I taught English in Busan, Korea for a year, ending June 2011. I remember the dread I felt flying to Portland then. I left Portland again and returned to Korea February 2013. I felt like I was home. Since then, I’ve quit teaching and I’ve been working remotely for almost four years. When I flew back to Portland in August 2017, without any intention of coming back to South Korea, butterflies (different from before) filled my stomach.
I love Korea and it’s been a great experience living there. I love learning more about where I come from and improving on the language. I also know in my heart that I’m American and that I want to create my home in the U.S.
For the last month in Korea, I walked around as if in a trance. I can’t believe how much time has passed and how much life has changed. I miss singing along with my appliances (i.e. rice cooker and washing machine) and waking up with tinfoil in my bed because I fell asleep eating kimbap.
I feel nostalgic for a time, as well as places, which is an overwhelming feeling. It’s scary to think of returning to Korea, and think of the last time I left, as if no time had passed at all. Time goes fast, life is short, and the impermanence of things is hitting me harder than it ever has.
I did SO much in Korea, met amazing people, ate all the things, and had amazing experiences. But, still, I know I can’t do everything I wanted to do or do things again. There are so many places to go in this world, but maybe I’ll be back. Because I obsessively make lists, here’s a list of places I wanted to experience but didn’t make the time for:
- Andong Traditional Folk Village - Rural Korea is a sharp contrast from the fast-paced neon and concrete cityscapes. I never went to the mask festival at the end of September and beginning of October each year. Apparently this is the town for some awesome chicken, as well.
- Anyang Art Park (안양예술공원) - This a cool park in Anyang City that’s free and a photo dream. You can get off at Anyang Station (Line 1) and take bus number 2 to the park. It’s a very large place and it might be a bit confusing, but so many photo worthy spots. Definitely wear walking shoes and bring water in this heat!
- Beopgi basin - Nestled in the mountains just 45 minutes north of Busan. Renting a car and visiting Hongryong Falls (홍룡폭포) would be a great way to spend a day.
- Beopjusa temple stay - Literally “Mountain Removed from Worldliness,” Songnisan is where the 7th-century Buddhist Beopjusa temple is still located. It has the largest buddha in Korea.
- Bukchon Village - I’ve been here before but really wanted to visit this picturesque neighborhood again. It’s flanked by two palaces —Gyeongbok Palace to the west and Changdeok Palace to the east— this village has the largest cluster of privately owned traditional Korean wooden homes or hanok in Seoul. The easiest way to get to Bukchon in Seoul is to go out Anguk Station (subway line 3) Exit 3.
- Cheongdo - I probably couldn’t stomach the bull fights but I always wanted to see the Wine Tunnel (와인 터널).
- I really wanted to go to Chuncheon/Gapyeong again just to eat the Dak Galbi (닭갈비). I could eat dalkkalbi every day, and it really is the best where it was invented. The two best places are “Tong Na Mu Jip” and “1.5.″
- I’ve been to Geoje several times, but, yeah, I want to go again. I’d love to hike up Mt. Daegumsan, take a short boat ride to Oedo Island, and ride the zipline at Deokpo Beach.
- I visited my friend Anne in Suwon when she was teaching a camp there, but I didn’t have the time to explore the Hwaseong Fortress (수원 화성) or Toilet Museum.
- Jeonju - I’d like to try the bibimbap and visit the Hanok Village (전주 한옥마을).
- Jirisan - What a shame that I never made it to the top of this mountain. I’ll always cherish the lovely trips I’ve had out there and only wish I could have spent more time there.
- Kimchi Museum - I walked by this place so many times in Insadong but never went. Where else in the world will you be able to go to a museum solely dedicated to the Korean staple, kimchi? Kimchi, or seasoned fermented vegetables, is at the heart of Korean culture and its food and is usually eaten with every meal. There are 187 different documented types, ranging from kimchi of different ripeness levels to water kimchi, cucumber kimchi, and radish kimchi varieties. In addition, it is not uncommon for Korean households to have refrigerators solely dedicated for the storage of kimchi. At the museum, you can taste 7-8 different types of kimchi, view bacteria found in kimchi under a microscope, and even learn how to make kimchi in the education room.
- Oh, to see Kyeongju again. Korea used to be divided into three major kingdoms (Silla, Baekje, and Goguryeo) until the Silla kingdom conquered the other kingdoms and made Gyeongju the capital. Gyeongju remained the capital of this region for approximately 1000 years, leading to the creation of a number of archaeological treasures that are well worth your time.
- On several visits to Seoul, I missed out visiting a Hanbok Cafe in Insadong or the Princess Diary Cafe outside Exit 3 of the Ehwa Women’s University subway station. These dress cafes give you the opportunity to wear a Korean traditional dress or wedding dress at rental prices of 15,000₩ ~ 40,000₩ an hour.
- The Robo Life Museum in Pohang does require a reservation but looks pretty awesome. Some are miniature robots programmed to be Psy back up dancers, some are robotic fish that swim, and some are robotic seals designed for therapy.
- Seonyudo sits off the west coast of the peninsula, 90 minutes from Gunsan by boat.
- Seoraksan again. It was so lovely in the fall –but I see endless beauty in every season.
- Seoul Fortress Trail, the Naksan section covers an enjoyable scenic route from Hansung University Station and the Hyehwa Gate traveling south alongside Naksan Park and Ihwa Mural Village until you arrive in the crowded, neon streets of Dongdaemun with the landmark Dongdaemun Gate at the foot of the pathway. The route itself doesn’t take too long to cover with sunset a recommended time to visit so as to enjoy the spectacular views across the city at their finest. Accessible from Hansung University Station, Seoul Subway Line 4 Exit 4.
- Seoul Palaces - There are a lot of them (e.g. Gyeonghui Palace. Deoksugung, Changdeokgung, Changgyeonggung, Gyeongbokgung) and many are near each other. I always planned to see them all but ultimately got a distracted or bored.
- Seoul Forest - This park was opened in 2005 and features absolute beauty. It’s a bit of a trip from downtown Seoul, but I’ve heard it has five connected parks and it’s possible to see deer Located outside Seoul Forest Station (Subway Bundang Line) Exit 3.
- Ujeon Beach in “Slow City”
- Uponeup (우포늪) is the largest and oldest wetland area in Korea, a protected area that dates back to times when dinosaurs ruled the world. A favouite with Korean photographers due to the unspoiled setting and views that the wetlands offer up, it sounds like a romantic weekend.
- Yeosu is a port city on South Korea’s East China Sea coast. I haven’t researched what to do there but I’ve always wanted to visit.
- I don’t know much about the city of Yulpo but when my friend Allison went, she couldn’t wait to share: “I just spent three days there and visited the big tea plantation ten minutes away (TWICE!). It’s a tiny farm village next to an empty beach. And there is a green tea spa on the beach. It was heaven.”
Alright, Korea, maybe next time.