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Riding El Chepe: Part 1
I was still in Phoenix, but it felt like Mexico. As I sat in a one-room bus station on a nowhere corner of that sprawl of a town, I was surrounded by a flurry of travelers chatting in that lilting Spanish of Latin America’s northernmost nation. All the posters were in Spanish, as were the handwritten paper signs clinging to the greasy glass with Scotch tape. I had even mustered my best Spanish when I purchased my ticket: “Un boleto para Los Mochis, por favor.” The girl behind the window humored me for few sentences until I hit a snag in comprehension. Sensing my confusion, she switched to flawless, unaccented English, which caused my face to heat up and redden like a tomato. I’d made a pretty good stab at it, but I hadn’t regularly spoken the language for nearly fifteen years. My tongue had atrophied. The only way to give it life would be to speak the damned thing, which, judging from my first go, was going to be a messy endeavor.
I was the only guero in the room, but people paid me no mind. In fact, as far as bus stations went, it wasn’t so bad. It was well-lit and clean-ish. It didn’t reek, and it certainly had any Greyhound terminal beat. There was none of the drug-soaked detritus that so often washes up at such a place. No junkies, no crackheads, no tweakers — no sketch cases nodding, scratching, or twitching about. The people in and outside of this station were honest folks on their way back home. They were happy to be on the move and it showed in their loose shoulders and broad, uneven smiles.
It was a Friday night and the place was abuzz with kids, grandparents, men, and fleshy women in jeans that often threatened to burst. An old man approached. He wore a checkered shirt, tan chinos, and the white cowboy hat ubiquitous to northern Mexico. He sported a mustache and was traveling with a dark, diminutive woman. She gave me a shy, sugary smile as the two of them squeezed past to take a seat on one of the faux-stainless steel chairs bolted to the bench frame next to me. I eavesdropped as she talked over her phone to her who I gathered to be her daughter, picking up bits and pieces of the conversation. She was obviously thrilled for the upcoming reunion somewhere south of the line.
I was hungry and I had some time to kill, so I got up and wandered in the dark around the side of the building and through the parking lot to a food truck parked across the way. A line of multi-colored Christmas lights blinked from the edge of a canopy that was attached to the truck. Beneath was a collection of red plastic tables, at which sat a smattering of men and a few women taking down their food from white, disposable plates. I took a seat of my own, ordered, and was soon tucking into three tacos al pastor washed down with the long-necked glory that is a bottle of Mexican Coke. As I savored this exquisite little meal, I took in the overcooked action of the telenovela flashing on the TV screen above and was soon filled with a warm bloom of pure happiness. Sure I had yet to cross the border, but this was already the Mexico I was seeking — colorful, humble, and absolutely delicious.
Why Mexico? Why not just continues to chill poolside at brother’s place in Phoenix? Certainly that would have been easier, cheaper, and — at least according to news reports — safer. While I did enjoy a few terrific days with my family, they were now getting back to their routines of life and work. I still had a week free and was just a couple of hours from another country — an intriguing, tragic, and brilliant place that continued to pull me like magnetic ore. How could I not go?
The fact is Mexico had been calling me for a long time. Aside from a few short visits years before to a couple of towns near the border, I had seen almost nothing of the place, despite the fact that it had long been an object of my fascination. After moving to Korea I got to explore much of Asia, but Mexico and greater Latin America had managed to stay out of reach, if for no other reason than that they just were so far away. Sure, I’d been back to the States every couple of years, but adding a second country to the itinerary of a trip back home had always seemed like a theft of precious time.
This time, however, I resolved myself to go. This compulsion to taste a deeper version of Mexico had steeped in my bones for years now, through the books I’d read, the music I’d listened to, and the food I’d cooked in my little kitchen back in Busan. Hell, I’d even started making my own corn tortillas. So when my bus finally pulled up, I boarded it with the enthusiasm of an astronaut about to blast into space. Screw it. I was going to Mexico, cabrón.
We crossed the border at Nogales around 2 A.M., and despite a half-assed inspection of our bags (presumably for American guns heading south), they waved us through without even glancing at our passports. After that the bus shot straight down the east coast of Sea of Cortez, through the towns of Hermosillo, Guaymas, Cuidad Obregon, and Navajoa, before pulling into Los Mochis, which lies at the northern end of the notorious narco-infested state of Sinaloa. I hopped off, grabbed a taxi downtown, and boarded a local bus to take me up into the countryside. Two hours later we pulled into my first destination of the trip: El Fuerte. It had taken me nearly eighteen hours to get there, but I was immediately glad I had come.
Towns in Mexico can be uninspiring places of utility and commerce, or seductive, multi-hued historical jewels. El Fuerte could confidently claim place in the latter camp. It was a colonial town built around a wide plaza and stone church whose steeple towered above the aging settlement. The streets were also made of stone and the buildings painted in shades of lime green, ochre, crimson, and sky blue. The afternoon sun blasted down in vivid slats, while palm trees and overhanging roofs gave ample shade in which big dogs lazed. As I strolled through the town’s streets, I couldn’t help but notice a dignified shabbiness surrounding me: the sidewalks and doorways and walls were all slightly cracked and crumbling. Nothing was too shiny or overly done-up. This was no museum piece, but rather a very lived-in town with its own story to tell. El Fuerte was a beautiful place that made no efforts to obscure the patina of age. This honesty only served to enhance its charms.
I checked into the Hotel Guerrero, which offered up basic rooms in a courtyard colonial style. After showering off a day’s worth of road grime, I locked the room’s gargantuan metal door that just may have come from a jail (very reassuring) and made my way out into the common area. A tall white woman in bright hippie pants stood with her nose buried in a French edition of the Lonely Planet. This came as no surprise, as I was at the northern end of the Gringo Trail (the Latin American backpackers’ circuit), but I still had to momentarily get my bearings. For just that second, I could have been in a guesthouse in Vietnam, Thailand, or Laos.
Once again confident that I wasn’t in Banana Pancake Land, I headed out the gates of the compound in search of some grub. This was a daunting task, since the town was bursting with cheap, drool-inducing choices. After nearly pulling the trigger at a ceviche stand, I settled on a stall offering up tacos at the street market just across from my humble hotel. Why reinvent the wheel? When I go to Bangkok, my first meal is usually a plate of pad Thai. The taco, to me, is the very definition of Mexico. What better way slide back into the country?
So I sat my ass down and ordered up three tacos de carnitas. A young guy manned the grill in front of us, which hissed and sizzled under a mountain of finely chopped pork. He loaded up six corn tortillas (doubled up, street style) with the steaming meat and topped them off with a generous layer of grilled onions, which was a taco first for me. I, in turn, slathered them in their homemade red and green salsa, added a few pinches of fresh, fragrant cilantro, and dug in.
The pork was succulent and the grilled onions added a burnt sweetness that just added to the melody of flavors. These tacos were even better than I expected. I groaned with each bite. I saw fireworks. I wanted to weep. The two guys eating next to me looked up from their own little plates of heaven, nodded, and smiled.
Now that I had some food in my belly, the next order of business was ice cold beer, which, to my luck, Mexico happens to do quite well. During my previous visits to the country I had passed a lot of time sipping cervezas in shabby little bars with boozy Norteño polkas blaring at volumes unacceptable and I was determined to replicate the experience. So I jumped off the stool and began a quest for a cantina.
My wish was granted just a few doors down. I came across a white doorway with the word “BAR” painted in unadorned letters above. Accordion music accompanied by bravado vocals blasted forth, and I girded myself for entry.
Now entering unknown bars in foreign countries (not to mention small towns back home) can be an intimidating experience. Mexico is no exception, especially when you’re alone. To top things off, this bar, like most in the region, had no windows out front through which I could peek in and make the call whether or not to enter. But I was determined to have that beer, so I sucked in a lungful of hot, Sinaloa air and made the plunge.
The bar was a boxy, one-room affair, windowless and brightly lit by sickly radiating fluorescents. About ten men sat a few tables, all of whom sported white cowboy hats. My eyes darted from table to table as I walked towards the bar itself, but aside from a couple of glances, most of the old boys paid me no mind. Once I made it across the room, I greeted the bartender.
“Buenas tardes,” he returned, wiping his hands on a bar towel.
I ordered a single can of Tecate, paid, and retired to a small table against the bare concrete wall. The beer was arctic and gave new life to my dry throat. I took down half the can in two swallows.
There were several televisions bolted to the walls overhead. Companionless and still feeling squirrely, I glanced up at a TV in the far corner, expecting to see footage of a soccer game or a talk show. I was instead greeted by the moving image of a naked black guy (with a rod like a coffee table leg) giving a white woman a hard backdoor delivery. He drilled the hell out her while she gasped in pain or pleasure or perhaps a mixture of both. As I checked out the other TVs in the bar, I saw that they too were broadcasting the same slamming anal action. A few of the men seated across from me glanced up at the screens, while most of the other sipped theirs beer and chatted with a studied nonchalance.
While I don’t’ consider myself a prude, a bar blasting hardcore porn from its monitors isn’t the kind of place I prone to relax in, regardless of the country. I was already feeling self-conscious enough, so, I drained the remnants of the can, thanked the barman, and made a beeline for outside.
I wandered in search of a less penetrative experience, and soon found myself outside another joint with festive music pumping. This was a larger place with a much more palpable energy afoot. I could just glimpse people up and moving inside, so I leaned into the swinging doors and crossed the threshold.
To my great pleasure. I saw that the music pouring forth was being played live by proper little Norteño band — bass, guitar, and accordion. Again, the clientele was primarily the white cowboy hat brigade, with a few women sprinkled in. The one TV in the room was playing an actual soccer game, so I knew right away that I had come to the right place.
I ordered a large bottle of Tecate (served in a mini bucket of ice) and nestled myself at a small table in the middle of the room, where I soaked in the splendor of local music played masterfully by a local band. Soon, a silver-haired old vaquero ascended the stage and joined the trio as a singer. His soaring vocals glided over the tight notes and rhythms of the combo, reaching points both mournful and joyous — often at the same time.
The music washed over me as I took down the sweet Tecate from the tiny plastic cup accompanying the bottle. My head bobbed and my body began to sway as I melted into the chair, and soon I felt the eyes of the room warming to me. They seemed to get that I was appreciating their thing, that my love for the music and surroundings was genuine.
One guy in particular kept looking my way and waving. He was an emaciated old dude with a pair of jeans cinched up with a frayed piece of rope. His deep lined face was a roadmap of the ravages of booze. I braced for the worst as he staggered my way. Years in Korea had taught me that being a foreigner all too often makes me a magnet for the worst drunk in the room. Why shouldn’t this translate to Mexico?
Once he reached my table, the teetering old borracho held out his bony, calloused hand. As I gripped it, I looked into his foggy eyes, where I saw no malice. Just two tables over a big man shook his head, as if to say, “That guy is bad news,” but for the moment I was cornered.
The skinny dude now addressed me in a slurred waterfall of words that I had no hope of understanding. I just smiled and concentrated my energy upon the stage, hoping he’d lose interest and just leave me be. Swaying above me, my new amigo struggled to retrieve a pack of cigarettes from his front pocket. Despite his state of hyper-inebriation, he managed to fish out three and deposit them on the table as a gift. He then pointed to the door, brought his hands up next to his head in a pantomime of sleep, and weaved his way out of the bar.
The band finished its set and I got another beer. As I walked back to my seat, I was greeted by a man at a neighboring table.
“Are you alone?” he asked. “Come sit with us.”
His name was Luis. He was a big-bellied man in his mid-40’s. He told me that he was recently divorced, so he was now free to spend his Saturdays boozing it up without getting nagged. His companion must have been north of 70 — another aged bag of bones beneath a white cowboy hat. Soon a much younger long-haired dude pulled up a chair, completing the quartet. Luis ordered more beer from a rather flamboyant waiter who walked with what could only be described as a pronounced sashay.
“He is a maricon,” remarked Luis. “Un joto.” He had managed to casually employ two pejoratives for “homosexual” in just one breath. His two companions nodded in silence, as if to confirm an unmovable truth.
Some patrons whistled as the waiter swished by. More than one grabbed his ass.
“Is this a problem around here?” I asked.
“No, he’s fine here, “the young guy answered. “Everyone knows him. He can do what he wants. It’s no problem.”
Soon the band retook the stage, thankfully delaying any more discussion of homosexuality in small town Mexico. Luis and I traded rounds of Tecate, dissolving ourselves into the endless stream of traditional tunes. What is it about this kind of music that goes so well with drinking? It’s the perfect soundtrack to throwing it back. Music for drunks, made by drunks…
The music and beer flowed on, melting the hours into one moving mass. It was an afternoon and evening of pure magic — exactly what I was after — but by 9 o’clock I’d hit the wall. After I stood up from the table, said my goodbyes, I stumbled back to the Guerrero, where I called my wife to let her know that I was, indeed, very much alive.
El Chepe is the nickname for the Chihuahua-Pacific Railway, a 637 kilometer line that links the city of Chihuahua with the port of Topolobambo on the Sea of Cortez. For much of its span, it climbs and runs through rugged mountain terrain that’s home to Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon), a system of river gorges offering up some of the best scenery in North America. The railway serves as a vital transportation link for locals, as well as a spectacular ride for tourists such as me.
The train was a good 30 minutes late, but eventually the big diesel beast rumbled into a view and came to a stop at the forlorn little station on the plain outside of El Fuerte. People grabbed their bags and made their way to the tracks as the line of cars squeaked and groaned into place. El Chepe generally runs just one train a day each way, so this was our only chance to jump aboard.
A couple of conductors disembarked and helped direct passengers to the appropriate cars, since none of us had actual tickets. You just told them your destination and they responded with a car number. I had done some research and decided that second class was my best option, since the only advantage to first class seemed to be the availability of a wildly overpriced dining car. I had eaten a fantastically good breakfast of birria del chivo (spicy goat stew) at a street stall back into town, so I was set for food. Second class was said to offer roomy seats and relative comfort, without any other amenities, for a solid one third cheaper than the cars in the front. And even better: by purchasing second class, I avoided the busload of American retirees that poured into one of the front cars from a massive tour bus. While I applaud every one of them for making the trip, travelling with a posse of Yankee silver hairs was the last thing I wanted to do.
Upon boarding, my suspicions were confirmed. My car — the last one in the train — was at best half full. I had my whole row to myself. It was clean and spacious with a seat that leaned back to near bed level. While a visibly drunk dude who I had chatted with on the platform immediately fell into a boozy, snoring sleep, the rest of us were wide awake and excited, as a ride on El Chepe is not something you want to snooze through.
The train clanked and jerked as the engine made its way up the long shot of track towards the hills rising in the distance. A conductor walked down the aisle and collected cash based on our final destination. Mine was the town of Bahuichivo, some four hours up the line. From there I planned to hop onto a local bus and head down into the depths of the canyon to the town of Urique, which, from the cursory research I’d done online, was said to be quite a treat.
But I didn’t know. I certainly had no guidebook to continually consult, as I’d made the decision to give up the Lonely Planet some years ago. I like to pack light, and the Lonely Planet is a bulky item. This is why I was amazed to see the hippy-pantsed French woman referencing it just one day before. It just seemed like such unnecessary weight in this age of instant wifi gratification. Do people still need to cart around a three-pound book whose information is invariably inaccurate and out-of-date?
Just an hour into the journey, El Chepe began to climb up into the mountains, and immediately I understood the particular pull of this journey. The plains we had trundled across gave way to rocky shoulders, which in turn became sheer walls. As I sat in my seat, working a crossword, I noticed a few of my fellow passengers shuffling past to the back end of the car. Curious, I got up and followed them.
Two restrooms occupied the left and right ends of the car, with a door in between that led to the outside. I followed a young Mexican couple to that final door, and was somewhat surprised when it opened up. Upon passing through, I realized that this train had no caboose. Our car was indeed the last in line, with just a bit of iron railing between us and the track moving beneath our feet.
El Chepe was by no means a fast train. It pressed forth in a meaningful chug, a determined pull forward with nary a hint of haste. In a way it was perfectly Mexican means of transport — tough, determined, but never in a mad rush.
There was no better place than the actual outside of the train. I leaned over the railing to snap phone shots of the ever-stretching track behind me. The sun doused the scrubby landscape in a hard wash, with a few quilted clouds hanging back as a kind of cottony protection. As the warm air blew across my face, I knew I was living a moment sublime. The rush of the earth and air pierced straight to my spine, and I was immediately high on the fumes of big country.
El Chepe snaked up into the knobby hills, over bridges and tunnels one after another. At one point we trucked over a sizeable river pouring through a broad sandy basin down onto the plain, the mouth of the canyon land that is the trip’s main draw. As the train climbed higher, the vegetation transformed from scrub to pine and I could feel the subcutaneous pinprick of the cooling mountain air. Soon I was yawning to pop my ears in an attempt to equalize to the higher elevation, where the lay of the land was suddenly much more eastern Oregon than southern Arizona. The cacti and sand were gone, replaced by green conifers and thumbs of white rock.
As I leaned into the sweet mountain air, I looked to the Mexican couple, both of whom continually snapped away on pricey-looking Japanese cameras. My mouth opened, but my Spanish was far too weak to describe my feelings. I would need deep superlatives, but came up short. Even English did no justice, but still, I tilted out into the wind and exhaled, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
Is teaching English abroad for artists? Teaching English abroad can be for anyone really. All kinds of people teach English abroad, even weird pink dudes like above. People have backgrounds and degrees from all subjects.
While degrees in related subjects can help, any degree is usually enough to get a job teaching abroad.
I have a degree in fine art (BFA) with an emphasis in painting. I have been making art my whole life: drawing, painting, sculpture, street performing, DJ'ing, etc.
I also taught in China, Korea and Taiwan. Now if you are an artist and are wondering if you should teach English abroad then this is for you.
If you are considering teaching English abroad then that means you probably need a job. Maybe your art or music is not bringing in enough money yet and you need some help.
You can find a pretty good balance between work and time to make art
You can find part time or more easy going jobs so that you have the time to make art.
If you are committed to your art it's definitely possible to find a job abroad working part time 20-30 hours a week or even less.
That's what I did.
I spent 6 years in Asia and I only had a couple full-time (40 hour) a week jobs. One was for like a month or so subbing and then another was for like 6 months or so.
My first job in Taiwan was working about 12-13 hours a week and then a got a few more hours worth of work at other schools and I got by on maybe 15-16 hours a week or so.
My second job was like for 18 hours a week. I had time to scratch my records and wander around.
Korea is a bit more work for most, but I still had one job working 25-30 hours in a hagwon. You'll have to look harder in Korea to find an easy going job.
China is pretty good for finding easy going jobs. I mean there are 40 hour work weeks out there if you want them, but quite a few jobs in China are less like the one I worked at.
In Asia the salaries for teachers are pretty good. It depends on the country and school, but it's definitely possible to make maybe $15-25 an hour or more teaching English.
And the cost of living can be pretty good depending on where you are.
Freedom and inspiration
Teaching in Asia or wherever could be inspiring for you. It's totally different. Part of the reason I got into teaching abroad is that I loved to travel.
I love new things and I love the freedom that comes from living abroad. Nobody knows you so you can totally reinvent yourself if you want. But like my dad used to say, "wherever you go there you are."
Asia is kinda conservative and boring
I thought that the culture in Asia was quite interesting. However, I also think it's kinda conservative. I mean there are artists out there too, but most people there are pretty similar and have similar thoughts.
There's a definite group mindset in Asia. It's not about the individual like it is in the USA. Conformity is the norm. My favorite place in Asia was Japan.
Visually it was the most appealing. There was more style there. More variety there (for music and fashion) and more groups. It's also the most westernized, yet it also has a strong tradition.
I found many of the other places to be less diverse as far as the arts go. But Japan is still eastern Asia and the group mindset exists there too.
Location doesn't matter or does it?
Overall it shouldn't matter where you go. You can make art anywhere. There's not a perfect place. Yes, a place can influence you, but ultimately it's up to you to make the art.
City or country?
It can be challenging choosing a place to live. In the city you are going to have more options. They are more cosmopolitan. If you are a musician and you want to find places to play then you could try going around to bars.
There are definitely foreign bars out there that are always looking for musicians and DJ's. I did some DJ'ing (I really like scratching records) when I was out there. Usually I did it in my bedroom, but while in Korea I played at a few different bars and did one live perfomance on stage and that was exciting.
So city or country?
There's just more options for everything in a big city. Even though big cities aren't going to be like big cities in your country they are still going to have more options for: social outlets (meeting other foreigners), groups, clubs (jiu-jitsu, judo, martial arts), restaurants, groceries, shopping, books, etc.
But the country or a small city could appeal too. This sort of area can be pretty appealing for some artists. If you don't mind a dose of isolation then this could be for you.
It's also easier to get a job in a more remote place since there is a lot less competition. Most people want to be in the big cities like: Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, etc.
If you don't know the language you are in for some challenges
Teaching abroad can be challenging and one of those challenges is the language. This could make communication a bit difficult and finding places to play your music or show your art could be difficult.
So learn some of their language. You'll be glad that you did and so won't they.
Being a foreigner has it's ups and downs
You're going to get a lot of looks if you look different from them. Eastern Asia is a pretty homogenous place. So if you are not Asian then you are going to get some staring and quite a bit of attention.
That attention can be good so take advantage of it. Some places may prefer that they have some foreign DJ's, artists, etc.
But on the other hand you will probably get some discrimination too. Some things might be easier and others harder. Overall I would expect to work hard to get some attention for your art.
Afterall, what comes easy?
Is the teaching creative?
Yes, teaching can be totally creative, but before you start making "creative" lessons, learn the fundamentals. You can take a course. Teaching is a responsibility and you owe it to your students, their parents, your boss and yourself to learn how to teach.
Trust me, an investment in your teaching will make your time abroad better. A substantial amount of time will be spent in the classroom.
If you are an artist you may not be a natural teacher.
I certainly wasn't.
It was hard for me in the first few years. I did take a course prior to going to Taiwan, but it wasn't helpful for me. It wasn't practical enough so over the years I started making instructional videos shot in the classrooms and then eventually a course.
That course and this site is basically the solution to all of the problems that I had as a teacher abroad.
If you are considering teaching abroad then...
If you need a "job" to support your art then the option is there. For most teaching abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but then again isn't this all a once in a lifetime opportunity?
There's a free course here where you can learn a whole lot more about teaching in Asia that I wouldn't miss out on...
And if you are an artist let me know because I would love to see what you do.
Inflation: All Kinds of Bad News for People With Money in Bank Accounts Most people decide to teach English in South Korea for the same few reasons: To have a year or two of fun and adventure before moving back to go to grad school, or get a “real job.” …
|Jackie Bolen: How to Get a University Job In Korea|
My Life! Teaching in a Korean University:
University Jobs Korea: universityjobkorea.com
Time is running out on my Black Friday Campaign. However, I have extended it until Friday to make sure that no one misses out on the savings. I know that it sounds like a plug but to be honest, I really want people to check out these courses. Over the last few months, I have been doing a number of photowalks and a lot of people have been asking about editing and cinemagraphs. I’ve realized that not many people know about the courses that I have available.
The one thing that I am proud of is my new preset pack. I put together a number of great presets… 12 of them in fact! I made sure to keep these as “usable” as I could. Meaning that I have bought a lot of presets that are just terrible and I do not know who would actually use them. What I put together are a series of presets that are one-click solutions for landscapes and cityscapes and a few for special purposes. If you are a fan of my work, then these are basically the settings that I have used for many of my photos. Check out the video that I made to show you how to install and use them.
Here are a few examples of the before and after versions
Makes your cityscapes pop!
Adds contrast to fall colours
Also adds a lot of colour and drama
As you can see, they make quite a difference in just one click. If you get them before Friday, Dec 1st then they are a little over $5. You can’t beat that kind of a deal. Not to mention, everything else in my store is also 55% off as well. If you had your eye on my lightroom basics course or one of my courses on cinemagraphs then there is no time to lose! Also flixel is having a Black Friday Sale as well. If you head to their site and use the code JASON50 you will get 50% off their Flixel Plan. That is an absolute insane deal for such a great program and plus you get all of their add-ons. Click the box below to checkout that deal.Use the code JASON50 to get 50%off
Over the next few weeks, I will be adding a new Luminar 2018 course to my school as well. Skylum (formerly Macphun) has been adding in a lot of powerful filters and I am impressed. My new course will cover all the basics and take a deep dive into this awesome piece of software. I will keep you updated on the the release date for that course. Until then, please check out the deals over at my school and I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving, if you are from the U.S.Click here and use BLACKFRIDAY55 to get the discount. Offer ends Dec. 1st
So Long, Korea!
There’s a big Korean population in my home city of Toronto. I had been for AYCE Korean BBQ with friends and for quick bibimbap lunches, but there’s so much more to discover about Korean cuisine. In Toronto, Korean BBQ just comes with kimchi and rice. I’m definitely going to miss all the delicious side dishes (반찬) that accompany the meat in Korea.
I had tried Soju back home, but Makgeolli was a game changer. When we visited Singapore, the bottles which cost KRW 3,500 here were going for $18. I can’t imagine how pricy it will be back home in Canada! I’ll miss Hotteok (호떡) on a cold winter day. I can go for spicy chicken called Dak Galbi (닭갈비) any day of the week (with cheese, of course!) One of my favourite snacks is a steaming hot King Size Dumpling (왕만두). You certainly don’t see those on every corner back home. In fact, most of the street food is pretty boring. We have food trucks galore, but stalls were limited to hot dogs. Has anything changed?
A Massive Subway System
The subway systems in Busan and in Seoul are very convenient. With 9 subway lines and buses connecting the dots, the Seoul subway system blows Toronto’s measly 3-lines out of the water. I’m not looking forward to going back to packed streetcars skipping skipping stops due to crowding.
While fares are hiked up at night after the subway closes, a taxi in Korea will still be way cheaper than a fare back home. It used to cost me $10 to get across downtown. Now I can get halfway across the city for that amount. Let’s not get started on rent prices in Toronto. I’m terrified.
If Korea has taught me anything, it’s how to take care of my skin. I used to wash my face with soap before bed and any kind of moisturizer was a faraway thought. Now I run ThatGirlCartier which focuses on K-Beauty and Dating. I’ve had the opportunity to try a number of amazing facials, cosmetic procedures, and skincare lines while living in Korea. I’ve found a personal favourite brand and I’ll have to stock up before leaving. I’m definitely going to miss the convenience of all the Skincare Shops in any given neighbourhood. Shout out to the gazillions of cosmetic and plastic surgery clinics in Korea. How am I going to afford botox now?
Concept Shops/ Stores with More
I’ve already written about the Style Nanda Pink Hotel/ Pink Pool Cafe and Skinfood’s Cafe. Since there are so many shops in competition, you’ve gotta have a gimmick to stay alive. For example, Espoir has opened up a Make-Up Pub with customized cosmetics. Do retailers get this creative back home these days or is it “one night only” done up by PR firms for influencers? This shop in Hongdae is a permanent fixture!
There’s wifi on the subway and in practically every restaurant, cafe, gym, and doctor’s office. While I still use up my 3 gigs of data before the month is up, I could totally get by on wifi alone.
I read a friend’s Facebook status about tipping lately and it got me thinking. She mentioned that she took herself out for dinner and sat at the bar. The bartender was neglectful – she had to ask another server for water and yet another for a status update on her meal which had taken an eternity to arrive. After tax, the meal came to $30. The people commenting still said they would tip 18%. I felt a little uncomfortable not tipping when I first came to Korea, but now that I’m used to it the idea of paying an additional 18% for crappy service boggles my mind.
I used to feel so uncomfortable pressing a button to get my server’s attention, and I still cringe a little yelling out “저기요”. As a server, I always felt a little awkward disrupting someone’s conversation to take an order, quality check, or wrap things up and deliver the cheque. With the touch of a button, we can let our server know exactly when we want something. It’s not exactly a step of service, but it takes the guesswork out of it all. I’m a fan.
Everything is easy here once you know a little bit of Korean. The bus system is pretty straightforward and the subways are in multiple languages. Everything is done online. You can order food whenever and to wherever, and there are convenience stores situated in every nook and cranny of this city. If you need or want something it’s not tough to get, and usually all you’ll have to do is lift a finger.
Drinking in the Streets
Convenience store socials are an essential part of the Korean experience. Sharing soju on a mountain with Korean aunties and uncles happy to see you enjoying views of their country is unparalleled joy. Going on a Mak-about (a walk-about with Makgeolli) can be sheer bliss. Fried chicken and beer by the Han River? Simple decadence. I’ll definitely miss the punk in drublic vibe of Korea.
No Shame in the Selfie Game
I used to feel so embarrassed snapping a selfie. As a solo traveler (for the most part) it’s tough to get a sly picture of yourself at tourist attractions. Not in Korea! I know most people want you to shove that selfie stick where the sun don’t shine, but here you’re welcome to snap a selfie (or a dozen) almost anywhere you please.
While it might not always taste great, Korea is awesome at making adorable edible treats. Some are better than others, but you can count on at least one moment in your day lighting up your insta-story.
Quirky Corners and Street Art
If you follow me on instagram you’ll know I have a great love for street art. In Korea, you can find awesome murals and graffiti through Itaewon, Hongdae, Sangsu, Seongsu, and in the alleys of Gangnam. I know I can find street art lots of places (and we found plenty in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore) but I feel like in Korea I noticed street art through brand new eyes.
Incheon International Airport
Getting from the desk to the gate might be a headache, but Korea as the gateway to Asia is something I’ll never take for granted. I’ve traveled to China, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Singapore and am not done yet. I’ve fallen in love with people, places, and plenty of plates in Korea and beyond. Getting to the side of the planet that many times would have been impossible from Canada.
The History of Korea
All over Korea you can visit temples, tea houses, mountains, and palaces. Any day of the week you can don a hanbok and step into the past. While Korea and Canada are both relatively “new” countries, Korea is rich in tumultuous history. There’s plenty to learn about culture and heritage in Korea. I’ll never be able to learn enough!
Bright Neon Lights
It’s totally cheesy, but I love walking through areas like Jamsilsaenae (RIP Sincheon) or Hongdae and seeing all the flashing lights day and night. I love walking home and seeing Seoul N Tower (Namsan Tower) all aglow. The more I write this the lamer it feels. Sure, I’m going to miss alot of “stuff” in Korea, but more than that I’ll miss the people and the opportunities.
Opportunities for Foreigners
As much as there’s systemic racism in this homogeneous society, there’s also a ridiculous amount of opportunity for people who don’t “look Asian”. Even if you haven’t dedicated yourself to the arts, you can get gigs as an extra here and there on dramas and in movies. A lot of hagwons just want a singing/ dancing monkey equivalent who will look and sound as different as possible to his or her students. It’s not always fair, but the odds are ever in our favour if you’ve got a Bachelor’s degree from a certain set of countries. When I go home will I be relevant in my industry anymore or will I have to start from the bottom…
I think there’s an understanding among most of us foreigners in Korea. It’s not easy to be away from your family and the way people cycle through Korea it can be tough to maintain friendships. This one is a bit of a double-edged sword, but I find most people here genuinely want to be open about forging new friendships. If you’re open to adventure or even have even just a smidge of curiosity, you’ll find new pals with common interests. These are people you may never have met back home, but aren’t you glad you’re giving one another a chance?
Having close friends from around the globe makes leaving Korea extra tough. I know that when I go home I’ll have the opposite problems. Instead of missing a wedding back home, I’ll now be missing weddings and other important events all around the world. More than any one thing I’ll miss about my life in Korea is the cheesiest answer of all. I’m going to miss you. I’m going to miss being able to call you up to go to trivia on…well…any given night of the week. I’ll miss bumping into you at Fountain when it overflows. I’ll miss the simple routines like coffee after lunch and a stroll around the park. I’ll miss being mistaken for that other blonde blogger who loves to eat. I’ll miss discovering new and exciting things since Seoul is ever-changing. I’ll miss you. All of you. I’ll miss you most of all when I leave Korea.
Have you ever wanted to describe something to your Korean friend, but been at loss as to how because ‘good’ just doesn’t quite cut it? That’s the moment you’ll want to know how to say ‘great’ in Korean!
Keep reading and this article will teach you the ways for how to say ‘great’ in Korean, preparing you for when that important moment comes. Have a great time learning with us today!
*Ready to learn Korean yet? Click here to learn about our 90 Day Korean learning program!
‘Great’ in Korean
There are a few word options for you to use when you want to describe something as ‘great’, depending on what exactly you want to say.
대단하다 (daedanhada) is a great word to use when you want to imply that something is ‘great’ in size figuratively. For example, when you mean to say that something or someone is ‘incredible’ or ‘amazing’.
훌륭하다 (hullyunghada) can be used to described something or someone that is not only ‘great’ but ‘remarkable’, ‘magnificent’ and ‘superb’. For example, the new movie you just saw or the best book you’ve ever read.
위대하다 (widaehada) is another excellent word to use to imply that something is ‘great’, and can be used in a variety of situations. For example, it is especially good to choose to use when you want to describe something as ‘greater’ or ‘the greatest’.
Lastly, when you wish to speak of specifically the size of something, such as your tall height, then the verb 크다 (kheuda) is your best friend. While it’s meaning is not literally that of ‘great’, it can be used as such, also in situations where you might want to describe the likelihood of something happening as great.
A word of caution about Romanization
While it is possible for you to study the words in this article simply by reading their romanized versions, it will come in handy for you to be able to read Hangeul if you ever wish to come to Korea. Hangeul is the Korean alphabet, and not difficult to learn. In fact, you can learn it in just 90 minutes.
After you’ve familiarized yourself with Hangeul, life in Korea will suddenly seem so much easier and the country won’t appear so foreign for you. So, if you’re serious about learning Korean, why not learn Hangeul today?
그녀의 일에 대한 능력은 대단해요 (geunyeoe ire daehan neungnyeogeun daedanhaeyo)
The ability she has for work is incredible.
어머니의 사랑은 세상에서 가장 위대한 사랑이에요 (eomeonie sarangeun sesangeseo gajang widaehan sarangieyo)
A mother’s love is the greatest love in the world.
그는 미래에서 큰 인물로 될거에요 (geuneun miraeeseo kheun inmullo dwilgeoeyo)
He will become a great person in the future.
너는 대단한 미인이야 (neoneun daedanhan miiniya)
You are incredibly beautiful.
이 책은 모든 점에서 훌륭해서 추천해주고 싶었어 (i chaekeun modeun jeomeseo hullyunghaeseo chucheonhaejugo sipeosso)
I wanted to recommend this book because it’s great in every aspect.
내일 비가 내릴 가능성이 크지? (naeil biga naeril ganeungseongi kheuji?)
The chances of raining tomorrow are great, right?
*Want more Korean phrases? Go to our Korean Phrases Page for a complete list!
Photo Credit: BigStockPhoto
Learn to read Korean and be having simple conversations, taking taxis and ordering in Korean within a week with our FREE Hangeul Hacks series: http://www.90DayKorean.com/learn
If you talk to any Korean over the age of 40, they will no doubt tell you about the “4 seasons of Korea” and look a bit astonished when they realize that places like Canada also have four seasons as well. This concept comes up in a lot of older textbooks and even my Korean language books as well. While it may seem strange, Korea does not disappoint when it comes to the seasons and fall is one of my favourite seasons here and that is why I can see why so many people are proud of them.
The beauty of fall is that there is a vibrant burst of colour before the long grey period of winter. I love the colours of fall, especially at the Buddhist temples around Korea. The trick to capturing great colours is to really make good use of the light. I find that you can stretch the shooting times out a lot more on the clear days. Not to mention that the bright mid-morning light often works best for these shots.
The 3 C’s: Contrast, Colour, and Creativity
I find that beginner photographers often are overwhlemed by the scenes that they see. They end up just “documenting” the scene rather than really diving in and exploring it. That is why I try and stick to the 3 C’s when I go out. This keeps me from just “spraying and praying” when I go out. When you are looking for certain concepts or ideas, you will produce better images in the end. You will find yourself looking for shots rather than hoping that you “something” at the end of the day.
Look for areas of light and dark to really make the scene pop. You can enhance the contrast in Lightroom after, but try and find the contrast on your own to train your eye. This is where harsher light may actually help you. Use the leaves to hold back some of that light and see what the shadows do.
This can be over done at times and I am no stranger to this at all. However, do not let that stop you from seeking out the colours that attract us all to this great time of the year. The best way that I find is to either hit the peak season or combine the 3’s like I mention in this article. Try choosing a single colour to focus on and see where that takes you.
I love seeing what people come up with during this time of year. Do just try and document what you see but try to express your vision. Basically, use your imagination and create images that express something more than “I was here” and you will be off to a great start. Look for new angles or try different apertures to isolate images. Think about what the scene is really saying to you and try to capture an image that show that.
The Bottom Line
Fall is a great time of year and you should try your best to show your version of it. You don’t have to be on the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia to capture a remarkable autumn shot. You just have to explore your world as I have done here in Korea. Think about what this season means to you and what tools and techniques you can use to express that vision.
Earlier this year I took a trip to a Korean temple to get some free Bibimbap [비빔밥]. Yes, "free." I wanted to film my experience going there, and also to talk about the dish.
Also you might notice that this video is longer than my usual food videos. It's a different video style that I wanted to try once. If you like it, I might make more food and travel videos in this style.
Check it out~!
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From Korea with Love