Any dieting restrictions, self-imposed or not, can be a difficult handicap to deal with when living in a foreign country. But Mipa Lee, the woman behind Alien’s Day Out, has tackled life in Korea as a vegan and has the in-depth, informative, and indisputably delicious blog to prove it. She has been blogging for 5 years about vegan life in Korea, has her own online bake shop, and is an expert on how to live animal-derived-free in the land of samgyuepsal and galbi—although she refuses to admit her expertise! Read on for some valuable advice on life as a vegan in seemingly meat-only countries, and on how to become a successful blogger. Visit her blog, Alien’s Day Out, and be sure to her on Facebook! (Unless you can’t handle photographs of unbelievable looking deserts and treats.)

How did you end up in Korea and how long have you been here?

Although I’ve spent most of my life abroad (England, West Africa, and the US), I’m actually Korean by citizenship! So once my student visa in the US expired, I returned to Korea in late 2006. Hard to believe I’ve been here for this long.

Why did you create a blog?

I started Alien’s Day Out because I wanted to share all the joys of going vegan. I saw it as a creative outlet and also a platform for vegan activism through posting recipes, writing restaurant reviews, and just by showing that it is possible to be vegan in Korea.

How long do you see yourself living here?

No idea. I’m always entertaining random fantasies of moving to other countries, whether it be returning to my childhood country Ghana, or joining Sea Shepherd in their fight against whaling. But all that aside, I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be here at least another year. It’s hard to say.

Your blog is all about being a vegan in Korea. Overall, how difficult or easy has this been for you?

It really isn’t as hard as most people think. In terms of daily life and eating, I am able to cook most of my meals at home which eliminates a lot of the stress, but even when I was working at my hakwon, I packed my own vegan lunch boxes. And when eating out, I just try to plan ahead as much as possible, such as suggesting the restaurant or checking the menu online to see what they offer. I say this a lot but over time and with practice it always gets easier. I know many foreigner vegans who are thriving here and they know less Korean than me!

How has blogging about Korea changed the way you experience it?

It certainly encouraged me to explore parts of Seoul that I otherwise may not have known about, and also to actively seek out certain veg-friendly restaurants, although I do that less frequently these days. In the beginning, I really tried to visit as many veg-friendly eateries as I could, but now I don’t eat out as much as I used to. I guess another thing to mention is that blogging has made me more appreciative of this country and all the beauty it has to offer. Hearing from readers all over the world who appreciate the posts on Korean food and culture makes me that much more proud of this small country and all it has to offer.

How has blogging about veganism changed the way you experience it?

Being a vegan food blogger has definitely influenced my experience of veganism. Honestly, if I didn’t have readers to share my food photos with, I would probably just eat rice and gim every day. Having an audience has upped my vegan cooking and baking skills. Before I started my own blog, I never followed other blogs or cared much about cooking, but now I follow tons of vegan bloggers who are always inspiring me in the kitchen. I’m also constantly thinking about ways to overcome seeming obstacles to being vegan in Korea. Finally, I’ve also felt a greater responsibility to provide accurate information to those who rely on the blog as a vegan resource. It does place a certain amount of pressure to always do more and better things, but I also have to remember that I’m just me, and I can only do so much. By no means do I consider myself an “expert” in the field. In fact, I’m frequently reminded of how little I do know! I’m just like any other vegan here, figuring things out as I go, and I only have my personal experiences to share.

Can you talk a little bit about your bake shop? How did you get started with that? Where do you hope to go with it?

It all started with me experimenting with vegan baking and sharing the results on the blog. Gradually, I’d get more requests and suggestions to sell stuff online, and after holding a few bake sale fundraisers, I decided to set up an online store. At this point, I’m still unclear of where the bake shop will take me, or even where I want it to go. Of course, I’d love to someday have my own vegan cafe, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for that kind of commitment…yet.

What is your biggest piece of advice to vegans with a passion for travel?

Aside from researching the cuisine and learning a few key phrases beforehand, I think a lot of it just has to do with having the right mindset. Just because a country or culture doesn’t have a lot of packaged vegan products that you’re familiar with back home, doesn’t make it less vegan-friendly. No matter where you are, you can almost always find a local market with fresh produce, and also a few local dishes that are vegan or easily modified to be vegan. Try not to focus on everything that is missing or things you can’t eat, but focus on all the great local veggies and fruits that make up the bulk of that culture’s cuisine. And don’t be afraid that the vegan police will come and de-veganize you if you accidentally end up eating something animal-derived. For me, veganism isn’t about being perfect and legalistic with rules, but about living compassionately and doing the best we can.

What is your biggest piece of advice to aspiring bloggers and writers?

Try not to get too obsessed about always gaining more readers and followers, or lose sight of why you started blogging in the first place. Based on personal experience, I think there comes a point where you begin to feel like you are losing control of the blog and it is controlling you (especially with increased readership). In the end, you just have to do it for yourself. Go at your own pace, use what you have (no, a DSLR is not necessary!), and make it yours.

What blogs and websites do you read to keep up with events in Korea?

good ol’ facebook
seoulistmag.com
10magazine

Seoul favorites: 1) Neighborhood, 2) bar, 3) coffee shop, 4) restaurant

1. Right now, Hongdae/Hapjeong/Sangsu area
2. I’m not much of a drinker so my fave bar experiences have more to do with the people I’m with, than the bar itself.
3. There are so many awesome cafes in Seoul, it’s hard to choose, but some long-time favorites include Sakkura, Cook and Book, and Harunohee.
4. Achasan Loving Hut Buffet or Wang Thai in Itaewon.

Something you think we should know about Korea that you don’t think most people know!

The Internet shopping & delivery system in Korea is my best friend.

Interview by Julia Bass.

Images courtesy of Mipa Lee at Alien’s Day Out.