Taejongdae and the newest window

Facebook reminded me of this post today, which shows the full cycle of the seasons the last time I was in Korea. I got inspired to take another picture out the window, adding it to the collection.

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Our neighbourhood is older, but it is rapidly being changed from large, family houses to concrete block apartments for single or double occupancy. I will document the walk to work this week and then follow it up every couple of months. My guess is that things will change a lot in that time.

Busan is amazing, even if our job is very (VERY) stressful.  I won’t bore you with a laundry list of the same issues that teachers face all over the world every single day, but it’s been a long-ass week. Let’s leave it at “Wow! My brain managed to invent a brand new form of insomnia! Now I can neither fall asleep at night nor stay asleep after 4:30AM!”

Every weekend, we simply must get outside. img_5870

Taejongdae is a natural area that sits a little to the south of Busan proper, on the island of Young-do. It’s a little teeny bit of a hilly walk, but nothing compared to even most streets here in the land of 45 degree angle hills. Yes, there is a land train of sorts that can ferry you with hoards of your closest friends the 2.5 km to the lighthouse. But seriously, you don’t want to take that monstrosity. It’s an easy walk.

The best part of living in Busan is how many amazing rocks there are to climb! They are just everywhere. Last weekend we climbed up the rocks on top of a mountain near our place, and this weekend we climbed lots of rocks next to the sea.

My personal favourite part of Taejongdae is the kitties. I’m a sucker for sweet cats, but the blind one at the observation deck is just the cutest. He spends all day lying in the sun, receiving food from humans, sitting politely, and getting lots and lots of pets. He seems very happy indeed. What a life, where all you know is that there are nice animals all around you all day who like to feed you and pet you? He is very fat and well-cared for, even out there on the island’s edge.

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There are some very healthy looking kittens as well.

The area has a lot of stairs to climb and some great views of the city from a different vantage point.

We both got to take some nice pictures of us in our travelling element.

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Definitely worth a visit. You could probably even get a minbak or a hotel around there and chill out overnight.

To get to Taejongdae: 

  • Go to Nampo Station on Line 1 
  • Take Exit 6 and walk up to the bus stop nearest Young-do Bridge 
  • Take the 8, 88, 101, or 30 to the very last stop. (They all go by the same route, so just take the first one of those that shows up)
  • Walk up to the gate and into the park!

Two Weeks

“Bullies never prosper,” I say aloud in class.

“Unless, that is, you want to be President.”


It’s two weeks since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. It’s high time I said something about it. I am running on approximately 600mg caffeine, 2 hours of sleep, nine teaching contact hours, and 1 kilo of kimchi. I also bought myself the present of a Chinese tuocha this evening. It’s like a pressed cake made of tea.

I’ve been an incoherent ball of unpindownable emotions since Wednesday the 10th, my time. 13:30 Korea Standard Time found me glued to the NPR livestream on my borrowed smartphone, heart beating painfully out of my chest. Hands shaking. Inability to teach confirmed. It didn’t help that I was to do yet another godamned singing lesson about the storybook ‘Ali Baba (Jr.) and the FOUR Thieves.’ It all broke loose then and basically hasn’t been right since.


“You might see some scary news in the coming weeks,” I say to the eldest of our kindergarteners, gathered near my knees.

“Scary things might happen. It is an emergency. That’s why teacher needed to look at her phone, ok?”

“I’m going to call the police and tell them that Coleen Teacher was using her phone during class!” says, Daniel Lee.


I just can’t bring myself to wear the red, white, and blue skirt I wore on Election Day in the hope of unity. I feel like throwing it away.

I vacillate between wondering whether anything has really changed or if it all has, and wanting to tear my hair out every time I hear the words, ‘President-Elect Donald Trump’ and thinking surely I’m over that by now. I mean, it has been two weeks.

It’s a good thing that I listen to All Things Considered in the shower in the morning; the only moral response to such words is immediate vomiting. Obviously it’s cleaner to have placed oneself directly under a stream of hot water to avoid any unsightly bits of dignity or stench when trying to appear a professional at work less than an hour later.

On the night of 10th November, I was in my ninth class of nine at 17:30 local time. I checked my phone for the last time that night, praying against hope that it was some horrible joke.

DONALD TRUMP ELECTED 45TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

I don’t remember which group on my Twitter broke the news. I know that I immediately redirected my anger and despair onto an undeserving student. She’d been talking in Korean all class, even when I’d expressly forbidden talking during the quiz. I walked over and picked up her paper. I tore it up.

She cried.

I cried.

The pointless and unrecorded quiz was put back together with brown packing tape because our school is too cheap to buy any supplies at all.

I was obviously just some arsehole American.


‘Trump won. I don’t know where to start.’

‘I went to the temple up the road and lit a candle. Then I bought a bottle of soju. Now, I write. I couldn’t muster going to Home Plus and I can’t see up here in the clear night. Half a moon is up there, grinning.’

‘I knew it. To be honest, as soon as he was the nominee I knew we were fucked. Brexit on last June 23 showed it. The stars aren’t laughing at us. They just don’t care at all.’

In case anyone cares, I did in fact hold my nose and vote for Clinton.



In 2012, people yelled ‘Let him die!’  at a Republican Primary debate. I was studying in France. I was shocked. I thought that was as bad as it could possibly get in US politics.

Hubris.

Sheer disbelief that all the facts and well-reasoned arguments in the world could win over the blind fucking racist idiots with lethal force in hand, who decided that the best thing to throw at a powerful female candidate for the Presidency was SHE’S A WITCH in the closing hours of the election campaign. I shit you not. Reading the hashtag feed for #SpiritCooking on any social media may be capable of producing immediate frontal lobe cancerous growths, but it was worth it. There is no secret recipe to why Clinton lost. It is all the worst possible things it could be. Everyone would do well to stop trying to explain it all away as some fluke. Some mistake. Some accident.

This is no accident.

This is who we have become.


Clinton’s concession speech was brutally painful to listen to. I was, pre-emptively, in the shower on Thursday morning Korea Time.

‘“I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will, and hopefully sooner than we think right now.

And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.’

All I could say was, ‘Bullshit.’

As eloquent in defeat as she was, Clinton was not reassuring me in that speech. I don’t believe her. I don’t think she believes her. I now believe that women cannot do everything. That we will be judged on our possession of a vagina alone. That we are reducible to the sum of our genitalia when it comes to the most powerful office in the world (barring Russia, but who seriously thinks that Putin will be giving up power to a woman anytime soon?).

Women can’t have it all. And maybe we never can. And maybe everything I’ve believed my whole life has to change. And maybe people aren’t inherently good. And maybe I’m suddenly wishing for more Leviathan. And maybe I’m crying.


‘If this were a movie, that would be foreshadowing.’

TrumpWorld tower in Busan looms next to the big bridge opposite Gwangalli Beach in the gathering darkness of twilight. I squint to look at it. Sure enough, that’s what it says. It is the 5th of November, 2016. I carry a Trump effigy made out of a toilet roll in my backpack.

Instead of The Guy, we burned a Trump on the beach that night. The effect turned out just a tad gruesome. Fittingly, the first part of him to burn was his crotch. Grab him right in the…


If this all seems a bit disjointed and unhinged, that’s accurate. I haven’t been able to sleep properly since the election. I keep seeing the images of Trump’s orange, smug-arse face behind the podium. I keep seeing Nigel Farage, the architect of Brexit, in that golden fucking elevator. I keep thinking mildly violent thoughts, which basically chicken out at hoping some vaguely horrible accident might befall the president elect before he could be elevated to the Oval Office.

But it’s too late anyway. He’s already installed trolls, misogynists, white supremacists, and openly-racist fuckers. They would just continue what he has started.

One good thing: I have every right to comment and analyse. When everyone was/is so wrong, there is space for even an overworked, insomniac TEFL teacher in Busan at the table. I did my research last summer. I courted the crazy on Twitter, asking Trump supporters questions about their stances. They offered me nothing of substance. A fair few told me the now-common line, ‘I want change. I voted for Obama in 2008, and now I’ll vote for Trump.’

I dismissed them as batshit at the time.


The rooftop is my escape. No CCTV with hawkish moms watching my every breath in the classroom. No bank tellers helpfully stepping away from my foreign arse at the counter and refusing to serve me for the crime of speaking in English. No Trump. Right? Right?

I went up there twice the night he won. Once to scrawl angrily on my journal.

Once to weep.


I don’t trust myself to write anymore.

I don’t see the point of writing in the post-fact age. Maybe I should just retreat into lies on this blog and wade into the wide river of bullshit that is the American Psyche at the moment. It’s the hot thing right now. Lying.
Some would spin it as fiction. And I am suddenly retreating into fiction. News, commentary, and writing about my grinding day-to-day existence are too painful.

My idealism, more ironic than dear-held since at least 2010 is drowning in cynicism. Or perhaps burning away is the more accurate metaphor. I think that I’m over it and moving from anger and automatic vomiting to something approaching acceptance. Then I see something like this:

And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel like I’m the one burning up on the beach in effigy, slowly consumed by a fire started by someone who thinks it’s ok to grab me by the pussy. An Attorney General who doesn’t believe that grabbing someone’s gentials against their will constitutes sexual assault. A family that will invariably enrich itself and peddle Trump Steaks all over the world in exchange for favour, while they laugh at us for speaking the words ‘conflict of interest.’

I dissolve into the stream of ‘FUCKs’ plastered all over my social media for the last two weeks, which my friends and family must surely be tiring of. I collapse on the floor of my tiny-arse kitchen here in Busan, stomach in knots. I try and fail to sleep well for the 15th night in a row.


I have decided that the part of me that believed people could make informed democratic decisions that hold lasting ramifications for themselves, their global neighbours, and posterity has to die. I’ll hold a nice funeral and all, but she has to go. There is no more room for her in this brave new world.

Memes will not save us. Protest songs will not save us. Knowing the words that the alt-right calls people like me won’t save us. We (probably) will not save us. My guess is currently that nothing will save us.

It is now the Trumpocene Epoch. There is no going back two weeks.

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Apple Tea

Ingredients: 

  • One large, ripe apple 
  • 2 TBSP Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Four whole cloves
  • Juice of one lemon 
  • 1 litre of freshly boiled water

In Korea, fruit teas are a big thing. This one is not fermented like the ones that we often sip in our apartment, but it turned out pink and bright. Enjoy in the Fall, when spicy notes should fill your home (even if it is only 200 sq. ft.). fotorcreated

Things I’ve Learned From Living in 200 Square Feet (So Far…)

I wish I had some amazing, chic Tiny House photos to share with you. I started dreaming of tiny living about three years ago, when I was moving to London in the Fall of 2013.

With the property prices in the state of my birth rising and rising and rising like some over-leavened cake, it was feeling unreachable already that we would have the kind of house that I grew up in. In Denver, house prices are up 48% since 2011 (and rents are up 50% in the same time period). Put another way, that’s a 10% rise every year.

The suburbs are also the place that I have fought hard to leave since high school, and to which I cannot return for having been changed by travel in the intervening ten years. My living situations have been unconventional since leaving college in 2010, when I started living out of suitcases and on multiple continents full-time.

  • In Chile, I lived in a hostel/host family with lots of boarders. Up to 60 people stayed and I helped out with serving meals, doing all the dishes by hand while chatting (Spanish skills overload!), and keeping the rooms nice.
  • In London, we shared a Victorian terraced house in the East End with six-eight other working adults. We shared a single toilet, and a single shower. It was a long year even if I loved our neighbourhood.
  • In China, we lived in what now seems like a giant apartment with a living room and a balcony. We lived above our landlords, a Shanghainese couple in their 70s.
  • In Iceland, we happily lived with a bunch of counselors and/or volunteers in an almost commune-like atmosphere. I miss the shared space, intense as it can be to live in such a small community.

img_5443Our new Korean apartment in Busan: about 200 square feet. We’ve made it! We’re in a tiny house!

Except that it isn’t all woodworked and handmade-looking, and it is stacked within a building full of other ones. Still, since we aspire to living in a very small house of our very own one day this is great practice. Living in 200 square feet is changing our habits already. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about tiny living (from real experience!) in the last month.

Keeping the house clean is easier and harder at the same time

It’s smaller, so there is less to clean. I clean for about an hour every Friday after the workweek. But it’s smaller, so the mess takes up a bigger overall percentage of your living space. One ill placed dirty dish and it looks like our kitchen is filthy. I recently figured out that I can wedge the clothes horse into the corner a little further under the boiler, opening up the kitchen by about a foot. That’s huge in our tiny space!

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My sister and her boyfriend made a schedule for their house titled, ‘The Gears.’ There is a small cleaning/maintenance task every day, and the title is a reminder that if one of the ‘gears’ isn’t working then the whole thing starts to clunk along or grind to a halt. In a tiny house/apartment, the maintenance has to be done daily. You have to keep up on the mess or it will swallow you.

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This is basically all the cabinet space we have. Use all available space. 

Headphones will (help) keep you sane if you need ‘Me Time’

We are two people living in 200 sq. feet. We are also two giant people (both over six feet tall). We share one room and two closet-sized not-exactly-rooms. We are both introverts.

When you need a little relaxation with trashy reruns of COPS on Youtube, but don’t necessarily want to include your partner in your guilty pleasure, you need headphones. It does cut one off a little from the world, but for a couple hours a day it can be necessary. We spend a huge amount of our time together, and everyone needs a little break sometimes.

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You might want a big fancy tea towel, but a tiny one (or none!) will do. 

You just don’t need that much

Minimalism is a huge deal in 2016, not least because many Millennials are redefining what it means to live well. It’s not always a choice to have fewer things, given how little disposable income we seem to have as a generation. But slapping a trendy label like, ‘Minimalism’ on our inability to acquire the traditional markers of economic success makes it feel better. No car? Minimalist! No property? Minimalism! See, see…it’s a trendy lifestyle choice and not merely carefully masked desperation.

Being full-time wanderers, we don’t have a lot of stuff to begin with. Some of the stuff we had growing up or in our early adult years is stored with our parents (thank you!). We brought a suitcase and a backpack each to Korea, and already I’m feeling like we have way too much stuff. There are already clothes that I don’t wear very often, and it already is a question whether we should try to get another fold-up table or not because it might just make things too cluttered.

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Access to Public Space Is Fundamental

The mess is so much more in my face in my Tiny-Ass Kitchen. It doesn’t help that this tiny space doubles as our laundry room. I have about four square feet in front of the stove. We do laundry twice a week, and this means we have to hang our clothes up to dry.

Unless we get a great day like today! Then I get to put my washing outside on the communal line on the rooftop. Then it gets to dry in hours instead of days and smells better than any dryer sheet could approximate.

Public spaces like pubs, cafes, parks, and rooftops are key to living in such a tiny apartment. If my arse is sore from sitting on our floor for one too many history documentaries, I can go to a coffee shop and sit in something resembling a comfy living room. If my tiny kitchen is bare, I can go to a restaurant and get cheap and casual food. If I’m losing it from touching too much concrete in the city (anthill?), then up the mountain into the forest it is.

img_5438Small Touches Make a Big Difference

I made this wreath for autumn with my mom and sister back in Colorado. It hangs on the wall, pulling our ‘tiny house’ together. I’ve decorated one wall near our bed with the dreams that we have already lived, as a form of traveller’s dreamcatcher. I took washi tape to the cabinets and fridge (which now looks like its style choices were influenced by David Bowie in the 1980s).

This is our home for now. A lot of people teaching in Korea don’t buy things for fear of later having to sell them. This is not about buying stuff. My wall is from my travels. Our wedding pictures are from the best day of our lives. The macrame curtain is from my hours and hours spent listening to Casefile podcast in Louisville, trying to not stress out about the visa. Those two posters hung in our apartment in Shanghai earlier this year. I arrange the things we already have in optimal ways, to make it more like Our House and less like a concrete living cube.

 

Find small (and for the nomads, light) things that make you feel like you are home, and use them to your advantage.


I’ll do an update of this post in five months’ time, when we’ve been living in our ‘Tiny House’ for six months.

What have you learned from your first forays into ‘Tiny’ living? Have you thought about how much space you have in square feet? Have you adopted any Minimalist tendencies? 

 

Songjeong Beach: A Mini-Vacation and An October Swim

Hey so, we now live in a beach town! I’m so excited about it, because I’ve always loved the beach and never lived near one. Even though we’re working a lot of hours at our hagwon job, we can go to the beach on a weeknight if we want to. It’s a bit like a mini-vacation any day, with free beaches and very cheap treats from the GS25 convenience stores.

But sometimes the most famous beach in Korea (Haeundae Beach) is just too busy. Sometimes Gwangalli is just a little too foreigner-y despite its endearing grungy edge. Songjeong Beach (송정해수욕장) is a quiet alternative that we tried out today as a belated 29th birthday mini-trip.

It’s easy to get there, and very quiet compared to the bigger city beaches downtown. We took the subway and then a city bus, and it took only about 45 minutes from our apartment. Songjeong Beach is clean, very quiet, and friendly. It feels like a real beach town, with a Northern California vibe. The beach is packed with surfing shops and clubs, and people were in the water all day long catching waves and teaching lessons. We will definitely give surfing a try while we live in Busan.

Due to a minor health complication I hadn’t been allowed to swim for a month, so this was the first opportunity for me to go into the sea and not just look at it longingly. We drew some funny looks from the Korean surfers since we weren’t in wet suits, but it wasn’t really needed unless you wanted to take a long swim. To be fair, it is mid-October and the wind was pretty chilly, but the water wasn’t all that cold and it was really nice to take a short dip. Much, much warmer than a summer’s jump into an Icelandic Lake.

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If you come to Busan (and you definitely should, as it kicks arse), you should give a thought to spending a day at Songjeong Beach. You can apparently hike there from Jangsan Station as well, which we will post when we have done.

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I’m so excited to live in a beach town.

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How to get to Songjeong Beach: Take Line 2 (Light Green) to Jangsan Station. Use Exit 9 and take the 139 or 180 city bus. Listen carefully for the stop, since it is all in Korean. It’s the first one after the tunnel. You can also take the 1001 express bus or the 100-1, but as I’m not too sure where the stops are for them I haven’t included instructions here.