Thursday, February 14, 2013

Friendships and Travel. A Goodbye.

I love living abroad.
I love meeting new people.
I love when new people become friends.
I love when friends become your source of comfort, laughter, joy, happiness.
I love when friends listen to your complaints, frustrations, anxieties.
I love when friends comfort you when you're homesick.
I love when friends explore countries, cities, neighborhoods together.
I love when friends send you that kikinitinkorea post that it so true.
I love when friends share wine, meals, cakes, coffee.

I care for them. They care for me. I love them. They love me.

And that's how friendships work.
It's a precious gift.
It takes time to grow.
It takes trust.
It takes love.

If it's your first time in a different place.
Or your hundredth place.
Friends will keep you going.
Will keep you laughing.
Will keep you sane.

But then after spending months, maybe years building these beautiful friendships,
A terrible day comes.
The day when you have to say goodbye.

As an expat, I knew this day was coming.
I can resist, but saying goodbye is inevitable.
I don't regret making new friends.
But damn, this is hard.
Really hard.

I spent time growing these friendships.
And now I must leave them.
Leave them to grow in distance.

I give a piece of my heart to each best friend.
For they will always remain a significant part of my expat life.

So I sit down and share that last meal.
That last drink.
That last conversation.
And I give my friends a hug.
I probably cry.

I say goodbye.

But it won't be last goodbye I ever say.

I now have friends from all over the world.
I now have the best excuse to visit a new country, a new city, a new home.

I now have friendships that were made in Korea.
Made from adventure.
Made with love.

To all of my friends,

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ways to Live Life in Korea.

Some suggestions on how to have an awe-inspiring time as an expat in South Korea.

Photo cred: Cindy Le

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Naked Women Everywhere. A Tale from a Korean Bathhouse.

As the woman manipulated my naked body onto its side, I caught a glimpse of my skin. Not the skin still clinging to my body, but the layers of epidermis that had been scrubbed off. It was sprinkled onto the bed in dark grey rolls. Did that come from me? Why is it grey?

I was undergoing a body scrub- a common Korean method of deep exfoliation. I was at a popular Korean hotspot, where being naked is the dress code. I was at a jjimjalbang.

A 24-hour, gender-segregated bathing experience, jjimjilbangs are rooms filled with saunas, hot tubs and tables reserved for massages and scrubs. It's a common place to spend your mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekdays, or weekends with your friends, siblings, children, or parents.

After I paid my 8,000 won entrance fee and received a key and towel, I followed my friends into the female locker room. Here, we threw our shoes into our designated lockers and walked into a large open room. To my right was a woman sitting on a chair selling soaps, hairnets, and eggs (because everyone wants to eat eggs after they bathe). To my left were floor-to-ceiling mirrors designated for blow dryers, hair straighteners and lotion bottles. In front of me were semi-opened locker rooms. This is where we headed. We matched our key numbers to our lockers and started undressing all while having a broken-Korean conversation with a half dressed woman who proceeded to slap my friend on the ass.

After we stripped and said goodbye to our new admirer, we walked toward the Jacuzzi room. We opened the steamed covered glass doors and BAM. Naked women everywhere.
I thought Korean would be prudish about baring their nude bodies, but this conservative culture proved me wrong. Everyone was just letting it all hang out. And you know what, it was beautiful. Women embracing their bodies, embracing what God gave them.
No one covered up. No one giggled. No one stared.
We were all the same. We were all beautiful.

After showering, my friends and I soaked in the hot tubs as I absorbed the sights around me.
At one end of the room were low mirrors, resting on shelves. Short stools stood nearby waiting for women to sit on them and groom themselves. Water splashed, and rags lathered with soaps washed the skin of the women on these stools. I noticed mothers washing their children and friends washing friends. To be washing another while naked was a casual and common act.
At the other end of the room were short partitions dividing the area from the rest of the room. Three tall plastic beds occupied the area. A board advertising various massages and scrubs hung on the wall above. On each bed, laid a woman receiving a service by an ajumma wearing laced lingerie- these were the only clothed women in the room.

I continued to soak as my friend, Devan was called to a plastic bed. We both paid for a scrub and she was the first to undergo the experience. After soaking in four different tubs, I was finally called over. It was my turn to receive the infamous Korean scrub. My ajumma was wearing a red laced lingerie set that didn't cover much. She scowled as I tried to gracefully hop onto the water drenched bed. She lathered me down with oil and then began the most vulnerable thirty minutes of my female existence.

I laid on the bed- completely naked, mind you- as my red lingerie friend began scrubbing my skin with a coarse exfoliating glove. It wasn't painful, but it also wasn't relaxing. This scrub was designed to make your skin feel like a newborn baby. Her hands found areas of my body I didn't even know existed. We became very close, her and I. Very close. She may not have said one word to me as she scrubbed my naked body, but we had a new kind of relationship forming.

Layers of epidermis had been scrubbed off. It clung to my skin, it littered the bed. It was dark and grey. It looked like dirt. All that dead skin came from me! She moved my arms, opened my legs, closed my legs, tilted me to the side, oiled my breasts, scrubbed my butt. I wondered if she was scrutinizing my form or comparing it to a Korean body. Did she think my feet were huge (because they are)? Did she dislike my prickly leg hairs? But more importantly, did she want me to look at her? What is the eye contact etiquette while laying on a bed naked as another woman exfoliates your skin? Do I keep my eyes open? Do I close them?

In the end, I decided to just close my eyes and stop over-analyzing. This woman scrubs hundreds of bodies in a week. I'm sure to her one naked woman is the same as the next.
Thirty minutes later she sat me up, threw water over my body to wash off any signs of dead skin and sent me on my way.

I felt... raw. That's the only word I have to describe it.
I met my friends in one of the tubs and touched my skin. It felt soft, fresh and oh, so clean. Devan said she felt the same. We kept touching each other's arms to compare. We giggled as we shared our scrub stories.
We showered one last time before exiting the Jacuzzi room. We returned to our lockers and dressed into the clothes that would take us away from the naked culture and back into the conservative one we were used to.

If there is one thing you must do as a guest in Korea, it's experience a jjimjalbang. You won't regret it.

Devan, Kate, Lorrene, and me.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

10 Korean Street Foods You Gotta Try

Probably the most popular of all Korean street food, ttukbokki is to Korean kids what french fries are to American kids. A delicious dish of rice cakes smothered in spicy chili paste.

Processed fish cake cooked in broth served conveniently on a stick. 
Don't forget to grab a cup of broth to drink after you finish.

An old style snack that is still popular.

You can find steamed or fried mandu on the streets. This is the fried version. 
A dumpling filled with veggies, rice noodles and meat. Great with soy sauce.

Boiled in soy sauce and sugar and served in a cup. 
Beondegi was a common dish during the war when food was scarce. 
Still popular and still a good source of protein.

Vegetables taste much better when they are deep fried.

 This is no ice cream sundae. Pronounced soon-day, this snack is served warm. 
Intestines stuffed with rice and cooked in pig's blood.

The most amazing corn dog you will ever have. Ever.
I don't know the actual Korean name for this. Anyone?
Layered with french fries and once you pay is coated with ketchup and mustard. So bad, yet so good.

An endless soft potato chip. Best if sprinkled with some seasoning.

My FAVORITE snack. A pancake filled with a cinnamon, sugar, and sunflower seed mixture. 
Cooked in butter till slightly crispy and served warm.