Kaizen Korea, Busan – Studio Review

There has been plenty of mention in my writings of my good friend and mentor, Mindy Sisco, who has been running the only English language yoga studio in Busan, South Korea since 2012. She works as a team together with co-owner/teacher, Simon Kang. During my two years in Busan I had the good fortune of learning from each of them, practicing an array of classes at Kaizen.

Whether you’ve recently moved to Busan as an English teacher or are visiting a friend for a short time, you should make time in your schedule to get to a yoga class at Kaizen, and here’s why.

NO SMOKE & MIRRORS 

Yoga has a tendency to get frilly-la-la/hippy-tastic, which is nothing bad (I’m sometimes found guilty of drifting into that lotus-flower field,) but don’t expect so at Kaizen. Their yoga classes jump right into the deep end of the physical practice and stay there through the end. There might be some om-ing to end class, but it’s yoga – it’s expected.

THE STUDIO

The same can be said for their studio, which is minimal in nature, but has all the props a prop-aholic like myself could want – blocks, straps, eye pillows, and more blocks. There are cubbies for you to keep your personal items and mats for borrow (ask which are public and which are private first, since some students store their mats there long-term.)

THE TEACHING – They Know Their Stuff!

Mindy & Simon have done their fair shares of trainings and there’s no sign of slowing down. Teaching yoga is what they do, and they are good at it.

12983453_10156683111315567_662446499601727085_oMindy teaches Ashtanga-Vinyasa classes that bring in elements that feel like physical training. It’s never the same old, same old sun salutation warm ups in her class – she switches it up to work different muscles and prep students for what’s to come. As a fellow teacher, I highly appreciate the design details that each class has and I truly learn from classes, instead of just being guided through poses. The sign of a good yoga teacher.

Her teaching style is creative and unique. Students leave having worked their muscles, often in partner exercises which are an extension of the playful and challenging acro yoga classes that Mindy also teaches. If you thought I couldn’t compliment Mindy’s yoga teachings anymore, then you were wrong because her acro classes are an equally fun way to learn more about yoga, yourself, and yourself through yoga. You can read more about my Kaizen acro experiences here and here, oh, and here (I told you I went to a lot of her classes.)

Simon, the other half of Kaizen, has a background in body weight training which comes through in his classes that push students physically, but most importantly safely. Simon’s other trainings (he also teaches jui-jitsu) aid him as a teacher of yoga and therefore benefit the students by giving them a well rounded practice from start to finish.

His Handstands Club class for example, is a four-week series that works on form, Simonalignment, and technique. Rather than just having students hop up into handstand against a wall, Simon works the areas of the body necessary in the advanced pose, and he works on them for the full four weeks. It’s a continuous series, and while the goal isn’t to perform handstand in four weeks, which is very unrealistic, he will get you pointed in the right direction to maybe one day to master the pose.

DIRECTIONS

Take the green line of the subway (Line 2) to stop #212, KSU (short for Kyungsung University) or 경성대학교 in Hangul. Go out Exit 5 and walk straight. Take your first left directly in front of Artbox. Walk two and a half blocks until you see a boutique called Zebra on your left (on the right is a yellow cafe [of course – there are a gazillion cafes in Busan] called Compose Coffee.) Walk into the building entrance which is just left of Zebra, and take the elevator to the 6th floor. There is no sign for Kaizen in the elevator, look for Man to Man Fitness in Hangul on a red sign for the 6th floor, which is what the studio was called before Mindy and Simon took over.

 

COST

Since classes at Kaizen are designed and taught in four week series it is best to buy a month’s pass. You can buy a 4 class pass to cover a specific class, say Simon’s Handstand Club, or you can buy a bigger quantity, or you can get a one-month-unlimited-membership pass which covers all classes. Visit this page for details on pricing. Drop in classes are 20,000 won (roughly $18.)

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Mindy and Simon of Kaizen, Busan.


Disclaimer: The reason that I have not written my Kaizen studio review for so long is because I was a stand in substitute teacher at Kaizen when trainings and workshops took Mindy hopping around the globe. Teaching at Kaizen then became a regular class in my teaching schedule. I felt it unprofessional to review the studio while teaching there, so am writing the review after my Busan departure.

 

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Korea, I love You

An expat’s love note to the beautiful land of mountains, department stores, & kimchi

It seemed such a foreign land when I first stepped foot onto the peninsula of Korea (South of course, I better clarify that before going any further.) Way back in 2009, I took a 30+ hour journey that landed me wearily in the country that I would unknowingly call home for more than four years.

My first hours in Korea were exceptionally Korean. I was placed in a love motel for my few days of training and taken to a dinner that came out wriggling and squirming in the pot. However, after the click-click-click of the gas stove, it began to slowly lose it’s luster, changing from sea life to dinner. It’s been kimchi and seaweed ever since, and although it took some time to acquire the taste, acquired it I have.

From Ulsan to Busan, teaching students aged 2 to adults; I’ve traveled the country, learned to love my local neighborhoods, and have grown comfortable living life as an anonymous foreigner in an incredibly homogeneous country. The list could go on and on of the things that I love about this country, but I’ll reign it in and keep it to a short-ish list.

Healthcare!

It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s so AFFORDABLE. Everything from a visa required health check to an eye examination and glasses fitting are services readily available and advertised to foreigners. Many hospitals employ a full time translator who will help set up your appointments, discuss what you need, quote you a price, and go with you to translate during your visit. My best medical experiences:

  • 10 Minute Glasses – There are glasses shops on every street corner full to the brim with inexpensive frames. The exam takes minutes and is as high tech as Asia gets. My last two pairs of glasses took longer to chose than to have made. After I found my perfectly dorky pair, the assistant informed me to wait 10 minutes for my prescription lenses to get put in. TEN MINUTES! The cost? 30,000 won, or less than 30$ (*Disclaimer – not all optometrists will speak English, be brave, or shop around for a shop with a doctor who can communicate with you. Or use google translate on your phone.)

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  • Dentist Visits – Luckily my dental health and hygiene has been mostly A-OK, minus one unfortunate incident. Cleanings you can have done at most chi-gwuas(dentists,) but you should know that it’s different from cleanings back home. In Korea teeth cleanings are called “scaling.” It can be a scary experience if you’ve never had it done before. While it’s called scaling, it is more like “scraping” and it feels like a sharp metal object scraping along the gum line of your teeth. But it can’t be all that bad if it’s what the entire population receives for dental care and the whole frightening experience will only cost you about 10,000 won, or less than 10$ USD.

 

  • Blood Work – I’ve lived with anemia for my entire life and never thought much of it, but figured that while I have reliable, full coverage insurance, why not check it out. It’s good that I did because my iron levels were extremely low, so I got jabbed with two viles of iron, started taking pills, and adjusted my diet. I then made a few more appointments via the English translator to continue checking that my iron level was increasing with the pills. The appointments may have been superfluous, the translator and doctor even questioned why I was visiting again so soon after my last visit, and my reasoning quite simply was, why not? The entire experience of seeing the doctor and having a consultation via the translator, having my blood drawn, waiting for the results took about 2 hours and cost roughly 20,000 won, I’m sure you worked the exchange rate out already, but that’s about 20$ USD. Oh, and after the results were done there was another consultation with the internal medicine doctor. Let me repeat that – I had two personal visits with a specialists via a translator, and got blood work done in about 2 hours. Getting blood work back in the US can involve visiting a lab and waiting a couple of days for the results, Korean healthcare is miles beyond American.

 

Cost of Living

Korea is so livable. I lived in the second largest city, Busan, and was able to not only get by, but to save money. Granted, I’m generally a frugal person, but the cost of living in Korea is relatively low compared to back home in the US. Check it out:

  • Rent – I found an apartment that was a block from the second largest beach in the city, a 10 minute walk to the subway line that connects the whole of the city, and was surrounded by mostly cafes and some dotted restaurants. In Korea you pay key money, or a deposit on your apartment which you get back at the end of your stay. Key money can range from 1 million won to 10 or 15 million won, that’s about 1,000/10,000/15,000 USD. Monthly rent depends on your key money and ranges from 300,000 won to 600,000 won (300USD/600USD.) Oh, and I should mention that Korea has the fastest broadband internet in the world and connection/router/month of unlimited use costs about 20USD.

 

  • Food – Korean food is healthy and delicious. As mentioned about it requires some 19041_546881468487_8253510_nacquiring though unless you grew up eating fermented cabbage on the regs. You can buy fresh fruit and vegetables at local markets for cheap. Eating out at Korean restaurants is cheap as well and healthy. Western restaurants serving pizza and pasta will put you back much more and generally are disappointing.

 

 

  • Enjoy Your Life – You can truly enjoy your life because you don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your cheap rent. There are loads of things to do especially around Busan: yoga of course, hiking, cycling, camping, bars, noraebang, department stores, jimjilbang, and more. I sometimes can’t believe the lifestyle that I have just given up, but I’m hopeful that a similar life is possible to create elsewhere in the world, and if it isn’t then back to the Bu I shall go.

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  • Healthcare – *See Above

Safety & Convenience

Korea is sometimes known as the Land of the Morning Calm (possibly because everyone’s still at noraebang [karaoke] till 7am) but should really be called the Land of Convenience. From shops and bars that never close to easy-to-use public transportation. Likewise Korea could be known as the Land of the Low Crime Rate. Straight away upon my move to Korea I adapted a sense of ease and comfort navigating the zigzagging streets at all hours of the night when returning from those never-closing-noraebangs, which might sound straight up stupid to someone who’s never lived there before, but those of you that have, know what I mean. I’m a small, unintimidating woman and never once did I fear for my safety while in Korea. This might just be the hardest thing to leave behind.

  • Transportation – It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s often, it’s Korean public transportation and it comes in the form of buses, trains, taxis, and subway. You can get from one side of the city to the other for about 2$USD and in a little over an hour. You can also get from Busan to Seoul by bus or your option of slow or fast train, KTX. You can also use your rechargeable subway pass both in Busan and Seoul, and probably Daegu and Ulsan, etc. Now, can you imagine pulling out your DC metro card in New York with no problems?

 

  • Safety – No drugs. No guns. Minimal crime. There are countless stories of smartphones being left in cabs and getting returned, bags full of belongings getting forgotten on that convenient public transportation, and getting returned, and even wallets getting handed back with cash still inside. This is not 100% true all the time of course, and I did have a bike stolen from my building once, but never have I feared for my physical safety (other than every single day on my bike commuting on the road, but this is a love letter note a hate note, so I’ll leave that bit out.)

 

  • Healthcare – *See Above

 

This could go on. I could write about relationships, the yoga community, and my lovingly adorable students, but already I’ve hit the magic number of 1000+ words which means that most of you quit reading a long time ago, or never even clicked, too scared off, and to those of you who stuck to it, congratulations and thank you! So I must bring this post to an end by saying that I will forever remember my time in Korea in the warmest part of my heart. It will never fade away because Korea has become a part of me, I will probably take my shoes off when entering a house, I will pass money using two hands, and I will have so many great friendships formed over the bonding of being expats in the Land of the Morning Calm. 11193389_10155440948275618_418032844345695615_n

 

Professional Yoga Shots – 4 Tips

Instagram Yoga, it’s a thing. As described by Jason Crandell (paraphrased from memory) Instagram Yoga is – “doing a pose on one side long enough to get a snapshot,” as in, it’s not really yoga. Yoga is balance, so if you attach to a shot of yourself holding an impressive pose (on your good side)  for the split second it took to take the picture, then it’s not truly “yoga” in the traditional sense. But I’ve done it, it’s part of my image as a teacher, which I need as I begin to market myself to studios. This post is not about Instagram Yoga, which on the positive flip-side can be very inspiring. Rather, this post is about finding a photographer friend, relative, or hiring a professional to take photos with a more technical camera than an iphone 6.

Why? The main reason to do a photo shoot as a yoga teacher is quite simply professional. We interact and consume primarily through screens these days, and images have impact, (honestly, would you enjoy this blog post as much if it didn’t have images embedded into it?)

As a yoga teacher about to leave my teaching position here in Korea I know that I have to do a lot of self promotion in order to find teaching jobs in new cities. That self promotion involves Facebook, Instagram, this website, emails, and more. Each thing listed will inevitably have my face and yoga poses all over it.

Here are my tips for your Yoga Photo Shoot:

  • Dress Modestly – All bodies are beautiful and so is self confidence, but bearing midriff and butt-cheeks can be too much for some. Remember that these photos may be used professionally, so use your judgement.

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  • Realistic Poses – Chose poses that you can hold comfortably. I highly doubt that a studio would interview you and request you demo your strongest, most impressive pose, but still, you need to be honest with your practice and abilities. Straying from comfortable poses to pretzely poses is for the classroom, in the roll of a student, with an experienced teacher, or your photo shoot could lead to injury.

 

  • Find A Yoga Photographer – What? That’s a thing? Well, I’m not sure if it’s exactly a thing, but when I had my photos taken it was by my good friend, Mindy Sisco of I Write Light photography. Mindy is a fellow yoga teacher, so she knew exactly how to get my toes, elbows, and eyes in the right place at the right time for the most beautiful (if I do say so myself!) pose shots. In the past my boyfriend, a great photographer in his own right, has taken yoga pictures of me, but he couldn’t tell me when my hip was jacked up in Hasta Padangustastana because he doesn’t have the eye for it, so some photos came out unusable.

 

  • 12525392_1228646733816528_6095315996969326375_oHead Shots – Be sure to get actual head shots. A studio may want to see you bustin’ a pose, and pose shots are great for social media usage and event posters, but you’ll also want to represent yourself more professionally for the greater world that exists outside of the yoga world, because sadly we have to enter that world from time to time. A good head shot can also be used for Linkedin, other network profiles, or your non-yoga resume.

My experiences with yoga photo shoots have been nothing but fun. Whether you do it mid-cycle ride, hoping off your bike at the perfectly spotted backdrop; or hire a make-up artist, hair-stylist, and photographer to do studio shots, it’s most important to enjoy the process. Meditate on your image and how you would like to present yourself as a yoga teacher in these single frame images; almost everything when done consciously will come out better than when done in a rush. Be proud of the end result, share it, and self promote. Well thought out, professional images could get you a lot further when applying for jobs than your Instagram roll.

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Like I Write Light’s yoga photography? Visit Mindy’s website for information on how you can book a photo session with her. She primarily works out of Busan but is traveling/teaching/shooting around the world and just might come to an area near you.

Flea Market Fun

Like Kara Bemis, I’m a teacher of young Korean children in Busan, South Korea. Unlike Kara, who spends her days teaching the world’s most adorable 3- to 7-year-olds, I teach elementary school students in a private after-school academy.

Kara students

Kara’s most adorable students

Each age group comes with its own set of positives and negatives, but one plus of teaching slightly older kids is their level of communication and greater understanding of the world around them.

Most of my elementary students are still excited to play and have fun as they’re learning to express themselves in English. The foreign teachers at my academy wanted to build on their enthusiasm while helping them practice English vocabulary and conversation in a real-world scenario, so we teamed up to plan a Halloween flea market – a day when the students could have fun together, invite friends and walk away with a few new goodies.

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students shopping at the Halloween flea market, held at my academy last month

It’s a common practice for academies to have market days, but they can typically involve nothing more than cheap, Made-in-China crap from Daiso, the Korean equivalent of a dollar store. A good alternative to buying single-use items or tiny plastic toys, which would only create more waste among young citizens, is to turn the familiar student market into a flea market.

For a couple months leading up to it, students at my academy earned points for good behavior, high test scores, completing puzzles and bringing in slightly used items to sell at the market.IMG_4472

Students and their families donated a wide range of goods they no longer needed. As the teachers sorted through boxes and bags of the goodies brought in, we were delighted to find high-quality stuff: stickers, notebooks, pencils, purses, costumes, jewelry, posters, clothing and snacks. Without an outlet for these nonessentials, they could have easily been tossed in the trash or left in an impromptu pile of discarded materials on the side of the street.

On the day of our Halloween celebration, the kids were finally able to cash in their points and spend their hard-earned money. They loved seeing a room full of potential toys, stationery and candy, and they had a blast shopping with their friends. It was great to see students excited about doing something that didn’t involve their cell phones.

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The event turned out to be a playful way to reuse old things instead of throwing them out. The remaining items will be donated to other schools, used as school supplies or given away to students as prizes in the future.

Interested in planning a flea market at your school or academy? Here’s how.

  1. Set a date. Coordinate with other teachers to figure out the best date to host a flea market. Do you want to plan a one-time event around a holiday, or would it be best to have annual or semi-annual markets?
  2. Find a space. A classroom in your school will probably work for the market because it keeps the amount of kids in the space under control, and you can cycle them through, group by group.  
  3. Create a points system. Make sure teachers are on the same page with the amount of points (dollars) given for certain things. On the day of the market, we had students trade in their points for $1 and $5 bills.
  4. Get donations. Ask students and their parents to bring in new or gently used home goods, school supplies, books, etc. that they no longer want or need. You can reward students by giving them points based on the quality and value of the donation.
  5. Assign roles. Plot out which teachers will be with the majority of the students, watching a movie or playing games, and which teachers will work the market, collecting money and supervising shoppers.
  6. Set up and sell. On the day of the market, set up the room with goodies, pass out dollar bills and let the kids browse. We had about 10 shoppers at a time, and most of them stayed in the room for about 10 minutes.

This type of event works on so many levels. For older, more advanced or native English students, it could be an opportunity to learn about conscious consumerism, using less and reducing waste.

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Ethical Shopping this Holiday Season

We’re all guilty of letting time slip buy and having to quickly grab something for someone as a gift during the busy holiday season. This year may you take your time, start early, and shift from mindless consumption to being a little more conscious of the sources of what you buy as well as where it comes from, how it was made, and who made it.

Do your research and look for craft shows, privately owned boutiques, or shop ethically online. You can opt for buying from a small producer made in your area or find a big name company that functions ethically.

Top Reasons Why Ethical Shopping is Much Better Than Mindless Consumerism:

  • Support Local – Imagine if most everyone supported a local artisan by gifting from them rather than a piece of plastic something-or-other bought at any old box store, it would be amazing. The artisan would be financially supported and continue their work, the gift giver could smile knowing they’ve spent their money well, and the receiver would get something unique to enjoy.
  • Good for the Earth – You have control over what products you support. Opt for natural, handmade products instead of off the shelf generic. Some examples are soaps, candles, beauty products, baked goods, and more. You’ll bypass the unpronounceable additives for a more natural product. You can of course shop online at Etsy or try Amazon’s new line Handmade if you don’t have local crafted goods near you.

Mama's Binoo Soap

  • Less Packaging – Take your reusable bags when shopping markets or shops and pass on the plastic. Be thoughtful about any packaging, politely decline boxes and plastic containers if they can be avoided and aren’t necessary in keeping the product safe from damage. When wrapping gifts, use boxes from your recycling and newspaper as wrapping. You might even find companies that are consciously packaging.
  • Support Ethical Work – Seek out local or commercial companies that treat their labor fairly. Find a slow fashion producer, buy fair trade products, and look for companies who give back to both their employes and the land and oceans, like Teva who runs a project called A PAIR FOR A FOOT, for every pair of shoes it sells the company commits to cleaning a linear foot of shoreline.

Have fun shopping ethically, and share your finds with friends and family to encourage them to do the same. We have power as consumers to support fair, ethical, and environmental practices. What ethical goodies have you found near you?


*Here are two events happening in Busan where you can purchase ethical gifts:

  • Holiday Trunk Show, Nov 22 4PM (Slow Fashion)
  • BIWA Christmas Charity Bazaar, Dec 5 10AM-4PM

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Hosting a Plastic Free Event (and Why I Did It)

This post is about my first experience hosting a plastic free event. I did not do this alone, the organizers of the Busan Veggie Fest were amazingly proactive with my initial idea to go plastic free for their event, and did a lot of work. Initially I thought this would be a simple, short bulleted post  comparable with, but not as bad, as Buzzfeed, but it was impossible. I had to include the reasons why to host a plastic free event, because it’s not just something to do for fun. There is substance and ethics behind it. You have two options as a reader, you can jump to the bullet points and read the How-To’s, or you can read the post in it’s entirety.


Single-use plastic is everywhere. When I comb the beach for litter, I mostly collect cellophane wrappers, candy wrappers from individually wrapped candies, coffee cups (paper and plastic,) water bottles or other beverage containers, and straws.

That plastic that either comes in with the tide or goes back out with it, or is haphazardly dropped by a hand,  will be floating around the ocean for quite some time as it slowly photo-degrades, seeping out chemicals as it does so. An equally depressing result is that it will be consumed by marine life that mistakes the small, broken down plastic for food. If you’re no animal lover and could care less about flounder being discovered with plastic stomachs, then at least consider this – that plastic consumed by fish, will make its way through the food cycle straight onto your plate. Plastic is even being found in table salt. You can do your part by planning Plastic free Event and sharing why you did it.

Generally people planning parties find it more convenient to buy a box of plastic forks, some colorful paper plates, and those ubiquitous red cups for their guests to eat and drink from. I agree, it is easier to toss a box of plastic forks into the cart with ingredients for your food, but is it wise? Those forks might not make it to the recycling bin and instead go straight into the trash where they’ll take hundreds of years to go away. That fork that assisted food from your plate to your mouth for twenty minutes will take hundreds of years to go away. And recycling is nice and green, but it still uses a lot of energy to transport, process, and reproduce when the alternative would be to wash some forks in the sink.

That fork that assisted food from your plate to your mouth for twenty minutes will take hundreds of years to go away.

Ditch the straws and plastic forks and opt instead for what’s in your kitchen drawer. Here are some tips for planning a plastic free event.

  • PROMOTE – As you promote your event let everyone know that no single use plastics will be used, so they must B.Y.O.E., Bring Your Own Everything. Include this information in your invitations if you go old school with paper invites, or write a prominent description in the events page if you use social media.

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  • EXPLAIN – Although it wasn’t that long ago that plastics were nonexistent, the majority of the population has gotten used to the convenience of using plastic. It might seem odd to some guests to pour holiday punch into a coffee mug that they carted with them as opposed to filling up a red dixie cup, so be sure to let them know why you are making them do so. Once people learn or are reminded of the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans, they will hopefully jump on board for your party (and carry the habit into their daily lives.)
Above: An informative display on the afterlife of plastic if disposed of improperly. The numbers are the estimated years it takes for such items to decompose. Photos are of a local beach, covered in PLASTIC LITTER FROM A TROPICAL STORM.
  • RECRUIT HELP – Ask like-minded friends to help you get the word out. My first attempt at a plastic free event would not have been possible without the help of the organizers of the Busan Veggie Fest. They let the providers of food know and even provided plates and supplemental utensils.
The amazing hosts of the Busan Veggie Fest did a beyond expected job of making the event plastic free.

The amazing hosts of the Busan Veggie Fest did a beyond expected job of making the event plastic free.

  • CONSIDER OPTIONS – If you have a kitchen with enough utensils, cups, and plates for all of your guests, then of course you would provide everything instead of asking your guests to B.Y.O.E. If you’re hosting a big event and do not have enough to go around, then do both: encourage guests to bring their own, but also bring extras for those that are uninformed or lack the materials.
  • BE KIND – It’s not us vs. them when it comes to environmentalism, it’s educating those who simply are unaware of the extremely negative impacts of single use plastics. Before public awareness and mass drives of knowledge, people used to smoke cigarettes without a care in the world, but once the science came out actions and laws changed. I’m saddened almost daily by the damage that human beings are causing the land, but I try to remain hopeful at the same time. If someone comes to your event with a fresh bottled water in their bag, don’t scorn them or even double take. In order to get your point across to everyone give a small talk about why you chose to make your event plastic free, and/or create an informative display or poster, hopefully inspiring the water bottle holders to go to their local thrift store and look for a tumbler.

Best of luck in all of the planning of your next event. It’s not impossible to host an event plastic free. On a smaller scale, say a family event, it might be what you’re doing already, I hope that this post inspires you to expand that to bigger community events. The Busan Veggie Fest had around 30 guests and not a single plastic utensil or bottle was provided for them.

How have your plastic free events gone?

Conscious Dining – Boycott Single Use Plastics at Restaurants

I’ve written before about the importance of switching from a plastic to-go-cup to bringing your own tumbler whenever you get an iced coffee out at a cafe or restaurant to save landfills and energy of recycling hundreds of plastic cups, lids, and straws. I am really proud of the plastic that was not used by me in the past five years since I’ve been using my tumbler daily. There’s really no need to create all that waste – either bring your own or ask for a mug in the cafe. Recently I have expanded my actions of decreasing my single use plastics, I now pay attention to the restaurants and cafes that I visit and have made conscious decisions to boycott  places that regularly serve with plastic utensils or cups.

Waste behind a local cafe, these bags are filled mostly with plastic cups/lids/straws.

Waste behind a local cafe, these bags are filled mostly with plastic cups/lids/straws.

There are of course times when plastic silverware has its benefits, say for a picnic, but even then there are alternatives such as metal or single use wooden utensils. But at a sit down restaurant, I see no logic in it. It was over a year ago that I went to an expensive restaurant here in Busan that sits on a marina, has modern interior design, and caters to wealthy customers. Their fare follows their aquatic theme, concentrating on deep-fried seafood baskets with french fries – fish ‘n chips basically. At this “nice” establishment the food comes out in a cardboard box with a wax paper lining, to eat they supply plastic forks and knives, and condiments are given in 2oz plastic dishes with lids (With lids! With lids to sit down and dip your fish into and then immediately throw away.) That is a lot of waste from one meal. And is it just me, or doesn’t using disposables cheapen the image of a restaurant?

Lids! To dine in! Madness

During my first visit there I sulked as I ate, trying not to ruin the vibe for my friends, and I vowed to never go there again. Over a year later the place was suggested to eat at for a friend’s birthday and I had to speak up and be the Debbie Downer that often makes an appearance as an environmentalist and say that I could not eat there based on the waste. It was uncomfortable to vocalize and certainly put a damper on the issue, but I had to say it. In the end, plans changed and we didn’t go there, but I am glad I spoke up none-the-less.

I also once ate at a pizza place that serves by the slice. They served that slice of pizza on a nice wooden board but also lined that board with a piece of paper – totally unnecessary. Plates were of course paper as well. The utensils were plastic so I opted to just use my hands. Even the draught beer, which was from a local brewery, was served in plastic cups. I really enjoy that local beer but couldn’t bring myself to order it.

Side note on the beer cups; there are times when they are required, say a crowded concert floor where glass could be a danger, or at an outdoor event where again it’s a hazard to have glass. In that case, breweries and restaurants could serve their beer in a compostable, corn-based cup, which is what I found back home in the U.S. at my favorite local brewery – Southern Tier Brewery of Lakewood, NY. I was sad to have to switch to plastic in order to follow my friends onto their stones course*, but was relieved when I saw that it was a compostable plastic cup. (I heard from a friend that there is a cafe in Busan that serves their to-go coffees in a similar cup, it’s on my to-do list to check it out and of course there shall be a post.)

Compostable Corn Cup, Made in U.S.A - dream product

Compostable Corn Cup, Made in U.S.A – dream product

It really might seem crazy to most people that I am so affected by this issue (I once described how it feels as if I’m strangling a kitten, or some other such heinous crime, whenever I use plastic, or worse still, don’t have the option to recycle it) but since I have been living by the sea and witness the amounts of litter and waste that makes its way into the water, I have been more and more adamant about limiting my contribution to our dying oceans.

Bring Your Own EVERYTHING!

Bring Your Own EVERYTHING!

So, what to do about this? After I realize what’s going on, I decide not to visit the restaurants again. Another option could be to go but to bring my own utensils and tumbler. I have even gone so far as to bring my own dishes along to an event that I knew would be using single use. Sure, I got a few weird stares, but I also got some compliments and hopefully inspired at least one or two people to be more aware. I wouldn’t suggest lugging your picnic basket around with you everywhere you dine, but sticking some silverware in your purse at all times might be a good middle ground. They’re not big and you can even find compact camping style ones. One of my next projects is to sew a little fabric carrier to keep my chopsticks and spoon clean when I carry them around. Post on that when I get around to it. Until then, I shall simply be boycotting single use plastics at restaurants.

How do you avoid it?


100% recycled apparel

*Footnote: Stones is a cool new game which from my understanding was invented in my region of south-western New York State. It’s a game similar to bocce ball that requires a grass and sand course. I noticed it was gaining a lot of popularity at Southern Tier, they even had T-shirts, which to my delighted surprise were made from 100% post-consumer recycle material. High five!

Ride the Wind – Therapeutic Flying

This past weekend I performed with my Kaizen Acro Yoga Crew at a university festival.  We made the five hour bus trip up to Seoul to perform our two, four minute songs which we rehearsed for weeks prior. Indeed it was a lot of work, but it was well worth it.

For this performance we had a little less time to prepare than we did for the first one, maybe three or four weeks to create, choreograph, and rehearse which meant that we practiced a lot. Our high-flying group met 4-5 times a week and practiced for 2-4 hours each time. I was bruised up and my muscles have been achy, but in that way that I love, the rewarding soreness that tells me that I’ve been working hard.

No pain, no gain.

No pain, no gain.

But with everything in yoga a balance needs to be found. My well trained body was yearning for some relaxation and rest, which is why I was allowing myself frequent naps these past few weeks, a luxury that doesn’t usually make it into my schedule. I knew that my body needed to recuperate, so I hit the pillow for 10-20 minutes before training.

Last week on a Wednesday was one of those long training nights, we met at 6:30 to warm up, ran our routines over and over again, tweaking as we went, and then it was class time. From 8-10pm was the Big Birds class at Kaizen, the studio run by my very good friends Mindy and Simon. The class is usually really intense and forces me to push myself to my physical limits. Last week’s class however, was a little more on the chill side which was exactly what my body had been desiring.

In the middle of class Mindy asked us to switch it up a bit, so instead of drilling press ups (her new favorite activity,) she had us partner up and (thank the lord!) do therapeutic flying. You can think of therapeutic flying as receiving a massage in the air by your acro partner. The base is the masseuse and the flyer is the very passive, limp, receiver of the massage. It is the yin to the yang of the high powered washing machines in acro yoga.

At last week’s class we were instructed to focus on the shoulders, so my partner put me in folded leaf and started massaging my traps and neck. Folded LeafIt.was.wonderful! I also played masseuse and based her in folded leaf. Having those 10 minutes of therapeutics was so very welcomed by my tired body; I wasn’t actually sure that I was going to be able to push through an intense traditional acro class, and was pleasantly surprised when class ended up being gentler than normal. Also, I slept so well that night, which isn’t the norm; usually after finishing class at 10 and cycling home from the studio, I am up and wired for a few hours, finding it difficult to quite my body and mind for bed, but last night I had no problem sleeping – maybe partially due to the therapeutics.

If you get the chance to attend a class or workshop which includes therapeutic flying, then I suggest going. It can be done with a stranger or friend, or it can be practiced with a partner to create more intimacy and give you a skill that will keep on giving.


Acro yoga classes can be found here in Busan at Kaizen. Classes are offered for beginners, intermediate, and advanced students. Every Friday there is an acro jam, free for all to attend and play. Check their website for times and pricing.

Korean Templestay – Lessons from a Monastic Meal

One of the highlights from my recent Korean templestay was definitely the monastic meal experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw it listed on the itinerary, well, actually I envisioned a beyond simple bowl of the smallest portion rice, which would leave me immensely hungry for the rest of the night, but that wasn’t the reality.

The meal was actually quite filling and was made up of typical Korean fare. There was the ubiquitous kimchi and rice, as well as a soup and some bancheon (side dishes.) It was of course vegetarian. The contents of the meal are not what stuck with me the most though, it was the strict ritual of how to properly serve, accept, eat, and clean up after the meal that I found memorable.

The head monk that guided us through our templestay, sat at the head of the rest of us and taught us how to perform the ritual. We all sat on cushions on the floor with a bundle of dishes wrapped up tightly in a fabric bundle. We were instructed very carefully on how to unwrap the fabric, remove the four bowls of varying sizes, and how to display them in front of us. Each bowl served a purpose. One for water to be used to do the washing after the meal, one for the soup, one for the rice, and one for the side dishes.

As volunteers began to offer the rice to each participant we were strictly instructed to take only what we could consume entirely. Other volunteers served the soup and side dishes, beginning always with the head monk. There was to be absolutely no talking during the process which made it meditative and mindful. Only non-verbal communication was allowed.

The head monk said again and again not to waste any food. Every last grain of rice was to be eaten, and she was going to check at the end of the meal. When we were done eating we used the water in the water bowl to rinse all of the bowls out. During the middle of the meal she instructed us to save one of our half moons of yellow, pickled radish. The reason was that it was to serve as our scrubber for the dishes. We used our chopsticks to control the radish as we swiped it around every surface space, moving from bowl to bowl in the directed order, and then we ate the radish. The washing water we were to drink, ending up with absolutely no left over food or even any residue of our meal.

I loved it. No waste! Even the scrubber and wash water was consumed by us. Our translator expressed that although it might seem “dirty” to drink the wash water, it really wasn’t, because it only contained tiny bits of the food we had just been eating (no soap was used.)

After we drank the water our water bowl was filled with some scorched rice water which was to act as the final rinse. We poured the water from bowl to bowl and when we were finished we dumped the scorched rice water into a community collection pot. I volunteered do the collecting. If all had done their eating and washing correctly, then the community water at the end should have been crystal clear, lacking a single particle of food. As I collected I witnessed our failed attempted; as expected – we did not clear our bowls as efficiently as monks. Fortunately though, the head monk did not make us drink the community scorched rice water as a group, which is what real monks are made to do if they waste any food. Not a very delicious punishment, but an effective threat.

Eating just one meal as mindfully and thoroughly as a Korean monk has had a lasting impact on the way that I consume my daily meals. My daytime job is an English ESL teacher at a private kindergarten which feeds me lunch every day. Just as the children are taught, and as was reinforced at the templestay, I try every day to take only what I can eat completely, ending with no waste. I haven’t gone so far as to transfer the radish method into my school lunches, but I remember it as a lesson in sustainability and not wasting.

Unfortunately I did not take a single photo during the monastic meal as I didn’t want to interrupt the atmosphere and learning experience. Below is a gallery of photos from Hongbeopsa Temple where I did my stay.

Third Clothing Swap Success!

This past weekend I hosted my third community clothing swap here in Busan. The idea was exactly the same as the last two that I’ve hosted, all are welcome, donate what you can or come empty handed, walk away with as much as you like. The reasons why I don’t require donations by all are: 1. There’s an excess of clothing left behind by expat teachers whom have moved on from Korea and 2. My hope is that people will find clothing through this sustainable manner rather than by supporting Fast Fashion.

Although this swap was very similar to my past two, there were a few minor differences I made after learning some lessons from the previous ones. Here’s what was different.

  • More Strict Donation Requirements –
    About half of what was left over from the swap.

    About half of what was left over from the swap.

    At the last swap I got swamped with left over donations. A handful of friends and I took hours to sort through the piles and piles of clothes, placing them in either a massive garbage bag (we filled three,) a bag to be taken to a second hand shop (there were about 10,) or a pile to be sold at a market. This time I asked that people bring only high quality, no stains, no intimates. Initially I had faith that an outline like that wouldn’t be needed, but I turned out to be wrong. At this swap the clothes were in nicer condition and there weren’t as many to sort through in the end.

  • Change of Venue – The cafe where my first two swaps were held has sadly since shut down, so I moved location to a foreign-run bar in Gwangan – HQ. It was fun to have the swap at a bar. When I contacted them I referenced having a girls brunch day and they complied with a mimosa special during the time of the swap. Just like the last two swaps, purchase of a drink was suggested in lieu of an entrance fee.
  • Sneak Attack Ethics Lecture – Ok, so that might be misleading, but I did give a short five minute talk about my reasons for hosting swaps. At the very first swap I incorporated a talk about the fashion industry and sustainability (or rather lack of sustainability) which was scheduled to happen right before the swap began. A few people attended and were interested, but a lot of people didn’t come early for it, so this time I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it, I just requested a mic from the bar and stood on my soap box at the height of the swap. I’m not sure how well received it was, but I hope that I reached a few people.

Swaps are really fun and easy to organize. I received a lot of feedback from attendees that they enjoy them and look forward to the next one. I hope they realize that they don’t have to wait for a large community swap to be organized; it would be super easy to host seasonal swaps with friends in your home. All you need to do is set a date, inform others, dig a bit through your closet, and swap till you drop.

Swap in full Swing