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.


The New Shanghai

by Liz on October 5, 2010

in Travel

Chairman Mao presides over a jewelry store

I’ve been absent from blogging due to a whirlwind 8-day tour of Asia: 2 days each in Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore, with air travel in between. Almost every moment, I ate, I saw, and captured moments with my Nikon.

There’s so much I want to say, but before I upload my other photos, here’s some night shots of Xintiandi, Shanghai’s hip fashion and dining district. It was here I enjoyed a mango mojito, coveted the hyper-expensive goodies at Shanghai Tang, but most of all took in the new Shanghai. (That could or could not mean I let fine particulate matter seep through my pores.) Foreigners mingled with locals, and it seemed like everyone who was anyone was out and about, lubricated but not morose.

Here are some snapshots of Xintiandi, in all its seductive nighttime glory.

Lantern festival.

Xintiandi's courtyard, surrounded by beautiful colonial architecture.

Mascara power!



Eat, Pray, Love: The Ashram Vacation

by Liz on July 29, 2010

in Travel

Julia Roberts, with Swami Dharmdev at Hari Mandir Ashram outside New Delhi, India

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of buzz generated around the movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love.” A divorced woman in her thirties, in search for answers, embarks on a trip around the world to find herself, and then…can you tell I haven’t read the book? It sounds a bit too cliché, really. I mean, since the days of Allen Ginsburg and the Beatles, when did we not go East to find some meaning to our burning existential questions?

Amidst all this media build-up around a movie that’s going to prove to be part chick-flick, part spiritual quest, and all Julia Roberts, all the time, I stumbled on a fascinating article about another India sojourn, undertaken by the writer Somerset Maugham in the 1930s.

To critics, “Eat, Pray, Love,” which has sold more than six million copies in the United States, is a symbol of the commodification of Eastern spirituality, offering a breezy primer on the kind of self-examination that is said to take a lifetime, sandwiched between narratives of more earthly ­pleasures. But Gilbert is hardly the first writer to mass-market the ashram experience.

Feel free to read the rest of the article here. Maugham, it turns out, ignited a craving for Eastern spirituality in his native England, after recounting his time with the swami Sri Ramana in a fictional novel, “The Razor’s Edge.” That book, we’re told, sold 3 million copies upon release. Gilbert’s success, it seems, is nothing new.

Still, I can’t but help wonder about life in an ashram. Early morning prayer. Simple living. Meditation session with fellow seekers of Enlightenment. And tranquilizing yoga! The Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, unlike some resorts merely posing as Ashrams seem to offer the real deal too: according to this article by John Falk in National Geographic Adventure it’s all about “no tight-fitting garments or public displays of affection; bathing was cold water only.” And something about the use of toilet paper, which I won’t venture to print here.

A true ashram doesn’t sound exactly the lap of luxury, but I feel it’s somewhere a traveler can learn, in the words of Sri Ramana, why “silence is also conversation.”