Sunday, May 5, 2013

An Update on Life: Two Months After Seoul

I left Korea on February 28, 2013 and have been back in the US for just over two months now.  During that time, I spent about a month applying for jobs and interviewing.  I had an interview with New York City Teaching Fellows, but didn't get in.  I interviewed with a few other places and by early April, I had two job offers. I accepted a position as a Community Education Coordinator for a larger-sized non-profit near New York City which is where I am now.  So far, so good. I enjoy my colleagues, my students and my new life as a young professional here in the US.  As many people keep reminding me, I am quite fortunate to have found work so quickly.

After almost four years, I finally own a car again!  That was something I didn't expect to happen quite so fast, but since I needed one for the job, we quickly scrambled together and bought one around mid-April.  Also, as of last Tuesday, I became an auntie (again) when my sister and her husband had their first child.  It's been a great week being together with family and celebrating new life.  

I still think about Seoul and I do have moments where I think back on wonderful memories of life in Germany and Korea but right now, I am happy to be where I am.  Right around the time I left Korea, I was cleaning out my desk at work and found this journal entry which I had written one year earlier from the time I left Germany.  It read: 

February 22, 2012
New starts are so difficult, especially when everything feels foreign and unknown.  Like Korea. 

Reading that statement at the end of my time in Korea really felt like coming full circle.  It’s amazing to see how with time, everything works itself out, even in the most unknown and uncertain phases of our lives.  Once Korea was unknown, now it is a treasured memory and life experience.

It's been fun sharing my adventures throughout the last couple of years, but since being back I haven't kept up my blog so this may very well be my last blog entry here.  Thanks for sharing the journey with me.  I wish you all wonderful adventures of your own. 

x diana

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lil' Kim At His Finest

The web is full of memes mocking the current leader of North Korea's apparent love for food.

A younger Kim Jong Un with his father, the late Kim Jong Il.
Seriously. This.
With all the threats of war and fear-inducing news coming off the Korean Peninsula, I thought a little lightheartedness was due. Obviously war is never a laughing matter, but as the saying goes, sometimes you've got to laugh or you'll cry.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Back in the hood...

It feels so good to be home!

Of course, being home feels a bit like being on vacation at the moment as mom is feeding us well and we're enjoying the ease of life in the US while not having too many responsibilities. Oh the joys of being able to understand and communicate easily with everyone around us again.  ;).

I've been contemplating whether to keep up this blog anymore now that I'm no longer that "american girl in germany who moved to korea". I  don't know who actually reads this thing, but even if it is only my mom (hi mommy!) it has been fun keeping it up throughout my time abroad.

I've been back for a total of 3.5 days now.  Jet lag hasn't been as bad as I expected.  Sunday I had an interview for the New York City Teaching Fellows in the city and it went pretty well.  I'll have to wait about a month to hear if I get into the program.  Otherwise, enjoying the sunshine and the freedom I have in between jobs.

--until next time.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Boarding a One Way Flight

I can't believe I left Germany a year ago.  
I can't believe I have lived in Korea for a year.
I can't believe I'm going back to the United Stated tomorrow. 
Holy. Cow.
Thanks for an absolutely amazing journey, Korea. 
Until we meet again!
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Packing On Up

In less than four years, I'll have moved four times, three of which were international moves. 

June 2009 -        USA to Germany (Lauf)

October 2010 -  Lauf to Nuernberg

February 2012 - Germany to South Korea (Seoul)

Feburary 2013 - South Korea to USA

Luckily, I haven't accumulated too much stuff and I've never had to ship boxes or furniture.  I could always bring everything I need with me on the plane within one or two suitcases. 

Yesterday night, as David and I were doing a testrun packing, to see if we could fit everything in our bags, I was on autopilot sorting, saving and throwing things away.  Moving is a great way to purge and keep clutter from accumulating.  It's also a great deterrent from spending money on unnecessary things.   I didn't buy much this year knowing another overseas move was on the horizon.  I'm not saying I want to be a suitcase vagabond forever, but the last few years I've learned to live simply with my suitcase or two full of things. 

I am looking forward to settling down for a bit though.  I'll be happy to be in a place that I can start to invest in and to have a home that feels homey and not just temporary.  I'll be living with my parents for a few months until DH & I can get jobs sorted, but after that, hopefully we can take a break with the boxes and masking tape.

D- 7 days until departure.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Roller Coaster Ride

"We have an idea of happiness.  We believe that only certain conditions will make us happy.  But it is often our very idea of happiness that prevents us from being happy." ~ Thich Nhat Hahn

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There are many emotions that human beings experience:  happiness, sadness, excitement, anxiousness, fear, anger, pride, jealousy, laziness, sympathy--the list goes on.  Buddhism teaches there are 108 emotions.  I don't know what they are, but that number is a lot higher than the list I wrote above.

Lately, when I am sitting in my cold apartment, I find myself feeling excited about going back to the US.  Then when I'm at school and see the kids that I spent the past year with, I feel sad, even guilty that I am leaving after only one year.  I'm having bi-polar days and truth be told, it is a bit exhausting.

Tomorrow is graduation day and the official end to the semester and school year for students and teachers. Time to say goodbye and get ready to move on to the next place and time.

학생들이, 안녕히가세요!

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Books about Korea

Over the course of the year, I've picked up quite a few books about Korea and Korean culture.  Here are the ones I've read that I think could be useful to anyone looking to do the same.

1. Korea's Place in the Sun:  A Modern History
by:  Bruce Cumings

This was the first book I bought/read after looking for books about Korea on Amazon. It's long and academic and probably not the best choice for those looking for an introduction to Korea, however could be a good read for people who really love history.  Pick up this book only after having some knowledge about Korea and/or having read some of the books below.

2.  The Koreans
by:  Michael Breen

This was one of the last books I've read about Korea, although I wish it were one of the first!  Perhaps I'm a bit biased since I met the author and heard him speak in person, but I highly recommend this book for first-timers.  The style of writing is easy to read and he approaches the culture from many different points of view presenting the positive and not so positive aspects of the culture.  Definitely a book to have in your Korea collection.

3.  Korea Unmasked
by:  Won-Bok Rhie

This book, or more accurately, this graphic novel, was recommended to me by my colleague.  Presented in comic book format, it is broken down into different sections including Korean History, Education, People, Differences between Japan/China, etc.  At first I enjoyed the lightheartedness of the book, but after awhile, the Korea-centric point of view started to get a bit irritating. Patriotism is okay, but nationalism can be a bit annoying especially when you're hoping to read something without a slanted view.  Still worth a look, but don't let this be your one and only view of Korean culture.

4.  Nothing to Envy
by: Barbara Demick

I mentioned this book once before on my blog, but it's worth a second (and third) mentioning.  It brings to life in a very real way the issues of North Koreans and their lives as defectors in the south.  One of my favorite books I've read this year, beautifully written and easy to read, I'd probably put this as number two on the list after reading "The Koreans", only because I think the other book is a stronger introduction to life in the ROK, however I'd recommend this book to anyone and everyone, even those not interested in life in South Korea.

5.  Tears of Blood
by:  Young-Bok Yoo

I was lucky enough to hear this author speak in person as well,  a former POW of North Korea, this amazing man tells his story about life during the Korean War and the rippling affects it had and continues to have on thousands of families on the Korean peninsula.  Probably not the first book you should pick up, but if after reading "Nothing to Envy", you'd like to get another point of view, this would be my next recommendation.

6.  Please Look After Mom
by:  Kyung-Sook Shin

My most recent read, "Please Look After Mom", is a fictional story about a Korean family in modern day Korea.  It presents cultural issues such as the generation gap between those who grew up in the war and the younger Koreans growing up today.  It addresses family roles and traditions in Korea as well as a more universal experience of the relationship between a child and their mother. It's a bit heart wrenching, but has received overall very good reviews.

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If I had to recommend an order for learning about Korea, I'd say start with number 2, 4, 5, 6, 3 and if you really, really want to know all the nitty-gritty details, read number 1.

Anyone read any other books about Korea you'd like to share?  Or have you read any of the books on the list and disagree?  I'm always open to suggestions^^! 

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Seoul Subway

As seen somewhere in Seoul ...

*Photo not my property.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A 2013 To-Do List

I was inspired by Sofia's Journal and so decided that to go forward with this blog in this new year (which has already passed January!!!), I'd like to add my to-do list as well.

Ahem, here goes:

- Leave Korea without being too sad.  Aiming for grateful, happy and excited for the future, instead.

- Keep an inspiration notebook with ideas, quotes, articles, pictures--anything that brings positive energy into my life.

- Wake up early.

- Find employment in the US doing something I am excited about.

- Give back to the community.

- Hike mountains around NY and NJ with DH.

- Be a good auntie to Emily and to Nephew 1 & 2 making their debut soon!!!

- Continue German and/or Korean language classes in the US.

- Make a Korea scrapbook.
Taking steps towards a better year in 2013.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Some ¥¥¥ saving tips

Japan has a reputation for being an expensive destination, but to be honest, I didn't find it to be any worse than New York City or even some European destinations.  It is certainly more expensive than Korea but it's not unmanageable.  I'm not going to make this too detailed or too long, but below are some tips for people looking to keep their wallets a little fuller when heading over to Japan from Korea.  Some tips might apply for visitors from other lands as well.  Keep in mind this is based on our experience and not all the points may apply to you.

-  We booked two tickets on Peach Airlines and it was a steal compared to flights on other airlines heading to Osaka.  The only catch is as it's a budget airlines, plan to pay extra for just about everything else:  any checked-in luggage, for food aboard the plane and even to pay with CC on their website.  However, I found that still the ticket price was significantly cheaper. Travelers are allowed one carry-on each with an allowance of 10 kgs/115 cm size, which in our case, was more than enough.  It is a Japanese airline, which from Seoul only flies to Osaka, but once in Japan, you can use it to get to other destinations domestically and abroad if you choose.

- Do your research before hand.  This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but I know that there are different kinds of travellers, some that like to plan everything out to a T, and others who like to show up and figure things out as they go.  A good middle ground is probably the best place to be.  Especially in regards to transportation, you need to know what deals are offered in order to ask for it. For example, if you ask for a ticket from Osaka airport to Kyoto, they will give you just that, at the full fare of almost ¥3,000 (or around $33).  If you ask for JR West Rail Pass for foreigners, you will take the exact same train as that above, and pay only ¥ 2,000 (around $22), or you can get the ICOCA + Haruka Limited Express deal and pay ¥ 3,000 and get a ticket for the same train as those deals above and in addition get a T-Money type train pass (ICOCA card) with ¥1,500 credit on the card plus an additional ¥500 deposit on the card which you get back.  This is an awesome deal!  So you're basically only paying ¥1,000 for the same ticket that you would have paid ¥3,000 for, and in addition get ¥1,500 additional transportation money.  

I'm not going to lie, transportation in Japan is confusing because there are several companies and lines that offer various deals and tickets.  You need to know ahead of time what is the best deal for you.  There are lots of passes, including a JR national pass or regional passes like the Kansai-Thru Pass but all have rules and various exceptions to their usage. In addition to long distance travel, there are city passes for bus, or bus and subway that you can use to save you on transportation fare. Again, do your research before hand.  As we travelled mainly in Kyoto and in Osaka, we didn't need much more than the Icoca credit + Haruka Ltd. Express  and  2 one day bus passes (at ¥500) to get around to all our destinations.  That's a total for ¥3,500 for transporation for four days.  That's less than $10 per person per day.

- I can't give you tips on hotels in Kyoto or traditional guest houses, but as for hostels, we stayed at an exceptional one called Khaosan Kyoto Guesthouse, voted number 3 hostel in all of Asia!  It was a great deal and we had a private twin room for about $45 per night.  There are other hostels that I've heard good things about, but this is the only place we stayed and we were perfectly happy with its location, cleanliness and facilities.

-And as for food?  Well, we didn't really cut back on expenses in this area because let's face it, trying new foods is by far one of the biggest pleasures of travelling. But in case you need to save a little bit on this area, perhaps you don't want to eat all your meals at restaurants, you can certainly fill your stomachs eating streetfood, eat lots of samples at the markets or in the dept. store (the Kyoto JR Train Station has some exceptionally good (and large!) samples or go to your nearest convenience stores and pick out some cheap rice balls or bento/lunch boxes.  

There are plenty of great resources on the web for planning your trip, here are some links I found useful:

For general information about Japan & find a forum to post questions:

For a summary of rail passes:

For information about the Haruka Express + Icoca Card Deal:

Nomadic Matt's Blog has some good tips as well:

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Sample of Japan

...And we're back! From a totally fantastic trip over the East Sea to the Land of the Rising Sun.  Japan was awesome.  Since we were only there for about 3.5 days, it's hard to say we've experienced the country fully, rather it was a sampling of the culture, the food, the people--and it left me definitely wanting more.  I really want to go back to Japan someday, but next time for a longer stay.  We flew into KIX (Kansai International Airport) and divided our time between Kyoto, considered to be the cultural capital of Japan, and Osaka, the hyper-active younger brother of Tokyo.  I'll write some tips and logistical information in the next post, but for now, photos!  

Warning:  It was really hard picking which pictures to show, so just keep scrolling down^^.

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Our first night in little Kyoto.  The taxis were so cute, with hearts on top.

The next morning DH & I went for a walk and stumbled across this shrine.  

Those papers hanging behind the lantern are wishes and fortunes for the new year.

Breakfast was rice balls and sushi from the convenience store.

Japanese monk taking a stroll without socks in a frigid January.

The famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.  Amazingly, no people in the way.

With Tae, our lovely friend from Nagoya who came to visit us for the day.  THANK YOU TAE!!!

The toori gates are all different sizes and can be purchased by giving donations of varying (large) amounts.  The black writing on the sides are the names of the donators.

A delicious meal: curry udon and donkatsu and egg. Yuuuuuum.
More udon & two happy campers in Japan.

She was everywhere. 

Whole shops dedicated to Hello Kitty, or as Tae calls her, Kitty-chan.
Tae teaching the "V" for victory sign to David.

So many odd and cute things to be found everywhere.

As seen in Gion, the area most famous for it's Geisha and Maikos.

Devils and beans.  Each year on February 3rd, Japanese put on devil masks and the kids can throw these beans at them to ward away evil spirits. 

Kyoto Tower at night from the JR Kyoto Station.

Our much anticipated matcha green tea and a really delicious sweet which we saw everywhere in Kyoto.

Kinkaguji Temple, the Golden Pavilion.  What a beauty!
Up close and personal.  There is a large reflecting pool on the top floor.

A stroll through the Nishiki market to taste lots of different Japanese foods.
Octopus on a stick with quail eggs inside, 300 Yen each.

These were so delicious!!!

DH going for grilled squid on a stick.

I heard a lot about these 100 Yen shops, like US Dollar Stores, and was happy to finally find one to explore.

On our way to Kiyomizudera Temple.  One of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto.

Cute chopstick holders.

 Japan is a colorful place.

Working hard for a yen.  These guys could be seen around the city pulling tourists up hills in these carts.

More interesting oddities.

Totoro, a childhood friend of the Japanese children.

Selling more of those sweet mochi pockets with different fillings inside.

A view of Kyoto from the top.

There are fountains in front of the temples to wash your hands before entering.

Beautiful Japanese ladies in Kimono.  They were kind enough to allow me to take a picture.

The Love Stone.  According to legend, if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will find true love.  I made it!!!  With a little help from DH.^^
Osaka Castle.  Quite a sight to behold, unfortunately it was COLD so we didn't stick around too long.

The Osaka Aquarium, second largest in the world with a focus on sea animals in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
At the port of Osaka being blown away by strong winds.

A large ferris wheel, adding color to a very blue sky.
Takoyaki, or fried octopus balls, keychains.

Real takoyaki in Osaka.

A crazy colorful street in Dotunburi area.

So many good restaurants and so many people.

Many shops had large animals/creatures like this one calling attention to their shops.

A pedestrian only sign with a cute little Japanese girl.

Our final meal in Osaka.  Yakisoba and a delicious Waikoiyaki (?)--not sure the exact name but it was SO DELICIOUS. 

A view from our train on the way back to the airport.

The end of our journey, back to KIX with our ICOCA (like T-Money) cards.  Japan--Endless Discovery.
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