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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!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Sydney, Australia Part 2...

The week went by far too quickly but we sure managed to fit a lot in. On Monday we took a road trip out to a place called Cronulla, checked out a few beaches in the Shire, visited Engadine and also drove through The Royal National Parks along the Grand ole Pacific Drive. It was great to get out of the city and experience a bit of the Australian countryside, and sure made for some awesome sightseeing. The Royal National Parks are the second oldest in the world next to Yellowstone in the USA. They were originally just called The National Parks but (would you believe) after Queen Elizabeth II parked her arse in 1955 they were renamed, and the ‘Royal’ part was added. Sure.

Cronulla has some gorgeous beaches but nothing compares to how beautiful the beaches in Manly were. Manly was literally named 'Manly' due to the ‘manly’ behaviour of the local people that lived there - I kid you not! So (after excepting this and moving on with our lives) we took one of the many boat trips out the following day and did some epic sunbathing...I burnt my nose! It was pretty horrendous! The boat ride took about 30 minutes from Circular Quay and we sailed past some gorgeous little spots. Taking a boat trip whilst in Sydney is probably number 1 on my list of ‘things to do’. It genuinely is the best way to see the sites and who doesn’t love a good boat trip?!

Road Trippin'

Grand Pacific Drive
 
 Boat Trip!!
 
...they weren't joking!
 
Manly Beach 
 
I couldn’t visit Sydney without checking out the many Merlin attractions they have on offer. As a previous employee this was something that wasn’t to be missed and so we managed to visit not just the Sea Life Aquarium, but also Wild Life Sydney and Madame Tussauds too. I had no idea who many of the people in Madame Tussauds were as many of them were Australian stars, but none the less it was interesting and it was a bit of a blast from the past to be honest. Wild Life Sydney and the Aquarium had many different animals on display from all over which was awesome, but it wouldn’t be a trip to Sydney without a visit to the famous Taronga Zoo. This Zoo is not only home to an array of different animals but you can also catch a pretty impressive glimpse of the city aswell...

View from Taronga Zoo

 Wild Life Sydney
 
 HAROLD!
 
 Taronga Zoo

One of the many things I was looking forward to during my stay was New Years Eve - the anticipation was quite literally killing me. During the day we visited Martin Place and did a bit of shopping in the Queen Victoria Building. This building was built as a monument to the long reigning monarch herself in 1898, and it really is a beautiful site not to be missed. I also enjoyed my 17th fry up of the week (you can never have to many), and finally it was time for the main event to unfold. To celebrate this occasion before most of the worlds population was pretty amazing, and to do so from the Sydney Tower was even more impressive. As the clock struck 12, the fireworks over the harbour bridge exploded in an epic display that I will remember for years to come. Sydney was pretty crowded but well organised and everyone's spirits were high which made for an all round awesome good time.

 Sydney Tower Eye
 
 Queen Victoria Building
 
 New Years Eve!
 
On the final day we took a trip out to the gorgeous and world renowned Bondi Beach. The weather was perfect if not a little too hot and the beach was absolutely crammed with people. The water was extremely clear and it really was the best way to spend my final day in Sydney, Australia.

 Bondi Beach
 
Pacific Ocean

Overall Sydney is a beautiful city and I had a fantastic time exploring it, but to be able to spend this Christmas with my nearest and dearest just absolutely made it for me. Its funny what living alone in a different country does to a person. I am grateful for the people I have back home more than ever, but I have also found a new appreciation for this experience in Korea, and am looking forward to what 2016 will bring to the table.

So Korea...lets be 'aving ya! Sold!

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