Who saw the buttplug Christmas tree in Paris? Considering how quickly it went viral and the subsequent sabotage that took place, I’m sure it didn’t escape most of you. In a way, the Parisians take of the festive decoration epitomizes everything that Christmas ought to be. It has plenty of entertainment value, a dash of the inappropriate and a handful of disgruntled scrooges. Christmas at home, for better or worse, is a special occasion and it can be a struggle to be away for, regardless of how long you have been playing the expat game. The combination of the limited holiday leave and the distance Korea is from most of our homelands means that few of us will have a traditional Christmas. That being said, instead of indulging in self-pity and homesickness, here are some more gratifying indulgences to consider that will help you make the most of the festive period around Korea.
Whether you want to get into the festive spirit or avoid acknowledging the period at all, the holiday offers a good opportunity to soak up some culture. A firm favourite performance during Christmas is ‘The Nutcracker Ballet’, which will be performed by the Universal Ballet Company at The Universal Art Center in Seoul from December 19th – 31st.
If you happen to be in Daegu anytime between the 18th of December to the 4th of January, you can see ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ being performed at Kemyung Art Center, featuring members from the original French cast.
You could also visit some of the main galleries and museums dotted around that you have been meaning to check off your list, or try the slightly more unusual ones. For example, try ‘Project Space SARUBIA’ in Jongno to check out the alternate art scene and view some more experimental art covering all creative disciplines.
An ideal activity that can be done alone or with friends, and is the perfect way to round off a year, is to indulge in a spot of pampering. The timing is perfect, since you are prepped and looking your best for the New Year’s parties and can start 2015 feeling fabulous, which will hopefully result in a more positive attitude towards sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions.
For haircuts, try either ‘Lucy Hair,’ based near Sinchon station or ‘JP Hair’ in Haebangchon. Both places have plenty of foreign clientele, speak good English and are genuinely passionate about what they do. Ladies, for eyelashes, manicures and pedicures, there are a multitude of options, but my regular remains ‘Coco Lounge’ in Itaewon. Gents, if you fancy going old school and getting a haircut and a shave at a retro 1940s-styled barber shop, check out ‘Nothing n Nothing’ in Hongdae.
With Korea being home of the jimjjilbang, it is not difficult to find saunas or massage spots. ‘Healing Hands’ is renowned for being a quiet, tranquil space for a massage. ‘Hamilton Hotel’ offers massages 24 hours a day, which are more modestly priced, but not in quite as attractive surroundings. ‘Dragon Hill Spa’ always makes the top 10 list of attractions and is certainly worth a visit if you want to experience more than the usual jimjjilbang, such as charcoal rooms, crystal salt rooms and threading services (which have proved to be relatively difficult to find in Korea). If you are hoping to find a jimjjilbang that attracts a lot of gay clientele, there are several dotted around Seoul, although mainly around Itaewon and Jongno where the main LGBT nightlife areas are. Popular amongst older Korean men is ‘Mun Hwa’ in Jongno 3-ga. There is also ‘Prince’ in Sinchon which has a vibe more akin to that of a bar than a sauna. Alternatively, there is ‘GM Sauna,’ spaced over 4 floors, located in Dongdaemun.
Christmas is a prime time for celebrations, whether you want to play host and throw your own or check out the numerous promotions that will be taking place at clubs and bars all over Korea, including on Christmas day.
If you fancy keeping it as traditional as possible and hosting something at your place, you might consider making a trip to the ‘Home Table Deco Fair’ for some party planning and styling ideas as well as some rather fancy Christmas decorations. This will be held at COEX Convention and Exhibition Center from 11th – 14th of December. Also, make a trip down to Busan and attend the ‘Busan Organic and Natural Fair’ which is on between 4th – 7th of December at BEXCO to see one of Korea’s biggest food festivals and get some fantastic finishing touches for your Christmas meal.
Of course that will require some pre-planning and result in piles of washing up, so if that’s not your style, you aren’t short of alternative options to keep your party buzz fizzing throughout the month. As well as favourite haunts around Hongdae, Jongno and Itaewon, there will be plenty of special events such as ‘The Red Party,’ raising money for HIV patients, which will include a gogo performance on the 6th of December (you will have to look up where the confirmed venue is since it is still currently undecided) to ‘The Meet Market’ throwing a New Year’s Eve party on the 31st.
This may be the perfect time to get away from your home away from home, especially if you want to have fun but would rather forget about the fact that it is Christmas. Even if you can’t get out of Korea, the options are still vast. If you are the sporting type, rent a pension at one of the many ski and snowboarding resorts around Korea. Three of the biggest and most popular are ‘Bears Town’ (which is the closest to Seoul), ‘Phoenix Park’ and ‘Yongpyeong Resort’ (which is the furthest from Seoul).
Alternatively, try a spot of winter island hopping and see the beauty that the hordes of summer vacationers miss out on. Apart from the obvious (but still definitely bucket-list-worthy) Jeju, there are many other islands that would make for an interesting winter break. One of which is Namiseom Island. This island was made famous a few years back by a Korean TV show called ‘Winter Sonata.’ It is said to be particularly beautiful in the winter, lined with trees with regular little pockets where small fires burn, and you can make a pit-stop to warm up.
There are plenty of opportunities for English speakers to volunteer. While volunteering is something that many of us would like to do, it often ends up at the bottom of our list of priorities. If you have the time and the inclination this winter, have a think about what you would like to invest some of your time volunteering for.
To name a few organizations, there is ‘CARE’s Adoption Center’ that deals with abandoned cats and dogs; ‘Angel House’ that requires volunteers to help with the upkeep and provide companionship to the disabled residents; or ‘Camarata Music Company Outreach’ which offers music education programs in orphanages and requires volunteers who can commit to at least 6 months to teach a child an instrument.
While volunteering is an opportunity for you to give something back, it is also something you should enjoy doing, so why not try it a few times until you find something you would like to do on a regular basis, also providing the opportunity to kick-start your New Year’s resolution too.