Tag Archives: travel

Happy Holidays from New Zealand!

29 Dec

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The lovely view from my accomodations in Auckland. I am just relaxing after a 3 night tour around the Northland. I have 700 photos to sift through and tons of detailed notes to relay into posts.

As a short preview of what I have done so far: riding in a city bus on a really long beach, went sledding on sand dunes, saw glow worms in a cave, and ate the best hamburger I have ever had in my life.

Each of these activities and more deserves its own post. New Zealand has been a blur of activity, fun and awe so far.

Just wanted a quick update and a photo to make up for my lack of posts. I have lots of pictures and activities to share in the upcoming weeks!

P.S.  My first impressions of New Zealand. The airport was a lovely experience, everyone was friendly, efficient and laid back. We got through immigration in record time al, the while feeling no sense of urgency. We were welcomed with smiles and pleasantries. The food has been delicious and fresh wether it be muffins, pies, burgers, eggs whatever. There are lots of green hills, huge trees, cows and sheep. There is an epic beautiful beach around every corner. I honestly think I have been on 10 different beaches in the last 3 days. I am planning my retirement here already.

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Friday Photo: City Scape

6 Dec

Friday Photo: City Scape

This is the view from my window in my apartment in Seoul. I love that you can see I am surrounded by mountains.

Korean Food Delivery: Living in the Lap of Luxury

2 Dec
Here it is, wrapped up nice in saran wrap, stacked neatly and still super hot.

Here it is, wrapped up nice in saran wrap, stacked neatly and still super hot.

It finally happened.

I ordered food from one of the magnets that I have stuck on my door.

Everyday I come home to find another delicious looking meal magnet stuck to the outside of my apartment. I bring it in and stick it on the inside.  Read it, imagine that I am going to find the courage to call and order it but I never do.

My dream when I came to Korea was that I could call a delivery service, a scooter man would bring me a meal in a big plastic rubbermaid container, dishes and all. I would leave my dishes outside my door and he would come and pick them up again later.  No fuss, no muss.  Yes, these are the types of dreams that I have.  It is a glorious thought.

Someone asked me if I wanted to go bungee jumping today.  They were surprised when I said that is something I have no desire to try.  You can’t eat and bungee jump at the same time. In fact, bungee jumping might cause me to not want to eat anything (GASP).  Opening up that plastic treasure chest was thrill enough for me.

How to order Korean Delivery

Delivery is amazing in Korea.  It is probably more amazing if you can speak Korean.  I know very limited Korean. So, how do I order food you ask?

  1. I learn how to say my address in Korean and how to read the food that I want.
  2. I write it all down on a piece of paper.
  3. I listen to Survivor – Eye of the Tiger to pump myself up
  4. I call a take out number.  No answer. Probably closed.  Throw that one way.
  5. I choose another take out place and something else I want to eat.  I don’t write these down, I just remember them.  Ain’t nobody got time for that anymore.
  6. I call.  They answer. It goes like this:

Food Gatekeeper: “Yeobusayo?” (Hello)

Me: “Nae, waegookin-iyayo” (Yes, I am a foreigner) I want to warn them they are going to have a bad time.

FG:  “Yeobusayo?”

Me: “Yeah…uh…daebal? kinchanayo?” (yeah…uhh..takeout? Is that ok?)

FG: *CLICK*

So, they hung up on me.  This is actually a really hard blow to take.  They had food.  They were open.  I practiced saying your address.  Now I am hungry, depressed and angry.

There are two options now.  Text a Korean friend to call for you (this always works, but I hate to be such a bother). Or, order chicken.  I don’t know what it is about chicken. I can always order chicken easily.

I try again:

Chicken Peeps: “Yeobusayo?” (Hello)

Me: “Nae, waegookin-iyayo” (Yes, I am a foreigner) I want to warn them they are going to have a bad time.

CP:  “Yeobusayo?”

Me: “Yeah…uh…daebal. Sal sal Cheeken jusaeyo.” (Yeah…uhh.. daebal *confidence boost* sal sal chicken please)

CP: “something something oedie something” (something something, where)

Me: [Address that I have memorized]

CP: [Something else in Korean, I am not really sure but I know that they are really trying to get me this chicken. ]

Me: [repeats the food that I want and my address until someone says “yes” in English]

And it usually ends by someone telling me the price of the food, or reverting to English, or someone hanging up and leaving me wondering if the chicken is actually coming.  With chicken: the chicken always comes.  I don’t know why, but the chicken people just have my back.

How it Actually Happened Today

So remember earlier when I said that I ordered the food that came with all the dishes? Well, technically, I did.  I called them, twice.  But they hung up on me and I ended up texting a friend to call for me.  Listen, I almost got the woman who owns the 7-eleven downstairs to call for me.  I was hungry! It’s Monday.

BUT if I had decided to get chicken, they would have came.  The BEST part about calling for chicken. Since I already went through the awkwardness of calling and giving my address.  Every other time I call it goes like this:

Me: “Sal sal cheeken jusaeyo” (Sal sal chicken please)

Chicken Peeps: “Naaae.” (Yeeees)

*CLICK*

My number is on file, I just have to call and say what I want.  Then it comes!

Alright so, my friend called for me.  The food comes.  We take it out, feast too much.  I clean the dishes (I don’t think that this is expected, I just couldn’t bring myself to pack them back in there with food on them) and they are sitting outside my door right now.  Waiting to be taken away.

For a mere $14 CAD we got plates, cutlery, mains and side dishes and delivery.  This was definitely too much food.  There was also like five fried eggs.  I am not really sure why because we didn't ask for any. Pictured here is: kimchi bokumbap (kimchi fried rice), tuna kimchi jjigae (in the stoneware), donkassu (fried battered pork), a plate full of fried eggs, soup, kimchi and banchan (side dishes).

For a mere $14 CAD we got plates, cutlery, mains and side dishes and delivery. This was definitely too much food. There was also like five fried eggs. I am not really sure why because we didn’t ask for any. Pictured here is: kimchi bokumbap (kimchi fried rice), tuna kimchi jjigae (in the stoneware), donkassu (fried battered pork), a plate full of fried eggs, soup, kimchi and banchan (side dishes).

 

So if you are in Korea and you are not in the mood to go out and get your own food (you were out too late last night, or you had an exhausting day at work, or you just want to experience a new dining experience, maybe you have access to a rooftop!) give it a try.  It is really not that hard if you are willing to suffer through a few hangups until you get someone who is willing to try to decipher your thick, unfamiliar accent.

If you are in a hotel: lucky you! Just go to the front desk, they will hook you up with menus. They will call and have it delivered to your room for you.

Hooray for food!

At the Market

1 Dec apples, oranges, grapes!
apples, oranges, grapes!

I love the abundance of fresh produce that is so affordable (when it is in season). Fruit is one of the only things that I can buy at a market fairly confidently.

There are plenty of little open air markets all of Seoul.

Earlier in the fall I got out and snapped a few pictures at Suyu Market.  This is me trying to overcome my fear of taking pictures of things in public.  I spent most of the time red-faced, quickly snapping pictures and moving on.  I think it was the guilt of taking a picture and not buying anything.  Sorry!

This man is most likely buying a delicious treat for his offspring.

This man is most likely buying a delicious treat for his offspring.

This guy was buying stuff.  Actually, I totally would have eaten street food if I wasn’t carrying my camera around.  I had no excuse here.

I love seafood.  I wish that I could buy this stuff and know what to do with it.  I realize that I have been spoiled to have always bought my seafood cut and cleaned for me.  I don't know what I would do with any of this.

I love seafood. I wish that I could buy this stuff and know what to do with it. I realize that I have been spoiled to have always bought my seafood cut and cleaned for me. I don’t know what I would do with any of this.

More fish, but this time of the dry variety. Each stand has it's only very strict theme.  I do love when the cafeteria serves the tiny dried fish with spicy powder.

More fish, but this time of the dry variety. Each stand has it’s only very strict theme. I do love when the cafeteria serves the tiny dried fish with spicy powder.

This market has a little of everything.  The stalls are organized by product and colours it seems.  If I knew what anything was, I am sure that I would be able to easily find it.

I am going to guess that these piles of spices are all very spicy hot.  I still don't know what they are.

I am going to guess that these piles of spices are all very spicy hot. I still don’t know what they are.

One of the first things I learned to say in Korean is "The apple is green." Too bad these ones are red. I can say that too, however.

One of the first things I learned to say in Korean is “The apple is green.” Too bad these ones are red. I can say that too, however.

I can always buy fruit!  Not intimidating at all.

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Everything is displayed just perfectly in every market I have visited.  Things are piled neatly.  I can't imagine even buying anything for fear of ruining all of these nice piles.  That, and I wouldn't know what to do with it when I got home.

Everything is displayed just perfectly in every market I have visited. Things are piled neatly. I can’t imagine even buying anything for fear of ruining all of these nice piles. That, and I wouldn’t know what to do with it when I got home.

And that is the mini-tour of the market.  If you get a chance to, definitely have a cruise around one of these.  They are really interesting!

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.

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.

Notes on Sharing a Laugh

29 Sep
When I saw this picture in Hongdae, Seoul I giggled like a little girl.  It is so simple.

When I saw this picture in Hongdae, Seoul I giggled like a little girl. It is so simple.

 

When I research a trip or a place I will visit trip advisor, tourism websites and blogs to plan what I am going to do.  I always want to see the big attractions.   I love museums, art galleries and if it says UNESCO somewhere on it, I will probably go.  These are the kinds of things that draw me to visit a place.

There is something special about some places that draws people in from all around the world.  Visiting somewhere as mysterious and Stone Henge, or as vast as the Grand Canyon are the types of experiences that many people in the world have in common.  There are the people who have visited, the ones who will visit and the ones who wish to go, but never will.

There are other experiences that can unite people from all around the world without having to leave home, like enjoying a beer or wine with good company.  Some aspects of culture are so old that they are shared all over the world.  They remind us that somewhere down the line we are all connected.

Laughter is universal but he idea of humour changes.  We are united and divided.

I went to an English comedy show in Seoul last night.  There were people from all around the world.  The comedians were a combination of Canadian, American and Saudi Arabian.  The audience was small and even more diverse than the talent.

We all laughed. We found things in common, we were all travelers.  Many of us had some of the same experiences of integrating into a new culture.  I have become aware that you will be hard pressed to find a traveler that doesn’t have a funny story in a taxi.

Usually it’s not the big attractions that are my fondest memories, but the interactions with the people that I meet that I remember.  I good laugh is always memorable.