Boracay Island, Philippines

Boracay03Boracay was absolutely a dream. A lot of our friends from Korea were on the island at the same time, so it was so fun to just walk down the beach and run into people we know. We also made friends with a few of the locals who live on the island and spent a few days running around with them too. There were motorcycle rides (sorry mom), grilled fish on the beach, tons of swimming, a lot of fruit shakes, (too) many late nights and early mornings, beautiful sunsets, great meals, a little bit of a lot of rain for a short time, excellent full body massages for $8, cheap beer and fire dancing. It was so great that as soon as I got home I was perusing flight prices to get me back there. It was amazing to have a break from Korea and especially somewhere warm and sunny and with so many friendly people. I really hope I can explore more of the beautiful Philippines soon.

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Favourites:

Damianas / Ti Braz / Fuel: This cool, quaint little restaurant has 3 menus (and a bar!) and was one of my favourite spots on the island. A friend of mine is the head chef here, and his Filipino food was hands down the most authentic and delicious I tried during my week in the Philippines. There are also delicious juices and smoothies here, and a whole wall full of fresh, yummy options for the homemade crepes made right in front of you.

Spider House: If you walk all the way down White Beach and follow the curve of the coast, you’ll eventually come to this beautiful, perfect restaurant and bar. It’s hard to explain this place: it’s built into the cliff, it’s all open to the ocean, the floors are bamboo and only slightly rickety, there’s a bamboo ladder leading from the restaurant straight down into the ocean (and a diving platform), the food is delicious, the drinks are good and the owner is very friendly. It’s magic.

Tilapia n’ Chips: This little restaurant is a little away from the beach, up by the main road, and doesn’t have the beachfront views. But! It’s delicious and inexpensive. There’s a lot of touristy food on Boracay, and we had a few slightly disappointing meals before we found spots that we loved, like this place.

Crafty’s Rooftop Bar: This place is in an unlikely place – the roof of a grocery store right on the main road. You walk through the brightly-lit store and up the four flights of stairs and come up to an adorable rooftop bar with great vibes, views over the island and really yummy Indian food.

Real Coffee: Our favourite place to have breakfast. The second floor window seats have the best views of the beach, the staff are friendly, the food is good, my friends who like coffee tell me the coffee is good, and their famous calamansi muffins are 100% worth the hype.

Jonah’s Fruit Shakes: Our other favourite place to have breakfast. There are hundreds of places that sell cheap fruit shakes on Boracay, but these ones are the best. They have so many different flavours and they’re all so yummy. My favourites were mango pineapple and mango banana. Om nom.

Villa Lourdes: While our shower and the wifi in our room rarely worked, and we got a rude wakeup call every morning from the roosters in the yard, the location of this Airbnb was absolutely perfect and the price was right. We had a room with a double bed, a bunk bed, and a mattress on the floor up in a second-floor loft room. It was perfect for us and right in the heart of it all in Station 2, only a 5 minute walk from the beach.

Igidae Coastal Walk: Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea

Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

I recently had the privilege of having my mother as a visitor here in Busan. It was an amazing opportunity to show someone around to all the things I love best about the city I’ve called home for the past 9 months. It was also a wonderful reminder of what makes this place so special. Until I moved here, I’d never heard of Busan – it’s not well known internationally compared to Seoul – but I completely fell in love with it once I arrived. If you ever get the chance to visit, there are so many things worth experiencing here. Here are my top recommendations for Busan, whether you have just a short time in the city or are staying for a while.

To Do

Dongbaek Coastal Walk: Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

Haeundae Beach and Dongbaek Island coastal walk: The beach becomes crowded with umbrellas during the summer months but it’s beautiful at any time of year. The views from this beach are some of my favourite in Busan. The boardwalk is a lovely place for a stroll, and just past the Westin Chosun hotel it turns into a gorgeous coastal walk around Dongbaek island, where the APEC summit was held in 2005.

Gwangalli Beach: As lovely as Haeundae is, Gwangalli is my favourite of Busan’s 5 beaches. The Diamond suspension bridge is particularly beautiful at sunset. Gwangalli beach has a very vibrant beach strip of bars and restaurants running right along the beach road so it’s a fun place to spend time. Almost every café along the strip has views out onto the beach and the water.

Igidae Coastal Walk: Not far from Gwangalli is the beautiful scenic coastal hike at Igidae Park. It offers views back towards the Gwangan bridge, the shiny buildings of Marine City and Haeundae beach. It’s not a difficult hike, but the path hugs the cliffs and has wonderful vistas of the ocean all the way along to Oryukdo – two pretty islands set just offshore. You can easily take a cab back from Oryukdo once you’re finished hiking.

Igidae Coastal Walk: Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

Shinsegae Department Store and Spaland: Busan is home to the biggest department store in the world, though it doesn’t feel like the biggest when you’re actually inside. Shinsegae is located in an expensive area of Busan, Centum City, and has a whole day’s worth of entertainment inside if you want it: countless stores, a huge international food court, a movie theatre, an ice skating rink, and of course Spaland. Spaland is a luxury version of a traditional Korean spa. On top of the classic baths area (note: this area is nude and gender-segregated), it also has a huge number of themed saunas, TV rooms, massage chairs, two restaurants and an oxygen-therapy clinic. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to feel pampered for only about $15.

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple: There are countless temples in Busan, most of them in the mountains, but this coastal temple is one of the best. It does get touristy, but it’s absolutely stunning and definitely worth a visit. It’s set right into the coast with views out over the water.

Jagalchi Fish Market: Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

Nampodong neighbourhood and Jagalchi Fish Market: This is such a fun neighbourhood. It’s chock-full of things to do with everything from vintage clothing stores, food from all over the world, international markets and a book alley. Not to mention the Jagalchi fish market, one of Busan’s biggest claims to fame. The market is crowded and very alive with every kind of seafood you can imagine. It’s such an interesting place to walk through. Nampo is also a great place to get hotteok ssiat, see below!

Lotte Giants baseball game: One of the most fun activities in Busan is a weekend late-afternoon baseball game at Sajik stadium. The open-air stadium is surrounded by mountains and is actually quite picturesque at sunset in the summertime! Add to that the fact that you can bring as much food and booze in from outside the game (and the prices for alcohol are identical to those outside the stadium anyways), and the hilarious cheers and dances of the fans and you can see why it’s a total blast.

Dalmaji Hill: Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

Dalmaji hill and Vesta Spa: The second most famous spa in Busan lives on Dalmaji hill. One of the reasons it’s so popular is the views it offers of Haeundae and Gwangalli beaches from its rooftop. Dalmaji road is also a lovely place to walk or have a coffee, especially at cherry blossom season when the trees are in bloom.

Hike Mount Jangsan or Mount Geumyeonsan: Busan should really be famous for its abundance of nature alone. It has been so lovely to be so close to both the mountains and the sea for the first time in my life. Both of these mountains have beautiful hikes and are so close to and accessible from the heart of the city.

To Eat

Bibimbap: Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

Dolsot bibimbap from any kimbap cheonguk: Bibimbap is a very traditional Korean dish of rice, vegetables and gochujang, a spicy paste. Dolsot means served in a hot stone bowl, so the rice on the bottom gets a bit crispy. A kimbap cheonguk is a bit like a Korean diner – they have bright orange signs and are everywhere. Look for “?? ???” on the menu.

Cheesy Kimchijeon from Tony’s: You can kimchijeon, a kind of savoury pancake, at a lot of Korean restaurants, but my favourite is from a little hole in the wall in the Kyungsung University area in Busan. It’s cheap and comes served with melted mozzarella on top. Plus Tony, the owner, is hilarious and so welcoming.

Dak galbi: A really delicious dish cooked right on your table by the waiters. It’s a type of stir fry, usually made with chicken or seafood, a really delicious sauce and plenty of vegetables. We always order cheese-filled tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes), cheese, and rice to go with it. This a type of restaurant, labelled with “? ??”.

Shabu Shabu: Top 15 Things to Do and Eat in Busan, South Korea >> Life In Limbo

Shabu Maxim Gwangan: Shabu shabu is a really fun type of meal where you cook your food yourself in pots of hot broth on the table and then make spring rolls using rice papers, fresh veggies and plenty of different sauces. Shabu Maxim is my favourite because it looks out over Gwangalli beach and you get your own individual hot pot to cook everything yourself as opposed to cooking everything in one in the centre of the table.

Hotteok ssiat: Hotteok are a type of Korean street food – deep-fried pastries stuffed with cinnamon sugar. Hotteok ssiat is the typical Busan version which comes stuffed with cinnamon, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and peanuts. The best to be had are in Nampodong.

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Busan is really a wonderful city. It’s considered a “second city” compared to the larger and more famous Seoul, but it’s beautiful and fascinating.

Have you ever wanted to visit South Korea? If you’ve been to Busan before, are there any other places you’d add to this list? 

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

When moving to Korea to teach English, it can be hard to know what exactly you need to bring. Although Korea is modernizing quite a bit, not that much has changed since many of the posts already online were written. Still, I wanted to write my updated list for 2014 of things you should consider packing if you move abroad to teach English.

Resources:

Notes:

  • This list is based on my experience living and teaching in Busan, the second-largest city in Korea and home to Shinsegae, the largest department store in the world.
  • In Seoul, these are still the less common products, but I can say that they are easier to find in Seoul than elsewhere in Korea, because it is a more diverse city with lots of international grocery stores and big brand chains.
  • Just like in any country, these kinds of imported products become scarcer as you get into more rural towns.
  • For food and beauty products, iHerb is your best friend. You can use my coupon code LWW752 to get 10% off.

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

Fitted sheet:

I have friends that went their entire year in Korea without using a fitted sheet, instead opting to place a duvet on top of their bed or use a flat sheet, but for me having a fitted sheet has made all the difference. Be aware that the beds here are of slightly different proportions so the sheet may not fit exactly, but in my opinion it’s infinitely better to have a sheet you can tuck in easily and not have to adjust every morning.

Full-sized bath towel:

I brought one from home, and I have never seen a large one, though I’ve read they’re sold at Costco. The typical towels sold in Korea tend to be just slightly larger than a hand towel size.

Your favourite toiletries:

The majority of products sold here are, of course, Korean. I have had good experience with many of the local brands and have adopted many of them to use in my beauty routines. You can find imported brands like Clean and Clear, Nivea, Tresemme, Crest, and Neutrogena, but these tend to be more expensive and they may not have the exact product you use back home. They definitely do carry higher-end products, for example Estée Lauder and even Clinique at the big department stores, but again these will be much more expensive. So if there’s anything you feel you (or your skin) couldn’t live without, make sure to bring a year’s supply.

Sunscreen: 

It’s not hard to find, but it’s very expensive here.

Toothpaste:

I would recommend bringing enough tubes of your favourite toothpaste to last you for the year. I haven’t used Korean toothpaste, but I’ve heard that it tends to be a bit weaker than we’re used to in North America and has a funny taste. I personally can’t brush with anything other than Sensodyne otherwise I get bad tooth pain and I haven’t been able to find that brand here.

Deodorant:

Don’t ask me why, but deodorant is not a common product here. I can find tiny, expensive imported deodorants (usually Nivea liquid roll-on) at a local store but stick deodorants aren’t common. I’m told that the cosmetics section at places like Costco and EMart have it, but since I make my own deodorant (yes, even in Korea) this hasn’t been too much of a problem for me.

Shoes:

If you have feet larger than a size 8 1/2, as I do, I would recommend bringing shoes for every season to Korea with you. My feet are just slightly too large for most of the Korean sizes, which usually go up to about 250mm in women’s sizes, which means I can only usually wear unisex shoes like off-brand Toms or Converse styles that they sell for men’s and women’s sizes. You can often find larger sizes at stores like H&M, but they are much harder to find than regular shoes. If your feet are smaller than mine you shouldn’t really have a problem as long as you live in a city center or will visit one during your time in Korea.

Jeans:

It’s not impossible to find jeans in your size if you live near major shopping center, which has stores like H&M, the Gap or Uniqlo. However you should know that jeans here are expensive. If you can bring enough pairs to last you for the year, you’ll save some money.

Bras:

Same as for jeans. I’m sure you can find them some places but most stores don’t carry my size.

Books or a Kindle:

English books aren’t common here, even at larger bookstores. But you can use the awesome website What The Book which stocks a lot of books and offers free shipping throughout Korea.

Plug adaptors:

I’d recommend bringing enough to charge every device you have. I only brought two, and I need to invest in a couple more so I can charge things from home. Don’t bring a hairdryer or straightener from home: they’ll be the wrong voltage and they’re inexpensive here. By the way, most electronics you bring from home won’t need a voltage converter, read here for more details.

Favourite food products:

I was sure when I first came that I wouldn’t be able to get things like peanut butter, ranch dressing, or Earl Grey tea. But Korea has come a long way since Simon and Martina made that initial video. I can now find Caesar salad dressing, tortillas, barbecue sauce, honey mustard and Alfredo sauce in almost every grocery store. While these products do tend to be a bit more expensive than you’ll be used to paying back home, they’re not impossible to find. Still, if there’s a particular brand of hot sauce or tea you love, bring it with you.

What to Pack When Moving to Korea to Teach English >> Life In Limbo

For everything else, don’t worry too much. Korea is becoming more developed all the time, especially if you’re in a city, and increasingly you can get almost anything you need. If I was packing for Korea now I would pack: a few more bras, a few more pairs of shoes and comfortable pants, more of my clothes, and a few more of my favourite cosmetics. But in general I have been able to find just about everything I want (even avocados!). Except for maybe cheese – there’s still not much cheese here.

Just bring yourself, a good attitude, and enough clothes to last you for the year. You’ll do great. Also, congratulations on making this huge decision! For me it’s been such a rewarding experience in so many different ways and I wish you the best of luck on your upcoming adventure.

If you’ve ever moved to a foreign country, what was on your packing list for your big move? Fellow expats in Korea, what would you add to this list?

10 Things To Know When Visiting Korea

10 Things to Know When Visiting Korea

I’ve been playing it cool here on the blog for the past few days, but in real life I’ve been totally freaking out in the best possible way: my mom is coming to visit me in Korea in just 2 weeks!!! No amount of exclamation points will ever be enough to explain how excited I am. When I left for Korea back in March, I never thought anyone would come to visit me –  it’s just so far away! And although I had a few friends flirt with the idea, ultimately I just didn’t see it happening. Flash back to one week ago today, when my mom somewhat spontaneously decided to visit. In 3 weeks. Incredible.

Literally: I still don’t believe it. Or, I do believe it and I’m thrilled, but it still feels a bit surreal and so, so wonderful. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my family, and it really does feel unnatural. I’m very grateful I’ll get to see my mama, talk to her incessantly, and show her around my corner of Korea. Before she arrives, though, I wanted to tell her the top cultural differences to be aware of while she’s visiting. So I decided to share them with you as well. Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Don’t assume the sidewalk is safe

This may be the case in other foreign countries I’ve not yet visited, but I know for sure it’s different from back home. Here in Korea the “sidewalks” are actually bike paths, with no real designated area for pedestrians to walk. Everyone does walk on the paths, of course, but it’s important to be aware that at any moment a motorcycle or bicycle could come riding down the sidewalk towards you. In my experience, the motorcycle drivers (mostly delivery guys) are excellent drivers, and are used to slowing down and/or dodging pedestrians, but even so, people usually get out of the way for them so it’s good to be aware.

10 Things to Know When Visiting Korea

2. Don’t assume that crosswalks are safe

Let me put both safety considerations up front, because of course I worry about these ones the most. Crosswalks are not really respected here the way they are back home. Don’t assume a driver will stop for you or even slow down. Taxi drivers regularly and possibly obliviously block pedestrian access to a crosswalk. At big intersections obviously the cars stop for traffic signals and you’re safe to cross. But at little ones sometimes you have to be careful – there’s one very near to my house that cars come whipping across constantly and it really is the pedestrian’s job to check if there are cars coming and whether it’s safe to cross. I’m not saying every driver is like this, but I have definitely noticed a consistent pattern.

3. Korean Toilets 101

Western toilets are becoming more common, but especially in public bathrooms they are usually outnumbered by the good old squat toilet. I hadn’t used a squat toilet before coming to Korea but I’m comfortable with them now and it doesn’t bother me at all to use them. They’re really not that bad!

You will probably need to bring your own toilet paper. You can buy little tissue packs almost anywhere here (don’t worry mom, I’ve got you covered) and they’re worth carrying around. All bathrooms at private businesses and restaurants will have TP, and many public bathrooms will too, usually in a big roll on the wall outside of the stalls (so remember to grab some before you go in!), but a lot won’t.

The bathrooms are fairly clean but they can smell pretty bad. Strange, I know (get used to it, there are a lot of juxtapositions in this country) but let me explain. Bathrooms are usually well-maintained, but there is the (forgive me) unpleasant* practice of putting used toilet tissue in an open wastebasket in the corner of the stall which is unsanitary and smells bad.

*I try not to use negative adjectives when I’m describing Korea or any other foreign country but this is one of the things I really don’t like.

10 Things to Know When Visiting Korea

4. You will be different

Especially if you are not visiting Seoul (but even if you are, sometimes!) you might get stared at more than you’re used to. This is usually by the older generation or very young children who see foreigners rarely. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, and it’s not usually hostile, but it can still be very disconcerting at times. I’ve had young girls point and say “waygook!” (foreigner) to their parents, or a middle-aged man stare at me for entire subway rides all while whispering to his wife and them laughing together. My friends and I have been the only foreigners in an entire several train cars. I have a twenty minute walk to work each way and it’s rare for me to see another foreigner.

So you may be stared at or approached because you look different. Very often older people want to talk to you and practice their English a bit, asking where you’re from and how old you are (this is a very common question that is not considered rude in Korea). For the most part, none of this attention is necessarily negative, just perhaps surprising.

5. Public transportation is very quiet (except when it’s not)

There can be a touch of a double standard when it comes to volume on all forms of public transportation here. Most of the time, the subways are close to silent, but it’s okay if people talk quietly. My friends and I have gotten shushed more than once for talking at a reasonable, normal volume. On the other hand, you’ll often encounter locals talking very loudly into their phones or families being very noisy on trains. Either way, it’s a good idea to be a little quieter than you’re used to.

10 Things to Know When Visiting Korea

6. You should give and receive politely (even though it’s okay if you don’t)

Traditionally in Korean culture you are meant to give and receive things (especially money) with either two hands, or one hand while touching your elbow. Most people don’t expect foreigners to know about this practice so you can get a pass if you forget, it won’t be overly offensive. Some places I go, such as grocery stores, they don’t do it, even if I do (and I’ve observed this with Korean customers as well), so it’s possible that the tradition is being phased out in more casual places.

If you’re eating with other people, it’s respectful to never pour your own drink, instead pour for someone else using two hands, while they hold the cup in both hands as well. My little kids always give me everything from homework assignments to board markers with both hands and it’s so incredibly sweet.

7. Koreans are very expressive people

Koreans are very expressive with their language and sounds. When they listen, they make little noises, almost to confirm that they’re listening actively and sympathizing with the speaker. There are also certain words that are meant to be said in a very particular way. For example, my kids taught me the word that means “oh my goodness” or “oh dear me…” which gets said a lot. I repeated it with good pronunciation but they told me it had to be said in a far more expressive way, basically with feeling. (You can see some examples of how to pronounce “aigo” here, if you’re curious.) From what I can tell from my limited Korean knowledge, this is really common.

I actually love this tendency to make sounds and be expressive. My friends and I have unconsciously adopted it, and I think now I probably make way more sounds when people are talking than I ever did before. It feels natural and it’s kind of fun.

10 Things to Know When Visiting Korea

8. But sometimes Koreans are hard to read

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought something was really serious based on facial expression and the aforementioned tone of voice only to discover that it was not a big deal at all. This happens a lot at work, especially when you feel like you’ve done something wrong but in the end it was completely fine. It can also be very hard to read people’s facial expressions if you don’t know them. For example, I’ve been stared at many times (see #4) with what seems to me to be a very hostile expression, usually from an older woman, which has made me feel uncomfortable. But a few times I’ve tried smiling back, only to see a big grin pop onto the person’s face! It’s a good lesson that you can never tell what anyone is thinking, but I think Koreans are more guarded about their emotions showing on their faces than most. I’ve found it’s very easy to misunderstand people’s meanings and moods here.

9. You can get by knowing only a little Korean

This is surprising but true. Sure, you won’t know what’s happening around you a lot of the time, but in general you’ll probably be okay to navigate through subway stations, buy groceries and find your way around. It’s not ideal, but Korean is a notoriously difficult language for English speakers to learn so I would suggest arming yourself with a few key basic phrases and the rest of the time relying on big smiles, little bows and giving money politely (see #6). My top sentences are: Hello “annyeong haseyo”, Thank You “kamsahamnida” and I’m Sorry “mianhamnida”. More here.

10 Things to Know When Visiting Korea

10. It’s not that scary or different

In general, Korea is a very nice place to visit. It’s clean, fairly modern in the cities, and doesn’t feel totally foreign or exotic most of the time. Granted, I live in one of the big cities here and it’s quite different if you go to some of the more rural towns. And that’s not to say that there aren’t big cultural differences, there are definitely several. But for anyone who is nervous about travelling to such a foreign country: you’ll be just fine. The signs and menus are in Korean, but there are some in English too. There are apartment buildings and roads and a subway system. There are bananas at the grocery store. There are rocks and trees and the beautiful ocean. It’s a bit intimidating to arrive in a country so different, in some ways, from your own, but you’ll quickly get used to it. In fact, it may not feel very foreign at all!

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I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the more glaring differences between Canada and Korea, so if you spot any I should add to the list please let me know in the comments below! These are the things that stick out in my brain the most, the most interesting or important differences, but there are hundreds more, large and small that differentiate the two cultures. That’s what’s so brilliant about living in a foreign culture, you get to experience the subleties, both good and bad, of the people and the country, in a way that’s very hard to express in writing or photos. Which is why I’m so thankful I’ll have the opportunity to show my mum what it’s like here, so that she can really understand this part of my story.