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These are trips I’ve taken while living in Korea.

Travel List Thursday: South Korea

Posted by Heliocentrism on November 3, 2016

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Posted in South Korea | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Job 3: SMOE

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 8, 2015

September 2008 – August 2009

A dancing lesson given during the SMOE orientation

A Government Job

I really enjoyed living in Korea. I wanted to go back there, but I had to find a new company to work for. I did not trust English Channel anymore. I considered myself lucky for getting out when I did and with all the money owed to me.

My brother and me in Mongolia

Mongolia

I was on a long trip and did not have much time to job search until I got stuck in Mongolia. The day my brother, mother, and I were to fly out of Ulanbataar, there was a sand storm. Our flight kept getting delayed.

There was also a problem with my Russian visa. The expiration date for my visa to Russia was soon approaching, and I was still in Mongolia. I took to the internet at a cafe to see what I could do about it. There was nothing to be done.

The problem sorted itself out in the end. But, it gave me time on the internet to do some job hunting. I kept an e-version of all the documents I needed, so when I found a job ad for SMOE, I applied right away. I hoped that I would get the job, but at the time I had other things to worry about.

SMOE, or the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, puts native English speakers in English classes in the public schools in Seoul. SMOE is not a company, but an office in the Korean government.

I felt that working for the government would be better than working for a company. I would not have to worry about not being paid on time or the company going bankrupt. I could just concentrate on doing a good job.

Sight seeing in Finland

Finland

We spent a few days in Russia then moved on to Finland. When we were checking in to our hostel there my mom’s cell phone rang. Since she had an international sim card in her phone, I gave SMOE her phone number to contact me.

I was told that my resume sparked their interest. They asked me a few questions which I seemed to answer to their satisfaction. They said that someone would call me later for an interview. I was to stay near the phone until then.

Train stations: the next best things to airports

France

A few countries after that, we were at a train station in Paris waiting for the Euro-star to London. We had a 30-minute wait ahead of us when a lady from SMOE called. The timing could not have been more perfect.

I ran to a quiet area and the interview started. It felt like a very informal chat. I think the interviewer was just checking to make sure I was not a creep or crazy person. At the end of the phone called, the lady told me that, although she could not tell me officially yet, I pretty much had the job.

I think that getting a job with SMOE back then was easier than it is today. There were several people I met at SMOE that I was surprised could get any job, much less one working with children. One guy missed a whole morning of meetings at orientation because he drank too much the night before and was passed out in a stairwell. For the week of orientation everyone was supposed to abstain from alcohol.

a field trip during SMOE orientation

USA

It took several months for me to get back to Korea. In the United States, it took 2 months for me to get my paperwork done. The Korean government had just changed the laws concerned with foreign workers and even the people at the Korean embassy weren’t too sure what to do.

I had to get 2 types of background checks. I had to visit doctors to get x-rays and blood tests. After which, I had to get an apostille from the Korean consulate in Georgia. I had no idea what an apostille was, and I’m still not completely sure.

One of the many benefits of working for the government is that they paid to fly me to Korea. Both GEOS and English Channel made me pay for my flight then reimbursed the cost after I had worked for 6 months or so. SMOE, and later the JET Programme, paid for my ticket up front.

Of course both SMOE and the JET Programme waited until the day before I flew to email me the ticket. (I had the flight itinerary a few weeks in advance, just not an actual ticket.)

Orientation Lectures

Korea

When I got back to Seoul, I spent my first 3 weeks living with a co-worker. My apartment was not yet ready, so one of the English teachers volunteered to have me stay at her place. I hung out with her and her family. I felt completely welcomed and had a great time.

I taught classes my first week at work. The second week I had orientation. At first I was expecting it to be like the useless meetings GEOS made me go to, but it was much, much better than that.

Late night snacks

First, they sent us off to stay are the Hyundai Learning Center which is a really nice place. It looked pretty new when I was there; new dorm rooms, new gym, new laundromats. The center also had free wi-fi, a gym, and basketball and tennis courts outside, and plenty of congregating areas as well as a convenience store in the basement.

There were only a few rules: 1. Don’t leave the campus and 2. no alcohol. Many people had a problem with the rules. They felt as though they were being treated like babies. But for only one week, for your job? Come on!

Some of the presentations and lectures were boring. If you had ever taught English before there was very little new information here; a good refresher course though. But for me, the orientation was not really about learning a bunch of methods for teaching; I already knew that. It was about meeting new people who would help me survive the year in Korea.

I did take notes when I heard something interesting or new. But, mostly I collected friends. I Facebook friended people I liked, lived near me, or shared several interests with me. There were almost 200 new teachers at the orientation, so there were plenty of people to choose from.

(There were 200 people at my orientation, which was orientation B of the second hiring period of the year. SMOE hired a lot of native English speakers.)

Did I mention that SMOE orientation came with Korean food at every meal?

Many people did not like the food they served at orientation. They were new to the country and were not yet used to Korean food. I liked most of what was served to me about 80% of the time. Other than fish soup and spam, I’ll eat pretty much any type of Korean food.

No body wanted to eat Mr. Spamears.

The night they first served octopus was quite entertaining. Many westerners don’t eat octopus; squid sure, but not octopus. There is just something disturbing about purple meat. It took me a while before I could eat it without having to talk myself into it first.

Spam night was not a big hit either.

Doing my weekly radio show at my high school

I enjoyed working at a high school in Seoul. I felt more immersed in Korean culture since I had more Korean coworkers. I mostly taught kids, but I had 2 classes where I taught the English teachers and 2 were I taught the non-English teachers. I trusted many of my co-workers and went to them when I needed advice or help. And they did the same with me.

My students presenting their skit

I loved teaching these girls. (I taught at an all girl high school.) They were funny, witty, and creative. You know how most high school girls are. There were a couple of bad eggs, but most of them were mostly charming, most of the time.

Making new friends at SMOE Orientation

But I think the biggest difference with working with SMOE over a company, is that SMOE is a lot bigger than any of the companies in Seoul. They hired more foreign teachers than the hagwons. The many people I met at orientation, made a huge difference for me throughout the year.

I thought that I was okay with having just a few friends, namely my 6 or so co-workers and the 3 friends I made at the English Channel training. But I made more friends after one week at SMOE’s orientation then I did during the past year.

Not only that, but I made friends with their friends and their friends’ friends. With SMOE my social net kept getting broader and broader. I had my core close friends, but many other people I would meet up with once in a while.

I like to make my friends hike!

With a bigger net work of both foreign and Korean friends, I was a lot happier and more active than I was my first year in Korea.


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.

Posted in Seoul, South Korea | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Job 2: English Channel

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 1, 2015

April 2007 – April 2008

One of my co-workers at EC and me

Why not Korea?

The next overseas Job I got was at English Channel in South Korea. This is another company that has since gone out of business.

I enjoyed teaching English in Japan and wanted to try it in a new country. After a year in the ESL teaching industry, I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I liked teaching adults. I hated teaching little kids.

There is a huge difference in the behavior of children who have started school and those who have not. School aged kids have a higher maturity level and, since they’ve been to school, they have already learned how to control themselves in a classroom setting.

Some people love teaching babies and toddlers because they are so cute. But, if I have to wear a suit to work, I would prefer not to be thrown up or peed on. Besides, I hate singing and dancing. (I’ll do it if I have to, but I will never like it.)

I really got into hiking my first year in Korea.

So when I found the website for English Channel that said they only teach adults, I knew that I would like working for them. I just made sure that the pay, health insurance, and other benefits of the job met my criteria.

Jobs in Korea have different benefits than jobs in Japan. They both provide you with national health care and basic training. They both find you an apartment. But in Japan, you have to pay the rent. In Korea your boss pays the rent.

In both Japan and Korea you have to pay into the national pension. In Korea you get all of your pension back when you leave the country, if you are from the right country. In Japan, you only get the first 3 year’s work worth of pension that you put in.

Me on some mountain

So after taking a few months off to travel and visit friends and family back home, I emailed English Channel and scheduled an interview over the phone. I asked for the interviewer to call me after 18:00 my time on a Wednesday.

I woke up at 5:00 on a Tuesday when my cell phone rang. It was Mr. Webster at English Channel. I sat up in bed trying to sound awake. He asked if he had called me at the correct time. “No,” I said. Then I pretended that being called at 5 in the morning was no problem. “I was already up… um, organizing stuff.”

He started the interview. He asked questions and I answered them, quite well I must add. I was fast asleep 15 minutes before and sitting in bed in my pajamas, but I was killing this interview. At the end of the phone call I was told that I would be hired.

I just had to do some paperwork, which I did. Then I sent my passport to the Korean consulate in Georgia to get a visa. Within 2 weeks I was in Seoul.

I wore this everyday.

They did training and orientation for 3 days near one of their branches in Gangnam. There were 6 of us and we would all be sent to different schools around Seoul. I kept in regular contact with 3 of them until they left Korea. (I traveled with one of them to Thailand.)

There were many things about English Channel that I loved. The first being the coat. Most people hated wearing the lab coat but I loved it.

English Channel never called itself a school; it was a “language clinic”. It was very gimmicky, but I guess we were supposed to be doctors, nurses, or scientists… I don’t know.

But wearing the coat meant I never had to iron my shirt. Hell, I could wear the same shirt all week and no one would know. In the winter I wore long woolen shirts under my lab coat and in the summer I wore a tank top. That’s right; I wore a spaghetti strap tank top to work on hot days. No one would know; you only saw a small triangle of my shirt anyway.

I just made sure that my pants were ironed or that my skirt was long enough. Then, I wore the same un-ironed shirts every week.

Another mountain

Life was great at English Channel. I liked my co-workers and would hang out or take trips with them often. The managers we had were all at least tolerable; even the one who didn’t seem to like foreigners much. And, the job was easy.

There were no lessons to plan. The books they used came in lesson-form already. There was no paperwork for me to do. I would even get a bonus during the months I taught more than some set amount of classes.

There were also no meetings to attend. The only mandatory gatherings we had were branch sponsored dinners we had to go to every 3 months and the big Christmas company-wide dinner. We had to dress up for the Christmas dinner at a swanky restaurant in a posh hotel and sit through many boring speeches, but then we all got to eat as much free 5 star food we wanted. It was by far, the best free meal I ever had!

The only downside to the job was working on 2 Saturdays a month. But I could live with that.

another random mountain

Things were going so well, I started thinking about signing up for another year at English Channel. I had an around-the-world trip planned, but I was hoping to return to Korea and English Channel when that was done. But, during my last few months we got a new manager. He thought we could make more money by changing a few things.

The company stood out from the rest of the English schools in Korea because it was the only one that offered one-on-one classes. Students could have lessons go as quickly or slowly as they needed. They could also feel safe to make mistakes, because it was just them and the teacher in the class.

The new manager thought, that we could double our profits if we put 2 or 3 students in a class instead of just one. We tried it, and within a month many students left. I could see the results quickly. Chatty students clammed up when they were no longer the only student.

It was a disaster.

Like students leaving English Channel

At the end of April 2008, my contract was up and I left for my trip. Within the first month of leaving English Channel, I was supposed to get my end of the contract bonus. But when I checked my bank account, there was no deposit from English Channel.

I sent an email to the new personnel guy at the head office. I told him that I had yet to receive the year-end bonus. I got an email back from him a few days later where he basically told me that life was tough and that I should not be such a whiner.

I had never really dealt with this new guy before, but I had heard my co-workers complain about what a jerk he was. Rather than get into it with him again, I emailed the personnel guy that Mr. Jerk had replaced. Mr. Webster was the man who interviewed me and he was the guy I turned to.

I sent him a copy of the email Mr. Jerk sent me and asked him what he thought I should do about it. He told me not to worry and that he would take care of it. Within a week I had my money.

Somewhere in Korea

Later I heard from the co-workers I left behind that Mr. Webster got frustrated with the horrible changes the company was making and he quit his job. After that English channel stopped paying its employees on time. Then they stopped paying the Korean staff all together.

One of the native English teachers found out that English Channel stopped paying into the employee’s pensions and health insurance. Everyone I knew at English Channel left. The last I heard they shut down many of their branches. I think there are none left.


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.

Posted in Seoul, South Korea | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Christmas In Seoul

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 29, 2014

December 23, 2012 – January 1, 2013

All Pictures

That suitcase is actually empty and wants to be packed with Korean goodies to take back to Japan.

23rd Sunday: 가자!

Mark and I had an argument around October of 2012. He wanted to go to Seoul to visit his new cousins. I said that it was too expensive.

Mark: How will it be expensive?

Me: Didn’t you say the Beetle is not that cheap around peak seasons? And, it only takes us to Busan. We still have to take a train to Seoul. Then we’ll have to pay for a hotel!

Mark: We don’t have to pay for a hotel. My cousin wants us to stay at her house. And, I found cheap airline tickets on JejuAir that cost less for two round trip tickets than one one-way fare on the Beetle.

Me: Well then, sounds like we’re going to Korea!

So on Sunday, December 23rd we set off to Fukuoka to get our JejuAir flight to Seoul.

When we got to the airport Mark’s cousin and her husband were there waiting for us. The cousin gave us both big hugs. I could tell she was very happy to see us. They stood there asking us questions.

Cousin: Flight good?

Mark: Yes.

Me: Flight good!

Cousin: Good!

The cousin looked at me and asked, “You speak Korean?”

Me: 조금한국어 (a little Korean)

The cousin looked at Mark. “And Mark?”

Mark: 가자! (Let’s go!)

They found this extremely amusing. “가자,” the husband said mockingly while laughing as he led us to their car. During the trip they would continually set the conversation up so that Mark could say, “가자!” They enjoyed hearing Mark “speak Korean”.

“가자 breakfast, 가자”

24th Monday: You’re not going out in that, are you?

We got up early in the morning and watched Sponge Bob Squarepants in Korean with the kids. Mark and I wondered what the plans were for the day. For most of the trip, we didn’t know what the plans were. Mark and I had made a few Facebook events to meet up with some friends of ours from Japan that were also in Korea for Christmas. But, other than that, we had no idea what we would be doing over this trip. This day, we found out as we were putting our shoes on to leave, we were going to the movies.

As we were getting dress, Mark’s cousin took a good look at my coat. Now, I have lived in Seoul for two years. I’ve been through two Seoul winters. But, my last three winters were in Thailand and Kyushu. Kyushu’s winters are quite mild if you stay off the mountains and Thailand… Well, you know. We were dress appropriately for winter in Oita, not Seoul.

“Josie No! Too cold. Sick, you sick. No!” We stood there and Mark’s cousin and her husband put more clothes on us. We got scarves, gloves, hats, sweaters, and more coats. Mark’s cousin pulled up one of my pant legs to reveal a footie sock. “No!” She handed me her cell phone. “Snow storm,” it said.

I looked out the window. It looked fine. There was no snow storm. I told Mark, “I bet it won’t even snow the whole time we’re here.” But we took the clothes. I felt like an abominable snow man with all those layers of fabric. I could hardly bend my arms.

It’s feast night every night!

Before we got to Korea I spoke with Mark’s cousin a lot over Facebook. She asked me what Korean dishes I liked most. I didn’t think much of this. “What food do you like” is a common question one gets asked in Asia. I have never met a Japanese or Korean who didn’t ask me this question during our first conversation. I think this is one of the first English questions everyone learns.

I told her about some dishes that I liked. I mentioned that my very favorite food, not just in the Korean category but food in general, is gamjatang. Had I known she was not asking for the sake of asking, I would have kept this dish off the list. Gamjatang takes all day to prepare. Like how roasted turkey is only made for Thanksgiving, gamjatang isn’t just a Wednesday night meal.

But while we were in Korea, every night was a feast.

I can’t emphasize this enough. We would sit and eat while Mark’s cousin continued to cook. If the plate of fritters became empty it would be replace with another plate of fritters. I had to pay close attention to my rice bowl. Any time it came close to being half empty it would get filled when my back was turned. After eating so much that sitting upright became a chore Mark’s cousin and her husband would ask, “Soup?” Then they would proceed ladling soup into a bowl for me.

One day after 4 hours of non-stop eating Mark and I sat leaning against the wall for support. One of the kids asked the husband a question. He shot right up as if inspired. “Ice Cream!” “Ice cream?” he asked us. “What!? No one told me there might be ice cream later. I would have eaten less to make room,” I said. “No you wouldn’t have,” Mark scoffed, ” You don’t get to choose when you stop eating around here.”

It would have been easier to say no if the food wasn’t so damn delicious.

Snow Storm?

25th Tuesday: Mr. Toilet’s Christmas

On Christmas day the plan was to meet up with friends from Japan and see Mr. Toilet. I’m not sure how I managed to talk everyone into this. Oddly enough, no one seemed the least bit hesitant to spend Christmas day at a place called Mr. Toilet’s house.

Mark, his cousin and I got to the meeting place early. It was around lunch and there were several eateries to choose from. The cousin asked us where we wanted to eat. There was no doubt. We chose Kimbab Chunggook (Kimbab Heaven).

Cheese Ramen

I ordered two of my favorite dishes, cheese ramen and chamchi kimbap. When Mark’s cousin saw my food she giggled. “What’s so funny?” I asked. “You like child food.” Apparently cheese ramen is the Korean equivalent to mac and cheese.

With perfect timing our friends showed up just when we finished eating. We all hopped on a bus and headed off to see Mr. Toilet’s house.

Treats from a snowman

Ensuring that you will never want to eat ice cream again…

Mr. Toilet, Sim, Jae-Duck, was actually born in a toilet. He grew up with the nickname “doggy poop”. But rather than fight this name, he embraced it. He grew up and became the mayor of Suwon, a town that didn’t have the best toilets in Sim’s opinion.

Not satisfied with the sanitary conditions of his city he started the World Toilet Association. He wanted the bathrooms of his city to be a “clean and beautiful resting places imbued with culture”. Later he would knock down his house and rebuild it in the shape of a giant toilet.

Mr. Toilet’s very own toilet

The centerpiece of the house was in fact a really nice bathroom with a cardboard cutout of Mr. Sim. One of the walls is made of glass giving the user a great view of the living room and the neighbors and giving the neighbors and everyone in the house a great view of the user. Of course you can flick a switch and fog the glass, but who wants to do that?

outdoor potties

Outside we walked the grounds looking a potty art and taking photos. There was a section for the history of Korean potties. As we came upon the items in the photo above, Mark’s cousin said, “Mark village.”

Mark – What?

Cousin – Child Mark use.

She stood there nodding her head. “Mark hometown use. Everyone use.” That’s when it hit us. Mark and I knew he was very poor when he lived in Korea, but we were not expecting this. According to the cousin, everyone in the tiny village both she and Mark lived in, used pots like the one in the photo for doing their business. Then someone would come by and empty the pots into barrels and take the contents away.

Mark and his little cousin

When the cousin was in the US, Mark’s family took her to see the sights in Michigan. When Mark and I went to Seoul, she wanted to do the same for us. During dinner on our first night she and her husband told us about the places in Seoul. “Seoul Tower; you know?” one of them would ask. “Yes. I lived near there my first year in Korea.” They kept naming other places, palaces, museums, Lotte World. Then we’d show them pictures of us at those places. We’ve been everywhere in Seoul already.

After Mr. Toilets House the husband had an idea. “We can show them the fort in Suwon.” They would surprise us and not tell us where we were going. We hopped on a bus and the cousin got very excited. “Korean special history place.” As the bus went further into Suwon, Mark and I tried to guess where we were going. “The only thing I can think of in Suwon is the Hwaseong fortress.” The cousin turned around to look at me. “Oh, you know!?”

We got off the bus and walked along the wall. Mark and I contemplated going in anyway. But right then I started to feel cold and tired… and worse. My throat felt scratchy. The cousin was right, I was getting sick.

Seoul subway

26th Wednesday: Sick Day

The next day I woke up feeling a bit feverish. Both the cousin and the husband had to work. We were going to use this day to visit our old hang-outs in Seoul. We even made it all the way to my old neighborhood of Chang-dong.

When I lived in Chang-dong they were building a new mall at Chang-dong station. This mall would have been right next to the apartment building I lived in. During my year in Chang-dong I saw this mall go from the ground and slowly make its way to just  below my 9th floor apartment. I thought they would be done by the time I came back.

We got off at Chang-dong station expecting to see a great mall. But there was nothing. It looked like construction had stopped shortly after I left. I’m not sure what happened.

We walked around Chang-dong. We were going to head to Myeong-dong next, but my temperature was going up. Mark thought it would be best if I got out of the cold and rested. So we went back to the cousin’s home.

I slept the rest of the day. I missed lunch, dinner, and all snacks in between. Every once in a while someone would come into my room and touch my head. Their hands were icy cold.

Mark: “Josie… Josie…”

Me: “What?”

Mark: “My cousin thinks you should go to the hospital. You’re fever is very high.”

I felt my own head. That’s when I notice that I had something stuck to my forehead.

Me: “I barely have a fever.”

Mark: “Your head is very hot. You have a 40 degree fever. I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit but if it gets up to 41 my cousin is going to take you to the hospital whether you like it or not. In fact, she thinks you might have to stay in the hospital overnight and you will have to stay home tomorrow.”

Me: “But, tomorrow is jjimdak day!”

…must, look, not, sick

I was not about to not go out the next day for jim dak. I had to seem to be better. So, I got up and walked around a bit. I even ate some type of porridge. I drank tea and juice and a packet of drugs the cousin gave me. (It’s okay; she’s a nurse.) I smiled my best I’m-feeling-so-much-better smile. I even began to actually feel better. Then I went back to bed as everyone else began dinner #3.

Jjimdak for all!!

27th Thursday – Jjimdak Day

It’s hard to spend about a week in Korea without giving a good try at gaining 10 pounds. The food is just so good and many of the restaurants are quite affordable. On Thursday I felt well enough to go out, so Mark and I took his cousin and our friends to my favorite jjimdak restaurant in Seoul.

I warned my friends ahead of time. This restaurant specialises in jjimdak; all they sell is jjimdak. There are a few different flavors of jjimdak, but I like the traditional jjimdak best. I take mine with a medium level of hotness. Mark likes to challenge the cook to make it as hot as she can.

There was so many of us that we kind of took over the restaurant. I think we ordered every kind of jjimdak they had in both spicy and mild. Spicy wasn’t too bad if you stayed clear of the red peppers.

This is a very popular restaurant and in the past there were many times when I went there for lunch or dinner only to be turned away because the restaurant was full and people were waiting to get in. So I set our arrival this day for 3:00pm to avoid any chance of it being overcrowded.

Lookin’ Sooooo Gooood!

Jjimdak is a dish that is both delicious and hard to eat. It has a wonderfully spicy sauce with glass noodles and, this being Korea, is eaten with metal chopsticks. The sauce-glass noodle-metal chopsticks combination makes it very hard to get the food into your mouth. Then the sauce and glass noodles become a choking hazard because the stuff tries to slide down your throat before you can chew it. But, it’s totally worth it once you get the hang of it!

“Eye of the Tiger”

Of course you cannot have dinner with this many friends without heading to noribang (karaoke) afterwards. Korean noribang, where you pay per hour, is so much cheaper than Japanese karaoke, where you pay per person per hour. Plus, if you go to a posh noribang in Korea, it comes with a free drink or ice cream and costumes and/or toys. (Some come with noribang “helpers” but I’m not going to explain that. Let’s keep things PG.)

This is the closest thing to being in North Korea that Mark will agree to.

28th Friday – At the Movies…tudio

I am going to North Korea. Well I have already been there, but at the time of this trip I was going to North Korea. I tried to talk Mark into coming with me, but he adamantly refused. He did however, agree to go with me to a movie set of a film of the DMZ. We all have to compromise once we are married, I guess.

Mark and his cousins

Korea loves to make historical dramas. Many of them are filmed on this lot. Walking around the KOFIC Namyangju Studios is like walking back in time (minus the electrical outlets everywhere). We had fun posing in buildings and with props.

We came upon a house with thatched roof; the one in the photo above. It looked like a shabby house from a few centuries ago. The cousin looked at it and said, “Mark house. Child Mark house.” Then she pointed to a house a few houses down and said, “my house. Child my house.”

At first we thought she was showing us how close her house was to Mark’s house when they were little kids. But she kept pointing to things on the house like the door and the thatched roof and saying, “Mark house”. This is what Mark’s and her childhood houses looked like.

Remembering Shin Sang-Ok

Shin Sang-Ok was a South Korean film director that was kidnapped and brought to North Korea on orders of Kim Jong-il. After spending a few years in a gulag, he was ordered to make movies for the DPRK. He was eventually able to escape while at a film festival in Vienna. After a few years spent making movies and living in the US he moved back to Korea. There he continued making films and wrote a book called The Kingdom of Kim. I have been dying to read this book, but as of now there is no English translation of it.

Ice Slide

29th Saturday: Water and Ice

We got up very early and set out by car to the other side of Korea. We went to Sokcho, an area that is known for its mountain Seoraksan, its beach, Sokcho Beach, for being super cold in winter, and for being close to the DMZ. In fact it used belong to North Korea but it was given to South Korea after the Korean war.

The cousin told us that we would go to Waterpia, but I never understood what she said until we were actually there I and saw the name written. She said it was an outdoor waterpark. I thought that this was not such a good idea. I had just gotten over the fever I had and was just starting to feel normal. An outdoor waterpark in the middle of winter did not sound like fun. (Look at the photo above. Does that inspire you to go swimming?)

When we checked into our pension I looked out the window and all I saw was snow and ice. I also saw the outdoor pool and it was practically frozen.  “This is crazy! I’m not swimming in this.” The cousin laughed at me. “No. Waterpia. No.” She waved her hand at the frozen pool when she said no.

Frozen Fun

Then I saw the indoor portion of the pension’s water area. It looked steamy but small. It looked more like something I could deal with so I headed towards it. “No,” the cousin said again, “Waterpia.” We got back into the car and drove a few miles down the road.

When we got there I read the sign. WATERPIA. Oh, that’s what she was saying. This place was huge! I put on my swimsuit and swim cap (Everyone must wear a swim cap.) and got ready for some fun.

Purple Water

This place was amazing. The water was heated in both the indoor and outdoor pools and rides. There were pools, slides, hot tubs for many, hot tubs for two, hot tubs filled with green tea, hot tubs filled with what looked like purple Kool-aide, green Kool-aide, and pink Kool-aide, cool hot tubs, almost boiling hot tubs, and hot water stations to warm up in while you move from hot tub to hot tub outdoors.

There was also a food court and a hot dog stand. (The hot dogs where no good unless you like your hot dog with sweet sauce on it.)

There was one ride with a long line. We didn’t know what it was for but if the line was long it had to be good. (The starting photo for the video shows a version of the ride with no cover. In the winter a cover is put on to keep the warmth in. This makes the ride dark and creepy.

I didn’t like it. It was nice enough to try once, but not a second time. The older I get the less I like thrill rides. But Mark and the kids loved it. Around closing time when there was no line they rode it again and again and again.

I prefered relaxing in the various hot tubs. My favorite was the 40 degree hot tub. Mark pointed out that 40 degrees was the temperature of my fever a few nights back. Now I could see what the fuss was about. I could not stay in that hot tub for too long; it was too hot.

losing at Uno

The following day, Sunday the 30th we spent driving back to Seoul, watching cartoons in Korean and playing card games. Mark could not be beaten. This cause the men to start drinking which did not improve their chances of winning.

Underground Coffee

31st Monday: Free day in Seoul

I’ve lived in Korea for 2 years and one thing I’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to doing it, is have lunch or coffee in one of those lovely shops in the subway. I don’t mean a place near the subway or just outside the turnstiles, but in the station underground. When I lived in Korea and I used the subway I was always on my way to go somewhere. The most I ever had time for was a vending machine coffee or a newsstand kimbab. This day we stopped at a station, found a nice coffee shop with tables and chairs (two of the first and four of the latter), and we ordered some coffee and dessert.

Wouldn’t you rather eat some nice stew?

Before we got to the subway station with the coffee and waffles, we walked over Mapo Bridge. This bridge is one of the most popular bridge for depressed people to jump off from. It has become such a problem that it was renamed Life Bridge. There are many posters and signs along the bridge showing you other things you can do that would be better than jumping, like eating great food or playing with your kids. There are statues that encourage giving life one more try and a suicide hotline you can call along with a free public phone for the hotline.

Gamjatang

Of course we had to stop by Seoul Station to visit our favorite gamjatang place. This place offers other stews, but why bother?

When I worked at a public school in Seoul I would always have to make sure to get to the cafeteria early on gamjatang day. Normally the teachers do not go back for seconds and thirds, but everyone does on gamjatang day. (Teachers and students ate different meals in different cafeterias. They gave the kids pizzas and burgers while giving teachers Korean food.)

Once I made the mistake of catching a student writing on the desk and had to stay after class to watch her (It was an all girls’ school.) wash every desk in the class. By the time I got to the cafeteria it was 45 minutes into lunch and all that was left was rice and gamjatang sauce. All the meat and potatoes were gone. After that I never punished anyone on gamjatang day!

Yum

We left Korea the next day. Our suitcase was filled treats from Korea like hazelnut coffee, electronics, and Twix. The prices of everything in Korea is so much lower than in Japan! We bought so much stuff I was worried our suitcase would be overweight. It was, but since we were together and our other bag was so underweight, they didn’t bother us about it.

Goodbye South Korea! See you next time.

All Pictures


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


Kimbab Chungook
(Kimbab Heaven)
(김밥천국)

How to get there:

Just walk around. There are thousands of them in Seoul and throughout Korea.

Website:

Cost:

The cheapest thing on the menu would be a plain kimbab for about 1,000KRW.  The plain kimbab (김밥) is a kimbab rice roll with egg, ham, carrot, spinach, pickled radish and burdock. (I’m not sure what burdock is, but if it’s part of a kimbab it must be delicious.)

The most expensive would be some sort of stew or double donkas for about 8,000KRW.

Hours:

I’ve never seen one closed.

Video:

Notes:

  • The food is good, hot, and inexpensive and you get served quickly even in rush hour.
  • My favorite kimbab is the chamchi (tuna) kimbab.

 


Suwon
(수원)

How to get there:

  • 37°15’56.7″N 127°00’00.8″E

From Seoul:

There are many ways to get to Suwon.

  • Bus: The easiest way would be to find a red bus that stops in your neighborhood that goes to Suwon.
  • Subway: Go to Suwon Station on line 1. Make sure to get on a train heading in Suwon’s Direction or you’ll end up in Incheon when line 1 splits. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Suwon from Seoul Station.
  • KTX: You can also take the KTX to Suwon from Seoul Railway Station. It costs 8,100KRW, but there are slower, cheaper long distances train that are around 2,500KRW.

Websites:


Mr. Toilet’s House

How to get there:

From Seoul Station

Address:

9 Jangan-ro 458beon-gil (186-3 Imok-dong)
Jangan-gu, Suwon, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea

Coordinates: +37° 19′ 9.40″, +126° 58′ 40.92″

Phone: +82-31-271-9777

Website

e-mail: mrtoilet@haewoojae.com

Cost: Free!

Hours:

  • Mar – Oct:   10:00-18:00
  • Nov – Feb:   10:00-17:00

Notes:

Be sure to walk the grounds behind the house.


Bongchu JimDak in Jungro
(봉추찜닭 종로점)

How to get there:

From Seoul Station

Address:

260 Gwancheol-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea

Coordinates: +37° 34′ 10.23″, +126° 59′ 0.55″

Phone:

  • +82 2-723-9381 (Jungro)

Website

Hours: 11:00 – 23:00 Everyday

Notes:

  • There are two Bongchu Jjimdaks. One in Jungro and another in Daehakro.
  • Thisisajjimdakk restaurant.Theyonlyservejjimdak.
    • They have a few flavors of jjimdak, like curry jjimdak to choose from and you can choose the level of hotness.

KOFIC Namyangju Studios

How to get there:

From Seoul Station

Address:

Gyeonggi-do Namnyangju-si Joan-myeon Sambong-ri San100
경기도 남양주시 조안면 북한강로855번길 138

Coordinates: 

+37° 36′ 18.13″, +127° 19′ 2.32″

Phone: 

  • 031-579-0600
  • +82-31-579-0605
  • +82-31-579-0700

Website

Cost:

  • 19 yrs. and over, 3,000 won
  • 13-18 years old, 2,500 won
  • 4-12, age 65 and over, 2,000 won
  • (Groups of more than 30 people may receive a 500 won discount each)

Hours:

  • Closed every Monday, Seollal, and Chuseok
  • Open
    • March-October: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
    • November-February: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Notes:

  • Parking here is free.

Waterpia

How to get there:

From Seoul Station

Address:

24-1, Jangsa-dong, Sokcho-si, Gangwon-do
강원 속초시 장사동 24-1

Coordinates: +38° 12′ 28.95″, +128° 31′ 38.47″

Phone:

  • Korea Travel Phone +82-33-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese)
  • Waterpia 033-635-7700

Website:

Cost:

Look at this complicated grid!

Hours:

  • Early morning – 06:00∼10:00
  • 1 Day – 10:00∼20:30
  • Afternoon – 17:00∼20:30
  • Night time – 19:00∼20:30

Notes:

When you enter the spa you get a plastic bracelet. You don’t use money while in the spa. You just charge things with the bracelet.


Bridge of Life
(Mapo Bridge)
(마포대교)

How to get there:

From Seoul Station

Coordinates: +37° 32′ 2.13″, +126° 56′ 14.04″

Website:

Cost: free

Hours: always available 


HanYangShikDong
(한양식당)

How to get there:

From Seoul Station

Coordinates: +37° 33′ 15.37″, +126° 58′ 20.39″

Cost: 

This is not an expensive restaurant. But, gamjatang is one of the most expensive dishes in the menu. It costs about 20,000KRW for a 2-person pot of stew. This will actually be too much food for 2 people but good for 3.

Most of the stews here costs about 5-7,000KRW.

Hours:

I’m not sure that the restaurant has set hours. It opens when it opens. It will be closed in the morning and open by lunch. It will be closed again late at night when there are no more customers.

Notes:

  • This restaurant specialises in stews and soup.
  • This is a great place to try hangover soup.

 

Incheon International Airport
(인천국제공항)

How to get there:

There are 3 main ways of leaving or getting to the airport.

1. The Metro

  • It’s pretty easy and not expensive.
  • ₩10,000/ 10USD is more than enough to get to or from anywhere.
  • The subway even goes past Uijeonbu.

2. A red bus

  • If there is one near where you live, great!

3. An Airport Limousine (which is actually a bus)

  • This is also pretty easy.
  • It will cost about ₩8,500 for most trips or less if you have a T-money card.

4. A Taxi

  • It doesn’t matter what those taxi drivers say. This is the most expensive option.
  • You will most likely get stuck in traffic.

Phone

Websites:

Downloads:

Notes:

This is the best airport in the whole wide world!

  • Free wi-fi
  • After security check:
    • There are free showers. (Open7am-9pm)
      • You can rent a towel, buy some shampoo and soap.
      • Or you can bring your own.
    • There is a theater
    • You can learn about Korea.
    • There is a Family Mart convenience store.
  • Before security check:
    • There are lockers for your luggage.
    • There is a post office.
    • You can rent a phone.
    • There is a Family Mart convenience store.
    • There is a GS25 convenience store right before you leave the subway and enter the airport. You can get any extra money on your T-money refunded there so you can leave Korea with a zero balance on your card.

Maps:

Posted in Seoul, South Korea, Suwon | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mark

Posted by Heliocentrism on February 1, 2014

Before December 23, 2012 

The kids meet their new mother and grandfather

Mark

We spent Christmas of 2012 in South Korea. We were visiting Mark’s cousins who, just a few years before, he didn’t know he had. He met them, along with his biological father, at a reunion in the states earlier in the year. But, let’s start at the beginning of Mark’s childhood. I will try to tell his story. What I know I’ve pieced together from what the Korean government has told Mark and things his new cousins have said.

little Mark

Mark was born on a southern island in Korea. He was given the name Choi, JaeMin. He, his sister and brother lived with their parents in a poor village. Also living in this village was Mark’s uncle on his father’s side and the uncle’s family. The uncle had two daughters who were quite fond of Mark and his siblings.

Mark’s father earned money collecting sea weed, but his income was small. The father also had a tendency to get drunk. This made Mark’s mother very unhappy. One day the mother could not take it anymore. She left without any word of where she was going.

Without a mother to look after them, Mark and his siblings were often left unattended. Mark’s Uncle also didn’t have much money.  There was a time when Mark, his siblings, and cousins were taken to church to be fed and get clothes even though they were not Christians.

The family eventually moved to Korea’s second largest city, Busan, in an attempt to improve their standard of living.  However, the move did not help.  Finding work and making enough to take care of three small children prove to be very difficult for Mark’s father.  The excessive drinking continued. How greatly this effected his children’s welfare is uncertain. What we do know, is that he was neglecting them. Someone reported small naked and dirty children running around unattended and the government stepped in.

Mark and his siblings were taken to several different orphanages.  According to his cousins, one day their father took them to Mark’s father’s house. They asked him where his kids were. He just said, “They’re gone.” It took years before the cousins found out that the kids were put up for adoption and living in America somewhere.

The kids were put in a Korean orphanage. Mark remembers nothing of this. His earliest memory is of being in a house with pet rabbits in Tennessee. He and his siblings ended up in the US foster care system. A couple had adopted them from Korea, brought them to the states, then got a divorce putting the kids back up for adoption. They would be placed with one more family before finding their final home.

Michelle and a friend waiting for the kids

Michelle

Michelle is a woman with a big heart. She had opened her home to help some Vietnamese teenagers in the past, but by 1988 they were all grown up. She thought about adopting some kids of her own. There was an adoption agency helping her to bring over a pair of sisters from Korea.

However, this adoption fell through.  It turned out that the mother who put her kids into the orphanage was visiting them every weekend.  The man she married didn’t want the children from her previous marriage around.  Unsure if the kids were truly being given up, the agency decided that they couldn’t proceed with the adoption.

Then one day the agency called Michelle to tell her about some kids that were already in the states. They needed a home right away. The agency wanted to know if she would be willing to take them. She wanted two girls, but would she take two boys and a girl instead?

On April 12, 1988 Michelle and her family went to the airport to pick the kids up. Mark says he didn’t really understand what was happening that day. He thought they were just going to another home to live for a short time. Michelle said that the kids kept asking questions like, “How long will we stay?” And, when they did something bad, they thought they would be sent away.

Mark’s sister, was upset when they were officially adopted. She thought that if her name changed her father would never find them. She thought her dad was still looking for them, but her memories of her father and Korea were fading. Eventually, she would hardly remember anything about Korea.

the kids

Korea

After college Mark decided to spend some time traveling before entering the work force. Since he was born in Korea, the easiest country for him to get a visa for was Korea. So that’s where he went. He found a nice school to work for and signed a one year contract.

Once in Korea he started the process to get an Alien Registration Card with his F4 visa. This is a type of visa given only to foreign nationals who were born in Korea or children of Korean parents. During this process Mark was asked if he wanted help with finding his birth parents.

Although he set out to live in the country of his birth, it never occurred to him to look for his biological parents. He turned down this offer of help. He spent two years living in Korea and never gave another thought to finding his Korean family.

Mark sightseeing in Japan

Japan

Mark eventually moved to Japan. He entered Japan on a tourist visa and then found a job there. To change from a tourist visa to a work visa he had to leave the country. Since it was just a boat ride away, Mark headed for Korea.

Mark was not sure how long he would live in Japan. Since he was in Korea anyway he decided to renew his F4 visa. As with most things, it’s easier to renew a valid visa than to apply for a new one. If for any reason he decided to go back to Korea, having an F4 visa already would make it easier for Mark to find a job. He went down to the government office to renew his visa and get a new Alien Registration Card.

This time he did ask for help finding his parents. He wasn’t sure they could be found. He was always told that someone had dropped him and his siblings off at an orphanage.  The three of them had pieces of paper with their names and birthdays pinned to their shirts. He was told that no one knew where they came from. Mark didn’t even know what town in Korea he was from. He had always guessed Busan, but he didn’t know for sure.

They gave him the name and address of his last orphanage. It was in Seoul. The next day he went there and walked up to the front desk. The clerk told him that he would only be given his biological parents’ information if the parents were also looking for him.

Mark thought that he had found a dead-end. Obviously, no one would be looking for him because as far as Mark knew he and his siblings were abandoned. The clerk looked through some files. He was just about to send Mark away when something caught the clerk’s eye.

People were looking for him. “Who?” Mark thought. A few years ago a cousin came to the orphanage. She had been looking for the kids for years. She traced them from the orphanage in Busan to other orphanages throughout the country and then to the one in Seoul. But, there wasn’t much she could do other than put in a request to find the kids and hope that one day they would look for her too.

But there was more… The father had also been looking for the kids. He too had put in a request. He went to Seoul years after his kids had left Korea. He was told that they were living in America. The kids were about 8 to 12-years-old and he was not allowed to contact them. He would have to wait until they started to look for him.

In December 2010 Mark started to look for his Korean family before going back to Japan. Things started rolling. The cousins were contacted and given the phone number to Mark’s sister in the states. The two Korean sisters talked to one of their long-lost cousins for the first time in years. Neither spoke the other’s language and relied on translators.

in high school

America

A reunion was planned for the following year. It would take place in July 2012 in the states at Michelle’s home in Michigan. The cousins, their kids, and Mark’s dad would all go to America to see the adopted kids. They would meet Michelle, Mark, Mark’s brother and sister, and Mark’s sister’s kids. They would also meet Michelle’s brothers and their families.

Still, none of the Koreans spoke English and none of the Americans spoke Korean. A friend from Michelle’s church helped with the translating some of the time. They had to use Google.Translate the rest of the time.

They stayed up late almost every night trying to make up for all the time apart. The cousins tried to tell the kids what they could remember of their pasts. They even brought photos of the time when everyone lived on the island, but nothing looked familiar to the adopted kids. They were all so young back then.

 

Posted in South Korea | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Some Unknown Korean Holiday

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 21, 2010

theirOctober 3-5, 2008

All Pictures

Happy to be in Busan

Not unlike Seoul

The first thing we noticed about Busan was how much it looked like Seoul. When we left Busan Station, we felt a little comforted by the familiar “Lotte Mart” sign across the road.

We saw the crowd lining up to buy subway tickets. We hoped that our T-money cards from Seoul would work in Busan, but they didn’t. They are supposed to work in Busam, but somehow we couldn’t get them too.

Ready for some fun in a new city

We got in the line and got our tickets and entered the new subway system. It was like being in a parallel universe. It looked a lot like Seoul’s subway, but not quite. There weren’t enough subway lines. And the ajimas were… nice.

At one point during the trip, we were standing in front of a ticket machine trying to figure out how to get to the beach. An old lady came by and she was pointing to the map on the machine. Being a Seoulite, I assumed that she wanted to cut in line or rob us and leave us for dead. But in Busan, the city of smiles, she was just trying to show us the best way to get to the best beach.

I’m just kidding. An ajima, an married lady, from Seoul would never rob anyone. They just like elbowing, shoving, pushing, and stealing seats on the subway. But they would totally leave you for dead if they had the opportunity and enjoy every minute of it!

“Come on in. The water is fine!”

But I came here to swim…

Friday was an usually warm day, so our hopes were high for a day at the beach on Saturday. We had stayed out late on Friday night and our plan was to just lie around and swim a bit.

I love to swim, especially at the beach. So when I got to Heaundae beach it seemed like a sin to have traveled all the way to Busan and not even try out the water. I went in first. Vicky followed.

Vicky and I were the only 2 people in the water. It was cold, but I managed to stay in for a good 20 minutes before turning blue. Vicky and I teased and taunted Taryn to come in and join us. We lied to her and told her that it was only slightly chilly. She fell for it.

Titus claimed that he didn’t have anything to swim in. So, he guarded the purses… a man’s job.

beach frisbee

We got out of the water and Titus, Vicky and I played frisbee on land for about an hour. That’s when I first saw him… The Thong Man of Busan. At first I thought he was naked.

He had really dark skin and he was wearing a teeny tiny red thong. He was playing frisbee with his friends too. He loved the attention, but not enough people were enjoying his thong. He had to do something… take his thong on the road so to speak.

He rented a jet ski. Now, he could move faster along the beach. But how are the people going to really see him?

He thinks about this…

Taryn caught this perfect moment on camera.

Aha! He stands up proudly on his jet ski. Now his buttocks are in full view of everyone. The people are pleased. It’s all about the people you know.

When I saw “Thong Man” doing his thing on his jet ski, I had only one thought. “I need to get my photo taken with THAT man!” But how? My goal seemed too high.

“You wanna know who I would rather have a photo with?”

I turned to the girls a little embarrassed to tell them, but I did anyway. Their reaction… “ME TOO!”

All three of us practically ran over to him. We had no idea how we were going to ask him to pose with us. What if he said, “No”? Should we snap a picture and just run away?

As we got closer to him we saw a group of Korean girls approaching. “Damn it,” I thought, “They have the same idea!” But no, they were coming towards us.

“No, no, no, go away. We’re here on a mission! This is not the time to practice your English.”

They wanted us to say something in their camera. I don’t remember what it was now. Their pronunciation was really bad and we had no idea what they were saying. Luckily, Thong Man stepped in to save the day.

“They want you to say…” he said with thongish authority.

Then, he put his arm around me and looked into the camera. All four of us said the stupid thing the girls told us to say.

“We want another picture!” we said and we handed the silly girls all our cameras. Thong man moved between Taryn and me for a better picture position. Snap, Snap, Snap.

That’s me and my friends with the famous Thong man of Busan!!

We walked back to our towels with smiles.

I love Busan!

All Pictures


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


Busan
(부산)

How to get there:

  • 35°10’51.6″N 129°04’38.2″E

From Seoul

  1. Go to Seoul Station (the subway station) on lines 1 and 4.
  2. Go to the long distance station which is above the metro station. It is also called Seoul Station. (Don’t mistake it for the Old Seoul Station which is now a museum.)
  3. You can buy tickets for a train heading to Busan. Prices and times vary.

Websites:

Cost:

  • Train tickets will cost 20,00080,000KRW depending on the type of train you ride and what class ticket you get.
  • Busan itself is not an expensive city. The prices for things are the same as in Seoul.

Notes:

  • The beaches in Busan are crowded in the summer, but no one swims in other seasons. It’s not illegal to do so. I have done it. But, people think it’s strange to swim on a non-summer day no matter how warm it might be.
  • T-money cards work in Busan, but you need to go to special shops to add money to your card, so top it up before you leave Seoul.

Haeundae Beach 
(해운대해수욕장)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 35°09’30.7″N 129°09’37.6″E
  • Go to Haeundae Station #203 (해운대역) on line 2.

Website:

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • They cannot close a beach.

Notes:

  • Bring your own towel. You could buy one near the beach, but they’re pretty crappy. You’re better off buying a T-shirt to dry off with.
  • The beaches in Busan are crowded in the summer, but no one swims in other seasons. It’s not illegal to do so. I have done it.

Map: 

Posted in Busan, Haeundae, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wow, You Have 5 Friends!?

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 21, 2010

September 14, 2008

All Pictures

Happy to be back in Korea

Back Again

This was my first trip in Korea since my return. I had a new job and lots of new friends to go hiking with. I started work back on August 25 and this, when Korea celebrated Chusok, was our first long weekend. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving back in North America. Most importantly it is time away from work.

picking a trail to hike

Have you notice that I don’t go hiking with the same people twice? I can only talk them into once.

My friends and I all worked in different schools around Seoul and therefore live in different districts. I met some of my friends at the station nearest to were I live, Chang-dong, and others at Dobong Staion.

On our hike up the mountian we passed one of Sarah’s new co-workers. They talked for a little while before Sarah introduced her to us. The lady looked amazed. “Sarah, you have 5 friends! How?”

We teased Sarah for the rest of the hike.

“Man Sarah, your co-worker was really shocked that you have 5 whole friends”

“One or two, maybe. But 5? How?”

I think I’ve explained before how Koreans like to ask foreigners, “How many friends do you have?” I still don’t understand it…

David: Lord of the Hike

Do you need help?

We may have looked a bit lost and disorganized, but so what. Getting to the top is only part of what hiking is all about. I think just the fact that I woke up early in the morning and left my apartment is a big accomplishment.

But that didn’t sit well with on-looker “David”. He thought we needed a bit of guidance and motivation and he was just the man for the job.

“David is giving us dirty looks again; we better get back to the trail.”

Lord of the Hike

I’m out of shape, so I like to take breaks. Plus I really like being on mountains. The more breaks I take, the more time I can spend on the mountain. But “David” didn’t like that. He was always trying to get us going. He wouldn’t even sit down when we were sitting. He was really pushy for a guy we had just met only 30 minutes ago.

We only took this photo so we could sit without David yelling at us.

I think that eventually he just got fed up with us. Somewhere around the peak he disappeared. We just weren’t the type of lazy bums he wanted to practice his English with.

All that hiking made me hungry.

And for the record, I hiked up Dobongsan twice!

Here’s another great shot of us sitting.

All Pictures


 

South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


Dobongsan
(도봉산)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 37°42’01.3″N 127°00’56.5″E
  • Take subway line 1 to Dobong Station.
  • Then follow the herd of people in hiking gear.

Website:

Cost:

  • Free

Notes:

  • If you need any type of hiking equipment you can buy it along the walk to the base of this mountain.
  • Dobongsan is a mountain in Bukhansan National Park (북한산국립공원).

Map:

Posted in Dobong, Seoul, South Korea, Uijeongbu | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Happiness is on a Mountain

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 21, 2010

April 26 – 27, 2008

All Pictures

Again, happy before a hike.

One Last Hike Before I Go

This was to be the last trip I took in Korea. Well, that’s what I thought. The plan was to leave the following week on a boat to China, travel around Asia and Europe for a bit, then get a real job back in the states.

What actually ended up happening was that I missed the boat to China and stayed in Korea for an extra 4 days. Then, while on the boat I began to miss Korea so badly that I almost cried. Then while stuck in Mongolia because my flight was delayed for 2 days I started to look for a job in Korea.

Within 5 months I would be back in Korea and loving it. But at the time of this trip, I was saying my farewells and getting all nostalgic.

Made it to one waterfall

How many restaurants?

I like hiking in Korea even though I’m not that into showing off my being out of shape. The mountains are where all the happy Koreans go. The people you find there are mostly retired and love to socialize, especially when you go on a weekday.

This was another trip where I talked yet another co-worker into hiking with me. On the first day my friend and I wanted to see a waterfall or two. We left our backpacks at the left luggage by the information center. It would have been cheaper and easier to leave them in the building with the cable car, but we didn’t know that then.

I have come to realize that in Korea the difficulty of a hike is directly related to the amount of restaurants you pass on your climb up. Bukhansan had a lot of restaurants, maybe 50 or 60 total, all in little clusters along the mountain. The hike to the waterfall here is only a 2 restaurant hike.

river of rocks

Back for more!?

The next day we went back to the park early in the morning. We ate breakfast in the park. Lucky for us, they had one picture menu with some basic English. I had lived in Seoul for almost a year and I could read Hangeul, but I still couldn’t recognize most dishes by just their names.

We took the cable car to the top of Gwon-Geunseong. There was a plethora of perms and visors as the ajimmas pushed and shoved their way on and off the cable car. They giggled and gasped as the car swayed back and forth a bit before coming to a stop.

It’s pretty far up!

After we rested for a few minutes we hiked up to Ulsanbawi (울산바위). I think it took us about 4 hours to get up and back down. We passed about 4 or 5 restaurants on the way up to the top. Once at the top there was a guy selling photos, key chains, and snacks. Think of the commute that poor guy has every day!

at the top

All Pictures


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


Sokcho
(속초)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 38°12’25.1″N 128°35’31.7″E
  • Express Bus Terminal has buses that go to Sokcho.
  • Most cities in South Korea has a bus station called “Express Bus Terminal” that have buses to Sokcho.
  • From Seoul it is a 4 hours bus ride.
  • There are no trains to Sokcho.

Website:

Notes:

The DMZ is an hour bus ride from this town.


Seoraksan
(설악산)

in the

Taebaek mountain range
(태백산맥)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 38°06’40.8″N 128°25’51.2″E

From the bus terminal at Sokcho

  • Cross the street
  • Take the number 7 or 7-1.
  • The national park is the last stop for both buses.

Phone:

  • +82-033-636-8355
  • Korean Tourist Information +82-33-1330

Website:

e-mail: sorak@knps.or.kr

Notes:

  • There are camping facilities here.
  • The building with the cable car has the better and cheaper lockers for your stuff.

Map:

Posted in Sokcho, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Cable Car Doesn’t Go Far

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 21, 2010

March 01, 2008

All Pictures

I always look so happy before I go hiking…

It’ll be easy; there’s a cable car.

This one was my idea. I saw a picture of a suspension bridge on a mountain in Korea and it motivated me to see it for myself. I found that there were two such mountain bridges. One was on Wolchansan the other on Daedunsan.

I opted to hike up Daedunsan because it has a cable car that takes you part way up the mountain. That way I wouldn’t have to do so much hiking, right?  Well it helped me to convince a co-worker and his girlfriend into joining me.

Well, the cable car only takes you so far up. You still have to hike up half the mountain and the peak. But the cable car does give you a magnificent view if you’re brave enough to look.

You can’t see the fear in my eyes from this distance.

The suspension bridge is not very scary. The cable car was more frightening. The bridge doesn’t even shake when people walk across it. People would have to stomp their way along the bridge for it to move just a bit. I was able to look down at the heads of the people who didn’t take the cable car. That gave me a little satisfaction.

This is where it got real.

What was scary was the climb up the stair case to the peak. It was a fantastic view when I turned around, but then I wanted to throw up. The stairs are very high up and it made me feel exposed when I was on it, like I could easily fall off the mountain if I tripped or if the wind blew hard enough. I held on tightly to the railing and stepped very carefully.

There’s no turning back.

It was very icy on the peak. Sometimes ice forms at the top of mountains on windy days. There was a stone path and a rope to hold onto. I was quite entertained watching hikers try to get up the peak. I counted 7 falls by 5 different people.

I just want to be alone for my mountain top photo!

There were some hikers wearing crampons, but I didn’t think that was needed. There was some ice at the top, but it didn’t justify lugging crampons up the entire mountain. They would only be needed for the last 30 meters.

I’ll just push these guys off the mountain.

I made it up to the top without falling, though I came close a couple times. I was quite proud of myself and looked down on the people who fell. Then, on my way down from the peak, the mountain must have moved and smacked me on my back side. I jump up before anyone saw, but had trouble staying up. I slid again this time right into a patch of mud. I descended Deadunsan with a muddy butt.

That’s better

No, there are no pictures of that!

All Pictures


 

South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


Daedunsan
(대둔산)

How to get there:

  • Coordinates 36°07’12.5″N 127°19’24.5″E
  • At the time I went, first we had to get to either Daejeon or Jeonju.
  • From there we had to go to Seobu Terminal in Daejeon or Jeonju Intercity Bus Terminal to get to the mountain.
  • I think both bus rides are about 1 hour.

Website:

Cost:

  • There is no entry fee
  • The cable car is 3,500KRW

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 18:00
  • Times change dues to seasons and weather

Notes:

If you hike in the winter, you might want to bring crampons and a change of clothes. Okay, maybe crampons are a bit extreme… But watch your step.

Map:

Posted in Daejeon, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

I Like When People Back Home Visit

Posted by Heliocentrism on August 21, 2010

December 22 – 23, 2010

All Pictures

My mom at a subway station

My Mom in South Korea

I love it when family and friends come and visit me when I live in a foreign country. It’s always great when out of town loved ones stop by for a few days, but the joy is multiplied many times over when they’re coming in from another country. I’ve only had a few visits from people back home.

There was Makeeya, who was a teammate of mine from my CUC lady pioneers days. She visited me in England one summer. I saw her again in South Korea. I’m not sure if that really counts as a visit since she moved to Seoul and still lives there now.

Then there was Taryn in Thailand. Remember?

Most of the photos from this trip were lost. 😦

My mom has visited me twice, once when I lived in Japan and once when I lived in Seoul. On her Japan visit she brought her sister, my aunt Audrey, and aunt Audrey’s husband, uncle Mike. I took them to Tokyo Disney and they had a great time.

Eating chestnuts and enjoying the decorations.

In Seoul, my mom visited during Christmas. She was in Korea for about a week, but I didn’t have too much time off. I showed her around Seoul and took her to a few places outside the city.

Walking the wall

I had the great idea for us, Floridian winter haters, to spend lots of time outdoors in the cold December air. I first took her to Suwon. We walked around the the city walls, learning about Korean history and culture. That wasn’t too bad.

No, we love cold damp caves in the winter!

Then I thought, “Hey, let’s check out a nice cold cave?” So we rode clear across the country, for about 4 hours, to Samcheok. At least the bus was warm.

From my caving experience at that time, I thought that caves were things under the ground. Little did I know that we would have to hike up a mountain to get to this cave. But everything in Korea requires a hike up some mountain.

My mom had to rest several times along the way, but she did make it all the way up. The cave was great. Some people criticize it for having too many tacky lights. I said it needs more tacky lights!

Waiting for the bus inside an historically reconstructed Korean house

My mom really enjoyed the cave. She still talks about it anytime someone asks about her trip to South Korea. “…and you know I had to hike up a mountain in the cold to see the cave!”

This Christmas she will visit me again. I will be living in Japan. She will bring one of her grandkids with her too. She’s just waiting to find out Alex’s school schedule so she can know for what dates to book the flight. I wonder what cold mountains I should make them hike up next?

All Pictures


South Korea
(대한민국)

How to get there:

  • You can enter by plane, boat, or train, though entry by train is rare if not damn impossible for most non-presidents of North or South Korea.
  • Most citizens from many countries do not need to get a visa before going to South Korea.
  • People of most nationalities will get a 90-day visa at the airport or ferry port.
  • To be completely sure, check with the Korean embassy in your country.

Phone:

Website:

Videos:

Books:

Notes:

  • Korea is a generally safe country. You don’t really have to watch out for pickpockets,muggers, or scam artists.
    • You should watch out when crossing the streets, beware of scooters on the sidewalk, and the little old ladies that will push you to get that last seat on the bus or subway.
  • Use common sense and you will be okay.
  • Things are generally inexpensive and there are many wonderful things to buy.

Enjoy Korea! I live there for 2 years and had a fantastic time.


Suwon
(수원)

How to get there:

  • 37°15’56.7″N 127°00’00.8″E

From Seoul:

There are many ways to get to Suwon.

  • Bus: The easiest way would be to find a red bus that stops in your neighborhood that goes to Suwon.
  • Subway: Go to Suwon Station on line 1. Make sure to get on a train heading in Suwon’s Direction or you’ll end up in Incheon when line 1 splits. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Suwon from Seoul Station.
  • KTX: You can also take the KTX to Suwon from Seoul Railway Station. It costs 8,100KRW, but there are slower, cheaper long distances train that are around 2,500KRW.

Websites:


Samcheok
(삼척)

How to get there:

  • 37°26’24.4″N 129°10’08.5″E

From Seoul:

Go to the Express Bus Terminal subway station on lines 3, 7, and the new line 9. I think you go out exit 9, but I’m not sure. Usually you can just follow the crowds of people pushing and shoving their way to Express Bus Terminal. If all else fails, you can just follow the vague signs or ask for directions.

Website

Cost:

There are three types of buses, general, excellent, and midnight excellent. To Samcheok they cost 15,900KRW, 23,400KRW, and 25,700KRW respectively for an adult one way ticket. Check the website for times and prices.

Hours:

The first bus out of Seoul leaves at 6:30 and the last leaves at 23:30. The return trip has similar times. The website says the trip is about 3:30 hours long, but it was actually about 4 hours. (Every bus ride in Korea is about 4 hours!)

Notes: 

There is a rest stop during the bus ride to Samcheok. Remember which bus is yours.


Hwanseon Cave
(환선굴)

How to get there:

  • 37°19’31.5″N 129°01’01.0″E

From Samcheok’s Express Bus Terminal:

  1. Go to Samcheok Intercity Bus Terminal (right behind the Express Bus Terminal where the bus from Seoul drops you off)
  2. Take bus #60.
    • Bus fare is 2,700KRW and the ride is 50 minutes long.

Address:

Gangwon-do Samcheok-si Singi-myeon Daei-ri San (Mt.) 117

Cost:

It costs 2,800KRW for one adult ticket.

Samcheok Cave Bus Schedule

  • You need cash. You can’t use your T-money card.
  • The first direct bus leaves Samcheok at 6:10 and the last at 12:15. After that there are no direct buses to the cave.
  • The buses leaving Samcheok after 12:15 will drop you off at a corner store. You will have to buy another ticket and wait for another bus.
  • Also if you leave after 12:15 make sure to bring change and small bills. Sometimes they aren’t able to give change.
  • There is no point in going after 17:10 since the cave closes at 18:00 the latest.
  • The first bus from the cave leaves at 6:50 and the last at 19:30. All these buses go directly to Samcheok.

Hours:

  • Mar – Oct 8:00-18:00
  • Nov – Feb 8:30-17:00

Phone: +82-55-1330

Notes:

  • There are two caves, one you walk through (Hwanseon) and one with a monorail (Daegeum Cave).
  • There is a long hike up a mountain to get to the cave in the picture above, Hwanseon cave.
  • Daegeum Cave (대금굴) (The one with the monorail)
    • 3,000KRW one-way
    • 5,000KRW round-trip
    • Phone: 033-570-3257
    • You need to buy tickets for the monorail online in advanced. You cannot buy them at the cave.
      • Unfortunately the website is in Korean and the writing is in picture form, so google translator isn’t much help. Maybe that will change in the future.
      • Try to get a Korean friend to help you, or quickly learn the language.

Map:

Posted in Samcheok, South Korea, Suwon | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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