Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween # Hana

The day after Beyonce, WEL kindergarten packed into our buses and headed to the Suwon English Village for a Halloween party. The schedule was pretty underwhelming, with the kids making Halloween cards, baskets for trick or treating etc, but our kids were dressed to the nines. I took a ridiculous amount of pictures, they were just SO cute! Here are a selection of the best:

William the Power Ranger (all the kids here
are obsessed with it)


Kevin, my new favourite student, I love this boy!

Stephanie (snow white) and Abigail (fairy)

In the hallways were random pictures of
New Zealand - no idea why, so I got to take
a mini hiatus back home - Love ya Dunedin!

The line up of Venus, Mars and Mercury classes

Kyle (superman) totally acting the part!

David the little devil. Generally sweet, but
he definitely has a little of the devil in him: fitting!

Beautiful Abigail as some kind of fairy - SO cute!

Smiley Kevin after getting attacked by the
tickle monster!


Last week a friend and I went to see Beyonce at Olympic Park, Seoul. I had heard she was amazing live and had very high expectations of the show. Destiny's Child were awesome in their day, and some of Beyonce's earlier solo songs remind me so much of my first and second year at university, and I think she has an incredible voice and the ability to write very catchy pop songs that are great to dance to.
And I wasn't disappointed with her show - right from the beginning it was high energy, she was belting out the songs while dancing up a storm on stage. She performed all my favourite songs, did a high medley of Destiny's Child songs, sang Alanis Morrisette, Sarah MacLaughlan and dedicated her finale, Halo, to Michael Jackson.
There were amazing backup dancers, these staunch big black women backup singers, the entire band was female (and seriously talented) and little home videos of her as a child, very cute. Overall I was totally blown away. Next time I would pay more to be closer to the stage as we were quite far away, but there the sound was great and there were huge screens so you could see pretty well anyway.

If I were a boy

Single Ladies

Jeremy and I looking quite possessed -
we were both pretty stoked to be there!

Afterward all the Koreans were lining up
to get their photo take next to this picture,
so obviously I had to join in too!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy Six Months to me!

Yesterday was my six-month anniversary in Korea, which is a pretty weird feeling. I can't believe I am halfway through my contract and my year here already!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Autumn adventures

Almost overnight it seems Korea has moved from summer into autumn, and it's suddenly got so cold! After so many months of hot humid sticky weather, it's nice to need a duvet on my bed and flannel pjs (thanks mum! x), and heading out at night now requires a jacket at minimum.
So long jandals, my wee tootsies are feeling too frostbiten for you now.
And in the last few days even the daytime temperatures are creaping downwards, requiring scarves, and jackets - so I'm sure it won't be long before hats and gloves are needed too.
It's pretty bizarre for me to think it's October as this is all happening, feels much more like April (which I guess is the Southern Hemi equivalent).
On Sunday I got an amazingly warm boiled wool coat, which after wearing in the bitter wind is definitely going to see me through the winter.
We've also had three amazing thunder and lightning storms in the last week, which I love, one last night woke me up and kept illuminating my entire apartment. Another I got to watch from a bus coming home from Seoul last Tuesday night, it was pretty spectacular, unlike at home where we have maybe two or three lightning strikes and then it's over, here it just went on and on. I saw for the first time with my own eyes actual lightning bolts over Seoul, and because of the light pollution the entire sky was flashing purple.
But the country is looking so beautiful, the leaves are changing so fast and with the clear days, I am really loving exploring!
I'm fast approaching the six-month mark here and starting to feel a little guilty at how few places in Suwon and Seoul I have actually checked out - many weekends away, but not so many looking around my own doorstep. So before I start hibernating in the winter, I have resolved to see as much as I can.
On Saturday I went to Gyeongbokgung, a royal palace in Seoul, with my Kiwi friends Skye and Jed. It was a bit of a mission to get to with a very slow bus and a few subway stops, but eventually we emerged at the gates of Seoul's largest palace. It was nice to stroll around, although very hard to get an impression of how life would have been, with so many groups of Koreans, including a lot of school groups, touring the grounds and high rises sprouted up around the periphery.
The further back we went (this palace just went on for miles!), the more beautiful, with lots of autumnal trees, ponds full of very fat scary looking fish, pagodas and pavillions. All the palaces seem to have very interesting histories and this one was no different. It was initially completed in 1395 before being destroyed by fire during the Japanese invasion in 1592. After lying derelict for 273 years, it was rebuilt before parts of it again being destroyed by fire. In 1915 the Japanese used an exhibition as an excuse to raze the buildings again, however from 1968 onward reconstruction began again.

The front gates of the Palace

Amazing sky and an intricate eave

Not such nice backdrop

I would love a window looking out on this

Ornamental eave, and birdnetting to stop them building nests

Huge pagoda atop the Korean Folk Museum

Beautiful pond and backdrop with autumn colours


Beautiful trees

The King's pavillion

After having a good look around, we found a really funky wee cafe nearby which served the most delicious carrot cake, cheesecake and homemade lemonade, all totally delicious!
Next we went to Myeondong, an area in Seoul known for its shopping, where Skye picked up a really amazing SLR camera. Then it was off to Itaewon for my favourite Greek food and home.
On Sunday Sara and I FINALLY made it the whole way around the Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon's shining jewel and a world heritage site. It was another beautiful sunny but crisp day, perfect for the walk, which took us around the periphery of Suwon-city as it once was. It took about an hour and was a really lovely walk.
The fortress was built in the 18th Century. Initially it was to prepare Suwon to become the capital when it moved out of Seoul, however this never ended up happening. The fortress was badly damaged during the Korean war, and has since been restored.

Autumn colours

View down one side of the wall with Suwon spreading beyond

Wall and rushes

More wall and rushes

One of the four gates around the fortress

Sara and I: proof we did it!

On and on the wall went!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Heart Tokyo

I am back in the land of the morning calm after 4 amazing days and nights in Tokyo. I completely fell in love with the city, the people, the food, and as I had predicted it holds a lot more appeal to me than Korea does.
Our trip was a little different in that we stayed at the NZ Embassy with a friend from Wellington, who has been doing Japanese language training for over a year so can speak fluent Japanese and knows all the hot spots to go. So it was lovely exploring the city with her although it left a lot of things I still really want to do - all good reasons to go back.
We stayed in Shibuya, which is in central Tokyo and a fabulous area, very easy to get around from there too. I kept a diary so the rest of this is pretty much from that, just so I don't forget anything!

The trip over went very smoothly, Sara and I were very excited the whole way, and it was a super short trip (only 2 hrs, and they served us food which we didn't expect so the flight went by in the blink of an eye). In duty free we picked up some wine for Nicci (Cloudy Bay sav, oh, how I have missed you) and I was very naughty and got myself Chloe perfume which I am completely in love with right now!

We made it!

When we arrived at Narita Airport in Tokyo we had about 35 mins to get through customs, immigration and get our bags before we needed to be on an airport limo to go meet Nicci in Shibuya. Thankfully we made it through with 10 mins to spare so there were no dramas of trying to navigate the subway system just yet. I loved that Japanese drive on the left side of the road! I didn't even notice for a little while but it did feel all very natural!
The drive was amazing, past the port, past two massive coloured ferris wheels, over the biggest bridge I think I've ever seen and Tokyo Tower (which really just looks like a mini Eiffel Tower to me - but apparently it was designed similarly). The cityscape stretched off forever and the lights in the buildings were quite dazzling.

First arrival in Shibuya with Nicci

Tokyo Tower -this photo meant to go in later in the story but I forgot it!

Met Nicci, went for a walk through Shibuya to her whare at the embassy, going through Shibuya Crossing, were 3 MILLION people cross every day. 3/4 of the population of NZ! Insane, and so alive and buzzing. Already could see the Japanese street style, most people were dressed amazingly, and a lot of the girls walked pigeon-toed, which Nicci said was a deliberate thing they train themselves to do as they think it looks kawaii (cute).
We walked past a whalemeat restaurant which was quite shocking, as I always expected those places to be down back alleys and with no signage, but this one had a cartoon whale out the front.Back to Niccis and some chilled NZ sav and a lot of catching up.
Woke up early and spent the morning reading Listener, eating Vogels and drinking Milo - just a typical morning in NZ but felt very special in Japan! Weather was pretty bad, raining very heavily with no signs of letting up but Sara and I headed to Ueno Park, which many of my friends had recommended as a place to go. The park (at least, what we saw of it) was quite lovely, even in the rain, although this park is home to most of Tokyo's homeless population, and we saw them all lined up huddled under big trees surrounded with all their belongings waiting for food from a temporary soup kitchen, which was quite sobering to see.

The poorest attempts at a photo of us, Ueno Park, Tokyo National
Museum, and a fancy fountain whilst camera battery was dying and
it was pouring with rain: FAIL.

We went to the Tokyo National Museum, a huge grand old building set back in the park. It was a very traditional museum with lots of old Buddist statues, ink drawings, ceramics and beautiful old kimonos. Was nice so see it all, and you really got a sense of just how old the culture is, but I wasn't overly amazed with it all, perhaps because I feel like I have seen so many replicas of these things.
View from inside the museum which we couldn't get out to

I LOVED this wall! Amazing!

Afterward we went back to Shibuya and found some lunch, chicken ramen noodles in broth, fried dumplings (mandu in Korean, not sure in Japanese) and rice. Was very tasty and hearty and pretty cheap - and I really wish you could get food like that in Korea! Everything seems to be defaulted to a high level of spice which is almost kinda boring. It gives so many things a very similar flavour as a result.
Had a wee mosey in a huge 4-storey clothing store and then went back to Niccis for a little moe before heading out to Roponggi where we met some of Nicci's friends for some Philippino food. All so tastey, tofu, fish, squid. Yum. And Japanese beer Asahi, SO much nicer than Cass in Korea!Next the lure of karoke took us to a very cute little bar with a stage toward the back. We sort of took over the bar singing hundreds of songs, which was a lot of fun.

You can stand under my umbrella-ella-ella, eh, eh, eh

There were a group of Japanese salarymen, who would every now and then take the mic, and some of the bar staff would come and join in too! One of the Japanese men kept saying to Nicci I was kawaii but that he was too shy to talk to me, which at first was sweet but eventually just plain annoying so I decided to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible, serenading him with Mariah Carey - Hero and The Bangles - Eternal Flame, made me laugh a lot.

A new friend - who I never actually spoke to but sang to a whole bunch

In full flight!

Another great day despite the rain. We went to Harajuku for the best burgers ever - from a cute place aptly named 'The Great Burger' - delicious big burger patties, really juicy and tasty, avocado and mozerella - yum! Sara and I then hit the shops while Nicci went off to Celtic football practice. I got some really great jeans and a few other things. The amount of people in this area was astounding, it's a very beautiful area with big wide avenues lined with ancient trees, but it was tiring trying to get around due to the crowds (it's very popular for shopping) so we flagged and went to a temple nearby Nicci had told us we should see. Unfortunately we were a little late in the day and the gates closed shortly after we arrived so we had to turn back. But it was a beautiful walk through very old trees with the late afternoon sunlight streaming in.

Entrance gate to the temple we never saw

Proof I was there - even if we didn't get through the trees


That night we went to Nicci's friend Dani's apartment where she was having a little get together. She'd recently finished writing a story on organic skincare and cosmetics and was selling off all the sample products to her friends at fractions of the cost to give the money to charity. Was a very lovely apartment with a sweet chubby grey cat, and a nice group of Japanese women. Drank some delicious Church Road red and had real cheese! Something you just can't find in Korea- gooey, smelly delicious, I was so happy! Also had steamed cakes with Japanese citrus on them, really tasty and subtle flavour, deliciously soft and delicate. Want to find a recipe for them to try to make them myself.
Afterward we went to an izakaya (equicalent of a Japanese pub) where we ate edamame (steamed soya beans sprinkled with grainy rock salt) yakitori (skewers of meats), asparagus wrapped with bacon and Chinese rice. Delicious. Also tried Sapporo beer, very good too - So much better than the Korean alternatives! The izakaya was really cute, with small individual areas for groups separated off with screens.
Next we headed back to Nicci's to get ready and celebrate Sara's birthday! A couple of Nicci's friends came by and eventually we all went to a rock'n'roll bar nearby, which was really cute with girl DJs and all these cute Japanese girls dancing. Next went to my favourite place by far, this three-storey club which was just so cool! The ceilings were covered in chandaliers, there were deer heads on the walls and mannequins standing watch in the corners. Each storey had a different vibe, and we danced up a storm there until the lights came on and we were shuffled out into the stark daylight (it gets light VERY early in Japan, like 4.30am - so mum don't think too bad of me!)

Our whare for our stay - Gad love ya Aotearoa!

Birthday cuddles with Sara

A very happy deer

New friends

This place was amazing! Like a great junk store - with vodka!

Beautiful sunny day today! We took a long time to get our A into G with everyone a bit jaded from the night before. We went to a really funky cool area near Harajuku for a special birthday brunch for Sara. The place we went would have fit nicely in Wellington and is yet another thing very lacking in Korea, and was a lovely change. Had amazing ginger wine mojitos, amazing jam packed with mint (this whole blog entry seems to be about food!) and yummy creamy tomato penne with yummy mushrooms.

Then walked back through Harajuku where I loaded up on ceramics from this big emporium. Such cool bowls, cups etc, I love them! Next we attempted to see some of the infamous Harajuku kids who dress up in insanely crazy cool costumes and hang out in this area on Sundays. Nicci said they aren't there so much anymore and sadly she was right, we saw a couple but they weren't as amazing as I expected, and the crowds were just insanity. We jumped a train and then a monorail heading for Odaiba, which is down by the waterfront. Went over the bridge on the monorail with the fullmoon glowing over the city, and was very beautiful. We went on a HUGE ferris wheel - my first ever - however I really didn't enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The views were spectacular but I got a serious case of vertigo, usually heights don't bother me but this time I couldn't cope so well. Nicci and Sara thought this was hysterical, especially when they would stand up and make the carriage rock a little. Lots of screaming from me. But better on the way down.
This really dwarfs the sheer size of this thing!

Pretending to enjoy it...

... When really all I wanted to do was this

And a little wimpering

The views really were stunning

More Tokyo at night

Then went on a mission walk to find this mini Statue of Liberty (why in Tokyo bay, I have no idea) along the waterfront, which was super beautiful with ferryboats all lit up, but my feet were killing me so I wandered along behind the girls.

Us and Tokyo bridge and ferry boats

Nicci had made a reservation for us at her favourite (and now mine) and very popular Teppanyaki restaurant in Shibuya so we had to race to get back in time, because of my feet it was elected Nicci and Sara race on ahead while I follow behind with all our bags etc - which suited me find.But my gosh, this dinner, this restaurant, it was one of the best experiences of my life. The place was run by this bunch of very enthusiastic and funny guys who clearly love what they do and are supremely good at it. We sat along the benches around the cooking area so we could watch the whole affair, which was entertainment in itself. Amazing to watch, so skilled. We ate raw corn and prawns (really nice subtle flavour, if a little slimy, but super fresh, I liked them), sashimi (tuna, it was perfect, melt in the mouth crimson goodness), fried chicken, a delicious salad with crunchy noodles along with other things.

Don't come the raw prawn with moi!

The Teppanyaki restaurant

Nicci and the supreme sashimi

After about an hour of being there there the lights went out and the chefs suddenly jumped up with crazy headpieces and masks on and performed a group dance in celebration of about five different people who were having their birthday dinners there - Sara included (Nicci had arranged this when she booked). It was hilarious and amazing, lights flashing, music booming, everyone clapping and cheering wildly. Each of the birthday girls and boys were presented with a plate of little desserts. One of the chefs made a beautiful speech in Japanese, which Nicci translated, abot how honoured they were for the people to choose there to celebrate their birthdays, and paying tribute to their parents as without them they wouldn't be here at all. They wished everyone happiness and success. It was really lovely and beautiful.
Drank some delicious cocktails, more Japanese beer and warm sake - I couldn't handle it, ridiculously strong and not my favourite thing.As we left they all thanked us as a group with a very well-timed clap and bow and left Sara a birthday card with a photo of the three of us taken earlier that night.It really was the most spectacular meal I have ever eaten - and yet another reason I have to return to Japan soon.

Fire burning in your eyes, oh what a beautiful sight.

Dance dance

One of the chefs

Nicci, Sara and I

But MORE birthday cocktails!
We set our alarm earlish to head to Starbucks overlooking the Shibuya crossing - the very Starbucks and view that is in Lost in Translation. We wanted to watch the crossing in full force with commuters, however we missed the peak hour. It was still cool to sit up there and watch the streams of people, but I think some of the other times we crossed it outselves were busier.

One foot in New Zealand, one in Japan. That's how I roll.

Shibuya Crossing: Picture this times 3 million... a day.
For our final fling, and the thing I had been craving since we arrived, Nicci took us to a little sushi bar where we had delicious freshly made sushi all before our eyes. Raw salmon, raw tuna, eel caramelised with a blow torch, avocado with fish roe - very very delicious, and by far the best I've ever eaten. I just hope one day I can eat that sort of food as a regular thing as it's so tasty, so healthy and so filling, and not horrifically expensive.Then it was farewells and the Narita Express back to the airport.

A very tasty last supper in Tokyo.