NCT 127

Top 10 K-Pop Songs from 2016

Before I kick off the top ten I would just like to state how hideously under qualified I am to comment on what constitutes a good K-pop song. If I were to name some desert island discs they would include Echo & the Bunnymen, Interpol, Joy Divison, Radiohead and Tears for Fears. You could not get a more polar opposite to K-pop. However, as a rule I do not discriminate any given genre of music and there are always pieces which I can get on board with, be it Pop, Metal, Country & Western and now K-pop. Yes, I have a K-pop playlist on my phone and I really enjoy listening to it. Would I have enjoyed K-pop as much if i had not lived in Korea for nearly half a year, I can’t honestly say? To help me work this out can you, the reader, please be the judge and report back to me your thoughts of my choices. Opinions on this blog are mine and mine alone and are in no official capacity whatsoever. So without further ado, here’s the countdown.

10) Brave Girls – Deepened

Brave girls did a “comeback” in 2016 after a 3 year hiatus with their mini album named High Heels. I put “comeback” in quotes as they left a 4 piece group, but “cameback” as a 7 piece group with a new look a new sound…and a new lineup making them pretty much a new group entirely. This “comeback” song is about some boy treating these girls badly in a breakup (an extremely common theme in female K-pop). Deepened is an uptempo RnB track with a customary rap piece in the middle. The video also takes me back to the late 90s/early 00s watching MTV videos on my NTL cable TV.

Sounds like:

Aaliyah, Ashanti, Rhianna

9) Gfriend – Navillera

This track from all-girl group Gfriend falls into the bucket of ‘sickly sweet K-pop’ and have to admit is annoyingly catchy. Navillera is a classic pop song which starts with an electric guitar solo before going in heavy on the synth. It won Korean TV show ‘Inkagayo’ (a cross between Top of the Pops and Xfactor) about 3 times in a row which is no easy feat, but I can easily see why as it has all of the elements which Koreans care about in music; a big group, cheesy video, catchy song, cute look and good dancing.

Sounds like:

Carly Rae Jepson, Selena Gomez, Little Mix

8) Stellar – Crying

Stellar are a relatively old band, having been around since 2012 but their previous songs were released to limited success. Subsequently the management decided to make their videos more sexual to get more notice. And it worked. Sort of. They confess that they have received more publicity and made the right call at the time but being famous for the group that makes provocative music videos isn’t the best accolade in the world. So fast forward 18 months later and they returned with a cleaner image and a track called Crying. This song sounds happy and uplifting, but is actually about some boy treating these girls badly in a breakup (Sounding familiar yet?) It’s got soft heartfelt vocals set across a solid dance track with plenty of piano as per many early 00s commercial Ibiza tracks. Alas, the song and the band seemed to have pretty have much tanked as they’ve already lost the female supporters because their videos were too dirty and now they’ve probably lost the blokes as well because their new videos aren’t dirty enough. This is a massive shame because this track is definitely one the the better offerings I’ve heard out here and caters very well for the western palate. These girls have just fallen foul of some questionable marketing tactics.

Sounds like:

David Guetta, Alice Deejay, DJ Sammy

7)  Twice – Cheer up

Twice are a huge group, in every sense of the word. There’s 9 of them for a start and they have a colossal following despite their relative infancy as a group. Koreans (and music producers) like to measure success of a song based on Youtube hits and Cheer Up was the fastest ever K-pop song to reach 50 million views; move over Psy. Despite being released only 8 months ago, it is already in the top 20 most viewed K-pop songs of all time at 108 million views. Hot on the heels of “Some boy treating me badly in a breakup”, we have female K-pop trend number 2 “I really like this boy but I’m too shy to ask him out”. Aside from Youtube hits, a good barometer for the popular of a K-pop song is how they perform on one of the many weekly network music shows as this great blog details. In the absence of any official billboard chart, these two metrics define how successful bands are in relation to each other. Like Navillera(9), This song won Inkagayo three times on the bounce and ‘Music Bank’ (a similar music show) an incredible 5 times. It might well go on to be the most successful K-pop song of 2016.

Sounds like:

Little Mix, Ariana Grande

6) EXO – Lotto

The first all-dudes band in the Top 10 is perennial K-pop heavyweights EXO. These guys are huge out here, anything they release will be popular and anything they endorse will sell like hot cakes (having probably endorsed hot cakes on many occasions). They don’t get much bigger and you can see in the quality of the video for the hit Lotto that management are happy to throw down a big budget on it as they will see it rewarded in spades. The song itself has got a sexy hook, cash registers going kerching and that ‘popping’ electro beat (which I have no idea of the official term). It can standup well against any other track from more established acts in the alternative hip hop genre. Furthermore, the group actually belies the entire Korean economy ethos, take something from the States, spend a few years learning how to do the basics before releasing a very competitive product into the market.

Sounds like:

LMFAO, Far East Movement, the Neptunes, Usher, Will.I.Am

5)  Black Pink – Whistle

This 4-piece girl group are becoming hugely popular and it isn’t hard to see why. They are sexy but not in a ‘giving away the farm’ style like Stellar and come across as strong and independent. Their songs are also quite unlike anything from a K-pop perspective and as such are massively palatable for western tastes. In fact, of all K-pop music we have introduced to visiting friends from the UK, Black Pink has largely been the favourite. Whistle has clearly been influenced by hip hop (with oodles of pop as well). The track consists of mainly rap vocals set over a deep bass beat and of course, a whistle (a catchy one at that). Its a great track and you will find yourself whistling the dirty whistle bit either out loud or in your head for days.

Sounds like:

Nicky Minaj, Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea

4)  Black Pink – Boombiyah

The girls first release, Boombiyah, had instant success winning Inkigayo just 14 days after debuting, a record for a girl group. They have actually released four excellent tracks on the bounce (this track,  ‘Whistle (5)‘, ‘Playing with fire’ and ‘Stay’). Boombiyah is an uptempo dance/hip-hop track, full of energy and attitude. Despite a few cringeworthy lyrics “Been a bad girl I know I am, And I’m so hot I need a fan” there are again some much better Korean cultural references, specifically  when they shout “Oppa” (meaning babe/baby/bae/my fella(!) in Korean). Its good, very good and its one of the few K-pop tracks which have found its way onto other playlists on my devices.

Sounds like:

Nicky Minaj, Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea

3) Shinee – 1 of 1

Here we come to the only other male group on this female dominated list. Shinee (pronounced ‘shiny’, not ‘shin-ee’) are a huge group in Korea having been around since 2008 releasing some of the better K-pop songs over the last decade (‘Lucifer’, ‘Everybody’, ‘Ring Ding Dong’). Known for changing their image to current trend, their latest song 1 of 1 sees a massive throwback to the 90s. Think of a ‘Color me Badd’ meets ‘New Kids on the Block’ type styling. As a kid growing up in this age of music, I instantly loved this song, its drum machine beat, synth and strings, jazz guitar solo and piano. The video is full of stone washed jeans, denim jackets, technicolour shirts and their superb choreographed dancing ability. All in all – Superb, or “Rad” as i used to say back in ’92

Sounds like:

New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Take That

2) Red Velvet – Russian Roulette

Red Velvet are somewhat of an enigma to me. By the standard metrics of music show wins and views per music video, Red velvet underperform. However, they endorse a lot of products, they belong to the most prestigious management company (SM Town) and have featured on the biggest K-drama of 2016 (Descendants of the Sun), so they must be doing something right. Russian Roulette was the track that finally broke their fallow run at music shows and man was it worth the wait. For the record, I love this song, I love the video and now I love them. It is K-pop catchiness in the extreme. It has an electro undertone, plenty of synth and a hint of vocoder action (famous in that Cher track) but in particular it has what many K-pop tacks don’t have – consistency. It is smooth and fluent throughout, unlike a lot of other tracks which can be wildly disjointed for no apparent reason. I must also add that it has the best music video out of all tracks listed in this blog. It therefore has all the ticks in the right boxes to be an excellent pop song in its own right, regardless of country of origin. Russian Roulette will now always be my gateway track when introducing friends and family into K-pop to ease them in.

Sounds like:

Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Gwen Stefani

1) Twice – TT

Twice, who true to their name are on this list twice, returned with an even more superior song to their previous release. TT, named after the tear-shedding emoticon (yep you’ve guessed it, it’s trend number 2, “I really like this boy but i’m too shy to ask him out”), absolutely smashed the success metrics. It swept across the music shows devastating everything in its wake, denying solid hits from Black Pink, I.O.I and BTS. Even more impressive is that it managed to get in at number 7 on the largely USA dominated YouTube Chart for debut acts of the week, clear evidence that it can fight toe to toe with US pop music. However, given all that instant success.. . I didn’t really care for this at first listen. I didn’t think there was sufficient oomph in the chorus like you get with “Russian Roulette” or “Boombiyah” and the hook doesn’t really grab you either. So why have I placed this number one? It is Twice’s perceived weaknesses which actually turn out to be their greatest strength. The girls have soft vocals which won’t give you the power required for big Adele type choruses or Blackpink badass rap interludes. In TT, the minimalistic production setting, tiptoeing between pop, electro and dance is a perfect match for them to show off their quirky charm (its name after a teary emoticon for god sake! Quirkiness overload).  The song quickly became wildly addictive and for me it is the best example of K-pop in 2016. I have to say, I listen to it an awful lot and you know what, I think it is good for me. Listening to too much Radiohead and Joy Division can’t be too healthy for your soul and TT provides the perfect juxtaposition.

Sounds Like:

Little Mix, Ariana Grande, Hot Chip, The Avalanches, Metronomy

Korean BBQ

Top 10 Korean Foods To Try

Over the last five months we at Beauty & Seoul have sampled many aspects of South Korean cuisine; the good, the bad and the ugly. Even for the worlds biggest foodie, South Korean food can be a bit of a minefield. When faced with a new cuisine and the menu is throwing up confusing options, I often just ask the waiter/chef what they would recommend and it normally serves me well. In South Korea this can be gastronomic russian roulette (raw crab anyone?) so i feel that you do need some pointers for where to start. These recommendations reflect our favourite South Koreans foods which should appeal to the Western palate. Please let us know what you think in the comments. In no particular order we start with…

Korean BBQ 고기구이

This is probably the most obvious entry on the list. If you have been to only one Korean restaurant either in Korea or outside of Korea, the chances are it was a BBQ. The average Korean’s diet seems incredibley similar to that of a T-Rex i.e meat, meat, meat and maybe some veg that got in the way when trying to eat meat. For this purpose a BBQ is a carnivore’s heaven. You simply sit down around a circular table with a gaping hole in the middle and an industrial suction fan hanging from the ceiling, order the meat you want to grill (various cuts of beef or pork, some marinaded some not) and what alcohol you want to wash it down with. After this you let the theatre commence.  The waiter/pyrotechnician will bring a bucket of flaming hot coals from outside of the restaurant and plonk it straight in front of you and another waiter will bring you the tray of selected meat, salts and sauces. You will also get about a hundred side dishes, called Banchan, which come in varying degrees of tastiness.dsc_0815

After that, you are on your own. The first rule of Korean BBQ club is there are no rules. You grill the meat as per how you like it, slice it as thinly as you want, hell you can chuck on all of the side dishes onto the grill to see how they taste BBQ’d (BBQ’d Kimchi tastes better in my humble opinion as the intense flavour mellows out). The standard way of eating this is to pick off the meat off the grill with your chopsticks, dip it in the sesame oil, the salt and the chilli paste before placing it in a lettuce or perilla leaf (a leaf with a slight aniseed flavour). You then add whatever additional bits and bobs you want in from those extra dishes in your table before wrapping it up before doing the eating equivalent of “down it in one”. Yes, it all goes in the mouth, no time for second bites here. Celebratory Shot of Soju encouraged. The real popularity of the BBQ is rooted in the Korean culture of sharing food and also socialising  (well, drinking). Everybody is chopsticks in picking at the various pieces, filling up their soju glasses, playing drinking games and plenty of raucous laughter. Family, friends or work colleagues it is a firm favourite.

Where?

Pretty much everywhere, look for people starting fires in buckets on the pavement then follow them. My favourites are;

Piggy Bank (돼지저금통) Exit 8 of Hongkik University station, immediately take a right, and walk until first roundabout, turn left, walk to second roundabout and you will see it on the first corner to the right. An institution, has been featured many times on TV, is still great value and just has that classic BBQ vibe.

Queen Pig (여왕 돼지) Exit 2 of Konkuk University first left and left again and halfway down this road. To be honest i like it because it is really cheap (25k won for 2 people inc soju and beer) and was local to us. There are MANY cheap and great BBQ venues around this location known as Kondae.

Maple Tree House (단풍나무집) Exit 2 of Itaweon station, first left and then left again. This one is more premium (60k Won for 2) but the surroundings are very stylish and you can even have a glass of red wine, unheard of at any other Korean BBQ!

Korean Fried Chicken 양념 치킨

Korean Fried Chicken (the other KFC) is one of the most plentiful, tasty and best value foods you can find. In its plainest form coming in just two styles; Spicy or not spicy (which is still pretty damn spicy) and possibly the additional option of bones in or out. The secret to the success is the chicken is fried twice to render out the fat from the skin and then dipped in a beautiful sweet and sticky chilli sauce. The result is the crispiest batter you will ever eat, followed by a hit of the lovely sweet chilli. The trend, called Chimaek (a combination of the Korean words for Chicken & Beer) is more than just a take away food, it is also a pretty solid metaphor for the booming Korean economy over the last 30 years. Like commerce heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai, Korea took a foreign concept, quickly got up to speed with it before suddenly being better at it then most of the world.

Just a pity they didn’t do this with their beer though 😦

Korean Fired Chicken
Image taken from Maanghi.com

Where?

There are a lot of chicken chain restaurants in Seoul but Kyochon (교촌치킨) and
BBQ Chicken (비비큐치킨) are my favourites – copy and paste the hangul spelling into google maps to find the nearest one. There are a LOT of great small individual restaurants scattered around Seoul (especially around any university) but i’ve always been either in a rush or a bit tipsy to know precisely the names I’m sorry :-O

Mandu 만두

These dumplings are very similar to Gyoza or Pierogi and are insanely addictive. Every “restaurant” (some are literally a hole in the wall) will have their own recipe but they on average they contain a mix of minced pork, tofu, spring onions, garlic, ginger and glass noodles. They usually come either steamed or deep fried (yummmm) and also can include shrimp or kimchi. Which is the best? Answer is they all are, just go for the combination platter and savour them all. You can usually spot these restaurants from a mile away, simply look for the jets of seam pouring from the facade. We’ve loved them and they have saved us on many occasions, they are very cheap and incredibly filling.

Where?

The one and only Bukchon Sonmandu (Dumplings) 북촌 손만두. The flagship stall is off the main Insadong road (Anguk University, Exit 6). It’s down an alley opposite Insadong Gil-9, adjacent to the Ssamzie-gil Market, watch out for the plume of steam. These are hands down my favourite and run by a lovely bunch of ajummas! Keep an eye out for the branding and you will start to see the other branches all over Seoul.

Jjimdak 안동찜닭

OK so we are firmly into the territory of foodstuffs you are unlikely to have heard of. First of these is a very tasty dish called Jjimdak, a braised chicken, potato and noodle dish stew with passing similarity to a Malaysian style curry. Ordering this dish is pretty simple. 1) how many servings required? 2) any add ons such as noodles or mozzarella? 3) Chicken with Bone in or out? and finally 4) Spice level 1,2 or 3?. Just a note on the last one, we opted for spice level 1 and it nearly blew our heads off. God knows what level 3 would be like, i can assume it is served with a fire hydrant. As with most korean cuisine, its served in one pot in the middle on a gas stove and you all patiently watch it cook before digging into the communal pot.

Jjimdak

Where?

Yeolbong Jjimdak (열봉찜닭) Gangnam Station Exit 11. Out of the subway, walk down the main Gangnam road, take the first right, then the first left, then the first right.

Seolleongtang 설렁탕

Korean penicillin. The dish to eat if you have a cold or a more self inflicted illness such as the hangover, Seolleongtang gets you back on your feet again. The dish comprises of a milky, ox-bone broth with tender slices of brisket and sliced spring onion. It arrives at the table bubbling hot and one sip warms you right to your very bones as you feel its healing powers get to work. As a Brit, closing my eyes and tasting the tender brisket evokes memories of a Sunday roast beef with gravy. So there you have it, miracle healing sunday roast in a soup. What is not to love about that?

sellongtang
Image taken from http://www.gimpofood.kr

Where?

Sinseon Seolleongtang (신선설농탕) is another wonderful chain. The Myeongdong Branch is open 24 hours, perfect for night owls, drunks, or jet laggers (i’ve been all three). Lovely silky broth and also the mandu and kimchi pancakes on the side are not too shabby either. The cost is only 7,000 won per serving too.

Myeongdong Branch

Hongdae Branch

Hotteok

The first thing which will draw you towards a Hotteok stand is the gorgeous smell. Like a freshly baked doughnut, the sugary, buttery aroma makes you willing to spend everything in your wallet just for a taste. Thankfully it’ll only set you back 80 pence. When you take the first bite, you not only get that classic doughnut taste but also the unexpected filling of cinnamon, peanut and melted brown sugar. This is hands down my favourite Korean sweet. I think the only slight drawback is Hotteok can get a little greasy from time to time, which is peculiar as in general Koreans have a great dislike for oily/greasy food. I guess the Hotteok is just so damn tasty, they are willing to look the other way just this once.

Where?

Everywhere on the street! Follow your nose. If you want further pointers, head to Insadong (Anguk University, Exit 6) and find Teolbone Hotteok, close to Ssamzie-gil Market, walk to roughly at this point on the map and look out for the maroon sign.

Good examples can also be found in Namdaemun Market, near Hoehyeon stationwhere you can also get vegetable or noodle filed versions.

Jajangmyeon 자장면 & Tangsuyuk 탕수육

Chinese food in Korea is… basically not Chinese food at all. I mean, i’m sure it was once upon a time but it has been so heavily adapted for Korean taste that it barely resembles Chinese food anymore, therefore I class these as Korean food. By far the most popular dishes are Jajangmyeon, which probably started out once upon a time as Stir fried pork in black bean sauce and Tangsuyuk which was once sweet sour pork cantonese style. The Jajangmyeon is simply noodles coated in a thick black bean sauce which contains diced pork, onion and root vegetables. It is actually custom in Korea for being the first dish you order when moving into a new home, until you eat the “Jaj” you haven’t really ‘moved in’.  The Tangsuyuk is strips of pork, deep fried in a light batter, absolutely drenched in a thick gluey sweet and sour sauce with lots of chopped vegetables. Amazingly, even through the dousing in sauce, the pork retains its lovely crispy batter. If you find yourself in a ‘Chinese’ restaurant in Korea and start to fret because none of your favourite Chinese meals are on the menu (they won’t be) you will do a lot worse then start off with these two platters. As ever with Korean dining, sharing is caring with these.

Jajangmyeon and Tangsuyuk

Where?

Andongjang (안동장), Exit 10 of Euljiro 3-ga Station on subway line 2. Walk straight until you find it on your left. One of the oldest Chinese restaurants in Seoul, if not the first. It really doesn’t look like much on the outside (or the inside for that matter) but the food is excellent, and very reasonably priced.

Paik’s Noodle. Another massive chain all over Seoul, just look for the guy’s creepy face in the red circle and go in. Its cheap, a bit greasy but immensely satisfying.

Budae Jjigae 부대찌개

This dish fascinates me because it shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t work. It is a spicy Korean stew containing instant noodles, Spam, frankfurters, baked beans, grated mozzarella and macaroni. Huh Spam, err what? It reminds me of my student days when you would chuck whatever you had left in the cupboards just to piece together something resembling a meal. But you see, that is exactly the reason for Budae jjigae. It also fascinates me because it has a really great story behind it. Budae jjigae is more commonly referred to as ‘Army Base Stew’. After the Korean war, times were very tough for Koreans. The economy was in tatters, people were living in deep poverty and food was incredibly scarce. To fight malnutrition, Koreans would go to US army bases to beg, borrow or steal (well, i don’t believe Koreans would ever steal) supplies in order to survive. What supplies did the US army have in surplus? Instant noodles, Spam, frankfurters, baked beans, grated mozzarella and macaroni. They were all incorporated into their local Doenjang Jjigae (Spicy tofu stew) and the result is a delicious stew which is a total Frankenstein of a dish but it just worked. It worked then and it still works now – believe me.

budae jjigae budaejjigae jigae
Image taken from maangchi.com

Where?

Nolboo (놀부), Myeongdong 10-gil. Exit 8 of Myeongdong station, take the first left and keep on walking, past the massive starbucks and it is a few doors down from the famous Myeongdong Gyoja (also a great restaurant). Nolboo is also a chain and can be found over Seoul.


n.b searching on googlemaps will take you to a slightly different place so this pin above is where we found the restaurant.

Seafood Pajeon 해물파전

Pajeon is a pancake batter (jeon) mixed in with spring onions (pa). It does sound quite boring, and i’ll admit it is, however where this dish really comes alive is the addition of seafood. Some of the most luxurious seafood you can imagine (Scallops, Mussels, lobster, prawns) get lumped in with the pancake batter before being laid over the spring onions to fry off. Add some savoury dipping sauce (fish sauce with some apple vinegar and sesame seeds) and you have one very accomplished dish. Often eaten as a side at a Bulgogi or BBQ restaurant, or one of many other dishes, this pancake really gives the dutch counterpart a run for it’s money. Simple, yet remarkably decadent, seafood pajeon deserves to get more prestige on the Korean dinner table rather than put as a side dish.

Where?

Busan Galbi (Exit 2 of Itaweon station, first left and then left again) does a solid pajeon amongst some other excellent Korean staples.

Gimbap 김밥

According to many, Gimbap is the original Korean fast food, the Korean version of a Big Mac. Gimbap is steamed rice, laid across seaweed and filled with a choice of fillings before being rolled up, sliced and handed over to you. Gimbap is truly a food of the people, simple honest and incredibly tasty. The women (its usually women) who make the Gimbap are extraordinarily talented. Like finely tuned machines they knock out millimetre perfect slices each time at great speed. Popular fillings include tuna mayo, bulgogi, Spam or my favourite “cheesyu” (cheese if you haven’t guessed). Gimbap shops are often located around metro stops and you must try, as if you don’t like it, you’ve lost out on a mere £2.

Gimbap Kimbap

Where?

For this and so many other dishes, go to Gwangjang Market (광장시장). Exit 8 of Jongno 5-ga station. Whilst you are there, also get bindaetteok, mung bean pancake (tastes like a massive hash brown), which was also very unlucky not to make it on my top 10 list.

KBO Baseball game LG Twins

Ways in which Korea has changed me

We have now come to the end of our 4 month stint here in Korea and have learned so much about the country and also about myself. Korea has changed me in so many ways but here are a few key ones:

I have learned to share my food

share-foodFor those that know me well, this is huge. A lot of friends know that on my second date with Steve, we were having dinner and he leaned across the table and took a big scoop of my hummus because he didn’t like his starter and wanted some of mine. I was beyond outraged. ‘If you wanted the hummus, you should have ordered the hummus’, I snapped at him before hitting his hand away; debating whether or not I wanted to see this food stealer ever again. However, in Korea, food is for sharing. You don’t order a dish each, you order lots of dishes, place them in the middle and share. Everyone picks at the dishes themselves with their chopsticks. So this was a massive learning curve for me but I’m actually now all about the food sharing because it means never having any food envy; yet another pet peeve of mine.

I no longer want a tan 

img_3107I used to be a sun-worshipper. I used to brag about how I never needed suncream. But in Korea people hide from the sun. We carry sun-berellas. We slap on the highest SPF we can find on a daily basis, and then some. Having researched a lot about the best skincare products, routines and tips, I quickly discovered just how bad the sun is for your skin. I still don’t like the ‘whiter than white’ look that a lot of the girls sport here. But I definitely take better care of my skin in terms of sun protection and never leave the house without an SPF on, even if it’s winter.

I spend longer on my skincare routine 

img_4355I used to always think that a skincare routine was cleanse, tone and moisturise. Sometimes I would be fancy and put on a serum. I never went to bed without washing my face, no matter how tired I was or how many proseccos I may have had. I thought I was pretty darn good with my skincare; until I moved to Korea. Most people have heard about the Korean 10 step skincare routine and whilst this does not necessarily mean you have to use 10 products every day twice a day, you will find that the average Korean woman does in fact use about 10-12 skincare products on their face daily. As formulations are very light, women like to layer lots of products like essences, lotions, serums and ampoules and pat them in so that they seep in more effectively. And it must work because everywhere I look here, people have great glowing skin. So I jumped on the bandwagon and devised my own skincare ritual using a multitude of products and I have never looked back since.

I am more conscious about what I wear

maxresdefault

Koreans are extremely fashionable. I’ve never seen so many women that look so effortlessly put together. When I first arrived, I used to gawk at all the lovely ensembles and outfits that I would see. Korean women manage to balance girly, cute and sophisticated all at the same time and I am now a complete K-style convert. Back home, I would put on my sweats, scrape back my hair and walk down the street to pick up a coffee. Not here. You wouldn’t be caught dead doing that here. It is part of Korean culture to always strive to be your best, whether it be looks, skin, job etc, and being here has definitely brought that to the surface.

I love a fancy toilet

img_0523I was so amused with Korean toilets when I first moved here and loved playing with all the buttons until one day I pressed one that shot a jet stream of water up my bum and was scarred ever since. However, after having being told that actually a bidet is a lot more hygienic I decided to give the fancy toilets another whirl. And let me tell you, I am now a convert. Steve and I joke that we need to get one installed in our toilet when we get back to London. But trust me, once you get used to that heated toilet seat and warm spray you will never want to go back!

I’m a sucker for the cute and the wonderfully weird stuff

Everyone knows that Asians love the cute stuff. Everyone also knows that there are some things that are just darn right weird in Asia as well. I have now come to love both. I want to collect as many soft toys from claw machines as possible. I spend hours looking at cute stationery and stickers. I’m a sucker for the latest beauty product so long as it comes in some ridiculously kitsch packaging. Oh and don’t EVEN get me started on Korean Snapchat filters.

I’m a self-proclaimed K Pop Fan 

NCT 127
NCT 127 performing at the Gala Dinner

Psy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kpop. There are sooooo many better tunes than the infamous Gangnam Style. The Kpop industry in Korea is like a giant X factor. Large companies will scout for the best talent, train them up and present them in a group as an ‘idol’. Groups have a lot of members in them; mainly because they can all be replaced should one fail – this is business after all. They come up with ridiculously catchy tunes with ridiculously random lyrics. Oh and don’t be surprised to hear 5 or 6 separate music genres in one track. It can go from Bieber to Aaliyah to Guns’n’Roses to Nicky Minaj and back to Bieber all in one track. It is all wildly addictive.

‘Han’ 

Han is a Korean concept that is apparently attributed to the fact that Korea has had more than their fair share of invasions and consequently was left feeling oppressed and resentful. Modern day though, a feeling of ‘han’ is described as a ‘feeling of unresolved resentment’. You will see it being shown subtly in every day life; this inability of letting things go and forget, the feeling that someone has wronged you – it’s a common theme in K Dramas. Often Steve will say to me ‘you’re so Korean’ and when we learned about this concept of ‘han’, Steve said ‘ah, that explains so much about you!’ Whether it be a guy that barged me out the way and then yelled at me for being in his way – you can guarantee I will still be raging about it the following week. One time, the restaurant downstairs in our building gave me one dumpling in my soup when usually there are three. When I asked her about it she just snapped something at me and turned away. I will now refuse to go there, even though it’s cheap, tasty and 1 minute away. Petty? Yes. Bothered? No.

And finally some things that I will just never get used to…

Gym Etiquette 

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I already ranted about the lack of gym etiquette in my blog Life in Seoul Part II. And a month later it still grates me. The weights are all scattered on the floor and the ones that are on the stand are in the wrong order. I once waited 20 minutes to use a machine because the guy on there took 3 business calls. And for the life of me, I still do not understand why no one runs on the running machines. Yes I could just let it go, but you know, ‘han’ and all….

Double Eyelid Surgery

img_23371 in 3 women in Seoul have had double eyelid surgery which is, for those that don’t know, adding a crease in to ones eyelid so it looks more like how a Western eye looks. I wrote a blog about my feelings on this previously. Another popular surgery is having your eyes widened so that they appear more round, instead of almond. I would rather focus on my skincare and make up and enhance what God gave me rather than change it completely.

The lack of understanding of road rules

unknownWhen you cross the road in Korea and wait for the green man, PLEASE wait a few seconds longer. There will always be 3-4 cars or buses that speed through long after the green light has gone. Additionally, zebra crossings mean nothing here. Cars will speed up to them and beep you out the way; we’ve had to dodge out the way numerous times – ON A PEDESTRIAN CROSSING. Steve will politely wait or step back (like any smart person would do) whereas I will stand there and start yelling at them to look up the road rules (which of course is completely pointless because he hasn’t the faintest idea what I am saying to him). I read an article that said that this complete lack of appreciation of road rules may be due to the Korean mentality of ‘must do everything quicker’; the idea that following the war, no man wants to be left behind so everyone is in a hurry. It is an interesting idea, but a crap reason nonetheless.

Pushing 

Never get in the way of a Korean person trying to get somewhere. I guess this is related to the point above. Queueing barely exists and no one holds doors for each other (seriously, I think we British are the only people who still do this). At first, I was impressed on the tube when people queued outside the doors but as soon as those doors open it’s a free for all and people will just barge on to the tube. Koreans always seem to be in a hurry and they will not give a damn if they have to shove you out the way… (And then give you a disgusted look because you were in their way).

Raw Crab 

ganjanggejang_cutImage from Maangchi’s website – maangchi.com

I will always try anything once. And until recently, there was absolutely no food that I could say I categorically hated. Sure, there were foods that I wasn’t particularly keen on like offal, but I didn’t hate it to the point where I would refuse to eat it. Until I tried raw crab. MY GOD, it was the most disgusting thing ever. It was like stale, fishy sea water; E.coli in a mouthful (it is actually safe to eat but you get my drift). The waiter came to our table with a plate of fried rice in one hand and a live crab in the other. Unceremoniously, he chopped up the crab and dumped its contents on to the rice. I felt awful because someone had actually bought it for us and it is considered a delicacy here but I just couldn’t bring myself to have a second spoonful of it. (And I was drunk at the time so that’s saying something.)

The Almighty Soju Hangover 

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I have had my fair share of horrific hangovers. Skipping dinner, shots, mixing drinks; been there. But none have been quite so bad as the soju hangover. As it only costs a quid and gets you (and keeps you) at a steady level of the happiest level of tipsiness it always starts out well and lulls you in a false sense of security. Fast forward to the next morning and you will not be able to lift your head from your pillow. It’s a wine hangover times a hundred. It’s worse than a migraine. It is simply awful. I cannot eat anything, I cannot get up, I just have to sleep it off the entire next day. But has it stopped us from drinking it every weekend?

Nope.

 

A little trip to Tokyo

Tokyo is only a 2 hour flight away from Seoul so we thought it would be the perfect little getaway trip for us. I used to live in Tokyo when I was younger and went to school there but I hadn’t been back in over 15 years so I was super excited. Unfortunately, Tokyo is very expensive and seeing as we are both not earning anything at the moment, we had to restrict ourselves to a 3 night stay.

We flew Jeju air, a Korean budget airline, which was very good and way more affordable than JAL or Korean Air. We stayed at a tiny AirBnb flat but it was fine for a short stay because we were barely in it; more importantly it was right in the thick of it in Shinjuku so the location was great. But it was tiny; it made our apartment in Seoul feel like a palace!

Best Ramen in Tokyo and the Golden Gai

Arriving at Narita we took the bus to Shinjuku (an eye watering 3,200 yen each, welcome to Japan!) and went straight to Ichiran Ramen near Shinjuku Station East exit. I LOVE ramen so this was the first thing I wanted to eat on arrival in Tokyo and wow, we were not disappointed! From the coin slot ordering machine, to the individual booths, to the little bow the waiter gave as he served us our noodles; we had well and truly arrived in Japan! Although it can be quite confusing ordering there are instructions in English on the machine, it’s very cheap and its the best ramen I have ever had – better than the one I had in Momofuku in New York. We then headed to Shibuya to pick up our Studio Ghibli tickets for the next day and then had a drink at the Golden Gai in Shinjuku – this alleyway is lined with quirky little bars that are no bigger than a room. We then retired to our tiny apartment for an early night.

Spirited Away in the Studio Ghibli Museum

The following day we were up early and headed to Mitaka to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum. Steve and I are huge fans of Studio Ghibli (eh hem… GEEKS eh hem) so this was well and truly the highlight of our trip. Tickets usually sell out way in advance but we were lucky to get some with Go Voyagin. For those that don’t know, Studio Ghibli is like the Disney of Asia but their films are simply amazing. Some of them can be weird, some don’t have happy endings, but watching them you can’t help but appreciate the artistic detail that goes in to them. Spirited Away remains one of our all time favourite films and if you haven’t watched it, you are missing out!

The Studio Ghibli Museum did not disappoint. We saw a feature film that has never been released, saw a real size Totoro and rode the cat bus. At one point Steve turned to me and asked what I thought of it all and I just exclaimed like a little girl ‘IT’S SO MAGICAL!’

Afterwards, we headed to Asakusa to visit the famous Sensoji-temple which was beautiful but crowded. We got some of my favourite senbei (seasoned rice crackers) and got our fortune told. I got the best fortune; Steve got the mediocre one haha!

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We then went to Akihabara which is an area known for its electronics, manga shops and game arcades. Instead, we decided to go to a rabbit cafe.

One of the things that people said we had to do whilst in Tokyo was the Robot Restaurant. We had no idea what to expect and I still can’t really describe what we saw. So I’ll just let you have a look at the photos instead. #onlyinjapan

Sushi in Tsukiji Fish Market

The following day we went for a sushi breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market which was A.MA.ZING. We went to a restaurant called Zenmai Sushi which had a little queue out front but we were seated promptly right at the counter in front of the sushi chefs. We ordered two platters of sushi and sashimi plus a side of tempura which was so tasty. Steve was in his absolute element!

The afternoon was spent roaming around Omotesando and looking around the shops. I had my hair done (dyed for the first time – eek!) at the famous Salon Number 76 Naru. We had a gyoza lunch in Shinjuku and then had a nice time walking around Meiji shrine at dusk.

In the evening we met up with my parents’ old friends from Tokyo who used to teach at the school I went to. It was so great catching up with them and they were so kind and bought us dinner (and a few bottles of wine, oh how we’ve missed wine!!). We also took the opportunity to visit my old neighbourhood and my old house which transpires, is now a kindergarten!


The last day was spent doing some last minute shopping before we took the bus back to Narita and flew back to Seoul. All in all it was a great little getaway and we can’t wait to get back to Tokyo in the future; such an awesome city!

Case Closed – quick update on my birth family search

I received an email from my adoption agency with an update on my birth family search; or lack thereof. They don’t believe that the person they sent the telegram to is my birth mother as they have not received any reply, one way or the other, since August. In such cases, they deem the case as ‘closed’. The file is put away, they don’t send a follow up and everyone moves on.

I was a little disappointed at first but satisfied with that outcome and the effort that I had put in, until I was telling a fellow adoptee my story. She recommended me this charity that helps adoptees with little information find out more. Essentially, they do this through private investigation. A volunteer policeman helps reunite adoptees with their birth families by cutting through the bureaucracy and red tape that many adoptees face on their searches. Yes guys, I’m hiring a spy.

(Well, not quite. I wish)

The charity actually uses methods that I think are actually helpful in finding a person, you know, like physically going to the town my birth parents are from, going to the hospital I was born and asking around in person. Geumsan is not a big place and I have both of their full names, however, apparently my birth mothers name is fairly common. I met up with him a week ago and he managed my expectations by saying that my case is quite common; teenagers who relinquished their children were scared and often gave false details making tracking them awfully difficult. However, this charity has had a high success rate, especially among those adoptees who were abandoned and therefore, had little to no information to go on.

As I’m only here in Korea for another month I thought what the heck, I may as well give it this one last shot. My adoption agency is still refusing to give me copies of my file causing me great anxiety (Steve isn’t allowed to come with me) and so I’ve just not got any fight left in me anymore to demand for it. The charity said that if the search is unsuccessful they can take me to Daejeon and I can write an article for a local newspaper and hand out leaflets around the town but I think I’ve drawn the line at that; that’s something I’m not really comfortable doing.  Finally, I have made the decision that should December come and I haven’t been successful then I will go to Geumsan myself to experience the place where my birth parents grew up, the place where I was born; I will then make my peace with this journey, call it a day and move on.

Life in Seoul Part III

The last month has absolutely flown by. Steve and I visited Jeonju, a lovely place about 3 hours by bus outside of Seoul. It is renowned for its hanok village where you can walk around in hanbok (traditional dress), try lots of yummy Korean food and get lost in alleyways filled with traditional houses. Most importantly it is the home of bibimbap so naturally, that was first on our hit list.

One of the highlights was visiting Yetchon Makgeolli – a traditional Makgeolli restaurant serving up authentic food. Makgeolli is a Korean fermented alcoholic rice drink and, as I would later find out, a drink that gives you horrific hangovers. Entering the restaurant was quite intimidating as it was full of men merrily drinking away. Little English was spoken; you simply order a teapot full of makgeolli and are served several dishes, none of which you have a say in. Our dishes were Kimchi Pancake, Pigs Trotters (jokbal), chicken soup, and marinated tofu. It was all delicious apart from the pigs trotters!

The tea pot full of makgeolli appeared to be never-ending and by the time we finished it, we were well on our way to Tipsy-ville. A group of ahjussis (older men) who had just returned from a cycling trip sat at the table next to us. They ordered a different set menu to us so we kept looking over at all the seafood dishes they were bringing out. Noticing us looking over, they dared Steve to give it a go. Clearly we were their form of entertainment for that evening; for the next hour it was a game of ‘HA! Let’s see what else the foreigner will eat!’ Little did they know that Steve pretty much gives anything a go, dislikes little and had already eaten his fair share of sannakji (live octopus) on our previous trip to Korea. Every time he ate something, they applauded and topped our copper cups up with more makgeolli. When they got up to leave, we said goodbye to our new friends and moments after they were gone, the waitress came over with a dish signalling that this was bought for us by the group of men. We were so touched!

That is, until we tried it. The dish is called Gejang and it is raw, fermented crab that is cracked open and its contents spread over seasoned rice. With all the confidence that only a kettle full of makgeolli can give you, we dug in. Well folks, it tastes as disgusting as it sounds. It is considered a delicacy here and we felt bad that they had paid for it and we barely touched it. Steve and I were wondering whether the group of ahjussis were secretly watching us from a window howling with laughter; chuffed with themselves that they finally found something  we just couldn’t stomach. Nonetheless, it was such a fun evening hanging out with these men who were old enough to be our grandfathers; a true Korean experience.

We returned to Seoul the following day and had one evening to recuperate before my best friends arrived from London. The day they arrived felt like Christmas morning and I couldn’t wait to show them around. Even better, they came loaded with luxurious goodies like Yorkshire Tea and deodorant. We had so much fun drinking (too much soju) and shopping (too many K beauty products) that the week totally flew by.

One day we spent by the Han river drinking soju in the sun which started off as an innocent little picnic. But soon two bottles of Soju turned in to four. And four bottles turned in to eight. And then we thought it would be fun to go for margaritas. It went downhill from there. Downhill all the way to noraebang (Korean karaoke).

Oh yeah and this happened…

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It was such a fun week having them over; I missed them loads as soon as they left. We managed to do a lot in the week they were here and did a LOT of K beauty shopping. I was really touched that they flew all this way for the week and hope they enjoyed it as much as we did!

I’ve also been volunteering at my orphanage which has been both upsetting  in parts and rewarding at the same time. I am a volunteer in the baby room which homes about 40 babies aged 3 weeks to 4 months old. In each cot, there is a sign that says the name, gender, weight and date of arrival of the baby. I feed the babies, hold them, change their nappies etc. Basically my role there is to provide them with comfort and love so that they can experience this early on in their lives. I know I shouldn’t have my favourites but there is one little girl that I’ve completely fallen in love with. I make sure I spend quality time with her each time I go in and she is just the sweetest, most smiley little girl ever. She is nearing 4 months old so will be placed in foster care soon and that thought breaks my heart. If I could bring her back with me to the UK I would in a heartbeat but unfortunately Korea has made it awfully difficult to adopt from overseas. That being said, it has not stopped me from asking! I am not permitted to take any photos in the orphanage out of respect and privacy of the babies but they are extremely well looked after and are mostly all in good health. It is tiring volunteering there (sheesh man, babies are hard work – props to all my friends that are mothers) but it feels so rewarding. I just try and hold as many babies as I can each time I go, praying that each one finds a happy home as I did.

Plastic Surgery Adverts in Seoul Metro Stations

Feeling fat and ugly in Korea?

I debated whether or not to write this blog but after South Korean plus-size model Vivian Kim recently spoke up and challenged the Korean beauty ideal I feel more women need to follow her example. ‘Defying Korean beauty norm’ in the Straits Times tells her story and I highly recommend a read.

I have immensely enjoyed my first 2 months here in Seoul but there has been one unexpected consequence of living here that I wasn’t prepared for. I fully prepared myself for the looks I would get when I explained I didn’t speak Korean. I knew I may get a few looks for being with a ‘white’ guy. I knew that looking around a sea of Asian faces may conjure up some feelings about my adoption. I had mentally prepared myself for all these things. But I wasn’t prepared for the hit to my self confidence that happens when you live in a country obsessed with achieving perfection.

It was one of the more recent, and more ugly discoveries of my motherland’s culture. I guess it isn’t until you live in a country that you can scratch beneath the surface and uncover things that perhaps you were blind to before. I know I am a healthy weight, I am not fat, but I am by no means a stick insect. I enjoy doing my weights at the gym, have always played sport and love a cheeseburger. I know my arms could be a little slimmer, my stomach a little flatter but I’m ok with that. There are certain sacrifices I am not willing to make (carbs being the main one). But here, in a society where the ideal weight is under 50kg and the ideal ‘beauty’ is being wafer thin, it does get you thinking.

It gets you thinking when you see all the plastic surgery advertisements on the subway, everyday. It gets you thinking when on the toilet cubicle doors there are posters saying ‘from fat face to beautiful face’. The worst one I read about in ‘Defying Korean beauty norm’ was ‘how long are you going to roll around like that?’ Yep, and we were outraged in the UK by the ‘are you bikini ready’ advertisement! I have watched a program about plastic surgery where they called the girl ‘witch face’ instead of her actual name. They showed how she went from ‘ugly’ to ‘beautiful’ by having her whole face re-shaped; praising the plastic surgeon on his work. She looked completely different when she emerged on stage and was greeted to a rapturous applause. But underneath, her eyes still looked sad.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against plastic surgery. If it helps you address something you are self conscious about or makes you happy then I think plastic surgery is a positive thing. So long as you do it for yourself. Where I am less of a fan of it is when it feels pressured; when society encourages it and when it is expected of you. And that is what I personally believe is the case here. Statistics say that about 1 in 3 women in Seoul have gone under the knife, mostly for double eye lid surgery. For many jobs, it is necessary to include a photograph attached to your CV; sometimes even measurements. I’ve been flat out asked if I have considered getting my nose done (I didn’t think anything was particularly wrong with my nose) or why I haven’t had double eyelid surgery. People aren’t being rude, that’s just the culture here – they are actually saying it in order to give you advice. A friend of mine was told that she would be more beautiful if she had a slimmer jawline (for the record, she’s stunning). I am always the person that gets stopped on the street for diet pills, juice diets etc. Walking down the street, I will get plastic surgery flyers shoved in my face. Because I must want to change the way I look, right? It’s understandable that with all these statistics, all these advertisements in your face everyday – it gets you thinking ‘what don’t I like about myself?’ And we shouldn’t be made to think like that. I know in the West, we blame the media a lot, those magazines and actresses in Hollywood for the low self esteem of young girls but trust me, it is way harder for the young girls growing up here.

The K-pop industry doesn’t help either. Now, I’m not being racist as in ‘they all look the same’ but they do all actually look the same. Because here in Korea there is only one beauty ideal and all girls strive for it. In the West, we have beautiful blondes, brunettes, redheads. Some have oval face shapes, some heart-shaped; some are voluptuous and some are skinny – but there is a range. Here, there is only one beauty ideal – big round eyes, not almond. Pale white skin, not tanned. Skinny, with no definition. Slim face with a v-line jaw. Ok they may have different hair colours. But they have all had the same eye surgery, all had the same jawline surgery, and all are the same size. And so impressionable teenage girls look at these famous idols, then look at themselves and think, ‘what can I change to look like that?’

Growing up, I hated the fact I looked Asian because I never fit in. I was teased for my almond eyes and ironically, later on in my teens I was teased for being ‘too thin’ as well. My biggest gripe growing up as an adoptee was not that I was abandoned, but by the fact that I looked Asian, because I didn’t feel Asian and it made me stand out from my family and friends. At 14 years old, I read about double eyelid / eye widening surgery and asked my mum about it. And that broke her heart. Because she wanted me to love the way I look and appreciate my almond eyes. And since then, I have.

Coming to Korea I was comforted by the fact that I would be in a land where, for the first time in my life, I would fit in physically. But I don’t. I do not weigh 50kg; I like my hamburgers and fries too much. I play sport, I run and I cycle so I have big thighs. I have not had my eyes widened or had double eye-lid surgery because I’ve grown to appreciate that my eyes are a different shape. I’ve not had my jawline or cheekbones shaved down because plastic surgery isn’t that common in my home back in the UK and I quite like my cheekbones. I do not have pale skin because I enjoy being out in the sun. I thought I would find solace in looking the same as those around me, but I don’t. Instead it just gets me thinking ‘What would I look like if I had always lived here? Would I have gone under the knife too? What would I have wanted to change?’

And so it comes back down to the nature versus nurture debate. Because I guess even nurture plays a role in the way you physically look; it’s not all down to genes. More importantly, it was nurture that made me accept the way I look, not nature, not here in my motherland. I thought I would find comfort in a place where I should theoretically ‘fit in’. But I don’t find that comfort here, I find it back at home. Because when I compare that confidence my parents instilled in me to love myself, to the pressure society places on young girls here; nurture wins.

Joan Kim and Edward Avila

An afternoon with Troiareuke

Last week I was invited to attend an event hosted by Korean skincare brand Troiareuke. I had heard about Troiareuke before, in particular their popular ‘Acsen Oil Cut Cleanser’, however I had never tried any of their products. The event was in collaboration with popular K beauty bloggers Joan and Edward Avila so as you can imagine, I was pretty excited!

The Event

The event was held at the Skypark Hotel Kingstown in Dongdaemun, which is situated above the Hyundai Outlets. On the 14th floor, there is a Troiareuke shop where you can purchase their products; this is where the event was held. I believe they also have a store in Myeongdong as well. On arrival, we registered, picked up our information packs, sat down and ate yummy food and drank yummy drinks. I was just staring at the product displays desperate to get my hands on them and try them out!

Andy, who works for Troiareuke was our MC for the day and was so accommodating and funny. We started the event with a talk from a skincare professional who shared her skincare tips for Autumn. Her skin was so luminous and glowing that I figured I ought to listen carefully and take some mental notes!

Troiareuke GPS Mask

She talked about the four changes your skin experiences during the fall: dry skin, dead skin cells, pigmentation and elasticity. To combat this she suggested using sheet masks, in particular the GPS mask from Troiareuke wich we all received a sample of. The GPS mask is a cellulose mask that restores skin and hones in on the areas of the face that require moisture and nutrition. What I like about the mask is that it comes with an Oxygen cleanser sample and their popular Cell Energy cream as well as the sheet mask. Essentially it’s a professional facial all in one pack and I cannot wait to try it. She also said that the masks are good to use on long haul flights when your skin can dry up so that’s what I’m saving mine for!

Trying Troiareuke

Following the talk, she gave a demonstration of the V-line treatment on one of the attendees. The first step was to select a colour best suited to the girls skin – blue, green, yellow or red. This would dictate the line of products that would be used for the facial. As the girl had acne skin, the colour blue was chosen which contains Catechin extract and is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial (I’ll talk more about the other colours later). Using a mixture of Troiareuke products, including their Acsen Oil Cut Cleanser, Skin Complex Formula and Acne Blue Ampoule the girls skin appeared less red, her face more lifted and glowing. She also used a porcelain tool (in blue as well) to massage the girls face and neck. Facial massages are huge in Korea and is believed to help drain the lymph nodes therefore getting rid of toxins in the body.

Troiareuke Demo

We had a Q&A session with Eddie and Joan and there was also a lot of giveaways. Joan and Eddie were so hilarious and really great at answering questions honestly and giving advice. I asked Eddie if he could choose only one Pony Effect product what would he choose – he said the cushion so I will have to purchase this! I was also amazed that the staff at Troiareuke gave out about 20 of their full size bestselling products, as well as 10,000 won gift vouchers! Unfortunately I think I was about the only person in the room that didn’t receive any products! 😫 A lot of the girls received the H+ Healing Cushion which is one of their bestsellers, as well as ampoules and essences. But I did receive a 5,000 won gift voucher which I was determined to use.

Joan Kim and Edward Avila

Following the Q&A we had a chance to get our photos taken with Joan and Eddie and also try out the products. Seeing as I didn’t receive any free products (*sob sob*), I had a brief consultation with one of the Troiareuke staff about my skin and what would be the best products to try. She kindly explained the different colours and chose green for me. Yellow is used for brightening and purifying the skin and is good for any discolouration and hyper pigmentation. The red is anti-ageing and helps give skin a boost of elasticity and reduces wrinkles. The green is anti-trouble and is used to help calm the skin, reduce any redness and help soothe.

Troiareuke Colour Therapy

To help choose your colour, we had to close our eyes and upon opening pick the colour that first stood out for us. The colours are also used to help identity your current emotional state. Blue, the acne line, can be a sign of stress. Red, the anti-ageing line, a sign of tiredness. She recommended green as my skin was in a fairly decent condition, no acne, few lines but apparently I needed some ‘calm’. Almost like a psychic she somehow knew that I hadn’t had much sleep recently and that I have something emotional on my mind (my birth family search). Sold! I purchased the Skin Complex Formula Toner, the Green Ampoule and the big size of the Ascen Oil Cut Cleanser. Products I still want to try from their range include the Cell Energy Cream, Acsen TOC Toner and Hydro Essence.

Troiareuke Thoughts

My first impressions were that this brand means business – they take skincare seriously. Their products use natural ingredients and are based on scientific research. Their motto is skincare first – even their popular BB cushion is technically a skincare cushion as opposed to makeup. There was no gimmicky ingredients, just a slick, clinical, gentle, high performing range of products. They consider themselves a ‘customised prescription skincare brand’ providing individuals with tailored products based on their skincare needs. None of their products are stripping which a lot of Western products are. Whenever I try a toner that wreaks of alcohol I cringe – all that does is strip the skins natural moisture, irritating your skin even more! Another concept that resonated with me is their motto of ‘today’s skin’. The skincare professional who gave the talk said that our skin changes on a daily basis, some days we are outside and exposed to the sun, others our skin may be dry due to air con, heaters etc. Basically, a lot of external factors affect our skin on a daily basis. It is all about knowing your skin, identifying any daily nuances and treating it accordingly using a range of products. Some days I may need to use a UV protectant, some days I may need to use an ampoule, some days a pore mask. If you’re in tune with your skin and tailor your regime accordingly then the condition of your skin will improve. Amen!

I’ve only been using the Troiareuke products I bought for a few days now but have already noticed a big difference in my skin. It feels more moisturised, smoother and clearer. I won’t lie, the products are expensive, however, when comparing them to Western brands like Kiehls and Elemis, I think they are far superior. I will write a full review of the Acsen Oil Cut Cleaner, Green Ampoule and Skin Complex Toner soon. I definitely can’t wait to try more products from this brand!

Joan Kim and Edward Avila

This is not sponsored. All opinions are my own.

Celebrating Chuseok (Thanksgiving)

Watch our video about how we celebrated Chuseok!

One of the things I was most excited about was celebrating Chuseok in Korea. I had heard that it was one of the biggest holidays in the year here. People get 3 days off work and travel back home to celebrate with their families. Also known as the harvest festival, this three day holiday is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar on the full moon (whenever the hell that is). That’s 15th September to you and me. As this was a Thursday, it meant that people had a 5 day weekend from Wednesday 14th through to Sunday 18th September.

I had heard that Seoul becomes pretty deserted throughout this holiday as people travel to the countryside to see their families. Many restaurants were closed and some transport ran a reduced service. We decided to take this opportunity to do some ‘touristy’ things that are usually quite busy at this time of year. We had planned to do some hiking but as the summer heat is still quite unbearable at the moment, we decided to wait till October to do that.

Day 1, Nami Island

The first day of Chuseok we decided to go to Nami Island which is a famous island about an hour from Seoul. It is famous for being the setting of popular K drama ‘Winter Sonata’. It normally attracts a big crowd but we were hoping as the majority of Korea was at their family home that it would be quite quiet. Fortunately we were right and there were no queues at all. We took the subway there and walked down the ferry pick up point. Already the scenery was breathtaking. When we hopped off the ferry we walked down the main tree-lined promenade which was full of couples taking selfies together (Steve and I included!)

We grabbed a coffee and hotteok (Korean style pancake) and perched ourselves on one of the many picnic benches. There were lots of live, traditional Korean performances on for the Chuseok holiday which we sat and enjoyed.

One of the most popular things to do on Nami Island is to take a ‘couple bike’ (tandem bike 8,000 WON per/hr) and cycle around the island so that’s what we did! And it was so much fun! We did a lap around the island before sitting down on an old log; Steve started skimming stones in to the lake. We saw a lot of the wildlife there including peacocks, squirrels and wild rabbits. It was such a nice, relaxing afternoon.

We returned our bikes and headed towards the pier, picking up some songpyeon on the way. Songpyeon are colourful rice cakes that are usually eaten around Chuseok time. They have a sweet filling, are chewy in texture and usually steamed over pine needles.

Nami island is 8,000 Won ($8) entry for tourists for the ferry, for a faster and more terrifying route to the island, there is a zip wire you can take for 38,000 won. Food was a bit pricey on the island and the restaurants was also very busy so i would recommend taking a packed lunch.

Day 2, Adoptee Chuseok dinner at Koroot

The following day we had a pretty lazy morning before heading to Ko Root Guesthouse which is a place here in Seoul where adoptees can stay when returning to Korea. Ko Root is an organisation which helps Korean adoptees returning to Korea. They run several social events, provide counselling for adoptees trying to find their birth parents, run a guesthouse where adoptees can stay and much more. It is run by Pastor Kim, who we were fortunate enough to have a great chat with at the party. He has done a lot of research and had a paper published on adoption here in Korea, especially regarding birth mothers. The volunteers at Koroot put on an amazing Chuseok dinner spread for all of us adoptees living here in Seoul; about 60 of us in total. We had a wide range of salads, bulgogi (Marinated beef), kimchi and japchae (sweet potato noodles with vegetables) – it was delicious and we were truly spoiled!

For me what was amazing was meeting some other adoptees here on the same journey as I am. It was comforting to speak with adoptees who had met with their birth parents and those who like myself are still searching. What was amusing as well is that there were so many nationalities represented. Even though we all look Korean, those who I met were so clearly from their own country. The Dutch adoptee was just so, well, DUTCH. He was still ranting about how Holland didn’t make the Euros! The Italian adoptee had long groomed hair with a trendy button down shirt. I loved it because despite us all looking Korean, we are so clearly a result of the environment we were raised in.

Day 3, Namsangol Village

The following day we decided to head to Namsangol Village which is a folk village with lots of traditional performances and activities. As it was Chuseok, they had on a lot of performances as well as activities – you could make your own candles, songpyeon, rice toffee and lots more. I was more excited about the food fair that was there. There were lots of food trucks around the village with treats such as grilled steak with noodles, kimchi fried rice, dumplings, and lots more.

We opted for the steak and japchae noodles with a seafood pancake on the side. Yum!

Day 4, KBO Baseball at Jamsil

On Saturday we headed out to watch a baseball game at Jamsil stadium. It was Samsung versus LG, the team we support. We go to the baseball every week as its cheap and good fun but this time it was packed, and roasting hot. We arrived a little late so the only seats that were left were right smack bang in the sun! Fortunately we had brought umbrellas in our bag so following what the Koreans do, we used our umbrellas to shelter us from the scorching sun!

The game went on for nearly 5 hours until LG Twins got a home run in the bottom of the 11th, therefore winning the game! Yay!

Day 5, Brunch at Itaweon

Today is the last day of Chuseok so we came to Itaewon to work and also go for brunch. If it’s one thing I miss it’s a decent brunch. I have been on the hunt for the best brunch in Seoul and this morning we struck gold when we went to The Flying Pan Blue in Itaewon! As we couldn’t decide between sweet or savoury we got one pesto, eggs, mushrooms, hummus on toast and one grilled banana french toast. Wow, it’s the best brunch I have ever had here and definitely top 10 ever!

We went to the Western Supermarket (High Street Market) in Itaewon to pick up some stuff we can’t get at our local EMART – pesto, almond milk, hash browns and most importantly English tea. Unfortunately they don’t have Yorkshire tea, just Lipton so it’s quite weak – but we only have to last until Friday when two of my good friends are coming to visit (hopefully with a big box of Yorkshire tea as requested!)

And that was our Chuseok. It was great to explore more of Korea, meet new people and learn the traditions of this holiday. There were two stand out moments for me:

Leading up to Chuseok I felt a bit emotional that here I was in Korea, celebrating a family holiday but still not knowing where my birth family actually was or who they were. How were they celebrating this holiday? Was she wondering about me, not knowing that I was actually here? What I found so comforting was that Pastor Kim and his volunteers didn’t want us to spend Chuseok alone here. It made me feel grateful that we could spend this holiday with my other family here in Korea; my adoptee family. And we did what we do best – celebrated and drank a lot of Korean booze!

The second moment was at the baseball. As it was so packed at the game we stood at the back alongside the locals in the shade for the last few innings. In front of me was an old man, clearly very in to his baseball and clearly very frustrated that LG Twins was losing. Every play he either cheered or jeered depending on the result. I had been singing (well, attempting to) the LG chants and following the actions he was doing, keen to be a part of the fun. When a decision was being contested, he was watching the slow-motion replay on his phone. I didn’t understand what had happened; there was a pitch, then the batter seemed to run off to the dug-out. The old man showed me the replay on his phone – ah, it had hit his wrist. I pointed to wrist and feigned a pained look. ‘Ne’ he said; ‘yes’ in Korean. When LG Twins equalised in the 8th inning, the stadium erupted and the old man next to me turned around, cheered loudly, gave me a high 5 and hugged me. And I was so happy because I felt like I was being accepted by a Korean. He didn’t know my back story, he didn’t wonder why I couldn’t speak his language; but he wanted to celebrate the win with me, and it had been my first meaningful exchange with someone here. It made me feel like I belonged.

Life in Seoul – Part II

Life in Seoul Montage Part 2!

We have now been in Seoul for a month and have only just settled in to somewhat of  a routine. Thursdays we grab bikes and nip down to the EMART in Kongdae for our weekly shop. Mornings are predominantly spent in coffee shops doing our courses or writing (Steve is doing a web development course whilst I am attempting to learn Korean). Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays are gym days.

The learning curve that is Seoul Gyms

The gym here is…. interesting. Everyone wears the same uniform which you collect at the changing rooms – pink shirts for women, blue shirts for the guys – black shorts for both. Steve and I are the exception because we refuse to wear them. And so we stand out like sore thumbs, two sore foreign thumbs – especially me, with my open-back, bright purple Fabletics top, printed leggings and neon sports bra. Bothered? Most of the time I am the only girl under 50 at the gym. I am also the only girl to ever set foot in the weight room, which is great because it means all the weights I need are always free. Korean girls don’t seem to do gym here, and if they do they just walk for an hour on the treadmill. Steve and I are the only ones that sweat at the gym; no one seems to exert themselves. T

here’s not much in the way of gym etiquette either; the towels we get are flannels and tiny, no one wipes down their machines, most guys will sit on the same machine in between reps for about half an hour, on their phone. A lot of the time they don’t add any weight to the machines as well but just do as many reps as they can. I am also the only one that uses the running machine for its intended purpose – for running. The concept of sprints or interval training is so bizarre that when I was doing interval sprints on the spin bike I had an audience – a girl exercising, who knew!  Although I know what I must have looked like to them. A multi-coloured dressed rebel who doesn’t wear the uniform, cycles like she’s a mad woman, sweats buckets and comes to the gym with the only white guy in the neighbourhood.

Finally, gyms in Korea are quite expensive. We were quoted prices of over £60-£70 pounds a month for less than premium facilities before settling for one ‘good value’ gym at £35 a month. We paid for 4 months for two people upfront much to the managers surprise and delight and later the next week we found out why, as posted under our the door of our apartment was a leaflet for the exact same gym promoting a 50% discount price! Apparently sporadic substantial discounts on gym membership is a common thing in Seoul. As we are only staying for 4 months and we  were eager to get active, we haven’t got much time to wait for these offers. However, my advice for those staying here for a longer period is to bide your time as sooner rather than later, that expensive gym down the road will have a 50% discount available. It is also common practice to keep on dropping in at the reception, asking if any discounts are available and then simply walk out if not.

FC Seoul vs Jeonbuk Motors and alarming alarms

We went to a FC Seoul game which was lots of fun but very different to seeing a game back at home. Outside the stadium there are a lot of food trucks where people stock up on grub, pick up a few beers then make their way in to the stadium. Fans are somewhat segregated but we saw a lot of Seoul fans sitting with Jeonbuk fans (who are currently top of the league and beat FC Seoul 3-0). Loads of families were there with their little ones. Everyone there is drinking merrily together, joining in with the chants directed by the cheerleaders (yes, you heard me – cheerleaders). That’s Steve’s favourite part. Vuvuzelas can be bought in the stadium and before a corner/free kick a sign comes up on the screen that says ‘GOAL TIME! VUVUZELA TIME!’. And then the mass horn blowing begins. Steve’s least favourite part. Oh, and when players leave the pitch, they bow to the linesmen (can you imagine that happening in the premiership?!)

One thing that scared the hell out of us was the air raid siren that went off the other weekend. The siren reverberated around Seoul and it was so eery. To a newcomer it was very scary and went on for quite some time. Steve and I looked at each other ‘is North Korea invading us!?’ The siren was promptly followed by a message (presumably explaining that this was just a drill) but as we didn’t understand it we had no idea. Still, we looked down out our window and noticed everyone at street level didn’t even bat an eyelid  so we took comfort in that. At least we know for next time! Although it was a reminder of the ever-present threat of North Korea.

The rest of the time is spent exploring, eating, working on my birth family search or discovering new beauty products. It’s still quite a strange feeling waking up each morning and thinking ‘where shall we go today?’ It’s definitely made me less of a planner, yet I still can’t help but write a daily to do list (even if laundry and gym are the only things on it!)

The main thing that has changed over the past two weeks is the weather. Overnight, it went from 36 degree humidity to 25 degrees. The haze cleared, the sky became blue and the temperature now is just perfect. We can even now see the mountains from our window which we didn’t even know were there before!

The birth family search continues

I’ve made a lot of progress on my birth family search which I talk about in my previous blog – The Search for Kim Mee Hwa. For now, there is nothing to do but wait which means I can get moving on other things like volunteering, writing in this blog more and continuing to discover more Korean Beauty products that I want to promote back home.

Youtube Fan Fest @ Dongdaemun Design Plaza

I was also lucky enough to win an Instagram competition for free entry to the You Tube Korea Fan Fest where I got to meet some of Korea’s most famous beauty bloggers. They were kind enough to give me some full size samples of the latest ‘it’ brands in Korea right now which I can’t wait to try. It was held at Dongdaemun Design Plaza which is one of my favourite buildings in Seoul. It was an old baseball and athletics stadium turned into this beautifully contoured exhibition centre whilst still retaining its sports stadium design (you have to really look for it!) and original floodlights.

I was so thankful that I could skip the 3-4 hour queue that circled around the building!

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We are really looking forward to September for many reasons. As the weather is cooler we are hoping to get some hiking in. South Korea has some amazing hiking trails but it’s just been too hot to check them out. In two weeks time it is also Chuseok which is Thanksgiving in Korea and one of the biggest holidays in the calendar. September also means that two of my besties will be coming to visit! They were my bridesmaids and I am so excited / dreading the impending hangovers that will no doubt occur when those two come! But I can’t wait to show them around what has now become my stomping ground 🙂