Friday, October 11, 2013

Learning to Live with Less

The title of this post is something I have talked about with many people over many years. I've always wanted to be able to live with less. I feel like I'm always in the struggle to get rid of things I don't need. Living in a tiny apartment in Korea makes the process of living with less more interesting. Less space means you don't have room for things anyways! Also, putting 75% of your paycheck towards your student loans means you don't have much money to spend.

So I'm learning to be very resourceful. I hope this post is helpful to others, whether you live in a tiny Korean apartment or a big house in the West, these are things I do and have done to get the most out of the cash I earn. I fail in many areas with my finances, but I have never been more serious about getting serious financially than I am right now.

I've always been one to recycle, but now I take full advantage of the fact that recycling is free. The more I can recycle, the less trash I produce, which ultimately leads to buying fewer garbage bags! I keep a bag for paper and a bag for bottles and recycle every week to keep the kitchen less cluttered. I reuse the bags I use for recycling items.

I shop at the dollar stores. A lower price does not always equal a better deal. In other words, just because its at the dollar store doesn't mean its a better deal than at the mega department store right in front of the tiny dollar store. You shouldn't always sacrifice quantity over quality, but if you take extra time to compare prices, you could save in the long run. I shop at Daiso (a big chain of dollar stores popular in Korea and Japan) and the locally owned dollar store near the train station.

I get a ridiculous amount of junk mail in Korea. It all ends up in the recycling bag. However, a lot of these ads (the menu ones for local restaurants) come magnetized to my metal apartment door. I strip the big magnets off the back and I use these to hang stuff on my fridge. All you need is some tape. My fridge is decked out with cards and photos from home thanks to these magnets!

I always make lists of things I need and things I want. It takes me a while to buy things off these lists (unless they are necessity items) as I give time to research best prices. I go through these lists periodically and review them, asking myself a very important question about each item: Will this item benefit either spiritually or financially? 
I know that seems like a ridiculous question, but think about it from a business standpoint: What do you gain from purchasing an item if it doesn't profit you spiritually (help bring you closer to God in some way) or financially (help generate more income in some way)?

These are a few ways to live a little more simply. I like simplifying my life. It's almost become a hobby in a way. If you have any more tips or suggestions for me, let me know. I welcome ideas on this topic. I will probably make another post like this in the near future as I find more ways to live more simple.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stark Contrast #1

Unless you live in one of those mega-apartment complexes, which it seems few foreigners actually do, you likely live in a small "block-like" building consisting of not more than 4 or 5 floors. This building is likely nestled in a neighborhood of other block-like buildings, most of which have stores on the first floor accessible from the street.

That is what my apartment building is like, which leads me to my first stark contrast post. In Ulsan, Korea, (again, unless you live in one of those mega-apartment complexes that tower above any other surrounding buildings and are essentially their own neighborhood) there is no such thing as a residential area. In the Twin Ports, USA, there are residential areas divided by commercial zones (or perhaps you could say it vice versa). The lack of real residential areas means much more noise, traffic, and smells coming from all around you at almost all times the day (mornings are fairly quiet if its before 7 and there's no construction work happening!)

I realize now that I took residential areas in the Twin Ports for granted. It seems most foreigners don't have the privilege of living in those mega-complexes as they are too expensive. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about where I live, I'm only stating a contrast that exists between where I live now and where I last lived. However, I'm sure you can guess which one I prefer! Often in the States, just a little bit of noise outside was a bother. Now, here in Ulsan, if I shut my eyes and just listen, I can make out more than 8 sounds all happening at once: dishes clanging together in the restaurant down below, car horns honking, cars passing by, people talking and shouting, cars starting, kids screaming (taekwondo academy next door), and above it all, the hum of electricity power these places. There are neon lights right outside my apartment for the restaurants and studios. There are various smells wafting through the air at given points (good food smells!).

It has taken some getting used to, but I've been here 5 weeks, so much of the shock has worn off. I definitely miss the quiet of a residential area, but I'll make due with what I've been given here. I appreciate the place I currently call my dwelling place (or just "my apartment" because I cant bring myself to call it "home") and I appreciate the chance to live somewhere completely different.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Inevitable Post

This post was quite inevitable. By this I mean every foreigner who lives in Korea and keeps a blog will at some point publish a post about (what foreigners refer to as) Korean "love motels." I recently stayed in one in Seoul. You can see the outside of it in the picture on your left. It says "hotel" but in reality it was a motel. I assure you that in Korea there is a difference between motel and hotel.

I visited my dear friend Haesung in Seoul last Saturday. At the end of the day we parted ways. My destination was Gangnam (yes, THE Gangnam) and I hopped on the subway and when I exited and returned to the surface I only had to walk two blocks to find this motel. Before I give you the details of my stay, I must first explain one thing.
I mentioned to one of my Korean friends that I would likely stay in a "love motel" when I visited Seoul. This friend politely asked me why I called it a "love motel" and not simply a "motel." I asked her forgiveness as I honestly thought they were called "love motels" by foreigners and Koreans alike. In actuality, they are just called motels and from now on I will only refer to them as such. 

If you really want to know more about why they are called love motels, just ask and I will tell you. Or just figure it out for yourself.

My stay at this motel was a pleasant one except for the slight stench of cigarette in my room (actually in the whole motel). For $60 (cheap for Gangnam!) I got a nice quiet and clean room that came with all the toiletries you need (no need to bring shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, hair gel, ect, ect...). The room also had a mini fridge stocked with two bottles of water, a bottle of gatorade, and a bottle of powerade. Both checkin and checkout was noon. 

I've heard of many motels in Korea that you can get for $40 a night. I believe it too, as my first time was Gangnam, which is 'high end' as far as areas of Seoul go. I will likely never stay in a hostel again (that's a post for another time; or never) as for just ten bucks more you can get your own room and bathroom and well-stocked minifridge (as well as peace and quiet). And motels are everywhere. It wasn't until the next morning when I took a stroll down the street the way I had come the night before that I realized there were several motels closer to where I had exited the subway. Also, it wasn't until the next morning that I realized I had walked into a place called a "hotel" on the outside when it was really just a motel. 

The Korean for motel is 모텔 which sounds like motel when read. Its an English word put into Korean. 
I probably wont stay at Hotel Highland again as I would rather check out the other hotels around, see what I could find for under $60. Part of the fun is opening the door and seeing what sort of goodies are inside. Ha!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fulfilling the Dream

North Korean mountains

Last weekend I had the honor of hosting my good friend Phil in my current country of residence. This being his first time in Korea and me only having been here for 5 weeks we had a very interesting time together. It was great he could be here. I only wish I had more to offer in terms of expertise. Thanks to my sweet Korean friends, Sunyoung and Woojeong, from Wonju, who were able to join us on our tour of the DMZ, we had a great time visiting Seoul.

And yes, by DMZ, I meant the famous (or infamous?) Demilitarized Zone that divides the North from the South.

What a unique experience it was. During the tour I was oft distracted by Phil, Sunyoung, and Woojeong as these are friends I rarely get to see. Phil lives in Japan and we saw each other about two months prior to this time, but only for a few weeks. Prior to that time, I hadnt seen him in over a year. As for the ladies, I had not seen them for three years. It was a great reunion. These are very special people to me. Phil is dear brother in Christ and a former roommate. Sunyoung is my former Korean tutor. Woojeong is a dear friend of Jacinta and mine. Both of these gals I had the privilege of driving to the airport for their flights back to Korea.

All this to tell you that while I was on the tour, I didn't fully realize where I was because I was in the midst of friends I was trying to catch up with. It wasnt until afterwards did I realize how close I was to North Korea and how for many years it was a dream of mine to visit the DMZ. Now that dream is realized.

Phil came back with me to Ulsan after our DMZ adventure. We had many late night conversations and one of the recurring themes was how blessed we are to do what we do and be where we are. I don't often think about this. It's good to take time to reflect. I thank God for where I am and what I am doing. I thank Him for the opportunity to visit the DMZ, but perhaps more importantly, spend time with friends from the other side of the world. I am a man truly blessed.