I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M ACTUALLY SAYING THIS BUT I MISS KOREA.
You know what, screw the dramatics. It’s completely normal that I would miss a place that was my home for a year. But for those who know me, I don’t necessarily have the most positive opinion of the country. That’s the strange effect missing has on someone — that after enough distance and enough time, all the terrible things disappear and you’re left with only the good things which is a huge distortion of one’s memory. But I’m grateful that after nearly a year of being away, I’m starting to miss things. It makes me feel like I’ve found peace with what disgruntled me on the ground at the time. I miss the nights that turned into days after dancing my heart out, I miss quiet walks under neon-lit bannerheads. I miss brunching with my girlfriends and watching Tim play frisbee along the river. I miss my students who would applaud me every time I would resort to Korean to explain myself. I miss being a little bit chilly and pulling my down comforter tightly around me since southern Vietnam is the land of perpetual summer. It honestly cheers me up to think that I have so much to yearn for. I have itemized some of the things I miss most about Korea. While they might come off as trivial, if not superficial, to me they will be always associated to Korea and the life I once led there.
KOREAN SNACKS DUDE. Seriously could not get enough of snacks in Korea. Since convenience stores are on every corner with their 1+1 gimmicks, I got suckered into buying a shit ton of artificial goodness. Those ramen noodle chips 뿌셔뿌셔, or ‘ppusha ppusha’ were my jam. They’re basically uncooked ramen noodles that Koreans ingeniously decided to package with seasoning and call a legit snack. You crush that block of ramen in the bag (fun fact: the word “ppushuh” means to “break apart”) and then dump the flavoring on the little bits. Voila! Insta-chips. Probably soooo terrible for you but whatevs.
KOREAN COSMETICS After the beauty gurus of Youtube introduced the rest of the world to the magic of Korean beauty products, life has never been the same for the female-folk. A silver lining to living in a culture riddled by vanity is that its totally acceptable to splurge and pamper oneself. The reason why Korean women have the most luminous faces? ALL MAKEUP. BUT ITS FANTAAASTIC MAKEUP. And on top of quality, its hella inexpensive! My faves were Nature Republic for hair products and masks, Etude House for nail polishes and eyeliner, The Face Shop for, you guessed it, facial products, and Tony Moly for quirky packaging and their lipstains. Although, I will say I have never seen so much pastel in my life on someone’s face. Not a fan of the fifty shades of pink look.
THE ‘JIMJILBANG’ EXPERIENCE For someone who’s always been a stickler about nudity *I cringe*, after I got over my insecurities, a spa outing became my idea of “Sunday Funday.” For 6,000 won (about $5.50), you get unlimited access to a number thermal pools, saunas, and jade beds (if crystal therapy is your thing then word). You can even sleep at ‘jimjilbangs’ too. It was a perfect way to deal with the bitter cold of winters in Korea. Although its funny that my first jimjilbang experience was at a gay jimjilbang (unintentionally). Will save that story for a later time.
‘CHIMAEK’ When my mom came to visit, she told me her favorite dining experience was ‘chimaek’ 치맥. Now who would ever think you would go to Korea for fried chicken but au contraire, mon cheri. ‘Chimaek’ is the combination of chicken and ‘maekju,’ Korean for beer. The two entities go hand-in-hand and its a beautiful marriage between flavorful chicken and carbonated goodness. Seriously, I have no idea how the fried chicken is so perfectly cooked. From the superb, crispy outer coating seasoned with (crack?) and the delectable sauce that bathes the chicken, you can’t help but feeling mmmm,mmmm good.
‘BULGEUM’ The Korean take on ‘TGIF” (American English for “Thank God It’s Friday.) Except Koreans make TGIF look like a joke. Koreans are the hardest partiers I’ve ever met in my life. Honestly, my liver is still recuperating after a year of almost total sobriety. Not shops close. Soju is cheaper than a bottle of water in the States. It’s okay to eat Korean barbecue at 8 am if you’re wasted beyond belief, someone will be there by your side. Oh… and you can dance your heart out all night long ie. NO LAST CALL. One thing I don’t miss is the horrible DJ-ing. Sorry but Vietnam’s dancefloor playlist is on point.
RIDING MY BIKE Riding a bike on the banks of the Gapcheon in Daejeon was really otherworldly. I remember careening down the ramp on my trusty orange cruiser onto the bike paths that were laid out next to the city’s riverway. I once rode to another city following those bike paths. Talk about about some serious infrastructure awesomess. I especially loved riding my bike past the river at sunset, the stress of the day melting away with every pump of the pedal. Once it was warm enough to start riding, my bike and I were inseparable.
STATIONERY I’ve begged all my friends who are coming to visit to please bring me some stationery. While I was living in Korea, I made a weekly pilgrimage to ‘ARTBOX,’ Korea’s #1 stationery destination. When most of my friends were blowing their paychecks at the bar, I was splurging on greeting cards and stickers like the child that I am. But when you’re a travel blogger and you come across a journal whose pages are overlaid with desaturated candids of Paris city scenes, you’d be spending all your cash there too. I’m a paper goods addict and proud of it!
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION Being in Vietnam where public transportation is virtually non-existent, I cannot help but cry for the simpler days when a ‘T’ money card would get me wherever I needed to go. Public buses ran every 5 minutes. There were subways, taxis, and bullet trains. Here in Vietnam, you can’t even enter a cab fully trustworthy of your driver. Sad but true. I miss being able to walk to a bus stop and feeling confident that I could make it from point A to point B without having to pay more than 2,100 won ($1.75).
THE GREENERY I regret not taking advantage of all the mountains that surrounded Daejeon. I hiked a total of four times in the year I was in Korea which is depressing considering that hiking is not only super accessible in Korea but like, the nation’s favorite pastime (besides drinking.) Also being from Boston where winter immediately goes into summertime, seeing the flowers bloom during spring was especially memorable. The cherry blossoms are not overrated whatsoever. When those babies rain down on you from the sky, it’s honestly a K-Drama moment every girl should experience once in her lifetime.
‘NOREABANG’ I’m Filipino. It’s in my blood to like singing. When I first came to Korea and I found out that karaoke was considered an actual socializing event, I think I teared up. There is no better way to cap off a night then by being soju-silly while singing throwbacks from the nineties. Backstreet Boys “I Want It That Way” = always a success. “Lady Marmalade” is my forever power anthem. And I will never forget my friend Gavin’s rendition of “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam. If ever I met a born performer in my life, it was Gavin.
For anyone who has left Korea, what do you miss most? For those who haven’t left, what do you think you’d miss the most? Comment below! With love, Izzy #wheretonext