Midnight at the Post Office

1 Feb IMG_6031


It happened about a year ago. Chris and I were driving back to our apartment in Bloomington late one night. As we drove past the post office, Chris pointed out that there was a man playing guitar in the post office foyer. I didn’t catch a look, so I asked him to circle back. Sure enough, there was a silhouette of a man playing guitar in the large window.

I immediately decided that I needed to know more about this silhouette. Who was he? And why was he playing guitar in the post office around midnight? Our apartment was only a couple blocks away, so I grabbed my camera and audio recorder and returned to the post office.

I parked the car, turned off the engine and hesitated. I briefly thought about turning around and going home. I felt like I was having an “off” year. I had spent the better part of 2013 working retail at a children’s clothing store. I couldn’t remember the last time I interviewed someone or asked a stranger if I could take their photo. “Would you like the receipt with you or in the bag?” was more like it.

Still uncertain about what I was going to say, I got out of the car, walked through the door and down the foyer. The music echoed beautifully throughout the empty building, but the man stopped playing as I approached. As I introduced myself, he seemed surprised that I was there to talk to him. He was kind enough to answer my questions and let me photograph him playing.

I learned that his name was Rick Stringfellow. Could a guitarist ask for a better name? I also learned that he was a postal worker, and it dawned on me that he had helped me during several recent trips to the post office as I prepared my documents for South Korea.

Rick has been playing guitar since he was 10 years old. He told me that he often comes to the post office after hours to practice. It’s close to home, and he loves the sound. He doesn’t just play guitar. He sings. Beautifully. But it’s not something he usually does in front of an audience.

“I don’t really like playing in front of other people, so if I see someone coming in, I’ll stop or tone it down,” he said.

During the course of our conversation, I realized that talking to people is something we both struggle with. Rick said his first two months working behind the counter at the post office were very difficult.

“I discovered that the reason I was having so much trouble was that I was afraid of looking stupid,” he said. “I was making so many mistakes on the computer because I was hurrying, trying to look like I knew what I was doing.”

“Once I slowed down, I wasn’t so nervous at the window. I was more relaxed and I could just talk to people. That anxiety started to disappear. Now I just have a great time in there.”

What he said resonated with me. It still does. Listening back to our interview isn’t easy for me. I can hear the uncertainty in my voice. It gets high when I’m unsure of myself. I ramble. I laugh nervously. I forget to slow down, that I have everything I need.

Rick said he hopes that he can get over his stage fright in the same way, by letting people like me watch him play. Sharing our talents with the world is scary, but we are often our harshest critics.

After our interview, I got caught up in my second move to South Korea. The photo and audio files have just been sitting on my hard drive. Yesterday, I found myself flipping through old notebooks and looking through photos from last year and remembering that night at the post office.

Without further adieu, here’s the first song Rick played for me, “Boots of Spanish Leather” by Bob Dylan. The quality of the audio doesn’t do his performance justice, but the wanderlust lyrics are perfect. I cut the audio together with photos of Rick at the post office and video from my travels over the past year.

Rick, thanks again for sharing your talent with me and inspiring me to share my talents as well. I hope this new year has found you well. Drop me a line sometime.

Photo walk: Mabijeong Mural Village 마비정

7 Dec IMG_2636

Nestled in the mountainous countryside of southwest Daegu is a little-known village dedicated to preserving its history through art. The name Mabijeong, our most recent photo walk destination, is likely to elicit furrowed brows among foreigners and Daegu natives alike. “Mabi what? Never heard of it.”

Roughly translated as “Flying Horse Pavilion,” I must admit that the mystical origin of the village’s name is fit for the land of Westeros. As the legend goes, the general who lived in the village (most likely after one too many bottles of soju) told his favorite horse that it must outrun an arrow or face beheading. The general let the arrow fly, but the horse collapsed before it could win the race. So General Animal Cruelty cut off the poor creature’s head, and the villagers named the village Mabijeong after the fallen horse.

The Daegu Photography Club recently spent a crisp November afternoon exploring Mabijeong Mural Village. Just a ten-minute drive from Daegok subway station, the quiet village is a change of pace from city life. Home to 35 functioning households, Mabijeong’s murals and interactive art commemorate the ways of rural life between the 1960s and 1980s.

I didn’t see any English signs, but that might soon be changing. Construction around the area suggests an attempt to develop a more visitor-friendly destination. If you don’t speak Korean, be sure to bring a Korean friend to translate the descriptions of the artwork. The village is visually interesting, but a little background will add meaning to your trip and help you appreciate the nostalgia.

Mabijeong is small, but you can easily spend an hour or so looking around the village and the nearby bamboo tunnel road. The village is also home to phallic and turtle shaped stone shrines that symbolize prosperity and development. A stone water basin at the foot of the shrine invites those passing by to toss in a coin and make a wish.

It was an interesting afternoon. As we walked around the village nibbling dried persimmons and fish-shaped cakes filled with red bean paste, I enjoyed hearing my Korean friends explain the art. One mural I found particularly memorable was that of a classroom’s wood-burning stove. On cold winter mornings, the village’s school children would place their metal lunch boxes on top of the stove so that their meals would stay warm until lunch time. What a sweet memory! Scroll down to see that image and more from our photo walk around Mabijeong. And as always, thanks for reading!

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2박3일: Japan

11 Oct

Last weekend, was a three-day holiday weekend in Korea, so I took the opportunity to visit Japan for the first time! I flew out of Busan on Friday afternoon and arrived at my guesthouse later that night.

The guesthouse I stayed at was located in a roofed shopping street near Mikuni Station. It was a quiet, residential area. On Friday night, I just got dinner at a small neighborhood restaurant and called it a night.

On Saturday, I woke up late, but refreshed, and started to plan out my day. I decided to take the train to Kyoto, then come back and check out Namba, one of Osaka’s entertainment districts.

Even though the guesthouse owners gave me great directions to Kyoto, I still managed to get lost. It’s easy to get there from Mikuni Station. You just take the train one stop, then transfer and take the second train to the end of the line, Kawaramachi Station. I got on the wrong train and took it to the end of the line, Kita-Senri Station. If that’s not embarrassing enough, I walked around for about an hour before I realized I was in the wrong place!

When I finally arrived, I made a beeline for Nishiki Market, Kyoto’s famous food alley. I had worked up quite an appetite getting lost. I told myself I would walk the length of the alley once to eat, then take my camera out and walk back.

If I saw something that looked good, I bought it. I ate what I think was a fish cake on a stick with pieces of octopus. Then I had this sort of fish cake ball wrapped in bacon. At the end of the alley, I took out my camera, but I soon had to put it away so my hands could accommodate a green tea ice cream cone:)

Fish cake thing on a stick

Fish cake thing on a stick

Fish cake ball thing wrapped in bacon(?) :D

Fish cake ball thing wrapped in bacon(?) :D

Green tea ice cream is my current food obsession.

Green tea ice cream is my current food obsession.

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

Nishiki Market in Kyoto

“There is a little egg in this octopus! Please try!” Nishiki Market in Kyoto

I also visited the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. It was beautiful around sunset. Many people gathered on the steps to take pictures of the sun sinking behind the city.

Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

From Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

From Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto


Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto

Afterwards I took the train back to Osaka and spent some time walking around Namba. I had Japanese ramen for dinner. At the front of this restaurant is a vending machine where you order and pay for your food. The machine prints out a little ticket which you bring inside and hand to the guy behind the counter who promptly serves you a bowl of noodles in steaming broth with cabbage, slices of pork and a soft-boiled egg.

Ramen restaurant in Namba, Osaka

Ramen restaurant in Namba, Osaka

Japanese ramen

Japanese ramen

Namba, Osaka

Namba, Osaka

Namba, Osaka

Namba, Osaka


Namba, Osaka

Fish cake thing on a stick

Namba, Osaska

I had hoped to do a little early morning sightseeing in Osaka before leaving for the airport, but my cold got the best of me:( Despite the time crunch and a cold (or allergies? I don’t know.), I had a great time, and I can’t wait to go back for another visit. I love the fact that I can have lunch in Korea and dinner in Japan:D

Until we meet again, Japan. I hope it’s soon.

Malaysia (Part 2/2)… and Vietnam

7 Oct

So I left off on Day 4 of my five-day trip, which would soon take an unexpected turn…

Day 5

I enjoyed a relaxing last day in Putrajaya. We grabbed Malaysian food for lunch and took a dip in the school’s outdoor swimming pool before heading to the airport that afternoon. Coincidentally, Hayley was flying out just hours after me for a visit to England.


A refreshing non-alcoholic mohito

Before we said our goodbyes, we reflected on how small the world really is. It was crazy to think we would be on different continents just 24 hours later. I can’t wait to visit you again, Hayley. Thanks for showing me a wonderful time!


Our passports and currency from four countries

I had a layover in Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday night. The plan was to take an overnight flight to Busan and catch a bus to Daegu early the next morning. I’d be tired the next day, but I’d have plenty of time to get to work by 1 p.m. But things didn’t go as planned…

I noticed a few Korean people waiting at my gate, so I thought ‘Good. I’m in the right place.’ But as it got closer to boarding time, few others showed up. ‘Where is everybody?’ I thought.

Boarding time came and went. There were no announcements. The displays showed no delays. Finally, a Korean employee approached and asked me if I was traveling to Busan. When I said yes, he just said “OH MY GOD…” and proceeded to walk away! Another passenger approached me and told me our flight had been delayed eight hours due to bad weather.

I started to do the math. It wasn’t the end of the world, but my boss wasn’t going to be happy.

The employee came back and told us that the airline would set us up in a hotel for the night and we’d fly out first thing in the morning. I got grouped with three other passengers who were also connecting flights. Mr. Jung (I feel ridiculous calling him that because he couldn’t have been older than 35) had also come from KL and Da-yeong and Han-ah, two girls my age, were returning from a trip to Singapore.

They ushered the three of us through immigration together, keeping my passport because I didn’t have a visa to travel in Vietnam. Afterwards, they shuttled us to our hotel where I got a few hours of sleep before heading back to the airport.

Day 6

At the airport, we check in and go through security and immigration. Mr. Jung stays by my side until my passport is back in my hand. He grumbles about the airport’s inefficiency. As a construction engineer, he often travels for work. “It was easier to get through immigration in Syria and Libya!”

I have a bad feeling at the gate. Sure enough, boarding time comes and goes. This time, there is an announcement, “We regret to inform you, Vietnam Air flight 420 to Busan has been delayed again… for 24 hours.”

People freak out, of course. And I was really stressed about telling my boss that I wouldn’t be in at all that day. (Thankfully, she was only kind and understanding and concerned about my safety!) And I was not happy about having my passport taken again.

They loaded us back on a bus and took us back to the same hotel. By that time, it was about 9 in the morning. On the way, Mr. Jung says something to the girls in Korean, then turns to me and asks, “Do you want to leave the hotel today?” He’s visited HCMC several times and would love to show us around.

I hesitate. I’m sleep deprived. I need a shower. I feel anxious about the amount of cash I have after my trip. And I don’t have a passport. I contemplate taking a long shower and spending the day napping, watching TV and enjoying free room service. I’m so glad I didn’t!


My hotel lobby in HCMC

An hour later, we regrouped and took a taxi to the tourist district. We started our delicious adventure with an amazing brunch: beef pho, spring rolls, Coke, beer and Vietnamese iced coffee. Everything was just so, so yummy! I want it right now!


So pho-king good

In true Korean fashion, Mr. Jung swipes the bill when it comes. When we protest, he laughs and says, “Just buy me a beer later. Anyway, it was only $15!”

After brunch, we head to the market. On the way, we buy coconut from a vendor… for about a quarter! I can’t believe how cheap everything is in Vietnam! You could eat and drink like a king on $25 a day! At the market, Mr. Jung buys us mangos and makes us try fruits we’ve never seen before.


Fresh coconuts for about a quarter!


A woman pedaling fruits

fruit-ho chi minh lo

All kinds of fruits at a market in HCMC

Then tells us we have to get a massage while we’re in Vietnam, so we head to a nearby massage parlor. [Okay, I realize that probably sounds really strange, but I promise Mr. Jung was not a creep!]

Da-yeong, Han-ah and I shared a private room for what turned out to be a 90-minute massage! First, we changed into the pajama-like clothes they provided. When our masseuses came in, we were a little surprised to see they were all male. For the most part, they were professional, but there was a lot of giggling and “How do you say this in Vietnamese, Korean, English?”

I’ll be honest: I don’t really like getting massages. It’s one of those things (like sushi) that I keep coming back to because I don’t want to miss out on this thing that everybody else raves about. I think to myself, ‘Maybe this time I’ll like it…’

With that said, it was a mixed bag. Some parts of the massage were super awkward (having my bare ass exposed, getting lifted into the air by a tiny man) and a few parts actually hurt. But there were a couple times I actually fell asleep because I was so relaxed. It was a long 90 minutes, but I felt great afterward.

We met back up with Mr. Jung to find that he had footed the bill! “Just buy my dinner later,” he said. Afterward, we took him for ice cream at a gourmet ice cream shop. IT WAS SO GOOD!!


Gourmet ice cream


Cold Stone doesn’t come close!

After ice cream, we walked around for a while. If I had to describe Ho Chi Minh City in one word (besides DELICIOUS), it would be motor bikes. The traffic is like nothing I’ve ever seen before: a sea of motor bikes with no discernible traffic laws. To cross the street, you literally walk into traffic and hope you don’t get hit.


Walking around HCMC


Da-yeong posing in a Vietnamese hat


Motor bikes everywhere


A woman on a motor bike in HCMC

That evening, the four of us sat down for dinner and cold beer. In that moment, I think we were pretty high on life. That dinner is one of my favorite travel memories. We talked about Korea and our travels. We toasted Vietnam Air for one last wonderful and unexpected day of vacation. We just felt lucky to have met each other.

After dinner, we took a walk around the night market. I bought some coffee to bring back to the office and Mr. Jung bought us each a huge bag of dried mangos! We got back to the hotel by 9 p.m. After I took a much-needed shower, I was so tired that I fell asleep with the lights on.


Vietnamese beer


Da-yeong at the night market


Dried fruit at the night market

Day 7

The hotel provided the most amazing breakfast spread I have ever seen. It was like a Chinese buffet (fried rice, noodles, dumplings) meets American breakfast (pancakes, bacon, eggs) with lots of fresh fruits. It was magical! I think we ate like three plates.

We loaded the bus, drove back to the airport, checked in, went through security and went through immigration for the fourth time 30 hours! By then, it felt like a routine. Before we boarded, I made sure to get my new friends’ email addresses. Mr. Jung smiled and said, “I look forward to that day when I’m back in my ‘real life’ and get your email. I’ll be surprised. It will be nice to remember that day in Vietnam.”

Although we had an amazing time during our layover, I think we were all relieved to arrive in Busan. I lost Da-yeong and Han-ah at immigration, but I found Mr. Jung at the baggage claim. I thanked him for everything and told him I would send him some of the photos I took during our layover.

I will finally make good on that promise today.


Han-ah, Mr. Jung and Da-yeong

Malaysia (Part 1/2)

3 Oct

I know, I know. It’s been awhile! Fall is finally here in the ‘Gu. It’s not quite “hoodie weather” yet, but things are cooling down and my boss started putting Halloween decorations up yesterday!

The trip I’m going to tell you about happened two months ago. I have no good excuse, but please stay with me anyway! All I can say is that sorting through 783 photos was not at the top of my priority list. But I’m jetting off to Japan tomorrow, so I thought it was time to start catching up! I’ll be sure to write another post soon about my other summer highlights.

Day 1

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday evening and was greeted at the airport by my lovely friend Hayley. It had been more than a year since I’d seen her in Korea, but it felt like no time had passed at all!

From the airport, we took a train to Putrajaya where Hayley is currently living and working. From the train station, we took a taxi to a luxurious mall where I got my first taste of Malaysian cuisine. We split a delicious order of fried prawn fritters and I ordered the laksa, a creamy curry with rice noodles and seafood, garnished with fresh vegetables and lime. It was so good!

After dinner, we went grocery shopping at a store that reminded me of Trader Joe’s. After stocking up on staples such as Diet Coke and salt and vinegar chips and other noms that are hard to find in Korea, we headed home.

Hayley lives and works as a house parent at an international boarding school. It was summer vacation for the students, so we basically had the campus to ourselves. Hayley gave me the grand tour of the residence hall (seriously jealous of those kids) and her amazing apartment (again, I nearly died of jealousy). No crashing on the couch for me; I had my own bedroom and bathroom! We spent the rest of the night catching up, eating chocolate and salt and vinegar chips, and making fun of Cosmopolitan:)


Cyberjaya! Sounds like a robot rock band!


Hayley’s apartment door


Hayley’s amazing apartment


My comfy suite:)

Day 2

The next day, we headed to Kuala Lumpur, a 30-minute train ride from Putrajaya. On the way to the train station, I finally had a chance to see Putrajaya in the light of day. My first impression? It looks like Florida! It could have been Orlando with its palm trees and manicured landscaping. Also, coming from one of the most densely populated countries in the world, I was like, ‘Where are all the people?’

A couple more observations on Malaysia in general during my first couple days there: There is a strong Islamic influence in Malaysia. Most women wear vibrant hijabs. Mosques are everywhere, and there are even prayer rooms at the bus terminal. During my trip, people were celebrating the end of Ramadan. It seems that most people speak fluent English (although it was really difficult for me to understand their accents). You often have to pay to use public toilets. With the exception of booze, most things are cheaper in Malaysia than in Korea.

Kuala Lumpur has a very international feel. The city is incredibly diverse with large ethnic enclaves, including China Town and Little India. And like so many other big cities around the world, pollution is part of the package. Sometimes school must be cancelled because air pollution reaches dangerous levels.

In Kuala Lumpur, we visited the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center which is where the Petronas Twin Towers are located. KLCC is also home to a multi-level mall.


The Petronas Twin Towers

After lunch, we joined the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I highly recommend this tour for anyone visiting KL. I think it’s a great way to see the city. The bus stops at more than 20 locations, and your ticket is good for 24 hours. Throw in air conditioning and free wifi on board, and I think that’s 15 bucks well spent!


Kuala Lumpur


Kuala Lumpur


Kuala Lumpur


Kuala Lumpur


Captured this on the bus tour through China Town. This guy was really proud of his phallic shrine. When I sent this pic to Chris, he was like “What’s that guy selling, anyway? A bunch of pop?” Lol



The heat was brutal, so we decided to call it a day after checking out Central Market. We headed back to Putrajaya where we made Mexican food and planned out our next adventure.

Day 3

We got an early start the next morning. Batu Caves was at the top of my must-see list. One of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India, the caves and cave temples are just eight miles north of KL. Shorts and miniskirts are prohibited, but if you’re not covered, you can rent a scarf to wrap around your waist while you visit the caves. The stairs to reach the entrance of the main cave look really intimidating, but it’s not so bad, especially if you frequently stop to take pictures of the wildlife.



Monkeys are everywhere, and they aren’t afraid of people. Some are downright aggressive. Signs advised people not to feed the monkeys, but everybody was doing it.




The cave itself is stunning. No wonder it’s a sacred place. Its vaulted ceiling makes you feel like you’re walking into a cathedral. It was surreal: the ringing bells of the temples, the tucked away shrines, tourists feeding monkeys, the crow of roosters.







Hayley and I had a delicious Indian lunch at the base of the caves before heading back to KL. We did a little shopping and ended the day at the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park.






Day 4

Hayley was skeptical about seeing Malacca in a day, but I convinced her we could do it easily. “This website says it’s only an hour away!” When we boarded the bus in Putrajaya, we were a bit perplexed. We were the only ones on the bus! We soon found out why. The bus route took us an hour north to KL before heading south toward Malacca, clocking the trip in at about three hours!

The bus is super cheap, but if you’re traveling from Putrajaya to Malacca (especially if you’re strapped for time), I recommend that you “splurge” on a taxi!

Malacca was a Portuguese, then Dutch colony, so it is filled with all of this beautiful old colonial architecture. Malacca reminded me of St. Augustine! By the time we got there, we only had a few hours to sightsee and grab dinner before heading back to the bus station.











The night market was just popping up as we were leaving town, and Hayley insisted it was time for me to try durian fruit. I bought a cute little pastry filled with durian custard. It was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever eaten. My eyes water just thinking about it. It smelled like rotten fruit and tasted like death. The closest thing I can compare it to is a puree of rotten onions.


When we boarded the bus there were two Korean girls sitting in our seats. Apparently, the previous bus had been cancelled, so they were assigned this bus. There was also a lot of confusion about where this bus was actually going. The majority of the passengers were foreigners, and the bus driver didn’t speak English. Whenever somebody tried to ask him a question, he would do the universal “talk to the hand” brush off, which just pissed everybody off. He finally solved the problem by telling everybody to get off the bus then telling us to get back on and sit anywhere.

After a tense 15 minutes, we were finally on our way back to Putrajaya. Our trip to Malacca was a little more stressful than I had hoped, but I was glad I got to see another side of Malaysia during my short trip.


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