India Budget

india budgetI’m finishing up our travel budget guides with our India budget. Overall, we were both very pleased at just how cheap we could travel around the country, eat and stay. While it is definitely possible to fly from place to place or even hire a driver to take you around the country, we decided after much encouragement from some friends from India to take the local trains. We had heard horror stories about delays (even though we did experience a 9 hour delay) sold out trains months and general chaos surrounding the Indian train system. Thankfully with guidance and lots of patience, we were able to book our tickets and make it to our trains with little to no hassle. My best advice for navigating the train systems? Go through Cleartrip. They make the headache of registering and booking tickets a little less stressful. And also, book your tickets as soon as possible. We booked ours about a month and a half before our trip and there were only a few seats left. From what we’re told, this is the norm and if you don’t book in advance you’re in for a headache. The worst thing that happened to us while we were traveling was waiting at a less than sanitary train station (Agra was by far the worst one we experienced) for nine hours since our train was delayed due to immense fog that morning. But alls well that ends well since we made friends with a fellow passenger and was later invited to his house for a homemade meal by his mother. It’s one experience we just couldn’t pass up and ended up not only meeting one of the sweetest families during our travels but also having the best Indian food we have ever tasted. Everything after that is held to a much higher bar. I am so grateful for the kindness of perfect strangers and of course, delicious food. 

The India budget below is for 11 nights and 12 days and reflects the price for both my husband and I.india budget

A Very Korean Wedding

 

Jeremy is one lucky guy. I can guarantee that if we were living in the states right now, we would have gone to more than a few weddings in our almost three years of marriage. But lucky for him, it’s not all that common for foreigners to be invited to a Korean wedding. So when one of his students invited us to his, I jumped at the opportunity (to be fair I had been to one before but I was a friend’s date and hardly knew the bride).

korean wedding

Traditionally there is a western wedding and a traditional Korean wedding but just like in the States, each is as unique as the couple getting married. The wedding we attended was beautiful but definitely interesting. The bride wore a typical western wedding dress which is usually rented, not bought. And I have been told that to rend a dress, it can be in the thousands! I’m so glad that I paid a fraction of that and got to keep mine!

When we arrived at the hotel, there were two tables, one for the bride and one for the groom. Men were sitting behind them and collecting envelopes of money, a typical gift at weddings. I had put our money gift inside of a card that I wrote a small note in and when I handed them a card instead of a money envelope, I had to explain that the money was inside. I guess it’s not that common, oops. Once you give your money to either the bride or grooms table, depending on who you know better, you receive a ticket for the buffet, often held in the same building immediately following the ceremony.

korean wedding

After getting our meal stub, we walked into a small room where the bride was sitting on an intricate couch where we were invited to sit with her and have our picture taken. There was a long line of family and friends waiting outside the room for the same purpose.

korean wedding

Once the ceremony started, the couple walked in together, stopped at the back and waited as a video montage played at the front. After walking down the aisle hand in hand, the ceremony was ready to begin. I wish I could say that I understood everything that happened but let’s be honest; I know about 30 words in Korea so that’s just not going to happen.

korean wedding
korean wedding

From what I saw, I almost felt as if they tried to combine a traditional western wedding with the reception. There was the traditional repeating of the vows, a friend coming and singing to them mixed with the Korean traditions such as bowing to each other and to each set of parents. But then there were other things that took place during the actual ceremony that usually are seen at the reception or the exiting of the couple. Such as bubble machines while they said their vows, smoke machines as they poured champagne into a tower of glasses…which by the way were never drunk from. And then they rolled out a giant (delicious looking might I add) three tier cake in front of the couple. They proceeded to cut it and then…it was rolled away. Never to be seen again…until the next wedding where I’m sure they use the same one. I wonder if they realize that they’re missing out on the best part!

korean weddingkorean weddingkorean wedding

In addition to the western style wedding, many couples also have a small private traditional ceremony as well. Everyone dons the traditional hanbok and special rituals are performed. Such as the mothers tossing chestnuts into the brides lap. However many she catches is supposed to signify the number of children she will have. I know if it were my mother in law she would pin me down and dump all the chestnuts into my lap. Thank goodness we don’t have a tradition like this in the states.

korean wedding
The adorable couple dressed in our company’s uniform

I loved being able to see a wedding from a different country and culture than my own. It’s really eye opening and humbling to how even though we come from different backgrounds, different cultures and different ways of living, love truly is universal.

Shoebox Apartments

asian apartments

We live in a small apartment here in Korea. Well, let me rephrase that to say that in American standards, we live in a small apartment. We feel very blessed and fortunate to have the size apartment that we do because we have known couples whose work has provided them with a 300 square foot studio apartment for the both of them. How they’re both still alive is beyond me. But needless to say, all three of our apartments in Korea have been smaller than what we’re accustomed to back home in the States. And while some things on this list may not apply to our current spot, they all could have been said about at least one of them.

So if you’re sitting there wondering what qualifies as a small apartment or wonder if yours fits the bill, this should help. You know you live in a small apartment if:

.It takes you 15 minutes to clean the entire thing

.It takes just as long for it to look like a train wreck again

.It’s impossible to lose or misplace anything

.You can vacuum the entire place without switching wall outlets

.You have an oven the size of a toaster oven and even that you have difficulty finding a place for

I’m just impressed we could fit a turkey inside. Even though it was so close to the elements that it had lines on it.

.You can see every room from one spot

.When the trash bag is full, you can smell it from every room

.If you leave the door open when showering, all the windows in the apartment fog up

.Your kitchen table is where you do most of your cooking because you can barely fit a cutting board on your counter.

Our first kitchen. I did most of my cooking on the table since I could barely fit anything besides a plate on the counter.

.It takes about five minutes for the place to cool down or heat up

.You don’t have seasonal decorations, not because you don’t want them but because you don’t know where you’d store them

.You have a dorm sized fridge because you can’t fit much else. Thankfully we were able to upgrade to at least a half sized fridge

.You don’t have to yell or even raise your voice in order for another person to hear you across the apartment or in another room

.Your social events have a max capacity guest list

.You have to find new and unique places to store things…like under the couch

This is where we kept out out of season clothes

.You are constantly switching out the clothes in your closet because only one season fits at a time. The rest go under the bed or in our case…under our couch.

.Every time you buy something new, you have to get rid of something. Not because you think it’s the  ethical thing to do, but because you don’t have enough room.

.At least one or more people have to sit on the floor when they come over…good thing we live in Asia and this is seen as normal.

I just want to end this by saying that even though we live in a place smaller than what we’re accustomed to, we now very much prefer it and no longer want to get a large house when we move back to the states. It’s funny the things you can get used to!

Getin’ Neked

Last week I may have just had the most unAmerican experience possible. I stripped down to my birthday suit in front of a bunch of Korean women. Jjimjilbangs (찜질방), or Korean style bathhouses are extremely popular where I live. You can see them on just about every block and are a very common Korean past time, especially during the cooler months. These spas are gender segregated and include several different pools of varying temperatures, showers and also separate sit down showers with mirrors where women sit and scrub off a layer of their skin. And all for the price of $6.00!

So this all sounds fantastic right? You’re probably wondering why it took me two whole years to go. Because, my friends, all of this is done while being completely butt neked. And while I’m not exactly the most timid one out there, something about being completely naked and the only foreigner, kind of got to me.

I once asked a student of mine about the spa and she mentioned that she had seen some foreigners there. I said great, what did she look like (we live in a small town, chances are, I knew her). My student went on to say that she had short brown hair, tall, and oh teacher, she had huge boobs! As tempting as it was to try out the spa, I did not want to take the chance of not only seeing one of my students…both of us in the nude…but I definitely didn’t want to be the foreigner that she’s describing in detail to anyone that would listen.

My partners in crime, Jen & Amber. The red sign above is the symbol indicating a bath house

Recently, however, I caved into finally experiencing the glory of the bathhouse and I could not be more thrilled! A friend of mine arranged this little get together and we all braved the awkwardness of showing our goods together. So here’s the drill to going to a Korean bathhouse:

When you walk in, you will choose which option you want. You can either just use the spa, or you can pay extra to spend the night. Clothes are provided for this option and both men and women sleep in the common area which has TV’s, couches, food and a unisex sauna. This is a great option for a cheap nights stay if all the hotels are booked.

When you pay, you receive a ticket with a number on it. You go into the women’s locker room and find the correlating locker number and put your shoes in. Then, you go into the next locker room and again, find the matching number and that locker is for your clothes. We were wondering if this was where we should strip down, and just as we were asking each other, three unabashedly unclothed women walked by. Yup, we were in the right spot.

We all stood looking at our empty lockers in front of us, not being able to contain our awkward laughter as we undressed. I have gone topless at beaches (until the one American showed up and started staring down all the women. Advice to guys; if you want to go to a topless beach, wear sunglasses), I’ve stripped down to my undies in front of strangers backstage when I used to do runway shows, but walking around in absolutely nothing like it ain’t no thing? That was new for me.

The last picture we could take

Each pool had a thermometer above it showing the temperature while others had jets or added minerals to them. Then there was also the option for a whole body scrub. Now, most Koreans simply buy a scrub cloth (resembling a Brillo pad) from a fully stocked beauty vending machine in the locker room and get to work in front of the seated showers. How some of them weren’t bleeding by the end of it is beyond me. But there is also an option to pay an extra $20 and have someone do it for you.

I have had friends tell me in the past that women scrub you down in these places but the way that they described it, I just thought there were some older Korean women that hung around the spa and liked to scrub people’s backs while they relaxed. I thought it was a little weird but hey, it’s Korea. Anything can happen. I quickly realized that I had been wrong and these people scrubbing women down were in fact employees and it was in no way as weird as I thought (or at least as un-weird as a women scrubbing another completely naked woman can be). One of the friends that I went with went for this option and while it took over an hour, she said that her skin had never felt so amazing.

So what did I think? I realize that so many countries around the world practice nude bath houses, but coming from America, this was one of the most foreign experiences I’ve had yet. I can’t tell you how badly I wanted to take pictures inside the bathhouse,  because it all looked so bizarre, but I don’t think that would have made the most family friendly post. To be perfectly honest though, I found this experience somewhat liberating. At first, yes, it’s extremely awkward and uncomfortable but by the end of it I felt perfectly comfortable walking around and hardly noticed that there were no bathing suits, not to mention it was one of the most relaxing experiences. So would I go again? In a heartbeat.