Category Archives: Expat Living

The Tangle Falls Area: The Most Underrated Part Of Jasper National Park

The Columbia Icefield, located across from Tangle Falls

As you approach the southern border of Jasper National Park, the mountain scenery begins to get more epic.  After crossing the flood plain of the Sunwapta River near Beauty Creek, the road begins to climb towards the Columbia Icefields.  Before reaching this national park’s best-attended attraction, nature puts on a spectacle on the side of the road.

I’m not sure if parts of this are even accessible (the pull off from where I took the photo above) anymore without paying an admission fee to the newly constructed Skywalk (opening Spring 2014), but the views are no less stunning in spite of that.  Observe as the ice sheet of the Columbia Icefield spills over the side of the mountain plateau on which it sits.  Trips out onto the ice are available from guides in Jasper, but don’t attempt this yourself: guides have intimate knowledge of the crevasses that crisscross this area, which if fallen into can cost you your life.

Tangle Falls area, Jasper National Park, Canada

Views of the mountains are quite stunning in this area, so don’t be in a rush to get to your destinations further south: stay a while and breathe in the pine needle scented air and relax!

Tangle Falls

A little further down the road lies the lesser known Tangle Falls, despite being stationed at the side of one of Canada’s busiest tourist drives.  This beauty is just hiding in plain sight, begging you to come closer and experience its wild nature close up…

Afterward, it was time to leave and carry on down the Icefields Parkway to the next point of natural interest.  It was with some reluctance, though, as I was graced with this view as I made my way back to my oversized Dodge Grand Caravan…

Tangle Falls area, Jasper National Park, Canada

Ever been to Tangle Falls on your journey up/down the Icefields Parkway? What did you think?

In Motion: A Rainy Night In Itaewon, Seoul, Korea

Itaewon Seoul Korea

Standing out like a patch of North America in the middle of South Korea, Itaewon is the preeminent foreigner hub in Seoul, and by virtue of this, the biggest gathering place for expats in the entire country. Western-style bars, restaurants, and stores with appropriately sized clothing are all available in relative abundance, leading to frequent trips to this area by desperate teachers from the provinces. Also, many Koreans find it to be the best place to experience foreign cultures in the whole country, made all the more significant by the fact that this country is very homogeneous (Korea is 98% ethnic Korean), making it hard to connect with all things international outside of this area.

Below, I make my first foray into this vibrant district, on a moody and rainy night in Seoul

Have you ever been to Itaewon?  Have a favourite bar/restaurant/shop you frequent there?  Let us know about it in the comments!

A Purrfect Afternoon In Seoul: Visiting A Cat Cafe In Hongdae

This Cat Cafe In Hongdae was heaven on Earth for me...

Seoul, Korea is known for many offbeat, quirky attractions in the expat community, but few places are quite as famous as the Cat Cafe. Located all over the city, with new similar businesses popping up all over the country (and internationally, I recently heard that there is at least one here in Bangkok), it exists as a place where urban dwellers that can’t afford or have a cat due to landlord restrictions can go for some feline de-stressing.

Or for cat obsessed people like myself, it’s a convenient place to surround oneself with the most awesome creature to ever walk the Earth … teh kittehs! (clearly, I’m a bit obsessed, but I don’t care 😛 )

To enter the Hongdae Cat Cafe, you need to buy a drink ... I got an iced chocolate

Upon entry, you remove your shoes and are presented with a menu and a list of rules to follow once inside.  After ordering your drink for 7-8,000 ₩ ($6.30 – $7.20 USD), you are admitted to the kitty wonderland, which boasts an assortment of feline subspecies to play with, feed, and to simply admire as they grace you with their awesomeness.  In case you’re wondering, I ordered an iced chocolate that was incredible, though it killed me to drink/eat the barista art on top of the whipping cream 😛

A sleepy tabby rests on a window at a Cat Cafe in Hongdae

A fluffy white cat sleeps high on a ledge

This cat doesn't want to be touched

I could just end the post here, as the kitties showed above trump anything I could ever write, but I got something better: video footage!  Enjoy 🙂

Want to know how to get to this specific cat cafe that I visited in this post? Check the map below and have a happy afternoon of connecting with man’s favorite master!

Map to the Cat Cafe in Hongdae

Love cats? Think they leave dogs in the dust? Jive with me below!

Instant Korean Foodgasm: A Mandu Feast In Hongdae, Seoul, Korea

The perfect place for a Mandu Feast In Hongdae, a hip neighborhood in SeoulSteam escaping from pressure cookers make this mandu shop in Hongdae easy to find

Prior to arriving in Korea, I had heard many great things about the food, so I was eagerly awaiting my arrival in Seoul to wander through an infinite selection of Korea’s culinary offerings.  A particular restaurant in Hongdae had my rapt attention, after being featured in a video on the K-Pop and culture blog, Eat Your Kimchi.

Map to super secret Mandu shop

The restaurant can be found by taking line 2 of the Seoul Subway system to Hongik University Station.  Leave the station through exit 9, and after making a hard left, walk on the street you emerge at for about 200 metres until you reach the end of that laneway.  Turn left again, and continue past the first roundabout you encounter, and keep going until to reach the second roundabout.  Turn right on to Wasuwan-ro 29 gil, and stick to the right side of the street until you see steam billowing into the air from one of the shops.  This is the restaurant in question, my friends!

Mandu in Seoul Korea

After arriving, I promptly ordered a platter of modeum mandu (combination plate of Korean dumplings), which came with a whole assortment of mandus, which are ably described in a video by Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi (I had attempted to do my own video, but I botched it badly … leave it to the pros, I guess 😛 ) in the video embedded below!

I will say that they were every bit as flavorful and enrapturing as I had hoped they would be.  The fried mandus were especially satisfying, with the ball dumplings and steamed ones following closely behind in the pecking order.

Simply put: you gotta check this place out, guys … it’ll make full-blown mandu addicts for life, and that’s not a bad thing, as there are a lot worse things to be hooked on out there!

Ever tried mandu?  Share your experience with us all below!

Chill Out And Go Rafting In Calgary, Canada Next Summer!

The Elbow River is a great place to Go Rafting In CalgaryRafters float down the Elbow River in Calgary, with nary a care in the world…

In Calgary, summer is a short season. In a part of the world where snow has fallen on the city in August, a warm day is not wasted, nor taken for granted. With its close proximity to the Canadian Rockies, interest in outdoor recreation is much higher than many other urban centres in Canada. As such, one of the favorite activities of locals over the years has been to take a raft, blow it up, and set sail one one of two rivers that flow through the metropolitan area (The Bow and Elbow Rivers) and float along for several hours with friends and family, eventually arriving in the downtown area, where drinks and food are had before packing up and heading home.

If you want to go rafting in Calgary next summer, while making new local friends in the process, follow the steps below, and hopefully, we’ll see you join the Pirates of the Bow/Elbow next season!

1) Tell Your Friends – If you are living in the area and you want to go rafting in Calgary, let your friends know that you are interested in doing this. Usually, many people wait for someone to assume the mantle of organizer, rather than try to take the “responsibility” of doing it themselves. If they don’t glom on like you hoped, or if you are traveling in the area and don’t know anybody, and your hostel mates barely look up from their phone/laptop, then it’s time to get on the internet. Fire up meetup.com and search for groups that get together regularly to go on river rafting trips, like this one. Alternatively, you could also head over to Craigslist Calgary and post an inquiry on the community forum.  Yeah!

poe_rafonsho

2) Get The Gear – Next, you need a raft (probably bigger than the one pictured above if you got friends with you 🙂 ).  To fix this essential problem, there are many sports gear shops in Calgary that rent out rafts and associated gear for the day.  The times I have gone on the river, I didn’t deal directly with the retailer, but this Google search should get you started 😉

3) Get The Raft To The River – This is a two parter if you can swing it.  Ideally, get a friend to park a car at your take out point (a popular place is Prince’s Island Park downtown) so you can have easy transit back to where you started your adventure.  DON’T INFLATE THE RAFT UNTIL YOU GET THERE.  Seems obvious in retrospect, but it makes things easier, trust me! 🙂 If you don’t have two cars, a taxi will suffice, despite the added cost.

poe_parrafcalcanCredit: cuppojoe_trips (flickr.com)

4) Blow Up The Raft, And Go Rafting In Calgary – Get out on the river and have fun!  Just don’t be stupid like the folks above and forget to bring or wear life jackets!  The water of the Bow can be shallow in places, leading to a false sense of security.  It is always ice-cold, so if you get swept away by the current and can’t swim, you’ll be in serious danger of either drowning or succumbing to hypothermia.  Bear in mind that alcohol is also officially banned (as is all open alcohol in public) on the river, and police boats actively patrol looking for lawbreakers.  If you decide to bring some adult pops with you, exercise discretion and don’t draw attention to yourself, again, like these guys (I’m sure they are awesome people otherwise 🙂 )

Calgary is a city that worships the summer when it arrives, as the other 8 months of the year often feature winter weather in part or full effect.  If you want to go rafting in Calgary, just do it – join the locals in making the most of the bright and warm days out on the waters of the Bow and Elbow Rivers!

Have you ever rafted some awesome rivers in your neck of the woods?  Do they have the scene that Calgary does?  Let us know about it all below!

A Taste Of Home In The Middle Of Korea: MOOSEHEAD!

A refreshing taste of home in the middle of Korea ... ahhh!
Guess what I found in Seoul?

Just a short post today, as I’m writing this from a remote tropical island with creaky internet. When you’re in a foreign country (especially when you are living there full-time), you are constantly surrounded with new things to try and sample.

Sometimes, though, you crave a taste of things you know and love from back home. In Korea, not being a major tourist destination on the level of SE Asia, and only opening up majorly to international influences about a decade ago, it can be hard to find things that you take for granted in the West.

In Seoul, the capital city, it’s easier to find these products, but even I was surprised to find what I found when visiting an international self-serve beer bar … MOOSEHEAD BEER, from my neck of the woods (Atlantic Canada), repping my home nation, among the likes of Guinness, Heineken, Stella, Tiger, etc.

It was truly a nostalgic moment, and I enjoyed downing the ol’ Moose Green just as I had back in my college days (10+ long years ago!)

A full post on my first excursion to Seoul should be on the blog next week, so stay tuned!

Have you made any surprising finds when you were travelling/living overseas? Share your discovery in the comments!

Cure For A Korean Hangover: Kimchi Jjigae. With Spam. It Works!

Kimchi Jigae is the cure for a Korean hangoverTruly, a sight for sore, hungover eyes: a pot of bubbling Kinchi Jjigae, with accompanying side dishes (banchan) about to will me out of my moribund state.

Drinking features heavily in Korean culture. There’s no escaping it, anywhere you go. Hofs/Pochas (Korean pubs) are on every corner. Bottles of expensive spirits are on the convenience store shelves next to the potato chips. On the way to school, one has to be careful, lest you step in Kimchi blossoms (that is, red hued vomit, made so by the famous Korean side dish).

The work culture here has a lot to do with it. Competition for promotions, acceptance, and even to get into valued jobs in the first place is insanely intense. Many people work 12-15 hours a day, and the stress placed on them to “do their job perfectly” leads people to this outlet in order to release their stress.

Along with heavy drinking comes the dreaded hangover. Koreans have developed fixes for this, as you might expect. The 7/11 and GS 25’s have coolers packed with remedies such as Morning Care. They don’t taste very good.

One thing that DOES taste very good, and chases away your self-induced, throbbing headache, is a steaming pot of Kimchi Jjigae. Kimchi has been purported to heal or prevent many things, such as the Common Cold, for example. I can’t say whether it does that for sure, but I CAN verify that it heals the aftereffects of drinking WAY too much Cass.

After taking that in virtually, does it make you want to cook some up in advance of the next big night out on the town? Find a recipe for Kimchi Jjigae, or just stumble into your local Korean restaurant, where an expat Ajumma will be more than happy to cook some up for your throbbing head!

Optimized-IMG_0583The aftermath of a Korean food massacre…

What is your favorite cure for a Korean hangover?

Let’s Head To The Market: A Visit To The Outdoor Korean Food Market In Onyangoncheon, Korea

Optimized-IMG_0434Fuelling up on Don Katsu (breaded pork cutlet), smothered in a zesty garlic sauce, accompanied by all the usual banchan (side dishes), namely rice, tater tots (which I ate already, tee hee), a salad dish I can’t identify, plus some yellow radish and Kimchi…

Korea is a land of many unique foods. Kimchi stands chief among them, a fermented, spicy side dish of raw cabbage that many shy away from. Having indulged in it many times however, it is a taste that you grow to like in my opinion, and the spicy zing adds life to many meals without overwhelming them.

In order for the Kimchi, and the main dishes that it stars alongside to be created in the first place, the cooks, both household and professional alike, must first visit the local market. After catching word of an outstanding Korean food market in Onyangoncheon, the largest city in Asan, I had to check it out for myself…

Optimized-IMG_0451 A dizzying variety of produce, most of it from within the region, greets visitors to the market in Onyangoncheon

After taking Seoul Subway Line 1 to Onyangoncheon Station (visitors from Seoul will want to take an ITX train to the station [name is the same, as they share the same track] ), walk out onto the main street, and wander eastward for a couple of blocks. After this, cross the street and head south until you run into throngs of people, and an endless array of vegetables, fruits, seafood, baked goods, and people hawking crafts and other general merchandise.

Optimized-IMG_0452 A tantalizing array of Korean fast food (Ddeokbokki [spicy rice cakes in a red pepper sauce], Hoddeok [a pastry filled with brown sugar and nuts/seeds], sundae [Korean pork sausage], battered vegetables, etc) awaits those with a void to fill in their tummies (like me!)

Optimized-IMG_0453 An enviable selection of freshly caught fish waits patiently in their market stall, until a seafood chef comes by to arrange a marriage between them, some cooking oil, and a frying pan.

Optimized-IMG_0454 Awaiting a similar fate, a wide variety of shellfish are kept in good condition by constantly flowing water, until they find themselves in a stock pot later that evening…

Optimized-IMG_0457 Mmmmm …. Doughnuts!

After exiting the market, I came across a fountain just south of the train station. Before heading back to the terminal to catch the subway home, I found out quickly that this was no ordinary water feature

What’s your favorite thing about markets? The food? The atmosphere? The people? All the things you can buy? Talk to us in the comments!

Mission Aborted: Why I Fled Korea’s Private ESL Industry

Optimized-IMG_0707Not the reason why I quit: my kids, while sometimes challenging and naughty, were generally friendly and well-behaved. The aspects that tipped the scales towards my departure were related to the behavior of my employer, using tactics that are shockingly common throughout the private ESL industry.

If you follow my social media accounts, then you may be aware of what has happened in the past week. If not, I’ll keep it brief: I left my teaching job in Korea after a series of legal abuses regarding to things owed to me by my hagwon, in accordance with Korean law.

These specific things included medical insurance and contributions to my pension. One of them provides national healthcare coverage, instead of me having to pursue expensive private health insurance on my own, and the other adds up to about $1,000 or more by the end of the contract.

This was money I was planning to pay my Canadian taxes with, as well as put towards other bills (Hi Mastercard!) next Spring.

Another insidious fact I learned as I dug deeper, is that since I was not receiving pay stubs when I got paid. Given that I was paid 2.1 million won a month, my automatic tax deduction should have been in the area of 30,000 – 40,000 won.

INSTEAD, I was being charged 3.3% tax per month, leading to an outgo of almost twice that figure. Additionally, I have no way of knowing for sure, but since I was not receiving pay stubs, it was plausible he could have been skimming money off my cheque as “taxes” and pocketing the money.

On top of all this, my boss was saddling me with an ever increasing workload, with expectations to teach a “perfect” lesson (e.g. please all the kids all the time). At first, my classes were too boring. Then, I played too many games. Then, they were too boring again. I simply couldn’t win.

With all the legal hassles, insane work loads and expectations, and the general stress of teaching kids you couldn’t effectively discipline (because if you upset them, bye bye precious tuition $$$), it was exacting a heavy toll on my physical and emotional health.

 

I had a nasty cold that I had to work through (sick days? What’s a sick day? They don’t exist in Korea in hagwons generally speaking.)

My lips were constantly breaking out in nasty canker sores from all the stress I was experiencing.

I experienced a general fatigue that grew worse as time pressed on, only partially remedied by the weekend.

In my last two weeks, I started to slip into a depression … catching myself falling into this dangerous pattern, I knew I had to get out before anything worse could happen to me.

After a plea to my recruiter either led to my boss not caring, or my recruiter not passing along my grievances (I had already complained about my other issues in person to my boss twice before, only to have him dodge the question or provide a convenient excuse/non-answer), and a 15 minute meeting at the end of my last workday that led to him calling me a liar (which wasn’t true — it was related to course materials and such, as he was unaware of what was going on in his classes — if he spent more time out of his office instead of counting tuition money on his spreadsheets he’d know that!)

After all that frustration, and a day off to plan my escape, I had finally had enough – I was going to pull a runner.

30 hours later, I was on a plane to Bangkok via Shanghai, bidding farewell to Korea’s private ESL industry. I do feel bad for the teachers I left behind, but I felt like I was backed into a corner with few options available to me. This whole episode will pass, hopefully with valuable lessons learned by all sides involved.

Have you ever ran/resigned from an ESL job in South Korea due to shady dealings? Feel free to spill yer guts below!

A Look Around My Former Home in Korea, Baebang

Optimized-IMG_0384The streets of Baebang outside my apartment on the first morning at 8am

After shaking off the jetlag that accompanies a trip to the other side of the world, it was time to take a look around the community that would be my home for the next year. Baebang, unknown outside of Korea (and likely the Asan-Cheonan area) is considered to be a town by Korean standards, with a population of approximately 30,000.

While many places this size are a dime a dozen in this country, Baebang has a vibrant feel to it, due to the rapid economic growth it is experiencing due to the presence and continuing expansion of the Korean electronics company, Samsung.

Let’s go for a little stroll and see what’s here, shall we?

IMG_0386The view from the top of my five storey building, overlooking the Eastern portion of Baebang town.

Optimized-IMG_0395This is what the mailboxes look like over here … mail theft, what’s that? 😛

Optimized-IMG_0418An exercise machine in my neighbourhood … back pain? Rub up against it grizzly bear style and knead those cramps away!

Optimized-IMG_0421Many colourful flowers blossom in the long, hot summers that grace the Korean Peninsula. On a major street near the downtown area, we see a display of floral beauty that brighten the sometimes gritty urban landscape that you see throughout Korea.

Optimized-IMG_0426In Korea, with 50 million people hemmed into an area the size of Ohio or the island of Newfoundland, and with 70% of that land being comprised of mountains, land available to grow food is at a premium. Therefore, every square inch of land that can be used for growing food, usually is, even in the midst of urban areas. Here, a vacant lot is used to grow onions if I’m not mistaken…

IMG_0424At the back of the town site, an amazing site repeated almost everywhere throughout Korea … beautifully shaped mountains towering over their respective towns and cities. Korea is a wonderland for the hiking enthusiast … it’s just a shame I didn’t get a chance to scale one of these beauties (due to the heat, and my sudden … erm … exit from the country)

As I alluded to in the title of this post, I am no longer in Korea, as of August 16. I pulled a midnight run from my private English institute for reasons that shall be disclosed soon (by the end of this month).

Right now, I am typing this from a comfy hostel bed in Bangkok, Thailand. My focus over the next week will be to de-stress from everything that happened in the past two weeks or so. To that end, I’m headed to Koh Chang, hoping for a little sun in the midst of the rainy season (we shall see).

Until next time, I’ll leave you with this: Do you, or have you ever lived in Korea, away from Busan or Seoul? What was your town/city like? Tell me about it in the comments below!