9 things I miss back home in California

I’m back home in California for a vacay, for my husband’s yearly work party and to see the lovely fam. It’s been exactly one year since I’ve been away. Gawd, how much I’ve missed being here! It’s been only few days since I’ve been back and I’ve been so relaxed and happy that i do not want to leave. Thought I’d jot down some of the joys of living in California (and states in general) in comparison to other countries, mainly Asia where I lived.

My parents home in Cali!

My parents home in Anaheim Hills, Cali!

1. Big and Spacious Home

You don’t have to be a big baller to live well in Cali. As an average middle-income family, you can have six rooms with attached bathrooms, a huge kitchen with an island, three (or four) car garages, a private patio with a beautiful view, and a private pool at this beautiful 5000 sq ft home in a gated-community. Gawd, how much I missed the space. I miss having a closet the size of my current room, having a huge island in the kitchen for cooking, and the quietness of the suburban life.

Safe, quiet neighborhood

Safe, quiet neighborhood of Suburban homes

2. Safe and Private communities

I guess one stereotype that Asians have of America is that we’re constantly living in fear of being shot (?). I’ve gotten plenty of questions by both Singaporeans and Koreans if it’s “scary” to live in America. Not at all. I actually feel safer in my suburban home in the US than in crowded Condos of Singapore. Unless you live inside a major city (which is only a car-distance away) or live in a bad neighborhood, the cities in US are generally very safe. Us OC’ers only lock our cars once we enter downtown LA and other ghettos, but that’s okay because we are usually safe in our cars until we enter indoors.

3. Cheap Cars

Yes, it’s possible to get a nice bmw for USD $50,000. Little high-schoolers are able to drive around in Lexus,’ BMWs, and Benz because the cheapest grades start at USD $30,000. Better yet, if you lease your car, you can walk away with any of the three at no downpayment and around $500/month. Not to mention the way cheaper Hyundais, Hondas, and Toyotas. I never knew cars were such a luxury item until I moved to Singapore..  it’s been a pain getting around town without a car in a public transportation system and taxi because it’s hard to catch one (not to mention rude drivers occasionally) and public transit is used and abused. I know I should promote public transit as a planner, but it’s a bit unfortunate watching people squeezing in and out and looking stressed and depressed during rush hour. Public transportation only looks grand if general residents actually have the choice of riding a private car or a public transit. Especially in Singapore, most residents can’t afford one or save for worthier purchases than splurging near USD $120,000 for a basic Hyundai.

4. Credit Cards (and perhaps the US credit system)

So I’m the type that HAS to pay off my balances in full every month. And yet, I hold several cards, of them being: Chase preferred, Amex Gold, Amex Cash, and my favorite department store cards Nordstroms and Bloomingdales.  This is because American companies offers the best benefits: my cash is 5% on supermarkets and gasoline at NO Maximum cash back amount per year, Amex Gold offers the best pt per dollar system that can be used on Amazon (my favorite) and many other purchases, best benefits at signup (50,000 free air miles just for signing up), etc.  There are not much restrictions or regulations, as I’ve seen with Asian credits (cash back only up to $800/year, 10,000 free miles, at best).  The signup is awesome perhaps due to the amazing credit system in the US that tracks down everyone’s past payment history- the signup for credit is SUPER easy, as in, you write your name, address, social security #, your household income, submit online, and voila! you’re done. Typically, you are approved right away and the card is sent to you in less than 3~5 business days.  In Singapore and in Asia in general, there were so many instructions and requirements just for the debit card alone, where you are using your own money. So imagine the stress and regulations of signing up for a credit card.

5. Central Air Conditioning

Agreed it may be wasteful, but American houses mostly have central air conditioning system, where if you just set your AC to “auto,” it automatically turns on the air when it gets a bit hot througout the whole house.  No more turning on individual A/Cs looking like an eye sore attached in every room. Upscale condos in Korea and Singapore have built in A/C, but you usually have a remote to turn them on and off individually. and fans… man, never seen so many fans in my life till I moved to Singapore. It’s one of the hottest countries and yet residents there bear the heat with just a fan. Props to them, we’ve been really spoiled in America.

6. Return Policies in Stores

Nordstroms’ return policy is that there is no return policy. You can return anything, opened and without a receipt, anytime, most of them time.  You can return used makeup that you don’t like at Sephora, if you aren’t satisfied with your product. Not the case in most of the countries in Asia. I hear Korea’s getting a bit better, but I’ve been apalled with Singapore’s 14 day only, exchange only, or no return policies at even many of the top international stores. Not to mention, if you buy something online from an online store, you can’t return them at the physical store like you do in America. You also have to pay return shipping. America is shopper’s heaven, with quality products at cheap prices and their awesome sales that go up to 70%.

7. Best facilities and Equal living?

Due to land restraint, Asian countries typically require thousands of dollars in membership to use golf courses and park facilities that usually mimic a low-end park areas offered to residents in America… for free.  America’s a heaven for the low-income. Unless you are Paris Hilton rich, no one can really tell your wealth or status, though it’s easily spotted in Asia.  The places you go, things that you own, things you eat are generally same for people of all income.  For example, a doctor can own a medium sized home and drive a 3 series BMW. A waitress at a restaurant can own a 7-series BMW and eat at normal restaurants. In Asia, you probably can’t drive a BMW as a restaurant waitress, and you probably eat mostly instant boonshik in Korea or local stall food if you’re a Singaporean. If you’re the type to want to flaunt your wealth (and your wealth is below $5 mil),  America is not for you.

2012_12_23_Angie_&_David_Wedding_Reception_0383

8. Weather

California is known for its beautiful weather. It is sunny, breezy, and not humid.  I can snowboard at the mountains in the winter, fish at a lake during summer, and do whichever activities I please without having all four seasons. This is perhaps the reason why you’ll find the prettiest flowers for wedding bouquets in California, in comparison to the limited selection in Asia. The greenery here is just beautiful. I’m attaching my wedding bouquet again because I absolutely loved it. :)

9. Abundance of Organic Groceries

There are local farmers market everywhere, and there are huge organic supermarkets in close proximity, such as Trader Joes, Wholefoods, Mothers, etc. that sell Organic produce and products for cheap. I really miss eating healthy for cheap.

9. Living in Your Own World

You really live in your own world in America. If you want to live like a Korean, you move to Koreatown. You can probably speak no English and live fine in those areas.  Same goes for any other ethnicities. There is no one to judge, no one to really mind your business. You just go about living the way you please, with whatever groups you please. All kinds of people exist here. In Asia, I see most people trying to “fit in” with everyone else, and those that aren’t are harshly judged and criticized.

There are many great things about living in Asia as well. That’s probably the reason why there are people that move back after having spent years here. It can get boring, monotonous, and too quiet for any person in their 20s. But I’ve just had a newly found appreciation for California now that I’m living abroad… and I really realize you really don’t know what you’re missing until it’s been taken away. As my friends say, I’m such a Cali girl, and I can’t wait till I settle back here someday. <3

Our honeymoon- Cocoa Island, Maldives! (2012)

I’m back to my outgoing self again and I’m so thankful I have a blog to return to. I don’t post on facebook much anymore and quit instagram bc of the same reasons some of the ppl may choose to stay away from social network.  I think the reasons are pretty clear so won’t get into details here..  I was going to write on Vietnam (one of our favorite trips so far), but it’d be a super long post so I thought I’d reminisce on our honeymoon that was never posted *blush.* My husband is traveling for work in the US but is coming back today, so this is usually the time when I update ;)

We really felt honeymoon was once in a lifetime, so we were really willing to make an investment for our getaway.  Our criteria was straightforward: very private, separated villas with not many people on the resort, top-notch service, excellent food and near perfect reviews. After hours of searching on my limited knowledge of the island, we decided to go with the resort that seemed to be ranked #1 on a website:

Tada… Cocoa Island by Como hotels!

We stayed for around a week and it was around $1050/night without adding the cost of activities and massages, which was the most expensive we’ve ever paid for any hotel stay. I recently read that Korean celebrities Lee Min Jung and Lee Byung Hun went to Jumeirah Dhevanafushi resort ($1,259/night), and when I checked out the website, wow it’s beauuutiful! Those who are looking for luxury resorts should definitely check these two out.  Cocoa Island was as great as it was said in the reviews- the Villa, service, food, beach, everything- and I really felt every single cent was worth it. As cliche as it sounds, it was heaven on earth.

Image

It was as if it was a private resort and we rarely saw anyone, except when we decided to eat out at the resort restaurant nearby (mostly, it’s delivered to your room).  We went snorkeling everyday that by the fifth day i was BLACK from all the snorkeling. Our days went like this for the whole week :) : wake up, be served the most delicious breakfast ever delivered daily, change to our swimwear, and literally plunge into the waters from our backyard. We’d snorkel around for few hours, get served the most delicious lunch, then go out for one of the couple activities (private sunset cruise, dolphin watching, fishing, massage, yoga, candlelight dinner). At night, we’d get ready for delicious theme dinners, drink and hang out by the beach, relax and talk about our future. it was so peaceful and relaxing that it made me forget all the stress and planning that we had to endure leading up to our wedding.  I highly recommend Maldives for honeymoon; the water is so clear and blue and it’s nothing like anything I’ve seen.  Surprisingly, we didn’t take a lot of pictures bc we wanted to take in the beauty of the island as much as we can. but here are some pictures: I’ll try to update more as I come across them on my computer.

IMGP1406285A1745285A1726285A1675285A1668285A1678IMGP1571

We can’t wait to return and try out Jumeirah Dhevanafushi in the near future.  We’re going to Taiwan in two weeks! So excited and nervous to try all the delicious food I’ve only been hearing of. 

Still in Singapore

Wow it’s been super long since I updated. I’ve been meaning to update here and there but I guess I’m the type that goes through phases.  Sometimes when I travel to somewhere exciting, receive a meaningful gift, add a new addition to my whatever collections, had a memorable moment and/or find new amusing subjects to talk about, I want to flip out my notebook and start typing away. It’s pretty interesting to read back on your old journals/entries. BUT. I also go through my semi anti-social phase, where I start wanting to take down any of the pictures that includes our faces and writings that contain my personal thoughts, for fear of- publicity? being known? being found? I’m not too sure- and shutting down my little site that I put so much effort into. It’s the introvert in me- I think I’m pretty sociable or come off as pretty approachable when people first meet me, but once I start to relax and feel they don’t need my 100%, I usually stay quiet or shy away in my own corner. I am a recluse. But give me the space and time I need, and I come right back to being the normal outgoing self. :)

Why I’m this way- beats me. It’s an on-going conundrum of my life. But I think it has something to do with a person’s childhood personality remaining in you throughout- no matter how many people you meet and what experiences you go through, you are who you are. deep within. I was super shy when I was little, and I guess still kind of shy now, though some of my friends may not agree, bc i’m outgoing as everyone else is in front of people they’re comfortable with. But it does take me a longggg time- longer it seems as i get older- to open up to a new friend and really get comfortable. I still dread public speaking, networking, and any type of scenarios where the attention is all on me- I start blushing and looking around for the nearest exit. Now, I learned to look uninterested or show no facial emotion (aka boring, or looking bored?) to hide all my anti-socialness and nervousness. As funny as that sounds,  that’s my only way of trying to look “as normal” as I can and looking confident (since a girl’s gotta always look confident, right?). I always beat myself up for it later and hope that I didn’t come off the wrong way.

I also don’t express myself very well. I’d like to show my condolences to someone that’s suffering from a loss, but I feel I’m being rude or nosy in their personal affairs, so I remain quiet and hope that they reach out so I can be there. I’d like to lend a helping hand, but don’t know the right words to be more inviting. I probably think too much, noticeably more as I near late 20s, but… I also like that trait about me. That I take the time to think in other persons shoes, whether they acknowledge, care, or appreciate it. I don’t intrude into other’s space and I like to give people their space, let them come, go, whatever they like, though I do retract if they take advantage or are generally a selfish person. But I’m always forgiving. As awkward and passive as I seem, I’m also funny,  talkative at times, feisty (sorry hubby) and love girls night outs. how i got to this topic, i don’t know. I guess this is one of those jot-down-my-thoughts kinda entries.

I love Mille Cakes @ Lady M. Especially the green tea. We go there quite often.

I love Mille Cakes @ Lady M. Especially the green tea. We go there quite often after work.

I’ve traveled to Hong kong and Korea and back a several times, went to Hochiminh, Vietnam with our friend couple, and am going to Taiwan this May. wooot! I’d like to update posts on this soon, but as stated above, it depends on if I’m feeling outgoing and can mimic an extrovert. haha

RIP Grandma.. love you always.

RIP Grandma.. love you always.

My grandma passed away. I’ve become even more attached to her in my early 20s when I’d go to Korea often, and I can’t believe she’s no longer there to pick up my calls. But I know she’s at a better place now, and I feel really blessed that I have a great family. Didn’t really learn to appreciate this till I was older. Wow, do I have an amazing family!

2014-03-06 17.59.42

2014-03-06 18.00.38

I’ve been wanting a hermes scarf and my hubby picked one out for me :)

I also have a super exciting news I’d like to post,  but I’d like to dedicate a post of it’s own. soon!

Few more things I’ve noticed interesting about Singapore to end this post on a not-so-philosophical note:

  1. Where the heck are the napkins? I’m a forgetful person and Singapore is not a welcoming place for a forgetful soul. I’ve eaten my hot noodles with runny noses many times bc food centers here don’t carry napkins.  I wouldn’t mind paying a bit more for each plate just to have napkins provided at an eatery.
  2. Taxi drivers here BLAST air-conditioning as if their skin lost its senses. I get in a hot, sweaty person and come out as a snow woman.  So is my work or Singapore buildings in general. but taxis (oh and movie theatres where I lug around my parka that I thought I’d never need in Singapore) are the coldest.
  3. Yet many Singaporeans live without air-conditioning at their home. what the? I can’t even survive without one in less-hot climates like Los Angeles.
  4. I am a Korean-American and do not get offended if someone calls me Korean. Singaporean Chinese (or chinese singaporean?) gets offended, or so i hear, if one calls them “Chinese.” Yet they speak better Mandarin than English. Why? As an Asian myself I do not understand this whole ordeal. same with someone calling a Malaysian-Singaporean, Malaysian.

 

Bali, Indonesia (South Bali)

Because we wanted to have some cultural fun as well, we decided to go on a short one-day tour around South Bali before we head to our next destination in Seminyak. I’ve contacted several of the top tour agencies with the best reviews prior to going and found one that seemed decent in which the email read:

Our day tour services rates
halfday trip up to 5hours IDR 400k/car
fullday trip up to 10hours IDR 550k/car
extra hours IDR 50k/hours
included
– air conditioned car
– fuel
– English speaking driver
– car parking fee
not included
– your meal
– entrance ticket to the sites we visit

I guess I hadn’t thought too much behind the words “English speaking driver” though because our driver was also our tour guide. I don’t know why it hadn’t crossed my mind that this may not really work- I think I had assumed we would be in good hands based on the great reviews I’ve read. But lesson learned, it ended up being the least favorite out of the private tours we’ve done because it just wasn’t professional. The tour guide spent majority of the time parking the car and concentrating on driving that he wasn’t able to actually guide us as normal tour guides would do, missing out on some of the important points of the tour that I actually found out AFTER we’ve returned home as I researched on the internet. So please check to make sure that you’re getting a separate driver when booking a tour agency!

Nevertheless, our itinerary well suited our tight schedule and the sites we were taken to were great! Here is the list of places we’ve visited:

Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park
Padang Padang Beach

Karma Kandara Private Beach
Uluwatu Temple
Drop off at our hotel in Seminyak at the end of the day

at the entrance of the cultural center

at the entrance of the Garuda Wisnu Kencana cultural Park

Our first stop was the Garuda Wisnu Kencana Cultural Park, situated on a limestone plateau in south Bali, high on the Bukit Peninsula. It was our first cultural experience and we had a great time! It offers a great view of the Jimbaran Bay and Kuta to the west, and Tanjung Benoa and Sanur to the east.  Below are some silly couple pictures of us :)

285A5738285A5749285A5754285A5769

We also were lucky enough to make it to a show just in time. interesting performance!

285A5787285A5792

Our next stop was Padang Padang Beach, the place where the movie Eat, Pray, Love was shot at. We had gone on the WRONG day though because there was a surfing tournament was going on and it was way too overcrowded. It also had a long flight of stairs down in between rocks which we weren’t prepared for. We’ll never forget the bride we saw here going down these narrow steps, sweating away her makeup and looking miserable- it was almost 100 degrees that day and her beautiful white dress had been ruined due to the long flights of stairs going down. hopefully the photos turned out okay though to make up for the situation..

Finally made it down to the bottom..

Finally made it down to the bottom..

just too many people! we couldn't find an area to relax.

just too many people! we couldn’t find an area to relax.

what it looks like from the top..

view from the top!

but the beach was beautiful indeed!

the beach itself was beautiful indeed! but again, similar to beautiful beaches in los angeles.

We stopped by another beach for a short bit, which was similar to Padang, and headed to the Uluwatu temple situated on the top of the cliff. The view here was amazing! If you wait till 6pm, you’d be able to watch the famous Kecak Fire Dance which was highly recommended in the reviews I’ve read, but we decided to skip it due to lack of time. This temple is known to have aggressive monkeys that literally snatch your bags and anything easy to grab so our tour guide made us put away our sunglasses. poor hubby! he forgot to wear contacts so he had to walk without his glasses on…

Following our tour guide..

Following our tour guide..

breathtaking!!

and finally reached the famous view.. breathtaking!!285A5869

Taking in the scenery and the vast blue ocean..

285A5879285A5881

Hubby taking a break from the long hike. We were made to wear the purple cloth when entering:

285A5882

beautiful vegetation/forest inhabitated by wild monkeys:

285A5907285A5941

This was the last stop of our trip, which was an hour or two away from Banyan Tree. Seminyak is known for its high-end restaurants, bars, and spa and we thought it’d be great to spend a night here as it was on the way to the Depansar airport. We arrived here late at night and were surprised to find such vibrant night life.. it was a total tourist area but it was nice to have a night out in a modern city, grabbing delicious dinner and drinks. Not to mention the great couple hot stone massage the next day… we had booked one through katok (yes, they use katok here!) and it was 1/4 the US/Singapore price for more than two hours. We were pampered! After our walk around the small strip of various areas around the town afterwards, it was already time to head back. Hopefully we’ll return soon to experience Ubud, the cultural center of Bali. :)

285A5952

Bali, Indonesia (Banyan Tree)

Us in Bali :)

Our favorite pic from Bali :)

We went to bali for a weekend for a friend’s wedding. It’s been on top of my list of places for years (bc of one of my fav krn dramas “what happened in bali”), and I was so excited that I finally was able to visit for the weekend. and it was only two and half hours away! We stayed for three nights and four days, which we def felt it was toooo short. Before I started my research I had assumed that Bali was a small island, but to my surprise it actually turned out to be seven times bigger than Singapore. It has five different regions that are around 10 hours apart by car from one end to another: South Bali, Central Bali, West Bali, North Bali, and East Bali. Because of its size, I recommend spending at least two days per region, and even that may not be enough. Because a friend’s wedding was to be held in Nusa Dua, South Bali, we decided to stick to the southern part of Bali and see what it had to offer. I had really wanted to visit Ubud (central), the cultural, historical, and arts center of Bali, but being around four hours away from us in the opposite direction of the airport, we decided that’ll be our area to visit next time we’re back!

As always in our travels to Southeast Asia (bc they’re cheap), we hired a reputable private tour guide to take us around. But we found that the tour guide concept here is a bit different than other SE cities, it’s more of a “taxi” concept rather than a tour guide. There was no separate guide that came with the driver, our guide was the taxi driver that asked us what we wanted to do and would take us around town. So instead of guiding us around attractions, a lot of the times he said he’d just wait in the car. Though less professional, we didn’t mind as much since we were there mainly for the wedding and to enjoy our stay at the pool villa.

As South Bali is known for its resorts and beaches more so than the cultural sites, we decided to stay in pool villas at Banyan Tree pool villa to relax and recoup.  We were excited that it’d be more like a second honeymoon for us; I had assumed Bali’s beaches would be warm and clear like the ones in Maldives, as I had seen beautiful pictures of beaches in Bali and Phuket. Though we fairly enjoyed our stay, it seemed similar to any other ‘nice beach’ you’d see in Los Angeles, and the pool villa didn’t provide the ultimate “private” experience like what we had at Maldives. The complementary breakfast buffet was great, but nothing like the top notch delicacies sent to our own villas every morning at Maldives. I guess it’s an unfair comparison given that Maldives pool villa cost us nearly twice as much (and it’s Maldives! how did I not realize there’s not many beaches that can dare compare to it?), but for $$$$/night we thought it’d be a similar “once-in-a-lifetime” experience as a lot of couples ponder between Bali and Maldives for their honeymoon. Perhaps we needed to visit St. Regis? In any event, we still had a great time releaxing and the pool is amazing. here are some pictures of our time there:

pool at banyan tree!

pool at the banyan tree, overlooking the beach!

Playing around with our lens to make our legs look extra long: :D

285A5283285A5287

285A5302

Skipping down the walkway. My mood was like this the whole time. :D

285A5362

Our private pool villa:

285A5373285A5492

hubby trying out the pool, but we rarely got to use it because we were too busy using the bigger one outside and going to the beach.. private pool would be great for families with kids!:

285A5634

bad quality pic, but this is our spacious bedroom with king-size bed and the bathroom- and this is just HALF of our villa. the other half is the beautiful living room & kitchen (the reviews were right. the villas here are huge!):

285A5009

285A4998

We went down to check out Banyan’s private beach. loved the beach- i’ll take what I can get, most beaches in Asia (Korea, Singapore) are pretty bad- but the ones we visited in Bali were just ‘as great’ as the ones I’m used to back home in Los Angeles. Missed Maldives!:

285A5402

I think my photography skills is finally improving.  love these two shots: :)
285A5424285A5429

and lastly, my hubby’s pic of me:

285A5414

to upate our travels around South Bali next.