Weekend Love

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couples having picnics under the blossoms, does it get any cuter?

There are many reasons to be happy this weekend!

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1) Cherry blossom season!!! Despite my ridicule of how dead and dry the trees looked just last week the blossoms made their appearance the other day – well played Korea.  I have loved seeing the Koreans enjoy them. Lots of people just hang out in the parks with picnics, cameras and their families. I even saw a few people set up easels and paint the scenery which made me feel like I was in Mary Poppins.

2) I know I am late on this bandwagon, but how awesome is Downton Abbey? I started watching last week and have made it through two seasons already. Maggie Smith is just amazing and badass, while the show is crazy addictive. Watch it!!

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3) Food. I have been trying to eat less rice lately because, well its rice and having it at every meal is getting a tad tedious and tough on the stomach :S. Luckily spinach and sweet potatoes are in season and they are my favourite veggies.  Plus as the weather warms up I have been getting on the salad bandwagon once again. At the moment my go-to meal is spinach, corn, lettuce salad  with roasted sweet potato and almond walnut dressing. Soooo good!

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4) Korean bakerys/coffee shops. For some reason Koreans are a little obsessed with French style cafes and have opened up a ton of chain cafes which serve their interpretation of the culture. Places like Paris Baguette have the most amazing looking breads and treats which, although they probably make a French person spit in disgust, are pretty good. They put their own spin on things with curry filled baguettes (the verdict is out) and faces on coffee cups (cute).

5) Music. This song is just awesome. Motivates me to run or just picks me up when I am feeling a bit down. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQYpF2pCkLI

 

In this world it is important to stop and think about the little things that make us happy, what are yours?

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Korea! But what will you eat? and what about the North?

When I told people I was moving to South Korea the immediate response was usually a bombardment of questions and things that could go wrong. I understand that for many people this is because they don’t understand why someone would want to move to such a different country, but it was still really frustrating! The usual thing people asked me was about food. I am vegetarian and there is a common idea that Asia is a huge meat eating country where I would starve. I too was a bit worried when I first turned up here and was taken out to a BBQ meal, but I soon discovered that being a vegetarian in Korea is not that much more difficult then being one back home.

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If you buy whats in season fruit in Korea is cheap and sooooo delicious! These giant bowls of strawberries have become weekly purchases.

 

Yeah there are meat dishes here, and Korean people are a little less educated about vegetarianism then people were back home (like my school who gave me spam once with the reasoning that it wasn’t meat but was flavor). However Korea is also a country of vegetables and tofu goodness! Not to mention there are people here who don’t eat meat, I am not the first person ever to be in this country and abstain from it.

My advice to anyone who is new to Korea…

1) gogi baygo juseyo – literally translates to without the meat please! Don’t be afraid to ask in restaurants or  at dinners for people to make your food without the meat in it. I used to feel shy about it but at the end of the day the person working doesn’t think you are crazy (you’re a foreigner, they just put it down to a funny foreigner quirk) and will always comply.

 

street food, not always vegetarian but has its surprises.

street food, not always vegetarian but has its surprises.

2) Find out what dishes are veggie. This seems obvious but at places like kimbap naras (Korean versions of diners) where the menu is in Korean and there are no pictures, it can be easy to assume that there is nothing there for you. In reality Korean people eat a lot of tofu and vegetables dishes which are yummy and meat free. Things like bibimbap (mixed rice with vegetables), kimbap (Koreas try at sushi) and tofu soups can be found in most places and are cheap.

3) Use the internet. Facebook seems to have a crazy amount of pages for foreigners living in Korea. Most cities have their own info page, and quite a few also have a veggie club. Don;t be afraid to ask other people in your area where good places are and what foods are safe. Also a great way to make friends! (excuse the cheeseyness of that).

4) Cook! Eating out is cheap and easy but gets a bit old, sometimes you just want home cooked food, to balance out the buckets of rice served with every single meal in Korea. Fruit and vegetables  are easy to find, as are stocks and sauces for yummy meals. Depending on how big the city you live in is, grains and beans can be easy to find. If not there are some awesome websites like http://www.nicemarket.com and http://www.iherb.com where you can stock up on western treats.

6) Don’t forget about other foods. Indian restaurants, Mexicans ones, Korea has food besides its own. These always have veggie options and can be just good for a change.

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As for the North… To be honest I am a little nervous, maybe living in a city that had an earthquake made me realise that bad shit can happen to me. But at the same time I have the attitude of rolling my eyes and laughing when the North make a threat. They are a small country who would, lets face it, be fucked if they did attack. There is no way they could ever win a war against the South now that America has become so involved. It is also comforting to know that the news in South Korea doesn’t really touch upon it, they aren’t too concerned and if Koreans wont worry then I wont either. I am much more interested in the gorgeous cherry blossoms which bloomed this week! So lets end on them shall we?

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A Damn Good Weekend

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Oh Korea you have not changed!

After a terrible 48 hours of flying, busing and driving, we finally made it to Daegu super early Saturday morning. Because our apartment isn’t ready yet we are staying in a motel for a week which kinda sucks but also has its perks. I was nervous to come to a new city and back to Korea, just in case I didn’t like it or started to remember horrible things about it. But so far it has been kick ass! Our apartment and work are right in the middle of a busy area with an emart, countless coffee shops and 7/11s, a park that I can run through (yay!) and a nice wee hill to hike. It is an awesome area and has everything I wanted (including a McDonalds which delivers for when homesickness strikes).

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We spent Saturday walking around and trying to see how much Korean we could remember, turns out we are not too bad at it. After buying coffee with cute little faces on the cups, we passed a fruit stall where I managed to ask how much for an amazing bowl of strawberries.

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They tasted as good as they looked, half the bowl is already gone. The afternoon was spent napping and relaxing before heading out for a beer and some much anticipated bibimbap. I have dreamt about this Korean dish for the past few weeks and could not have been more excited. I don’t know if it was the few beers I had before hand plus the jet-lag, but it was amazeballs. On a side not, I have no idea how we would have handled the day if we hadn’t been here before. It would have been incredibly terrifying not knowing where to buy basics like coffee or even how to say thank-you to people. When we ordered dinner last night it was from a hole in the wall place where English would not have been recognised. I am feeling thankful for my previous time spent here!

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It isn’t Korea without a wee hiking spot on the side of a busy road!

Today we walked up this random hill down the road. Seeing all the Korean ladies in visors with their hiking sticks bought back some good memories. The hill turned out to be a really pretty park and was really nice to walk around. It always amazes me how Koreans love to exercise, so every few stops there were rest areas with exercise machines that the older people were taking full advantage of. I even saw an elderly man hula hooping which made my day.

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There was a nice view of the city…

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And a cute wee pagoda

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All in all a damn good weekend, too bad about going to work tomorrow!! I am super nervous about starting a new job and having to teach again. Being the new person always sucks. On the other hand, perhaps I should stop being so whingy and just enjoy my time here, have a happy weekend!

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The Korea Packing List (and a mini freak out)

Right now I feel like this…

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   ….like I just want to give up.

 

On Friday at the super early time of 5am I am finally out of here and going to Korea. Although I am totally excited, I still managed to have a mini freak out today (some would say it was a major one but I know that I am capable of more). Even though I have had all this time to plan it seems like there was a lot I left to the last minute, like buying enough shoes and pants to take, or visiting all my friends to say goodbye. This week has been rushed trips to the mall and millions of coffee dates with people, not to mention the dreaded packing. I bought one of those fancy scales that weighs your luggage for you, it is super awesome and has come in handy because lets face it – packing for a whole damn year is impossible!! Asian clothes do not fit me! That means I have to bring a years worth of clothes, shoes, underwear, bras, nice winter jackets for the -11 degrees I will be living in. I can’t take everything so will be posting a bunch of stuff later in the year to myself, but today I thought I would do a trial pack just to see how it went. Tears were shed. 

I managed to close my suitcase but have so much stuff to send which I am sure will cost a bundle, plus it is just on the weight limit which is never good. I overheard the boy saying his was pretty light so I am going to have to sneak a bunch of stuff into his suitcase. Anyway after an hour of stuffing crap in, weighing my bag and having a brutal throw out of clothes I don’t need, I had to force myself to walk away and eat some lunch. Right now my head is a mess of people I need to see tomorrow and the dreaded final pack. Sorry for the vent!

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Besides this, I am so excited to get back to beautiful Korea!! Having lived there before has been a major bonus with packing as I know what to take. The first time around I was so naive and bought crap like my flute and badmington racket because I thought they would come in handy (and for some reason I didn’t think I would be able to buy a racket). If you are one of the many many expats about to head of to Korea, here are a few things you do and don’t need…

Do

– clothes, clothes and clothes! Korean women are really tiny and even though I have lost a bit of weight recently, I know I will never fit their beautiful clothes. So sad because you can get some awesome stuff over there, they know how to dress! I needed to bring clothes that I can teach in and that I can wear casually and for going out (Korea nightlife=amazeballs) so have an abundance of pants, cardigans, skirts, tshirts and underwear. It seems excessive right now but a year is a long time! 

– A laptop. Most teaching jobs in Korea see you spending a lot of time sitting at a desk, planning classes or just wasting time on the internet. The general concept is they like you at work the whole day, even if there is nothing to do or you have done all of your work like a good girl. If your work doesn’t supply a computer then this can make for some really long days.

– An ipod. Let’s face it, we need music in our lives these days. When you are having a bad day due to cultural shock or just the general blues, music from home can really help you mood. It is an easy way to connect back to home and feel a little better. Plus it helps to have an ipod on a bus trip whether it be to Seoul for the weekend or just to work. 

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– An ereader like a kindle. I really love to read and there is no way I could bring books with me overseas, therefore the kindle is my best friend ever. Your tiny apartment feels a bit more like a home when you can relax with a book or a magazine in the evenings. I also loved to spend many a weekend sitting in a coffee shop with my kindle, it made me feel like I really did live in Korea. There are English book stores in larger cities in Korea but if you are a reader (and living overseas i have found gives me more time to read), then an ereader is essential.

– If you are a lady you may not know that Korea doesn’t really do tampons. Seriously. They can be found in larger cities but are really expensive. The general idea is to bring a shitload.

– A first aid kit. Deodorant is also hard to find and can be really pricey so i like to bring a large supply and chuck it in what I call my first aid kit (but is really just stuff you would buy at a chemists). This includes panadol and throaties in it in case you get sick before you have worked out where the pharmacy is, and iron pills for the early ramen days when I have little money and don’t know where to buy good whole foods. 

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– Photos or other such comforts from home. I made the mistake when I went to China last year of not bringing any photos to decorate my walls with and it really sucked. The place you are going to will be your home for a year or maybe more, it makes it feel a bit more like your place if you have pictures of friends or family on the walls. I also bring a few comforts like a couple of snacks to get me through the first two weeks in Korea. Culture shock sucks but having something like your favorite chocolate bar can help.

Don’t

– An abundance of shampoo, towels and makeup. I have been guilty of this, but Korea is a normal country. The people who live there do wash their face and hair! Unless you have a specific brand that is magic for your hair type then don’t bother stocking up on shampoo. Plus makeup and skin products are insanely cheap and plentiful (just make sure you check to see if they have any whitener in them first). I am bringing a mini shampoo and will buy a big one when I get there, as for the towel I have decided to go without until I arrive. It makes a huge difference in the suitcase situation.

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– Accessories. Things like warm hats and scarves for winter or every single belt in your closet are so not important. These can all be bought in Korea at a crazy cheap price and again they just take up annoying space in your luggage. It seems strange leaving these things behind, but just remember you don’t need to bring your winter hat when you can buy an awesome panda one overseas.

 

So that’s it from me today. Thanks for listening to me clear my head and also find some more excitement for Friday!

I Drink in Moderation, and That’s Okay

Oh alcohol, we have had an interesting relationship.

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At times you have been delicious, so good to me on that hot summery day. You have made me much more sociable, given me confidence to dance, and given me some awesome nights out.
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Then there are those other times…

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The terrible singing.
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Way to many self takes.

And things just getting weird…
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Not to mention the horrible hangovers and amount of money I have spent on achieving them!

Seeing as the drinking age is 18 in NZ, I have had many a years going out and getting hammered (not that I think it stopped many who live in a place where it is 20 or over). When I was in my first year of University I was really in a terrible, unhealthy state. I had my first boyfriend, could legally drink, and most of my closest friends had moved to different cities to study. I am very shy and didn’t make any new friends during this time, instead I hung out with my boyfriend and partied a lot. Every single Saturday night I would come home from work, start drinking, get really buzzed before I went anywhere and then just get drunk as a skunk. Come the early hours of the morning it was a trip to Burger King and then home to sleep it off. When I woke the next day it was more takeaways or cheese toasties, a shitload of orange juice, and a day of doing nothing but eating crap food. When I think about the amount of calories I was consuming, all of which came from sugar and alcohol, I am amazed that I wasn’t larger.

tequila will always have a place in my heart

tequila will always have a place in my heart

I joined a gym in my second year of University and got a little bit slimmer and ate much healthier. But for some reason I never clicked that alcohol may not be helping my weight loss mission. It wasn’t for many more years, until I was a post-grad student who had no time to drink and had to stay in always studying, that I realised how awesome it was waking up on a Sunday feeling good. I had more money (yay) and surprisingly enough, I was still having a really good time.

I read an article in The Press recently about the decision not to drink. What stuck out to me was the comment that when you don’t drink you have to explain yourself to people, much more then if you say didn’t eat meat. This made me think a lot about the social stigma for not drinking. Everytime I have gone out and decided not to drink I have gotten really weird looks and had to explain myself to everybody. Even when I am drinking, just pacing myself so I don’t have a hangover, people don’t seem to accept this as good enough. There have been times where I have actually lied to people and said something like ‘ohhh I had a huge one last weekend so need to take it easy,’ or ‘I have my grandparents visiting really early tomorrow so can’t be too hungover.’ How much does it suck that I feel like I have to do this!

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Right now I drink, but nowhere near like I used to. In the past year I have focused on eating well and exercising, I feel like going out and writing myself off totally contradicts all of my hard work. I do go out and drink, but I have found that I can have a couple of drinks and have an even better night out. I am buzzed but in control and that’s how I like it. If you want to drink, that is totally cool with me and I wont judge you, but I am urging you not to judge me either.

If you want to cut back a bit, here are some things that have helped me…

– When people ask why you aren’t drinking, just be honest! At the end of the day they might look at you funny, but most of the time this is because they are jealous you have that willpower. Plus the next day (or later that night) they may be a little jealous of you.

– Remember how god damn fantastic you are just by being you. We don’t need alcohol to make friends and have fun, we went most of our lives without it. Yeah it can be hard to be really bubbly without the drink, but I say fuck it. Talk, make friends and chat to people. Not only does it show yourself, and others, that you can still have a good night, but you will probably have way better conversations then if you were hammered.

– Just dance. You will look way better dancing sober then if you were dancing drunk, that is a truth.

– Remind yourself why. I have moments when I go out and think ‘god damnit I just wanna get smashed.’ Then I remind myself how hard I have worked on my diet that week, how I wanted to go for a run tomorrow, or even just how bad I would feel in the morning. It helps.

The decision to drink should be one that you make for yourself, whether it be stopping all together or cutting down just a little. Either way it is your body which feels the effects and which you should be listening to. I say lets slip the social stigma on drinking and rock the weekends, moderation style!