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The real face of COVID-19 in South Korea

We’ve all seen the memes, repeated the same jokes, experienced similar thoughts and feelings… and together we can conclude 2020 has been one hell of a sh*tshow. From the potential start of WWIII, to the death of one of basketball’s greats, Kobe Bryant, 2020 has had it all. But nothing compares to that monstrous C word.

COVID-19 has, quite literally (and unfortunately), taken the world by storm, and yes, everyone is tired of listening to the multitude of rumours, the daily number of new infections, the promises of governments to ‘flatten the curve’ and get us back to our normal daily routines. The exhaustive list just goes on and on. But the way I see it, the British people (and those others in countries suffering massively from ‘rona) need to STOP listening to the daft, old governments and take things into their own hands.

Manchester (my hometown and one of the UK’s larger cities), has recently been plunged into the tier 3 lockdown procedure. For those unfamiliar with the UK’s (ridiculous) 3-tier plan, refer to https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/15/tier-1-2-or-3-englands-three-stage-covid-lockdown-rules-explained for more details or basically understand it as tier 1: medium risk, tier 2: high risk, tier 3: very high risk with each tier coming with its own limitations and restrictions.

Busan (my home away from home) has NEVER been placed into lockdown. Let me repeat that: Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, with a population of almost 3.5 million people, has not ONCE, since the first confirmed case back in January 2020 emerged, faced a barrage of (ridiculous – refer to the UK’s 3-tier plan) lockdown procedures.

Why is this, you may wonder…

Well for starters (and I don’t mean this offensively, I really don’t), Koreans can be quite the hypochondriacs. Indeed, when this virus first appeared on the Korean scene, I found myself influenced by their nature and was immediately wiping down my groceries with anti-bacterial wipes on my return home from the store. Necessary? Probably not. However, I deemed the slight possibility of droplets present on the surfaces of the items I purchased enough to act with caution.

This is only just the beginning.

Let’s take a look at what South Korea has done RIGHT thus far:

Masks

Quite the polarising subject, although I don’t fully understand why…

I have been wearing a mask, AROUND THE CLOCK, for the past ten months.

Is it a nuisance? Kind of, especially when running late and only just realising, after leaving the house, that I forgot my blasted mask.

Does it get in the way of my speech or breathing? No, it does not. It is a thin piece of cloth covering my nose and mouth.

Has it helped South Korea’s own personal battle with COVID-19? Undoubtedly. Just look at the figures for proof; SK currently stands at 25,424 cases TOTAL since January… the UK has clocked around 20,000 DAILY this past week.

Further proof to be found in the pudding… back in June, a Russian cargo ship docked in Busan and 16 of the 21 sailors on board tested positive for the virus. More than 170 people came into contact with the infected patients and were immediately placed into quarantine HOWEVER no positive test results came back after they underwent screening. Guess why… because they wore masks.

Simple as that.

Me and my mask 24/7

Temperature checks

The most telling symptom for COVID-19 is a fever.

Therefore it seems only sensible, and logical, to install thermal imaging systems, or at the very least a thermometer, to allow people to check their temperature upon arrival to a building, be it company offices, a restaurant or even the cinema.

My workplace installed their cameras back in May. A thermometer has sat by the front desk for longer still. Every person who enters the building is required to check their temperature, note it down on a form, and check to state they are happy to be contacted if necessary.

I visited a department store in my neighbourhood late last week where a security guard greeted me at the door and gently asked if he could take my temperature, to which I agreed, before directing me over to an area where hand sanitiser was provided.

No issue, no disagreement, no complaints. I throw away my right to ‘privacy’ each and every damn day and I couldn’t care less if my footsteps are tracked (they are always watching you on social media anyway!) because I am doing it for the good of others.

So, stuff your Donald Trump’s, your Minnie Mouse’s and use your real name and phone number. You don’t realise whose life you could save.

A thermal body camera implemented at my place of work. Hiiiii meeeee in the camera!

Emergency & Public Safety Alerts

Back in March, my phone was all abuzz with emergency alerts. I couldn’t go five minutes without my phone making its LOUD blaring noise alerting me with an update regarding to COVID-19. They dictate where infected patients have visited, specifying the time and date, as well as reminding the residents of and visitors to South Korea to constantly wear a mask, keep their distance socially and wash their hands.

Some people may argue it is a little too much, or too invasive, however it has had a remarkable impact on South Korea’s track and trace system.

Indeed, back in August, I went to a pizza restaurant in the Nampo neighbourhood of Busan. All was fine; I was seated upon a platform, away from the masses, enjoyed my meal, and didn’t think twice about ‘rona.

That was, until a few days later, I received an alert to say an infected person had dined at the same restaurant, on the same evening, albeit an hour before myself.

Well, I was all in a tizz. I panicked, wondering if I needed to be tested. If possibly, the air droplets containing the virus, could have been spread throughout the restaurant due to the air conditioning system being on full blast as we were still in the throes of summer.

After a solid one-hour breakdown, I spoke with my dining companion, who is Korean, who rationalised that if we were in any sort of danger or suspected to have the virus, the Korean government would have been in contact with us to tell us we needed to get tested. The government would have been able to locate us both as we both wrote our names and numbers on the form, as well as taking our temperature, upon arrival.

This is something governments around the world should immediately replicate. It is so useful and helps people determine whether they should get tested.

Just an example of the alerts I receive daily in South Korea… yes, I know they are in Korean but I can understand Korean and also there are translation apps

Two-week self-isolation

This one really isn’t that hard… if you have recently arrived from abroad, have come into contact with someone suspected or confirmed to have the virus OR suspect you, yourself have symptoms, then self-isolate. Watch some Netflix, read a book, do some DIY, but STAY AT HOME.

Now I know it will be boring and will, at some points, make you want to pull your hair out, but it is only for two weeks. That is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

I was meant to be travelling back to the UK for a friend’s wedding next month; initially, before COVID-19, I would have been able to stay for 4 weeks. This changed once South Korea stipulated arrivals to the country must self-isolate for 2 weeks to avoid potentially spreading the virus and I knew I would have to cut the trip to 2 weeks to accommodate that regulation and be back in time for work at the start of December.

One thing I must point out here is that South Korea did provide care packages for all people in self-isolation. They included food, drinks, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes. I’m not sure if they are still providing these but they were a hell of a lot better than the tosh the UK government provided which consisted of expired products and numerous unique ingredients.

Back to my case… self-isolating for two weeks was no problem in my eyes. I was ready and prepared to do this; I had accepted that it would just be part and parcel of my trip home however due to other circumstances, my trip has now been cancelled (☹).

Please, please, please stay at home if you think you must or have recently arrived from abroad. Get a lot of food in, ask your family or friends to deliver some groceries if necessary, just constantly dwell on the fact that you could help others by doing this.

In conclusion…

I’m not saying that different countries should copy each and everything that has been practiced in South Korea; I merely want to highlight the things I believe have made a difference and kept the figure down.

I also, obviously, know most people have been following the rules as necessary and I implore people to continue doing so. Don’t travel unless absolutely necessary, wear a mask at all times when outside and in public spaces, keep your distance socially, regularly check your temperature and self-isolate for at least TWO WEEKS (COVID-19’s incubation period can last this long).

You could really save a life or two.

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busan, hiking, places, Travel

Igidae Coastal Walk! 🍁

The Igidae Coastal Walks snakes alongside Igidae park, overlooking the turquoise shimmer of sea that flanks the path to the right. It is a 4.1-kilometre-long stretch of trail, sometimes muddy, other times rocky, an abundance of stairs both up and down as well as a few bridges that jump and bounce as you make your way across them.

Ultimately it is, in a word, wonderful.

I have completed it three times so far and I have already chalked it up as my most regular walking spot in my mind. The walk itself is fairly easy to conquer; yes, I have said there are an abundance of stairs, and while that is very much the case, I find the task of climbing them exceedingly easy given the gorgeous view that stays by my side almost the entire time I walk the path.

The three times I have been and done the trail, I have started by the Oryukdo rocks. Pretty easy place to get to; a lot of buses make their way directly down the road, reaching the skywalk by a short walk. I always hop on the 24 bus, which is about a 20-minute journey without much traffic. The rocks themselves are pretty cool; greyish-black, they stand in the midst of the water, silhouetted against the sky forming a remarkable juxtaposed image of rock and sea.

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Sorry – I’m taking up a lot of this photo but it seems to be the only one I have of Oryukdo!

Between the Oryukdo viewpoint and the beginning of the coastal walk is an information centre, a restroom and a map which highlights the places of interest along the route. I must admit, I cannot exactly pinpoint each location stated on the map and confidently exclaim ‘I’ve been there!’ but given I have at least another year here and the already stated opinion (or fact) that Igidae will be my regular walking haunt, I already know I will visit everything the map has to offer.

Anyway, back to the trail… imagine you are stood in front of the information centre; the Oryukdo rocks are to your left, straight in front is the road, with a small car park coming off it and therefore to the right is the beginning of your walk. There are two options for you; one is a smooth pathway and the other are steps, about twenty or so. Both options lead to the same place; a flattish stretch of land with greenery, water and in the not-so-far distance, stairs leading upwards.

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This body of water is at the top of the first set of stairs – leading up from the road, Oryukdo and Igidae’s information centre

Climb these stairs all the way to the top; to the right is a seated viewpoint and to the left is the continuation of your route. Follow the wind round to the right, up a few more steps and you’ll find yourself at a fork. Take the right side, up along a path lined by trees to either side where you will then reach a clearing with two benches facing the ocean. Everything is pretty straight forward from here on out, stretching from Oryukdo until close to Gwangandaegyo, a sight that remains in your view along the trail.

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Gwangandaegyo! The diamond bridge of Gwangan! A view of your endpoint that is almost always constant along your route

What I love most about Igidae is the scenery. You are literally walking on the edge; stepping along a cusp of woodwork, strategically placed to separate land and sea. Despite being in the middle of winter, plush, green leaves and the first of the buds envelope you; to your left, right and above you, they frame the path ahead of you. Even the branches that stand leafless are pretty; I love the way they look, their gnarly, barren arms reach out over the edge adding more beauty to the path you are upon. Rocky, craggy surfaces stretch out beneath you; reminiscent of Oryukdo, they perfectly clash with the calmness of the sea that their pointy edges cut in to.

Honestly, it is a beautiful view.

The first half of your walk is spent on the wooden structures, stairs and all whilst the second half levels out on to nature’s own surface, more inland but still close enough to the shore to see the ever-nearing Gwangalli beach. Your final stretch sees you cross four short bridges and from there you reach a final stretch of narrow land which takes you to the end of the Igidae Coastal Walk.

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One of the four bridges you encounter towards the end of your route – and also me, jumping for joy!

A road curves off to the left of the trail’s end, going slightly downhill before weaving right. You can follow this road (with the aid of Naver or Kakao maps – although it is pretty damn simple) directly to Gwangalli beach, taking in the expanse of water still on your right hand side, the iconic bridge that stretches across it and also the plethora of street art on offer, highlighting some of Busan’s best and more well known attractions such as the Firework festival that happens annually during autumn.

If you ever find yourself in Busan, make walking along the coast at Igidae a must-do! No matter the season, you can always enjoy the view whilst getting a good amount of exercise in as well.

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Travel

Christmas in Busan! 🎅🏻🎄

‘Tis with a heavy heart that I say the festive season is well and truly over. For everyone else anyway…

I have always enjoyed the month of December; seeing the twinkly lights ablaze around my city, decorating the tree at home with the mother’s best ornaments, splurging on cookie dough and Bailey’s hot chocolates at the Christmas markets in town. The joy for me doesn’t end come the evening of the 25th, after unwrapping my presents and gorging on a second helping of the most monumental Christmas dinner. Indeed, it doesn’t even come when the year draws to a close and I’m out and about, either at a bar or a house party screaming ‘Happy New Year!’ with a glass of prosecco in hand. For me, the festive season draws to a close after the first week in January; my birthday is the 7th, therefore meaning Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day and my birthday are all encompassed in to a fourteen day festive period. Therefore my festive season is not yet over; I still have three more days to enjoy the merriment!

Nonetheless, I thought it prudent to share the Christmas celebrations here in Busan and what better way to do so than with a whole load of Christmassy pictures! Mainly of the various decorations I saw whilst strolling the various city centres. I must admit, the pains of being away from home at such a time when family comes first have been firmly present. However Busan’s commitment to colourful, bright illuminations chirped me up quite a lot, reminding me that no matter where you are, there is always room for some festive cheer!

Haeundae Beach

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Seomyeon

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Nampo-dong

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Yangjeong

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And lastly, a picture of me with my Korean family, enjoying a feast on New Years Eve!

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I’ll sign off by saying I hope you all had a wonderfully Merry Christmas and all the best for 2019!

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Travel

Golden Korea!

We are well and truly in to the latter half of December; the first frost has been experienced, the wind is bitingly cold and I find myself swaddled in more and more layers each and every day and night. No complaints here though – winter has always been and will always be my favourite season. There is just something so special about this season; maybe it’s the Christmas spirit or the desire to do and see more for the upcoming new year. Or perhaps it is the fact that, given the cold temperature, I can wrap myself up in to a burrito with a blanket and snacks, Netflix blaring on a screen in front of me. No matter the reason, I always feel a sense of overwhelming joy in winter, an admission that would no doubt shake most other people to the core.

Despite my love for winter, however, I find myself daydreaming about golden hour or should I say golden season. Autumn always comes in at an extremely close second place in my eyes; it is the time I start to feel that little chill in the air whilst all around me the leaves start to change. One thing I love to do is strap on my Doc Martens and go for a walk amongst autumn’s prettiest feature. Leaves upon leaves upon leaves; piles and piles lashed with copper, auburn and golden tones. The crunching sound they make when my rubber sole flattens them to the ground; it is music to my ears, a noise so organic, so unique that takes me on a journey of appreciation for the wonderous world I live in.

The autumn season in Korea fulfils my desire to crunch and crisp more so than any other place before. Leaves are in abundance, fallen softly from the copious number of trees (after all 70% of the country is made up of mountains and most of their surfaces are covered in trees with leaf-filled branches). On a trip to Seoul in November, I visited 창경궁 (Changgyeonggung), the second largest palace in the capital and indeed the home to the king’s wife. The palace itself lies within a complex, similar to the one that houses 경복궁 (Gyeongbokgung) but off to one side is a large garden, consumed by walking paths, ponds, and obviously, trees. I was in heaven; all the leaves hadn’t yet fallen and their colours shone brightly with pride, dangling from the gnarly and smooth branches of various types of trees. The rest of them lay on the floor, forming mounds of crunchable fun. I sat within a copse, rolling around, looking like the leaf-obsessed lady I am, pausing only to grab a handful and chuck them up in to the air with a massive smile plastered across my face. It really is the little things that make life enjoyable! You need only look at the picture below to believe my joy at being amongst one of nature’s most simple yet most beautiful characteristics!

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To all my fellow expats, leaf lovers, autumn dreamers, I highly recommend a visit to 창경궁 when the season hits again in 2019. You will not regret seeing such a stunning sight! Furthermore, given the palace’s historical purpose, you will enjoy the trip even more if you are an East Asian history buff, or indeed go if you are interested in traditional Korean architecture, of which the structures within the complex fit the bill completely! Just do not forget to check out the adjoining garden – will only set you back 1,000 KRW and I’m certain it is just as wonderful during the other three seasons. For now, I will leave you with a few snaps I took during my visit… Enjoy!!

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Film

Perspective (2018) #TeamAndromeda

I know it has been a helluva long time since I posted on here… no special excuse for this, I have been slacking purely based on the recent hectic schedule I have had but I am currently working to correct my laziness so stay tuned for many posts about my recent goings on!

First off… I MADE A FILM! You can watch it below 😊, and if interested, you can read all about my experience making it underneath!

Let me rewind back to September… my friend stumbled across a Facebook post advertising a 72 hour film festival here in Busan. Participants needed to pay only 10,000 won and follow a certain set of guidelines; films had to be 10 minutes or less, had to include a character called either Edward or Edna Appleby, had to include a wine bottle in some way or another and lastly had to use the dialogue “I’ll make him/her an offer that he/she cannot refuse”. Simple enough guidelines to follow and luckily my friend already had a self-love/self-appreciation concept in mind.

Our team initially met on a Thursday evening, at HQ Gwangan, the bar in Gwangalli geared towards the many expats out here, who is also the host of the 72 hour film festival. We discussed and planned, finalising the concept we had and shaping it in to a short film that would follow all of the guidelines we had whilst still maintaining the core message we wanted to portray. Our story would focus on Edna, a young woman consumed by a toxic relationship. We are first introduced to her, downing a bottle of wine in her apartment, frustrated by the lack of communication from her other half. Then she receives a text message, just one short moment of clarity that sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

The next day, Friday, filming began; we used my apartment and the roof of my building initially. As if there were not already enough time constraints (given the allotted time of 72 hours to shoot and edit a short film), we only had 30 minutes or so to film what we needed to film up on the roof. The dark nights start to appear earlier in September and the sun begins to set rapidly so you can only imagine our haste in getting the shots we needed multiple times to ensure smooth cuts in the editing stage. Once night had well and truly set in, we headed to Output in Seomyeon to film a scene involving our lead actress and a male leech. We did have a problem here; not one of us had a male friend available to strap on their acting shoes at such short notice. Nonetheless we managed to secure a reveler in the club with the offer of a few drinks. We briefed our guy, told him his line of dialogue (“I’ll make you an offer that you can’t refuse”) and got to shooting. Sorted. The scenes we needed to bring together the first half of our film were all done, shot numerous times and ready to be uploaded.

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Team Andromeda outside Output! #BTS

We got started with the editing process on the Saturday afternoon, surrounded by a mass of supplies to keep our energy up. It is unbelievable to see the amount of software readily available to amateur filmmakers on the internet these days. My team managed to secure Wondershare Filmora; a seemingly basic editing application which turned out to be fantastic and exactly what we needed. In between editing (and eating), we had to shoot a few daytime scenes; a couple of cuts that would show our main character going about her daily life, eating with friends, browsing shops as well as general shots of the city. In addition, we also needed some shower scenes; a literal presentation of our girl washing away all the toxic that was in her life and embrace her new self-appreciation. All in all, Saturday was a busy day!

We woke up at 4am on the Sunday having made a plan to meet on Gwangalli beach at 4:30am to be able to film our main character doing yoga whilst the sun rises in front of her; the grand finale where she is finally at peace with herself and content with her life. Again, time was not on our side; the sun rises fairly quickly, and we had a variety of angles we wanted to employ to really capture the beauty of the beach and the peace of mind it gives to people. Nevertheless, we were successful, and I must admit, I was (and still am!) super proud of the shots we managed to get! I feel the Zen element we wanted to illustrate was captured, whether that be due to the location or the yoga, either way I love the beach scenes we used in the final cut. We finished our task at the beach, headed home for a couple more hours kip and then got back to editing. Watching and re-watching our completed 7-minute film over and over before heading back to HQ Gwangan to submit it for the showing later that evening.

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Shooting at Gwangalli beach! #BTS

After the screening, we were awarded a bottle of gin as a prize for using the required line of dialogue in the most creative way. Super thrilling! However, I was, and still am, over the moon to finally have my name listed in the credits of a film, no matter how short it is! That reward, in my eyes, is better than any other prize we could have won because I gotta say, my first experience working on a film was incredibly exciting and fulfilling. My team and I are already planning our second film with an aim to continue making short films together as we are a damn good team! 😊

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food, Travel

Gwangjang market! #litlyfinSeoul

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! 😄

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Film, korea

Busan International Short Film Festival!

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?

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Film, Travel

Cherry blossoms in South Korea!

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! 🙂

 

 

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food, korea

My first Korean dinner experience!

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!

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Film, Travel

Plane to Busan!

It has been a month and a day since I jumped on a plane in Manchester and moved half way across the world to Busan and what a blast I have had so far! After dreaming of living and working in South Korea for more than five years, I am SO happy to say I have not been disappointed once yet! Busan is everything I could have ever dreamt of and more; the sounds blasting around the streets, the sights of mountains in the near distance, the smells of barbecued meat and the narrow side streets that make me feel as though I have just stepped right in to the chase scenes from Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser… and that is just my local area, Seomyeon. Let’s delve in further and I will tell you all about the things I have enjoyed most thus far…

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Views for days!

THE FOOD

The love story between Emma and food is one for the ages and is perhaps greater than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the food in Busan has only made that love blossom and has taken it to a whole new level! Here’s my fave foods so far:

• Korean Fried Chicken is hella good; so far I have had it more times than I care to admit to myself but I’m just gunna say carpe diem and go with it! It has been worth it. It is suuuuuper crispy and so so tender! You can get some in a red sauce that is called Yangnyeom; it is spicy, it is sweet, it is sticky, it is delicious! I’ve had it with friends, a beer and a side of pickled radish and we were all the happiest we have ever been. I’m pretty sure I will be besties with the workers in my local Thunder Chicken in no time and I am more than okay with that!
• Korean BBQ: I left Manchester so certain no BBQ could match that of the one and only Abbers… I hate to say it but the barbecued food I have had out here so far registers at a close second place. Korean BBQ is so different from that which I’m used to. You grill the meat yourself in the centre of your table and it comes with lettuce leaves for you to wrap the juicy meat in with a lil bit of ssamjang! My co-workers recommended a restaurant called Maschandeul to me, the Dongnae branch, telling me they serve the best samgyeopsal (pork neck BBQ) in Busan so I headed there one Friday with my sister and daaaaaamn that place is amazing! I’ll definitely become a regular there enjoying their super succulent pork BBQ. I have also tried eel BBQ which again was so tasty but a little bit freaky considering the eel was extremely fresh and therefore their tails danced around a little when you initially threw them on the grill!
• Bungeoppang, little fish shaped pastries stuffed with red bean paste! I have to admit… I was a little sceptical about these before trying. I mean they are fish shaped and they are stuffed with something I have never tried before… but during my first week at my apartment I ventured over to the Korean grocery store close to my building and there was a little stand selling bungeoppang just opposite so I decided to give them a whirl. 2 lil fishy pastries for 1,000KRW which is hella cheap and my god, they are so damn good! Crunchy pastry, smooth, sweet filling: a warming snack on a chilly evening! Sadly my bungeoppang lady has disappeared off the face of the earth; either she has closed up shop or she has moved to a new location and I am a little devastated!

samgyeopsal

Samgyeopsal heaven!

NORAEBANG

Or just Korean karaoke rooms…

Usually back home a chilled night out means either grabbing food at a local restaurant or enjoying a few cocktails in a NQ bar but a chilled night here in Busan equates to one thing: singing your heart out to Aerosmith in a room with mates and a few glasses of somaek (a mixture of beer and soju)! I cannot speak for those who have had to suffer my seriously awful singing voice but I have certainly enjoyed the times I have spent screaming “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” in to a microphone. Also “Mmmbop”, “YMCA” and “5,6,7,8” by Steps (which by the way should totally come with a warning stating you must be able to sing extremely fast before attempting this song – I was losing my breath). Noraebang is such a laugh! It brings me right back to childhood, the days I spent in my room with a karaoke machine singing “Barbie Girl” or something equally lame. I am 100% sure it will become the thing I do when I want to do something fun but not splurge a whole load of money on a crazy night out!

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With Leenz singing a song for our Patty Jo! ❤

VR GAMES

Or virtual reality games for those not yet in touch with the modern world…

My co-workers invited me out with them one evening to just chill and spend time together away from work. We went for some food first and then headed in to the heart of Seomyeon for some fun. We started off with some shooting practice: a toy gun you aim and fire at targets to earn points, and if you reach a certain amount of points, you get to choose a little cuddly keyring. I slayed the game and bagged myself a smiley poo emoji keyring! Side note: anyone who says the smiley poo isn’t the best emoji around is either lying to themselves or has some serious issues! After the shooting practice, we headed to VR Playce: an awesome little second floor centre with different rooms where you enter your virtual reality! We got more shooting in during the first game, killing goblins before they attack a fortress with a bow and arrow. We played this for about 45 minutes, killing three quarters of the time we had paid for before deciding to switch it up and go for something different. The next game we played involved an elevator taking you up to the top of a building where a plank awaits you with a cake at the end! This game is certainly not the one for those who have a fear of heights! Luckily I’m good in that department and I managed to tip-toe my way towards the cake, picking it up in one piece, staggering back a little before plummeting to the ground below! Super crazy game but a lot of fun! We finished off our time at VR Playce with a bit of skiing: I have never taken on some slopes in real life but I was a pretty good skier in my virtual reality!

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Nice lil pic of smiley bae as unfortunately I have none of my VR experience!

So as you can tell my first 29 days in Busan have been food and fun filled! I cannot wait to spend another year or so here getting to know the ins and outs of Korean life, food, modern culture, history and everything else! I’ll keep you all posted!

Have you ever been to Busan? Is there anything you have done or tried in South Korea that you can recommend? Let me know in the comments! 😊

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The heart of Seomyeon!

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