Tag Archives: Seoul

Kyoto – Day 1 – Jacuzzis and Squid

3rd March 2015

banner Well we did it. After a few crazy weeks that have melted into a blur of to-do lists and organisation we have finally left Korea. Once we worked our last days in our offices and received some lovely gifts we had to move out of our little flat and become homeless, jobless bums for a few days. Luckily we have a good group of people who put us up for a few days. Days  filled with house wine and slumber parties.
Then it was a serious of teary goodbyes, some of which took places at a train station platform which was heart wrenching while others took place at the airport while boarding our flight. I’ve never waved goodbye to someone as I walked onto a plane, as expected it was bitter sweet. I have been annoyed at myself for the last two years because while saying goodbyes to people I haven’t cried. I cry just thinking about the first few minutes of UP so it is especially weird when I didn’t cry watching my best friends walk away. I have had a stone in my stomach and felt horrible but tears refused to fall. That was until I sat down on the plane and two years of happy memories overwhelmed me. I listened to the songs we had all become use to and made my own special montages with my memories. Jeez, we have been lucky in Korea.
But now we are moving on to a crazy new adventure, and this adventure happens to start in Japan. We are currently sat in our bizarre hotel in Kyoto which can only be described as a weirdo’s sex den. We found a really cheap room through booking.com at the Grand Fine hotel that had a Jacuzzi bath and was well situated so we couldn’t say no. What we discovered when we arrived was that the hotel had written the line ‘not a family hotel’ on the booking form for a reason. A phone in the room to shout for call girls, a special refrigerator to buy lingerie and a ‘back massager’ were all part of the deal…oh also did I mention we have a full size slot machine, a wall projector and KARAOKE in the room?!? I am not complaining. There are certain things in the room I will not be touching but the price fitted and the fun of it all is surely what everyone expects when coming to Japan , and I mean that in the best way possible. kyotoday1_1 kyotoday1_2 kyotoday1_10
After a bumpy ride with Peach air we got the JR to Kyoto and explored the area. We had our first taste of Okonomiyaki, which is a fried batter, cabbage and squid. We also added some pork to be sneaky.  It’s sweet and delicious. A new favourite for us both. This was accompanied by the ever popular Yaki Soba noodles. Our bellies are happy. kyotoday1_3 kyotoday1_4 kyotoday1_5 kyotoday1_7
We didn’t venture out tonight since sleeping on friends floors has taken it’s toll but tomorrow it is a bright new day filled with temples, monkeys and bamboo forests….and hopefully more okonomiyaki. The rest of my night is Jacuzzi baths, fruit beers and keylime pie cheesecakes. Japan I’m never leaving! kyotoday1_8 kyotoday1_9
So its さようなら from us (or sayonara/goodbye if like us you don’t speak a lick of Japanese) . I would love to promise I will write on here every day but we all know thats not true but I will try my best to keep you updated (Hi Mum) and so that I don’t let those little memories run away from me. I have the memory of a gold fish with amnesia.

signature

Things I’ll Miss About Korea

24th February 2015

banner Well, it has officially been two years today since we arrived in Korea and what a two years it has been. Full of ups, downs and speeding taxi’s. We’ve made friends for life and learnt so much. I haven’t mentioned it on here much but for the last two years I’ve been teaching in a middle school that doesn’t have the best reputation. It is officially considered the worst school in Daegu and it has been tough. The teachers working there have tried their best to make me welcome and there have been lots of individual students that have made it easier but it has been tough and I am definitely ready for the next adventure.

seoul2 There are so many Korean people that we’ve met that have made us feel more welcome than we could ever have expected and we will miss them. I thought this was the perfect time to mention some of the things we will miss from this little country:

  • Vitamin shot drinks – these delicious little drinks have cured many cold and hangovers for me. They are intense vitamins and I love them. especially their 25p price tag. IMG_9324
  • Korean BBQ – I am still in Korea and I miss it already. koreanbbq
  • Korean kids – the younger kids that I’ve met here have  been the sweetest, cutest bundles of fun.
  • Cheap Clothes – the cheap Korean clothes markets are great places to get the latest fashions for next to nothing.
  • Cuteness – Korea is the land of cute. Cute t-shirts, cute puppies, squeaky baby shoes, even cute balls of rice in the local 7-11. This country knows how to do kitsch. cute
  • Paris Baguette – a lot of foreigners have mixed feels about this place but I love it . I’m lucky enough to be near an experimental bakery that always tries delicious concoctions….olive bread anyone?
  • Kimbap – mmmmm cheap, tuna kimbap I will miss you. kimbap
  • Dak Galbi – this was accidentally the first type of restaurant Lee and I walked into and we were hooked. In the large chain Dak Galbi restaurants they will cook it in front of you and let you add lots of cheese.
  • Kpop – Korean music is fantastic. I never expected to love it the way I did but it’s fantastic. Lee is obsessed. The only problem is that considering this is music made to dance to, there are no place to dance to it in Korea…come on Korea let us dance.
  • Ramyen – cheap, cheerful and amazing once you add your own ingredients. I like buying a pot, putting it on the stove with egg, cheese and kimchi. mmmm delicious. ramen
  • Seeing your friends at every opportunity – Everyone here became busier and busier as the years went on but when you only  have your friends they quickly become your family. Everyone has been so friendly and it’s felt great to be around so many people. If anything I am sad I didn’t get to know people better. koreanUs koreanUs2
  • Cheap cinemas – We lived in London but looooved movies so we would fork out an arm and a leg for a ticket and some popcorn. Here it’s stupidly cheap and …no one talks. Bliss.
  • Cheap public transport – Although Korean bus drivers aren’t my favourite people (I think they get bonuses for every old person they knock off their feet) the buses are cheap and go all over the city.
  • Mc Delivery – McDonald’s delivered to your door. I think that’s everything you need to know really.
  • Cheap eggs – I love eating eggs but in Wales the price of eggs started to creep up and up so that it became almost a treat to buy a dozen. Here they are sold in bulk for almost nothing.
  • Jjiegae – This delicious, cheap soup is a favourite of mine. I have learnt to cook it so I won’t crave it when I leave.
  • Makgolli – While writing this I was just dragged to a little room in work where all the teachers were drinking Makgolli and beer. I think that sums Korea up perfectly. Makgolli evenings have been some of my favourites. I hated beer before I came here and although i’m not a fan of Soju , Lee doesn’t know how he’ll live without it.
  • Tiny houses – For us coming from London our ‘tiny’ flat is actually bigger than our London one, but most people coming from other countries think they are quite small but I love that we can all pile in, drink together and have a great time. I don’t even attempt to sit on sofas when I visit my friends anymore. I love nothing more than sitting on a friends floor and drinking our supermarket wine.
  • Locations in Asia – The fact you are so close to so many fantastic countries is great. Korea is expensive to fly from but it’s still closer than our home of the UK. It’s been weird to just pop over to Japan for a weekend. I’ll miss the accessibility.
  • Teachers dinners – These random events that spring up are great. Free, full of friendly faces and a perfect insight into Korean culture.
  • MANDU – this Korean dumpling is delicious. Get in my belly! mandu
  • The people – I’ve said goodbye to a lot of people while we’ve been here . I don’t think you ever get use to saying goodbye to people but it’s an odd feeling to finally be the one that’s leaving. I am going to miss Korea but i’m too excited for the next adventure to be dwelling on it too much, but when I think of the reality of saying goodbye to more people then I tear up. Thank you to everyone for making the last two years so special. seoul

Korea we will miss you.  signature

The DMZ : A trip to North Korea

15th January 2015

One of the first things you get asked when you mention you live in Korea is ‘North or South?’.

Luckily and like 99.9999% of the people who head to Korea I do live in the South but the North is a beautiful and scary mystery. The rest of the world is terrified by this small unpredictable land. While living here it can sometimes feel like Korea ignores it like an annoying younger sibling that wants to play in their room. During the scares and threats from the North last year it was only parents and families back home that even alerted most teachers to there being a problem. When I asked my co-workers opinions on their neighbor’s threats I was met with blank stares…“It’s just North Korea, they just want food and then they will be quiet for a while”. It was an interesting opinion and not one I think we have in the West.
All this being said, I knew at some point during my stay in Korea I would have to pay a visit to the scary area that is named the DMZ (De Militarised Zone) . Last year when a few of my friends wanted to go we jumped on board.
We headed up to Seoul on the KTX after school, Soju and Beer in hand. Ready for a well needed week of celebration in Seoul before they departed Korea with the added bonus of visiting the DMZ. We arrived at our pleasant enough hostel and decided to get a ‘quiet’ dinner.

Eight hours later, two bars, six buckets and a night club later we were running around the hotel desperately trying to wake ourselves up enough to catch our bus to the DMZ.

We rallied and caught our bus that took us up North.

When we arrived at Panmunjom (the area of the demilitarized zone that brings the guards face to face with each other 24 hours a day) the snow was falling and the area seemed as grim as its past. It was at this moment we all felt horribly guilty for being so blase about this trip. I think as travelers who are use to seeing tourist sights we had allowed ourselves to forget where exactly we were and the gravity of the situation we were walking into.
The American army guards gave us a fantastic tour but it was eerie. I have never been in an area with so much tension. This was a tour but at the same time we were warned that North Korea was taking our pictures to use as propaganda. We could see camera lens poking out behind curtains. We were warned that if they were to give us the finger or try to spit on us that there was nothing we could do. If you approached a guard to closely they would punch you. Even the South Korean ones. They were taking no chances.
The blue buildings you see in the picture below are the mid way points between two sides. All meetings take place here between the two countries. Many decisions have been made in these very rooms. To be stood in a room that has seen so many conversations deciding the fate of millions of lives left me with a really sense of the weight these countries are under. It upset me to think that I live in a country with such a delicate and painful past.
As well as  Panmunjom we were also taken to the location of the 1976 axe murders. This was an incident cause by cutting down a tree. The tree was cutting off all visibility for the only South Korean viewing station. North Korea delayed the confirmed time because of rain but a small team of South Korean and American unarmed guards went to cut the tree down. The N.Koreans watched for 15 minutes without incident but suddenly the North Koreans attacked with over 20 men all carrying crossbows and clubs. The North Koreans got hold of the axes held by the two South Korean and American guard and attacked them. There are horrible photos of the incident in which the guards were brutally murdered.
There is also a photo of another guard Capt. Bonifas who was bludgeoned to death by 5 North Korean guards.
I realise this isn’t a nice story but it shocked me to the core to see the photos and realise that the area we were in was so volatile.
There are many other stories I could tell you but it was all pointing to the forgiveness shown by the South Koreans. Tunnels built by North Korea for miles into areas beyond the DMZ created purely to attack South Korea  which created no reperpussions from South Korea or America,  as well as endless rants and abuse hurled daily from the North Korean guards to the South Korean men.  I would like to think that the UK or America could be as forgiving in the same situations but it’s hard to believe. Ovbiously we only saw a very one sided version of events being on the South Korean side so please don’t take this as fact but it was strange to see.
There is break through, such as the completely deserted and fully built train station to North Korea at the DMZ that is fully functional but full of nothing. It’s incredible to think that one day there will be a link to these two countries via this train.
Being a tourist area as well as the historical sight there was also a shop that let us stock up on North Korean memorabilia. We left with some North Korean Brandy that we aren’t planning on drinking. It will be a weird memento of our time in this country.
It was a fantastic and haunting trip but I’m really glad I did it. I’ve been trying to decide recently whether to visit the killing fields in Cambodia when we visit or the prisoner of war camps in Vietnam. Remembering this trip makes me think it is definitely something we need to do.   I think that sometimes its a way of honoring the country you are in. Showing that little bit of respect and a way to show you do care about the places you are visiting. Obviously the DMZ is very different since it is a working and active area but I think it is still the same as other historic areas in the way that it helped to form the country you are in and deserves tourists to take a second to respect the country they want to be a part of.
I do regret how blase we were before we arrived but this sobering and somber place really hit home.

The one piece of advice I would give to anyone heading on this trip is:

If you are tall then be wary of the tunnels. These tunnels were secretly created by using dynamite. Their purpose was to attack the South Koreans. They are quiet errie when you are walking in them since you understand their purpose but on a practical level….they are small. Watching Lee and our friend, who are extremely tall men, crawl their way through it while shorter Koreans laughed at them was quite funny.Especially when groups of tourists would stop just to point and laugh at their predicement. I had to duck and i’m only 5 foot 5 so you can imagine how a 6 foot 3 man and our even taller friend fared. The comedy was short lived when we all had to walk up the steep 362km hill to get out of the tunnel….my poor legs.
It was a gratifying and interesting trip that expanded my knowledge of a country I like to call home. I once again want to mention that we are in no way experts or even consider ourselves vaguely proficient on the subject of the DMZ but we wanted to share our experience with your all for anyone else thinking of visiting this site.
 Hopefully there can be some peace between the two countries some day but it does seem a very long way away when you are stood at Panmunjom.
Have you been to the  DMZ? What did you think? Would you like to go if you haven’t been or have you been to any other sad locations considered tourist spots? We look forward to hearing from you.