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Monday, March 30, 2009

Somewhere in between here and gone

It seems like just yesterday I was blogging about having been in Korea two weeks, then three months ... and now here I am at the six month mark, halfway finished.

I could use the old clichés about time flying or passing in the blink of an eye, but they can't do justice to how quickly the past six months have gone. Six months sounds like a long time but now that I'm halfway finished, I know I'll be back in America in no time. It's a comforting feeling on those days when Korea provides an endless number of annoyances.

Current annoyance: the continuing plummet of the economy. Sigh. My poor paycheck.

The second half of my Korea adventure should be more exciting then the first. Although I did visit Thailand and the Philippines, there were few chances to explore Korea. Now that nice weather is finally arriving, I'm looking forward to seeing more of this country and Seoul. It's much easier to get motivated to leave a cozy apartment when you're heading outside into lovely weather and not the subarctic.

I'm sure it will go equally as fast, especially once summer hits. I'll be in Australia at the end of June and early July, and then summer camp begins, meaning the return of several friends and five busy weeks of work. That takes us into September and my final month. Hard to believe, hard to believe.

It's a strange feeling, not having seen any of my friends or family in six months and knowing it's another six until we get together again. I'm looking forward to that more than anything.

All things told, I'm really lucky to have this opportunity -- things could be a lot worse if I was just a few miles north.

Just one request: when I get home in October, please don't ask, "How was Korea?"

How do you sum up a year of your life in one short soundbite?

I like living here:

But I'm looking forward to getting back here:

Staying connected a million miles away

Once upon a time, moving across the world meant at least a little disconnection with the home country. Letters and phone calls are okay, newspapers have a good dose of international news, but the Internet completely revolutionized ex-pat living.

Thanks to websites like CNN.com and Most Emailed News, which is constantly updated with the most emailed stories on more than 20 news websites, it's never been easier to stay in-the-know.

A few favorites:

- Maybe a better story would be about what doesn't cause cancer.

- I forsee an appearance on "The Jeremy Kyle Show" in this kid's not-too-distant future -- Alfie is not the daddy.

- See, exercise is bad for you!

- I wish them a long and healthy marriage.

- The recession is benefiting the nude travel industry.

- UN: "Earth Hour was probably the largest public demonstration on climate change ever."

- This is so wrong but so funny.

- Hemingway's Spain.

- As the pièce de résistance, I present Animals who Hate Baths.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A week in pictures

Snow? Oh, no!

Amaaazing salad at Jenny's Café, Hongdae -- fresh mozzarella, cucumbers, orange bell peppers, sundried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and more!

Observing Earth Hour

This picture cannot to justice to the crazy Korean outfits I saw today -- giant Minnie Mouse bows and sparkly silver jogging caps.

Happy Birthday, Karen!

Can you spot me?

Caribou Coffee, Sinchon -- a little slice of home with fantastic company.

The mountains behind my house on a clear day.

First blossoms of the season = happiness.

One of these things is not like the other...

Sunset in Suyu

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saving the planet, one lightswitch at a time

If all things go as planned, this post should automatically appear just as Earth Hour 2009 begins in Seoul.

The premise of Earth Hour is simple: at 8:30pm local time, turn off your lights and other electronic devices (computer, radio, TV, etc.) for one hour. That's it.

This simple act can make a difference. If nothing else, it shows solidarity with the fight against global warming and enhances a worldwide dialogue about energy consumption. Plus, maybe we'll each discover something to do for an hour a day that doesn't involve being chained to our computers/TVs/comfy living rooms.

Organizers this year expect 1 billion people around the world to participate.

Every person, every household, every community makes a difference. What do you have to lose?

Seoul plans to shut off the lights at many prominent sites:

This year, Seoul will take part in this event by turning off the lights of such landmarks as the COEX, the 63 Building, the bridges over the Han River, Bukchang-dong as well as two large signboards in the Dongdaemun Fashion District. Two apartment complexes in Seoul will join in Earth Hour, as well, to set a positive example. The City of Seoul will continue to encourage its citizens and guests to participate in this event.

I'll be interested to find out how many Koreans get involved tonight, as no one I've talked to here had even heard of Earth Hour, much less had plans to participate.

Get inspired:

A message from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (from Korea):

Pictures from Earth Hour 2008:

Friday, March 27, 2009

In an emo state of mind, clearly

I'm reading a fantastic book right now called Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, a former Peace Corps volunteer's memoir of two years spent living in a small village in the Ivory Coast. It not only reminds me how lucky I am to be living in this modern, first-world country (despite all of my grievances with Korea), but also reinvigorated my desire to visit Africa.

After just last week seemingly finalizing my travel/life plans for the next 12 months -- at least internally -- everything is again up in the air. Or, at least, this reaffirms why I shouldn't give myself a deadline to finish traveling and start a "real" life. Maybe this is my real life.

On a related note, check out my friend Caitlin's amazing blog as she documents life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa.

It's just that kinda day...

Make your own album cover:

1 - Go to Wikipedia. Hit “random” or click http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random.
The first random Wikipedia article you get is the name of your band

2 - Go to "Random quotations" or click http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3 The last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

3 - Go to flickr and click on “explore the last seven days,” or click http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days. The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

4 - Use Photoshop or similar to put it all together

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.
-Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

If this doesn't tug at your heartstrings, I don't know what will.

Cat Stevens + The Lorax = environmental win.

In other news from my childhood, check out the new trailer from Where the Wild Things Are:

Also in the news:
-How ridiculously cute are these clouded leopard twins that were born at the National Zoo this week?!

(photo from latimes.com)

-Maybe this Washington Post column is a sign I should apply to the Foreign Service.

USAID, Uncle Sam's foreign assistance agency, plans to double, to 2,200, its ranks of foreign service officers by 2012.

"We have never hired like this before," Tom Davis, USAID's outreach and marketing chief, told a panel discussion at the fair.

-Leave it to Peanuts to inspire this latest recession-time business initiative.

-We were always told Wikipedia wasn't a valid source for research papers, but apparently the Brits think otherwise and have ordered a complete overhaul of all primary school curriculum.

-Your latest "Erin might get nuked" update, courtesy of CNN. My plan is to grab a backpack and head for the hills, singing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" à la The Sound of Music.

(thanks to Erin G. for finding the fantastic video)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A food revolution on the horizon

The press has had a field day (pun intended) lately with the story of the White House vegetable garden. I guess it's an upbeat alternative to the usual stories of economic downfall and the world's impending doom.

Besides applauding efforts by the Obamas to make healthy eating and sustainable agriculture a part of a national conversation, I'm also heartened by reports that this may prompt millions of Americans to plant their own gardens and/or buy locally-grown, organic foods when possible.

Alice Waters, the "mother" of the slow food movement, gave a fascinating interview on 60 Minutes recently discussing her beliefs about how eating locally-grown foods can make a difference:

This New York Times column asks the question: "Is a food revolution now in season?" The answer is YES. I especially love this quote from Senator Tom Harkin:

“We bend the track a little bit and get the train going in a little bit different direction,” he says. “We’re hoping we can bend it a little bit more. Consumers are demanding it.”

My eyes opened wide after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, both of which completely changed the way I saw food. Now I'm much more conscious of what I'm buying and eating. One of my biggest complaints about grocery shopping in Korea is that I'm never sure how many or what kinds of chemicals are in my food, and whether things are actually organic (since 88% of "organic" foods in Korea are actually not).

Forget about locally-grown -- I wouldn't even know how to ask!

It will be nice to go home and have farmers markets and Whole Foods, which now labels and advertises locally-grown products, within walking distance. Until then, I'm going to see if it's possible to find seeds somewhere in Seoul and grow herbs on my balcony.

Who knew this city girl would become such a wannabe farmer?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I love the smell of burritos in the morning

Every time I move out of the United States, there's one thing I miss more than anything else: good Mexican food. Specifically, Chipotle.

Why is it impossible to find decent Mexican food anywhere outside of the Americas? El Panzon's Camden food stand is a reasonable alternative in London but the hunt for burritos in Korea was a dead-end street. On the Border filled my most base Mexican needs but couldn't truly satiate me. The next 6 months looked bleak and hopeless.

Until Sunday. I guess all that church-going paid off because after service Sunday, Karen and I met up at Tomatillo near Jonggak station (there are a few locations of this new restaurant in Seoul, including one at COEX).

Karen had been before and said it was the closest to authentic Tex-Mex that she, as a Texan, had found in Korea. As soon as we walked in, I knew I was home.

According to Karen, the owner is a kyopo who took some inspiration from Chipotle in creating Tomatillo. The only concession the restaurant makes to Korean food is including bulgogi as a meat choice, but everything else is authentic Tex-Mex. Even the decor resembles Chipotle.

My chicken burrito was delicious. And you could tell the corn chips were freshly made and not just poured from a bag. Plus at about 10,000 won per person, Tomatillo is a lot cheaper than On the Border; it's comparable in price to Dos Tacos but the food and atmosphere are much better here.

I'll definitely be going back soon. Gosh, now that I've found this place, there's really no neeplud to ever move back to the United States. Guess I'm here to stay!

(just kidding. obviously.)

Also, someone mentioned recently that I blog a lot about food. That's because I love food. Seriously, loooooove it. One day I'll be 500 pounds but until then, I'm just going to keep eating and stay happy. I really enjoy those shows on Discovery Health Channel about morbidly obese people -- I know it's wrong but they are mesmerizing. So at least in a few years I'll be able to star on a show called "I Ate Burritos Every Day and Now Need to be Lifted Out of My House by a Crane."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hyewha happenings

Before I write about exploring Hyewha this weekend, when I wrote the title of this post all I could think of was Fred Willard in that classic scene from A Mighty Wind: "Hey, wha' happened?"

That really might be the funniest movie ever.

Anyway anyway anyway, beautiful spring weather finally debuted in Korea this week and that gave us a chance Saturday to escape campus and walk around outdoors. Major salad cravings led us to Hyewha and... ta da!

Salad. Real salad. Green lettuce, grilled chicken, oil & vinegar, cheese. It's a discovery of epic proportions -- but another amazing food discovery dwarfed salad's importance later this weekend. You can read about that food find in my blog tomorrow. How's that for a cliffhanger?!

After enjoying a delicious meal, we spent some time walking around and shopping in Hyewha. It's a fantastic neighborhood in Seoul with lots of students, which means great (and cheap) shopping, many restaurants and an overall cool, laid-back vibe. There were tons of people out enjoying the sunshine, too, and it made me excited for spring and summer in Korea. The nice weather definitely marks a shift in my attitude toward this country, I think.

No trip to Hyewha is complete without a visit to Cold Stone Creamery, of course. Does Coldstone America have the strawberry shortcake creation? It's amaaazing!

Playing with mirrors while shopping

Outside a doughnut shop

Moses guarding the movie theatre? I don't know.

Most English on shirts here is complete gibberish but I like this one.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Breaking News Fail

In photojournalism class, they taught us that the picture should always enhance the story. Job well done, CNN.

One idea of heaven

"Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter."
-Google attributes this quote to President James A. Garfield, Bill Cosby and Dave Gardner. I don't know who really said it but I hope it was the President.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the peanut butter and jelly selection at Lotte department store.

For any foreigners in Seoul needing a PB fix or craving cheese, Lotte has a fairly decent selection of imported foods in its basement level. The prices are comparable to any foreign grocery in the city and although it doesn't have the variety of products as your average Itaewon foreign market, the convenience of Lotte makes this a great place to pop in and pick up a few things.

Plus, Lotte is just next to my neighborhood E-Mart so a quick ride on the 151 bus and almost all my food needs are met.

Except hummus. Where can a girl get some pita and hummus in this country?!

Also -- can someone explain the difference between "new" Jif and regular? The store had three kinds of creamy Jif (but no reduced fat, strangely enough) and the company website doesn't even mention the new one. So many questions but you remember the last time I tried to buy peanut butter.

Friday, March 20, 2009

If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do.

Dongdaemun, "Gate of Rising Benevolence" or "Great East Gate"

I got an email from my dad last night saying:

Funny, every time I tell someone of your philosophy of working just enough to afford travel, they say 'good for her' or 'do it while you're young' or 'I wish I had done that.'

And then this morning, I saw this story from CNN. In a time when Americans are being laid off left and right, and friends I graduated with can't find jobs in their field of study and instead work waiting tables, I'm feeling pretty confident in my decision to teach abroad:

For many recent graduates, working abroad is becoming a more secure option than searching for a job in the United States. Most teaching programs in other countries will provide teachers with a salary and health insurance, and some programs in Asia will even provide free housing, said Jake Hanin, a teach abroad program coordinator for the Council on International Education Exchange, who also has noticed an increase in applications.

This end quote perfectly sums up when I've been telling everyone for the past year or so:

"You have plenty of time to get a career, start a family, and follow that path," Lee said. "Why not try another path first? What have you got to lose?"

Exactly my point.

Taxation Without Representation ... or is that not important anymore?

As you may or may not be aware, the DC House Voting Rights Act may finally be on its way to passing, giving DC residents a vote in the House of Representatives for the first time since the USA was established more than 230 years ago.

This would be major legislation to not only finally give Washingtonians a vote in Congress but would also end the unfair and unconstitutional practice of taxation without representation, something America's founders fought and died to prevent.

The act also provides another seat in the House for Utah, thereby guaranteeing that as the Democrats presumably gain a seat, so do the Republicans.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has served as a non-voting delegate to the House for 18 years, is the bill's staunchest ally and a frequent sparring partner of DC-born Stephen Colbert. Yep, Colbert is a native Washingtonian. Just another reason to love him.

This latest match-up between the two is just another reason why "The Colbert Report" is the best half-hour on TV, bar none.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

What's your RealAge?

Yesterday during a break from work, I stumbled onto the website RealAge.com, a health website run by Drs. Roizen and Oz (whom I knew from his numerous appearances on "Oprah").

Besides offering free diet and workout plans, the website also has a 10-minute survey you can take that weighs overall health, fitness, diet and other factors to determine your "real" age.

Turns out, my RealAge is the same as my chronological age: 23.1 years. At first I thought the test was broken but then several of my friends the same as me took the survey and got varying results. Jess, who is very active with running and yoga, has a RealAge of 15; Lauren scored a 28, which she chalks up to not having a dog.

Here's how it broke down. A + is something that works in my favor, making my RealAge younger; an X is a negative, making me older.

+ Not taking any meds
X Not knowing your cholesterol levels
+ No family history of ovarian cancer

+ Avoiding secondhand smoke
+ Being a nonsmoker
X Not flossing enough

X Not having a dog
X Facing a lot of stress

+ Being a fruit eater
+ Eating a variety of foods
+ Taking daily vitamins

+ Having a healthy BMI
X Not building enough flexibility
+ Having a good resting heart rate

What's your RealAge? Take the survey and let me know!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Photos from the Phenomenal Philippines

...or, as Melissa likes to call it, "Erin Melissa Cebu City" after friends told us we were exactly like the two characters in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. And you know what? They were right. Watch the movie and it's pretty obvious who is who.

Finally, pictures from the tropics of Cebu, Philippines.

Filipino students on a field trip wanted a photo with the foreigners -- celebrities, eh?

Magellan's Marker, marking the spot where Magellan died

Lapu-Lapu Monument, honoring the former king of Cebu

Happiness is sunshine, warm weather and a good book

Beach essentials

Cebu City

Fort San Pedro

Magellan's Cross, the original cross planted by Magellan when he landed on Cebu, is encased inside this shell.

Santa Nino Basilica