Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Top 6: South Korea

This week I'll be welcoming you back to the land of Kimchi, soju and plastic surgery epidemics. That's right I'm talking about the bounteous country South Korea! I'm going to highlight my top 6 (top 5 is too cliche and I'm too lazy for top 10) things I loved about Korea! So grab your note pad, some hot coco and enjoy the show!



Number 6: The Ease of Travel

No matter where you are traveling it will be a breeze to travel in Korea. You say you live in Busan and want to take a day trip to Seoul? No problem! Hop on the early KTX (bullet train) and in just under 4 hours you're there! Need a cheap lift from the rural life to the city? Hop on the bus! Need to get from one end of Seoul to the other? The subway has what you need! Korea has one of the best and cheapest mass transportation systems I've ever had the pleasure of enjoying. In my time there I took buses, planes, boats and trains with little or no problems (with the exception of getting lost in Seoul once...). Now, many of you may worry how you will navigate through these options. The good news is that most signs are written in Korean, English and Chinese/Japanese. So if you can read one of these languages you're in good shape!

You can't buy excitement like this.

My favorite was the KTX. It hauls ass through the countryside getting you from Busan to Seoul pretty quickly. The first time I went to Seoul (around New Years) there weren't any seats available so we had to stand for most of the trip. But, even then watching the world fly by outside was worth the trip.

Hauling ass on the KTX

On a regular day it's pretty easy to get a seat (get one early if you plan on traveling during major holidays) and they are comfy enough to sleep in! You can also take regular trains, which are only a little cheaper, though they slug along at a comfortable pace they are rather aged and can be uncomfortable (especially on a 5+ hour ride home from partying in Seoul).

Waiting in line to get a KTX ticket. The machines in the back can also be used to purchase tickets.

My second choice would be the subway. For the love of god they are wildly entertaining places to use for travel. I can honestly say all walks of life have transpired in front of my naive American eyes while journeying through the subways of Korea; young lovers, old lovers, beggars, millionaires and everyone in between will use the subway at some point. 

The Korean who developed the Flux capacitor 

I can't tell if he loves or hates animals. EVERYTHING he was wearing was made from some type of animal.

If you can manage I'd recommend the running of the subway goers. What's that you ask? It's basically a herd, maybe a mob, of people running to catch the subway train before it departs the station. Be careful of the Ajimas (Sp?) they will not hesitate to hit, push or yell at you in an insane manner to get onto the train!

Lost in Seoul


There's also one more thing to mention when using the subways get an electronic pass. You can find these at just about every convenience store within proximity of the subway. You can load them up using machines at the stations and they will save you tons of time you'd otherwise spend digging for change. In many places these passes can be used on buses and trains too! Bee Yaw!
Sweet hair dude!

Subway romance

My least favorite form of travel would have to be buses. There is nothing explicitly wrong with them (except the city bus drivers are fucking crazy and drive like alcoholics riding the highway to hell). I'm reminded of the time when my girlfriend came to visit me and the driver didn't even fully stop to let us off the bus (Tuck and Roll! Tuck and ROLL!)

bus depot in Gimhae

 I also get motion sickness while on buses so this may influence my opinion, though there were plenty of folks who would rather take the bus than anything else. This will be your cheapest form of transportation by far. The long range buses are much more comfortable and the drivers drive in a much more hospitable fashion. Basically what I want to say is this: If you can, take the subway in the city.

Luckiest ticket I ever bought



Number 5: Technology of the Future

Now you can probably guess where this is going. Asia= impressive technology. And in a way you are indeed correct. Korea can be a technological play land, fraught with glimpses into the future of the modern world. You can order your groceries from your fridge, cell phone stores are conveniently located on just about every block (no joke), building facades tantalize street dwellers with pictures or adverts and every apartment has a video camera next to the door so you can see who rung you at 3 in the morning.

mall in Busan

As mentioned before the electronic subway cards were lovely in and of themselves and Korea seems to be trying ever-harder to push itself to the front of the technological world. The prices for cellphones and their plans are also relatively cheap (in comparison to the USA) which stems from the fact that it's a rather small market and even smaller country. It's much easier to cover a country roughly the size of Utah than the entire continental US.


I'm sorry my photo's of the technology are a bit lacking in substance!


Number 4: Cheap Booze, Great Service, and Freebies


No the BJ is not a freebie


One of the best things about Asia in general is no tipping. I know there are many of you who live on tips and I respect that. When I'm in the States I have always tried to keep that in mind, but life is lovely without tipping. In my time in Korea I tipped two people, both taxi drivers (once because my friend puked on the side of the car... and the driver hadn't noticed yet. Sorry random taxi man).

Spicy delicious amazing chicken

Now you may think the service would suffer due to this... and you'd be wrong. At nearly every place the service was great. From bars, to clubs, to restaurants and beyond the staff were generally friendly, helpful and kind.




The beer was lackluster though. If it weren't for the quantity given it would be beer purgatory. For $3-5 you get a nice frosty brew about the size of an English pint. As stated before it's no craft brew but it's manageable. Also if you want to spend a few extra bucks you can pick up imported beer (from all over the globe) but they can add up quickly! I've already talked about soju before but it mixes well with the Korean beer and you should give it a shot at least once.

just another Thursday night

Soju dreams

If you find yourself thirsty in Seoul I would highly recommend finding and going to Craftworks Taphouse & Bistro. Hands down they had the best beer in Korea!




When you go to a Korean BBQ restaurant be ready for your table to be covered in plates. Along with your meal come many free items such as onions or leaves to wrap your meat in. I believe most folks find the onions extra delectable so load up on those! If you run out they'll more than likely bring more too!



Finally the spicy, spicy, lovely, oh so incredibly fucking great spicy food is at your fingertips 24/7. The Korean folks LOVE their hot/spicy foods. Now, this isn't Hispanic food spicy, not even Indian curry spicy... this is flaming hot, burning the inside of your mouth and stomach spicy! Before Korea I wasn't a big fan of spicy foods. Though after my time there I find myself craving them all the time! I had countless meals crying my eyes out due to the level of spiciness! Tears of pure joy.

Power food!


Number 3: All the Pretty Flashing Lights

Entertainment is around every corner in Korea. Most of the population reside within cities which offer a plethora of entertainment activities. Of course they have "traditional" things such as drinking the night away and awaking on a park bench hurling up soju from the night before. But, this is not your only option by far!



Arcades! Video game rooms/arcades pop up every now and again on most trips through the cities. some are rather large and are really popular with young and middle aged alike. I wouldn't recommend dueling one of the seasoned natives on any game though. For many folks this is a pastime they have spent countless hours doing. Also some of these places offer a member card which allows you to pay a small fee (usually by the hour) to play any game you want for free (no need to carry around all that clunky change Yipee!).

4d Ride
Time Crisis grand champion

Digital Golf. I'll be the first to tell you that I'm no Tiger Woods but I do enjoy a lazy round of golf now and again. I'd prefer to play outside but why do that when you can play inside? Digital golf is another one of the things koreans are crazy about. For about $10-23 you can play 9-18 holes of golf with a few buddies and never leave the climate controlled room (great for  freezing balls cold, titillatingly hot or rainy days). You can also bring in your own beer or food. Or they can order take out food for you. along with the room you also get a few complimentary goodies, usually biscuits, cookies, coffee or tea.

Need to become a beefcake? No worries gyms are also all over the place. Some are small one room affairs, others are $100+ monthly fee mistresses waiting for you to come back and pound the weights on the daily. Regardless of what you choose you can't go wrong with a little exercise to counter the effects of beer/soju and bar snack intake.

BEEEFCAAAKKEE!!

Batting cages. We all know what they are. Once and awhile we all want to take a bat and swing at some shit. These are sometimes tucked away in small corners of the city so keep an eye out for them. Also Karaoke and DVD rooms are all over the place. It would appear Koreans love to sing. Sometimes they are brilliant singers and well... other times they sound like banshees from hell. Regardless a trip or stay in Korea can't be complete without at least one night at a Norebang (Karaoke room).

Karaoke

If you're looking for a little culture try one of the museums! Most are free to enter... YES, I SAID FREE! Many of the towns and cities have at least one historical site or museum and often enough they have something in English to help guide your wanderings through the history of the hermit kingdom. I'd personally highly recommend the Korean war museum in Seoul.


Gyeongbokgung




Gyeongbokgung


King Suro's tomb in Gimhae


Do you just want to throw your purses into a pile and dance it all out? No problem! Clubs are easily accessed especially in the larger cities. Be careful though there are some places which won't allow foreigners to enter (their too scared our devil good looks and silver tongues will impregnate their men and women alike!). Find a few Korean friends and this could possibly be rectified. Be prepared to rock your face off!

The Blue Monkey in Busan

Club Fix

Club fix. This girl was nearly naked by the time her boyfriend
 found her and took her off  the stage. Party on Korea!
 If none of these suit your fancy you can always check out a professional sports game or go to one of the millions of festivals they have! Do your research! Ask your friends and explore all you can!

LOTTE GIANTS!
Go Camping!




Oktober Fest!



Number 2: The Mountains are Calling will you Answer?

I can't deny it, I love nature. Her sexy slopes, giant peaks, whispering pines and trails that lead to spiritual ecstasy. Hiking also happens to be somewhat of a national pastime for Koreans. Every weekend you'll see Koreans dawned in trendy matching hiking gear heading to the nearest hills to hike the day away.

View from the hill near my apartment



 Being a naturally hilly place it's easy to stumble upon short hikes just about anywhere you go. There was one trail near my apartment that lead to a hill top pagoda and a beautiful view. Now my favorite hike was near Boemosa Temple just outside of Busan.



After viewing the temple grounds you can hike up the hill to the top when a fortified area once stood to guard against the Japanese . Geumjeongsan offers breathtaking views of the Natural Korean landscapes as well as stellar views of Busan.

Geumjeongsan

Geumjeongsan


Be aware there are many, if any, switchbacks on the trails here. Be prepared to hike up, up and up. Also bring plenty of water and grab a trail map for the longer hikes! You don't want to be stuck up there over night!

Busan!


Number 1: Smiling Faces and Beautiful Souls

Whether it was my students, coworkers, new friends (foreign or domestic) the people are what really made Korea great for me. Here are just a few of the faces that altered my life after my time in Korea. I wish I could go over every single one of them in detail but to save time here are just a few of those that stand out the most.


Here are some of my students. I had alternating classes throughout the week. Half of the week they would be with me, the other half with a Korean co-teacher. Throughout that time you really get to see each ones unique personality. Some you wish could be your own kids and others... I truly think anyone who wants to have kids one day should work with children at least once. It can be a major test of your patience but it will be an undeniably rewarding experience. Many of their names have faded from memory but the lessons I learned from them are priceless.

A few of my Korean co-teachers make me look like a ladies man on my last night in Korea. They are amazing people and I'm glad I had the good fortune to meet them. Lovely, lovely, Lovely ladies.



This is the group that came to be known as the Gimhae massive. It consisted of folks from the USA, UK and South Africa. My time wouldn't have been remotely as enjoyable as it was without these folks. Each one bringing something special to the group which added flair a flavor to every trip. Even though many of us are spread back out across the globe I wish them nothing but luck in their future endeavors and still continue to keep in contact with quite a few of them. Good people (even the Redcoats...)


This was the owner of the gym I went to. We would often have conversations in English. He used to be a bodybuilder in Korea and is still incredibly strong.


This handsome gent was one of my best friends in Korea. His English name was Skye and he is one of the better guys I've ever happened upon in my life. 




Almost everyday I'd eat Hansot for lunch. These two are the owners of the store I'd go to. Over the course of a year we became pretty friendly and I was sad to say goodbye to their ever-smiling faces and broken English.


One of the most kind men I've ever met at home or abroad had to be Mr. Ha from Busan. On my last trek up to Boemosa I decided to hike the long trail back into Busan. Along the way I stopped to take a breather and check my map. This man just came up to me and started speaking English. Come to find out he had spent a little over 4 years in America in the 1970's. He was chosen with a dozen or so other people to come to America to learn about agriculture. As we travelled he told me of his times in America, most of them were rather funny which is no easy feat for a second language speaker. He also told me of his childhood after the Korean war. Life was very tough in the hermit kingdom for quite some time. Everyday, rain or shine, he would hike up the mountain to gather water from a Buddhist healing spring for his father (this was a 4 mile round trip) who was ill. After we descended from the mountain (on a trail I had no idea was there) he bought me dinner even though I had offered to pay he refused and simply thanked me for my company. Wherever this guy may be I hope nothing but the best of all possible outcomes for him!








Now this man was a character. He worked at the convenience store below my apartment. He was generally drunk and talkative. We'd often buy beers for each other and try to chit chat. He hoped to open up a martial arts school in the future. He was incredibly proud of his children and even called his daughter (who also happened to be drinking) to chat with me in English. Overall this was one of the people I was most sad to say good bye to.


G-Sac (Gimhae Semi-Athletic Club) This group met up nearly every Sunday to play sports. Whether it was soccer, Frisbee golf, Ultimate Nerf/Frisbee the competition was always fierce. Someone was once stabbed by a trident. 


Stay tuned for my next topic THE BOTTOM SIX OF KOREA. You have to take the good with the bad...



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