A small taste of the photographs I took last weekend at the Gyeong-Ju Cherry Blossom Festival. No words can fully describe how beautiful spring is in South Korea…even if it only lasts a few weeks!
Sadly I was too busy on the day to take lots of photos like I usually do, but I thought I would share the few I did take anyway. For a full review of the day, check out THIS POST.
Last weekend my friend Sonja and I headed to Phoenix Park and Yongpyong resort for a mini vacation. It was so good to get away for a few days and the scenery up in the mountains was spectacular.
We spent all day saturday hitting the slopes in Phoenix Park ski resort which has a great variety of slopes to suit all levels. Everything was so easily accesible even the laziest skier in the world could not complain!
You could literally ski straight down any slope and into a Dunkin Donuts, Coffee shop or Apres Ski bar. The ski rental place was less than 5 minutes walk from the chair lifts and there is even a youth hostel overlooking the slopes.
As we went as part of a WinK tour group, we got amazing discounts on both ski rental and lift passes. The full day including skis, jacket and pants and lift pass was only 50,000 won (about 30 euro) which you really can’t beat. Even though it was very busy and there were groups of school kids and students everywhere, the queues remained pretty short throughout the day which I was very impressed by.
After a long days skiing on only about 2-3 hours sleep we were absolutely shattered come 6pm. Luckily all we had to do was sit on a bus and relax as we headed to our hostel which is part of the YongPyong ski resort. Following quick showers and naps, a big group of us all headed out for a delicious pork BBQ dinner.
Another relatively late night of bowling, arcade games, socializing and making new friends meant come 8am Sunday morning nothing (not even giant chocolate muffins and hot tea) were getting me out of bed. Maybe it was a waste, maybe it could be considered laziness, but in a move to help my aching muscles and tired body recover, I opted out of skiing at YongPyong and decided the spa and waterpark was more to my liking.
Again thanks to WinK we got an amazing discount price, and only ended up paying 10,000 won to enter. What we discovered inside…and more specifically outside…meant we knew within seconds we had made the right decision!
Outside the waterpark, was an assortment of hot tubs full of various colored, scented and therapeutic water. Oh, and thanks to the fact that it’s winter, all surrounded in snow!
Sitting in rose scented jacuzzi with the sun shining brightly while taking in the breathtaking, snow covered surroundings was an incredible experience. We literally sat outside, dashing through the snow from pool to pool, for about 2 hours. In fact we were enjoying ourselves so much we failed to realise how sunburned our faces were becoming. Small price to pay for a little taste of paradise in the mountains!
Last weekend myself and about 8 friends from Paju attended SantaCon in Seoul, which is a gathering of 100′s of people all dressed as Santa Claus, his elves and everything in between parading around Seoul’s nightlife district singing Christmas Carols and simply being merry.
I ordered 3 elf costumes off ebay and was delighted when they arrived just in time. I also got creative with some fairy lights, colored paper and a giant piece of black foam and made myself a YouTube video / photo booth which I must say I was fairly proud of!
Sadly I didnt take as many pictures as I would have liked (cause I was having too much fun!) but here is a quick glimpse of the shenanigans had on the night.
Over the weekend, I went to a Soccer game in Seoul World Cup Stadium with a big group of friends. We had all had a very late night/early morning the night before so were a little worse for wear come Sunday afternoon. Lack of makeup and unwashed hair aside, we spent the day cheering on Seoul FC and feeling pretty proud of ourselves for opting to be productive rather than hibernating in out match box-sized apartments.
After the match we headed into the shopping centre to grab a coffee, relax and try to warm up having being outside in the almost freezing cold Korean winter for the last 2-3 hours. As we walked in a well dressed, perfectly manicured Korean lady approached me and my friend and asked if we would like to get our photo taken for free. It all looked professional with proper lighting, cameras and a “set” where we could sit and pose so without delay my friend and I signed up.
The photo shoot was organized my Korean Cosmetic brand “Skin Food” which specializes in all sorts of lotions, moisturizer and cosmetics for your face, body and hair to make you look both younger and “whiter”, two aspects of beauty which every Korean aspires to be. We answered a few questions which had been roughly translated from Korean to English with regards to our skin tone, how old we were, how old our skin looked, what we would like to change about our skin and other questions which I usually avoid/hate to answer.
After about 5 minutes we sat down and were asked to pose naturally, which we attempted to do. While they loved my dear friend Mandy (a 38-year-old with the skin of a 31-year-old, or so they said with much delight and awe), they kept telling me “smile bigger”, “smile with your eyes” “You’re too awkward” and “Still too awkward”. The 3 hours of sleep I had had the night before, many hours of dancing, cocktails, hours of shopping, match day pints and general tiredness was suddenly catching up with me and I simple did not have the energy to pose like a Korean. We gave our phone numbers and the woman said we would be sent 2 photos; the first one would be of us “au natural” and the second one would be photo-shopped by the “talented” photographers and would make us look younger and whiter, the look we should aspire to be.
Instead of writing any more, I’m simply going to post the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots as I am still slightly frightened and slightly horrified at how they think I should look as opposed to how I look right now. I may look tired, I may look hung over, I may look “too dark”, but I still like the way I look “au natural” way, way more than their idea of “photoshopped perfection”.
For any of you that read this blog regularly you’ll know that there is never a dull moment in my life in Korea. This week, yet again, has so far proved to be eventful…and it’s only Tuesday!! So yesterday evening my boss came bursting into the staff room and asked me and my colleagues if we would like to have a free traditional Korean meal in return for starring in a Korean TV programme. Of course we agreed immediately, without knowing any further details! Who are we to turn down a free meal.
An hour later we were informed it would be filmed the following evening in a 5 star restaurant in Incheon and that ideally they wanted 7 other foreigners to join us. Within an hour I had rounded up 7 friends who also work as English teachers in Paju, and we were all excited about our mini adventure the following evening.
Now, having just returned from Incheon minutes ago, I shall fill you in on what it’s like to be a “real life” actor! We all gathered outside my school at 8pm, and after some last-minute panic about not having a Korean translator with us, my boss managed to persuade 3 of my higher level students to join us. The fact that they would not have to attend their maths class that evening, would have an excuse not to do their homework, and would potentially get home after midnight was enough incentive for them to be our translators for the night!
After a 40 minute ride to Incheon we arrived at the restaurant and I must say we were all VERY impressed at the sight of it. It looked more like a traditional Korean temple than a restaurant and we were all very excited to go inside. We were greeted by lots of traditionally dressed servers and from the MINUTE we entered the restaurant, the cameras were pointed at us, the fake smiles were put on standby and nervous laughter filled the air. This was a first for everyone and we really had no idea what was going on!!
We were led upstairs into a really beautiful traditional Honuk building where we were seated on the floor around beautifully laid tables of 4. Within minutes plate after plate of carefully prepared dishes arrived ranging from salads, spicy vegetable appetizers to whole fried fish, steak, grilled galbi meat, raw fish salad, seafood soup, noodles, flavoured rice, sweet rice cakes, and everything in between. It was a meal fit for royalty and as we were all starving we tucked in without delay. As we picked at and tried out all the various delicious spread out before us, a staff member approached us and put beautiful wooden necklaces around our necks as a “welcome gift”.
There wasn’t much time for relaxing though because soon we had an oversized camera shoved in our face, as the producer asked us to perform various tasks in front of the camera including; eat large chunks of meat and telling him how delicious it was; picking up over-sized portions of noodles with our chopsticks and making various sounds conveying pleasure; laughing and smiling at each other like we were having the time of our lives and repeatedly saying how delicious the food was and beautiful the restaurant was!
He interviewed each of us individually asking what we thought of the restaurant, what we thought of the staff, if we liked the food, what was our favourite dish and much MUCH more…all of which had to be translated by our poor students as the producer didn’t speak a word of English!
The food really was some of the tastiest traditional Korean food I have ever tasted and I was proud of myself for trying everything even though I would not normally go near fish or seafood soup. We even tried dishes that were totally new to us and were oblivious to what on earth was inside them.
Once the meal was over we were ushered downstairs where the group was dressed up in traditional Korean Hanbok, asked to parade around in a mini fashion show, while the producer recorded us taking pictures of each other, laughing hysterically, jumping and prancing around like idiots and again saying how wonderful the experience was and how we LOVED Korea so much. Don’t get me wrong…it was an amazing experience but it was SO tiring having to keep repeating things for the camera and to keep a smile on our faces for over 2 hours!
It really was one of the most bizarre Tuesday nights I have had in quite some time. The TV programme will be aired on KBS at 6pm this Friday, and I personally am going to be mortified to see my face on camera. Oh well, no regrets eh?!
Last weekend I celebrated Halloween in South Korea for the 2nd time (albeit 3 years apart!) and have to say I was yet again HIGHLY impressed with the high standard of halloween costumes. As Koreans don’t celebrate halloween the only people dressed up were the “Waygooks” (Korean word for foreigners!) and our group of about 70 people sure did make an impact.
The weekend was spent in Busan, Korea’s 2nd biggest city, situated on the East Coast on the Southern tip of the Korean peninsula. Along with a few friends I joined a trip being organized by WiNK (When in Korea – Travel group) which organizes trips around Korea and to neighboring countries on an almost-weekly basis. Busan was hosting its annual Fireworks Festival so it was the perfect place to celebrate my favourite holiday of the year.
Following a 2 hour subway ride and a 6 hour bus ride from Seoul to Busan we arrived at about 5.30am o Saturday morning, just as the sun was rising over the ocean. Half the group stayed sleeping on the bus while the other half of us headed straight to the beach where we camped out of mats, hammocks and blankets to enjoy the sunrise and maybe even drink a sneaky beer or two. Watching the sunrise from the beach was pretty magical, and was made better by the great group of friends (both old and new) who I was with.
After a few hours of napping on both the beach and the bus, a local expat bar called Sharkeys agreed to open early for us ( Is 10am too early to start drinking?? Nah!) and served us up amazing breakfast platters, Bloody Marys for some and some delicious apple juice for me (ahem read as: Cider).
We spent the better half of the day in this great bar overlooking the beach, listening to live music and planning the night ahead. As the day went on, the area progressively got more and more crownded with 1,000′s and 1,000′s of people from both Busan and other Korean cities arrived and set up camp on the beach for the Annual Fireworks Festival. Some people were camped out on the beach up to 5 hours before the show was set to start, determined to get the best view in the house.
Following a delicious traditional Korean BBQ dinner with the group everyone headed back to our motel over-looking the beach to put on our halloween costumes and get ready for the fun-filled shenanigans which lay ahead! Fat forward an hour later, and our cute/retro motel was transformed into a sea of waygooks wandering around in funny, scary and some what questionably halloween costumes much to the delight of the cute old ajumma who owned the place. Im sure she had no idea what was going on in her precious motel as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Grumpy Cats, walking YouTube video, Zombies, Cross-Dressers, Santa Clause, some ghosts wandering the hallways.
We were allowed stand on the roof of the motel to watch the Fireworks show which was pretty lucky because there was NO WAY we would have been able to push through the crowds of people down below. We had one of the best views of the Fireworks which I must say were simply spectacular and way better than I thought they would be. The amazing dispaly went on for almost an hour and the only fireworks that was more impressive than this one, that I personally have seen, would be New Years eve in Sydney.
The remainder of the night involved pushing our way through 1,000′s of people on the subway, getting pushed into the trains like sardines in a can and getting pulled off said trains as if we were the rope in a game of tug-o-war! It was total madness but the fact that we were all in crazy costumes made the entire experience hilarious rather than miserable. The rest of the night was spent bar-hopping around Busans main night life district and posing for photos with hundreds and hundreds of local Koreans who most likely believed we were mad for dressing in such bizarre outfits!
There is so much more I could write but on this occasion I believe the photos tell the story 100 times better than my writing ever could. Let me just conclude by saying that it was fanstastic weekend with an mazing group of people and it really made me realise how much I LOVE my life here in Korea and how lucky I am to be going on such adventures on a regular basis. Right now, I am loving life and would not change it for the world.
I’m setting myself a 9 week challenge. Why 9 weeks? On Friday I booked flights to Cambodia, departing on Christmas day. That gives me exactly 9 weeks to shed about 7 kilos and have a body to be proud of by the time I head off on my next adventure. Actually I’m not so bothered about what I weigh, more so about how I look. I have said to myself on and of for months that I must stop drinking, I must join the gym, I must start eating better but have not tried once to actually do any of those things.
Now that I have a specific goal, and a date by which this goal must be achieved I’m hoping it will help me focus better. Even though I have been feeling under the weather lately, and I know I will be drinking again next weekend as I’m going on a week end trip to Busan Fireworks Festival with a group of 50 foreigners to celebrate Halloween I have decided that is no excuse to postpone this challenge yet another week. Tomorrow I am joining the gym next to the school I teach at and I’m going to MAKE myself go there 5 days a week. No excuses.
For me, my eating habits are what affect my weight the most. My mid week eating habits are nothing short of simply atrocious. I wake up late, skip breakfast and arrive at work at 12pm hungry, As we don’t get lunch at the school, everyday I debate with myself about what on earth I’m going to eat. The choices are limited to fried chicken from the nearby take-away, pastries or sandwiches from the bakery downstairs, Kimbap (rice and seaweed roll) form the Korean restaurant, Pizza or Pasta from Italian place upstairs or a random collection of tasteless noodles, a packet of crisps and whatever else I can find in the convenience store. Due to this awful choice of unhealthy foods I try my best to bring my lunch from home but could really do with interesting lunch ideas that are equally healthy and delicious. If anyone has any tips, please let me know!
Okay enough talking about what I’m GOING to do. Time to log off, go to sleep, and be fresh faced when I wake up so have time to EAT BREAKFAST, make lunch and….go to the gym!
Wish me luck!!
On our weekly adventures in Hongdae recently (that’s the hip and happening nightlife district of Seoul, for those not in the know!) I have been fading early and am no longer able to pull those all-nighters like I used to. I must be getting old! The thought of staying up all night and then having to face sitting on a crowded train full of other drunk, tired and often queasy revellers for over an hour is FAR from appealing! Instead of booking into a hostel or hotel like most normal people, or making friends with some randomer who lives in the area and pleading to crash on their couch, I have instead opted to spend the early hours of most Sunday mornings sweating it out on the floor of a Korean Jimjilbang!
First, for those not acquainted with Jimjilbangs I better give a quick explanation about these magical places. A jimjilbang is a large, segregated Korean bath house full of an array of hot tubs, traditional Korean saunas, massage tables and showers. For most Koreans, it is part of their weekly beauty ritual and involves going to the Jimjilbang with either friends or family and spending hours washing, bathing, and scrubbing their bodies in order to get super smooth and healthy looking skin. All wet areas prohibit the use of clothing for safety reasons (apparently with the extreme heat of the baths and steam rooms, it is believed that toxic chemicals can leach out of apparel and into the body. Oh and it is also believed that if you wear a swimsuit or cover up you may be trying to hide a disease!)
Once out of the bathing area, the many saunas can help to clear out your pores, empty your body of bad toxins, and can help you de-stress and relax. Depending on which Jimjilbang you go to, and how much you pay to get in, will determine the quality and quantity of facilities inside. Some of the 24 hour jimjilbangs around Hongdae are pretty basic and don’t even have saunas while other big one’s such as Dragon Hill and Siloam Sauna near Seoul Station have up to 5 or 6 floors of facilities including a restaurant, entertainment area, hair salon and an abundant number of sleeping rooms and saunas ranging in temperature from an “ice room” to a 96′c “fire room”! You could easily spend a whole day here wandering from sauna to sauna.
I have had MANY late night jimjilbang experiences in various parts of Seoul, but for me nights spent in the 24 hour jimjilbang near Hongik University station in Hongdae are always the craziest. The last time I stayed there was so bizarre I’m going to share the experience with you, step by step!
I left the wonderful FF’s club at around 5am. I could have forced myself to stay awake one more hour and caught the last train home but that was simply not an option I fancied. I was physcia;;y exhausted from my full days shopping, my disastrous Korean hair salon ordeal and a night of fun and mayhem hanging out in Iteawon and later hongdae with various groups of friends. I headed to the 24 hour “Happy Spa Place”, which was only a 5 minute walk from FF’s, paid 9,000 won (about 6 euro) and was given 2 small towels. some pretty gaudy looking pink PJ’s, and a key for a locker. I was warned it was pretty crowded but didn’t care..all I needed was a tiny corner to lay town and pass out.
They weren’t lying. As I took off my shoes and entered the tiny changing room/locker room, there were bodies ALL over the ground. It was quite the challenge to tip toe over them and around them. While most were passed out, all wearing the lovely matching pink PJ’s which I had been given, some where sitting butt naked in front of full length mirrors drying their hair, others were wandering around, also naked, except for tiny towels wrapped around their head on their way into the bath house. I quickly changed into my PJ’s, bought a disposable toothbrush from one of the old ladies sitting who was sitting comfortably on a massage chair twice her size, washed my face and managed to curl up in a ball on the ground next to the sinks…the only available space I could find!
About 2 hours later I was woken up by the same toothbrush selling Ajamma, who was shaking me and shouting at me in Korean. I was startled and sleep and had no idea what was going on. Apparently I was “in the way” so she made me lie down on a nearby table and told me to sleep there instead. I obeyed and within minutes, although slightly confused, was fast on my way back to sleepy land.
Less than an hour later, a different scary looking Ajamma woke me up by practically pushing me off the table…apparently I was in the way again. It was now 9am and many new people had arrived, while most of the others had either gone home. I decided it was time to, temporarily, get up and check out the public baths that were on offer. The first thing I was greeted with were rows of seats and showers, where you can sit down and scrub yourself til your black and blue. Honestly many of the Korean women I saw here were sitting by this shower for up to an hour scrubbing themselves, washing their hair, shaving, washing, scrubbing, and other stuff I’m PRETTY sure you don’t want to know about.
I opted on a bath that was 40′c tostart off and slowly worked my way around to the hotter baths bit my bit. The bath house was pretty empty which means these GIANT hot tubs were all mine. It was bizarre feeling sitting in this dark, dimly lit public bath house, situated underground in the middle of Seoul’s top party district, realising I was butt naked in a bubbling pool of magic and with not a care in the world apart from the impeding hangover which was fast approaching.
After half an hour I headed back to the changing room and decided to lie down in a different, more secluded corner, to get a few more hours sleep. I was again woken my an ajamma but this time she simply woke me to put a soft pillow under my head (I had been using a wet towel as a pillow!). She smiled down at me, then walked away. Eventually I forced myself to get up at around 11am at which stage the jimjilbang was seriously busy, with a lot of fresh-faced Koreans arriving to spend the day pampering themselves before the work week that lay ahead.
I changed out of my pink PJ’s, got dressed, returned my keys to reception and decided it was about time I headed on home. :)
A lot of images have been shared on various social media sites this morning, such as twitter and facebook, relating to a huge fire which broke out in the early hours of Monday morning in Itaewon, the foreigner district of Seoul. The story was also covered by 10 Magazine on their website HERE.
It has not yet been confirmed what started the fire but reports say it took place between 7.30am and 9am in the area next to the Hamilton Hotel, on Itaewon’s main strip. Reportedly, a whole block hasNo serious injuries have been reported but much of the main road between Itaewon station and Noksapyeong is currently closed off.
More images and video footage can be viewed HERE.