Beachside in Busan

Beach break.

The weather over here is starting to heat up. Naturally, the warmer weather put me in the mood for some beach time. A few weeks ago Mike and I traveled down to Busan to enjoy Korea’s most famous beach, Haeundae. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great our first afternoon there. It was windy and rainy. Not at all ideal for a beach getaway. Thankfully, the weather cleared up in the evening so we were able to enjoy a walk along the water.

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

The next day we relaxed on the beach under our 5,000 won umbrella and mat rental. It was definitely a worthy indulgence. I just wish we didn’t our own beach mat all the way from Suwon! I wasn’t anticipating the beach experience to be so convenient. In fact, the beach experience is so convenient that chicken and beer vendors stroll up and down the beach. Thirsty and hungry beach goers only need to wait about five minutes for the next vendor to pass by. Cold beer and warm chicken, right at your sandy fingertips.

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Eventually, Mike declared relaxation time over. It was time to hike and explore. We headed down a popular path that ran along the rocky coastline. It was easy to forget we were in Korea’s second largest city.

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

Busan, South Korea

I suspect there will be a few more trips to Busan during the coming months.

xo, jill

A little update.

Have you heard?

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus has reached South Korea. The country has the highest rate of cases outside of Saudi Arabia where the virus originated. The latest tally is something like 120 people infected, a few thousand in isolation, and 10 deaths.* The anxiety level is pretty high.

People are wearing masks, washing their hands compulsively, and avoiding large groups of people (movies, sporting events, crowded transportation). Mike and I have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible, always wear a mask, and to brush our teeth extra carefully. (I’m not sure if that last one is an official recommendation, or just our boss’s suggestion.)

Masks KoreaWearing masks on the train.

Midweek last week, many of the elementary schools shut down. Our school (a private language school, aka hagwon) closed for Thursday and Friday as well. This week, not only were the elementary schools shut down, the middle and high school students were kept home as well. We’ve been attending work and focusing on non-teaching projects while we wait for the kids to return. The plan, as of now, is for school to resume on Monday but the official decision won’t be made until Sunday night.

I think the precautions Koreans are taking can sometime seem overzealous or even silly to outsiders. However, it’s important to remember that Korea’s population is huge and the country is compact. People here come into much closer contact with each other on a daily basis than most do in the West. Sometimes on the subway I feel like I really understand the phrase, “breathing the same air.” When I think about it in those terms, it’s easier to understand the extreme anxiety.

It is definitely interesting to observe how another country handles a health crisis. So far my coworkers have been unimpressed and a bit distrustful of the government’s response. It’s also interesting to compare the English and Korean news stories. The Korean articles are much more up to date and detailed. Everything in the English press seems to lag pretty far behind.

Hopefully, the new cases and fatalities will stop increasing and life can go back to normal soon.

xo, jill

*The numbers are slightly different in pretty much every article I read.

24 Hours in Singapore

Two years later.

I’ve had these photos sitting on my computer for… almost two years now. I remember thinking this time last year, “Oh, I better get those photos up before a whole year has passed from that trip.” Obviously, that didn’t happen! Now I’m thinking, “Oh, I better get those photos up before TWO whole years have passed from that trip!” Well, I think I missed that goal by a couple of days… but today is finally the day!

A few years ago, I flew back to Abu Dhabi from Australia for a friend’s wedding. It was a pretty big investment so I decided to squeeze another stop on the trip. I scheduled a 24 hour layover in Singapore. I asked a blog friend and former expat in Singapore for her recommendations. She gave me quite the list and I did my best to tick off as much as possible.

Now that it’s been so long, I can’t remember all the details. However, I do remember enjoying my time, drinking frozen drinks, and marveling at the mashed potato machine at 7Eleven. Although I’m sure Singapore would be great for a longer stay, it was the perfect little 24 layover for me.

Here comes a ton of photos:

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

I love the contrast you can see in the photo on the left. 

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

 I was kind of a sucker for that onion dome. 

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

The National Museum, one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. You can choose to view the musuem along the social path or the political path. It’s a great way to engage every visitor. 

Singapore

Singapore

Singapore

A few hours later I was back on a plane and headed to Abu Dhabi.

xo, jill

Moroccan Reading List

What to read on your Moroccan holiday.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading books set in the country I am visiting. While living in Morocco, I did my best to get my hands on as many Moroccan related books as possible. It was surprisingly easy! My school’s library was fairly well stocked and I was able to access a few more titles using my e-reader. Reading about Morocco definitely added to the vibrancy of the place. Just looking at the cover images of these books makes me want to head back there for a little more exploration.

Morocco of Old 

Moroccan Books

 

1. The Spider’s House by Paul Bowles – Set during the Nationalist uprising in Fez during the last days of the French Protectorate. The story is told through the eyes of both an American expat and an illiterate Moroccan boy. Especially interesting to read as an American expat myself living in the French quarter of Marrakech.

2. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles – Full disclosure: I actually read this book years ago. I loved it until I got to a particularly disturbing part and it kind of went downhill from there. However, it’s such a classic that I would still recommend it. It Three American travelers seek the exotic in Northern Africa, but aren’t quite sure what to do when they find it.

3. A Life Full of Holes by Driss Ben Hamed Charade (Larbi Layachi) – This book was actually dictated to the tape recorder of Paul Bowels by the storyteller. The story is not quite autobiographical but closely resembles the life of Larbi. After being kicked out of his home at an early age, the subject goes on to seek survival through any means necessary. There’s sex, drugs, love, and a whole lot of injustice.

4. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi – Whatever image you have of a harem in your head, replace it with the imagery of this book. Mernissi grew up in a harem in Fez in the 1940s and shares her memories of childhood and the women around her in this beautiful book.

5. The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelleum – I found this book to be confusing at times but very powerful. Faced with the realization that he will never have a son to pass his property to, a father of eight daughters decides to raise his youngest as a boy.

6. For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri – This title came highly recommended by my Moroccan teaching assistant. It tells the story of Choukri’s difficult early life living on the streets after having fled from the Rif due to drought and food shortages.

 More Modern Titles

Moroccan Books

 

7. In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah – This book should really be read after The Caliph’s House, but I didn’t have access to that title at the time. In The Caliph’s House, Shah tells the story of moving to Morocco and settling into his new home. In Arabian Nights continues the story but through the angle of traditional Arabian storytelling.

8. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami – Strangers meet on a raft bound for Spain. This short collection of stories tells the backstory of how and why each person made the dangerous decision to flee Morocco and pursue hope.

9. Secret Son by Laila Lalami – A novel about the consequences of poverty and resentment. At age 19, Youssef discovers that the father he always believed was dead is actually alive, well, and very wealthy. Youssef forms a relationship with his father, only for it to crumble. It is clear that Youssef’s life will never be the same.

10. Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir – Previously banned in Morroco, Stolen Lives tells the plight of the Oufkir family who was imprisoned after their father’s failed coup attempt.

11. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud – This is a good one. A mother moves to Marrakech in the 1970s with her two young daughters. Her pursuit of adventure and spiritualism draws the family into poverty and at times conflict. The story is based on the author’s own experience having lived in Morocco as a child. We watched the movie adaptation on the roof of our apartment building one warm night. It was gorgeous.

12. Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson – This book is terrible. It rubbed me the wrong way more than once but since it’s set in Marrakech, here you go. Lulu is the stupidest undercover agent ever and I honestly kept rooting for her to fail. Let’s leave it at that.

I would love to hear if anyone has any other recommendations for Moroccan related books.

xo, jill

 

Welcome to Mr. Toilet House

In celebration of sh*t.

Last week, we had a day off from work in honor of Childrens Day. I must say, the children here really deserve the holiday. All of my students put in a full day at school and then attend a few extra classes at varying academies in the evening. It’s also not uncommon for these kids to attend Saturday classes as well.

Mike and I decided to spend the day exploring our city. We headed to a very unusual tourist attraction… the Suwon Toilet Museum. Yep, the city we live in is famous for toilets.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea Special festivities for Childrens Day.

It all goes back to a former mayor, Sim Jae-Duck, whose personal mission was to upgrade the state of public bathrooms. A silly sounding, but very worthy goal. When Mike asked one of our co-workers what she thought about the toilet obsessed mayor, she began with a serious face that slowly turned to a grin, “He did a very good job. If we need to use the bathroom, we know that it will always be nice!” Really, that’s a luxury not found in most cities.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaMr. Toilet House / Future parenting blackmail.

The Toilet Museum aka Mr. Toilet House is dedicated to all things toilet related. When I say “all things,” I really do mean all things. Inside, the museum showcases the history of pubic toilets in Korea as well as worldwide efforts to bring toilets into the forefront of international conversation. On top of that, there are also the winning entries in a poo-related coloring contest and my personal favorite, bathroom pictograms from around the world. Oh, and did I mention that the building itself is in the shape of a toilet?

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaKorea’s first flush toilet, used by noble women (57 BC-935) / Common toilet in rural areas.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea

Outside, the garden is festooned with an exhibit that could accurately be called, “Toilets Through the Ages.” All different kinds of toileting receptacles are featured with short explanations. Just another time in my life that I’m happy to have been born in the late 20th century.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaFemale toilet from the Baekje Kingdom (18 BC – 660)

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaChamber pots

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, KoreaToilet in Ancient Rome / Toilet in Medieval Europe / Modern Day Urinal

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea Even the plant markers are poo themed. You have to appreciate their commitment.

I have to say, it was a fun yet strange afternoon. It was so puzzling to see parents posing their children to look as if they were using the toilet… and then snapping photo after photo. I laughed a lot.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea Traditional toilet on Jeju Island and a family enjoying a photo op.

Finally, a little palette cleanser.

Mr. Toilet House, Suwon, Korea

xo, jill

*Interestingly, Sim Jae-Duck is not the only “Mr. Toilet.” There’s a man from Singapore with the same nickname who even has his very own short documentary.

Spring at Hwaseong Fortress

Suwon’s crown jewel.

Spring in Korea has been absolutely gorgeous. Every morning on my way to work I’ve been marveling at flower after flower. It started with the delicate cherry blossoms and magnolias. Then, it was on to the vibrant azaleas. Coming up next is daisies. I saw quite a few waiting to bloom during my run today. Unfortunately, I’ve been warned that spring is nearly over and the summer heat is on the way. All good things must end, I guess!

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

A few weeks ago, Mike and I headed over to Hwaseong Fortress on a pleasant spring afternoon. I wanted to visit Suwon’s crown jewel tourist attraction while the cherry blossoms were still sticking around. The fortress was built between 1794 – 1796 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

We started our exploration near Paldalmun Gate and headed up the steep fortress wall. Our intent was to buy tickets for the dragon train. Of course, being such a popular attraction, tickets were sold out until later in the afternoon. We were kind of expecting that so it wasn’t too much of a disappointment. We decided to just explore as much as possible before our departure time.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

There are about a million things to do and see at the fortress. You can walk/hike the walls, enjoy views over the city, ring the Bell of Filial Piety, try your hand at archery, visit the palace, or take in a cultural performance. I’m probably leaving something out.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

We enjoyed the views, walked along the walls, rang the bell, watched a beautiful traditional dance, and then finally hopped on the dragon train. The dragon train takes you around the exterior of the fortress and offers some hard to hear commentary in Korean and English. It was cheap (just a few dollars each) and worth the wait.

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

I’m sure we’ll be visiting the fortress again. There’s plenty more to see and do.

xo, jill

 

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