Rays of Splendour


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Wk 7/104

It’s been a busy, busy, busy Week 7.

Earlier in the week, I had to do a presentation for a Japanese society module that I am taking this semester. That presentation took a lot out of me because 1) It was based on a content which was entirely new to me so I had to read beyond the prescribed article and 2) I realized that my perfectionist tendencies caused me to be obsessed with so many details (like the way certain sentences were phrased, the placement of the photos, the flow of the presentation from one slide to the next, the things to say) that it considerably slowed down my progress!

Besides school, there were other things that made up my week which caused the time to just zoom by.

Cherry blossoms at Yeoido Park

Last Wednesday was a public holiday here in South Korea. It was a legislative election day for South Korea (pretty similar to the ones in Singapore where we cast votes for the ministers representing our GRCs/SMCs who will later form one of the members of parliament). Since my housemate was not working, she asked me to accompany her to Yeoido Park after my class (yes, I had a class on a public holiday but no complains. I kinda liked the class and teacher!) ended.

Her purpose in going there was only one: to get me to take proper photos of her which she intends to use for publicity materials.

My purpose even though I have a gazillion readings to do: Actually I had no plans to go there at all but because I’m there anyway, I told myself to use the time to check out the last bits of cherry blossoms left.

The Yeoido Park is located very near the National Assembly (South Korea’s version of the Parliament House). I’m not too sure whether the area sees throngs of reporters on other days but definitely on that day (and perhaps due to the fact that it was election day), there were many of them walking around the perimeters of the National Assembly.

When we finally reached Yeoido Park itself, I saw that the place was littered with petals from the cherry blossoms. It has been raining these past few days and that could have contributed to it. Also, the colours on the trees were already fading. The cherry blossoms, while still a pretty sight to behold, were not as resplendent as before.

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Fun English lesson at Chungmuro and thereafter, shopping at Ewha

Last Thursday, we decided to take our weekly English lessons outside. We made arrangements to meet at Chungmuro Station since I was keen to check out the paper and printing shop that the Korean lady whom I’m teaching has been raving about.

Entering the paper and printing shop, I felt like I’m a little girl being brought to a candy store. I was so, so, so, impressed by the efficiency of the place, how proper everything is and importantly, the quality of its printing! I’ve never seen printing shops of this scale and quality anywhere in Singapore or Malaysia which is opened to anyone regardless of the quantity of items they seek to print. This shop prints almost anything that can be printed on paper. Packaging boxes, leaflets, book covers, bookmarks, photo printouts, etc. Anything.

Best of all, the prices are so affordable given its quality! They were only a few cents per piece and for a fee, they will deliver the finished product right to our doorstep by trackable shipment.

The shop, Sungwonadpia, has a website but in order to get information on its full range of services, access the member site to make orders or to get a rough estimate of the costs of your printing, you will have to access the Korean version.

So after the high of visiting such an exciting place (What? Don’t judge me. It IS exciting. Hahah), we settled down for a drink at a nearby cafe for a proper English lesson. However, we veered off tangent and ended up talking about weddings. She was keen to know how the weddings are conducted in Singapore, its costs, and the married life in the Singaporean society. Obviously, I’m the last person one should be asking when it comes to these so it was pretty hilarious that I was even able to convey some information pertaining to it.

I proceeded to Ewha Women’s University as soon as we parted. All the shopping I did over there that makes me question whether I am sane or not. The sensible mind tells me I should not be shopping unless I start earning some money soon but that insensible side is always so, so, so, convincing in telling me that I’m “just spending a small amount for only this time“. I always tell myself that “it is only for this time” but looking back, my version of “this time” somehow happens all the time!

2D1N in Tongyeung

The professor for one of my modules decided to take us on a fieldtrip to Tongyeung. This city is about 4.5hours bus ride away from Seoul and located along the coast. I’ve been to South Korea for a few times but this was the first time that I visited a place outside Seoul!

We visited quite a number of places when we’re there but probably, one of the highlights for the trip was when we managed to get a view of Tongyeung City from atop Mt Mireuksan. Absolutely love the view from that vantage point. The air in Tongyeung was also much, much fresher and cleaner than in Seoul. Love that as well!

20160415_143318_hdr.jpgA glimpse of Tongyeung City from behind the greenery.

20160415_140312_hdr.jpgShort hike to get to the peak of Mt Mireuksan.

oi000118.jpgThe other female classmates and I doing a shadow shot.

We also visited Dongpirang. I found the place fascinating for its wall murals which were so nicely drawn.

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Since Tongyeung is located along the coast, seafood is one of the specialties of this area. All sorts of fresh catch – fish, oyster, eel, sea cucumber, etc – are sold at the market. One only has to just buy the fish from the shops in the market and then take it to one of the shops behind to have it cooked. Noryangjin in Seoul has a similar system but based on what the Koreans in my class said, it seems like the seafood in Tongyeung is way fresher and tastier than the one in Seoul.

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Last photo to share before I end off the entry. Here’s a view of one of the cabins on the ferry while in Tongyeung. It is an open area with heated flooring made for winter!

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Seeing this reminded me that different countries have their infrastructure set up to accommodate its physical environment. We never see such heated floorings onboard the ferries in Singapore or Malaysia. I feel that this is one of the beauties of travelling which I sometimes forget – the opportunity for a glimpse into aspects of a society that makes it unique. Sometimes, there are things one just never get to see in photos or whose novelty is lost just by looking at photos. It is only through experiencing it firsthand that one can recognise how unique certain features seen in the country are.


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Wk 5/104

A short entry for the week because the bulk of the time had been spent on school. School’s definitely a highlight – time spent exploring its super huge central library located on top of a hill, learning new things, uncovering even more new places in school – but for now, the other highlights.

Cherry blossoms have bloomed!

I guess the biggest – and one that trumped everything else – highlight for this week would be the chance to view the cherry blossoms. This is the first time ever in my life that I got to see this sight. I’ve always thought that I would never be able to witness the cherry blossoms with my own eyes due to work. The nature of my work is such that there is no annual leave so to even think of flying to one of the temperate countries in the northern hemisphere during spring is something I have never considered. All these years, I’ve contented myself with looking at photos of cherry blossoms being posted on social media.

Then, by the grace of Allah, I’m allowed to witness the cherry blossoms for myself yesterday! MasyaAllah. It was just so, so, so beautiful!

My housemate and I went to Seokchon Lake (석촌호수) located in Jamsil (잠실) to view the cherry blossoms. Unlike the cherry blossom viewing spot in Yeongdeungpo Yeouido (영등포유의도) which is a popular destination among tourists during spring, the one at Seokchon Lake is more frequented by locals. Also, the cherry blossoms could be found dotting the entire circumference of the lake which makes for a more leisurely and comfortable viewing as compared to the one in Yeouido which is found by the roadside.

I took lots of photos and spent almost two hours walking around the lake and enjoying the view of the cherry blossoms but I must say, the photos do not capture aptly the beauty of the scenery that I saw when I was there.

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*Sigh* Truly pretty. Truly grateful to Allah for granting me the opportunity to see the cherry blossoms.

There’s just one more view of the cherry blossoms that I hope to be able to witness at least once in my life – that would be the one in Japan!

Life is too short to be burning bridges

So another highlight for me this week would be the reminder that our life is too short for us to spend it on burning bridges. It is so short (and unpredictable). I mean, how do you know that today isn’t your last day?

I’m aware that there will be some relationships in our lives where the best path would be for both of us to walk away from each other. But here, I’m not focusing on that aspect. Rather, the reminder I was sent this week pertains to treasuring the existing relationships you have with people.

I was thinking how sometimes in our day-to-day existence, the instinctive response would be to either blow up in anger or cut the person off from your life whenever we encounter a set back with the said person. This set back can be huge or it can be as small as having a miscommunication with people. By engaging in an argument or cutting the person out of your life, we are either invoking to our need for self-preservation – that is, to protect ourselves from further hurt – and/or to appeal to our egotistical inclination to never lose out in the relationship.

Then again if everyone in the world were to respond in this destructive manner in their relationships with people, then human history would have witnessed a past replete with anger, despondency and brokenness.

But if we were to step away from the situation and view it from a more detached perspective, then you will realize that sometimes the best response would be to think only the most positive of the situation and the person and his/her actions and lastly, to simply to let go. Sometimes, it is pointless really to expand so much of our energy in responding to a situation negatively or to attach so much negativity to a person’s actions. It just sucks the life out of us and does not serve the way we connect and relate to the people in our lives.

Thus, this is a huge reminder for myself first before others to always perceive the good in a person or situation foremost, and regardless of whether the bad might materialise later.


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Wk 3/104

A short update of week 3 while I take a break from working on my literature review assignments.

1) Went for my first massage experience in Seoul

Towards the end of last week, I had somehow hurt my lower back. I do not know how it happened but I woke up one morning literally being unable to bend, walk without wincing in pain or even do simple tasks like wear my pants or carry things without feeling a jolt of pain running down my back. I wasn’t even able to lie down to rest my back for the pressure causes it to ache even more.

So in the end, I went to desperately Google for a possible place to get a massage where (a) The place do not look too dubious and sleazy, and (b) The people working there are able to converse in English.

I found one – Create Wellness Centre – which is located in Itaewon that suits both my requirements.

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I finally got my massage and that had considerably eased the pain in my lower back although at the point of blogging this, I still feel tightness in that area and my back still ache whenever I bend. Nevertheless, the good thing is that I’m at least able to bend and perform simple tasks without screaming in pain.

Anyway, it was an interesting experience going to the centre. This is the first time ever that I went to a massage place where the room has a window that sees to the rest of the shop, with only a translucent curtain as an attempt to reduce the visibility into the therapy room. Believe me when I say that anyone walking or waiting for their turn outside could see into the therapy room just as well as I could see anyone walking or standing outside it. The only saving grace for me on that day was that I made an appointment as soon as the shop opened and hence there was hardly anyone to see me in all manner of undress! Phew!

2) Beautiful campus grounds

I needed to get my student card from one of the offices in school. While making my way there, I stumbled upon a small park overlooking the stadium and situated on top of the ridge. I found the space pretty peaceful and the surroundings which enabled me to look across to the mountains ahead to be pretty fascinating. Too pretty. Would love to go there again if time permits!

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3) Exploring the park outside the apartment

My housemate and I went to explore the nearby park just outside our apartment. We were surprised to see the park equipped with concrete running tracks and exercise machines. When we walked further inside, we also found a small trekking path that leads into the forests and mountains ahead. Definitely an area that I want to explore if I can convince my housemates (both of them do not seem keen on it) to trek through it with me on one of the mornings! This reminds me of how much I miss the walks through the nature reserves which I sometimes do with either my parents or the bffs.

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4) Dinners in my apartment with the housemate

One of the ways I spend weekend evenings would be by having one of my housemates come to my place for dinner. She lives one floor down which makes it easy for her to come to my place. Sometimes, our dinners consist of proper food like a complete meal of rice and side dishes that I cooked and sometimes like this weekend, our meals can be as simple as soup, pizza, bread with minced chicken or just snacks.

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She intends to move out soon to a location nearer to her workplace. So till then, I guess I’ll enjoy and appreciate every single moment that I have with her as my neighbour. 🙂

Allright, going to get back to my literature review!


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Wk 2/104

Since coming to Seoul, one of the things I wanted to do was to blog a weekly summary of my time here. I managed to do one for the first week but missed the second one! So, here’s a backdated summary of the highlights for Wk 2 out of 104 weeks (2/104), for the memory.

1) My birthday
Week 2 started off with Monday being my birthday. Not going to blog more about it as I had done one entry on it earlier.

At the moment, I’m wondering if there is even a remote possibility that I will be able to be in Singapore next year when March comes along? *hopeful, prays hard* I still prefer to be Home. 🙂

2) First experience at the Community Health Centre

One of the things that we have to submit in order to apply for an Alien Registration Card (basically, it is a foreigner ID that all non-citizens need to have if they are going to be staying for more than 90 days in South Korea) is a chest X-ray. I guess this is because the immigration authorities wanted to ensure that we are not spreading any infectious communicable airborne diseases during our stay here.

The whole process was pretty seamless. We had to register our names using our passports and make a payment for the X-ray service during registration as well. I was so surprised to find how cheap it costs to get an X-ray done over here. I only had to pay a total of 1500 won (that’s like SGD$1.70!) for it. Like… $1.70??! I don’t even get to buy my bread as cheap as that in Seoul! Why is it so cheap?

That said, I don’t really like to subject my body to high frequency radiation as I believe that it is not good for our body cells and made that comment to my friend.

Of course, one shouldn’t say those kinds of things in front of the machine and right before being scanned! That would just jinx the whole process for I ended up having to do the scan twice (yes, being X-rayed twice consecutively. Oh, my body cells! You poor thing!) because my headscarf seemed to have blocked those rays the first time round!

I also finally managed to get myself weighed. Ever since I came here, my diet has changed tremendously. I eat vegetables with either bread/pasta/rice on most days. Should I remember and am willing to wait for the fish or prawn I bought to thaw, I would throw that in and cook it for my meal as well. Hence, I was definitely curious over how this change in diet had impacted my weight.

The weighing scale showed that I had lost even more kilos which puts my current weight at 50kg. I have yet to start fasting which I hope to be able to do this coming week, insyaAllah. So when I do start to fast again, does that mean that I will be shedding even more weight? *worried*

3) Friday at Itaewon

One of the things I set out to do last Friday was to ensure I get myself some meat. The only stores that sell halal meat in Korea are found in Itaewon so off to that place I went.

I managed to squeeze in a proper meal of bokkeumbap (fried rice). It felt like it’s been ages since I had a proper, full meal so I was very, very satisfied at the end of it. I even got to have some soup. Yayyyyy!

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I’ve never been to Itaewon on a Friday afternoon before. Therefore after leaving the restaurant, I was so surprised to walk pass the Seoul Central Mosque and found the road adjacent to it being congested with cars and men making their way to the mosque for Friday prayers. When I saw the throngs of Muslim men walking to the mosque, I can’t help thinking to myself, “Where did all these Muslims come from?

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4) Multi-story parking in Korea
I was walking home with one of my housemates when she suddenly stopped by the roadside and pointed out the following structure to me.

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Yep, that unique structure meant for parking found in some places in Korea! I’m pretty curious over how the structure works and hope that the next time I pass by this place, I’d get to see someone either leaving the place or about to park his car so that my curiosity will be answered.

5) Shopping for spring
Spring’s fast approaching. In fact, many Koreans already deemed that it’s now spring. A housemate shared that the spring season here can still be quite cold though it won’t be as frigid as winter. Hence, it would be good to get a thinner outer wear for spring.

Of course I jumped at the chance to shop (although if my bank account could speak, it would probably yell a solid “NO!”) at me.

So at the end of week 2, Sunday, my housemates and I headed to the Express Bus Terminal (more commonly known as Gosuk Bus Terminal in Korea) Underground Shopping Centre. That place is like the Bugis Junction of Seoul. Lots of shops selling clothes, bags and accessories and at a pretty affordable price too.

I spent quite a while trying out various outerwear like the following:

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Unfortunately, I think that these long outerwear that are popular in Seoul (and considered a fashion statement!) does that really suit me. In the end, I bought a shorter outerwear in pink . It’s still too big for me and I should probably get it altered but the thought of how I am ever going to communicate to the tailor’s my requests given my limited Korean… Well suffice to say, I just went ahead to wear the too-large-for-my-frame outerwear!

6) Being homesick
I guess it started the day after my birthday. I woke up on that day, a Tuesday, feeling so detached from my family and friends. I told myself that it could simply be because I felt their absence more strongly as they had spent the previous day communicating with me since it was my birthday.

However the feeling grew stronger and for the first time, I made an internet call to my family through WhatsApp. I spent almost 45 minutes talking to my mom and youngest brother on the phone and that made me feel heaps better until last Friday came along I guess.

The Friday I spent at Itaewon reminded me of the last time I was there with my parents. The hotel we stayed in, the places we went to for our meals, and the shops we went to shop at.

I got back home from Itaewon feeling pretty down and severely homesick. I even considered booking a flight back to Singapore as soon as I reached home but alas, I have yet to get a re-entry permit and am not allowed to leave the country. The combination of the frustration of not being able to fly back and missing my family, friends and basically home, made me feel utterly despondent which led to the entry I wrote earlier this week about the new feelings I had.

On the one hand, I was feeling sad. But on another, I felt super lost and like things were out of my control. I couldn’t even do a simple thing like go home. 😦

That caused me to retreat from people and so last weekend saw me struggling to even craft a single sentence reply to my parents and friends because really, I felt even more sad at being reminded of how I’m unable to be with them the more I texted them. It’s like for that moment, all I could ever do was just to text or call them no matter how much I longed for their physical presence. I even felt like I had no right to communicate with them and that I was such a disruption to their lives!

But what lifted me out of that despair and useless negative thoughts were two things, and they came from the most simplest experiences of all:

  1. During one of the Kakao groupchats with the residents living in this building, one of them inquired whether anyone had ordered a MacDonald’s delivery in Seoul before and got it sent to our place. A lady replied saying she had done it the previous week and it cured her homesickness tremendously because the food tastes exactly like the one she had at home. That reminded me that I’m not the only one homesick but everyone here is too. However, they had sucked it in and moved on.
  2. During our shopping trip on Sunday, one of my friends was constantly texting her boyfriend to tell him about the things she was doing, the food she was eating, the clothes she was trying and buying. What struck me through it all was that she was very, very, very happy. That made me think… She left a guy she has been dating for a few years and had made plans for marriage when she goes back at the end of her studies and yet, look at how positive she is in embracing this whole experience!

So yes, those two incidents made me snap back to reality.

I’m back to my usual bubbly self at the point of blogging this and can’t help thinking “Why in the world did I let myself get sucked into all those negativities??!

Seriously, if my parents or friends decide to abandon me and never talk to me again due to how lousy I had been to them over the weekend, I would not be surprised. I just have myself to blame and should just accept it. 😦

So, those are the highlights of Wk 2/104.

Looking forward to the chance to blog about Wk 3/104 by end of this week!


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First week in Seoul, Wk 1/104

I’ve been in Seoul for exactly one week. That’s another 103 weeks more to go!

Some random updates of my time here…

First day of school was an eye-opener for me

As I walked to the entrance of the school, I was surprised to see the road filled with middle-aged men and women selling flowers. Apparently, these flowers were for people to buy and gift another student/child who is having their first day of school here. That’s when I found out that going to university was a big deal to the society here such that when someone is able to go, it is viewed with such pride and prestige. Coming from an environment where going into university merely represents another path that one chooses in life as opposed to others, seeing all that was certainly new for me.

Of course, the first day was also an eye-opener due to another reason. I took the wrong campus shuttle bus which brought me on a tour around the school campus. So yeah, I accidentally got to see the whole campus and the surrounding mountains where it is located even before going for the orientation. That’s definitely an eye-opener!

Aunties at the  supermarkets love explaining things to me even though nothing about me (from the tudung to the race reflected on my face) indicates that I understand them

So one of the places I go pretty often in the past few days is the supermarket. The supermarkets here still has ladies stationed at selected aisles to promote the products to consumers…. and these ladies are VERY eager to help you.

I found myself standing in front of an aisle selling cleaning detergent for clothes but because the supermarket carries both the liquid and the powder versions from brands I’ve never seen before, I was pretty unsure which ones to buy. I stood there for a while staring at detergent after detergent trying to make sense of it all. Then, a lady who was stationed at that aisle walked up to me and explained to me with all her heart and soul complete with hand gestures some of the brands on the shelf.

I felt soooooooo bad for not understanding what she said that I promptly bought the bottle she was holding out to me!

The same goes for when I was at the rice section, the eggs section and even when I happened to accidentally stray into a corner selling pork sausages (didn’t buy of course. Walked away)! Lol.

(Skewed) application of logic

Ever since I got here, my brain has somehow started applying logic in an unconventional manner. To my surprise, they kinda worked!

For instance, the refrigerator in my room was down last Tuesday. Its cooling system did not seem to work and as a result, I was unable to store the milk I had bought earlier. After wrecking my brain over how to ensure the milk doesn’t go to waste (drink everything by end of the day? But it’s a 1 litre carton! Share with my neighbours? Will we be able to finish everything??). So in the end and after considering various options, I settled upon the idea to place the milk near the window sill. The logic here is that since the temperatures outside are between 1 and 5 Degrees Celsius anyway, that is akin to placing the milk inside a refrigerator right? Unfortunately (or is it, fortunately?), the milk remains at the window sill even after the refrigerator has been repaired because hey… Why disturb something that is working well??

Another instance would be when I was too tired to hang all the scarves I had washed. I only remembered that I had not hung it while I was lying on my bed and about to get to sleep. So my cheat code solution? I took out the scarves from the washing machine and dumped it on the floor because… Isn’t the floor heated anyway so if I were to place those scarves there for the whole night, it will be akin to placing it inside the dryer! Amazingly, ALL the scarves were dry when I checked on them the next morning.

I’m convinced that I need to also install these floor heaters in my room in Singapore too! I can already imagine the following conversation with my mom:

Mom: Kau nak buat apa dengan tudung-tudung yang kau keluarkan dari washing machine tu?

Me: Nak sidai atas lantai bilik dan keringkan, Ma!

Disconnected

A few days back, I had one of those days when all I wanted to do was retreat into my shell. I did not want to communicate with people nor do I want to be contactable. I did not know why I felt like that but now that I’m thinking back, I guess I had one of those days when I felt quite distant from Him and I wanted to be able to reach Him again. Feeling distant like that, I can’t help realizing that if I don’t have God in my life, then I’ll have no one by, and on my side.

Hence, that was what I did. Dedicated more time than usual to try to reach Him. Prayer mat, prayers, quran, me, Allah. No distractions.

However I realized soon enough that I cannot be entirely disconnected this time round although it’s definitely easy to do so back in Singapore. Over there, nobody expects replies from me and I’m pretty contented not having texts and emails to read or answer. But in the past few days ever since I got here, I learned very quickly that one of the responsibilities I have now is to ensure that I text the family at least once a day in order to let them know I’m still allright. I believe that one of the ways to show your family that you love them is not merely to give of you time and yourself to them but also, to ensure that you are okay physically, emotionally and mentally for them.

Hence despite my intention to be disconnected, I found myself sending them one message in the morning and another in the evening.

So okay, those are the updates for now. I’ve two more days of rest (and time to catch up on my readings, insyaAllah) before going back to school this coming Monday. Praying hard that Allah grants me ease in school, insyaAllah amin.