Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Exploring Korea

Teaching English in Japan has bestowed countless opportunities to explore and experience new things. These experiences have given me a new perspective which was only possible when I decided to move to Japan. I've experienced personal growth as well as internal setbacks, all magnified in a foreign country. I'm so grateful for these last two and half years; the friends made and the new experiences cultivated.

At the beginning of November I made the short two hour plane hop to Seoul, Korea. When I came to Japan two and half years ago, I planned to live in Japan just one year (amazing in retrospect how long a year seemed then). Despite the brevity of my stay in Asia, Korea was the foreign country I wanted to explore. It's so close to Japan and several people close to me have lived in Korea and grown to love it. While I ended up first going to several other Asian countries first, I'm grateful I finally had the chance to check out Korea.

Visiting Korea was a definitive highlight since coming to Japan, primarily because some college friends I reconnected with living in Korea made it so special. Jackson Tandy and his new wife, April, moved to Incheon, a large suburb Southeast of Seoul, this past February to teach English. Another friend, Gwehen Jun, moved back to Korea after our college years intersected in Oklahoma.

The Tandy's were incredibly generous to me, letting me take over their living room, loaning their shower, taking me to the cool sites, restaurants and trails, and brewing up coffee and amazing, healthy breakfasts every morning. They've since inspired me to include many more vegetables in my breakfasts. It was awesome to be with a couple friends in Asia so health conscious. Our conversations flowed concerning how we eat and live to remain healthy in Asia.

Since college, our lives have taken several similar paths. Neither of us had ambitions to come to Asia. Jackson, stacked endless Little Caesar Pizza boxes in his college apartment and I pursued the cafeteria food in a similar aggression, but for varying reasons, we have both come around to improving our diets. Jackson has also become an avid trail runner so it was fun to join him for a few runs. Jackson also shared some of his favorite podcasts which I have since adopted as my own. The remaining afterglow of my Korea trip is the Tandy's hospitality, adventurous outlook on the future, and the possibilities open when we pursue our passions.

Another great part of Korea is, while neighboring Japan, it isn't Japan. It was refreshing to get away for a long weekend. I was at peace communicating in only English and body language with Koreans when I needed to. Being a resident in a foreign country and traveling to a new country for a few days are two quite different things. While I enjoy aspects of the gentle, polite Japanese, it was refreshing to see a slightly more aggressive culture. As I halfway joke with my closest friends in Japan, we live in the least charismatic culture in the world (to be fair this is one of the effects of having such a group oriented culture, one in which standing apart means you need to be fixed rather than appreciated). On the trains in Korea, passengers would listen to music unplugged and show mild affection for their loved ones. When asking for directions, a stranger grabbed me by the arm and physically led me to my correct train entrance. In comparison, little things like this rarely happen in adjacent Japan. It was rather mild differences which reminded me I wasn't in Japan.

The food is quite different for a country so close as well. The koreans appreciate spicy foods (kimchi being the most famous.) Seoul also has some of the best barbeque in the world and impressive, festive street food. Traveling to the foreign district of Seoul on a Monday, it was effortless to find any flavor my tastebuds craved, I chose some delicious Mexican burritos, similar to Chipotle.

On Sunday, Jackson and I met up with Gwehen and went on a beautiful hike in the colorful autumn hills of Seoul (pictures below). We had soothing Americanos after our hike and Gwehen took Jackson and I out for some more wonderful Korean Barbeque. It was awesome to see Gwehen, it's been way too long!

From the kitchen in the crisp mornings to the autumn decorated trails, it was awesome to talk about future endeavors and plans here in Asia. I'm grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with Jackson and Gwehen, meet April and discuss the struggles living in Asia, the adventures and the passions we have for the future.

This life is such an amazing adventure and no one needs to remember this more than I.