The Budget Guide to Jeju for the Disorganised, Lazy, Messy Girl

The long-awaited summer vacation began on a Thursday. We were only booked to leave to Jeju Island the next Monday so, for the next four days, I slept. Clearly, the exhaustion from teaching was real. That Monday, I donned my heavy backpack and jumped on the subway to meet Jess at Gimpo Airport. For the first time in months, I felt like I belonged. Perhaps, it was because I now looked how foreigners in Korea are expected to look – like tourists.

Two hours after skimming through the airport, and the airways, we were on Jeju Island. Flashbacks to my last jet-lagged arrival, not even a year before, had me searching for familiarities from the sky: “Hey, there’s that theme park we saw last time. And those random lights in the sea (buoys obviously). Oh, and look we’re landing, I remember this runway!”. Jess’ patience is eternal.

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You can probably guess which one’s me and which one’s Jess.

A quick stop at the CU for a late-night feast, and soon we were being ushered to our hotel room by a very wary hotel manager. I’m pretty sure he was convinced we were going to destroy his hotel room; probably have an orgy/satanic ritual. Luckily for him, we don’t participate in orgies on Monday nights and satanism is no longer the ‘in’ thing, so we just slept.

The real holiday started with rushed showers and a frantic packing of bags the next morning as we realised we only had 20 minutes to leave our hotel. This felt more like the travelling style I was used to. Unusually well-rested, we found our bus with ease and rounded the coast of Jeju towards our next destination – the Blue Hawaii Resort.

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Me, staying at a resort instead of the usual hostel.

Now, I usually don’t trust hotels with fancy af names…  They’re much like gelled-up boys wearing too much bling with overwhelmingly flashy cars. But, while the Blue Hawaii Resort was far from top-of-the-range, our room had an enchanting view of the ocean, and below, an averagely-fancy pool and chill area. The only negative? We were the only non-family there.

This wasn’t a problem until it came to swimming time. As I have mentioned before, Koreans don’t really wear bikinis. Partly because they are discrete beings and partly because they are terrified of the sun (rightly so – that shit be nasty). So, two foreign girls with all the right curves in all the right places and two itsy-bitsy pieces of material strung delicately across their “bits”, in front of a bunch of kids and pervy old men was Totally Inappropriate. Without exaggeration, it took us a seriously awkward hour to shift from our clothed state next to the pool, to a Practically Naked state inside the pool. Probably much to the hilarity of everyone around us.

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How I felt entering the pool.

Wednesday was spent at Hyeopjae Beach (협재해변) – famous for its view of some island that I can’t remember the name of. Being able to relax on the beach for an entire day without suffering from exhaustion or a hangover is certainly a blessing, and something I should probably look into doing more often.

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V. pretty.

Highlight of the day? Once again, appreciating how safe Korea is. We abandoned our bags under an umbrella and didn’t see them again for several hours. On our return, they were exactly as we had left them. Still pleasantly surprised every time.

After a last-minute decision, we were soon on a bus to our next (and favourite) destination: Seogwipo (서귀포시). A promising pension (“a whole house to yourself!”)  was our home for the night. While comfortable, it was certainly no house. But, no matter, we spent maybe four hours in that room overall (three of them sleeping).

After dumping our bags, it was time to visit my favourite place in Jeju: Jungmun Beach (중문색달 해변). This was where the magic had begun to happen on my trip last year, where two beautiful lifeguards had whisked us straight off the beach and into their cars. However, this time around it felt different. While, the beach and sea were as beautiful as ever, and, no doubt, the people maybe even more beautiful, we were more jaded. The naivete and childish excitement from the previous year had darkened into cynicism and higher expectations. Fortunately, the joy of splashing in the sea quickly washed the bitter taste from my mouth. After all, no day spent on the beach can be a bad one – right???

Wednesday night appears in bits and pieces: dancing to Kpop in the pension, a married (with child) man asking to pay for an hour of ‘skinship’, a bucket or two (or three) filled with cranberry juice and eight shots of vodka, dancing on stage, and, finally, falling asleep very hungry.

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Me, probably, on Wednesday night.

As expected, Thursday was a struggle. Unable to stay in bed all day (we had to clear out by 11am and move to our next home for the night), we went back to the one place we knew would make us feel better: Jungmun Beach, of course. On this day, we got very sunburnt, but also very happy. We left the beach long after the sun had gone down and attempted to hitchhike to our next hostel. Embarrassment forced us to take the bus.

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The sun that day.

Friday. The first day of two days of messiness. Messy is how I would describe most things that Jess and I do together, and we’d avoided it for too long. We knew that if we didn’t dive down the distinctively dirty route, destiny would surely punish us. We decided not to book accommodation for Friday night: our plan was to party the night through and then bus back to Jeju City (a cool two hours away) and catch the 8.30am flight back to Busan. A plan that worked surprisingly well.

Torrential rain joined us for breakfast; a very unwelcome guest. However, while our bags, hair, clothes, and general beings were dampened, our spirits were not. So we grabbed a cab to Hwanguji (황우지) – a rockpool near Oedolgae Rock (외돌개) we had visited (and swam in) the previous year. A kindly woman at the top of the cliff path agreed to look after our backpacks (LOVE KOREANS), and we eagerly began our steep and slippery walk down to the sea. Two minutes later we were rudely stopped by police tape and a sign banning entry due to dangerous sea conditions. First plan for the day foiled. No worries, we thought, we’ll head to Old Favourite.

Jungmun Beach felt like home at this point. However, we were greeted with devastating news: swimming was banned. Clearly this sea was also suffering from dangerous conditions. We had nowhere else to go though, so we set up camp on the sand and slipped into depression as the tantalising water teased us.

We spent the whole day like this. Our moods did lighten when the surfers started entering the water (a lot of them were first-timers and therefore v. entertaining to watch), however, soon we were antsy to swim again. We decided to sneak off down the beach, out of the lifeguards’ (who had been desperately blowing their whistles all day at anyone who dared put a toe near the water) sight, and get our fix. Unfortunately, an undercover lifeguard (apparently that’s a thing in Korea) spotted us as we dashed into the water and we got a very stern talking to.

Slightly ashamed we returned to our little camp of books, bags and towels and quietly (and hypocritically) spent the day lambasting all of the Arrogant Foreigners who dared to disrespect the lifeguards by going into the ocean, despite knowing they weren’t allowed to.

With nowhere to go, we stayed at the beach until it had emptied, hoping to use the public showers to get ready for our night of partying. We waited too long, and discovered that the showers were locked. No problem! We are resourceful, and instead, used the basins in the public toilet to clean the worst of the sweat and salt off of our bodies. I only flashed one child so, all in all, a fairly successful mission. However, the encroaching cockroaches soon convinced us to find a better bathroom. The bagel restaurant (Cafe del Serano or something) near our party place for the night would suit.

After gorging ourselves on salmon and avocado bagels, we disappeared into a beautifully-clean bathroom for a good hour to don make-up and appropriate clothing. If the management of that cafe ever reads this, I sincerely apologise for using and abusing your bathroom in that manner.

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Literal transformations took place in those two bathrooms.

Next stop, predrinks at the usual: outside a convenience store. Revitalised by soju and Hot6 (Korea’s Red Bull), we disappeared into Monkey Beach, Jeju Island’s only (and best) club, unless you count the Aroma Superdome, which is more of an interactive viewing experience if you ask me. A kindly security guard stashed our backpacks, and feeling considerably lighter we headed to the bar for one of those dangerous cranberry and vodka buckets.

Dancing, playing pool, flirting with Mongolian vaulters (the ones who do acrobats on horseback not the ones who jump over things), and hyping Jess up to do things like jump a giant skipping rope and enter into a pull-up contest made the night go quickly.

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Me hyping Jess up to do all the fun things that I’m too scared to do.

Soon, we were stumbling towards a bus back to Jeju City and our airplane. In a half-asleep state, we made it to the airport (where I suffered through eating a very dry scone), onto our plane, and into Busan – Korea’s Cape Town.

A jjimjilbang (Korean spa) was our first stop in Busan. R100 later, we were clean and on our way to the communal sleeping room, where I promptly passed out. Honestly, jjimjilbang’s are paradise on earth and should be more appreciated.

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Me, too tired to care about my nakedness in the jjimjilbang.

By this point we were way past the point of feeling ashamed of our bodies in bikinis, so we swaggered our way onto Gwangali Beach and soaked up the sun, salt, and the forever unavoidable stares. Pizza and beer (oh wait, is this why I can’t lose weight??) revived us and we spent the rest of the evening desperately trying to find a cool club to party at, only to end up at Thursday Party (shame).

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Dropping a new album soon.

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On Sunday morning, I was mentally and physically (seriously) ready to go home. This was cool, because it was my first time feeling homesick for Seoul. The journey home was a blur, and after cramming sushi into our eager stomachs, Jess and I parted. My tiny apartment welcomed me with open arms on my return. I scoffed a bowl of cheap ramen (thanks Past Cat for stocking up!), and sunk deep into sleep and back into reality.

Follow the journey pictorially here.

**Apologies for the lack of photos. I forgot my camera because I’m far from being a functional adult.

***Featured image: Alamy. Hyeopjae Beach image: stolen from Google.

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A typical night out in Itaewon (get your GIFs, baby).

I definitely spend too much time in Itaewon. Not entirely sure what the appeal is considering the night always consists of excessive dirt (I have to basically cremate any pair of shoes I wear there), spending way too much money, excessively sweating in badly-airconditioned, crowded spaces (I think one day Jess might actually have a heart attack from overheating), and having to bat off one too many drunken fellas. All for what? The love of busting our asses to the same songs over and over? The rush that comes from living our best lives (lollll)? Who knows.

On realising clubbing is definitely a waste of time, I’m trying to keep away from the temptation for awhile. It’s hard though, cause heeeyyy, we wanna party!

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Itaewon beckoning me from afar.

I miss it though, so here’s a GIF set of a typical night in Itaewon as a tribute.

Getting ready and feeling fly AF with all my swaggy Seoul style.

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Realising I’ll never be able to pull off that cool fashion like the locals do and actually look like this.

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Ayyy there’s a party on the subway ayyy yeah.

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Me balancing ice cups of soju and Hot6 on the way to our predrink spot on the sidewalk.

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When you can’t even have a conversation because hopefuls keep asking where you’re from.

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The line at Soap when anyone remotely good is playing.

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Waiting for an hour and paying 20 000₩ to get in, only to realise that the music actually sucks.

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Showing up at our usual even though we said we wouldn’t.

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Handing over all my grocery money for entrance (for the second time of the night).

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Descending into the pits of hell that is our usual (sssh it’s a secret) at 3am and heading straight for the aircon.

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One time a girl spilled her drink on me and I was thankful because it cooled me down a little.

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Can see this happening in the near future. For now, ice cubes stolen from various ice buckets will do.

Hitting the dance floor convinced I look like this…

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How I definitely, without a doubt, actually look.

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When you feel those wandering hands and that sweaty body grinding against your back. (아니요 아니요 아니요!!!)

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Finally leaving the club at 8am and the sun has rudely risen before you.

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A lot of Korean clubs are underground, so leaving after the sun has come up is much like walking ‘into the light’, except what’s on the other side is just the raw horror of Itaewon in the early morning. We have literally turned around and gone straight back into the club again before, unable to handle the truth.

Attempting to stay awake on the subway.

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This is especially difficult when attempted alone, surrounded by eager fitness fanatics who are heading out for their morning hike.

Stopping at the CU for a light snack before bed.

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Finally getting into bed, after washing off the grime, feeling like a princess.

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Sweet sweet Sokcho

If you’re desperate for the beach, and Seoul’s crowded public pools just don’t do it for you (I mean, do they do it for anyone??), and you don’t want to hop on a plane to Jeju-do, or bus on down to busy busy Busan, then Sokcho is where it’s at yo! It’s sleepy, it’s barely developed, and it boasts marvelously fresh sushi and literal picture-perfect beaches.

Here are my favourite moments from my slightly-longer-than-expected weekend in Sokcho.

1. Seeing the ocean from our 12th-storey room

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My friend (and co-teacher, Lisa) did a fantastic job of getting us a room with a gorgeous sea view. In fact, the view was so beautiful that we sacrificed our air conditioner for it. Later, we realised that this was a terrible mistake, of course. But, for a short while, we were blissful.

2. Strolling through the town to get to the beach

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For all you Capetonians, this was just like wandering through Muizenberg! Same dirty but pleasant atmosphere, tiny alleys, small, colourful houses and distinctive ocean smell. I felt at home for the first time in months.

3. Swimming in the sea (!!)

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Actual footage of me and my BFF4E amen at Sokcho beach.

Ah yissss, give me that cold-ish, crystal-clear water. Give me that crunchy, white sand. Give me that sweet, sweet reason to live. I could’ve floated there forever. Minus the creepy old men and their snorkels and goggles, I would’ve been in heaven.

4. Sushi. Sushi. Sushiiiii baby.

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It was like this but more.

Once again, Lisa wins the game. We snuck out of the sun and into a small sushi restaurant that gave us so much delicious nigiri, tempura, noodles etc that it had to come on a wheelie-tray-thing (that’s the scientific name). And when it stopped coming, Lisa only ordered more. A girl after my own heart I say.

5. Bada Jeongwon (바다정원)

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바다정원 or Seaside Garden was 100% the highlight of my trip. A stern building greeted us as we jostled over a Very Bad Road (as the taxi driver informed us), but in front… A manicured lawn, dotted with couples and families enjoying sweet treats, gazed out onto a private beach. The only entrance? A small picket gate decorated by a rose-adorned arch. While Lisa and Jessica (another teacher at my school) disappeared to tackle the pastry bar, Jess (my BFF4E amen) and I literally skipped with joy onto the beach – naturally.

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Non-existent waves lapped against the shore, the horizon went on for miles, a small island peeked its head above the ocean’s surface, the world faded around me, a bird made romantic seaside sounds in the distance. I was giddy with happiness.

We stayed until after sunset, all sitting in silence, appreciating the pink, turning to red, glow surrounding us. It was pure magic.

6. The English-speaking taxi driver

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More accurate footage.

While not a single taxi driver in Seoul can speak more than four words of English (“here”, “right”, “left”, and “no”), or so I have experienced thus far, we found one in the backwaters of Sokcho who was not only fluent but also ecstatic to show off his love for the English language and, more importantly, its music. We were regaled with covers of English songs and, in such high spirits, we all sang along fervently. Best taxi ride of my life.

7. Early mornings at Yangyang Beach

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Working it.

Eager to get back to the sea, Jess and I made the impromptu decision to visit Yangyang. While Lisa and Jessica slept in, we crept out at about 7am (after a restless night of sharing a single bed in heavy heat) and hopped on a bus to the town next door (kind of a town and also kind of next door).

A little pissy about the humidity, the walk, and the lack of food, we grumbled our way towards the smell of the ocean. But, on seeing the beautiful emptiness that was Yangyang Beach at 8am, our negativity fell away. Also, it was so early that we didn’t have to feel embarrassed about our Incredibly Revealing bikinis (most beach-goers in Korea don t-shirts and shorts to swim in. And they only arrive at about 11am).

8. An extra five hours in Sokcho

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What was to come.. metaphorically.
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Just for the lols.

WE WERE SO ORGANISED! We are almost never this organised when it comes to travelling, but this time we were. But, apparently we also weren’t. At 10am on the dot, we packed up our things off the beach in preparation for our 10.40am bus back to Seoul. We searched for a taxi. We continued to search for a taxi. We ordered a taxi off the app. We cancelled it because the taxi driver would take too long to get to us. We carried on searching for a taxi. There were no taxis. Obviously.

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Jess and I at this point.

After literally throwing our toys (bags) in frustration and storming furiously up and down the street, whining about our misfortune, we accepted that we would miss our bus. Luckily, we were so tired that we had reached the IDGAF-about-anything stage (which is actually a constant mood when the two of us are travelling together). So, there was a lot of manic laughing, jokes made in poor taste, and general messy foreigner nonsense.

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How I imagine we looked to most passersby.

We hopped on a bus back to Sokcho, embarrassed ourselves thoroughly in front of an English-speaking member of the military and a bunch of Sokcho locals, ate burgers, sat on the pavement (not something you do in Korea), and eventually got on another bus back to Seoul five hours later.

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Accurate portrayal of Jess when the bus finally arrived back in Seoul.

All in all, it was a trip that had a bit of everything: stress, relaxation, familiarity, peace, happiness, a funny story, and a happy ending. 10/10 would recommend. Watch it pictorially here.

On the other hand…

It’s my twentieth week in Seoul, and my main emotion is one of displacement. I’m missing Cape Town a shitload. I knew I was going to miss my friends, my family and the familiarity. I knew I would miss my car and the comfort. But, what I am mainly missing now is the small moments: doing the crossword at Great Brak, drinking white wine (ah wine: I miss you) after work with my co-workers, annoying the hell out of my dog, and my cat (and my brother), gazing at Table Mountain thinking that I should climb it one day… I find myself drifting into nostalgia on the daily.

When missing one thing, it’s expected to start finding fault in what you currently have. Twenty weeks in and the novelty of Seoul is starting to wane – expected to wax again soon though. But, as the perfect antithesis to my last post (I do love a good balance), here are a few things I dislike about Seoul.

1. Everyone walks SO slowly

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I mean, shit son. Do you not have places to be?? As a naturally fast walker – even in Cape Town – I find walking anywhere here torturous. And, without a car, I walk everywhere. Everyone is eternally out for a Sunday morning stroll. One of my Korean friends mentioned that it was all about enjoying the journey: I say fuck the journey! It’s as hot as the hinges on the gates of hell. Get me inside.

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I”ll try this next time…

2. Everything is in Korean

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Me trying to catch the very VERY limited Korean words I know.

No shit Catherine. But, wow I miss being able to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, or read a menu effectively.. or even trust English translations (“I’d like the Shoot Crap Sandwich please.”).

3. Is it even dating??

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This picture says a lot more than I ever could about dating in Korea.

I could write an entire article (or four) about dating in Korea, and I probably will. But, for now, here’s a brief overview: It’s surreal AF. It doesn’t feel real, mostly because it probably isn’t. A constant trend in Korea: aesthetics are important, i.e. everything is on the surface, i.e. your date is only happening because it’s the thing to do. More on this later.

4. Apparently staring isn’t rude

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Me? I was taught not to stare. And if I was caught staring, I would instantly and embarrassingly look away. Not here, nuh uh, no sirree. Sadly, it’s almost never that really hot guy sitting opposite you on the subway that’s doing the staring. Usually, it’s a disapproving 아줌마 (old woman) judging your every way of being, or a soju-slathered 아저씨, just, you know, being a typical old man.

5. Missing: The Wild

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When I see some wildlife out of place

So, I’m sure that outside of Seoul this is not the case, but inside the city there is not a scrap of wild. Every corner, brick, fence, rooftop, whatever is perfectly curated and controlled. There is not a leaf out of place. Even the parks (those marvellous green oases) are dissatisfyingly perfect. I spend my walks to and from school searching for a sign of imperfection, a clue that I am not living in the Matrix. But, alas, my hopes are dashed against the perfectly patterned pavement every time.

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My list of bad things is shorter than my list of good things. I guess that means I think Seoul is ultimately good? You will never believe why! Click here to find out! Click here! CLICK HERE! CLICKD DHERE !!!

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Out of context Kim Jong-Un doing Gangnam Style is amazing

 

For the love of Seoul

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Ch-ch-ch-cherrybombing at Seokchon Lake.

I am not a Koreaboo. But, I definitely teetered on the edge of obsession for a little while. Thankfully, I caught it, gave myself a firm talking to and stumbled back to safer ground before I tumbled down into the strange realm of the Korea-obsessed. That being said, I seriously love Korean contemporary culture (but in an entirely healthy way).

About a year and a half ago, my BFF4E amen left me for Korea. So, of course, six months later, I came to visit her. I honestly didn’t care about the country I was visiting, but on arrival I fell in love. From the ultimate in convenience to a nightlife that has no end, Korea had me hooked.

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Getting down to underground hip hop in Itaewon.

Two weeks later, sitting on the subway back to the airport, gazing at the breathtakingly beautiful boy opposite me, I almost cried at the thought of leaving. And, then Jess (my BFF4E amen) shattered my horizon in a few simple words: “Just quit your job and move here”… So, I did.

But, sadly, travelling to and living in a country are two very different things. Life becomes very real when you realise moving countries doesn’t mean escaping responsibilities. Also, globalisation is a disease eating away at diversity, and we’re all robots in the system.

THAT BEING SAID… I love this country, especially the city I live in – Seoul. And, here are six reasons why.

 

1. The food

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Me, anytime anything edible is put within eating distance.

Omg, the food. I’m literally permanently hungry here. Not just because of the endless street vendors enticing me with their dough-y, sweet smells. But, also because the food is just fascinating. I mean, do Westerners even know how to cook? I thought I understood flavour before I came here, but it’s a whole new ball game in Seoul. It may not always be pleasant to the taste buds, but it’s definitely always interesting.

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I mean… hot damn.

 

2. I’m pretty here

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Ok, so this actually touches on quite a serious topic of Western conformity and basic brainwashing, but I’m selfish. So, while I disagree with unfair and unachievable beauty standards being forced down the throats of every human alive, I love the fact that I am considered above averagely good looking here… or, at least conform to the typical (read: boring) beauty standard. Aesthetics are also very important in South Korea (more on this later), so it certainly plays in my favour a lot.

 

3. The public transport

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First time on the subway in Seoul…
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Riding the subway in Seoul, now.

I’m pretty sure this is the norm for most first-world countries. But I’m from Cape Town, and while we are first-world, our public transport system is dismal. The subway always brings new adventures, and often challenges. I once had a staring contest with an 아저씨 (old man) for about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, we came to my stop and the winner was never revealed. I have witnessed a guy throw up in his hand and just hold it for about 30 minutes – completely unfazed. Also, I’m pretty sure the art of not holding onto any poles or handhelds to stay standing should be an Olympic sport and my core muscles are definitely stronger.

 

4. The convenience

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Whenever someone tells me to go to the shops to buy food. Lol no thanks.

It has never been so easy to do anything. My doctor and gynaecologist are a literal two minute walk away from my apartment. I have my pick of four different convenient stores, each 30 seconds down the road, to do my daily (maybe thrice daily) snack run. My grocery store? One minute walk. Feel like catching a movie? Sure, let’s pop on over to the cinema next door. There’s even a water park across the street from me. Plus, if you don’t feel like going to the shops… Just order and get same-day delivery. For a lazy person, this is paradise.

 

5. The style

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Yes, you too can see this kind of beauty everyday in Seoul.

Seriously, everyone here looks like they just swaggered off the pages of Vogue (Korean version of course). What I love most, though, is the diversity. You fancy someone with a full arm-sleeve and neck tats? Head to Hongdae and take your pick. Conservative dress is more your scene? Sinsa and Apgujeong have all you need. Wanna get down and dirty with what look like the back-up dancers for Migos? Slum it out in Itaewon. Seoul has it all.

 

6. Jeong

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사랑해 bbz

Jeong (정) loosely translates to affection, but it’s much more than that. It’s a sense of deep love and care for your own community. It’s spending the day doing errands with a girl you just met because she can’t speak Korean. It’s collectively staying late at work to help one person finish their tasks. It’s helping carry groceries back to some random’s apartment. It’s holding an umbrella over your friend when it’s raining. It’s always bringing enough snacks for your co-worker to eat too. It’s a feeling that is so hard to describe, yet it radiates from everyone here. It’s one of the main reasons Seoul so quickly feels like home.

For the love of

It’s raining in Cape Town for the first time in months. And I don’t mean delicate drops that hesitantly brush your shoulder as they float down to the ground – I mean angry, loud, fully-empowered sheets of water that hurtle into the earth with mean intent.

With the intense water restrictions happening in Cape Town, an entire day of torrential rain is nothing but good. Made even better by the fact I’ve taken a day off work to laze in my bed and get around to starting my third blog – hopefully this one will stick (third time lucky right?).

This space is for the love of travel, exploration, and beauty. For the love of Didion, A.A. Gill (even though he’s an asshole), Hemingway (even though he’s also an asshole), and the Oxford comma. For the love of adventure, excitement, and inspiration. And, lastly, for the love of me.

Look out for excitable travel pieces, amateur photography, and maybe even some food-like experiences (because who doesn’t like food?), all in celebration of and for the love of curiosity.