Thursday, January 30, 2014

Korea Beauty Haul Part 2: Etude House, Holika Holika, Skin Food, Tony Moly, The Saem, and SAMPLES!

Continuing on with my beauty haulage from Korea, I bring to you some of the more cute and youthful Korean brands. The most youthful and feminine brand is definitely Etude House as each shop is covered in pink and the packaging consists of pastel blues and pearly white casing.

I heard a lot of good things about the Etude House Wonder Pore Freshner so I got a big 'ole bottle of it. Unfortunately, half the bottle spilled in my suitcase when I was going from Jeonju to Seoul. I also bought five Etude House Sheet Masks (Tea Tree, Bulgarian Rose, Fig, Snail, White Pearl) to try because the packaging was really nice and the variety of ingredients seemed appealing. I'm most excited to try the Snail mucus one as it's a really popular ingredient in Korean skincare at the moment. My hair has been feeling very dry lately so I grabbed one of the Jojoba Seed Hair Mask and Serum which is a two step process. Lastly in terms of masks, I got ten of the Collagen Eye Patches because they were pretty inexpensive. I ran out of cotton pads during my trip so I bought a box of the Silky Cotton Pads, nothing too exciting there but the packaging is so pretty!

I knew I wanted to get the Etude House Precious Mineral Any Cushion because I read some good reviews on it and it is priced quite affordably for a cushion type BB cream. Cushion BBs are very popular right now and I can totally see why. I will do a full review, demo and comparison with the Laneige Cushion BB I acquired recently. I also grabbed the Rosy Tint Lips in Before Blossom, a matte liquid lipstick that comes in a squeeze tube packaging. The color is a dark, berry red that looks really nice for winter.

Holika Holika is another Korean brand I quite like because they have adorable packaging and a few really great products. I bought the Holika Holika Aqua Petit Jelly BB Cream in 01 because a lot of people seem to like this jelly texture BB cream. The color is too light for me but I hope to mix it with some of my darker foundations for the summer time. Lip products were all 1+1 so I got two lipsticks and two lip tints. I knew I wanted the heart shaped lipsticks so I got the Heartful Glossy Lipstick in Honey Beige and Heartful Silky Lipstick in Tomato Red. Check out the video at the end of this post to see the adorable heart shaped lipstick bullets! I also picked out two Pure Mellow Moisture Tints in Red and Coral because I love Korean lip tints for their ease of use and comfortability.

For years I've wanted to try Skin Food products but lacked access to them. I only bought three products from them because it was the last day of my trip and I had barely any money left (sad but true). I ended up only getting skincare because I use up more skincare than makeup. I got the best selling Black Sugar Wash Off Mask and the relatively new Egg White Pore Mask. I needed an eye cream so I chose the Salmon Brightening Eye Cream because I tried it on the back of my hand and it did brighten considerably. I will use this as my morning eye cream to give my under eyes a little boost.

I wanted one of the Tony Moly Petite Bunny Gloss Bars because how can anyone resist the cute packaging?! Each shade has a different bunny face and I got the shade 05, an unamused bunny. I purchased the Cover Perfection Concealer from The Saem because I read good reviews about it online. It reminds me a bit of the Collection Lasting Perfection Concealer but I have yet to try it on my face.

Lastly I just wanted to show you guys all the samples I got! I actually felt like I should have gotten more samples since I bought quite a lot of things. Innisfree and Skin Food were the most reliable places that give samples with purchases and I got none from Etude House and Aritaum. These will be great for future sleepovers and short trips!

Check out the video below for a closer look at the products with some swatches.

I think I used my cheat card pretty well for my makeup ban and will happily go back to being relatively good with my no buying policy. I have a lot of products to test, swatch and review in the weeks and months to come (still have stuff from Europe I have yet to post about...) so I definitely have content to deliver! What products are you most excited to know more about from my Korea haul? Have you tried any of these products yourself?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Korea Beauty Haul Part 1: IOPE, Laneige, Aritaum, Innisfree, Leaders Insolution

Back in October I had declared a year long makeup buying ban but I put in a clause that I could be excused if I travel abroad. Well, clearly I couldn't resist hauling back a bunch of goodies from South Korea because Korean beauty brands are kind of a big deal. Honestly, I thought I was going to come home with way more stuff and I'm actually slightly proud of myself. Slightly.

I had a detailed list of things I had to get or things that I wanted to swatch and try out before buying. One thing I was very keen on getting was the IOPE Bio Essence, a dupe for the famous SKII Treatment Essence. I ended up getting the IOPE Bio Essence Intensive Conditioning Trial Kit for ₩30,000 because it contains half the full size which retails for ₩60,000 as well as three extras. I also picked up a tube of the IOPE Moisture Skin Soft Peeling Gel which was ₩28,000.

I was debating if I should pick up some Laneige products while in Korea but decided against it. But just as luck would have it, my boss gave me the Laneige BB Cushion I was eyeing on my first day back from vacation! I used this product yesterday and absolutely love it so far. I bought the Etude House BB Cushion which I will show in the second part of my haul so I will compare them in the future.

Next up are the Aritaum World Glam Coating Tints in New York and Seoul. I heard SunnyDaHye on Youtube rave about these so I wanted to try them out too. Lipgloss tints are everywhere in Korea and I absolutely love them. These tints retail for ₩9,000 but they were having a 1+1 offer so I got both for under $9! I chose these colors purely for the names but honestly I wish New York were not so light of a pink because it looks quite like nothing on the lips. Reviews and swatches for these will be up in the next few weeks!

Innisfree is one of my favorite Korean brands because I love their simple, mature aesthetic and wide range of skincare and makeup. I bought the Innisfree Rose Clear Skin Toner (₩12,000) because I was running out of toner and I love anything rose scented. I also am almost out of face primer so I settled on the Innisfree Mineral Moisture Fitting Base (₩10,000) because it is not silicone based. My friend loves the Innisfree No-Sebum Mineral Powder (₩6,000) so I picked it up as well because it is the perfect size for traveling. I like Asian styled slanted eyebrow pencils so I grabbed an Innisfree Eyebrow Pencil (~₩4,000) also. Lasting I bought the Innisfree Color Glow Lipstick in 05 (₩10,000). I wanted to grab more Innisfree lip products but held myself back because I bought a lot of lip colors during this trip and already have so many in my collection to use up. 

I was very happy to see the Leaders Insolution Sheet Masks being sold in Watsons pharmacies in Korea. I love going to Watsons in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong and Korean Watsons do not disappoint. You know you have an addiction to beauty products when you get excited over a drugstore.... I got the Teatree Relaxing and Vita Bright variations. The boxes of 10 were on promotion for ₩10,000 instead of ₩20,000. Saaammage on Youtube always raves about these so I had to pick some up. I split half the box of the Teatree with a friend so we got five each and I went back another day to get another box of the Vita Bright since it's impossible to find these at home and the deal was too good to resist! The quality of these mask sheets are really good and for less than $1 each, they were a bargain. 

Check out the video below to see the products a bit better and for some swatches!

Stay tuned for the next part of my haul which will include Etude House, Holika Holika, Skin Food, Tony Moly, The Saem and all the samples I received! That sounds like a lot of stuff but I assure you, it's probably not as much as you think!

Monday, January 27, 2014

South Korea 2014 Adventures Part 4: So Long, Seoul!

Before heading stateside, I spent a few more days in Seoul to sightsee and shop. I found a hostel right by Myeongdong which was pretty perfect in terms of convenient shopping. At night Myeongdong transforms into one of the most densely packed areas of Seoul. Every major beauty brand and clothing company has a location in Myeongdong which makes it very convenient if you're only in Seoul for a day or two but the atmosphere was a bit stressful and I found the sales associates here to be quite rude. 

A lot of the restaurants in Myeongdong are located on the second floor so it can be hard to judge if a place is good. My friends and I found a very busy kimchi fried rice joint which was conveniently located at ground level. They cook the fried rice on a hot pan in front of you and it was delish and very filling.

Here's a better look at a street in Myeongdong during the daytime. You can see a bunch of beauty stores such as The Face Shop, Missha, The Saem, A'Pieu and Holika Holika. Every block has pretty much the same stores.

The tourist information center is also located in Myeongdong and you can try on "hanbok" (Korean traditional clothes) for free and take some pictures. It was a fun little activity that was in the area and definitely worth a try.

The hostel I stayed at was just a five minute walk from the cable car to N Seoul Tower so my friend and I (our other friends had already left to go back to New York and my teacher friend stayed in Jeonju) decided to visit the landmark. We went right at sunset and it was beautiful. 

The cable costed ₩8500 round trip which lets you explore the base of the tower. It costs additional to go up the tower but I didn't feel the need to do that. The views from the base of the tower is already quite nice and there are some shops to look at. There are fences where couples place locks and write their names.  

You can get a really great look at Seoul from Namsan Mountain where the tower is located. The city is so much larger than I expected and it's truly a modern, 24/7 hub of endless possibilities. 

For dinner we decided to eat at the overpriced Korean BBQ restaurant at the bottom of the mountain where the cable car lets out. I had a bowl of piping hot beef stew which was yummy but incredibly spicy! I don't think I've ever eaten such a red bowl of soup!

We returned to Edae to do clothes shopping because I liked their styles and prices the best. I also really wanted to try egg bread, a streetfood comprised of sweet, crumbly bread topped with fried egg and bubbly cheese. SO yummy!

On another day, we tried finding some cheap clothing at Namdaemun, a popular wholesale market. But I don't think the styles were suited for my taste so mostly walked around and browsed. 

From Namdaemun we took the subway to Dongdaemun, another popular shopping district. Nearby is the famous Cheonggyecheon Stream which apparently used to be an old dump but underwent an extreme makeover a few years ago. It is now a serene walkway where you can hop over some rocks to get to the other side of the street and stroll aimlessly on a nice day. 

Dongdaemun has numerous street vendors selling somewhat inexpensive goods but I think you're meant to haggle with the sellers which I wasn't too comfortable doing. Doota is a department store in Dongdaemun that has multiple floors of moderate priced shopping. I saw quite a lot of good buys but by then I was running low on funds and was scared my suitcase would be too heavy....

My friend and I had trouble deciding what to eat for dinner around Dongdaemun because I was admittedly getting a bit tired of noodles and rice. We opted for a fried chicken place that served some of the crispiest chicken I have ever eaten. It's probably not the first thing you think of when someone mentions Korean cuisine, but they can make some seriously good fried chicken in Korea.

On our last full day in Seoul, we walked to the Namsangol Hanok Village which took a bit of getting lost and wandering around to find. The Hanok village hosts special events such as taekwondo demonstrations and re-enactments if you come at certain times of the day. What I found most interesting was the time capsule located at the very back of the Hanok village. The time capsule was buried in 1994 and won't be opened until 2394.

And on that note, it's time to conclude my adventures in South Korea. I had a wonderful two weeks with my best friends in a beautiful country that I hope to visit again in the future. Every day of the trip brought something exciting and I highly recommend South Korea to all the foodies, shoppers, and history buffs of the world! In my next two posts, I'll share what beauty goodies I brought back from Korea so stay tuned!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

South Korea 2014 Adventures Part 3: Journey to Jeonju

One of the main reasons I went to South Korea was to visit my friend who is teaching English in Jeonju, a city south of Seoul by about three hours driving. Jeonju is famous for its traditional Hanok buildings and food. The cultural part of the city is very adorable and it's a nice fusion of traditional and modern elements.

This is a really place to purchase souvenirs or home decor if you like Asian inspired art. The Hanok village is a really cute place to visit if you have a lot of time in South Korea. It seems especially popular with young couples and families with small children. My friends and I visited a pottery shop and made our own clay mugs and tea cups.

I think the highlight of the entire two week trip was visiting the all girls high school that my friend teaches at. Before visiting the students, the principal, vice principal and a few other important staff members of the school brought us out to a traditional bibimbap lunch. I wish I had taken photos of the bibimbap but it was absolutely delicious with raw beef, ginseng, mushrooms, and various vegetables over rice. There were also lots of tasty side dishes such as kimchi pancake and various kinds of pickled veggies.

After the meal we headed back to the school where the hallways looked exactly like those in Asian dramas. There was no heat in the hallways and you have to take off your shoes and change into slippers. We visited a few classrooms where we were greeted by many enthusiastic teenagers. They were incredibly welcoming and so funny, trying to communicate with the English they had been learning. This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and something that was authentic. I am so thankful to my friend for showing us around and giving us the opportunity to visit her students.

For the most part, we chilled in Jeonju because we lived with my friend's homestay family instead of at a guesthouse. We got to see what a real Korean apartment looks like and the family treated us very well. They have two fridges and one is entirely devoted to kimchi! Some other interesting things about Korean living is that they separate food waste from regular garbage so any leftovers have to be thrown out separately. I kept forgetting this and realized I was being very wasteful if I couldn't eat everything on my plate. Another thing was that the heat comes from the floor so it is very common to sit on the ground to warm up. It was kind of annoying sometimes because I would forget and leave my makeup on the floor, then freak out when I realized my lipsticks might be melting....

Korean people love to eat chicken so we ordered in chicken for dinner one night as it was too cold to go out. We sat eating delicious fried chicken while watching new music videos on television. I have to admit I think k-pop is getting weirder and weirder to me even though I loved it years ago. Rain made a comeback at the beginning of 2014 with "30 Sexy" which I'm really liking so check that out if you're curious.

Due to the cold weather, we needed to find shelter at a cafe every once in awhile during our exploring. We went to the cafe owned by Kim Woo Bin's family. Apparently Kim Woo Bin is a popular actor and he's one of the leads in "Chingu 2". The poster for the movie is taped to the register table which you can kind of see from the picture above and I saw the poster quite frequently throughout Korea. The cafe itself was very cozy and cute, really great for a date with friends or your significant other.

I think I got a caramel latte but I honestly can't be too certain. It was warm and just what I needed to defrost so that's all that matters. It's funny how I rarely drink coffee or indulge in overpriced drinks in New York but have little problem justifying the treats when I'm abroad. 

A popular day trip from Jeonju is to the Imsil Cheese Village which is about an hour away by bus. But you have to transfer and take two buses to get there and the man selling the tickets for the second bus said we would be bored at the village so he suggested the Imsil Cheese Theme Park.... He hailed us a cab and it took us directly to the little "theme park". I can imagine this being a place elementary and middle school children go on trips because you can do workshops such as make cheese and design your own pizza. But we missed all the morning workshops and there wasn't much going on.

We had a pizza made with a few kinds of cheese which was quite good but overpriced and nothing spectacular. I guess for Korean people it would be quite nice but as a New Yorker, I've definitely had better. Still, I enjoyed the pizza and made for a nice Western lunch. I would not recommend going to the Imsil Cheese Theme Park though, especially if you do not have young children. 

I didn't take many pictures when I was in Jeonju because I was genuinely having a good time with my friends. Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the life within the screen of your phone or the camera lens but I prefer living in the moment and trying to savor the memories in my head. I'll leave you with a picture of one of the more commercial areas of Jeonju which is reminiscent of Seoul. Stay tuned for the fourth and final post where I take you back to Seoul to show you a few more awesome eats and some cool landmarks that shouldn't be missed!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

South Korea 2014 Adventures Part 2: Busy in Busan

Five hours away by bus from Seoul is Busan, South Korea's second largest city, famous for its beaches and summertime fun. Now, being that I visited in the beginning of January, the beach wasn't exactly the most ideal spot to chill in Busan. On our first full day in the city, my friends and I rode a speedy minibus which expertly zigzagged us up the hills of Busan to Gamcheon Village. The picture above was taken after maybe an hour of making our way through the nonsensical streets and stairs of the village to the topmost peak.

But before all that hiking, we filled up our bellies with delicious pork broth, rice and an array of fresh Korean side dishes. After this trip, I think I will be craving Korean broths every winter. The light soup was flavorful and perfect with slightly sticky Korean rice and little salted raw fish added a hint of salinity. So simple yet so tasty. Another interesting thing was that the restaurant we had this in was one where you take off your shoes at the entrance and you sit on a mat on the floor. It was pretty cool the first few times we had to do this at certain places but after awhile, it gets a bit tedious. 

After lunch, we began our trek through the streets of precariously perched homes in search of whimsical street art and evidence of what everyday life is like for locals.  

Stray cats were common in Gamcheon and I loved this particular one who sat so still, watching what the old lady was cooking up. Busan seems like a more laid back, rustic place than Seoul. 

Here's another look at the mish-mash of buildings that seem to defy physics. We were so lucky that the sun was shining brightly and there wasn't a drop of precipitation in sight. I have no idea how locals get anywhere when it snows or rains!

Jagalchi Fish Market is a must see if you're in Busan. I love seafood and it was so fun to see every kind of edible under water creature within arm's reach. 

The market is essentially a long street with vendors on either side of you. There are lots of "ahjummas" (old ladies) who sell fish, both raw and cooked, clams, squid, anchovies, and everything else you can imagine. 

There isn't much space to dilly dally because you'll be moved along with the current of tourists and shoppers. 

For dinner one night, we had a seafood "jigae" (stew) with clams, octopus, conch and crab. The broth was really spicy but so perfect with white rice and some "pajeon" (Korean pancake). 

On the day we went to Haeundae Beach, it rained. Out of our two week trip, it only rained that one day. Which I guess is a good thing to have had really good weather for the other days but it was really ironic that our beach day was the absolute worst day weather-wise. They were landscaping the beach so the sand was all dug out and seagulls were everywhere waiting for some small fish or bugs to turn up. 

A great way to get out of the dreary weather if you're in Korea is to visit a "jjimjilbang" (spa). We actually went to Spa Land in Shinsegae Centum City on our first night in Busan. After a five hour bus ride, we just wanted some r&r. Shinsegae Centum City is the largest department store in the world and it's like Saks, Barneys and insert-pricey-department-store-here had a child. We walked through the immaculate beauty department to get to Spa Land and I was in heaven. Unlike normal jjimjilbangs which are usually free for all day usage and open to all ages, Spa Land has a four hour time limit and children under 12 are not permitted. After 8 P.M., the price of admission is only ₩8000 and the highest cost is ₩14000 for adults on weekends. So the price is very inexpensive for the quality of the facilities! Everything was clean and modern looking and even though we went at 8 P.M. with reduced pricing, it wasn't crowded at all. 

On another day in Busan, we visited the spa inside Nongshim Hotel and it was more of a traditional jjimjilbang in that you could stay for however long you liked and little children were running around. But the facilities were noticeably older and more worn. The water smelled a little weird and overall, the experience was much less glamorous and pampering than at Spa Land. 

I'll leave you with a picture of the thick caramel toast from Ediya Coffee, a cafe chain akin to Starbucks. My friend loves Ediya for their reasonably priced green tea lattes and she got us all hooked on Ediya as well. It's a great place to stop and have a warm drink if you've been roaming outside all day in the freezing cold. I tried a few of their drinks and their sweet potato latte was definitely the most memorable!

Stay tuned for the third part of my Korean travels! I'll be taking you with me to Jeonju next!

Monday, January 20, 2014

South Korea 2014 Adventures Part 1: Starting in Seoul

I couldn't have asked for a better way to start off 2014 than a two week trip to South Korea with four of my best childhood friends. On the second evening of the new year, I arrived in Seoul, a metropolis that is now easily one of my favorite cities in the world. The city is clean, food is mostly inexpensive and the people are kind, not the usual descriptions of such a hustle and bustle kind of place.

For our first few nights in Seoul, we stayed at a guesthouse in Hongdae, an area known for it's night time street life and its proximity to Hongik University. But a few streets away in a rather corporate looking, high-rise clustered neighborhood, you will find Bau Haus Dog Cafe, an adorable place to mingle with alaskan malamutes to corgis and the quality of the green tea lattes are an afterthought. 

The range of personalities here is great as you'll find lap dogs, hyper dogs and sleepy dogs. Kami, an energetic black lab, was all about jumping to and fro at our booth and drooling all over. Dam, a baby-faced golden retriever calmly awaits head pats and doggie treats. 

This little guy would be an example of a sleepy dog who was smart enough to find a little nook to get away from all the children who go to the cafe after school. 

Afterwards, we headed to Ewha Womans University, one of the most distinguished universities in South Korea with an impressive campus that fuses sophisticatedly curated natural elements with modern architecture. 

Edae is the area around Ewha and offers inexpensive fashion finds for young women. Cute sweaters can go as low as ₩5000 (a little less than $5). The only downside would be that a lot of the shops have the same or similar options because they probably have the same suppliers. Definitely look around all the shops before purchasing because you might be able to find the same item for a lower price! Beauty chain stores are also rampant in this area but you can find them easily in any neighborhood of Seoul. 

The street in Edae that leads to the entrance of Ewha is lined with street vendors selling tasty treats. One of my favorites is "cup chicken" which is spicy fried chicken with "dduk" (korean rice cakes). A small cup will only set you back ₩1000. If you want to explore Seoul inexpensively, a budget of ₩15,000 per day for food is definitely doable. 

On another afternoon, we paid a visit to the Trick Eye Museum where you can take whacky pictures with props and 3D wall paintings. My friends had a lot of fun but the experience was a bit cramped because there were a few tour groups who were also visiting. There is also an Ice Museum in the same building which is worthy of a visit too because the admission is included. 

Afterwards, we hit up Gangnam (queue PSY song) which is known for being a more upscale area in Seoul. The main avenue reminds me of Fifth Avenue but take a detour to the smaller streets and you'll find an abundance of quirky cafes and restaurants. Waffles loaded with ice cream are very popular in Korea and can be found everywhere. I had a yummy black sesame latte and split a waffle with green tea ice cream at Standard Coffee Bar in a hilly area of Gangnam.

At night, we headed to Lotte World, an indoor amusement park. I put my DSLR in a locker so I only have this grainy image from my phone to give you an idea of what the park looks like. Lotte World is really popular for families with young children and couples on dates. I felt like a kid again and was surprisingly impressed by the size of the place. It's no Disney World but it's a cute place to go if you want to let loose and go on a couple of rides with friends.

Of course, aside from the bright lights and materialistic attractions of Seoul, traditional elements also played a major role in this trip. What could be more traditional in Korea than kimchi? To be honest, I can't remember the last time I had kimchi before going to Korea but I think I ate it at least once everyday throughout the two weeks. Kimchi is often given as a side dish at any sit down meal and the fermented cabbage is a nice dish to snack on before your main meal arrives. I barely ate any veggies or fruit during the trip and had to rely on kimchi for some much needed vitamins and fiber.

On a brutally cold day, we visited Gyeongbokgung, a palace in Seoul that was originally built in the 14th century but was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times over the centuries. It was a touristy activity that probably would have been more enjoyable in warmer weather. If you can find a quiet corner within the palace grounds, you can imagine yourself transported back many years to a simpler time. 

From Gyeongbokgung, we made our way towards Gwanghwamun Square which features statues of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sun Sin. The square is a wide swatch of flat paved street but the real attraction is underground. An interactive museum dedicated to King Sejong and Yi Sun Sin are located right under the statues and were a great escape from the bitter cold.  

I'm ending this post with some more yummy streetfood! I didn't even know Koreans had their own version of Japanese tempura called "twigim". The deep fried squid, seaweed roll and "mandu" (dumplings) are my favorites. The usual price is five pieces for ₩2500. "Ddukboeggi"(spicy rice cakes) is another favorite and is usually only ₩2500 for a plate. 

On our last evening in Seoul as a five person group before heading to our next destination, we ordered in our dinner to the guesthouse. We got "jajeongmyun" (black bean noodles) and "tangsuyuk" (fried pork with sweet sauce). I found it so amusing that Korean delivery food comes in regular eating plates and the delivery guy will come back the next day to collect the empty dishes. The jajeongmyun was really delicious and the tangsuyuk was a great dish to share amongst friends. We ate while watching Korean game shows without subtitles and having our friend who speaks Korean translate everything. 

Stay tuned for part two of my South Korea travels where I'll show you a bit of Busan, the second largest city in Korea!