A few weeks with Josine

So I’m a little delayed with this post, but now that I’ve found my footing again post-vacation I think it’s about time I update you all on my sister’s visit! We basically alternated between the mature women that we (obviously) are and silly little children getting to stay up late loading up on copious amounts of junk food. But who would have expected anything else…

We first met in Korea, spent a week there (as described in the last post) and then Josine came to Singapore where I met her at the airport at midnight on a Tuesday. We spent the rest of the week here. I showed her the cultural highlights, including Little India where we entertained a restaurant full of Indians as two ungraceful Dutch girls tried to shuffle their curry rice into their mouths using their bare hands. We spent a very rainy Wednesday morning in Chinatown, paid way too much money for an umbrella and visited the Buddha Tooth Relic temple where religious ceremonies were taking place. This city still has ways of surprising me.

On Friday we flew to Bali, and spent our first days in Kuta. We surfed, ate great food, had early morning swims and shopped around. Trying our hand at bargaining with the local ladies. We met Freddy on Sunday morning and drove with him to the north of Bali stopping at temples, villages and various sights on our way to Pemuteran. In this little town the beaches are black, remnants left over from the volcano. We did more swimming, floating in the water as the sun set in the distance, more eating, and more sightseeing. We also spent a morning snorkeling which was absolutely amazing. I (Maggie) had never gone before and it was amazing to see this whole other world under the water. So vibrant, colorful and alive.

After a few days in Pemuteran, on Tuesday we went back south to Ubud. It was here that we walked through rice terraces, visited the Sacred Monkey Forest, made new friends who will sponsor me when I eventually move Bali (okay, not really – but one can dream), drank lots of Indonesian coffee, discovered delicious potato chips, took a cooking class and did some cycling. The ultimate cultural experience was the Cockfight our bicycle tour guide randomly pulled us into, something I didn’t expect to experience and I won’t be heartbroken if I don’t have to see it again. Nevertheless, I saw another side of the culture. The Cockfight was set up in an arena and many men were cheering and throwing down their money in favor of one rooster over the other. Yet another reminder that people all over the world have an affinity to gamble, drink and smoke.

Early Friday morning, we were back on an airplane to Singapore. Once we arrived Chris had prepared a delicious brunch which set the tone for our next few days. We went on to spend some time in Sentosa playing soccer in the heat on the beach, which lasted all of 20 minutes. We went to the Sound of Music in the Marina Bay Sands on Singapore National day, followed up by a drink up on top of the hotel. One full day was spent in the waterpark on Sentosa having a blast taking all of the slides. We rode the gondola from Sentosa Island to Mount Faber (highest hill in Singapore, 105m) and hiked down in the dark to our house. All the while imagining various snakes lurking in the corners of the trail. But we survived. Moreover, we shopped, visited museums, ate, laid on the poolside and just relaxed. Exactly as one should do on a holiday.

After a few weeks like this I could have really used the ice bucket challenge to wake me up before I was thrown back into reality. That being said, the time away was really the best. It re-energized me to keep working away on my thesis and it was great for me to give Josine some insight into the life Chris and I have here in Singapore.

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Korea – a journey beyond boarders (Part 2)

The second part of our journey was more beyond boarders than the first part. As you will see later, it was also meant in a metaphorical way.

So on Wednesday evening, Josine joined the gang and we had quite the program ready. Well, actually Dan and Jinhee did, we would not have found half of the places in double the time. Anyhow, Thursday morning Josine, Maggie and I went to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where we got a tour and another lesson on history. The troops settled 1953 around the 38th parallel (Breitengrad), where North and South Korea are still divided today. In between the two countries, there is a strip of 4km high and 241km wide which is demilitarized and therefore untouched. Beautiful fauna by the way. Anyhow, in the middle of this DMZ there is the JSA (Joint Security Area) where they try to enable talks between the two countries. That’s also where we set foot on the ground of North Korea. So the entire day was filled with impressions of the tense relationship of the Korean countries starting from the JSA visit all the way to the abandoned train station, which has tracks going to Pyongyang. In the evening, we went back to Seoul (60km) and enjoyed a Baseball game, which had a number of cultural differences to the US version. The chanting, singing and cheering will stick forever!

Friday was an early morning, as we headed South with a high speed train. We landed in Gyeongju, a beautiful city about 2 hours from Seoul. Right when we arrived, we were picked up by a tour bus which gave us a compact tour of the area. Thanks to warm and sunny weather, we were also able to take some nice pictures. The greenery reminded me strongly of the Napa Valley, only the wineries were missing. We visited temples, tombs, and statues all over the Gyeongju area. In the evening, we camped at a local site, which was very comfortable type of camping. The wifi, big tents with power plugs and the BBQ right in front of your place, surely made it one comfy place to stay.

Saturday was the last full day together, so we made our way down to Busan, where we enjoyed the beach in the afternoon. In the late afternoon, we headed to the fish market. At one of the stands, three fish were selected for our supper. One fish was going to become Sashimi and the other two were just fried and prepared for us. Shortly after, we got everything served. Not sure when I ate that much fish last time, but it was absolutely phenomenal. No fish smell, pure goodness. Around seven, we made our way back to Seoul, where we got a few hours of sleep, before we headed back to Singapore.

This week in South Korea has been extraordinary. Not only because of the peerless organization of Daniel and Jinhee (including the uncountable times of ordering for us), but also because of the luxury of being able to spend a week together. The “journey beyond boarders” did not only entail the journey to South Korea or putting a foot on North Korean ground. The siblings of Maggie are far away from Switzerland and Singapore. Therefore, spending time together has given us the opportunity to push back the boarders of “in-law hood”, which is usually limited to annual visit at Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday. To sum it up, it has been one amazing trip and I am in for another visit, wherever it might be. Thank you!

Korea – a journey beyond boarders (Part 1)

Korea has been on our wish list for a while. Since Maggie’s brother Daniel was just visiting Seoul, it was a perfect opportunity to meet up and discover Korea together. We made two blog posts, simply because there would be too much information for just one.

We arrived on Sunday morning at 7.30am at the Incheon Airport in Seoul and were welcomed by Daniel and Jinhee, Daniel’s fiancee. Our hosts for the next few days got up early to pick us up. After a cup of coffee we made our way to our hostel to drop off our belongings. We got there by Metro in about 90 minutes, which gave us enough time to chat up and to learn about the do’s and don’ts of the Korean culture.

Our hostel was not touristy at all, and thanks to the research of Jinhee and Daniel, we had a specious, comfy and central place to call our home for a week. We started the culinary feast with Kimbap, a vegetable and rice roll in seaweed.  As it was already close to lunch, we made our way to a Korea Buffet restaurant, where we waited for about 2.5 hours to get in. Plenty of time to discover the surroundings in the meantime. As we got in, it was self explanatory why the wait was so long. Fully packed with people and delicious foods. Since it was all-you-can-eat, we spent a good amount of time talking, eating and trying to remember as many dish names as possible. With the high amount of meat in their cuisine, I already liked Korea much better. Ssam Bap will be something I certainly introduce into my own cook book one day. After this delicious meal, the night flight took its toll. Tired and surely blown away by all the impressions on our first eight hours, we napped at Daniel’s flat to regain energy. After a restful hour, we went to Han River where we enjoyed a water and light show, completing a long and beautiful first day in Korea.

Monday morning started off late, as we met the owner of the flat to check in into our hostel, to figure out how we are going to handle the next few days. Thanks to Jinhee, the language was no problem. We headed directly to lunch after this to eat Samgyetang, a traditional chicken stew with Korean Ginseng. As Jinhee had to work afterwards, Daniel went with us to the Gyeonbokgung temple, where we arrived just in time for an English tour. After visiting one of the biggest temples from the Joseon-Dynasty, we were in desperate need for an ice cream. With sugar in our bellies, we went to the Jogyesa temple where we completed the days visits of temples. Back at the apartment of Daniel, we met up with Jinhee again and went together for a delicious fish supper. We were also properly introduced to Soju, a distilled beverage, made from rice, potatoes and wheat or barley. As a desert, we went to eat Patbingsu (shaved ice), which was not only delicate in our mouths, but surely convinced our eyes too. Shaved ice is easy to make and is also low on calories, depending on how much stuff you add.

Tuesday was a history lesson, which no book or lecture could provide. The war museum in Korea is a majestic building and therefore a big reminder of what has happened between 1950 and 1953. I still feel embarrassed about how little I knew about this war, which torn a nation apart within 3 years and destroyed thousands of families. Deeply touched and with a lot of impression, we left in direction of the shopping district Myeongdong. Due to some rain, we took a longer coffee break. I also introduced Daniel to Tschau-Sepp, which made good use of the waiting time. As the rain did not stop, we decided to go to a Korean cinema. Impressed by Daniel’s Korean skills, we got tickets which allowed us into the correct film at the correct time. Perfect, one might think. Something no one anticipated was that in the English movie with Korean subtitles, the apes (Damn of the Planet of the Apes) would be speaking in sign language with each other. And of course, the sign language was only translated in Korean. After all, it was not bad, because the sign language was not used too often.  In the evening, we enjoyed some Chicken and Beer and headed back to our hostel.

On Wednesday, we enjoyed a touristy day. In the morning, we visited a traditional Chinese market. For lunch, we ate Shabushabu, a hot pot like meal which was glorious! We also visited Insadong, an artistic area with beautiful shops and local specialties. In the afternoon, we headed to the airport to pick up Josine, Maggie’s sister, from her flight from Canada. Gangnam was the district where we ate supper and ate our first spicy but still very tasty supper.

Since it would be too much to put everything into one blog post, this is where Part 1 ends. As you can see, we did not only eat lot’s, but we also saw a lot. I am note sure how we can thank Dan and Jinhee enough. Their preparation, patience, guidance and commitment made this trip unforgettable. Thank you, thank you, thank you!