Goodbye, Korea.

This week has been crazy. Absolutely, mind-numbingly crazy. I worked Monday and Tuesday, saying goodbye to my students, all those little energetic bodies, and I dealt with it. I didn’t want the kids to be upset, so I didn’t make a big deal out of going. If I saw tears, I immediately launched into a fast-paced game to make them disappear. I could handle it.

kate n me

I also said goodbye to my co-workers and my director, or my “Korean mother” as she styled herself. I hugged Jenny and wished her luck and gave congratulations on her wedding I’ll be missing. I saw Rachel for the last time, my closest American friend while abroad, and she was super sweet and gave me an “Airport Survival Gift,” complete with a book I’ve really wanted to read for a while! The last person I saw was Kate, one of my best friends of all time. I really don’t know what kind of year it would have been without her, and I’m going to miss that woman like crazy.

But again, I could handle it.

I can handle all the stress in front of people. It’s the weird, by myself moments when I fall apart. I never cried or got upset until I was cleaning my classroom for the last time. That’s when it started. I mean, really?

On Wednesday, I left early in the morning and began my 26-hour travel itinerary. The flight time itself was, in total, only 16 1/2 hours, but with layovers and all that, I was all sorts of messed up. I didn’t really sleep too much, so I was a bloodshot mess when my family and a friend showed up to meet me at the airport.

And I really do love my family. They’re so strange. Sitting in the car on the way home from the airport, we didn’t fill each other in on what’s been going on with us this year. They didn’t ask me about Asia, and we didn’t get into who got married/divorced/pregnant, etc. at home. Nope.

We talked about how they treat the cows that are made into kobe beef. What a weird little family I have. ūüôā

So now I’m home. And I’m a MESS. Like, take a shower and end up crouched in the tub, crying my eyes out. I can’t have a lick of alcohol because, as I found out last night, every single thing rises to the surface and I do that choking/crying thing. It’s horrible.

Yes, I miss Korea. I do. And I really love my family, and it’s making me freak out to know I only have such a short time with them before I leave next week to move to the South to be with my boyfriend. Because I love him, and I want to be with him, but I am already missing my family and I just got here. I will never see all the people I want to see while I’m here, I’ll always feel guilty for disappointing people, but I’m just freaking out right now.

Add to the fact that I just found out my boyfriend is most likely deploying again in February.

I won’t lie. I’m a downright lunatic right now. But, I’m going to try and “pull myself up by my bra straps”, as my grandmother would say, and enjoy every minute with them, and try not to be such a wretch. And then, I’ll get to see my boyfriend, where he promised to take me to see buffalo. And that’s something I can really get into.



On Monday, I had my 7A class of middle schoolers. The topic was music genres, including Irish step, hip hop, country, swing, etc.

For homework, I told them to visit youtube to research Irish step dancing and American country music, using the search terms “Lord of the Dance” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” The assignment is to describe either of the videos and discuss in a larger cultural context.

Bwa ha ha hahhah ha. I really love my job.

Korean Folk Village

chili & kimchiI really love the Korean Folk Village.

I’ve been there once before, last September when I was still completely new to Korea. It was somewhat of a work trip, with my director driving my coworkers and me in her gray minivan one Saturday morning. I felt like, since this is really my last free weekend in the country, I wanted to round it out by going back to the beginning.

So, it was hot as all get out Sunday, but I braved it and “ate the heat” as my Korean co-teacher taught me, and took the bus to Suwon where I caught the free shuttle to the Korean Folk Village in Yongin.¬† If you go to the Suwon train station and find the Tourist Information building, you can buy your ticket right there and they provide transportation, which is great. It takes about a 1/2 hour to get there and it was air conditioned, so I was thrilled with life.

After the drive, I stepped off the bus and walked by street vendor shops overflowing with foreign tourists and Korean nationals banging drums or fanning one another. After buying my ticket at the window and immediately giving it back to them as I walked through the gates, I was in.

The Korean Folk Village is amazing. Walking in, there is a large, shaded and cool area where people meander through boutique restaurants and talk with the polite shop women in their hanbok. There always seem to be lots of elementary school groups. I love them in their matching t-shirts and little backpacks- they always yell hello to me, which cracks me up.

Then, distinct paths become apparent as thatched roofs line each side of a packed earth road. The houses are representatives of a previous era, and as a foreigner, I assumed that they must have been built to simulate the experience of Koreans hundreds of years ago. The homes were often made of dried clay, and stiff hay and grasses made up the roofs. The homes are very open, as there are few rooms but many uncovered windows and doors. Husks of gourds were strung together along the¬†ceilings, and kimchi pots took up an entire room. Signs of agricultural life were everywhere. The first time I had been here, my director had surprised me by saying the “Blacksmith’s Home” reminded her of her grandmother’s. I realized that, for a lot of people, this was not some distant historical field trip. It was nostalgic, bringing up memories from within their own lifetimes.

It really is an entire village, too; women weave garments and gossip, sharing an orange as they try to keep themselves cool; one man walks with measured steps to gather tools he needs to work the soil in his vegetable garden. I’ve been to a few of these historical villages back home, but it wasn’t like this. These people weren’t acting. It looked natural, as if they had been doing it every day of their lives.

But, then, of course, there are the shows! Towards the center of the Village, there is an area designated just for entertainment. There, you can watch a Horse Show, where professional riders perform tricks. Next to that, they reenact a traditional marriage ceremony and I love the costumes. Across from that, there is what looks like a big wooden seesaw. That is actually host to my second favorite show. Women come out in colorful acrobatic costumes and stand on each end. Then, they begin jumping alternately, sending each other higher and higher. They must reach 40 feet before they start performing tricks in the air. (Kate told me that this game originated during a time when wealthy daughters were kept behind the protective walls of their homes. In order to see outside, they started jumping on makeshift seesaws to get a glimpse of the city.)

But then there’s my favorite show: The Folk Dance. It’s a large group of guys who wear these crazy colorful outfits. They bring their own music, as the dancers beat drums and bang cymbals to make a¬†rhythm. Then, they use the ribbons and material on their own clothing to create this big choreographed display. It’s really well done, and I think everyone should see it once.

NOT ONLY do they have a full-sized replica of a traditional village and shows to please even the most discriminating tourist, but then they top it all off with an amusement park! Granted, we’re not talking anything close to Disney proportions. I’d call it quaint.

I mean, where else would you expect to find affectionate fungi?

Church + Prison

Seoul Anglican Church

Oh yes you read that right.

Church? Prison? Home in time for dinner?

Hell yes I did!

I can’t really get on with this while cursing and feel right about it, so I’ll have to rein it in a bit.

Today, I visited the Seoul Anglican Church.

Touted as a “harmonious blend of traditional Korean and Romanesque features” (according to the free pamphlet), the building is really beautiful and definitely stands out from surrounding architecture.

However. I hate to say this, but, the inside just doesn’t live up to expectations. Actually, it’s really boring with water stains from ceiling leaks.

lovely nun

The flip side to that is that the people are just so nice! I mean, there was a, well, I don’t really know what she was. A greeter? Anyway, she smiled and treated me like a guest in her own home. Super nice. Also, she was really eager to show me around, and insisted that I see the chapel. I don’t completely understand why, because it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary, but then again, I guess I’m more used to Anglican churches than many of the¬†Korean visitors.

Best part: I MET A NUN, which I’m very excited about!

Seoul Anglican Church

Line 1, City Hall Station


As she let me out the front gate, the nun asked me where I was headed next. I felt awkward telling her I was now off in search of a prison, like those two places should be next to each other on a traveler’s itinerary, so I just kind of laughed it off and now she either thinks I’m crazy or hard of hearing.

Sigh. I knew this friendship-with-a-nun thing was too good to be true.

prison museum

So, prison. Or more lengthy, Seodaemun Prison History Hall.

The structure is a little over 100 years old, and was originally built during the years when Korea was basically ruled by Japan. The prison housed mostly Korean patriots fighting off their Japanese captors both inside and outside the prison walls.

What’s kind of freaky is that the museum is actually inside the buildings where hundreds of nationalists died by starvation, disease, contagion, and torture. I’m not sure if this makes me really sensitive or just the history nerd that I am, but stuff like this really gets to me. It’s like visiting a cemetery; people actually lived and died there, and not even that long ago. I was very reserved and respectful. My eyes must have gone huge as I watched all the Korean visitors racing around the building, pushing each other to look into the jail cells. There was even a wife + husband team that were laughingly shoving each other into the solitary confinement cells and snapping pictures on their camera phones. I guess I’m just a stick in the mud about torture and death, and I felt kind of awkward being both the only person getting upset and being the only foreigner.

In my defense, they really went out of their way to try and portray scenes that actually happened using mannequins and, in some rooms, recordings of people being interrogated and screaming in pain. I mean, look at these!


Do you see that mannequin on the left? The one CONSOLING ANOTHER MANNEQUIN?!?!

Oh, that didn’t weird you out?

Then how about….THIS!

women's torture cell

Yeah, I thought that one might get ya.


The other thing that kind of struck me as bizarre was this little tiny area kind of “out back”. It was this walled-off square where people were executed. Right in front of it is a single tree, a “wailing tree” I think they called it, because prisoners would run to it and try to hold on before the guards snatched them up and dragged them through the doors. Here, they didn’t want you to take pictures inside in order to respect the dead. However, it’s completely negated by the fact that a monstrous set of apartment buildings pretty much sits right on top of it.

I don’t really get it. Why would people want to live there?

Not only is it right next to a prison. It’s right next to a very historical prison where tons of people have met a horrible death, execution probably being the most merciful.

Not only that, but the apartments are placed atop probably the most horrific corner of the entire plot.

Not only that, but, did I mention? It’s all under construction.


Seodaemun Prison History Museum

Line 3, Dongnimmun Station, Exits 4 + 5


Jogyesa Temple + Cheonggye Stream


I’m completely cheating. I know this is poor blogger etiquette or something, but frankly, too much was crammed into Sunday and it would make for a very long, long post.

So here it is. A SEQUEL.

I’m sorry it had to come to this.




Part Deux

I missed Buddha’s birthday at the end of April/beginning of May. I was SO upset about it…I really wanted to go to Jogyesa Temple in the heart of Seoul and watch the Lantern Parade and the whole deal. Unfortunately, I had my dates all switched up and therefore missed it entirely. I can’t remember what I did instead; maybe I went to a Chili’s? (That in and of itself would be exciting as it means I would have been at the army base with Josh.)

Ok, so the personal reflection out of the way, the point is I never actually went to see the Buddhist temple right in the middle of the city and I really should have at this stage in my relationship with Korea. As the chief temple of a large Buddhist order, with foundations dating from the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty, it’s kind of a big deal. I was expecting something more of a museum, a revered place unsullied with the day-to-day of the common folk.

Jogyesa Temple

Wow. I was way off the mark.

As it’s right around the corner from Insadong, I started sniffing out the area and followed my nose to find shop after shop selling Buddhism paraphernalia. Little Buddha statues? Of course. Jade jewelry and wooden bracelets? Naturally. Monk robes? In multiple colors. It was looking pretty secular to me, but then, I’m just boldly stating opinions based on almost no knowledge of Buddhism, so you know. It would most likely be wise to ignore me.

And then I actually saw the temple. They were in the middle of  a service, and this place was hopping. Not kidding, it was standing room only (which is probably good, since they have to bow in prayer pretty frequently, it looks like.) It was to the point where people were sitting outside on the ledges, or out under a tent someone had set up with lawn chairs.

Definitely not what I was expecting.

I checked my shoes at the door and stepped inside for a few minutes and listened to the monks before slipping back into my flips (sandals) and back out onto the street.

(This is about the time I wandered my way through Insadong and finally onto the shrine, so you already know that part.)

At sunset I found myself walking along he Cheonggye Stream in the center of the city. I remember last year they usually had something going on for the Hi Seoul Festival right in the plaza between City Hall and Gyeongbuk Palace, and I thought I’d go investigate.

Korea + America

And they did. And it was reason 2,408,293,508 I really wish Josh was with me. He would have loved it.

They had this big exhibit going on with lined posters chronicling the history of Korea and the strength of their nation. Included were many posters of the relationship shared between America and Korea during and after the Korean War. One poster, tucked in the corner of the photo here, is of General McArthur and the first president, Syngman Rhee, embracing one another towards the end of the “conflict”.

It was so striking to be standing there, me as an American, and look over at this Korean woman reading the same poster with both our flags in the background. We had all this national history right in front of us, with pictures proving the tough times faced by most Koreans only 60 years agO, and then all around us was proof of how hard they have worked in such a short time to completely revolutionize their country. It’s amazing. Literally and completely inspiring. It was one of those moments you’re just happy to be in.

It was a really, really good day (despite ominous clouds).


Changgyeong Palace + Jongmyo Shrine

Today was eventful! My neighbor has mentioned Jongmyo Shrine a few times before, heavily hinting that I should really get myself there to visit it sometime, and that sometime was today.

Of course, I got lost.

face-painted hangover?

Typically on setting out for any madcap adventure, I only have a very limited idea about the general direction I might want to walk towards. Other than that, the details get sketchy. Which usually means I get lost. Which usually means I meet up with something like this guy.

Is he a resting circus performer? A colorful and vibrant homeless man? Is he dead? I had no idea when I found him at an incredibly busy intersection in Insadong, but all the passersby seemed just as stunned as I was, so at least it can’t be blamed on some culture difference.

And, movingrightalong.

Now, it’s probably a little surprising that I was in Insadong seeing as I was aiming for the shrine. Let me say first: you are not crazy. I just wander around and get distracted a lot.

So after playing around in Insadong, I got started in earnest really looking for that shrine, problem being, I really didn’t know what I was looking for, exactly.

After a while of not seeing any signs written in Hangeul with the English translation of “Shrine This Way!” I gave up right around the time I was out front of the Changgyeong Palace.

I know this is REALLY bad to say, but…after seeing one palace, every other palace feels….exactly the same. I think I would get into it more if I knew anything about these places. I mean, once I get the historical significance, I’m into it. Prior to that…maybe it’s just me, but one heavily stylized roofing design looks just like the next. I should try to find guides, maybe. That’d probably help.

Anyway, Changgyeong. Originally it was built as a summer palace, but with a few additions ¬†it became one of the Five Grand Palaces during the Joseon Dynasty. It’s gotten itself a rep among the other palaces because when the Japanese came in they turned the place into a zoo (literally) and made a mockery of it. All that nonsense has since been removed, but it’s still interesting to note.

I really liked the crowd that day. There weren’t a lot of us, but for the scanty selection, everyone was so photogenic!


So the great news…the PALACE is connected to the SHRINE! And I didn’t even know it. Sometimes, I really do think you’re put in the exact place you need to be. (Thank you up there!)

Well, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Forested, yes. A creepy cemetery vibe, not really. Jongmyo was built before 1400 BC as a Confucian shrine to honor the kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Basically, there are a few long buildings equipped with many rooms side by side, or “spirit chambers”, which divide the families. The original buildings were burnt down by (you already guessed, I know) those Japanese again. However, the original memorial tablets were saved when they were secreted away with just some random citizen. Like, stuffed in kimchi pots or buried in the yard or something. I mean that last part is plain conjecture, but where the H could you hide those things?


Anyway, glad I went but I don’t feel really compelled to revisit. Oh, but one more fun fact! In the shrine area, they built 3 exits from each building; two are for mortals, and one is for spirits.

I LOVED that.

Changgyeong Palace & Jongmyo Shrine


Line 1 Jongno 3-ga Station, Exit 11

Line 3 or 5 Jongno 3-ga Station, Exit 8

Tailor Made

Exciting news…

Over the past couple weekends I’ve been heading down to a tailor in Songtan to have….a dress, *cough*, custom made. Not only are the custom tailored clothes in Korea cheap, but ¬†they’re really well-stitched (which is much harder to find in other parts of Asia, specifically China I’ve been told.)

And compared with home, the price difference is staggering. And this is a dress of my own design while the dressmaker made suggestions based on my body shape and personal style. I won’t lie, it was occasionally difficult trying to figure out how to say, “I’d really rather not have a fleur-de-lys gemstone pattern,” when I don’t speak Korean and they didn’t speak any English.

They did a fantastic job and the seamstress was incredible. And also very personal. I understand that they need the right measurements, but it was a little jarring. When they first pantomimed that I should undress and try on the garment, I didn’t understand that they wanted EVERYTHING off. With deft hands one had my tank top over my head and the other had unsnapped my bra with one hand, ONE HAND, leaving me now with the strange experience of being almost completely undressed in front of Korean women who talked rapidly to one another while smoothing the dress onto me and reaching under the garment to tuck something, pin something, or tape-measure my chest. ¬†Not that I really minded. I just placed my trust in their experience and let them do all the decision-making beyond the original design we discussed.

And I love it!

Dress: $350 (America: $1000-1200)

Veil: $40 (America: $100-200)

ADRIA Custom Tailoring Co.

Owner: Y.T. Shin & Mrs. Shin (wife)

#298-157 Shinjang-dong Peyongtak City



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