Tag Archives: relax

Go ride a bike.

 

“When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race.” -H.G. Wells

I’m sorry, I cheated on a previous blog post. I recommended a bike ride along the Han River in Seoul as a fabulous Spring activity if you are living in Korea, yet my feet hadn’t connected with pedals in almost a year. In an attempt to redeem myself, I along with two friends, ventured into Seoul this past Sunday and were successful in renting bikes and having a grand and glorious day. We saw kites, kid cars, bball players, swan boats, speed walkers, unicyclers, tandem bikers, gardeners, and dancing toddlers to name a few. Everyone was out on the river this weekend and you should have been too.

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I know there are many places along the river to rent bikes, but I recommend starting your day at the Ttukseom Resort Seoul Subway Station (Line 7). It is conveniently located right on the water and you can spot the rental shop as soon as you walk out of the station. I paid 3,000 won for the first hour (less than $3.00) and I left my ID with the rental shop. When I returned more than three hours later I paid a bit more for the extra time and collected my ID. The process was easy and foreigner friendly.

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 Biking along the Han River was one of the best things I have done this Spring. Please enjoy my pictures and video included below and if you’ve rented bikes at a different location I would love to hear about your experience.

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A Seoul Spring on the Han

Something about being near water is simply relaxing. When the weather finally agrees to reward Seoul, Korea with a mild and sunny day after a brutally long winter people tend to flock to the Han River. Here are 10 ways to enjoy the river in the coming months.

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photo credit: my cool friend James

1) Banpo Bridge

The Banpo Bridge is home to the world’s largest bridge water fountain show. Arrive around dusk and enjoy the multicolored show of lights and water. It is amazing, this picture from last summer doesn’t do it justice!

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2) Walk, run, or roller-blade – just get out there and be active.

You will feel 100x better after an active river excursion on a day off from teaching English in Korea. Separate pedestrian paths line both sides of the river and you can cross the water at various bridges.

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photo credit

 3) Yes, those are floating islands in the river.

The Seoul Floating Island (3 separate islands) is an artificial island in the river and was built in 2006 after a Seoul citizen, Kin Eun Sung, suggested the project. Kinda cool and random, huh? I love it.  Make your way over to the islands while enjoying the Han River in Seoul.

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photo credit

 4) Bike, bike some more, stop at a  7-11, and then continue on your bike.

I have yet to rent a bike and enjoy a leisurely Sunday ride along the water. I must do this before I leave Korea. Bikers are always smiling and I want to be one of them. Maybe it’s the endorphins, or perhaps it’s the numerous soju and snack breaks. Either way, count me in. Read here for more information on bike rental spots along the Han river in Seoul.

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5) Chill out. 

You can easily lounge for hours in the grassy areas along the river. If you need to use a restroom there is usually always one nearby (Just remember to bring your own TP.). Also, if you find yourself and your English teacher friends craving a pizza (or really ANYTHING) you can simply call and order delivery (You may need help from a friendly Korean.) and minutes later a motorbike will arrive at your blanket with food. It’s simply amazing.

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6) I’m on a boat.

There are many ways to explore the Han river via boat. Check out this write-up about a Hangang river cruise through Seoul.

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7) Go fly a kite.

I know you’re a ‘grown-up’ now, but I promise it’s still fun.

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8) I really wonder where they find all the matching outfits.

I’m always down to people watch while I relax with a beer in hand and the sun on my face. I love spotting the adorably dressed matching couples strolling along the river hand-in-hand.

9) Stretch it out.

I’m a sucker for these friendly reminders to take time to stretch. After an activity-packed day on the river you deserve a little TLC.

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10) Relax, but keep one eye open at all times…

Here is something I promise you will not experience at the Han River. Oh, but you just never know in Korea. I’ve seen some pretty outlandish things.

 

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Jimjilbanging: It’s kind of like eating kimchi, but you’ve got to get naked.

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Korea is lovingly known as The Land of Kimchi, but I argue the slogan could lose kimchi and replace it with jimjilbang and no one would throw a fit. Kimchi and jimjilbangs are both well-known elements of Korean culture. Jimjilbangs are large public bath houses (mostly gender-segregated) and can be found on almost every street in Korea. Some are more fancy than others, but most have a handful of hot baths, showers, saunas, massage tables, lockers, sleeping areas and social meeting spaces. Jimjilbangs are usually open 24 hours a day and many people visit them to bathe, relax and sleep. Most rooms, including the saunas, have special minerals, woods and stones to create a soothing sanctuary and provide elements of traditional Korean medicine. The Korean jimjilbang is a familiar and calming oasis for all Koreans. Each is a mini spa that caters to your every need. They are more prevalent than Starbucks shops and you can spend a day in one for the cost of a latte and a snack. They sound perfect, right?

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photo credit

Kimchi is also found on every Korean street and it sneaks onto most breakfast, lunch and dinner plates. I bought a jar of kimchi back in NH a week before I left for Korea. I thought if I mastered the spicy fermented vegetable dish I would slide seamlessly into the role of ‘expat in Korea’. The jar’s pungent smell intimidated me and I reluctantly left the snack in my mom’s fridge for her to enjoy as she wept over my departure. After some time in Korea I learned to love kimchi. Some kinds are tastier than others and I prefer grilled kimchi over the cold stuff. It didn’t happen overnight, but I mastered kimchi and I figured the jimjilbang was next up. I could do this. I could adapt. I could be brave. The only thing is, I didn’t have to get naked in public to eat kimchi.

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photo credit (Yes, that’s me on the right feeling super comfortable.)

Last month I agreed to a Thursday night jimjilbang date after a few too many drinks the weekend before. My friends promised I could not leave Korea without a famous jimjilbang ajumma scrub. Although I was terrified of the ‘naked party’ they continuously cheered to that night, I lightly penciled it into my planner and mentally prepared a list of excuses to furnish a polite cancellation. Monday came and went and I forgot to decline the invite. In the midst of teaching on Tuesday and Wednesday I thought of cancelling and told myself I would get to it later that night. Then it was Thursday and it’s just not classy to cancel so late in the game. I was hungry but I couldn’t eat dinner. I nervously plastered a smile on my face and left work that night wondering if I would be a different person when I returned the next morning.

“It’s kind of like skydiving or bungee jumping.” My friend reassured me as we descended in the elevator toward the basement floor jimjilbang. She wasn’t helping. “The scariest moment is the first one and after that it’s just what it is.” Did she know she was giving a pep-talk to a life-long swimmer and lifeguard who, forget extreme jumping, was afraid to do a simple dive off the high dive? I spent a decent portion of each summer as a teenager disappointing the pool patrons who always watched in awe as the lifeguards enjoyed their 5 minute breaks. My male co-workers would bring the laughs with failed attempts at double flips. Others would gracefully dive through the air and slide into the depths of the deep-end headfirst with ease. I climbed the ladder as well, but once at the top I took a big breath and did a boring pencil dive into the icy blueness. I tried more than once to dive from the 1 meter ledge, but my brain just wouldn’t allow it. I liked the excitement of the jump, but I preferred the feeling of being right-side-up on my own two feet. I was in control somewhat, even while falling through the air.

As I stripped down and shoved my belongings into a locker at the jimjilbang I realized something about the scenario playing in my head. I knew one day I would dive from that high dive in NH. It would happen because I knew in my mind I could always return to my hometown pool. I could take my time and practice elsewhere. In other words, I could be lazy about it. A few months ago I jumped from a pretty huge rock in Jeju. Maybe this summer when I’m stateside again I will make that dive. I really hope this is true.

But here’s the amazing thing about living abroad in Korea: You don’t have time to cultivate fears here. If there’s something you want to try, taste or see you have to do it in a timely fashion. I know I won’t be in Korea forever and because I have so many other places to visit I don’t know if I will be back soon. It’s one thing to read those feel-good quotes about ‘Living in the Moment’, but it’s another to have no other choice.

I got naked that Thursday night and tip-toed from the lockers out to the bath and sauna room holding nothing but a hand towel. I found my friends and submerged in a steaming hot bath as I awaited my scrub appointment. In one corner of the room a maze of showers and stools held a dozen or so older women who meticulously scrubbed and bathed each other while chatting. Small children clutching goggles splashed around in the biggest bath. Single bathers who wished to relax and avoid the social hour could be found in baths with their hair in a towel, their eyes closed and their heads resting on the stone side. As our skin began to prune our moods softened as well. Our eyes stopped darting around the room at all the nakedness and we relaxed. The water was deliciously warm and we hopped from one bath to the next.

When the ajumma called me over for my scrub there was nowhere to hide. As she threw buckets of water over my body and signaled for me to roll over onto my back for the next round of scrubbing I simply did it. Maybe my friend was right, the scariest moment had already passed and the rest was just whatever would be. I walked home that night with baby soft skin and wet hair that reminded me of my swimming years, 3 friends who would always and forever be my ‘naked party’ girls, a new determination to make that summer dive, an item to cross off my Korea Bucket List and a craving for some grilled kimchi (I skipped dinner, remember?).

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Koh Samet: I wish you were here, or maybe not.

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I have no intention of making you jealous, but I have to inform you that I am writing this blog post from a beach chair 4 feet from the water on the small island of Koh Samet in Thailand. It is late afternoon and the beach area in front of my resort (My bungalow is $20 a night!) is starting to clear out for the day. I personally think dusk is the best part of a beach day. The sky’s color is spectacular, the sun isn’t as intense as it was a few hours prior and I can finally tell by looking at my skin that yes, I in fact did manage to tan and not burn after hours of frolicking in the surf.

I tell you all this because upon traveling to the island from Bangkok, where I spent 3 days being social and saying goodbye to 2012, I have come to the realization that solo-travel may just be the best thing I have done so far in 2013. I admit I was a bit nervous to embark on my solo winter vacation to Thailand. I had traveled alone before but those trips were always only short jaunts from one place to another to meet friends, family or study abroad groups. Because my other expat friends in Korea did not share my vacation days and I knew I didn’t want to stick around Seoul for another week of winter, I booked flights to Bangkok and a hostel for the first night and hoped for the best.

Bangkok proved to be a bustling yet non-intimidating and easily navigable city. I’m not sure what I expected, but my desire to be beach-side and maybe Hangover 2 clouded my judgements and I hoped to leave the city shortly after my arrival. I was pleasantly surprised by Bangkok. I spent 3 nights at the Refill Now! hostel (Please stay here if you are ever in Bangkok!) and made time to explore the splendidly colorful Grand Palace via water transportation, get lost meandering the hundreds of stalls at the famous Chatuck weekend market, wander the backpacker’s party street of Koh San until the early morning hours, and celebrate NYE with a friend from home who now lives in Thailand.

After a whirlwind tour of Bangkok I was more than ready to find a map of Thailand and choose an island to getaway to for the remainder of my vacation. My friend had to return to work so I was left to travel solo and any solo-travel-nerves I might have had when I booked my trip a few months back vanished as I made my way to the Bangkok bus station. I was ready for some quality relaxation and I didn’t mind that a few couples and groups of friends eyed me curiously (I think this was just in my self-centered imagination.) on the ferry from the mainland of Rayong to Koh Samet. I think the lone traveler is mysterious. I imagined an outlandish alter identity for myself, although I do think ‘English Teacher in South Korea’ is pretty darn cool and adventurous. My 20 year old self would have been self conscious, I know it. She would have told herself everyone thought it was strange she was traveling alone and that she must be a lonely cat lady. My 25 year old self, having successfully matured (a bit!) and gained some wisdom in a large part due to her year abroad in Korea, brushed these people and their non-existent thoughts aside and realized she would probably never see them again and she was about to embark on an epic island getaway.

My first full day on Koh Samet is nearly over and I look forward to 2 mores days of sun and fun. The nice thing about vacationing alone is that you are free to do exactly what you want to do exactly when you want to do it. If I want to sleep in I can. If I sporadically decide to stay in the ocean for an entire hour flopping around pretending to be a mermaid no one is impatiently waiting for me on the beach. If I want to go to bed at 10pm there is no judgement. I have also found that the lone traveler is sometimes the most sociable. While a large group of friends may seem intimidating, when you are on your own you are more likely to be approached by others. On the ferry to Koh Samet I met 2 guys who teach in Japan and were vacationing like me. Many young people at my resort beach have also been extremely friendly.

Although I love to socialize, I am using these last few days in Thailand to relax, work on my tan (using SPF!), catch up on all the books I bought for my iPad in 2012 and recharge for the next few months of teaching in Korea. I would tell you all about the delicious pad Thai I plan to consume tonight, but a beach massage advertisement just caught my eye. A one-hour-full-body-massage for about $9…oh, don’t you wish you were here?

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back to Bikram or how I will soon be able to calm down an angry Korean

A friend from college who spent two previous years in Korea quickly became my go-to source for random questions and concerns before my final decision to sign, stamp and send my teaching contract back to my recruiter. She planned to return home to the US shortly before my own departure date. I was lucky enough to meet up with her in Boston for a quick drink and a much needed pep talk that reassured me I was making the right decision by moving to Korea (“Korea!?” – all my friends/family at holiday gatherings).

I left our rendezvous slightly terrified but extremely excited – speaking with her made my upcoming move seem very real but her apparent infatuation with Korea was contagious. I madly scribbled notes across pages of my planner that were soon forgotten, but the piece of advice that I most appreciated was something I did not write down but put into practice last week. Her advice was this, or at least this is what I took from her words: Teaching will be your day job, but it should not be the only thing that defines you in Korea. Make sure to do the things you love in your free time, even though it may be a bit challenging at first due to the foreign language and culture.

I kept this advice in mind and slowly settled into my life in Korea. Fresh off a job in marketing, it took some time to adjust to teaching. Soon I found myself comfortable and enjoying my time in the classroom. I spent my free time meeting new people and exploring Korea. I took my friend’s advice and kept up with my (and in many ways increased) blogging and creating a home within the world of social media. I have enjoyed working in social media professionally in the past and I majored in writing in college, so I thought coming to Korea would be a perfect opportunity to expand on these passions. But after countless nights spent staring at my computer screen, I knew I needed to balance my online time with something social, active and mentally rejuvenating (don’t worry – I won’t get too yogi on you). Running does this for some, but it just doesn’t cut it for me. I consider myself lucky to live so close to the river and its carefully manicured path, and I enjoy a long walk or run a few times a week, but my first love will always be yoga, specifically Bikram yoga.

I put my feelers out among foreign and Korean friends and came up with a few different options for yoga. Online searches were a bit disappointing because the only certified Bikram studio appeared to be in Seoul and the rest of the hot yoga websites were in Korean or unsearchable with an English Google search. I found a few hot yoga studios within 20 minutes of my apartment, but I was a bit put-off by their mandatory expensive 3+ month packages and inconvenient locations. A few weeks ago a friend pointed me to a studio that is a two minute walk from my work. S Hot Yoga is located in the corner of the 4th floor of one of many 10+ floor buildings in a business area – I don’t think I would have found it myself. Knowing that it was hot yoga and not Bikram, I was a bit hesitant to commit to the studio. With the help of my Korean co-teacher I found the studio website and was elated to learn that the hot yoga class followed the Bikram postures I know by heart. I bravely visited the studio one evening after work and soon realized no one at the studio spoke English. It was a struggle to acquire a small business card with the schedule and pricing printed in Korean. The woman at the front desk appeared flustered at the sight of a foreigner, I just kept smiling and saying thank you in Korean as I pointed to the stack of cards behind the desk and gestured that I wanted one. I later learned that I was the first foreigner to visit the studio, so I regret surprising the staff and creating a sense of stress in the serene studio entry-way.  It took me a few weeks to muster up the courage to once again face the nervous front desk staff and also part with a significant amount of my paycheck. I finally woke up ready to get my yoga on last week and now I can’t believe I waited this long to do so.

Luckily there was a fellow yogi checking in at the front desk who knew a bit of English when I arrived. I pointed to the three month package price and attempted to hand my credit card to the front desk staff. They were hesitant to take my card, I think because they knew the classes were in Korean and they didn’t think I understood this fact. I tried to explain that I knew the yoga and did not expect an English class and finally the other yogi chimed in explaining that I knew (to some degree) what I was getting myself into. Eventually I was able to pay, fill out a new member form, leave my shoes in the entry-way (1 thing I knew from Bikram!) and get ready for class.

The locker room was easy to maneuver and impressively equipped with individual lockers and locks for each yogi, plenty of space to change and do hair/makeup, hair dryers, floor length mirrors, a handful of showers and free products galore. The actual studio was standard and provided yoga mats and towels free of charge for each student. (Not having to lug a sweaty and disgusting mat and towel home after class – score!)

The class commenced with a slight bow and a “Namaste” from the teacher and I was immediately at home on my mat as she rambled on in Korean. Some of the other yogis couldn’t help but look over at me during the class, and I can’t blame them. It must have been strange to suddenly see a tall American fumbling through the poses in the front mirror. Although the class was entirely in Korean, I was able to follow the movements and poses by remembering the Bikram dialogue and by observing the other students when the poses were altered a bit.

The class was Bikram-like, but differed slightly:

* *The room was not as hot as Bikram. The website states that the room is heated to 38 degrees Celsius, although it seemed a bit cooler. I do miss the extreme heat, but it is still hot enough to sweat and move fluidly in and out of each pose.**

* *We did the two breathing exercises twice, but all other poses were only performed once. I do miss the chance to go deeper into each pose during the second attempt, but now I just have to make sure I don’t slack in the first and only pose. (1 hour class!)**

** The teacher came around and actually touched us! This seldom happens in Bikram. At first it was strange, but after a few fantastic adjustments and deeper stretches I was secretly hoping to be corrected as she scanned the room.**

** The Savasana (Dead Body Pose) was not a leisurely recharge. I only had time for one breath before setting up for the next pose or sit-up.**

** There were a few times I found myself confused by slight class alterations. For example, once after Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose the studio erupted in loud clapping and slapping noises. Instead of gracefully centering oneself on the mat to prepare for the next pose, everyone was hitting their legs with a great amount of force. I quickly recognized this as a method Koreans use to loosen up their muscles after stretching. Small changes in class bring a smile to my face and make for an interesting class. I do love the regimental nature of Bikram, but while abroad I don’t mind if my yoga comes with a Korean twist.**

After a week of classes I found myself understanding a few of the teacher’s corrections and commands. I am in no way flaunting my Korean language skills, but I can now sense when the she wants us to “go deeper” into a stretch or “center our hips”. I have also picked up on a few specific Korean words and hopefully soon I will be able to repeat them and not just recognize them: “inhale”, “exhale” and of course “relax” (after each pose). So, I may not be ready to order at a restaurant or direct the cab home without the help of my smartphone, but I soon could potentially bring an angry Korean down from a state of outrage: “Inhale, exhale and relax.”

Here are two of my most challenging / favorite poses:

pictures/descriptions from http://www.shotyoga.com/hotyoga/info4.html

“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are”.  Jason Crandell

“The real pleasure, the real peace,  the real enlightenment is to give. The more you give the more you get. If you give 10, you get 100.” Bikram Choudhury

Namaste for now.

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