Goodbye, Korea…Hello, Malaysia!

As some of you may have noticed…I kind of stopped posting mid-September. I left Korea shortly thereafter, and in the whirlwind of travel and coming home following this, I never got a chance to properly conclude my Korean travels.

In just under two weeks, I will be embarking on a brand new adventure: Malaysia. I would continue writing here, but the name doesn’t exactly fit anymore. While I try to find the most convenient way to merge my blogs (Une Américaine à Paris is still floating around the interwebs as well), you can now read about my latest travels at: rovinrambler.wordpress.com (roving, with a g, was already taken). It’s a work in progress at the moment, but I hope to have it up and running before I head out.

Thanks for keeping up with me while I was in Korea. Not only was it a great way to stay in touch with my friends and family, but I was blown away by all of the new readers I connected with. Thank you so much for reading. I hope you’ll all join me in Malaysia next!

Chuseok

Today begins a three-day harvest festival in Korea known as Chuseok. Or, if you’re a foreigner, it means you have a five-day weekend(!!!) It’s essentially the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving- you go home to see your family and eat special food. Instead of going shopping on Black Friday, though, they visit the graves of family members to pay their respects. So, a little bit different. We had a Chuseok celebration with the kindergartners yesterday, and I wanted to share some of the photos with you.

Almost all of the kids came to school dressed in hanbok, or traditional Korean dress. This is worn for special occasions, such as Chuseok. Some of the kids’ hanbok were really ornate. Too bad they were so hyper and excited that it was hard to pin down a clear picture of any of them.

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ImageDavid’s interpretation of “Please stand nicely so Tara Teacher can take a picture of you.”

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I loved Jun’s vest!

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It was Amy’s birthday, so she got to trade her hanbok for a princess dress. Still not thrilled to be photographed…Image

…though I did manage to get a smile out of Lucy, under duress.

One of the day’s activities was making seonpyeon, or rice cakes. When I think of a rice cake, I think of those cardboard-esque Quaker Oats rice cakes. These, however, were much different. Made with rice flour dough, and then stuffed with honey, chestnuts and sesame seeds, they look like little dumplings. We made them in the morning, and then enjoyed them at snack time.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageThe next Chuseok activity was learning all about Chuseok…in Korean. Unfortunately, there is not much to blog about there because I missed most of what was discussed (okay, all of it). However, I did get some pictures of the kids learning how to bow. It’s different for boys and girls, which is what I would have guessed.

ImageImageImageImageOverall, it was a really fun day. I loved seeing the kids dressed up…and having the next five days off from work isn’t too bad either. I asked one of my older kids what he was doing for Chuseok: “Making songpyeon.” “Anything else, Steven?” “I will also play computer games.”

Happy Chuseok, everyone!

My News + Gamcheon Art Village

This post is coming a little late, but I was waiting until things were a bit more finalized before posting it for all the world to see. It’s officially official: I’m returning to NY on October 12th! If you know me in real life, you probably already know this. However, it seemed in poor blogging form to abandon the name “Tara in Korea” without explanation.

There are a few reasons for this decision. First and foremost, I could not bear the thought of missing my cousin’s wedding, in which I will most proudly serve as Maid-of-Honor. I’ll save the sap for my speech, but suffice to say that it is extremely important to me that I’m there. Second, I have some potential plans to jet off somewhere new with Alex come the beginning of next year. Nothing is set in stone yet, but suffice to say that I hope to provide you with another exciting travel blog to read. The plan for now is to spend some time at home with my family during the holidays while I get my act together.

So, Alex and I depart Korea on October 3rd (after a brief stay in Seoul), and head to San Francisco for a week. Why San Francisco? Well, flying into CA and booking a hotel for a week was almost cheaper than coming straight to NY. It was the fiscally responsible thing to do!

I have mixed feelings about leaving Korea- there are things that I love, and things that I loathe. Moreover, there are still so many things in Busan that I want to see and do before I leave. We knocked one of those things, the Gamcheon Art Village, off our list a couple weeks ago.

Located near Nampo-dong, Gamcheon Art Village looks like a collection of colorful houses that you might expect to find somewhere in South America. Indeed, it strongly resembles La Boca in Argentina. While people actually live in the homes on this picturesque hill, there are also several art galleries and plenty of street art within the village.

Upon entering, you go to the Visitor’s Center to pick up a map of Gamcheon. Inside the map are 8 spaces, meant to be stamped during your tour of the many art galleries. Once you collect all 8 stamps, you get some free postcards. Which is awesome, because finding postcards in Busan is freaking impossible, for whatever reason.Image

Personally, I found the galleries only mildly interesting. What I liked the most, aside from the spectacular views from the top of the hill…

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…were the random street art and exhibitions. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Even though there were quite a few people, there were so many alleyways that was easy to escape the crowd. It didn’t feel like everyone was flocking to the few, majorly popular sites (as you might see in some museums), but were rather finding their own favorites among the twists and bends of the village.

I’m glad we finally made it, and hope we get a chance to return before heading out. I could always use more postcards…

A Teachable Moment

In one of my classes today, we were reading a passage about families. In the textbook was a picture of a family, with each person labeled as mother, father, aunt, uncle, etc. As soon as the kids (ages 8-9) saw this picture, they erupted into laughter.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Teacher, they are all very ugly!” giggled Sue, one of my best students. 

“Why are they ugly?” More laughing. “I’m curious, guys. Why is this family ugly?”

“They all have brown skin!” shouted Tom, rubbing his face.

I was appalled. After taking away all of their points, abandoning my lesson to make them write about how they would feel if someone mocked them for their skin color*, and sitting in silence for the rest of class, I still didn’t get the feeling that they understood why their comments were so hurtful. Yes, they knew that Tara Teacher got very angry with them for what they said. I don’t, however, think they understood the implications of it.

The episode was further explained when I told my Korean co-teacher what had happened.

She laughed too. “I think they are just very young, and they act like babies,” was her response.

She’s right: they are young. This is partially why I was so disturbed by it. They are too young to come up with such ideas on their own, which means they are being taught these racist ideas, tacitly or otherwise, from adults. 

I understand that Korea is a homogenous society, and I’ve touched on their disdain for the different. Maybe I hold our students (and their parents) to a higher standard, though. Many of our students visit, or even move to, the US and other countries. Sue, my student from today, is spending next year in New York City. It seems strange to me that the same parents who send their children to an academy to learn English, presumably to open their minds and prepare them to see the rest of the world, would teach their children such blatant Othering. Even if it isn’t them who is personally promoting these ideas (they are quite popular in the media, as well), I would hope they are at least discouraging them.

This is not the first instance of racism I’ve heard about, or seen here. The difference is that today it happened in my classroom, while I was teaching. I’d like to think I made them reconsider, or at least examine, what they said. Ultimately, though, they leave my classroom and enter back into a society that is accepting of such casual racism. 

*I feel this exercise was lost on Tom, who wrote about how he thought that black skin is dirty, and can rub off on white people’s skin. Where the f*** are they learning this!?

Day Four: Sunrise Peak & Korean Meals

On our fourth day in Jeju, we woke up to the boom of some uninviting thunderstorms. I could pretend that this happened at 4:00 am, when we were planning to make an actual sunrise voyage to Sunrise Peak. But I would be lying. Actually, we were planning a day-long hiking trip to Mt. Hallasan, but the weather thwarted our plans.

Instead, we waited out the storm and headed to Sunrise Peak. This is, as the name suggests, supposed to be a beautiful place to take in a sunrise. It turned out to be a beautiful place in the middle of the afternoon as well. 

ImageSeongsan Ilchulbong was formed by a volcanic eruption about 5,000 years ago. The 180-meter peak faces the eastern coast of Jeju Island, hence its colloquial name, “Sunrise Peak.” 

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageThe climb to the top didn’t take long at all, but it was a nice view. The most interesting part, in my opinion, was our climb down and the view of the hanyeo below.

ImageImageThe hanyeo are the women divers who collect abalone, shrimp, crab and other seafood used in restaurants and sold all over the island. The most impressive aspect of these divers is their age: the average age of the hanyeo is 75, with plenty who are even older. They use only the most rudimentary equipment to dive, and have been doing this for their entire lives.

This is a practice that, while widely respected among Koreans, is dying out. There aren’t exactly many young Korean women scrambling to take over this profession.

We had the opportunity to walk down to this area and watch them work.

ImageImageAfter watching this, we decided to sample their wares. We headed over to a restaurant at the base of Sunrise Peak that advertised the famous abalone rice porridge of Jeju Island.

We finally got to sit at a traditional Korean table as well:ImageThe funny thing was that all the regular tables were occupied by Koreans when we came in, and this type of table was the only one that was free. So the foreigners removed their shoes and sat cross-legged!

Alex tried the abalone rice porridge:Image

I tried a mixed seafood soup:Image I wasn’t a huge fan of the broth, but loved all of the seafood inside. Abalone, shrimp, crab, clams…all delicious and very fresh. I had to get a little creative in shelling my fish, though, as the only tools that I had were a spoon and two chopsticks.

The graveyard of my meal:Image

For dinner that night, we decided to keep with the Korean theme and try the most highly-rated BBQ place on TripAdvisor for Jeju. 

The meat was spectacular:ImageImage

The actual experience…not so much. Our waitress was very pushy, and kept trying to show us both how to BBQ and how to eat. Had we never been to BBQ before, this would have been helpful. But even after we said that we lived in Korea, and illustrated some familiarity with how Korean BBQ works, she still insisted on hovering and instructing us how to eat our food. Oh, and laughing every time we ordered something in Korean. Needless to say, we were waxing nostalgic about our BBQ spot in Busan by the meal’s end.

But, the meat was amazing and the soju was much stronger than anything we’ve had in Busan. So there was that. 

We really took it easy on our final day, so I’m not going to bother doing a post about that. It rained in the morning, so we lazed about a bit. By the afternoon, it had cleared up enough to go to a beach close by, with great waves. Not much to report in the way of cultural points of interest, but a wonderful end to our vacation nevertheless.

I hope you enjoyed my Jeju recaps! Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

Day Three: Manjuggal Cave

Welcome back to my painfully slow recap of the vacation I took two weeks ago! We are now on Day Three, which is when we 1) visited the longest lava tubes in the world 2) almost lost my camera and 3) ate one of the best burgers of my life.

review of Manjuggal Cave on Trip Advisor described it as “quite dark” with ground that was “not level,” resulting in a two-star rating. I’m not exactly sure what that person was expecting while visiting a cave, but I found it to be quite a worthwhile trip.

The bus dropped us off a few kilometers from the cave, and the walk there was actually beautiful. I’m glad we didn’t taxi it, as many sites had recommended.

ImageImageImageOkay, so this is a little morbid, but beautiful at the same time. We saw so many pretty butterflies and dragonflies in Jeju, but they were all too quick for me to snap a picture!

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Finally, we made it to the cave:

ImageUnfortunately, my pictures inside the cave were pretty dark (duh) so I don’t have much to show you. However, I can tell you that this lava tube was formed about 300,000 years ago when a flow of hot lava deep in the ground made its way to the surface. Although only one kilometer is open to the public, it stretches about 13.4 km and is the longest system of lava tubes in the world. It’s also one of the most well-preserved, considering how old it is. I don’t know what determines if a cave is well-preserved or not, but apparently this one is. Here are a couple terrible pictures of it:

ImageImageThere’s a really cool rock formation behind us, I swear.

It was an interesting site to visit, and if nothing else, a great reprieve from the sticky humidity of the outside world. Note the cardigan I’m wearing, which I practically ripped off my body as soon as we emerged from the cool depths of the cave.

After grabbing a bus back to Jeju City, we were just about gnawing our arms off in hunger. Enter: Burger Trip. I don’t know if it’s because we walked several miles and I was absolutely starving, or if it really was as good as I thought it was, but this place was ahhhmazing.

I got the Aussie Burger (not to be confused with the now-defunct restaurant in Busan, R.I.P.), which had bacon, cheese, a hash brown and an egg. Oh, yes I did:

ImageWith the mandatory side of kimchi, of course. Even when you don’t order Korean food, you get Korean food.

This was Alex’s chili burger (a quick snapshot, because I would have risked losing a limb if I didn’t let him eat right away):

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Finally, a milkshake for two:ImageThis was a Belgian chocolate milkshake, which was absolutely delicious. I actually thought this place was legitimately good, not just I’m-in-Korea-and-this-will-suffice good.

ImageOm nom nom.

Anyway, that about did it for Day Three. The trek to the lava tube was pretty far, so it ate up most of our time. As fun as that was though, that burger might have been the highlight of my day!

 

 

 

 

Day 2: Loveland and Hyeopjae Beach

Day Two began as all vacation days should…at a leisurely pace, with a cup of coffee and a good book. Our plan was to hike/relax/hike/relax/hike (though you can see we didn’t exactly follow the itinerary), and today was for chillaxin’.

First, we headed to Loveland. Loveland is an adult-themed sculpture park that is quite infamous in Korea. I’ll post a couple of the more tame pictures here, but will mostly leave it up to your imagination. I’m all about free speech, but there are some things your grandfather should just never read on your blog.

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ImageThere are a couple of interesting things to note about Loveland. I find it ironic for a country that has a national ban on pornography to have a sex-themed park as a major tourist attraction. It was filled with Koreans (as Jeju is a popular vacation spot for Koreans), so it’s not as if this is made for visiting foreigners. I was more than a little uncomfortable following the phallic arrows from sculpture to sculpture, while being trailed by a Korean family (and their 8-year-old son). Eek.

Second, as subversive as Loveland tries to be, all of the love and sex portrayed here is very heteronormative. That is, you will find no lady love or man-on-man here. It seems if they were really trying to push the envelope, they would include a more diverse selection. However, this is Korea, and same-sex sex is still very taboo.

After heading back to the hostel to get changed into our bathing suits, we went to Hyeopjae Beach. While it was a slightly-more-expensive-cab-ride-away than we thought, it was entirely worth it:

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The pure-white sand, the crystal clear water and the beautiful view of Biyangdo Island all screamed “YOU’RE ON VACATION.” Now, some of you may not know this about me (hah, hah) but sometimes I have a hard time relaxing. Well, it was impossible not to here. We swam, read, wandered and had a lovely afternoon with absolutely no plans more complicated than “I think I’ll change the song on my iPod now.”

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That was our day! Next up: The longest lava tubes in the word, my sprint in 105% humidity and how we became regulars in a Korean bar.

 

 

 

 

Day One: Olle Trail 6

We have returned from our week-long trip to Jeju Island, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. I’m going to recap day by day, so bear with me as a catch up/inundate you with one bazillion pictures in the next week or two.

Our first full day in Jeju was spent trekking Olle Trail 6. The Jeju Olle trail is basically one giant walking path that takes you around the entire island. There are currently 21 different routes you can take; one of the most highly recommended ones was #6.

The entire route was 14.4 km (8.95 mi), and according to the dubious wisdom of Wikipedia, this trail “can be completed comfortably.” While the trail wasn’t difficult, it was over 90 degrees on the day we did it. ‘Round about 10 km, we were ready to call it quits.

We started in Seogwipo, a city on the south of the island (we stayed in Jeju City, on the north side). It continues along the coast, through villages, over a small mountain, into wooded paths, and winds down with some pretty amazing waterfalls. I really liked this trail because of the variety (don’t ask me how much I enjoyed the “small” mountain portion, as I was huffing and puffing my way to the summit).

Without further ado, some pictures from our wanderings:

ImageImageImageImageImageThis is the view of Sup-seom (that little island) from the top of Jeijigi Oreum. Spelling doesn’t count here, right?ImageImageImageImageImageThis  is Sojeongbang Waterfall, which is a short walk from two of the really famous ones in Jeju. The cool thing about this one is that you can stand underneath and grab a quick shower (see Exhibit A). While the prospect of cooling down was definitely appealing, the thought of having to walk the rest of the trail with wet feet was not.

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ImageThis is Jeonbang Waterfall, where I almost fell approximately one million times while hopping to that rock that I’m standing on. Korean girls in wedge sandals, however, had no problem navigating the slippery rocks. Power to ’em.

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ImageImageThis is the Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, which falls from 72 ft and has a width of 39 ft (they didn’t let you stand under this one). I had to crop a lot of Koreans out of this picture, because this was a very popular and very touristy place. After the tranquility of running into almost no one on the trail, it was a little disappointing but not unexpected. We were both pretty drained by this point, but I forced a smile out of Alex for the camera:

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This was a really great way to kick off our trip. We covered a lot of ground and were able to explore some really different territories (and some of Jeju’s most famous sites). Stay tuned for more recaps in the days to come!

Jeju Island

The time has finally come: tomorrow, I finally get my five glorious days off. Things at work have been rather, uh, tense, though in the interest of job security, I won’t get into it here. Suffice to say this vacation is well-timed and I am looking forward to it immensely.

Alex and I will be traveling to Jeju, a volcanic island off the coast of Korea. Not only is it a cheap, hour-long plane ride from Busan, but it also looks absolutely gorgeous. There are many beautiful hikes, walking trails and natural sites to behold. In 2007, it was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

My co-workers thought it was funny that I made a whole itinerary, detailing what I wanted to do each day. To that I say: I learned from the best. My dad made a binder, complete with tab dividers for each city we were visiting, when we took a trip to California when I was younger. Clearly, this has scarred/helped me in planning my own vacations.

Anyway! Our itinerary for Jeju:

Wednesday, 7/31: Arrive in Jeju in the evening; go to sleep around 7:00pm (see Thursday morning).

Thursday, 8/1:

-Seongsan Ichulbong aka Sunrise Peak, a (very) early morning hike.

-Yakcheonsa Temple.

Friday, 8/2

-Halla Arboretum.

-Yongduam Rock/Pond.

-Loveland, an amusement park of sorts.

Saturday, 8/3

-Olle Trail 6, including the Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls.

Sunday, 8/4

-Hyeopjae Cave/beach.

-Lava tubes.

Monday, 8/5

-Mt. Halla, aka Jeju’s piece de resistance.

Tuesday, 8/6

-Make a tearful, early afternoon return to Busan to ready ourselves for the grind of work on Wednesday.

We have three major hikes planned (Sunrise Peak, Olle Trail 6 and Mt. Hallasan) with a couple days of rest/wandering/beach time in between. I’d like to post about each day when I get back, and compare what we planned to see with what we were able to see.

I already can’t wait to share it with you guys. Have a great week!

Haedong Yonggunsa and Puppy Cafe

There is nothing better than waking up early on Saturday morning, with the entire weekend ahead of you and vacation just a few days away.

Since it was overcast today, we weren’t really feeling our usual beach routine. Instead, we decided to check out the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple. It is unique in that it was built right on the ocean, which is why it is colloquially known as the Water Temple in Busan. This alternate name is so common, in fact, that when it came time to tell the taxi driver where we wanted to go, we didn’t actually know the real name. Some quick Googling and feeling silly later, we arrived.

After we were dropped off, we wandered through a touristy little market area. They had Buddha statues, bracelets, chimes, etc., which was a little surprising, because these types of tchotchkes are hard to come by in Busan. At the end of the path, we were greeted by this guy:

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The path split, and you could either walk down to the temple or up through a wooded hiking path. We have a lot of hiking planned for Jeju this week, so instead opted for just the temple visit today.

The original temple was built in 1376 by a monk named Naong during the Goryeo Dynasty (which predated the Joseon Dynasty). A sea god appeared to him in a dream, instructing him to build a temple. It was believed that if everyone prayed here, the Dynasty’s hardships would disappear. After visiting the grounds where Haedong Yonggungsa stands today, Naong built the Bomun Temple.

This temple was (unsurprisingly) destroyed by the Japanese during their invasion of Korea in the early 20th century. It was rebuilt in the early 1930s, and the main sanctuary was restored again in the 1970s. Haedong is said to be protected by the Great Goddess Buddha, who rides on the back of a dragon.

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ImageThe view was absolutely gorgeous. Despite the crowds, we had an excellent time meandering through.

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There was a Buddha for every occasion, if you will. I saw a father playfully pushing his son toward the Buddhas for Academic Achievement, above. There was also the Traffic Safety Prayer Pagoda. Due to my experience as both a passenger and pedestrian here in Korea, I think they might want to erect a few more of those.

Our next stop was the Puppy Cafe in Jangsan, As the name suggests, it is a cafe in which you can pet and play with dogs while enjoying a cup of coffee. I sipped a cappuccino while hanging out with these furry friends:

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ImageImageImageWhile these pictures illustrate some normal looking dogs, there were a few in the cafe that had had some of Korea’s rather unfortunate trends thrust upon them. One dog had black eyebrows; another had pink-tinged ears and tail. The real kicker was this poor kitty:

ImageAside from her perma-sour puss, she had also been groomed so that it looked like she was wearing furry boots and a cotton ball tail. I tried to coax her out for a full body shot, but she wasn’t having it.

All in all, a very fun and busy Saturday. Looks like we’re seeing Pacific Rim tonight, which is supposed to be very good. At least, it is according to my class of twelve-year-old boys!