Vegetarian in Korea

One of the biggest challenges I have living in Korea is finding food I can eat that wasn’t prepared in my own kitchen. Living in a small city by Korean standards, my options for eating out tend to be pretty limited. After nearly five months of living in Jinju, I’ve become used to it and have really grown my culinary skills. I guess I’m lucky that I’ve always loved to cook.

I stopped eating meat nearly two and a half years ago for many reasons, the biggest one being my health. The hormones pumped into livestock exacerbated some already existing health problems and I decided to see how my health would improve without it. I also watched one too many documentaries on industrial agriculture and decided that was not something I wanted any part in. I knew when I moved abroad, my feelings wouldn’t change and that I would somehow find a way to stay true to my beliefs and do whats best for my health.

There are many reasons that it’s difficult to find vegetarian meals in Korea, the biggest one being the sheer prevalence of meat. Similar to America, most dishes are centered around meat. In fact, many restaurants do not offer any options without meat, and not knowing the language makes it difficult to ask for something without it.

Another reason it’s difficult is how common hidden meat ingredients are. Soups are typically made with some type of animal or fish stock, and different types of fish sauces are used to flavor foods, so even something that is seemingly vegetarian-friendly might not be. What makes this more difficult is that many people tend to forget that these ingredients are not vegetarian-friendly.

Saladen avocado salad with sesame dressing

But although it’s hard, I have found a way to make it work. Typically, I just prepare my own food at home, picking up staples at the grocery store and outdoor market, or ordering hard to find ingredients online. Since moving, I’ve probably learned how to prepare tofu 50 different ways. I’ve also found some really great places around Jinju for when Subway just isn’t cutting it. So whether its homemade chana masala or a hearty salad from Saladen, being vegetarian in Korea really isn’t that bad.

Minimalism Challenge: Week Four

This week was the final week of my minimalism challenge, and I am not going to lie, I have been dragging my feet to go through this final stage of decluttering. Mostly because I’ve known since week three that I would not be able to find 220 more items to purge from my apartment, which is now the most organized, clutter-free space I have ever lived in.

With that being said, I forced myself to take inventory today, December 31, and discard any lingering items that I did not need and were taking up space in my life. Some of these things were passed over in the first three weeks, while others were things I had decided to hold onto, only to change my mind this time around.

Week Four’s Items

  • 80 sachets of tea
  • 11 aluminum food trays
  • 10 receipts
  • 5 store membership cards
  • 4 manuals
  • 2 reusable water bottles
  • 2 paper shopping bags
  • 2 cables
  • 1 empty tea jar
  • 1 paint brush
  • 1 magnet
  • 1 candle with a crushed wick
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 lighter

Week four’s total: 122 items

Minimalism Challenge Total: 386/475

Although I came up a little bit short at the end of the challenge, I still believe I have done an excellent job decluttering my apartment and minimizing my possessions. Now, everything in my apartment has a place. I don’t spend time searching for things, and I actually use the things I own. While there are still some things that remain, hidden away, I have also taken care to be mindful of the next person that will live in this apartment someday.

Not only was this minimalism challenge fun, it was also eye-opening. I mentioned this in an earlier post, but clutter is clutter. Whether it is in the form of too many pairs of shoes or a bag full of bags shoved under the kitchen sink, it still takes up space in our lives. In fact, since undergoing this challenge, I’ve been able to store things under my sink, because it’s no longer overrun by things I don’t use or need. I don’t think I’ll be able to do this challenge again any time soon, especially with my New Year’s Resolution to undergo a year without shopping, but I know that I should check in every month or so to make sure I throw away all the receipts that I have shoved into my wallet.

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! 

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.

Minimalism Challenge: Week One

I’ve written about minimalism a few times before, noting that my inspiration to live a more minimal and meaningful life began back in February after watching a documentary from The Minimalists on Netflix. Before moving to Korea, I sold, donated, and got rid of 90% of my possessions, but after watching some minimalism videos on YouTube today, I thought it might be a good time to check in to see how my minimalism journey is going here in Korea. I haven’t really checked in since I got here, but I also haven’t accumulated much. That being said, there was a decent amount left behind in my apartment, and much of it I have never used.

One thing I came across in my video watching was this thing called the “Minimalism Game.” Essentially how it works is you declutter your space a little bit every day, getting rid of the same number of things that it is the day of the month. For example, on the 1st, you get rid of one item, and on the 12th you get rid of twelve. I love the idea of this challenge, so I decided December, the last month of the year, would be the perfect time to take it on and make sure I am really starting off on the right foot in the new year.

Since I am fairly busy between work, Korean lessons, and other things I do outside of work and studying, I decided to adapt this challenge to better fit my schedule. Rather that go through my possessions each day, I decided to add up how many items I would discard each week, and dedicate one day a week to minimize. Typically I clean my apartment on Sundays, so that will likely be the day I minimize as well. Since I discovered this challenge on a Tuesday, I decided to kick it off right after work, gathering up the first 45 items that I would be ridding my apartment of for the first week.

One of the great things about decluttering is it doesn’t always mean getting rid of large items like clothing, shoes, etc. So to start, I tackled some of the most annoying kinds of clutter that have been piling up on my table, in my fridge, and in my cabinets.

In the first week of my minimalism challenge, I was able to get rid of:

  • 19 papers, including old bills, receipts, and outdated resumes
  • 1 Pringles lid
  • 4 Tupperware lids with no matching containers
  • 1 Tupperware container with no lid
  • 2 half used jars of spaghetti sauce that were no longer edible
  • 1 stained wine glass
  • 1 bag of stale cereal
  • 7 packages of expired seaweed
  • 1 expired jar of tea
  • 1 package of jelly
  • 2 lids for pots I don’t own
  • 4 spuddy potatoes
  • 1 twist tie for a bag of mushrooms

This brought me to a total of 45 items in the first week, and I never even opened my wardrobe. 

I have to admit, it feels great to have all the expired food out of my cabinets. Much of the expired food was left behind by the teacher who lived in this apartment before me. But rather than getting rid of it, I just kept pushing it aside and letting it take up space in my cabinet. Now, I have more space to organize the food I have, which will make it easier for me to keep track of what I have and visualize my meals more easily. 

Next week, I will be going through my apartment attempting to get rid of 84 items. 84! It seems like such a big number, so I am eager to see how easily I can find 84 items in my apartment that aren’t adding value to my life or serving a purpose.

Life in Jinju: Three Months an Expat

Every time I think about how much time has passed since I moved to Korea, I am taken aback. While I don’t feel that my time here has been dragging by, it also doesn’t seem to be racing by as quickly as it has been.

This week marks three months since I first arrived in Jinju.

Three months since I started one of the most formative journeys of my young life.

Jirisan

Before coming to Korea, I heard over and over again that this experience would change me, but no one could ever really elaborate on how I would change. Likely because everyone’s experience is unique and results in personal changes that cannot translate to another person. Even so, I am only just scratching the surface of the changes I am undergoing.

Be Gentle With Yourself. After All, You are All You Have.

The most crucial change I am undergoing is undoing years of damage I have done to myself with my thoughts and words against myself. Until moving to another country, I didn’t realize just how critical I was of myself, just how often I put myself down and put harmful thoughts on repeat.

While I spent a decent amount of time alone back in the States, it wasn’t until I only had myself that I realized just how much I had mistreated myself. There is no distraction from my own thoughts and feelings, because the majority of the time I am awake, my friends are asleep. That makes me the only person I have the majority of the time. At least in the sense of having someone who really knows me and my life before Korea.

Travel More

Jirisan

My time in Korea has also brought me plenty of travel opportunities. I’ve done a few day trips as well as extended weekend trips since arriving in Korea. I’ve gotten to experience festivals, beautiful hikes, and plenty of public transportation.

I also have more travel planned. In December, I will leave Korea for the first time since arriving. I spent weeks trying to figure out where to go, knowing that one of my top priorities was to finally go to a Disney theme park. So after researching the parks, travel expenses, and visa requirements, I settled on Hong Kong, where I will spend five days. I can’t wait to share all of my experiences from my trip.

Homesick, but Found

Snowfall in NEPA, 2016

Finally, my first three months in Korea brought with it the expected bouts of homesickness. Each time I felt a longing to be back in Pennsylvania, I could directly pin down the culprit that brought about this nostalgic melancholy. First was homecoming, which happened the weekend after Hannah left Korea, making it a double whammy. This homesickness only lasted for one day.

The next came when Pennsylvania experienced the first big snowfall of the year. As much as I hated driving in snow, I cannot deny its beauty. Sitting inside watching the snow come down while reading a book and drinking tea never fails to warm me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will experience snow in Jinju like I did back home.

But other than those two major experiences of homesickness, I have not felt any overwhelming sadness to be in Pennsylvania. Life in Korea has been good to me. I’ve made many friends, traveled, and even started learning the language. All in all, I’d say that these three months have treated me well, and I can’t wait to share what month number four will bring.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Holidays Away from Home

Although this isn’t my first year living on my own, it is my first year living so far from my friends and family. In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I was a little skepticle about how I’d spend Thanksgiving, my first holiday in Korea. But as Thanksgiving day approached, plans became more concrete and I was prepared for nearly an entire week of celebrating with friends and plenty of food.

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The first holiday invitation to come was from the woman that my coworkers and I take Korean lessons with. She invited us to her home on Thanksgiving day to enjoy a meal together. It wasn’t your traditional Thanksgiving fare. Rather, it was a table set with Korean food, including some tofu for me. We spent a few hours talking with her and her husband, hearing stories from their time living in the United States and also talking about our own experiences before coming to Korea.

Earlier that week, I have dinner with one of the many friends I’ve made in Korea, and once again I enjoyed some traditional Korean foods made specially without the meat. We stayed together long after the food was gone, filling the room with laughter and warm memories.

With the weekend came Friendsgiving. While I’ve celebrated Friendsgiving in the past, this one was special because all of us were spending our first holiday away from home. We all crammed into a studio apartment and ate mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, soup, and for the meat eaters, chicken. As we began to eat, we shared what we were thankful for. For many of us, it was that our lives all converged together at that moment in time. That we had each other, and that whatever it was we were running toward, or from, had brought all of us together in that room.IMG_1655

For dessert, we had korean pancakes with cinnamon sugar filling, fruit, truffles, and apple pie. The room was filled with laughter and stories from people who came from all over the world. It was everything I could have asked for this year.

But it doesn’t end there. The following night was the Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the International Church. This event is the one everyone looks forward to because it is all the foods of Thanksgiving–turkey, stuffing, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, and even pumpkin pie. Where they managed to find all of those things in Korea, I’ll never know. But it didn’t matter, because sitting in the crowded church basement surrounded by my friends I felt right at home.

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As an expat, holidays can be difficult. We’re reminded of just how far we are from wherever it is we call home. But for me, I spent the week surrounded by caring people. I was reminded of the kindness of others and the importance of community. This Thanksgiving has given me so much to be grateful for.

Life in Jinju: Two Months

Day in and day out, it’s easy to lose track of how much time has passed. As each day comes and goes in my new life, I sometimes forget that it’s already been over two months since I first arrived in Korea: excited, hopeful, and a little overwhelmed.

Now, as I sit in my 4th floor apartment, it truly feels like mine, and in turn, feels like home. As much as I would like to admit it has been smooth sailing since the day my flight touched down, that would be a lie. While the majority of my experiences in Korea have been positive, there have been moments of hardship. The most prominent was the bout of homesickness I experienced the weekend of my university’s homecoming, an event I always enjoyed attending. The first few weeks of teaching also overwhelmed me as I adjusted to working with two incredibly different age groups and skill levels doing something I had never done before.

But for each moment I felt overwhelmed, I’ve experienced abundant happiness. In my two months in Korea, I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world and have spent my free time exploring and making memories with them. My best friend took the long journey to spend a week with me, allowing me to show this amazing place to someone else. I’ve even found a great church community after spending time church hopping, hoping to find somewhere I would want to go every Sunday. Teaching has become easier, although it will never be easy, and I feel overjoyed when I see my kids understand something they didn’t before. My desire to see the world and learn more about this vast, dynamic planet I live on, grows each day, and in my free time, I travel around my city, this country, and soon, I will venture outside of Korea.

If you had asked me a year ago where I would be right now, I’d have told you I would be completing applications for PhD programs back in the States. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming an expat, but now that I am here, I couldn’t see my life going any other way. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2018 has in store for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Life in Jinju: What City Life is Really Like

Find any person and ask them their opinion on living in a city and I guarantee that they’ll have one, whether they’ve ever lived in a city or not. I will be the first to agree, living in the city is not for everyone, and by the same token, living in a rural area (or as I like to call it, the middle of nowhere) is not for everyone.

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I was quite young when I first realized that I’d like to live in a city someday. Growing up, I’d go on school field trips to Philadelphia almost every year and always enjoyed myself. In high school, I went on trips to New York City, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C in America and countless cities as an exchange student in Germany and Austria. In college, I found my way up to Boston, over to Dublin, and into Galway. My first year after graduation took me to Norfolk, Atlanta, Baltimore, and Toronto. Every city pulled me in, and I was absorbed by the hustle and bustle of life that filled every nook and cranny. My discontentment with life in Wilkes-Barre, a city by definition but not in reality, grew each and every day.

So when I received my placement in South Korea, I was thrilled. I’d finally get a taste of the life that had been calling out to me for years.

By Korean standards, Jinju is a small city. For all my American readers, Jinju is larger than Pittsburgh but smaller than Boston in regard to population. Considering Boston and Pittsburgh are two of my favorite cities back in the States, I’d say I really lucked out.

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So what is living in a city really like? For me, it’s everything I wanted. To say I miss having a car and driving would be an absolute lie. I love that I can walk wherever I need to go, and if I want to venture a little further out than I can go on foot in a reasonable amount of time, I can just hop on a bus or call a taxi. Traveling to other cities is just as effortless. I walk to the bus terminal, I buy a ticket, I go. Bus schedules are easily accessible online, tickets are affordable, and the busses are reliable.

Living in Jinju, I have close access to so many things I enjoy. There are coffee shops on nearly every corner. When I want a taste of home, all I have to do is drop into the local Starbucks. I recently discovered my favorite cafe just a few blocks from my apartment. It has a cozy interior and a rooftop patio. It’s stunning and I’m sitting there enjoying a vanilla latte as I write this. Then of course there are other amenities I need. I live less than five minutes from the grocery store, which is more like a Target than a Redners, so not only can I buy food, but I can also pick up any home goods I may need.

One of the best parts of living in a city is that there is always somewhere to go and something to do. While I enjoy spending time by myself in my apartment, it doesn’t take much for me to get cabin fever, so even just being able to walk outside and go downtown  to window shop or walk the path along the river is great. There are festivals, open mic nights, live music, and all the things I craved when I was living back in the States. So while city life may not be for everyone, I’d say it’s definitely for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection.