Photo Challenge: MOTION

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: MOTION

Man riding his bicycle in Korea.

This photo was taken during the Cherry Blossom festival in Gyeongju, South Korea this spring.  The streets of this city are pure magic.  The vibrant colors splattering each building. The sound of cyclists ringing their bells up and down the sidewalk.  The perfume of the cherry blossoms filling your lungs.  I was happy to catch one of these cyclists passing by, hopefully giving you a taste of the beauty I saw that day.

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Packing For Korea: Do’s & Don’ts

Having recently experienced the anxiety a move abroad can inspire, I thought it would be a good idea to pass on the wisdom I have gained in deciding what to pack for a successful 1+ year experience in Korea.  Hindsight is 20/20, and I hope this knowledge keeps your move from becoming a pull-your-hair-out experience.

The existence of Costco in many of Korea’s major cities can be a game-changer in your living experience, depending on your ability to access said store.  Click here to see a list of Costco locations in Korea.  The list below, however, doesn’t take into account what can be found in Costco.

If you have anything to add, please comment below!

BRING

Rain Jacket || Up until a year ago, I had never owned light-weight, water-proof outerwear.  Now, a week doesn’t go by where I don’t drag out my NorthFace Resolve Rain Jacket. It has rained a couple times every week this spring, and we aren’t even in Monsoon season yet.

Comfortable walking shoes || Let me just say this, girls: if you’re loosing sleep over which pair of heels to pack, or opting to forgo packing essentials so you can squeeze in those cute strappy wedges, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.  No judgment here, I packed my favorite pair of heeled booties, refusing to give up on the hope that I would get chances to wear them.  Now I regret not bringing the extra camping gear I left behind instead.  Although you won’t be called to give up every sense of fashion in your new life, you must keep in mind that you will be walking everywhere.  Like, EVERYWHERE.  And in all types of weather.  Also, keep in mind that you will be constantly pulling them off and on.  Korean households, and most traditional Korean restaurants, require you to leave your shoes at the door, as do all temples. Here are three pairs of go-to shoes that have made life in Asia easy:

Chacos || I shouldn’t even have to tell you.

Columbia Omni-Heat Insulated Pull On Boot || Waterproof.  Insulated.  Great tread. Easy to pull off and on.  Super warm and cozy.

Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit || Fit like a glove.  Crazy light-weight.  The only pair of shoes I own that don’t leave even the slightest tinge of ache at the end of a long day of site-seeing.

Slippers for work || I guess this could have gone with the list above, but I felt it was important enough to get its own bullet.  EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL I know of requires both students and teachers to keep a pair of shoes reserved solely for wearing inside school grounds.  Many schools have a closet full of “community” slippers, shared by the group of us fools who forget to bring our own to work.  So don’t be that guy who’s wearing stinky old used slippers.  Because I would like to maintain a look of professionalism and color coordination, I wear a pair of black Crocs ballet flats.

Jeans || Finding the perfect pair of jeans is hard enough in your home country.  So obviously, it becomes close to impossible in a foreign country.  Save yourself the grief and buy a pair or two extra to keep on hand.

Underwear || I’m not saying it’s impossible to find well-fitting bras, but the general consensus among expats is that this is not a battle worth fighting.  For larger women, it’s almost impossible. And for anyone else, it’s a practice in frustration.  Do yourself a favor and plan ahead.

Deodorant || You won’t be able to find any here.  I brought 5 sticks with me, praying it will be enough!

Feminine Hygiene Products || Tampons are few and far between.  When you do find them, they are crazy expensive, and come in tiny packs.  Pads are easy to find.

Makeup ||  I think the only issue here would be finding liquid and powder foundations to match your skin tone.  Bring a couple extra of your tried-and-true favorites with you!

Comfortable daypack || After teaching English to a herd of crazy students all week, you’re going to be aching for Friday afternoon when you can race to the train station and begin your weekend adventure.  Just make sure to bring a day pack that won’t leave your shoulders aching.  My North Face Big Shot is super spacious and comfortable, I wear it every day!

Power converters and adapters || Learn the difference between the two here.  Laptops and iPhones usually have a built in converter, and just need an adapter to function.  For almost every other Western-made gadget (electric razors, curling irons, hair dryers, etc.) a converter will be needed.

Sheets || This is one item that I failed to bring, and deeply regret.  Sheets in Korea are usually not 100% cotton, and are incredibly expensive. 

Full-sized bath towels || You won’t be able to find them anywhere in Korea.  The biggest they come are a hand-towell size.

LEAVE

Hair dryer & Curling Iron || Don’t waste your packing space!  Koreans dry their hair too, I found my hair dryer at my local grocery store for $13.  If you bring one from home, you must use a converter (see above).  The same can be said for curling irons, although they are a bit more expensive.  I found some inexpensive ones on Korea’s equivalent to Amazon: GMarket.

Toothpaste || This is a subject up for debate.  Almost everyone else will tell you to pack a year’s supply.  Although Korea offers a wide variety of toothpaste flavors that will leave you with eyebrows raised, they DO have a classic mint flavor.  It may not be as good as my beloved Crest 3D White Toothpaste, but it does the trick.  You can also find a few basic American brands if you look hard. 

Cooking Spices ||  I bought rosemary and a blend of Italian herbs at a major grocery store the other day.  I couldn’t find basil, nutmeg, or liquid vanilla.  Some avid cooks will tell you to not take chances and bring your own stock.  I say chance it, your odds of finding what you need are pretty good, and what you don’t find will force you to become a more creative cook.

Gyeongju | History and Cherry Blossom Festival

SPRING IS HERE PEOPLE!  I am determined to savor every fleeting beauty it offers.  I have never been more conscious of weather than I am here in Korea.  Before now, I have always had the comfort of a car to get around in.  If it was snowing, drizzling rain, or blazing hot, never fear!  Heated seats and ice cold A/C were there!  Now, I walk everywhere and in every weather condition.  I am forever conscious of the 24-hour weather forecast.  I have invested in a squishy pair gel shoe inserts.  Some nice muscles have been developing in my calves.

One of the most exciting parts of Spring in Korea is the grand appearance of the stunning cherry blossoms!  Almost overnight, the streets are transformed into picture-perfect venues, framed in a halo of pink and white.  There’s a constant murmur of cell phone cameras click, click, clicking, as everyone tries to capture the breathtaking scenery.  And as quick as they come, after about a week, the blossoms fall off, and everything goes back to normal.

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During Cherry Blossom Season, there are countless festivals around the country, offering ideal venues for your blossom viewing enjoyment.  After hours of research, we decided to side-step the more popular venues, and head to Gyeongju, a well-known but far less crowded festival location.  No regrets in this choice, I absolutely recommend Gyeongju to anyone making plans for next year’s cherry blossom season.  One of my favorite practical features of this city is that bike rentals are everywhere, and very inexpensive! An awesome way to see the city.  

Gyeongju was the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty, which ruled the Korean peninsula from 57 BC – 935 AD.  Referred to as “The Museum without Walls,” Gyeongju is filled with pride for Korea’s heritage, and holds many of its historical treasures.  Here are just a few:

Anapji (안압지)

Originally built in 674 CE, Anapji is the ancient palace complex constructed by a king of the Silla Dynasty.  The king made the palace grounds a paradise, filled with exotic flowers and animals.  After the fall of the Dynasty in 935 CE, the palace was neglected and eventually fell into disrepair.  It wasn’t until 1974 that any efforts were made to recover this historical treasure.  After twelve years of excavation,  Anapji now stands as one of Gyeongju’s most breathtaking venues.  Totally recommend seeing Anapji at night! The reflections off the pond are incredible.

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Cheomseongdae Observatory (첨성대)

The oldest surviving astronomical observation tower in East Asia.  Built in 634 CE by Queen Seonduk of the Silla Dynasty, Cheomseongdae means star-gazing tower in Korean.  The reality of having historical sites as old as this surround me has been really hard to grasp.  I mean, they’re not even under glass, or behind those red velvet ropes.  Furthermore, the irony of these ancient relics being surrounded by a throng of selfie-obsessed tourists gives a whole new twist to the viewing experience.

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Royal Tombs (왕릉)

The Silla kings were buried in Gyeongbuk in crazy awesome looking tombs.  While many of the identities of the tomb occupants are known, several of the tombs were left unmarked.  One of the most famous tombs is that of King Munmu.   Munmu asked to be buried outside the city on the ocean, so that upon death, he could transform into a dragon and continue to protect his Dynasty’s coastline.  Although we were fairly certain climbing the mountainous tombs was not advised, after watching many Korean tourists trek to the tops, we decided to follow suit.  At the top we were able to enjoy a gorgeous view of the city, and kind of felt like kings ourselves.  I’ll admit, as the wind flicked my hair and a dead king lay under my feet, the lyrics to Lorde’s song “Royals” rolled through my head more than once.

Taking her pups for a walk among the kings.

Taking her pups for a walk among the kings.

Top of the tomb!

Top of the tomb!

View from the top.

View from the top.

Walking up to the entrance to the grounds of the tombs.

Walking up to the entrance to the grounds of the tombs.

Bulguksa Temple (불국사)

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bulguksa was the zenith of our trip to Gyeongbuk.  Built in 574 CE, this temple complex has seen its fair share of hardship.  The complex was burnt down during the Japanese invasion, 1592-1598.  After 200 years and over 40 renovations, the temple fell again to disrepair, and was a target for looting in the 1800’s.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Bulguksa was fully restored to its original beauty.  It is now home to many national treasures.

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A part of the Buddhist faith are the Four Heavenly Kings, each of whom watches over one of the four directions of the world.

A part of the Buddhist faith are the Four Heavenly Kings, each of whom watches over one of the four directions of the world.

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Taking a sip from the communal fountain!

Taking a sip from the communal fountain!

Beautiful grounds surrounding the temple.

Beautiful grounds surrounding the temple.

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Before leaving the city, we partook in the Cherry Blossom activities, and spent the afternoon at the local festival.  Many fried foods were consumed.  Many pots of boiled silk worms were avoided (already made that mistake once).  Perfect end to a perfect weekend.

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