Monday, May 22, 2017

Lost in Seoul

Eight years after I left... I finally went back to Seoul.

I'm not sure why I didn't go between then and now, perhaps I was overly excited with Japan and busy moving from one end to another, then career, marriage and baby all happened and I just never made time for it. I also think that subconsciously, I knew going back to Seoul was going to be difficult in some ways, so many memories and people and things left behind. I remember saying when I left Seoul back in 2009, that I had left my heart in Seoul.

Seoul is the place where it all started. The blog, that started from just a few musings written in my afternoon work break and pretty much led me to where I am today. The wonderful people I met there, including those that encouraged me to go to Japan and grow up. The friendships I still have to this day, the friends that now live all over the world, and those that won't ever be forgotten.

Being back in Seoul felt like home, it felt like I had never left even though the city itself changed completely. I was shocked at how different it looks, how modern, how trendy. It moves so fast, perhaps too fast, but that was always Korea and something I love about it. It also felt huge- Seoul is a large city, but even coming from Tokyo, I found Seoul even bigger. Maybe it is actually bigger, or more spread out perhaps.

I had such a limited time (and work to do) in Seoul, but I made the most of it. One of my favourite things was walking around my old neighbourhood of Hoegi-dong with my friend Il-Pyo, whom I had met at the local gym back in 2008. He was the friend who invited us to his family home for Chuseok (a type of Korean Thanksgiving), to share a lavish meal with his entire family- and one of my most cherished memories of my time in Seoul. He's doing so well now and it's amazing to see.

Hoegi was a pretty local, low-key neighbourhood when I lived there, but it's now filled with cool little cafes and shops, and tons of beauty shops. My good old Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has been replaced with a Starbucks (the irony) but everything else, like the big corner Burger King, was still there. My old, horrible, cockroach-infested apartment has been torn down, which is probably a good thing but it felt strange not to see my home there.

I also saw my lovely friend Claire, who was my favourite coworker back at that elementary school I taught at, we laughed and reminisced of those times and our students over samgyeopsal, the grilled meat wrapped in lettuce leaves that I love and miss so much. We tried to FaceTime Jaclyn (the original reader of this blog!) but failed to do so due to the time difference.

I revisited Apkujeong, Gangnam and Sinsa, my favourite places to shop and have coffee (and birthplace of my friendship with Rita, who lived in the posh part). Back when I lived in Seoul, the tree-lined Garuso-gil street of Sinsa was very little-known, especially among foreigners. I remember my friend Gina introduced me to it as she always knew where to find the best cafes, so I used to go there a lot but it was not popular. Fast forward to now, it's so trendy and touristy, but it's still my favourite place in Seoul. It has all the best cafes and shops, and it made me wish Tokyo had something like that. Tokyo has no shortage of great cafes, of course, but it somehow does not feel as relaxed.

Which brings me to my next point.... Seoul is so relaxed in general. Or perhaps I'm just more relaxed there. I always say I'm a block of ice in Japan, and as soon as I exit the country I feel myself melting. Korea does that to me and it feels so good. I think Japan is just a place where you have to be extremely self-aware at all times in order to properly follow all the rules and ensure a smooth cultural experience. And I also adore Japan for that, as when you play by the rules you can really enjoy living here and all the conveniences offered by the country, but I also realize it's a lot of stress in the long run.

Back to Seoul... I just ate kimchi at every meal, drank so much coffee and never had a bad-tasting one (Seoul now has such a strong coffee scene), took taxis from one end to another (for a fraction of the Tokyo prices), stocked up on beauty and skin care products (because Korea), got my nails done, and just enjoyed every moment of it. It was odd to be back there by myself- I still felt like my old self, pre-baby pre-everything, but I also felt grown up, like in an "I told you so" kind of way. Oh, the things I would have told my 20-something self.

When I left Korea in 2009, it was one of the most difficult times of my life. Going back home to Montreal was so hard after the excitement of living abroad, I missed Seoul so much it physically hurt. But what came next (Japan!) was the best thing ever, and brought me everything I've ever wanted.

I won't lie, I was extremely sad to leave this time as well, and I still feel some sadness about the whole thing. But it was good I went, it made me feel refreshed, and going back to my roots gave me some new ideas about what I want next.

And just like that... once again I left a little part of my heart in Seoul...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Golden Week 2017

Here we go again.

I have so many drafts for this post, I wrote, wrote, wrote, but it never felt quite right. I feel like I owe a reason for my absence on this blog, but I still cannot pinpoint what it is. I miss writing this blog so much, but like I said before, writing has now become my life, and I often feel uninspired to pour down my thoughts on this personal space. The blogging world has changed a lot, too, but my blog hasn't changed, I still see it as my diary.

Sometimes I reminisce and I think of something fun I would like to share. Just today I was walking and realizing it is now the start of the annual Golden Week holiday, a string of more-or-less consecutive national holidays and pretty much the only time Japanese people get to travel. The first year I was in Japan, living in Shikoku, Golden Week (2010) felt like a huge deal. I had an actual week off, and I decided to travel to Tokyo for a few days, and just meet up with friends there, shop and have fun. It felt so special and exciting, I crammed myself in a tiny hotel room in Shinjuku with two friends who were visiting from Montreal, and got to experience life in Tokyo for the first time- little did I know it would become home. I also remember getting on the night bus to Osaka, something I just cannot imagine ever doing again. But back then, it was an adventure, just me and my headphones (embarrassed to admit I was listening to Stereophonics, The Music and Kings of Leon), and a 6am arrival in Osaka's Shinsaibashi and killing time at a McDonald's before pursuing the party life for a few more days and stocking up on new clothes. Who is this person? I feel like it was ages ago- I guess it was.

The next year I was living in Osaka, and that Golden Week was dark times. It was shortly after the big earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and I was still debating whether to stay or go, not really knowing why I was staying, as I hated my job and did not know anyone in Osaka. Osaka is a city I never truly enjoyed, even though it's filled with treasures, and looking back I'm very nostalgic about it. That Golden Week was perhaps the worst, as I spent an entire week moping around my apartment, taking selfies and watching depressing movies. I just did not have any friends in Osaka at the time (but a few weeks later I met Nick and Bridget and my life suddenly got better), and even though I'd venture out and try to participate in events and activities, I just never felt like I fit in. But all that time spent alone was great, I figured things out and realized I wanted to write for a living, and that Osaka was not the place to do so. I also walked from Umeda to my house several times, something I would just not do nowadays.

Fast forward to now. All those other Golden Weeks between then and now have been the most uneventful. I always worked and stayed in Tokyo, which is not a bad thing during that crowded holiday. I love to work and I know I can always take a holiday later (even though I rarely do but this is about to change soon...). Baby is now going to daycare, which has been wonderful, both for him and for myself. He's having a lot more fun playing with other babies and learning some new skills, as he's getting bigger (and cuter and more mischievous). It allows me to take on more work, so I have a few projects going on in addition to my regular work at the broadcaster.

Tonight I just felt like writing and reminiscing. Back in 2010, after that eventful Tokyo + Osaka Golden Week whirlwind trip, I remember coming back to Marugame station with my dear friend Isabel and solemnly declaring, "this town smells of rice fields and boredom". And indeed, was it ever boring, but on nights like tonight, I'd give anything to ride my bike again across those Shikoku rice fields, with only the frogs as a soundtrack and the moon as a light, smell those memories again and appreciate that moment- because amazing things would be coming my way, but I just did not know it yet.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


I moved to Japan seven years ago.

It seems like ages ago, it was actually ages ago, but it also seems like yesterday. I remember my last meal in Montreal (a club sandwich at a Mile End diner, does that place even still exist?), my last drink (a mini bottle of Veuve Cliquot), my last night (I didn't sleep), waiting at the airport (I was panicking internally until I transferred in Chicago), what I was wearing (navy sweater dress, black tights, black boots- I'd still wear the same thing today), what I ate on the plane (my first time trying satoimo, also known as sweet taro and one of my favourites ever since), and my first night in Nagoya (I lived in Nagoya for a full month before moving to Shikoku). Some details are now fuzzy, but I'll never forget the way I felt at the time, a mix of euphoria and delight. From time to time I still get that feeling, especially when I travel around Japan or feel particularly happy or ecstatic. I think that's what's keeping me in Japan, too. I now have a family in Japan, which is another reason to stay, but I love the fact that I still feel happy in Japan.

When I arrived here seven years ago I had no idea that it would turn out to be for so long. I initially thought I would only be here for a year or two, just to get it out of my system. Or maybe I just didn't know. I remember just being so tired of life in Montreal, and feeling like I was suffocating. I still love Montreal and I especially miss it a lot in autumn, as it's the most beautiful before it gets too cold and snowy.

Aside from all the reminiscing, time is flying by. I'm busier than before, busier than ever. I remember worrying that having a baby would put my career on hold, but it's been the opposite. I also thought I'd want to slow down a little, but in a way I have more energy and motivation than before (even though I look positively more tired, some dark circles that require a bit more YSL Touche Éclat that before). Bébé is growing fast, too fast. He's ten months, and he's almost walking. Any week now, he's quite adventurous. He's also very stubborn, he has such a strong character and he reminds me of myself. It's funny yet scary to see your personality traits in your baby…

I don't blog often lately, but once in a while like tonight I feel like it and I miss it. I guess this photo pretty much sums up my life right now: combining work, cafe visits, cakes and baby. Trying to enjoy what Tokyo has to offer with my little Anri, who's actually so relaxed and well-behaved (and loving attention) in public. Training him young to enjoy the finer things in life!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Rainy Season, Six Months, Where Have I Been

Bebe in Ginza

In my last update baby was only two months, and he's now six months, so it's been ages. I've eased back into work since March or April, and now my next challenge is to find a daycare for Anri. As difficult as it will be to leave him at a day care a few times a week, I think it will be good for him to socialize and to be in a different environment, and to be immersed in the Japanese cultural ways since he spends most of his time with his French-speaking maman. I'm also looking forward to working more, I feel more motivated than ever and somehow there are so many good opportunities lately. I still feel so lucky I can work such a flexible schedule, I don't think I could handily working full time in an office these days.

It's notoriously difficult to get a spot in a daycare in Tokyo, and pretty much everywhere else in Japan. There are very few government-subsidized spaces and all are very coveted, and priority goes to full-time workers. It works on a complicated system of points, and most of the decision-making happens in April of each year. So I'm very off-season and the hunt is a bit discouraging, and makes me realize why so many Japanese women reluctantly quit their jobs after having a baby- sometimes they just don't have a choice. I'm still hopeful I will sort something out sooner or later.

I've been enjoying spending time with Anri, who is big and healthy at six months. He's such a fun and playful baby, and he just smiles at everyone wherever we go. We literally take him everywhere: he's been shopping in Ginza, in the crowds of Shibuya and Shinjuku, and at some cafes in Harajuku and Aoyama. He's very calm and curious. I can't wait to discover more of his personality.

I'm also back into running, I've been going at least 2-3 times per week, so it's a nice activity to do on my own or as a family, we take turns running while the other walks with Anri in his stroller. I also have lots of time to cook, so I've been trying some basic Japanese recipes, it's a lot of fun and much easier than I thought. I'm also cooking baby food, Anri started eating a bit. He had his first taste of rice mixed with dashi, which is just rice cooked in a fish and kelp stock. He loved it! In Japan, baby's first foods are usually okayu (rice porridge), pureed vegetables (pumpkin, sweet potato) and tofu in the first few weeks. I'm now following the Japanese guidelines since I have a recipe book, but I'll add some Western-style foods so he gets a taste of everything.

So that's life, lately! It's kind of quiet but I needed that. It's actually never really quiet with a young baby around, but I'm enjoying this time as I know it's fleeting, and Anri is growing up so fast. Working keeps me sane as I like getting out of the house from time to time, and I like being challenged by different things. It's a good balance for the time being, and becoming a mother pushes me to be more organized in life in general…. which isn't a bad thing.

On to rainy season now, then scorching hot summer. I'm still trying to figure out holiday plans, as I don't think we'll go to Canada this summer since my mom visited in April, but I'd like to go somewhere in Asia. To be continued!


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Two Months

I've been a mother for now two months. It still feels surreal but it also seems more natural. I'm getting to know Anri and feeling more at ease with everything. I used to get so anxious and heartbroken whenever he would cry, but nowadays I usually know what's wrong and I keep calm. He also smiles at me and recognizes me, laughs at my songs and antics, so it's been fun to interact with him. I speak to him in French exclusively and my husband speaks to him in Japanese, so I wonder what his first words will be, considering he usually hears English in the house. Confusing much? I really hope it's possible he learns all three languages.

Life has changed but somehow things are still the same, except with a baby in tow. I've been enjoying the slow days with Anri, the long afternoon walks and the late nights spent rocking him and bonding. He usually sleeps six hours in a row, then three more after drinking milk, so we've been getting lots of rest. I am back to writing a little, here and there, although my laptop is usually awkwardly propped on my lap next to a napping bebe.

I've been missing going to work, and actually went on a few assignments, yet every time I'm out I miss Anri so much and can't wait to come home. I do cherish those few hours alone and I always make sure to get coffee and peruse the shops a little while I'm out-- however, bebe is always on my mind and my shopping habits are more Petit Bateau, Bonpoint and Baby Gap and a bit less Zara and Chanel beauty counter… I'm looking forward to returning to work a few news programs per week from April, while being thankful my schedule is rather free and Anri doesn't have to go to a nursery school or day care.

The weather in Tokyo is very nice for February, just chilly enough with lots of sunshine. A few days ago I had a recording in Kagurazaka, the unofficial "Little France" of Tokyo due to its significant French population and Institut Franco-Japonais. I love that neighbourhood so much, it has lots of cafes and bakeries and I really should take advantage of the library at the institute (and perhaps to meet fellow mothers). I highly recommend visiting Kagurazaka, it's much more interesting than the usual touristy spots.

Bebe cat nap

Uniqlo baby selfie

Those thighs! Those socks!

Starbucks + baby

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hatsumiyamairi: a Japanese birthday

Last week we headed to our local shrine for a ceremony called hatsumiyamairi 初宮参り, which literally means "first shrine visit". When the baby turns one month old, it's a Japanese tradition to visit the shrine and attend a purification ritual from a Shinto priest. It's a bit similar to a Christian baptism. We dressed bebe in a frilly white robe that had belonged to my husband when he was a baby, so it was a very meaningful ensemble (and I like to think he was best-dressed of all babies in attendance!). I wore a white cape over my clothes that matched the robe.

I held bebe during the ceremony, in which the priest chanted the names of all the babies and parents. He also waved around a stick with paper strips to purify, which is done in many Shinto celebrations such as weddings. Photos are not allowed inside the shrine since it's a sacred place but it was a beautiful ceremony, and bebe slept the whole time despite the chanting, bells rattling and drum banging.

We took many photos on the grounds surrounding the shrine, it's a special place we visit yearly for the New Year celebrations. We also had some time to relax following the ceremony, with some sake and traditional sweets. We then headed to a wonderful soba restaurant, which is my favourite Japanese food. It was a kaiseki (full-course meal) and every dish was exquisite.

We've taken Anri out and about a bit more lately, he usually always sleeps in his carrier so it's fairly easy. He also met one of my friends at my favourite cafe in Hiroo, and she held him the whole time. I also take walks to Starbucks in my neighbourhood with him, nothing wild but it makes me feel somewhat back to normal. Life is a lot slower lately, but I'm enjoying this time at home and savouring it as I know it won't last forever.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Giving Birth in Japan

I didn't have the chance to write much about giving birth while in Japan, but I wanted to mention it was a great experience overall.

I received amazing care during my pregnancy and after the birth, and I'm so happy I was able to experience it in Japan. Giving birth wasn't how I expected it at all. I had all these ideas about labour and birth, mostly from watching movies (and Friends episodes); they somehow always have the dramatic water breaking at home and frantic taxi ride to the hospital, etc. My version was the complete opposite, it just slowly started at home, I wasn't even sure I had contractions and what they felt like, and I stayed up all night timing them and watching movies on my laptop.

We finally decided to go to the hospital in the early morning, and that's when the 33-hour (all natural!) fun started. I was pretty out of it for most of the time, time just did not exist and I can barely remember the details. I was lucky to have the support of my husband and my mother-in-law, and the labour room was nice, dimly lit and quiet. The midwives took great care of me even though it was unusually long and there were complications. I remember being presented with big meals and rice, rice and more rice, I just didn't have an appetite but they kept telling me to eat to get more energy. It did help in the end!

In Japan, it's standard to stay at the hospital for about a week after birth. I think it's a great idea, as you can recover and learn how to take care of the baby with the assistance of nurses and midwives 24 hours a day. I had no idea how to do anything when I first met bebe, I was completely at loss, even about changing his tiny diaper. I stayed in the hospital for 6 days, and I both loved it and hated it. I'll call this "baby boot camp". Basically I didn't get much sleep since the nurses would bring in the baby every 2 hours to try nursing, and during the day I had an actual schedules with classes such as breastfeeding and learning how to give baby a bath, etc. We even had to watch DVDs but I skipped many of those sessions, with the excuse that my language skills weren't good enough to follow.

On the bright side, it was wonderful to have the help of nurses at all times, and their support for every single step. It was great to have doctors' checks daily for both bebe and myself, and the meals were fantastic- no kidding. I ate such balanced and delicious meals, and every afternoon they would bring in tea and cake. I also briefly met and talk to other mothers, it was comforting to see other new, sleep-deprived mums in the same state. I cried when I left the hospital because I knew I'd miss the nurses, but at the same time I also felt like I was getting out of prison and couldn't wait to be home. Sounds dramatic, but that's a side effect of post-birth I'm sure…

Overall giving birth in Japan is great, and I went to the hospital weekly ever since to get support for nursing and get bebe checked. I can call my hospital any time of the day or night with questions, and the nurses recognize Anri when we visit, which is so sweet. It's a big hospital in central Tokyo, they speak limited English but somehow it all worked out and the care I received was outstanding. The facilities were very modern and clean, and baby was sleeping next to me most of the time.

I never gave birth in Canada so I don't know how it compares, but I love the natural approach of Japan and the slow recovery. I cannot imagine being sent home with a newborn the day after giving birth, there is so much to learn and get used to. Also, in Japan it is recommended to stay indoors for a full month after giving birth. I thought it would be so difficult, but I liked that as I got to rest and recover and plus, let's be honest, I didn't feel too social or presentable those first few weeks. I'm getting a lot more sleep lately, so I'm excited to finally go out and take bebe along.