Thoughts on Leaving

As my time wraps up on three years in South Korea, I’ve been thinking about the little things I’ll miss and the little things I won’t. These things are random, but it’s the everyday things that add up to memories at the end of an era.


1. Umbrella sleeves. This awesome invention can be found outside most subway stations and department stores. They are metal boxes with two different-sized plastic bags hanging inside.


Simply push your umbrella down into the bag of appropriate size and pull it towards you (as seen below). Boom! Your wet umbrella is sheathed and no water all over the place.

umbrella demo

2. The Seoul subway system. Below is an image of the Seoul subway system in comparison to the Toronto subway map. Enough said.

seoul subway ttc map

3. The restaurant across the street from my hapkido gym. The ladies there make the best kimchi mandu in the universe (mandu is like a dumpling). Hands down.


4. Monsoon season. In my region of Ontario, we don’t get storms of a monsoon magnitude. They are scary but awesome and absolutely fascinating to watch if you’re safe inside. To check out my video of a monsoon storm, click below:

5. Stationary shops like Morning Glory and Artbox. Those who know me well know that I lose my mind when I stumble upon a Morning Glory. They were on every corner back in the early 2000s here in Korea but there are far fewer now that shoppers have switched to online purchasing (hence my spastic excitement). Artbox also has nifty house decor items like alarm clocks, pillows and some clothing too. It’s a bit pricey but the items are unique.

morning glory



1. Korean men spitting everywhere all the time. Seriously, hocking loogies is a national street sport in Korea. No idea why. I’ve asked Korean friends (men and women) and they don’t know why so many men do it. The only thing closest to logic I’ve heard is that during Korean mens’ mandatory 2 years of military service, many take up smoking and pick up the habit of spitting from excessive smoking. Still, c’mon. That’s nasty dude.


2. The evil yellow dust that blows in from the desert in northern China. On bad days you can taste it in your mouth and we are advised to wear masks when going outside.

yellow dust

Kamila and I sport new masks purchased in Saigon, Vietnam.

Kamila and I sport new masks purchased in Saigon, Vietnam.

3. The stabbing elbows of subway-riding halmonies (Korean grannies) who jab you in the back and/or ribcage when they decide you’re not moving fast enough to get out of their way on the subway. They need to be dealt with. Seriously. Their boney jabs leave marks!

A zombie halmonie friend I made while doing a zombie walk back in 2013.

A zombie halmonie friend I made while doing a zombie walk back in 2013.

4. Older folks in my town staring at me like a circus freak even though I’ve lived here for 3 years. I often forget I’m in a small rural town that is pretty much a county. It’s offensive but I try to remember that I may be the first foreign person they’ve ever seen. Old folk in Deokso be looking at me like:

5. Last but not least, I hope to never see another Korean cave cricket again in my life. Just tonight I was walking home from hapkido and saw a cave cricket on the sidewalk. I stopped to let him pass because they jump almost as high as I am tall.


With four months left, I’m sure there’ll be more reminiscent posts surfacing so bear with me Dear Readers. Until next time, stay warm and be well!

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress

The Suwon Hwaseong Fortress was originally built between 1794 and 1796 by King Jeongjo, the 22nd king from the Joseon Dynasty. The fortress was most impressive at the time and is still a powerful image of strength today. The fortress walls run approximately 5.7 kilometers (3.5 miles) and was the first fortress in Korea to be built with stones and brick together. This advancement made it powerfully strong against cannon, gun and spear attacks and considering its height on the top of a hill, it’s a behemoth – then and now.

Outside the south main gate of the fortress.

Outside the southern main gate of the fortress.

Jon 1

My friend Jon keeping watch at the eastern turret - one of ten that surround the area.

My friend Jon keeping watch at the eastern turret – one of ten that surround the area.

At look at the eastern wall. Ancient history jutting out of a modern city.

A look at the eastern wall. Ancient history jutting out of a modern city.

The Beacon Tower was cool to see. It was used to send messages to soldiers and civilians about pending danger. For example, one fire lit meant everything was fine. Two fires lit meant the enemy was close to the national border. Three fires meant the enemy was at the border, four meant they had crossed over and five meant fighting was underway.

Beacon signals. Fire was used at night and smoke during the day.

Beacon signals. Fire was used at night and smoke during the day.

Despite the awesomeness of this fortress, it took a beating over the last 200 years, especially during the Korean War in the early 1950s. Luckily there were books found with detailed blueprints from the original fortress construction so repairing the stronghold to its former glory was easier for modern-day architects. Restoration began in 1975 and it was later registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

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The three pictures above are of one of two command posts used by military personnel. From these vantage points, soldiers could see in all directions.

We wanted to try the archery (approx. $2 for 10 arrows) but it was closed off due to Hanguel Day festivities taking place. Jon reenacted what it would have been like to try it out and I tried my hand and firing a cannon at the unknown enemy.

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Instead of archery, we got to see a “guard ceremony” put on by actors to celebrate the long weekend festivities. First the guards marched to the main gate to meet the king and his mother. Later they put on an archery show for the crowd.


The King and his mother came out to greet the peasants and grace us with their presence.


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After the guard ceremony we went inside the gate walls into the Hwaseong Haenggung, which means the Hwaseong temporary palace, as it was built as a secondary home for the king during times of war.


As an added bonus, the Hwaseong temporary palace is a popular filming site for period dramas. It’s also one of the palaces used in one of my favourite Korean dramas, Dae Janggeum (or Jewel in the Palace). For more on my Dae Janggeum adventures, click here.

Two of the many main characters from Dae Janggeum.

Two of the many main characters from Dae Janggeum.

The different costumes used by Youngae Lee, who played Janggeum.

The different costumes used by Youngae Lee, who played Janggeum.

We spent over four hours walking the fortress grounds and covered about 80% of the map. For those who would like to check it out, head to the city of Suwon in Gyeonggi province. There are bus, train and subway options so choose what works best from where you’re coming from. Until next time, happy trails!

Jon 2

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

I had never been to a place that actually took my breath away until I set foot on the edge of the Jusangjeolli Cliffs (주상절리) in southern Jeju. The cliffs were created by lava pouring into the ocean when the volcano that is now Halla Mountain erupted 250,000 years ago. The lava hitting the cold water made unique cubic and hexagonal pillars that eventually formed these stunning cliffs. The waves throwing whitecaps against the black rock is truly mesmerizing.

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A close up of the black lava rocks.

A close up of the black lava rocks.

Staring down at the crevices, I had an undeniable urge to dive in and thrash around like a sea creature. This, coming from a person with a fear of swimming in open water, says something about the tranquility that overcomes you in this place. Despite the throngs of people on the walking path, it felt like I was alone with the waves.

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Not far from my new personal paradise was a Mahayana Buddhist temple called Yakchunsa (약천사) at the base of Halla Mountain.

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The temple name translates into “temple of medicine stream” because the pure spring water that runs there is said to cure illnesses.  Construction on the temple grounds began in 1981 so it’s new compared to the ancient temples most have come to expect in Asia.

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Outside the Gulbeopdang Grotto, spring water to drink.

Outside the Gulbeopdang Grotto, spring water to drink.

The Hall of Great Peace and Light is said to be the largest Buddha Hall in all of Asia which draws many tourists all year-round. The Great Hall stands at 29 metres (95 feet) high and houses a 9 metre (29 foot) statue of Vairocana (a.k.a. the visualization of Buddha in spirit form).

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Yakchunsa is also famous for housing the 500 Arahat, which are little statues made in the image of past Buddhist monks from the time of the dynasties.

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As my adventure in southern Jeju came to an end, it was time to get back up north to Jeju City where I was staying. I caught an airport limo bus from outside the temple and paid the base fare (approx. 1.50 CAD) to get to the Sweogwipo City bus terminal. From there I was going to grab another bus north. Turns out the bus driver was from a town not far from mine back in Namyanju City in Gyeonggi-do and he was happy to meet someone from back home. He’s been living in Jeju for 6 years and now speaks the Jeju dialect with ease. With my Korean skills put to the test, we hit up a little friendship. His bus route went all the way back up to Jeju City and he offered to take me there at no extra charge because we were “Namyangju chingus” (Namyangju friends). What a lovely way to end my day and my adventure on Jeju Island :)

My Namyangju friend, Cheong Dae Bong.

My Namyangju friend, Cheong Dae Bong.