I must admit, when I went to the Philippines for a long weekend in Februray the last thing I thought I would end up doing was posing on one of the most beautiful beaches in te world, in front of tourists and locals, dressed in a full-on Mermaid costume!!
Rather than jet skiing, or banana boating, or opting for a romantic sunset dhow cruise, my friend Lauren and I decided this could be our one and only life opportunity to make our childhood dreams come true, and paid a visit to the local dive stor which organizes “Mermaid Lessons”.
These lessons range from ‘How to Pose like a Mermaid’, ‘How to swim with a tail’, ‘Mermaid snorkelling’ and even ‘Mermaid scuba diving’ for the super brave! We opted for the Mermaid photo shoot on the beach and were not dissapointed. Although the sesion only lasted about half an hour, it was probably the highlight of our entire trip. (That wouldn’t be too hard considering what a disaster my trip was…but I’ll save that story for another day.)
Watching the sunrise over the ancient temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is something that sits firmly at the top of many seasoned travelers bucket lists.
I am lucky enough to be able to say that the first sunrise I saw in 2014, that big glowing ball of fire, slowly rising into the sky, was at Angkor Wat and it was one of the most incredible moments.
Sure I had to fight off a few 100 other people to get that ‘perfect picture’ and within moments of arriving at the temple grounds was pestered by coffee shop owners who go by the name of Harry Potter and Rambo(!!) to come to their cafe for breakfast “whenever Im ready” but nothing could take away the beauty and serenity of that perfect sunrise.
I will write later, in detail, about the best sights, smells and sticky situations we got ourselves into while traveling around Cambodia, but for now I leave you with these photos of a very special morning in Siem Reap.
2013 flew by so fast I have hardly had time to sit time and sum it up. We are already nearly halfway through January 2014, I have barely had a chance to breath. Where did all those hours, days and weeks go? What exactly happened and how far has 1 calendar year brought me? Or, as the truth may be, has it brought me anywhere new at all?! In this post I would like to do a quick review of “The Best of 2013″ and finish my setting out some goals for the year ahead.
“The Best of 2013 – A Review”
A fun-filled trip to Lanzarote with my buddy Ollie climbing volcanos, singing Karaoke and spying on albino crabs in an underground cave.
Graduating with a Master of Science in Humanitarian Action! (Even though a missed the ceremony, my new boss ensured I didn’t “miss the photo op!”
Competed in the Run-A-Muck Challenge with Toby and Sergei in freezing cold temperatures, over ditches and bogs, through muddy rivers and stacked hay bales!
Visiting HOPE projects in Kolkata, India and achieving one of my life goals to participate in Holi Festival of Colours with the kids from HOPE’s children’s homes.
Flying to Bali to meet up with a good friend and traveling with her the Gili Islands, by far my favourite islands in Asia so far.
Making great friends and stuffing my face with some of the most delicious food in the world while exploring Mainland Malaysia and the beautiful islands off the East coast.
Moving back to South Korea and somehow making my second year in this confusing but exciting country better than the first, making beautiful and loving friends at every corner (of every bar!).
Spending 5 days on the island of Jeju off the South Coast of Korea in September for Korean Thanksgiving. BEST. DECISION. EVER.
Booking a last minute weekend break to Japan in October and exploring the mystical city of Kyoto.
Spending the Christmas vacation with a group of close friends traveling around Cambodia, a country that now has a a firm place in my heart. (Blog posts about this eye-opening trip coming soon!)
“2014 – What Lies Ahead”
I have made made personal goals for 2014, but in order to truly keep these “resolutions”, I know I must write them down and share them with others. That way, when I start slipping up, you can all remind me to get back on track!!
1. I will run a half marathon….before the end of March.
2. If the first half marathon goes well, I must sign up to a second one.
3. I want to totally revamp this blog, but my own URL and post more regularly.
4. I will start learning and speaking French again.
5. I will to go to 5 new countries.
6. I will travel home to Ireland….without flying.
7. I will get an article published in a Korean Magazine like Groove.
8. I will get an article published in The Irish Times, ‘Generation Emigration’ blog.
9. I will start getting back in contact with my friends back home and schedule regular skype dates.
10. I will finally reach my “ideal” weight. Not by your standards, or by some stupid magazine standards and certainly not my my dear mother’s standards. MY ideal weight, ideal for ME.
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!
Lately I have really been craving various Irish foodstuffs that I simply cannot get here. I decided to ask my wide range of expat friends (who now live in Canada, Dubai, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Poland, Japan and Myanmar/Burma and many more exotic locations) what Irish food they missed the most while living abroad and the following were the Top 10 answers! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any more good suggestions.
Number 10: A decent pint of Guinness
In fact this isn’t limited to Guinness, more Irish drinks in general which you often can’t get abroad. A decent Guinness, a pint of Beamish or Murphys, and an ice-cold bottle of Bulmers Light (for those watching the calories!) are the top contenders on the list of most missed alcoholic beverages. Along with Buckfast Abbey, that is.
While Korea does have a good choice of local alcohol ranging from low quality beer to a cheap distilled beverage known as Soju ( top selling alcohol brand in the world!!) and delicious rice wine called Makeoili, none of these will ever live up to a good Irish pint.
Number 9: Clonakilty Black Pudding
Clonakilty Black Pudding is a staple food item in houses all over Cork, and Ireland. Black Pudding , and the sausages, bacon, eggs, beans and toast which go with it, can cure any hangover no matter how bad and are not only eaten for Breakfast but can be easily transformed into a Gourmet Lunch or Dinner should the need arise!
There is NOTHING that comes even close to replacing Clonakilty Black Pudding here in Korea. Eating rice and spicy cabbage (Kimchi) to cure my hangover just doesn’t quite do the trick!
Number 8: Chicken Fillet Roll from Spar
One of the biggest things I crave from back home is the humble ‘chicken fillet roll’ made up for you in a matter of seconds and found in every deli in the country. The fact that nearly every shop has a Deli, and that there is a shop on nearly every corner in every town, makes the lunch time experience back home a blissful experience!
When it comes to lunch time choices in South Korea, the choices are pretty limited and far from appealing! Most food is deep friend and if on a rare occasion it is not, my lunch time choice are limited to a variety of dishes made with rice, spicy cabbage and spam. No thank you!
Number 7: McCambridge Brown Bread
I think most Irish people will agree with me when I say that there is no better brown bread that McCambridge Brown Bread. Be it for toast in the morning, or sandwiches at lunch time or with soup in the evening, nothing beats a few slices of McCamdridge!
Here is Korea they seriously lack good bread, which is a bit of a mystery given the fact that there is a bakery to be found on almost every corner. In Ireland, bread is pretty much part of our staple diet where-as in Korea it is more of a treat or a luxury thus all the bread, and bread products are sickly sweet and could never be used the way they should be….to make a decent sandwich!
Number 6: Ballymaloe Relish
The relish SO famous, they sent it to space. Enough said.
Number 5: Cadburys Chocolate
No matter what country, no matter what continent, no place does a chocolate bar like Ireland. Ireland has the biggest selection of delicious milk chocolate, available in every shop, on every street corner, in every town (similar to the infamous deli counter!) and no amount of Hersheys, Peanut Butter cups or whatever other bizarre chocolate is on offer around the world will ever compete with this! Be it a Dairy Milk, a box of Heo’s or a tin of Roses at Christmas, nothing beats Cadburys chocolate.
Number 4 : Tayto Crisps
By sure Ireland’s favorite crisp. You just can’t beat a salt and vinegar crisp sandwich or opening up a packet of Cheese and Onions Taytos in the pub and sharing them with all around you. Soon enough, some other kind soul will return to the table with a new round of pints and another packer of delicious Tatyo crisps. And so it goes on…
In Korea we are given magical choice such as Wasabi flavour, Seaweed flavour and worst of all….Cuttlefish flavour. YUCK.
Number 3: Garlic Cheese Chips (and other Chipper Food!)
While many Irish expats will admit to always having a wide range of foods available to them late at night, ranging from 24 Hour McDonalds, late night pizza joints and Turkish Kebab stands lining the streets, we will also cry out for Garlic Cheese Chips at 3 O’ clock in the morning, yearning for those late night chippers back home! (KC’s chipper in Cork is so popular they have a Queue Camera on their website!)
Number 2: A Jumbo Breakfast Roll
A brilliant mixture between number 8 and number 9 on this list is the Jumbo Breakfast Roll, whereby us Irish have perfected the method of putting an entire Irish Breakfast into a Cuisine de France bread roll. A favourite amoung early morning workers, Builders and college students, nothing beats a Jumo Breakfast Roll after a night on the town.
Number 1: Barry’s Tea
Stop an Irish person in the airport and ask them what’s in their suitcase and about 90% of them will admit to having packed a box of Barry’s Tea bags. Us Irish just can’t seem to survive without them. Ideally served with Irish milk (real dairy!!) and a spoonful of sugar, a cup of Barry’s Tea has many magical attributes and is the perfect start, middle and end to every day. Be it relaxing at home, gossiping with friends, skyping home to family or reading a good book, a cup of real Irish Tea is always the perfect companion.
With over 1,000 Irish people living in Korea right now (the bulk of whom are teachers) it is no surprise that we have built quite a strong community here in Seoul.
The not-for-profit organization which helps form a big part of this community is a very active group of hard-working, creative and passionate people who take pride in promoting Ireland and all thing Irish in addition to creating strong ties between Ireland and South Korea.
Founded in 1996, The Irish Association of Korea (IAK for short) promotes Irish culture in Korea by organizing events of interest to Irish people in Korea, and that are opportunities for Koreans and other people living in Korea to experience and learn more about Irish life. Among other events such as informal music gatherings and a now annual Ceili, it organizes the annual St. Patrick’s Day festival in which 1,000′s of people come along to celebrate all things Irish on March 17th (or the weekend nearest!)
If you are from Ireland and new to Korea, I would HIGHLY recommend getting involved with the Irish Association of Korea. They actually have a “Welcome to Korea” event coming up in 2 weeks time where you can come along to an informal gathering in FreePort in Hongdae from 2pm until 4pm on Saturday November 2nd. It will be a great chance to meet some fellow Irish expats and to make friends, connect with home and learn about other Irish themed events and organizations that are active in Korea.
Another huge part of the Irish community here in Korea is the Seoul Gaels GAA Club. If you have just moved to Korea and miss playing for your club/team back home or if you live in Korea and would like to get active and learn how to play either Gaelic football or Hurling, this is the place for you! (If you don’t live in Seoul there are also active GAA clubs in both Busan and Deagu that you can check out.)
In related news, my good friend Shauna Browne of the wonderful “What a Waygook“ blog recently got elected as Chair of the IAK while I somehow managed to land myself a spot on the committee as the new Public Relations Officer. Wish us both 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.