4 Reasons Why Asian Glow Is Awesome

Asian guy with red Asian glow after drinking
Anyone that has an Asian friend knows what happens when they drink. I can picture it now. You and your friends are ready for a night of binge drinking at the local watering hole. After the second round of drinks, something strange starts happening to your fellow Asian drinking buddy. Their face goes from innocent and fun loving to looking like a friggin' tomato in a matter of seconds. This other worldly transformation, also known as Asian glow or Asian flush, is fairly frequent and most Asians get pretty embarrassed by it. 

But why do Asians get Asian glow in the first place?

Until recently, most people just stereotyped us Asians and made the executive decision that all Asians can't handle their alcohol, which explains why we all turn red when we drink. This is probably the farthest from the truth that I've ever seen. After moving to Korea, I've witnessed firsthand where Asians can and will drink all night on a random weekday night just for the hell of it. So, why does Asian glow happen? Well, turns out that mini source of heat on your face is due to a lack of a little enzyme called Acetaldehyde Dehydrogenase. According to the BuckMD Blog at Ohio State University, Acetaldehyde Dehydrogenase aids with alcohol metabolism and the break down of a toxic substance called acetaldehyde. Approximately 50% of Asians have an inactive or variation of this enzyme; thus, the buildup of the toxic acetaldehyde, which leads to swelling, nausea, vomiting, and of course turning red in the face. Pretty interesting stuff if you as me. I know a good majority of my Asian friends get the flush and they're usually pretty embarrassed about it, but personally I think there are some great benefits. Here are 4 reasons why I think Asian glow is awesome!

1. Lower bar tabs at the end of the night

Let's face it. Going straight to the bar and tearing it up on the dance floor is the best way to end your crappy work week. But the worst part isn't waking up the next morning with a massive hangover or a regretful hookup partner, it's the fact that you're most likely a hell of a lot more broke. Taking those extra shots with the bartender or buying people drinks can really add up. On top of that, you make stupid decisions and end up taking taxis everywhere (if you're a lazy drunk like me). Those with Asian glow know how to space out their drinks to limit the pseudo "sun burnt" look on their face. This can indirectly and very fortunately lead to a lower bar tab by the end of the night. You can now go home with zero shame and your wallet a lot heavier than you expected it to be.

Half glass of whiskey on the rocks in a tumbler

2. Cuts down on your risk of heart disease

This is definitely a great health benefit for why Asian glow is awesome. According to Bloomberg, researchers have found that in a study of over 260,000 participants those with Asian glow were on average 10% less likely to develop heart disease. Pretty cool to know that people with Asian glow can enjoy the night on the town and not have to worry about chronic heart problems. I don't know about you guys, but I'd count this as a win!

3. Can possibly prevent alcoholism

This one is definitely interesting. There's an article by Time that claims that getting red faced is actually a genetic advantage. The story goes that about 10,000 years ago in Southern China, farmers began cultivating rice along the Yangtze River. At the same time, these farmers would also dabble in making homemade alcohol with fermented rice. According to the study, the genetic mutation that causes Asian flush evolved as a survival tool to help the farmers enjoy the positive aspects of alcohol without over imbibing. Essentially, their red face signaled that they need to drink the alcohol in moderation and helped deter any urges to develop alcoholic tendencies. 

4. Keeps you warm during the winter

I usually don't get Asian flush, but the only time I really wish I had it was during the winter season. Weather usually never stops me from going to the bar, but I'll be the first to admit that the worst feeling in the world is leaving the bar at 3 AM and it's absolutely freezing outside. The last thing that I want to do is fight 300 other drunk people after last call to catch a cab from the sidewalk. Of course, these are also times when it just so happens to start snowing as I wait with my friends. Rocking a full on beet red Asian glow would definitely help me muster up the courage to wait outside for the long trek home after the bar. 

As you can see, having Asian glow or flush isn't half bad. There's no reason why anyone should be ashamed when their face turns red while drinking. It makes us unique and to be honest there are actually some interesting benefits. If you're still embarrassed by your Asian glow, I highly recommend checking out this video from No Red Face Formula! Time to drink up everyone!

By Mrpaxton (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Learning Korean Slang and Curse Words

Korean girl yelling Korean slang and curse words

It's officially been one year since I moved to Seoul, South Korea. Before I got here, my Korean was, to put it simply, utterly terrible. Korean is actually a very hard language to learn. I'm sure all you other newbies out there can relate. There's various levels of speaking or honorifics that are used depending on your situation or conversation. For example, you would speak differently with your grandmother than you would with your friends. This is pretty universal in all cultures, but it is on another level here in Korea. Words are spoken with a very careful tone and certain phrases are even spoken entirely differently to add the respect factor into the conversation for elders and/or superiors. Essentially, Korean can be super complicated and confusing. It took me a while to get used to this form of speaking.

Fast forward one year and I would say that my Korean overall has improved dramatically. I put in a lot of effort and memorization into learning the different levels of speaking and vocabulary words. This really helped me in certain awkward situations, such as when my landlord calls me or if I need to call the bank for whatever reason. However, I didn't feel like I was really learning Korean until I started to pick up on slang and curse words. In my opinion, learning a country's slang and curse words is the BEST way to fully assimilating yourself into a foreign country. This helped me snag some good laughs at the pub and also connect with the locals on a way better level than just learning textbook Korean. I was fortunate enough to have some great Korean friends who taught me a lot of these slang phrases or even bad words that I should never say in public. This helped me tremendously.

Now, if you're one of the people that are brand new to Korea and haven't met many locals yet, I highly suggest learning "real" Korean. And by "real" Korean I mean learn both textbook Korean and also educate yourself on the slang and curse words here. It will really help you get around town and can even help you understand a lot of the local speak that you might encounter. A big recommendation of mine is to get your hands on this super helpful and hilarious book. It's called Dirty Korean: Everyday Slang from "What's Up?" to "F*%# Off!" (Dirty Everyday Slang). A friend of mine owned this book and I had a chance to read through a bit of it and I was cracking up immediately. It had some pretty raunchy things in there and some very useful slang phrases that I've actually used in Korea. Definitely check it out! Click the link above or click on the picture below to check out some reviews or even preview the book. Have fun!

Book teaching you Korean slang and curse words

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Being an Expat in Korea

Being an expat in is, to put it simply, tough. No matter where you live, life will always be difficult and the time for adjustment can vary from person to person. In my opinion, the thing that separates the stronger expats from the weaker ones is their WILLINGNESS to adjust. In other words, embrace the uncertainty or straight up craziness that you may experience while living in a home away from home. That's not to say being an expat will be all crazy. I understand being an expat in Korea can be a little different than being an expat in a third world country. Korea is a country where one might find a lot of culture shock, but it also is a country that can be very foreigner friendly. Let's explore both the good and bad of being an expat in Korea. 

The Good

Galaxy Note 4 phone by SamsungI guess we can start with the good things about being an expat in Korea. First, Korea is one of the most wired nations on the entire planet! This means that Korea is leading the charge on the technology and internet forefront. Internet connection speeds are some of the fastest in the world for ordinary consumers. In addition, Korea is making it a priority to provide cheap and affordable internet service, as well as WiFi service pretty much on every crevice on the country. This makes reaching and talking to loved ones back home a lot more easy. Internet is not restricted and your calls back home will not lag one bit. so the next time your friend in Korea complains that they don't have any service or their call dropped on you, you know this is just a bold face lie! 

Next, expats can expect to make a good chunk of change in Korea by teaching English. Being an English teacher can be a tough life, as the demands and standards of teaching are set pretty high. Obama actually recently praised South Korea on its education standards and how Korea makes it a priority to keep teachers' salaries on par with doctors and engineers. Now, not to over exaggerate, English teachers DO NOT come anywhere close to what doctors or successful engineers might earn, but the pay can be very rewarding. This enables you to live extremely comfortably and without having to work those long corporate hours. If you want to learn the truth about teaching, you can check out a past post where I talked about this very subject in detail. You can read the article here!

Stairs leading into Itaewon Station in Seoul

Also, Korea is home to a very expansive and tight knit foreigner network. As I mentioned earlier, the pay for being an English teacher can be very rewarding. This can attract a lot of foreigners to come to Korea to teach English. The number of foreigners in Korea is growing at a rapid rate. Seeing foreigners walking on the street was a pretty rare occurrence even 10-15 years ago. Today, it is slowing becoming very commonplace. Seoul also has a huge foreigner town called Itaewon. This area is famous for the US army base that is stationed close by, but it is also home to a melting pot of foreigners. If you are ever itching for a slice of back home from wherever you're from, look no further than Itaewon! 

Black DSLR camera sitting on top of wooden deskLastly, being an expat in Korea, you might have a lot of free time on your hands. It's important to note that Korea is one of the hardest working countries in the world (placed in the top ten). Koreans in the workforce face long work days and very little downtime. It is also very typical for Koreans to work through the weekend or at the very least working on Saturdays. I always see Korean businessmen in their suits roaming the subways on Saturday mornings and evenings. Nobody even bats an eye. That's just the culture surrounding work here in Korea. However, for expats, it can be a different story. Foreigners typically aren't subjected to this kind of work regimen. Most English teachers actually have a ton of downtime, which is an incredible blessing. Some people choose to spend their time wisely and others do not. To be honest, I love this downtime to really explore the country or start to invest in hobbies that interest me, such as writing for this blog and taking photos around the city. 

The Bad

Now, living abroad for anyone can be difficult at first. Like I said, it's really up to you and you're willingness to be open minded. You got to welcome with open arm the chaos, confusion, and even frustration that might accompany living in a foreign country. Although Korea can be pretty foreigner friendly, the culture difference can be hard to adjust to. Korea is a country that is steeped in Confucian culture, which means respect pays a very key role in society. People are expected to speak with honorifics in certain situations and bow respectfully to elders or superiors. This is commonplace in Korea and a lot of foreigners may not know how to partake in this nuance of Korean culture. I've seen many speaking exchanges or social interactions between foreigners and local Koreans that are just straight up awkward due to this difference. Foreigners may not know when or how to show respect or speak with respect to Koreans. This can lead to a lot of misunderstandings between the two parties with one side thinking the other might be acting rude. This area of Korea definitely takes a bit to get used to at first. 

Figure of man throwing trash into trashcanNext, Korea is the land of convenience and efficiency; however, it stuns me how some of the most simple things in life can be so difficult to accomplish. For instance, throwing out the trash here in Korea can really be a hassle. Korea really prides itself in the progress it has made in being in the forefront of the "Green" revolution. In other words, recycling is a big deal here in Korea. I'm definitely all for recycling and making our planet more efficient and clean, but when I first moved to Korea it took me a long time to adjust to the trash collection culture. Trash is separated into "general" and "food waste" and you are expected to self separate your trash into these designated trash bags and to dispose of them correctly. If not, you can actually face a hefty fine for not following the proper trash disposal protocol. 

Lastly, food can be a bit of a reach in Korea. I'm 10000% not talking bad about Korean food at all. I grew up eating Korean food everyday of my life and it is hands down my favorite food in the entire world. When I talk about food in Korea, I'm really talking about purchasing food. In the States, eating out regularly can really burn a massive hole in your wallet since we're all so accustomed to paying tax and adding tip at the end of a meal. Thus, most people opt to eat out once in a while and do most of their eating at home or preparing meals at home to take for lunch the next day. However, in Korea, it is the complete opposite. Buying any type of produce or meat in Korea can get a little pricey. Also, if you ever have a craving for foreign food, it will cost you a pretty penny over here. On the other hand, since Korea doesn't require you to pay tax and tip, it actually ends up being cheap and more convenient to just eat out for every meal. Now, before you think to yourself that this is an awesome proposal, you need to realize that eating out can get old and sometimes you just want to cook yourself a nice meal. I ended up hitting the eating out wall after a few months and wanted to just prepare my own meals, but I found out that this can get super expensive if I don't do it the right way. Living this kind of life still needs a little getting used to on my part, but it hasn't been the biggest deal breaker in the world.

Being an expat in Korea certainly has its positives and negatives. However, it's really up to you as an expat to be more willing to assimilate yourself to the country and culture of Korea. Once that happens, then all bets are off and you will slowly learn to love Korea and all that it offers! If you want to learn more about why I love Korea, check my article about the 5 Best Things About Living in Korea!

By en:User:Jpbarrass (en:file:Itaewon Station Exit 2.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2015 BIG BANG Comeback!

You know what, I'm not scared to admit that I actually really like Big Bang. I remember when they first debuted back in 2005 or 2006 and thinking that this band was absolutely laughable. However, since then, the group has really done a great job of shedding that corny bubble gum pop label and have become one of the most respected K-Pop acts throughout Asia. G-Dragon (far left) has become one of, if not, the best producer/performer combos in all of Korean show business. He typically writes, produces, and performs in all of Big Bang's songs. That is really impressive considering that the majority of their songs become mega smash hits throughout the world. Respect.

Kpop idols Big Bang posing for picture

Anyways, like I said earlier, this group has really come a long ways since they were just little hip hop gangster wannabe rappers. Some of these guys have gone on to become ridiculously famous solo performers, actors, fashion icons, etc. This makes me respect the group even more since it proves that these guys are actually talented and can flex their versatility within many facets of the entertainment world. 

It's been about three years since the unit, Big Bang, has released any group activities. I think the entire K-Pop world is waiting with bated breath to see what they will do next. Well, time to wait no more! Big Bang will officially be making their debut this year and will probably destroy all of the music charts in Korea, China, Japan, etc. as fully expected.

In my opinion, their last album, "Alive", was one of their best pieces of work to date. The album was critically acclaimed and produced some of the biggest hit singles that the group has ever seen, such as "Blue", "Monster", "Bad Boy", etc. Rival executive, JYP, otherwise known as Park Jin Young, even went as far as to say that "Bad Boy" was the BEST song that he heard the entire year. That's a huge compliment, especially coming from a rival executive and record company. This makes me excited to see what G-Dragon and the guys have in store for their next album. It's been three years in the making and I'm sure they got some good songs up their sleeves. My only issue is that the group has slightly shifted toward a more EDM/Techno feel the last few tracks (i.e. GD x Taeyang's track "Good Boy"). This type of music is usually a little too loud for my taste, but they seem to always release a solid hip hop track or two on every album. 

Anyways, in anticipation for their 2015 return, I highly recommend you guys check out their most recent "Alive" album. Like I said, this was one of my favorite albums from the group. You can click the photo below to check out the track listing and album details. Get ready for the comeback Big Bang fans!

Cover for Still Alive album by Big Bang

By YG Entertainment [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Truth About Teaching In Korea

Happy and smiling teacher with necktie teaching English

If you're a fresh newbie out of college, enjoy traveling, or just want some new excitement in your life, then teaching English in Asia is definitely an awesome route to go. The biggest draw to teaching English is the ability to make and save a ton of money right away. You don't really work too many hours a week and you get paid a lot to teach something that is essentially second nature to you. 

One of the best places to do this sort of gig is in South Korea. Korea is definitely a place where foreigners can actually make a pretty decent living year in and year out. Also, Korea has a relatively low cost of living, so foreigners are able to save a substantial amount of money each month. Couple that with the fact that Koreans are very eager to learn English and the culture has a big Western influence, then you can see why the number of foreigners moving to Korea is increasing each year. However, moving to Korea to teach English isn't all rainbows and unicorns. Here are some things you should know before teaching in Korea.

Workin' Hard for the Money

Koreans pay a premium to learn English. So, it's pretty awesome that you can just show up, teach a little bit of English, and then call it a night. This is really fortunate considering that Korean people are statistically one of the hardest working people in the entire world. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea ranks second behind only Turkey for the highest number of hours worked per week. Teaching English sounds like a cakewalk compared to what Korean office workers go through each week. 

But, before you hustle on over here, you got to know, first and foremost, that teaching is not as easy of a job as you would think. Yes, you don't work many hours, but it's also a very labor intensive job. You are constantly on your feet, have to stay on top of your teaching game, monitor little children, and think of fun lesson plans to keep your customers (parents) and boss happy. Teachers in Korea really do work hard for their money. I like to compare teaching English to working a job as a waiter in a busy restaurant. Yes, the hours fly by, but by the end of the day you are just mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. Also, for those that have never taught little children before, I highly suggest either gaining some experience beforehand or asking a ton of questions before coming over to Korea, which ties perfectly with my next point...

Korean kids in traditional Korean hanboks

Getting Used to Little Kids

Before I moved to Korea, I never really had any experience working with children...boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Something that I learned right off the bat was that some kids can be straight up rotten. I always thought that little kids would be sweet, respect their teachers, and work hard, especially in Korea. Now, there definitely are some kids that are like that, but you sure as hell will cross paths with some kids that are conniving, lazy, mean, or just plain rude. This is something not many people are prepared for before they become newly minted teachers and, to be honest, not a lot of people can hack it. It really takes someone who is mentally strong, works hard, and actually enjoys teaching to be able to really shine in Korea. This is something that I had to learn the hard way, but after going through the fire I realized that teaching can actually be extremely fulfilling.

Culture Shocked

The next tip I want to share is being prepared for culture shock. This one is pretty obvious. Anytime you travel to a new country, you need to be aware of the social customs of that particular country. This is very important to follow in countries like South Korea where Confucianism (respecting elders or superiors) is still the predominant mindset of the people. If you are coming from America or Canada, you may soon realize that teaching English isn't just a typical teaching job. Most Korean English academies are actually just big businesses and you need to think of them as that way. This means always respecting your boss/superiors, keeping yourself in a presentable manner, and not doing anything outwardly offensive or attention grabbing. Essentially, what I'm saying is, you need to learn how to work hard, keep your boss happy, and fly under the radar at all times. 

Big Brother

CCTV camera watching people
Speaking of cultural differences, Korea is a country that is absolutely obsessed with surveillance cameras (also known as CCTV). This is something that I had no idea about before moving to Korea. Almost every Korean restaurant, bar, business, public transportation, etc. will be equipped with a CCTV monitor. 

Now, these cameras do have a ton of great benefits (such as theft protection, security, etc.), but something you need to always be aware of is the constant big brother presence. Even if you go to your local convenience store to buy a snack, you are either being watched by their CCTV cameras or, at the very least, being filmed. How does this relate to teaching? Well, depending on where you work in Korea, you may or may not be monitored via CCTV. I have heard about a lot of schools across Korea that keep CCTV monitors in the classrooms to check in on students, ensure safety within the school, etc. If this is something you are uncomfortable with, then coming to Korea may not be the answer for you. To me, it is more important to keep an open mind and simply abide by the rules of the country. If Koreans truly believe that these CCTV monitors help within their daily lives, then there's got to be some sort of plausible benefit that they have in mind. When in Rome, right?

Teaching English in Korea can be a very rewarding and lucrative career. However, it's definitely not without its faults or limitations. It's important to know some information before signing your name on the dotted line and moving to Korea. I still love everything about teaching and living in Korea, but I can clearly see that it's not for everyone. Just make sure to do your due diligence and make the best choice for yourself. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!

By G0h4r (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Korea.net / Korean Culture and Information Service (Photographer name) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

5 Best Things About Living in Korea

In my opinion, moving to a new country is awesome. Yes, the first few months are hectic and your mind is constantly spinning, but once you adjust and settle in, it's all gravy from there. Korea is one of the easier countries in Asia to become accustomed to, especially as an expat. After living here for a while, you start to notice that Korea really does some things a lot better than back home. Here are the 5 best things about living in Korea.

The official flag of Korea

Living in Korea is Awesome

Korea might not be as big a country as China or Japan, but it really does have some incredible benefits that might make you want to live here. Without further adieu, here is the top 5 list of best things about living in Korea.

1. Absolutely NO Sales Tax or Tipping

You read that right. Here, I'll write it again. There is absolutely zero sales tax or tipping in Korea! That means you can walk into any store, bar, or restaurant and literally pay the exact price that is listed on the menu. This makes life a lot easier when you decide to go out and enjoy the night. Instead of wasting time figuring out how much to tip or being surprised at your final bill total, you can just go home in peace knowing that you paid exactly what the store/restaurant asked you to pay. Also, whenever you decide to order food delivery, you can just give the delivery guy the final bill total and he'll even come back and pick up your trash/leftovers in a few hours -- all for no extra charge! How amazing is that? This is also a great way to save some extra dough on the side. Why doesn't America do this again?!

Checking receipts and crunching numbers to calculate price

2. Shipping Is A Breeze

Since the entire size of South Korea is roughly the same size as the state of Kentucky, shipping from any part of the country to your doorstep is a breeze. Back home, if you want your merchandise within a day or two, you probably need to sign up for a premium online delivery service like Amazon Prime or pay for next day shipping direct from the store. However, in Korea, since the country is so small, you can get pretty much anything you want shipped to your front door in no later than 3 days. I once bought an entire mattress, sheet set, bed frame, etc. online and it got shipped to my house within two days AND the delivery man set up the entire bed and cleaned the trash. I actually wrote an article about how amazing online shopping in Korea is. Be sure to check it out!

3. The BEST Customer Service in the World

Korea is a country that lives and dies by customer service. Just due to the sheer density and close proximity of people living together in a small country can really take competition to another level. For example, just on one street alone, you might find about 4 fried chicken joints, 2 bars/pubs, 12 karaokes, and 3 cafes. Some of these stores are right next door to each other too! The thing that keeps all of these open is their unique customer service. One way Koreans show appreciation to their customers is to give things out for FREE. This "service" may come in the form of a free plate of appetizers, free booze, free makeup, free refill, etc. Essentially, they will do anything to make sure that you become a repeat customer. This is probably one of the best parts about being in Korea. Score one point for the customers!

Closeup shot of Korean kimchi

4. Korean Food

How could I even make this a top 5 list without mentioning Korean food! Growing up in the States, eating Korean food in a restaurant was always a treat. Since K-Food isn't as widespread as Japanese, Thai, or Chinese food, Korean food is a bit harder to find and a lot more expensive. For instance, if I wanted to get a nice Kimchi stew meal here in Seoul, it would only ruin me about $4 or $5 and that includes the NO tip and tax rule that I mentioned earlier. If I bought the same meal back home, that meal would EASILY run me $15 or $16 and I would probably have to pay a 10% sales tax and 20% tip on top. Geez, talk about a ripoff! All I wanted to do back home was eat a nice hearty Korean meal, but it usually means I need to sell a kidney so I could have extra money to pay for it! Living in Korea has fixed that problem in a heartbeat. 

5. Technology 

Korea is known to be the most wired nation in the world. What does that exactly mean? Well, it means that about 85% of the entire country is connected to some form of high speed internet or data plan. Pretty much where ever you go in the country, there will be some kind of connection to the internet (via WiFi or cellular data). A big trend here in Seoul is actually watching live HD TV programming on your phone in the subway. Seoul subways are huge WiFi hubs and people are constantly connecting their devices underground. I always see people catching the latest baseball game or watching their favorite Korean dramas on their way home from work. Pretty awesome stuff. Also, Korea is home to Samsung and LG, so there are always new innovations from these companies that get tested out on the Korean market first. Those curved UHD TVs that we've all been seeing on the market lately...well, let's just say that's old news here in Seoul!

These are my top 5 best things about living in Korea. Be sure to check out my article about 5 MUST VISIT Places in Seoul. This list is obviously not the end all be all. If you have any suggestions that I might have missed, be sure to leave a comment! 

By John (originally posted to Flickr as Kimchee) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Various [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5 MUST VISIT Neighborhoods in Seoul

Angled shot of Gyeongbukgong palace entrace with the sun shining on the left side

Seoul is rapidly growing into an international powerhouse. The Seoul Metropolitan Government stated that roughly 10 million tourists came through Seoul to check out the various sites, sounds, and food. Although Seoul doesn't have a shortage of touristy things to do (i.e. multiple palaces, Seoul Tower, limitless shopping, etc.), the best part of Seoul is actually hidden within its neighborhoods. Some neighborhoods will obviously be a lot more popular than others, but this also means more tourists and people in general. Two things I despise with a passion. So, if you ever have a chance to visit Seoul, I want to give you the real inside scoop and tell you the 5 absolute must see (non-touristy) neighborhoods to visit in Seoul! 

What Neighborhoods Should I Scope Out in Seoul?

As soon as you land into Incheon International Airport, you got to make the journey into the city center. Be sure to download a foreigner friendly subway map on your smartphone prior to coming. This map will be your best friend when visiting Seoul. Now, once you drop off your luggage, it's finally time to go explore. Head over to your nearest convenience store and make sure to buy a T-Money subway card, so that you can replenish your subway card with money if you ever run out. Let's get started!

T-shirt of Psy's Gangnam Style

1. Sinsa-dong / Garosu-gil

This neighborhood is easily becoming one of my favorite places to visit in the city. It is part of the affluent Gangnam (cue Gangnam Style) section of Seoul. Sinsa doesn't receive as much foot traffic as, let's say, the actual Gangnam subway station area, but Sinsa isn't a pushover either. One of the biggest attractions of this neighborhood is the artsy Garosugil street. This street is lined with incredible shops that are designed by local artists, so the overall vibe and look of Garosugil is unlike any other in Seoul! Tons of cool little clothing shops, art halls, restaurants, and unique bars in the area. A definite must visit!

How to get there: Subway Line #3 (Orange) to Sinsa Station, Exit 8

2. Anguk

Now, this area is a critical part of Seoul. The majority of tourists come to Korea to visit Gyeongbokgung/Changdeokgung Palace, Gwanghwamun Square, and maybe see some traditional Korean markets. What these tourists don't really know is that heading to these direct subway stations on the subway map is the wrong way to go. There's actually a quiet little neighborhood located at Anguk station that can hit all of these spots within walking distance and isn't nearly as crowded as the main drags to these tourist spots. Anguk is stationed right in between the two main palaces, the main square, and some of the most famous traditional markets in Seoul (Gwangjang Market and Insadong). The neighborhood leading to these areas is also filled with cool little mom and pop restaurants and cafes. This gives you a chance to get away from all of the noise and crowds while taking your time in walking over to these tourist areas (whenever you feel ready).

How to get there: Subway Line #3 (Orange) to Anguk Station, Exit 3 (Changdeokgung Palace) and Exit 6 (Insadong)

3. Hapjeong

One of the most recognizable and most visited neighborhoods in Seoul is Hongdae, which is short for Hongik University. This area's got it all - from foreigner friendly restaurants to night clubs where the party doesn't stop till the sun comes up! It's a big time College area that's filled with drunk 20 somethings just trying to have a fun night out on the town. The main downfall of Hongdae is the sheer amount of people and overcrowding that goes on. It's seriously a nightmare to walk through this area on any given weekend night. Most businesses started to realize that rent and space in the ever popular Hongdae area was soaring through the roof, so a new breed of store owners started to spread to the next closest neighborhood. Enter Hapjeong. Hapjeong has recently experienced a huge boom in the trendy bar and restaurant scene and the public is starting to take notice. It's totally a hipster heaven at the moment and people just can't stop raving about the new found bar/restaurant scene that's blossoming there. I recommend checking it out immediately.

How to get there: Subway Line #2 (Green) to Hapjeong Station, Exit 3

Nighttime view of the bright buildings from the Han River at Yeouido Park

4. Yeoinaru

Now we're getting into the fun stuff. This has got to be my favorite area in Seoul by a long shot. It's a part of the Yeouido financial district of Seoul, which is known as Seoul's Wall Street. This is a really well built and clean cut part of Seoul. It is also home to the recently built IFC Mall, which is just a jaw dropping gorgeous mall. However, the best part of Yeouinaru area is the Hangang or Han River Park that is at the edge of the subway station. Hangang Park is an awesome place to take a date, go for a run, have a picnic, or just go to relax. It's essentially a wide open space that sits right in front of the Han River that cuts through the entire city. It is an absolutely stunning park, especially at night when all of the buildings light up across the river. I actually made a blog post about this on my travel photo blog. You can check out my Hangang Park article here

How to get there: Subway Line #5 (Purple) to Yeoinaru Station, Exit 3

5. Hyehwa / Daehangno

I know what you're thinking. How the hell do I pronounce that?! It's actually pretty easy and is pronounced HEEYEH-HOOAH (but try saying it fast). Kind of a tongue twister, but you just got to get used to it. Hyehwa is an incredible neighborhood mostly because of Daehangno. Just like how I mentioned that Sinsa had Garosugil, this area also has a cool street called Daehangno. The word Daehangno means "College Street" and here you're going to find amazing restaurants, cafes, and the best part of all, musical theaters. This area is just full of artists and you'll see tons of street performers singing, doing magic tricks, putting on free plays, etc. Daehangno is most famous for its live musical theaters. Here you can catch some of the best live musicals or performing arts shows in a cheap and intimate setting. These shows are mostly put on by up and coming artists or amateurs. It's a great place to take the family or even a nice 2nd or 3rd date with someone special. 

How to get there: Subway Line #4 (Blue) to Hyehwa Station, Exit 2

There you have it! These are my 5 favorite and underrated neighborhoods of Seoul. As you can see, I'm not the biggest fan of any tourist traps or overcrowded areas, so I hope you enjoy these areas as much as I do. If you think I forgot any cool neighborhoods, feel free to leave a comment! 

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Korean Plastic Surgery - Good or Bad?

Korean girl kpop singer in white dressPlastic surgery. These two words are starting to become synonymous with Korea and not in a good way. With the recent success of KPop and KDrama taking over the world, the pressure for these Korean actors/actresses/singers to look beautiful has gotten out of control. They are the faces of multi-million dollar companies, so it's only natural for them to want to keep their best assets (their face) in tip top shape. However, I really think this taken on a negative effect on Korean or general society as a whole. 

What's Wrong With Korean Plastic Surgery?

To be dead honest, the Korean superstars aka "idols" in Korea are absolutely gorgeous. How is this bad? Well, for starters, it definitely alters the standard perception of beauty within society, especially among young impressionable teens. These teenage girls (and some guys) literally obsess over their favorite idols' clothes, makeup, hairstyle and facial features. These teen girls/guys will do anything to look like their favorite stars. Plastic surgery has become so prevalent in Korea that some high school girls actually ask and receive the surgery of their choice as a graduation gift. Something about that idea is just disturbing to me. Whatever happened to teens asking their parents to help pay for their first car, buying new clothes, asking for concert tickets, etc.?! 

The plastic surgery craze in Korea has also gone mainstream and is now widespread/easily accessible. Korea's plastic surgeons are well regarded for their value and expertise. This has led to women from various neighboring countries, such as China and Japan, to flock to Seoul just to get a quick and cheap procedure done and then fly back home. The Chinese plastic surgery tourists that come into Korea make up about 70% of ALL foreign patients that get plastic surgery in Korea. I know that this unexpected plastic surgery craze has become an economical windfall for the country, but something about being known for fake beauty around the world is very unsettling to me. Korea is a land full of beautiful mountains, scenery, history, culture, etc. and yet Korea's biggest tourism niche is its plastic surgery market. Insert disappointed emoticon face here.

Girl looking in the mirror with dissatisfaction

Another reason I think plastic surgery is bad is because it is contributing to the loss of Korean natural beauty and identity. I honestly don't know why most Korean women are so quick to pull the trigger and get plastic surgery. In my opinion, some of these women (and this goes for all women around the world too) need to look themselves in the mirror and realize that they should be proud of their natural beauty. I don't care what any of these actors and actresses look like on TV, which might explain why I look like such a bum most of the time (hehe). But the important point is...I DON'T CARE! It seriously hurts me to see Korean people reject our natural distinct Korean beauty in order to look better based on other people's opinion. Looking the way we do is what gives us and our country a unique identity. However, some people just want to look "better" I guess...This also reminds of an article I read about Julie Chen (famous TV news reporter) and how she felt that she was pressured to get plastic surgery. Early in her career, her boss really pushed her to get plastic surgery based on what he thought the viewers would consider "beautiful" for an on-air TV personality. This made me very angry at the time since he pretty much said being Asian wasn't good enough. I didn't know if I was more pissed with Julie Chen for succumbing to her ignorant boss's request or her boss acting like an asshole and essentially telling her that being too "Asiany" is bad. 

Korean kpop girl group Girls Generation SNSD

Personally, I find people to be more attractive if they love and are confident in who they are. That, to me, is true beauty. These KPop idols I see on TV really have no self regard or confidence for who they are. They are obviously supremely talented individuals; however, they still succumb to the pressure just like Julie Chen did and end up getting plastic surgery for the sake of others. Also, what's worse is these KPop girls all look EXACTLY THE SAME! They all get the same surgeries by the same doctors and ultimately look like identical twin sisters. Friggin ridiculous if you ask me!

To me, trying to achieve that everlasting goal of beauty is just a pipe dream. All these stupid actors and actresses that we see on TV are just what you think they are...fake. They are manufactured to look the way they do, act the way they do, and essentially do everything the way they do. Yet, teenage girls and women in Korea seem to be enamored by this concept of beauty. My only question is why don't they realize just how beautiful they already are! Maybe it's easier said than done, but I feel like women in Korea should focus more on trying to be more confident in themselves, rather than trying to change who they are on the exterior. This is just my two cents. I would love to hear your opinions. What do you all think about Korean plastic surgery and its benefits/negatives? Feel free to leave a comment below! 

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