Life in Jinju: Four Months

And just like that, four months has gone by. I can still remember sitting in the exact spot I am now writing my three month reflection post, amazed that three months had gone by so quickly. I’ve heard people say that the passage of time accelerates as you get older, and I am starting to believe that this statement is true.

Hong Kong

December was an eventful month, full of excitement, friendship, and travel. For those of you who regularly read my blog, you know that I went to Hong Kong this month, visiting Disneyland, Victoria Peak, and various other attractions around Tsim Sha Tsui where I stayed. This trip was the first time I left Korea since arriving at the end of August.

Traveling to Hong Kong helped me to become even more confident as a solo female traveler. Even though I had to sleep in an airport, and even though I almost missed the last bus to Jinju after my flight landed, everything worked out perfectly. It took me a few days to recover from the two hours of sleep I got in the airport and then the late night I had after returning from Hong Kong, but the trip was revitalizing.

New Habits

I also took on a lot of challenges this month, the biggest one being my one month minimalism challenge, where I decluttered hundreds of objects from my apartment. Now, I feel more energized and less overwhelmed. Everything I own has a place and a purpose. Plus, having a nice, organized, and minimized apartment is a great way to kick off the new year.

Along with cleaning house, I also took on some new habits in December. I started doing yoga again, beginning before I left for Hong Kong and immediately picking back up when I returned home. It’s been a great way for me to end my day, or kick of my Saturday mornings. Although its only been a few weeks, I can feel my balance improving and my confidence improving. So shout out to Adrienne over at Yoga with Adrienne for being an awesome resource for at home yoga.

I’ve also abandoned my horrible habit of leaving unwashed dishes in the sink for days. It takes a lot less time to just was a dish after using it than it takes to wash the 12 I let pile up in the sink over time. By always washing my dishes when I make them, I’ve had more time to read, journal, and write. Not only that, but my pots and pans are always clean when I go to cook something, which is definitely a plus.

New Experiences

Finally, December brought about some new experiences right here in Jinju. The first experience was spending Christmas away from home for the first time ever. While Thanksgiving kicked off the holidays away from home, Christmas has definitely always been more of a gathering holiday for me than Thanksgiving. I woke up early and started my day by FaceTiming with my parents in Virginia, my sister in Pennsylvania, my brother in Oklahoma, and my Nana, who was hosting Christmas Eve dinner, in Pennsylvania. I spent the rest of the day with the friends I have made here, eating, drinking, and being merry.

Another new experience I had this month was getting acupuncture for my back pain. Although I’m still unnerved from the whole experience, at least I can say it is something I have tried in my life.

December has been another good month, one that went by far too quickly. I will spend the last weekend of December in Ulsan with my friend, visiting the city for its Light Festival. And then, before I can even wrap my head around it, 2019 will be here, and a new year will start all over again.


As It Was

Stepping through the familiar doorway, I flick on the light. The bulb in the floor lamp flickers from months of disuse before illuminating the space, exactly how it was when I left it. Looking around, the room appears fuzzy, and my hand instinctively reaches toward my face, checking for the plastic frame of my glasses. They’re there, lenses intact. Blinking, I step inside, hesitant and full of unease.

I recognize this place, the futon littered with blankets to keep away the cold December chill, the bars stools found at a yard sale that I had every intention of repainting, but never did, and the bedroom with its bare walls except for the vibrant tapestry hung above the bed. All these things are mine, and yet nothing feels like mine. In fact, it feels as though these rooms have been abandoned for years, not just four months.

From the baseboards, the heating system rattles to life as I turn the thermostat to 55 degrees, just like I used to. My hand lingers on the dial, and I try to remember why I returned to this place, but I cannot recall.

It doesn’t seem right, that I should be back here. There was a time when this place was home, the first place I could truly call my own. But that time has come and gone, and I no longer take ownership for the things held within these four walls. The life that is represented in this space was mine, but is mine no longer.

I turn to leave, walking past the mirror and catching a glimpse of the person reflected there. I see myself, only differently than how I currently am. The person in the mirror is tired, her eyes dull. Perhaps that was how I looked back then, like I had lost the part of myself that found joy in life. Perhaps I had resigned myself to the melancholy I am so prone to. But even behind the sadness, I could still see that desire to escape somewhere new. I gave her a slight smile, and walking out the door, the room and all its remnants of my past life fading behind me.

My Final Days in Hong Kong

After my excursion to Disneyland, I still had three more days to spend in Hong Kong. I wasn’t quite sure how I would spend all of my time, especially as a solo traveler, but I made it work and actually managed to cross off almost everything on the list of things I wanted to do in Hong Kong.

Monday I decided I would stick around Tsim Sha Tsui where I was staying. I left my hostel fairly early and headed to the Hong Kong Museum of History, which was about a 10 minute walk from the hostel where I was staying. Not knowing much about the history of Hong Kong other than some hazy information about the Opium Wars, I was set on spending most of my day at the museum.

I took my time going through the exhibit, learning about everything from the rock formations that make up the ground under my feet to the customs of the various folk villages that came together to make the great city of Hong Kong. There was so much I didn’t know, and when I finally left the museum after about three and a half hours, I felt like I had a better understanding of Hong Kong’s culture.

Following my trip to the museum, I found a vegetarian restaurant for lunch and then headed to Kowloon Park. The park was right behind my hostel, which made it a prime location for me to spend downtown during the day. I spent the rest of my afternoon people watching and reading The Man in the High Castle. 

The night, I headed down to the harbor front, an area that became one of my favorites during my stay. As I was walking down, I head live music, and decided to check it out. A performer was singing songs in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. The English songs were mostly Ed Sheeran, and as I do, I sang along under my breath. What I didn’t know is that this performer regularly asks members of the audience to sing with him and the next thing I knew, I was handed a microphone and singing The A-Team and Lego House in front of a crowd of strangers.

On Tuesday, I ventured across the harbor to Victoria Peak. I read online that it’s best to get there early, before lines get long. What the website didn’t tell me is that the earliest but to the tram leaves at 10 a.m., so after standing around for nearly an hour, I joined a group of strangers in taking an Uber to the peak, which saved me both time and money. When I arrived, I went into the Peak Tower, buying a ticket for the overlook. The view from the top was spectacular.

After taking it all in, I made my way back down and headed toward the Victoria Peak Garden. From the garden, there were even more amazing views of Hong Kong and fewer tourists. I spent time enjoying the cool breeze and my last full day in Hong Kong before journeying down the mountain to find Loving Hut for some lunch.

I took the ferry back to Tsim Sha Tsui and decided to go to the markets in Jordan. After so much walking over the last four days, I embraced the subway system.

The markets in Jordan are massive, selling everything from fresh produce, to clothing and bags, to jade jewelry. I stepped into the jade market, but after being grabbed by three rather aggressive sales people, decided the jade market wasn’t for me since I wasn’t buying anything, anyway. I much preferred the open-air street markets where you can browse from a safe distance while enjoying some street food.

My final day in Hong Kong was a low-key one. Since I only had a few hours after waking up to spend in the city before I had to head to the airport, I spent went down to the harbor and took in the city skyline one last time.

As I flew back to Incheon, I was grateful that I had the opportunity to spend five days in Hong Kong. Not only was it nice to be able to read all the signs and speak English everywhere I went for a few days, but it was also a break from the Winter cold back in Korea. Now, it’s back to winter coats and Christmas festivities.

Leave the Clutter in 2018: Things to Get Rid of Before 2019 Begins

As one year turns to another, we are always seeking new ways to improve our lives in the new year. As I continue my Minimalism Challenge throughout December, I’ve been considering the things that everyone should consider cleaning out before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, indicating the start of a new year. 

Here are some of the things that I personally believe would help you to start 2019 heading in a positive direction.

Unsubscribe from e-mail lists

Every morning I wake up and I have loads of unread e-mails, the majority of which are announcing sales and coupons for stores I no longer shop at now that I am living in Korea. Even before moving, I never looked at these e-mails. Rarely was the subject line catchy enough to make me open the e-mail. In the majority of cases, I signed up for the e-mail list in order to get some sort of discount when shopping online.

If your inbox looks like mine, consider taking the time to unsubscribe from these e-mail lists. You can do this manually, or you can download an app like Unroll Me, which does all the hard work for you. While you might spend anywhere from 5-15 minutes unsubscribing from e-mails, that’s nothing compared to the time you’ll save over the course of a year when you aren’t taking the time to delete unopened e-mails every day.

Clean out your junk drawer for good

Every home has one. I grew up with a junk drawer. My grandparents had junk drawers. I had a junk drawer in my apartment in Pennsylvania. But when I moved to Korea with next to nothing, I didn’t make a junk drawer, because I had no junk. Before today, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I have no junk drawer. But after going three months without one, I have come to one very simple realization: you don’t need a junk drawer.

Seriously.

Clean it out. Put things where they belong. Throw away those old manuals for things you know how to use, get rid of those dead batteries, and stop hoarding garbage you don’t need. Say goodbye to your junk drawer and don’t look back.

Discard old papers

Nothing builds up in our living spaces like old papers. Receipts, bills, manuals, holiday and birthday cards, old photographs. They’re everywhere. It seems every time I turn around there is another receipt laying on my table or sticking out from under my bed. Where do they all come from? When will this cycle of finding and throwing away receipts end?! 

Before the new year ends, go through all those old papers laying around your home. Get rid of them. And make it a habit to ask for no receipt. If you’re given one, put it in the recycling immediately. Stop letting them pile up and slowly take over your living spaces. 

Bad habits

Bad habits may be the trickiest thing to give up as the new year begins. We often like to think about how great and wonderful we will be in the new year, because it’s not now. It’s later. We can always be better later. We can ditch our bad habits later, but for now, we can revel in them. Ditch that way of thinking and start breaking down those bad habits now. Changing habits takes time, and creating an arbitrary start date for an arbitrary reason is not going to help you change. Instead, start now. And if you slip, keep going. Try every single day to break down those bad habits. Because if you keep trying, even after failing time and time again, one day they won’t be habits anymore. 

It’s never too late to live the life you want to live or be the person you want to be. Don’t wait until you have more time or more money or a “reason” to start. Start today, and keep restarting every single day until you are living a life you love. And then, keep going.

The Magic of Hong Kong Disneyland

When I started planning my first vacation outside of Korea, I only had one requirement in mind. Wherever I went had to have a Disney resort. That narrowed my options to Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. Of course there are two Disney parks in the States and one in Paris, but I was looking for a budget vacation that would help make my Disney dreams come true. 

I have always loved Disney: Its movies, its music, and its various other forms of entertainment. In 2016, I went to two different Disney On Ice shows within four months, because after seeing the first one, I was obsessed. So when I finally made up my mind to go to Hong Kong, I was looking at Disneyland tickets before I even looked into places to stay. 

I originally planned to go to Disney the third or forth day of my trip, but by the time late evening rolled around on Saturday, I couldn’t stop thinking about Disneyland. After all, that was the reason I came to Hong Kong. So before I went to bed, I looked at the weather, checked which rail lines would take me to the resort, and got to bed, taking about how after years of waiting, I’d finally make it to Disney.

I woke up early Sunday morning, eager to start my trek to the island where Hong Kong Disneyland sits. I packed my bag full of water and some snacks. I had the print out of my admission pass tucked into my bag so I would not lose it. Then, I made my way toward Kowloon station. 

One of the more difficult parts of my stay in Hong Kong is that I did not buy a SIM card or a wifi egg, so I have had to rely on spotty public wifi. It hasn’t been too big of an inconvenience, except when the screenshots I take of Google Maps aren’t helpful, which is most of the time. It took me longer than anticipated to find the station, but once I did I quickly found the correct line and boarded my train toward Sunny Bay.

I arrived at Disneyland on a packed train with countless other people, some young, some old, some with, and some without children. It was a surreal experience, walking up toward the ticket counter and then to Guest Relations to get my ticket. Once I made it inside, I ran to the nearest place selling ears and got myself a pair. 

I spent the entire day wandering around the park, doing exactly as I pleased. Since I was alone, it wasn’t a big deal that I stood in line for an hour in a light rain to meet Chip and Dale. I also got character photos with King Louis from The Jungle Book and the OG himself, Mickey Mouse, all dressed up in his winter best.

When I wasn’t standing in line to meet characters, I ventured onto rides in every area of the park, ate some fun Disney food, and saw some special events. The great thing about this Disney park is that many of the rides are not your run of the mill “thrill rides.” Instead, they’re rides that move through an area telling a story, like the Winnie the Pooh ride that takes your though the Hundred Acre Wood or the tour of the Mystic Mansion. That isn’t to say there are no rides to get your heart racing– the RC car ride in Toy Story Land does just that, especially if you don’t like being sent backwards at high speed.

My favorite part of the night was the Tree Lighting Ceremony on Main Street USA, complete with snowfall. I’ve accepted that the fake snow I saw falling from the sky in Disney will be the only snowfall I see this December, so I took in every ounce of the magic. 

The night ended with the Paint the Night parade, a grand parade of lights and Disney favorites, all being put on by Sorcerer Mickey. 

I left not long after the parade, tired from the twelve hours I spent in the park, but wrapped up in the magic of it all. I’d been told before that Disney is a great place to go as adult, and that was definitely true. Someone also told me that Disney is great alone, because you can do what you want on your own time, and that is exactly what I did. By the time I collapsed into bed at nearly midnight, I would have been happy to go home the next day, without seeing anything else in Hong Kong, because I had finally gotten to Disney.

Minimalism Challenge: Week Three

As to be expected, week three of my minimalism challenge was the hardest week yet. It’s also the week I broke open my closet and did an assessment of what I brought with me from the States, and what I have actually worn since being here. I knew before even opening the closet that there were things in there that I’ve put on, only to take off immediately in favor of something I wear more often with more confidence. 

The past weekend was a great chance for me to clean out, as my neighbor and co-worker had a clothing swap party. She was kind enough to let me join in on the fun and her guests could come over to my apartment and take the clothing and jewelry I was ready to part with. Everything that remained at the end went to the second hand shop downtown.

But clothing and jewelry wasn’t the only thing that went this time around, although that did make up a majority of the week’s clean-out. I also continued to go through my kitchen, and went into my laundry room to do a quick assessment.

Below is a list of the 133 items I cleaned out in the third week of my minimalism challenge:

  • 38 wooden skewers
  • 25 magnets
  • 21 articles of clothing
  • 19 pieces of jewelry
  • 9 nose rings
  • 3 vacation souvenirs 
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • 2 hair accessories
  • 2 small kitchen things
  • 2 bike accessories
  • 2 power adapters
  • 1 lone earring with no match
  • 1 broken pair of headphones
  • 1 small drawer unit that fell apart in my hands when I tried to move it
  • 1 sleeping bag
  • 1 small travel makeup bag
  • 1 broken Christmas ornament
  • 1 Tupperware lid I missed the first week
  • 1 empty container of fabric softener that has been empty since September

Looking around my apartment, I can see the difference the last three weeks of cleaning and decluttering has made. My space is more comfortable, cleaner, and brighter. I don’t have to shove aside things I don’t use in order to find the things I do. While I’m not sure how much further I’ll be able to go, I’m glad I made it this far.

If you’re interested in doing my minimalism challenge, or interested in the original challenge, which involves working with a partner and making a bet as to who will make it the the furthest in decluttering, comment below! Happy cleaning! 

Hong Kong: First Impressions

As soon as I stepped off my plane I remembered how overwhelming the Hong Kong airport is. It’s huge, full of stores and eateries. This time around, I learned that the airport has its own rail system, much like the Atlanta airport in Georgia. I spent a decent amount of time in the airport, working my way through immigration and customs. I breezed past the baggage claim, my backpack full of everything I’d need for my five days in Hong Kong. For the second time, I attempted to locate the free showers in the airport only to fail once again, and made my way to the counter to buy a transit pass.

One thing I forgot about Hong Kong is that it’s currency is also dollars, but Hong Kong Dollars are very different than US dollars. The first time I was in the Hong Kong Airport and went to Starbucks, my coffee and sandwich cost $99, which equated to about $11. I forgot this fact when I swiped my bus card to leave the airport and it showed that the trip would cost $33, leaving me with only $67 left. Then I remembered that $33 HKD is like $4 USD.

When I finally stepped off the bus downtown, my first thought was that Hong Kong reminded me of New York City, only cleaner and slightly less crowded. All around me were signs written in English and Chinese. It was the first time I had seen so much English since I left the States in August. It was an odd feeling, being able to read and understand the signs that surrounded me.

Since it was still early, only about 9:00 a.m., I decided to find breakfast since the last thing I had eaten was a muffin at the rest stop on the way to Incheon. I walked toward the harbor, thinking it was nearing 10:30 rather than 9:30 and that I could just tough it out until lunch. When I realized that my watch hadn’t updated to the new time zone, I settled on finding the Starbucks near the harbor. Besides, I was tired and in need of coffee and wifi.

Before finding the Starbucks, I found the clock tower that was built in 1915 as a part of the Kowloon-Canton Railway. The clock tower is all the remains of the Kowloon Station. The tower overlooks a beautiful harbor-front view. I took a moment to just breathe, enjoying the view of the part of the city that sits on Hong Kong Island opposit the mainland.

For lunch I went to The Green Common and ate a Beyond Burger for the first time in MONTHS. Living in Jinju there aren’t a lot of vegetarian alternatives, especially not veggie burgers, so I savor end every bite, knowing that I probably wouldn’t be able to splurge again on such a special meal. By the time I was done with lunch, I still had plenty of time to kill before I couldcheck into my hostel, so I wandered around, making my way toward where I’d be staying. All I wanted at this point was a shower and a nap. Once I was finally able to check in, I got both.

To finish out my first night in Hong Kong, I ate dinner at a small Indian food vendor, found a supermarket nearby to pick up food for breakfast the rest of the week, and made my way to the harbor front to watch the Symphony of Lights. This light show happened every night, complete with fireworks. The display lasts ten minutes, but people started lining the harbor front over an hour before the show began.

I watched the display, amazed that I was sitting in Hong Kong, surrounded by strangers from all over the world. My first day in Hong Kong was coming to a close, and I realized just how grateful I was to be sitting there. Everything that was happening was all because I took a chance that changed my life for the better.

Sleeping in Airports: Incheon

If I went back and told my teenage self that I’d be sleeping in an airport in Asia in my mid-twenties, she’d never believe me. And yet here I am at nearly 4:00 a.m. sitting in the Incheon airport waiting to go to Hong Kong after a restless two hours of sleep prior to moving through security and immigration. 

Airport security in other countries is so much less intimidating, less scary, than TSA in the United States. In fact, the whole process of moving through security seems to get easier and easier, perhaps because I am finally growing used to what needs to be done and what cannot make it past the security checkpoint in the airport. This past year, I boarded a plane six times, not including the one I will board in less than an hour. While that number may be low to some, it seems odd for a girl who didn’t set foot into an airport until she was seventeen. 

This trip to Hong Kong is my first time leaving Korea since I arrived back in August. I left from Jinju, taking an express bus to Incheon, the city, not the airport. The last bus to the airport leaves Jinju around 2:00 p.m., which seams odd considering there are multiple flights leaving the airport at 4:30 a.m. A bus leaving Jinju at Midnight would never make it in time to catch one of those early morning flights. So I took the last bus to Incheon at 6:00 p.m. and boarded the subway. I’d need to take two different trains to get to the airport, each taking approximately 30 minutes. 

The train dropped me off in the terminal and I went about trying to find the best place to sleep. As it turns out, many others were doing the extract same thing, so my mission turned from finding the best place to sleep to finding an available place to sleep.

Now, I wait to board my flight to Hong Kong, the exhaustion I feel only outweighed by the anticipation for what I will find in the streets of Hong Kong.

Adventures in Teaching: Fall Semester

I still remember my first two weeks of teaching. More specifically, I remember how much of a train wreck I felt like. I always seemed to have extra time at the end of class and I didn’t know how to explain grammar structures in a way that made sense, nor did I include enough activities that helped to reinforce everything the kids were learning. I just tell myself everyone’s first two weeks are like that.

By the end of the semester, my kids were having fun in class. We played lots of games and I finally got them to speak in full sentences, through constant reminder and lots of encouragement. We did lots of worksheets and examples on the board. I finally figured out how to use warm-ups to tie lessons together. By the time my last day of elementary class rolled around, the kids didn’t want to go home. Instead, they asked to play one last game — a spelling game — before it was time to say goodbye. I was even given thank you notes and small gifts from some students. 

I learned a lot this first semester as a teacher. The most important thing I learned is to be flexible and to always have extra activities planned. Working at Jinju Academy has given me experience with so many different age groups, including pre-school, elementary, and middle school. By far, middle school is the group that challenged me the most. In many ways, working with all these age groups will continue to help me growing as an educator who is dynamic and flexible.

But now, the fall semester is over. I’ve said all of my goodbyes to the kids, and it’s time to prepare for what comes next: Winter Camp. Then, the Spring semester will begin. 

I’m so grateful for all the ways I was able to grow in the Fall semester. Teaching is a challenging career, and I have a newfound admiration for the teachers in my life and all the teachers I had growing up. I especially admire my high school German teachers, one of whom even took the time to give me advice in teaching foreign languages back in September when I was struggling to find my footing. Teaching isn’t easy, but every day it gave me a reason to smile. 

Minimalism Challenge: Week Two

I really thought week two of the minimalism challenge would be difficult. I thought I would struggle to find 84 things to purge from my small studio apartment that I have been living in for only three months, but as it turns out, this week took even less time to complete than the first week. Perhaps that is because I already knew what areas I would tackle this week. But I didn’t really realize that the few areas I would clear out would amass to 84 items. 

Here is what I discarded in week two of my minimalism challenge:

  • 23 shopping bags- I feel guilty about this one. As hard as I try to always have my own bag with me, sometimes I just forget. Or the person already puts my items in a bag, but I cannot tell them I don’t want the bag because, well, I don’t speak Korean.
  • 18 free sample products- every time you buy something from a beauty or skincare store in Korea, they give you a fistful of free samples. I finally decided to use them up and get them out of my space.
  • 13 receipts
  • 9 assorted books and maps- many of these were worn and outdated.
  • 8 small toys and pins
  • 2 tape measures
  • 2 used envelopes
  • 2 shoe boxes
  • 2 dead pens
  • 2 whiteboard markers
  • 1 empty soap box
  • 1 glue stick
  • 1 instruction sheet for a power adapter
  • 1 button
  • 1 empty shampoo bottle

Once again, many of the items I cleared out were left behind by the previous teacher who lived in my apartment. Although I’m not sure what he did with two tape measures, I decided that I don’t even have the need for one, and that they must go. This week’s goal was 84 items. I managed to clean out 86, exceeding my goal by 2! 

The most amazing thing about reaching 86 items is the fact that I still have not even opened my closet or any of my drawers. My laundry room remains untouched. Next week, my goal will be to rid my apartment of 133 items. I feel that the third week will be where the real challenge begins. But then again, I thought the same thing about this week, and I was able to find 86 items with ease. 

One thing that is important to remember when it comes to decluttering and minimizing doesn’t always mean getting rid of clothes and shoes. Sometimes it really is throwing out empty containers, old receipts, and other useless items that are taking up space in our homes. Happy minimizing!