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, July 27, 2014

Give me more JIMJIL

When my Korean coworkers invited me to a Jimjilbang with them, I was a little hesitant. I've always wanted to visit one, but with the people I work? Do I want to hang out naked with them, I have to look them in the eyes almost everyday. But, what the hell - right?

I didn't know what to expect going to a public bathhouse with my coworkers AND boss. So I decided to expect nothing. Except for being noody, that I knew was unavoidable. We drove an hour and a half outside of Ulsan to a Jimjilbang that wasn't in a mass building structure. Instead we pulled up to a quaint building across from a garden and a lotus field. Worth it. Especially because for the first 30 minutes we had the spa completely to ourselves.

You start by washing off your body and hair. No one wants to share a bath with a dirty ajumma. Or waygook for that matter. And the whole being naked thing? Got over that real quick. The whole environment was too perfect to not relax. After we hopped between to two spas (one hot and one cold) we rinsed off again and changed into our orange Jimjilbang outfits and went to meet our two male coworkers in the common area. 

They were already drenched in sweat from being in the massive hot sauna while waiting for us. We ducked our heads down to walk through the tiny door (yes, even I had to croch down a bit) and immediately broke into a sweat. Sitting in a circle and chatting it up while sweating a storm and making silly traditional Jimjilbang headwear was a highlight of the afternoon. 

To be honest, the whole afternoon was one big highlight for me... and for everyone else I think. Several times each of us exclaimed how happy we were. How relaxed we felt. How awesome our job is. HaeJoo, the boss man, brought us all sikhye while we were sitting outside cooling off. It's a transitional Korean rice drink. It's sweet and delicious and really hits the spot after being depleted of a mass amount of body water via the sauna. 

Then our group of lucky little ducklings were hearded through a "secret passage" connecting the Jimjilbang to a Korean BBQ joint - specializing in DUCK MEAT. Holy crap. I was in heaven. We didn't even have to change out of our cool attire or put shoes on. Eating is so much fun in this country. It's so interactive and fun to share and try new things. My chopstick skills, however, vary. Sometimes I'm a pro, other times I drop kimchi into my water. Hit or miss. I'm a firm believer that metal chopsticks makes it more difficult. Cop out. 

We waddled back to the spa and explored all the things they had to offer. A few sleeping rooms, where I took a quick but efficient power nap. They had massage chairs that felt like I was being pulverized. My legs and feet were at one point constrained and I couldn't remove myself from the chair. It was like a boa constrictor. Not gonna lie, it felt amazing. They also had lower tempurate saunas, or "burning rooms" as my cute Korean coworkers refer to them as. After another session of sauna and outside patio chat, we returned to the spa to shower and sit in the tub and shower some more. 

And then our perfect boss took us to dinner. Naengmeyong. Cold noodles. Perfect meal choice for the post Jimjilbang stomach. Even though I may have still been full from lunch - I did a pretty decent job keeping up with the Koreans eating pace. Their little stomachs sure can hold mass amounts of food, and they get it in there so fast! They were finished with theirs waaaay before most of us even made a dent in our massive pile of noodles. 

So, moral of the story? Get naked around the people you have to see everyday. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Lucked out and found people selling tickets to the Boryeong Mud Festival less than a week before the event. Buying those tickets may have well been one of the best decisions ever. That and my GoPro. Thanks Molly :)

We took a 6 hour bus ride from Ulsan to Boryeong on a "party bus". Cheesy lights flashed and norebang took place on the trip at the lovely hour of 9 am. Nothing like Korean karaoke and soju cocktails in the morning to really get me going. That's a recipe for a good time.

We stayed in a pension, which until this point I had never heard of. It's one GIANT step down from a hostel, where mass amount of people sleep on floors. They give you a big empty room with pillows and blankets. The rooms weren't clean when we arrived so 60 people ditched their things in one large room and changed into the clothes they intended to be doused in mud. We didn't have time to waste. 

Once we finally got to the festival my desire I be covered on mud from head to toe had reached an all time high. We walked into the mud pit and unfortunately we couldn't bring our glass soju bottles in. Or fortunately? I ditched shoes the second I had the chance and the last thing I wanted was a bloody mud foot.  I elicited he help of one of the cute little Korean security guards to watch over our drinks, and he did so diligently. While waiting in line for wrestling the girls and I took turns running back to him and taking soju shots. 

There were loads of mud things to do. Giant mud slides and games and even a mud prison for those people who, for some odd reason, were not covered from head to toe. The lines were quite long for everything and we figured a wrestling game was priority. We choose a numbers game where 20ish people stand in a mud pit and have to get into groups of people depending on the number the announcer calls. 

We got in line and immediately made friends with the people around us. There was a cute little Korean family who absolutely loved us. We chatted and they asked to take pictures with us. A lot of Koreans did that. You'd think we were famous. When we were chugging soju - there were Koreans with cameras snapping away. When we laid in the mud, snap snap snap. There was a thick group of Korean paparazzi stationed just above the mud pit, cameras protected with plastic and special casings. I'll be searching the internet for years trying to find out where all of these photos ended up :)

The game was a blast and ended way too quickly. The second round I was hurdled up with a group all hoping we had the correct number of people  - we were one over. So what happened? I was thrust from the group and left for dead. As I was pushed into the mud you could hear the, "ohhhh!"'s from the crowed of people watching. Anyone who loses and doesn't have a group when the times up gets put into the middle and everyone else showers them with mud. Fine by me. I took my mud bath like a champ.

I got mud in my eye, however. I think it happened at the very beginning in the mud sink when an Indian man tried to help me cover my face. And then during the game the problem intensified. After that I could have easily been a one eyed mud pirate. It was so bad I had to have my momma goose walk me to the medical tent where a woman syringed my eye out with some sort of eye wash concoction. I obviously wasn't the first.

We then decided to get beer and go to the beach to wash off and chill while listening to some live music. It was a challenge pulling my muddy money from my swim suit and paying the cashier. I can only imagine the cleaning up that has to be done after this festival is over. There is mud on every damn thing. 

We swam and played and had a grand old time. I made so many friends, a few of which I had to record on my GoPro spelling their names so I could remember to add them on Facebook.

The rest of the day/night is a giant blur. We got back to the pension and showered, and then there was dinner. Loads of meat grilling and ssamjang and rice. I ate and drank WAY too much. Then eventually the sun went down and we went back to the beach for more music and fun. Once we got back to the pension we relaxed on the patio area and chatted and drank the night away. I can barley remember most of their names, but I do remember trying to learn Korean and someone kept bringing me ice cream. I was happy. 

Then, at 2 in the morning I decided to round up all the people who were still awake and got them to go to norebang with me and my new best friend Samuel. He was the KING of norebang on the bus earlier that day. He inspired me. A group of 10 people staggered down the street to the first karaoke room we could find and started singing. And drinking, MORE DRINKING. I did a beautiful rendition of Baby Got Back... But mostly everyone just sung together. Even the Korean songs that I didn't understand and could barley read. 

Water. Sleep. WATER. By the time we got back to the pension, no one could find anywhere to sleep. Some people were pissed... I on the other hand found the first spot I could and passed out. I woke up on the floor pillow-less with no covers in between two people I have never seen before. 

Our group was a pathetic sight to see the next morning. Some people were taking shots, most people had a startling resemblance to zombies and were eating noodles for breakfast- myself included. Best hangover cure.  It's crazy how this group of people went from strangers on a bus to friends who shared some insane experiences together, and a lot of drinks. Foreigners or Koreans, didn't matter. Language barriers, PSSSH. There is such a thing as an universal language my friends - ALCOHOL.


I've put together a little video compilation with footage from my GoPro :) enjoy!

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Ordering tteokbokki from a street vendor was fun and hard and easy all at the same time. I stopped at the first big bowl of red saucy deliciousness I found along the market stalls. I smiled at the lady and said it just how I practiced. Tteokbokki hana juseyo! And then a whole bunch of Korean followed I didn't understand. I later figured she asked if I wanted to sit or take away... my head nod signified I wanted to sit and eat and she made am a bowl and set it in front of me. Fine by me. I got to listen to cute Korean ladies probably make fun of me while watching her, and all the others, cook. After I finished eating and went to pay her, I handed her 3000 won assuming that would be enough to cover my meal. I haven't engrained into my brain how to ask how much something is yet. It ended up being only 1000 won a serving, and instead of paying and leaving I somehow agreed to getting another bowl - and her handing me 1000 back. Fine by me. I was hungry anyways. Even though I already stopped by the stall before hers and got some delicious chicken thing on a stick. Couldn't tell you what it was for the life of me. Then I spotted a bowl of fried mandu (like a wonton) and I definitely wanted one of those, so I pointed and said Hana. And then there was more confusion - that is, until the lady from the next stall sensed our troubles and walked over to tell me that one piece was 200 won. Despite not being able to talk to my lovely street stall lady, she never seemed mad or annoyed or anything. She was laughing the whole time and so was I, and so was her friend. I'm going to try and eat tteokbokki with her once a week and practice talking to her in Korean. Food and language practice for under 3000 won, it's a pretty good deal if you ask me. 

Then I stopped and talked to a little Korean man with a dog that looks just like Honey, my pupsters back home. He could speak a bit of English though and was very excited to use what he knew to try and have a conversation. He was so friendly, and we chatted a bit about his life and how cute his dog is.

I also tried to get a little android phone set up at a mobile store. The lady was kind enough to call her help desk so someone could translate for us. We kept handing the phone back and forth to each other, and she smiled every time. 

All in all, the Korean people I've interacted with this far have been more than happy to accommodate and deal with our language barrier. I can't wait until I can communicate better, that way I can start impressing people. 

I was sitting in my new found park on a rock next to a stream practicing Korean numbers when an elderly engineer walks into the stream and starts squatting. I got a little nervous about what was to follow, but to my delight this man dips his cupped hands into the water and splashes his face. He then picks up a bit of a muddy rock concoction and starts rubbing his hands clean, or dirty. I guess that depends on perspective :)

JAPAN! It's almost here. My evenings have mostly consisted of figuring out what I wanna do and when I want to do it and eating yukgwa. I'm thinking of splitting my time up between Osaka and Kyoto - maybe a day trip to Nara and a day trip hiking somewhere if I can find a good spot. Regardless, I'm not trying to go to every temple and I'm definitely not trying to go to any museums. Wandering aimlessly sounds like a better plan for this trip. 

My bosses took me to apply for my Alien Reaident Card and afterwards treated me to a meal. They took me to a noodle house and ordered some delicious mul-neagmeyong - buckwheat noodles served in an icy broth garnished with Asian pears and cucumber and beef and egg. I was in love. They slurped all of their noodles down despite being tiny Asian men, and I barley made a dent. Then they grabbed me some tradition Korean snacks for me to take home. 

I've been trying to eat at home more than eating out in order to save some money and be a little healthier. Instead I just eat yukgwa as much as I possible can. It's the most delicious treat on this planet.

Friday was a special day in Korea - the beginning of the "dog days of summer" - meaning it's supposed to be HOT. Traditionally they would eat dog meat so9.up on these days, but recently the dad has shifted from dog meat to samgyetang - Ginseng chicken soup. A whole chicken stuffed with rice in a delicious broth. YUM. My boss, once again, treated me and my coworkers to lunch and coffee. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

A night out in Samsan

Samsan is the name of the neighborhood with encompasses "downtown". This is where everyone goes to party, Koreans and foreigners alike. It's a good 30 minute bus ride, with no traffic. And there's typically traffic. But, buses are easy and it's a nice way to check out what's going on outside of my Dong-gu bubble.

Before we made it downtown we went to dinner at a restaurant which creates the "best pizza in Ulsan." It was good, that's for sure. Anyways, it was orchestrated by Karyn who takes part in a "meet up group" where anyone can come and meet people. Koreans and foreigners. We had a rough head count of who was coming, all of which she, or someone, knew. BUT, the beauty with this meet up thing is people just show up. Two Koreans and an Indian engineer joined us for dinner. MORE NEW FRIENDS. 

My friend Charly, who I met the night before, drove a few of us downtown. French people apparently can't drive very well. Haha. But we made it to Thursday Party (a nice foreigner's bar) in one piece. The place was crowded and there was a mix of different people. Old white engineers and Koreans and English teachers everywhere. I made the sweetest little Korean girlfriend and we talked about differences in culture between America and Korea. Koreans don't wear thongs, and they don't show off their chests. But it's okay if I do because I'm just a silly miguk - their term for American. 

She asked me why I chose to come to Korea and what I was enjoying the most, which has been a hard question for me to answer. I am still in my honeymoon phase, everything here puts me into a state of amazement. It's been hard to single out my favorite part or exactly how I feel about all of it. But, I was able to come up with a decent response. I love that I'm so out of my element here. Every day that I wake up, there is a new challenge ahead of me. Whether it's something as simple as learning how to order gimbap or catch a cab home or traveling around the country - it's all new and it's all a learning experience. Everyday is a new adventure, at least that's how I look at it. 

Anyways. Karyn's Korean boyfriend, Q, wanted a change of pace. So we called around and got a table at a club. THEY GAVE US CANDY AND FRUIT. And two bottles for $100. Deal. It was quaint and the music was a mix of really Korean EDM and some typically mainstream songs, but I was loving it. We had a great group of people, good vibes make all the difference. And dancing. How can you not be happy when you're dancing?

The next morning I was well hungover. Karyn made me a green smoothie for breakfast and then we went out for a delicious shabu-shabu lunch. 12,800 won for a salad bar with all of my favorite things (dokboki, chapchae, donkus, and an assortment of salads) AND a giant bowl of delicious veggies and meat set right in the center of out table on a hot plate. You get to watch the meat and drool while it transformers into a pot of delectable stew.

And then, despite wanting to stay inside and cuddle in my bed, I worked up enough energy to get out of the house and enjoy the afternoon watching extreme frisbee and strolling around a park. The weather was PERFECT and the park was lined by the river, which made me happy. Because water makes me happy, in any form. I made a good decision.

It's hard not to be incredibly happy here. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A night out in Dong-gu

I live outside of the downtown area of Ulsan. Regardless, my neighborhood provided me with a damn good night out. It helps when you have great group of coworkers and new foreigner friends. I AM A FOREIGNER. It is still surreal to me. I've been meeting people who have been here for a few years and I'm a bit envious. They know the "in's and out's" - they know enough Koran to have conversations with strangers and they make new friends easily wherever they go. I can't wait until I can say the same for myself. Patience Ellie, patience. 

The night started off at Uncle's Beer, a bar plastered with post-it notes and random English phrases. The decor is adorable, which applies to a lot of places I've been so far. The people here know hot to create a good atmosphere. My Canadian coworkers wanted to introduced me to their group of friends. Definitely a good crowd of people that I'm excited to get to know better and make more memories with. So excited.

We made our way to another ridiculously adorable bar for a drink before we would get cheap drinks at 7-11 and retire to the beach. Always the best option. On the way to the beach a Korean man trying to make a few bucks started hounding us to play his hammer game. It's simple. You get 3 tries to hammer a nail into a piece of wood. My coworker Shaun tried first, and failed miserably. Then, of course, he convinced me that I had to do it. The little man decided to give me 5 tries, that angel. He thought I looked weak and assumed I had horrible aim apparently. He was wrong! I hit that damn nail, 3 times I think. There was only half an inch left that needed to be nailed in before my last try, and I missed of course. Which was upsetting because I really wanted the husky stuffed animal to remind me of my sisters pup, Shiloh. But it was good entertainment, as per usual. 


Emma, my new Scottish friend, was hungry. And I'm always hungry. We quickly found some street food where a kind Korean woman was offering corn dogs with french fries engrained into them or bugs. We opted for the fried death sticks. Although, trying the bugs is on my agenda. They are called beondegi, and according to some of my students they are quite tasty. I'm not convinced. We ordered and patiently waited for our treat to fry. The woman pointed to a granular substance and asked if we wanted any. Thinking that it obviously is salt, we agreed. As she started dipping the mound of greasy corn dog into the tub a sparkly caught my eye. I realized before it was too late that it was indeed NOT salt - but sugar.  Not only did we have a fried carb load on a stick, but it was covered in sugar. Emma threw hers away. I ate half. Should have ate the bugs. Lesson learned.          

There is a makeshift arcade and batting cages on the beach in my neighborhood. The boys played games as us girls tried to eat food, and then we headed off to the beach. One of the guys started talking to a large group of Korean youngsters. One of them was turning 20, and we invited them to celebrate with us. We shared birthday traditions from our cultures, and this poor kid ended up getting smacked and hit by his friend and then almost thrown into the ocean. He loved it. And then they used some of the guys to try and go pick up poor, unsuspecting girls on the beach while we sat and drank and watched their pathetic attempts. 

And then instead of cabbing home at 4 am I was much happier to take the 20 minute drunk walk home. Because I love my neighborhood and the people I'm surrounded with. I'M SO LUCKY.