My first home in Korea was, considered by my Korean friends, in the complete countryside. I lived in what we would refer to as a village, a quaint offering of stores on the main street to the north and a vast expanse of rice fields and farm land to the south. While living in a somewhat remote location came with its challenges; limited transportation and a decreased social life, there were also many advantages, most notably the nature I was surrounded by. Since moving from Buksam, I've continued to seek out the parks, river walks and mountains near my home, which thankfully in Korea, is not too hard to do. Even now, despite living in the "Gangnam" of Daegu, I've found two escapes from the busy streets and traffic of the blocks immediately surrounding my home. Unsurprisingly, my morning routine has often included walks down random back alleys and side streets, but more often than not I find myself at either 야시골 or 범어 공원.
It's kind of crazy how much of a contradiction I am to myself. While I'm viewed by many as a globe trotter, nomad or world explorer who can't sit still, I'm equal parts homebody, total hermit. Having been back in Daegu for a month I've done very little outside a few kilometer radius of my apartment. I work across the street and everything I need is within walking distance of home; shops, restaurants, parks and even the train station. I did get out a few times, visiting Gumi to volunteer at Samsungwon, but other than that winter has sent me into hibernation mode. Two weeks ago though, my co-worker Elizabeth asked for ideas of what to do in Daegu and where to go with her boyfriend, who'd be visiting from the States. I recommended Dongwhasa, one of my favorite temples in not only Daegu, but the whole of Korea. Seeing some hesitation I offered to tag along, playing tour guide for the day, making it the third time I did so, previously introducing my mom and Peter, on their visits in 2013 and 2016 respectively.
Although I came to Korea with the intent to be staying in Daegu, I've found myself living in Changwon for close to two months now. When I first arrived I was prepared to sign a contract with Mama's English, teaching part time for the first few months and eventually switching over to full time. Things changed after meeting with my recruiter though and hearing that Hanvit (an academy offering 4 day work weeks) was looking for a new teacher in December. He also knew of a temporary job I could take in the meantime and thus here I am in Changwon, another city scratched off my "places visited' in Korea list. The only thing I knew about Changown before arrivng was that it's a planned city (apparently modeled after Canberra Australia) and Eric Thames used to play baseball here, other than that I was clueless.
When I first came to Korea *cough* 7 years ago *cough* I remember spending my free time searching for interesting things to do and places to visit. Thanks to the Colorful Daegu blog I found many such things close to home and quickly had a long list to fill my weekends and holidays. As is my normal tendency though, I found so many different events, temples, festivals and fun weekend get away ideas that it wasn't possible to check them all of my list. My friends and I were often taking off for the weekend, weather it was for a festival, such as the Lantern Festival in Jinju or just a weekend away in Seoul, we often took advantage of the efficient and affordable Korean transport and got out of Gumi. This was great, but it also meant that I often overlooked what was nearby and thus I never properly explored Daegu. Since leaving in 2014, I'd come back to visit Daegu a few times and often had grand plans which never unfolded as expected. Finally though, I've crossed one of those early "too see" off my list with a solo visit to Kim Gwang Seok Street [김광석 길] last week.
Since visiting the 5.18 Peace Park in Gwangju my interest in Korean history had peaked, especially the stuff that was seemingly swept under the rug. While looking for places to visit and things to do in Jeju I came across the 4.3 Peace Park and was immediately captivated by the Jeju Uprising, another bit of Korean history I was yet unaware of. As most things are in Jeju, the park was not an easy place to reach without a car, but I'm no stranger to Korean public transportation, so the hour long bus ride didn't phase me. Bus 43 runs from downtown and stops directly outside the park, the only problem is it only runs once an hour, so it's wise to plan your trip accordingly.
Having lived in Korea for three years, with various short and long term visits added in, I've come to learn a lot about the country. Quite appropriately, my first round of learning was through food, language and entertainment, after which I began learning more about the intricacies of the people and culture. What I've been lacking though, is a deeper understanding of the history and politics in Korea. I blame High School, scarred by too much note taking, but the currently political situation in Korea has sparked some interest. South Korea has had quite a year in politics, a political scandal, months of peaceful protests and finally the impeachment and arrest of president Park Geun Hae. Now, with the election of Mood Jae In, the country is buzzing with excitement and curiosity for the future, and I too am interested to see what's in store. Having been in Mokpo for the last two weeks I decided last Friday to take a trip to Gwangju for a history lesson.
A few months ago an ex-student of mine, the one now living and studying in Milwaukee posted pictures on Instagram of his trip to Key West Florida, the Southernmost point of the United States. This wasn't the first "Omg I haven't even been there" moment while looking through his pictures, and I'd be lying if I wasn't the slightest bit envious. It's true though, that when you're in a foreign country you take much more time exploring, falling into old routines when you go home and losing that sense of adventure. I'm sure I've been to more places than he in Korea and just to prove it (not really, but coincidences occur) I was finally planning my weekend to the Southernmost point of Korea, Haenam.
Jeju is famous for many things, earning itself the title of one of the new seven wonders of the world as well as holding multiple UNESCO heritage sites. Hallabongs, lava rock formations, beautiful scenery, black pig and loads of other foods and snacks, are a few notable aspects, but a highlight no one should miss are the Olle trails. I often heard people talk about Jeju Olle trails, but I honestly never spent much time looking into them, that is until last week. After a few months of traveling, eating and drinking too much, I was ready for a few solid days of exercise, and lucky for me Jeju is the perfect place for this, along the Olle trails.
When I told my (Korean) friends that I’d be visiting Jeju again, this being my third trip, I received a lot of jealous and envious feedback. I guess it’s true that you don’t travel much in your home country because despite being a 1 hour plane ride away some of my friends have never been. I actually felt kinda bad because I wasn’t all that excited about my trip, in fact as I waited to board the plane part of me wished I were on a bus to my friends apartment in Mokpo. I get carried away sometimes and it usually involved buying airplane tickets, but then when the day comes I begin to think “Who signed me up for this?” sounds weird, I know. Nevertheless I was on my way to Jeju, first to meet a friend and then hang out and explore on my own for an unknown period of time.
Having the ability to show up in a foreign country and contact a friend has always been a dream of mine. I remember thinking that if I studied abroad in University I could make friends from around the world and then later go meet them in their hometowns. I did study abroad, but most of the people I met during that time were fellow Americans, a majority of whom were from the Midwest, so much for those global connections I dreamt of. Thankfully though, life doesn’t end at 21 and I still had plenty of time to fulfill those dreams. Today I’ve got friends in many corners of the world all of which have come from connections made during both my time teaching in Korea and also the traveling I’ve done during and after.
Where to start. After living in this country for three years I have memories, experiences and stories galore. I'll now always be a bit partial to the Land of the Morning Calm. Filled with delicious foods, beautiful nature and friendly people, I'm always happy to return.