First snow in Korea and staying inside away from covid

This morning in Gyeonggi-do, we woke up to a magical snow-covered view from our window. It felt like Christmas morning, and the excitement was enough to get me out of bed on a Sunday. I threw on my warmest clothes and the rain boots I purchased during this year’s monsoon season and raced outside to walk in the snow. Two young children had already beaten me to it and were collecting snowballs from the car windshields. For a brief moment, I regained some much-needed hope in 2020 and felt like a kid again myself.

In less sunny news, today South Korea reported over 1,000 new coronavirus cases in a single day. This marks the highest number of new cases here since its outbreak at the beginning of the year. I am becoming increasingly worried about the virus here as we move into the holiday season. Koreans have had quite a successful year thanks to their cooperative citizens, avoiding any drastic lockdown measures. This has lulled us all into a false sense of security, allowing people to feel comfortable socializing and going out so long as they are donning a face mask.

These days, I have been staying home, cooking meals and finding small comforts in our cosy home. Today’s snow gave me all the more reason to have a quiet day in an attempt to finish off the pile of unfinished books next to my bed. The looming new year is a reminder that I have yet again failed as a reader!

I hope you are staying safe and taking care of your health. Today, I finished reading the book ‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. It is about a cafe in Tokyo where you can travel back in time, but only to meet someone who has visited the cafe previously. The time traveller must return to the present before their cup of coffee gets cold, otherwise, an alternative fate awaits them. The book made me think about who I would go back and visit, if only for 10 minutes. It was beautiful how the characters were able to grow and learn about themselves from their short journey to the past. It was such a lovely story, and if you love Japan, you might enjoy it! Take care and follow me on YouTube or Instagram for more content.

Snow-covered post box outside my house
Snowy foot prints
Outside our home in Gyeonggi-do, covered in snow
Home cooking instead of eating in a restaurant due to covid

Here is my latest YouTube video of a day in my life working from home in South Korea. I hope you enjoy my attempt at making Korean subtitles! It has very snowy, cosy vibes so I hope you enjoy!

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What a polluted day in Seoul looks like

The arrival of winter weather in Seoul means dusty air and chilling winds. A few weeks ago, I braved both the air and the wind to visit the Seoul Animation Center. Despite the smog-covered city, I managed to take some photos along the way. When pollution levels are high in Seoul, not only can you see it in the sky, but you can also feel it in your chest, your throat and in your head. Everything feels a bit sluggish and… bleh. The best way to take care of your health on polluted days is to stay indoors, try not to exercise heavily outside, invest in an air purifier for your home, wear a KF94 face mask and drink plenty of water. I use the app ‘Mise mise’ to keep up with the air quality levels in Korea.

I took some images, but I also managed to film some clips and put them into a YouTube video. I used to film these kinds of videos a lot when I first got my DSLR and was living in Melbourne. The footage is sitting somewhere among all of my hard-drives and memory cards. I absolutely loved filming these clips in the Myeongdong area of Seoul, and hope to make more videos like this in the future. I hope you enjoy!

Namsan Tower hiding away in a smoggy sky

Quieter streets in Myeongdong

Taking the bus over the han river

Korean Skincare Review: VT Cosmetics Super Hyalon Range

Hello Korean Picnic fan(s). Today I am happy to be sharing my first ever Korean skincare review! I was very kindly sent some products from the Super Hyalon range by VT Cosmetics and I have been asked to review them. Please enjoy my photos and words and, if you have some time, enjoy my latest YouTube video. I also filmed a daily makeup routine. I was completely honest about my first impressions and I hope you enjoy! Stay safe, stay inside and stay hydrated.

The VT Skincare Range

Step 1: Super Hyalon Booster – Helps with skin texture

Step 2: Super Hyalon Eye Mask – Adhesive sheet that gives hydration and moisture around the eyes

Step 3: Super Hyalon Emulsion – Gives the skin moisture moisture moisture

Step 4: Super Hyalon Ampoule – Highly concentrated serum that hydrates and is good for dry skin

Step 4: Super Hyalon Cream – Gel formula with blue capsules packed full of moisture

To hear my full review of the products, watch my latest YouTube video at the end of this blog post. I am still using the Booster, Cream and Eye Masks on a daily basis and absolutely love these products. I loved all of the products but my sensitive skin is not a huge fan of long skincare routines and changes to my daily routine in Korea!

What is G:H8?

For the purpose of this collaboration, I wanted to make sure that I knew a bit more about the products I was putting on my face. All of the products I tried had the ingredient G:H8 which sounded a little bit like a chemistry experiment. According to the VT Cosmetics website, the ‘G’ stands for ‘Polyglutamic Acid’ which is a ‘water soluble peptide derived from soybeans’ that can ‘retain five times the amount of moisture than hyaluronic acid’ (Reference).

The ‘H8’ stands for 8 different types of Hyaluronic Acid (I wasn’t aware there was more than one type). Hyaluronic acid supports healthy and supple skin by holding in moisture. This ingredient is found in a lot of skincare products on the market as it is good for a wide range of skin types and problems. For more information, I used this reference to learn more.

My Everyday Korean Makeup

At the end of the video, I did a short daily makeup look. Here are the products I use on a daily basis!

(From Left to Right) Nars Voyageur Eyeshadow Palette Mini, Hourglass Ambient Light Blush Luminous Flush, Morphe M139 Brush, Eco Tools Powder Brush, Ink Velvet 15 Lip Tint, Missha Over Lengthening Mascara, Klairs Illuminating Supple Blemish Cream SPF 40 PA ++

When the Customer Experience Gets Lost in Translation

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To treat myself in Seoul, I love going to different coffee shops and sitting there for hours on end. I love getting lost in my writing or drawing among crowds of people studying or catching up with friends old and new. I usually try to save my trips to cafes for the weekends as a way of saving money on coffee during the week.

Because of my infatuation with Korean coffee shops, I managed to perfect my Korean coffee-ordering skills and can now waltz into any cafe with ease. My heart no longer beats uncontrollably when it’s almost my turn to order and I’m not scared of making mistakes. These ordering interactions are also a way to improve my language skills should our coffee-ordering dialogue go off-kilter.

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‘So what does this have to do with customer experiences and translations?’ What a great question! Let’s discuss…

Occasionally, my Korean cafe trance is interrupted when a sales assistant at the other end of my aforementioned coffee-ordering dialogue responds to me… in English. Meaning: I’ve said ‘Korean Korean Korean’, only to then receive a response in English. ‘So’, I hear you ask, ‘what is so bad about this and why is it so concerning to you that you’ve written an entire dissertation (this blog post) about it?’

Living in a foreign country and sticking out like a sore Australian thumb has many challenges. I know that having people speak to me in English is a gesture of goodwill. I personally think that it is amazing that so many Korean people can speak English and are very willing to make foreigners feel at ease. However, pouring my heart out to someone by ordering a coffee in my very best Korean feels a little bit embarrassing when I am met with a response in English. This fuels the daily anxiety I feel as someone who has been living in Korea for over a year and has a rather long, never-ending way to go with their Korean language skills.

‘Okay, but where does the customer experience part come in? So what if you feel inadequate and angsty, we all do?’

As someone who slaved her university days as a customer service worker in both hospitality and retail, I am all too familiar with the language of good service. How to greet people, how to make people feel like they’re the most important customer in the world etc. It wasn’t a skill I was very good at, to begin with, but over time I improved my communication skills and my confidence in interacting with customers from all walks of life.

After several years of working jobs that I hated, I, in turn, became highly sensitive to customer service everywhere I went. Having experienced it myself, I became more aware of the struggles customer service workers face and gained a newfound respect for dish hands, Uber drivers, bartenders and everyone else in between. I started to show increasing respect to the workers who were kind and welcoming to me which made me want to be a regular customer.

With a bad experience, on the other hand, I would usually try and avoid ever going there again. That may sound petty, but living in Melbourne, there were plenty of places for me to buy a coffee, sandwich or a pair of shoes. Once you’ve worked the Christmas shifts in a retail shopping centre, you learn how to be polite to people with literally zero effort. It becomes a role that you must play to survive. It’s not that hard to be polite to someone who just wants a pair of jeans that won’t sag around her butt.

So, again… what does language have to do with your customer experience? Well, it’s not so much the use of English that I have a problem with, it’s the way the English is used that can dampen the experience.

Let’s say I ask for a hot latte in Korean (you always have to specify if you want a hot or cold drink in Korea which is a whole other blog post right there, the ‘assume hot unless otherwise stated’ rule doesn’t apply here). I’m standing there in front of the cash register, thinking my Korean skills are award-winning and I await a response from the sales assistant. If they then reply with a ‘hot?’, or a ‘take out?’, in English, this is where my fury ignites. Not only have I just spoken to them in Korean, and they have understood me, they feel it necessary to confirm my order in a different language. A language that they assume I speak because of the way I look.

I would be grateful for this as a traveller, but as somebody who now calls Korea their home, it feels disheartening. Furthermore, the English being used is usually formed as one or two-worded sentences. This can really negatively impact the customer experience, especially if you are like me and you are eagerly trying to improve your language skills. Let’s compare the English dialogue of a one to two worded sentence with a sentence used by customer service workers in a native English speaking country:

‘Hot?’ vs ‘Would you like that hot or cold?’

‘Take out?’ vs ‘Did you want that for here or to go?’

‘Membership?’ vs ‘Are you a member with us? Would you like to sign up?’

‘For here?’ vs ‘Whereabouts are you sitting? Did you want to have that here?’

‘Bag?’ vs ‘Do you need a bag? Will you be needing a bag?’

Korean is a complex language with many forms of honorifics, it is relatively easy to offend someone by accidentally talking down to them in casual form. As a language learner, I am taught to speak Korean politely in any given context. It’s the best way to avoid offending somebody because ‘when in doubt, be polite’.

English, on the other hand, does not have these same language rules. The nuances of being polite in English is something that can’t be taught easily with formulas or sentence patterns. When students learn English, they don’t learn levels of politeness the way learners of honorific languages such as Korean and Japanese do. Your teacher might correct you by simply saying ‘this way might sound a bit more polite’ or ‘that is considered rude in English’.

For example, when I was working as an English here in South Korea, I corrected my students any time they used words like ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’. I told them they are not real words and they are only used by lazy people (I know, I’m literally the worst person but I wanted my students to annunciate, sue me). With younger students who simply yelled ‘teacher, bathroom’, I never let them go to the bathroom until the practiced saying ‘Teacher, may I go to the bathroom’. If you don’t try and break a student’s habit then and there, their cute language faux pas might stick around for the long run.

Considering this, imagine a Korean sales assistant simply saying ‘Hot?’ in Korean to a Korean customer. That customer would most likely be offended. This brash language translates as rude in English. If somebody simply said ‘hot?’ to me at a Melbourne cafe, I would probably respond with an affirmative grunt rather than give them a spoken response. Using single word responses is quite abrupt in any language. The language of customer service is very important in making the customer feel welcomed and valued for spending their $5 on a cup of hot milk.

This unnecessarily long blog post was inspired by an observation a friend and I made here in Seoul at a cafe. When she ordered her drink, they responded to her in English with one or two-word responses. When I ordered, they responded to me in Korean, which my friend overheard. She made the comment ‘wow, when they speak to you in Korean, it sounds so much more polite than when they speak to you in English’. She’s right, Korean customer service workers employ a very polite form of language because they must show respect to everybody. They wouldn’t even speak that politely to their own parents. My friend and I both shared very different experiences because of this one small language difference.

While I do appreciate people trying to speak to me in English, I always make a somewhat arrogant effort to respond in Korean. I am trying to integrate myself into this culture by speaking as much Korean as I can. I could simply respond to everyone in English because as a native speaker, it is the easier option. However, I would never improve my skills that way. I don’t want to become dependent on English and look back and wonder why I haven’t improved my language skills. I guess making such a conscious choice is the reason I am so passionate about this topic!

Furthermore, just because I am foreign, there really is no way of knowing if I speak English. South Korea attracts visitors and ex-pats from all over the world. Russia, France, Spain, Uzbekistan and America – nobody is immune to Korea fever. Are these scenarios I am describing any different from me trying to speak Chinese to an Asian-looking person in Melbourne as a cafe worker? If I did that in Melbourne, the customer would feel terrible, especially if it turned out that their mother tongue was Korean, Japanese or something not remotely similar to Chinese.

So I beg of you, if somebody, in any language or country, is trying their best to communicate with you in your native tongue, take it as an opportunity to help them, not belittle them. I have made so many mistakes from using only Korean, but those mistakes always help me grow and give me a funny story to tell my husband when I get home. Interacting in one or two words of English with somebody who is trying to learn Korean is not going to improve your English, nor will it improve their Korean. If you do want to speak English to your foreign customers, do the extra homework and improve your sentence structures. It doesn’t hurt to be too polite.

The places I do feel very grateful for English are places like immigration, hospitals, and sometimes banks. However, I recently successfully acquired a new credit card without using any English. Even if there is an opportunity to use English, I will always do my best to use Korean. I may stumble through conversations and get lost listening to native Korean, but I am always better off having tried. Having been put in that difficult position in the first place is a great way to learn, much like any other learning opportunity in life.

What do you think about this? Do you feel a little dead inside when somebody responds to your Korean in English? Or is it just me? I understand that this is quite a negative post, but I do acknowledge that many Koreans in customer service are able to communicate in English very politely. The fact that so many Koreans want to learn English and improve their skills is also somewhat miraculous. Australians should really follow suit. This was merely my observation as someone trying to call a different country their home and often feeling more and more like an alien than a local.

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Picnic with the Parks

You can’t help but feel the sense of impermanence when looking down a road lined with cherry blossoms. They have bloomed quite early here in South Korea but they have been more than welcome given the current state of the world.

In the world of social media, it feels as though you have to capture the very best picture in your very best spring outfit before all of the flowers flutter down to the ground.

Don’t forget to take time to reflect on where 2020 has taken you so far and where you want it to lead going forward. If you don’t have the chance to get fresh air this week, make it a priority to get outside in the afternoon to soak in some sun and enjoy the April spring weather before the cherry blossoms disappear!

My husband and I had a yummy picnic along the stream near our house yesterday. Who knows when these beautiful flowers will disappear. Even though I was in a blahhh mood, picking myself off the floor, literally because I couldn’t find anything to wear and had a melt down over it, and going out was a great remedy. Don’t let a bad mood stop you from doing things that will help you look outside yourself. Getting caught up in your head is a bad way to be. When all else fails, stare at some sleeping geese in the sunshine!

I’m not cool enough to go to cafes in Seongsu-dong, Seoul

Edit: Acro Cafe has since changed its name to ‘Scene Coffee’, you can see more images in this post.

If you’ve been feeling a little bit too cool with all of this staying home in your pyjamas business, then head to Seongsu to level out your ego a little bit. The customers at this new cafe, ‘Arco’, looked like they were stopping by for coffee on their way to far cooler, far more important fashion-related things. It was such a lovely cafe with a gallery/concept store on the second floor and a cafe on the ground floor. I really enjoyed our apple crumble and delicious strawberry croissant situation.

I’ve made it my goal for 2020 to make more of an effort to get some friends in this crazy city we live in. Being a foreigner in South Korea, or in any country, can get a little bit overwhelming. Besides, everyone needs to have good old gossip over a $6 flat white from time to time. I have been so inspired and amazed by the internet community I have found here in South Korea and I hope to meet each and every human I have had an interaction with on Instagram, YouTube and here on my blog!

If you are living in a foreign country, what are some ways you like to meet new friends? Also, if you live in Seoul, and you’re reading these words, I would love to explore an area of Seoul with you? I could honestly have a meaningful conversation with a forest, so don’t worry if you’re a shy/introverted human! I don’t discriminate. Also, upon reflection, maybe telling people I want to meet up with them on the internet is a bit creepy and I totally understand if nobody ever responds to this post…

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This is a mural that was featured in Goblin (the K-drama!!)

정지영커피: Cafe that overlooks the Suwon Fortress

If you’re located in the Suwon/Yongin area in Korea, visiting the Suwon Fortress is an alternative travel plan to braving the Seoul Subway system to explore Gyeongbokkung and the surrounding Hanok Village. The neighbourhoods surrounding the huge fortress, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are super trendy yet quiet. The combination of the early spring weather and the lack of customers due to coronavirus made us feel like we were on a mini-vacation. We had a hard time choosing which amazing cafe to go to, but 정지영커피 was our final choice! There were two other couples waiting to go inside when we arrived. The interiors were simple, yet industrial and modern. We had a delicious coffee each and enjoyed the view of the Suwon Fortress from the rooftop while soaking up the afternoon March sun. We were also able to plan our route along the fortress while enjoying our coffee.

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Jung Jiyoung Coffee Roasters

Follow me on Instagram to see more (edited) photos and story updates. I would also love to hear your Korean cafe recommendations, I am always on the lookout for new places to go but they usually just stay saved in my phone for several months before I get there. Wishing you a happy and healthy week ahead!

More Cafes

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How to Order Coffee in Korean

If you ever travel to South Korea, or you’re already here, you will most likely spend a lot of your time in cafes, ordering coffee and then drinking said coffee. Coffee is a big part of Korea’s culture, and is viewed as more of a social drink rather than a ‘if I don’t have a coffee before this meeting, my brain might explode’ kind of drink/fuel.

So, here is a little cheat sheet if you are coming to Korea and want to perfect your coffee ordering skills. For help with reading and listening, copy and paste any new words into Papago to listen. Keep scrolling for an English translation.

S = Sales Assistant, C = Customer ( You!)

S: 안녕하세요. 주문하시겠어요? Or 뭐 드릴까요?

C: 따뜻한 카페라떼 한 잔 주세요.

S: 사이즈는 어떻게 해 드릴까요?

C: 톨 사이즈로 해 주세요.

S: 드시고 가세요?

C: 네, 맞아요.

S: 따뜻한 카페라떼 톨 사이즈 한 잔 맞으세요?

C: 네.

S: 네, 4,500 원 입니다.

—–beep boop beep boop credit card sounds—-

S: 영수증 드릴까요?

C: 괜찮아요. 버려주세요.

S: 옆에서 잠시만 기다려주세요.

C: 네, 감사합니다.

—–coffee machine sound—-

Barista: 36번 고객님, 따뜻한 카페라떼 나왔습니다.

C: 감사합니다.

B: 맛있게 드세요.

—–drink coffee for 4 hours—-

English Translation

S = Sales Assistant, C = Customer

S: Hello. Are you ready to order? Or What can I get you?

C: One cup of hot cafe latte, please.

S: What size would you like?

C: Tall size, please.

S: Is that for here?

C: Yes, that’s right.

S: So, that’s one tall hot cafe latte?

C: Yes.

S: Okay, that’s 4,500 won, please.

—–beep boop beep boop credit card sounds—-

S: Do you want a receipt?

C: It’s okay. Please throw it away.

S: Please wait over there for a moment.

C: Yes, thank you.

—–coffee machine sound—-

Barista: Customer 36, your cafe latte is ready.

C: Thank you.

B: Enjoy

—–drink coffee for 4 hours—-

A day of my life in South Korea

Good morning! If you’re new here, welcome to my blog. My name is Johanna and I make blog posts and youtube videos about my life in South Korea! Lately, I have been making the most out of having a lovely new home to live in.  I have been more or less stuck here since the outbreak of coronavirus here in Korea. I am a complete homebody though, so I am not complaining about having to keep indoors! Here are some images of said homebody action, followed by a YouTube video I published last week.

If you are in Korea, feeling a little bit of cabin fever, please don’t forget to get out of the house for fresh air. There are plenty of places to explore that don’t involve being surrounded by lots of people. Parks, hiking trails, rivers and playgrounds are all very quiet at this time, make the most of it! Alternatively, you could take up a new hobby like I did last year. I decided to learn how to embroider and I have really been loving it. I bought a “starter kit” from Amazon last year, check it out!

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For my pattern, I used a beautiful book by Yumiko Higuchi called ‘Embroidered Botanicals’

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Eating beef BBQ at home. For some reason, home-cooked BBQ tastes so much better than BBQ in a restaurant. A controversial opinion I’m sure.

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A rainy day in “quarantine”

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I’ve had so much spare time to do annoying household jobs like cleaning the fridge!

Korean Skincare and Daily Makeup

Hello, welcome to my freezing cold bathroom! In my latest YouTube video, I take you through my 3-step Korean skincare routine. I also threw in a little makeup routine at the end because my skincare routine is very simple.

I have very sensitive, acne-prone skin, so I like to keep my products to a minimum! If you’re curious to snoop around my bathroom/living room, take a look!

I am very new to YouTube but I LOVE making videos! They’re such a great addition to my blogging hobby. Do you like Korean skincare? Let me know if you have a YouTube Channel, we can be YouTube friends!

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