Obligatory New Year’s Post

It’s about that time to reflect on the year, blah blah blah. Although I’m not a big fan of the consumerism that takes place during the holidays, I enjoy taking the time to reflect on the year and look forward to a fresh start. This post is long and boring. I am writing this for myself to highlight some events and do not expect anyone to actually read all of it, but if you’re so inspired for whatever reason, be my guest .

Before I start, I wish everybody a happy and safe new year. 2014 will be a great one.

January 2013 started off in the Philippines. I had arrived a few hours before midnight struck. I walked out of the airport sporting my winter Korean gear only to immediately want to strip all of my clothes off in the Filippine heat. Daryl’s family and their maids warmly welcomed me into their humble home. I quickly became familiar with their hospitality as dinner started instantly. “Leave room for the next meal,”. Breakfast? No problem. “at midnight”. Oh. January was mostly spent over the plate and feeling pouty from the rainy weather ruining anything I wanted to do. Even though I now have an even bigger aversion to malls, I am still grateful for the incredible hospitality and kindness I encountered. The last two weeks of January consisted of successfully completing my first English camps with the full-time help of Daryl, who came to visit me in Korea.

February began on a sore note. I was sad, confused, lonely. Things picked up; Liz and I embarked on a South Korea trip during our extra week off. We enjoyed snickering at the Penis Park, witnessing the hauntingly beautiful sunset at Sokcho Beach, couchsurfing with a hilarious Scotish girl in Pohang, and enjoying my birthday of hiking in the icy and beautiful Seoraksan mountains and spending the night with my sisters and Liz in Hongdae, Seoul. My confusion cleared up when I decided to do what I wanted for a long time: to be single. it was the best for both of us. I focused my energy by picking up taekwondo and rock climbing.

Seoraksan, the most beautiful place in Korea

Seoraksan, the most beautiful place in Korea

March started off perfectly by spending a weekend with my family to celebrate many birthdays. Back in Gwangju and on my way to sell my foldup bicycle, I stumbled upon a bike shop displaying a beautiful pink bike shouting my name. I rode home that same afternoon on my new baby, which was heavilly discounted for being on display. We have already been through a lot already. Riding my bicycle everywhere changed my perspective of Gwangju and allowed me to discover new things about the city.

Biking to Damyang

Biking to Damyang

School started the first week of March. The students were perky and well-behaved.  I started attending an immersion Korean class taught by middle school boys living at a local orphanage. Even though I didn’t learn a whole lot of new material, I got to practice speaking fluency and be entertained by the lovely and hilarious kids. I made my first Korean friend that month and we met every so often, practicing my Korean and his English. He took me to my first Korean baseball game. He’s now working in Japan and I’m proud of him!

April started off with my first time climbing outdoors at Wolchulsan, an exhilirating challenge I must do again. I also embarked on the longest ride on my bicycle thus far to Damyang and the lake over there. April was the month the Gwangsters formed, a team of five ladies that swept the Wangin Festival scavenger hunt (OK, so we came in 3rd, but it still surprised us!) and later tackled the sauna and the red cloud bridge at Wolchulsan. On 4/20 weekend, I went on a trip with my family to meet the extended family at a pension in beautiful Jecheon. It was insane. The month ended with the Jindo Sea-parting Festival where we encountered a Korean Moses and then the Vagina Monologues performed by some talented beauts of Gwangju.

Gwangsters

Gwangsters

The first day of May was a holiday, so I last minutely accepted an invitation to go bouldering at Baekyangsa. I ended up meeting some lovely ladies whom I now greatly admire, Helen and Meg, and decided to hike with them rather than attempt to boulder with the guys. I was in bliss that day. That weekend, I performed in my first taekwondo performance, sporting my new purple belt. Later that day was the Follow the Rainbow Hash Run. Everyone dressed up in bright colors and ran around Gwangju following a specific path, stopping for alcoholic beverages along the way.

Rainbow Hash Run

Rainbow Hash Run

The Classic Us team participated in the Gwangju scavenger hunt, scoring second place. I still sport that robe today. My first camping experience in Korea happened in May. After renting a car and paragliding in Hampyeong, we drove to Geoje island and camped on the beach for two nights. May ended with the Green Blue Festival of music, barbecue, camping, and taking random naps for two hours out in the open. I also got to meet up with the InKAS summer camp who came to Gwangju. A fine month indeed.

Geoje Island camping

Geoje Island camping

June started off with my lovely neighbor’s birthday, Paula. We went camping in Buan with an extraordinary amount of people. I ran my first race in Boryeong, a 10K alongside some good friends. We enjoyed running in the overcast morning and then basking in afternoon sunshine on Daecheon beach. The last weekend consisted of a (free!) hiking, kayaking, and rock climbing trip out of Seoul and meeting up with some old InKAS friends.

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The midpoint of the year, July, started off in an unexpected way. A night of innocent ping pong and see-sawing sparked the beginning of my incurable stomach butterflies condition. My head was up in the sky that entire month. He gave me a bottle of congratulatory Blue Belt wine for achieving one in taekwondo. My favorite camping trip on a deserted heart-shaped beach in Bigeumdo happened in July. I saw more stars than anywhere else in Korea. One weekend, I caved in and went to the mud festival. I ended up having a good time, but moreso by spending time with friends rather than getting dirty in the spring break environment. I’ll never do a limbo contest on the stage again. The semester finished at the end of July. We said goodbye to our dear friend, Tammy, with a rooftop potluck and karaoke session. I was sorely missing Adam who went to Jeju but also too excited for Mongolia. Before departing, I met up with some old friends in Seoul for the big IKAA adoptee gathering. Wow, three years later… a friend told me I changed over the three years since we first met. Confident and sure of myself, is what he said.

Ladies at Bigeumdo

Ladies at Bigeumdo

August was an exciting month in Mongolia. I had a invaluable experience CouchSurfing with a family in their ger. The rest of the time was spent driving out to Lake Khuvsgul with five other adventuresome folk. I witnessed some beautiful untouched earth. Being in Mongolia is like traveling back in time. Camping in the middle of nowhere with the incredible stars was enough to inspire me to go back, some day.

Beautiful Mongolia

Beautiful Mongolia

I did my  summer English camp and said goodbye to my students (it was especially hard to say goodbye to the visiting school students) because I was informed I was changing schools. With that was changing apartments. Man, did I upgrade.

September began with a new school, new contract, new apartment, new boyfriend. One year after living in Korea made me feel like a newer, happier person. The humid summer finally died down and I began training for a half marathon now that time freed up from quitting taekwondo and Korean class terminated. I welcomed guests to my new apartment by having a pot luck on my rooftop and then dancing at the World Music Festival. The following weekend was Korea Burn. We persevered the torrential downpour and enjoyed the positive vibes of the weekend. Chuseok quickly came and I spent it with my family and then at a temple stay in Haenam with CouchSurfers. They also introduced me to hitchhiking. The last weekend of September was spent camping and biking on Seonyudo Island. We still camped in the rain with the help of a tarp! The Korean class at Chonnam started and I was never impressed with the teaching style from day one.

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The weather cooled down in October. I just can’t keep my pants on whenever I think about orange leaves, oh baby, I love Autumn foliage. Our day off on October 3rd was spent on a great bike trip to Damyang and the bamboo forest. Then we had a Jinju Lantern Festival reunion and spontaneous trip to Busan. Create & Gift was born and I began making some art. My friends were in an art show and some people requested my pieces. Talk about confidence! I joined in on a motorcycle/camping trip (me as a passenger) to Chowulsan mountain and camped under this cavelike structure. The morning views were just breathtaking; I know I will return there gain. The hiking season continued the next weekend in Jirisan, another place I must revisit. I quit Korean class, deeming it a waste of time, and began studying on my own with the help of coteachers. The month finished with a successful Create and Gift booth at the Gwangju International Community day where people came to create art, gift art, and receive art.

Camping in Chowulsan

Camping in Chowulsan

November was the first time I was published in the Gwangju News, a volunteer-run local magazine. Training for the half-marathon was going well until I hurt my foot from running 12 miles. Walking on it repeatedly while in Seoul was not the best idea. I rested until the race day and decided to only run the 5K. I loved running with Adam in the crisp Autumn weather through the Metasequoia tree-lined road. We placed 2nd women’s and 3rd men’s and with our winnings, we hitchhiked to a hot springs resort and spoiled ourselves. November is of course Thanksgiving time, so we spent it at a friends’ cozy apartment with the Gwangju August 2012 family and friends. Wow, have we changed over the year!

Enjoying some of Seoul's fine foliage

Enjoying some of Seoul’s fine foliage

The final month of the year has been surprisingly warm for December, but I’m not complaining. I got back to the climbing gym after a hiatus because I wanted to enjoy the outdoors during Autumn.  I helped out with a fundraiser called ArtWorks by creating some Christmas cards and helping at the event that raised about $1,000 to two charities. Gwangju has some very talented artists and generous supporters. Instead of traveling every weekend, I stayed local in December. Many birthdays were celebrated and events attended. Create and Gift had another successful booth at GIC Adios day. Gwangju residents proved to be talented once again. Later that evening was the 12 Pubs of Christmas, where I saw almost everybody I know in Gwangju out downtown to have a merry time during the holidays. I was happy, all right, happy to tears with my red cheeks. Christmas was spent at a cozy pot luck. Adam suprised me with a keyboard the week before, so I have been practicing that lately. I’m really loving it. The last weekend of the year was enjoyed by ice skating, hosting a CouchSurfer, and visiting my parents. Winter camp has officially begun and today’s the last day of the year. Cheers!

Ice Skating in Korea: Helmets Required

Ice Skating in Korea: Helmets Required

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