Thursday, June 21, 2007

Vacation Time

I have a week of vacation coming up from July 15th to the 22nd. I love travel planning and have been thinking carefully about where I could go and what I'd want to do. I settled on Malaysia, since a lot of other countries in south east Asia will be in the middle of the rainy season. It turns out that I am not the only person from Korea with the same idea. Several travel agents informed me that there are no seats available on flights in/out on the dates I want. I could leave a day later and come back a day earlier...but for upwards of $700 for the ticket I'm not sure it'd be worth it.

My other options? I could fly to Mongolia for around $600 but I'd probably need to find a tour to help arrange transportation since the infrastructure isn't all that great. I could stay in Korea and do some hiking and visit Jeju-do, a volcanic island off the south coast, or do an extended temple stay. But considering that it will be the rainy season in Korea, I'm not sure what the best option is... Time to do more research!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Gyeryongsan National Park: 6/10

I met Greg when I first started interviewing for jobs in Korea. I was interested in his school and got into contact with him in order to ask him questions. Even though the director decided not to offer me the job, Greg and I have been in contact since. We decided to go hiking on Sunday in the national park near his city. There is a nunnery and some lovely temples there, although I didn't get to see any of them. We were determined to reach "the peak" and ended up spending 4+ hours climbing from peak to peak in order to reach "the peak". At least we affirmed that Gyeryongsan's name, "Chicken Dragon Mountain" because its numerous peaks stand in a row like a cock's comb, is an accurate reflection of the mountain. By the end of our hike, we were far away from the temple (and exhausted) and flagged down a bus to get back to the entrance of the park in order to eat the pajeon (pancakes) and mokeolli (fermented rice wine) for which the region is famous.

Unlike Songnisan, Gyeryongsan did not have convenient rock steps. Some of the rock faces were quite steep and ropes were affixed to trees to provide assistance. The rock climbing was quite fun, although unexpected.

The view from "the peak" looked into a valley filled with rice paddies on one side and towards more rocky peaks on the other side.

We have already agreed to go back sometime soon to visit the nunnery and other temples.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I am sometimes impressed by the clever and creative ideas expressed by my students in their essays. Unfortunately, there are too many times when I am completely dismayed by what they describe.


I was surprised last month because my grandfather died. My grandfather wanted to meet me before he died but I had a very important exam for school and I couldn't visit him.-

-Things That Surprise Me

It was my birthday on April twenty second. I was so busy getting ready for an exam even I didn't know that day was my birthday. I was studying in the reading room with my friends. At eleven o'clock my mom called me and said, "Come home now. You studied enough today." I wanted to study just thirty minutes more but I still went home. When I arrived home I took a shower because I was so tired because I studied almost twelve hours. When I finished showering all the lights were off. There was only a slight light in the kitchen. I was so surprised my mom bought a gift for me- an x-box. Mom sad, "You have to take a rest but don't do it so much." I was so surprised that my mom didn't forget my birthday. That day was the happiest day of this year.- This student is maybe 11 years old. ELEVEN! *sigh*

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Songnisan National Park: June 2nd and 3rd

I didn’t have to work on Saturday so I took the opportunity to escape to a local mountain for the weekend. The anticipation of having a relaxing weekend steadily increased throughout the ninety-minute bus ride to Songnisan National Park, as we made our way through rice paddies and small towns. The bus station is at the opposite end of town from the entrance to the national park. The quarter mile main strip was lined with restaurants and small touristy shops. I found a hotel for 30,000 Won (about $32) and dropped off my stuff. In addition to being well known for its beautiful scenery, Songnisan also boasts the tallest standing Buddha in Korea and a large temple complex. I wanted to spend some time there Saturday afternoon so that I’d be ready on Sunday just to do a long hike.

The Buddha is pretty spectacular; at 109 feet, the bronze sculpture is almost 150 tons. The complex, which includes a 5 story wooden pagoda and many smaller structures, dates back to AD 553. The complex was destroyed in a 1592 Japanese invasion and was rebuilt in 1624.

My hotel seemed like it would be nice and quiet. After eating pajeon (a seafood/spring onion pancake) at a restaurant nearby, I went back to the hotel and finished my book and watched the finals for an international breakdancing competition on TV (held in Seoul). Just when I was beginning to get tired, the noise began. TVs turned on, doors slammed and animated conversations carried through the thin walls. In the two weary hours I spent trying to get to sleep, I must have turned off my alarm. The shutters kept out all of the light, so when I woke up I didn't know what time it was. I decided just to get moving and leave my bad hotel experience behind me, even if I was up before my alarm was supposed to go off at 8. Imagine my distress and annoyance when I learned it was 10:50 am! Cursing everything, I hurriedly changed and threw all my stuff together. I was out of the hotel in fifteen minutes and was at the ticket booth at the park's entrance by 11:15. So much for an early start and a leisurely hike!

Anger must have propelled me to the top- I made it to the summit in 2 hours, though I was told it would take almost 3. I was annoyed with everything, particularly how I am in Korea. Luckily those thoughts temporarily disappeared. I had to focus on climbing the endless stone stairs to the summit. Once there, I plopped myself down on a rock and enjoyed the views. Aside from being able to see the touristy area at the base of the national park, everything was green or granite! Hurrah!

Instead of going down the same trail, I opted to walk along the ridge and then connect to a lower path. I ran into a hiking group along the way. The first encounter consisted of the usual "hello!" and "where are you from" pleasantries. They seemed either impressed or concerned that I was hiking by myself. I continued on but they passed me after about 20 minutes. A few minutes later I came up to a clearing which had huge boulders and flat rocks looking out into the valley. A few of them were taking pictures of the view but then they quickly turned their attention to me! They took pictures of me alone and then of me posing with a couple of the men. After that I went off the trail to eat some trail mix and take in the view by myself. I was ready to continue my descent, but I came across them again all sitting on a rock. This time they invited me to come sit with them and I was promptly offered honey water, chocolates and a tomato/potato puree. The other half of the group then beckoned me over towards them. I was handed a cup of makkeolli, Korean rice wine, and chopsticks to try some fish. I was also given cucumber and apple slices. They were all quite amused by the situation and I got a few high fives and handshakes. They were preparing to continue on and they invited me to walk with them. I have never gone so quickly down a mountain! It took some effort to keep up with them... Some of the men talked with me but the women barely looked at me. The level of communication was very low, but I learned that one of the men was an engineer and that another had a daughter my age. We finally made it back to the temple complex and took more pictures. They had to leave but we exchanged email addresses and promises to send one another the photos. Here is a picture of part of the group:

Celebrity mode did not wear off after the hiking group left. I was approached by two Koreans who wanted to take pictures with me. Then a few minutes later, a little girl came over and offered me a stick of gum. I got a few more hellos to round out the experience of being the only white person on the mountain that day.

I had a decent weekend overall, though next time I'll just catch an early bus and make it a day trip.