Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Turnover

2015 does not feel like a particularly an eventful year. I guess I spent too much time inside my room, just doing my thing (painting, watching movies or TV shows, sewing, etc.) or in the kitchen (baking and cooking. Nevertheless, there's a fair number of highlights:

  • I went back to school as a part-time lecturer.
  • I started painting again. I also started with pointed pen calligraphy.
  • I started kendo last March, which I really liked. I made new friends at the kendo club. Unfortunately I had to stop last September because of various leg and knee injuries. However, I was able to return this December and our team even won in the beginners' division tournament.
  • I traveled northern and central Vietnam with my co-workers. We went to Hanoi, Ha Long, Ninh Binh, Hue, and Hoi An.
  • I went to Boracay with friends.
  • My Kindle broke and thus decreased my reading capacity. I can't read in the dark anymore-- which used to be my favorite before-bed ritual.
  • My dog got surgery. It cost me a lot, including medications but I'm just glad he's fine now.
  • I colored my hair (well, parts of it) with blue, purple, pink, and green. Not necessarily all colors at the same time.
  • I got the best, albeit a few days late, birthday gift to date: a scholarship for postgraduate studies at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
  • I re-read the whole Harry Potter series.
  • I traveled central and western Japan by myself. I went to Nagoya, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kamikochi, Osaka, Himeji, Kobe, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Iwakuni, Kyoto, and Nara.

Ah, 2016.

This is going to be an eventful year, I'm pretty sure. On February, I will start postgraduate studies in Auckland. A couple months ago, it was pure excitement but as my departure comes closer, I'm getting more and more anxious and scared than excited.

It's going to be my first time to live alone for that long and to be so far away from home. I can take care of myself (cooking, laundry, cleaning, budgeting, etc.) and I travel alone in places where I don't even speak the language so it's not like I'm gonna get lost or whatever in Auckland. However we know studying abroad is different. I'll have to cope with the cold weather, loneliness, homesickness, culture shock, etc. I am, however, determined to make the most out of my year abroad.

Some of my goals for 2016 include:

  • study and work hard, get good grades and make a quality research project
  • join a kendo club in Auckland
  • make new friends in NZ
  • bungy jump
  • travel New Zealand and hopefully Australia too

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Back to Kendo

Last August, I suffered six different injuries. I suppose that's what happens when you have a sedentary lifestyle and suddenly take up a high-impact sport like kendo. I had to rest and go to physical therapy which can be time-consuming and expensive too.

Now, I've been discharged from physical therapy and I can go back to kendo but I still have to do strengthening exercises for my kneecaps to return to normal. I've also been swimming to aid with therapy.

Last Saturday, IGA Kendo Club held a Christmas Shiai (Tournament). I joined the beginners' division, which is a team tournament.

Everyone lined up
(photo by my clubmate, Darwin)

I lost my match and didn't score a point but I did my best and I'm happy with that. One of my favourite senpai (club senior) told me that I did well and that my form was good. That's what really matters, I guess.

Getting ready
(photo by my clubmate, Darwin)

Anyway, our team won.

Our team with our sensei, our club manager, and some of the children club members
(photo by my clubmate, Darwin)

Posing with my first kendo medal during the Christmas party held the day after
I missed kendo so much. It's good to be back! This time, I promise to take care of myself better (proper stretching, proper rest) in order to prevent injuries.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Autumn in Nami Island

On my last day in South Korea, I decided to go on a day trip to Gapyeong, where Nami Island (a place made famous by the Korean drama, Winter Sonata) is located.

Nami Island is not very close to Seoul but it's quite accessible through the following means:
  1. Take a shuttle bus from Insadong in Seoul (KRW15,000 round-trip). The shuttle bus leaves Insadong at 9:30am and leaves Nami Island at 4pm. 
  2. Take the subway. It takes around two hours to get to Gapyeong Station depending on where you're departing from.
  3. Take the ITX (high-speed train) to Gapyeong Station. The trip takes about an hour and costs between KRW8,200 to KRW9,600 depending if you're taking the reserved seat or the standing area and on which station you're departing from. If coming from Seoul, you can choose to depart from Yongsan or Oksu.

If you're taking the subway or ITX, you still need to take a bus or a taxi from Gapyeong Station. There's a Gapyeong bus outside that costs KRW5,000. The Gapyeong bus stops at famous landmarks (including the Nami Island ferry terminal) and the ticket is good for a whole day (unlimited rides). It's practical to buy it if you're going on a day trip to Gapyeong. Just make sure not to lose your ticket and to check the bus schedule.

At the Nami Island ferry terminal, I lined up and bought an admission ticket (KRW8,000) and then proceeded to the docking area.

I was in awe by the surrounding mountains. I had no idea Gapyeong was this beautiful.

Beautiful houses across the island

Sequoia trees

Books in the restroom

Autumn colours!

There were lots of people in Nami Island, even on a Monday, but it was not crowded. The weather was nice and cool, albeit windy. I didn't spend a lot of time there because I think Nami Island is a place that's better enjoyed when you have company. It would have been really nice to have a picnic by the lakeside. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed exploring Nami Island.

Monday, December 14, 2015


I've been away from blogging for months, I don't know where to pick up again! Life has been getting in the way and I will tell more about it in the next posts. Meanwhile, let me share photos of the cakes I made during the few months I was gone from blogging.

I made red velvet cake for my birthday. (Ah, yes, I've been baking my own birthday cakes for years now.) I had some leftover white fondant so I cut them into cherry blossom shapes and put them on top of pink cream cheese frosting.

This is a Japanese cheesecake (also called 'souffle cheesecake' or 'cotton cheesecake') that I made for my dad's birthday. It's a lot more fluffier than the American version and that's the way I like my cheesecakes. I don't think I'll ever go back to making American cheesecakes, honestly.

Below is a basic sponge cake. I was only trying out the recipe that day so I served it bare, without any frosting. It was gone that same day.

Chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting piped into roses. I've been raring to make this frosting flower design and they're not perfect but I'm glad they turned out quite well for a first time. 

I love ube! Below is an ube chiffon cake with ube buttercream. I didn't use any artificial food flavour or colour because my mom is not allowed those. The ube flavour, as well as the colour, is much more muted than the commercially-available ube cakes but my parents loved it.

Yes, I love cake.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Suwon Hwaseong Fortress: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

It was a Sunday and after a whole week of traveling, I really wanted to sleep in that day. However, despite being tired, I still managed to wake up at 6am and couldn't get back to sleep. At 7am, I gave up, rolled off my bed, made breakfast, and got ready for a day trip to Suwon, a city located south of Seoul.

The reason I wanted to go to Suwon is the Hwaseong Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I do not know anyone in particular who has visited the fortress before. I have a lot of Facebook friends who share photos of their travels to South Korea but I have never heard of anyone who went there, which makes me even more intrigued.

It only took around an hour by subway. I got to Suwon station around lunch time and I found a food court there so I decided to eat first.

The food court was crowded as it was a Sunday. It was really fun looking around and I couldn't decide what to get! Also, the desserts are a treat, not just for the tummy but for the eyes as well.

Sadly, I couldn't find any seats elsewhere so I ended up in a conveyor belt sushi bar. Japanese food in Korea, I know, I know. It was very good, nonetheless.

From the station, I went to the bus stop and took the bus to the Paldalmun Gate. There are a number of buses that you can take: 2, 7, 7-2, 8, and 13.

When I got off the bus, I got quite lost because it seemed that the Paldalmun Gate is right in the middle of a roundabout and there seemed to be no access and no people there! 

After asking for directions, I ended up walking to the Hwaseong Haengung (a palace inside the fortress). There were sooooo many people as, apparently, there's a festival that day.

Despite being intrigued by the festival, I didn't want to join the crowd in that heat. I found a tourist information center and asked where the Paldalmun Gate was. Apparently, it was on the opposite side of the roundabout where I got off the bus. I walked there and found this:

I was like, "Seriously??" (You can't even see the top of the fortress in the picture but it goes all the way up to the edge of the trees.) It was already a week of going up a mountain in Gyeongju and walking around the steep slopes of Busan and Seoul... I guess I could handle it. Besides, there were people doing it so why not me.

It. Was. So. High. I don't even know how high I ascended. The steps were very steep too! I was proud of myself when I reached the top hehe.

Thankfully, there's not much people at the walls of the fortress. There's also supposedly an admission fee but it was free that day because of the festival.

The views from the walls were fantastic. There are also buildings where people can rest.

The walk along the walls was a little more convenient because it's no longer very hot and the path gently slopes down. Eventually, I arrived at the next gate, Hwaseomun. From there, I was wondering whether to continue walking the walls or to go down and go back to Seoul. I figured, everything would be pretty much the same from there and I was quite tired already. I went down the gate, walked towards the bus stop and then went back to Seoul.

At the Hwaseomun Gare

If you ever travel to Seoul, I suggest going to Suwon as well since it's just an hour's subway ride away. Instead of going up at Paldalmun (where the ascent is very steep and then you slowly descend as you walk along the path), I think you can choose another gate like Hwaseomun where you ascend along the path gently and then get down at Paldalmun. Either way, make sure you're physically fit and you've got strong legs!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Gyeongbokgung in Seoul, South Korea

Ah Gyeongbokgung. It's the largest and, I think, the most famous palace in Seoul.

I was lucky to be in Seoul in October, when they held the Cheobjong or the Palace Guard Inspection Ceremony in place of the usual Royal Guard Changing Ceremony. Palace Guard Inspection by the king meant that the guards would have to show their fighting skills in order to prove to the king that they can defend him and his palace.

I think it started at 1pm but I was a little late. I arrived at 1:15pm. It was very interesting to watch! There's an English voice-over so people are not clueless as to what's happening.

At 1:30pm, the ceremony ended and the whole company lined up and went inside the palace. People can walk alongside the king's palanquin (which I did)!

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy my time in Gyeongbukgung very much for the following reasons:
  1. It was really hot and sunny that afternoon.
  2. There were soooooo many people. At that time, I had developed an aversion towards crowds due to the nature of my work. Big crowds stress me out (yes, even until now, lol). A middle-aged female tourist particularly stood out as she was endlessly taking selfies with her selfie stick with the volume of her phone at the highest setting! I could hear the shutter sounds even from 20 meters away and despite the noisy crowd, I swear!
  3. I lost my Ray-Ban aviators. It's not the first too! It was really stressful trying to retrace my steps to find it. In the end, I didn't find it. It wanted to stay in South Korea, apparently. Aside from the fact that it's expensive, it was difficult not having my sunglasses in that afternoon heat.

I tried to take a photo of the interiors of the main throne hall but failed miserably because people kept pushing me. There were so many rude tourists there, seriously. That's why instead of exploring the huge palace grounds, I just took a few photos and then went back to Anguk Station to visit Bukchon Hanok Village.

To be honest, Gyeongbukgung is very beautiful. I especially love the mountainous backdrop of the palace. However, I recommend going there early in order to avoid the crowds which may spoil the experience. Try not to miss the ceremonies, though!