An interview with the top 3: #1 Kathryn G.

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Expat Longings

No matter how much you love a country, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz was right when she said “There’s no place like home”. When you move away, you find new things you love, you make replacements and adjustments. But sometimes, you just want the real thing: a Mars Bar, some Nando’s chicken, your favourite magazine. And, most importantly, real English tea.

Then, there are the things you don’t even realise you like about home, until you’re not there and can’t have them anymore: the smell of going to a petrol station, turning on the radio and actually understanding what the people are talking about.

Here’s a (rather nostalgic) list of those things that, dare I say it, even a bowl of the best Bibimbap in Korea won’t cure. The little things from home that I miss…

Tea

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Let’s start with the most important thing, and it’s a pretty predictable one- tea. It’s a mystery to me that even when you buy English Breakfast Tea, it never quite tastes the same as when you’re at home. Why is that? Is it because the milk is different? Well, that leads me onto my next point…

 

Milk 

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

That horrible feeling you get when you go on holiday and the milk just doesn’t quite taste right? Imagine having that every day…do you get used to it? No, not really.

 

 

Supermarkets 

simple.wikipedia
simple.wikipedia

Tesco. Sainsburys. Waitrose. Having that comforting feeling of walking into a supermarket and knowing where everything is, what everything is, what brands are the best tasting, and more importantly, which to avoid.

Imagine our delight when we found Tesco Homeplus in Korea: packages that we recognise! Best thing ever.

Reserved People

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

I never thought of myself as particularly reserved, but it’s fair to say that since being out of England, I’ve probably lived up to the famous stereotype of ‘The Great British Reserve’. I like socialising, sure, but sometimes I miss the English way; polite small-talk is fine with people you’ve just met, thanks! There is definitely such a thing as too much information, as I’ve recently found out…

Queues

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

There’s nothing like a nice orderly queue, whether it’s standing in line at the bank, a supermarket, or to buy food at a football match. It just makes sense.

And also, queue-jumpers definitely deserve to be regarded as the lowest of the low.

 

Confectionary

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

Cadbury’s. Maltesers. Walkers Crisps. Magnums. The list could go on forever really.

Treat snacks from home cannot be beaten and we miss it a lot. And no, Hershey’s is in no way a suitable replacement.

 

 

Comfort Food

de.wikipedia
de.wikipedia

There’s nothing better than a hearty, warming, filling meal. Sunday pub lunches with roast potatoes, gravy, Yorkshire puddings and stuffing. It pretty much cures anything.

What I’d give sometimes for a fish pie with mushy peas, or a good roast chicken with chips. Well, a girl can dream…

English Weather

Sini Merikallio Flickr,Wikimedia Commons
Sini Merikallio Flickr,Wikimedia Commons

Ok, so we all moan about the weather, but you have to admit there’s something comforting about sitting by a roaring fire with the rain pounding down outside.

It’s not great of course when you’re caught in the middle of a rain storm with no umbrella, but still… it’s weird but true that you do end up missing it.

 

Sheep and Cows In Fields

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

This one might sound silly, but it’s true that going for drives just isn’t the same without endless fields full of animals.

Believe it or not, the highlight of going to a Beef Festival recently was to see some cows- I was honestly excited by the thought of it… Weird.

 

TV

Asenine, Wikimedia Commons
Asenine, Wikimedia Commons

Hearing the familiar tunes, recognising the faces and actually understanding what’s on the screen; it’s definitely something you start to miss.

Oh, and don’t underestimate the pride you feel when foreigners tell you how much they love the BBC…

Money

pixabay.com
pixabay.com

Something that you take for granted- walking into a shop and actually knowing how much something costs, without having to do quick multiplications in your head.

‘So wait… 10,000 won is $10… which is £6?’ Pretty much guesswork. Let’s just hope I’ve been over-estimating my spending for the past 18 months…

 

Tea. 

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en.wikipedia

And again, just because nothing says ‘home’ more than a cup of tea, does it? I know what the first thing I do when I get home will be: straight over to the kettle…

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Ok, so it’s fair to say that there are also things which I definitely don’t miss: stupidly expensive transport, self-service machines which never work, having to pay 12% service charge in restaurants even if the service is bad… I could go on. And I know that when I’m back in England I’ll be moaning about the things which I miss from Korea.

I guess the saying in this case is true: ‘The grass is always greener’… in the other country.

The Best Night At The Beastro

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Delicious food, good service, weird cocktails and free wine? Yes please. Where do you go to get these things? The Beastro Restaurant in Seoul, my new favourite place.

I’ve already written about the fact that Hongdae is one of my favourite areas in Seoul, and so it’s not surprising that I was excited to spend this weekend there. After spending hours exploring interesting side-streets, discovering new shops and cafes, and eating some pretty delicious food, I was one happy girl. The highlight of the trip? Finding an amazing new restaurant, The Beastro. Seeing as it’s number one on Trip Advisor, I was expecting it to be good, but it exceeded my expectations. So good was it that I had eaten half my meal before I thought to take any photos of the food, oops… so I’ll have to show you photos from The Beastro’s Facebook Page to give you an idea of their food.

IMG_7491I was immediately impressed with the restaurant; there was a 45 minute wait as we hadn’t booked in advance, but unlike a lot of restaurants when you’re asked to wait at the bar and so persuaded to spend more money on drinks, we were told we’d receive a free glass of wine while we waited. Well, this was a good way to instantly win me over! I was waiting for some sort of catch, or an expensive service-charge, but it never came. Nope, just a nice glass of wine… which was actually really good, not some disgusting cheap stuff. It was definitely a good start.

We were pretty hungry by the time we sat down to eat and the food couldn’t come quickly enough. Luckily, it was amazing service and so we didn’t have to wait long. The menu is quite small and select: appetizers include Salmon Rillettes, Red Pepper Soup, Kale and Ricotta Salad, and Roasted Eggplant Caesar Salad, mains are Carrot Risotto, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Roast Chicken, Pork Cheeks, Southern Fried Chicken, Hanger Steak, and Pork Belly. There are also some side dishes such as Fried Bree Wheel, Buffalo Mac and Cheese, and Chimmichurri Fries. It’s a good selection, and by keeping the menu on the smaller side, the meals are fresher and the quality that much better.

www.facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul/photos_stream
facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

We ordered the Salmon Rillete, Southern Fried Chicken and the Hanger Steak… and all three were amazing. My boyfriend and I shared the salmon rillette and it was perfect: light and refreshing with big chunks of salmon in it. I absolutely love salmon so I was always going to like it, but it was some of the best salmon I’ve eaten in Korea.

https://www.facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul/photos_stream
facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

Then, on to the mains… Now I’m not even a big steak fan, but wanted to try something different, and this meal converted me; the meat was almost buttery, it was so tasty and accompanied by an amazing gravy. I didn’t expect it to be so good, especially because it was reasonably priced at 19,000 won. My boyfriend devoured his chicken, which was incredibly juicy and tasty. The chicken came with some mashed potato and a ‘biscuit’ which I can only describe as a scone-like buttery treat.

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facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

Both meals tasted amazing, and were satisfying but not too heavy and filling (not that I would have complained if someone had given me some more, of course!). I imagine if you ordered a side of fries or mac and cheese, you’d end up very full though, as we saw both dishes being served and they looked rich and large (but delicious too).

The drinks were also winners: the cocktails have rather odd names, ‘Piss and Vinegar’ probably being the weirdest. We chose ‘Good Thymes’ which was a refreshing mix of wine, honey, lemon and thyme. It didn’t even taste alcoholic it was so sweet and light, which could have been pretty dangerous had we ordered more…

facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul
facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

What I loved about the restaurant (apart from the food) was the service; the waitresses, barmen and chefs alike were so friendly, helpful and welcoming and the atmosphere was great. One of the chefs actually came over to advise us on our order and allow us to try the salmon rillette before we decided whether to order another appetiser which we really appreciated; there’s not many places where you’d receive such good service. It made the night even better and ensured that we’d happily go back.

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facebook.com/TheBeastroSeoul

So for any foodies, if you’re looking for a new place to eat, go to The Beastro! To get there, head to Hongik University Station, go out Exit 9, head to the playground, and The Beastro is on the second floor above MAC make-up shop. You can book in advance, but if you fancy a free glass of wine then maybe you won’t mind showing up and having to wait a little bit… now there’s an incentive if you still need one!

 

Lessons For The Teacher- What We Learnt To Expect When Teaching In Korea

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We came to Korea to be teachers, to help children to learn. Turns out that working as an English teacher in Korea has taught us a lot of things too: lessons in leading, discipline, understanding and eternal patience (ok, still working on that last one…). And, we’ve learnt that school in Korea is completely different than in England; would you ask about a teacher’s relationship status in the UK? Most probably not. In Korea? It’s one of the first questions you’re asked (and repeatedly asked again, and again, and again).

So travelling across the world to teach is a learning curve, to say the least. Here are some of the things that I’ve come to expect as a teacher working in Korea:

Everyone Says Hello

You simply cannot walk down the corridor without being bombarded by greetings from students at every turn. It was quite a shock at the start, although a nice one, of course. Waving, children calling your name, sometimes even giving you a hug. So this is what it feels like to be a celebrity…

Inappropriate Questions

“Teacher, do you have a boyfriend?” “Teacher, do you live with your boyfriend?” “Teacher, why aren’t you married?” “Teacher, how old are you?” If I had ever asked a teacher their age, I think I would have received detention or at the very least a good telling-off.

And I don’t really mind the personal questions, but it’s a bit disruptive when you’re answer that  “yes, I have a boyfriend”, causes about 10 minutes of giggling from your class full of embarrassed teenagers.

Students Being In Awe 

blog.pokerjunkie.com
blog.pokerjunkie.com

You’d think that the students would be used to Westerners, having been taught by them for years. But still, they are continually amazed by a Westerner’s appearance. If you walk past students who haven’t seen you before at a neighbouring school, their stares are as incredulous (and sometimes as scared) as if you had just arrived from another planet. Seriously.

The most common feature which leaves the students awestruck? Height: if the male teachers are 6 foot or above, they are regarded with such amazement it’s as if they’re some kind of freakish giant.

K Pop Rules All

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en.wikipedia

I guess working with teenagers, you’re going to expect adolescent obsessions whatever country you’re in. But the love for K Pop really is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. All I need to do is say the word ‘EXO’ in class, and the screams are so loud you’d think that the Pop Band had actually appeared in my class. K Pop pencil cases, wallets, mirrors, photos, folders, makeshift tattoos… Korean schools are definitely in the midst of K Pop mania.

Exams Will Cause All Kinds Of Stress

Exams are a stressful time for anyone, but in Korea it’s a new extreme: students crying in the hallways, accosting their teachers to find out why they lost one mark in their test. And a day of total depression the day the results come out; every student you ask “How did you do”, you’re answered with a tearful “Not good.” Surely everyone can’t fail? Well, it sure seems like it here.

The worst I’ve seen was a student in our office for 2 hours, crying over one mark in her English test; she only finally left because it was time to go home. And no, she didn’t get the extra mark in the end either.

The Parents Are Very Involved

For this reason, I’m very glad I don’t speak Korean. Parents will text and call teachers, come into the school, and again it’s usually to argue over their child’s exam score or because they’ve been put in bottom set. One of our co-teachers was called until 11 pm by parents during exam time; she is a better person than me… I think I would have changed my number! Oh, and then there’s the parent who came into our office and cried over her daughter’s exam score for an hour… which really made it quite awkward for everyone in the room.

Sleeping In Class

forum.thefreedictionary.com
forum.thefreedictionary.com

So when I was at school, anyone who dared to sleep in class would be thought of as a proper rebel. In Korea, it’s pretty weird if you get through a class without someone falling asleep (or trying to at any rate). I guess the reason for this is the long days they have studying, as I discussed in my Korean Education post.

Still, it would be nice if I didn’t have to spend half my time prodding students awake when it’s all become too much for them. And the individuals who decide to bring along a blanket and cushion to class to make themselves comfortable? That’s really just taking things too far!

The Students Have Power Over Teachers

It’s normal for teachers to write reports and evaluations for students. But in Korea, the students can get-their-own-back by writing reports on the teachers. That little terror who always disrupts class and I’m always telling off? Well, he’s going to give me a bad rating for sure!

If only I could have done the same when I was in school; some teachers would definitely have felt my wrath…

Boys and Girls Do Not Mix

I thought the ‘boys and girls hate each other’ phase was usually over when children become teenagers. Apparently not. A minority of boys and girls and friends, but the majority of students? No such luck. Sometimes if I ask a boy and girl to sit next to each other, or, even worse, work together, I’m greeted with looks of such surprise and worry you’d think I’d suggested they get married.

The one time in my class when the students found out that one boy fancied someone, there was such uproar that I couldn’t calm them down for fifteen minutes. True story. Which leads me on to my next point…

No Kissing. Ever.

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Ok, I’m not suggesting that students should be getting up to mischief in school by any means. What I’m talking about is how students can’t even talk about kissing, let alone see someone kissing on TV or in a movie. Before I knew this,I showed Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong With Me’ music video in class. When Taylor kissed someone at the end… well, the reaction was the same as if I’d shown something on an X Rated Movie Channel.

I just hoped I hadn’t scarred them for life. I felt as guilty as a parent telling their child that Father Christmas isn’t real, making my students lose their innocence. Bad move me.

Students Want Your Food And Drink

Another type of inappropriate questions which the students ask: “Teacher, can I have some of your water?” “Ooh teacher, your lunch looks delicious, can I eat some?” Um… no… you cannot get your germs on my water bottle, and you cannot eat the lunch I prepared; get your own!

Giving Food = Undying Love

tinalicious.com
tinalicious.com

This is the last, and most important thing I’ve learnt while teaching in Korea. Food is the best reward you can give, and will earn you top teacher points among students.

If only I’d known this at the start. Food is the answer to everything: a bribe to make the children work, a reward for the hard-workers. All you need to do to get a student to profess their adoring love for you is to give them a piece of chocolate. Works every time. Well, you live and you learn…

 

If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

digi10ve.com
digi10ve.com

Social media is everywhere- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Tumblr, the list goes on. And what does social media do? It gives people a voice, a space in which they can express their views to hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people at the click of a button. Of course there are advantages to this: never has communication been easier, people connecting all over the world, talking and sharing opinions; the possibilities are endless. But, the one overwhelming negative of social media? The ease in which people can hide behind a computer screen, abusing, arguing, hating.

heatherdances.com
heatherdances.com

It’s not a new thing for me to read negative things online; Twitter is full of people attacking celebrities, following them only to write nasty comments on posts and photos, and the same goes for their Instagram. I’m continually amazed by how pathetic people are, wasting their time writing to someone simply to abuse them. Even stranger is the hatred people feel for someone they’ve never even met, someone they’ve only watched on TV or read about in magazines. Honestly, do people have nothing better to do with their time?

However, the thing which I’ve noticed more recently since joining more online forums (mainly groups for expats in Korea) simply with the hope of finding out interesting information about Korea- things to do and where to go- is how many people seem to enjoy spending their time arguing, writing insulting comments aimed to get a rise out of the other members, trolling, oh and also, openly hating Korea and everything about it, despite making the decision to live here.

I’ve seen so many pointless arguments, the most recent example being when someone posted a link which advertised a beautiful, luxury pension. The response? Abuse, because people can’t afford somewhere so expensive that costs around 300,000 won a night. Seriously, it makes me scared to write anything in public ever, for fear of being maimed.

But what makes me really angry are the cruelly insensitive comments I woke up to this morning, fuelling this blog post: the tragedy of the K Pop Concert which left 16 dead, and the consequent suicide which left one woman widowed and children without a father. So how did people react to the news? Surprise, surprise, with arguments. With tactless statements showing no sorrow over the event, just arrogant judgements on what happened. And there were many horribly cold comments which I’m not even going to repeat, pretty much blaming the people for their own deaths. Pretty disgusting.

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

It was exactly the same after the Sewol Ferry Disaster; at a time of utter grief, people took the opportunity to brazenly condemn the country and attack individuals for the tragedy. Of course in life there are always going to be mistakes made, people in the wrong, and accidents do happen. But really, the day after lives have been lost, is it really the time to adopt an ‘I know better’ attitude and criticise everyone else? Definitely not. People have lost children, parents, loved ones. It’s the time to express your deepest sympathies, and be thankful that you haven’t suffered in the same way. Lastly, if someone you knew and loved was involved, would your reaction be the same?

Whether it’s hating on a celebrity, arguing about the price of a hotel, or ranting about safety precautions the day after a tragedy, it’s just pointless, pathetic, and malicious. It’s fine to debate and express your opinion sure, but when you know that your words could hurt someone else? Don’t write them.

affordablehousinginstitute.org
affordablehousinginstitute.org

 

 

Korean Beauty Standards: Another Pressure Point

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blog.asiatown.net

Working in a middle school full of adolescent girls is like being transported back in time to a teenage world of worries, insecurities, and an ever-present wish to change pretty much everything about yourself- hair, skin, body- in fact, if you look for it, you can pretty much find fault with anything, and that’s exactly what teenagers do.

It’s true that on the surface, Korean girls don’t appear as obsessed by their looks as Western girls; they don’t wear any make-up until high school (and even then wear a minimal amount), they don’t wear a lot of jewellery, no hitched-up skirts or high heels, and the ponytail is the only hairstyle I see. However, underneath the surface, these girls have far more disdain for their appearance, and it’s only when talking to them that you realise how incredibly low their self-esteem actually is.

Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brandon Myrick, via Wikimedia Commons

The way the word ‘ugly’ is thrown around is shocking; it’s a word only really used in England as an insult or as an extreme, and definitely not a word used normally to describe people. In  my opinion, it’s a word which shouldn’t be used at all due to its overwhelmingly negative connotations.

What’s even stranger is the girls’ treatment of other people, especially that of their friends. Here are just a few of the things my students have said about their friends. Oh, and not in a bitchy, behind-their-back way: this is said to their friend’s face:

“Her cheeks are like an apple, they’re so red from pimples.”

“She is quite ugly. She has a square face.”

“She is not pretty and has thick legs.”

It’s so weird to see friends talking about one another in this way, when for me, it’s always been girl code to automatically support your friends when they’re feeling down about themselves: “You’re not ugly”, “No-one can notice the spot on your chin”, “Of course you haven’t put on weight”.

The fact that friends are so quick and happy to insult, and to receive insults from each other without any offence just demonstrates how low their self-esteem actually is; it’s normal for them to be called ‘ugly’ and to accept this as fact, because they believe it.

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With such bad views of themselves and how openly they discuss their ‘bad’ looks, it’s no surprise that plastic surgery levels are sky high. According to reports, ‘1 in 77 people’ now have surgery to change their appearance, and ‘20% of women aged 19 to 49 in Seoul admit to going under the knife’. Double eyelid surgery is increasingly popular and is something many of my students have expressed their desire to get done when they’re older. when I see double-eyelid tape and glue in CU convenience stores, it reminds me how the pressure for girls to change their looks is everywhere. 

Of course, the K Pop girls don’t do anything to boost confidence among teenagers- they actually have the opposite effect, and make the girls feel even more inadequate. One K Pop star admitted that she had so much plastic surgery, people no longer recognised her. Pop Dust website also describes how the stars no longer care about keeping their surgery a secret; one girl group, Brown Eyed Girls sang a parody of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’, called ‘Plastic Face’. Is this a good message to send to impressionable young girls? I think not.

www.georgianewsday.com/news/world/156466-has-plastic-surgery-made-these-korean-beauty-queens-all-look-the-same.html
http://www.georgianewsday.com/news/world

When photos of the 2013 Miss Korea Beauty Pageant finalists were made public, they were criticised by many people who thought the girls had undergone so much surgery that they all looked the same. The desire for surgery was blamed on the desire to look more Western.

Even without resorting to surgery, I’ve witnessed many older girls wearing a lot of make-up, especially eye make-up, to try and look more like the ‘pretty’ girls on TV. Of course, it isn’t just in Korea that celebrities and the media have a damaging effect, it happens everywhere: extreme diets, changing of hair colour, make-up experimentation, fake tans… people trying to transform into someone else. But in Korea, it seems more extreme, perhaps because everyone wants to look the same. This results, as was made clear with the 2013 beauty pageant, in a group of beautiful clones with minimal individuality.

thefw.com
thefw.com

I know that for teenage years, and for many years after, women all over the world use make-up, endless hair and beauty products, and go on fad diets to achieve some sort of ideal. But I feel like pressure on Korea girls is so much worse, and it’s worrying. It seems like all societal expectations of the Western World are magnified in Korea; school pressure is ten-times worse, the pressure on women to find and marry a ‘suitable’ man, and in the same way, the pressure to look good seems so much more extreme than in other countries.

My question (and worry) is ‘when will it stop?’ A lot of Koreans face too much stress in their lives as it is, and beauty is one pressure point too much. Instead of trying to alter their looks, girls should accept who they are and not view themselves with such harsh negativity. I want to shake sense into my students sometimes, to stop them being so down on themselves and make them believe that they are in no way ugly. Teenage years are for having fun, for being with friends and family- not for worrying that you don’t look the same as the celebrities. In fact, I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self the same thing… well, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Why South Korean High Schoolers Want Plastic Surgery? Check out their answers here.

Bulgogi, Bibimbap And One Brilliant Cooking Class

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If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know all about my love of food, especially my new-found love of Korean food. So imagine my excitement when I found, quite by accident, cooking classes for foreigners in Seoul. I immediately booked a class, excited not only for the experience, but also so that I could start to recreate my favourite meals at home. After all, I will at some point go back to England, and if I don’t know how to make Bibimbap by then it will be a disaster.

I wanted to share my experience of the cooking class, simply because it was one of the best, if not the best thing I’ve done in Seoul. It’s fun, interesting, and you learn something new, Oh, and you get a delicious meal at the end (how delicious will depend on your cooking skills, of course).

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A little bit about the classes: they are run by The Food And Culture Academy and you can find their website here. The Academy is located in Jongno Gu, Seoul and directions can be found on their website. The prices range from 20,000 won to 65,000 won, and this includes: the price of the class, the meal at the end with some side dishes included, and a copy of the recipe you followed. There is a huge selection of cooking choices, including: Bulgogi, Bibimbap, Dakgalbi, Japchae, Mandu, Paejon, Gimbap, and different types of Kimchi. If, like us, you’d like to cook more than one thing, there is a 1 + 1 option.

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Getting bandaged after my little accident!

Don’t worry if you’re not a talented cook- the website calls the class ‘An Intensive Cooking Class for Avid Cooks’, but this shouldn’t put you off, as it’s not a scarily serious or difficult class by any means. Two minutes into the class, I chopped straight into my finger while cutting an onion, so I didn’t exactly prove myself as a super-advanced cook by any means! There is a chef with you at all times to direct you and make everything simple and easy (luckily).

So we chose two things off the menu, cooking one first and leaving it to rest while we started on the second. This was a good way to do it, but also meant that at the end of the class we had not one, but two meals to eat. For someone with a big appetite like me, it was obviously great, but make sure you go feeling hungry!

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How it works- the cook simply instructs you as you go through, step by step.  It’s good because you can also ask questions about what you’re making, which is pretty interesting! We learnt a lot about the history of the food and the different variations throughout the country. And obviously the main benefit of having your own chef is that you’re closely guided as you cook. You’re not just given a recipe and left to work through it.

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When you’ve finished, there’s an area for taking photos of you standing proudly with your food; you can even dress up in Hanbok if you choose, to feel even more Korean and properly get into the spirit of things. Then, there’s a separate eating area where you can sit and enjoy your food. It’s nice that you’re given a few side dishes, as it feels like sitting down in a restaurant for a proper meal.

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So, if there was one thing in Korea that I’d recommend doing, whether you’re here on holiday or living here, it would be this cooking class. It’s excellently run, the staff are so friendly and helpful, and it’s a chance to learn about your favourite foods and how to recreate them yourselves. Most importantly, it’s a great way to eat and have fun; it sure beats going down to the local cafe!

To find out more, check their website and get yourself booked in to a class. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Economical Eating In Korea- Be Healthy Without Being Bankrupt

en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

Eating healthily on a budget is sometimes difficult- why buy a huge bag of apples for 5000 won (at the very least) when you can buy 5 huge bags of popcorn, or two boxes of choco pies for that price? Tempting indeed. It seems that all the staples of a healthy diet- meat, fish, vegetables, fruit- are the most expensive things to buy, which is very annoying when you’re trying to live healthily.

Renee Comet Wikimedia Commons
Renee Comet Wikimedia Commons

This is a problem for everyone, and is even worse for expats, who have to get used to seeing something which was cheap in their home country being triple the price in Korea. My biggest upset: oats. A 500 gram bag in the UK is only about 40 pence (about 700 won). In Korea, they’re pretty much non-existent, but if you do find them (thank you Costco) they are ridiculously pricey. So, adjustments to diet have to be made- I’d never eaten pumpkin before living in Korea but it’s now a central part of my diet, along with tofu, persimmon, enochi mushrooms and spinach.

My main lifesaver, however, is I Herb. I’m probably completely jinxing myself, but I’ve always had perfect customer service and deliveries from America within a week, which is amazing. Plus, delivery only costs $4- the same it would cost me to get to E Mart and back in a taxi. So it’s pretty much the perfect option.

youtube.com
youtube.com

And the other benefit? It’s not too expensive- “I Herb is The Best Overall Value in the World for Natural Products”, according to their twitter, and from my experience I wouldn’t doubt that. Most products are the same price that they’d cost you in a Korean Mart, or cheaper. Plus there is so much which isn’t readily available in Korea. What does this mean? That I Herb makes healthy eating easy, and doable on a budget.

There are hundreds of thousands of products on the website, but here are some of the best things which I’ve found:

  • Healthy Bread- Rye bread, Flaxseed bread, Multi-grain bread from $3.30 for 500 grams

    http://riedsfoodbarn.com
    http://riedsfoodbarn.com
  • Quinoa- $5.60 for 400 grams (compared to 10,000 won in Homeplus)
  • Grains- Buckwheat, Amaranth, Bulgar, Rye, Couscous from $3.60
  • Oats- $3 for 500 grams
  • Crackers- Ryvita, Crispbreads, Multi-seed, Multi-grain, the list is endless. From $2
  • Stevia- My saviour. Amazing to add to drinks, oatmeal, cereal, baking. And the liquid type doesn’t have any strange after-taste. From $4
  • Teas- Every type of tea you can imagine. And, cheaper than in Korean Marts- from $1.95
  • Coconut Oil- from $8
  • Herbs and Spices- from $2.60
  • Cereal- Hot cereal from $2.80, Muesli from $3.50, Granola from $4, and so many other types for the same price/ cheaper than in Korea. Including Weetabix- 24 biscuits for $5
  • Nuts- from about $8 for 450 grams
  • Seeds- from about $3 for 400 grams.
Luigi Chiesa Wikimedia Commons
Luigi Chiesa Wikimedia Commons

You can spend hours searching on the website and there are tons of other healthy goodies: cereal bars, dried fruit and vegetables, soup mixes, healthy butters, baking goods, healthy crisps and popcorn, protein powder and protein  bars (Quest Nutrition bars are so much cheaper on I Herb than anywhere else, and CarbRite Bars are so yummy). It’s such a good option for getting good-value healthy foods. It’s so popular that there are literally deliveries every week to teachers at our school.

Miia Ranta Wikimedia Commons
Miia Ranta Wikimedia Commons

As for buying foods on a budget from Korean shops- it can be done. One of the best things is that rice is everywhere, and a nice, healthy staple to add to your diet. To get top healthy points, choose brown/ multi-seed/ add barely to your rice. Then you’re instantly making your meals healthier. Cheap, quick and easy- what could be better?

A few other things which I have added to my diet because they’re healthy, cheap and easy to find in Korea are: tofu (especially Pulmone Half & Half which is so good), eggs, greek yoghurts (you can find these from 2000 won), vegetables (things like cabbage, carrots, spinach, and lettuce, which don’t change much in price despite the season), and tinned salmon and tuna.

This leads me onto my next point- buying tinned food is a good option for things which are so expensive otherwise. As long as you don’t buy the flavoured options (like chilli tuna or salmon which are more artificial and contain more sugar), this is a good way to eat healthy fish without spending too much.

The same goes for buying frozen things- why spend 6000 won on 100 grams of fresh blueberries when you can buy over 1 kilo of frozen blueberries for 9000 won? The same goes for mango, pineapple, strawberries, etc- go frozen, and you can enjoy all the healthy benefits of delicious fruit for a fraction of the price. I also freeze meat- buy bigger portions of fresh chicken as they’re much better value and then freeze them separately, another easy way to spend less but still be able to afford clean, healthy food.

http://pixabay.com/en/photos/vegetable/
pixabay.com

I’ve also noticed how important it is when buying fruit and vegetables to only buy what’s in season; recently, the price of tomatoes went up by 2000 won in about 2 weeks and broccoli doubled in price- if you take notice of the price changes and only buy what’s in season, it’s much cheaper. This is especially true with fruit; there are a few weeks in summer when watermelon is actually affordable (yay) and the same goes for peaches and nectarines. At other times during the year, they’re just too expensive.

The thing I find which makes the biggest difference for fruit and veg is going to a local shop, rather than a chain. In my local vegetable shop I can buy carrots for 1000 won, a big bag of eggplant for 1000 won, a huge bag of spinach for under 2000 won, and a bag of 8 apples for 5000 won. Pretty good, when at the big marts everything is double the price!

I hope that’s given you some ideas on how to eat healthily for less. I manage to eat fresh, healthy food without going bankrupt, so it’s definitely doable. Still, if Korea decided to start selling oats for a reasonable price, that would make my life so much easier… Here’s hoping!

Culture Shock, What Culture Shock? Embracing The Cultural Change.

 Moving to another country, especially one as different as Korea can make you experience one tough culture shock: why are people staring at me… why is cereal so expensive… is it really ok to spit in public?  Now, we’ve gotten used to being pointed at by amazed children (and yes, once making a child cry when they saw my face) and lots of Korean ways have become second nature (minus the spitting). So much so that back in England people must have wondered why I bow my head in greeting, instead of waving at them.

Of course we researched Korean etiquette before we came (oh, so that’s how I should leave my chopsticks at the end of a meal), but nothing fully prepares you for entering a completely foreign culture.

Here are some of the cultural changes we’ve become accustomed to during our time in Korea, albeit some more easily than others…

  • Discussing People’s Age
en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

What’s one of the rudest things you can ask someone in England? Their age. This rule is even more important when the person in question is elderly. It’s one thing guaranteed to get you in trouble when you’re young and don’t know better: innocently asking an adult “How old are you,” will inevitably lead to a good telling-off.

So imagine our surprise when we first met our co-ordinator in Korea who happily told us on our first meeting his age (and has since repeated it on numerous occasions). We thought it odd, to say the least. But in a country where age equals respect, it’s something to be proud of.

Oh, and this doesn’t bear well for me as the youngest teacher in school; when students ask my age and realise how young I am, it doesn’t encourage them to respect me…

  • Discussing How Much Things Cost
businesskorea.co.kr
businesskorea.co.kr

Another faux-pas in England: telling someone how much a gift cost. And just in general, talking about the high price of something would make people think you’re boasting or just plain arrogant. It’s an awkward topic.

Roll on me feeling extremely uncomfortable when our director buys us a winter blanket as a gift, and proceeds to describe in detail just how much it cost and how extremely expensive it was (and repeats this ten times over). Um… Thanks…

  • Slippers/ No Shoes Inside

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 No shoes inside the house is a fairly normal rule. But inside public buildings? Now that was new to me.

Comfy slippers in the workplace= so much better than smart shoes and much warmer in winter too; I love putting my furry slippers on when I get inside. Although I have to admit that it makes me feel slightly less professional…

Taking off shoes in restaurants isn’t as fun- having cold feet in the winter isn’t great and bare feet in the hot, sweaty summer…not the most pleasant thing!

  • Bowing Heads
thekoreaguide.com
thekoreaguide.com

I have become used to nodding at people I pass or make eye-contact with (and now also do the same in England, probably resembling a nodding dog at times).

However I still automatically smile too, something I just can’t snap out of. Don’t get me wrong, some Koreans smile back, but more often than not, a bow of the head is all I get. So it’s very likely that when I make eye contact with someone, the Korean is probably left wondering who the crazy smiling Westerner was.

  • Lack Of Queues
en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

No, I haven’t gotten used to the lack of queues in Korea, nor will I ever. Maybe it’s just an English thing, but queues are just logical. And when someone cuts in front of me at CU, I still want to murder them.

The best example of why queues are the best? Flashback to the time when I was almost trapped in the closing doors on the subway on the way to watch Korean vs. Brazil at the World Cup Stadium- I was so rammed by the crowds of people, pushing from all sides. See, this is why queues were invented!

(On the other hand, I do love the Korean ticket system when you’re at the bank/ cinema etc, and it does prevent queue jumpers. CU- take note).

  • Showing A Lot Of Leg
sodahead.com
sodahead.com

This is one thing I really don’t understand: in the same culture where it’s frowned upon to have bare shoulders/ arms, people don’t look twice about girls wearing micro-mini-skirts and hot pants.

The shoulders issue isn’t surprising because it’s the same in many cultures, but what puzzles me is why this is seen as wrong, but legs on show is acceptable. I’ve seen some shockingly short  skirts/ shorts during my time in Korea (and yes, I know that makes me sound like I’m about 80): seriously, the skirts are so short they’d raise eyebrows in England… and don’t even get me started on the hot pants.

Why does it bother me? Because all I want in summer is to wear thin straps, without being glared at by Ajummas… it’s just too hot to wear sleeves!

  • Not Tipping
en.wikipedia
en.wikipedia

In lots of the restaurants here it makes sense that you don’t tip- you cook the food yourself, after all. But I still feel guilty when the people are so lovely, or you’re somewhere that cooks for you and it’s delicious, but it’s not normal to give tips here.

The reaction I got once from a taxi driver proved how unusual it was to tip: I told him to keep the change which was only about 500 won, but from his smile and surprise, you’d think I had given him 5000 won!

  • Sharing Food

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Sharing food usually comes naturally because it comes on one grill/ in one big bowl. But the first time we ate at a Western restaurant we realised it’s also the norm to share food there; you get one pizza and one bowl of pasta, and share both. Pretty good idea when you can’t decide on just one thing from the menu!

The only downside is that the servers as so used to people sharing that they don’t bring out your meals at the same time, leading to one person jealously watching the other eat (worst thing ever when you’re hungry).

  • Food Etiquette

a (16)There are quite a few rules about eating which we tried to learn before coming to Korea: wait for the eldest person to sit down first, don’t eat too fast, don’t eat too slow, never pour your drink first, don’t leave the table until the eldest person has. It’s like a minefield.

Our first meal, we were concentrating so hard on not offending anyone we could barely relax to enjoy the food… ‘what if I accidently pour myself some water first and instantly offend everyone’, ‘what if I need to leave the table’… ‘what if I put my chopsticks in the wrong place’.

The hardest thing? Never refusing food in case you look rude- let’s just say that after a meal with Korean colleagues, I’m beyond full. I’m just thankful that we go to a Christian school and so there are no shots of soju around…

Needless to say, there have been many slip-ups along the way. Like the first time I entered our new apartment after 24 hours of travelling and forgot to take my shoes off. Bad move. Luckily, our co-ordinator forgave me (I think). There are also the things I haven’t adapted to, and don’t think I ever will- I haven’t started audibly slurping my food, I’d just end up with it all over me! Not cool. 

But despite the cultural divergence, there are still little things which make you feel at home. The best is the friendliness of hikers, always having a friendly word to say; it reminds me of being back in England on a country walk, where everyone greets each other like they’re old friends. So despite the many changes, the gaping differences between England and Korea, it’s nice that some things have remained the same.