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My Korean neighborhood: How to make a “Home” away from home

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu, My Korean neighborhood: How to make a “Home” away from home

Do you find you often take your city for granted? I know I do.

The entire year, I took Daegu for granted, wishing I lived an exciting city-life like that in Seoul. One of the things Seoul could never replace however, is my happy neighborhood of  Singi-dong.

I’ve absolutely loved living in the Korean suburbs, where life is steeped with a slow-brewing charming character.

But if you remember my first GRRRL whimper, I didn’t start that way. Instead, I went into culture shock! My apartment was on a dark and dingy alley street and my neighborhood was in the “not-so-good area”; a lower-income sector, exiled from the neon radius of city life.

Over time though, my little neighborhood of Singi revealed itself as a true gem!

My Korean neighborhood: How do you make a home away from home?

Despite that there’s nothing familiar or reminiscently “U.S.” about a Korean neighborhood, there’s only one thing I needed to make my home abroad feel like”home”… belonging.

Here’s four ways to create a sense of belonging:

Discovering the beauty of the Korean suburbs

• Finding your Korean neighborhood’s “cool factor”

When I first got here, I wished I was more central to downtown. I envied those who did. But gradually, I started noticing “unique and likable things” in  my Korean neighborhood. It was more personal, small town, charming, warm, family-oriented and there was enough space for a more natural life removed from the urban jungle. It had a personality. My home away from home … was homey.

My neighborhood had children playing in the park, family picnics and laughter, old mom-n-pop shops, chatting ajummas congregated on the sidewalk and a neighborhood truck occasionally driving through the streets with a loudspeaker, advertising …eggs.

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu, korean marketplaces daegu

The park is the heart of the town and a host to town festivals and activities. Some days, vendors line its walkways selling everything from clothes, food, produce, comforters and shoes. The park field is almost always occupied either, with Little League or kids playing basketball and badminton.


There’s an everyday ajumma and ajosshi social network hanging out and every Friday evening is ladies outdoor aerobics!

If you’ve never seen ladies outdoor aerobics, it’s entertaining.

Children’s wrestling match during a park festival.

Fresh Market Days in Singi-dong

Wednesday and Fridays are fresh market days, where everyday town life transforms into sale tents buzzing with shoppers in the search for fresh produce, fish, clothes and duk (rice cake). It’s like a country bazaar and it gets pretty lively.

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu, korean marketplaces daegu

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu, korean marketplaces daegu

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• Exploring your surroundings

I’m always attempting to decode what I see in my neighborhood.

I improvise on my walk to school each day. My neighborhood is small but I could also easily get lost weaving through the streets.

Behind the town’s main street of restaurants, stores and bars, residential life holds a slightly different character. Kimchi stone pots line rooftops and laundry lines occasionally wear the flags of a new wash. Meanwhile, bright red buckets for waste perishables sit outside houses on stone pathways, stained with coarse and uneven age. They all give “life” and “marked character” to the white-washed walls, which encase the older homes. No apartments– no building rises past 5 floors here; there are only houses and villas and this has a wonderfully personal feel.

Oddly, this is my favorite path to school…

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu
my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu

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Making  yourself belong

It’s like that tv show, Cheers. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…

When you’re an English teacher, your neighborhood kind of knows you already. If you look foreign, you can bet they know who you are.

“Owning a sense of place” and developing support in my lifestyle makes me feel integrated.  I have a neighborhood doctor, dentist and banker. I have favorite stores I frequent, walks I like to take and a nearby Lotte grand plaza!

All of these things root my existence; they cradle me.

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu

 

• Syncing with your surroundings.

What does being an “American living in Korea” feel like? I couldn’t tell you, but my body knows…

Each day it shapes to the sounds and smells of my neighborhood, absorbing and negotiating a balance between “alien” or “foreign becoming ‘familiar'”.

Our surroundings change us. Unconsciously, we absorb it and it slowly beings to change our walk, breath, how we think and  feel in our bodies.

Living in a Korean suburb,there’s a gentle and relaxing pace of freedom. It forms a new posture, which gives me time and space to just Be. People call this, “adapting to our environments” but sometimes it feels like my environment creates a new me so that I can live in harmony with it.

In my neighborhood, I don’t feel “American”.  I’d say I was a “waygook” (foreigner), though whose mastery of Korean still sucks, is becoming just an inch of Korean each day!

my korean neighborhood singi-dong daegu

 

7 Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    I just came across your blog and find it helpful. Im moving to Daegu to teach english on Wednesday. Any extra pointers besides what you have published?

  2. Gray says:

    I remember well your early posts when you first arrived in Korea, and how you hated your apartment and seemed so homesick. It’s been fun watching you adjust and adapt and learn to love the place.

  3. Laura in Cancun says:

    Your neighborhood looks awesome! I’m surprised you had a hard time adjusting.

    Mine is much quieter and a bit more private, but we have tons of parks! There are always kids playing basketball, people walking their dogs, etc etc.

  4. Chris, I love this write-up. You give some great advice and show thru pics how daily life in a suburban neighbourhood is far from boring.

  5. Evan says:

    Wow, I can’t believe nothing rises past 5 floors there. EVERYTHING is higher than that here! It’s amazing how different our little worlds can be when we’re really not that far apart. I’d love to visit your little town. 🙂

    • @Evan: I know. Seoul is apartment central, which is the only thing I’m not so fond of about that city. But I’m sure you’ve got some kind of quaint town a bit outside of the main bits of the city! 😉

      @3gyupsal: You always have the most interesting things to say. I didn’t know it was illegal to grill but that would explain the lack of that activity in parks. Betcha you can find grilling in the mountain/hiking regions though. Koreans pack a lot in their hiking trips!

      @Nomadic Chick: Thanks. I think small towns have the potential to be far from boring! 🙂

      @Laura: Glad to hear you have many parks– they really make a neighborhood feel homey.

      @Gray: Thanks. It’s taken a while for me to adjust. I feel like I’m adjusting every day. ha ha..

  6. 3gyupsal says:

    Koreans make great use of public spaces. In Southwestern Michigan, you can often see lovely parks that are completely abandoned, where in Korea, people might go to a park and sit next to a blanket covered in red peppers for several hours at a time. It’s strange also because in Michigan you can have wonderful barbecue parties at those parks, while in Korea it is illegal to start fires. Well it’s supposedly illegal, but I’ve grilled up many a steak in my day with the cops watching, nobody has ever told me to stop, I just don’t do it that often anymore because the whole process is very labor intensive.

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