It’s Hard Not To Compare

It’s been about a month and a half since I peninsula hopped. I know I haven’t written too much about it so far, and I’m not sure why that is, but it may be because I don’t feel like I’ve settled just yet. My heart is still wheeling for Korea, and I’d say all around I don’t have the feels I initially got when I began life in Koko.

I can’t stop comparing things, which I know is totally normal given the whirlwind I bestowed upon myself, but I also feel like maybe it’s hindering my enjoyment of Spain. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying myself – because I am. It’s just taking a little longer to wrap my heart around the continent that was my favorite just 4 years ago, before Asia and the family I made there stole it.

I guess this is what homesickness feels like. Just whack when it’s for your 2nd home and not the 1st.

In an effort to make this more than a sap story, I have taken mental, and when applicable, pictoral notes, of those noticeable differences between the 2 peninsulas that have had the great pleasure of hosting my American ass.

Because comparing is inevitable, here we go.

1. Drunk Ajussi vs. Señors Who Siesta

It is by no means a rarity in Korea to find a ‘salary man’ in his glittery tie passed out in his own vomit whilst molesting the trash laden curb, or passed out in the fetal position in a corner, or basking in his glory on a subway bench at nearly any time of the day.

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Or in his case, traditional ajussi garb.

In Spain this is nonexistent. Instead, you’ll find a gentlemen fully dressed to the nines having his afternoon siesta in the middle of the hustle bustle of the city center on a park bench.

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2. Ajummas vs. Señoras In Pearls

Ajummas are a breed all their own. They don’t care what they throw on in the morning (unless it involves hiking a mountain), and I’m convinced do not own mirrors and/or have someone to veto the clashing patterns they’ve got draped. When they hit a certain age, the only hairdo is one of tightly coifed curls, and their elbows can kill.

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My eyes!

The señoras in pearls are women who have not given up on life, and will go down looking their best. Perfectly tailored dress sets, strings of pearls around their necks and dazzling their ears, and the best designed hand bags to boot! Please note that this element of putting oneself together translates to the señors as well.

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Arguing the proper marrying age of a young woman. I’m officially on the shelf in case you were curious.

3. Early Bird Special Plus Round 2, 3, Noraebang vs. Tapas Then Dinner Whenever

I had never eaten dinner as early as I did than while living in Korea. School would finish at 4:40pm and then the whole faculty was off to dinner together en masse. We’d sit down for Round 1 around 5pm and everyone was prepared to get smashed. After a couple hours and a couple drunk falls by the maintenance man, or principal, we’d move onto Round 2 at some hof. I usually tried to duck out around this time. But if I stuck around, that would ultimately lead to noraebanging the night away.

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Germ swapping builds a strong immune system, and is good for health.

The Spanish will eat tapas at the time when we Americans would typically eat dinner (or really anytime), around 7-8pm, and dinner no earlier than 9pm. That’s even pushing it. I have come home on multiple occasions to a roommate cooking dinner at 11pm. Don’t they know that shit sits in your stomach and makes you fat?! Both enjoy their food though, there is zero arguing of that.

Tiny bites of bomb.

Never thought I’d crave mushrooms as much as I do whilst looking at this photo.

4. Korean School vs. Out Of Control Spanish School

Of course, the reason I am allowed to legally live here, duh. I must admit, even though this is only my 2nd teaching gig and I was in Korea 3 years longer than I have been in Spain, no one has anything on Korean kids. Maybe I’m biased, but then so I am, but they just latched onto my heart so much quicker. Maybe it’s because I was so novel to them. Whatever it is, Korean kiddos, even at their worst, are FAR more obedient and attentive to authority figures than Spanish kiddos. And that’s just the kids.

The teachers do NOT know how to discipline the students here and spend the majority of class talking over the kids because they don’t quiet them down. I work in a bilingual school, so all subjects are taught in English. They’re little, so obviously they aren’t going to understand everything and every direction being thrown at them. Yet, I have co-teachers who bark at the kids and expect them to understand everything right away. I have never experienced such coldness from teachers to children, or kids so out of control off their rockers. It’s like a vicious circle of non-discipline, shouting, students running around throwing pencils in class, crawling on the floor, and of course nothing getting done. I teach only 16 hours a week, and am in the biggest hurry to get out of that school when I’m done. By this time in Korea I had already sold my heart over for a 2nd year, Spain on the other hand, I’m majorly leaning towards negatory.

I will say though that the differences in schools are very telling of the cultures and how completely opposite they are of one another. Koreans strive to be the top of the tops and get into the best university possible, while the ability to finish school at 16 years old in Spain is a welcomed one.  Not to mention, I can’t help but notice how impassioned Spaniards are. While I hate the shouting with a passion, emotions and creativity run wild in the Spanish classroom, something that is 110% lacking, in Korea. You win and you lose I suppose.

Since I'm not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here's a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child's photobooth ride.

Since I’m not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here’s a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child’s photobooth ride.

5. Table Staples

Seeing the staples on any given country’s table is so fascinating to me. I was thinking about this the other day, how I guess in America it would be salt & pepper, maybe some ketchup and mustard. In Korea you’ve got one of the millions of kimchis and gochujang on every single table you sit down at.  Which also makes my mouth water and my mind explode with the notion that I have not stuffed kimchi in my face in over a month. It’s tragic really.

Well in Spain you’ve got extra virgin olive oil and what I missed with tremendous abandon for 3 years, balsamic vinegar, on nearly every table. If not balsamic, you’ve at least got oil and some other kind of vinegar. But it is ever-present and they slather that shit on every piece of jamon or pan con tomate they devour.

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Since you know what oil & vinegar look like, this is a sampling of snack time my first day on the job. Chocolate cake with sprinkles for breakfast.

6. Cafés Of Every Theme vs. Cafeterias

I could step out of my apartment in Korea and find a million cafes in every direction I turned, and they’d be of any theme imaginable. It was perhaps one of my hands down favorite things about Korea and something that that country reigns supreme in. Café culture in Korea is TOP.OF.THE.POPS. While some of my best cups of coffee were definitely not had in Korea, the best slices of cake were. HELLO HACKNEY DARK BABY AND FRANK’S RAINBOW CREAM ROLL CAKE. And anything Earl Grey flavored, because they have it.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Café culture in Spain isn’t so prominent, and that’s probably because Spaniards are a little more adventurous in their outings with other individuals. While the coffee is a million eons beyond Korea, the experience is lightyears different, and not really my style. I LOVE sitting in a cafe with my computer typing away, and so far that experience has been pretty hard to replicate. Most caféterias are bar style and you order a cafe con leche from the bar and drink it standing up alongside others who are also at the bar. They’re also not a very grab-your-coffee-to-go type of people.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be up the street from me.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be just around the river bend from me.

7. American English vs. British English

This is a bizarre as all hell thing people! It’s adorable slash makes me feel a little heeby jeeby inside. Hearing little Spanish babies speak in British accents might be one of the most precious things I have ever willfully exposed myself to, and hearing a 1st grader ask me everyday “Teacher, where’s my rubber?” will never cease to make me cackle with dirty abandon inside.

That aside, while my co-teachers encourage telling the students what we’d say in America, I find it to be hardly enforced. It’s merely brushed over, probably because it won’t be on the Cambridge Exams. Needless to say, I miss teaching American English, even if the kiddos thought every black person on the TV was Obama.

Well, there you’ve got it! Did you like that British English I just threw at you?! I thought you would. These are just a month’s worth of immediate observations that have tipped my senses. I hope I didn’t come off as so unbearably whiney about my new life in España, I’m trying here people! Now let me know about your experiences in your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th homes. What things really shocked your pants off, or merely stood out to you?

 

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Yang Yang Up The Ying Yang

Joshy had been talking about this hippie dippy surfer enclave that pretty much straddles the 38th parallel on the east coast, called Yang Yang, for forever and a day.  Only he pronounces it like you’re pronouncing it if you live in the west, only it’s really supposed to be pronounced like they pronounce it in the east, like YahngYahng, but we’ll just keep pronouncing it like YangYang because it’s more fun that way.

Anyways, enough with the pronunciation lesson. Like I was saying, he’s been wanting to go FOREVER, but when his brilliant plan got thrown into road trip motion he went into mini freak out mode like OMG WE DON’T REALLY NEED TO GO. But we were getting the F out of Seoul, and we were utilizing that international drivers license that Dusty boy procured whilst Stateside.

So, after a minor hiccup and foreigner free pass at the car rental place, we rented our Hyundai and joined the swanky Sonata club of Korea.

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Of course no road trip is complete without a playlist, and my 7th grade crush’s recently dropped hit provided just that. Sean Sahand errrbody…while I crawl inside myself.

As much as everyone was enjoying the jam and the J’s, instead of the suggested 3 hours allotted for the journey, it took us approximately 7 hours to reach the glorious beaches of YangYang, and we forged through all types of weather to get there. I’m not kidding. We thought we were going to reach the beach and head right to the mart for hoodies and sweats. There is no shittier feeling than being dressed for summer in the middle of winter atop Mt. Seorak. But there we were, umbrellas turned inside out and eating piping hot hotteok to keep us warm.

They behaved for the photo, thankfully.

They behaved for the photo, thankfully.

Good thing we had our optimistic giant in tow, who knew the sun would come out tomorrow, because as soon as we hit the coast, the sun surely was a glistening. That was about the time we reached the vicinity of our beloved YangYang! Only we overshot it a bit, but that’s ok! We found the absolutely stunning oceanside temple shrine Hyuhyu-am and took a wander. It was so beautiful and magestic! You do not get to see these blue skies in Seoul, THAT’s for sure!

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Broing out.

When we finally got to YangYang, it took us a hott minute to find the pension that Veny took the reigns on booking after Joshua had booked a single bed in jumbled Korean for 4 of us. We love each other, but not that much. We didn’t mind the momentary confusion though because we were so obsessed with all the personality, tattoos and hairstyles in wild abundance. It felt like we stepped out of Korea for a weekend. Everyone was tan, and no one, NO ONE was sitting on their cell phones whilst in the company of another. It was wild. 

After dumping our belongings in our room that was the size of a California King bed (and that’s being generous), we took to exploring the oceanside town.

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This marks the first time I ever tried samgyeopsal. Couldn’t turn down pig from sweet ajummas. That’s a rarity. 

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These mushrooms looked quite phallic. So obviously I documented.

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Veny posed beside her unsuspecting fashion icon.

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Dusty boy got down ‘n dirty with his ajussi squat.

Joshy tried to shoot down a stuffed bottle of Cass with arms, to no such luck.

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And I hopped a fence (without falling) to sit on the wine cork looking things that break the waves on the dock.

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It felt amazing to breathe the fresh air and get that salt and sand between our toes.  And even though it was a sad realization that this was one of our last weekends together, I was so happy to be spending it with the ones who became my greatest family these past 3 years.

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That night we enjoyed each other’s company over some Sean Sahand serenades, some very strong beverages, some sparklers on the beach, and some cheese balls.

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We left a nice gift of cheese balls on the terrace for the next visitor.

Before hopping  back in our swanky Sonata back to the big city, we worked on our pasty city “tans” one last time, and enjoyed the gaggle of fully dressed Koreans enjoying  a day in the sun.

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To all those wishing to get the heck out of the landlocked concrete jungle of Seoul, I wish I had more solid directions than ‘just drive East’ to give you. But unfortunately I don’t because I didn’t drive, and I’m a moron with a map. While Veny was playing navigator for our Daddy Dustin, I was taking pictures of a sleeping Joshua in the backseat.

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If you get a chance, hit up YangYang. It’s definitely an unspoken about gem that’s more than worth the weekend jaunt.

 

I Finally Stood In North Korea

You could call me, in all my matourity, a DMZ veteran if you’d like, seeing as last weekend marked my 4th visit to that very very scary border to the North.

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I went once on Mama’s Schaeff’s birthday when sista came to visit me on my first birthday in the Koko. I went twice for 2 leisurely bike rides along the barbed wire majesty, and even got interviewed for all of Korea to witness. But, this last time, this last time I’ll have you know, is the most legit it has ever gotten, and will ever be gotten, unless I ever actually go to visit the North, which is highly unlikely. But never say never. 5 is a good number.

I finally got to check off that fatty trip to the Joint Security Area / Panmunjeom from my Korean Bucket List, and stood two feet in the North next to a soldier guarding the door to the Hermit Kingdom.

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I think many people are pretty out of the know when it comes to the two Koreas, so when they hear I live in Seoul and that it’s within an hour’s drive of the North, people are like WTF ARE YOU DOING, GET OUT OF THERE BEFORE YOU GET BOMBED. But it’s so not like that.  It’s so chill, and the North’s shenanigans are so far removed from anyone’s waking thoughts. 

I say this because I never get scared knowing that I’m so close to Kim Jong-un and his missles and $800 bottles of brandy.  But, last Saturday I could feel myself getting more and more tense as we reached the JSA. And honestly, it wasn’t because I thought anything would happen. But it’s just such an intense place, and the dress code was so strict, and the security just to get into the JSA required 2 busses, no pointing, no taking pictures of the building behind us, no walking behind soldiers and no touching of tables. There were so many rules and I really had to practice keeping my gestures to myself, because you know I like to gesture. I fucked up, as you’d imagine, but I’m still here so it’s all good.

The tour that we went on took us to 3 places at the DMZ. The first being Camp Bonifas, which, fun fact, is home of the world’s most dangerous golf course. One wrong move and your ball could land in a field of unexploded mines.  Camp Bonifas was named in honor of the Captain who, along with one other, was murdered by North Korean soldiers for cutting down a poplar tree, in what has since been deemed The Axe Murder Incident of 1976. Our tour guide could not stress this incident enough. Everything he spoke about, which I’m not sure his facts were all straight, always came back to this Axe Murder Incident.

First group shot at Camp Bonifas. Fun fact, the girl next to me refused to wear the skirt provided since her’s was too short.

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Just beyond Camp Bonifas lies the JSA, which is comprised of blue buildings that straddle a thin cement slab separating the North from the South, and are maintained by the UN. The particular building where tourists are allowed to enter is where the military meetings necessary to uphold the Armistice Agreement are hashed out. I’ve heard it can get pretty wild in there when they get going, stomping on tables and ish.

By entering the building on the left, you can legally say you have been in North Korea, but a photo will have to act as your passport stamp. Just beyond the blue buildings is North Korea, and if you look close enough, just up to the left of the soldier’s shoulder you can see a North Korean soldier standing post.

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Visitors from North Korea can also come to the JSA for a tour of the DMZ from the North, and apparently just the day before there were tons of North Koreans. We were told not to point or return any friendly waves or smiles if we encountered any North Koreans. Not because of anything malicious towards them, but because if we were to do so, they could take that as us believing that North Korea is great and use it to further brainwash their people. Pretty fascinating and I didn’t even think of that as an issue until told not to. Of course I pointed because my fingers have a mind of their own. Thankfully no North Koreans were in sight.

This soldier is standing directly on the border, and we found out the hard way that you are not supposed to walk behind him when Jenny accidentally did. Whoops.

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You’re also not supposed to touch or put anything on the tables, which again, we fucked up on. Well, Veny did. Triple whoops.

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No trip to a huge attraction would be complete without this guy, his big smile, and my “THIS GUY” face. We were also the last two out of the building. I’m seeing a trend since Dokdo. Token troublemakers.

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They also took group shots of us, where girls had to bend down like sorority girls. I’m also pretty impressed with their turbo airbrushing skills.

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Following in the haste of Dokdo, I almost forgot to get a picture of the room in its entirety, so here is the cockeyed shot I got as we were bolting out the door, last but not least.

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On our way out of the JSA we stopped at the Bridge of No Return, which we were not allowed to get out and see, but just view from the bus.  As the Korean War drew to a close, prisoner exchanges were done here. They were given the choice to stay in the North or South, but if they crossed over from one to the other they were never allowed to return again.

We just take selfies here.

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And our final, final stop was at Imjingak, where I’ve actually been on all my trips before this. Imjingak is home to the Freedom Bridge, which was used after usage of the Bridge of No Return was shut down following the Axe Murder Incident.  I didn’t get a photo of the bridge, but we did get this sick shot. That’s North Korean soju that I’m downing on ‘G” for Garry.

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Last fun fact for you. While military service is mandatory for men in both the North and South, service in the South is just around 2 years depending on your branch, whereas 10 years of active duty is required in the North.

If you’re looking to catch a tour of the most heavily militarized border in the world, the tour group that we went through was called Tour DMZ. We originally wanted to do the USO tour group that sista and I went through when she was here, but that is sold out for months, so we got the next best thing. For a half day tour to only the JSA the cost is 85,000won. There is also a DMZ and 3rd Infiltration tunnel tour, and another combining the two tours. 

I’ll leave you with a pointer for the wise. If you are hurtin’ to purchase some North Korean liquor at the gift shop at Camp Bonifas, I’d probably advise against it, unless you want to burn yourself from the inside out.  Spend the cash monies on some North Korean wons instead.  Now you tell me! Have you been to the DMZ / JSA or even North Korea? What did you think? Were there any differences between this tour and your’s? 

 

Island Hopping Off Incheon

2 weeks ago marked the last long weekend I will ever rejoice in during my time in Korea. That’s if you don’t count the one during summer camp in August, but I’ll totally be checked out by then and camp will be donezo! My original plan for the long weekend was to visit Haesindang Penis Park on the east coast, close by to Samcheok, where I got a case of bed bugs when Josh and I went to Dokdo last year. Pretty soon everyone started flaking, and as much as I wanted to still go, visiting a penis park solo seems a little too perverted, even for me. Plus, who would document me atop many a phallus?

With that, I decided to head out on my own and check out a couple more islands that are just off the west coast of Incheon. I went to Muui-do during my first Chuseok in Korea and fell hardcore in love, so thought it’d be nice to add a couple more islands to that list. Ganghwa-do is about 2 hours by bus outside of Seoul, and Seokmo-do is about a 15 minute ferry ride from Ganghwa-do. Both islands are very prominent in Korean history, as they served as a fortress island during several invasions by France, Japan and America. It is also as far north as you can get, as it’s just separated from North Korea by the Han River extending out from Seoul.

When I arrived at Ganghwa-do Bus Terminal, the tourist information guy was SO helpful. I didn’t really have a plan, but knew of some sites that I wanted to see. I had also just planned to find a jjimjilbang (Korean bath house) to spend the night at. The man instead told me that Bomunsa Temple on Seokmo-do offers overnight temple stays for 10,000won. It wasn’t a traditional temple stay, but rather a mat to sleep on in a communal woman room, with meals (and snores) all included. I took his advice and headed out to catch the ferry to Seokmo-do.

The bus to get to the port took FOR-EVER. Many people take their cars over to Seokmo-do, so the traffic was horrendous. What would typically be a 35-40 minute bus ride took over an hour, at which point I hopped off and walked the rest of the way to the port. When I got to the port there were tons of little shops selling shrimp chips and special ginseng makkoli. A specialty of the island is their dried shrimp, and the seagulls that follow the boat over to Seokmo-do are very greedy when it comes to those shrimp chips!

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Here is the only photo of myself from the weekend. Not much for selfies, but seagulls aplenty!

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I finally made it to Seokmo-do, and had to figure out how to get to the temple. The guy manning the bus stop was a little flippant when faced with my foreign face even when I was speaking Korean, but I met a couple girls on the bus who spoke really good English and chatted me up. They figured out that I’d head out on the same bus as them on their way to the beach.

When I got to Bomunsa, the base of the temple was littered with old town Korea, which made me so happy. Tons of old women hunched over their little shops of bowls of nuts, and ddeok (rice cakes), and dried shrimp. Tons of dirty fingers handing me samples that I didn’t want to be rude and not try in front of them, and tons of samplings of makkoli. I found myself using far more Korean than I typically do living in Seoul, which impressed even myself that I could verbalize things I thought I only really knew how to understand.

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Getting up to Bomunsa is quite a job for the ass and calf muscles. But it’s a really beautiful walk up, and the temple itself is lovely.

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What I wanted to see most at Bomunsa were the hundreds of Buddhas! Just as you arrive to the top of the hill to your left is a procession of all these white Buddhas with different faces and expressions. I saw a bunch of people also throwing coins to the big statue in the center, so I’m thinking that’s to make a wish or pray or something.

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The rest of the temple was pretty standard when it comes to Korean temples. Very beautiful, but nothing I haven’t seen before, aside from the massive reclining gold Buddha in one of the temples.

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See that flight of stairs to the right? That leads all the way up to the top of that mountain, where there resides a Buddha carved into the side of the mountain. People who were there on a weekend temple stay were doing their daily prayers with the sea breezing behind them.

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No trip in Korea is complete without a selfie or two, give or take a nice backdrop, or not.

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I was also VERY proud of myself for not pulling a Danielle and plummeting down this flight of stairs during my descent. Pat on the back, me!

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When I successfully landed on flat ground, I checked into the temple for the night and went to eat some dinner before it closed. The dinner was my least favorite Korean food, bibimbap, but I liked knowing that since I was at a temple there was no need to worry about any weird meats finding their way into my bowl.

For my slumber, I was given a mat, blanket and a rectangular pillow that I laid out in the middle of a bunch of ajummas for the night. As the only foreigner, I was quite the attraction amongst these women. There were two sisters that I was sleeping next to, and they showered me with Korean melon, candies and ddeok for days. Through my broken Korean and their broken English, we established that one of the sisters has 2 granddaughters that are half whities and were born in America. She then proceeded to call her granddaughters to have them translate all the burning questions she had for me. She even asked if she could come to my house because “she wants to see how I live.” I had a good laugh about that one with her 7 year old granddaughter, Grace.

That night I fell asleep at like, 10pm, after a failed attempt to read my book because they kept tapping me to ask another question. So I just fell asleep instead so I didn’t have to deal. I can’t even remember the last time I went to bed that early. I also had to sleep with my headphones in because there were so many ajumma snores. It was pretty unbelievable.

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At around 5am I was jolted awake with pieces of candy being thrown at me. It was like I was a little sugar animal or something. The sisters were trying to wake me up to have breakfast with them, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up that early, let alone eat kimchi for breakfast. So I continued sleeping for most of the morning. At around 10, after 12 solid hours of slumber, I woke up to them staring at me and asking to have lunch with them, but I wanted to jet out. And jet out I did.

After a quick rinse, and by rinse I mean taking the shower nozzle and wetting my legs and arms, then slathering myself in lotion, I was off. I felt so dirty but I was not about to take a legit naked shower in the communal shower area with flies and weird smells aplenty. So I probably smelled pretty potent.

I grabbed some free fried vegetables for the road, a bottle of ginseng makkoli for later, and admired the delicious kimchi being made. Gotta get me a baby kimchi pot before I leave.

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I also found the ajumma hott spot.

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I caught the bus back to the ferry, and the ferry back to Ganghwa-do, where I popped off to go see the ancient dolmens with these fashionable travel companions.

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The dolmens are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and serve as grave markers for past rulers or high-up people. To me, they looked like a Korean version of Stonehenge on a much smaller scale. I was not impressed, so this journey took me all of like, 15 minutes to get through.

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After seeing the dolmens, I thought I’d go to the Peace Observatory to wave hello to Kim Jong-un, but I was a bit pooped and in desperate need of a bath, so decided to call my little trip over after a wander around downtown Ganghwa-do. I checked out a little flea/produce market, and saw enough garlic to keep all the demons away. It smelled so delicious.

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If you’re looking for a quick, cheap, and easy getaway out of Seoul for a couple days, this is a lovely option. To get there, grab the 3000 bus about a 5 minute walk from Sinchon exit 5 (green line). It’ll take about 1.5-2 hours to get to Ganghwa-do, and busses leave every 15 minutes. Once arriving at the terminal in Ganghwa-do, the tourist information man is extremely helpful. I believe I used busses 1 and 30 on Ganghwa-do, and there’s only 1 bus you need to use on Seokmo-do. You can also use your T-Money card for all busses, and I probably spent about 6,000won in total for all transportation on both islands. Not too shabby!

Chuncheon With Some Chappys

At present moment, I have embarked upon my final 2ish months of ROKin’ out in the Koko. It’s kind of hard to believe that 3 years have come and gone. SHWOOP! Where the flying F does the time go?! I’m actually quite sad about the wind-down because as weird as this place is, I really fucking love it. Not to mention, there are some people I’m not ready to have so far removed from my immediate life yet. I know some will bring madd waterworks. Oh well. C’est la vie! Time to start packing and shipping and all of that not fun stuff.

Yet, no matter how much I love the far East, my second home, I’m 110% ready for a new adventure. My feet are starting to get itchy and I’m hankering for a new place, new experiences, new culture and to meet a brand new slew of (minimally freakish) peeps. Topped off with guzzling wine by the bottle. Can’t forget THAT.

So then, with the impending departure rapidly approaching and a yadda yadda yadda, I’ve realized that I’ve kind of been a blub when it came to really getting out and exploring this country. I’m ashamed of it, but I definitely know I’m not alone in this state of getting land-locked in the big city and just getting too lazy to branch out. Seoul has become home, and as much as I hate monotony, I’ve gotten stuck in my ways and the day-to-day whathaveyous. With that out on the table, I’ve been on a mission to bounce my ass out of this city as much as humanly possible.

Chrissy and I have been meaning to get back to the Chuncheon/Gapyeong area for some time now. Both of us went on our own on two separate occasions about a year ago and visited Nami Island. Nami Island is a little lovers enclave, filled with lush towering greenery, and even boasts a “First Kiss Bridge” named for, as one would suspect, the first kiss of two characters on the hott Korean drama, Winter Sonata, which was apparently quite popular. The bridge is lined with melted and flattened soju bottles, which aside from most likely leading to many an inappropriate adult behavior, was super quirky and cool. They sold these bottle-dishes in the gift shop, and I played the tourist when I purchased my super Korean trinket so as to fondly remember all those wild nights I had with the Devil’s water. I hate to love you, little green 1 dollar bottle!

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These two couple-wear rockin love birds probably just shared a romantic kiss where many other fans did before them. Giggle worthy.

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You can leave your mark for all eternity on these special snowmen, just as Winter Sonata likely had on all those fans’ hearts. Maybe take a selfie with them while you’re at it?

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I strolled down this romantic lovers lane, hand-in-hand with myself.

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Lots of funkiness to break up the serene on this island. Do your boobs hang low? Do they wobble to-and-fro?

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Chuncheon is known for its dakgalbi and makguksu, which also happen to be two of my favorite Korean cuisines. Dakgalbi, a marinated chicken dish that’s stir fried with cabbage and rice cakes in a spicy pepper sauce, isn’t really an eat-by-yourself meal, so I knew I definitely had to return with a homie in tow. So I done did dat! After many poor weather days, Chrissy and I finally got ourselves out there together, along with two others, Sarah and Chrissy’s friend Sammy.

We took the comfy high-speed ITX train from Yongsan Station all the way out to Chuncheon, which takes about 1.5 hours. Chrissy, the ultimate snack queen, brought some long breaded sausage for everyone’s train noshing enjoyment.

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When we got there, we didn’t actually do much, but it felt sooooo nice to be out of the city and breathe the fresh air! There is green everywhere, and I even felt like I completely left Korea. We ended up grabbing a cab out to Soyang Dam, where we then hitched a ride on a ferry out to a secluded area which houses Cheongpyeongsa Temple, which we didn’t even make it to! During the 10 minute ferry ride I felt like I was transported back to Southeast Asia. It was absolutely stunning. Korea is seriously gorgeous once you really get into it.

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From the dock, it’s about a 20 minute walk to the hill up to the temple. We staked out a lovely riverside lunch at one of the little restaurants leading to the temple and stuffed our faces with dakgalbi, makguksu, and dong dong ju (a fermented rice wine much like makkoli, my Korean beverage of choice). The ajussi who worked there also took quite the liking to me, and grabbed my cup at one point to give himself one of several “service shots” of our dong dong ju. Hmmm suspicious old man! “I serve, you thank!” He also had a snappy way of clapping at us to get our attention from the restaurant above. We thought it was so funny, but when we did it back to him he turned a not-so-happy eye on us. Methinks we disrespected our elder in our fun and games.

Either way, the food, booze, and locale were sensational.

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What a nice mommy and daddy cooking my food for me.

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Korean pancakes are little bits of heaven, and that kimchi burrito thing was tasty too.

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When we were alerted to the last boat’s departure by our clappy friend, after having not even gone to the temple, we raced across this bridge back to the dock, but not without a quickie photo shoot, of course. This is me and Chrissy after all.

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Then we hauled our overflowing bladders and made the final boat, thank the heavens above!

I wish we got to see the temple, but alas, most temples in Korea all look the same, so I’m not too torn up about it. Chuncheon is beautiful and twas invigorating to breathe some clear fresh green air in good company!

Directions to Nami Island: Take the high speed ITX train either from Yongsan or Sangbong Station to Gapyeong Station. I had gotten a bit turned around when I went, but you should hail a taxi from Gapyeong Station to Namiseom Dock. Then from the dock you’ll hop a 5 minute ferry to Nami. 

Directions to Chuncheon & Soyang Dam / Cheongpyeongsa Temple: Follow the same ITX directions as above, only take the train all the way to the Chuncheon exit. When you arrive you can either hop the bus across the street from the station (I forget the number, but the Tourist Center could let you know that), or take a cab, which is what we did. It ended up being around a 12,000won cab ride. Once you arrive at the dock just purchase a ticket for the ferry and hop it! 

 

A Wild Ride At Yongma Land

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During my innocent high school days, Nick and I used to go back to his dad’s apartment sometimes for lunch. Whenever we would, I’d eat a can of Chunky soup from the pantry, some Carl Buddig turkey (there goes my absurd memory for detail again), and some Kraft singles while I’d wait for my soup to heat up. Then I’d plop down in front of the tele and turn on Unsolved Mysteries. Robert Stack always creeped me the F out in that brown trench coat of his, but I think I really liked it. He was the perfect host for my favorite creepytime show. All of the stories on Unsolved Mysteries were primarily from like, 10 years prior, and the acting on the show was horrendous, but it gave me my daily dose of eerie and it made me happy slash vigilant in always looking behind me.

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Why am I telling you this, you ask? Because I wanted you to know that I’ve always loved spooky things, ok?? Especially movies like The Shining which I watched for the first time in high school at 2am, and still haunts me to this day. That’s why I had to purchase the REDRUM t-shirt you see in the following photos. It was the perfect dress for the occasion, because you know I never miss a chance to play a little dress up.

Remember when I broke into that abandoned insane asylum last summer? That was so cool, and still tops my list of favorite things done whilst in Korea. Since then, I’ve read about quite a few other haunted or abandoned places on this peninsula, and one of them that happened to be closest to Seoul is Yongma Land, an abandoned amusement park. It looked like more of a carnival to me, but that’s neither here nor there, and it went out of business sometime in the mid-nineties due to a lack of Yongma Land-goers.

Since I’ve been dying to go, I grabbed my fellow abandoned places explorer, Joshy, and a very appropriately dressed Veny, to check it out with me. From Seoul, we all hopped the Jungnang line to the Mangu Station exit where we had about a 20 or so minute walk (if we hadn’t gotten lost en route) to the park. As you would expect, we took the very scenic route (read: the wrong way) after being detoured by some picnicing ajussis in the bushes. We walked along the path they told us to, but veered off to our other left instead of following this here sign like we should have. But should doesn’t make for the most enticing story, now does it?

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Our other left took us around a golfing range and into what we discovered to be the back entrance and what was probably at one point the water park of Yongma Land. Before dredging through the mushy hills and spiderwebs, we modeled in the once upon a time pool, and on the decomposing water slide filled with crap and a burnt teddy bear.

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We finally decided to try one of the staircases leading up to who knew where, and our first try proved to be a ghastly mess of monster ants and spider webs up the ying yang. Take two led us up this staircase on the left.

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And Joshy, forging the way for his ladies, took this route, which we did not.

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Instead, we went rock climbing, which Veny did not enjoy but cameraman up there did.

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If he’s anything he’s a gentleman!

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Behold! Back door entry to mounds of crap for everyone!

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Once arriving at the park, or sneaking your way in like us, the entry is 5,000won to Mr. Youn who still minimally maintains the grounds. When we arrived and dusted ourselves off, we thought we snuck in for free, but alas, a 6’4″ white man and his ladies stick out. The park has actually become quite popular for shooting k-pop videos and commercials, so we weren’t surprised to find quite a few groups there for photo shoots.

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Or this pervert and his muse.

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We let the perverts carry on as we explored and got our hands and butts a delightful shade of dirty. First up, dat Disco Pong Pong all the kids love so much. Joshy the giant was terrified during this photo opp.

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WALL-E!

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Office chair graveyard by Aladino and his magic carpet.

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Air vehicle graveyard.

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Always the gentleman, he carried our bags as we (dis)mounted large objects.

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K-Love bus buddies since day one!

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Hardcore rockin n’ rollin in this one. Their complimentary weights really balanced it out.

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Methinks I’m too big for this one.

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Jump on it, ride it, dat pony.

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Views at the top, in the castle and bumper car graveyard.

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Back to the future with this generic video game called…Video Game.

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And when we were ready for a bath and a meal, we left through the way we should have come in had we followed directions properly.

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If you are itchin’ to get out of Seoul, or want to fulfill the inner lust for the abandoned, shlep yourself to Yongma Land! It was super fun and an out of the norm way to spend a weekend taking colorful photos.

To get there, take the Jungnang line to Mangu Station exit 1. You’re going to walk straight out the exit down the main road where you’ll pass an Emart with a McDonald’s written all in Korean. Turn left when you get to the next main intersection. Keep walking straight until you come to the next major intersection. The road will sort of curve to the right into a smaller street. Walk down this street and keep following it. A little ways up when you hit a cake shop on the right it’ll curve around to the left and FOLLOW THAT. We made the “mistake” of just walking straight up the small street but that led us the super round about scenic route way (which you may enjoy). If you go the “correct” way, it’ll lead you up a street littered with little restaurants and straight to the entrance above. There’s also a sign with Mr. Youn’s number on it if you need to call him to let you in.

Happy riding!

Happy Birthday Buddha, With Love From Gyeongju!

I sit here a week after returning from a very much anticipated long weekend jet out of town with a visitor I just couldn’t wait to be in the same time zone and touchable space with for the past 5 months. A very digital age meet-and-greet story short, Jerry came back to the Koko on a very big leap of faith after we spent a Valentine’s Day in the airport, and many a month Skype cavorting. Well, Skype doesn’t always translate into shooting stars, but I think a snarky and oftentimes brutally honest friendship came from a southern boy’s internet stalking efforts.

I have been wanting to get the heck out of Seoul for a bit now, my lungs have been pretty desperate. Top of my list on the main land has been Gyeongju, which was once the capital of Korea, and is where you can learn about the Shilla Dynasty of Korean history past. It is the cultural epicenter, and where you go if you want to walk in Korean history, not to mention, breathe glorious fresh oxygen.

So, as soon as Jerry Berry arrived from Shanghai, we hitched a KTX train ride down south from Seoul Station to Gyeongju, with a quick transfer to the Mungunghwa slower train. I love train travel, and we wanted a little longer jaunt on the way down. On the return we came direct from Singyeongju station, which is slightly more out of the way from Gyeongju, but has a direct KTX line to Seoul.

I had never stayed in a love motel (which is exactly what it sounds like) since being in Korea, so I booked us a room at the swanky Sugar Motel on the sexy love motel street. Since we were planning to be total tourists on this getaway, we took the free pick up from the train station that was provided, and the lovely Miran fetched us upon our arrival. Ajumma visor modeling was provided on-the-house from the backseat.

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We were greeted with elevator Astrology. Are Aquarius and Libra compatible? I guess we were to find out.

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After settling in and finding horrendously disgusting Korean ramen slurping-esq porn on the tele (which we watched for far too long), we went out for a nice long wander around town, where we mocked the giant political poster-men, noshed on a snack (which he fucked up and needed assistance), and inhaled some dakgalbi. We also enjoyed a heaping serving of miserable couples not talking to each other all around us. Jerry was very happy to be back in Korea.

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We had one full day in Gyeongju, so the next morning we had a leisurely sleep in, and went off to rent some bikes for a couple hours. I think I always mention that biking in foreign places is one of my favorites ways to see a city, and this was no different, except that there are people EVERYWHERE in Korea, and add a holiday weekend. So, there was lots of swerving. I even saw a woman plummet straight for a curbside lunch. For once I wasn’t the one eating shit, and Asians suck at driving in all its forms.

Gyeongju is scattered with these spectacular rolling green hills which are actually tomb mounds, and they’re all over the city. They are stunning! We visited Cheonmachong, meaning Heavenly Horse tomb, which is believed to house one of the Kings of the Shilla Dynasty. This particular tomb was named for the horses that were found painted on a saddle that was found during excavations in the 1970s.

It also proved to be a spectacular setting for selfie-stalking (or as Selena Meyer would say “Ussie” stalking), which also happens to be another of my favorite pastimes in the country of narcissism.

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We stumbled upon some gangsters who were climbing a trail up to the top of one of the mounds, and just as I was about to shlep our asses up there, the ajussi police came and ran them off. So instead of rebelling, we biked some more in search of a park that we soon realized was far too far for our little bicycles. So we forded a river and followed this little lady down her alleyway. 

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I also found what resembles a massive menorah downtown. L’chaim!

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That night, after getting a tad bit lost, we got a jeongsik (정식) dinner, which is a meal comprised of a bunch of sides. It’s super delicious and usually comes with soup and tons of plates to cover your table. Our first one happened to be a baby jeongsik. I believe this one cost around 5,000won/person! Not too shabby.

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After stuffing our bellies, we oriented ourselves and walked across town to Cheomseongdae Observatory, which is claimed to be the oldest observatory in all of Asia. Glory glory Korea! I wasn’t super impressed, but I did read that this observatory is built of 361.5 stone slabs, which is equal to the number of days in the Lunar calendar. Ok, so some scientific thought went into the construction.

We took this horrendous selfie as a souvenir.

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And this one of these people with their asshole arm extender.  Then we peaced on out to Anapji Pond, which disappointingly enough, we got there too late to see in its illuminated glory. Sadface.

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Tuesday was actual Buddha’s Birthday, so we got up at the crack of the morn and hit the road to make the most of our half day before shlepping back up to the ol’ concrete jungle. Before hopping a bus, we needed to caffeinate, and he needed to continue documentation of the horizontal stripe phenomenon in Korea for the mind-blowing science project that he’s conducting.

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Stripes taken, we popped on a bus headed for Bulguksa Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is about 35-40 minutes outside of the city center. We took this ussie where Jerry continued to practice his smile.

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Bulguksa is beautiful, and there were some prayers and speeches going on while we wandered the grounds. I think all temples in Korea look the same, but they’re still quite perty to see. I especially love the lanterns they use to adorn during Buddhist holidays.

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We made some friends.

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This Jew is always trying to find beauty in a Buddhist symbol turned disgusting.

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I stalked a bit, per the usual.

IMG_3370We were going to head out to Seokguram Grotto, but alas there was no time. Seokguram was also recently declared a UNESCO site, so I’d like to see that at some point.

Our last meal in Gyeongju was another jeongsik, this time much bigger and with a lot more variety. We were actually on a sardine cramped bus headed back to the city center when we passed it, jumped off and bolted across the street. This place was really cute and traditional, and we got to sit in our own private little room on the floor instead of standing pressed up against the man’s farting ass next to us.

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I really really loved Gyeongju and am so glad I finally got to visit. It’s so quaint, and I’d say one of my favorite places I’ve visited during my time in Korea. Living in Seoul, it’s so easy to get swept up in the big city life where things can become mundane and sort of easy once you get the hang of life, even while still being in a foreign country. However, this weekend I felt like I was out of my as-of-late element for the first time in a long time, and I needed that in a bad bad way.

Have you been to Gyeongju? Any must see places or tips should I take another wander down yonder? Let me know!