Why the tendency to land myself in places that are cold? Let’s see…
when I studied abroad in Beijing, winter was about -10°C (14°F)
when I worked in Seoul, Christmas was -14°C (6.8°F)
when I visited Harbin for the Ice and Snow Festival, it was a walloping -35 °C (-31°F). Standing in front of St Sophia Cathedral (see photo below), both myself and the bing tang hu lu held in my hand were quite frozen, albeit one slightly more than the other.
In front of St. Sophia Cathedral (Haerbin, China 2011). Even the sugar-coated plums turned form soft and juicy to completely frozen.
Having been to very very cold places and lived (obviously) to tell the tale, here are some tried and true advice to staying warm. Continue reading →
Jejudo is Korea’s largest island, famous both as holiday and honeymoon island. The island has been compared to Hawaii, Disneyland, and even paradise. While I admit the island is most striking because of its volcanic landscape and beautiful sandy beaches, my trip, which included biking, camping, and packaged ramen, was less than idyllic.
For my one-week Chuseok holiday (barely a month since my arrival in Korea), I joined my friend Warren’s Jeju tour. A group of 60 or so participants, we were to travel down south from Seoul via bus, then boat to Jejudo. Once arrived, we would follow highway 1132, which circulates the island, and bike the entire 225 km (140 miles) in six days. I did a little quick math and saw that we would be biking roughly 60 km (40 miles) a day, which, didn’t sound too terrible, so… I went.
Unfortunately, being so clueless about distance has its setback. I discovered, with the island’s up-and-down volcanic landscapes and blustery wind, I was pedaling but barely moving. My muscles were sore and my butt hurt.
It’s a love-hate relationship when it comes to Korean food. On the one hand, dining gets boring when options revolve around rice, kimchi, jjigae, and grilled meats. On the other hand, because Korean food has a certain “flavor” to it — fermented gochujang (chili paste), doenjang (soybean paste), you start craving for it when you’ve been away.
I swear, when I returned from my one-month South East Asia trip, the first thing I did was visit our neighborhood Korean chain restaurant and ordered jjigae.
The thing about abandoning everything and living in a foreign country where all aspects of it — language, culture, custom, are unfamiliar, is shocking easy. Back in 2010, I was a newly grad fresh out of college who didn’t want her fun to end, and my decision to work in Korea was a no- brainer. With my airfares and apartment paid for, I figured that the year abroad would be a party.
It was, in a way, but it was definitely not what I had expected.
“Hello, I am Sherry Teacher”
I had envisioned myself teaching at an all boys high school in the heart of Seoul, sort of a teacher by day, glam girl by night kind of deal. In reality, I taught ALL-GIRLS high school and lived in SSangmun, a suburb that has more traditional rice cake (떡) shops than bars. Another aspect that I had failed to taken into consideration was: “Koreans speak Korean, not English.” Now this may seem obvious, but I had honestly believed that because Seoul is an international metropolis, I could survive with just “안녕하세요” (“Hello”).
I lived and worked in Seoul, Korea, from 2010 to 2011. Just to clarify, I am not, nor do I speak, Korean. Furthermore, I had no particular interest in Korean dramas or pop stars. Hence, you might ask, “Why did you go to Korea?”
Frankly, I do not not know myself. But I can most certainly retort with a “Why not?”. In Alastair Reid’s poem,“Curiosity,” there are two types of people — dogs and cats. A dog person opts for stability (e.g. family, work) while a cat person seeks the unknown. Contrary to popular proverb that “curiosity kills the cat,” the poem contends that it is the lack of curiosity that kills us. For only the curious, “have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.”
I survived Korea splendidly. But that was luck and, I would say 87%, attributed to meeting a lot of great people. For those who don’t like to leave having a good time to chance, there are a thing or two you should know about the city.