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Posts Tagged ‘holiday’

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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It is no secret that I love Korean food — from bibimbap to gamjatang, there aren’t many dishes here that I’ve tried and haven’t loved. That being said, eating in Thailand was one of the richest culinary experiences I’ve ever had. The tropical cuisine is complex, savory and full of contrasts — sweet and sour, creamy and spicy — and uses lots of umami in the dishes.

Our first day of travel was met with some dismal dishes from the airplanes we rode in. To be fair, the food was better than on most planes, but it was seriously lacking substance. Oh, and the bread tasted like plastic — I suspect the chemicals from the wrapper leeched into the bread when it was warmed up. Clearly, I ignored this part of both meals.

The first one consisted of fried rice, which was decent. I ate all  of it, but left the rest of the plate untouched. The rice actually came with a side of gochuchang, a Korean red bean paste that I’m pretty obsessed with, so that gave the cardboard cuisine some oomph.

The second meal was less memorable than the first. I ate the rice, ignored the “chicken” and ate the canned fruit. Eh.

Upon arriving in Bangkok, we immediately ordered a plate of fresh fruit and was given an array of pineapple, papaya and watermelon. The fruit was perfectly ripened, fresh, juicy, sweet and tasted like heaven after our day of airplane food.

This inspired many more plates of fruit during the duration of our vacation. Perfect!

Koh Samui, the small island where we spent our trip, is well known for it’s seafood so that was the dominant source of our energy during our stay. We noshed on everything under the sea :)

Our first day in town, Evan and I unloaded our backpacks, changed out of our sweaty travel gear and headed to our guesthouse restaurant for some Koh Samui eats. It was there we ordered the first of many plates of pad thai, and it instantly hooked me. Spicy and nutty at once, the noodles were perfectly cooked and everything was balanced with crisp vegetables and a splash of lime.

Another plate of the country’s signature dish:

That evening, we strolled to a gorgeous restaurant down the road in bustling Chaweng Beach for some fish dishes. I opted for a grilled salmon fillet (which I hadn’t had in nine months, thankyouverymuch) while Evan chose the ahi tuna. Both dishes were served with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and a lemon sauce with fresh tomato.

The fish was moist and succulent. It felt so nice to get my omega-3s and enjoy a plate of seriously delectable food — all for around $10 each. The potatoes were soft and fluffy, and we practically licked the tangy sauce off of our plates, it was that good.

Despite the lack of formidable foreign cuisine in Jeonju, this meal was the only semi “foreign” fare that we had during our stay in Thailand. To come to a country with such a rich selection of cultural food and only eat spaghetti or tacos would be a total waste.

We did, however, deviate for breakfast. I couldn’t pass up beans on toast or the breakfast wrap I had. Western breakfast is somewhat of a luxury in our town.

The next day, we met up with Mimi and Matt after their long trip from the States. The four of us changed, then headed down to the dock where we would catch a ferry to Koh Phangan for the New Year’s Eve party. While we waited, we ordered some street food for a quick dinner.

We had a huge variety of carts from which to choose — everything from skewered meat and egg rolls to noodles and sweet potato pastries. In the end, we all bought and taste-tested different dishes.

I chose a rice and vegetable dish, mixed together in a spicy sauce and topped with roasted nuts (chickpeas maybe?) and served with cabbage. I gobbled it up so quick that Evan had to order another bag! Matt and Mimi chose an awesome green curry (another thing I couldn’t get enough of in Thailand). We also got a few egg rolls (yum) and Mimi picked a sweet dessert.

We danced our pants off at the beach that night, got back to the hotel at 9 AM (eek!) and passed out until it was time to hunt for dinner. We grabbed a hotel cab to Fisherman’s Village in Bo Phut, a quieter and calmer beach compared to the chaos and masses of backpackers that lined Chaweng.

We ended up dining at a great place called Starfish, where we ordered appetizers and four main dishes to share. Dining was only second best to seeing our friends in the flesh — every time we ate, we used the same system of ordering a lot and sharing everything. That way, everyone was able to taste the excellent grub. I am all for family style meals!

At Starfish, we noshed on whole snapper stuffed with lemongrass, pad thai, yellow Thai curry, glass noodles with prawns, seafood coconut milk soup and caprese salad. All washed down with red wine and Chiang. It was a particularly special night, marking the anniversaries of both Evan and I and Matt and Mimi!

For dessert, we picked up three pancakes from this guy, who was dubbed “the pancake man.” He made thin crepes with a methodical method, entertaining his customers while he made drool-worthy food to order. Our coconut/chocolate, banana/lemon/sugar and nutella/banana concoctions took about 10 minutes (at least) but they were most definitely worth the wait.

The next day, we stopped at a picturesque restaurant along the highway for a quick lunch between our jam-packed day’s adventures. It was here that we ordered the best (and cheapest) pad thai of the trip. That, along with plates of spicy vegetables and fresh fruit, hit the spot.

Dinner that night was a feast that left me feeling full for hours. From noodles and curry to sweet and sour pork with pineapple, the amount of quality food with such a wide variety of textures and tastes was nearly too overwhelming for my taste buds to handle. I kept eating long after my stomach signaled for me to stop, because who can resist a pineapple filled with pork?

On our final day on the island, we celebrated with a beach side lunch. I chose a traditional dish with prawns, mushrooms and ginger and added on an avocado salad. It was creamy, with tangy vinaigrette and acidic tomatoes. A plate of perfection. I miss avocados so much!

For dinner, we made reservations at Eat Sense, one of the most popular restaurants on the island. The food was amazing, but due to the even more amazing company, I only had the energy to take a photo of the stunningly beautiful surroundings on our walk in. It was the perfect way to end the perfect trip — lots of traditional Thai food, best friends, and red wine before our ride to the airport.

I want to go baaaaack!

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There is nothing more gluttonous, tragic, hyperactive and awesome as a school Christmas party.

Today started out like any other day… minus the fact that we got to skip two hours of kindergarten in the morning :) We were supposed to wake up “early” and go to the gym, but had trouble leaving our bed before 11. Evan blames my mom, who sent us the most heavenly flannel sheets. They make getting out of bed, especially when the window is frosted over because of the cold, near impossible.

We got to school at 1:30, and spent the afternoon with our elementary students. Classes ended at 6 (a half hour early, yay) so we could prepare for the kindergarten Christmas festivities, which began promptly at 6:30.

Some of the elementary crowd, who hung around to watch their younger siblings put on a show, complained of hunger immediately following class. Some Hello Kitty candies helped subdue their famine.

I was designated the job of handing out pamphlets to parents as they walked into the school, bowing and greeting them with a grin and a perky “Merry Christmas.” As I stood, smiling at the flood of families that waltzed through the door, I couldn’t help but think of my own family. The past two years, Christmas has been filled with warmth and love, with both my family and Evan’s. Christmas meant pajamas all day, drinking lots of wine, cooking amazing food, reading stories, sharing traditions, giving and receiving gifts and most importantly, spending a lot of lazy time with the people you love.

Even though I can’t physically be with either of my families this holiday season, I felt really blessed to be able to spend the holidays with my beloved students and their parents, bursting with pride at seeing their little ones singing songs, acting in the play, reading stories or giving presentations. It made me not feel sad to be here, just grateful to be included in an intimate celebration.

After I handed out programs, I joined the teachers and the children in the “green room” to help prepare the kiddies for their turn onstage. It was then — 15 minutes before the first song/dance performance — that the foreign teachers were told that we were expected to sing and shake it with the children. Greeeeaaaaat. I believe Evan’s exact words were, “Thanks so much for the warning.”

Here is Evan warming up.

Needless to say, we were a disaster onstage. Not only did we flub all of the dance moves, but I admittedly don’t know all of the words to some classic Christmas jams. I stood in the back left of the “stage,” a fortunate position as I could watch what all the kids were doing and do my best to imitate their actions. Evan was less fortunate, being in the front left, so he couldn’t see the dance moves without turning and staring at the kids next to him.

It was beyond mortifying to wiggle our butts and belt out words to Christmas carols, and I would have been royally pissed if I didn’t think the whole thing was hilarious. A few times I actually laughed out loud during the song, but luckily my giggles were drowned out by the screeching tots.

The frosting on the cake was when we would mess up the choreography, because not only was it completely undignified for us to be dancing and singing in the first place, but the teachers should not be the ones messing up the moves. I felt like that kid in the recital who looks like they wandered onto stage by accident, staring at the audience like a deer in headlights, motionless aside from all of the moves that they’re doing two beats too late. I was never that kid in dance class, but somehow I managed to be the 25-year-old onstage looking like an idiot with a bunch of two to seven year-olds. Fabulous.

At one point, we had to play pin-the-balloon-tail-on-the-child, which was an adventure, especially for the kids who were at certain points screaming their heads off, pushing other kids to the ground, or hiding under the table, growling and pretending to be a tiger. They needed their balloon “tails” for when they wriggled their hips to Jingle Bell Rock. I spent most of my time “backstage” being utterly useless, laughing my ass off and taking adorable pictures of the kids.

Not only are the kids cute beyond words, but they also learn at an early age to throw up the double peace sign and a wink for pictures. Priceless.

Oh, and we had to wear Santa hats for the sing-along too. Some of them had these crazy white braids (seriously, WTF) and one boy in my class had one that was about three sizes too small. I made him keep on the doll-sized cap until I could get a picture of his head squeezing into it. More giggles ensued after said picture, sometimes I act so immature.

When the presentation was finally over, it was time to eat. The platters of food were brought out, and we got right to work on them. I probably ate one too many pieces of pizza, and packed away more kimbap than was necessary. I was stoked on the spread until I saw one kindergartener coughing on it, and realized with a heavy heart that his phlegm fit, while being the only one I noticed, was certainly not the only one that had taken place. Sigh.

The spread was incredible though, having more food than the crowd could possibly put away. I expect some sugar-induced craziness that was on display at the Halloween party, but surprisingly I didn’t witness any banchee behavior.

It was while pecking at the food on the various tables that I realized chopsticks really are the most ideal utensil to use on a communal spread. They are more sanitary than grabbing with grubby hands (duh) and actually spread less germs than spoons or forks, if you consider that western-style utensils are slathered with more saliva than chopsticks, which are more used to drop large portions of food into an open mouth. I took a mental note for future cocktail parties.

Evan and Greg put on Santa costumes after the potluck was over, and handed out presents to the children. The gifts had been brought in by parents the week before, and it was really fun to see the children receive exactly what they wanted from Father Christmas himself. Even though most of them greeted the men in red suits as Evan Teacher or Greg Teacher. At one point, Soo Min was asked to say “Merry Christmas” to “Santa” and she turned, gave Evan a dubious look, and said, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Evan.” A hilarious, albeit slightly sad and jaded, holiday greeting.

Ev and Greg made good Santas. They handed out lots of goodies that made the boys and girls very happy :)

We also made treat bags for our little ones for this special holiday. We handed them out at the party, seeing as we won’t see the little ones until Monday, and hit a small snag with our elementary school students who also wanted treats from us. Doh. We told them we’d bring them chocolate and candy canes tomorrow, which appeased their aching sweet teeth (for now).

I had a few lovely conversations with the parents of my students, and felt really touched upon hearing how pleased they were with my teaching methods, how happy the kids were and how much their English has improved over the past eight months. It made me think about how much I was going to miss my kiddos come April.

After the last songpyeon was devoured, and Christmas gift torn open, the number of guests dwindled as they carried their sleepy, sugar-stuffed children home to bed. The teachers gave the hagwon a scrub down — Rachel and I cleaned the tables while the boys handled the ancient vacuum cleaners.

After that, we enjoyed beer and leftover snacks with our fellow staff members, celebrating a successful and crazy evening.

Now we’re home, snickering at viral videos of Hitler finding out there’s no Santa Claus, snuggling on the couch and wondering how on earth Christmas Eve has snuck up on us. I was feeling sentimental, so I searched for one of my favorite Christmas songs online. The first video I found brought tears to my eyes.

Celtic Woman is simply amazing. Their voices and the violin together create such a seamlessly beautiful melody that is quite enchanting (and videos are nothing compared to their live performances). Watching this brought a rush of memories back — standing in my stiff, itchy dress at Christmas mass, my overwhelming happiness and joy for the holiday helping me to overcome the physical discomfort of my “dressy” clothes, singing my heart out in the choir, staying awake until my eyelids felt like lead, excited for the return of Santa, helping my dad prepare food for the family Christmas party, waltzing with my sisters in our pajamas as we waited for my parents to rouse on Christmas morning, tearing open stockings with anticipation, curling up next to the roaring fire, watching my nieces struggle to open their own gifts, spending the holiday at the Naylon house and feeling right at home, cooking and chatting with Steve and KayDe, reading The Polar Express and ringing bells on Christmas Eve, making four quiches for Christmas brunch, experimenting in the kitchen with my dad, snuggling under the sheets and comparing books with my mom, guzzling mimosas with my sisters (when they weren’t pregnant), throwing the dice and shouting at family members as we vied for wrapped gifts during the dice game… this song embodied Christmas for me. Everything I hold dear, all the cliches that are true about the holidays.

Reminiscing fills me with joy for these next two days <3 Merry Christmas everyone

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Ah, the winter blues.

Sure, the weather has gotten icy and the days shorter, but what is really causing a grey cloud over my head is the Christmas cheer surrounding me. Bah, humbug.

I’m not normally such a Grinch, but it doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. All of the holly wreaths, flickering trees and creepy robot Santas in the neighborhood have failed on filling me with the holiday spirit. We even watched an episode of Glee this week dedicated to the jolly season, and it left us feeling depressed that we weren’t watching it at home. With a tree. Family. I even put on some of my own Christmas tunes to wallow to for an hour or so.

I have to be honest, it was a bit pathetic.

This morning, the air was crisp but the sun was shining, and stepping outside it was destined to be a good day.

After arriving to school, drinking our first cups of green tea and getting to work on a crossword puzzle (standard), Evan found not one but two packages for us on the front desk. Hurray! Christmas had come at last.

Side note: This is not to insinuate that Christmas = presents to me, because it’s not the case! I’m merely suggesting a taste of home made the holiday that much better.

We are so spoiled by our siblings. The first package we busted open was courtesy of Evan’s brother Pat and his wonderful wife Crystal.

The two of them sent us a plethora of goodies from the Bay Area, including:

– monterey jack and pepper jack cheese. I DIE!

– refried beans, tortillas and green chilies (the fixings for some serious taco making)

– funfetti brownie mix! (and to think I nearly forked over $8 for sad, ready-to-make cookie mix at a foreigner store here)

– macaroni and cheese… I’ve got the bluuuues

– penne pasta

– Jell-o!

– Reese’s cups, Swedish fish, Sour Patch Kids, M&M’s … by the time we had brought the stuff home, we were already grubbing on the peanut butter cups and sour candies

– Santa pez :)

– Nutella

– Dunkin’ Donuts coffee

– Giants World Series shirt (yay SF)

and a wonderful Christmas card :)

Meanwhile, Katie sent us some love from L.A.

In her care package, there was:

– cornbread stuffing mix, cranberry sauce and gravy (Christmas dinner written all over it!)

– peppermint pretzel slims

– chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels (oh me oh my this was always my guilty pleasure from Trader Joe’s)

– refried beans and taco seasoning (do you think people know I miss my Mexican food?)

– peanut butter

– emergen-c (sooo stoked for this! those little kiddies won’t get me sick!)

– a turquoise bikini for Thailand (which fits beautifully and is much nicer than my grotsky old striped bikini)

– a black sun dress

– a nice waterproof windbreaker

– black BDG pants from Urban Outfitters (fit like a glove, oh yeah)

and a lovely card that reminded me just how much I miss my seester.

And just like that, my heart grew three sizes bigger with the spirit of Christmas today. I sailed through my classes with a smile, did my thing at the gym, came home to cook a lovely Mexican meal with the man and watch Top Chef.

Christmas isn’t where you are, but who you’re with and who you send love to during the season (even if it is through the mail). Those packages lifted our spirits more than any of you can imagine. We are so lucky, and so blessed by the people we love.

Thank you, thank you … we are so spoiled!

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As LCD Soundsystem would say, This is Happening.

For our Christmas break, we’re heading to the beaches of Thailand with two of our very best friends on the entire planet for a week of partying, sun, sand and surf.

Oh, and we’re staying at the most fabulous hotel I’ve ever seen.

Did I mention we’re going to one of the biggest and best parties in the world for New Year’s Eve?

Living the dream…I can’t wait to see Mimi and Matt’s faces !!!

Why can’t Christmas ever come early?

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Happy Pepero Day, y’all!

Pepero, a cookie stick dipped in chocolate that is massively popular over here in Korea, officially has its own holiday.

11/11 marks the day where children and young couples throughout the country trade the sugary goodness with the ones they love. The observance is quite like Valentine’s Day — just look at the display of Pepero-like products in GS Mart — which is nothing to the display in E-Mart.

Apparently the four 1s in the date are made to look like the long, thin candies.

Rumor has it, the holiday was started in 1994 by a group of middle-school girls in Busan, where they exchanged Pepero sticks at 11:11 (even more 1s) to wish each other “grow as tall and slender as a Pepero” … all the while wishing just they would grow tall and slender while their friends stayed fat and short. Okay, so I made the last part up, but girls in Korea do have a thing about being skinny, and every girl knows that the best way to look skinny is to hang around people that are, well, not so skinny.

You know it had to be somewhere in one of their minds — these are 13-year-olds, for goodness sakes. Some of my students have actually been forbidden to exchange candy sticks with their friends at elementary school to discourage unhealthy snacking. They have concluded that tteok (rice cakes) be handed out instead, although I’m not so sure how that will fare with the sugar-starved kiddies.

There is also speculation that the holiday was invented by Lotte, the Korean mega-brand behind Pepero. The company obviously denies it, but doesn’t see any harm in creating ridiculous gift packages that encourage young people to keep enthusiastically buy, buy, buying!

Our students showered us with the sweets today, giving us Pepero in every color, shape and size. We returned the favor, handing out boxes of the snacks that we received to our classes.

I gave my sweetheart a Hello Kitty Pepero pack (because who doesn’t love HK?) and he gave me my own chocolatey goodness, wrapped up in a green bow.

After gorging myself on waaaaay too many candy sticks today, Evan and I continued the gluttony by skipping the gym and heading to Pizza Maru instead. A pie and Wednesday night TV is a lot more fun than weights and a treadmill, I’ll tell you that much!

To all my loved ones on this contrived holiday — many hugs, kisses and chocolate sweets <3

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