Thursday, 25 September 2014

Chuseok | Osaka Day 2

We left Mako-chan at home to guard the apartment. He seemed pretty happy to do so.
We woke up and had a good lie-in (about 10am, oh how times have changed) before going out. We decided that we wanted this holiday to be a little bit more spontaneous and less hectic than the previous one, so we had a list of places we wanted to visit and a rough schedule but nothing set in stone.

A cute little drawing of a cicada near our building. I can only assume the writing says "HI, I'LL MAKE MAEMMAEMMAEM NOISES UNTIL YOUR EARS BLEED AND YOU GO INSANE"
I thought this looked too perfectly anime to NOT take a photo of.
We decided to go to the Osaka Kaiyukan, one of the world's largest public aquariums. I hadn't been to one in ages, so I was really excited.

So was Haru, so we brought him along for the ride.
 The ride from Shin-Osaka to the bay area was easy enough, and the huge aquarium was also pretty easy to find. With an incredibly tall ferris wheel right next door, the area as a whole is hard to miss.

Before going in we decided to have some breakfast (I guess technically brunch by this point) so we went into the little shopping complex nearby and headed for the food court.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Chuseok | Osaka Day 1

Chuseok, or rather, 추석 is the Korean thanksgiving/harvest festival that takes place over the course of 3 days on the "15th day of the 8th lunar month". It's a national holiday, so this year it fell on the 8th of September, conveniently giving us an extended weekend from the 6th to the 10th.

We actually didn't realise that Chuseok was coming up until someone at Nick's school asked about his plans for the holiday, so we jumped to work and booked a holiday to Osaka about a week or so before we actually flew out. I'm so amazed that my time in Korea is giving me the opportunity to do these crazy last-minute ventures.

We flew out on the 6th, and because time is wibbly wobbly and even more so when it comes to time zones, I sent out a birthday "card" to my Nan while we were waiting for the airport bus. Ahhh, technology.

I really enjoy airports. There's actually a lot to do in Incheon airport, and they've really worked hard to make it look good so it's not just a big grey boring building. We'd been warned about crazy Chuseok traffic, so we'd left really early to be safe...and encountered no more traffic than usual. So we ended up with quite a while to spare.

I've decided I must be the reincarnated form of the God of Lost Things, because I swear at least once a month I find something important that someone's lost, from cellphones to bank cards, and this time it was a passport with boarding passes inside, just sat on the floor. We handed it to a member of staff and they disappeared for a while, but ended up just coming back and putting it on a table next to where we found it. Uh. Okay then.

Waiting rooms.
We flew with Peach, an airline with overpoweringly magenta branding. The plane exterior and some of the interor upholstery is various shades of bright pink and purple, the airline attendants wear magenta uniforms, and even the airline safety materials are the same shade of Barbie pink. (Confusingly, nothing is actually PEACH coloured.)

Calpis. Funny to say, yummy to drink.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

이화 | Ewha

Morgan and Nick climbing the steps of Ewha Womans University
I'll say this first, confusingly the 'E' in 'Ewha' is pronounced "ee!" rather than "eh." which is what I'd been going around saying until we got there and I read the hangeul. Oops. Someone please introduce a standardised romanisation system, please.

There are at least 2 things that I learnt on this trip.
1: you can visit universities, even if you aren't a student.
2: modern university buildings can actually be really pretty.

Apparently a lot of people visit the university grounds because of its beautiful gardens and dramatic architecture. Erin also mentioned some people get their wedding photos done here, which to me is unheard of. But I can see why! It's a lovely place, and surprisingly quiet.

I did some reading about Ewha Womans University before I went, and I really like the sound of it. It's currently the world's largest female educational institute and one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea (thank you Wikipedia). Its alumni include company Presidents and Vice-Presidents, First Ladies, Prime Ministers, CEOs, athletes, doctors, lawyers and judges. It's just constantly churning out a long list of really impressive women.

I also like the fact that they use "womans" rather than "women's" because apparently this is to respect each individual, rather than a collective lumped together by gender. It's also quite old, founded in 1886, so they've been doing great things even throughout the wars.

(I will say, in the name of equality, I think they do also admit some male students now.)

No filters, just pure sky.
Anyway, after a nice wander, we headed towards our next destination, which was a dakgalbi place nearby. Ewha seems to be full of cute little boutiques and cafes, all very classy and trendy to suit the locals.

At some point, the sunset happened and it was incredible.

Also incredible was the dakgalbi. Not too spicy and really delicious. It's really interesting, they just plonk it all in and cook it up for you, running around to different tables as and when needed. It was PACKED in there, and I'm not really surprised.

I think we actually walked to Hongdae from there, because although I usually get the subway everywhere because I think everything's miles away, a lot of places are only a 30-45 minute walk.

In Hongdae we grabbed dessert at Molly's Pops, where they make special fancy ice lollies in flavours like makgeolli (Korean rice wine) and...erm...cheese.

The alcoholic flavours are 19+, and I can see why! I could really taste the makgeolli in mine, but a bit sweeter and milkier.

Following a theme, we ended up going to our first makgeolli bar. They had normal style as well as some seasonal specials, so we ordered a honey one and a watermelon one. These bars are meant to have some excellent wines, brewed themselves, and incredible food to complement it all.

I think we just ordered some pork rolls as we were already full from dinner and dessert, but they were so good. They had a great sweet and spicy sauce on them, and were freshly made and flavourful. The presentation in this place was wonderful too, so I can see why they're popular.

The watermelon was really lovely and refreshing, but I think after a while it got a bit sickly, compared to the honey which was just lovely through and through. Honey is quite expensive here, so I've missed it.

I'd love to go to some more of these makgeolli bars, just because the food is so good, so maybe you can expect to see some more posts like this in the future.

You Are Here

When we heard that Talk To Me in Korean were opening a cafe, we were pretty excited. They've really helped us with our Korean studies, and taught us things that are really helpful in everyday life here. I'm pretty sure I use at least one thing from their lessons each and every day, so I really wanted to go there to show my support.

It's a joint endeavor with Eat Your Kimchi, which we're not big fans of, but plenty of people there were pretty excited to be there and coo over the EYK merch.

Blackboard menu pillar next to the till.
The interior is adorable (you'll have to google this, or take my word for it. I stupidly forgot to take many photos), with little feature walls in a bright colour with a solitary decoration (my particular favourites were the neon "you are here" signs in a handwritten font) and overall it had a bright, fresh feel that made it very appealing and welcoming.

It's definitely a great space for its main function: studying Korean, and meeting up with friends.

We met up with one of the people we met at the Korvia barbecue, seeing as we live so far apart it was nice to have a common destination and a comfortable place to just sit and chat. A lot of the cakes in the cafe are vegan and/or gluten free, and generally very healthy-sounding. I don't know about the taste though, because they have a price tag to match the enormous amount of effort put into making them.

We stuck to lemonades and milkshakes (Also, in my opinion, pretty expensive for an indie cafe. A similar, if not higher, price to our local Starbucks.) and took a seat in the airy upstairs area and chatted for a good hour or so. It's nice to catch up!

Cute letters and messages from visitors, as well as photos from (I'm assuming) opening day.
When we went to leave, we bought some of the Talk to Me in Korean books, seeing as Nick has a couple and they've been really VERY helpful in his learning. I bought a workbook and a vocabulary book, seeing as I would like to be able to say more than I like/there is/there isn't/I want to eat 'bossam' or 'samgyeopsal', hahaha. Nick also bought the Level 2 workbook, and I think because we spent so much we got a free gift! They gave us a set of 2 verb books, which was great as I'd been struggling to decide over that or the vocab book, so in the end, I got both!

It was a really lovely day, with lovely people and staff, in a lovely environment, so if you're into TTMiK or EYK you should definitely check it out at least once.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Seoul Food | Linus & SugarDaddy

I won't count my previous post as a Seoul Food entry, because I forgot to take down the names of ANY of the places we went to, haha. But they were great anyway.

In this post we went to TWO places, because apparently all I ever do in my spare time is eat a lot with a total disregard to my gently-expanding waistline.

This time, we were in Itaewon at Linus: supposedly the best American-style BBQ place in Korea. Not having been to any other American-style BBQ places in Korea, I'm not sure how high a praise this is, BUT it's right next to the US army base and is packed with Westerners, so it can't be all that bad.

We were running a bit late because of how long it takes us to get from school to Seoul, and this place is POPULAR. So there was no time to waste, and we let our friends order for us. The food, conveniently, arrived only a few minutes after we did, so that was some lucky timing!

The platters were around 25,000 won each, so we shared 3 between the 6 of us. Mine and Nick's consisted of some cute slider buns, mashed potato, slaw, beans, and a variety of slow-cooked pork. There are fries in the photo above because we mixed and matched the sides with each other to get a variety. THE FRIES WERE SO GREAT.

The buns were warm and soft, and a little greasy (which is gross, but I kind of like it, haha) and all of the sides were great! The meat was REALLY tender, too. Apparently the owner gets up at 5am every morning to get it all cooking, which is some incredible dedication to the cause.

In all honesty, the meat was lovely, but after several trips to Bodeans back in London I was expecting a whole lot more flavour from it. There were sauces, warmed like baby milk, available to pour on as we pleased, which was a nice touch, but I still felt like there was something missing.

Having said that, I've never had real US BBQ so maybe this is more like what Southern food is like! In my experience, many meals get localised for whatever country they're in (such as the Chinese food in England that tastes nothing like Chinese Chinese food, and the Korean Chinese food which is again very different to both!). Although by that logic this is Korean Style American Food. Who knows! It was very good, and the sides were commendable (I'd defo go back for some fries), but it's not my favourite place to eat at the moment.

Next stop was a Canadian bar not too far away (where the alien word "tipping" was seen on a wall ;p) for a fundraiser for a local Animal Shelter. I have a feeling fundraisers like this are a lot more important here, because there's generally a lot less funding for unwanted pets, and there's not enough room or money for all of them. I think there's actually a time limit for how long they can stay in any one shelter, and after that...I don't really want to think about it.

So yeah, this was a pretty important cause, and seeing as I don't have the space or money to give some poor cat or dog its forever home (yet), I was more than happy to try and help pay towards caring for them. I got to play Foosball, which I was a lot less awful at than I was originally expecting, but I DID manage to score an own goal.

There was a bake sale in one corner, a raffle in another, and some live music in a third. In all honesty? We were kind of weirded out by the first act we saw. A Western guy, singing in alternating Korean and English. Cool enough, but there was a definite air of Jack Black about him that wasn't working for any of our group, I don't think. This was bundled in with the confusing fact that he kept insulting the Westerners and chatting up the few Korean ladies in the room... maybe I just didn't get his humour but sadly Nick and I were pretty glad when one of his guitar strings broke and his set ended, to be replaced by a Canadian band playing Irish music. We felt quite Fus Ro Dah.

After a while, we headed up and out, back towards Linus and into Sugar Daddy. It's a really sweet little cake shop, and it was pretty quiet when we went. It's actually sort of directly above Linus, with an outside patio area to enjoy your cake in on a cool night. The interior is adorable, it pretty much just looks like a kitchen that happens to have a food display case in it. Pine shelves crammed with baking supplies, and cute 3-tier cake stands.

They have lots of interesting flavours, from standard red velvet, to a more exotic mint choco, and Nutella, which had a Ferrero Rocher pressed into the icing on top. There are some slices of cheesecakes and pies up for grabs too! I'm not too sure how varied the stock usually is, as we came pretty much right at the end of the day, and I feel like everything is baked freshly each day, maybe even different flavours each day. But, for a cafe, they had a good variety and a nice range of teas and coffees for reasonable prices, and the man running the place was lovely.

Monday, 15 September 2014

5 Rounds

So, in this post absolutely ages ago, we met our friend 정현 (now more commonly known as Nathan!) and hadn't really managed to meet up since then. With busy and conflicting schedules, it was hard to do anything other than ping a Kakao message back and forth every now and again.


Such happiness. We met up for my current food obsession: 삼겹살. So, Nathan found us a good place and we pretty much gorged ourselves silly. Too good. There was also the obligatory soju (common in all social gatherings, especially when BBQ is involved!

I love it, mainly because you get all the joy of a freshly cooked chunk of meat (the picture above is before we chopped it up with the provided scissors), in a nice and cool, fresh leaf of lettuce, and a really great spicy sauce that's not too hot and a little nutty. You wrap it all up in the leaf like a sort of healthy (ish) burrito and stuff the whole thing in your mouth. And try not to burn your tongue.

There's no grace here. I used to try and bite at it, being super-conscious of table manners, but it turns out that generally the Korean way is to eat it whole. Makes sense, seeing as my method ended up in juices running everywhere, gochu sauce all down my face and overall a whole lot more mess than the originally rude-seeming all-in-one method.

Nick and his hyung
So, as we learnt in my previous post about school bonding, there's very often several more rounds after the main feast. (Apparently, upon reflection, I also told you about the Korean BBQ. Sorry. Try some and you'll understand why, I guess.)

True to form, we moved on to another social staple: Chicken and Hof. Hof being draft beers. I'm not a beer person, like, at all normally, but Korean beer is much milder, sweeter, and generally a lot less "oh god why is this bread mouldy" tasting.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

SM Town Live 2014

This is VERY overdue. About a month ago now, we went to SM Town Live. After staying up late and freaking out over the user-unfriendly and foreigner-antagonistic GMarket, we had tickets and the event had actually arrived. I don't think it's ever come to London. I think the closest we got was Paris, so we were determined to go.

For those that don't know, SM is a music label in South Korea, home to some of the biggest stars in K-Pop, including Super Junior, Girls Generation, and the ever-ubiquitous EXO. SM Live, is basically a huge gig where their entire roster performs, as individual groups or artists, as well as some inter-band collaborations. It's also an exciting chance to see the SM 'Rookies' (future K-pop stars in training) in their element before they've even debuted.

Me, trying (and failing) to take a photo with the World Cup Stadium sign.
It was pretty easy to get to the stadium, as you'd expect, and even more impressive was the efficiency of the queuing systems. There were THOUSANDS of people there already, but it didn't feel particularly scary or stressful. Or maybe that was just because they were all 5ft tall teenage girls. (No, they can be pretty scary. I'm looking at you 사생 kids.)

We milled around for a while and went to buy some merch. I was hoping for a nice t-shirt or something but sadly, for a huge company with a ton of money and creative power, they don't actually have much that I would wear. There were plenty of people there wearing merch from previous SM Town shows though, and it all looked great, so maybe this is just a dry spell.

We settled for a book, which turned out to be just 140ish pages of painfully beautiful Korean faces.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Seoul Food | CoffeeBay

I just wanted to dedicate a little post to CoffeeBay, a little cafe down the road from us. It's a small chain with several stores in a few different countries in Southeast Asia, but it's the service that makes me want to go there rather than the Starbucks or Angel-in-Us or Paris Baguette, all of which are actually a lot closer to our apartment.

The prices aren't much different to 'Bux et al, around 3-4000 won for a coffee in a variety of flavours, some cakes and sandwiches for 2-3000 each. Maybe a little cheaper, but hey. The food and drink itself is pretty nice. Nick and I usually go for a Chicken Focaccia where the chicken is a lot like Coronation Chicken. So good. They also have a squid-ink sandwich, and it's great. The portions are pretty good too, we tend to take a much more Korean style here and get one thing to share.

Chicken Focaccia
We first went with Nick's parents and probably were quite a nuisance. They don't speak much English and we can't speak much Korean (at the very least, our pronunciation leaves much to be desired), but they tried their hardest. From staff members coming round to our side of the counter so we could point to adverts and foods in the cooler, to people writing messages to us in Google Translate, they did their best to give us the best service they could.

After we'd had our feast, they brought over 4 boxes with no more explanation than a slightly embarrassed nod, smile and the word "service". This was before we found out that "service" is basically the Korean/Konglish term for a free gift or bonus as a thank you for shopping with a certain company or eatery. In the boxes were 4 lovely mugs that I could actually see up for sale and...well they weren't cheap! How lovely~

Red Velvet cake and Red Velvet lattes to share
Thanks to the lovely service that one time, we went back again a few weeks later for an after-school treat. The service was, again, great, but less fiddly now that we knew what to do and what we wanted.

They had a little whiteboard up which had a Facebook logo drawn onto it, so I looked up the suggested page and of course I liked it.

About 10 minutes later, this turned up:

A mini honey bread with whipped cream and salted caramel sauce. Whaaaat.

The owner basically tried to explain that it was a thanks for liking their page. How cute~
I'm sure there's other small cafes nearby that are similarly wonderful or cute, but this place has kind of stolen my heart. The music is good, the decor is clean and modern, and the atmosphere is very relaxing. Definitely a favourite. So there you go, good service and free gifts are the way to a customer's heart, apparently :p

Monday, 8 September 2014

Tall in Korea | Tiny Doors

When I started researching South Korea in preparation for the move, I read a post of "warnings" for Westerners, and one was aimed at us tall people. Specifically, mind your head.

"head carefulness" warns the sign.
Apparently the subway, low-hanging signage and various doors could be an easy way of achieving head trauma if you're anything taller than 5'9". So, I decided to start a project: take a photo with any small doors I encountered (mainly for the amusement of my rather small friend that we affectionately call Hobbit. Fancy that, now it's Hagrid having height issues, haha)

Anyway, after nearly 3 months in Korea, I haven't actually had any problems with the subway or signage (bar the dangling handles which I have bumped my head on several times, but then again most people seem to!), or anything really, other than in historical locations where naturally the doorways are smaller because the people were smaller. I get the same at home in Tudor cottages and the like.
Either way, it's a fun project when I do spot them.

Why is it so small...but so high up?

Friday, 5 September 2014

Tall in Korea | H&M Haul

So. I'm about 6'1" and don't exactly have the wonderful willowy physique of a dancer or supermodel.

Naturally, in Korea (and more likely Asia in general) it's hard to find clothes that fit me.

When I moved here, I had one suitcase and the clothes on my back, and somehow managed to bring hardly anything that actually looked nice. I'm not sure how I managed that, but I did. Korean fashion is great, and adorable, and for a little while I was really excited. Think of all the cool and cute clothes I can buy for cheap out there!

Erm, no. In the markets, where the clothes are cheap and plentiful, most of the clothes are "onesize" and that size is definitely not my size, haha. I've seen skirts that I could repurpose as a very fashionable garter.

My other problem is that, in preparation for small clothing, I brought a lot of winter clothes, assuming they'd be hard to find in a size big enough for me. This means that I'm totally unprepared for Korea's sweltering summer heat and humidity. In desperation, I finally found an H&M in Incheon (haven't found time to shop in Myeongdong or Hongdae yet) and what did I see?

A sale.

Let's go crazy!

I got 4 new dresses, and maybe 5 or so tops for about £40. All of the clothes were gloriously European sized, so there were plenty of big sizes. I think I actually overcompensated and bought some things that were a little TOO big for me. Sadly, there weren't any shoes, and I'm desperate for some sandals, but I don't think H&M have ever stocked shoes big enough for me anyway.

I'm super excited about my haul, so I thought I'd share in one big narcissistic post ;)

Dress: 24, 000W / £13 
White Dress: 9,000W / £10
Finding out this pink shirt goes with everything: Excellent.
Sleeveless blouse: 6,000W / £3.40
Strappy Dress: 9,000W / £5
Shorts to protect my dignity: Free from Nan ;p
Dress: 9,000W / £5
Please ignore the fact that I wear Vans with pretty much everything nowadays.
Camisole: 3,000W / £1.70
Boyfriend: Priceless. Hohohoho.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Chop Chop

This is old news now, because I'm a bad blogger, but I GOT A HAIRCUT! Finally!

I went to Hair and Joy in Hongdae, as recommended by pretty much ALL of the expats I know. I was told they had good prices, great English and excellent hairdressing skills (having trained in both Europe and Asia), which I suppose is actually the most important thing there.

There're fancy, stylish hairdressers in abundance in Bupyeong, a stone's throw away and all open until at least midnight that'll give me a good-looking haircut for pennies. But how to explain what I want if they don't speak much English? Ultimate stress, given my previous fear of having my hair cut. (Let's not talk about afro-gate)

So, anyone who knows me will know I do not take care of my hair. At all. My hair's CV in the past year or so looks like this:

- dyed red
- bleached
- dyed green
- dye top-up
- dyed red again
- dyed brown in an attempt to go back to natural (forgetting how dark my hair actually is)
- bleached at the tips
- tips dyed green

Green. Of course.
Here's me looking despondent about my awful hair and the rubbish "semi-permanent" dye from about 2 weeks ago.
And I had a haircut maybe only 5-6 times in that space for trimming deads. That's it. Safe to say, my hair was kind of frazzled, despite my original intentions to look after it in its dyed state.

Let's not even talk about the time I did my regular fringe trim (something I'd been doing myself for a couple of months) and got the level wrong. Sure, an oddly short fringe seems to be in fashion now but it sure as heck wasn't back then!

So yeah, it's a strange, miscoloured, frazzly mess. Not sure how it is my hair grows so oddly that I managed to get a diagonal ombre, but okay.

In the past 6 or months I've been trying to fix this, getting regular haircuts, banning colour, giving it conditioning masks and basically just trying to grow out this hellish state its in. 3 months into my time in Korea, and I was finally at my stage 1 goal:
Cut it all off.

Now, I don't mean pixie cut style. I just mean, hack off all that old colour, reset to default settings.

I tried it out with hairpins and didn't HATE it, and Nick told me to try it if, at the very least, it'll heal up my hair a bit.

I explained pretty much all of this to Jason (my assigned stylist, after a fairly painless phonecall the day before. I'd been asked who I wanted to see and pretty much went "anyone") and he went to work.

And that's how I ended up like this:

It's so short.
There's still a random bit of the lighter brown on one side because, again, wonky hair. Jason told me he'd fix this when I go back for a trim. But it feels a lot thicker, smoother, healthier, and it's almost all one colour. It still takes forever to wash, oddly, but it's a lot quicker to dry. One downside is that in all this humidity, it gets greasy MUCH more quickly. Or it's more noticeable anyway. I used to get away with washing my hair once a week, maybe twice if I got sweaty or did a lot of smelly cooking. But now it's almost every other day otherwise I look like Snape's offspring.

It was a great experience, the salon played lots of calming music and it's the most extravagantly decorated hairdresser's I've ever been to. Combined with the fact I often had 2-3 people working on my hair at the same time, it was a pretty luxurious experience.

The chop itself was very satisfying. I mentioned I was a bit scared, and after that, at every step before a big change, we'd have a break and I'd be asked if I was 100% sure I wanted to do it, shown how it should look when it's done and assured it would be fine. That's something really lovely that I haven't really had before. I've had lovely stylists but none of that extra reassurance.

I was going to take a photo of my huge pile of hair after the initial big cut (which I was shown to prove IT'S ALL GONE. FOREVER. SORT OF.) but they were too efficient and it was gone in the next moment.

When it came to paying (a bit lightheaded because, well, my head was...a lot lighter.) I genuinely had a moment where I just stood and blinked with surprise.
"What was that, sorry?"
"30,000 won"
That's just under £18. I usually pay £20-25 and that's a CHEAP cut. Most people I know spend £30-50.

I apologised and tried to explain so that they knew it wasn't anything bad. The response?
A cheeky smile and "Oh. Can I ask for more then?"

Nope, too late. I've paid and I'm happy. My next goal is to grow it out nice and long again, but healthy.
My other joy is the fact that it's opened a whole new set of doors for me re: cosplay, as seen below with a sort of Kiki's Delivery Service closet cosplay.

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