Friends–the hardest thing to leave. Always.

These are a few…

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of the people I’ll miss.

Above: Shane and Rose, Kent and Amanda, Sam and Jesse, Johnathan, Wooram, Jin, Haven and Ina, Gina, Tabitha, Amanda and Kyle. (Joe, too–but he’s coming with me.)

There are many more whose presence I will remember when I look back on the chapter of life I spent in Korea. (Hello to my original Busan Crew: Ashley and Jason, Leah, Bryan, and Dianna.  Also: Wonseop, Adi, Branden, Ashley, Kendra, Hena, Paul, Becky, Stephanie, Peter in Seoul, and all my co-teachers…)

Korea–you’ve blessed me with two years of new friendships.

Thank you. xx

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Dad, Meet Korea

On October 16th, around 2 am, after the last guests had left from a party Joe and I threw at my apartment called October Shindizzle, I checked my email.  Top of the inbox was a surprise message from my dad, which read:

Hi Courtney;

How are you doing?

I am thinking about coming to South Korea to visit you. It would be about a 10 day trip and I would be in Busan for 8 days and 2 days travel time.

I have looked at flights and the dates Nov. 22nd to Dec. 1st are available now and those dates work for me.

Can you let me know asap if then is a good time for you.

LOV

DAD     

My dad and I write and skype regularly, so it wasn’t unusual to hear from him, but he’d never mentioned thinking seriously about taking a trip out to visit, so the news was completely out of the blue–especially after an evening of whisky and gin.  I turned to Joe in shock and said, “My dad’s coming to Korea!”

After a few date changes so his visit would span two weekends, he booked the flight and I told my kindergarten kids they’d soon be meeting Courtney Teacher’s father.  I wrote his name on the board: C-u-r-t-i-s.  They giggled; none had heard this particular foreign name before.  We all started counting down the weeks.

My dad’s been working most hours of the day most days of the year since I was born and long before.  He sold real estate and managed marketing for a Saskatoon company called Plainsman Development.  When I was six he started his own business dealing Panasonic batteries, beef jerky, and pepperoni sticks to stores across Saskatchewan out of the back of an old black van. When I was nine he bought a grocery store in Waskesiu Lake, and ran it for ten years, living with my stepmom and my sister in a tiny two-bedroom suite attached to the side. (My brother and I worked there too, every summer, pricing cans, stocking produce, and scooping ice cream cones for the evening crowd.)  During the grocery store years, he and my stepmom also expanded their clothing store, The Sandbox, eventually opening a second branch in Saskatoon.  In the winter months, for the last 20-odd years, he’s spent most evenings on the phone or in the car, meeting with clients across the province for the Canadian Scholarship Trust Plan– a nation-wide program that enables families to save for their children’s post-secondary education.  He finally retired from CST this fall, though his time now is far from free: The Sandbox’s city store just keeps getting busier, and he deals with all the back-end business; a constant surge of orders, invoices, accounting, payroll, marketing, and inventory.  When I was a kid visiting in the summer, I always wished he’d take an afternoon off from the grocery store to relax at the beach, but there were deliveries coming in, and coolers to stock, and a line-up at the til.  He worked for himself, and put the hours in to succeed.

So I was pretty happy to see him arrive in Busan on a holiday.

Though I was teaching full-time during his visit, we had two weekends and each evening to hang out.  Joe and I showed him our favourite Busan neighbourhoods.  We walked along Oncheonjang Stream and drank cocktails with a view of the Diamond Bridge in Gwangalii.  We ate Pajeon at the fish market and sang at a Norebang in Seomyeon. He met my kids and my friends.  In the last months I’ve been a little down, ready to move on from a country that I’ve never felt a deep connection to, despite the opportunities and experience it has given me.  The homogeneous mindset of Korea’s people and culture has grown stifling; I walk among my life somewhat detached from it, my mind scratching at the future.

My dad took back for me a suitcase full of books and photos and the guitar I bought last summer, in a new Fender case he found here at the Bujeon Music Market, so it would arrive in Canada safely.  In an email after his return, he tells me his is proud of me, thanks me for letting him hang out with me, for sharing my life.  He says if he has to fly across the world to spend time with me then that’s okay.

Dad–Thank you for coming, I’ll see you in six months! 

xo

(Please click on a photo below to see the collection in a full-size photo carousel–best way to view!)

Wine Party (In the Park)

There’s a park in Victoria, my Canada home, called Beacon Hill.  It’s huge and beautiful. Weeping willows and cherry blossoms and peacocks and families of fat ducks floating on ponds.  Baby goats in a petting zoo.  Stone bridges crossing water.  Miles of grass. My mom took my brother and I there to feed the ducks when we were kids, breaking off crumbs from old loaves of bread she saved for the outings in our freezer. I know, you’re not supposed to feed animals in parks, but it was common then (I think?), and my mom loved to toss the crumbs on the ground and let the ducks swarm the feast at our feet, listening to their quacks and the west-coast wind that gusted off the Pacific at the edge of the park.  Those days were shortly after we moved to Victoria from Saskatoon, to be closer to the ocean, my mom said, and the artists there.

But I digress.  The park is huge and beautiful, and I’ve been spoilt to envision its vast, inviting floor of grass when I hear the word “park.”  I never thought about Beacon Hill as often as I have living in Korea, where an area on a map labelled “park” often turns out to be a concrete pad and an outdoor exercise gym enclosed by trees.  Sometimes the parks here are big, and feature pathways to tread and various flora to admire, but there’s a consistent sparcity of grass–rarely will you find a wide-open space or something resembling a field. So it is.

But catch the subway line 2 to Centum, take exit 12, walk straight past Shinsegae, and you’ll come to Apec Naru Park.  It borders the Suyeong River, and is filled with sculptures.  It has more grass that you’d expect and a wide path along the water that you can cycle or walk along, taking in the view of the city buildings on the other side.  The trees are tall and at night their silhouettes stretch up against a sky coloured dark pink from the street lights.

A couple weeks ago, my friends and co-teachers Kent and Amanda organized a gathering here.  It began at 6 and ended sometime after 1 am.  The theme was wine. We sampled from France, Chile, Australia, California, and a few other regions I don’t recall.  We drank white and red and then a little lot more red.  Our crew hailed from from Wisconsin, California, Chicago, Colarado, Maine, Busan, and Vancouver Island. (Yep, that last one is me.)  Not all are featured here, as my photographic inspiration kicked in a little late in the wine game, but the night and the promise of bottled goodness brought out a solid crew of 13.  The park had a grass-and-stone circle to set up in, and a built-in glass-topped table for all our snacks and fruity/dry/smooth/spicy/long-finish offerings. The pics are a little blurry and pretty grainy, which is exactly how life looks after eight hours in a park with your friends and a grape buffet.

I recommend.

Thank you, Apec Naru.  You just might pop up in the mind memory the next time I think “park.”

Beacon Hill–I will return.

~xo

17 in Korea: My Sister Came to Town

When I was 15 my dad and stepmom had a baby.  She was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1257 kms from where I lived with my mom and brother in Victoria, B.C.  “You have a sister,” my dad said, calling me minutes after from the hospital.  “Her name is Abby.” I was ecstatic.

Determined not to let geography prevent me from bonding with this new human,  I saved up a couple paycheques from my mall job at New York Fries and, two months later, bought a plane ticket to Saskatoon.

All three of them were waiting at the airport.  Abby’s hair was dark and her eyes were a grey-blue shade that my stepmom predicted would change to brown but never did.  I watched her little face look up at me in the backseat of the car, her hands balled into fists. A sister.  Fifteen years and two provinces between us.

We would see each other once or twice a year throughout her childhood, a week in the summer at Waskesiu Lake, and sometimes a week in Victoria in February.  At the lake we went for walks along the dirt trail behind the cabins, and ate fries at The Beach House across from the water, and when she was older we played tennis and carried our cameras to the field behind the gravel road and styled photo shoots starring ourselves.  The distance didn’t define our relationship, but rather created a framework that compelled us to spend every second together during the times we had a visit.  The first time I lived overseas she was four, and I’d call from Greece or Israel or England, and after my dad passed the phone over, would ask her what she did that day, hoping she’d remember my voice.  She always did.

Then last winter she sent me this picture of her and my dad…

And a facebook message with these words:

EnjoyClassic Dad.

My new idea is come to Korea this summer and spend a couple weeks with you if possible.  Pretty out there idea but I’m gonna start saving up for my plane ticket anyways. 

Miss you
xoxox

I was ecstatic.

On July 28th, after departing from Saskatoon and changing planes in Calgary, Vancouver, and Seoul, she arrived. She’s 17 now.  It had been a year and eight months since we said goodbye. The plan: weekend in Busan, three days in Seoul, two days on an island called Deokjeokdo, and back to Busan for the last hurrah.

I had one teaching day left before vacation started, so Abby’s visit began with a trip to my kindergarten class the next morning…

where she fell in love with Albert, the one in front with the polka-dot shorts.

On Saturday Joe and I took her to the Jagalchi Fish Market along Busan’s port…

and to the top of Busan Tower

but Abby’s favourite part was the metal heart in the park…

where visitors “lock their love” on the gate behind.

She sampled her first taste of Korean street food in Nampodong…pajeon.  My favourite!

It was a winner.

Then we met Jin and Johnathan…

and escaped the heat with a few other friends.

That night, Haeundae Beach was calling…

to a few thousand people.

Let the Saturday festivities begin…

with a gathering of our crew.

Then it was off to Kyung Sung

Don’t worry Dad!

She was in good hands.

I promise.

At Thursday Party, it was time for Haven to celebrate his birthday…

shooter style.

Delicious!

Followed up with a little bromance…

and a lot of dancing.

But for the full Korean night-out experience, we had to end with…

NOREBANG!

Abby and Amanda bought down the house with…

none of us can remember.

But this smile I won’t forget!

Up next: Abby and I hit up Seoul and Deokjeokdo Island…

Night Lights in Nampo

If you live in Busan, and haven’t yet strolled through Nampodong after dark this season, I suggest hopping on line 1 as soon as possible to check out Christmas–Korea style.

You’ll spot a whole lot of the typical holiday symbols…

though pointsettas with hearts make a fresh holiday combo…

and Korean carolers sing beneath long twinkling icicles and a draping white  halo of lights.

Invite whatever family you have formed in Busan…

and watch out for Santa: he’s tall this year, and dressed in pink.

Merry Christmas everyone! 

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This marks Coco Busan post #50–a small milestone but one I’m happy to share with all of you who read, scroll through, comment, and hopefully continue to enjoy, wherever you may be.  Many more to come!

Much love,

~Coco

Art, Night, and Norebang: 48 Hours in Seoul

 

Perhaps one of life’s greatest pleasures, other than long, extended journeys through distant and mysterious places (and poetry, and Miles Davis, and cambozola cheese), is the weekend trip.  Put me in a car, or a boat, or a high-speed train, with one packed duffel and an extra pair of shoes.  Give me a cabin on an island off the coast of Canada or a couch in a city in Asia.  Give me a map.  Give me a couple insider tips and a loose list of ideas.  Give me 48 hours.  Give me a partner in crime. 

The weekend trip, due to its inherent compression of time, evokes both a touch of mischief and the immediate desire to inject each moment with a little extra energy and enthusiasm.  I’ve been lucky enough to experience a few of these excursions with some key people throughout my twenties (Seattle with Shumka, Tofino with Gaeli, Whistler with Melissa, Galiano with Abbas–hello, all!) and after each one, I returned home wishing I had longer, of course, but also feeling reignited with my life, and reinspired to live in such a way that allows for time to play. 

So, with summer in Korea approaching its inevitable end, plans for a weekend trip took shape.  The month was September.  The destination was Seoul.  The theme, after concurring with my close Busan friend and designated co-tripper Leah, was art.  Galleries, museums–Seoul has the stuff in droves and we were on a mission to see it.  Of course, Leah and I also like to partake in the odd night out or two, so the theme quickly evolved to one part art, one part, well, Seoul night life.

The day before we left, an insider tip also emerged.  An old friend of my close Vancouver buds Mike and Lori–a Canadian dude called Robb who lives in Seoul and who I had not yet met–replied to my facebook message with an invitation to pop into Club Answer, where Netherlands DJ Laidback Luke was playing and where Robb would be hanging out until somewhere around 3 a.m.  So after eight hours of teaching on a Friday, Leah and I caught the KTX train to Seoul, and three subways to Gangnam–a spiffy neighbourhood on the southeast side of the city–where we greeted our couch surfing hosts John and Wendy, dropped our bags, changed, and hailed a cab that is now on my top-five-scariest-high-speed-car-rides-ever list to the club. 

Not gonna lie, it was a hassle getting in.  Club Answer is high end, and the  Korean guys at the door barely acknowledged us, claiming the guest list had finished at midnight.  But after that kind of trek, we were determined.  Finally, following a lengthy wait during which we watched countless clusters of beautiful Korean girls skip the line and head on in,  a woman on staff gave us the nod and two purple wristbands and let us slip through.

We were stoked.

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When you’re this far from home, meeting a friend of your friends means a lot.  Especially when he’s a chill guy like Robb, who we  found upstairs in the VIP lounge.  It was a pretty sweet spot to sip on a gin and tonic and view the crowd from, until we ventured back downstairs, only to discover the purple wristbands didn’t allow us back up.  VIP’s we were not. 

(Hello Mike and Lori–this pic’s for you!)

No matter, we danced it up on the main floor…

And pushed our way to the front of the stage for a brief and sweaty sway to Laidback Luke’s beats, which were a mix of house and mainstream, and which the crowd was digging big time.  (He’s apparently been voted one of the top 50 DJ’s in the world.)  I have no photo of the man but I can tell you he was smiling a hell of a lot and exuded the kind of energy of someone who loves what they do.

Back on our host’s living-room mattress, we managed to nab six hours of sleep before a Mexican breakfast lunch in Gangnam and a multi-subway hike to the Leeum Museum

which, I’m not exaggerating, was phenomenal.  After wandering through pristine displays of Joseon Dynasty porcelain and metal works, we came upon this staircase, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botto.

 

I’ve never seen anything like it.  It rose up through several floors, and at the top, opened to a glass-enclosed skylight, which, under the blue of the afternoon light, painted silhouettes on the tall white walls.

In Leeum’s contemporary “Museum 2,” flamingo wings cast shadows in a dim red glow…

while a futuristic family stood guard at the window.

On the next floor I found a double-necked guitar…

and rooms and walls of other strange and striking modern works–pieces by Korean contemporary artists such as Lee Jeong-seop, Byeon Kwan-sik, and Nam June Paik, and 20th century foreign artists (Rothko! Richter! Warhol! Alberto Giacometti!) which I was politely told by staff I couldn’t photograph. 

Ah, some sights are perhaps best left resonating in the mind’s eye.  Though I started clicking the shutter again once we stepped outside, starting with Tsang Kin-Wah’s glass wall of sentences that frames the museum’s entrance…

 

and then the blue sky, and the bronze spider by Louise Bourgeois, and the smooth wooden planks.

Spider close-up taken by Leah

Inside the Leeum, you could be anywhere in the world…back out, the bamboo reminds you–Asia!

 

The weather was really on our side.  It was the last hot day of summer…

 

and we soaked it up on a sidewalk stroll, until descending back underground. 

Oh, Seoul subways…the unavoidable third theme of our weekend sojourn.  Miles of walking to transfer from one train to the next,  an intricate system of bodies and motion…

which whisks you all over the city, including Insadong–our next stop.

Galleries abound here– in interlocking alleys connected through one long and bustling main street that’s jammed with shops and teahouses.  Our late start to the day meant we had a hopeful hour left to catch a few before closing time.

My favourite was the Insa Art Centre, which is free, has seven floors, and featured these wooden women sitting, standing, and suspended with wings…

In my post-late night, long afternoon, subway-induced weary state, I failed to note the artist’s name (apologies!) but isn’t their work something kind of special?

After, we were hungry. 

and in desperate need of a nap.  Where can you nap in Insadong? 

Well…

 

in a pinch, this concrete bench in the middle of the main road will do.

“We’re just two people in a city of ten million,” I said…”Who’s gonna care?” 

We actually managed to doze off for a few minutes, which proved to be a necessary recharge, as the next item on the agenda was drinks with Peter, a Canadian guy I met at a wedding two years back who recently moved to Seoul.  (To be precise, he’s the brother of my best friend’s sister’s husband.) 

Turns out, Peter is hysterically funny.  He brought along a couple friends, including Geoff who was visiting from Daegu, and, at the subway exit in Hongdae, suggested we head to a hookah bar he knew.

The place was called Great.

It was pretty great.

Leah, Geoff, and Peter broke the ice over a couple icy buckets.

Instant buds, and the night was young…

Hongdae–the sprawling area surrounding Seoul’s Hongik University–became the evening’s playground.  It’s easily one of the most vibrant, invigorating, dynamic, and stimulating big-city districts I’ve ever absorbed.  Masses of people, bars, restaurants, cafes, street stalls, lights, sounds, and smells converge in a shock of energy that is at turns overwhelming and deeply soothing.  We picked up a few folks along the way… 

 

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And stopped in at a couple watering holes, before making our way to a park that seemed to sit in the center of it all, crammed with students and artists, musicians and foreigners, people sipping tall cans of Cass and green bottles of soju that grew warm in their hands in the still-summer air, standing in light that shone from nearby neon, talking loud above the Hongdae din, hours past midnight with hours to go. 

It was here that Peter, Geoff, and our new friend Devang‘s desire to sing–a sentiment expressed earlier on– grew persistent, which led to…

Norebang.

at 4 a.m. 

It was an epic end…

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to an epic day–the stuff that weekend trips are made of.

Seoul–I will be back!

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Get To:

Club Answer

Take line #7  to Chung Dam Station, exit #3.  Turn left at Hotel Rivera.  Answer is across the street from the Hotel Prima. 

Leeum Samsung Museum of Art

Take Line #6 to Hangangjin Station, exit #1.  Head 100 metres towards Itaewon, turn right at the first alley, and walk another five minutes to the hill.

Hours: Daily 10:30-6 p.m. (Thursday until 9 p.m.)

Insa Art Centre

Take line #3 to Anguk Station, exit #6.  Insa’s about a five minute walk up the main road on the right hand side.

Hours: Daily 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closes early Tuesdays, opens late Wednesdays)

Seoul Teaser, Eloquence Intro

 

Norebang with Leah and Peter, somewhere around 6 a.m...

Back from 48 hours in Seoul–my second trip to the city, and what a city it is.  The energy!  The crowds!  The art!  The hookah bar in Hongdae!  I saw silhouettes of flamingo wings at the Leesum Museum and danced to the beats of Laidback Luke at a club called Answer.  The weather was hot and the subway transfers long.  On Saturday night my partner in crime Leah and I rendezvoused with new pals Peter, Geoff, Devang, and a couple other after-dark prowlers, who coerced us into a norebang session that STARTED at 4 a.m.  (Trust me, I tried to protest.  Then I gave in and sang.) 

More Seoul deets and pics coming asap

But first: some of you may recall my mention of a Seoul-based magazine called Eloquence I started writing for earlier this summer.  And some of you have asked where you can read the articles.  So, in the three upcoming posts, each story will be featured in full.  I hope you enjoy…and to all of you in Korea, Happy Chuseok!