Jeju Chocolate

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(The loot)

It was innocent enough: we visited the home of Fran’s friend in Jeju and her mother, caught unprepared by the sight of foreign visitors, gave us chocolate to placate us. Poor woman. We just wanted to meet her because she was a friend’s mother. Having been on both the visited and the visitor in these situations, I felt a bit embarrassed and helpless.

Anyway, Fran and I ate the chocolate, that cure-all and ultimate soothing salve to all embarrassed and helpless feelings engendered by awkward cultural dances.

And the trouble began. Continue reading

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Loveland

 photo Loveland203a_zpsn9fufvub.jpg(Is this SFW?)

Koreans, much like Americans, have a complicated sometimes contradictory relationship with sex.

Big surprise.

On the one hand, you have the extremely saccharine Korean pop stars and the clean cut Korean dramas, where the height of romantic fervor is often a touch of lips with no movement. It’s supposed to be a kiss but looks too much like a dead fish re-enactment to be pleasurable. On the other hand: flashy love motels in every city, 노래타운s (noraetowns) where you can sing with “assistance,” barbershops with two poles but no hair cutting services, and coffee shops with no windows (다방s). Yeah. Sex is for sale everywhere in South Korea and it’s not really that far from my school.

But is it really all that dissonant coming from a country that has purity balls AND Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda video?

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A Day in Jeju, Sunrise to Sunset

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(A victory selfie, as we conquer the Kimnyong Maze Park)

Among the many places Jiye Nam of Donato’s told us about were two special spots, one for watching the sunrise and the other for watching the sunset.

My friend and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it.”

And so the longest, most amazing day was created.

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Jeju

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After visiting the northernmost point of South Korea (even walking around the table to North Korea), my friend and I flew to the southernmost point of the country: Jeju Island.

Known as the “Hawaii of Korea,” Jeju is a honeymoon and vacation hotspot for Koreans. I thought this was mostly hype, but with a random free week in my schedule, I made plans with my friend and bought tickets.

I am so glad I went.

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DMZ

In 2010, I took a Diplomacy class and learned about the Demilitarized Zone, the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and all things North and South Korea for the first time. This class changed my life. It inspired me to move to South Korea and now, five years after taking the course, I’ve visited the DMZ and the Joint Security Area (JSA) in person.

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Seoul (An Omnibus)

 photo 1e0b6892-b54d-4802-b432-353035230f6a_zpsxfztnlbj.jpg(Seoul from Namsan Tower)

I’ve been to Seoul three times now. You would think something that big of a deal would merit one blogpost per subway station and you would be right. But here you get just the one.

Seoul features in almost every drama I’ve seen and it’s been so long that I almost forgot all my excitement over seeing the names and scenes that showed up in all my favorites. (I still get a tickle out of zipping through Noryangjin Station from Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.) Here at the end of my year in Korea, Seoul feels old hat, it’s joyous sprawl of subway lines now navigable and familiar (though my ability to estimate how much time it takes to get from one end to the other is still out of whack). I quite enjoy Seoul and while I would not rush back (the way I want to rush back to Tokyo), I wouldn’t say no to visiting again.

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