Why I Came To South Korea: An Introduction To ‘The Kimchi-ite’

South Korea is not an obvious travel destination, it has no true iconic landmarks and its only recent, distinct cultural exports are kimchi and an amazing horse riding song and dance. When I told people that I would be moving to Seoul, their first question was either “North Korea?” or “….where?” But Korea is a place rich with destinations: immense cities, ski resorts, popular beaches, as well as renowned film festivals and fashion events. It has a history spanning thousands of years, including warring kingdoms, Japanese colonization, ancient temples, rapid industrialization and funny hats.

The capital city of Seoul is a destination unto itself. Less than five decades ago, much of the city was barely even farmland. But today, it is a modern metropolis with cultural assets that rival Tokyo or Berlin. There are world-class restaurants with food from all over the world as well as cheap street food. Dozens of construction projects are underway that will make some of the world’s largest and most beautiful buildings. Seoul is also one of the few truly 24-hour cities in the world. When the nightlife in Tokyo has already died down, Seoul’s countless nightlife districts are just getting started.

As Korea has become prominent in the global conscience, the traveler and expat community has grown. Its central location in Asia makes it a great pit stop for those traveling deeper into the continent. Others stay longer, and often for work. I have met people from all over the world working in Korea as models, computer programmers, writers, actors, bartenders and, more often than not, English teachers.

Korea has an insatiable demand for English education. It is a big part of the college application process and with Korea’s growth in international business, it is often seen as a necessity. That demand, coupled with decent pay and a relatively cheap cost of living (especially compared to Europe, North America and Japan) leads many native English speakers with a penchant for travel to find themselves in Korea.

I also came to Korea to teach English, and like many, it wasn’t a direct route. After I graduated college, my love of traveling influenced me to look for work abroad. I ended up spending a year teaching English in Japan at the foot of Mt. Fuji. I surprised myself by falling in love with teaching, but I hated the monotony of the small town I lived in. Korea is my chance to get back to teaching while living in an energetic mega-city.

Ever since moving to South Korea almost a year ago, I have been amazed so much by everything around me. Its truly unique culture and ridiculously fast-paced lifestyle are like nothing else on the planet. Moving forward with this column, my journey will take you through the life of an expatriate, from the insane spicy foods on the streets of Seoul to deeply rooted Confucianism in everyday culture to journeys around the Asian continent. I hope you enjoy all of its facets as much as I do.

Video: Suicide Forest In Japan

“The Aokigahara Forest, at the base of Mount Fuji, is the most popular suicide destination in Japan. Over 100 bodies are found here each year.” This is how VICE’s video, “Suicide Forest in Japan” begins. Watch this video and follow VICE as they visit the forest and learn about its popularity among the suicidal. Green all year round and originally formed over lava, the forest seems surreal, indeed. There’s a sign grounded at the park’s entrance to act as a message to the suicidal. It reads: “Your life is a precious gift from your parents. Please think about your parents, siblings and children. Don’t keep it to yourself. Talk about your troubles.” Albeit eerie, this park is beautiful.

Five Facts About Japan

Extinct salmon not extinct after all

National Geographic News announced the discovery of a once extinct, but no longer extinct, salmon. Discovered in a Japanese lake near Mount Fuji, the kunimasu salmon has been M.I.A. for 70 years. This kind of salmon, also known as the black kokonee, is a subspecies of the sockeye salmon. Found only in Japan, this fish was believed to have become extinct in the 1940’s after the waters in the fish’s only home experienced a raise in acidity levels, said to be from a hydroelectric dam.

The fish was more or less forgotten until a head of a local fishing association in the town sent an odd sample to a popular TV host, known for his scientific approach to hosting and obsession with fish. The sample was sent to labs where samples of the original kunimasu are housed, and after a month of looking closely at the two, it’s official: the kunimasu is still alive.

Makes you wonder how many other believed-to-be-gone creatures out there aren’t gone at all, doesn’t it? Now I’m going to go hunting for that island where Elvis and Tupac are hiding out.

Read more about the salmon at National Geographic News.

Ten Mountains For The Amateur Mountaineer

A lot of adventure travelers also happen to be armchair mountaineers. They follow the worlds top climbers as they make bold attempts on impossibly high and remote mountains in all corners of the globe, and they cheer them on as they stand at the top of the world. Many of them secretly wish they could go on their own expeditions to these distant peaks, but for a variety of reasons, they never have the opportunity.

It turns out there are a number of great climbs that can give you the feeling of your own big mountain expedition, without the big mountain expense and the need to give up several months of your life. Forbes Traveler has put together a list of ten such mountains each of which will challenge the heartiest of travelers, while delivering a true mountaineering experience.

Several of the mountains on the list are icons that are already popular with amateur climbers. Mountains like Mount Blanc on the border Italy and France. The 12,000 foot peak is considered the birth place of modern mountaineering, and is one of the classic climbs of Europe. The 19,340 foot Mt. Kilimanjaro is also considered a classic climb, taking trekkers to the highest point in Africa.

The other mountains on the list, while possibly lesser known, offer unique mountain experiences that are sure to thrill any adventure traveler and would-be mountaineer. These peaks can be climbed in a matter of days, rather than weeks, and they won’t leave your pocket book quite so empty as say an Everest expedition, which can cost upwards of $50,000 and require two months of time on the mountain.

So, if you hear the call of the mountains yourself, and you can’t resist the lure, strap on your crampons, grab your trekking poles and head to any one of these peaks for an adventure of your own.