Wednesday, July 25, 2012

You've never seen photos of North Korea quite like these....

A water park in Pyongyang?

I read a lot about North Korea. The country fascinates me because it may be the least globalized civilization on Earth. But, as you read stories from escapees, mixed in with the horror stories of the gulags and the food shortages, you do get a sense that people aren't completely clueless as to what's going on in the rest of the world. You also get the feeling that, while there may be no rice to eat, they aren't all quite as deprived as we imagine. For example, black market DVDs of Chinese and South Korean movies and dramas are supposed to be widespread, suggesting that people must have TVs and DVD players to watch them as well. And, of course, we hear of the disparity between life in Pyongyang vs the rest of the country, Pyongyang being a model city of modernity and success while the rest of the country is destitute. I stumbled across these photos from The Bobster's facebook, but they are the most real photos I have ever seen from the North. Take some time and look through them and you may really get a better sense for what life is like over the illusive border. I'll place a few photos here, taken from Buisness Insider to pique your interest because they really are worth seeing, but be sure to go to the actual websites at the end of this post to see the whole collection.

Just like Seoul... but different. 

Traffic in Hamhung...

True Korean innovation: Wood burning vehicles...

These photos were taken by Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the China and North East Asia Project Director of the International Crisis Group (ICG). Please check the following links to see more amazing photos of the real Hermit Kingdom.

Monday, July 23, 2012

10 Ways to Not Spend Money While in Grad School

I kind of pride myself in not wastefully spending money. I admit, I have the occasional splurge so I'm not perfect, but I try to limit my splurges to things I know are really worthwhile. My readers may know that I am quite the traveler, but I always travel responsibly, running on low budgets, usually couchsurfing, and eating from supermarkets or cheap, local restaurants. For example, I did an entire 12 day trip around Turkey for less than $800 including airfare (not impossible because I was living in Georgia at the time).

Especially when I'm away from Korea, I try to make living on a budget my personal challenge because I like to have money for the things I really care about. I've never had to resort to using a credit card because I didn't have the cash to do/buy things I wanted to buy. I saved up enough money to first pay off all my undergraduate school loans (paid off 21,000 in 3.5 years). You could say that working in Korea contributed significantly to that, but I paid off almost 7,000 in my first year out of school before I even moved to Korea (making $11.50 an hour), so I really wasn't paying back any more while I was in Korea (and those were the days of the terrible 0.65 cents/1,000 won exchange rates).

Now that I'm debt free, I've been able to save up enough money to pay for all of grad school, too (a total of about $22,000 for 3 semesters/36 credits). I wanted to go back to grad school full time starting last September and I tried my hardest to get a job on campus that would give me housing and a stipend. That didn't work out, so I deferred my acceptance until this summer. While I technically have enough money saved up to pay for school, when you add up all the other costs associated with being a full-time student (mainly rent, food, and maybe transportation) the cost would have been enormous. So, instead, I've opted for a summer only program that offers one online class per semester during the regular school year that will let me finish all 36 credits by the end of next summer. While I do have to pay for two round trip flights to America, I can keep working full time in Korea the rest of the year to continue making money to pay for school and the costs of not working for several months each summer.

Now, this is my own personal situation, but I wanted to write something that anyone can read and find useful so here are my tips to living on a super low budget as a grad school student. While this is aimed at grad students, non-grad school students might be able to find other useful suggestions here as well.

1) Dump your car- Seriously, get rid of it. I know every one's personal situation is different and maybe you're living at home and need it or maybe you've got a part-time job that you think you need it for. But, add up how much money you spend every month (or maybe in a year) in gas, car insurance, repairs, maintenance, loan payments and anything else I'm missing. If it is close to the amount you're making from your part time job (every retail store nowadays seems to offer 12 hours + flex anyway), then... really... what's the point? Most college towns have a bus network for students. You also may be living closer to the school than you think. I am 1.5 miles from school, according to google maps. In nice weather I just walk to school, it's only 30 minutes. It's great exercise, I get my daily dose of vitamin D and I save money. I'm also lucky that my school actually pays into the local public transportation and I can ride all buses for free. I have to do a little extra planning around my day to fit the terrible bus schedules, but it keeps me on my toes. Try to find jobs close to your house or campus if you are going to work while you are in grad school and try to live as close to campus as possible. It may be worthwhile paying an extra $100 in rent a month if you don't need a car and can easily walk to school.

2) Minimize your vices- I'm lucky that I'm not a coffee drinker or a smoker. I like to drink alcohol, but I find that I just don't find that many opportunities to drink in the States as I do in Korea, so in the past month I've probably spent less than $30 on alcohol, total. For the coffee drinkers out there, I know this point has been beaten to death, but add up how much you spend at Starbucks every week and then multiply that by four and calculate how much you spend in a month. A few dollars every day doesn't feel like much but your monthly totals may surprise you. Either brew at home or better, start weaning yourself off the stuff. I don't drink coffee and I'm quite glad I never picked up the habit. As for smoking, I don't need to lecture you about it, you've already been told by too many people you need to quit. Now that you're a grad student, this should be all the more motivation. These are not the only vices out there... maybe there is something else in your life that you could cut back on?

3) Minimize your housing expenses- Rent is hard to control, but try to find a place that falls into your budget and is a short distance from school, preferably with good bus connections. Once you've moved into a place, you can at least keep your utilities down. First, don't even go near the cable. Especially in the US, cable prices are expensive. Even satellite and other things are not cheap, so just don't even think about it. Then decide whether you really need the Internet. My first year out of school I lived without the internet, but then again, I was not a student. If you are a student, you probably will need the internet to keep in touch with professors and classmates along with doing research. But, if you are the kind of person that lives in the school library anyway, you may be able to do without this added expense, too. Don't run air conditioning unless it's absolutely necessary (like above 90˚F and you're doing aerobics or something) and keep your heating low, especially when no one is home. In my first apartment after college, we'd keep the heat at 55˚F when we weren't home and turn it up to 65˚F when we got home. It's the winter, wear a sweater and some warm socks for goodness sake. You're a grad student. 

4) Don't get a smartphone- Or any other phones that will run up your bill. I've got a no contract phone from Virgin Mobile. I get unlimited data and texts plus 300 mins a month for just $35 a month. Why are you paying $75 or $100 a month for a phone?? You can do that once you're making the big bucks with your degree, but for now, live a little more humbly.

5) Buy only what you need- Before you buy that new pair of jeans or cute skirt that's on sale, ask yourself how much you really need it. Stores purposely put things on sale to trick you into buying things. But even if it's a good price, chances are, you don't need it. You probably have more clothes in your closet than you know what to do with anyway. It doesn't matter if it's on sale for 10% off or 95% off, put it back on the rack. When you've got a good paycheck from your amazing future job, that's when you can splurge, not now when you're a grad student.

6) Get what you really need from Goodwill- Or another second-hand store or on craigslist. This one is probably obvious, but don't even dare buy new furniture or house supplies before checking 1) Free-cycle 2) Craigslist (first the free pages, then the other pages) 3) Goodwill or other second-hand shops in your area. I bought my desk and chair for $15.00 total at Goodwill. Free-cycle is a new-ish site that allows people to post anything they want to give away for free. Basically it's a Craigslist for free stuff only. You can get anything from tea leaves to baby clothes to furniture here.

7) Buy books online or borrow them from friends- Ok, you're a grad student. You need textbooks. Unfortunately, the school bookstore is probably the most expensive place to buy them. I made the mistake this summer of checking the "used" prices on the school book store prices and compared them to the used book prices online. Since there was little difference, I decided to buy them on campus at the book store... only to find out that there were no used copies available for most of the books I needed. There went $400 for books this summer. Next time, regardless of the used price listed on the site, I'm going to buy them online. Since most grad students keep their books, there's rarely any used copies to buy in the campus bookstore.

8) Keep your food costs low: 
       a) Pack a lunch- Buying lunch at school costs me around $6.00 for a sandwich and drink. Plus, they are loaded with unnecessary calories because I can't control what goes into my sandwich. I try to make my own lunch every day, which probably costs me about a $1.00 (A pack of wraps costs about $3.00 for 8 wraps, a tub of hummus costs about $3.00 and lasts for about 5-6 sandwiches, a block of cheese costs about $3.00 and can be used for a while, plus a few veggies which I also make last a long time) and I can control what I eat. I try to always keep an empty bottle with me so I can just fill it with water at the water fountain for free.

       b) Plan meals carefully- Nothing pains me more than to throw away unused food. Try to only buy perishable things that you can eat within a week so that nothing will go bad before you eat it. Before you buy something at the grocery store, ask yourself: "When will I eat this?" If you can't answer it, don't buy it.  And think realistically.

       c) Just don't buy snacks and unhealthy food- Unless you have a legit health problem where you need to have some food around at all times, just don't buy snacks! Seriously, being here in America I see a lot of people with weight problems. They blame it on their genetics, they blame it on their medicine, but no one ever wants to blame it on themselves. Imagine, if it's 11 o'clock at night and you get that craving for ice cream but you didn't buy it at the supermarket this week and you don't have a car (because that was recommendation #1), well, you just aren't going to eat that ice cream, are you? You save yourself the money and the unnecessary food intake. If you don't buy it, you won't eat it.

       d) Limit your meals out- I try to only eat out when a friend comes into town to visit. Eating out in the States is expensive. Even the cheapest meal adds up when you add the tax, tip and a drink. Try to only drink water with your meals since most restaurants will give you that for free. Just because CokeZero has no calories it doesn't mean it's healthy or cheap. Check to see if the vegetarian meal options are cheaper, too, it's probably healthier for you anyway. And don't forget to take home your leftovers... you can probably get at least one if not two more meals out of it!

       e) Avoid meat- While I'm not really a vegetarian, I don't buy any meat to eat at home. Meat is expensive, terrible for the environment and some meat is not so great for your health, either. I occasionally get meat when I go out to eat (if there isn't any more appetizing vegetarian option) and I eat meat when I am invited to friend's homes for dinner. But, that's it. Even in Korea, we generally follow this rule at home except when we're having a special dinner with friends at our house.

9) Always keep at least a few thousand dollars in the bank- This might be shocking to some people from my generation, I know, but if you can't keep at least $2-3,000 (minimum!) in the bank for emergencies than you probably shouldn't be doing any of the things you're doing. You don't know if you're going to break your leg and owe a $500 emergency room fee. You don't know if someone in your family might have a sudden illness and you may need to fly across the country on a last minute flight to see them. If you have a car, you don't know when your transmission might go and need to pay $1,000 mechanic fee. If you don't have enough money in the bank to cover emergencies like these, which really do happen, than you're going to be in trouble when that emergency comes and you have to put it all on your credit card. You could spend years paying back the credit card companies for that one little emergency. Prevent that from happening by just keeping a cushion in the bank. Before I made any student loan payments, I also made sure I was leaving myself with at least $2,000 in the bank, just in case.

10) Borrow money responsibly and only when absolutely necessary- While this might not affect you while you're in school, it will affect you in the future. If you already owe $80,000 in undergraduate loans, think carefully before you take out another $20-40,000 in graduate school loans. If your future job isn't going to pay you SIGNIFICANTLY more than what you're making now, it might not be worth it. Think about how much money you are able to pay back in a year, then factor in how much money will be added to your loans every month when interest is factored in, and then calculate then, how many years it will take you to pay off your loans. You probably have dreams of having a house, a car, a wedding in the future (if you don't have these things already) but if you're $100,000 in debt, it's going to be really hard to achieve your other dreams. There are many schools which will subsidize your grad school tuition if you work on campus doing research or TAing classes. I couldn't get that for myself as a summer-only student, but it doesn't mean you can't. If you are already in debt, look only at programs which will allow you to work while you study. If you're looking at a higher degree in science, you shouldn't be paying any tuition, honestly because you should be able to do research or TA classes. Other programs may give you tuition reductions for various jobs on campus. Also look into resident assistant/director/coordinator positions on campuses. They will often give you free housing and a stipend, sometimes you can get some tuition reduction to go along with it. Also, ask your company if they can support any tuition money for you as well. Some companies will help their employees to go back to school as well. Do whatever it takes to NOT take out any more loans, you'll thank yourself in the future.
I know everyone can't do all of these. But, if you can even accomplish half, you will be putting yourself in a better position financially. As you enter grad school (or even undergraduate studies) think carefully if you can make a commitment to doing any of these things suggested. Don't make excuses saying that it's not possible. Be in control of your money and don't let your money be in control of you!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Please Vote! I want your opinion!

It seems that the blogging world is going the way of what blogger calls "dynamic views". Personally I like the fact that you can go through a blog and read it like a story, but with a dynamic view you can pick and choose the posts that you really want to read. So, the question to my readers is this: What do you prefer? This traditional style blog that I have now where you read through chronologically (or by any topic you want), or a "dynamic" blog where you can click on what you want to read and skip the parts that you're not interested in. Leave your thoughts in the comments, or just vote in the side bar to your right.

Examples of "Dynamic Views"

And more information if you, too, are thinking about making the switch:

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Shelburne Farms

 Wagon ride around the farm

Two weekends ago, my friend came up from Boston to visit and we went around to a few spots I'd never been before. One stop was at Shelburne Farms. Shelburne Farms is a huge 1400 acre working farm and education center. Not to mention an absolutely beautiful place to visit on a clear summer afternoon. We arrived just in time to catch the 3:30 guided tour of the farm and so we hopped on the tour.

I purposely situated myself in the back of the wagon so that I would have a good, clear shot from behind  to take lots of photos. Some came out better than others, but here are a few I liked:

Random, awesome bus in the parking lot

Boat in Shelburne Bay

A view from a far of the farm barn

Tree-lined road

Sheep caretaker and Sheepdogs


The first stop on the tour was a stop at the farm barn where we got to see where they make their famous cheddar cheese. Unfortunately, when we arrived, they had already finished the cheesemaking for the day, so we just got to see the equipment used through the window. I may or may not have blogged about it, but I have tried my hand at cheesemaking a few times in the past few months. I do make some nice paneer but I'd like to be able to make some hard cheese.... they made it look so easy in Georgia....

Cheesemaking equipment

Twister, anyone?

From the barns, we headed over to the Inn at Shelburne farms which was the original house of the property belonging to a member of the Vanderbilt family. That explains the size, right?

The Inn at Shelburne Farms

Inside the Inn

A guessing game for kids with a few vegetables that I couldn't even name...

The last stop was the gardens outside the Inn. The Inn is in the process of restoring the gardens to their former glory. I thought they looked quite beautiful even without the restoration....

To conclude the tour, we headed back to the welcome center and got to sample some cheddar cheese produced right there on the premise from the farm's own cows.

6-9 month cheese, 1-year, 2-year, 3-year cheese, tractor cheese, smoked cheese..... ohhh... I was in cheese heaven!!!

Next time you are in the Burlington, VT area, this is a must see... especially if you love cheese! 

For prices, tours and events, check their website:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Henna Party

Last Friday I was invited to a classmate's house for a henna party. She is a fantastic artist and offered to do the henna for everyone. Here are some samples of what we had done for us:

On the back

My hand

My hand, completed and waiting for the henna to dry. It forms a kind of puffy layer of paint which takes about 30 mins- 1 hour to dry. 

Finished back design

Me and another's hand design

At the end of the after watching our henna artist all night, I decided to give it a go for myself on my ankle... a much less visible place.... I think it turned out alright, but it wasn't as dark because I couldn't get the henna to come out as thickly and evenly as my artist friend could.

So, after about 3 hours I brushed off as much dried henna as I could before going to bed.

... and the next day it looked like this after about 18 hours. Now it's been 7 days and it's starting to fade. Since it's on my hand, the parts of my hand that get wet the most are wearing off first, the fingertips and between my thumb and forefinger. The part near my wrist is still holding up well, though, and the design on my leg is too. If you want your henna to rub off quickly, just scrub it every day. If you want it to last longer just don't scrub it too much when you wash! This was a really fun night, it's always fun to try something new!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Some of the reasons behind the light posting lately...

Grammar Trees and Phonetics... 

that is all for today...

Thursday, July 12, 2012


A friend of mine is an artist and he recently started a blog to post his artwork for all to see. This week he is starting a series on Dokkaebi, so some of my readers who are looking for some more Korean culture can go over to his blog and check it out! Be sure to check often for more updates in this series!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Just though I'd announce that my blog has reached two important milestones this week. First, on Saturday this blog reached 100 followers. Then on Sunday I reached it's 100,000th page visit (as started several months after my blog started). I'm quite happy to be right where I am. I have never wanted to be one of the top bloggers in Korea as I don't think I could stand being under the scrutiny that many of those people can get, but I'm happy that I'm big enough to have been recognized by various other blogs and entities such as The Korea Blog and Arirang TV.

For those of you who are missing the Korea related posts, just hang in there. I'll be back in Korea in less than two months!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Penny Cluse Cafe, Burlington, VT

Since I've been back in the Burlington, VT area, I've already been back to my favorite breakfast joint twice. For me to review a breakfast restaurant is kind of a big deal because I'm not big on American style style breakfast (you know, comfort food like eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes etc.) When I moved to Korea I kind of gave up on it completely, happily replacing it with kimchi jjigae, doenjang jjigae or just plain yogurt and cereal (And for the longest time I thought it was totally normal to eat jjigae for breakfast until I realized that even my Korean students were disgusted by eating something so spicy for breakfast... it's just me and my boyfriend that like jjigae for breakfast). But, I can say that Penny Cluse Cafe is one of my favorite breakfast places because they don't serve just your typical American breakfast. They've done a few awesome things that you rarely see outside of Vermont. They pride themselves on their organic and local ingredients. They take various styles (Southwestern, Asian, traditional, organic)  and make a fusion that is all their own. Not only that, but it's vegan, vegetarian and meat-lover friendly. I can go to Penny Cluse Cafe and know that I'm not going to get a typical, dripping in grease breakfast but something that I feel good about eating.

They've got a good menu that's not too long, not too short, but it's always important to remember to check the specials board because they've got lots of good stuff up there which is always changing. Here are the photos of my food from my last two visits. 

Breakfast burrito ($9.75) ~ 3 scrambled eggs with choice of cheddar, jack, feta or Swiss cheese in a flour tortilla — served with black beans, salsa & sour cream. You may start to notice that black beans are a reoccurring theme here... but only if you get the southwestern style dishes. If you're not into that, they've got plenty of other stuff here for you, too.

Huevos Verdes (Spanish for "Green Eggs") ~  Eggs topped in guacamole with black beans and tortillas. Personally, I would recommend getting the tortillas on the side so that they don't get soaked by the beans... not sure how other people eat this dish, but if I get tortillas, I want to put stuff in them and eat it like a taco and not get covered with black beans. (My only complaint about this restaurant)

Mama Cruz’s Huevos Rancheros ($10.25) ~ 2 eggs any style served on corn tortillas with jack cheese, salsa ranchero & black beans. My old favorite, used to be the only thing I ever ordered here when I actually lived around here. Again, same tip as above for the Huevos Verdes... ask for the tortillas on the side to avoid getting them completely doused in beans and salsa. 
Tofu Scram ($9) ~ Choice of pesto, peanut-ginger or salsa ranchero - served with home fries, choice of toast, biscuts, corn muffins or grilled baguette. I was kind of confused about what this would be when I saw it on the menu as it's "just tofu". Fortunately, the peanut-ginger sauce was so good that every bite made me a little tingly inside. This is definately my new favorite. I also added tomatoes and basil on top for an extra 0.50 cents each to give the tofu a little umph. 

I love the ambiance of this restaurant too, the hardwood floors and pale yellow walls make you feel like you're in some one's farmhouse kitchen (surrounded by 50 other people).

 If you're planning on going for the first time, be aware, this is one of the most popular breakfast places in Burlington, so go early on weekends! An hour wait for breakfast here is normal! We were really lucky both times we went and got seats right away. First time because we got there at 8:30 am and second time because we were willing to sit at the bar so we got shortlisted even though there was a 25 min waiting list at 9:30 am.

Penny Cluse Café
169 Cherry Street
PO Box 8422
Burlington, VT 05402
(802) 651–8834

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lake Champlain Cruise

While my mom was in town we took a cruise on Lake Champlain from the waterfront near the ECHO center in Burlington. The boat ride is nice because it gives you a good history of the lake and the region. I've always been a history nerd..

On board there is a fully stocked bar plus you can order some small meals as well. We didn't order anything, but most people were enjoying a glass of wine or beer for the ride. 

Boats at the dock
A view of Burlington from the boat

Rain clouds in the distance....

Cliff jumping at Red Rocks

Here is the information, as advertised on their website:

Cruise Dates: May 19 - October 14
Cruise Duration: 1 1/2 Hour Cruise
Departure Times: 10:00, 12:00, 2:00, 4:00
Notes: Snack Bar Service and Cash Bar Available
Price: 1 1/12 hr: 15.49 Adults 7.49 Children (3-11)
* Taxes and Fees are additional

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Making a Spanish Tortilla (College student style)

A real Spanish tortilla cooked by one of my amazing couchsurfing hosts in Seville, Spain. 

Now that I'm a full time graduate student (at least for the summer) with no car and a limited budget, I need to get a little bit creative about what I make. I realized tonight that I had a copious amount of potatoes and a half dozen eggs that I hadn't touched since I moved in a week and a half ago. The first recipe that came to mind when I combined those two foods in my brain was a Spanish tortilla. No, not a Mexican tortilla, the bread made with corn or flour, but the potato/omelette/pie dish that I've only ever eaten in Spain. It looks slightly complicated, especially when you need to flip near the end, but I was really surprised how easy it was and how well it came out. Also, for those of you living in Korea, this would be a really easy dish to cook! **Note: This is the college student version. Cheap ingredients and makeshift cookware. A cook in a well equipped kitchen would be able to make this look much nicer**

-Potatoes (however many desired, I used 4 large baking potatoes)
-Onion (again, as much as desired, I used about half of an onion because that's what I had available)
-Oil (Most recipies call for several cups of olive oil. I used vegetable oil. I didn't measure, but I just made sure there was enough to coat all the potatoes with a little extra in the bottom)
- Salt (as much as you like, I didn't put too much)
- *Optional* Other vegetables (typically Spanish tortillas only have potatoes and onions, but I think other veggies or even meat would taste great)

 Before cooking

First I took the four potatoes and peeled and cut them in to thin slices.  Chopped up the onion and just a little green pepper that I had sitting in my fridge and threw them all into a pan. Recipes say that a cast iron pan is the best for tortilla, but, this is the college student version. I just used a non-stick pan that was deep as opposed to flat on the bottom. If the pan is too wide and flat you will need more egg to compensate for things spreading out. This should be the thickness of a pie when it's done. Then I added just enough vegetable oil (again, not olive oil as the other recipes call for) to cover all the potatoes, then fried them until they were cooked and slightly brown.

A few minutes after I added the eggs

Once the potatoes were cooked all the way through (easily breakable with a knife or spatula), then I poured in my eggs. I used four eggs, scrambled. One or two more eggs probably would have been better, but again, this is the cheap college student version. 

I let the eggs cook on a low heat, covered for a while, occasionally checking the sides to make sure that nothing was sticking to the bottom of the pan.


Now, here is the tricky part (should have photographed this, but it's hard to take a photo of yourself doing something difficult). Put a large plate over the pan and flip the tortilla onto the plate. The bottom should be brown, like above (or hopefully slightly less brown if you're a good cook). Then slide the flipped tortilla back into the pan to cook the top (now bottom) side. Let this cook for a few minutes, it should be mostly cooked now anyway. 

El fin

Finally, slide your tortilla onto a plate and you have enough tortilla to make several meals. I will probably make at least 3 if not 4 meals out of this guy. Cheap, moderately easy and still good if you screw it up. Perfect for any college student OR expat in Korea who wishes they could make some non-Korean food cheaply.