Thai Tree Lore

In my wanderings around Chiang Mai, I noticed that some trees had multi-coloured ribbons tied around their trunks. At first I thought it was only older trees, but then I noticed some younger, smaller trees had the ribbon tired around them too. Since the trees were near roads, I thought perhaps someone had died there in a car accident. In the west people sometimes tie something around a tree to honour a death in the area. I asked a local what it meant and was told that the ribbon signified there is a spirit living in that tree.


The ribbon acts as a beacon of warning to those who may be considering the destruction of that tree. The trees with spirits inside them are thought to be sacred and are not to be cut or damaged in any way. If the tree was damaged, the assailant would inherit a curse for angering the spirit which is why the ribbons are usually bright and multi-coloured: so all can see. Above, that tree is overtaking the entire sidewalk and will probably spread to the road in the years to come, but no one will stop it.


The fact that the spirit has chosen to take up house in that tree makes the tree sacred to Thai people, so even if the spirit eventually leaves, the tree remains devine. In the above picture you can see some miniature dolls and other offerings have been left to appease the spirit. Whether or not the identity of the spirit is known does not seem to matter. Those who pass by step around and show respect. Interesting, huh?





Thai Culinary School

Greetings Dear Readers!

I hope you’ve all been well. I am back from Thailand and where to start? I spent my time in the northern city of Chiang Mai and began my adventure with some exploration of my neighborhood. In my wanderings I stumbled upon a guest house called “Gap’s House” that also hosted a one or two-day cooking class. I signed up for the one-day class and was thoroughly impressed.

The day began around 9:30am with a trip to the local food market to see where the locals shop. We got to see fresh coconuts being ground and squeezed into coconut milk, as well as a plethora of fresh fruit and vegetables.

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Random fact: Thailand is home to over 20 different kinds of eggplant. According to our cooking teachers, most Thai people don’t even know the names for all of them, but they still use them if available for many dishes like red or green curry.

After the trip to the market we jumped back into the truck and went to our cooking school. We met the staff who would be helping with our ingredients and dishes, as well as making sure we didn’t burn the place down.

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First meal up: Green curry.

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Next: fish soufflé in a self-made banana leaf bowl (mine was kinda crooked) and set our rice to steam while we prepared the next dish.











Then: Sauteed chicken with cashews and fried fish cakes, followed by spicy and sour lemon grass soup with shrimp (lemon grass soup shown in lunch picture further down, the one with my hand holding the spoon).


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By then it was almost 1pm and time to revel in our cooking skills by eating what we made for our lunch.


After lunch, we proceeded to learn the art of vegetable carving, which I was not very good at. We tried to carve lotus flowers out of onions but out of the three of us students, only our teacher’s onion was photo-worthy, which you can see below.


Following a failed attempt at onion carving, we went back to the kitchen to make Thai spring rolls and pad thai to take home for dinner.

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After our dinner meals were packaged, we made dessert which was made with a whole squash opened and cleaned out for the bowl, then filled with coconut cream, layered with custard then set to bake.











We got to take all that home for dinner and received a cook book, a Gap’s House cloth grocery bag and a Gap’s House cooking certificate. Our teachers were engaging, funny and smart. They made learning fun and even taught us how to make curry paste from scratch! Quite handy when living somewhere like Korea where Thai cooking ingredients are not always easy to find. Overall very cool and a great way to dive into Thai culture. Stay tuned for my next article on my adventure with real live tigers!

The Dirt on Korean Love Motels

Well Dear Readers, I’ve finally done it. I’ve stayed in my first “love motel” here in Korea. I must confess it’s something I’ve always wanted to do but have never had the opportunity. Now before you get any ideas, let me assure you I just needed a place to crash and was not expecting any company. Love motels are somewhat of a Korean specialty here as they have perfected the art of providing a decent room with little hassle and no questions asked.

Some love motels boast different decorated themes in each room like a Hello Kitty room or a candy themed room while some of the more expensive ones even come with a Jacuzzi.










Although love motels are known to Korean people as an intimate space for those with little privacy, they have also gained a reputation amongst travelers as a cheap and relatively clean place to stay for a night instead of dropping $80-$100 on a proper hotel.

With love motels, you don’t have to sign in with a credit card, your contact info and all that. You just walk in, ask if they have a room and for how much, exchange money for a key and you’re good to go. I stayed at the lovely ‘Remon Tree’ in Cheongju (I think they were going for lemon tree…but got lost along the way). The room was an affordable 40,000 won (around $40 CAD), was clean and well-supplied with more toiletries than any hotel I’ve ever been in.











I was given a toothbrush and face wash upon check-in and the room itself was stocked with even better amenities than most hotels. For example, There was a water jug in my room which was awesome. The bathroom was clean and had everything to shower with, including two silky bathrobes, a tube of toothpaste, hairspray, lotion, toner and bug spray (just in case). Most better quality (and by that I mean clean) love motels are between $40-$60. My friend said he got a room with a Jacuzzi once and it was only $60. A lot of foreigners like using these rooms when traveling around Korea as it saves so much on travel costs.










For those who do intend to use a love motel for romantic purposes but are lacking in a partner, assistance in that regard is readily available. Outside the love motels, “calling cards” of available ladies are usually scattered on the ground outside the motel and in my room, my tissue box was labeled with numbers that are said to be “coffee girls.” You call the number on the side of the box and the girl will come to bring you a coffee. I’m sure you can figure out the rest from there.








But, no coffee for me. I was pleasantly surprised with my first love motel experience and next time I hope to find one with a themed motif so I can sleep in a room filled with unicorns or space ships.  I’m heading off to Thailand tomorrow so if don’t post for a while, fear not. I’m out getting more material for you and will be back soon.

Back to Gaebong

Happy New Year Dear Readers!

I hope this year has been kind to you so far.

This past weekend I took a trip back to my old neighbourhood in south-western Seoul, to Gaebong-dong. I went on an adventure to see if I could a) recognize my old neighbourhood and b) find my way back to my old school and apartment. With Korea so rapidly changing and 9 years between visits, I was excited to see my old town and wondered if I’d even know where to go once I left the station.

Watch the video to see what happened! Transferring the video from phone to computer made it look a little stretched out, sorry I couldn’t fix that. It’s also a wee bit shaky since I was walking while filming but I wanted you to see view of my old neighbourhood in real time. Enjoy!

Click here to watch the video

Birth Control Pills in Korea

This one goes out to all the ladies, living in South Korea or considering the move. When I returned to Korea I stocked up on my brand of birth control pills from back home and figured I’d deal with the situation of how to acquire more when that time came. Well that time was last week, so allow me to set some concerns to rest for those of you who aren’t sure what it’s like to get birth control pills here.

Worries over the pill in Korea began in 2012 when President Pak Geun-Hye’s conservative government announced that the Korean Food & Drug Administration would make moves to reclassify contraceptives including birth control pills and the morning-after pill. This reclassification would result in making birth control pills prescription only (after being over-the-counter for over 40 years) and allowing the morning-after pill to switch from prescription to over-the-counter. The change enraged many Korean women’s rights groups and many women in general across the country. Doctors and pharmacists disagreed with the reclassification and said the change seemed backwards seeing as the pill has been widely available around the world for over 50 years and its effects were well-documented and proven safe.



Typical Korean pharmacy.






Two months later, the government reconsidered their stance as it was pre-election time and they were pissing off a lot of people. They decided to put the reclassification procedure on hold for 3 years to “further monitor” the effects of each contraceptive and better-educate Korean women on whatever it is the government feels they don’t know enough about already.

So we are safe until at least the end of 2015, when many hope the issue will be put on a shelf to be forgotten for good. Many women, Korean and otherwise, use the birth control pill to regulate their cycles, control and reduce menstrual pain and to help with acne problems. They also use the pill to control when their cycle begins, to make school trips or sporting events less uncomfortable.

Moving forward, many foreigners who come to Korea worry that they won’t be able to get their brand of preferred pill. In my case, I recently had to change my pill so that the estrogen levels were a good match to what was going on with my 30 year-old hormones. Women of different ages need different dosages to match their hormonal levels. Often times it’s a game of “try this kind for 3 months and see how you feel.” This is why, when we find a brand that suits us, it means a lot to be able to get that same kind wherever we are. It’s more than brand loyalty – it’s hormonal synchronicity.

I brought a Korean friend to help with translation but it was actually a very simple transaction. I brought in my North American birth control box and pointed to the medicinal ingredients on the back. We asked the pharmacist for something with similar levels of levonorgestrel and ethinyl estradiol. He disappeared for a minute and came back with a little green box and showed me the ingredients on the back. Same exact levels as my Minovral, only this one was a Korean brand.

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Done and done. Also, very cheap! Only 5,500 won, equal to about $5.50 CAD. So for those heading over here soon or are already here, save one box and take it with you to the pharmacy the next time you need to stock up. No prescription or added fees required until 2016 (at least) and as long as you choose a relatively big pharmacy, they will probably have what you need with a lot less stress than you thought.