“I can see the colors running when I hear the music play…” –Andrew McMahon, “Synesthesia”

I’d wanted to go to Busan since I first started looking into Korea. When I heard about the Holi Hai festival, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my first trip there. I’d seen pictures and videos of people throwing colored powder and always wanted to do it. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to go.

This is how I always envisioned it, thanks to Andrew McMahon.

On Friday night, I took the KTX from Daejeon to Busan. I now wish I could take the KTX everywhere. It was so quiet, smooth, and easy. The hardest part was figuring out how to get to my motel. I figured out which bus to take and met a nice woman, who rode to my stop with me and made sure I got in a cab that knew where to go. She was just the first of many super nice people I met while I was there. I found out after I booked that it was actually a love motel. The room was disgusting. It could have been cool, but it was so dirty with hair and stains everywhere, so I was afraid to touch anything. I decided to look at it as another story to tell.

On Saturday, I successfully found Grayson, and we went to Busan Tower (without getting too lost!) and took a ton of pictures. It wasn’t the Sears Tower, but it was still beautiful. There’s nothing quite like seeing the water, mountains, and city all in one place. It made me wish even more that I could live in Busan.

The only bad thing was Lotte Mall blocking the view.
The only bad thing was Lotte Mall blocking the view.

We had lunch at Paris Baguette. It’s on pretty much every corner in Korea, but this was my first time there. Amazing! I got a bit addicted and have already had it again since then. I can see why it is everywhere here, and I have a feeling it will be my new weakness.

After lunch, we tried to get to Gwangalli Beach for the foreigner market. We kept asking people how to get to the beach or to one of the bars that was supposed to be hosting the market. No one knew, not even a cab driver. Eventually, we ran into a nice, young couple. They said they were going that way and would take us. It took 20 minutes or so from where we were, and we still weren’t certain we were going the right way. Finally, we saw the famous Gwangalli Bridge. We went to the market at HQ first. Jackpot! I had a Treat Yo Self moment and bought a brownie, banana bread, and Jammie Dodgers. Unfortunately, my luck didn’t continue at the other two bars. We got there fairly late, so all the good stuff was gone.

I was specifically looking for Jammie Dodgers and was so excited when she said she had some!

We tried to meet up with some friends but had trouble finding them, so we went to the Mini Stop for drinks. We grabbed a picnic bench outside and just hung out for a while. While we were there, the couple who got us there walked by, and we bought them drinks to thank them for saving us. We eventually gave up on trying to find our friends and went to dinner at Fuzzy Navel. I’d always heard that there wasn’t much Mexican food in Korea, so I was excited to find Fuzzy Navel. My burrito was definitely no Zapata’s or Cesar’s, but it was good enough.

We eventually went back to one of the bars for an international party. It wasn’t what I expected, but I probably would have known that if I’d bothered to read the invitation. It was even better. I met some really cool Koreans and talked with them for a while. I briefly ran into a couple of people from orientation. We left with a sweet Korean named Katharina, who lives near Grayson. We stopped by the beach to take some pictures of the Gwangalli Bridge. I’d seen pictures of it before, but it really is magnificent in person. Pictures could not do it justice. We took the subway back with Katharina, and she told me to stay with her the next time I’m in Busan. Once again, I was blown away by the kindness. In just 24 hours, I met so many people who could be considered the “nicest people I’ve ever met.” I tried to explain this to the Koreans I met. I told them how people in America don’t walk you to your destination when you’re lost. They didn’t seem to believe me.

After saying good night to Katharina, we headed back to my motel, so Grayson could see where to meet me on Sunday for Holi Hai. We weren’t sure where to go, so we asked a couple of guys. They didn’t speak English but read the address and were very eager to get us there. Again, they didn’t just gesture which way to go and actually cut through traffic to walk us there. I probably had a new reputation, but I didn’t care because it was another funny story to tell.

On Sunday, I checked out of the motel, and we walked to the beach. I found a few friends and eventually ran into my Daejeon crew. The festival was a blast. It was just as fun as it always looked. I was even sort of dancing.

How I normally dance
How I was dancing. Disclaimer: I only looked like this in my mind.

After we got covered in powder and paint, a few of my friends decided to go swimming in the freezing cold water. I was wearing jeans and planned to just put my feet in, but before I knew it, the water was waist deep. I guess my years of experience with the cold plunge at the jjimjilbang in Chicago paid off because it felt amazing and oddly freeing.

Dripping wet after running into the cold water
Dripping wet after running into the cold water

I obviously needed to change my clothes after getting completely soaked, so we went back to my motel to get my bags. I asked for a bathroom to change, and they ended up letting me shower in a room for 10,000 won. The room had not been cleaned after some people definitely had sex in it, but I looked at it as another funny story. Perspective.

I ate dinner with some Daejeon friends at Fuzzy Navel again, and then we took the KTX back to Daejeon. I can honestly say it was one of the funnest weekends of my life, and I will never forget it. Busan was everything I imagined, and I can’t wait to go back!


The Great Escape

Throw it away. Forget yesterday. We’ll make the great escape... -Boys Like Girls, “The Great Escape”

I officially made it to South Korea! I’ve been here for just over three weeks. It’s hard to believe it’s only been that long. It feels like so much longer. It’s truly amazing how fast your whole life can change. In three weeks, I feel like I’ve already become a new person. I’ve learned more about not only Korea but also the world and myself. Let’s start with orientation…

Me before, during, and after orientation

I was super nervous before I got to orientation because I didn’t know what to expect. In the past year, this was the second time I was leaving a comfortable life and people behind. This time was riskier because I was doing it on my own, across the world from everything I ever knew, and anything could happen. That’s the beautiful part about this whole thing: anything can happen. Despite all of this, I never felt so sure of anything in my life. After months of preparation, the time had come for my great escape, and I was determined to give it my all.

It turned out that orientation was a lot of fun. I learned a lot, as I continue to do every day I’m here. Probably the most important thing I learned at orientation was what waygooks like to call “Korean surprise.” I had always heard about this before, and after only three weeks, I can say that it is 100% true. It has already happened to me several times. Korean surprise is basically when something unexpected happens, often at the last minute. We heard many times at orientation that 95% of us would be teaching elementary school. Surprise! I’m teaching middle school, and so are a lot of my friends. My first week, I found out as my students were coming in my classroom that I had already taught them the day before. Surprise! Impromptu lesson plan! (They loved it!) As a social worker, I often had to think quickly – sometimes in what were literally life or death situations – but there’s nothing like a Korean surprise to really test you. The great thing is that I’ve learned to go with the flow and laugh about it. I feel like I can handle almost anything. (That’s not a challenge, Universe!)

Another amazing thing about orientation was the people. I never lived in a dorm when I was in college and never had a roommate. There’s a tiny part of me that felt like I missed out on the real college experience. Being an extreme introvert who can only tolerate people for 3 days max, I was nervous about sharing a room with a total stranger. Thankfully, my roommate was awesome, and we had no issues. I was worried I’d get someone who partied all the time, but I ended up being the one who tried to get out as much as possible. I knew I’d be placed in a smaller town, so I wanted to see as many people as I could while I had the chance. I forced myself to go out and do things I wouldn’t normally do and hang out with people I didn’t know well. I tried to eat with someone different at nearly every meal, which I highly recommend, even if you are as shy as I am. As a result, I made friends from all over the US, Canada, South Africa (My Korean sucks, but my Afrikaans is coming along!), and even a few from Australia and the UK.

After orientation, my lovely co-teacher picked me up right at the orientation site because it wasn’t far from my town. I actually was placed in a tiny town of about 40,000. There’s not a whole lot to do here, but it seems to have good transportation. (Much more reliable than the CTA!) I can take the bus straight to Daejeon or the KTX to Seoul, I think. People also seem pretty nice. Those things you hear about Koreans seem to be true – they really do go out of their way to help you. I’ve been given food, rides home, beautiful pictures (from the art teacher at my school) from people who barely even speak English. I don’t have a lot of friends here yet, but that’s fine because I love the moments of just walking around town and listening to music on my own.

Overall, I would say my experience has been pretty positive so far. I’m planning to try to travel more soon and already have my first trip to Busan planned for next weekend. I’m going to the Holi Hai festival, and I’m sure I will post another blog after it. For now, I’ll continue to take everything as it comes!