I’m sorry, what??
In this modern era, we are all about the facts. One of my profs was speaking about how frustrating it was when people just try to figure out what stories from history are “real” and what was just “myth.” Sometimes they forget that myths teaches us a lot about the people back then as well. And I’m not saying that unconvering historical facts a bad thing. I’m just trying to point out a big problem: sometimes we forget the difference between real and true.
“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~G. K. Chesterton.
Fiction is magic because we can reach people in a unique way. Bringing readers through a really painful life through character can leave a much bigger impression then if you were to just tell someone that life is painful sometimes and you have to learn how to deal with it. You can inspire hope this way as well. You can show someone like them succeed. You can have them experience what it means to fail. Writers can also say things that people don’t want to hear and if they’re a good writer, people will often listen to them even if they don’t agree. Fiction can be powerful because it can go beyond beyond facts and transport us to a new setting. It can highlight unseen truths through new experiences. Like Chesterton says, a dragon may not be real but watching someone fight one can change your life forever because it points to unseen truths like bravery, honor, selflessness.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether he or she was a real person. It doesn’t matter whether they actually sailed that ship or fought that monster. They can still teach us truths that sometimes get muddled or lost in the reality around us, and they can teach us how to defeat the dragons in our own lives.
When I was really little, I remember my mom reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to me and, of course, I absolutely loved it. But there was one line that really bothered me where C.S. Lewis describes the main characters, some children my age, trudging through the snow overnight. He describes how beautiful the landscape was the moonlight reflecting off of the snow but how they were too tired to really enjoy it.
This bothered me for multiple reasons. I think I may have been a bit jealous that they were able to find the wardrobe that led to a magical world, and I felt that they should be enjoying every moment because they were so lucky! On top of that, there are so many books with grand adventures in beautiful landscapes and the characters always seem to preoccupied with whatever is going on to realize how lucky they are to be horseback riding through towering mountains and along sparkling blue seas. I remember little-me making a promise to myself that no matter how painful or exhausting my got life, I wanted to always see the beauty.
When my family went through hard times I would rewrite the promise in my journal and try to remember what I had meant, what I had felt when I made that promise. There were times so black that there seemed no beauty to see. I remember carrying the promise all the way through university where the class load and work overwhelmed me. Despite always being busy, there was always time to stop and admire the bright purple buds on the tree outside of the library. Of course, there have been plenty of wonderful days in my life as well, where beauty had no filter of pain and could be enjoyed in an easy golden light. Lately, my life has been so bright. Living abroad on an island, sandwiched between emerald mountains and sparkling seas, I have found it very easy to stop and appreciate the wonders of nature and there has been plenty to enjoy.
It was this past weekend that made me again think of the promise, always see beauty no matter how bad the pain. So let’s fast forward to the moment I am standing with my running shoes sinking into the mud, frozen, exhausted and afraid. After a couple weeks of gloriously warm weather, spring took a day off which happened to be the day of the famous Gyenogju Cherry Blossom Race, leaving all the runners in their tank tops and shorts in below freezing weather. The wind bit through my thick winter coat which I was reluctant to take off, and I kept worrying about my weak knees and ankles that had caused problems so I hadn’t trained the two weeks prior. I followed the shivering crowd out to the windy field and stopped.
Above the mountains, and illuminating the elegant ridges of an ancient tower, the sun rose still deep gold in the early morning air. And suddenly, the fear of not being able to finish the race and the bitter cold was less important. Beauty was here. And I was grateful to be here, too.
Then there was a crack of glittering fireworks, and an explosion of fluttering confetti filled the air as the runners set off. The 10k course was set around a lake which was well-known for thick cherry blossoms and peaceful views. As I ran I stared up at the branches of fluffy white. These trees were just past their peak which meant more pink of petal-less flowers were showing and the white petals were floating gently through the air. It was magical. And the people around me weren’t running to set a record. They were running to see beauty too. Girls in flower crowns and somehow flawless hair down (leave it to Koreans to have perfect hair even when running), laughed and chatted and stopped to take pictures of each other. And I stopped worrying about whether my ankle would hold; I started drinking in the morning air which grew warmer and brighter. I listened to the sound of friends laughing, the volunteers cheering encouragements in Korean, and the sound of traditional Korean music performances. There was a rocky cliff side rising triumphantly above the fading pink trees, there was a glint of pale lake blue behind a thick grove of still full white blossoms. Everywhere there was something beautiful to see.
Beauty like this is always a gift. Flowers, a sunrise, or a long peaceful walk with good friends—in happy times is good for the soul. But when there is pain, beauty has a specific power. It has the power to keep us going.
Suffering is isolating, it makes us reflect inward and see our weakness and vulnerability. Often times, pain is something we want to hide because it is connected to a trait in ourselves that we find unattractive or we find the pain itself ugly. Even when we do want to share what we are going through, it’s hard to verbalize and hard to truly share even when we want to. And it is when I am suffering or even just tired that it is too easy to get distracted by all the hardship to remember how important beauty is.
I was chatting with my co-worker’s seven year old daughter. When the matter of age came up she confided in me, “I just can’t wait to be 30.”
I asked her if she meant thirteen; English was her second language so the mistake would be understandable.
“Nope,” she explained, “I want to be 30 so I can be married and have a cat.”
Which left me pondering my own timeline.
I’m nearing 30 and I am neither married nor own a cat. And there is a social pressure that I seem to be facing more and more lately that I like to call “The Timeline Lie.”
What is the timeline lie? It is the social idea that you have to have obtained a certain relationship, career, or achievement by a certain time or you will have a less fulfilled life and increased chance of loneliness. I have seen strains of this in so many aspects of my life but currently the pressure to hurry up and date and get married is especially intense. After all there are only so many times you can hear: “When are you getting married? Do you have a boyfriend yet?” Before it starts sounding like, “Would you please hurried up and get in a relationship so I can stop worrying about your excruciating loneliness?”
Lonely or not, I feel a bit bad for my co-workers who are so concerned about my well-being and my glaring lack of a boyfriend. Even my worried coach has started trying to set me up with people in whom I have no interest because he feels like I should stop coming into the gym on weekends. He explained that Saturday and Sunday are meant to be romantic days with your significant other. But despite all the pressure to get married sooner rather than later, I have had long conversations with friends who bemoan marrying too young. They talk about how they wished they could be single and free just a bit longer.
In other words, the timeline lie goes both ways.
So what’s the truth?
My fate is to be the fun aunt, the bridesmaid, the loner? Or should I lower my apparently impossible standards just a bit so I can make that 30 year deadline? Or do I just have to be patient and wait a little longer for my happily ever after?
I think all these questions are just fragments of the timeline lie still floating through my life.
Right at this second.
I think it’s time to stop thinking of singlehood as the “Not Married” stage of life and give it’s own identity. It’s time to embrace every stage of life for what it has to offer. My life is so different from my co-worker’s. She rushes home after a full day of work, stressed about in-laws and cooking dinner for her sick child who will probably keep her up all night again before her next full day of work. I listen sympathetically but can’t relate as I hit the gym right after work then meet up with friends and take a long, hot uninterrupted shower before a full night of rest. That, my friends, is the single life. Time is abundant because it is all our own.
When I am married there will be a new set of ups and downs and that stage of life will also be beautiful. Despite all the sacrifices it will take, I do want to get married someday and have a bunch of adorable babies. It will be more than worth the struggles, and will be a grand adventures of its own.
But I will not waste time now thinking about what it will be like or sitting, wishing the day will come faster when now is its own unique gift. The timeline lie is so dreadful because it takes us away from opportunities we have in front of us and makes us believe we are more lonely because of our stage of life. It makes us believe we are doing life incorrectly because we are doing it differently, because we got married too early or too late. We went to university or got a career too late. That is the greatest danger of the timeline lie: it has us looking elsewhere.
Our lives are now.
And the truth is:
Now is the Happily Ever After.
Now is when we can be grateful for the good days and learn from the bad. Now is when we can build relationships that bring us joy whether they are romantic or not. Now is when we can pursue our dreams. Now is whe we can chose to happy because now is what we are given. We owe it to ourselves to do what is right for us in this moment. We owe it to our friends to appreciate at whatever stage they are, be happy for them, and honestly share where we are as well. Happiness is not chasing a rigid timeline; fulfillment comes from entering into what we are meant to be at every stage of life.
In an alternate reality where everyone goes to university at the correct time, gets a prestigious career directly after college, and has a guaranteed love-of-their-life who will appear the day they turn age twenty-two sounds like a very boring reality indeed. I think it’s time to start ignoring any social pressure which dictates when we should do things or what stages of life will be the most fulfilling.
Our lives are now. Let’s live now beautifully.
Happy Easter! Here are 7 Quotes for Spring 🙂
- “Spring: a lovely reminder of how beautiful change can truly be.” This is just a pinterest quote I found that I think struck me because as I feel like my life, like so many peoples, is so full of change right now and because of that, it’s so full of uncertain future. Sometimes there is this temptation to think of the future as a black or at least a blank unwritten page which is a bit daunting and a bit frightening but perhaps I should be thinking of that future as full of colors which are just starting to blossom. Every life change is a chance for our own little spring:)
- “Earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson. Walking around at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival this past weekend I feel like flowers bring out laughter in people too. Friends and lovers in flower crowns standing beneath the sun-soaked blooming white branches, taking pictures or stealing a kiss, they are all so full of lighthearted laughter and smiles.
- “A little Madness in the Spring,/ Is wholesome even for the King” Emily Dickinson. That light hearted laughter we talked about in the last quote borders on a little madness as Emily Dickinson points out. And I feel like a little insanity is so wholesome for everyone’s actual sanity when it comes in the form of giddy excitement, laughter, and love. pictures What causes it? Is it the warm weather? The sudden overwhelming beauty of the blossoms and fresh green? The intoxicating fragrance of flowers and new buds which is suddenly floating everywhere through the air? Or is it something a bit deeper? In her poem, “A Light Exists” Emily Dickinson writes as though that spring feeling is like a light… something that is harder to explain. Here is her full poem “A Light Exists”:
- “A light exists in spring/ Not present on the year/At any other period./When March is scarcely here./ A color stands abroad/ On solitary hills/That science cannot overtake,/ But human nature feels./ It waits upon the lawn;/ It shows the furthest tree/Upon the furthest slope we know;/ It almost speaks to me./Then, as horizons step,/Or noons report away,/ Without the formula of sound,/ It passes, and we stay:” “That science cannot over take but human nature feels.” She believes there is something a bit deeper to spring, a bit more elusive, it’s almost a bit sad because it’s so hard to grasp, and so quickly gone. Here’s a quote by Mark Twain to follow that up.
- “It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” Spring, so fresh and hopeful but something that makes our hearts ache and I really don’t think it’s just because the sakura are so brief. Yes, it’s a reminder that life is transient and fleeting, but I think this almost painful ache is not just wistful wishing this tree would stay in bloom forever but something more than that. Our hearts ache the same way at times when we look up at a startling bright night sky or when we see the vastness of the ocean. There is a desire in the ache.…. It’s almost painful as Ariwara no Narihira points out.
- “Ah, if in this world there were no such thing as cherry blossoms, perhaps then in springtime our hearts would be at peace.” Taking a moment to stop and smell the flowers and be still and enjoy nature, it can bring so much peace but I feel like the peace so easily is paired with this subtle pain, and I think it says something deep about humanity. So I just want to end it with one more quote by C.S. Lewis in his book Till we have Faces.
- “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing to find the place where all the beauty comes from.” How perfectly that sums it up. “The sweetest thing in all my life has been
Some lovely things to think about this spring 🙂 And once again, Happy Easter!!
I have always celebrated New Year’s Eve with the count down and party food in America but coming to Korea I’ve learned that they place much more emphasis on the Lunar New Year.
I’m a huge fan of holidays (any excuse to celebrate) and New Year’s is no exception. But I love more than just the last night~early morning parties; I enjoy curling up with my planner and journal and a cup of tea and thinking about the highlights of the year before. I am grateful for the beautiful moments and think about how to learn from the bad moments and always right a wonderful bucket list of goals that I hope will bring me that much closer to my dreams. And quite often, they do.
But I have been thinking about this Lunar New Years and love that I get a second New Years Day! Another new beginning. A definitive point where I can stand and decide what promises to make to myself and where I want to take my life from here. This new year I have made some pretty concrete goal oriented resolutions. They are do-able, measureable, specific… you know, all the things that goals should be. But I am going to take the Lunar New Years as a chance to make a different kind of resolutions for this year in Korea. A bit more dreamy resolutions which are every bit as important as the more clearly outlined practical ones.
Resolution One: Photography
I always thought you needed an expensive camera to be legit. I also don’t know a thing about editing or composition. I could not be farther from those people who are always taking gorgeous crystal clear slowmotion drone shots that I drool over. But I recently got a new phone (iphone 7 plus) and the camera is actually pretty nice. There is enough storage on my phone to take videos. This is a whole new world for me and I’ve decided I don’t have to be a professional. What I am is a storyteller and this year I want to learn how to tell better stories through visual art. I want to capture emotion in the pictures and show people a piece of my heart the through the lense of my camera. 2018 shall be the year of photography for me as a hoby, no pressure, just art in my own little way.
Resolution Two: Sunrises
I want to catch more sunrises this year. In Korea instead of the traditional count down (or along with it) people like to catch the sunrise. There was something really powerful about watching the world light up. Something incredibly hopeful and inspiring and it’s a tradition I continued even when coming back home to America for the holidays. It was much colder than it was in Korea and trying to combine a midnight count down with an early morning can result in little to no sleep but it is completely worth it. And this year in Korea I want to catch as many sunrises as I can. I want to find good spots to watch them. I have always loved sunsets and always will but there is something extra empowering about sunrises that I think fits this year. There is something disciplined about getting up in time and it feels more personal and special because of it.
Resolution Three: Ocean
I have always wanted to live near the ocean and I now live in it on my little island. This year I want to swim and splash in the ocean as often as I possibly can. I want to take more pictures and videos of the waves and the light playing on the water. I want to make sure that I enjoy every ocean view I’m blessed with. It’s the little things, like the resolution I made my first month here in Korea: I decided that bus time was not time for texting or messaging anyone. It was time to watch the coast line sparkle by and appreciate island life. I don’t always do this perfectly but I do try.
Resolution Four: Food
Food isn’t just food. Eating my creamy blue berry oats this morning, I decided there was something a bit trascendent about food. Perhaps it was my still sleepy brain deciding overnight oats are magically delicious but food plays such an important role in cultures, religions, and relationships. I think sometimes we take for granted just how important it is. I want to try to eat better food and I’m not just talking about getting in leafy greens, I’m talking about being intentional with what I eat. I want to eat foods that I absolutely love and that make me feel fantastastic. I want to spend the time to make things that taste delicious and spend time making the plate look nice. I am not big into cooking but this year I want to put in the effort to make the meals in my life beautiful as well as healthy and tasty. I want to put in a little extra effort in finding restaurants which are unique and memorable. In otherwords, 2018 will be me leveling up my food adventures.
Resolution Five: Books
I already made a clearly measurable and do-able goal of completing 18 books during 2018 but that’s not what this resolutions is all about. I want to read books that challenge me more. Maybe it’s time for more Cormac McCarthy and historical research. And I want to fill my life with more books for fun. I have always wanted to read comic books and manga but have been both overwhelmed by the number (how does one even begin??!) and the price but this year I am going to splurge every so often and get those colorful action packed books as a treat and hopefully it will help spark my creativity. There will be no wasting time on anything boring or uninspiring. I want to intentionally fill my life with rich adventure and challenges to make me grow.
Hopefully this year I can continue to expand on these resolutions on my blog and other platforms. It’s all about making life that much more intentional and beautiful.
I will take you there on a train coming from Venice and heading towards Rome. If you leave Venice at 7:05 pm you will get to Verona at 9:22pm and then transfer to a train which will leave at 23:36 and get to Rome by 6am. That will give you two hours in my Verona. Follow me now as I take you onto the train I rode myself.
Verona is where the bard lay his scene; he colored the city as his stage and filled it with his characters. Verona is where there are gucci stores filled with modern day Juliets, an old Roman arena, and a large piazza spilling with Christmas market goodies. But I want to show you a Verona which you can reach neither by great books nor modern jets. This Verona is a place which is nowhere else, a Verona filled with fairy dust and eventide and can be explored through these words, or never seen at all.
In my Verona leave your umbrella stashed in your backpack. The downpour has just stopped and left the train station greasy with sitting rain. Walk down the road till you reach the main street which is not the heart of romantic Verona but we are going to pause here. Reflective puddles rest on inky blue cobblestones which glimmer from the white Christmas lights wound around the trees. With the taste of surreality in the air we can begin to see the moment unfold.
There is music in the background as you head towards the second largest arena in Italy. Close to the musty Roman stone structure, it’s dark and quiet. Peer inside. Nothing plays games there now, nothing but moonlight and rainwater smiling back. Walk to the other side and there is an odd combination of modern and ancient as a group of people dressed as Santas give the scene a contemporary soundtrack of jazz and rock music playing from black bulgy speakers.
Pass the fashion centers where there are large magical wreathes of light hanging above the uneven streets. Head to the Christmas market and listen to the merry bells while waiting for mulled wine. Behind you stands a kind Italian man who tells you “Piacere”, which means “please to meet you,” and you tell him in enthusiastic but weak Italian that you are only visiting for a semester but that you love this culture. As you walk away sipping the sweet warm wine, you know that you will never see him again but your life is a bit better for those fifteen seconds.
Now we find ourselves in a quieter part of town where we can see the balcony of Juliet if we press against the iron rungs of the closed gate and look in. If it was day and you went inside, you would just be a tourist. You would smile because Romeo and Juliet are made up characters. It is not fiction now. Here, late at night, they have shut the gate because Juliet has gone to bed. For an instant, Juliet is as real as me.
You see, it would be so easy to say that it is just Verona at night… maybe it is… but have you ever seen Verona just at night? Have you ever been to a place which you have only seen through a curtain of glitter made by rainy reflection and the shadow of magical darkness.
It doesn’t last forever or the spell would be broken. We walk back along the slope of the old city moat which has a depth lost in darkness. Look closely and you can see your silhouette against the old reddish stone wall. Your transient shape is, for a moment, etched against the enigmatic remnants of history.
If you take the night train now to Rome it will probably be uncomfortable because I can’t afford any better. The seats are hard and dirty blue and have sharp edges. But before you go… I didn’t mention the center of this Verona, the deepest heart of my Verona.
I have saved the best for last. It’s on the way back to the sleepy station. Walk a little slower, a little more reluctantly. Try to breath in the soft Verona magic and open your eyes for the most wondrous moment of all.
Stars there, hundreds and hundreds of stars. Hundreds and hundreds of stars all flickering have fallen and flutter between the shadowy leaves of the largest tree. These tree branches aren’t like that of other trees, wound with pretty lights. There is no string of lights, every leaf winks white light as the wind makes the tree sigh, aye me. The entire spectacle glitters like heaven. Spin slowly, very slowly, while looking directly up at the celestial body only a couple feet above your head, just out of reach but only just.
Then everything blurs. All the hundred of lights on the tree began to dance and melt together. Blink quickly so you can keep seeing how beautiful it is, don’t let the tears fall. But the light still dances and the tears wrenched from a too-happy heart still fall. Its a funny thing–crying because something is so beautiful. If you haven’t cried from beauty, do it before you die. If it sounds unrealistic, you need to see a little more of reality. Please, find your own place that is no where else but your heart and which only those to whom you show your heart can see it.
Train to Busan is a highly entertaining zombie flick, and is packed full of fun themes and issues to untangle. While the milky-eyed, writhing zombies do make quite an impression, the movie isn’t just focused on them but on how each person responds to them. And, my goodness, I love talking about how monsters mess with our identity.
Let’s start with the main character (Seok-woo) played by the handsome Gong Yoo: a fundsmanager and a cliche too-busy working divorced father. He has a daughter, Su-an who is the absolute picture of innocence and is too cute for this world. (How could he skip her little singing recital when she is that tiny and wide eyeed and adorable??) They end up on the train to busan because all she wants for her birthday is to see her mother.
On the train Seok-Woo meets his apparent opposite: a blue-collar burly man who is still very much in love with his wife who he is traveling with and proud of their unborn baby telling Su-an, “I mde that.” He also tells Su-an that her dad is a “blood-sucker” and when his wife tells him he shouldn’t say that sort of thing in front of the man’s daughter Su-an shrugs and says sadly, “Everyone is thinking it.” And, unfortunately, Seok-woo doesn’t seem to be that great of a guy. In the first scene he assured a customer that all funds are safe and then turning around to sell all of his own in a matter of seconds. If that scene and the fact that he is a neglectful father didn’t incrimante him enough, he also tells Su-an that she has to stop thinking of others and should only think about herself.
After some quick character development the train is off and the scenes are set with satisfying clean whites and blues, shiny cars, and crisp buisiness suits. All this will slowly be broken, bloodied, and blurred as the scenes continue and the themes tangle up. Themes of governement corruption, society’s corruption, community, business, family are all fantastically woven through the film but I just want to focus on one theme for now.
Let’s talk about identity. Fear is such a powerful catalyst. Monsters that inspire fear teach us everthing about ourself.
The burly dad who starts as comic relief quickly becomes a fist throwing, always brave hero when faced with the undead. His loving spunky wife is always looking out for the safety for Su-an and proves Seok-woo completely wrong. If the funds manager had only looked out for himself and hadn’t stopped to save that family, he and his daughter would have ended up dead. In one scene they are running from zombies and Seok-Woo’s innitial panicked reaction is to close the door on the pregnant women and her husband in fear of the zombies behind them. He changes his minds at the last minute and let’s her in with just secons to spare. Later they come back to save both Su-an and him, proving that “Look out for yourself” may not be the best tactic.
A new character: a panicked CEO on the train is constantly locking others out, trying to leave without them, or throwing them in harms way to save himself throughout the movie. On a train crawling with bloodied, twitching, growling creatures, he is so clearly the true monster on board. He is also the embodiment of Seok-Woo’s words, “Look out only for yourself.” It’s horrifying to think that he is what Seok-Woo would have been if the zombie breakout hadn’t happened when it did. Surviver or not he is a monster so much worse than the mindless zombies.
And how does our protagonist, Seok-woo, react in the face of fear? He still has his daughter to think of and realizes that only way to save her is too work together with others. He started the movie living life mindlessly as a “bloodsucker” (a zombie in his own right) but is now forced to face all kinds of terror if he wants to see Su-an again. He becomes more brave and selfless as the movie continues, stoping to save multiple people as he fights through zombies to be reunited with his precious daughter. Facing monsters makes him face utter fear and rise above it.
These morphing characters are acted so brilliantly that we find ourselves caring about them whether we want to or not but it’s not just about whether they survive; it’s about who they become. And it’s not just about the characters on the screen. The brilliant setting of a train gives the audience the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in with the zombies, and it raises new type of fear beyond the usual jump scare zombie gore, its the subtle question of what kind of person you are at your core. The movie challenges a society which conforms, challenges individuals that chose to live without caring about those around them, it challenges people who live mindlessly. While someone may live in thoughtless way day to day (as bloodsucking fundsmanagers zombies for example), when crisis strikes everyone is forced to either completely succumb to the monster inside themselves or rise above it.
What would you become if faced with a car full of zombies? Would you get bitten as you bravely fought to save others and become one of them? Or would you fight for only yourself at all costs and become a monster worse than them? Who is really human in the end? Perhaps it’s not the virus that makes the true monster, it’s the human that’s too afraid to become the hero.
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!
Running (and fitness in general) can be a whole new game in Korea. When I first started running here my head was filled with questions: Where can I run here? How do I sign up for races? And where am I supposed to find protein powder?? If you have any of the same questions, I would like you to meet Joseph Steven Van Dorn: an EPIK teacher who has finished over 20 marathons and has some great insight to into Korea, the EPIK program, and running.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I moved to Korea roughly a year after graduating at UC Irvine with a degree in Biology and English literature. I never had a chance to study abroad during college, so I really wanted to work abroad. Though I originally wanted to work in Germany, I changed my path to Korea after learning about the teaching opportunities there. I am currently working the same teaching job at an elementary school in Seoul, but I am pursuing my master’s of education on the weekends. Once I obtain the degree in January of 2018, I hope to start teaching English language at a university in Korea. I would also love to publish my novel, and hopefully become a novelist and language professor one day.
Why did you choose to come to Korea and why did you choose (and stick with) the EPIK program in particular?
After Germany didn’t work out, a good friend of mine suggested looking into Asia. I was ultimately drawn to Korea because of a Korean American in my town, who shared all the awesome parts of Korean culture with me. Plus, the collective benefits in Korea compared to Japan and China were superior at that time. Though I could have come to Korea much faster if I applied to a hagwon, I read too many articles warning of the potential dangers of ending up in a bad hagwon. I instead threw my energy into the EPIK program through a recruiter from Educon. Educon and EPIK helped me get a position in Seoul, and for that I am eternally grateful.
How long have you been running for? Why did you pick running in particular?
I ran track in high school from 2004 to 2008, and switched to half marathons and full marathons in college. I never had the grace to excel in sports like basketball or football, but I was always able to outrun my fellow athletes. The idea of a sport purely focused on running fascinated me, and I became a dedicated runner. After switching to long distance running in college, I now race anything shorter than a 5K. Running brings a certain order and purpose in my life; training for a race requires fitting in a daily run, and that structure influences your entire life. Runs also give me time to destress and ponder the issues in my life. The convenience of the sport cannot be beat either; all you need is a pair of shoes and some space to get a good workout.
What other sports/activities (hobbies) have you done/like to do?
Though running is my primary hobby, I have many other interests. I enjoy hiking, cycling, swimming, and scuba diving. Reading and writing are big passions of mine, and I also enjoy more nerdy activities like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons.
What do you feel is your greatest athletic accomplishment?
As of now, my biggest athletic accomplishment is probably completion of “The Devil’s Dare” in 2016. I wanted to try something difficult that year, so I created a challenge that required completion of the following: six 10Ks, six halfs, and six fulls in a calendar year. Though it kept me tired and insanely busy, I felt incredible pride after finishing the goal at the Taipei Marathon in December of 2016. My running goals for 2017 are more mild, but I will most likely attempt a similar challenge in the near future.
That’s pretty incredible! How do you set your goals? What are one or two things you do that you think are the keys to your success?
My goals are usually driven by a target race, usually 2-3 months ahead of now. After picking a race, I prepare a running plan to condition my body for that race. My training is determined through various resources like halhigdon.com, the wisdom of my running friends, and my own personal experience. The key to success is sharing your goals with others. The support of your friends and the accountability push you to work out even when you rather sleep all day. Training with others is also a big help, as you are far less likely to quit a workout if you are with a friend.
Fitness in Korea:
Are there are any fitness related challenges that you are feel are specific to Korea? How do you overcome these challenges? Any special tips for people running in Korea?
The biggest challenges to runners in Korea are finding places to run and signing up for races. When I first arrived in Korea, I was very nervous to run outside, as I was unfamiliar with the culture. Over time, I grew less anxious and with a little courage, I ran around the neighborhood. Since then, I have run in countless neighborhoods around the city, thanks to some tips from my running club. This same group gave me information on upcoming races and helped me register. Through their help, I was able to overcome these challenges.
Is it hard to find healthy foods/needed supplements/protein sources in Korea? What is your diet like?
Although I should, I don’t really put too much consideration into my diet. I use energy gels during longer races, which I can find at a running shoe store in Seoul. Friends of mine who care more about their diet usually buy their items from iHerb.
Has the yellow dust affected your running?
Even when the air is bad, I still go out for a run. I am worried about the long term effects, but I think the long term effects of continuous exercise outweigh the potential harm.
How do you think running (and other activities if applicable) has impacted your time in Korea?
Running has significantly enhanced my experience in Korea. Because of my running friends and training, I became faster than ever before and I have participated in countless races.
You have also traveled to nearby countries for races, right? What is that process like? (Was it fun? Stressful?)
So far, I have only traveled to Taipei for a race. I traveled there just for the weekend, and it was stressing coordinating with my friends and combining social time for race preparation time. Thanks to my lovely friends in Taipei, however, I had an amazing experience. I will probably do the same race again this year!
Anything else you would like to share?
The aforementioned running club is called The Seoul Flyers, and I invite anyone interested in running to join us for a group run and race. Type our name into Google, and you should find our website with all relevant information.