^^ My last picture taken before heading home to LA. ^^
Before leaving Taiwan, it seemed only appropriate that we stuff ourselves with as much food as possible — radish soup, chow mein, beef noodle soup, pastries, rice and ground sausage. So by the time I got on my plane for South Korea I weighed about 10 pounds heavier and took to my business class seat with the fake confidence that I belonged there.
Just kidding, I told the stewardess numerous times how odd it felt to have a table cloth accompany my dinner and probably gave myself away by accepting all the champagne I was offered. I was feeling pretty good about myself when that plane landed.
While Taiwan was a blur of 12 hours of daily adventures, South Korea was a deep breathe in a new place. With Joe at work during the day, JJ and I were more relaxed with our plans and one day, even binge watched “Scream” in our pajamas until we were supposed to meet our Dutch friend for dinner. We’d explore Joe’s neighborhood before splitting off — me to a Korean bath house (more on that later) and walks around the city and JJ to a museum in downtown Seoul.
When I think of my time in Taiwan and in South Korea, I’m struck by how very different they were. For one, South Korea was the first time during this vacation I started taking trips all on my own, praying that my limited LIMITED Korean and wild charades would be able to get me where I needed to go. I learned the importance of saying thank you and bowing, a lesson JJ instilled in me as we dined on cinnamon rolls and ham croissants one morning.
The thing that didn’t change at all between the two trips was the amount of food we consumed and the amount of animals we interacted with — often times doing both at once. We ate Korean BBQ till our pants’ buttons popped, waffles at a sheep cafe, South African food, buckwheat noodles, chicken and beer, bibimbop, all of the tea, pastries, black tea ice cream, scones, chicken cutlets. We spent one afternoon exploring the university area of Hongdae where we met Tung Tung, the world’s grumpiest Dog Cafe resident. Part blind with no teeth, Tung Tung reminded us a bit of Howard and became the hero of many fictional stories we devised the rest of the trip. His “Grinch Who Stole Christmas” personality ended up scaring all the other dogs away except Blue the Great Dane who I quickly fell in love with and attempted to take home to Brooklyn with me. Proof of our brief love affair below:
Joe was the perfect host, offering us not only unlimited reign over his studio apartment but invitations to dinners with friends and trips to brew houses, his friend’s birthdays and ex-pat bars where I took it upon myself to fill up the entire dance floor with my 80s-inspired routines.
I’m so proud of the full life Joe has created for himself in South Korea and each day there, I felt more and more in awe of him. Moving to New York was hard, but essentially I was moving to a place with the same currency, same language, similar customs. But Joe, goodness, that kid moved and learned another language, how to use public transportation in Korean, a new currency, a new culture. And in three years, he’s joined numerous clubs, performed in Shakespeare plays, has run 10+ marathons, traveled all around Asia, met friends and had romantic relationships. He constantly reminds me to dive into the unknown and take the risk of being the new kid for the potential chance this group could be something I love. One of my favorite Joe stories (there are many) has to be when I was feeling particularly blue about being single, he emailed me with this advice:
“Carly, the best thing you can do when it comes to love is just to swim forward and try anything and everything that intrigues you. Then one day, while you’re having your own adventure, you’ll bump into another fish traveling the same way and all that waiting will make sense.”
I mean, WHO IS THIS GUY!?
The last picture above is the outside of the Korean bathhouse I was determined to visit. Essentially it just ended up being me and a bunch of older Korean women nakedly sharing three steam rooms the temperature of hell and four pools with the purpose of losing our first layer of skin in the name of hygiene. Since no one spoke English and I don’t speak Korean the first 30 minutes was me sitting naked in a pool hoping that I hadn’t misunderstood and was accidentally sitting in a tub of drinking water. But overtime, I became taken with these women’s confidence. No one was covering themselves up or embarrassed or staring at each other. All ages, all body types — this was a communal activity that made me see body confidence in a whole new light. I loved it and now know next time: One, bring all your showering products and hair dryer to the bathhouse to get ready afterwards. Two, bring your own shower towel. And three, yes, you take all your clothes off in the locker room and then walk downstairs. No need to take your clothes off too soon and be that confused naked white girl.
Highlights: Visiting the National Palace with JJ and making friends with an 86-year-old Korean man visiting after 50 years. Buying 16 pairs of socks because they were the cheapest and most creative things in Korea. Catwoman, Harry Potter, koalas, Peter Pan, Disney princesses, red pandas — I now own them all because I’m an adult! And the boys just being the best. Thanks for having me South Korea! Until next time.