The break may be over…

I’ve been away for a long time…. a super, duper long time. And I feel a twinge of guilt because I know that I should be more dedicated. But truth be told, I had nothing about Korea to write about. Nothing at all. I did think of writing about the Gangnam Style craze, and how I want to strangle someone who doesn’t pronounce Gangnam properly (listen to how he says it in the song, people!) but I got distracted. For a long time.

But… things might be happening to where I might have stuff to write about. Who knows. Check back soon, I might have something of interest. ;)

4 months at home!

So I haven’t been posting anything because I honestly can’t think of anything to write! But, today Ross and I have decided to start thinking about coming back…. so when we decide something, I’ll update again. But for now, I’m just gonna keep takin’ this break… sorry guys.

Back in Canada!

Hey folks! Haven’t posted in a LONG while because we’ve been super duper busy the past few weeks. Between packing up our stuff in Arkansas, driving to Canada, showing Ross’s parents around, and getting everything set up here, it’s been crazy. Here’s an update on everything that’s been going on:

  • Got a car thanks to my aunt! It’s not a new car, but it’s new to us so it’s special. A beautiful ’99 Camry. :)
  • I also got a full time job working at a child care centre north of Ajax in a place called Brooklin. My kids are soooo cute!
  • Ross has a couple of potential job prospects, including a printing place and a design company downtown. Still waiting on news from both, but we have our fingers crossed.
  • I’ve gotten to spend SO much time with Jaxon, its so amazing. Because I work in the toddler room next to his at the same daycare, I get to go out on the playground with him. I love watching him play!
  • We’ve been having fun taking pictures and exploring Ajax even more, and even went Geo-caching today!

So, yeah. That’s what’s been going on. I will hopefully post more next weekend!

xo nicole

Reverse Culture Shock – Welcome back to America!

Stepping off the 11-hour flight from Tokyo to Chicago, I had only two things on my mind – thank goodness for excellent landings, and where are the closest restaurants, I need a regular breakfast! I was back on American soil.

One thing struck me going through customs. There were two lines, one for Americans and Canadians, and the other for, well, all the others. I didn’t have to go through immigration! Ha! The line for the others was so long, almost 4 times as many stanchion rows filled as the American side. These were long rows, too. Anyways, I realized then that I wasn’t going to be a white person surrounded by Asians, but a white person surrounded by white people. I wasn’t going to stand out as much anymore. No kid in America is just going to say hi to me, just because I don’t look like them. Ross isn’t going to get told he’s handsome by giggling middle school girls and adjossis admiring his beard. We’re just plain, ordinary people here in America. What a weird concept.

So excited to finally eat some Reese’s!

This got me thinking about reverse culture shock, and if we’ll be affected by it. It’s common for people who have been away and become accustomed to another lifestyle, then try to return to their home country. Sometimes people have a hard time with it, hopefully that wouldn’t be us.

The 7-hour layover in the airport was interesting. There were so many English conversations around me, it was hard not to listen in. I kept having the urge to bow slightly to people who I encountered – the guy at the Great American Bagel place (the most delicious bagel place ever, at least for a girl who hasn’t had a proper Everything bagel in a year), the lady I bumped into when I was getting gum in the gift store, the girl at the flight counter. CNN was on the tvs in the waiting area, and they talked nothing of other countries, just the US, and mostly about the Republican race because Super Tuesday was in two days. I’d returned to the land of the free.

Here are some of the things I’ve noticed since we’ve been back:

★ Walmart has far too many food choices.

★ People understand what we say here when we’re out in public.

★ I can buy clothes and shoes that fit.

★ There are more choices of beer out there then Hite, Cass and Max.

★ I miss kimchi.And fast internet.

★ I am developing an intolerance for people with stereotypical views of Asians. Now that I’ve lived there and worked with them, hearing someone use derogatory slurs (even if they don’t mean it) sucks.

★ People can’t drink just anywhere they want. I miss sitting out in front of a convenience store before going out to the bar.

★ Things are very expensive at home.

★ I’m terrified about trying to find a job. And a car. And an apartment.

I have enjoyed my time at home, but the longer I stay away from Korea the more I miss it. How long can I stay away?

Aquatic Fountain Show in Busan

I thought I’d seen it all in Busan, especially in Nampo-dong. I had shopped, gone up Busan Tower, been to Lotte Department Store. I was WRONG. A couple of weeks before Ross and I left Korea, we went to Busan and Nampo-dong to look for a suitcase. We met up with our friend Adam in the Aqua Mall section of Lotte Dept Store, and lo and behold was the world’s largest indoor fountain display. We had to wait for about 10 minutes before it started, but it goes every hour during the day on the hour. It was  beautiful! Set to music, the water comes up from the ground and from above, 4 floors up. I was mesmerized the whole time! Ross took a video of the fountain, but apparently deleted it. I’m going to make him find it. But in the meantime, I have a couple of pictures – one with the info, and one of the fountain itself.

I don’t know what was cooler, the timing with the music, or the water falling from the ceiling. At one point, near the end, they manage to make the falling water spell out “Lotte” and “Welcome”. It’s crazy! It’s definitely worth checking out.

HOW TO GET THERE – From the visitkorea site -

Subway
Nampodong Station (Busan Subway Line1), Exit 10

Bus
Take Bus 135, 15, 41, 70, 88A, 88B, 1004, 1000, or 1003. Get off at ‘Busan Depateu.’
You will see the Lotte Gangbok store 200m straight ahead.

Take Bus 103, 17, 26, 520, 70, 8, 87, 9-1, 1004, 1000, or 1003.
Get off at ‘Nampodong.’
Lotte Gangbok is 200m straight ahead.
(Follow Gudeokro Street northwest)

Once you get to the department store, follow the map to the Aqua Mall.The fountain is on the main floor.

We’re home!

Hey everyone! We’ve returned to America! Just wanted to let you know. :)

 

Lomography Loves Seoul!

I apologize for the lack of posts this month, as I have been getting packed and ready to move. But something caught my eye this morning that I just HAD to share. (It’s good that I got up early!)

I love Lomography. For those who don’t know, Lomography is a camera company that specializes in analogue, old-timey cameras and film. They have a multitude of cameras, including my favourites the Fish-eye, the Action Sampler (it takes 4 pictures on one frame!), the Diana Mini (you can take square shots, or half pictures), or the La Sardina, or the Lomo LC, the list really goes on and on. It’s a great alternative to digital – you get the excitement back about ‘Oh, my, I can’t remember what’s on this roll of film, I wonder how these pictures will turn out!’ Plus, the pictures come out with a unique, fun, retro look about them.

Some pictures I took in Korea with my Action Sampler. They look so cool!

I got an email from Lomography today about Lomography and Seoul. I knew that Lomography had a store in Hongdae, but I had no idea that they had been having a competition around the city! I wish I could have entered, I have SO many pictures taken with my Action Sampler that I could have used! But, even more exciting news, Lomography has introduced a new camera dedicated to the city of Seoul – the La Sardina Seoul! If you go to the Lomography home page right now, they have a huge picture of it, hangul spelling of Seoul and all! The La Sardina is a camera with lots of style – Lomography has been redesigning the La Sardina with lots of cool patterns, and now the Seoul camera is customizable! They give you 8 colourful patterns based on the colours of Seoul, and you get to pick which one you want to put on the camera. It’s awesome!

PHOTO OF THE LA SARDINA SEOUL FROM THE LOMOGRAPHY WEBSITE

Not only that, because of the release of the La Sardina Seoul, many Lomography Gallery stores around the world are focusing on Korea and Seoul right now, like this Seoul workshop in Amsterdam. It is neat to see everyone get excited about Korea and Seoul as much as I do.

I wish I would have more time to go to the Seoul Gallery store, but as soon as I get to Toronto I’m proudly purchasing my La Sardina Seoul for my Lomography collection. Then I’ll come back to Seoul and take pictures with it! It will be perfect.

(This is by no means a sponsored post about Lomography, but just a fan expressing her extreme interest in the camera and wanting to share it with the world.)

If I had the time, what I would do in Korea

I’ve been to LOTS of places in Korea. Mudfest, skiing in Muju, Namhae Island, the cable car in Busan, the DMZ, the bamboo forest, the list goes on and on. But there are SO many different things to see in Korea, I wish I had more time! (Ross and I leave in 25 days.) Here is a list of things I wish I still had time for.

  1. Dokdo Island – This island is the centre of a disagreement between Japan and Korea as to who owns the land. The Koreans have control over it, but the Japanese claim that it belongs to them. I just want to see if for the beauty.
  2. Seoraksan National Park – I’d love to be able to go in the fall. Apparently the colours are BEAUTIFUL. It’s really tucked away in the northeast corner of the country, however, and we’ve always lived too far to really make a go at it. Plus, the hiking… still kinda scared of being up on a mountain after the last time I went.
  3. Jeongseon Auraji Rail Bike – How did I not know about this?! Its like riding one of those pedal boats, but on a railroad track! It looks FANTASTIC! And I only found out about it today! This should be in every tourist brochure the Korea Tourism Organization puts out. It looks like an amazing time!
  4. Geoje Island – We live so close, and yet we never went this year. The island is apparently beautiful, and it has a Quizno’s! (Don’t ask about the Quizno’s, foreign teachers are the only ones who could understand why that would excite me.)
  5. Sun Cruise Hotel, Jeongdongjin Beach – It’s a hotel, shaped like a cruise ship. It never leaves land! And it has the best views of the sunrise in Korea, apparently. It’s just really far away from many things, and kind of difficult to get to. I’m sure it would be worth it if we had the time!

I am sure there are more places I would like to go, more temples I would like to see, and more stuff I’d like to do. Once I think about it more, I’ll add to the list. I just wish I had more time!

xo nicole

Expat Expectations in Korea

I came across this post on The Hedonista about living in Dubai and what expats can expect when they live there, I thought I’d give a two-year view of what expats can expect in Korea. I think I’ve been here long enough to offer a succinct opinion. If there’s anything I’ve missed or something you disagree with, add it in the comments.

What you’ll miss when you move to Korea:

  • Your favourite food from home – Everyone has one or two foods they miss terribly from home, because it’s just not available in Korea. There are ways of obtaining these foods (sometimes you can order them online, sometimes they can be found in the foreigner food market in Seoul, sometimes someone from home mails it to you) but for the most part, there are things you have to just do without. For me, these are ketchup potato chips, Fuzzy Peaches candy (and Twizzlers! And Reese’s cups!), Swiss Chalet chicken, and canned salmon. And even if you can find many things in Korea that you would get at home, a lot of the time you’re going to have to hunt for it. For example, my favourite tea is orange pekoe. Last year my mom sent me a tin full of Tetley tea bags, which was amazing. It was because I couldn’t find orange pekoe anywhere. This year, I decided to let her save the money on shipping and just find some black tea. Tastes almost the same, right? So I’ve gone almost an entire year drinking black tea, which has been okay. FINALLY, however, I was looking in the new E-Mart at the Daejeon bus terminal, and found Twinnings Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea in the International food section. I could almost swear I heard angels sing. Sometimes it just takes a while before you find the food you’re looking for.
  • A proper bath tub – While there are benefits to a Korean bathroom (easy cleaning is one that comes to mind), girls especially will miss having an actual bathtub. Korean bathrooms and showers are just that – a shower head attached to the sink in your bathroom. No shower curtain or door, just the shower head. EVERYTHING gets wet, so be sure to leave your towel outside the bathroom. The only hope of actually getting a bath is by heading to the jjimjilbang (public bathhouse).
  • Clothes shopping – Unless you’re a size 2, 5’4″ and under, with no bum and no hips to speak of, finding clothing in Korea is going to be hard as anything. Yes, there are a few random stores that will have clothing for a bigger person (I’ve been able to find shirts I like in the mens dept of Home Plus, and on trips to Seoul to Myeongdong and Itaewon), but the majority of the expats living in Korea are going to be stuck with the wardrobe that they brought with them in the first place. This goes for shoes too – a girl can only dream of walking into a regular shoe store and finding sizes bigger then a US 7.
  • English TV – There are a few channels that have English shows on them, but if you don’t like CSI/NCIS or the Transformers movie, you might be out of luck. It is getting better (I’ve seen new shows like Suits, and Modern Family, and they even showed The X Factor, albeit a few weeks late), but for a TVholic like me, I miss being able to flip through channels mindlessly and be able to understand everything that’s being said on every channel. Oh, and I have never been able to find a regular TV schedule, so your guess is as good as mine as to when the TV shows you want to watch will be on.
  • A clothes dryer – Every once in a while a kind-hearted boss will purchase a washing machine/dryer combo (same machine, just different cycles) for their foreign employee, but this is very rare. Most Korean households, and subsequently waygookin apartments, will only have a washing machine. (Most of the time, it’ll be in your bathroom.) You’ll have to hang your clothes to dry. Be prepared to plan out your outfit days in advance in the spring and summer (and fall too) because it will take your clothes a couple of days to dry. (The winter isn’t so bad, with the ondol heating your clothes should dry overnight.) What I wouldn’t give to be able to wash my clothes and take them out of a warm dryer 2 hours later.

What you WON’T miss when you move to Korea:

  • Slow internet – Korean internet is the fastest in the world. No other country beats it. Simple as that. And the beauty of it all – it’s cheap and unlimited. You’ll never get a call from your internet provider saying you’ve gone over your bandwidth limit (I had that done to me COUNTLESS times in Canada). Downloading stuff from home gets done in a few minutes instead of a few days. It’s amazing.
  • Vices – Depending on your vice, you’ll find it here. Cheap. Cigarettes cost 2,500 won a pack (approx $2 USD), alcohol is cheap (especially if you develop a taste for soju), and there are girls a-plenty (from what I understand – something about double barber poles).
  • Exercise options – There are gyms all across the country, ready and waiting for waygookin to join. There is at least one in every neighbourhood. If you can’t find one, ask a Korean friend to help you. They can look it up on Naver. There are also yoga studios, taekwondo/hapkido schools, and more mountains to climb then I can count. If you want to stay fit while you’re in Korea, it can be done.
  • Sweet things – I’m talking candy, pop, chips – all the treats you can wish for. You might have to settle for the Korean alternative (I was addicted to shrimp flavoured chips last year for a while, to help with the ketchup chip cravings), but if you have a sweet tooth, you won’t starve. Things to try – hoddeok, the sweet pancake you’ll find at the street vendors, and the multitude of donuts found at Dunkin’ Donuts. There are some interesting kinds!

There are so many more things to add to this list, I’ll edit it when I think about it… but for now, if you think of anything, add it to the comments!

xo nicole

Korea tip #14 – Learn to Read Korean!

This seems kind of self explanatory, but in my opinion, surviving in Korea is extremely hard if you don’t know how to read Korean (the written language is called Hangul). There are many people who will tell you this fact, I am just reiterating the point.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying ‘Learn Korean’. There’s a HUGE difference between learning how to read Hangul and learning the entire Korean language. I’ve been in Korea for two years and still can’t speak in a full sentence. I can direct a taxi, and order food, but those are just phrases I’ve picked up over time. (Mind you, I’ve never actually made a real effort to learn how to create sentences, so don’t think that I’ve tried and failed. I just haven’t really tried.) Reading, however, has saved my waygookin butt a few times. Many times, if you’re reading environmental print (bus stops, store signs, menus, etc) the words that are written are actually English words, just written in Hangul. If I didn’t know how to read, I would have just figured that they were Korean words and not understood them at all.

Learning how to read Korean is actually fairly simple because Hangul is phonetic. There are a few weird rules here and there, but for the most part when you see a symbol like ᄇ or ᄒ, they’re going to have the same sound no matter where they are in the word. There are only 24 consonant and vowel symbols in Hangul, and once you can recognize them and figure out how to read syllables, it becomes a breeze from there.

If you’re going to live in Korea (or visit for any decent length of time), make the effort to at least learn how to read the language. It will help you in the long run, I promise.

Here are some websites that will help you on your way:

Learn Korean.net – A free site with the first few lessons being on how to read.

A great flash exercise to help you to pair the symbols with the English sounds.

KoreanClass 101 youtube video – Great to hear the sounds if you’re an auditory learner.

재미봐! (Have fun!)

xo nicole

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