It’s early morning in December, cold and dark.
Young children are bundled in multiple layers to ward off the icy onslaught of gusty air as they make their way to the first of the school buses.
I’m standing on the curb side of my apartment building, waiting for Naz and Jules, two of my closest and dearest friends, to arrive from Australia. I know the number plate I am waiting to see – 8439.
There is an anticipation and feeling so delicious before loved ones arrive from home that can almost be better than the experience of having them here. Almost.
A black van pulls through the gate and I can feel tears, and that overwhelming rise of emotion up through my chest to my throat.
I hold it together long enough to fling open the van door and announce, “I’m going to cry now!”
We’re standing on the curb crying and hugging – unable to comprehend that we’re on an island in South Korea. This will be a consistent remark throughout the week – how three friends of some 15 plus years find themselves here, of all places. And a constant reminder of just how unexpected life can be.
Despite no sleep for 36 hours, Naz and Jules are full of energy. Jules says, “we’re driving to the island and I keep saying, where the bloody hell has she bought us?!”
Korea, as our visitors before will attest, is not an easy country to explain, but as most will agree, is far more beautiful, surprising and fun than you expect. Jules and Naz will, on different days, point out that areas we visit remind them of Dubai, Greece, Italy, Canada and in some areas, even New York.
They immediately embrace apartment living and Geoje life. We walk our neighbourhood, shop in the markets, take in the endless sights, and enjoy multiple lunches, drinks and coffee sessions with my beautiful island friends. The power of Facebook means Naz and Jules also leave with friends from Geoje and will continue to feel a big part of my life here.
It’s eight days of relaxed laughs, tears, observations and deep conversation – something about expat life (even as a visitor) – sparks discussion about other possibilities, adventures and big dreams for the future.
Our second day takes us to Tongyeong, a 30-minute drive to the mainland – and our first indication that three blondes travelling Korea are as popular as the Spice Girls in the 90’s. At the coffee shop, the man won’t take our order until he tells us three times – in perfect English – ‘you are SO beautiful!’
Later at lunch, the pizza man tells us the same. A man sidles up to Jules on the street and walks shoulder to shoulder for a distance just so he can gaze at her closely. On the cable car to Tongyeong mountain, a group of young Korean men actually ask the attendant if they can ride in our car and proceed to take selfies with us on the ride up. At the top of the mountain, where the girls buy jewelry, the woman is so taken with their beauty that she gives them a pair of free pearl earrings :0
Naz says, “this is the best bloody place for your ego”. Jules says, “I know, we should have come when we were fat!”
In Busan, on our third day, we travel to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, where we’re stopped before we enter by a small Korean lady who tells us again we are beautiful and offers us a free donut. We’re beginning to comprehend how celebrities feel 🙂
Over the course of the week, we visit Gamcheon Art Village, drive around the island, eat Korean BBQ and the girls have their first experience at my local hairdresser.
Most importantly, we undertake the requisite night out in Okpo which must always start with good skin hydration. Note the before and after 😉
After cocktails at Garage and dinner at Noel, we settle on our third bar – Handle Bar – and immediately take over the music. We’re seven chicks in a bar of men, and it’s us head banging to ACDC’s Thunderstruck. From here, it’s everything from Salt n Pepper to Bruno Mars to Jimmy Barnes. We finish the night dancing to ‘I’ve had the time of my life”, which kind of seems appropriate.
The night ends with dumplings from our favourite street stall near the taxi rank.
And despite staying at home, Rob seems to have had his own small party in the apartment.
Our Sunday is very Korean – lunch at Waves at Deokpo Beach and a trip to a Roadhouse, but not before Naz decides (after topping up from the night before with a glass of wine) that she’s going to do the zip line from one side of the beach to the other.
Korean roadhouses are a stand-alone attraction. Literally hundreds will visit a major roadhouse on a Sunday – for lunch, a coffee, to purchase something utterly random from the stalls or to take in the view – for us, it’s a view across to the Geoje Bridge and a walnut waffle.
We finish the day exploring Chilchendeo Island where Jules has us posing for photos like we’re preparing for our first album release.
There are so many moments about this week that I treasure – Jules’s propensity to exclaim “farkin hell” to just about anything (and us falling about in fits of laughter), to my hip still being damn sore from jumping up and down at a nightclub nearly two weeks ago (and reminding me my nightclub days are ending), to Jules making us don Christmas t-shirts, hats and earrings to watch the latest Vacation movie, to Naz buying PJ’s (of all things) at the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple and a replacement wedding/engagement ring at the top of Tongyeong mountain (of all places!).
But more importantly, it is being able to share my life here with two special friends, and in turn share their experience with their own families via FaceTime that I value most.
Naz and Jules, I will be forever grateful for you, your friendship and that you travelled so far to spend this magical week together. I did have the time of my life. xxx
(And thanks too, Rob, for putting up with the antics of three often-lunatic women. x)
Let’s do it all again in October 😉