DAY 1Aug 03 2017
4 AM wake up to head to the airport. 💤 Half asleep but so excited for this trip. It has been two years since my last big adventure, Scotland, which was also my first solo trip. I am more than ready for my second one.
How to make a flight weird: listen to a podcasts that makes you weep-smile. Just want to give a quick shout out to The Adventure Zone podcast for keeping me company on my long flight.
I just realized I had to go backwards in time before I could go forwards in time. Vancouver is approximately 4 hours behind Ottawa, where as Seoul is more like 1 day and 12 hours ahead of Ottawa.
DAY 2Aug 04 2017
On the way to the first Airbnb of the trip. Have not been horizontal for 20 hours.
Finally made it to the Airbnb in Gwangju before the end of Day 2. Exhausted, hungry, and a little bit cranky - but I am pleased that tomorrow will include a trip to Gwangju's Art Street and the spring baths at Damyang.
DAY 3Aug 05 2017
Woke up feeling very rested, but very nervous about this trip and maybe a little bit culture shook (I am feeling the distance from home and my family).
This won't be as easy a trip as Scotland, and I probably won't be able to rely on myself if something goes wrong. But I don't think anything else will. *knocks on wood*
Very lucky to have an Airbnb host who wanted to show off Gwangju (광주) and the surronding area to us. Since 광주 is not an international city like Seoul (서울) and Busan (부산), it can be a little difficult for non-natives speakers to get around. However, with the help of my host I have gone to BBQ for brunch, a bamboo forest in Damyang (담양), and a traditional public bath. After a rough start yesterday, it is nice to "have my hand held" and be led around on the second day.
It has definitely helped to ease me out of the culture shock that I was feeling this morning. Did I say "ease?" I think I meant "push." Being one of only two foreigners at a full-nude bath situated in rural 광주 is more like diving head first into a culture, rather than tip-toeing in.
I've used the bare minimum of Korean so far, but I have used some. I should also mention that I did accidentally respond to someone with spanish - I have my parents to thank for that.
DAY 4Aug 06 2017
Today we leave 광주 and take a TRAIN TO BUSAN, which will hopefully have fewer zombies than its been rumoured to have. However, in case of an emergency, my sister reminded me, that I just need to befriend a pregnant woman and then I am sure to get away without a scratch (or bite).
I am very, very proud to say that I conquered the public transit system of 광주. I got us to
광주송정역 (Gwangju Songseong Station) which was on the opposite side of the city without any problems. WOOHOO!
I am a superstar.
You may remember that I was on the wrong train to 광주, and was helped out by a wonderful woman who worked on Korail (her expression was priceless when we told her we wanted to go to 과주 - it was immediately clear that we were on the wrong train)? She happens to be the ticket attendant on the train to Osun (오순)! It was kind of wonderful that we recognized eachother. She was happy to see that we made it to 광주 and she double checked to make sure we were on the right route and that we knew where to transfer to get to 부산. The whole interaction was more adorable than I can express in words - you had to be there.
I am in Busan! (plays "Ma City" by BTS)
I instantly fell in love the moment I stepped off the train. The station was bright white, with windows all around so you could see the clear blue sky. Unlike the coastal cities I have been to before, which were more like quiet towns (except for you St. John's, you were awesome -- don't ever change), Busan is full of people!
Walked from the station to the second Airbnb, located within the apartment complex named Romeo & Juliet (I'm in Juliet). On the walk over, we were greeted by locals (I assume) welcoming me to Korea and to Busan and wishing me a good stay. I LOVE IT!
Gosh, coastal cities have such a great vibe!
[I'll try to be more careful with proof reading these posts. Sorry. Some them are written in a rush, with my fingers struggling to keep up with my brain.]
The first destination after we setup our basecamp in Busan was Jagalchi Market, the fish market. The place was full to the brim with scales, tentacles, and shells -- and good gawd was it expensive! So after a quick jaunt around the market, awkwardly dodging fish "barkers" (I can't think of a better way to describe them than "barkers" though I think that might be just as rude as calling them pushy - but they are just doing their job and that is what works here), we went across the street to street vendors in the shopping district of Nampo-dong.
OHMYGOODNESS! The skin care junkie in me was over the moon, but I was there for dinner and dessert -- not face masks and serums.
Dinner was ate at a street vendor's stall. I saw it and I wanted it and I'm not 100% sure what it was. Rice cake, fish cake, and dumplings.
Dessert was snowflake sulbing. Mango, apple and cheese flavoured. I don't normally like Mango, but it tastes much better when paired with cheese.
DAY 5Aug 07 2017
Currently taking the bus to the otherside of 부산. The plan is to visit the Haedong Yonggungsa (해동 용궁사), a buddhist temple dating back to the 14th century (I'll have to double check that. I don't quite remember).
Next on the list is Haeundae Beach (해운대 물가), if it starts raining might go to the aquarium instead. Don't worry, Mom, there was a weather update that said the Typhoon isn't headed towards 부산 anymore.
The plan for the evening is stick around that area until after dark because I love-love pretty lights.
It was a long, long day of touring around 부산. The Buddhist Temple was really neat, leading up to it there was a long stretch of street vendors, stocked with food and jewelery and ornaments. It was very busy, possibly because of the national holiday.
해운대 물가 was equally as busy. Filled to brim with people looking for a way to cool off from 40 degree weather. THE WATER WAS PERFECT!
Even though there were loads of people it didn't actually feel overly crowded. Maybe that is because I was swimming and people watching, so I was content with just bobbing and diving around further out from the beach than most of the crowd.
DAY 6Aug 08 2017
I have just got off the train in Gyeongju (경주). This area was once the capital of Silla, one of the three ancient kingdoms which comprise modern day Korea.
Let the "research" begin!
So things did not fo quite as I had planned yesterday, for example my phone died while during my day trip to Gyeongju which is why I am writing on the Aug 9 and not Aug 8.
The temple and grotto were almost a 2 hour bus ride away from the train station, and then an hour bus ride back to town for the village and tombs. Having pre-booked the return ticket I was all too aware of the time and ended up skipping some of the sites.
But the grotto was great! It was on the top of a mountain, and absolutely gorgeous. Have I mentioned how loud the cicadas are here? Very loud, it is pretty near! While I was wandering around the temple hermitage, I managed to find a trail that I could follow back down to where I needed to catch the bus back downtown, instead of taking yet another bus ride.
The walk down was gorgeous, had the trail all to myself except for this one man who clearly knew the path like the back of his hand.
Much like in Scotland, where I met a woman who I affectionately refer to as Scottish Mom because she was so wonderful and helpful during my trip there (and wanted to feed me everything), I felt a small bond with time man on the trail with me. This man I will now refer to as Korean Dad.
I definitely should have been wearing my hiking boots rather than converse, the trail was steep and the loose gravel made it slippery at times. I did fall once, and immediately noticed that all though Korean Dad didn't stop he did slow his descent. We never spoke, but everytime my foot skidded over the loose gravel, Korean Dad would glance over his shoulder to make sure I was okay and still on my feet. It was very apparent that he was showing me where to walk, as we made way down the mountain. It was when we reached the bottom, in the parking lot of the Bulguksa Temple complex, that we truly aknowledge eachother's pesence. He nodded and smiled, I mumbled my thanks in Korean. A paternal meet-cute?
I didn't make it to the village but I did go to the tombs. The village wasn't that far from the tombs but my phone died, and since it would take 45 minutes to get back to the train station, I felt like my priority should be making it back to 부산.
WHICH I DID inspite of being alone and with no phone! /highfives self/
Seokguram Grotto and Hermitage
Daereungwon Tomb Complex
DAY 7Aug 09 2017
Today, I am going to go see where D-boys are made (which is Daegu, if you were wondering), and then I am off to Seoul, where my basecamp will be for the rest of the trip!
There was a lot more that I wanted to do here in 부산. I really wish I had one or two more days here... buuuuut I guess that means I need to come back?!
Stopped in Daegu for lunch with a very specific restaurant in mind.
순대국 is a traditional Korean soup with pork and blood sausage. The soup was delicious, even though the air outside was muggy and steamy from the rain earlier this morning.
I honestly wasn't expecting much more than getting a good bowl of soup from this visit. Boy-howdy, I was not prepared for what I got. The degrees of separation just went down to one.
He could have just been his older brother and that would have been enough. But he was more than that, he was kind and sweet and really, really cute - and has an adorable laugh that's more like a giggle. Ugh! I could have lived my life just fine without having a crush on Min Yoongi's older brother.
Hahaha! I think I just walked through the set of a K-drama or commercial on my way to my new digs.
I'll be in Seoul for the rest of my trip now. Staying here, in this traditional hanok style home for the next 5 nights, in the middle of the palace district is really a special treat. The hanok has an open area in the center, it's almost midnight an right now it is raining. It is so beautiful.
DAY 8Aug 10 2017
My Airbnb is in the middle of Bukchon Village. Bukchon Village is a hanok (the name for the traditional-style homes) neighborhood near Cheonggyecheon Palace, during the Joseon Dynasty this would have been the place where influential families lived. One of my favorite things is when the past and the present blend together, which is why I loved Edinburgh so much, and this neighborhood definitely has that same feeling to it.
There is this thing I do when I go to places I've never been before, and it is that I try to blend in as much as possible. I'm not sure why, but I don't want to seem like an obvious tourist.
There are some places where it is unavoidable, like in Gyeongju with the camera hanging around my neck and a portable fan turned up to the max. In a place like Seoul, where the number of tourists visiting the city and the number of foreign immigrants living in the city are around the same, I could at least make people think I was a foreign resident.
When I was in Scotland I was able to measure my success with this by the frequency with which people asked me for directions, and were surprised when I didn't "sound scottish." The red hair might have helped make me "look scottish."
In Seoul, the only way I might be able to measure this is if my Korean wasn't so bad that retail workers and cashiers didn't switch to English out of pity for me.
So I am off to the book store for more Korean language books.
Tonight is the night of the M-Countdown show. It turns out it is not in Gangam, so my Gangam adventure has been pushed to tomorrow. Instead it is off to Digital Media City for me. I have no idea who is on M-Countdown tonight, either way lets hope I don't get trampeled.
You know, after finding out the EXO was going to be on the countdown tonight, I shouldn't have been surprised that my roller derby training came in handy tonight.
DAY 9Aug 11 2017
Spending the day in Gangam today. I have created a little walking food tour for myself using an app that I wish I had known about in Busan.
In addition to eating lots of snacks and baked goods, visiting to K-pop hub, Puma's flagship store and the Han River, there are also some heritage sites in Gangam that I plan to check out as well.
I am hoping to get some shopping done as well, but because of the difference in currency I find that I am occasionally misjudging the cost of things. It is difficult to discern whether things are over priced or not. However, 60000 won seems to be approximately $60 USD - and I was able to purchase a fair amount at the book store for that much money.
dark!Laurel is rumbling beneath surface of my skin. You can almost see the shadow of a goatee on my chin.
DAY 10Aug 12 2017
I felt it was my l duty to take the opportunity I had and try out some skincare treatments... You know what, screw it. I did it because I wanted to for my vain reasons.
Last weekend, I booked an appointment and consultation at Seoul dermatologist clinic. At 10 AM, I arrived at the clinic and filled out a bit of paper work and 10 minutes later was shown to the dedicated English language representative who then took my to the doctor's room for the consultation.
He asked me about my concerns were, my diet and my skincare routine. Then he examined my skin with an enormous mirror. I struggled with holding back a laugh, because he used this large magnifying mirror that him look hilarious.
He told me about how my routine might be exacterbating some of the issues I have conerns about, THEN he told me what his recommendations were.
His first suggestion involved a laser treatments for pigmentation and acne, to even out tone and texture. However, I turned this down for a few different reasons... 1) I didn't want to have a red face for the rest of my trip. 2) I think he was referring to my freckles as well as some of the redness around my nose as pigmentation, and for the most part I like my freckles.
He explained that he usually only offers the aggressive treatment to foreignors because they do not have the opportunity to get the same level of results which locals get with multiple sessions of gentler methods. But he was very understanding.
The other option he provided was a multi-step process, and the one I went with. Starts with a cleanse, then a mask, then extraction, then a scary ultra sonic treatment, then a terrifying mask and then a cool facial massage. It was a really interesting experience and actually VERY RELAXING. I fell asleep once which was super awkward, because each step was done in a different room and the person had to wake me up.
One of the most often talked about aspects of Korean culture is their work ethic. They prize effort over inherited smartness. North America loves to talk about the negatives aspects of this, the stress, work-life imbalance, pressure on youth, and so on. However, this attitude towards "putting in the effort" has some positives which I have realized while being here.
In North America, there is this subtext that underlines every aspect of the beauty industry that if you weren't born with it, if you didn't wake up like this, if it isn't inherent or natural, than it is a lie and fake. Whatever you do it has to appear effortless, if you look like you tried or you care than you've already lost. IT IS FREAKIN' STRESSFUL.
Whereas in Korea, the effort and work that people put into their appearence is all out there in the open. Nobody pretends that they just "woke-up this way." For example, people walk around and ride the subway bangs in curlers because everyone knows that if they didn't than the humidity would be making their hair stick to their foreheads - and their all cool with it because they want to look their best.
Sure, there are some problems with the beauty culture here, but gawd it sure is refreshing to not feel guilty about sweating, about having a pimple, about wearing makeup to hide my under-eye circles, or taking 30 minutes to make sure my eyeliner is perfect. BECAUSE EVERYONE DOES AND EVERYONE KNOWS THAT EVERYONE DOES AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH IT.
I am full of so much food.
Oh! And sorry about the rant earlier.
DAY 11Aug 13 2017
Well that was adorable. I am wondering through Insa-dong, a long street of tourist shops currently and I was just stopped by a group of Korean students who must have some sort of school project which involves interviewing english-speaking tourists. They were very sweet and cute, and at the end of the whole thing they asked for a picture with me. Did I mention it was adorable?
I don't think I will ever stop being amazed by how Korean and Japanese traditional painting. Not a single stroke is ever wasted or extraneous. There is so much forethought in each line that I find it mind boggling.
Gosh, I wish I could take pictures of the pieces I am looking at right now.
DAY 12Aug 14 2017
Saying goodbye to this wonderful Hanok today. I am off to my last Airbnb. This is ending to quickly!
It is Liberation Day here in South Korea. This day marks the Korea's indepedence from Japan. Got into a minor debate last night with an American about whether or not it was the same holiday as "V-J day" which is apparently still celebrated in Rhode Island. I was arguing that it wasn't the same day, because the commemoration of the day has nothing to do with celebrating the US "victory" over Japan... It a debate that could have gone in circles forever, so once the food arrived we stopped.
(SPEAKING OF FOOD! It was Kimbap. I forgot to take pictures. I have also forgot to take pictures of so many pastries and sweets that I have eaten. Sincerest apologies)
I am not 100% sure how things operate here on national holidays, but to be on the safe side the goal of today to bike along the Han River. So I have stashed my luggage at Anguk station (knock on whatever wood is nearby that nothing bad happens to it), and now I am on my way to the Gangam side of Han River.
Change of plans! I took a bit of a detour and dawdled on my way to the Han River, in fact I didn't even reach it because I wanted to wander through some of the alley ways in Gangam - now it is starting to rain. I am going to go to Seoul City Center and Myeongdong Underground shopping area is open instead. I'll come back to Gangam on Wednesday and do the Han River then.
Not the most exciting day, I think I walked through more neighborhoods than most Seoulites do. I'm starting to understand why taking public transportation is more popular than walking from place to place - especially if the place you are walking towards is going to be full of more walking.
I found all the underground markets. In fact, it got to a point where I kept finding more underground markets and could NOT find the entrace to the subway.
I think I found skincare alley (not a real name, but it should be) there were like five shops for each skincare brand. Seems silly to have shops for the same brand competing for customers.
Got my luggage and made my way to my last Airbnb place. So far during this trip, I have never been stared at more than when I carried all my luggage up 6 flights of steps.
This apartment is adorable, but I am sacrificing location for it. I am no longer in the tourist areas of Seoul, getting to places will take a few more transfers on the metro - but if I time things well and I don't let myself become distracted with aimless wandering than it should be no problem!
DAY 13Aug 15 2017
Today is another rainy day in Seoul, so I'm going to apologize in advance. Things won't be very exciting because I am just going to do some cafe-hoping.
Gosh, I love cafe culture. Leaving is going to be so difficult for so many reasons but not having cafes to take the edge off a long hard day is going to be so disheartening.
This new Airbnb I am at may be a ways away from some of the things I wanna see, but at least I get a free WiFi egg with it. This means I'll have WiFi wherever I go!
There was a man busking on the corner, he was throat singing.
My socks and shoes are soaked through but I have made it to my first cafe!
I have ordered a weird coffee drink and a slice of cake. I will be taking a short break here to draw and hopefully dry off a bit. Then I will head back out, maybe stop in one of the little clothing boutiques.
This rain has resulted in a day of too much reflection. I keep feeling waves of terror about going back home. Of course there are things at home that I miss, but I would says 51% of what is waiting for me there is stuff I don't want to come back to.
DAY 14Aug 16 2017
I just can't stay away from Bukchon Village. I am heading back there for the morning because I signed myself up for a half-day tour of the palaces in the area. We'll be meeting at the old city hall, which is now used a library.
I am kind of happy to be back in the area now that I am on my own, because there are many places I wanted to stop in at and eat... and do some shopping at. I actually have done some shopping in this area last on Sunday, I found a neat vintage shop and with a couple of items I picked up (the pair of shorts that I am wearing right now, as well as something that I thought my mom would really like). Speaking of mother! I will be taking pictures (or trying to remeber to, because my track record of remembering to take a picture before I have consumed it all hasn't been so good) of all the fancy coffee-based drinks I have.
Yep, you heard it here first. Laurel, the Queen of Hot Chocolate, has been drinking coffee things... but to be fair most of these coffee drinks I have had are at least 60% milk and flavoured.
As I may have mentioned I booked a half-day walking tour of the palaces. I was very lucky, apparently the other people who were suppose to be on the tour cancelled so I got an extra special private tour of the palaces and surrounding area. It was lots of fun.
There is definitely an advantage to have someone who knows about the subject matter, they pick up on details that I would never have noticed on my own. It was also interesting because the palace area has significance to the Joseon Dynasty which it was built during, but also in more recent history such as during the period of Japanese occupation.
By the halfway point of the tour I felt like I had made a friend who was teaching me a little bit of Korean, specifically how locations are named in Korea. For instance "Gyeongbokgung Palace" is the same as saying "Gyeongbok Palace Palace." And the reason why searching "Han River" in google comes up with "Hanang River," is because "Hanang" means "Han River"
DAY 15Aug 17 2017
I have finally made it to a chocolate shop. I have been telling myself that I would for the last several days but I kept getting distracted. Choco Blossom is a little cafe in the basement of a back alley building. I am the only here. I have ordered a Raspberry Ice Chocolate Drink and a Blossom Chocolate 빙수, which is an ice flake dessert, like the Mango & Cheese and Tiramisu ones that I've had before. I have ordered this inspite of being told it is probably too much for one person. It is my seocnd last day here and bah, I say, bah!
I said I wanted a burger, so here I am.
Heading to Banpo Bridge later tonight to see more pretty-pretty lights.
Being a little bit drunk in Gangnam is kinda nice.
DAY 16Aug 18 2017
I made it to the bridge last night, but unfortuately my phone's battery was so low that it wouldn't let me take photos. It was very pretty, all fountains and lights - you should go see it some day.
On the way home, I discovered Dongdaemon is not the "middle of nowhere" which I had thought it was. It ia in fact the garment and design district.
It is home to fabric and retail clothing suppliers, as well as aspiring designers. Walking through the stall in the middle of the night-- pfft, you'd completely forgot that it was 11pm on a Thrusday. Filled with Koreans and foreignors buying and bargaining.
I found out from reading a little an article online while I sat and eat some street food that Dongdaemun Market started as a traditional market in 1905 and remained as such until the 1970s. Based on my palace tour on Wednesday, 1970s were pretty pivotal for Soutb Korea. Anyways, in the 1970s ot began to develop as a center of the textile industry. The construction of shopping mall in the area resulted in the market being reborn as the most famous fashion street in Korea. The market continues to be a mixture of both traditional and modern store and stalls.
I walked into a store to buy some skin cream and I left with my eyebrows done... I'm not even sure if I got the skin cream, its all a blur.
I am going to be hiking up Mt. Inwang tonight, and then going for a Korean alcohol tasting! I am glad I finally remembered/found a reason to wear my hiking boots considering I lugged them all the way here.
My phone and camera are fully charged. My night would be stress free if I am able to grab one of the WiFi eggs that my Airbnb provides, but I have a feeling they've all been borrowed.
DAY 17Aug 19 2017
My flight is delayed by 3 hours. /cries on the airport bus to incheon/. If I had known that sooner I wouldn't have got on this bus, I would have gone to the art market like I had planned... Maybe I'll still go?
DAY 18Aug 20 2017
After delays on delays on delays (I think this was South Korea telling me it wanted me to leave just as much as I wanted to leave, which was not at all) I have finally returned to Ottawa.
It is great to see my family again and to talk to people while in the same timezone.
Please look forward to a final post later tonight.