Hi from Hong Kong!!!

Well this has taken long enough...sorry to anyone reading (mom), hoping you're ready for a bit of an update though, I'm in Hong Kong! Or rather, I've been in Hong Kong for two months already! Whaaat!

So long story short, I decided, after coming home from Korea exactly a year ago, that I definitely wasn't done with Asia and needed another adventure. Yes yes it did take me 9 months to get going but here I am!

Work wise, Meryl Teacher is back! Well its now Miss Meryl:) I am teaching again at another language school except I now teach 3 year olds instead of 15 year olds.. bit different but I am really enjoying it so far. I've finally got a great repertoire of kids songs too. I can now sing "The wheels on the bus" to you till your ears bleed and not even get sick of it :P

Hong Kong has been incredible so far, my short visit 2 years ago put the little idea into my head that I could live and work here one day and being here for longer than a quick 4 day visit has definitely confirmed that. I have been so so lucky to meet up with friends from home and family already and have made some amazing new friends that I'm pretty sure I'll have for life. I live in one of the busiest parts of Hong Kong, Mong Kok. Its ridiculously busy but really convenient, most things you need are right outside or down the road. I've almost mastered the 'Mong Kok shuffle' of weaving in and out of the thousands of people on the street everyday... almost haha. Living here has really added to the excitement of it all. There's never a dull moment in my neighbourhood. Exploring a bit more has also made me realise that Hong Kong isn't just a really big busy city (notice I did 'loads' of research before coming here) A short trip out of the city and you're at a really nice beach, island or waterfall. Sundays have been the best! Its summer at the moment too which means junk boats! Basically a day out on a boat having fun with some of your favourite people. Cannot wait!

So that's my little update on life so far, will be sure to share more very soon. Here's to a great year (or more?) in Hong Kong!
New hood!


An interview with Expat Finder..

Need advice on moving to South Korea? ...or anywhere really? Expat Finder may be your answer:)

A little while ago they approached me to do an interview as on living and working in South Korea. I've spoken loads on the blog about things I did, experiences I had and trips I took whilst in Korea but haven't really touched on any technical things like visas and cost of living and what not, I suppose I should do a more in depth post about that at some stage..

In the meantime, here is my interview with Expat Finder. I'm hoping it helps a little if you do need any advice on moving to Korea..
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am from Johannesburg, South Africa.
Q: What made you move out of your home country?
A:   I moved to Korea for an exciting new experience and a chance to live and work in another country. I wanted to travel Asia and fully experience a new culture. What better way than living and working there, close enough to hop on a plane during breaks and explore a new place!
Q: How long have you been living in South Korea 
A: I lived in Ansan, South Korea for 15 months.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I’m currently back in South Africa after teaching for 15 months in South Korea.
Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?
A:  I chose Korea because it was a place that was different to anywhere I’d ever been, I knew very little about it but knew there would be a lot of expats to help me out too. An average ESL teaching salary would also give me the opportunity to save loads for further travels. 
Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in South Korea?
A: I never really experienced much difficulty and anything I did experience was usually just to do with language and cultural differences. I found that Korean people are very proud of their Korean heritage, sometimes so much that for a select few, it is hard for them to accept people of different cultural backgrounds. Language barriers were difficult to deal with at times as some people were perfectionists, if they didn’t know English well enough to have a conversation they often wouldn’t try use any of their English skills at all which made it difficult to understand things at times.  
Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?
A: Working in Korea as ESL teachers, we are very fortunate to have our school deal with our visas and health insurance. Majority of the jobs in Korea require you to have your working visa before you enter the country. Once you sign a contract in your home country and send all your essential documents through, your employers help you with the visa process from their side so it does make it a lot easier. Health insurance is also usually included in your contract with your company.
Q: Are you living alone or with your family?
A: I lived alone in an apartment but had other foreign co-workers in the same building as me or within walking distance so I was always surrounded by other foreigners
Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Korea? How did you manage to find a social circle in South Korea?
A: It wasn’t easy at first. I was quite set in my ways back home and had my set group of friends so it was hard to think I was now on my own and had to make new friends all of a sudden. Going on weekend trips and going to literally every event anyone invited me to definitely helped. I met great people through small interactions and met great new friends through them too, foreigners and locals alike.
Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?
A: There are a lot of great things to do in Ansan. Renting an Ansan city bike and riding around the city on the weekends was one of my favourite activities on my days off. There are bike stops at every corner and are relatively easy to operate once you have your ID card and cell phone set up. Ansan is also just an hour or so on the subway from Seoul city centre. Going into Seoul was a given on any weekend. 
Q: How does the cost of living in Korea compared to your home?
A:  The prices of things in Korea did work out to be more expensive than South Africa if you converted it. A cup of coffee in Korea would be around $5 at times whereas it wouldn’t usually get above $3 back home. Other things like good cheap restaurants seemed a lot cheaper compared to home whereas things like wine and cheese are luxuries in Korea and are a lot more expensive than home. When it comes to food it’s all about going with local products and eating locally, possibly changing your diet a bit unless you’re okay with spending loads of money on western dishes. 
Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?
A: Korean people are usually very friendly and helpful. You’re definitely treated a little differently being a foreigner but there are only a few rare cases when it’s differently in a bad way. 
Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in South Korea?
A: The positives of living in Korea are that it’s a beautiful country with tons to do in it. You can do quick trips to get away from the city life but be right back in it whenever you want. Exploring the country is relatively easy with a little time and patience. Negatives would just be language barriers.
Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?
A: I definitely did miss family and friends but there was nothing that Skype couldn’t fix. The time difference was only seven hours so putting in a little effort and arranging times meant getting in touch with people at home wasn’t very difficult at all.
Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?
A: I am home now but would love to go back to Asia for another year of teaching, possibly Hong Kong or Taiwan, both places I visited on holidays from Korea that I fell in love with.
Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
A: Learning to do things on your own and in a different language was probably one of the hardest things for me. I left home after living with my family for so long and was used to pretty much everything being done for me. It was difficult to adjust but really rewarding knowing you’ve done it on your own.
Q: What tips can you give other expats living in South Korea?
A: Learn to read Korean and speak basic sentences, even a few key words will help you. Korean writing (Hangul) is very easy to learn to read. Even if you don’t always understand what the word is you are reading, some Korean words are just English translated so if you spell it out you find some words are actually just English words written in Korean. Use apps like Jihachul (Seoul subway maps) these definitely help and are pretty much always dead on accurate train times. Korea’s messenger app Kakaotalk is also great. You can phone other users with it too. I often used it to call home if I wasn’t near a computer for Skype. The number one tip though is have an open mind, don’t expect anything and do your best to understand the culture even if it is far from anything you’ve experienced.
Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?
A:  I did read a lot of blogs about Korea before coming. Each one of them had something different and interesting about the place to say with a lot of different opinions. A lot of what I read was completely different to what I experienced so I’d suggest reading a blog for some information but don’t ever swear by it.

Check out the full interview here and have a look at their other expat interviews if you're thinking of relocating anywhere else in the world.


And then also back in Nam.. Sapa

A few more days in Hanoi after getting back from Ha Long Bay and the 'Vietnam Vipers' had to go our separate ways. The boys all started on their journey home and Anna and I decided to make the most of  our last few days and take a trip to Sapa for a bit of trekking and rice paddy time. We got on the second last of the 10 hour bus rides we would be taking in the country and headed North.

We arrived to start the trek straight away. You have to take most/all of your belongings with you so we tried to pack as light as possible, leaving our big backpacks in Hanoi. We walked for a good few hours taking in the fantastic views of the rice paddies, stopped for lunch, and carried on till we got to the home-stay that evening. Staying at the home-stay was a really great experience. You stay in a wonderfully friendly local Sapa family's house, given a bed, tasty meals and some 'delicious' Vietnamese rice wine. It was the perfect authentic experience and although my first and only bit of travel sickness decided to creep its way in right as we arrived, not ideal at all, I still really enjoyed every bit of it. After trekking the whole of the next day back to town we had the best sleep at the hotel, visited another village and snuck in some foot massages too, because...Asia.

When arriving in Sapa you're almost always greeted by smiling groups of Hmong ladies. They will become your friends and help you during your trek and make you cool grass flower things, and occasionally try sell you their bags and outfits. They are really lovely though and wont be that offended if you don't buy their things.Trekking through the rice paddies and taking in the incredible views of the mountains was breathtaking and definitely made Sapa a highlight of my whole Asian trip.
Cheers Sapa!


Also Back in Nam.. Biking to Hue, Hanoi & Ha Long Bay

Most travellers throughout Vietnam make sure they get on a motorbike at least once during their time there. I've never been a huge fan of bikes and had never actually ridden one on my own till then. We decided we'd give it a go and ride on our own to the next city. Together with the greatest people we met on the trip, the now totally official 'Vietnam Vipers' (we had skull bandannas made and everything) we were off to Hue. The seven hour drive took us to some pretty fantastic places. We rode right along the coastline for most of the trip, over the Hai Van Pass stopping to take in some incredible views. It really was an unforgettable experience and something that even though I was terrified to do, I would do again in a heartbeat, skull bandanna and all ;)
Filthy faces enjoying that well deserved beer
After arriving in Hue we cleaned ourselves up, riding in the open air with not much other than a bowl helmet made us pretty filthy at the end of it. We didn't waste time in planning the next leg of the trip to Hanoi. Vietnam backpackers are really great because they have opened hostels throughout the country and link up their trips with one another. We were able to book our Ha Long Bay Castaways tour in Hue and jump on board right after arriving in Hanoi. Arriving in Hanoi after another overnight bus trip was mad. It was the first time since Ho Chi Minh that we found ourselves in a big city again. Our time together was running out so we had to fit in as much as possible during those next few days. We made sure we got in all of the pho and street beers, a little temple hopping and cheap stuff shopping before Ha Long Bay.
Our trip to Ha Long Bay was a little different to most advertised trips. Because we opted for Vietnam backpackers castaway tour, we were in for a lot more than we expected... or actually exactly what we expected. It was wild to say the least. One night on the boat playing drinking games and partying till the early hours of the morning, a day spent kayaking through the little island caves and jumping off the roof of the boat and a night and day spent rock climbing, swimming and more partying on the castaway island, all involving all of the beers, pretty much sums up the trip. It took a lot of recovery after it all but was totally worth it. It really was loads of fun and we still got to experience the jaw dropping beauty of Ha Long Bay.