Archives for October 2012

Unexpected Cat Lovers

I am very happy to announce that our household just got al little bit bigger recently. No, we didn’t have a baby, but you would think that we might have by the endless discussions we had about having pets overseas. And this wasn’t our intention, but it just so happens that Zeke coming into our lives coincided with our two-year anniversary (perfect timing isn’t it?). Now, the hubs and I are a bit different when it comes to anniversary presents in the fact that we really don’t give them ‘per se’. We decided early on that for us, it was an unnecessary pressure to try and find a gift, especially living in Korea where gift finding turns from difficult to impossible. So we decided to do something a little different and try to find a gift together for the both of us. Our aim is to not only relieve any pressure to find the perfect gift (we save that for birthdays) but to also find something that we can enjoy and use together. Last year, for example, we invested in our Eno hammock (which I cannot recommend more) and we have loved being smushed in there together and having late night talks when we’re camping. So this year, Zeke came at the perfect time to be our anniversary present to each other and have loved the extra craziness it has added to our little home.
korean cat
korean cat

The idea of adding a fur baby to our home started when we decided to stay in Korea for more than a year. We’re both huge dog people but cats are just as adorable and are just so much more low maintenance…exactly what we need. We even came close to dognapping a puppy that was chained up and being raised for meat. We had his dog collar already bought and waiting for him at home. But no matter how close we came on several accounts, we always found a reason to back out at the last minute. I feel like getting a pet back home would be a no-brainer. We have plenty of family and friends around who could watch it while we were out of town and we would have a yard that it can go run in. But living in Korea, most people have the same vacations and we live in a small apartment with no outdoor area. A combination of the cost, the responsibility and the slight inability to find someone to watch it over vacations always outweighed our desire to have a pet. Now, I’m not quite sure what it was exactly that changed our minds in the end, maybe it was the fact that our friend’s cat produced the most adorable litter or maybe it was the fact that we have already found very enthusiastic caretakers months before our next vacation. Whatever it was, I’m glad that we finally took ‘the big’ step.

We then spent our anniversary dinner at Trattoria de Fabio. If you’re ever in Geoje (I know it’s on the top of all of your travel lists), I would highly recommend this place. This is now our second anniversary that we have celebrated at this restaurant and hopefully next year will make the third. The owner studied in Italy and seriously makes the best Italian food I’ve ever had. Who’d have thought that I would find it in Korea?}

Honeymooners

Today marks two whole years since I said ‘I do’ and inevitably it changed my life forever. It’s the day I said ‘I do’ to a traveling lifestyle, syrup Saturdays, and a never-ending list of new things to try. To the marriage veterans, two years is nothing; they look back at when they’d been married for just two years and laugh at when they thought they had everything figured out. But as self-proclaimed life long honeymooners, every year is a landmark. It is another year that we proved the negative marriage stereotypes wrong. I am definitely not an expert on marriage nor do I ever want to come across as one. I know that each day is different, each day is a new and wonderful challenge, and each day has its lessons to be learned. Speaking of lessons, here are some that we’ve learned in our two years of marriage:

-Starting a serious discussion late at night is never a good idea. Beds are for sleeping, couches are for talking.

Always make more food. I learned this the hard way. I figured a meal that I made for myself when I was single would surely be enough for the both of us. Wrong.

-Long drives through the country rice fields are the best for long talks.

-Always remember to turn off the water heater after hubs gets out of the shower (ps our water heater needs to be turned on for each use, best and worst thing I’ve ever experienced)

-First one up makes breakfast. Aka hubs.

-All things said out of hunger should be immediately forgotten.

-Prayer, prayer, prayer.

This pretty much sums up our two years…

Happy anniversary hubs! Here’s to many many more! Even though neither of us can remember very much of the vows that we wrote, we do both remember promising to always be partners in adventure. I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. I can’t wait to see what the next 70 plus years has in store for us.

Crossing the border…almost

The last two days of the trip were probably my favorite because we finally got to see what we came all that way to. First, the DMZ (the area that separates North and South Korea) and second, Seoraksan National Park. To make our way up north we headed up on highway 7 which takes you all along the east coast. The further north you head, the more barricades and barbed wire you see along the waterfront. You can also watch as the water gets clearer, the waves larger, and the beaches more pristine towards the end of the road. We were told that one of the reasons for the barbed wire fences was to stop the North from sneaking in and stealing people from the South. Apparently this was most common in the 1970’s, even after the armistice was signed in 1953, but still happened in the 2000’s.
We stopped by the Goseong Unification Observatory which unfortunately has no tours like the west-coast observatory but it was definitely still worth the trip. If you go, make sure to stop by the Daejin Education Centre to grab a ticket (about 5,000w or $4.50). Otherwise the nice MP’s at the border will make you turn right back around. If you’re not driving, you can also catch a shuttle bus from the Education Centre for an extra 2,000w.

This is a view of the South from the observatory. It was the best beach we had seen the entire trip…too bad this one was definitely off limits.

DMZ east coast

View into the North. If you squint, you can see a rectangular building on top of the mountain on the left which is the North’s observatory into the South.

DMZ east coast

Everyone was waiting their turn to get behind the binoculars. I couldn’t help but think how bizarre it felt to see so many people trying to peak into the other side, knowing that the other side is doing the same to us. It also made me think about how fortunate and blessed I am to have been born into the country and family that I was. Seldom do we realize how different life would be if we were simply born in a different country. In the case of the North and South, it was often a matter of who your older family members chose to side with.

They had statues from each religion facing the North. I didn’t even realize the symbolism until later on when a friend pointed it out. I loved how this action showed that they still have so much compassion towards the North’s people and their possibly their separated family members.
DMZ south korea

One of the very friendly MP’s. I couldn’t get over just how young these guys were. All Korean men are required to serve in the military for at least two years. Most serve soon after they get out of high school but some are a little later. But for the most part, all the soldiers that we saw were under the age of 24.

rok korean soldier

The next and final stop was Seoraksan National Park. This is what we originally made the trip for and I’m so glad we did. It’s one of the most beautiful places that I’ve seen in Korea. The only thing that surprised me was how commercialized it was. I’ve never been to a large national park back in the states but I never thought that there would be so many restaurants, souvenir shops and snack stands, even along the hike. I also never thought that I would see so many people hiking up mountains in dress shoes, but living in Korea, that one was a little less surprising.

cable car seoraksan national park

We took the cable car to the top. This was a popular choice and if you don’t go early in the morning, you can spend hours waiting in line for a ticket. We got some early advice from some travelers the day before so we got in line at 9 and only had to wait 20 minutes for our ride. They give you a scheduled departure but when coming back down, you simply wait in line for your turn. The round trip fare was 9,000w ($8.00) and the views from the top were spectacular.

seoraksan national park
seoraksan national park

This huge rock was called Heundeul Bawi. It was a 16 ton boulder that could supposably be rocked back and forth with the help of enough people.

heundeul bawi, seoraksan national park

There was even a temple carved out of the rock.

heundeul bawi, seoraksan national park

This was the start of the hike up to Ulsan Bawi. The sign said 808 stairs and silly me, I thought that the 500 steps leading up to this spot  just had to be part of the 808 that they were referring to. Wrong. See why we only did this one hike?

ulsan bawi seoraksan national park

Looking back down.

ulsan bawi seoraksan national park

I’m happy because we hadn’t started yet and I had no idea what was to come.

ulsan bawi seoraksan national park

Some of the ‘steps’.

ulsan bawi seoraksan national park

We finally made it to the top! If I could go back and do it again, would I? Yes. Would I do it a second time? I would have to be bribed.

ulsan bawi seoraksan national park
ulsan bawi seoraksan national park
ulsan bawi seoraksan national park
ulsan bawi seoraksan national park
Overall, we had an amazing trip. We were able to see things that we had hoped too since arriving in Korea and even see some that weren’t planned. If you’re in Korea and have even a four day weekend, I would definitely recommend it.

Five days, no shower

Unfortunately, Korea does not celebrate American Thanksgiving (crazy right?!) But they do have their own Thanksgiving, Chuseok, which gives us a very generous five-day weekend. And while we don’t get to be home with our family to celebrate, this break gives us the perfect opportunity to have a little couple retreat. Our first year here, it was spent exploring the big city of Seoul and checking out one of their two big amusement parks, Everland. Side note: if you’re a foreigner, definitely check out Everland on Chuseok morning. You get a huge ticket discount and before noon, there are virtually no lines. Back to the story. This year we decided to go in the opposite direction and take a long road trip up the east coast of Korea and beach camp along the way. Our tentative plan was to head out at the crack of dawn on Saturday to beat the holiday traffic, head up to spend the day in Gyeongju, make our way up to Seoraksan National Park and the DMZ then finally make our way back down. From our island to the very tip of South Korea it takes roughly seven hours, so with five days to kill, we were in no hurry.
Along the way we…

Rented bikes in Gyeongju to explore the city. It was the best way to see all of the historical sites and for only 6,000 w (roughly $5.30) for three hours it was a steal! Not only is Gyeongju a great city to see some of the best historical sites in Korea, it’s also excellent for viewing the Cherry Blossoms in spring. We’ll definitely be going back for that.

Rented bikes in Gyeongju
Rented bikes in Gyeongju

Checked out some royal tombs while we were in Gyeongju. You can find smaller versions of these on most mountain tops for graves but pictures don’t do justice to just how massive these were. We even got to see a cross section of one to look at how it was made but unfortunately no pictures were allowed. To put it simply, there is a large wooden coffin inside with the body and some relics and then huge stones are piled high on top until it formed the rounded shape that you see.

Gyeongju royal tombs
Gyeongju royal tombs
Gyeongju royal tombs

Saw the oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia, built somewhere around 632 and 647. This is also in Gyeongju.

oldest astronomical observatory in East Asia

Walked around the grounds of Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple which is considered the Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the Korean government and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. If you visit there, there is also a supposably amazing Buddhist grotto about a 4km hike away from the temple. Sadly, because of time, we were unable to hike to it but they say on a clear day you can also see a great view of the ocean from there.

Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple
Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple
Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple

We also found some pretty sweet bridges on the Bulguksa grounds…

Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple

…and waterfalls

Gyeongju Bulguksa Temple

Found an overgrown apple orchard with the largest and sweetest apples I have ever tasted. We filled our bag and continued on our way. As soon as we got home, hubs started researching all the things we can make with our discovery…October will now be the month of apples.

Found a surfing spot on the side of the road. In the city of Yang Yang we were told that they had the best surfing in Korea. It’s nothing compared to some larger known surfing areas of the world but for Korea it’s pretty decent. For 40,000 w ($36.00) you can rent a surfboard and wetsuit with no time restriction. The boards were all rented out by the time we got there but that didn’t stop hubs from jumping in the water to get some shots.

yang yang south korea
yang yang south korea

Enjoyed the fresh mountain air.

Found some amazing camping sites. The one shown on top was definitely my favorite. When you drive towards the northern part of the country, barbed wire starts to surround the beach front for protection against the North. This made finding a camping area more difficult but after much searching, we finally found this gem. We decided not to go to the main area of the beach and instead found a side road leading to this spot. Little did we know, we were nestled right in the middle of two military outposts. Our first encounter with the soldiers was when I saw two shadows walking down the beach…and then realized they had huge military rifles slung over their shoulders. Even if they were part of the military, it’s still not the most settling sight. Later that night as we were getting ready for bed we hear a ‘Shilehamnida’ (excuse me). Once they saw hubs head peak out of the tent and realized we were foreigners, I could hear the soldiers start laughing and give him the go ahead to sleep there.

camping in south korea
camping in south korea
camping in south korea
Found new ways to cool down our drinks.

Enjoyed our Eno hammock.

eno hammock
Stopped by a roadside coffee shop to enjoy the view and of course a caramel frappucino
Found some…interesting sculptures at Haesindang Park. This park is located just south of Samcheok and is part of the Haesindang Fishermen Museum. There are several different legends but most have the same basic details. That a young women died in the sea in a fishing village just before her wedding day. Shortly after that, the fishermen were unable to catch anything. One day, a man came along and peed in the ocean and after that, the fish miraculously returned. People thought that the fishs’ disappearance had something to do with the woman’s spirit being angry because she never saw a…ahem. So to please her and keep the fish coming, people of the town put phallic statues on the shore around the area she died. Since then, the park has grown and now includes hundreds of them.
Haesindang Park south korea
Cooked banana pancakes on the stovetop.
camping, south korea
Drank some delicious coffee out of our Jesus mugs.
camping, south korea
Woke up to see soldiers sweeping the beach, checking for anything suspicious.
And marveled at the eerie sight of barbed wire fences lining the beaches in the north.
barbed wire fences, dmz