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By Way of Korea

South Korea   |   New York

A Korean food blog and travelogue inspired by

an epicurious New Yorker's journey around South Korea

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By Way of Korea (Part 0): The Days Leading Up to My Solo Journey to Mongolia (Itaewon, Seoul)

Updated: May 15, 2019

“Why Mongolia?” – a question I’ve been met with many times to which I didn’t have a more creative answer than “Why not?” A chance to finally travel around Asia was partly what drove my largely unplanned move overseas; Seoul was just supposed to be the first of many stops. However, my plans to travel the continent were delayed once I realized the Winter Olympics were underway and committed myself to a 7-month job in Pyeongchang for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be at the heart of the Games. Once March came around, the Paralympics Games were coming to a close, and I was sprawled out on the toasty ondol floor of Jerome’s house scheming my first adventure outside of Korea.


All I was looking for was a place of vast, natural beauty that I knew or heard very little about. Mongolia is vast. And I had always wanted to trek through the Gobi Desert, so I booked a flight to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, where my journey through the desert would begin. I was looking into a hostel to pass the first night or so in and found one that offered guided adventures across different regions of the country. There happened to be a Gobi Desert/Central Mongolia journey scheduled during the days I’d be there, so I wired my deposit to commit to joining a group of six other travelers who had already signed up for the trip.


After four sunny days on Jeju Island, I returned to Seoul where it finally dawned on me that I only had a few days left before my fight to Mongolia. Once I began my journey through the sand and dust, I would completely lose access to running water. Braiding my hair tight seemed like the most practical solution for dealing with the discomfort of not being able to wash my long, seaweed hair. Yung Kimi and I set out to find a hair braiding shop in Hongdae, but had no luck finding one.


Luckily, a friend told us there was one somewhere in Itaewon, so we hopped in a cab to head there. We found an Instagram account for the braiding shop. No address was listed, but we found a phone number. We sent a message asking for the address and to make an appointment to which we didn’t receive an address, but rather a series of landmark-specific directions to the shop in response. Following the Mapquest-like directions sent us through right-turns, up stairs, and down narrow streets to a golden, seemingly residential apartment door which opened to reveal the hair shop. We found ourselves inside what appeared to be a three bedroom apartment; each room was occupied by people in styling chairs attended by women deftly braiding their hair, who were conversing in an unfamiliar language. After struggling to articulate exactly what I wanted, I showed an example of the style I liked from their IG account and asked for it to be done with white braid strings. The whole process took about two hours during which I was brought to near tears by the pain caused by the repeated pulling and tightening of my hair. My scalp, taut from the new forces acting on the roots of my hairs, would be screaming in pain for the next few days.



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"If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel - as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them - wherever you go."

Anthony Bourdain's unmatched relish for adventure and humble approach to food, cultures, and humanity left an indelible impression on my younger self. Imparting on me the courage to veer into the unknown, he inspired me to embrace my vulnerabilities and seek adventures and growth beyond the comforts of home.

 

In July of 2017, I boarded a one-way flight to Seoul, South Korea. Within the first week of arrival, I signed a lease for an apartment and by the end of August, I had accepted a job offer that relocated me to Pyeongchang and Gangneung, where the Winter Olympics were soon to be held. From there, I had the rare opportunity to explore much of the greater Gangwon Province's beautiful mountainous and coastal regions and their distinctive foods. Once or twice a month, I'd return to Seoul or travel to an unfamiliar region to poke around alleyways, markets, and mountains in search of more good eats and adventures.

 

By Way of Korea is a storytelling project inspired by the food, places, and faces I encountered throughout Korea. By sharing my fondest memories, notes, and images of Korea, I simply hope to play a small part in piquing greater curiosity about Korean food and culture in my readers.  My content will heavily spotlight, but not be limited to Korean food and culture. 

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