Tag Archives: kimchi

Going Gluten-Free in Korea (I’m trying.)

gluten-free

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I know some of you may not trust me as a gluten-free foodie resource in Korea. I mean, come on, I recently wrote a love letter (in the form of a blog post) to the best sandwicherie in Seoul. I’ve been known to indulge from time to time. Although, I swear I didn’t eat the suspicious PB&J sandwich pictured below. It was ‘gifted’ to me at Korea Burn this past summer and although my friend and I accepted the sustenance with gratitude, the fact that a kind soul pulled it out of his suitcase prompted us to ‘re-gift’ it to the carefree, rainbow-bearded man we met a few seconds later.

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I haven’t completely ditched gluten while teaching in Korea, but I have slowly made steps toward a healthier diet and eventually I hope to completely eliminate it. Although I do not have Celiac disease, I am sensitive to gluten and I feel much better when I avoid it (The protein gluten is primarily found in bread, pasta, cookies, pizza crust and many other foods containing wheat, barley or rye.). Before moving to Korea I was curious to learn how my diet would change and I hoped to adopt healthy habits while residing in Asia.

After a year in The Land of Kimchi, I can attest to the fact that it is possible to eat well in Korea and if you’re looking to keep away from gluten it can be done. The Gluten Free Traveler, who lived in Korea awhile back and was not gluten-free at the time, wrote “In thinking back, I could probably still eat now most of what I ate back in 2006 (in Korea).” I am not an expert and I am not as strict as I should be (Beer, I’m looking at you. We need to have a serious talk.), but here are 10 ways I have steered clear of gluten this past year. Please feel free to share your own ideas as well. Having a food allergy or sensitivity sucks, but I am here to tell you that you can live in Korea and still eat delicious and healthy food.

1) Where’s the bread?

Yes, you can find bread in Korea, but it doesn’t sneak onto every breakfast, lunch and dinner plate. Korea is rice territory, and my students won’t let me forget it. As a class warm-up activity each afternoon I ask my students what they ate for lunch at school. Almost every answer consists of rice, a vegetable (Kimchi!) and a protein. Plain rice is gluten-free – yay!

2) Bin dae dduk (빈대떡) is the bomb.

I blame my friend Barbara for my bin dae dduk obsession. During a maddening Christmas shopping rush in Namdaemun Market in December she made an executive decision to take a break from bartering for ginseng tea and Psy socks and led us into the maze of lively snack booths. We sat around one that was bustling with customers and women working to grind, mix, form and fry what I learned later was a mung bean concoction. Bin dae dduk means ‘mung bean pancake’ and is made from ground mung beans, green onions and kimchi. Here’s a recipe for those of you who are not lucky enough to be in Korea. And if you’re a kimchi lover (Who isn’t?!) try this gluten-free kimchi pancake recipe.

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3) Hire me, iHerb.com?

When I eventually leave Korea I should probably just apply for a job promoting iHerb because I’m already doing the work. I’m a bit crazy for this company and I am thankful I found them while living in Korea. I must sound like a broken record because I am constantly mentioning this website in blog posts, but iHerb’s gluten-free selection allows me to enjoy some favorites from home and it’s comforting to have a few key items in my cabinet that are clearly labeled ‘gluten-free’. When the hummus I ordered online arrived last week I excitedly opened a new package of rice crackers from iHerb.

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4) ImSil Cheese Pizza (임실치즈피자), let’s make a date.

ImSil Cheese Pizza is a chain with locations in Seoul. I have yet to try their 100% rice crust pizza but it is on my list of places to check out.

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5) Let’s do barbecue!

Korean barbecue is one of the things I will miss the most about this country. If you stick to non-marinated meats or samgyeopsal (삼겹살) you will be fine. Most of the barbecue sides are vegetable based and gluten-free, but avoid the thick sauces and soy sauce.

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6) Keep it whole. 

Although it is nice to find gluten-free baked goods and processed snacks, you also can’t go wrong with whole foods. Make sure you stick to the perimeter of the grocery store when you shop and stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.

7) Make mine a dolsot.

Bibimbap is a simple yet popular Korean dish. It consists of steamed rice, veggies, and sometimes meat. It is a great gluten-free choice and you can order it cold or hot (dolsot). I love the hot option because it comes topped with a fried egg and after mixing the ingredients together with chopsticks the hot rice that sticks to the bottom of the bowl hardens and is the most delicious (and crunchy) part of the whole experience.

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8) One shot?

Beer and I eventually will have THE TALK and break up. This needs to happen soon. It is comforting to know that Soju (Jinro Soju is a Korean vodka made entirely from sweet potatoes.) will be close by and willing to cuddle up and make me forget all about Blue Moon, my first love.

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9) Alien’s Day Out does gluten-free.

I stumbled upon Alien’s Day Out when I first arrived in Korea. Although this blog is vegan focused, its food photography makes me think that just maybe vegans know what’s up. The blogger’s creations are delicious and I do not recommend scrolling through the posts while you are hungry. I have purchased a few of her goodies at High Street Market and from time to time she also whips up gluten-free delicacies.

10) It’s fun when food is shaped like triangles.

If you’re in a rush and need a quick gluten-free snack just pop into any convenience store and grab a samgak kimbap (kimbap triangle). I’ve read that the tuna ones are safest to eat and they are a quick source of protein and energy. Here’s another recipe to check out.

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I hope you find this helpful and please comment with other gluten-free advice. I also found this card from Celiac Travel.com that can be printed and used as a tool when dining out.

Be smart. Be healthy. Don’t do too many “One shot!”s of soju. And eat your kimchi.

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Jimjilbanging: It’s kind of like eating kimchi, but you’ve got to get naked.

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Korea is lovingly known as The Land of Kimchi, but I argue the slogan could lose kimchi and replace it with jimjilbang and no one would throw a fit. Kimchi and jimjilbangs are both well-known elements of Korean culture. Jimjilbangs are large public bath houses (mostly gender-segregated) and can be found on almost every street in Korea. Some are more fancy than others, but most have a handful of hot baths, showers, saunas, massage tables, lockers, sleeping areas and social meeting spaces. Jimjilbangs are usually open 24 hours a day and many people visit them to bathe, relax and sleep. Most rooms, including the saunas, have special minerals, woods and stones to create a soothing sanctuary and provide elements of traditional Korean medicine. The Korean jimjilbang is a familiar and calming oasis for all Koreans. Each is a mini spa that caters to your every need. They are more prevalent than Starbucks shops and you can spend a day in one for the cost of a latte and a snack. They sound perfect, right?

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Kimchi is also found on every Korean street and it sneaks onto most breakfast, lunch and dinner plates. I bought a jar of kimchi back in NH a week before I left for Korea. I thought if I mastered the spicy fermented vegetable dish I would slide seamlessly into the role of ‘expat in Korea’. The jar’s pungent smell intimidated me and I reluctantly left the snack in my mom’s fridge for her to enjoy as she wept over my departure. After some time in Korea I learned to love kimchi. Some kinds are tastier than others and I prefer grilled kimchi over the cold stuff. It didn’t happen overnight, but I mastered kimchi and I figured the jimjilbang was next up. I could do this. I could adapt. I could be brave. The only thing is, I didn’t have to get naked in public to eat kimchi.

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photo credit (Yes, that’s me on the right feeling super comfortable.)

Last month I agreed to a Thursday night jimjilbang date after a few too many drinks the weekend before. My friends promised I could not leave Korea without a famous jimjilbang ajumma scrub. Although I was terrified of the ‘naked party’ they continuously cheered to that night, I lightly penciled it into my planner and mentally prepared a list of excuses to furnish a polite cancellation. Monday came and went and I forgot to decline the invite. In the midst of teaching on Tuesday and Wednesday I thought of cancelling and told myself I would get to it later that night. Then it was Thursday and it’s just not classy to cancel so late in the game. I was hungry but I couldn’t eat dinner. I nervously plastered a smile on my face and left work that night wondering if I would be a different person when I returned the next morning.

“It’s kind of like skydiving or bungee jumping.” My friend reassured me as we descended in the elevator toward the basement floor jimjilbang. She wasn’t helping. “The scariest moment is the first one and after that it’s just what it is.” Did she know she was giving a pep-talk to a life-long swimmer and lifeguard who, forget extreme jumping, was afraid to do a simple dive off the high dive? I spent a decent portion of each summer as a teenager disappointing the pool patrons who always watched in awe as the lifeguards enjoyed their 5 minute breaks. My male co-workers would bring the laughs with failed attempts at double flips. Others would gracefully dive through the air and slide into the depths of the deep-end headfirst with ease. I climbed the ladder as well, but once at the top I took a big breath and did a boring pencil dive into the icy blueness. I tried more than once to dive from the 1 meter ledge, but my brain just wouldn’t allow it. I liked the excitement of the jump, but I preferred the feeling of being right-side-up on my own two feet. I was in control somewhat, even while falling through the air.

As I stripped down and shoved my belongings into a locker at the jimjilbang I realized something about the scenario playing in my head. I knew one day I would dive from that high dive in NH. It would happen because I knew in my mind I could always return to my hometown pool. I could take my time and practice elsewhere. In other words, I could be lazy about it. A few months ago I jumped from a pretty huge rock in Jeju. Maybe this summer when I’m stateside again I will make that dive. I really hope this is true.

But here’s the amazing thing about living abroad in Korea: You don’t have time to cultivate fears here. If there’s something you want to try, taste or see you have to do it in a timely fashion. I know I won’t be in Korea forever and because I have so many other places to visit I don’t know if I will be back soon. It’s one thing to read those feel-good quotes about ‘Living in the Moment’, but it’s another to have no other choice.

I got naked that Thursday night and tip-toed from the lockers out to the bath and sauna room holding nothing but a hand towel. I found my friends and submerged in a steaming hot bath as I awaited my scrub appointment. In one corner of the room a maze of showers and stools held a dozen or so older women who meticulously scrubbed and bathed each other while chatting. Small children clutching goggles splashed around in the biggest bath. Single bathers who wished to relax and avoid the social hour could be found in baths with their hair in a towel, their eyes closed and their heads resting on the stone side. As our skin began to prune our moods softened as well. Our eyes stopped darting around the room at all the nakedness and we relaxed. The water was deliciously warm and we hopped from one bath to the next.

When the ajumma called me over for my scrub there was nowhere to hide. As she threw buckets of water over my body and signaled for me to roll over onto my back for the next round of scrubbing I simply did it. Maybe my friend was right, the scariest moment had already passed and the rest was just whatever would be. I walked home that night with baby soft skin and wet hair that reminded me of my swimming years, 3 friends who would always and forever be my ‘naked party’ girls, a new determination to make that summer dive, an item to cross off my Korea Bucket List and a craving for some grilled kimchi (I skipped dinner, remember?).

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You don’t want to see my ‘Casablanca is closed!?’ face. *Sandwich Love*

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If you’re reading this while considering a move to Korea to teach and live in Asia I can assure you you’re on to something amazing. A year in Korea was just what I needed and I can not recommend the experience enough. Of course you will learn to love your students and their silly ways, you will have wild adventures with new friends throughout The Land of Kimchi and perhaps in other Southeast Asian destinations and you will gain loads of self confidence and cultural understanding. But let me give you one more reason to come to Korea. It’s called Casablanca Sandwicherie and I’m not even sure why I am letting you in on this glorious secret. I guess I am feeling generous, enjoy it while it lasts.

The tiny sandwich haven is located in the small yet buzzing neighborhood of Haebangcheon (aka HBC and close to Noksapyeong Station) in Seoul. I was introduced to my beloved Moroccan Chicken Sandwich last Spring during a local brewery beer fest in HBC. Casablanca is run by the Naciri brothers who are found laughing and working together behind the sandwicherie counter each night starting at 5pm. The menu and shop are small, yet the cozy space is always full of HBC residents stopping in to say hi to the owners and or to pick up take-out orders. There are a few tables for those dining in and usually my friends and I decide to sit and eat because really, we can’t make it out the door before taking a bite of the Moroccan magic. And don’t just take my word for it, Groove Korea wrote that Casablanca makes The Best Sandwich in Seoul.

This past Saturday was a splendidly clear day in Seoul and my friends and I finally made it to the top of Seoul Tower. After enjoying a memorable sunset we descended the hill that surrounds the tower. At the bottom someone quietly muttered, “Well, we’re close to Casablanca…” That’s all it took for us to set off on foot to find HBC and our favorite Seoul eats. The lively scene and filling food in Casablanca made for a perfect beginning to a Saturday night in Seoul. Then, as it always seems to happen, Sunday crept up on us and it was edging toward the end of an eventful weekend. Finding ourselves in Seoul yet again, we discussed where to grab food after a long afternoon  of museum touring. Someone joked that they wouldn’t mind another Casablanca meal. And then we were back, and no, we weren’t the least bit embarrassed. Because when a sandwich is that good people understand. Your friends understand. The owners understand and they just give you a knowing smile when you walk in less than 24 hours later and place the same order. They give you that smile that I assume they give many people each and every night.

So, if you’re looking for a reason to come to Korea, I promise this is it. Korean food is the best, you will love it all, even kimchi, but when you want a sandwich you now know where to go. And please, only tell your most favorite people about our little secret. It’s a small place and they close each night when they run out of their famously fresh bread. You don’t want to see my ‘Casablanca is closed!?’ face, I can promise you that too.

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Preparing for a Korean Goodbye: Don’t leave my friends out of this.

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Time is running out, so please stop saying, “Yeah, we will have to do that some weekend.” I have exactly 6 weekends left in Korea and each is pretty much full from 8pm on Friday until late Sunday afternoon. I am lucky in that many of my friends in Korea are also leaving close to my departure date. Most of us are in a rush to eat lots of kimchi, find Psy socks to bring home and most importantly soak up each others awesomeness before some depart for homes scattered all over the globe and others remain in Korea. And oh yeah, I still have to find the confidence to make a jjimjilbang date. Umm, a little help please?

So, here is my list. I believe if I write it, it will happen. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Please comment with other things I must do, see, taste, try or buy before I leave this fantastic country I have loved calling home.

I hope to…

1) tour the MOCA. I recently learned that Seoul’s National Museum of Contemporary Art offers free admission for select exhibits on the 4th weekend of each month. See you there?

2) have one more epic weekend adventure with my favorite SHG guide. If you are moving to Korea or are here already I strongly suggest you check them out. But only if you like to have fun. Otherwise, forget I mentioned it.

3) stock up on my favorite Korean cosmetics. Great timing Sheryll, I was getting worried I would leave before you shared this.

4) finally suck it up, strip down and visit a jjimjilbang. If this story doesn’t make you want to visit one, I’m sorry.

5) get lost at the Korean War Memorial and Museum for an entire day. I am proud to say I am related to the late Captain Joseph McConnell Jr. who was a leading jet ace of the Korean War. I hope to learn more about him and the war.

6) norebang with my favorite girlfriends in Uijeongbu one last time. The first night my friend voluntarily put on Call Me Maybe I knew I was going to be just fine in Korea.

7) pretend to know something about electronics and peruse the Yongsan Electronics Market.

8) Stuff my face with one (or two?) Casablanca Moroccan chicken sandwiches. I visited HBC a few weeks ago and almost cried (like real tears) when I found the storefront dark and closed for renovations. A Twitter friend swears they are reopening before I leave. She better not be throwing fake promises around the Internet. You know who you are, and I know your Twitter handle.

9) finally make it to a Hongdae Silent Disco. Check it out.

10) dress super classy and do it up Korea Style.

11) successfully order takeout to my apartment.

12) not go overboard, but add a few more key pieces to my arsenal of Korean fashion. I can’t help myself, I WANT EVERYTHING.

13) You tell me.

I have a lot to do, but I am grateful to spend these next weekends with friends who have kicked it with me in Korea for the past 11 months and have put up with me and my geeky love of planning. Last week we had an early Saturday morning outing scheduled and more sites to see in the afternoon. Friday night rolled around and we found ourselves at a favorite local bar enjoying cheap drinks, stories of teaching mishaps, college card games and a few sloppy rounds of darts. As you can guess, we didn’t make it to bed until the early morning and our plans were scratched in exchange for recovery rest. My Saturday was spent sleeping and Sunday was also quiet with a friendly coffee shop session and a long walk in the evening. Our lazy weekend meant I had to rearrange my planner notes, but I promise, no one is freaking out.

I am impressed with my long list of Korean adventures accomplished in the past year, but just like “감사합니다”  and “안녕하세요” will disappear from my daily routine come March, so will my friends who quickly became family in early 2012. So please, recommend your ‘Korea must-do-see-taste-try-buy’ item for my list, but if my friends aren’t down then I may give it a miss.

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My 2012: While you were busy Googling ‘What is a Gangnam?’…

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Any worries I had about ‘losing touch’ during my year abroad in Southeast Asia were quickly shattered one July night while I lay in a hostel bunk-bed in Taiwan. I opened my iPad to find an adorable yet slightly chubby Korean man decked out in hip glasses, a funky suit and an irresistible smirk busy bombarding every one of my bookmarked websites. That moment and many more in the following days and months reassured me that my move to Korea would not hinder my mission to stay relevantly informed about all things social. I could in fact keep in touch with friends, family and my growing passion (slight obsession) with social media creation and strategy. Gangnam Style gave me a slight home-court advantage. While most Americans were busy Googling: ‘What the heck is a Gangnam?’, ‘Where did K-Pop come from?’ and ‘Who is Psy and is that his real name?’ I had time to catch up on my backlogged and favorited Tweets from Mashable, Gawker, Social Media Examiner and more.

At first my fellow teacher friends in Seoul eagerly posted the horse-dance video, just for kicks, to all available social wall space. Then, when the YouTube view count refused to plateau, I casually mentioned the video in Skype conversation with a friend who was enjoying the summer in New England. She giggled at the elevator dance scene and commented, “Wow Devan, Korea looks like a fun time.” A week later a second reply was digitally served, “So, you know that video you showed me? It’s here. It’s everywhere. It’s blowing up.” And although I scoffed at my real-life and Twitter friends who continued to miserably misspell ‘Gangnam’ in posts and had never been out clubbing in the song’s swanky section of Seoul, I was proud of Psy and the small yet fiercely determined, extremely successful, technologically advanced and warmhearted country that I chose to call home in 2012.

As I prepare to return home to NH in the next few months and further my career in social media strategy and communications, many details are uncertain. Job searching is a job in itself, but throw in 7,000 miles and a 14 hour time difference between you and your target professional setting  and it becomes almost as challenging as mastering the horse-dance while fumbling through a few Korean lyrics about “a girl with that kind of twist”.

I know some may question why I up and left a marketing job in Boston to move to Korea to teach ESL and eat kimchi at every meal. I don’t think I will be able to answer this question fully for another few years, but I can say I am happier now than I was a year ago and I spent 2012 in close proximity to one of the year’s biggest social media stories. My time in Korea will always and forever be smack dab in the middle of ‘The Year of Gangnam Style’. Or maybe I have that mixed up: Psy’s year of fame just happened to occur during ‘Devan’s Korea Quest.’ Please, just for now, let me believe the latter to be true.

meandpsybest

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It’s your party, but please learn to hike first.

With about 70% of the Korean peninsula covered with mountains, the hiking culture dominates the the Land of Kimchi. I went for a short hike up Mt. Dobongsan near my home a few weeks ago. I have a ways to go if I want to start calling myself a “hiker”, but here are my thoughts thus far…

Hiking in Korea is reminiscent of attending an epic college party.

It is imperative that you…

pre-game. (Who wants some morning makgeolli?)

dress to impress.

(Leave your sweats at home and make sure your gear is from this season.)

show up at the right time with drinks to share.

(Koreans hike early in the morning and are generous with their drinks.)

move at the right pace.

(You don’t want to rush ahead and fall and be ‘that guy’ that your friends have to take care of, but you also don’t want to fall behind and miss the fun.)

conserve enough energy so that you can make an appearance at the after party.

(Fact: Korean bbq tastes 100x better after a hike.)

at least attempt to conceal your grin on your way home on the subway while jealous onlookers admire your post-outing glow.

(“Yeah, I just hiked for 5 amazing hours and it’s only 12pm. What have you done today?”)

See you on the mountain…unless I was at a party the night before…and in that case I will be sleeping instead.

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I was going to write a ‘Top 10 List’ & then this happened.

I found myself wallowing in a bout of homesickness last week. Rather than sulk in my apartment and dream of lounging dock-side on Martha’s Vineyard sipping a Blue Moon and hogging the guacamole bowl, I sat down and scribbled all the things I am loving at the moment about my present situation. If you’re interested, here it is, feel free to add to my list. Cheers! *shot of soju in hand*

I love…

1) soju.

2) the huge H&M and Forever 21 stores in Seoul.

3) surprising the older Koreans on the subway when I give up my seat for them.

4) bars that never close,  interesting bar snacks and learning how to play darts.

5) being inspired by Korean fashion.

6) when my takeout pizza is presented as a gift.

7) how my students love me.

8) not having to remember a key for my apartment because I have a keypad instead.

9) outdoor restaurant seating that magically appears in good weather.

10) paying bills within seconds at the ATM.

11) cooking my own meat at Korean BBQ. It’s the real deal: hot coals, marinated meat and scrumptious sides.

12) learning about Buddha and Buddhism.

13) public transportation. The subway is English friendly, fast, cheap and clean.

14) the 7 Eleven steps from my apartment.

15) not having to be at work until 1pm.

16) being the token foreigner at my yoga studio.

17) my small apartment, sometimes I complain, but it is cozy and easy to clean.

18) the free exercise stations everywhere.

19) Ssamjang (쌈장 ) sauce at Korean BBQ. Yes, it deserves it’s own spot on this list and it deserves a place in American cuisine. (Ssamjang is a thick, spicy paste used with food wrapped in a leaf in Korean cuisine. The sauce is made of doenjang, gochujang, sesame oil, onion, garlic, green onions, and optionally brown sugar. -Wikipedia)

20) that just about everything is cuter in Korea: coffee cups, bus cards, stationary, trucks, etc. #cuterinkorea

21) the moving ramps for grocery carts at Homeplus.

22) the walking/running/biking path along the river near my apartment.

23) not having to obey an open container law.

24) the service button at restaurants.

25) kimchi, yeah it’s growing on me.

26) cheap underground shopping.

27) receiving mail from friends and family.

28) meeting foreigners and bonding instantly.

29) the adorable coffee shops. I also appreciate being able to visit my first love, Starbucks, when I need a fix.

30) Korean kindness and hospitality.

31) not having to remember to pay rent each month – it’s on my school.

32) bowing instead of shaking hands to say hello – my palms get sweaty.

33) cheap travel to exotic locations. I can’t wait for Taiwan in July!

34) staying in touch with friends & family back home via snail mail, email, Facebook, Skype, Kakao Talk, FourSquare, Pinterest, Spotify and Instagram. Sometimes it feels like I never left.

35) creating a place for myself on Twitter and in the expat and travel blogging community.

36) fantastic conversations with new friends about the future – inspiring!

37) drinks on a necklace. Yup.

38) freebies with every purchase. I have enough travel samples for at least 5 vacations. A free sun hat with a new bottle of perfume – why not?

39) Casablanca in Haebangcheon: Best. Sandwich. Ever.

40) the new Shinsegae department store in Uijeongbu.

41) Temple Stay experiences.

42) kimbap’s deliciousness.

43) my rooftop.

44) the small plastic bag holders for wet umbrellas outside every store when it’s raining. Genius.

45) jjimjibangs.

46) free phone charging stations.

47) street food after a crazy night out.

48) norebang. Can you say ‘Call Me Maybe’?

49) my acupuncture doctor.

50) free festivals. My love began at the Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

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