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6 Solo Activities for Distancing in Daily Life in Korea

Earlier this month (May 2020 for those keeping score), Korea shifted from a social distancing system to distancing in daily life. With the slowdown of new infections (even amid a recent outbreak in Seoul) in mind, the goal is to remain vigilant as businesses reopen.

That said, I’ve been practicing many ‘daily life distancing’ habits as a byproduct of living on my own here in Korea for the past eight months. Without knowing when things will return to “normal,” I thought it would be useful to share the different solo activities* you can enjoy in Korea that aren’t strictly related to traveling.

I think this is a great point of reference for any newbie ex-pats in Korea or even those dreaming of visiting the country on a budget one day. Let’s jump in!

6 Types of Solo Activities to Try While in Korea:

1. Korean Karaoke / Noraebang

The Cost: ₩6,000 can get you around an hour – or more, when you “earn” free songs! – for your solo jam session.

The Activity: What’s not to love about a private singing room? Noraebang (노래방) is a blast with friends, but going alone is also a fun time. The experience reminds me of what it’s like to sing in the car, and I’ve heard it referred to as a form of stress relief. If you aren’t a big fan of singing on your own, I think this is a low-pressure way to have fun with it without worrying about what others might think. I personally enjoy Disney and Showtunes for karaoke, but it’s not always a crowd-pleaser. I like going on solo coin karaoke trips just to sing all the musical numbers I want.

Distancing Deets: Noraebang hasn’t been an approved activity for the past few months, but they’ve recently opened back up in certain regions. As with most businesses, you can find sanitizing options readily available. You can use protective covers for the mics, too. Most establishments also have sign up sheets, where they will notify you directly if an infected patient visited.

2. Cafe Hopping

The Cost: ₩4~6,000 for an iced latte or Americano; flavored lattes are usually ₩6,000+ if you’re at a standard shop; themed cafes will understandably charge more.

The Activity: You know the joke about finding a Starbucks on every corner in Major U.S. cities? Well in Korea, it seems there’s a cute cafe on almost every corner no matter what city you’re in. When I visit a cafe, I like to chill and enjoy the atmosphere for a few hours. My friends in Korea aren’t big coffee drinkers, so I end up taking myself on cafe dates at least once a week. I think hopping around a cafe or two is the perfect solo activity; you can journal, eat cake, maybe even play Pokemon GO! all while sipping on your drink of choice. I live in a smaller city and I still haven’t been able to try all the cafes on my block. So if you wanted to make a day of it, I think you could easily spend a few hours enjoying one spot and head to another to try out the fruity ade.

Distancing Deets: Aside from the standard sanitizer options, most cafes also encourage patrons to sit at least six feet apart from other customers, and it’s good practice to keep your distance from others even while in public!

3. The Movies

The Cost: ₩10,000~ish for a general ticket; snacks are incredibly affordable in comparison to American movie theater snacks.

The Activity: Going to the movies alone is a universal activity that anyone can try out, but in my opinion the Korean theater experience is one-of-a-kind. Megabox, CGV, and Lotte Cinema are popular movie theaters around Korea offering comforts you can usually only find in the most bourgeois theaters (read: Movie Tavern) in the States. You can fully recline your seat and even take off your shoes if you like! There are usually 1-3 English movies with Korean subtitles to select from and the snack options are highly addictive (ode to caramel popcorn). I saw Birds of Prey (2020) alone and got fully immersed in the story. I consider this activity the best type of post-dinner dessert you can enjoy– caramel popcorn included, of course.

Distancing Deets: As far as I know, when you purchase a single ticket, it blocks off the two seats surrounding you. So you can maintain a safe distance from others while watching the silver screen! It’s worth noting that most new movies aren’t being released at the moment, so theaters are playing old reels instead. Popular choices seem to be Harry Potter and MCU movies, but I’ve also seen a few indie movies getting play, too.

4. Scenic Walk / Bike Ride

The Cost: Walking is free 😉 plus, if you have an ARC you can rent a city bike for free!

The Activity: There’s no harm in imagining yourself Lizzy Bennet and taking a solitary pastoral stroll. Depending on where you are in Korea, some spaces – such as local attractions – might still be closed due to COVID-19. However, as long as you practice common sense, there’s no reason you can’t trek to a nearby park or green space to explore the nature around you. As I stated earlier, you can rent city bikes for free with an ARC and appreciate your surroundings in a new way. Korea is an unmistakably beautiful country, and there are tons of pocket parks and natural landscapes to experience.

Distancing Deets: You know the drill, when you’re in a public place, try to maintain a healthy distance from others that may be around! Even with distancing in daily life, wearing a mask is still encouraged at this time. If you want to avoid others altogether, try to mix up the timing for your stroll/bike ride. Early morning hours like sunrise and unconventional lunch times like 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. are a good bet.

5. Rooftop Picnic

The Cost: ₩15,000+ if you order delivery, of course you can always make your own meal for a more affordable alternative!

The Activity: If you live in an apartment in Korea, chances are you have rooftop access. Treat yourself to a change of scenery and have a picnic on the roof! If you time it right, you can watch the sunset as you dine on your meal of choice. I’ve had pizza/snacks/dessert on my roof on a few separate occasions and it is always sublime. Pop in some headphones and jam to your favorite playlist, or if you have good enough wifi, you could even watch TV while you eat! It’s okay if you don’t have outdoor furniture – you can make it a true picnic and sit on the floor – Daiso sells cheap picnic mats if you want extra cushion. To create an even cozier atmosphere, you might grab some twinkle lights or a throw blanket. (This may or may not be inspired by a rooftop movie night on Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020.)

Distancing Deets: Since this involves your home, it’s pretty easy to limit your public interactions. If you do opt for delivery, the drivers wear masks and often hand over your order from an arm’s length distance. As a reminder, your building’s rooftop is a shared space, so your neighbors have every right to the space, too.

6. Snail Mail

The Cost: ₩1~3,000 for postage, though usually, a letter home won’t even amount to ₩1,000. Keep in mind the cost relates to letter weight.

The Activity: Like movie-going, letter writing is by no means a Korea-specific activity. However, you can always pick up cute Korean stationery or souvenirs to share with your loved ones back home to make the pastime extra special. Whether you’re abroad or not, getting mail is usually a treat, unless it’s a bill – and surprise mail is even better! Think of some people in your life you’re grateful for, and write up a short thank you note. Even if it’s just a few lines, written words of gratitude can be very meaningful.

Distancing Deets: Of all the pursuits I’ve listed, this is by far the most solo activity. However, because it’s international mail, you will have to make a trip to the post office. If this is your first mail experience, check out the English website for Korea Post for guidance.

There you have it, six cheap or free activities you can enjoy whether you’re living in Korea or just passing through!

*Please note that we are living in a global pandemic. Information changes daily, and what might be a completely safe activity now may not be safe tomorrow. Either way, I hope these solo suggestions inspire you to try something new in a healthy, cautious manner. No matter what comes our way, we can be compassionate and considerate together, so let’s do our best!

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Glad to be here

I’ve been teaching in Korea for nearly seven months now. Considering my last update was in November, it’s fair to say an update is well overdue.

I was discussing my feelings towards Korea with a friend recently, how I feel so welcome and at home despite being an obvious outsider. Coming from the South, a stereotypically ‘hospitable’ place, it was something of a culture shock for me to experience the constant, genuine hospitality that Korea has to offer. My friend remarked that what I’m feeling might have to do with Korean culture and the values of generosity and sharing that are woven into it. My situation may be unique, but I don’t think it is.

Living and working here has been a wildly enriching experience for me. I’m learning how to be a better teacher every day. I’m learning more about myself, too. I feel lucky to be here, in spite and also thanks to COVID-19. Let me explain.

The first detected coronavirus case in the States was detected on the same day as the first case in Korea. Since America’s national emergency declaration in mid-March, I’ve had friends and family back home sending more messages than usual. I appreciate the concern, but it feels misplaced.

In late February, my school shut down for a week because two cases were identified in our region. There were plenty of question marks during this time, but I never worried about:

  • Whether or not necessities like food or toilet paper would be available for purchase. The only panic-buying I witnessed was a brief period of masks being sold out, and a system was soon devised where people can only purchase masks on assigned days to avoid future shortages.
  • What would happen if I thought I might be sick and possibly a danger to others. I knew I had reliable coverage through my job. I also knew that drive-through screenings were free and I could access testing easily if I felt I needed it.
  • Whether or not the outbreak was being addressed seriously. Aside from seeing my school weigh the decision of closing its doors, I understood the government was enacting unified effort to curb the outbreak and keep people safe. Everywhere I did manage to go during the height of infection in Korea (there was no quarantine mandate in my area), there was an energy of cautious calm. Hand sanitizer was installed in every public bus and still remains. It’s also a staple at pretty much every cash point in restaurants and stores.

This isn’t to say I felt no concern whatsoever. I had a lot of questions, and when the outbreak jumped from less than a hundred known cases to 200+ in less than 24 hours, I was definitely worried. However, knowing the above made it easy to conclude that panic would not benefit me in this situation.

As I stated before, I feel very fortunate to be in Korea in general, but especially during this time. It is an unsettling and scary time to be alive, yet I feel like I’m living in one of the safest places on the planet. Frankly speaking, I am terrified for everyday Americans (including loved ones) who need and have every right to basic care, but cannot access to it due to limited supplies and a flawed healthcare system. I could write more on this, but Benjamin Davis’ ‘I’d Rather Be Here’: An Expat Perspective From South Korea sums up my opinion perfectly.

It doesn’t feel entirely right to pivot from such a serious topic to my latest escapades. So instead of segueing with “Global pandemic aside, here’s everything I’ve been doing,” I’m going to end this post here.

If you’d like to know about what I’ve been up to while in Korea, keep your eyes peeled. I’ll be posting another update soon. Thanks for reading. Stay safe and if you can, stay home!

x

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Popgirl — #18

As we’re already well into March, it’s no surprise that I had a hard time with this Popgirl issue. Even with Leap Day, the month felt incredibly short, so I didn’t think I had a lot to say about February. To trick myself into writing, I forwent the format and ended up saying a bit more than expected. Enjoy:

In February, South Korea reported over 200 cases of COVID-19 in 24 hours Watching coronavirus spread in South Korea: the good news is that there is no panic. In response, my school shut down for a week. Many teachers I know are still not working, and case numbers continue to rise as daily testing is conducted. Racist, xenophobic responses are also on the rise, particularly in my home country. Negative news stories about China and deflated business as a result are cyclical occurrences for Harry Chan, owner of an 85-year-old restaurant in Seattle’s Chinatown; Oneika Raymond asks us to consider whether there would be as much concern or hoopla if the origin of the virus were North American or European.

Having extra time off in February allowed me to watch a lot of movies. Women love women-led content: here’s looking at you, Birds of Prey (2020), Hustlers (2019), and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). I even saw Little Women (2019) in theaters and loved it so much I wrote a blog about it. I also experienced the Taylor Swift: Miss Americana (2020) and Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé (2019) documentaries. Each film is worth watching in my opinion, but Birds of Prey stands out as a joyful proposition for why more female-driven superhero movies should exist.

My thoughts exactly. Also, please stream ‘Garden Song’.

As for other entertainment, I fell back into the K-drama world with Crash Landing on You (2019). The show depicts North Koreans as complex people who are ultimately relatable and even lovable, even if they are culturally different. I cried my way through the final episodes of The Good Place (S4) and felt my adrenaline spike with every cliffhanger on The Stranger (S1). February kicked off with a binge of Netflix’s Next in Fashion (S1). While I was delighted to have a Project Runway-esque show to consume, I felt some important industry conversations were brushed aside in favor of goofy bits. That said, the fourth episode provided some opportunity to examine what streetwear really means beyond looking ‘cool’.

Speaking of fashUN, here’s one of my favorite looks I put together in February:

Also on IG, Michael Buckley linked me to Rhett & Link’s episode of A Conversation With. Listening to the discussion on ‘coming out’ as agnostic was unexpectedly great. Link Neal talked about his first time hugging an openly gay man as a Southern Baptist Christian: “What I wanted to do was hug him back and actually mean it, but the belief that I was ingrained with didn’t allow me to sincerely hug the guy.” I’m grateful to this duo for sharing the stories of their spiritual deconstruction in such a responsible, measured way.

2020 Reading Challenge update: I read two books in February. Not quite as impressive as the 14 I managed the month before, and even worse, I wouldn’t recommend either book. If you have any “must-read” suggestions to help end this reading drought, drop them in the comments!