Saturday, June 29, 2013


Nicholas and I head out for a weekend away to Angkor Wat to see the temples. We are really excited to explore a part of Southeast Asia we have never been to and to get out of Seoul for a couple of days. I imagine some pretty phenomenal photos will appear when we get back!

Friday, June 14, 2013


From our last time in Beijing when we hiked the Great Wall!
Tomorrow I head to Beijing for a long weekend to visit friends from Switzerland! I am really excited to see the ladies and spend time with such wonderful friends :) With Nicholas being so far away, this has given me something to look forward to and to break up his long business trip.

The last time we were in China was 6+ years ago when we visited our American friend who had just been relocated for work. Nicholas and I backpacked for 2+ weeks, then ended our trip in Beijing for a week exploring the recommendations of our three guide books. Can't wait to see China with locals!

Saturday, June 8, 2013


I honestly had very little desire to go to the DMZ. Nicholas always talks about it and I knew eventually we would go. I just had no idea it would be this past weekend. We had our good friend (and IMD classmate) Roberto in town from Peru and Nicholas was able to score three tickets on the Saturday tour.
Roberto pleased with our tour
I wasn't thrilled since it was a super early start, long day and expensive. I guess I never really thought too much about it and couldn't appreciate how incredible it could be.
We stopped at the first train station that goes into North Korea
On our journey north on the bus, we were given many history lessons by our South Korean tour guide. I spent a lot of time thinking about my Poppy who was in the Army Engineer Corp in the Korean war and how many people lost their lives in this conflict. I never realized how close North Korea was to taking over the Peninsula before the UN and international community sent in help.
Nicholas standing in North Korea, next to a South Korean Soldier, in the MAC Building,
where both sides will be meeting tomorrow
Once there, we were given a briefing by the United Nations Command military personnel and then we were taken to the MAC building (Military Armistice Commission) We were able to stand with one foot in North Korea and one in South, in the room where the talks are held between the two countries. In fact, during the soldier's presentation, he let half of us know that we were all fully in North Korea. Creepy. Tomorrow, in that very room, the north and south will meet again to hold talks. This will be the first time in over two years that the two sides will meet. We missed them by just a week!

Just across the way, we were being monitored by the North Koreans. Our military guide warned us to not making any verbal or non-verbal gestures, but to take as many photos of them as we liked, as they were doing the same with us at the time.
North Korean soldier watching us
Facing North Korea at the DMZ
It is the only place in the world, where the enemies stand face to face on a daily basis, literally. We watched as the South Korean or ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers stood in the Tae Kwon Doe ready stance, which the US soldiers admiringly call ROK Ready.
South Korean Soldier in ROK Ready stance
The South Korean Soldiers also wear pants that are cropped and bell out a bit at the bottom and are filled with metal ball bearings. During the Korean War, the South Korean soldiers were vastly outnumbered by the North Koreans, so they filled the bottom of their pants with ball bearings so when they were marching, it sounded more intimidating.

Memorial where the tree used to be prior to the Ax Murder Incident
Bridge of No Return
From there, we were taken to Checkpoint 3, near the site of the 1976 Ax Murder Incident. If you do not know the story, you can read about it here. It is a gruesome event and led to the most expensive tree-trimming in the world, known as Operation Paul Bunyan. We could also see the Bridge of No Return. This bridge was used up until the 1976 Ax Murder Incident, and is named as such since it was used for war prisoner exchanges. According to wikipedia, The prisoners were brought to the bridge and given the choice to remain in the country of their captivity or cross over to the other country. However, if they chose to cross the bridge, they would never be allowed to return.
Propaganda Village and North Korean flag, it weighs close to 600 lbs,
so takes a strong gust of wind to get it to move
We saw the North Korean Propaganda Village from a distance and the South Korean village along the DMZ. We learned about these South Korean villagers who tend to the rice crop and are protected by the military. We learned so much. Things I never knew or imagined. It changed my perspective and opened my eyes to the seriousness and the sadness of the situation. Some of the stories we heard made us chuckle, but most reinforced the somber reality.

Although I didn't want to go, in the end I feel extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunity to witness this and learn about the dark history of our current country.

"Our" husband and spicy chicken

Last night I went out with two of my friends who happen to be my former Korean teachers, Peace and Lee Yu-Ri to have 양념 치킨, spicy fried chicken, and beer. I had learned about this popular dish during my class last month and couldn't believe I had never had it.

We had a lot of fun eating, drinking and chatting. I really enjoyed the dish, but it was a very spicy version and Peace, not a fan of spicy food, suffered through the meal. Relieved only momentarily with her pulls of beer.

Those girls have a lot of 인내, patience, as I struggled to tell stories in Korean. I explained how patience was the first (and only) Korean word I knew, when we found out we were moving to Korea. Since my dad has been studying Taekwondoe for many years, at the beginning of each class they recite words like integrity, honesty (I cannot remember the actual words, but you get the gist) and the word that stuck for me, was patience.

It was a really fun night, albeit challenging trying to hold a conversation in Korean. I tried hard to use some of the expressions and grammar that I had learned. Sometimes it worked, other times it did not. For example, it is part of their culture to say "our" husband/family/brother/etc, when referring to your own husband/family/brother. I thought you could also use it when you are talking about someone else's husband/family/brother/child, so I asked Lee Yu-Ri if "our" husband was studying now. Both the girls looked at me strangely and said something about Nicholas being in Brazil...

I repeated my question, again, emphasizing, "Our.This time, they both thought I was just mispronouncing Lee Yu Ri's name, as it sounds similar to our in Korean. I explained that I was trying to use the cultural reference of "our" husband and they both started to laugh... No, no, they explained, that expression is only used when you are personally speaking about your own husband. Not about someone else's... I smiled while I could feel my face heating up

When Lee Yu-Ri's husband showed up at the end of the night, we laughed as I greeted him as "our" husband ;)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Happy Birthday, Nicholas!

This is the first year that I can remember that we have not been together to celebrate either of our birthdays :( This year, I was on a plane for my entire birthday and Nicholas is in Brazil.

Can't wait until you are back to celebrate every day we have together!

Make a wish! From last year's birthday.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Living Green- Seoul Style

Inspired by Stacey's latest blog post , I started to think about our carbon footprint here in Korea. Seoul recycles almost everything and have other regulations in place to lower energy consumption, such as how they charge for heat and a/c.

I thought Switzerland was progressive when it came to recycling, but Seoul has it beat. Like parts of Switzerland, we have to buy special bags that must be used for our garbage. In addition, almost everything can be recycled: paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, batteries, and food. Until recently, they had a special bin for food and I really wanted to use it, but I couldn't figure out where I was going to hold our food scraps, peels, etc, in the apartment before I brought them down.
We need more recycling bins, this does not cover it!
Now, I have no choice. We can no longer throw any food, food products, seeds, peel, etc, in the regular garbage bags. Now, there is another separate bag for food.
Yellow bag for food, white bag for trash 
It is interesting, because, I have a 10 Liter neighborhood-issued bag that I use for our regular garbage, things that cannot be recycled and are not food. I currently use just less than one bag a week. 10 L = ~ 2.5 Gallons. That is nothing compared to how much waste I threw out in the US and Switzerland. I recycle almost everything. In addition, I now have these 2 L bags for food waste. This will be the first week I use it, so I have no idea how many of these bags I will use. We eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and this causes a great deal of food waste- think banana peels, egg shells, pepper seeds, avocado peel and seed, coffee grinds, yadda yadda. I imagine that our trash will now be half as much.

In addition to the recycling, they try to keep energy consumption low here. Now that we are entering the hot season, people will start using their AC units more and more. In Seoul, if you only use AC for a small amount of time, you are charged a low rate. After you pass a certain point, you are charged more and more. So, if you only use the AC at night when you arrive from work, your bill will remain reasonable. If you keep the AC on all day, in every room, they charge you a fortune. They try to cut you a deal if you use less and really make you suffer if you use more. They do this since there are so many people living in Seoul and they are trying to avoid blackouts. Especially with this update on the nuclear reactors from the WSJ.

For example (these are made up numbers), if you use the AC for 5 hrs a day, you are charged $1 for each hour. But if you use it for 10 hrs a day, you are charged $1 for the first 5 hrs and then $1.50 for the additional 5. If you use it for 15 hrs a day, you are charged the same as the previous example and the additional 5 hrs are charged at $2 each. If you used it for 20 + hours, they might charge everything above 15 hrs at $4 hour. So 5 hrs of use is $5, 10 hrs of use is $12.5, and 15 hrs is $22.5. 20+ hrs is at least $42.50.

All the office buildings must keep their offices at a certain temperature during the summer and winter months. According to's report: During the summer, June through September, the indoor temperature should be maintained at 26 degrees Celsius or above (78.8 degrees F!). It should be 20 degrees Celsius or lower (68 degrees F) during the winter season, from November to March. In the summer, the offices can feel quite warm and the winter, can feel a bit cool. So most companies have relaxed dress codes in the summer so men can be out of their hot suits and into polo shirts and khaki pants, for example. In the winter, you just wear more layers.

All of these measures make me more aware and conscious of my actions, although I am sure there are plenty more things that I can do!

Monday, June 3, 2013


Last week, I attended an event with the Seoul International Women's Association's Working Women Network. I have been wanting to attend one of their events for a long time, but they either filled up too quickly or I was away. I finally got in and really enjoyed myself! I randomly ran into a friend outside of the restaurant, so we went in together. I met many wonderful women who are in Seoul and had great conversations. They usually have a speaker for these dinners and this time they had a representative from Carolina Herrera who spoke about their flagship Asia store here in Cheongdam Seoul. It was a good evening with yummy food and new friendships. I look forward to the next event later this month.
new acquaintances 

And he's off, again...

Nicholas took off again for Brazil for the next few weeks. Just when it is starting to get very hot around here, he headed to the Southern Hemisphere for reprieve. He left yesterday afternoon and will be arriving this afternoon. 24+ hours of travel. Bom viagem!

Happy Anniversary !

June 2 is the anniversary of my role models and parents. Congratulations on another year!

Korean Cooking Class

A couple of weeks ago, my teacher invited us to her home to cook some traditional Korean food and to practice our Korean food chapter that we had just finished,  This basically combines three of my all-time favorite things to do: practicing a new language, learning how to cook delicious food, and eating :) Experiencing a culture in three levels. Unfortunately, after being away for Korea for 5+ months, my language skills took a huge dive and I am still way behind. I remembered enough to help with the preparations and eat the meal :)
My teacher and another student making Sujebi
The other students and my teacher starting the first course of Dukbokki 

I love Seoul

TIMELAPSE - Fantastic SEOUL from Mr.Koo on Vimeo.