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 🙂

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

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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EXPOSED: My Korean Spa Experience Undressed

First things first: JJimjilbang. What are they? A jjimjilbang is a Korean bathhouse/spa. These spas often include many pools of mineral or salt water with varying temperatures, steam rooms, outdoor pools, massage rooms, etc. The one I went to even has a special foot bath where little fish eat away at your dead skin.

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I had heard some about Korean bathhouses before arriving in country, + while I didn’t know much, I was intrigued. I heard they were supposed to be amazing + in some, you went NUDE! OOOH scandalous! I figured after meeting lots of new friends + many months of getting to know each other better, I would ask one of my girl friends to go with me! I mean, who wants to go alone to experience some new phenomenon in a country where you can’t even speak the language?? Not me! I was not going to be the only doe eyed white girl giggling in the spa while the Koreans stared on. But I assumed I would have to find the “right” kind of gal to go with, you know, the ballsy, wild, rebellious type who was totally down for new, taboo experiences. And once I found that gal, I figured it would take at least 4 or 5 months to get comfortable enough with each other that I could ask said gal to get naked with me at the spa. So until that person + moment happened, my lips were sealed tight!

Enter Amy. So I go to church with Amy. Lemme tell ya about my good friend Amy… She is a genuinely sweet, pure hearted, + GOOD human. Amy was the first friend I made + one of the first real interactions I had since coming to Korea that didn’t include handing over my military ID + reciting my birthday or social security number. We have had dinner together 3 or 4 times now (but who’s counting?) + our husbands get along too! Neither of us have children or a job so that in + of itself bonds us. Last week Amy texted me asking if I wanted to go to the Asan Spa, her husband was gone for a week + mine would be leaving soon too. It sounded like the perfect girls trip + when I googled Asan Hot Spring Spa, it looked like a nice clothed, “American” style spa/resort. Nudity didn’t even cross my mind. I was just excited to maybe get a facial + try out the natural hot springs. Amy texted me the next day- “So I just learned some stuff about this spa…. How do you feel about being naked with other women??? (insert mixed emoji faces including the monkey covering his eyes). With wide eyes, I burst into laughter + my mind went something like this- ‘UM WHAT. Okay so this IS a traditional Korean “spa” (aka bathhouse). But wait, what do I say??!? This is all happening so fast!! This wasn’t how I imagined it going!! I want to go, but does Amy want to go? Will I sound weirdly eager if I say YES?? And I’m not prepared.. I want to work out a lot more before this experience so I can be in shape!’ (basically the same feelings I had when I started falling in love with Joe). After a few more texts Amy convinced me that we needed to do this + it would be fun. AMY. CONVINCED. ME. Again, I didn’t see it going down like this, but okay.. it was happening. So the next day I jumped in the car with Amy + off we went, our husbands were gone + we’d only known each other for about 3 + a half weeks, but here we were, going to get naked together + hang out in the spa.

spavis1Entrance to Asan Spavis (via the website)

spavis2Co-gender indoor pool (via the website)

spavis3Co-gender pools on a busy day (via the website)

The Spa- We walked in with no idea what to expect + the natural fear that we would accidentally walk bare ass naked into an area where you needed a bathing suit. We paid $5 for the indoor spa access (aka just access to the naked female area. You could pay more for entrance into the outdoor spa pools that were not gender segregated + some other co-gender areas but we wanted steam rooms + nudity only). Again, it was ONLY $5 PEOPLE!! We were given watch like bracelets that had our corresponding locker number on it + were ushered to the first locker area at the entrance. These lockers were for shoes only. So we took our shoes off and started walking towards an open reception area with very little instruction on where or what to do next. We passed a cafeteria (sweating everything out makes you HUNGRY), a few coffee stands, + some lounge furniture before seeing a sign that read LADIES LOCKER ROOM (in English + Korean). We passed through the threshold knowing that there was no going back now. Immediately we saw a few naked Koreans walking back to their locker + as soon as we arrived at our lockers (which of course were side by side haha) started stripping down. “THIS IS IT”, we joked. So there we were, standing proudly in nothing more than our skin, trying not to laugh, + acting like we’d done this before, all the while knowing we had NO idea what to do so we just looked like the creepers staring at all the Korean women walking towards the steamy spa. We walked into a giant, open room that had many shallow pools, showering/washing stations, an open massage room, a few saunas and steam rooms. Each pool was different… either warmer or cooler water, jetted, plant/mineral infused (??? One was a jade green + another was neon yellow). All the signs were in Korean so we had no idea but we didn’t care. IT WAS AMAZING. We giddily went from pool to pool trying them out until we realized how dehydrated we were + went to get water from a cooler right inside the locker room. And for whatever reason, we could not stop giggling. We could not get over the fact that we, two adult women, were standing naked leaned against a water cooler + frantically gulping paper cups of water one after the other, while watching other naked women walk around going about their business. (Maybe we sound immature or just stupid, but I dare you to go to a Korean spa with another white girl you haven’t even known for a month + not laugh.) We saw a door off to the side that led to a private outdoor pool. Talk about perfection. The clashing temperatures of the water + breeze were absolutely divine. After talking awhile between the two of us a large group of jabbering Korean women came in + started smiling, giggling, + pointing at us. Amy and I awkwardly looked at each other… One lady was clearly trying to tell us something but we had no idea what she was saying. Finally another lady yelled “UH..UH.. PWETT..PWETTTYY!! YOU PETTY!” The first woman smiled + pointed to us, “You petty!”. We bashfully thanked them using the one Korean word we did know, “kalmsamidah!” (deep down knowing they were probably making fun of our tits or ass or my white hair or something else). With that they all hooted + hollered! They then started spitting out other Korean words we might know like- kimchi + bugolgi, as we smiled + nodded struggling to understand the majority of what was even happening. They offered us a paper cup of tea from their thermos (I wouldn’t have been surprised if they spiked it with Soju). After a few more minutes they waved goodbye + left. We had survived our first naked group conversation in Korean. (SCORE!) As we were finishing up we decided to try out the small washing stations set up inside the spa. We followed all of the older ladies + grabbed a plastic stool to sit on and began scrubbing with salt and body wash before rinsing off for good. Back to the dressing rooms we went to get dressed + gulp down a few more paper cups of water. And that was it, so simple + relaxing, yet so new + exciting for us. I can’t even begin to explain how liberating + utterly delightful the whole day was. We left feeling renewed + serene with the determination to not only come back once a week from now on, but to recruit others to join us on our quest for tranquility. I encourage everyone to give a traditional bathhouse experience a try.. It will change your life for the better!

Until next time y’all,

xoxo V

PS, sorry for the lack of pics this time guys.. I wanted to take pics, but didn’t…. for obvious reasons.

A Weekend in Seoul

My how the tables have turned! As most know, the entire time Josiah + I were engaged + early married (aka until like 5 months ago), I worked at the Aveda Institute Provo, a cosmetology school.

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I love Aveda, I love the institute, + I love the people, so basically I loved my job. Sort of. It was kind of a love/loathe relationship. I was the school’s admissions scout/recruiter + in charge of all incoming students + anyone interested in attending cosmetology or esthetics school. Basically the position is a beautiful concoction of public relations, marketing, cheerleading, life coaching + most of all- SALES. It required me to wear heels, black clothes, lipstick, + most importantly a perky smile while also maintaing a HIGH level of energy, connection, positivity, + professionalism. With a cool wardrobe, trendy haircuts, amazing co-workers, + lots of caffeine, what could possibly be wrong with this job?? Not much actually, it was fantastic.. besides the skeptical mommas, the competition of a million other hair schools, + of course, the benchmarks to succeed. It was a dream job that became a reality, + with reality comes work! So I worked + worked + worked.. + I loved it 94.6% of the time. If you ask Josiah what this period of our lives shall be called, he would name it the black HIPPIE HELL where the devil wears Aveda (+ yes, he ALWAYS made comparisons of our life to the movie The Devil Wears Prada).

IMG_0870On my phone at home…

IMG_0326 On my phone on my honeymoon…

IMG_0780On my phone at a friend’s wedding…

That was the problem… I loved my job, so I put all I had into it.. aka barely any time for Joe. Of course Josiah was happy that I was pursuing a career, supporting us, + that I ultimately loved what I did, but it was hard for him.. for both of us actually. He had 2 breezy semesters of school left + was working a cushy 20 hour a week job which gave him not only more time than me, but more importantly, a lot less pressure + anxiety to worry about 24/7. Many times he felt like he was the only one putting forth effort in our relationship + I could care less. I would then get aggravated like, “hello I worked 12+ hours today + I still have a few emails to send out.. I’m exhausted, hungry (because I would forget to eat the entire day..minus the taco bell hot sauce and/or some scraps a coworker would give me after running into the office like a rabid dog that had been beaten + starved), + my brain is fried from talking all day. I have no clean black clothes to wear tomorrow (which was always a lie since I owned every black article of clothing from H&M + Forever 21) + you want me to cook dinner with you because that sounds like a fun date? Or go see a movie + then talk about it?? ARE YOU SERIOUS?? Don’t you know I love you? Can we be content with that?” I just wanted some peace, food of any kind, + to have my back rubbed while I tweaked on instagram + texted a few last ‘work related’ messages to detox from the day. I would get irritated thinking, ‘What do you do all day?? Why do I need to feel guilty for not helping with dinner or folding the clothes when you have so many free hours during the day? Do you understand how hard I work? Ya, it looks like I’m just having fun + posting on social media all day because that’s MY JOB! I am working so hard for YOU! For US! Why wouldn’t you be so proud of your hard working girlfriend/fiancé/wife/boo thang?? What.. do you expect me to be at your beck + call with a smile + hot dinner waiting?  Are you some kind of sexist, traditional, misogynist?!?!’ (okay okay.. I knew Joe was not a misogynist- he married me, duh. And I knew he was proud + only had good intentions, but I could get a bit hysterical + defensive after no sleep + too much caffeine) And in Joe’s frustrated mind he thought something like this, ‘You told me you would be home 2 hours ago + I tried to make dinner but now it’s cold.. I waited to eat until you got home, so now i’m grumpy + pissed. What could possibly be that important?? You were just hanging out with Tiff weren’t you?!! Why do you like your boss more than me? I’m busy too ya know, THANKS FOR ASKING!!! I JUST LOVE YOU AND WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU!’. (Note: we have never raised a voice to each other, the “!!!” are for emphasis only.. Joe wanted me to add that in fear that you all will think he is controlling + abusive. No, he is not. It’s probably the other way around if anything.. KIDDING!) But finally came the day where we left our old life behind, morphed into dirty gypsies, + traveled homeless, carless, + jobless for 9 weeks + then off to work Josiah went.

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I didn’t even spend time putting makeup on… Like I said, dirty hippie status.

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It was a fun, carefree few months; spending every minute together acting like the goofy kids that we really are. That time was good for our relationship to say the least, + good for our souls to look at the big picture again. As his training in Texas quickly flew by, I was busy filling out every bit of paperwork needed to become an unofficial member of the Army, as well as start the process of command sponsorship to be allowed to come to Korea with Joe… And trust me, that process alone kept me pretty busy. Since having arrived + settled into our new home here in Korea, Josiah has been working non-stop. From what we have heard (+ now seen with our own eyes), Korea is a very unique duty station that requires more hours clocked + more effort put in than your average base/fort/camp. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that it is sort of like combining a big, normal base back in the states with a non-combat deployment. You have the simple day-to-day tasks that you would have in somewhere like Colorado mixed with the crazy, ‘We Fight Tonight‘ mentality where everyone must prepare for imminent danger.. which hey, North Korea is like right here.. probably getting their nukes ready right now, so I get it. But man.. Joe works.. like a lot. 5am-7am he gets up + works out (you go glenn coco!) 7am-9am he comes home, showers, eats breakfasts + gets my sleepy bum up. 9am-6,7,8pm?? he works, then comes home + sometimes works some more. I remember my mom telling me awhile back that soon the tables would turn + I would be the one with all the free time while Josiah worked, + how wonderful it will be that BOTH of us have gained a much deeper appreciation for the roles that we play. As per usual, my mother was right!  The past few weeks have definitely been an adjustment for me. At times I feel I will go insane without a job.. or something meaningful to keep me busy, + other times I am thrilled to wake up with the sun + munch cereal in my pjs while listening to music + mopping the floor. I have however, become slightly addicted to meal planning + trying new recipes while cutting out most, if not all, sugar from our diet. I seriously get excited chopping veggies up + testing new spices/flavors out (I realize this sounds lame + maybe I do need a real job haha but I think a passion for cooking is in my DNA). I have also started doing yoga daily + am in the process of starting a photography program (I bought a nice camera a year ago, it’s time I learn to use it). As my life continues to transition into this next phase, I will always smile as I remember + appreciate the wonderful (and challenging!) times I had at Aveda, they helped morph me into the person I am today + taught me so many crucial lessons I needed. And until I get back into that sparkly, FUN world, I am excited to be the best support I can be to my hardworking G.I. Joe, after all, I know what it’s like to want to come home to a hot meal + a back rub. 🙂 (BTW, Josiah has shocked me multiple times by apologizing and literally commenting, “I feel like I work at Aveda.. Except I wear camo and I don’t like everyone I work with.”)

Okay so what was the point of that long drawn out story?? Josiah had a four day weekend so we took advantage of the freedom + headed to Seoul. And by head to Seoul I mean drive in our little hooptie all through out one of the biggest cities in the world, all the while dodging MANY crazy Korean drivers. We do have the option to take public transportation up there, but figured since we hadn’t really used public trans yet, we didn’t want to get confused or lost. Plus we wanted to get real comfortable driving in this country + thought, why not just dive right in? Besides not understanding which lane to get in for the tole booth + barely missing some potentially terrible accidents, we made it unscathed. So Joe has this really fabulous sister named Tanya, (the kind you brag to other people about to make you sound cool) who has a swanky job at the W Hotel in Union Square NYC (see i’m totally bragging). Tanya is also extremely sweet + has the ability to hook us up with amazing hotel deals all over the world (best family perks ever y’all!). So we booked our killer hotel reservation in none other than the trendy Gangnam district of Seoul. Yah, like Gangnam Style.

The hotel was like WOAH. It wasn’t some big fancy resort hotel, it was expensive COOL. Like the unspoken cool. Everything was sleek, modern, + had just enough of an Asian touch to remind us that  we were in Korea. The urban design was perfectly trendy to the point it made me feel like I wasn’t cool enough step foot inside, but the staff was warm + kind enough to remind us that we were, shockingly, cool enough to be guests there. Enjoy the pics below. Joe + I were in heaven.

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IMG_1836Selfie nation over here! 

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IMG_1816Killerrr view

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As far as Gangnam goes, I highly encourage everyone to translate the lyrics to the song + enjoy. The song, I feel, is decently accurate of what it is like. There is a line that talks about a girl enjoying a cup of coffee + boy do they like their coffee. Every single block had at least one coffee shop whether it was an American brand, English brand, Korean, etc. Gangnam definitely had that hipster vibe with people walking around covered in an air of sophistication that softly screamed, “I’m too cool to care” + “Ya i’m a dude + my shoes were $350 but I still don’t care”. And let’s just talk about the men… I mean, BEST DRESSED DUDES IN THE WORLD. There I said it. Take that Milan. They take slim fit + double breasted to the next level. And their hair. Way better than mine. While the ladies wore sleek + perfectly tailored everything, they don’t compare to the men in my opinion. Despite the video, everyone we saw was pretty conservative + neutral.. very androgynous in fact. The guys are a bit more feminine, while the gals stick to simple clean lines that don’t promote their curves (maybe it’s the lack of curves?). Even one of the lines in the song-

“A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes
A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
A sensable girl like that”

So I guess that explains it ha. And unlike the video we did not see hardly ANY color (besides the buildings/signs). People love neutrals here. So my lavender/silver hair definitely stood out like sore thumb in the sea of black + brown. While we were in Gangnam (+ the rest of Seoul) we really just explored. We didn’t have a serious agenda so we took our time checking out the streets and eating like 7 meals a day ha. Enjoy some of the pics!

IMG_1854Because there’s always, always traffic!

IMG_1861This one’s for you Lisa Kipp!

IMG_1870Street food noms…

IMG_1874fish shaped treat? It was like a fried, sweet, black bean filled..pastry? Whatever it was, it was GOOD.

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IMG_1919So the Coex is one of the biggest, nicest shopping malls in the country..it was like walking through the airport.

IMG_1922Didn’t see that one coming.. but okay, sure. Beer + sushi always go together, silly me! 

IMG_1932Wanna feel like a fat @$$? Try on clothes in Asia. Joe is now a size large.

IMG_1933But this jacket tho.. I WAS OBSESSED.

IMG_1943I mean, it was only $375…

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IMG_1954Accidental blue steel.. I mean he’s a natural at the whole modeling thing.

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After wondering around Gangnam we ventured to the other side of the river close to Yongsan (the Army base) + began exploring Itaewon market. There were lots of different food choices from around the world + many stands selling cheap Korean trinkets + souvenirs. Off the main road there were shops upon shops ranging from expensive boutiques to sketchy black market retailers. We had fun eating even more street food + again, just wondering about. There were (+ are) TONS of mangy cats all over Korea that just sulk in the alleys + dumpsters, BUT we found out there is a trend in korea called Cat Cafes. I know what you’re thinking, no, they don’t eat the furry creatures at these cafes (probably because they’ve all got the mange!). Since most people in Korea don’t have pets (it’s apartment living throughout the entire country guys) there are these cafes where a feline lover can go + literally just hang out with a bunch of cats. You pay a small cover fee, take your shoes off, + play, pet, feed, watch, or do what ever you do with a bunch of cats for an hour or so. I can’t get over this phenomenon. I mean, WHAT?!? Since i’m genuinely intrigued, I have talked Joe into going to a cat cafe next time, partly so I can get a better grasp on how all this works + partly because I think it will end up being a hilarious story with funny pics. Until then, feast your eyes upon all of our feasting we did while at Itaewon.

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IMG_2081We ordered using hand signals. But I could eat the pickled ginger + mandu (korean dumplings) ALL day long.

IMG_2088Okay so it may not look like it in this pic, but my chopstick skills have gone from newb/novice(aka struggling) to apprentice level. Joe has been ever so patient + has only been embarrassed of me a few times.. (sorry not sorry I grew up in the south)

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IMG_2116Korean speaking Turks…

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IMG_2133My new dream scoot. I was about 4 seconds close to jumping on with the Korean who owned it.

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IMG_2147Getting educated on Lush products.. Korean style! 

IMG_2159Tiniest alley award.

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IMG_2273Cray cray up in here

Like I said the trip had no structured agenda + we knew we would be frequently visiting Seoul, so our trip honestly just consisted of relaxing, exploring, + eating! Overall our favorite food was the street food in Gangnam (sooo good) + our best shopping happened to be the sketchy alley way shops at Itaewon. Next time we definitely want to hit the Korean War Museum + the Seoul Tower that overlooks the entire city. Until then i’ll be wondering around my local Korean market trying to figure out what everything is + we’ll just be taking hilarious selfies while riding the bus back and forth to downtown Pyeongtaek. You’re welcome.

Peace!

xoxo, V

home sweet home in k-town

PHEWWW, WHAT. A. WEEK.

1. I sat through my first all day army briefing (ration card- CHECK!)

2. I passed my Korean driving test (only by the grace of God). As did Joe.

3. After searching for a day + a half straight, we found a place to call home!!

4. We bought a HOOPTIE car. ( http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hooptie )

5. Joe + I BOTH survived solo driving in Korea and BOTH have witnessed wrecks on the daily.

6. We made friends. (this is big guys!)

7. We found the church. (the reason we have friends)

8. Korean shopping markets don’t have heat. But I proudly conquered the market without looking like an idiot.

9. I have devised a detailed traveling plan for the next 2 years.

10. I HAVE UNLIMITED DATA ON MY PHONE! YAAAH

 

So, it was a busy, busy week y’all. Starting with a long new-comers briefing, where I learned exactly which brothels were off limits (all of them, dang) + why people die on the daily from driving related accidents, we started the process of searching for housing, a car, + how to get a Korean driver’s license. Driving here is crazy. SO CRAZY. It’s a combination between chaos + order. Which is why it is SO difficult. Which rules can I break? Which laws are enforced? We were told “it’s not if you get in a wreck here, it’s when.” Cool. There’s also this crazy little thing called the 50/50 rule. In the states when you get in a wreck, if it’s your fault, then it’s 100% your fault.. If you didn’t do anything wrong, then good for you, you’re in the clear! Here, no matter what happens or whose fault it is, BOTH parties take 50% of the blame. I could be stopped at a red light + some nut could rear end me + it is still half my fault. Awesome. Despite all of that, we both passed + received our driver’s license. WHOO! Now lets go get in a wreck (jk, fingers crossed!)

 

We were then on the hunt for an apartment off base. Somehow we got wrangled in by some Korean citizen that works on base in Joe’s office to meet with his “friends” that were realtors. It all happened so fast + with the language barrier we didn’t know what was going on until it was too late. But we got to see 6 apartments around town that were all very.. Korean. I had no problem with the layout or size but I just didn’t love the styles or designs of any of them. Not to mention they all felt a tad beat up and dirty. Some of them were catered towards military families, so the kitchen would have the super fake, ugly wood cabinetry (think cheap college apartment style). Or they would have the cheap brassy fan/lighting in the bedrooms/living room. blah. (sorry not sorry if this offends anyone..) Plus the realtor dudes that were taking us around seemed slightly sketch.. So I convinced Joe to let me look for one more day with a different realtor that was recommended to us by a friend who is also here at Camp Hump. So began our journey with our first Korean friend, Helen. I could sing Helen’s praises all day! Helen picked us up, drove us around, made us feel so comfortable, + I could understand about 90% of what she said (score!). She took us to about 8 or 9 different apartments. For the fist 5, I would like some things but there was always one thing I just didn’t love. Finally, we walked into one + I fell in love! It was the first one I saw that didn’t have crazy patterned wall paper everywhere or tacky colors with asian flower print. And it was bright, the sun was streaming in + I felt like there were a million windows. That really sold me. Something about the place felt slightly like an ikea magazine (not everything though, I warn you..) Is it my dream place? No. Is it the best thing I saw out of the 15+ places we looked at? Yes. It’s a 4 bedroom/2 bathroom (so plenty big enough for all my wonderful friends who want to visit.. wink wink!) on the 3rd floor with a pretty decent view. Korean ovens are SO tiny, so no turkey or baked goods for us. The bathtubs are also small. I have a video tour I wanted to post below so you guys can see it better, but I can’t figure out how to upload it (any advice blogger/tech savvy people??) so for now I just have phone pics. We had to wait for an inspection + the army housing office to sign off on everything, but finally we moved out of the hotel on base after a 10 day stay + into our new Korean home!

 

We then searched for a car. We were told to just get a little beater because we will inevitably get in a wreck + since there is so much dust + dirt here. We searched all over FB pages + all over base for something, anything (right now is low season for military moving in + out). I finally found a comment from some soldier dude with a phone number of a Korean car guy that has the “hook ups” (warning sign #1). So we called Mr. Chang. He came and picked us up (how nice I thought…) + told us he would take us to a used dealership that was close by. Little did we know this dealership was over THIRTY minutes away (it’s amazing we haven’t been kidnapped + held for ransom by rando strangers we meet). He then tried to sell us a 1996 Kia with over 175,000 miles on it for $2,500. In fact he forced us to test drive it.. on a very busy HIGHWAY with –OUT- him in the car. So Joe’s first driving experience in Korea was down a scary crowded road where he had to flip an illegal U-ie to get back to the dealership. Lots of screaming was involved. Then we laughed after we survived..good times haha. Mr. Chang tried his hardest to get us to buy the car, but we politely said no (praying he would still take us back to base as quickly as possible). Later that day we luckily found a Kia Optima with only 90,000 miles on it for less than Mr. Chang’s $2500. Done + done!

 

Finally, I felt like we weren’t treading water anymore.. With unlimited data phones, a car, + a home we were dancing on top of the world. And we finally were making friends! A sweet couple that we connected with via FB group pages invited us over for yummy enchiladas + a game of  ticket to ride (apparently Joe + I have never followed the correct rules.. sorry for any lives we ruined by telling you lies –aka Jami + Morgan). They even gave us the leftovers + their crockpot to use as we moved in (BLESS THEM!). We went home that night happy + sleepy, ready for our first night in our new place.. Then came the bed problem.. Our apartment came with a king sized bed/mattress, a KOREAN mattress to be specific. Just a little FYI- Korean mattresses are HARD AS ROCKS. We laid down in the dark + were silent for about 60 seconds before we both sat up laughing/crying at how hard the bed was. We then spent the next 30 minutes playing a game of “what is as hard as this mattress?” + “what do you wish this mattress was as soft as?” Top answers- the bed is as hard as: my boney shoulders, the edge of a stale pop tart, dried out tofu, stacked cardboard, a pallet on the floor minus the blankets to make the pallet, dried noodles on the side of a dirty pot, bamboo, a month old french fry found in your car. Top answers- we wish the bed was as soft as: a pool float, spongy fresh tofu, sticky rice, cotton candy, a pallet on the floor with blankets, mashed potatoes, cotton balls. Finally, we managed to laugh ourselves to sleep + the very next day ran to the PX (think giant Army walgreens plus clothes + lots of electronics.. maybe a kmart?) + bought a mattress pad that helped our poor backs. So that being said, all of our things we had in storage should be arriving in the next 20-30 days.. fingers crossed!

 

Church went swimmingly, of course. Anytime you find a big group of Americans in a foreign country that invite you to dinner with out even knowing your name, it’s gonna go well. We are in a congregation of about 100 members of all different shapes + sizes. I’m excited to get more involved + have already been recruited by the district relief society presidency (aka 4 unpaid women that are partly in charge of all of South Korea’s mormon military branches’ vitality & welfare)  to teach a make up class in Seoul for an upcoming relief society activity. So any advice from anyone about how to teach a class + what info I should include about makeup, please please drop me a line! We have felt so loved + welcomed since being here… Ever feel lonely? My advice, find a church (I obviously recommend a Mormon church) + count your blessings. You’ll feel the love in no time. Speaking of friends + love, Helen (our cute Korean realtor) has dropped by unexpectedly to make sure we are doing well. Each time she brings a treat with her. First, Korean sweet potatoes.. And by Korean, I mean the box is in written in Korean, otherwise they taste the same HA. The day we signed our lease she bought us a pizza for lunch, as we looked at the menu we noticed they had “sweet potato pizza”. We asked Helen what that was like, “good” was the answer we got. I guess by us inquiring about the pizza, she assumed we liked sweet potatoes (which we do!) so she bought us some yummy sweet potatoes. Then, even though neither Joe nor I, were home, Helen popped in, dropped off our new microwave + left a jar of unknown red spicy substance on the counter (she also turned our heat off for us.. Koreans have NO problem stopping in unannounced + walking into every room.. even when you have dirty laundry lying around) Gotta love Helen… Luckily the realtor you go with is also your landlord of sorts. Since they usually speak pretty decent english, you go to them for everything + pay rent through them.. So we will be seeing lots of Helen over the next few years haha. She did her best to show us how to work the heat (which is run by hot water pipes underneath the floor.. I LOVE IT.) + how to operate the Korean washing machine. I thought I could handle it all until I did our first load of laundry. Everything was going well, I threw the load into the dryer + then went to add an extra spin cycle on the washing machine since our laundry room has no heat + the left over water will freeze if left in the machine (Helen was ADAMANT that I always do the extra spin cycle). So I hit the button I thought would do the extra spin cycle.. Nope. The machine started filling with more water. NO! NO! NO! To make a long story short, I spent the next 10 min hitting buttons only to get frustrated. I frantically tried to think of what to do next so I wouldn’t have to call Helen + admit defeat. I thought of Joe’s friend Matt who speaks Korean.. I’ll get him to translate for me, I decided. Then realized he was a guy + probably wouldn’t know even if I asked him. Then I went with plan C, that should have been plan A- GOOGLE. I literally googled “korean washing machine translation”. I found an article that showed Korean words equal to English words. Cool. I matched up the strange characters on my washing machine hit the button, pressed start, + waited as it began to beep at me strangely.. WHAT IS THE DEAL!?! I then realized the top was not closed. WOW. Dumb blonde moment to the max. After 10 min, the water was gone + I had conquered laundry for the first time in Korean.

I think that’s about it for this week! In a few days we are headed to Seoul for a 4-day weekend (woohoo!) so I will be sure to snap lots of pics 🙂 If you want daily pics/updates follow me on snapchat- vanessywalker + instagram- vanessa_decosta

Oh + our travel plans? We want to hit Japan, Bali, India, Thailand/Cambodia, China, the Maldives, Australia/New Zealand. If any of you have tips or recommendations please, PLEASE tell us! Or if you have suggestions for other places we should hit while we are on this side of the world, let me know! And if you want to coordinate a trip together to one of the above countries, then by all means, LET US KNOW!

PS- I know 2 Korean words: 감사합니다 (thank you. pronounced kum-summy-dah) + 예 (yes. pronounced nay.)

PPS- I have not received my gas mask yet, but it will be coming soon! Pics to follow.

PPPS- Today marks one year married for Joe + I. Just thought i’d gush a little bit 🙂 I’m one lucky dame to be married to my hunky, hilarious, + pure hearted best friend. What a wild + crazy journey it’s been thus far, can’t wait for the adventure to continue!!
Love you all!

xoxo,

V

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Foyer, living room, opening to kitchen/dining area. Oh + Helen!

 

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Kitchen! Clean, simple monochromatic color scheme.. my favorite! Note the teeny tiny oven!

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View from the kitchen into living room. Yup, that’s a real fireplace! And Joe + Helen.

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Our bedroom complete with a very hard Korean mattress, brand-new tv, + bay window.

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Spicy Korean paste Helen gifted us!

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Korean pastries.. some were terrible, one was DELICIOUS. It was called a honey steam cake. Kind of like a combination between angel food cake + pound cake but much silkier with an amaretto flavor.

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Our first home cooked meal from yours truly. (mexican because duh)

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And of course, Helen’s gift of korean sweet potatoes. So adorably packaged.

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Okay so I got a little gushy here.. But in honor of our anniversary I threw in some pics from our day. Embrace the cheesiness and enjoy the video at the end!

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