Traveling with Afro: Tips, Tricks , and Avoiding Awkward Moments

My afro is my favorite part of my body and , no matter where I go, it always causes heads to turn. If I’m in certain places abroad, it’ll also cause a lot of unsolicited stares,questions, and even touching. And don’t even get me started on the trying to find the right products to keep the ‘fro presentable and healthy.

The Afro

The Afro

Luckily, I’ve developed an arsenal of tips and tricks  to care for my hair and deal with the awkward moments abroad.

First , the tips:

Tip #5: If you can’t find it in the supermarket, pack it.

Many of my must-have hair products double as cooking ingredients. Because I know I’ll be able to find them in most markets I never worry about packing things like olive oil or mayonnaise for long trips.

Things that are a bit harder to find and always go in my luggage are Shea butter, castor oil, and shampoo and conditioner specifically made for my hair type.

Tip #4: Utilize travel size containers for short trips

If I’ll only be away for a short amount of time, I don’t worry about finding all of my usual products. I’ll pick out two or three that I can’t live without  and  squeeze them into a travel-sized container.

Tip #3: Wear Protective Styles

I always wear my hair in twists or braids because it’s easier to manage. Instead of waking up early every  morning to detangle the inevitable night-time knots, moisturize, and style I just fluff out the twists, spray a bit of moisturizer, and I’m out the door.

Tip #2:  Wear “flat”styles to avoid TSA searches 

For whatever reason, the TSA is very unforgiving when it comes to puffy,big hair like mine. Even when I braided it or scooped into a bun , I was still ended up with a pair of gloves shifting through my curls. However, on my last trip through an airport, I pulled my twists into a low pony tail and then gathered all the loose hair into one braid. I went through security uninterrupted. I think the key to avoiding awkward hair pat downs is to style it in as flat a way as possible. Think french braids,corn rolls, etc.

And speaking of awkward hair moments…

I’ve definitely experienced a few.

*Near Cordoba,Spain I was encircled by a group of women who took turns tugging at my twists.

*In a checkout line in Korea, I handed the cashier money and she responded by reaching up and , again, pulling my hair. ( as a side note, why must everyone pull?)

*While waiting in line for the bathroom on a flight, I felt someone massaging my scalp from behind. I turned around and asked the tiny Asian woman doing the massaging to stop but she only gave me a thumbs up before continuing as soon as I turned back around.

When traveling , I’m so focused on experiencing different cultures and people that I forget that I’m just as new and interesting to others. This was probably the biggest shock for me when I moved to Asia;people would gasp, follow me, and pull their cars over to take pictures at red lights .It took me a while to realize that in certain places, people who look like me – with dark skin and kinky,big hair – aren’t an everyday sight.I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the staring but one thing I have become quite comfortable with is saying “No” when people touch my hair.

The first few times the hair-touching accidents happened, I was afraid to do more than walk away. I didn’t want to come off as the “Rude American” or “Angry Black Woman”. Then I realized that if I was going to do the solo travel thing, I would have to get used to protecting my property. And that includes my body, and by extension, the hair.

So my #1 tip to anyone traveling with afro is to never be afraid to say STOP or NO if someone if touching you without permission. It may only be hair but it’s still yours.

 

Have you had any awkward hair moments while traveling? Share them in the comments!

 

 

 

 

Top-Ten Tuesdays: Favorite Korean Foods

10. Waffles

blog.korea.net

blog.korea.net

My students buy these in prepackaged bags and try to munch on them in class.

9. Teok Rice Cakes

Korean rice cake dessert

Korean rice cake dessert

I didn’t like these at first, but with my school handing them out nearly every week, they’re growing on me.

8.  Rice Stew

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Leftover rice is allowed to boil until nearly burned. If seasoned with juices from leftover meat, this is delicious.

7.Soju

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The most popular alcohol choice in Korea by far.

6. Mandu Soup

koreataste.org

koreataste.org

Meat-filled dumplings in soup. Very simply and very delicious .

5. Instant Kapi

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Kapi is how “coffee” is pronounced in Korea.While Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts blot every corner, instant coffee seems to be popular, especially in office settings.  Everything-coffee,sugar,and cream-comes in one cute little package.

4.Japchae

yelp.com

yelp.com

Noodles and vegetables in a brown sauce. It  tastes amazing.

3. Tteokbokki

dukbokki and soup

dukbokki and soup

One my favorite Korean meals so far. Spicy, circular rice noodles in a spicy red pepper sauce.

2. Bulgogi

commons.wikimedia.org

commons.wikimedia.org

Flavorful beef cooked on a table-top grill. When it’s done, you wrap it in a lettuce leaf and make a scrumptious type of Korean taco.

1.Bibimbap

bibimbap

bibimbap

A mixture of ground beef,vegetables, and rice topped with a spicy red sauce. If you want to try the best of the best, head to Jeonju, the home of Bibimbap.

Have a favorite Korean dish or top-ten list of your own? Comment below!

Eating My Way Through Seoul

As much as I hate to admit it , I haven’t been that adventurous when it comes to Korean food. I found a few favorites  and  have been faithfully living off of those for the last few months. One of the goals I set for Seoul was to try any and everything that looked good. And I think I succeeded .

The best thing about Seoul was the street food. In every area of the city, you could walk down any street and instantly be surrounded by the scent of overflowing carts full of sticky desserts, steaming meats, and pots bubbling full of Korean national dishes.

After an afternoon at Gyeongbokgung Palace, I ventured outside and discovered a flea market taking place in the neighboring plaza. Succumbing to curiosity , I walked over to discover that -instead of the antiques I anticipated – the many booths were full of food. 

Endless Food!

Endless Food!

Korean Foods

Korean Foods

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Some kind of vegetable pancake

There were hot foods as well as bagged candies and delicacies. I ventured to one of the booths with a crowd and was greeted by a woman making one of Korea’s most popular foods-hoddeok.

I watched the woman go on about her work; dipping a ladle  into a container full of yellow dough with brown flakes. Once the dough started to sizzle on the hot plate and the smell filled the air, I realized it was cinnamon. The woman used a silver instrument to press on the dough until it was perfectly rounded and the cinnamon was gooey . Finally , she folded one into a dixie cup and handed it to me. I got a bite of the runny cinnamon with the first bite and it paired perfectly with the crunchy outside.  It was delicious – so delicious that I burned the roof of my mouth -several times- because I just couldn’t wait for it to cool. 

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Hoddeok making. From start –

to finish

to finish

Even though the Hoddeok was beyond tasty , I needed actual food to power my exploring. I found a larger meal outside of Seoul’s Dong Station. There are about a dozen tents lining one of the entrances and they were all converted into makeshift restaurants. The one I chose had a giant stove in the middle, metal tables surrounding it on three sides and little stools stationed around them. I got a plate of dukbokki (spicy rice cakes in a red pepper sauce) and a small bowl of minty soup for 3 US dollars. Thankfully, the dukbokki wasn’t as spicy as others I have tasted in the past. Even so , it was flavorful and filled me up .       

dukbokki and soup

dukbokki and soup

The next dinner was bit more conventional. It was nearing midnight in Hongdae and store fronts were quickly going dark. I turned into the first restaurant I saw and found myself in tiny restaurant called Oodles of Noodles. The smiling man behind the counter directed me towards a machine in the corner. I ordered and payed for my entire meal using the machine and soon after was served Pad Thai and a side of shrimp and cream egg rolls . There was nothing special about the Pad Thai but it did taste great on an empty stomach. The eggs rolls, however, were amazing. Cream cheese and shrimp rolled into an egg roll doesn’t sound that appetizing but trust me -it is.     

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Map inside of Oodles and Noodles

How To Order

How To Order

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Pad Thai

Amazing Shrimp Egg Rools

Amazing Shrimp Egg Rolls

Last but not least- I finally had the courage to try the infamous Korean corn dog. I’m not big on hotdogs at home but luckily these were different- the breading is soft and flaky. Actually, it looks remarkably like Frosted Flakes. After handing over 1 won ( 1 USD ) the vender topped it with ketchup and some slightly spicy yellow sauce. It was so good I had to grab another for the bus ride home. 

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Korean Corn Dog

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So tasty I ate half of it before forcing myself to stop for a picture

Any other Korean foods I should try ?

Solo Weekend in Seoul: Exploring

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Panorama of Gyeongbokgung Palace

Over the weekend, I finally made the long trip to Seoul*. In between the crowded sidewalks and towering buildings, I felt totally at home. The most fulfilling part of the weekend was the fact that I did it all– from the five-hour bus ride from Pohang to finding my hostel and navigating the Seoul subway– solo. Maybe that solo backpacking trip is a possibility after all.

Exploring

I couldn’t miss the opportunity to check out the legendary Gyeongbokgung Palace*. The Palace ( which translates to ‘Palace Greatly Blessed by Heaven’ ) was built in 1395 and was the center of the ancient city. It was destroyed twice by the Japanese before complete restoration started in 1990. Even walking around the immense grounds in 2013 completely surrounded by smartphones and fancy professional cameras, the majesty of the Palace was still very much alive. If you find the right secluded area to explore, it’s easy to pretend that you’ve stepped back in time.

Entrance

Entrance

A guard dressed in traditional clothes waiting to greet the crowds.

A guard dressed in traditional clothes waiting to greet the crowds.

Haetae Statues

Haetae Statues

Haetae

Haetae

Seaso- Haetae  Statute

Seaso- Haetae Statute

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion-Ancient Party House

Gyeonghoeru Pavilion-Ancient Party House

The Queen's Garden

The Queen’s Garden

The highlight of my time at the Palace was seeing the traditional marching of the guards.

Guard Marching Ceremony

Guard Marching Ceremony

Traditional Drum

Traditional Drum

Guards relaxing before show

Guards relaxing before show

Another site I got to see was Ipark Mall*. It’s one of the premier shopping destinations in Seoul and has enormous wings dedicated to everything from home decor to clothing to electronics. One piece of advice: Be prepared to buy or walk quickly. A chorus of “May I help you?”  will follow you through the aisles. Ipark is also home to a arcade, a plethora of restaurants, an outdoor theme park for the kiddies, and a CVG movie theater complete with 4D.

Subway Entrance to Ipark Mall

Subway Entrance to Ipark Mall

Outdoor Kids Park-complete with giant Spongebob

Outdoor Kids Park-complete with giant Spongebob

Digital Market @ Ipark--best place to buy electronics in Seoul

Digital Market @ Ipark–best place to buy electronics in Seoul

The hostel I stayed in was in the center of Seoul’s Hongdae* . The area is packed with clubs, karaoke bars, and Western stores and thus, is one of the main hangouts for foreigners and young locals. I’m not much of a clubber but did wander the streets to get a feel of the place. I could sum it up as such: Visit during the day to browse the kooky souvenirs and try out the cheap street food. Visit during the night to check out the many impromptu performances , observe the drunken crowds, or join the drunken crowds.

Night time-  crowds in Hongdae

Night time- crowds in Hongdae

The last day in Seoul , I went to Itaewon*. I’ve heard it referred to as the foreigner’s paradise and it definitely deserves the title. There were almost as many foreigners as Koreans and  I’ve haven’t heard that much English since leaving Philadelphia International.

My main reason for visiting the area was to track down the famous What the Book store. It’s Korea’s largest English book store and carriers magazines as well as new and used bestsellers. I expected it to be more of a chill out spot – a la Barnes and Nobles- and was a bit  disappointed to find no comfy arm chairs. Even so , I was in heaven and had to force myself to leave before spending all of my money.

What the Book?

What the Book

 Itaewon is also a shopping destination. It’s narrow streets and twisting alleyways are full of shops and restaurants.

Shopping Itaewon

Shopping Itaewon

Shopping in Itaewon

Shopping in Itaewon

Shopping in Itaewon

Shopping in Itaewon

Shops

Shops

 

 

 

Whether you’re  looking to experience Korean history, party the night away , or indulge in some Western comforts, you can find a way to do it in Seoul.

 

 

 

 

* To get from Pohang to Seoul by taking a bus from the Shiwae Bus Station next to the large HomePlus.

 

* To get to Gyeongbokgung Palace take the Seoul Subway  line # 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station &exit at exit 5.

Admission : ₩ 3.

Free tours in English depart at 11am, 1:30 pm, and 3: 30 pm.

* To get to Itaewon take Seoul Subway line # 6 to Itaewon Station.

* To get to Ipark Mall take Seoul Subway line # 1 or #4 and exit at Yongsan Station.

* To get to Hongdae take Seoul Subway line # 2 to Hongik University Station.

           

Snapshots: Life in Korea

A quick and simple post  sharing some photos of life in South Korea.

Stream Street: One of Pohang's shopping destinations.

Stream Street: One of Pohang’s shopping destinations.

Found this interesting fruit in the market. It looks like a green pumpkin but tastes like honeydew.

Found this interesting fruit in the market. It looks like a green pumpkin but tastes like honeydew.

Shrimp Chips: Favorite Snack so far.

Shrimp Chips: Favorite Snack so far.

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I’m guessing it says Pohang.

View of town from the top of a bridge

View of town from the top of a bridge

Cherry Blossoms outside my window

Cherry Blossoms outside my window

More pretty flowers

More pretty flowers

4 Apps To Make Life in Korea Easier

Two months into the Korea adventure and I’m finally starting to feel settled. I know the bus routes, can get to the supermarket with my eyes closed, and finally got a cell phone! Because of the language barrier, I spent a month and half trying to find the elusive English-speaking  store all the foreigners here go to. Now that I have my phone , I’ve been putting it to good use. Here are the 5 apps that have made the transition to life in Korea so much easier.

Translator With Speech

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Any old translator app will do but using this one is as simple as typing and clicking. Just type in your native language and the app will translate it and say it out loud if you desire. No lie-I use it every time I leave the house.

Retro Camera

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This apps has different camera settings and filters to make perfect pictures. There are different settings for close-ups, panoramas, portraits, and any other type o f picture you can think of. 

Learn Korean

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I use this when I’m waiting on the bus. It’s an easy and simple way to pick up basic vocabulary quickly. The categories range from essential sayings to travel to numbers ( the hardest part of the Korean language in my opinion)  . The only problem I have so far is that some of the sayings don’t  match with the Korean phrases I pick up living here. Either I’m learning the slang or the Learn Korean sayings are very formal and possibly outdated.

OTO-International 

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Everyone in Korea is obsessed with the app  Kakao Talk. The app allows for free texting and calling as long as both users download the service. I use it all the time but OTO-International trumps it in one major way: You can make free international calls to both cell phones and landlines. I love this app because it makes getting in touch with my 80- year- old nana –who doesn’t use the computer- easy and , most importantly, free. The free call feature only works in certain countries. Luckily, Korea is one of them.

If your outside of Korea, you can pay for this service or use  a more mainstream app like Skype.   

* Do you know of other good apps for expats? Share below!

5 reasons to visit Jukdo Market in Pohang, SK

Jukdo market is often referred to as one of the must-do’s of Pohang, South Korea. In less than 3 hours,  I discovered parts of Korean culture I didn’t know existed before.  Jukdo market is huge and , unlike most flee markets, isn’t filled with second hand goods worthy of a side-eye.If you need more convincing, here are 5 reasons to visit Jukdo. **

One section of Jukdo Market

One section of Jukdo Market

5.  The Food

Both local and foreign foods abound here.  Dozens of streets are filled with fresh-water tanks and stands where seafood is sold and cooked right in front of you. Even if you’re not grocery shopping, it’s a place for sightseeing.  I saw a live crab almost as big as my head!

The baby crabs

The baby crabs

Fresh Fish for sale

Fresh Fish for sale

There’s also tons of cheap veggies and fruits as wells as some Korean specialties.

Veggies

Veggies

Rice cake desserts

Seaweed

Korean rice cake dessert

Korean rice cake dessert

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Red bean paste sugar donut

4. The Clothes

You can find traditional Korean clothes -like Hanboks- and Western style clothing also. Beware-like most clothes in Korea-they run small.  

Hanbok

Hanbok

3. Handmade Art 

In need of some inexpensive decorations for your new apartment? Browse through streets and streets of handmade pottery,furniture, and paintings.

Handmade pottery

Handmade pottery

2. Unique Souvenirs

There are children’s toys, stationary,plants, and shirts with “Engrish” settings. If you’re after a unique gift for someone back home, you won’t have to look too long to find one in Jukdo market.

Pretty Plants

Pretty Plants

Intresting "Booby" signs

Intresting “Booby” signs

1. The Experience

Nothing quite says “Welcome to Korea!”, than a morning here . Besides being surrounded by Korean language , cuisine, and culture on all sides, the many stares and people running up to greet you in English are sure to remind you how far away from home you are. It seemed like I was always the center of attention here, whether I was taking  a picture, attempting to explain I didn’t  speak Korean, or dodging out of the many motorcycles speeding by. Everyone was friendly, however, and seemed satisfied when I answered every question with “Miguk” (American).

**Pohang’s Jukdo Market is opened from 8 am-10 pm and closed every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month. Buses 101, 103, 105,107, and 108 all make stops here.

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Caution: South Korea Thus Far

I could perfectly describe my Korean experiences so far in one word:overwhelming. That’s not to say it’s been bad at all-I’m learning and seeing new things every  day and that is, after all, what I came here for. But sometimes when the things that were so simple and easy back home-like getting a cell phone,swiping a bus card, or even getting home- takes so much extra time and effort, it’s easy to be exhausted. I also think I’m realizing that I’m going to be here for at least a year, which means I don’t have to rush anything.

How I Feel I Need To Be At The mOMENT

How I Feel I Need To Be At The Moment

When I was in Spain, I accepted every invitation and took every weekend trip I could because I knew I only had six short months-just a handful of school breaks- to see Europe. While a year can go by just as quickly, I’ve decided that I can ease into this transition. It’s okay that I didn’t KTX train to Seoul within the first month or that I couldn’t order a meal in Korean if I was starving. Being so new and having no idea what is going on or what I’m doing is an icky feeling, but it’s part of being a true expat. So, I embrace it.

I’ve come up with some personal goals to help me ease into this new experience. Maybe they can help others in the same situation.

5. Learn the Language

I’m starting my second week of Hangul classes. Fluency is too much to ask for; I’m just hoping to no longer be illiterate in Korean  by the end of it.

4. Stop focusing on “I”

I feel like I have too much time to think ponder the meaning of life, how I should know it by now, and every embarrassing moment since 4th grade. So, I want to find activities- like volunteering,yoga,freelance- to fill the void.

3. Build “Girl and Her Pink Backpack”

This is an amazing opportunity to travel so I want to see as much as possible and record even more for others to experience also.That brings me to the next goal…

2.TRAVEL

On the weekends and during vacations , I want to see Korea and Asia.

1. Be comfortable with the process

I’m not going to learn the language overnight, be the perfect teacher by tomorrow night, or be up for every outing every time. That’s okay. I’m here-I’m going to take advantage of it. That’s all that matters in the end, right?

Oh, Korea. I will try!

Oh, Korea. I will try!

Do you have any tips for settling into a new place?