Post #100: Goodbye Coco Busan, Hello Free Bird

Coco Busan started as a little idea in my mind 2.5 years ago in Edmonton, Alberta, when I decided to leave Canada on my own and venture to Korea.

Once I published my first post (and received comments in a matter of minutes), I realized the power of connecting instantly to people through my writing.  In the two years I lived in Korea, this blog has been both an anchor to and expression of my creativity, and a continual link to my friends and family at home and around the world.

Thank you to all of you who read my posts and scrolled through my photos, whether it was once or every time I published.  Your views and comments inspired my to continue writing even during times when my Korea routine and teaching schedule felt stagnant.  The novelty of receiving instant feedback from both friends and strangers has never worn off; I still get excited when a new comment appears after I’ve stayed up way to late (again!) to publish a post.

I am writing this from Delhi, and tomorrow night will board a train to Rajasthan.  I hope you’ll join me at my brand-new blog, Free Bird, where I’ll be sharing words, images and video clips to document my 15-week journey through India, Indonesia, and Cambodia.

Korea: Thank you for two years of writing and photographic inspiration!

With Love,

Coco xo

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Kindergarten Goodbye

Last weekend, my students graduated kindergarten–a two-hour ceremony that featured caps and gowns, song and dance acts, and a re-imagined version of The Blind Men and the Elephant, for which I constructed a miniature elephant from cardboard, felt, and packing tape–the same tape I used to seal up the three boxes I shipped home to Canada.

This week, while I begin my travels through India, my students will begin Grade 1 and the start of a long road through Korea’s education system: days in public school, afternoons in hagwons, and evenings spent studying, often until they sleep.

I want to give them backyards to run around in and afternoons off and free time with their friends.  I want to give them a school life that inspires them to form their own ideas about themselves and the world.  I want their little spirits to to thrive and grow and create.  Have fun, I told them, kneeling down to hug each one in our last moment together.  I will miss you.

They have graduated kindergarten, but in my mind they’ll be six years old forever, lined up in coats and boots, handing me colour-paper cards that say Goodbye Courtney Teacher.  I love you.  Please don’t forget me.


I won’t forget you.

xo

.

ps–I am writing this from Delhi.

Up next: Post #100 on Coco Busan (last one!) with the link to my new blog…

Friends–the hardest thing to leave. Always.

These are a few…

.


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

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

Dadaepo Birthday Sky

When I was a kid my birthday always fell somewhere around the first day of school.  No big deal, though I do remember a few tears in grade one: everybody more stoked about their fancy new pencil cases than the fact I was turning six.

Now I love September.  Before moving to Korea I spent a year in Edmonton, Alberta, and in the fall there I began to run through the river valley in the evenings, when there was still enough light to see the leaves scattered across the path in loose piles, red and yellow and the last bit of summer green hanging on.  Despite the trees shedding their colour, fall feels new.  And hopeful.

This year, I celebrated the birthday on a Busan beach called Dadaepo…

with great friends.

and a crazy sky.

Well hello, 33…

I’m ready for you.

xo

………………………………………………………………….

In Busan? Want to know where you can camp with a fire?

Dadaepo Beach is on the west side of the city, and it’s beautiful.  You can find firewood in a treed area beside the beach.

Get there:

From Busan Stn: Bus # 2 or 98 for Dadaepo at the stop in front of the station.

From Nampodong Stn: Take Exit 3, Bus #11. The ride is about an hour and 20 mins from here.

Subway most of the way: Get off at Sinpyeong Stn or Geojeong Stn (Line 1) and transfer onto a bus to Dadaepo, # 2,11, 96, or 98.

Enjoy!

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…