Aus Chap #4 – Winter Wanderings

Straya-Header_4.jpg#4 /  Winter Wanderings: Melbourne, puppies & conventions /
April – July 2019

Relief! The heatwaves and harsh sun finally moved on up to taunt the Northern Hemisphere for a while. Yay for winter!
A few things I got up to over the past four months are: I finally got to experience Melbourne, my parents came to visit the country of kangaroos and killer spiders and… we got a puppy!

First off though…

Campbelltown Challenge Walk, Sun 10/05:
A bit of exercise on the weekend, especially when it’s in your area – for once – is definitely a challenge you should give a go. The course was two laps in and around the Australian Botanical Gardens, but turned out though that we had to complete the 11km course in under 2 hours to qualify for a medal. The catch? Running is forbidden. So it was basically 11km of uncomfortably fast-paced walking for 2 hours flat. We got the medal… just. But next year we’ll definitely be opting for the 6km route rather, unless they decide to let us run.2
Art show adventures:
Oh, there are some really great art fairs happening? Want to go, but they’re mid-week? No problem when you’re a freelancer! It’s called research and inspirational trips, ok. Jokes aside, these two events (below) were fantastic. I particularly left The Other Art Fair feeling really inspired and impressed by the selection of art on show and the artists were all super friendly and keen to chat. 1

Grow With Google – Western Sydney, Fri 15/05:
Another weekday adventure to be inspired by and to learn stuff from! The #growwithgoogle seminars were focused on analytics and search engine marketing (SEM). It was even fully catered for and we were given a personalised lanyard and branded notebook and pen to keep notes with. Oh, and a giant Google sculpture thing to take selfies with.

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The parents come to Sydney, 11/04 – 17/04:
When you live on the other side of the world it definitely becomes a whole other level of difficult to just visit, and particularly be visited by your parents. However, mine were able to make their Sydney debut in April.
I don’t think they were entirely prepared for the amount of walking to be endured when I said, “Bring comfy walking shoes.” Add jet lag into the equation and it’s next level. 4-ParentsOur first big outdoor adventure was a day trip to the Blue Mountains, where we marvelled at the views and rode on all the cable car rides at Scenic World. Next, when in Sydney, you obviously need to do the whole “pose-in-front-of-the-Opera House, explore Circular Quay/The Rocks, walk the Harbour Bridge and catch the ferry back” package. Note: when in doubt, always wear takkies/ sneakers to do so!

Sydney checklist:
– Opera House / the Harbour – ✓.
– Mountains / the great outdoors – ✓.
– Coastal experience? Another must when in Aus! So we did the Grand Pacific Drive, through the forests and along the coast, stopping off to watch the paragliders at Bald Hill. We ended with a little picnic at one of the many beaches after walking along the winding Sea Cliff Bridge.
There was also some retail therapy and relaxing involved, so a pretty good itinerary for just 6 days before they headed off to Perth.

Easter in Bendigo + Melbourne adventure, 19/04 – 26/04:
Melbourne has always been on top of my Australian bucket list and we were able to cross it off over the long Easter break this year. First though, we spent a few days in Bendigo with friends for the Easter weekend where we got to climb Hanging Rock and eat way too many Easter eggs and Lindt bunnies. I also got to see kangaroos in the ‘wild’ for the first time. They seem to roam freely on private properties there, before I’d only seen kangaroos in the zoo or dead on the open roads – delightful. 4-Melbourne

In Melbourne, we stayed in the city centre, right in the action and coincidentally also in the Asian restaurant area. Even better for us was that this included Korean spots too! I highly recommend Buza Chicken for serious real deal chimaek (deep fried chicken – the best and worst life choice!), Cass beer (and/or soju if you’re feeling festive) with the complimentary (and oh-so-missed) sides of kimchi, coleslaw and pickled radish. Obviously eaten with chopsticks and with the trusty service bell button on the table.

4-Melbourne2.jpgThroughout our stay, we also found alleyways with cafes, bars and restaurants tucked away, a roof top bar, a basement bar and best of all, a pinball bar. The architecture is really beautiful (as with Sydney’s CBD) but with more magic and vibe, also thanks to the novelty of trams everywhere, a new experience for me.

So basically I can sum up our Melbourne experience as “food, beer and buildings”.  It did not disappoint, we shall be back!

New addition to the family, Sat 27/04:
We’d been on the search for the perfect pup for a few months but were holding off until after Easter for when things would settle down. We definitely didn’t expect to find said pup on the way back from Melbourne. We’d developed a bit of a French Bulldog obsession, and living in an apartment we needed a breed that is small and lower energy but with huge character. 5-PippaSo when we saw this little thing online: a Frenchie, female and fawn coloured, we were sure it’d be sold already, but nope! We booked to meet/buy her the next day, and just like that we were three. The cutest ball of brown fluff, pooping and peeing everywhere. Her name? Pippa – named after the parodical character of Pippa Middleton in The Windsors, kind of…

1st race in Australia, Sun 02/06:
It’s a long trek to go all the way to the city on a cold Sunday morning to make yourself run for over an hour. But I did it, my first race in Sydney, and Australia! The course was lovely though, starting in the Royal Botanical Gardens, along the water’s edge with a great view of the Opera House at a few points. It does make it a bit harder when you have to do two laps because then you know what you’re in for on round two… 7-10km

The queen gave us a day off to drink beer, 08/06:
No work on the queen’s birthday? Not something you get in South Africa, but no one ever says no to a long weekend, or beer! 6-queens-bday

CHAPTER #5 to follow some time in the future, soonish.
Follow me on Instagram 
@shmaymee in the meanwhile!

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Aus Chap #3 – Summer, Bloody Summer

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#3 /  Summer, Bloody Summer /
Dec 2018 – March 2019

If there was one thing I knew about Australia before coming over, besides the killer crawlies, was that Aus is HOT. Like the sun hates you with every little sun ray of its big burning mass of energy, kinda hot.

I first arrived at the end of summer/early autumn last year and experienced an unexpected and delightfully chilly/pretty cold winter here in Sydney, so at least I can clarify that there are distinct seasons on this side of the continent and world. Phew. Yet, the looming summer made me worry. As a pale indoor-dweller who burns without at least 50+SPF on at all times, the Australian sun is a scary thought and I felt an impending doom as each month ticked closer to Dec, Jan and Feb. The peak.

It’s now March, so I can report that I made it. Thanks only to the aircon and avoiding the bone-burning sun as much as possible. Many days were around 36-38°C, a couple of times 40°+, with a daily UV index of 11 and Sydney is apparently cooler than the other main cities. Hells bells. 
On 16 January, New South Wales (Sydney’s state) “broke 14 heat records and eight January records. Conditions are so hot in the state that asphalt roads are starting to melt.” – CNN. And fish baked alive in rivers. Amy did not, because Amy stayed beneath the aircon.

But rewind to Christmas 2018:

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On a lighter note, I got to go home for Christmas! Only a short 2 week visit, but a quality one. Landing the day before Christmas eve meant having festive jet lag, but the effects are worse coming to Aus than going back to SA (gaining time), so it wasn’t too bad. Christmas was spent in the Karoo on my uncle’s beautiful farm with the family, surrounded by mountains, sheep, and chickens that roost on the stoep at night.

Flight home… on PREMIUM ECONOMY!
This was the first time flying anything other than economy class, it’s a really comfortable upgrade for sure! You get to board early, get waitered on, by name, have cotton napkins lain across your lap at meal times, greeted with champagne and most importantly… more leg and seat room! You also get proper cutlery and crockery and fancier headphones. But the extra space is definitely the biggest win because you don’t get to your destination any quicker, so it’s nice to be more comfortable at least. 
Premium-Economy.jpgMoving into apartment life:
Before Christmas away in South Africa, well more specifically the day we flew out, we moved into our new apartment. The movers brought in our hoards of stuff the morning of our 22hr trip to the homeland. Stressful much? At least we weren’t doing all the heavy lifting in the heat. We were left with boxes upon boxes and furniture stacked against walls with a looming flight to catch.

So when we arrived back in Sydney in early January we had LOTS to do (and sans aircon at the time too). Three months on and we still have a few abandoned boxes patiently waiting to be sorted… 

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^  I designed a logo for our apartment for the fun of it (details have been changed, sorry stalkers).

My birthday:
When your bday’s on a weekday, your boyfriend’s at work and your friends are in another country, you get to take yourself on a solo adventure! So into the city I went and just walked. I had a few art exhibitions to find and decided to take the scenic on-foot routes and found new malls along the way, magical book stores (Kinokuniya, wow!), buildings covered in plants and all the “Asian towns” one after the other.
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While ambling around Chippendale I found
Spice Alley and… ramen! at a little joint called Kyo-to. Done deal! Last year I was eating ramen in Tokyo on my bday, this year in Sydney. Not bad.

Australia Day, 26/01:
As a mid-January baby there has never been anything to look forward to other than my birthday that month, and definitely not school or going back to work… and being broke. However, I seem to have struck gold in Aus as there is an actual public holiday just 3 days shy of my bday! Australia Day, the day of barbies and beer is much like South Africa’s Heritage Day (of braais and boerewors), where the nation as a whole is celebrated and the national flag is even more ubiquitous than usual. Yes, many beers were had.
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Grand Pacific Drive:
To the south of Sydney city along the coast, lies the expansive
Royal National Park, the 3rd oldest in the world! The best part is that you can road trip through the park. Starting at the top or bottom for about 140km all the way down through little coastal towns like Kiama, Wollongong and Shellharbour while taking in the amazing natural Aussie views. Along the way, just outside of Scarborough is the Sea Cliff Bridge, a winding magnificent bridge snaking above the water and is often featured in TV commercials, apparently.  Grand-Pacific3

While winding further along the roads through the rather tropical forests of the national park, we took the opportunity to do one of the many hiking routes on offer. One of the shorter loop routes was “The Forest Path”, which sounded good as we would arrive back at the car by the end of the 5km.

The 1st km was great, walking along a road broad enough for cars, but then our route branched off into “the forest”. We were now on a narrow foot path between trees and low-hanging leaves in a rainforest… alone… in Aus-tra-liaaaa. If you were looking for spiders and snakes, this would probably be a good bet. Half way into the unknown, while spooking at any rustle or movement of leaves, we just wanted to get OUT! To be fair, it was beautiful and peaceful, but we were definitely too close to nature for our comfort.

Filled with relief, we finally made it back to the safety of the car. While driving away, however, I found a slimy, squirming leech on my leg. I totally freaked out. I don’t want to relive that experience so let’s move along. We got rid of it though. Probably our last forest adventure…

North Sydney:
I hadn’t been to the
North before, so when a varsity friend from SA was in town it was a good excuse to explore “the other side of the bridge”. This included walking over the 1,1km long Sydney Harbour Bridge to get there. You take an amble on the footpath next to the buzzing traffic while overlooking the Sydney Harbour with aerial views of the Opera House, giant docked cruise ships and the city’s skyline. A definite tourist must do, and it’s completely free. You can then catch a ferry back across the harbour for a different experience.luna.jpg

RHCP:
Another first for me… going to a big concert! And the Red Hot Chili Peppers at that too! Although, the Chili Peppers were rather tiny from where we were seated so we will probably have to consider booking the standing arena next time. RHCPTheir performance and energy was fantastic! The hour and a half commute home at 11pm on a Wednesday night, not so much.
But heyyy….oooh!


CHAPTER #4 to follow some time in the future, soonish.
Follow me on Instagram
@shmaymee in the meanwhile!

Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 11

Part-11-Header.jpgWith a visa in my passport, some yen in my purse, a small carry-on bag as my luggage and a birthday to be had, I set off on my first Japanese adventure!1_noted
Ok, so my trip was solely to Tokyo and only 5 nights long with the first 2 days being a solo adventure to begin with. But yay! Tokyo in winter! (which was surprisingly warmer than Busan).

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Getting from the airport to your accommodation is usually the biggest stress, but I made it, having pre-booked everything though (plan-a-lot-Amy). But then there’s still that moment (or many) when you come out of the subway and slowly do a 360 on the spot trying to orientate yourself in a foreign place while your internal GPS keeps saying “Connection lost. Connection lost. Turn back now.” But then you pull out your phone and things make sense. I don’t know how old-school travelers used to manage before Google Maps. 
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My hostel’s location was great, overlooking the beautiful Ueno Park which includes dams with ducks and also the zoo, and made for an easy landmark for getting back to it. The downside to the hostel was the strict policy for silence within the dorms which seemed to carry up to the common room and kitchen which was filled with people and awkward silence. No chill.  

DAY 1 – 21/01: Akihabara Anime District
I guess the advantage of not really knowing too much about a city is being able to be so much more surprised by what you aren’t expecting. I don’t know much about Anime or that Akihabara is like the homeland of it, but I went to explore with an open mind. I first got “lost” in the 9-floors-of-everything electronics store of Yodobashi which proved to be a sensory overload with so much stuff everywhere! I did stumble upon the Wacom tablet section and found a stationery level. I spent a good 6 hours in the area exploring the comic book stores, vintage console shops and the many arcade/ SEGA buildings (I had a go on Mario Karts too), found an artisanal market and tried my first bowl of ramen in Japan – food heaven!4_Akihabara

DAY 2 – 22/01: Asakusa and snow
I explored what I’ve decided is one of my favourite areas, Asakusa, an area with what felt like mazes of traditional-feeling street shopping with interesting curios and food. There is also the beautiful Sensoji Temple when you make it out of the maze. I even saw some (very cold looking) people dressed in kimono.5_AsakusaI also got to experience Tokyo in sleet and then snow. It’s the most snow I’ve been in before, including walking about 10km over the course of the day in pretty miserable constant windy snow-stormy weather. Despite this unpleasant weather I pushed on and made it to the Ginza area and through more angry weather, later made it to Tsukiji Fish Market (although mostly closed as it’s primarily a morning market and it was well after noon already for me). But I made it, and by the time I finally got back to the hostel all cold and wet, the city was falling deeper into a stormy night white landscape.

DAY 3 – 23/01: Biiiiirthday
I’m officially in my late 20s now! But what a way to turn a year older – welcoming in the new day by sipping on sake with a friend who had just joined me, and then waking up to a magical sunny and glistening Japanese winter wonderland outside. The difference in weather from the day before was amazing!
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Besides the rather treacherously icy walkways, it was the perfect setting to visit the white Sinjuku Gyeon National Garden to eat birthday cake while attempting to walk through snowy slosh. I also got to see Tokyo’s snow covered rooftops and parks from the 42nd floor of the Metro Government Building. Our busy day also included visiting the Meiji Shrine, finally going to Harajuku (much anticipated!) and sipping on birthday cocktails in this iconic quirky “kawaii” fashion area before heading to The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku for a crazy show. This was 90 mins of bright lights, robots, large floats, loud music, people in weird costumes, dancing, singing and corny story lines all within a rather tiny area but totally worth it. A great strange Japanese experience for the books. 

DAY 4 – 24/01: Final fun 
My last full day in Tokyo was spent at the zoo in the morning (I got to see my first panda! As in a panda, he had no friends) before heading to the Shibuya Crossing to walk across one of the 5 cross paths of the famously busy intersection (to the other side of the road – a bit of an overhype but a must do). 7_ZooWe chose to walk from Shibuya to Harajuku which was a great experience that would have been missed had we taken the train. Along the way we found the Disney Store which looked like a castle and further on we found an Alice in Wonderland-themed store hidden through a tiny door into 3 floors of Alice-themed decorations and things. Last stop: Harajuku (for one more time) for more street exploring and shopping. My Harajuku trophy was a “Temaki Cats” shirt with cats in sushi hand rolls on it. I’m chuffed. There was also a large H&M sale on, so that’s one way to use up left over yen notes. Ching ching shop shop. 

After my whole [awesome] trip, I unfortunately came back with 0 beer labels for my journal. Not that I didn’t drink any beer, but all the convenience stores seemed to stock (besides seriously impressive pre-made convenience meals) were cans only. No labeled bottles. So I left with just some sake in pretty boxes. 

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Thanks for scrolling!
The final instalment of Part 12 to follow soon… Sad face.
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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 9

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There is definitely a mid-year slump that comes after the initial excitement, when that need-to-explore-at-every-opportunity settles. You slide into a routine. A comfort. You start maybe meeting up for lunch with friends or go shopping once a weekend and the rest of your precious free time you just blob away at home on Netflix (although, around that time of year the extreme heat and humidity is keeping everyone indoors). But then a few months later you wake up and realise you have 3 months left and it’s back to that tourist-frenzy!

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I recently started a bucket list of everything I want/need to do in Korea before my time is up. But the number of available weekends left to get all of these things done has been quickly ticking away. Cue slight panic. But since making this list a top priority I’ve managed to get most of my wishes granted so far and it’s been an exciting time of adventures once more. 

Sat 21 October: Seaside temples and abandoned railways
Probably the windiest day in Busan this year, but plans were already set for Bucket List entry 1: To visit Haedong Yonggungsa (해동 용궁사) – the temple by the sea (which is uncommon as temples are usually found in the mountains).

We (a friend and I) decided to brave the wind and take on the +-8km walk from the temple along the coast, past Songjeong Beach, past a number of lighthouses and toward Haeundae Beach. Half way there our path joined with the abandoned railway (another tick off the bucket list) and we were blown along the scenic track along the coastline passing many other walkers, murals, couples with tripods and a tunnel, and eventually the end of the track.

Sat 28 Oct: Halloween Party
Halloween was actually on the following Tuesday, so parties were planned for the weekend before. Our choice was a bar-hopping opportunity in PNU. Five of us kitted up as zombie tourists dressed in brightly-coloured banana shirts from Vietnam, Thai T’s, sunglasses, fanny packs and plastic binoculars around our necks. We did our zombie make up and stuck tattoos of scars and cuts on our faces. The looks we got while on the subway though…

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Sun 29 Oct: Spa Land and getting naked
This one was more of a personal dare than a “fun one”. Going to a Korean spa means going butt naked in public baths and soaking alongside Korean contemporaries, saggy ajummas and probably the worst – other foreigners. This includes getting naked in the change rooms and showering in open showers (and all the walking around in between).

Going to the spa also means lounging in mixed-gender sauna rooms (in baggy spa robes thankfully), and if you go to Spa Land in Shinsegae it’s basically a sauna theme park. There are 13 different sauna rooms with different temperatures and themes (including: a Finnish Sauna, Roman Sauna, Wave-Dream Room, Roman Room, Milky Bath, Pyramid Room, Bali Room and Ice Room.) This was my favourite part and I’d happily go back for this relaxing and warm experience. I’m not in any rush to take my clothes off in public again though, despite the hot spring baths being pretty great.
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I also pushed my boundaries and opted for an additional “seshin” session – a full body scrub given by a scrub ajumma dressed in a black bikini with seriously abrasive mittens on. You lie face down on a plastic covered table with your bare bum exposed as you get scrubbed down till it feels like your meat is exposed. She then pours a bucket of warm water over you before you waddle out to seek refuse in the hot baths again. This is how baby skin is made. 

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 6

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Bingsu (빙수): A popular Korean shaved-ice dessert, especially during the summer season, with sweet toppings that may include chocolate, chopped fruit, condensed milk, fruit syrup, and red beans. 

And what did you take from that besides something about dessert and condensed milk? SUMMER!! But, not the happy-it’s-time-for-beach-and-sunblock kind of summer. No. Korean summers are not that happy-go-lucky. These summers are hot and humid. And it’s just July… Already the amount of joy you get from the great outdoors quickly melts into a sweaty puddle on the floor and your sanity can only be found beneath the air conditioner, while hiding indoors (thankfully this includes public transport). But, if you do venture outside, I do highly recommend treating yourself to bingsu! 

Weekly night club runs
I joined the OVD Running Club a couple of months ago who meet every Thursday night at 8pm to enjoy and explore Busan while running past some really lovely sights lit by stars and streetlights (and a small boombox for jams on the move). 

40_Run-BusanAs much as we run, we photograph. Sometimes I think the lines between running club and photography club are blurred with a good number of photo stops for group shots posing with our club flag and some impressive site behind us. The pace is fairly quick so often these stops are needed though. 

 

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09 June 2017 / Fri: Bottomless Beer Fest

Okay, so just a  ₩10 000 (R115) entrance fee into a little land of unlimited beer for a few hours? Of course I’d beer there!

It was just Hite beer (one of the popular local brews), but once you got a beer mug/cup upon arrival you could literally pour your own beer from then on out.

We did well. I’d like to report.

 

24 June / Sat: Lost on the Run
Some context to this image, at the time I had a commercial illustration project with weekend deadlines and a very particular style I had to adapt to and obsess with over a short amount of time. So it consumed my thoughts and my weekend (and this illustration). By Saturday evening I hadn’t left my house or done much else other than sitting in front of my computer.
Having lived in Korea for 4 months now, I had yet to go for a road run by myself. It’s one thing to get stared at as a foreigner walking around normally in public spaces, but it’s another to be a running and sweaty foreigner thudding along the roadsides with no other joggers around, ever.

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Anyway! I set off around 7pm to beat the heat (if that’s possible), and after a good few km’s and dwindling light I found myself running in circles and coming back to the same start of a highway with no pedestrian paths. After some more time, slight panicking and more running, I managed to navigate back to the known.

25 June / Sun: Burgers & Bingsu
Maybe I’m just looking for things to draw, but being reunited with avo, my love (and on the best burger I’ve had here) combined with a chilled Sunday lunch with friends – it just seemed drawable. Topped off with a trip to the bingsu cafe afterwards and my weekend was complete. 

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As with most Korean dishes, it’s meant to be shared so you get a huge bowl piled with the shaved ice base topped with chocolate brownies, cheesecake and a side of condensed milk and two or more spoons. Are you sold yet?

03 July / Mon: Summer Nights
Too hot. Beep. Too cold. Beep. Buzz. Buzz. Slap! Toss. Turn. Buzz. I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!! 3am. Toss. Turn. Alarm. Damn.
I really shouldn’t say anything bad about my aircon/life support, but it blows directly onto my bed so it’s either Antarctic blizzard when it’s on or Sahara Dessert when it’s off.

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And when it’s off, the mosquitoes make sure to use the opportunity of not being blown away anymore to come buzz around and sit ON my face. So I end up semi-consciously slapping my face in the hopes of killing those bloodsuckers! Mozzies: 1. Amy: 0.

How much is that doggie in the window cage?
I live quite close to Busan’s main dog meat market at Gupo Market and unfortunately I drive past the alleys with the red cages holding these poor fluff balls on my way to work every day.38_Doggie1

09 July / Sun: Sunday Strolls
Since I’ve found that the closest park to me is a manageable 3km away, I’ve started making a Sunday strolling habit out of it to have a nice end of weekend walk. I get to watch people roller blading, kids riding bikes, and old people working out on the equipment. People-watching hot spot, I tell you!   
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This Sunday included taking the tools and opportunity down to Hwamyeong Eco Park to have a quick sketch on damp paper, thanks to the humidity.

Thanks for scrolling! Part 7 to follow soon…

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 4

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Gumboots, Gallivanting and Green Tea!

April and May graced us with a number of long weekends and public holidays to break the routine with and go adventuring. It appears Korea is a nonstop festival thrower and over the past month I have enjoyed: The Jindo Sea Parting Festival, The Beosong Green Tea Festival, The Busan Canola Flower Festival, the nationwide Lotus Lantern Festival, The Yeosu Turtle Ship Festival and recently the Haeundae Sand Festival.

29/04 – 28/04/2017: Gumboots and green tea weekend
Day 1: Jindo Sea Parting
With the Monday being a holiday, it was perfect timing for a very busy weekend of two festivals in two towns over a one night trip to the west coast of  Korea. We (having gone with Enjoy Korea) left Saturday morning for a 4 hr bus trip to Jindo. When we finally arrived we grabbed a pair of sexy orange over-the-knee plastic boots for W6000 from an ajumma at the entrance for that evening’s main event… the “Miracle Sea Road”.

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At 6pm we, and the fast growing crowds, strapped on our boots and headed to the water’s edge to wait for this annual natural phenomenon where the tides cause the water to gradually part and become shallow enough to walk/wade to the island on the other side.
It was exciting when we were given the signal to start making our way into the water. However, there is a time limit before the tides start to change and after walking for about half an hour the return signal is given to turn around, quickly. At that point you are standing in the middle of the ocean and can feel the tide starting to come in again, and your panic slowly rises with the water, threatening to lap over the top of your high boots… P.S. There are marshals and no one will let you drown, obviously.

After dark we traveled another 2 hours to our next stop and hotel. But wait… beds not included! I was not prepared and not impressed to have my first “ondol room” experience of sleeping on a blanket spread on the floor.

Day 2: Boseong Green Tea Festival
The hills are alive with smell of green tea! It’s the kind of scenery from postcards with all the striking green combed hills surrounding you. 

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After an interesting traditional tea-pouring ceremony and tasting (still not a fan) we had over 4 hours to explore the mountains, walk through the rows of tea bushes, take our next profile pictures, eat way too much green tea ice cream (a sufficient disguise) and get some form of green tea infused food.

28/04: Samgwangsa (삼광사) Lantern Festival
In celebration of Buddha’s Birthday, temples across Korea are adorned with lanterns strung everywhere. At Samgwangsa, there were also giant light sculptures of animal guards (or gods?) at the entrance, including a huge elephant with a moving head making mournful noises.

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Going at night was magical. All bright colours, seas of lanterns and people lighting candles as the sounds of drums and chanting fill the air as you walk under the fluttering tags hanging from the lanterns – it’s spectacular.

04 -07/04/2017: Yeosu of Soju. AKA The Long Weekend in Yeosu
Thanks to a lucky arrangements of dates around Buddah’s Birthday (Wednesday) and Children’s Day (Friday), we got Thursday off too for a super long weekend, which 5 of us friends used to travel across to the west coast.


Day 1: Suncheon

We arrived along with consistent rain which cancelled our outdoor activities planned for this apparently beautiful town/area. So our one night stop ended in drinking festivities around a long table with all the other Korean guests at the hostel we were staying in. Everyone sat on the floor sharing food, beer, soju and gin. Upon arriving we were made to introduce ourselves in Korean too – laughs. 

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Day 2 – 4: Yeosu
More rain, but it didn’t stop us. I was happy once I found a rain poncho though, not much before then. The first day, we enjoyed the Turtle Ship Festival on board a ship replica with wax sculptures inside, we then walked along the water edge to the Hamel lighthouse, we drank a lot of beer and we enjoyed the scenery. And found a Mexican food spot.

The next day there was a lot of waiting around for buses, on the buses and in long queues to the cable cars. The cable car trip to the island across the water was worth the hour wait, especially since the sun was back in our favour. After (eventually) catching the bus all the way to the bottom of the island (a rather harrowing journey of sharp turns while standing in the bus) we adventured up to Hyangiram Temple. Hidden among the rock faces high above the expansive ocean, this is the best temple I’ve been to yet, stunning views!

It was late afternoon when we caught the bus and took a detour to a pebble beach. Eventually, we hopped off with our bags of now warm beers and found some large pebbles to sit on and watch a spectacular sunset. With a slight lingering fear that we might miss the final bus and be left in some rural place, we managed to get back to where we started, grabbed some more beers and walked across the main bridge connecting the island to the mainland to enjoy our final night in Yeosu.

14/05: Back on track
Three months in Korea and I’d successfully abandoned all active exercise – it’s all fun and games until you try get back on track. I signed up for gym at the end of April and I hadn’t felt so unfit (at least not in the past year)… #deathonthetreadmill. The next day I over-ambitiously signed up for a 10km race in less than a month’s time. I had a lot of running to try catch up on…

Finally the Sunday came for the 1.5 hour train ride down to Dadaepo Beach on the far side of Busan. It was fairly hot by 8:30, but the atmosphere was great and I managed to push through the 10km without stopping, definitely not my best time but I needed this. I’ve since joined the running club I met on the day. Whoop. 

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20/05: Saturdays are for reading
I’ve not only got back into running (I say this lightly), I’ve also got back into reading. After finally finding a secondhand book store – one which not only stocks English novels but also happens to be in my area (Aladin Books in Deokcheon) – I picked up some good reads, including Memoirs of a Geisha. Aladin-Books-and-Geishas

I’ve found that bus trips are particularly fruitful when you take your book along for the ride.

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 2

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27/02/2017: Alone, at last?
On the last day of Orientation we stood like hopeful orphans on the side of the road with our bags waiting to be adopted by our soon-to-be co-teachers. One-by-one, we were separated from our newly acquired comforts and friends and taken away to our new homes.

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My co-teacher was welcoming and organised. After dropping off my bags, she took me on the subway (so daunting!) straight to the immigration office to get my residence card, she showed me how to work things, was my translator, took me to the bank and even helped organise my phone plan. On my first day of school she met me at my bus stop to go together so I’d know how to get to school – something much appreciated during a particularly overwhelming week of aloneness/reality.

However, one of the things I’ve been looking forward to about moving to Korea is having my own apartment again! My space. My mess. And fast internet! I am happy. A small grumble about the very Korean all-in-one bathroom though.

04/03: Into the depths of Gupo Market.
At the end of my area you’ll find Gupo Market (구포 시장). This very ‘authentic Korean’ market is particularly infamous for being the dog meat market… So maybe a bit too authentic for me in my first week of living here. The market is a maze of alley ways of stalls selling everything from kimchi, fresh seaweed, to raw meats, live octopi and terrapins, and often right next to a clothes stall.

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The pungent smells became even stronger the deeper I went in (underground in every sense) but when I stumbled upon the dog alleys with the cages I knew it was time to retreat. Well, that and being spurred on by an angry ajumma as I tried to take a photo for evidence.

Home comforts, where are you??

There were a few things that took me a good few weeks to finally track down. I either had to venture out to bigger, better grocery stores (like Lotte Mart or Home Plus) which are a good few Metro stops away, or find my goods online on Gmarket (Note: setting up payment accounts and Korean online banking in general leads to absolute frustration, and 80% of everything is in Korean). Some of the random home comforts in particular that I had to find were (and celebrations when I did): strong black tea, oats, sweetener, diet shake and wine. And if anyone finds salt & vinegar chips here… YOU PHONE ME!

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11/03: Oryukdo Skywalk and Igidae Coastal Walk.
The skywalk is a +-15m long glass horseshoe-shaped structure 40m above the sea. Before walking on, you must put on the sexy black material booties provided over your shoes so you don’t scratch the already very scratched glass flooring. You can see through to the rocks and waves beneath you, but the views around are more beautiful. The ocean spreads out in front of you and you can also see the neighbouring Daemado Island just off the coast.

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We then headed off up the mountain along the Igidae Coastal Walk route (I only found the name out later). This was my first [accidental] exposure to the popular Korean pastime of “hiking”. We hadn’t planned to hike and weren’t suitably dressed for the earthy inclines and steep narrow downhills parallel to the the vast ocean. The trail leads all the way to Gwangan Bridge, but we turned back halfway. But I’ll be back. Sans winter dress-coat and non-sport shoes next time.

The hiking efforts were later paid off with my first Korean seafood BBQ in some small coastal nook of Busan (I have no idea where it is, but we needed a taxi to get there. Here’s to having knowledgeable friends!). We had abalone, clams and mussels with garlic and mushrooms warmed up over the coals, then steamed in the large shells. We followed the shellfish up with some eel, all partnered with good ol’ soju along the way.

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12/03: The never-ending hike.

The day after going to Oryukdo, we caught the cable car up one of the many mountains in Busan and hiked to the beautiful and impressive Beomeosa Buddhist Temple. But due to detours at the beginning and a lack of better planning it turned into being a pretty hectic hike of over 4 hours. There were many moments I thought I’d got myself into a possible Ultimate Survival episode – lost in the vast Korean mountains with stunning views but with water and hope levels on empty. I’ve been reluctant to go hiking for a while after this one…
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28/03: It was a Tuesday.
I teach 21 classes per week, each class has about 22 children. That makes for a lot of kids to say and do amusing things. The typical answer to the ‘how-are-you-today’ question at grade 3 level is often, “I’m happy!” (which is super cute), while far too many of the grade 5s and 6s I teach have the awfully ambivalent response of, “I’m so-so” most of the time.
The confidence of this particular little girl was one to remember though.

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Coffee first(s).
Starbucks… Starbucks… bucks… bucks… Ching… Ching. Expensive brand coffee that’s just kinda a rite of passage as a coffee lover. Read: ‘lover’, not ‘coffee snob’ – my coffee consumption is generally cost-based (unless it comes in ADORABLE packaging with a hat-lid like Paris Baguette – see below) so it was quite a deal to fork out W5900 for a coffee. And W5900, in the midst of the recent South African economical turmoil, cost R84 that day (today it’s down to R69.78) – which is damn expensive for coffee regardless! But hey, it was my first Starbucks AND it was the pretty pink cherry blossom edition.

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