Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Happy Birthday Blog!!!!

Happy 4th Birthday to you! 

On this day in 2008, my blog was born! How exciting. Ironically, I was sitting at the exact same desk I am sitting at this very moment when I wrote my very first blog entry. Circumstances were slightly different then though. It was the eve of a nice extended trip to Southeast Asia *sigh*. Oh how I wish I had a plane ticket headed for Thailand and dated tomorrow right now! But lots has evolved since then so I can't complain. This blog is a travel blog and I love to travel. I started it to map out my adventures on a 3 month trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. I stopped in England for a few weeks to get the ball rolling and that turned into a common ritual. After living in England back in 2003-2004, I started routing all my worldly trips through London so I could make the necessary visits to friends there. Here is a link to my first blog entry and then it carries on for a few months through Southeast Asia. I remember stopping in internet cafes and it taking FOREVER to upload pics and videos, so my entries tend to be a little wordy and light on the eye candy. But here is entry one from that trip, my first touch down in Asia:


Those entries ran from May until end of August when I came back to reality. My boss and my job was amazing and flexible and I was able to take a summer off and be back in time for end of summer, when our busy time kicked in. I also kept paying rent with my room mate at the time while I was gone, so I had a comfortable home to come back to, which is a great feeling after living the vagrant lifestyle. Life was good.

2009 was a pretty Toronto-centric year so the blog lay dormant, with no buzzing activities. The next big trip was back to Asia, my love affair was in full motion with this continent by now. A part of the world so unexplored to me and so different from home, full of new and fascinating things to see and experience. Unlike my first gallivant through Asia, this time I quit my job and moved out of my house and was free as a bird. February 2010, after a pit stop in England, I found myself alone and in India. The majority of this 6 month trip was spent in India, check out this link for the first entry of my adventures.

India. I Am Here.

I spent a few months covering vast territories in India. I started in Delhi with my sister in law, and we made our way through Rajasthan and then kicked back in Goa. There was also Darjeerling and Hampi, Kolkata, Pondicherry....too many places to name, check out the blog from about February till May in 2010. From India I travelled to Nepal and after enduring a few weeks of political unrest and a country in turmoil I returned to India in the heat of the summer. I was winding down my trip in Varanassi and finally left from Delhi, the same place my Indian adventures began. From India I had good intentions of travelling high and low in Indonesia. Granted scuba diving and general beach bumming was my main goal, I had intentions of seeing as much as I could of the country at large. BIG CHANGE OF PLANS. I arrived in Bali and experienced reverse culture shock. It was teeming with people, all dressed with practically nothing on, a huge contrast from the extreme covered up mentality in most of India. I ooh'ed and ahh'ed for a while and then beelined to a little piece of heaven. The Gilli Islands. The Gilli's ended up being just what the doctor order. After crossing such epic distances in India, and travelling alone in a country where that was not a common practice, nor widely accepted, it was a relief to be able to put my feet up on a minuscule speck of land in the ocean and not worry about anything. A vacation from my vacation if you will. A beautiful way to wind down a great experience.

Next stop: Toronto. With no home and no job, Toronto in the summer of 2010 was just a quick stepping stone. I was there for the wedding of an old and dear friend. I was there to meet the newest member of my family, my nephew Jack. I was there to see friends and family, and see the love of my life (in truth he is what made me stay the longest). I was also there to fill out visa applications, job hunt, interview and get all my papers in order. Next destination KOREA. The Asian Love Affair flourishes.

After hearing nothing but praise for peoples' individual and unique experiences living and working in South Korea, this was how I decided to connect my addiction to travel and the need to work together. After just a few short months my bags were packed, a contract was signed and off I went. Welcome to Korea, check out my fist blog entry in Korea here after arriving in the Land of Morning Calm.

The first few months of blogging in Korea were just to keep my friends and family up to date with my new life. For the first time I was calling Asia home and it felt fantastic. Keeping up my blog was a great way for everyone at home to see pictures and read about what was happening on the opposite side of the world. A few months in, my blog was selected to be featured on THE KOREA BLOG. The Korea Blog is a site run by Korean Culture and Information Services (KOCIS) and features different writers both around the world and based out of Korea and their experiences relating to Korea. Being one of a small handful of these writers based out of Korea I was offered so many amazing opportunities. Our first meeting together was the Welcoming Ceremony, followed by a trip to the Blue House, called Cheung Wa Dae (where the Korean President lives and works).

About 6 months into my partnership blogging with KOCIS, 6 people were chosen from their writers around the world to take a media trip to Jeju-do and Seoul and I was selected to be part of this small group. It was such an amazing honour. We were treated so well and I got to experience even more of Korea than I would have been able to do on my own. Here is a list of posts that covered my weekend with the Worldwide Korea Bloggers:

Jeju - Day One

Jeju - Day Two

Jeju - Lunch Spot - Day Two

Jeju - More of Day Two (apparently Day Two was a busy one!)

Jeju - Day Three

Living in Korea, I was pretty much at the doorstep to the rest of Asia and was able to get out and see a little more. I spent a week in China, mostly in Beijing and travelling to the Great Wall of China (I bow my head in shame to admit I have no blogs about this trip. Chalk it up to undeniable laziness). And once Garry was settled with me in Korea, we managed a few weeks in Paradise, oh, I mean Boracay, in the Philippines. This is one of 4 entries on my trip to BORACAY.

I ended up extending my contract in Korea. I went from living in a small suburb of Seoul called Osan to living in a much more central location called Anyang. Both experiences, for different reasons were unbelievable. From all the travelling I had done through Asia as a whole, there is nothing like living somewhere to really get a handle on the culture. In Korea, I was immersed. At times it was awful and frustrating and made me miss my North American roots till I almost cried (okay, I did cry a lot of those times). But overall, it was one of the best "travel" experiences of my life. You embed yourself in a culture, open a bank account, pay bills, show up to work everyday, learn (attempt) to read and write the language and that is how you get a feel for the place. I worked and played in close contact with so many amazing Korean people which I never would have done had I just passed through the country on a trip.

And that was Korea. Sixteen amazing months of my life. And now I am home. Like home, home. I moved back to Leslieville, one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto, I signed a lease with my boyfriend, I bought a car, and I am back to work. The question now arises on how to continue a travel based blog, while being in Toronto? Which direction does Alex On The Loose turn to?

Luckily, I was asked to continue on blogging for The Korea Blog, for a second term, even now that I have left the country. For now, I am concentrating on Finding Korea in Toronto. I have mad an amazing connection to some people at the Korean Embassy in Toronto and therefore have an in for Korean events going on here. So until I decide which direction to take my writing, or until I whisk myself away on another new adventure, I will just be checking in every once in a while and getting in touch with my Korean connections. I'm sure there will be other random posts like this one to carry me through. This is my favourite post in a long time. It enabled me to look back on the last 4 years of writing entries and checking out the places I have been. It has been a great journey with a nice growth curve to get the blog where it is today and I can't wait to see what's in store around the next corner! So thanks for reading and stay tuned for ... who knows what!


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Korean Film Festival

This past weekend in Toronto was the Korean Film Festival. It was held at Yonge and Dundas at the AMC Theatres. The event ran from Friday evening till Sunday evening and there were 5 different Korean films being screened. During an event at the Korean Consulate (check out here for more on that), I found out about the festival. We were shown a trailer on each of the films and given a quick written synopsis of each one. There was a good selection of different genres of films and they all looked great. Here is a quick list of each one:

GLOVE - About a hot tempered baseball player who finds himself coaching a hearing impaired team of young boys.

NAMELESS GANGSTER: RULES OF TIME - Set in Busan, this film is about the under belly side of this city. Organized crime, drug trafficking and corruption.

THE FRONT LINE - This is a war story set back in 1951 and is set all around the ending of the Korean War, the fight for territory and the lives it affects.

SPELLBOUND - A love story between a haunted girl and a magician.

The last movie was HELPLESS, and this is the one I went to go see. It was a really heavy movie and not a 'happily ever after' flick. It is about a man whose fiance disappears at a rest stop on the side of the road. The plot traces him devoting all of his time and energy into unraveling the mystery that unfolds and finding out who his fiance really is. Both the main character Lee Sun-kyun, and the detective he uses to help him solve the mystery, Jo Sung-ha, do a phenomenal job as their characters.

I recognised  Jo Sung-ha  from another Korean movie, called The Chaser (I think) where he played almost the exact same character of a washed up detective and he does it so well. Although I was only able to catch one movie at the festival I really looking forward to eventually seeing all of them. As long as your okay with reading subtitles I think these will all be worth the watch.

For a more detailed review on the films check out Cindy's blog on all the movies she watched here.

"I Love Hangeul Because......."

If you asked me 3 years ago, if I ever thought I would be spending a Friday night in the basement of the Korean Consulate in Toronto and feeling totally at home, the answer would have to be, no way. But the world works in funny ways and last Friday, my boyfriend and I attended an event, with no expectations, and had a really, really good time. Seriously.

I love Korea!

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to be a part of a great meet and greet with Kwang Kyun Chung, the Consul General and his 2 lovely coworkers (check out here, Finding Korea in Toronto, to read more about that blog entry). At lunch I was given the heads up about a few upcoming events in the Korean community and was openly welcomed to them. After spending so much time in Korea, I felt like this was the perfect way to fill the void of Korean culture in general in my life.

Last Friday's event was called "I Love Hangeul Because...." (FYI, hangeul is the Korean alphabet). After a busy day at work, my boyfriend and I headed to the consulate for 6pm. We were starved, and not knowing what to expect, I promised him just a quick pop in to check out the event, snap some pics to blog about it, then we could be off to find dinner somewhere and fill our bellies. As soon as we walked down the steps to the event room we were instantly transported back to Korea with the spread that lay in front of us! We both lit up and I think we may have even started drooling a little. One of the biggest things I miss about Korea is the delicious food and a perfect selection of all our favourite bits and bites lay ahead of us. We grabbed a plate and a drink and filled up on kimbap (Korean sushi rolls, without the raw fish), japchae (glass noodles mixed with some veggies), kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), bulgogi (marinated beef), and some type of other roll, which I don't know the name for. We pigged out. I went up for seconds and by the time that plate was cleared neither my boyfriend or I had any room left for the best part.... bibimbap. Bibimbap is one of the most famous Korean dishes and it's similar to a stir fry. It is a whole bunch of chopped up veggies, sometimes some beef or an egg mixed in, and then added rice and gochujang, which is fiery, delicious red pepper paste. Luckily I was toting around one of my kitchen sink kind of purses so we actually took the bibimbap home with us as leftovers. Such a good souvenir from the night (and we heated it all up in a wok at home the next day for lunch, so delicious)!

Japchae & kimbap.

Bibimbap & the food spread.

Aside from the great food put out for everyone, the rest of the night was really enjoyable. Ji In Kim was the hostess and she did such a great job. She was one of the people that took me out for lunch with the Consul General and she just naturally puts people at ease and makes them smile. She commanded the room really well and kept the evening running smoothly. To start things off Consul General Kwang Kyun Chung welcomed everyone with a lovely speech. There were a few more welcoming speeches to follow him and then we were treated to 2 musical performances. The first was Minkyo-seo, who sang his heart out to us and that was followed by two beautiful songs performed by Seohoo.

Consul General and our hostess for the evening.



The Korean Film Festival in Toronto happened on May 4th, 5th and 6th. In order to promote it, we watched all the trailers for the five different films being screened. The titles were Glove, Spellbound, The Front Line, Helpless, and Nameless Gangster. To read more about the film festival, check out my blog entry on one of the movies, or Cindy has a great review of all of them here.

Next up was a speech, which I unfortunately didn't understand because it was all in Korean. Yuki Sakai was a student who learned Korean and had won a speech contest. Her pronunciation to my untrained ears sounded great, and it seemed like everyone in the room loved it, so congrats to her. Philip Leal was the next person up at the mic and he was telling people about something I know very well, moving to Korea to teach English. He did his time in Korea with a company called TaLK, a little different than GEPIK, which is who I was with when I was in Korea, but basically the same principles. Contract work, flights and apartment paid for, support, and wages. It's interesting hearing about other peoples' experiences in Korea, especially now that I am back. It is so nice that so many people (especially so many Canadians) have had such great, positive and fun experiences working and living in Korea. After leaving Korea just a few months ago, I know that I look back on it so fondly and miss so many different aspects of living there.

Philip Leal does an impromptu tae-kwon-do demo.

The next guest speaker was Cindy Zimmer. I have met Cindy a few times now and our connection is basically blogging and a love for Korea. Like me, she is a Worldwide Korea Blogger, which means we both blog for THE KOREA BLOG. She said a fantastic speech, accompanied by a great slideshow and it was all based on her love for Korea. Cindy used to teach English in Korea, and upon her arrival home she has submersed herself in all things Korean, based out of Toronto. Check out her blog here.

Go Cindy!

Cindy shares her love for Korea to everyone.

All throughout the evening there were short little quizzes to win prizes. Some of the questions seemed a little difficult and they were obviously all Korea-based. I managed to win a cute little prize for answering the question "What is the tallest mountain in Korea?" I choked a little (Garry's fault, not that I am blaming anyone. Garry! Garry! Garry!), and initially answered Seoraksan, but then *realized it was Hallasan. Hallasan is the massive mountain that is on Jeju Island. I visited Jeju a few times whilst in Korea, so I should've known that answer much faster. But Ji In was lenient and gave me a lovely prize anyway. It was lots of fun.

The very last part of the evening was an unbelievable performance by  Sungmi Kim. She spoke a little to get things started and taught us about the traditional Korean instrument she was going to play a few pieces on. The instrument was called a geomungo sanjo and it reminded me of a Korean version of a sitar. It sounded so raw and beasutiful and was a really nice way to end the evening.

Sungmi Kim playing the geomungo sanjo.

From there, there was a little bit of mixing and mingling. Interviews were done and lots of photos were taken.  All in all, a very successful event put on by Toronto's Korean Consulate. A nice variety of guests and performances went on.  I am so happy I was invited to attend as an Ambassador of Korea. It was a total pleasure to take part in and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to go.

Here are a few more photos from the end of the evening.

What's a Korean event without a group photo to end things properly?

Media stuff. 

New chingus (friends). Posing with Ji In. 

Korea & Canada.

Worldwide Korea Bloggers unite!

Bibimbap..... great leftovers. 

Everyone received red ginseng candy on their way out.

Here is a short clip from all tv news, who covered the event (it's in Korean but it sets the scene nicely).

P.S. All evening I thought of what I would say if someone were to actually ask me why I love hangeul (which for the record they didn't). My answer to the question would be this. I love hangeul because it is Korean. It is something I didn't know before I moved to Korea and it is something I learned there. It made me understand and appreciate so much about the culture that I wouldn't have know otherwise. There you have it.