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Kiana in Korea – Visiting Busan and Haedong Yonggungsa

Last weekend Kiana came to visit Nicole and I in Seoul. Over the past week she traveled around Korea visiting the Boseong Tea Fields, Gwangju, and hanging out with us in Gwangyang. This weekend, we visited Busan to see the Haedong Yonggungsa temple and Haeundae beach.

Kiana and I

Kiana and I

Traveling to Busan

Kiana, Nicole, and I got up early and walked down to the Donggwanyang bus terminal. We’d booked our tickets earlier in the week so all we had to do was hop on the bus and head out. The trip took us about 2 hours. Nicole napped and Kiana and I caught up on news from back home.

When we arrived in Busan we took the subway the 24 stops across town to Haeundae Beach, one of Nicole and my favorite spots in the city. We dropped our bags off at the hostel and spent the afternoon at the beach. Visiting the beach is one of the things I miss about Florida while I’m in Gwangyang so its nice to visit a beach in Korea every now and again.

Visiting Yonggungsa Temple

After our trip to the beach that afternoon, we took a local city bus to Yonggungsa temple. Its a beautiful Buddhist temple just East of Busan. Nicole and I had visited before with my Korean friend. However, I don’t think I ever wrote about it.

The temple includes a series of buildings, shrines, and statues. Koreans visit the temple primarily to wish for a male child or for students to get good grades. The three of us just went for the view.

 

To get into the temple you walk down a little alleyway selling all manner of snacks before you come to a narrow stairway that leads to a series of bridges. Off the left side of the bridges is the coast. On the right side of the bridges are a series of cascading fountains with basins inside. People throw coins into the basins for good luck. None of the three of us made our coins into the basin. Although, one Korean did while we were there and there was a good bit of applause.

Busan Night and Day

That night we returned from the temple to the Hauendae beach area. We visited a local market so Kiana could sample some traditional Korean street snacks and so she could see all the weirder snacks that she didn’t feel like eating. I don’t blame her. I’ve been here almost a year and a half and I haven’t had all the snacks available yet.

After the market, we bought some fireworks and went down to the beach to set them off. Every time we visit Busan we buy fireworks and set them off. Its become our traditional end to the night. This visit was no different, and this time we got to share to tradition with my sister, Kiana.

The next day we visited the beach again and walked to Gwangalli beach. Its another beach a few stops away on the subway or a 30 minute walk from Hauendae beach. The three of us had lunch together before Nicole and I headed back to Gwangyang so we could teach the next day. Kiana headed out the following day to Hong Kong.

 

Kiana in Korea – Visiting Seoul and the DMZ

My sister, Kiana, came to visit Nicole and I in Korea. It’s the first part of her multi-week Asia adventure. She flew into Incheon and took the bus to Seoul arriving Thursday. Nicole and I took a bus up after work Friday and met her in Itaewon for some weekend shenanigans. Our first night we walked around Itaewon and got some drinks. We didn’t do too much since we arrived around 11 and we had big plans tomorrow…to visit the DMZ!!

Visiting the DMZ

The three of us woke up early at our hostel in Itaewon and hailed a cab to Camp Kim, the US military base in Seoul where the DMZ tour leaves from. We arrived at the base a few minutes early and were directed to sit in the waiting room. There were several corpulent Americans as well as so regularly sized Americans and some foreigners all sitting on large leather recliners. The group next to us brought a bunch of Krispy Kreme donuts. I was jealous. After a few minutes of waiting and small talk, our tour leader arrived and led us to the bus. We boarded and drove the hour north to the Dora Observatory. Leaving Seoul and heading north, Korea really starts to empty out. Most trips around Korea, especially city to city, you see little farm towns or rice patties. However, its very unusual to see nothing at all. There’s always something on the horizon. The closer we got to the DMZ the more sparse the landscape became until eventually we were just driving through forest.

After an hour we reached the Dora Observatory. Its an observatory in South Korea that looks out over North Korea. We could see a small propaganda village, built by North Korea to look something like a Korean version of Pleasantville. It was meant to attract South Koreans and make North Korea look like a worker’s paradise. South Korea erected a flag pole near their side of the border so North Korea erected an even larger flag pole on their side of the border in their propaganda village.

The Third Infiltration Tunnel

From the observatory we took the tour bus over to the Third Infiltration Tunnel. North Korea built literally dozens of tunnels into South Korea in a plan to one day invade. South Korea routinely finds these. This was the third tunnel they found and, I’m assuming, the most impressive. South Korea found this tunnel and North Korea claimed they were only mining for coal….under the DMZ. It’s not a very good excuse.

The tunnel was pretty far down into the Earth, 74m to be exact. We walked down the sloping path built by South Korea to reach the tunnel. Once we reached the North Korean tunnel, the space got a lot smaller. I had to walk hunched over to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling.

Dorasan Train Station

Our next stop was at Dorasan Train Station where we got to see the train, an extension of the Seoul subway, that leads to North Korea. I was surprised that there was an actual train running directly between North and South Korea. However, it is not currently running across the border, only from Seoul to Dorasan and back. We got a few pictures inside the station. It was really nice and clean. If the train route was completed and ran from South Korea, through North Korea, into China, it would be the longest train route in the world. It would be possible to ride the train from Busan, South Korea, all the way to Lisbon, Portugal, more than halfway around the world. Perhaps one day this will become a reality.

Lunch

We visited a random building, with a Korean restaurant in it where we ate delicious bibimbap. The building had a bunch of Korean hikers in it drinking Soju as well as a bunch of South Korean soldiers. Aside from that, the building was virtually empty. I found out later it was the Department of Korean Transportation.

Camp Bonifas

Our last stop on the DMZ tour was at Camp BONIFAS. Camp BONIFAS is a United Nations Command post just 400m south of the DMZ. We had a briefing once we arrived on the camp and its history. We also signed a waver saying something along the lines of if we are taken by the North Koreans we’re probably not coming back. After signing our lived away we boarded another bus and drove to the JSA or Joint Security Area. The JSA is basically the border between North and South Korea. It includes several UN buildings in light blue and several North Korean buildings in metallic silver. Inside the JSA, one half of the room is North Korea and one half is South Korea. Two South Korean soldiers are stationed in the building at all times.

Returning to Seoul

After our tour of the DMZ, and some ice cream for Kiana and Nicole, we boarded the bus and returned to Seoul. Back in Seoul, we took Kiana out to Hongdae to see the sights and meet up with some friends of ours. We ate some traditional Korea BBQ in Hongdae since she had never eaten Samgyupsal. She loved it. After dinner we walked over to Praha Castle a bar that looks like a giant Czech castle.

BB Guns

After some drinks, we decided to fire off some guns, bb guns that is. A few stops up the road we found a little bb gun shooting range. They’re all over Korea and a favorite past time for many of Korea’s younger population.

Brunch and Palace

The next day, we had brunch at Craftworks in Itaewon and took an Uber car to Gyeongbokgung Palace. Nicole and I visited the palace last year, but it’s a great place to take visitors to Seoul. Kiana loved it and we spent the afternoon there. We happened upon a big festival weekend in Seoul so the palace had several activities for tourists to do. Kiana, Nicole, and Nicole’s friend Nikki, and I all tried on some traditional Korean palace guard costumes and took a few pictures. We also happened to be at the main gate for the changing of the guard ceremony.

Lunch and Leaving

After the palace, Nikki took a subway back to her apartment in one of Seoul’s suburbs. Nicole, Kiana, and I took the subway back to the hostel and packed. We ate some Mexican food and bought a few foreign groceries, such as hummus and sour cream, then took a bus back to Gwangyang, or so we tried. All of the buses to Gwangyang, all two of them, were sold out, so Nicole and I had to take a bus to Suncheon then a cab back to Gwangyang. Lesson learned: always book a bus home early.

Returning to Korea and Orientation

Nicole and I returned to Korea after a day later than we’d originally intended thanks in part to some last minute snafus with our visas. We ended up getting them the day before we flew to Korea and hurriedly packing before flying out.

Orientation

We had a week long orientation when we arrived. The orientation was held at a hotel just outside of Gwangju. The hotel was really nice, although not as nice as our private pool hotel room in Seoul. We spent our days in the hotel’s banquet hall learning about Korean culture and how to teach in Korea. A lot of the information was familiar to us already, but some of it was new and its not bad to have an occasional review.

Damyang Bamboo Forest

On one of the orientation days we went on a field trip to Damyang Bamboo forest. I went there last year so it was old news for me, but Nicole had never been and she fell in love with the panda statues everywhere.

The forest was a bit more lively this time around. There were re-enactors making paper fans and preparing tea. Traditional games were also set up. One such game involved throwing a stick into a bamboo shoot. No one was good at that game. I concluded that it was impossible.

Dance Dance Korea

After our traditional Korea bamboo forest visit we had a fantastic lunch in the middle of nowhere. At the end of our meal we got sweet rice in little bamboo shoot cups. Nicole and I kept our cups as souvenirs, and because who can say no to free cups?

Bamboo Cup

Bamboo Cup

But why is this section called Dance Dance Korea if all I’m doing is talking about cups? Well wonder no longer, for I am about to tell you…after the end of this sentence.

The next stop on our field trip took us to a modern dance performance in a temple near Mudang Mountain. Nicole will tell you (if you ask) that the performance was not modern, and possibly not even dance. I don’t claim to understand the complex world of dance and theater so for me it was just a way to pass the afternoon sitting on a hard wooden floor. My take away from the dance was it was a story of a blind man who regained his sight when he met his estranged daughter. I might be way off on that though.

The Rest of Orientation

Potpouri

Potpourri

The rest of Orientation was less eventful. We visited the hospital and got our medical checks done. We made some traditional Korean crafts, including a small bag of potpourri in a traditional Korean Hambok. We also learned a traditional Korean song which I have since forgotten.

Award Winning Couple

On our second to last day of our orientation week, all the teachers had to perform a short model lesson. The lesson was only 5-10 minutes and meant to showcase your talents as a teacher. Nicole and I both won awards for being amazing teachers and teaching great lessons. Our  Korean co-teachers were thrilled when they picked us up that afternoon. They even brought us to the office of education when we arrived in Gwangyang to show off our new awards. Only a week in Korea and we were already off to a great start!

Traveling to Delhi

Waiting at the airport

Waiting at the airport

Nicole and I woke up early Tuesday morning eager to begin our adventure to India. We hailed a cab from in front of our hotel. I’ve never been offered a price different than the meter in Korea, and aside from occasionally being confused, I’ve found Korean cab drivers to be very honest and helpful. This cab driver was the exception. He quoted us at $15 for a trip that we knew would be less. I told him “anneyo”, or no. He said “ok,ok,ok” and we used the meter.

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Incheon Airport

A few minutes, and $10, later we got out of the cab and tried to check in. We arrived 2 hours and 45 minutes early, only to find that we couldn’t check in until exactly 2 hours before our flight. We passed the time playing games on Nicole’s iPad and checking Instagram.

Waiting for our flight

Waiting for our flight

I posted a hilarious picture of a cheese sign and I wanted to gauge public sentiment. The cheese picture’s reaction soured, one might even say it curdled. Cheese picture below.

We have ways of making you talk comrad cheese

We have ways of making you talk comrade cheese

After we checked in, we got some coffee and egg and cheese sandwiches at a Peanuts-themes restaurant (not the legume but the Charlie Brown comic). The sandwiches were like the peanuts comic, not great, just alright.[divider_flat]

West Wing and Chinese Beer

Chinese Beer and West Wing

We boarded our plane around 11 headed for Guangzhou airport in China where we would have a 4.5 hour layover. On the plane I enjoyed Chinese beer and watched season 2 of the west wing. We were slowly working our way through the series for the first time. We were ten years late to the party, but we were still enjoying ourselves.

Landing at Guangzhou Airport

Walking to the Guangzhou airport bus

Walking to the Guangzhou airport bus

We landed in Guangzhou at 2pm. The plane wouldn’t take us to the gate. Instead the plane just sort of stopped and we hopped out. There was a light rain as we walked towards a bus waiting to carry us from the runway to the terminal. Nicole got a great candid shot of the whole experience.

We wandered around the airport for several hours. The airport was pretty small, there was AC, but it didn’t appear to work. There were a few random restaurants that appeared to be independently owned selling a variety of foods. One restaurant sold pizza, one sold wine by the bottle, and one sold traditional Chinese food. The latter was also the only place in the airport with free Wifi so we went there.

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The Guangzhou Terminal

The Guangzhou Terminal

 

The food was pretty cheap upon a cursory glance at the menu. We ordered some noodlesAirport egg and noodles and beef curry. The waitress asked us if

we would like egg on our meal. We said sure…big mistake. The food was delicious and so was the egg. However, when the check came it appeared we were each charged another $7 a person for the egg. Considering our meals were about $7 on their own, doubling the cost of the meal for a single additional egg seemed crazy. I will say this though, the egg was a nice addition.

The rest of the terminal was filled with odd Chinese curio shops selling everything from questionable Red Bull bottles to Hannah Montana drinks.

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The only other thing of note was the smoking lounge and the bathrooms were the same place, meaning any time you wanted to go to the bathroom you had to walk through a smoke filled room. Ironically, inside the bathroom were several signs saying no smoking despite the bathroom reeking of smoke from the lounge immediately outside the door.

Onward to Delhi, India

After our long strange layover we flew on to Delhi from Guangzhou. This was our second flight of the day and while there were no TVs in the backs of the seats, the airline did serve us food. Nicole and I had the seafood entree and watched some more West Wing.

When we finally arrived in New Delhi, India, it was a little after 10 when we landed. We grabbed our bags and walked through immigration. The customs officer hardly looked at my passport or my visa. Outside of customs was a nice typical airport arrivals area. There were places to rent cars or rent phones, a few ATMs. Everything was normal. Immediately outside  the airport was a whole other story. It looked more like the apocalypse. There were dozens of Indian porters with piercing dead eyes. They saw Nicole and I and moved in for the kill. Suddenly we were surrounded by Indians asking us where we needed to go and quoting us different prices without even knowing our destination.

We walked past the porters and up to the police sanctioned taxi stand to book our taxi to Golcha Cinema, the nearest landmark to Mini Punjab, our AirBnB residence for the next week. The old man in the taxi stand scribbled on a purple piece of paper and told us the trip would be 450INR, about $7.50. I took the paper to the nearest taxi and we embarked on our journey.

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Driving in India is insane, absolutely insane. I rag on Korean driving and I previously ragged on Italian drivers, but Indian drivers stand above the rest as far as shear insanity behind the wheel. There are maybe 3 lanes on the road and 4 or 5 cars occupying those 3 lanes. Everyone merges everywhere all the time without any warning.  I thought about the car rental stand in the airport and shuddered at the thought of driving anywhere in India ever. Luckily, our taxi driver was very skilled. He expertly maneuvered us between trucks, around rickshaws, elephants, and camels…and yes, all of those vehicles and creatures occupied the road.

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Finally, we reached our destination in Old Delhi. Our AirBnB was between several construction sites and up a long narrow staircase to an apartment above a curry shop. More about the apartment tomorrow.Nicole in the Taxi from the Delhi airport to AirBnB

 

 

Bus to Incheon

Last Day in Korea and our visit to Unseo Airport Town

First, its been nearly a month since I last posted on my blog. Sorry everyone. I’ll be posting frequently from here on out as I have oodles to do over the next few weeks. However, before I launch into that, I figured I’d write a short writeup on my last day in Korea.

No Wifi leads to more errands

Nicole and I completely packed our apartments up, sold off the last of our things and ran a few last minute errands around town. We had loads of time since our last days were on Friday and we didn’t need to leave our apartments until Monday and my internet was turned off. It’s amazing how much free time I have when there’s no internet.

Nicole wanted to sell her broken laptop for parts to the Gwangju Mac PC guys downtown, unfortunately, we couldn’t get in touch with them. We ended up getting some coffee and kimbap, at two seperate restaurants. Nicole and I have yet to find a Korean establishment that offers both of these amenities.

Bus to Incheon Airport Attempt 1

After coffee and, more importantly, free wifi, Nicole and I grabbed our bags and headed to the  Usquare bus terminal. Our flight wasn’t until Tuesday morning but it was an 11am flight and the thought of waking up at 4am for a 4 hour bus followed by a day of flying sounded miserable.

We tried to buy our tickets for Incheon airport. However, the last bus to Incheon airport, from Gwangju, leaves at 2pm and it was about 3:30 at this point. We took the second best option and booked our tickets for Incheon with the intention of transferring buses to Incheon airport when we arrived.

Bus to Incheon Airport Attempt 2

Bus to Incheon

Bus to Incheon…look at that smoulder

The bus ride was typical and uneventful. Nicole and I listened to This American Life podcasts and fell asleep intermittently. We arrived at the Incheon bus terminal about 4 hours later and quickly visited the ticket booth to try and book a bus from Incheon to Incheon Airport. The lady behind the counter told us that would be impossible and we should just take the subway.

Bus to Incheon Airport Attempt 3

I left Nicole with our luggage and went in search of the subway. There’s a set of stairs that lead below the Incheon bus terminal and into a giant food court with a Johnny Rockets, a Starbucks, Lotteria, and loads of other restaurants and shops. I traveled through the vast expanse of shops and came to the subway station. After snapping a quick picture, I ascended from the subterranean labyrinth into the glowing light of Mother Gaia. There was a small Korean taxi driver waiting at the top of the stairs, contemplating life, or more likely waiting for passengers. I asked him about the cost of traveling to Incheon airport from the bus terminal and he said $40 which seemed a bit steep. I thanked him for his honest advice and returned to Nicole through a small garden beside the bus terminal.

We convened on the matter of transportation and decided the subway was the best, cheapest, course of action. The two of us loaded up our bags and hopped on the subway. 16 stops later and one transfer, we found ourselves on the train to Incheon Airport.

The Jingabong in the Airport Basement

Nicole and I had planned to stay in a Jingabong, or bathhouse, rumored to be in the basement of the Incheon Airport. Neither of us could confirm that said bathhouse existed or that it had any vacancies.

At the second to last stop, Unseo, we threw away any previous and somewhat vague plan, deciding to get off the train and pass the night. From the train window we could see neon motel signs, noribangs, and Samgyeopsal places. It looked like Pleasure Island from Pinocchio, most likely filled with bad Korean boys who would soon turn into donkeys if they ate enough samgyeopsal.

Pleasure Island

Samgyeopsal restaurant in Unseo

Samgyeopsal restaurant in Unseo

Unseo is a relatively new city, designed and built for travelers to Incheon Airport. Its filled with cheap Korean motels, western-style hotels, noribangs, and samgyeopsal places. Nicole and I booked a cheap Korean motel with a quiet TV and an uncomfortable bed for $50. We dropped our bags and grabbed some samgyeopsal, our favorite Korean meal. Basically, you gather around a small grill of questionable cleanliness to cook selected meats and veggies. It should be noted that until two months ago Nicole was a vegetarian who insisted upon only eating the scrap lettuce and garlic sides.