Green Tea Getaway

Our first hour in Boseong was more than a little confusing. We asked a taxi driver at the bus station to take us to Nok Cha Baht which is what we thought the name of our hotel was. Everything seemed fine until our taxi driver had already dropped us off and left. We walked with our large backpacks along a crowded tree lined path to a front gate where a woman was tearing ticket stubs for what looked to be a park entrance.

When we approached, I made the universal symbol for sleep and she shook her head. I showed her our map and said pension to which she said no and then proceeded to spend what felt like ten minutes looking for a map in English as we stood at the entrance looking like lost fools with our large packs. Not that a map would have helped us that much anyway. We were off the side of a highway in the countryside with heavy-ish backpacks and it was hot. I wasn’t about to walk around looking for our hotel. We walked back to the parking lot to find another cab. Read more

A Five Day Escape from Seoul

Photo taken by David Domagalksi in Boseong

Summer vacation was a mere seven days at the school where we teach. It was supposed to be nine days (a week wedged between two weekends), but our director decided to make it a few weekdays bookending one weekend. We were all already peeved about this fact and had resigned to them not changing it, when they came to us a month before vacation and asked us if they could go back to the original plan. They wanted to do a summer intensive program over vacation, as if the students don’t have enough on their plate already, but could only do it if it was a full week. Half of the foreign staff had already bought plane tickets months prior, so the school not only screwed the teachers and staff out of a nine day vacation, but also screwed themselves out of a potential money maker. Welcome to Korea.

Irritating politics aside, we considered many potential destinations before deciding to stay in Korea. Our first plan was Japan, but as we were thinking about buying plane tickets, the tsunami and earthquake hit and we decided it wasn’t the right time. We knew we needed to buy plane tickets months ahead of time and we weren’t ready to commit to expensive plane tickets to a country that was in the middle of some serious problems. Plus Dave grew up close to Chernobyl and we figured that the last thing he needed was to visit a country emitting serious radiation.

Then we thought about going to Malaysia or Singapore. We decided against traveling to either place for several reasons. I was afraid of going there, meeting other backpackers and coming down with a terrible case of wanderlust. That would make coming back to Korea too difficult. We also thought that it wasn’t worth spending the airfare to go there and back when we’d be in the area in the winter anyways. Why not just wait. Lastly, we realized we hadn’t traveled south at all and weren’t sure when else we’d be able to do it. What a shame it would be to leave a country we’d been living in for a year having not seen much of it at all.

So, we decided on two destinations: Busan and Boseong. Read more

Getting Paid While Traveling: The Low Down on Teaching English Abroad

Please visit How To Travel For Free (or pretty damn near it!) to read my post comparing my experiences in Thailand and Korea. While you’re there take a look around. They’ve got great tips on traveling cheaply on their blog. They also sell an e-book if you want to know more.

Mixed-up Gorilla Sign

I am in the process of preparing my post on our very short but fantastic summer vacation adventures. In the mean time, here’s an awesomely jumbled sign. This is from the restaurant named Gorilla on the corner of the street we stayed on in Busan. They spelled the name right on the big sign, but misspelled it on this little one. They also seem to have confused their primates. I will never grow tired of the silly English in Asia. It will always make me giggle.

Tibet Revisited

Dave and I recently went to Richard Gere’s photo exhibit entitled Pilgrim which showcased pictures from his time in Tibet. Walking through the gallery made me want to dash back home and flip through my pictures from Tibet. I didn’t take nearly as many photos in Tibet as the other people I was traveling with did because I have problems snapping pictures. I feel like it takes away from the moment, so I’m always looking to strike a balance between taking enough to remember things, but not too many that I become removed from what’s happening. I love the pictures I did manage to get while in Tibet though.

I wish I hadn’t had to join a tour group to travel through Tibet. Everything is so tightly controlled there. I didn’t walk away with a strong feel for the country other than sadness for what has happened. My guide was Tibetan and I learned a lot from him, but he was also a bit of a creeper, so I tried to keep as much distance as I could. We weren’t allowed to wander freely around, so I wasn’t able to have those magical encounters you usually have while exploring. The encounters we did have were with frowning Chinese soldiers at various checkpoints or in front of the Potala Palace. I wish I could have visited Tibet before there were so many restrictions placed on it. It was a breathtaking place to travel and I can only imagine how much more magical it must have been many years ago.

Seeing Richard Gere’s exhibit made me want to post some more of my pictures from Tibet. Some of these I’ve already posted previously, others I haven’t. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! Read more

A Seoul Kitchen: Cooking in Korea

This is my first time living abroad with a kitchen. I’m thankful for what we have, but it is still a challenge. I’ve only had one good kitchen in my renting history. I dream of the day when I have a nice oven, a dishwasher, a nice stove top where four pots/pans can comfortably fit at once, and plenty of well lit counter space.

Cooking in Korea has proven to be a bit of a challenge. We are lucky to be one of the few apartments in our building with a full size refrigerator which we keep fully stocked. The rest of our kitchen though is the same as everyone else’s here. We have a large sink and two small pieces of counter space, a quarter of which is taken up by a dish drying rack.

We don’t have a dishwasher, which is no big surprise, but we both long for the day when we don’t have to spend a half hour or more a day washing dishes. Most of our kitchen storage is out of my reach, which means that before I begin a cooking endeavor I need Dave to get my ingredients and utensils down for me, so I don’t have to climb on the counter. All of this is a little inconvenient, but not necessarily challenging.

The challenging part is Read more

Road Trip! The Furthest I’ve Ever Traveled for a Single Meal

I’m not sure what the furthest or longest I’d ever traveled for a meal was before Saturday, but I know it wasn’t three hours one way. It’s monsoon season in Korea right now, which means the weather is muggy, hot, and rainy. The forecast for this past weekend did not look good, so we contemplated taking a two hour subway ride out of Seoul to the city of Chuncheon to eat dak galbi (click here if you don’t know what dalk galbi is). Chuncheon is where dak galbi originated and is supposed to have the best dak galbi restaurants in Korea. We’ve been wanting to go there for a long time since our absolute favorite dish is dak galbi, so we figured we should take a day trip there. Read more

Celebrating my Golden Birthday

Months ago I knew I wanted to celebrate my 25th birthday by leaving the city for the weekend with Dave. We chose Sokcho as the destination because it was close by and because it had both the beach and the mountains. It came with great recommendations, so I found a lovely hostel, booked a room and counted down the days. This trip was our first time sleeping outside of Seoul since we arrived eight months ago! It’s shocking I know! We hadn’t taken any overnight trips because when we first got here we didn’t want to spend money on traveling before we started getting paid and then once we did have money in the bank, it was too cold to really go anywhere and not freeze our asses off. We put off all of our exciting travels for summer and fall. It’s going to be a busy and very fun next few months!

When we decided on Sokcho we didn’t even think about what would happen if the weather was crappy. Turned out the weather was not so good on my birthday, or the week before either. I frequently checked the weather in Sokcho before leaving hoping that the forecasters had made a mistake they would find and correct, but alas my birthday was to be a very rainy one.

We bought bus tickets that left out of the Express Bus Terminal, which is also the location of the subway stop. We kind of assumed that there would be easy signage once coming out of the subway to find the bus terminal, but we were mistaken. A business man helped us out and showed us which exit to take and which direction to go, but on our return journey we realized we took a very convoluted route. Now we know. Once arriving in Sokcho our luck continued along a similar line. We apparently weren’t supposed to get off at the Sokcho Express Bus Terminal, but rather the Sokcho Local Bus Terminal to reach our hostel. Who knew there would be two bus terminals?!! We wandered around at 11:30 pm for twenty minutes before our mistake was explained to us by an ajumma (grandma) who was wandering around in the night looking to bring customers to her hotel. We got in a taxi and took a short ride, which felt like an eternity because we were anxious to check-in. Read more

My Musts in Insadong

My amazing friend Zach is visiting Seoul in July for business and as soon as I found out I started making a mental list of all the things we must do while he is here. Among the many things on that list is Insadong. Insadong was originally an area for painters to study and has held true to its roots as it is now a place to find beautiful paintings, ceramics, and other crafts. Here are a few of my favorite things in Insadong. Read more

Something Cultural: Gyeongbokgung Palace

I’m no history buff.  I can really only handle it in small amounts, so here’s my incredibly short run down of the history of Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Gyeongbokgung roughly translates to Palace of Shining Happiness in English. It was built by the Joseon Dynasty in 1395 and then was burned down by the Japanese for the first time in 1592. After being rebuilt in the 1800s, it was destroyed by the Japanese a second time during their occupation of Korea. Only ten structures survived in the compound. It’s kind of understandable why there is an underlying dislike for Japan in Korea. Much of the Gyeongbokgung compound has been restored and it’s quite a pleasant place to walk around.

Hyangwon-jeong aka Pavilion of Far-Reaching Fragrance

Side note: I highly recommend wearing a pair of sunglasses if you go on a sunny day. I know this may seem obvious, but Dave and I thought it would be overcast so we didn’t bring our sunglasses. After emerging from the subway we were happy to find that it was turning into a blue sky day, but quickly realized that the glare from the light gray stones was going to be a problem. We jumped at every opportunity to stand in the shade and give our eyes a break.

My favorite part of the traditional Korean structures are the eaves and beams. They are beautifully painted. I love how much thought was put into a part of the building that we often ignore in western architecture.

Directions:

Take either subway Line 3 to Gyeongbokgung Station Exit 5 or take Line 5 to Gwanghwamun Station Exit 2.