NSLI-Y South Korea 2015

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I’m already back from 6 weeks in South Korea. No doubt my best experience so far in life and I honestly did not anticipating making friendships that depth that I did. But I guess when you’re with 14 other people 24/7 for 6 weeks, welllll, you become attached.
I plan on recounting my experiences in Incheon, Seoul, Andong/Kyeongju Camp, Sudeoksa Temple Stay, Boryeong Mud festival, DMZ, interactions with Korean High schoolers, and FOOD (ofcourse).
But for now, I have a recap video that shows some of my favorite snapshots throughout the trip.

NSLIY – South Korea

1                To me, South Korea as always been a fantasy like land, reachable only through my laptop via K-dramas and K-pop (aka popular culture). In the world of K-pop, idols have risen to God like statuses and in Korean dramas, the simple average girl somehow snatches two heart-brooding males’ attention. Although, I am personally not particularly attached to the specific Korean dramas nor do I revere K-pop idols, the Korean culture has somehow integrated itself into my daily life. From craving bibimbap to tearing up during a heart wrenching drama scene (the part where someone gets amnesia) or from Eat Your Kimchi videos to fangirling with friends over idols, I must admit…I have developed severe wanderlust for South Korea.
                 Thus I am excited to say that this summer I will be studying abroad in Songdo, South Korea with NSLI-Y. National Security Language Initiative for Youth (affectionately and conveniently shortened as NSLI-Y), is an U.S Department of State’s program that offers high school students scholarships to study in 1 of  7 different languages for a summer or year duration.  I applied for Korean, the summer duration and much to my excitement (and disbelief), got in. For more information on NSLI-Y – click here.
             This will be my first study abroad experience and I am extremely excited to go as South Korea has always been on my bucket list. I would consider myself relatively experienced in traveling, but I cannot help but feel excited and nervous for the start of this adventure. As there are only 3 days before I leave, packing has been…rather stressful and messy. My Korean language skills on the other hand….has also progressed at a snail like pace. I will make another post on packing, the pain is real I tell you.
               If anyone has information or questions about Songdo/South Korea, experiences they’d like to share, or unexplained excitement when thinking about the Korean culture, feel free to shoot me a comment or msg!

Festival of Colors

A month ago, I participated in my first ever Holi. Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the start of spring though a massive colored powder fight. Everyone throws the naturally dyed rice flour – resulting in the large scaled color explosion.
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At the University, there was a DJ shuffling through from Bollywood hits to Taylor Swift love songs. In front of the blasting stereos, there were around 200 people jumping and dancing – of course while throwing and being hit with color34b. At times, I cautiously tried to navigate through the moving bodies with my large camera secured in the arms -avoiding powder and water – sneaking shots when it felt relatively safe. Random people would come up – grabbing chins, smearing fingers across cheeks, or asking to close your eyes in preparation for a blast of rice flour. The rice flour was quite bitter – but we were safely assured it was safe to consume (in reasonable quantities of course).
  564The experience was exhilarating and I had a lot of fun participating and taking pictures. It was interesting how as everyone became covered in colors, it was hard to tell each other apart – reminding me that even in the most diverse of groups, similarities and differences serve as a connection. I look forward to participating in this again next year!
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Sleepless in Seattle

Road Trip – Day 1: Sleepless in Seattle
The starting place of my spring break road trip is of course, fabulous Seattle. For some reason, I have always felt extremely fond of Seattle – despite only been there once. It probably stemmed from my childhood love of Frasier, the skyline of Seattle  captured my heart every time.  Having arrived quite late into the night, we just picked up our car (you know you’re in Seattle when your car stinks of weed) . 
Early in the morning – I headed out towards Pike Place market in hopes of snatching up some breakfast.
IMG_9294IMG_9255IMG_9296IMG_9283IMG_9285IMG_9286For breakfast, I ended up with donuts from Daily Dozen, a croissant from Le Panier, and a piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky. The warm ham and cheese piroshky was undoubtedly my favorite, next the soft mini donuts, and then the croissant (it failed to impress)
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Pike place market a great start to my day. I decided to walk to the Space Needle/Chihuly Glass Garden. Instead of going up the Space Needle, I opted out for the Chihuly Glass Garden.
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IMG_9449IMG_9450IMG_9412IMG_9446IMG_9443IMG_9416Chihuly’s work is truly amazing and beautiful. The pieces were carefully arranged in rooms that emanate the art’s spirit in music and mood.
I decided to drop by the UW Seattle campus.  Although going there for undergrad is unfortunately a dream I can’t afford (literally), I wanted to check our their famous cherry blossoms
I was breath taken by the grandeur of the flowers, they covered the sky like snow flakes rather than petals.
IMG_9517IMG_9511IMG_9483IMG_95134IMG_9514-RecoveredThis was the first time I’ve seen cherry trees! It was around noon now, and the Japanese garden seemed appealing. The garden was much more peaceful than the people packed Seattle campus.IMG_97211
24536To get the best view of the Seattle skyline along with Mt. Rainer, we went to Kerry park. The park is located on a high hill (which was scary driving up/down to be honest).
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For dinner, I went back to Pike Place Market and had a relatively chill night.
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It was a short but fun 24 hours in Seattle, I truly hope that sometime in the future, I’ll be able to live here.
The next day we packed our suitcases and started driving towards Portland.

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Las Vegas – Off the Beaten Path (II)

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After a few bad experiences with Italian  Andiamo Italian Steakhouse and American food in Las Vegas, I looked towards Spring Mountain (the Chinatown of LV) for some good eats. And I found it.
But first of all, I did had quite the experience with Monta Ramen. It was an interesting experience, but not one I hope to repeat. We arrived at Monta around 11:00 AM and they open at 11:30 AM. Regardless, there was already a large line waiting outside. Upon seeing the popularity, we decided to give it a shot and waited the 30 minutes. Unfortunately, due to the limited seating (about 30 seats), we did not get a spot. If you do not immediately get seated at Monta, you have to put your name on a checklist. When they call the name, you better be there because if you don’t show up with two short name calls, you will get crossed off and the restaurant will move onto the next family. We put our name down, and decided to get curry at Curry Zen to wait off the estimated 1 hour wait.
Upon entering Curry Zen, we were greeted with the intense aroma of curry as well as a dozen “irasshaimase”s. Needless to say, after waiting outside for 30 mins, this was a pleasant change of pace. We ended up ordering a curry pan, croquette, takoyaki, and pork katsu.
Everything was intensely crispy and well flavored
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Of course, the takoyaki came with the smell of Japan’s oceans and dancing dried bonito flakes.
IMG_8316I was so excited about the takoyaki, I popped one quickly into my mouth only to realize how scalding hot it actually was. This was my first time eating takoyaki, the soft texture with octopus pieces was really quite delicious.I look forward to the next time I can try these.
Finally, we have the must get – pork katsu.
IMG_8313 To be honest, sticky rice is not my favorite but it did go quite well with the slightly sweet Japanese curry, and perfectly cooked katsu. Yum.
Basically, Curry Zen was fabulous.
Even though we had a great lunch at Curry Zen, we went back to Monta to see if we were up yet…and of course our name had already been passed. However, this only fueled my determination to eat at Monta someday….

2 Days Later 12/27
We came back two days later at 2:30 PM hoping to find Monta less crowded – which did not happen. We were told the wait would be from 45 minutes to 1 hour. Essentially the same amount of wait time as the first day. We ended up waiting exactly for 1 hour until we got seats at the ramen bar, right in front of the master cook. I was pretty happy and we ordered more than we thought we could eat due to compensate our wait time.
We got the fried gyoza, fried rice, pork belly bowl and I got the shoyu ramen – and now the pictures
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The conclusion is – it was good food, but good enough to wait 1 hour and 30 minutes for? No, not even close.
Sure, the price was great ($7 for a large bowl of ramen) and the food tasted nice. But when you’re traveling, it is just not worth it to wait 1 hour for good. I would probably recommend Monta to people staying long term, just to get a taste of authentic Japanese ramen, but definitely not to those that are passing by.

2 days later 12/29
On our last full day, we decided to get some Korean food. The restaurant in mind? The Korean shop that is right next to Monta.
To be honest, I forgot the name of the restaurant. It was something along the lines of Delicious Korean Restaurant, and boy was it delicious. Unlike in Monta, the restaurant is quiet and calm without the over whelming smell of fried food. Yet there is the beckoning aroma of tasty food as the ajumma ushered us into our seats. We were immediately served our banchan. Among the vibrant greens and brilliant reds of kimchi, I knew I was going to love the food.
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So with great expectations, we ordered jjamppong (seafood noodles), dolsot bibimbap (mixed rice), galbitang (short rib soup), pajeon (seafood pancakes) and tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes). And we feasted.
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Ughhh, severe food coma. But it must be said, absolutely awesome fabulous food. It was during this time that I regretted my choice to stand in line in Monta for 90 minutes when I could have been munching in this restaurant. The bibimbap was great with various vegetables, a fresh egg, and large amounts of spicy chili sauce. I accidentally burnt my finger when I touched the dolsot (stone pot). They mean it when they say, “Really hot, don’t touch”. The stone pot keeps the rice sizzling and cooks the egg when you stir everything together.
The seafood udon had a immense amounts of actual seafood. The same goes for the pajeon. And the tteokbokki was great. Pieces of tofu and rice cake bathing in spicy sauce, I mean, how could you go wrong.
This was definitely the best meal of the trip.
In conclusion, I learned that when something doesn’t go smoothly, you can always change your plans and go for something different. Also, don’t be swayed by long lines and large crowds, try to find your own secret gem. All in all, be flexible when traveling and stay easy going. That way if you do mess up, it won’t affect the rest of your trip!

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Las Vegas – Off the Beaten Path (Part 1)

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Although traveling off the beaten path usually means more work and time input, it provides a unique and unforgettable experience. I was fearful that Las Vegas did not have such path that was not paved with casinos selling greed, restaurants feeding gluttony, and stores advocating envy. Thankfully, this was not true.
For brunch, we decided to ditch the strip and go to a small shop downtown cleverly named, Eat. Upon entering, you immediately feel as if you are among the locals (something that the rest of Las Vegas is sorely missing).
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The ambiance was nice. Chattering of people, the light from large windows. Eat. gave off a homely feel that was otherwise impossible to find in the superficial lights of the strip. It was comfortable yet unique, like the black cat that strays into your backyard that leaves only after warming your hands with it’s ridiculously soft fur.
I had the truffled egg sandwich (12). It consisted of wild mushrooms, well cooked eggs, bacon and feta cheese on ciabata.The sandwich was good. Eggs were cooked so that they were soft and did not have the overwhelming taste of oil. Mushrooms and feta added a nice touch. And of course the bacon was fabulous. The side of chive potatoes were mediocre, I felt that they could have been cooked longer for a crisper skin and softer inside.
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After a satisfying brunch, I walked off strolling on the strip and soon found myself tire with the atmosphere once again. So for the second time, we took the car and drove some time before arriving in Cafe Darak. Cafe Darak is the dream of romantic readers made from the tears of unicorns conspired of the list – “All Things Hipsters Love”. So what is there not to like?
Upon entering, you are greeted with soft Korean indie music, a massive array of seemingly unrelated chairs, and various unassorted items that could only fit into a place with no order. Freaking fabulous
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I was very enthusiastic.
After ogling about every little thing in the room, I ordered a green tea latte, mocha, and honey toast. I sat down in the little sofa and was practically bouncing up and down as I awaiting my food, which of course, was great.
The green tea latte tasted like Japan’s seas and the mocha tasted like Costa Rico’s forests.
The honey toast tasted akin to what Winnie the Pooh would bake with that legendary honey of his.
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I felt my soul revived after visiting these two restaurants. Perhaps they can be the testament to how culture (good food) can survive even in such hostile environment as Las Vegas. And this is not the end of this food adventure, there is more to come!

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Yosemite

Road trip 2014 – Yosemite National Park

Here are some of my favorite snapshots of the trip.
Click on an image to open the gallery. 

I also made of video of the trip here!

Thanks for stopping by!

The Happy Gnome

The Happy Gnome – ✯✯✯✯

“There’s no place like gnome”…ba dum tssss.
ahahaha.

But in all seriousness, this restaurant serves food that makes me drool at the thought of eating it again. I went to this wondrous place during lunchtime, the pub was pretty much full by 11:00 so we had to opt for the dining area, which was just as nice. I’ve heard that the brewery is to die for, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to experience the treat that is alcohol for a good four years. However, I was able to fully enjoy the culinary adventure

For appetizer, we had poutine (a first) and house made ramen with a quail egg.

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The poutine was little on the heavy side for me, on the other hand, I thought the ramen was much more enjoyable. The scraps of meat in the ramen was the best.

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For the entree, we had a sirloin, rib, and chicken sandwich.
The sirloin was really good – the natural juice that came with it was paired perfectly with the potatoes. Fresh vegetables on the top were the perfect addition to the sirloin. Unfortunately, the member that order it had wanted it to be well done (a sin, I know), and the meat came out as barely a medium. I ended up changing out my rib (the dish) for the medium sirloin.

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The rib was delicious. The carrots were rather unique and again, the meat was extremely tender.

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Finally for something a little more casual, the chicken sandwich was really really good. Like seriously, really good. The french fries were just pieces of heaven – pieces of heaven with lots and lots of fat. It came with three different types of homemade sauces – they were unique spins on the tradition ranch, ketchup, and barbecue dips.

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The dessert was not quite to the level that the rest of the lunch was – however, it was a good way to end a rather heavy lunch

We had the pineapple marzipan cake and caramel/sea salt/mini croutons.

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The dining experience was wonderful with attentive servers and talented chef. I look forward to the next time I can visit this rather enchanted restaurant with gnomes dancing around in it.