We are now in the middle of May, which spells the start of hot and humid summer! Spring was over in a blink of an eye and I am already missing the days where we have cherry blossoms everywhere. Prior to living here as a student, I have visited Korea during spring previously in Busan and Jeju. I must say that cherry blossoms are the main characters of spring. It was beautiful in Busan and Jeju but nothing beats the amount of cherry blossoms they have in Jinhae!
Jinhae Gunhangje Cherry Blossom Festival is by far the most famous cherry blossom festival throughout Korea. The festival spans from 1 – 10 April yearly and I was very fortunate to be able to gather 2 of my friends from China to come along with me for a 2 day 1 night trip over the weekend!
Contrary to most of the festivals held in Korea, Gunhangje Festival spreads across several spots in Jinhae town. As we hopped on a bus from Gwangju U-square Terminal, it took us about 3 hours to arrive at Jinhae Bus Terminal. On the way, we stopped by a rest station and the cherry blossoms there were at full bloom already!
After a hearty lunch near the bus terminal, we walked over to our first stop of the trip. Our first stop is Jehwangsan Park, which is about 5 minutes walk away from our restaurant. We passed by the placed by bus before getting down at the terminal and that was when I realize the actual scale of the festival. The line was at least 100m long when we got there and it took us around 30-40 minutes wait to get onto the cable car lift.
We weren’t able to see much cherry blossoms on the way up via the cable lift and by then I started questioning if this was the right place to visit for cherry blossoms. But when we got off the cable car, lo and behold…
Before entering the observatory, we decided to explore a bit more around the hill. Eventually we ended up in a not-so-crowded area where there are even more cherry blossom trees lining up!
After a short walk we decided to head back to the observatory…
We went up a few floors after that to the observatory! It was super windy on the top floor but over there we were able to see the whole Jinhae town~
We went down the hill and walked towards the Jinhae Rotary Area where all the food stalls are located. Over there, we can find a variety of food stalls and snack booths. There was also a stage set up with a lot of performances going on. There is also the famous (I guess, not too sure about that but I assumed so since it is on one of the postcards I bought haha) post office nearby too!
After getting some snacks in the Rotary area, it was time to move on to the next spot: Romantic Bridge. The Romantic Bridge area is a really famous cherry blossom viewing spot and I have seen it countless of times in travel websites. It is about 15 minutes walk away from the Rotary area and the place itself is actually a really long stretch. The stream that runs across the entire area has cherry blossoms lined at both sides with lightings to light up the flowers at night. AND, the area has a few bridges, not just one.
Gunhangje is dubbed the most visited cherry blossom festival in Korea and I can see why because when we got to the Romantic Bridge, it was as if we got hit by a human tsunami. But nevertheless, the scenery was really pretty and we got a few good shots too!
Warning: A lot of photos coming through
We planned to stay after sunset to see the light effects on the flowers. So we hung around and grabbed dinner at one of the food stalls. Food from festivals are generally more expensive (it is a tourist site after all) but at that point we were so cold and hungry so anything will do!
So as the sun set, the lights turned on and a whole new world of cherry blossom is on full display.
It was a really long day so we decided to head back to our hotel. We stayed in a nearby town called Changwon, which is around 30 minutes bus ride away from Romantic Bridge. The hotel is located in a pretty busy area with a lake (and more cherry blossoms) nearby so before turning in for the night, I took another walk around the lake~
So that was it for our first day! To be continued…
As we are nearing the end of our language year with 2.5 more months to go, it is time to look back on our lives here as language students in Gwangju. It has been a busy language year as we have classes in the morning and then sometimes extra classes in the afternoon. Despite all the homework, exams and studying we have to do, we do have some free time to rest and relax.
So what do we normally do in our leisure time? In comparison to how I spent my leisure time in Malaysia, which basically involve a lot of drama watching and hanging out with friends in the mall, I realised that there are much more different things and activities we can do here in Korea! Maybe because the culture here is different and the prices to do certain activities is different compared to my country, I realised that there is a change in the way I spend my free time. Watching dramas and variety shows is still something I do often, but on top of that here are some other ways that I spent my free time on…
1. Noraebang aka Karaoke
Price – Coin Noraebang 1000 won for 15 minutes or 3 songs (there is one particular Noraebang in back gate that costs 1000 won for 5 songs!). Normal room type Noraebang is from 5000 – 7000 won per hour per room BUT service is always given so we always end up singing for 2 hours HAHA!
If you haven’t noticed yet, the karaoke system here has this point system which we don’t have in Malaysia. Depending on the groups I hang out with, sometimes we get excited over our score (especially when we hit 90 and above because it tells us how “good” we are and motivates us to sing more HAHA) but some groups will just skip the scores to save time XD. Anyway, Karaoke is the cheapest activity we can find here and it is always fun to go with friends to destress.
Some regular room Noraebang provide free water/beverages and sometimes ice cream too! Noraebang is something I enjoy a lot and in the mean time, I can also practice my Korean reading and pronounciation skills too when I am rocking a Korean song hahaha.
Psst… here are some Korean songs that I love to sing!
G-dragon – Crooked (I scored 100 points on this before but it takes ages of practice!)
Zion T – No Make up (easiest Korean song to learn by far)
Melomance – 선물 (Present) (also easy to learn and sing)
Primary ft. Ohhyuk and Lim Kim – Gondry (FAVOURITE, nuff said)
Kim Bum Soo – 보고싶다 (Bogoshipda aka I miss you) (this is a really famous song and it is easy to sing a long~)
Black Pink – As if it’s your last
Big Bang – basically all the famous songs like Bang Bang Bang, Last Love, Lies, Haru Haru etc etc HAHA but I need help in the rap sometimes -cue Korean friend-
Ailee – I’ll show you (super good song to sing when I am stressed out)
Sunmi – Gashina (still trying to improve because the lyrics goes by so quickly T.T)
Momoland – Bboom Bboom (newest song on my playlist because it is super addictive!)
2NE1 – Lonely & I don’t care (Old but GOLD)
We do have arcade in Malaysia but none of them can be compared to the ones we have here in Korea. Aside from BB guns, they also have the usual generic doll clamping machines, darts, car racing machine, punching machine and so on. But on top of that, the arcades here also have baseball hitting, where you hit the baseball that is shooting out from the machine with a bat! We can also experience archery in certain arcades in downtown. So basically there arcade centres have a lot to offer!
Depending on the outlet and the type of games, arcade can cost from 1000 won to 3000 won per round. The BB guns in the picture costs 3000 won for 30 shots (Gwangju Downtown near ACC), whereas the BB guns I tried in Chonnam Backgate area costs 3000 won for 25 shots. In return, if we manage to score enough, they will give us an exchange coupon, in which we can save up to redeem soft toys in the store!
It is not too hard to figure out how to use the BB guns and we all definitely got better with a lot of practice. I scored probably around 400 points the first round but subsequently after that my scores were always 1800 and above. My best score was a perfect score and that only happened once plus I got TWO exchange coupons for that because the ahjumma lady boss was impressed HAHA!
3. Watching performances
We were lucky that our teachers do introduce us to some free performances sometimes and so far I have been to a few. Contrary to popular belief that Korean is all about Kpop and Kdramas, there are actually a lot of other performances that are available as long as we know where to look. One of the most popular performance venue is actually the U-square Bus Terminal, where they have special performance halls that hosts musical performances frequently. I was fortunate enough to be invited to quite a few performances and I enjoyed them all! It was pretty difficult for me to go to a musical performances in Malaysia mainly because it is not widely available and the ticket cost would be really expensive. Over here, the entrance free is free! Some performances require a small entrance fee of about 10,000 won but it is really worth it because all the performances are top class.
4. Downtown Bazaar
Sometime in summer and autumn, there will be a bazaar near ACC/Downtown area where we can spend some time during the weekends window shopping and eating street food in an open field. It is somewhat like the pasar malam that we have in Malaysia (but cleaner with much more stuff to buy/look at). One of my favourite things to do during bazaars is to look at really pretty handmade handicrafts and also pretty jewelry! The bazaar in downtown is also a place where we can look for creative items like terrarium, flower bouquets, one of a kind decorations and so forth so it is like visiting an art exhibition!
For food, there would be a few food trucks lining up at the side. We tried tacos and steak and it was good!
5. Going to festivals
If we have a whole day to spend during weekends, chances are there is always an interesting festival that will be held near us. The festival culture in Korea is really widespread and it seems like it is a norm for locals as there would be any other festival each week with different themes according to the season’s offerings! So far in spring we have a lot of flower festivals like the famous Jinhae Gunhangjae Cherry Blossom Festival, Rose Festival (end of May in Chosun University Rose Garden). Aside from flower festivals, I also went to Hampyeong for a Butterfly festival recently and there are other famous festivals like the upcoming annual Mud Festival in Boryeong. Aside from external festivals, there are also university festivals which I have blogged about previously too!
The usual things we do in any festival would be to check out the food booths and also the performances offered aside from sight seeing and taking lots and lots of photos. Besides performances, there will also be competitions like singing and dancing competitions by locals and sometimes, even lucky draws! Eight months in, I have seen Kpop idol groups and also pretty famous hip hop artists perform! #achievementunlocked
6. Volunteering in GIC
I am going to do a specific blogpost about this, but in short I spent two seasons (winter 2017, spring 2018) volunteering in Gwangju International Centre (GIC)! Contrary to what we think volunteering may be (i.e. going to orphanages, rescue missions in disaster regions etc), the volunteering I was involved in was organising weekly language exchange with a team of other foreign and Korean volunteers! I initially started off with the English team but I made a move to the Mandarin team about 2 months ago! Other than weekly regular language exchange, I also get to volunteer in other events held in GIC from time to time and there are various roles that I get to explore. Aside from volunteer hours that I clock in, I also made a lot of Korean and foreign friends while polishing my Korean speaking skills too! It was a really fruitful experience which I will highly recommend to those living in Gwangju for the long term.
Also, GIC organises field trips from time to time for a small fee. I managed to join the trip to hike Mudeungsan in early autumn and although it was exhausting, it was really nice to go through rarely-used mountain trails and being able to hike past places that are rarely seen!
7. Going to the movies
I am personally not a big fan of movies but my roomie is so we went for a couple of movies together with other friends! Thanks to her, I watched my first ever horror movie (IT, the red and scary clown) while holding onto her 99% of the time HAHA. I also watched Kingsman and Coco here too! Going to the movies is a normal way for Koreans to spend their free time but for me personally movies here plus popcorn is really expensive (10,000 won for movie ticket + 7000 won for popcorn and drink) so I don’t really go to the theaters much these days. Korean movie theaters here in Gwangju tend to be smaller compared to the ones we have in Malaysia in terms of number of halls and hall size.
So this is basically how I usually spend my leisure time in Gwangju! Hopefully there will be more fun activities to explore when I move to Seoul soon!
Hello everyone! May is a month full of public holidays in Korea so it is time to write another blog post before life gets busy again! Coincidentally, May is also the month where KGSP-scholar hopefuls get to know whether or not they make it pass the 2nd round of application. I got a special request from one of my readers to draft a post about what to bring when scholars arrive in Korea because some of them have already started preparing (kudos to you!). I will split the post into a few sections for easier reading.
Korea is blessed with four seasons a year with very distinctive weather every season. For people like me who is born and raised in a mono-season country (it is summer 365 days in Malaysia), having the chance to experience 4 different seasons are indeed a blessing. But without the right clothing, it is hard to enjoy the beauty of every season so in this section I am going to cover on types of preferred clothing per season for girls and also my advice on what to bring!
The beginning of spring will be more chilly as there are still bouts of cold waves from time to time (they call it coldness before the flower blooms LITERALLY!). It even snowed once AFTER the cherry blossoms have bloomed and withered so that’s why temperature can be rather unpredictable. Spring is also a season where it rains a lot but as we progress through spring the weather will turn warmer and it would be perfectly fine to go out and about in summer clothing by then.
For girls, spring is a really nice time to play dress up in floral dresses/one pieces or thinner clothing. The most ideal dressing for spring is actually thin clothing with a layer of thinner outer jacket or cardigan that can be taken off when it is too hot.
P/S: I could withstand the cold pretty well and I am the type of person who can run around outside in shorts and summer clothing when it hits 17 degrees and above. Cold tolerance varies between individuals and I think where you come from will also make a difference because most people who come from hotter countries tend to feel cold easily but can withstand heat better than people from colder countries vice versa.
Some photos of my spring clothing choices:
Pro tip: Bring medium to floor length skirts or dresses because they could be worn in many seasons like spring, summer and autumn. You can also bring shorter skirts and pair them with leggings during colder days too! It is advisable to bring a water proof wind breaker in case it rains as it doubles as a rain coat while blocking the cold spring wind (photo 2). If you are not fond of wearing skirts (it can be quite tedious sometimes when we have to sit on traditional flooring during outings or meal gatherings), then dress pants is also a good alternative (photo 3) because it can double as a formal clothing but yet you can also wear it casually for a day out!
Pro tip 2: It is not too expensive to buy those fashionable long coats (photo 1 and 3) that we often see in Korean dramas because there is always good deals lying around so it is better to buy it here.
Pro tip 3: If you have limited bag space (we all do but I was fortunate enough that my parents tagged along with me so I have more luggage space), jeans are the best items to bring because you can wear it literally for every season! Jean pants, jeans top of various thickness (photo 2) are my favourite pieces because they can match almost everything else. My advice is to invest in a few pair of good, thick jeans for winter, and thinner, lighter jeans for the rest of the other seasons.
Pro tip 4: Thinner clothing of certain material may not be dryer friendly and some may require ironing. We do have a dryer and an iron on every floor in our dorm but to save on the hassle, try bringing clothes that do not require ironing. For the drying part, we can dry our clothes on the hanger (bought ourselves) so it is OK if some clothes cannot go into the dryer.
Summer is when the heat strikes and people from hotter countries tend to wear really little like spaghetti stripe top and mini shorts with slippers. The only advice I could give for summer clothing is to wear clothes that are really thin but try to cover up as much skin as possible because it BURNSSSSS when you need to walk under the sun a lot. Most of the Koreans I observed wear long sleeves and long pants during summer (for fear of getting burned) but I feel like I would faint if I were to wear that so I normally just wear a tee and shorts with sneakers for summer. A cap or hat and sunnies will come in handy too!
Since I came from a tropical country, I have a lot of summer clothes at hand so there is no need for me to buy anymore here.
Some photos of my summer fashion:
Pro tip 5: My summer clothing consists of work and casual clothing but seeing that my future masters is in MBA, I brought more formal tops compared to casual tops because I reckon I would need to wear them more often during my stay here. Depending on your major, there may be certain dress code you need to follow during your course, so it is better to find out first before packing. Dress code for language year is casual FYI.
Autumn can be really unpredictable as well. As it slowly transform to winter, some days get really cold towards the end. However, the beginning of autumn seemed more like summer to me because it is still very hot and humid. But it rains lesser compared to spring and it is much more windier. Similar to spring, it is a nice time to whip out the long outer coats with padding in the inside to stay warm. In my opinion, autumn feels colder than spring so this is when I wear a lot of jeans and long sleeved clothing under a coat or a fur jacket. Scarves are also widely used to keep the neck warm and add a little more style to the outfit.
Pro tip 6: Autumn is a good time to start looking out for winter boots and winter clothing if you are planning to buy them because the stores will be launching their winter collections by then and there is bound to be discounts and good deals. Winter boots is not a necessity in Gwangju even though it did snow pretty often last winter. I survived with just a normal pair of Fila sneakers through snow and it works fine.
Winter in Gwangju and Korea generally is full of cold, harsh winds with almost no rain. Surprisingly it is not as cold when it snows but the coldest time would be the period right after it snows. Last winter, all of us (locals included) were surprised that it snowed pretty often and pretty heavily most of the time. Roads can be really slippery when thick snow starts to melt so it is IMPORTANT to have the right shoes to avoid falling. But even with good shoes, there is still a risk so it is better to be careful.
Winter is when we will need to wear long johns and down feather jackets because the normal long coats with padding is still too thin to fight the cold. Some of my friends opted for Uniqlo’s Heat Tech as their inner clothing layer. I have both Heat Tech and long johns from Universal Traveller (a stores that specializes in selling winter apparel and necessities in Malaysia). A proper long john plus thick top and down feather jacket is enough for me to endure the coldest days of winter. Heat Tech tend to be a bit thinner in terms of material and they have different grades of heat retaining properties so it may be advisable to buy the thickest one if you do not have a long john.
Pro tip 7: Ear muffs, gloves and furry neck warmers are sold pretty cheap here in Korea so you can purchase them here. The more expensive winter item would be down feather jackets and long paddings (knee length down feather jacket). My roomie bought a light down feather knee-length jacket from Uniqlo Korea and it cost 169,000won (about RM620). I didn’t buy any winter outerwear in Korea because I brought the one I had and also bought a second one for about RM688, both from Universal Traveller. Both coats did a great job so I didn’t see the need to buy a long padding here. It would be better to bring the ones you have in your country if you already have one. If you don’t, you can try buying it here but take note that those paddings from branded outlets tend to be really expensive. Two down feather jackets is a good number because you can swap around and in case one gets wet because of rain or snow, you can wear the other one while waiting for it to dry up.
Pro tip 8: It costs around 8000 – 10,000 won to dry clean ONE piece of down feather coat. Based on personal experience, you may discuss with your friends to bring the coats for dry cleaning together to get a better price.
Pro tip 9: I managed to survive winter without long john pants when I am wearing jeans because I bought really thick jeans. Uniqlo also sells dress pants with fur lining which can keep us pretty warm. I brought two of them with me.
Pro tip 10: We can buy socks for real cheap in downtown so if you didn’t bring enough, don’t worry because you can find them everywhere in a decent price.
The most essential items to bring are comfortable walking shoes and plenty of underwear. It may sound really funny but the truth is, Korean sizes are pretty different and you may not be able to find suitable underwear here in terms of size and comfort level. So make sure you got that covered! Shoes are also important because you will be doing a lot of walking AND for those who have big feet (like me), it would be hard for you to buy shoes here too because their biggest shoe size is actually my shoe size (luckily or else I would be stuck with only one pair of shoes). My size is 40 and it is hard to get one that is not too tight on me here.
In terms of bags, backpacks are the best because we can use for class and travelling. Best to get waterproof ones in case it rains. For handbags, not very much needed unless for special events but nevertheless I still got some in downtown for a really good price.
Depending on the major, there are certain tools and equipments that are needed so bring them along because you don’t know if you can get them here or would they be really pricey. For me, I didn’t bring any books because I don’t have any business related books (I studied science for my degree). I just brought my scientific calculator which I use for Math class in high school just in case I needed a calculator for statistics class.
But with limited luggage space, I would suggest to opt out bringing basic stationary like ruler, pencil, pen etc because you can buy them in Daiso here for a cheap price.
BRING your academic transcript, important academic certificate and other important certificate and copies of your passport, Identity card and passport size photo of yourself because they need it for Alien Registration Card (ARC) registration and sometimes they might need it out of the blue for other purposes.
Although we can buy all sorts of normal medicine here for flu, cough, headache, fever etc, it may or may not be the most effective medicine for us because we grew up in a different country and our bodies adapt differently to new viruses and bacteria. Having some basic medicine that you normally consume will come in handy especially when you suddenly feel sick in the middle of the night or when you are in a new place.
Bring medicine for the following:
Food poisoning (diarrhea, vomit)
For special needs (eg. back pain medicine, high blood pressure medicine, migraine medicine) – this is most important especially if you need to consume from a specific brand
1. Electronics – laptop, phone, camera etc
You can always buy them here but it is going to be pricey (taking to account the limited student budget we get) and there are lesser options available. In my opinion, it is easier to buy electronics back home because we can buy the exact model that we want and it is much more convenient. It is hard to purchase electronics here because of language barrier (at the start of our stay) and the models available might be limited in other areas outside of Seoul.
2. For girls: SANITARY PAD!
I would give this item a 5 star priority because having period is something unavoidable.
Similar to the underwear story mentioned above, it is going to be really hard to look for a good brand that suits you at the start. So bring at least 2 months worth so that you have ample time to ask around and try out some brands sold here. And also, pads here are really expensive compared to my country. For example, I bought one packet of overnight pads in the convenient store and it cost around 500won/pad. So in the end after knowing which brand I wanted to use for the long run, I bought them in bulk on Gmarket online and it cost around 300won/pad.
This actually mean cold hard CASH. Some countries are really advanced and cash is no longer widely used. In Korea, the locals can pay using check card (aka debit card), credit card or using their phones. But for us, we will only be getting our bank card a month after arriving. We can also use our own credit card issued by our home country BUT bear in mind that not every card is accepted in every store. To be safe than sorry, it is best to bring at least enough cash to last you for a month (for food, books, necessities like pillow, blanket etc that you need to buy here) PLUS a little bit as a spare. In Gwangju, USD is not accepted but I think you can convert your USD to Won in the bank.
Also important, Woori Bank staff here in Downtown Gwangju do not speak English so bring an English speaking Korean with you to the bank! This is probably not very likely in the first 2 weeks unless you already have friends in Korea before coming.
Pro tip 11: To figure out how much a certain item might cost in Won, you can visit the Gmarket Global website to get a hint. We won’t be able to purchase anything online until we get the bank card, but at least it gives you a hint on how much the necessities will cost.
Pro tip 12: Daiso is the cheapest place you can shop. But unfortunately they do not sell items like bedding items and clothing. That aside, we can get toiletries, laundry items, stationary and even cooking utensils there for a cheap price.
So there you go! Hopefully this post would be a great help to those who are preparing to come this year as a scholar! Good luck and happy preparing! ^^
April has come and gone so quickly and today marks the start of May! They say time passes quickly when you are having fun and I couldn’t agree more. April has been really eventful for me, particularly because my parents were here and I had a series of events and experiences arranged for April beforehand. April is also when spring hit us in full blast. In this spring, I realised that spring abroad does not necessarily just mean the bloom of cherry blossoms. I noticed that there are also other types of pretty flowers that bloom throughout spring too, and fortunately most of them lasts way longer than cherry blossoms.
But for this post, I will be highlighting on one of my most memorable experiences I had throughout April, which is the home stay event that was hosted by Gwangju International Centre (GIC)!
GIC has planned the homestay for us the weekend after my fellow KGSP friends finished their April TOPIK. It was a good short getaway for all of us and it was an amazing experience. Being my first ever homestay, I am grateful that my host family took me in and gave me the best weekend full of good food and exploring new places. Despite not being able to speak fully in fluent Korean and sometimes accidentally talking to my host mum in Banmal (informal Korean), they are still the sweetest family to be with! Contrary to my other friends who went out for movies or doing outdoor activities, we actually just spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other. My host sis even took me to Soswaewon and the traditional market and bought me Chamoe (a yellow coloured watermelon pattern looking fruit that taste like melon) and rice cakes! #sotouched
I was pretty surprised that my host family actually lives in the countryside of Damyang instead of Gwangju. It takes about 30 minutes drive to reach their home and before I got there my host mum told me that they have a vegetable farm at their backyard! This is such a dream come true for me because my first ever Korean drama was Princess Hours and the main character’s family has a vegetable farm in their home too! This means, we get to have yummy, planted-at-home vegetables for our meals and we get to pluck them ourselves too! Since I basically grew up in the city, I didn’t get a chance to experience life in the countryside so I really wanted to experience this at least once. Turns out, it was really fun!
And oh, did I mentioned that my host mum cooked both lunch and dinner for us? She also taught me how to make the legendary egg rolls we always get to eat as a side dish. I guess she kinda knew I was like a super amateur when it comes to cooking because I kinda screw up when she asked me to chop onions HAHAHAHA. So in the end she gave me easier tasks like smashing garlic and cracking eggs instead. #oops
All in all, it was a very memorable trip. I made good friends and even though I have been in Korea for 8 months now, I am still amazed and touched by the warmth of Koreans that crossed paths with me so far.
Here are more photos that I took during the weekend:
As we say Good Bye to April, it is time to also say…