It’s been a minute* since I delivered a proper South Korea update. *Almost three months, according to this.
I originally planned to write monthly updates in a newsletter-y type format. In all honesty, I didn’t feel prepared to write until probably October. Learning how to live alone, on top of living in a foreign country, is taking time. I think that’s okay. I’m slowly but surely finding the rhythm that works for me. It’s a huge change, and at first, I felt disappointed in myself for not adapting more quickly. I had on some “unrealistic expectations”-colored glasses and eventually realized that was just making everything harder.
That said, I’ve traded in my glasses for the more customary rose-tinted ones and am feeling very optimistic about what’s to come. Knowing that this update includes the highlight reel of the past few months, I can only imagine what amazing things are on the horizon.
This recap is a tale of two cities: Jinju and Busan.
Namgang Yudeung Festival
Like any good millennial, when I first found out I was moving to Jinju, I immediately Googled the city to discover that it hosts a lantern festival annually. In my head, this was Tangled in real life and I felt pretty lucky that I’d be able to see it in person. That said, I never could have imagined the scale of the event. Yudeung is Korean for floating lanterns, and Namgang (남강) translates to Nam River, which is where massive lit displays float. The festival had everything from a knockoff Beauty and the Beast lantern to dinosaurs. The setup for the 10-day festival took weeks. And though it’s been well over a month since the festival ended, when you walk along the river, you can catch some glimpses of lanterns still being taken down.
For a relatively small city, it’s impressive how much work goes into making the festival happen each year. If you’re visiting Korea next October, I definitely recommend a visit to Jinju! Some of the highlights for me were: Making my own “wishing” lantern to float along the river, trying various festival foods, watching live musical performances inside the Jinju Fortress, going through the lantern walkway, and even though I’m afraid of them, seeing the huge fireworks show at the end of the festival.
As my new ex-pat friend Christine would say, trees do so much for us. The Gyeongsangnam-do Arboretum (경상남도수목원) is a pure celebration of nature, and it’s right in my backyard. Even though it’s a 40-minute bus ride away from the center of the city and represents an entire province, the arboretum is housed in Jinju. Visiting during fall was a complete delight. Christine, Katie and I spent a good chunk of a Saturday morning there. I can’t wait to see what it looks like in other seasons!
Adjusting to life in Jinju has been an adventure all on its own. Still, a nice perk to living in the south of South Korea is my proximity to Busan, the second-largest city in the country. I’ve only made two day trips there so far, but if I want to see all Busan has to offer, I anticipate more visits in my future.
In October, Katie and I ventured into Busan for a short day trip. We made it into the city just before lunch but still managed to pack in a handful of stops before catching the 7:30 bus to Jinju. Notably, the Busan Tower inside Yongdusan Park has breathtaking views of the city. Access to the observatory is only 8,000 KRW – less than 7 USD, for those at home. Plus, the ticket also includes several fun photo zones as you’re leaving the tower. We also tried ssiat hotteok (a seed-stuffed pancake that originated in Busan) at BIFF Square, traipsed down Book Street, and got in some shopping before calling it a day.
For my second journey to Busan, I teamed up with my friend Josh to participate in a special Pokémon GO event. I’m a newcomer to the game, but I figured it would be a fun way to spend a Saturday.
We ended up in Busan Citizens Park, a former US Army camp and Imperial Japanese Army base that’s been modified into a massive park, for a good three hours playing Pokémon GO. The park is gorgeous, with various green spaces to explore. I think you could easily spend a whole day there, with or without the siren song of wild Pokémon to tempt you.
We initially planned to grab some gimbap at Bujeon Market (per this recommendation) for lunch, but ended up confusing it for Seomyeon Food Alley in our post-Pokémon haze. We might have made our way there eventually, if we didn’t happen upon the only Shake Shack in Busan. It’s easy for me to feel guilty about not sampling more authentic or local food, but I haven’t eaten a true ‘American’ burger in months. A taste of home was exactly what I needed. All in all, it was a great day and I feel really lucky that I only have to spend a few bucks on a bus ticket to enjoy these experiences.
Traveling to Busan for these short visits has also made me eager to explore more of Korea. If you have any suggestions for where I should go next, drop them in the comments!