Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I'm in a Funk

I'm not feeling so hot right now. I'm feeling very worn down, tired, sick, and miserable. The novelty of living in Korea has worn off and everything is pretty normal now. We go to the grocery store, we make dinner, we eat popcorn, we do laundry, we teach and teach and teach all day long and repeat, repeat, repeat.

I've settled into a routine but it's feeling more like a rut. Maybe it's the onset of winter or maybe it's the fact that we haven't gone anywhere the past two weekends. Whatever it is, I don't like it and I can't have it. We still have seven months on our contract and there's no way we're leaving before it ends.

When we first arrived, everything was new, exciting, and sometimes even mind boggling. My head was spinning in every direction so I could see everything and contemplate why the locals do what they do. I was constantly tripping over my feet or running into things because my eyes were never on the ground. I was too busy peeking inside all the shops as we passed, people watching, or staring at all the bright flashing signs at night. Everything was so enthralling. Everything was interesting. Everything was an adventure. Even going to the grocery store was a fun outing!

Unfortunately, now that "honeymoon" phase is over. Every day life seeps in and ruins your mindset. No longer does it feel like you are exploring every day. Everything is not an adventure anymore and I've been trying think of ways to snap out of it. Here are what I've come up with so far.

  • Remembering why I came here in the first place. When I think it's too early to be getting up, I'm trying to think about how a year ago, I would be getting up over an hour earlier and then head on to a cubicle. Now, I spend my working hours in a classroom designed to look like a kitchen with hoards of kids running in and out every forty minutes. It's become routine now, but it's a helluva lot better than what I was doing before coming to Korea. 
  • Accept the differences, don't fight them. I'd gotten to the point where little things would piss me off. One day, I got so angry that I had to take my shoes off at school and put on indoor shoes. Spencer couldn't believe it. "Really?" he said to me, "It's really that big of deal?" At the time, I shouted "YES!" but really, no, it's not. It's not worth feeling badly over and it's definitely not worth fighting because there is no way I will ever win that fight with Koreans. Let it go and move on.
  • Take a day trip. Go exploring! I came here primarily to travel and experience living as an expat. Go talk to people, ride buses, and see things. Don't stay cooped up in the apartment all weekend long for any reason...well, unless it's raining the whole time and then you're okay. 
  • Share your feeling with a friend or lover. I think it's good to talk (or write!) about things. It helps just to get it out there in the universe and not festering inside of you. Thankfully, I have Spencer here to listen to me bitch talk things out. I also have friends who have been in this exact situation and can help me through the rough patches.
  • Look with new eyes. Open your mind and start looking at what's around you again. Analyze the things and people you see, just like in the beginning. Explore new places, take in all you can, and practice walking meditation. Do anything to get you interested in your surroundings.  

I've never been an expat before so I'm not sure if my methods will even work but all I can do is try. Are you or have you been an expat? Do you have any tips to give? I would love to hear your advice. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Soju and Beer

Mixing beer and soju is a popular way to get hammered in South Korea. Soju is native to Korea and is a liquor made from rice that tastes similar to vodka but with less alcohol content. The mix of soju and beer is called somaek and is humorously thought of as a science. Many people have their own special mixing strategies to create the "best" somaek!

Last week, we went to a restaurant with some friends and upon ordering soju and beer, received these clever glasses. Want to be super happy?? Two parts soju and 8 parts beer. Want to get so drunk your eyes are rolling and you feel ill? Then 5:5 it is! These glasses were so fun to play/drink with! :)

Have you ever tried soju and beer? What did you think? Good, bad, or dangerous??

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hiking Jiri Mountain

 hiking Jiri mountain
 Fall is hiking season in South Korea. 

After the sweltering hot and humid summer, it's no wonder people are lining up to enjoy the crisp fall air in the mountains. Mountain ranges are never far away in Korea and with the trees making their yearly wardrobe changes from green to gold/orange/red, it's the perfect time to explore the outdoors.

This fall, our explorations began with a trip out to the highest mountain in mainland South Korea, Jiri mountain. Jiri mountain is located in the southwest part of the country spanning across of three provinces, Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do, and Gyeongsangnam-do. It is about an hour northeast of our city, Suncheon, by car. The mountain is located in a 182 square mile (472 sq. km) national park along with ten Buddhist temples and multiple national treasures

bell at the temple we visited
We spent the day with one of our Korean friends and three of his friends. We visited a temple before we began our hike and saw a couple natural treasures that were perched on the mountain. The stone sculptures were placed behind the main temple area, almost secluded, with trees all around them. It was like they were a part of the forest and had just always been there. At around 1500 years old, that very well could be the case. 

Signs describing the statues and their origins were written in both Korean and English and as I read them, I couldn't help but think about all the people who had looked upon these two stones. I wondered what kinds of clothes people had worn while carving them. I thought about the Japanese invasion and how these two had survived the attacks. The history I stood before in the middle of the forest was sobering and steady. Here they were and here they would stand, just like this, possibly for another 1500 years. It put my measly 24 years into perspective. Would I ever create something that would last 1500 years?  

national treasures
 After admiring the national treasures, we began our hike. We walked on pavement at first, past shops and little restaurants tucked into a very narrow valley. When we reached the end of the pavement, we walked on a gravel road. The gravel road tapered into a rocky dirt path continuously leading up and up and up!

The scenery was delightful. The vibrant leaves were blowing in a cool, light wind and a babbling stream was constantly within our sights. We advanced up the path with countless other people. Everyone was in good spirits and enjoying the perfect hiking weather the day had given us. It was nice to be able to enjoy the temperate weather before the chill of winter sets in and all the bright fall color fades from the trees.

After walking for perhaps an hour we sat on a great rock in the middle of the stream to eat lunch. Our Korean comrades provided an excellent picnic lunch for us which, much to my surprise, included beer and soju! I had no idea Koreans liked to drink and hike but we weren't the only ones getting our drink on while perched on boulders in the river!

our picnic

After lunch we continued on our hike, all of us tipsy from the booze. We didn't make it all the way to the highest peak but we did hike for around 5-6 hours, in total. There were lots of color dotted vistas and the endless babbling water trailing along beside us made our journey all the more worth while. Breathing in the fresh mountain air while feeling a good buzz and working my muscles brought a smile to my face and a warmness in my soul. Spending time in nature is rejuvenating and inspiring. I will never tire of this vast and wonderful world. 

stone pillars on the mountain

See all of our Jiri Mountain hiking photos on Flickr.