June 11, 2011 at 12:57 am | Posted in miscellaneous, South Korea | Leave a comment

I came across this wonderful time-lapse video of Seoul and it got me thinking again of that huge megalopolis that used to be my residence.

Seoul Time Lapse 2010 from Oh Choong Young on Vimeo.

I’m living in a small town now and enjoy my scaled-down life. But, having been brought up in London, I will always remain a city girl at heart and there are parts about living in Seoul that I rather miss: shopping until 4am at Dongdaemun Market; spending long hours and lots of korean won in the restaurants and (infamous) bars in Itaewon; hiking all day in the mountains of Bukhansan National Park and returning in time for dinner downtown; people-watching from teashops in Insadong; riding the super clean and ever efficient transport system; the 24-hour existence in a city that truly never sleeps….Of course, there were plenty of things I didn’t like while I was living in Seoul, but there were plenty more that I loved.



January 23, 2011 at 12:23 am | Posted in miscellaneous, South Korea, Taiwan | Leave a comment
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When I first came to Taiwan, I was appalled at how much unnecessary packaging there is. If you buy a tea, they’ll give it to you in a paper cup with a sealed plastic cover, which is then put in a plastic bag, with a straw wrapped in it’s own individual packaging. Fried rice comes in a paper box held closed with an elastic band, accompanied with both a plastic spoon and wooden chopsticks (sealed in their own plastic, of course).

People eat take away food a lot in Taiwan. This makes for a lot of rubbish. Even if you say ‘Leave the chopsticks’, there’s still the matter of the individual plastic bags that everything gets put into, no matter if it’s already in a box or paper bag. And then I realised the plastic bags are to enable you to hang them from the handlebars of your bike or scooter. Things started to make sense as I took up the same lifestyle of eating at food stalls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I’ve now accumulated a lot of uselessly-sized plastic bags and I barely take notice when I get yet another one. They just get put in my recycling pile and taken out when it’s garbage day.

Other than not eating take away food, I can’t really think of an alternative. Would it be possible to persuade everyone to carry around their own reusable plastic bags and utensils with them? I doubt it. Apparently, Taiwan issues fines for the use of plastic bags and utensils, although night markets are exempt due to concerns over maintaining sanitary conditions [both these articles are several years old – I was unable to find anything more up-to-date].

In some ways, Asia has shown me ingenious methods for reusing and recycling: magazine pages folded into origami tabletop trashcans for throwing away the bones of your meal; banana leaves used to cook, carry and eat from instead of plates; plastic bottles cut and made into outdoor socket covers to protect from rain. On an individual scale it’s really quite amazing and something we should think more about in the West. In other ways I feel like Asia is lagging behind. Here’s a summary of the UK and Taiwan (from an interesting website for comparing how ‘livable’ different countries are):

I’m quite surprised about the electricity, but then again Asia’s full of flashing neon shop signs. Perhaps that’s part of the higher consumption?

While we’re at it, here’s South Korea compared to the UK:

As a postcript, here‘s a short film from the BBC about garbage disposal in Taiwan. Where I live, the garbage truck comes 3 nights a week, but I’m always working late so the only chance I get is to take it out is on saturday nights. Not very fun. It does stop everyday for about 10 minutes in the morning enabling people to catch it on the way to work, but with my schedule I’m not going to be getting up for that either.

I guess I’ll just have to stop with all the take aways and only eat out instead.

korean bites

September 28, 2009 at 10:28 am | Posted in culture, South Korea | 1 Comment
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I think what I’ll miss the most about Korea is the cheap bites. For a couple of quid you can get a warm, hearty meal. For a little more, you can get a feast to share with friends. Cheapest of the cheap is Kimbab Chonguk (and many other similar chains) where you can get Korean food for under 5,000won.P1090447Misoya is a Koreanised Japanese-Western fusion fast food chain, serving sushi, udong (noodles in broth) and donkass (fried meat cutlets).

P1090446 Everything is served on neat trays.P1090036They also do take away.P1080657P1080658Another favorite is Bonbibimbap, specialising in bibimbap (rice mixed in a bowl with vegetables, meat and hot sauce).P1090443P1080652mushroom bibimbapP1080653bulgogi riceP1030109The sister chain, Bonjuk, serves healthy rice porridge.

For a bit more cash, and with a number of diners, galbi has to be the greatest invention ever; meat…barbecued…wrapped in lettuce…with rice and soup. You can find galbi restaurants on every street corner, take your pick of beef…DSCN5947pork…P1010509or even duck…P1050811Chicken is a little different. Dakgalbi is a mix of vegetables, chicken and hot sauce, cooked at the table with numerous types of add-ons (rice, noodles, cheese!).P1020387But if you prefer your chicken a little more western, you won’t fail to find fried chicken joints as often as you’ll find a galbi restaurant. My favorite is Chicken & Beer, which serves, not at all surprisingly, fried chicken and pitchers of beer. There’s also the purely Korean dish of golbaengi, a cold salad of noodles, shellfish and hot, hot sauce.DSCN6282 P1090449A different kind of fast-food is Pizza School. For 5,000won you can get a thin base pepperoni pizza in 5 minutes.P1080737If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, Mr Pizza could be just the thing. P1090445The slogan is ‘Love for women’ – it’s supposed to be healthy. The salad bar is certainly very yummy.P1090032The pizzas are rather unusual; they often have odd flavour sauces (alfredo cream, anyone?) and additions (sweet potato mousse crust) which can be rather strange, but I’ve grown to like some of them. ‘Curry Curry’, which somehow tastes like curry powder, ‘potato and shrimp’ which is half and half, with a crust “that taste like European sweet cookies and blueberry sauce dip” (yes, it really does!), and ‘neo crunch’, with a cracker-thin cheddar cheese crust.P1090033Another chain I wouldn’t mind seeing back home is Tom N Toms. It’s a coffee shop, but it also sells freshly baked pretzels. My favorite is peperoni, just like a mini pizza.DSCN6667DSCN6669DSCN6653Of course, if sitting down wastes too much time, there’s always the standby of street food…P1090444or ramen (cup noodle) available in every corner shop.P1090453

Pirates of the Han River

September 20, 2009 at 5:50 pm | Posted in South Korea | Leave a comment
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Seoul never looks better than on a gloriously clear autumn day from the top of the tallest building.P1090410P1090390P1090382 Last year I went up 63 Building on Yeouido at night, but I really think day time is best for appreciating the full size of this megalopolis.P1090416As the evening begins to draw in, a cruise down the Han River provides some more lovely vistas.P1090426The boat is even more cheesy than the picture postcard views.P1090442P1090415Replete with real(ish) pirates of the Han River.P1090412

museum without walls

September 8, 2009 at 11:24 pm | Posted in heritage sites, museums & galleries, South Korea | Leave a comment
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Gyeongju; ancient capital of the Shilla dynasty, modern day capital of UNESCO world cultural heritage. It’s plethora of tombs, palace sites, temples and statuary are scattered about the area, furnishing the city with both its name, ‘museum without walls’, and a healthy dose of tourism.

My favourite place was the park of ancient burial mounds. With the shining sun and pristine upkeep, it looked like teletubbies’ land.P1090052P1090042P1090045However, when you see the tombs in the wider landscape they seem to fit so perfectly with the mountains, they could have grown from the earth by themselves.P1090067The Heavenly Horse Tomb is open to the public, where you can see a cross-section inside and a reconstruction of the burial. Although there are replicas on show, the real items are now in the National Museum in Seoul.P1090039Nearby Cheomseongdae, over 9m tall, is the oldest astrological observatory in Asia. P1090079Gyeongju National Museum is a short walk away through flowery fields.P1090091n12449726_50653925_557365


If you haven’t been to the National Museum in Seoul, then this is definitely a good alternative as it’s smaller and focuses on what was excavated in the local area. Despite all the glittering gold accessories, my favourites were the cartoon-like clay figurines.

P1090095P1090108Further out from the central area, are Buddhist relics galore. Bulguksa is famous for it’s Shilla architecture; poetically named Blue Cloud and White Cloud Bridges lead to the Mauve Mist Gate (background), along with Lotus Flower and Seven Treasures Bridges (foregound).P1090253P1090225P1090237P1090238There’s also a golden pig which brings good fortune if you rub it (which reminds me of the bronze boar in Florence which also gave good luck when you touched its nose).P1090249Beautiful rock carvings can be seen at Seokguram grotto, high in the mountains. You can also drink healing spring water, which had a surprisingly tasty mineral flavor.P1090211P1090194 No pictures were allowed inside (I suspect to encourage postcard buying) so here is one I nabbed from the net.mainOn a smaller scale, there are Buddhist carvings all over the mountains. Walking up Namsan you can easily spot them.5215_914375871385_12449726_50654060_6905629_nP1090272P1090261P1090265DSCN6244P1090258But the best thing I saw was neither Buddhist, nor indeed cultural heritage, but I deem them to be national treasures…a family of kitties (which is a rare sight in Korea)! There was shy kitty, who never came out from the hiding place…P1090132Sad kitty, who miaowed a lot…P1090157_2…but who also played a lot too…P1090147And brave kitty who liked using claws…P1090131_2P1090138P1090136Mama cat slept the whole time.P1090155Papa cat was prowling round under parked cars, but after dark he came to sit with the rest of the family as we headed back to the hotel.P1090180

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