Decidedly urban couple who quit their jobs and successfully backpacked their way through Asia for a year. They met Buddha, drank baijiu and learned to master the squat toilet. Now appearing in a new life as ex-pats in Singapore.

ROK

Vinnie’s look back on South Korea

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It’s just over 3 weeks into our trip, with 3 weeks spent in Korea. We recently arrived in Shanghai and scrapped the idea of taking a ferry because: it actually costs more than our flights, takes 24 hours by boat (vs 1.5hr flight), and would have added a few extra days before reaching Shanghai and we want to get there for the World Expo.

It’s my (vinnie’s) first blog post since starting the trip, Korea has literally been a nonstop sensory overload of nature, history, cities, partying, culture, and food.

If it wasn’t for Kristine’s cousin, Travis, I don’t know if we would have visited Korea – when I think Asia, I think Japan and China.  Now I think, Japan, China, and Korea(s).  I’m really glad we had our first stop here, it was a fantastic time thanks to:

  • Good company such as Kristine’s cousins and their friends (both ex-pats and Koreans)
  • A beautiful country
  • Cities that like to party and stay out late
  • Great food
  • Incredibly friendly, warm, and nice people looking to help

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[Stephen, Travis, Kristine, & Vinnie]

ROK
[Beautiful Korea]

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[Daegu knows how to party]

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[Korea BBQ]

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[Super Friendly School Kids]


Korea has a rich history with dynasties 1,000s of years old.  During which, multiple wars with China and Japan that have burnt down many of the originally relics, such as 1,000+ year old temples.  And it has a neighbor to the north that is run by a crazy dictator, an oddity we really wanted to explore but they are absolutely not letting in Americans at the moment (normally you can go with a tour group).  The US effort in the Korea War is highly respected here, over 33,000 US soldiers were killed, with the 2nd highest number of deaths for foreign soldiers going to Turkey with about 1,600 soldiers.  The UN Memorial gardens in Busan is a beautiful moment with a wall like the Vietnam wall in DC.

Temple near Samsung Town
[Temples & History]

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[UN Memorial]


99% of the expats we met were teaching English. Koreans will pay a high premium for native speakers to teach English, you don’t even need to know a word of Korean, except for ‘Hite’ which roughly translates to ‘cheap beer’.  Most teachers are paid quite well and have modest schedules, which affords a high quality of life while saving US dollars, probably living better then their english teaching counterparts in Japan.

As for the demand for Engrish – the younger generation (which is in school obscene hours of the day, sometimes till 10pm, and attends school on the weekends), can not digest the english language fast enough.  I think it’s a combination of cool pop culture – (Koreans are the most fashionable people I’ve seen, I think it tops NY and Paris – even the men are sporting top-end lines with manicured hairdos).  Along with the value in knowing English in our worldwide ecomony.  It’s funny to me that companies like  Samsung, KIA, Hyundai have all their logos at the top of the buildings in English, not Korean.

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[Funny Signs]


Outside of Seoul, tombstone shaped buildings dot the landscape wherever a city emerges.  Korea grew so fast, that it skipped the aesthic in housing and went straight for utility.  So the landscape is dotted wtih 20-story rectangular buildings usally a handful right on top of each other (forgot having a view).  They are drab gray with company logos like Samsung at the top – cause Samsung does everything, not just electronics, they own real estate too.  These tombstone styled apartment builds are a real odd site to see. Fortunately, Seoul has done a good job of avoiding 100% of those buildings and has real neighborhoods with a fun and funky vibe.

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[Tombstone Apartments]


However, going along this ‘utility’ vs. aesthetic for housing, commercial buildings follow suit as well, with most restaurants and bars setting up shop on any floor, from the 1st to the 8th, it doesn’t matter how nice of a joint it may be, you may have to take the elevator up to the 4th floor for your nice restaurant – and for bars, sometimes the basement. Back in NYC’s Korea Town, I used to think this was due to space constraints just in NYC, now I realize it’s a Korean norm to have a good restaurant on the 3rd floor of a building, and a bar on the 4th.  And of course Noribongs (karaoke) are always up high in sketchy, but fun, little rooms.

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[Asian Storefronts]


Korea really impressed us, we had no idea we were would be treated to a beautiful and fun country (from day hikes to nighttime partying).

Ohh, and I’m buying Korean socks for life – they all have fun logos on them, from Ramen noodles to the Simpsons – I think it’s because you always have to take off your shoes in Korea, so everybody wants to have hip socks.

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[Korean Socks]


Some other Korean memories:

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[All the neon lights]

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[Engrish]

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[Cities & Nature]

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[Travis]

You can check out the rest of our Korea photos on Flickr.

Personal space, grooming and shoes

I may have mentioned my general level of clothing anxiety on this trip. After a few weeks, it’s already getting hard to wear the same black dress over and over.  And Korea does not make it easy to wear practical walking shoes because most people are insanely good looking.

Same-same underwear

In Korea women with short skirts and long hair totter around on 5 inch heels. Men with carefully styled razor hair cuts and tight clothes send your gaydar into over drive.  American teachers are told to squirt a boy’s hair with water when they’re not behaving.  The hair horror!

When a young Korean couple is dating, they show their unity by wearing same-same clothing or same-same shoes.

Yes. They match.

Vinnie and I are on the prowl for some terribly awesome same-same underwear.

Scared of the sun

Once married, Korean women settle down into sun-hiding visors, or even better, towels wrapped around their heads. The fear of the sun extends down their body, from elbow-to-wrist fake sleeves or gardening gloves and umbrellas.

With all their care and attention to their looks, it must be super interesting for Koreans to see someone who doesn’t look exactly the way they expect.  Sometimes they will simply try to make you fit their mold.  Your feet don’t fit into their largest size 250 shoe? Get the shoehorn!  Make this work! A 250 shoe is an american size 8, which I haven’t worn in at least 15 years and no shoehorn in the world is going to convince me to walk around in size 8 high heels.

It’s not uncommon to be stared at in Korea, sometimes this staring extends to touching, smelling and sometimes even tweaking. There is a different definition of personal space in Asia, more specifically, there is no personal space in Asia.

If I were to repack for this trip, I might just bring a pair of high heels, my hair straightener and a rape whistle – not because anything untoward would ever happen in Korea, but you need a way to keep the adjumma’s at bay.

Our stay at the Hanok

After a string of love motels, crashing with strangers and Travis’s twin bed, we decided to splurge by sleeping in a traditional Korean guesthouse and paid about $60 to sleep on the floor.  Happy anniversary sweetie, how’s your back?

Seoul is amazing. Instead of ubiquitous tombstone houses that litter the urban landscape of Korea, Seoul has towering skyscrapers along huge boulevards, funky apartments in chic modern buildings and small enclaves of traditional housing located along winding back alleys.

Vinnie in Bukchon Village

We thought it would be fun to stay in a traditional Korean hanok with ondol floors and fluffy comforters for a bed.  Bukchon Village is a UNESCO site smack in the middle of two royal palaces –  it’s slightly shocking to get off the subway, walk past dunkin donuts and into ancient Korea.

After meandering around for a while, we saw a sign for a guesthouse and thought maybe, just maybe they would have something available.  The woman, Joy, a Korean-comme-Australian who spoke so fast and laughed so much that we straight up could not understand a word she said. Did she have a place? We assured her that we were totally interested in the utmost traditional guesthouse. Not modern? No problem!

After waiting around for some time, Joy comes bounding out of the house, she didn’t have a place, she could find us one. Did we hear this correctly?  “Come-with-me!” and from there Joy led us to an active museum store guesthouse.

Vinnie and I just stood there, confused.  There were people shopping around.  There were handmade dishes and ceramic tea sets displayed in the very room that she motioned for us to put our stuff in.  “This-is-where-you’ll-stay-it’s-very-safe-alright?”

Did this woman understand us? Did we understand her? We weren’t concerned with the safety of our packs in the open room, we were concerned that we would move and break expensive, handmade artwork. She continued to smile at us and explained how to  close the window doors that were hanging from the ceiling. We were already in deep. How could we do anything but delicately set our packs inside the museum, smile and hand over the money? You never get what you expect when you’re traveling and this certainly was one of those moments.

Bukchon Village Shop, my home for a night

The house was owned by a traditional designer who lived there with her 90 year old mother.  That night we stayed in her showroom, on the floor, surrounded by her artwork and didn’t break a thing.

The next morning we headed straight to the bath house where we bathed, napped and sauna’ed to recover.

A lesson on public transportation

All the cities we’ve visited have cute nicknames that are proudly displayed everywhere – Beautiful Gyeongju! Sun and Fun Haeundae! Hi Seoul!

At first I was not so happy to see Seoul – after the crappy trip across the county, I was frustrated to find a massive subway system and no map to help understand what train I needed or even how to buy a ticket.  Seoul is Korea’s largest city and on paper, it’s intimidating. Over 12 million people live in the city proper and if I were  ever to make it onto the train, it was going to take me over an hour to reach my destination. To make matters worse, I was carrying around a 25lb backpack and the subway entrance was more of an underground shopping mall with people casually milling around.  Thousands of weekend shoppers +  lost with a pack = PURE FRUSTRATION.

Metros in Asia are a bit different, you first need to determine your destination in order to buy a ticket, then you can enter the subway to find the map. This makes sense – the price increases the farther you travel and as I mentioned, you can go pretty far in Seoul.  Not having a map will never make any sense.

It’s hard to stay frustrated in Korea.  Korean people are the warmest, friendliest people I have ever met. As I stood staring through tears at the Lonely Bastard guidebook (no subway map included), this angel women saw my utter frustration, took my hand, bought the ticket and pointed me in the right direction. This was not a random act of kindness, Koreans are just fantastic people.  In every neighborhood people would jump out from the crowd to ask if we were lost, or how they could help us locate our hotel, a palace, city hall….

I love Koreans.

But back to the subway system.  Here’s South Korea’s answer to a possible attack on the subway:

ROK gas masks

Urban Hiking Lesson in Endurance

We’re trying to take an account of our trip so far and it’s pretty intense. In two weeks we’ve visited 5 cities, ate 25 completely different Korean meals, slept at 6 love motels, drank 6 bottles of Soju, over 200 bottles of beer and suffered from 7 serious hangovers.

Here is a day in the life of an urban hiker.

Breakfast at Mr. Kim's house

Woke up at 8am in Pusan to have breakfast with Mr. Crazy Couch Surfer Kim.  He “encouraged” us to eat all of our food, including: seaweed with rice, kimchi, potatoes with egg and warm rice noodles. Give that a shot at 8-fucking-am… I don’t even drink coffee that early.

On the way to the bus terminal, Mr. Kim drove us to visit the Beomosa Temple.  Thank God this was not a temple you had to hike to because all I wanted to do was get away from Mr. Crazy Kim who WHILE touring the temple continued to make sex jokes.

Drinking delicious water at the Beomeosa Temple

The temple was gorgeous, and very active. This was the first time where I saw dozens of worshipers chanting and bowing. We’re learning bits and pieces of Buddhism as we go along. At every temple you will find a big bell, a fish, a cloud and a drum.  They are sounded daily to signify the respect for life in the air, in the sea, in the sky and in the ground.

You will also find some delicious running water and communal bowls.  I love this and always grab a drink, it’s seriously tasty!

After cruising the temple, Mr. Kim drops us off at the bus station.  Thank God, baby Jesus, Buddha and whomever else was watching over us, because I was sincerely scared for my life during our stay with Mr. Kim.

Dinner in Gyeongju

After two hours of bus travel we make it back to home base, Pohang.  Nap for a bit. Upload photos for a bit. Then it’s dinner at my favorite restaurant in my favorite Korean city, Gyeongju (about 40 minutes away, driving).

This dinner is the best EVER.  We’re served in a traditional Korean house  – sitting in tiny private room surrounding a central courtyard. Dozens of dishes are served at once- chicken, fish, cabbage, Korean burritos – you name it, it’s on the table. We all eat together out of the same bowl, and each person makes sure that the glasses remain full of hite-uh.

Most delicious meal ever

At the end of the night the staff closes the doors so the little rooms aren’t filled with smoke from the fire outside. Ages ago that fire would have been used to heat the floors and to this day Koreans still sleep on heated floors.

You would think that this would be enough of an adventure, but no…. just driving back to Pohang is an exercise in the bizzarre. While grabbing a $60 tankful of gas we notice that the station attendant has set up a little workout room for himself.

Gas Station on the way home

We figure that he sits in that dirty porn-filled gas station room, smoking cigs and thinking that he needs to work out on his stationary bike…

After making it to downtown Pohang, we check out the red light district and head to the bar – alone. It’s time for soju shots, gallons of hite and MORE FOOD, this time kimchi pancakes and delicious mondu.

You may be wondering how the hell we can eat so much, but food in Korea a totally different experience from what American’s are used to.

More food, more drink

Koreans eat sloooowly for hours. With so much variety and so many people eating from one dish, you can’t get greedy and shove the whole plate down your face.

Korean’s are truly organic about their food – specific meals are served when you’re hungover or have a head cold. Just like the spa had specific healing rooms, Koreans dishes serve specific purposes. Supposedly serving food alongside soju is a good way to stave off a hangover but really, for me, it’s just more to puke up when you wake up wasted at 6am.

Soju shots

Shots, shots, shots, shots and hite-uh.

Ice Peaches

Now it’s time for dessert! How about some peaches in ice?

By this time everyone is shitcanned, Vinnie has already passed out on the street outside and Travis is falling asleep at the table.  It looks like this will be an early Urban Hiking night, which is fine because I’m exhausted and smell like fire from dinner.

Thusly clothed cab driver

Wait!

Everyone rebounds just long enough to have a titillating discussion on Korean grammar before we catch a ride home with a cabby who wears gardening gloves to drive.

Enjoy.

Couch Surfing in Pusan – Beware of Mr. Kim

I don’t know how Vinnie conned me into this but we voluntarily and without necessitating circumstances stayed at a strangers house in Pusan. It did not go very well.

I mentioned that we met up with a few couch surfers last night and other than making their ears bleed with the sound of Vinnie’s rapping, it went well.  So, with that in mind, we chose to stay with a 50-year old Korean man who on the surface seemed fairly normal.

Couch surfing is a lot like online dating (and in some circles, I think the community actually uses it as a dating service).  Your online profile matters a lot and  your friends and references are crucial.  I (Kristine) did not take this into consideration and got us into bit of a mess.

Meet Mr. Kim:

Likes – Yoga, perverted sex jokes, driving foreigners to empty forests for long walks, potentially murderous inclinations and Celine Dion. Dislikes – his children, job and wife. Nervous ticks include- continually putting passenger windows up and down, turning on emergency lights and leering at women. Tagline “Korea Number One!”

Mr. Kim had no problem immediately putting us in our place when we met him 15 feet away from where he wanted:  “I told you.  Meet me a Enter-ance. Enter-ance is not Foyer. Foyer is Foyer.”  I should have known that this was going to be bad.

He immediately leads us to his car and wants us both to sit in the back. Instead, I shove Vin in the front and try to take up as little room in the back as possible. Mr Kim then told me that because I am not sitting with my husband, I don’t love him and am now single. WEIRD. Already my throat was closing in with fear and my mother’s sound advice not to get in a car with strangers was ringing in my ears.

He took us to the UN cemetery, which was lovely and normal and heartbreaking.  It’s amazing to see the sheer number of American soliders who died (33,000) and to know what a difference it made to modern day South Korea.

Image of Buddha

This is when things took a turn and never returned.  After the UN cemetery Mr. Kim took us to a modern day temple where he loudly made fun of the women worshiping and pretended to be Buddha. He asked, “Why Buddha sit like this?”

Ummm… I’m not sure (thinking it was a cultural or religious question).

Mr Kim reached with one hand and said, “Jesus give me” and with his other hand flicked me -HARD- on the forehead.

Now this doesn’t sound so horrible, but what came next was epic.  “Hey, you know the story of Seven Up?” He then proceeded to tell us about how the seven dwarves spied on Sleeping Beauty as she showered naked, each dwarf getting a hard on. WHHHHAAAAT?

We should have turned around then…..

Mr Kim was very proud to be Korean and really wanted to show us some good views of the city.  He shuttled us up one deserted mountain cliff to another, driving like a bat out of hell on backroads meant for billygoat hikers.

At one lookout cliff we caught a glimpse of Japan and may have frustrated Mr. Kim with our excitement. He made a point of telling me, “Korean man pee very hard.” “Korean man pee hard and Japan wonder why it is raining”

I don’t know what was more frightening: hiking in an empty forest where he could kill us and hide the bodies, or driving with him next to 1,000 foot drops.

He had even made a cd titled “Vincent”, including the Don McLean song that goes “But I could have told you, Vincent, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

CREEPY.

In addition to hating his job, he hated his family.  His wife is fat.  She didn’t breast feed the children, and Mr. Kim believes that his son and daughter are the stupid children of cow milk.

The next morning he busted in the room at 8:00 am to see if I was dressed and then made me do his dishes.

Public Bathhouse Heaven

I found bathing heaven in Busan.  This may have been the best thing I have ever done in any country, ever.

Yes, I was bare-ass nekkid in front of dozens of women.  And yes, perhaps I didn’t understand exactly how to exfoliate like a Korean woman. BUT OH MY GOD, I AM CLEAN.

Hurshimchung Spa

Vinnie and I went to one of the worlds largest public bath houses, Hurshimchung, where we went our separate ways to experience pure relaxation and minor anxiety due to extreme public nudity.

At the bath house, you’re stark naked from the minute you walk in the door.  You don’t wear a towel in the locker room, you don’t wear a towel in the sauna and you certainly don’t wear a towel walking between baths. You are NAKED and I LOVED IT.

I soaked in a 110 degree Chinese medicinal herb bath.  I was massaged by a metric ton of water pounding down on my back. I chilled in a Philosophy bath, a cave bath and an ice bath.

Huimoktang Bath - 47C

I sat in a tub made of 4000 year old Korean spindle trees with “sanitizing effect like forest bath, relaxing effect, stress resolving effect and mysterious effect in neuralgia and longevity thanks to aroma and oil peculiar to the tree”

There was even a “half-bath” where you could sit at a water table and buy drinks or read the paper.

Half bath at the spa

After bathing for over an hour, Vinnie and I put on spa clothes (that looked like floral prison uniforms) and headed down to the co-ed Jjimjilbang section.  This area of the spa was a place where men and women just chillax together. There was a huge room with people lying around with wooden blocks for pillows, watching the TV.  In the Jjimjilhang there was a restaurant, an internet cafe,  and specials rooms where you go to breathe.

Vinnie and I started in the “Real Charcoal Room” where the walls are lined with burnt charcoal to clean the air and help “block electron ray”

After our lungs were purified, we headed to the refreshment section and grabbed a ddeok-boggi for dinner. We totally missed something cool.  At the refreshment area there were selling what we thought were hard-boiled eggs – we ignored them because they were strangely expensive compared to everything else on the menu.  Later were found out that the egg wasn’t hard boiled, instead it was roasted in the sauna and tastes delicious.

Oh well.

After dinner we hit up the ice room (shaped like an igloo) where we sat on marble to “cool your tired body suffered from heat.” Then headed to the mysterious yellow soil room where “best yellow soil is breathing.”

After all that sauna sweating, we headed right back up to the baths for more.

Just a heads up, if you’re inspired to visit Korea and grab a bath – before bathing and in between baths, Korean women exfoliate each other. This is not at all similar to the American style standing under the shower and rubbing yourself with soap. This is not your mom giving you a bath when you were 4. Korean women go to the spa with their mothers, squat on little stools and violently rub the SHIT OUT OF EACH OTHER.

You will get stares because you’re not Korean, that’s OK.  But if you scrub your skin hard enough, you’ll fit right in.

And if you’ve read this far, let me just let you know that Koreans do not trim.  There is no such thing as a Brazilian bikini wax. Just be aware.  My friend Heather saw one woman blow dry her bush.

Haeundae beach and the bureaucratic nightmare

Pusan is the second biggest city in ROK but after a cra-cray birthday weekend in Daegu, we were a little tired to make the hour trip south to apply for our Chinese visas. Really the thought of dealing with any consulate is enough to send me into a stress nap. But we’ve learned how to recover quickly and without even a full 24 hours of rest in Pohang, set out once again.

I mentioned that finding your way around South Korea is amazingly easy, we left via train and returned 3 days later with a warning for y’all: Dealing with the Chinese is a bitch. They don’t update their consulate website with the constantly changing restrictions, they’re often closed for unposted holidays and currently they’re not issuing visas to American citizens. If you want a visa, go to a tour company.

Haeundae beach, Pusan

Once in Haeundae Beach (a neighborhood in Pusan) we scouted around for the cheapest love motel, quickly dressed and hit the town scouting for food.  We grabbed some steamed mondu and Vinnie braved the street vendor and chowed down on some fried stall food.  Hopefully this would be enough to strengthen us for our upcoming battle with the Chinese.

The fucking consulate was closed for mystery holiday. The guard “communicated” that it would be open in either 5 days or tomorrow. Not very promising.

We decided to stay in Haeundae, grab another dodgy motel and meet up with some couch surfing internet dude who lived in Pusan.  It was a good way to dip our toes into the couch surfing scene – we already had a hotel and if we didn’t like the people, we could leave.

Instead we drank. And sang.  And drank some more.  Random dude Chad turned out to be a professional student, amateur vocalist.  Vinnie and I were happy that he and his friends put up with us as long as he did because we’re both freaking tone-deaf.

CouchSurfers in Pusan

The next day we headed to the consulate once again only to find out that the Chinese are not issuing visas to Americans at the consulate and we need to head to a tour company to pay an additional 100 bucks.

I’m already wondering if I really want to go.

Andong masks, fire and food

Andong Mask Festival

After a nice night of raging American style in Daegu (say it like a stoner – Duuude, we’re going to Day-guuuuuu), we managed to get all three couples out of the city to hit up the very traditional annual Andong Mask Festival.

We were  promised amazing Andong jjimdak (jim-duck), painted masks and a pretty cool display of fire and were not disappointed by either.

In Hahoe Village we stood in the rain with thousands of people to watch rows of charcoal sparklers being pulled up a mountain. Live Korean music was blaring through the  speakers when a boat appeared with traditionally dressed actors dancing, eating and reciting poetry – then we screamed “GOOD LUCK” and balls of fire were thrown down the mountain.   From the little I understood, the festival is meant to be good luck for the future harvest but to me it was the epitome of being somewhere very foreign and not understanding what any of this meant.

Vinnie too tall for the tent

We continued on to the Mask festival, where the rain had cleared most revelers out but NOT US.  More raging.  More hite.  More food.  More fun.

The festival was nearly exactly what you would see at a US fair – except for the Monks and the shark meat.

We hung out under a tent and ate amazing bbq pork, chicken and pepper-egg scramble.  In addition to several banchan – including raw garlic which I have come to love – we were given a bowl of soju slush to which we secretly added a bottle of vodka.

Amazing food, a soju slush drink and tons crappy beer

It’s beginning to feel like we can’t go an evening without getting trashed in Korea.

I haven’t even gotten to the best part of Andong – the freaking  delicious Jjimduk. The overwhelming theme of our trip so far has been FOOD. It’s not just that the food is delicious, but it’s always a party.  All restaurants serve food in portions of 3+, so each meal is a de facto dinner party with friends.

After having a great time at the Mask Festival, we woke up to the best meal yet. Feast your eyes on this – Jjimduk.

Jjimduk - an original Andong meal

You have now died and gone to Korean heaven.  Yeji has promised to give me her mother’s recipe, so expect to see this at our next dinner party (in a few years…)

Birthday Rage in Daegu – A photo entry

This is what we saw of Daegu, South Korea:

Gyeongju: A museum without walls

Holy crap, Gyeongju (kee-young-ju) is amazing. You barely need to leave the motel to run into ancient burial mounds 5 stories tall, stone Buddha’s from the 9th century and a myriad of pagodas, temples and artifacts.

Hwangseong Park, General Kim Yusin

We rented bicycles near the bus terminal and managed to cover tons of ground. We’ve found that if we just put the map away, we’ll have a lot more fun.  In just hours we ran into a sweet statue of General Kim Yusin that towers over the city, a tremendous stone Buddha and the Sunngsinjoen shrine.  By nightfall we had a pretty good understanding why this city was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Cowed by fear of eating assholes and chicken feet, we crashed early without food and it was a good thing too.  The next day in Gyeongju was fan-freaking-tastic and all this Korean food is making us fat.

For 12 hours we wandered from ancient burial mounds, to the Cheomseongdae Astronomical Observatory, through the Gyerim forest, to the National Museum where we learned just how far Korean culture dates back.

Gyeongju Burial Mound

Again with map issues, John Wayne believed that the Namsan forest was just a few kilometers from the National Muesum and so we began to walk. And walk. And walk. AND WALK…  The Namsan forest is rumored to be this awesome hike where you trip over fortresses, rock Buddhas and temples.  We didn’t get there (yet) because John Wayne was wrong and it’s about 20KM from the museum.  Instead we caught a bus to the Bulguk-sa temple and Seokguram Grotto.

Right move!

This is the stuff that I want to see: an ancient temple where you can almost hear the accompanying Quentin Tarantino soundtrack and an 8th century stone Buddha high in the mountains with only a billy goat trail to carry up the granite that was used to build it.

It was already 3PM and we had dinner plans at 8:00, so we decided to hit the grotto first.  John Wayne thought it would only be about a 20 minute walk  – 2.2 km really isn’t that far and we both finished the SF half marathon this summer….

WRONG.

.5km into our vertical climb

Koreans are surrounded by mountains and know how to climb.  And climb we did, 2.2km walking straight up a freaking mountain – no switchbacks!  There were groups of Korean ajumma’s in track suits who passed us, a business man smoking a cig passed us — we died wheezing our way up this hill. Only when we reached the top did we notice there was a bus shuttle available between the grotto and the temple… (We wouldn’t have taken the bus away, buses are for weak girly-men).

Seokuram Buddha

The Seokguram grotto is a sight to behold –  a massive granite Buddha looking out to the East Sea (don’t call it Sea of Japan while you’re in Korea).  While at the top of the mountain, we paid 1,000 won (a dollar) to ring a giant bell that resonates over 3km through the village below. What a great time for all the people in that town!

Hiking back down was much easier, and we arrived just in time to check out the Bulguk-sa temple – classified Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government.  El Numero Uno, bitches! The Bulguksa pagoda’s are replicated all throughout Korea, so it was super cool to see the real deal.

Not bad for a two day adventure.

First trip out of Pohang, ROK

What does this place serve?

This was our first adventure without Travis and we were both fairly nervous, if only about what were going to end up eating. After the pig intestine meal it became clear to me that we have no idea what any of the signs in this country mean.

Often signs have a pig or a cow on the sign – but which part? It’s not like they don’t eat assholes and feet over here.  In fact, I ate a chicken foot.  It was chewy, gummy and a little spicy. Do. Not. Recommend.

Chicken foot, good for the complexion

But our little adventure was awesome.  Trains and buses are really easy to figure out, although not all communication is easy. Maps are either in English or Hangul – but hello!  Koreans don’t use roman characters on street signs. Even if you know where you are on the map, it’s hard to make out where you are on the street because you can’t determine the location in Hangul characters.

After minimal fighting, map reading frustrations and tantrum throwing, we agreed to pay 5,000 won (about $5) more for a fancy love motel.  We stayed at the Ritz Motel in Gyeongju for about 35,000 won and were pretty pleased with the conditions.  We were happy to have an internet connection (they only run IE6, kill me), and some American TV. Except for the creepy asian porn channel, and cards for les femmes de la nuit you could have been anywhere.

We declare success.

One thing to note when traveling outside of the major cities, Korea conservative country, you can show as much leg as you want but keep the ta-tas in check. Also when in the country, be prepared to be the center of attention from hordes of screaming school children and the occasional curious ajumma.

Putting on the Ritz in Gyeongju