Midterms Complete!

Many apologies for the sparse posts! Getting used to how things are over here has been quite a bit of a challenge, since I’ve only once taken a full course load at U of T prior to coming to South Korea and doing the same.

I promise more updates from now on!

Fall is here and so is the cold weather! I feel as though I’m quite lucky to be from Toronto, as many of my Californian and Southeast Asian classmates are shivering in their boots.

Midterms here at Yonsei were quite interesting and rather different from what I’m used to at University of Toronto. I realize that I haven’t actually explained my classes at all in this blog as yet, and since a major part of studying abroad is the studying (duh), I feel as though I should. Being an East Asian Studies specialist, most of my courses are — you guessed it — centred around the country I’m studying in, which of course is South Korea.

So, without further ado, my classes are as follows:

1. Contemporary Korean Cinema and Society

2. Topics in Korean Language and Culture

3. Introduction to Korean Music

4. Communication Media in Korea

5. Beginner’s Korean level 2

The midterm for Contemporary Korean Cinema and Society, structurally my most unconventional class, was to conduct an interview on any familiar space and present it in any visual medium of my choice, whether writing, film, photography or even other stuff. I’ve decided to do a montage of scenes on Korea as a space, which I must upload this evening and will embed in this blog when I do so, for all of you to see! The midterm for Topics in Korean Language and Culture is to choose a historic site in Seoul, visit it and write a research paper about it. The best part is it’s not due until finals! Introduction to Korean Music was rather conventional and consisted of a series of questions and answers based on various topics of study, such as names of musical instruments and styles. Communication Media in Korea was also rather conventional and involved writing a comprehensive retrospective of presidents and press history from the Korean War until 1992. Somewhat tedious after having studied Korean presidents in two separate courses at U of T, but not too bad, all in all.

The most taxing midterm would have to be that of the Korean Language Institute, which consisted of three separate tests over four days that covered writing, speaking, listening and reading. Here at Yonsei, if you opt to take the Korean language course (as I have), you must attend it EVERY DAY. It takes a lot of energy and sadly does not leave a lot of time for study. It’s rather difficult for me, as I’m much more used to learning language twice or three times a week and taking time to study on my own instead of being forced to attend classes every single day that move (for me anyway) at breakneck speed. As a result of dividing my attention between midterms, I’m currently behind on my language lessons (sigh).

But enough of that boring stuff . . . You want to hear about adventures, right?!

Well, as I mentioned in a previous post, early on in my exchange, being the only person who’s been here before of the friends I’ve made at my dorm, I decided to take some of them on an excursion from Seoul to the much smaller city of Cheuncheon, where we were treated to fantastic rural vistas.

We arrived in Cheuncheon via the Seoul subway(!) and took a bus straight from the subway to a river, where we took a boat to a mountain. Once there we climbed the mountain and saw a quaint but elegant temple. Behind the temple was a rather treacherous hiking trail, which we climbed to get a great view of the landscape. On the way down from the mountain we ate at a restaurant where we sat on a platform suspended over a small waterfall. It was a great experience, very cheap, and can easily be planned for a day trip out of Seoul!


“I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” Rosalia de Castro

Liège is a city that is in the Wallon side of Belgium (Francophone side). It is bigger than Bruges and it has a university. The city has less of a fairytale landscape than Bruges, however the train station Gare de Liège-Guillemins is spectacular and was built by a Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava Valls. Unfortunately when I went to Liège, it was raining a lot and I couldn’t take as many pictures as I wanted.

Cathédrale Saint-Lambert is a cathedral that used to exist until the revolution of 1794, now the place where it used to stand is called place Saint-Lambert and they have big posts to show where it used to stand. The building you see below used to be the where the priests who ruled the city lived and today it is also the Palais de Justice (English: Law court). Nevertheless, it is very old and non-fuctional therefore they build another more modern building that they are also using.

There are several cathedrals and churches in Liège because it was ruled by priests. Here is Cathédrale Saint-Paul.

Liège has 2 specialities, first there is the well-known Gaufre Liègeoise (Waffles of Liège) and they also have Peket, it is an alcoholic drink. Below is a Peket Flambé.

There is a river that flows through the city and it is called la Meuse. La Meuse is a very long river that passes through Holland, Belgium and France. In Liège they have a saying : “Liège sans sa Meuse, c’est Meuse sans son Liège” (English: Liège without its Meuse, is Meuse without its Liège.”)

Here are a few more pictures.


Living in Brussels

Living in Brussels has been an adventure everyday and I feel like I am getting to know the city, the University of Brussels and the population a little better everyday. First of all, there is also something that is very special in Brussels, it is called TD. TD should not be confused with TP (travaux pratiques or lab/tutorials), or travail à domicile (homework). TD is the abbreviation for thé dansant and is basically a party. But the TD in Brussels is a place near the Plaine Campus of ULB and it is Monday to Thursday. You get to party, but you need to wear old/dirty clothes. The music is great, beer price is reasonable, people throw their plastic beer glass after they are done drinking; people are there to have a great time.

Secondly, ULB has great school spirit and you can feel and see it everywhere you go on the campus. There are a lot of clubs (or cercle like they say here at ULB: University Libre de Bruxelles). There are cercles for each faculty (e.g. psychology faculty), but there are also “regional” faculties (e.g. there is a cercle for all the Luxembourgish students studying at ULB, and yes Luxembourg is a country, a very small country). All the members of a cercle wear a very unique uniform; they wear a robe that can have different colors and signs. And they wear a kind of baseball hat, that is longer at the front than regular hats. On each hat there are stars for each time they passed a grade and there are also other pictures or signs on it. However, to be part of a cercle you have to be baptized (bâtemes in French, or bizutage in France). There are several things in this baptism that you have to do before you get accepted and it lasts 3 weeks. In Canada we have froshweek, but it’s organized by the university and usually there is no alcohol involved. In France bizutage is illegal, but in Belgium it isn’t illegal but they are not allowed to do everything.

Finally, Brussels is a very cosmopolitan city not only because it’s in the heart of Europe and there is a European Parliament, but also because ULB accepts a lot of student exchange programs. I was invited to a Taiwanese lunch and I was pleasantly surprised to meet so many people from different countries (I met Bulgarian, Italian, Spanish, French, Turkish, Canadian and Russian students).

The host played the Ukalele and we listened to music from different countries (link to video is here). I really felt that afternoon the spirit of a student exchange program or Erasmus. Furthermore, I feel that Belgians are very friendly and they do not hesitate to talk to you and give you advice in the train, in the supermarket, when you ask them a question etc. Therefore I feel that Brussels’ population, Erasmus students and Belgians really made me feel welcome in their city.

Until next time,




ahh raisin.

so you read all about the traditions associated with academic families, but the true reason you need an academic family here at st. andrews is for raisin week-end. because being adopted and joining part of a family finds its ultimate purpose in raisin sunday and raisin monday.

what happens on raisin sunday? allow me to explain:

the world turns upside down.

ok, maybe thats not the right way to say it. lets put it another way…

the world literally turns upside down.

on raisin sunday, as children, you are under the total control of your parents. and all parents here are on the same mission: to give their kids a day they will never forget (but are unlikely to remember).

the tradition holds that you go to your mom’s house in the morning and your dad’s at night. sounds lovely right? well, in essence thats what happens, but its a little bit more intense than that. it all depends on your parents, but…

some dads go into the residences and personally wake up their kids in bed (with a shot of whisky at six in the morning)

some dads invite you over and make you breakfast and you can have anything on their menu! (but you have to pay for whatever you have in proportion– one shot? one strip of bacon.)

some dads start they day off with a fun round of games (deal or no deal: pick a box, see whats underneath, drink up, or go for the mystery box and take your chances)

and moms arent much better…

some host a tea party (with vodka in the teapot)

some take you out to the beach (and force you in the sea)

some encourage you to get along with your brothers and sisters (by tying you all together)

regardless of what the activity might be, when they invite you over, you have to go over. some parents will be kind and let you know the day before what time they expect you; others just send you a little text… “my house in 5 or pay in shots for every minute you’re late”. and of course, regardless of having set a time, they can always change their mind… “change of plans, we meet at 3. punishment if you’re late”

and all the activities are really creative.

some parents tell their kids to meet them at the beach in togas only to find out they’re competing against another family at beach olympics (with laurel crowns for the winners). others send their kids off on scavenger hunts around town (“build a 10 person pyramid in tesco”, “take a picture with a person over eighty”, “buy twenty cauliflowers and one grape”). others hire bouncy castles and set them up in their yards.

all around town crazy things start to happen, so when you see someone in front of you at the supermarket getting down on one knee and proposing to the cashier you dont really pay too much attention, mostly because across the road someone will be sitting contentedly up in the fountain and you’re often a bit more entranced by the thought of how they got up or how they’ll get down.

and if you think raisin sunday sounds like fun, let me tell you all about raisin monday.

on raisin monday you start off they day with a breakfast of champions (because if you’ve made it to breakfast, it means you’ve survived). and then after breakfast its off to your moms to get dressed.

yup, on raisin monday your mom has full say of what you wear. guaranteed itll be something ridiculous– especially since all the other moms are watching and she’ll want to impress.

smurfs, teletubbies, the jamaican bobsled team…you name it.

then its off to your dads to get your raisin receipt– a gift of their absolute choice which has to bear a traditional latin inscription.

so, once dressed and gifted, its off to st. salvators quad for a foam fight (the biggest, most wonderful shaving foam fight in a six-hundred year old university you will ever have).

but wait a second…what do you think? that you’ll just casually stroll along in a silly outfit with a lovely gift in your hand to the fight? have all the other stories taught you nothing?

no, no, no.

on your way down north street towards st. salvators quad you can fully expect to see people dressed as animals, in rows of two, carrying an ark. or a family of children dressed as dogs, tied together into formation, pulling their parents on a sled. or a person trying to manage pulling a piano.

wait a minute, did i say keyboard?

i didn’t think so.


what was my dads receipt? not as creative as those i’m afraid. he cling-wraped our family together and inscribed us with the latin phrase. it was odd that being in the middle of the wide sidewalk he should have asked us to move back a little bit…we weren’t blocking anyone…and then the answer came why. his flatmates made us look up at the same time they let buckets of water pour down on us.

ah but that’s raisin.

and it is SO much fun.

magic moments.

Now that you’re well acquainted with the idea of going abroad and what st. andrew’s is like, I want to show you how wonderful being on exchange can be.

Case and point: wednesday night, 8 pm

walking back from the library it wasn’t too cold outside…no wind, no rain…actually nice weather. an especially strange fact given that its really started to get cold here lately. and as i’m walking i’m thinking hm…if there was one night to do the may dip and jump into the north sea it would definitely be this one… so i run into my room drop off my stuff and knock on my friends door:

“hey, you know how we always said we wanted to go into the sea? tonight is the perfect night.”

(perhaps at any other place in the world with any other people the response would of been HA! swim in the north sea. in october. FUNNY.)   but we’re here on exchange. you have to live it up.

“ok. let me get my stuff.”

“wait actually? whoah ok…um, alright, 5 minutes. get your stuff. bring towels.”

(five minutes later)

“i’ve sent out a facebook message. three more people are coming.”

“oh my gosh are we actually doing this? this is crazy.”

“wait…why are you bringing your gown?”

“…for after we go in. its warm.”

“(…) right. ok, lets go and see if more people want to come”

so we go and scout out more people: “hey, we’re going in the sea, tonight’s the perfect night. wanna come?” (one boy was literally talking to his mom on skype when we came to ask, and he goes, “hey mom? yeah, sorry, i’m going to have to leave you now, i’m going into the sea.”)

twenty minutes later and we’re at the beach screaming as we’re running into the water…head under. full dip.

oh my gosh it was SO MUCH FUN!!!

and then, in the middle of drying off someone goes, “hold on… what time was the wine and cheese tonight?” (we’d forgotten there was a wine and cheese party that had been organized so students could meet with and talk to a number of professors.)

and so there we were, end of the night, sitting on the couches, laughing, talking and telling stories with our friends all around us, some people eating cheese, some just trying out the wine, the professors mixed about the room, absorbed in pockets of conversation.

who knew that in the span of about half an hour you can see the same boy in his swimsuit and boat shoes, running beside you into the north sea, and the next hes talking to his professor, shirt, tie and jacket, drinking wine and chatting as if nothing had happened.

hair still dripping from the sea.

Kefalonia, Greece!

Well this was probably one of the most fortunate experiences that I had in Bergamo. I flew with Ryanair late Thursday evening from Barcelona to Bergamo and I didn’t have my flight to Greece until the next morning, so it was a night layover in Italy. However I was contacted by Andrea, a local Italian from Bergamo, through my Couchsurfing profile and she asked if I was up for a tour around the city by her. I responded within seconds and told her that that would be incredible!
So I landed with my backpack full of swimsuits and tank tops into the chilly mountain city of Bergamo located 50km east of Milan. There, Andrea and her good friend Chantal met me at the airport and we began our Italian adventure! I couldn’t believe it but they were so excited to show me around their incredible city and practice their English at the same time! We drove first to ‘The Upper City’, the walled city perched high above the city. It was like walking into a medieval city. We parked the car and walked along the walls and just looked just upon the beautiful nigh lights and Bergamo. After a bit of touring around the cobble stone streets of Bergamo, the girls took me to their favorite local restaurant where they ordered me the tastiest local Bergamo dishes, that consisted of course….of Pasta!
My appetizer was called ‘Salumi misti con polenta’ which was a mix of incredible Bergamese meats and cheeses along with their local specialty of Polenta. Then after a tasty local red wine they ordered me the famous Bergamo pasta called ‘Casoncelli alla Bergamasca’. It was the best pasta dish I have ever eaten in my life. It was a ravioli, stuffed pasta type drizzled with a tasty olive oil and garlic sauce.
Then we headed around the streets again where Andrea and Chantal showed me the historical buildings of Bergamo and where we ended up having a tasty ‘Cioccolato and Cannela’ Gelato!
The night concluded with the girls dropping me off late that evening at my hostel where I slept for about 4 hours before jumping in a cab back to the airport bright and early the next morning!


Well it was a chilly departure from Bergamo bright and early Friday morning for the 1.5 hour flight to Argostoli International Airport on the Ionian Island of Kefalonia Greece. But what an incredible flight it was for scenery. We took off and broke through all the clouds surrounding Bergamo to see the sun shining on the snowy Italian Alps behind us. Then we followed the Italian coast southbound, flying right between the ‘Boot’ (Calabria) and ‘Heel’ (Apulia) of Italy! Then it was flying west of Albania, over the island of Corfu and landing at the ocean side airport of Argostoli. I spent a couple of hours touring around the capital of Argostoli and this small Ionian Island capital before having my first ‘Chicken Gyro’ and then jumping in the bus to Sami and then onwards to the literally 500 person fishing village of Agia Efimia where my couch surfer lived.

So this trip I was going to try couch surfing. For those of you who don’t know what it is, ‘Couch Surfing’ is simply a website where you create a profile on their website and when you are traveling, you can search up hosts in any city in the world who are willing to lend their couches to you for free. Normally the hosts also show you around the city and show you a bit of the local side of life as well.

So I did some research on the website and found this couple, Auba and Athena who have a profile filled with incredible reviews from couch surfers across the world. I decided to send them a request to see if I could stay with them. Auba responded back and told me thy everything was great and that they would be happy to host for my weekend in Kefalonia, however they told me that they lived in a small fishing village in Agia Efimia where I needed to meet them.

After landing in Argostoli I jumped on a bus that toured me up through the incredible mountains of Kefalonia and then to the town on the east side of the island called Sami. However, I stumbled out of the bus and was asking around for the transfer bus to take me to Agia Efimia. I was quite nervous because there is only one bus a day between Agia Efimia and Sami and I had less then 10 minutes to find it. Turns out the nice locals led me to a bus that was also acting as the local school bus! So not five minutes after I got on, we stopped at the local school and picked up all the local Greek School kids! It was great to hear them laugh and yell across the bus all in Greek!

Anyways, I got to Agia Efimia where the ocean side town was literally empty because all the tourists had left from their holidays. I toured around the village and went for an incredible swim in the clearest water I have ever seen in my life!

Auba met me later that day and he introduced me to Athena, instantly we hit it off really well as I found out that he is a Dive Master from Spain and he was living in Greece teaching scuba diving. Athena told me tons about the local life in Greece and attempted to teach me a bit of Greek which I struggled with for the whole weekend!

However, that evening I was fortunate to have been invited to one of there friends birthday parties in Argostoli. Jerry was having his birthday and we went out to a Pizzeria in the city center. However I quickly found out in Greek culture that for your birthday, you are the one that pays and it is considered rude for those who try to pay for you. So that was a bit of a culture shock at first, especially after a full dinner and some drinks as well! We then went out to a local bar in Argostoli and made our way home just before sunrise early that morning!

Sleep was not an option the next morning because we got up at 8:00am to go to the islands big festival, “Name Day” which is the Patron Saint day of Kefalonia. In the town of St. Gerasimus the church was where they hosted this big event. St. Gerasimus was the saint that cured the city of sickness way long ago. And every year they parade his remains around in a glass casket for the people to see. A very interesting cultural experience! Then in the church you could climb down into the tomb where he was buried which is suppose to give you lucky powers. I decided to go down to take a look and had the weirdest feeling ever, there was no oxygen and I was in a place where a person had been buried for two hundred years! Anyways we went to the Gypsy Market after and then it was back home for a nap!

That night was spend having Souvlaki and Pita with the best olives I have ever tasted! We then ended up at a local Greek bar in Sami and danced to Greek Music until way to late!

The last day was the best, we woke up and decided with all of Auba and Athena’s friends that I had gotten to know quite well, that we were going for a hike! So we made our sandwiches and drove up into the middle of the island where we were on top of the mountains! We hiked through the forests and olive groves for about forty minutes before coming out to the most pristine beach ever. Polished white stones with about 300m of beach, crystal clear water, and not a soul there whatsoever! After snorkelling and cliff diving for around 4 hours, the sunset had started and we returned back for a great last night out eating Gyros, Calamari and Feta with tons of Greek Salad at the local Greek Tavern!

Then it was a quick flight back to Barcelona and the memories of a great Greek Island Trip to Kefalonia!


Self-discovery and irrational fears



After nearly 2 months, much light has been shed on my life in Toronto, who I am and what it means to be here.

This weeks (mis)adventures:

  • Isn’t it nice when your life resembles a fairytale?
  • Adventures in class: How book learning can make you sound intoxicated
  • If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger…except for Dutch staircases, those will take you out of the game.


Isn’t it nice when your life resembles a fairytale?

One of the surprising things about living abroad is how quickly you can adapt to your surroundings. Rather than constantly looking at the architecture and thinking, “Holy cow, I actually live here,” you simply just begin to live there. This is good for obvious reasons, you can’t have your mind blown every minute of every day—it would be exhausting. Thus, in an attempt to establish your sense of place your brains tries to make the unfamiliar familiar. This means that you may start to take the exact same route home each day and keep going to the same places to hang out so that you get the comforting sensation of the prosaic.

To throw my fist up in the air against being desensitized, I try to discover something new  every week. It doesn’t have to be big, but it could be a new street, a new detail above a door or a new cafe. This way I am not totally exhausted from exploring all the time and stumbling around with my mind blown like a zombie-bot. In other words, for my mental health, I have manufactured moments of familiar and unfamiliar.

This week in my discoveries I found something fit for a fairytale. If you bike across town, through a large park, past the University of Utrecht, you will find a forest.


The forest is lined with grazing animals, white cows and fluffy sheep, but do not stop and pet them (well you could), but you have to keep biking. At the very end of the forest there is a little red house with white windowsills and the smell of caramel billowing from its doorway. This is the panekoek huis or crepe house that is so lovely that when I entered, I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes in a day!

Aside from the chefs wearing pouffy hats (aaawesome) and the sitting on the edge of the Dutch countryside, the crepes are twice the size of dinner plates! I saw Hansel and Gretel leaving the building and I thought, man this is too good to be true. As the rain began to fall in concert with the leaves, I had that, “this is what living is” moment. I thought of all the people I love and all the things that they are doing and that no one could guess

where I was in that moment—and this is the instance when life becomes more your own, a secret that you share only with yourself.

Obviously it is not entirely secret because I am writing about it here, but the sensation in that moment is something that is only mine. Perhaps this is why people feel more confident or like they know themselves better after travelling. Well, now that I am thinking about it, it could be one of two things.

Maybe travelling doesn’t let us now ourselves better at all, but it does allow us to collect more ineffable experiences, which when we compare how others know us and how we know ourselves, gives the sensation that we must know ourselves better. The second option is that travelling makes you feel like you know yourself better because you have created these experiences, found them and encountered them. We can’t help but take credit for the beauty we find and thus we become more confident in our ability to create and encounter beauty. An ability that we do not always exercise or know about ourselves.



Adventures in class: How book learning can make you sound intoxicated

He is totally feeling it, intoxicated by books, I knew it!

Let me start by saying that I love what I am studying here. Love it. It totally melts my butter. I basically get to spend all day thinking about beauty, art and philosophy. But I will admit, this aesthetics class I am taking has the adverse effect of making me come across like a intoxicated person trying to sound sophisticated.  This focus for the first part of the semester has been to read Jacques Ranciere’s philosophy about the relationship of aesthetics and politics. When I try to talk about what I am studying I just hear myself and wince: I sound like the teachers from Charlie Brown. Here is a passage, not an inordinately difficult or obtuse passage, just a regular snippet from Ranciere:

Ranciere links art and politics in a revolutionary and very confuuuusing way.

“The forms of aesthetic experience and the modes of fiction thereby create an unprecedented landscape of the visible, new forms of individualities and of connections, different rhythms of  apprehension of the given, new scales. They do not do this in the specific manner of political activity, which creates forms of we, forms of collective enunciation. But they form the dissensual fabric from which are cut out the forms of object construction and the possibilities of subjective enunciation proper to the action of political collectives.”

You see what I mean…ahem. Rubik’s cube gibberish…nuff said.

So I am faced with writing an essay about this which is not impossible, but talking about this philosophy has made me accrue a new fear. This is it: (this is real)

Hiding behind the fear and risk of loving philosophy

There is an insane asylum down the street from me and sometimes these guys are let out to wander around and buy their own groceries. I know this because we buy groceries from the same place. Every now and then when they have wandered too far or taken too long, men dressed in white will come to collect them. Now I know it is crazy, but I feel like when I am wondering about Ranciere and thinking out loud, it is possible that my ramblings could have me mistaken and collected. It could happen. Sure, med students run the risk of hurting people, but landing in a mental health clinic, these are the dangers of studying art and philosophy. Totally underestimated.



#3: If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger…except for Dutch staircases, those will take you out of the game.

Smiling because I am super stoked I haven’t fallen into a canal…yet

After nearly 2 months of being abroad, I’ve adjusted to some of the obstacles in the Holland. You might think I mean obstacles metaphorically, but I don’t. For someone as uncoordinated and clumsy as I am, there are many things that are a death trap that I’ve had to learn to avoid. Here is the shortlist:

1) Despite being the country credited for having the tallest people (the average height is 5″8), their stairs are made for people who wear a size 4 shoe. Every time I go down the stairs I try not to imagine falling to my death. Since I don’t like appearing nervous, I try to cover up my fear of death-by-stairs by talking more incessantly with whomever I’m with, which perpetuates my anxiety because my concentration is broken, which circles back to making me think about falling down the stairs.

2) Here is a business idea— (I thought this was a given, but) Dutch bathrooms do not have tilted tiles in the bathroom. As a result, after a shower the water has spilled all over the floor and stays there as a danger puddle until you squeegee it into the drain. Solution from death by slippage? Tilted tiles.

I’m too positive to just talk about death stuff. So here are a few reasons why the Netherlands are the best:

1) Mail on SATURDAYS!!! Let’s face it, mail on any day is awesome, but mail on a Saturday feels like a gift from the Gods. You pick up that mail, embrace it, twirl around with it because in Canada, Saturday means you have to wait 48 hours or more to get mail.

These are in fact considered a breakfast topping..amazing

2) It is not uncommon to see business men dressed with a bow tie, sitting down with a piece of toast dusted with chocolate sprinkles and a juice box. A tiny juice box. The kind where the man has to change his man-grip into  dainty-grip because his regular grip might crush the juice box creating a volcanic eruption of purple drink. The Dutch men are so not about being macho, it’s awesome.


3) Most warm beverages come with a little cookie or chocolate on the side. If you tell a local that this is not the norm in Canada, they’ll say, “But that’s the best part.” Indeed. I’ll miss this every time I order a warm beverage in Canada now.







Chuseok Travels: Incheon

So . . . sorry for the long wait, friends. I’ve been working through some technical issues that made it very difficult to upload pictures! Perhaps you will recall that I said in my last post that I was going to Namhae. Such was not the case . . .

That week was Chuseok, which is the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving. Turns out that it’s quite the holiday over here, and constitutes approximately 80% (unofficial statistic) of Seoul’s entire population leaving the city by bus, car, rail, and whatever other method is available. As such, it was impossible for my hiking buddy from California, Kyle, and I to secure a ticket to Namhae, which, as I may have mentioned previously, is one of the southernmost points on the peninsula. However, my roommate, Calvin (from Indonesia), Kyle and I managed to make it out to Incheon, a coastal city that is famous for being the site of Incheon International Airport as well as the landing site for General MacArthur in the Korean War, among many other things. Indeed, one of handiest things about the Soul subway is that you can take it just about anywhere in or around the city. Want to go to the countryside or the next city over? Hop on the subway! Yay!

The main gate of Incheon’s Chinatown

Although we only spent about six hours in Incheon, we were not disappointed by what was available. Immediately after exiting the station we saw a huge Chinese-inspired gate that invited our curiosity. It turns out that Incheon has a famous Chinatown, which is handily located across the street from the subway station. We began to investigate . . .

The main street in Chinatown just behind the gate.

Beyond the gate we were treated to a street full of restaurants and shops painted in the classic red and gold of popular Chinese motifs. The streets were also not busy at all, as most Koreans at the time were celebrating with their families, so getting around was very easy. To say the least, Incheon Chinatown was quite picturesque.

A picturesque park located a way back in Chinatown.

After checking out Chinatown we preceded up a hill, or rather a small mountain, that ascended behind it and found a statue commemorating Douglas MacArthur’s landing during the Korean War. Also there was a little park with an observatory where one could get a nice view of the city of Incheon.

In the next post!

st andrews traditions.

st. andrew’s thrives on traditions, so i’m dedicating this blog post to all things traditional:

the pier walk:

this is perhaps the most famous of all st andrews traditions. No one really knows where the tradition comes from and there are in fact a few stories that people tell to explain its origin. Of these I know two: the first is that a priest from the local parish used to go and pick up church-goers coming in on boats from far away towns at the pier every sunday before mass, from where he would accompany them to the church. As the story goes, he was such a beloved character that following his death the townspeople still made the weekly pilgrimage down the pier in his honour.

The second story involves a nineteen year old student from the university who heroically saved the lives of men shipwrecked just off the shore of east sands (where the pier is). Although he died shortly afterwards, students commemorate his bravery by walking down the pier every week in his honour.

Whichever story you chose to follow, the fact remains that every sunday after the morning service, students gather in st. salvators quad and head down to the pier together. It isnt mandatory, but most people wear their gowns and the sight is absolutely beautiful—lots of red-gowned students walking down along the coast and down to the pier.

During the pier walk is also when random tourists ask to have their picture taken with you, well, ask…most just take… You cant blame them; what other school do you know of where every sunday the students walk down in their red gowns to the pier? yes, the pier that is conveniently located in their university town. Thats right, on the north sea.

Ok, i know what youre thinking…cool…definitely something id consider…

but ‘gown’? Please elaborate.

Why yes, with pleasure.

the gown:

ok, yes, get it out of your system, its like in harry potter.

And thats what most people here liken it to anyways.

Gowns have been used at the university for hundreds of years, and here again there are a number of stories accounting for the tradition. The one that gets repeated most often is that they were put in place to help regulate student behaviour around the town: if you wore a red gown it meant you were underage, and youd be immediately recognizable so you wouldnt be allowed into taverns and no one  could serve you alcohol.

Today wearing a gown is optional, and theyre usually reserved for more formal school events. But every week the debate society (established in 1794, oldest in the world. no big deal.) puts on a debate and people wear them there. Ditto morning chapel service on sunday. Ditto anytime you feel like it.

And how you wear your gown is also a tradition all its own…

wearing the gown:

the way you wear your gown depends on both your year and area of study. First year students wear their gowns normally—but never done up! Second year students wear theirs slightly off the shoulder. Third year students studying arts wear their gowns with their left shoulder off, and third year students studying sciences wear theirs with the right shoulder off (because science is always ‘right’). Fourth year students wear their gowns resting down on their elbows.

You’ve figured it out: the older you get, the lower you wear your gown. The idea is that as you grow and learn you shed your academic ignorance, and the way you wear your gown is meant to symbolize that.

The thing you have to know is that the gowns are actually really, really warm. Sometimes youre studying and its really cold and you reach for it. And if you think about it, its like the original snuggie.

academic families:

speaking of all things academic, st andrews has a pretty unique tradition in academic families.

All the brochures say that it is a completely spontaneous, student-led tradition. It is, and its a big deal.

Its hard to explain unless youre here, but basically during the first few weeks of a new school year in-coming freshers are adopted by a mom and dad, usually in their third year. Parents don’t have to be married (‘academically married’ is the correct term) or even be friends, your dad could adopt you one night at a party and your mom could adopt you three weeks later during class… regardless of how you are made theirs, your parents guide you through st andrews life.

In reality, they just keep you busy partying.

And the funnest thing is that parents will adopt multiple children so you end up with brothers and sisters…a whole family. Some people end up with really complicated relationships (they have uncles, aunts, cousins…dont ask me how theyve figured it all out…)

Traditionally during the first weeks your parents will invite you over for dinner with the rest of your brothers and sisters and cook you a meal. I went to my dad’s flat and there was a huge dinner for all the children of all the flatmates, so there were eighteen of us in all…and it turns out our dads are excellent cooks!

Thats one thing you have to get used to: everyone refers to their academic family as their family so its hard to keep things straight.

Case and point: we’re sitting to dinner the other day, and one girl starts talking about how she’s doing medicine, and its cool cause her parents both do the same thing. And so someone asks her, wait, what do your parents specialize in? And she said oh no they’re both still in their third year…

(and that’s when you have to make the click…shes not talking about her actual parents)

“Oh! wait, you’re talking about your academic parents

“yeah… if not i would of said my biological ones…”


may dip:

in may students get up before sunrise and jump off the pier into the freezing water for the may dip. The tradition holds that in order to be cleansed of your ‘academic sins’ you have to jump in…and ‘academic incest’ aka, falling for your mom or dad, demands a dip

martyr’s memorials:

another sin for which you have to jump into the north sea to be cleansed is stepping (or worse, walking) on certain spots around the town. In st andrews many people were martyred, especially protestants during the reign of mary queen of scots. Throughout the town markers have been put in to commemorate the sights of these martyrdoms, and these often make use of the person’s initials. Just outside st salvators (a place you are bound to pass at least a couple times a day) there is one of these spots, and if you accidentally step on it legend says you will fail your degree.

Unless of course, you do the may dip.


Small price to pay for not failing your degree…

after all, how cold can the north sea be…

Alghero, Italia!

Well this was the official start to the hopefully the many travels to come with Ryanair’s cheap discounts around the continent of Europe. We found this flight for 9.99€ each way and my buddy Stephen from California and I said that we had to take advantage of this opportunity!

So we ended up taking the 1.5 hour bus ride from Barcelona to the secondary airport used mainly by Ryanair in Girona, España. After that it was suppose to be a 1 hour 15 minute ride to Alghero however being the last flight of the night, I suppose the Ryanair staff were extra tired because we touched down in Alghero not 45 minutes later! So Ryanair experience number 1 was smooth and extremely efficient!

First sights of the beautiful Italian island were unfortunately during the night time, but we checked in at our Bed and Breakfast located right along Via Lido (Beach Street) facing west over the Mediterranean Sea. We had an incredible balcony to watch the sunsets and the beaches had white sand that was as fine as silt!

But it was an early rise the next morning to head off for some coffee and to see the Old Walled City of Alghero!

Little bit of history, the last colony to have control over Alghero before it was added to the Italian state system was actually Catalunya. So the history of the Aragón and Catalunyan empire still has its effects it the old city where the majority of the street names are in Italian and Catalan as well!

But this walled city was used by the Spanish, the Carthaginians, the Romans, and the Phonexians way back when in history. Now adays, it is the major tourist attraction that displays its stunning walls along the ocean, its incredible churches within the city, and of course…the best ITALIAN FOOD EVER!

So day one began at what became my favourite coffee spot. It was a small coffee spot along the wall where you sat drinking your coffee overlooking the ocean with not a hint of land for the eye to see. I found my new favourite coffee drink called the Macchiato which is literally a coffee cup that is lined with Nutella and then the coffee is poured in, so that when you take your spoon, you get a spoonfull of Nutella and Coffee at the same time!

Then it was touring around the churches, the theatres, the defence towers and the rest of the old city that made days 1 & 2 go by pretty quick! Quick food notes, Incredible type of De-Caf coffee made from a local Barley in Sardgena, Cafe D’Orzo…highly recommended to try just for the rich taste. Pizza Capricciosa, Amaro Liquore, Ichnusa (2012 is the centennial birthday of this local Sardegna Beer) Limoncino (Local favourite liquor which is similar to our Limoncello) and of course the incredible array of Pasta, Pizzas and Gelatos that you can eat all day long. I also tried for the first time an incredible plate of Swordfish, it was very tasty!

An extremely good place that we found was San Francesco’s Pizza. This small little Pizzeria we ate at everyday and the owner would make fresh Margarita Foccia Pizza every morning and cook it right in front of us when we arrived! The best tasting pizza in Alghero by far!

The last day we jumped on the tour bus and headed north along the incredible coast line to the cliffs leading down to the 65 million year old Grotto di Nettuno (Caves up Neptune) After descending 652 steps we ended up at these caves and took the tour, seeing incredible Stalagmites and Stalactites formed by dripping fresh water from above and depositing calcium carbonates to form incredible columns in this massive cave.

After the last evening spent having gelato and watching the sunset, we hopped on the Ryanair flight back home and were left craving just one more plate of pasta or pizza of Alghero!