Sorry it has been so long!
Next week is Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving holiday) and the kindergarten kids all dressed up in traditional Korean clothes today… OMG…. SO CUTE!! I have to share some photos because I am really attached to these wonderful kids! They keep me SO happy!!
I can’t believe it has been five months already. Time flies so quickly here it’s unreal. We’re almost done with July… two new teachers arrived and it definitely brought me back to how overwhelmed I felt when I was new. One of our teachers is leaving. I will miss her. Half of our supervisors left too, so we have two new ones that are fitting in very well.
This week is our week off and we’ve been waiting for it for so long! I am on my way to Bali, Indonesia. I have a connecting flight in Osaka, Japan and that is where I am right now… relaxing and getting a few things done before my flight. I will be in Bali about five days and then head to Tokyo! I am very excited to go there and see the things there are too see. Unfortunately the stay isn’t long there but it’ll still be FULL of sushi! WOOHOO! I will update when I get back with pictures and stories!!
A few weeks ago I made a crazy choice to sign up for a 10-hour hike up and down one of Korean’s highest mountains called Seoraksan. The hike turned out to be 12 hours… majority of which was in the rain. It was intense but I wanted to see if I could handle it. Mind you… this is the first time I have really ever hiked. Before this I hiked for about an hour or two up a small mountain in Suji.
We started hiking at 2:30am on Saturday with guide lights on our heads. It was pitch black, rocky and often steep. I am quite amazed that I survived it. The first six hours went by pretty fast. As it got lighter out we headed up into the clouds and saw the amazing scenery from the top of the mountain. As we neared the top, it started to mist and then rain. No part of my wardrobe was spared. At the top of the mountain I went to a shelter where I bought a poncho. I figured the climb down would be easier…. boy was I wrong!
The climb down was steep, very rocky.. with occasional neverending stairs. After a few hours of that, it really did a number on my knees. At one point, as I was slowly making my way down the wet, slippery rocks, a Korean man gave me his hiking gloves so I can grab onto things easier. Then when I got down about a 100 feet, his wife gave me some painkillers and sprayed my knees with some pain relieving menthol stuff. It felt great. I spent a lot of time with a woman named Sandy. We spent a lot of time talking and that passed the time. We took it easy and she also let me use one of her hiking sticks so that really helped.
I feel really proud of myself for being able to do something like that, especially in that kind of weather. I was pretty dang sore for a while after but it was so worth it!
After the hike the whole group went to a beach and spent some time relaxing there. The next day we went to a Lavender Festival… it was beautiful to see all the flowers. Overall it was a very great weekend!
Sorry I’ve fallen behind in my posts! Time to quickly catch up! In May I went to the DMZ with Carla. DMZ is Korea’s demilitarized zone. It’s the border area between North Korea and South Korea and is highly guarded. It was very interesting to see the vast land between the two countries and how much the area is covered with military. I plan to go see a more in-depth tour later but for now, it was interesting to see the setup. We went to a lookout point and saw North Korea across the vast wildlife area. We also walked through a long tunnel that North Korea built under the DMZ as a way to invade South Korea. Obviously it was found, along with many other tunnels, so now it’s a tourist attraction. We walked to the halfway point underneath the DMZ and it was a very interesting experience. There is a lot of interesting history behind the DMZ. It’s a buffer zone between the two countries that is about 2.5 miles wide. It was set up in 1953, but there have been numerous incursions since then… obviously often resulting in death. It’s a very interesting but kind of sad area.
I also went to Nami Island, known here as “Namiseom.” It’s a tiny island near Chuncheon (about two hours away from Seoul) that was formed by a dam. It’s privately owned and pretty much its own little tourist business. It is an ‘imaginary country’ that declared independence in 2006. It’s kind of silly, but beautiful. I was the only white person on the whole island… and definitely got a lot of stares. There were a lot of tourists from Thailand and Japan there. The island is known as a film location so lots of people come to see it. It’s full of nature and fun outdoor activities. I took time to exercise my arms in a row boat and enjoy the river. I had a really good time! I ate chicken barbecue afterward and it was spicy… just like everything else I eat here. I did my best to manage because eventually I will have to get used to it at least a little bit. On the bright side, when things are too spicy… I just don’t eat very much, so that helps with the weight loss! LOL
On Sunday I went to the Geongbokgung Palace. It’s the largest palace in Seoul where the king used to live. It’s huge! At the front of the palace, they hold a ‘changing of guards’ ceremony. The costumes are very interesting and the scenery is amazing. Inside I toured the different rooms and houses of the palace. It was interesting to see where the king used to live. Inside the palace there are different housing units and places where the royalty can hold parties. At the other end of the palace is the Blue House. It’s like our White House… but blue. It’s a gorgeous building that no one can get too close to. There are secret service agents that stand outside. I got a lot of great photos there!
After that I headed to Dongdaemun Market. It’s one of the largest (ifnot the largest?) markets in Seoul. The clothes part of it was mostly
closed because it wa Sunday, but the food market was open. I sat down with Koreans and ate a Korean pancake. It’s made out of something called mung bean or something like that. It was really good. I walked around a bit and looked at all the food.
After that I went to a public park by the Han River. It was very pretty. They rent out bikes there that you can ride down the path. Kids were flying kites and adults were walking the path. It was a fun place and very relaxing to gaze out onto the river.
On Saturday, I slept in and headed into Dongdaemun Stadium. This is the Russian area that I visited before. This time, after a long Google search session, I found another Russian restaurant… claiming to be more authentic. I took the subway and walked out of Exit 7, just as instructed. I pulled a U-turn, took a left and found the restaurant called Gostiny Dvor. I walked up into the small restaurant with Russian MTV playing on their TV. I sat and enjoyed some galubtsi with sour cream and kefir. After I was done, I chatted with the waitress a bit. She is of Korean descent but was born in Uzbekistan and is living here on a visa. She doesn’t know how to speak Korean. She only knows Russian and a little English. Eventually we came to the conclusion that we both rarely drink and like to dance so we exchanged numbers. She said she goes out with her friends sometimes and would love to have me join them. Yay!
Earlier in the week I went to Lotte Mart and discovered that they don’t sell sour cream! Apparently it’s really hard to find in Korea! I walked around the dairy section what must have been 40 times. I probably looked crazed. No sour cream and no beans. Ahh! I asked my friend, Joseph, if he knew where to get sour cream and he suggested a Russian store. I was hopeful that I could find it by myself. After finishing dinner, I asked the waitress (Tanya) and she told me it was just down the street and open until 11pm! I walked over and up to the second floor into a small store. They had pelmeni, Russian candy, grechka, blonde hair dye, and sour cream! YAY! I bought all of the above (except the hair dye).
I had about two hours to kill before going out for the night with Carla, so I decided I’d try to find the ‘dog cafe’ that I read about online. It’s called the Bau House and it’s everything you need for your fill of wet noses and wagging tails! Koreans mostly live in apartments so if they have dogs, they are typically little and often wear little cute outfits. There are a lot of dog outfitter stores here. The Bau House owners apparently own a lot of dogs, big and small, and they invite other dogs to the cafe to come play. It’s a cafe and a hotel for dogs. I followed the directions from the Hapjeong station. I walked through an area full of coffee shops and to a road known as “parking lot street.” It’s because there is a parking lot in the middle of the street. I found Bau House easily and took the elevator up. I could hear dogs barking and was so excited! They said they closed in 15 minutes, but I said I just wanted to take some photos of the dogs. The dogs were crawling all over the tables and chairs and doing their business. Kind of messy (though people walk around and clean it up right away), but I didn’t care! I got to play with big and small dogs! YAY! It was a very good night!
On Sunday, I headed out in the morning to a subway station about 45 minutes away. It was a long trip… from bus to subway, then to another bus… then a walk up into the mountains. I arrived at a Buddhist Temple that was holding a free meditation session in English that day. I guess they hold it every Sunday. I went up to the top floor and came into the main meditation room. It had mats on the floor with pillows on them. The leader of the meditation explained the procedure and off we went. We sat on the mat cross-legged and with a straight back, facing the wall. They gave us a question to ponder… which got me all confused, but maybe that’s the point? Get so confused that it clears your head? Haha. The sheet of paper said:
“A student asked Venerable Master Yun-Men; Not even a thought has arisen, is there still a sin or not? Master said; Mount Sumeru! When thought arises, sin also arises. If no thought arises, there should be no kind of sin or error. But why did the Master say that sin, that is, error, is as big as Mount Sumeru?”
Yeah… that confused the heck out of me! I switched my meditation from breathing exercises, to my mantra and back to this question throughout the two hours. It was 30 minutes of sitting meditation, then 10 minutes of super slow walking meditation and back to sitting, then walking, then sitting. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I almost nodded off a few times! The next day my legs were definitely sore! It was like a workout… for mind and body!
After the meditation, we had a Dharma talk. A Korean monk sat with us and talked about Buddhism. His English wasn’t amazing and he kept saying something about a frog that I couldn’t quite understand. Nevertheless, it was interesting. After that, we all sat down for some tea and pears. Korean pears are the size and shape of grape fruits (Google it!) and they taste really good! It was definitely a day of sitting on the floor, since we drank tea on the floor too!
After that, the monks (one was Korean, the other was from the Netherlands) invited us for bibimbap. It’s a very traditional Korean dish. It’s mixed rice with toppings on top, such as an egg, veggies, kimchi, etc. This one was vegetarian and it was really good. There was a total of about 10 or 12 of us… a few Americans, one Australian and the rest from Korea and possibly other Asian countries.
It was really a good and relaxing experience. After that, I got on the subway to Itaewon. I was curious to try a restaurant that actually had “sushi” in the title. I went in and saw that one sushi roll was $20… and I think it was a California Roll. Thanks, but no thanks. I headed to Mr. Kebob… where Carla and I went before. For $4 you get a really delicious gyro-type meal. YUM and not spicy! Yes!!