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Today is my last day in Korea. I’m sitting at the airport on this very busy travel day (the long holiday weekend for Seollal, also known as Lunar New Year, began today), watching people come and go, wondering if their adventures are just starting or coming to an end. Did I really just spend the past year living in Korea? Did this adventure really just come to a close?

While there are certainly things I’ll miss about Korea, like the food and the adorable faces of my students, I am really looking forward to moving on. In just 20 hours I’ll be hugging my mom, cuddling with my cat and embracing the warm Florida breeze. I can’t wait.

I had every intention of writing a detailed post about what I’d miss, what I wouldn’t miss and everything I was looking forward to coming back to, but my last few weeks here really got away from me. I have a feeling I’ll have clearer vision of what it means and how it feels to be moving on to the next chapter once I’ve settled in back home anyway, so stay tuned for an update.

Thank you to everyone who followed my adventure and supportted me along this journey. And thank you, Korea, for giving me such an interesting year full of challenging yet fun and insightful times. I really will miss you and your kimchi.

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For winter break I traveled to Japan and met up with some friends for an awesome, although brief, trip. I flew to Osaka and took a train to Kyoto to meet Kinsey and Lars, who are currently living in Australia, as well as Shun and Charlie who were visiting from California and Washington. Lars lived in Japan during his college days and Shun is Japanese, so it was great having them help navigate, translate and take us to places we probably never would’ve gone had we not been with them.

We spent the majority of the time eating, drinking, and shopping, with a little bit of historical sightseeing mixed in. We used Airbnb to rent a place in Kyoto for two nights and a place in Osaka for two nights. Overall, I found Japan to be much cleaner and calmer than Korea, especially Kyoto. The food was equally delicious as Korea’s (except for the sushi, Japan wins in that department), and I was very happy to be able to drink tasty Japanese micro-brews (sorry, Korea, I’m way over your Cass and soju) and of course, sake.

I really hope to go back to Japan someday in the spring or summer. It was still beautiful in winter (despite the season, there was a lot of green foliage which reminded me somewhat of Seattle in the winter), but I imagine it to be even better when everything is in full bloom. Until then, I hope you enjoy this mass upload of photos.

I was so excited to meet up with Kinsey in Japan!

I was so excited to meet up with Kinsey in Japan!

The entrance to a typical Japanese house.

The entrance to a typical Japanese house.

A side street in Kyoto.

A side street in Kyoto.

The entrance to Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine in Kyoto.

The entrance to Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine in Kyoto.

Fushimi Inaari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inaari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha

The snazzy craft beer bar in Kyoto. They had 24 different beers on tap, all made in Japan.

The snazzy craft beer bar in Kyoto. They had 24 different beers on tap, all made in Japan.

Kinsey and Shun at an izakaya (a Japanese tapas style bar) offering all-you-can-drink for 90 minutes for just $12. It was a fun night.

Kinsey and Shun at an izakaya (a Japanese tapas style bar) offering all-you-can-drink for 90 minutes for just $12. It was a fun night.

Lars and Charlie

Lars and Charlie

A bike parking lot! Bikes are everywhere in Japan.

A bike parking lot! Bikes are everywhere in Japan.

We found a cat cafe in Osaka. Here's Kinsey's cat impression.

We found a cat cafe in Osaka. Here’s Kinsey’s cat impression.

An old sake vending machine in a cute neighborhood in Kyoto. We tried to buy a bottle, but it wasn't working.

An old sake vending machine in a cute neighborhood in Kyoto. We tried to buy a bottle, but it wasn’t working.

A vegetable vending machine! You can see broccoli in the bottom left corner. It seems they have vending machines for everything in Japan.

A vegetable vending machine! You can see broccoli in the bottom left corner. It seems they have vending machines for everything in Japan.

We found several excellent coffee shops in Kyoto, which was awesome because I'm a bit tired of Korean instant coffee. I also ordered what was described as "egg toast" which came slathered in ketchup. The boys ordered french toast that was amazing.

We found several excellent coffee shops in Kyoto, which was awesome because I’m a bit tired of Korean instant coffee. I also ordered what was described as “egg toast” which came slathered in ketchup. The boys ordered french toast that was amazing.

Dotonbori, Osaka

Dotonbori, Osaka

Conveyor belt sushi. Each plate was only $1.30 and it was delicious.

Conveyor belt sushi. Each plate was only $1.30 and it was delicious.

Shun took us to a restaurant in Osaka that is known for okonomiyaki (a type of savory pancake) that you cook at your table. You are given a bowl with all the ingredients which you mix up then put on your grill. They came with cabbage, onions, a batter of some sort, and egg and a type of meat (we tried one with pork, one with beef and one with seafood).

Shun took us to a restaurant in Osaka that is known for okonomiyaki (a type of savory pancake) that you cook at your table. You are given a bowl with all the ingredients which you mix up then put on your grill. They came with cabbage, onions, a batter of some sort, and egg and a type of meat (we tried one with pork, one with beef and one with seafood).

After the pancakes are cooked, you add a delicious sauce and katsuobushi (dried bonita fish flakes) to the top. The were so tasty!

After the pancakes are cooked, you add a delicious sauce and katsuobushi (dried bonita fish flakes) to the top. The were so tasty!

The woman that worked there was really sweet and liked posing for the camera.

The woman that worked there was really sweet and liked posing for the camera.

We also ordered yakisoba. It was so good.

We also ordered yakisoba. It was so good.

Dotonbori, Osaka. So many people!

Dotonbori, Osaka. So many people!

We tried out a purikura (a Japanese style photo both). Twice. They photo shop you so much that you look like completely different people. Then you can add all kinds of stickers and embellishments. We looked ridiculous. It was hilarious.

We tried out a purikura (a Japanese style photo both). Twice. They photo shop you so much that you look like completely different people. Then you can add all kinds of stickers and embellishments. We looked ridiculous. It was hilarious.

Takoyaki, a flour based pancake-like ball filled with octopus. Little stands selling them at all hours are all over Osaka.

Takoyaki, a flour based pancake-like ball filled with octopus. Little stands selling them at all hours are all over Osaka.

Making takoyaki.

Making takoyaki.

Kiyomizu-dera, an ancient Buddhist temple.

Kiyomizu-dera, an ancient Buddhist temple.

An old man yanked my camera from me when we were at Kiyomizu-dera and snapped quite a few photos of us. Had we not been in Japan, I would've thought he was trying to steal my camera.

An old man yanked my camera from me when we were at Kiyomizu-dera and snapped quite a few photos of us. Had we not been in Japan, I would’ve thought he was trying to steal my camera.

A temple at Kiyomizu-dera.

A temple at Kiyomizu-dera.

Kinsey and Lars rubbing the rock for good relationship luck.

Kinsey and Lars rubbing the rock for good relationship luck.

Udon with seaweed.

Udon with seaweed.

We stumbled upon this cool old bike in Kyoto.

We stumbled upon this cool old bike in Kyoto.

Walking around the Gion district in Kyoto.

Walking around the Gion district in Kyoto.

Gion, Kyoto

Gion, Kyoto

A zen garden with Buddha in the background.

A zen garden with Buddha in the background.

An old tea house.

An old tea house.

Charlie and the giant bamboo.

Charlie and the giant bamboo.

Bamboo

Bamboo

Bamboo roots.

Bamboo roots.

The largest fanny pack ever at a department store in Osaka.

The largest fanny pack ever at a department store in Osaka.

Delicious ramen with pork and a soft boiled egg. There were also bowls of fresh eggs on each table that you could crack into your ramen or on top of a bowl of rice.

Delicious ramen with pork and a soft boiled egg. There were also bowls of fresh eggs on each table that you could crack into your ramen or on top of a bowl of rice.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

View from the top of Osaka Castle.

View from the top of Osaka Castle.

The moat and wall around Osaka Castle.

The moat and wall around Osaka Castle.

Really excited about sushi!

Really excited about sushi!

More sushi.

More sushi.

Somewhere in Osaka.

Somewhere in Osaka.

Hanging out in our apartment in Osaka.

Hanging out in our apartment in Osaka.

I was recently given the opportunity to experience a temple stay program at Beopjusa, a beautiful Buddhist temple located in Songnisan National Park. Since 2002, temples throughout Korea have been offering this program to anyone interested, regardless of your background or religious beliefs, to experience the culture and gain a deeper understanding of Korean Buddhism. Usually they consist of one or two nights at the temple, following the schedule and simplistic routine of the monks and nuns that live there. It was a really great cultural experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Korea.

Upon arrival in the early afternoon on a Saturday, we were given temple clothes to wear (pants and a vest in a muted purple color) and assigned to rooms for our stay, which were quaint, clean and empty except for a few books on Buddhism and bedding piled in the closet. After settling in and taking note of the sign on the door which read, ‘Beware, wild boars have been seen roaming the temple yard!’ we were given a tour of Beopjusa. This was actually the third time I’d visited this temple—once in the spring, once in the fall and now the winter—and each time it has been equally beautiful. Originating in 553, almost all of Beopjusa was burned down during the Japanese invasions in 1592, but reconstructed in 1626. The oldest remaining written history of the temple grounds is dated 1630 and describes what existed before the Japanese invasions, mentioning 60 buildings, 10 stone structures and 70 hermitages. After reconstruction in 1626, there were only about 20 buildings. Since then, there have of course been many reconstruction and restoration efforts, making it a beautiful, spiritual space 1500 years after it was first erected (there’s your history lesson for today).

After roaming the grounds freely for a while, we were called to dinner which was eaten in silence. It was served buffet style and consisted of lots of vegetables, tofu, soybeans and rice, (Korean Buddhists don’t consume anything animal related). We were told it is very important that not even a grain of rice be wasted at the temple, as this is a way monastic practitioners show their thanks and gratitude for every aspect of food growth and preparation, so everyone was sure to only take what they would eat. After finishing the healthy meal, we washed and dried our own dishes and headed back out into the cold winter night for the evening chanting ritual in the temple with the resident monks. I felt lucky to be witnessing such a spiritual moment, although I must admit I couldn’t stop thinking about how cold my feet were (no shoes allowed) on the frozen temple floor. After my feet started to feel numb, we headed to the heated meditation hall to make paper lotus lanterns to wrap up the day. For monks, the day starts early and ends early. Lights out is strictly set at 9pm. I’d unintentionally stayed up way too late the night before, so going to bed that early wasn’t actually as hard as I thought it would be.

My alarm went off at 3am the next morning—that was hard. The day began with the morning chanting and drumming ritual at 3:20. Again, it was a beautiful sight, but wow, my hands and feet were so cold, not to mention it was so early! I was happy to learn we were heading back to the heated meditation hall afterwards for morning zen meditation. I have not spent much time practicing meditation, but after this experience I feel like it’s something I’d like to incorporate more of into my life. We started with 20 minutes, and I was surprised to find it went by rather quickly. We were instructed to count to 10 continuously, focusing on our breath, pushing any thoughts that entered our minds away. It was not easy, but I felt very refreshed afterwards. Following the meditation practice, we did 108 prostrations, or bows, of repentance. The idea behind this, especially first thing in the morning, is that it helps your body and consciousness become one. Each bow, corresponding to 108 compartments of the mind, was in unison to an audio recording in English, reminding our humble selves what we can do to realize our “true self”. Let me tell you, 108 prostrations is quite a workout for both the mind and body.

After breakfast, which was basically the same as dinner, we participated in a traditional tea ceremony lead by the first female monk to live at Beopjusa (she also lead us through the meditation and prostrations). She was so kind and her English was excellent. Before heading outside into the woods for a long walk and walking meditation exercise, she lead a very intriguing question and answer session. She revealed that she was raised Christian and it took some time for her family to accept her decision to become a monk. Now, here she is, making history as the first female to reside at this temple.

While I only spent roughly 24 hours at Beopjusa, I walked away feeling very calm and revitalized. There is something very restorative about the quietness and simplicity of life on temple grounds. I wouldn’t mind trying whole experience all over again, except next time I’d pick a warmer season.

The entrance to Beopjusa.

The entrance to Beopjusa.

Our rooms were in the building on the right, a fairly recent addition to the temple grounds.

Our rooms were in the building on the right, a recent addition to the temple grounds.

Palsangjeon is the oldest and tallest wooden pagoda in Korea.

Palsangjeon is the oldest and tallest wooden pagoda in Korea.

The outside of the temple where the chanting rituals took place.

The outside of the temple where the chanting rituals took place.

The giant, 108 feet tall gilded bronze Buddha was covered up during the temple stay, I assume for restoration purposes. This picture was taken in the fall.

The giant gilded bronze Buddha was covered up during the temple stay, I assume for restoration purposes. This picture was taken in the fall.

Beneath the giant Buddha rest hundreds, perhaps thousands, of smaller statues of Buddha.

Beneath the giant Buddha rest hundreds, perhaps thousands, of smaller statues of Buddha.

We made lotus flower lanterns out of rice paper.

We made lotus flower lanterns out of rice paper. The lotus flower, which blooms from muddy waters, represents purification, faithfulness and enlightenment.

The morning drumming and chanting began at 3:20am.

The morning drumming and chanting began at 3:20am.

The first female monk to ever live at Beopjusa, about to lead us on a walking meditation through the woods.

The first female monk to ever live at Beopjusa, about to lead us on a walking meditation through the woods.

The walking meditation path.

The walking meditation path.

Sunim (the title for a Korean Buddhist monk) showed us the customary way to make, serve and enjoy tea.

Sunim (the title for a Korean Buddhist monk) showed us the customary way to make, serve and enjoy tea.

A cold, tranquil day at Songnisan National Park.

A cold, tranquil day at Songnisan National Park.

I caught myself comparing my life to others as I was reflecting on 2014. It’s not a healthy thing to do, I know this, but with social media it’s sometimes hard not to. I love seeing what friends are up to and it’s certainly a good way to stay in touch and share the joys of life when you’re separated by mountains and oceans, but at times it has caused me to question where I’m at in my life. This past year, my Facebook and Instagram feeds were full of marriages, engagements, babies, new home ownership and career success—all things that don’t appear to be in the near future for me but are currently happening for everyone my age, or so it seems.

2014 did not pan out the way I’d envisioned it to at all. Most people can probably say that, however. It was exciting, challenging, scary, frustrating, and at times quite lonely (the cockroaches I’ve been sharing my apartment with aren’t very good company). I moved to Korea without preparing myself for what would happen if I didn’t love living here. The possibility of not loving it just didn’t cross my mind. I don’t mean for that to sound like I haven’t enjoyed myself, because I really have, and I’m incredibly grateful for my experiences here. In no way do I regret the decision to pack up, sell everything and move here. I still sometimes wonder why and how I even got here, but I’m glad I did, despite all of the unexpected difficulties.

The other day I received an email from a friend who mentioned how much respect they had for me for being so bold and adventurous. It’s funny how much a simple statement like that can mean. Bold is not a word I would use to describe myself, and it’s like it made me suddenly realize whoa, I totally moved to the other side of the world. I’ve received plenty of encouragement from my family and from David and those that read this blog (thanks, guys 😉 ), but something about hearing those words from a friend far removed while I’d just been thinking to myself I could have been a stronger person this past year, made me feel pretty good. I did not accomplish or experience the things my friends did last year, or perhaps it’s just the things I’m longing for, but I do think my year was equally great in a very different way.

This year I will always remember to focus on living my unique, extraordinary life. I will appreciate the here and now and what is right before me. My time in Korea will come to an end in just over 6 weeks, and a lot of unknown lies ahead as I face living in a new city and begin the search for a new job, possibly a new career. I am trusting that my life will pan out as it’s meant to, and I will savor each chapter along the way.  2015, I am ready for you. I have a feeling it’ll be a good year.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Korea is the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday, so that means I had the day off, yay! It was a little hard being so far from loved ones, but I managed to enjoy my day anyway. I had brunch with a few friends, then I spent the rest of the day relaxing and watching movies.

My apologies for the lack of posts lately. I’ve been a little under the weather and have been a bit lazy…more posts to come soon! In the meantime, here are a few photos from the past few weeks.

On the last day of classes for the semester at my small school, I had the students make Christmas cards for their parents and homeroom teacher. They surprised me by making them for me instead. So sweet.

I was showered with holiday love from my students.

My living room was quite cozy on Christmas. The previous teacher that lived here left a tree behind for me to decorate and get in the Christmas spirit.

My living room was quite cozy on Christmas. The English teacher that lived here last year left a tree behind for me to decorate and get in the Christmas spirit.

The great thing about my small school is having very small classes. The third graders are the cutest.

The great thing about my rural school is having very small classes. The third graders are the cutest.

Here I am with the fifth graders. We decided to have a photo shoot on the last day of classes.

Here I am with the fifth graders. They love pictures.

I have much larger classes at my main school. This is one of my 4th grade classes. They all wanted to stand next to me in the picture so I got squished in the middle.

I have much larger classes at my main school. This is one of my 4th grade classes (the smallest of the classes at this school). They all wanted to stand next to me in the picture so I got squished in the middle.

Its been very cold lately. It was 8 degrees on this particular morning. I hate the cold but must admit the dusting of ice and snow made the view that morning quite beautiful.

Its been very cold lately. It was 8 degrees (Fahrenheit) on this particular morning. I hate the cold but must admit the dusting of ice and snow made the view that day quite beautiful.

This is the view from my office. I had no idea it was going to snow so often here.

This is the view from my office. I had no idea it was going to snow so often here.

I went on a temple stay last weekend (more on that later) and this sign was on the door of my room. I have yet to see any "wild animals" in this country.

I went on a temple stay last weekend (more on that later) and this sign was on the door of my room. I have yet to see any “wild animals” in this country.

Palsangjeon in the sunlight at Beopjusa Temple.

Palsangjeon in the sunlight at Beopjusa Temple.

Beopjusa Temple

Beopjusa Temple, Songnisan National Park

Beopjusa Temple

I’ve been to this temple multiple times. Winter seems to be the only time it’s not cluttered with people.

Look at the size of those icicles!

Look at the size of those icicles!

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”  -Anne Bradstreet

It’s technically still fall, but I woke up to five inches of snow on Wednesday and declared it winter.  That means I’ve entered the fourth season of the year in Korea, and I think this one might be the most difficult.  I really dislike being cold, and that’s particularly unfortunate in a country where I’m a teacher and heating is not generously provided in public schools.  This week the temperature has been in the upper teens and low 20s (Fahrenheit) which feels particularly harsh when I just can’t warm up.  The hallways, cafeteria, and bathrooms are not heated at all, and the heat (which was finally turned on two weeks ago) is stuck at a very low setting in my classroom.  I will remain bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves all day long for the next several months.

Being so far away from loved ones during the holidays also makes this time of year a bit of a struggle.  I worked through Thanksgiving (although I did eat some turkey with friends from around the world a few days later) and for Christmas I have the day off, but I will have to go to work in the icebox they call school the day before and after.  The good news is I have underfloor heating in my apartment and lots of yarn to knit with so I can improve my knitting skills.  I also recently found Christmas lights to string around my apartment which means I don’t have to use the hideous overhead fluorescent lighting all the time!  It’s certainly not the same as curling up in front of a cozy fireplace, but it does add a little bit of warmth to the atmosphere that I’ve been craving since getting here.

Thankfully, I have some delightful students that love winter and know how to cheer me up on bleak winter days.  I also know that I can look forward to next year when I’ll be closer to my dear friends and family.  Until then, I’m going to eat a lot of kimchi jjigae, teach myself how to knit a hat, and continue to be grateful for the opportunity to experience a year in Korea, even if it means missing the holidays and constantly shivering.

The view from my apartment on Wednesday morning.

The view from my apartment on Wednesday morning.

When I got to school, the students were already hard at work shoveling.

When I got to school, the students were already hard at work shoveling.

"Emily Teacher, I'm going to throw this snowball at you, ok?"

“Emily Teacher, I’m going to throw this snowball at you, ok?”

Happy students playing in the snow.

Happy and totally oblivious to the cold.

This is when I realized why they were so happy about shoveling. They couldn't wait to build and igloo.

This is when I realized why they were so happy about shoveling. They couldn’t wait to build an igloo!

 

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Lanterns on the Namgang River at the Jinju Lantern Festival.

 

Chokseongnu Pavilion in Jinju

Chokseongnu Pavilion in Jinju

View from Sujeong Mountain in Eumseong.

View from Sujeong Mountain in Eumseong.

This is a fortress wall in Eumseong. It was originally built as an earthen fortification during the Three Kingdoms Period (4th-7th century). It was rebuilt with stone during the early Joseon Period in the 1500s.

This is a fortress wall in Eumseong that was originally built as an earthen fortification during the Three Kingdoms Period (4th-7th century). It was rebuilt with stone during the early Joseon Period in the 1500s.

Flashback to summer camp when my students tried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the first time. They weren't quite sure what to think.

Flashback to summer camp when my students tried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the first time. They weren’t quite sure what to think.

These children are playing a traditional Korean game called tuho, where arrows or sticks are thrown into a canister. It is said to have originated in China and was played among royal and higher class families.

These children are playing a traditional Korean game called tuho, where arrows or sticks are thrown into a canister. It is said to have originated in China and was played among royal and higher class families.

Lanterns in the daylight at the Jinju Lantern Festival.

Lanterns in the daylight at the Jinju Lantern Festival.

Tunnel of love at the Jinju Lantern Festival.

Tunnel of love in Jinju.

Lanterns at the Jinju Lantern Festival.

Handmade lanterns in Jinju.

Lanterns and fireworks.

Fireworks at the Jinju Lantern Festival.

The staff at my small school has been playing volleyball against the staff at nearby schools on Wednesdays. Volleyball, like many events in Korea, is of course accompanied by food and alcohol. This happens at 3 in the afternoon when students are still at school. A little different that school activities back home.

The staff at my small school (myself included) have been playing volleyball against the staff at nearby schools on Wednesdays. Volleyball, like many events in Korea, is of course accompanied by food and alcohol. This happens at 3 in the afternoon when students are still at school. I can’t say that I’ve gotten used to it yet.

A persimmon tree

A persimmon tree at Seonunsa Temple.

Knowing my students like me puts a smile on my face.

Knowing my students like me puts a smile on my face.

The last of the leaves hang on for dear life.

The last of the leaves hang on for dear life.

It’s no surprise hiking is really popular in Korea considering 70 percent of the country is comprised of mountains.  There are 21 national parks in South Korea, which seems like a lot considering the country is the size of Indiana. Jirisan was the first to be designated in 1967, and the Korea National Park Service was established in 1987.  Knowing the park service was formed in 1916 in the United States, it’s a relatively new concept here in Korea.  From what I’ve seen so far, the KNPS does an excellent job of maintaining them.

While I’ve only been to three of the national parks so far, there are several things I’ve observed each time I’ve gone hiking.  One of the first things I noticed was not about the mountains or trails themselves, but the hikers.  I have yet to see a Korean on a hiking trail that isn’t decked out in the latest brightly colored hiking gear, head to toe, with matching backpacks and trekking poles.  The difficulty of the hike doesn’t seem to matter, it’s all about the gear.  Appearance is a really big part of Korean culture, so this isn’t shocking, but I’m still amazed by how much time and money they seem to put into their hiking outfits.  This explains why there are so many outdoor apparel shops throughout Korea.

The first time I went hiking in Korea I wondered why I saw so many people carrying 50+ liter backpacks on a day hike. Then I reached the summit and discovered clumps of people scattered about, all huddling around gigantic spreads of food, rice wine and soju.  I’ve learned that hiking in this country is not complete without a feast on the mountain.  I assume this is why there are so many “rest stops” along trails that are basically roadside restaurants, just in case you didn’t bring enough food or drink with you.  My peanut butter and jelly sandwich and bag of apple slices seemed quite pathetic after seeing so many elaborate mountaintop picnics.  The food lover in me really likes this aspect of hiking in Korea.

As a native Coloradoan and former resident of Washington, I can say the mountains in Korea seem a little puny in comparison to 14,000 foot peaks.  However, I don’t think Korea knows about the secret of switchbacks.  They prefer to just plow straight up the mountain making many of the hikes here a bit strenuous.  This is where I should mention the majority of hikers I see here are older.  And by that I mean it’s rare to see people under 40 taking pleasure in day hiking (not that 40 is old, but I’ve hardly seen anyone in their 20s or 30s on the trails here, unlike what I’m used to seeing back home).

Claustrophobic is not a term I ever thought I would associate with hiking.  That is, until I went on a few fall hikes in Korea.  There have been times when the trail has been so crowded there’s been no where to go and no way to get around all of the people.  I have actually been pushed and shoved on crowded trails here, and I have had to wait in line to finish hiking the last half kilometer to the summit because there are so many people.  I’ve also nearly had my eye poked out more than once by other people’s trekking poles while trying to navigate through what I decided to call hiking jams.  It’s great to see so many people being active and taking advantage of the outdoors, but didn’t we all come here to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, to listen to the trees blow in the wind, to be quiet with nature and our own thoughts?  There have been a few instances where I’ve felt just as stressed about being on a mountain side as I have in an overly packed subway car.  Perhaps I’ve just chosen the most popular trails during the most popular hiking season a few too many times.  I also rely on public transit to get me places, making it harder to access spots that are a little more off the beaten path.  Thankfully, not all of my hiking experiences have been this way, but more than I’d like have been.

In the end, no matter how crowded the trail is or how under-dressed I feel, no matter how big or small the mountain is, it always feels good to conquer it.  I hope to climb a few more before before my time in Korea comes to an end.

A crowded day on Munjangdae Peak in Songnisan National Park. The highest point of this peak is off in the distance where you can see a line of hikers.

A crowded day at Munjangdae Peak in Songnisan National Park.

Hikers feasting in Songnisan National Park.

Hikers feasting in Songnisan National Park.

Extreme picnicking,

Extreme picnicking.

A rest stop in the middle of a trail on a quiet day in Songnisan National Park.

A rest stop in the middle of a trail on a quiet day in Songnisan National Park.

Day hikers making their way up to eat and drink on the mountaintop.

Day hikers making their way up to eat and drink on the mountaintop.

Another crowded day of hiking, this time at Naejangsan National Park.

Another crowded day of hiking, this time in Naejangsan National Park.

Several peaks I've hiked have ended with stairs leading to the top of a rock. This is in Seoraksan National Park.

Several peaks I’ve hiked here have ended with stairs leading to the top of a rock. This is in Seoraksan National Park.

Bulchubong Peak, Naejangsan National Park

Bulchubong Peak, Naejangsan National Park

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park

Naejangsan National Park

Naejangsan National Park

 

 

Walking through a bamboo forest in Damyang.

Walking through a bamboo forest in Damyang.

This woman is making one of my favorite Korean street food snacks called hotteok. It's a pancake filled with brown sugar or honey and cinnamon. This is a special kind of hotteok made with bamboo which is why it's slightly green.

This woman is making one of my favorite Korean street food snacks called hotteok. It’s a pancake filled with brown sugar (or sometimes honey) and cinnamon. This is a special kind of hotteok made with bamboo which is why it’s slightly green.

David and the South Sea, Jeju Island

David and the South Sea, Jeju Island

View of Chungbuk, the province I live in, from the air. This was on the flight from Jeju Island to Cheongju.

View of Chungbuk, the province I live in, from the air. This was on the flight from Jeju Island to Cheongju.

A burst of color at Naejangsan National Park.

A burst of color at Naejangsan National Park.

Fall hiking in Naejangsan National Park.

Fall hiking in Naejangsan National Park.

A fall stroll through Seonunsan Provincial Park.

Strolling through Seonunsan Provincial Park.

Sinsido Island, looking out towards the West Sea (aka Yellow Sea).

Sinsido Island, looking out towards the West Sea (aka Yellow Sea).

Sneaking in a selfie on a Sinsido Island hike.

Sneaking in a selfie on a Sinsido Island hike.

A persimmon tree in Seonunsan Provincial Park. I had no idea these trees were so talll! I also hadn't ever tried a persimmon until recently. They're really sweet and delicious.

A persimmon tree in Seonunsan. I had no idea these trees were so talll! I also hadn’t ever tried a persimmon until recently. They’re really sweet and delicious.

More fall colors at Seonunsan Provincial Park.

More fall colors at Seonunsan Provincial Park.

Grilled eel which I ate wrapped in a perilla leaf with rice and garlic. So good.

Grilled eel which I ate wrapped in a perilla leaf with rice and garlic. So good!

Early morning at Gusipo Beach.

Early morning at Gusipo Beach.

I walk down this sidewalk every day to get to my apartment. The pretty leaves are almost all gone now.

I walk down this sidewalk every day to get to my apartment. The pretty leaves are almost all gone now.

Fall in Eumseong.

Fall in Eumseong.

Summer Vacation Part 4

I was really excited to go to Jeju, South Korea’s largest island.  I couldn’t wait to see the blue skies, warm sunshine, beautiful beaches and the palm trees.  We were saving the best for last on our summer vacation…or so we thought.  Mother Nature decided we still hadn’t seen enough rain yet.  It rained, I mean poured, all but 30 minutes of our three day visit. No exaggeration.  I’d like to say the weather didn’t stop us from doing everything we wanted, but it did.  We were still able to have a great time, we just didn’t see nearly as much as we’d hoped and there certainly wasn’t any beach time.  Perhaps just another reason to go back someday.

Jeju is accessible by ferry (about 10 hours, depending on which port you depart from) or a short flight from one of Korea’s  airports.  We chose the latter and took a 40 minute flight from Busan.  We had difficulty deciding where to stay on the island since we wanted to see quite a few different things that were spread out over the island, and we knew we’d be using public transit.  In the end we went with The Forest Hostel in Jeju City.  While we had an okay stay at this hostel, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.  Our room had an endless supply of giant, hungry mosquitoes and it smelled like a pile of dirty, damp towels.  But, there was a nice common room and the owners were pleasant.

The unfortunate thing about using public transportation (buses) on Jeju is that is takes several hours, one way, to get to the other side of the island, and many of the sites we wanted to see were not within close proximity to each other.  We tried to be strategic about making an itinerary since we were a little restricted by bus timetables, but the crummy weather made it even more challenging than anticipated (mostly because we found ourselves getting tired of being wind blown and soaking wet).  We planned on hiking Hallasan, South Korea’s tallest peak (yeah, yeah, it’s only 6,397 feet high but it’s still a mountain), but we opted not to due to really strong winds, sideways rain and lightning.  Instead, we went underground and explored Manjanggul Cave, one of the most impressive lava tube systems in the world, and checked out some of the beautiful Jeju Olle Trails that go around the perimeter of the island.  Oh, and cannon balls into the sea as well.

Surprisingly, we didn’t indulge in seafood on this leg of the trip.  We were on an island and didn’t eat seafood, really? Yes, really.  We decided we’d splurged enough on fresh seafood in Gyeongpo, and after trying Jeju’s famous black pig barbecue on our first night (a species on Jeju known to be more tender than others), we decided it was so good we had to go back the next night too.

Even though the trip didn’t go as planned and we didn’t get to cross everything off the list, it was still unforgettable and an excellent experience (largely do to a great travel companion).  I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

Welcome to Jeju Island.

Welcome to beautiful Jeju Island.

Dol hareubangs (roughly meaning stone grandfather), which are statues carved from volcanic rock, can be spotted all over Jeju. Traditionally, they were carved and placed at village entrances to provide protection.

Dol hareubangs (roughly meaning stone grandfather), which are statues carved from volcanic rock, can be spotted all over Jeju. Traditionally, they were carved and placed at village entrances to provide protection.

The trailhead for Jeju Olle #1.  There's a stamp inside the box which you can use to stamp your Jeju Olle "passport".

The trailhead for Jeju Olle #1. There’s a stamp inside the box at the bginning of each trail which you can use to stamp your Jeju Olle “passport”.

Fields and wild horses along Jeju Olle #1.

Fields and wild horses along Jeju Olle #1.

This is when we had a 30 minute break from the rain.

This is when we had a 30 minute break from the rain.

The dirt/mud on the island was such a brilliant color.

The dirt/mud on the island was such a brilliant color.

More of trail #1. I love how green it was.

More of trail #1. I love how green it was.

View of Seongsan Ilchulbong from trail #1.

View of Seongsan Ilchulbong from trail #1.

Somewhere along trail #1.

Somewhere along trail #1.

The Jeju Olle Trails are marked with these blue and red ribbons.

The Jeju Olle Trails are marked with these blue and red ribbons.

The coastline in Seogwipo.

The coastline in Seogwipo.

We hung out under this pavilion for a while to see if the storm might pass. Nope, it was there to stay for several days.

We hung out under this pavilion for a while to see if the storm might pass. Nope, it was there to stay for several days.

Rain, rain, go away.

Lucky for us, cheap ponchos were for sale everywhere.

We stumbled upon this swim spot (the rain didn't seem to keep many people away) in Seogwipo.

Despite the rain, we stumbled upon this swimming hole in Seogwipo.

Panorama of the lagoons near Oedolgae Rock in Seogwipo.

Panorama of the lagoons near Oedolgae Rock in Seogwipo.

David doing a cannon ball into the lagoon near Oedolgae Rock.

David doing a cannon ball into the lagoon near Oedolgae Rock.

Enjoying the beautiful weather.

Enjoying the beautiful weather.

What rain?

What rain?

Oedolgae Rock stands 65 feet tall and was formed by a volcanic eruption 1.5 million years ago. According to legend, an old woman became the rock after waiting for her husband who went out to sea to fish and never returned.

Oedolgae Rock stands 65 feet above what is usually turquoise water (but not on this day due to the storms moving though). It was formed by a volcanic eruption 1.5 million years ago. According to legend, an old woman became the rock after waiting for her husband who went out to sea to fish and never returned.

A young Korean guy offered to take our picture. We didn't realize it was going to be a mini photo shoot. He took at least 20 photos from different angles.

A young Korean guy offered to take our picture. We didn’t realize it was going to be a mini photo shoot. He took at least 20 photos from all different angles.

Black pork street.

Black pork street where you can find an abundance of restaurants specializing in Jeju’s black pig.

I think David was very happy about this Korean barbecue experience.

I think David was very happy about this Korean barbecue experience.

Mmmm. Mushrooms, pork, kimchi, garlic, and bean sprouts sizzling right at our table.

Mmmm. Mushrooms, pork, kimchi, garlic, and bean sprouts sizzling right at our table.

When ordering bokkembap (fried rice), they use the bits of remaining meat, garlic, kimchi and onions that are on the grill and mix it with rice right at your table. They'll usually add dried seaweed as well.

When ordering bokkembap (fried rice), they use the bits of remaining meat, garlic, kimchi and onions that are on the grill and mix it with rice right at your table. They usually add dried seaweed as well. Also, you’ll notice he’s using scissors, the knife of Korea.

Testing the fried rice. It was delicious!

Testing the fried rice. It was delicious!

Exploring the Manjanggul Lava Tube.

Exploring Manjanggul Cave.

The underground lava tube.

Inside the lava tube.

A lava formation that looks a bit like a mushroom in Manjanggul Cave.

A lava formation that looks a bit like a mushroom in Manjanggul Cave.

Formation at the end of the lava tube (or at least the part that was open to tourists).

Formation at the end of the lava tube (or at least the part that was open to tourists).

More Korean barbecue because it tasted so good the first night.

More Korean barbecue because it tasted so good the first night.

Jeju is known for mandarins, tangerines and hallabongs (a cross between and orange and a tangerine).

Jeju is known for mandarins, tangerines and hallabongs (a cross between an orange and a tangerine).

Squid and giant plates of really cheap sashimi at the fish market near our hostel.

Squid and giant plates of really cheap sashimi at the fish market near our hostel.

We got some game time in while drinking tangerine flavored makgeoli in the common room of our hostel because, well, it was still raining.

We got some game time in while drinking tangerine flavored makgeoli in the common room of our hostel because, well, it was still raining.