Thursday, January 29, 2009

Looking West (or trying to)

Or getting myself pumped.

I've been feeling quite nostalgic these days about leaving Seoul, even though I'm still here. But a few days ago I talked with my lovely roommate, and all of a sudden I felt a surge of excitement about finally going home. HOME! I remembered my clean, white, cozy apartment. My scented votive candles. My black and white cushions. My tall windows. My Victorian moldings. Yes, yes, yes. Little things, but they can make such a big difference after living in a cardboard box for a year (I did not forget the pictures, I'm working on it). And of course, I'm thrilled to see family and friends after such a long time. Will it be weird?

As Nicole suggested, I made a list of things I'm so excited to do when I get home.

(I'm actually not going straight to Montreal, we're stopping in Calgary for a few days to visit Aaron's brother. Should be a nice transition, getting re-acquainted with my homeland and its cold temperatures!)

Here's what will happen once I hit Montreal ground, pretty much in order:

*Eat my mom's cooking!!! Real, homemade food, everything I missed so much.
*Sleep, sleep, sleep
*Unpack and set up my new macbook
*Go to the grocery store and stay there for 3 hours looking at all the variety and perhaps cry a little bit inside.
*Get a smoothie at the expensive place by the gym (can't remember the name)
*Have a bread and cheese feast.

(I think I missed food A LOT)

*Move back in my apartment, cook with my roommate and have an all-night chat trying to catch up
*Meet my best friends for brunch at La Croissanterie (the best cafe in my neighborhood)
*Buy tons and tons of magazines, after a year hiatus
*Write sappy emails to my friends back in Seoul
*Go to H&M and FCUK
*Walk down St-Laurent, perhaps grab a smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's
*Find a job!!!

... and I don't know what else. But the unexpected is the best.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Love and hate list

A few months ago, when I told Aaron I'd make a list of things I'll be missing in Seoul, he told me I wouldn't be able to come up with anything. I guess I was going through a rough time here (most of my year has been quite difficult, even though my blog tone was usually cheerful). I can now definitely come up with a list of things I won't miss, and a longer list of things I'll miss about Seoul.

I won't miss:

*the pollution
*lack of etiquette (people sneezing and coughing on you, not covering their mouths, and spitting in the streets- charming)
*pushy old ladies in the subway (you'd think they're line backers in the NFL)
*animals being mistreated (dog soup, anyone?)
*the vegetable truck with its loud speakers at 7am
*old ladies EATING in the sauna
*getting stared at or pointed at when i just feel like blending in
*girls taking pictures of themselves in public and obsessing about their image
*the 6$ drip coffee at the Coffee Bean and Starbucks
*some Korean foods (anything too fishy or drowned in red pepper paste)
*my religious freak of a school
*my 3-bedroom luxury suite of an apartment, and my numerous roommates (cockroaches, mosquitoes, black mold, wall stains)

I will miss:

*the generosity and enthusiasm of Koreans
*the amazing subway system and its efficiency
*the side dishes at Korean meals
*grilled meats and BBQ restaurants
*cheap soju (i don't even love it, but i'll miss it)
*going to 7-Eleven to chill out
*all the back alleys, never done discovering them
*all the neighborhoods of Seoul
*the shopping, oh the shopping- everywhere
*cheap, and good quality skincare (Skin Food, The Face Shop)
*overloading on emoticons in text messages without shame
*Hello Kitty is cool here
*shop signs with dubious English
*playing tourist
*funny/weird game shows and commercials on television
*cheap DVDs
*my favorite breakfast spots
*my students (most of them!)
*being a teacher
*singing rooms (noraebangs) being accepted, although i've only been once
*putting on my makeup in public being totally acceptable and normal
*Coldstone ice cream
*kimchi (yes, i love it)
*did i mention the shopping?
*being lost in translation
*the friendships i made
*the person i am now (fun and outgoing- let's hope it sticks)


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Long weekend

Last weekend was Lunar New Year all over Asia, which is the most important holiday of the year. Families gather together and feast on huge meals, and often go out of town to visit their relatives. Seoul was a ghost town over the weekend, I've never seen it so quiet and dark. Only a few neon lights, and some people walking around. It was nice, as it's probably the only time of the year it gets so quiet.

It's also the perfect time to play tourist, and go back to all my favorite places, and see all my friends. I went out for coffee like, 12 times. I went out for Americanized Chinese food on Chinese New Years (yummy). I went to an art museum. I went out for drinks. I went out for Vietnamese food. For Korean food. And for Italian food. And I drank more coffee. I probably spent most of my time in the subway anyways, but it was so much fun.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Behind the scenes

or, "Coming to Seoul: the Story".

I landed my dream job on a popular television show right out of university, just out of the blue. Freshly graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career, but one thing was sure, I needed and wanted to travel or go work abroad. Staying in Montreal was out of the question, and that's why I said no when I got a sudden job offer on a tv show. The idea was tempting, so I visited the set anyways and realized I couldn't say no. So I said yes for one year, promising myself I'd go travel right after. Sounded like a perfect plan, but one year in my Devil Wears Prada actually lasted... four years.

In those four years I never had any time to think about my life too much, I just worked, worked, and worked, and enjoyed the great perks- fun parties with the crew and local celebrities (we're talking about Quebec, not Hollywood), and being lucky enough to work for one of the most important people in the industry. I loved my job so much, would stay long hours and take it all in.

However, any time a friend (or Aaron) would mention some great stories about living or working abroad, I'd get insanely envious and frustrated I did not get to experience it myself. I started thinking about Asia, since it's a completely different culture, and a great way to save money. I knew it was a bit crazy to quit everything, but I NEEDED to do it.

Thankfully everyone around me was so supportive, even my producers and co-workers, encouraging me to take the plunge. I knew it was not the smartest move for my career in the industry, but it was the best thing to do for myself. I knew I'd regret my decision to leave on tough Korea days, and I did a few times.

But being away made me appreciate it even more, and I know I'm passionate about that field, or anything related, so in the end I don't regret anything. I realize it might be difficult to find a contract when I go back, but that was part of the deal. I'm scared (or rather, terrified), but the way I see it, I gained so much more on a personal level and I got the traveling out of my system... for now.

Stay tuned as I return to Montreal and...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Celebs in Asia

Funny fact. Most Hollywood celebrities sell-out to advertise for random Korean and Japanese brands, and they even sign contracts that prevent their release in the Western world. It's a well-known fact, it's just weird to see Hollywood celebrities advertise for local brands I'd never heard of before. For example, Gwyneth Paltrow is the face of a random Korean clothing brand, even appearing in commercials and saying oddly translated English lines. The main guy from Prison Break is all over the place for a cheap coffee mix, belting out love tunes on a piano. I can't think of any more right now, but it's an easy way to make a lot of money for them.

Reminds me of Joey from Friends, when he told the group he was in a Japanese commercial for men lipstick. Haha.

When movies become real life

Busy, busy, busy. Between packing, throwing things away, sorting through a whole year, and spending as much time as I can with my friends, I've had little time for anything else. I know I should be planning my return, I should be looking actively for jobs, and I should have a plan. But I don't. I'm just having so much fun lately, and I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing. I'm trying to soak up Korean culture and the city of Seoul, which I never stopped loving, even during difficult moments. Why am I so sad to leave, so suddenly? Why does Montreal seem like a depressing thought, when a few months ago I dreamed about my return? I already feel the itch to leave again.

The fact that I know I'm leaving for sure makes things more special I think. All of a sudden I appreciate (almost) everything about the culture, and things I usually hate I can now laugh about. I wish I felt like that the whole year.

I thought January was going to be the longest month, I was dreading. But no, it's going by so quickly that I'm panicking. In the meantime here's a list of promised future entries:

*the story behind my decision to come to Korea
*a list of what I'll miss, and what I won't miss
*and, last but not least, a tour (documented with pictures) of my luxurious 3-bedroom palace, which you've all been awaiting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The final month

I realize that I've complained a lot throughout the year- but I know I tried hard to always look on the bright side. And to think that a month ago I would have given anything to be on a plane to Canada, I'm now dreading the departure date as it is fast approaching.

Yes sure I cannot wait to see my friends and family, enjoy my mom's cooking, find all my favourite foods at the grocery store, understand what is going on around me, and have a real home.

I'm afraid I'll be disappointed- everything I've missed all year long might just not be as great as in my day dreams. I know life back home will be difficult, especially with the job search, and just being back after being gone for so long.

In Seoul, I have loads of free time, so I'm always going somewhere, meeting someone, and discovering something new. I try a new cafe or restaurant every week, I keep making new, amazing friendships, and I also read and write a lot. Hopefully all these newly acquired habits can translate into my Montreal life.

I also spent most of the year wondering if my one-year stint in Korea was a bad career choice. Many times when I was in the classroom I found myself missing the exciting, stressful days on a television set. On bad days, I convinced myself that coming to Korea would make it difficult to get back into the industry when I head home. I realize it might be a little bit difficult, but at this point I don't regret anything at all. I NEEDED this year, I needed to take a break, see the world and discover another side of myself.

And teaching children was amazing. I got so attached to them, and teaching is rewarding- something I never felt on the TV set, running around to get the perfect cup of coffee. I do miss working for the egos on a TV set, but teaching kids actually taught me to be more patient.

I also freelanced as an editor during my year here, so it's a great thing to add to my resume- something I wouldn't mind pursuing at home (most likely in French). So in the end, being in Korea was more beneficial than hurtful for my career, even though I might not find a job right away.

Living in Seoul was also a fabulous experience, the third biggest city in the world, an overpopulated place filled with great neighbourhoods and little-known hang outs. I now feel like I know Seoul by heart.

But yes, it's time to go home, I cannot live like that forever. I feel fresh and motivated for a new start in Montreal, we'll see how it goes. For now, I'll make the most of my last few weeks here, between packing, working, and seeing everyone.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sick in Seoul

Being sick sucks. Being sick away from home is even worse. It's safe to say, at this point, that I've been sick for most of my time in Korea. Sounds bad, but it's very common for foreigners to get sick a lot during their time in Korea. Seoul is unfortunately an extremely polluted city- thanks in part to China for sending its chemicals our way, which creates a huge fog known as yellow dust. Seoulites can often been seen sporting surgical masks, and the environmental reports often discourage people to go outdoors on certain days. And let's say that Korea is not as obsessed with germs are we are in North America: often no soap in bathrooms, or simply a communal bar of soap. Yuck. Antibacterial gel is nearly impossible to find, and kids at school cough and sneeze on me constantly. I scold them and try to teach them good manners. Some folks on the subway could also use a tip or two.

I got so sick when I first got here, and it never really went away. Every few weeks I get a variation of a cold- nothing bad, just very annoying. A cough, a runny nose. My body never quite adjusted to the polluted air, although I was always quite healthy back home. It's now a running joke between Aaron and I: "Korea makes me sick!!" My diet might also be lacking in some areas, I'm not sure.

Thankfully, there is a pharmacy located on every single street corner, and the pharmacists are usually very helpful and generous with medication. Which is not always a good thing, but it's cheap and easy. Pharmacists usually speak very good English, are very friendly, and they give good advice (and free Vitamin C drinks).

If you feel really bad, then you have to go to the hospital. Sounds quite extreme, but medical clinics are usually located in hospitals, so it makes it sound worse than it actually is. I only had to go to the hospital once, when I had pharyngitis, and it was not so pleasant. The doctors and nurses did not speak English, and there were a lot of misunderstandings (I had a sore throat, but the doctor thought I might be pregnant- that kind of misunderstanding). I was also upset to see that they didn't even use my last name for my file- nothing big, but I was exhausted and feverish and it got me feeling so unimportant, somehow- as if I'm not even a part of Korean society. Weird moment.

Another odd moment was that the doctor examined me right in the waiting room (thankfully it was only my throat and ears), and I somehow found myself getting an injection I had no idea what was for. I left the hospital with a sore lower back, and three bags of pills that no one explained me how to take.

On the bright side, it was the quickest recovery I've ever had (probably the injection!), and the fastest service I've ever had at the doctor- no waiting at all. I do not wish to get sick like that again- it makes for good stories later, though. And I'm definitely looking forward to fresh air.

Friday, January 9, 2009


More birthday fun! I'm not big on celebrations, but for once I decided to gather all my friends in a cozy little trendy cafe for a small party. I invited all the friends I met in Seoul, both Korean and Westerners. It was a chance to see everyone together, and it was such a nice evening. It made me realize I met an amazing group of friends in Seoul, and it will be really sad to leave. Back home I never had much free time (because of work), therefore I sometimes neglected my friends. This year has made me realize how precious friends are, and hopefully things will change back home.

January is also my last chance to spend some quality time with friends, and discover all the little areas of Seoul, and go back to my favorites. Thankfully I'm on vacation this month, so I have plenty of time to roam around and properly explore the city I grew to love so much. One of my Korean friends mentioned that it was unbelievable how much I knew about Seoul, and that I knew all about the good spots- way better than she did. I thought it was a great compliment, as I'm always fishing for more information about where to find the best cafes and best shopping.

In other news, Aaron and I have returned to our lovely luxury palace (the cardboard apartment). I was sad to leave my friend's nice apartment (and the cat, which I accidentally fattened up!), but I only have one month left in this box, and I'm planning to be out and about most of the time. I'm very bittersweet about leaving Seoul- part of me cannot wait to live in a real home, and see all my friends. But I'll miss the craziness that is Seoul, and all of my new friends.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Birthday in Korea

My first (and probably last) birthday in Korea was quite fabulous: champagne, French toast and eggnog with Aaron, Zara, Accessorize, Bobbi Brown, and a Korean meal. I couldn't ask for a better day, spent doing things I love (and uh, buying things) with people I love. Aaron got me a fabulous little black dress at Zara and some shimmery powder. I was dreading it a bit, being so far away and all, but in the end it was one of the best birthdays ever! I also organized a little get-together later this week with all my friends (Korean and Westerners) at this cozy cafe, should be nice to see everyone together.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year, Seoul Style!

What a fun, unexpected New Years Eve I just had! Yesterday was a long, exhausting day at work- last day of winter camp, went skating with the kids, and got home quite late. Aaron and I were both so tired and had no set plans, but decided to do something special for our only New Year in Seoul. We just walked around the crowded streets of Gangnam and watched the frenzy: groups of friends running from one place to another in the freezing cold, upscale clubs charging extravagant covers, and the crazy neon lights.

We opted for some Japanese beer at 7-11 instead of a fancy bar. Why? Because it felt more authentic, and it was much better to sip our beers, and hear the people outside counting down in Korean at midnight(that was confusing, I barely know how to count yet). We just walked around for a bit, and got silly in those funny Asian photo booths that let you add funky designs to your pictures and print them on stickers. Everywhere was crowded, people were in a good mood, and it was fun to wish Happy New Year to random Koreans and have people come up to chat.

I had the best time in those few hours, and I also realized, 'wow, I'm in Asia right now', and had a real lost in translation moment. I really need to make the most of my last month here, the end is coming so, so soon.

2008 has been pretty amazing, being in Korea, see another part of the world, and live a completely different life in another culture. I'll definitely be forever changed from it, in a good way.