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.

A Walk in the Park

Seonyudo Park

I don’t seek out parks back home. Maybe that’s because we lived in Boulder and we had access to stunning mountains within walking distance. For what ever reason though, I’ve discovered and fallen in love with parks this spring.

Seonyudo Park
Even the trash cans look nice.

The first park we went to was Seonyudo Park, to see the cherry blossoms. Seonyudo Park is a small island in the middle of the Han River here in Seoul. The island was formerly home to a sewage treatment plant from 1978-1998 after which it was converted into a stunning park which incorporates the structures left behind from the treatment plant. It’s a peaceful place for a quiet picnic and a lovely walk. Every time I go there I am so inspired by what an amazing job they did turning a place that must have looked so industrial and devoid of nature into a calm and inviting atmosphere for people to escape the city. It’s a place that gives me hope; it’s possible to turn all of this concrete into something beautiful again. Read more

Trick of the Eye

I first discovered the Trick Eye Museum (aka Trompe-l’oeil) online a few months ago. Dave and I have been wanting to go, but it didn’t seem to be a great place for only two people to visit because it is an interactive optical illusion museum. What that means is that you get to pose with the paintings and become part of the art yourself. I imagine it’s quite popular here since everyone seems to have a fancy camera and vanity isn’t exactly frowned upon as much as it is at home.

Dave and I waited until we could round up a few other people to visit the museum to make the experience a little more fun. If it had been just the two of us we wouldn’t have been able to pose in pictures together and it would have been us just alternating who posed and who took the pictures. We finally went this past weekend and it was certainly worth the wait.

Here’s a sample of what the museum has to offer. Read more

Rice Glue and Paper Lotus Lanterns Tutorial

Korean paper lotus lantern and rice glue

I’m a craft-o-holic. While traveling I am usually only able to craft in my journal, but when I am settled down somewhere I am constantly making stuff. Especially paper things. I love it. There’s something so relaxing and satisfying about making something with your hands.

When we were at the Lotus Lantern Festival a couple weeks ago, we stumbled across a tent where you could make your own paper lotus lantern. I jumped at the opportunity of an impromptu craft session with paper on the sidewalk in Korea. For those of you curious about the significance of the lotus lanterns, here’s an explanation I found on Visit Korea:

According to Buddhist belief, the lighting of a lotus-shaped lantern symbolizes a devotion to performing good deeds and lighting up the dark parts of the world that are filled with agony. The lantern-lighting practice was developed throughout the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties and has been preserved through public demonstrations such as the lotus lantern service (a Buddhist memorial service held nationwide) and the lotus lantern parade.

paper lotus lantern crafts on the streets of SeoulWhile we were making our lanterns, I noticed that the glue we were using was very gelatinous and glutinous. I thought it might be made from rice, and sure enough, it was! This probably doesn’t seem like something to get excited about, but I really like arts and crafts. My friends made fun of me for my serious interest in the glue and for the fact that I asked the lovely man who was helping us how to make it, but I really had to know. Isn’t the idea of an easy to make, non-toxic, and cheap glue for paper crafts awesome!?! All you need is a little left over rice and water. I imagine it would be a fabulous glue to use with kids, there’s always that one kid who wants to know what glue tastes like.

This last weekend I tried my hand at making rice glue and to see how well my own concoction turned out I made a lotus lantern from materials laying around the house. Read more

The Five Ten Climbing Festival in Chuncheon, Korea

Five Ten Climbing Festival 2011

Kim Yeong ManWe had last Tuesday, May 10th (5/10), off because it was Buddha’s Birthday. A few weeks previously we had signed up to go to Chuncheon with our climbing gym (Summit Sports Climbing Center) for a climbing festival put on by the outdoor gear company Five Ten. Our gym rented a bus and we departed Seoul bright and early at 6:30am. We weren’t sure what to expect. Mr. Chang, the gym owner, had asked Dave weeks before whether he might be interested in competing in the competition portion of the festival, to which he said no. When we arrived though, it quickly became clear that the competition was really the entire festival.There wasn’t much going on for a beginner like myself. I kind of expected there to be a competition section, an area with shwag and booths, and an area to get beginners and onlookers climbing. I guess some one was missing from our gym, because right off the bat Dave was asked if he wanted to climb and they slapped a competitor sticker on his back. He was Kim Yeong Man that day, which nobody questioned until the very end, about 8 hours later. Read more

The Infamous Mushroom Soup Restaurant

Neither Dave nor I are huge mushroom fans, so when we first arrived in Korea and were told that directly across the street from our apartment is an incredibly famous mushroom soup restaurant, we weren’t overcome with excitement. We watched the restaurant fill up night after night from our living room window. We weren’t gung-ho about giving it a try because of our lack of enthusiasm for mushrooms, but everyone raved about it so much and it was so close that we had to try it. Now it’s one of our favorite restaurants and staple foods in Korea. Read more

Picture of the Week: Nymph of Love

This was one of the many different beverages served recently at a work party. I thought it was a pretty ridiculous thing to write on a can of iced tea. Who knew black tea was so magical?!

I tried the contents of the can and I don’t think it was actually black tea at all. It was a light raspberry flavored tea.

Picture of the Week: Cherry Blossoms

The toilets were not actually zero meters away. They were across the street. This sign designates that beautiful cherry blossom tree as a public toilet. Oopsies!

P.S. Check out my new post on Do It While You’re Young: 8 Reasons Why You Must Pack a Scarf