Nick and Elle’s visit to Korea

Way back over the Fourth of July 2013, two of our best friends, Nick and Elle, visited Brittany and I in Korea. Nick and Elle have been living in Japan since the summer of 2012 (Nick for a little longer). While I had seen Nick briefly last winter, it had been a loooooong time since I’d seen both of them! It was so amazing to spend time with such great friends in this country that Brittany and I have made home. Brittany and I were both finding it a little difficult to make real, true friends in Korea, so having these two wonderful people visit was like a breath of fresh air 🙂

The first night we just hung out in my neighborhood, Jeongja. We grabbed a couple beverages at a local self-serve bar while we waited for Brittany to get off work, then met up with Brittany and headed over to 김밥 나라 (Kimbap Nara, translated to Kimbap Heaven), a sort of Korean fast-food place. We introduced them to 김치 (kimchi), various types of 만두 (mandu), and Elle’s favorite: 비빔밥 (bibimbap). Bibimbap is a rice dish served in a very hot stone bowl, with lots of vegetables, a cracked egg, and gochujang (spicy red pepper sauce) on top. The egg cooks into the rice and vegetables because the stone bowl is so hot. It’s delicious, and a crowd favorite among us waygooken (foreigners).

Brittany and I had to work early the next day (Friday), so I said my goodbyes and saw Brittany, Nick, and Elle off in a cab. Nick and Elle stayed with Brittany in Suji while they were here. Her apartment is far more suitable for guests 🙂 After Brittany got off work on Friday, she, Nick, and Elle all trekked back to Jeongja so that we could show our visitors a PROPER Korean BBQ experience.

There’s a Korean BBQ place in old Jeongja that Brittany and I love. It’s army themed, complete with camo and old guns, and it has the most delicious steak. It’s a little pricy, but soooooo worth it, especially when you have guests to impress!

Nick and Elle Korean BBQ 07/05/2013

Nick and Elle enjoying their authentic Korean BBQ experience, with Nick serving as our meat master

After dinner, we headed out to 누래방 (noraebang) for some karaoke! It was a blast.

Brittany, singing her heart out with Nick :)

Brittany, singing her heart out with Nick 🙂

The next day, Saturday, we trekked into Seoul for a day of shopping in Insadong and a visit to the Trick Eye Museum and Ice Museum. The Ice Museum was a welcome retreat from the oppressive heat of the day.

Inside an ice house, cuddled up with a blanket!

Inside an ice house, cuddled up with a blanket!

Brittany and Nick being tall, Elle and I cowering in the corner being tiny

Brittany and Nick being tall, Elle and I cowering in the corner being tiny

And switch!

And switch!

One of my favorites from the day

One of my favorites from the day

Something isn't quite right here...

Something isn’t quite right here…

Elle grabbing the big-ass sushi!

Elle grabbing the big-ass sushi!

After the Trick Eye Museum, we took the subway to Jamsil for our first Korean baseball game. It was hot as hell sitting in the sun, but the atmosphere was great and it was so much fun! The Korean fans get waaaaaaaayyyyyy more into the game than I ever saw at baseball games back in the states.

The view of the field from our seats

The view of the field from our seats

Friends!

Friends!

On Sunday we went back into Seoul to walk around Myeongdong and see Seoul Tower. We had every intention of going up Seoul Tower, but when we got there it was pretty cloudy and hazy so we decided not to. Nick and Elle did add their own love lock, though!

Seoul Tower from below

Seoul Tower from below

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Love sculpture near all of the love locks

Love sculpture near all of the love locks

Adding their own lock <3

Adding their own lock ❤

They had to take a picture next to their lock, so if they ever came back they could remember where it is!

They had to take a picture next to their lock, so if they ever came back they could remember where it is!

And that was that! Unfortunately Nick had to go back to work on Monday, so it was a short trip. Brittany and I loved having Nick and Elle here and showing them around our new homes!

Namhansanseong (남한산성) Take 2

I made a second trip to Namhansanseong earlier in the summer with my co-worker, Tyler, and his girlfriend, Jen. You can read more about Namhansan and see pictures from my first hike with my co-worker Nikki here. This time around the scenery was much more lush and green. We also went nearly all the way around the mountain, so I got to see a lot more!  We found the one remaining command post, Sueojangdae (西將台), the single remaining temple, Janggyeongsa (長慶寺), and the Korean village (somewhere near the rotary area in the map below).

Namhansanseong map

Namhansanseong map

We took a bus up to the top, rather than hiking up the mountain, so perhaps that is why I was able to see so much more- the whole time hiking was spent exploring the park, rather then getting up the darn mountain. Have no fear, there was still plenty of hiking experience on this trip. Damn stairs….

And without further ado, here are pictures from the hike:

The first set of many stairs. Sigh. At least they’re pretty!

Door at Sueojangdae (수어장대), the West Commanding Post, taken from inside the courtyard

Taken from Wikipedia: “Seojangdae is where Injo stayed during the Manchu siege of 1636. The building’s second story was added in 1751, at which time the pavilion received another name, Mumangnu (無忘樓), meaning ‘Unforgotten Tower.’ This name apparently refers to the unforgettable shame of the surrender to the Manchus.”

Sueojangdae (수어장대), West Commanding Post

View from the courtyard wall surrounding Sueojangdae

There were lots of these flags along the wall this weekend. We’re not sure why they were there.

Piles of Buddhist prayer stones on a wall of clay roof pieces.

The temple, Janggyeongsa (長慶寺), is inside the fortress walls and about 500m east from the East Gate. The temple was designated a “cultural property material” of Gyeonggi Province. It includes a main hall, temple office, shrine to the mountain spirit, bell tower, pagoda and two residential halls for monks. All ten temples that were once part of Namhan Mountain Fortress were destroyed, but Temple Janggyeongsa was less so destryoed than the others and today offers a partial glimpse at what it once looked like. It is currently devoted by 5 Buddhist preistesses.

Part of Janggyeongsa temple, up on a small hill.

Stairs leading up to the temple

Front of Janggyeongsa temple

Beautiful detail work on Janggyeongsa

I loved these fountains between two buildings of the temple.

Inside the prayer room at Janggyeongsa temple

Paper lanterns hung from the ceiling in the prayer room.

SO. MANY. GOLD. BUDDHAS. The inside of the prayer room at Janggyeongsa was simply amazing.

The gold Buddhas lined the entire back wall.

This small creek reminded me of Heritage Park back home in Minneapolis.

After a few hours of exploring we got pretty hungry. We sat down at a Korean restaurant in the village inside the park and had Korean seafood pancakes, 해물파전. So delicious. Perfect for a mid-hike lunch.

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Never ending wall, and more stairs :-/

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View of a city (not sure which one) from the wall along the top.

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More stairs. Sigh. They just never ended. Once you thought you were done, you’d look up and see a whole new flight.

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At one point, the wall around most of the fortress was restored. This section of the wall is much less traveled, and is in a state of deterioration.

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We ventured off the beaten path to explore this “secret” peak. It extends pretty far past the primary Namhansanseong Provincial Park area, so it’s not as well preserved as the rest of the park. The wall is completely falling apart, but the views were excellent!

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Looking back at the main part of the park. You can very clearly see which sections of the wall have been restored.

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Such an amazing view from here! I love seeing mountains!

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An ammun, or hidden gate. Hidden gates were located all along the wall in areas the enemy forces had trouble observing.

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Jen and Tyler climbing Beolbong (“Bumblebee Peak”). The peak’s name comes from the fact that when viewed from outside the hidden gate, the peak looks like a bumblebee. We never saw the connection…

A legend says that at the time of the Manchu siege, the Manchu king said that Namhansanseong could be captured if the strong earth energy emitting from Beolbong Peak could be shattered. Naturally, The Manchu forces shattered the boulder and were able to force a surrender. The peak is 512.2 meters high, one of the highest vantage points of the fortress.

I love green, and I love oddly-shaped things, so naturally I had to take a close up of these plant leaves.

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Just beautiful.

That’s all I have for you this time! More catch-up posts to come soon, I promise!!

To get to Namhansanseong:

* Subway
Get off at Sanseong Station (Seoul Subway Line 8), Exit No. 2. Take City Bus No. 9, and get off at Namhansanseong bus stop. (Travel Time : 20 Min., Interval of Buses: 20 Min.)
* Bus
Take 13-2 bus at Dongseoul bus terminal Gangbeun station and transfer to 15-1 bus at the entrance of Namhansanseong, get off at the last stop

There are many hiking course options for those feeling more or less adventurous:

* Sanseongjongno(Rotary) – The North Gate – The West Gate – Sueojangdae – Yeongchunjeong – The South Gate – Sanseongjongno(Rotary) (5km, take 1hr 45mins)
* Sanseongjongno(Rotary) – Yeongwoljeong – Sungyeoljeon – Sueojangdae – The West Gate – Gukcheongsa Temple – Sanseongjongno(Rotary) (4km, take1hr 20mins)
* Administration Office – Hyeonjeolsa Temple – Beolbong peak – Janggyeongsa Temple – Mangwonsa Temple – Jisudang – Administration Office (5km, 1hr 35mins)
* Sanseongjongno(Rotary) – The South Gate – Namjangdaeteo – The East Gate – Gaewonsa Temple – Sanseongjongno(Rotary) (4.5km, 1hr 30mins)
* Administration Office – The East Gate – Dongjangdaeteo – The North Gate – The West Gate – Sueojangdae – Yeongchunjeong – The South Gate – The East Gate (8km, 3hrs 5mins)

Summer Vacation Part 2- Phuket, Thailand

After two days in Bangkok, it was time to head to Phuket! This is definitely the part of the trip Brittany and I were most excited for– not only would we have 7 days of beautiful beaches, one of our best friends from University, Elle, would be meeting us there!!!

My first glimpse of Phuket from the plane!

My first glimpse of Phuket from the plane!

Immediately, things didn’t start off as planned. There was some trouble with Elle missing her connecting flight in Kuala Lumpur (we blame it on Air Asia). When she didn’t show up at the expected time, Brittany and I started to worry. Of course we had no way of calling her, and there was zero wi-fi at the Phuket airport. We ended up searching the entire airport numerous times, asking an immigration officer if a girl by her name had come through yet that day (she hadn’t), begging someone to call our hotel to see if she’d shown up there by chance, and finally just plopping down to wait it out.

A couple hours later, we saw the most joyous sight: a blonde-haired girl running frantically through the pick-up area. ELLE! Tears were shed by all, and then we took off for the hotel. Our Gopher Girls Getaway had begun!

We had found an awesome deal for a 5-star hotel on Agoda a couple months earlier at the Avista Phuket Resort & Spa. We were blown away when we arrived. I’d never stayed anywhere so nice before, and especially not at the price we were paying!

We were greeted with welcome drinks and flower necklaces, in an open-air lobby with lounge beds. The reception desk had a wall of shimmering blue tiles behind.

Flower welcome necklace and elephant pants.

Flower welcome necklace and elephant pants.

Our large and incredibly nice hotel room, complete with balcony.

Our large and incredibly nice hotel room, complete with balcony.

One of the pools at Avista, complete with a swim-up bar.

One of the pools at Avista, complete with a swim-up bar.

Our reservation included free buffet buffet breakfast every morning, and we took full advantage. Every morning started with tropical fruit to our hearts content: mangosteens, pineapple, mango, watermelon, papaya, etc.

Just a little slice of the buffet breakfast.

Just a little slice of the buffet breakfast.

Brittany and Elle told the hotel that it was my birthday (it was only a week and a half away), and the hotel left a delicious chocolate cake in our fridge for the occasion. I’ll spare you the pictures of Brittany and Elle bringing it to me in their PJ’s 😉

YUM!

YUM!

It ended up raining nearly every day we were in Phuket, but we made the most of what little sun we had!

Kata Beach, just a 5 minute walk from our hotel!

Kata Beach, just a 5 minute walk from our hotel!

Relaxing at one of the hotel pools.

Relaxing at one of the hotel pools.

We took one day to explore Phuket by foot. We walked along Karon beach, and then discovered a Dino Park mini golf course! Of course, we had to play a round.

Hello, dino.

Hello, dino.

Karon Beach

Karon Beach

We found many Dr. Fish places in town, and we just HAD to try it out. Some of us were more ticklish than others 😉 We all got quite an ab workout from laughing so hard!

Dr. Fish

Dr. Fish

We got many massages at this same place. I think we went back four or five times! The first experience was quite… strange. They put one set of curtains around three beds next to each other, then instructed us all to get butt-ass naked. Our massages started off with us on our stomachs, but towards the end they flipped us over and exposed our entire upper torsos. Awkward boob massages ensued. We were NOT expecting that! The back massages felt amazing, although it was hard not to giggle at times.

We had dinner one night at this really amazing restaurant up on a hill, the Kampong Kata Hill Restaurant. They had all sorts of Buddhist statues along the pathway and stairs going up the hill, and amazing carvings on the walls inside.

Inside Kampong Kata Hill Restaurant

Inside Kampong Kata Hill Restaurant

Celebratory tropical drinks

Celebratory tropical drinks

One of the highlights of Phuket was our elephant trekking day at Siam Safari. They packed a LOT into the tour. We started with trying traditional Thai tea and pancakes.

Then we watched a water buffalo plow a rice field, and rode said water buffalo!

On the buffalo. It was painfully slow.

On the buffalo. It was painfully slow.

We learned how to husk a coconut, and then saw how to make coconut oil and heard about all the uses for it.

Husking a coconut

Husking a coconut

Next we learned to make Thai curry. They explained all of the ingredients, and we were able to sample yellow curry with chicken and pineapple over rice- YUM.

Our lovely guide showing the ingredients for Thai curry.

Our lovely guide showing the ingredients for Thai curry.

We also saw how to make rubber. It’s quite the process!

A rubber tree after being tapped.

A rubber tree after being tapped.

Finally, we got to the elephants- we watched a baby elephant paint a picture, touched and fed the elephants, and finally went for a nice long trek through the jungle on elephants. It was awesome.

My elephant guide (driver??) looked just like another friend of ours from Minnesota!

My elephant guide (driver??) looked just like another friend of ours from Minnesota!

So much happiness going on here.

So much happiness going on here.

And that was that! Elle flew back to Japan early Sunday morning, and Brittany and I left Sunday afternoon. Phuket was amazing, despite all the rain. I’d go back in a heartbeat!

LASEK in Korea!!

I finally took the plunge and got LASEK! I’ve been wearing glasses/contacts since 4th grade, and it was getting old, fast. My eyesight was pretty bad, -4.5D in my left eye and -5.25D in my right, with an astigmatism of -1.0D as well in my right eye. While that’s only considered “moderate” myopia in the minds of doctors, it was damn near blind to me. I couldn’t see 2 feet in front of my face without my glasses or contacts. I needed my glasses to find my glasses in the morning!

I really wasn’t worried or freaked out about eye surgery, as I had already had much more serious eye surgery when I was 15 years old for a detached retina- I figured this couldn’t be any worse than THAT.

This is how I saw the eye chart at the doctor’s office, without glasses:

Notice how the prescription of my right eye went beyond the range of the simulator.

Normal, 20/20 vision

Previous, uncorrected vision

Yikes! Notice how even the close-up things were blurry.

So anyways, I kept thinking of how amazing it would be to wake up and be able to see, without needing to find my glasses first. Or how awesome it would be to lay in bed and watch a movie at night without worrying about breaking my glasses or squishing my face with the frames.

I was tired of taking out my contacts every night before bed (and the nasty feeling I’d have in my eyes when I forgot). I was tired of bringing an arsenal of eye related supplies with me on every vacation or overnight trip (contact case, contact solution, glasses for after I take my contacts out, an extra pair of contacts just in case, etc).

SO. I decided to get LASEK! I did a lot of research on LASIK vs. LASEK, and ended up deciding that I’d prefer LASEK. I’d like to get back into taekwondo and kickboxing at some point in my life, and I didn’t want to take the risk of the LASIK corneal flap lifting up or getting displaced if I received a blow to the head. LASEK is generally a safer procedure, as no corneal flap is created. The downside to LASEK is that the recovery is much longer- I was warned that I would need at least 3 or 4 days off of work, that I wouldn’t be able to see properly for a week or two, and that my vision would go in and out for months afterwards.

With LASEK, the doctor removes a tiny layer of the epithelium before using the excimer laser to resurface the stroma of the eye (the step that corrects your vision), and then replaces the epithelium flap and covers your eyeballs with a bandage contact lens for a few days while the epithelium heals. In LASIK, a much thicker corneal flap has to be created first before the excimer laser can do it’s thing. LASIK offers a much shorter recovery time, but there is a much higher risk of complications such as dry eye, night time halos/starbursts, and future flap issues, since the flap never heals 100%.

I visited two different clinics in Gangnam for consultations after I decided to go ahead with the procedure- Dream Eye Clinic and Seoul Eye Group/Glory Eye Clinic. Dream Eye Clinic came highly recommended by other foreigners, as they have staff that speaks excellent English and are very professional. Seoul Eye Group was having a pretty significant sale for foreigners, and came recommended by a few people on a Facebook group I’m in.

After consultations with both, and a LOT of research, I decided on Seoul Eye Group. I did feel like the pre-surgery exams were more thorough at Dream Eye Clinic, and I loved how welcoming, informative, and involved they were. Surgery there came with a hefty price tag, though- 1.7 million won. Still WAY cheaper than in the U.S., but more than I wanted to pay. With the sale at Seoul Eye Group, my total was 1.1 million won. I think their normal price is 1.6 million, and I was confident in the surgeon’s skills. He has been performing refractive eye surgery for over 15 years, and is one of the leading eye surgeons in Korea.

I ALMOST went with Dream Eye Clinic, but then I learned that at Seoul Eye Group, they do three extra things with their Premium All-Laser LASEK that help promote corneal healing and better vision recovery- autologous serum eye drops (eye drops made from your own blood), amniotic membrane, and cyclotorsion correction. Although Dream Eye also offered the autologous serum drops, they did not offer the second two. Through lots of research (I felt like I was back in college, reading peer-reviewed journal articles!) I learned that the amniotic membrane in particular really improves recovery speed and quality. Since I only had the weekend to recover, I wanted the easiest and fastest recovery possible!

I got the procedure done on a Friday evening after school. The surgery itself was a piece of cake. They did a few last minute tests, then took me up to the surgery floor. We waited for about 20 minutes, and when it was my turn the whole procedure lasted maybe 10 minutes tops. Awesome!

Getting prepped to start!

My right eye on the computer screen, while the doctor was removing the epithelium layer. See the wrinkly, jelly-like stuff?! That's the top-layer of my eyeball!

My right eye on the computer screen, while the doctor was removing the epithelium layer. See the wrinkly, jelly-like stuff?! That’s the top-layer of my eyeball!

The excimer laser doing its magic on my left eye. It was so strange to see my vision get increasingly worse as it worked. I had to stare at a green dot the whole time, and as the laser moved around my eye the dot got larger and larger, blurrier and blurrier.

The excimer laser doing its magic on my left eye. It was so strange to see my vision get increasingly worse as it worked. I had to stare at a green dot the whole time, and as the laser moved around my eye the dot got larger and larger, blurrier and blurrier.

 

Afterwards, they looked into my eyes to see that everything looked good and drew my blood for the autologous serum eye drops, and then that was that! Things were pretty blurry, but I could see better than I could before without glasses or contacts, so I was happy. I collected a bag of 4 different types of eye drops (cost 40,000 won) and they sent me on my way!

That evening was pretty brutal after the numbing drops wore off. I expected some pain; I did NOT expect constant burning, or tears streaming down my face. No, I wasn’t crying in pain, my eyes just wouldn’t stop watering! My wonderful, awesome friend Brittany helped me maneuver my way through the craziness that is Gangnam Station on a weekend night, and made sure I got home safe. I’m sure we got a lot of strange looks in the station, as I was wearing sunglasses inside at nighttime. I kept my eyes closed for most of the subway ride, and when I got home I collapsed into bed. My eyes burned too much a that point to keep them open.

When I woke up on Saturday, I could definitely see better than my previous uncorrected vision, but it wasn’t great. I REALLY struggled to see my phone screen or see what I was typing on the computer, so I just laid in bed all day and alternated listening to the Tina Fey Bossypants audiobook and taking naps. I wasn’t in a ton of pain, although it was definitely there. It was mostly that my eyes felt tired so I needed to keep them closed. If opened them for too long, the burning came back.

Sunday was much better than Saturday. I woke up and could see!! It was still blurry, but much much better! The pain was just about gone, and I wasn’t experiencing any dry eye. Of course, it helps that I was putting in eye drops round the clock. By Sunday afternoon I was able to watch TV shows on my laptop (holy crap, Orange is the New Black!!!!) and venture outside to take my foster dog on a walk. I was amazed with how well my eyes were doing, but also apprehensive- I had been warned that Monday (day 3) would be the worst for pain and comfort.

Monday morning rolled around, and I felt great. I didn’t even think twice about going to work. Beforehand, I had 100% been expecting that I’d have to call in for work. So many teachers had told me there was no way they could work the following Monday after getting LASEK done on a Friday/Saturday. I was pleasantly surprised! My vision was also continuing to improve- it was nearly as good as my corrected vision pre-LASEK.

Now, it’s 9 days after LASEK. My vision is excellent. I had the bandage contact lenses removed on Wednesday. My surgeon told me my vision would go in and out (better one day, worse the next), however I really haven’t noticed it. I think my vision is fantastic. I’ve been more than impressed with how quickly my eyes have recovered. I’m still putting in prescription eye drops 4 times/day, and artificial tears as often as I remember- usually every 30 minutes to one hour.

The constant eye drops and painful first night/day don’t bother me, because now I can see. Every single night I think “crap, I have to take out my contacts before bed.” I’ve even started walking towards my bathroom to do so. Then I remember- NOPE! Not anymore!! This is now my vision, 24/7! I can see my alarm clock when I wake up. I can see my foster pup across the room at night. I can watch movies on my computer while laying down in bed at night- while being able to clearly see the screen and not be squishing my glasses against my face!

It’s absolutely amazing. Totally, 100% worth it.

For anyone in Korea who is considering LASEK/LASIK, I definitely recommend Seoul Eye Group. To contact them, call 010-7191-9769. Jeff, the manager, speaks perfect English. He will likely be your main contact before and after the surgery.

To get to Seoul Eye Group/Glory Eye Clinic in Gangnam: Come out Exit 12 from Gangnam Station (Line 2/Sinbundang Line) and walk straight about 30 ~50 meters. You will pass an Artbox and Daiso. Seoul Eye Group clinic is in the building right after Daiso on the left. Take the elevator or stairs up to the second floor, and the doors will open straight into the clinic!

 

Summer Vacation Part 1- Bangkok, Thailand

At my hagwon, we get two weeks of vacation: one week at the end of July/early August, and one week around Christmas/New Year’s. As soon as Brittany and I learned we would have the same summer vacation schedules, we booked tickets to Thailand, the land of smiles!

Our first stop was Bangkok. We had been told we’d only need a couple days there, so we planned for two nights. Honestly, I could have spent a lot more time in Bangkok, but I’ll just have to plan to make it back someday.

We arrived in Bangkok late Saturday night, so we went straight to our hotel to get some much-needed sleep. We got up early on Sunday morning to check out the Chatuchak Weekend Market. 

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This is one of world’s largest weekend markets, and covers nearly 27 acres! Over 15,000 booths are crammed into the market, and you can find anything your heart could possibly desire– knockoff purses, colorful Thai bags, breezy clothing covered in elephant prints, paintings, statues, iPhone cables, phone covers, belts, wallets, shoes, and even…. ahem…. sex toys and videos.

Brittany and I shared a delicious and refreshing coconut milk (served in the coconut) after a couple hours walking around in the sun.

Brittany and I shared a delicious and refreshing coconut milk (served in the coconut) after a couple hours walking around in the sun.

The market was my first real taste of authentic Thai cuisine. I had the most amazing pad thai, with fresh crispy sprouts, the perfect amount of peanuts, a full, rich flavor, and plenty of spice. It was also incredibly cheap- only about 50 Thai Baht ($1.60 USD).

My first (of many) pad thai dishes!

My first (of many) pad thai dishes!

We came home with a ridiculous amount of stuff.

My spoils from the weekend market.

My spoils from the weekend market.

The next day we took a full-day tour trip including the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, an elephant village, Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua (Tiger Temple), and the Bridge on the River Kwai. It was an exhausting day, with hours spent in a tiny-ass van crammed with other tourists.

Instead of going into detail about each of these places, I’ll leave you with some pictures.

On our way to the floating market in a tiny boat

On our way to the floating market in a tiny boat

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market- lots of fun treasures were found here!

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market- lots of fun treasures were found here!

My favorite souvenir from the floating market were my elephant pants. They’re navy blue with a white elephant print all over, and are so light and flow-y. Pretty sure they’re going to be my new pajama pants for forever.

Brittany and I both took this photo-opp with a giant snake. Brittany was a little more freaked than I was :)

Brittany and I both took this photo-opp with a giant snake. Brittany was a little more freaked than I was 🙂

After the market we went to an elephant village. The elephants didn’t look too happy here, so Brittany and I just wandered around. We found a booth selling the most wonderful, creamy, delicious coconut ice cream in the world, served in half of a coconut (with plenty of flesh to scoop out with the ice cream). I died and went to heaven. It was that amazing.

AH-MAZING.

AH-MAZING.

Next up was the Tiger Temple. Located in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province, this is a Buddhist temple founded in 1994 as a forest temple and sanctuary for wild animals.

Petting a tiger. NBD.

Petting a tiger. NBD.

Baby tiger! The elephant pants also made an appearance here- shorts weren't allowed inside the temple grounds.

Baby tiger! The elephant pants also made an appearance here- shorts weren’t allowed inside the temple grounds.

Last up before heading back to Bangkok was the Bridge on the River Kwai. I’ll be honest, I was pretty exhausted by this point, and am not so informed as to the historical significance, so I could have done without this stop.

Bridge on the River Kwai, before crossing over.

Bridge on the River Kwai, before crossing over.

Looking out towards to bank of the river from midway over the bridge.

That’s it for Bangkok! There’s a lot we didn’t get to see, so I’d love to go back.

Next up- Phuket (and the Gopher Girls Getaway)!!

White Water Rafting and Bungee Jumping

At the beginning of June I went on a day-trip with Adventure Korea to Gangwon-do (a province in the north-eastern corner of Korea) for white water rafting and bungee jumping. I had never done either activity before, so I was excited!

When we got to the start of the river rafting course, we all donned super fashionable helmets and life jackets, and grabbed a paddle.

Geared up and ready to go!

Geared up and ready to go!

Unfortunately, we hadn’t quite hit the rainy season yet in Korea, so the water level was pretty low. There wasn’t much in the way of rapids, and we were made to get out of the raft and walk around the few rapids we did see. Turns out that was smart of the guides, as the guide of our boat fell out at one point and dislocated his shoulder. We had the fun job of bringing him back to the ending point, with him lying on the floor of the raft grimacing in pain with each bump. Yikes.

Despite the lack of white water, it was still a ton of fun! There were a few points where we jumped (or were pushed) out of the rafts and swam in the water. It was incredibly refreshing! We also were able to go cliff-jumping at one spot. I lost my sunglasses when I hit the water, but it was totally worth it.

The canyon cliffs surrounded us on both sides as we were rafting down the river. It made for great scenery. We took it upon ourselves to act like pirates and splash unsuspecting rafts of Koreans along the way… thankfully they were good-natured about it and splashed right along with us! We had a few water-battles along the way 🙂 I don’t have any pictures from rafting, as I didn’t have a waterproof camera or case.

After rafting, we went to the Hantan River for bungee jumping. This is the only bridge bungee jump in Korea, and is 52 meters of sheer terror.

The bungee jump!

The bungee jump!

 

Scared shitless, but super excited!

Scared shitless, but super excited!

It didn’t look so high from the bridge (or the riverbank), but my heart just about stopped when I got up to the jumping-off point. Holy crap. I thought I’d never make it off the edge!

Gathering my courage

Gathering my courage

When I finally did make the leap– HOLY MOLY. What a rush of adrenaline! I’ve never done anything near as exhilarating as that! There’s a moment when you’re just free-falling, feeling like nothing is going to stop you, with the water rushing up towards your face. Then all of a sudden… JERK! And you’re being flung back up into the air.

It was freaking AWESOME.

All smiles at the bottom!!

All smiles at the bottom!!

We had about an hour to relax at the bottom of the bridge and swim in the river while we waited for everyone else to jump. I had a good laugh watching the other jumpers  plummet down 🙂

The little bit of Gangwon-do that I saw was amazing. The river was so clean, the scenery so green. Such a stark contrast to Seoul, where you couldn’t PAY me to swim in the Han. It definitely felt like a slower-paced, relaxing area to be in. I can’t wait to go back!

 

 

Spring in Korea

Let me just say: spring in Korea is amazing.

Spring in Minnesota is usually pretty good too, but apparently not this year. I had intended to write this post in late April/early May when my friends and family in Minnesota were getting pounded with snow. Yes, snow in May. They weren’t happy.

I, on the other hand, was very happy, because we were having a beautiful spring on the other side of the world!

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My very first cherry blossom sighting!

Spring is cherry blossom season in South Korea. The cherry blossoms are only in bloom for a couple of weeks in Korea, which is unfortunate because they are so damn beautiful. I’m talking absolutely breathtaking. They also wreak havoc on allergies, but I’ll take the good with the bad 🙂

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Cherry blossom trees in Hwangsaeul Park in Seohyeon, a neighborhood close to where I live.

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With the cherry blossoms come large pink and white magnolias.

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Shortly after the cherry blossoms and magnolias fall off the trees, some yet-to-be-identified (Aunt Leslie, can you help me?!) pinkish/purple, red, and white flowers bloom on bushes all over Korea.

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More unidentified flowers I found near my apartment building:

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Now all the flowers have fallen off the trees, however we’re left with lush greenery all around.

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Hwangsaeul Park in Seohyeon

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Tancheon River in my neighborhood, Jeongja

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Lush green trees along Cafe Street in Jeongja, just blocks from my apartment building!

I’m certainly not complaining!IMG_2082

 

 

Namhansan Hike

Ok, I’m terrible at updating this blog. In my defense, I’ve been incredibly busy. There hasn’t been a single weekend where I haven’t had something planned- a hike, a trip to a different area of Korea, a shopping excursion, a sightseeing adventure, etc. I’m going to write a series of posts so as not to overwhelm you all!

A couple of months ago I went on a hike with my coworker, Nikki, up Namhansan. Namhansan translates to “South Han Mountain.” At the top of Namhansan is Namhansanseong (“South Han Mountain Fortress”) Provincial Park. Namhansanseong Fortress (남한산성) was originally built during the Gogureyo period about 2,000 years ago, but it was rebuilt as a proper fortress by Gwanghaegun of the Joseon period in 1621 to guard against their enemies. In the 1950’s, the South Korean government restored parts of the fortress and declared it a provincial park.

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View of Seoul from the top of the mountain. I hear it is better to go after a good rainfall so the city isn’t so covered in smog.

According to Wikipedia, the fortress used to be home to nine temples and a number of watch towers and command posts. There were also four gates leading into the fortress (North, South, East, and West gates). Only one temple and one command post remain today, however three of the gates have been restored.

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East Gate of Namhansanseong

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View from the East Gate, looking into the park

Nikki and I hiked around the park for a few hours and didn’t find the temple OR the command post. We totally underestimated just how big the park was.

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A map of Namhansanseong Provincial Park

In the three hours we spent hiking, we only made it from the little knob to the left of #18 (East Gate), to the peninsula to the right of the East Gate. We also explored a little in the middle of the park, but I feel like we hardly made a dent in the whole park! When we first saw this map, we thought for sure we had hiked half of it.

The thick white wiggly line on the map is a wall that surrounds the fortress. Think the Great Wall of China, only smaller.

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That’s one long-ass wall

At one point me made it outside the wall. It wasn’t all that exciting, but I kind of felt like we were living outside the law!

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The wall from the outside

We hear there is also a village at the top, however we couldn’t find it despite our best efforts. We DID find this little gem on the way up, though:

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Newer temple (not from the original fortress) on the way up the mountain

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Check out that detail!

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Just amazing.

There were a bunch of piled-stone gardens along the side of the path leading up the mountain as well.IMG_1129

We also saw this awesome structure just inside the East Gate. Is it a temple? Is it a command post? Is it even part of the original fortress? I’m not entirely sure, but it was cool nonetheless.IMG_1163IMG_1167

We saw what we THINK are gravestones in a couple different areas of the park.IMG_1162 IMG_1225

To conclude this post, I will leave you with a few pictures of Korean hikers. Koreans take their hiking very seriously. This was by no means a difficult or strenuous hike, yet every Korean we saw was decked out with hiking boots, poles, hiking pants and jackets, a hiking backpack, etc. I just had to snap a few photos.

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A group of hikers coming down the mountain

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We followed this guy for awhile

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They’re hosing the dust off their boots here. It was funny because we were pretty dust-less when we finished the hike.

A not-so-serious aspect of Korean hiking: guys selling makgeolli (), or rice wine, at the top of the mountain. This would explain all the drunk Koreans we saw on their way back down.IMG_1159

Yangjae Flower Market

When spring began peak through the bleakness of winter, I decided it was time to green up my apartment and make it a little more cheery and home-y. I checked out my local Emart and Homeplus, but was less than impressed by the selection of plants available. Upon the recommendation of a co-worker, I headed out to find the Yangjae Flower Market (양재동꽃시장). This is Korea’s largest flower and plant market, and is conveniently (for me) located in Seoul just off the Shinbundang subway line at the Yangjae Citizen’s Forest station (exit 4). I was immediately blown away by how large it is. The market consists of rows upon rows of large interconnected greenhouses, all filled wall-to-wall with stalls selling everything from bamboo stalks, orchids, and trees, to herbs, veggies, and seeds.

Walking through one of the greenhouses

Walking through one of the greenhouses

A wall of beautiful orchids

A wall of beautiful orchids

Another display of orchids- they seemed to be quite popular

Another display of orchids- they seemed to be quite popular

Walking through here immediately lifted my spirits. I felt like I was walking through a jungle at times.

Can you tell why it felt like a jungle at times?

Can you tell why it felt like a jungle at times?

The vendors were incredibly nice; one even gave me an orchid cutting for free, despite not buying anything from him! I was also pleasantly surprised when a few if the vendors offered free delivery for the larger plants I purchased, like these: IMG_2718 IMG_2720 There’s also an indoor area where you can by artificial or freshly cut flowers, fish and turtles, aquariums, and other various supplies. There’s another small building with gardening tools, pots, vases, and any type of soil you could ever want. To make things even better, everything was incredibly cheap! I bought a basil plant for only 1,500 won ($1.50 USD), two large plants for 15,000 won ($15.00 USD) each including nice pots, and a handful of smaller plants for about 5,000 won each ($5.00 USD). Not too shabby! If you’re in the area, the Yangjae Citizens’ Forest (양재시민의숲) nearby is also worth checking out! Just go before you shop at the flower market 🙂 You never know what you’ll come home with!

My Korean Students and School

I’ve been in Korea for about a month and a half now, so I figured it’s time to write a post about what I’m actually doing in Korea- teaching! At least, I’m usually teaching. Sometimes I just feel a little like a glorified babysitter (ahem… lunch times…. ahem).

All kidding aside, I truthfully do feel very lucky to be at the hagwon that I am. A hagwon is a private institute or academy in Korea. After hearing Korean hagwon horror stories, with directors who don’t pay their teachers and schools that close mid-year with no warning, I was a little anxious coming in. But I have a great director who really cares about his teachers, and is willing to go the extra mile to make sure we have what we need and are comfortable. He expects a lot from us, but his expectations are by no means unreasonable.

My school is in this building, up on the 6th floor: IMG_0749The school is actually not in this picture, we’re kind of in the center-right chunk of the building.

Almost all Korean hagwons are in buildings like this. That was a strange concept for me when I first arrived. Public schools tend to have actual stand-alone school buildings, much like schools back home in the U.S.

I ride the buses with the kindies in the mornings, usually 8:30ish~9:20. Then, classes start at 9:40 and go in 50 minute increments until 1:40, when the kindergarteners leave. We have lunch for 40 minutes with the kindies around 12:30. I teach the Jupiter A kindergarten class, which is the lowest level 6 year olds. In Korea, when a baby is born he/she is automatically one year old, so Korean age 6 is American age 5. The Jupiter A & B kids come in speaking next to no English- they can typically say their name and “I’m fine, thank you” if you ask how they are. Some of them could maybe sing the alphabet. Maybe. *facepalm*

I’ve been super impressed with how fast they’re learning, though. We’ve been doing phonics and sight word reader books since the beginning of March, and now most of them can read the sight word books on their own. They’ve gotten very good at sounding out words if they don’t immediately recognize what it says. I get so excited when I ask, ‘What does this word say?” and they are able to tell me!! Considering they hardly knew the alphabet just two months ago, they’re really picking up English quite quickly. I’m so proud of them.

Children in Korea are often given free reign of the house until elementary school, so the 6 year old kindergarteners typically start out the year with a lot of behavior problems. They’ve probably never been disciplined before, and they’ve almost certainly never been in such a structured environment. It makes it tough to teach them. There have been days I was so frustrated with them that I wanted to scream or cry, but it’s been slowly getting better.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to my kindergarteners:IMG_0863From left to right, my students are Tori, T.Y., Jini, Lukas, Joshua, Elizabeth, Liz, Shawn, Jason, Jamie, and Roy. They’re all lined up to play dodgeball (craziest game of dodgeball I’ve ever seen).

A brief introduction of all of my kindies:IMG_0850This is Tori. She’s very quiet, and I often have trouble getting her to follow along with the lessons, but she’s a sweet girl and well-behaved.IMG_0851Meet Elizabeth. She looks miserable in this picture, but I swear she was just smiling a minute before I took it! She’s probably my smartest student, and is an angel in class. IMG_0852This is Lukas. He’s…. trouble. He has a smart mouth and likes to mimic everything I say. He also likes to talk a lot to the other students during class. I recently moved him to sit next to me, which seems to help.IMG_0853Jamie. Oh Jamie. Jamie also has an atittude and a listening problem, but I have a soft spot for this kid. I always get mad at him and then he looks at me with this “I’m sorry” eyes and I immediately feel bad. He always sits on my lap when I come around the class to do individual reading.IMG_0854This is Liz. She’s has incredibly neat handwriting, and tries hard in class. I used to have her sitting next to Lukas in class, and that was trouble because they both like to talk- A LOT.IMG_0855Roy. Really sweet kid, and usually very smiley. He looks sad here because he just got done crying for his mom. I love Roy, but I swear if he cries because he wants to go home or he misses his mom one more time… IMG_0858This is T.Y. She is definitely the second smartest in the class, behind Elizabeth. She reads incredibly well, and is one of the first to give an answer in class. However, she also talks a lot and is very disruptive in class.IMG_0859Here’s Jini. I love Jini. She tries to tickle me all the time, but she has such tiny hands it doesn’t really do much- and I am very ticklish, so that’s saying something. She’s been picking up English very well.IMG_0860I’m not supposed to pick favorites, but Jason is by far my favorite in the class. He’s the smallest kid, and so darn cute. He’s a great student as well, so that helps! He’s another one who sits in my lap when I do individual reading, and he also enjoys trying to tickle me.IMG_0861Oh Shawn. Shawn is Trouble, with a capital T. He doesn’t listen AT ALL, he scribbles when he’s supposed to be copying words, and he rolls his eyes at me when I tell him to do something. I’m hoping his behavior improves as time goes on and he starts to pick up on more English. I’m not sure if the behavior issues are because he doesn’t understand me, or simply doesn’t want to listen.IMG_0862This is Joshua. He struggles to follow along in class sometimes, but he tries. He also likes to talk a lot and cannot for the life of him sit still. He’s a sweet kid though.

And here are some other random pictures of the kids for your viewing pleasure:IMG_0950We made “flutes” in science class one day. Really they were more like horns, and the kids were blowing on them for 20 minutes straight. Who thought having the kids make horns in a small classroom was a good idea?!IMG_0881This was another science project- making “birds” from cut-outs of the kids/ feet. IMG_0885Jini wore these bunny ears all day- it was so cute! I think Shawn is showing off his scribbles here. IMG_0869I love this one. He’s such a little peanut. IMG_1011We had spaghetti one day for lunch. It was a mess. Jason kept grabbing huge spoonfuls of spaghetti noodles with his chopsticks and then would let half of it hang down out of his mouth.

IMG_1099Every month we have a birthday party for the kindies. Our director buys every kindergartener who had a birthday that month a cake and presents, and we sing “Happy Birthday” to each of them.IMG_1103Here are five of my kids eating the birthday cake. Notice Shawn on the left is eating his cake off the floor….

In the afternoons I teach elementary students. I have one class of 1st graders, one class of 2nd graders, and two classes of 4th graders. The 1st graders are tough because I teach the lowest level class, and there are two students who just cannot do the work. One of them DEFINITELY has ADD/ADHD. I love my 2nd graders and 4th graders. I teach the highest level 2nd and 4th grade classes, so they are fun and I can joke around a lot with them. I don’t have any pictures of my afternoon classes, because I keep forgetting to take some- one of these days I will remember!

I do have this picture of a drawing one of my 2nd graders, May, drew for me:IMG_0897The hair color is not quite accurate, but it’s the thought that counts!