It’s hard to be a travel blogger when you’re no longer a traveller

The title of this blog post is every travel blogger’s existential crisis. Allow me to explain myself…

I began this highly profitable and informative travel blog back in August 2017 when I was embarking on a study abroad trip to South Korea. Since then, I have completed said study abroad, travelled here on two more occasions and eventually moved here permanently at the end of 2018. Now that I’m a full-blown Korean woman, it has been really hard to maintain a travel blog. The main reason for this is: I’m not really travelling anymore. I’ve been staying put for most of the time with a few road trips and getaways thrown in between weekends and public holidays. Everything that initially excited me about Korean culture is now somehow part of my daily life? What madness!

This week, I went to Hongdae to try and snap some pictures the way I did when I first came to Seoul by myself in 2017. I tried to splash on some fresh eyes to feel like it was my first time there. A lot has changed. The fresh eyes were undermined by my ‘but I’ve been living here for almost a year’ eyes. I no longer find myself taking pictures of absolutely everything. I no longer find myself taking pictures of random people and stopping in the middle of the street to do so. The moments are no longer fleeting. I know that I can always just come back next week if I miss a shot or get sick of walking around. So, for these reasons and for life just kind of happening, I began to lose direction with my blog this year. I was working full time and felt like a subway zombie most days. Blogging was the furthest thing from my mind. I need to find my trigger happy camera fingers again!

What’s Next…

I am going to take the next few weeks to regroup my South Korean-ness and see what I can bring to this little internet oasis blog. I have also decided to open up an Etsy shop where I will sell digital prints, planners and templates to try my luck at a “side hustle”. I will do a semi-official launch when I am happy with the shop and will open up a separate page on this blog for you to see what I will be selling! So, if you have seen some of my illustrations, stick around because soon you will be able to purchase high-resolution downloads to print out for your own home! My Etsy store is called ‘Korean Picnic’ and I can’t wait for you to come and join!

Strolling Aimlessly in Hongdae, A Novel

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A textural photo essay

Do you ever just wander the streets of your city and snap away with your camera phone, living like there’s no tomorrow? No? Nor do I? How bizarre. Obviously, I do, this was my cute little way to introduce something I feel weird introducing so I made a weird little joke at my own expense. I do this in real life, too. Don’t worry. I digress. Here is a little snapshot of a collection of all the things I like to snap on a weekly, daily or sometimes hourly basis. These are the kind of photos that don’t really make any sense in a blog post so I’m just going to whack them all together now for you. So, without further ado, I give you my textural photo essay from the past 9 months of my life living in Seoul, South Korea as a pretty amateur smartphone photographer.

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Happy belated birthday, Buddha! 서울에서는 석가탕신일

On a lukewarm Friday evening in May, I summoned enough brain and leg power to wander beyond my daily work route of train station to work, work back to train station, and went to Bongeunsa Temple. This miraculous venture just so happened to be around the time of Buddha’s sweet sixteen, so there were lanterns, confused tourists and colours a-plenty. How fortunate and rare that I managed to have this combination of energy, awake-ness and a desire for socialising all at the same time?

I’m currently writing this very important blog post in mid-June and have been sitting on these images and aforementioned boring story without having any clue about Buddha’s Birthday and what it means to the Korean people. After three and a half minutes of strenuous research, I now know that Buddha’s birthday is a celebration for the founder of Buddhism and is celebrated with lantern festivals and lotus flower displays all over the country. It is a long standing tradition in Korea and is a great time for the nation’s Buddhist folk to brush up on their virtues and values and other Buddhism-related jargon. The thousands of meticulously hung lanterns and lotus flowers is a way for Korean Buddhists to light up the sky from their hearts and spread love from South Korea to the rest of the world. What a nice tradition!

If you’re planning on travelling to South Korea in the April/May period within the next thousand years, make sure to mentally bookmark this auspicious occasion in your brain diary. I read that Buddha’s big b-day bash is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar. Between you and I, fellow blog reader, I could not even attempt to try and figure out when that date occurs in earth-calendar times. I trust you to figure that one out on your own. Lunar calendar are riddles that I’ll never be able to solve. Here are the pictures I snapped on my phone after a long day of wrangling 5 year old Korean children and force feeding them a vast and articulate English vocabulary. Everyday is an adventure if you want it to be. Have a great day, friends!

Photos taken on my super Korean Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro 2.58^4 Genius Tennis champion smartphone.

How To: Visa Run in Fukuoka

If you’re a regular reader of this very important blog, you’ll know that my travelling ‘how-to’s’ are more like ‘loose suggestions’ or ‘visual prompts’ rather than informative guides. This post is no exception. In keeping with who I am as an amateur hobby blogger, I’ll keep this ‘how-to’ guide pretty visual and non-descriptive. Truth be told, when you go to a new city, you’re allowed to do whatever the fridge you want. Who am I to tell you how to spend your precious travel hours? The best way to explore any new city is with a pair of legs and/or your eyeballs.

Last week I had to spend some time in Fukuoka while I was waiting for my Korean visa to process. It was my sixth visit to Japan so I was happy to just enjoy the warm air and the Japanese language around me. Here’s what I found on my expedition, categorised in the following order: water, flora, buildings and signage.

Water

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Flora

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I took the above image because I could just picture 4 chubby little Teletubbies rolling around on the grass or the characters from ‘In the Night Garden’ doing whatever it is they do in that show. I mean, what? I don’t watch kids shows? I’m 23? Haha I just heard about these shows, in great detail, from a friend who has multiple children???

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Buildings

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Signage

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There you have it, folks, Jo So Ko’s exclusive, comprehensive ‘How-to’ guide for getting a Korean visa in Fukoka. Also, Fukuoka ramen and udon is pretty famous according to my taxi driver on the way to the airport during my final hours of the trip. I can’t tell you how great it is to get a local’s travel advice on your way to the airport. So helpful. At least I was able to practice my Japanese again. Maybe it wasn’t travel advice, maybe he was complaining about Fukuoka and I completely overestimated my language skills. Oh well. Guess I’ll never know.

The January Newsletter

Good evening, Loyal Fan of my blog! I have decided to draw a visual, diary entry-style comic with a few of my drawings and photos from the month of January. I’m going to be doing this each month so I can have a nice little calendar of memories from ‘the year I moved to Seoul’. Who knows, maybe I’ll make them into a little zine at the end of the year? Wouldn’t that be crazy? Yes! Download the interactive PDF of my January Newsletter here and stick next to your office water cooler.

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Thank you for reading! I hope to see you next month!

Sunday Morning in Beijing or Seoul?

Here are some photographs from my Sunday morning in my neighbourhood. I loved waking up early, buying an okay-tasting coffee and walking around taking photographs. I later regretted buying the coffee because it’s not fun changing camera settings and fiddling around to pretend I know how to use a camera in the freezing cold with one hand. I live in a predominantly Chinese area so it’s confusing as to which city I am currently living in: Seoul or Beijing? It’s a great place to live for food and people watching. There’s not much point to this post, I just wanted to share some pictures. The process of walking around an area, taking photos, putting them onto my computer, editing them ever so slightly, organising them and writing silly words about them here is one I cherish dearly.

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It’s a date! 샤로수길에서는 데이트!

Over the weekend, we decided to go on a lavish date and live our lives as though we had all the time and money in the world. By that, I mean we ate three different meals within the space of about 3.5 hours with a heartfelt session of karaoke in between meals one and two to settle our appetites. The date location: Sharosugil (샤로수길) which is located near Seoul National University Entrance station on line 2. I just googled this neighbourhood to see how it was spelled in English and found out how trendy and new this it is. I am NEVER a cool and trendy person. I’m always miles behind the times but secretly think I am super trendy in my middle-age-woman-inside-a-twenty-two-year-old state of mind. This time, it’s no secret.

First order of date business: wandering the ‘hood to take mental notes for future date plans so we can come back here every single week for the foreseeable future. This is an important step when in Seoul because most eating establishments you visit are ones you only find out about from walking by and sneakily trying to see what people have on their plates through the window.

The name of this cafe we walked past translates to ‘Your small table’. How sweet is that? I love that they are so up front about the small table size. Don’t worry, I wasn’t expecting a large table, I’d barely fit through the door.

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We were on the hunt for a burger restaurant named ‘9 Ounces’ only to find they had stopped selling burgers by the time we reached the restaurant. We weren’t about to sit in a burger restaurant and sip on cokes while our tummies grumbled, so we walked back to another ‘Burger Joint’ that we passed along the way. It was literally called ‘Burger Joint’ which was a weird name to read in a non-English speaking country. We ordered 2 cheese burgers and a side of tasty fries. The result… well, see for yourself below. I really enjoyed eating a burger that didn’t taste like it was made 4 weeks ago (*Lotteria*). Burger Joint Review: Good burgers, good vibes, good times. My feet were slightly cold but that was not the burger’s fault.

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Second order of business: Karoke. There’s no better way to clear space in your stomach for two post-lunch meals than singing a round of songs in a Korean coin karaoke room. My personal favourite noraebang tune for clearing space is Disney’s ‘Let it Go’. That wasn’t a pun, by the way, I just love Frozen. We then went to a dessert cafe which had a crucial typo in its name and ate strawberry cake and coffees. Be warned, instagram influencers and opportunistic photographers, cafes in Seoul are hella cute and serve up tasty spreads but they’re also hella expensive. Why I regularly pay 5,000 won for a latte is BEYOND me. Here is that cafe now.

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After gorging on a whole cake (which wasn’t really Ju’s style so he had extra room in his stomach) we stumbled upon possibly the best street food ‘pajeon’ ever. Pajeon or ‘Jeon’ are Korean pancakes and they’re often served with ‘Makkeoli’ which is Korean rice wine. We ordered the squid pancake and OH MA G it was hella tasty. We’re already planning to go back there this week for round 2. Lastly, to put into perspective just how expensive coffee is in Korea, this giant plate of squid pancake cost the same amount as my latte from the previous cafe. I’m still a young spring chicken so I should probably stop complaining about the cost of everyday, mundane things. I’ve got my golden years to do that.

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Korean squid pancake and pickled radish

What do you do for dates in Seoul? Let me know! Let’s Skype about it or get our nails done.

Lost in Fruit

Yesterday, as a gust of clean Seoul air swam its way through the dusty cocktail Saturday left behind, I meandered through the back streets of my neighbourhood to go to the local fruit and veg market. To set the scene, let me just say that the back streets near my house would be the perfect place to film an (on-foot) small scale burglary chase or, I don’t know, shoot a catalogue for an elderly women’s fashion movement. It just has that kind of edgy but practical kind of feel to it. Anyway. So, off I trot to the market feeling all empowered and not at all anxious about being the only western person within a 200km radius. I wander up to the bright fruit stall opposite the equally bright fruit stall I usually go to because I thought it would be nice to shake things up a bit. I point to what looks like a basket of juicy mandarins and say (in my best Korean) ‘please give me these mandarins’. The vendor did not correct my attempt to order what was in fact not a basket of mandarins. As she piled the unfamiliar looking mandarins into a black plastic bag, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Much to my not at all surprise, I did not protest the above average ($10) price tag for so few “mandarins” (for that matter, I would never protest anything in a second language unless encouraged by alcohol). Instead, I held my head high, faking the aura a person who just purchased exactly what they wanted might possess. I strolled on home, back through the narrow grandma/gangster back streets, past the old men smoking in their pyjama pants outside their homes and into the safety of my home that does not speak to me in Korean. The way I feel when attempting to do anything in a foreign language by myself is crippling and liberating, making any situation where speaking is required quite awkward. My brain wants to shout out random phrases I’ve memorised like ‘happy new year’ or ‘thank you for the food’, but my body just wants to pretend I’m travelling on business and therefore far too important to learn the local language. The result of these conflicting feelings is me just kind of making weird grunting noises with robot arms while I somehow simultaneously nod and shake my head when given any opportunity to speak another language. It’s very sexy.

After one month of living in Seoul, I’m hoping that from here it will get easier. I hope to come home with the right fruit next weekend feeling accomplished and slightly less like an alien. To be fair to myself, the fruits did all look the same, hence this illustration that I decided to draw and share with you all. I hope you enjoyed this anecdote. If you didn’t enjoy it, that’s okay too. It wasn’t meant to change your life or challenge your understanding of fruit and the earth. Have a great day and don’t forget to ‘eat your fruits and juice your vegetables’ according to that annoying guy in the movie ‘Her’. Does anybody know what I’m talking about? I guess I lost you long before that reference and needn’t worry. Annyeong!

Illustration and words by Johanna Quinn. All rights reserved. Image must not be distributed or used without artist’s consent. 2019.

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