Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Seoul

Over the holiday that marked Buddha's Birthday, Tyler and I decided to visit Seoul for the first time. We had an absolute blast and are already planning our second Seoul excursion. 

The first thing we had to do upon arrival was to figure out the complicated subway system. If you've ever seen a picture of Seoul's underground, it looks like a convoluted spiderweb. Luckily, Tyler is a human compass and was able to successfully navigate us wherever we needed to go. As you can see in the picture below, the subways are wide and long... much wider and longer than the subways in Busan. It was nice to have some leg room! 

Our first stop in Seoul was the popular shopping district named Myung-Dong. We both agreed that Myung-Dong was the most crowded place we'd ever been. There were literally stop-and-go human traffic jams in the shopping alleys. However, the shopping was fantastic! This was a fashionista's paradise. Tyler was so patient waiting for me outside of the boutiques. 


In Myung-Dong, Tyler found a super-size ice cream that drew a huge line of customers. He was in heaven. 

Soon after, we came upon signs on the street advertising a Cat Cafe. We'd heard of Cat Cafes in Busan, but had never managed to go to one. We followed the signs, went up a few flights of stairs, and then found a cafe full of crowded people drinking coffee with cats in every nook and cranny. I captured a gem of a photo below. Thirsty anymore? 

The next day, we traveled to a different shopping district called Insadong. The shops here all sold traditional Korean items and clothing. We were able to buy some really unique souvenirs. 


Just a short walk away from Insadong is the Bukchon Hanok Village. This traditional village is home to many Korean traditional houses called hanok that date back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). Now, the narrow streets of Bukchon are filled with adorable shops and interesting street vendors.  One of the most fun experiences we had was getting our 1-minute portraits drawn by a quirky Korean man sitting next to a cafe. For ₩1,000, which is a little less than a dollar, he sketches your picture in roughly 60 seconds. As you can see by the long line, his drawings were fantastic and full of personality. Tyler and I plan on framing our sketches for display in our future home. 

That evening, we went to NANTA, a cooking theater performance. From the description online we were slightly skeptical about attending. However, we've relied heavily on Trip Advisor for trustworthy recommendations throughout our travels, and the NANTA reviews were unsurpassed. Actually, as you can see here, the show is currently ranked as the #1 thing to do in Seoul. We were not disappointed. The show was hilarious and the actors were extremely skilled. To top it off, I was chosen as one of the guests to appear on stage in the performance! The actors made me drink soup, dress up as a Korean bride, and feign getting married in front of a large audience. It was a blast. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed during the performance, so you'll just have to go see the show for yourself! 

After the performance, we ended our evening by going to Sanchon, a vegetarian restaurant serving temple food. This dining experience is definitely in the top 5 best dinners we've ever eaten. Buddhist monks escorted us to our table and immediately served us a wide spread of appetizers. Soon after, we got our "main course" spread which contained more food than our stomachs could handle. Also during our dinner, we watched traditional Korean dancing. Overall, this event was one of the most authentic Korean experiences we've had and we would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Seoul. 



On our last day, we woke up early to go on a DMZ Tour. Unfortunately, because it was Sunday, we could not visit Panmunjon which is the joint security area between North and South Korea. However, we were still able to visit Imjingak Park, the Freedom Bridge, the Third Infiltration Tunnel, the Dora Observatory, and Dorasan Station. I think the highlights of the tour included venturing into the Third Infiltration Tunnel and visiting the Dora Observatory where we caught glimpses of North Korea. Photo taking was very limited on this tour, but in the photo below, you can see the mountains of North Korea in the distance. 

Last, we attended the long awaited Sigur Ros concert. Sigur Ros is one of Tyler's favorite bands. Although the stadium was old, the music far made up for the setting. The music, video projections, and the light design made the show a one-of-a-kind experience. Tyler said it was the best concert he's ever been to. 

All in all, our trip to Seoul was incredible. When comparing Seoul to Busan, we found Seoul much more international and much more abundant in shopping, food, and opportunities to experience Korean culture. If you ever plan to travel to East Asia, you absolutely must visit Seoul. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sports Day

In Korea, most schools host one or two Sports Days each year. Sports Day is considered extremely important; students and teachers spend weeks preparing. Everyone spends a great deal of time assembling their costumes, making signs and posters, team bonding, and strategizing. What exactly is sports day, you ask? It is a day to stop schoolwork and testing for relay races, tug-of-war, and the limbo. 

Below is a picture of the students at my middle school at the "opening ceremony" of Sports Day. For roughly one hour, class presidents, head teachers, and the principal make speeches following vigorous group warm-ups. Yes... all for relay races, tug-of-war, and the limbo.  

All sorts of pubescent adolescents show up to sports day. I will now list the different kinds I spotted. 

There are those who are happy to be at Sports Day (minus the fellow on the right). 

There are those who are too cool to be at Sports Day. 

There are girls who hide from pictures. Notice the back row as well. 

There are superstars. 

And then there are the classic Korean posers. 

And then there are more classic Korean posers. 

There are those who fashion towels into hats and dress up as Princess Leia the Cat. 

There are boys who think they are girls. 

And the teachers who wear big, floppy hats and a team banner to shield themselves from sunlight. 

And last, there are those who would rather be somewhere else. 

Finally, I have a 2-minute video providing a glimpse into this riot of a day. Please enjoy. And oh, yes, at the end of the video, those are two students doing a suggestive dance in front of the entire middle school. 
video
(for a clearer version, see the Youtube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQOt3S1oLGw)

Enjoy

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Vaginas, Fruit, and Volleyball

It's hard to believe that it's been over 8 months since we first stepped foot on Korean soil. It's even harder to believe that we'll be leaving in just under 3 months and starting a new adventure in rural Alaska. Now is the time for us to savor every detail of life in Korea, from the absence of a dryer and shoving ajummas to the rolling, green mountains and the freedom of having no responsibilities. 

I have several pictures to share today including snapshots from The Vagina Monologues, Bujeon Market, and a beach volleyball tournament. 

Since March, I have been involved in the performance of The Vagina Monologues here in Busan. For those of you who don't know, The Vagina Monologues is a play written by Eve Ensler for the purpose of raising awareness and money to stop violence against women. The play inspired V-Day, a national movement, which you can read more about here: http://www.vday.org/about

Practicing and performing in The Vagina Monologues was one of the most influential and transformational experiences of my life. This experience helped me to better comprehend the hardships that millions of women around the world are forced to face on a daily basis. Did you know that one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime? One in three. Think of three women you know right now. Statistically, that fact is horrifying. Through this experience, I realized how fortunate I am to be born to opportunity, to a family who loves and cares for me, and to have married a phenomenal husband. With such favorable circumstances, however, comes responsibility to help those who cannot fight for themselves. I am so proud to have been a part of this extraordinary movement. 
Below is a video that was shown at The 2013 Vagina Monologues. Please be aware that the video contains disturbing images and has a trigger warning for those who have experienced violence in the past. 

I performed a monologue called "I Was There in the Room." I was so fortunate to have been supported by an amazing husband and an amazing cast of women! 


I encourage you all to see a performance of The Vagina Monologues next time it comes to your city. Please do not turn an ignorant shoulder to the acts of violence and abuse against women. Even if it means merely donating $5 to the V-Day Organization, every act of kindness helps: https://secure3.convio.net/vday/site/Donation2?df_id=1325&1325.donation=form1

Okay, moving on. 
Tyler and I have been frequenting a local market called Bujeon Market. Bujeon Market is the largest outdoor market in Busan selling everything from produce to pigs feet. I have been on a juice and raw foods cleanse for the past 40 days meaning I have been buying pounds and pounds of fruits and veggies. 




And last, Tyler and I got to participate in a volleyball tournament on Haeundae Beach this past weekend with our friends Bobby, Jestine, Eric, and Scottie. We proudly sported ajumma pants, as you can see below. Overall, I think we placed fifth or sixth out of twenty-four. We had a blast and successfully walked away with our first sunburns of the season. Thanks for the photos, Kalie and Jestine! 

Three more months. Three more months, and then annyeonghi-gaseyo, Korea. 

 
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