Monday, January 31, 2011

Seollal and Beyond...

Today I start my new (old) job at Seongdong SLP. People have got me pretty nervous about it since buisness isn't good and it seems to be taking a toll on the administration, but we'll see what happens at 1 today when I go in.... Update on that later...

After work I'm gonna head straight for the KTX station to catch the train for Busan. I'm spending the night in a jjimjilbang tonight, then couchsurfing the next night, then coming back to Seoul on Wednesday. I don't plan on going home, though, but rather going straight to grandmother's house to spend the night there for Seollal. Thursday morning we'll celebrate Seollal, the way we always do, then probably make our way back up to Yongpyong by nightfall. Ski until Sunday or so and come back to start work again for Monday morning.

So, don't expect much posting until after the holidays.... sorry I've been so slack lately. But, come next week, I'll have lots and lots of time for posting, so expect a slew of posts that I have been wanting to post for the past month or so. I still have more to say about Japan, plus I've been busy all through January too.

If you have any suggestions on what to do in Busan, let me know, because I have no idea and I'm leaving in 12 hours!!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wednesday and Thursday in Kyoto

First stop on Wednesday was Sanjusangendo. Sanjusangendo literally means hall with 33 rooms, but it is most famous for it's 1001 statues of Kannon. Unfortunately, there are no photos allowed in the sanctuary so I can't show you what it looked like inside, but if you're curious, it seems many other people broke that rule. Sanjusangendo was probably the most expencive temple I visited, at 600 Yen, but it's easy to guess why the price is so high when you have to figure in the maitanance of over a 1000 historic statues.

I hopped on the bus for about two stops before getting out and walking up the hill to Kiyomizu-dera. I opted not to pay to go in the sanctuary here, but I'm fine with that decision. You're free to walk around the outside without paying and it's quite spectacular. This pagoda was really something else.

I walked away from the main tourist area down a little side path in Kiyomizu-dera and found this lovely bunch of stone statues. I think they are called dosojin (if you have any details about these things, please post them here! I really want to know what the deal is with these guys). There were no tourists at all down here so I spent a while photographing them from different angles.

I walked along some of the side streets unknowingly finding myself on a well beaten tourist path lined with cute little botiques and restaurants.

I was happy to find a Miyazaki store and spent a little time wandering around in there but too reluctant to buy anything because it's all so expencive!

I passed by Krozen Kwannon Temple. Though I didn't stop here, there was a great view of the giant Kannon from the outside.

Next I found myself at Kodaiji Temple and I entered. I got a 100 yen discount here on the entrance with my subway pass.

Here was another zen garden and some rather lovely old temple buildings.

Here is the cemetery at what I believe is Higashi Otani Mausoleum. This place was quite nice because there were very few tourist around. I'm not sure why that is, since it was on the main path, but anyway, I always love visiting cemeteries for some reason. They always look really beautiful to me. When I arrived here, though, I realized that I had lost my map and kind of freaked out because I had written all the bus numbers that I needed on there and didn't really know where I was. I was really frustrated so I just walked out of the temple area (I was coming to the end anyway) and wandered into town looking for a subway that would take me to Kyoto station where I knew there was a tourist information center with free maps.

As I was leaving the temple area, though, I stumbled across one last shrine; Yasaka-jinja shrine. Here, they were starting to get ready for the new years celebrations. There were closed stalls set up everywhere that I wished would open up because they looked really interesting.

Then I wondered around town for a while looking for food and a subway. I found the Gion Post Office. I thought it looked cool.

Here is the Kamo-Gawa River which goes through the center of Kyoto.

I stumbled into this shopping area and finally found myself some reasonably priced udon for lunch. I continued wandering until I found the right subway to get to Kyoto station. I got there, wondered all around forever looking for the tourist info place. Found it, and got directions to the Funaoka Public Bath since I heard it was famous.

I noticed that on the way to the public bath was the Nijojo castle. I think that I had read somewhere that it was closed for the holiday, but maybe in my rather frustrated mind after having lost my map and wandered around lost for a long time trying to get to Kyoto station and feeling as though I had rather wasted my time I decided I would stop there and hope that I could get there before closing time. I hopped off the bus, walked 15 minutes from the bus station (it looked much closer on the map) only to find out it was closed for the holiday. I walked dejectedly back to the bus stop and headed back to find the public bath.

Being a "tourist destination" I expected it to be on a main street, maybe really big and impressive. I was not expecting the unassuming location on a small side street that didn't even have a sidewalk. After  a bit of reading later, after the fact, I learned that the bath was built in 1923 and is one of the few public baths that have not been updated or changed much over the years. Coming from Korea, it's hard to scoff at it's simplicity compared to even the simplest Korean jjimjilbang. But, I think here, it's more about the historic nature of the location more than the amenities.

As you go in, you'll see these shoe lockers. Those who have spent time in Korea will recognise these easily, but the key is wooden. I wouldn't be surprised if they dated back to the foundation of the bath house. The fee to use the bath is incredibly low. I don't remember how much but it was less than 500 yen. I didn't have a towel, but they gave me one for free and let me buy soap for 30 yen or something like that. I only wished I had planned ahead and had brought my shampoo...

From there you can go into the changing room, get naked and head into the baths. Just like Korea, shower off before getting into the baths. There were a total of 7 or 8 baths. One was blood red, I wish I knew what it was, but I sat in there for a while. Others were nice, one was an extra hot one, another had massage jets, another pine. My favorite was the outdoor bath. It wasn't really outdoor-outdoor where people could see you, but it was built with an open roof. It was also a useful place to splash cold water on myself every time I went into the (only) sauna which was very hot and made me feel lightheaded every time I went in for more than 2 minutes. But, after the baths and the one sauna.. that was it. I was a little sad since I'm used to more luxury from Korean public baths, but I tried to appreciate it for what it was. After that I headed back to the couch surfer's house for a feast for dinner and sleep early to leave for Kobe in the morning.

Before getting on the subway the next morning I stopped by Heian-Jingu Shrine which was only 10 minutes walk from the couchsurfer's house. It was early in the morning and there was no one around.

It was not huge, but it was quite beautiful and photogenic with so few people around. From here I caught the train to Kobe and that will be the last segement of my Japan story. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

More on the F-2-7 visa...

Ok, me and the boyfriend have been doing investigations all night on this beast. Only on unofficial websites like blogs and newspaper articles have I been able to find information on the new points system which was updated this year. All these sources that I have been finding all night were written last spring when the new visa rules were first announced, but I couldn't find anything official from the Seoul government in English on any website. FINALLY, after quite a long search, the boyfriend stumbled across the official document on, effective 9/1/2010, with the point system. This looks more official than any of the edited things I've seen floating around the internet, so we made a jpg and I'm posting it here. Sorry, I'm lazy and not translating it for you. If you can't read it, find a Korean to translate it for you.

These points, if you look carefully, are not the same as ones you will find on the other websites I mentioned. By this chart, by my math, if I can pass the intermediate TOPIK exam and do a little community service (which will be easy since there is a free class for ajummas and ajoshis that will need a teacher soon at the community center where I study Korean) I should be set. Oh, and take the culture class offered by the government. But, I'll have lots of time in a few weeks and the class should start up in February or March.

I'll ask again. Is there anyone out there that has gone through the process of getting the F-2-7 visa or have looked into it and can confirm for me that this is the correct point system? By the other point system, I come up a good 15 points short, but on this one I come up possibly with one extra point... by my math...

Kinkakuji, Ryoanji, Rengeji and Ninnaji Temples in Western Kyoto

I took the bus from Sanjo station across the city to the west side to visit some of the more famous temples over there. The bus ride was longer than expected, but I made friends with a very friendly Brit who sat next to me on the bus. Our first stop was Kinkakuji temple, also known as the golden pavilion. 

Kinkakuji is in a beautiful setting, but I thought it was a bit over rated compared with some other temples I visited. I think this temple is very famous for the golden pavilion in the middle of a lake, that was really the only thing to see here. But, it's worth the visit since there are so many other important temples also in the area. You won't feel as though you wasted your time (hour bus ride) getting here if you get to see everything else in the area. 

From Kinkakuji, we wandered down the hill to Ryoanji. This temple is famous for its zen garden which contains 15 rocks, though, only 14 of which can be seen from any angle. Upon attaining enlightenment, one would be able to see the 15th rock, or so they say.

While we continued along the road to Ninnaji temple, we accidentally stumbled across Rengeji temple. As we approached the temple, we were invited in by a very friendly monk trying to practice his English. He invited us in and suggested we take photos of the altar area. It was full of beautiful statues and food for offerings. 

The monk explained to us that there is a fire ceremony held every year for New Year's where they burn the wishes of people to send the wishes to the gods. Evidently we had just missed it when we came as it had been held that morning (?).

This friendly monk-in-training explained to us the various buddha statues and allowed us to ring the bell. There were no tourists here as this little temple barely makes the map (and has no English information) but it was one of my favorites since we got to meet this monk who explained so much to us. 

Then it was on to Ninnaji. While Ninnaji doesn't have a golden pavilion or a famous zen garden, it was my favorite temple of the afternoon just because it was so big and had so many different and interesting features to see. Above you can see the pagoda. Below is another temple area with a roof thatched with tree bark.

This western area of Kyoto is nice, and we spent about 3 hours or so checking out these 4 temples. I would definitely recommend making your way to this side of the city.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Got a new visa! And a new contract!

I've been negotiating with my old school, Seongdong SLP, for a new contract for a few months to hold me over until I (hopefully) start grad school in the fall. I finally worked out all the details and I went to immigration with one of the managers of Seongdong to renew my visa. We were a little worried because my visa was set to expire on the 15th of January, but my new contract didn't start until January 31st. I actually wasn't so worried, but my school had never had to transfer a visa from one school to their school so they weren't sure what they needed to do and were kind of freaking me out and trying to get my current school to play with the dates of my release letter so that the visa would transfer smoothly. But, as my current school is owned by Sogang University, they do everything by the books and wouldn't have any of the date fudging that my new school wanted.

Anyway, it all worked out in the end. I'm going to have a very light schedule at my new job (with a very light pay check to go with it, though) but I hope that will allow me to take a university Korean class, or another intensive Korean class.

 Immigration office. Surprisingly it took less than an hour to get the whole thing processed and get my ARC (Alien Regsitration Card) back.

I'm also thinking of getting an F-2 visa. They've changed the rules now and you can get a visa based on a point system. I figured out (I think) that if I can pass the intermediate TOPIK test (Korean proficiency test, similar to a TOEFL test for English) and take a 100 hour culture and language class, I can get the visa. But, that means that I need to take my Korean study up a notch and really pass the test since it's only offered a few times per year. If anyone has taken the class to get the F-2 visa, please let me know how it is. I heard it's not expencive and it could be another alternative for me rather than going to university to study.

Last weekend in Gangwondo

 Last weekend we headed up to Gangwondo Saturday night. We found a couchsurfer in Jinbu to stay with for the night. Couchsurfing is so great. You can meet new people and it's always a surprise what kind of experience you'll have with them.

Our host brought us to the best bulgogi restaurant I've been to in Korea. I know bulgogi is really famous Korean food, but I rarely eat it in restaurants, because it tends to be really expencive and not really as good as when we make it at home. Here in Jinbu, they cooked it in a broth so it was really tender



We also got some dwengchang jjigae to go with it, since it was only 1,000 won. In Gangwondo, dwengchang is slighly different than in Seoul. As you can see, it is a very dark brown color, and the taste is a little stronger, or at least I thought so.

We skied at Yongpyong all morning until about 2pm. We took a break and took a nap at the boyfriend's friend's luxury condo for an hour or two, then headed out at 6:30 for another hour of night skiing. This year I have a season pass, so I can ski for just a short time and not feel guilty about quitting after and hour or two since I don't have to buy a pass every time I want to ski.

After we finished skiing for the night, we got some dinner. This is 오삼불고기 (osambulgogi). It's maranated squid and pork, fried with some vegetables. It's not bad. 

And this fish jjigae litterally had the whole fish thrown in, as you can see. I always seem to eat strange food like this when I'm in Gangwondo... or maybe it's just the company I'm with when I happen to be in Gangwondo. I'm not sure.

We were going to drive home that night, but when we thought about staying the night at the luxury condo vs. driving home for 3 hours and then going into our house where we turned down the heat as low as we could, we chose to sleep at the condo and leave early in the morning. For the first time in months, I was actually too warm, and I tried to enjoy it as much as I could before we left at 6:30 the next morning to head back to Seoul.

I'm off to Yongpyong soon for more skiing this weekend. But, I'm a little afraid of the weather. It's -12˚C in Seoul today, the mountain will be much much colder.

Kimchi jjigae kimbap

Sometimes we get creative.... 

And more creative... 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Routine

I've started a new routine this month which has left me with little time for blogging (but don't worry, I'm still here!).

When I finished my level 4 class at Metro Korean Academy last month, I felt completely inadequate to continue on to level 5 as I've had little time and motivation to study in the past few months, plus being in a constant state of sickness from October-December. I decided I needed a month to 'take it easy' and do a little more exercising in hopes to make my body healthier.

Thus, I decided to enroll at the Chungmu Art Hall's yoga class. Only 48,000 won for one month, 3 days a week. A bargain if nothing else. But.... there's still this part of me that is planning on going to study in Korean university this spring and feels (as usual) completely inadequate in my Korean skills and probably going to pass into a beginner Korean  class rather than the upper intermediate (level 4) where I want to be. So, I asked to take a less intensive class at the hagwon and I got placed in a Tuesday Thursday conversation class. It's an interesting enough class, but I feel a bit overwhelmed since the other girl in the class is miles ahead of me in her Korean ability.

So, anyway, this month of 'taking it easy' means that I have class every weekday morning at 10 am rather than only 3 mornings a week. Yoga, while I'm sure is great for my body, is leaving me slightly sore every day, plus skiing now on the weekends will probably mean constant muscle pain until spring. Plus, less blog updating and less phone calls home to America.

But, as of Jan. 31st, I am officially done with my contract and changing to a part time schedule at another school.

Fushimi Inari, Fox Shrine

The first shrine I visited while in Kyoto was Fushimi Inari. This is a rather unique shrine dedicated to the Shinto god Inari, god of business and rice. Though, the element which most visitors will remember is the many images of foxes, which are believed to be messengers of Inari. The shrine is located next to a small mountain and it's possible to take quite a long hike up, but given my time constraints on this trip, I didn't do the hike, I just walked around and enjoyed the surroundings.

They say that 2.69 million people visited this shrine in the New Year in 2006, which gives you some idea of the popularity and prominence of this particular shrine. When visitors come to a shrine or temple for the new year, they ring a bell and make a prayer for the new year.

This shrine's most famous attribute, though, is its torii, or gates. They number in the thousands and have line the paths that lead through the mountain. Each was donated by a business, and if you could read Japanese, you would be able to see the name of the company and how much money was donated to the temple for the gate to be built.

After wondering around for about 45 minutes, I made my way into the center of Kyoto and on to some other temples in the western part of the city. But, before leaving, I took a photo of these foxes, because they're so darn cute.

Fushimi Inari was probably my favorite of all the shrines I saw in Japan. I highly recommend going a little out of your way to get to this shrine, and hopefully you have more time than I to do some hiking around the mountain paths. I arrived here by getting off the subway at Fushimi Inari Station on the Keihan line and following the signs and other tourists from the station. The entrance less than a 5 minutes walk from the station. It's impossible to miss!