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Korea’s answer to Valentine’s Day. You see, that hallmark day for lovers here in the East is reserved especially for females to go gaga over their guys, showering them with candies and chocolates. Now, the day has come for prince charming to woo his women — White Day has arrived!

White Day, a holiday celebrated in Korea and Japan, marks the day when it is the men’s turns to dote on their lady friends. It’s like having V-Day part deux, spinning companies such as Lotte (who runs approximately half of Korea) into a chocolate-pushing frenzy. Only one month after celebrating Valentine’s, the stores are once again chock full of candies and goodies used to make ladies swoon — but the presents don’t stop at treats. Jewelry, lingerie and marshmallows are also popular gifts for Korean men to give today.

Family Mart and GS 25 were fully prepared for the rush of ill-prepared men who are panicking for a last-minute gift to buy their loved ones.

Now, normally I don’t condone these ridiculous, made-up holidays where people feel obligated to buy cheap candy and dote on each other… but since I’m a woman, I will fully embrace this girls-only holiday! :P

At school, a kindergartener named Jin handed out goody bags to the teachers to celebrate. Score! We made out with two lollipops and about 8 packets of instant coffee — which begs the question, is Jin’s mother (who is a constant fixture in the mornings) trying to tell us something? Zombie reference or no, I’ll take it!

My elementary students gave me gifts as well, including a gaggle of lollipops and a delicious truffle-esque candy. Nom nom.

First Pepero Day, then Valentine’s Day, now this? I should move to Korea and start a chocolate manufacturing plant. For real.

Next up is Black Day, where all the sassy singles get together to eat jajangmyeon 짜장면, a delectable Chinese/Korean fusion dish that features thick wheat noodles, meat and vegetables slathered in black soybean paste. Evan and I prefer jajangbap (same dish, just made with rice instead of noodles). Seriously, jajang sauce is so good. SO good. We’ve frequented a Chinese fusion eatery in our ‘hood for months now — for pickup and eat-in. A post with food descriptions and drool-worthy pics to come!

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Valentine’s Day was all sorts of perfect — I mean, what’s better than a day you get loaded up on chocolate truffles, students bring you gifts and tell you they love you, your boyfriend dotes and you have a heavenly V-Day dinner at your favorite restaurant?

This past weekend, I spent a few hours putting together heart goodie bags for our kiddies from the mountain of supplies sent in Valentine’s packages from my parents and Steve and Jill (thank you, thank you, they were fabulous <3). All of our kindergarteners squealed and gasped when they opened their baggies. Stickers! Heart-shaped rubber bands! Laffy Taffy! They were especially excited for the candy hearts with messages on them — they don’t have those little V-Day treasures here in Korea, and we recently read about them in a story, so they’ve had a hankering for them ever since.

Our students got us treats too. One of my students, Han Bit, gave me these luscious truffles… in Hello Kitty paper, obviously.

Another student, Ji Oun, gave Evan a miniature pen cell phone charm so he could give it to me. You know, in case he forgot to get me a present. She’s got my back!

Luckily, I have an amazing boyfriend who not only remembers to get me a Valentine’s gift, but this year gave me what is hands down the best gift I’ve ever received. In Korea, it is traditional to give a bride and groom a pair of wooden ducks on their happy day. The ducks symbolize the partners in the relationship, and since it is a Confucian belief that Mandarin ducks mate for life, they are meant to represent fidelity and loyalty.

It is believed that the man who carved the ducks passes on five fortunes to the happy couple: wealth, health, life-long marriage, a good wife and lots of sons.

Evan bought me a gorgeous set of ducks, which just speaks to how much he loves me and could be taken as a symbol of how serious our relationship is to him. I, of course, started crying at his gesture. I will always treasure our ducks <3

In return, I made my man a Headband Kitty valentine (because he likes when I wear headbands, and bow clips are so last year), chocolate (he’s an addict) and a date night gift certificate for T.G.I. Fridays and Lotte Cinema.

We topped off a great day by heading to Aladdin’s Lamb for salad, chops, soup and a bottle of wine. We savored the tender meat, tangy feta, rich wine and our company :)

Best Valentine’s Day ever, most definitely!

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In addition to our excursion to Taco Bell, we noshed on flavors that have been dearly missed from my palette. From Middle Eastern and Mexican to sandwiches and burgers, the food was so delectably different than the fare offered in Jeonju.

On Thursday, I was finally able to peel myself out of bed to meet up with friends for a delicious Arabic meal. We headed to Alyssa’s ‘hood, near Hongdae, to feast at Petra.

We started with a trio of hummus, baba ghanoush (eggplant dip) and labaneh cheese, with a side of warm pita bread (real pita, not the flour tortillas we so enjoy at Aladdin’s Lamb).

I barely got this picture before it was devoured.

We ordered another round of the dips for when Rachel and Greg joined us at the table.  I also ordered delicious falafel, tabbouleh and pita to mix with the tasty round of condiments. Oh em gee… the best falafel I have had in such a long time. I couldn’t stop myself from shoveling food into my mouth.

Ev got the lamb and cous cous. There was a lot of serious nom nom going on at the table.

The next day, we traveled around the city to shop and see the sights. After Evan got fitted for a custom-made suit (so handsome) in Itaewon, we stayed in the foreigner-friendly area to get a taste of a more “authentic” Mexican restaurant. Vamos comemos!


We ended up at a place called Los Amigos, and while it wasn’t Baja Sonora, it certainly touched on my unsatisfied desire for So Cal Mexican food. We ordered chips and guacamole to start, then a combination platter to share. The plate came with plenty of food, and allowed us to try a variety of entrees instead of having to choose just one or two. We ate a taco, a burrito, a tostada and an enchilada complete with beans and rice.

It. Was. So. Good. They even had sour cream! Imagine me shoveling chips into this mess of a plate, then dunking them in guacamole and sour cream before taking a huge bite. I’m telling you, pure nirvana.

Ev was particularly stoked on the American-sized soda, which is about four times the size of the cups you get at Korean restaurants. No joke, I’m actually used to drinking 8 ounces at a time.

I keep thinking of that cheese/beans/sour cream combination, and it’s seriously depressing me when I have broccoli soup staring back from the fridge. Le sigh.

That night, we set out to find perfect, juicy American pub food to put us into food comas so we could fall asleep easily into our heavenly bed at the Astoria. Sam Ryan’s, the pub we visited our last time in Itaewon, fit the bill perfectly.

Evan’s order was a no-brainer — basically, if there is something that combines beef, cheese and bacon on a menu, you best believe that will be his choice.

I opted for the steak sandwich with chutney, cheddar and caramelized onions. Oh my. The juicy steak melding with the tangy cheddar, a touch of sweetness from the chutney and the onions melting when they hit your tongue… and the bread! The bread was fresh and soft. I die. This picture does this wonderful, amazing concoction no justice. It’s actually a terrible photo, but I was exhausted and impatient to eat. Be happy I snapped anything!

There are no words to tell you how much I dig sandwiches. The combination of textures, temperatures and flavors have always done wonders for my palette. Subway was a regular fixture on days I would eat out when I was working in L.A. How I took fast, cheap and flavorful sammies for granted!

In Jeonju, there are slim pickins’ for fixins’ and you end up with a sliver of meat, tired veggies and sub-par bread, all totally over-priced. It wasn’t hard to decide that on our last morning, we would get another sandwich after upping our temptation with the pub grub.

At Quizno’s, I ordered an Italian sub and relished in every single bite. Hot pepperoni, salami, crisp lettuce and tomato, gooey mozzarella, pepperoncinis with a kick. YUM!

Now I’m home, drooling over my memories and trying not to scarf down more snacks because I’m salivating.

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So after our successful Taco Bell stop in Seoul, Evan and I met up with my college friend, who lives in the city. One of her pals threw a soiree, so we grabbed some wine and headed out toward Hongdae.

Hongdae, for those of you non-Koreans readers, is a university area in central Seoul that goes off and has quite the reputation as a hoppin’ party spot for young locals and expats. After wining and dining with our new friends, we hopped on the subway and rode a classy little wine bar where we sipped on flavorful reds and reminisced. It turned out to be quite the late (and messy) evening, the typical sort when you meet up with University friends…

After recovering on Thursday and sightseeing on Friday and Saturday, we were ready to brave the town again. This time, Evan and I met up with our co-workers, Greg and Rachel, for an early Middle Eastern dinner. The company was delightful but the cuisine was simply too sub-par to, as I announced after our meal, make it into the blog. We left Itaewon after eating, grabbed brewskies and soju for the subway, and headed to Hongdae to get a bit more partying in.

We met up with Tim and his friend near Hongik University, and all headed to a fascinating little hot spot.

Vinyl in Hongdae, a hip hole-in-the-wall that was rocking a walk-thru window, a funky robot sign and Cold War Kids on the jukebox, was a dimly lit, bohemian closet nestled on the edge of the college town. The drinks were strong, cheap, and made to go! Who needs glasses when you can have your drink in a sturdy, plastic bag complete with a straw? On Rachel’s recommendation, I ordered two Woo Woo cocktails — a lethally delicious combination of vodka and various fruit juices. We loitered on the animal print seats, sipping and taking in the artsy decor, before getting a drink to go and heading to the next party stop.

After securing our zip-lock cocktails, we moseyed over to Oi in Hongdae, which was a bar that pulled you straight down the rabbit hole and into another dimension. Oi (pronounced oh eye) is a bar, lounge and hookah bar that my cousin’s friend told him about. It is quite literally hidden from view, with only a small sign indicating it was on the third floor of an unassuming building. There were no edibles labeled “eat me,” but we had definitely entered a complex labyrinth complete with mushroom-shaped caves, white wash, giant fringe hanging from the ceiling, glittering lights, and lots of tunnels and bridges to make us feel like we were tip-toeing around a maze all evening.

We grabbed ourselves a cave, grabbed some beers then hit the dance floor! The deejay played old school hip-hop mixed with modern electronic, and it was the perfect combination to get everyone moving on the multi-tiered floor. Expats and locals swarmed the club, swaying under the lights and grinding in the fringe “cages.” This inevitably led to a photo shoot (don’t they always?) and we had fun being silly with the camera and a few prop drums nearby.

I, of course, got overly excited running to the dance floor and have a lovely, purple and green souvenir on my knee to remind me of the sinuous (almost river-like) architecture Oi is so fond of. Ouch.

We stayed at the club so long that the bartender sent us over a few free drinks — we shut the place down!

It’s just how we roll.

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No, Kim Jong Il hasn’t recruited me to do any work for the North Koreans — I’m staying as far away from that border as possible. I’m talking TB baby, the one run I could never resist, whether it be early in the morning or late night in Long Beach, zooming through the drive-thru to get my fix.

Oh, Taco Bell.

This pseudo-Mexican eatery was our first stop during our five-day trip to Seoul last week to celebrate Solnal 설날, or the lunar new year. The holiday fell on a Wednesday — Friday this year (woo hoo) so we packed our bags, hopped aboard a bus and spent the better part of a week in the north.

While Koreans around the country dined on tteokguk 떡국 (rice cake soup) and bowed to their eldest family members, Evan and I headed straight for Itaewon (aka foreigner’s heaven) for five days of non-Korean cuisine. Starting with the Mexican fast food joint everyone loves as it’s going down.

You see, T. Bell is right up there with Ice Cream Snickers as a debilitating weakness of mine — I know it’s bad for me, I know its going to beat up my tummy for a few hours, but I just can’t resist the ooey-gooey refried beans, orange cheese and all the fixins’. Disgusting but true.

We arrived in Itaewon around 2:30 PM, just as the lunch rush came through. I was shocked to see how popular the eatery was with not only foreigners, but Koreans as well. The fact that Taco Bell closed their original Korea locations in the early 1990s due to lack of interest, and now they have lunch lines that stretch out the door, really speaks to how the demographic of this peninsula has changed. Not only are there hordes of waygooks from all around the world that call Korea home now, but the locals have embraced culture from the west more wholeheartedly — including the greasy, deliciously fatty food.

The menu had all of the cheapo staples on it (burritos, tacos, nachos, etc.) and the “lite” menu was much more extensive, but I was more fascinated with the items I didn’t recognize. Nacho fries? Oh em gee.

Thank goodness I have spent the better part of my year in Jeonju, where foreign food is relatively hard to find, expensive and the choices are limited. Basically, Korean food is always your best bet here. But despite my Asian-inspired diet, better understanding of reasonable portions and the recent controversy over the legitimacy of T. Bell’s “beef product,” I not only ordered multiple items from the TB menu, but ate them all until I was beyond full — and enjoyed every last calorie-laden, nutritionally-devoid bite. I literally fulfilled dreams I’ve had about Taco Bell in the past few months.

After inhaling my taco supreme, nacho “bell grande” (nacho supreme) and bean burrito, it took approximately 20 minutes for my stomach to begin feeling like a rusty meat grinder, but it was worth it. So worth it. Honestly, I considered ordering more food before Evan gently reminded me that, at times, my eyes can be a tad bigger than my stomach — and by a tad, I mean I order enough food to feed an army.


On our last day in Seoul, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that we returned to Taco Bell directly after eating lunch to buy more food for the ride home.

Oh, and I tried to steal a bunch of hot sauce to take back home with me, only to realize that the bins of condiments next to the soda machine were ketchup! Barf. The Koreans must be on to the American way of hording packets from fast food, so we got a designated amount of sauce — from behind the counter — with our meal.

I justified these fatty excursions, along with the rest of my gluttony during Solnal, with the fact that I was on vacation!

Only nine more weeks until I fulfill the rest of my foodie fantasies in America…

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New Year’s Eve was one crazy night, but it wasn’t the only adventure to be had in Thailand. From zip-lining to getting up close and personal with a baby tiger, our days on Koh Samui were packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

On the first day of 2011, we slept all day before being roused by the mellow evening breeze that swept into the windows of our gorgeous, tropical retreat. We threw on our warm weather-ready garb, hopped into a cab and spent the evening on Bo Phut beach, in Fisherman’s Village.

After a lovely dinner at Starfish, we strolled in the village and perused merchandise from the various shops and street vendors lining the warm, well-lit streets. We inspected trinkets and souvenirs before finding ourselves at Dr. Fish, a spa that specializes in tubs with tiny fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet.

It was ten minutes of simultaneous tickling, discomfort and hilarity! Mimi and I went into a tank, while Matt and Evan hopped into another.

The feeling of the fish nibbling on my toes, heels and ankles was too much to bear. Mimi and I spent our time laughing, screaming and swirling our feet around in the water, terrifying the little buggers. Eventually, the fish stopped biting because we squirmed so much.

Evan and Matt kept cool under pressure a lot better than we did. They giggled and chewed on their lips, but were able to hold their feet still long enough for the fishies to get a decent meal. The school in the water swarmed their feet! It was a funny experience, but not one that any of us are looking to repeat any time soon.

Also, during our “spa treatment,” a crowd of people watched our discomfort through the floor-to-ceiling glass panels. I’m sure we scared more than one person off!

After a beautiful, relatively quiet night (aside from a rowdy tween who shot me with a popper on the street during a war with his friends) we hit the hay to prepare for the day of adventure that we had ahead of us.

The next morning, we woke early and hopped aboard our trusty motorbikes to begin our tour of the island. After breakfast and a long, bumpy ride into the jungle, our first stop was to the Canopy Adventures. It was there where we suited up to zip-line through the tree tops.

Weeee! It was mildly terrifying to sail through the trees, but mostly just exhilarating. We had a blast, swinging in the trees and screaming as our small platforms swayed in the wind.

Our tour guide was awesome too — cracking jokes, telling stories, and even zip-lining upside down! He even took a great video of one of our rides, scaring all of us at the end when we almost collided! YouTube is being funky (boooo) but I will upload the video as soon as I can! :)

A seaside lunch and motorbike ride later, we arrived at one of the largest waterfalls on Koh Samui. Surrounding the waterfall were touristy activities of sorts — elephant rides, more zip lines, and even petting and taking a picture of a tiger or leopard! I know that I probably shouldn’t support the mediocre (or worse) care of these animals by paying to take a picture with them, but the baby tiger was so cute I couldn’t resist.

We fed the little guy a bottle :)

The waterfall was a rocky hike away, but definitely worth it once we reached the top. We chilled out there for a bit, combating the sweltering heat with the cool spring water.

Afterward, we headed to Hin Tai and Hin Yai, the Grandfather and Grandmother rocks located on Lamai Beach. These rocks, shaped like male and female genatalia, located closely together, have spawned a legend about how they came to be. The story tells the tale of Ta Kreng (Grandpa Kreng) and Yai Riem (Grandma Riem), an elderly couple who were killed at sea when their boat capsized on their way to marry off their son. The couple transformed into rocks as “proof to the bride’s parents of their true intentions.”

The sun was sinking in the sky when we arrived, and got some beautiful shots of the red-purple sky, breaking tide and the, ehm, phallic rock.

There was also a tiny reggae bar nestled into the boulders, Rock Bar, where Bob Marley played softly over speakers, rasta art donned the hut-like structure, and tourists and locals got together for a Chang and a laugh. It was peaceful and relaxing — a perfect end to a perfect day out.

Our last day was spent at Bo Phut, where we feasted before walking down the beach looking for seaside massages. We finally found a pleasant open-air space with four unoccupied beds — we laid down, and the Thai women got right to work massaging our sore bodies. The hour rub-down only set us back about $8, not bad for a massage with sand and surf as your ambiance.

Afterward, we found a beach bar to down some fruity drinks before scouring the streets for some lovely souvenirs to take home. Evan and I ended up with two wooden elephants to use as bookends, a wooden sculpture of a drummer, a beautiful bowl, and a deep red table runner. I also got a few clothing items to rock in April, when we meet my family in Oahu on the way back to the states!

The rest of our night was spent packing and eating with our friends, then starting our journey home.

Wonderful trip — food, friends, partying, adventures. One of the best vacations ever!

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New Year’s marked the anniversaries of both Evan and me and Mimi and Matt, so this year we decided to attend one of the biggest parties in the world — the famous “full moon party” in Koh Phangan!

Technically, this wasn’t a full moon celebration since there wasn’t a full moon in the sky, but it had all of the fixings of one — everything from body paint, house music and booze buckets to happy shakes, twinkling lights and fire. Lots and LOTS of fire!

After a rocky, sick-inducing ferry ride and stint in a cab, we made it to Haad Rin Beach, where the party took place. We paid our minimal entrance fee before crossing through the gate and heading straight for the body paint.

I wanted space-themed pictures on my arms (suns, moons, stars) while I had free reign with Mimi’s arms. We didn’t go crazy with the paint, but did enough so that we could have fun pointing at it under black lights later.

We walked down an alley full of vendors before reaching the sandy beach — and little could prepare me for what we were about to experience.

We entered the beach alongside a huge club shaped and lit-up like a pirate ship, which was blasting music that spilled out onto the sand and floated toward the crashing waves. To the right, we saw a massive sandy dance floor with elevated “stages” for club goers to shake it on, and signs three stories tall, awaiting a kindle so they could burst into flames and impress the partiers with their various messages.

In the far distance, beyond rows of palm trees and nestled into a rocky cliff, was an area known as mellow mountain. It consisted of three or four different bars on various levels of the hill, all serving up drinks, loud beats and happy shakes.

We ventured up mellow mountain on a few occasions during the night. I particularly liked the few bars that offered over sized pillows to sit or lay on, surrounded by floor tables. It was a nice place to relax if you had too much trance for the time being.

The mountain was lit up by twinkling, spinning, sparkling lights of every color. The result of this rainbow was that it looked more like an attraction out of Disneyland than anything else. That was the first of many times I felt that way — it was like Vegas, a playground for adults where inhibitions dropped and craziness was rampant. The out-of-this-world experience reminded me of going to places like Coachella <3 — one night cut off from the world, where the only thing that mattered was music, friends, dancing and having a great time.

On the opposite side of the pirate ship (as the club was dubbed by our group), the beach was lined with clubs blasting out intense beats, vendors selling street food and alcohol buckets, and performers amazing crowds with various forms of fiery entertainment. Since we had noshed on delicious street grub before coming to Koh Phangan, we didn’t eat at the party until much later into the evening.

The “buckets” sold on the beach came with a flask of alcohol and a chaser, ranging from soda to red bull. I wasn’t too interested in drinking since I felt a bit nauseous during a portion of the party, but I did build a sand fort with the empty bucket once one was polished off in the group :) I have sand building skills, what can I say? A few people marveled at it as they walked by.

We got wrapped up in watching one man twirling fire batons for awhile (he was amazing) before heading to the far end of the beach to watch people jumping a blazing rope.

Little did we know, these weren’t professionals at all — they were common drunkards from the bash! To say we were shocked that inebriated people would willingly subject themselves to burns at the hands of the fire rope (and the idiots who kept dousing the rope with alcohol) is an understatement.

Another party favor that didn’t sit well with me were the giant fireworks that the vendors sold to stumbling party goers. These people would buy explosives the size of my arm, then fumble around for a few minutes before figuring out how to blast the thing into space! They were beautiful but being shot off waaaaay too close to crowds of people. Call me a stick in the mud, but having my arm blown off by a firework doesn’t sound like much fun.

Although, the firework display that the professionals shot off at midnight was absolutely stunning and mesmerizing.

The majority of the crowd at the party were a few years younger than us — maybe 22-23 or so. A lot of people traveled from Europe or Australia to attend, but we didn’t run into that many more Americans.

The beach provided a perfect place for an event like this — loud and crowded in front of the clubs where you wanted to groove and get sweaty with hoardes of people, but quiet and serene in other areas of the beach, where you just wanted to lay in the sand, look at the swaying palm trees and listen to the waves crash. The large scale of the venue made these contrasts possible, which I was grateful for.

There were moments I didn’t want to get off the dance floor…

…and moments where I wanted to plop down in the sand and just observe.

We abandoned the beach close to 4 AM, when the crowds broke up and the beach was littered with trash and bottles. We got back to the ferry station at 5, only to learn that the first boat didn’t head back to Koh Samui until 7. No matter — we set up shop in the station, rested a bit and were able to see a phenomenal sunrise as we headed home.

All in all, a fabulous experience — utter madness at times, one of the craziest nights ever, but I loved every bit of it. I am so happy that I finally got to see the shenanigans on Haad Rin up close, as I have wanted to for years. I have probably gotten my fill of the full moon party (gasp…getting old) but am so glad that this is one I can put in the memory books.

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