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Oedaldo Island (외달도)

This weekend we went to Oedaldo Island for a weekend trip. When it comes to nature trips there are two general kinds in Korea, at least that I’ve observed: Island trips and Mountain trips. Korea isn’t that big and it’s really mountainous so whatever isn’t a mountain is often a beach or an island.

Both trips are fun in their own ways. Mountain trips are lots of hiking with gear and camping on the top of a mountain. You bring your own food, sleeping bag, or tent. Sometimes you can rent the equipment, but that requires a level of Korean that I do not have…yet.

Mokpo Seaside

Mokpo Seaside

Nicole and I opted for the latter, an island trip. We met up with my co-teachers, Kayla, Patrick, Will, and Ted at the bus terminal and took a bus to Mokpo, a port town on the west coast of South Korea. Mokpo is an important port city because it’s a great halfway point between China and Japan, so it gets a lot of commercial shipping traffic. For tourists though, Mokpo represents a gateway to many of Korea’s beautiful islands.

A bridge near Mokpo

A bridge near Mokpo

The Ferry to Oedaldo

From the bus terminal, we took a cab to the ferry terminal and boarded a ferry for Oedaldo. The ride to Mokpo from Gwangju is about an hour by bus then another hour on the ferry to Oedaldo island.

Ferry to Oedaldo

Ferry to Oedaldo

Our Minbok

Once we arrived, we set out to find our lodging. We were staying at a minbok, which is like a guesthouse. People rent rooms in minboks, which are usually part of someone’s house. Each room tends to be large and sparsely furnished, very sparsely, like no beds. Everyone sleeps in the same room on the ground on futon-like mats or thick blankets depending on the minbok. The advantage to minbok’s, aside from the fact that they are traditional, is that they are cheap, like $10 a night cheap if you get enough people into it. Our whole group comprised ten people, more would be joining later, so we spent next to nothing to sleep there. The downside is we shared one bathroom between all of us and basically spooned all night because there was that little room.

Peter sleeping in the Minbok Wardrobe

Peter sleeping in the Minbok Wardrobe

Island Lunch

Oedaldo is a very small island. You can circumnavigate it in under an hour. It has a small water park with lots of Koreans in full body swimsuits, a little village, and a beach and that’s about it. After we left the minbok, we went to a little restaurant to have some lunch. The restaurant was one of the highest points on the island with a little outdoor eating area so you could see out over the rest of the village from there. A lot of the other Korean patrons at the restaurant brought their own food and sort of “rented” space at the restaurant just using the tables to prepare their own food with a nice view to boot.

Lunch...all of the sides

Lunch…all of the sides for $6/person

After lunch, we went for a walk on this little path that wraps around the island. It was really beautiful. Along the path was the beach to the left and the mountain and forest to our right. Halfway around the island we came across a little lighthouse and stopped for some pics. The foliage and landscape of the island reminded me a lot of Maine, while the food, people, and architecture were very much Korean. It was a strange dichotomy.

From Lighthouse to Beach

From Lighthouse to Beach

The walking path we took led us to the beach where we spent the afternoon enjoying beverages by the water and floating in tubes. After a bit, the rest of our group who had taken a separate ferry joined us and we were all reunited. Nicole and I went for a short walk mid-afternoon and when we returned the tide had come in and the beach had disappeared, leaving only the concrete steps and picnic tables left over. Nicole and I hung out watching the waves and chatting while eating cheap ramen.

Oedaldo Lighthouse

Oedaldo Lighthouse (from left to right Will, Kayla, Patrick, Will)

That night we all returned to the place we ate lunch at, one of a handful of restaurants on the island. At this point I should explain a few things about Korean culture of the rest of the story won’t make sense.

Dinner “Service”

In Korea, there’s a custom called “service” where if you spend enough money at a shop, bar, restaurant, the proprietor will give you something for free or “for service”. Basically, this means “you’ve spent enough money here, you’re cool with me, enjoy”. At a bar, this often means free chips with your round of beers. At a restaurant, this can mean a free drink with your meal. One time I bought a whale shirt at a store and I got a t-shirt with sparrows on it for free.

The total number of people who had come with us to this restaurant was close to ten and we each had a meal there plus several beverages for the table so our total bill was close to $300, a king’s ransom by Korean standards and more food and drink than we could possibly imagine. Consequently, and partly because the restaurant owner was the daughter of the minbok owner, we received a free additional room at the minbok, a $100 value. Here’s to Korea.

After our several hour dinner, we wandered the island and sat by the water talking about life and English curriculum, the usual when English teachers get together. At the end of the night, everyone had forgotten about the bonus minbok room aside from Peter, our lovable Korean co-teacher, who had the bonus room to himself while the 9 of us shared the other room.

Second Weekend in Seoul: Color Me Rad II

Continued from Second Week in Seoul: Color Me Rad I

Breakfast

Nicole and I packed our bags at the hostel and got some breakfast at a local brunch place. Brunch isn’t too common in Korea, so most brunch places are in the foreign parts of town such as Itaewon. I got real buttermilk pancakes with thick cut bacon, and I mean thick, like bacon steak if that was a thing. This place had real delicious coffee as well, a welcome change from yesterday’s McDonalds. Coffee in Korea, and in most places outside of the US does not exist the way it does in the states. Most places have lattes, cappuccinos, and espresso, but rarely do they have traditional American coffee. I often order an Americano (espresso plus hot water).

Sunday in Itaewon is an immensely peaceful place if you’re up early enough anytime before noon. In the afternoon shoppers wander its streets eating international food and shopping in various boutiques. At night Itaewon becomes a crazy club district and its packed with people, Korean and foreign alike. 

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Bongeunsa Temple

After breakfast, Nicole and I caught a cab toBongeunsa Temple, a place even more tranquil than Itaewon on a sleepy Sunday morning. Bongeunsa Temple is a Buddhist temple dating back to 794. Its located close to the center of Seoul, ironically surrounded by shopping malls and some of the most expensive apartment buildings in Korea. We spent the afternoon wandering around the temple, observing its majestic beauty and instagraming its secrets.

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

I got the impression not many tourists westerners visit the temple. Nicole and I got a lot of curious looks as we wandered the temple and one gentleman stopped and spoke with us for about 15 minutes telling us about the temple’s history.

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

Convention Center

After leaving the temple, Nicole and I walked across the street to the convention center on the off chance something fun was happening. Indeed it was, there was a Korean children’s character licensing convention. I’m not 100% on what that means, but there were tons of children’s characters in costumes handing out autographs and taking photos. It was a madhouse. Nicole and I wanted to go into the convention and take photos, but there was an admission fee and it didn’t seem worth it since neither of us knew who any of the characters were.

Seven Luck Casino

The convention center is massive and it connects to a hotel & casino next door. That’s right, a Korean casino. Nicole and I had to go, and we were not disappointed. We had both expected a casino similar to one in the states where you can wander in off the Las Vegas strip in shorts and a t-shirt and gamble to your heart’s content, that was not quite the case here.

Nicole and I stroll in off the streets in Seoul in our shorts and t-shirts, because it’s 90 degrees with 100% humidity. Immediately we’re greeted by a staff of 5 or 6 Koreans in full suits. The small lobby is immaculate with crystal chandeliers and fountains. Clearly, we are underdressed, but we decided not to let that dissuade us from seeing this Korean casino. I greet the first gentleman in a suit and he asks for our passports. In Korea, you cannot go into a casino unless you are a foreigner. I believe Koreans are not allowed to gamble. After we get our passports back, we walk around the corner of the lobby and take an escalator up to a small gambling floor with maybe 50 slot machines and a few tables for poker and roulette. Everyone gambling in the casino looks Korean, which is odd since this should be foreigners only. I suspect that there is some way around this passport check or maybe they bribed the doorman.

Nicole and I aren’t gamblers so we mostly just look around until we spy in the corner, past the flashing lights and slot machines, a juice bar. That’s right, this casino has free juice, and by that I mean there are several pitchers of airplane-quality juice available to drink out of tiny paper cups. Nicole and I go over and start slamming back shots of juice with reckless abandonment. The fact that its cold and free almost makes up for how bad it is. I feel like whoever made this juice had never had real juice. Someone probably described juice to him and he said “oh yeah, I know what you mean” but really had no idea.

Juice Bar

Juice Bar

Nicole took a picture of me drinking free juice and several casino security guards came by and told us not to take photos. At that point, we’d seen everything we wanted to at the casino and decided to head back to Itaewon and gather our bags for the bus back.

4D Movie Experience

Nicole and I took the bus back to Gwangju and made it back early enough in the evening to see a 4D movie at the bus station. The Gwangju bus station has everything, tons of shops, restaurants, a department store, and a 4D movie theater. It’s awesome. In the 4D movie theater you get sprayed with smells, your seat shakes, you might get wet, and you occasionally get air blown on you. It’s just like a 4D ride at Disney but it’s a full-length movie in a theater.

4D Movie

4D Movie

Nicole and I saw Pacific Rim, a movie about giant transformer robots fighting giant monsters from an alternate universe. It’s probably the perfect movie to see in 4D because its so over the top. The movie itself wasn’t too bad. The action was massively epic, but the character development was nonexistent and I didn’t really care what happened to any of the people in the film.

If you think there are a lot of previews before movies in the states, don’t see movies in Korea. There were easily twice as many previews and general advertisements before the movie along with several warning screens about motion sickness. Overall the 4D experience was a lot of fun, but after the first hour or so I started to get tired of the 4D part and just wanted to watch the movie without being shaken or having air blown on me, but the gimmick was a fun one-time thing.

Second Weekend in Seoul: Color Me Rad I

This weekend was the weekend before Nicole’s birthday so we decided to go back to Seoul for some R and R. In this case, R and R meant running and resisting the urge to eat taco bell. We did one of those two things.

Getting to Seoul

After work Friday, Nicole and I caught the bus from the Gwangju bus terminal to Seoul, leaving at 11:30 pm and arriving at 3 am. The nice thing about buses between Seoul and Gwangju is that they run every ten minutes and they’re only about $25. Nicole and I packed snacks to bring along and spent the trip napping and eating Korean chips.

When we arrived, we hailed a cab to Itaewon to stay at the same hostel we’d stayed at last time: the SP@Itaewon guesthouse. The cab ride was about $5 and it was way faster than taking the subway like we did last time. I’d written to the hostel a few days before to let them know that we would be arriving at 3 am. They said they’d leave the room unlocked and we could just let ourselves in and pay in the morning. When Nicole and I got to the hostel our room was locked, lucky for us, I’d accidentally taken the key with me from when we stayed last time, so I let us into our room.

Mmm, McDonald's Coffee

Mmm, McDonald’s Coffee

Nicole had signed the two of us up for the Color Me Rad 5k run on Saturday at 11 am, so the two of us threw on some clothes and left the hostel at around 8 am, after about 4 hours of sleep. The only thing open at that time on the streets of Itaewon was McDonald’s, so Nicole and I prepared for our run with Egg McMuffins, terrible coffee, and 4 hours of sleep. I’m sure somewhere out there a runner is cringing at the thought of our pre-race preparations, or lack thereof.

COLOR ME RAD

The Color Me Rad 5k is a race through the Seoul Olympic complex right on the bank of the Han River. It started in the US and its slowly been migrating around the world. The race in Korea had 12,000 registered runners and I would say about half were foreign and half were Korean.

Nicole and I before the race

Nicole and I before the race

 

The race course was set up to run through several of the Olympic stadiums and track and field facilities eventually ending where it began. Along the race course, there were several stations with heavy electronic music and people throwing powdered paint at runners. It was awesome. I encourage you to watch the video above if you want to know what it was like. It was such a fun crazy event and it happens all over the world. 

Nicole and I after the race

Nicole and I after the race

Nicole and I got to the race around 10 am and since the race lets runners start every 10 minutes, Nicole and I were able to start almost as soon as we got there. We gathered at the starting line and waited for our cue to go, which in this case was loud music and a ton of paint being thrown into the air/at us.

I expected everyone to start running once we got the go-ahead, but everyone started slowly walking forward. It was very anticlimactic. Once we got a little bit further down the course and into the stadium, the race opened up and we were able to start running. Most of the Koreans struggled with the idea of running or maybe just weren’t feeling it, but a lot of the participants thought of the run as more of a walk and acted accordingly.

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Subway Ride

After the run, Nicole and I caught the subway back to our hostel with everyone else. The first few subway stops we were in welcome company as the subway was about half full of people covered in paint. However, after another two transfers and several more stops, Nicole and I became the only ones covered in paint on a very clean Korean subway.

Dirty Austin Clean Subway

Dirty Austin Clean Subway

Mexican Lunch

Korean Chipotle Menu

Korean Chipotle Menu

After several showers and lots of scrubbing, Nicole and I went left our hostel and made our way out to Itaewon’s international street and found Mexican food and craft beers. The place was nearly identical to Chipotle back home, complete with the choose your meat/choose your form menu.

Just eating Mexican food and reading about the DMZ

Just eatin’ Mexican food & reading about the DMZ

Riverwalk

Nicole found a really nice part of town for us to walk through Saturday night. Seoul recently completed its largest civic project ever, a man-made river flowing through downtown complete with walkway and laser-fog show. We spent the evening enjoying beverages and walking along this river. There were tons of Korean families out enjoying the riverwalk. We caught the tail-end of one of the laser-fog shows as well.

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Continued in Second Weekend in Seoul: Color Me Rad II

Weekend in Gwangju Part II

Continued from Part I

Nicole and I got up and went downtown to eat brunch at a place called Alleyway. There are a few foreign bars in Gwangju, all of them are downtown. The Alleyway is one of them and they serve a delicious brunch on Sunday mornings. Most Koreans don’t eat brunch or much of a breakfast really, so brunch establishments are few and far between. I ordered french toast stuffed with poutine and a coffee. It was delicious.

French Toast stuffed with Poutine

French Toast stuffed with Poutine

Nicole and I spent the rest of the day walking around downtown and recouping from week of teaching.

Gwangju at Night

Gwangju at Night

That night Nicole and I went for a hike up a little mountain behind Nicole’s apartment. At the top of the mountain you can see almost all of Gwangju below. It was an incredible view. Nicole and I experimented with light-painting as well and got some cool photos out of it.

Gwangju at Night II

Gwangju at Night II

Hiking Path at Night

Hiking Path at Night

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Weekend in Gwangju: Part I

Gwangju

This past weekend Nicole and I hung out in Gwangju, the town we live in. Its the 6th largest city in South Korea and it had 1.5 million people. The city is divided up into 5 districts, called Gu’s. There’s Buk, Nam, Dong, Seo, and Gwangsan. I live in Nam-Gu and Nicole lives in the next district over called Dong-Gu.

Map of Gwangju

Map of Gwangju

Our Neighborhoods

Each of the Gu’s is divided up into smaller neighborhoods called Dongs. I live in Bongseon-dong and Nicole lives in Hak-dong. My neighborhood is a smaller working-class neighborhood with some Kimbap shops, chicken and beer places, and small marts. There are no trees along the street. However, every now and again there are lovely parks with pagodas and walking paths. For a detailed description of my odd little Korean apartment go here.

Nicole’s neighborhood, Hak-dong, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Gwangju. Its home to lovely tree-lined streets, several medical clinics, and a bunch of brothels. Aside from the prostitutes selling their wares, the neighborhood is a pretty nice place. She lives next door to her school. In an apartment above a music school and a math academy. Its ungodly hot in her apartment at all times, like portal-to-hell hot, like feverish dreams while you sleep hot, but outside of Summer, I’m sure the apartment will be nice. It’s a studio so everything is in one big room, but the room is pretty big. Her apartment came completely stocked and furnished. She has a TV and speakers, a couch, some shelves, and a bed. The kitchen is pretty well stocked with spices, herbs, sauces, and various other kitchen staples.

Buying Bikes

Nicole and I and our sweet new bikes

Nicole and I and our sweet new bikes

This weekend we stayed at Nicole’s place and spent the weekend just bumming around Gwangju. Our first stop was getting bikes. Bikes are the ideal form of transportation for environmentally conscious people, those living in crippling poverty, and anyone with too many DUIs to be legally allowed behind the wheel. Nicole and I are some form of the first two, just kidding, we’re paid well.

A few days prior, I’d spotted a little bike shop along the side of the road. It’s a real hole-in-the-wall place that most people, Nicole included, wouldn’t even notice. The shopkeep/sole proprietor/employee was a very old man with skin like an old leather couch and arms like Popeye. I assume a life of bike repair had tanned his skin like old leather (see couch comparison above) and had whittled his arms into industrial tools of bike assembly and repair. Anyway, he sold us some bikes and locks for $120 total. It was a pretty good deal for two bikes and two locks. Nicole and I both got used single speed city bikes with Porteur handlebars. They’re fun to ride and the brakes kind of work.

Gwangju Subway

Gwangju Subway

Gwangju Subway

Following our successful bike purchase, Nicole and I went downtown with her neighbor and fellow teacher, Will. The three of us took the subway from Nicole’s place to downtown, about 4 stops away. The subway is about $1.30 and if you don’t have a subway card you get a neat cardboard coin with the subway logo on it to use.

Subway Token

Subway Token

 

The subway in Gwangju has one line and 20 stops, none of which are near my apartment so I never use it. Just like the Seoul subway system there are gasmasks at ever stop should North Korea, or anyone else ever decide to attack. I haven’t used one and I hope the occasion to use them never presents itself. Probably my favorite part of the subway is how cool it is down there. The temperature is at least 15 degrees cooler than at street level, so if you’re ever hot and near the subway, I encourage you to take a few minutes to check it out and cool yourself off.

 

Subway with Nicole

Subway with Nicole

The GIC

When the three of us reached downtown, we stopped into the GIC, the Gwangju International Club, or something. They have an office downtown that helps foreigners organize trips, learn English, buy TVs, or anything else under the sun. We bought some postcards (family: look out for sweet postcards headed your way) and picked up some brochures.

Food Downtown

Food Truck that moves...while its open

Food Truck that moves…while its open

Our next stop downtown was getting food. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know many words in Korean, and I know almost no Korean words for food, so going downtown is great. Many of the restaurants have pictures or bilingual menus. This is great for foreigners because you can figure out what you like based on the photo/English description then make a note of the Korean word and order it the next time you’re out for dinner and not downtown.

The food we had was amazing. See pictures below.

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Barket, the Beer Market

After dinner, Will took Nicole and me to Barket, a bar whose title combines both Bar and Market. The bar is like a convenience store but instead of snacks in the middle there are seats and along the walls, there are coolers with beers that you can pick out and drink at your table. At the end of the night, you collect all of your bottles and place them in the red bucket on your table and bring them up to the cashier to pay.

Overall, great day, lots of fun. Now on to Part II of the weekend!