Wherever you go, there you are*

*The title of this post is meant to reference the works of the Buddha and not a 1980’s movie.

I couldn’t tell you the exact point in my life when I decided I wanted to come to Korea. There was no single moment where I said “Yes! This is where my life is headed.” It was certainly on my radar for a number of years before I took the dive and flew over, but there was never one of those “ah-ha!” moments for me. I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling, especially amongst my fellow expats. Korea seems to be full of people who are searching for something. We come here with the intent of escaping any of a multitude of sins back home:debt, ex-loves, responsibility, etc.

I don’t know if I knew I was running when I left. Maybe I thought I was simply leaving something behind, but, then again, maybe we spend most of our lives running: sometimes away from one thing, sometimes towards another. I want to think that, after years of running away, I’m finally running towards something. There is not, as of yet, a way to tell what I’m running towards, but I feel a definite shift in how I see the world these days.

A lotus blossom handed to me by a monk on my way in

A paper lotus blossom handed to me by a monk.

One of the most noticeable changes is that I am learning, slowly, to be happy with myself. Most days, I am content to keep my own company. While there are the bouts of homesickness, loneliness, and those hollow, empty days that are (inevitably) part of life (and the experience here), I don’t spend time dwelling on those feelings as much as I did my first few weeks (months) here. At 27, it feels like I am finally learning to be happy with me (my hope is that this growth will continue, and in 10 years I’ll look back on what I wrote here and go “WHAT WAS I EVEN THINKING?!”).

I don’t know if there is a point to the above rambling, except as a way to say that a few weeks ago, after having every weekend scheduled to the brim with events (all good! But still busy), I needed some down time. I intentionally planned to spend some quality time with myself and had nothing on tap except maybe heading to a park to partake in the Buddha’s Birthday celebrations. I spent a better part of the day just wandering around in Duryu park.

Around 5 p.m, I headed to the outdoor amphitheatre to take part in a floating-lantern ceremony for Buddha’s birthday. The event was combined with a memorial for the victims of the Sewol ferry-boat disaster, and it made for a very moving and beautiful evening.

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha's birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns and candles to celebrate Buddha’s birthday and commemorate the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster

Lanterns lined the park and there were various choirs performing on the large stage up front. As people filtered in, they handed out rice balls (a sign of generosity and peace) for people to snack on, and each person was given a lantern and candle.

This girl and her mom were so sweet together

This girl and her mom were so sweet together.

As the sun started setting, a performance group took the stage and brought offerings to the idol on stage. There was more singing and chanting, some speeches (to acknowledge the deceased, I think), and then they dimmed the lights for the lantern send-off.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Another little girl who kept waving at me and singing with her friends.

Group after group of people around me started to send of their lanterns; each inscribed with a message of peace or love. It was quite a sight to see 5,000+ lanterns heading off into the night sky.

Lantern send-off.

Lantern send-off.

A lantern floating off into the night.

A lantern floating off into the night.

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Lanterns rising past Woobang Tower

Korea is never what I expect, but (slowly, slowly) I’m finding my way. Thanks for sharing this journey with me 🙂

I am the Yeongdeok Crab Queen

This is part two of a two-part post. You can read part one here.

After a beautiful morning of cherry blossoms, we headed further east and ended up in Yeongdeok for their annual Snow Crab Festival. We were hoping for a day of crab, entertainment, and adventure, and we got all three in spades. (The last post was picture-heavy, this one is wordy…)

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Upon arriving, we stopped at the very first location, which happened to be the “catch your own crab” spot. A little investigation revealed that it was 20,000 won/pole to catch crabs (don’t worry, we made all the appropriate jokes, and even some inappropriate ones). We decided to pass on the event and just watch. As we headed over to a little viewing area, a man shoved a fishing pole into my hand and then pushed and prodded me over to the fishing area. I’m not sure my friends even realized where I had gone to, since it happened so quickly (luckily I’m easy to spot in a crowd of Koreans- LOOK FOR THE RED HAIR!). The fishing pond was more or less a cement tub, a little larger than a swimming pool, covered in a blue tarp. There was a raised platform extending over the pool and an MC was standing up there getting the crowd excited for the upcoming event. I was placed, very intentionally, right next to the platform. After a bit of shouting and heckling from the crowd, three or four men in waders climbed into the pool with big crates in their arms. After a “hana, dul, set!” (one, two, three) from the MC, they opened the crates and started throwing the crabs towards the edges of the pool for people to “catch.”
I know this might come as a bit of a surprise, but I’m horrible at fishing (side story: there was once a picture of my dad and me in the local paper, fishing pole in hand, and the caption said “I don’t like touching the worms, so I make my dad do it”). One of the volunteers ended up taking the pole from my hand, did some swirly arm maneuvers, and basically trapped a crab for me with the fishing line. He handed the pole back to me, but I was so overwhelmed with what was happening that I didn’t pull it back quickly enough for his liking and he ended up grabbing the pole again and lifted the crab out of the water. It swung back at me and I FREAKED out. I don’t know if I just wasn’t expecting it to head straight for me like that, if I was afraid it would fall off and pinch me, or what, but I took a step backwards, tried to grab the railing of the platform next to me, missed, and ended up falling over a stair, knocking over a very large box of apples, rice, and eggs next to me. The very friendly (and probably amused) volunteers helped me up while I hurriedly tried to help put everything back in the box. They handed me an apple and I thought that was the end of my fishing experience. I tried, desperately embarrassed, to walk away with my one crab, but the volunteers once again pushed me back towards the pool, pole in hand. Twice more they helped me to catch a crab (I tried, really I did, I just don’t have the finesse necessary to catch crabs in a swimming pool). After what I thought was the last one, they said “one more, one more!” so back I went. This time however, I put my pole in and one of the men in waders grabbed my hook, stuck it into the underside of a crab, and threw it back at me. As I pulled it out (assisted, of course), people started shouting “Winner! Winner!” They took my last crab off the hook, put it in my hands, and thrust me up onto the platform over the pool with the MC. He had me hold it up to show the crowd and began asking me questions in Korean. I still have no idea what he said, but he kept having me smile for a camera with my crab, turning me around in circles so everyone could see my “catch.” After a few minutes of this, I was pushed towards the steps where an ajumma (older woman/grandmother) came to congratulate me. She took one of the winning crab from my bag and pulled a gold-colored band from around the pincer. Then, taking the ring, she shoved in on my finger and started saying something in Korean and smiling at me. I would later learn that this was some sort of wedding ceremony and I was now married to the King Crab, making me the queen.

The ring didn't fit on my ring finger, so it went onto my pinky. Photo c/o Angelica H. Bonus

The ring didn’t fit on my ring finger, so it went onto my pinky. Photo c/o Angelica H. Bonus

In a sick turn of events, I then took my lovely crab husband to be steamed (for the incredible price of 1,000 won, or about $1) and we feasted on him and his friends.

My "husband" and friends. Not sure which was which, but they were DELICIOUS.

My “husband” and friends. Not sure which was which, but they were DELICIOUS.

And that is how I ate crab for $1 and became queen of the crab festival. A few people came up to me throughout the day to congratulate me, and I learned from some Russian women that the ring was actually 24K gold (!) and probably worth a bit of money.

The rest of the festival was mostly just tent after tent of seafood (THEY GAVE AWAY CRAB SAMPLES, SO DELICIOUS AND FREE!) and enjoying the overall atmosphere. Here are a few more photos from the day (if you made it all the way through the story above)

Enjoying a ride on the crab bus. L-R Me, Angelica, Dawn, and Katie

Enjoying a ride on the crab bus. L-R Me, Angelica, Dawn, and Katie

Boats in the harbor.

Boats in the harbor.

Crabs for days.

Crabs for days.

Squid drying in the sun

Squid drying in the sun

There were tables and tables of dried fish

There were tables and tables of dried fish

FRESH FISH!

FRESH FISH!

A woman sitting in the wet market area with some of her (very much alive) fish for sale.

A woman sitting in the wet market area with some of her (very much alive) fish for sale.

Another weekend adventure

This is part one of a two part post, the second part is forthcoming. I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been busy!

A few weekends ago, a few friends and I headed out to Gyeongju for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Saturday’s weather wasn’t ideal, but it was still beautiful. I’m going to keep this post light on the commentary and let the pictures do most of the talking, which is to say this is a very picture heavy post, so sorry if you have a slower connection.

We started by visiting some burial mounds (next picture) with a wishing turtle at the front of the park.

We started by visiting some burial mounds (next picture) with a wishing turtle at the front of the park.

The ladies and one of the burial mounds.

The ladies and one of the burial mounds.

View from the top of the park.

View from the top of the park.

Cherry blossoms and terracotta

Cherry blossoms and terracotta

Tiles outside the state park

Tiles outside the state park

Funky trees. I love some good topiary

Funky trees. I love some good topiary

Finally, the blossoms!

Close up of some of the blossoms.

Someone's house; I think they weren't too pleased we were taking all these photos, but I loved the contrast of the rust, crackling paint, and trees

Someone’s house; I think they weren’t too pleased we were taking all these photos, but I loved the contrast of the rust, crackling paint, and trees.

Gold and pink and green all over.

Gold and pink and green all over.

We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky, as we lie in fields of gold (this was bliss).

“We’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky, as we lie in fields of gold” (this was bliss).

A little (huge) grasshopper to serenade us along.

A little (huge) grasshopper to serenade us along.

We checked into our love-motel (which was, by almost any standards, quite nice, despite the name and reputation) and crashed for the evening. The next morning, we packed up and headed out to see the flowers along the lake. The day was sunny, if a little cold, but it made for some spectacular viewing. We got there early, so there weren’t a ton of people out yet.

The path leading down to the lake; surrounded by blossoms and trees.

The path leading down to the lake; surrounded by blossoms and trees.

The ever lovely Angelica posing by the lake.

The ever lovely Angelica posing by the lake.

Lake, bridge, blossoms. We had views like this for hours and hours.

Lake, bridge, blossoms. We had views like this for hours and hours.

A perfect blossom.

A perfect blossom.

After our walk (and some much needed coffee), we headed off to Yeongdeok for a crab festival. I’ll write (and post) that story soon, as it was quite the adventure…