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 🙂

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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).

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IMG_0326 On my phone on my honeymoon…

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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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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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