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Out and Proud in Korea

Out and Proud in Korea

Growing up in a very conservative Christian, very controlling home meant often hearing how revolting my parents (my mother specifically) found homosexuality. Any signs of homosexuality—whether it was from people or bumper stickers—always brought a disgusted sound and remark from my mom. I went to a small, private Christian university and didn’t realize I was gay until age 22. Because of this, I planned on being celibate for the rest of my life. I came out to my mom, my siblings, and a few close friends soon after, but kept it to a few, unless it came up in conversation with people I trusted.

It wasn’t until I came to Korea, ironically enough, that I really started living out. After a few years here, I left Christianity and started dating. I hadn’t dated anyone before, I hadn’t been kissed before, and I most certainly had never had sex before. For the first few months, I felt out of place. I can’t tell you how many guys saw me as a freak for being 25 and a virgin. It was maddening because I just wanted to find someone and no one was giving me a chance. Not to mention that I live in a country that is obsessed with image and a long-haired, hairy, fat guy was just not what anyone in or around my city was looking for (plus the whole virginity thing). I have received messages during my time here asking me to shave my body hair for a hook-up (That’s way too much work!) or telling me that I would look better without a beard and with short hair (gurl, bye).

No

It wasn’t until I went to Singapore for a short vacation that I met this amazing guy who was not only super fine but also didn’t look at me like I was a freak for never having been kissed before. We spent every day of my vacation together. The third day I was there, he took me to my first gay bar. It was amazing being there and being able to kiss and talk in a safe place. I remember a lot of things about that night and of being with him for that week. He was my first—in every sense of the word. We were sort of together for a year and he even came to visit me in Korea. Those two weeks that I spent with him were two of the best weeks I have ever had. He had his flaws and our whatever-it-was had its flaws, but he taught me that I am someone who others can be attracted to.

It was another year before I got into the gay scene in Seoul. I went to a few events where I met some amazing people and started hanging out more often in the city than I ever had before. Every queer event that I attended brought me new friends. I had only spent a little time up there because I live an hour south in Cheonan, which is close enough to visit, but far enough away that it can be annoying.

A photo posted by Nick Holmes (@nickthehottie) on

Arriving at my first Korean pride festival in 2015 was pretty intense. When we (some friends and I up from Cheonan) got to the event, the borders were surrounded by anti-LGBT “Christian” groups protesting. They were dancing, singing, shouting condemnation, crying, praying, and holding numerous signs telling us how wrong homosexuality is. Once I entered the area, though, it all melted away. There was so much love. My favorite part of the whole day was marching in the parade. It was one of the most empowering and inspiring things I’ve ever been a part of. Just days before pride, SCOTUS ruled that same-sex marriage was legal all across the US. It was so great to see how far sexual minorities have come in both Korea and the United States.

This year’s pride event was also amazing. The protesters seemed to be less in number and volume. There were still a few points around the outside where they were holding signs of hatred in Korean while spewing words of “love” in English. I spent the day with some friends drinking, walking around to some of the booths, getting free stuff, dancing, and getting rained on. I thought the rain would deter people from coming, but the square in front of city hall was packed by the time they started directing people out onto the streets for the parade. We marched around downtown Seoul (same as last year). People were holding signs, dancing, drinking, and being merry. The crowds watching the procession had varying responses. Many were joining in the celebration, some were crying/wailing/praying, others were calling down damnation, and the rest just watched in confusion.

Pride 2016

It wasn’t until last year that I realized how important pride events are. Queer rights in Korea are basically non-existent. This country has such a long way to go to get where they need to be when it comes to human rights—but I have seen some changes. It’s been wonderful watching those of the younger generations embrace their queer friends. A really good friend of mine, who is getting married to another dear friend and moving to the US, came out to all of his friends and they were all accepting of who he is and who he loves. Another friend and I just threw him a bachelor party with all of his best friends and we all had a blast together.

As a gay foreigner in this country, I have it so much easier than my gay Korean friends. I’m out to everyone I spend my time around here—Korean or foreign. I have a great support system among the friends I’ve made here and have even been able to come out to a few coworkers over the years.

In order for Korea to move forward, more Koreans need to lead that charge. I understand the hesitation to come out, though. Queer Koreans with enough courage and strength to come out to their friends and family face ridicule, exclusion, and being forced out of their homes. I feel like this is a Catch 22 (is that the right phrase?) because things won’t start changing until there are more visible queer people here, but, for Koreans, coming out can have such dire consequences.

Flag of South Korean LGBT (source: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure where I see the queer community in Korea in the future. You know that feeling when you’ve been complacent and unsure for a long time, but you just know that something is going to happen soon—for better or worse? That’s where I feel like Korea is right now in regards to queer rights. I am hoping that something wonderful will happen, but that is up to those within the community itself: those who are out of the closet and those who have yet to leave it. Both this year’s pride festival and last year’s had the highest numbers of attendees than in years past. But, there has also been a lot of pushback. May those who are fighting continue to do so, regardless of how people respond.

Thanks Nick for sharing your story. I am super honored to have you be the first person ever to guest post on my blog and so grateful to have you as a friend.

Hugs and hugs,

Peter

Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
Nick (the author) and Peter (Mustafa Jones)
The B in Apartment 403

The B in Apartment 403

I loved my last apartment in DC. There were some drawbacks, like my neighbors. They either talked too loud or paced back and forth nonstop or liked jumping up and down on their mattress (a.k.a. having sex). I also didn’t like being on the first floor because people walking by could see into my apartment, but it was a huge one-bedroom in a great location.

I knew to expect that the size of accommodations would most likely be much quainter in Seoul. Most schools include housing in their contracts for foreign teachers, so that means they have the power to decide where you get to stay. And, most likely, they’re going to find the cheapest possible place. When I showed up at my school one December evening after flying halfway around the world with basically no sleep, the principal took me to my apartment, which is one building away from the actual school. After taking the elevator to the fourth floor, he punched in the door code (no keys here) while I mentally repeated “Please be big. Please be big.” I can get by in a lot of living situations, but I need to have space to move around. At my DC apartment, I could alternate laying in my bed, lounging on the couch, or sitting at my dining room table. I appreciate being able to feel like I’m different places without leaving my home or having to put on pants.

from Etsy

But, when the door swung open and I stepped into my apartment for the first time, I had to quickly face the fact that this place was tiny and I would just have to suck it up while I’m here. No one explained how the heat or hot water worked, and the apartment was as barebones as possible. No plates, no utensils, not even a pair of wooden chopsticks. So my first few days in Seoul were spent trying to figure out where to buy things for my apartment with no understanding of the Korean language. I survived on plastic plates and forks for a decent amount of time until Big Sis Melanie could hook me up with some metal utensils.

In the six months I’ve lived in this building, I still do not know a lot of things. I’ve never met my neighbors and I just learned that I have a gas bill and that I’m supposed to pay it every month. However, I do know that I live in apartment 403. Four is an unlucky number in Korea (and other East Asian countries) because the same character for “four” in Chinese is very similar to the character for “death”. A lot of places don’t even have fourth floors or they put “F” instead of “4” on elevator buttons.

from “25 Ways to be Lucky and Unlucky the Korea Way”

And I live on the fourth floor. So, I was cursed from the start.

Let’s start with the bed. Korean beds don’t typically come with sheets; they just use multiple quilts. But, I wanted sheets because they are easier to clean regularly. No sheets fit this bed though! I think it must be a twin XL or something. I had my mom bring some old twin sheets when she visited. They too small! And I can feel every crease in that mattress. No thank you. Miss you, queen size pillowtop.

The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.
The bed from hell. No sheets fit it correctly.

My contract says that my apartment will be furnished with a “table and chairs”. This is what I got. A TV tray table. It also came with a shitty office chair that I hated, so I replaced it with this dining room chair that I found on the street. Major improvement.

The bed and this chair are the only places to sit in this apartment. No couch. 🙁 That also means anyone who spends the night has to sleep on the floor. So far, that’s been Nick and me when my sister spent the night.

My desk/dining room table/couch
My desk/dining room table/couch. Cute wall though.

If you turn around, you’re in my kitchen/laundry room. It comes complete with a “stove” on top of the washing machine and a fridge that can’t figure out whether it’s a minifridge or a regular-sized fridge.

My kitchen/laundry room complete with baby fridge

There was a TV in my apartment, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work and I watch TV on my computer anyway, so I put it in “storage”.

Such a great use of space
Such a great use of space

My bathroom’s decently sized, but the downfall of that is that I don’t have a closed-off shower area. I just have a showerhead on the wall. I’m fine with that. I’ve used them before, especially when I lived in Turkey. But, it just sucks having one with a big bathroom because everything gets wet when I shower.

Where isn't the shower?
Where isn’t the shower?

So, my apartment’s pretty small. I can’t do yoga on the floor space without bumping into some piece of furniture. But, it’s been home enough and it’s free. I’ve further supplemented my meager furnishings with a cow print table, a nightstand, and some artwork, all of which I found on the street.

How much do you think this would get at Sotheby's?
How much do you think this would get at Sotheby’s?

So me disliking my apartment makes it extra fun to visit my sister’s apartment. The U.S. military apparently values its employees more than my private English academy does. Melanie has three bedrooms. My apartment IS the bedroom…and the kitchen and living room, etc. You can actually walk around the place and there is fast internet. Much better than my ethernet connection.

I can’t believe it’s already been six months since I moved into my place. But, not for much longer. Next month, I will no longer be the B—- in Apartment 403.

via GIPHY

7 Tips for Saving Money in Iceland

7 Tips for Saving Money in Iceland

Iceland had long been at the top of my list of countries to visit. Everything I saw and learned about the island of roughly 320,000 people drew me in. The country’s unique landscapes have served as the background for the popular TV show “Game of Thrones”, the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (and others), and music videos for The Saturdays (my favorite), Bon Iver, and Justin Bieber.

Despite Iceland’s limited population, Icelanders are quite progressive socially. They elected the first openly gay female head of government, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, in 2009, and about one-third of the country attends the annual Reykjavik Pride events. One third!

Rainbow street in Reykjavik
A street painted with rainbow colors in Reykjavik

Reykjavik also hosts the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts at the Icelandic Phallological Museum.

Icelandic Phallological Museum

So, Iceland has a reputation for being jam-packed with sights, history, and culture. I was determined to go.

But, my main deterrent was the cost. No longer simply the homeland of Björk and Sigur Rós, Iceland has been discovered as a tourist hot spot in recent years. With that, there are many more options for people to experience Iceland. With proper planning, I was able to travel around Iceland for a week and see a fair amount while not spending as much as I thought I had to. There were also some things I realized could have saved me money had I known in advance.

This is where where I went in Iceland:

Here are my top tips for traveling Iceland on a budget:

#1 Use a budget airline (if you dare). As with anything, there are pros and cons. Wow Air, a budget Icelandic airline, had recently started flying directly from Baltimore to Reykjavik, so I bought a round trip ticket for $250. The positive of this was the dirt cheap direct flight. The cons were the additional fees for all checked bags and any carry-ons over 7 kilograms (15 pounds). It’s difficult enough to pack for a different climate in a carry-on, but the luggage restrictions can also cause serious delays when checking in. I almost missed my return flight because every customer in front of me seemed to be checking multiple suitcases and ski equipment.

Onboard the flight, there are absolutely no frills. You pay for all food and drinks and if you want entertainment, you can rent an iPad for the duration of the flight.

Wow Air’s route map (courtesy wowair.us)

#2 Travel with a buddy or two. This doesn’t always work out because people have other commitments and it’s hard to align schedules, but another person can split the price of renting a car, filling up on gas, and sometimes you can get a nicer or private room if you pool your money. Lodging in Iceland is still quite pricey so you and your travel partner(s) still might have to sleep in a hostel dorm room, but you might be able to upgrade to an Airbnb or other private accommodation. Also, if you have another driver, you can alternate resting and driving so that you are able to cover more ground during your trip. There were definitely more sights I could have seen, but I just didn’t have enough energy.

Was just me on this trip. Lots of selfies.
Was just me on this trip. Lots of selfies.

#3 Watch what you eat. I don’t mean eat less necessarily, but the difference between eating out at a restaurant and buying food from the supermarket is pretty steep in Iceland. So, if you’re on a tight budget and don’t mind passing on Iceland’s culinary scene, you can save a bunch by not eating out as much or even at all. This is extreme and I know it won’t work for everyone, but I got by in Iceland by buying a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam at the beginning of my trip. I bought fresh bread every day to make PB&Js. It wasn’t glamorous and a bit repetitive but it did the trick.

If you stay at hostels, there is often a shelf for communal or leftover food that past backpackers either ditched to save weight in their pack or because they couldn’t take it in their carry-on luggage on the flight home. Whatever the reason, I scored some great Nutella, pretzels, and soup mixes from several hostel freebie shelves.

 

#4 Bring food with you if you can. I had planned on bringing a ton of snacks to tide me over between meals, but I had to ditch several bags of Chex Mix so that I could save room and weight in my carry-on bag. But, you may be able to bring a few snacks with you or at least stuff your pockets with Cliff bars before checking in for your flight.

 

#5 Skip the Blue Lagoon if you’re strapped for cash. I know it’s marketed as the most idyllic part of Iceland, especially for travelers on a quick stopover, but entrance to the Blue Lagoon can be pricey. The most basic entrance fee during the off-season is 40 Euros (about $45). And that doesn’t include transportation or any extras like being able to use a towel. If you’re trying to save money but still want to experience some of Iceland’s geothermal water, go to a regular public swimming pool. For 900 krona (a little more than $7), you can enter Reykjavik’s Laugardalslaug pool complex, which includes an indoor pool, outdoor pools, and some very relaxing hot pots.

If you’re renting a car, you can find hot springs that are free to use also. Try http://hotpoticeland.com/ to search for both hot pots and swimming pools around the country.


#6 Save on accommodation.
Bring your own sleeping bag. It is quite common for hostels to charge you to rent their sheets. I bought this lightweight sleeping bag that could easily fit in my carry-on. It’s not the warmest, but it was perfect for the summertime when I was there. 

You can also camp or rent a camper van. Purchase the Camping Card, which allows a family or group to camp for up to 28 nights at 41 campsites around Iceland for 110 Euros ($125). Campervan Iceland is one of several companies that rents out campervans. Their cheapest option starts at 15,500 krona (about $126) during the low season and can sleep two.

 

#7 Pay less to drink. Alcohol can be pretty expensive when you’re out in Iceland. You can save a fair amount by stopping at the duty-free before leaving the airport and stocking up on whatever Icelandic or foreign liquor you want. Or save even more by not drinking.

Iceland’s water is super clean, so don’t waste money on bottled water. Bring water bottles and fill up at your accommodation before heading out for the day.

You could drink at this bar in Reykjavik if you wanted to.
You could drink at this bar in Reykjavik if you wanted to.

Bonus: FREE STUFF!!

Many of the waterfalls and amazing scenery are accessible just by pulling over on the highway. Make sure you’re well out of the road if you stop though.

Visiting the Skógafoss waterfall is completely free.
Visiting the Skógafoss waterfall is completely free.

 

Despite it being the summer, I was able to glimpse a single streak of the Northern Lights as I walked back to my hostel after a night out in Reykjavik.

The amazing view behind this blurry photo was completely free.
The amazing view behind this blurry photo was completely free.

I also got a free pic with Bjork.

She didn’t sign any autographs though.
She didn’t sign any autographs though.

 

So, Iceland lived up to all of the hype for being a very progressive, quirky, and beautiful country that a lucky few are able to call home. Its Scandinavian prices may still prevent many from being able to afford a trip to Iceland, but the expansion of the tourism industry there will hopefully bring more budget options for visitors. Until then, I hope that these tips will help you plan an affordable but unforgettable trip to Iceland.

Mamma Mia in Korea

Mamma Mia in Korea

Carol Ann is a workaholic and not one to stray far from her daily routine. After 21 years in the U.S. Air Force, my mom now works at the Pentagon as a certified bad bitch.

However, my parents and little sister live about 80 miles away from my mom’s work meaning she commutes over 150 miles each day round trip. Between waking up at 3:30 a.m., sitting in a vanpool for 2-4 hours a day depending on traffic, working, and falling asleep in the recliner during Jeopardy, my mom has a pretty tight schedule. Because of this, I didn’t have high hopes that she would make it to Korea despite her initial promise of visiting my older sister and me.

I’ve had a handful of international adventures from high school until now and my mom has made a decent effort to try and visit me, at least during the important times. She came to my high school graduation in Costa Rica and my college graduation in Oklahoma.

She never made it to Israel, Turkey, or Armenia though. I was the most bummed about her not coming to Turkey since she had lived there before. But I had to accept that my mom is a busy lady and uses her vacation days to take my little sister to the orthodontist and catch up on her crochet projects.

As soon as I knew my work schedule here in Korea, I told my mom. Every weekend when I’d call her, she would promise to look for a ticket soon. After about a month of this and still no ticket, I had pretty much decided that she wasn’t coming. I was disappointed because I thought it would be fun for her, my sister, and me to have an international adventure.

One day I woke up and found two surprising emails: one was from a Huffington Post editor about a story I had pitched (published here) and the other was my mom’s itinerary for her trip to Korea. Exciting! But, we only had about three weeks until her arrival.

My sister and I worked together to plan our time with Carol Ann and made sure to eat at places that fit my mom’s restrictive diet of highly processed foods and no vegetables.

First, we both met my mom at the airport.

Carol Ann loves a deal so visiting Korea is see one child, get to see another one for free.

A post shared by Peter Jones (@pitajones) on

Then she stayed with my sister for a few days because I had to work. Melanie kept me updated on how things were going.

Then we traded off and my mom came up to Seoul to spend time with me.

We checked a lot of things off of my Seoul bucket list, one of which was buying and mastering a selfie stick. My mom is not the biggest fan of walking but always complied with my plans. She constantly had me check the pedometer on my phone to see how far we’d gone. Our busiest day was about 25,000 steps and close to 11 miles.

Carol Ann in Korea
Resting her feet

The highlight of the trip for me was the DMZ tour we went on. My sister had organized it through the base. I didn’t like having to wake up early but I would recommend it to anyone living in or just visiting Korea. We went to observation points where we could glimpse North Korea from across the border. We also were able to walk more than 1,000 meters down an underground tunnel dug by the North Koreans.

My favorite part was going to the Dorasan train station. It is the last station in South Korea and many Koreans hope that the line will be extended to North Korea when the Korean peninsula as a whole is reunited. I love train travel, and it’s so interesting to think that one day in the future it could be possible to travel all the way from mainland Europe to South Korea by land.

I also liked going to the Joint Security Area (JSA), a very recognizable spot in the DMZ. Conan O’Brien even stopped there on his recent tour of South Korea. We were able to technically cross the border into North Korea inside the conference room used for past negotiations. Here’s a picture of Melanie and my mom in NK.

But the other tourists in our group were complete dumbos who just stood in the way. So, by the time I was ready for my pic, we were told that time was up and we had to leave.

#clusterfuck
#clusterfuck

The next day was Mother’s Day and we celebrated by…

And just like that, our trip was over. I had to go back to Seoul to work and my mom had to catch her flight back to the U.S. It was a great trip and I’m so happy that the three of us now have many more fun memories together.

But I miss my mom.

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Hating Gay Dating: Korea Edition

Dating sucks. It sucks everywhere. Having a more active love life is something that I see as a to-do item that I just keep putting aside. Many moons have passed and I still haven’t gotten around to making any progress in the dating department. I’m pretty independent at this point, so it’s cool for now. But, I constantly romanticize that I’ll eventually find the right person and everything will just fall into place with my love life.

I’ve used dating websites and apps for a while now. I much prefer meeting people organically in real life situations like parties or through mutual friends. But, when I came to Korea, I didn’t have any friends. So, I decided to try online dating once again. My sister had recommended Tinder as a way to meet friends and that’s what I did at first. My first Tinder meeting turned out to be one of the best things I could have done. I met my great friend Nick through it. On top of Tinder, I downloaded Jack’d (pronounced “Jack Dee” here) because I heard it’s the most popular gay app in Korea. It’s basically Grindr. I’ve also kept my OKCupid profile current even though not many people use it here.

I was pretty insistent on my profiles that I only was looking for friends and dates, not hookups. I thought I could meet other expats living in Korea or even Koreans who could help show me around and teach me about life in Korea. After many hours of meticulous research, I would like to share with you the things I have learned about gay dating in Korea so far. (Please cite me in all academic papers.)

1. Profile pics can be…unusual.

He allegedly has a “little big dick”. Is it little or is it big? I’ll never know.

2. Some guys are very secretive.

Being openly gay is not accepted here pretty much at all. There’s no anti-discrimination laws preventing you from being fired if you’re gay (is this the United States?), which forces many guys to avoid showing their faces on apps.

So you see a lot of profile pictures like this:

#blairwitchproject

Some guys get more creative:

This guy seems looks like the perfect match for me. And he’s only looking for friends just like me!

3. Like anywhere, chatting can be difficult.

And the language barrier adds more to that. This guy starting a conversation with me just by unlocking pictures of his dick.

4. Guys can be super impatient.

I couldn’t forget the first time I got called an asshole here. Because I didn’t respond to this guy in seven minutes, he sent me (in my opinion) a very passive aggressive message, which I was not in the mood for. And of course, like Azaelia Banks, I’m never going to shy away from calling a bitch out on social media.

5. Guys can be super intense.

I replied “What the fuck?” to this guy and then he blocked me.

And here’s one of the scariest guys I’ve met through dating apps here in Korea. “Patrick” and I first matched on Tinder. Our conversation was pretty tame to start off. Things seemed promising.

 

One Tuesday or Wednesday, he asked me if I wanted to go ice skating that weekend. I had tentative plans with my sister and he lives pretty far away, so I didn’t respond immediately. I also didn’t want to explain why I couldn’t commit to his plan because I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go all the way across the city to meet this guy. I didn’t really know much about him. Then I started getting passive aggressive messages (this seems to be a theme here) like “I guess we won’t hang out this weekend.” “I guess we won’t ever meet…” Stuff like that. I told him he was acting very dramatic. He sent a series of utterly crazy messages that I wish I could have screenshot before he unmatched with me. He did however find me on OKCupid and wrote this rant about some (maybe imaginary) Americans who told him that I wouldn’t be a good friend blablabla.

Please notice what tabs I had open.

So, bye Patrick. I will not be your Spongebob.

I met someone a few weeks ago who showed me Patrick’s picture on his phone and warned me about him, which confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, Patrick was making fake profiles using this guy’s pictures. That’s some Catfish shit and I’m not into it.

So, no love life to speak of here in Korea. Carry on posting your couples pics on Facebook and sending me  your wedding invitations.

Hong Kong Horror Story

Hong Kong Horror Story

I bought a ticket to Hong Kong to visit my friend from DC. She sent me the dates when she would be back home visiting her family. Because Korea works its employees like dogs, my vacation is predetermined and limited, meaning that I had to fit my trip into one weekend. Factoring in the the three-hour flight each way and the time it takes to get to the airport, I would be in Hong Kong for only about a day and a half. But now that my trip is done, I would love to forget a good portion of the short but messy time I spent there.

When I first arrived on Saturday morning, I headed straight to cable car station to go to the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. There, I met up with Jamie (a new friend) who runs the blog Teaching Travel. You might have seen my post there.

It was nice to meet him in person after corresponding online for weeks. The weather that day was a bit cloudy but good. The Buddha and monastery were cool. Here are some pics:

Beautiful
Cute
Guy cheesing in the background of my pic

 

After that, I went to my Airbnb, which I found out was in the middle-aged prostitute neighborhood. Super! I dropped my stuff off and headed to Victoria Peak to see HK’s skyline at night. It was foggy but whatever.


Although my DC friend had originally told me that she would arrive on Saturday like me, she then told me she would actually get in Sunday morning but we could hang out that day. So, I was expecting to spend most of my second day with her. Instead, on the way back to my Airbnb, I found out that my friend had given me the wrong dates completely, hadn’t realized it until I was already in Hong Kong and she wasn’t, and that we wouldn’t see each other at all. Why does shit like this always happen to me? Like, who buys a ticket to fly to another country to see their friend and their friend isn’t even there? How messed up is that?

That night, I ate shitty Chinese food and drank a big bottle of beer by myself and accepted the fact that this trip was a dud.

The next morning, I decided to make the most of things and hit up some markets and parks before my flight that night. I didn’t want to lug my bag around all day so I left it in a locker at a subway station.

I wasn’t feeling great on the subway. I’d had a sore throat (probably something I’d picked up from the gross kids I teach) and would have loved to sit down but all the seats were taken. I was seconds away from the station where I needed to change lines. I was planning to just take a seat at the station and see if I felt better. But, I didn’t make it that far.

All of a sudden, I woke up on the subway floor. I had apparently passed out and a couple of people were helping me off. This American lady was super nice. She went out of the station to get me something to drink and some hard candies for my throat. She told me she was on the way to church, so props to her for being a good Christian. A Filipina lady also gave me some crackers from her bag. Hallelujah even though I did not feel like eating them at all.

I must have sat there for at least 45 minutes before I worked up the energy and courage to try to stand up. I wandered out of the station, took a taxi to get my bag from the locker, and then took a taxi to the hospital because this didn’t feel like something I could just walk off.

There, I only had to pay 990 Hong Kong dollars (about $130) to be seen, much cheaper than it would have cost in the U.S. with no insurance. I was immediately given a surgical mask (a staple of Asian culture) because I had a fever. The doctor ordered a chest x-ray and blood tests for me, which came back normal. So, I was ultimately diagnosed with pharyngitis (yum) and given antibiotics as well as a few other OTC medicines.

I waited at the hospital pharmacy for maybe half an hour to see if I felt any better. I didn’t, but I finally made it to another taxi, which I took to the airport. My flight wasn’t until 1 a.m., and I got to airport around 5 p.m. All I wanted to do was lay down immediately and get home as fast as possible. I was so weak I couldn’t even stand in the check-in line. I had to sit down for more than hour before I finally asked for a wheelchair to the gate. First, the airline let me sit behind the counter with all the old people waiting for their wheelchairs. And then I was finally taken to the gate where I sprawled out over three seats until we boarded.

Not cute

On the plane, I had a whole row to myself because the ladies checking me in felt sorry or were grossed out by me. So, I laid across the row and alternated between freezing and burning up. Towards the end of the flight, I had to pee really bad and I was actually worried about wetting my pants if I didn’t go before we landed. I felt so weak, but I forced myself up and stumbled to the bathroom. Once inside, I pretty much passed out while I sat on the toilet. I had to rush to get back to my seat though because we were basically landing. I woozily used the seat backs to guide myself back to my seat and embarrassingly ran my fingers through several people’s hair.

I was snatching everybody.

Once we landed, I was again wheeled through the terminal and then immediately got in a taxi home. I didn’t go into work that day even though sick leave does not exist in my contract.

So, a lot of my trip to Hong Kong sucked really hard. My friend who I went to visit gave me the wrong dates and wasn’t there AND I passed out on the subway and spent the rest of the day continuing to make a fool of myself around the city, airport, and on the flight home because I felt horribly ill.

But, because I’m an optimist (LOL), I know this situation could have turned out much worse. Here’s how:

  • I could have had something more serious than a bacterial infection and had to stay in the hospital longer.
  • I could have missed my flight.
  • I could have had to pay a lot more money at the hospital.
  • I could have shit/peed my pants or thrown up on someone on accident.

But in the end, I was alone and sick in a foreign country. It sucked and I’m mad at the world, but what’s new.

Not Quite

Not Quite

I kind of expected Engrish to be widespread before I came to Korea. I understand that English is not everyone’s first language, and I don’t expect everyone to speak it perfectly. But, I do think that the internet has helped the world become more connected, so you can find practically any service online. A translator, a proofreader, someone? Nope, despite having tens of thousands of native English speaking teachers (like me) and U.S. military personnel (like my sister) living in the country, there are still plenty of professionally printed and circulated signs, websites, and products that have bad English on them. (Could you ask one of us for help?) But, even more often than that, I find things that are either funny when translated into English, funny to me for other reasons, or just inappropriate for their target audience.

Here’s a list of things that I’ve seen firsthand:

Yum, I’m on the cheese sand diet.

 

Someone had to say this is a bad name for a store.

 

This is such a little mistake, but it drives me nuts.

 

We won’t reach it, but we’ll rich it.

 

This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?
This is a pack of wet wipes. Like, what?

 

Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical
Not grammatically incorrect, just non-sensical. Why is this a store name?

 

Again not wrong, but I just don't understand. I'm sure my mom would want to take me here.
Again not wrong, but I don’t understand. I’m sure my mom would want to take me here.

 

This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.
This was given to me as my lesson plan. So glad my job is helping me shape young minds.

 

I thought of a different kind of O-Ring first.

 

This is just a funny(?) piece of art that I saw.

 

Rehoboth's the beach all the DC gays go to. Can't escape their influence.
Rehoboth’s the beach all the DC gays go to. But, there’s no beach in Seoul and gays are definitely not as welcome here as in DC.

 

Bonus:

I went to get my hair cut for the first time since I moved here. I scoured forums for the places foreigners have had the most luck. I didn’t think my hair was that different from Korean hair but apparently I was wrong. I could have gone to a local barber, but I figured that was too risky. Also, places with two barber poles signify brothels, and I really didn’t want any “extra services”. So, I found a chain of salons that some foreigners recommended. I even brought pictures of the style I wanted so that English wasn’t a requirement.

Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto
Nothing dramatic, but less ghetto

 

Here’s what I got:

Girl, no.
Girl, no.

The higher the hair, the closer to God I guess. It wasn’t the best cut of my life, but I got an awesome shampoo and head massage, so it was worth it.

Jimjil-dongs

Jimjil-dongs

Because my school tells me as little information as they possibly can, I found out that I had a two-day break the week before it happened. So, I stressed myself out because I knew that this was one of the few opportunities I would have to travel somewhere for longer than a weekend. Since my school is private and driven only by money, it has the power to tell me when my vacation days are. I have no say.

I looked for last minute flights somewhere abroad like Japan or Thailand, but there were no good deals remaining. Luckily, my good Judy Nick had me covered. He had the same days off and proposed a trip down to Busan (pronounced Poo-sahn) to stay with his friends. Korea’s second largest city and the fifth busiest seaport in the world (according to Wikipedia), Busan is located on the country’s southeastern coast. Although the city has beaches, the temperatures were not ideal swimsuit weather while we were there unfortunately.

Temps in Fahrenheit unfortunately
Temps in Fahrenheit 🙁

That gives me more time to be up in the gym and work on my fitness (he’s my witness).

Nick and I woke up early Sunday morning to take the four and half hour train ride down to Busan. There is a high-speed train that could have gotten us there in half the time, but it’s twice as expensive. Neither Nick nor I are classy or rich, so we were perfectly fine taking it slow and steady. I surprisingly slept for a good chunk of the ride down. Nick, on the other hand, had been feeling sick, so his train experience wasn’t as relaxing.

Once we arrived in Busan, we made our way to the Seomyeon area where Nick’s friends, Stacy and Rob, live. They took me to see some of the city while Nick stayed home and rested.

We went to Jagalchi Market near the port.

Then we went to Yongdusan Park and the bottom of Busan Tower (because we didn’t want to pay to go up).

courtesy of Stacy Austin

So we went to the rooftop of a nearby mall, which offered great views for free.

courtesy of Stacy Austin
courtesy of Stacy Austin

The weather was perfect for walking around, a nice break from Seoul’s brutal winter. Stacy and Rob were great hosts/guides. Both have been in Korea for a while and are really knowledgeable and involved in the community. Stacy’s all-encompassing personal website is here. Rob’s part of a band called Robsanity. Listen here.

My most memorable experience of this trip was going to my first jimjilbang. A jimjilbang is a public Korean bathhouse. Conan O’Brien even went to one.

Many foreigners get nervous because the JJbang is segregated by gender and you must be completely naked in the bath area. After acclimating to dat Korean gym lyfe in Seoul, I was pretty immune to the fear of being naked in front of other people. I kind of wanted to be naked all the time.

via GIPHY

Beforehand, I did feel a little weird about being naked in front of Nick because he’s a friend. But I didn’t want to go to a jimjilbang by myself at first, so I had to suck it up. We went to Spa Land, which is attached to (allegedly) the biggest department store in the world. After paying 15,000 won (about $12.50) to get in, we went to the locker rooms, got naked, and then headed to the baths.

This is what they look like at Spa Land:

Before getting into the baths, you have to take a shower. Then you just basically lounge around for as long as you want. There are multiple tubs to choose from. They have different water temperatures and some include salt, minerals, or tea. There are also sauna rooms with different levels of heat. The two temperatures at Spa Land were hot (40°C/104°F) and Satan’s ball sack (80°C/176°F). After the baths and saunas, you can also lounge around the common area for both sexes (with clothes on) and buy snacks and enjoy more heated and therapeutic rooms.

My first jimilbang experience was great. It was a super relaxing and fun to just hop around between the different pools and saunas. I even splurged for a scrub where an old man wearing only a pair of shorts and white rain boots wrapped cloths around his arm like a cast and then scrubbed my entire naked body.

I saw a lot of dongs at the jimjilbang (thus the title) and learned a lot about Korean men’s bodies. I would like to complete some further research on this topic before I come to any conclusions (wink wink), but here are my initial findings based on both my JJbang trip and the time I’ve spent in my gym’s locker room:

  1. Koreans don’t typically trim their pubic hair. Like at all. As my sister warned me, they voted for President BUSH. Their body hair isn’t as course as white people’s so rather than curl, it just sticks straight out and forms a bouffant that leads the way when they walk. I’m not judging it. It’s just different than what I’m used to. Especially the gay guys I’ve known who treat their pubes like bonsai trees, ever so carefully shaping and preventing them from growing to their full potential.
  1. I feel more comfortable about my body in front of Korean strangers than other white people. Nick and I were the only foreigners when we arrived. However, while there, two more pink dicks* showed up, and I instantly felt more insecure. I think I compare myself less to Korean people because their bodies are so different than mine. Back in the U.S., I always wonder if other guys are fitter, cuter, or have better skin than me. But with Korean guys, I just know I’ll never be as tan or have the same thick hair (on their heads) as them. So, I guess I’ve realized there’s no point in comparing myself to them. That should be a lesson I take home with me. Stop comparing.
  1. The Korean booty game is strong. I guess I had just assumed that Asian guys were stereotypically short and skinny and that’s about it. But, butts here are so bubbly and not just the buff guys who are always at the gym. Maybe it’s because they walk everywhere. Maybe it’s a magical side effect of eating kimchi all the time. Either way, I am in awe and now insecure about my sad pancake booty.

So thanks to Busan – for new friends and new experiences. I’ll be back when the weather’s warmer and my Korean ass grows in.

 

*One of the white guys had completely shaved his pubes off, which contrasted SO MUCH with the rest of the bushes there.

The Exercist

The Exercist

Of all the things that I anticipated missing from America, I didn’t think that being fit would be one of them. Since I was plopped in my apartment in Seoul two months ago with no help from my school on adjusting to basic life (like advice on where to go to the grocery store, what’s the closest subway station, how I can make my bathroom stop smelling like cigarette smoke and vienna sausages), I had gotten super out of shape. And I felt bloated and constipated all the time. Looking back now, it was silly of me to think that my work would help me find a gym. Nope. Despite putting out lots of feelers and asking questions, I got nothing. It was super cold outside though, and I figured that I could get by doing the 7 Minute Workout app and some yoga videos in my apartment every once in a while.

I eventually realized that this wasn’t going to cut it. I noticed a significant change in my body composition and I didn’t like it. So, a gym membership was a must if I was going to avoid gaining a Buddha belly. There are forums for expats that I scoured looking for some foreigner-friendly gym that would hopefully be nearby. I found multiple Crossfit gyms that were only a short bus or subway ride away. But, I was shocked by the cost of a monthly membership at these places. The prices were comparable to those of “boxes” in DC, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The class times didn’t really line up with my schedule either. I know in theory I could wake up early and go to Crossfit before I go to work at 1 p.m., but I know this is unlikely to happen in reality.

Two months worth of walking the streets of my neighborhood helped me realize that there were two second floor gyms super close to both my apartment and my work. One morning, I finally decided to scope these places out by myself. I was nervous because I expected no one at either place to speak English and I know nothing about discussing gym memberships in Korean. The first gym was closed, I think permanently. The second place was cheap (about $20 a month with a four-month membership) but it was really cramped and dusty. And it looked like they didn’t even have one complete weight set.

I walked out of the second gym feeling super defeated and sad (I was missing those exercise endorphins). I just wanted to work out. Was this my only option? I vowed to wander the streets everyday until I found a promising gym. A few minutes into my walk of self pity, I saw a sign that looked promising right next to an Outback Steakhouse. I followed it into the building basement where a very nice Korean guy helped me. He didn’t speak much English, but he grabbed two random people from the gym to explain the membership process to me. I came back the next day and bought a four-month membership for about $40 a month.

As part of my membership, I apparently got two free personal training sessions. I was told it was just an orientation, so I was confused when I showed up after work and got a full body composition scan complete with a polite lecture about how I should gain more muscle. “Nick”, my personal trainer according to his name tag, was super cute and did speak great English. However, I think I would have preferred an ugly person telling me to work out more.

Nick was really nice about helping me my first few times at the gym. Although I had done weight training in high school (believe it or not), he walked me through the free weight exercises and gave me pointers on how to improve. He knew a lot of body terminology although he did say “niffle” (for nipple) and “scaffula” (for scapula). Typical Korean-English mistakes, but that made him that much more endearing. He even helped me bench press one time after I had used up my two PT sessions, but I think that was more embarrassing than anything.

It’s now been about a week and a half since I’ve joined the gym. I’ve been a handful of times and things are going really well so far. Here are some things that I learned about Korean gym etiquette, which is different than my experience in the American fitness world:

  1. Koreans lack the same personal bubble that I am used to back home, and the gym is just one example of this. Nick was very up in my business while helping me. When I was bench pressing and he was spotting me, his thighs were basically squeezing my temples. And I’m 1000% ok with that. You know, cultural immersion and all. 
  2. A lot of gyms in Korea provide clothes for you wear when you work out. It might be gross to some people to wear public property clothing, but it saves me from having to do more laundry or bring more stuff to the gym. They do smell really strongly of bleach though.

    Here's what the clothes at my gym look like.
    Here’s what the clothes at my gym look like.
  3. ^^Do you see that guy walking behind me?^^ Do you see what’s on his feet? Ok, that brings me to my third point: Korean people sometimes work out in flip flops. Around those heavy weights? No thank you.

    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
    This guy went a step further and took his flip flops off. #barefootcontessa
  4. Everyone gets 100% nake nake in the locker rooms. And they don’t just get undressed and hide behind a towel right away. Their towels are the size of washcloths, so that’s not really an option. But, Koreans overall just seem to be way more comfortable being naked. They stand in front of the mirror and blow dry their hair for like 10 minutes naked, and no one cares. I love that. (I also love the way their blowdryers make my hair look). Sure, I’ve learned a lot about Korean anatomy (which I will cover in a later post about my first experience at a Korean bathhouse), but I also just feel confident that no one is looking at my body. And if they are, it’s because they’ve never seen a dick as pink as mine. 

So, I love how my quest to find a gym finally worked out. I love the body confidence of Korean guys. It doesn’t hurt that my gym’s close to a university so a lot of the guys are young and attractive. Many of them are also in good shape too. Thanks mandatory Korean military service!

Here are some more pics of JFIT Korea:

It’s no VIDA, but I think that’s probably a blessing.

Tinderella

Tinderella

My sister (see last post) has been a huge help to me since I arrived in Seoul. On top of providing me with basic provisions (like peanut butter) that are either too expensive or non-existent in the Korean market, she has also given me a ton of advice on day-to-day life here. One idea that she suggested was for me to use Tinder to look for friends.

I had been on and off Tinder while I was living in the U.S. Despite having matched with hundreds of people, I had had zero success in meeting up with anyone IRL. I only really used the app when I was on the toilet and had run out of Candy Crush lives. So I did use it quite often. But, like my love-hate experience with Grindr, I would usually download it while drunk and thirsty and then delete it a few days later after having no luck.

But, a new city and country could prove to be more fruitful. And my #1 priority was friends. A boo would be nice, but I’m very aware that I’m not the luckiest when it comes to relationships. So, I downloaded Tinder once again.

I tried to make it pretty clear that all I wanted was friends.

pretty clear right?

 

But there were still some people who could not understand friendship.

Joseph’s first questions are: 1. where are you from? 2. top or bottom?

 

So, I wasn’t having tons of luck at first. I was matching with lots of guys, both Koreans and other foreigners, which was a huge confidence boost. It led to a few conversations with people promising to show me around Seoul sometime. But, there still seemed to be a sexual undertone that our meetup was ultimately going to end with me putting out.

One Saturday I was on my way to work and running through the next batch of potential matches to see if there were any possible friends. And then I came across Nick.

Are you fucking kidding me? How could I not want to be friends with this guy? If your profile makes me laugh and not because it’s so sad, I’m a fan.

After we starting chatting, I found out that Nick lives in Cheonan, a city about 30 minutes past my sister on the subway line. He was in Seoul for the weekend visiting friends and invited me to hang out that night so that I could avoid my sad weekend past time of sitting alone at coffee shops in my neighborhood.

IMG_0127

It felt great to be invited out by a potential new friend, but it was also scary because I had never met up with anyone from Tinder! What if we couldn’t find anything to talk about? I was nervous and very non-committal in my messages leading up to the burlesque show we were going to so that if I chickened out last minute, I could always block him on Tinder and never have to think about it again.

I finally decided to bite the bullet and give it a try even though the temperature was well below freezing that night. The subway ride there took longer than expected and I kept thinking how I would be 100% okay with him not waiting for me because I was late. I would just do an about face and head back home where I would watch Netflix over some camomile tea like the 45-year-old woman that I am.

Despite arriving about 15 minutes late, Nick did wait for me. He was easily recognizable with his long hair, backpack, and cell phone plugged into the wall. To my relief, we got along really well from the beginning. Nick’s a very social person and I feel like he could make conversation with pretty much any human or animal. On our walk to the bar, we found out that we both went to college in Oklahoma. What a coincidence! At the bar, I met some of his friends as we waited for the burlesque show to start. It was my first time out in Seoul (sadly), so I decided not to hold back when it came to drinking.

The burlesque show was a cool new experience for me. Nothing enticed me obviously, but I appreciated it. After that, we went to Homo Hill, Seoul’s aptly named gay-borhood. It sounds like a bunch of bigoted frat guys came up with that name but whatever. I’ll just call it The Hill. We first went to a party at a “gay-friendly” bar where there were a lot of welcoming lesbians but not many gay boys. I don’t remember much of it because I was holding that cup like alcohol all night.

courtesy of www.heezyyang.com
courtesy of www.heezyyang.com

I don’t know who three of those girls are.

We danced and whipped our hair for a while before Nick took me to my first full-on gay bar in Seoul. It was obviously also on The Hill. Only a few seconds after walking in, a Korean guy stopped me and showed me that we had matched (no joke) on Tinder. He then introduced me to his very drunk Irish friend who was apparently nervous as this was his first time at a gay bar. Because I was liquored up, I ever so benevolently tried to help him overcome his fears and dance with some Korean guys he was interested in. Of course, this being the gay world, some signals got mixed and I ended up spending the night with the Irish guy in a hotel room that he paid for (#sugardaddy). It turns out that this might have been his first time at a gay bar but he was no stranger to the world of gay hookups.

But back to Nick!

Nick has been an ideal Tinder friend match. On top of taking me out in Seoul for my first time and introducing me to new people, he laughs at my jokes, which is the most important quality I look for in friends. He’s stayed with me for a couple nights while visiting Seoul and I even went down to Cheonan for a visit. Thanks for everything, Pussy Monster. Looking forward to many more fun times together.

<3 Chodie

yaaaaaaassssssss kween
yaaaaaaassssssss kween

tl;dr: gay shit