To celebrate the New Year, I want to pay homage to some of the cultural obsessions I developed in 2017. Last year was my biggest year of travel ever. I hit up SIXTEEN countries- 9 of which were completely new and while I don’t think I’d ever like to travel SO intensely again, I definitely picked up a few new obsessions along the way.
Some of my obsessions are from countries I visited, and others are from countries I have no intention of ever visiting at all. (Well, maybe just one!) But, regardless of where they come from, I hope that some of my obsessions prove that you can still enjoy all that the world has to offer without stepping foot on a plane. Even if I’m planning on a stationary 2018, I’m definitely going to be keeping these little fragments of my travels with me.
Food Obsession: Ceviche!
It’s funny to think that when I visited my first sushi restaurant in Tokyo back in 2015, I just ordered miso soup, omelete sushi and sake because I was petrified of raw fish. I’d never even tried smoked salmon until the very same year because the thought of it’s weird slimy, fishiness always gave me the boke.
Fast forward to 2018 and I’m now a bit of a raw fish fanatic. I happily munched my way around conveyer belt sushi restaurants on my trip to Japan last year but it wasn’t until I got to Mexico and tried ceviche that my relationship with raw fish was solidified!
Ceviche is popular dish throughout Latin America that’s made with raw seafood, which can include prawns, fish and octopus, cured in lime juice. It’s then mixed with onions, coriander, tomatoes and other salad veggies and eaten with tortilla chips.
This might sound a bit strange but, weirdly the citrus makes the fish actually taste like it’s been cooked. It’s the perfect treat in the warm Mexican sun and I refused to go within 100 metres of the ocean without the promise of one bowl of ceviche (with a side of guacamole) a day!
Drink Obsession: Michelada
When I first heard of micheladas, I cringed into my wee socks. WTF- a beer Bloody Mary?! Then, I tasted it and realised that a beer Bloody Mary is everything I’ve ever dreamed of and more.
Whenever we were out, I always ordered myself a michelada and while I’d drink it, I’d constantly rave about how it’s my ideal drink made in heaven.
It’s basically beer mixed with lime juice, salt, spices and umm, chicken stock. Sometimes there’s a bit of tomato juice added, too, depending on where you get it. I don’t like drinks that are too sweet and this one doesn’t have a drop of sweetness in it.
Not unsurprisingly, this is also the go-to drink to have with your ceviche: ¡Salud!
New Country Obsession: Taiwan
I guess you could say that I started my year on a high as the first country I visited, Taiwan was, without a doubt, my favourite new country of 2017. The friendly locals, the manners, the nightmarkets, the food, the nature. With just a week on our hands, we never managed to see as much of the country as we’d hoped but still both agreed that we could see ourselves living there in the future.
One thing that I picked up on was how Taiwan manages to blend all the best things that its neighbouring countries have to offer, in its own way. It’s probably one of the most worthwhile countries to visit in Asia on a short trip. You can see Japan’s efficiency, politeness and “kawaii” culture. Of course, China’s culinary influence and traditional architecture is also present. And, in some ways, Taipei reminded me of Seoul, too. But the island country still has a unique character all of its own.
Old Country Obsession: Japan
Will I ever end my obsession with Japan? Every time I vist, I love the country a wee bit more. So much so, that I want to start learning Japanese in 2018! Could that be the next move after Thailand? Do I owe it to myself to live there *at least once* before ending my expat life?!
TV Obsession: K-Drama
I didn’t expect to miss Korea as much as I have been but I’m curing my homesickness in the funnest way possible: by developing a K-drama addiction….
While I was in Korea, I only actually watched one K-Drama because the selection was so slim on Netflix back then. The weird thing is that in Korea, it’s difficult to watch K-Dramas because, obviously, they don’t have English subs on K-TV. Of course, you could stream them but when you live in Korea, you often feel like you have enough K-Drama in your life to bother going to the extra effort of adding more…
I started my K-Drama addiction with Chicago Typewriter: a drama that’s half set in the present day and half set during the Japanese occupation. Veeran looked on in shock horror as I ugly cried and hyper-ventilated my way through it. (He usually accuses me of having a stone heart because I never cry at movies!)
After that it was Goblin, and more hyperventilating, and since then I’ve watched While You Were Sleeping, Because this is my First Life and Strong Girl Do Bong Soon. I’m now watching a drama called Jugglers which is currently airing- purely so I can’t binge it all in one sitting.
So, why have I (and so many people around the world) become so obsessed with Korean Dramas? I’m not sure exactly, but it definitely has something to do with how action packed each episode is- even in a simple romantic comedy, so many things happen in one episode. Plus, the characters in these dramas would lead you to believe that there is not a single ugly or unfashionable person who lives in South Korea. (In Goblin, every character had a new amazing coat or piece of knitwear in every single episode!) This might sound shallow but it definitely adds to their appeal. And, they also do a really great job of picking soundtracks that get stuck in your head and complement the scenes perfectly.
I don’t usually watch much TV but, when I do, I’m more of a crime drama fan. It’s been nice to wind down with a more lighthearted genre of TV and I do feel like I can just zone out while I watch them. Plus, it keeps my Korean fresh- so I guess I can class it as education rather than entertainment, right?
Music Obsession: This K-Indie Playlist
In my K-days, K-pop for me was always the music blaring out phone shops. I enjoyed the upbeat songs when I heard them and because I taught middle schools girls, I always knew who the most popular K-Poppers were. But I wasn’t much of afficiondo and I didn’t really know anything about Korean music past what was popular.
Just like how in The UK, we don’t all listen to Little Mix and Ed Sheeran, Korea also has its own indie music scene. (Which should have been pretty obvious but I’d never bothered to research!) It’s not all bubblegum sickly sweet K-Pop or the K-Rap which is growing in poularity.
I found a playlist called “K-Indie” on Spotify because I’d been creeping all the songs that I’d heard in my dramas. Now it’s all I ever listen to. When I’m writing, I don’t really like to listen to songs with words as it gets distracting but since the K-Indie songs are all in Korean, I don’t get confused between the words in my ears and the words at my finger tips.
Book Obsessions: Anything About North Korea
So I promised an obsession about a country I have no intention of ever visiting, and here it is! Back in February, I downloaded Park Yeon-Mi’s book, In Order to Live, for 99p and devoured it on 4 hour a bus journey to Seoul. I was amazed by her story. How could a girl who’s the same age as my wee sister have gone through so much AND written a book about it in a foreign language?! And how could I have lived over the border from the hermit state for so long and not made any effort to learn about it.
You see, in South Korea, there’s no where near as much hysteria about North Korea as there is in other Western countries. A lot of the time, I wouldn’t know about missile testing or impending war until I got a frantic text from my poor worried mum. It’s business as usual in SoKo since most people are desensitised to all the threats and it’s just not something people talk or worry about together.
But, after reading this book, I wanted to learn more about it so I decided to read more books. I read Aquariums of Pyeongchang which is a horrific memoir about life in the gulag and Nothing to Envy which is a collection of different memoirs set over different periods of time in North Korea. I have a few more books that I’ve still to read but I’ll be reporting back in my monthly updates when I do!
If you live in Korea, it is important to have some understanding of what life is like on the other side of the border. (Especially if you’re one of those people who thinks that you “may as well visit while you’re there…” *Eyerollemoji*)
I hope that everyone had a memorable 2017 and is looking forward to what 2018 has in store. Did any of you develop cultural obsessions last year? It’ll be funny to see if I pick up any more this year. I’m starting my Thai classes this month so maybe I’ll have more Thai obsessions after immersing myself more into the culture.
But, for now, I’m going to hit the couch and watch a K-Drama while dreaming about micheladas!
Happy New Year everyone! 🙂