Visiting the DMZ: Imjingak and Cheol Won

On Sunday, I went with some friends to the DMZ. We went with a tour company called “WinK” (When in Korea), which I’d heard great things about. The thing that was so attractive about this tour was that it covered double the sites that most DMZ tours cover – we went to the Imjingak and Cheolwon areas of the DMZ, while most other companies just visit one or the other. The price was 47,000w (about $43 CAD), which was a very good deal.

At the crack of dawn Sunday morning, I headed over to the the subway. First off, grabbed some breaky at McDonald’s (as those who know me well understand that I’m a grumpy you-know-what without fuel in the morning!). It was 6:00am, and most people were just coming back from the bar. I ran into a few guy friends from CAU and then headed to the subway to meet my friends Janna (from Finland) and Kristina (from Lithuania) before departing to the tour meeting spot.

We made it there on 10 minutes early – perfect timing. The bus rolled up and we were on our way!

Sadly, once I was at the subway station I realized that I’d forgotten my passport – a REQUIRED item if you intend to enter the DMZ area! It would be too late to run back to the dorms now. I frantically called William, the tour leader and explained my situation. He seemed a bit uneasy but reassured me that he would figure something out. Thank god he did!

——–

Part 1 of the DMZ Tour: Imjingak

First Stop: Freedom Bridge

The Freedom Bridge is so significant because it connects South and North Korea.

Hyundai’s late founder, Chung Ju-yung, is widely loved in Korea. He was a North Korean defector who stole a cow from his father to help finance his escape to the south. After gaining incredible success in the South, Chung sent 1,001 cows over the border via the Freedom Bridge as interest on the cow, and as an act of aid that the North Koreans could truly appreciate.

Image

A bronze relief depicting the Korean War near the Freedom Bridge.

Image

A very powerful memorial… Stones from war zones around the world were gathered and made into a monument here

Image

The Peace Wall

Image

DMZ “guards” on the bridge near the Freedom Bridge

Image

Ribbons with prayers for peace and unification between the two Koreas.

Image

I liked the contrast between the ribbons and barbed wire in this  photo.

Image

Ribbons symbolizing a unified Korea.

Image

Me with the bridge in the background.

Image

Photos with images of the war that lined the bridge

Image

I have no idea what this says!

Image

One of the many ribbons on the bridge

Image

With Janna (left) and Kristina (right).

Image

It was so cold! But nice and sunny.

Image

Painting of a unified Korea

Image

Doing the tacky tourist pose with the little guard!

Third stop: Tunnel #3

Next up was Tunnel #3. The North Koreans dug a series of tunnels to the south with the intention of secretly invading Seoul. A defector tipped the South Koreans off, et voilà, the North Koreans’ secret was out. Several tunnels were found and are now tourist sites (although photography is forbidden, which is why you won’t find any pictures here on my blog).

Image

At the 3rd Tunnel

Image

This was a film we got to watch before entering the tunnel

Image

A very powerful image of a man who was presumably separated from someone across the DMZ

Image

 

The “Axe Incident”

Image

DMZ model

Image

Some SK Soldiers…

Image

Janna and Kristina pushing together the globe for peace & unification!

Image

One of the observatories we visited

Image

Off to Dorosan Station, one of the places I’d been most looking forward to!

Image

Dorosan Station

Image

It was built as a symbolic gesture. The hope is that one day, after unification, a railway will be created to go across the peninsula and thereby connect Korea with the rest of Asia and Europe.

Image

A map explaining this concept in detail

Image

To Pyeongyang!

Image

I was a little hesitant about taking this photo, but at the last minute I changed my mind (YOIKO!).

Image

A description outside the station.

After Imjingak, we were off to the Cheolwan area!

Image

Here is a statue of a Korean figure comparable to Robin Hood. This area was the place he hung out most in. We decided to eat lunch fast and then visit the canyon he relaxed in.

Image

This was the restaurant our guide reccomended, and he even called in ahead to take pre-orders. Within a few minutes of sitting down, our meals were delivered to us piping hot. We had the choice between bulgogi (Korean marinated beef) or doslot bibimbap (mixed veggies + raw egg on top of rice, served in a hot clay bowl). I’d had the cold version of bibimbap before and sort of liked it, but this hot version blew my mind! The hot bowl makes the rice all warm and a little crispy on the outside, while also cooking the raw egg.

With bimbimbap, you need to take a spoon and mash up all the ingredients together…

Image

Before…

Image

…And after! The result was a warm, delicious bowl of irresistible comfort food. I know I’ll be having that dish again sometime!

Image

This was the beautiful canyon area where the Korean Robin Hood would find solace in…

Image

Gorgeous!

Image

A ferry boat was doing tours, but our time was rather limited.

Image

Getting a bit mischievous….

Image

Image

Nothing says “trip to the DMZ” like a ride on a carousal! This place was eeeeeerie, and just seemed out of place at such a solemn area. You should note that PSY’s “Gangnam Style” was playing in the background.

After the canyon, we were off to the next observatory….

Image

Staring out into North Korea! The faint white triangle in the middle of the landscape is a North Korean propaganda village. The area next to the DMZ has very few (if any) NK civilians living there, so the village just serves as storage, training, and the occasionally housing facility for the NK military stationed there. You may be able to see a very small rectangle in front the of the triangle. Through the binoculars I was using, I could actually see what was on it. It was a propaganda poster, featuring a woman in hanbok (traditional Korean dress) holding a child. The writing in Korean was too hard to read, and  I can barely understand the language anyways ^^

Image

South Korean outpost?

Image

On top of that mountain to the right is a North Korean outpost. Apparently, you can sometimes see a NK guard on duty, walking back and forth. I guess he was on his lunch break (lol), because I didn’t see him.

Image

Next, we were off to a monument commemorating a famous battle at “White Horse Hill”. It was a pretty similar story to Vimy Ridge.

Image

Our guide, an enthusiastic young SK soldier.

Image

A really cool relief made with the bullet shells of the battle.

Image

The sculpture at the top of the hill (again very similar to Vimy)

Image

The battle was so intense that some of the soldiers’ guns even melted from the heat of firing too much.

Image

Another bronze relief; made the same way (melted bullet shells)

Image

A pavilion at the top of the mountain

Image

The tour guide’s dog! So cute and well-behaved!

———————

Overall an AWESOME experience. I would recommend WiNK for any future tours. They were well-organized, efficient, and our guide (William Cho) taught us a lot about Korean history and the DMZ situation. As someone who has a minor obsession with North Korea, I went into this tour thinking I wouldn’t learn more than I already knew, but I was wrong. William gave some great insight into Korean and international politics. It was the perfect balance of being taught history and actually experiencing it. AWESOME tour.

Photos of NK souvenirs to come!

 

SIWA (Seoul International Women’s Association) Annual Bazaar

Today I visted SIWA’s Annual Bazaar and had the chance to browse around the stalls run by various embassies and cultural groups.  I picked up some cheap Korean language books and got showered in freebies, tried the Indian stall’s chickpea curry (but all the naan bread was gone T^T) and had perhaps the BEST dessert I’ve ever tasted: South African cheesecake! Had to pick up some authentic North American baked goods from the US table (which looked straight out of a county fair bake sale). Didn’t buy any Tim Horton’s coffee that the Canadian table was offering though; I feel like a traitor to my people!

I’d found out about SIWA (Seoul International Women’s Association) via facebook last week. One of their sub-groups, Cultural Connections, was having a private event featuring a representative from NKHR (the Citizen’s Committee on North Korean Human Rights) the next day, and since I’m so interested in the situation in North Korea, as well as the work that NKHR does, I figured I’d try to attend. Sadly, the event was “members-only” and the $60 membership fee seemed to expensive to pay without having attended any sort of prior event to get a feel for the group. So, I decided to email them (VERY short notice) about paying a student rate. They replied and told me I could attend the Cultural Connections event for FREE. How nice was that?

The event was held at a SIWA member’s home in Itaewon, surrounded by beautiful houses, European-style bistros, and various embassies from around the world. The event was very intimate, and I think I will pay the membership fee. The only bad part is that most SIWA events are held during the daytime, and as a student living in the largest metropolitan area in the world, I won’t always have time to go to their events between classes. Last week though, I was able to, and I’m so glad I did. The women were very kind and welcoming, and the presentation (which focussed on the situation of children in North Korea) was incredibly moving.

ANYWAYS, fast forward one week later to the Bazaar – I got a little confused finding the museum, but thanks to my trusty TripAdvisor app,  I was able to find my way there eventually. I saw a “visibly foreign-looking” lady who kept walking around confusedly in the same area I was, so I asked if she was headed to the Bazaar and it turned out that she was. We walked there together and then went our separate ways…

The main hall of the Seoul Museum of History where the event was held.

The bazaar was divided up into two areas: the main area with various national booths, selling everything from jewelry, to apparel, to books, to sweets, to national crafts, liqueur, and more… The other area was the food court!

The first table I saw: Ukraine

This one was from the Nordic Women’s Club, featuring Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.

The Bazaar was SO busy! There were about an even amount of foreigners and Koreans.

And now.. onto the food court!

The food court was a festival of foreign tastes and flair, as many countries took the opportunity the present their national cuisine with pride to the event’s many attendees…

Of course, I had to visit Canada’s table first!

Loved the tablecloth..

 

Canada was serving up roast beef sandwiches with potato salad, and to drink: Tim Horton’s coffee!

To calculate the amounts, just remove a zero off the end and change the comma to a period – et voilà, a rough equivalent of what the price is in Canadian or American dollars (ex: the coffee was roughly $2).

Next was the South African booth, which was definitely the best-decorated! It caught my eye immediately so I decided to go take a gander…

The display was pretty cool!

I’d never heard of Hunter’s before, but it sounded really nice. I’m still getting used to the whole concept of being able to drink during the daytime (in Canada, I drive nearly everywhere and have a license that prohibits me from having any alcohol in my bloodstream). I quickly remembered that I was taking the subway back to school, and decided to come back after doing a lap around the room to try some of this yummy-sounding booze. I did make it back to the SA table, however, I totally forgot to buy a bottle of Hunter’s!

I was having a sweet tooth craving, and as soon as I realized that I’d never tasted South African food before, grabbing a dessert from the table’s impressive selection of goodies just seemed logical!

The guys there recommended the cheesecake – it was the last piece so I thought it must be good! And boy, was it ever! I’ve had a lot of desserts in my day (again, just an insatiable sweet tooth!) and this probably ranks in my top 10 – perhaps the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted.

They also gave me a free shot of Amarula, South African liqueur. What a delicious way to wash it down! I’d never had that liqueur before.

The lady who baked the cheesecake has a facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/103982269694930/

Perhaps I’ll have to order another cake when Christmas comes around 🙂

For lunch, I took a trip to the Indian table and decided to try some of their curried chickpeas and naan. Sadly, the naan bread had sold out, so I had their jasmine rice instead – a nice change from the sticky white rice eaten most often in Korea. I’m not a huge fan of the stuff.

It was good! However, there was barely any room to sit in the food court as it was so crowded…

…So, I decided to sit outside. The fall colours were breathtaking.

On my way out from the food court, I saw how HUGE the line for Turkey’s kebab station had grown! Obviously a popular selection!

On my way to see the other booths, I passed by Germany’s. They were selling advent calendars for $10 a piece!

Here was Canada’s booth – selling Timmy’s coffee, maple syrup, and some books.

The Canadian Women’s Club (CWC) had organized this table – even had a mini Remembrance Day display.

In true geographic style, across from Canada’s booth was the US’s. It looked like it was straight out of a county fair! Decent baked goods are hard to come by here in Seoul, as the price for butter is so high. Yes, you can buy cookies at nearly any of the countless convenience stores or chain bakeries that dot the streets of Seoul, but what you end up with is a cookie devoid of any moisture – biting into a hockey puck might be a more pleasant experience (but at least the hockey puck wouldn’t crumble all over you..)

And, of course, since our cooking facilities in the dorms are limited to a single microwave per floor, it’s not like I have the option of baking at home.

It was way too hard to choose which things I wanted! The prices were quite reasonable, but I didn’t want to empty my wallet on cookies that I would gobble up in a matter of days 🙂 There were sugar cookies, those little peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses on them, ginger snaps, lemon zucchini and pumpkin bread, pumpkin tarts, snickerdoodles, raisin cookies, and the list goes on! I decided on ginger snaps and snickerdoodles, although I was seriously eyeing up some of that lemon zucchini bread! Willpower, willpower…

This was the venue for the event, the Seoul Museum of History in the city’s Gwanghwamun district.

My goodies!

The ginger snaps and snickerdoodles 🙂 I shared the ginger snaps with a couple American classmates in my Project Management class right after coming back from the bazaar. Aaaaaand then I ate all of them 😛 So much for “willpower”. There’s only half a snickerdoodle left too; I’m saving the one full cookie that’s left for my roommate. We have this cool system where we randomly give each other food. It’s great.

The books I picked up at a Korean publisher’s booth. The two language ones were 40% off, and the culture book was only $3. It’s got a lot of useful history in there which I’m planning on using in some future essays.

These were all the freebies they gave me for buying the books! I was distracted and looking at some other things while they were bagging my books, so I didn’t even realize they’d given me these until I got back home – I know, super observant right? They gave me a couple folders, a calendar, a pen and a catalogue of their merchandise.

—————————————————

What a fun day at the Bazaar! I was actually surprised to see so many Koreans there; I don’t know why. But here’s one thing I do know: it’s events like these that bring cultures together and help eliminate prejudice, especially at the grassroots level.

My Birthday in Seoul

Just over a week ago, I turned 20 here in Seoul. In Korea, I was technically already 21 (yeah, it’ll take too long to explain – watch this video if you’re interested in learning more about Korean age differences: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zIBiyUANbo)

Sadly, the morning of my birthday, I woke up with a horrible eye infection. While it didn’t hurt at all, it made my eyes look horrible; like I had been crying for several hours. I researched the symptoms online, and found out that it was super contagious, which sucked. I felt totally capable of doing everything, but I didn’t want to spread it around. Combine that with the fact that I had a 12 hour-long day Wednesday, followed up by an equally long day Thursday starting early in the morning, and you’ll see why I wasn’t very partial to going out and getting drunk on my birthday.

Since I had to work late, I didn’t really do anything too exciting. However, I was so happy to see that I’d received a package from my pen pal/old friend from last summer, Jacqui! We’ve been keeping in touch since I got to Korea. She’s living away from home for the first time too, so we’ve been sending letters and postcards back and forth. It’s been really nice.

Included in the package was a letter, some socks with the American flag on it, and a shirt with her home state’s name on it.

Jacqui and I had met at Seoul Women’s University’s Bahrom International Program last summer. This photo was from our sports day during the program (I’m on the far left, wearing the generic cotton shorts you can buy in the subway here, just like a bunch of the other Korean girls are wearing ^^). Jacqui’s in the dead centre with Samah on her shoulders. We were all pretty fired up!

I also found a lovely birthday card in my mail from a very special someone 🙂

By the time Saturday rolled around, the eye infection was gloriously gone, just as I’d estimated! 🙂 I’d put out an open invite for my birthday, with the hopes of going to the Rocky Mountain Tavern, a very popular Canadian-themed bar in the foreigner district. Sadly, I didn’t realize they were having a comedian perform at 10:00pm and that the cover would be $30. So I nixed the idea and suggested instead that we go to a $6 all-you-can drink makkoli bar in Hongdae, a really popular and cheap clubbing district among students in Seoul.

Our group was pretty small, I’m guessing this was because a lot of people were really tired from the hike up Bukhansan earlier that day. However, one thing is remains true – you can always rely on Germans for a fun time!

(From left to right below: Jan, Henri, Marcel, Christian and me). Jameel (American) came too, but he was taking the photo so he’s not pictured.

While we found the all-you-can-drink makkoli bar totally fine, we couldn’t figure out how to actually order the unlimited makkoli! Their menu was only in Korean, so I had to whip out my trusty dictionary/phrasebook combo and search for “unlimited” whilst repeating “makkoli!” a million times. I’ll give you a hint – it didn’t work. So yeah, that was a little disappointing, but the place was still really cool! It was totally packed with people, and that’s usually a good sign. We drank a type of makkoli the waiter highly recommended (and by “recommended” I mean “pointed at the menu while saying ‘goood, gooood!’ in a thick Korean accent”. But hell, we trusted him).

This is the makkoli that the waiter reccommended. I had to take a photo for future drinking reference because it was so good! So sweet that you could barely taste the alcohol. And of course, we had to order some pajeon to go along with the rice wine!

 

While we didn’t get to take advantage of the all-you-can-drink feature, we still drank a LOT. Rougly one bottle per person! The guys were so cool the whole night and wouldn’t let me pay for anything. Got totally spoilt!

After the makkoli bar, we were still feeling pretty hungry, so we went to grab some yummy street food from outside.

After that, we hit up Ho Bar II and Zen Bar, where this photo was taken. The guys paid for bottle service, and the waiter brought along a fruit platter with yogurt dip. This was so great because fruit in Korea is painfully expensive (think $1-$2 for ONE apple) and because we were, you know, totally plastered and therefore easily impressed.

After Zen Bar, we continued onto Gogo’s, an expat bar that Jan recommended. Spent about an hour there, and then grabbed some kebab before taking a cab back to CAU. We were too early to get in, so I passed out on one of the couches inside the lounge at 4:30am.

I had such a fun time that weekend 🙂

 

 

 

Mt. Bukhansan Hike

On Saturday November 3rd, the International Office took the exchange students on a hike up the famous Mt. Bukhansan, approximately a 1.5 hour drive from the university. The mountain offers breathtaking views of Seoul below and is supposed to be beautiful in the autumn, so even though I’ve never been much of a “hiker” (that’s a massive understatement, as anyone who knows me well can confirm!) I figured YOIKO (“you’re only in Korea once”)! I signed up and off we went.

After a 1.5 hour drive on the bus, we reached the base of the mountain…

Need some supplies for the trip? Rice wine, perhaps?

Perhaps some fruit, visors, fold-up stool or hard-boiled eggs?

These bandanas had maps of the mountain route on them (sorry for the blurriness, I thought I had my autofocus on!)

The mountain on the far left is the one we climbed…

We went to Woohobyong Peak

Consumerism is running high at the base of many hiking spots. There was basically an outlet hiking mall at the foot of the mountain. The North Face is VERY popular here…

Aaaand right next to it: “The Redface”. One of the things I love about Korea is the “just don’t give a f-ck” attitude towards copyrighting. (Cue the Samsung vs. Apple jokes!).

There were some artists painting their impressions of Bukhansan Mountain…

…This is what his painting looked like after we climbed back down from the mountain

Looking up at the mountain at the beginning of the hike. Beautiful fall colours…

The mountain was SO busy! It was a crisp, sunny Saturday morning, so lots of people were heading up the mountain with their friends and family. Bags filled with beer, makkoli, and snacks (like gimbap – Korean sushi rolls, fruit, granola bars, etc) these hikers were ready to make the short hike up to the peak.

A temple on the way up the mountain. Beautiful!

This was one of the places we decided to top up the mountain; about halfway there.

There’s me!

Taking a quick break before continuing the hike up to the peak. Those shoes I’m wearing were pretty unflattering, to say the least! But hey, after a night of shopping and being told $100+ for the cheapest pair of brand-name shoes in my size, I was glad to find those no-name ones for a cool $30 – sold. And they felt awesome too!

After a few minutes of some more hiking (the trail felt almost vertical at points!), we finally we reached the top! In the background, you can see Seoul..

We enjoyed the sunshine and munched on our lunches provided by the international office: bottled water, a roll of gimbap (sushi), granola bar, Twix bar, and pastry. They’d provided sausage McMuffins, hashbrowns and orange juice on the bus ride to the mountain. I love McDonald’s breakfasts but I’m not a huge fan of the sausages :\ At least it was a good protein-filled meal to start the day.

So satisfied! What a view..

Group photo! Next to me is the Associate Director from the International Office – aka: my boss lol.

The green bottle of rice wine is called makkoli, a kind of sweet/sour drink with a milky consistency. Most people were having a picnic up here.

Some Korean ladies enjoying funny moment at the top of the peak. I hope I am as active as they are when I’m their age!

Some friends posing for a picture. Clockwise from bottom left: Jameel (US), Anni (Finland), Lauren (Canada), Hailey (Korea – studied in US), Thi Ha (German), and Ha-young (Korean – studied in US).

This cracked me up – BIG TIME. Of course many people are aware of the stereotype that Asian tourists love taking photos. This guy took it to the next level, like magazine photography director level! These guys all came up in a group, and one of the other friends saw me taking photos of the intense photographer: “He loves to take photos”, he explained. “He’s a little… obsessed. So professional!” The guy was just cracking me up…

Blue Steel Korean style

You gotta give him credit though, the background does look pretty awesome.

Janna (Finland) and Kristina (Lithuania) relax atop this bridge during the climb down.

A signpost during the descent…

Beautiful fall colours! This was the perfect time of year to go on this hike. It was just slightly chilly, not humid at all, and very sunny.

Some policemen at the bottom of the mountain. Someone suggested that they were trying to track down a couple of the European students who couldn’t handle not smoking on the mountain (which had a strict no-cigarette policy).

This was on the side of the police bus… Yeah, so confused!

~~~~~~~

All in all, a great day on Bukhansan! Those who know me know I’m definitely not an “outdoorsy girl”, but I’m glad I went on this hike. It was very challenging but the view was totally worth it. Once the group I was with reached the top, I looked around and realized something – I was the only girl (this seems to happen a lot, but I was actually kind of proud because it meant I was the first girl to reach the peak). I know it wasn’t a contest, but it was still really satisfying to know since I’ve never been particularly athletic 🙂 What a nice day.

K-Shuttle Southwest Tour: Day 3

 

Wow, so this has taken me a while to upload! This blog post actually about a trip I took I took to Busan three weeks ago on October 15th, with K-Shuttle’s Southwest bus tour.

The view from the first stop on the tour, Busan Tower.

Busan Tower

Korean War memorial dedicated to the refugees who fled south to Busan, away from the North’s advances.

Photo of the CN Tower in Busan Tower

Love tiles

Me in front of Busan Tour

Me in front of Busan Tour

CNN Café in downtown Busan

Canadian store!

Wow, Canadian style

Entrance to the famous Busan Fish Market

Colours, sounds and “fragrances” to delight the senses

Some lucky pigeons getting a snack from a fish monger

Art on the boardwalk

Standing on the boardwalk with the wind blowing in my face

Blackout Korea!!

A ship at the fish market

Unloading cargo

Unloading cargo

The bustling market

Being the only white person/foreigner for quite some distance, this guy was pretty amused at me walking around the fish market in my flowery dress taking pictures of everything (tacky tourists of the world unite!). He struck a pose and shouted “HELLO!” playfully.

Outside the fish market

Outside the fish market – can you spot the Canadian flags?

A funny-looking dog (with no visible owner in sight?) chilling outside the fish market.

One of the things I wanted to do in Busan was eat some freshly-caught raw fish (Korean sashimi). My guide recommended this fish; of course I forget what it’s called. It looked kind of like flounder. Apparently it’s the most popular type of fish to eat raw in Korea.

The fishmongers slicing up my flounder…

…And packing it up

The finished product! It was served with wasabi (catering to the Japanese tourists) and Korean hot pepper sauce (gochujang). I would’ve preferred soy sauce or Sriracha (maybe even some spicy mayo, hehe!) but when in Rome! All of that cost me about $10; I could barely finish half of it.

Lanterns where we sat to eat our sashimi.

Delicious Korean street food: six of these little bites for $1. They tasted like Yorkshire puddings: crispy on the outside, hot and eggy on the inside.

A “Gangnam Style”-inspired marketing piece inside a department store downtown.

The strangest ad I’ve ever seen for a baby photo studio…

A typical street in downtown Busan, near the famous BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) district.

Found this pretty bakery tucked away in one of the side-streets:

Like many bakeries in Korea, the goal was obviously to model itself off of the traditional French/European bakery style…

I freaked out a little when I saw these!! Yes, they are mini Totoro pastries – so cute! I love Studio Ghibli, but I think I’d pick “Spirited Away” as my favourite movie (not Totoro). Still, these pastries looked so hilarious.

And for only $2, I had to buy one! I ended up taking it back to Seoul with me, and splitting it with my roommate (using a metal chopstick to slice through poor little Totoro’s body!). Filled with Bavarian cream (or custard?), he tasted absolutely delicious!

Some beautiful cakes in the bakery, which was called “Côte d’or” (“Gold Coast” in French)…

…Turns out that the place was run by some Japanese bakers (hence the Totoro donuts!). Absolutely lovely… This is the kind of stuff that I love about of Korea.

CONCLUSION:

 I had a lot of fun on my K-Shuttle Southwest Tour. Although there was some misunderstanding about how full the bus was going to be, it still turned out to be a really fun trip. My only regret is that we didn’t visit the famous Haeundae Beach or APEC House in Busan or the island in Yeosu, but I guess there were some time restraints that prevented doing those things. Overall, I would recommend visting K-Shuttle’s facebook page to stay updated on the promotions they do. You can also visit their website here: http://www.k-shuttle.com/

 

K-Shuttle Bus Tour: Day 2

Sunday, October 14th 2012:

The next morning, it was time to head to Yeosu..

We stopped off at the Seonamsa Buddhist temple on the way to Yeosu. Above is a totem pole; they pre-date organized religion in Korea and are based on traditional animist beliefs. The pole is meant to act as a marker (ie: “Village/temple this way—>”

This bridge was on the 1km hike up to the temple. The air was so fresh and clean; no cars anywhere. I’m a city girl through and through, but wow, what a refreshing change from Seoul.

These were some traditional animist statues. The temple is a very important place in Korean history and is filled with artefacts and other interesting things throughout.

A pond in the temple.

Dragon carving on one of the temple roofs.

Buddha

You can’t see them, but like in my previous blog post, the temple was noticeably busy because of the university entrance exams that are currently taking place. Parents were there praying for their children’s success.

The stream running through the temple grounds…

Yeosu:

After about one hour’s drive, we arrived in Yeosu. Since the World Expo had shut down, we just briefly looked at the surrounding grounds and visited the aquarium there. During the Expo, the aquarium was the most popular attraction. Normally around $30 to get in, I got my fee waived because I was a K-Shuttle passenger – nice.

Penguins!

Getting my hand exfoliated by several little “doctor fish”, a type of fish that will eat the dead skin off of you. I’ve seen advertisements for them before around Seoul, specifically for pedicures (feet).

It tickled a little bit and felt kind of weird! Since it was a Sunday afternoon (ie: STUPID busy with lots of families and little kids), I only kept my hand in for a few seconds.

Piranas!!!

Inside the aquarium

Beluga whales

The World Expo grounds seen from inside the aquarium.

Overhead walkway with fish swimming above….

Suncheon…

After the aquarium, it was off to Suncheon to visit the nature reserve there.

Me standing on the way to the hike up the mountain/hill thing at the eco park in Suncheon Bay.

The marshlands…

I think this is promoting the 2013 International Eco Geo expo Suncheon will be hosting?

 

View from the top!! So hot and tiring! But still fun and very rewarding once reaching the top…

My hotel for the night:

Since I was the only passenger on the bus, I basically got a $70 room upgrade. Normally this room holds two people (even then it still would’ve been quite nice) but I had it all to myself. Complete with a desktop computer, wireless router, TV with cable, and floor heating system (which is actually quite common in Korea, but I digress), this room was very nice. I was thrilled to see that the had Western-sized bath towels as well! In Korea, bath towels are the same size as tea towels/dish drying towels.

I was a bit tired from the day spent hiking and so forth, so I actually told my guide that I’d prefer to eat-in. We walked together to a convenience store where I bought some ramyun and samgak kimbap (Korean sushi triangles, my new favourite snack!). I snuggled up in bed and watched some TV before going to sleep.

All in all, Sunday was a good day. I think my favourite part was the Buddhist temple, although I enjoyed the hike in Suncheon as well.

K-Shuttle Bus Tour: Day 1

Sorry for the late update! It’s midterm season and I’ve been studying hard! 🙂

Recently, I was selected to represent Canada as a K-Shuttle blogger. Basically, I get some benefits from K-Shuttle (a new foreigner-only bus tour company operating out of Seoul) in exchange for regularly promoting them online. The point of K-Shuttle is to give foreigners a taste of what lies outside of Seoul; a chance to explore several lesser-known destinations around Korea in a short period of time (three days and two nights).

K-Shuttle’s website is here: http://www.k-shuttle.com/

I heard about this promotion sort of by accident; it showed up in my newsfeed one night on Facebook and I thought, “well, I’m just sitting on my butt watching YouTube videos and not really doing much of anything with my life, why not apply?”. I did, and a few weeks later, I found out I was successful!

I received: one ticket for myself, plus two tickets for friends/family, plus an invitation to a thank-you dinner party with the rest of the K-Shuttle staff and foreign representatives! Pretty cool hey? And all I have to do is do what I do already 😛 Post on blog and review sites about K-Shuttle.

So yes! I was very excited to get in.

I decided to take the Saturday-Monday tour from October 13-15, down the Southwest Coast. There was a bit of a miscommunication though, because I was under the impression that the bus tour was full – really, I was the only one on the bus! Only two other passengers had reserved, but they’d cancelled at the last minute because of sickness. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but it was still really enjoyable. It was like having a private tour, plus, I got to have a double room all to myself for each night!

A lot of companies would’ve simply cancelled the trip were this the case, especially considering that I didn’t pay anything to take the tour. So obviously that struck me as being very cool.

The crazy thing was that my guide, Justin, had spent half his life in Pitt Meadows (a short distance away from my own hometown in Canada)! He was the same age as me and wants to be a diplomat when he finishes school, also like me. Justin also knew a lot about history, and could speak Korean (mother tongue), English, and Chinese. This was really cool, as he knew a lot about the historical sites we visited.

The first place we went to was the Baekje fortress in Buyeo…

Baekje Kingdom Fortress at Buyeo.

Fortress garden

Pavilion on the top of Nakwha-am, a significant place in Korean history. This mountain, which is called “Rock of Falling Flowers”, was the scene of a tragic historical event. 3,000 women who’d been captured by invaders jumped off the cliff and committed suicide, after having been captured, taken from their homeland, and made into comfort women for their captors. The cliff is now called Nakwha-am, or “Rock of Falling Flowers”.

The ferry boat below

Standing on the top of the “Rock of Falling Flowers”

A painting (obviously not the original; it’s been too defaced) which depicts the sad story of the Nakwa rock. On the left, the “falling flowers” jump to their deaths, as their captors chase them to their tragic fate.

Drinking out the famous Nakwa spring water. There was an elementary school field trip there at the time I visited, my tour guide overheard one of the teachers explaining the spring’s legend to the children: “If you drink this water, you will become 10 years younger – so be careful! Only have ONE cup!”. I guess I’m now 9 years old again? Or 11 in Korean age?

Note: Koreans traditionally count age from the time of conception. When you’re born, you’re already “one year old”. I’m born on October 31, 1992. Additionally, when the new year comes, everyone gets one year older. So, right now, I’m 19 Canadian age, but I’m 21 in Korea!

This was a little Buddhist temple at the top of Nakwa. It was very busy as it is the time of the year when many high school students are preparing for the first round of their university entrance exams – a process that is not only stressful for them, but for their parents as well, who’ve likely invested thousands of dollars in their education already (mostly through private academies and tutoring). Many parents flock to temples and churches this time of the year to pray for their childrens’ success in the exams.

About to board the ferry from the bottom of Nakwa to the parking lot.

 

 

Standing on the ferry

Nakwa

Jeonju:

After visiting Nakwa, we were off to Jeonju. We visited a traditional fortress there, and even saw a re-enactment of the founding of the Joseon (or “Chosun”) dynasty.

Joseon Dynasty re-enactment

Standing with a traditional guard.

Playing a traditional Korean game.

Wearing traditional Confucian ceremonial dress.

And again!

All in all, it was a pretty good day. I went back with the tour guide to the hotel in Jeonju after the folk village.

End of the day!

Got all settled in, and joined Justin for some dinner at a Western-style restaurant (in Korea, that means taking some kind of pasta dish and adding some extra sugar and spicy sauce). I picked a spicy seafood noodle soup. However, Justin, and some of the waitresses, were afraid that it would be too spicy for a foreigner. I said I could handle it – to which they told Justin (who translated for me) that in case I couldn’t, they would make me a new dish for free. I insisted I would be fine, and so they brought me the soup. It was rather hot, so I had to wait for it to cool down. I was very hungry at this point, so as soon as I thought it would be safe too eat, I started slurping the noodles away. Sadly, I slurped one rogue noodle too fast and it whiplashed itself into my eye – MY EYE. Yeah, it hurt like hell. However, having worked at a Vietnamese restaurant for 2.5 years, I had already experienced the pain of having black chili oil in my eye (always, ALWAYS scrub your hands thoroughly after refilling chili oil containers!). It’s the kind of pain that starts off small, then in a matter of seconds erupts into the worst kind of burning sensation your eyes will ever experience. The most horrible part of it all? Like the first time being dumped, the pain of the moment seems to linger forever.

This pain, however, went away pretty quick. It was just my ego that was hurting, as I felt as if the stares of everyone in the restaurant were directed towards me – the token white girl, thinking she was SO TOUGH ordering the spicy soup, only to wind up crying like a baby. If you can’t take the heat…

Anyways, as I said, the pain subsided pretty quickly. This was largely thanks to the cup of rice that those thoughtful waitresses had the foresight to give to me with my soup. For those of you who don’t know, water is pretty ineffective at dousing the pain of a really spicy food. Starchy things, like rice, usually work best to mute that scorching hot sensation in your mouth. It did the job, and soon enough Justin and I were laughing about it.

After that, we grabbed some coffee and looked at some cute puppies we found in the window of a nearby pet store!

Little chihuahua!

Aww, what a cutie! Falling asleep in her water bowl ^^

“Angel??? How did you get here??” <- That was my thought upon seeing this little poodle! She looks so much like my family’s dog Angel back home. Complete with the pee spots (yeah, our dog never learned – or maybe it was because we were powerless to discipline that cute widdle girl! Bad idea).

All in all a great day! After that we went back to the hotel room and got a good sleep for the next day.

Day 2 coming soon…

Chuseok, International Fireworks Festival, Dragon Scholarship, and Other Stuff!

Wow! A lot of fun things have happened in the past few weeks.

Diplomacy! Talk Workshop:

I got to visit Sungshin Women’s University to take part in the Ministry of Foreign Affiairs (MOFAT)-hosted “Talk Talk” diplomacy event before Chuseok holidays. This was thanks to a CAU Global Ambassador who’s volunteering for the youth volunteer wing of the ministry, called “Friends of MOFAT”. First off, I want to mention that Sungshin Women’s University is the most beautiful, clean, and modern university I’ve ever been to. I know what you’re thinking – “come on, it’s because it’s a women’s university!”. No. I lived at another women’s university here in Seoul for four weeks, and while it was nice, it  did not compare whatsoever. The place looked like an art gallery. Either they’ve got some very generous donors, or tuition fees are out the roof.

Anyways, we were seated in a big auditorium where we got to watch this talk show-style interview featuring three important guests, one of whom was the first female Korean ambassador. They had some really neat insights to give.

Then we had a discussion session; I got put in the one with the focus being on Asia. It was really cool. After the event, they gave out free neck rests. Cool.

Above is a group photo of my discussion group ^

After leaving the event, I went to Namdaemun market in search of some PSY socks (not for me; just as a gift, I promise!). I failed. However, I succeeded gloriously at finding some delicious street food! I had tteokbokki, my favourite, and my new SWEET favourite, hotteok!!! Dear lord, hotteok is amazing. It’s a deep fried pancake with syrup, nuts, and cinnamon inside. And, like most Korean food, it’s dirt cheap! It’s roughly less than $1 for one. Photos to come later.

Chuseok:

First, I recommend watching this video, which gives a great summary of what the Chuseok holiday is all about:

Last week was Chuseok, a Korean holiday very similar to Thanksgiving. We had nearly a week off from school, so lots of people decided to go travelling (Taiwan, Japan, Busan, Jeju-do, etc) but many of us stayed behind in Seoul. Sadly, I had a rather large assignment due at midnight in the middle of it all, and of course I didn’t have the foresight to complete it before the holidays. So, instead of travelling I decided to stay at the dorms.

On Saturday morning, I participated in Justice for North Korea‘s South-North Friendship Family Sports Day. The Gaebong Defectors’ Church and Unity Vision Self-Support Centre also helped host the event. Chuseok is a time to come together with one’s family and celebrate the year’s harvest. Sadly, North Korean defectors don’t have this option, so the point of the event was to give them a fun time to enjoy the holidays. Since this was partially a religious event, there was a small service held before the games started. It was conducted in Korean only, and while I didn’t understand much of it, it still seemed very nice.

The next day, I did a homestay at a Korean CAU student’s house for Chuseok. This was organized through the CAU International Office. While it wasn’t as “traditional” as I’d expected, it was still quite enjoyable. My host sister and I took a walk through the Insadong district of Seoul, and saw many families with their young children dressed in hanbok (traditional Korean attire). We then went out for Korean BBQ with her dad, whose English was quite good as a result of his time spent working in Boston. Her and I then went out and saw “Taken 2”, which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would.

I left the morning after to head back to CAU to work on some school stuff.

That night, I joined some friends for a trip to a $7 all-you-can-eat sushi buffet in Sinchon, Seoul’s most vibrant college town (it’s got four universities surrounding it, after all!). It was pretty decent; what you’d expect for that price range. The other side of the buffet had spaghetti, salad, sweet bread, and occasionally pizza if you were lucky enough to grab a slice before they all disappeared!

After that, I went back home and worked on my Powerpoint due for my Project Management class. Currently, it stands at 42 slides! Oh my..

Dragon Scholarship: International Office Internship

Thursday night, I had my first shift teaching conversational English to several professors and administrators from CAU. Since I’m not technically being paid for it, it’s 100% legal. (Korea has very strict regulations for foreigners teaching English without a proper visa. Penalties range from: a slap on the wrist, to several thousand dollars worth of fines, to incarceration, to [almost always] deportation).

My internship duties have so far been during office hours (ie: 9:00am to 6:00pm), and have ranged from researching prospective partner universities, to social media updating, to other administrative odd jobs. So, when I heard that I had been chosen to be one of the lucky two interns to tutor English after hours, I was a little grumpy – evenings were my free time; I had no desire to sit around and correct professors’ English speaking when I could be doing fun stuff. Thursday evening, I met the International Education Director and a couple of my other superiors at 6:30pm with a forced smile on my face, and we walked off to the classroom together.

I sat down and was introduced to my students, and before I knew it, the hour of conversational English I was supposed to be teaching had already sped by. As I wrapped things up with five minutes to spare, I checked my clock again and realized we’d all still been enthusiastically talking five minutes after class was supposed to end. My students were energetic and fun; one had even come to class with a page-long self-introduction already prepared. As I wiped off the board (where I’d proudly spelt my name in Korean characters), one of the students said, smiling, “I think this is going to be a really fun class!”

I think so too – after all, how often as a university student do YOU get to grade the professors? It’s payback time, muchachos! Okay, okay, I don’t intend on stringently assigning or marking homework (unless of course, the professors request me too, like the other ones did to my colleague!). But the morning after, when I arrived in the International Office to do my shift, I was so excited for our next class that I prepared my first “lesson plan” (more like a loosely-organized set of discussion topics) on the subject my superiors assigned for our weekly class, which was “Hallyu” or the “Korean Wave”.

So, this is what I get to do in exchange for free housing and a monthly stipend – a pretty sweet deal.

Party Weekend!

On Friday night, there was yet another campus party. I’m not sure if the Korean students post flyers about these around the school (mostly because I can’t read Korean) or if they’re just word-of-mouth, but it seems like every week I walk past the familiar plastic tables and chairs set-up and see people taking shots, munching on Korean BBQ, and just generally havin’ a good time. This time though, a few of us exchange students heard about a couple campus parties in advance and decided to go check them out. I arrived a bit later, and everyone was plastered already (even though it was only about 10:00pm!). I’m not sure if the students running the event were holding it as a fundraiser, or just as an excuse to have a good time, but they kept bringing us free KGBs (canned lemon vodka spritzers).

After that, we made our way to the Beerking Pub, where the table behind us sent us a cheese fondue platter. No, we didn’t know them, and no, they spoke basically no English. They were just really nice 😛 After miming out our gratitude, followed by several heart-felt “kamsamnida”s (“thank you” in Korean), we gobbled up our free fondue and made our way to another bar. This place had a sort of self-serve concept; upon walking in there were several fridges filled with bottles of domestic and imported beers, which you were free to help yourself to. At the end of the night, you bring up the bottles to the cashier and pay for what you drank.

At 1:40pm, curfew was a meer 20 minutes away, and no, I did not want to wait until 5:00pm to go back home. So after some careful thought, I so maturely decided to depart with the smaller group who went back to the dorms and slept, instead of joining the larger group to go clubbing. Yes, I am finally starting to grow up!

International Fireworks Festival and Myeongdong Dance Party!

So Saturday night was the International Fireworks Festival held in Yeouido Park. Four countries competed: Italy, China, the US, and of course, Korea. While I arrived too late to see Italy’s display, I did catch the last three. Yes, Korea’s was the best; you know what they say about “home sky advantage”… or was it “home ice advantage”…? Anyways, it was great. It was also stupid busy, though.

Check out a video of the beginning of Korea’s performance here:

My photos:

The Korean team shot fireworks off the side of the bridge

After a useless 30-minute walk + a 45-minute cab ride that should’ve only taken 10 minutes in regular traffic, a few of us girls made it halfway to our destination (the Myeondong Street Party #2) and decided to abandon the cab in favour of taking the subway the rest of the way there. At this point half of our party of four was feeling a bit tired and wanted to head back to the dorms, so the remaining two of us bid them farewell and continued onto Myeondong.

The party was good, but I don’t think it was as fun as the last street party, which was significantly busier.

Here’s a video of the prior dance party: (at 0:28 you can see two of my fellow exchange students dancing)

Wow, so yeah! That’s what I’ve been up to as of late. Here’s some random stuff:

RANDOM STUFF!

– Because I did the Chuseok homestay, I get to have a nice sit-down lunch with the President of CAU and all the other exchange students who did the homestay! It’s kind of like the school’s way of saying “thank you for going into someone’s house, eating their food, sleeping on their bed, and joining in on their family activities”. Yeah, I know 😛 Doesn’t make a ton of sense to me either, but hey! It’s an incredibly nice gesture, despite the fact that we’ve done pretty much nothing to deserve it 😛

–  A couple weeks ago, I found this post on facebook from a KTO-sponsored tour/shuttle bus company called “K-Shuttle: Must-see Routes”. They were looking for foreigners to blog about their K-Shuttle experiences on a bi-monthly basis. In return? K-shuttle would provide: a free three-day/two-night trip on one of their tours, plus two more free trips for family or friends, plus a free dinner party invitation for all the K-shuttle staff and country representatives. I wasn’t supposed to find out if I’d gotten the position for Canadian representative until Friday, but they informed the applicants today of who’d got in! Yes, I’d made it! So, this weekend I’m taking the tour outlined here: http://www.k-shuttle.com/rb/?r=en&c=45/47. I was really sad about not being able to travel for Chuseok, but this will definitely make up for it 🙂

Below is the information on the tour I’m taking this weekend:

– Oh, and I also bought a really cheap phone from the giant indoor used electronics market at Yongsan station. The only crappy thing is that the credit expires every month, so essentially I’m paying $10 every month even if I don’t use up all the minutes/texts :\ Oh well. It was the cheapest option.

– In other news, wow. This month has gone by so fast!

Top 10 Things I Love about Korea

Many people (mostly Koreans) have asked me why I chose to come study in Korea. So, I’ve decided to make a list of the Top 10 things I love about Korea. To follow, I will also have a list of the “Top 10 things I Don’t Like about Korea”, just for the sake of balance 😉

#10: Freebies!

Korea LOVES freebies. Above is a photo of all the free stuff I’ve gotten here. Most stuff is from cosmetic stores. If you buy some skin cream or makeup, usually the cashier will hook you up with some free face masks, skin cream/serum samplers, or cotton pads. Other times, two products – they can be the same or completely different – are taped together and have a “1+1” (which means “buy one, get one”) label on it.

I also got a free neck rest and world map from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) event I recently attended at Sookmyung Women’s University with some other CAU students. Other than that, most of the freebies I’ve gotten have been cosmetics (as you can see in the photo) or food, which you can’t see because I’ve already eaten it 😛 Many convenience stores do the same “1+1” or “2+1” promo on food. Ex: buy two cans of ice coffee and get a third one free. That’s the most common one I’ve taken advantage of 😛

The video below explores Korea’s culture of freebies in more depth:

#9: “Work Hard, play hard”

Wow – Korea really loves to party. However, Korea really loves to work insane hours as well! It’s not uncommon to see men dressed in business attire stumbling out of the bars at 5:00am on a weekday, only to have to return to work in a few hours.

This is also attached to Korean office culture, where an important part of staff bonding includes going out and getting wasted with the boss. One important thing to note is that it is INCREDIBLY rude to turn down a drink from your superior (boss, professor, someone older than you, etc). Many Korean fathers like to use this tactic to get their daughters’ boyfriends drunk upon first meeting them – what better way to see a young man’s true side is there??

Hungover? No, they’re probably still drunk!

This applies to Korean students as well, who are known to pull 14-hour days studying for exams. But after exams are over, the party begins! Maekgu (beer), anyone??

#8: Tourism!

I’ve consistently been blown away by the amount Korea has invested in tourism. The Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) is constantly putting on different promotions to try and attract foreigners to “the Land of the Morning Calm”, which is sadly often overlooked while many tourists choose to instead flock to more familiar destinations, such as China or Japan.

Korea has had a long history of being trampled over by foreign powers due to its strategic geographic position in East Asia. Barely a generation ago, Korean children were forbidden by the Japanese from speaking their mother tongue at school, and had to submit to worship of the Japanese emperor. Korea’s national animal is the tiger, although you won’t be seeing it at all nowadays – the Japanese exterminated them during one of their many lengthy occupations of the Korean peninsula.

Korea has been jerked around too much through the centuries. Now, as it rises as a formidable economic power on the world stage, this too-often underrated country is using its culture’s values of hard-work and perseverance to proudly present its touristic appeal to the world.

One of the KTO’s best practices is the “Free Postcard Service for Foreigners”, which is exactly what the name implies: foreigners can visit any one of the multiple KTO stations in Seoul, and mail up to seven postcards back home for free. This attraction serves not only as a fun activity for tourists, but also seems to be a clever form of marketing, as on the back of the postcards the KTO has strategically placed a number of its logos.

People back home can see how much fun their friends and family are having in Korea, and may even consider making it a destination the next time they go abroad.

The KTO and Seoul Tourism office also make fantastic use of social media. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone to events or attractions simply because I’ve read about them on the Seoul Korea facebook page. They give you a local’s perspective into the many restaurants, shops, attractions, and other hidden gems that are around this energetic city.

So many great tips can be found on the Seoul Korea facebook page ^

#7: Soju

Yeaaaah…  What can I say! When you produce a hard liquor that’s cheaper than water (no, seriously) and is available in every single grocery store and convenience store in the country, it’s going to be on a foreign student’s list of Top 10 Things they Love About Korea 😛

For those who aren’t familiar with the bottle of liquid blackouts that is soju, allow me to describe it for you: only costing about a dollar, soju tastes like death and turns you into the sexiest, most talented, funny, and desirable version of yourself that you could only wish to be. The side-effects? Dancing horribly, singing worse than William Hung, and yes, quite often, vomiting everywhere and anywhere.

#6: Shopping!

Korea is a shopper’s dream world. With so many different styles of shopping to choose from, and with so many stores being open 24/7 some say that Korea is the best place to shop in the world.

Above is a photo of the luxurious Lotte Department Store.

If your budget isn’t big enough to allow more than “browsing” at the Lotte or Hyundai Department stores, then Myeongdong is the next-best-thing. Crowded with flashing lights and blaring music, this shopping district is always crowded with both Koreans and tourists alike. Be sure to go after sunset though; that’s when things really get going. You can find familiar international stores here (like Lacoste, Foot Locker, H&M, Uniqlo, ZARA, Polo, etc) as well as smaller Korean stores. This is the best place to go shopping for cosmetics, as many of the shops here have better sales (at least this is what I’ve found).

Migliore is a chain of giant indoor shopping markets. Each stall is owned separately. You need to be prepared to barter, especially if you’re a visible foreigner – like so many places in the world, merchants have one price for locals and another (much more expensive) price for foreigners.

The crappy part? You can’ try anything on, and most pieces are “free size” or, “one size fits all”.

You can even go shopping in the subway stations! How awesome is that?

#5: Technology

People say Korea is the most-wired country in the world, and I don’t doubt that for a second. Here, you can see a monk using his tablet (a Galaxy Note?) to take a photo of a map.

I love technology and I love how wired Korea is!!

People are also saying that Korean schools will soon be paperless…

I found this picture of a street photobooth on another blog. Basically, it’s a really cool concept: you take a photo of yourself on the street, edit it, and send it to yourself via email or text. Kind of random, but really cool!

This photo of a free cellphone charging booth is actually from an airport in Singapore, but they’re common in Korean airports nonetheless. You select the cord that corresponds with your cellphone model (iPhone, Galaxy, etc) and plug it in for it to charge. This machine is very secure, as it lets you actually lock your phone in there while you keep the key until it’s finished charging.

Oh yeah, and there’s WiFi EVERYWHERE! It’s so awesome.

Check out this ABC news report from 2010 on how wired Seoul is:

#4 – K Fashion

Another thing I love about Korea is its fashion…

In short, Korean fashion (for women) has the following qualities:

  • It’s fairly conservative: shoulders are rarely ever shown, cleavage is pretty much never shown. However, legs are almost always shown.
  • Heels are often worn to accentuate the legs, regardless of the occasion (ie: Western women normally just wear heels in the office or at the bar, while Korean women will wear them anytime they please, ex: with a pair of denim shorts and t-shirt to school).
  • Muted/neutral colours are favoured.
  • Few accessories are used – just a nice pair of shoes and “designer” bag will do the trick.
  • Layering is essential. If it’s hot outside, the AC will be blasting inside, and vice versa.
  • Perfect skin is seen as being the most important part of looking good. Everyone can have their own style, but having a clear, slightly pale (or very pale) face is the most desired part. Having a small chin, pointed nose, and large eyes is good too, but that’s now venturing into Korean beauty – a whole other topic unto itself.

This is quite a bright colour; I think most Korean girls would wear this tunic in white, grey, or black instead.

So Korean! I love it..

Also very Korean – clean, neutral, and very preppy. Note the 2.55 Chanel bag she’s carrying – understated elegance. I love Korean fashion so much.

#3 – Everything is cute!

This is kind of a random topic, but yeah, most Westerners will understand me when I say that everything in Korea is just so gosh-darn cute! Above is a photo of the sheep café I want to visit in the Hongdae area of Seoul.

Look at these cute kids in their hanboks!

Airport mascots! The KTO facebook page just posted this photo earlier today; I guess these mascots are at the airport welcoming people as they arrive. How cute!

The interior of an Etude House shop, a Korean cosmetic chain. SO CAAAYUUUUUTE!

Cute Korean policemen!

Hell, even poop (“unko”) in Korea is cute! This is slightly weird to me, though..

#2 – Korean food!

Okay, I won’t even get into Korean food right now, as it will take WAY too long! I’m saving it for another blog post.

Basically, eating in Korea is delicious, cheap, and a very social experience! Normally involving beer and soju, too 😉

This photo shows a bunch of Korean foods, and is from Clouddancer blog.

#1 – Korean PEOPLE

While this list was supposed to be “in no particular order”, I must say that Korean people are the #1 thing I love about Korea. I have been treated like royalty since I’ve been here, and haven’t really done all that much to deserve it!

Somebody once told me that once you make a Korean friend, you make a friend for life. While my life is far from being over (at least as far as I can see!), I’ve found this to be incredibly true. The friends I made at Seoul Women’s University last summer have been so kind to me in helping settle in here.

My roommate is Korean, and her and I have been getting along so well. Her friend – who I’ve never even met before – recently gave me a present for Korean Thanksgiving (“Chuseok”) because she heard I was a foreigner and thus probably wouldn’t be getting many gifts! They were some tasty, chewy, crunchy, sweet things; I have no idea what they’re called but they were delicious. In fact, she gave me so many that my roommate suggested that I share them with some friends… Yeah, sorry friends, I am keeping them all for myself 😛

Above is a photo of a Korean girl that I met a few weeks ago at a party – she studied abroad in New Zealand and had the cutest Korean-Kiwi accent ever! We got along really well and will probably party together in the future.

I will never forget my awesome roommates from BIP last summer ❤

So, that’s my list of the best things in Korea! I will expand on the food section in a later blog post, and will also follow up with a list of the 10 things I dislike about Korea, although I imagine it will take me a while to find 10 things that I don’t like about living here!

To any other foreigners who may be reading this, I’d be interested in hearing what your favourite parts about Korea are!

For now, I’m off to do some homework… Yes, in the middle of Chuseok! My professor is so cruel 😥