Getting Back Out There

What was my one New Year’s resolution I said I’d stick too? Writing more. Apparently, writing more actually meant writing less. Internal dialogue now reads: good job Kat, you’re a lazy arse. Cheers to starting again! Again.

Budhha statue facing the coast

Budhha statue facing the coast

One thing that every person who has ever lived away from home knows is that home isn’t actually a place, it’s a feeling. Throughout my 7.5 months here, I’ve come to feel very “at home” in South Korea; now here comes the kicker. The second thing that every person who has ever lived away from home knows is that at some point in your big adventure, you realize that as awesome as the place you feel “at home” is, it’s not really home. Home is where your people are, and as lucky as I have been to meet some new extended family in Ulsan, my home people are in Canada…and the other week I was having every Waygookian’s feared moment of “holy shit home nostalgia”.

Now, if you’re hit with this feeling like a semi just ran into you during a lovely stroll, you have a few options:

Option 2: ignore the problem by emotionally eating until you hate yourself and miss home, in which case you might as well have taken option 1 because then you would at least still look okay in a bikini.

Option 3: ignore the problem by forgetting it in a bottle of soju, or many bottles of soju…but then that’s every other Friday night in South Korea so that’s not really gonna change your circumstances. In fact, I’m willing to bet that choosing this option will result in your home sickness rising…as your hangover does.

Option 4: undertake options 2 and 3 with some other feeling homesick friends, and then you can commiserate together about your bad decisions and your impending weight gain and self loathing.

If none of these appeals to you, or you’ve exhausted these options until your apartment could be used for the “you didn’t clean your room” lesson of your textbook, then you’re ready for option 5.

temple and side of smoke signal

temple and side of smoke signal

Option 5: talk to your friends and family at home, give yourself 3 minutes to feel bad for yourself, and then slap yourself in the face and remember that you’re in a foreign country and there are a ton of cool shit things to see and do. Then grab one of your other homesick friends, and go do it. You’ll feel better for being out and about, be happy that you took advantage of your time away, and you’ll undoubtedly feel closer to the people at home because you’ll see and do things that they would love, or hate, and instead of eating a tub of ice cream when you think about them, you’ll take a picture of whatever good/bad thing you’re doing, and smile. Then you’ll send them that picture, and rub it in their face that they’re not there with you (just kidding, sort of).

Recently, I started feeling like I didn’t want to renew my contract because I wanted to be with all of “my people”, but I also knew that I would regret it infinitely if I didn’t renew for another year because heck, I’m 23; if I don’t do it now, when?

With this firmly in mind, I chose to go with option number 5 (ok, there was a little bit of ice cream involved, but my skirts still fit so I got my shit together before any real damage happened).

view of the Korean coast from the Buddha statue

view of the Korean coast from the Buddha statue

Making a return appearance from previous posts, Mr. Jung (my good ol’ hiking buddy) suggested we take in the coastal sites of Dong-gu the weekend before last. Forgetting that I would be having dinner and drinks the night before for a friend’s birthday (and that dinner and drinks always turns into dinner and many drinks), I enthusiastically took him up on his offer.

Even though the morning of was a little slow going, and I got stuck in my climbing top for about a minute before the fuzzy headed panic subsided and I realizes that the top was in fact, my pants, I am – as always – so glad I went.

Normally, Mr. Jung and I tackle the mountains in the Yeongnam Alps close to my home. These mountains have the traditional lots of rocks, lots of trees kind of feel that is also good if you’re having a missing Canada moment. Today however, he led me to the architectural high school that he worked at for 30 years, and still visits from time to time to “feel young” as he puts it. Thanks to a lifetime of being an outdoorsman (in Korea, this means that he likes to walk a lot), he discovered a small path behind the school that leads you through the traditional forested canopy (that at this time of year still hadn’t recovered it’s former green glory), and into a vista that is more reminiscent of a Star trek holodeck adventure.

Mr Jung and Mr Park head to the lookout

Mr Jung and Mr Park head to the lookout

The mountains, being so close to the sea as they were, started to take on a dune-like texture, with sand and rocky pebbles both vying for the attention of the invisible holes in my shoes. The view was incredible; still-winter dead trees were being pushed aside for the new, pink blossoms that told me spring was firmly on its way, and these trees in turn gave way to open, sand coloured hills with blackened stumps and more of those beautiful flowers. It doesn’t sound incredible to describe, but then again how can one make black and twisted stumps sound beautiful? But they were, in a “I’m a huge nerd and maybe this could be my home planet if I were part of the Dr. Who universe” kind of way. You’ll have to let the pictures, and your imagination, speak for themselves.

Mr Jung and Mr Park climbing into the holodeck

Mr Jung and Mr Park climbing into the holodeck

From here, we climbed higher to discover one of the best views of the Ulsan ship yard that I’ve ever seen…but seeing as how it’s the only bird’s-eye view I’ve had of the yard, that might need to be taken with a little grain of salt. One thing I can be sure of though is the way I felt coming over the rise and seeing the sea spread out below me. There’s nothing like it. Or so I thought.

This mini hike was an exercise in handling sensory overload, because we went from one setting to another, and yet they all seemed to somehow flow together. Stepping off the space-age rocks to a gravel trail and green trees seemed natural, so too did the old stone horse enclosure nestled in the tall grass that we came across; and when we climbed over that to wind our way up a small mountain that seemed a combination of all of the above to discover a small but not forgotten temple tucked into flower bushes just bursting with colour, I thought I’d seen it all. But then we followed the temple trail to a Buddhist shrine, and when I turned my back, I was once again greeted with the sight of the Korean coast below me. Surely, the clear blue water hitting the rocks, the statue at my back and spying the small temple-like resting place we would soon visit was the cherry on top. Surely, there couldn’t be more. There was.

Not only was there a small temple tucked away into the side of the mountain, there was also a larger-than-life smoke signal that Korean soldiers used to man while watching for invaders from the sea. And this is where the tail end of option 5 comes in, because when I saw that, it brought me full circle to my first big adventure: living in Oman. The refurbished signal station reminded me so much of the forts that my Dad used to take us kiddiewinks (that would be myself and my 3 older siblings) to see. And there it is, having new adventures that remind you of your “home people”, and make you smile…they really do make the home sickness go away (and in case you’re wondering, I did take that picture and show it to my Dad over skype 🙂 ).

Shipyard through the new blooms

Shipyard through the new blooms


After stopping here for some more impossible views, we continued onward until we eventually followed a man made, stone path graced by – what else? – small beehive tombs and more of those pink buds that I wish my green thumbed nana could replant for me. We finished our “hike” by walking along the coast, where camping season was in full swing. Families with their entire houses packed into the back of their cars, all in matching camping gear, could be seen rubbing shoulders and sharing soju with their camping neighbours. One thing you have to understand about Korea is that they are obsessed with camping; but it’s not the kind of camping you’ll find in Canada or at a designated camp grounds. This is a let’s sleep in a tent, on the side of the road by a mini river, or wherever the heck else we can kind of camping. Some families set up simply for a day just to spend the afternoon by the sea…in a tent; it’s an interesting sort of lifestyle here.

old, stone horse enclosure

old, stone horse enclosure

And what could be more interesting than finishing our day by hitchhiking a ride with a lovely Korean woman and her son back to the nearest town so we could eat boiled pork intestines (or rather, so Mr. Jung could eat boiled pork intestines, and I could pick at the garlic and soybean paste and hope the flavours limited my gag reflex) before heading our separate ways?

It’s all too easy to lose ourselves in memories of home, and have our minds locked on the idea that the only way to be happy is to be back there with the people we love…but if we stop a minute and throw our whole selves into the experience at hand, we can realize that we love where we are just as much as we do home. Like so many movies say, it’s not better or worse love, it’s just different; and experiencing new and different things is never a bad thing.






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