Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Quarter century "gifts"

25 has not gotten off to a good start. I mean, it's taken off with a bang, but just not in the right direction.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been battling an awful eye infection (still, going on week three), I've moved my life across the planet (in two suitcases), and I've started adjusting to life in Toronto -- all while nursing an awful case of jet-lag.

I'd imagine that just dealing with one of these things at a time would be exhausting. I have no idea how I've been juggling it all. I should probably credit the random bursts of energy that surge through my body during the course of the day. They're really bizarre... but it's during those moments that I get the most work done.

In the midst of all these mini-crisis' I've been sans laptop. Which means, I've not had access to the computer as much as before. I hope this will all change within the next 24 hours.

In the meanwhile, apologies for not writing as frequently as before. As you can imagine, there's a shift happening, and I'm at the mercy of my limitations. For now.

Will have more glamourous updates soon!


Saturday, 14 August 2010

Busan Sights

I took a trip to Busan last weekend. Located on the south-eastern tip of Korea, it is a hub of coastal activity and beauty. I fell in love with the city as soon as soon as I got off the KTX and ran into a bunch of children playing in the fountain outside the train station. There's no better sound in the world than that of children laughing and enjoying life.

Busan's salty air sent me into a fit of nostalgia. I was immediately taken back to my weekends in Goa, India, when my mother would take us to the seaside for a swim and some delicious coconut water. There's something so calming about the coastal breeze that's infused with the smell of fish and salt. I know this might not be appealing to everyone, but it offers me a sense of comfort. I absolutely love the coast!

This photo was taken in Jagalchi (world famous) Fish Market. It's a huge, multi-storey building that houses some of the freshest seafood in the entire country. Busan has about 10 famous landmarks for tourists to visit, and this happens to be one of them. We wanted to eat here during our first night, but the restaurants were rather pricey. Regardless, it was awesome to see it for ourselves.

This is a photo of Taejongdae lighthouse. It was one of the most breathtaking views I've ever had the privilege of seeing while in Korea. We had to walk up a hill and take a tram to get to the location, but it was absolutely worth it. The view consists of majestic cliffs that look out towards the open sea. What really amazed me were the numerous hues of blue from the sea and sky, which blended so perfectly into the horizon. I felt humbled and in awe as I experienced nature at its best.

Before visiting Busan, I came across an article in a Seoul magazine that showcased this beautiful village with fantastic photos. As soon as I read it, I knew I couldn't leave Korea without seeing this place firsthand.

Taegukdo village is located just east from the downtown core of Busan. A short ride on a local bus brought us to the top of this area, that's built right into the mountains. The view from here is unlike any other. The author who featured this village called it "Santorini on the South Sea," and, as you can see, the title is quite fitting. Busan promotes this beauty as a "Lego village" because the colourful houses look like Lego blocks neatly stacked along the side of the mountain.

The bus ride is quite interesting, as it goes up steep slopes and turns at ninety degree angles, only to go further uphill, all the way to the top. This was such a contrast to Seoul's numerous high-rises and lack of green space.

We spent our last day on Haeundae beach. Known as the world's most populated beach, Haeundae features locals and tourists alike, (most from Japan, who took the short ferry ride across to the Korean coast). At first glance, it's impossible not to be overwhelmed by the numerous white and blue parasols (beach umbrellas), and yellow floats. Most visitors to Haeundae aren't avid swimmers, but for about five dollars a day, they're able to rent a float and enjoy the beach waves just like the pros.

It was interesting to visit this beach and see what everyone talked about, firsthand. There are a lot of people and there's a lot to take in. Haeundae features everyone from large families and groups, to couples and friends. And I can't leave out the insensible fashionistas -- those who come to the beach in five-inch, pencil-thin heels, barely there bikinis, and over-sized hats. They wake up from tanning, long enough pose in the water, only to run (or trip, for the most part), as soon as the waves take them down. I should say those sights absolutely amused this writer!

That said, Busan has to be one of my favourite places in Korea. It's such a fabulous blend of old and new, with nature and the metropolis living in contentment. People seem to take life less seriously along the coast than they do in Seoul. Part of me wished I'd spent my year in Korea living in Busan. However, I know I also wouldn't trade my experiences over the past year for anything in the world. I hope I'll find myself in Busan once again down the road. But for now, the memories of my days spent in the sunshine of Korea's south-eastern coast will always hold a special place in my heart.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Quarter Century

At Busan Tower, South Korea - August, 2010

While talking to my friend J (from [key]Stroke my Ego) the other night, I asked him how it felt turning 25. Simply put, he likened it to doing laundry. Here's a snippet of that conversation:

The reason why it was like doing laundry for me is this: the lead up to it, I hated. Just like before I do laundry, all the separating and being surrounded by dirty clothes. But when I got to the age and lived it, it gave me a sense of accomplishment. It's like that feeling when the laundry is done and everything is all folded neatly and put away and its smells so good. It gave me a better idea of what type of adulthood I am headed towards and it's given me the opportunity to decide whether that is the right path or whether i want to change it.

I liked this theory. And though the path so far has been unpredictable and, at times, chaotic, I've enjoyed the journey to this point. I'm looking forward.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Away I go

I'm heading south!

Although it's not as far as I'd like to venture, I'm still excited about heading to Busan, Korea, for a few days of adventure and exploration. It's been a long time since I've taken a break from Seoul, and now, with a couple of weeks left in this journey, I'm looking forward to a warm ocean breeze and some fresh seafood treats.

When I first moved to Seoul, someone told me I'd learn to appreciate fresh air. I didn't realize how true this would be, until I ventured out to the east coast over February. There's such a huge difference in the quality of air between Seoul and cities in other parts of the country. The air in Seoul is thick and, for lack of a better word, toxic. It's a landlocked city, so the pollution and smog just sits like a cloud over the entire area, making it quite difficult to breathe at times. This has been especially true as of late, because of the summer heat and humidity.

Although I've visited warmer countries and cities in the past, I've never had as hard a time with the heat as I've had in Seoul. Everyday, as soon as I venture out my front door, the first thought that passes through my brain is, "I need a shower!!" Getting out of the city literally means breathing a sigh of relief. It's a vacation for the lungs.

So this trip to Busan is coming at a great time. I'll be taking the KTX south for about three hours, and will be staying in the coastal city for a few days. Aside from a couple of key destinations like the Jagalchi fish market and Busan tower, I don't really have a plan. I'm looking forward to discovering as I go.

Stay tuned for updates when I'm back next week. In the meanwhile, I hope August is being good to all of you!


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Cicada Song

It's been really noisy in Seoul for the past couple of months. It all started in June with a few buzzing sounds in the evenings, as the weather started to get warmer. By mid-June, the noise had moved to all parts of the day, ranging from soft hummings to gradual crescendos, ending in an annoying symphony of rhythmic chaos. I remembered these sounds from when I first moved to Korea last august, but until now, I'd completely forgotten about it.

Cicadas have invaded Korea!

For those of you who don't know, cicadas are bugs that come out to play in humid and hot weather. They're known to make a loud, rhythmic noise, and for that, they can be pretty annoying. They're not like aphids or mosquitoes, which fly around and irritate people. These bugs stay high up in the trees, and are only noticed when they sing their songs in solos or choirs. You can almost keep the beat with them, once you've listened for a few seconds.

It's the beginning of August now, and cicadas can be found all over the city -- especially in areas that have a lot of trees. I did some research on these fascinating insects with regards to their presence in Seoul. I couldn't figure out why they'd move to a city as polluted as this one... especially since we have more high-rise buildings than scenic parks and woods.

As it turns out, there has been a large influx of cicadas in Seoul over the past few years, because of changes to the landscape. Architects in Korea are making a greater effort of including trees with large leaves in their designs, and this seems to attract the bugs to the city. However, the cicadas feel inclined to be noisier than usual because of all the other noises that come with the city -- cars, buses, people, etc. Apparently the noise is a mating call sent out by the males. Check out this video to get an idea of what I'm talking about. Mind you, this is merely one cicada. Imagine this sound multiplied by about 20 to 30 (at least) at any given moment.

It's hard to imagine that something so little can make so much noise! What's even more fascinating is the rhythm in which they sing their songs. Mother nature sure is amazing, isn't she?


Sunday, 1 August 2010

Circle in the Sand

... because this is barely the beginning.

As my journey in the RoK draws to a close, I'm starting to reflect on my time here. So much has happened in the span of this past year - both, positive and negative - yet, I can't help but hope that I'll always look back on this experience and smile.

These past few weeks have been spent preparing for and working at an English summer camp. I've been teaching middle school boys for the first time in my life, and it's been quite the experience. For one thing, I've learned that boys are more forgiving than girls. If I scold a male student for being disruptive in class, the next day he'll forget all about it and go back to his regular self. If I scold a female, however, she's guaranteed to hold a grudge for the remainder of her classes with me. It's a woman thing -- I just never realized we started at such a young age.

Almost every close friend I've made in Seoul will be heading back to their respective homes by the end of August. The thought of not seeing these women on a regular basis (as for the past year) is quite saddening. There's something to be said about choosing people to be part of your family. Yes, I say family because that's pretty much what they've become for me. Almost every experience, emotion and thought has been shared with them, and I can't imagine going back to a life that won't directly include them. Thank heavens for technology! It's a bit soothing for the spirit knowing that they'll simply be a phone call or message away. Another bonus is that no matter where I find myself in the next few years, I know I'll always have someone to visit!

On another note, I find it rather fitting that my favourite book will be released as a movie, just a couple of weeks before I head home. I became steadfast about coming to Korea after reading "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Before that, I wavered a lot, unsure if the experience would be right for me. After reading the book I began to understand how important it is to take risks in life and enjoy each moment we experience, whether good or bad. It became a reminder I'd turn to, every time I felt lost. It seems almost fortuitous that the movie comes out on August 13th. I hope you all have a chance to check it out!

I have a couple of trips planned for the few weeks I have left. After I finish working at the English camp this week, I'll be heading out with a couple of friends to explore the Southern coast of the country. We don't have a big itinerary planned, but the joys of traveling with these women is that they have wandering spirits just like me. Aside from a few key hot spots, we plan on simply exploring as we stumble. I'm pretty excited about it.

On a final note, I have some terrific blog news! StraightFromTheCurls has been selected as one of the top 10 blogs in Korea by GO! Overseas. Be sure to check out their site if you're interested in traveling, working, studying or volunteering abroad. It's laid out very well, and there's tons of interesting articles to help you with any questions you may have.

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