The Squat Toilet

  • This post is a little TMI, so if you prefer not to read about my bathroom misadventures abroad, stop reading now.

Call me spoiled, but I have never been particularly fond of bathrooms without “real” toilets. In fact, they strike fear and anxiety in me that will probably (unfortunately) lead to a bladder infection one day.

It all started in elementary school. My mother and I were at the family friend’s party in upstate New York when the septic tank crapped out (pun absolutely intended). They told me I had to pee in the woods, and I simply couldn’t do it. Instead, I cried and had my mom drive me into town so I could use the restroom at the local toothless bar. It wasn’t ideal, but it was better than the woods.

A few years later, on a trip to Greece with my mom, her friend, and her friend’s son, we had decided to take a road trip from Athens to Halkidiki (about six hours). I was completely unaware of the concept of “Turkish toilets” and naively downed a bottle of Fanta before our departure. Not too long into our journey, I had to use the bathroom. We pulled over and, to my horror, the bathroom was nothing but a hole in the ground with a footprint on either side of it. I ended up taking a nap in the car to keep my mind off the fact that my bladder was going to explode.

Let’s fast forward to Korea. 2015.

I was meeting my friend Hannah in Daegu. After a long bus ride, I finally arrived at the terminal and figured I’d use the restroom. The line was long, but I waited. Finally, a woman exited the stall and it was my turn. I pushed the door open and there was nothing but a squat toilet. Panic. I paused for a moment before turning around and walking away very quickly. I had to pee pretty bad at this point. And, it turned out, that Hannah was across the city at another terminal. So, I took a taxi to find her and we wandered around until we came across a Mom’s Touch (a popular fast food restaurant) where I could use the bathroom.

And we’re going to fast forward again. Korea. 2018.

Krysta and I were in Busan. She was getting her hair dyed, which was a long process (more than 6 hours). I sat with her, watching TV and drinking cold water because it was so brutally hot outside. Finally, it hit me. I had to pee. So, I asked the manager where the bathroom was. She grabbed a key and led me to a door outside. She unlocked it. I froze. It was a squat toilet.

I awkwardly walked inside and closed the door behind me. It was oppressively hot. Terrified I was going to pee on myself, I removed my pants and underwear and hung them on the doorknob. Looking back, it was probably pretty stupid, but I didn’t want to take any chances. As I placed one foot on either side of the “toilet” and proceeded to squat down, I had an overwhelming fear of falling over and reached out to grab the wall on either side of me. What a position I was in. I finished up and went back inside the salon. There wasn’t even a sink, so I slathered my hands in hand sanitizer and waited for Krysta.

I have never felt so embarrassed in private before. As well as mildly traumatized. The entire experience was as bad as I always imagined it to be, and I hope I never have to do that again.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Do you have a bathroom horror story from abroad? Feel free to share in the comments!

Dreams of Becoming a Digital Nomad

Hey guys! I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been focusing most of my time on the food blog I share with Matt (which can be found here) as well as our Instagram page (which can be found on our blog page). I wanted to come back to my personal blog, though, to write about what’s been on my mind lately.

Recently, I started binge-watching The Amazing Race from season one and it has seriously reignited my desire to start traveling again. I’ve been scouring the internet to see how some people have made their dreams of living abroad and traveling long-term a reality. Some blogs I’ve found truly inspiring are The Intrepid Introvert and Nomadic Matt, as well as Eat Your Kimchi (who I have loved since before I lived in Korea.)

Then, I started thinking of things that I could do to make income while living abroad. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was teaching English since I have experience and I have passion for it. So, I started researching some purely online options to teach. After making a post on Facebook and talking to a couple I knew in Korea, I think I am going to try and apply with VIPKID. The hours are flexible, they provide all the teaching materials, and they offer a great base rate of $14/hr.

Ideally, I’d love to travel while teaching to support myself. There are so many places I want to see and things I want to do. Sometimes I feel stupid being 26 years old and not having a stable 9-5, but I don’t think that is something that is ever going to make me happy.

Does anyone else teach English online through a platform like VIPKID? Please tell me about your experiences!

Or, if you are traveling abroad and working remotely doing something else, tell me about that too!

Frustrated

I’m extremely frustrated right now. On the verge of angry, really.

It’s nearly November and I still have not been told when I am getting off for winter break. So, today I decided to ask my boss. As soon as the words came out of my mouth she stopped and stared at me.

“We don’t know yet.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to know?”

Why do I want to know? Are you fucking kidding me?

“I’m trying to make travel arrangements,” I replied calmly.

She brushed me off.

I spent the rest of my time in between classes looking up airfare and accommodations for a variety of different destinations. Prices have already gone up since I started looking several weeks ago.

I refuse to spend one of my two longer breaks in Korea (I only get 6 actual vacation days for the year, split between winter and summer). I have an entire year to explore this country and there are so many other beautiful places to experience nearby. Thailand. Japan. Taiwan. The Philippines. Vietnam.

If I wait any longer, I’m not going to want to pay the price for a plane ticket. No. I refuse to pay the price for a plane ticket.

I’m a planner. Not planning things in advance gives me anxiety. Also, I grew up having a travel agent for a mom.

Rage rage rage. Rant rant rant.

I’m having a chocolate bar and going to sleep.

An International Weekend

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, guys! I’ve had a really busy, really awesome weekend filled with food, music, and exploring!

On Friday, Steve and I spent the day in Seongnamdong (Old Downtown). It was a national holiday (Hangul Proclamation Day), so we had off from work. The streets of Seongnamdong were packed with families: children were carrying balloons and people were eating a variety of street foods.

Steve and I.

Steve and I.

We probably walked around for a few hours until we decided to have some dinner. We came across a dak galbi (fire chicken) restaurant called Yoogane, which is something we’ve been meaning to try, so we had to stop in. The place was so crowded, so it had to be good. We decided to get two servings of dak galbi with bean sprout fried rice (4,500 won/serving, which is about $4), one serving of ramyeun, and cheese to go with it. Oh my god. It was absolutely phenomenal!

Dak galbi.

Dak galbi.

After dinner, we made our way to JJ’s Bar, which was actually having taco night. You can’t say no to tacos, right? So, we got three of them with seasoned rice and refried beans. There was also a poker tournament going on, but we didn’t stay too long.

Tacos at JJ's!

Tacos at JJ’s!

On Saturday, we had plans to attend the Cheoyong Culture Festival at the Ulsan Arts and Culture Center downtown. The Cheoyong Festival is a huge outdoor festival featuring food, crafts, and musical acts from all over the world. Some of the food tents included Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Nepal/India, America, Canada, and (of course) Korean, among others.

Ulsan Culture and Arts Center.

Ulsan Culture and Arts Center.

We tried Indian samosas, Vietnamese spring rolls and banh mi, Turkish kebabs, grilled corn, grilled squid, red bean cakes, pajeon (green onion pancake), and even hamburgers! All the food was absolutely incredible.

Pajeon.

Pajeon.

The craft tents were impressive, as well. There was pottery, hand carved incense burners, handbags, trinkets, and other beautiful items from all over the world. My favorite was one pottery tent where the potter was letting kids spin on the wheel with him. There were also other tables set up with crafts for kids to do, like painting and drawing.

Music also filled the air all day, and there was everything from South American pan pipe performers to a rock ‘n’ roll band from Beijing. Later in the evening, there was a DJ set in one of the tents. Everyone was dancing and it was a lot of fun.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Tia and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Today sucked.

Well, let me rewind.

The “suck” actually started last night when I spent over two hours trying to obtain a digital certificate in order to transfer money from my Korean bank account to my American one. Apparently, they are very serious about financial security here. Which isn’t a bad thing. However, their programs are not compatible with Apple products (I have a Mac), so I had to find a Windows computer to work on. Thankfully, Steve has one.

The second problem was that the program also doesn’t seem to like Google Chrome. So, I had to try and do everything on Internet Explorer which is glitchy and horrible and awful. It kept logging me out. And crashing. And trying to download unnecessary things.

I thought I was going to lose my mind.

At long last: success. Two. Hours. Later. I was finally able to obtain the certificate and transfer it to my mobile. Today, however, when I logged in on my mobile to attempt the transfer, I discovered that I have to register with my bank first. That means more paperwork and more numbers to obtain.

Ugh.

Then, I decided to take a shower to relax a little bit. Ha! Surprise! My hot water wasn’t working! After turning it on and off and pressing all the buttons for nearly 15 minutes, I sucked it up and suffered with ice water. That was horrible. First world problems, but I’m a first world girl.

After my shower (if I can even call it that), I thought I would make some lunch. Ha! Surprise! My gas wouldn’t turn on! I was getting angrier and angrier. I just wanted some eggs. So, I brooded and watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer instead.

Before work, I took a walk down the street to a little chicken place for lunch. For only 2,000 won (less than $2), I got a cup of sweet and spicy boneless fried chicken bites with bite-sized rice cakes. It was delicious. I also made a pit-stop for coffee because I had a feeling I was going to need it today.

I did.

I went into work at 2 PM because my Korean co-worker was supposed to take me to get my phone plan set up. Once again, no such luck. Due to the language barrier, I’m not 100% certain why, but it seemed like some of the shops were closed for some unforeseen reason. Anyway, I’m supposed to meet my coworker at 1 PM tomorrow, and we will go downtown to another shop to try and get it set up.

I also mentioned the fact that my hot water and gas weren’t working. Right there on the spot, he asked me for my apartment key, took it, and said he would take care of it. I didn’t like that. At all. It wasn’t until 9 this evening that he returned with my key and told me that I would have to go for the next 48 hours without functioning utilities!

I am truly seething. Thank the gods this day is over.

Feeling “Normal” Abroad: My One Month Update

Even 7,000 miles away from home, McDonald’s fries taste like McDonald’s fries. And that’s comforting.

I have officially been in Korea for a month and, honestly, it’s a little difficult feeling normal while living abroad.

I don’t speak Korean, although I am making a serious effort to teach myself how to read and write hangeul, which is paying off so far.

It is awkward (and almost always uncomfortable) going into businesses and trying to get what you want through broken phrases and pantomime. Sometimes it works. However, sometimes you and the person you’re trying to communicate with stare at each other while you fervently flail your hands around, distressed.

Sometimes, you get stopped on the street by Jesus freaks. They are persistent. Although, occasionally they have free coffee or tea.

Additionally, while I love Korean food, sometimes I crave salads. And sandwiches. And dinner plates featuring a meat, a vegetable, and a potato. I have found that these things are nearly impossible to find, but when you find one of them (only referring to the salad and sandwich), you buy it and eat it gleefully.

Alternative culture is also pretty nonexistent in Korea. However, it is incredibly important to me. I love heavy metal, goth clubs, and Renaissance Faires. And sometimes, I will sit in my apartment while blasting Metallica and consequently start bawling my eyes out because I desperately miss my whacky haunts from home.

I also desperately miss my friends. I have made very few female friends since coming here and it’s been hard. I’ve met some girls in passing, but I’m just finding it really difficult to reach out. It feels like high school all over again and it sucks. I just really want to explore all these awesome beauty shops, and get manicures, and go for coffee with someone. I love me some “me” time, but I’m honestly getting kind of sick of it.

Overall, though, I really am enjoying my time here. I like my job and my apartment. I feel like I’m making a difference through working with kids. I like having the freedom to explore and try new things. I also like that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to go out and have a good time here. Life is good right now.

Chuseok in Gyeongju – Part 3

This morning, we woke up early. We checked out of the motel and got breakfast at a nearby Paris Baguette. After, we took a taxi to Bulguksa Temple, which is the head temple of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. It was about 20 minutes outside of downtown, but well worth the trip. The paint on the temples looked brand new and you could smell incense while people knelt for prayer. It was hard to believe that the complex was hundreds of years old.

Bulguksa.

Bulguksa.

There were actually many temples to walk around, each with its own beautiful representation of Buddha inside. There were also various sculptures and incredible architectural features everywhere. I am a huge fan of dragons, and I had to take pictures whenever I saw them.

Dragon and Bulguksa.

Dragon and Bulguksa.

When we were done exploring Bulguksa, we took a cab to Seokguram Grotto, which is technically part of the Bulguksa Temple complex, but about another 15 minutes east and in the mountains. As we ascended, it became cool and breezy. The view down the side of the mountain was incredible. To get to the grotto, we had to walk through the forest and climb many stairs. Photographs were not allowed of the beautiful Buddha sculpture inside, but if you are ever in Gyeongju, it is absolutely worth a visit.

Seokguram Grotto.

Seokguram Grotto.

After, we took a cab back down towards the Anapji area. Our next goal was to find a ssambap restaurant for lunch. Ssambap is a traditional dish of Gyeongju, and it is a type of Korean barbecue served with rice and various leaves (lettuce, cabbage, etc.) to wrap your meat and banchan (side dishes) in. Our meal came with so many banchan (including a whole fried fish) and everything was absolutely delicious!

Ssambap for lunch!

Ssambap for lunch!

I had an incredible weekend in Gyeongju. My calves feel like they are going to explode and I definitely have shin splints, but it was so worth it to see all the things this beautiful city has to offer. I definitely want to go back to this museum without walls because there is still so much more to see there!

Chuseok in Gyeongju – Part 2

Trying to find our way back downtown proved to be a struggle. Once again, we had no map, no WiFi, no point of reference. Nothing. Pretty much completely reliant on guess work and sheer luck. I could feel blisters starting to form on my feet. I was terribly hungry and thirsty. But we walked. And walked.

Finally, I recognized some of the large mound tombs. We were somewhere in the general vicinity. After making our way closer to the shops and restaurants, we saw a naengmyeon (cold noodle) shop and absolutely had to stop and eat. I got naengmyeon with chicken breast, Steve got spicy noodles, and we shared an order of mandu (dumplings).

My chicken naengmyeon.

My chicken naengmyeon.

Following sustenance and water, we were feeling much more like humans again. The next order of business was trying to find a place to sleep for the night. We checked two guesthouses that were seemingly closed. I was getting frustrated. After the third closed guesthouse, a Korean woman saw us struggling and tried to help. (Side note: she was cycling with a partner and visibly bleeding from the shoulder, and still insisted on helping.) She spoke very little English, but took out her phone and pulled up a map. I took a picture of the map with my phone, and we thanked her profusely. Her kindness was so unexpected, but greatly appreciated.

We walked around for another 20 minutes and still could not find a place to stay. All of a sudden, we saw a Western couple turning the corner, looked at each other, and immediately ran across the street to talk to them. They were from Norway and gave us detailed directions back to the downtown area and bus terminal, where there are many motels.

We thanked them and successfully made our way back downtown. We settled on a place called Motel Icarus, solely because the name was Greek. It cost 50,000 won ($41.00) for one night and it was actually really nice. Not like fleabag motels you find back home. I regret not taking any pictures because the walls were literally covered in images of Santorini. Bizarre. But cool.

We left our things in the room and headed back out to Anapji Pond, which is located in Gyeongju National Park. It was part of an ancient Silla palace complex. When we arrived, there were masses of people making their way around the pond. It was a surreal and beautiful experience.

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Anapji Pond.

After leaving Anapji Pond, we walked down the main road and passed many different street food vendors. Everything looked good, but it was a perfect night for ice cream. So that’s what we got. We walked around for a bit, and Steve spotted Cheomseongdae, which is the ancient astronomy observatory. I had been wanting to see it, so we made a little detour. It was all lit up at night, which made it extremely striking.

Cheomseongdae Observatory.

Cheomseongdae Observatory.

Then, we walked some more and came across a little strip with shops and eateries. Steve got a tornado potato at one stand and we noticed the vendor was making something. He told us it was an ancient royal candy. It is called kkultarae and it is made from honey, maltose, and a nut filling. He was so friendly, I just had to buy a box from him. I haven’t tried it yet, but I am really looking forward to!

Man making kkultarae candy.

Man making kkultarae candy.

We were so exhausted after this, so we went back to the motel and called it a night.

Chuseok in Gyeongju – Part 1

Chuseok (추석) is a national holiday celebrated in Korea. It is a harvest festival which falls around the autumn equinox, on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. From what I’ve been told, Chuseok is most comparable to American Thanksgiving. Koreans spend this holiday with their families in the towns of their ancestors and eat traditional foods.

During this time, it is also customary to give gifts. For the past few weeks, I have been seeing many different gift baskets and specialty items popping up in the supermarkets. Some of the most popular ones I’ve seen include Spam (yes, that Spam), oil, and soy sauce. I’ve also seen stations set up selling what I think are little sweets (rice buns and something that resembles a brittle).

Chuseok also means that I get a four day weekend.

So, Steve and I decided to take a short trip to Gyeongju on Sunday, which is roughly an hour by bus north of Ulsan. However, it took nearly three hours for us to get there because of all the Chuseok traffic.

Steve and I on the bus.

Steve and I on the bus.

It was hot and uncomfortable, but we made it there in one piece. Our first order of business was to visit the Gyeongju National Museum and after jumping in a taxi, we quickly learned that the city sights are very spread out. We arrived at the Museum and, to our delight, there was no admission fee. There were also games set up for children and their families to play because of the holiday.

We weren’t there for ten minutes when a Korean man asked us to take a picture of him and his children. After, he asked where we were from and even asked us to take a picture with his kids. His English was very good and he said that his children have never seen foreigners before, so it would be nice for them. It was actually quite cute.

We parted ways and went on to explore the Museum, which was made up of several large buildings (with lots of stairs) and galleries. Most of the galleries were dedicated to Silla art. The Silla Kingdom was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea and was ruled for nearly 1,000 years.

Buddha sculpture at the Gyeongju National Museum.

Buddha sculpture at the Gyeongju National Museum.

Below the main complex, there was also a beautiful structure surrounded by a lovely little pond. We took a walk down there for a closer look.

At Gyeongju National Museum.

At Gyeongju National Museum.

After the Museum, our plan was to visit Bunhwangsa Temple, a temple from the Old Silla Era. However, we might have had a hard time trying to find a taxi. So we walked. And walked. And it was rather hot out. Finally, we saw a taxi approaching and we waved it down. Too bad it already had passengers and they waved and laughed as they passed. With no map and no WiFi, Steve and I had absolutely no idea where we were. So we just kept on walking.

In the distance, we saw a bridge. As we got nearer, we heard music. We couldn’t tell if it was a recording or live, so we just followed it until we stumbled upon Gyochon Village. Gyochon Village is a traditional hanok village that offers glassmaking classes, pottery workshops, quilting, and tea ceremony training. They were having a festival for Chuseok complete with live music performances, costumed performers, and more games. It was so wonderful! We spent a good amount of time there before grabbing some water at the cafe and trying to find our way back downtown.

It’s the Little Things

Last night, I walked into a restaurant all by myself, read a menu that was entirely in Korean (literally zero English words/characters), ordered in Korean, and got exactly what I wanted. Then, I took the bus all by myself and successfully made it to my destination. In one piece, mind you.

The rest of my evening was spent planning lessons, watching absolutely ridiculous clips of old British comedies, and taking an impromptu late-night walk around Ok-dong.

It’s the little things.