Thursday, May 31, 2012

Olympic Park Day

Olympic Park Peace Gate: Doing obligatory peace sign :) 
A couple weeks ago, Nicholas, David, Aksana and I went to Olympic Park to have a picnic and enjoy the beautiful weather. Seoul is full of amazing parks and this was just another example of one. This one reminded Nicholas and I a bit of Central Park.
It was built for the '88 Olympic Games and sits on an enormous amount of land. There were ponds, lakes, walkways, large areas of grassy space, pools, tennis courts, and the list goes on and on.
That weekend, the Jazz Fest was taking place, so we got a chance to catch some tunes from a distance.
We know some people here who complain that there are no green spaces in Seoul, but each week we are discovering a new park, mountain or large garden. This city has it all if you just look!

Korean Improving

So much so, that I confidently tossed my taxi cheat cards away! I am now able to direct my cabs without my guidebooks and cards :) Last week, I even had a conversation with my cabbie. This place is starting to feel like home!

Turkish Delights

When Nicholas got back from his business trip, he unloaded his goodies that he brought back! It reminded me of when my dad would come home from business trips and often bring something home for us :)

This time, Nicholas brought back the items requested: spices from Turkey and wine from Germany :) He also brought back a delicious assortment of Turkish sweets, teas and a pepper grinder!! 

We have been looking all over Seoul for a grinder and the only ones we could find were at the expensive department stores, selling for close to, or over, $100. Now, we have a gorgeous copper one from Turkey that Nicholas received as a gift from the spice shopkeeper after he bought his spices. No more putting my peppercorn into plastic baggies and pounding them with a heavy object to get my fresh ground spice :) So, of course, I loved the gifted pepper grinder more than anything else that Nicholas brought back!

Hongdae Area

A couple weeks ago, I met with two partners, who had the day off from their advertising firm, and we spent the day discovering Hongdae. This is the area surrounding Hongik University. It is known for the art scene.

We had a great day started off with a lunch at a hidden sandwich shop that made their own bread. This cafe was in a back alley/small street behind buildings and looked to be an old garage. Seoul has so many hidden gems!

We wandered the streets, did some window shopping, had a drink, then dinner before we called it a night. It was such a blast and a continual reminder that there is so much to see in this city and so many people to meet!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Spicy Saturday Brunch

Saturday, I met up with a couple of friends for what was promised to be a spicy brunch. We met in my favorite area of town, Garosu-gil (which means "tree-lined street") and ate at a spicy chicken restaurant. This is one of my favorite Korean meals, so I was definitely looking forward to it! Sojean, the local, introduced me to this really yummy rice ball side dish. It is rice with fish eggs and then rolled in shredded seaweed. Typing that out, I realize it might not sound appealing, but it was addicting! YUM. (pictured on the right side of the table)
Afterwards, we went to a funky cafe to have some Korean 빙수 (patbingsoo), or shaved ice topped with sweetened beans, rice cakes and milk. It sounds so strange, but it is beautiful and delicious! They make other varieties now, with strawberries or green tea and even add a scoop of ice cream on it! We had the traditional one and I can guarantee I will get my fill this summer :) We also tried a couple of their smoothies that had interesting combinations, menu below. We got the lemon, radish, persimmon and the banana, radish, peanut. Surprisingly, they were delicious as well. Have I mentioned that Koreans know how to eat?!

Where in the World is my Husband?

Everyday or so, someone asks where Nicholas is and I have to think about his schedule to get the right answer. Middle East, Europe... Thankfully, he is on the last leg of his trip and will be coming back to Asia on Friday! Earn those miles, baby!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday bike ride

Last Sunday, we went on a long bike ride with a couple of our favorites, David and Aksana and their wonderful friends. We rented tandem bikes (!!) and rode along the Han River. It was a gorgeous day for a bike ride, albeit a bit crowded and chaotic. When the weather is that nice, there are bound to be tons of people out enjoying it and there sure were!
We found a nice hidden place near the river to have a picnic before we made our roundtrip back to return our tandems.
We had such a great time. Nicholas and I, of course, are overly competitive with ourselves and pedaled our butts off. Up and down hills on a heavy tandem bike was no joke. But we laughed and had a ball. I highly recommend it! For me, it was way better than just going for a regular bike ride together. We were able to really talk and work together to get where we were going. I can't wait for him to get back to do it again :)

Saturday Night Game Night

A week ago, we were invited over to Sandeep and Mamta's home for a potluck dinner and games. We ate a lot of yummy food and spent many hours laughing and playing board games with them, their son and one of our favorite couples.

My First Marathon

I found this old gem in one of the usb drives we had in our many boxes that recently arrived. Tonight, while trying to do too many technical things without my better half, I discovered an old folder from one of my writing classes my first quarter of my senior year. Without further adieu and with no editing (my apologies), I present "Marathon" an ode to the one who made that first one happen.


(poor quality, in front of the Shoe)

The 24th annual Columbus Marathon took place on October 19th, 2003. For me, the marathon started nine months earlier when I started to train for my first half marathon in Napa Valley, California. From the moment that I decided to start training, it was never to do just a half, it was to do the whole thing. I did a little research on marathons before I chose the one I wanted to do and decided, with the persuasion of my friends, to do the Columbus one.

I missed the beginning of my marathon training since I was in Spain for the first seven weeks of summer and the daily temperature was in the high 90’s on a cool day and topping 104 on frequent occasions. Running was not always an option since it was neither easy nor safe to run in this type of heat.

I got back from Europe discouraged and unmotivated. However, when I had told my mom at the end of spring quarter my plans for the marathon, she excitedly agreed that she wanted to run it too. I wasn’t so sure about this, but I figured she was just being whimsical and didn’t really mean it. However, when I got back in the beginning of August, my mother, forty six, had been training all summer and had not missed one day of the program. Feeling worse now than ever, I couldn’t believe my mother was going to train and run a marathon and I was going to sit back and do nothing!

To her, though, she had no idea that I was so unmotivated. She simply asked me if I would be getting up in the morning to do the morning run or not. How could I say no, even when it was a 5:30 a.m. start? Slowly, but surely, I was running everyday with her in the wee hours of the morning. I could never bring myself to say no to her, when she was so enthused to finally have me home to train with her so her lonely morning runs would not be so bleak and boring.

So, there I was, at 5:30 in the morning, lacing my shoes, getting ready to pound the cement with my determined mother besides me. And I was there the next day, and the next. Some days would be even earlier than the prior with our runs increasing in mileage, until we were running at 4:00 a.m., so we could finish before she had to get ready for work. It was slightly insane, I know, but I do not think that a fully rational person would ever train for such an event.

I have never felt such pride for one person before. This was the only person in the entire world who could gently persuade me to get up and running towards our goal before half of my friends were even in for the night. We did this every morning till I had to go back to school. I could sense her disappointment when it was our final run together before I left. I felt guilty because I would get to school and have friends to train with and she would be alone.

She is a strong woman, stronger than most I know. She is the only reason that I did end up running and completing my first marathon and I will never forget it. She has no idea what kind of an inspiration she was to me. I remember running the race and feeling so good, tough and unstoppable. I remember watching everyone that was there, cheering on their family and friends, and thinking without a support system, whatever and whoever that may be, not one of the runners in the marathon would be able to complete. I did though. I completed and ran a phenomenal first race time of 3hrs 50mins 05secs. I remember being excited and proud, but not half as moved as when I saw my mother cross the line. There are many lines we are going to have to cross from the start to the finish and having someone significant to help you through some of them is what it is all about.
Cheers to you!
Happy Mother's Day, Mom! You continue to be an inspiration. I love you!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Culture Class

Mondays we have the day off from the 8am Korean class and in its place they have started a culture class. The first class in the series was today and was on, what else, but the drinking culture here. I was looking forward to understanding how it started and why drinking and getting drunk is so popular and accepted in Korea.

When we signed in for the class, we were given a bottle of juice, a shot glass and some cookies. Hilarious!

However, instead of learning those things, we watched the beginning of a famous Korean film about a really drunk girl and then learned different expressions and phrases for when we are out drinking that we practiced by filling our shot glasses with juice and taking shots at 8am. There was even a small quiz with prizes and I am the proud wife of one of the winners :) Obviously the prize was soju.
Did I mention this class was at the office? Talk about a culture clash, I mean class ;)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Labor Day Hike at Bukhansan National Park

Tuesday was Labor Day in Korea (and much of the world). To celebrate the day off and amazing weather, we went with a small group of friends to Bukhansan National Park to hike to the Baekundae Peak. It was marked as a 5 hour roundtrip hike with some spectacular views. It would take us about an hour to get there from the south of the city, as this mountain is at the far north point of the city.
Hiking in Korea is quite different than in Switzerland, China and the small hikes I did on the East Coast. First, it is much more colorful. The people here take their hiking style and brands seriously. I have never seen Northface in such a rainbow of vibrant colors! Nor have I seen soo many hiking and outdoor brands in my life. The Koreans also do not leave any part uncovered. From hats, to gloves, to jackets, hiking pants, boots, bags and sticks, they were decked out! We certainly looked like the amateurs and our small group was no stranger to a good hike. Second, the trails are absolutely packed. Granted, it was a holiday, but still, we had a lot of bottlenecking all along the way. Finally, I swear I smelled soju all along the trail. Was it possible that they were drinking while doing this intense hike?

After doing the first half of the summit, we thought that hiking here was a joke. It was taking us no time, and we would have gone even faster if there weren't so many people. We figured we would be done with the whole hike in half the time it advertised...

That was until we got to the last kilometer to the peak. That took us another hour or so. It got so steep and the rocks so smooth, we had to rely on a cable wires to pull ourselves up. The hike turned into a blend of hiking and climbing. The view from the top was quite remarkable. Seoul looked like a mini-display of itself. We settled in for a lunch on the steep peak and after stretching out our sore legs, headed back to the bottom.
It was an extremely intense workout and did take us the full 5 hours to complete the hike. We were eating our words when we finished what we thought was going to be a weak hike. To reward our efforts, we settled in at a plastic table at the bottom for a couple of beers and then a pork barbeque with some live music in the background. When we finally got back home, I crashed before 8pm and slept til my alarm went off Wednesday morning. Talk about the best sleep I have had in a long time!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Whitening Soap

For my birthday, my sweet friend gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a bar of natural whitening soap. I was told I was to let it age for a few weeks before using. 

As I have never used it before, I had no idea what the aging process had to do with anything but decided to let it sit on our bathroom shelf for well over a month. This afternoon, I finally opened it to set it out for later and it is beautiful. 

The funny thing is that I brought a bottle of bronzing lotion with me, so I would have a nice soft glow but not have the nasty effects from the sun. So, side by side are two products that cancel each other out! 

Talk about just one of the many differences in our cultures :) 

Visitors from Beijing!

Earlier last month, our favorite Chinese friends came to Korea for a vacation and spent a couple of nights in Seoul! We were lucky to share a meal with them before they headed south for their vacation :) Can't wait to see them again in their city soon!

Outside the restaurant
The boys
The girls :) 

Underwater Pedi

Seriously, what were we thinking?!

So, one rainy day last week, Laura and I decided to try out an "underwater pedicure." I had my reservations, but she seemed pretty set on it, so we headed to the tree rest cafe to see what was in store.
It was a typical Korean cafe. Large, lots of tables and chairs, a "buffet" of coffee, tea and snacks, as well as a large menu of items to purchase. It is mandatory to purchase something from the main menu, then you can help yourself to anything in the cafe for free. This particular cafe also has a huge selection of reading material- books, magazines, etc- and the main attraction, at least for us: Dr. Fish.

After we settled in, downed our first caffeinated beverage and warmed up from the frigid rain, we decided to head to Dr. Fish. One of the staff helped us get our feet washed before we were to put them in a trough filled with fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet... UGH!! Talk about a mini-nightmare...

I imagined the fish would be tiny, but these guys were a good 6 inches with big mouths... all hungry for our calloused feet... We were told we had 15 minutes and the sweet girl left us. Terrified.
After about 20 minutes of giggling and squealing and genuinely freaking out, we still had yet to put our feet in the water. By the time the girl came back, she looked like she had never seen anyone react this way. She stuck her finger in the water to show us how it is done and that the fish would not harm us. We each then stuck a finger in and decided it was now or never.  It would be a shame to walk away without the experience.

We did eventually get both our feet in amidst giggles and squeals and after about 20 minutes, our feet were baby soft :) (video to come)

Not sure I would recommend this activity, but I feel like my fear factor bucket list is slowly getting crossed off!

Intensive Korean Class

Today, I finally got signed up for an intensive Korean class. I have been learning a lot, but think that the pace can be a bit quicker and more focused. I take a morning class with Nicholas at Samsung, then head over to my school for a couple more hours.

I take what we learn in class each day to the real world. So far, it really is only being able to tell people where I am from, my name, to ask how much things cost and to talk about food. I look forward to being able to string together sentences and eventually holding small talk with my Korean friends and people on the street, like this friendly guard at the palace :)