여러분 안영하세요! Hello again everyone,
The more time I spend in Korea the more I realize how precious my time here is. Hardly a day goes by when I’m not trying to explore and experience something new. Every opportunity I have, when I’m not in class or studying, is a chance to leave the safety of my dorm room and experience more of what South Korea has to offer. Here are some of the highlights so far.
Some of my favorite places I’ve visited have been Korea’s traditional Markets. Many public markets in Korea are tucked within the walls of a giant warehouse like building. Shops line labyrinth like walkways, packed together like sardines, with goods piled high, directly on display for customers passing by. You can find anything from wholesale fabric, ginseng in bulk, to every variety of Kimchi you could imagine. As you walk down crowded corridors, vendors are yelling in every direction, advertising their goods. Middle-aged women sporting bloody aprons chop live seafood into chunks in front of your eyes. Fresh fruits and vegetables, dried nuts and seeds, fresh meat and seafood, traditional Korean snacks and desserts, and countless more goods can be purchased at most of these markets.
A few weeks back I had a Sunday afternoon to myself and decided to eat dinner at Seoul’s famous Gwangjang Market (광장 시장). The highlight of this particular market lies at the center where dozens of street food stalls are lined up with delicious steaming hot food ready to be devoured. Each stall has several small benches outlining it where customers can sit side by side to eat, with a front row seat to the food preparation process. Some of the most famous dishes sold here are 떡볶이/tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes), 순대/Soondae (Korean Blood sausage), 만두/Mandu (dumplings), 마약김밥/Mayak Kimbap (“drug” seaweed rice rolls) 전/Jeon (Korean pancake that comes in many varieties), and much more. You can easily get completely stuffed here for less than 10 USD. Needless to say I’ll definitely be frequenting Gwangjang. During my recent trip to Busan I also visited a fish market where you can buy a fish or any fresh seafood and have it prepared at a restaurant in the same market. Bottom line is, you haven’t really experienced Korea until you visit a Korean market.
As I mentioned I recently took a trip to Busan during Korea’s Chuseok Holiday. Chuseok is basically like the Korean version of thanksgiving, where people get together and celebrate their family, passed loved ones and ancestors. Since I had off of school for 3 days plus the weekend, a group of exchange students and I all went to the port city of Busan for four days. Busan is about 4.5 hours south of Seoul on the southern coast of the Korean peninsula. Though still a pretty big city, Busan is definitely much smaller than Seoul and has a much more relaxed vibe about it. Since it’s right on the ocean we spent a lot of time at Beaches and by the Sea. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, Haeundae Beach, Gamcheon Culture Village, Jalgalchi fish market, and Igidae Nature Park were some of the trips biggest highlights. I got to try some local specialty foods including Korean raw fish (Hwe), Pork rice soup (dwaeji gukbap) and Siat Hotteok (basically like a Korean donut with brown sugar and toasted seeds on the inside).
Igidae Nature Park was a big highlight for me because it was my first time hiking in Korea. As someone not accustomed to living in a big city I have been hungry for more physical activity and time spent in nature. Igidae Park, although a tiring hike with lots and lots of stairs and up hills, was a breathtaking experience with views of costal cliffs, crashing waves below and the endless ocean horizon around every corner. That hike wet my palate because the day after I got back to Seoul I went on another breath taking hike (both literally a figuratively) at Seoul’s Cheonggyesan Mountain with a Korean friend of mine. It was another long uphill trek to the top but worth it for a nearly 360 degree view of Seoul and the surrounding mountainous landscape. We even bumped into a former kpop boyband member and his girlfriend on our way up (I have photo evidence if you don’t believe me). That day was the first time since arriving in Korea that I truly felt without a single doubt in my mind that this is where I am meant to be right now. This weekend I plan on scaling another famous mountain in Seoul known as Bukhansan.
Of course all of this is just a taste of what being here has been like, and it hasn’t all been easy. My first month here has been a huge challenge. Despite my previous experience with this culture I have struggled to keep my head above water in a place where I don’t exactly fit in. Making friends, struggling with the language barrier, adjusting to my classes, managing ill health in a new country, and generally feeling like an alien on a new planet, are just a few of the challenges I’ve had to face so far. It’s really easy to let these experiences become isolating and discouraging, but I’ve decided to take them as a necessary part of this journey. Korea is a country very close to my heart, so coming here while fulfilling a huge dream, has also been some-what of a burden. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to make this experience as positive as possible. I felt like I had let myself down when I realized that just because I have loved Korea for so long doesn’t mean living here would be easy or I would just seamlessly fit in to the Korean way of life. After accepting all these imperfections and appreciating on every beautiful sight, each person I have met, all the food I eat, places I go, I feel nothing but gratitude for having been given this chance. As I was riding the subway home from my hike the other day I had this feeling of gratitude and love for Korea well up in me. My time here is short and quickly dwindling away. I’ll do my best to appreciate and be present to every moment of it I have left.
Thanks for reading! Until next time~