Some memories feel so close, you feel as if you are still able to see, hear, taste and touch them. I was recently speaking with my boyfriend’s brother about his interest in possibly teaching English in South Korea. This instantly brought back a stream of so many memories from my time living and working as an English teacher in Seoul. Since I was pleasantly daydreaming and skipping down memory lane, I thought I would share some of my favourite memories and things about my time in South Korea! Now, the photos I’ll be sharing are circa 2005/2006…but many of these captured memories are timeless. One quick note before I begin, one of my biggest regrets is not keeping up with a travel journal in Korea (and on any other trips in which it fell by the wayside). I highly recommend keeping up with a journal while traveling. While it takes some work and conscious effort, it pays off in the end. You’d be surprised what priceless moments and stories you forget months and years down the road. What an awesome and thankful feeling you experience upon picking up that journal to re-read your memories. You’ll find yourself saying, “oh yeah! I completely forgot about that!” – it all becomes worth it in that moment.
Ok, without further adieu, here is a list of some of my favourite things during my time in South Korea:
South Korea is a very mountainous country and Koreans take their hiking seriously. They had all the gear; clothes, walking sticks and their beloved visors (well at least the women – they LOVE visors!). I was always amazed at how quickly and tirelessly they climbed the mountain hiking trails. I’d often find my eyes wide with astonishment as ajusshis (older men) & ajumas (older women) rushed past me…talk about fit!
Mount Dobongsan was a favourite of mine. It was a quick subway ride away making it easily accessible on weekends.
Mount Sorak (Seoraksan) – South Korea’s third highest mountain was a nice weekend getaway. Located on the East coast, it was a couple of hours by bus from my home in Seoul. A great way to reach the top, was by taking a gondola ride to experience a truly breathtaking view of the mountain range and valley below. To unwind after the hike, I enjoyed some wine and potato pancakes on bottom.
Noraebang (Pronounced “No-ray bong”)
Ah, the Noraebang! Another popular Korean pastime. In Korean, Noraebang means “singing room”, a private room where people can pay to sing karaoke on their own or with a group. These were quite amusing! I had a lot of fun belting out some tunes without the added pressure or embarrassment of singing in front of a large group of strangers as you would at a bar in North America. The rooms feature personal microphones and multiple television screens where you can follow along with the lyrics of many popular English songs.
I like my cafes and I was happy that Korea didn’t have any shortages of coffee shops. Check out the 3 level Starbucks in the photo below. Although I did find it comforting to sip a familiar Starbucks drink (chai latter anyone?), I also liked checking out some of Korea’s own unique java joints (although I passed on the sweet potato latte…which actually had real sweet potato mixed in steamed milk). Other days I pleasantly spent some time in tea houses tasting exotic teas.
Korea is home to many beautiful ornate temples and palaces. Before leaving Canada for my once in a lifetime adventure in South Korea, I had never seen anything like this. Palace tours are available for some of Korea’s more popular palaces. My favourites were those temples tucked away, only to be discovered on peaceful hikes through the mountains. There was something serene and extra special about coming across them amidst the forested mountains. It made me stop and wonder who else had walked these same steps.
I’ll admit that I can be a rather picky eater (although I have really come a long way with trying new dishes and overcoming some food phobias). So I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was worried about what I would survive on when I got to Korea. After trying a few different dishes, I can honestly say that even I discovered some delicious traditional food that quickly became staples in my diet during my year long Korean adventure. I still crave some of them from time to time! I recently came across this website which lists 29 of the best South Korean dishes. I just had to share it: http://migrationology.com/2012/05/south-korean-food-dishes/ .
Here are some of my favourites from the list:
Samgyeopsal (pork slices) & Korean BBQ: I loved treating myself to Korean grills. Enjoy your own grill and order different cuts of meat to cook on your own or have staff grill the meat for you. Also provided is lettuce, rice and chili pastes on the side – roll them all together and enjoy!
Bulgogi: This dish is on the top of my list. Tender meat marinated in a sweet soy sauce and grilled to perfection. A very flavourful dish!
Dolsot Bibimbap (Hotpot Mixed Rice) & Cold Bibimbap (Korean Mixed Rice): This was one of my lunch staples. Bowls of rice mixed with your choice of ingredients like egg, kimchi, lettuce, radish, chili and meat.
Mandu (Steamed dumplings): Another lunch staple, I often ordered steamed Gogi Mandu (meat dumplings).
Gimbap: A hand roll made up of rice, pickled radish, veggies and meat wrapped in seaweed (other fillings are available). I often ordered this for a quick lunch – they cost as little as $1-2 per roll!
I would love to savour and relive these dishes again. Do you know of any great Korean restaurants in the Toronto area?
I have so many fond memories of my time in South Korea. I couldn’t possibly fit it all into one post so I have decided to split them into two! Be sure to check back for Part 2!
Thanks for reading!