Postcards: Favourite Instagrams of 2016

Postcards: Favourite Instagrams of 2016

In January, I returned back to Vancouver after an amazing family Christmas/New Year's trip to Oahu. I was craving a bit of winter to contrast the Hawaiian sun and surf, and had to go up in the mountains to find it. I feel #blessed to have this as my backyard. 

A typical February in Vancouver. 

In March, the world was hurting from recent terrorist attacks (it still is). I love the beauty and symbolism of cherry blossoms, which seemed to bloom at just the right time. 

Postcards: Favourite Instagrams of 2015

Postcards: Favourite Instagrams of 2015

In January, I took a short trip to Kelowna, BC to ski at Big White Ski Resort. Coming from a city where it's more likely to rain than snow (#raincover), it was awesome to have a couple days of snowy trails and sunny skies. 

To celebrate my thirtieth birthday in February...

Teaching at Winter English Camp

After Vietnam and after Thailand, it's now back to Korean winter. Coming from Canada, they aren't so bad. Cold, sure, but I didn't even have a pair of gloves until I received a pair this week as a birthday present. My boots and warm winter coat are enough to keep me warm on my way to and from work.

Regular classes may be finished for a seven-week vacation, but there's still plenty of work to be done as a "special" teacher at my school. After returing from my Lunar New Year break in Thailand, I'm now halfway through my six-week winter camp English classes. In these camp classes, I teach two small groups of students and one class of teachers.

I didn't realize so many teachers spoke some English; they were always too shy to speak to me in the past. But now I'm getting a chance to get to know them better and we're having a lot of fun. They're hilarious when it comes to role-plays. We always leave that class laughing.

students hard at work

students hard at work

As for the students, these classes of just four to six students offer a chance for the girls to receive much closer attention and I'm noticing huge improvements in their English already. We play games and chat for a couple hours, reviewing troubling grammar and practicing our conversation skills. Every time it snows, we all get excited and turn our attention to the window for a few minutes to watch it fall gently onto the trees and buildings around the school, sprinkling everything in a soft blanket of white dust.

It rarely snows here, and when it does, it never stays on the ground past noon. It could be snowing on my way to work early in the morning, but when I leave in the afternoon, there is no trace of it left. The lack of snow is disheartening for a Canadian like myself who is used to wadding through piles of soft white powder or splashing through mushy grey slush. Here, I need to stop and pause every time the snow falls, or I miss my chance to see it for weeks.

My First Naked Spa Day

I have been avoiding spas since I got here. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good soak in hot water, but the spas here aren’t like those at home. In Korea, you don’t wear a bathing suit. You’re naked. Nude. Unclothed. Nekked. It’s not like I haven’t skinny-dipped before, but never in front of a crowd of also-naked Korean women. I’m a foreigner. I have a tattoo, which is highly frowned upon here. I wear a string of blue belly-beads around my waist. Clearly, I would stand out.

But after days sitting at my desk planning ESL lessons for the winter break and spending the Election Day holiday snowboarding and skiing with a few friends, my muscles were sore and achy. I knew it was time.

I researched spas online to find a nice one I could visit. Sure, there are bathhouses literally everywhere. I pass several bathhouses on my bus ride to work alone, all labelled with the familiar red symbol: three lines of steam rising out of what looks like a bowl. But I wanted one out of my neighbourhood and out of the city so that I wouldn’t run into any of my students. (Another teacher mentioned that it happened to him once, and upon hearing that I immediately decided that it was something I desperately wanted to avoid.)

I found one in Incheon: Miranda Spa. It looked nice and, from the pictures, it also looked like people might be allowed to wear bathing suits. So I packed my backpack with my iPod, a towel, and my bikini and set off for a day at the spa.

Hotel Miranda Spa from

Hotel Miranda Spa from

I realized once I got there that I actually had no idea what I was doing. I obviously wasn’t paying attention when I wore my shoes into the change room—always look for shoe storage when you enter a facility in Korea.

After some confusion about how I was to open my assigned locker, I asked a woman to help me. She looked at me. “Shoes—off,” she said. Oops. Then she lead me back out into the hall, over to the shoe lockers I bypassed. The key from that locker is also the key to open your change room locker. Of course.

Back in the change room, I was immediate aware of the fact that most people around me were naked. Those who weren’t naked were wearing a grey T-shirt and shorts with the spa’s logo on them. I wanted to find me some of those. I followed a stream of people to a desk with a stack of such outfits and requested one, and luckily I was handed one. I went back to my locker, undressed, and slipped into my comfy grey uniform. Again, I realized I had no idea what I was doing. Where do I go now? I kept asking myself.

I went back to the clothing counter lady and asked her where I was supposed to go. “Clothes—this way,” she said as she pointed back outside the change room.

“Showers?” I asked.

“No.” She shook her head and her hands. “Clothes—this way,” and she pointed outside again.

So that’s where I went. I followed the other grey-dressed people and walked upstairs. It was a madhouse. There were children running around, a live band, a nap area, a food area, and—finally—the massage room.

For the next hour and a half, I was beaten, slapped, and “massaged” by an old Korean woman. This was a massage like no other. She pressed her strong fingers into my muscles as hard as she could. Then he took her fists and hit me. Then she opened her palm and slapped me. And this was supposed to be relaxing? The sound of a slap isn’t relaxing, yet alone the feeling of one. I wanted to give her directions to keep to my sore back and neck muscles, but I was more curious to see where else this massage would go. Well, it would go into my ears, apparently. Yes—she took her fingers and massaged the inside of my ears. Awkward.

After that interesting activity, it was time to be brave and hit the water. At my locker, I took a deep breath and undressed. A little shy, I held my little blue Miranda Spa towel in front of me as I walked through the change room into the pool area. There were a few glances, a few looks, and a few long stares, but eventually I got comfortable enough to ditch the towel. 

herbal pools at Miranda Spa from다녀오시옵소서/이천%20명소

herbal pools at Miranda Spa from다녀오시옵소서/이천%20명소

I went to the showers to clean and rinse myself first, then lowered myself into a tub of warm water. I soaked in an “herbal” pool with brown water for a bit, then hopped to another “herbal” pool, this time with neon green water. I noticed most women were sitting outside the pools with buckets full of steaming water, scrubbing themselves down. So I bought a scrub cloth, found myself a bucket, and did the same. I hopped from pool to pool for hours. There was even a mud bath outside—highly enjoyable when you’re surrounded by cold winter air.

I can’t say if it was the hot baths, the crazy Korean massage, or a combination of both, but my muscles were relaxed and comfortable when I woke up the next morning. Naked spa days just might become a regular thing.

From Icheon Bus Terminal, go south for 80 metres. Past the terminal building, turn left at the first intersection and walk straight for 200 metres. After crossing the street at the 4-way intersection, take your first right. In 100 metres, the hotel entrance will be on the left.

First Snow

The first snow. It's an important event every year on my calendar. It feels a little early; I feel like it was just last weekend I was admiring the explosion of colour on the trees. But, here it is. Winter. It made itself known with not just snow, but also rain and a thunderstorm. Now all I need is to warm myself up with a cup of hot chocolate, or hot choco as it's known here, and get cozy under my blanket.