0

Why I was happy with a hagwon.

wpid-img_20150923_142530.jpgI began writing this post two months ago after a weekend away with some EPIK teachers. One of the girls, who I really admire and like, made a comment that made me really think about the reputation academies in Korea have and how all the fears I had before working at one were unfounded. I thought this would be a helpful post for anyone looking to come to Korea to teach, and may have been rejected by EPIK or wanting to avoid the public school route all together. Both public and private schools have their pros and cons, I’m just going to write about my experience and what I’ve learned over my last year in Korea.

A hagwon is an academy is Korean. Academies are after school schools where kids go to do extra studying on top of their already busy schedules. Hagwons have notoriously bad reputations in Korea because most of them put business before education. Hagwons are not regulated, they’re owned and operated independently from the metropolitan government. They have their own rules and can be kind of intimidating, but they can also be really rewarding.

Hagwons can be a crapshoot, even after all the years of teachers being forced to deal with 11th month firings, and lack of pension or healthcare. Recently a group of hagwon teachers got together and SUED their academy for poor standards: no vacation, no pension, no healthcare. The only reason schools in Korea get away with this is because people let them! They take job offers at schools offering the bare minimum of things: 3 month-long internship periods, no pension, no healthcare, no access to a current teacher. If no one says anything, they’ll continue to do it!

If the school is offering you a contract look for these main things: salary clearly stated, teaching hours clearly stated (no more than 30 hours or you could be killing yourself, it’s a lot of work), vacation days (usually 10 plus the 10 red days -national holidays), round trip or one-way flight (this seems to be the new trend a one-way flight but there are still some schools offering round-trip airfare), and the two biggies the LEGAL biggies: NATIONAL PENSION – which your academy HAS to pay into by law if you are a full-time teacher, and NATIONAL HEALTHCARE – also has to be paid into, legally. DO NOT take an extra $100-$500 a month and not get healthcare or pension. To be contracted as anything other than a full-time or part-time teacher on your E-2 visa is ILLEGAL! If you’re not getting healthcare or pension your school is breaking the law by filing you as an Independent Contractor. The last, and probably the most important is access to the current teacher. If the school refuses to let you talk to them that’s a HUGE red flag. The current teacher knows the ins and outs of the school. Talk to them before signing anything.

Now, scary stuff aside hagwons can be great. Shop around! As a newly graduated person with a B.A you’re going to have pick of the litter, if you’re patient. I had to wait quite a bit before finding my job. It took months. I had a few offers, and I nearly signed a contract, but I did some more research and found the academy I almost signed with failed to pay severance or even pay their teachers on time. Thank god for the internet because I found an old teacher on Twitter of all places. Had I not found her I would probably be writing a different story right now. The important thing is to have standards. All jobs have the same offerings but find one that caters to your hours, and has a good rep with their current teachers. Don’t jump on the first offer you get because likely, it’s not going to be the best.

I get really offended when people say things like “You couldn’t pay me enough to work in a hagwon.” or “all hagwons care about is money.” This stuff is TRUE for most places but my school was AMAZING. I have to be 100% honest I got very, very lucky. I had an amazing boss, super friendly coworkers, and mostly great kids. Of course there were kids I wanted to banish to the hallway for an eternity, but I had flexibility in my classes, I got to sing songs and do dances for kids, and even watch movies with my kids! We had a great curriculum that approached English in a way that was inviting. It was so much fun and super rewarding. When I listened to my friends talk about their EPIK schools and even other academies I felt pretty lucky.

Here’s some anecdotes and comparisons I made about my experience and the EPIK experiences I heard about:

  • EPIK class sizes are about 35-40 kids PER class. You see them once a week. My classes maxed out at 12 kids and I saw almost all of them 2 times a week. Smaller classes are so much easier to handle, especially for a first time teacher.
  • EPIK teachers seem lonely: one foreigner in school, your co-teachers aren’t always friendly. This is the case for most people. My school had one other foreign teacher and my Korean co-teachers did not hesitate to ask me questions, chat about kids, or invite me to dinner.  Even having one other foreigner was great because you had someone to chat with when you needed it. Contrary to popular belief being the only foreigner teacher at an academy is not a bad thing, nor does it mean your school is poor, some schools are just smaller than others.
  • Sometimes you have to teach at 1-4 schools a week with EPIK, transportation not provided. This means you could have to bus to different places during a single day. No thanks. I had a 5 minute door-to-door commute from my apartment to school. Some teachers got a bonus for working additional schools but the bonuses barely cover the monthly transit.
  • An academy allows you to get closer with students: learn their Korean and English names, and you can spend one on one time with them. I spent hours with my students joking around with them, etc. I could even see them outside of class and say hello. When you teach an ENTIRE public school it’s hard to remember each face and name. When you teach a smaller portion of a school at an academy you can make better connections with your students.
  • When there’s a problem with your apartment sometimes nothing happens. And your apartment (EPIK or academy) can be really crappy depending on how many teachers have used it before you. When I had a problem in my apartment my director had it fixed within the week I asked. I never had any issues. It really does vary school to school though.
  • Vacations: EPIK is WAY better for vacations. I think you get the majority of August off and the majority of January. At an academy the most you’ll get is 5 days in winter and 5 days in summer. If you have a good school. I am jealous of the EPIK vacation time. Second only to the university vacation time (like 10 weeks!!)
  • Bonuses: maybe $100 more, if that, plus your settlement bonus from EPIK. You’ll get more there but not much more than you would at an academy.
  • EPIK has the cushioning that is safe, but it’s not where you’ll make the most money, EPIK is a long-standing program with a good reputation so it’s more secure than most academies but some academies have been around for many years. My academy, though unknown to most foreigners, is pretty famous in Busan and has been around for 16 years.
  • If you want to make more money in EPIK you have to be working in a rural area which sucks most of the time. Being the only foreigner in a small town can be draining on the most confident of person. EPIK in a rural area can be super rewarding but also really difficult. Not for the weak hearted that’s for sure.
  • From what’s been going around the internet: the EPIK program is on the way out. This program was not meant to last. Each year there are more and more schools cut from the program due to lack of funding. It’s sad really.
  • Recently I’ve seen that the EPIK program is really discriminatory against tattoos. From a thread on reddit, several new applicants to EPIK were rejected right away and the one common factor: they all had tattoos. Or they all were crap at writing an essay, the jury is still out.

I just want to get my opinion out there! I’m not bitter that I got rejected from EPIK. I  was sad when I first found out, but also happy I got to work at my school. My school was wonderful and I could not have asked for a better first place to teach at! I think there are a lot of misconceptions about hagwons/hakwons/academies in Korea and before working at one myself I had my own reservations. Take your time, ask questions, and don’t feel rushed into anything. If it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t.  Check out Facebook for groups like: hagwon blacklist (bad schools in Korea), and Teachers in Korea. It’s full of people who have done the jobs you want to do. Trust your instincts and ask others for help!

Sorry for my lack of posting, I’m still adjusting to life in Canada again. I’ll have some more posts up soon! Thanks for your patience, I love you guys!

Until next time,
B.

Advertisements
5

The best ninety minutes ever: Robot Restaurant Shinjuku Review!

wpid-img_20150801_210536.jpgOne of the highlights of my trip was going to the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku.
When I had seen youtube videos (Sharla’s Video and Alli’s video) about the Robot Restaurant, I thought it was going to be some lame, crazy mess of flashing lights. I didn’t know how wrong I was. I laughed so much and enjoyed every last minute of it. It was crazy and weird and fun, it was just a great way to spend a night! It was weird and entertaining and everyone involved seemed to love what they were doing. Let’s start at the beginning though.

You buy your tickets online, or in person at the Robot Restaurant ticket counter. This way you can reserve a set amount of seats, and even sometimes get a front row ticket. I feel like any seat in there is a good seat, but the front row is right in all the action. We ordered our tickets online and they were sort of pricey at about $54 a ticket. This was after the online discount of about $10 off. It was worth every penny though, honestly. If you can, bookwpid-img_20150801_210556.jpg your ticket online in advance. I believe we used Voyagin to book our tickets, but if you look online (Shinjuku Robot Restaurant) you should be able to find discounts, even on the website for the restaurant itself.

We actually had to make a last minute reservation change and swapped our 7pm show tickets for 9pm show tickets, they had no issues with that! My friend did it all on the phone and it happened in a matter of minutes, so it was great. When we arrived at 8:45, we were lead to the Robot Restaurant waiting area. This was in a crazy decorated mirror building that had lights and things everywhere. It was a super cool lobby area where you could buy drinks and snacks before the show. wpid-img_20150801_211250.jpgThis lobby was on the 3rd floor, and the show was held in the basement. They only had one elevator (that was often full of people) and it was really hard to find the stairs from all the crazy decorations. The shows go on multiple times a day so often the basement stairs area is blocked off (so you don’t spoil the show!). We made our way to the filling-up lobby area, where some robot performers were playing some tunes. Two really talented girls sang some songs too, and before we knew it, it was time for the show! The pre-show was really cool, and everyone up there seemed to enjoy their chu-hi (a Japanese mixed drink) and beers. We all made our way downstairs and to our seats.

The stairway down was just as trippy as the show was going to be. I laughed a lot going downstairs because it was just so ridiculous. It was a great journey and set us up for the ridiculousness that is the Robot Restaurant. It was so gawdy and tacky, I loved it.

The stage area is set up with three rows of seats on each side, and an open space in the middle. The center part, where all the action happened was wide. We took our seats (52-54) in the second row, and got ready for the show. You’re wpid-img_20150801_213848.jpgequipped with a cup holder, a narrow table, and a comfy seat. You have to keep your drink in the cup holders at all times (there are robots around! No short circuiting here!). The name is Robot Restaurant so you can also get bento boxes and meals. We opted for chu-hi’s (drinks) and snacks. We got popcorn and I purchased the “robot chips”. They were just plain chips with super cool packaging. You could also purchase other food and even some souvenirs from the show.

After everyone was settled, the show started. I had a general idea of what to expect but my expectations were blown out of the water. It was SO COOL! I often found my mouth hanging open, I laughed until I cried at one point, and often turned to Megan mouthing “WTF is going on!?”. It was such a funny evening; it was probably one of my favourite activities we did on the trip. I don’t want to post too many details of the show because it was way better to be surprised, but just prepare yourself for a wild crazy ride. I’m posting pictures from during the show, hoping not to spoil too much.

wpid-img_20150801_222610.jpgAt the end of our show, during the final dance scene, our robot had his foot catch on fire. Though this was not planned, it was handled super efficiently and made for a funny conclusion. Everyone was OK and the fire was put out really fast. I laughed a lot during the show, but I was scared a bit at the end. After the robot was safe, we all had a laugh about it and then they all took their final bows. If you find yourself in Tokyo, please make time to go to the Robot Restaurant. Each show is crazy and entertaining! It’s certainly a highlight of my trip to Tokyo.

wpid-img_20150801_220229.jpgwpid-img_20150801_230758.jpg

wpid-img_20150801_222858.jpg

I hope you’ve been enjoying my Tokyo-a-go-go series! I’ve really enjoyed writing it!

Until next time,
B.

This is a post in my Tokyo a go go series.wpid-img_20150801_231120.jpg
Find the main post here!
Go back to Day One!
See where I stayed in Tokyo.
Go to Day Three!
Check out my Tokyo Transit Tips!
Go to Day Four!

4

Taking a bite out of Busan

My friend Alice and I have been slowly working our way through a fantastic Facebook group called Busan Food. Busan Food is a collection of reviews/posts about various restaurants in Busan. I had started doing something like this with my friends at home, calling it our Friendly Supper Club. The idea was that we got together once a month and tried a new restaurant. Well I feel as if I’m doing the same thing but sort of in a quicker way. We see a post about a place, decide if we want to go, and then try to go on a weekend. Thankfully we both have the weekends off, and soon enough I’ll be having the evenings off, which means we can try at least a few places a month. I love trying new places, but I also love going back to places I like so they stay open! In Korea things change A LOT, and quickly. Since moving here 9 months ago, I’ve seen many places open and close. If people don’t go, the places close, so if there’s a small business you like, (anywhere not just Korea) you should go as much as you can.

Our first Busan Food adventure was going to James’ Kitchen. There were multiple reviews on Busan Food, and it looked delicious. But that did not go well… Fortunately at that time I got to go back to Papa’s Tacos. Papa’s Tacos is a new tex-mex place in PNU. The prices are really good and you get delicious food. Every time my friends go to PNU they go wpid-img_20150613_212000.jpgthere, I have no reason not to go and it’s the best tex-mex place I’ve had in Korea (aside from my beloved, Taco Bell). I love the Frito pie at Papa’s, I could eat a big order myself.. And the Korean BBQ Steak taco is my favourite. Good flavours and fresh ingredients. I just want to note that the first time Alice and I went to James’ Kitchen, it was sold out of food at 7pm on a Saturday, when they close at 8pm. So we tried again this past weekend and they were CLOSED. At 6pm on a Saturday, they were closed. No sign, no nothing. So I have given up on James’ Kitchen. I will not try to force it to give me delicious food, there are many other places in Busan that are ready and willing to give me delicious foodstuffs in exchange for my money.

The second adventure may have been my favourite. We made our way to a brand new New York style pizza place wpid-img_20150704_164002.jpgcalled Slice of Life. Now, I’ve only been to NYC once and I didn’t have pizza, I know THE wpid-img_20150704_145610.jpgHORROR, but this pizza was the BEST pizza I’ve had in Korea, and maybe EVER. It was just perfect. Good combination of toppings, flavours were spot on.. Ahh, it was just wonderful. Alice and I enjoyed it so much we ate and then came back for more the same day. The portions were good and cheap, and the staff was just so friendly. We each tried the White Pie slice, a pizza with garlic sauce, and four kinds of cheese, and Alice had a pepperoni slice and I had a margarita slice. I loved the margarita, it was so fresh and delicious. I want another piece now just thinking about it… I can’t praise this place enough. I want to go there every day of my life. No, not really, but it is fantastic. If you’re in the Kyungsung University Area (KSU) head there for a slice! And explore around KSU a bit, it’s a nice place.

Our next adventure took us to Gumbo House. I had recently befriended the Facebook page and I was surprised when wpid-img_20150711_133033.jpgthe owner greeted me by name. Alice had thought I’d been there before, but no, after chatting with the owner she said she recognized me from my picture. She and her husband had lived in America for a bit and now they opened a Louisiana Style eatery. Gumbo House is a beautiful restaurant with a homey feel. It is also super close to Gwangalli beach, a bonus in Busan. I have been back twice now, and eachwpid-img_20150719_145404.jpg time it’s been wonderful. My first time with Alice I had the American style breakfast. Gumbo House has American style breakfasts and Louisiana Specialties like Gumbo and fresh seafood. The price is really good too, both times I’ve went I’ve been stuffed for under $10. The breakfast I had was delicious and had nice crisp bacon. The second time, I had a sampler. I split the mac and cheese, and it was AMAZING. It was gone in less than five minutes, much to my dismay. I also split an order of french toast, a steal at $3. I could have easily ate 3 portions. And the main thing I ate was the Slammich. It was a typical breakfast sandwich with scrambled eggs, two kinds of cheese, a sweet maple syrup spread, and ham. I would willingly go back to Gumbo House any time I’m in Gwangan. You’ll probably find me there whenever the next foreigner market is.
wpid-img_20150719_144902.jpgwpid-img_20150719_144401.jpg

wpid-img_20150718_185609.jpgThe next two places do have reviews on Busan Food but they weren’t really top choices for me to go, more of places of convenience. I’m not disappointed with them, but I probably won’t be rushing back to them. The first would be Valance Burgers. This is a cheap burger place off the main area of PNU. I’ve spent a few weekends in PNU now and I really enjoy that neighbourhood. Alice and I headed to Valance after our second disappointing visit to JK (I don’t even want to say the full name again, it shall now be theplacethatshallnotbenamed). We both had a Chili fry set, with Valance Burgers. They weren’t the most appetizing looking burgers, but they tasted good enough going down. Typical Korean floppy bacon, too much lettuce, and a soggy tomato. The chili fries were the main attraction and I’d go back just for them. I’m just going to be forever disappointed in burgers from PNU until I can to go theplacethatshallnotbenamed. The best part of Valance was that the food was cheap. You don’t pay more than $10 for almost every set. I’d go back, but I’m not rushing out to PNU just to go there.

Fuzzy navel is pretty popular in Busan. They have two locations (I think) one in Seomyeon, and one on the beach strip in Gwangan. We had settled for Fuzzy Navel in Seomyeon after wanting to get out of the rain and being unable to pick wpid-img_20150719_205805.jpganywhere else. The four of us ordered our food together, but we all had our food served to us at staggered times. I got my nachos and finished them, Milli got her burrito and finished it, I got my taco and finished it, Gillian and Kate got their fries and finished them, and then after waiting far too long they got their chimchanga. The timing of our meals alone made me never want to go back. The food was decent enough but I don’t like places with poor service. Most places in Korea are pretty courteous and quick when serving food but Fuzzy Navel was not great. It was a slow Sunday evening, we were the only table eating really and it took over an hour for us to get all our food. If I want tacos, I’ll be going to Papa’s from now on.

So there are some short reviews and pictures from a few of the places I’ve tried recently in Busan. I also had an amazing Reuben made by Wendy of The Wendy House guest house in Gwangan, easily the best sandwich I’ve had in Korea wpid-img_20150614_201621.jpgsince arriving.

I also just want to note that Sushi Berry is the best sushi place in Busan hands down, I’ve talked about it a few times now…

Here are the next places on my list from Busan food:
Piewang – I had a pie from her at the first market I went to, but I want to try her other stuff!
Rock n Roll Bar, Seomyeon – A reuben on the menu, ’nuff said.
Tora Tora – An American style sandwich place in KSU.
Sharky’s – A super popular foreigner bar in Busan, my friends have had and loved their food, but I have yet to try it!
Bay 101 – Best fish and chip place in Busan apparently!

That’s all for now, recently I’ve just been hanging out in Busan. I haven’t done anything too fun and exciting so I hope you don’t mind this! I’ll be heading to Japan next week, so excited for Tokyo and some time off, however little it may be. August is going to be great! I have two visitors coming! I’m so excited for the next few weeks.

As always, thanks for reading!

Until next time,
B.

1

Life in Hwamyeong

wpid-img_20150525_191523.jpg

Sunset on the Nakdong River

It’s been seven and half months since I arrived in my new home: Hwamyeong, Busan. When I first learned I was working in Busan, my recruiter showed me on a map where Hwamyeong was. It’s not close to the beach, or the popular areas of Busan, but I felt like it would be a good place, and I was right. I had interviewed for three jobs in Busan: two in Hwamyeong, and one in the Centum City area. I had grown attached to the school I first interviewed for (spoiler: I’m working there now.), didn’t really like the second, and then the third almost got me to change my mind and I would have ended up in Centum rather than Hwamyeong. Though the idea sounds nice, I think I would have spent a lot more money by now and I would have gotten stressed out and lost in the shuffle of the big city area.

wpid-img_20150507_140056.jpg

In bloom in the Rose Park

When I arrived in Busan, it was super rainy. I was paying more attention to the GPS system of my recruiter’s brother than I was to the world around me. When he pulled up to what I thought was my job, I was excited to see an Innisfree store and an Etude House. I’d later learn that this was where the school I interviewed for that I didn’t like. Up the street, near the Uncles Beer was my new school. I was happy to meet my boss and coworker, Scott, and then they took me to my tiny apartment. Now my apartment is the smallest out of my friends, but my building is the newest and I am probably the only one with a division between my kitchen and living area. I like my apartment. I would like it more with more storage but hey, what can you do?

wpid-img_20150505_190727.jpg

Looking at Hwamyeong from the Park

Now enough about my living space, I want to actually talk about Hwamyeong as a whole. As I’ve said a few times before, when I was looking into working and living in Hwamyeong, there wasn’t a lot of information about it out there. There are quite a few foreigners that live here, and I feel like I see new people every day. Hwamyeong is a busy little area, with lots of beautiful parks, restaurants, and people. We’re situated between the tall mountains and the Nakdong river. It makes for some nice pictures and walks. I like being able to walk down the street and see the peaks of a mountain. Not only do we have everything we need, there’s also a train station. I love being able to take the slow train to Seoul, or transferring and taking a quick train and I only have to walk 5 minutes!

wpid-img_20150521_051505.jpg

Sunrise in Hwamyeong

The main area of Hwamyeong is pretty small. There’s about 3 main streets where everything is. Lotte Mart is one of the main places; its like the Walmart of Korea. You can get a lot of things there. You can also get to the Hwamyeong subway stop from there. On the main street with Lotte Mart, there are also several banks, cafes, and clothing shops. The street behind Lotte Mart has a ton of restaurants, my favourite Bakery (Eat Bread) and the best bubble tea place. On the other street, the opposite way, there is a ton of restaurants, and it’s where the most beauty stores are: the Etude House, Skinfood, Innisfree, Nature Republic, Aritaum, and Missha. There’s also a delicious toast place and mandu place. Hwamyeong has basically everything you need, and it’s great because you don’t have to travel too far to get things. I can get to most places in Hwamyeong in under 10 minutes. The Daiso and McDonalds are the furthest away, at about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. There’s also a small street of restaurants (I’ve been to two places!) near my apartment. My apartment is near the library in Hwamyeong, it’s farther from where most people live in Hwamyeong (Center view) but I don’t mind.

wpid-20150110_131347.jpg

Lunch at the Eco Park.

I’m pretty pleased with this little area of town. I mean, I still go to places like Seomyeon and Nampo and Gwangan, but I’ve spent quite a few weekends just hanging out in Hwamyeong. I do tend to frequent the same places: the tasty bulgogi bbq place, Bon Gousse for rice burgers, Pizza School, Wicked Snow for Bingsu, Amas Vin for bubble tea, Eat Bread for anything bready I need… A lot of us have tried new places in Hwamyeong, because there really are hundreds of restaurants here. The thing with Korea is, it’s hard to figure out what is just another chain restaurant or what is a completely new/unique place. A lot of places are just chains, even if they don’t seem to be. Not that there is anything wrong with chain stores, I just like to support the little guy once in a while. For example, there’s a really delicious Korean food restaurant right behind my apartment. When I get a craving for bibimbap, I go there over anywhere else. You can get bibimbap basically anywhere in Korea, but this place has the sweetest ladies and it isn’t a chain (as far as I know).

The people in Hwamyeong are pretty interesting. Basically all the foreigners I’ve met that live here are great. When you come to a new country, it’s a little terrifying knowing literally no one. I’ve made some really good friends here, and it’s just nice having a support system, that will binge on cheese sticks with you, or get ice cream too many times in a week with you, or watch a movie they don’t even want to see just so you don’t have to go alone… I’ve been pretty lucky I think. What’s also nice is we usually have plans on the weekend together, so you know you’ll see people. And of course there’s never pressure to do anything; sometimes people want to be alone and that’s fine! But you know if you want to be chatty, there will be at least once person at the CU on Friday night. Or Monster Craft in the winter. The Koreans here are pretty friendly. They’re shy about their English skills, but the ones that approach you are usually nice! (only one or two creepers…) All in all, most Koreans are pretty kind to you when you are to them. I see myself as a guest here, though technically I’m an alien here haha, but I try speaking as much Korean as possible. If you try, they’ll try. At least in my experience.

wpid-img_20150426_185744.jpg

Sunset from my friend’s apartment.

All in all, life in Hwamyeong is pretty good. It’s far away from most places, but the parks and mountains and wonderful people make it a good place to live. I really like it here, and I’m going to have a really hard time leaving when the time comes…

My next post will be a detailed account of my trips to the dentist. I’ve had two appointments, one more scheduled, and I feel like it could help any future people scared about getting dental work done here.

Until next time!
-B.

3

Peace, Lotus, and Seoul

wpid-img_20150516_073911.jpgLast weekend I had the pleasure of embarking on my first and LAST ever bus ride to Seoul from Busan. Myself and a group of girls from my neighbourhood decided to book a trip with WINK (When in Korea Tours) that would have us spend the weekend in Seoul for the amazing lantern festival. I had went on a WINK trip previously, to a pair of winter festivals. I had a good time on that trip and expected the same from this trip. Our trip leader was the same guy, Barun, who is a really good guy. he loves Busan and he’s got a lot of knowledge on Korea. He has a special attachment to this trip because it was one of the first ones he ever ran on his own (last year). We all set off to Sasang station at the bright hour of 6am, all of us running on little (me 4 hours, Gillian 2 and a half hours) to no (Megan did not sleep.) sleep. We have been spending most friday nights at the local CU, where a few of the Hwamyeong expats and some Korean students come to hang out, drink, and eat too many cheesesticks from Lotteria. It’s really an enjoyable time but I knew I had to get some sleep before I woke up that early.

We made it to Sasang with a little bit of time to spare, not enough time to get food but either way. The bus pulled up shortly after we got there and it was one of the smallest buses I had ever been on. The trip was pretty small, only 12 people on the bus from Busan to Seoul, grabbing 3 people in Daegu. Our first stop was in Daegu and we grabbed some snacks from Paris Baguette and were back on the road. The trip to Seoul itself was pretty uneventful, aside from a  few near-miss traffic accidents. When we were finally close to Seoul, or at least I thought we were, we were told that our lunch was going to be ready when we got there. And unfortunately we sat in traffic for a long while after that and when we did get to the Wink Kitchen and Tap house, our meals were stone cold. Kind of unfortunate as I was looking forward to my burger and waffle fries but I was too hungry to even really care at that point. We were dropped at our motel after and our four-person group was crammed into a 3 person room. We made do with what we had. We were then rushed off to the palace (not after the owner of Wink tours was kinda rude to us…) with less than an hour to explore.wpid-img_20150516_165547.jpg

I had always wanted to go to Gyeongbokgung palace because of the pond that is there. And surprisingly even though I’ve been to Insadong several times, I had yet to be to the palace that is so close to it. We had the choice of walking around on our own or keeping with the group, we decided to split off from the group and did a quick tour of the palace. We found the pond, as well as a hanok type area. It was really nice to look out at Seoul from the throne area because you’re surrounded by a beautiful old palace area and then you can see out into the busy area of Seoul. I love that part of Korea though, there’s so much history. After our whirlwind palace tour, we made our way to the Cheonggyecheon stream area were a lot of the lanterns were placed. In all my time spent in and around Seoul, I’ve only wpid-img_20150516_190917.jpgever looked at the stream, I’ve never been down walking beside it. It was a beautiful time to go because the sun was just setting and they were turning on the lights. I heard that the area gets really crowded when it’s night-time, so I’m glad we went when we did.

After the quick tour of the stream, we made our way to the festival. Unfortunately I was without a phone for the majority of the day (before the end of Saturday we all were basically). So my pictures are few and far between but to be honest, I didn’t really miss it that much. I was able to really enjoy the parade. I did ask my friend Alice to get pictures for me (a lot, sorry Alice <3). We were really close to the front of the parade and had a good view. I really enjoyed it because the people walking in the parade looked like they were having such a great time.

11057842_1652023248351111_1226181036063511423_oAfter we walked on the empty Seoul street (SO COOL) that was quickly reopening… we made it to Jogyesa temple. I really liked walking on the street because it is so rare that there aren’t a million cars on the road there. The sidewalks were soon packed with people making their way to the temple and it really was quite the sight to behold. It was covered in lanterns and there were so many people just there to send their well wishes. The temples in Korea really get lit up around the end of May for Buddha’s birthday. (I went to an amazing temple in Busan the following week, post to come!). We had our fill of pictures at the temple and then we all decided to head to Hongdae. It was Megan and Gillian’s first time in Seoul, so maybe I shouldn’t have taken them to Hongdae on a beautiful Saturday night but… they sure got the full experience.

Hongdae exit 9 is torture on a good day. That night was no exception. We weaved through the thick crowds of people watching buskers, and made it into the H&M. We all tried some stuff on with no luck, then ventured to the Forever 21, I grabbed some cheap necklaces and bracelets. And then we went to my favourite place in Hongdae: Taco Bell. My love for crappy mexican food knows no bounds. It it turns out that most of my friends had never even tried Taco Bell before wpid-img_20150517_104223.jpg(GASP!), They liked it well enough but I’m sure they won’t be rushing back there any time soon.  AFter having our fill of delicious amexican food, we hopped in a taxi and then got lost on the way to our motel. Thankfully a kind gentleman pointed us in the right direction and we all flopped into bed. Our room was like something out of a 70’s porno. It was complete with an orange cocoon-type bed, with a mirror, that one could view themselves in while…you know. For the hotel being so close to Gangnam… we really didn’t enjoy that version of Gangnam style.

Sunday morning proved better, we had a delicious breakfast at the Wink Kitchen, I was one of the few people who had the biscuits and gravy, and it was great. Perfect thing to start off the day. And we got to spend a majority of our time in Insa-dong, my favourite part of Seoul. I played tour guide for my friends, bought some presents, and we all got a few bags at the $10 bag store. After exploring and shopping, we got to see the lantern festival street and then we even got to make a lotus lantern. Unfortunately I didn’t finish mine but it still looks nice. my friend had such a cool experience, having an older Korean man help her make her lantern beautiful! We were all kind of jealous.

wpid-img_20150517_122207.jpg

After that, we were all rushed off on to the bus back home to Busan. With a few stolen winks of sleep, a bit of reading, we all resolved to go back to Seoul again, never taking a bus and only taking a train. Traffic anywhere is the worst.

I’m glad I went on another WINK trip, but I’m not rushing to go on one again. I love Seoul, but I can only go every few months because it’s soooo busy. I still love it though!

wpid-img_20150517_142211.jpgSorry for my lack of activity lately, I try to post once a week but I’ve been going through some stuff and it’s made me feel a little unmotivated. Hoping to get back into the swing of things!

Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!

Until next time,
B.

wpid-img_20150517_193655.jpg

0

Hwamyeong Hotspot #3 – Eat Bread

I haven’t written one of these in a while so bear with me! This is probably my absolute favourite bakery in Hwamyeong. And that is saying a lot. My friends and I all have different ones we like, there are many… but Eat Bread has been my go-to choice for the last 6 months. I have no idea if it is a chain but I haven’t seen another one of these storefronts since coming to Korea.

wpid-img_20150428_170604.jpg

Eat Bread is a small shop located next to one of my other favourite places (post coming soon!) They have various kinds of baked goods and cakes and it’s all very cheap. Out of almost all the bakeries in Hwamyeong, I think it is the cheapest. They have good snack breads, loaves of bread, baguettes, sandwiches… you name it, they’ve probably got it. They also bring in new things to try every once in a while. A few weeks ago I posted this on my instagram and I haven’t seen it since then but it was super delicious.It was a cream puff but the cream was mixed with berries and the puff was made with chocolate chips inside of it. I have tried a lot of different things from Eat Bread so I’ll give you my top 5 favourite things to get from there.

  1. The Cheese bread – This has changed in size since I got here (into a smaller, cheaper version) but basically it’s a soft bun filled with cheese and ham. It’s only 1000w and I grab them for dinner sometimes if I forget to bring a lunch. Super cheap, filling, and tasty.
  2. The Coconut Meringues – These are incredible. They’re a small snack that come in chocolate or vanilla and they’re basically a meringue mixed with coconut. Super sweet, super addictive. I give them to my coworkers sometimes. You get a bag of 15-20 of them for 1900w.
  3. Dinner rolls – You get a pack of 9 for 3000w, a bit pricier than the other things but these make great slider buns and they’re just a nice snack bread. They’re small but not too sweet.
  4. Black Sesame Donuts – They’re a twisted fried bread made with rice flour. These are found in a lot of bakeries in Korea but Eat Bread sells them for 700w, the cheapest I’ve found.
  5. Various Cream breads – They have a few breads that they fill with whipped cream. My favourite used to be the croissant, but I have started to like the crispy bread with cream. They also had this amazing chocolate bread cube filled with cream but I haven’t seen it in a bit!

If you’re looking for a cheap snack or just something sweet, Eat Bread is open 8-11:30 M-S. I go a few times a week and sometimes they give me free breads to try. They’re friendly and always have a great variety of bread. After a certain time the bread is 20% if you pay with cash. It’s a nice place!

To get there: From the subway, go out the exit before Lotte Mart, come up the stairs and go right if you’re in front of Lotte Mart, left if you’re near KEB, and then follow that street up passed Natuurpop. You’ll pass a HUGE DropTop cafe, and Eat Bread, with its flashing “FRESH BREAD” sign will be right across from Pizza Avolo.

0

Brilliant Memories…

wpid-20150208_180042.jpgSo after a quick Google search I found that there are no reviews for this awesome event in Dongdaemun! On my most recent trip to Seoul, Grace and I wanted to check out the newly built, space-aged Dongedaemun Design Plaza. As I said in my last post, we headed to Seoul station, dropped off our stuff in the lockers and then went for a journey on the light blue line. (I think). We went to Myeongdong first and then after we had our deals we made our way to Dongdaemun.wpid-20150208_160003.jpg

Sidwpid-20150208_165204.jpge note, I found two little tastes of Canada when I was in Myeongdong: a badge from Redeye that was the Canadian Tire logo and Beavertails! nommm. I miss you, Canada!

It was early in the evening and we were gawking at the East Gate because it’s so cool to see the old Korea and the new city built right around it… And we slowly made our way to the Design plaza.

Grace had not been to Dongdaemun before and I was familiar with the area because my university was so close. I prefer Dongdaemun to Myeongdong tenfold because it is more spaced out, tends to be less wpid-20150208_180214.jpgexpensive, and now, the design plaza is there. The design plaza is a BEAUTIFUL structure, it kind of looks like a spaceship from the outside but it is an amazingly clean maze on the inside. There are plenty of sculptures and things around it, and the architecture is just something to be marveled at. I want to try to describe it but it is so difficult. If you are ever in Seoul you should check it out. It’s relatively new so right now it isn’t overrun with people haha.

There were two open art events at the moment, one was an Audrey Hepburn photograph exhibit, and the other was Brilliant Memories (sponsored by Hyundai Motors). The Brilliant Memories exhibit was only 5,000w (about $5) and we took that chance. We didn’t have any idea of what the exhibit was going to be, aside from a few pictures the girl at the information desk showed us. We made our way to the art galleries, this made me realize how HUGE Dongdaemun Design Plaza actually was. It took a few minutes to get from thewpid-img_20150208_195436.jpg information desk to the galleries, and you kind of have to go down a ramp to get to the wpid-20150208_181713.jpggalleries. We grab our tickets and headed into the exhibit. So here’s where my review of Brilliant Memories starts…

Brilliant Memories was entirely in Korean, of course because it was set and based in Seoul. BUT You don’t need to understand Korean to see all of the beautiful sculptures. It was a mixed media art exhibit, all pieces used elements from cars or things related to cars. Although it was kind of disappointing that we weren’t able to read the different signs with details, a few of the workers were able to help us. We were even approached a few times asking if we wanted a tour of the exhibit in English. I think they were happy to have some foreigners take an interest! It was really one of the coolest art exhibits I have been too. I was glad Grace and I took the chance. It was split into three zones: moments, memories, and dreams.

The exhibit had different uses of cars but my favourites were these: The vanity made entirely of car parts, the journey that one man sculpted depicting the story of how he and his wife met and ending in the birth of their first child (so cute!), and the butterfly! They also had interactive exhibits where you could colour and make your own car, and a computer system where you could create a little cartoon scene. They also had a story rocker car that moved with the sound of wpid-20150208_182505.jpgyour voice. It was a very interesting exhibit and I really enjoyed myself. They also gave us a canvas bag with Brilliant Memories on it and even gave Grace and I a 1+1 deal because Grace doesn’t use facebook (and you got the bag from posting on facebook.). I grew really attached to my little paper gar and the staff were all impressed by it. They also laughed at me a bit because I kept saying the car would go in my new bag and keep it safe. One of the best parts of the exhibits was watching all the people, young and old, create and colour their own cars. It wasn’t just kids, it was people from all walks of life. And it was great.

wpid-20150208_183138.jpgThe end of the exhibit had many different uses of cars. There were some really cool pieces like a suitcase made from a car seat, and the girl working there told us the story of it. Apparently the woman who owned the car had loved it but she was moving to Canada so she had to sell the car. So when the artist found out she had to get rid of the car, he took the seat from the car and made her a suitcase from the seat, so she’d always have the car with her. It was so nice to hear all the different stories and attachments people have to their cars. It is such a simple thing, driving a car and having a family car, but everyone has stories about their cars. You can at least name one from your past, I know I can. That’s what the basis of the Brilliant Memories exhibit is, our cars house a lot of Brilliant memories. It was wpid-20150208_192224.jpgawesome to see the three zones working together: moments, memories, and dreams. Unfortunately this was only a limited art engagement and it ended February 17th, but I really hope it happens again or you get a chance to see it.

After we explored the exhibit, we went through the design plaza. It was HUGE. There were countless shops, stores, and restaurants in it. Grace and I headed to Doota shortly after and weboth had super disappointing meals and then we decided to hunt for the Dongdaemun Night market. Well, it turns out in the winter there are FAR fewer booths set up… There were 7 different booths, 4 of them sold socks. I’m looking forward to maybe goingback when it’s warmer and hope to see more booths. I did get some Girl’s Generation socks for my boyfriend’s brother, so it wasn’t a complete failure.

wpid-20150208_201111.jpgwpid-20150208_194307.jpg

wpid-img_20150209_001344.jpg

Chillin’ in the ice room, with real ice!

After, Grace and I were exhausted. We had a long day of walking and shopping so we wanted to make our way to bed. Tonight’s bed was in Siloam Sauna near Seoul Station. I have become a big fan of jimjilbangs, something that I really did not expect to happen. I really enjoyed Spa Land, I didn’t really like the jimjilbang in Wonju, but I really liked the jimjilbang in Seoul. The Siloam Sauna is just a short walk from Seoul Station, which made it super easy to get to my train in the morning. But it is a MONSTER! It’s huge, has many different sauna rooms and the BEST sleeping areas (for overnight stays, the best sleeping area is in Busan ahh more on that in a later post.). The top three floors are just the saunas, the basement had the baths. I wasn’t a huge fan of the baths, they only had super hot tubs or super cold. I had a shower and got ready for bed pretty quickly.wpid-img_20150209_001449.jpg

wpid-20150208_235100.jpg

Super sexy Siloam uniform

The sauna rooms in Siloam are really cool. They had a good variety and the rooms actually committed to their themes. Jade stones on the floor in the jade room, salt floor in the salt room, etc. It was great. And they also had these cool lockers you could keep and charge your phone in. After a good sweat and then shower, we headed to bed. We slept in the woman’s cubby area, and were given big blankets and little block pillows to sleep. I was able to sleep until my alarm went off, which was nice. It wasn’t too loud or disruptive there so I really enjoyed it.

Shortly after waking up, I got ready for the day and headed back to Busan. I enjoyed my weekend jaunt to Seoul, but it’s been almost a month since I went and I don’t know when my next trip will be out there! I do love the city, but I’m really growing to love Busan even more.

See you in my next post, and I do apologize for waiting so long between posts!

Until next time,
Bwpid-20150208_183649.jpg