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

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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 

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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!

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 🙂

10 Things I’ve Learned about South Korea

In the first few weeks of being here I’ve already learned a lot about my motherland. Some facts are quirky and others are just darn right impressive. Here are 10 facts I’ve learned about South Korea – I am from a weird and wonderful nation.

1. North and South Korea are still at war

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Officially the Korean war has never ended. In the 1950’s, the Korean war conflict lasted 3 years before both sides signed a ceasefire. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) stretches 2.5 miles wide and 152 miles from the East Sea to the Yellow Sea. Bill Clinton, former President of the United States, upon visiting the DMZ described it as the ‘scariest place on Earth’. Having visited there, I agree!

2. Blood types are a big deal

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At birth, South Koreans are classified according to their blood type which is very important in Korean culture. People here believe that your blood type determines your personality (similar to zodiac signs in the Western world). The idea of bloodlines is very strong in Korean culture and even extends to compatibility – a Korean film was even made about it ‘My Boyfriend is Type B!’

3. Plastic Surgery is very common

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Plastic Surgery is extremely common in South Korea and highly praised. There are advertisements on the television, on the subway, leaflets will be handed out to you on the street. It is estimated that between 1 in 5 and 1 in 3 women in Seoul have gone under the knife for at least one cosmetic procedure – double eye lid surgery, nose job and v-line surgery being the most popular. It is rumoured that many wealthy South Koreans receive the double eye-lid surgery for their sweet 16th birthday or as a graduation present. Whilst many Asian women are deemed attractive in the West, here they want to look as caucasian as possible with whiter skin, a higher nose, rounder eyes and a smaller chin. Following surgeries, many will be praised by colleagues, family and friends on their new look. Plastic surgery is quite cheap here in Seoul and goes under the guise of ‘medical tourism’. This helps make it one of the biggest players in plastic surgery in the world with many foreigners flying to Seoul each year on a medical tourism package deal. (I have a lot of strong feelings and experiences about this which I will talk about in another post.)

4. Say Kimchi!

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When having your photo taken, we say ‘kimchi’ instead of ‘cheese!’

*Enough said*

5. Koreans can DRINK

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I thought I could drink. Until I moved here. Korea’s national drink soju (which is a mere £1 in 711) is the best selling liquor in the world for the 11th year in a row! It outsold vodka which came in second (and by a considerable amount!) South Koreans also hold another impressive record – we top the list worldwide in terms of liquor consumption. Forget those hard Russians shotting their vodka, South Koreans drink roughly 13.7 shots of liquor per week on average which is the most in the world. Out of 44 countries analysed by Euromonitor, no one even came close to us. Russia was second with a measly 6.3 shots per week. See guys, it’s in my genes!

6. Poop fascinates us

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I don’t know the background to this but Koreans seem obsessed with poop. Turd shaped waffles are common, there’s a poop themed cafe where you sit on toilets, there are poop keychains and I hear there is an entire museum entirely devoted to poo. Whilst we are on this poop theme, the toilets here are also ridiculously complicated. There are often several types of bidets, a spray, a bidet and a horrifying jet steam that seems to go up your bum that quite frankly scares the living daylight out of me (I believe it is an enema button). There is a button to warm you toilet seat, background music should you wish to drown out your poop noises and a massage button.

7. Beware of the deadly fan!

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Stories dating back to the 1930’s started this misconception but many Koreans believe that if you leave the fan on during the night, there’s a high chance you will never wake up. Or if you leave the electric fan on when there are no windows, it will be game over.

8. You are age 1 when you are born.

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9. South Korea is the world’s most wired up nation

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We have the world’s fastest wireless speeds on the planet here in South Korea. In fact, the wireless on the subway here is 3 times faster than our flat in London. Upload speed is 25 times faster as well. I am currently sitting in a coffee shop with 95 mbps download speed per second. No more waiting for movies to download or buffering, the average download speed here is nearly three times the average of second fastest Hong Kong. Everywhere you go, restaurants, coffee shops, shopping malls, subway you will also find fast wifi.

10. No matter where you are or what time is it there are always food options*

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Walking down the street I am amazed there are so many places to eat. Seoul is a mecca for foodies. When we were jet lagged and wide awake at 4am, we just walked down the street to one of the most famous restaurants here in Seoul and had some delicious ox bone soup. Back home after a night out, the options for ‘drunk food’ are fairly limited to Chicken Cottage or a dodgy kebab but not here in Seoul. Many places stay open at all hours and operate 24/7 delivery service. Need a Mc Donalds at 4am after a long session? No problem, it’ll be there before you know it. In a park and fancy some fried chicken? Not an issue, a man on a motorbike will come to wherever you are in the park and give you your KFC (Korean Fried Chicken).

*this one makes me so happy

Settling in to Seoul

We’ve arrived! It has been a whirlwind of a week but here is a sneak peek of what we’ve been up to.

It took us a while to get over the jet lag and the week long International Korean Adoptee Association conference (IKAA) was quite tiring – but amazing! We moved in to our flat a few days ago and finally have had time to upload some footage of our first week here.

More to come!