The Gangseo-gu Neighborhood Pesticide Motorcycle (or truck)

I’ve been waiting to post about this until I got some photographic evidence and today I finally was in the right place at the right time with my camera thanks to Dave and his keen ear. We’ve seen a motorcycle drive around our streets a few times spraying a white cloud of mosquito killing pesticide in the air. Every time we’ve seen it we’ve been almost at our apartment and have had to bolt up the stairs to safety. We don’t know what the motorcycle is spraying, but we know it can’t be good. Sprays that kill anything generally aren’t great for you to be exposed to. Read more

My Failed Attempt at Urban Gardening in Seoul

We got lucky as far as apartments go. We have the largest one at the school. Two bedrooms, a big living room, a large bathroom and a balcony we could sit on. In the early spring I decided to try my hand at some urban gardening on our balcony. I got sunflower, basil, and wild flower seeds. I also got some rosemary, lavender and daisies from the flower shop down the street. I made pots out of water bottles and set everything out on the deck. Every day I watered my plants and checked to see what was growing. I was ecstatic to see my little seedlings spring up. It was a great way to start my day. Then one morning, after it had been raining for a few days, I realized I couldn’t open the door to the balcony. My plants were trapped!!!

This building is only two years old and it’s already falling apart. Buildings are made quickly, but not well here. It’s not about quality. The property next to our building was a hole in the ground when we first got here and in nine months they’ve managed to build a large apartment building that is almost ready for people to move into. When the buildings start to fall apart and are too crappy inside to occupy they just remodel.

Our building was certainly made quickly and cheaply. The wood boards on our balcony and the entrance to our apartments weren’t treated and as far as we can tell they aren’t really nailed into anything in particular. The boards are warped up and some are on their way to popping off. It just so happens that the boards that warped on our balcony are the ones right in front of the door. 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.

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.

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

A Few Pictures from the Lovely 2011 Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

Yesterday, Dave and I spent the entire day in Insadong. We took a cooking class (more details to come on that), learned how to make lotus lanterns (more to come on that as well), and watched the Lotus Lantern Parade. Because we were there all day, we were able nab front row seats for the festivities. It was the longest parade either of us had ever sat through, but being that it was our first lantern parade we sat through the entire thing and enjoyed every moment. The parade was in honor of Buddha’s birthday and was full of smiling monks and nuns, women in gorgeous hanbok (traditional Korean dresses), and many, many lanterns both big and small. Read more