Korea 2010: Roses & Bubbly

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I am 35 years old today.  Holy cripes.  THIRTY-freaking-FIVE years old…?  I am definitely in the ahjumma category.

I don’t actually feel like 35 (not that I know what a 35 y.o. should feel like) though my constantly aching back reminds me that I am on the wrong side of 30. 

I desperately need a deep tissue back massage because my shoulders and upper back are hurting so badly from lugging the heavy camera bag everywhere.  And I seem to get tired very easily after walking for a couple of hours – the physical stamina seems to be deteriorating day-by-day (although I’m inclined to think that this is largely a consequence from sitting in front of the computer most of the day and a lack of regular exercise).

After breakfast, the resort staff delivered an unexpected surprise to my room.  

A BASKET OF FRESH FLOWERS AND A BOTTLE OF MOET! 

For a very very brief moment, I thought it was from TBH.  But that chap denied it vehemently and I believed him.   Why did I even think that he would do something like that?   

Turns out that the surprise was from a few friends in Singapore.  I was utterly surprised that they would go through all the trouble and expense (TBH was super pleased that he was saved the trouble of getting flowers…)!  We were totally looking forward to getting drunk on champagne during dinner.

I spent quite a bit of time prancing around the room with my basket of flowers, snapping photos of it, and replying to text messages from friends wishing me ‘Happy Birthday’. 

Afterall, how often does a girl receive fresh flowers and champagne…?!  This is definitely a first in my 35 years (and hopefully not the last).

And I am looking forward to lunch at the MINT restaurant on Phoenix Island.

Jeju: PODO Hotel

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We arrived in Jeju-do yesterday and came straight to PODO Hotel from the airport. The flight from Seoul to Jeju was a short 1 hour but it was a noisy one, as half the flight was occupied by hordes of rowdy 12 year-olds on a school excursion to Jeju and they created a minor ruckus on the plane as well as at the Gimpo and Jeju airports.  We scrambled to collect our lugguage before the kids descended on us but unfortunately, we could not out-run them and were nearly flattened by their pre-adolescent enthusiasm at the carousel.

I thought about renting a car from Hertz or Avis at the airport and drive ourselves to PODO. But I forgot about getting an international driver’s license before I left and I guess I could do without the stress of navigating in a place where people drive on the left. 

After a couple of days in muggy Seoul, we were really hoping for clear skies in Jeju but unfortunately, the foggy skies had followed us down south.  Though not as foggy as Seoul’s, the Jeju sky has been swathed in thick, grey-ish clouds. 

From time to time, we get a peek of the clear, blue sky with strong rays of light streaming through when the clouds move.  That’s when I rush out of the hotel room with my jacket and camera hoping to snap some photographs before it becomes all gloomy again.

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^ View of the dining room of PODO.

We are going to be in Jeju till Friday – that gives us about 3 full days on this island before we head back to Seoul.  But one look at PODO and we decided that we would be chilling out in the resort for most of our stay in Jeju.   It is a stunning building situated on beautiful grounds with lots of vegetation and tall grass.  I don’t mind just hanging out in the resort, do nothing but read and recuperate from last week’s travels.

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^PODO gave us a beautiful Korean-style room and this is where I have been parking myself at during my waking hours.

Also, the food in the PODO restaurant is amazingly good.  It serves mostly Korean cuisine, but done in a slightly fusion-esque style which seems to be going down quite well with TBH.

Gangneung

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I am pretty much whacked-out today. It is only 9.30pm (Korean time) now and I can barely keep my eyes open. My sleep on the plane was disrupted by the crew serving breakfast at 4am…!  Who eats breakfast at 4am?

I arrived in the Land of the Morning Calm at 7am this morning and it took me over three-quarters of an hour to clear immigration. After I collected my luggage, I hopped onto the airport limousine for the 1-hr ride to the Dong Seoul Bus Terminal in Seoul where I caught the express bus to Gangneung. The express bus turned into the Gangneung bus terminal at 1pm, by which time I was dead beat and starving.

I was hoping to be able to eat something in the Gangneung town centre before heading to the hotel at Gyeongpo beach where I had reserved a room. But the town centre resembled a ghost town. There was hardly a soul on the streets – where is everybody? The shops also didn’t seem to be open for business on a Monday and the Tourist Information Centre was closed.  I figured that I should just forget about lunch and get myself to the hotel asap.

Late fall is probably the off-peak season for the coastal town. While I hoped that the Gyeongpo beach area might be slightly more bustling, I am also looking forward to a quiet time in this little town. Which is one of the main reasons why I headed to Gangneung the minute I arrived in Korea instead of spending some time in Seoul – I wanted some andante to wind down, far away from the mad crowds in the city.

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The hotel that I stayed in was just a street away from Gyeongpo beach – which was also deathly quiet.  The quiet beach was lovely, with a cloud-less blue sky, clean beaches and gorgeous crystal clear waters.   The air was so fresh and crisp, I could have sat there for hours on stretch sitting on the wooden swings watching the waves crash onto the beach.  Instead of having just benches or beach chairs, the Koreans installed heavy wooden swings (with lots of love messages engraved on them) on the beach.  I thought the swings are a great idea. 

So excited over the beach, I almost forgot that I was very hungry.  I walked along the stretch of seafood restaurants facing the beachfront, trying to figure out which one I should dine at.  In the end, I decided on this particular restaurant only because the owner  was very friendly and he spoke some English.

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First meal of the day – a huge pot of haemul tang (or spicy seafood soup).   It was delicious, especially the snails!  I was determined to return the next evening to try their raw fish. 

I crashed out immediately after dinner.

Mee Soto

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Home-made mee soto! We had tanghoon instead of the usual yellow noodles or beehoon. 

I didn’t make it of course.  C’s domestic helper cooked the soup from scratch.  It is super tasty, especially when mixed with sambal chili.   I like that the flavour of the soup is very subtle.  Some of the mee sotos sold outside have too much spices for my liking.

They gave us a big serving of mee soto to bring home.  We slurped everything up in one sitting today.  I don’t really need the tanghoon or the chicken bits.  Just the soup with lots of sambal chilli and lime.

Decluttering

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I am in one of those strange moods when I feel a strong urge to declutter. So I’ve thrown out half the books sitting on my bookshelves. Mostly novels.

These are books which have been with me for the last 10 to 15 years. Books which I have devoted time and energy (not to say money) to collecting. Books which I never thought would leave my bookshelves because I enjoyed reading and re-reading them so much. But sadly, no longer interest me now. But I have could never bear to give them away because they represented the swinging twenties of my life.

Throwing out these books away is a big thing for me. It feels like I’m moving on to another phase in my life.

Okay, I didn’t exactly throw the books into the rubbish chute. What I did was to deposit them with Bookcross at the library. It took me several trips to the library just to do so.

How is it that reading tastes change? Maybe it has to do with age.

I feel good now. 🙂

Jeju: MINT Restaurant

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^ Photo from Happy Mize Travel

I came across this restaurant while surfing the Internet for Western restaurants to feed TBH when we are in Jeju. 

Any Korean drama addict would be able to recognize this restaurant.  I saw it in Boys Before Flowers and Life Is Beautiful. I have always thought it would be a gorgeous place to dine in because of the dramatic views of the ocean and cliffs offered through its floor-to-ceiling windows.

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It is the MINT restaurant in the Phoenix Island Resort  situated in the eastern part of Jeju Island. 

I checked out the resort’s website and the entire place shouts F-A-B-U-L-O-S-I-T-Y.  Great views of the ocean.  Waking up to a beautiful sunrise.  Sipping a cocktail and watching the sun go down.  Taking slow walks through the fields of yellow rapeseed flowers and along the cliffs.  Breathing in the fresh ocean air every morning. 

Drools.

November Is Just Around The Corner

My friend took this photo with his iPhone 4. I’m impressed with the quality of the photo – it’s pretty sharp for a phone camera.

The few of us had our usual monthly dinner – Korean BBQ at Jangshou – and we had a cake to celebrate in advance the birthdays of the two Scorpios amongst us.

I ignored the number of candles on the cake (age is just but a number!) and focused on enjoying the very yummy longan chiffon cake.

And why do people think that I’m going to Korea BECAUSE of Rain…?! Can’t blame them.

It is quite obvious why people put “going to Korea” and “Rain” together but I have to say that I AM NOT THAT MAD.

Banana Cake @ Bollywood

I used to dread going west in the general direction of NTU – Tuas/Jurong West.  It is so ULU and there is nothing there to do. 

Maybe it is age or maybe it is a different perspective that comes with aging or maybe it is just that I have a car now,  I actually like going to that part of the island during the weekends.  Where there are no tall buildings, no crowds and lots of greenery.  I feel a lot refreshed and recharged whenever we drive out to Neo Tiew and Old Chua Chu Kang Road to check out the nurseries and farms.  Ten years ago, I would have thought myself insane.

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Today we drove out to Bollywood.  We spent a rather short time wandering around in the farm and watching a gecko on a horseradish tree before the scorching heat sent us running to the cafe for cover. 

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I couldn’t wait to eat the banana cake (and cart some back home).  I love love love it. It’s very tasty, fluffy and moist. 

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Even though I was still full from breakfast, I couldn’t resist ordering the banana curry, crunchy chicken with kedongdong salad, brown rice and lemongrass drink.  And one of the staff gave me a banana as dessert.  The bite-sized fried chicken was good but I was a bit disappointed with the kedongdong salad.  It wasn’t exactly a salad the way I understand a salad to be but a very small serving of grated kedongdong fruit, which was delicious by the way – slightly tart and crunchy – and I wished for a bigger serving.  The curry was a tad too mild for me as I like my curry hot and fiery.  The lemongrass drink was very refreshing but it could do with a bit more syrup. 

The cafe is a really nice place to chill out.

The Hunger Games Trilogy

After reading rave reviews of The Hunger Games Trilogy on practically every book blog which I have subscribed to on my Google Reader, I decided to check it out.

The novels in the trilogy are knownas The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.  This is a science fiction novel set in a dystopia called Panem (previously North America).  Panem consists of 12 poor Districts and a very wealthy Capitol from where the central government rules with an iron fist.

Every year, the Capitol holds a televised event known as The Hunger Games where two tributes between the ages of 12 and 18 – one boy and one girl – are selected from each District to participate in. The objective of the Games is for the 24 tributes to fight it out and kill each other in an outdoor area known as the Arena until one person remains.  The survivor is the winner of the Games and will go home blazing in glory and wealth.

When I first read the synopsis about this trilogy, I thought it was a horrible story to be reading.  Young adults killing themselves for the pleasure of a nation who watches the event on television..?!  Think Amazing Race but with plenty of blood and gore.

Nonetheless, I was curious enough to borrow the first book, The Hunger Games, from the library.  I figured that if I didn’t like what I was reading, I could just return the book.  It would have cost me only $1.55 to reserve it.

But. The Hunger Games IS a page turner.  I was hooked right from page 1 and found it very difficult to put the book down.  It was the same with the second instalment, Catching Fire.  I kept wanting to go hide in the bathroom cubicle during working hours to read because I needed to know what was happening next.

The protagonists in the trilogy are 16 year-olds Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. They live in squalid District 12, a coal-rich region of Panem, where boys above the age of 18 are sent to work in the coal mines. Peeta was selected as one of the two tributes of District 12 while Katniss volunteered to take her younger sister’s place.

Most of the book vividly describes the wretched lives of the people living in the Districts of Panem, the merry-making and lavish lives of the Capitol, the preparation that the tributes have to undergo for the Games, the obstacles faced by the tributes during the Games and how they fight it out in the Arena.

Grotesque? No.  Not one bit.  Gripping? YES.   I found the story very refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable.  It is about inequality, survival, love, family, friendships, choices and the power of the human will to live.

Now that I am done with The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I am dying to read the final instalment of the trilogy, Mockingjay.  I have been checking my library account everyday to see if the book has arrived in my neighbourhood library for collection.

Steamed Bread

Before Gardenia invaded our lives, we bought bread which costs $0.70 a loaf from the local confectionary or sold by an uncle who hawked the same kind of bread in his mini-van.

In primary school, I ate two slices of the deliciously soft bread, spread with generous amounts of margarine and marmalade, for breakfast (plus two soft-boiled eggs which I absolutely hated as a kid) every morning. After a day or so, the bread hardens slightly and that’s when my mother steams the bread in a wok to soften it.

I adore steamed bread. Hot, slathered with melted butter. I fold each slice of bread into quarters and stuff the entire thing into my mouth.

Not many of the kopi chains such as Coffee & Toast or Wang Cafe serves steamed bread as part of their menu. Whenever I ask for steamed bread at these places, they automatically put the bread into the microwave! Steamed bread – over hot, boiling water. Not microwaved bread!

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^ Steamed bread at this Blk 58 Lengkok Bahru coffeeshop. It’s super yummy. The coffeeshop is very old and decrepit-looking – the sort that we should be preserving as part of our heritage – and sells basically kaya toast, coffee, tea and noodles.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

The one in Saigon known as Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica. Not the Notre-Dame de Paris.

Located in downtown Saigon, the cathedral is situated right next to the hotel where we stayed in.

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I spent an hour wandering inside the red-bricked cathedral one morning, enjoying the serenity of the place (which was a stark contrast to the buzzing traffic outside).

I am not a Catholic, but being around a Catholic church always brings back memories of my childhood days. As a kid, I studied in a kindergarden which was located in a Catholic church and I used to tag along with my neighbours whenever they attended Saturday mass, followed by a yummy dinner.

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The one thing that I couldn’t admiring in the cathedral was the stained glass.

Smoked Trout on Blinis

Argh. I can barely survive till November.  Work is a bitch and I am trying to keep my head above water. Thinking about food always helps to ease the pain a little.

Lately, we have been visiting Culina’s restaurant pretty often because we like the food and the casual dining ambience.  Not much of a service to speak of but because the food is good, we don’t mind the lack so much.

Unless I am not feeling very hungry, I almost always order the ocean trout.  I like how they cook the trout, which is lightly grilled and served with vegetables.  And because I am not a food blogger, I am unable to give a soporific analysis of why I like the trout.

By the way, I am sure my friends and husband will rejoice when they hear this – I have stopped taking photos of food in local restaurants. But hawker centre food doesn’t count.

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An appetiser that TBH and I enjoy sharing at Culina’s is the smoked trout with sour cream, chives and blinis.  I like trout alot.

During my last visit to Culina’s, I discovered that this appetiser has been rotated out of the menu!  And the only way for us to continue eating this is for me to make it myself. 

So I did.  But using crème fraiche instead of sour cream. Good thing that this is quite easy to put together.

Good Eggs, Good Eggs!

Over the weekend, we enjoyed a yummy home-cooked meal and fun conversations at C’s place.

Our feast.

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Fried eggs, ayam buah keluak, bittergourd with tao cheo , vermicelli-fishball soup and super spicy home-made sambal chilli.

I overdosed on the chilli and my stomach burned the entire night.

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Apart from desserts, her eggs are the best! :p (I’m sure she gets my joke…)

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