Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

A human who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sinwha Art Village

I can't get enough of my quaint little city. There are so many hidden gems. I have a pretty extensive list of places I have yet to explore, including a black pebble beach and amethyst mines. Not so recently (a few months ago, I've been slacking on this whole blog thing) I visited a traditional area of Ulsan formed in the 60s which has recently been converted into a mecca of murals, mainly dedicated to whales, naturally. Leena and I had a blast wandering the tiny streets admiring the colorful houses, barking dogs, and little working families tucked away in their homes.

Before heading into the village itself, we walked through a few personal gardens complete with cute little ajummas tending the plants. At one point I turned around to snap a shot and had to take a few moments observing the view above. Seeing the contrast of a rural like village and huge industrial plants put a lot about Ulsan into perspective for me. It is the industrial heart of Korea and houses the biggest shipyard in the world, both attributing to Ulsan being one of the "richest" cities in Korea. Despite that, there are still areas of the city which are less than telling of the cities industrial successes. 

Even though most of the art involved whales in some way, there was still a huge variety of things to look at throughout the village. It was impossible to walk three feet without seeing something new to catch your eye. Shacks, stairs, and doors were all covered in colorful paint. Leena and I probably spent close to two hours just wandering and snapping pictures around every corner.

To say that Ulsanites hold their history of whaling close to hearts is an understatement. Whales have been a huge part of their culture for A LONG TIME, according to petroglyphs in the surrounding area. Despite recent laws prohibiting the killing of whales as a means of profit, there are still loops holes. It isn't rare to see whale meat at the local fish market, unfortunately. Even though my heart cries at the thought of harpooning an innocent little whale, I try and remember that in the past it was a means of survival and has thus made an imprint on the culture of people in the area. Regardless, you won't catch me frying up any whale meat.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Go Overseas

I recently did an interview for, a great company who's philosophy aligns with mine. They provide people with different outlets for satisfying their travel bug whether it be through a gap year or volunteering. They outline options for everyone and support you along the way.

Although I hadn't stumbled across them while searching for a post-graduate job abroad, I wish I would have had them as a resource. Even now, I have been browsing the "study abroad" options. Not sure when, but eventually I want to go back to school. It's nice knowing that there are loads of opportunities out there for me to live abroad while studying. It has opened up my mind to more of the countless options I have. 

Check out my interview!

I initially got involved by leaving a review of Adventure Teaching, the recruitment team I utilized to land a job in Korea. The review I wrote can be found here. After leaving the review I was contacted by one of the website managers, requesting more information in an "interview" format.  I was honored that they were interested in asking me more detailed questions about my experience and happy to share.

It took me a few edits to get everything laid out how I wanted it, and I am really happy with the final product. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Scuba Stevellie

I have always had an unreasonable dream of skydiving in scuba gear right into the ocean. Skydiving
into scubadiving. Although unlikely, I am one step closer to making my dream a reality.
I have a few friends in Korea who dive. It didn't take much for them to convince me that I need to get certified ASAP. Diving in Korea isn't much compared to other places, as far as I've heard. However, by traveling to other countries in Asia you can dive in the most unreal environments, for cheap. Malaysia,  the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand.  As if there wasn't enough of the world for me to explore already, I am going to have a whole underwater paradise full of opportunities open up to me.
Immediately after getting home from Japan I spent two days completing my confined water dives, one day in Ulsan and one day in Busan. I had the most amazing little Korean instructor. She was patient and encouraging and perfect. 

A few of the girls in the group that I was in had a hard time getting down to the bottom when we started on our first descent, which left me chilling at the bottom of the pool taking everything in.
Breathing underwater for the first time was a surreal experience. I was a bit overwhelmed at first, not gonna lie. After getting more comfortable breathing out of the regulator, it started feeling much more natural. I sat on the bottom of the pool for what felt like forever, just thinking about how many awesome underwater adventures I have in store for me.
When it cane time to clear my mask however, my confidence was drowned. Pun intended. Looking back, it seems silly how nervous I was. The first few times I tried, I failed miserably. I couldn't grasp the concept of not breathing in through my nose. My mind was messing with me. That first day I was unable to complete the task and felt a bit discouraged. I was happy to be able to have a night to sleep on my new experiences, watch YouTube videos demonstrating how simple it was, and wake up feeling refreshed and determined.
The second day was a piece of cake. I easily took my mask off my head and swam around, with no problems and no water up my nose. We practiced a few more skills - taking off our gear underwater and neutralizing our buoyancy. After I got over the mask hurdle, it all seemed easy.

I was a bit nervous for the open-water dives, but as soon as my flippered feet touched down on the bottom and the sand settled - I was in paradise. There wasn't much to see off the coast of Busan; starfish and urchins were plentiful. I swam through a few schools of fish and hung out on on the bottom while everyone did all they needed for their certification. At one point, I was hovering as still as possible waiting for little fishies to swim up and check me out. I could have stayed there and watched them for hours.

It's getting a bit too cold to dive, so unfortunately I don't think I will be doing much of it the remainder of the year - but that gives me time to save up and buy some of my own equipment.

Catchin' Up

Leena and I at Daewangam Park near my home in Ulsan, Korea

I have been a busy little bee since my trip to Japan. It seems as though I haven't had a chance to slow down, and I definitely haven't had a chance to blog. Instead of writing an individual blog post for everything I've done these past few months, I decided to sum everything up in one. No need to drag things on, right?

I visited the DMZ and got to step into North Korea. As interesting as it was, it was still a tour. A touristy tour. The only really exhilarating part was when we were in the JSA (Joint Security Area). We got to look into the North and see the soldiers staring at each other at the line of separation, step into the conference room, and get a pretty cool history lesson. I would definitely recommend going on the USO tour, it is the only one that allows access to the JSA. Honestly, it made me want to peer deeper into the North. As unrealistic and unmoral as a tour may be, I can dream - can't I?

The Captain of Our Ship

I spent Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) on a little camping road trip with friends. After spending our day lounging at Gwangalli Beach and tossing a rugby ball around we hit up the jimjilbang for some much deserved soaking, bathing, and scrubbing. We camped on the beach that night in Busan, Korean style. Seolwi (my Korean angel) prepared a dinner complete with BBQ and Doenjang Jjigae, one of my favorite Korean Stews. Waking up to the sounds of waves crashing that next morning was so peaceful. Tranquility at it's finest.

Then we were off to Geoje Island for another round of drinking and beach camping. Despite being cramped in the back seat between two guys, I loved the road tripping portion almost as much as the beaches we visited. Jamming out to music, funny conversations, and Korean rest stops are my idea of a dang good time. We set up camp, did some exploring around the island, and settled down to drink and swim the day away. Seolwi had chicken delivered to the beach and we chowed down while watching the sunset. That evening was quite eventful; there were fireworks, sausages with cheese, and streaking ;)

I visited my Ride or Die in Daegu and we went hiking with Seolwi. Leena, a friend from Vegas, recently moved to a city near mine. Best coincidence of my life. Having a friend from home to share things with is a rare phenomena. Blending my "home" life with this fairy tale that I have been living makes it more real. Plus, she is my favorite person in this world and we have so many adventures ahead of us, I get butterflies in my tummy even typing about it.

I went to Global Gathering in Seoul. Man, I love Seoul. I wouldn't necessarily want to live there, but boy do I enjoy visiting. We ate a South African lunch in Itaewon with Andrea, the token South African, before we headed to Gangnam to do some (not so high end) shopping at Forever 21. Face masks, nail painting, yoga, and tea were in store for us that night in preparation for the festival the next day.

The festival itself was much different from festivals back home or in Europe. Just a big soccer stadium lined with food and drink stands with a big stage in the middle. It did the job well enough though. We were all there for the music anyways. We danced and sang and lost each other and had one hell of a night.

Friday, September 19, 2014


When deciding what do to with my time in Japan I came across the notion of a temple stay while thumbing through my LonelyPlanet guide. As soon as I began reading about Koyasan it was clear making the trek down was going to be completely worthwhile, even just for one night.  I did a bit of research and out of numerous temples to choose from I was able to narrow it down to five. I sent a request email to the Shukubo organization with the names of the temples I requested and left it up to them. A few were booked up by groups of people, one happened to be a high school retreat of some sort. Jealous. It all worked out perfectly though... I booked a garden view room at Fukuchi-in, what turned out to be the most beautiful and relaxing experience of my trip. 

My room - between the lanterns on the second floor
A few days of traveling and exploring had me ready to take it down a notch. After a few hours on a train through lush mountains, a cable car up to the top of Koya Mountain, and a bus into the town - I had finally arrived. Once I checked in a woman walked me around the grounds giving me information about my stay. My dinner will be served at 6:45, temple gates close at 8, prayer in the morning starts promptly at 6, etc. My main concern at this point was getting myself to the natural spring onsen before dinner. Ever since my first jimjilbang experience, I've been dreaming of spas. One of the reasons I was so excited about staying at this temple was for that reason. I threw on my yukata and headed to the spa. After washing I decided I would first take advantage of the few hours the sauna was going to be open. The spa is open all night, whereas the sauna closed at 8. Sigh. I ended up using the facilities on three different occasions despite the fact I was only there for about 17 total hours. They had a beautiful outside rock onsen that I basked in. It was so peaceful, and there were only ever a few people here and there sharing the naked experience with me. It wasn't the least bit awkward seeing them at prayer in the morning ;-)

I made it back to my room in time for my dinner to be served. I have dedicated a whole post to the food I ate throughout my time in Japan, it only seemed fair. If you want to read about it, click here.

After my meal I went back to the onsen and was in and out of the spa and sauna as long as I could handle. My belly was full, I was relaxed, my mind was happy. I spent my evening drinking tea while writing in my journal and listening to the croaking of the frogs in the garden below. There was a little ledge on my window, which I am sure wasn't for sitting, but I climbed out on it anyways because I wanted to look at the stars. It was important. The sky was so clear, and the stars seemed to sparkle they were shining so bright.  I spent a lot of time here, taking everything in. The experiences I've had in Japan, the changes in my life, my new home, and all the things I left (and didn't leave) behind back in Vegas. It was a grounding experience. I realized how, in the grand scheme of things, being happy is one of the simplest things you can be. 

The next morning, I woke up extra early to fit in a little spa time before the morning prayer. I was still able to arrive a bit early. People were already kneeling in front of a large shrine. The monks spoke Japanese only, so I am not entirely sure what they were explaining at the beginning. I wish, so much, that cameras would have been allowed - although I completely understand why they aren't. The monks sat in the corners of a square enclosement in front of us where the massive shrine was. Aizen-myo-oh is a Buddha for fortune and virtue. They started singing the most beautiful mantras. Their voices vibrated throughout my entire body. The monks recited the fundamental sutra, called “Rishu-kyo”, and performed the chanting of Shingon Buddhism called “Sho-myo” which celebrates the grace of Buddha.

The area in front of the shrine was filled to the brim with a wide variety of people. There were people that seemed completely comfortable in the environment they were in, and then there was a family of Germans who were in awe of what was taking place in front of them. Some people, including myself, were lined in a kneeling position at the front of the space while others were seated behind us. 
At one point, a woman at the end of my line got to her feet, walked to the front of the shrine and knelt down again. She pinched a bit of dust out of a bowl while closing her eyes in a meditative prayer and held her pinched thumbs to her head. She then sprinkled the dust over an area in front of her and bowed. Once she sat down, the person immediately to the left of her got up and repeated the process. This continued to happen, down the line. I knew a point would come when I was "next" in line. Now, I know I had no obligation to do this if I wasn't comfortable - but I was. I felt calm and intrigued and there was no way I was going to let the slightest bit of anxiety stop me from participating in the ceremony. The moment I stood up to approach the shrine, the monks took a break from their chanting and started rhythmically beating a golden gong, which made the experience even more remarkable. 
Photo of Aizen-myo-oh, courtesy of the Fukuchi-in website

The ritual lasted an hour or so, and afterwards the monks walked us around the room, pointing things out and explaining them. I wish, more than anything, I had the super human power of communicating with everyone and everything. I wanted, so desperately, to know what was going on. 

One of the monks was substantially larger than the other. The smaller (and younger) one seemed to be the guy in charge. I really liked him. There was just something about him. Later that day I went back to the temple to retrieve my backpack after walking around all day and I lounged a bit near the garden.  I was writing in my journal when one of the staff members walked by. I looked up from my writing and we caught eyes. He gave me the most heartwarming smile/nod. Then I started writing about how much I liked him in my journal. He wasn't wearing the robes her worse during the ceremony in the morning. He wore plain, black clothes - but you could still sense his importance. Moments later, I was waiting at the bus stop and when I looked up - there he was, walking on the other side of the road. We caught eyes, he gave me a head nod - and turned the corner. I couldn't begin to justify or explain why I am writing so much about my few measly encounters with this little guy. Just seems like it makes sense to have it written down.

My next day I spent wandering the adorable little town of Koya. I walked in and out of almost every little shop along the main street, checking out the knick-knacks and finding the most adorable post cards to decorate my home with. I walked along until I found the cemetery I was so desperately looking forward to visit. You can read about it here. I spent a lot of time there and by the time I was done, I was absolutely spent. I moseyed around for a while, waiting for my bus to come. I grabbed a hearty lunch consisting of fried pork, curry, and rice before I headed over to Danjogaran, a complex designed to replicate a mandala with nearly 20 structures. I checked out a few of the buildings, but mostly watched people as they sketched the Konpon Daito, pictures to the left.  I loved my quick, little escape from the busy streets of the Osaka Prefecture. I would absolutely go back, hopefully next time I will have more time to relax and reflect. All in all, this was my favorite experience in Japan.