Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Jeju Island, South Korea

They say Jeju is like the “Hawai’i” of South Korea… and I can sort of see why. Jeju Island (also known as Jejudo) is a volcanic island and the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. Jeju, itself, is a popular getaway for vacationers andhoneymooners. With it’s lush landscape, volcanic craters, pristine waterfalls, stone statues, and laid-back attitude, who could resist?

I originally thought that I wouldn’t be able to travel to Jeju, since I’m at that broke-college-student-phase. My good friend, Thi My (also a student at Sungkyunkwan University), convinced me to think about going to Jeju for the weekend and when she showed me how cheap the round-trip tickets were, I couldn’t refuse. I had to take the opportunity because who knows? I may not have another chance to visit Jeju again.

Thi My and I visited Jeju in early December and on our first day of being there we decided to hike Mount Hallasan — the highest mountain in South Korea. This was by far the LONGEST (and most strenuous) trail I EVER hiked. I seriously gave Thi My the “look” when she told me the hike would take approximately 8 hours at the least… 8 GRUESOME hours! In the end, I just went along with it and I figure I needed exercise since I’ve been eating too much dessert since coming here to South Korea. After 30 minutes of hiking the trail, I was already feeling the burn (and feeling so much regret). Hiking up to the summit is one obstacle, but hiking down is just as brutal. In order to make it up to the summit, you need to arrive at the Jindallaebat Shelter by 12:00PM and Thi My and I made it just in the nick of time at 11:50PM. From the shelter, it takes an additional 1-1 ½ hours to hike up to the top. My legs, butt, and feet were in so much pain the day after and I was stiff everywhere… literally! And even more surprising, I saw old people and little kids hiking the tall mountain. Unreal! 
Our weekend was packed with lots of physical activities, and the morning after we hiked Seongsan Ilchulbong (otherwise known as “Sunrise Peak”) and boarded a ferry to Udo Island. From there, we rented out bicycles and rode them around the entire island. Unfortunately, Thi My and I were unable to rent out a car so we had to settle for bus as our mode of transportation. If you’re using the bus in Jeju and you don’t know how to speak Korean, I highly recommend that you have the bus stop directions written in Hangul to show the bus driver. Majority of the locals here in Jeju may not speak English so well. Getting around or ordering food was a little more difficult for Thi My and I compared to being in Seoul.
Jeju is also known for their tangerines and we were able to buy a full bag of tangerines for cheap! I can’t tell how many tangerines we ate during that weekend, but we definitely needed that vitamin C. I did want to visit other places throughout Jeju but we were short on time. If you’re ever planning to visit Jeju, I’d say a week of vacationing there is preferable. There were so many things to see and do; a weekend was surely not enough. But hey! I’m proud to say that I got to visit Jeju.
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South Korea: Cat Cafe

Now, if you don’t know me as much, you should know that I am an ultimate cat lover. Yes… I am a crazy, cat lady. So when I found out that there were cat cafés in South Korea, I went absolutely NUTS! Turns out that South Korea is also obsessed with cats… and that makes me happy.   Not only does South Korea have cat cafés, they also have A TON stores and boutiques that sell cat bags, cat cases, cat key chains, cat socks, and many other cat stuff. 

Not gonna lie, finding these cat cafés were pretty difficult. They’ll be hidden in the nook and crannies of alleyways, and they’re mostly found upstairs. So word of advice, look up when walking around streets of Seoul. Most buildings have multiple shops, restaurants, cafes, and other services upstairs on different floors.
After visiting a couple cat cafés throughout Seoul, my favorite one is located in Myeongdong. But then I also realized that there are a few other cat cafés alsolocated throughout Myeongdong, but my go-to cat café is called Cat Playground. My mama bear and I found it while we were strolling around Myeongdong. How did we find it, you ask? We saw a local dressed in a cat costume passing out flyers. The dude was even nice enough to lead us there. And
after finding it, we first had to remove our shoes and wear the slippers they provided. Admission is 10,000 KRW for each person and with the entrance fee, it comes with a free drink (yaaay!).
My mama bear and I probably spent more than an hour at the café, but it was totally worth it! There were more than 20 cats and I got to pet almost all of them, including the bald cats. Ugh… touching them felt so weird! I eventually returned for a second time when my good friend and coworker, “Mama Olives,” visited South Korea for a few days. Once I introduced her to the cat café, she hard time leaving. Hell… it was hard for me, too! I get easily attached to animals, and the cats that we met there were sooo friendly and playful!

At the same time, visiting these cat cafes made me miss my three, furry babies back home. It’s been a tough 4 months surviving without my cats… but on the bright side, it’s given me a break from having to constantly use the lint roller to remove the fur from my clothes. 
If you’re a cat lover (like me), you should definitely check out the cat cafés here in South Korea. I promise you’ll love it!
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Travel Frenzy, More Than I Could've Imagined

Ciao Everyone!
I just finished my last trip while in Europe! This weekend I had a friend visiting me from Hawaii and we decided to take a trip to Rome. All I can say is that I left a part of my heart in Rome… It was absolutely beautiful beyond words. We had a blast there even though we only had two days to see the entire city. All my trips this semester abroad have exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t be any happier! Including my trip to Rome, I have now been to 10 countries and roughly 30 destinations within those countries! I’ve been to:
-Italy: Milan, Genoa, Verona, Salerno, Sorrento, Naples, Vico Equense, Positano, Capri, Pompeii, Rome, Lake Como
-Croatia: Zadar, Krka National Park
-Germany: Munich (twice)
-France: Nice, Anitbes, Cannes, Villefranche, Paris, Disneyland Paris (barely in Paris)
-Switzerland: Zurich
-England: London
-Ireland: Dublin, Cliffs of Moher
-Monaco && Vatican City (both very tiny countries): Monte Carlo…The Vatican City
-Belgium: Brussels
-Spain: Barcelona, Montserrat
I managed to see everything I wanted to and more within the short four months of my stay here in Italy and stay on top of my school work too. I was surprisingly easy to travel to almost every part of Europe from Milan. With three airports that are easily accessible, I was able to do all my traveling. It wasn’t too expensive either (about to blow your mind)…I was able to get a roundtrip ticket for a weekend from Milan to Brussels for 16 Euros! Isn’t that crazy! I made sure to make the best of my short time abroad and I can confidently say I’ve have an amazing experience and I’m sad it’s coming to an end! I will be leaving Italy very shortly and I’ll write another post about my experience leaving the country and life I’ve been living for the last four months of my life.
Until then,

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My First Poruwa Ceremony

               My first Poruwa Ceremony

This weekend has been one of my absolute favorites! My friend Ranjani was having her wedding and invited me to take part in the traditional ceremonies and after party. First things first, this meant it was time for me to buy my very own saree- a customary dress for Sri Lankan women! After being told this can be very difficult as a foreigner, three of my girl friends took me to a local shop to pick out the fabric. We decided that a Kandyan saree would be most suitable for the occasion which meant a lot of measurements and poking.  After three days and the evening before the wedding, my saree was finally ready. Because the celebrations begin very early in the morning, I woke up at 4am to get ready. With a lot of help from my neighbors and tons of laughing, I was dressed within an hour. 

Traditional Sri Lankan weddings are beautiful! There are so many amazing rituals and customs performed in the morning that are influenced from Buddhist culture. I learned so much about the country in only one day by understanding the hidden meanings and values behind each act. I was also blown away by how stunning all of the women looked.

 Makeup is not commonly worn, so it was a lot of fun seeing everyone so dressed up. Furthermore, there are a lot of differences from our traditions in comparison to theirs. For example, there is no special kiss and the bride and groom cut “kiri bath” (milk rice) instead of cake. One of my favorite moments was seeing three Buddhist monks give their blessings and chant sections from Jayamangala Gatha.  
The ceremony takes place on a Poruwa, a beautifully decorated platform in the center of the hall. The bride and groom must enter the Poruwa leading with the right foot first, and are presented with beetles leaves and other items that all represent different symbolic gestures. The day was filled with amazing local food (which is eaten with your hands), tons of music and dancing, and overwhelming amounts of love. Everyone was interested in seeing me in a saree as I was the only foreigner at the event. Overall, it was a great time and has convinced me that I no longer want a traditional Canadian wedding! 

-Jackie Dolski