Korea: Food, food and more food!

So after our lovely jaunts to Hong Kong and Nanjing, the Hubs and I headed to our last stop of our Christmas holiday: my hometown of Seoul! I was so excited to be back and also, to be eating everything I’ve been missing.

In London, there are lots of Korean restaurants. In fact, a small town called New Malden in Surrey is called Koreatown by some people, there are so many Korean restaurants on the high street. So it’s not difficult to get what you want there. In contrast, one of the drawbacks of living in Kuala Belait is that the nearest Korean restaurant is over an hour away so you can imagine how desperate I was for my fix!

One of the major differences between Korean restaurants outside of Korea and those within are that those outside tend to be “general” restaurants ie they serve a wide range of dishes and so you don’t have to go to different restaurants to eat different food. In Korea, the restaurants tend to be a lot more specialised, a lot of the restaurants that my family go to specialise in only a handful of dishes and some only have one item on their menu.

So here are some of the highlights of my food journey 🙂

1. Sul-lung-tang

One of the first places we stopped by to eat was my favourite sul-lung-tang place. This is a soup made by boiling beef and bones for a loooong time to create a deep flavour. It is served with a bowl of rice which you usually put inside the soup to eat altogether. It is delicious, particularly with some good kimchi.

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Sul-lung-tang. You just add salt to season it and off you go!

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We also ordered a meat platter. This is boiled beef (called Su-yook) and comes with a lovely soy dipping sauce

2. Bulgogi jeon-gol

Bulgogi is marinated beef in a sweet soy sauce. It can come with a wide range of “wetness”. In restaurants outside Korea, it usually comes in a grill dish, sizzling, with a little bit of sauce.

This place I go to all the time in Seoul does bulgogi jeon-gol. “Jeon-gol” means stew and so it has a lot more sauce.

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Bulgogi arrives at our table

Usually at these sorts of places, the meat comes uncooked and is placed at the grill on your table so you can watch it cook and adjust it to your taste. Once you finish all the meat, you can order fried rice. Then a server comes to your table with the rice and various veg and fries the rice right in front of you. The ingredients can include kimchi, leafy green veg, beansprouts, mushrooms etc

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Server starting to fry our rice

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More frying

3. Korean BBQ

During my time at home, I went for a classic Korean BBQ. This restaurant is absolutely awesome as it is a butcher / restaurant. So the aesthetics are not anything to write home about, but the taste of their beef is phenomenal and the prices are very good too. The beef doesn’t need anything, no salt or pepper, marinade or anything it’s that good. If you want some seasoning, it comes with a salt, pepper and sesame oil sauce on the side that you can dip into.

Butcher / restaurant

Butcher / restaurant

Beef on the grill

My dad is a keen griller and he usually shoos away the servers and does the cooking himself. He’s very particular about how he does it but I have to admit, it is absolutely delicious when he says they are ready. I stuffed my face at this restaurant…

4. Hanjungsik

To understand what Hanjungsik means, I have to break down each syllable. “Han” means Korea, “jung” means formal and “sik” means meal. So Hanjungsik refers to a traditional Korean meal. Usually, each table will have a few vegetable dishes, some pickles, soup, stew and some meat or fish dishes. At the end of the meal comes some sort of dessert, in the form of drinks, confectioneries, or fruit.

Hanjungsik is very popular in Korea as traditional food tends to be very healthy and there is a wide variety of food that comes with each order.

So I went to a restaurant called Chong-mok. This restaurant has resolved a problem that is common with Hanjungsik restaurants, which is that there are sooo many different dishes, the servers either have to carry around huge trays full of food or scurry from the kitchen to the tables multiple times. Chong-mok has come up with a unique solution in that they prepare what I’ll call a “top table” that they lay all their dishes on from the kitchen and then load the whole top table onto a trolley which they roll over. Then they push the top table onto the table at which you are sitting. The height of the trolley and size of the tables match so that it is easy to push on and off. And voila, you have a table full of food!

Lady coming with all our food

Lady rolling over our top table

Top table on and ready to eat!

Top table on and ready to eat!

5. Pat-bing-su

Pat-bing-su is a summer dessert which isn’t widely available usually in the winter so when I saw a shop selling it, I looked at Hubs and said I gotta have it! Pat-bing-su has lots of shaved ice at the bottom and topped with sweet red beans and usually some milk. You can also add lots of different flavourings and toppings such as nuts or chocolate but we went simple with just some rice cakes on top. Sooo good!

Pat-bing-su

Pat-bing-su

6. Ho-dduk

Unlike pat-bing-su, ho-dduk is a quintessential winter snack. I had this one with my mum when we were out and about in a market. Ho-dduk is a pan-fried flatbread with honey inside. When you eat a hot one right off the pan on a cold day, there’s nothing better!

Delicious snacks at a market stall - he's frying loads of ho-dduk!

Delicious snacks at a market stall including doughnuts, hot dogs and fried sweet bread but I’m after the ho-dduk on the grill!

I’ve now made myself really hungry by writing this post so I’m off to have a snack!

Nanjing: The Nanjing Museum and exploring more of the old town (Part 3)

It was our last full day in Nanjing and we decided to explore the Nanjing Museum in the morning. We took the metro to Mingugong station which was only a few short stops from our hotel. The Museum is said to be one of the largest in China and it certainly looked the part.

Main entrance to the Nanjing Museum

Main entrance to the Nanjing Museum

The path to the main building

The path to the impressive-looking main building

Beautiful ceiling decorations in the main building

Beautiful ceiling decorations in the main building

Despite the look of the main building, the inside of the Museum was modern. Helpfully we could rent headsets that explained a lot of the exhibits in English which was particularly useful as not all written explanations were translated from Mandarin. I kind of wished that we had come to the Museum earlier during our time in Nanjing as it had a good timeline of history and key events which I think would have been helpful to know when we looked at other stuff but oh well. In particular, there were some beautiful Ming and Qing dynasty vases which apparently the Museum is famous for. Also, they had a section where they had a replica of Nanjing in the first half of 1900s? I didn’t see a sign for what period it is supposed to be but if I had to take a guess I would say… 1940s?

A step into the past...

A step into the past…

Charming old school tram

Charming old school tram

Walking through the old alleyways

Walking through the old alleyways

After all the viewing and walking and reading, we were pooped and went to a lovely tea house inside the Museum for a little beverage and snack stop.

Cute tea house

Cute tea house

Rose tea

Rose tea

Rice balls in soup - sweet red bean inside

Rice balls in soup – sweet red bean inside

In the evening, our friends who had gotten married the evening prior kindly took us out to the old town. They took us to a restaurant that served traditional Nanjing food and performed Chinese opera!

East entrance to the old town

East entrance to the old town

Restaurant / Chinese opera venue

Chinese opera performer singing and dancing

Chinese opera performer singing and dancing

One of the performers came off the stage and interacted with punters. Her mask kept changing and it was quite unsettling when seen up close!

A duet

A duet

Food was lovely: rice pancakes with bacon, stir fried vegetables, salted duck, some seafood in a sauce etc

After the dinner and watching the opera, we walked the streets of old town. It had a similar atmosphere to the area near the Confucius Temple the Hubs and I went on our first day but it was still very charming. Our friends said that this area is where a lot of the locals come and hang out and sure enough, it was very busy with people enjoying food and drinks.

The lovely streets of old town

The lovely streets of old town

We stopped by a snack stall on the street. My friend twirled the needle on the board and got a duck…

Man starts pouring syrup onto his table...

Man starts pouring syrup onto his table…

... and voila! Duck candy

… and voila! Duck-shaped candy in a matter of seconds!

Bustly dessert place

Bustly dessert place

The Hubs and I enjoyed Nanjing a lot. In particular, I loved the old town, it was really charming and the blend of the old and new was perfect in my opinion. As Nanjing was the capital of China in the past, the city offered lots of stuff to see and I think it has done a great job of maintaining not only the buildings but a sense of history within the city.

Nanjing: The Mausoleums (Part 2)

On our second day in Nanjing, we went to the two mausoleums located on the Purple Mountain. First up was the mausoleum of Dr Sun Yat-Sen, who is referred to as the “father of modern China”. We took a taxi as close to the entrance as possible as we had to climb 700 metres of stairs to get to the tomb itself.

The square at the entrance of the mausoleum

The square at the entrance of the mausoleum

Memorial archway made out of marble indicating the entrance to the mausoleum

Memorial archway made out of marble marking the entrance to the mausoleum

The long path to the Mausoleum Gate with Three Archways (c.480 metres), lined by some lovely pine and cypress trees

The long path to the Mausoleum Gate with Three Archways (c.480 metres), lined by some lovely pine and cypress trees

Mausoleum Gate with Three Archways

Mausoleum Gate with Three Archways

From the Mausoleum Gate with Three Archways, you can see the next building, which is the Pavilion

From the Mausoleum Gate with Three Archways, you can see the next building, which is the Pavilion

Beyond the Pavilion is where the real climbing begins, to get to the Sacificial Hall. This is the highest point in the mausoleum

Beyond the Pavilion is where the real climbing begins, to get to the Sacificial Hall. This is the highest point in the mausoleum

We were lucky to have very nice weather that day, sunny and quite warm for a winter’s day which made climbing loads of steps a lot easier! There were many tourists so it was quite buzzy but not so many that there was a big queue to get inside the Sacrificial Hall. They didn’t allow any pictures inside the Hall so I can’t post any here but the most eye-catching item in the room is a huge stone statue of Dr Sun in the centre.

The view from the top

The view from the top

Getting down was a lot quicker than going up and so in no time at all we were back at the square. Next up was the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, one of the biggest imperial tombs in China. This mausoleum is also located in the Purple Mountains but judging from the map, it wasn’t really a distance that could be walked. Well, correction, it could be walked, it would just take ages. Thankfully, there was a little mini-tram from the entrance square that could take us to Ming Xiaoling. So we hopped on and off we went.

The Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is sprawled across a bigger area than the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum, in fact, it is one of the biggest imperial tombs in China (albeit with a lot fewer steps than the Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum). Oddly, there were very few people at this mausoleum even though there were lots of tourists at the first tomb.

We started off at a museum with various bits and bobs of Chinese history and then after that, we started down a pathway.

Down the pathway we go

Down the pathway we go

At the end of the pathway, there is the Tablet Pavilion

At the end of the pathway, there is the Tablet Pavilion

Inside the Tablet Pavilion, there is a stone turtle at the bottom of a central column

Inside the Tablet Pavilion, there is a stone turtle at the bottom of a central column

The beginning of the Sacred Way

The beginning of the Sacred Way

The Sacred Way is lined with numberous pairs of sculptured animals made out of stone. They are said to be guarding the tomb. It starts with a pair of camels, which were said to be chosen to  symbolise the desert and tropical areas, indicating the vast territory of the dynasty

The Sacred Way is lined with numerous pairs of sculptured animals made out of stone. They are said to be guarding the tomb. Here are a pair of camels, which were said to be chosen to symbolise the desert and tropical areas, indicating the vast territory of the Ming dynasty

Beautiful scupture of an elephant

Beautiful scupture of an elephant

After a loooonnnng walk, we finally got to the mausoleum proper.

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Start of the main mausoleum section

The Civil and Military Gate

The Civil and Military Gate

Looking through the Inner Red Gate to Xiao Ling Hall, the main mausoleum building

Looking through the Inner Red Gate to Xiao Ling Hall, the main mausoleum building

Walking across the Ascension Bridge

Walking across the Ascension Bridge

Walking up the Xiao Ling Hall

Walking up the Xiao Ling Hall

Peering inside the main Hall

Peering inside the main Hall

I was expecting some stone statues or a big tomb of some sort inside the main Hall but disappointingly it had a few stalls selling trinkets to tourists…

And onto Nanjing, one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China (Part 1)

After a couple of lovely days in Hong Kong, the Hubs and I got on a flight to Nanjing, China for a friend’s wedding. We flew with Dragon Air, which I thought might be a low cost airline but they turned out to be a full service airline and a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific. The flight was surprisingly pleasant with plenty of legroom and I was impressed with their up-to-date entertainment system, despite the fact that we flew economy.

Excellent entertainment system - I spent the whole flight catching up on season 3 of Veep

Excellent entertainment system – I spent the whole flight catching up on season 3 of Veep. It was SO GOOD, it was like food for my soul!

After checking in at the hotel, we started on the touristy stuff in the afternoon by tackling the Confucius Temple. Being a lot further north than Hong Kong, it was proper winter in Nanjing compared to the more spring-like Hong Kong and we went armed with coats, hats and gloves.

The Confucius Temple and the area surrounding it was lovely, they had either maintained the old buildings and architecture very well or had built new buildings in keeping with the old style. It was very lively with lots of restaurants and shops which were colourfully lit and there were loads of tourists despite freezing temperatures.

Entering the area around the Confucious Temple

Entering the area around the Confucius Temple

Colourful boats and decoration across from the Temple

Colourful boats on the Qinhuai River and decoration across from the Temple

Shops and restaurants around the Temple

Shops and restaurants around the Temple

Although there were loads of tourists outside the Temple, inside was very quiet, almost eerie.

Entrance to the Temple

Entrance to the Temple

Stone figurines line the walkway up to the main building as soon as you walk through the gate

Stone figurines line the walkway up to the main building as soon as you walk through the gate. At the top of the walkway is the largest figurine of… you guessed it, Confucius

A large bell within the template, covered with red packets that have people's wishes and dreams written inside

A large bell within the Temple, covered with red packets that have people’s wishes and dreams written inside

Night view of the Qinhuai River

Night view of the Qinhuai River

It was lovely to walk around and soak up the atmosphere. After a good look around, the Hubs and I decided to grab some dinner. We found a nice looking restaurant around the Temple and walked in. It was at that point we quickly realised that this was not Hong Kong – people of Nanjing spoke very little or no English. I tried to use my super basic Mandarin to get ourselves some food and the pictures below show what we got. Whilst I could figure out what on the menu was chicken, or beef, or lamb etc., I couldn’t figure out which parts of the animal it was or how it was cooked, which made for a very interesting dinner…

Smoked or dried? chicken

Smoked or dried? chicken

The dumplings were great (so glad I remembered the word for them!). The dish was the left was chicken... but it was a mystery which part of the chicken the meat was from... all I can tell you is that it didn't taste like chicken. I stuck to the veg on this one

The dumplings were great (so glad I remembered the word for them!). The dish was the left was chicken… but it was a mystery which part of the chicken it was… all I can tell you is that it didn’t taste like chicken. I stuck to the veg and peanuts on this one

After much confusion and struggle with the ordering of the food, we finally started eating our dinner. That was when the staff started the turn the lights off and get ready to shut the place down for the night. We were really confused as we thought perhaps it was a lot later than we thought it was.. but no, it was only half 8. Anyway, we hurriedly ate what we could and bundled ourselves out of there.

After all the travelling and walking around in the cold, we were absolutely knackered (as we had underestimated the distances on the map and thought what would be an easy 15 minute walk turned out to be a brisk trot for about an hour), we took a taxi to the hotel and I brushed up on my food-related Mandarin vocab in an attempt to feed ourselves better the next day.

Virgin trip to Hong Kong

A belated Happy New Year to all! I just got back from an epic 3 week trip to Hong Kong, Nanjing and Korea and am only just getting back to blogging 😉 Good news is that I’ve been to lots of interesting places and saw loads of cool stuff and have loads to share with you guys!

So first up is Hong Kong. It was my first time there so I was super excited about it. A lot of my friends from London have ended up there as have some of the Hubs’ friends so we ended up rekindling old friendships and catching up on life with them so we didn’t pack in the tourist stuff but still managed to cram in a lot of the sights. And I’ll tell you what guys, I loved it! It was fabulous being back in a proper city with all the hustle and bustle. One thing that I noticed straight away was that there are SO MANY MALLS. I have never seen so many Cartier shops in one city. Honestly, it was nuts. Also, I found Hong Kong great as the city is big and cosmopolitan but small enough to explore easily.

I was impressed almost as soon as we landed, as the Hong Kong Airport was super efficient and we were rolling our bags out of the terminal within half an hour of landing. From there, it was an easy train ride into Kowloon, where we were staying. Unlike Heathrow, where you have to walk for about a gazillion miles to get to the Heathrow Express, the train in Hong Kong was RIGHT THERE. Sooo easy.

Waiting for the train to take us into town

Waiting for the train to take us into town

One of the first places we explored was the Avenue of Stars on the Kowloon side of the harbour. Although I didn’t recognise many of the actors apart from Bruce Lee, it was a lovely sunny day and we enjoyed a nice view of Hong Kong Island.

Tourist heavy Avenue of Stars

Tourist heavy Avenue of Stars

So many people in front of the Bruce Lee statue this was the closest I could get...

So many people in front of the Bruce Lee statue, this was the closest I could get…

View of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon

View of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon

Friends told us that we MUST take the Star Ferry over to the Island. So we did. The ferry was old and creaky and lovely and steeped in history.

Ferry at the dock

The inside of the ferry

Some more fantastic views of the Island

Some more fantastic views of the Island from the ferry

Hong Kong Island was an interesting blend of new (sparkly malls and lots of skyscrapers) and old (older buildings, markets etc). One of the best things about the Island for me was the double decker trams. I love trams as they’re usually cheap and allow you to take in the sights but easier to navigate than the bus. The HK trams were similar to the Lisbon ones in that the interior was dark glossy wood but the HK ones were narrower and obviously taller than the Lisbon trams. Sitting on the top floor gave us lovely views of the Island and the interior was charming.

2 trams  in a row

2 trams in a row

The tram was pretty full

The tram was pretty full

As a first time visitor to Hong Kong, I HAD to visit the Peak. Unfortunately the queue for the Peak Tram (not the same one as the ones I mentioned above) was absolutely massive so we decided to take a taxi up. The road was very narrow and our driver was racing around the corners so I made sure to wear the seatbelt and had to grip onto the handles but the view when we did eventually get there was absolutely spectacular.

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Very built up on one side…

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…and green belt on the other

Speaking of views, I loved the night view of the harbour. We had a lovely drink in the Intercontinental whilst enjoying the view. This kind of stuff you definitely can’t get in Brunei!

Night view of the Island

Night view of the Island

A Hong Kong junk sailing by - with its bright red sails illuminated at night it has a slightly ominous feel to it

A Hong Kong junk sailing by – with its bright red sails illuminated at night it has a slightly ominous feel to it

Although it was nearly a month ago, I have to mention Christmas! We got to Hong Kong a few days before Christmas and the shopping and festive celebrations were in full force. It was really lovely to see all the decorations and experience the festive spirit that was sadly lacking in Brunei.

Decorations at one of many malls

Decorations at one of many malls

Gingerbread house at the Intercontinental

Gingerbread house at the Intercontinental

Santas hard at work!

Santas hard at work!

Of course, one of the best things about being in Hong Kong was the food! All kinds of food and all delicious! Here are the highlights:

Steaming hot noodles at a tiny noodle house just off Nathan Road. It was perfect for a rainy and coldish day

Steaming hot noodles at a tiny noodle house just off Nathan Road. It was perfect for a rainy and coldish day

Very pricey but super delicious steak at The Steakhouse at Intercontinental. I cannot put into words how tasty this steak was!!

Very pricey but super yummy steak at The Steakhouse at Intercontinental. I cannot put into words how tasty this steak was!!

Lovely macaroons at Passion

Lovely macaroons at Passion

My first ever hot pot! It was delicious and plus it was fun ;) Unfortunately can't remember which restaurant it was as we went to one of Hubs' friends

My first ever hot pot! We ordered waaaay too much but it was delicious and plus it was fun 😉 Unfortunately can’t remember which restaurant it was as we went with one of Hubs’ friends

I loved Hong Kong so much I hope to be returning soon and sampling some more of their great food!

A dream come true – learning to ride a horse

Taking horse riding lessons was in my top 3 list of want-to-dos but being in central London meant the costs were prohibitively expensive. So when the Hubs and I came to Brunei for the look-see visit in June, one of the first things that caught my eye was the stables! I made the Hubs drive us over for a more detailed look.

The stables are quite large, with 3 separate rings for lessons and I would guess about 10 to 15 horses. On the bulletin board there was quite a bit of information and I was thrilled to see that the prices were about a third of what London was charging. Hooray!

View of the stables from the main entrance

View of the stables from the main entrance with one of the rings

When we moved properly to KB in October, one of the first things I did was get in touch with the stables for more information. They asked me to come in for an assessment ride. I was very nervous as I hadn’t been on a horse since I was about 6 and that was a pony ride at a carnival of some sort! I got to the stables in good time and went to the office where there are helmuts, boots and body protectors of various sizes that you can borrow and proceeded to kit myself out. Then I wandered over to the “podium” where I stood to get ready to get on the horse.

The horse was a lot taller than I realised so trying to get on was quite comical. I finally managed to hoist myself on and gripped the saddle tightly. I found out very quickly that the saddle is the only thing actually attached to the horse so if I didn’t hold on to that I bounced around a lot and that was not good for someone who was terrified of falling off. The trainer and horse walked (and I rode) over to a ring where I was relieved to see that the ground was covered in a reddish and soft looking sand. I thought, if I get thrown off this horse, at least I won’t be hitting hard ground!

The trainer started off with the basics, how to hold your position on the horse, how to position my feet etc. We then started to walk. A walk on the horse was relatively easy, I just had to sit up straight and position my legs in a straight line and then hold my position. After a while, we moved on to the sitting trot. This was a bit trickier as I kept being bounced around but the idea is that you’re still in the seat of the saddle whilst the horse is trotting so it went ok.

Then we moved on to the racing trot. The idea is that as the horse trots, you stand up and then sit down in rhythm with the horse so you more or less move in harmony with the horse’s natural rhythm. All good and well in theory but this meant that I had to stand up and sit down whilst the horse was moving. Turns out that for me, this is extremely tricky. I was holding on to the saddle for dear life whilst the horse trotted at a good pace. I don’t think the horse liked my rhythm as he kept starting and stopping. This was really difficult as I thought the horse would keep trotting at a consistent speed and so I positioned my body to lean slightly forward. When he stopped suddenly, I kept being thrown onto his neck. Oops… Eventually I got the hang of it a bit more and the horse started trotting for longer periods.

After half an hour the assessment was over and it was time to get off the horse. Back I went to the podium where I attempted to get off the horse with some sort of poise which failed miserably as I basically slid off the horse… After half an hour of trying to do what the trainer was telling me to do and attempting to actually stay on the animal, I was drenched with sweat and absolutely knackered. Despite that, it was so fun! The trainer said he was happy to take me on for lessons so now I’m getting on a horse once a week.

I’ve only had a couple of lessons so far but have learnt quite a few things, like during a racing trot, you’re supposed to stand up when the horse puts his left leg forward and sit down on his right. To make the horse trot, you have to either kick its hind legs or whip them slightly. I felt terrible about this and still do. The first few times the trainer asked me to kick or whip the horse I kind of did so reluctantly, so the horse just kept on walking. The trainer emphasised that I should give him a swift and unambiguous kick so I’m trying to do that without feeling awful.

I’ve also learnt to let go of the saddle and actually am holding the reins now which is what you’re supposed to do. It’s become really fun and interesting as you have to show the horse that you’re the boss by controlling the reins. The trainer told me to drive the horse “like you drive your car” ie if you want the horse to go left, you move the reins left and vice versa.

Attempting to turn my horse right

Attempting to turn my horse right

Success~~

Success~~

Now riding sometimes without the trainer guiding the horse

Riding without the trainer guiding the horse

Being a natural on a horse is still so far away for me. Last week’s lesson was quite difficult as I just couldn’t get into the rhythm with the horse and also I think he was secretly being lazy as it was a blazing hot morning. The week before, I ended up having the lesson in the pouring rain and the horse seemed a lot happier to trot. Unlike my car, the horse sometimes has its own mind!

I’m really enjoying it and hopefully I will learn how to canter soon 🙂

Have yourself a rainy little Christmas~~

Back in London, December means stepping into a cold flat after work and hoping against hope that your boiler doesn’t break down. It means Regent’s Street lights and the stampede that is London Christmas shopping. It means really really short days and mulled wine at office Christmas parties. Well, that’s what it used to mean for me…

This year, it’s a whole different story. This year, I hardly noticed that we were approaching the last month of the year until a few days ago. When it’s perpetually warm with 90% humidity, it’s easy to forget. Also, living in a Muslim country, there are very few traces of Christmas in public places.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this at the supermarket.

Christmas goodies!

Christmas goodies!

More Christmas goodies!

More Christmas goodies!

This is the biggest Christmassy goods sale I have seen in one place so far. AND they were even playing Christmas carols! Now I’m not a Christmas person at all. In fact, I have been known to say things like “I really hate Christmas” in the past. I put it down to the fact that my parents were super pragmatic(?) people and so they never pretended that Santa Claus was real or that Rudolph had a red nose. They simply took my brother and me to Toys R Us and said you can pick out one present each as it is “Christmas” and all the other children in the US (we were living in the US at the time) seem to be getting one. Nowadays, this sort of thing is tantamount to child abuse but this stuff never even registered on Korean minds back in the 80s and 90s. As I became older and outgrew the toy buying, I always felt like I was missing out on something fun that everyone else got to enjoy and so every year I simply wait for Christmas to pass so we can get on to the really fun stuff, like Boxing Day sales! However in a Bruneian supermarket, upon hearing the familiar carols, even I got a little nostalgic. I walked around the supermarket singing softly to myself, hoping no one was following me, as I was definitely giving off some lunatic vibes.

As soon as I had a good look around the Christmas stuff, it started raining. A LOT. Really chucking it down. This week, it has rained every day bar one. December IS supposed to be the wettest month of the year so the outside now looks like this.

Miserable weather - almost like being back in London!

So much rain, it looks like fog…

Although it is a relief getting a break from the heat, it is really miserable outside, so much so it is almost like being back in London! Thankfully, after the rain, we get some spectacular scenes like this.

A lovely double rainbow

A lovely double rainbow

So it’s a rainy run-up to Christmas here. BUT the Hubs and I are going to be travelling to Hong Kong, China and Korea so maybe we will be seeing some snow after all. After two months of tropical weather, I’m not sure I’m ready for sub-zero temperatures again but looking forward to blogging my thoughts about the new (and old) places that I will be visiting!

A Liebster Award Nomination!

For those not in the know (don’t worry, that was also me 10 minutes ago!), it seems that a Liebster Award is like baton that is passed around to (mostly?) newbie bloggers who have under 200 followers. With each passing of the baton, you answer questions that have been put forward to you. This is a great way for the online community to get to know each other better.

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So a massive thank you is in order to Kerstin for my nomination!

The ground rules are basically:

– Answer the 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you

– List 11 facts about yourself

– Nominate 11 bloggers that have under 200 followers with your own 11 questions for them to answer

Here we go:

1. If you were a cat, would you rather be a wild street cat or an indoor cat that’s loved and cared for 24/7 by an old lady?

Wild street cat hands down. I think if an old lady was caring for me 24/7 it would be a very comfortable life but I’ll always be clawing and meowing at the windows, wondering if I can ever get out there.

2. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done?

Umm… moving to Brunei.

3. What’s your phone’s background?

A selfie of the Hubs and I on our wedding day. I wasn’t going to let all that professional hair and make-up go to waste!

4. What’s society’s biggest problem these days?

I would say the economy. When you want to work and you are able to work but there is no work, that’s really disheartening and I think those feelings can manifest themselves in negative ways.

5. If you met a new person and could only ask them 3 questions to get to know them, what would they be?

I’ll probably go with:

– What’s your name?

– What do you like to do in your free time?

– What is the most important thing that I should know about you?

6. What do you like most about yourself?

Hmmm another hard one! I’ll go with… standing up for my convictions. Sticking to my guns. Other people call it… “being stubborn”…

7. Tea, coffee or hot chocolate?

Depends on my mood but as I didn’t sleep that well last night, defo coffee.

8. Do you admire your parents?

YES – they are not perfect but they have many qualities that I admire deeply.

9. Do you believe in destiny?

YES – partly because I’m Korean, as most Koreans believe in destiny. And you know, it’s more romantic. So yeah.

10. If you had to choose between never eating chocolate again or only eating chocolaty things for the rest of your life, which would you go for?

I would have to go with the former. I know, shock, horror! BUT my tongue goes all funny when I eat too much sweet stuff so defo the former.

11. What’s your biggest accomplishment?

Yet another hard one! The more I think about it, I feel like I haven’t accomplished much.

Maybe it’s weird to call it my biggest accomplishment but the most important accomplishment so far in my life is my marriage (only 2 years in!). I always try to approach it with honesty and love. To be fair, I haven’t done it single-handedly 😉

11 facts about me

1. I’ve never had a pet. EVER. Cue little violins. Most devastatingly, this means that I do not have a “porn name”. Sadness all round.

2. When I was about 10, I auditioned to be a presenter for a children’s English show on an educational channel called EBS in Korea. Long story short, damn those braces!

3. When I was about 4, I stole a tiny stuffed toy from a store. I don’t know how my mum never figured that out. Sorry store owner!

4. My ankles have always made a cracking sound when I walk but it was only occasional. Now I’ve noticed that it’s louder, more frequent and my knee has started making the same sounds as well. This surely doesn’t bode well when I’m only just into my thirties????

5. I generally tend to do a good job of not losing stuff. Even the stuff that I use on a day to day basis. So when I lost my multicoloured pen the other day, I was in SERIOUS mourning.

6. I have found out that since I’ve moved to Brunei that I REALLY hate bugs. Like obsessively hate them.

7. I have a love-hate relationship with FB.

8. Every now and again, I seriously consider getting rid of my mobile. Go really old school and only have a landline at home with an answering machine. But that never happens, because reasons.

9. I love wine. Living in a dry country has been easier (!) than I thought it would be, but I really appreciate the good stuff.

10. I spent about 3 months in Africa, as a volunteer English teacher. This decision was made by basically watching the BBC’s Big Cat Diary. After a week of watching that documentary, I had made the decision to go. Before the documentary, Africa was not even on my mind. One week later, I had a plan together on how to get there!

11. So to save up money for the trip (amazingly, you have to pay money to be a volunteer), I worked at a Jigsaw store. One day, Saba Douglas-Hamilton, one of the presenters of Big Cat Diary came in to the store! I was so shocked that I said something to her about the show but now I can’t remember what I said…

And now, I nominate:

JKT Brad

Aubrey’s Blog

Alarna Rose Gray

Fieldwork in Stilettos

Ruins and Relics

When North Met South

Elle’s Muse

Wiseacre Way

World According to Sam

Planted In The Sky

Gypsy Wonderlust

And here are my questions:

1. What is your favourite TV show/movie and why?

2. What is the most important thing in your life at the moment?

3. Which holiday would you choose: lazying around the beach or loads of activities?

4. What got you started on blogging?

5. Which celebrity do you most look like?

6. What quality do you cherish the most in your best friend?

7. Which conspiracy theory do you believe in?

8. If you had to choose one food that you had to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?

9. When was the proudest moment of your life?

10. If you could pick any three people in the world (famous or otherwise) for an epic adventure a la Lord of the Rings, who would they be?

11. What is that one thing that you’ve been desperately wanting to do but haven’t managed it yet?

Enjoy!

And onto the next stage of our life in Brunei…

I know, I know… it’s been ages since I posted last! That’s because LOADS of stuff has happened and so this one is going to be a massive catch-up post.

Home sweet home

A few weeks ago (and a few days earlier than they said they would), the Company gave us the keys to our temporary accommodation! I had been counting down the days when we could move in as I really was tired of living the one-room lifestyle. When the Hubs presented me with a huge set of keys I literally jumped up and down. It was even more exciting as we got a riverfront place, complete with lovely views of the Sungai Belait. AND it was brand new.

Another view from the balcony

View from the balcony

A few days later, our sea freight arrived. The poor movers carried up 113 items to our flat in scorching heat. Including a gigantic fridge we had just bought from London. Oops..

Container looking a bit smaller than I remembered... but yup this was the one!

Container looking a bit smaller than I remembered… but yup this was the one!

And suddenly we had really moved in! Although looking around we had a LOT of unpacking to do…

Guest room chock full of boxes

Guest room chock full of boxes

Spillover from the guest room into the living room

Spillover from the guest room into the living room

Soon after, the Hubs sorted out the washing machine and after much hand-wringing, the fridge. We were really not sure that the fridge was going to fit the fridge space, and I was dreading the thought of trying to maybe sell the fridge online, get the massive fridge down the stairs, buy another small fridge and then get it upstairs again… But thankfully, it did fit, with about 1 millimeter on each side to spare. Phew!

Initially the Hubs and I discussed at length how much we should unpack as this flat is our temporary accommodation. We are supposed to be given permanent accommodation at some point but no one knows when this will be so we made the decision to make our home as homey as possible. So a few weeks in, we are pretty settled in. I think only about 20 items are still in boxes which is the result of pretty much nonstop unpacking. The Hubs even helped me set up my desk from which I’m writing this!

My desk

My desk complete with the lovely river view

The Hubs tells me every time but we.have.so.much.stuff. The thing is, we don’t even have a lot of furniture. As our London flat was quite a bit smaller than this flat, our furniture looks a lot smaller than it used to. We have a lot of bits and bobs. For example, I discovered (well, I knew during the packing but I had forgotten) that I have an insane amount of tights. I have no idea why I have so much but I have a lot. So I vowed once again to get rid of a lot of my stuff. Maybe I can sell it on FB, people seem to do that a lot here. Also, I saw a thrift store somewhere so I’ll look into that…. anyway.

We did have a couple of teething problems with the flat, such as a gas leak and no hot water, but they all got fixed within a day or two. The internet people also came much earlier than they said they would so happy days! When I first went to them, they said they had run out of modems and I’d have to source one myself. Once that was sorted, they said 3 weeks for the engineer to come out. So I was glumly waiting, resigned to having to hang out in Coffee Bean for hours at a time every day to use the internet but hooray they came about 3 days I handed in my application form. 20 minutes after the engineer had stepped foot into our flat, presto, we have lift-off! I was so happy I even messaged Hubs and let him know. So next up, and really the last big thing left on the list, is the telly. We need to buy the telly and also apply for cable TV. Buying the telly is easy, but I suspect getting Astro (the cable TV service here) is going to require more perseverance as the last time we had a peak at their office there were 44 people in the queue!

Car drama!

When we first arrived in Brunei, the Company gave us a car and said it is on loan for a month. We said that’s fine, that sounds like plenty of time to get ourselves sorted! Here, it seems that you cannot register your license plate if you do not have a Bruneian driving license. So you can buy the car, no probs, but you can’t drive it out of the showroom… Over the last few weeks the Hubs and I picked out our cars. I was to buy a new midsize SUV and the Hubs was to buy a smaller sedan car to just drive to work in. Both cars were lined up ie my new car was already at the Kuala Belait branch, waiting for my driving license and the Hubs had agreed with a fellow expat to buy his car off him. He was also just waiting for the paperwork.

Then, the day on which the Land Transport department said that we could pick up our driving licenses arrived. This is the day before the Company car had to be returned. The Hubs and I turned up at the Land Transport department at 8am sharp, only to be told that our licenses were not ready and could we please come back in 2 or 3 days. Disaster! We already knew from other people’s horror stories that the Company for some reason was going to chase you to the ends of the earth to get their car back, and so it had to go back TODAY. We would be stranded with no car at all! And thus began my morning of frantic calling / visiting of the local car rental companies. Unhelpfully, it was very difficult to find a rental car. At one local company, I drove into their offices, there were about 30 cars parked in the car park. I went into the office and asked if I could rent one and the reply was “Sorry, we don’t have any availability til December”… I just stared at the receptionist…. couldn’t believe it! Later on in the evening, I drove past the office again and it was still full of cars…

In desperation, I contacted a friend of mine who lives in BSB but has family here and is Bruneian. She came through and introduced me to her friend who apparently has loads of cars and was willing to lend one to us for a week. Phew! We were cutting it close as he only agreed to lend us the car around 4pm.

A few days later, our licenses finally came through, and we went straight to the dealership and picked up my car.

Admin-y stuff

Whilst we were going through all the moving and the car drama whatnot, most of the other paperwork came through. We got our ICs (Identity Cards), without which you cannot do much. We also got our visas and multiple-entry visas, awesome! That means we can leave the country now 😉

Watch this space for some travel posts!

A whole new world opens up…

After several weeks of arriving in Brunei we are still living the hotel life. And let me assure you, it is in no way glamorous. I would be lying if I said I’m not slight~~ly sick of eating out every meal and using the bed as a sofa cum laptop desk cum sleeping area. However, a very exciting event has taken place, our air freight has arrived! Our air freight actually arrived in the country only a few days after we did, but it spent about 10 days in customs and then storage for a couple of days whilst the Hubs and I contemplated whether we can wait until we moved into our temporary accommodation… But we were told that we still would need to stay put in the hotel for another 2 weeks or so for us to get our accommodation of choice. So we decided to take delivery of our freight as a lot of our sports kit, such as my yoga mat, rugby boots, and beloved (mostly by the Hubs) golf clubs were included. There was a lot of activity at the Club that we couldn’t participate in as we didn’t have our sports equipment.

We couldn’t remember how much stuff we had packed off as our air freight and we weren’t sure we would have enough room for it in our not-so-big room. So one of the Hubs’ friends kindly agreed to let us store our stuff in her house for a few weeks if we needed the space. The freight arrived without too much drama, got to the hotel when it said it would and 4 men came and stacked our 12 items or so neatly in the room. Although the room is now a bit cramped we didn’t have to take up the Hubs’ friend’s offer. Yay!

Our air freight taking up a  lot of our hotel room...

Our air freight taking up a lot of our hotel room…

One item that I was relieved to take delivery of is my beloved rice cooker. The Hubs always rolls his eyes about this but the rice cooker is one of my favourite possessions as I’m a massive rice lover. I literally don’t think I can live without rice. Plus my rice cooker even sings a little song when it’s finished cooking! So I’m super glad it made it across without getting lost.

Now, where did we pack our tennis racquets?