exploring, things to do in korea

Calm and Healing Date in the Children’s Grand Park

A couple of weeks back, my boyfriend and I celebrated our 900 days together by spending it at what we first thought was a nearby children’s park, which ended up being an enormous area with a theme park and a zoo that surprisingly housed at least three animals I have never seen before (and I’ve lived in Zimbabwe and Australia). What we expected to be a good 2 hours turned into an entire day as we enjoyed the beautiful greenery to the unexpected surprise of our many animal friends. Located near Geonguk University (approximately 10 minutes away from Jamsil), the best part of all this was that it was completely and absolutely free.

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Right as you enter there is a large pond of lotus floors in full bloom. The leaves are several times bigger than my boyfriend’s hand and it was clear to see why these flowers are a favorite subject of East Asian artistry. The park also has remarkable speakers that play children’s songs throughout, but it just made the atmosphere more youthful and fun. IMG_7384.JPG

There were different attractions on the way such as a mini driving area for children, and this herb garden where we smelled everything from lemongrass to chocolatey herbs. IMG_7391.JPG

Furtherdown, we discovered a hidden nook where there was a mini library in the middle of the woods. IMG_7393.JPGIt must be incredible to spend a childhood in such a beautiful area. We passed the amusement parks which was mostly for the children but had two or three big rides that could accommodate the adults as well. Instead, we turned and rushed eagerly the other way–I just discovered the zoo sign and wanted to check it out immediately!

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These are just some of the beautiful little babies that we saw at the zoo today. There were three otters swimming around and teasing each other, lemurs playfully running about, desert foxes taking a nap (I don’t think I’ve ever seen one awake) and even had a large manatee splashing around. The big cat pictured above followed us and playfully teased us to scratch its belly. It was adorable and I walked away half dizzy from being stricken with love. We decided to grab an icecream and go in for the animal show they were having, which featured some cats working alongside penguins. While the story was centered mostly around children, it reminded us of the importance of not only loving nature, but protecting it as well. I thought it was a thoughtful touch to include cats into this play, as they are often the victims of abuse on the streets.

Making our way out, we walked by more private and lush areas until we arrived at the station. We had expected to spend our afternoon the average way, walking around the foodie streets and going to Common Ground shopping complex. I never expected to find such a rich and blessed place as this, and so close to home.

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personal

I’m a greedy person.

When some adults see me, they have curiously blurted out that I am a greedy person. It’s quite ambiguous when translated from the Korean language. While to be greedy is largely a negative thing, in Korea, it could also translate to ‘you’re too ambitious,’ ‘you’re full of desire,’ and the general gist of me stepping out of my bounds and wanting too much for myself. Which I never thought to be a negative thing, until the little moments when they put my life into perspective. Here are these adults, who have grown up and lived in Korea probably for their entire lives. Their societal molding must be radically different from mine, where I have always been encouraged to aspire to be more, to be more, and essentially to have more. I have never been afraid of pushing myself harder and challenging myself more if that meant that I was doing something that I enjoyed doing, even if it did not clearly correlate directly to a better, brighter future with a stable corporate job. I constantly envisioned myself to be above and beyond the little town in Zimbabwe, where I could live the fast life. It was, and still is a romanticized version of the life I want to live in my early 20’s. I nurtured the desire to be a nomad and to keep moving forward and upwards, even if it meant leaving behind everything I have known. Perhaps people see it in me, these adults, when they compare their own children to me or juxtapose their own youth to the flicker in my eyes. And they open their tired mouths and tell me—you’re too greedy.
The first time I heard this was from a middle aged woman, a mother of two children in a tour group in New Zealand. We had travelled for about two weeks together, admiring the grandiose rolling hills and never ending fjords. On the hard sofas at the airport waiting lounge before we were to never see each other ever again (another romantic feeling), she indulged in some life coaching. She asked me what I wanted to do—and I said everything. I want to be someone who helps the world. A creative and an entrepreneur. I was thinking of pursuing a double major in international studies and culture design management—and yes, I was already well underway with my minor in comparative literature and culture. She grimaced.
This moment stayed with me for the rest of my solo travels, and I was largely incredulous at how she had cut down my ambitions and my dreams. She said with all seriousness, you should focus on one thing, or you’ll lose everything. This lady had wanted to be many things too before she settled down and became a dentist out of practicality. There was nothing more horrifying than when she wished the same fate upon me.
The second time that really triggered this whole spiel was the noodle shop I took my friends to last night. He kindly gave us an extra dumpling for the three of us, and I jokingly said, don’t worry! I’ll eat it! Apparently that made some large impact on him because as I was checking out, he told me that I’m a greedy person. I said, ‘thanks’ and threw him off, because at this point I have chosen to take it as a positive thing. There was nothing that he could decipher from our short time together, where he made me a bowl of noodles and I ate them in return that could have impacted me long term. He didn’t understand my humor as I was trying to make him feel more comfortable when serving us. Instead, he took it as an opportunity to judge me and openly criticize me. Most of all, it was my very ‘greed’ that brought all my friends to eat at his hole-in-the-wall shop, so perhaps he hasn’t fully grasped how capitalism works yet. It was a good meal, and I wouldn’t mind going again.
So here I say-
You tell me I’m greedy.
But it was not meekness and settling that prompted my family to move their whole lives and start afresh in Zimbabwe. It was not acceptance that raised our family from a single shop selling my mother’s handmade shirts to the business that supports hundreds of workers today. Parts of my family are alive because they were not aborted when they were told that they would never be able to live normally. It was not when I sat and accepted my fate when I was able to run for my life with fire lapping behind my calves and escape one of the most terrifying gang break-ins.
I am a fighter, and this is what fighters do. We want things. We make things happen, or we die trying.
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personal, Poetry/Inspiratoin, travels, Writer

sensory overload.

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Poetry/Inspiratoin

self love.

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adventure, exploring, personal, travels

Busan, Summer 2017

I hopped onto the earliest train headed to Busan, having bought the ticket just a few hours before. I was restless, and I was determined to get away from Seoul and clear my head. I had forgotten how to appreciate the still that comes with the holiday, and being comfortable with just being after being preoccupied for so long. Did it work? The clear skies, cooler weather, and just the experience of being somewhere new filled me with a renewed sense of wonder and optimism. Here is my week in Busan, Summer 2017.

Upon arrival, I realized that I was possibly the only person there not travelling with a lover, as they flooded the front with their tripods and selfie sticks, hopping around and daintily lifting their legs as they captured their first kiss in Busan. Hardly disgruntled, I heaved my big duffel bag and made my way out to the other side of the big street ahead of me, for my ritualistic Chinese noodles in the China Town across from there. Yet again, there are places with substantial lines, but I continue to walk down to the tried and tasted place. IMG_7529 (2).JPG

This is the Samcheon Jjajangmyeon, which you may know to be black and thick. This particular sauce is made of spicy seafood of the same paste-like consistency. Delish.

I arrived finally at my grandmother’s place wedged up in the hills. I’ve been coming here and is the place most strongly imbued with memories of a childhood spent in Korea before I left for Zimbabwe. Of course being the person that I am, I had forgotten to remind my grandmother that she should be expecting me down sometime. Upon arrival, I found that she was at the temple, and she did not walk around with trivial things like phones. So instead, I trailed my sister to the vet and ended the night with a stroll down Jagalchi market (the most popular and overpriced destination for Korea’s seafood) after a hearty meal. I was amused when my friends visited once and were shocked at the number of side dishes that the average Korean meal has, consisting of every type of vegetable from lotus roots to your average leek.

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My uncle tells me that there are two ways you can distinguish whether a person is from Busan or not– by the place he eats his seafood, and whether or not he swims in the sea.

We ended the night watching a small water fountain show held hourly at the Lotte Department store nearby. It was a disappointment compared to the one I saw a few years ago at Dadaepo Beach, and we left before it trickled down once more.

The Second Day

After visiting my grandfather in hospital (a trying and depressing ordeal of its own), I decided to head out to the popular ‘hip and happening’ place for young in’s. First stop? The bookstore.

 IMG_7585.JPG IMG_7586.JPG   – I was not heading to this bookstore in particular, but they made a huge sign leading here from the subway so I decided to go give it a shot. It was nice to see an independent bookstore that was not Kyobo, and had books wrapped and in stacks in the corridors.

Later on that day, we headed to Songdo beach which had recently been refurbished with a particularly snazzy cable car and a mountain walk trail. My friend messaged me to complain about ruined shoes due to Seoul’s downpour, but it was just breezy.IMG_7651.JPG IMG_7669.JPG

We walked from one end, past the camping vans and the water sports center before walking to the other end, crossing the “Cloud Bridge” where you are suspended above water. It was clear that they put a lot of effort into making this place more interesting for its visitors, with cultural motifs found around, and it was good to see that it was popular with tourists as well. The weather was just pleasant enough to walk across the bridge and back, just in time for the next cable car across the vast water we just saw.

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We decided to pay 5000 won more to take the cabin with a see through bottom, but hardly needed to look down when we were surrounded with a 360 panorama of the beach and the mountain trail that edged it. IMG_7765.JPG

Upon arrival, there was a photo taking zone, and a line of restaurants selling boonshik-or quick foods like tteokboggi and icecream. There was a garden still under renovation lined with cute, motivational messages. On another floor there was a deck overlooking the sea and the mountains, with cute photozones like the above where you could leave a message in a bottle and store it up here (forever?) There was an oyster bar that had 0 customers, guessing it’s overpriced. At the underground layer they had an exhibition on the history of cable cars, if that’s your thing.

Third Day

After visiting my grandmother who is also hospitalized, I headed to the Busan Museum of Art that is located nearby in Haeundae. Their on-going exhibition, “Vision & Perspective 1999-2017” told the stories and challenges of people, as humans and artists through the ages. They told stories that questioned the role of human aid to developing countries, the role of humans in developing cities and rapid urbanization, of our futile beliefs in capitalism and consumerism, of failed politics and the removal of our autonomous state as machines to the system. Most of all, it spoke of human loneliness, and as I left the museum I felt comforted and at peace. I got the sense that I was not alone in this strangeness I was feeling. I will perhaps write a more detailed blog post about this display as it warrants some more explanation.

 

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Final Day

On the last day I decided to discover some hip areas around Busan, namely Nampodong, Gugje Shijang (International Market) and Seomyeon, which I gather is the most popular area for college students

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Walking around Nampodong, there was a strange mix of everything- from small independent boutiques to shops selling everything at 5000won (approx.  4USD), a temple and Busan Tower (to those familiar with the couple hotspot Namsan Tower in Seoul), a toy figurine shop to a sex shop, and many hole in the wall cafes and eateries to indulge in. I entered the famous Gugje Shijang but did not spend much time there as it was rows and rows of particular categories, for example I entered a row of curtains and curtain rods and by this time, I was too dizzy and full from eating too many tteoks and lattes.

I hopped onto the subway and headed to Seomyeon Station, not so far away, where I met with my uni friend with whom I only seem to be able to meet in Busan. We headed to the Coffee Street nearby, and it was interesting to see that within two years the street had multiplied into many other nooks and crannies. We headed into a cafe that had a cute upstairs section decked in fairy lights, and we finally caught up over everything that had happened in the past semester.IMG_7904.JPGIMG_7907.JPG

It was good to talk so honestly and openly about everything, without having to calculate the other person’s response or judgment. It was possibly exactly what I needed in that moment.

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Finally, it was time for dinner. We headed to a fancy Italian place called Cochelin because my dieting friend craved some heavy steak. Unfortunately, the heat stroke during the day caught up to me and I was too ill to eat my $20 pasta, but had its weight in water instead. The interior was really cute, but it was one of those … I don’t want to say pretentious, but small morcel-sized places that disappeared quickly and sadly. Can’t vouch for the taste, but it wasn’t enough to bring me out of my sickly state. ^_^

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My way home

From Seoul to Busan, I tried to save costs by taking the Mugunghwa train which was almost half the price of KTX. It also took almost three hours longer, had no foldable desk, and bumped in rhythm to every stone on the track. I refunded my ticket and changed it to SRT instead, which was just wonderful and incomparable to the horrors of Mugunghwa. Everything felt cleaner and smoother, with ample leg room and fast enough wifi to watch Youtube the whole way. You can also charge your electronics as well. I got home in a breeze.

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Even though Busan is my birthplace, every single time I go back I feel like I’ve experienced something new and refreshing. There are still so many places to go and things to discover, like the postcard here with the ever so popular Gamcheon village that I am still yet to go to. Most importantly, I slowly began to rebuild myself up again. The night before, over a drink with my friend, I confessed that I was becoming increasingly introverted to a fault. Ordering coffee or talking to a stranger was a burden that I tried to avoid fully, and the social anxiety was crippling. On this trip, bolstered with the need to do everything myself, as excitement overcame my fears, and encouraged by the idea that I will most likely never meet any of these people again, I slowly began to open up again and learn that it’s okay to just breathe, and just be. With everything that went down this summer, this trip was one of the most memorable things that I did because in little, unnoticeable ways, I did a lot of healing, and that’s the best thing anyone could ask for in a solo trip.

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Baby Blue

Happy Friday evening from on-site campus, another day spent in the temples of academia. This morning I woke up happy and content, rolling around in my freshly washed sheets and marveling at how utterly relaxed and blissful I feel from those few extra hours I was able to catch after a long (but surprisingly short) week of readings, meetings and hours of raging hunger. It was a good week. I had anticipated it, as I scheduled meetings both professional and casual that I had not done in a long time. I understood Maslow’s theory on needs. I get a high from being with good people, no matter how quick my thoughts and emotions traverse from aloneness and loneliness. It is raining outside, and I see my quirky literature professor going home with his blind dog. He is wearing a at that has a hole on the top, exposing his gleaming head. People are strange and wonderful. All I can say to describe this moment is in hues of baby blue.

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