It’s Raining Inside

apartment winter indoor condensation

One of the many quirks experienced while living in Korea is the variety of apartment issues that come with a typical Korean apartment provided to a foreign English teacher. Problem #1 is usually the itty-bitty size of the apartment. I was super lucky coming to Korea with my boyfriend because we were given a two bedroom apartment, so space wasn’t an issue. Others aren’t so lucky. I will say that we were very fortunate to be given the best and the biggest apartment in our building. In fact, after we left Korea, the director of our school moved into our apartment. I’m not sure he knew what he was getting himself into though… I think he was accustomed to a higher end of living, so I wonder how he’s handling all of the issues that come with living there. For the current teachers, I think they can add having their director as a neighbor to their list of nightmares. Here’s a list of the apartment troubles we did have to deal with and the ones our director is probably currently struggling with. Maybe he’ll actually fix them now that they’re his problem. Read more

Stop It America!

This one goes out to a lovely friend who’s about to repatriate to the States after a couple years teaching English in Korea. We’ve been messaging back and forth telling each other about our plans and recently I got a message from her that said I’m the only ray of light; the only positive person amongst negative voices that tell her not to leave “the safety net of Korea.” I just have to put my foot down and say STOP IT AMERICA! Read more

Frozen and Frizzy in Korea

cold and cranky
Frizzy hair and unrelenting cold makes me cranky!

I’m cold. Not in an emotional way, I’m physically cold right now. We just moved to Squaw Valley and I kinda forgot how cold spring is in the mountain areas. So what do I do? I put on more layers. I’m sitting around in leggings, sweatpants, a long-sleeve shirt, a fuzzy-fleece and slippers. As I chill here (pun intended) all bundled up, I am reminded of our winter days in Korea and my problems of fashion versus warmth. I’m practical, so warmth won every time. But still, I couldn’t help but compare myself to my Korean counterparts.

cold korea
A typical winter outfit for me. I still felt cold despite my puffy marshmallow look.

Korean women are incredibly stylish. They run around in stilettos all day with flawless hair and makeup, toting designer bags while sporting fashionable outfits. Amazingly they don’t seem to be affected by weather unlike myself. In the winter they wear the tiniest mini-skirts with only a layer of pantyhose and a thin jacket protecting them from the harsh weather outside. During my winter in Korea, I gawked at every skinny Korean girl that ran by me oblivious to the freezing temperatures. I was layered in long underwear, jeans, a down jacket, earmuffs, and a massive scarf and could still feel the cold. How do they do it?

Conversely, in the summertime, Korean girls are able to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants and not lose a single drop of sweat. Meanwhile, my hair frizzes out, I drip with sweat and I struggle to maintain an image of being cool and serene. It’s not easy to stand next to Korean women with their impeccable style and inability to sweat. It’s actually downright frustrating. In the winter I looked rotund in my down jacket and in the summer my head looked like a schvitzing frizz-ball, while the girls around me looked trim, fashionable, and pulled together year-round. Read more

The Seoul International Fireworks Festival 2011

Last night we went to the Seoul International Fireworks Festival in Yeouido. I was very wary about the crowds before going. Seoul is home to many people and I knew it was going to be crowded. When we got out of the subway car it took us fifteen minutes before we could emerge from the crowd and breathe some fresh air. I don’t handle crowds very well. I’m small and get pushed around, plus I really don’t like not being able to see where I’m going. I imagine it’s more bearable for the folks who can look over the shoulders of the people in front of them. I’ve never seen so many people in one place. We’ve been to some pretty crowded events in Seoul, but this took the cake.

We found a spot on a bridge that overlooked the river and the park and waited for the show to begin. I put my camera on infinity burst mode and took over 500 pictures total. The show lasted about an hour and a half. There were three different displays by teams from Japan, Portugal and Korea. They used over 11,000 fireworks.

It was a stunning show and by far the most fireworks I’ve ever seen. The whole thing was set to music, but we only heard snippets here and there. At times there were so many fireworks that it looked like a huge blob of light in the sky, almost apocalyptic, which was fitting because walking out of the park seemed like a mass migration during a zombie apocalypse or something.

Here’s a time lapse video of pictures I took at the festival:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MozYqQGXs-Q]

 

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Top Cloud With My Love

Dave and I are frugal people. We have been very money conscious here in Korea because we want to have a nice chunk of travel money and lots of money to fall back on when we go home. Despite our stinginess we have still managed to eat quite well while in Korea. I love to cook and have used that passion and our thriftiness to make some good home cooking without breaking the bank. Our 2 year anniversary was this past weekend and we wanted to splurge on an expensive dinner at Top Cloud on the top floor of the Jongno Tower (one of Dave’s faves) overlooking the city. The restaurant has two sides, the dining room and the buffet. We made reservations at the buffet side because it was slightly cheaper and we thought it would be nice to taste a little of everything.  The food wasn’t super creative, but it was yummy. At Top Cloud you are paying more for the view than the food. We lucked out with a table by the window and the jazz band. The music, the lighting, and the view were incredibly romantic.

The restaurant has two sides, the dining room and the buffet. We made reservations at the buffet side because it was slightly cheaper and we thought it would be nice to taste a little of everything.  The food wasn’t super creative, but it was yummy. At Top Cloud you are paying more for the view than the food. We lucked out with a table by the window and the jazz band. The music, the lighting, and the view were incredibly romantic. 

I’m so lucky to have found someone like Dave, who shares my passion for travel. I know I wouldn’t have been as happy as I have been in Korea without him. He’s my rock and I’m thrilled that in 6 weeks we’ll be hitting the road to backpack through Nepal, India, Thailand and Malaysia together. I’m the luckiest girl in the world. Could I ask for anything more? Dining with the man of my dreams while listening to a lovely singer overlooking a much more panoramic version of this view (it was very hard to capture a good image between the glare and the lighting)…

The Gangseo-gu Neighborhood Pesticide Motorcycle (or truck)

I’ve been waiting to post about this until I got some photographic evidence and today I finally was in the right place at the right time with my camera thanks to Dave and his keen ear. We’ve seen a motorcycle drive around our streets a few times spraying a white cloud of mosquito killing pesticide in the air. Every time we’ve seen it we’ve been almost at our apartment and have had to bolt up the stairs to safety. We don’t know what the motorcycle is spraying, but we know it can’t be good. Sprays that kill anything generally aren’t great for you to be exposed to. Read more

My Failed Attempt at Urban Gardening in Seoul

We got lucky as far as apartments go. We have the largest one at the school. Two bedrooms, a big living room, a large bathroom and a balcony we could sit on. In the early spring I decided to try my hand at some urban gardening on our balcony. I got sunflower, basil, and wild flower seeds. I also got some rosemary, lavender and daisies from the flower shop down the street. I made pots out of water bottles and set everything out on the deck. Every day I watered my plants and checked to see what was growing. I was ecstatic to see my little seedlings spring up. It was a great way to start my day. Then one morning, after it had been raining for a few days, I realized I couldn’t open the door to the balcony. My plants were trapped!!!

This building is only two years old and it’s already falling apart. Buildings are made quickly, but not well here. It’s not about quality. The property next to our building was a hole in the ground when we first got here and in nine months they’ve managed to build a large apartment building that is almost ready for people to move into. When the buildings start to fall apart and are too crappy inside to occupy they just remodel.

Our building was certainly made quickly and cheaply. The wood boards on our balcony and the entrance to our apartments weren’t treated and as far as we can tell they aren’t really nailed into anything in particular. The boards are warped up and some are on their way to popping off. It just so happens that the boards that warped on our balcony are the ones right in front of the door. Read more

My Musts in Insadong

My amazing friend Zach is visiting Seoul in July for business and as soon as I found out I started making a mental list of all the things we must do while he is here. Among the many things on that list is Insadong. Insadong was originally an area for painters to study and has held true to its roots as it is now a place to find beautiful paintings, ceramics, and other crafts. Here are a few of my favorite things in Insadong. Read more

Something Cultural: Gyeongbokgung Palace

I’m no history buff.  I can really only handle it in small amounts, so here’s my incredibly short run down of the history of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung roughly translates to Palace of Shining Happiness in English. It was built by the Joseon Dynasty in 1395 and then was burned down by the Japanese for the first time in 1592. After being rebuilt in the 1800s, it was destroyed by the Japanese a second time during their occupation of Korea. Only ten structures survived in the compound. It’s kind of understandable why there is an underlying dislike for Japan in Korea. Much of the Gyeongbokgung compound has been restored and it’s quite a pleasant place to walk around.

Hyangwon-jeong aka Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance

Side note: I highly recommend wearing a pair of sunglasses if you go on a sunny day. I know this may seem obvious, but Dave and I thought it would be overcast so we didn’t bring our sunglasses. After emerging from the subway we were happy to find that it was turning into a blue sky day, but quickly realized that the glare from the light gray stones was going to be a problem. We jumped at every opportunity to stand in the shade and give our eyes a break.

My favorite part of the traditional Korean structures are the eaves and beams. They are beautifully painted. I love how much thought was put into a part of the building that we often ignore in western architecture.

Directions:

Take either subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station Exit 5 or take Line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station Exit 2.