Rays of Splendour


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Getting colder in Seoul

Temperatures suddenly took a dip downwards last week.

For almost two weeks now, all my summer clothes have been sitting nicely in the wardrobe. Yesterday as I stared at all my summer clothes in the wardrobe (yes, one of the odd things I do in life is to open my wardrobe from time-to-time and just admire look at my clothes), I had the thought that I should probably pack them in a box and send them back to Singapore. If I intend to fly back home for the winter vacation, then it would be good to slowly start sending things back home from now.

My mom was sceptical when I kept mentioning about the cold whenever she texts or calls me for updates. This is because according to her, the information on the internet stated that the temperatures here are about 20 – 21°C whenever she googled for it so in her words “Aku tengok tak sejuk pun tapi kau sibuk cakap sejuk (I read that it’s not cold at all but you kept complaining that it is)”.

Everytime she does that, I will respond with a dramatic “Noooooo maaaaaa! Tidakkk… Sejukkkkk” before explaining to her how those temperatures stated online are just the average values for the whole of Seoul and does not reflect the exact temperature of localized areas. Since my campus and house are located in the mountains, the temperatures here are a few degree celsius lower than the one published online.

I was having a conversation with a friend while on the way home just now and we happened to be talking about the cold. The discussion centred around how it seemed like the lower temperatures came a bit earlier this year and based on the weather patterns the country is facing thus far (for example, the summer of 2016 was the warmest recorded in Seoul), there have been a lot of hearsay among the people here that the winter this time is going to be a lot colder than last year’s. Last year, Seoul experienced it coldest winter with temperatures dipping to a low of -18ºC (the Han River was reported to be frozen at some point!) so I’m thinking that if it’s going to be way colder this year, I need to think of an escape route back to warm, sunny Singapore as soon as I’m done with school.

Although I fret about the cold, I’m also quite happy to embrace it. This is because with the cold, that part of nature which thrives in this environment is now able to reveal its beauty. Just for a span of those few weeks, all of us get to witness that glory.

Also, I’m reminded of what one of my ustaz mentioned regarding the weather. The weather is God’s. He’s the owner and its determiner so no matter how cold it is, it’s His creation too. So yep, this is a reminder to myself foremost than others that despite being uncomfortable with the cold at times, I have not right to constantly be complaining about something which I did not even create in the first place.

Further, He has not created this cold for naught. There is a bigger reason for the creation of cold temperatures during specific times of the year beyond the comprehension of my small little mind.


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Day trip to Sokcho and Mt Seoraksan

I’ve been craving to spend some time in the mountains, immersing myself in nature and breathing in pure clean air for a few days now. Fortunately with Chuseok, I was presented with a few days of break from school and hence an opportune time to slot in a day trek through one of the nature reserves here.

The location of choice for the trek this time: Mt Seoraksan!

Although Mt Seoraksan is situated in Gangwon-do which is literally another province from Seoul where I currently am, it is still highly accessible. I took the bus (costs me 18,100won for a one-way trip which is quite affordable, I feel!) from the Express Bus Terminal to Sokcho. From Sokcho, I took an intercity bus to get me directly to the entrance of Mt Seoraksan Nature Park. I reckoned that the whole journey from Seoul to the nature park took me about 4 hours (it’s another 4 hours back so technically, I spent lots of time on the road) however I’m allright with that since I really wanted to travel and escape Seoul’s busy city environment for the day.

I loved being in the nature park! The air is truly clear and clean so I felt refreshed after trekking through the place. There are lotsa places to head to once we’re there but I chose to do a simple trek to one of the waterfalls – the Biryong Falls – for the trek this time. It took me about 2 hours of trekking time to reach the falls and another 1.5 hours to get back to the entrance of the nature park.

Some photos to share from the trip:

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As we had a 1950hrs bus back to Seoul to catch, we left Mt Seoraksan Nature Park at about 4.15pm and headed for Sokcho where the bus terminal is located. We had a bit of time left before boarding the bus so we squeezed in a short walk of the Abai Village, an area close to the bus terminal.

Sokcho is actually a town located by the sea. It faces the East Sea. Due to its maritime location, it is no surprise that a lot of development and activities are centred around the waterfront.

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I found myself feeling heaps rejuvenated and with a clearer mind as I made my way back to Seoul at the end of the day trip. I do realize that squeezing in this trip had consequently stretched my budget for the month and I probably cannot spend more than 50,000won in the next two – three weeks (honestly, how I’ll be able to pull this off with things being so expensive in Seoul, I do not know!). Yet, I won’t have done things otherwise.


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Wk 11/104

1) Hanging out at a Korean friend’s house

One of the Koreans I made friends with invited me to her house at Sillim-dong this week. It’s amazing how despite lacking proficiency in English, she is still able to communicate very well with me. On my part, I’m able to connect with her and talk about a lot of things in life.

This makes me realize that when two people are able to click, then that affinity can sometimes be able to surmount the barriers posed by language. On the flipside, two individuals might not even be able to overcome the obstacles posed despite being proficient in a shared language if both lacked that connection in the first place.

In a class I once attended, the ustaz said that God makes for every soul several other souls that they can connect with. For those that they have an affinity with, one of the reasons is because they’ve known and connected with each other before they were born into this world. When the souls entered this world and they happened to encounter another soul whom they have known, liked and connected with in the previous realm, then the two souls instantly recognize each other even though our physical and mental self do not. According to him, this is one of the reasons to explain for instances when we encounter a person and feel as if we’ve known him before, or why we feel so comfortable communicating on a deeper level with someone whom we’ve just met as opposed to others whom we’ve known for a longer time. I say… This certainly puts a new twist to the phrase “It’s like I’ve known you for a lifetime“!

Anyway, back to the friend who invited me to her house. She will be leaving to follow her husband when the latter goes to Australia to further his studies. This means that when I come back to Seoul in August for the fall semester, she would’ve gone to Australia. So truly, it is very nice of her to invite me to her place before we part ways as according to her “I would really like to show you how the Koreans live“.

Some photos from the time we spent together on that day:

20160513_145527_hdr.jpgSaw a Juicy outlet en-route to her house so we went to get a cup of juice for ourselves.

20160513_151038_HDRLike a lot of the houses in Seoul which are located along a steep slope, hers is no exception. It looks steeper in real life. This photo doesn’t do justice to the degree of its steepness!

20160513_151509_HDRHer living room decorated with portraits that she drew herself. My friend is a designer so it’s no surprise that she chose to decorate her house with her artwork!

20160513_151503_HDRThe dining area. Again, it’s decorated by more pieces of her artwork.

20160513_172920_HDRShe made this poster when she got married. Roughly translated, it means “I (in terms of life) did very well  when I was alone but when both of us are together, things are even more excellent.”

20160513_173022_HDRCool poster that shows the wifi access details for guests to her house!

We’re planning to go to a museum some time in June, insyaAllah. Looking forward to that!

2) New places found

I felt the need to take a break from studies this week and resolved to explore a part of Seoul which I hadn’t done before. The initial idea was to head to a nature park but since I’ll be alone, I really did not feel like doing that.

In the end, I decided to head to the eMart at Guro Digital Complex. One of the reasons I went there was to look for some Gudetama merchandise that Del had asked for her birthday. However I couldn’t find them there and was told by the sales representative to head to the eMart at Yeongdeungpo which is bigger and might carry the Gudetama merchandise. On a whim, I decided to head there.

The eMart branch at Yeongdeungpo is located inside the Times Square Shopping Mall. To my surprise, I found myself being in a pretty cool part of Seoul! The mall is huge and has many wings. They had one wing dedicated to luxury items (not my focus here) and another for those looking for items priced between the low and middle range.

The mall has lotsa cool cafes as well like the following which attracted me. I didn’t buy anything from it though as I just had some fruit juice before that.

20160514_190629_HDRThey call it “fish croissant”

20160514_175216_HDRThe fruit juice I had. I kinda like Cafe Pascucci. It sells only products related to fruits and desserts. No meat!

2016-05-14-22-57-47.jpgMy buys at the mall.

I was pretty surprised to discover that Yeongdeungpo is a pretty vibrant shopping area for the locals. I stumbled upon its underground shopping centre which is filled with tons of shops selling clothes at reasonable prices, a stretch of street where there is a night market and countless other shops!

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I have a feeling that I’ll be headed there again soon!

3) Feels like Christmas

I had three packages delivered to my apartment this week. The thrill I felt at opening the door and signing for the packages is such an out-of-this-world feeling that I question the state of my psychological health! I mean, is it allright to feel this pleased at receiving your online purchases? Do I need to seek professional help for this?

That said, one of the packages delivered that made me so happy was this:

Yep, my first purchase from Fashion Valet after a long while! I had stopped buying from the website earlier this year as I was busy preparing to fly to Seoul and then when I had eventually settled down here and ready to buy again, I was told by the people from FV that they do not deliver to Seoul.

However, dUckscarves recently released the Mother’s Day edition (which is just soooooo cute) of its scarves. That tempted me tremendously and ended the shopping hiatus from FV.  I really have to thank my friend for making it a possibility that I received this package.

I always never express it enough to him but I’m truly thankful to him for going the extra mile to help me with all these things and more. For instances like these where he helped to receive my package, checked to ensure its contents were correct and then went out to courier it to Seoul. Or during instances when he listened to me when I’m feeling a bit down from being away from home and offered me advice or just the comfort of a listening ear. Or just contacting me from time to time to ask me what I’m up to which made the days of being away from Singapore be more manageable. I always feel that all these are such a huge inconvenience to him especially since truly, my existence in his life doesn’t add value to it in any way but he still went ahead to do it. So yes, I’m moved by the kindness and feel deeply grateful to God for filling my life with awesome people like him.

Allright, so those are the highlights of my week!

It’s gonna be a short school day next week since one of my professors will be away on a business trip. Regardless, I still have quite a number of assignments and presentations to work on. I’m looking forward to the day I clear all these deadlines.

Ramadan is coming too. That’s yet another thing I pray Allah allows me to experience yet again. Amin.


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Exploring the school campus

For the past two days, I have somehow found myself in situations where I was led to explore more of the school campus.

Mostly, it was because I had either gotten myself into the wrong classroom, or the buses I took led me to places I never intended to go when I boarded it. In the latter, blame it on my lousy Korean. I am still unable to understand a lot of Korean words which made it difficult for me to tell when the bus that comes will be making a different route from the one I usually take.

So besides the need to be able to converse with the ahjumma (aunties) here, being able to dexterously navigate myself around motivates me to be more disciplined in learning Korean. And yes, I seemed to have graduated from having aunties speaking to me in supermarkets to them striking a conversation with me as I walk along the streets, or offering to help carry my things and even giving me compliments! This situation is extremely baffling. Since when have I become an auntie magnet? Hilarious!

Back to the topic of exploring the campus. One good thing out of getting lost or taking the wrong buses is that I now know where the post office (yay! I can start posting stuff soon!), banks, bookshop (went crazy over notebooks and bought a pen that I did not need), souvenir shop (planning to get myself one of the school’s varsity jackets) and health centre is on campus. I also now know where the student dormitories are located (it’s so near school! I need to get myself one of those!).

Getting lost and then having to walk all the way to the bus stop also had another merit. I stumbled upon a river that is located on campus! I did not know that the river existed so I actually did a double take as I thought I had perceived incorrectly. I’m so excited over this discovery because hey, anything related to natural formation and natural features just thrills me. As they say, you can never take the Geography out of the Geographer!

20160309_134656_hdr.jpgThe river runs a course through the mountains ahead.

Having a campus located right smack in the highlands meant that the temperatures are especially colder there than at other places. I found myself literally freezing whenever I’m in the campus. It’s so cold that I could hardly feel the sensation in my hands when I use the mobile phone to text. No kidding. It’s that cold!

Despite the intense development around the area, the place is still rich in nature. I was walking to the bus stop last Monday evening when I heard a cacophony of chirping from the grass patch ahead. Back in Singapore, it’s common to see birds like the sparrow, pigeon or crow in public spaces. But here, I was amazed to see this particular bird (see below). Perhaps it’s just the foreigner experience but yeah, I found this sight to be such a novelty that I stopped to take a few snaps which invited some puzzled looks from the passersby!

20160308_164121_hdr.jpgWhat’s this bird called? Regardless, it’s pretty!

So week 2 saw me exploring more of the campus. The school week is done for me for now. Regardless, I’m looking forward to knowing more of the places on campus in the weeks ahead. For now, the place is all brown and the trees are all bare. I wonder how it will look like once it’s spring which will dawn on us in about three weeks time, insyaAllah.


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Visa application woes: Applying for the D-2 Korean Visa

I’ve finally summoned up the mental readiness to go through the whole process of applying for a D-2 student visa.  The mental readiness is needed only because 1) Administrative processes can be painful and 2) I’ll be passport-less for a while.

As of yesterday, I’ve made a total of two trips to the South Korean embassy in Newton. Both times, I have been unsuccessful in submitting an application for a student visa.

The first time my attempt for a visa application got rejected was entirely due to my negligence. I had failed to note that the embassy conducts visa application requests only from 9.00 – 11.30 a.m. I came at 2 p.m and was obviously turned away. The second time I was turned away was due to insufficient documentation. Apparently, one needs all these document for a D-2 student visa application:

  1. Original passport
  2. A copy of a passport-sized photograph
  3. Acceptance letter/Offer letter/Certificate of admission from the educational institution in Korea
  4. A copy of a bank statement indicating one’s account balance for the past three months
  5. In the event that you have a sponsor for (4), then you would need to produce your sponsor’s bank statement
  6. A copy of the educational transcripts or certificates at your last educational institution
  7. For the employed: A letter from your employer indicating that you are under their employment

During the second visit there, I had failed to produce number 7. Never did I anticipate that I had to produce that when applying for a student visa!

The copy of my sponsor’s bank statement was also rejected as her name was not clearly printed on her bank statement.

So I’m telling myself that the third time I make my way to the embassy, I truly need my visa application to be accepted. The need for the visa aside, I actually find it pretty restrictive that the passport is going to be withheld for a period of time which means that I won’t be able to journey out of Singapore on a whim. That is such a tragic thought!


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Autumn and summer in three weeks (Part 1)

Here’s something for the record: November 2015 is the first time ever in my life that I got to experience two different seasons within a span of a few days apart.

Allah swt has made the world to be so beautiful and intricate. Every time I thought I had seen the most beautiful thing there is to see on Earth, there will always be yet another scene that by His grace, He allows me to experience.

And so, my November started off with Him allowing me to experience autumn. This is the second time ever that I get to experience autumn and masyaAllah, the scenes are as beautiful as ever. Autumn puts a new spin to the idea that there is beauty in death. Afterall, the reason why the trees are having red or yellow leaves is an indication of the leaves dying.

Hill slopes at Gwanak.Hill slopes of Gwanak in fall colours

With the paths at Gwanak being filled with pretty leaves like these, I couldn't stop looking down as I walked. The paths of Gwanak were littered with these small reddish maple leaves.
I couldn’t stop looking down at the ground as I walked.

Leaves that had fallen and covered many paths in Seoul after a downpour.The scene after a downpour along the streets outside Seoul Station.

One of the fall foliage that lined the streets of Myeong Dong, with the litted Namsan Tower in the distance.Fall foliage along the streets of Myeong Dong with the Namsan Tower in the distance

Since the parents came along for this trip, ensuring access to halal food was pretty important. Alhamdulillah, access to halal food in Seoul in 2015 is much better than when I first went there in 2009. In 2009, the choice of halal food was limited only to Indian or Turkish food. However I guess with more Muslims travelling to Korea as well the increasing numbers of Korean Muslim converts, there are now shops that sell halal Korean food. Hence the few days we were there, we managed to eat at some of these food outlets located in Itaewon where resources for the Muslim community are centralized.

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The streets of Seoul also had much to offer in terms of food though we had to be a bit more discerning when it comes to buying from these stalls. One of the things that we enjoyed eating while we’re there were roasted chestnuts! Pomegranate juice comes in a close second but we were too engrossed in drinking it that we didn’t take any photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA roasted chestnut push cart stall in Myeong Dong.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chestnuts were being roasted in small wired-baskets like the above.
This caught our attention for a while as in Singapore, chestnuts are roasted in huge woks.

I had plans to take the family to visit the Gyeongbokgung Palace, the Nam San Tower as well as perhaps a day trip outside Seoul. However as this was a short trip with the main agenda being to introduce the parents to Seoul, we did not manage to cover much. Besides the Namdaemun Market which got my mom pretty excited due to the gazillion pretty brooches and dried anchovies, the other highlight of the trip was when we stumbled upon the Line Friends Store in Itaewon.

The youngest brother is into cutesy stuff and Line has managed to market itself in a way that appeals to those, like him, who are into this concept. We spent almost an hour just going around the store and taking photos. I’m glad we managed to stumble upon this place as prior to this he was feeling down however, this place managed to cheer him up tremendously!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t believe my brother owns three of this bunny thingy in different sizes!

Like any other cities in the world, Seoul presents itself in a different way to different people. While we enjoyed our time together as a family going around Seoul, I also know that the family did not take an immediate liking to the city like they did for Tokyo. Tokyo (and Japan in general) still ranks as one of the top places in the world that we love.

Regardless, I believe that He is placing me here for a reason whose wisdom I’ve yet to grasp for now but insyaAllah, it will be for the best for all of us.


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Winter in Seoul and Fukuoka

Last month, I went to Seoul and Fukuoka for my winter vacation. Seoul was a trip that was decided at the last minute whereas Fukuoka was a place that I have been wanting to go as I wanted to catch Big Bang’s Special Final at the Yahoo! Dome. I really enjoyed this winter vacation!

For one, I finally managed to go to the DMZ. During my first trip to South Korea back in 2009, I wasn’t able to go to the DMZ hence while preparing for the this trip, I had made careful consideration to set aside part of the itinerary to go there. There were lots of restrictions with regard to photo-taking due to security concerns. Here’s whatever little photos I was able to take with my S2.

20121218_094348Above: One of the few photos which were allowed to be taken as the scene was one which faces the North.

20121218_104015Above: An armistice agreement. I was actually in awe of the signatures. These are signatures of real people who played a role in the conflict!

20121218_095138Above: Apparently, one side of the table resides the North and the other, the South. Talk about being at two places in one time!

The DMZ trip will remain etched in my mind forever. Being that close to a place steeped in history and dogged with conflicts even till today would definitely be an experience that I’d never forget.

Besides that, we also checked out other parts of Seoul like Hongdae and even Sungkyunkwan University. As soon as I stepped foot on these places, I could sense the vibrant youth culture. It’s just amazing. The energy. The vibrancy.

20121220_145949Above: The logo hung on the gates to the entrance of Sungkyunkwan University. This university has been around since 1398! It is a historical relic on its own.

20121220_145355Above: The path from the gate to the different faculties situated inside the university itself.  The students got to walk through such an amazing view everyday as they make their way to school.

In the meantime, Fukuoka provides an entirely different aspect to my winter trip. ‘Serene’ is the word that comes to mind when I think of Fukuoka. Everything there seemed to slow down tremendously as compared to the hustle and bustle of Seoul. In essence, it is such a diametrically polemical city as opposed to Seoul. Two things I truly appreciated when I was in Fukuoka were this – the clean air and the much moderate winter (at that time, temperatures were about 5 to 10 degrees Celsius vs Seoul’s -10 to -13 degrees Celsius).

The highlight of that trip was of course the Big Bang concert which was held at the Yahoo! Dome (though I think the venue itself could somewhat be deemed as a highlight itself). I’ve read about the Yahoo! Dome before and repetitive mentions of its size had piqued my curiosity. I’d always wondered whether the place lived up to its hype in terms of vastness and therefore to finally see and be inside the massive Yahoo! Dome myself was an eye-opener. I’ve never been in an enclosure that could accommodate more than 50000 people!

1356168081162Above: Yahoo! Dome

20121222_150717Above: A small segment of the concert venue. Imagine this number of people times 7 (even 10) and that’s the total number of people gathered in one place.

The concert at Yahoo! Dome was the second Big Bang concert I’d attended and it was definitely as great as the first one. This group really emits talent. Looking at them rally the concert-goers and giving their all, I can’t help wondering what it would feel to be in that position. While my job entails rallying my audience and getting them to be engaged to whatever I’m saying and doing, it’s on an entirely different level from theirs.

I have only thing from this trip which I really regretted not being able to do due to the lack of time: visiting the Kyushu University. Regardless, it was a great trip. Looking forward to being able to see more of this world. Soon!