Friday, 26 November 2010

Write words, right time

I love quotes. There's something to be said about finding the perfect blend of words that speak to you in a particular time and place. Sometimes, a few choice words woven together can change perspective and really open a person's mind to life and the infinite possibilities within it.

I tend to think of quotes as some kind of free therapy -- specific words that let you know you're not alone in your experience. That someone else has been there, and perhaps gotten through it... whatever 'it' might be.

Here are some lovely woven words that currently speak to me.






Thursday, 25 November 2010

A very Martha Christmas?

Christmas is exactly a month away and I'm not feeling the least bit festive. I know -- it's quite shocking, isn't it? Every year I usually spend the weeks leading up to the festive season reveling in holiday cheer. Carols slowly sneak onto my iPod, and the house begins to smell like sweet shortbread and peppermint. The tree goes up at the end of November, and I two-step, grin and sparkle my way right into the new year.

But this year, for some reason, I'm just not feeling festive. Perhaps it's because I'm still going through reverse culture-shock... or perhaps it's because I'm trying to make some sense of my life again. But as much as I want to have Wham! and Mariah Carey take over the sound system at home... they're just not receiving a warm welcome this year... yet.

So here's my attempt at self-inspiration and cheer. I was just online 'browser' shopping, and came across some lovely holiday décor ideas from Martha Stewart that I'd love to implement. I never imagined I'd ever feel the need for holiday decor ideas... but here I am.

These are some awesome tips to recycle and re-purpose old ornaments and decorations -- definitely right up the alley of this recessionista!

These beautiful garlands are made out of old ribbons. I remember we used to make the same kind of garlands out of construction paper for parties in elementary school. This is such a great idea! Not only do you end up with a garland that's uniquely your own, but you're also able to re-purpose those old ribbons that you've been storing for a rainy day. Well done, Martha!

This was another great idea that I wish I'd thought of! Consider taking old holiday cards and giving them a fun place in your holiday décor this year. Simply cut them out into circles of different sizes, and stick them with colourful reinforcement tape onto fishing wire or clear string. Then, voila! Another fun, festive garland that's both economical, and environmentally friendly.

Show off that freshly baked batch of gingerbread men, by displaying them in a cheeky wreath. Again, another fabulous design idea that I wish I'd thought of. But it's so creative and simple to make. Head on over to to find out how. I'd watch out for hungry guests, though!

When I was a child, we'd always collect Christmas cards and display them over the holidays. The easiest way was to hang them from a garland of tinsel or clear string, against an empty wall. It's easier to display cards now, with cute clothespins and wall hangings that you can purchase from stationary stores. But I also found this awesome idea for a holiday card wreath over at It's so simple, and has a very nostalgic look to it. I love that the wreath will look different, depending on whose house it is displayed in.

Finally, these ornaments speak to my tropical heart. Simply take seashells and dust them in glitter, choosing either one or two tones to give them a fantastic shimmer. I absolutely love the idea of converting seashells into Christmas ornaments. You can find the easy, step-by-step guide to making the coast part of your holiday décor, by clicking here.

OK... soooo perhaps I'm feeling a bit inspired now. Maybe some carols and a few hours of baking should set everything back on course. :)


Images courtesy of

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

On love...

I stumbled across this quote today, and found it rather inspiring. I'm not sure who wrote it though. If you have any idea, please let me know. 
"Because, that’s the thing about love, really. No one will love you how you want to be loved, they’ll love you in the only ways they know how. Life throws everyone down drastically different paths so how can we expect everyone to love in the same way? The person you’ll spend your lifetime with will love you in their way and you’ll love in yours, and maybe you’ll meet in the middle and it’ll last. None of us know what we’re doing, you see, we’re just fumbling for matches in the dark. If you’re lucky, you might eventually just strike the right one."

Monday, 22 November 2010

Trust me on the sunscreen...

Seems like we have a theme for the blog these days. So in the spirit of things, here's Baz Luhrman's Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen).



25 lessons I've learned in 25 years

Every day is a new opportunity to stumble, make mistakes, learn and grown from them. And I hope that in my time on this planet so far, I've done just that. I know I'm not perfect, nor do I want to be. I seek to find beauty and peace through my imperfections, and in those that surround me.

Here are 25 lessons I've learned in my 25 years on this planet. There's definitely a lot more than 25 overall (I hope), but these are the ones that stand out in the maze that is my mind, on this particular night.

1. Love (and lust) can make you do some pretty silly things.

2. Even when you think you've been dealt a bad hand, there's someone out there who has it a lot worse.

3. Telemarketers don't want to call you. They have to call you. So be kind, even if you're not interested in what they're selling.

4. Hope fuels humanity. This is a good thing. A very good thing.

5. Always keep an open mind. You will have the best experiences in your life if you do.

6. First impressions say a lot. Do give people a second chance, but never forget how you first felt around them.

7. The Blue Marble that we live on is fabulous! Take every opportunity to wander, seek and embrace all aspects of our gorgeous and giving planet.

8. Being alone is good. Silence is good. Learn to listen to yourself when you're alone and silent. You'll be surprised by what you discover.

9. Never settle for quantity over quality.

10. Be kind and forgiving. Mostly to yourself.

11. Express love in some form every day.

12. Life is short and unpredictable, so make the most of every day and learn to live without regrets.

13. Don't mess with karma. Even if you don't believe in it.

14. There's healing powers in the human touch. A simple look, hug or kiss can completely change one's perspective.

15. Language is only a barrier if you let it be. Even if you don't speak the same language, you can always find other ways to communicate.

16. Time is not linear. It's true that some days feel longer than others, and sometimes time seems to speed up. I can't prove this, but I believe it.

17. You have to take responsibility for your own actions in this lifetime.

18. If you intentionally set out to hurt others, you are not a good person. No matter how much you try to justify your actions.

19. It is important to believe in a higher power. There is no way we can marvel in the beauty that is our world without believing there is a force much greater than us at work.

20. Real life can't mimic the movies, but movies can mimic real life. You just have to remind yourself of this every time you get caught up in a chick-flick.

21. It's a sad truth, but there are more Daniel Cleavers, Wickhams and Mr. Collins' in this world than there are Mr. Darcys.

22. Nothing beats a glass of cold water on a hot summer day. Nothing beats a hot beverage on a chilly winter night.

23. Smile. Just smile.

24. Warm, fuzzy feelings that swell in the depths of your soul may not come by often in your life... so when they do, embrace them and make the best of them.

25. Mark Twain was on to something when he said the following:
"Life is short, break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Image courtesy of Google Images

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Facing the familiar

There were quite a few things I had to get readjusted to after my move back to Toronto. After having spent a year in Seoul, I had become quite used to living my life a certain way. I had even become used to the many quirks that made Korea so alien to me in my first few months there.

Having moved back, I faced a lot of challenges that stemmed from things I took for granted while I lived here. Simple things caught me off guard, or shocked me. Things that should have been refreshing or familiar, scared or frustrated me. That said, I also came to appreciate a few things.

So here's five of my biggest shockers since moving back to Toronto.

5. Understanding what people around me are saying -- After a few weeks in Korea I became used to drowning people out. Most of my co-workers would speak in Korean when in my company, along with my co-teachers and students as well. The chatter became like white noise, and pretty soon all I heard were my own thoughts... and I was OK with that.

When I moved back to Toronto, one one of the first places I visited was a shopping mall. I was passing through the food court with my mum, when I found myself frozen in time and space. There were words spinning all around me, and the fact that I understood what everyone was saying scared the bajeepers out of me. People were talking about their significant others, about dinner plans and movie listings... even about the weather. And I understood all of it!

It was shocking because I realized these were probably the same conversations happening around me in Seoul... but I just never understood what was going on. The moment in the shopping mall felt like absolute chaos for me, and I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Since then, it's become a lot better. But boy, that first experience was pretty terrifying! It's funny how we take simple things like this for granted.

4. Tipping at restaurants -- I know, I know! This isn't something new or shocking. But one of the first things I learned while in Korea was that no one tipped at restaurants, bars or pubs. No one looked at you the wrong way for leaving a smaller tip, and certainly no one yelled at you if you didn't tip. It just wasn't expected. If you did decide to tip, most servers would graciously accept and thank you for it, regardless of the amount.

I understand the importance of tipping because most servers make minimum wage or less, and rely heavily on their tips. But I can't tell you how much it hurts having to fish through my wallet for change at the end of a meal with friends. I do it, because I know it's expected and it's the right thing to do... but I sure do miss going to a restaurant and only having to worry about my drink and food tally. Sigh. Simple pleasures.

3. Transportation... or lack of it -- I miss the nine subway lines in Seoul. They sure made it really easy to get from one end of the city to the other. Toronto only has two (and a half) subway lines. I always knew Toronto was more spread out than Seoul, but I didn't realize how densely packed Seoul was, until I moved back here.

The T-Money cards in Seoul were awesome as well, because I never had to buy a bus pass or monthly Metro pass. I simply had to top my card up with a certain amount of money, and use it until it was empty. Then I'd go back and top it up with some more as needed. Plus it was great because the card hung off my cellphone, so I never had to worry about losing it. So convenient... such ease. I'll definitely never take transportation for granted again.

2. Not being wired in -- Korea has the best Internet in the world! The speed was amazing and they had wi-fi everywhere. You could take your laptop into any restaurant, coffee shop or store, and chances are you'd be able to access the Internet with ease.

Not to mention the PC rooms which were located pretty much everywhere. I'd say they even outnumbered the many coffee shops throughout the city.

The Internet in Toronto isn't bad by any means... but it isn't fast -- or at least not as fast as Korean standards. I was spoiled for a year, and now I have to adjust to regular speed. Humbug.

1. Dressing... normally -- It's refreshing to be able to walk out of my house in jeans and a sweatshirt, and not have people stare at me. I was always conscious of what I wore in Seoul, because that's pretty much how the community was.

I dress for practicality -- fancy for fancy, casual for every day. But most people in Korea would dress up for simple, day to day tasks. I mean, women would wear mini skirts and stilettos to go hiking!

I remember this one time when I was meeting up with friends for what I thought was a casual lunch, only to show up and be the most under-dressed person there (I was wearing jeans and a black sweater). Everyone else was wearing a dress, or a button-down shirt, with fancy accessories. For lunch. On a Thursday. At a self-serve restaurant.

I can't tell you how awesome it is to be able to dress up or down as I choose, and to have people around me choose comfort over superficiality. This has definitely been one of the best perks of being back.

So there you have it... five things I've had to get readjusted to since moving back to Toronto. Simple stuff really... but I'll never take these things for granted again.


Saturday, 13 November 2010

10 things I miss about Seoul, Korea

It goes without saying that Seoul offered me a lot of different and unique experiences that I'm finding hard to replicate in Toronto. This isn't to say that I'm missing my life in Korea, or that I want to go back and do the same job I did for a year. I've packaged up that entire experience and put it away, with plans to visit it and reminisce every so often. But sometimes, I can't help but compare. There were just some things that I came to adore about Seoul -- things I wish Toronto would pick up. So without further delay, here are the 10 things I miss about Seoul, Korea.

10. Kimbap - I. Love. Kimbap. Tuna kimbap, to be precise. My students introduced me to this delicious snack, which resembles sushi, but tastes quite different. I was hooked after my first experience. For about $2.00 a roll, I was able to enjoy this delicious melange of flavours in one awesome bite after another. Not to mention the price didn't hurt my wallet. When restaurants failed and Korean menus became overwhelming, I was always able to count on kimbap. Oh how I miss you, kimbap!

9. People watching - Yes, I know... I do this in Toronto too. But it's never as entertaining here as it was in Seoul. I can't count the number of times I was amused while parked at a bench or a patio. There was always something to watch, something to laugh at, or something to make me snarl. Even as I sit here, there's so many images coming to mind... like the time I was sitting at a coffee shop patio and looked across the street to see a group of grown Korean women cower in fear at the sight of a little shih tzu dog... with dyed pink ears. Or the time that American G.I. was chewed apart in public by his much shorter Korean girlfriend. Great times!

Oh, and for those of you still in Seoul, try picking a random Friday or Saturday night and try to stay somewhat sober. Then, head on over to the steps of the Cold Stone Creamery in Itaewon and watch the show. Words will never be able to express what goes down at that crosswalk. You simply have to see it for yourself.

8. Not understanding what people were saying - Yes it was frustrating at times back then, but now I miss it... sometimes. There's something to be said about being in a public place and not understanding a word of what's going on around you. All you have to rely on are your senses... smells, images, sounds and feelings. Everything is much more heightened and you're able to process the moment.

There were times when my face would give me away, and I'd notice the locals staring at me thinking, "Poor waygook (foreigner)! She looks lost. I'm going to try and explain what's going on to her." Then someone would come up and blurt a bunch of Korea at me.... of which I'd understand about one per cent. And in the following moments, I'd either be eating from their plate, doing a shot of soju with them in public, or dancing with them on a makeshift stage on the street. Looking back... such a wonderful memory. In that moment? Utter chaos, but barrels of laughs!

I'll save the story about the reverse culture shock I experienced in a Toronto shopping mall upon returning here, for another post. (Terrifying stuff!)

7. My students - I wasn't a teacher before I went to Korea, and I certainly am not one at this moment. But I can firmly say that I learned as much from my students as I hope they did from me. I formed amazing bonds with my middle school girls, despite our huge language barrier. I realized there's a formula for bonding with teenage girls, no matter which end of the planet you live on. And here it is:

boys + music videos + beauty + snacks on bad days
= no language barrier

Simple, really.

These girls tested me in more ways than I imagined possible, but they also made me laugh till I was in tears. They found ways to overcome their trouble with the English language, and found other ways to communicate with me. The Internet was very helpful in this... and so was Google Translate. They taught me things about their culture that no one else told me about... They reminded me of the school holidays, and taught me 'ajumma survival techniques'.

And they were curious about where I came from as well. I think about them so fondly, and I wish that all of them succeed in whatever they set out to do. (Yes, even the ones who made me question what I was doing in Korea, many times over.)

6. Scarves. Cheap scarves - I don't think I need to elaborate on this one. I love scarves, and they were sold by the dozens in Seoul. My size 8.5 feet didn't fit into most of the shoes, and I was always too big for the petite, doll-sized dresses. But there were scarves. There were scarves for all occasions, and they were available everywhere. And they were cheap. I made off like a bandit by the time the year was done.

Oh, and if you guys haven't already checked it out, here's an article I wrote about an awesome group of women from Cambodia who make these amazing silk scarves. All handmade stuff, and a perfect gift for the holidays. Plus you're supporting a wonderful cause. Be sure to check out Scarves with a Story.

5. The Seoul subway system - Toronto has two and a half subway lines. Seoul has nine. Nine subway lines that take you just about everywhere in the city... and in some cases, even outside the city limits. And it's pretty cheap, too!

There were subway stops literally blocks away from each other. And the best part? The most amazing part of this (which Toronto Transit Commission needs to catch on to), was the fact that cell phones and other wireless devices actually worked underground! It was so hard coming back to Toronto and not being able to message people while riding the subway. I had become so used to being 'wired in,' that it was a difficult adjustment. Get with it, TTC. Please.

4. Opportunities to meet someone new almost every day - The expat community had some pretty regular hangouts in Seoul. And unlike smaller cities in Korea, it was very easy to remain in the know in Seoul, or stay out of it. And chances are, you were guaranteed to make a new friend almost every day. Networking opportunities were plenty, and planning was all easily taken care of on the Internet.

Groups like AdventureKorea would cater to different events happening in the city and outside of it, arranging everything from transportation to accommodations. The only thing you had to do was pay, and show up.

It's a lot harder to meet new people in Toronto, mainly because the city is so spread out. If you don't live directly in the downtown hub, chances are you won't be able to network as easily, unless you make a conscious effort to place yourself in the midst of the chaos. This is something that's quite discouraging... especially if you live a 45-minute subway ride away from downtown.

3. My own space - it was nice having my own apartment. In a pretty fabulous location. I don't think I need to elaborate more than that, right?

2. The KTX - The amazing trains that can take you from Seoul to Busan (pretty much north to south) in under four hours! If I wanted to get from one end of Canada to the next... it would take double that time... by plane!

The accessibility in Korea is astounding. Sure it's a pretty small country, but the transportation available within most cities is remarkable. It was so easy to plan getaways and trips to other parts of the country. Everything seemed much more 'doable' than in Toronto. If I wanted to get out of the city here, I'd have to plan for weeks in advance... and need plenty of cash on hand.

1. My fabulous Seoul family - I miss them SO much! I think about them almost every single day, and wonder how each of them are doing in their own lives. We truly were the United Nations of Seoul, and I can't explain how much these fabulous people impacted my life. I learned from them, and grew with them. Most of my fondest memories in Seoul took place with them. I truly feel I was one of the fortunate few who was able to walk away from this experience with lifelong friends, who I know I'll be seeing very soon. Even if it is in another country... for a different occasion... in a different year.

And there you have it, folks. the 10 things I miss about Seoul, Korea.

Other honourable mentions include:
-Not having to tip... ever!
-Free, outdoor events
-Wine and other booze being sold at corner stores, at prices cheaper than actual food.

Have I missed anything? If you've lived overseas, what is it you miss from those respective countries?

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