Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Busy Weekend

With just a few weeks left before our great East Asian adventure, J and I made a list of things we'd still like to see or do in Korea.

1. Seoraksan National Park
2. Mud Festival
3. Palaces (other than Gyeongbokgung) and the secret garden
4. National Museum of Korea
5. Busan
6. DMZ

Since Seoraksan National Park is about 3 hours away and would probably take up a whole weekend, and a DMZ tour necessitates an appointment, we thought we'd tackle the palaces and the National Museum of Korea last weekend (we'll see Busan on our way back from Japan).

J and I have been to Gyeongbokgung Palace, three times now, however, when J's uncle was visiting, he told us that he went to see another palace, Changdeokgung, and a secret garden in it. We were intrigued. Unfortunately we missed the last English tour of the day and so followed around a Korean tour and pretended to know what they were saying. It was a really nice palace, and because it is smaller than Gyeongbokgung, there weren't as many people there. Both the palace and the secret garden are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and it was pretty clear why.

Afterward, we took a tour of the secret garden (also in Korean). We were surprised at its size.

On Sunday, we headed to the National Museum of Korea. It is located in a huge building and spans three floors. It's also free. J and I were both impressed by the collection of armor.

Shoes of soldiers- why are they spiked? Dunno. Traction maybe?
Foot rest
Horsey armor
Tiny shoes
I finally figured out how to add captions! Yay!

We now have less than two weeks of teaching left before our great Asian adventure. Let's hope someone takes over our leases soon!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

For the Win

We grabbed a morning train and after 3 hours, in which I slept the entire time while J read, we arrived at Daechon. A 15-minute bus ride from the train station took us directly to the beach. Going on Sunday worked out pretty well since the train was empty and a lot of people seemed to be leaving the beach as we got there. The weather was also perfect, whereas it had rained the day before. We put our beach things in a locker and headed out to find the mud, which was located in two basins with paint brushes in them. We painted each other with mud and then wandered around the beach. There was a mud slide and a large inflatable pool where people were wrestling and doing other activities in the mud. We passed. Before long, the mud had dried so we headed to the ocean to wash it off.

Overall, our mud festival adventure was a success*! We got home around midnight and I had to go to work the next day.

Monday night was my last Hweshik. My whole branch went to dinner together and memorialized the teachers leaving at the end of summer (there are 12 of us in total).

We found out that we will not be able to get our visas for China in Korea after all (something to do with our alien registration cards), so we will be sending them home and using a visa service. Hopefully, we will be able to get them in time. I guess we should have just gone to Hong Kong*.

I now have 12 teaching days left!

*Pictures to come.
**No visa required.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Day of Fail, or Tomorrow is Another Day

Today begins the first day of the annual Mud Festival in Boryeong, about 3 hours south of Seoul. I've known this was coming since Winter, and have been looking forward to it for a long time.

Fail #1: That does not, however, mean that I had planned anything in advance. So while my coworkers and friends bought their train tickets and booked hotel reservations for Boryeong beach weeks in advance, I unwittingly left my Mud Festival future to chance.

Fail #2: And so I should have seen it coming. The ultimate day of fail. When I checked the train tickets yesterday, there weren't any seats left on a train headed for Daechon (where Boryeong beach is located) at a reasonable hour. There was a train that left at 6:30 in the morning and J and I decided to just do it. We'd have to get up at 5, but the more time we got to spend there, the better, or so we figured.

Fail #3: So when we woke up at 9:00 this morning, we checked to see if there were any other tickets. There seemed to be a 10:24 train with seats still available. Unable to buy the tickets online, J and I headed to Suwon station. Unfortunately, we got to the train station at 10:26. So we proceeded to check for the next available train. There appeared to be a few seats left for a train to Daejon* at 12:48. OK, not a total waste, we said to ourselves, and we wandered around a nearby shopping mall for an hour.

Fail #4: "What about the return trip?" So we checked to see a return trip from Daejon to Suwon. No wait, it was Daechon to Suwon, wasn't it? "Let's check our tickets," said J. And lo and behold, we had bought tickets to Daejon, not Daechon. Two very different cities. There weren't any tickets available to Daechon. Could we go from Daejon to Daechon? Soldout.

Fail #5: "All right, let's just go home," we decided, and we headed for the metro back to Pyeongchon. We waited and waited, but no train came. And then we turned around and realized we were waiting on the wrong platform.

Win #1: When we got back to Pyeongchon, I took J to this adorable little Patisserie near my apartment called Mignon Patisserie (Cute Pastry shop), where we consoled ourselves with cheesecake, brownies, and chocolate mousse.

Win #2: Before leaving Suwon station we purchased train tickets to and from Daechon for tomorrow's Mud Festival activities.

*Did you catch the mistake?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

17 days and counting

It's official: I have 17 teaching days left. on August 7, I'm free. On August 8, I'll be in Tokyo.

Until then, however, I have quite a lot to do:

1) Mud Festival! An annual event in Boryeong. Some sort of fancy, therapeutic mud gets shipped into Korea and people go and roll around in it. Sounds awesome, no?

2) DMZ. I have to go while I'm here. How many people can say they've been to North Korea? And returned.

3) Seoraksan National Park. I was supposed to do this months ago, but some time in the next three weekends I gotta knock this one out. It's supposed to be stunningly beautiful.

4) National Museum of Korea. I was actually there a couple of weeks ago, but went to see the Greek exhibit on loan from the British museum. The exhibit wasn't great (although the famous Discobolus was there). On the other hand, I've heard that the permanent collection is very nice. And the building itself is pretty cool-looking.

5) Busan. Located in the south of South Korea, this is supposed to be a nice beach town. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see this upon our ferry return from Japan. More about this later.

6) Find someone to take over my lease. Since I'm leaving before the year-long lease is up, I'm hoping someone moves in soon so that I don't have to pay for any extra rent. I also hope they really like my furniture, dishes, books, and other miscellanea.

7) Get a visa for China. This is turning out to be more complicated that was first thought. J and I purchased flights and reserved hostels for Beijing and Shanghai, but we're not sure we'll be able to secure the visa in time. There are some pretty finicky rules about US citizens living in South Korea.

8) Plan itinerary, find hostels, and get a return trip from Japan. J and I bought one-way tickets to Tokyo with the intention of buying a rail pass and taking a train down south and taking a ferry that goes from Fukuoka (located very far south in Japan) to Busan to return. We still need to buy tickets for these things. Since the China trip may not happen, we may end up staying in Japan for 3 weeks instead of 10 days, so we're not sure yet about the time line.

9) Finalize post-Korea plans. I have loan documents to sign, an apartment to find in a new city, and a whole new mindset to get ready for. Goodbye being a teacher and hello being a student again.

Monday, July 5, 2010


The Quintessential Korean Experience: Screen Golf

Golf is big here. The levels at my hagwon have golf terms: Birdie, Par, Eagle... There are golf shops everywhere despite the fact that Seoul, the big crowded city that it is, appears to have no golf courses. Instead, screen golf, an indoor golfing experience, is nearly as ubiquitous as noraebang. So Jon and I, having failed to find a lake we were looking for and drenched in sweat in the humid summer heat, decided to try our luck at screen golf.

First, you enter a large, air-conditioned room provided with golf shoes and golf clubs. The room has a large screen over one wall which acts the virtual golf course, and a motorized tee attached to a large bucket of golf balls. You just hit a pedal with your foot, and the golf ball is placed on the tee. No bending over needed.

Jon showing the proper technique.

The only thing the computer ever said to us.

We didn't do so well at screen golf and left blistered and frustrated.

Next, we headed to a not-so-quintessential Korean experience, the racetrack. It was interesting because we finally got the chance to see Korean riff-raff, the sort of not-so-savory characters you'd expect to find at any American racetrack. Having said that, however, the horses were pretty and there were a few families present.