20 Reasons to LOVE Korea

Since we only have DAYS left here in Korea I wanted to pay homage to the place we’ve called home for the past two years. When I first found out we would be moving across the pacific I thought, “YES!! I LOVE Asia. I love India. I love southeast Asia. Finally I get to travel to all the places i’ve been pining over my whole life. And Korea, okay sure. It wasn’t necessarily on my list, but hey, it’ll be a decent jumping off point.” I thought I knew the basics about Korea.. like that there was a north and south- the north being communist and scary and the south a democracy that was a tech empire of sorts. I frequented a few Korean restaurants while living in Utah, so I had a decent idea of what it would be like, or so I thought.

Korea has been so much more than what I thought it would be. I’ve fallen in love with so many different aspects of this country and culture. I hope any foreigners who come to live here in Korea learn to live with an open mind, because when you do you are rewarded far greater than you can imagine. Here are my top 20 reasons I love South Korea and will miss it like crazy.

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  1. Rest stops 

When going on any extended driving trip in Korea you MUST stop at a rest stop. And not just for a quick bathroom break. They have cafeteria style restaurants where you can order pork cutlets and gravy, udon noodles, beef bulgogi, bibimbap, and many other Korean classics. And they are GOOD. The best udon noodles i’ve had in Korea were at a rest stop.

2. Baseball Games

The perfect summer activity. I love a classic American baseball game in the summertime and this is pretty darn close. Just substitute hot dogs and cracker jacks with squid and gourmet tea. But don’t worry the beer is just as plentiful!

3. Public Transportation

It’s clean, quiet, easy to navigate, and everywhere. Even if there isn’t a subway that reaches into your town there’s a bus. Grab yourself a T-money card from any convenience store and hit the road. The train system is also easy and affordable. (affordable being the key word here. While in Japan the same type of train going the same distance at the same speed was more than triple the price!) So take advantage! Plus it keeps you out of all that crazy traffic you would otherwise deal with in a car.

4. Street Food

When it comes to street food in Korea, there are SO MANY choices. Go to any market and you’ll be sure to find an ajumma frying up anything from sweet potatoes and squid to corn dogs coated in french fries and whole chilis. There’s odeng (fish cake) which can come in all different varieties and is stuck on skewers. And there’s tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes in red sauce) which my husband LOVES, mandu (dumplings both fried and steamed), beondegi (steamed silkworms) we’ve never tried considering all we’ve heard is they taste like juicy dirt and dirty vomit.. so no thanks. Then there’s bungeoppang (a pastry shaped like a fish filled with bean paste, ice cream, or custard), and my personal favorites- hotteok (sticky rice dough filled with pumpkin seeds, variety of nuts, cinnamon, sugar then grilled to create a warm pancake like pastry. SO YUMMY and so easy to find in the colder months.) and peanut butter grilled squid. I know, I know… it sounds gross, but it’s DELICIOUS! They sell it at Everland and movie theaters, it’s the best. Also try going to Myeongdong, especially on the weekend- it’ll be crazy but there’s food vendors galore and it’s the perfect spot to try lots of the above mentioned items.

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5. Fashion 

People here look good. And I mean ALL people. Little toddlers here are trendier than I am, seriously. Your average 20 year old male will be wearing a perfectly fitted suit while standing next to a 75 year old man on the subway station wearing a suit just as nice with a cap to finish off the look. And don’t even get me started on the women here *insert heart eyes*. There are no baggy, sloppy, or frumpy looking styles here. Only trendy and trendier, which makes the shopping here a must do! Now if only all American guys would dress as nice…

6. Honey Bread

Go to your nearest coffee shop. Order honey bread. Then come and thank me. Thick slices of soft bread toasted, then slathered with butter and honey, crushed nuts and cinnamon sprinkled on top, and finished with a thick drizzle of caramel sauce. There’s a few varieties of honey bread and every shop does it a little different, so go wild trying a bunch out.

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7. Safety

This might be one of my top 3 favorite things about Korea- it’s SO insanely safe. It has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and it lives up to the hype. I can’t tell you how many times a dollar bill has been hanging out of my pocket, or even fallen completely out of my pocket, in a crowded subway station and someone has come running after me to make sure I get it back or notify me that my money is well on its way to being lost. I’ve heard countless stories from others who have left behind wallets or phones only to have them promptly returned by a honest Korean citizen. There have been times someone could have easily ripped us off and charged triple what they were charging, yet they didn’t. As a woman, I feel completely safe walking alone at night in most areas. There was a recent government protest in Seoul that generated over 1 million people and yet only a few minor injuries occurred and was considered a successful, peaceful protest. Besides the threat of their neighbors up north, South Korea is by far much safer than almost anywhere in the USA.

8. Food delivery services

Almost every restaurant around delivers food to your home. Even McDonalds has cute yellow and red scooters with matching helmets for their employees ride/wear as they make deliveries. Let me just say that again, MCDONALDS DELIVERS TO YOUR DOORSTEP.

9. Incheon Airport

Seoul’s main airport actually lies outside of Seoul but is a gem worth exploring. Incheon has been voted world’s best airport more than once. And for good reason. It’s big, but well marked and easy to manage. It’s clean, the staff is on point, free wifi AND free  showers, and if you’re traveling with kids or babies they will happily let you cut long immigration or security lines. It even has a spa, casino, and ice skating rink.

10. Hiking

Hiking in this country is not like hiking anywhere else. Koreans are serious when it comes to extra curriculars or hobbies. They go all out when it comes to trying a new sport out. If they go bowling, they buy the shoes, the outfit, and even their own ball. And when it comes to hiking, it is no exception. I’ve never seen a Korean hiking without wearing the full outfit they bought from an expensive outlet like North Face or the Black Yak, including a high end walking stick (sometimes two walking sticks!!) Part of the fun when going to a park or trail is to not only look at the pretty landscape, but the walking Columbia ad that is surrounding you. And while they may stare at you for being so.. underdressed or “ill-equipped” they will happily offer and share their snacks with you.

11. Heated Floors

Being an American means I’ve missed out on one of man’s best creations- heated floors. I know this is not exclusive to Korea but it was my first time living in a home where I was happy to step out of my bed during the cold winter.

12. Hot Stone Bibimbap

A stone bowl filled with rice and an assortment of kimchi, pickled radishes (and other veggies), dark leafy greens, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and sometimes thinly sliced beef with a raw egg cracked over the top. The hot bowl is brought out sizzling then you quickly mix it up to cook the egg and keep the rice from burning on the bottom. It is most definitely my favorite Korean dish.

13. The Spa (Jjimjilbang)

Jjimjilbang is a Korean spa/bath house. And it is another one of my top 3 favorite things about this country. While there are some unisex areas (bathing suits and clothes required!) the gender segregated areas are the best parts. You literally strip down to your birthday suit in the locker room and freely explore all the different pools, saunas, and steam rooms. IT. IS. FABULOUS. I know it sounds weird to get naked with other random women and roam freely from pool to pool but it is the most exhilarating, freeing, and relaxing feeling all in one. And if you don’t love your body, it’s even more reason to go… I promise you’ll leave feeling oddly more confident in yourself. The spas even have cafeterias, napping rooms, and lots more to explore! And make sure to get a “massage” from one of the ajummas walking around in a bra and panties. It’s not at all a massage and really just an aggressive scrub down but your skin will have never been softer.

 

14. Markets

You can find local markets right in your town or go to Seoul for the complete experience. Namdaemun market is the oldest and largest traditional market in Korea. They sell everything from kitchenware and baby clothes to party supplies and street food. It’s cramped, chaotic, and a must do!

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15. Strawberries

The best strawberries i’ve ever had in my life. Not artificial tasting. Not pumped-with-hormones-and-pesticides tasting. Juicy, flavorful, and delicious.

 

16. Nursing Rooms

Korea is kid friendly. And Koreans love white babies and children. The older people especially love to pinch their cheeks and play with the babies. Maybe it’s like this in other countries as well, but in most department stores, malls, and bigger establishments they have nursing rooms or baby stations. When we went to Everland, an amusement park here, they had a few different baby stations set up all around the park. And they were NICE. Attendants manning the desk wore milk maid costumes (too cute and clever) and could help answer questions or direct you around. They have a quiet area with little stalls separated by curtains to create a private room complete with comfy leather chairs and side tables to sit and nurse your baby. Some even have nursing pillows you can use. Another section of the building has cribs so if you need to take a break and allow your baby to nap, you can. Another corner hosts a large counter with tiny dividers and pads to create a diaper changing station. Across from there they have sinks, filtered water faucets, and microwaves to make and heat bottles. There are even a few highchairs and kids tables to feed older babies and children.

17. Skin Care

The people here love to look good. And they are passionate about good skin. Koreans are adamant about wearing sunscreen and full wetsuits to protect themselves from the sun. And they spend lots of money on all the latest and greatest techniques the beauty industry has to offer. You can find cheap face masks all over the place or go high end and drop some major moolah on exotic serums . It’s worth checking out and getting free samples so hit a market or subway station and you’ll be sure to find many stores handing out free masks to entice you to come inside.

18. Karaoke

Any building that has lights flashing and a disco ball design on the sign means that it’s a Noraebang (karaoke place). A Korean karaoke place is divided up into rooms. You pay for however many hours you want at the front desk then head to your own private room. No singing in front of strangers at a bar, it will be just you and your friends in a comfy room. Most places provide drinks and sometimes snacks for purchase in case you need a bit of liquid courage. It’s a blast and the night always ends in exhaustion and everyone losing their voice.

19. Bingsu

Think of a creamier, milkier, finer, and more elaborate version of Hawaiian shave ice. Instead of a water base it is usually always a milk base and it’s so silky and fine. The original flavor, Patbingsu, is topped with a red bean paste but the flavors are endless. One of my favorites is simply topped with fresh fruit, like strawberries and mangos. Chocolate and coffee flavors tend to be popular too. You can also get syrups and condensed milk drizzled on top. It’s hard not to find a place that serves this cool treat during the summer. And even in the winter it’s worth it. Bingsu makes every other cold icy dessert look (and taste) pretty pathetic.

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20. The People

Obviously there’s a lot I love about this country, but the Korean people are my number one favorite thing about this place. It is what makes the culture and spirit of Korea so unique. I know you hear it about every country, “oh the people here or there are just SO great”, but I really mean it when I say that the Korean people are special. They are strong and resilient- they come from a tough background of invasion, civil war, etc. It’s only been a little over 60 years since the Korean war and to see how much progress South Korea has made since that time is simply astonishing. They went from being a war torn nation, impoverished and considered third world by most standards to now being a leading nation in Asia and in the world of technology. The innovation and discipline these people posses is more than impressive. And it’s not just the Korean peoples’ drive and determination that makes them great. It is their hearts, their gratitude, the respect they have for their elders and other human beings that sets them apart. They might seem quiet and reserved at first, but Koreans will happily take the time to help a lost foreigner at the train station or give up their seat for a pregnant woman or elderly person. They giggle and appreciate any bit of effort you put into using their language but are more than happy to practice and use their english with you. While traveling through Asia i’ve come to realize every nation’s people has their corks and their positive attributes, but also their differences. It makes me ashamed that I ever grouped together “Asians” as a whole or got confused at the difference between someone from Japan or Korea.. or a Chinese person or a Korean. And maybe it’s just the fact that I lived here for two years and I am biased, but I most relate with Koreans. I love their culture. I have become a better person having lived here and met so many selfless, wonderful, and remarkable Koreans.

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A Korean Birth Story

To start off, I love birth stories. Actually, I love birth in general and everything that surrounds it. When I was in kindergarten we had “occupation day” and every cute little 5 year old came in dressed up as what they wanted to be when they grew up. I specifically told my mother I wanted to dress up as an OBGYN. And when someone would look at my 5 year old size scrubs and say, “oh you want to be a doctor?” I would say in the sheer determination of a 5 year old, “No, I am gonna be a BABY doctor.. OGBNY or something. I want to deliver babies”. As I grew older and that dream faded (after the realization of all the training needed just to deliver babies half the time while the other half would be spent staring at vaginas) I got to be around when my aunt delivered her baby naturally with a midwife. This sparked an enthusiastic obsession with natural birth and midwifery. In fact, that year for Christmas my mom got me books like Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth and nutritional guides for pregnancy. (I know, I was an abnormal 17 year old) Again, life took a different track and I didn’t become a midwife (..yet! 😉 ) Upon finding myself pregnant I re-read Ina May’s words of wisdom and found such strength in all the uplifting birth stories from women throughout the book. I completely agree with her when she talks about how we, as Americans and Westerners in general, like to share “horror” stories about birth. Even in TV shows birth is portrayed a certain way, whether for shock value or laughs it is always a scary and painful experience. So I love when I hear people speak positively about birth and share inspiring stories… especially for first time mums who have yet to experience such a life changing event. That being said, I also understand birth is in no way easy or painless. So here’s my story- with all the details! Proceed with caution- I use the word calm about a million times, I discuss hemorrhoids, and you get to see some pictures of my killer tan lines on my lower half. You’re welcome really.

To start off, I chose to give birth at a Korean birth center in Seoul (specifically the Gangnam district.. we joke that we have a Gangnam baby now hehe). I knew I wanted to go as natural as possible and heard nothing but praise for this birth center- MediFlower. From the very beginning my husband and I both loved how we were treated and how experienced they were with Americans. Dr. Chung, the presiding OBGYN at the center, is extremely passionate about natural birth and very proud to be the first doctor in Korea to open a birth center and try to normalize “natural” (Korea has an even higher rate of C-sections than the USA, so natural, unmedicated birth is definitely unique in this country). He is a very gentle, thoughtful, and calm man who was always smiling and softly explaining how wonderful birth is, telling us not to worry about a thing. The language barrier never posed much of a problem, except once. I was getting my 20 week anatomy ultrasound scan and the very quiet Korean tech was gently pointing out different body parts as she went, “10 toes, 10 fingers, yes.. good. Okay now, baby face.” At this point everything was fine and she pointed to the eyes (which noticeably looked different from each other) and said, “Crossed eyes.” “Oh no. Oh no no” I thought. “my baby is CROSS EYED?!?!” My mind went wild. “okay. this can be fixed.. right? baby glasses. will our insurance pay for baby glasses? who cares. baby glasses are a must. this is fixable right? ” Instead I calmly replied, “cross eyed? Okay. Okay.” Then I looked over at my husband with big eyes. She again said, “Cross eyes.” Okay ya, lady, I got it. My baby is cross eyed, you don’t have to rub it in. My husband started laughing and said “no, CLOSED eye.” The tech gave a huge nod, “Yes, CROLSED eye.” Ahh, the old crolsed eye. She then showed us that he had one eye closed and one eye opened (which is why they looked different). Josiah and I could barely hold back our laughter as we walked out of the room afterwards, how silly I was to not catch that right away haha. Other than that, all of our prenatal care was top notch and we had no issues with a language barrier. 😉

Okay FINALLY for the birth story:

Tuesday August 23rd 3AM (5 days after my original due date): I had been having a restless nights sleep and finally woke up with decently strong, consistent contractions. By 4am Josiah woke up to me eating a banana in the kitchen while randomly cleaning things. We decided to shower, get ready, and head to the birth center. I texted my midwife, Su, to let her know we were on our way. By 6:30am we checked into the tranquil birth center where Su immediately checked me to find that I was 6cm dilated. Within an hour of arriving my water broke and my contractions were still strong and consistent. At this point I think everyone thought that by dinnertime I would have a baby in my arms. (at least that’s what I thought!) Our room was large and I was able to walk around and labor as I pleased. Our friend Jen was there to capture these special memories.

I tried my best to stay hydrated and eat bites of food as often as I could. By dinner time I remember thinking, “why has nothing changed?”. Su explained that baby was still sitting high and even though my body was progressing and my dilation was at 9cm, we needed to get him to move down further. At this point, since my water had been broken for so long, they also had to put a port in my hand to administer antibiotics every so often.  As the night drug on my energy levels really took a dip. I was wiped out from a long day of laboring and began to feel like the end would never come. Josiah and Su were with me the entire time and helped with every contraction- rubbing my back, holding my hands, breathing with me. We all tried to catch a snooze, even if I was interrupted every few minutes with another powerful surge. Finally, morning came..

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Wednesday August 24th 7AM: Exhaustion. Pure exhaustion at this point. Josiah and Su were equally tired, yet Su continued to care for me and even mentioned she had to leave for a few moments to check on another patient she had! (What the?!? She is superwoman I swear.) Once Su left to place our breakfast orders (ps the food was INSANELY amazing- even though I could hardly eat more than a quarter of each meal. We had a choice between a Korean and American menu the entire time.. Which I mostly got Korean food because I told Su to choose for me since I couldn’t really think or focus on that haha. We had the most amazing roasted chicken and ginseng rice soup with delicious Korean sides and seaweed soup a plenty. Su even made me a tasty pumpkin puree during the night and would feed me bites in between contractions. Josiah received his own meal too and gobbled down whatever was left of mine.) and check-in with other patients, Josiah and I had a bit of quiet time to discuss on our own. I told him how tired I was and I couldn’t do this much longer. I expressed that I felt weak and even though I didn’t want to quit or be cut open, the idea of a C-section sure was becoming more of a relief than a scary intervention. We decided when Su came back in to discuss what options we had. Su returned with a yummy rice porridge breakfast and we began to talk about my progression, epidurals, pitocin, C-sections, and doulas.  She told me she believed in me and that she knew I could continue naturally if I wanted, just that her biggest concern was how little energy I had. She asked how I felt about bringing in a doula… “yes, yes that’s fine. More than fine. Sounds great. Call anyone in that could help ha.” I had originally thought I didn’t need a doula- I felt I had “prepared” for birth by reading books, reading birth affirmations, squatting, stretching, doing figure eights on my exercise ball, walking on the treadmill.. and to be quite honest since my mom had short labors under 6 hours, I didn’t think I would have a long labor.. plus I had a supportive husband who attended birthing classes with me and knew all about Ina May- I didn’t need a doula I thought. HAHA, silly me. We decided to continue with the doulas and I told everyone that I needed to have this baby by dinnertime or at that point I would ask for drugs or a C-section or SOMETHING that resulted in getting this kid out. Dr. Chung stopped by shortly after to check in and gave me some encouraging words and told me he would check in again later that day. Even Haley, the Korean lady who is in charge of the international clinic and our first point of contact, came by to talk to me and said Su had been telling everyone how hard I was working and how impressed she was by my stamina and breathing techniques, especially for a first time momma. It was such a nice pick me up! By 11am I was squatting in the shower getting through contractions when two American Army wives walked in.. “Hi, we’re the doulas! ..we’ll let you have your privacy and we can talk once you’re done.” “Oh it’s fine. I’m pantless, I have a killer hemorrhoid already -that you’ll see momentarily i’m sure-, i’m leaking bodily fluids everywhere and I don’t really care who sees me. I have no pride left.” We all laughed and the next hours spent with those amazing doulas were a total Godsend. They were full of energy and laughter but knew when to quiet down and just rub my legs/hips as I contracted. They got me moving around the room and had “stations” setup where I would stop and do squats with one of them, figure eights on the exercise ball, lunges against the bed, and anything else that helped open my hips and bring baby down. Those ladies gave me the energy and confidence to keep going and give it my all. But as dinner neared, I still wasn’t to the point of pushing. I could feel my energy waining again and I began talking to the doulas about what they thought I should do. We discussed the pros and cons of every part of our situation and the different interventions. Ultimately though they told us it was our choice, MY choice and to be proud of that choice and not feel defeated. “Only you know what you need, take confidence in knowing this is your decision- OWN IT! And be proud! This is YOUR labor and birth experience.” Once Su came back in I said, “Su, it’s dinnertime.. And I don’t have a baby. I can’t do another night of this. Let’s talk options. I need this baby out.” She responded with a sympathetic nod and said she’d check me one more time to see if I had progressed and then get Dr. Chung to talk about interventions. After about 20 minutes of monitoring Su excitedly announced I was 10cm dilated and my contractions had picked up in strength and consistency AND that she could feel baby’s head! Hallelujah! Progress, finally! She said baby boy had finally started to move down but was still a tiny bit too high. The room filled with excitement as Su told me there was definitely no need for pitocin at this point and that she figured I could do it and this baby would be born TONIGHT! I got my third (fourth?) wind and agreed that I could push forward without any interventions (no pun intended). And so began the pushing, which at this stage was such a relief. I was having a hard time trying to breathe through the contractions and hold back when the pressure was so intense. I pushed using the birthing stool. I pushed as I squatted on the floor. I pushed using the hanging ropes. I pushed as I lunged with one leg up on the bed as I held onto Su or Faith, the doula. Again, the minutes started rolling into hours. Once both of the doulas had to leave to get home to their own kids and Su stepped out of the room for a moment, I looked at Josiah a bit frustrated. “Be real with me. You said you could see the head during my last push. Everyone is cheering me on. Is that real? Or are you guys just saying all that to keep my energy up. I feel like i’m being lied too. I feel like there’s no progress again and I can’t feel him moving down.” Josiah smiled and laughed, “Seriously, I saw the head. Here look in this mirror and on your next push check it out for yourself.” Well, needless to say when you’re on a birthing stool pushing with all your might it’s a bit hard to try to look down and see your baby’s head coming out of your vagina. So instead he told me inbetween contractions to just try to feel his head for myself. Probably TMI for everyone, but I did and with the help of the mirror I saw a tiny bit of his head.. and hair! It got me excited and kept me going for a bit longer. Su began filling up the birthing tub (for the fourth time since I checked in haha). Finally it all felt so close! She strapped the monitors on me once more to check baby’s heart rate and my contractions. I was growing exhausted as each minute ticked on. While I sat on the edge of the bed I looked wearily at her, “Su, can I really do this? I’m just getting so tired again. I don’t know how much longer I can go.” She calmly sighed and with a slight smile and her soft Korean accent said, “Vanessa, I believe in you and the baby boy. But I also think you’re just so schmall (small). You’re body is schmall. No mushel(muscle).” Leave it to Koreans to be 100% honest with you haha. Dr. Chung appeared soon after Su checked me and sat on the floor as I pushed against the birthing stool. He breathed through a few contractions with me and checked me as Su was monitoring the fetal heart rate. He then suggested we try a few contractions on the bed where Josiah and Su could help hold back my legs and he would try to help stretch me as I pushed. It was painful.. to say the least. After that Dr. Chung (ever so calmly I might add- Koreans are excellent at the whole calm, tranquil state) told me that baby boy’s heart rate was dropping every time I contracted and that he wasn’t moving down as they had hoped. He gave me a few options at this point. “Okay Vanessa, it will take 30 minutes for the anesthesiologist to get here to administer drugs for a C-section. We can wait.. Or we can give you an episiotomy and we can try to help push baby down.. But if this doesn’t work you’ll still end up with a C-section and an episiotomy. We need to decide now though.” 30 minutes? That sounded like eternity. “Episiotomy.. Let’s try it.” I looked at Josiah and we both nodded. Everything became a whirl as one by one another Korean came into the room.. wheeling in oxygen, coming in with gowns, preparing a baby station with an oxygen mask- But again, everything was so calm (at least to me!) Dr. Chung was at the end of the bed, Josiah by my right side at the top of the bed, one nurse standing on my left side, one nurse kneeling over me on the bed at my right side, and Su squeezing my left hand. It felt like just a minute or two of quick movements.. someone had placed an oxygen tube on me and before I knew it Dr. Chung, again calmly, told me to push as hard as I could during my next contraction. As I pushed the two nurses pushed the top and sides of my belly- HARD. Meanwhile Dr. Chung was reaching inside of me- ouch. But honestly the pushing on my belly was the most painful. As the next contraction was about to begin Dr. Chung again told me push as hard as I could and get ready to meet my son.. With all the strength I could muster in my exhausted body I pushed. I felt like every vein in my body (especially my neck and face) were going to explode. And just like that there was a giant gush and baby boy’s head and body came sliding out. I could barely see how quickly Dr. Chung pulled him up and untwisted the umbilical cord around his neck. Su immediately took him and yanked my bra up and placed him on my bare chest with a few towels wrapped around him. Suddenly time stood still. MY baby boy was lying on my chest, eyes wide open staring up at me. I could hear Josiah laughing/crying as happy tears rolled off his cheeks. Baby boy gave us a few whimpers to let us know he was breathing and one gusty yelp, but immediately calmed down and just stared at the new world around him. Su smiled proudly and leaned in to tell us that his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck a total of three times! She figured that’s why he wasn’t coming down and why his heart rate was dropping every time I contracted towards the end. I hardly noticed Dr. Chung stitching me up until he said, “okay, I did a very great job on your stitches! You will have no scar and be very beautiful.” Haha, thanks Dr. Chung, thanks. Cause you know, at that point, that was my biggest concern. He then said, “okay time to deliver the placenta! One more push!”. It was easily delivered upon which Dr. Chung excitedly showed us (he’s super passionate about the whole birth experience I tell ya!) “Here, look. This is the side that was connected to the uterus.. This is where the umbilical cord attaches. Look at all the veins.. Nourishes baby, all the food and growth came from this.. Here touch it! Yes, touch it!” So as he pulls apart my fresh, bleeding placenta he gets us to touch it and admire it with him before placing it in a plastic bag to lay beside me so that the umbilical cord could pulsate a bit longer before we cut it. Finally everyone had exited the room as Su finished dressing my stitches and placing some pads on me. She left for a bit to give us some bonding time alone before returning to help Josiah cut the cord and weigh him. Golden Wilde De Costa born at 1:58AM on August 25th weighed in at 7.5lbs and was 20in long. He nursed after his umbilical cord was cut and latched like a champ. That night was a much needed blissful night’s rest where all three of us slept for almost 6 hours straight. My mom arrived later that day around dinner time. All was well in the world. So that was it! 47 long hours of labor that included 5 different vomit sessions (thanks to everyone who quickly grabbed a bag or trashcan for me to puke in!), 4 catheters (I tried my hardest to pee on my own towards the end there but I just couldn’t.. Everyone was impressed by my full bladder and levels of hydration though.. so props to me! haha), 3 attempts in the birthing tub, 2 spotify playlists I made that played over and over since I didn’t account for such a long labor, all resulting with 1 beautiful baby boy!

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As i’ve reflected this past week and a half, i’ve felt so many happy emotions. But gratitude is the one that supersedes the rest. I feel so beyond blessed and grateful for my little Golden- for his health. The last ultrasound we got at 37 weeks showed that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, but we didn’t know to what extent and were assured by everyone that it was common. And it is common, but anything can go wrong in the blink of an eye.. So for his safety and health, I am beyond grateful. I’m also so thankful and humbled by my midwife Su. I truly believe she is an angel and was assigned to be my midwife by divine inspiration. My eyes still tear up when I think about how she never rested during those long hours.. How she laid by my side through that first night and would wake up and help me through each contraction. I know I could not have made it without her. Su holds a such a special place in my heart and will be one of the people and memories I miss most from Korea. And my heart is full when I think of the entire MediFlower staff- each person who came and checked in on me, giving me such encouraging words.. Dr. Chung for his calm, precise, and positive demeanor. The doulas, Faith and Darla- what angels they were.. coming to my aide at the perfect time and bringing laughter and smiles with them. It really is amazing how quickly you bond with strangers during moments of “crisis” or “trauma” (not that this experience was either of those, but it definitely brought the same levels of intensity). I am so grateful for my sweet friend Jen, who not only spent long hours away from home capturing my labor on camera (and returning during the middle of the night for the grand finale!!) but who was such a support to me. Knowing I was surrounded by loved ones who would give me a smile and gently encourage me meant more than anyone will know. And finally, my Josiah. That darling husband of mine didn’t leave my side for more than a minute to fetch me ice water throughout my labor. At one point I heard him praying for me, and after later discussing with him, he told me how worried he was and how everyone, even the doulas were a bit nervous for me but he made sure to keep me positive. Watching him become a father has been a joy in and of itself. So yes, this birth story is long. If you read this far, I hope the one take away you gain from this is that it was a beautiful time that I am forever grateful for. I am beyond proud of myself.. If you came to me before and said, “hey you’re gonna be in labor for 47 hours” I would have laughed and said, “give me an epidural then.. or a C-section even!” But when you’re in the moment and surrounded by such amazing people whom you trust and are cheering you on, you muster the strength to keep going, even for just another few hours. I’m proud of my body, and as I said before, even more grateful and humbled by the outstanding human beings who lifted me up.. both physically and emotionally. I feel like most people would walk away with a negative outlook on this outcome, but there is no way that I can. I smile and am overjoyed for the experience. For all you future mommas out there, let this be a testament to you- when YOU take control of your labor/birth experience and form a trusting bond with your doctor/midwife/provider then you will walk away happy with zero regrets… even if it ends up lasting 2 days like mine! 😉

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No one will probably enjoy and/or appreciate all of the following pictures as much as I do, but but I thought I’d add all the behind the scenes pics anyways.

Dr. Chung congratulating us on our babe

My angel midwife Su

nursing for the first time

First family selfie 🙂

Dr. Chung excitedly showing us my placenta. Hands down one of my favorite pictures. I literally laugh out loud when I see it.

Getting us to touch the placenta

Lovely Su



Not everything was so serious. We had some happy moments too 🙂

Cheers to Mum!

Hi, Ness here. I could easily blame hormones on this post, I mean they do play a part I’ll admit, but really I have always taken such pride in my gender and truly am inspired by the female race. Enjoy my sappy expression of love and brief overview of some of the most inspirational women in my life.
With that said, I’ve been feeling extra grateful and humble this Mother’s Day. I’m in constant awe of the women around me who are the best examples of motherhood.. Not because of they are perfect and have raised superb children and keep immaculate homes, all the while flawlessly balancing their successful, rewarding career. No, I’m in awe of the raw, real women who struggle every day but keep going in spite of the tribulation and heartache.
I am proud to come from a rich heritage of strong women and I want to spotlight a few people specifically. I want to start with Sundee Diviney, my maternal grandmother. Without going into too many unnecessary details, my grandma endured a rough childhood at best. Her mother worked, simply because she had to to support the family. Her father was an abusive drunk whom she doesn’t have too many memories of (and the few she does have are not happy ones). My grandma’s stepfather was a cruel man, not physically abusive like her biological father, but just as destructive in other ways. When I hear the word ‘blossom’, I think of my grandma Sundee. She not only endured her upbringing, she blossomed in spite of it, probably BECAUSE of it actually. Sundee put herself through college, learned to cook from her Mexican neighbors, and took advantage of trying every new opportunity placed before her.. She joined clubs and was the “it girl” on campus (I think she received more than 3 marriage proposals?!?!). In fact, when my own mom tells me stories of her childhood she talks about how my grandma would always expose her kids to new things, even on their frugal budget she remembers Sundee buying starfruit or a real coconut for the kids to try (pretty exotic for the 1970’s kids growing up in Crestview, Florida haha). My grandma worked hard to finish her degree and continued on to get her masters in mental health counseling, all the while trying to keep track of 5 kids at home. She’s had quite the career working with abused children, alcoholics, drug addicts, adoptions (she loves her birth mamas!), the military, etc. Even now, when most people her age are retiring she keeps doing the work she loves and it has taken her all the way to London England. My grandma Sundee endured some dark days in her past, i’ve cried listening to some of her stories, but she blossomed into a woman who can now be proud of the direction she’s steered her children and grandchildren. So easily she could have repeated the patterns of her past, but instead forged a new way forward. Was she perfect? Come to one of our Diviney family reunions and you’ll quickly realize that no one in our family is haha. I’m sure she had many dark days where she wanted to give up, both as a youth and an adult. But even just for my sake, I’m glad she didn’t. So thank you Sundee, for changing the course of your future posterity.
And speaking of the Diviney line, my Aunt Hollee deserves a shout out. She has always been a second mama to me, fiercely protecting me even in the womb. I even lived with her for a few summers. I’d like to think I get my “cultured” and “feisty” side from my Auntie Hollee. After all, one of the first words I learned from her as a toddler was “expensive”. She was the cool, artsy aunt with all sorts of cool, artsy knickknacks in her apartment that I liked to touch, to which she would respond, “no, no.. expensive” ha. Hollee was also the one who begged and pleaded my mom to get my ears pierced and finally at the age of 3, my mom conceded. I have watched over the years as Hollee has thrown dinner parties that are Martha Stewart swoon worthy, travel AND move to far away places, and create beautiful art. She taught me to be spunky and that blue hair in your 30’s is one hundred percent A-OK. When my own mom’s perfect, poised style was a bit too.. poised.. for me, I could look to Hollee for inspiration. Cheers to you, my cool Auntie Hollee!
Suzette Walker, my paternal grandmother. My grandma Suzette, was the epitome of a southern, nurturing grandma. Her roots go back to Alabama, but her entire adult life was spent in the panhandle of Florida. She married young (like everyone did during the “olden days” ha) and had 3 children who were her pride and joy. At least until she started having grandchildren, I think that was her true passion in life, but I could be biased 😉 When I think of my “southern roots” and where I “come from” I think of her. I think of sweet tea in the fridge, cornbread in the oven, and gospel tunes she would hum while stringin the beans on the back porch. Even though my mom grew up in the same town, she knew very, very little of southern cooking before her and my dad were together. (Her mom was a master Mexican chef from Arizona remember?!) My grandma Suzette patiently taught my mom the importance of a cast iron skillet and how to properly use it to make cornbread. She taught me how to make her delicious fried squash and countless other southern staples. I have vivid and very fond memories of sitting on the back porch shuckin corn while Grandma prepped the rest of the meal. We would have delicious cat fish frys with the best hush puppies and yummy cheese grits. More importantly than the food though, my grandma was a patient, sweet southern women. The song, “You Are My Sunshine” will always make me a bit teary eyed when I hear it and think of her singing it to me as I fell asleep. She passed away when I was only 14 years old. I watched those last months as cancer took her away from all her loved ones. But she never stopped loving all of us and made every effort to make sure we knew that. Grandma Suzette left behind two other important women in my life, my aunt Deena and aunt Emily. I see such strength and endurance when I picture these women. Both have become dedicated mothers and flourished even in hard times. I’ve watched as my Aunt Deena has battled different forms of cancer numerous times in her life while trying to raise 3 daughters of her own. Her endurance and fortitude is inspiring. My aunt Emily lost her mother at too young of an age, and is now raising 3 babies of her own knowing her mom won’t ever get to meet them in this life. I can’t imagine either situation and I hope I never have to, but their strength is humbling.
My mother in law, Debbie. It’s weird even typing ‘Debbie’ since i’ve only ever heard her called mom or auntie or grandma.. by everyone. I’m still trying to figure out all the pieces of Debbie’s upbringing, but the stories i’ve heard are wild! Between traveling to Nepal as a teenager in the 70’s to giving birth to 9 children (and helping raise many more than that!), she’s an epic woman for sure. Deb is probably the single most giving woman i’ve ever met. She may only have the clothes she’s wearing, but she would give you the shirt off her back. Some of the best gifts Josiah and I have gotten have been from Deb, like the vintage christmas ornaments she found at the thrift store that she thought were my style (THEY WERE!!). She can make anyone and everyone feel special, like you are loved by all the earth, moon, and stars kind of special! And her daughters have turned out just as lovely as she is. All of Joe’s sisters are unique and inspiring in their own ways and have been such examples to me of independence and endurance, especially as I enter motherhood myself.
Lastly and most importantly, I want to talk about my momma, Shelley. (at this point, you’re probably the only one reading this mom haha) My mom’s upbringing was, dare I say, *relatively* normal? That is until she hit her senior year in high school. My mom got pregnant with me when she was just 17 years old. I used to be so embarrassed by this fact, like I was some bastard child who had the darkest secret in school. Now I realize, this single fact has helped positively mold me into the person I am today more than I will ever realize. Hearing that now a days doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but back then, there was no glamorous MTV 16 and Pregnant and there was definitely a lot more shame associated with it. She could have taken quite a few easier ways out than she did, but she chose to stick with my dad and keep me around. But more shockingly, she finished high school AND immediately put herself through college while working side jobs and NEVER once getting on any type of welfare (neither government nor church assistance). Props to my parents right?!?! That is UNHEARD of in our generation. Oh and did I mention they only lived at their parents’ house for like 6 weeks tops before moving out? Ya MEGA props to my parents (even if at one point they lived in a trailer.. hey, the reminder keeps me humble). But the story doesn’t end there. My mom has continued her education over the years.. and not because she just felt so inclined to wave around some flashy PhD, but because as she puts it, she “had to” to properly support her kids and maintain their quality of life. And now, she’s a boss. I’m not just saying that because she’s my mom.. Really she is. She’s the DEAN of Health Sciences at a college. Boss status. So she went from teen mom who could have dropped out of high school, to Dr. Shelley Diviney, the bad ass. Talk about defying statistics! I constantly tell her she needs to go on motivational speaking tours to inspire the girls of my generation. But really though, besides beating the odds and having an impressive resume, my mom has taught me the greatest life lessons through her struggles, failures, and her sincere love for me. Because of her unique life experiences, my mom has been able to stay grounded and teach me humility.. I’ve watched as she’s gone into horrid homes and cleaned fecal matter off the floor just to help someone out, she’s made countless meals for others, and inspired so many other women. Yet she’s also exposed me to the other side of the spectrum.. She’s taught me the sky’s the limit and to keep dreaming always, to travel to every corner of this earth and constantly explore and expand as a human. She’s taught me the importance of standing on my own two feet. That sometimes being tough is necessary and the only way to survive, but it’s no excuse to lose your softer side. She is the most nurturing boss woman i’ve ever met. I don’t know how she balances it all… And if you ask her she’ll tell you she doesn’t and that she’s nowhere near perfect, but in my eyes, she absolutely is. She is the mom I need in every possible way and most definitely the mom I want. Even though I find her perfect, it’s her imperfections that have taught me the most.. Her capacity of love for her children, which has inspired her strength and endurance during tough times, is what I strive to attain as I venture into new motherhood.
This list could keep going on and on with many other women in my life, but this was me keeping it ‘short and simple’ ha. I’m lucky and so extremely humbled to have such grand examples in my life. To all of you kick ass ladies out there, THANK YOU.

Eat, Pray, Love: Bali Adventures

Wow, so you made it to my page! You mean I haven’t lost my 9 followers over the four month hiatus i’ve been on?? 😉 Jokes aside, as every human being knows, life gets busy. But i’m back and trying to catch up on our latest trips! If this is your first time checking out my blog (or you forgot who I was), let me introduce myself. Hi, I’m Vanessa. I’m married to a cute US Army soldier and we are currently stationed in South Korea. We love exploring different countries and attempting to cook food from around the world. He’s a straight laced rule follower with a killer sense of humor that keeps me rolling.. And i’m your classic rule breaking thrill seeker that has a fear of heights and a makeup addiction. We LOVE to travel and our goal is to live in as many foreign countries as we can. This blog is a hodgepodge of my thoughts, funny stories, trips around the globe, and pictures to accompany it all. Enjoy 🙂 Or don’t, that’s fine too.

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Bali. Almost 6 years ago I got my hands on a copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book was delicious; full of the deep heart ache everyone has experienced in life, but balanced with light hearted self exploration to keep you reading. At 18, it was the perfect motto to feed my adventurous appetite. At this point in time I had already been to both India and Italy. But Bali? That had just popped up on my radar. Shortly after, I saw the Julia Roberts movie version of Eat, Pray, Love and Bali suddenly went from “on my radar” to “top of the list”. Cliche as it may sound, Hollywood and the NY times bestseller list had me sold. Nearly 6 years later, I finally made it happen.

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Lonely planet says this about Bali, “The mere mention of Bali evokes thoughts of a paradise. It’s more than a place; it’s a mood, an aspiration, a tropical state of mind.” and we couldn’t agree more. Beaches galore, lush volcanic mountains, coral reefs, breathtaking rice paddies, iconic temples, mesmerizing waterfalls, yoga retreats, and smiling people- yes, it seems Bali does have it all. I think one of the things we loved the most about Bali was the diversity. So much to see and do for every type of traveler, person, and budget. In fact, we loved Bali so much we have talked about going back eventually and LIVING there.

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So what do we recommend?

We started our trip by heading north and far away from the hustle and tourists traps of Kuta in the town of Selemadeg located in central Bali. And when I say far away from the tourists I mean it. Far away from even decent sized Balinese towns. Essentially we were in the middle of nowhere and off the grid. We stayed in a large open air bamboo house built and run by a Brit who walks barefoot everywhere he goes, lives in the local village, and pretty much considers himself Balinese at this point.

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We set up an all day walking tour of the local village with Simon (brit-turned-balinese) and hiked around the gorgeous rice paddies, thick mountain jungles, the local villages and ended the day with a visit to the local hot springs.

DCIM104GOPROGOPR3978.Our local guide taking us through the jungle and on to the next village

DCIM104GOPROG0764119.Hot springs!

DCIM104GOPROG0794151.Joe wanted me to note that he is not fat, and in fact has a decent set of abs but this angle makes him “appear” to have many fat rolls. Notice I strategically placed my hand to avoid fat rolls. haha.

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Our 2 and half days spent in the rural parts of Bali and at the bamboo house were right out of an adventure book. The breathtaking sunrises and homemade Balinese food made by two local women made our off-the-grid escape just too perfect.

I would SO recommend a quiet retreat to a less touristy part of Bali to EVERYONE. Airbnb.com is a great resource to find the perfect setting. Here is a link to where we stayed- https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/800284 Just be aware that it is an open air house. So don’t expect 5 star resort status. Like, the toilet is non existent.. It’s a glorified hole in the floor. BUT there is a shower with hot water 🙂

Next we set off to Ubud– the hippie jungle oasis of Bali. On our way we stopped at a spectacular waterfall called Nungnung and the impressive Tegallalang rice terrace.

DCIM105GOPROGOPR5520.Nungnung Waterfall

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DCIM105GOPROG0955532.It was a bit chilly..

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Ubud is the artsy fartsy town of Bali and is known for it’s crafts and dance. Within an hour surrounding Ubud you can find some of the most exquisite temples, cultural land marks, and iconic scenery. Ubud is bubbling with art galleries, international cuisine, fun boutiques, yoga classes, and so much more. In my opinion, Ubud is arguably the best part of Bali and a must do for anyone traveling there. Again, use airbnb,com to find a private villa for as cheap as $20 a night or try agoda.com (or hotels.com) for hotel listings.

20150630_154848Crappy phone pics (I had about 500 far better pictures on an SD card who’s whereabouts can not be determined at this time. I know, I already cried over it.)

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We spent our 4 days there riding elephants, watching cultural dances, going to the spa, feeding monkeys, practicing yoga, visiting stunning temples, participating in Balinese Hindu rituals, shopping in the markets, hiking a volcano, and eating our hearts out.

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DCIM105GOPROG1115699.Traditional Balinese Dance

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DCIM106GOPROG1456123.Pura Tirta Empul. The “Holy Water Temple” is one of the oldest and busiest Hindu temples in Bali.

DCIM106GOPROG1476147.Joe sneaked a pic while we were getting a crash course on the Hindu rituals we were about to partake in at the holy temple.
DCIM106GOPROG1526197.The rituals consisted of many prayers, meditation offerings, the washing of your hands, face, and body in the holy spring water. As well as drinking it! 

DCIM106GOPROG1516194.The natural spring water was FREEZING. And there were all sorts of fish swimming around us. It was such a unique and inspiring experience to not only witness the devout locals perform the sacred rituals, but participate ourselves. 
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DCIM106GOPROG1616300.Goa Gajah, the elephant caves

DCIM106GOPROG1756461.Monkey Forest in Ubud

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DCIM106GOPROGOPR6339.Don’t let these cute guys fool you. This was taken seconds before this giant decided to rip half my shirt off and a worker came running over with a stick, ready to beat him away. They were vicious. And terrifying. I have a scar from a monkey bite to prove it!  

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DCIM106GOPROGOPR6538.We hiked Mt. Batur, a volcano and one of the highest points in Bali. We started our journey at  3am to make it in time to see the sun rise. Another awe-inspiring moment of the trip.

DCIM106GOPROG1876601.And another frigid moment of our almost always warm weathered vacation

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To finish off our vacation we headed down south to Nusa Dua for some beach time. Nusa Dua is known for it’s resorts and less-crowded beaches. We managed to book a gorgeous resort that had just opened for a steal of a price and it was the perfect way to end our holiday.

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Now every place has to have its downfall right? While I’m sure there are prettier beaches and i’ve heard there are some amazing snorkeling spots, I was pretty underwhelmed by Bali’s coast line. If you want to travel to Bali for a beach vacation, look elsewhere. Thailand and the Philippines are far better options when it comes to jaw dropping beaches. Don’t get me wrong. It was great. But i’ve been spoiled and i’m constantly searching for “jaw dropping” not just great.

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Overall, we LOVED Bali. I know a few people who were not impressed and left feeling underwhelmed. I suppose if you expect Bali to be a cross between Cambodia and India with an untouched sort of feel to it than you will be disappointed. Especially if you stay in Kuta. There are lots of tourists. You will not be the only westerner there. They do cater to western visitors. But if you search hard enough like we did, you can find your own rural, authentic Balinese experience. And learn to enjoy the western luxuries that you can’t find in places like India.

Have you been to Bali? Let me know! I’d love to hear about how you enjoyed it. Want to go to Bali and have more questions? Be sure to comment and ask.

Till next time,

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xoxo V

How to Travel to The Philippines for $500 (or less!)

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The Philippines. What do you think of? Rice fields? Humidity? Smiling children running barefoot through muddy streets? American kidnappings? Tropical paradise? Poverty? The kindest people you will ever meet? If you said yes to each of the above, congrats! All of them are true! (And don’t be alarmed about the kidnappings.. It’s only happened a few times in the ghetto of Manila. I felt safe the entire time I was in the country) After my trip there, I can honestly say the Philippines might be the most underrated country in the world. When you get out of the bigger cities, like Manila, and venture further into local villages throughout the mountains and dotted along the coast, you seem to find yourself transported into a 3rd world fantasy of sorts. I went on a girls’ trip to the province of Palawan which is an island situated in the western part of the country, closest to Vietnam. We had heard from other friends how absolutely mesmerizing Palawan was, and most notably El Nido, a small beach town located on the northern section of the province.

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In fact, Palawan was voted the most beautiful island in the world by Lonely Planet in 2014. My friend, Amy, and I took a 5 hour van ride from the airport that is located in the center of Palawan up to El Nido (this can be eliminated all together by flying directly into El Nido’s small airport, which I recommend to those who are on a time crunch or get car sick easily) and while the long bumpy ride was not a top highlight of the trip, the view along the way most definitely was. Amy and I kept turning excitedly to one another wide eyed with child like enthusiasm at the landscape right outside our window. And the gorgeous vegetation was just the beginning… seeing small bamboo huts lining dirt roads, barefoot children chasing after all sorts of livestock, and families of five or more all piled onto one scooter was an experience in and of itself.

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pic courtesy of google 🙂

The entire trip Amy and I kept exclaiming, “We have literally been transported to the movie Swiss Family Robinson.” or, “This island IS Peter Pan meets Tarzan!!!” (I suppose Disney has visited Palawan for inspiration). Upon arriving in dreamy El Nido, we were swept away by picture perfect sunsets and the tight knit community which had just enough tourism to keep it alive and well at night, but still so small and local that we felt like we were the only Americans to have discovered this secret gem (you’re welcome btw.. for sharing this special place with you!). If you are looking for a dream vacation that perfectly balances exotic views, the most warm and welcoming people, countless water and boating activities, affordability, and laid back island vibes, then Palawan is the place for you! If you want the financial details of our trip and how to successfully travel to the Philippines for $500, keep reading. Otherwise skip to the end where dozens of pictures capturing crystal clear lagoons and cascading jungles await!

Budget travel to the Philippines (divided PER PERSON, not per couple)

Okay, okay let me preface this by getting a few things out of the way:

1. Obviously I live in Korea where airfare to southeast Asia is cheaper than flying cross country in the states. Like cheaper than flying from AZ to UT! So for my American and European friends- I can’t help you too much there.. or wait, can I? My remedy for this? COME VISIT US! Save your pennies, bite the bullet and buy the ticket to Korea, stay with Josiah and I for free, receive a complimentary tour of Korea courtesy of yours truly, and then, just add on only $500 more to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world (and if you want i’ll even go with you AND be your personal tour guide for that as well!!! I know, I know, i’m so selfless.. ha). TWO FOR ONE DEAL PEOPLE!! Really, this is an investment in your memories and well-being. 😉

2. So I actually spent approximately $590 on a 5 day girls trip to paradise. BUT- had I wanted to spend under $500 and still have an epic holiday, I very well could have. Besides the flights and accommodations, nothing was paid for and I only brought around $300 to last 5 days worth of food, activities, souvenirs, etc. I came home with money left over! My friend and I had no budget or restrictions set (besides NOT spending more than $300 before day 5) and splurged on a few meals and activities even.

Here’s a general breakdown of expenses:

Round trip flights *per person- $249.45 (This could have been about $60 cheaper had we bought tickets a few weeks earlier.. And this total is for 2 separate flights.. combined. It doesn’t get much better than this!)

Accommodations for 4 nights *per person- $150.57 (Again, this could have been cheaper had we not stayed in one of the “nicer” hotels in El Nido- we stayed at Rosanna’s Pension.. But if you are willing to live with out wifi, hot water, and/or air conditioning then you could have REALLY saved your pennies. #hostellife Check out Lonely Planet’s listings and Agodo.com. If you are planning to stay in Puerto Princessa at all- we stayed for 1 night- I HIGHLY recommend Puerto Pension. Not only does it have the coolest hippie-boho vibe, incredible pricing, and free breakfast; but THEE BEST customer service. We loved our stay there!)

2 Island hopping tours *per person- $84.26 (This was for 2 full days, snorkel and fin rental, kayak rental, lunch. Island hopping = Dream life. Seriously I wanted to do every tour available. The guys running the tours are so friendly and easy going and the grilled fish and chicken they made us for lunch was on point! We booked ours through the El Nido Art Cafe and Boutique, which I think is a tiny bit more expensive than the dozens of other companies, but both our tours were on the smaller side- some other boats had up to 20 people!- and they were professional and organized throughout the process.)

Food, souvenirs, transportation, and miscellaneous *per person- $105 (again, had we not gotten mango smoothies every day, desserts, and gone to more hole in the wall places than we did beach front restaurants, then i’m sure this cost would have been lower too!)

Now… for the pictures! PS- cut me some slack, it was my first time using a gopro.. AND a selfie stick.. so ya. Also, I have SO MUCH video footage (TONS of great snorkeling!!), however if I had waited to publish this post until I was finished creating a video, then you might not have seen a post for another 4 months haha.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0392.So we took a 9pm flight from Seoul to Manila… Our next flight wasn’t until 6:30am. We spent 7 hours in the hardest chairs of our lives. Hiiii.

DCIM100GOPROG0080447.And after a full 24hrs in travel mode we arrived in paradise- tired as hell, smelly, but oh so happy!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0462.Mango smoothies are always a good idea!

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DCIM100GOPROG0150695.Snorkeling time with our new friend Nadine. Also water spots.. and belly rolls.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0820.Lunch. Grilled fish and chicken cooked in a pit right on the beach.

DCIM100GOPROG0220921.One of the best parts of traveling is meeting new humans. Like these kindred spirits! All of us are from different parts of the world AND we are all transplants- living outside our home countries. Like Shanghai, Korea, London. You know it’s real when we all met up for dinner later that night AND added each other on facebook haha.

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DCIM100GOPROG0271085.Again, I wish I had more pictures of the snorkeling.. You’ll just have to wait for a video to come in 6 months haha

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DCIM101GOPROGOPR1410.Uke sessions every night! Check out that reflection..

DCIM101GOPROGOPR1446.THAT WATER! This is REAL. #nofilter #noedit

DCIM101GOPROGOPR1452.Sweet Nadine from the Netherlands. What a dear!

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DCIM101GOPROG0521931.Resting B!tch Face. It’s real. I suffer from it too. But that background tho…

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DCIM101GOPROGOPR1991.Lunch in cave? Check.

DCIM101GOPROG0552051.Trying to float on your back AND be cute? difficult to say the least..

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DCIM102GOPROGOPR2359.View from our balcony

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DCIM102GOPROGOPR2453.The one downside to El Nido? The food.. It wasn’t bad per say.. But if you’re a foodie, you won’t be impressed. However, Puerto Princessa had some AMAZING food. This was one of the best meals of the trip!

DCIM102GOPROG0652486.Jeepney selfie

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So are you ready to come visit yet? 😉 …And if this wasn’t enough for you, don’t worry! We are headed to Bali in a few weeks, so more epic posts to come!

Until then, peace and love y’all!

xoxo, V

Birthday Buddha

So if you didn’t already know, Asia is big into buddhism, zen, + awakening your inner spirituality. Around 25% of South Koreans are active buddhist (equal to the amount of christians) + an even larger majority claim a buddhist background + culture. You can drive 30 minutes in practically any direction + find a quiet temple to visit. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t (+ still don’t) know very much about this religion/philosophy. It’s actually been quite interesting studying up on the basic beliefs of buddhist.. In fact, I consider myself buddhist in many ways (+ really everyone should!). It’s less of a religion + more of a philosophy or mindset set upon the 4 noble truths + the commitment to lead a moral life, to remember to be aware of all thoughts + actions, + to develop wisdom or understanding. So just like American’s celebrate Thanksgiving + Christmas, celebrating Buddha’s birthday is a big deal here.The Lotus Lantern Festival is held every year in honor of Buddha’s Birth + is one of the biggest celebrations (for the occasion) in Asia. The festival is preceded by the hanging of lotus-shaped lanterns across Seoul for several weeks, + officially kicks off with lighting of the Jangeumdang, a large lantern that symbolizes Buddhism + Buddha’s Birthday, + ends with an epic parade down the main street in Seoul. If you think the Macy’s Day parade is a big deal then come to Korea for the lantern fest. I think it is proportionately better in every way minus the fact that there never seems to be food vendors around Korean parades (it makes for an easier clean up I must say!). Even though every float + the hundreds of lanterns used were all absolutely gorgeous, the best part really was watching the pride + joy on the local spectators’ faces. Young + old cheered the parade on. I was shocked by how many elderly people were not only watching from the sidelines, but a part of it! Such a unique experience to partake of. Enjoy the pics below loves- IMG_3052 IMG_3051 IMG_3061 IMG_3065_2 IMG_3069 IMG_3074 IMG_3075 IMG_3080 IMG_3081 IMG_3083 IMG_3084 IMG_3085 IMG_3087 IMG_3088 IMG_3090

IMG_3093*warrior bun envy*

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IMG_3127_2I feel ya, got mucho love for Starbucks too man.

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IMG_3228The detail that goes into these…

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IMG_3244Paying homage to ‘Merica!

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IMG_3334When someone gets in your way, steal their shot. 

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Here Comes the Sun…

…and I say it’s alright. Little darlin’ it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.

Yes I’m sitting on my couch finally writing a blog post with the windows open, a warm breeze tickling my skin, + the Beatles strumming through my speakers. Warm weather, blooming flowers, + sunny days seem to have FINALLY arrived in Korea. Between Korean class, officially “moving in”, adventuring, + being oh so lazy I haven’t had the time (or the drive) to write a blog post in awhile . Really I just don’t think my life is interesting + “new” anymore. But every once in a while I stop + say to myself, “I LIVE IN KOREA. I LIVE HERE. IN ASIA. LIKE WOW..”. Then I realize how NOT normal my life is (minus the netflix binges, mounds of dirty laundry I put off washing, + eating cereal for dinner 4/7 days of the week). For those wondering, we have completely settled in. To the point that I feel like I belong, a local if you will. But don’t be fooled, I still experience many “eyebrow raising” moments every week.. I just come to expect it now. Removing my shoes + sitting on the floor when I go out to eat? so ordinary that I have an emergency pair of socks in my backpack for when i’m wearing sandals. People brushing their teeth in dark corners of the subway? yup, normal. Skinned dogs being sold next to live eel in the market? stinky but whatev. Selfie sticks EVERYWHERE you go? DUH. Bongo trucks running every red light + throwing on their hazards instead of using blinkers? So customary that i’ve started doing it! (hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. #amirite?) Naked spa days have become a weekly ritual for my friend + I (we don’t even giggle anymore). Remember one of my first posts where I talked about Koreans eating whole garlic cloves raw with their meals? Ya, I now do that too.. AND I LOVE IT. I live in the Republic of Korea. I love my life. I hope all of you find joy in all the nooks + crannies of your life. We have much to smile about friends 🙂

Oh + to prove that I didn’t just binge on netflix for the past little bit…  Check it-

unnamedFINALLY getting our house hold goods… Korean style! (sorry for the sucky phone pics)

IMG_2533Liege waffles in the middle of Seoul. Yes please!

unnamedKorean Class… When I do go, I feel like a 2yr old adult just making weird sounds + trying to sound out one syllable at a time with a glazed over expression.

unnamedFlower market fun! 

unnamedMultiple buildings, multiple floors, multiple vendors = every plant imaginable

IMG_2692Our local market within walking distance of our house. Beautiful produce galore!

IMG_2689PEACE, LOVE, AND FISH.

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IMG_2706Straight chillin’ with the realest OG’s in town

IMG_2720Trying to keep things alive. Keyword *trying*

IMG_2599yummy street food eats

IMG_2616Our favorite “hotteok”. A sticky Korean pancake filled with a nutty, cinnamon sugar center.

IMG_2564entrance to one of the “5 Grand Palaces” of  Seoul

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IMG_2561throwin’ up the Korean pride signs

IMG_2581…and welcome to Namdaemun Market- the oldest + largest market in all of Korea.

IMG_2582girls just wanna have fun!

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IMG_2585live eel ready for purchase

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IMG_2600organized disarray.. 

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unnamedBATTERED + fried spiral potato stick. 1 ticket for the fatty express please + thank you!

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unnamedAt least a once a week occurrence

unnamedKorean coffee shops > American coffee shops

unnamed“honey bread” = glorified buttery, honey, carmel toast. (insert heart eyes emoji)

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unnamed75 plus army brats + embassy kids at the Namsan Tower (overlooks all of Seoul). My girl Amy + I got to join the fun as youth conference chaperones. Try taking that many 12-18 yr olds through the subway in a foreign country, I dare you! 

unnamedBut really we had more fun than the teenagers we were supposed to be chaperoning.

unnamedHi, my name is little v and i’m 12.

unnamedlocks of love

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unnamedYouth Conference Rocks. #losers

unnamedOur Camp Humphreys branch

unnamedSo by the end of our last spa day, Amy + I were famished (I mean, lying naked in hot pools of water makes you work up an appetite like no other) so we went to the only food stand open in the spa (the cafeteria was closed that day) + what do ya know? No english menus, no english speakers. So we did the best we could with google translate apps + played the guessing game…

unnamedHere were the results- miso soup with crunchy, fish flavored floaties, mandu dumplings, a double fried corn dog with potato chunks in the batter, + a churro.

unnamedDay trip to Daejeon in search of cherry blossoms. Creeping on cute korean college girls seemed like a good idea at the time. 

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IMG_2732Easter sunday

IMG_2773Cherry Blossom Festival in Seoul! 

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IMG_2780when you’re an American, childless, + living in Korea; you find flock together

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IMG_28353rd wheelin’

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IMG_2843got stuck in a moshpit of asians who were enthusiastic for some reggae kpop

IMG_2853too funny to not take a picture

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IMG_2870*cheese alert*

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IMG_2925The National Assembly of South Korea

IMG_2927street food- squid this time!

IMG_2934cotton candy the size of my torso.. YES PLEASE.

IMG_2939NOMNOM

Until next time lovies-

xoxo, V