Tag Archives: expat living

Making A Pilgrimage To The Baebang Buddhist Temple

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While Christianity has a significant presence in Korea, Buddhism also has a large following as well.  On a typical weekend off from teaching in Baebang, I decided to seek out out local temple.  After hiking into the hills above my town through rice and kimchi farms, I finally reached its hallowed grounds. When you are faced with a view like the one displayed above, how could you not build a shrine to your deity of choice?

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Despite arriving at its doorstep on a weekend afternoon, all was quiet. Perfect for a spot of exploration and a rare moment of serenity in a nation as crowded as South Korea…

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Unlike more elaborate inner sanctums that one would find in halls of worship in places like Seoul, Beijing or Bangkok, Baebang has kept things simple, with a small idol of the lord Buddha accompanied by offerings of abundance and sublime style elements.

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One thing I wasn’t able to figure out during my time in this country was the purpose behind altars built in the honor of seemingly prominent Koreans. Not sure who this guy was, but I’m sure he was integral to the building up of this nation, or at least this community.

Ever visit a non-descript temple, church, or mosque that captured your heart?  Let us know below!

Photo: Korea Is A Carnivore’s Dream (Unless You Like Beef)

Pictured above is the aftermath of a typical grocery trip in Korea for yours truly.  Before you start getting concerned about me dropping dead of a heart attack at 35, know that most artery inflammation is mostly the result of over-consumption of simple carbohydrates (sugars + white bread) and trans fats (often created when processed foods are made) with red meat ranking well behind on the danger scale.  Besides, I did buy spinach and onions before this grocery run, with remnants already in the fridge and cupboard, thank you very much 🙂

Grocery costs are well below that of Canada, despite the constrained land to raise livestock and grow crops … economies of scale work wonders, what can I say?

Prices of items above:

Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breasts (2) – 2500 won each = $2.27 CDN each
Pork, cut into stir fry strips (3) – 1180 won each = $1.07 each
Big pack of ground pork – 3520 won = $3.20
Big bag of frozen Mandu (Korean dumplings) – 4500 won = $4.09
12 eggs – 3000 won = $2.73
Tall can of Cass Beer – 2500 won = $2.07
The sole expensive buy … small but good-looking beef steak – 6600 won = $6

All told, this haul, which was a bigger trip than I normally made, added up to 28,660 won, or $26.05 Canadian, which is markedly less than my grocery bill in Canada for a lot less meat.  Not pictured or purchased on this run was spinach, which sells at Homeplus for about 1200 won a bag, or slightly more than $1 Canadian, rather than the $3-$4 it costs here at home.

Conclusion: Korea is paleo heaven (just learn to love chicken and pork a lot more, and request purple rice instead of the standard white rice at restaurants, and you’ll be golden!)

Readers: any killer grocery buys you’ve made in Korea?  Spill your guts to us in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Waegook Comedy Night In Cheonan, South Korea

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When you’re in a homogeneous place like South Korea, where less than 1% of the population are foreigners more or less like you, sometimes you gotta band together to avoid feeling overwhelmed sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, cultural immersion is rad and all, but sometimes you crave the company of people that share your collective societal experiences and that speak your language.  Cheonan, despite being a smaller city by Korea standards (600,000), has an expat community that is larger than normal, making for a lively community.

One thing that went on here during my time in Cheonan was a comedy night.  Apparently, if you are crazy enough to drop everything and move to a foreign country completely different from your own, it also engenders a wicked sense of humor within you!

Despite the thin pool to draw from, most of the guys you see above are from the area (a few parachuted in from Seoul), and did a bang up job bringing the house down with guffaws, snorts, and all-out barrages of belly laughter.

It was certainly one of my most memorable nights in Cheonan, as I also went bar crawling with most of these gents after the show (many bars stay open until the sun rises in Korea on the weekends!).

Live(d) in Korea? If so, how is (was) the expat social scene in your city/town?

My 2013 In Pictures: A Tumultuous Year In Review

Christmas in Calgary 2012Christmas 2012 in Calgary … my holiday season had a much lower profile this year, but I had a lot to reflect and grateful for over the past 365+ days!

It’s amazing what can happen in the span of 365 short days.  This time last year, I was freezing in the depths of yet another Alberta winter, yet I had a renewed spring in my step, despite the darkness that early January brings with it.

I had hatched plans to dump my day job as a warehouseman (which I had never planned to be a permanent arrangement), as I had committed in my mind to pursue the next great adventure in my life … to teach English as a Second Language in South Korea.  I couldn’t head over straight away, though, as I needed to go through a Byzantine process to qualify and then, get hired.

Well, that’s cool.  But what was I doing in Calgary in the dead of winter anyway?  On that note, let’s get this party rolling, starting below!

January 2013 – Family Time in Calgary

My nephew Owen about to shoot off a rocket

One of my original motivations to seek a job in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, was to enable myself to spend more family time with my nephew and niece, who are very rapidly growing up as I type this.  Owen (pictured above) just entered elementary school this fall, and Lauren at 3 years old isn’t that far behind. And as of this September, there was a new addition to my sister’s family, little Aaron.

As much of a globetrotter as I am, I am endeavoring to be there for them in the years ahead.  All the more reason to continue pursuing my efforts to fuel my life via the internet, a task now half completed, as I will reveal later on in this piece!

February 2013 – Just Quit Your Warehouse Job?  Time To Go Skiing!

After making the decision to go splitskis with my employer in my mind late last year, I began furiously saving for a period of unemployment, in much the same way I have saved for my travels in the past.  While there were many things related to the ESL application process that took up my time, as well as working away at causal web work and preparing to launch this standalone site, it left me a lot of idle time.

Calgary isn’t the most exciting place in the world during the winter, especially during the work week, so what to do?  Well, I heard that my former home Jasper, tucked well away in the Canadian Rockies to the northwest, was about to get pummeled with a massive snowstorm. With nothing holding me back, I hopped aboard a Greyhound Bus and an overnight ride and nine hours later, I was in Jasper on the eve of one of the heaviest storms to hit the area in a long time!

Powder day at Marmot Basin, outside of Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Over the course of three days, Marmot Basin, the local ski resort in Jasper (best kept secret in the Canadian Rockies!) got hammered with over 71 centimetres of snow (29 inches for our American friends), enabling those lucky enough to be snowed in to this friendly town to have virtually unlimited lines of knee to waist deep powder for the entire weekend I was there!  Sick times.  Want to see more?  Stay tuned for the post on this weekend that will live in snowhound history…!

March 2013 – House Sitting, Getting Hired For Korea, and Ramping Up My Online Presence

Nose Hill Park in winter, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

As March dawned and I went through random walks through parks in an effort to stave off boredom (my camera lens broke after this pic, hence the thin bench for images in March), I finally got enough of my documents together that I could finally post my application for employment on the web’s biggest ESL job site, Dave’s ESL Cafe.  Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.

An avalanche of e-mails and phone calls from anxious and enthusiastic recruiters wanting to link me up with “the job of my dreams”.  While some disqualified themselves by barely being able to speak the language (oh, the irony), I eventually settled on a recruiter and so the process began.

During this time, I housesat for my sister, who was headed off on a well-deserved vacation to Mexico.  During the two weeks that I was caring for Autumn and the house, I went through about three interviews, the last of which was done over my cell phone with a Korean principal that spoke broken English with a thick accent.

In spite of all the frustrations, I got the JOB!  I was headed off to a place called Baebang 2 hours south of Seoul.  WHOO-HOO!

April 2013 – Korea Work Visa Run to Vancouver, The Best City on Earth

Skyline, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Before I could get on a plane though I had to do a bunch of document mailing and FEDEX-ing, which eventually turned into an old-fashioned visa run, as time was running too short to risk trusting my passport to the mail system.  As such, I hopped another Greyhound bus bound for Vancouver, leaving winter behind and landing squarely in the midst of spring…

Spring in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Yes, those palm trees are real, those blossoms really are breaking out in the middle of April, and the temperature in Van City really was 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) when it was -6 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit) back in Calgary on the same day.

Granville Market, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I spent an entire week going on tours through Vancouver’s urban and natural attractions, such as the foodie paradise that is Granville Market, shown above, while my passport was being “processed”.  There was a bit of background tension, as the consular official that took my passport on the first day scolded me for the weathered state of my travel document, warning me that I might get refused my visa due to its condition (didn’t stop her from taking my money, though!).

Fortunately, all was well, so with my documents all straightened out, I headed back to Calgary to await my departure to South Korea!

May 2013 – Starting My ESL Career In South Korea

Rooftop view, Baebang, Korea

After arriving in Korea, the first few days involved random document signing and other matters too boring to comment on here.  The view you see above was from the first morning I was here … sick view, eh? While many parts of Korea don’t resemble Coruscant like this picture suggests, many built up places in the country do look this way due to a lack of suitable land, due to the mountainous nature of the land mass Korea occupies.

For those thinking that English teaching involves walking into a school for four hours, talking English to the kids, then leaving to party like a rock star, put down that application form right now … I’m going to break your little hearts (sorry).

Lesson planning, homework marking, and other admin tasks will grow to take up much of your “free” time at home, even parts of your weekend.  Being a good teacher (I tried my hardest, and despite what happened to me, I felt I did a great job) takes tonnes of planning, passion, and giving a $#!t.  So don’t waste your kid’s time, and your employer’s time and money if you’re planning to go over and just party the whole time! </rant>

Whew… I’m almost never like that.  Sorry guys.  Just know that this isn’t a vacation when you go, and you’ll be fine.  And go public, not private.  More on that in a second…!

June 2013 – The Sands of Daecheon Beach and Samgyeopsal BBQ’s

Daecheon Beach, Korea

OK … so like, summer is Korea is hot, right?  I mean, HOTTER than you’ve ever imagined it could ever get, anywhere in the world.  Unless you’re from the American South/Midwest/Ontario in Canada, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

So, be sure that your A/C works before mid-June swings around, and when it does … go to the beach!  Now, Korea may not strike you as a beach destination, and I won’t try to get you to come from halfway around the world to experience it.

If you find yourself in Korea come summer, though, Korea has some beaches that more than suffice for your cooling needs.  Daecheon Beach is Korea’s best west coast getaway, with tonnes of fine white sand, cool West Sea water, and oodles of fresh seafood cooked up K-style!  I’ll be writing a guest post on this subject very soon, so stay alert for when it comes out … it’ll be a dandy!

Korean BBQ in Korea

Ever since I started watching Youtube videos about Korean cuisine, I had always wanted to have some juicy Samgyeopsal (aka Korean pork BBQ).  I have affectionately referred to it as mutant Korean bacon, and late in the month, Sonya, one of my co-teachers, took me out for a family BBQ.

Hanging out with them outside of work was so cool, and it was one of those rare authentic cultural exchanges that we all crave as travelers.  When you stumble upon such an opportunity … seize it!

July 2013 – My Big Fat Busan Vacation

Haeundae Beach, Busan, Korea

Working in a private English institute (aka a hagwon) affords few chances for vacations in the traditional sense (you know, when you put in for days off, and you get 1-2 weeks off consecutively). You are on duty the vast majority of the year, but during the peak heat of the summer, even the most workaholic directors break down and schedule downtime to get out of the sweaty office.

My three days off (yes *3* days) plus the weekend saw me escape to Busan to see Korea’s second city.  From the Jagalchi Fish Market to the claustrophobic beach destination of Haeundae Beach and everything in between, Busan impressed me, even if the weather was typical for the monsoon season (humid and wet).  As with many other events that occurred this past year, posts are forthcoming, so be patient, my children 🙂

August 2013 – Leaving Korea for Thailand and the Unknown…

Word of wisdom, Korea

I won’t get into the dirty details of it, but effectively, months of confrontation over my bosses non-payment of health insurance and pension, ridiculous accusations concerning my teaching, and all the stress that comes with that all came to a head in August.  After the final straw was broken after a meeting filled with finger-pointing, innuendo, and raised voices, I had finally had enough.

With an orphan day off in the middle of the week for Independence Day, I made my move.  After eight hours of furious cleaning, packing, ticket booking, and creeping about Baebang surreptitiously in a manner that would have made Jason Bourne proud, I leapt aboard the 6:30pm bullet train bound for Seoul, the first leg on my journey to Bangkok, my selected place of refuge from the duress I was suffering.

Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to Thailand.  For the foreseeable future, I was done with teaching.  Totally burnt out.  I wasn’t exactly relishing returning to Canada so soon either, so I figured I’d take a month in the Land of Smiles to clear my head.

As it happens, the Universe had my back, as the web work I had been doing on the side presented me with a huge opportunity.  A friend of mine offered me the chance to do some writing for him for money, and so I ran with it.  At this point, I had no idea it would lead to me being able to support myself via the interwebs…

September 2013 – Finding my way in Malaysia

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, Malaysia

After getting kicked in the face by the death flu in Koh Samui, I continued down the Malay Peninsula to Penang in Malaysia.  I may have mentioned it before, but this country is the place where all the good foodies go when they die.  If you’re not dead yet, the flavors of the dishes here will send you to Heaven, if only temporarily.  It’s that good guys, for serious!

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From Indian to Chinese to Malay food, you could spend your entire holiday going from one foodgasm to the next.  Mom’s cooking just won’t taste the same when you head home, that’s for sure!

October 2013 – Exotic Islands and Subtropical Highlands

Tioman Islands, Malaysia

I spent a good portion of my time in Malaysia (5 weeks) in Kuala Lumpur getting the hang of working for myself (finding a balance is NOT easy … work too little and you hemorrhage cash, work too much and you feel like you’re not living the dream), but I also found time to do a little sightseeing and exercise my travel blogging muscles while I was here.  Above, the diving paradise of the Tioman Islands will tantalize you with its beauty when I get around to posting about it, while…

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

… the lofty heights of the Cameron Highlands will refresh you like a strong fan on a stinkin’ hot day. Only this fan comes with a cup of Boh Tea and a slice of strawberry shortcake, ’cause that’s how they do it in Tanah Rata!

November 2013 – Moving to Chiang Mai to Make Bank

Pool at Huay Kaew Residence, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While I definitely did enjoy my time farting around the Malay Peninsula, it was time to get serious.  Off to Chiang Mai I went, securing an apartment (sick pool above included in the package!) for the princely sum of 4,500 baht, internet included.  Taken together with my utilities usage, my monthly living costs came to 5,500 baht, which equates to the budget-busting figure of … $185 USD a month.  Ohhh my God, I can’t afford that!  On another note, this was the first month that I turned a profit running my own multi-dollar corporation. Yayyyy! 🙂

Lantern art, Yee Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

It wasn’t all dull stuff that month though, as the famous Loy Krathong festival went on, fancy lanterns and all.  Not all of them were meant to fly, as the dragon one attest to … if you’re looking for a time to start your Thailand holiday, plan it so that you can take in this event!

December 2013 – Catching Fire

Thai Meal, Tops supermarket food court, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Despite it being the holiday season, I really put my nose to the grindstone this month.  Picking up two more clients and having a tonne of priority work hit your virtual desk can do that.  I did get out around the holidays with all the other fabulous travel bloggerati, but for the most part, the inside of my favourite restaurants/cafes, my room, and the Thai food court at TOPS supermarket (so good for so cheap!) was all that I saw this month.

All in all though, when you’re laying the foundation for a virtual life you can take anywhere in the world, sacrifices in the early stages have to be made before you can get the passive income stuff set up later.  I’m not sure how I’ll do that, but then again, I wasn’t sure what I would do after Korea, and yet here I am 🙂

How did the past year treat you?  Regale us with your tales in the comments!

A Late Spring Outing To Hoseo University In Asan District, South Korea

Cool street art in Baebang Korea

With my free time winding down to the end of yet another weekend, I wanted to do something with my time that was new and exciting, lest I feel that I wasted it.  Time to explore is at a premium when you’re a hagwon teacher in South Korea, so you need to use the time that you aren’t teaching, lesson planning, cooking, cleaning, and sleeping to the best uses possible.

As such, I decided to explore Hoseo, a university town at the end of a dead end road in a valley just south of my town, Baebang, as some colleagues of mine had said it was quite beautiful down that way.  To get there, a bus needed to be taken, which I hadn’t done in Korea yet, so I was a little bit intimidated, but not deterred 😛

Cool street art in Baebang Korea

To get to the bus stop I needed to wait at, though, I had to walk for about 10-15 minutes through my community, which was looking rather fine on this late spring day, as you can see from the murals in the pictures above.

Hoseo University, South Korea

After attempting to mime a conversation with a Korean ajumma (old woman) for about ten minutes, I was finally on the bus, and after getting scolded by the bus driver for unwittingly shortchanging him, I was at the end of the line, at Hoseo University.  Some sort of ceremony, was ongoing that day, maybe graduation day…?  The crowd seemed to be a bit thin for such a momentous occasion, though.

Grape Coconut drink in Korea

In search of some refreshment on this baking hot day, I opted to forego my usual Coke and get a drink that was truly Korean.  Have you ever had a grape coconut drink before?  Neither had I, but as weird as it was, I can happily report that it was quite enjoyable, and it quenched my thirst to boot!

Building at Hoseo University in South Korea

After wandering around the grounds of the university for awhile, searching for mountain trailheads, and generally trying to get a feel for Korean campus life, I headed back through the townsite to see what was on offer for the kids there.  As per most Korean entertainment districts, there were many restaurants, hofs (Korean pubs), and games rooms.  However, it was soon time to seek out the bus again, so I could return to town to begin my preparations again for the coming week (I so don’t miss Sunday evenings now that I’m working for myself now…!)

Farmer's field, Asan District, Korea

As I have mentioned before, no arable or buildable land is wasted in Korea.  There are always growing something on land that isn’t built upon, in a feverish and admirable attempt to be as food secure as possible (something that we in the West could learn from). On this plot that I happened upon on my way to the bus stop, we witness the starting point of the Korean obsession with kimchi, as rows of cabbage extend out almost as far as the eye can see.

Traffic safety mirror selfie, Baebang Korea

Overall, it was a rewarding day.  Even if you don’t know why exactly you’re going somewhere, exploring somewhere you haven’t been is ultimately rewarding in itself.  After all, it beats just randomly surfing the internet on a gorgeous Spring afternoon, with an ever-growing dread for the coming work week building with every passing second towards bedtime!

Ever explored an area for no reason, except for the fact that it was there? Tell us all about it below!

Photo: A Park … In Korea?? With GRASS!?!

Park in Cheonan Korea

Throughout much of Korea, land is used to the maximum extent.  There are 50 million people living in a country that is smaller than the State of Ohio (or the island of Newfoundland, for my Canadian readers).

These people need a place to live, food to eat, and places to work.  Complicating things further is the fact that 70% of the land in South Korea is mountainous, severely limiting what can be built or grown there.

Parks as we know them in North America or Europe are very rare in South Korea for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph.

This makes the green space shown above that much more striking, as it contains an abundance of the parkland we take for granted back home.  Of course, this is South Korea, so signs of urbanity are never far behind.

The towers in the background is the new, dynamic Korea showing its much prettier face, a breath of fresh air from the commie block style apartments that litter just about every town and city in this country.

Cheonan is a rapidly growing area 1 and 1/2 hours drive south of Seoul, so the relatively underdeveloped land here made for an interesting experiment in cutting-edge architectural design, paired with green principles.

Not only is there a spacious park with easy walking distance of this mixed use tower, there are wind turbines and sports facilities on the other side of the hill, making this place the leading edge of a healthier way of life for people in Cheonan, and hopefully in the long run, for all people in South Korea.

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!

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!

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!