This week, Billy reconnects with his good friend from Korea, Iggy Lee. Iggy organizes the Soul Walkers meet-up group, where people can do adventures like walking, hiking, picnics, and exchanging cultures through their language and personal stories. His meet-up group is also the main reason why Billy extended his time in Korea.
Billy and Iggy discuss:
--How Iggy plans to turn his event groups into a sustainable company
--the positive energy and experiences he provides through his groups
--the origin story of Soul Walkers and all the amazing things you can do in Seoul, South Korea
--Billy's challenges around culture shock and language barriers
--what motivated Billy to attend different types of events in his time in South Korea
Like what you heard from Iggy? Contact him at:
Youtube Channel: Iggy Lee
SeoulShare MeetUp Community
Looking for more resources when visiting Seoul?
--Seoul Tourism Organization
--Seoul Tourism Hiking Center
--Climbing in Korea MeetUp Community
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Billy: Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m your host, Billy. Brian is almost caught up on life so we’re hoping to have him back next week. He and I finally, finally reunited this past weekend at the Gen X Jukebox show in Excelsior. And I gotta tell you, guys, they are as good as advertised. That was my first time seeing them perform for a live audience. I’ve been to a couple of their practice sessions. I had an absolute blast singing my favorite 90s jams at the top of my lungs with friends I hadn’t seen in ages and, now, today, I am feeling a little bit under the weather so you’re going to notice that I might sound like I have a little tickle in my throat, I might have a slight cough. Don’t worry, I tested negative for COVID so that’s a relief but I do want you to go ahead and enjoy this new bassy voice that I have going on in this episode, you might find it a little bit sexy for the ladies. So, hey, our last few episodes have been really popular with our listeners so we want to take a minute here to say thank you to everyone out there who listens to the show week after week as well as those of you who just tune in because you like the topic or you like the guest. We always appreciate that. Special shout-out to our listeners in Bismarck, North Dakota, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which is just fun to say, thank you, Canada, Canton, Ohio, we made it to the Hall of Fame, and Brisbane, Australia.
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Today’s guest is Iggy Lee. Iggy manages several sightseeing and adventure groups in Korea. Iggy’s Soulwalker’s Meetup Group is single handedly the reason I extended my time and soul for an extra month and the people I met during these events completely changed my entire experience for the better and the positive vibes and energy I felt from Iggy and from this group always left me feeling a great sense of joy and gratitude for their friendship. His newest group is called SeoulShare and you can follow their adventures on YouTube at SeoulShare and on Instagram at seoulshare79 and, of course, we’ll link those in the show notes. So welcome to the show, Iggy Lee.
Iggy: Here I am.
Billy: Thanks for joining us, man. It’s very nice to see you.
Iggy: Wow, great to see you again, Billy, although this is online but I feel like as if you are — we are like a hiking together the Bongsan Mountain right now. Yeah, I wish we could but, yeah,
Billy: Yes, soon, soon. I hope to be back soon so that we can be back up in the mountains. You guys do such an amazing job of organizing those trips and we’re going to talk about that here in a little bit. But before we do that, we like to ask our guests what ten roles they play in their life. So, what are some roles that you play in your life, Iggy?
Iggy: Well, there are many, many roles that — I’m still a son to my mom and dad and then that is a very important role that I play. Besides that, I do make videos on my YouTube channel, which you just mentioned, thank you so much, Seoul Share, but, actually, this morning, I just changed it to iggy lee, the title, because there’s a reason why I did it this morning suddenly, if you want to know more about this, maybe I can share it a little bit later. And then I also organize, like you said, organize various events for expats who are living in Korea and for locals, like hiking, picnics, and language exchange. What else? So many kinds. And Hongdae, have you been to Hongdae, Billy?
Billy: We have been to Hongdae. That is a wild area. It’s the university area so it’s filled with lots of college kids but it just has a fun energy about it.
Iggy: Yeah. Recently, also, we started organizing the Hongdae pub crawls and even board game meetups so it’s getting bigger and bigger. So that’s one more reason that you should come back to Korea.
Billy: I am looking forward to that, absolutely, especially so we can go and check out a little bit more noraebang.
Iggy: Oh, noraebang events, that’s something that I should organize, okay.
Billy: What other roles do you fulfill in your life?
Iggy: And then I think, these days, I kind of want to be an entrepreneur, I want to really transform my events groups, right now, it’s kind of a volunteer base, into some sustainable, it can be organization, sustainable company. That is what I think the visionary, what dreamers do, that we show the clear vision and then people can follow. So, I will say that also my role, maybe in the future, would be entrepreneur or visionary. Maybe also that what I do every day as a dreamer.
Billy: I think that’s what’s really beautiful about you as a person is that you do have this vision and this dream of providing opportunities for people to really enjoy Seoul. And, like I said, the reason why I extended my trip for an extra month is because of that positive energy and the experiences that you provide through your groups and it meant the world to me. I remember the first time that we’ve met, just kind of looking at the three roles that you’re most looking forward to in the second half of life, one of the first things that you and I did in order to bond was you interviewed me for your YouTube channel and you started very innocent. You started off by asking me what my thoughts were on electric vehicles and I thought, okay, I don’t have a lot of experience with this but, apparently, in Korea, this is a little bit more of a thing. And then you hit me with the second question, which was what is your opinion of friends with benefits? We just met, dude.
Iggy: It just came out of nowhere, you never expected those kind of questions from somebody, total stranger.
Billy: But what I like about it is I feel like the purpose, the vision of your YouTube channel, at least in your old YouTube channel, was that you wanted to get different perspectives from a bunch of different people from different cultures, from different countries to see where they lined up in some way. So, where did that vision come from?
Iggy: This is a big question. I mean, I wouldn’t say that we have enough time that I can go over all the little details because I used to live in Shanghai for eight years and then I never really thought about coming back to Korea but I came back because of COVID, was about 2020 January. Literally I came to Korea on my Lunar New Year festival vacation. Then I was supposed to stay 10 days having already my return ticket. But, the next day, I heard the news from China. Wuhan was in lockdown. But even that time, I thought about maybe, because 10 days, maybe I just have to extend maybe one more month but one more month became two more months and two more months became four more months. So, eventually, I decided to — I wasn’t able to actually go back to China then, eventually, I decided to settle down in Korea. And then I noticed that because all my friends, because I lost touch or because of COVID, it’s really difficult to meet people. You know that I love walking, I do have to exercise, I love to meet people, so that’s how I started my first event group for expats and locals, Soulwalkers, so, basically, also, Billy, as you probably know, there are so many amazing walking trails, walking along the mountain and walking along the Han River, so that’s how I started that event.
I personally really enjoyed it, like I told you that it was an amazing exercise at the same time that I had a chance to meet people from all over the world like you and then ask some crazy questions, like friends with benefits. Then it’s been, I think, two years that I’ve been organizing different kinds of events, me myself and we also have the amazing event organizers. Then I think it is like that vision. When it comes to vision, it just came to you suddenly at some point, but to have it, to make it happen, you have to be working, you have to be involved in certain things or you have been thinking about certain things for a long time, then, eventually, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle, you have to make a lot — first of all, what you need are the piece of puzzles, so many pieces of puzzles, and then slowly, second stage is slowly you’re putting them together, I mean, consciously or without consciously, then eventually, one day, you find your old jigsaw puzzle complete. Seems like you just did it in a day but it’s not.
Billy: I love that metaphor of the jigsaw puzzle, because that’s really what it was for me, is I keep saying that this journey for me the last 10 months where I was traveling around, it wasn’t a soul seeking journey for me whatsoever, it was just about having experiences that I hadn’t had before in places that I really wanted to visit. And it did turn out to be this big jigsaw puzzle with so many little pieces and I was trying to put together, I guess, the picture, the vision of what I wanted my life to be. And the pieces were scattered all over the place and in the last two weeks that I was in Korea, everything became crystal clear to me and I just all of a sudden saw those puzzle pieces and I saw the big picture and everything just started to fit where they needed to go so I really love that metaphor of the puzzle, because that really speaks to me, especially in those last two weeks when I all of a sudden had this clarity as to what it was that I wanted to do with the next few months, years of my life and where I wanted that to go. And you, as a visionary and as an entrepreneur, have had to be able to put those puzzle pieces together because the reason you were in Shanghai was because you started your own school, correct?
Iggy: Yeah, it’s like a training center. I did.
Billy: So what was that? What were you doing at that training center? How did you start that? Why did you start that? What was the impetus for that?
Iggy: Oh, so it’s going to be a long story. Wow. Back to the time before I actually moved to Shanghai, I was working in Korea at a big corporate company. I was okay, I was doing for more than five years and I got well paid and then I also had a great team. But, I don’t know, it’s like working in an office from nine to six, mostly nine to eight, I don’t know that you know Koreans work overtime and Monday to Friday, including some Sundays and Saturdays. It does — it’s all still very comfortable, but I felt like I was missing something. I mean, you couldn’t really see what you were missing but you knew you were missing something. So, eventually, it led me to resign from my work and then I just wanted to take a little break, then happened to be, some of my friends, they worked in Shanghai at the time and then also I always wanted to go to China and learn Chinese because when I was a university student, for a few weeks, planted trees in the desert of China to protect the environment so I basically went to China for a few months that I just wanted to learn Chinese and then take a little break. Then what happened was I had a roommate, not just two of my Korean friends, and roommate from Germany and then she, at that time, she worked in a training center and it was nice for me to have a job so that I can buy more beers.
Billy: Chimaek, very important.
Iggy: — right now because I drank every day so it was nice for me to get a part-time job so she introduced me to the jobs which was teaching kids in a private training school, which are kind of popular in China as well as in Korea. So someone like you, Billy, that’s from the US, a lot of actually teachers are working in Korea but you can see more teachers in Shanghai. That’s how I started my new career in Shanghai. Then I had a job and then I really liked the new life and I decided to stay there longer and then, eventually, I started my own training center. But like I told you, I stayed in Shanghai for eight years and then I had to run the training center for like five years and I still remember the very last night before my flight back to Korea, January 2020, that I really had a deep discussion with my times manager. We are setting very clear goals for 2020 and it was going to be really exciting year because we worked really hard for the last two years. But, like I told you, everything was changed by COVID.
Billy: There’s so much in that story right there. I think the universal dissatisfaction with being in a nine to five or nine to six or a nine to eight job, like I remember when people were telling me, “Yeah, Koreans work most Saturdays in the office,” and I’m like what?
Iggy: Not these days. I think that sometimes, yeah, not these days that much.
Billy: Okay. Yeah, but you hear the stories from other people about Korean work culture and the burnout that people sometimes experience there so I think that’s universal because over here in the States, people are experiencing that right now and everywhere you go, really, in the world. I think COVID has changed the entire working landscape and it’s so interesting to hear how you had these high hopes and goals and dreams and you were going to eclipse these things as you started this or as you move forward in your training center and then, all of a sudden, woosh, it was gone in an instant. And I think being around you, Iggy, is just a jolt of energy because of who you are and I think it’s a testament to your resilience and your outlook on life that you can just bounce back and start a social group like this that generates so much positivity into the world and that’s why I’m very excited to have you on here today, I’m very excited to talk about Seoul, I’m very excited to talk about Korea. So let’s do this. When we come back, we’re going to continue talking to Iggy. We’re going to talk about the origin story of Soulwalkers and we’re going to talk about all the wonderful amazing things you can do when you visit Seoul, South Korea. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. I’m here talking to my good friend from Seoul, South Korea, Iggy Lee. You can find him on Instagram at seoulshare79. You can also check out his videos on YouTube. It’s actually iggy lee, not SeoulShare anymore. You can check it out there. And we’ll be sure to link that episode that he recorded about friends with benefits so, that way, you guys can see my answer to that response in case you are curious. That was a fun question to answer right there. So, Iggy, you’ve been doing the Soulwalker’s group for a while and I found them through Meetup, which I have to first give a shout-out to my very first friend in Seoul who was my Airbnb host, Ernie, who is also the most positive human being on Earth. I just — I was so blessed when I was in Korea that I just seemed to find these people who exuded so much positive energy and Ernie was my first friend in Korea and he showed me around. His mother would make me dinner every night and then they would drop it off at my door. They were just so sweet, I can’t say enough about how welcome they made me feel, but one thing that was difficult for me was because I got to Korea in about mid-April and they had just opened up the borders so there weren’t a lot of tourists and while I’ve been walking around on my past journeys, I would try and eavesdrop on people speaking English so that I could insert myself into their conversations and make friends with them. There was nothing like that in Seoul. And when you were riding on the subway, it was cold, difficult to connect with people because everybody was looking straight ahead and wearing their masks and you didn’t want to interact with anybody.
And I remember the first ten days for me were really difficult and I thought to myself, “I don’t know if I wanna stay here more than two weeks” and then I went on Meetup, because I was like, “Okay, I need to try and find some people,” I went on Meetup and I found Soulwalkers and your first hike was at Dobongsan and I met you and you had the biggest smile on your face and you said, “Hey, are you Billy? I’m Iggy,” and from that point on, my whole life changed because that day was what I call a top 10 day. The whole day from start to finish. I don’t think I stopped smiling and I haven’t come off the high from that day because we went to Dobongsan and then we went to Korean barbecue and I remember there were 14 of us and there was nobody in the restaurant and there was an older woman there and she was running the restaurant all by herself and we walked in —
Iggy: It was really fun, yeah.
Billy: Yeah, and you were like —
Iggy: — restaurant.
Billy: Yeah, and you were like, “Hey can seat 14 of us?” and she had 16 seats so she was very happy to serve us and it was the best pork belly that I had the entire time that I was in Korea. And then it was during Buddha’s birthday. If you go to Korea, try and line it up around Buddha’s birthday, which is the last week in April and the first week in May, because we, all of a sudden, just made our way into the parade and we’re walking down the parade and then they opened up the streets and there was this all-out dance party and there was so much energy in the air because it was the first time that they were having the celebration for Buddha’s birthday in two years and that is a memory that will live with me forever and I have you to thank for it. So, I just want to know what’s the origin story behind Soulwalkers? What was the purpose of starting this group? Because if your purpose was to give expats and Koreans an opportunity to meet each other and have a good time, you succeeded for sure on that day.
Iggy: The thing is, Billy, I didn’t know that like the first 10 days of your staying in Korea was quite difficult. I didn’t know that.
Billy: Because I didn’t speak the language. If you’re going to Korea, the first two words you need to learn are on your annyeonghaseyo, which means hello, and gamsahabnida, which means thank you and it took me a few days even to figure out how to say those. I had to turn annyeonghaseyo into a song so I would sing “Annyeonghaseyo, annyeonghaseyo,” and that’s how I would remember it because I didn’t speak any of the language. And even when I’m in Mexico, if I see words, I can at least figure out what they mean because I’m familiar with the letters. That’s not the case in Korea. So it was really, really challenging because I was having a hard time with that culture shock. And then I met you guys.
Iggy: Wow. So that’s a really even the big story for me that the Soulwalkers, the hiking groups that I just started, like I told you that without thinking too much, because I just need to do exercise and also that I want to just do this with people like you guys, and that’s all really that it was. About two years ago first time I started and I still remember that my first event, just one person showed up. One person showed up. But because during COVID, other hiking groups actually had a much longer history like they’ve been running, hiking groups like more than 10 years, because they didn’t really organize events. But, because of me, I need to exercise so me and other organizers, we just continued organizing events and that’s why I think the Soulwalkers is getting quite bigger over the course of COVID. And how to say that? So, basically, I didn’t really think about that serious, that, well, I have to bring the people together and then bring some peace to the world. No, I never really thought about it. For me, it’s quite interesting that how the Soulwalkers have evolved from nothing to something that actually gave you a big impact on your life really.
Billy: Yeah, and like now your events range from anywhere between 20 to 50 people showing up to these and a lot of them are the same people that come over and over and over again and you always meet at least five new people every time you go there and it’s funny how some of them are travelers like me, some of them are locals, and it’s just a wide range of people that are there and it just makes for interesting conversation every single time I attend an event and when I got back in June to Seoul, it became a priority for me, like I looked on Meetup every single day to see what were the events that you guys were hosting and then, through that, I got joined up with CIK, which is another popular climbing group there, Climbing in Korea, CIK, and so I got to meet people through that as well and it really took my experience to another level.
Iggy: Billy, the joining, joining the events is more about meeting people rather than like exercise and actually walking along the Han River or you visit some touristic attractions. Which one — like what motivated you to join so many kinds of events?
Billy: Initially, it was because I wanted to go on hikes that I didn’t necessarily know if I could figure out on my own, like I went to Baegundae by myself the first week that I was in Seoul and I found out two months later that I did not reach the peak. So I was like, “Wait a minute, what? What do you mean — I swore I was at the peak,” but I did not reach the peak. So thank goodness I met somebody through CIK and we developed a friendship through Soulwalkers just hanging out and we eventually went to Baegundae and I went to the peak and let me tell you, the peak at Baegundae is absolutely unbelievable and I always love when you get to the top of a lot of these peaks in Seoul, they have the Korean flag up there. It’s just such a cool experience. So, for me, it initially started as wanting to go on these hikes but then when I met all the people, especially that first time, I was like, “These are my people. I wanna be around these people,” and just the course of that first day, because it was so awesome, like if this is what all my experiences are going to be like, even if they’re half as fun as this, I want to continue coming back to this because we would walk the Cheonggye Stream and that became something that I did every single night when I was in Seoul, that just became my quiet place.
I love walking the Cheonggye Stream. We went to Gwangjang Market with the group and it was more fun to go as a group because then you can take over the table there. And if you’re not familiar with the Gwangjang Market, I think there’s a show on Netflix called Street Food Asia and you can look at the one on Seoul and they go to Gwangjang Market. But we went to a lot of places that I wouldn’t have checked out on my own and that was really key to my experience and making sure that I got a full Seoul experience, because when I left, I felt complete. And now you have a second group that you’re starting up too, a second social group through Meetup called SeoulShare and that’s where your Instagram handle comes from. So, what’s your long-term goal and vision for this group? Because you said you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a visionary, and I know you and I talked about this dream that you have, this vision that you have for taking people and showing people around Seoul. So what’s your mission? What’s your vision with SeoulShare?
Iggy: So, based on my experience and understanding of running Soulwalkers, like found Soulwalkers and running Soulwalkers for two years, then like I told you that the jigsaw puzzles, that things are getting clearer that what I want to do for at least maybe for next five years, because, in your lifetime, not only you are complete the one piece of jigsaw puzzle, there are many pieces but each piece I will say represents each stage of your life. So I think this stage now I have a new jigsaw puzzle, it’s like the mission of the puzzle is that I want to really now bring people together. I want to promote like a better understanding, mutual understanding of each other and to each other’s culture and then each other’s country, that’s my mission, and to achieve that goal, the mission, I want to create a community that really organize the best events, like the ones that you participated, but it’s not just about hiking, because Soulwalkers, the first group that I started is about outdoor activities, like focused on hiking so I want to say that it’s difficult to really expand the scope of Soulwalkers because it has a very strong identity as an outdoor club so that’s how I started SeoulShare as a new community that could cover literally any kinds of events, like a board game events, picnic events, Hongdae pub crawl events, also maybe making some food events. So, basically, SeoulShare is a platform, but we don’t really hire any organizers, it’s going to be a platform that as long as they have some ideas to host some events for expats and locals in Korea, they can join SeoulShare as a partner so they can post their events, like kimchi making events maybe they can organize, on SeoulShare platform, then that could reach to all the people who are interested in the mission, bringing people together and interact with each other and promote mutual understanding.
Billy: I love this idea of promoting mutual understanding of each other and each other’s cultures and I actually had the good fortune when I was with one of the hiking groups to meet the CEO of the Seoul Tourist Organization, Mr. Ki-yon Kil, and I met him at the Seoul Hiking Tourism Center when we were going on a hike with CIK and the Seoul Hiking Tourism Center and the Seoul Tourist Organization are absolutely fantastic organizations for helping people navigate Seoul, like my dream for you would be to work with them in some way, shape, or form because one thing that I really liked about the Seoul Hiking Tourism Center is that you can rent hiking boots and hiking shirts and pants from them so if you’re there for a week, maybe you don’t want to bring a bunch of stuff along with you so you can just go and rent from them and go up and hike Baegundae, and I keep mentioning Baegundae because that’s the highest peak in Seoul and there’s so many opportunities that the Seoul Tourist Organization and the Seoul Hiking Tourism Center offer and I think it would be beautiful if you were able to collaborate with them in some way, shape, or form because you really have this passion for showing people the beauty of Seoul, and I’m just curious, what makes Seoul so special to you that you want to share so much of what the city has to offer with others?
Iggy: This is also quite interesting question, because I lived in Shanghai for eight years, more than eight years, so something sometimes, if you live with it, you can’t really see the beauty in it because you are so used to it. So because I grew up and I was raised in Seoul for more than 30 years, like literally entire my life, so I’m so used to live in Seoul so everything like a public transport and mountains and rivers, I just took it for granted. Then I started living in Shanghai and then ended up living there for eight years which means that I was being apart from Seoul for eight years, although I visited Seoul from time to time, but it’s like a couple of times a year, like 10 days. January 2020, since I came back to Korea January 2020, because that you were being apart from something, now you finally found that, well, this is something special, that you didn’t really realize before because you’re so used to being with it. First of all, I think Seoul is very safe city that 24 hours, if you go to Hongdae, daytime — so, 2 PM in the afternoon or 2 AM in the afternoon…
Billy: You feel safe regardless, yeah.
Iggy: I guess you’re safe, you feel safe. And also, I think one more thing that I like too about Seoul is the amazing transport system. So subway and bus, all the transport system works seamlessly. And then one more amazing about public transport system is Seoul can be quite expensive city but the cost of public transportation is, I mean, is ridiculously cheap. Also, I used to live in London. If you compare public transportation, the cost to London or even to Japan, the living cost of Japan and Korea is pretty much the same, I will say that, but their cost of public transportation is I think much higher. So it’s safe and then you can just walk around and you can just go around the city very easily. I think it gives it really big advantage for travelers. Yeah.
Billy: Exactly. And what kind of blew my mind is just how much Seoul is built into and around the mountains and every hike that I did with you guys, I got there by subway. You can take the subway to every hiking trail and, boom, you’re in the mountains in 10 to 15 minutes. It’s incredible because I think about the hikes that you have to do here in the States, you need a car in order to drive out to them. In Seoul, you could take a half hour or 45-minute metro ride and, boom, you’re in the mountains and that is such a unique perk to visiting Seoul. Because I remember thinking to myself, “Am I ever gonna get outside? This is such a city like New York, it’s so huge, all the skyscrapers and all these neighborhoods,” and then you realize, “Oh, no, wait, you’re in the mountains,” so you can just go into the mountains no problem. And the metro transit was so easy to navigate it and I’m a metro transit nerd, I love looking at maps and I like asking people now, “Well, which subway stop do you live near?” and then they’ll tell me and I’m like, “Oh, that’s on the blue line,” “Oh, that’s on the orange line,” and people are like, “Why do you know that?” It’s like me because I’m a nerd and I study maps. I like looking at that kind of stuff. But, I mean, you can get everywhere in Seoul and have so many experiences and still feel like there’s so much left to do. Like we have friends that we follow on Instagram and I see what they’re doing around Seoul and I’m like, wait a minute, I didn’t go there. I need to check that out.
And there were people who live in Seoul who saw what I was doing and they were like, “You have done more than what the average citizen of Seoul does on a regular basis.” People were telling me, “I’ve lived here for eight years and I haven’t seen half the stuff that you’ve seen in a month,” and it’s because it’s so easy to get to everywhere in Seoul, and something that we talked about before is that it’s a technologically advanced city and you can get Wi-Fi just about anywhere, but at the same time, right in downtown, you can visit historical attractions like fortresses and palaces, like Gyeongbokgung is right there in the middle. And then from Gyeongbokgung Palace, you can walk over to Bukchon Hanok Village, which is just like old-style Korean homes and then you get over to the secret gardens of Changdeokgung. How’s my Korean sounding, by the way, Iggy? I butchered it.
Iggy: As long as I understand what you said in Korean, I get it, Changdeokgung, yeah.
Billy: All right. Thank you.
Iggy: Your Korean is a bit better now, no wonder that you lived in Korea for a few months.
Billy: I could use some training center in Korea, I’ll tell you that right now, because that is a really difficult language to learn. But you go to these places and even the history is it’s a city in nature. Like you said, you can go on hiking trips, you can walk in nature, along the stream, along the Han River. There’s so much to check out. And I’m curious, what would you suggest to a first-time visitor who has a week in Seoul?
Iggy: I think that’s an interesting concern but on top of what you just mentioned, which was I was going to say, so Seoul, what I also found quite fascinating is, like you said, Seoul is a very technologically advanced city, actually, even I think Seoul is listed as the most smart city by Time Magazine. They chose like 50 best cities in the world, then one of the categories, the smart city, so there is a very technologically advanced city, and also if you are at Gangnam area, you will be surrounded by all the tall skyscrapers and it’s a very modern city. But like you say, you just have to take the subway for 30 minutes and then just the public transport take you to right before the nature. I think this is amazing aspect as well as historical attractions, like the places that you mentioned, all the palaces and this whole fortress, because Seoul has been the capital of Chosŏn dynasty and Korea for more than 600 years and that’s why — but also don’t miss out all the amazing local foods. One thing I love about Korea — the other day I met a hiking member from Switzerland and what she loves about Korea is, in Switzerland, she will go for dining out three times a year —
Billy: Oh? Because it’s so expensive.
Iggy: It’s so expensive eating outside, but what she enjoys in Korea is that she actually goes out and eating every day. Like I told you, the public transport is really cheap but also eating out. So many restaurants and the different price options, and even locals, I’m sometimes surprised how the food can be cheap. The other day, I visited Noryangjin, which is a famous for fish market, but they have a little street, they sell really cheap food, and I just paid 4,000 won, like less than $4, and then I got amazing food.
Billy: The best meal that I had was on my first day and I just had this kimchi ramen stew. It was the perfect spice. But the thing is, it was 9,000 won, which is maybe about eight bucks. They give you so much food, because you get all these little side dishes that go along with your main meal. And you’re like, “Wait, I didn’t order this extra stuff,” they’re like, “Yes, you did because you ordered the main meal,” and it’s just incredible how much food you get but the quality of the food, every time I went to a Korean barbecue, it was excellent. The only tricky thing is when you’re a solo traveler, you can’t go to a Korean barbecue because you need to have at least two people so that would cause an issue for me sometimes. But what are some things that you enjoy? I know my favorites are tteokbokki and budae jjigae and budae jjigae is army stew which has Spam in it and I don’t know if you know this, Iggy, but Spam comes from Minnesota where I’m from.
Iggy: Oh, wow. So there are so many variations of Spam food, you may try a few of them, because Spam is, I don’t know why it’s so popular in Korea still, it’s a really big thing, so there is kimbap which is a seaweed roll, kimbap with Spam and a stew with the Spam which is budae jjigae. So many varieties so even if you hate Spam in the US maybe, you may enjoy the food with Spam in Korea. So this is something that I really want to recommend if you plan to visit Korea for about a week, Seoul. Definitely, there are many like traditional street food markets, like Gwangjang is really big and popular, but also there are many unknown, very local markets then just try some street food. It tastes really good and also it’s amazingly cheap. So this is something that you can do, maybe spend half of your day because I also organized some outdoor events, especially I love walking, and there are so many beautiful walking trails and like I told you that the transport system is amazing so we don’t really have to drive. So, basically maybe, Billy, your life in Minnesota is a bit different because if you want to go to a supermarket, you got to drive, right? Drive to supermarket.
Iggy: Like a Walmart.
Billy: And I was just telling a friend of ours, I was chatting with her the other day and I said, honestly, driving in the States stresses me out. I feel like that’s why I was so happy when I was in Seoul because I never had to drive because I just take the subway or I would walk because Seoul is such a walkable city too. So it took away a lot of the stress of dealing with other people in traffic because I just got to ride comfortably on the subway
Iggy: And then also, you think about that, I think the reason why you notice that we eat a lot, Koreans.
Billy: Yes, yes.
Iggy: Ridiculously a lot. Even we always eat while we drink. So, for example, you have a dinner and then you eat and drink and then you go for second round. Maybe in the US, mostly you guys just drink, but we have to eat.
Billy: I have always been a fan of second dinner. I have always appreciated that —
Iggy: I see, I see.
Billy: — so that’s why when I got to Korea —
Iggy: — you love Korea.
Billy: — I’m like, okay, we’re going to eat at five and I also know that we’re going to eat again at eight because that’s just the culture, we’re going to have a bunch of food here today. So it was — and the quality of food was always so delicious. The chicken there was on a different level. Chimaek is very popular over there and chimaek is essentially when you go out for fried chicken, KFC, Korean fried chicken, as they call it, and beer. They have restaurants specifically for chimaek.
Iggy: But the funny thing is you go for chimaek after dinner. You’re already full but you still have to drink and eat chicken. This is a very Korean style but what I want to say, so we eat so much but I think one of the reasons that Koreans are not that fat is because we have to walk. Even taking metro station, from home to metro station is like a 10 minutes and then you have to walk down, you have to walk up, so this is like really part of the Korean’s everyday life so I think that’s one of the reasons. That’s why, even if you don’t really used to walking, I strongly recommend that there are so many beautiful walking trails. Walking along the Han River is one of the best thing you can do especially during summertime and mountains and then also, these days, summertime, there are a lot of mountains and valleys, mountain valleys that has waterfalls so you walk a little bit and you find, you just rest at a valley, you can even dip your feet into the water and then you can actually even swim in the middle of the mountains. I think this is really amazing.
Billy: You mentioned the Han River and two of my favorite events that you organized was when we did a river walk in the afternoon and then we had a picnic at — is it Ttukseom? Ttukseom Resort?
Iggy: Ttukseom Resort, right.
Billy: Ttukseom Resort, yeah, so we had a little picnic there with the group and that was a lot of fun and people walked over to the gas station convenience store, which, again, if you want quality food, the convenience stores over there, they have really good food, like those bento boxes or if you just need a quick gimbap, you’d pick up one of those. It’s really good food, and some places like a GS25 might have fried chicken in there too and you can pick that up and it’s just fun to be able to sit along the Han River and enjoy that, or if you want a little higher quality food rather than the convenience store, we did that walk from Ichon Station and then we crossed over the bridge at night, which was beautiful, I can’t even begin to talk about —
Iggy: The Banpo Bridge, right?
Billy: Yeah. I can’t even stress to people how beautiful Seoul and Korea as a whole is at night, the way it lights up. But then we went to Yeouido Park and there were all the food trucks over there. Again, it was just a perfectly planned evening and I think that’s another wonderful aspect about the group is that you just go to the event and then follow the organizer. You don’t have to worry about anything but having a good time. And that’s why I love the group.
Iggy: And like you just mentioned, like back to safety, because you can join so many kinds of events that are happening at night because they’re very safe. You could just hang out with the people up until 2 AM, 3 AM, it’s not a big deal really.
Billy: Well, I’ll tell you what, let’s do this. Let’s take a quick break and then we come back, Iggy is going to flip the script and he’s going to ask me some questions because he’s used to doing that with his YouTube channel. Going to ask me about friends with benefits, you can check that out on that YouTube video if you want to learn more about that. We will return in just a bit with Iggy Lee. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We’re here with my good friend and event organizer of all happening things in Seoul, South Korea, Iggy Lee. You can follow him on Instagram at seoulshare79. Or you can go to his YouTube page and check out his videos there. You can just subscribe to iggy lee. So, Iggy, I’m going to give you an opportunity here to ask me some questions because you wanted to get to the bottom of a few things about my time in Seoul.
Iggy: So, Billy, I’ve been talking about how that Soulwalkers and SeoulShare, the events group that I’ve been running for the past two years, as I organize a lot of events and also meet people like you how it has changed my life, and then now, eventually, I have gotten to the point that I have a very clear mission and vision. So, literally, the two years of — maybe it’s more than two years, but I will say that two years of running those event groups has changed my life. Well, what about you, Billy? You actually initially just wanted to travel about a month, right? You extended to three months, then how, over your experience of staying in Korea for three months, has changed your life, like before and after? I wouldn’t say that — let me put it this way. Sounds like the jigsaw puzzle you’re working on, the last piece maybe was trip to Korea and then you completed, so what would it be your next jigsaw puzzle?
Billy: Oh, that’s a good question. So let me — I’ll talk about that first question here. You know, I already kind of talked about how it was difficult, it was a culture shock for me to transition and not have anyone really to speak English with outside of Ernie who, again, is one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever met in my entire life and Ernie and I got really close in the sense that when I left Seoul the first time to travel to Jeju Island and Busan, which if you missed that episode, go back to last week’s episode because I talked about traveling around Jeju Island and Busan, but when Ernie and I were sitting there talking, he and I had gotten to this point where we were having pretty deep conversations about the future and I told him that if I leave on May 31st, like I was planning to, it would feel like my time in Seoul was incomplete because the connections that I had made with people had just begun to blossom and it would have been like seeing a plant begin to flower, begin to just bloom and then you cut the stem. And I didn’t want that to happen, again, because that’s what happened when I was in Mexico. I was there for three weeks and then I feel like I left too soon. Now, in hindsight, it was the right thing to leave at that time because I think it led me to the experience that I had in Seoul. But I didn’t want to make that mistake again and I had to make sure that, (a), I could change my flight without any complications and I asked Ernie, “Do you have spot for me here at your Airbnb?” because he had multiple places where I could have stayed and I’m like, “I’ll piecemeal it together. If I have to stay at one place for a week and another place for a week and a half, I’ll do that. I only want to stay with you.” So that worked out and my flight change worked out and it just felt right. It felt like, okay, this is where I’m supposed to be for the month of June.
And I didn’t have anywhere to go back in the States in June, like I was going to be back with my parents and I didn’t want to do that if I didn’t have to. So, everything just worked out perfectly. And though I had kind of planted the seeds of connections and friendships while I was there in April and May, in June, it was incredible how those blossomed. And I think about people that I met, like Rich, I met Rich back in May, we just had one conversation at one of the night walks but we were out to dinner with the group and he was such a cool dude and a lot of these people that I met, we exchange Instagram information, that sort of thing, so I’m able to keep up with him there but it was great talking to him. And Helen, who goes to all the hikes, Helen is a badass and Helen is at all of the hiking events and she has traveled extensively around Korea and Helen is such a badass that she learned English, in order to challenge herself in English, she went to Italy in order to speak English with people while she was traveling and I’m like, “Wait, why did you go to Italy?” and she just wanted that challenge, she wanted that experience. So its people like that, and I met Ji Soo very briefly at an event and we connected in Instagram and I saw that she was in Busan and Ji Soo is one of the best people that I know, if people follow me on Instagram, they see that Ji Soo and I are always at noraebang. Noraebang is karaoke and Ji Soo and LN, I mean, LN is my little brother.
The first thing LN said to me was, “Who brought James Bond?” Of course I love LN. Of course I love that man. You know what I mean? And so it’s just people like that. And then, towards the end, I hung out more with Dr. Jihi, who I hung out with in Jeju with her mom and it was fun to get to know her a little bit more and then I met EK and EK and I hung out and we chat on a regular basis and I chat with Ernie on a regular basis and it’s just all these people that I connected with, the power of their positivity, and there’s so many more people that I met while I was there, I’m not forgetting, I’m just not mentioning them because if I did, this would be a three-hour episode, but there were just so many people that I met who had such a cool story to share, but not only that, everything that they shared or that they spoke out into the world carried some sort of positive energy. There was no sarcasm. In the last two weeks that I was there, that was one thing that I really noticed was that people were not sarcastic.
People were just genuinely kind in that group. It was really uplifting and I fed off of that positive energy. And through that time, that is when things became crystal clear for me because coming back from Jeju and coming back from Busan, I still was in this uncertain area and I was trying to make connections with people who didn’t want to make connections with me and so in those last two weeks, I’m like, “What am I doing? Why am I chasing down these people who don’t wanna spend time with me when I have all of these people that I’ve met through the group that wanna hang out with me?” So that’s what I put my focus on, and when I did that, then this vision and this mission of how I want to help people and how I want to connect people and how I wanted to help people reflect, learn, and grow in their own lives so that they can experience more meaning and experience more fulfillment in their lives, it became crystal clear to me, and that is the direction that I’m heading and that is the work that I have been pouring over the last three weeks since I’ve been back in Minnesota. And we’re bringing on our good friend, Jill Dahler, next week to talk about what that’s going to look like for me and for her and for anyone listening and how they can get involved with it too.
Iggy: Billy, I think your story, you’re very inspirational, inspiring story, just remind me of the events actually you organized in Korea.
Billy: Well, and I wanted to thank you for that too, because —
Iggy: Meditation event, right? We did it together. And, basically, I helped you to host the event and then this is something — I love to do this again and again when you come back to Korea. I think exactly this is where my mission and your mission meet.
Billy: Agreed, and you and I have talked about this too. And just to give some context around this, Iggy and I were talking and you can tell that Iggy and I, we’re on the same wavelength, so we got to talk in and we —
Iggy: That’s why the fourth time we met, that we talked about friends with benefits.
Billy: After, yeah, and after that, we had a little bit deeper and philosophical conversations and mindfulness and meditation came up and I said would it be okay if we organize an event where I walk people through a mindfulness meditation and we just do it for an hour and then after that, we go out to dinner with the group and the fact that you were so open to that idea, it sparked in me this joy for teaching that I hadn’t felt in a really long time. Though I don’t have a joy for wanting to be in a high school are in a public school anymore, this passion for helping others navigate the complexities and possibilities of life is still something that runs very deep within me. That’s the whole purpose of the podcast and that’s the whole purpose of this direction where I want to go with my life. And I think I needed that opportunity in order to fuel that passion for being in front of people and sharing my experiences and sharing information and sharing strategies and sharing skills that may benefit them if they continued to practice them.
So I’m glad that you brought that up because it was a significant and pivotal moment in the first month that I was there. And I remember when we were walking around Naksan Park and we were going down the hill and there were those restaurants that had the patios on the back and like Iggy does this thing when he’s leading the group that he points stuff out and I just remember, like, “Iggy, Iggy, I wanna point something out to the rest of the group right here,” because I wanted them to know that this is a really cool spot to watch the sunset and to have a drink some time. These are really, really cool places. And I remember a friend of mine told me, “When you’re excited about something, you want everybody else to be excited about it too,” and I feel like we share that because you have this passion for Seoul, you have this passion for organizing events, and you have this passion for bringing people together and I’m very much the same way and you and I have talked about — you always say, “Billy I feel like you’re gonna be back in Seoul soon,” and I certainly hope I am going to be back and so I’m looking forward to making my way back to Seoul because I want to be surrounded by you and your energy and the people that you bring into your circle because, Iggy, I want you to know like how much you mean to me and how much this experience in Seoul that you provided means to me.
Iggy: And something that I started for fun is now growing too big that I have to really focus and take care. I think this is really amazing, Billy, that I already shared my mission and visions that SeoulShare is going to be a community where the people like you, because I think the vision of every person or the mission of every person is actually coming from your personal experience. Now, you definitely, I think have felt something and you found growth, you have grown, then now you know what it is and you just want to share all that experience and help, I think, from my understanding, is that you really want to help people also grow.
Billy: And I want them to experience this level of happiness that I am feeling right now. When we talked to Danny Bader, he talked about how happiness is the sweat of joy. And when I am in Seoul, I feel joy and that joy is seen through my interactions with others. One of my favorite compliments was from EK when she said, “Every time I see you, you’re in such a good mood,” and I’ll tell you that two years ago, five years ago, eight years ago, nobody would have ever said that about me because I was carrying around this jaded cynicism and that whole negativity that I would carry around, I was able to let go of that, especially in the last two weeks in Seoul when I just embraced this new path. And I’ll tell you, man, it’s been a heck of an experience and I’m so grateful for having had it and I’m so grateful for you who curated the whole thing for me. So, thank you once again.
Iggy: Billy, it’s going to be like that because you just said that your happiness is from interaction with others. I think this is what I want to do on SeoulShare community, that I think this is something that I can help you, also that you can help me to grow the community. I think it’s something that we can do it together. So, one more reason you got to have to come back to Korea.
Billy: And I was just thinking too is that I had to do a lot of work in order to find and feel this happiness and I think it’s easier to do that when you’re surrounded by people who are uplifting and who just exude positivity. And I was able to work through the multitude of anxiety and indifference and overly complicated thoughts much better once I allowed myself to enjoy my time with the people who added value to me and reciprocated value to me and I am looking forward to making my way back there. So, Iggy, once again, I want to thank you so much for joining us here today. I want to thank you for organizing these events. Go check out Iggy out on YouTube at iggy lee, we’ll link it in the show notes. You can also go and follow him on Instagram at seoulshare79. If you’re going to Seoul, be sure that you find Iggy on Meetup, send him a message there, we’ll link his email in there, shoot him a message, let him know that Billy sent you. If you are interested in taking any tours around the city, you can go with Iggy. Also, be sure to check it out the Seoul Tourism Organization. We’ll be sure to link that in the show notes as well. We’ll also link the Seoul Hiking Tourism Center in the show notes. That way, if you want to rent some boots and head out into the mountains that you can access easily via subway, you can do that. They have shirts that you can rent, they have boots you can rent, they have pants you can rent, they have it all there. Be sure to check it out. Iggy, once again, thank you so much, my friend. It’s been wonderful to see you and catch up with you.
Iggy: Thank you so much for having me this opportunity to talk to you on your show and thank you to everyone who are listening to the social and when you ever plan to visit Seoul or Korea, just let me know. I’m going to take you right into nature.
Billy: So, for Iggy, this is Billy, thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care, friends.