Gyeongbokgung Palace: Hard to spell, even harder to take a bad picture of!

Yesterday, my fellow Korean class members and I ventured out in the dust to visit Gyeongbokgung Palace. This palace is kind of the pulsing heart of Seoul, the lifeblood of the city. Everything around it is more or less using this palace for energy. That’s the way I see it, anyway. It’s by no means an official tourism slogan… yet.

The last time I visited the palace, it was snowy December and I was with my parents. This time, I was able to see things in a less covered-in-snow way. It was so nice to walk around, snapping pictures of just about every texture and leaf in sight. I also loved uploading my pictures to my laptop to find that half of them are blurry or overexposed. That’s always a cool little surprise. It doesn’t really matter though, because, in the photographing moment, I’m having so much fun! Here are some of the pictures that I was so happy to see after a long day of walking and imagining I lived in one of the traditional Korean buildings. Enjoy!

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NUTELLA HOTTEOK!!!

Korean Cafe Vibes ft. eating an $8 Tart in Gangnam, Seoul, South Korea

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The cafe I went to today was called Urban Rabbit, located in Gangnam nearest to exit 11 on line 2 or Sinnonhyeon exit 5 on line 9. The tart wasn’t overly tasty but I was in a dessert mood. The tart cost 8,000 won (what the actual heck) and it was 90% whipped cream. The pastry was dry and the chocolatey part wasn’t very moist. However, tart aside, the coffee was great, and I went there in the afternoon so I sat upstairs for 2 hours and wrote in my notebook. I guess you pay for the experience more than the food! I had been there before with a friend in the winter. Despite their price tags, the drinks are great and the mood is nice. Korean cafes just have that ability to chill you out and inspire your creative side! There are many cafes and restaurants in this area so you’re bound to find something tasty and cozy! Happy Friday, everyone! Hope you had a great week!

What’s going on at the Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture

Today, I wandered around Gwangwhamun, the cultural hub of Seoul, with a camera in hand and no particular plan. I stumbled across this ‘interactive balloon surface’ at the Seoul Hall of Urbanism and Architecture.

The space was not overly conducive for interactive, fun play (in my design opinion). Oh, that’s right, I have a real-life degree in Industrial Design from a real, certified university, I’m allowed to critique things. I do feel that this installation would work better in a more open space. It felt quite cramped, and as the balloons were tipping over with the wind, it kind of felt like they were caving in on you.

However, the soft shapes and stark contrast with the concrete jungle around it was quite a fun thing to look at. I always feel that installations like these can make even the most hardworking, suit-wearing corporate human show an interest in art and the world around them. You know, beyond the world of spreadsheets, awkward co-worker banter and instant coffee. If you’re in Seoul over the next 1-2 weeks (who knows how long it will be around), definitely check it out! I also threw in some bonus pictures of buildings and cars and colours and textures and other things that really flatten my tortilla.

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Is anyone else of the opinion that walking around with a camera all day is kind of like Christmas? Not being able to instantly upload them to Instagram or properly see how the shots turned out is so exciting. Each picture is like a gift from Santa himself. Opening up the files and flipping through each image… wow, I love it. Do you? Great. We’re not alone. Have a great day! If you take photos for fun on your blog, be sure to comment below! I really want to connect with likeminded bloggers!

It’s hard to be a travel blogger when you’re no longer a traveller

The title of this blog post is every travel blogger’s existential crisis. Allow me to explain myself…

I began this highly profitable and informative travel blog back in August 2017 when I was embarking on a study abroad trip to South Korea. Since then, I have completed said study abroad, travelled here on two more occasions and eventually moved here permanently at the end of 2018. Now that I’m a full-blown Korean woman, it has been really hard to maintain a travel blog. The main reason for this is: I’m not really travelling anymore. I’ve been staying put for most of the time with a few road trips and getaways thrown in between weekends and public holidays. Everything that initially excited me about Korean culture is now somehow part of my daily life? What madness!

This week, I went to Hongdae to try and snap some pictures the way I did when I first came to Seoul by myself in 2017. I tried to splash on some fresh eyes to feel like it was my first time there. A lot has changed. The fresh eyes were undermined by my ‘but I’ve been living here for almost a year’ eyes. I no longer find myself taking pictures of absolutely everything. I no longer find myself taking pictures of random people and stopping in the middle of the street to do so. The moments are no longer fleeting. I know that I can always just come back next week if I miss a shot or get sick of walking around. So, for these reasons and for life just kind of happening, I began to lose direction with my blog this year. I was working full time and felt like a subway zombie most days. Blogging was the furthest thing from my mind. I need to find my trigger happy camera fingers again!

What’s Next…

I am going to take the next few weeks to regroup my South Korean-ness and see what I can bring to this little internet oasis blog. I have also decided to open up an Etsy shop where I will sell digital prints, planners and templates to try my luck at a “side hustle”. I will do a semi-official launch when I am happy with the shop and will open up a separate page on this blog for you to see what I will be selling! So, if you have seen some of my illustrations, stick around because soon you will be able to purchase high-resolution downloads to print out for your own home! My Etsy store is called ‘Korean Picnic’ and I can’t wait for you to come and join!

Strolling Aimlessly in Hongdae, A Novel

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Fresh tips for moving overseas and how to avoid homesickness

Hello, intrepid traveller, today I’m coming at you with some fresh tips on how to move countries and live like an anxiety-free human person. These tips are super fresh so make sure you consume them before their use-by date. Fruits and veg in South Korea have a tendency to go from crispy fresh to dead and wrinkled in a Pyeongchang-minute.

The Backstory

In December 2018, I moved from cushy, livable Melbourne, Australia to very foreign and very Korean Seoul, South Korea. I did this in the name of love and to put an end to one year of loving another human from a long distance. I had been to Korea before, dabbled in studying the language and had eaten my fair share of Kimchi. This made the culture shock relatively smooth… wait what am I saying? No amount of kimchi could have prepared me for the ensuing culture shock. The culture shock ricocheted off of every crevice and subway passageway in Seoul. Aftershocks of my culture shock are still being felt throughout the city. Alas, I am here to help you!

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What the fork is Culture Shock?

So, let’s talk about culture shock. It’s real. It’s messy and it can also happen in reverse. Yeah, that’s something they don’t tell you on Buzzfeed. Culture shock, to me, is dealing with all of the new things around you in a new place that makes living a little bit uncomfortable. Kind of like when you sit on a wet patch of grass and have to walk around in discomfort for a bit, but then you’re fine because it’s only wet grass. Here’s some culture shock that you may experience in a place like South Korea:

  • The language can be a bit of a culture shock because you thought that watching a few K-dramas would be enough to get by (I’m partly joking).
  • It might be hard to have a successful shopping trip to the supermarket because the things you would normally buy are either not there, or are five hundred per cent more expensive than back home.
  • If you’re in a new place where you don’t look like everybody else, people might stare at you constantly and try to talk to you and objectify you as a token foreigner. This is very uncomfortable and makes people feel stupid, do not do this to foreign-looking people. Shockingly, they’re actually people.
  • People might do everyday things like taking the subway very differently to people in your home country. For example, people in South Korea love to PUSH you until they’re off the train without any ‘excuse me’s’ or ‘coming through’s’. Also, people here don’t give up their subway seats for the elderly and that’s a culture shock!

Boy, I could write a whole POST about culture shock! I kind of did write some back when I first came to Korea and you can read it here! Okay, let’s begin all the ways to help your sorry self mitigate these culture shocks and how to prepare your life for emigration (aka the point of this blog post).

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Let’s get some fresh tips on how to Taylor Swiftly emigrate!

1. Bring all of the things you rely on in your home country. They may be available in the country you’re moving to, but may be hard to find and super expensive. Besides, you’re going to need time to figure out where to buy things, where not to buy things etc. Just equip yourself with enough to last 6 months. For example, I brought Vegemite, skincare, Colgate toothpaste, shoes for my clown feet and more bras than a human could possibly need. I wasn’t sure how readily available these things would be. I’ve been in Korea for 10 months and I still haven’t managed to find shoes that fit me properly.

2. Take photos of all of your pals, places and things that feel like home. Sometimes, you just want to be reminded that you have stuff that makes you who you are. You can also find new things in your new country to add to that list, but it’s nice to be able to remember who you are. It can be hard to remember that when you’re in a completely new environment with minimal friends and you’re referred to as a ‘foreigner’ on a daily basis.

4. Bring oodles of passport photos and documents and photocopies and digital copies and a portable scanning app and a pocket-sized accountant and an on-standby lawyer and you get the gist. Trust me, you don’t want to go to a Japanese convenience store at 3am to print out a passport photo because you have to be at the Korean embassy at 9am to get your Visa. It’s just the type of stress one does not need in their life. Bring copies of everything important, back them up on your digital world and give some copies to a loved one in case you somehow lose all of those.

5. Don’t overpack. You think you’ll need stuff but you know you won’t and you know you’re going to want to buy all the things in your new environment. Just bring the things that will give you the most comfort in your life. For example, I knew that I didn’t need to pack my own Marimekko plates but I also knew that mealtimes might be a shade duller without them.

6. Make sure you will be financially set up to visit your home every once in a while. Family is important. Don’t move overseas if you don’t think you’ll be able to make the money/time to come home every once in a while unless you’re only going for a hot minute.

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Lightning round:

  • Get all of your shots
  • See your dentist
  • Pop into grandma’s
  • Stock up on pain killers and cold medicine
  • Hit the books – learn about the language, culture, manners and all that shiz before you move countries
  • Tell your government how you’ll vote in elections
  • Organise your digital living space (computers, iPads, hard drives etc)
  • Tell your bank you’ll be out of town so they don’t lock you out of your account
  • Clean out your bedroom and turn it into a place your parents can rent on Airbnb
  • Cancel your gym membership, phone plan, library card etc.
  • Make sure your passport is good for a while
  • If you’re Australian, let Smart Traveller know where you’re going and check their information about your destination
  • Have a party for your friends even if nobody shows up (it’s the thought that counts)
  • Make a budget spreadsheet and pretend you’ll stick to it
  • If you’re moving to Asia, say goodbye to clean air
  • Write down important addresses where you won’t lose them
  • Savour your last sip of coffee from your fave cafe, it may be your last
  • Kill all of your indoor plants or give them to green thumbs
  • Take out about 5 things from your suitcase at the last minute because you know you’re kidding yourself
  • Set some goals for yourself so you’re not running around without direction
  • Take note of where embassies are and how to get there
  • Make sure your life is sorted on the other side (house, job, school)
  • You can sort out phones, banks and other life admin at the other end
  • Last but not least, get ready to get a bit emotionally messed up while you adapt to your new country

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Whether your moving for six months or for eternity, no amount of blog post writing and list-making will really prepare you for moving your life to another country. Just make sure that you remember every awkward encounter and savour it as a memory of that time you moved country and everything was hard. For me, it has been almost a year since I left home. My language skills are getting better each day and I no longer feel like a tourist. I still have moments that make me want to cry and curl up into a ball because of something awkward that happened with a shop assistant or a stranger who has stalked me off the subway to ask if I have a boyfriend. You know, stuff that happens in any country. Culture shock is a given and emotions fluctuate. Don’t you think experiencing a new culture like a local in a new place is worth all of the awkward encounters in the world?

Let me know what you’d like to see on my blog. I am working hard to write more and more, so stay tuned for regular posts. I would love to hear your feedback, so leave a comment below or let me know about your experience moving overseas. Have a great week, internet world!

 

 

Happy belated birthday, Buddha! 서울에서는 석가탕신일

On a lukewarm Friday evening in May, I summoned enough brain and leg power to wander beyond my daily work route of train station to work, work back to train station, and went to Bongeunsa Temple. This miraculous venture just so happened to be around the time of Buddha’s sweet sixteen, so there were lanterns, confused tourists and colours a-plenty. How fortunate and rare that I managed to have this combination of energy, awake-ness and a desire for socialising all at the same time?

I’m currently writing this very important blog post in mid-June and have been sitting on these images and aforementioned boring story without having any clue about Buddha’s Birthday and what it means to the Korean people. After three and a half minutes of strenuous research, I now know that Buddha’s birthday is a celebration for the founder of Buddhism and is celebrated with lantern festivals and lotus flower displays all over the country. It is a long standing tradition in Korea and is a great time for the nation’s Buddhist folk to brush up on their virtues and values and other Buddhism-related jargon. The thousands of meticulously hung lanterns and lotus flowers is a way for Korean Buddhists to light up the sky from their hearts and spread love from South Korea to the rest of the world. What a nice tradition!

If you’re planning on travelling to South Korea in the April/May period within the next thousand years, make sure to mentally bookmark this auspicious occasion in your brain diary. I read that Buddha’s big b-day bash is celebrated on the eighth day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar. Between you and I, fellow blog reader, I could not even attempt to try and figure out when that date occurs in earth-calendar times. I trust you to figure that one out on your own. Lunar calendar are riddles that I’ll never be able to solve. Here are the pictures I snapped on my phone after a long day of wrangling 5 year old Korean children and force feeding them a vast and articulate English vocabulary. Everyday is an adventure if you want it to be. Have a great day, friends!

Photos taken on my super Korean Samsung Galaxy A9 Pro 2.58^4 Genius Tennis champion smartphone.

A week of eating in Seoul: April

Have you ever wondered what a moderately healthy, average white Australian girl eats in a week living in Seoul, South Korea? NO? You haven’t thought about that? Well. You don’t need to think about it ever again because once you’re through with THIS here post, you’ll have all of the answers you didn’t know you weren’t looking for! Actually, scratch ALL of what I just said because this is not a week’s worth of eating in Seoul. This is actually all of the food I took pictures of in April…so, let’s revise the title of this blog post… hmm how about ‘A sporadic month of some food I ate this month ft. zero rhyme or reason’. Here we go!

To kick things off, here are some picnic snacks by the Han River in Yeouido. We also ordered pizza and had no regrets because it was cherry blossom season and we were both sick.

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Salmon and rice at our local Japanese restaurant!

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Here is some homemade Jjimtak (steamed chicken), salad and kimchi!

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Here is a kimchi pancake situation with eggy tofu, pork and salad. Please excuse our dishes drying on the floor in the background.

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Naughty ramen nights with raw eggs. Don’t knock it until you fry it!

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KIMCHI

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How To: Visa Run in Fukuoka

If you’re a regular reader of this very important blog, you’ll know that my travelling ‘how-to’s’ are more like ‘loose suggestions’ or ‘visual prompts’ rather than informative guides. This post is no exception. In keeping with who I am as an amateur hobby blogger, I’ll keep this ‘how-to’ guide pretty visual and non-descriptive. Truth be told, when you go to a new city, you’re allowed to do whatever the fridge you want. Who am I to tell you how to spend your precious travel hours? The best way to explore any new city is with a pair of legs and/or your eyeballs.

Last week I had to spend some time in Fukuoka while I was waiting for my Korean visa to process. It was my sixth visit to Japan so I was happy to just enjoy the warm air and the Japanese language around me. Here’s what I found on my expedition, categorised in the following order: water, flora, buildings and signage.

Water

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Flora

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I took the above image because I could just picture 4 chubby little Teletubbies rolling around on the grass or the characters from ‘In the Night Garden’ doing whatever it is they do in that show. I mean, what? I don’t watch kids shows? I’m 23? Haha I just heard about these shows, in great detail, from a friend who has multiple children???

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Buildings

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Signage

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There you have it, folks, Jo So Ko’s exclusive, comprehensive ‘How-to’ guide for getting a Korean visa in Fukoka. Also, Fukuoka ramen and udon is pretty famous according to my taxi driver on the way to the airport during my final hours of the trip. I can’t tell you how great it is to get a local’s travel advice on your way to the airport. So helpful. At least I was able to practice my Japanese again. Maybe it wasn’t travel advice, maybe he was complaining about Fukuoka and I completely overestimated my language skills. Oh well. Guess I’ll never know.

The January Newsletter

Good evening, Loyal Fan of my blog! I have decided to draw a visual, diary entry-style comic with a few of my drawings and photos from the month of January. I’m going to be doing this each month so I can have a nice little calendar of memories from ‘the year I moved to Seoul’. Who knows, maybe I’ll make them into a little zine at the end of the year? Wouldn’t that be crazy? Yes! Download the interactive PDF of my January Newsletter here and stick next to your office water cooler.

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Thank you for reading! I hope to see you next month!