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 🙂

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…

The Daegu Stamp Trail (part 1 of ???)

Let me start by saying that the internet is an amazing place. Yes, there are all sorts of horror stories and crazy websites, but as someone who travels, it can be a really great resource. Last weekend, for example, I got connected with a group of people who wanted to check out the Daegu Stamp Trail, a mini-tour of the city where you get stamps at various locations and enjoy the variety of things the city has to offer. I was thinking of doing this on my own anyways (it seems like a really easy way to hit all the major points of interest in the city), but doing it with people who have been here a little longer made it a little easier (navigation!) and I got to meet new people, which is always a plus 🙂

Outside the museum; the stone path around the fountain is supposed to massage your feet (you walk barefoot around it)

Outside the museum; the stone path around the fountain is supposed to massage your feet (you walk barefoot around it)

We started out at the Yangnyeongsi Oriental Medicine Museum. The area surrounding the museum is a bit more historic looking than some of the other parts of downtown that I’ve seen. The whole area smells like ginseng (which we saw quite a bit of) and the surrounding shops are full of barks, roots, and animal parts that I assume cure various maladies.

One of the little scenes in the museum. This one depicted a traditional village market with the various medicinal products for sale.

One of the little scenes in the museum. This one depicted a traditional village market with the various medicinal products for sale.

I’m very glad the museum was free, because it was slightly disappointing. I’m sure it would’ve been better if I spoke Korean, but even the Koreans in our group didn’t seem all that interested. I think the museum was geared very much towards little kids. They did have samples of the various medicinal herbs to smell, which was interesting, but that was about it.

Also, I got a chance to dress up in hanbok.

Also, I got a chance to dress up in hanbok.

After the museum, we walked over to Sang-Hwa Yi‘s old house for a visit. Sang-Hwa was a nationalist poet who actively resisted Japanese rule. The house was left to deteriorate until the late 1990’s when a group of citizens restored it. It was dedicated to the city in 2005 and now serves as an educational center on his life and work. The house is quite beautiful and is decidedly pre-war in style. The contrast between the short, intricately carved, wooden structures and the cement buildings which surround it is startling. The house compound was very quiet and peaceful; it was a nice break from the city and I would really like to go back and spend more time looking at the houses and just enjoying the quiet.

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From here, we walked to a tiny neighborhood where we wound down many narrow alleys and finally found ourselves at a Confucian Academy. The academy is situated slightly up on a hill and provides a nice view of the nearby cathedral. I imagine in the later spring and summer seasons the gardens are very beautiful, but when we were there, the soil was just being turned for planting.

One of the buildings at the Confucian academy

One of the buildings at the Confucian academy

Old/new architecture. This is a view of the cathedral from the school.

Old/new architecture. This is a view of the cathedral from the school.

One of the many front gardens of the homes surrounding the academy

One of the many front gardens of the homes surrounding the academy

My favorite part was wandering the alleyways around the academy. The homes were so old and really took me back in time. Peeking through the gates was always a surprise, as most people have very nicely manicured yards. I wonder if they have a garden tour here like they do back in Ann Arbor…

After the academy, we headed over to Seomun Market (which I’ve been to before) to wander around, drink some rice punch, and generally get lost in the chaos that is a Saturday afternoon at the market. The only notable difference was that this time we found a few yarn shops! Now that I know where they are, I just need to figure out a time to go back!

The last stamp trail stop of the day was Dalseong Park. The park includes part of a castle wall (I’m not so sure we saw that; by then I was a little tired and it started to rain). We grabbed some pumpkin taffy (NEVER. AGAIN.) outside the park from a man dressed like a depressed clown and headed in to explore.

The park entrance. The topiary and landscaping continued throughout.

The park entrance. The topiary and landscaping continued throughout.

The first thing we came upon was the most depressing zoo I’ve ever seen in my life. I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos, as the animals all looked miserable. It broke my heart to see them in such cramped and dirty living conditions. It’s a free zoo, and they clearly do not get sufficient funds to maintain the habitats.

Once we got away from the zoo area, it was a little easier to enjoy the park (though the animals’ living conditions  still weighed heavy on my mind). The cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom and I got my first proper view of them.

Yes, a selfie. It was a bit rainy, but look at how happy I am in the cherry blossoms!

Yes, a selfie. It was a bit rainy, but look at how happy I am in the cherry blossoms!

Cherry blossoms and a pond

Cherry blossoms and a pond

At this point, we were tired, cold, wet, and hungry. If you travel at all, you know that this can be a deadly combination. One of our group members suggested an udon place nearby and we headed in for a lovely meal. It was one of the famous “red tent” places that only locals seem to know about. As soon as we walked in, we instantly felt better. The warmth and light provided a great contrast to the dark rain outside and we were greeted like old friends. The owner immediately brought over two bottles of pepsi and our food was out to us in a flash. After walking in the rain, the udon and bulgogi warmed us up and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal and company (even the high schoolers getting drunk at the table behind us).

Inside the red tent

Inside the red tent

Our dinner! Only 6,000 won/person

Our dinner! Only 6,000 won/person

All in all it was a great day and I am really looking forward to seeing more sites on the trail. Hopefully I can go with the stamp trail group again, as they really seem to know what’s going on.

Nichols Arboretum

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I have no idea what the name of this peony is; I just think it’s beautiful.

Last night I went with some friends to see the peony gardens at Nichols Arboretum. They have the largest collection of historical peony plants in North America (maybe the world?). It was beautiful and smelled so good. We walked around the arb for a bit and then wandered back to the peony gardens, stopping to make some faerie houses along the way. There is a “faerie hollow” just beyond the peony gardens, and we decided to add to the collection of houses.

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This is my contribution to the faerie houses. Sorry it’s so blurry!

So much fun! Afterwards, we went out for some gelato and watched a guy get arrested (entertainment!). All in all, a fun evening.

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Here is everyone (except me) looking very lovely, if a little awkward, by the Huron River. L-R, Ellen, Adam, Morgan, and Ethan.

Today is my mom’s birthday, so we are having a little dinner party for her and some of our family friends. The weather finally cleared up and it stopped raining, so maybe we’ll be able to go outside a bit!