Snail face cream. Yep, that’s right. Snail mucus for your face.

Korean women seem to possess such a natural beauty that when they let you in on their secrets it’s hard to argue with them. At least that’s what I thought.

One of my students gave me a snail mucus face mask gift set recently, and at first I wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or be slightly offended. The ensuing gasps from my co-teachers soon told me that this was something to be very pleased with.

It turns out that snail mucus is the latest skincare trend in Korea and snail mucus products are flying off the shelves in almost every cosmetics shop.

These ‘intense snail care masks’ contain ‘astonishing filtered liquid of snail mucin that is a source of boosting vitality‘. Furthermore it claims to ‘fully replenish the skin with its ample moisture to solidify the skin’s hydration barrier’.

Like most Korean face masks, it was a sheet that you place over your face with holes for your eyes and mouth. Got a bit of a fright when I caught sight of myself in the mirror the first time I used one; looks more like a Halloween costume than a beauty product!

The packaging said to leave it on for 30 mins, and once I got past the slimy feeling of the sheet on my face, and how much it reminded of a snail, it was actually quite pleasant. And it did make my skin feel very soft afterwards!

Snail mucus seems to be taking Korea by storm, I wonder if it will ever catch on at home…?

Jokbal and Oli gogi

So, tonight I had my first, and perhaps last, experience of eating pig trotters (jokbal).

We went out for a work dinner to celebrate the start of the new school year, and my co-teachers couldn’t get enough of them but we waygookin weren’t as convinced.

They were mouth meltingly spicy, my tongue was completely numb after the first (and only!) piece. However, after a few chews I realised that the extreme spiciness was probably to disguise the texture. I’m still not sure how to describe it, or what I could compare it to as it was pretty unique. Imagine big knuckles of warm, rubbery lard and you’re probably on the right lines.

Fortunately, after the trauma of trying to eat the pig trotters, a huge platter of pink duck meat was placed in front of us. Juicy, smoked, delicious goodness. This was more like it.

It is called oli gogi in Korean, and it was served with the usual array of sauces, salads and kimchi. We polished it off in minutes, and I am already looking forward to having it again.

One of my main reasons for moving here was for new experiences, and whilst it was definitely worth a try, once is enough for me!

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Valentine’s Day at Wonderland

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Unlike Christmas, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, February 14th was a rather understated affair at Wonderland. A few token gifts were exchanged between kids but apparently the real excitement happens on White Day (March 14th)! Nevertheless, the romantic in me … Continue reading

Bupyeong Underground Market

Koreans have got shopping down to a pretty fine art. Seoul is home to some of the biggest shopping centres in Asia, and even Incheon has it’s fair share of huge, glossy, modern malls filled with Western and Korean brands.

But I think the best way to shop in Korea is the markets, both overground and underground. A lot of them are in Seoul, but Bupyeong subway station has an enormous underground market, mostly selling clothes, but also electronics, cosmetics, and jewellery.

It is an oddly disorientating maze of walkways and sometimes you wonder if you’ll ever see the light of day again! You will almost inevitably get lost and there is absolutely no point in trying to make sense of the mish-mash of shops and stalls.

The best thing about Bupyeong market is the potential to grab a bargain! The clothes and shoes could rival Topshop and River Island but the prices are lower than Primark. My best buys to date include big knitted jumpers (essential for the Korean winter!)  in every colour of the rainbow for about £7 each, a big envelope style clutch bag for £5, and flat pumps for £9.

Valentine’s Day – Korean Style!

It’s February 14th and love is most definitely in the air in Korea. But as usual, Koreans do things a little differently…

As if to avoid the awkwardness of presenting somebody with a Valentine’s present and them not give you one back, in Korea they have one day for women to give gifts to men, and another for men to give gifts to women.

On February 14th it is only women who give chocolates to men. Store-bought chocolates are given to a guy you like, but if you really love somebody you make them yourself!

Then, having had a month’s cooling off period to think about it, White Day on March 14th offers men the chance to give a girl a present, usually non-chocolate candy.

Korea also has a day reserved for those who didn’t receive a Valentine’s gift or a White Day gift. April 14th is known as Black Day, when the unlucky ones who did not receive any Valentine’s gifts get together and eat black noodles to ‘mourn’ their singledom and wallow in self pity.

And if all of that wasn’t enough, the 14th day of every month has some ‘significance’ for Korean lovebirds!

  • January 14th – Candle Day
  • February 14th – Valentine’s Day
  • March 14th – White Day
  • April 14th – Black Day
  • May 14th – Rose Day
  • June 14th – Kiss Day
  • July 14th – Silver Day
  • August 14th – Green Day
  • September 14th – Music Day
  • October 14th – Wine Day
  • November 14th – Movie Day
  • December 14th – Hugs Day

20 things that still amaze me in Korea

I’ve been in Korea for 5 months now, and every day I find something new to love. There are some things however, that never cease to amaze me, and I thought I’d share them with you!

  1. When meeting people for the first time ‘are you married?’ is invariably one of the first questions they will ask you. Even the kids asked me when I started teaching them.

  2. Korean children are so much cuter than English children. Even the ugly ones are still so adorably cute! 

  3. The way my kids will whinge incessently about being too hot in the classroom, but refuse point blank to take their North Face puffa jackets off.

  4. The driving. Oh my god the driving. I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands everytime I get in a car. Most drivers show blatant disregard for traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, and road lanes. The pavement is seen as a perfectly acceptable alternative to the road for scooters and bikes, weaving their way through the pedestrians, beeping impatiently as they go.

  5. Despite the obvious language barrier, people will go out of their way to help you if you look lost or confused (which for me is most of the time!).

  6. Spitting on the street. And the accompanying noises. Ew.

  7. I’m not sure I will ever get used to the staring. The unashamed, spectacularly unsubtle staring, often accompanied by the word ‘waygookin’ (foreigner) muttered to their friends. I think it’s usually done out of curiosity rather than anything more offensive, but I spent the first couple of months being completely paranoid that I had mascara all over my face or something in my teeth.

  8. Being told that I have yellow hair, a long nose, and big, funny coloured eyes. Certainly makes a girl feel good about herself!

  9. Fan death. The genuine belief that if you sleep in a room with an electric fan running, you will die. What is that all about?! 

  10. How polite Korean people are, until they step onto any form of public transport. As soon as the doors open the elbows come out and people surge into the carriages while others struggle to fight their way off.

  11. There is one travel card that you can use on the bus, the subway and in taxis. You can even use it to pay for groceries in some convenience stores. Why hasn’t this caught on at home?

  12. Efficient banking. You can do pretty much everything at an ATM, transfer money home, withdraw, deposit, and pay bills. Unfortunately I only figured this one out after trying to gesture ‘send money home’ to a bemused Korean bank cashier.

  13. Couples in head to toe matching outfits. Seriously, matching baseball caps, jackets, jumpers, jeans, and shoes. There are shops that specialise in his and hers clothes. Somehow can’t see this one catching on in England.

  14. Korean boyfriends carrying their girlfriend’s handbags for them.

  15. Fashion isn’t just for the two-legged. The dogs outfits are incredible here. I’ve even seen dogs wearing shoes! It is also fairly common to see a dog sharing it’s owner’s jacket, with it’s little head peeking out of the top.

  16. The yogi-yo (call) button on the table at almost every restaurant. No more waving, head bobbing or trying to make eye contact to get the waiter’s attention, just press the button. Simple.

  17. Pot noodle is considered a proper meal. 

  18. Kimchi, you either love it or you hate it, but in Korea there’s no escaping it! It is served with every single meal, from galbi to sushi. It’s a soft, pickled cabbage in a spicy red sauce and is a source of national pride.

  19. Almost all Korean cars are just black, silver or white.

  20. Ondol (underfloor heating) comes as standard in the apartments. Perfect for those cold winter mornings!

Soju, maekju and makgeolli – Drinking in Korea

Drinking, and drinking heavily, is a big part of Korean culture, and it definitely ties in with their ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra. It is not uncommon to go for dinner on a week night and at the next table see a middle aged businessman face down surrounded by empty green soju bottles, while his colleagues are in a similar state of inebriation laughing manically and slapping each other on the back.

The three most popular drinks in Korea are soju, maekju, and makgeolli although expensive whiskeys are becoming increasingly popular these days.

Soju is like Japanese sake, or a slightly sweeter, more watery vodka (or paint stripper!), and is drank in vast quantities. You can buy a bottle of soju in the shops for around ₩1000 (60p/1$), and is only slightly more expensive in bars. Apparently Koreans drink so much of the stuff that the most well known soju brand, Jinro, is in fact the top selling brand of spirits worldwide. Pretty impressive for a population of 49 million.

Maekju is the Korean word for beer and it’s served pretty much anywhere. Well known Western beers are easy to come across, but are considerably more expensive than Korean brands like Cass, Hite and Max. I was never a big fan of beer at home and much prefer beer here, but the general consensus among foreigners is that it is fizzier and weaker tasting than Western beers.

Makgeolli (literally ‘farmer’s alcohol’) is a much more traditional drink, is an unstrained, milky spirit made from rice and barley. It has a much lower alcohol content than soju, around 6 or 7%, and comes in various different flavours.

건배! Cheers!