Thursday, January 23, 2014

Seoul II.

Our first full day in Seoul we started out with -8 degrees and waffles on the roof of our hostel.  Part of it is open and the blokes (as they shall henceforth be known) are using the space as a bit of a workshop for the downstairs reno. Then there has been a small room knocked up with a sink, heater etc which is the kitchen.  It makes me think of the sort of set up my dad would put together if he built a shed to live in.

First stop was Gangnam (no, not to do the dance) - Kate (Roper) had an appointment there.

From there we were off to see Bongeunsa Temple - which is a large Buddhist temple complex in Seoul.  Turned out they have a guided tour for foreigners at 2pm so we hauled ass out of there for a couple of hours to the Coex Building.  Coex is huge, apparently they have an aquarium and a grand ballroom stashed away in there somewhere,  but it takes you 15 minutes of walking down hallways to get from place to place so unless you're going for something specific (like lunch, which we were) I think it'd be kinda boring.

Our temple tour in the afternoon was awesome.  Tour guide was great, explaining some basics of Buddhism, showing us around all the place and explaining lots of the paintings that were on the walls.  Tour also included tea ceremony (beautiful), paper lotus making (I suck at crafts) and zen meditation on the question of 'who am I?' (distraction is everywhere).

In the evening we went to see a Nanta performance.  Nanta is a musical performance set in a kitchen,  involving some comedy and audience participation alongside the musical element.  It was amazing!  Kate R, Emily and I were all hauled up on stage to participate - I won a dumpling-making competition! 

Day two started with toast and coffe on the roof. We then travelled to ... to walk around a neighborhood that is made up of traditional Korean houses.  Very beautiful and a big contrast between this neighborhood and the skyline of the city in the background.  We visited a gallery that lets you try your hand at traditional art - I did a paint-by-numbers fan which was fun and (because I was not using any of my own creativity) turned out pretty well.

We then walked to ... which is sort of the touristy area of Seoul.  Here there are a lot of stores selling momento sort of things. Basically,  SO MUCH SHOPPING WAS HAD. There was also Indian food, which was nice. But, y'know, shopping.

In the evening we had a few drinks at the hostel playing Cards Against Humanity - which is amazing by the way.  Hostel staff had managed to install the wood heayer at this stage and were celebrating with a smoke filled room, poor ventilation and roasted chestnuts and sweet potato.  Then we caught the subway over to ... which is in the university district and has a bit of night life. Long story short,  $2 gin and tonics and $2 shots of tequila are bad for you. Not a late night though as planned to visit the Korean War Memorial next day.

Day three began with McDonald's and seediness.

Still made it to the War Memorial in the morning though. 


We returned from Jeju Island on Monday and had a rest day back in Busan on Tuesday when we spent the day at an all you can eat American buffet, then doing a walk around Hae Undae and eyeballing where they held the 2005 (?) APEC summit - good pic of old Johnny Howard and his eyebrows to be seen.

Wednesday we traveled to Seoul by the fast train arriving about 1.  We are staying at the Base Camp Hostel which is in a really good spot - apparently it used to be made up of tents all over the floor space but the fire department had a field day and they had to build legit rooms.  Currently they are installing a wood heater which seems to involve lots of loud noises and men standing around looking at the heater and hoping it will install itself.  The bathroom door is operated by the use of a hammer tied to a   piece of string as a counter weight.  They also supply shampoo conditioner and body wash for guests but they're all in unmarked bottles. This is what happens when lads are in charge and I am freaking loving it - it really is like camping inside.

In the evening we went to Itaewon which is the multicultural area of Seoul and had MEXICAN FOOD for dinner. And it excellent. And I bought one of those ear flap hats that lumberjacks wear.  It's going to be my Bruny winter hat.

Tomorrow we are off to explore Seoul!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Korean impressions.

We've been in Korea a week now and I'm starting to feel my way about a bit. Most of the blog so far has just been a list of the day to day so here are some of my pyher impressions of the country.

The food so far has been amazing. Before I left a lot of people told me that the food would be wonderful and so far they've been absolutely right.  From Em's local cafe where you can buy dumplings, noodles,  kimbap (Korean version of sushi) and pork cutlets to seafood you see down by the water front, fresh as can be and sometimes still wriggling when being eaten (not by me, I'm too much of a wuss). 

The weather is cold. Colder than home and in the sort of way that makes your teeth hurt and your cheeks sting after a while. But if you're in the sunshine it doesn't matter so much and it's amazing weather for hiking.

Which brings me to the outdoors in Korea.  Everyone goes hiking. Seriously.  They set off up these moutain paths for a day walk dressed up like they're about to climb everest or spend five days in the wildernesd.  Everywhere you go there are hordes of people in bright puffer jackets, hiking boots and with hiking sticks headed off up some reltively well traversed and often paved path. But I can understand it, the cities are crowded and not always that attractive,  but once you are out of the towns the landscape os beautiful even cold and brown as it is in winter.

Perhaps the strangest part has been being in a monocultural society.   Korea is not multicultural - seeing someone from a culture other than the local is something of an oddity.  The only exception to this so far has been Seoul, and even then not by a lot. But western chains like 7/11, paris baguette and starbucks are all over the place so it's an odd mix.

That's all for now, maybe so more things will come to mind over the next week or so.

Love love xx

Sunday, January 19, 2014

the Jeju times.

We're coming to the end of our time on Jeju Island now, after four amazing days.

Day one we visited Udo Island (see previous post).

Day two we visited Manjanggul to see the lava tube caves. These are not too far underground and about a 15 min easy walk from the entrance to the end. Amazing sight and lots of good info along the way to tell you how different features of the caves were created.  We then walked down to the bus stop which was really nice, an easy walk along the road through the forest. 

We were planning on visiting 'Mazeland' in the afternoon but were on the wrong bus route so decided to go back to Jeju city and see more around there. The hostel was kind enough to lend us some bikes (2 good ones and 1 mini one which I rode) and we biked along the waterfront of the city.

In the evening we planned to go to a Mexican restaurant in the busier part of the city but couldn't find it and ended up somewhere called Harry's Pub, and had a burger and cider for dinner which was freaking amazing.

Day three we had planned on traveling up Hallasan to see the snow, but when we stepped out of the hostel it was rainy and misty, so we decided to travel to the south of the island to Seowipo.  We had a really nice day just wandering around the town which is much smaller and feels more like a fishing village than anything. There is also a small island just off shore connected by a cable bridge so we walked around there before lunch. 

In the afternoon we went to Jeongbang Pokpo which is said to be the only waterfall in Asia that falls straight into the sea.  We then caught the bus back to Jeju and tried golbi for dinner - basically chicken hotpot I think? 

Day four we finally went to Hallasan to play in the snow.  We didn't have proper gear or spikes for our shoes for the paths so we we didn't try the ascent to the top.  Instead we just played around near the base of the Mountain.  I tried skiing for the first time and it went both badly and great - I axed myself, but it was amazingly good fun.  We also tried a Korean game where you have to try and throw sticks in a bucket - sucked at that.

We then went to 'Loveland' which is an outdoor sex-themed art space thingamajig.  Basically lots of naughty sculptures and laughing.  It was amazing and hilarious.

Our last stop for the day was the Jeju Museum of Art.  This was great for four reasons. 1) they served burritos in the cafe, 2) the artwork was really lovely and there were some standout pieces for me, 3) the building was stunning, architecture was beautiful and gorgeous with the mountain in the background, and 4) there were only three gallerys so we were obly there for a couple of hours.

Then we missed the last bus back to the city. Awkward. But then I tried to hail a cab and a lovely Korean couple took pity on us and gave us a lift back to the city - thank the Baby Cheeses.

Tomorrow we are flying back to Busan and might have a quiet day around the city to recover before heading to Seoul later in the week.  I have attached some photos here which are all from day four.

Love love xx

Thursday, January 16, 2014

a visit to Udo.

We arrived on Jeju yesterday,  after flying from Busan.  It is very cold here but windy too, so you sort of feel like your eyeballs might freeze over every time you step outside.

We are staying at The Forest Hostel. There is a large traditional market and an underground mall near the hostel and lots of restaurants. We had beer and chicken for dinner last night - basically somewhere where they serve you a plate of fried chicken and a mug of beer (#fitspo).

Today we visited Udo, which is an island off the coast of Jeju. Apparently it got its name because it looks like a cow lying down but I'm calling bullshit on that. To get there you catch a ferry over, much the same as heading to Bruny, then you buy a pass for a hop-on hop-off bus.  The island is famous for it's women free divers - we could see some of them diving even in the middle of winter.   All over the place there are paddocks separated by dry stone walls made of volcanic rock and some crops in them but not too many at this time of year.

We caught the ferry back across to Jeju and went to climb Soengsan Ilchulbing, which is pretty much an empty caldera as far as I can tell - the volcanic rock is too porus to hold water or some geological snuff like that.  Being winter it wasn't half as snazzy as I imagine it is in springtime when the weather is nice and the grass is green and there are wild flowers, but it was still bloody beautiful (mate). Seriously lame hike up a squillion stairs to get to the top though, so legs day is totes covered off for this week anyway.   

Then caught the bus back to Jeju-si and went to a bbq place next door to the hostel for dinner. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

winter in summer.

 So, there was this one time in the middle of summer, when Tasmania (and even South Hobart) was starting to think about weather over 25C for the first time in a year, and Kate and I thought we'd go and visit Emily in South Korea. Where it is goddam freezing. Luckily though, Emily's pretty ok, and y'know there's heating and shit, so this far it's sort of gone the way of super-awesome-party-time...

We arrived mid-afternoon after catching the red-eye from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur and then a morning flight from KL to Busan, which is where Emily is living in South Korea. Emily met us at the airport, and there was a general bout of girly squealing and hugs, then we caught a cab to Em's apartment where we'll be staying for most of our visit. So basically day 1 involved airplanes, diazapam and freaking out(for me and my hate/hate relationship with flying), the realisation that we were not in Kansas anymore so thermal underwear was 'go', our first Korean meal (so hungry they could have fed us rice cakes and I'd have been stoked) and sleep. So much sleep.

Our first full day we began by visiting a cultural village. Em said something about it being a slum, and instead of knocking it down they developed into an artists and tourist area. Lots of small art installations, walking along a path through small dilapidated houses and for some reason fish and squid hanging out to dry out the front of people's houses. The bus from the subway wound around tiny corners as we went uphill, trying to hold and stay standing as it was pretty full. There were quite a few other tourists around that we kept running into at different points along the trail. And there was some local food, which was really just a dagwood dog.

For the afternoon we visited the fish markets down at the docks. Some of the market was outside and some under cover in a big shed. It was so cold, and the piles of ice they were laying the fish out on made it even colder. It seemed like there was every type of fish, crustacean, shell fish or seaweed available there for people to buy. Ladies were wearing big plastic aprons and selling every sort of seafood you can imagine to the locals who were there to buy. Out the back of the market you could see men unloading fish straight from the boat in crates onto the docks.

Day 3 we visited a local temple in Busan in the morning, Haedong Yonggung. It's a Buddhist temple right on the water on the outskirts of the city, but seemed to have a strong Chinese bent as at the entrance there was a walkway with statues of the characters from the Chinese Zodiac (Rabbit, Snake, Dragon etc). The main temple complex was literally right next to the water, built on and into the rocks. Very beautiful and an amazing location.

In the afternoon we went for a walk just outside the city to the bottom of Jangsan Mountain. Hiking is big in Korea (along with K-pop and Starbucks) and there were locals everywhere kitted out in the latest outdoor gear looking like they were climbing Everest. Then for dinner we travelled to a restaurant for Korean Barbeque with some of Emily's friends that she has met whilst living here. It was pretty amazing, there's a sort of grill in the middle of the table and they bring out all sort of vegetables and meat (pork) for you to cook on the grill yourself.

Today we are flying the Jeju Island which I think is off to the south west, where we will be for 5 nights. More news after that I guess. Love love x