Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chuseok - A Korean Thanksgiving... and national holiday!!!

Well... it seems we fell off the blogging wagon once again.  I'd like to say that it's because we've been extremely busy, but that would just be a lie.  The truth is we're lazy... plain and simple.  Even today, as I sat down to start this very blog, I procrastinated and checked hockey stats for half an hour before finally deciding to get on with it.  And here I am... about to tell you about Chuseok, the Korean version of thanksgiving and our wonderful first excursion in the country.  This holiday is such a big deal that it is actually a Korean national holiday... and because of it, schools are closed on the Monday and Tuesday across the country.  And because our schools are super cool, they also close down for the Wednesday!  We would have all of 5 days to dedicate to traveling the country.  Yes, after only three weeks into this wonderful country, we would have our first chance to explore.

As soon as I had confirmed that we did in fact have these days off (you can never be too sure... some people often say that if it seems to good to be true... then it most likely is.  in this case, it wasn't), I spent all week planning our holiday... so I had a plan.  Saturday, we would visit the Korean Folk Village in Yongin.  On Sunday, we would travel to Nami Island (Namisum) and explore one of the most romantic areas of the country.  Then, we would head back to Seoul on Monday and Tuesday and finish our excursion with a bang.  And so it began...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We woke up excited!  This would officially be our first Korean experience outside of regular life!  At about 10:00am, we ventured off to the bus stop, where we wait to take the bus that would take us to the Korean Folk VillageGetting there was actually very easy.  I had mapped out our trajectory with the faithful help of Google maps.  We would only have to make one transfer and the whole trip would last about 45 minutes.  At least, that was what I hoped.  I knew approximately where to get off (it's not my fault all of Google maps is in Korean).  I had landmarked a river and we should ring the bell right after we passed it.. or was that before we get there.... oops... it was before.  So we got off at the next stop, and walked back to the right location.  Luckily, it only extended our trip by 15 minutes!  So when we finally got to the Folk Village, it was approximately 11:00am.  The actual place was very easy to find due to a huge parking lot.  Surprise number 1: When we got the welcome booth, we saw quite a few foreigners (as in white people).  OMG, we were excited.  Maybe we would meet some friends... Maybe we be able to mingle...  This was the first time we saw other foreigners!!!  But it was not to be.  Everyone had their own agenda and most of them seemed as though they had already been here a while with their entourage and such... 
So different than anything we had seen before.

 But the Folk village was amazing.  From the moment we walked through the gates, we were propelled into the world of Korean folklore, architecture and ambiance.  Check out some of our pictures.

The village is a reconstruction of actual Korean villages from different areas of the peninsula during the Joseon dynasty.
Apparently, they film K-drama's everywhere. more on that later

Traditional stoves... Served the double purpose of cooking (mostly rice) and heating the house
So we got to see the different architecture from all over Korea as it was back then.  It was quite interesting.  The village itself is located at the bottom of a mountain with a river flowing through it.  This was the desired setting for the erection of a village.  The mountain would serve two purposes: It would be a natural fortification and would help to protect the village from an enemy invasion.  But it would also serve as a means to get water, as the mountain would form a natural channel, sloping down to the village.  The river, in the meantime, would be essential for the agricultural community, with rice being the staple and the center of their daily diet.

A great place for pictures and a "must see" for those living in Korea.  The plus side is that you will need less than 5 hours to see everything.  Highly recommended!

Entrance to the Buddhist temple

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Inside the Buddhist temple

A buddhist Shrine atop the hill

Some traditional dancing and drumming

Couldn't actually figure out what this was... these hung from trees everywhere.  Our best guess was that it was meant to keep food.. or dry food... but we have no idea...

Enjoying a traditional Korean meal.  I had a seafood and green onion pancake (more like an omelet) and Jen had some Bulgogi.

The scenery was breathtaking!  (Check out the description above)

Korean wish tree

At the front gates as we were about to leave!  What a great day!

We left the Folk village feeling very satisfied.  It was most definitely a great start to our extended holiday weekend.

Sunday, Septermber 11, 2011

Exactly 10 years after the fact, we were off to Nami Island.  We woke up extra early (for a Sunday morning) in order to be out of the door by 8:00am.  Google maps told us it would take over 3 hours to get there so we wanted to make sure we had some "extra" time just in case.  As is often the case, we left a little past 8:30am.  We walked to Jukjeon station where we took the subway (bundang line) into Seoul.  We went all the way to the lat stop (Seollung station) and transfered to line 2 (or green line).  Eight stops later, we were at Konkuk University station, where we transferred yet again, this time to line 7 for another seven stops until we reached Sangbong station.  This is where we would take the train bound for Gapyeong... then we would have to figure out how to get to Namisum.  The whole trip took just under 3 hours and we were greeted by this

Absolutely breathtaking.  And so much better than the hustle and bustle we had witnessed in Seoul, where the subways were jam-packed with people.  Han Sun Mi, who had recommended this destination to me had described it as a romantic getaway from the city life... Boy was she right.   And we could feel it as we stepped out of the train.

As we left the train station, we wondered how we were going to get to Namisum.  We more or less followed the crowd, assuming that's where the majority of the people were going... We were right.  Everyone headed for a lineup of taxis that were idling by the station.  We got into one of them, said the magic word (Namisum) and we were off.  After a cab ride that would have cost us about $20 in Canada, we got off at the Nami Island wharf.  The ride only set us back 3000 KRW!

A little background about Nami Island:  This place only became an island with after the construction of a hydroelectric dam and became a tourist attraction in the 1960s but didn't really take off until the 90s.  For more on the Island check this link Namisum.  This place became particularly famous after the filming of a K-drama series called Winter Sonata which was a huge hit especially in Japan.  We were told to expect to see a lot of Japanese people.  (but really, how can WE tell the difference??)  As part of the whole experience, Namisum has "declared its independence" from South Korea and even created its own flag, anthem and immigration rules (when you buy a day pass, it's actually a VISA and if you bought an year pass, it would be a passport).  It is called Naminara Republic!  The whole idea is kind of corny, but it makes the place all the more special!

Jen in front of the Naminara Immigration office
(Aside, in case you were wondering:  K-dramas stand for Korean dramas or shows.  Some kind of mix between a soap opera and a sitcom.  Same applies to K-pop, which stands for Korean pop music.  It's usually a mix of Korean and English songs performed by a ultra sexy girl or boy band.  It's all the craze in Korea.)

So, we bought our visas, got on the ferry and five minutes later, we were finally on Nami Island.  Fact:  There are only two ways onto the island... one is the ferry and the other is an extremely high and fun-looking zip-line.  We took the ferry :(

It was loaded with a bunch of eager tourists then set off for its course... destination Nami Island.  On the way there, we checked out the map (below) of the island.  With a 5 km circumference, it's pretty small.   A whole 6 minutes later, we were ashore and ready to disembark onto "the most romantic location in South Korea".

The Map

We were greeted by this cool-looking statue/fountain which would have been an awesome backdrop had it not been for the many tourists trying to snap their own photos at the same time.  Nevertheless, it was promising!

The statue/fountain

We then took a bunch of silly pictures, jumping pictures and enjoyed every minute we spent on the island.  Rain came out to greet us in the afternoon but we were invincible.  It was Jen and I against the world.  This place was truly magical and romantic.  After a very expensive lunch, we rented a tandem bike, which incredibly fun.  Armed with a bell, we strolled around the island like it was nobody's business, stopping only to take pictures here and there.  We even rode the sky bike, which took no more than 5 minutes and was totally pointless.  But we didn't care.  We were having a blast and that's all that mattered.  Check out the pics:

That weird looking thing is choking me

One of the many jumping pictures

Our tandem bike!!

Another random jumping pic

The rain couldn't ruin our party!


The Sky bike
A scene from the famous K-Drama "Winter Sonata"
Breathtaking scenery

They even had an international section... we found Canada

These were made from the fallen leaves!!!
After a few hours of walking, biking and snapping pictures of the scenery (Jen included) we were starting to work up an appetite.  Since all the restaurants on the island were extremely expensive, we decided to go.  We were sad to leave this heavenly place.  This truly had been a romantic and pleasant afternoon.  So off we went to catch the next ferry!

Dalk Galbi a cookin'
Back on the wharf, there were plenty of restaurants to choose from.  Jay had told me to try Dalk Galbi (some sort of spicy chicken mixed with vegetables and toppokki) if we had the chance.  Since we had plenty of time to kill before heading to our pension (hotel), we decided to give it a try.  The challenge was to find the perfect restaurant.  There were many that had dalk galbi on the menu but all of them were in Korean only.  So after walking around for about 10 minutes, we finally decided to go into one of these places.  We were greeted in Korean, taken to our table, which has a BBQ-like grill in the middle.  The waitress came up and gave us a menu (which we couldn't read) so I just pointed and said dalk galbi.  Message received!  Two minutes later this huge wok was placed in front of us with uncooked chicken, cabbage, mushrooms, toppokki and a few other legumes.  The grill was heated up and the food started cooking.  it was quite the experience.  Each waiter in the restaurant took turns coming to our table and stirring the mixture.  At some point, the vegetables and toppokki were cooked so our server gestured that we could eat it... BUT NOT THE CHICKEN... that wasn't cooked yet.  We started nibbling at our dish... deliciousness!  A little spicy (as is most Korean food) but awesome.  After some time, the chicken was cooked and we chowed down the whole thing.  YUMMY!!  It was still funny that we couldn't communicate with most people, but we were becoming habituated to the whole thing... having been here 3 weeks and all.  But that was until...

We had to get to our hotel.  This was probably one of the craziest experiences we've had so far.  but first, a little background information.  As I was planning our trip, I ran into a little difficulty of finding a place to stay near Nami island.  The rooms on the island itself were completely booked and I couldn't find any other hotel in the area.  So I had asked Han Sun Mi to give me a hand, which she did.  Not only did she find us the perfect place, she also made a deposit (cause we still didn't have a bank account) and called the owner to let him know we'd be coming and that we had a VERY limited knowledge of Korean.  Great, no problem, he will pick us up at the wharf, all we need to do is give him a call.  Excellent!  That was easy!! right?  If only...

So after dinner, I call up this place.  It's called Dongmakgol (if you feel adventurous, check out their website.  It's entirely in Korean.  Our room was Ajukali... It's worth checking out).  A man answered and spoke in Korean.  I told him who I was and thought it would suffice... but this guy had absolutely no clue what I had just said.  So I tried again... and again... and again... "Ajukali"... "Ah ajukali + more korean).  Bottom line, we did not understand each other AT ALL.  Ok so this will be fun.. LOL.. Finally, a woman came on and spoke perfect Engilsh... OMG!! (now this is the part where I have to mention that it's my fault for not learning Korean and not the other way around.  If someone came to my home in Canada, I would most likely expect him or her to speak my language.  So I fully realize that I am the one who needs to learn how to communicate and better prepare myself for these types of scenarios.  We all have to learn it at some point!)  So this woman is translating between to owner and I as we are having this weird exchange.  "Is our room ready?  We are in ajukali."  "Ajukali, ah yes, your room is ready you can come whenever you like."  "Perfect, we will be there soon.  Thank you."  Ah crap... Weren't we supposed to get a ride from this guy... oops.  I guess we'll just get a cab.  We didn't really know where we were going but I figured if I got in a taxi and said "dongmakgol" they would understand what I meant and take me there... wrong again.  Luckily, I had printed the email receipt and there happened to be a map on it so I gave it to the driver and he said "Ah, DongMAKgol."  (hmm ya that's what I said... whatever, my Korean obviously needs some work).  About 10 minutes and 9000 KRW later, we were there:
This is the place: Dongmakgol

 So we walked in like we owned the place.  The owner greeted us, said something in Korean but I only picked up "ajukali" so I said yes ajukali.  he grabbed a key and showed us to our room.  The owner was an older man, and obviously had no understanding of English.  But that was fine, cause like I said earlier, we're the ones who should learn their language and not the other way around.  

Dongmakgol is located in a valley not too far from Nami Island.  The view is absolutely stunning as it is surrounded by mountains.  If we could have spent a few extra days at this place we would have done it in a heart beat.  Although quite expensive (150,000KRW for one night), it offered everything we needed.  The room was amazing and had a computer with Internet, a flat screen TV, a cute bed area, tacky decorations which actually made the place that much more special, a kitchenette, a fridge and a jacuzzi tub.  We were in paradise.  We would never leave if we didn't have to!!  One thing I recommend is that if you go to the area, try to stay at this place.

Another view of our hotel (2nd building)

So we spent the night, relaxed, took a jacuzzi, drank some beer, watched some Korean TV and had a blast.  The next morning, when it was time to go, I had a feeling that checking out would be another interesting experience.  And it would not disappoint.  

We left our room and went into the main building looking for the owner.  I took out my credit card ahead of time so he would know what we wanted.  Nope... it was not to be.  I flashed him my card, said that I wanted to pay (Han Sun Mi had made a deposit of 30,000KRW so we still needed to pay for the balance).  The message was lost somewhere in the translation.  An exchange of money was not to be.  At some point I said how much, which must have sounded like "gapyeong" because he got his keys and gestured for us to follow him.  We got in his van and he drove us all the way to the train station.  At this point, I was feeling pretty bad.  We were not making any headway.  So I took out my little GEPIK bible that Jay gave me and checked if I could find to say "how much" in Korean.  The closest thing I found was "How much is the fare?" which really sucked given that we were now in his van on the way to the station.  When we stopped, I said "yogeumi eolma-yeyo?".  He seemed to understand and replied "anio" which means no.  He also gestured an "x" with his hands which is commonly used to say no to foreigners (or at least to us).  So obviously we knew there was some sort of misunderstanding, but it would have to wait until I was back at school to fix it.  I did not have Han Sun Mi's phone number so there really wasn't anything I could do about it now.

So we parted ways, confused and worried, but happy nonetheless.  Come to think about it, the whole experience was quite funny!  A few minutes later, we were on the train bound for Seoul, where the next part of our adventure would take place.  And since this blog is getting extremely long, I will stop it here for today.

A few notes:

1.  We did eventually pay for our hotel stay.  When I got back to school, I asked Han Sun Mi to call him.  all my co-teachers thought it was extremely funny.  Some even told me not to call and just not pay.  But I felt bad.  There had been a misunderstanding (really?) and the owner was so glad that we contacted him.  Even though I now had a Korean bank account, I was still unsure as to how to send money so I gave the balance to Han Sun Mi and she took care of it for us. 
2.  It takes a long time to upload pictures so if you want to see all the pictures, check out my Facebook photos and our Facebook page:  Jason and Jen go to Korea. We will post all of them there!

3.  Please disregard any and all mistakes.  It's very late as I write this and I haven't proofread any of it before posting...

Thanks for reading!  

1 comment:

  1. guy's great little vacation...

    Can't wait to see more...

    Was nice Skyping with you two to catch up on the latest news...!