Living abroad means I move every few years to a new country. Each of my homes has been different, each with their own unique aspects. My home in Korea has been the first place I’ve lived abroad that I didn’t choose. Some international schools provide housing and assign you to an apartment or house, while others give a housing stipend and you get to choose your own place.
In Jeju, I live in a townhouse near my school, about a 5-minute drive or 15-minute walk away. My house is two stories, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s cozy and small, but it’s enough room for me. I spend most of my time in the living room, surrounded by my plants and artwork I’ve collected while traveling. My kitchen is way too small for someone who loves to entertain, and it’s the thing I’d change the most if I could. I’d also love to build a deck in the backyard, but it’s really expensive to have one built ($4,000 USD for a deck that’s only 10 square meters!).
My bedroom has an en-suite with a small bathtub, which I enjoy soaking in when I’ve had a rough day or when my back’s giving me trouble. The theme of my bedroom is Moroccan, with a blue and white color palette, and I’ve decorated with photos I took on my trip to Morocco and the antique wedding blanket I bought.
The largest guest room’s theme is travel, specifically from my time in Myanmar, one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited. I’ve decorated the room with photos taken in Inle Lake and a few other pieces I bought while in Mandalay. My map duvet cover completes the travel theme.
I’ve started converting the smallest guest room into my “Zen room,” but I’m not quite done. I’d like for the room to be a place to meditate, exercise, and chill.
I didn’t really have room anywhere for my desk that I brought from Indonesia, but I love it and didn’t want to get rid of it. I eventually settled on housing it in the hallway upstairs, where I can get some natural light.
My home isn’t perfect, and there are things I’d change if I could, but I’ve done my best to make it a home. That’s one thing I’ve learned while living abroad. If you treat your house like a temporary place and don’t add your personal touches to it, you never quite feel settled.
Everyone’s all a buzz at school about what they’re planning to do for spring break. It’s not for another three and a half weeks, but for the first time since the pandemic began, we can actually travel with little to no restrictions. It’s definitely cause to celebrate! We are allowed to leave the country, as long as we get the required PCR tests and re-entry permits, with no quarantine upon our return. Many teachers are going to Vietnam, Thailand, or Singapore. We are also now allowed to travel to the mainland (South Korea) for the whole week without a PCR test upon our return. During previous holidays, school has only allowed us to go for a few days without a PCR test (and I avoid those things like the plague…in Korea, they are incredibly painful!).
While I’d love to travel somewhere outside of Korea, preferably Thailand, I’m going to play it safe this holiday. I don’t want to risk testing positive on a PCR (I’ve had Covid and you can test positive for a while after) and/or not be able to get back into the country for some reason. I’m looking forward to traveling back home and to England this summer though!
I’m excited to spend half the week in Seoul and the rest of the time here in Jeju. I’ll fly up on Sunday and stay Sunday and Monday nights at the Grand InterContinental Parnas hotel in an area called COEX in the Gangnam district. It’s an area I visit often when I’m in Seoul, so I know how to get around easily. I’ll eat at some of my favorite restaurants, Paulie’s Pizza (it’s just like pizza back home!), Egg Slut (yes, the name is awful, but this breakfast chain from LA is delicious), and Cafe Mama’s (a Korean cafe with the yummiest ricotta salad). I’ll also partake in some shopping at the COEX mall, where I can find some of my favorite shops that we don’t have here, like H&M and ZARA. I’m also looking forward to going back to my favorite salon, Juno Hair, where they treat you like royalty.
I’ll then move to the Grand Hyatt Seoul hotel in Itaewon, a trendy neighborhood in Seoul, for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. A couple of my friends are also going to be there, so we’ll have lots of fun walking the artsy streets and alleyways, shopping in boutiques and art shops, and eating at new restaurants. I love Plant Cafe Seoul, which is a vegan restaurant tucked away in Itaewon. I’ll do my best to persuade them to go with me. There’s also The Original Pancake House, which is like stepping into an American breakfast diner. One of my favorite night spots is a tiny place called Apt (for apartment). It’s got a really chill vibe, with old school jazz music and velvet couches, and the cocktails are top quality. I haven’t drank any alcohol in a long time, so I’ll have to see if they’ll make me a mocktail. While I’m staying at the hotel, I’ll probably try to squeeze in a relaxing massage too.
For the latter part of the week, I’ll be back in Jeju, where the weather has just started to be perfect. I haven’t made any plans yet, but I’m thinking a staycation on the west side of the island, a place I haven’t explored much yet, is in order. Since it’s not a Korean holiday, things are cheap and can be booked at the last minute, so I’ll probably play it by ear.
Here are a few pictures of Seoul from previous trips. Let’s see what I get up to this time!
It wasn’t until moving to Korea that I owned a car as an expat. Everywhere else I’ve lived has been a major city with easy access to public transportation, such as subways or metros, taxis, motorcycle taxis, and buses. I’ve also always used a bicycle as a major form of transport or walked where I needed to go. When I moved to Jeju island in 2020, it was obvious that I’d need a car to get around, as taxis are quite limited, buses run infrequently, and I live in a pretty rural area, so bikes and walking aren’t the ideal form of transport for most places I need to go.
For the most part, I like driving here, and I appreciate the freedom it affords me. No waiting around for a taxi, spending hours changing trains and walking long distances to get where I want to go, or having to plan my outings so meticulously. But there are some definite differences in driving here as compared to the US- some I’ve gotten used to and some that continue to frustrate me.
If you like to drive fast, you’ll be so irritated here! The maximum speed limit anywhere on Jeju is 80 km/hr, which is only about 50 mph. Can you imagine only being able to drive 50 mph on the highway?!? You might be thinking…yeah, but I’d just risk it and speed. Well, while there are no police cars virtually anywhere, nor have I ever once seen anyone pulled over for any reason, there are speed limit cameras EVERYWHERE. I’m serious…my car talks to me all the time to warn me about upcoming speed limit cameras and beeps incessantly while turning my music all the way down if I am over the limit (which is in itself a very annoying feature that cannot be turned off!). The only good thing is that you are warned about the cameras. The most annoying thing about the speed limits on the highways is that instead of a few speed cameras along the way, which would mean you could at least go faster when you are not near a camera, there’s this thing called a “boxed camera zone” in which you must maintain an average speed of 80 km/hr over a long stretch of road. Again, my car comes in handy by telling me the average speed I’m going, but if I’m even 1 km over the limit, the loud beeping starts and my tunes cut out, forcing me to slow down so that I can hear my music. There are cameras at the beginning and end of the zone which take your picture. If you are too fast (it’s based on time stamps from when you enter and exit), you get a speeding ticket in the mail. I frequently see people who’ve sped past me earlier pulled over on the shoulder just before the exit to wait so they don’t get a ticket. It’s bizarre! One last thing about speed limits…all school zones have a 30 km/hr limit (18 mph). It doesn’t matter what time of day or night, what day of the week it is, or if it’s a school holiday, you have to adhere to the speed limit or you’ll get a ticket.
Another tactic to reduce people’s speed is to install speed bumps on nearly all roads, even major thoroughfares. Whereas in the States, you only encounter speed bumps in parking lots, near school zones, at airports, and in some residential areas, here in Jeju, speed bumps are a way of life, popping up every few hundred meters on most roads. This means that I get to hear my car tell me “speed bump ahead” all the bloody time.
Everywhere you go people complain about other drivers and say they have the worst drivers, and while I’m not going to make that claim, I can say that Korean drivers are very selfish. They will cut you off, block the road and refuse to move, pull right out in front of you, even when you have the right of way, and take ages to park while you are stuck waiting on them (nearly all Koreans back into all parking spaces, which always takes more time). When you honk at them to signal your frustration, which I do (yet most others don’t, which I find really odd), you get what I call the ‘Korean car apology.’ They turn on their hazard lights in a half-hearted attempt to acknowledge they were in the wrong. Don’t tell me your sorry by flashing your lights, just don’t drive like an asshole! The thing that confuses me the most about the selfishness of the drivers is that it’s in complete contrast to how Koreans behave in any other setting. Koreans are the most polite people ever, always giving to others, using the best manners, and bowing out of respect to everyone. So to drive like they are the only ones on the road is a mystery to me!
The one exception to the selfish drivers rule is roundabouts. Now I know we don’t have many roundabouts in the US (although I think they are becoming increasingly popular), most drivers understand the basic premise of how to use them. When you come to a roundabout, you yield to the cars that are in the roundabout. Simple, right? Well, not in Korea. In Korea, they do the exact opposite. They drive as if the person entering the roundabout has the right of way. It’s a frequent occurrence for a car to come to a complete stop in the middle of the roundabout to let loads of other cars in, sometimes causing a traffic jam in the roundabout, which is what a roundabout is designed to prevent! Another common action is to barrel into the roundabout without even slowing down, regardless of if there are other cars in the way, and expect the cars in the roundabout to stop for you. Blaring the horn does little to deter this unwanted behavior.
Driving in another country is always an adventure, and while driving in Korea has its share of frustrations, I enjoy that I can go on little adventures around this beautiful island I call home. Have you ever encountered any odd driving rules or habits in other countries?
Disclaimer: I have only driven in Jeju, and while it’s in Korea, I’m not sure if these problems exist in all of Korea or if they are specific to Jeju.
A tradition I start years ago on the SOL challenge was to reflect on the past year through photos (no captions, in chronological order). The idea came from Jeeyoung, a fellow slicer, and once I saw hers, I was hooked on the idea! You can have a look at the past years here- 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.
As an international school educator, I often travel to different countries several times a year, which is reflected in my Year in Photos. Due to the pandemic, 2021 will be my first year in photos with only two places represented- South Korea and United States. I was lucky to be able to get home for a few days this Christmas break, after a year and a half away from family. Despite not being able to travel as I normally do, I am blessed to live on a wonderful and safe island, Jeju-do, and have come away relatively unscathed from the pandemic. With that, here is my year in photos.
Everyone who knows me here in Jeju knows that I love the Dream Tower. I’m such a regular there, that I’m frequently greeted by name whenever I visit. I love staying overnight, but I also enjoy just spending a few hours there, too. For those of you not in Jeju, the Dream Tower is the name of Grand Hyatt in Jeju City, which opened a little over a year ago. It’s a beautiful hotel in the heart of the city and the tallest building on the entire island by far at 38 floors (but I think it’s got to be actually taller than that since many of the lower levels have incredibly high ceilings). There are 14 food and beverage outlets, which gives me plenty of options, plus an incredible spa.
If you’ve read my slices this week, you’ll know I’ve been rather stressed with the Covid situation at my school, as more and more teachers and students are testing positive. After such a hectic week, I knew I needed to find a way to relax today and take some time to recharge my batteries. The Dream Tower to the rescue!
Bec and Michelle were already going to the city for a check up at the doctor, so we made plans to meet up for lunch. After a few back and forth texts, we finally settled on Yumeyama, the Japanese restaurant. It’s great at lunchtime, as they have several lunch sets to choose from, with lots of little side dishes, tea, and dessert included. Each of us chose a different set, but we all loved our choices. I, of course, had the tempura rice bowl, and it was delish! Being able to catch up on life, tell stories, and laugh was good for the soul. So often at school, we pass one another quickly and only really get to chat about work, so it was lovely to be able to have a leisurely lunch together.
After lunch, they left to go shopping at E-Mart for the week’s groceries, while I stayed at the Dream Tower in relaxation mode. Needing to kill an hour before my massage, I hung out in the lobby cafe, where I sipped on Jeju tangerine tea and read my book club book that I’m behind on (we are meeting this Wednesday, so I need to read a lot this weekend).
One of my favorite indulgences is a foot massage. Since they aren’t really a ‘thing’ in the US, I didn’t fall in love with them until living in Shanghai. Now, I love a body massage just as much as the next girl, but getting a foot massage is a totally different experience. When you get a body massage, you can’t really do anything else except lay there while the masseuse works out the kinks in your muscles, but during a foot massage, they are only working on your feet and legs, so as you relax in the recliner, you can read and sip tea. It’s heavenly! They begin by soaking your feet in really warm water, followed by a foot scrub. After that, they massage your feet and legs with oil, focusing on pressure points. After the massage, they wrap your legs in hot towels, cleaning off the excess oil. If you haven’t had one, I highly recommend it!
Following my foot massage, I headed up to the lounge on the 38th floor, where I had the most gorgeous view of the sea overlooking the city and the airport. I enjoyed a hot chocolate while taking in the view and watching a movie on Netflix on my iPad.
A few hours later I was feeling peckish, so I headed across the hall to the steakhouse, where literally everyone knows my name (I obviously go there the most) for dinner. As a vegetarian, you might think it’s strange that I love the steakhouse so much, but they have killer salads and sides, plus their fresh baked dinner rolls with salted butter can’t be beat. I ordered up my usual, the iceberg wedge salad and sweet potato gratin, and must have been so hungry that I forgot to take a picture.
On the way home, I had to pull over and snap this picture of the gorgeous sunset. What a relaxing, perfect day!
Weekends are always a time of respite from the workweek just gone and a time to catch up on the one coming. While I always take some time to myself on the weekends, usually Saturdays being my “no-work” days, there’s always that little voice in the back of my head reminding me of all I have to do, all I didn’t get done, and all the people I need to reply to, prepare something for, or support. I can push it down, but it never really goes away.
This weekend Frances and I came to Jeju City, a mere 45-minute drive away from home, to stay in the poshest hotel around, the Grand Hyatt called the Jeju Dream Tower. The hotel, which opened in December of last year, will eventually have 1,600 rooms open, but for now, there are around 500 open to the public. With 14 dining options, a spa, pool, and the most incredible customer service, it lives up to its name of being a dream.
There’s something about sleeping in a different bed that makes all the difference. The act of taking a purposeful break away from everyday life, stopping to pause and relish the luxury afforded to you in a place such as this, is good for the soul. As I sit here in the lobby cafe, sipping my iced chocolate, writing this slice of life as I wait for my massage appointment, I am content. I know that I have work to do later this evening to prepare me for the week ahead, but I’m completely at ease, the staycation having done its job.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve eaten at the Italian restaurant on the 8th floor, with a beautiful view of the bustling city below, where I enjoyed a spicy aglio e olio pasta with delicious ribbons of fresh parmesan cheese straight from Italy; taken two relaxing baths in the largest bathtub ever; caught up on my shows and slice reading/commenting that I didn’t get to this week; dined at the Steakhouse on the 38th floor, literally in the clouds as the fog settled in around us, where I indulged with two Moscow Mules, crusty bread with salty butter, a burrata salad, and some roasted asparagus and smooth, creamy mashed potatoes; had a lazy morning, sleeping until I woke naturally at 9:00am, feeling well rested and refreshed; ordered and enjoyed my first-ever room service breakfast, something I will definitely do again, as eating a delicious meal in my pajamas overlooking the city is so much better than hurriedly elbowing my way through a buffet; had a late checkout and a leisurely break at the cafe, listening to the sounds of the music playing, coffee brewing, and the adorable toddler wandering, laughing, and exploring.
As I leave you to enjoy my final indulgence, an hour-long foot treatment massage, I am quietly at ease, ready to tackle the next two weeks before Spring Break. I hope you were able to rest and recharge this weekend, too.
One of my annual traditions is reflecting on the past year through photos. Here are my past year in photos reflections- 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. While I love telling stories through words, pictures are a great way to tell my story, too.
2020 was a year like no other, as we all know. While most of my previous year in photos include pictures from all the places I traveled that year, 2020 was the year of quarantine, therefore I have fewer places than usual represented in this year’s reflection. I started out the year in Texas, flying back to Jakarta via Dubai on January 2nd. I was able to travel to Borobudur and Lembang in Indonesia before we were quarantined on March 2nd. I went back to Texas in May, where I spent the summer, and then moved to Jeju, South Korea in July. After quarantining in Seoul, I spent the rest of 2020 in Jeju, apart from a couple of quick trips to Seoul. Here are the highlights of my 2020, in chronological order. Which ones are your favorite?
Spring is… sun shining buds blossoming breezes blowing dogs walking everyone smiling plants sprouting outside sitting skin warming energy rising
I’m absolutely loving the spring weather here in Jeju! The warmer weather, sunny skies, and gorgeous cherry blossoms make me smile. Today was a perfect spring day, and I couldn’t help walking around, snapping photos. I’m looking forward to riding my bike and taking long walks in the coming weeks. With Spring Break in two weeks, I’m excited to explore more of this beautiful island!
Had I known it was going to be such yucky weather today, I would have postponed. Jeju is much better to explore on sunny, clear days. Today’s plan was to try out a new-to-us restaurant on the northeastern part of the island, Tennessee Table, which has a substantial Instagram following. Of course, we had to also make a pit stop on the way to get donuts at our favorite place, Randy’s Donuts, a chain from California that has *miraculously* made its way to our tiny speck of an island.
As we left, we noticed a blue-gray painted across the sky, but not a rain cloud in sight. Just as we were about to pull up to the donut shop, the rain began. “At least this means the line won’t be too long today. The rain will have kept people away,” we naively said. After parking (down the street, since Randy’s lot was full), we were shocked to find that the line was the longest it’s ever been, snaking around the back side of the building. Undeterred, we took our place at the end of the line to wait our turn. Forty-five minutes later, we had the goods. And before you say it, yes, the wait is worth it. These are some damn good donuts.
After devouring the chocolate-covered one first in the car, we set the GPS for our next destination, Tennessee Table, which was about an hour away. The rain had given us a reprieve, and we were able to enjoy the cherry blossoms that seemed to pop up outside our windows as we cruised down the highway, singing along to my girls’ night playlist.
About 20 minutes into the trip, we were enveloped in a blanket of fog so thick you could only see about 2-3 car lengths in front of you. Slowing down considerably, I switched on the hazard lights to alert others to my presence. Jess, sitting in the passenger seat and free from the stress of driving through the soupy, barely visible sky, marveled at the scene, taking photo after photo of the eerie backdrop. As we drove through pine tree-lined backroads, I felt like I was in the movie Twilight, which seemed to always be covered in fog. The predicted time of about an hour took us longer in the end, but we made it to Tennessee Table for lunch.
Jessica, the owner, welcomed us in her southern twang, and her accent, coupled with the decor on the walls, reminded me of home. Jess had the chicken burger with fries and a milkshake and I had the veggie burger with fries and a coke. The food was delicious and lived up to its Instagram hype. Just look at the photos and you’ll understand.
We talked to Jessica, learning a bit more about her story. She has been in Jeju for 13 years, and after being a teacher for 15 years, five of which in Jeju, she decided to follow her dream of opening a restaurant, thus Tennessee Table was born. She, along with her Korean husband, built the entire restaurant themselves, which was very impressive, but something she said she’d never do again. After our conversation (including an unprompted “Bless your heart”), we headed back out. Stopping off in a Korean bookstore for a quick browse, we got back on the road.
On the way home, we made a detour to see the ocean, but the wind and rain ensured our visit was short-lived. The waves were much bigger than normal, which meant the surfers were out, but Jess and I agreed that you couldn’t pay us enough to get into that freezing cold sea on a day like today.
The ride home was a little stressful, as again, we drove through patches of dense fog, but we made it safely back to the GEC (our part of Jeju). We made one more stop on the way home to get Chai tea lattes from Grumpy Baby, a perfect end to the day.
I’ll be honest, this week has been pretty shitty. I’ve dealt with some rudeness, hardly had any time during the day due to loads of meetings, been stressed out with the amount of work I’ve had to do, and on top of that, I started my period, which has been unpleasant. I was proud of myself for just making it to Friday.
Tonight, a few friends and I went out to dinner at Donato’s, a pizza place near Hyeopjae Beach. It was my first time here, and let me tell you, this place is legit. The pizzas were made with quality ingredients in a wood-fired oven, something that’s rare to find in Jeju. We each ordered a pizza (mine was the Chevre made with goat cheese from France) and all shared a Caesar salad. The pizza was served with a balsamic glaze and local honey on the side. I loved everything and will definitely be going back.
The conversation was easy, sometimes involving all four of us, but other times, we broke off in twos to chat. We told stories from this week and from years in the past, empathized with one another, laughed (maybe a little too loudly), and teased each other. I enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane and sharing bits of my life from the past decade as an international school teacher, and I loved getting to know my new friends even more through their stories. It was the perfect antidote to a crappy week.
Toward the end of dinner, I went over to say hi to a student from my school who was eating with her family. I noticed her when we got there, and I waved, but she didn’t come to say hi, so I thought I would go to her. She’s one of those students who always has a smile on her face and chats with me whenever she sees me. I also talked with her family briefly, as they were getting ready to leave.
On the drive home, I blasted my 90’s playlist on Spotify and we sang (mostly out of tune) loudly along with the Backstreet Boys, Wilson Phillips, Shania Twain, Hanson, and Boyz II Men, laughing all the way home. My mood was lifted, as I shook off the negativity of the past week. Fridays should always end like this!