Tag Archives: Korea

Best (cheap) Wine to buy (on a budget) in South Korea

29 Nov
Picture here is the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot.  Both highly recommended, I prefer cabs, but that is my taste.

Picture here is the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot. Both highly recommended, I prefer cabs, but that is my taste.

Not going to lie: I am a few glasses in.  This is a passion post right here.

A passion for cheap delicious wine.

As I have talked about in a previous post I am moving to Chile.  I have been a fan of Chilean wines for years.  Chilean wine has been a boon for me ever since I attended a wine workshop at a waiting job I had years ago and the guy running it told me that Chile was fairly new to the wine world but had excellent wine that sold at rock bottom prices because they hadn’t grown a reputation yet.

I spent most of my adult life living in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  This is an island of the east coast of Canada.  It is difficult to travel to and from this island because of weather and geography.  Things are not cheap there.  I loved shopping for Chilean wine because a $12 bottle was like a dream.

Then I moved to Korea.  I discovered G7 wines.  rolling in at a mere 6,900 won (less than $7) it is the gear. It has been available at any Emart I have been to in Korea so far, it is my go to wine.

Now, I like to think that I have pretty good taste.  I have attended a few workshops, I have waitressed for a few years.  No, I don’t spend that much money on wine.  However, I feel like I have a fairly delicate palette (not true, G7 talking).  I know a few terms, legs, chocolaty, hints of fruit.  I have given people advice on what wine to pair with their $50 steak dinner (that is true).  I love the G7 wine.

The G7’s have yet to let me down.  They are the best bang for your buck in a bottle of wine at emart.  Emart usually hasd a pretty decent selection as well.  Before I left Canada I was favouring the Apothic Red which was coming in at about $20 a bottle, which I thought was a pretty good price.  I love Californian wine, which is what the Apothic falls under.  And it is availble at Emart as well, just a few feet away. I just can’t stray from the G7.

So, if you are in Korea and on a budget but looking for a decent wine to enjoy at the park, or in your hotel, or in your apartment, or at a potluck. I don’t know where you are drinking this wine.  For whatever reason, you are on a budget and you are looking for a nice wine that you can enjoy, find a local Emart and look out for the G7 series.

If you are in Korea and are looking for a little more expensive, bit higher class wine.  Get the G7 anyway.  Let’s be serious, you can save $30-40.  Go to Lotte World or buy a kimchi pot or something with the savings.  You and I both know after the first glass it all tastes the same.

A Guide to Hack into Korean Nightlife

3 Nov Korean Bar
Korean Bar

The name of this bar is actually Cheong Chun ShiNae

There was this bar that my friends and I used to frequent when I lived in Mokdong.  It became legendary because every time we came there we would meet hilarious, friendly locals that we would share drinks and laughs with.

We came to this bar because we could get good, cheap food.  Lots of beer and soju and more often than not, after a few jugs of beer and two bottles of soju, someone would raise a glass to “chunbae” another table and before long our tables would merge and there would be a lot of broken English and broken Korean.

The decor and food is enough that if you go with a group of your friends and don’t meet any locals, you will have a fun time.  This bar was fun because the ceilings were covered in newspaper style, black and white comic strips.  The walls are decorated with old Korean vinyl record cases.  There were half dozen television screens perpetually playing some weird k-pop music show.  Also, they served “pop-rocks” candy with the soju.  We always assumed that this was the soju chaser.  On top of all of this, they had the best cheesy ddeok-bokki I have had in Korea.  Their pajeon is also notable.

We always called this place the “K-Bar.”  That was not the actual name of the bar, but we called it that because it was our favourite Korean Style bar.  There were a lot of Western style clubs and pubs.  There are also a lot of Chicken Hofs selling fried chicken, beer and soju.  This one was unique in that it had escaped teh Western influence but was not too foreign to us that we felt uncomfortable (In fact, we took Korean friends here and they were shocked that we enjoyed coming here).

We met some hilarious characters here, like the older man whose knowledge of English, I can only guess, encompasses only the lyrics of “We are the world” the 1985 charity song.  There were the young girls that taught me how to “one-shot” makgeolli (a Korean rice wine) and I helped them practice their English.  There was also the pineapple salesman who was selling pineapples to pay for college.

This place was a hilarious introduction to the drinking culture of Korea.  I think that there are many places around Korea that you can create your own “k-bar” in.  I have learned the secret trick to breaking the ice with strangers; it’s as easy as raising a glass and sharing a smile.

I don’t spend a lot of late nights out drinking anymore.  Late nights make wasted morning.  Every once in a while it is a fun laugh though, and Korea is a hilarious place in the wee hours of the morning.  You can get your people watching in and experience a part of Korean culture that is just non existence during the day light hours.

If you are in Mokdong and you want to go to this particular bar, go to Mokdong Station (Line 5) exit 1.  Walk straight for a few minutes and it will be on your left hand side.  Look out for the sign in this post.  When it is warm, there are tables set up outside.  

For Google Map click here

Learning What Authentic Actually Means in a Korean Tae Kwon Do Class

19 Oct
Punching out the flame of a candle.  Watch out!

Punching out the flame of a candle. Watch out!

I wanted to expand my experience living in Korea by taking a Tae Kwon Do class while I was here.  Tae Kwon Do is one of the most popular martial arts in the world and it originated in Korea.  It was developed in Korea during mid twentieth century.  It combines self-defense and fighting techniques.

I took Tae Kwon Do classes when I was in Junior High almost 15 years ago (I just realized how long ago it was!) in Canada. I really enjoyed it then, I had never imagined that I would ever go to Korea at that time.  Now that I was here, it was a great opportunity to see what the differences were in a martial arts class in Korea versus Canada.

Cue awesome Rocky-esque Training Montage…

I assumed that a Korean Tae Kwon Do academy would be much more intense and serious than a Canadian class.  I assumed that it would be a lot of rigorous training, stern faces and a lot of sweat and tears.   I imagined that at the end of the year I could reflect back on my training like a montage in a movie, I was clumsy and inexperienced at first, no one believed I could do it but through my hard work, determination and natural skill I would bloom into one of the greatest martial artists of all time.  I was like the karate kid.

Reflecting back, I don’t know why I ever thought that.  I have no coordination, rhythm or balance.  I am literally the worst.  I am pretty strong, but that is all I had going for me.

Anyway, I joined this class with a coworker.  The owners of the academy were the gym teachers at the kindergarten that we worked at.  It was not a foreigner class, it was run entirely in Korean and we did not speak Korean.

I definitely sweat and worked hard but there were a lot more laughs than I had expected.  My instructors were like a performing comedy trio.  They would use props like gigantic drums or anything they might find lying around with a mix of physical humour and a few English words that they knew.  Every once in a while if something was really difficult, or if someone was getting frustrated one of them would scream out, “STRESS!”  My coworker and I spent most classes laughing until we cried.

We took a class that was a mostly High School and Junior High students.  There were two brothers that were 10 and 12 years old, they were the youngest.  They were also the only ones who spoke English so I tried to talk to them a lot.  I often asked for translations during lectures, but the boys were never listening.  I felt like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation when the teacher would go on an epic rant for a good five minutes and one of the boys would sum it up with, “I don’t know, you should stretch, maybe.”

Yeah, maybe I will.  Thanks.

Thankfully, one of my instructors knew a little English.  Well, he could quote all of the Star Wars movies, often in context.  I remember paying my fees for the first month that I was there, I handed him a white envelope with cash in it, and he studied the envelope for a few seconds before quietly saying in his best Darth Vader impression, “Impressive…”

He paused, shifting his eyes, waiting for me to acknowledge his use of English.

“What?” I asked, I was trying to process what I had just heard.

He looked a little disappointed.

“Did you just say ‘impressive’?”

I know the feeling.  You are trying to speak in a foreign language and it flops.  I normally don’t try to quote Science Fictions films from the 80’s but in his defense, it was proper use of the word.

The Difference between Canada and Korean Tae Kwon Do (not really) …

I am comparing two schools in two different countries that have literally thousands of Tae Kwon Do Academies each.  These are my experiences, so keep in mind that I have not been training more than a year in either country and my experiences are about fifteen years apart.

In Canada, it is difficult to get a black belt.  You have to train for a few years and you need to be very talented (I am told).  In my Korean class, it seemed that I could take a belt test every month, if I took the test, regardless of how prepared I was, I would be given a belt.  At first, I was disappointed, it seemed like a sham. But I continued to go to the class and I avoided taking tests.  The instructors managed to get me to do two tests in a matter of seven months, so I had my green belt.

There were a lot of kids with black belts.  In fact, almost everyone had a black belt.  Some of the kids with black belts did not seem very impressive to me.  I felt like I could have taken them in a fight.  A 27 year old woman would probably win in a fight against a 15 year old, especially when she is about a foot taller.

Then I actually thought about why it was so easy to get a black belt.  I would bet money that a lot of these kids were there for exercise; their parents made them go for the physical activity.  It was a sport that was culturally important.  That’s two birds with one stone.

However, there were a lot of very talented fighters in the schools.  They were incredible.  One kid could jump about five feet off the ground with ease.  He could round house a giant.

Sure, anyone could get a black belt but at the end of the day, you take out what you put in.  Some took it more seriously than others.  The ones that took it seriously trained hard and became incredible fighters.

Expectations versus reality…

This class what not what I expected.  I did not get to have the authentic experience that I imagine.  It was not like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, which is what I really wanted.  I would hate them and they would be too hard on me, but out of my hatred, pain and determination would grow a strong mutual respect.

Instead it was soccer games with balloons, impromptu salsa dances and many gag show impersonations.  There was a lot of training as well.  It was really fun, and usually a great workout, just not what I expected.

The authentic experiences that you plan for rarely ever happen the way you want them to play out.  Instead, I learned that I did not know what authentic Korean culture was.  This was it, this was a real class with real students.  I saw some of the most talented fighters that I will ever see in my life.  I also met some of the laziest students I will ever meet (there was this one yellow belt, they never gave her another belt because she literally made like 3% effort, she was so funny, I used to make her practice patterns with me).

This class was not designed for foreigners.  It was designed for youth.  I was 27 years old; I was actually older than one of the instructors, which made him really uncomfortable (Darth Vader).   I really shouldn’t have been there to begin with now that I think about it.

I learned about stepping out of your comfort zone, overcoming language barriers and that I don’t know what an authentic experience is.

I also have a pretty decent back kick.

Friday Photo: Temple on Bukhansan

18 Oct Temple
Temple

This temple is pretty high up on Mount Bukhan (Bukhansan, ‘san’ meaning ‘mountain’ in Korean). I took this last year on a hike up during one of the peak weekends to see the fall colours.

I am getting really excited for the fall.  I love South Korea in the fall.  If you ever come visit, you should do it in November so that you can see the fall colours.  The weather is also perfect, it isn’t humid or raining.  The summer heat just suddenly lifts one day and you can wear scarves and boots.  But the best thing about it is the beautiful colours of all the leaves.

Learning French: A 30 Day Challenge

14 Oct Coffee coffee coffee

I watched a TED talk recently about 30 Day Challenges.  It inspired me to try a challenge myself.  I have some spare time, I might spend a bit too much time watching television or just browsing the internet.  (I might have watched about 20 hours of Ugly Betty in the last two weeks; I probably could have done something more productive at the very least, simultaneously, if not instead).  With the amount of free software, tutorials and courses available on the internet, I should be able to add or improve a new skill to my repertoire every 30 days. 

I have committed to learning as much French as I can in the next 30 Days.

I have been thinking about his for a while.  When I came to Korea I tried to learn some of the language so that I could do things like order food and talk to taxi drivers.  I studied pretty hard for a few months and it was really hard at times.  I don’t study much anymore because of a combination of things, life, laziness, contentment.

I know enough to read, order food and drink in a restaurant and to generally get by comfortably. Seoul is a very English friendly city, I know people who have lived year for over five years and can barely read a menu or say, “Hello.”  It just was not necessary.

I found that learning about the Korean language benefitted me for several reasons:

Everyday life was easier and I was more confident about the things I could do.

I was not nervous taking the subway or the bus because I could read and understand all of the stops (the subway is very English friendly, buses are not always).  I could order food and drinks at a restaurant.  I can tell a taxi driver where I wanted to go.  I could ask where the bathroom was and understand the directions I was being given.

It gave me a better understanding of the culture I was living in.

I was teaching very young children and I could make sense of the mistakes they were making in English because they were thinking in the context of the Korean language. Also, there are untranslatable words that give you insight into things that are important in one culture, but may not be in another.  Like, there is a special word for the top part of your foot.  A kid in my Tae Kwon Do class was trying to translate this part of his foot to explain a better kicking technique.  He kept pointing at it and I would say, “Foot. You are talking about your foot.”

“No, THIS part, “ he would respond, obviously annoyed that I was not understanding.  He knew the word for the whole foot, it was this particular part.

“The top part of your foot?”

“Yes, what is it called?”

“I don’t know, I never really talked about it before.  I guess I would just call it the top part of your foot.”

He was obviously not satisfied with this answer. Maybe there is a name for it.  The point is I did not know what it was. Whether there was a medical term for the top part of your foot, I do not know.  All I know is that I would not talk about it in normal conversation.  In a country where Tae Kwon Do originated, it makes sense that there is a name for that part of your foot.

Local people appreciated that I made the effort.

It is definitely more convenient to interact with someone who can understand at least a little bit of the language that you speak.  Many Korean people that I speak to seem very impressed and appreciative at even the minimal amount of Korean that I know.  I am immersed in their culture, I am interested and I want to make an effort to learn more about it. That’s understandable; I love to talk about what life was like growing up in Nova Scotia.  I especially like when people enjoy to hearing about it because I am going to tell them about it anyway.

Coffee coffee coffee

Studying a language can be a great excuse to have a really fancy overpriced drink. If you have a friend to share it with it is a fun way to spend an evening, especially when it is really cold outside and you can drink something hot and sweet.

Why did I stop studying Korean?  I have kind of given it up.  I learn a little bit here and there, I like to learn new phrases now and again.  But I am comfortable at the level that I am at and I know that I won’t live here much longer and that I will never be fluent.  I stopped because I was trying so hard to learn and moving forward very slowly.  I thought that if I put an effort into something else, I might have a useful skill in the future.

Now I am not saying that it is not useful to learn Korean.  Maybe one day I will have an opportunity to learn to speak Korean more fluently. If I had a job offer that required it, I would jump at the chance in a heartbeat!  Alas, it is just not something that I foresee, my efforts might be better spent towards learning a language that would put me further ahead in my career in the future.  I am a Canadian, that language is French.

French is one of the two official languages of Canada (the other language being English).  There are many languages spoken in Canada (Korean is most definitely one of them).  However, French is an official language and if I can speak French then my opportunities to work in Canada (which I eventually want to do) will most certainly increase.  I have always wanted to learn French; I have been exposed to the French language my whole life and I do know a little.  I can (will) become a French speaker.

I think that learning French will come a lot easier than Korean.  I learned a lot about learning languages when I was studying Korean and that will certainly come in handy.

This is my 30 Day Challenge to me: Learn as much French as possible using the resources that are free and readily available to me here.  These are the ones that I plan to use:

Memrise – a free, online language learning website and Android App

Duolingo – another free, online language learning website

Canoe.ca Android App – A Canadian News app to read news in French

Television Programs/Movies – I will keep a list of the ones that I watch that I have found useful

Bilingual Fiancée – I really have no excuse here.  He couldn’t speak the language when I met him now he is bilingual.

So I am going to start this challenge.  I will keep notes and update in 30 Days how my French has improved.

My Goal: Do something to enhance my french learning for at least 45 minutes everyday.  It can be a combination of things.  I will keep a log of what I do each day.

If you are also on Memrise my name is Jennytrips (I fall all the time, so this name is hilarious BTW) you can follow me and I would love to follow you back.

Is anyone else learning a language right now that has any tips, or would anyone like to join me in this 30 Day Challenge?

People Watching

6 Oct

 

I saw this family admiring some art that was on display in the park in Hongdae.

I saw this family admiring some art that was on display in the park in Hongdae.

Seoul is a fascinating city for people watching because if you watch for long enough, you are certain to find someone doing something interesting.  Some of my favourite are the ajjeoshis that have had one too many bottles of soju, the ajummas that can carry half their body weight on their backs or heads, or the young couples at various stages in their relationships.

There are also the unique circumstances or people that you encounter.  I have seen music videos, dramas and television commercials being shot.  There are areas that you are sure to see live music or busking on the street.  There are the elderly who have lived through the Korean War and have seen Seoul grow from almost nothing to one of the most populated cities in the world and young kids who cannot imagine there was a world without smart phones and wifi.

While you can take advantage of people watching at any time, in any part of Seoul, here are some of my favourite ways to go about it.

The Han River Park

One of my favourite places to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in Seoul is the Han River Park.  If you get bored of people watching you can read a book, nap, play catch or rent a bike (or roller skates, or a tandem bike).  You will see Seoulites come for the whole day with their friends or families.  They pitch tents and set up camp for an intense day of relaxation and fun.

Head down on your own, or with a group of friends.  You can pack a lunch, buy streetfood, a pizza or chicken to bring down with you.  Bring or buy a picnic blanket, grab some beer, wine or soju at the CVS conveniently located in the park.  This is a classic go to activity on a nice day.

Directions (subway): From Yeouinaru Station Exit 3 or 5, head down to the Han River Park. You cannot miss it!

Hongdae:

Hongdae is a fun area. It is close to a prestigious art college, Hongik University which makes it a gathering place for an interesting group of artists and musicians.  There are lots of cafes, bars and restaurants to set up camp here.  Day or night in Hongdae, you are sure to see something interesting.

Directions: Hongik University Station (line 2), Hapjeong Station (line 2 or 6) or Sangsu Station (line 6)

This little pub reminded me of a hobbit hole.  It also had some comfy chairs outside for people to sit, drink, eat snacks, watch, whatever.

This little pub reminded me of a hobbit hole. It also had some comfy chairs outside for people to sit, drink, eat snacks, watch, whatever.

There are many streets like this in Hongdae that have lost of restaurants and cafes that you can get a coffee, or a meal and sit outside and watch the world.

There are many streets like this in Hongdae that have lost of restaurants and cafes that you can get a coffee, or a meal and sit outside and watch the world.

The Local CVS:

Seoul has no laws against imbibing in public.  At first I thought this would not affect my life. I didn’t really think about it until I went to a Scottish festival on Prince Edward Island last summer. My family and I were sequestered to a tent area with our beer like savages.  I could not see the sheepdog presentations from there and it was a shame.

7eleven, or CU drinking is wonderful because it is outside, there are a variety of drinks avalible and it is cheap.

I know that I said that Han River Park was my favourite, but I retract that statement.  The local 7eleven or CU is my favourite place to hang out and people watch.  The convenience stores in Korea often set up plastic tables and chairs with umbrellas out on the street to encourage people to stay out front to eat and drink.  More often than not, there is a decent selection of local and import beers, soju, makgeolli and wine. Obviously there are many different kinds of snacks to choose from including crackers, chocolate, cookies, ramen and gimbap, for example.

I also love saving money.  The convenience stores sell beer cheaper than you would get it at a bar or restaurant. They also offer imported beers.  Many times the beers offered at a convenience store are much more varied than the average hof.  But they also offer soju, makgeolli and wine. Buying a bottle of wine is usually fairly expensive in a restaurant or bar.  At a convenience store it is the same price you woiuld get it at the super market.

All you need to do is walk around, keep your eye out for a plastic table and chairs, go inside and purchase your snacks then sit back and watch your surroundings.

Directions: Most likely, less than 500 metres from wherever you are in Seoul.

MiniStop

You can find a set up like this on almost every street. There is a plethora of snacks and drinks to choose from in the convenient store. I think this is an activity that cannot be missed if you are visiting South Korea.

If you find yourself in Seoul with nothing to do, or are looking for a relaxing activity, try people watching.  Why do we travel if not to experience a new culture?  What better way to experience a new culture than to watch what people do during their day to day lives.

Public Nudity and the Korean Bath House

22 Sep
Can you find it?

You will not be long looking for a jimjilbang in Seoul if you are not picky. They can be found all over the city.

Nudity is a funny thing.  I would describe myself as a liberal.  In university I became comfortable changing in the changing room at the gym.  I would wrap myself in a towel on my way to my locker from the shower rather than walking around completely naked, but I was still liberal enough to be walking around in my towel.  I learned to adopt of new definition of liberal when it came to changing rooms and nudity in South Korea.  The idea of nudity is just different.

Before I moved to South Korea I read about jimjilbangs.  They are Korean bath houses where it is ok to walk around naked dipping in and out of pools of different temperatures.  They are usually open 24 hours and you can stay the night, sleeping on a heated wooden floor in a communal sleeping area.  It is a cheap hotel alternative (6000-10,000 won a night, less than $10 CAD).

I had heard a few people talk about them and tell me I should try it.  I thought about it, but could probably go without the experience.  Then one night, after some soju and a few beers a friend of mine told me that it would be a fun way to end the night.  Due to the effects of alcohol my inhibitions went to the wind.  Why not?  It is on the way home, it’s only $10, it is really cold outside and I have no bathtub at home to warm up in after a cold night.  Might as well.

We chatted on the way to the jimjilbang about how in about 10 minutes it was probably going to get super awkward because we were going to have to get completely naked in the same room.  Also, there would be other naked strangers.  She had done it once before and said that it was a fun time and it was less awkward than you would think, however.

get naked

While in Korea, just look for this red symbol. Enter the building and you will find a jimjilbang somewhere inside!

She showed me the jimjilbang sign, like the bat signal.  It looked like a bowl of hot soup.  You can find them all over the country, just look for the sign and you know that there will be a jimilbang in the building. We chose a lesser visited one that was close to a subway station, it was in the basement of a large building. It was not like Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan, it was small and dark.

We go inside, pay $10 at the desk.  We are given pink pajamas, a shirt and shorts.  We leave our shoes at a locker near the front then we move into the female section of the jimjilbang.  We move back to the lockers to remove our clothes and get into our uniforms.  This was the first naked obstacle.  It was no big deal, I change in front of people at the gym, it’s nothing.  It was nothing, did not bother me in the slightest.

Next mission, we go to the counter to buy beer.  It’s 3am, we are in a Korean bathhouse, may as well. We buy our beer then head to the hot tub area.  This is the next obstacle.  Taking off my pink uniform and just walking around.

The staff are there in matching lacy brassiere and panties, must be their uniform.  They are women around the age of fifty from what I could tell.  They give massages and clean the pools and tubs. The fact that they come to work and put on that uniform made me instantly relax.  I wanted to get into the mindset of: this is normal.

I slipped off the top and shorts, folded them and placed them on a metal rack. No problem.  I am honestly surprised at how fine I was with this.  My friend and I chose a hot tub, hopped in and cracked our beers.

Another favourite thing to add to my list of things to do:  Drinking beer in a Korean jimjilbang.  It was so warm and relaxing.  I had not been in a bathtub in about a year, not since I left Canada. This was not exactly the same, but it was comfortable.

There were various tubs with different temperatures, most were hot, others were warm, one was very cold.  Some had things like salts, or aloe vera in them, one of them had jets.  There was a hot room and a cold room to sit inside.  When you get bored with one tub, just climb out and walk to another.

This is not something I would do in Canada.  I am so happy that I did experience it in Korea.  It was a wonderful way to relax and warm up during the cold winters here.  Also, it opened my eyes to the way I perceived nudity and how it was directly shaped by where I grew up.  I think that this experience has helped me to become more comfortable with my own body, as well as others.

A few weeks after this adventure I joined a gym in Korea.  In the change room you can see the same attitude towards nudity that is evident in the jimjilbangs.  It is nothing, it just is.  I was not surprised when a woman struck up a conversation in the changing room while she was wearing absolutely nothing. My perception of nudity had changed and I was growing, I was proud.  Then I learned that blow drying your pubes with a communal hair dryer is a common practice.  Baby steps.

Recommendations: 

Dragon Hill Spa is very famous in Korea and popular among foreigners.  There is much more than just hot tubs here.