Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Very Crafty Christmas

Since moving to Korea every purchase I make, I second guess. I don't want to waste money on random stuff that I won't be able to take with me or ship home when we leave. With this in mind, I just couldn't justify spending money on a fake Christmas tree and loads of decorations. Instead, I vowed to use my crafty skills to spread the Christmas love in our apartment.

Our tree is made out of a cardboard box left over from the teachers we replaced. The star we found in our apartment, the paper chain is made from left over art supplies from school, and we made snowflakes out of white computer paper we had lying around.

I learned how to make paper cranes over the weekend and have made over 50 already! How many do you have to make before you get a wish? Maybe I'll do that... Wishes are fun. :) 

Spencer made us a paper chain to count down the days until Christmas, which is also the days until our winter vacation (woo!). Also, I love the mini snowflakes. They are adorable.

It's been really fun to craft and decorate! I'm feeling very festive. Do you know of any other home made stuff we can make with things we might have lying around??

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Things I Miss

If you caught my previous post, you know I am currently in a funk. I'm perking up a bit now that my cold seems to be finally subsiding (yay!) but while I was down I was thinking about all the things I miss most about life in Califonia. I know this is super counter productive and bad for me when I know I can't get any of these things BUT it also helps to just write it out and then let it go.
So here it is, the things I miss the most:
  • random conversations with strangers - now we have random interactions with strangers which are funny in their own right but not as good as convos
  • decent chewing gum - for reals...the flavor lasts about three minutes tops
  • Mexican food - especially chips and good salsa, avocados, and street tacos
  • being able to read store signs - Imagine walking into your local Target and they changed everything around over night. Then imagine that there are no signs anywhere pointing you in the right direction. How do you find what you need? You walk. Around. EVERYWHERE. It can be very frustrating.
  • wall to wall carpeting - It feels so nice! ...but floor heating is pretty cool, too.
  • magazines - I love glossy paper and I love being able to read the words on it.
  • NPR on my car radio every morning - NPR is awesome. Sometimes I stream it online but listening every morning on the way to work really kept me in the loop on global events.
  • bookstores where I can read the merchandise - I love bookstores. The smell alone makes me want to spend hours in there. Of course, I can't spend hours in there if I can't read any of the books. Well, I could but I totally would never do that.
  • diversity - This is kinda funny, but whenever I see someone who is not Korean, I am surprised.
  • driving to San Francisco to visit friends - I miss SF, my friends that live there, and all the glorious things we can do together. It's a great city.
  • yoga class - I'm not very good at keeping up a regular home practice but I love to take classes. I know there are some yoga classes available in Suncheon but I've been reluctant to go. Mostly because what really makes a good class is the teacher and what they're saying and how they say it. I do want to try and take a class though because I'm curious to see the Korean approach to yoga. 
  • online shopping- Online shopping is brilliant. I used to shop online allll the time back at home. I think it's so great because you get that happy I-just-bought-something-new-and-beautiful feeling not once, but TWO times: when you first purchase it and when it comes in the mail. It's so much fun. (p.s. practically no one ships to Korea.)
  • Target - I miss the familiarity of it. I miss knowing all the brands and which ones I like. I miss the cheap clothes and the cute home decor.
  • soft beds - A lot of Koreans sleep on the floor so I should be happy I even have a bed! Still, my bed at home was a pillow top mattress with memory foam and my bed here is like sleeping on the floor with three sleeping bags underneath. Not really hard, but hard enough.
  • comet (the cleaning product) - I used to clean with it a lot back home and can't find anything like it here. Now, I use bleach with water and I miss the green foam.
  • having an oven - I was so spoiled before; I had a toaster oven AND a big oven! Now, I have none. We are planning on buying a toaster oven.
  • turkey sandwiches - My BFF told me I would miss them and she was totally right. Turkey sandwiches are delicious and sorely missed.

Just a wee note: these are all the things I miss from home. There are also many people I miss from home and I'm sure you know who you are! Love you guys! <3

What do you miss most from home when you travel??

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I'm in a Funk

I'm not feeling so hot right now. I'm feeling very worn down, tired, sick, and miserable. The novelty of living in Korea has worn off and everything is pretty normal now. We go to the grocery store, we make dinner, we eat popcorn, we do laundry, we teach and teach and teach all day long and repeat, repeat, repeat.

I've settled into a routine but it's feeling more like a rut. Maybe it's the onset of winter or maybe it's the fact that we haven't gone anywhere the past two weekends. Whatever it is, I don't like it and I can't have it. We still have seven months on our contract and there's no way we're leaving before it ends.

When we first arrived, everything was new, exciting, and sometimes even mind boggling. My head was spinning in every direction so I could see everything and contemplate why the locals do what they do. I was constantly tripping over my feet or running into things because my eyes were never on the ground. I was too busy peeking inside all the shops as we passed, people watching, or staring at all the bright flashing signs at night. Everything was so enthralling. Everything was interesting. Everything was an adventure. Even going to the grocery store was a fun outing!

Unfortunately, now that "honeymoon" phase is over. Every day life seeps in and ruins your mindset. No longer does it feel like you are exploring every day. Everything is not an adventure anymore and I've been trying think of ways to snap out of it. Here are what I've come up with so far.

  • Remembering why I came here in the first place. When I think it's too early to be getting up, I'm trying to think about how a year ago, I would be getting up over an hour earlier and then head on to a cubicle. Now, I spend my working hours in a classroom designed to look like a kitchen with hoards of kids running in and out every forty minutes. It's become routine now, but it's a helluva lot better than what I was doing before coming to Korea. 
  • Accept the differences, don't fight them. I'd gotten to the point where little things would piss me off. One day, I got so angry that I had to take my shoes off at school and put on indoor shoes. Spencer couldn't believe it. "Really?" he said to me, "It's really that big of deal?" At the time, I shouted "YES!" but really, no, it's not. It's not worth feeling badly over and it's definitely not worth fighting because there is no way I will ever win that fight with Koreans. Let it go and move on.
  • Take a day trip. Go exploring! I came here primarily to travel and experience living as an expat. Go talk to people, ride buses, and see things. Don't stay cooped up in the apartment all weekend long for any reason...well, unless it's raining the whole time and then you're okay. 
  • Share your feeling with a friend or lover. I think it's good to talk (or write!) about things. It helps just to get it out there in the universe and not festering inside of you. Thankfully, I have Spencer here to listen to me bitch talk things out. I also have friends who have been in this exact situation and can help me through the rough patches.
  • Look with new eyes. Open your mind and start looking at what's around you again. Analyze the things and people you see, just like in the beginning. Explore new places, take in all you can, and practice walking meditation. Do anything to get you interested in your surroundings.  

I've never been an expat before so I'm not sure if my methods will even work but all I can do is try. Are you or have you been an expat? Do you have any tips to give? I would love to hear your advice. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Soju and Beer

Mixing beer and soju is a popular way to get hammered in South Korea. Soju is native to Korea and is a liquor made from rice that tastes similar to vodka but with less alcohol content. The mix of soju and beer is called somaek and is humorously thought of as a science. Many people have their own special mixing strategies to create the "best" somaek!

Last week, we went to a restaurant with some friends and upon ordering soju and beer, received these clever glasses. Want to be super happy?? Two parts soju and 8 parts beer. Want to get so drunk your eyes are rolling and you feel ill? Then 5:5 it is! These glasses were so fun to play/drink with! :)

Have you ever tried soju and beer? What did you think? Good, bad, or dangerous??

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hiking Jiri Mountain

 hiking Jiri mountain
 Fall is hiking season in South Korea. 

After the sweltering hot and humid summer, it's no wonder people are lining up to enjoy the crisp fall air in the mountains. Mountain ranges are never far away in Korea and with the trees making their yearly wardrobe changes from green to gold/orange/red, it's the perfect time to explore the outdoors.

This fall, our explorations began with a trip out to the highest mountain in mainland South Korea, Jiri mountain. Jiri mountain is located in the southwest part of the country spanning across of three provinces, Jeollanam-do, Jeollabuk-do, and Gyeongsangnam-do. It is about an hour northeast of our city, Suncheon, by car. The mountain is located in a 182 square mile (472 sq. km) national park along with ten Buddhist temples and multiple national treasures

bell at the temple we visited
We spent the day with one of our Korean friends and three of his friends. We visited a temple before we began our hike and saw a couple natural treasures that were perched on the mountain. The stone sculptures were placed behind the main temple area, almost secluded, with trees all around them. It was like they were a part of the forest and had just always been there. At around 1500 years old, that very well could be the case. 

Signs describing the statues and their origins were written in both Korean and English and as I read them, I couldn't help but think about all the people who had looked upon these two stones. I wondered what kinds of clothes people had worn while carving them. I thought about the Japanese invasion and how these two had survived the attacks. The history I stood before in the middle of the forest was sobering and steady. Here they were and here they would stand, just like this, possibly for another 1500 years. It put my measly 24 years into perspective. Would I ever create something that would last 1500 years?  

national treasures
 After admiring the national treasures, we began our hike. We walked on pavement at first, past shops and little restaurants tucked into a very narrow valley. When we reached the end of the pavement, we walked on a gravel road. The gravel road tapered into a rocky dirt path continuously leading up and up and up!

The scenery was delightful. The vibrant leaves were blowing in a cool, light wind and a babbling stream was constantly within our sights. We advanced up the path with countless other people. Everyone was in good spirits and enjoying the perfect hiking weather the day had given us. It was nice to be able to enjoy the temperate weather before the chill of winter sets in and all the bright fall color fades from the trees.

After walking for perhaps an hour we sat on a great rock in the middle of the stream to eat lunch. Our Korean comrades provided an excellent picnic lunch for us which, much to my surprise, included beer and soju! I had no idea Koreans liked to drink and hike but we weren't the only ones getting our drink on while perched on boulders in the river!

our picnic

After lunch we continued on our hike, all of us tipsy from the booze. We didn't make it all the way to the highest peak but we did hike for around 5-6 hours, in total. There were lots of color dotted vistas and the endless babbling water trailing along beside us made our journey all the more worth while. Breathing in the fresh mountain air while feeling a good buzz and working my muscles brought a smile to my face and a warmness in my soul. Spending time in nature is rejuvenating and inspiring. I will never tire of this vast and wonderful world. 

stone pillars on the mountain

See all of our Jiri Mountain hiking photos on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to Avoid Rude French People

The French have a bad reputation.  

They are known to be rude, unwilling to help you, and snooty. This is absolutely true of some French citizens (especially Parisians) but not all of them. If you can find the nice ones, you will have a much better experience.

I believe if you are armed with some simple French words and a few insights into French culture, you will be able to almost entirely avoid rude French people. Granted, you will encounter some meanies, but don't let them get to you! There are nice people in France, too!

The most important part of talking with a French person is to remember to say three key words: "bonjour" (hello), "merci" (thank you), and "au revoir" (goodbye) in every conversation you have. The French love their formalities. It is extremely rude if you start talking to a person without saying "bonjour" first or if you forget to say "merci" and "au revoir" at the end. If you don't say "bonjour" first, you just insulted your new acquaintance and do you really think they are going to be keen on helping you after that? Probably not. They may even give you wrong directions on purpose just because they think you're rude!

Say "bonjour" first! It can make all the difference!

Also, it will be a huge advantage if you at least try to speak French. If you are trying to speak French, the people will appreciate your effort. They may even take pity on you and start speaking to you in English!

If you know absolutely zero French and are not willing to give it a go, you still MUST learn the three key words mentioned above and one sentence. That sentence is, "Parlez-vous Anglais?" (par-lay-voo on-glay) which means, "Do you speak English?"

If they say "yes", speak slowly and remember to say "merci" and "au revoir" afterwards. If they say "no", say "merci, au revoir" and ask someone else. Someone will help you eventually!

Remember, people who live in Paris tend to have a tougher shell. They are big city people, like New Yorkers, but with a longer lunch and better wardrobe. They live in city that is famous for its beauty and culture, and they know it. Paris is one of the most visited cities in the world and tourists are ever present. So, please excuse them if they don't have time to talk to a tourist every day of the week. They are probably hurrying off to the next-great-artists' first gallery opening or something.

Tidbits to be aware of...
 Here are a few things to be aware of. If you know about these annoyances before experiencing them, you will hopefully be able to accept them with grace and less stress.
  •  The French don't like to wait in line and will shamelessly cut in front of you if they think they can get away with it. There is nothing you can do about it so I thought I should warn you to be cool and think "whatever! I'm in Paris!" when this happens to you.
  •  When visiting a restaurant, expect the worst service of your life. Sometimes it will be horrendous and sometimes it will be okay but it will never be good. Expect no pleasantries. There will be no, "Hi my name is Pierre and I will be your server today. What would you like to drink?" Absolutely NONE of that. The tip is already worked into your bill, so they don't need to be nice or deliver your food in a reasonable amount of time and you don't have to leave any extra Euros on the table.
  • You will never be instant BFFs with a French person. Friendships in French culture are held very highly. It will take a while before you will become someone's friend but once you do, they will be your friend forever
  • When visiting Paris, don't expect too much; this isn't a movie. Some people get an idea of what Paris will be like in their head before arriving only to discover it's not as glamorous as they thought. Chelsea says it well when she says, "The city will be dirty, crowded, loud, and indifferent -- but it will be beautiful and breathtaking."
Another thing to remember is not every French person is a Parisian and many French people who don't live in Paris, don't like Parisians! I encourage you to explore more of France and see for yourself how kind the average non-Parisian French person can be!

Have you experienced the stereotypical rude Parisian?? Do you think if you read this article it would have prepared you for them? Or maybe you're from Paris yourself and have some insight into the matter--I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beomeosa Temple

While visiting Busan, we found out there was a temple within the city limits and therefore, easily accessible via the metro. Being the temple lover that I am, I immediately wanted to visit!!

In order to make the best of our schedule, we decided to go to the temple and then straight to the bus station to head home. It was the best plan we could come up with at the time but it actually wasn't the best plan at all because we had to carry our backpacks all day.

It was so hot! Also, even though we only planned to be there for two nights, I still managed to pack a full pack. This just goes to show you that if you have the space, you will fill it up! I'm glad I only have a 45L!

Thankfully, Korea is a really safe country and once we made it to a central courtyard, we set them down where we could keep an eye on them. Once we dumped our packs, we were off to explore!

These are roof tiles that people pay to write wishes or prayers on. They will go into restoring or repairing the various buildings. Most of the buildings we say were fully renovated, at least from the outside, but we did see one that was pretty scraggly looking.

The sign says, "KEEP OUT." I think that's where the monks live.

After walking around for a while, we sat down here to relax. We were scared to go in because we didn't want to offend anyone by doing something inadvertently wrong. We'll have to look up Buddhist temple rules before we head out to another one. Lucky for us, there were some plastic chairs on the deck outside so we sat there and listened to the music they were singing. 

I meditated for about ten minutes and it was the best meditation of my life. It must have been the place and the good vibes from all the expert meditate-rs. I felt so good and happy afterwards! It actually inspired me to start up a more regular meditation practice.

Have you ever visited Beomeosa Temple? Do you like temples? Why or why not?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jinju Lantern Festival

It was a beautiful sunny day and the vistas out the window of the train were great. We rode along the tracks passing mountains filled with trees beginning to change in to their Fall wardrobes and valleys full of fields and tiny villages. The train stopped in a little town with a small flower festival to let people on and off. We were headed to a festival that day, but not to walk among the flowers. We were going to the Lantern Festival in Jinju. 

Lots of people come to the festival only at night to see the lanterns glowing but there are lots of things to do and see before the sun sets. After disembarking the train and hailing a taxi to the general festival area, the first thing we did was take a stroll around the fortress. The fortress is located on a little hill just above the river. It feels like a giant walled park with its old trees, temples, grand gathering places, ancient gravestones, and seemingly endless paths. Even without the festival, the fortress would be a great place for a day trip.

Most of the lanterns at the festival aren't what you think of when you first hear "lantern." When I say lanterns, I don't mean big circles made from rice paper. I'm talking sculpture-esque pieces of art. The men below are all taller than me and will glow at night. It's like walking in a cartoon when the sun sets!

From the fortress, you can get a great view of the festival and the floating lanterns on the river.

We saw a few performances at the fortress, all during the day. One was a drumming show performed by some teenagers. There were kids playing on sets of two, sets of three, and traditional hand held Korean drums. We heard the sounds of their drums while walking along a path and followed it to watch them perform. The beat would rise and fall in a dramatic and engaging rhythm and every kid had a smile on their face. It was a great show.

We also saw some dances performed with people wearing masks. We couldn't understand the story they were telling but their masks and movements were entertaining none the less. They were a bit silly looking and their dances were funny but it was cool to see another aspect of Korean culture. 

We found an area where you can help make a lantern by adding your wish to the frame of the animal of your birth year. Thankfully, a kind Korean man translated for me and told me I was the year of the horse. I wrote my wishes on the slip of fabric and glued it on to the big blue horse. He's in a weird position, though... I've never seen a horse do that!

During the day, the lanterns are pretty, but at night, when they are glowing with color, they are truly spectacular!  

It was like a dreamland! Everything was so beautiful and colorful. There was music playing as you walked through the tunnels of lanterns. There was a bamboo grove filled with woodland creature, ladybug, and dragonfly lanterns. There were big floating lanterns on the river, glowing magnificently and casting their colorful reflections on the water. I loved watching the small paper lanterns slowly float down the river in the colorful water.

I can honestly say, the Jinju Lantern Festival was the best non-music festival I've ever been to. It was such a magical experience!

 Have you ever been to a lantern festival?? If so, where was it?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hong Kong Museum of Tea Ware and Tea House

We visited Hong Kong in July, aka, the middle of Typhoon season. We knew it would be a rainy, hot, sticky mess but we went anyway because, well, that's when our vacation time was! While strolling through Hong Kong Park a sudden, heavy rain fell upon us. We had umbrellas but they were hardly helping us from the buckets of water pouring from the sky! Luckily, we were near the tea museum so we rushed in to avoid the downpour.

The Museum of Tea Ware is housed in the Flagstaff House, an old colonial building built in the 1840's. It's very old and stately with lots of white columns and black framed windows. It's a very beautiful building with old wooden floors and two spiral staircases leading to the second floor. Although quite small for a museum, it was a nice way to wait out the rain and learn more about one of my favorite beverages. Plus, admission to the museum is free. Win-win! :)

 from the 13th century

There are a few displays of ancient tea ware and even more displays of award winning modern pots and cups. The modern pieces range from subtle beauties to grotesque designs barely distinguishable as tea pots! The latter, not my style at all but equally as engaging and fun to chat about. They are all award winning pieces and definitely worth a look.  

The security guard at the museum was very friendly and gave us a worksheet to fill out while looking around the museum. I'm sure it was made for kids but Spencer really enjoyed it and filled out the whole thing!

Here he is finishing it at the tea house next door to the museum. He's so studious!

Speaking of the tea house, it's fantastic! After looking at all the tea pots and learning about different kinds of tea, it's only natural to want to go and drink some. Oh, and look at that! There's a tea house conveniently located right next door. :)

The tea house serves many different kinds of tea and has a small menu of dim sum and other Chinese eats. We ordered two different kinds of tea from our friendly, English speaking server.

When she brought out the tea, she talked us through the process of how to make each kind and why the little details matter when making a truly good cup of tea. I was blown away at the precision and attention to detail given to every tiny cup. It was far from the tea bag and boiling water I was accustomed to!

gif creator online

After she taught us how to make our tea, she let us alone to try it out for ourselves. It was so fun to make and drink the tea with all the little tea ware. It was seriously like playing tea time when I was little! The cups were so tiny!

The staff kept bringing us more and more hot water. I'm sure we could've stayed there for hours if we'd wanted to! It was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.

What about you, dear readers--do you like tea? Have you ever been to the Museum of Tea Ware and/or a tea house? What did you think??

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Korea Bucket List

Sometimes, when you live in a place for an extended period of time, it can be easy to think, "oh, I have plenty of time to go there/do that/see that later!" while you sit on the couch eating popcorn and surfing the internet (not like we ever do that ;).

To combat this problem, we made a bucket list for our stay in South Korea. I wanted to make sure that we got to see everything we wanted to while we are here. I wrote down everything on a sheet of paper and hung it in our apartment to have a constant reminder that we still have places to go and things to see! Get off the couch!

As you can see, we've already crossed a few things off! :) If you want to read about our adventures, here they are: bamboo forest, Suncheon Bay, Busan, mud festival.

Have you ever been to South Korea? Is there anything we should add to our list??