Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Inside a Korean Gym...

One of the many things I wanted to do whilst living in Korea was to get in shape and become more healthy. From what I’ve seen so far, I can say that its a lot easier to be healthy here, compared to the UK anyway. The food is pretty damn good, and I’m probably having about 10 of my 5 fruit and vegetables a day, so I’m well exceeding the recommended. However, I also need to do the dreaded EXERCISE...so therefore I have joined a gym! Gyms are literally everywhere in Korea, and when I say everywhere...I mean, EVERYWHERE!! There is one in the block next to my apartment, and also about 5 across the road. The closest one to me is in the same building as my school, so I thought this would be my best bet. Any further away, and I’d more than likely give it up after the first week. Its sad but really quite true - I’m not going to lie.

So off I went, up to the 6th floor just to enquire. The staff were all super friendly and it was really quite cheap at only 60,000 won (about £30) so I ended up joining there and then. There wasn't any joining fees or surprise costs, and the process (even though the language barrier was tricky) was actually quite easy in the end. This is for an entire month, and an added bonus is that you pay month by month aswell. Which means (unlike the UK) I don’t have to sign up for a 6 month or even a year contract, so if I stop going (quite possible) then there’s no real loss. But of course, I will attempt to go at least 3 times a week. Fingers crossed I stick to that. 

My new best friend...The Treadmill!

The gym itself is pretty big and the best feature, I think, is that it over looks the closest Mountain; Mount Morak. This means that as I am running on the treadmill it literally feels like I'm... as Kate Bush - Queen of the nighty once sang... ‘Running up that Hill’! Lovely! There are some other added features that you will not find in the UK too, which I think are genius. One of which is that you are supplied with a permanent locker, therefore there is no excuse to ‘’forget’’ your trainers as they’re already there. 

The view from my gym!

Another plus (and probably the second best one) is that they also supply you with t-shirts, shorts and towels, at no extra cost. There is nothing worse than having to wash your gym clothes 3 times a week or more depending on how often you go, and this cuts that right out. So when you enter the gym, you simply grab a T-shirt and a towel, and at the end of your workout, you just pop it in their washing basket! Simples! Of course this isn’t mandatory though, and you can also wear your own stuff if you prefer, but it does save a lot of money on gym clothes, and a hell of a lot of time on washing. Also it makes you feel like you’re part of a little community...as everyone basically looks the same - or is that just me?! Awks!

The machines are pretty good and most of them are in English, which makes it a lot easier to figure out. However, the bike for example, is totally in Korean so I have no idea what settings or level I’m actually using which is a bit of a pain. The only machine that they don’t have and I don’t think many Gyms in Korea have, is The Rowing Machine. I think some of the more expensive gyms have them but certainly not mine. This is slightly annoying as I do love a good row, but what’s lost in rowing machines, is totally made up for in other strange equipment, like this one for example...

 Yes, that’s a horse riding machine! WIN!

A sort of back massager that vibrates vigorously!

I also have a Sauna in my gym, which is great for those times after your workout when you just want to chill out in the heat. Alternatively in the summer...you could just go outside. As I mentioned early, the people at the gym are all really nice and really helpful. The second they see me struggling, they come right over and help me out which is just lovely. Every machine also has its own personal TV with around 50 different channels, of which 2 are in English. Swings and Roundabouts I suppose. The only problem is that on most of the machines, I can’t find anywhere to put my water bottle or phone, so its pretty much a balancing act.

Like most places in Korea you have to take your shoes off to enter the establishment. You then walk all of 5 meters to the changing rooms, where you pop on your trainers. God forbid anyone would wear there gym shoes outside - you’d probably be arrested. They also have MASSIVE Shoe Horns everywhere here, which I think is just fabulous. Opening times are 6am - Midnight most days, and they have everything else you’d expect to find such as showers, hair dryers, water fountains and mirrors EVERYWHERE. So, the verdict is...it’s a lovely little gym with a great view, and I think its the start of a beautiful friendship. Watch this space...

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Weekend trip to Daegu!

As soon as I alight from the train, I’m faced with what seems like 5 million people all pushing and shoving each other in an attempt to race to the exit like their life depended on it. Another custom you have to get use to here. People are very pushy, and i’m not talking about 'accidentally' being pushy...they are totally aware of it, and often do it quite forcefully. So you know what they say, when in Korea...push through like a local! I finally see my best buddy Samuel and together we ride the subway to Banwoldang Station on Line 1. Up until recently there were only 2 lines on the Daegu Subway system, but now they have added a third which I'm sure will make getting around even more easier.

Banwoldang station is the stop for the Downtown area of Daegu. Here there are literally hundreds of bars, restaurants and shops selling absolutely anything from kittens to bags of vodka! YUM! We checked out a couple of bars, met some lovely people and finally got home at around 5 in the morning. A couple of drinks here is NEVER a couple of drinks. The next day we woke up and set off in search of a mini adventure. After a scrumptious ‘western style’ breakfast at a lovely place called ‘The Lazy Diner’, we walked around the narrow streets and found lots of little thrift shops, selling second hand items such as jumpers, hats and this delightful number...

 Ulrika Jonsson eat your heart out!
We then came across a stage that had some Korean dance groups performing some kind of K Pop routine. The dance groups over here are hilarious to watch, and also slightly awkward. They're basically teenages, promiscuously dancing around the stage, whilst lip syncing to a number of different hit singles. Imagine Ru Paul’s Drag race...but for kids. What the WHAT?! True story. That afternoon we decided to check out the ‘Daegu Yangnyeongsi Museum of Oriental Medicine’ to get some tips on staying healthy. There are lots of different activities you could do here, such as taking your blood pressure, weighing and measuring yourself and also reading up on the best natural foods to eat when feeling under the weather. And then, this happened....

There are no words!

Yes, you can even dress up in traditional Korean costume. Possibly the best and worst picture that has ever been taken in the history of taking pictures. Hilarious. This style of costume is meant to look frumpy (honest) and is sometimes worn at wedding ceremonies. I imagine that this particular wedding would have been arranged (hence the expression on our faces). After laughing at this for what seemed like YEARS, we did a bit of shopping, chilled out on a roof top bar over looking Daegu, and enjoyed a couple of hundred cats...literally there are cats EVERYWHERE. That evening we went to a restaurant called International City in Downtown Daegu and had some Russian food that I would highly recommend. It was delicious. We then had some drinks and banter at several different bars in the area. Namely, Gogo’s, Thursday Party 1 (and 2) and Urban Lounge Bar. If you’re in the area and looking to meet expats then these are the best places to go.

After some sleep, lunch and general banter, I headed back home to Seoul on the KTX. A short weekend away that went far too quickly. So to sum it up, Daegu is a really lovely city to visit, and also (I imagine) to live in. Its a great place to meet people, as pretty much everything is in the same area which makes it easier to socialise.
Its also jam-packed with fantastic things to do whatever the weather, so make sure to visit if you're ever in Korea. Honestly, you won’t regret it. So with that, and after an awesome weekend filled with laughs, bags of everything and playing traditional Korean dress up, I can say that I will definitely be back again soon.

Thank you Daegu.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Korean trains...like airplanes but on the ground!

Sitting on the KTX train from Seoul to Daegu at half 8 on a Friday evening, whilst listening to Jennifer Lopez’s classic hit single ‘Ain’t it Funny’, I suddenly think to myself - well, ain’t it funny! Wise words Jennifer, wise words indeed! I remember it was just a short 10 months ago that I decided to make this move over to Korea, and now here I am, travelling across the Korean countryside, enjoying the view and the use of the trains free Wifi, and its just brilliant!

KTX High Speed Train

I’ve been here for approximately 2 months now and I have certainly had my ups and downs, but as I sit here, on this high speed train, surrounded by Samsung phone noises, people with no spacial awareness, and Koreans eating absolutely anything that smells even remotely like dog, it hits me: I’ve made it. I’m in Korea! Moving to a different country is certainly not the easiest thing to do. There is literally hundreds of pieces of paper to be filled out, signed, sealed and delivered, and most of it is in a different language, so it’s good to know that its all done now and I can just sit back and (much like this train journey) enjoy the ride.

I started my journey at Seoul Station and let me tell you, it was a minefield. So if you’re planning a trip from this station in particular then leave plenty of time. It took me about 2 hours just to walk from the Subway to the main station. Londoners - imagine the connection at Charing Cross and times that by 10. Craziness. Obviously I'm exaggerating slightly, it was probably only about a 15 minute walk, but still, long enough to watch 3 episodes of the popular 1980’s TV show ‘Acorn Antiques’ (click here to watch the first episode - you won’t regret it)

 Seoul Station! Looks better in black and white, trust me!

Although the station was huge, everyone was really helpful and getting my tickets was extremely easy. I had previously booked them online at letskorail.com so when I arrived I just presented my passport and eticket and that was that. Simple. I found the platform with ease as the giant screens flashed up the information in both Korean and English, and then I eventually boarded my train. Easy.

I’m on my way down to Daegu, or Dongdaegu (to be precise) to see my best friend from the UK. He moved here over a year ago and seeing his own journey was one of the things that made me seriously consider doing it myself, so I couldn’t wait to see his FACE. The train I was on, reached speeds of up to 300km which is about 150mph for anyone who wasn’t sure on the conversion. Lets just say it was pretty fast, but the funny thing is, I could barely feel it move. The trains over here are like airplanes. There’s a TV above your head, those tiny slots on the arm rests for your headphones, free magazines, and also vending machines on the end of every carriage carrying treats such as Cocacola, and Coffee in a can. It’s wonderful, well not the coffee in a can, that just tastes bizarre. 

 Standard train vending machine...so many options!

Free Magazine! WIN!

This will be my first time out of Seoul....well on my own and not with an organised trip anyway, so as you can imagine, I am quite excited. That’s the thing with living in Korea, everything is always so new, even getting a train is a joyful and quite thrilling experience. The journey takes around 2 hours, which is almost the length of the entire country. South Korea is really quite a small place. Daegu is down in the South end about an hour away from Busan, whereas Seoul is in the north. The distance from Seoul to Busan is around 200 miles, so yeah, its not massive.

On the whole my first experience of using the KTX trains in Korea was great, the only thing I would say is that it was DAMN HOT. The temperature outside at the moment is around 15/20 degrees, but for some reason they still insist on having the heating up full blast which is just horrific. Other than that though, it was delightful and I’ll definitely be taking this form of transportation again soon. So let my mini adventure in Daegu began. Lets see what this weekend brings.... 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Loosing my mind in Korea...

So it’s been a difficult couple of weeks, I’m not going to lie. The weather has been a bit rubbish, and I have had so many ordeals with my phone that I have started to wish for my stable and reliable Blackberry back. Good smart phones are totally overrated. True story! What happened? I hear you ask in wonder. Well, let me tell you...

It all started on Saturday night when I was out galavanting with some friends in Itaewon, Seoul. I had 1 or 2 drinks followed by a couple of Hand Grenade shots...and this is where it went dramatically downhill. A Hand Grenade shot is basically a glass half filled with Hot 6 (red bull), with two shot glasses squeezed into the top of the glass. One has tequila, and one has Jager. You pull out the Tequila and slam it down, whilst the Jagar drops into the pint glass. You then slam that down too, creating a sort of hand grenade effect. Its nice but totally lethal! WARNING: The alcohol in Korea is much stronger I swear, so Drink Responsibly folks.

See what I mean?! Lethal!

After this, I realised that I was without my telephonic communication device (mobile phone) and also my purse, as the two are very much stuck together in one of the those totally ridiculous wallets, that are possibly the worst invention EVER. Never again will I keep the two things together. First of all, I did what any normal person would do and looked in my bag, coat, general floor area and outside on the street. Standard. It was nowhere to be found. Next, I went to the bar to see if anyone had handed it in. The bar man looked at me with an expression that was quite hard to read. He asked for my name and when I answered, he leaned in and look at my facial features in more detail. ‘Ah yes Sarah, we have your phone’. They also had my ARC (identity card), my bank card and some cash. After seeing the state it was in he then told me that someone had found it...down the toilet!!! Whaaaat?!! How the hell did that happen?! The funny thing about this story (I have to laugh) is that I didn’t even notice that it had fallen in the toilet in the first place. Back pockets: another terrible idea!

Seriously though, only in Korea would someone not only hand in all of my possessions, but also fish it out of the loo for me. Amazing. If I knew who this person was, I would give them a huge high 5 and maybe some coins. People don’t really steal in Korea, everything you hear is true. I’m sure there are still occasions where theft is an issue, but on the whole its pretty rare here. Anyway, so my phone was quite messed up to say the least, and 24 hours later after sitting in rice for said time, the story hadn’t changed much. I decided to take it into school the next day where my director told me that it was no problem and took the phone to the repair centre straight away. Literally the next morning it was fixed. Koreans are certainly quick and efficient. So although it cost me a pretty penny, at the end of the day, it was all okay. 

This is how much I didn't loose! Phew!

I feel so strange out here at the moment, and I have never ever experienced such a sense of loss before. I’m not talking about breaking my phone or loosing my wallet (which happened in the first week) but I mean in sense of.... loosing my mind!! Back home in the UK, I am quite an organised person and I hardly ever lose or break anything, and now suddenly I have come to Korea and my mind is totally elsewhere. There are so many different things going on all around me, and so much that I am trying to get use to, that it is difficult to keep my mind on everything at once, or in fact anything for that matter. Just the other day I nearly left my entire shopping in the Supermarket. Its crazy. Hopefully that is it for me now though, as it is slightly difficult to sort these kind of things out when noone really speaks English! 

Thankfully, I do have a lot of great people around me that have been absolutely fantastic in helping me with these issues. That's the one thing you'll notice if you move to Korea - the people here are just so kind. But still, you really do have to focus and believe it or not - it's harder than it seems. Genuinely, in Korea....I think i’d loose my head if it wasn’t screwed on. Awkward.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

5000 Strawberries, a Bridge in the Clouds and a heck of a lot of RAIN!

Its funny over here in Korea. At the weekend you feel like you’re on your holidays and suddenly become an absolute tourist, and then come Monday, you realise that you still have to wake up and go to work 9 to 5. Therefore the weekends are spent chocker block full of random activities and outings. This weekend I went to a Strawberry Festival in Nonsan - thats right, an entire festival dedicated to Strawberries! Madness! We arrived in Gangnam at about 6.30am. Ready and raring to go we ate a healthy Mcdonald’s breakfast, boarded the wrong coach and then finally waited for the tour guide to retrieve his phone, before eventually setting off (in the right direction) at around 7.30am. It took about 2 hours to get to our first destination, which was...Strawberry picking!

The most colourful strawberry EVER!

As you walk around you can eat as much as you like, but genuinely by the 8th strawberry, I was absolutely stuffed so gave up. Luckily I managed to take some away with me too. Score. Next it was on to the actual Strawberry Festival. There were (on average) about 5 million different stands selling everything from Strawberry Jam to Strawberry flavoured alcohol, and they even had actual strawberries too! YUM! There was a massive stage where several different children’s dance groups performed. One group in particular dressed in head to toe as, yep you’ve guessed it... STRAWBERRIES! There was also a strawberry exhibition/art gallery and some outdoor statues that resembled Aslan from Narnia, Rex from Toy Story, and 2 Kangeroos from, well just from Australia really. So yeah, it was basically like going to Universal Studios...I imagine.

Strawberry Festival!
Even more Strawberries!

After wandering around, having some lunch and taking 5000 photos of strawberries we got back on the coach and set off to the next destination: Daedun Mountain Cloud Bridge. By this point it had began to absolutely tip it down with rain. Great. On the way up to the cloud bridge, the coach speeded around the bends like there was literally no tomorrow. The sheer drop below and the added torrential rain would make anyone fear for their LIFE! Thankfully to my surprise...we all survived! Phew!

When we arrived at the location, we took the cable car up to the top of the mountain and then climbed another 10 flights of stairs to the very top. Seriously, these were some of the steepest and scariest stairs I have ever climbed. You could see through them, it was incredibly slippery and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite like I wanted to close my eyes and chant ‘There’s no place like home’ in repetition (hoping for the best) so much before. I am definitely not one for heights, so this was genuinely terrifying! Finally we reached the bridge. Absolutely soaked, we walked across it trying not to look down at the drop below. So, what was it like?! It was AMAZING! The view was incredible and although the weather didn’t hold out, this did not dampen our spirits. I can only imagine what it looks like on a clear day though; beautiful. 

The Cloud Bridge

Actual Staircase!

So all in all it was totally worth the trip. If you’re thinking about doing it, check out 'Wink Korea' meet up group. We went with them and they were okay. No real dramas despite almost leaving someone behind (which was slightly awkward). They also didn’t do a 'head count’ which I thought was a bit worrying. But I was told by people that had been on trips with them before, that this was very unusual and they are normally a lot more organised, so I will probably try them again...and this time I WILL bring a rain coat!

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