Five Weeks

The past five weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. I left my life in Korea, said goodbye to close friends, reunited with my boyfriend after six months, visited three new countries, reunited with a close friend from college, and had countless new experiences.

I’m so overwhelmed with the experiences I have been privileged enough to enjoy over the past month, and there is no possible way I could have go into detail about each of them – if I did, we’d be here all day. So, for my grandparents, and aunts and uncles who are probably getting antsy without an update, here are some of my favourite moments from the past five weeks.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics

I had never considered going to the Olympics, and I certainly never thought that I’d ever visit the Olympics in Korea. What’s more, I never thought my favourite band from Ontario, would arrive at the Olympics at the same time as me, and perform not one, but two surprise shows. I was even more stoked when the Arkells dedicated our song to Jay and I during their set – turns out, dreams do come true. Oh, and seeing Canada’s men’s hockey team win bronze was also pretty dope.

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Bronze medal hockey game!

Scuba Diving

I made plans to take my Open Water Scuba Diving certification without batting an eyelash. I love the water. I love to swim. What could go wrong? Scuba diving ended up challenging me in ways I had never imagined. I was terrified and anxious at the start. I was determined to enjoy myself diving. One month, and thirteen dives later – I couldn’t be more stoked I stuck with it.

Being a REAL LIFE Couple

After six months of long distance, just getting to hang out with Jay and be a normal couple was the absolute best. I couldn’t have asked for someone better to share so many experiences with – silly selfies, diving, overeating, and even traveler’s diarrhea – it was a truly bonding experience.

EATING

Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand have offered me an insane amount of delicious food. The mix of cultures throughout these countries has allowed me to indulge in everything from Indian cuisine, to Chinese, Japanese, Malay and Thai. I also can’t forget about all the tasty vegan restaurants I’ve found myself at.

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Singapore

Singapore gets it’s own category, because I have so much appreciation for this country. Progressive and forward thinking – Singapore is clean, accessible, and beautiful. Two days weren’t enough to appreciate this unique country.

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Singapore’s Botanic Garden

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Gardens By The Bay
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KITCHENER ROAD

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

I spent endless hours trying to find an ethical sanctuary in Thailand, and Phuket Elephant Sanctuary was perfect. Hands off, and all about the elephants. Observing these magnificent creatures was a humbling experience.

Rock Climbing in Railay

Since I started climbing indoors a few years ago, I have been terrified to get outdoors due to my fear of heights. The opportunity to climb in one of the climbing hot spots of the world pushed me out of my comfort zone and got me out on some real rocks. I surprisingly didn’t lose my cool 20 metres up a rock face, and it was a pretty incredible experience.

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Climbing at the Diamond Cave in Railay, Thailand

Khao San Road

A casual stroll to check out a local tourist street in Bangkok turned into countless hours of dancing in the street with new friends. Unforgettable.

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Put your hands up

Learning things

This has been the longest I have ever been unemployed, and it’s given me a lot of time to learn new things, about myself and my surroundings. It’s been a period of growth and change. I’m slowly learning what I really appreciate and enjoy doing with my time – such as yoga and cooking – things that are challenging to maintain while living a travel lifestyle.

I am also slowly learning how to be a more ethical and mindful traveler. The longer I stay on the road, the more aware I become of issues faced all around the globe. Whether it’s the visibility of feminist issues as I get harassed anytime I walk down the street, or the exploitation of animals everywhere I turn, to the harsh reality while scuba diving that our environment is in tremendous danger – my travels have been eye opening in many ways.

I have been traveling with others for the past five weeks, and as of today, I start the last four weeks of travel on my own. I have only a few short days in Bangkok until I embark on a three week solo adventure in Myanmar. I am looking forward to the challenge of exploring a country with minimal tourist infrastructures in place. Stepping into a land with poor internet and a lack of Starbucks and McDonald’s is sure to be both shocking and a great learning experience.

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Five amazing weeks. Excited to see what the next month holds.
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I’m not crying. You’re crying.

I have been having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I am leaving Korea in less than two weeks. In some ways, I feel like I just left Canada, and in other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago. I think I am different, but somehow, I still feel the same.

I thought I was okay with leaving. I didn’t really feel phased by it.  I was asked to give a short speech in front of the school at our closing ceremony. I was confident that I could do this – easy peasy. And then, they handed me the microphone… Standing on stage, in front of all of my students, co-workers, and teachers I have never even spoken to, I started to cry. And let’s just be clear – this wasn’t a normal cry. This was an involuntary emotional response that I was fighting with every bone in my body – and I couldn’t stop it. I lost it, and I was mortified. I tried to pull myself together long enough to string together a few words to express my gratitude to my students for the wonderful year I have had with them. I am sure the few words I managed to spit out were complete gibberish, but my tears and lack of composure said it all – I’m sad and I don’t want to admit it.

Goodbyes suck. We have all been through them. We all know this. We’ve all been through break-ups, drifted from close friends, moved away from loved ones, and even lost loved ones. I don’t have to write a blog post for you to know that. I think the challenging part of this particular goodbye, is it’s definitive.  My time in this place has grown and changed me in ways I am not even sure I understand yet. I am leaving Korea 15 lbs lighter and $15,000 less in debt (yeah, you heard that right). I graduated my Masters, taught myself graphic design, learned a bit of French, and opened an Etsy shop. I visited five new countries, made incredible friends, survived a long distance relationship, and made a lot of lifestyle changes – and just like that, I am about to return home to previous life – a life that I knew when I was different then I am now.

I am not entirely sure what that adjustment is going to look like for me, which results in excitement and fear of the unknown. Sometimes, I wish I could stay in my happy Korea bubble just a little while longer, but I can’t. In two weeks time, I’ll be headed to the Olympics here in Korea. Then I will be flying off to travel Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar. Stay tuned for the adventures to come – I am sure all of my negative feelings will float away when I’m laying on a beach in Malaysia in the sunshine – suckerrrssss.

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Real footage of me in front of my entire school #Why

Taiwan 2018: Scrap the Bucketlist

Ah, my final vacation before I wrap up my time in South Korea – only to venture onto a long-term vacation in a few short weeks – life is tough sometimes. Given that school has been slow over the past month or two, I have had quite a lot of free time. With that free time, I did a lot of research about Taiwan – places to eat, places to see, things to do. I got to Taiwan, and for whatever reason, I completely scrapped majority of my plans. If I were to compare my list of shit to do, with the list of shit I actually did, there would be a reasonable amount of discrepancies – and I couldn’t be happier.

Prior to departing for Taiwan, I realized that the novelty of traveling (particularly by myself) has worn off a little. I realize how much of an asshole I sound like for even saying that, but it’s true. When I think back to the first few times I went to a new and exotic place, and the first few times I traveled on my own, I can almost relive the intense anxiety and excitement I had in the days, and even weeks, leading up to my trip. But now, I find myself eager to explore somewhere new, but I am lacking the anxiety and excitement I once had. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so.

With this increase in comfort and confidence traveling, again, particularly on my own, comes an ability to trust the process. I no longer feel compelled to plan out my entire trip, or even make any solid plans. I no longer feel required or pressured to visit the “most popular landmark” simply because TripAdvisor told me to. That FOMO we’re all known to experience is gone. When I think back to my most memorable experiences in every country I’ve been to – I remember the people I met, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, the really shitty situations I encountered, and the spontaneous moments that wouldn’t have otherwise happened if I hadn’t left room in my trip for them.  Taiwan was a great example of how memorable a trip can be, even if you don’t go to that super famous temple, or visit that really important museum – what will be will be, if you just let it.

So with that, here are a few of my favourite moments from Taiwan:

Stumbling upon beautiful places that aren’t on the “Top 10 list of things to do in Taipei”

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I think this place was called Peace Park, but I’m not entirely sure. Regardless, it was beautiful.

Discovering that eating a vegan diet while traveling isn’t that bad

Exploring popular destinations at night, when no one else is around…

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Jioufen – absolutely bat shit crazy during the day, a peaceful sanctuary late at night.

Getting lost…a lot

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Uhhhh…..am I trespassing?

Making new friends and realizing just how small the world truly is

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The most southern point in Taiwan with new Australian friends and a fellow Kitchener/Ulsan friend #WhatAreTheChances

Coming to the understanding that major tourist attractions often disappoint you the most…

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#WHY

Expecting to be disappointed because, “it’s not beach season”….

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The beachiest season there ever was!

Taiwan was beautiful and unexpected. I met amazing people, ate amazing food, and spent most days aimlessly wandering – what more could I ask for?

 

So long 2017

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The last sunset of an exciting year

The past two months have been action packed. I expected to spend much of the winter hibernating, but surprisingly, I have spent most of my weekends away from Ulsan. I have been trying to make the most of my last few months in Korea, so I have been braving the cold and leaving my cozy mountain each weekend. I visited Jeonju, the foodie capital of Korea; Tongyeong and Geoje Island; and spent Christmas on Jeju Island. I also spent a weekend in Busan, and New Years Eve in Seoul. I am looking forward to laying low for a few weekends after the the madness of the past two months.

Jeonju

Jeonju had been on my list of places to visit before I even arrived in Korea. Jeonju is know for having the largest 한옥 village in Korea, it’s amazing food, and for being the place to wear a 한폭 – traditional Korean dress. We had a wonderful weekend experiencing Korean culture – wandering through the village, eating Bipbimbap, drinking Moju and Makgeolli, and freezing our asses off pretending to be Korean princesses.

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Ballin’
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The most Korean picture that ever was…

Busan

I’ve visited Busan many times since arriving in Korea. Being there in December, we were lucky to visit the Christmas Lights festival in Nampo-dong. I also finally visited Gwangali – one of the main attractions in Busan. Check…Check…

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Korean’s know how to do Christmas lights
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Gwangali – Busan

Geoje Island & Tongyeong

Geoje Island and Tongyeong were both beautiful destinations along the southern coast of Korea. I saw very little of Geoje Island, but explored most of the sites in Tongyeong. Tongyeong is home to a beautiful art village that overlooks the fishing port below. It’s a lively and beautiful town with plenty of beautiful sites to explore.

 

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Okay…..

Christmas in Jeju

Jeju Island is off the southern coast of Korea, and it is loosely referred to as, “The Hawaii of Korea”. I wouldn’t go that far, but Jeju was pretty damn beautiful. One of the reasons I wanted to visit Jeju was to climb Korea’s highest peak, Hallasan. Sadly, weather was not on our side and we had to settle for museum hopping instead. We ate plenty of delicious food, and viewed the beautiful coastlines on our three day vacation to Jeju. I’ll be back for you Hallasan.

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Eastern Coast of Jeju
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Vegan Christmas Dinner!

 

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New Years in Seoul

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With three and a half days off of work, it only made sense to head up to Seoul for New Years Eve. As usual, I went to Seoul with one main intention – to EAT. We indulged in three days of veggie burgers and Mexican food – I was in heaven. We also went skating at Seoul Olympic Park. Sadly, the skates were by far the worst skates I have ever worn in my life – I’m fairly certain they had never been sharpened – Ohhhh Korea. I also finally made my way up to Namsan Tower – check!

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Starting 2018 in styyyleee

In the past two months, I have checked off most items on my Korea bucketlist. I can spend my next two months in Korea, saving money, relaxing, and spending quality time with friends before I leave. I only have fifty five days left until I leave, and it is a bittersweet feeling recognizing how fast that time is going to go by.

 

 

How do you measure a year?

I got kicked right in the feels last week at my school festival. The opening performance  by our choir was a song from Rent – Seasons of Love. Well, I’ve never seen Rent before, but this song nearly knocked me on my ass with emotion: My time in Korea is coming to an end.

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I have less than sixty days left in the place I have called home for almost a year. I have made unforgettable friendships; worked with incredible, intelligent, and inspiring students; visited new countries; and experienced an entirely new culture – for better or for worse. And just like that, it’s all about to come to an end.

I struggled saying goodbye to my life in Ontario, but this is a different kind of goodbye – one that feels permanent. It is very likely that I may never return to Korea. It is very likely that I will never see a single one of my students again. It is also very likely that I may never see some of the wonderful people I have met here, ever again. I’m left feeling torn between the excitement of the adventures to come and the sadness of leaving something so special behind.

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Choosing to come to Korea was a relatively spontaneous decision – as many of my adventurous ideas are. I decided on a Thursday afternoon, on a whim, that I wanted to move to a new country – and a few months later I was selling my belongings, quitting my job, and giving notice on my apartment. I can’t imagine where my life would be today had I not made that spontaneous decision. I am excited for what’s to come, and I know I will look back on my time here fondly in the years to come. Time to go watch Rent for the first time, and have a good cry ㅠㅠ.

Siren Song of the Summit

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My favourite part of hiking is the breaks…

At the start of my year in Korea, we were asked to write one goal on a piece of wood during our Taekwondo class. We had to break this piece of wood with our hand – a symbolic way to announce what we wanted to accomplish during our time in Korea. I wrote – “Climb as many mountains as I can”.

Moving to Korea, I knew that I wanted to do as much hiking as I possibly could. Living in Ontario, my access to mountains has always been limited, and I have found myself fleeing to other countries for many years to get my hiking fix. At the start of Autumn, it dawned on me, that not only had I not done as much hiking as I wanted to, but that my time left in Korea was limited. I decided that in the next few months, I had to conquer my two biggest bucketlist hikes – Jirisan, Korea’s highest mainland mountain, and Gajisan, Ulsan’s highest mountain.

In October, I visited the Busan International Film Festival (BIFF). I saw a screening for a film called Mountain – a documentary about the history of the relationship between humans and mountains.  In the film they ask, “What is this strange force that draws us upwards? This – siren song of the summit…”. This well timed film had me questioning my motivation on the long climbs up both Jirisan, and Gajisan. My quads were burning, my calves were uncomfortably tired, I was gasping for air because my cardio is shit, and I couldn’t seem to find a happy body temperature – why do I do this to myself? No matter how many mountains I climb, no matter how sore I am the next day – something keeps me coming back.

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There is something so satisfying about a summit.

On the descend from Gajisan, I think I finally figured it out. I think I enjoy the unpredictability that comes with climbing a mountain. The first time you summit a peak, you never know what to expect. For someone who enjoys structure and planning, mountains challenge me in a way I can’t control.

On our way down Gajisan, a man stopped us and told us in broken English “Oh, don’t go that way – very dangerous – very dangerous”. Being my usual stubborn self, I decide to proceed down the “very dangerous” route regardless. Turns out that this route involved a lot of scrambling down large boulders, and trying to estimate whether there was a mystery rock under a pile of leaves, that may or may not cause me to eat shit. Regardless, this was probably my favourite part of the entire climb. Hiking and scrambling in unpredictable areas gives me the chance to do some immediate problem solving. My brain is constantly calculating where to put each of my hands and feet in the most efficient way possible. It’s like rock climbing in a sense, because there is no space in my brain for anything else – a mindful meditation if you will. My mind seems to be the most clear when I come off of a mountain – a clarity that I find difficult to find otherwise.

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Meh.

As we do with all great things in life, I have taken my time among the mountains of Korea for granted. The mountains help me clear my head, and they keep me sane. I am going to miss having easy access to them when I return to Canada in 2018.

Observations of a Collective Society

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I was standing at the back of a second grade classroom proctoring an exam. The students were exhausted from getting four hours of sleep each night due to excessive studying. The bell to indicate the exam was beginning rang, and in an extremely uniform fashion, the rows of students passed back their test sheets one at a time.  The execution of their test sheets was as flawless as a synchronized swimming routine. I imagine my clumsy self being inserted into this assembly line – I’d be fumbling papers, dropping them, and scrambling to pick them back up.

When I went to the hospital a few months back, I was passed along from person to person, and within the span of forty five minutes –  I had seen a physician, received not one, but two x-rays, had an EKG, was admitted to the hospital, and had an IV inserted into my hand – in forty five minutes. This process would have taken hours in Canada.

I have observed that when it comes to routine tasks, the people of Korea are excessively efficient. It seems that everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do, and when they are supposed to do it. Day to day roles are clearly defined – even down to the simple roles – like passing exam papers in a classroom.

What causes this efficiency? Are we doing something wrong in Western Culture? I recently listened to a podcast by Russell Brand that discussed the idea of individualism in Western cultures versus collectivism in Eastern cultures. This got me thinking – what if we are doing something terribly wrong in Western culture? I wonder if our society and our communities would be stronger and more efficient if we moved away from our obsession with individualism. I am not even sure how, or if such a paradigm shift would be possible. We are taught so early in life to focus on ourselves – to be selfish. I find myself pondering over the idea that maybe the world would be a better place if we put our communities first.

On the other hand, there has to be a downside to a culture based on collectivism. I have observed in Korea, that there is a stronger expectation to follow a traditional lifestyle. In Canada, it is more acceptable to go against the grain. I pride myself on being a highly independent and self-sufficient person – who doesn’t necessarily follow a traditional way of life. I can’t imagine a life for myself where this wasn’t the case. I also find myself wondering whether individualism or collectivism best promotes a culture of creativity. Perhaps we shouldn’t be exploring the downsides of both individualism and collectivism, but finding a balance between the two.

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Hmm…