Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Everland and Seoul

This weekend was my first trip to Korea's capital of 11 million, Seoul. My friends and I went on a trip to Everland Amusement Park. The largest in the country and tenth most visited in the world. Waking up early we took the 90 minute bullet train to Seoul and then a bus to Everland. I didn't know exactly what to expect, not Disneyland of course but I know that Japan as some incredible theme parks. Everland surprised me with its nice created environments. Following the Disney standard, Everland has Magic Land, European Adventure, American Adventure and Zootopia.
One Eastern Orthodox Church, check. One mosque, check. Everland's Europe has its bases covered.

I am a huge theme park nerd and quickly drove our group of nine to the star attraction of the park, T Express. Touted as the "steepest wooden roller coaster" in the world, the T Express is the only feather in Everland' cap (more on that later). The line was short, only 20 minutes and the coaster was a epic ride. Later we all wished that we would have just gotten back in line and ridden that all day. My friends and I then traveled around the hilly park to track down the other two coasters. After a long trek we discovered that both coasters were "out for maintenance". Two out of three? In the peak of school vacations? Thanks Everland...
We continued our quest for our real rides and we found ourselves in the Zoo section of Everland. Everland's zoo is more impressive than its Amusement park section.

Zoo's not credentialed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are always a little depressing for me. While Everland is head over heels better than Tunisia, it still lacks the professionalism of a Western zoo. Most heartbreaking was the Cheetah exhibit which must have been 20 by 20. The lion cubs were tragic as well.
Exhibits were also not quite political correct...

The zoo had a large section called "Friendly Happy Monkey Valley" which had first rate enclosures, better than the primate center at the Oregon Zoo. Including a Orangutan walkway all around the "Valley".

Everland boasted of plenty of strange things including the only place where Lions and Tigers were in the same exhibit (with a moat in-between). The two things that bothered me most about the zoo was one, its constant supply of baby animals. No real Zoo with a breeding program would have over six lion cubs. The other disturbing part of the zoo was the random pairings of animals in cages for example.

The worlds worst smelling Meerkat.

Lions,Tigers and Fennec Foxes. There was also a black bear and a baby monkey. The monkey of course cowering in the corner.

After exiting the zoo part we attempt to go on another ride but, it ending up being a bus Safari. A hour wait for a awful Safari. This almost made up for it however...


The rest of the trip went downhill from there. Long lines and disappointing rides. I ended up only going on three rides all day...A brief beam of light was the "American B-Boy Funny Battle" in America land. Which was basically break dancing and bad rap. However it did star REAL AMERICANS. We look like this by the way.

Hours later we left Everland took the train back to Seoul and went to Itaewon the vibrant international district. We ate Kebab! Why can't Daegu have any place like that? The hostel we wanted to stay at fell through and we were scared that we couldn't find a place to stay. We found one place. A Love Motel. Remember when I said that all love Motels were clean and surprisingly classy? Not this one. It was on Hooker hill and we had obvious brothels across the street. Obvious like girls in bras standing in the doorways... It was incredibly gross but we managed to survive with out any rashes. (Key is sleeping in your clothes).

The next day was a vast improvement. First we at a American style breakfast, pancakes with syrup! And then the group went to GyeongBokGung Palace. Founded in 1395 the Palace has been destroyed twice by the Japanese and was rebuilt in 1990. The name means "Place greatly blessed by Heaven" and was the seat of the Capital after it moved to Seoul in the 1300's. The castle grounds are just 15% of what they once were but still enormous. We where there for over two hours and didn't have time to see all of the buildings. We arrived just in time for the changing of the guard, a ceremony I have seen in five different countries.

This is the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion or King's party pad. Rebuilt in 1867, the closer you sit to the top center, the higher your rank. Many buildings of the place were built in accordance to the I Ching (the Chinese book of changes, the base of Chinese philosophy and therefore Korean as well).

After the place we went shopping Insadong and then went out for dinner. MEXICAN FOOD! You can find international food in Seoul that is non-existent in Daegu. I can't wait to take the KTX back to Seoul. This trip barely scratched surface of this blended old and new city.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dr. Fish

On Sunday I went with a group of friends to another Korean experience, Dr. Fish. Dr. Fish is a Korean coffee shop with a entrance fee that strangely enough includes a bread bar consisting of white bread, french bread and dinner rolls. Whole grain is still catching on in Korea. Other than atmosphere and coffee the real draw of Dr. Fish is well, the fish! For only 2,000 extra won you can experience a fish "foot scrub". I had heard of this before I went to Korea and couldn't wait to get my feet in the sink were fish would literally eat the dead skin off my feet.
The experience was less ticklishness than I expected the fished tended to stay away from the soles of my feet and instead focused on my heels. Better eating I suppose. It didn't hurt at all, in fact if you closed your eyes it feels like a light Jacuzzi massage. However there was one fish, Jaws we dubbed him, who you could feel. It still didn't hurt but you could tell where that monster was chowing.

Downtown Daegu has plenty of sights and sound to puzzle a non-Korean. Believe it or not Dr. Fish is just the beginning. I'll leave you with this picture of two feuding cosmetic sales girls in their standard pink and yellow uniforms.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Korean California?

I'm afraid I have been a lazy blogger lately. One post a week?

This week I saw Harry Potter on Wednesday. Korea is strange in the way that it can sometimes feels like your the only foreigner for miles around and then you walk into the Harry Potter theater and half the audience is foreign. I enjoyed the movie but none of my friends over here have read the books. Which bothers me for some dorky reason... plus the ending was a bit less of a shock for me.

On Friday was my Hapkido white belt test. I was tested on three types of kicks, three self defense moves and three types of falls. Oh yeah and fifty push ups. The judges seemed to go easier on us foreigners. The judges sit at a table at the front of the room as we went through all our kicks and moves. Four of us were testing for yellow and the others for upper level belts. It was a bit intimating to see what I will be expected to do in the future. After a hour everyone passed the test. I'm now a yellow belt!

On Saturday my friends and I took a hour long bus ride out to Gyeongju to go to California Beach, a water park. I didn't get to take any pictures but you can see some here. It was really expensive but it was a perfect way to spend a day with such high humidity. I went on every slide even met a hilarious group of Korean guys. My body image in Korea is always flip-floping from feeling like a movie star (standing out, people waving) to morbidly obese (thanks students...). Korean water parks have a allot of rules that my friends and I found irritating including having to wear a six dollar life jacket to go in a meter of water and covering your hair at all times. At least my friend was smart enough to bring bandannas so I didn't have to pair my bikini with a swimcap.

I just realized that I have left Deagu six weekends out of the last eight. I have seen more cities than some of my friends who have been here for a year! I love getting out, seeing the country and I'm already thinking of my international vacations. Anyone want to met me in China or Thailand?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Boryeong Mud Festival

Hello everyone! This weekend was Mud Festival, the largest festival for foreigners in Korea. I would say the festival population was almost half Koreans and half foreigners. All that English being spoken, crazy! The idea of Mud Fest is that the Mud at Boryeong Beach is great for your skin, so why not paint it all over your body? There was mud pools, mud slides and mud pots where you painted yourself (these where strangely called self massage zones...).

My group arrived around noon and made it down to the beach to get dirty at one. It was a blast, get dirty and then wash off in the Ocean. Repeat. I even went to a color mud station were I painted myself with yellow, blue, red and green mud. This lasted until around six when it started to pour. A non-stop downpour that lasted till the end of the next day. I went back to the hostel, ate the school bbq (only potato salad I have ever liked!) and got ready to go out in the rain for fireworks and a stage show.

I ended up missing the shows because a 30 minute walk was doubled by the rain. My friend Kelly and I then tried to meet up with friends a a house party...for three hours. We went home at one, managing to not attend a single party at the largest party weekend of the year. I was pretty upset.

The next morning I was planning on swimming before the bus left but it was a thunder storm and no one was allowed in the water. My friends an I played 4 hours of cards to pass the time. It was a wash out all around. I am pretty disappointed about my once in a lifetime chance being rained out. The beginning was prefect however and I'm glad I went. This week is my first Hapkido belt test so I have been training extra hard. I'll post again soon and hopefully I'll have my yellow on Friday!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Weekend in Bijindo Island

This weekend started off as many great weekend do, with no plans and a bus ticket. My friends and I took a bus to Tongyeong city hoping to find a beach and maybe a nice hike. Tongyeong is the largest city in the archipelago of South Korean island. We had over 20 little islands to pick from and so we picked Bijindo because it had two sentences in Koreas Rough Guide. As we boarded our spacious ferry one of my friends remembered that she knew someone who had traveled there a few weeks before. She called him and he informed us that Bijindo had no hotels and no place to buy food. Uh oh, we were completely unprepared. We all rushed to the ferry store in panic. Our boat leaves in 10 minutes, hurry! We bought seven cups of ramen and hoped that we wouldn't have to eat it with seawater. We joined the other crammed tourists on the ferry and we were off.

I knew nothing about this island before we arrived but any hopes I had were outdone. Bijindo is actually two island connected by a man-made and constantly maintained beach. It also had a nice little hotel made affordable by the seven way split. The water was warm (by Oregon standards) and the beach was uncrowded. We even met up with a group of Americans so I wasn't solo in my Forth of July celebrations. After a full day at the beach the owners of the Hotel were kind enough to play restaurant with us and made us a delicious dinner. Fresh caught fish, Korean potato salad (sweet and eggy) and cold noodles, yum! Of course no night in Korea is complete without a little Norebang and we rocked out to MJ after dinner. Then we joined the other group of teachers for a bonfire and fireworks on the beach. Fantastic day compared to the starving cold night on the beach I was expecting.

The next morning my friends and I made the foolhardy decision of hiking up a 305m high mountain in flip-flops. And when I say climb, I mean rock scramble. I was exhausted when we reached the top but the pictures alone were worth it. I wish the sky had been clear so I could have seen more of the surrounding islands.

By the time I made it back down the mountain I was content to just float in the water all day. Sadly our ferry back to Tongyeong left at one. We stayed for lunch in Tongyeong and explored the town. Tongyeong is famous for its role in the war of Japanese invasions of 1592-1598. It's naval forces, lead by national hero General Yi Sun-Sin were undefeated. Yi is also famous for his use of the Turtle Ships, hotly debated as the world's first iron clad dating back to the 1420's. Turtle Ships had a spiky iron roof and a smoke breathing dragon head to confuse the Japaneses. Tongyeong has reconstructed one as tourist attraction and it was fun to climb around inside.
After all the excitement of weekend in paradise it was time to return home, to Daegu :(. But next weekend is the infamous Mud Festival. Huzzah!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Last night was my first time in a Korean Norebang (Nore=Singing Bang=Room). It was a Korean karaoke bar. Our group of eight rented out a room which is equipped with a large screen TV, couch, table with snacks, two microphones and two tambourines. You pay for a hour of the room and can program the TV with a large selection of English language songs and a seemingly limitless selection in Korean. The Norebang also gives you a score for every song you sing. My epic rendition of "Livin on a Prayer" got a 98 whereas "Break Free" was a measly 58. It was a great way to end the night after a couple drinks and it was just plain fun! Also I have no shame and will sing anywhere but the appeal was being surrounded by only friends.

Norebangs a huge in Korea, the picture above is of a portable Norebang in a Reststop (which are more like mini shopping malls placed every 30 minutes down the highway). Their popularity exploded around 2003 and my Korean friends told me it used to be difficult to find a room. I find this difficult to believe considering if I look out the door from my school building I can see four Norebangs in one intersection! If anyone comes to visit me I can promise one rocking group Norebang.