Tag Archives: travel

Liebster Award

Sometimes I love my blog, I mean, it is my Korean baby that I have nurtured for the past year in my tiny closet of an apartment. There are nights where I find myself typing well into the night and laughing at my own dorky jokes that I try to nonchalantly slip between sentences of Korean observations. Other nights MyKoreaQuest is a pestering tot that nags for attention while I try and relax in front of the latest HIMYM episode (tot is one of my classroom vocabulary words this week). I ignored my blog for 6 days last week and it was the perfect time to receive a Liebster Award nomination from A Fat’s Girl’s Food Guide.   This is just what I needed: a simple reminder that people out there read my words and all of us crazy bloggers are in this together. Thank you so much fatgirlkr – keep doing your thing – I love your blog!

So…to accept the nomination you must:

1) Thank the blogger who nominated you and share their blog link in your post. Thanks again, Fat’s Girl’s Food Guide!

2)  Attach the award icon to your site. (see above)

3)  Answer some questions from the previous blogger and choose new ones for your nominees. (see below)

4) Nominate other bloggers for the award. (see below)

Ok, here goes…

1. If you could be a superhero which one would you be and why?

Catwoman – Did you see Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises? Enough said.

2. What would you eat for your last meal on earth?

I am not sure what I would eat, but it would certainly be home-cooked. I have worked in enough restaurants to know better.

3. If I gave you a $100 right now what would you spend it on?

I would splurge on cupcake ingredients. I just inherited an adorable cupcake-maker from a friend who was leaving Korea.

4. When was the last time you cried and why?

I was homesick on the phone with my mom pretending to not be homesick and crying on the phone, but shucks, that woman knows me too well.

5. Whats the last nice thing you did for someone else?

I just burned a CD for my friend.

6. What’s the best costume you have ever worn?

I was a hotdog for Halloween one year. I’m still bitter that my mom donated the costume to our local public library to work into their holiday display.

7. If you could go back in time which year would you choose?

1994 – summer

8. If  I gave you a free plane ticket where would you go?

I would fly to Boston to see my grandfather.

9.  What was the best present you have ever received?

This is a tough one…but I do smile when I remember receiving Jagged Little Pill (my first CD) for Christmas in 1995. I proudly popped out the Christmas ballads and blasted Alanis’s bitter and inappropriate words for the remainder of the holiday morning. I had no idea what I was singing, but I am sure my parents did, and somehow the CD ‘went missing’ the next day.

10. How would you spend your last day on earth?

I would love to be at the beach or at a stellar concert – maybe a concert on the beach?

11. Is a jaffa cake, a cake or a biscuit?

This is the first I have heard of Jaffa Cake, but after a quick Google image search I am going to go with biscuit because I love to shake things up.

Ok, here are the sources of inspiration for my own blog / aka my nominations. Check out these blogs about life in Korea!

Alien’s Day Out

The Wanterlust Project

Mapping Words

From Korea with Love

Lateral Movements

Live Life: A Girl’s Journey in South Korea

Waegook Tom

Margaret Tries Being

Some questions (from me) to ponder:

1) What was the first CD / tape you owned?

2) If you had to describe Gangnam Style with 1 word what would it be?

3) How many T-Money cards do you really own?

4) How do I prepare for Pepero Day?

5) When was the last time you felt embarrassed?

6) What’s a new song you recently discovered and think I should listen to?

7) When was the last time you danced?

8) What’s a saying you would love to make happen?

9) Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?

10) What time (9am, 11am, 1pm…) do you consider to be an appropriate time to wake-up on a weekend?

Thanks again for the nomination, be well and have great weeks all!

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“Like, what should we do this weekend?”

As an English teacher in South Korea, when Thursday rolls around each week I usually itch for my upcoming weekend plans. I have learned to take full advantage of my weekend time in Korea and I hope to continue with this new approach to my free time when I return home. I love the tired yet accomplished feeling of a Sunday night following a jam-packed weekend of experiencing new things and people in Korea. When I find myself without plans midweek, I use the following 5 resources to find inspiration for weekend outings. I hope you find them helpful and please feel free to comment with alternative ideas. I promise, armed with these resources you won’t find yourself uttering the annoying answer to a friend looking to have a memorable weekend, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

1) Expat Websites and News Sources: Some of my favorites include Groove Korea, Seoulistic, Chincha and 10 Magazine Korea, but there are many more. This past weekend I attended a rocking block party in Hongdae that was hosted by Chincha. I had a blast: I met some interesting people, enjoyed great live bands and had a bit too much fun with the prop-packed photo center. Today in 10 Magazine Korea I read about all the Halloween events happening in Seoul.

2) Twitter: Many of my friends continue to make fun of my Twitter obsession, but it has proved to be a helpful tool in Korea. Even if you don’t want to Tweet, if you follow the right people you can stay informed about events going on in Korea. I can thank Twitter for letting me know about the free Psy concert I attended a few weeks ago. Thanks Twitter.

3) Travel Groups: Before coming to Korea I remember how comforted I was to find a Facebook page for Adventure Korea. Because Korea is a popular place for foreigners, there are a handful of companies that focus on planning excursions for this demographic. I have gone on three trips with Seoul Hiking Group and I can not speak highly enough of these mini vacations. After a week of teaching it is lovely to go on a trip that is completely organized for you. Who didn’t love field trips when they were younger? I have seen some great places in Korea, including Jeju, and I have also met some great friends from all over Korea. When In Korea (winK) is another great website.

4) Personal Blogs: I did extensive research before making the decision to move to Korea to teach and I believe a majority of the helpful information came from personal blogs. I felt reassured reading about real experiences from real people living and teaching in Korea. I know each person has a different story to tell of their time in Korea, but there are many shared experiences that I have encountered in blogs. I remember finding an extremely helpful diagram of a Korean heating panel on a blog back in February when I was shivering and baffled by the 4 buttons near my light switch. I have a list of about 10 blogs that I check weekly. There are some talented bloggers in Korea who are informative and also put a creative and comedic spin on the Expat experience.

photo credit

5)  Facebook (of course!): Facebook is not just for procrastinating. Facebook has helped me stay in touch with other Chungdahm teachers who live in different parts of Korea. With the help of Facebook I was able to plan a Busan beach weekend to visit a few friends from teacher training. I can also thank Facebook for a handful of friends in my city of Uijeongbu. In the first few weeks in my new city I came across a Facebook group for foreigners. I joined the on-line community, attended a weekly ‘Waegook’ dinner that was advertised on the group page and walked away from the first dinner with new friends. The Facebook group is also a place where people post event invitations and community information.

These are just a few resources I use. Where do you go for answers when someone asks, “What should we do this weekend?”

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Korea Burn – Leave your wallet at home.

After spending a weekend at Korea Burn this September, I realized that although I have been in Korea for more than 7 months now, this country will continue to surprise me with each weekend excursion. On a Monday night my friend called an emergency meeting to persuade a group of us to ‘apply’ for last-minute Korea Burn tickets, Tuesday I enlisted the help of my co-teacher in purchasing a tent from a Korean website, Wednesday and Thursday night were spent texting my friends back and forth regarding our to-do lists of making matching costumes, finding glow-sticks and glitter and buying bug repellent and Friday night I found myself staring at an empty suitcase wondering what the heck one brings to a Burn.

Korea Burn was inspired by Burning Man, the annual festival in Black Rock City, Nevada. The festival in Nevada lasts for a week and includes art installations and performances inspired by the participants. The festival’s core values include participation, art, self-expression and experience. The festival in Korea lasted for only a weekend but everyone involved followed the main mission statement of Burning Man. The celebration centered around a constructed wooden man with arms open to the sky. The structure was set ablaze on Saturday night and this act brought all of the festival goers together to watch the fire show. The weekend participants were encouraged to follow these 10 principles:

1) Radical Inclusion

2) Gifting

3) Decommodification

4) Radical Self-reliance

5) Radical Self-expression

6) Communal Effort

7) Civic Responsibility

8) Leaving No Trace

9) Participation

10) Immediacy

(If you are interested, you can learn more at http://www.koreaburn.co.kr/)

I found the idea of ‘Gifting’ to be the most interesting. The organizers encouraged us to leave our wallets at home, or at least in our tents. How could a massive beach party of foreigners survive without the flow of cash? Even if we were willing to gift the snacks that we brought (soju soaked watermelon pieces cut into stars and hearts), could we really rely on strangers to bring the rest of the party supplies and also to be giving with them? I was amazed at how generous people were as soon as we arrived at Gijipo Beach on Saturday morning. As soon as we found a spot to pitch our tent (which is a story in itself – trust me), we changed into our Burn Costumes (Burn Costumes can be WHATEVER you want them to be, believe me, I saw it all.) and headed to the beach. One of my favorite gifting moments was when I traded an original poem for a crispy slice of bacon. It may have been the best piece of bacon ever. I think the rest of the weekend is best described with pictures. It was one of those weekends that will stay with me. And the fact that this took place in Korea is just icing on the cake. I traded a hand-knit scarf for this cake of course. Gifting is key.

 

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No Naps Allowed – Hamilton Hotel Pool in Itaewon

Just last week I was swimming under a waterfall on the island of Jeju and last night I contemplated turning the heat on in my apartment. The weather in Korea at the moment reminds me of the transition from summer to fall back home in New England. The change is quick and if you don’t take the time to look around and enjoy the last bit of summer it will be time for scarves and boots before you know it. Toward the end of August I found my ultimate summer escape in Seoul. I was always intrigued by the loud techno beats booming from the rooftop swimming pool at the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon, but I had yet to bring my bathing suit, towel and sunscreen with me to Seoul. Each time I exited the subway across from the hotel entrance this past summer I told myself I must plan a day to enjoy this infamous pool. Summer flew by and after some internet research I learned that the pool was closing after the first weekend in September, so I went to bed early and set my alarm on the last Saturday in August and ventured into Seoul the next morning to spend the day poolside.

My friends and I arrived in Itaewon a little after 11am and the pool party was already going strong. The pool was packed with swimmers and sunbathers positioned around the pool making it difficult to walk from one side of the deck to the other. I had imagined a day of lounging on a chair reading my book and listening to music from my headphones but these plans were immediately squashed. This was a pool party and one of the last of the summer so people were making the most of the day. We stored out bags in a locker, grabbed drinks and made our way to the pool. There was no room to lounge on the deck so we spent most of the day floating around the pool.

A DJ in the corner pumped out dance music and the pool guests danced, drank and swam away the day. I was impressed by the Korean women who easily maneuvered their way around the pool in skimpy swim suits and super high heels while many of the men continuously applied tanning oil to their buff bodies and strutted by each other making sure to flex and convey how much time they spent each week at the gym. The pool atmosphere was one I had yet to experience in Korea and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the entertaining show that was the pool party until the sun began to set and we were ushered out of the pool facility by the hotel cleaning staff.

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I only made it to the Hamilton Hotel Pool once this summer and I regret this statistic. The pool provided a great escape from the summer heat and humidity and it was easy to get to in Itaewon. If you are in Seoul next summer I recommend checking it out, but don’t bring a book or expect to take a nap poolside. There will be dancing and loud music and you will love it. Just consider yourself warned.

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Directions: At Itaewon Station (line 6) walk out Exit 3 and you will find the Hamilton Hotel directly to your right. The pool is on the 5th floor.

The pool is open from 10am-6pm most days during the summer. Arrive early if you want to rent a chair and secure a spot on the pool deck. You can also rent towels and lockers. The pool is closed on rainy days.

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Seoul Subway Line 9!

Seoul Subway Challenge: Line 9

Line 9 still needs some work on its smile, but speaking as someone who didn’t get braces until the end of high school, I am going to give the 2009 addition to the Seoul Subway a break and appreciate the quirky half smirk that is a work in progress. Line 9 went live in July of 2009 and is the first privately run subway line in Korea run by Veolia Transport, a French company. Also called ‘The Golden Line’, Line 9 snakes from Gaehwa Station and Gimpo Airport along the south side of the Han River toward Sinnonhyeon Station in Gangnam to form a half smile. A full smile should be completed in the near future with plans for further station stops at the Sports Complex Station and later at Oryun Station.

I began my exploration of Line 9 close to its most eastern point. I was hungry after a long ride down from my home in Uijeongbu and I figured the Express Bus Terminal would stimulate my taste buds and sense of adventure on a lazy Sunday afternoon in Seoul…

Express Bus Terminal

At the Express Bus Terminal I did not venture outside as I did with the remainder of my Line 9 stops. There was no need to leave. There was plenty to see within steps of the subway exit. The Express Bus Terminal Station is under the Seoul Express Bus Terminal (aka Gangnam Bus Terminal) and it is not where you go to escape the hustle and bustle of Seoul. The terminal is full of people on the move. People are busy and moving fast in the Express Bus Terminal. They are in a rush to snatch up the latest designer pieces at Shinsegae, eat at the ‘Prestige Food Empire’ (Who knew we had ‘Premium Food Courts’ in this world?), check into the exclusive Marriott Hotel or depart for/arrive from another swanky city in Korea. After mindlessly wandering the maze of floors in the terminal my friends and I decided to eat at KFC before venturing to our next stop on Line 9. Believe it or not, this was my first time eating at a KFC. *shock* I don’t know, the ‘Prestige Food Empire’ just freaked me out. And I had promised my friends a travel-worthy lunch for accompanying me on my Seoul Subway Challenge adventure. And they like KFC.

Dongjak

Line 9 leaves no room for travel confusion. The elaborate digital screens in each car display the upcoming station information along with a birds-eye view map showing the immediate neighborhood at each location. At Dongjak Station we simply scoured the map and chose a spot to explore and its corresponding numbered exit. Seoul National Cemetery was desolate except for a lone woman wandering the aisles of graves chanting some sort of prayer or song. We walked among the uniform grave stones of hundreds of Korean Veterans. The late President Kim Dae-Jung was interred here in 2009. We soon found ourselves in a lush pathway leading to a bridge over a small river teeming with brightly colored fish. With no KFC leftovers to spare, my friend searched her bag and found a package of crackers to feed the fish. Watching fish jump and splash for bits of old peanut butter crackers: It really is the little things in life…

Noryangin

A few stops after our friendly fish feeding experience we found ourselves in the midst of a bloody and lively seafood massacre. We followed small signs illustrated with fish designs along a subway track  overpass toward the obvious smell of fresh fish. The Noryangin Fisheries Market is Seoul’s largest marine products market with over 66,000 square meters of small shops, auction spaces and restaurants. If it swims you will find it here and usually at a much cheaper price than you would at a supermarket. The 24-hour market is full of an intense sense of urgency. With many of the 700+ small shops selling the same products, they are competitive and will stop at nothing to gain the attention of shoppers meandering up and down the market aisles. As I stopped to snap a few pictures of live octopus, shrimp, giant crab, oysters and flounder, some shopkeepers were full of pride and posed for my camera while others frowned and quickly ushered me away because they saw my photography as a distraction and a missed selling opportunity.

Yeouido

After the crowded fish market it was nice to breathe some fresh air upon exiting the station at Yeouido. We walked a few blocks to the Cultural Event Plaza where a sign at the park entrance encourages people to “rest or talk with friends”. We did just that and also snacked on some cotton candy a friendly man was selling from the back of his motorcycle. Children giggled as they ran about in the open space, older couples walked briskly along the shaded bike path and young professionals played basketball in  collared shirts, ties and dress pants (Sunday?).

Dangsan

Dangsan was a perfect last stop for our expedition. A narrow bridge outside the station exit led us over the busy street to the Han River where we spotted a strategically placed 7-11. I can’t think of a better way to spend a late Sunday afternoon: enjoying a cold beer sitting beside the river and watching boats pass by. As I finished my beer I felt my phone buzz from my pocket. A message from my father back in the US surprised me. “Are you prepared for the TYPHOON!?” it read. I laughed and put my phone away. Korea continues to surprise me each day as I attempt to teach and survive typhoons, but at least I can rely on the Seoul Subway for convenient and dependable transportation.

Which line gets you around Seoul? Take a look:

Line 1

Line 2

Line 3

Line 4

Line 5

Line 6

Line 7

Line 8

Thanks to Waegook Tom for making this happen!

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Vacation Travel: Don’t forget to pack the right people.

I arrived in Seoul smack in the middle of February, an unsympathetic month following the excitement of holiday cheer in December and the promise of new beginnings in January. February rudely reminds you that winter has no plans to retire anytime soon and you better start planning a vacation if you want to remain sane. Shortly after settling into my new life of teaching and living in Korea, I met a handful of new friends and we compared teaching jobs, living arrangements and vacation dates. I was ecstatic when I realized I shared the same summer vacation with two of my new friends. Even though we had just started our lives abroad, we quickly began planning our first adventure outside of Korea. I think the planning is half the fun!

We decided to spend a week in Taiwan in late July. We booked our flights in the spring and then we all became busy teaching and living life. Time flew by, as it does in Korea, and before I knew it, it was a week before my vacation. I found myself panicking and I soon realized I was stressed about my upcoming week off from work. Is that even allowed? I was nervous about traveling for a week with new friends. I loved meeting them for coffee and laughing over teaching stories and exploring Seoul on the weekends, but would we work together as a traveling trio? Perhaps one of us might surface as an annoying diva and make us all suffer for the week? Would another throw caution to the wind and make irrational and dangerous decisions in a country we knew little about? Was it possible that one of us was secretly a vacation dictator and would order the group around with daily itineraries and little time to rest or be spontaneous? I knew these girls socially, but would we mesh in vacation world?

Sadly, for those of you hoping for an entertainingly disastrous story, we got along splendidly. With only a hostel room booked for the first two nights and a travel book in hand, we made the week a pleasant one and came back to Seoul still friends. The three of us worked well together. We each brought something to the table.

One friend shared with us her country connections. She had studied abroad in college with a girl from Taipei. On our first night in the country’s capital the friend and her sister gladly met up with us near our hostel and took us on an exclusive tour of one of the city’s famous night markets. I can say with much certainty that I would never have tried Stinky Tofu  if it were not for these sisters coaxing us to hold our noses and “just try it”. They were extremely generous and proud to share a bit of their culture with us. Throughout our stay in Taiwan, even though we eventually ventured outside of Taipei, this Taiwanese friend stayed in contact with my friend and gave us travel advice and even made sure we were safe when an unexpected typhoon greeted us at the beach.

My other companion, having been in Korea for 2 years and an avid traveler, was the one who got us places. She told us early on in the trip, “I never guess, I ask for help.” When I almost wasted $15 in buying the wrong metro card, she quickly squashed my idea and marched us over to the information booth a few feet away. She showed the attendant by pointing to a map which station we needed to get to and he then sold us individual trip tickets that were less than $1. This friend was confident and direct in getting the right information. In situations where I might tend to swing and hope for the best, she made sure we made contact with the right people and got us what we needed as travelers in a foreign country.

Toward the end of our vacation as we sat enjoying drinks at a beach-side bar one night, we eyed a few foreigners lingering nearby. We assumed they were like us: teachers from Korea on vacation. With a deck of cards, full beers and little knowledge of actual card game rules, we knew we would benefit from more friends at our table. After a few awkward moments I turned around and called them over. “Could you help us…?” I offered a silly question that made them smile and move their seats, and from there we went on to have an epic night of cards, beers, beach and new friends. The next day my travel companions complemented me on my ability to socially ‘break the ice’. I have no shame in being the first one to confront strangers, just as long as I can rely on my friends to keep the conversation going once it has begun.

I hope to travel much more in the coming months. I have a few long weekends, a winter vacation and the option of travel after I leave Korea to look forward to. My first vacation taught me that as important as logistics are, it is crucial to make sure these plans involve the right people. I lucked out and packed the right companions without even realizing it. Now I just need to decide where to travel to next…

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Hummus Heaven at High Street Market

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“You look like you could use an almond milk coffee smoothie with real mint chocolate bits,” the man behind the counter caught me off-guard as I stood at the entrance of the store wide-eyed and drooling. “I can make it for you now and you can enjoy it while you shop.” I nodded, unable to verbalize my gratitude. “Did he just read my mind?” I thought. Maybe he did, or maybe he just saw me for the sucker that I am, regardless, the drink was beyond amazing and I couldn’t help but make a few annoying slurping sounds with my straw as I managed to enjoy each bit of the almond milk deliciousness as I browsed all that High Street Market had to offer.

I spy Nutella!

High Street Market is located in Itaewon in Seoul and had been on my list of places to visit for a few months now. According to the store’s website, The idea of High Street Market was conceived in late 2010 when a few foreign guys doing local import business decided to create a place where people could find the foods they missed back home, all under one roof.

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I knew I would most likely go shopping crazy when I visited, so I had to time my visit when I could manage to carry a few heavy bags from the store directly to the subway and home with no interruptions. I easily convinced my friend to accompany me for the trek into Seoul one Saturday, and I awoke the morning of our shopping trip itching to get my hands on a few precious foreign food items I have been craving: almond milk (duh, it’s awesome!) and hummus (the main staple of my diet at home).

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The store is easy to find, you take the Seoul Subway Line 6 to the Itaewon Station and use Exit 2. At Exit 2 you simply walk about 5 minutes until you see the IP Boutique Hotel on your left and High Street Market is right next to it on the 2nd floor. The address is 2F, 737-24, Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Korea. High Street Market is also all about staying connected, you can find them on Facebook and Twitter.

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I managed to find what I was looking for and more. Two equally amazing varieties of hummus were being sampled along with crispy baguettes at the deli counter and two kinds of almond milk were for sale. There was some serious mind reading going on! I also found, among others, cooking spray, ingredients to make my own hummus, cookies for my students and fellow teachers, ranch dressing, Nutella!, Nature Valley breakfast bars and some locally made vegan treats from a Seoul favorite, Alien’s Day Out. The staff were extremely friendly and spoke English and they gladly recommended products and answered my foodie questions. High Street Market is known for their fabulous selections of meats, cheeses, breads, wines and beer, but they also have a comfortable corner of the store that serves as a cozy cafe sitting area. I could go on, but I am getting hungry…get yourself to High Street Market and I apologize in advance for buying all the hummus (I think I managed to snag 5 tubs!).

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