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.


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.

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.

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.