Monday, May 08, 2006

Korea in a nutshell

I have returned. I'm tired but satisfied. I wish I didn't have to teach tomorrow, but what's a girl supposed to do? I hope to have time to write exhaustively about all this but until then here is a small selection of pictures and an outline of my trip.

Day 1 (May 1st, Monday)

I fly into Seoul (pronounced in the same way as I lost my "soul" to the devil), which is the easiest international flight I have ever taken. Comparable to flying from Eugene to San Jose... plus massive imigration and passport checking. I get out of the airport and to lovely "Kim's Guesthouse" by 5pm. This gives me enough time to soak up the new foriegnness and wander around before meeting Mark Freeman, my long lost exchanger friend, at 7:30. The reunion was far from dramatic and felt like we have triple fat pork BBQ every Monday night in the Hongik University neighborhood in trendy youthful Seoul.

Day2 (white line): I head south from Seoul to Gwangju by express bus.

While Seoul was smoggy and that was to be expected, I was quite shocked and disappointed that the sky got smoggier and smoggier as I headed south. I considered turning around and heading north immediately but after a 4 hour bus ride I wanted to stretch my legs and decided to give the place a chance. I visited a small temple called Wonhyosa and walked around in the mountains for hours.

after my mountain retreat I found my way back with a city bus and then a subway ride where I had an encounter with a creepy guy who thought I was a Russian prostitute (aparently a common problem for all slightly blond foriegn girls who are even slightly blond) and wrote off all future wandering around in the mountains by myself.

Day 3 (Boseong and Yeosu)

After getting throughly frusterated with the bus terminal (remember, I can't read or pronounce anything. I function by writing the Korean for where I want to go and then smiling and gesturing at someone until they point me in some direction to get rid of me. repeat.) I get on a bus to Boseong, the largest tea plantation in Korea. I was on the bus and it was going to be mellow and great. and after an even smaller and more frusterating bus terminal filled with more sleazy men in bad suits who wanted to help me... I did finally get there. and from there the trip began seriously looking up.

Oh my god it was so beautiful.

and I met these three guys and they spoke some English and were really nice and kind of like body gaurds and wouldn't let me pay for lunch and I wanted to just follow them around and it was great and I was ready to head to another small town and believe that S.Korea is as safe and friendly as everyone says. so after green tea noodles and new lucky unlikely friendships, I got on a bus to the south coast and a town called Yeosu.

I wasn't sure if I was going to stay in Yeosu or try to get to Busan that night but I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately the map in the Lonley Planet book was crap but luckily the taxis are cheap. and all of a sudden I found myself at this festival, presumably for Buddah's Birthday.

there was all this loud energetic music and chanting and tons of colors and beautiful people dancing and beating drums in the street. I even have some short videos with sound that I'll try to figure out how to post soon. It was awesome. and beautiful. and I was really happy and lucked into a nice hotel room with a pretty view and I was happy to be in Korea and happy to be in Yeosu and felt lucky and good.

Day 4 (Yeosu and Gyeongju)
I had notions of getting up early because the sunrise is supposed to be fabulous but when my alarm went off at 6am, the city was already light and awake and I wasn't... so I slept another 2 and a half hours and headed back to the place of the festival.

it was gigantic and filled with lots of friendly school children shouting "hello!" and asking "where are you from?" (Canada, Vancouver BC)

and then I hiked up a really steap hill for a beautiful view and another temply and some goats and then felt inspired to head out to a smaller island connected by a causeway. here I found a cave where a dragon is supposed to live:

and I was so happy about the warm sun I layed on the rocks, despite the people coming and going and happily dozed in the sun. and earned a beautiful sunburn for it. after exploring the island I decided it was time to hop another bus and head to Gyeongju, skipping Pusan entirely.

I arrived in Gyeongju after dark and checked into a friendly hostel called Hanjin Hostel which Lonley Planet describes as:
people don't stay here from the rooms; many are rather grotty. However, the kitchen, courtyard, meeting room and roof deck are great places to commune an dplan forays with fellow travellers. The owner speaks English and Japanese, hands out free maps and is knowledgeable about local sights.

I'll write more about this later including Mr. Kwon's top 4 reasons foreign women love Korean men.

I got some dinner and walked around the town including these amazing huge Silla tumuli in little parks all over the town. the ones in town were maybe 3 stories tall. amazing.

Day 5 (Bulguksa, Seokguram Grotto, Namsan Mt. and a "traditional" performance)

First I headed to Bulguksa, which is on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage List any time of year but is particularly beautiful with thousands of paper lanterns hung for Buddah's Birthday. I took a million pictures but these are some of my favorites.

From here I took a bus up to Seokguram Grotto. I think this was the highlight of the trip and I'll go into more detail later but it's a gigantic granite Buddah who is considered the protector of the country up in the mountains with the wind blowing softly through the thousands of lanterns with people's wishes attached and earnest chanting from a monk and a constant stream of people showing their respect and making their prayers. everything about it was breathtaking.

I also did a little peaking around Mt. Namsan which I could have explored for a week and has literally thousands of little artifacts scattered all over the mountain that you can explore and find. Here are some small tombs.

Then back to the hostel where we all went up to the resort hotels and watched a blacklit "traditional" Korean folk performance that was way cool.

Day 6: Travel up to Seoul and hit the town with Mark and his friend. It was raining and in this country the rain is not the kind you should play outside in... The wind comes from China and picks up all the nastiness and the smog rains down... there may be no more monuments in 15 years. They will all have been eaten by toxic rain.

No pictures but there will be more stories for this later.

Day 7: Last Day (Palaces of Seoul)

There are a bunch and we only went two major ones. They were quiet impressive and gorgeous. Plus the rain of the previous day had cleared the sky and it was sunny and blue for the first time in my trip.

and now back to real life... a shame. I'll write more when I have a chance. topics I want to write about include:
"High fives for Jesus"
"Living in the sky scrapers of Seoul"
"old friends and crisscrossy paths in life"

or whatever. def the most exciting spring break ever.



Dajii said...

You ROCK to the bone girl!! I am so glad you had a sterling time and are back safely (I question if that is really reality though, but then I do so everywhere). Your pics are my constant source of desktop backgrounds. intersting about the toxic rain. Would love to hear more about the Budda mountian and the hostel hang. i love you kiddo. Can't wait to see you, go kappa hunting or similiar.

Endless love, Dajii

inkandpen said...

What an adventure! So glad to see your photos, hope there will be more. You should make your lessons conversations about your trip, and everybody elses' trips, and so on. It will be great!

Lots of love,

jim said...

Incredible Trip, Just Incredible. You are the bravest most adverturous person I know. I know I have never explored a country as you do. I am very interested in many things but one thing peaks my interest right now. What are the Silla tumuli ? Are these burial mounds?

Do you find the Koreans more or less open than the Japanese?

So glad you are home safe and sound and that you had such an amazing and exciting experience to share.
love, jim

Anonymous said...

Kori, what a BEAUTIFUL trip for us at home in the USA!! Your photos and words transport me across the ocean to a new land I know so little about. Thank you for your generosity of sharing with us. I am hungry to learn more about those stories you alluded to.
I love you, Kiki

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