Ulsan: A Festival of Lights

Early in December, my coworker asked me if I would be interested in taking a trip to Ulsan the weekend before the new year to go to their light festival. Wanting to see more of what Korea has to offer, I quickly agreed.

So in the week leading up to our planned trip, we arranged bus times and booked an airbnb before making our way to Ulsan early Saturday morning.

We arrived in Ulsan around noon. Stepping off the bus was a great relief for me, as I never quite outgrew my tendency to suffer from motion sickness. Shortly after arriving and my stomach settled, we decided the first order of business would be to find lunch. It turned out to be quite the challenge. Sam is gluten free, and I don’t consume any meat products, which leaves very few options we can both eat in Korea. Fortunately, there was an Indian restaurant nearby, so we braced ourselves against the wind and made our way out of the bus terminal and into the downtown.

Ulsan is a much larger city in Korea, with a population of about 1.1 million, making it much larger than Jinju. Known as an industrial powerhouse in Korea, Ulsan is home to the world’s largest automobile assembly plant, owned by Hyundai. But despite being an industrial city, Ulsan definitely had a lot to offer for anyone visiting the city for a day or two.

Sam and I went to Ulsan specifically for the Light Festival, a large display of lights set up in the Ulsan Grand Park. The displays at the festival included the Zodiac, Under the Sea, Superheroes, and a large maze of lights leading to a giant Moravian-style star. Dotted throughout the festival were tents with space heaters inside, which we much needed as it was a cold December night. It took just under an hour to make our way through the entire display.

Following the festival, Sam and I went toward the University in Ulsan to find something for dinner. We found a restaurant that had a variety of soups for Sam to choose from, and French fries for me. We stayed there for hours, telling stories, drinking soju, and talking about the various things that brought us to that very moment.

When the soju was gone and it was nearly midnight, we made our way to our airbnb. The next day, we would catch a mid-morning bus back to Jinju.

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.

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.

Another Undertaking: Project 333

Another day, another challenge. The latest in my end-of-the-year undertakings is Project 333. Project 333 challenges you to dress with 33 articles of clothing and accessories for three months, packing the rest away and out of sight. In this time frame, you also cannot buy any new clothing or accessories, so what you have is what you have.

That said, there are exceptions to 333. For instance, undergarments, socks, sentimental jewelry that you always wear, and in-home lounge and sleepwear are not included in the count. But things like belts, bags, and shoes are.

Last night, I went through my closet, pulling out everything I wanted to wear for the next three months, focusing on sweaters and warm clothing and leaving the dresses for the far-off days of spring. While I was choosing, I was not counting my selections. That would come at the end. I just chose, one item at a time, and laid them out on my bed. When I counted everything, my selections came to 34. Not bad, considering I was just going on feeling. But one item had to go. Looking over my pile, it was easy to make my selection and I decided to purge the baseball baseball hat sitting on top of the pile.. After all, I had only kept it out to wear when I travel to Hong Kong next week. Otherwise, Korea is far too cold now to be wearing a baseball hat outside. 

My final selections, not including my winter coat, hat, and gloves

I looked over my final selections. Sweaters, two button-up shirts, a cardigan,  two dresses, five pairs of pants, a pair of leggings, two bags, a winter coat, hats, gloves, and two scarves. Not bad. Definitely a workable wardrobe. No crazy patterns that would be hard to match. Just simple colors: muted pinks and reds, a smattering of earth tones, and black and grey. What more could I possibly need in the winter? 

So I went to work, folding and packing the rest of my clothing into two small cardboard boxes. They were the largest ones I could find outside of E-mart, but still small. When the boxes were packed, I tucked them out of sight along with the shoes that did not make the cut. Packing my things away gets easier every time I do it. Making decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of gets easier too, less emotional and more rational, the more I do it.

By constantly assessing my belongings and asking myself if they are adding value to my life or serving a deliberate purpose, I’ve become more comfortable with the truth that things hold no intrinsic value. Rather, possessions can add value to our lives, and that value changes over time. Something that adds value to our lives when we are thirteen may no longer add value at twenty-three. So why do we so desperately cling to things? I am still trying to find the answer, but I do not think the answer can be neatly tied up with a bow. Rather, there are a lot of factors, different for everyone, that play into our desire to accumulate things and never let them go.

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. 

Traveling Korea: Andong (안동) & Pohang (포항)

On a sunny October weekend, I was lucky enough to take a trip to two new places in South Korea, Andong and Pohang. The trip was an overnight adventure planned out and taken by my school, so on a cold Saturday morning, I boarded a large travel bus full of students and those who work in the offices downstairs and headed to Andong, a small city about three hours away from Jinju.20170601_130817

Andong is located in the North Gyeongsang province in Korea, and is a cultural center in the country. One of the famous places in Andong is the Hahoe Folk Village, a traditional folk village located just outside of the city. Andong is also famous for its traditional folk masks, which were abundant in the folk village. In fact, part of the trip was making our own masks in the village! After completing the masks, we were given time to walk through the village before heading to lunch. After lunch, it was time to get back on the bus and head to our next destination: a Confucian temple. If I haven’t made it clear, I have a fascination with temples and Eastern philosophies, so I was happy I got to see another temple. The final stop in Andong was the Woryeonggyo Bridge, the longest wooden footbridge in Korea. The bridge was definitely a beautiful part of Andong and a great opportunity to take some photos.

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Following our excursion to the bridge, it was time to head toward our hotel in the city of Pohang. We drove for over an hour, stopping off to eat dinner. The food at this restaurant was fantastic. The cook prepared me a vegetarian-friendly soup with a spicy broth, plenty of veggies, noodles, and tofu. After dinner, it was time to get back on the bus and drive to the hotel. This was my first overnight stay somewhere other than Jinju since arriving, and I was curious to see what the hotel would be like. My room reminded me of the rooms I stayed in night after night as an admissions counselor when I went from one Hilton brand hotel to another.

After settling into the hotel, myself and the others set out to find a cafe, finding a cute place down the road with an outdoor seating area on the roof. It was the perfect place to have a latte and get some writing done.

In the morning, we boarded the bus once again and went for a hike. The views were spectacular and the weather was sunny and cool. At the base of the trailhead was another Temple (woo!) and a small festival. It was a great way to spend the morning. The afternoon was spent beside the ocean at the Homigot (호미곶). 20170602_150743They’re in the shape of two hands, one on land and one in the sea and symbolize the coexistence of humankind. It was an incredible afternoon and my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. Being able to touch the Pacific Ocean may not seem significant to many, but to be able to see and feel something that always felt so far away was significant for me. I feel that my moments spent next to the ocean were symbolic of just how far I have come, and that I am coexisting in a new way.

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Every opportunity I have to travel Korea reinforces just how at peace I feel in making the decision to come here. Those who took the same journey told me how transformative this year would be for me, and I feel myself changing slowly and in small ways every day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of Korea has in store for me as I continue my travels in this amazing country I now call home.

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Traveling Korea is a series of posts about my various trips outside of Jinju. All posts on these travels can be found under the tag #travelingkorea.

Life in Jinju: Lights, Lights, Lights

The start of October brought me much more this year than the chilly weather I desire so badly after a hot and humid summer. In Jinju, October also means the beginning of a two week celebration: the Lantern Festival. The festival is held along the Nam River and at the Fortress, which I am lucky enough to be able to walk to in about five minutes. Lanterns depicting scenes from the Japanese Invasion of 1592, fairy tales, and popular culture are put on display throughout the grounds of the fortress and on the water. The bridges connecting the banks of the river are lined with lights, creating a dreamy, fairy tale-like experience as one walks from one side of the festival to the other. All along the sidewalks, lanterns hang overhead, lighting the way.

Along with the intricate lanterns scattered throughout the festival, festival-goers also had the opportunity to send their own lantern, along with their wishes, onto the water. These small lanterns attracted crowds of people who all filed into a tent to write out their hopes, dreams, and wishes for the upcoming year, which they afix to the lantern before taking it out to the river to watch it float down. Hannah and I got our lanterns, wrote out our wishes, and sent out lanterns down the river, side by side.

Of course, no festival would be complete without food. Venders set up along the riverbanks, selling everything from buckets of chicken and potatoes on a stick to cotton candy and watermelon juice served right in the rind. Of course, my favorite were the potatoes on a stick with chili pepper seasoning.

The festival is also a great opportunity to see some fireworks. The opening night, fireworks were sent off into the sky around 8 p.m., a perfect time considering the festival started on a Monday and Tuesday was a work day. While most fireworks are pretty universal, there were some fireworks I had not seen before back in the States. October 3 was a holiday, so in true celebratory fashion, there were more fireworks. While I did not venture out to see these ones, I was able to see them from my window. Before the festival wraps up, there will be one more night of fireworks.

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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.