Monday, 22 June 2015

강릉 | Gangneung

A few weeks ago, Nick had a tiny kpop event that he'd only been able to get one ticket to, and I was looking for something to do while he was away. It's not often we're apart outside of school so I was trying to find somewhere to go in Seoul that he wasn't keen on.

However, my co-teacher saw me researching a few places and came up with another suggestion. That weekend she would be taking a brief trip to her hometown of Donghae to visit her family and make the most of the fact we had Monday as an official day off. She thought it would be a good chance for me to see a new part of South Korea, and that I should join her.

Cutting things short, I said yes, Nick expressed his wish to also go (the event he needed to attend was on a Sunday, and we'd be leaving on a Friday) so he bundled into the car with us and would leave earlier by bus on the Sunday.

We found out we'd be staying with my co-teacher's brother in Gangneung the first night, 3 or 4 hours drive east of Incheon and about 30 minutes north of Donghae.

Basically her family is a big collection of some of the nicest people I've met (and I've met a LOT of nice people here).

Gangneung is known for its sundubu (silken tofu) so we were treated to a big baekban style meal with what I will tentatively call sundubu jorim because I forgot it's actual name. Similar to a jjigae (stew, usually quite spicy) it's a hotpot of sorts, full of chunks of fish, kimchi, and a load of other vegetables and quite simply tastes incredible even if it is in a sort of "melt your face off" kind of way.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

SM Town COEX Artium

I've heard the name COEX (COnvention centres and EXhibition halls) a lot in tourist things about Seoul as well as from people who generally seem to sing its praises, so I've always been intrigued by it but never enough to make my way to its rather out-of-the-way location (in relation to our home)

But the SM Town exhibit is still there and something we both really wanted to see, having given SM Entertainment a fair amount of our time and money in the past year alone, haha.

It wasn't too hard to find, considering the gigantic signs everywhere and the crowds of teenage girls coming and going from the direction of the entrance, laden with bags saying 'SMTOWN' on them. It's very pretty and elaborate for something that I've been told is just a temporary fixture.

Inside, the exhibition covers several floors, each with a different function. The walls are covered in photos of SM's various successes as well as display cases full of costumes and memorabilia from different artists. The first floor you come to is the pop-up shop, where you can buy all kinds of SM merch for almost all of their artists.

Monday, 8 June 2015

담양 | Damyang

After the incredibly deep "hikers sleep", we woke up the next day to a slightly less stuffy, but beautifully sunny Gwangju. The view from the roof of our guesthouse was lovely, and it was quite nice to be able to see a large segment of the city from only the 5th or 6th floor.

The guesthouse provided us with some simple breakfast things like milk, bread, and fresh eggs, after which we packed up, paid, and headed out for Damyang, a small county on the northeast of Gwangju's borders.

The main reason I wanted to go to Damyang was because of its famous bamboo forests, which I'd seen photos of all over the internet, as well as being home to one of the festivals I'd read about a few weeks beforehand. According to 'the Internet' (my second best friend and my proverbial Hitchhiker's Guide) you could get a bus directly to Damyang's most popular bamboo forest - Juknokwon - right from Gwangju Station.

Slightly more savvy with the scale of the city this time, we hopped on a bus (second time lucky, busy weekend life) to the station and waited at the bus stop, which looked a lot more simple than the ones we're used to back in Incheon:

It looked a little bit sketchy, but considering someone had gone to all the effort to hand write the signs in several languages and stick them up, we had some faith and waited. Eventually, as promised, the bus arrived...

totally packed.

But this is South Korea, and so after a lot of shouting from the driver and pushing from the passengers, we squeezed on, standing in the front area where you usually pay, and praying for a distinct lack of the characteristic "emergency brake" pulsing that a lot of bus drivers here seem so fond of :p

The next problem was that we didn't have the right money (no T Money available and no 1000원 notes?!) so we were worried we'd be booted off at the next stop but this isn't Seoul, so apparently different customs apply. After a bit of stumbling in Korean we worked out that he'd be making a slightly longer stop in Damyang at which point we can quickly dash off the bus, get change for our 만원 and finally pay him.

Despite the crush we were too thankful to worry even with my thumb mysteriously bleeding (?!), managed to get change at Damyang's tiny bus station, and hop back on to go the last 20 minutes to Juknokwon.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

광주 | Gwangju

May 1st was the start of one of South Korea's rare long weekends, so we decided to go on an adventure. Usually we'd take advantage of the extra travel time and hop on a plane somewhere (only Japan so far but we're wanting to diversify a little). Unfortunately, we weren't too sure on the specific dates and by the time we were, prices had hiked a little, and most things were booked up because who can blame the overworked staff of SK wanting to get away from it all as soon as possible?

I'd made a list of upcoming festivals I really wanted to visit in the coming weeks, and this one coincided with a couple of things in Gwangju and the surrounding area. We'd been told to check out that area, as well as it appearing on quite a few "great places to go in SK that AREN'T SEOUL" (things I keep looking for, because as wonderful as Seoul is, at the end of the day a city is a city.)

Also, why bother living in Korea if every chance you get, you leg it abroad somewhere?

Anyway, we got up early and hopped on the subway to Yongsan, where we could catch a train to Gwangju with ease. Aside from our brief trip to Justin's town back at Christmas time, we'd never really gotten the train anywhere and it was a little bit scary to say the least.

It was easy to buy a ticket though, and despite it being pretty busy we managed to get some unassigned tickets for the very next train. I think this was actually the most confusing and eventful part of the 3~4 hour journey, as we didn't really understand the conditions of carriage. We took it the same way as it goes at home, for safety: if you're unreserved, you can sit anywhere but have to vacate your seat as soon as the person who reserved it turns up.

63 Building and the area trashed a bit by the Avengers
Sadly, what with it being so busy, a few stops through the suburbs saw us hop around from seat to seat until finally the carriage was full less than 30 minutes into our journey. We took our chances with the corridors, like many other people, and basically tried to stay our of anyone's way and hop away quickly any time we came to a station (all of the doors not on the platform side were, wisely, already taken.)

So in that respect, I really would recommend booking or buying your tickets in advance if you're going anywhere at a peak time, beacuse it was kind of uncomfortable and felt like those days as a teenager thinking there's a 50:50 chance you're on the wrong train/travelling with the wrong ticket and pretending to be asleep to avoid finding out that you're the 50% that needs to get off right now.

Most days though, I'd say you're fine winging it on the day if you're the kind of person that's okay with such a footloose, floozy lifestyle ;)

Gigantic churches looking really out of place in tiny towns.
Everything is so green! I missed it!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Bonus Post: Lucky Ladybird Recipe

So, after my post about the English festival, my friend @hobosinpolos asked for a recipe.

They're cute and fun, and I have all the step-by-step photos ready to go, so I thought "why not?"

First up, ingredients:

To make 2 ladybirds, you need

  • 1 strawberry
  • 1 black grape
  • 2 crackers (I like using the Ritz kind for a bit of salt to balance out the sweet)
  • a spread of your choice (I used choc spread and PB)
Basically, this thing has a lot of scope to be either really healthy or really unhealthy.

Healthy options could be using a cookie cutter to make circles of wholegrain bread, toasted instead of crackers, or to be fair a slice of anything round that fits into your healthy living ingredients, or really anything flat. A lettuce leaf would be very cute, right? For spreads, people seem to like pure peanut butter or other kinds of nut butter, but you could use a low fat cream cheese spread, cottage cheese, honey, anything that's kind of sticky and won't taste too weird with the fruit, or too runny to destroy the base.

If you want to go in the opposite direction as a tiny treat, you could put them on cupcakes, oreos, any kind of biscuit I guess. Put several of them walking around a bagel or a croissant, like I said they just have to be on something flat. You could swap the spreads for a thick jam or spread, or I suppose you could even use stiff whipping cream?! Waiter, there's a bug in my scone!

Monday, 1 June 2015

English Festival 2015

I can't remember if I've ever mentioned it before, but here in South Korea many schools and/or districts will hold an "English Festival" at least once a year. The intention is to let kids have an "English experience" for a day. It can be a very broad description depending on the organisers. 

A couple I've been to have taken contributors from many different schools in one district and is kind of like a talent show. Groups from each school put on a short performance, all in English (be it a skit, rendition of a book, or a song), or compete together as teams to solve problems like spelling bees, races, and general knowledge.

Others, like the one my school recently had, are for one school only. They focus on an intensive day of games similar to what we'd play at the end of a lesson, craft projects, English music, or cultural education.

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