NaNoWriMo in Korea

Guess what?

I’m a winner!

No, really, here’s the certificate to prove it:

Nano Winner

What is that, you ask? It’s to celebrate completing Nanowrimo!

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and takes place every November. I vaguely remember hearing about it before, and thought it sounded cool, but I never really looked into it. But this year, some fellow ETAs were pretty excited and open about doing Nano (ahem, Dawn, Shannon), and well, the excitement caught up to me too.

My first thought was, is this really the time to try Nano? While I’m in Korea? Then I remembered someone incredulously telling me that the former ETA at their school had written a novel during their grant year. Ah, I see. So it’s been done.

Next came the excuses. I was in the middle of studying for the GRE! How could I write a novel at the same time? And November just happened to be the busiest month at school – all of my coworkers and even my students were telling me so. There were tons of school events being held, including the English Speech Contest, which I would help judge. Eventually though, my desire to try Nano won over the excuses, legitimate as they were. And, I thought, if I’m being realistic, I will always have plenty of perfectly legitimate excuses each November, whether I’m in Korea or not.

So I went forth.

I decided to build off of a short story I’d written for a Historical Fiction course in college. It was set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, focused on 1910 to 1919. When I was writing the short story, it was difficult to find many sources in English, but now that I was in Korea, it seemed ideal to continue this story as I’d have more access to relevant resources.

I won’t describe for you my laborious writing process, though it was ameliorated by support from fellow ETAs, Wrimos (slang for people working on Nanowrimo), the Busan write-ins, and resources provided through the Nanowrimo organization itself. Instead of more writing, here is my month with Nano in pictures. We’ll start by taking a tour of the many cute cafes I frequented, the obligatory food and drink pictures (I’ve become a master of this while in Korea), and maybe even get to some selfies.


lemon tea

Lemon tea at Bricks Coffee, currently my favorite coffee shop in Busan. The owner even recognizes me now. Because I’ve stayed there for hours at a time. But also more likely because I’m a foreigner.


cafe claire

Orange cranberry bread and an Americano at Cafe Claire. Which also happens to be a part of the Somin Art Center! The first day I went was also the last day of an amazing art exhibit in their gallery upstairs. Overall it’s a very nice space, with a patio, two galleries and stage for performances.

cafe claire front close

cafe claire interior

They also had their Christmas decorations up already.

Cafe Claire Christmas


cafe pascucci

Americano at Cafe Pascucci, a chain coffee shop. This was on a random Tuesday I had off in the middle of the week. It was so peaceful and for most of the time I was there, I had the entire second floor to myself.


cafe promise

Citron tea at Cafe Promise, a small family-run coffee shop near my school on Yeongdo.


In addition to coffees, I have to pay tribute to my best friend during this month: my lovely laptop. She was with me wherever I went…

laptop and me

…working long hours…


…even on the KTX with me.

laptop ktx

We shared meals…

laptop lasagna

…and enjoyed coffee + panini breaks.

bricks coffee

This experience has truly brought us closer together.


And of course, how could I write 50,000 words in a month without some interesting detours and sources of inspiration? Before I settled in for a writing session or after a good (not not so good) day’s work, I explored more of Busan.

by busan tower


This is Bosu Book Alley, which is a beautiful place to explore.

Bosu book alley

bosu book alley traditional


bosu book alley cat

I even found some books in English for research!

bosu book alley research


bosu book alley research 2

These are some lucky finds in the English section of Kyobo Bookstore in Nampo. “When My Name Was Keoko” had a lot of similarities to what I was writing, which was both unfortunate, but also a sign that I was on the right track.


Of course there was art involved:

BMA craft recipe exhibit

bma photo

And I visited the Busan Design Expo with another Wrimo!

busan design expo duck busan design expo hug

busan design expo

busan design expo speakers

But my favorite art exhibit during the month was the artist being shown at Somin Art Center. The artist 허휘, or Hur Whie, as spelled on his business card, owns Mokwon Art Studio near Gukje Market. He has a couple blogs, but nothing compared to seeing his work in person. I bought two copies of his art book.
mokwon art book

I think his work resonated with me so much because it’s the exactly the kind of artwork I’ve wanted to do of Busan. And after having visited most of the places he’s painted, the work is all the more meaningful. I’m sure it’s even more meaningful and nostalgic for long time residents of Busan. I especially liked how he captured Gamcheon cultural village and I wish I’d gotten more than this crooked image of it:

mokwon gallery gamcheon

And that’s the end of my art tangent.


Although I completed Nanowrimo, I didn’t finish my novel (the story itself) and I don’t know if I will for a long while. No one will ever see this draft. There’s still tons of research I need to do to correct the tons of inevitable inaccuracies I’ve written. But in doing Nanowrimo, I got to exercise a part of my brain that has long felt dormant. I got to feel excited about something new. I got to feel a little sense of accomplishment every time I met my daily word count, and a much bigger sense of accomplishment when I finally completed Nanowrimo, sitting among other writers in Cafe Claire.

And it’s something I’d absolutely love to do again.

Until next year, Nanowrimo.

Thanksgiving with Fulbright

Every year, the Fulbright Korea program hosts a Thanksgiving dinner in Seoul for ETAs, inviting various guests from the embassy (and other important personnel). This year,  I’d been debating whether or not to make the trip, as going to Seoul is both far and expensive and I’d have to be there multiple weekends in December. However, there was also a brief meeting for Infusion scheduled for that Sunday (the dinner being Saturday evening), so I decided I might as well go. And going somewhere for free turkey and pie is never a bad idea.

On Saturday my train left at 10:20am, but I arrived at Busan station almost an hour and a half early. It’s something I find myself doing a lot these days, simply to get out of my homestay. And with the GRE in early December and this month being the first time I’m trying NaNoWriMo, I always have something to do. I sat at a cafe where the barista looked tired and grumpy, and when I asked if they had brunch, she simply said, “no” with a frown. But I’d already made the decision to sit at this cafe and liked the ambiance of the place, so I consciously worked to not let it bother me. I tried to smile at her, both when ordering and when picking up my drink. I’m not always able to be this way, but in that moment it was well grounded enough in my own contentment to where someone else’s negativity couldn’t affect me. Inner peace and all that.


Korail App

I was able to sip my latte and write right up until my KTX train arrived, not because I got there early enough to get through the long lines, but because I’m now using the Korail app! This means I can buy train tickets on my phone and not bother with standing in line to exchange my reservation for a ticket. Being completely in Korean, it was difficult to navigate the app at first, especially since the only guides I found online were for the old version of the app, but in the end I succeeded! Actually, I thought I’d been able to make an account, but it turns out I can only sign in as a guest.

Point #1: if you’re using your Korean phone number, enter your name EXACTLY as it appears in your phone company’s records, even if your name is IN ALL CAPS. (Good thing I still had those documents to reference, but if you don’t, your name is mostly likely in this format: LAST NAME, FIRST NAME MIDDLE NAME.)

Point #2: You’ll have to use the guest sign-in, which in Korean is 미등록고객객. Under the login screen, go to the third and final tab to use your phone number (휴대전화 로그인) and enter it in the first box. In the second box you make up any password you want – I use one that’s 5 numbers so that it’s consistent with the format of the second password they ask for later. Then hit the dark grey 미등록고객객 button!

Point #3: You’ll be taken to the guest sign-up screen, where you enter your name (whatever you want it to be, but not too long – I just use 모니카, my first name spelled out in hangul), phone number (yes, again) and password (this time it has to be 5 digits and all numbers).

Here are screenshots of the first log-in screen and guest sign-up screen:

korail login 1     korail login 2


Thanksgiving in Seoul

I arrived at Seoul around 1pm and went to get lunch. Craving a chicken sandwich, I went into what I thought was McDonald’s, and was surprised to see that they only had a spicy chicken sandwich. I bought it anyway and then got a call from Arria, who was coming to pick me up so we could go to her place together. I rushed out, learned that she wasn’t actually there yet, and decided to go back into eat. This time I did go into McDonalds, but the layout looked slightly different than before. Only slightly. I sat down anyway and dug into my meal. It wasn’t until I was almost halfway finished that I realized everyone around me had wrappers and cups with a different color and design. I looked more closely at my meal and finally realized…I had bought this from the Lotteria right next door. And now I was sitting in the MCDONALD’S, eating a meal I’d bought from their competitors next door. Looking around, I also realized, there ARE a lot more foreigners here. And hey, it turns out the layout really was different…because this is a DIFFERENT STORE. Shamefully, I glanced over at the Lotteria, hoping that all their seats were full so it looked like I had an excuse to be here, eating Lotteria in a McDonald’s. It did seem pretty full. So I awkwardly finished my meal. Only one guy seemed to notice my mistake. I avoided making eye contact with him.

But onto the main course and away from my embarrassing escapades! The afternoon went by quickly at Arria’s place, and besides we had to dress professionally to go to the dinner where we’d be stuffing ourselves with American fare. I’ll just repeat that, we had to be business professional to eat turkey. Business professional clothing only stretches so far. Oh the sacrifices we make for Fulbright.

Thanksgiving buffetThanksgiving pie

This year the dinner was held on the Yongsan American military base! We ate at the Dragon Hill Lodge, which normally does Fulbright’s Thanksgiving catering, but this year also hosted us. There was some culture shock when someone went to charge their phone and found that the American power sockets. As predicted, I was too busy eating to get any good pictures in. The meal was a buffet, which doesn’t make for a very attractive-looking plate. You can’t even see the turkey. But rest assured that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Other than the dinner, there were a few performances from fellow ETAs, singing, dancing and piano. It was a pleasant time, but over too soon!

Thanksgiving dance

Thanksgiving sing