Tag Archives: Korea

Stuck in a Korean “Covid Jail”

“You have to stay here,” the woman in the hazmat suit said.

“But I need to catch my connecting flight to Jeju, where I live. It leaves in two hours. I can’t stay here,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady and show that I was in control of my emotions, which I most certainly was not.

“No. You stay in Seoul. PCR test.”

“But, I have a negative PCR test result from America that I took before boarding the plane. I will take the PCR when I land in Jeju.”

“No. You cannot go to Jeju. Stay here.”

End of discussion. No more bargaining. I was taken to a cubicle by another hazmat-suited worker, where I would remain for the better part of two hours. I was given a new mask to wear, one that had two thick rubber bands to hold it in place and cut into my face, leaving marks. No water. No food. No access to a toilet. I was contaminated in their eyes. Someone to avoid, less I give them my germs, the ones that might contain Covid.

As I sat in my isolation chamber, becoming more and more restless and agitated as the time slowly ticked by, I called my boss, my friend, and my parents to tell them what happened and try to make sense of what would happen next. I called Korean Air to inform them of my detainment and inability to make my connecting flight, which I then lost.

After what felt like ages, I was finally given more information. I would be given a PCR test, taken to retrieve my luggage, and then take a bus to a temporary quarantine facility, where I would wait until my results came back. If I tested negative, I would be allowed to rebook my flight to Jeju, where I would be able to spend my 10-day quarantine in my own home. But if I tested positive, I would be sent to another quarantine facility outside of Seoul, where I would quarantine until I was told I could leave. Things weren’t looking good for me.

A little while later, I was escorted, along with a few other pariahs, along a corridor, down the elevator, and outside, into below freezing weather, to wait in line for what can only be described as the most invasive and painful PCR test I’ve ever had.

After getting off the bus at the quarantine facility, I struggled with my three large bags, as the hazmat suits stared at me, offering no help at all. To say the facility was depressing doesn’t do it justice. I walked down the fluorescent-lit hallway to my room, dragging my bags behind me. The door to my room opened onto a small “holding area,” beyond which was another door. My room was sparse, containing a twin-sized bed with a hard mattress wrapped in unclean plastic, a bedside table, a table and two chairs, a TV on a stand, a small fan, a wardrobe, a mini-fridge, and a landline phone. I had a basic private bathroom with a shower, a lone hand towel, and no soap (I’m in here due to Covid, yet I can’t wash my hands…the irony!). Luckily the wardrobe had a blanket and a pillow, so I didn’t have to lay on the plastic-wrapped mattress. I was shocked to find that the facility did not have wifi access, but I was lucky that I live in Korea so that I was able to use the data on my phone.

The only towel I was given. This was to dry off after my shower, too.

I was told the wait would be 8-10 hours. After a 15-hour flight, several hours in the airport, and the stress of the day, I tried to get some sleep. I was awoken abruptly around 2:00am by a gruff hazmat suit who stormed into my room without so much as a knock. In Korean, I was directed to sit at the table. For the record, I don’t speak Korean, but I figured it out using context clues and body language. A laminated paper was placed in front of me informing me that I had tested positive for Covid. Tears came to my eyes, fear and dread setting in. But I’m not even sick, I thought. I picked up the paper to read more information about what would happen to me next, but hazmat suit snatched it from my hands, barking, “No touch!”

The instructions said that I would be taken by ambulance in the morning to another facility in another (undisclosed) city for my quarantine. I was to take my luggage, but prior to leaving, I was to pack everything I would use in the next facility separately, as all of my personal belongings used at the facility would be incinerated upon my departure and any electronics would likely be damaged during the cleaning and disinfecting process. I would be responsible for all of the costs for the government quarantine, but no amount was given, as it would depend on the number of days I had to remain there.

The reality of the situation set in, and I couldn’t hold back my tears, as anger, frustration, and fear pulsed through me. My worst nightmare had come true. I’d heard about this happening, and I knew it was a risk for me to have traveled home for Christmas, but I hadn’t thought it would actually happen to me. I begged hazmat suit to let me out. I’d quarantine at home, I promised. “You can put an ankle monitor on me if you want. I won’t leave my house at all.” Every request was met with an uncaring “NO!” which only left me spinning out of control. I wasn’t even sick! I had a little bit of a stuffy nose, but that was it. Surely I’m not a danger to society. “Can I see my PCR result?” I asked through my tears, unsure how i could have tested positive after testing negative on twelve rapid antigen tests and three PCRs back home. Like every other request, it was denied. No amount of pleading changed her mind. Getting tired of my emotional response, she left.

I crumpled. Ripping off the mask, I sobbed, realizing that no matter what, this was my fate. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t rational. And the sense of injustice I felt couldn’t be squashed. The heat in the room didn’t help the situation either. Hot air blew into the room, making it nearly unbearable. I knew it was -11C outside, but I needed to crack a window. Damn! The windows were bolted shut. Probably to prevent an escape, I thought.

Look carefully at the flags…

After calling everyone (parents, friends, boss) to alert them to my predicament, I collapsed on the bed, mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. A few hours later, I was awoken again by my breakfast delivery, a ham and cheese sandwich and bottle of orange juice, along with two small bottles of water. I’m a vegetarian, which I told them when I was detained. No dietary accommodations were made here, they said. Orange juice, it is! Luckily I had a few snacks in my bag that I’d brought from Texas. Mostly cookies, chips, and candy, but hey, it was something.

That first day I was a fighter, doing everything in my power to get myself out of there. The ladies on the other end of my landline got so tired of me calling that they mostly just hung up whenever they heard my voice. The US Embassy tried to help, but they couldn’t make any headway either. As the day progressed, I realized I was stuck.

Lunch and dinner were the same, white rice with some sort of fried meat, kimchi, and three pickle slices. I ate the rice and pickles.

Due to a lack of space at the other facilities, I ended up staying there for four days. Without wifi, and not wanting to drain my data in case I needed it later, I was bored. I watched reruns of old crime shows, like CSI and Law and Order, that played on one of the three English channels. But mostly I slept. The heat was unbearable, and despite the small fan and lack of clothing (I only wore a tank top and pair of sleep shorts), I was burning up. I didn’t have a fever though. My thrice daily temperature checks I had to do confirmed that. After my numerous complaints about the heat and requests to turn it down, one of the hazmat suits brought me a large ice pack, which I would use to cool my body, moving it from my head to my torso to my feet. It helped some.

The days dragged on, and I felt like I’d never be free from that prison. On day four, I was notified that I would be transported to the new facility. My own hazmat suit, gloves, new mask, face shield, and booties arrived with my morning delivery. This is what I was to wear in the ambulance.

I couldn’t even pretend to smile…

To be continued…

Take a Peek Inside my Korean Home

Living abroad means I move every few years to a new country. Each of my homes has been different, each with their own unique aspects. My home in Korea has been the first place I’ve lived abroad that I didn’t choose. Some international schools provide housing and assign you to an apartment or house, while others give a housing stipend and you get to choose your own place.

In Jeju, I live in a townhouse near my school, about a 5-minute drive or 15-minute walk away. My house is two stories, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s cozy and small, but it’s enough room for me. I spend most of my time in the living room, surrounded by my plants and artwork I’ve collected while traveling. My kitchen is way too small for someone who loves to entertain, and it’s the thing I’d change the most if I could. I’d also love to build a deck in the backyard, but it’s really expensive to have one built ($4,000 USD for a deck that’s only 10 square meters!).

My bedroom has an en-suite with a small bathtub, which I enjoy soaking in when I’ve had a rough day or when my back’s giving me trouble. The theme of my bedroom is Moroccan, with a blue and white color palette, and I’ve decorated with photos I took on my trip to Morocco and the antique wedding blanket I bought.

The largest guest room’s theme is travel, specifically from my time in Myanmar, one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited. I’ve decorated the room with photos taken in Inle Lake and a few other pieces I bought while in Mandalay. My map duvet cover completes the travel theme.

I’ve started converting the smallest guest room into my “Zen room,” but I’m not quite done. I’d like for the room to be a place to meditate, exercise, and chill.

I didn’t really have room anywhere for my desk that I brought from Indonesia, but I love it and didn’t want to get rid of it. I eventually settled on housing it in the hallway upstairs, where I can get some natural light.

My home isn’t perfect, and there are things I’d change if I could, but I’ve done my best to make it a home. That’s one thing I’ve learned while living abroad. If you treat your house like a temporary place and don’t add your personal touches to it, you never quite feel settled.

What do you love about your home?

Better Days

Last May, when I went in for an annual medical check-up, they found a large tumor attached to my uterus. The doctor, through a translator app, told me it was 6.7cm in diameter and would need to be removed immediately. Unsure of whether I should trust a doctor I couldn’t communicate with, I booked an appointment with a specialist a week later who, luckily, spoke English. She confirmed that I would need surgery soon. Dread and fear sank in. I had to undergo my first major surgery in Korea, where I don’t speak the language and don’t have any family support, and it had to happen soon.

The surgery happened in the beginning of July, shortly after school finished. Gail, a dear friend, offered to help and spent every day in the hospital with me. Without her, I’m not sure what I would have done. The surgery was successful (tumor was benign), however while they were in there, the doctor found loads of endometriosis lesions all over my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. He “cleaned it all up” but said if not treated, it would soon return, causing more issues. Endometriosis explains the pain and issues I’ve had for most of my life.

Without much warning, I had to make a decision about treatment, which was pretty much do the treatment or don’t do it and have the lesions return. The treatment meant I couldn’t have children…at least not for a few years anyway…but I’d just turned 40 and am single, so I figured that ship had sailed anyway. I opted for the treatment, which began just before I went back to school. The treatment consists of three months of hormone shots (high dose, once a month) followed by two years of daily endometriosis hormone pills. The doctor warned me that hormone shots would throw me into forced menopause and I would have hot flashes and my periods would become irregular and eventually stop.

I was ready for the hot flashes, which would come at the most inopportune times, but I wasn’t prepared for the other symptoms. The first issue was the crying. It was spontaneous, uncontrollable, and came on for no reason. It was so embarrassing at work. Here I am, a leader, trying to lead orientation with my teachers, and I’d start crying. They must have thought I was so unstable. Then the panic attacks began, again out of the blue and at inconvenient times (Is there ever a convenient time to have a panic attack?). However, the worst thing was the insomnia. I can remember being dead tired, willing myself to sleep, crying from exhaustion, yet the sleep wouldn’t come. I tried melatonin and sleep music and lavender oil diffusers and praying and a new nighttime routine, but I only managed a few hours a night. Through all this, I felt like I was going crazy. I was at my wit’s end and didn’t know what to do.

When I went in for my first monthly check-up and told my doctor about my symptoms, he said I was having an adverse reaction to the treatment, which had caused me to develop depression and anxiety. He said I needed to stick it out and it would eventually get better, but when you’re in the thick of it, you can’t see a way out. I was in a really dark place and didn’t recognize myself. I had never experienced mental illness firsthand before. Through this whole ordeal, I developed so much empathy for people who live with mental illness; it’s worse than any physical pain I’ve ever experienced. I can remember crying to the doctor, begging for him to trade me my old physical pain for my new emotional pain. But by then, it was too late.

Music has always been my go to for any emotion. Happy? Play upbeat music and dance around. Angry? Play angsty music on high to work it out. Sad? Play sappy music and cry it out. During my depression and anxiety period, I found a few songs that spoke to me and helped articulate how I felt or how I wanted to feel, and I played them on repeat. One of those songs was Dermot Kennedy’s “Better Days.” I can remember driving around, alone, blasting this song from my speakers, as I sang along, tears streaming down my face. He promises, “Better days are comin’, if no one told you. I hate to hear you cryin’…” and “I know you’ve been hurtin’ waiting on a train that just won’t come.” and “The rain, it ain’t permanent, and soon we’ll be dancin’ in the sun.” and “Your story’s gonna change, just wait for better days.” His words, the promise of better days coming, got me through some of my darkest days.

I’m happy to report that the depression and anxiety did eventually subside, just like the doctor said it would. I think the better days have come.

I love this live performance of the song…it’s a little different than the original, but the interpretive dance adds so much to the lyrics.

Better Days

Better days are comin’
If no one told you
I hate to hear you cryin’
Over the phone, dear
For seven years runnin’
You’ve been a soldier
But better days are comin’
Better days are comin’ for you

So when the night feels like forever
(Mh-mh)
I’ll remember what you said to me

I know you’ve been hurtin’
Waitin’ on a train that just won’t come
The rain, it ain’t permanent
And soon, we’ll be dancin’ in the sun
We’ll be dancin’ in the sun
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)

We never miss the flowers
Until the sun’s down
We never count the hours
Until they’re runnin’ out
You’re on the other side of the storm now
You should be so proud
And better days are comin’
Better days are comin’ for you

So when the night feels like forever
(Mh-mh)
I’ll remember what you said to me

I know you’ve been hurting (is our time ever soothing?)
Waiting on a train that just won’t come
The rain, it ain’t permanent (is our time ever soothing?)
And soon, we’ll be dancing in the sun
We’ll be dancing in the sun
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)

Your story’s gonna change
Just wait for better days
You’ve seen too much of pain
Now, you don’t even know
That your story’s gonna change
Just wait for better days
I promise you, I won’t let go

I know you’ve been hurting
Waiting on a train that just won’t come
The rain, it ain’t permanent (is our time ever soothing?)
And soon, we’ll be dancing in the sun
We’ll be dancing in the sun
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)
And we’ll sing your song together (eh-eh, eh-eh)

Spring Break Plans

Everyone’s all a buzz at school about what they’re planning to do for spring break. It’s not for another three and a half weeks, but for the first time since the pandemic began, we can actually travel with little to no restrictions. It’s definitely cause to celebrate! We are allowed to leave the country, as long as we get the required PCR tests and re-entry permits, with no quarantine upon our return. Many teachers are going to Vietnam, Thailand, or Singapore. We are also now allowed to travel to the mainland (South Korea) for the whole week without a PCR test upon our return. During previous holidays, school has only allowed us to go for a few days without a PCR test (and I avoid those things like the plague…in Korea, they are incredibly painful!).

While I’d love to travel somewhere outside of Korea, preferably Thailand, I’m going to play it safe this holiday. I don’t want to risk testing positive on a PCR (I’ve had Covid and you can test positive for a while after) and/or not be able to get back into the country for some reason. I’m looking forward to traveling back home and to England this summer though!

I’m excited to spend half the week in Seoul and the rest of the time here in Jeju. I’ll fly up on Sunday and stay Sunday and Monday nights at the Grand InterContinental Parnas hotel in an area called COEX in the Gangnam district. It’s an area I visit often when I’m in Seoul, so I know how to get around easily. I’ll eat at some of my favorite restaurants, Paulie’s Pizza (it’s just like pizza back home!), Egg Slut (yes, the name is awful, but this breakfast chain from LA is delicious), and Cafe Mama’s (a Korean cafe with the yummiest ricotta salad). I’ll also partake in some shopping at the COEX mall, where I can find some of my favorite shops that we don’t have here, like H&M and ZARA. I’m also looking forward to going back to my favorite salon, Juno Hair, where they treat you like royalty.

I’ll then move to the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel in Itaewon, a trendy neighborhood in Seoul, for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. A couple of my friends are also going to be there, so we’ll have lots of fun walking the artsy streets and alleyways, shopping in boutiques and art shops, and eating at new restaurants. I love Plant Cafe Seoul, which is a vegan restaurant tucked away in Itaewon. I’ll do my best to persuade them to go with me. There’s also The Original Pancake House, which is like stepping into an American breakfast diner. One of my favorite night spots is a tiny place called Apt (for apartment). It’s got a really chill vibe, with old school jazz music and velvet couches, and the cocktails are top quality. I haven’t drank any alcohol in a long time, so I’ll have to see if they’ll make me a mocktail. While I’m staying at the hotel, I’ll probably try to squeeze in a relaxing massage too.

For the latter part of the week, I’ll be back in Jeju, where the weather has just started to be perfect. I haven’t made any plans yet, but I’m thinking a staycation on the west side of the island, a place I haven’t explored much yet, is in order. Since it’s not a Korean holiday, things are cheap and can be booked at the last minute, so I’ll probably play it by ear.

Here are a few pictures of Seoul from previous trips. Let’s see what I get up to this time!

Unique Things About Korean Housing

This afternoon as I was looking up possible housing options online for next year, I started thinking about all the differences between Korean housing (houses, townhouses, apartments) and those back home in the states. Quite frankly, some of these differences are also unlike other places I’ve lived (China, Albania, Thailand, and Indonesia).

First off, the rental pricing structure and high costs would put most Americans off. The prices are quoted in yearly rental prices, and must be paid in one-year increments before you move in. My budget, allocated by my school, is 18 million Korean won per year (~14,600 USD). Many places I found online today were in the 24 – 60 million range (19,400 – 48,500 USD). I wonder if there are other, more affordable options to be found. Navigating the site in Korean was really tricky, so hopefully I can get a Korean friend to help me. In addition to paying a year’s rent up front, you also have to pay a hefty deposit in advance. The deposit is at least the yearly rent, but many of the rentals I saw online had larger deposits. For example, a place I liked was 30 million won a year plus a 48 million won deposit. That means you’d be paying 63,000 USD up front!

All Korean houses are unlocked by a keypad on the front door rather than a key. My door also talks to me in a British accent, which cracks up everyone who comes over. I love not having to carry keys, but it’s a pain when I come home and the batteries on my door have run out. It’s only happened twice, but it’s weird that there’s no warning that the battery is low before it runs out. The only way to get back in is to “jump” the battery with a 9-volt. I’ve taken to carrying one around in my car just in case.

One of the nicest things about Korean houses is the under floor heating in the winter. Under floor heating is a radiant kind of heat, much different than the heating systems that blow out hot air. The only thing that’s tough is trying to find the right temperature at night, as your bed can get too hot from the floor heating.

As you may know, it’s customary to remove your shoes in Asian homes, a tradition I fully embrace now. The entryway is lower than the rest of the floor in the house and tiled in a different material. There are also cupboards in the entryway to store our shoes away, which is really convenient.

The windows are versatile. They are double-glazed and open two different ways. You can open them completely (inward like a door opens) or just a crack them a little at an angle (from the top) to let the breeze in and keep the rain mostly out. There are screens on each window that can be pulled up or down. With the spring and fall weather being so perfect, I utilize the angled windows often.

Lastly, due to the smaller size of the houses/apartments, there are a few appliances that do double-duty and save space. We have washer/dryer combos, which you can find in some smaller places in other countries too. The microwave and oven are one machine, which always confuses me since I can put metal in the microwave; it feels so wrong to do that. I sure wish we had dishwashers, because I despise doing dishes, but the large, deep sink with a removable drying rack is a compromise (I guess!).

Is there anything unique about homes where you live?

Can it be true? I sure hope so!

Since moving to South Korea in the summer of 2020, there’s been a mandatory quarantine. At first, it was a 14-day quarantine, which meant I stayed here for a year and a half to avoid the isolation. Then, in November 2021, the government dangled a carrot in front of us by saying that anyone fully vaccinated in Korea (which I am) can be exempt from the mandatory quarantine. There were still lots of hoops to jump through, but we were all excited and I booked my flights home for the holidays. Then, shortly before the Christmas holiday was set to begin, they reinstated the mandatory quarantine, only this time it was reduced to 10 days. While it was a pain (and a shit ton of money…3500 USD!) to change my flights, I was able to go home for about a week and a half. Sometime last month the quarantine was further reduced to 7 days, giving us a little more hope.

However, this afternoon, we received very good news in our inbox! The Korean government just released that they are ending the mandatory quarantine period for all fully vaccinated and boosted travelers (even if vaxxed outside of Korea, as long as you go through the process of registering your vaccination with their app). This goes into effect for people vaccinated in Korea on 21 March and for everyone else on 1 April.

While everyone’s pumped about the news, myself included, I can’t help but be skeptical about it. It’s like the boy who cried wolf…they told us once before and changed their mind, they can do it again. For now, I’m not booking any international flights, but it does give me hope for the summer break. I was planning on leaving anyway, but was concerned about the short break with having to factor in quarantine. If I can avoid it, I get more time with my family, which is what I want.

Fingers crossed that it sticks this time!

Driving in Korea

It wasn’t until moving to Korea that I owned a car as an expat. Everywhere else I’ve lived has been a major city with easy access to public transportation, such as subways or metros, taxis, motorcycle taxis, and buses. I’ve also always used a bicycle as a major form of transport or walked where I needed to go. When I moved to Jeju island in 2020, it was obvious that I’d need a car to get around, as taxis are quite limited, buses run infrequently, and I live in a pretty rural area, so bikes and walking aren’t the ideal form of transport for most places I need to go.

For the most part, I like driving here, and I appreciate the freedom it affords me. No waiting around for a taxi, spending hours changing trains and walking long distances to get where I want to go, or having to plan my outings so meticulously. But there are some definite differences in driving here as compared to the US- some I’ve gotten used to and some that continue to frustrate me.

If you like to drive fast, you’ll be so irritated here! The maximum speed limit anywhere on Jeju is 80 km/hr, which is only about 50 mph. Can you imagine only being able to drive 50 mph on the highway?!? You might be thinking…yeah, but I’d just risk it and speed. Well, while there are no police cars virtually anywhere, nor have I ever once seen anyone pulled over for any reason, there are speed limit cameras EVERYWHERE. I’m serious…my car talks to me all the time to warn me about upcoming speed limit cameras and beeps incessantly while turning my music all the way down if I am over the limit (which is in itself a very annoying feature that cannot be turned off!). The only good thing is that you are warned about the cameras. The most annoying thing about the speed limits on the highways is that instead of a few speed cameras along the way, which would mean you could at least go faster when you are not near a camera, there’s this thing called a “boxed camera zone” in which you must maintain an average speed of 80 km/hr over a long stretch of road. Again, my car comes in handy by telling me the average speed I’m going, but if I’m even 1 km over the limit, the loud beeping starts and my tunes cut out, forcing me to slow down so that I can hear my music. There are cameras at the beginning and end of the zone which take your picture. If you are too fast (it’s based on time stamps from when you enter and exit), you get a speeding ticket in the mail. I frequently see people who’ve sped past me earlier pulled over on the shoulder just before the exit to wait so they don’t get a ticket. It’s bizarre! One last thing about speed limits…all school zones have a 30 km/hr limit (18 mph). It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, what day of the week it is, or if it’s a school holiday, you have to adhere to the speed limit or you’ll get a ticket.

Another tactic to reduce people’s speed is to install speed bumps on nearly all roads, even major thoroughfares. Whereas in the States, you only encounter speed bumps in parking lots, near school zones, at airports, and in some residential areas, here in Jeju, speed bumps are a way of life, popping up every few hundred meters on most roads. This means that I get to hear my car tell me “speed bump ahead” all the bloody time.

Everywhere you go people complain about other drivers and say they have the worst drivers, and while I’m not going to make that claim, I can say that Korean drivers are very selfish. They will cut you off, block the road and refuse to move, pull right out in front of you, even when you have the right of way, and take ages to park while you are stuck waiting on them (nearly all Koreans back into all parking spaces, which always takes more time). When you honk at them to signal your frustration, which I do (yet most others don’t, which I find really odd), you get what I call the ‘Korean car apology.’ They turn on their hazard lights in a half-hearted attempt to acknowledge they were in the wrong. Don’t tell me your sorry by flashing your lights, just don’t drive like an asshole! The thing that confuses me the most about the selfishness of the drivers is that it’s in complete contrast to how Koreans behave in any other setting. Koreans are the most polite people ever, always giving to others, using the best manners, and bowing out of respect to everyone. So to drive like they are the only ones on the road is a mystery to me!

The one exception to the selfish drivers rule is roundabouts. Now I know we don’t have many roundabouts in the US (although I think they are becoming increasingly popular), most drivers understand the basic premise of how to use them. When you come to a roundabout, you yield to the cars that are in the roundabout. Simple, right? Well, not in Korea. In Korea, they do the exact opposite. They drive as if the person entering the roundabout has the right of way. It’s a frequent occurrence for a car to come to a complete stop in the middle of the roundabout to let loads of other cars in, sometimes causing a traffic jam in the roundabout, which is what a roundabout is designed to prevent! Another common action is to barrel into the roundabout without even slowing down, regardless of if there are other cars in the way, and expect the cars in the roundabout to stop for you. Blaring the horn does little to deter this unwanted behavior.

Driving in another country is always an adventure, and while driving in Korea has its share of frustrations, I enjoy that I can go on little adventures around this beautiful island I call home. Have you ever encountered any odd driving rules or habits in other countries?

Disclaimer: I have only driven in Jeju, and while it’s in Korea, I’m not sure if these problems exist in all of Korea or if they are specific to Jeju.

Year in Photos 2020

One of my annual traditions is reflecting on the past year through photos. Here are my past year in photos reflections- 20142015201620172018, and 2019. While I love telling stories through words, pictures are a great way to tell my story, too.

2020 was a year like no other, as we all know. While most of my previous year in photos include pictures from all the places I traveled that year, 2020 was the year of quarantine, therefore I have fewer places than usual represented in this year’s reflection. I started out the year in Texas, flying back to Jakarta via Dubai on January 2nd. I was able to travel to Borobudur and Lembang in Indonesia before we were quarantined on March 2nd. I went back to Texas in May, where I spent the summer, and then moved to Jeju, South Korea in July. After quarantining in Seoul, I spent the rest of 2020 in Jeju, apart from a couple of quick trips to Seoul. Here are the highlights of my 2020, in chronological order. Which ones are your favorite?

Korean Grocery Store Finds

One of my favorite things to do whenever I move (and sometimes when I travel) to a new place is to scope out the grocery stores and see what they have on offer. I usually find some unusual things mixed in with the ordinary. Korea is no different, however as far as grocery stores go, I can find most of what I want to buy here (if I’m willing to pay the high price tag, that is), which hasn’t always been the case in my other locations. There are a few things I can’t find, but they are things I can live without.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite Korean grocery store finds.

How’d you like to buy 1 cantaloupe for $30 USD?!? Lucky for me, I hate cantaloupe!

Not sure what these are, but some people were cooking up these Korean snacks in the middle of the store. As far as I can tell, they are sandwiches, with cooked eggs acting at the “bread” part and meat and other fillings inside.

This sign totally made me laugh! I’m not sure if the sign is meant to entice the foreigners to buy the snacks or the locals, since foreigners buying them makes them more attractive.

There are sooooo many unusual Pringles flavors to choose from, but these caught my eye! I’m thinking the butter caramel ones might be good, but I’d definitely have to pass on the Sweet Mayo Flavour Cheese…yuck!

Now I’ve heard that onion tea is great for your skin and makes you look younger, but I don’t think I could stomach the taste!

This one is a peanut butter flavored drink, like a PB version of hot chocolate. I have some, but haven’t tried it yet. My friend says it’s pretty good. This is the Skippy brand.

Need a glass of wine, but don’t have a glass? Just buy the single serve version- glass included! 🙂

This one threw me off for sure. I’ve had peanut butter before, and I’ve had squid (not my favorite, but I’ve had it) too, but never in a million years would I have put these two flavors together! Would you?!?

This one is so weird for many reasons. For one, who buys 9 green beans at a time? Why do we need plastic packaging? And why do these 9 green beans cost nearly $2 USD?!? Needless to say, I didn’t buy them, but I have to say, I do miss eating fresh green beans. They must not grow them here or they must not be “a thing” in Korea.

Anyone fancy some seaweed flavored oatmeal?? I love it that it’s Quaker brand, too! 🙂

Have you ever seen anything at your local grocery store that made you laugh or wonder who in the heck would ever want to eat that?

Things I’ve Collected in my Travels- SOL#26

As a traveler, I collect lots of things. Most of these are memories, stories, new friends, and photographs. But I also collect art. Whenever I visit somewhere new, I’m on the hunt for something that calls out to me, begging me to bring it home and be a constant reminder of my time in that special place. Here are some of my favorite pieces that I’ve collected over the past few years.

Walking barefoot through the temples of Bagan, Myanmar, I came across this unique piece of art, a sand painting of monks. Instantly I was drawn to the texture and uniqueness of the piece, and the monks were definitely a part of the Myanmar culture that I would remember long after I returned home.

I found this gem in Seoul, South Korea, as I sifted through some antiques in a little shop in Insadong. Initially looking for an antique Buddha or teapot, the shop owner showed me this 100-year-old writer’s notebook. While I can’t read a word in it, it’s such a treasure to have a piece of someone’s writing.

This picture captures a few pieces. The umbrella lamp was a recent purchase from my second trip to Myanmar. I was drawn to the brightly-colored umbrellas on display in the little shop in town. Shaggers and I stopped in for a look, but kept moving. Later that night, we saw the shop again, only this time, the umbrellas were lit up, casting a lovely glow. I wanted one! But again, I resisted. I didn’t need more stuff, I told myself. At dinner, Shaggers said I should just go get it; that I would regret it if I didn’t. She was right. I dashed down the street and picked it up, happy I did.

After living in Shanghai for two years, I realized I didn’t have any art from China yet. Jody, a friend of mine from back home, was visiting. As we walked around Tianzifang, we came across an art gallery. The artist was there, and he talked with us about his artwork and his techniques. The paper-cut doll was so beautiful, I had to take it. I love that I have a contemporary piece of traditional Chinese artwork.

Last summer, Melissa M. and I traveled to Greece, a beautiful place that I can’t wait to return to, and while we were there, we took a trip to Santorini. If you haven’t yet been, I highly recommend it. Its picturesque views, traditional blue and white domes, and unbelievable natural beauty make it so memorable. As we meandered through the tight pathways cut into the side of the mountainous island, we happened into a shop with paintings of Santorini. This one, with the vibrant colors and the peaceful view, called my name. I love remembering our special time every time I see it on the wall.

Also last summer, I visited Rome. I was on my way to Greece from London, and I was blessed with an 18-hour stopover in Rome. Making the most of it, I spent the day roaming around the city. Walking along the river at dusk, I came across a man selling his water color paintings of everyday Roman life. This one, of a doorway, caught my eye. I’m not sure what I loved about it, but it made me happy, so I supported this local artist and bought it up right away!

My trip to Egypt was one of the most amazing trips I have ever taken. As you can imagine, we saw loads of hieroglyphics while we were there. I loved the ancient artwork, and took countless photos of walls full of stories told through pictures. What I was most drawn to, though, were the ankhs, or keys of life. There was just something about them that displayed beauty and symmetry and life. While in Abu Simbel, we visited a shop that sold handmade pieces made of stone. I didn’t have any intention of purchasing anything, but when I laid eyes on this ankh, I knew I had to add it to my collection. Not only was it an ankh, but it was handmade and it was a beautiful color. I absolutely love it!

These last two pieces are also from Myanmar. While I generally stick to purchasing one piece per country, I simply couldn’t resist picking up more than that in Myanmar! The watercolor painting of sunset at U Bein Bridge was a gem I found on my most recent trip to Myanmar. Shaggers and I headed out on the back of some motorbikes from Mandalay to the bridge to catch the sunset. Missing it by a few minutes, we decided that we’d walk the length of it anyway, since we were already there. On our way across the bridge, we passed by a shop selling paintings. My eyes were instantly drawn to this piece, and while I stopped to gaze at it for a bit, I moved on. Reaching the end, the sun had completely set, and we turned around to head back. Mentioning to Shaggers that I should have bought that picture, she said we should stop by on our way. Noticing that most of the shops we had passed earlier were already closed up, I thought my window of opportunity had closed. Nearing the end of the bridge, we found them putting everything away, ready to head home for the day. Luckily they let me look through the paintings until I found the one I had wanted. Now it is mine! Once I frame it, I’ll display it in my home.

The other piece, the wooden carving of a long neck lady, was picked up on my first trip to Myanmar in Inle Lake. Stopping into a shop on the lake, I was taken aback by the native people who adorn themselves with gold plates around their neck, stretching them more and more each year. They were simply beautiful. As I walked around, this carving stood out out to me, and I loved the profile.

I love that I am brought back back to my travels as I look around my apartment at the beautiful pieces I have (and will continue to) collected over the years. When I’m old and grey, I will be able to share my stories with others and recall these wonderful memories.