One of the things I love about Korea is the sense of community built around food and the interactivity that happens right at the dinner table.  Many meals are “family style” where dishes are shared and cooked on your tabletop.  Korean barbecue is one of those meals and one that I never get tired of.  Samgyeopsal, which is pork belly, is the quintessential cut of meat for Korean barbecue.  It’s ordered by the gram, usually 100-200 per person, and is brought to your table raw, unseasoned and un-marinated.  That may sound a bit boring, but once it starts sizzling on the gas or charcoal grill built into your table, you won’t be disappointed.

Samgyeopsal is always served with ssamjang (a thick dipping sauce made with red pepper paste and fermented soybean paste) and either a little bowl of course salt or a sesame oil and salt combination.  Once the pork is nice and crispy on the outside, I like to dip it in the two and wrap it up in a lettuce or perilla leaf which are also always served with samgyeopsal.  I also like to add garlic, cloves of which are grilled at your table alongside the pork.  Sometimes grilled kimchi is a nice addition as well.  Like all Korean meals, an array of banchan (side dishes) will be brought to your table along with the samgyeopsal, kimchi, garlic and lettuce.  Typically you’ll get a soup, pickled radish, onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and some marinated seaweed, among other things.  It varies from place to place, but they’re always free with your meal and refillable at no extra cost.

Usually one person in your dinner party takes charge of the grill at your table.  I’ve had a few different experiences in terms of how much the staff help out, however.  The first time David came to visit I was so excited to share a traditional Korean barbecue meal with him, but we were both disappointed when the woman working there wouldn’t leave our table.  She just stood there, manning the grill until all the meat was cooked (at the time I was still fairly new to Korea and didn’t know how to politely ask her to leave and let us grill our own meat).  That is the only time I’ve had the staff babysit the grill like that, though.  Most of the time they leave you to do it on your own, or they might step in and flip your meat over if they see you’ve left it too long on one side.  Either way, if you feel like you do need help or a refill of some sort, you can call the staff over by simply pushing a button at your table.

I suppose some people might not enjoy the aspect of cooking your own food at a restaurant.  Isn’t not having to do the cooking the point of going out for dinner?  For some, maybe.  I happen to love the communal, interactive dining experience, and the fact that I don’t have to wash any of the dishes afterwards makes it even better.

A Korean barbecue experience with samgyeopsal.

A Korean barbecue experience with samgyeopsal.

When ordering samgyeopsal, it's served raw for you took cook on the grill at your table.

When ordering samgyeopsal, it’s served raw for you took cook on the grill at your table.

This not a picture of samgyeopsal, it's beef, but it's cooked and consumed in the same way samgyeopsal is. Notice she's using scissors to cut the meat. Scissors are knives in Korea.

This not a picture of samgyeopsal, it’s beef, but it’s cooked and consumed in the same way samgyeopsal is. Notice she’s using scissors to cut the meat. Scissors are knives in Korea.

Korean barbecue usually goes hand in hand with soju and beer. Soju is a distilled, vodka-like liquor that is usually made from rice, and a 375ml bottle only costs $1-3.

Korean barbecue typically goes hand in hand with soju and beer. Soju is a distilled, vodka-like liquor that is usually made from rice, and a 375ml bottle only costs $1-3.

A perfectly crisp piece of samgyeopsal.

A perfectly crisp piece of samgyeopsal.

Depending on the type of grill at the restaurant, you can order rice to be fried up with the lefter bits and pieces of meat, kimchi and garlic. It's so good!

Depending on the type of grill at the restaurant, you can order rice to be fried up with the leftover bits and pieces of meat, kimchi and garlic. It’s so good!

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.

Shabu Shabu is not a traditional Korean dish, it’s Japanese.  Actually, the idea originates from Chinese hot pot dishes, but it is very popular in Korea (not to mention delicious and healthy), so I had to share.  There are various kinds of shabu shabu, but what you will always find at these restaurants is a pot of boiling stock in the middle of your table, to which you’ll add an array of vegetables and then cook your meat in it.  Sometimes there is also a grill along the outside of the pot for cooking meat, and at Vietnamese style shabu shabu restaurants you’ll find rice paper on the table to wrap up your meat and vegetables and then dip in various sauces.

The important thing to remember when going to a shabu shabu restaurant is you must bring a big appetite because you will eat a lot (the first time I experienced this meal I could barely walk home, I was that full).  This is because there are several “courses” involved, and it’s hard to stop eating when it tastes so good.  You begin by choosing a set of meat which will automatically come with loads of vegetables, plus noodles and rice.  You’ll also get a variety of traditional Korean side dishes (called banchan).  Originally, this dish was made with thinly sliced beef, which you only need to briefly dip in the stock to cook, but you will also see pork, duck, and seafood listed as options in meat sets.

One of the things I love about this meal is how beautiful it is, especially right when they begin arranging all the dishes on your table.  I tried to capture it on camera, but I found that a little hard to do because I was so distracted by the deliciousness.

The beautiful spread.

The colorful spread of vegetables.

The pink water is for softening the rice paper. I have yet to find out what they put in the water to make it pink.

The pink water is for softening the rice paper (I have yet to find out what they put in the water to make it pink). You can also see the meat set we ordered at this restaurant which is thinly sliced pork and beef.

The choice of meat for this occasion was thinly sliced beef and duck.

On another occasion, we chose thinly sliced beef and duck.

A Chinese version of shabu shabu. We had two different broths at this restaurant, one of which was really spicy.

This is a Chinese version of shabu shabu. We had two different broths at this restaurant, one of which was really spicy.

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The name shabu shabu is said to be an onomatopoeia for the sound the meat makes when being cooked in the broth. Here we cooked the duck on the grill and the thinly sliced beef in the pot.

After dipping this rice paper in warm water to soften it, you pile on some meat and vegetables of your choosing.

After dipping this rice paper in warm water to soften it, you pile on some meat and vegetables of your choosing.

Then you wrap it up and dip it into one of the sauces. So good!

Then you wrap it up and dip it into one of the sauces. So good!

After you finish the meat, you add noodles to the remaining broth.

After you finish the meat, you add noodles to the remaining broth and enjoy some noodle soup.

Finally, you add rice and an egg to soak up the last of the broth. Now you are extremely full.

Finally, you add rice and an egg to soak up the last of the broth. Now you are extremely full.

The beautiful spread.

Ready to do it all over again?

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.

Munjangdae Peak, Songnisan National Park

Munjangdae Peak, Songnisan National Park

I went hiking in Songnisan National Park last weekend to catch some of the fall foliage.

I went hiking in Songnisan National Park last weekend to catch some of the fall foliage.

Munjandae Peak, Songnisan National Park

Munjangdae, Songnisan National Park

Beopjusa

Maitreya Buddha stands 33 meters high at Beopjusa Temple.

Songnisan National Park

It was a busy day at Songnisan National Park.

I found this cool little guy just hanging out at the temple.

I found this cool little guy just hanging out at the temple.

Beopjusa Temple

Beopjusa Temple

Women selling dried goods outside the entrance to Songnisan National Park.

Women selling goods outside the entrance to Songnisan National Park.

Fall is such a beautiful season.

Fall is such a beautiful season.

While taking a walk in Eumseong last weekend I spotted zucchini clinging to a power line.

While taking a walk in Eumseong last weekend, I spotted some zucchini clinging to a power line.

It's time to harvest the rice. That means winter is coming.

It’s time to harvest the rice. That means winter is coming.

Summer Vacation Part 4

If I were to choose to live in a big city in Korea, I think I would pick Busan. While it’s the second largest city in the country, it has much more of a laid back feel than Seoul. I particularly love its proximity to the sea. David and I spent three days there on our summer vacation and once again, a large chunk of our time was spent at the beach. It rained so much over the course of our two week adventure, so we took advantage of any chance we had to soak up the sun.

We stayed at a guesthouse in the district of Haeundae, which is located in the southeastern part of the city and known for its nightlife and beautiful beach of the same name. A lot of places are more expensive in this area, especially during “beach season”, but we found a really good deal on a private room at Pobi Guesthouse. Upon arriving, we were pleasantly surprised to found out that it wasn’t exactly a private room, but an entire apartment in a building around the corner from the guesthouse! I believe we were the first people they rented it to, as they said it had just be renovated. In addition to being across the street from the beach, it was cute, spotless and had a kitchen and washer. It was definitely an upgrade from the Gangneung beach motel, to say the least.

My friend Astrid, who was my roommate during my ten day orientation when I first arrived in Korea, lives in Busan and happily showed us a good time. After spending our first full day at Haeundae Beach with her and her friends, we went out for a delicious Korean barbecue for dinner, followed by a tour Gwangalli Beach at night. The next day we ate juicy burgers for lunch (I was craving Western food, something you can’t get in my rural town) and then went to Jagalchi Fish Market and Busan Tower. To end it, we enjoyed a very generous amount of makgeoli, which is a type of alcohol made from rice.

There is so much more to see in Busan, I’m sure. It’s located about three hours by train from my town, so I look forward to going back again soon to see more of what the city has to offer.

Haeundae Beach

Haeundae Beach

Haeundae Beach

Haeundae is probably the most popular beach in Korea during the summer, so you don’t go here to escape the crowds. We certainly enjoyed it on this sunny day, however.

A panorama of Haeundae. Photo by David.

A panorama of Haeundae. (Photo by David)

David picked up a few tubes. We couldn't resist the fun we were seeing people have in the water.

David picked up a few tubes. We couldn’t resist the fun we were seeing people have in the water.

Why not build a sand castle?

Why not build a sand castle?

The water wasn't as cold as I expected it to be. It was quite refreshing.

The water wasn’t as cold as I expected it to be. It was quite refreshing.

As we sat admiring our work, we decided it definitely wasn't the best sand castle ever built. People kept stopping to take photos of it, however, giving us the thumbs up. I guess if was a fine day's work after all.

As we sat admiring our work, we decided it definitely wasn’t the best sand castle ever built. People kept stopping to take photos, however, giving us the thumbs up. I guess it was a fine day’s work after all.

This little girl really wanted to destroy our sand castle. It was adorable.

This little girl really wanted to destroy our sand castle. It was adorable.

We had some good laughs playing games on the beach with Astrid and her friends. I'm pretty sure this game is meant for six-year-olds, but we proved that adults can have fun playing it too.

We had some good laughs playing games on the beach with Astrid and her friends. I’m pretty sure this game is meant for six-year-olds, but we proved that adults can have fun playing it too.

The beach was almost empty by sunset.

The beach was almost empty by sunset.

View of Busan and Nampo Port from Busan Tower.

View of Busan and Nampo Port from Busan Tower.

Another view from Busan Tower. So many buildings!

Another view from Busan Tower. So many buildings!

There are so many cheesy photo ops in Korea. This one is at Busan Tower, with confessions of love locked to the fence in the background.

There are so many cheesy photo ops in Korea. This one is at Busan Tower, with confessions of love locked to the fence behind us.

Nampo Port

Nampo Port

The Jagalchi Fish Market is huge! The rows and rows of stalls seemed to go on forever.

The Jagalchi Fish Market is huge! The rows and rows of stalls seemed to go on forever.

So many tentacles. They look a bit crowded, don't you think?

So many tentacles. They look a bit crowded, don’t you think?

Look at the size of those prawns!

Look at the size of those prawns!

Shellfish, anyone?

Shellfish, anyone?

There were many things at this market I could not identify.

There were many things at this market I could not identify.

There is a huge dining area in the market as well where you can enjoy the freshly caught fish either cooked or raw.

There is a huge dining area in the market as well where you can enjoy the freshly caught fish either cooked or raw.

I think this guy is trying to escape.

I think this guy is trying to escape.

More fish.

More fish.

Is it just me, or is that lobster giant?

Is it just me, or is that lobster giant?

Astrid, David and I outside Jagalchi Market at Nampo Port.

Astrid, David and I outside Jagalchi Market at Nampo Port.

Astrid took us to her favorite place for flavored makgeoli (Korean alcohol made from rice). I believe this was taken while consuming our third pitcher.

Astrid took us to her favorite place for flavored makgeoli (Korean alcohol made from rice). I believe this was taken while consuming our third pitcher.

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Panorama of Gwangalli Beach and the Gwangan Bridge. (Photo by David)

There are days when I wonder how I got here. I wonder how I came to the decision to quit my good job, get rid of nearly all my belongings and set out for an utterly foreign place far, far from comfort. I wonder why I thought putting myself in an uncomfortable or really challenging situation on a regular basis was a good idea. These thoughts usually come when I’m having a rough day and feel like I don’t have the strength to complete my contract here. Yes, I will admit I have those thoughts where all I want is to come home to a place of ease where family, close friends and IPAs are within reach.

I had the same thoughts throughout the first year I lived in Seattle. When I was 22, right after graduating from college, I decided to move from Colorado to Washington and really didn’t put much thought into it. I just did it. I remember my first night in that city so clearly. It was a hot August evening. I was exhausted from driving halfway across the country and moving into my apartment in a city I really knew nothing about. All I wanted was a shower, but I couldn’t find my shower curtain anywhere and it made me so angry. I ended up on the floor in the middle of a bunch of boxes, sobbing, wondering what I’d just done. Why did I just leave the city I’d lived in all my life for a place where I had no job and didn’t know a single person? Why would I put myself in that position? I remember panicking, thinking I’d just made the worst decision ever.  But I didn’t. Not only did I grow to absolutely love that city, I grew as a person in so many ways. The people and experiences that came from my decision to take that uncertain path will be cherished forever. I’m sure I will look back on my year in Korea and feel the same sense of gratification.

I know that I will not stay in Korea beyond the end of my contract which means I need to begin thinking about my next move. Where will it be?  What will I do? I really don’t know, and not knowing has evoked a lot of anxious feelings. The unknown is a scary place, but it always has a way of unfolding into something beautiful. Perhaps patience is key. Or just trusting that the path I take is meant to be and I will choose it for a reason, even if that reason isn’t known until I’m well on my way.

Namhae Island

Namhae Island

Women sorting though what I think are sardines, but I am not certain.

Women sorting though what I think are sardines, but I am not certain.

Namhae Island

Namhae Island

Lanterns in the daylight at the Jinju lantern festival.

A seemingly endless tunnel of lanterns in the daylight at the Jinju lantern festival.

Jinju Namgang Yudeung (lantern) Festival

Jinju Namgang Yudeung (lantern) Festival

More lanterns at the Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival.

More lanterns at the Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival.

A typical snack booth seen at Korean festivals, which includes bubbling silk worms, corn dogs, fried chicken and a variety or skewered meat.

A typical snack booth seen at Korean festivals, which includes bubbling silk worms, corn dogs, fried chicken, chestnuts, and a variety or skewered meat.

Boriam Temple, Namhae Island

Boriam Temple, Namhae Island

Geumsan Mountain, Namhae Island

Geumsan Mountain, Namhae Island

An interesting mural on the wall outside a house in a small village on Namhae Island.

An interesting mural on the wall outside a house in a small village on Namhae Island.

Summer Vacation Part 3.5

Before leaving Gangneung on a five hour bus ride to Busan and after seeing pictures of Jeongdongjin, David and I decided to spend an afternoon there checking out more of Korea’s eastern coastline.  Once again, the day greeted us with endless clouds and rain so it wasn’t everything we’d hoped for, but it was still beautiful.

The beach was pretty much deserted due to the rainy weather.

The beach was pretty much deserted due to the rainy weather.

Hourglass Park. It takes a year for all the sand to fall through the giant hourglass, making this a popular spot to count down and welcome the New Year.

Hourglass Park. It takes a year for all the sand to fall through the giant hourglass, making this a popular spot to count down and welcome the New Year.

Interesting sculptures on the grounds of the Sun Cruise Resort, a fancy hotel resting on a cliff overlooking the East Sea.

Interesting sculptures on the grounds of the Sun Cruise Resort, a fancy hotel resting on a cliff overlooking the East Sea.

I've never seen accommodation quite like the Sun Cruise Resort.

I’ve never seen accommodation quite like the Sun Cruise Resort.

View from one of the observation decks of the resort.

View from one of the observation decks of the resort.

The beautiful East Sea.

The beautiful East Sea.

Even under gray skies the sea was showing off its beautiful colors which I just couldn't get enough of.

Even under gray skies the sea was showing off its beautiful colors which I just couldn’t get enough of.

Don't look down.

Hold on tight.

The Korean coastline was so much more beautiful than I imagined it would be.

The Korean coastline was so much more beautiful than I imagined it would be.

Another deserted beach.

Another nearly deserted beach.

Pretty nice view from the pool.

Pretty nice view from the pool.

More interesting sculptures on the grounds of the resort.

More interesting sculptures on the grounds of the resort.

We took a break from the rain and enjoyed a drink in the rotating bar on the top of the resort.

We took a break from the rain and enjoyed a drink in the rotating bar on the top of the resort before heading to the bus station.