If I was settling into an apartment right now, I’d be excited about these 37 cheap ways to make your Ikea stuff look good. For the record though? I’m actually really grateful I’m having adventures and not settling into an apartment right now. Still, they’re great ideas!
I went on a research SPREE this week regarding South East Asia. I use the term “research” lightly, because I was basically reading about awesome places and looking at beautiful photos and getting myself so excited for the next chapter in my life after my time in Korea. I spent a ton of time on That Backpacker – I particularly loved this article about Audrey’s favourite places in South East Asia, but she has so many inspiring posts. Go get sucked in the way I was!
I’ll be slowly adding a few more things to my travel photography shop over the next couple of weeks – including some photos from Japan! – so if you’re interested head over and have a look!
This weekend, my friends and I are heading to a nearby (bus-accessible) island to catch some rays and see some beautiful natural sights. I’m looking forward to exploring and relaxing. As always, you can follow along with me on Instagram @lifeinlimboblog. I hope you have a great weekend too!
I’m not very good at starting small. I am excellent at jumping into things with two feet and a long list of requirements for success, and after some time (a week, three weeks, 3 months..) getting burned out and giving up entirely. I’m grateful that it’s in my nature to be so enthusiastic about things, but my follow-through has always needed work.
I often read about trigger habits and doing the minimum, tiny goal in the hopes that it will eventually prompt you to do more but without the expectation of needing to do more. For example, setting the tiny daily goal to put on your running shoes and get outside your front door. The idea is that just getting outside is enough on its own, but that it’ll also probably prompt you to go further, do a little run or maybe even a long one before you go back home. You’re taking away the pressure by giving yourself an incredibly easy small win right off the bat, which will hopefully lead to more small wins over time.
Unfortunately, it’s also in my nature to barrel ahead and do too much at once. I don’t tend to care about small wins and I don’t give myself credit for them. I always feel like I can and should do more, push harder, have bigger wins. It’s not hard to see why eventually I get burned out and give up – I’m not very good at lowering my own standards for success or being gentle with myself. This, I realize, is both a blessing and a curse.
In the spirit of small trigger goals and daily practices, this week I’ve started using the free workout app Seven. I learned about it on Entrepreneur, and The New York Times also had a great piece about it in Well. Sure, it would be better to go for a 30 minute run every day, or hit the gym a few times a week. True to form, when I first started using the app I wanted to try doing two of the circuits every day, or maybe three! But that kind of all or nothing thinking is what ends up burning me out. I never start by setting the bar low because it never seems like enough for me. This time around, I’m letting a (challenging!) seven minute workout every morning be enough. I know I can do that much. Maybe it will trigger more habits, maybe it will be enough on its own – it doesn’t matter. I am starting very small. I am hoping to stay with it. I am hoping to come back to it every day.
I’ve realized lately that I’m not good at practice. I like things that I can finish and be done with, wrap up, move on. I think this is a common attitude but unfortunately that doesn’t make it much easier to deal with or overcome. Most things in life that I think are important are daily practices that we are (hopefully) never, ever finished with. Meditation, exercise, creativity, staying in touch, eating well, patience, gratitude: all are practices. You don’t get to an end point with exercise and get to stop. You don’t ever reach the pinnacle of success in gratitude and then are set for the rest of your life. You have to keep practicing, each day, slowly but surely, over and over – and there is no “until….” because there is no end point.
This is very hard for me to grasp, let alone put into practice. This is why I flame out every running season, or after a few months of consistent yoga practice, or after a week of meditation when I don’t feel like I’m improving. I find it difficult to stay with things that can’t necessarily be measured quantitatively, or shouldn’t be.
With many of these important practices, I’ve been trying to keep myself in the mindset of taking it one day at a time. Building up slowly a chain of successful days, and trying not to break the chain. Starting fresh each morning. Showing up at the mat or in the chair or in my running shoes as if for the first time and seeing what happens. Being less invested in a particular outcome, and especially less invested in ever being “finished”. This is not easy for me, and I am usually not very successful in embracing this perspective. But investing in and sticking with things that are practices with no end point is in itself a practice. So at least I can try, every day, for as long as I have.
Right now I’m practicing a seven minute workout, eating mindfully, showing up to my yoga mat, morning pages and meditation. What about you?
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been making an effort to learn more Korean. I know what you’re thinking: I’ve been here for six months, so what have I been doing all this time?! My mom agrees with you, and is always (rightly, I might add!) reminding me to learn more of the language. I think after the initial period of getting settled, coupled with the mini-upheaval of changing jobs, I never felt like I had the mental space to tackle such a task until lately.
In my defence, Korean is one of the 4 hardest major world languages for native English speakers to learn. The others are Japanese, Chinese and Arabic. The research estimates that you would need 2200 hours of dedicated study to become proficient in any of those languages, which makes the whole thing seem a bit hopeless! But fortunately I spend 8 hours a day talking to cute munchkins who are incredibly skilled at speaking and writing Korean, so I’ve been using them to my advantage.
1. Learn to read Hangul
Hangul is the Korean alphabet with 24 vowels and consonants. It’s actually one of the easiest written languages in the world, even though it looks a bit scary at first. Unlike Japanese and Chinese character systems, Hangul is based on sounds. It was created by King Sejong, quite a popular guy in Korea, back in the the 1400’s. His goal was to improve the literacy rate of the Korean population by making a system so simple that anyone could learn to read it. It was said about the characters: “A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days.”
It’s true though! It doesn’t take long to learn the alphabet, maybe a couple of hours.
I had a lot of success with this infographic, Learn to Read Korean in 15 Minutes. It’s a cute cartoon, but it’s also really effective. I still remember most of my consonants based on the memory aids they give you.
I also love the app Memrise, which I used to solidify my knowledge of Hangul. The system uses smart, user-submitted memory aids to help you learn new letters and words, and they’re usually very on point and helpful. Memrise has all kinds of courses for language, trivia, general memory training and more, and it’s all free. I used this course for Hangul.
Of course, learning the characters often doesn’t help much because although you can sound out and read words, you don’t actually know what the Korean word means. So while I can sound words out phonetically, it doesn’t really help me unless I learn the word itself.
2. Learn some basic phrases
To my credit, I did learn some basic phrases when I first moved to Korea. I try not to go anywhere new without knowing the words for “hello” and “thank you”, and Korea was no exception. Here are my top 4:
안녕하세요 (annyeong haseyo) = Hello!
감사합니다 (gamsamnida) = Thank you
미안합니다 (mian hamnida) = I’m sorry
얼마에요 (eolma eyo) = How much is it?
You can also learn phrases from an app – there are tons on the app store or online. One that I downloaded (but admittedly have not used much) is this Learn Korean Phrasebook. It’s fairly extensive, very easy to use and has voice recordings of each phrase from a native Korean speaker. It’s helpful to have around in case you need to learn something new in a jam, but I usually prefer learning phrases organically from my students or my friends. I also know how to say “I love you!”, “stop that” (3 different ways), “let’s go”, “don’t go”, “turn right” and “turn left”, among a few other things.
I also very recently discovered the Youtube channel Talk to Me in Korean which will hopefully teach me even more!
3. Learn helpful words
This is where my students come in. I have a few classes that have an English spelling test every 2 weeks. I recently began telling them that on the day that I teach them their new English spelling words, they could teach me Korean spelling words, and that we’d have our tests on the same day. This doesn’t take up too much class time, they absolutely adore teaching me Korean words, and I get to learn something new! I’ve been writing out my words on an index card with the English translation, and practicing them each day while saying the words out loud.
Thus far, I know the words for chair, eraser, orange, pencil, crab, flower, book, earth, sun, bag, hand, finger, face, he, she, we, and person. It’s pretty awesome to see the patterns between the letters and start to recognize some words as I hear them spoken in class.
Of course, the most helpful thing you can do when learning any new language is to practice, practice, practice. I’ve been trying to practice saying the phrases I’ve learned to my classes (and laugh when they gasp and ooh and ahh and get excited over my attempts to speak Korean) and to shop clerks (it’s thrilling when they understand and reply without batting an eye). I try to learn new phrases from native Korean speakers both mini and adult, and use the new words I’ve learned as much as I can.
Despite the title of this post, I have definitely not finished learning Korean and it’s very possible there are better ways to learn it that I don’t know about. Do you have any tips on learning Korean, or languages in general? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.
Here in Korea we still have mostly summery weather – clear blue skies and sunshine, with just a hint of chilliness in the evenings. I thought I’d be sad to see the summer go, especially since I had such a truly wonderful summer this year, but I find myself excited about the fall. I’m ready for chai lattes and colourful leaves and long hikes in big old forests and hunkering down in a café for hours at a time reading a book or writing a story.
Being away from home in the fall is a weird thing though. It was last year too, when I was in Europe, but at that point in my trip at least I was winding down, soon to be home with my family and friends. This year, I know it’ll be a long time before I see the people I love again, and so fall feels different this time around. It sometimes feels a little like I’m getting left behind as everyone moves into awesome new chapters of their lives back home. I know how silly that sounds, considering I’m in a beautiful country having a life of adventure, but that’s how it feels sometimes. I’m struggling with this feeling: I know if I were home I’d want to be adventuring abroad, but when I’m here, living what increasingly feels like normal everyday life, I wish I were home, if only for a week or two. My challenge to myself this fall (and forever) is to learn to love living exactly where I am and stay present.
Quite a ramble over a simple bowl of soup, but the soup represents that I am trying to embrace this season of my life with open arms and a full heart (and clear eyes, can’t lose). It’ll be gone before I know it and I want to appreciate and savour every moment of it while it’s here. I really am so grateful for this opportunity to live and learn and see and experience so many things – I just have to remind myself of that sometimes.
Lots of love to you and yours! You can find the recipe right here.
I am almost exactly halfway through my time in Korea. It's whizzed by for the most part, and I can barely believe we're halfway through September already! It totally snuck up on me, and in some ways it feels like I've been living in Korea forever. Even these past few weeks, there were a couple times when I honestly couldn't remember whether a few things were done differently back home because it's been so long. I've never been away from home or my family for this long before, and with the changing of the seasons I've been getting a touch more nostalgic and wishing I could hang out at home with the people I love. That being said, Korea continues to be equal parts hilarious, baffling, frustrating and awesome, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest of my time here plays out. Here are some more random observations from the past few months.
Most of the escalators here work by motion sensor (ie. only start if there's someone walking towards them) which seems like an awesome, efficient way to save energy. What I do find strange are the constant public service announcements on escalators, reminding you to hold the handrails with both hands (??) and watch your children, etc. This was one of the things I couldn't remember whether we had in Canada – do we?
Speaking of public service announcements, there are usually several every day on any major beach in Korea. They're broadcasted from speakers, reminding you in several languages to watch your valuables and that you're not allowed in the water after 6PM.
The oceans in Korea are patrolled and controlled big time, which feels different from home. You're not allowed to swim past a certain buoy line, not even at your own risk, without being shouted at through a megaphone. On the few days this summer when they deemed the water unsafe (a process that to the naked eye, looked a little arbitrary although I do understand it can actually get quite dangerous), lifeguards patrolled the whole coastline, not letting anyone into the water past their ankles. One such time I tried to reason with the Korean lifeguard, saying “Could we walk out to our waists? We can swim!” He replied, “I know you can, but I can't let you because they can't,” motioning to our fellow Korean beachgoers. I don't know if his statement is in any way true or not, but his logic doesn't make a lot of sense to me either way.
Foreigners need to get a health check in order to secure their visa to work in Korea, and it's a pretty intense process. Blood work, urine test, height and weight, vision test, hearing test (I've never even once gotten one in Canada), and a chest x-ray. Most of which begs the question: but why? Some parts I understand, but others not so much. Also, I had a full health check done when I first came to Korea, but when I changed schools they required me to do a second full check even though it had only been 3 months.
In Busan, it is very common for locals to bring their own music on hikes or walks and listen to it out loud through speakers.
Many children here are utterly terrified of teeny tiny dogs – as in scream, burst into tears and run away or hide behind their parents. Big dogs are pretty uncommon in Korea (a byproduct of the fact that most people who live in cities live in apartments), so I haven't observed what they're like around bigger animals, but it's pretty bizarre to watch. I've even seen some teenagers and adults equally scared!
Korea is a country in general very fond of its air conditioners, but for some reason, gyms are not air conditioned. They'll have fans going and leave the windows open, but it makes for a pretty sticky, sweaty experience.
Most gyms provide clothes to work out in and plenty of towels with your membership. This seems very handy if for example if you wanted to stop by on your way home from work but didn't want to deal with the laundry.
At most beauty stores or counters whenever you walk in, you instantly have one of the several employees practically right at your elbow, and they follow you around the store wherever you go. I'm someone who dislikes when people hover even mildly close by in stores, so this for me is always a bit much.
It's really common in Korea for people to order few dishes and share them all together out of the same pot. This tradition has carried over to Western-style food too – I've often seen a Korean couple splitting a single burger.
The men in Korean couples very frequently carry the woman's purse everywhere and all her shopping bags if she has any.
Selfie sticks are really common here. They're everywhere, all the time, with people of all ages. Heaven forbid you ask someone to take a photo of you, right? Not to mention the fact that they look pretty ridiculous. That being said, Korean photoshoots are legendary – it's not strange to hear the clicking of a phone camera dozens of times in a row for identically posed photos – so perhaps they know that no stranger would be willing to take as many photos as they would ideally want!
In the summertime, a lot of Koreans often pitch camping-style tents on the beach for a beach day. From what I understand this is to avoid the sun, as many Koreans don't like to tan and often swim fully clothed.
Taxi drivers are a force to be reckoned with. They'll often get mad and scold you if you get in the cab facing the wrong way from your destination, and some (so I've heard) won't take you if they decide where you're going is too close by or too far away.
Spam is a luxury product here. It comes in fancy gift sets for Chuseok, paired with cans of tuna and bottles of olive and grapeseed oil as a deluxe package worth upwards of $30.
Stores and restaurants can get built overnight in Korea, or at least within a matter of days. It's totally normal to see a gutted storefront transformed into an operating business within two days or less. Renovations happen extremely fast as well.
Squatting is common among people of all ages – from babies to teenage boys to moms to business men and of course grandmothers and grandfathers. It's amazing and inspiring to see how easy it is for them to get into such a deep squat and be totally comfortable in it.
Once again, I could go on for hours talking about cutesy phone cases as big as my head, exercise machines in public parks, and how often random locals ask to take pictures with us foreigners even if we're doing nothing in particular. There are so many things that are different here from back home. Whenever I start to forget I live in a foreign country (which believe it or not, can happen!), I'll experience something very Korean and be reminded again. But despite all the differences for the most part it's a great place to live, especially because we are surrounded by so much absolutely stunning nature: mountains, beaches, beautiful skies and rocks and forests. All in all, it's a very interesting place to call home.