Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gyeongbok Palace

Saturday afternoon I took a trip from Bundang to Gyeoungbokgung. It was a 1.5 hour subway ride to the northern part of Seoul. The main reason for the excursion was to see the Gyeoungbok Palace. Gyeoungbok was originally built in 1394 and was the largest palace built by the Joseon Dynasty. In the early 20th century it was heavily destroyed by the Japanese. As of today it has been restored to about 40 percent of its original outfit.

Gyeongbok Palace

The palace itself is a located on a huge plot of land with a ton of different buildings through out the complex. When I arrived, I exited the subway and found myself standing in front of the main gate of the palace. There were a few guards directing foot traffic because the changing of the guard ceremony was about to take place. It began with a drum solo followed by a processional of guards.

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace

After watching the ceremony I made my way to the ticket office. Admission was ₩5,000 ($4.00) and included a English audio tour of the complex. The tour took me through a huge courtyard and stopped at one of the many buildings the king worked in.

Gyeongbok Palace

Inside the building was a throne and a great deal of art work. The structure was mainly built of wood with a large amount of detailed art carved right into the structure.

Gyeongbok Palace

The next area of the palace was my favorite. Gyeonghoeru was the royal banquet hall of the Joseon Dynasty. Moving out from the hall was a man made lake that surrounded the hall. There are lotus plants scattered throughout the lake. Outside of the lake was a great deal of greenery. There were a variety of Willow trees that were really cool to see.

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace

The last stop on the tour was an area filled with different sculptures. This was my favorite one of the group. I wasn't able to figure out he significance of this guy but he looked like a cartoon character of some sort.

Gyeongbok Palace

As I made my way back to the main gate I was approached by two goofy looking men. They had a pretty fancy video camera in tow and explained to me they worked on a variety show in Seoul. The segment was about the host who spoke very broken English was was looking for help from foreigners in the country. We chatted on camera for a bit, and the were very appreciative of my time. It was pretty silly and for all I know it could be an entire segment mocking me. I guess I'll never know.

Gyeongbok Palace

Going to an FC Seoul soccer game later tonight, so I'll have an update on that in a few days.

Missing some of the finer things from home like Diet Coke and a normal pizza (without corn).

Listening to Matt and Kim Don't Slow Down.

Gyeongbok Palace

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Finally Moved!

Finally in my permanent apartment!!! The new place is about 1/2 a block from the apartment I was in before. One of the most amazing things so far is the air conditioning. Things are starting to cool down a bit here in Korea but the humidity still hits hard.

The place is a studio apartment and pretty tiny. It feels like a dorm room to be completely honest but it will definitely work. I've put most of my things away and just need to pick up a little nightstand.

I'm still really impressed by the fact that getting to work takes all of 2 minutes. I have to be in class by 9am and can leave my house at 8:55am and still have time to grab a coffee on the way.

I'll post some pictures of the place in the next few days.

Listening to Arctic Monkeys Pretty Visitors.

Monday, August 24, 2009

First Full Day and More

I had my first full day of teaching today. Things went pretty smoothly. There was a good amount of testing the waters from the kids in my Morning Kinder class, but any self respecting child should test the waters. My 2 afternoon classes both breezed by and 6:00pm came much quicker then I expected. The 2 afternoon classes have a monthly exam coming up this week so the next day or so will mostly focus on reviewing for the test.

I got my Alien card today, and was informed that after lunch I would get to open my bank account! For lunch today the director Mr. Kim took Jessica (who I'm replacing), some Korean staff, and myself out. We went to a Chinese food restaurant about 10 minutes from school and I could already feel myself gagging. Picky eating aside I knew I would have to stomach it, or at least attempt to stomach it. We got there and Mr. Kim did all the ordering. First up was a sea food soup, and I wanted to cry. The soup looked more like someone had grabbed handfuls of creatures from the bottom of the ocean and then threw in a few vegetables. There were mussels, octopus, shrimp, and so on. I made it through a bit of the vegetables and some broth but that was all I could do. Next up was some kind of super sized shrimp. It looked as though it had been zapped by the enlarging machine Wayne Szalinski had created in Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. It was breaded, fried, and then dipped in some kind of sweet and sour sauce. The super shrimp was the most manageable of the plates Mr. Kim ordered. Following the shrimp was a huge plate of fried pork, causing another internal sad face to take over. I was able to stomach a few piece but felt myself gagging so I called it quits with this plate. At this point I was done sampling food and wanted to run back to LA and get a hot dog from Brent's Deli. Little did I know there was one more dish making its way out. This dish was a noodle bowl, mixed with more sea food (oh goody!), a few veggies, and some super spicy runny red sauce. I got through a bit of the noodles and some of the sauce, before Mr. Kim asked what my favorite kind of food was. At first I thought he was just making conversation but he followed with laughter and commented on the fact that I had drank much more water compared to the amount of food I had eaten. We all laughed and and wrapped things up.

After lunch I went to the bank with P.S. (he takes care of the foreign staff) and opened an account. There was a lot of paperwork to fill out and the majority of it was in Korean. I was super thankful that P.S. was there to help out. We got things squared away and now the school will direct deposit my checks and utilities will be directly debited from the account.

Wednesday I move into my permanent apartment. Tomorrow evening will be packing up time and then around the corner I will go on Wednesday. Looking forward to air conditioning and internet!

Listening to Passion Pit Sleepyhead.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Saturday night after the horse races we went out to Hongdae for a going away evening for Jessica, Tara, and Joel. This was my first time in Hongdae and it had an interesting feel to it. Hongdae is located right next to Hongik University and it had a very cool vibe. The mixture of people was a very cool mix of foreigners and Korean university students. There were tons of bars and clubs similar to Mexico, but there were cool boutique shops and restaurants like you would see on Melrose. Another super cool thing about the area was the fact that there were tons of street vendors throughout the area. The vendors sold things like Goodwill style sunglasses, jewelry, food, and there was even a lady that had set up a mixed drink stand.

The bestest meal I have had since I arrived!!!

We went to a variety of different places varying from a lounge atmosphere, to an open mike hip hop club, to a dance party. The first place we went to was a very mellow laid back lounge bar. Bar snacks are a bit different then at home and at this place they resembled packing peanuts disguised as Fruit Loops.


There were about 20 people there hanging out including us. Later in the evening a DJ came out along with a guy playing a didgeridoo. We hung here before retiring to a different watering hole.


Our next stop was to a little underground bar that was hosting an open mike hip hop night. The scene was pretty laid back and the guys on stage were decent. We were in and out quickly before moving along.


Next on the list was a place call 500. It had a super cool Middle Eastern vibe going on and each group of people got their own cave area to sit. The caves were lined with cushions to sit on.


500 was a really cool concept and had a dance floor for dancing and starting your own drum circle. There weren't very many people at 500 but it was a lot of fun.


Monday is my last day of official "observation" and then the class will be mine. Wednesday I'll be moving into my new apartment (which has air conditioning), so I can finally unpack and start settling in. It will be nice to not have to pull my clothes out of a suitcase. Also this week my alien card should arrive which will allow me to get a cell phone, bank account, and other important stuff like that. Other than that it should be a quite week. Maybe I'll go check out a palace or something cool like that later in the week. I'll keep you posted.

Listening to the Bird and the Bee polite dance song.

Hongdae Pictures

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seoul Racecourse Park

Saturday afternoon a group of us piled onto a packed bus to headed to Seoul Racecourse Park. I had no idea what to expect but was amazed at how passionate Korean's are about horse races. The bus didn't take us all the way to the track so we had to transfer to the subway to get us there. There was a specific stop for the track called Seoul Racecourse Park.


We got there about halfway through the 12 race afternoon and stopped to check out the horses before making our way to the lounge.


The complex was pretty enormous and had a section specifically dedicated to Foreigners. The Foreigner Lounge housed about 50 leather La-Z-Boy's and had all of the race materials translated into English. Everyone got a very official badge to wear also.


We watched a few of the races from the lounge and then decided to head down to ground level for the last 2 races. There were tons of people milling around between races. The stairs were littered if losing betting slips and cigarette butts. As we were waiting in between races a Korean man walked right over to us and wanted to have a conversation in Korean. No clue what so ever what he was trying to communicate, but it was entertaining to say the least.


After our stimulating conversation with the Korean guy we wandered to the finish line for the last race. The odds board was a bit different then home but I ended up doing something right because I won 10 bucks on the race!

Seoul Racecourse Park pictures

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In General So Far

Things have started to level out for the most part. My observation days are coming to an end and I will be teaching full days very soon. The teacher I am replacing (Jessica) will be leaving next week and then things are pretty much in my hands. As of now I am still waiting for my Alien Registration Card, and to move into my permanent housing. Once I get my Alien Card I will be able to do things like get a bank account, cell phone, and officially get the internet. One of the super cool things about Korea is things are close enough to walk to, so that means I can throw my Ipod on and wander. I've been able to listen to lots of new album like the Arctic Monkeys - Humbug, Good Shoes - Good Shoes, and rediscover some quality albums like The Strokes - Is This It and some of The National's older stuff. In constant rotation have been The Airborne Toxic Event, Henry Clay People, and Castledoor (all three because the remind me of home and they are awesome albums.)

I've met some really awesome people so far and I am only 1.5 weeks in. Looking forward to things to come.

I'll leave you with some random pictures so far.

Can't even get away for American Apparel on the other side of the world.

These are some of the Korean bug catchers in my neighborhood. Found these guys at the park.

Random Korean public restroom

A little inspiration after having to use the random Korean public restroom

Monday, August 17, 2009

Samcheok (Haesindang Park ,Hwanseongul Cave)

Friday we left Bundang to a town called Samcheok about 4.5 hours south east of Seoul. We took the subway to the express bus terminal which is about 10 stops from home.

We got to the bus terminal bought our tickets for the 11:10pm bus and had about 1.5 hours to kill so we went found a place for dinner. It was one of many restaurants at the terminal but one of the only ones that was actually open. I ended up ordering a beef plate of some sort, and had real mixed feelings about it. After dinner we hung, chatted for a bit, and took some pictures.

We finally boarded the bus for what seemed like it might be the longest ride in the world. On a positive note I was pretty wiped so I ended up sleeping for most of the ride. We ended up getting into Samcheok around 4:30am and found a motel in the area. The motel ended up being super cheap and we were able to get 2 rooms for $160 for both nights total. Now the motel wasn't a 4 star AAA approved establishment but it was 5 million times better than any motel you would find back home. Everyone claimed a spot and crashed for a few hours. Saturday morning we all showered up and wandered out for food and to grab another bus to Haesindang Park. The ride to Haesindang Park took about 20 minutes and dropped us in the small fishing village. I had read a bit about the park but knew it would be an entertaining trip when I saw the street vendors selling these.

The legend of the park goes as follows "Once upon a time, in a coastal village there lived a beautiful girl who used to gather seaweed. In the distance there was a rock called Aebawi where plenty of seaweed grew. One day, this young girl was taken out to the rock by a man in a boat. The man, who had a pact to marry her, promised to return to the rock to pick her up after she had collected seaweed there and he went back to the village. At dusk, she waited for the man to come and take her home, but he was unable to come and fetch her due to wild waves. That very night a terrible storm arose and a large wave struck the rock, drowning the ill-fated girl. From the time of her death, the fishing catches turned bad for the village and so a rumor started circulating among the villagers that it was due to the dead girls bitter soul. Finally, the people of the village decided to offer carved wooden phallics as a sacrifice inside Haesindang to console the bitter soul of the unmarried girl. Mysteriously, after that, the village again enjoyed a good catch."

So the entire park was filled with beautiful scenery and penises. It was pretty entertaining all together.

We spent a few hours at the park and took the bus back to Samcheok. The public transportation in Korea is pretty awesome. Subway, buses, trains, or taxis are readily available pretty much throughout the country. We got back to the motel and discovered there was a huge sauna/spa complex that was free to people staying at the motel. We went to the complex for about a hour, and then went out for dinner, the beach, and noraebang.

We got back to the motel pretty late, slept for a few hours and got ready to go to the Hwanseongul Cave.

The cave was another 20 minute ride but this time we went by taxi. I didn't know what to expect on our way there, but I can tell you one thing... I didn't expect a mile hike up a steep Korean mountain to the cave, a mile trip inside of the cave, and then a mile back down. Again though the surrounding area of Hwanseongul had some beautiful scenery.

The cave itself was super massive. It felt as though it went forever. At some points it felt a bit repetitive but overall it was pretty cool to see. Also to think that on the outside was nothing but trees and life growing while on the inside was this whole other world.

My first Korean road trip was a solid one. Looking forward to much more to come. Sorry for the super long post, there was just so much that was going on. More pictures from the trip are on my flickr page.