Reunited and it feels soooo good!

So now that I’m back in Sunny Southern California, I’m absolutely loving all the fresh familiar foods that I had missed while I was away!  If there’s one thing that just might keep me from ever leaving the country again, it may be the wonderful diet I’m able to sustain with California’s finest ingredients!

Just one of the benefits, think of the endless possibilities for all my green smoothies!

(What’s in this one? Banana, yellow peach, cucumber, Trader Joe’s Supergreen Mix, spinach, almond milk, and water)

California has so much yummy goodness that I’ve taken for granted for so long!  You can play with any kind of diet: Organic, Paleo, Raw, Vegan, Dairy-Free, you name it and California can sustain YOU!  With Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and all the Farmer’s Markets, Californians are so spoiled!   I mean, I basically have a love affair with Trader Joe’s, I probably see Joe more than I see my own friends!

And so I count my blessings, and today I have 10.  I give you the countdown:

My Top 10 Foods I’ll never take for granted again….

10. Affordable nuts Once upon a time, the only raw nuts I could afford were almonds or peanuts!  The funny thing is, those almonds in Korea were imported from California.  I’m loving the affordable variety: cashews, pistachios, walnuts, sunflower seeds!  YUM!

9. Quinoa My mom actually mailed me my supply of quinoa, now I can buy it for super cheap!  It’s supposed to be one of the most protein dense whole grains you can have, a super food that’s NOWHERE to be found in the whole country of Korea (I’m pretty sure)!

8. Hummus Once in Korea I tried making hummus once in a blender with canned garbanzo beans, but it really just wasn’t the same.  Now, I can have hummus of many flavors: spicy hummus, cilantro jalapeno hummus, edamame hummus, the possibilities are endless!

7. Dairy-free ice cream If you plan to go dairy-free in Korea, you can say good-bye to dairy free frozen desserts unless you’re making your own.  Don’t knock it till you try it!  I can have ice creams now that are based with coconut milk, almond milk, and it totally hits the spot.

6. Guacamole Can you believe that avocados in Seoul cost about 6,000won EACH?? That’s  just a little less than $6USD.  Guacamole was a rare delicacy in Asia.  Thank goodness you can get California avocados for like 4 for a $1 on a good day.

5. Fresh salad Yes, I was able to order fresh salads in Seoul, mostly in places like Craftworks in Itaewon.  But it was never the same.  When I first arrived back on American soil, the first thing I did for myself after a good night’s sleep was a trip to the grocery store to pick up my favorite ingredients for a personalized salad: crispy romaine, cherry tomatoes, celery, avocado, carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, and apples.

4. Whole Grain Bread So happy to say good-bye to the land of white bread!  Usually I could only get my hands on unfamiliar sliced breads like rice bread, milk bread, sesame bread, etc.  Maybe sometimes you could find some Wheat Bread from Tours le Jours and even at that it’s not even 100% whole grain.  So grateful for healthy sustainable breads!  My favorite now is Sprouted Grain!

3. Nut Milks Yes, I made my own almond milk for my smoothies in Korea, but how nice is now to have choices when it comes to my alternative milks!

2. Soft fresh baked cookies It’s been a year of disappointment, buying cookies only to bite down on what felt like a crunchy dry biscuit.  I don’t know what Korea had against soft cookies, and I wasn’t the only one to complain!

aaaaaaand making it to #1:


1. California Red Wine Red, red wiiiiiine!  Stay close to meeeeee!  Oh yes, California Wine has been dearly missed!  Korea offered a selection only affordable in South American varietals… yes it sufficed, and a class of Carmenere or Malbec hit the spot after the long day of culture shock.  But still, I fantasized of California wine for many nights!  My heart will always stay true to the California varietals.  It’s cheap.  And it’s fruity.

And there you have it folks.  Reunited, and my tummy feels so good!

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Hello those of you who still care to follow. When I once wrote in this blog while I was in Korea… it helped me connect my experiences to everyone at home and across the world.  I remember now what a comfort it was to use this blog as a bridge between my two identities, the Nicole that grew in Korea, and the Nicole left behind in California with waiting family members and pending friendships.

Now here I am again, and I’m slowly starting to truly feel what happens to the self when a part of you is put on pause. Far away on the Asian continent for one year I experienced so much… Am I still the same Nicole? More or less I’m guessing.  Depends on how you look at it.  I feel stronger spiritually but at times I still feel out of place in normal everyday situations.  Sometimes I fail to express how I’m feeling verbally to my friends. Mostly I just feel different… but time and time again I’m reminded of who I once was and how I thought about life before I went away.  I’m still making sense of how I feel about my life now and how I want to fit back in.

Yes, I’ll admit, much of my time in Korea was carefree play time in an expat playground. But there were also so many powerful moments. Moments connecting with my students despite language barriers, moments realizing new cultural universals, moments feeling new emotions in new places. There were moments where my mind expanded, heart opened up, and I learned to let go of so many things I’d held onto for so long.

Expectations. Frustrations. Fears.  My energy levels shifted and it felt like for the first time I gave myself the space to redefine myself.  It was such an empowering feeling.

But now, I feel like I’m back at square one.  This troubling economy and the lack of teaching positions in California is not very encouraging.  However, I still have to turn off the pause mode and push play.  I wish I could just push the fast forward button to my next adventure.  But instead, I feel stagnant. To be honest, I’m anxious.  The process is humbling, although I must say I do embrace it. Slowly I’m calculating the next phase of my life.  And luckily, I’m blessed to have friends and family who love and support me through my transition.

I think the difficult part of this transition is remembering while looking forward.  I want to remember all the lessons I gained during my journeys and  take it with me, and to always hold onto that feeling of pride and relief that I felt when I boarded that plane homeward bound to American soil.  That I did it.  And that I will do more.

The reality is, I’m not really stagnant.  I know it’s all my self perceived reality.  So what am I doing these days?  Despite this feeling that I’m not doing anything, I’m keeping pretty busy.  I occasionally substitute teach.  I regularly tutor a high school Korean student with his English language skills.  I work part time as a recruiter, helping get other quality teachers placed with quality schools out there to Korea.  But I do want more, and I’m working toward the next career opportunity here in California to continue my development as an educator.  I’m crossing my fingers and looking forward with each job application I turn in.

And my backup plan, going back to Asia is ALWAYS an option.  Sometimes, I still hear it calling my name 🙂

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Warrior Dash!!!

Three weeks into my time back in America, I decided to do the Warrior Dash! had a special deal for half off race registration so I took it as a sign that I needed to jump right back into the racing culture!  Indeed, it has been way too cold in Asia this last season to muster the energy to run.  Thank goodness for the fantastic weather in California (I’ll never take it for granted again), the sun inspires me to get moving everyday!

I wasn’t able to get anyone to do the Warrior Dash with me, so yes, I actually drove out to Lake Elsinor by myself for this race.  Many of my friends were humored by my enthusiasm to go all the way out there solo, but ya know what…

Traveling solo in Thailand has taught me that everywhere you go, even if you go by yourself… you are never alone!

At the Warrior Dash, I randomly bumped into my good friend Jamie from UC Santa Cruz and ended up at the starting line with her and her friends.   Here we are in the picture below all muddy after the finish line.  I also met along the course, a stunt man actor in LA and a woman in the US Navy.  I wish I got a picture with them too, but they were out of sight before I could get to my iphone.

Being that this was my first race back in America, what a contrast from the races that I attended in Korea!  The Warrior Dash was full of loud and energetic YOUNG runners, which contrasted from Korea’s ajusshis (older Korean men) that dominated the race.  Also, Americans LOVE to get dressed up for a fun atmosphere on the course, hence the Santa Clause team here.

Cheers to an active lifestyle back in the States!  So what races or events worth your while are coming up, my fellow Americans?

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Oh, I think I left my heart in Shanghai!!  When we had arrived, my mom and I had only a tiny grasp of what this city has to offer.  An international city in it’s prime, it truly felt like the New York of Asia.  With so many english speaking nationalities around, I instantly fell in love.  I could feel the fusion of cultures creating a thriving energy.  If I decide to embark on a new adventure, Shanghai would be my next destination hands down!

We couldn’t have ended our trip on a better note.  We had the ease of having a good friend living in Shanghai to show us around.  One of my best friends from high school reconnected me with his cousin Lawrence who is living in Shanghai.  Together, we had nonstop fun exploring the city!

We walked around the vicinity of Cheng Huang Miao Temple, a traditional district of commerce with fascinating rooftop architecture.  It was a great place to go shopping or try delicious crab dumplings!  We were treated out for an authentic Shanghainese meal, with unfamiliar ingredients like river fish and and lotus root.  We also enjoyed the night views on the bund, walked around People’s Square, and saw Nanjing Rd at night.

On our last day we went to the top of the Pearl Tower for fantastic views of the city.  As you can see from the pictures, it even had a glass bottom for awesome picture taking!  This was my favorite day, and it made me so sad to leave Asia!

So there you have it!  Thanks for following along my China trip!  It was a great way to say farewell to Asia and to close this chapter of my life… at least for now!

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After hopping on an overnight train, my mom and I arrived in a city called Xi’an.  This historic city was once the thriving capital of China long ago, and a central location of the Silk Road.  After the crazy hustle and bustle of Beijing I really liked Xi’an!  People were nicer and calmer, and there were less tourists as we walked the streets.

We stayed in a really nice 5-star hotel called the Grand Mercure.  The best thing about that hotel- it had a legit Western style breakfast buffet!  Nothing like having breakfast your way in a foreign country!

We checked out Muslim street where there was awesome street food like Quail eggs on a stick, bought some authentic Jade, saw the Banpo neolithic archaeological site (as an archeology nerd I totally loved it!), but most importantly we saw the world famous Terracotta Army!

The Terracotta Army was a highlight of the trip.  I was really happy we made it out to Xi’an for this China trip.  It was actually something on my mom’s bucket list of things to see so it was fantastic to see her so excited and happy!

There are so many things in this world worth getting out there to see!  So what’s on your travel bucket list?

Next stop… Shanghai!

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Yes, it’s true!  I’m back on American soil!  But before we get into that, allow me to backtrack to my last adventure before I headed on back.  I went to CHINA!!!

So I convinced my mom to fly into Beijing to travel across China with me: from Beijing, to Xian, and then to Shanghai.

Here we are, reunited at the airport.  I always knew my mom would make an excellent travel buddy, and I expected, it was true.  I really am my mother’s daughter, as she is an older version of me in so many ways.  We enjoy the same foods, have the same sleeping pattern and energy levels, and we both enjoy meeting new people and talking to everyone all the same!  So much fun!!  Together, we were invincible!

First stop, Beijing!!  We spent 5 days there.  We stayed at really nice Hostel called the Red Lantern.  While in Beiing, we saw Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Great Wall at Mutianyu, the Temple of Heaven, the Olympics Bird’s Nest, ate Peking Duck, and watched the Beijing Opera.

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The Sanctuary

Tucked away in Haad Tien Bay at the island of Koh Phangan is a lovely place called the Sanctuary.  This is where I spent the majority of my Thailand vacation.  This place was absolutely AWESOME.

The place can be described as a unique hippie land retreat, offering many different experiences of your choice!  You can simply relax on the beach and enjoy an eclectic menu of vegetarian, vegan, or raw options.   Of course there’s also the detox program, liver cleanse, etc.  I also filled my time with yoga, spa treatments, and workshops of all sorts.  The best workshop I attended was Transformational Breathing.

As for me, I went to The Sanctuary for a fasting detox, a 5-Day Master Cleanse.

The Fast

So here is how the fast went.  Upon my arrival to the Sanctuary, I checked in and was oriented into the program where I also enjoyed my last meal of solids for the next 5 days.  I enjoyed a refreshing salad…

And checked into my dorm room! (Which was a pretty sweet deal, super cheap.  Like, less than 10 bucks a night.)

So for the next 5 days, I was on a strict regimen of detox shakes and herbal supplements.  I wasn’t completely deprived, the cleanse also allowed for all the fresh juices and teas I wanted to replenish and nourish the body as I liked.

The shakes were made of bentonite clay and psyllium husks.  In the picture you can see a clear jar with my name on it.  That’s for my first shake of the day that I had to take myself at 7am before the detox center opened at 8am.  All my shakes after that were made in the detox center, where they would add a bit of watermelon juice to ease the taste.   Thank goodness for the watermelon, without it, the shake tasted exactly how it looks… like clay.  I honestly wanted to hurl every morning.

Anyway, here are the clay shakes and the herbal supplements…

And every night, all the detoxers sat down together for a vegetable broth dinner. Everyone looked forward to this every day.  The broth was soothing, but mostly, it was a fun time to enjoy the socializing aspect of eating that we were missing each day.

People from all over the world conversed over the broth, sharing their stories of what brought them to the sanctuary.  Instant connections were made and I really felt a comforting sense of community through the whole experience.

You would think that you would be tired and miserable during a fast, but to be honest I never felt better!  My body first hit a cranky phase on Day 2, but after that my energy levels kept going up and up!

I woke up every morning to see the sunrise, I even went kayaking.  During my yoga classes I literally experienced tingling sensations as it had rejuvenated itself throughout the process.  Also, without the routine of eating, I had given myself so much time to clear my mind and redefine myself.

I am forever grateful for my time in at The Sanctuary.  I can sincerely say that the experience changed me forever.

(photo courtesy Jane Fischer)

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Bangkok- Staying at Saphaipae

I stayed at an awesome hostel!  Right next to the sky train, but also away tucked away in a calm area of Bangkok is Saphaipae.  I loved it there!

This hostel was a bit nicer than the cheap deals you could get on Khaosan Rd.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the dorm rooms.  I stayed in the all-girls floor and all the ladies were really nice.  I even met some Korean girls.  There were actually a lot of Koreans traveling in Bangkok!

The place was super cute!  There are a bunch of computers available for internet use 24/7 and a really friendly staff!  They even offer a free cooking class every Wednesday!  I love free, I definitely jumped on that.  I learned how to make sweet and sour chicken.

Yay for Saphaipae!  It was a great place to meet good friends!!

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Thailand- The Grand Palace

Farewall Korea, today I leave for China!  I’ll be traveling for about 10 days before I return to America.  My mom is flying out to meet me in Beijing and from there we will see Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai!  While I’m away, I set my blog to showcase my Thailand trip so all you readers can enjoy some posts on the daily!  So let’s get started!

The Grand Palace

This is one of the top recommended sites to see in Thailand.  The Grand Palace shows cultural influences from all over the world throughout it’s architecture.  You can see Chinese porcelain on some buildings and European columns on others.

Thailand has never been colonized, but instead has maintained itsef as a middle ground for relations between the east and west.

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The year…

Can you believe it?  One year has passed.  And I made it.

I survived one year in this foreign country.

There has been so much to learn from Korea, and to all the gifts of love and growth that have been bestowed upon me I am forever grateful.

As I reflect on all that I’ve learned this past year,  I feel so incredibly grateful for all the beautiful people I’ve met along the way.  I came here all alone and now I am leaving with a handful of friendships that will carry into the next chapter of my life.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who was a part of it.  Even if  our paths crossed for only a brief moment, sharing your positives energy with me has shaped me into who I am today.

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Never have I expected that one year of my life could have ever shaped my inner voice and my dreams as this past year has.  I realize the world is too big and the universe has too much to offer that my heart can never be still again.

I must say, I am only thirsty for more!

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