Photo of the Week: 2/15 – 2/21

I’ve been slacking a bit in my Photo of the Week category, but here’s hoping that I will jump start back into it with this photo. Over the weekend, my roommate and I took a nice stroll around Central Park because the bitterly cold weather we’ve been having took a short hiatus to reveal a sunny day with temps in the 40s. Central Park was pretty much a slushy wet mess, but with all the snow it was beautiful nonetheless. The following is one of several photos that I took while we walked around and it is one of my favorites. We were looking down at the Central Park Lake from the top of a small stream:

Enjoy your week!

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What’s better than ice cream on a snowy afternoon?

Maybe hot chocolate but my roommate and I were on a mission this past weekend to try something she saw on some food network: gelato on a brioche bun. At first I was confused by this literal ice cream sandwich. Would that be any good? The answer is a big fat YES. It’s not cheap, but what is cheap in Manhattan anyway?

We took a walk over to a place in Nolita called AB Biagi. It is a small cafe with both Italian and Brazilian roots specializing in gelato and coffee and offering what is called the paingelato or ice cream sandwich. This is why we traveled through slushy windy streets and we were not disappointed (though very full afterwards).

First, you choose one of the following flavors of gelato:

Gelato-Sorbet-Flavors

Then, you choose either an original, chocolate, or orange infused brioche. I had the chocolate with tonka gelato (I think. I had something that looked like cookies and cream) on the orange brioche and my roommate had mint gelato on the chocolate brioche. Both were delicious. The cafe is small, but it’s cute, and on a nice day you could just stop in and get your treat to go.

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My orange brioche sandwich:

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My roommate’s chocolate brioche sandwich:

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If you’re looking for something cool to try, I would definitely suggest checking this place out. You just might want to go when the weather is a little warmer.

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A weekend of eating.

When my friends come to visit me in NYC, we eat. And when it’s a friend who used to live here and knows all the places to go, we really eat. It was a cold, windy weekend in Manhattan, and still we ate. Here’s a little summary of the weekend of eating:

1. Valentine’s Day Dinner
One of my friends is temporarily living in the West Village for the next six months, so we took the opportunity to visit her new apartment and cook dinner with the girls. We all chipped in for some groceries, and in the end came away with a nice dinner of Chicken Parmesan  and Zitis with a salad and red wine. After dinner, I made mulled wine for the first time ever and we had a honey cake with blueberries and ice cream on top. We go big when food is involved.

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2. Doughnut Plant
I first went to Doughnut Plant when another friend was visiting and it was on his bucket list to go. I’ve been to the location in Chelsea several times. Basically, the donuts are big and they are filled with delicious things. If you haven’t been, go. You’ll have donuts for days. Fun fact: I went to a random dentist when I was in Korea because I needed someone who could speak English and I was SHOCKED to find a Doughnut Plant NYC right next door! Here are some pics from our most recent visit:

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Sorry that I don’t have any pictures of the real donuts but we basically just ate them too fast.

And here we are with thousands of layers on since Manhattan is an icy wind tunnel these days:

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3. Udon West
Another place on Alicia’s list was this Japanese restaurant in the Lower East Side called Udon West. She had been going on and on about the spicy soup and while I’m not much for spice, I did visit my fair share of Japanese places while in Korea. I ordered Japanese curry and it was just as amazing as I’d remembered (and though nothing can really been Japanese curry in Kyoto, Japan, Udon West was pretty delicious considering).

Alicia’s spicy soup and a beer:

Practicing proper chopsticks usage:

Ready to brave the weather again:

4. Momofuku Milk Bar
Discovered only shortly before I left for Korea, I had been dreaming about Momofuku Milk Bar cookies for a year and a half. That dream finally became reality again when we made a stop at the midtown location before doing some shopping. Although Momofuku has  a lot to offer, I can never quite make it past their cookies. Blueberry cream is my favorite but I could easily eat every flavor in one sitting. For those who can manage some self-control in the cookie department, I’ve heard that the crack pie and the cereal milk flavor of the soft serve ice cream are both amazing.

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I really want the entire basket:

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You can even buy the mix to make them yourself:

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5. PaintNite NYC
This one isn’t technically food but it was still a lot of fun and it was at a bar so that counts for something. What you  need to know about doing one of these group painting activities is that if you are anything like me, you’re going to leave thinking you are Monet, overly impressed by the simple but stunning painting you have created, and you will immediately get sucked into wanting to do another one. I haven’t signed up for a second painting, but it’s on my list for sure. 

I really think someone should call the MoMA:

6. Mama’s Empanadas
At the start of Alicia’s final day here, we made a vow to visit the classic Mama’s Empanadas. There are locations all around Queens (and probably in the rest of the boroughs) and there is one conveniently around the corner from my apartment. So after we got our paint on, we made a stop for some delicious fried goodness and completed our wonderful weekend of eating. I had four empanadas (chicken, cheese, chicken parm, and mac and cheese — yes, the fattest choicest possible) and I am not ashamed to say that I ate them all right there. It’s good to be back in the land of being able to eat anything you want.

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Bikram Yoga: No joke.

I’ve been a runner for about 15 or so years now. Starting as a sprinter when I was younger and transitioning into a distance runner in my adult life, I know a thing or two about putting my body through a difficult workout. And then one time I signed up for Bikram Yoga not knowing what it was. I will tell you what it is: death.

Actually I’m being a little dramatic. Yes, you have to do 26 yoga postures two times each over the course of an hour and a half in a room heated to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and try not to pass out. But the teachers are usually great and you’re allowed to just sit down whenever you need to. And the last half hour’s postures are all on the floor. They are still difficult postures, but in between each one you get to lie on your back to recover. Best posture ever.

So how did I discover this delightfully torturous workout that I now subject myself to 4-5 times per week? Like most people, I was sucked in via a Groupon/Livingsocial/Amazon local deal. This was back when I didn’t know that Bikram yoga was hot yoga and one of my best friends was still living in Queens and wanted us to go together. After shocking our systems the first time, we became mildly obsessed and strangely competitive over going to even more classes than what we had signed up for (she was also a runner and competition is in our nature). But then I moved to Korea and she moved back to Boston, and our classes stopped.

Luckily, when I returned from Korea, I found that since I had been gone from this one Bikram yoga studio in my neighborhood for over six months, I was again eligible to sign up via Groupon. Having not exercised even once over the last six months I lived in Korea, I decided it was time to kick my butt back into shape and what better way to do so than with a discounted three month unlimited pass to Bikram?? Today was my 14th class since I’ve been back and for the first time in my life, I’ve started to see some improvement with my chronic inflexibility.

This post was actually supposed to be about promoting this one place that I go to for all these lovely, sweaty sessions and instead I made it more about me. So let me take this opportunity to say that if you’ve ever been interested in trying Bikram and you live in Queens (specifically in Astoria, the best part), definitely check out Bikram Yoga Astoria Queens. The staff is wonderful and the facilities are clean and I can’t recommend them enough if you are a beginner and trying to decide if you’re actually crazy enough to put yourself through everything I described above. They are patient and always open to questions and they never push you too far. They are encouraging and supportive and they understand that Bikram is a serious workout. They are also very knowledgeable about the whole crazy thing. So if you’re looking for a workout that is no joke, try Bikram and go to the studio in Astoria. It’s located at 38-01 23rd Ave. 2nd Floor, Astoria, NY 11105. If you want some reassurance about whether or not you should try, call them at (718) 777-9642 and they will convince you. Better yet, check out the teacher bios page on their website and see what keeps them going back again and again.

I’m not in this picture:

This is what I think I look like in class:

I don’t have any photo proof, but we can just assume. And trust me, you don’t want to go taking post-workout selfies.

See you in the hot room!

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Photo of the Week: 12/21 – 12/27

I had several photos to choose from for this week. My flight from Seoul to Boston, my emergence from immigration at Logan airport, an assortment of American food pictures, or stores with shoes that actually fit my feet. But the choice was easy: I finally met my new baby cousin, Ava, the second girl on my dad’s side of the family behind me, and fell in love.

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Me and Ava

Have a great week!

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Ten things I do miss about Korea.

A few weeks back, I posted all my complaints about Korea and the things that I would definitely NOT miss about living there. Despite that post, living in Seoul was a great experience and actually quite comfortable and enjoyable. Therefore, there are many things I will actually miss about living there. Allow me to elaborate on my list of the top ten things I will miss:

10. Cheap doctor visits.

In Korea, I had health insurance. In the United States, I do not. Well, not easily anyway. Korea has national health insurance but even if you didn’t have healthcare, going to the doctor or getting any kind of medical treatment is SO CHEAP. For example, do you need to go to the doctor because you have tonsillitis but it’s your first week in Korea and you don’t have health insurance yet? No problem. The visit, the medicine, and a nice shot to decrease the obscene swelling in your throat is only about $25.00. Did you catch a cold from all of the second grade kids you teach leaning all over you and touching your face 24/7? Not a problem. The visit, the medicine, oh and some extra eye drops for the conjunctivitis you also contracted will just be $11.00 with your insurance! Do you need to have SURGERY to remove something from the back of your ear that was totally your fault because you got the ear pierced and it became infected? No problems here! The visit to the doctor at a major HOSPITAL, the surgery, the bandaging, and the medicine will just be about $50.00 because half of it is covered by your insurance and oh, the whole thing is going to take about 1hr. in total.

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I’m still trying to decide why I thought it was a good idea to move back stateside.

9. Walking around in flip flops in a major city and not getting black feet.

Seoul is clean. Yes, it’s still a big city and in the summer, it can be a bit smelly in some parts. But walk down the street for ten minutes in New York City in the summer and your feet will be blacker than Salem the cat. Walk down the street in Seoul for approximately 8 hours and you probably won’t even have to wash your feet (although you still should because summers in Seoul are HOT and your feet were definitely sweating if you walked around the city for 8 hours).

8. The security. 

Ever heard of CCTV? Well, it’s in Korea, and it’s watching you. But it’s also watching anyone who would even think of stealing anything. Unfortunately, I got into a bad habit of just leaving my stuff around because really no one in Korea would take it. I’m not so sure if it’s due completely to all the cameras around or if it’s just in their culture, but it was nice. Being back in New York, I constantly have to remind myself that I’m not in Seoul any longer, so walking by  myself down random alleyways in the dark is no longer an option. Not that I did a lot of that in Seoul, but if I wanted to I could have because no one would have bothered me.

7. Dog and Cat Cafes. 

This kind of speaks for itself. Who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon with a bunch of other peoples’ dogs to play with while sipping coffee? Who wouldn’t want to spend two hours in a cat’s paradise where 30 cats live and have one just jump on up into your lap while you have your tea? I know there is a cat cafe opening somewhere in Manhattan (if it’s not there already) but the U.S. seriously needs to take note of the cafes in Korea and get on that. I’m already having withdrawals.

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6. The Seoul Subway (and transportation in general).

When I decided to add this to my list, I hadn’t been back to experience the New York City subway system yet. I’m now back and I now appreciate more than ever what I had and what I now no longer have with the Seoul Metro: a punctual, predictable, clean, quiet, efficient mode of transportation around the city. How did I ever survive using the NYC system before? I ask myself this on a daily basis as I dream about that friendly Korean automated voice coming over the speaker and the Seoul Subway transfer song. See the below video for a summation of all that is perfect about the Seoul Subway.

5. Dak Galbi, Galbijjim, and Korean BBQ (but not really any other Korean food). 

I’m not a big fan of Korean food, but you can’t go wrong with any of these. Dak Galbi is chicken with veggies and rice and occasionally cheese, though that’s not exactly traditional. It was my go-to lunch item.

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Galbijjim is heaven in a stew. Meat, veggies, rice cake, and noodles mixed in broth and poured over some rice. As I stare out my window at the snowy slush on the ground, I could really use a good bowl of this.

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And of course, Korean BBQ. It is true that you can easily get BBQ here, but it’s not as good and it’s not as cheap. I had a few favorites from my neighborhood, one family owned restaurant where we were basically celebrities, and another all-you-can-eat establishment that had a meat bar where you go and just take as many slabs of any kind of meat as you want, all for about 19 dollars. Oh Dinomeat, how I will miss you so!

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4. The wifi. 

It’s everywhere in Korea. And it’s fast. And you can use it on the subway no matter how far underground it goes. Oh, and it’s cheap. Technology in Korea is a serious business, and while I couldn’t quite be convinced to ditch my iPhone for a Galaxy, I would take back that constant access to Wifi in a heartbeat.

3. People walking around in clothing displaying incorrect English. 

I now understand that when people in English speaking countries walk around with writing on their shirts that is in another language, they have no idea what it means, and most likely it is severely incorrect. Please examine the following pictures for an idea of what I’m getting at:

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As an English speaker, I really will miss this bit of entertainment.

2. Traveling around Asia. 

Although it wasn’t as cheap as I had initially imagined it to be, the ease of traveling around  Asia once you live there is awesome and it was something that I tried to take advantage of as often as possible. Although I didn’t get a lot of vacation time, I used what time I had wisely and visited four other countries outside of Korea while I was there: China, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam. I barely cracked the surface of what Asia has to offer and I still even want to go back to some of the countries I already visited to see more. It’s a long flight over from here, but so worth it and so fun to travel around in once there. Here’s to hoping I get to visit the other side of the world  many more times in the future.

Shanghai, China

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Krabi, Thailand

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Kyoto, Japan

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

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1. My friends (and some students). 

Of course, the number one thing I will miss from my time living in Korea is all the people that I met. I made expat friends, Korean friends, and even friends with some young Koreans who liked to learn English from me. Leaving Korea was probably harder for me than when I left the United States, and the main reason for that is because I don’t know when or if I will ever go back and I don’t know if I will ever see some of the people I met again. Of course, I try not to think that way, and thanks to social media, I can at least very easily stay in touch with them all. But in the meantime, I have all these pictures to enjoy to keep me company until I see my friends again.

All the kids Busan Goodbye Scott IMG_2722 Me and Amy Me and Jae Me, Amy, Jayoung 2 Rivera S 2 Seoul 10k Vega T Work Friends

Korea, for all your oddities and strange personality, it seems I will miss you after all.

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Ten things I do not miss about Korea

**Note: I wrote this post about a month ago when I returned home from Korea. Since I was busy visiting everyone I hadn’t seen and eating everything in my entire house for a month, I’m just getting around to posting. The following few posts on my blog will also be a little behind as I catch up to the real world back here in the U.S.**

Last Sunday, I made the 19 hour journey from Seoul to Boston after 16 months of living abroad. What really surprised me about the entire week leading up to my departure was that I found it somehow more difficult to leave Korea and return home than it had been to originally leave the U.S. Living in Seoul as a foreigner was comfortable and fun and there are many things and people that I will miss a lot. However, I decided that the first of my post-Seoul blog posts would be about what I would not miss about Korea. Having been stateside for less than one week, I have barely begun to appreciate the reverse culture shock, but I do already have an appreciation for my lack of sadness for the following ten Korean items:

10. Corn on cheese pizza
It doesn’t belong there, Korea, so stop putting it there. Yes, I understand that in the United States we perhaps also do not make pizza quite like the Italians, but at least we aren’t over here putting canned corn on a plain cheese pizza! I’m still trying to figure that one out. Luckily, I may never have to suffer this catastrophic situation again.

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I want none of that.

9. Ondol floor heating
Before I moved to Korea, one of the many things that kept coming up in online foreigner discussion boards was how much everyone loves the traditional floor heating in Korea. Sorry, it sucks. Yes, I sometimes enjoyed having warm feet but what about the rest of my body?? Also, my apartment had a loft which meant that the floor up there was about three feet from the ceiling. There was no way I could keep that heat on at night and expect to breathe while sleeping up there. So I really enjoyed walking down to a freezing living room every morning. Oh yeah, and the amazing floor heating doesn’t exactly make it into the bathroom ever so that’s always a joyous occasion in the morning as well. See ya never, Ondol heating.

Ondol Heating

Stop using something that was invented in ancient times!

8. The lack of vacation days with every job
Oh, we get a summer vacation? That’s great! I’m sorry? It’s only for 3 days and one of those days is already a national holiday?
Thank God I’m a foreigner and built into my contract was ten vacation days because if I were one of my Korean friends, I would just move to Thailand and become a tour guide.

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7. Students telling me my nose is big
Ok. I get it. You telling me that my nose is really big is a compliment. But I have now become obsessed with analyzing every single white person’s nose both on TV and in real life. Thanks a lot, Korea.

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6. Kimchi
It’s delicious? No way. Nothing that smells like feet and has so much spicy sauce on it that you can’t taste it anyway is “delicious.” Excuse me while I just sit at the corner of the table hoarding white rice in my bowl.

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NO, I DO NOT!

5. K-Pop
Alright. I understand the obsession to some degree. I was a die hard Backstreet Boys fan at one point (and a closet N’Sync fan but no way was I going to tell anyone that I liked both “bands”). But I don’t care how stupid the American boy bands of the 90s and 2000s were, you could at least tell that they were dudes. EXO, one of the most popular bands in Korea right now, was all the rage with my students. When they showed me a picture of the members asking me which was my favorite, I said, “Well, they’re all quite pretty but their hair is a little short for girls.” I got dirty looks for two weeks. I did end up going to one K-Pop concert with a friend, and I’ll admit, it was fun. But most of our entertainment came from observing the crowd more than the bands.

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Why are there 100 people in the group?

4. Korean Baby Talk
I was real close to putting this as my number one thing I would not miss from Korea. If you think it’s bad when couples in the U.S. talk cutesy to each other, you don’t even know the worst of it. Now, I can’t speak Korean, but I sure as hell KNOW when there are couples around. The girls’ voices just get to this level of annoying that not even the worst chalkboard with the longest fingernails in the world scratching down it can reach. Don’t believe me? Watch this video. Keep a bucket close by for when you need to puke. You’ve been warned.

I can’t even handle the tips. UGH.

3. Old people always trying to talk to me on the train to practice their English
It was cute the first 50 times, but can’t you see I’m sitting here listening to Pink Floyd on my way home from trying to explain the difference between “is” and “are” for six hours? I don’t want to talk. And I can’t understand half of what you’re saying anyway.

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2. The language barrier
Korean waitress: “You want lice?”
Me: “Lice?”
Korean waitress: “Nae.”
Me: “No?”
Korean waitress: “Ok. No lice.”
Me: “Right. Could I have some rice?”
Korean waitress: “Bap?”
Me: “JUST BRING ME ANYTHING EXCEPT KIMCHI.”
(I don’t really think you need an explanation for this.)

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1. The Old People
The entire country is run by old people. Officer stops an old man for speeding? He’s older than the cop so he’s not in trouble. You’re not supposed to have jet skis so close to the shore? The owner is older than the coast guard, so he shoos them away with a whistle. You’re standing in a neat, civilized line for the subway? This woman with a cane is like 90 years old so she’s allowed to step on your feet to get to the front.

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Let’s face it. Old people are annoying everywhere. But I’m pretty sure Koreans take the cake for the WORST old people on Earth. I told my Korean friends they are never allowed to become Korean old people. They promised me they never would.

If you read this entire post, you may be thinking, “Why did she say it was difficult to leave Korea? It sounds terrible!” But that’s why I decided to start with my list of the ten things I would not miss and save the ten things I would most miss for my next post. I promise I’m not this bitter, but I’ve been waiting a year and four months to complain about it to the whole world (or at least the five people who read and follow this blog).

Stay tuned for the ten things I will miss most about Korea…

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