footnote: five year anniversary

Tomorrow (April 23) Jessie and I will be celebrating our anniversary. Not our wedding anniversary; not our dating anniversary. No, we are celebrating five years since our feet first touched Korean soil. Of those five years, we’ve spent just under three of them in Korea. And while I can’t say that I’ve loved every second of working in this country, our lives here have been filled with many joyful memories. Korea has been our home base for funding travel. It’s been a proving ground where we’ve honed in on our skills while also learning our weaknesses. It’s been the site of many personal discoveries. Korea has been and will forever be a very important part of our lives.

In 13 weeks we’ll ditch 90% of our belongings, pack up our backpacks and head south to our next stint of hardcore travel: Thailand, India, Nepal, England, France, The Netherlands and Poland. We’ve already booked this trip with airline miles so it’s super cheap! You can read more about how we did this in my previous post – economics 200: how we travel hacked three flights.

I get excited by countdowns because they usually mean a change is about to happen. So I’m excited to be leaving soon. But I’m also not wishing my days away. I want to enjoy my last three months here. I want to enjoy the comfort of being in one place and knowing where everything is and how everything works before heading off to the exhilarating chaos of India.

There are some really truly great things about Korea that I’ll miss. There is no expectation of tips at restaurants and bars or in taxis, and quite frequently while dining we’ll be given “service,” which basically means free food. When shopping, all sales taxes are already figured into the price of each item so there are no hidden charges. The public transportation system is fast, clean, efficient and cheap (even including taxis) and it can take you anywhere you want to go. I’ll miss the food tremendously, especially kimchi and samgyeopsal (thick bacon fried at your table on an inclined pan where the fat drips down to cook all the veggies surrounding it). I’ll also miss the daily ego boost I get from my students. They tell me I’m so handsome because I have a small face and a long nose.

When I think back to the Ryan and Jessie of 2008, I can’t help but notice several blatant differences. We’ve grown and changed so much since then. When we first came, we were doe-eyed newbies amazed by the travel exploits of others we met here. We thought that we couldn’t get miles for our flight to Korea because our employer had supplied the ticket, so we never procured those miles. Nowadays we call ourselves travel hackers, and at the risk of sounding a bit arrogant, we consider ourselves as knowledgable travelers who have a lot of wisdom and worthwhile advice to give others who are preparing for travel.

For our first stint in Korea we flew with four luggage bags, each containing about 23kg of clothes, shoes, books, computer supplies, and a year’s supply of toiletries. When we got on the city bus enroute to our apartment, we had to stack the bags on top of each other so that people could get by. The bags almost reached the ceiling. We must have looked so ridiculous walking up to our job site, dragging giant bags in each hand, trying to balance them on the rough sidewalk surface so the carry-ons wouldn’t topple off, overstuffed laptop and camera cases slung across our shoulders, sweat dripping from every pore.

When we came to Korea this time we carried a total of two backpacks, each significantly under 20kg, a light carry-on filled mostly with packaged food we knew would be hard to find here, a slim laptop bag and a camera case. We had no problems on the bus.

In these five years we’ve also grown more concerned with our personal wellness, and we’ve taken many steps to improve ourselves. Here’s a few samples of our endeavors:

First, we’ve become minimalists. We noticed that we feel so much better when everything we own can be packed into the corner of my wife’s cousin’s basement (thank you thank you thank you Sarah and David!) and on our shoulders. I rest easy knowing that the list of personal items I may potentially have to fix at any given time will never overwhelm me. Life feels so much simpler and unencumbering when there isn’t a buildup of stuff all over the place.

Second, we’ve begun listening to our bodies and what they’re telling us about what we should and shouldn’t eat. We’re not health nuts by any stretch of the imagination. I still have an ongoing affair with bacon (and cheese….and gummy bears). But I know exactly what things I can eat and in what quantities. I know what foods and activities I need to avoid in order to keep my GERD symptoms at bay. I never overeat any more. I know how to eat to keep myself “regular.” (Just case you’re wondering: one coffee per day, in the morning; chia seeds dissolved into juice at dinner time; veggies veggies veggies, the rawer the better.) I know how to limit my portions of meat, dairy and grains so that my AB-type blood functions at full strength.

Third, we’ve begun using more natural products. We just started brushing our teeth using the Bass method and organic products, which we found at OraWellness. This is supposed to promote healthy gums and lower the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth. Given the right diet, it also promises to stimulate tooth regrowth! Also, we brush our teeth with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda every Sunday and have noticed many of the stains on our teeth have lifted. We’re currently looking into replacing the few moisturizers and cleansers we use with healthy skin-friendly oils, using medicinal charcoal as a teeth whitener, and swishing organic olive oil around in the mouth in a mini-detox method known as “oil pulling.”

Fourth, we’ve realized that sometimes we don’t even need to use products. We’ve been “no pooing” (using only water to wash hair except for a weekly baking soda scrub) for the past two months and my hair looks and feels just as healthy as it was before, with the added benefit that paraben-based shampoos and conditioners never touch my skin anymore.

We’ve done so much and learned so much in the past five years. As this blog continues to progress I hope I can share all of these things with you along with whatever else may come.

Thank you Korea for the course you put us on in the last five wonderful years!

Korea Then & Now