Since day one, I have been in love with Korea and all its bold surprising flavors, rich history, and wonderful cultural quirks. It’s been over a year and so many things which once confused, shocked, or surprised me now seem impossible to live without
- First let’s talk about the food. How did I ever survive without street food? Roasted sweet potatoes, savory dumplings, and ho-ddeok (basically pancakes with the syrup on the inside so they are perfectly transportable!) are just some of my favorites. I feel like there are always new food stands popping up with new flavors and foods to try so it’s an endless tasty adventure and a real life saver when I am too lazy to cook.
2. Korean Winter Survival Tactics. I was repeatedly warned about brutal Korean winters. The weather here does get pretty cold, but thankfully Koreans have some great tricks up their sleeves when it comes to dealing with the frigid temperatures. Hot packs are fantastic little packets of heat to hold when walking around or great for keeping in your pocket when you are teaching and the co-teacher decides to leave the windows open. I also love the heated floors! Noting like toasty toes and make you feel better after a cold day and the ondol system is effective at keeping the whole room nice and cozy. Heading to the spa is another of my favorite ways to defeat the chill. Korean spas usually have a wide variety of hot pools, saunas (sometimes with fun themes!) and warm places to lay and relax (my personal favorite is when they have message chairs!). The cold is a wonderful excuse to head in doors and pamper yourself for a day.
3. Korean Skin Care. Before I came to Korea my idea of washing my face was splashing it with water. Walking through Myeong-dong was a moment of profound skin care enlightenment. I like to try some products out of curiosity (what even is snail gel?), some products because they get rave reviews (so this cleanser will solve all my life problems?), and some products because they are just too cute to leave behind (when anything comes in a panda shape I feel the need to give it a home!).
4. Scissors at the dinner table. When I first sat down and they handed me a pair of scissors with my noodles I was a bit intimidated and confused. Fast forward a year I feel like the table is incomplete with a nice set of cooking shears. Quickly snipping up a piece of meat on the grill is so much quicker than using a knife. Do you have a vegetable that is too big to eat in one bite? Scissors to the rescue! I’ve started replacing knives with cooking shears more and more.
5. Cute cafes. A good friend or a good book and a delicious treat is my recipe for a perfect afternoon. It seems like there is always a new cafe to be discovered. Sometimes I opt for a memorable experience at an animal cafe (raccoons, cats, dogs, sheep… so many options) or sometimes I want something with cute theme and some adorably shaped treats. Sometimes I pick cafes based on what dramas they appeared in and other times I go for their specialty dessert. I’ve been cafe exploring here for a year and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of the Korean cafe world, perhaps because I keep going back to my old favorites (including but not limited to the Mr. Healing cafe with the message chairs and the tiny little one by my house that has amazing mango smoothies and a suit of armor for decoration!).
6. The ocean. I was obsessed with the ocean long before I started traveling, and I’ve always wanted to live near the it so how perfect is the Korean peninsula? I love gorgeous sandy beaches like the famous Busan beaches but also love the mountain enclosed bays like the ones on Geoje and Namhae. Also, something I was completely unaware of before I came: Korea has thousands of islands! So many of these have beautiful hiking trails, dinosaur footprints, adorable cafes, and of course beaches. Some are easy day trips and some take a little more effort to reach but there are so many wonderful options for exploring that island excursions have quickly become one of my favorite past times!
7. Norebang, the singing rooms. My idea of Karoake before I came to Korea was standing up in front of strangers and hoping my voice didn’t crack. A bit intimidating and nothing like my experience of singing in Korea. Norebangs are now one of my favorite places to head after drinks, for drinks, or sometimes just because it’s 4am and people are ready to start singing! The songbooks are filled with all kinds of options and I’ve found myself belting out German and French oldies with new European buddies, singing Bon Jove with Koreans friends who know the lyrics way better than I do, and dancing to Korean beats with my fellow teachers after a Soju filled work dinner.
8. Adorable student notes. Realizing how respectful students are here was a bit of culture shock but that may be because I was previously working with high schoolers. I feel so lucky to be teaching English to some of the cutest elementary students on the planet; they can make a bad day good with their smiles and notes. Some of my favorite notes are the ones that come complete with tiny illustrations. Of course not every day is perfect, but my students make work pretty amazing and their love and excitement has made my life so much better.
9. The Mountains.
I was always obsessed with the ocean but living in Korea has really made me appreciate the beauty of the mountains. I love hiking to the top and catching a golden pink sunrise (the one above was taking from the tallest peak on Geoje island). I also love watching how the slopes fill up with cherry blossoms in the spring or explode into color in the fall. I love walking through groves of bamboo or finding tiny hidden temples. Just incredible!
So there it is, some confessions of just a few of my obsessions here in Korea. I’m excited to see what new cafes, products, spas, and islands I discover in the year ahead!