Sorry its been so long since I wrote. Brett flew in late Wednesday night and I took the next week off to travel Korea with him. Thursday Brett came to my Hapkido class with me. I worked on kicking and taking a hit, while Brett started out punching. I appeared that one day was enough for him as he pulled a muscle in his back and spent the next two days in pain. In his defense however my first week of Hapkido I could barely limp up stairs! That night Brett went out with my co-workers and I for dinner at the Fish and Grill. I also strung him along to Makgeolli (milky rice wine) and he braved silkworm larvae. Although he forced me to eat another one with him...blech!
The next day I took him though the sights of downtown Daegu. Dr. Fish, the swings at the coffee shop, Waffle house and random omelet rice restaurant. We also took ridiculous photo booth pictures and played at the arcade. As expected Brett dominated at Mario Cart.
On Saturday Brett and I decided to cram two trips into one day, a trip to a giant Buddha and a baseball game. The Buddha was large (as promised) but it was constructed in 1992 and if things aren't old...well I don't really care. For such a ancient country Korea has quite few relics. Most were destroyed in the countless Japanese invasions. However, the Buddha did make for a great Korean style heart photograph!
After the Buddha visit we rushed to the baseball game. Go Samsung Lions! The game is Korea's top league and was absolutely packed. We arrived five minutes after the game started and watched the rest of the action sitting on the concrete stairs as all the other seats were filled. The stadium was tiny, only 20 rows upward and packed to the brim with singing, chanting and drinking Koreans. I want to go again and do it right. It was difficult to see from the ground. We went to bed early that night as I was excited to travel to Jeju Island or the "Hawaii of Korea".
Brett and I arrived in Jeju after a one hour flight. We had just enough time to find our hotel and snap a few pictures when it started to rain..and by this I mean pour. Jeju is a island of outdoor activities hiking, swimming, scooter riding. Brett and I tried to hike in the rain but we didn't have the gear for it. After checking the weather forecast (no let up for the next week) Brett and I returned to Daegu after a little over 24 hours. We managed to see a lava tube, stay in a over priced hotel and eat a great meal. It was a huge and expensive disappointment but I wasn't going to sit and watch the rain in a hotel room when the rest of Korea is calling!
On Tuesday I decided to take a quick side trip Gyeongju to before heading up to Seoul. Gyeongju is the old capital of the Kingdom of Sila (57-935Ad) which eventually became the ruling Kingdom in the peninsula. It is the most historic city in South Korea and needs more than one day to see it properly. Brett and I decided to focus our day trip on Bulguksa Temple. Originally built in 528AD the temple has been restored and expanded but never completely destroyed. The stone steps leading up to the temple date to 750 and are beautifully persevered. Koreans built their places and temples out of wood which increases the rarity of any part surviving thousands of years.
After wandering the temple and eating the worlds worst Bibimbap, Brett and I began our hike to Seokguram Grotto. It was a 4K steep hike up the mountain. I was not prepared for the hike and it took me around 50 minutes to trudge up the path. It was all worth it to see the grotto, without a doubt the most beautiful thing I have seen in Korea. The grotto is made from granite blocks miraculously transported to the top of the mountain. Finished in 774 by the same government minister that ordered construction of Bulguksa, the grotto is one of Korea's greatest treasures. It took my breath away. The grotto is a place of worship and the view is protected by glass which prevented me from taking any pictures but the view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. You can see the ocean!
On Wednesday we were off to Seoul on the KTX bullet train. We found a cheap and clean hotel in the financial district and started off our first day by exploring Cheonggyecheon Stream. The stream is a man-made sunken stream in the middle of the city that run for about 4K.Brett and I walked until we were hungry. So hungry that we made the mistake of going to Gwangjang Market for some street food. There we ate mystery organ meat (Liver? Kidney?). The after burps haunted me for the rest of the day.
After that....memorable experience Brett and I visited Deoksugung Place. Followed by the highlight of the day, a 5,000 won all you can drink brewery. The beer was pretty plain by Portland standards but by Korea standards it was fabulous. Fun Fact of the day- North Korea allowed small scale breweries before South Korea.
On Thursday Brett and I went to the National War Memorial of Korea which is a fantastic if not poorly named war museum. Starting with the beginning of Korean history and moving up to Korea's troops in Afghanistan (answer-not many). Brett and I explored the museum for over four hours during which time I tripled my knowledge about the Korean war. A depressing war that could have been prevented if the US stayed in or the Chinese stayed out. Korean's have been invaded and divided since the three Kingdoms first united. I don't know when or if the peninsula will rejoin. After the lessons on the Korean War, we discovered the strangely kiddie friendly "disaster prep" room. This exhibit was to teach children about Nuclear bombs and other forms of mass warfare. The exhibit reminds the children that North Korea could act at any moment and they must always be prepared. There was even a model of Fat Man descending from wire onto a model of Seoul with flashing lights outlining the areas of who would die instantly and who would need to fear fallout. The entire exhibit made me realize that in Korea the Cold War never ended. Lucky the room had superhero costumes for Brett and I to wear. We will save Seoul from destruction by chemical attack!
Brett and I decided to leave at exactly the right time we managed to catch a rehearsal of a Military color-guard.
That night we meet up with Brett's friend Randy, also teaching English in Korea and ate delish BBQ.
On Friday Brett and I took a tour of Changdeokgung Palace. The best preserved palace in Seoul, the last surviving member of the Korean Royal family died here in 1989. The palace was the my favorite I have seen so far. The Palace is famous for its "secret garden". It was a place of refuge for the Kings where they could look out over the lake or read in their private library. The garden is spectacular because even though you are in the 8th most popular city in the world, you feel as if you are in the forest.
Brett and I continued our random tour of Seoul by exploring Yeouido Park and Insa-dong. In Insa-dong, Brett and I were interviewed for Korean TV. It was super awkward as the Korean hostess(?) asked us questions that all Koreans would have a answer to but don't matter to Americans. The questions were 'What is your lucky symbol" and "What numbers are lucky for you and how do seeing them make you act". Brett and I answered mostly with gambling answers (7? 21?) and after them drilling us on 2NE1 the pop group, they asked us about gambling. I've only gone once I said but I'm not sure they believed me... Gambling is illegal in Korea except for foreigners. I think Koreans think we are all obsessed with it. After that super awkward interview we ate Mexicanish food and went to bed.
Early the next morning was our USO DMZ tour. It was very difficult to find the USO office but after we did Brett and I were off to Disneyland! I mean two countries still at war! I got mixed messages like this the whole trip. Our first stop (and why I paid big bucks to the USO) was Panmunjeom or the Joint Security Area. Our US Army guides gave us all UN badges and drove us pass "Freedom Village" (a village of South Korean's who make 80,000 USD and are exempted from taxes and military duty) and "Propaganda Village" (a empty North Korean village home to zero humans and the worlds tallest flag pole). Propaganda Village is famous for blaring propaganda to anyone within earshot. Sadly this has been slowly disappearing and I didn't hear anything during my tour. Once inside Panmunjeoum I was treated to that sight of the North Koreans building made familiar by the media. The best part of all was the appearance of the North Korean soldiers who smoked cigarettes and leared at us though binoculars. Zoom in the picture for our fine friend in tan.
We also entered the blue UN owned buildings and stepped on the opposite side of the table aka North Korea! The ROK soldiers took pictures with us and I got the distinct feeling that we were in a tourist attraction not a war zone. The reason behind the sweet Raybans is so the soldiers don't get into staring contests with the North Koreans. No Joke..
Our tour was soon over and we then went to Dora Observatory, where high powered telephoto lenses allowed me be a creeper and spy on a North Korean Town, which was completely empty. The final stop on our DMZ tour was the 3rd tunnel. One of four tunnels that were discovered in the 70's. This stop seemed the most Disneyland of all with a gift shop (one of many in the tour) and these guys..
Finally on Sunday Brett headed home. :(
And I learned to NEVER take the subway from Inchon to Seoul station. NEVER! It took me two and a half hours!
Thank you everyone for reading my blog! Thanks to you I was ranked in the top 100 Korea bloggers and won a MP3 player! Keep reading and commenting and maybe I'll win the grand prize.