Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Everything is Falling Apart!

On my hand phone, that is. The other day I noticed that my rabbit phone charm had broken so now i have to glue it together. Atom (Astroboy) is also looking pretty rough. Oh and my T-money card (for the subway/bus) is detached from the key chain my student, Ella, gave me last year. Waah!

The Eumseong Experience Part Two

After we finished up at the festival we hopped back on the bus (stopping briefly at the tiniest convenience store ever for snacks and beverages- I wonder if the tour guides are friends with the owner considering we passed an E-mart and didn't stop there...) and arrived at Mount Worak! The scenery was so stunning and peaceful. We checked into our motel rooms (it was 5 or 6 people/room and luckily our group of friends totaled five) and then had some free time before the BBQ. We attempted to ride a tandem bicycle but the second seat was all weird and I kept banging my knees on the handlebars when I tried to peddle. It was also really tough to balance. So we abandoned that idea and Matt and Curtis decided to join in on a soccer game.
Then it was dinner time and we all feasted on samgyupsal and corn chowder.
Everyone was really friendly on the trip and we picked up some new buddies. Specifically, John and Elaine from Scotland. They are totally fresh (barely a month) in Korea and since there was a tiny norae bang we got to pop their norae cherry! It was obvious they weren't used to having English speakers in those parts since the book was missing most of the English pages. They only had one book with English song listings and that book only went up to "L". We only did one round of norae since there are a lot of good songs after "L" and so we promised John and Elaine a better norae initiation the following weekend.

What night would be complete without lighting some Roman candles?

We called it a night pretty early since we had to get up super early for the big hike the next day. This was a truly Korean trip since all the food was Korean and the sleeping quarters were no different.

Check it out:
Yep, the five of us slept on the floor. Okay, technically we slept on thin mats on the floor but it was basically sleeping on the floor. No one slept that well and I was surprised I was able to sleep much at all. We just aren't used to sleeping on totally rock hard surfaces. Our mattress here is super hard but it's still not the floor.
After a quick breakfast we started our 4.3 km hike (that's to the peak- it's 4.3 km back too). The weather was glorious and the surroundings were breathtaking. The hike, well, it was brutal. Actually the tour guide told us when we showed up to the mountain that it was a mountain for advanced hikers. What the hell? Why didn't they post that on the website? We decided to brave it but after about 1.5 km I was pretty much hiked out. So I quit like a giant baby. Hahah. Not exactly. I mean, it was a really, really difficult hike- basically over uneven, rocky terrain with at least a 50 degree slope (often more). I just decided I would rather enjoy the gorgeous day and scenery than trudge up a mountain for hours. Dana and Curtis agreed and so we split our group in two.
I'm really proud of Matt and Hokunani (and everyone else) who finished the hike but I don't regret my decision at all. I had an amazing afternoon lying in the sun, napping, reading my book and hanging out with Dana and Curtis. Dana even french braided my hair.

Here's a picture that Hokunani took at the top of Mount Worak and there's Matty in his advanced hiker glory!

We ate some more bibimbap, packed and waited for the last of the group to arrive back at the motel. The time to head back rolled around but everyone wasn't back from the mountain yet. Where were our new friends John and Elaine?!? They were lost somewhere on the mountain! We waited and waited and worried. The tour guide made it seem like they had been located and so we all piled in the bus and drove to a rest stop on the way home where they were supposed to meet us.

Like I mentioned, John and Elaine are really new to Korea. At the time of this trip they had only been here for 3 weeks and so they don't know really any Korean, had no idea where they were, all their stuff was at the motel (who takes their purse hiking?) and they had no cell phone and therefore didn't have the tour guide's phone number. It was almost 4:30pm (we were supposed to leave for Seoul at 3pm) when one of the guides said, "If they don't find them by 5pm we're going to head back and the other guide will stay behind." Holy crap! They had no idea where they were! They were located and poor John and Elaine were totally in shock and exhausted. It was a relief to reunite with them and John debriefed to me about the ordeal for a good portion of the trip home. What a dramatic end to the weekend! Everyone made it home safe and sound though and I would go on another trip with Adventure Korea, although maybe not a hiking trip.

Professional "Pum-ba" Busker

This guy was awesome and really hilarious! Apparently he tours around and has performed in Vancouver a number of times.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Eumseong Experience Part One

On the weekend of April 19th and 20th we ventured out of Seoul with some friends and a tour group through Adventure Korea. Hokunani and Dana asked if we wanted to go with them for a weekend in Eumseong which featured a festival and then the next day, hiking up Mount Worak. We took a look and the price was right (85,000 won/person including meals, transportation and accommodation) and off we went. Brace yourself because there are a lot of pictures. Oh if you look on the Adventure Korea site you can find the trip report for the "Eumseong Busker Festival" where you can read someone else's account and see a group picture.

It was an interesting morning since we were all supposed to meet at a certain location and time to get picked up by the tour bus but unluckily, Dana and Curtis miscalculated and were thisclose to missing the tour. I was sweating bullets for them. I actually can't believe they held the bus since they were pretty late but someone was smiling down on them and they managed to make it. The bus ride was pretty uneventful and then we arrived at the festival.
It was an amazing day- probably about 27C and not a cloud in the sky. Something I noticed as soon as we got there... Our group consisted of the only non-Korean people at the festival. And we were sort of herded off from one event to another. Don't get me wrong, I had a brilliant time, but it was clear that we were there to provide entertainment to the Korean people. It was a bit like being an animal at the zoo. First off we all dressed up in beggar/busker clothing and lined up to have our faces painted. I took some time to mash the ddak (Korean rice cake) with a mallet so as it turned out, by the time I got to the front of the line there were no more beggar costumes left. Oh well. Like I mentioned, it was a sweltering day and adding an extra layer of clothing wasn't that appealing anyway.
As you can see, everyone looked really cute. Dana and Hokunani both ended up with "Chief" beggar costumes, while Matt was a measly underling. Hahah! Everyone was painted up to look really dirty and pathetic. Lots of tears, wacky mouths, scars and snotty noses. Well, not everyone ended up like this. I sat down to get my face painted even though I didn't have a costume (neither did Curtis for that matter) and the lady wordlessly went to work. Next thing I know, I am getting a few strange glances. She finishes up and lo and behold... I am a watermelon!
Something I forgot to mention. Apparently the mayor decided there would be a festival photography contest so everyone was trying to get the best shot of the festival activities. I honestly feel like I know how it is to be hounded by the paparazzi. Seriously. It was a gong show. And I found myself going through phases. Like at first I was more than happy to pose and ham it up. Hence the picture where Matt is trying to eat my face and I am attempting to look terrified but doing a terrible job because I am laughing so much at the paparazzi. But as time went on it wasn't quite as fun and near the end I was a bit annoyed with it. Like, I just want to live a normal life!!!
Check out those huge lens!!! And they would beg you for just one more picture. They followed everyone around and would sometimes request you to pose a certain way or to pose with their relative. It was so crazy! Or they would sneak up on you when you were talking to your friend in order to get a "natural" picture. But it was so distracting! I can't help it, if I have a massive telephoto lens in my face I cannot carry on a natural conversation.
Then it was lunch time. They filled a giant wooden box with bibimbap ingredients and stirred it up with huge paddles. It was tasty but the photographers went nuts trying to capture pictures of insane foreigners wearing crazy costumes with painted faces eating Korean food. It was a bit much.

Then Dana made a friend. I love this picture of her busting a move with this tiny, adorable old lady!!! Let me tell you, she had moves (the old lady... haha!).

We were given a bit of a break so that they could liquor us up. Hey, it was free, so whatever! There was makkoli for everyone! This was another brilliant ploy- get the foreigners drunk and then corral them on stage to dance and be silly in the guise of a dance contest. Again, it was fun but it was a bit of evil genius to get us all to pay to be the entertainment. I wonder if the tour group was getting a cut or something for providing us to the festival. Sort of like sacrificial lambs or something. Everyone who participated did get a box of red pepper powder though. Go-chu power!
The next stop was to learn a bit more of the performance art of busking. Some of us got to try out the instruments and we all really enjoyed watching a professional show us how it's done. I took a little video of it and I will make a separate post with it later.

Afterwards we were shuffled off to another location and everyone who didn't get to try the instruments were given a chance. I sucked it big time. I was trying and then a Korean guy pushed me out of the way. Bwhahah! Oh well, I have other talents! This was pretty much the end of our scheduled festival activities and after we took a group photo we had time to browse around the festival.
We ate ice cream, watched some performances, took pictures, bought souvenirs, drank more makkoli, and Matt even tried his hand at a shooting game and won a yo yo! There was a beautiful flower and cactus exhibit too that we meandered through admiring people's hard work (this was a competition too and you could also buy other plants). The festival was really amazing and I am glad I was able to experience it. Who knows, maybe my watermelon face will be in the winning photograph!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Update on a Couple Things

Remember the building that was getting torn down just down the street? Well it's gone and they seem to be building another in its place. I feel really sorry for the people living in the apartment buildings behind it.

Also, we tried the mini oranges and I have to say, I don't recommend them. They are interesting conversation pieces and could be fun if you were creating a miniture world or having a tea party or something. They are more trouble then they are worth. I wasn't sure how to eat them so I tried peeling them and this was difficult and messy. We cut a few in half and as you can see, they are full of seeds!! Which is insane because they are so small and yet they can fit 4 or 5 seeds in each orange. They taste fine but nothing special. If you're wanting to eat an orange, buy a regular orange. I'm not sure what we will do with all of the tiny oranges. I suppose if the ajoshis (old men) are getting too loud at night again we can pelt them with tiny fruits. That'll teach 'em.

Some video we took...

Of the rides at Lotte World. As I've mentioned, we live really close to here and also, I love amusement parks. Most of the time they even let you ride alone here which means I can go on rides without Matt so I am not completely limited. It takes less than 10 minutes by bus to get to Lotte World from my apartment. So... the question is- should I buy an annual pass? It costs 150,000 won (about $150 give or take) and Lotte World is open 365 days a year. A ticket for a single day pay is 35,000 won so basically I would need to go five times to make it worth my money. Some people wake up early to work out but I could wake up early to ride the roller coaster a few times before work. What do you think? Please leave a comment to let me know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bite Sized Oranges!

Look what I picked up on my way home from work! Aren't they adorable? I'm not sure how delicious they will be (or if they will even be worth the effort to peel them) but a big bag was 2,000 won and the fruit vendor threw extra into my bag. I feel like I'm coming down with a cold (you don't even want to know how late I slept in today despite going to sleep at a reasonable time) so I could use some Vitamin C. The second picture I took with my cell phone to give you an idea of how small these oranges actually are. Yum!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Friday is Tie Day!

On Friday we went to Yeouido to look at the cherry blossoms, however they were all gone. So we had a day to ourselves just bumming around Seoul before work. Matt made a couple of purchases and decided on a new tradition. He bought three ties on the street for 10,000 won (about $10) and they are pretty funky. Koreans have the coolest ties. So Matt has declared that Friday is Tie Day and apparently another teacher (Ryan) is going to do it with him. Silly Matty.

A Walk in the Park

Last week the weather was amazing! I hear that you guys are still getting snow out there in Canada. Well we've had to suffer through blue skies, blooming flowers and average temperatures of 26C. It was rough. So rough we decided to take a little walk around the park and lake beside Lotte World.
We had a great time strolling around the trail and looking at all the flowers and trees. We stopped to watch a couple of the rides and saw people feeding pigeons. Then we still had time to go to our favorite Japanese place for a late lunch before I had to go into work.

I got a chance to try out my new shoes (which are fairly comfortable but need some more breaking in...). My poor feet. How I wish I was allowed to wear flip flops at work. Alas.


A little over a week ago we decided to check out Everland since some people from our book club were going and also Dana and Curtis were going to be there. We figured we could enjoy the Flower Festival and check out some rides and bounce between the various people we knew. We only had a vague idea of how to find the bus to take us there and as it turned out, it's near Jamsil station but at an exit and street we hadn't explored before. Finally we managed to make it on the bus but it was jam packed and we had to stand for the entire trip. Boo! To top it off, traffic was really crazy so the bus ride lasted even longer than we thought.
We made it though! And it was a beautiful day! A bit overcast but really warm so it was nice not to have the sun blaring on us (although it made my pictures look a bit washed out).

Holy Dinah was it packed! We quickly ate some sub par amusement park food (and chatted with some giggly middle school students while waiting in line) and met up briefly with Dana, Curtis and a couple of their co-workers. Then we were off to try and find some of our book club people. We got a bit lost so by the time we arrived at the ride that we were planning to go on with them I think they were already somewhere lost in the massive line. We lined up anyway.
And what a line it was. Crazy!!! I don't think I would survive at a place like Disneyland because it's so boring and frustrating waiting in a huge line. And the line was deceiving too since you couldn't see all the segments of it once you got into the building. Bah! We were really bored and took a million pictures of each other. Also a few of the way too cute couple behind us in line. Hehe!

Finally we managed to make it on our first ride of the day, a couple hours after we arrived at Everland. It was fun (I think it was called the Eagle's Nest or something... It was a roller coaster) and we decided to jump in line at the big ships since they had only a 20 minute waiting time as opposed to 90 minutes like most of the other rides. Unfortunately, even though we sat closer to the middle of the ship Matt still ended up feeling a bit queasy afterwards.

Here are a couple of amusing things we saw at Everland. First, look closely at this menu:
You've got your usual beverage choices (at the fast food burger place we ate lunch at) but you can also get canned beer. Nice. You can just wander around anywhere here drinking beer.

Next we stalked this poor girl and finally worked up the nerve to ask to take her picture. She didn't speak any English was extremely puzzled and confused but I think you can see why we wanted her picture. I saw this shirt in the store last year and now we know that people actually bought them.

Lastly, look at the extremely Gothic Gift shop. I'm sure somewhere Marilyn Manson is crying off his eyeliner thinking about how Gothic is perceived in Korea. Hahah. Look at those bad ass teddy bears and hardcore pink presents.

After going on the big ship ride we tried to hook up with some of our friends. This is when a lot of things went not so good. Dana and her friends were waiting in line in the zoo area of the park to go on the safari ride. They said that if we went down there we could jump into line with them and save some time. We'd been carrying around our stuff in a backpack and around this point Matt decided to take his coat out of the bag. Remember this detail for later. So we pushed through the crowd and tried to find the zoo area. Everland is huge and is really hilly so this was so easy task. We wandered through some weird monkey and bird area and then finally found the general vicinity of the ride our friends were standing in line for. However, it was obvious we couldn't just push through and jump line. So that was a total bust.
We then wandered over to check out the line at the new giant wooden roller coaster, the T-Express, and to try and reserve a seat for later (they let you do that on some of the rides here). However the line was the most impressive thing I have ever seen in my entire life. It started so far away and was so winding and crazy that I thought for sure people were lining up for something totally different. The line was so long that they weren't allowing people to reserve seats and on top of that, they weren't even posting how long the wait was to get on the ride! Insanity!

We decided to try and meet up with Mitzi, from our book club since Dana and Curtis were on the safari thing and also because they don't really like rides (motion sickness) and I do. On the way to meeting Mitzi we stopped to watch part of the crazy Flower Parade. This is when I noticed my batteries were low. No problem! I always pack spare ones in my camera case! So I asked Matt to get them out of the backpack for me. The camera case (with my other 2 rechargeable batteries and a blank [thankfully] 2 GB memory card in it) was no where to be found. I was tired, hot, sick of pushing past billions of people and I'd been at Everland for hours and still only managed to get on two measly rides. Now this. It would be an understatement to say I was not a happy camper.

We tried to retrace our steps but this was also difficult because of the crowds and all the alternate ways to get around the park. I am quite positive the case fell out of the bag when Matt got his coat since I had used the case just before that and the backpack hadn't been opened up since then. I felt like going home at this point. Even though there as a slight chance we would find it (Koreans are really honest and on our way we saw numerous lost things set up on fences and garbage cans waiting for their owners to claim them). When Matt asked at the burger place we ate it if anyone returned a camera case they even had one! However, it was a massive case for one of the huge, expensive cameras that people lug around here and not ours. Matt went to the lost and found and left our contact information and I wish this could be one of those happy stories were I got back my stuff but unfortunately we still haven't heard anything and I'm not too optimistic that we ever will.
After pouting and feeling sorry for myself for a good length of time we finally hooked up with Mitzi and a couple of her friends. I really think we should have just found her in the very beginning. Even though we don't know her well, she is just a really lovely, thoughtful and positive person. She'd also been to Everland a number of times (since she works really close by) and therefore was a fantastic guide. As a result we managed to go on many more rides and had a much better time. I'm glad we didn't leave after the camera debacle because this would have been a really sour review of Everland.

We told Mitzi about the ridiculous line for the T-Express and she suggested we try to line up while the final parade was going on since people would be watching that and also a lot of people would be going home (since the sun had just set). Well I am glad we listened to her because the line was a fraction of what it had be and it moved really quickly! I was so excited. She also suggested we sit at the very back of the roller coaster. Wow, I have to say that was the best ride I've ever been on. I'd been on a wooden roller coaster before in Vancouver but this one was amazing! Just before we went down the first drop I literally thought "Oh crap, I have to get off of this ride or I will die". Some may say that's crazy but I thought it was thrilling.

So the day wasn't a complete disaster and I would return to Everland, however maybe on a slightly rainy day or something. The best part is, Mitzi loves going on rides so I think I may have finally found a ride buddy since all of my friends are either wussy or motion sick. Or motion sick wussies. And we didn't have to take the bus back because Mitzi's friend drove us to the subway in her car. Ahssa! Check out our pictures here.