Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jeju Guide: Transportation in Jeju

For those who don't want to rent a car or motorbike, the bus is a perfectly viable option for a trip to Jeju. If you want to hit every sight it might be a bit difficult, but for those just looking for a relaxed beach vacation, getting on the bus once or twice a day should be a breeze. The intercity buses all accept your T-Money card, or you can pay in cash, usually between 1-2,000 won depending on how far you go. Most buses either start or end in Jeju City or Seogwipo and come every 20-40 minutes or so depending on the time of day and the route.

We took the bus from Jeju City to Hallim Park on Friday morning because of some problems getting a rental car. It took over an hour to get there, but only half an hour to get back. Not sure why that was, since there was no traffic either way. Sometimes you need to tell the driver where you're going so he can activate the T-Money card, so be sure you know the Korean name of your destination. I would highly recommend having some Korean under your belt before trying to navigate Jeju on your own as many signs, such as this bus terminal sign are only written in Korean.

Other options for seeing Jeju are renting a motorbike, car, bicycle or walking. Our car was the cheapest you could get, and it was 43,000 won per day. With a big group this could be a very affordable option, but you should double check the requirements for licenses. Lonely Planet says you need an international driver's license, but call the specific rental company for details. I never worry about these things since I just let the boyfriend drive.

We saw some people doing some serious biking around the island. If you enjoy biking and had enough time, I think a bicycle alone could be a viable option for exploring the island. In a car it takes about an hour to go north-south and two-three hours to go east to west. Muliply that how you like to figure how long it would take to bike.

Although you probably won't walk the entire island, there are many walking trails known as "Oleh-kil" (Jeju dialect for small street) which are generally clearly laid out just for walkers. You'll probably see more Oleh-kil in my future posts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jeju Guide: Hallasan

Hallasan (한라산) is the highest peak in Korea, reaching a height of 1,950 m (6,398 ft) above sea level. It is an extinct volcano, and it's last eruption was around the year 1007. Being a shield volcano ,which tends to have less violent, more flowing eruptions, as opposed to the more explosive types, it is a quite gradual hike up until you reach the very top of the mountain. There are several paths to hike on Hallasan, but only two go to the top; Seongpanak Trail (성판악) - 9.6 km, a very gradual, easy for the most out of shape person to do, and Gwaneumsa Trail (관음사) - 8.7 km which is a more strenuous hike with stairs nearly the whole way.

We decided to go up the easy trail, Seongpanak, and go down the hard trail, Gwaneumsa. It seemed like a good idea at the time but as my legs finally just stopped hurting today, Tuesday, six days later, maybe it actually wasn't the best idea.

We took the bus to the base of the Seongpanak trail which was quite convenient for us. We knew we'd be hiking all day and coming down a different trail, so we decided to put off renting a car until the next day. The bus to Seongpanak runs about every 1/2 hour or so from Jeju City bus terminal and was 1,500 won for the 30 minute bus ride. It's easy to know when to get off, because everyone wearing hiking gear will get off at the same place.

We caught the bus at 6:30 and started our hike just after 7:00 am. We weren't in the best of shape so we wanted to be sure we had enough time to get up and down with plenty of break times. They are a little strict about assenting the mountain. You should be to the midway shelter on either path before 12:30 or else you shouldn't continue on to the top. There didn't appear to be anyone checking at the shelter, but I would imagine that rangers would probably start turning people away after a certain time, so make sure you get an early enough start. For us, starting at 7:00 am, we got to the shelter around 10:00 am. You should also make sure you make it to the peak by 2:00 pm, because that is the time they have posted as the last time for assenting. If you're later, someone could turn you away before you get your sight of Baengnokdam. We arrived at about 12:30 pm.

The Seongpanak trail started off almost too easily. We climbed for two hours before we started to see any serious uphill climbing. It felt more like a stroll through the woods on a very well constructed trail.

After three hours of hiking, we reached the shelter where we had a snack of cup ramen which we bought here, plus some canned vegetable tuna, kimbap, and bread which we brought with us. There are no trash cans anywhere on the mountain, so be prepared to carry out what you bring in or buy here.

The shelter had a few things for purchase, but on the safe side, it'd be better to bring up your own things. After leaving the shelter, the climbing got a little more intense. We made our way slowly for another hour when we got this sight, we could finally see the top!

From here the incline got to be a little harder, but we took so many photo breaks we hardly felt it.

1900 meters

When you get to the top, you'll hopefully have a view of Baengnokdam (백록담), the lake in the volcano's crater. I was expecting something a little bigger than this puddle, but it's quite famous and people will be quite impressed if you tell them made it up to Baengnokdam. I used the word "hopefully" because I hear that, while the weather while we went was very clear, the top of the mountain spends most of it's days under a cloud. Try to plan your hike for the clearest day possible for the best views! We really lucked out!

Then it was time to descend. We took the hard trail, the Gwaneumsa Trail, to the bottom. Despite it's toughness, the Gwaneumsa Trail offers much more fantastic sights than the Seongpanak trail. Harder, but more rewards.

At first, the going down Gwaneumsa was nice, all downhill, but soon all that downhill action started to take it's toll. Achy legs slowed us down and forced us to take many stops. Here I'm taking a break with some SamDaSu, water from Jeju that I often drink in Seoul. I'm at the spot where a shelter used to stand, until it was swept away by a landslide caused by a hurricane several years ago. There's a new shelter about 15 minutes hike from here.

Finally, 4.5 hours of constant downhill action, we made it to the bottom. Every muscle in my body was aching and all I wanted to do was sleep. But, we had to figure out a way back to Jeju city from here. We had read that there was no bus here, but upon inquiring, we found that one was coming 10 minutes later. What luck! We found out later that there's only two buses a day that stop here and people were surprised at our luck. Otherwise, it's a 20,000 won taxi back to Jeju City.

If you have any more questions about Hallasan, please feel free to e-mail me. I hope everyone can have an opportunity to climb this mountian. Don't be daunted by the fact that it's the tallest mountain in Korea. It's easily hike-able in one day. For a time reference, I started at 7:00am and got to the bottom around 4:00pm. We took lots of food, water and photo breaks so it could certainly be done in less time if you're in better shape than us.

Jeju Guide: Preview

Since I've noticed that most blog posts about Jeju are just random collections of photos with little practical information for someone planning a trip, I've decided to call my posts about Jeju a "Jeju Guide". I'll try my best to provide practical information for people who want to plan their own trip to Jeju, rather than joining a tour group like Adventure Korea (not that there's anything wrong with joining a tour group, but some people like to do their own thing).

So, the question for today is: What is Jejudo? Well, the simple answer is an island in the southernmost part of South Korea where the temperature is warm enough year long to sustain growing oranges, pineapples, kiwis and lots of palm trees. But, I think anyone living in Korea has heard the basics, so I think that question should be answered with some photos.

Jeju is....

Beautiful sights...

Hallasan, an extinct volcano which is South Korea's highest peak, but easy enough to climb for even the most inexperienced climbers...

Stone walls made from volcanic rock...

Tropical looking beaches with amazing blue water...

Harubangs, or stone gods offering protection and fertility (these are original harubangs, unlike most you see around the island now which were made fairly recently)

Fruit everywhere...

And seafood everywhere....

Look forward to more specific posts soon! It might take me a while to post things, because, even though I was only there for 4 full days I hit three or four places per day so it's going to be a while to get everything up here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chuseok Celebrations

Tuesday afternoon I headed over to halmoni's house for the Chuseok holiday on Wednesday. The weather was really terrible on Tuesday and it took me a while to motiviate myself to get out of the house and over there, but I finally arrived around 6pm. Most of the food had been prepared by the ajumma that takes care of halmoni, but we didn't have anything to do, so we made some 배추전 or battered and fried cabbage. The boyfriend taught me how to make it too so I didn't have to stand around looking like a useless idiot like usual. It didn't look very tasty, but it tasted much better than expected. It's super easy to make. Just mix flour and water and dip the cabbage in and fry it up.

We woke up early the next morning at 7 am. Chuseok celebrations are held early in the morning, so after waking, we started preparing the 제사, or the memorial ceremony for the deceased. As I said, most things were already prepared, but we had to place everything on special dishes used only for the jesa ceremony. We also prepared 산적, a seasoned steak and opened rice liquor used in the ceremony. A paper was inserted into a holder with the name of the ancestor to be worshiped.

Once everything was prepared, it looked like this:

First, the men of the family bowed together for my boyfriend's haraboji (grandfather). Traditionally, only the men attended the jesa ceremony, but nowadays anyone can do it. After the men bowed, halmoni came in and bowed too. The boyfriend's little sister just made jokes about the whole ceremony and never actually joined in. After, a new name was inserted into the holder and my boyfriend bowed alone for his mother who passed away when he was in high school. After the jesa is finished, a small amount of each kind of food is thrown in a bowl of water, the paper with the names of the ancestors are burned and the ashes are left in the water. That water and food mix is then thrown in the garden outside. But, if you don't have a yard, where do you put it?

After the jesa, it was time to eat. Frankly speaking, I was quite dissapointed by the meal. They call this "Korean Thanksgiving" because it is supposed to be a harvest festival, but compared to an American Thanksgiving with a huge turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, amazing desserts, and in my family mountains of appetizers, the Chuseok meal at halmoni's house felt more like any normal meal just with more, equally unappetizing dishes. I'm not a big fan of mushy, vegetables, particularly the fermented ones, so if you add more of those kinds of dishes to the table it doesn't make it more exciting. My meal basically consisted of 호박전 (battered and fried zucchini), 도부전 (battered and fried tofu), cow bone soup (which doesn't taste bad, it just has no flavor) and rice. Not my idea of thanksgiving. I left the table still hungry and snacked on fruit and songpyeon for the rest of the morning. Do Koreans feel the same about American Thanksgiving? I wonder if it's better at other family's houses...

I guess this would be the best time to mention 송편(songpyeon), the special rice cake eaten at Chuseok. These are a little different from the normal rice cakes Koreans eat year round, mainly because they are placed on pine needles It seems as though most families make it themselves, but ours were bought at a store. I was kind of hoping to get to make them since I always hear my students talk about making songpyeong on Chuseok.

A little while later we headed up to the boyfriend's grandfather's grave to have the 묘제 or ceremony at the grave. It was quite simple, they just placed some fruit, songpyeong and dried fish on the altar by the grave and threw some of the rice liquor over the grave. Then they bowed for his grandfather. After that, we cut up the apple and ate that along with the songpyeong and dried fish (I didn't eat the fish though).

The rest of the day was relaxed, just watching TV and eating a relaxed lunch before leaving in the afternoon, sailing home with no traffic, packing and leaving to catch an earlier than planned flight to Jejudo. More on Jeju in the days to come.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Me all over the web...

This is a very web heavy Jo-Anna week. While walking around Myongdong last weekend I bumped into Steve the QiRanger. I'll admit I'd never watched this guy's Youtube channel before, but I guess he's pretty big in the Korean expat world. He was walking around asking people's opinions about the close proximity of North Korea and how safe we feel here in the ROK. I think I answered well, but clearly I'm not good at the whole looking-at-the-camera thing... I think I have eye-contact issues because people say I look up a lot. Anyway, check out the video, you can see my friend Cassie too. She looks a lot cooler looking right at the camera.

Then I saw on Chris in South Korea's twitter that he was looking for guest bloggers so I figured I'd send over an article I had written that never got published where it was meant to be published. So, today I appear over there with an article about the cuisine of Jeonju much more articulately written than my original post.

Also, I'm sure many of my readers were away for Chuseok, so make sure you go back and read the last week or so archive. I wrote a lot of articles last weekend and set them to post throughout the week though I celebrated Chuseok at halmoni's house and then headed to Jejudo. And be sure to take the new sign quiz!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Sign Challenge

For all of you who found my first quiz to be too easy, here is round two, the challenge! While in the first round I tried to find things that were common and useful in everyday life, round two is for those who are veterans and have needed more than your everyday basics on this peninsula. There's a few easy ones mixed in just to help out the strugglers a little. Here we go!

1) 치과

2) 피부과

3) 한의원

4) 산부인과

5) 내과

6) 서점

7) 당구장

8) 고시원

9) 편의점

10) 여관

Answers can be found in the comment section. Please post your score!

Chuseok gifts and hanboks...

Here is what my boyfriend received from his company as a Chuseok gift. Yes, that is 18 cans of tuna. It is 100x better than his Seollal gift though. While I'll never understand giving tuna or spam as a holiday gift, at least tuna is something I do eat on a fairly regular basis. It will take a few months, but this will get eaten.

Monday (our only day of work this week) was Chuseok day for preschool. I was given the lucky task of asking these 7 year olds to write a report about their day. While they have been at our school for over a year, their English skills (and especially writing skills) are far below their peers who have been studying for 6 months longer than them. Not sure why that is, but I got some pretty unhappy faces when I told them we were writing today. Usually, I'm the art teacher!

They all came in with their hanboks, but by the last class when I was teaching them, all the girls had taken off their hanboks and were back to their uniforms. So, I just took photos of the boys.

They're so cute in their hanboks! Its so deceiving to their actual personalities....

Thursday, September 23, 2010

회식 or Korean Company Dinners

For Koreans 회식 is a very important part of working life. Every so often, you should go out with your co-workers and your boss and have some food, drinks and fun to get to know each other or to celebrate important events.

The differences between 회식 at my first hagwon and the hagwon where I work now are quite different. At my old hagwon, we held 회식 every time a (foreign) coworker left. Although, really what it was, was just a dinner. Korean teachers usually ducked out of the office and claimed they were busy. The forign teachers went only for the meal and bailed as soon as our plates were cleared. Sometimes small amounts of beer were consumed, but everyone felt a little awkward under the eyes of our very shy and very religious director who would host the dinners (and say only 2 sentences which seemed quite rehearsed because her English was quite poor for a director of an English school).

Here at the new school they don't make it easy to back out. Everyone goes, and we even dragged a non-drinking Korean co-worker once, even though she begged not to come. We also skip the whole dinner thing and go straight to the bar. Not to say we don't eat of course. Korean HOFs usually require food is ordered with a drink. And we order copious amounts of fried chicken, sausage, golbengi and the like. Our director leads the drinking and the bosses walk around making sure everyone's glass is topped off. Of course, they don't pour drinks until your glass is empty, so it's not uncommon to hear "One Shot!" and be expected to finish half a glass of beer so they can pour you the next one.

Our director really likes to make cheers, so every time a new dish comes out, he invents a new cheers. He also encouraged us to do a waterfall while drinking our beer. Every time I thought the end was near, a new 3000cc pitcher was ordered. Slowly, people started to sneak out as the evening progressed. This time I stayed until the end. Everyone except the bosses wound up in a cab to Hongdae (which is close to a 30,000 won cab ride from where we are past Jamshil) but since my friend was in town I had an excuse to escape. I am a little curious where the rest of the night went for the rest of them, but at the same time, I'm glad I wasn't there to witness it...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Korean Traditional Wedding

While at Namsan Hanok Village on Saturday, we stumbled across a wedding. It was a real wedding being performed in the traditional Korean style. This is something almost impossible to see nowadays and we had to stop and watch. Although, perhaps the most interesting part of this wedding was the fact that it was a wedding between a Korean woman and a British man. I feel a little awkward putting up pictures from a wedding of a person that I've never met before. So, if anyone knows this guy, please forward him this post so he can check it out and approve (or disapprove). I'd also be happy to send him some photos I took during the service as well.

When the bride entered, she kept her face covered at all times with this veil. Not seen in this photo were the two attendants that are standard at all Korean weddings, modern or traditional, that constantly attend to the bride and adjust everything possible.

The bride and groom sat, as did all the attendants. They had to eat something and drink some alcohol. As you can see, before they complete the service, they sit opposite one another.

After the service was complete they bowed for the guests and everyone clapped for the newly married couple.

Next a singer and a drum player performed a song. She stopped the song half way saying... let's make this song a little more interesting... Whenever I say "사랑", or love, you shout "만세!" as loud as you can to prove your love for your wife. The poor guy was a little confused and looked extremely embarrassed, but it was a good time and everyone had a good time watching this guy shouting Mansei!! for his wife.

Finally, the mother and aunt of the groom gave a speech in English, and the father of the bride gave a quick speech in Korean. The groom, impressively gave a short speech in Korean as well. He looked pretty nervous, but he did much better than I could have done, speaking formal Korean on your wedding day in front of over a hundred people.

Anyway, as I said, if anyone happens to know this guy, be sure to send him a link and show him this post. It's not every day that you can sit up and close at a stranger's wedding and have reason to blog about it...

Heaven, Otherwise known as 닭갈비

I have a lot of favorite Korean food, I know.... But Chicken Galbi (닭갈비) is pretty high up there. You can get it all over and in many forms. I took some photos of the basic 닭갈비 for your enlightenment.
When you order dakgalbi, you order by portions, so if you are 3 people you can order 3 portions of it. It usually ranges from 7-10,000 won per person. They'll bring it out in this hot plate and they'll cook it in front of you over a burner built into the table. Here we've got the basics, spicy chicken, cabbage, green onions and some ddeok (rice cake).

Fry it all up together and it will look something like this. For an extra kick, try ordering cheese to go on top (though, not all restaurants will have it). The waiter will help you fry it, and tell you when it's ready to eat.

Once you're done with the chicken, it's time for some bokkumbap (fried rice). Order some rice (however many portions you need) and they'll fry it up for you, probably with some kimchi and kim (seaweed).

And that's about it. If you haven't tried it, I suggest you leave your house now and get it. I don't care what country you're in. Go. Now. Unless you're vegetarian.. in which case... I don't know what to tell you.