Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: Year of Firsts

Well, 2015 is at an end.

What a year.  Right now, I'm somewhere in Malaysia--most likely Kuala Lumpur--enjoying my winter break, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on everything this past year.

My year of firsts.  More firsts than I thought possible.  At the start of 2015 I summarized 5 big things that were coming.  Looking back now, those were only the tip of the iceberg.  Here is a list of some of the big FIRSTS for the year (in chronological order):
  1. First time going to a job fair.  I had my first Skype interview for a job and ended up accepting the position a few days later.  
  2. First time in a musical production.
  3. First Tattoo.  Dear friends who didn't yet know I got a tattoo.  Surprise.  I got one with my mum and sister on Valentine's Day, 2015.
  4. First time on a plane.  In March, I flew to the UK to learn about their school system and visit my family.  Since that trip, I have now been on 19 planes. 
  5. So that was my first time in England, Scotland and Wales.  As well as my first time meeting some of my extended family.
  6. My trip to Scotland also featured my first couchsurfing experience.
  7. I don't know if finishing my Bachelor of Ed can count as a 1st, but I'll include it in this list as it's own milestone moment.
  8. My first big trip to the USA.  I was gone for about a month and I visited 5 states.  This trip included my first trip to Disney World and Universal Studios, my first time visiting numerous friends in person, and my first time riding a horse bareback. 

  9. My first surgery--while small, they did put me to sleep to remove my wisdom teeth.  
  10. First time moving to a new country doubled as my first trip to a non-English-speaking country.  Hello Korea.  I'm so glad we met.  Let's be friends. 
  11. My first mountain summit was Hallasan on Jeju. 
  12. The first 10k race.  I still can't believe how hard it was.  Those orem were no joke.
  13. Coming back to my first tropical Christmas and my first Christmas on a mountain.
And to think, this list is composed of only some of the highlights.  I have tried so many new foods and I have explored so many new places around Jeju and mainland Korea. There is just so much to see and do, I can't imagine not exploring; not adventuring.

I raise my metaphoric glass to you all and wish you all the best in 2016.  May there be even more new moments and experiences on the horizon.

Love and Hugs,

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Borneo: Climbing Mount Kinabalu

A couple of months ago, when I was first planning my trip to Singapore and Malaysia, my friend Jade asked me if I wanted to climb Mount Kinabalu with her. After some consideration, I thought 'The tallest mountain in Southeast Asia? Why not?'
The mountain from the Park check-in.
So it goes. Christmas 2015. No regrets, but man, was it hard.
We were so positive and excited at the start.
In order to climb the mountain, you need to book trough the mountain's website because you must climb with a guide and they only allow a certain number of permits a day. There are two main options for the climb: 3 days/2 nights or 2 days /1 night. We went with the latter, slightly  cheaper option.

This meant we had about 6k up to the lodge the first day and then another 3k up to the summit before heading back down the next day. We were lucky to have really good weather. It only rained a bit around lunch on the way up. Considering it's a rain forest, that wasn't too bad. ㅎㅎ. The clouds moved in really fast though. We arrived at one lookout and had a stunning view of the mountain. But then in the time it took Jade to grab her camera, it had disappeared.
My lucky shot between cloud coverage.
Including our lunch break any other resting stops it took us about 4.5 hours to get to the rest point on Christmas Eve. We were exhausted but feeling accomplished.  So naturally, we got out the Christmas Tree. Jade insisted we bring it up the mountain.
Jade and I each with the tree. 
She also brought the hats.

It was only 14h00 and dinner didn't start until 16h30 so we spent the afternoon talking to other trekkers and playing cards. There were other Canadians, some people from the UK, Finland, and the US. A couple groups from Sweden, a Dutch family from the Philippines, and a Korean couple to name a few. It was a lot of fun meeting everyone and I almost didn't want to sleep to further enjoy their company, but morning was coming quickly.


Is that my alarm? Did I even sleep?

Feeling a bit nauseous, I don't really want to eat breakfast. Is this a bit of altitude sickness?

Headlamp check. Time to go. It's dark and cold and there are so many stairs. I hate stairs.

Time unknown. Maybe 3h30... 4h00?
Something worse than stairs: rope. Stairs please come back. After scaling with the rope, we are gasping.  Our guide also starts to tell us we're going too fast and that we should slow down. Fast? Ha. I feel like a turtle.

We were too quick. There are only another 100 or so meters to the top but the sun doesn't rise for an hour. The wind tries to tear us from the mountain. We huddle together next to a large rock and sing Christmas songs to keep us warm.

Toes and fingers are so cold. I'm shivering violently and wishing I was back at lodge. Then guide tells us we can start going again. Back into the wind we go.

Wait for it...
Shabam! The sun rising between a couple of the peaks.
Okay that's good. Time to go. Time to somehow go back down what we struggled up. It looks so much different in the sunlight. Stunning. Inspiring. Deadly.
When clouds are like the creamy design on a mug of coffee...
Somehow arrived back at the lodge. That was hard. And we still have 6k to go. But first, second breakfast.

We leave with the Dutch family and our new UK friend. Jade is in more pain than I, but we push through. Comaderie prevails. Were there this many stairs on the way up? Each step is jarring. Oh! Don't forget to wish Merry Christmas to everyone we pass!

Huzzah! We finished. Can we sleep yet?


Was it worth it?

Love and Hugs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Things I've learned about Singapore

One of the things I love most about travelling is breaking down my stereotypes and ideas bred through ignorance and learning new things.  Whenever I travel someplace new, I am always surprised by what I don't know; surprised at what my ignorance has led me to believe.  I don't think it's wrong to be ignorant exactly, it's what you do in the face of that ignorance that counts. Me? I want to learn.

So Singapore. Kind of like when I first decided to move to Korea I came without really knowing anything about this small country. All I knew was that it is pretty nice and a fairly advanced city. I was also told it is expensive and because it is so small, you don't need a long vacation here (for the most part I found these statements true.)

But here's a short list of things I didn't know about Singapore.
  1. Singapore is a good gateway country to Asia for many English foreigners. Why? Because English is the primary language spoken.  There are four main languages (Including Malay, Mandarin and Tamil) and you will see all four on many signs and hear them spoken all over the city, but English still predominates. Many of the people that I met told me that English is in fact their first language, which I didn't know. See, ignorance. (As a bonus for me coming from Korea where there are not as many foreigners, there are a lot here. I don't really stand out here).
  2. I wouldn't say that Singapore has a cafe culture. Back home for me in Canada there are many coffee shops all over. Korea? Korea is coffee culture. But Singapore not so much. I walked for 40 minutes when I first got here and finally found a Starbucks, which is not what I wanted. My friend Jinyu and I hunted around Chinatown yesterday and our results revealed this really small, coffee-and-standing-room-only cafe. There are many cafe places in the big malls, but we couldn't find them along the streets. I wonder if the overwhelming heat all the time deters coffee drinking?
  3. You can't buy gum. Chewing gum is not sold in Singapore. A local told me that people used to stick their gum on subway doors and that this caused problems. So gum was banned. 
  4. You need a special licence or permit to buy a car. Another local told me the government controls the number of vehicles on the road by requiring people to buy a permit before buying a car. While this could be annoying if you really wanted a car, considering how small Singapore is, if everyone could just buy a car the traffic might be worse than Seoul's.
  5. It's basically a garden city. Giant trees are everywhere and everything is so green!
  6. Hawker centers 4 life. Actual restaurants get expensive and won't always let you experience local foods. Hawker Centers are cheap, delicious and potentially chaotic, but definitely worth it if you find yourself in Singapore. I tried a few different things and I think my favourite was Laksa, but I liked everything. Well, everything but durian.  That fruit is not for me.
And voilà! Now you know. In a few hours I head to Malaysia. Goodbye Singapore, it's been fun but more fun, adventure and learning awaits!
 Standing in front of the Singapore Skyline. Photo by Jinyu
Love and Hugs.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

My first day in Singapore

Well I have made it to my first destination for this Christmas vacation, with a few minor bumps along the way.

I learned that while Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat , and Google do not work with the wifi in Pudong International Airport  (as expected), surprisingly Pinterest and my good ol' Kakao Talk work well. A couple of other Canadians also told me that WhatsApp worked. Now you know you can Pin messages to your loved ones from China. Ha.

Vibrant colours decorated many
of the buildings in Little India.
I also learned that it is not the end of the world if you lose your boarding pass. Which I somehow did within the 2 minutes it took me to walk to the washroom right before boarding. My heart's pounding preventing oxygen from my lungs, I was sure, but the stewardesses all told me it would be fine. And it was. I was allowed to board the plane.  And then when I landed in Singapore this morning, I found my boarding pass stuck to my bag somehow. I have no idea what happened, especially as I was flailing my bag all over the place and it had not been there when I double checked the washroom. One of life's mysteries...

Singapore has been lovely, hot and humid so far. Some sections are really jazzed up for Christmas. Crazy awesome decor. (Oops, forgot to include the pictures here.  Might edit them in later.  Maybe not.)  My only complaint is that I couldn't find any coffee shop other than Starbucks this morning. While I walked from Somerset MRT Station (I might have chosen it purely for its name) to the Botanic Gardens.

I met a fellow couchsurfer at the park and we spent the day walking around the city. After the gardens we went to Little India for lunch. The houses were really colourful and there were lots of cool fabrics and clothes to look at. I kinda really want some funky pants, but I don't want to over spend yet... and I got some henna instead.
Some snapshots from lunch.  We went to this small restaurant and had rice with and chicken (buried within the rice) along with some roti-prata and this special milk tea (I forgot its  name).
Chloe took a picture of the lady doing my henna.
We then dropped my stuff off at my hostel and went in search of ice cream in Chinatown. In Singapore, you can get legit ice cream sandwiches on the street. They cut a slice of ice cream and wrap it between bread. I did not do this. ㅎㅎㅎ.

The day concluded down near the river's mouth as we relaxed on a bench looking out over the skyscrapers. I am now utterly exhausted after such a busy day and little sleep on the plane as well as with the time change.

Chloe and I in front of the Marina Bay Sands.  It's a really fancy hotel, if you can't tell. 
Singapore skyline with countless balls of wishes floating in the river.
So with that said and done, good night my lovely people.

Love and hugs.
Some of my wishes for the new year, soon to float in the river's mouth along with the others.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dear friends and family,

Wherever you are this holiday season, I hope that you are well.

Here, on Jeju, we have one last week before our holiday break begins.  The pressure is on.  People are excited about travelling home, or travelling elsewhere for vacation, but first there are those last couple of assessments and projects to get through.  Everyone is tired, students and teachers alike, and we all are looking forward to a bit of rest.  The number of times my students tell me that they were up until 4 or 5 in the morning finishing homework... I wonder if the work is really that hard (and I do understand that it is very demanding), or if my students merely need to refine their time management and organizational skills...

A number of the other Teacher Dons are heading home for the holidays.  They fly out Friday or Saturday, heading back to North America or Europe for some respite at home.  As much as I am envious that they will see their friends and family so soon, and as much as I want to come back and visit with all of you, I am not heading back to Canada this vacation.  I have instead decided to have my first big vacation trip this break.  This will be my first Christmas away from my family.  My first Christmas in a different country.  My first Christmas somewhere tropical.  But after all, 2015 has been my year of firsts.

So while I won't be in the GTA this holiday season, I am wishing good tidings and cheer to those I will miss.  There are more of you than I can name (my colleagues can attest to this as they've seen my postcard list which only keeps growing...  haha!).

I suppose this wouldn't be a Christmas card without a photo...
Oops, couldn't get my glove on fast enough!  Take two...
Merry Christmas!
Love and Hugs,

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Winter on Halla

... comes faster than I guessed.

Nearly two weeks ago, the heavens gave Hallasan white highlights.  While pretty from a distance, one of my coworkers told me that the Yeongshil (영실) trail leads to a stunning view of the peak and especially in the winter.  Naturally, I decided I had to go and on Friday morning, I set out.

Note: As with any of the trails that go up Halla, there is a time constraint and you can't start going up after a certain time (depending on the season).

Before I add my pictures, let me explain that the weather on Jeju has been around 10˚C (50 in Fahrenheit) and that all the trees around my school still have all their leaves.  While it's no longer short weather, the days are still nice.  And so going into my hike, I wasn't really sure what to expect on the mountain.  Sure, there was snow, but from my school, I can't tell how much--nor am I totally sure how high up it starts.  Plus, with it sweater weather down here, how bad can it be a couple hundred feet higher?  (Ha.)

My first warning came from another man at the bus stop.  On vacation from Seoul, he was all geared up for the hike.  After looking at mine and my friend's clothing, he asked if we would be okay on the mountain.  At that point, I honestly didn't know.  And then we got to the entrance.
This is the road leading from the parking lot to the trail head.
Snow.  Lots of snow.  More than I expected considering we were still a long way from the summit.
Shortly after starting up the main trail.  The surrounding woods were stunning.
It was also colder than I thought it would be. I wasn't freezing, but by the time we were done, my fingers were numb and all I wanted was a warm bath.  Too bad I don't have a bathtub...

As we climbed higher, the white world only continue to dazzle.  It was as though someone dumped paint on everything and huge globs clung to the bushes and trees while the rest fell to blanket the ground.
Close up of one of the bushes.
Looking up the trail and out over the snow-covered shrubs.
Me, a little cold, but happy to be in a winter wonderland!
This was my favourite tree from the climb.
 As the wind blows across the mountain's face, it sculpts and molds the snow covered statues into its own creation. My friend turned to me around this time and said, "Look at all the snow flowers!" and his description is so accurate.
The wind blows the snow into these petal like-shapes and they surround the rope like a flower chain.
While it was still a beautiful hike, the weather wasn't the best for the view.  Clouds clung to the mountainside like peanut butter on bread: thick and impossible to see through.  I felt as though I had jumped into the pages of an adventure story.  Sort of a strange mix between the trekking from Tolkien's LoTR and the Dark Island from Lewis' Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  It was both surreal and humbling.  As we broke the tree line, the wind began to blow something fierce and visibility only got worse.  Without the string running along the trail, we wouldn't have been able to go much farther.  As it was, we didn't stay on the top ridge for long and decided to turn back due to wind and cold.

The cloud cover lifted slightly on the way down.  Here are two pictures of the same tree.  The first was taken on the way up and the second on the way down.
View from a lookout on the way up.
View from the lookout about 1.5 hours later.
I long to go back sometime in the next couple of months better prepared and hopefully with clearer weather. Until then, other adventures await.

Love and hugs!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Exploring Insadong and Bukchon Village

This past weekend, I went back up to Seoul for a short escapade.  I visited again with old friends and also had the pleasure of meeting some new friends.  Although the time was short, I had a lot of fun and it was well worth it.

Saturday, I met up with my friend Alice (her chosen English name) and her friend Matt (a Canadian from BC who I suppose is my friend now, too =P).  Like any good meet up with friends, we started with food.  Matt led the way to a good Bulgogi place and so off we went. (I don't know the address, but it was right at the start of the main strip of Insadong Street by the Paintbrush statue).
On the threshold of delicious food!
Matt and Alice, ready for food!
A little blurry, but so good nonetheless.  And so many side dishes!
Once full, we were ready to get to the action.  I mentioned previously that Insadong Street (인사동길) is one of the popular shopping streets in Seoul and it really wasn't hard to see why.  There were so many little boutiques along the sides.  From souvenirs (so many magnets!), clothing stores, scarf stores, pottery stores, art and stationery stores... there was so much to see and it was fun even though I didn't buy anything except for a couple stickers.  The main highlight of the street was a... rectangular-spiraled building.  Yes. I realize that might sound weird.  The building was rectangular, but the center was an open courtyard. Along the four walls were more artsy-stores.  The path around the edge was sloped so that you could walk counter-clockwise all the way to the top.
Alice and I in the courtyard.
You can see how the floor is slightly slanted.
Most of the stores didn't allow photos because their merchandise was so cool and unique.  Before I head home next year, I definitely want to come back here to collect some gifts for friends and family.
After Insadong, we headed north to Bukchon Hanok Village, a residential area of Seoul that is made up of the older traditional style of housing.  The buildings are beautiful to look at and I wonder if they are as nice to live in.
Someone's front door.  Many doors had Chinese Hanja written above, on or beside.
A corner shot.
 With all us tourists walking through their neighbourhood, I wonder if the residents get really annoyed.  There were a few cars that kept having to stop as people paused to take pictures.
This tree is over 300 years old.  Naturally, we had to feel the energy and take a picture.
This little shop had a bench outside and since it is a lovely building, we took a picture, too.
 (Matt makes a wonderful selfie-stick.)
Saturday was a full and fun day.  I'm glad that I got to see more of the city while hanging out with wonderful people.  Until the next adventure, Seoul!

Sending my love and hugs back home.  Happy last day of November!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Chicken Ribs in Jungmun

Last Friday I met up with one of my language exchange friends and together we had 닭갈비 or Chicken Ribs (direct translation; pronounced dak-kal-bi).
Starting to sizzle away!
 For my friends and family who don't know, 닭갈비 is delicious.  If you are not a vegetarian and get the chance, you should definitely try it with friends.

As you can see from the picture, it is cooked right in front of you on a grill-pan type thing.  Along with the chicken and seasonings, there are rice cakes (best part, next to the chicken), cabbage, onions, and the green is sesame leaves, I think.  Generally a spicy dish, you can order it more mild.  When my friend and I walked into the restaurant, we were both immediately struck by the spices in the air from the other patrons.  With each breath, our nose and throat "tickled" as my friend said.
Just about ready to eat! So tasty!
Once ready, you just take what you want straight from the pan.  You can eat it straight up or wrapped in a lettuce leaf (called 삼/sam).  There are also side dishes that you can eat plain or in the wrap as well.  Both ways are delicious, although it is at times nice to have the cooling effect of the lettuce leaf, even though mild.

After eating most of the dish, we ordered some rice to make 볶음밥 (boggeum bab; fried rice) with the remaining seasoning.
The server mixed it all together and cut down the remaining big pieces.
The whole meal was very delicious and we gladly polished the pan.
All done!
After eating all that food, my friend and I were so full that we had to walk it off.  Near the restaurant in Jungmun, there is Cheongjeyeon Falls (and a temple, but I think waterfalls are cooler... sometimes).  Entrance is only a couple of dollars (or free if you are a Jeju resident, which I now am!).  It's a short, yet lovely walk along the river's edge to see the three different sets of falls.  All in all, it was a fun, and delicious outing.  

Here's a couple pictures--some from Friday and some from a couple weeks ago, because yes, I've been before.

Love and hugs!
The 2nd Waterfall (friday)
Same waterfall back in September--look at the difference in water pressure!

Beautiful pool at the "first waterfall,"
Bridge crossing the river and leading to the temple.  Stunning views from the top!
Various shots of the temple.  You can go to the second floor of this temple where the view is again really pretty.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seoul at Night (N Tower)

Seoul is not a city for early birds.  Like me.  I learned that very quickly.  Nothing opens early.  Most stores and cafes (except for a few of those big chain cafes) don't open until 10 or 11 in the morning.  Some open even later and then stay open later.

Seoul is very much an evening and night city.  At the end of a day's work, the streets flood with people--and come alive.  Shop signs call out warm invitations, street vendors set up their stalls, smells of fried food waft into unsuspecting noses.  While I was in Seoul, I walked through some of the big shopping streets/areas including Hongdae (홍대 - near a university so a lot of students and restaurants as well as shopping), Insadong Street (인사동길 - a lot cute shops and cafes from what I saw. I got some good postcards here.), Namdaemun Market (남대문 시장 - one of the most famous markets in Seoul.  You can get everything here.  Except for a husband or wife, as one Korean told me), and Myeongdong (명동 - known for beauty and skin care products.  Also known to attract a lot of Chinese tourists).  While they were all pretty busy in the afternoon, they got crazy-busy as the sun set.  I didn't think to get any pictures of the craziness, but if you get a chance to visit Seoul, don't just visit these areas during the day.  You will really be missing out on part of their charm and attraction.

Another attraction that, while beautiful during the day, is stunning at night is the view from N Tower in Namsan Park (남산공원).  Mount Nam is only a couple hundred feet tall, but the park is still lovely to explore.  Especially at this time of year when the leaves were changing colour.  I could pretend I was back in Canada for a moment, the colours were so vibrant!  There are many trails weaving through the trees to and around the tower.  The park is a good spot for a picnic or a brief respite from city life.
View of Seoul from a lookout point.
One of the trails leading up to the tour gives this lovely view!  Fall Colours!
C'est moi!  I still don't think that this picture rightly captures the splendor of the woods, but even a sliver of the truth contains truth.
But the view, while lovely during the day, is magical at night.  Different coloured lights illuminate the tower and then the view of the city... Just whoa.  N Tower is a big attraction for groups and couples and it is no surprise as to why.
For perspective: My shot of the Tower and Temple structure during the day.
BAM!  Same view at night.  Look at those lights!
I wish my camera was better... But I still think it's pretty!
I wished I had had more evening-nights to explore the city sights.  I have a feeling that many more would be just as stunning if not more so than their daytime hours reveal.  Next time, I suppose.

Until then...

Love and Hugs.

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...