Close

Gwangju Kimchi Festival

I haven’t posted in a while. Sorry about that everyone. After Japan, Nicole and I took a weekend off to just relax and recoup.  We were worn out from Japan travels and ready for a break, but after a weekend off, Nicole and I were itching for something fun to do.  Luckily the Gwangju Kimchi festival was the very next weekend.

But First, What is Kimchi?

Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented dish made of vegetables and seasoning. There are many different varieties of kimchi including radish, scallion, and cucumber, although the most popular is cabbage. When you eat out in Korea, kimchi is always a free side dish served with the main meal. Typically it comes in a little white dish along with several other sides.

On Korean holidays like Chuseok, Koreans make lots of kimchi to share with their relatives and eat throughout the year since it ferments and gets better with age.

Nicole and I are big fans of kimchi and usually buy some while we’re at the grocery store. Its spicy and sour, but goes well in soups and omelets.  It’s also a very good source of vitamin C, which is helpful in a country largely devoid of citrus.

Kimchi is such a staple of Korean culture that it has its own appliance. Families will typically have a refrigerator and a separate kimchi refrigerator with several fermentation and temperature settings.

The Gwangju Kimchi Festival

Kimchi Performance

Kimchi Performance

Nicole and I decided to visit Gwangju’s famous Kimchi Festival in Jungoe Park to find out more about this fascinating aspect of Korean culture. The festival ran October 5-9th this year and included lots of festivities and crafts. Nicole and I visited with two of my co-teachers, Sarah and Alyssa. We got there in the afternoon and walked around sampling the different Kimchis. Each booth had a table with several pounds of kimchi and a plate of samples at the front. People would walk by and take a sample and  possibly buy some. Nicole and I picked out a variety we liked and  bought  1 Kg. We also picked out some souvenirs for our families, which I can’t describe as they’re likely reading this.

The Gwangju Blog Kimchi Festival Scavenger Hunt

Team SuperLate

Team SuperLate

Every year as part of the Kimchi Festival, the Gwangju Blog hosts a scavenger hunt for the expat community. Nicole, Alyssa, and I entered this year as team SuperLate. The name came from the fact that we signed up the moment the contest started and not in the several weeks leading up to the contest. As part of the free scavenger hunt, we all got giant orange t-shirts and a list of clues to go find. To get points during the scavenger hunt, we had to take a picture in front of the clue or performing the assigned task.

The three of us spent the afternoon running around doing all sorts of traditional crafts like ink rollings of Kimchi ingredients or making fried kimchi or looking for a trashcan, a rare site in Korea.

Sports Day – Trail of Tears

Every October 9th South Koreans observe Hangul Day, a national holiday, commemorating the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong the Great. For most Koreans it means a day off and a chance to rest and relax. For my coworkers and me it meant a forced march up a mountain in the rain, but it wasn’t that bad

My hagwon, private after school academy, holds a Sports Day twice a year where all of the employees gather together to play sports or go on some sort of outing. It is often followed by a delicious meal together at the end of the day. It would be a great day if it wasn’t on a national holiday and if it wasn’t raining all day, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

Ski Village Coffee and Walk

Nicole and I got up and walked from her apartment in Hakdong to the base of Mudeungsan a large mountain at the edge of town.  The walk is only about 20 minutes and the closer you get to the base of the mountain the less populated your surroundings become until you find yourself in a small ski village at the base of the mountain. None of the mountains have skiing, but the village looks like a carbon copy of a small ski village from Europe or the US. There are tons of shops selling hiking and winter apparel. The architecture is reminiscent of a ski village with its exposed beams and wooden framing.

Nicole and I got coffee at Angel-In-Us, a Korean coffee chain, in the middle of the little ski village. It’s everywhere and it’s similar to a cheaper version of Starbucks. While it is a coffee shop, coffee doesn’t appear much on the menu. It’s mostly frappes, milkshakes, lattes, and various iced beverages, many lacking any form of coffee.  The one we stopped at was three stories and there was a fountain on the top, a bit over the top for a coffee shop.

As Nicole and I enjoyed our coffee we watched dozens of Koreans in all of their hiking gear gathering at the base of the mountain in preparation for their hikes on their day off. I finished the last of my Americano and said goodbye to Nicole before joining the other confused foreigners outside on the long rainy hike up the mountain.

Hiking to Rabbit Peak

sports day in KoreaPart of Sports Day is friendly competition so we were all broken up into groups for the day’s various competitions. Each team had 8 members, one foreign (me) and seven Korean. Over the course of the afternoon we hiked to a part of the mountain and performed activities along the way. Our first activity was getting a group photo with Jade, the Korean teacher who organized sports day. This involved everyone getting a text message with the challenge and then all of us running around to find Jade and be the first to snap a photo. The  first team to successfully text their photo to Jade won.

Lunch

sports day lunch

When we reached the highest point we were to hike to we stopped for lunch. Each one of us was provided with a cookie, kimbap, juice, and a water. The kimbap was pretty good, mine was fried shrimp.

Korea is known for having exercise equipment installed everywhere: along sidewalks, randomly on mountainsides, in parks. Its fantastic. With the amount of gym equipment available for free in Korea, I couldn’t imagine purchasing a gym membership.

Where we stopped for lunch there was a bunch of this equipment and various old Korean men using it. It was pretty impressive because we just hiked 3 hours to get to the equipment and the Korean guys up there didn’t seem winded. I wondered if this was part of their routine, hike the mountain then work out and hike back down. Either way it was impressive.

Games

sports day games

After lunch we hiked to a small clearing and competed in some games with our teams. One game was Rock, Paper, Scissors using your whole body to act out the rock, paper, or scissors. Another game involved eating 10 Funion chips then whistling. I can’t whistle, but based on everyone who did try, its very hard to whistle after eating onion flavored chips. Ted won the tournament and earned the nickname “Paul Funion”.

At the end of the competition everyone who placed first through third, most of the people there, got a $5 gift certificate redeemable at several different cafes and coffee shops near work. I have yet to use mine, but I have big plans for my $5.

This pretty much concluded our day of adventures and all that was left was eating a delicious celebratory meal after a long walk to the restaurant.

Dinner

sports day dinner

We walked down a long and winding path to a little mountainside restaurant with a beautiful clearing and several picnic tables outside. The staff served us amazing spicy chicken and potatoes with all the Korean sides: kimchi, pickled radishes, acorn tofu, steamed egg, everything. Sorry I couldn’t get a picture with the food. I was starving and my attention was completely diverted once the food arrived.

It was a delicious end to a day that improved as the weather improved.

Wondo – Beach Camping in Korea

beach faces This past weekend Nicole and I went back to Wondo for a weekend of beach camping. Our first weekend in Korea Nicole and I went to Wondo with my foreign coworkers for some R and R. When we went the first time, the water was freezing and the beach was practically empty. This time the beach was packed with Koreans in conservative bathing suits and little beach tents and the water was still freezing. I preferred the cold water to the far too warm water of our last beach adventure the day of the Sunflower Festival.

Our Tent

Beach Tent...note the transparency

Beach Tent…note the transparency

Nicole and I inadvertently bought a beach tent several weeks ago at Emart. We were trying to buy a regular tent and found one for a great price…too great of a price in fact. Nicole didn’t find out until her East Coast Trip that the tent only had two sides to it. You read that correctly, our tent that was 50% off was missing 50% of its walls. The two missing walls were made completely of mesh with no way to cover it, just open to the elements and any Koreans that may want to look in.

The view from inside the tent

The view from inside the tent

Nicole and I packed my giant hiking backpack with the tent, sleeping bag, and plenty of other goodies before we hit the road. I’ll spare you the details of the Gwangju bus terminal although it is an interesting read if you’re new to my blog.

Beach Camping

Wondo Beach Map

Wondo Beach Map

The bus let us off in Wondo and Nicole and I took a cab ($10) out to the beach for the weekend. We stocked up on some ice, fireworks, and chips at the convenience store in front of the beach and walked down to the water. Since Nicole and I would be camping on the beach we pitched the tent a little ways back from the shore and set up our campsite. One of the great things about Korea is that you can camp anywhere….anywhere. Just set up your tent and you’re good to go. No pesky permits or campsites, just lots of fun.

Tubes for rent

Tubes for rent

Nicole rented a tube from one of the shops along the boardwalk and floated around while I waded into the water. Nicole has been too afraid to go into the water more than knee deep in Korea on account of the cold. The one exception she made was at the hot beach from a few weekends ago.

Dinner

Beachside Restaurant

Beachside Restaurant

After an afternoon of floating around and napping in our sweet beach tent, we got some dinner at one of the boardwalk restaurants. Nicole and I got a squid pizza. It was delicious. There are two basic kinds of pizza in Korea. There’s western pizza, which Koreans interpret loosely, and there’s traditional Korean pizza, which is probably called something else, but foreigners call it pizza because of its round, flat, and vaguely breadlike. The pizza we got was kind of a doughy bread with various vegetable toppings and of course squid. There’s no tomato sauce or cheese, so calling it pizza maybe entirely misleading. My apologies for not posting a picture, it was too delicious to stop and photograph. In addition to our pizza, we got a glass of beer between the two of us to share as “service”.

Service

Whale shirt I wrote about service briefly towards the end of the Oedaldo Island trip and the day I bought the whale shirt, but I’ll explain it again in short again. If you go to a bar, you’ll get chips or some sort of rice snack “for service”. This means basically because you bought something and you’re at this particular establishment, you’ll get something for your patronage. This happens all the time for little things, like bar snacks, but its scalable. The more you spend the more you get in “service”. It also helps to be friendly and a foreigner. The day I bought the whale shirt, I got a free shirt for “service”, partly because it was kind of expensive and partly because it was a ridiculous shirt that they never expected to sell. For spending a lot of money at the restaurant in Oedaldo, we got a free room at the minbok, hotel, next door.

Fireworks and Beach Yoga

beach firework 2

Earlier in the day we bought fireworks from the convenience store to set off. The sign said (in Korean) cash only. I’m not sure why, possibly because the store was not supposed to be selling them or maybe they were illegal and the store didn’t want a paper trail. Either way, everyone along the beach was setting off fireworks and no one seemed concerned. The store only sold small and large roman candles so Nicole and I bought a handful of each for the beach and set them off over the water.

beach firework

Nicole recently started teaching Yoga in Gwangju at the Gwangju International Center (GIC). As part of her class prep, she creates yoga routines, and I usually end up as the guinea pig in these yoga experiments. After the fireworks, we spent a few minutes on the beach doing some yoga. It felt really peaceful to do yoga with fireworks going off over the water and the lights from the boardwalk behind us. The sand was really comfortable for yoga as well. It was better than yoga on a thin mat on a wooden floor.

Karaoke

After dinner, Nicole and I walked along the beach when we were invited into a beachside Karaoke bar to sing karaoke with a bunch of random Koreans. The Korean who beckoned us inside, named DJ, we had met earlier that day. He was working the jet ski rental place further up the shore and offered us a ride on the jetskis the next morning. He told us that he was from Gwangju, the same town as us and that he’d recognized us from seeing us downtown a few times. His English was impeccable, later he told me he’d studied in Philadelphia for 8 months and occasionally tutored English on the side. DJ waved us into the bar. I use the term “bar” loosely, like everything else along the boardwalk, the building meant lots of plastic tables and chairs and a few umbrellas or an aluminum shed with less than 4 walls, like our tent.

“Inside” we meant a bunch of very drunk older Korean gentlemen who offered us beer and Soju and chanted things like “one-shot” meaning down your drink in one swig. Nicole and I obliged them…once. DJ explained to us that we didn’t need to go nuts with them and that they were “super creepy”. Aside from being drunk, they didn’t seem too bad. DJ also told us one of the guys was a gangster and pointed to a gentleman covered in tattoos. The claim seemed believable considering the fact that almost no one in Korea has tattoos. I have yet to see a single tattoo on a Korean.  DJ explained that everyone there worked at the beach for the season and this was there last night before they closed up shop for Fall. We danced to some absurd Korean Karaoke with DJ for a bit, then politely returned to our tent on the beach to call it a night.

Sunflower Festival and Beach day

After our busy day of tea fields, baseball games, and nightclubs, Nicole and I could only follow it up with an equally busy Sunday of sunflowers and beaches.

Bus Terminal

Last Friday my Korean co-worker, Jade invited me to a sunflower festival with her and some of the other foreign teachers. Nicole and I met Ted, Patrick, Alyssa, and Jade at the bus terminal and caught a bus to Gochang, about an hour away from Gwangju. The ride was uneventful and the destination was even less eventful. This was perhaps the least interesting town in Korea, luckily we weren’t here for the town, we were here for the sunflowers.

The Cab Ride

Jade spoke to two cab drivers and asked them to drive all of us out to the sunflower field several miles away. By Korean standards, this was the most expensive cab ride we’d taken so far. Split 3 ways it was roughly $7 a piece. The ride was insane. Korean cabbies in Gwangju drive uncomfortably fast for being in heavy traffic but get them out in the countryside away from traffic and they really floor it. We were whizzing around turns and speeding past green blurs which I assume were farms. There were a few turns where I was shocked the tires were able to hold traction and keep us on the road. I thought for sure we would slide off the road and bounce down a mountainside like dice on a craps table, but we survived and made it to the sunflower field.

Sunflower Festival

In Korea, the term festival is loosely applied to all events, things, ideas, and concepts. You’re never really certain what a “festival” will entail, but it almost never involves a Ferris wheel.

Sunflowers

This sunflower festival happened to be a field of sunflowers many of which were dead. This was partly our fault for visiting the field on the very last day of sunflower season. Jade told us the pictures she saw from earlier in the season were beautiful. I was able to get a few good shots of sunflowers and the field was still mostly green so the pictures came out well.

Sunflower

Us walking

We spent the next hour or so walking through the field taking photos and observing the majestic beauty of the partially decomposing sunflowers. I saw it as a metaphor for the fragility of life and the ever-looming specter that is death, but mostly I just took pictures. Many Korean couples wandered through the field in their hiking gear or high heels, some wearing a combination of the two.

Koreans in Sunflowers

There was a little pagoda in the center of the field and from all sides of it, you could see endless green and yellow sunflower plants. We hung out in the pagoda for a while just talking and recovering from the soul-crushing heat. In case I forgot to mention the temperature in previous posts, assume that it’s been at least 90 degrees outside in all of my posts.

DSC_0722

Lunch

After our well-deserved escape from the heat, we left the pagoda and ate lunch at a café/visitor center on the outskirts of the sunflower field. Nicole and I shared a squid pizza (more like an open-faced squid omelet) and bibimbap (rice, egg, and veggies in a bowl). It was delicious. Across from the restaurant was a sunflower gift shop selling various sunflower-related products such as a tea-like drink mix and some sunflower seeds in different size bags. Nicole and the other ladies on the trip got soft serve ice cream, vanilla since the swirl option was broken.

After lunch, we returned to where the cab drivers had dropped us off. The two drivers were milling around the parking lot doing cab driver things, probably discussing beaded seat cushions, awful car fragrances, or the best way to drift around turns and scare your passengers.

The Ride to the Beach

We all piled into the two cabs and drove to the beach. The drive was about 20 minutes and the cab drivers didn’t take their foot off the gas once. It was exhilarating and terrifying, but the fare was low so I can’t complain. About halfway through the ride the cab driver turned to Nicole in the backseat and handed her his business card and a paper fan sponsored by the police department condemning domestic violence. I don’t really know what to make of that gesture. Either Nicole happened to say something in English that sounded like Korean for “please give me a business card and information on domestic violence” or I still have lots to learn about Korean culture.

Beach

The Beach

We arrived at a little town on the coast, I use the term town loosely, there were four to five buildings and a beach. We walked through town, all of it, and out to the beach. A concrete wall surrounded the beach on the coast side, immediately on the other side of it was a rocky outcropping where Koreans were sunbathing. We laid our towels out on the hot rocks and basked like lizards beneath a heat lamp. Once we were sufficiently heated on both sides, like lightly toasted English muffins, we walked down to the water. It was low tide so the water was about a half mile away. I expected to be cooled down by the water on such a hot day. However, I was in for a surprise. The water was hot, not just warm but hot. It was not refreshing.

Rocks

DSC_0736 copy

 

DSC_0763 copy

The time in the water was relatively uneventful so I’ll take this time to tell you about Korean beach attire. Koreans fear the sun like vampires and cherish whiteness like Aryans. Consequently, it’s not unusual to see Koreans in either incredibly modest swimsuits or completely covered up head to toe with long sleeves, pants, and a hat. As a foreigner, I have been repeatedly warned to check for “whitening” in my sunscreen, because some sunscreen not only blocks the sun but also makes your skin whiter than when you left for the beach.

Koreans at Beach

After our swim, we returned to Gwangju via a bus to a bus.

 

Boseong Tea Fields

First off, what a weekend. The past two weekends were slow and I want to apologize to everyone out there for not having more to write about. I just needed some time to recoup and reorganize before hitting the ground running this past weekend.

The weekend started out, as usual, at the bus terminal. Nicole, Kayla, and I met up with Will and Ted at the ticket booth. If the ticket booth attendants didn’t see so many people everyday, I’d be convinced they knew me. After all, I am there every saturday.

Boseong Tea Fields

Boseong Tea Fields

This weekend’s first adventure was the Boseong Tea Fields. The ride there was a little over an hour and only a few dollars. If you aren’t traveling between major cities in Korea the bus rates tend to be inexpensive.

Once we reached the Boseong bus terminal, we caught a cab for another few dollars and 5 minutes later we were at the tea fields. The Boseong Dawon Tea Plantation is on the southwest coast of South Korea. Its temperate climate is ideal for growing green tea. The plantation we visited was established in 1957, and it is a sight to behold. The plantation spans across several rolling hills reaching heights of 350 meters and comprising several million tea plants. The best times to visit are in the summer, May through August so we were there just at the end of their season.

The entrance to the plantation is lined with trees and a small brook. Once inside, you’re greeted by a giant fountain surrounded by benches and rocks to sit and relax on. There’s a small shop selling iced green tea and a few other snacks and a larger shop and restaurant on the other side of the fountain. Behind the shop/restaurant is a set of steps that seems to go on forever leading you up to the top of the tea fields and a beautiful view of the plantation.

DSC_0557

From the top we could see seemingly endless rows of identical green tea bushes, snaking around the hills and valleys below us. It was like standing on a topographical map, with each row of tea bushes representing a change in elevation. I imagine from a high enough altitude the plantation would look like a giant fingerprint with each row of bushes comprising a different line or ridge in said fingerprint.

DSC_0568

DSC_0612

From the top we took several pictures and walked back down the backside of the hill. The backside of the mountain was covered in shaded forest and there were no tea plants, just a winding path and another small brook. The plantation was as beautiful as it was hot. I’m sure you’ll notice from the pictures we all got gradually sweatier and sweatier. It was about 95 degrees that day and so humid so the shaded path back down was a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat.

DSC_0653

Once we reached the bottom of the mountain we stopped in at the restaurant/café for tea snacks and beverages. I bought a grapefruitade, which is lemonade but with grapefruit. I don’t know it if was just the heat and dehydration speaking, but that beverage was one of the tastiest and most refreshing drinks I’ve ever had in my life. Nicole got another iced green tea and a green tea ice cream.

DSC_0671

In the gift shop they had all kinds of green tea snacks: green tea chocolate, cookies, granola-like bars, crackers, and of course green tea. After our little shopping experience we hailed a cab back to the bus terminal and eventually Gwangju.

TeaFields1

The tea fields were one of my favorite trips so far. I was in the company of good people having good experiences. The trip was relatively inexpensive as well.