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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Home is where the heart is...

So here I am back in the UK after over 2 years of living in South Korea and boy has it changed. The money looks different, half of Soho has shut down and you now have to pay an extortionate amount of 5p for a plastic bag. What happened Britain?! Next you’ll be telling me that you’ve left the European Union or something crazy like that! …oh wait! :/

Leaving Korea was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. The last few days were filled with goodbyes, an enormous amount of packing and definitely some moments of contemplation and reflection. It was in those last few days that it all hit me, the people I’d met, the experiences I’d had and most importantly the life that I had made for myself there. Korea had become home, and now I was to leave this country not knowing when (if ever) I would return.

After a few hysterical outbursts, I finally managed to wipe away the tears just enough to see my way on to the plane safely, and fly back to the UK in one piece. It has been a bit of a whirlwind over the last few weeks seeing all of my friends and family and also meeting a lot of new people too, so I’ll try and break it down for you as best I can. The first week was spent in Wales with my partners family, who were all lovely. Wales is a lot different to what I remember (weather excluded). I explored caves, went back in time to St Fagans and had an amazing couple of days in Cardiff. It exceeded my expectations and it is definitely a place I will happily be visiting again in the future.

Fastest food in the world! SCONE!

The beautiful Welsh countryside.

The week after was spent in Brighton with my wonderful family. We had a great time dressing up as Victorians in the beautiful English countryside, enjoyed a day out in glorious Brighton exploring the lanes and the sunny seaside, and we even had time for an ice cream on the pier. We spent a few crazy days in London town where we had a well deserved spa day, saw some West End shows and just relaxed in a park or two catching up with old friends, before my partner flew away on her own adventure to Laos, and I headed back home to Brighton.

Brighton Pier.

That London town.

Transport for London?

In the weeks that followed I went camping in the New Forest, spent a rainy day walking around the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge, and caught up with an awful lot of people all over my home county of Sussex. So as you can imagine I am now exhausted! However, it has been absolutely wonderful to see so many people and explore so much of the UK, and it is definitely a place I am proud to call home. 

Stonehenge!

Tomorrow morning I will set off to Gatwick Airport and board a flight back to Asia to start a new life in the wonderful country of Taiwan. I am extremely excited for this new chapter to begin but I am also a tad nervous so fingers crossed it will all work out. I suppose the only way to find out is to just jump in head first and go for it! So see you soon Taiwan! But first, it would be rude not to make a little pit stop in Thailand now wouldn’t it? Just for a cheeky week? Oh go on then! Next stop, Bangkok...

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A New Chapter Begins...

A year ago I posted my last blog post. At the time I wasnt aware that it would be my last post, but apparently a year has now past and here I am trying to start it all back up again. Time really does fly when you're having fun and that we most certainly are. I say we because I now have someone else in my life, someone wonderful that I actually met about a year ago in the local convenience store, proving that once again Korean convenience stores really are, quite convenient.

don’t feel as if I should apologize for my distance because I have absolutely been loving life, not that I didn’t before but I think I have finally found something to sing about so sorry but, I’m not sorry. It’s funny what a difference a year can make. You never quite know what’s waiting for you around the corner and for me it really has been one heck of a year.

Since my last post I have paid off all of my debts, explored the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, dressed as an Empress in Taiwan, and celebrated the New Year with a dazzling display of fireworks in Hong Kong. I also visited the UK back in May last year and had a fantastic time relaxing with some truly beautiful people back home. I have met some amazing people and I have enjoyed living it up and experiencing all of the great things that Korea has to offer. However, the time has finally come to leave this Kimchi filled land and move on to bigger and better things. Which brings me to the main reason I have chosen to revitalize this blog.

On July 20th 2017 after a short vacation in Thailand, me and my partner will be embarking on our next big adventure! We have decided to move to the beautiful island of Taiwan and are both insanely excited for this new chapter to begin. Why Taiwan? Well, we first visited back in September 2016 for a short 5 day vacation and completely fell in love with the place. The food is outstanding, the people are ridiculously welcoming and the scenery is, in a word, EPIC!

Taipei, Taiwan

The last few months in Korea have been pretty manic to say the least, but I am now thrilled to announce that I have accepted a position at a lovely school in Taipei, teaching English to the future as you do. So as you can imagine I am itching to get over there and meet the little hooligans. Moving to Korea has absolutely changed my life and I will be very sad to leave it. It has been my home for over 2 years now and a little piece of my heart will always remain here. Taiwan has a lot to live up to but I am confident that it will greet me with open arms, a year round climate and all the stinky tofu I can eat.

So lets start this blog back up again, in a completely new country with countless opportunities just waiting to be uncovered! Heres to another year of gallivanting around the globe and saying yes to life once again in my constant pursuit of pavements, in faraway places…

Friday, 20 May 2016

May in Korea...

We are only half way through this month but I already feel as if I have done enough to last me an entire year. Its crazy what giving up alcohol can do for a person. Oh yeah, I’ve given up alcohol. I’m not sure if the lack of posts recently reflects this, but I have been a lot more active with the increased amount of energy that I'm now experiencing. It’s not something that I didn't really planned to do, but 2 months in and I’m absolutely loving it so cheers to that!
The BEST looking Lemonade I have had in my entire life!

Over the last couple of months I have met some new people, formed some new friendships, and I have been out and about gallivanting all over Seoul, but unfortunately I have somehow let the writing slip. This could be due to my busier work schedule but I guess that’s just an excuse. I would like to keep this blog up and write some more but I think this year I’m going to stick to a more realistic goal of maybe one post, every month. 

So here I am with a few pics from the month of May...

Traditional Tea Houses

Awesome food

 Lantern Festivals

Island hopping on bikes
Boat Trips

And casual night time strolls.

In other news... tomorrow, I am going home! Whoop! Just for a short two week vacation mind, but what a vacation it's going to be. I haven't stepped on English soil in over a year, and so to say that I am excited and also freaking out slightly is a massive understatement. I have heard of this weird phenomenon called reverse culture shock, and to be honest, I am slightly concerned. This is exactly what it sounds like...reverse culture SHOCK! I have been living in Korea for the last 15 months and so I have become completely comfortable with my surroundings. I am no longer nervous about living here, I automatically look left when I cross the road, I eat with chopsticks everyday, I eat kimchi like its drinking water and I speak, hear and read little bits of the language each day too, and so the thought of flipping this all backwards is a very strange one...What’s a fork again?!JK!

I can’t wait to see my family and friends, but the culture in England itself is now almost, slightly foreign to me, and so it will be interesting to see how that one goes. It’s difficult to explain this kind of feeling to anyone who hasn't been through it before, I can imagine I probably sound a bit ridiculous but lets just say that the next couple of weeks are going to be pretty emotional, and so people back home...be prepared and expect tears all round! Thank god I’m not drinking anymore.

Anyway, I apologise that this isn't the longest post, but I still have a lot of packing to do so for now I will bid you farewell, Oh and England, I'll be seeing you soon! :)

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Temple Stay, Korea

As I start my second year in Korea I feel an awesome sense of tranquility in the air. The fear of the unknown has disappeared and the anxiety of meeting new people and creating some sort of life here has gone. It’s sort of become home now, well, a home away from home. The last year was incredibly bizarre in the best and worst possible way, and so here I am about to embark on my second year with a hell of a lot more knowledge, and understanding of what it is I’m actually getting myself in to. After the madness of the previous year I wanted to mark the occasion by doing something truly relaxing, and so I thought what better way than to spend a night on my own with a bunch of Buddhist monks in the middle of nowhere. Worse things have happened right? Right!

Temple Stay programs are literally everywhere in Korea, and so its pretty easy to track one down if you’re interested in doing one. I went through the Temple Stay website and found an awesome little place in the midst of Mount Palgongsan near Daegu. And so, my weekend began...
Donghwasa Temple

As I walked up the long pathway on that cold and frosty morning back in February, small perfectly round snowflakes began to fall upon my head. The higher I climbed the more snow I saw, and the less I could feel my legs in the freezing cold temperatures. The air was crisp and there wasn't a person in sight. My ear drums felt strange with the lack of noise they are usually accustom to in the city. As I reached the top I wasn't really sure where to go as there was absolutely no one around. Thankfully after about 10 minutes of evaluating my options a small Korean man popped his head out from one of the temples and spilled off a bunch of words I didn't quite understand, except one... ‘Sarah’? Phew!


Temple Stay this way...

Meditation Room

I was shown to my room and supplied with a less than desirable monk uniform (a mandatory requirement) and there I was, left alone in the middle of this mountain with only my thoughts for company. For the first few hours I just sat there staring into thin air, expecting to have some sort of revelation. Nothing happened of course but it was extremely peaceful.
 
My Room

My accommodation block

At around 4pm I took a trek through the forest to the monks eatery. The food was genuinely awful but it was great to have a meal with these people and experience what they do from day to day. Shortly after this, I was met by a lovely lady called Jamie who brought with her a wealth of knowledge about the temple, and the fascinating religion of Buddhism itself.

We headed up to the main temple of Donghwasa to take part in the bell ringing ceremony and to do some chanting with the monks in the evening. It was extremely peaceful and everything moved at a very slow pace, which was pretty much how the rest of my stay went. I took part in some light meditation and sat outside watching the millions of stars and listening to the sound of silence that night, and I couldn't quite get over how quiet it was. At times I felt for sure there was a problem with my hearing. Funny what solitary can do to a person.

Instrument Pavilion

 Drum...played for 10 minutes at a time.

  Massive GONG! Hit 28 times in the morning and 33 times in the evening. This symbolizes the 28 heavens and 5 hell's reflected in the Buddhism religion.

I awoke the next day and wandered around the temples at the ungodly hour of 4am. It was pitch black and there wasn't a soul to be seen. Watching the sunrise over the huge Buddha statue that sits in the middle of this beautiful temple was an incredible experience, and it was made even more special by the lack of people that would usually be flooding this popular location. To mark the end of my short trip I participated in the making of some prayer beads, which consisted of me bending down on all fours whilst chanting to ole mate Buddha 108 TIMES! My knees have never felt such pain!

108 Prayer Bead Bracelet

Lanterns...

...so many lanterns!

Ole mate Buddha Himself!

Donghwasa Temple, Mount Palgongsan

The weekend went by far too quickly but it was fantastic just to spend sometime away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and quite literally take a moment. I would definitely recommend doing a Temple Stay to anyone. It was a truly fulfilling experience that I hope to do again sometime in the future.

For more information on Temple Stay programs in Korea, check out this website: Temple Stay, Korea

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A year living in South Korea...

So here I am sitting in a Cafe in Seoul with a warm Latte thinking about the last year and contemplating the future. Packing up my entire life and moving to the other side of the world was a strange thing to do at the time, but even stranger was the theory of doing it for no real apparent reason. I wanted more but I wasn’t really sure what that ‘more’ was, and to be honest I still don’t know what it is, but for the most part I think I got it. More money, more time, more appreciation for the people in my life and of course for life itself.
 
 One of my favorite places in Korea...Gyeongbokgung Palace!
 
One of my favourite meals in Korea...Chicken BBQ! YUM!
 
This year has produced some eventful moments. Moments that I could never have anticipated. From quite literally having the time of my life one minute to having the absolute worst the next, it has been one heck of a ride that's for sure. I have done things that I would never have dreamt of before, like spending Christmas in Australia or kayaking in Vietnam’s Halong Bay. But I think the best thing has got to be just learning how to live on my own, in a completely foreign country where I don’t know the language or for that matter, anyone else around me.
 
Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam
 
Christmas in Sydney, Australia
 
The solo trips abroad and basically being surrounded by my own company way too much has been a massive learning experience, and at times I have hated it more than anything I have ever hated before. However, after a while you sort of learn to love it and it has been those lonely nights spent with my adult colouring book that has taught me the most. I have learnt how to read Korean, write prose poetry, meditate and of course colour in like a CHAMP!
 
I have made some amazing friends and lost some not so amazing ones too. I have taught children and never loved and hated them so much in all my years. I have gotten outrageously drunk until 8 in the morning, cried in the middle of Seoul and mentally packed my bags on more than one occasion. I have laughed, I have laughed so much. I have met people from all over the world and learnt many different things not only about the Korean culture, but other cultures too...including my own.
 
...I have eaten bugs
 
I have written a lot of crap, and some average stuff too. I have stepped over the border into North Korea, hiked mountains and lost my phone, wallet and dignity far too many times to count.
 
 North Korea!
 
 
Bukhansan Mountain
 
So I think its safe to say that it has been a truly unique experience that has to some extent changed the way I look at things. But, after all that has been said and done I can honestly say that it has been 100% worth it, and (although I've had my moments) I wouldn't change a thing. I think it was a wise ole man somewhere in wonderland that once said...
 
“IN THE END… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” - Ole mate Lewis Carroll doing his thing. 
 
So on that note, I'll leave you with a small head nod, a quick hat tilt and at least 10 high fives.
 
From Seoul, South Korea... 안녕히 가세요(Bye for now!)

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Lunar New Year Surprises...

Seollal (Lunar New Year) is an annual event where the Korean government decides to give most of the population a well deserved 3 day holiday. It’s a time where families across the country get together to celebrate the start of a new year in accordance to the lunar calender, and it is one of the most significant traditional holidays in Korea. This year it fell on February 8th, 9th and 10th allowing for an extremely generous 5 day weekend. As you can imagine I was very excited for this, but even more excited to see my sister who would be visiting yours truly all the way from England. I had planned accordingly and spent hours scrolling through lonely planet guides and speaking to her about what it was she actually wanted to do, but nothing could really prepare me for the week I was about to have.
 
I barely know where to begin but I guess I’ll start where everything usually starts...nope, not the womb. The airport. As my sister came through the arrivals gate the tears started flowing. We hugged, cried and spent several seconds in complete shock, but little did I know that she had another surprise waiting for me just around the corner. I turned around and to my utter astonishment, I saw my lovely mum strutting towards me with a face full of glee.
 
Whaaat?! 
 
It was all very emotional, and I thought for sure Peaches and Herb were about to burst in at any moment bellowing their hit record 'Reunited'. My hands couldn't stop shaking for a good hour or two as her epic arrival in Korea, slowly started to become reality. It wasn’t that I never thought she’d come, I just never expected it, but yet there she and my sister stood after nearly a year of absence, both with suitcases in hand. Crazy. We hopped on the bus and started the first journey of many that week, and I couldn’t wait for it all to begin.

It was a totally bizarre experience to see these people that I've known for my entire life in Korea. When you have spent the last year surrounded by people who have only known you for a few months, it's sort of absurd. The amount that we have been through as a family is endless and having the opportunity to share this huge part of my life with them was pretty fantastic. That evening we skyped my Dad, which was even more surreal as I am so use to seeing both him and my mum on the same screen, and not, the other way around.   
 
The week went by extremely quickly and we managed to fit in just about everything you can imagine. From Palaces to Poop Cafe’s, Mountains to Towers and shopping in almost every top location in Seoul, it was hectic to say the least. We also visited a dog cafe, ate Dakgalbi in Myeongdong, and found that style really does exist in Gangnam. They absolutely loved Korea and I absolutely loved having them here.
 
 Gyeongbokgung Palace
 
Seoul Tower
 
 Shopping in Insadong
 
FOOD!
 
I'll go into more detail about each place we visited in a later post, as the list tends to go on a bit and I fear that if I start, I may never stop. So, for now let me just finish by saying a massive thank you to both of them for visiting my current home, and also a big shout out to the troops back home who made it all possible - looking after the kids, dogs and houses can't be easy so thank you. It was certainly a week to remember, and I am more excited then ever to be returning home for a little vacation come May, so until then folks...I'll be seeing ya!
 
POST SCRIPT: To anyone else who is thinking of visiting me too...what are you waiting for?! DO IT! DO IT NOOOW! SOLD?

Monday, 1 February 2016

January in Korea...

Its been a bizarre month filled with mixed emotions about the future, the past and ofcourse the present. As with most people around this time of year I have experienced the disappointing realisation that yet another year has flown by incredibly quickly. I was also informed last week that in Korea, I am in fact 32! As I've mentioned before the aging system here is very different - you are a year or two older depending on when you were actually born. It's crazy and genuinely makes no sense, but hey, 32 and still not a cat in sight...I’m doing well! Age isn't really something that bothers me all that much to be honest, I’m sure when I’m 70 I’ll still feel like I’m 21 so YOLO to that!
 
The blues of my wonderful time in Australia set in and the mundane 9 to 5 job carried on as usual upon my returned, but with one difference. Something had changed, and that something was Korea. I was actually really looking forward to going back which is a completely new and strangely satisfying feeling, to what I have been use to in the past. I would usually be dreading that first day back, but in this instance I missed my kids, my friends and I was excited to get back to my little apartment. I guess that home is where you make it and Korea definitely does feel a little bit more like that each day, although I'm not sure I can get use to these freezing cold temperatures...
 
 -18°C!!! Jeeez!
 
Although its been pretty chilly and I’ve not had much money due to over indulging at Christmas, I have still managed to get out and about. A couple of weeks ago me and some friends went to a Hockey game in Anyang Ice Arena, which was just lovely. I’ve been to this in the round, raked stage performance a number of times now but believe it or not, I'm still quite the novice. They have about 10 intervals, which i’m told are called ‘halves’ or ‘periods’ (I know right) and I think there are about 6 players on each team. Each player runs around the field...I’m sorry - skates around the rink, and attempts to shoot a little black disk called a puck into the opposing teams goal. Its all quite exciting but extremely aggressive. Violence doesn’t solve anything guys...talk it out!
 
 Anyang Halla Hockey Team
 
As you may have guessed I’m not the biggest sports fan. Other than watching about 30 minutes of a football game once back in the UK, and enjoying the High Jump at the Paralympics in London 2012, this was my first sporting event that I’d been to, and I must say that I genuinely found it quite riveting. Its pretty cheap and you can bring your own booze which is a welcome change to what I’m told is not the case back home. There is the standard big screen and ‘period’ entertainment (not what it seems) and everyone is quite well behaved. So yes I may start becoming a regular at these games, I mean there is alcohol after all. Phew!
 

Also this month I managed to check out a pretty awesome Japanese restaurant in Hongdae called Kodachaya. If you’re in Seoul be sure to check it out as its delightful, and probably somewhere I will be taking my sister when she comes to visit me in Korea THIS WEEK!
 
YUM!
 
Standard Soju!
 
It's all very exciting and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to talk about after her visit so stay tuned...this blog is about to become real touristy! When hasn't it been?! Sold!

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