A Year in Seoul - video by Maddy

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Moments of 2009

I'd like to think about my goals for 2010 while I am away for the next two weeks in the tropical paradise that is Boracay. This will be my last post of 2009, so I thought I would choose my favorite moments of the past year...

1. Coming out of a laid back rooftop bar in Chiang Mai to find a baby elephant trudging along up the road, which we then proceeded to pet and kiss like crazy.

2. My Italian dinner date with Lacy and Maddy in Chiang Mai - it was the origin of the A Team, a collaboration prophesied by the ancients and written in the stars.

3. Swimming to a deserted island on Koh Chang. We swam in the open ocean for an hour, all the while thinking about sharks and ugly black rock crabs. Then we had to drag ourselves over slimy rocks in only inches of water for what seemed the length of a football field because we the rocks were to slippery to walk on. We made it to the beach eventually and broke coconuts with rocks then drank the fresh juice.

4. Standing at the observation deck of the world's tallest building, Taipei 101

5. Covering ourselves in mud for hours on end at Mudfest.

6. Our idyllic mountain top bungalow in Koh Phagnan where we met our "shaman" and passed a magical night celebrating his birthday.

7. Standing in the sea on Tsushima, Japan after surviving an arduous bicycle odyssey.

8. Luxury noraebanging with our new friend Kevin in Busan (noraebang is a karaoke room)

9. Bungee Jumping- it was horrifying, but I did it.

10. And finally, writing my 100th blog post today and discovering that I have had 2,000 profile views this year. Thanks to everyone who finds the time to read my ramblings, I hope they've been somewhat amusing. Here's to more adventures next year!!

Happy Holidays

Monday, December 21, 2009

20 '09 Resolutions Revisited

I started off my blog by making 20 resolutions/predictions for the year ahead. Let's take a look and see how it all went...

1. to see a bamboo forest. Hmmm, well, no, didn't do that... To be honest I'm not really even sure where to find a bamboo forest around here... maybe next year in Japan.
2. to stand on the Great Wall of China. Okay... off to a slow start. No China yet.
3. to go swimming in the ocean in every place possible. Thailand, Japan, Korea, the Philippines... not bad, not bad.
4. to hear wild elephants trumpet in Chiang Mai. Saw, played with, kissed, fed and heard plenty of elephants in Chiang Mai... magical
5. to smell the cherry blossoms in spring time. I even took a picture, Korean style...
6. to taste sushi in Japan. I did this just in time, as I've now given up seafood.
7. to touch an ancient Buddha. I have had my Buddha fill over here and it never gets old.
8. to learn to meditate in a temple. I never wrote a post on the temple stay I did in Korea recently, but we did in fact practice several types of meditation in a temple.
9. to remember how transient life is. A work in progress. I still try to be mindful of this whenever possible.
10. to forget my limitations. Did that on more than a few occasions... Sometimes it doesn't have quite the desired effect...
11. to keep up with my yoga! Happy to report I have done this. I took an amazing Hatha (hot) yoga class with Maddy just last night!
12. to read at least five modern classics. I've read about 45,000 books so far this year, so I'm going to consider this accomplished. The best? Tropic of Cancer, Murakami's short stories, Shadow of the Wind, and The Heart of the World by Ian Baker
13. to find new friends in unusual places. This I have done for sure. (Read my blog for proof!!)
14. to write about fear and loneliness. My blogs seem to be overwhelmingly positive, which has matched my mood this year. I have to say I have never been so consistently and overwhelmingly content and my writing has reflected it. I think I was very nervous (and still home!) when I made this list. Still, I'd like to delve into these emotions.
15. to travel to a place whose name I don't even know yet. Koh Chang, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Busan, Tsushima, every suburb/dong in Seoul, Boracay... the list continues...
16. to teach with passion, commitment, and silliness in proper doses. I couldn't begin to comment on this. I love teaching, I want to be a good teacher, I try to be a good teacher. There are also days when I just can't find the motivation.
17. to conquer the Korean language... or maybe just learn a few conversational bits... BA HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! No, but seriously.... BA HA HA HA HA HA!!
18. to say yes to new opportunities even when i feel like being a hermit. I'd like to thank Maddy for helping me accomplish this one...
19. to organize a trip to Bali. Oh Bali, plane tickets to you are very expensive, so your cousin the Philippines won out. I want to see you so bad. Let's play next year. Your friend, Brittany
20. to plan another year as if it were my last. 20 '10 Resolutions doesn't have the same ring to it, but I'll have to come up with something equally genius before I fly off to paradise.

10 Ways I've Become Korean This Year

1. I enthusiastically use scissors to cut up my food. Maybe it's not elegant but it's just so convenient.

2. I use phrases like "same same," "it is your privacy," and "Oh! Do you know?!?" in everyday conversation.

3. I am horrified by wearing shoes indoors. Unless, of course, they are indoor shoes.

4. I don't find it strange when five different students fall off their chairs during one class period.

5. I feel really guilty if I'm tired and want to leave the bar before the sun rises. "I'm so sorry guys, I just can't hang. It's 4 am and I really just need to go home."

6. If I can't get my way I resort to making long whining noises until people give in.

7. Forks feel kind of big and clumsy...

8. "I'd like a cop-ae latte please. Yes, that's right, a coppee"
"Let's drink a few Cass-uh and go to the dance-uh club."
"What time is it? Oh, let me check my watchee."

9. My next boyfriend will have to wear matching outfits with me, hold my purse when we go out, and stage dramatic parting scenes on the subway.


10. It's a holiday and that can only mean one thing: drink soju with your coworkers until someone is dancing with a fire extinguisher while a few others sing horrendous karaoke and someone gets sexually harassed. I forget... is this standard practice in America as well???

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Cove

I recently watched the highly acclaimed documentary, The Cove, and I found myself both deeply disturbed and deeply inspired... by things I didn't know, and by things I've known but ignored.

The documentary was created as an attempt to expose the atrocious dolphin slaughters occurring in Taiji, Japan, where about 23,000 are killed per year. It also points to the hypocrisy and cruelty of the captive dolphin industry and the dangers of mercury poisoning and overfishing to the future of our health and our oceans.

As I said, I had known about Taiji, but hadn't really educated myself. I've also known about the destruction of the oceans due to our inexhaustible demand for fish. This demand, if left unchecked, will lead to the collapse of our oceanic ecosystem, and much sooner than we think.

As a committed vegetarian, I could point out that the dolphin slaughters are easily comparable to factory farming in the United States. Hidden cameras there had the same profound effect upon my conscience and would surely equally shock film festival audiences. But why then, besides a brief stint a year ago, have I continued to consume seafood? How can I support the fishing industry in good conscience?

Growing up on the shores of Rhode Island (the Ocean State) the sea was my playground, my caretaker, and teacher. When I tortured my mother during the last hot months of her pregnancy, she floated in the sea for hours on end for relief. The soft rolling of the waves was my very first lullaby. Growing up by the sea, I learned to contemplate, respect, and love it. I believe the salt is in my blood.

It's difficult for me, however, to separate my idyllic memories of the sea from the smell of steaming clams, swordfish blackened on the grill, and flounder baked with buttery breadcrumbs. These things taste good, but as all things, they have a price. For me I think this price as become too high and I can no longer afford to enjoy these things. I can no longer support an industry that has been allowed to run wild.

I remember the first time I put a mask over my eyes and descended into the underwater world. I remember the first coral reef I ever laid my eyes upon, the schools of fish in technicolor and the seaweed dancing rhythmically beneath rolling swells. Now, I try to imagine descending in twenty years and finding it all destroyed.

A few weeks ago, I watched a short video which upset me enough to stop me from eating seafood. So far it has been a tentative cessation, but after watching The Cove, I've decided to make my New Year's Resolution: No More Seafood.

For those of you reading to learn about Korea, I am sorry this post is off topic. I am writing this now to draw attention to this well made, riveting and very worth while documentary, NOT to convince people to make decisions such as the one I have made. In fact, the documentary does not attempt to dissuade people from eating seafood. It is simply a causal connection I made on my own. One I think I have been trying to make for a long time. I am declaring my intentions publicly as a way to hold myself accountable.

As the film so aptly stated, you can either be one of two things "an activist or an inactivist" and though I feel I've lost my way somewhat this past year. I hope to remain the former.

To view the trailer or find more information please visit:

Below is the film synopsis, taken from the official website:

The Cove begins in Taiji, Japan, where former dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry has come to set things right after a long search for redemption. In the 1960s, it was O’Barry who captured and trained the 5 dolphins who played the title character in the international television sensation “Flipper.”
But his close relationship with those dolphins – the very dolphins who sparked a global fascination with trained sea mammals that continues to this day -- led O’Barry to a radical change of heart. One fateful day, a heartbroken Barry came to realize that these deeply sensitive, highly intelligent and self-aware creatures so beautifully adapted to life in the open ocean must never be subjected to human captivity again. This mission has brought him to Taiji, a town that appears to be devoted to the wonders and mysteries of the sleek, playful dolphins and whales that swim off their coast.
But in a remote, glistening cove, surrounded by barbed wire and “Keep Out” signs, lies a dark reality. It is here, under cover of night, that the fishermen of Taiji, driven by a multi-billion dollar dolphin entertainment industry and an underhanded market for mercury-tainted dolphin meat, engage in an unseen hunt. The nature of what they do is so chilling -- and the consequences are so dangerous to human health -- they will go to great lengths to halt anyone from seeing it.
Undeterred, O’Barry joins forces with filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and the Oceanic Preservation Society to get to the truth of what’s really going on in the cove and why it matters to everyone in the world. With the local Chief of Police hot on their trail and strong-arm fishermen keeping tabs on them, they will recruit an “Ocean's Eleven”-style team of underwater sound and camera experts, special effects artists, marine explorers, adrenaline junkies and world-class free divers who will carry out an undercover operation to photograph the off-limits cove, while playing a cloak-and-dagger game with those who would have them jailed. The result is a provocative mix of investigative journalism, eco-adventure and arresting imagery that adds up to an urgent plea for hope.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Annyeong Anyang!

Yesterday I went on my very first job interview in Korea. I must say that I vastly prefer the process over here. It felt a lot more like I was interviewing the school than the other way around.

Taking a step back, I previously wrote about my plans to continue living in Korea next year. I wanted to move to Bucheon or Anyang (satellite cities of Seoul not far from my current location), live with or near Lacy, and begin my contract in April so I'd have time to travel.

Joyce at Korvia Consulting did another phenomenal job finding me a placement meeting all of my conditions (which was not an easy task).

I received word that an elementary school in Anyang wanted to have an interview with me and replied that I could meet with them any day after school or on Saturday. The school decided that they wanted me to come earlier on a week day and informed Korvia that they would call my principal to request that I leave school early on the day of the interview. This was a little awkward for me, as I had turned down an offer to work a second year at my school, but apparently not a big deal in Korea. Imagine that... leaving work early to interview for another job - and not lying about it.

I arrived at Anyang Station and was greeted by a tiny woman in her thirties. Grace Park approached me with a large smile on her lovely face and led me on the very short walk to the school ( First + school is near the subway). After entering and slipping into our indoor shoes we went to meet the principal. Apparently Grace knows the former principal at my school and we both agreed he is the nicest man. She assured me that the principal at this school was very similar and she was right. The principal's character and sense of humor were immediately evident despite the fact that he didn't speak any English (Second + principal and coteacher are both wonderful).

We chatted about life in Korea over coffee and they expressed some concern over the fact that I would be leaving the country between contracts. They told me if they hired me and I did not return to Korea for some reason, their students would suffer for it. To be honest I hadn't even thought of this and all I could offer was my word, but when I assured them of my intent to return they immediately told me that they liked and trusted me ( Third + the school is willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and is relaxed).

There is an element of pageantry in the school interview process and I got the feeling that all they had really wanted was to get a look at me. They had my resume and recommendations already, but looks are very important in Korea, particularly when it comes to English Programs. Once I got the impression that I had passed this test (oh yes, they will tell you right to your face first thing) I pretty much knew it was in the bag.

Grace showed me the English classrooms, which were smaller than the one cavernous room I occupy now. She had seen my school and seemed very worried that I would be unhappy with the classrooms. They seemed lovely to me. Not only were they brimming with artwork and English storybooks, they wouldn't supply students with enough room to run around and hit each other like they do in my present classroom. I told her I thought the school was wonderful and would love to work with her and she told me that she and the principal liked me very much and she was sure they would hire me.

Then she walked me back to the station, took my hand and suggested we get dinner together over the winter break. I told her I would love to and she hugged me goodbye. Really, it was more of a love story than an interview. Ahhh Korea.

Today I accepted their job offer and will be signing a contract shortly. My start date is April 14th which gives me 5-6 weeks to travel Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos before beginning fresh in my new year in Seoul.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 Things I'm Thankful for in Korea

better late than never.... here goes:

10. Being able to zone out or doodle during "meetings" at work and having a perfectly valid excuse (the meetings are in Korean)

9. No longer having to attend meetings at work because I just zone out while I'm there.

8. Being able to wear jeans and big comfy sweaters everyday to school, although I am not thankful that the school isn't heated.

7. Bibimbap - a big bowl of rice, vegetables, and spicy red paste available at nearly all Korean restaurants. Every vegetarian's best friend!

6. The old lady with the walker who I always pass on the way home from school. Every day she stops, gives me a huge grin, and starts speaking in Korea. I don't understand, so I just smile and say hello, but she never gives up.

5. My Friday third grade class. In the middle of a sea of inattentive, too cool, rowdy sixth grade classes, their enthusiastic little faces prevent me from having a break down.

4. Hongdae. Yes, I said it. I might be equally un-thankful for this nightlife hot spot, but those of you who know what I'm talking about, imagine life in Seoul without it...

3. Finally working up the courage to stop eating school lunch this semester. No, I don't like eating octopus tentacles and soup broth that's had beef (or who knows what) stewing in it all day. And unlike most Koreans I don't consider plain white rice and a side of kimchi a complete meal. I've come to terms with the fact that when you are permanently settled in a place, you can compromise between cultural immersion and personal well being.

2. Taiwan, Jeju, Tsushima, Thailand, the Philippines... Getting paid well in a secure job with great benefits - including ample vacation days.

and finally...

1. Taking a huge risk with the potential for colossal failure and ending up living a great adventure, making amazing friends, and loving it enough to stick around for another year.

The Story of Thankgiving... as told by a Korean 4th grader

Answer to the writing prompt "Write your own story about what it would have been like if you were one of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower"
by So-young

"My ship is super and power ship so it was no cold, many food and everyone is happy but we meet a typhoon. Good fortune, we have a many life boat and life jacket and then save indian. Indian is very kind. I sad "we want a ground. can you give to ground for me?" indian sas "sure your my friend, okay we'll be a divide ground. But you don't raise war, okay?" I sas "Ok!" and then one piecese for mine and one pieces for indian. Indian and we're had a party. everyone play game, singing, eat food. and my one pieces ground me is...

United States of America


If only this were how it really happened.

Friday, November 27, 2009

I know I post a lot of NYTimes stuff, but... Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy, it really captures how I'm feeling this Thanksgiving (and everyday)

November 26, 2009
New York Times Global Edition

A Thanksgiving Toast

Sitting down with friends and family today, there will be thanks for the steady currents, flowing out of the past, that have brought us to this table. There will be thanks for the present union and reunion of us all. And there will be prayerful thanks for the future. But it’s worth raising a glass (or suspending a forkful for those of you who’ve gotten ahead of the toast) to be thankful for the unexpected, for all the ways that life interrupts and renews itself without warning.

What would our lives look like if they held only what we’d planned? Where would our wisdom or patience — or our hope — come from? How could we account for these new faces at the Thanksgiving table or for the faces we’re missing this holiday, missing perhaps now all these years?

It will never cease to surprise how the condition of being human means we cannot foretell with any accuracy what next Thanksgiving will bring. We can hope and imagine, and we can fear. But when next Thanksgiving rolls around, we’ll have to take account again, as we do today, of how the unexpected has shaped our lives. That will mean accounting for how it has enriched us, blessed us, with suffering as much as with joy.

That, perhaps, is what all this plenty is for, as you look down the table, to gather up the past and celebrate the present and open us to the future.

There is the short-term future, when there will be room for seconds. Then there is the longer term, a time for blossoming and ripening, for new friends, new family, new love, new hope. Most of what life contains comes to us unexpectedly after all. It is our job to welcome it and give it meaning. So let us toast what we cannot know and could not have guessed, and to the unexpected ways our lives will merge in Thanksgivings to come

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan's dramatic face

Korea's rolling mountains

sitting Buddha

Mountain Temple

Fall foliage

Cave Temple

Resident monk

Falling leaf reflection

The ascent

The Summit

Red Peppers drying in the sun

Mountain meditations

Three wisemen in the forest

Leaves collecting on the water's surface

Cascading water

Forest paradise

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

빼 빼 로 Day!

Today is 빼 빼 로 (Pepero) Day in Korea, a holiday managing to be just as lucrative for the Korean candy companies as Valentine's Day. The holiday, most likely started by mega corporation, Lotte, is celebrated by exchanging Pepero (a Lotte bran) sticks and other small gifts. A Pepero is a cookie stick dipped in chocolate and other toppings. The celebration came about as a clever marketing tool because the date 11/11 resembles the Pepero. I've come to learn that Koreans adore anything related to love and cutesy gifts, so it's not surprising that this holiday took off.

There is at least a dozen other holidays celebrating love and friendship in Korea. And stores having been showing elaborate Pepero displays for two weeks now. I loved watching the Korean men scramble to buy Pepero for the girlfriends last night. I'd love to see what would happen to the poor schmuck who managed to forget somehow.

I came to school this morning and was immediately swarmed with students flinging chocolate at me. Luckily, I came prepared with plenty of 빼 빼 로 to exchange. Check out my stash in the picture above. Assah!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A cold breeze, a cup of tea, and a plan

Beautiful Boracay

More Boracay... be jealous (pics not mine, obviously)

Suri mountain, view from my window

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan (these pics not mine either, you'll see my version next week!)

It only took one night to go from walking to school with no jacket to wearing a winter coat. One night like any other in which the icy winds crept in replacing the gentle breeze with biting gusts. The cold weather brought something with it other than chills, however, it brought a nagging feeling that my year here was coming to a close and I needed to begin planning for the future.

If you know me at all, you know I am not a planner. A schemer, maybe. An impulsive day dreamer who dives headlong into recently concocted, half planned adventures...sure. It's my nature, so I go with it. Besides, it hasn't steered me wrong yet. Nevertheless, staying in Seoul requires some forethought and I am certain I want to remain where I am.
Sure, a huge part of me wants to move on and continue journeying. I can teach anywhere, right? Well, not with massive student loans breathing down my neck. The huge financial benefits of working in Seoul mean not only that I can pay off my debts, but that I can afford to travel all over Asia whenever I get the chance. Plus, I have a lot of friends here and I am only just starting to feel at home. There is more time to be put into Seoul.

The frigid winter winds also coerced me to start thinking about my winter vacation. Yes, that's right, two months after my last two week vacation I am planning the next (why is it I want to stay??). I found out I have 17 days off starting on Christmas Eve, not coincidentally the same 17 days that Lacy will be off work. So, we've booked a flight to the sunny blue skies and crystal clear waters of Boracay in the Philippines. Flights are cheap and the living is easy, so it was a simple decision.
We want a nice tropical vacation to take us away from the winter chill, but we also need to conserve cash. Why? Well here is next year's plan, still in the works:

After our vacation, winter camp begins. Between Christmas and the end of February, there is only a week and a half of regular classes, the rest being various English camps (and often half days). My contract ends at the end of February and I plan on switching to a new school so that I can get a shared apartment with Lacy who will also be staying another year. Living alone has definitely had its perks, but living far enough from my best friends that I don't get to see them during the week has been a bummer. Being able to come home and cook dinner with Lacy and take classes together will be such a nice change!
Another development is that we are trying to get a job beginning in April so that we can take our end of the year bonuses and go backpacking for a month in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. We figure one of the huge advantages of our job is the flexibility and if we have the ability to do this we can't pass it up. How amazing it would be!! I'm crossing my fingers that it all works out.

So that is the plan, I mean scheme, as of right now. I'm working with a recruiter at the moment to make it all happen and until then I'll just keep living the dream.

Bringing it back to the present, we went on a teacher's hike today on Surisan (Suri Mountain). I thought a "teacher's hike" meant just going for a nature walk, but I was so very wrong. We scaled a beast of a mountain! As we climbed teachers began to drop out, but I was determined to prove yet again that foreigners are not inept, so not only was I going to the top, I was going to be one of the first to get there. Our principal led the way, I assume as a symbolic act, but even though he was the oldest one there, he could really move! After mistakenly believing I had arrived at the summit several times, only to turn and climb more, I made it to the top panting and sweating and was greeted with high fives and looks of astonishment (yes, foreigners can climb). Cell phones were whipped out for pictures, and celebratory cups of makkoli (a milky Korean rice wine) and fresh cucumbers were passed around to "rehydrate." And, even after nine months, they squealed with delight when I said "kamsamnida" (thank you) when they passed me a cup.
After the hike I had my Korean class and then I had to teach an evening class for second graders. At the moment I am exhausted and sore and a little worried about my stamina for this weekend's hiking trip to Seoraksan National Park. I'm excited to enjoy the outdoors in one of Korea's most beautiful areas, however, before winter sets in for good.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I just came back from watching my school's 4th Grade Talent Show wearing a huge smile. Not only is fourth grade the absolute best age to teach, most of my individual favorites come from that grade as well. They are still unaffected by the insecurities of puberty but they're old enough to joke around with me and make me laugh.

The half dozen recorder performances were as to be expected... inhumane, but there were some great song and dance routines to all the current KPop. Of course there was a taekwondo performance (for all you non-Koreans its pronounced TAY-kwondo, not THAI-kwondo) in which the students broke boards with their hands. I felt the boards after and I must say, I was pretty impressed. To cap it off was a little piano prodigy.

My absolute favorite, however... by far... was the three boys who did a jump rope dance routine (that's right) to KPop favorite, Heart breaker. Not only was it original, they were unbelievably good at it. I really hope they weren't forced into hours of practice for weeks on end by overeager parents. They really seemed to enjoy it, so I'm thinking not. My heart didn't break, it melted. Once again, I love my job. If only I had brought my camera!!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Perhaps a little harsh, but an interesting article on race in Korea.

New York Times Article - Race in Korea

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some days I walk out of my apartment and I see a bunch of Korean people and Korean writing. Then I think, "Oh yeah, I'm in Korea."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Beauty and the Bento Box

(Photos not mine)

Today I came across an interesting discussion in the New York Times entitled, "Beauty and the Bento Box." It was a follow up to an article on these artful Japanese lunch boxes featuring several experts weighing in on the question:

"What does the care devoted to the visual details in a packed lunch suggest
about the culture? Why is such value placed on aesthetics in everyday life
in Japan?"

Due to recent travels I've developed an interest in the beautifully delicate Japanese aesthetic, so I've decided to make a short exploration of my own.

It seems that the Japanese aesthetic permeates nearly every aspect of culture on the island. It's concepts are rooted in a set of fundamental principles which are deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness. These principles manifest themselves in infinite forms, reaching all the way from the elaborate tea ceremonies to the aisles of the supermarket. Identifying these elements of style have allowed me to better understand the feelings of harmony, restraint and elegance I experienced even in the most unexpected places in Japan, as well as a method to introduce them into my own life.

Central to the appreciation of beauty in Japan is the concept of impermanence. Everything in this world, whether lovely or terrible will eventually fade away. Dwelling on this idea can lead to feelings of melancholy, but it also inspires gratitude for the moment. If all the world is ephemeral, then we must cherish it all the more. In the Bento Box we can see quite obviously a celebration of the fleeting. Just because food is impermanent is not a reason it should not and must not be beautiful. Everyday deserves wonder, no matter how routine.

Another important stylistic element is "simplicity" (known as wabi to the Japanese). The subtle grace of an object can add infinitely to its beauty. Additionally, this concept dictates moderation and restraint. One of the strengths of the Bento Box is that it makes food appear much more copious. Ginger curls into delicate flowers, salad is shredded and layered in contrasting hues, and each element is housed in its own space. When the lunch plate is an art form there is much more enjoyment in the process and therefore less need for abundance.

Finally, we come to the concept of mono no aware, or, "awareness of things." In the Japanese aesthetic there is an interconnectivity between all forms of art and intellectual pursuit. The cultivated individual must be skilled in many areas to truly attain greatness. Calligraphy, gardening, Haiku, cinema, and painting all depend upon and borrow from one another. Preparing food in such an elaborate way can show off such skills and be a credit to the one who has prepared it. And it appeals to the part of every person that reveres the beautiful.

These are just a few examples in a complex web of concepts which make up the Japanese artistic style and they are based upon my limited understanding. Even so, I can now look upon the iconic flower of Japan and Korea, the Cherry Blossom, with a new vision. It seems to be a perfect representation of these stylistic elements: beauty in grace and simplicity, imperfect and impermanent, unfurling to the height of loveliness before falling to decay. A perfect allegory for nearly everything.


1. Parkes, Graham. "Japanese Aesthetics." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2008). Edward N. Zalta (ed).

2. Aesthetics in Asia - Japan a>

Beautiful Busan

Gwangalli Beach

Our romantical accomodations

The Bridge at night

Night at Gwangalli Beach

Kevin crosses through the window and into our lives


Don't mind if I do!

Busan - Future Home?

After deciding to stay the night in Busan, we asked William for some advice on what to do. He recommended an inexpensive motel in Gwangalli Beach and gave us the phone number so our taxi driver could get directions. It turned out to be an adorable place with a view of the beach and at $40 bucks a night for all three of us, we were happy.

Gwangalli was supposed to have a decent nightlife, and though it was a Sunday, it was also a holiday weekend so we wanted to check it out. We took a stroll along the beach and admired a gorgeous bridge lit up in technicolor against the dark sea and sky. The bridge is just part of the reason why they call Busan "the San Francisco of Korea." After, we checked out the numerous cafes lining the shore and chose one to have dinner at.

We were only half way through dinner when the requisite group of crazy British boys invited us to check out a local bar. We headed over after we'd finished eating and had a few beers outside. All of a sudden a Korean man who had been observing us quite shamelessly handed me a pair of sunglasses and showed me his phone. It was open to a Korean-English dictionary and said "paying back a kindness; saying thank you." I was a bit confused but understood that he was trying to give the sunglasses as a gift (I later learned you got them free when you bought five Heinekens...). He introduced himself to our group as Kevin after we invited him outside to join us. He then proceeded to buy the six of us several rounds of beer.

Later on, Kevin asked us if we wanted to go to "a wine party." If the words "wine" and "party" are used in the same sentence, I am automatically in, so we followed him to the top floor of his hotel, where he rented out a noraebang. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, a noraebang is a Korean karaoke room. They are EVERYWHERE in this country and an absolute favorite of Koreans to end a night of drinking. Basically you rent a room, play music, act a fool, eat, and drink. I had never been to one because I hate singing in public, but in the interest of culture, spontaneity, and crazy fun, I figured it was time.

The room was huge, and featured a large screen and a huge table with about twenty chairs surrounding it. It seemed more like a board room than a party, but that quickly changed when Kevin started ordering bottles of wine, beers, and huge fruit and cheese platters. We started the music and shortly after the singing, dancing and tambourine playing commenced. The best part of all, however, had to be when Kevin started singing Korean slow jams.

We stumbled out into the street at about 4 am and the three of us passed out on our beautiful circular bed. In the morning we had coffee and sat on the beach. The weather was still warm enough for bathing suits, although too cold to swim in my opinion.

After lunch it was time to head back to Seoul, but I had really enjoyed Busan's laid back atmosphere. Seoul has so much to offer, but I seriously miss living by the ocean. The mild weather and beach bum lifestyle in Busan might be enough to have me considering a move next year. Thoughts??

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Japan Photos

Beautiful Tsushima

So Fresh

Tissue Paper Mountains

Our Campsite

Clear Waters

Blues and Greens

On the Road

Paper Shades and our Balcony View

Playing Geisha

Our Reward

Japanese Harbor

A day at the beach

Tsushima, Japan Bike Trip

Although I can't get enough of the night life in Seoul, my friends and I decided we needed to take a break and get in touch with nature. The four day weekend we had for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) at the beginning of October was the perfect opportunity to get away from the city.

We checked out our favorite travel group on meetup.com and discovered a biking trip to Tsushima, Japan that sounded amazing. It was being planned and led by William, the lovely guy who planned our Jeju trip, so we knew it would be great.

Tsushima is a small island that while part of Japan, is actually closer to Korea. It takes about 2 hours by ferry from the port city of Busan, located on Korea's southeast coast. It has a subtropical climate and its economy is based mainly upon the abundant supply of fish in the surrounding blue-green ocean. The same crystal clear waters also attract tourists from South Korea who help to supplement the marine economy.

After catching a bus to Busan late Thursday night, we'd be picking up our bikes upon arrival and bringing them over to the island on the ferry. They would be our only means of transportation on the mountainous 700 square kilometer island. We planned to arrive on the southern end of the island and leave from the north, so for this trip, the lazy need not apply.

The first day we had a lunch of supermarket sushi that blew the sushi I've eaten in most restaurants out of the water. We also spent about a half hour roaming the Japanese beer aisle, ecstatically checking prices. It's the best beer around in my opinion, but its completely over priced in Korea. We spent the second half of the day on a 20 km bike, but we were totally unprepared from the arduous inclines that dominated the trail. After some consideration of our time constraints, we had opted for the shorter of the two routes leading to our campsite. This turned out to be a great decision as those who had gone on the longer route eventually had to abandon their progress and loop back around to the shorter road, arriving at the tents long after dark.
That night we lit a campfire, played some music, and enjoyed some more sushi and beer. We all had sore limbs and bums, so it wasn't long before I grew tired and went to sleep. There was a full day of biking ahead after all and we wanted to get an early start.

The island was truly beautiful, with 89% of its land covered in lush green forest. Towering mountains and rugged cliffs carve a dramatic landscape surrounded by sparkling ocean the color of emeralds. Nearly every time I looked above me I would see huge predatory birds soaring silently over head. It was fantastic, never in my life had I seen such a dynamic and lively sky.

After hours in our seats, the 50 km we needed to cover that day began to take its toll. We quickly realized we wouldn't be finding any restaurants to stop in and settled for an ice cream bar and banana to get us through the ride. It was a tough 6 hour work out with stops few and far between, but I felt inspired by what I saw around me. I was basking in the challenge.

I could taste the fresh sashimi and cold beer awaiting me at the endpoint. The smell of the ocean breeze at our seaside motel danced around my nostrils and the feel of the hot sauna water played on my skin as my legs pumped up each hill. The descents were exhilarating. I let my tires spin wildly, the cool air sweeping back my hair as the world passed me by in a blur. I had found that feeling that I am constantly seeking, that feeling of being alive.

All of the beautiful things I imagined awaited me and more. Draped in soft cotton kimonos, we watched the sun set against the purple sky and stared into the golden shimmer of the moon as it reflected on the sea. We sank deep into pillows and blankets laid out on the floor and sipped fresh green tea until we drifted into a peaceful sleep, only to be awoken to witness the sun rise again over the ocean. After, we enjoyed a traditional Japanese breakfast of fish, miso soup, rice and seaweed.

After spending the morning at the beach, we boarded the ferry again feeling triumphant and completely refreshed. So much so, in fact, that Lacy, Maddy and I decided to spend an extra night in Busan. We still had another day off and, as Maddy rightly argued, we had always wanted to explore the city.

So much for a weekend without city mayhem...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009