The Reasons Behind the Photos: Part 1

I’ve recently taken the SD card out of my old phone and started combing through the over 3,000 photos and videos I saved to it.

I owned this phone from January 2015 to December 2016, so these photos cover two years of life experience including three jobs, my college graduation, my time studying abroad in Korea and my trip to Russia and China.

For some of these photos there is an obvious reason why I took them—a notable event, an extraordinary moment, a scenic view. However, for others, the reasons behind the photos are known only to me.

This post is in honor of those photos, the ones that at first glance may seem unworthy of space on my SD card, but hold special meaning in the space in my mind. Part 1 of this series is dedicated to Korea.

Photo 1: Tater Tots


The Reason:

During Calum and I’s time in Korea we tried many new and unfamiliar foods. This was not one of them. During our first month in Korea I went to an event with some foreign friends and our Korean buddies (from the KUBA organization) and we all ate fried chicken together afterwards. When the waitress brought out our food I pointed and squealed in delight–“No way, tater tots!” The whole table stared at me in confusion as I explained my excitement…I realized I was the only American present at this dinner, and therefore the only one familiar with this funky term for cylindrical fried potatoes. Some of my friends were convinced this must be Texan or a Southern thing, but I assured them it was quite common in the US. Luckily another group of students came and met us for dinner, and the American present in their group was able to back me up. 🙂

Photo 2: Healthy Bread


Yes, another food photo. This dense bread was my favorite snack from the local bakery nearby our guesthouse in Korea. The label above it in Korean translates only to “healthy snack.” Our friends, Korean and foreign alike, poked fun at me for my obsession with this bread, which was obviously not even close to the number one choice for customers visiting this sweet shop. The owner of the bakery came to know me because of this bread, and she even gave me a free one when I came to buy a cake for Calum’s birthday. The friendly relationships we had with local store owners and vendors in our neighborhood are something I really miss about Korea.

Photo 3: Jindo Dog Puppy


The Reason:

Maybe it is not the fact that I have this photo but the fact that I have so many just like it that makes it seem strange. This Jindo puppy and his twin brother lived down the street from our Korean guesthouse and could often be found outside of their owner’s storefront. I could not get enough of these adorable pups and I stopped to play with them multiple times a day. You could say I was a little obsessed!

Photo 4: Mariia’s Bracelet


The Reason:

For a week in May 2015 my “Russian sister” Mariia came to visit me in Seoul. This was the first time I had seen her since she left the US nearly two years prior, but one of the ways we had been keeping in touch during that time was through packages and letters. Included in her packages from my family were individual additions to her charm bracelet. Of course I knew which charms we sent, but this was my first time seeing all of the charms together in one place. It seemed appropriately symbolic.

Photo 5: Momma duck and Babies on the Cheonggyecheon


The Reason:

One of Calum and I’s favorite things to do in Seoul was to walk along the Cheonggyecheon stream that flows through the city. We were able to see the stream transform during three seasons of the year–Winter, Spring and Summer. During the Spring the stream was filled with cute duck families. It was another one of those little things that gave meaning to our daily life there.


Hope you enjoyed these photos and the reasons behind them! Part 2 coming soon.


Beijing — 19 Floors

I’ve been busy with graduate school and I have found it to be very tedious trying to remember and recount everything that I did on every specific day of my big trip, so I’m going to try a new strategy. Instead of creating day-by-day posts that form a timeline of my trip, I am going to write up the best stories from the trip and post them, in no particular order, interspersed with pictures of Mariia and I having fun and visiting all the tourist sites. Let me know what you guys think of this technique!

So here is the first of several stories from my time in Beijing with Mariia…

At the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Photo credit: Mariia

Mariia’s friend Ana lives in a high-rise apartment complex with about 25 floors and hundreds of units. The main entrance to the apartment can be opened with an electronic keycard, and the elevator can only be operated with the same keycard. If you are a visitor, you can use an electronic keypad at the front door to call whomever you are visiting and they can unlock the door for you remotely.

From the day I arrived, we had been following random residents into the front door of the apartment and onto the elevator, then using the “traditional” (not sure how to say it was just a normal key, not electronic) key Ana gave us to unlock the door to the apartment (when Ana wasn’t there herself to let us in). One night we arrived at the apartment complex around 2am, after a prolonged and scary interaction with a taxi driver. As one might guess, no one else was arriving home at 2am in the middle of the week.

So, we started debating what we should do. And eventually we decided to start calling random apartments. We used the rows of numbered mailboxes in front of us to randomly pick our first victim.

No answer.

I remember suggesting that the next number we call should include “lucky number seven”…I’m pretty sure we called 407. Funny, considering that 7 is not a lucky number in China in the same way as it is in the US, and 4 is actually an unlucky number in China (and Korea as well). Foreigner’s luck?

Me at the Lama temple in Beijing. Photo credit: Mariia

After a couple of rings, a sleepy sounding Chinese woman answered our call. Mariia told her in Chinese that we were very sorry, but we forgot our key to the front door and to please let us in. The woman opened the door remotely for us and then hung up without saying a word.

We tried the elevator a couple of times, just to see if our luck would carry. The doors would open, but the numbered buttons to the upper floors were useless without an electronic key.

So, we climbed 19 floors worth of stairs at 2 in the morning. We had to keep encouraging each other to keep going…

“Halfway there!” “Almost there!” “Is that the elevator??”

A couple of times we thought we heard the elevator and tried to catch it, but it was always a false alarm.

The next day Mariia went out early to run some errands while I slept in. I woke up to the sound of voices speaking Chinese outside of the door, Maria and a woman. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word that they were saying.

As it turns out, this woman was the lucky winner of our door buzzer lottery!

She was very upset about being woken up at 2 in the morning. Though Mariia’s Chinese language skills are essentially flawless, she somehow knew that the two foreigners the culprits. She followed Mariia all the way to Ana’s apartment to make it clear that this behavior was not acceptable, and she wanted to speak to Ana, who was not home. Mariia assured her that it would never happen again and that we were leaving Beijing soon anyways. In the end the woman finished scolded Mariia and returned to her unit.

But not without informing us that there is back door to the apartment complex that is propped wide open, 24 hours a day.

Mariia at the temple of heaven in Beijing. Photo credit: Myself

I love you, my friend. 🙂

P.S. To the woman at the apartment complex, I’m so sorry!