Tag Archives: travel

Get your music on this summer in Seoul.

I’m all about the music. I am up for any concert, just ask. With only a few days left before I leave (tear tear), lately I’ve been reminicing about all I’ve managed to experience while teaching and living in Korea (Are you ready?). I am amazed at how much I have done in such a short amount of time, especially when I think about all the concerts I’ve attended. It seems like ages ago, but at this time last year I was preparing to witness Lady Gaga’s first and very controvercial world tour stop in Seoul. A short while later I joined happy-go-lucky young Koreans lounging on Nami Island for the annual Rainbow Island Festival with Jason Mraz as the headliner.

A friend surprised me the next month with tickets to Korea’s famous pop music countdown show, Inkigayo. I was able to live out my childhood TRL dreams and be schooled in K-Pop all in the same day. Later in the summer I hopped from one stage to the next at Super!Sonic where I was able to inch my way to the front of Foster The People, Gotye, New Order, The Vaccines and other stages. Also, during the summer and fall I spent many a weekend night with a beer in hand in Hongdae park where young creative college students performed for large spontaneous crowds.

Oh, and how could I forget, I basically had a date with Psy last fall. He paid for everything, soju was chugged, and his shirt came off.

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 *****

 After stumbling out of Hongdae’s Rolling Hall a short time ago with ringing ears and sore feet I sadly realized this particular night probably marked my last big Korea concert. But I couldn’t think of a better act to end with.

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Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) is a Canadian musician who has learned to successfully mix just the right amount of electronic pop with beautiful vocals to create dance-worthy and uplifting beats. Her Seoul trip was a special one becasue she is a huge K-Pop fan and apparently a few big Korean names, including G-Dragon, were present at the March 23 show.

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photo from @supercolorsuper

I may have a year or so on the small yet fiercely blonde music-maker, but her stage precense was uniquely uplifting and powerful. I think one reason I enjoy live music so much is that I love witnessing people doing the one thing they are meant to do in life. Grimes is a musician and she is made for the stage. I left the show with a desire to continue dancing and an even stronger apprecition for my decision to wear flats on this particular night.

Here are a few resources you should check out to ensure you do not miss the next big show in Korea. So many fantastic acts grace Korea with their presence each year, you just have to be on the look-out for information regarding each show.

1) SuperColorSuper ‘makes concerts’ and brought Grimes to Seoul. Check out the other shows they are working on here.

2) The Korea Gig Guide is a great resource for small and big acts performing in Korea. While browsing this guide last year I stumbled upon the Lady Gaga show information. You can also skim it before venturing out on a Friday or Saturday night to see which bars will have live music.

3) Interpark is kind of like the TicketMaster of Korea. I used this site to buy Super!Sonic, Lady Gaga and Rainbow Island Festival tickets. The site is easy to navigate and you can sign up for emails to inform you of upcoming shows.

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Get your music on this summer:

June 7-9: Rainbow Island Festival

June 14-15: Ultra Korea

July 26-28: Ansan Valley Rock Festival (I am so jealous, The XX will be there this year. Check out the promotional video here. It makes me want summer in a bad bad way.)

August: Super!Sonic will return this year, but the specifics have yet to be released. Keep an eye on this page for more information and don’t miss it.

  Enjoy. And wear flats.

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“Free, for me?” Korea knows a thing or 2 or 10 about great service.

Living and teaching in Korea has allowed me to adopt a pretty decadent life-style. I’ve been pampered in traditional Korean bathhouses and spas, I’ve wined and dined most weekend evenings in Seoul, I’ve adopted a Korean sense of style and I can find an item that ‘I just have to have!’ in any store, and I’ve adventured throughout Korea and flown to Taiwan and Thailand all in the last year. My teaching salary has allowed me to try, see, taste and shop my way through Southeast Asia all while sending money home to the US each month to pay off student loans and other debt.

I will leave Korea in June, so I have decided to be a bit frugal and save more money in my last few months. It is comforting to know that while I am saving I can still enjoy myself in true Korean style. Korea is famous for exemplary ‘service’ and freebies. Money is great, but free things are even better.

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10 Fantastic Korean Freebies:

1) Restaurant Side Dishes

In any Korean restaurant the owners and workers believe that ‘The customer is king’. If you are an expat in Korea you are familiar with the word ‘service’ (서비스 – seobiseu). While restaurant workers do not expect tips for their service, they also do not expect diners to wait long for food or have an average culinary experience. I have not had a bad restaurant trip yet. Staff go out of their way to make sure you are happy. ‘Service’ most commonly refers to freebies gifted to customers. I have been gifted beers, bottles of soju and extra orders of barbecue meat. Of course free soju tastes delicious, but when I return home to the US I will most miss the endless supply of Korean restaurant side dishes. As a former waitress I can recall being scolded by management for giving extra honey mustard to customers without adding it to their bill. In Korea this is unheard of. Most meals come with at least 5 or 6 small bowls of delicious side dishes and they are continuously replenished during your meal for free.

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2) Cosmetic Samples

I could probably open my own store with all the samples I have. Although I am always using the samples and bringing them on overnight trips, I still have a mountainous supply. Each time I visit a SkinFood or Etude House store I leave with a bag of free samples. 

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3) ‘Just Because’ Gifts

Last Sunday night a pleasant man selling fruit out of his truck threw an extra box of strawberries and four oranges in with my original purchase. When I bought a new perfume this past summer the saleslady tossed in a straw floppy hat. And many times my local convenience store cashier chases me out of the store because I leave before he can retrieve the free juice drink (or candy bar or soda or pack of gum) I deserve because I purchased a coffee drink (or special snack or energy drink or pack of ramen). Sometimes all the free ‘just because’ gifts can get confusing, but I love them.

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4) WiFi and Phone Charging

Korea’s outstanding WiFi is something I will also miss when I am back in the US. Many of my friends choose to not pay for internet service on their smart phones or tablets because they know they can find free WiFi in most places in Korea. Here is a great resource for getting free WiFi anywhere in Korea.

Free phone charging still baffles me. Why wouldn’t stores and restaurants charge for charging stations? I was first introduced to free phone (and device) charging while at a music festival last summer. After a day of map and Google searching, hours of snapping pictures and taking videos, and endless texts to my friends who were scattered around the different music stages my phone was close to dead. I laughed at a sign next to a Vitamin Water booth (They were giving away free Vitamin Waters of course.) that advertised a ‘recharging service’. The festival was on an island and I imagined someone making ridiculous profits by providing mobile phone charger stations. When I heard another concert-goer utter ‘FREE!’ I quickly steered myself to the station.

Most bars and restaurants also provide phone charging services for free.  

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5) Food Delivery

Most restaurants in Korea deliver. And it is amazing. It is fast and free and along with the usual freebie appetizers the restaurant also includes dishes and utensils that you simply leave outside your door when you finish feasting.

6) Seoul Tours

SeoulMate offers free tours of Seoul. Their website states: We are ‘SeoulMate’, composed of university students that volunteer as special Seoul tour guides to non-Korean tourists for free. We offer the opportunities for you to make Korean friends and understand the culture of Seoul through our tour programs. Check out their website for the latest tour dates and information.

aboutSeoulMate

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7) Museums

Most museums in Seoul are free or very affordable. I do know the Museum of Contemporary Art is free on every fourth Saturday of the month. The War Memorial of Korea and The National Folk Museum also offer free admission.

8) Festivals

Sometimes it seems as if there is a festival going on every weekend in Korea. My favorite festival is definitely the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul. I spent the weekend in Seoul snapping pictures of the brilliantly colored lanterns, learning about Buddhism at various informational booths, and watching traditional dances, ceremonies and a parade. The entire weekend was free. Here are a few other festivals to enjoy.

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9) Promotional Goodies

Promoters in Seoul are constantly trying to give you free things. And there are no obligations. You don’t need to sign up for a credit card or give away your email address. You simply say thank you and enjoy the free gift. Last weekend my friend and I were waiting in line for concert tickets at an almost sold-out Grimes show in Hongdae. With over two hours of standing ahead of us we complained of upcoming fatigue. Luckily we scored free Monster energy drinks from a nearby promoter. I love when life works out like that.

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10) Gym Equipment

I should get a gym membership. But why pay for one when you can just use the free equipment scattered all along the river and in parks? I try to make it down to the river to walk or run at least 3 or 4 times a week and there are clusters of decent gym machines for public use on both sides of the water.

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So Long, Farewell: It hurts when friends leave Korea.

 

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I won’t lie, last week in Korea was rough. I should have been elated for the upcoming weekend forecast of warm weather and birthday celebrations for yours truly, but my heart was a little crushed. A handful of fellow teachers departed or began preparations for the journey home. Each time someone leaves I realize how much they’ve influenced my time abroad. I mean, come on, they basically made it.

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Before moving to Korea I was worried most about encountering loneliness while abroad. But after saying goodbye to my mother at the airport in Boston I was only really ‘alone’ for a brief flight to NYC. In NYC I met another teacher headed to Korea and we bonded over packing stresses and teaching applications until our plane began its slow descent into Seoul. I hadn’t known this girl for more than a day, but we already had so much in common. We were doing this ‘teaching in Korea’ thing and we were anxiously enthusiastic to finally get to it.

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My fellow plane buddy and I recruited a few other wide-eyed soon-to-be-teachers from our flight and we together conquered customs and baggage claim. Although my new friends soon departed for different parts of Korea, I continue to check-in with them on Facebook and I luckily ran into one of them this past summer at Korea Burn, Korea’s ultimate hippie soiree. We hugged and chatted like we had known each other for ages. As cliche as it sounds, we had started the journey as English teachers together in NYC and it was nice to know we both were excelling at the expat ESL life in Korea.

After the airport I joined 50+ other newbie teachers in Seoul and we trained together for the week. There were no awkward first conversations. We were all here to start a life of teaching and living in Korea and that fact was the only necessary key to unlock friendly conversation. I instantly realized I had more in common with these people than I did with most I encountered everyday back in Boston. After a week of late study nights, new foods and embarrassing attempts to figure out the Seoul Subway, we were separated and sent to our new schools scattered across Korea. And yet, although we have settled down in our respective Korean cities, we still keep in touch. I traveled to Busan this past June to visit training friends. I love running into others in Seoul. And we all laugh at comedic teaching moments we share with each other using social media.

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So, even before I arrived in my city I had a handful of close ‘Korea friends’ and loneliness was a distant worry. And then I met my Uijeongbu family. Sometimes we laugh about how we all met each other. Sometimes the details are fuzzy. Korean friendships are different. They are fast. They are necessary. They are void of awkward introductions and pleasantries. Upon meeting the fellow teachers in my city we did not hesitate to share phone numbers and weekend plans. We each had jumped head-first into a new life in Korea and we needed each other. We ignored our differences in age, life experience and nationality. It was quite refreshing.

These friends became my family. We have celebrated holidays, birthdays and Friday nights together for the past year and time has flown. I haven’t had much time to feel lonely. My friends helped make Korea home and each has helped to make me feel confident about where I am at this point in life and also enthusiastic about what the future holds. They get me, and this understanding is rooted in the shared itch we all had at some point in the recent past to travel, teach and live abroad.

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Although abroad friendships are quickly created, they also change in the same manner. Living abroad is not permanent for many and teaching contracts have end dates. So, earlier this month I said goodbye to a dynamic couple who were always eager to coordinate social outings, religiously brought home-baked goodies to the bar and loved to laugh. Last Monday I painfully said goodbye to one of my closest friends in Uijeongbu. I can’t think of much we didn’t experience together in Korea. We arrived at the same time, bonded over a misspelled salad sign that read ‘Crap Salad’ at an expat dinner and stuck together for the rest of the year. Friday I helped a neighbor and dear friend carry her bags to the bus stop and endured another goodbye hug. Now I have a few weeks to prepare for the April departure of a friend who has been a constant source of laughs, optimism and honest and intelligent advice throughout this hectic year.

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I know these friendships will continue and flourish in the years to come. I will be in Korea for a bit longer, but we will stay in touch and I am excited to visit each of them and learn more about their post-Korea adventures. I know I am lucky to have friends in crazy area codes, but for now I’m letting myself miss them, because in doing that I am able to truly see just how much they mean to me. Thank you friends, you know who you are. 😉 ^^

“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” – Robert Southey

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Preparing for a Korean Goodbye: Don’t leave my friends out of this.

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Time is running out, so please stop saying, “Yeah, we will have to do that some weekend.” I have exactly 6 weekends left in Korea and each is pretty much full from 8pm on Friday until late Sunday afternoon. I am lucky in that many of my friends in Korea are also leaving close to my departure date. Most of us are in a rush to eat lots of kimchi, find Psy socks to bring home and most importantly soak up each others awesomeness before some depart for homes scattered all over the globe and others remain in Korea. And oh yeah, I still have to find the confidence to make a jjimjilbang date. Umm, a little help please?

So, here is my list. I believe if I write it, it will happen. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Please comment with other things I must do, see, taste, try or buy before I leave this fantastic country I have loved calling home.

I hope to…

1) tour the MOCA. I recently learned that Seoul’s National Museum of Contemporary Art offers free admission for select exhibits on the 4th weekend of each month. See you there?

2) have one more epic weekend adventure with my favorite SHG guide. If you are moving to Korea or are here already I strongly suggest you check them out. But only if you like to have fun. Otherwise, forget I mentioned it.

3) stock up on my favorite Korean cosmetics. Great timing Sheryll, I was getting worried I would leave before you shared this.

4) finally suck it up, strip down and visit a jjimjilbang. If this story doesn’t make you want to visit one, I’m sorry.

5) get lost at the Korean War Memorial and Museum for an entire day. I am proud to say I am related to the late Captain Joseph McConnell Jr. who was a leading jet ace of the Korean War. I hope to learn more about him and the war.

6) norebang with my favorite girlfriends in Uijeongbu one last time. The first night my friend voluntarily put on Call Me Maybe I knew I was going to be just fine in Korea.

7) pretend to know something about electronics and peruse the Yongsan Electronics Market.

8) Stuff my face with one (or two?) Casablanca Moroccan chicken sandwiches. I visited HBC a few weeks ago and almost cried (like real tears) when I found the storefront dark and closed for renovations. A Twitter friend swears they are reopening before I leave. She better not be throwing fake promises around the Internet. You know who you are, and I know your Twitter handle.

9) finally make it to a Hongdae Silent Disco. Check it out.

10) dress super classy and do it up Korea Style.

11) successfully order takeout to my apartment.

12) not go overboard, but add a few more key pieces to my arsenal of Korean fashion. I can’t help myself, I WANT EVERYTHING.

13) You tell me.

I have a lot to do, but I am grateful to spend these next weekends with friends who have kicked it with me in Korea for the past 11 months and have put up with me and my geeky love of planning. Last week we had an early Saturday morning outing scheduled and more sites to see in the afternoon. Friday night rolled around and we found ourselves at a favorite local bar enjoying cheap drinks, stories of teaching mishaps, college card games and a few sloppy rounds of darts. As you can guess, we didn’t make it to bed until the early morning and our plans were scratched in exchange for recovery rest. My Saturday was spent sleeping and Sunday was also quiet with a friendly coffee shop session and a long walk in the evening. Our lazy weekend meant I had to rearrange my planner notes, but I promise, no one is freaking out.

I am impressed with my long list of Korean adventures accomplished in the past year, but just like “감사합니다”  and “안녕하세요” will disappear from my daily routine come March, so will my friends who quickly became family in early 2012. So please, recommend your ‘Korea must-do-see-taste-try-buy’ item for my list, but if my friends aren’t down then I may give it a miss.

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My 2012: While you were busy Googling ‘What is a Gangnam?’…

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Any worries I had about ‘losing touch’ during my year abroad in Southeast Asia were quickly shattered one July night while I lay in a hostel bunk-bed in Taiwan. I opened my iPad to find an adorable yet slightly chubby Korean man decked out in hip glasses, a funky suit and an irresistible smirk busy bombarding every one of my bookmarked websites. That moment and many more in the following days and months reassured me that my move to Korea would not hinder my mission to stay relevantly informed about all things social. I could in fact keep in touch with friends, family and my growing passion (slight obsession) with social media creation and strategy. Gangnam Style gave me a slight home-court advantage. While most Americans were busy Googling: ‘What the heck is a Gangnam?’, ‘Where did K-Pop come from?’ and ‘Who is Psy and is that his real name?’ I had time to catch up on my backlogged and favorited Tweets from Mashable, Gawker, Social Media Examiner and more.

At first my fellow teacher friends in Seoul eagerly posted the horse-dance video, just for kicks, to all available social wall space. Then, when the YouTube view count refused to plateau, I casually mentioned the video in Skype conversation with a friend who was enjoying the summer in New England. She giggled at the elevator dance scene and commented, “Wow Devan, Korea looks like a fun time.” A week later a second reply was digitally served, “So, you know that video you showed me? It’s here. It’s everywhere. It’s blowing up.” And although I scoffed at my real-life and Twitter friends who continued to miserably misspell ‘Gangnam’ in posts and had never been out clubbing in the song’s swanky section of Seoul, I was proud of Psy and the small yet fiercely determined, extremely successful, technologically advanced and warmhearted country that I chose to call home in 2012.

As I prepare to return home to NH in the next few months and further my career in social media strategy and communications, many details are uncertain. Job searching is a job in itself, but throw in 7,000 miles and a 14 hour time difference between you and your target professional setting  and it becomes almost as challenging as mastering the horse-dance while fumbling through a few Korean lyrics about “a girl with that kind of twist”.

I know some may question why I up and left a marketing job in Boston to move to Korea to teach ESL and eat kimchi at every meal. I don’t think I will be able to answer this question fully for another few years, but I can say I am happier now than I was a year ago and I spent 2012 in close proximity to one of the year’s biggest social media stories. My time in Korea will always and forever be smack dab in the middle of ‘The Year of Gangnam Style’. Or maybe I have that mixed up: Psy’s year of fame just happened to occur during ‘Devan’s Korea Quest.’ Please, just for now, let me believe the latter to be true.

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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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“Even the small leopard is called leopard.” – Kenyan Proverb

I know this is MyKOREAQuest, but I have been thinking a lot lately about my semester abroad in Kenya. This is partly because I was there exactly 4 years ago (& I call myself a ‘recent grad’ – pfff!) and also because I am thinking about what’s to come in 2013. Okay, enough with the small talk, let me tell you about this one time I was almost eaten by a leopard somewhere in Tanzania…

We were in the middle of nowhere. Now when I think of this radical saying – this is all I can conjure up in my mind. We were living with the Hadza tribe in Tanzania. We were sleeping in tents under the stars in a camp that was only a camp because the safari truck drivers thought it would take the least amount of effort to clear the bush there to put up tents. It wasn’t a campground and we weren’t eating dinner or going to the bathroom unless we helped set up the large cook tent and dig the hole for the discreet lavatory stall. We were living the Hadza life – moving from place to place – carrying only what we needed and depending on the landscape for our survival. I loved the sense of disconnectedness from the outside world. This was what it meant to really be away. This was what they should place in glossy magazine advertisements for the over-worked, stressed individual looking to escape all of it for awhile. I had no control over what was going on in the rest of the world. I couldn’t read about it, watch it or talk to anyone about it. All we knew was where we were now and how far away we were from everything else.

One night toward the end of our stay in Tanzania a group of us got brave. “We should sleep up here,” someone laughed as we lay watching the magnificent sunset from atop a smooth giant rock face a short walk from camp. It had taken a few minutes to climb to where we sat now, and the comfortable breeze and cooler temperatures tempted us to stay and forget about dinner waiting below. My tent mates glanced my way with mischief filled eyes and I knew exactly what they envisioned for our night’s sleep.

After a scrumptious meal, that left me wondering how food could remain so tasty after traveling for days in coolers over treacherous and dusty terrain, we lazily transitioned our focus. The sparkling fire just feet away from the dinner tent had magically jumped to monstrous heights since the Hadza men had begun to dance around its flames. We positioned ourselves around the fire and gave the men plenty of space to continue dancing. They never seemed to tire. Their well worn cloth garments loosely swung back and forth as their bodies shook and spun with traditional Hadza dance. Unable to communicate using language, they shared stories and experiences with us through dance. Laughter, from those seated and dancing, twisted up through the fire’s smoke trail into the African sky.

The group diminished as those fighting fatigue drifted off to their respective tents. My tent mates and I finally broke our silence about our plans for the night. Others agreed it was a good idea. Why not get the most “out there” that was possible while we were here? Our English speaking guide, Thad, clapped in excitement. “Go ahead,” he said. “I always have those adventurous ones who just go for it!” He warned that this was his first time at this camp, but that in the past sleeping outside the tents hadn’t been a problem.

We nervously grabbed our sleeping bags that yearned for a night spent in fresh, cool air after a week of residing in a hot, sticky and small tent. The three of us were the first to climb the rock to settle in for the night. Others gave in to one last Tusker (delicious beer) from the well stocked crates in the food truck and continued to socialize around the fire. We snuggled close together in our mummy-like bags on the safest part of the rock. A blanket of honesty fell from the star spattered night sky. We were in a place where we felt we could say anything. It’s what happens when you feel like you’re at the edge of the earth; it’s the appropriate thing to do. I quietly whispered to my fellow junior friends my fears of an impending graduation and my cluelessness pertaining to a professional career. They listened and we talked and it felt right. It felt so freeing to say whatever we wished as we lay watching the stars and a fire in the distant desert set by a neighboring tribe trying to make the soil suitable for planting.

“Ladiessss!” a familiar womanly drawl floated up the rock reaching us before she herself did. Sara was followed by Paul, the two of them proudly making up the semester’s drunken duo. They enjoyed the occasional Tusker, or two or three or four, and mocked the rest of us when we went to bed on “school” nights at the compound. We refused to rage the night away watching the Lion King for the 45th  time on VHS in the living room or sprawling out in someone’s room to begin writing inappropriate letters to Sara’s boyfriend back home. This time they were singing their way up our small mountain to annoyingly disrupt our pre-bedtime intimate talk. “You’ve got to get down… like right now,” Sara slurred her words a little. “There’s a jaguar coming,” Paul excitingly burst into sight as he made his final careful moves to the top and issued his warning accompanied by a sly grin. Sara shot him a disgusted look. “No, they meant something else,” she searched for the word as we registered that we were the victims of a prank. “A leopard…leopards!” She yelled and glanced furtively around. Only rock and sky were to be seen. We laughed as they tried desperately to warn us.

“So we are going to be eaten and they sent you two to save us,” I giggled from inside my sleeping bag. It had been a production to get up here and we weren’t leaving our comfy cocoons and lugging everything down to camp for the sake of a few laughs. Sensing our disbelief down below, a few others ventured up to our hideout. “They’re not lying,” Alex stated matter-of-factly as he trudged up to meet us, annoyed at the necessity of his intrusion into the discussion. “We were sitting around the fire and one of the Hadza who understands a bit of English figured out where you three went and got very upset.” Alex then explained the realness of the situation. Apparently, this rock was not ours to claim, it was the location of a nightly ritual for the area’s leopards. They met in the dark of night in the very place where we now lay and marked their territory with pools of urine that remained on the rock to warn others of their presence and power.

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I retold the story to my mom over the phone a week or so later and she commented as usual with the assistance of her computer that always seemed to be within arm’s reach when we conversed. “Did you know leopards can run up to 60 kilometers an hour and will hunt almost any animal it can?” She whispered this fact as I pictured her imagining the “Sorry your daughter was eaten by a wild animal…” call from the SLU Study Abroad office. “It’s a good story,” I tried to get her to laugh it off. Our phone call was coming to an end; I could tell she had had enough for one conversation. “Please don’t tell me another story like this until you are home.” She was part joking and a larger part serious.

*names changed, just in case*

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