apartment in Danggogae, to something amidst civilization. So, I traded in my huge studio for a quaint little 1 bedroom plus entryway that Jeewon helped me find. And let me tell ya, it’s made a world of difference living amongst YOUNG HIP PEOPLE and bright lights!

Oh yea! Here’s a tour of my new abode. Sit tight, it’s a long one!

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Ta da!

8. My Clothes Fit More To My Liking

So I lost 15 lbs this year. I did more yoga, jumped a lot of rope in my apartment, wandered around exploring a lot more than I used to, and quit eating that rice that Koreans seem to absorb into who the hell knows where.  I tried on a dress that I hadn’t worn in a little over a year just the other day, and what used to hug my tuchous quite snugly, now just slinks perfectly right on over it. Virtual pat on the hiney to moi!

9. Makin’ Moves

I finally got serious in thinking about and figuring out my next move come fall when my third and FINAL contract in Korea is up. Europe has always been the highest of the highest on my Must Live There list, so to Europe, most likely Spain, I shall go. I found a couple teaching programs, I’ve downloaded some Rosetta Stone, and will begin the application process this month. Definitely looking to make Paella a staple cuisine in my near future.

10. Gave A Little, To Feel A Lot

2013 ended with a group of some of my nearest and dearest cooking heaping batches of seaweed soup in Jeewon’s kitchen, to distribute to the homeless. We made about 80 bowls of soup, all of which were gone from our cooler within 15 minutes of our arrival at Seoul Station. This was definitely one of the most special things I’ve done, and it felt awesome to ring in 2014 with a huge swelling heart.

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Now in 16 days, 2014 will mark my 30 year anniversary on the planet, and I am seriously so excited to turn the BIG 3-0! I finally feel so ready to leave the glory of my 20s behind and get into all that the next check box has to offer. I really felt like 2013 was a huge year for me, and come to think of it, I didn’t even really try to make it that way. I didn’t make any major resolutions, and the year actually shittily started in tears, so I am quite pleasantly surprised! Cheers to a bomb diggity year ahead!

WTF?! Wednesday ~ The Dirtiest Soap On The Block

Happy Wednesday everyone! Today marked the third day it’s snowed this winter in Seoul, but the first time I’ve woken up to a winter wonderland that’s stuck through the night, and formed a giant ice skating rink through the day!

I see many a fall in my near future.

Today in WTF?! I have decided to take it back to one if the first things I ever found so unbelievably odd about this country.

When it comes to getting clean, my mind just wanders to dirty with this soap doodad.

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I don’t think I need to address why I feel dirty every time I wash my hands in an elementary school or public restroom. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

A Thanksgivukkuh Miracle

The holidays are always a little odd whilst being abroad. It’s definitely the being thousands of miles and a Skype screen away from everyone that’s close to my heart, but I think it’s also in combination with the fact that as an expat in Korea we have to work right through our amazing Americana holidays.  And then it’s not til the last minute when we all realize that we need to get our shit together.

My first year here was the most depressing of the three. One, it was my first ever away from the world back home, and second, there were big talks of getting a group of us together and buying one of the big turkey dinners from the Army base, but that did NOT come to fruition.  Ultimately Steph and I spent our first Turkey day in Korea with 2 big piping hot bowls of pho in front of our faces. Don’t get me wrong, pho warms my soul on any other day, but on Thanksgiving it was pathetic and majorly deserving of a sadface.

Last year was much better. Though still accompanied by the lingering sadness factor, it felt a bit more like the holidays.  I had Josh “Gay” Rich visiting, which was a wonderful blast from the past, and my beautiful family over here managed to get our butts in gear to make a tasty spread of thanks in our microscopic kitchens.

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We even took these gorgeous family photos to top it off.

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Not ripping a page from years past, this year the holidays have begun to feel a bit more like the holidays should, and that makes Danielle a very happy camper! Korea obviously doesn’t get the right ring for an American Thanksgiving, and then Christmas likes to usually follow suit, except this year! This weekend began with a trip to the European Christmas Market that is held at Hansung University, which also happens to be 1 subway stop south of me, or a quick 20 minute jaunt. Nothing ever used to be close to me! YAYAYUYUH!

Joshy, Jee and I all met up Friday night after work for some piping hot Glühwein, a dinner made up of some mediocre excuses for European delicacies, a fully decked out Christmas tree and an extremely miserable looking Santa. But miserable Santa aside, the holidays were alive and thriving in the air, and it was a wondrously toasty night with my loves. It got me super in the holiday spirit!

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On Saturday we had our Thanksgivukkuh feast! It still took us a good nanosecond to get our lives together, and come to grips with the fact that of the 20 people we invited to our potluck, me, Tim, Joshy and Jee, plus a couple others, were the only ones to respond to be in our company. Hard feelings for all others aside, the few of us managed to slave away all day to pull off what actually ended up being my most favorite Thanksgiving feastgathering to date. Quality over quantity, as the saying so rightly goes!

It came fully equipped with a delicious homemade spread filled with some unsuspecting chefs (super impressed), and photos of said attendees taking photos of said feast. We are in Korea afterall, where the foodie photo reigns supreme, or you didn’t eat it.

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Greasy latkes were flipped by the token Jew on the block, in honor of the Thanksgivukkuh miracle of some 79,000 years.

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Fattening up was then followed by a few rigorous rounds of Apples to Apples (thanks Andria), Pilgrims and Indians arts & crafts hour with supplies hijacked from school, and a screening of the 2013 film most deserving of a Razzie Award, Sharknado.

I guess I can say goodbye to any form of political office with these totally un-PC photos of me sporting headress.

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The evening wouldn’t be complete without a family photo in front of a screenshot from said Razzie-deserver, of a man chainsawing himself out of the belly of the beast.

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It was a wondrously delicious evening with those I love most in this damn country that I live in.  A holiday which started out feeling a bit bittersweet with so many friends having already left really redeemed itself, and most of my homesickness as of late has begun to dissipate, thank God!

Even though being away from home during the holidays is sadface but has become my new normal, nothing says home, I love you or Happy Thanksgivukkuh quite the way a wacko Skype sesh with the Schaeffs does!

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Happy holidays from my crazy faced family/ies (sans Brotha Schaeff) to your’s!

A Less Than Peppy Pepero Day

This past Monday I had the pleasure of celebrating my 3rd Pepero Day since moving to Korea.

What is Pepero Day you ask? Well, it’s one of the handfuls of monthly lovey dovey holidays that Korea designates as a day to express your undying love to another. Pepero are essentially the Korean version of the Japanese Pocky, and are cookie sticks dipped in chocolate, or covered in almonds or strawberry and sprinkles. The day falls on November 11th each year, because when you put 4 Pepero sticks next to each other it looks like 1 1 1 1.

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Great marketing, Lotte!

Well, in honor of Pepero Day, virtually every mart decks out the front of their store as if Valentine’s Day threw up, and Koreans try to find the biggest and best display of Pepero to show their love to their friend who’s face they love to fondle beside me on the subway.

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As you can see, Pepero Day had me a bit bitter this year. Not because I don’t have someone to flower me in Pepero, I can, and do, do that for myself on the regular (my personal fave are those dipped in chocolate and almonds), thank you very much. But rather, because I realized I’ve truly surpassed the honeymoon phase with my students at school.

My first Pepero Day had my desk drenched in chocolate stick goodness and love letters, and last year there was still enough to give me a stomachache. But this year was a rude awakening. I got ONE measly box from my 5th grader Diana, and a bunch of “Teacha! Teacha! Give me da candy!!!” Hmph. My, how the tables have turned.

I imagine if I were to stay a 4th year I’d get absolutely nothing. Just a hunch.

And that there is the reason I will be leaving next August. Just kidding, that’s not the reason, but it is a valid one.

In any event, Happy (belated on the blog) Pepero Day!