Go Away With ... Emily Jungmin Yoon

Poet Emily Jungmin Yoon says she feels at home in South Korea, Canada and the United States.

Poet Emily Jungmin Yoon says she feels at home in South Korea, Canada and the United States.

(Jean Lachat )

With her first full-length collection of poetry, “A Cruelty Special to Our Species” (Ecco, $25.99), Emily Jungmin Yoon takes readers inside the world of war, colonialism and sexual slavery. Born in Busan, South Korea, and currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Chicago, Yoon’s critically-acclaimed work conveys lyrical beauty, even as it tackles brutal and political subject matter.

Q. For people who have never been to your hometown of Busan, what would you recommend they see and do there?

A. Most tourists go to the glamorous beaches of Haeundae and Gwangalli, but I would also recommend checking out the quieter ones of Songdo, Songjeong and Taejongdae. They are beautiful and perfect for taking nice walks by the water.

Q. What was the first trip you took as a child?

A. We must have taken other trips within Korea before this, but my family went to Australia and New Zealand when I was five or so and this trip is the one I can remember the most. I didn’t speak English back then, but I knew the phrase, “Oh, my God,” and kept saying it. I pronounced God as “gya,” because I thought that’s how it sounded. I remember my mother thought it was hilarious. We went on a helicopter ride and fed lambs. I was scared, so I held my milk bottle perpendicular to the ground, though my mom kept telling me to hold it at an angle. (We) swam and just had a fantastic time.

Q. If you were given enough money and time to travel exclusively for food, where would you want to revisit and why?

A. Tokyo, maybe. I had the best tonkotsu ramen somewhere near Odaiba back in 2010 or 2011. I don’t even remember what the restaurant was called. It was a place that I just stumbled into one evening. Even if I don’t find that restaurant, I want to go for the ramen, udon, yakitori, donburi, takoyaki, the desserts and sake!

Q. Where have you traveled to that most reminded you of home?

A. Vancouver, British Columbia, reminds me of Busan, because Vancouver also has the mountains, the ocean and the city. It also has a big Korean population and thus lots of Korean restaurants and stores. I love it. It’s a ferry ride away from Victoria, where I lived when I was in Canada, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Victoria is another home.

Q. Where would you like to go that you have never been to before?

A. I would love to visit Taiwan for the food and the shopping, but also nature walks and temple visits. I’m also interested in how Japanese colonialism might have influenced the city and townscapes in ways similar to and different from Korean ones.

Q. What would be your dream trip?

A. I usually prefer to go somewhere more urban, but right now, I would really like to go somewhere where the pace is slow, the weather is warm and the beaches are calm. I want to lie in a bed overlooking the ocean and read, take very long walks in the woods or on the beach, look at wild animals, go swimming and eat something scrumptious for every meal. I’d probably want to be busy again in a week, but this trip would be a dream. Where can I go to do this?

Q. What is your guilty pleasure when you’re on the road?

A. I usually don’t feel compelled to get junk food, but I love eating it at the airport before getting on a flight. I always look for a McDonald’s. Going to and leaving an airport is often an ordeal, so I need to give myself a treat. Also, an airport is this weird in-between space, where everyone is en route, constantly in motion. So it feels like a meal there doesn’t really count, because a regular meal marks certain points of time in a day and flying usually affects or disrupts the daily rhythm, so the best a meal can be in an airport is a snack. Maybe I sound nuts, but the point is, the airport is where I don’t feel bad buying unhealthy snacks.

Q. What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?

A. How to say at least “thank you” in the primary language of that country, and how to use the public transportation -- or whether that’s the best way to move around. I also like to map out all the sites I want to visit and the distances among them, so I can roughly sketch out how I want to spend the day.

Q. What is your best and/or worst vacation memory?

A. Seven years ago, I was in Edinburgh with my friends Jackie and Kira and went up Arthur’s Seat. I hadn’t expected much, but it was utterly stunning -- the views from the climb and the peak, all of it. I think we unintentionally took a more challenging route that had some rocky and steep paths, but everything we saw on the way was so picturesque. We marveled at the vibrant wildflowers, swans in a pond and, of course, from the top, all of the spectacular city of Edinburgh. We were all breathless for a while, and not just from hiking.

(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at You may also follow “Go Away With...” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)