Saturday, 12 December 2015

6 Things That "Grind My Gears" About Living in South Korea

Little things are going to annoy and bother you no matter where you are in the world. Whether in your home country, or travelling, or living abroad. The "honeymoon phase" of culture shock has no doubt worn off since arriving here in Korea over a year ago, and there are definitely some things that grind my gears about living here in Korea.

Let's take a lighthearted and not-meant-to-be-offensive look, shall we?

1. The Driving

Because sometimes I feel like I might genuinely die. Cab drivers especially, are notorious for speeding through red lights, weaving in and out of lanes at a distance way too close for comfort, and just all around driving like they think they are Nascar drivers. Not just going too fast, but also never maintaining a steady speed; constantly pressing on/off the gas, and me feeling like I'm going to throw up after about 2 minutes.

2. The "Aisle Seat Bus Dwellers"

Ok. Bear with me, this takes some explaining. Picture a city bus, with the rows of seats on either side, seating two people; one window seat, one aisle seat. I don't know what it is, but there is a general trend among the vast majority of public transit riders to only sit in the aisle seat when they are alone. This is fine! However, back home, once the bus starts getting full, this "aisle seat dweller" with usually move to the window seat, so the person standing can sit down in the aisle seat. This is not the case in Korea. Every time this happens to me, I literally have to crawl over them to get a seat. AND THIS ISN'T ME BEING RUDE! This is after the Aisle Dweller and I have made eye contact and they motion to the seat next to them, for me to sit down. Then, once it's my turn to get off the bus, cue the awkward crawl across their lap again.

I have racked my brain trying to figure this one out. Are these Aisle Seats simply more prestigious than window seats? It does get a little draft next to the window in the winter. Perhaps there isn't even a reason, but nevertheless, it grinds my gears.

3. The Pressure to Eat

Because sometimes I just don't feel like eating cake at 9 in the morning. Korean culture is very oriented around sharing food, and them wanting to feed you is simply them showing you they care (so I have been learned, and been told). It is kind of rude to reject food, and as the people pleaser I am, I oblige. The combination of aiming to please, and loving all food but equally loving eating healthy, serves to be a bit problematic, and a source of anxiety for me.

(Sidenote: This may be a double edged sword. I am also extremely thankful for this free food I am being given, and all the new food I have been able to try, because of this).

4. The Lack of Public Garbage Bins

Because sometimes this girl doesn't feel like carrying around her garbage until she finds a bin to put it in! No wonder the littering here is bad (...but that's a story for another day). This was a huge adjustment for me at first, but I definitely don't notice it as much any more. 

5. Soap Bars Everywhere 

Because when I want to clean my hands, I don't really want to touch a grimy and slimy soap bar that everyone else has touched. 

Liquid soap pumps please and thank you!

6. The horrrrking & spitting

Because it's just............not...........a nice sound. To put it nicely.  

And there you have it. 6 things that "grind my gears" about South Korea, sometimes....

My Next Post: 6 Little Things I Love About Living in South Korea :)

Until next post,

- L2K 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Fall Hiking in Wochulsan National Park

This fall season in Korea has been a cold and rainy one. So when you finally get a clear day and not-so freezing temperatures, on the weekend ESPECIALLY, you go out and seize the day! And that is exactly what we did. Late morning on Saturday, my friend Claire and I set off to hike one of Korea's National Parks- Wochulsan mountain! About a 40 minute bus ride from my town, Mokpo.

 View from the base of the mountain

Gorgeous scenery on the way up!

Some fall colours still hangin in there- but slowly disappeared the higher we trekked 

SNOW! Lots the higher we climbed.

 Fresh mountain water

Cloud bridge! 

We first hiked to Cheonhwangbong Peak, then hiked back down (and sometimes up) to the cloud bridge. Definitely some challenging parts on this trail! Especially towards the top with the snow, making it slippery. 

The best part was being able to see this view almost all the way up. A very "open" mountain range and trail.

We made it to the top! We reached it within 3 hours. 

One of the MANY times we were stopped and asked to take photos. Becomes very normal here. Foreigner celebrity status! Although flattering, sometimes you just wanna keep on trekking (literally).

Cloud Bridge! 

We could have hiked back down right after we reached the peak, but we both really wanted to see the cloud bridge. A little detour on the way back down, definitely worth it! The way down was probably the hardest part. You always think it will be easier than the way up, but it's definitely more challenging in a different way. This hike was pretty steep and slippery, requiring major concentration on your footing. I'm definitely feeling it in my legs and knees today!

Post hike reward!

The whole hike took about 5 hours, at a pretty leisurely pace. We started around 12:00, and were back down before 5:00PM. We then treated ourselves to a DELICIOUS Korean meal at the base of the mountain. I wish I had taken pictures of the restaurant. It was a gorgeous; a circular, log cabin style restaurant. Wooden sculptures, and local art covering the walls. 
To eat, we had: ramen (noodles/broth), kimchi stir fried rice, and the best pajeon (Korean savoury pancake) I've ever had. And also the best green tea I've ever had! The perfect way to end a Saturday well spent. 

And in the spirit of American Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my health, and my two legs for getting me up that mountain. It really is amazing what the human body can do. Dear body: I promise to take good care of you, just like you take good care of me! Thank you. 

Sending lots of love to friends and family back home with the holidays approaching. I love you all and cannot wait to come home for a visit in less than 2 months!


Saturday, 14 November 2015

9 Things I Never Thought I Would Eat Until Coming To Korea

As you may have noticed in my last post, I have officially been in Korea for over a year!

A lot can happen in a year, including what food I have allowed to enter my digestive system. Almost all of these foods were surprisingly tasty, and I would eat again. Others......not so much. And this girl isn't a picky eater!

*Note*: Not all pictures are mine! I have done a poor job at documenting these foodie adventures.

Let's dive right in, shall we?

1. Eel

I was scared to try eel. I guess seeing it killed, skinned, and still being able to slither afterwards may do that. I envisioned it to taste exactly how it looked- slimy and fishy. But it was quite the opposite! We had it grilled BBQ style, and it was surprisingly moist and chewy. Almost comparable to chicken! 

Fresh Eel being butchered in Busan

BBQ Eel! The eel we had looked similar to this.

Star Rating: 5/5

2. Marinated Fermented Crab

I've had this three times. Three times too many! Let's just say I did not enjoy it. Especially when the teachers insisted I had the most special part of the crab, the body, which is typically given to the oldest, and most respected person at the table. So with that added pressure, of course I said yes. The body of the crab is filled with this yellow fluid, which I can honestly only compare to the taste of bile. Heck, that might even be what it is. You are supposed to take a spoonful of rice and mix it into the body, in order to get all the juicy "goodness"....

Not my cup of tea!

Star Rating: 1/5

3. Fermented Stingray

Another dish I have also had three times, and have yet to enjoy. "Have yet to enjoy" may not capture how I feel about this dish. To put in simply and in the nicest way tastes like you are poisoning yourself. The ammonia from the fermentation process is so strong and fills all your senses, numbing your tongue and burning your sinuses. Almost tastes like if you were to mix ammonia and wasabi together. It is typically eaten together with pork and kimchi, making it a little more bearable. Apparently this dish is native to the province I currently reside in, and the Koreans born here love it. Other Koreans, not so much. I have been in the presence of other Koreans who actually refuse to eat it, which says a lot about the dish, since it is generally considered somewhat rude to refuse food here. So it's nice to know I am not alone on this one!

Star Rating: Can it be a negative number?

4. Silkworm Pupae 

Mmmm....bugs! Surprisingly, not so bad. If I were to compare it to anything, it would be an almond (or other nut) that has been soaked in water. With maybe a little flavour of "old" to it. It's most often served as street food or as banchan (side dish) at a restaurant! 

Star Rating: 2/5

5. Live Octopus 

One of the most interesting things you will ever eat! Honestly, similar to the bugs mentioned above, not so bad! Unlike the fermented crab and fish that had a very unappealing flavour (to say the least); there is nothing unappealing about the flavor of live octopus. It's all a mental and texture game. Getting your mind around the fact that you are eating a recently killed, moving animal. And the super-chewy-never-feels-like-it's-ready-to-swallow texture. You chew, and chew, and chew, and no matter what, it will never fully get to the texture where you think, "OK, it's ready to go down now!". You kinda just have to force it.

I definitely recommend trying this dish. It's such an experience in itself!

Usually served drizzled with sesame oil & sesame seeds.

Star Rating: 2.5/5

6. Pig Feet 

Another pleasant surprise! Lots of seasoning & marinade, giving it a really nice flavour. As you can see in the picture, there are the hooves on the right, and the other part of the foot on the left. The meat on the hooves was super tough to eat, since there isn't much actual meat on it. But the rest, delicious!

Star Rating: 4.5/5

7. Chicken Feet 

Ok, this was ordered totally by accident, as you might have read in my trip to Seoul entry. One of the many times where things get lost in translation when abroad. But hey, another thing to add to the list! Similar to the pig hooves, not much meat on these babies. You're actually supposed to eat the whole foot (bone included). Needless to say, we did not finish this dish!

Star Rating: 1/5

8. Raw Beef

The amount of raw meat (especially seafood) I have consumed since coming to Korea is....a lot. So it was only a matter of time since beef was added to the list! This was served to us at a Korean BBQ restaurant, almost an "appetizer" before it was time to grill the meat. (But 2 totally different cuts of meat; the raw beef to eat, and the raw beef to cook) You can eat it alone, or Korean BBQ style, by wrapping the meat in a leafy green and adding other goodies to it (onions, kimchi, beansprouts, other side dishes). Surprisingly, OK! Would even go as far as calling it "good". I think this was mostly a mental game, getting around the fact that I'm eating raw beef. 

Star Rating: 3/5

9. Pork Lung 

This was served to us with a dish called sundae, which is basically pig intestines stuffed with various ingredients (noodles, pork blood, etc.....). Far from the type of "sundae" we know from back home! If I wasn't told that I was eating pork lung, I would have had no idea! It tasted very similar to a cut of pork tenderloin, but definitely looked a little different.

Blood sausage on the top right, pork lung on the bottom.

Star Rating: 3.5/5 

To say Korea has opened up my mind when it comes to food may be an understatement. Not simply consuming different food than back home, but it has challenged my view (and the society I grew up with's view) on what we consider "normal" to eat. Why do we consider some parts of the pig normal to eat, and others are considered "strange" or "gross"? The animal has already been killed. Why waste any part of it? I'm not saying we should all start eating pork lung, simply that Korea truly knows how to make use of every part of the animal. Not just when it comes to meat, but also vegetables. Stems on vegetables that we would throw away back home? They turn it into kimchi. What we would consider to be "weeds" growing on the school football field? Actually a healthy herb and the school cooks are out there picking them.

Thankful to Korea for opening up my mind, and allowing me to try these foods. Well, some more than others....

Have any of you tried these dishes? Which ones would you want to try? Which one seems most unappealing?

Until next post,


Monday, 26 October 2015

Six Things I've Learned During My First Year in Korea

Cheers to one year in the land of kimchi! Happy Anniversary, Korea. I've learned a lot from you, so let's break it down into 6 nicely organized bullets.

1. A Whole New Alphabet

Sometimes this still blows my mind when I think about it too much. The fact that I've learned, practiced, and implemented a whole new letter system into my daily life?! Crazy. Something (I hope) I will never forget. 

In all honesty, half the time I don't know what I'm reading, since my vocabulary is still growing. However, knowing the written language facilitates the acquisition of the Korean language in general, and definitely eases some stress in daily life. For example, making sure you are getting on the right bus, reading the school timetable, etc. It is especially useful when it comes to food, since Korean actually borrows many words from English. For example, on a menu, if you read "치즈 피자", it phonetically reads as chee-jeuh pee-ja. AKA...........cheese pizza! There is no "z" sound in the Korean alphabet, so the Korean-ization of some English words takes some getting used to. Along with putting on a Korean accent while using English words!

2. Navigating a New Transportation System

Learning the alphabet and Korean language is also super useful when it comes to the transportation system. Whether it's directing a taxi driver to my apartment, busing to a different city, taking the subway in Seoul, or booking bus tickets on the smart phone application. These once stressful and anxiety filled experiences are all second nature to me now. This makes life, especially weekends (which are supposed to be fun filled, duh) much more enjoyable and stress free. 


3. Feeling Comfortable Eating Alone 

Not only feeling comfortable, but straight up enjoying it! Before leaving Korea, the thought of eating in a restaurant by myself would have scared the shit out of me. Since cooking and grocery shopping were big adjustments for me when I first got here, I ate out a lot. I still probably do this (maybe) once a week. Kimbap, bibimbap, kimchi stew, ALL THE KOREAN FOOD! Eating out in Korea (Korean food, for the most part) is very cheap and pretty healthy.

Just watch those sodium levels and refined carbs! *Rice overload*

4. Teaching Isn't My Forever Job

Teaching was always a "maybe" career route for me back home in Canada. Although I really do enjoy teaching in Korea, I now know it's not my forever job; not here nor back home! I know the experience back home would be totally different, however I still feel confident in saying it's not the career for me. In fact, I don't think I want one career for the rest of my life at all. But more on living micro lives and multiple passions later......

Nevertheless, I will still continue to enjoy my teaching here in Korea for the next year :)

5. English is HARD

Never have I ever, until coming to Korea, felt so lucky and grateful to have English as my first language. It is HARD. Learning it is hard. Teaching it is hard. It's a confusing language with so many exceptions. 

English connects the world, and opens up so many windows and doors. To be able to speak it as a first language is truly a blessing and a privilege. The simple fact that I was born in an English speaking country, is what allowed me the opportunity of teaching in Korea in the first place.

6. My Parents Freakin' Rock 

Well I guess I already knew that........but let me explain why it makes my list, OK?! Well, firstly, that they supported and encouraged me to pursue travelling and teaching in Korea in the to begin with. Then again, when I decided to stay for a another year. I've never had to question their support. It is so natural in our relationship that I sometimes take it for granted. So, thank you.

Teaching in Korea, or even living abroad for that matter, is not for everyone. And whether this is due to nature versus nurture, as always, is up for debate. Although I of course miss my parents, I am thankful that they have raised me to have the confidence and autonomy to embark on an adventure such as this.


Needless to say, I've learned a lot more than these 6 simple points above. About myself, the world around me, the culture I'm living in, and so on. Perhaps I'll continue to make these sort of posts in the future, since the list is always growing!

And on that note, for those who don't know yet, I will be staying another year here in Korea! Excited to say I'll be coming home for a visit during winter vacation, and also thrilled that my awesome travel buddy- my Dad, will be accompanying me on the way back to Korea for a visit!

Let the learning & adventure continue!

- L2K

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Happy Chuseok! Celebrating Korean Thanksgiving in Picturesque Piagol

Last weekend was the celebration of Chuseok, essentially the equivalent of Thanksgiving here in Korea. For us teachers, that meant a 4 day weekend! We took full advantage of this and headed for Piagol Valley in Jiri Mountain for some good ol' fashioned fall camping. Campfires, cool nights, and crisp air. And to top it all off, we were the ONLY people at this campsite. We had the beautiful place all to ourselves! An awesome way to bring the camping season to a close, and welcome the new fall season upon us.

We found out about this spot through my friend's Korean co-worker, who was generous enough to drive us out there- about 30 minutes outside of Gurye. On top of taking the time out of their busy Chuseok weekend to drive 5 crazy foreigners to their campsite, her and her husband had also packed us a bunch of homemade Korean food. Loads of rice, pajeon (Korean pancakes), kim (roasted seaweed), and of course.....kimchi! And here we thought we were going to live off ramen noodles for the weekend. Although I've been here for almost a year now, the generosity of Koreans still amazes me. We were all so blown away and appreciative of this gesture.

After unloading all of our camping gear and goodies, it was time to set up camp!


Nestled right into the mountains 

Since we were the only ones here, we designated this pagoda as our cooking and eating area!

A huge benefit to this campsite was having the little shop that you can see in the left corner. The man who works there was on an on-call basis, so whenever we needed to stock up on water, beer, or soju, we simply gave him a ring! This saved the hassle of us having to stock up and worry about keeping beer things cold. 

In Korea, whenever you purchase a lot of something you will sometimes get what is called "service" (or as the Koreans say "ser-vice-uh"). It's basically something they will throw in for free with your purchase. The ser-vice-uh we received at this campsite was above and beyond. They provided us with ice, frozen water bottles, a huge ice bucket to keep our drinks cold, roasted seaweed, and they even installed a little lamp in pagoda for our nighttime drinking card games. Amazing! Again, Korean hospitality. 

After setting up camp, it was time to explore. There was a beautiful river/creek right by our campsite, where we spent time skipping rocks, building inukshuks, and going for a little dip. 

Time to relax by the fire after our mini exploration! First place we were allowed to have a campfire in Korea.

After a very hard sleep that night (beach camping spoiled us), the next day was filled with more exploring, hiking, and swimming. A perfect day! 

Where our hiking trail ended, a mountain top watering hole began!

Stumbled across this swing!

Don't forget the beer when searching for a watering hole!

Day coming to an End. Taking in all the beauty!

The next day, it was time to take down our tents and pack our bags. 3 days, 2 nights spent in picturesque Piagol, and another camping adventure under our belts. Great company, lush green mountains and endless exploration possibilities. My first Chuseok, well spent!

Almost year later, and I'm still blown away by the beauty Korea has to offer. I can't wait for the month ahead where I will get to experience a Korean autumn to the fullest, since arriving late October last year cut the fall season a bit short. 

On that note......for those who don't know, I have renewed my contract and will be staying another year here in Korea. I have learned and experienced an immeasurable amount this past year, which I will be dedicating a full blog post to in the near future. Needless to say I am thrilled for this adventure to continue!

Thank you Piagol, you were beautiful. Until next year, Chuseok!

- L2K

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Beautiful Bijindo

August 9th- breakfast filled with Dunkin Donuts (makeshift Korean Tim Hortons breakfast), and we set out for our week long cross Korea road trip!

After some failed attempts of camping on the East Coast during the first part of our vacation (paying 30,000\ to sleep next to a roller coaster, lack of private camping, etc etc), finding Bijindo was exactly what we needed. We found our beach. The ability to cook our own food (we were banned from cooking at one beach in Gangneung), to camp where we pleased (for free!), and to feel somewhat secluded. The mountainous surroundings, gorgeous blue waters, quaint beach town feel didn't hurt either. It was the perfect destination to kick back, relax, and explore. Unfortunately, we had to leave our rental car (Jeolla) on the mainland, since it was just a passenger ferry. Even if we were able to bring her over......there were no real roads to drive on! Gives you an idea of how secluded it was.

So what's there to do on this secluded island you say?! Plenty!


Our 2 full days here were spent lounging by the beach, swimming, cooking, and exploring. If (and when) I do go back, I would definitely muster up the energy to do the hike which gives you a phenomenal view of how the two islands connect. I'm still kicking myself for not doing it!

Not my photo. What I would've seen!




You were also able to rent these great inner floaty tubes for 5,000\ ($5) a day! (Which also doubled as a comfy chair on land).




We brought a boatload (literally- or should I say ferryload) of camping gear with us. And the best part about it? It's free! One of the many places you can plop your tent right down in Korea without getting kicked out by the police (true story). 

A look at (some) of our gear

Our setup

Not a bad view to wake up to!

If camping, isn't your thing, we saw at least two small pensions (what Koreans call mini resort-like hotels), and 1 hidden guesthouse that looked nice.

Also available to rent for a daily fee of five bucks were these great SUNbrellas! Perfect for that much needed shade.

Food & Drink

Like I said before, we brought a ferryload of stuff with us. Which of course, included food. On the list was: nacho chips, salsa, potatoes, ramen noodles, eggs, bread, and assorted fruit and veggies. We cooked almost all of our meals on our portable grills except for one- where we splurged on some Korean fried chicken. However, the portion size was incredibly small and very pricey. With that being said, I would definitely recommend bringing at least some of your own food if you are planning on staying more than a day. You won't starve if you don't, since there are some restaurants and shops however just be prepared to pay a little lot more than you are used to (#islandprices).

There were also a bunch of shops where you could buy popsicles, beer, and soju- our top 3 priorities! Thank goodness, or else we might have had to lug an ice filled cooler on the ferry with us.  

One important note is that we could not find an ATM anywhere on this island. The price you pay for somewhat seclusion! Luckily we all brought enough cash with us. 

On our third day, it was time to pack up and go. It was a wonderful two days spent with great company. I think I touched my phone once, and it was to take a picture. No Facebook creeping or mindless Instagram scrolling- a nice reminder of what life should be like.

Bye bye Bijindo! I'll be back.


Monday, 20 July 2015

How to Celebrate Canada Day Abroad in 7 Easy Steps

1. Dress the part

Put on your deepest reds and freshest whites. This should be a daily occurrence, however on Canada day especially; if you aren't wearing red and white, are you really Canadian?

2. Take a selfie with the giant flag hanging on your wall

Because it's Tim Horton's law that every Canadian abroad has one.

3. Grill ALL the meat

Pretend you are at your typical Canada Day backyard BBQ by engaging in a meat grilling activity native to the country you are currently residing in. In my case: Korean BBQ. 

4. Face paint your fellow Canadians

Because what screams Canada day more than painting each other in traditional Canadian symbols? 

(Ideas to inspire: maple leaf, hockey sticks, Tim Hortons cup, beavers, moose, "sorry", "eh"). 

5. Face paint the locals

What better way to spread your Canadian pride and culture?! (Do not use force, only if they are willing). Sorry, eh!

6. Put on your antlers

Because what makes a Canadian feel more at home than bringing out his or her inner moose?! Trick question: nothing. 

7. Shoot fire in to the sky 

Because we Canadians can get away with anything!!!

*Disclaimer: These are simply guidelines. Laura2Korea is not responsible for any outcomes that may occur.*