The definitive girl’s guide to living, discovering, and enjoying South Korea
By Hana Yoo and Elizabeth Shim
Small Planet Publishing

Call me crazy, but I keep hearing little voices that are nudging me to declare 2012 as the year to visit, discover, and frolic in the land of Korea. Perhaps even live there for a year or two, and really get to the bottom of a bottomless intrigue.

Sure, things are a little shaky up North. And everyone’s a tad bit nervous about a 29-year-old, Swiss boarding school-trained neophyte handling the last Stalinist regime standing. I mean, would you hire this guy to run a country? I wouldn’t.

Luckily for us, South Korea is everything North Korea is not. The keywords here would be leisure and entertainment. Many travelers from neighboring China and Japan are now coming in droves to do their shopping, hang out in the cafés of Gangnam, and taste some of that ferociously delicious Korean food. Kimchi, anyone?

Other, rather unexpected events have also taken place that have put Korea squarely on the map, kind of like the way you can see places like London, or New York not just geographically but also symbolically.

First — and let’s just get this out of the way — there’s the K-pop phenomenon. I’m thinking of the scores of websites dedicated to Korean entertainment news, especially this lovely one based in Singapore — designed to quench the unquenchable thirst of K-pop fans for more pictures, updates, and music videos by some of Korea’s cutest, eye-catching, what-have-you stars. This stuff is addictive, I’m telling you, so don’t get sucked in. But if you do, you may find yourself actually traveling to Korea.

And I’m here to tell you that’s not a bad idea. Especially if you are young, Korea seems to hold a few promises for the smart, adaptable person who’s curious to learn more about Asia.

So if you’re headed to Korea, check out Seoul Sweet Seoul! There’s lots of information about shopping, spas, and travel, in a detailed language you won’t find in tourist brochures, or the usual suspects published by Lonely Planet or Moon Guides. It also helps it was written by myself and Hana Yoo, and we’ve lived in Korea for a combined six years.

There’s also information here about expat living and finding a job, but with none of the usual ranting about locals that you’ll find on forums littered with trolls who suffer from some arcane inability to adjust.

The world’s getting smaller. And we’ve all got to make an effort to understand each other better.

And in 2012, as this piece on CNNGo suggests, what better place to head for than the Land of the Morning Calm, in a year when the Mayan Calendar ends?

Mark my words, dear readers. All roads lead to Seoul. So buy the book already.


(From L to R, top to bottom:) Pearl Buck, a Karakuri puppet, Japanese Izakaya food in Beijing, Singaporean designer Peir Wu's FW 2011 Collection, Korean thriller 'Poongsan', and the cast of Korean musical '200-pound Beauty''

@The great train tragedy in Zhejiang China continues to unfold. The death toll is now 40, and the government has decided to nearly double compensation for the families of victims.

@NYC’s MTA Chairman Jay Walder announced to quit in October, and who can blame him, when Hong Kong’s subways look like this.

@Great news for book lovers. ‘Pearl Buck in China‘ (Simon & Shuster, 2010) is now out in paperback. Buck, by the way, is probably the most fascinating “blond-haired, blue-eyed Chinese girl” who ever lived.

@LaughingSquid posted a video of Karakuri, or the Japanese art of clockwork puppets that run without electricity. Let’s just say these puppets blow me away!

@WOWSAN introduces SAI, unusual shelving system from South Korea that’s customizable and perfect for city dwellers.

@Koreaboo reports hit romantic comedy ‘200-pound Beauty’ will be remade into a musical that will then ambitiously begin a tour across Asia. Kara’s Gyuri and Supernova’s Sungje are involved.

@Hollywood Reporter likes Poongsan (2011), a Korean thriller that “injects new life into Korean North-South espionage thrillers with its edgy portrayal of a mysterious man.”

@Whatever happened to luxury brand Chloé’s online push in China?

@Hip fashion mag Dazed profiles London-based Singaporean designer Peir Wu whose latest collection is based on an “alien tribe of men from an imaginary planet.”

@The Beijinger reviews a new Izakaya restaurant in China’s capital, with a nice woodsy Izakaya vibe but where the food is a little bit hit-and-miss.


@Shanghai Shiok! blogs about how Singaporeans are frowning at the latest influx of Chinese immigrants. But Singapore, isn’t that how you got started?



36 hours in Singapore

by Liz on October 21, 2010

in Travel

The Fullerton Hotel in downtown Singapore, the former General Post Office building.

After four memorable days in Shanghai, we made our way to tropical Singapore, a thriving cocktail of Chinese thrift and industry, Malay gastronomy, and throngs of colorful, Indian stalls. It’s also tidy (no garbage!), the trains and buses run on time, and everyone speaks English. Added bonus: they’re all very, very nice.

In the company of food lovers, I ventured out to taste the best that Singapore had to offer, starting with the breakfast at our hotel, The Sentosa Resort and Spa. The generous buffet was a metaphor for cultural crossroads, with chafing dishes ranging from dim sum, samosas, congee, and American style eggs and sausages. Next came lunch, at Maxwell Food Centre, one of the city’s most celebrated concentration of hawker stalls. The Hainanese Chicken Rice, congee from Zhen Zhen porridge, and red dragon fruit smoothie were just some of the standouts.

One of many hawker stalls. This one was selling chicken curry noodle soup.

Food, food, everywhere: an assortment of sides to go with your lunch.

Maxwell's is overwhelmingly Chinese, which explained this little shrine in the corner.

Red dragon fruit smoothie. Quite the tasty.

We then made our way to Little India, where there was much shopping to do and pampering to be had. I wanted to try on all the saris and sari-inspired tops and ended up purchasing a memorably teal silk top, with a sparkling mirror embroidery around the slightly Nehru collar. Eyebrows were also taken care of, at the whopping rate of 5 US dollars. Little India: go with your girlfriends. You won’t leave disappointed.

A colorful scene in an alleyway in Little India.

Later that day, thanks to the connections of a local friend, we attended a very crowded reception at The Arts House for renowned Singaporean painter Ong Kim Seng. Ong is the only Asian artist to have won six awards from the American Watercolor Society, an awesome feat for anyone, and especially for a self-taught painter.

A watercolor by Ong Kim Seng of Spottiswoode Park Road, Singapore. (Photo courtesy of Ong Kim Seng)

Though we didn’t stay for long, I managed to catch glimpses of Ong’s dreamy depictions of predominantly colonial era Singapore and Malaysia, buildings of a bygone era framed by lazy palm trees and the gently pervasive tropical air. After the exhibit, we came back out to terra firma, Singapore 2010, with its modern high-rises and exciting new architecture, and I wondered, somewhat melancholically, whether I had missed something.