Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Like a swimming pool...but not.

This was how my friends first described jimjilbang to me when they suggested going when I was in Korea two years ago. 

I have often been asked by Korean friends and foreign friends alike, "What is the most embarrassing experience you've had in Korea?" and 'When was the moment when you really began to embrace / 'get' Korean culture?". 

The answer to both of these is always my jimjilbang story. 

Two years ago, I was in Seoul, it was my second trip to Korea except this time I was doing it alone - the first time I'd stayed with friends and had everything done for me. This time I was completely "혼자" or "alone!" 

A lot of people blog factually about jimjilbang. How it works exactly, the tradition of it, the history of it, its role in Korean culture and society but to be completely honest, when my friend first suggested going, I had no clue what she was on about. 

My Korean level was pretty appalling at that time..."Jimjilbang?" ...even the word sounded strange.

"It's like a swimming pool but not", she said "but you can sleep there too". 

"So, I should bring a swim suit?" I asked. 

"Yes, they have a swimming pool too...and bring whatever you need for a sleepover..except pyjamas...they give you those", she said. 

Utterly confused but somewhat desperately trying to embrace Korean culture as much as a culturally disorientated 17 year old could, I swallowed any essence of doubt and agreed to go. 

I mean it can't be that wear a swimming costume...right? 





We arrived in the dragon hill spa jimjilbang (it's a very big, fancy jimjilbang in Yongsan, Seoul) as a group of 4. Myself and three of my Korean friends - (2 of whom were ethnically Korean, raised overseas). 

So, we walked into the changing room and I was hit by the sight of nakedness. Everyone. All ages. All shapes and sizes. Naked. My rather prude "When-we-go-swimming-we-get-changed-in-cubicle" eyes didn't know wear to look and my brain didn't even know how to process. 

At this point, alarms bells should have started ringing. 

So we went to our lockers to get changed and I got straight into my swimsuit. I looked up to see my friends, utterly starkers, looking at me weirdly. 

"What?" Hurry up, I want to see what all the fuss is about!", I said. 

Awkward silence ensued. 

"Why are you wearing a bathing suit?" they asked me.

"What do you mean 'Why am I wearing a bathing suit?"?" I asked... "Surely the question is why aren't you wearing yours!" 

Then came the laughing. 

"No, Anna, in jimjilbang you don't wear a bathing suit. You only need that for one we actually go to the swimming pool because that section is mixed. This is the don't wear anything here" they said. 

I felt the colour drain from my face - which is pretty impressive because I'm rather pale already.


In front of other people? 


No. No. No. No. NO! 

My friends got pretty tired of my resistance pretty quickly and after about 5-10 minutes of me saying " clothes?!" they got rather frustrated and presented me with an ultimatum : get my swimsuit off and go or sit here on my own for the next 90 minutes or so and wait for them. 

The prospect of sitting all on my own in the changing room, surrounded by naked ajummas was almost worse than the prospect of getting my own kit off ... but 90 minutes? 

It had to be done. 

Swimsuit off. 

I looked up. 

No one was laughing. Or pointing. A few people were staring but I already mentioned I'm pretty pale so that was kind of to be expected. This wasn't half as bad as expected. 

We had been given a towel to use. I held it up expecting that at least I could hide until we got to the bath and I could do the really cool "cover-yourself-with-the-towel-until-the-last-second" thing.... 

However, what qualifies as a towel in Korea would probably not be considered much more than a flannel or a face towel anywhere else in the world. This was going to be fun. 

I spent a few minutes pondering what exactly I was meant to do with this towel. It wasn't really big enough to cover anything... it definitely couldn't cover "both areas". It was question of one or the other...but that would just look weird. 

Oh stuff it. I threw it over my shoulder. Adopted the fake confidence I keep reserved for moments like this and walked boldly across the changing room...not really knowing where I was going. 

We went downstairs to the bath area and it's custom that everyone has a shower before using the bath. While this can be done standing up, there's a large area where you can sit down so we went over there and had a shower. 

That's when she started to scrub my back. 

I spun round in horror. "What are you doing?" I asked my friend. I was already naked, the prospect of being scrubbed by someone else...well...! 

"I'm scrubbing your back! she said. 

"....Why?" I replied. 

"Because we're friends and you can't reach it. I'm just helping" she said. 

"But I'm naked!!" I spluttered. 

"Yes, I can see that" she replied coolly. 


"Oh... ok then" I said, turning round as she continued to scrub me. She finished and then looked at me .."My turn!" she said, grinning. 

I swallowed my 'I-am-English-we-don't-do-this' mindset and started scrubbing. 

After about 15 minutes of walking around in my birthday suit, I was utterly at home in the jimjilbang. 

Even the ajumma complimenting me on the size of my chest couldn't throw me off.

(I simply replied with "감사합니다~" (formal - thank you) much to the amusement of my friends, who found the whole situation utterly hilarious. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Vegetarian in Korea~

I've been a vegetarian for quite a while...nearly 5 years now. While I do have off days where miraculously, chicken ends up on my plate or I just happen to swallow the odd shrimp, on the whole, I'm a no-meat-no-fish person for 95% of the year. 

In this time, to the amazement of those around me, my waistline and I have survived and returned perfectly intact from four trips to Korea. 

Whenever I tell people either in Korea or Korean people outside of Korea that I have lived in Korea for months at a time as a vegetarian, their mouths practically hit the floor. 
"What do you eat?" they ask. "How do you live?" they cry.  

Actually, it's pretty easy. So, for any vegetarians on their way to Korea, here are my five favourite dishes - it's a helping hand to get you started! 

1. 비빔냉면 / 비빔국수  
(bi-bim-naeng-myeon / bi-bim-guk-su) 
Spicy Rating : 3.5-4 / 5 (depends on where you go!)

비빔냉면/국수 are my favourite summer dishes - served cold in a large bowl, the only difference between the two is the type of noodles used. The noodles are served in a spicy-chili based sauce (that can also taste a little sweet~!). It is normally served with julienned cucumber, half a hard-boiled egg and occasionally sliced Korean pear or strips of 금 (dried seaweed). Sometimes, it can be served with a piece of meat - ask the waiter to be sure (see language guide below!) 

2. 콩국수 
Spicy Rating : 0 / 5 

This dish is quite a bland one but is fantastic for really hot days when you don't have much of an appetite or if your stomach needs a little respite from all the strong Korean flavors. The soup is made from soybeans so this dish is also incredibly nutritious so don't forget to drink it all- it tastes best if you add a little salt! 

3. 비빔밥 
Spicy Rating : Up to you / 5 


The traditional food of Korea. If it's your first trip to Korea, you will probably find this dish frequently placed in front of you. A favourite with Koreans and foreigners alike, 비빔밥 offers something for everyone. It's completely flexible ingredient combination means there is something for everyone. The spiciness of this dish depends on how much 고추장 (go-chu-jang, spicy red chili paste) you choose to add. Don't forget to mix it really well - the more you mix it, the better it is! 

4. 된장찌개 
Spicy Rating : 3.5 / 5

된 장찌개 

This is one of my favourite warm-up-the-soul dishes! Served in a boiling hot stone bowl (don't touch it!), 된장찌개 offers a nutritious alternative to some of the meatier stews. Most vegetarian options use a seaweed / vegetable base for the broth before adding lots of vegetables, tofu and of course, 된장 (soy bean paste). This is sometimes made with a beef base (especially in cheaper restaurants) so if you are particular, be sure to ask.   

5. 김치전 / 파전 
(Kim-chi-jeon / pa-jeon) 
Spicy Rating : 3 / 5 

김치전 I know a lot of people don't classify this as a meal but more as 안주 (An-ju - snacks that accompany alcohol) but I love 전 (Korean pancake) so I had to include it here. It is pretty hard to find in restaurants as it is considered more of a snack but you can find it in nearly every bar. When I'm home, tired and about to curl up in front of my laptop to watch a Korean drama, this is my go-to food! 

So, some language tips... 

1. I'm vegetarian. 
Na-neun chae-shik-ju-i-ja-ae-yo. 
나는 채식주의자에요. 

2. I don't eat meat and fish. 
Na-neun ko-gi ha-go saeng-sun an mog-eo-yo. 
나는 고기하고 생선 안 먹어요. 

3. Is there meat? Is there fish? 
Ko-gi iss-eo-yo? saeng-sun iss-eo-yo? 
고기 있어요? 생선 있어요? 

4. I'm sorry but I can't eat it. 
chae-song-ha-ji-man na-neun ee-geo mok-do an dwae-yo. 
죄송하지만 나는 이거 먹도 안돼요. 

Any questions, let me know! 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

For the laughs....

I apologise for neglecting my blogs somewhat recently, I was only in Korea for a month so I really wanted to make the most of my time (e.g not stuck inside, sat in front of a computer!)

As a result of living more and blogging less, now I finally do have time to blog, I have quite a few funny stories to tell.^^

So, from all this "living" I have been doing, my Korean has become fairly good ~with my friends I speak mostly in Korean~ and consequently, my Chinese level has sadly dropped a bit....

I figured the smartest way to reinforce both languages simultaneously and to start linking the two ( to make swapping in and out of them easier ) would be a buy a chinese language learning book...that is written in Korean. Not only is it much cheaper than the English language books stocked in the bookshop, I feel like I'm killing two birds with one stone.

So, I popped down to Bandy and Luni's at Coex and got myself one!

Call me naive and a little foolish but I hadn't anticipated the reaction this would cause. In my head, I had only got as far as :

Using learn Chinese = better Korean and better Chinese.

In fact, what it resulted in was tube carriages full of very confused-looking Koreans. Hehe.

I would sit on the tube, studying my Korean-Chinese book and initially, I didn't quite notice it.

However, the staring quickly became very apparent. It wasn't the normal "oh, it's a foreigner...seen that before" kind of stare, it was the supremely more entertaining double take of " oh, it's a foreigner...who's reading a book in Korean...on how to learn Chinese...Huh?!".

It's safe to say, their expressions were much more interesting than my book...and I never got that much studying done.

I did, however, make quite a few new friends, Chinese people and Korean people. So the book was good for that at least ^^

(The best one was the old Chinese guy who started chatting to me in Chinese causing everyone to look. We talked a while when my phone rang. I answered in Korean...and when I looked up, everyone was listening in!)

Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Themed Pavilions~

(Apologies for the incredibly late entries! I have had a crazy week!) 

So after visiting the SKY tower, we decided that since it was already packed and there would be even more people coming on the Saturday, it would be best to get all the popular things done on the Friday. 

Flashing our press passes like pros, we walked into the LOTTE pavilion like we owned the place...I'm just joking! (but the press pass does have a secret-self confidence-inducing power!) 

This plus our high-vis press jackets gave us amazing queue-jumping powers

 The Lotte Pavilion itself was pretty nice and it had a nice welcome sign! ^-^ The pavilion opened with a rather peculiar performance (obviously child-orientated~) featuring 4 performers dressed up as...well, I'm not exactly sure what they were meant to be but a cross between cute insects and fairies...right. They sang, played some instruments and danced around interacting with the audience - I think this was to kill the time while the people ahead of us enjoyed the second part of the pavilion.  

The performers...I'm still not sure what their purpose was..?
 The main part of the pavilion involved riding in a huge air balloon...supposedly! We all entered this room that had been decorated to look like a hot air balloon (photography not allowed~ sorry guys!) In fact, it kind of was. We were surrounded by these enormous floor-to-ceiling screens that presented a mini-movie of us, in the hot air balloon, flying through different weather systems (even through the sea at one point!). With the floor moving, it felt very simulator-esque and I found my somewhat sceptical self laughing and swaying like the 5-year old next to me. What can I say? I'm young at heart! 

Next, it was on to the Hyundai Pavilion. I personally really liked the Hyundai Pavilion - it was well-presented, the staff were polite and aside from the people who glared at us with a mixture of understandable frustration/curiosity (who are they? why can they just skip the 90 minute queue?!),  everything was pretty awesome. 

It started with a little history lesson, taking us back to the beginning of the company's work in the automotive industry which was quite interesting. Suzy got really excited when she was able to find her first car among the display models~!  

While there's nothing particularly wrong, I love the English in's just cute~

I felt the Hyundai Pavilion was really well managed and overall, was very impressive. The main feature of the pavilion includes a wall made of blocks which protrude at different times to the beat of the backing track, to form specific words or do all sorts of things~ While it's very difficult to describe to someone who hasn't seen it, it's very exciting to watch and had the entire audience captivated from start to finish. 

Next, came the Daewoo Chosun Marine Robot Pavilion. I was really looking forwards to this one. I mean, who doesn't love robots? Anyone who has seen iRobot or any other somewhat-robot related films will secretly confess to wanting to get to know a robot or to have one (a nice one) as a friend. 

I have to say I left the Pavilion feeling rather unimpressed- especially compared to the professionalism of the other pavilions. Despite boasting one of the longest queue times in the entire Expo (aside from the aquarium), the pavilion was surprisingly lacking in any form of organisation. People ran in and crowded round very small platforms meaning many people couldn't even see and a lack of any kind of subtitles in any language for the majority of the performances rendered it incomprehensible to non-Korean speaking foreign visitors. 

Meeting one of the earlier robots - she's capable of holding a conversation and of movement. She blinks too. 

I, too, barely understood what was going on even though my Korean isn't bad. Somehow talking about robot technology was never a vocabulary topic in class...Obviously, we should be covering this, I'll take this up with the faculty when I'm back in London. 

I did, however, learn a new Korean word, which I heard frequently around the pavilion. 어굴하다. (o-gul-ha-da) which roughly translate to "to be not worth the time, not fair".....says it all really.  

Some things don't need subtitles - a robot football game. 
The main focus of the pavilion was actually looking at the extension of research into the use of robots to explore deep-sea territories. Robots can be used to lay power lines, gas pipes etc as well as the excavation of certain resources as well as the basic purpose of exploration. The photo below shows one of the robots used in under-sea building projects. He's huge! I don't even come up to his knee! 

After the somewhat-lacking robot pavilion, we moved onto the Samsung pavilion. Here, people also queued for at least an hour to see the performance. We, too, were made to wait albeit not half as long as most of the other guests...but we did have to stand in the wind and the rain! 
In the way I guess many of the queueing guests felt, I had high expectations when we were finally let in the pavilion. Unfortunately, my camera battery died just as we went in so I don't have any pictures to show you. 
The adjective that comes to mind is "nice". Nothing special, nothing particularly memorable..."nice". 

We entered the main section of the pavilion which is strangely reminiscent of a car park. A two and a half floored, concrete looking structure, overlooking an open area in the middle where 4 performers do a mix of ballet and acrobatics...I'm not sure with what purpose. A young girl comes in a dances around while a variety of images are projected onto the floor around her, she is joined by a man who seems to be dressed as the moon and two others...but I have no idea what they are meant to be..and together they dance around. 

I don't think anyone quite got it!

We all walked away thinking...and what does this have to do with the environment? 

Hyundai centred on it's history in the automotive industry, Daewoo Chosun looked to the future potential of using robots in deep sea exploration, I'm not quite sure what Lotte and Samsung were playing for...but it was fun! 

If you're going with kids, the Lotte pavilion is definitely most child friendly and will keep them well-entertained as will my favourite, the Hyundai pavilion.   ^-^ 

Just beware the queues! 

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Yeosu Expo 2012: Sky Tower

We quickly realised we weren't going to be very good at sticking to the schedule. A combination of hunger and poor weather left us heading straight for lunch on our arrival! So, after a hearty bowl of bibimbap, it was time to start exploring what the expo had to offer! 

First stop on the list of things-to-do was the SKY tower and we were on our way there when we came across a rather exciting looking procession but we didn't hang around too long! 

On the introduction on the Yeosu Expo website, there is a German legend that tells of a mermaid named 'Lorelei' who used to sit on a rock and bewitch passing sailors with her enchanting songs. Once a cement silo, the SKY tower observatory is now a heart shaped pipe organ which actually holds the Guinness World Record for being the world's loudest pipe organ! 

It was from here onwards that we began to realise how vital our press passes would be if we were going to see more than one or two exhibitions during our trips. Faced with queues varying in length from 1-3 hours depending on the exhibit, flashing our press pass gained us instant access. 

Thank goodness! 

  Aside from functioning as a pavilion, the observatory, which stands at 67m ( ~220 ft) high above the ground, offers superb views across the expo. At least I'm positive it would have done, if it hadn't been incredibly overcast as you can see from the photos.
Now, I've never been someone who is scared of heights but then again, who really loves heights? Faced with the prospect of a transparent floor panel, I think everyone's knees went a little week. The panel offers a view all the way to the ground...and a quick look shows you the panel isn't very thick either. I have no doubt it is made of some super-strong material but still, it's strange how we react to something like this, even when we know it's perfectly safe. 

Brave Anna disappeared and cowardly Anna made a somewhat shy appearance... 

Then, the rain really took a turn for the worse. It poured, the temperature dropped and I thanked myself for donning jeans over shorts! 

Interestingly, the tower also serves as a water filtration and desalination system. 

First, the water is passed through is passed through a sand filter to remove large particle impurities and algae, then it passes through an active carbon filter that absorbs any organic matter. The third step passes it under a UV lamp, sterilising it. The fourth stage is a UF block, the elimination of impurities at a micro-organism level before carrying out reverse osmosis and finally, the fifth stage which involves the removal of any ionic substances in the seawater. When this is all done, the water is remineralised to produce drinking water by adjusting the pH and adding certain minerals.

You can even try the water! 

After rehydrating ourselves with the desalinated seawater, it was time to move on to the participant' pavilions (Samsung, Lotte, Hyundai and Daewoo). 

Yeosu Expo 2012: The Arrival

So, as part of my work as a  global blogger for (part of KOCIS*), I was invited to attend the 2012 Expo in Yeosu. Having only arrived in Seoul a week ago and still finding my feet, I was a little nervous but really excited to not only go to the Expo but also to meet some of the other global bloggers. 

I will admit to not knowing about Yeosu before being offered the chance to go so I hit the books and did my research before I went! Here's a little information about Yeosu itself. 

Yeosu is located on the Southern coast of South Korea, as shown below, and is made up of 365 islands of which 49 are inhabited, the remaining 316 are uninhabited, preserved in their natural state. It remains a fairly small city with a population of nearly 300,000. The expo has had a dramatic effect on the area, including the creation of nearly 80,000 jobs and adding up to 5,7 trillion won in estimated value. 

The expo opened on the 12th of May this year and will remain open until the 12th of August. Home to 104 participating nations and 10 international organisations, the expo expects to receive more than 10,000,000 visitors in it's 93-day run. 

The expo develops the subject of "The Living Ocean and Coast", focusing on the pursuit of the preservation of the sea and marine resources through the coexistence of the ocean and humankind. 

So, with all this information in mind, I felt ready to pack my bags for the expo! 

The other bloggers and I met at Seoul Station on Friday morning at 8.20am. It was great to finally put some names to faces although since I was previously unacquainted with the craziness that is the Korean underground in rush hour, despite leaving plenty of time, I still found myself jogging to get to the meeting point on time! 

Upon arrival, I was introduced to the other bloggers (addresses below!) Suzy, Dorothea and Dita and also to our guide, Min-Kyoung. After the introductions, we proceeded to the platform to take the KTX  to Yeosu. Now, I've never actually taken the KTX before so it was a novelty for me! 

After departing at 8:55am, we arrived at Yeosu 3 hours later at 12am. We went straight to the Media Centre where we were issued with our high-vis "PRESS" jackets (which we refused to wear!) and press passes (which we did wear~). 

There was time for one quick shot with the official Yeosu logo before we were off to discover what the expo had to offer....  

(L-R) Suzy, Thea, Dita and I (Anna)

For the curious, a little information about the emblem of the expo. The emblem symbolizes the harmony of the earth, the ocean and the ecology. The red represents the organisms living in the sea and on land, the blue represents the clear and clean ocean, the green represents the environment all living things inhabit and the white wave in the middle symbolizes the water flowing, joining everything together. A key point of the expo was interdependence, we all depend on each other and caring for our environment must be a group effort. 

KOCIS: The Korean Culture and Information Service 

Monday, 4 June 2012

Call me.....Noona?

Firstly, I want to apologise for not writing in ages! I've had my end of year university exams, my 19th birthday and I've also just moved to Switzerland and I'll be leaving to go to Korea this Friday so I've been busy! 

Popping "K-pop" into google brings up various search items, among them is a definition in the Urban Dictionary (who doesn't love the Urban Dictionary!?) which defines "k-pop" as the following;

"An enjoyable music genre from South Korea in which crazy fangirls tend to claim guys as theirs and become suicidal when they learn their "Oppa" has a girlfriend he loves and does not care about said fangirl. " 

Crazy K-Pop fans! 
Now, while the above definition is a rather amusing generalization, it was the "fan-girl" comment that got me thinking. I won't lie to you. Continuing on the "defining" path, I would quite happily hold my hands up and define myself as a "K-pop fan". 

Before I get stuck into this blog post, I would like to clarify myself as a fan of the music rather than the idols themselves. I admire them for the effort and practice they put in to produce the music I spend hours of my life listening to but after this, I draw the line. I am not a "fan-girl". I have no interest in stalking the idols nor knowing their lives inside-out. If I meet them, it's cool. If not, I'm equally not bothered. 

However, I know for a fact that I am probably part of the minority. There are huge numbers of "fan-girls" who devotedly follow the lives of their idols and the number of times I've seen Korean song MVs on Youtube and scrolled down to the comments to see pages and pages of "OMG I LOVE -------! HE'S TOTALLY MINE~~OPPA!! I LOVE YOU!!!!", which is....fine, a little scary, but fine. 

I was chatting to some older female friends of mine a while back and we were talking about K-pop, boy bands, favourite members etc...and some of my friends, to my surprise, became quite vocal and possessive of the members they liked. 

I walked away wondering "When does it no longer become acceptable to 'fan' over K-pop group members?". 

It's common knowledge that older male fans make up a large segment of the audience of female groups, take SISTAR, for example, who are famed for their army of Ajusshi fans! A trip to Inkigayo while SNSD had their comeback with "Genie!" was terrifying and intriguing    at the same time as I stood in the face of an army of males SONES of different ages, united by their one love: SNSD.

But what about the girls? Do the same rules apply? Or is K-pop a different ball game altogether? 

Out of curiosity, I decided to make a list of some of the boy bands on my Itunes and find out exactly how old they were! The somewhat shocking results are shown below. I was born on 25/05/1993 and I celebrated my 19th birthday last week, leaving me older than a rather large portion of the currently promoting idols! 

(Artist Name - (No.Younger than me/No. of Members))

Teen Top - (5/6) 

Shinee - (1/5) 
U-Kiss - (1/7) 
B.A.P (4/6)  
B1A4 (1/5)
Boyfriend (5/6) 
Exo-K  (2/6)
Infinite (1/7)
Led Apple (2/6)
Nu'Est (4/5)

With these bands all ranking in my 'Top 25 Most Played', I was pretty surprised. Suddenly, I'm finding it a little difficult to take some of their songs seriously. When Boyfriend promises to protect me in 'I'll Be There", I sigh a little and think, with 5 of you being substantially younger than me, shouldn't it be the other way around?
 I look at Zelo of B.A.P who, at 15 years old is younger than my younger sister, and think "Sweetie, you're no warrior" ...
B.A.P's Zelo - It's nothing personal.....
 the 'tough guy/oppa' image that all the entertainment companies have been carefully cultivating slowly crumbles. 

There is obviously the other slightly  controversial aspect that at 15,16,17 years old...most of these guys are sitting quite nicely under legal when I hear my friends in their late-20s claiming ownership (even in jest) of these younger guys...I do feel a tad awkward! 

I guess it's just different as in the Western music industry, there is generally more focus on the music than idolising the artist - not to say there aren't people who pry into their lives but just not in the same way. 

Is it just me? Is this just a Korean thing that I should look past and see as perfectly acceptable? 

Should I just willingly accept my .... 'Noona-fan status'???

Well, until I have completed internally debating this issue, I will be returning to the likes of F.Cuz, Super Junior, Block B, B2ST,  Dalmation,Exo-M and U-Kiss (minus Dongho); all of whom are older than me, all of whom retain 'Oppa' status!   

My personal bias: U-Kiss. All of whom remain my 'Oppas'....except Dongho. Sorry Dongho. 

Wonderful stuff!