When I go for a hair cut…….

 Don’t judge me when I say this. To my complete embarrassment, I got my hair cut last week having not cut it properly for a year.  Oooops.  Well between my super straight perm and my not so great curly perm, I’ve not really felt the need for a cut. 

There are also many reasons I try to avoid the hair dresser.  First, from previous experience, I find they like to just play with my hair.  How many people does it take to dry shoulder length hair? Ireland- 1. Korea- 3.  Yes 3 people standing around messing and “drying”  your hair is surely not safe.  Then it takes another two to cut it.  Although it’s one to cut and the other just stands there staring.  Weird.  Then some more hair touching before they final realise I’ve been there for about 3 hours and only got a wash, cut and blow dry.  I’m finally allowed to leave with my newly cut hair safe in the knowledge that the second I’m out the door they’re on Naver selling the waygook hair. 

Second reason I avoid the hairdresser is that I don’t want to end up with a Korean cut.  Honestly, this hair cutting business is dangerous.  Walk in with some split ends and walk out with an Adjumma perm.  I don’t want a mushroom cut or any cut that’s the style in Korea.  So when I say “cut” there is a 50% chance that I’m going to walk out looking like an 18-year-old Korean boy.  Not so good. 

Third and possibly most important reason I avoid the hair dresser is that you leave yourself open to a close up inspection by the hair stylists.  And I’m not talking about hair.  I’m talking about a Koreans general ability to say the most inappropriate things in the middle of a hair cut.  Last week was probably up there in the top ten.  My stylist looks at me and says ” You have a very……….high………nose” I was shocked.  I wasn’t in the slightest way being snobby if fact I was quite the opposite and spent a good ten minutes being slightly embarrassed and this.  Then I realised that she meant it literally.  My actual nose is high! Doesn’t stop there of course.  I’ve had the “your eyes are very big, your hair is yellow (well spotted Captain Obvious), your skin is very dot dot dot (otherwise known as freckles), your face is very small and on and on until my hair is cut and I can escape unsold. 

It’s not all bad though.  Hair Salons are always good for a cup of coffee or two, free wifi and it usually costs me no more than 25,000w.  And of course there is always the magic straight to keep us all looking foreign, eh?

My letter writing challenge- the half way stage.

My first letter started with the words “Hello everyone, it’s me.”  At this half way stage, I didn’t expect to blog about this but it’s proving quite the adventure.

Although I’m a person that’s never really stuck for words, my first letter was a general summary of my week.  I just didn’t know what to say. It’s not like an email that has a purpose, it’s a letter where I was free to say anything I wanted.  I felt like that Sunday morning RTE show about the roundup of the week’s news.  Then when I finished and put it in an envelope, I realised that there was so much I forgot to tell them.  Thankfully, I just remembered it the next day and wrote it then. 

Since then my letters have taken on somewhat of a “Day in the life” form.  I have taken to writing the letters at the end of the day and write thoughts on paper that I would never dream of speaking in real life.  It’s like confession.  I can write what I truly feel and not worry about the consequences.  But it’s not just me writing these letters.  I’ve enlisted the help of my friends and their children because I figure it’ll make it more interesting for those back home to get letters from people other than me.   

It all started when I was eating dinner with some friends.  Their children were bored so I took out my notepad and told them to write a letter to my mum in English.  After the initial “what am I supposed to say”, they go into the swing of it.  Here is some of what they wrote;

                                                                                          alex letter

 The one above is probably one of my favourites.  I especially like the “My favourite soccer players are Ronaldo and Messi because they are handsome”. 

                                                                                                        pic 2

I even got so confident that I wrote a quarter letter in Korean.  Then I realised that they would have no clue what it said so I wrote had to write in English.  At least I tried……….

                                                                                                                    korean letter

The saddest letter was one written by a middle school student.  It’s just so sad how he describes what he does everyday and I can imagine my family reading it in otter disbelief that he has no real life outside school;

                                                                                                        last letter

            The funniest one by about a mile is the one below.  It supposed to be a question answer type thing, I think.  But I think the child got slightly confused.  Makes for great reading.                                                                                                   

            pic letter

The real adventure is whether any of these letters are ever going to make it to Ireland.  I started sending them on the last day of January thinking I’d have a head start.  But as of today, February 20th, my family has yet to receive one.  So there are 21 letters out there  just waiting to be read. 

I  think it’s something to do with the lady in the post office.  Everyone morning I arrive  at the same time and send the same letter, in the same yellow envelope to Ireland.  But she never listens to a word I say so for all I know, she could be sending them all to Iceland!!!!!! Or she just be taking them out of the post box herself and using them as a way to learn English (I’ve noticed a slight improvement lately).  Or taking the letters out to see what will happen when I realise they’re never going to arrive in Ireland. Either way if they don’t get to Ireland soon, she’s getting the blame.

It doesn’t really matter because I’ll still continue to write them and send them as has become routine.  Then at the end of the month, I’ll stop and wait for my reply letters to start coming through the letterbox.

An Irish girl in a Korean supermarket- Part 1

I will never forget the  first time I went to the supermarket in Korea. I  walked around aimlessly because I didn’t recognise half the foods. There I was, all the way from Tipperary standing in a supermarket in Paju looking like I walked in from another dimension! I think I came back out after an hour with a bunch of bananas, some apples and a carton of milk.  In 3 years, things have changed so I decided to write a blog on the things I didn’t recognise when I first arrived in Korea. 

For anyone who reads this from outside Korea and actually knows what they all are, well done. Remember I came from Ireland where these types of food don’t exist (or do but not in my part of Tipperary).

The reason this is part 1 is because I looked like a seriously random individual walking around the supermarket taking pictures of items and not actually buying them!  When I feel it safe to return, I’ll take more pictures. 

Lets start with 유부. You can read the English on the packet, Fried Soybean Curd. Its delicious with thick noodles, 우동, and you find it a lot on soups and the like. At the time I didn’t know that so I spent quite a while standing there thinking of creative ways to eat such a random food.  Thank goodness these packets have pictures otherwise I might still be there!


Moving swiftly forward to my favourite aisle;


About 80% of this aisle is dedicated to tuna or 참치 in Korean.  I love this aisle because how many different variations of tuna can there be? Quite a lot is the answer. In fairness there are other things on the shelf, but still a lot of tuna.  The rest is Spam, and other tinned fish and meat. Here’s a picture of Spam which is so great, it deserves a picture of its ownimage

Hhhhmmmmm…….disgusting. Or delicious depending on you. But what is Spam?? Lots of Americans are already familiar with Spam but until September 2009 I had never heard of it. For those who are currently sailing the same boat I was, Spam  is “chopped pork shoulder meat with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder and sodium nitrite as a preservative”  For Lunar New Year, Spam came in amazing beautifully decorated boxes.  Nothing says “I love you” like a great big box of Spam. In case you still don’t understand how brilliant Spam is, watch this youtube video;  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anwy2MPT5RE


These white things are 떡 and you can tell my reading skills are amazingly brilliant. They come in different shapes but they’re the same thing.  These are actually deceiving delicious and can be eaten lots of different ways.  They are usually used to make 떡볶이 which looks like;


Ddeokbokki comes in a variety of spiciness and of course if we get it at school it’s the “not at all spicy” version.  Ddeokbokki is great street food and nothing warms you up on a night out in winter like Ddeokboki!

 The only milk I drank in Ireland came from a cow and with a complete stretch of the imagination, a goat.  So imagine my surprise when I walk in to the supermarket and find an entire shelf dedicated to Soybean milk!   It’s super popular here and I constantly have people offering me cartons of it. It’s got a “special” taste and after a while it’s not that bad.  And probably really healthy. 


Whenever I go back to Ireland, I like to eat food prepared by Mammy Browne.  When I saw these dressings, I  heard my mother’s voice going; “You’d want to be an awful eejit to put Kiwi dressing on your lettuce”  So imagine the  astonishment as I stood looking at the Kiwi, strawberry, peach and other randomly flavoured dressings.  I’ve actually tasted them since and they’re not so bad( a little delicious if I’m being honest) if you don’t think  about how weird it is.  For 2,380won you can’t go too far wrong……..




Quail Eggs

No school lunch is complete without a few Quail eggs.  Quail eggs are three or four times more nutritious that regular chicken eggs.  We eat them all the time here.  Personally, I don’t see much of a difference in taste but that’s just me. 

At this stage you’re probably asking yourself why I didn’t recognise the foods when the labels are in English.  I took these at a large supermarket which I didn’t know existed until about 6 months into my contract.  The one I usually go to is a totally Korean supermarket with none of these fancy English labels. 

Red Pepper Paste

Red Pepper Paste, a staple in the Korean diet.  This is used as a base in a lot of foods here.  The most common uses are in Ddeokbokki and bibimbap.  I know that now but at the time I was thinking why anyone would need such a disgusting looking food in such a large quantity. 

One last item, Mangosteens.  If it wasn’t apples or oranges, I hadn’t heard of them before I came to Korea.  And I still hadn’t heard of mangosteens until I went to Thailand in  December 2011 (Don’t judge me!).  These are the most delicious fruit I’ve ever discovered.  They taste better bought from a street vendor in Thailand but when all goes to all the ones in the supermarket here will do. 


That’s about it for part 1. Tune in soon for an Irish girl in a Korean supermarket, part 2!

What TO bring to korea

Now that you know what NOT to bring, here are some ideas on what to bring;

1.Adaptor; I can’t tell you how many people I meet who completely forget to pack adaptor when they come. It’s an easy thing to forget but pack 1 or 2 international adaptors. If you’re American you’ll also need a surge protector which can be bought here.

2. Bath Towels; For some strange reason, Koreans don’t use big bath towels like we do. So it’s worth it to bring 2 of the biggest towels you can find with you. The smaller sizes you can buy here.

3. Swimsuit; Korea isn’t exactly known for its beaches but whether you go to a water park or Busan or just the pool, you’ll need a swimsuit.

4. Work Clothes & Shoes & underwear; Check what the dress code is like at your workplace. If it’s smart then bring enough work clothes from home. We don’t have Dunnes Stores or Pennys here so it’ll be worth it. If you’ve got larger feet, bring enough shoes for every occasion, summer, pair of boots for winter, school shoes, indoor shoes, going out shoes. If you’ve got an unusual bra size you should bring enough with you when you come. Same with regular underwear. You can get it here of course but it’s just not the same…….

5. Brown Mascara & other beauty products; It is very difficult to find brown mascara in Korea so if you use it, bring it with you. If you have colored hair and use a special shampoo, you might want to bring this with you also. The water here can strip your color easily.
For the men, good quality shaving products like aftershave. There is a poor variety here and they are expensive. For the women,quality perfume. If you wear Viktor and Rolf, YSL Cinema or anything other than Chanel, Dior, Burberry or a few other big names, bring it with you. And deodorant. Yes you can get spray deodorant here but its a good idea to bring stick with you because that’s harder to find (but still available) Either way a bring enough to last you a while.
The last thing is Colgate. You can get it here but so many people responded on my Facebook post by saying you should bring it. A happy medium is to bring one or 2 tubes of Colgate toothpaste with you and buy it here when it runs out.

6. Things from home; Everyone has a bad day here. It happens. It’s a good idea to bring a few pictures or something from home that you love.


7. Food and Drink; The all important one. Remember all food and drink only lasts as long as it takes you to eat them. Might be a good idea to bring seeds for herbs, Colmans mustard, Lea and Perrins, chilli powder. Cadbury’s chocolate to keep you going for the first while. And of course Barry’s Tea. You can never have too many tea bags. But remember chocolate and tea and technically all foodstuffs can be sent over easily so don’t take up too much room packing food! Also stock up on duty free liquor like Jameson and the like, only the major brands can be found here.


8.  Musical /sporting goods; If you’re Irish and you play music, you should bring your instrument.  Irish music is getting stronger in Seoul so there’s no reason not to keep playing. That goes for other musicians also.   Same goes with sports.  If you play gaelic or hurling bring your gear with you so you can continue to play in Korea.

9. A good attitude; Coming to Korea isn’t going to be a walk in the park everyday. Life is different here.  Come with a good attitude and an open mind and it’ll make things easier.  Even the most random experiences here are all part of the adventure…………..

As ever a huge thanks to everyone who helped contribute to this post via my facebook page.

What NOT to bring to Korea

My good friend Brian over at http://thebrianhealy.wordpress.com/ and his girlfriend, Edel, are coming to Korea! Horray! Over a conversation on whether Pepsi Max was available here or not, Brian gently slipped it in that perhaps I could do a “what NOT to bring” blog. So here it is.

There are just too many times that I see people who have just arrived with a years supply of things that we have in abundance here. Three years ago though, I was one of them and if truth be told, my suitcases were a mess when I arrived. If you’re coming from Ireland, you probably get one large suitcase so think carefully about what to bring. While you’re doing that here’s a list of things you definitely shouldn’t;

1. A year’s supply of anything. I arrived in Paju with a years supply of toothpaste, deodorant and contact lenses. What a waste, especially the contact lenses. You can get everything here. Whatever you hear of items not being available in South Korea is utter rubbish. Don’t bring a years supply of anything because you can find it here anyway.

2. For the girls; Don’t bring a million “going out” clothes, shoes or dress shirts that don’t button up to the neck. Going out here is not the same as going out in Ireland or anywhere else. In summer, I go out in flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt and in winter I go out only when I’m forced! Seriously, don’t waste the space, bring a maximum of 2 dress, 1 of which you can use for the big events at school. Same with shoes. If you are European size 40-41 bring a few pairs. Otherwise, only bring the absolute essentials as you can buy shoes cheaply here. Showing cleavage here is a no-no. Don’t bring any shirts that don’t button up or tank tops. On this issue, remember that we take our shoes off every time we go inside, so there is no point bringing knee-length lace up boots or shoes that need instructions.


3. Pets. Don’t even consider bringing your pet unless you can’t possibly live without it. If you’re over for a year of travelling then a pet will just add stress of who’s going to take care of it while your gone etc……

4. Lotions and potions; We have every lotion and potion and about a trillion more available here. Don’t waste space by bringing loads. It’s the same with shampoo and conditioner, all available at the local Emart or Home Plus.

5. A mobile phone, cds , dvds, books; Korea is the country of smart phones, get one when you arrive. Why would you bring cds or dvds when you can buy it all on the internet? P.s. The internet in Korea is the 2nd fastest in the world so don’t bring a preconceived notion that we don’t have internet here. I love the feel of a good book but don’t bring them to Korea. If you’re a serious book reader then buy and stock your Kindle. If you don’t have one/ have no interest in buying one remember that you can buy all English books from What the Nook and other English book stores in Seoul.


6. Duvets, sheets, pillowcases; I know someone who brings her own sheets everywhere. That’s fair enough but there’s no need to bring your own sheets to Korea. Believe it or not, Korea has a million stores that sell everything essential for beds.

7. Too much medicine; Korea does medicine like no other country. If you go to the doctor, you’ll walk back out with about 6 different, unknown drugs to make you better. We also have Tylenol and other familiar medicines here so there’s no need to panic.


8. Mosquito Nets; Samuel Cowan asked me to mention this one especially. Don’t bring a mosquito net with you, there’s simply no need. Yes, we do have mosquitos. No they don’t carry diseases in the cities. If you really want, you can buy them here.

Huge thanks to Trevor Van Dyke, Erin Ruth Bush, Asrune Whitney Reed, Siobhan Stewart, Katie Doherty and Conor O Reilly (http://ifihadaminutetospare.wordpress.com/) and of course Samuel Cowan for contributing to this blog!