Gwangjang market! #litlyfinSeoul

food, Travel

I am currently sat on a KTX back to Busan after embarking on a week long trip to Seoul. It was my second time visiting Korea’s capital city; a metropolis so alive and vibrant, full of exciting escapades, magnificent landscapes and opportunities to make friends. My week has been crammed with touristy site seeing, authentic Korean experiences as well as my first ever language exchange meet-up! I am in a little bubble of happiness right now, all a buzz with Hongdae’s imprint… of course Busan will always have my heart but I HIGH KEY love me some Seoul right now!

A personal favourite anecdote of my trip: the street food I devoured at Gwangjang market. Interestingly one of the first questions the natives ask all foreigners is “Do you like Korean food?”. Food is such an important element of the Korean culture, so many people I have met here are so proud of their nations best dishes and furthermore eating together is a social necessity. I always answer the question with a solidly enthusiastic “Hell yeahhhh!” to much surprise and glee. At the language exchange meet-up in Seoul, I was asked that very question and after giving my response, I was then asked if I had visited Gwangjang market yet to try the selection of food on offer there. I was thrilled to exclaim I had actually been there just the day before for a full on, three course culinary extravaganza!

An ahjumma prepping food at her stall!

First on the menu was 파전; 전 (jeon) in Korean means savoury pancake and 파 (pa) stands for spring onions (scallions to Americans). There are so many various different 전 however 파전 is the Korean go to on rainy days, always to be eaten whilst drinking 막갈리 (makgeolli). The day we visited Gwangjang market happened to be the rainiest day during our trip to Seoul so naturally 파전 was the way to go. The ahjumma we bought from was adorable; she flipped our 파전 in the pan and made it nice and crispy with a side dish of sliced green chillis swimming in soy sauce. It was a nice thick pancake, stuffed with not only spring onions but what I also believe to be Asian chives as well as potato. All that for 3,000 won (roughly £2.10)… such a steal!

I had a major hankering for 비빔밥 (bibimbap) that day, and after fulfilling the rainy tradition for 파전, I was a woman on a mission to find Korea’s staple rice dish. The food zone of Gwangjang stretches on and on, numerous stalls offering various versions of 떡볶이 (rice cakes in a spicy sauce), 순대 (blood sausage that is normally fried) and 만두 (dumplings). We were drawn to one lady’s stall in particular; I cannot tell you the reason why but I’m guessing it has something to do with the multitude of veggies she had lined up on display ready to pile on top of a bowl full of rice. We took a seat, ordered our 비빔밥 with a side order of 김치만두 (kimchi dumplings) and tucked in. The ahjumma again was adorable, refilling our bowl with different veggies once she saw us running low whilst also gasping in faux, jokey horror when she saw the amount of 고추장 (gochujang – red pepper paste) I squeezed out over my rice.

Loaded veggie 비빔밥!

We wanted to finish off our meal with 붕어빵 (bungeoppang); a fish shaped pancake stuffed with sweet red beans however we could not find any at Gwangjang and have since been told that they are normally more readily available during the winter months as a warming snack. We settled on 꽈배기 (kkwabaegi), twisted doughnuts, instead. The texture of the 꽈배기 is unlike the standard doughnut; it is more bready yet it is still light. I love buying these when they are straight out of the fryer, warm and super soft, coated in a thin layer of sugar for added sweetness. They are ridiculously cheap too; 1,000 won is all it costs to take you to Korean doughnut heaven!

Our bellies were fit to bust after all of the food we ate but every last morsel was super delicious! All in all everything cost us 15,000 won… 7,500 won each! £5.20 to all the Brits reading this!! 😱 If you’re ever in Seoul and fancy some street food then Gwangjang market is the place for you!

Have you ever been to Seoul? Did you go to Gwangjang for street food? Or is there somewhere else in Seoul that serves food just as good for a similar price? Let me know in the comments! 😄

A few thoughts about The Host (2006)…

Film

1.) Let me first think about the formaldehyde poured down the drains into the Han River thus creating the monster which wreaks havoc in Seoul. I cannot help but wonder that if The Host were an American film, the formaldehyde would not have been from the home country. Instead it would have come from somewhere else, most likely an Asian country who dumped the chemical in the Pacific Ocean leaving it to travel over to America. However the Korean assistant ordered to dispose of the formaldehyde down the drains was commanded to do so by an American senior. There are constant and purposely obvious connotations behind this film that the Western world unintentionally causes more harm than good.

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Note to all: do not pour formaldehyde down the sink…

2.) The American industry loves a happy ending, or at least a resolution – there is no such thing with this film, at least not anything stereotypical. If they were to be clichéd then Gang Du’s daughter, Hyun Seo, would have survived and father and child would live happily ever after. She would not have lived for so long to only die once being physically rescued by her father who went through so much to bring her back to safety. However for me, the resolution to The Host is Gang Du’s established relationship with Se Joo, who also lost a family member to the monster and who was ultimately saved and cared for by Hyun Seo whilst trapped in the monster’s lair. Although they are not related by blood, there is a real affection shown between the two whilst they eat dinner together in the last scene.

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Hyun Seo before being snatched by the monster!

3.) A gas called ‘Agent Yellow’ is repeatedly referred to and used in The Host and this is highly reminiscent of ‘Agent Orange’, employed by both Britain and America during the Vietnam war. ‘Agent Orange’ caused a lot of physical and mental damage to the citizens of Vietnam; such extensive damage that the effects are still noticeable today. ‘Agent Yellow’ is introduced to this film as a means of killing the monster, however the health of Korea’s population is not considered. It is the perfect example of how governments and the military believe they are doing right by a country when really they are chipping away at whatever positivity still prevails amongst it’s people, whether that be physical goodness or a sense of internal happiness.

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The formidable ‘Agent Yellow’ being administered.

Who knew a monster flick could be so political?! Round of applause to the Korean film industry.

 

 

 

 

Emma’s Seoul searching Adventure!

Film, Travel

Last month I was lucky enough to have an extended weekend, thanks in part to BusanJin for celebrating their anniversary on the 21st of May, the day before the nationwide holiday for Buddha’s birthday on the 22nd. Having been in Busan for three months already, I wanted to venture out further and explore a different city and what better place to choose than Seoul! The city that I have adored on screens for numerous years whilst watching copious K dramas based in the capital. I booked a train, reserved a bunk in a hostel and acquired a vast amount of recommendations from co-workers and students alike. My extended weekend in Seoul was going to be epic. Four days spent doing what I love most; visiting filming locations and devouring delicious food, whilst also Gangnam styling outside Coex Mall and partying the night away in Itaewon! Let’s break down the list of cinematic, culinary adventures I pursued last month on my first ever trip to Seoul!
1) GANGNAM STYLE
Absolutely nothing better to start with then the pop culture phenomenon that burst on to the world’s stage six years ago, catapulting Gangnam as a desirable place for me to visit… of course I’m talking about the masterpiece that is Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’! Located at the East Gate of Coex is a monumental bronze-coloured statue dedicated to that song and it’s accompanying dance. Two fists in a crossed position ready and waiting to do the iconic ‘horse riding’ dance move. Naturally I threw some shapes underneath the sculpture and got some snaps to immortalise the moment; to do the Gangnam Style dance in Gangnam has been a nagging desire in the back of my mind for over half a decade. I spent most of my second year at university sneakily adding the song to pre-lash playlists and then requesting it later on the same night in whichever club I ended up at.

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Gangnam Styleeeeee!

2) BUTTERFINGER PANCAKES
A cheeky visit to Gangnam is also not complete without a hefty meal at Butterfinger Pancakes! It has an American diner feel to it and serves classic Western breakfast dishes. Bacon, eggs, sausages, French toast, waffles, iced coffee and milkshakes to boot, this place is irresistible! I ordered the split plate for myself, a gigantic platter comprising every single breakfast item on the menu with a refillable Americano on the side. The price tag is rather steep at 24,000 won, but considering it was a weekend dedicated to treating myself, I didn’t let that bother me much and looking at the picture below of such delicious food, can you say you wouldn’t do the same?!

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Heart attack on a plate… #yolo

3) SHAKE SHACK
Up next… a recommendation from two of my lovely students: Shake Shack! I have made no secret out of my love for burgers in South Korea; everyone from the teens I teach, to the people I work with on a daily basis, to the security guard at my building knows just how much Emma loves a good burg! Before starting a lesson one day, I mentioned my desire to find the best burger joint in my new home away from home when my students piped up and mentioned Shake Shack. Eager to devour a burger, I added Shake Shack to my to-do list for Seoul and I ventured there one afternoon over the course of my trip. I ordered the double (hell yeahhhh!) ShackBurger with a side of cheese fries and it went down FAR. TOO. WELL! It might even be better than Five Guys… and I cannot believe I just wrote that but it is true! Nice, juicy patties, a good slice of American (plastic) cheese, a few veggies to make it healthy (lol) all stacked in a sweet, soft bun with crinkle chips and a melted, gooey pot of cheese on the side for dipping! What more could the world’s premiere burger queen ask for?!

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A thing of beauty!

4) GYEONGBOKGUNG
Gyeongbok is just one of the five grand palaces built during the Joseon dynasty; it acted as home to the King, the King’s household as well as the government of Joseon. The palace itself is made up of numerous buildings, the biggest being the throne room; a squared structure centred in a walled complex. The level of detail in the design of Gyeongbok is undeniably impressive! Unfortunately the palace suffered during the 20th century and was a target for bombs during the various wars South Korea endured however reconstruction came underway and continues to this day to keep the palace looking as beautifully breath-taking as it did way back when it was a home for the countries ruler.

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The beautiful throne room of Gyeongbok!

I visited the palace wearing Hanbok; traditional Korean clothing made up of two items, a jeogori which covers the shoulders and the arms and a chima, which literally translates to skirt. My Hanbok was white in colour, sometimes looking pink, other times looking lilac, adorned with embellishments of sequins and beads. I felt like a princess and it was the best way to live out my Korean fantasy; strolling an ancient palace’s ground wearing such beautiful clothing. I rented it from Oneday Hanbok, a store located relatively close to the palace for just under 20,000 won; a steal considering I wore the clothing for four hours and was granted free entry in to the palace on the basis that I arrived in traditional Korean clothing!

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Living my Korean fantasy in Hanbok!

5) HONGDAE
Another recommendation from my students was Hongdae, the neighbourhood surrounding Hongik University. I was told the area was extremely popular with the young people of Korea, a suburb filled to the brim with shops, restaurants and bars, ultimately similar to Seomyeon in Busan. I visited the neighbourhood one afternoon and just simply strolled around, marvelling at the busy streets, filled with performers dancing and singing whilst a #MeToo protest took place as well. I would love to go back to Hongdae the next time I visit Seoul to experience the night life there! I’m sure it is fantastic!

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Street art I saw on my Hongdae stroll!

6) ITAEWON
The night life I did experience did not fail me! Itaewon is another neighbourhood in Seoul that is filled to the brim with foreigners and it just so happened to be the place where I rested my head (considering I am indeed a foreigner) every night during my trip. I met up with one of my sister’s friends who has lived and worked in Seoul for the past five years for a wild night out on the Saturday. There is a SICK club in Itaewon called B-One; an eclectic place housing two rooms, one that plays hip hop and R’n’B and another dedicated to EDM! I have never seen myself as a crazy fan of EDM before but after letting my hair down and throwing my dignity out of the imaginary window (imaginary as as the name B-One would suggest, the club is in the basement of a building), I had the BEST night out I have had so far in Korea! Tequila shots were aplenty, dance moves were deliriously created to a raging rhythm and the night ended with me doing a duet of Aladdin’s ‘A Whole New World’ at a nearby Norae Bang! Y’all already know I’m hitting that place the next time I’m in the capital!

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Grateful for no pictures of me on the old sauce but here is Jordan Falafel, a shop sign I loved in Itaewon considering I’m half Arab!

7) HAN RIVER
I’m about to get all film nerd on you right now but with good reason! The Han River splits the city of Seoul in two; I first ventured over it on the bus from Gangnam to Itaewon (funny story that consists of me getting super lost with a Korean bus driver who could not speak a word of English) but I decided to head there one day to walk along its green banks. The river itself stretches for miles and there is no way I could have walked the distance without it eating up an entire day but nonetheless it was imperative for me to spend at least a few hours there. Why? Because of the cinematic mastery of Bong Joon Ho’s The Host; a monster flick that came out of the Korean industry in 2006. The story starts in a laboratory, a young apprentice, at the behest of his American colleague, pours copious bottles of formaldehyde down a sink, ultimately creating a beast that dwells in the water, occasionally leaving its home to wreak havoc amongst unsuspecting humans who simply want to enjoy a picnic on a sunny day next to the river.

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The monster of the Han looking majestic AF!

I definitely consider The Host to be one of my favourite ever movies; it plays host (cheeky pun) to a few suggestive, political messages which viewers can choose to either accept or ignore, something I have previously written about and will repost as a follow-up to this blog. Therefore, I HAD to visit the Han River, I HAD to walk along its banks in search of a familiar location from the film however after walking for an hour, I decided to rent a bicycle (super cheap at 3,000 won for an hour) and ride myself along underneath various bridges and other structures. Sadly, despite spanning a large amount of the river, I did not come across the exact location where our beloved hero, Park Gang Du, played by Song Kang Ho, works in his caravan selling dried squid and drinks and where ultimately the monster first decides to crash the party, killing numerous people in its wake. However, I did thoroughly enjoy my time at the river, revelling in my imagination, picturing the slimy beast running amok behind me as I cycled.

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Han River viewz

8) NAMSAN TOWER
The K drama obsessive in me comes through with this next one… Namsan Tower or N Seoul Tower has featured in SO many K dramas throughout the years. The first time I learnt of its existence was at university, sat in my room, watching an episode of Boys over Flowers. #bae Gu Jun Pyo arranges a date with Geum Jan Di at that very location; “Saturday, 6pm, Namsan Tower”. Since then it has been a dream of mine to visit the tower and see Lee Min Ho at the top and guess what? I did! Albeit it was a large poster of him but it still counts, okay!

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Hiiiiiii Lee Min Ho!

Regardless the tower is located on top of Namsan, a mountain with extensive views of the city below and rails chock-a-block full of handwritten padlocks. I bought a lock and marker of my very own in the coffee shop halfway up the mountain before jumping in to the cable car for the rest of the ascent. In spite of my love for K dramas, since being in Korea, I have developed a new obsession for hiking and appreciating the views I gain once I reach the top. Although I didn’t technically hike Namsan, I could still very much appreciate the view I had of lit up buildings and streets, vehicles looking like tiny toys, an awesome sky giving the world around me a golden glow and I planned it so that I could watch the sun set over the capital on my last night there.

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Hell yeeeeeah she does!

The next day came and it was time for me to go back to Busan… honourable mention here: I had booked a ticket on the KTX, the bullet train that takes you from Seoul to the south-east of the country in two and a half hours and also technically a filming location for Train to Busan! If you haven’t yet watched this film then I implore you to do so (it’s readily available on Netflix after all…) as it is undoubtedly the best zombie thriller I have watched thus far! What better way to reinvent an overdone and tired genre than to set it on a moving train. After getting on the train and seating myself in my carriage, I marvelled at the fact that the train looked exactly the same as the one I saw Seok Woo, Sang Hwa and Yong Guk fight their way through, bashing in the skulls of zombies as they did. Of course I snapped a pictures and cut and pasted a zombified train worker on the floor before the carriage filled up…

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I find myself too funny…

So there it is… my trip to Seoul was most satisfying and certainly pleased my soul and love for all things food and film! I cannot wait to go back in a couple of months’ time and enjoy more of the city’s delights! Have you ever been to Seoul? Is there anything different you can recommend to me? Let me know in the comments! 😊

 

Busan International Short Film Festival!

Film, Travel

The Busan Cinema Center located in Centum City, Busan opened its door on 29th September 2011; since then it has hosted both the Busan International Film Festival and the Busan International Short Film Festival. The building itself is a unique, eclectic, architectural marvel, housing a myriad of escalators that take you to the numerous indoor screening rooms, as well as a covered outdoor theatre, where you can not only sit and enjoy whatever is currently being shown on the screen but also appreciate the impressive LED light display clad in to the cantilever roof (approved as the largest by the Guinness Book of Records in 2013).

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Busan Cinema Center!

I ventured over to the Cinema Center for the first time to experience the BISFF (Busan International Short Film Festival) at the end of last month; a friend and I purchased tickets to catch three short Korean films (Korean Competition 6 – with English subtitles) for only 6,000 won (roughly 4 quid) each, which in comparison to the tenner you’re charged back home just for one feature length film is quite the steal! Before the shorts kicked off, we sniffed around the various food vans (burgers, shrimp, noodles, there was everything!) before settling on some Belgian fries (Belgian Frittes) smothered in a garlicky mayo with mango yoghurt smoothies to wash those carbs down!

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#yum

Now anyone who knows me may not fully understand my obsession with the Korean film industry but they damn well know that obsession started back in 2012 and has been unwavering ever since! Oldboy, Memories of Murder, I saw the Devil, The Chaser… I have seen all of the weirdest, goriest Korean thrillers and loved each and every one of them. My viewership expands furthermore in to the rom-com realm where Jeon Ji-Hyun is undoubtedly Queen of Comedy in my eyes after her performances in both My Sassy Girl and Windstruck… But enough about the feature lengths, lets delve in to the shorts…

A Border Line4a73feffe64183c8604d5fcc34b7e23e
This short focused on Namhee, a young, struggling actress who moves to Cheorwon, in Gangwon-do to teach an art class; we first see her dragging a suitcase along a residential street before entering a building to request a room for the night. She stays alone and practices building the mirrored toy she will be teaching to the young children. The next couple of days aren’t so great for Namhee; neither finding permanent accommodation nor working with the children goes well and she seems to be at a loss until she receives a call from an acquaintance in Busan informing her of an acting class she can enroll on. Namhee is excited and commits to the acting class verbally on the phone, making plans to leave on the next bus to Busan. Unfortunately her intentions are thwarted by a dodgy bus schedule whereby buses do not hang around until their departure time but instead ‘leave either five minutes before or five minutes after’ meaning Namhee has missed the bus to Busan. She was so close to, some may say on the border line of getting to Busan however her plans came tumbling down around her. Understandably distraught and frustrated, Namhee sits at the bus station for some time before once again dragging her suitcase around Cheorwon looking for a place to stay. The next day comes and so does a fresh start for Namhee… she explores the local area, embarking on a boat ride that had been previously recommended by a work colleague, seemingly accepting and coming to terms with where she is and what she is doing.

Pros: beautifully shot, great acting

Cons: whilst I appreciated the simplicity of the storyline, it seemed a little bland in comparison to the eccentricities I am now so accustomed to seeing in Korean cinema

Overall rating: 4/5

The First Day80164aecab47d14a0b13eb190df14237
My favourite out of the three shorts, this film deals with an issue I believe to be far too prevalent amongst the 20-30 year olds of the world today. The idea that you could always make your life better, always achieve more, leading you to compare your situation to those around you only to admire the supposed greatness of your peers compared to the evident flaws present in every aspect of your life. I blame the vast part of this issue on social media; the filtered lives people are exposed to each and every day, the perfect holiday snaps that took roughly 50 photographs to achieve, the delicious looking meal you fawn over but at the same time leave to get cold just to capture it and let some randomers on the internet know what you ate for brunch. Ironically, no matter how much I criticize these practices, it does not change the fact that I too have wasted a fair amount of my time trying to flaunt a heavily edited picture on Instagram just for the likes.

But anyway… back to the film! The First Day starts as it ends; a shot of a young woman staring out of a window. Her name is Jooyeon and on that first day she wakes up with stomach pain whilst her landlady pounds on her apartment door, demanding the late payment of rent. We follow Jooyeon as she goes about her day, we see her on a bicycle, at work, delivering drinks around a neighbourhood. Her last stop is the important one: she parks up her bike, she steps off with a drink in hand ready to deliver when she becomes distracted by footsteps. Jooyeon peeks around the corner and sees a young woman, her very own doppelganger with a twist. Her doppelganger is dressed beautifully, her hair is perfectly styled; she is speaking to her boyfriend on the phone, flirting away, twirling a strand of hair before entering a nearby gate. Despite their appearances, she is everything Jooyeon is not and everything Jooyeon aspires to be. Over the course of the next few days, Jooyeon does the same routine; wakes up, goes to work and admires her glamorous doppelganger from afar before trying to emulate her later at home either by fishing out similar yet shabby clothes or by dabbling with new make-up techniques. One day, in a state of desperation, Jooyeon even steals clothing from a local store, running full pelt whilst a sales assistant chases her down the road. She does all of this because she admires her doppelganger so much, she wants to be her, feel how she supposedly feels, live her life. Sadly for Jooyeon, all is not as it seems; she finally plucks up the courage to face her doppelganger only to realise the same woman she so greatly admires is the same woman who bangs on her door demanding payment. They engage in a brief stand off before the landlady freaks and runs away from Jooyeon, who closely follows, chasing her doppelganger to the end of the street. The landlady turns and confronts Jooyeon, asking her what she wants, and we are left with Jooyeon simply staring at her doppelganger, knowing full well what it is she desires. The next morning Jooyeon awakens, her stomach pain seemingly gone, her room looking tidier, she stands and walks over to the open window and at that moment the truth behind her stomach ache is revealed by the patch of red left on her mattress.

Pros: Fantastic acting: Ki Do-young superbly flaunted her ability to portray two completely different characters in one short. Also I liked the parallel drawn between the emotional suffering of our protagonist and the physical discomfort caused by the menstruation cycle. It was an interesting connection; the emotional instability of females in the days leading up to their ‘time of the month’ and how they become a lot more emotional and hyper aware of everything that is wrong with their lives.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Tender & Witch33443be54313e948488cf070567e6df2
This short involves the lives of many people who all work within the same company however it specifically focuses on Haehwa, and her relationship with her colleague, Sungjoon. The pair frequently engage in some seriously rough sexual encounters, meetings that occur after work hours and are maintained a secret until it is revealed Sungjoon is engaged to be married to a different work colleague. Haehwa is understandably distraught; she cannot fathom why Sungjoon has not chosen her to be his bride and to make matters worse, she now regularly sees Sungjoon and his fiancée together around the office. The upset Haehwa feels leads her down an unstable path where she starts to self-destruct; her emotions running so high that she ends up stealing a pregnant colleague’s ultrasound photograph, before faking it as her own in a confrontation with Sungjoon, only to be labelled a liar and a thief. Initially, as a viewer, you cannot help but sympathise with Haehwa; she has been used and abused by Sungjoon however the latter half of the film unravels spectacularly to reveal Haehwa’s obsessive secret. Indeed, she is a thief, regularly stealing prized possessions, normally a piece of jewelry, from her colleagues at work. There is a nail-biting scene depicting Haehwa almost caught in the act of stealing a unique, Italian bracelet out of her co-workers drawer whilst they are all out at lunch. Your heart pumps along with Haehwa’s during the initial confrontation and the events that unravel afterwards only to share her sense of relief when she manages to slip away from the situation remarkably unscathed aside from the patch of red left on her trousers. Haehwa later visits Sungjoon’s office; she rifles through his desk drawers, happening across a picture of him cozying up to a different girl, picturing herself in the same love-fueled circumstance. Ultimately however, despite her imagination running away from her, Haehwa has come to Sungjoon’s office for one reason and one reason only: good, old-fashioned revenge. She violently vomits in to his desk drawer, but what we see coming from her lips is not what you would expect, instead it is copious amount of jewelry, the very items Haehwa has been coveting from her colleagues for quite some time. On and on, she vomits, disposing of her secretive habit of taking that which is not hers and her love for Sungjoon all in one go.

Pros: loved, loved, loved the revenge element! Revenge is a topic Korean cinema handles and portrays so well and Tender & Witch did not disappoint in that aspect. Furthermore, in the same way as The First Day, Tender & Witch draws a comparison between feminine suffering and the menstrual cycle; an interesting theme for a male director such as Jeon Dook-wan to focus on and made even more fascinating given his later statement to delve in to such emotions in his future work.

Cons: some scenes were a little confusing… at one point we saw Haehwa strangling Sungjoon in his car, eventually killing him, but then a few minutes later we saw Sungjoon alive and well walking around their shared workplace whilst Haehwa looks on from a distance. It turns out she dreamt their interaction where she murdered him; I cannot help but feel the difference between dream and reality could have been handled a little better, just to make it a little more obvious that Sungjoon has not been strangled and left for dead in a parking lot.

Overall rating: 4/5

So there goes my not so very brief synopses of the three shorts I saw at the BISFF! I went in to the festival with expectations and they were certainly met. My time spent there has only made me even more excited to attend the Busan International Film Festival later this year!

Have you ever been to the BISFF? Or the Busan International Film Festival? Do you enjoy Korean cinema too? What is your favourite Korean film?

Spare a thought for Palestine today and every day going forward…

Uncategorized

This post deviates away from the norm I usually post about and despite the plethora of writing I have planned about my current time and experiences in Korea, being half Palestinian, I cannot ignore this topic as it is something I hold dear to my heart.

Yesterday, 14th of May 2018, the US unveiled their new embassy in Jerusalem, an event that has been planned since December of last year after the almighty Donald Trump (insert sarcastic standing ovation and round of applause) made the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Jerusalem is a city, a holy place that is so integral to not only one, but three worldly religions. Christianity, Islam and Judaism alike hold Jerusalem in high regard so why designate it as the capital of a Jewish state? The bloodshed such a decision has caused is painful to contemplate. To read stories about so many Palestinians, children and disabled included, suffering and being killed for protesting against something they deservedly have the right to fight against is mindboggling. So spare a thought for those people today, consider their plight and the daily struggles they go through. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would feel if you are consistently denied basic human rights and ultimately punished for believing you should combat such oppression. I cannot fathom the idea myself personally and I write this today in the hopes that one day, all people, no matter race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, etcetera can feel and experience an unbiased and uniform kind of equality, for not one person or group of people are worth more than another and therefore should not be treated better or worse dependent on what they are, what they believe, where they come from or what they stand for.

And before I receive any hate (fingers crossed I don’t – the internet should be regarded as a place for free expression after all!): my belief that people should care more about the Palestinians and their sufferings does not make me anti-Semetic in the slightest. Instead, it simply highlights my humanism, my decency and my compassion for everyone who feels slighted, ignored and abused by governmental regimes.

Peace: an achievable concept if we all open our minds and our hearts and work together to make our world a better place for everyone who walks it.

 

Cherry blossoms in South Korea!

Film, Travel

Pretty pink petals, dark tree bark, a festival to celebrate their arrival… cherry blossoms are a big deal in Asia. Here in Korea, they symbolise purity and they are made all the more special due to their short time in full bloom, forcing humans to stop their busy lives and just appreciate nature at its finest. But they haven’t always been viewed so sweetly; they are also integral to a desperately sad part of Korean history, the Japanese occupation which spanned thirty or so years before the surrender of Japan at the end of WWII. Korea, Japan and more recently, China, all stake a claim to the origin of the cherry blossom tree however this post will not delve in to that debate. It will primarily focus on my experiences with the blossoms in Korea; something I thoroughly looked forward to and enjoyed.

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Blossoms at my girls school!

The Jinhae Gunghanje festival (진해궁한제) is an annual event held in the small district of Jinhae, located in Changwon city, at the beginning of April. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to this festival every year with the desire to view the abundant cherry blossoms, snap an Insta worthy photo and to revel in the official start of spring. This year, the festival was held from 1st April – 10th April so I headed to Jinhae to become a cherry blossom viewer on the first day of the festival. Living in Busan, Changwon lies just to the west and therefore getting to Jinhae was super easy; a 1 hour coach trip, costing only 5,100\ from Sasang station. I caught an early coach with friends on the 1st April with my camera at the ready… Our first Jinhae stop: Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge (여좌천 로망스 다리).
I’m not 100% sure which bridge is the actual Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge as there are numerous bridges in a row that cross over the Yeojwacheon stream however I am certain this place is absolutely stunning! The cherry blossom trees line either side of the stream, their branches hanging low and swaying in a gentle breeze over a shallow body of water. I walked the length of the stream before venturing down to stroll along the cobbled bank. Despite the mass of people surrounding me, I felt at peace amongst the blossoms and the water; I could have stayed there for hours just appreciating the scenery around me.

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Loveleh Yeojwacheon!

Our next stop in Jinhae was Gyeonghwa (경화역 봊쏯길); a now closed railway station labelled Cherry Blossom Road due to the abundance of trees planted there. The Korean government have left an old Korail train in situ on the tracks to make photos appear more authentic as back when the station was still in operation, carriages used to whoosh past the trees, enabling petals to fall elegantly and allowing visitors to snap beautiful photographs. The old train itself reminded me of the one used by Seok-woo, his daughter and Seong-Kyeong at the end of Train to Busan when they make one last, desperate attempt to flee an onslaught of zombies and I was tempted to pose just like our hero against the rails before he transforms in to the undead however I ditched the idea due to the crowds of people at Gyeonghwa. The queue to take a photo by the train consisted of roughly 50 people alone! People were milling here, there and everywhere over the tracks and around the food stalls that had been erected especially for the festival! Gyeonghwa was pretty but too busy for me.

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Just a handful of the people queuing to take a picture in front of the Korail carriage!

The following week at work, I showed my co-workers some of the snaps I had taken in Jinhae and the first question the majority of them asked me was: “was it very busy?”, to which I answered: “yes!” to a chorus of: “ahhh!”. One co-worker was then kind enough to suggest a more unique, less touristy cherry blossom viewing experience; a hike up Hwanglyeongsan (황령사) to witness awesome views before a descent down Busan’s very own Cherry Blossom Walkway. Ever since being in Korea, I had been keen to start exploring the numerous mountains dotted around the city so I jumped at the chance to get my first hike under my belt and made arrangements with a friend to accomplish Hwanglyeongsan the following Saturday.
The climb itself is pretty easy; the toughest part is the steep stretch on the residential streets before reaching the actual trails. All in all it took roughly two hours to reach the summit and that is including one brief toilet break and numerous extended photo op stops. The view at the top is quite simply exquisite; an expansive sight stretching from east to west, covering numerous Busan neighbourhoods, the sea in the distance, whilst also including various sky scrapers and bridges such as the Diamond Bridge/Gwangandaegyo (관간대교). My friend and I spent some time trying to decipher the different areas to no avail before just sitting and appreciating what lay before our eyes.

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The epic view from the top of Hwanglyeongsan!

To reach the Cherry Blossom Walkway, we had to descend Hwanglyeongsan in the opposite direction of our ascent; it was a 15 minute amble through some shrubbery and across some boulders with another spectacular view. The walkway itself is just an ordinary road that serves as a path for people and vehicles alike however during the first two weeks of April, much like Yeojwacheon stream, the road plays host to a bounty of cherry blossom trees lined up on either side, pink petals and almost black branches framing the concrete beautifully. Yet what made this unique compared to Yeojwacheon was the absence of other people. Sure, a few cars passed by, stopping now and then to snap a photo or two but there were no crowds, no buzz, no craziness; it was just me, my friend and Mother Nature doing her thing. We stayed on the walkway for well over an hour, venturing back and forth before finally watching the sun set through the branches whilst we made our way down the winding path.

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Sunset n blossoms!

Have you had the opportunity to view cherry blossoms in Asia? Share your experience down below in the comments! 🙂

 

 

My first Korean dinner experience!

Travel

A week ago I went out for dinner with around 10 other people; I was the only foreigner amongst many South Korean nationals and ordinarily I would find such a situation rather daunting however I had a blast! We headed to a restaurant called Dragon Dream for a seafood extravaganza first; unfortunately I have no idea what the best mode of public transport is to this restaurant as I was driven there in a car however I do know it is super close to the Seomyeon area and therefore you should be able to walk if you live or are staying close to either Seomyeon or Jeonpo subway stations. Anyway back to my experience… Dragon Dream is a restaurant that specialises in seafood and it is built within the walls of a cave. A literal cave. Carved within the walls of a mountain, it used to serve as a World War II Japanese bomb shelter during Japan’s colonisation of Korea. The salty scent of water hits you as soon as you walk through its doors, the place is lit up through the use of strategically placed fairy lights and take heed to mind the floor; although it has a covering, water still seeps through so do not make the same mistake I did and dump your cotton bag on the floor whilst eating to only then discover it sodden wet through!

 

The best picture of the restaurant’s cave interior I could get!

 

The servers at Dragon Dream laid out the side dishes first; I tried caviar (not bad!) and also a dried jujube (similar texture and taste to a date in my opinion) for the first time as well as digging in to the expected side dishes of pickled veggies and seaweed. The group ordered three massive plates of seafood (including fish, mussels, crab, prawns, octopus) mixed with bean sprouts, other veggies and a whole load of a typically Korean yummy and spicy red sauce. It was delicious! We washed it down with copious amounts of alcohol; soju and beer mixed together to make somaek! I actually learnt a new Korean custom (or courtesy) during this meal: as a sign of respect you should not drink before the oldest person at the table has. Unfortunately, me being me and therefore at times a raging alcoholic, I took a sip of my somaek without knowing this information! ☹ But I was assured that it was fine considering I was foreign and therefore didn’t know this unwritten rule beforehand. Needless to say, I will definitely not be making the same mistake again! Once we had devoured the majority of the food on the plates, noodles were brought out and added to the remaining sauce and veggies. It was all mixed together and we dug in once more! I also knocked back one, two or three glasses of soju which was a great accompaniment!

 

Fewd, glorious fewd!

 

After our meal at Dragon Dream, we walked out in to the mild evening air. I thought perhaps it was home time or maybe a few of us would head to a coffee shop for a drink however I was so wrong. Another Korean custom I learnt that night… it is perfectly normal to go to a different restaurant for a second round of food and alcohol! Apparently some groups even head to a third restaurant for a final round! So off we went, around the corner to a savoury pancake place. 범일빈대퍽 (roughly translated to Beomilbindaepeog) specialises in Korean pancakes; a type of food wholly different from the pancakes I am so used to tucking in to on pancake day back home. Korean pancakes are savoury; they are made using various different vegetables and a batter mainly consisting of flour and water (and maybe other ingredients dependent on which veggies you use) and you fry them until they are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Before that evening, I had tried kimchijeon (kimchi pancake) in Manchester and a few weeks earlier had eaten pajeon (spring onion pancake – food to be eaten on a rainy day!) and both were extremely tasty. But this place was next level; the pajeon came with seafood and we each had a tiny little bowl of soy sauce to dip the pancake in for added flavour. We all added a little dash of vinegar and a sprinkle of chilli powder to our soy sauce just to enhance it that little bit more.

 

Jeonnies

 

We had makgeolli with our jeons; the oldest Korean alcoholic beverage, makgeolli is a milky, creamy off-white, sparkling rice wine which when mixed with cider (or Sprite/7-Up to other Westerners) is a treat! I was pre-warned by the group that makgeolli has the potential to gift you a bad hangover in the morning but I could not get enough of the stuff! I was overjoyed every time I saw my bowl being refilled, brimming to the very top with that sweet, bubbly mixture of rice wine and cider! Another thing to mention here; the more someone fills your glass, the more they like you! Also if you ever visit Korea and dine out with Koreans, do make sure you serve their drinks for them. This is another polite courtesy and illustrates your respect for the people you are with.

 

Ma makgeolli! ❤

 

With a super full tummy and a merrier-than-normal mood, I left the pancake restaurant with the group; most people headed home by walking to the nearest subway station however myself and a few others decided to head to Starbucks for a late-night coffee before turning in. Given the time of year and the emergence of the season of spring, there has currently been a heavy emphasis on the cherry blossom theme here in South Korea, with coffee being no exception. Starbucks has an assortment of cherry blossom inspired beverages including a cherry blossom Frappuccino and a cherry blossom latte. I went for the Frap; it was pink and brown, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of sweet, cherry flavoured candies! Super cute, super sweet and super appropriate given the time of year!

 

Cherry blossom inspired drinks at Starbucks!

 

So, there you have a break down of my very first ever true Korean dining experience… the shorter version: food, food and more food! I can’t wait to enjoy a couple more evenings out like this during my time in Busan!