(merkit hukassa)

Adventures in Korea

Category Archives: Other places

Culture shock

Hey, someone has been bullshitting me about this culture shock crap. I didn’t get any symptoms during or after my exchange. No wait! I got a bit irritated once. No wait again! I didn’t remember how to use my credit card here in Finland, and I still hand everything with both hands.

No need to describe me the phenomenon – I’ve been through it over and over again. Surprisingly enough, I got the biggest shock when I moved to my university town Jyväskylä, in my own country! Had I been a bit weaker specimen of my species, I would have needed medication. Have a Prozac and smile! I quite a shock with Canada too, after most of the exchange students I knew left after the first semester and the rest of us got tired with each other. I only stayed three weeks in Japan but got a shock worth mentioning – didn’t speak with my travel mate for a month. But no shock with Korea. Nothing.

This time I was pretty sure I would only stay there for 5 months, nothing was for forever, I had nothing to get excessively irritated over. And on the other hand, the life I came back to in Finland was good to begin with: friends, family, well paying job, summer. I know I can go back to Korea whenever I want to.

I must confess I took precautions to bypass the culture shock. The Japan experience was a great help. I knew my weaknesses and how to get over them.

Precaution number 1: Make sure you get enough food.  – As I have been living with myself for good 27 years I know for sure the monster inside me wakes up when I’m hungry and tired. I knew Korea (like Japan) is and was a nightmare for a vegetarian, and I was a vegan. VEGAN! Nothing, nothing from animals I ate. I asked tips from other vegetarians in Korea (didn’t help that much) and for the first weeks I just tried to slowly accept the local cuisine. No heavy drinking, no heavy sightseeing, no “let’s experience everything new right now” attitude. Just chillin’. It paid off! I had to make compromises: trying to stay vegan without understanding Korean would have been too hard, and I also started eating food with meat broth or chunks of meat in  – luckily I had carnivorous friends, who bravely suffered my share of meat.

Precaution number 2: make friends. Lotta was a great help – I’m slow and lazy to make friends so I just let Lotta do the filtering and collected the prize.

Precaution number 3: don’t stay too long. Two semesters in Canada was a bit too much. Three weeks backpacking in Japan was too much. One semester in Korea was just enough to leave me hungry for more. I didn’t have enough money to stay longer.

Precaution number 4: don’t expect. Don’t expect anything from the country or the people (yourself included). The experience is offered “as is”. Most of the ridiculous stuff can be explained logically when put in the cultural context. People in most cases are not better or worse than you, even if they act differently. You yourself are responsible for your mistakes or successes. If you expect too much, it’s your fault you get disappointed.

Precaution number 5: accept all the weird invitations. And here I don’t live as I preach. I didn’t go to the host bar, even though my friend kept asking me to go. Nor did I go to the Wedding Cafe. Maybe next time?

???
Profit

Maybe it hits later, the shock. But honestly, I’d like to think, patting myself to the back, that I’ve achieved the cosmopolitan attitude I’ve been striving for… or is it because I’m happy with (or full of) myself that I don’t need to stress over irrelevant stuff? I’m pretty sure the wanderlust hits me sooner than the culture shock.

PS. Yesterday I sent the final documents to my coordinator. Soon it’s officially over.

It’s over, or is it?

If all goes as planned, this is my last night in Korea for now. My flight is supposed to leave from Incheon today at 14.30 – but let’s not bet on it yet. Typhoon Meari will hit Korea later today, and might lead to flight cancellations and even more severe stuff. I’ve never experienced a typhoon, so I’m kinda excited. Also, I’m thankful for leaving some air on my schedule – if the flight departs on time, I might have enough time to drag my ass from Busan to Incheon.

So, I’m in Busan now. I’ve done close to nothing spectacular.

I took a long stroll along Haeundae beach on Thursday night. It was cloudy, but it didn’t rain yet, so I got to see the beautiful beach, Diamond bridge and the skyscrapers. The next day I just slept – it was raining and my eyes were hurting. Reason? Found out yesterday after visiting an optician. My vision suddenly went from -2.25 to -3. Lack of vitamins? Sure, my diet here has been retarded.

Other things I did yesterday were visiting the PIFF square (just tumbled upon it) and shopping – I hate shopping, but it was raining like crazy and the wind kept breaking my umbrella, and still I didn’t want to stay cooped up at the hostel since I went through all the trouble to come all the way to Busan. Oh, and I went to get a new haircut again (got the last one a week ago). I didn’t really like the previous one, so I went and got a mohawk. Or mohican, as the Koreans call it.

The hostel I’m staying in, Pobi Guesthouse, is mysterious: a British girl I met on my first week in Korea, in Hongdae, is now staying at the same hostel in Haeundae. Also, two Korean girls from Ajou stayed in the same room on my first night here. What a small world. The hostel is very new, clean and well located between Haeundae subway station and the beach. It’s easy to find – take Haeundae stn exit 1, keep walking until the first bigger intersection, turn righ and keep walking until you start to see the road ending at a T-intersection. It’s on the left side of the road and well marked with yellow signs. Knock the door, it’s usually locked.

Super nice young lady Jeong Eun owns the place and this friendly guy who’s name I didn’t ask also works there. The only small minus point is the neighboring club, which can get a bit noisy on weekends. But it can also be a plus to party people – very convenient to go party! They just played Imogen Heap, can’t be bad!

So, I’ll leave in less than five hours. Taking KTX and hoping it’s on time. And hoping there is enough room for my bass – the conductor lady gave me a whole car to choose from when she saw it on my way here. I wonder if I should take a bus to the station or just ride the subway. It was pretty okay from the station to here, and knowing Korean buses don’t have much space I might end up choosing the subway. Oooor I could take a cab. It’s about 15 000w and I have 18 000 left. Dun dun duun, let’s see what I end up doing.

So, bye bye Korea. Please let me leave and don’t delay my flight.

PS. Things I noticed about Korea:

1. They really love singing fountains.
2.  The umbrella bags they provide in every store on rainy days are convenient and I’m gonna miss them.
3. Busan has an awesome bakery chain OPS. They have non-sugar coated veggie stuff. I love!
4. Why Korean people don’t feel cold indoors even when the ACs are making me freeze?
5. Summer fashion this year is hideous. HI-DE-OUS! Why did you come back, early 90’s? Go back where you came from! You don’t look good even on pretty Koreans.
6. I feel utterly ridiculous dining alone in Korea. Or just having a cup of coffee. And the hairdresser dude was truly amused when I told him I’m traveling alone.

Jeonju – 전주

Visit Korea Year 2011 promotes Korea in many ways. One of them is the free tourist buss for foreigners. They offer trips to Busan (부산), Gyeongju (경주) and Jeonju (전주). Lotta being active like always, booked us tickets and there we went, last weekend. The bus left on time, at eight, even though the guide guy was very late. He also didn’t know how to speak. But the bus was comfy.

The weather was great (+32 degrees) and the Hanok village (hanok is a traditional Korean house)  was full of beautiful houses and galleries and crafts. By coincidence they were having a traditional music festival. It was great, I liked the traditional storyteller/singer kids the best. Here is a video Lotta took of the kid who won the talent competition.

We were planning on staying at Jeonju Guesthouse right next to Hanok Village. For some reason it was over booked, even though we had a reservation, so we ended up staying in a very pretty small hotel, upstairs of a hat boutique.

In the evening we went to search for dinner. We wanted sub but didn’t find, so we settled with Pizza hut. Surprising enough, that seems to be the only place in Korea you can’t buy beer with your food! There is a nice shopping are in Jeonju, full of young people and colorful shops. And their Daiso was huge.

Jeonju people were nice and talkative – they didn’t speak any English, but they didn’t let that bother them. Some of them we understood, too. Like the guy who helped us to find a naengmyon (냉면) (cold noodles) restaurant. We popped in one restaurant to ask if they served naengmyon, which they didn’t. One of the customers, an ahjussi, run after us and told us he was gonna show us the way to the best naengmyon restaurant of the city and it was a five minutes walk from the first place – in Korean of course. On the way he showed us his own store, which explained why he went through the trouble of walking us there. It was right next to the nengmyon shop. He told the restaurant keeper to serve us the best they got and probably with endless refills, because that’s what we got. And it was delicious!

Another random encounter was an American university professor and poet and his wife, who we met at a souvenir shop. He was very friendly and had his roots in Sweden. His wife told me I look just like Taru.

Sunday morning we headed for Doekjin Park, famous for it’s huge lotus pond. On the way we grabbed some sushi from Home Plus. I think we were the only foreigners in the whole shop. Jeonju buses are pretty convenient and the system was easy enough to figure out, with some help from tourist information lady. T-money works there as well, which is great. Doekjin Park was nice and serene – even though they had a wrestling competition going on there. Sympathetic Christian ladies wanted us to join their church and talked with us for 45 minutes, even though they didn’t speak a word of English.

Jeonju is famous for hanji, beautiful handmade paper, so we couldn’t leave the city without getting some. I bough six sheets for 12 000 won and I’m gonna hang them on my wall in Finland. Very beautiful!


Thank you Jeonju!

PS. I’ve never been stared at so much as in Jeonju. I felt like the only white person on Earth. I can honestly say Jeonju has not been spoiled by tourism yet.

Jeju-do – 제주도, 2.-8.6.2011

Jeju is the Åland of Korea. It’s an autonomous paradise island at the very southern end of Korea. Everybody told us to be sure to go there, so we went – me, Lotta and Anouk. Lotta, as a tourism major and utterly awesome human being, acted as our travel guide, made all the reservations and made sure the trip was a success. It was a success.

We reserved the flight tickets maybe a month ahead and got pretty good prices from Eastarjet– around 80000 won / 50  euros return. There is a direct shuttle bus from Hotel Castle near Ajou to Gimpo airport. Tickets are 6000 won one way and it takes one and half hours to get there – we expected a shorted ride and we got there only ten minutes before Anouk’s check in counter closed. Me and Lotta had a different flight a bit later so we were okay. Both our flights were delayed because of thick fog in Jeju airport. Luckily we were able to land – I heard some planes had to return and some were canceled completely.

From Jeju airport we took a limousine bus 600 to Seogwipo KAL Hotel, close to our first hostel – Doona guesthouse. Our hostel was great and the people there nice. A lot of Scandinavian color there – two dudes from Sweden and one from Finland. The guesthouse is owned by a Korean lady, Doona, and her family. It has very comfy beds and clean facilities and a nice porch to chill at. Close by is a nice Korean restaurant and a small convenience store. Bus number 2 operates to Seogwipo city.

Doona guesthouse

We spend the first day climbing Halla mountain (한라산). (Wouldn’t Hallavuori be a nice surname?) We took the Seongpanak Trail (성판악) – 9.6 km. You can get there by taking bus 5.16 from Seogwipo or Jeju city. Tell the driver you are going to Seongpanak and he’ll drop you off there.  To be able to climb all the way up to the summit you should be at the shelter checkpoint (about 8 km)  no later than 1PM, descending from the summit should start before 2.30PM, so leave early! The bus from Seogwipo takes about 40 minutes.

Seongpanak trail wasn’t as steep as the other ones, but it sure was long. It was good though, we got to see the other crater lake. It was surprisingly quiet – no echo there. My hip started hurting at 1700m, so I didn’t climb all the way to the summit. Lotta did! Well done Lotta. I spent a couple of hours napping in the burning hot sun and headed back to meet Anouk. There were quite a many high school students there, on a field trip. They were happy to practice their English skills with us.

Hallasan

On our second day we joined forces with Canadian Michelle and Finnish Miikka to see the Seogwipo area waterfalls and Jungmun beach. Cheonjiyeon waterfall is in Seogwipo city… easily reached by walking or if you are coming from Doona guesthouse, by bus number 2. Hop off at Napoli hotel or write the waterfall name down and show it to the driver.

Cheonjeyeon Waterfall and Jungmun beach can be reached with bus 600. Catch it from KAL hotel or the hotel I forgot the name for, close to Napoli hotel. Hop off right after the extravagant hotels in Jungmun resort, by Ripley’s believe it or not.

We left for Jeju city (제주시) on our third day. Same bus that took us to Hallasan operates all the way to Jeju city bus terminal. Our second accommodation Yeha guesthouse was conveniently located next to the bus terminal and they had a superb roof terrace!  Rooms were nice and every room had their own shower. Breakfast and one free drink included!

Yeha Guesthouse

We spend the day checking out Jeju city’s sights – Samseonghyeol Shrine (삼성혈), where the three demigods of Jeju popped out of the ground, Jeju Folklore museum (pretty cool place, learned a lot, but the sea creature museum next to it was too much – freaking scary, never gonna swim again) and the seafront. Ate Mexican food near City Hall, at Zapata’s. Very good food and handsome waiters!

Samseonghyeol

Seafront

The next day we took a bus to Seongsan Ilchulbong (성산일출봉), the sunrise peak. We didn’t see the sunrise, but the area was pretty. We also took a ferry to U-do (우도), a small island close to the sunrise peak.  The tour bus organized by the local people is well worth the 5000 won. It stops at the main attractions and you can get on the next bus every half an hour. It was a good idea to take my flipflops with me, since the pretty coral sand beach was, well, sandy. I built a sand castle! And ate seaweed. The island is very rural and the people reminded me of people back home. Oh, the owner lady of the convenience store in U-do ferry terminal is nice and you can get home made kimchi with your cup noodles.

Sunrise peak

We got back early enough to have time to check out the Tea museum. It was great, even though no-one spoke a word of English there. The cafe downstairs was picturesque and had awesome matcha yogurt ice cream. Of course we had to buy some small tea cups, but the real tea sets were too expensive. We also found a nice Indian restaurant near by (can you tell we are getting a bit tired of Korean food).

On our last day we visited the Manjanggul Lava-tube (만장굴). The bus left us 2 kilometers from the entrance, but by foot we were able to see the smaller lava tube entrances. On the way we stopped by the Kimnyeong maze, a huge cedar maze well worth visiting. Our tactic ar first was the famous “first right, then left” but since it failed we switched to “kai-bai-po” (rock paper scissors) and successfully cleared the maze. For dinner we had the best summer food, Japanese cold noodles. From now on I’m not gonna eat anything else but cold noodles in the summer.

A great trip! Yay!

Taiwan!

Like the good exchange students we are, of course we travel! Who would stick to just Korea when you have gone all the trouble to drag your rear to Asia.

First we were thinking of visiting a friend in Beijing, but ignorant as I was, I didn’t pay attention to Chinese visa policies before my departure from Finland – to get Chinese visa in Korea your alien registration card needs to be valid at least six months from the day you apply. So no China.

Next we wanted to do something totally random so we were looking for cheap flights to Okinawa, Mongolia and Hawaii. Turned out there are NO cheap flights to those destinations. Lotta managed to find very good deal from EVA Airlines, from Incheon to Taipei – only 250 euros per person.

In Korea all the guys have to serve in the military and do re-training every year (or every two years or whatever). They invite guys to re-training by university and major, on different dates. My class happened to be on Wednesday 4th May and my classes were canceled. Thursday 5th was Children’s day, a national holiday. I don’t have classes on Tuesdays and Mondays I only have one class. So basically I only missed Friday.

We left for Taiwan on Sunday afternoon. Shuttle bus from Suwon Hotel Castle to Incheon cost 12000 won and took 40 minutes. Normally it takes over an hour.  We had plenty of time to do stuff at the airport – like exchange money (which was a good idea since our cards didn’t always work with Taiwanese ATMs and they don’t take cards in most shops) and visit the Korean culture center. We got to Taipei airport around 10 PM and took a bus (125 tw$) to the main station.

Lotta booked us a hostel (Taiwan Mex) and it was very conveniently located – five minutes walk from the main station and the same from Zongshan station. The area is very cool – full of contemporary art. Very, very cool. On our last night me and Dara found out why, while drinking beer in front of one cool building – it was the Museum of Contemporary Art, right next to our hostel. Too bad we didn’t realize it earlier.

Taipei has a lot to do: endless temples, beaches, hot springs, night markets, and shopping.  We did mainly everything.

Taiwanese temples are amazing – and it amazes me how actively Taiwanese people practice the religion. I saw monks and nuns everywhere (and envied their comfy clothes) and all the temples were full of worshipers, incense, flowers, fruits, cats, music and color.

To be honest, we missed all the “real” beaches, but I’m not a beach person anyways. I saw the sea from the train window, and we spent one night drinking beer on the riverbank in Danshui. Lotta and Anouk went to hot springs, I was too tired and I regret it now. Read more about hot spring visit from Lotta’s blog (in Finnish).

Night markets were certainly worth experiencing. We were very lucky to have Joanne and Christina, two Taiwanese girls, as our guides in Shilin Night Market. It’s known of food, and food there was. Many, many, different kinds of foods and surprisingly large variety of vegetarian stuff too – as in everywhere in Taiwan. Gotta love Buddhism.


(Bubble tea!)

Right from our hostel starts a complex of never ending underground malls, filled with  similar stores with similar products and similar prices. Compared to Korean sales personnel, Taiwanese have the touch in sales – they don’t disturb you and stare you to death, but when you need to buy something, they can actually speak enough English to get things rolling. And their fashion is cool. The thing that bothers me in Korea is that everybody here looks exactly the same. Nobody wants to stand out. I loved the variety of body types, hairstyles, color and fashion in Taipei. Loved it. And I liked how they were open to rainbow people and I saw a lot of androgynous girls and guys, so me neither had to stick with skirts and high heels. And I loved it even more when I was able to find my size everywhere. So obviously I spent like a maniac.

We happened to walk by Mitsukoshi department store at eleven, opening time. Good thing Lotta was with us, since she had experience on Japanese department stores, so she wanted to wait and see what would happen in Taipei when they open. Whoa, creepy, creepy! The doll like women bowed simultaneously, walked like robots and opened the doors for customers, who rushed in to be greeted by all personnel, neatly dressed, bowing and bidding you welcome. Freaked me out.

Wonder what happens in Taipei 101 when they open in the morning – they only have high-high class brand shops there so I guess they have something similar too. Why I went there? Well, to access the Taipei tower you need to walk through the whole shopping mall. The bookstore is worth the visit – a crazy selection of books in English. Taipei 101 is worth a visit of course – for the cute guys working there if nothing else. And it’s a perfect spot to check how they manage traffic in Taipei – they have a lot of cars, I can tell. And scooters!

Me and Lotta didn’t want to stay in the metropolis area, so on Tuesday we took a train to Hualien (3 h), from where we took a bus to Taroko  Tourist Information Center (1h) after waiting for it first for 2 hours… So even though we left Taipei at eight, we were in Taroko at 3 PM. We randomly chose one of the trails to follow, the Shakadang trail. Here, pictures:


(Btw, it’s the local bedrock that makes the water look like that)


(Honestly, everything was like from Ghibli Animation – like the Totoro leaves here)


(Or like here – suddenly, in the middle of the jungle, we have steampunk!)

We got back to the Info Center at 5.30 PM, when the second last bus was supposed to leave. It didn’t show up, nor there were any other people around. The last bus was supposed to leave at  7 PM so we waited. And waited. Took some pictures. Waited. It became dark. Saw fireflies. It became pitch black. Saw Totoro. Heard monkeys going wild. Waited.

The bus never showed up so we started walking towards any light we could see. Luckily we run into a young (cute) guy, and pleaded HAELP! The dude had as good English skills as my Swedish skills are – understand but can’t speak. But he was helpful, and called his friend who was also very cute and very fluent in English, and a cab. With brief changing of contact information we parted ways. They stayed (they work for the National Park) and we went to the nearest station – where we waited another two hours for the last train. But no worries, Family Mart is always open, so we had food and beer and we saw a giraffe. Look:

Oh yeah, one more place we visited. Near Taipei Zoo starts the Maokong gondola, which definitely is worth riding. There are many sights on the way, but we rode all the way to the mountain to taste some tea and eat our bento.

So my advice for Taiwan travellers:

a) Go for it, it’s awesome!

b) Go for it, it’s affordable!

c) Go for it, you get by with English, effortlessly. Easier than in Korea.

d) Take your hiking gear with you, there is a lot of nature worth seeing!

e) For day trips, leave early and check the timetables from locals.

f) Buy the Easy Money card from metro stations. Public transportation is cheap and easy and with Easy Money you can also pay in convenience stores (and get a discount), rent bikes, ride the Maokong gondola and who knows what else.

g) Exchange some money beforehands. Most places don’t take cards, but you can withdraw money in convenience stores.

h) Go to tea shops – they let you taste the tea before you buy it.

i) Go to night markets – they give free samples.

j) Watch out for mosquitoes, I’m still itching!

k) Don’t be surprised by the Jpop and Kpop influence.

l) Honestly, the Traditional Crafts Market or what ever, south from main station, is not worth your visit. Or maybe it is if you want to buy expensive cheap stuff in a clinic, AC’d environment, listening to lounge music. But that was the only place I was able to find a paper umbrella :>

The fresh air of Gyeong-ju

The Office of International Affairs (OIA) and Ajou Global Ambassadors (A.G.A) organized us a 1 night 2 days trip to Gyeong-ju. The little I know about Gyeong-ju is that it is the spot with most historic sites. They were pretty nice, but I guess I would have enjoyed it more by myself and later in spring – and if I had researched a bit beforehand. But it was great to get away from the Seoul dust – the fresh mountain air was awesome.

The bus ride from Suwon took about 5 hours, with two stops. The highway rest areas here are pretty well equipped, nothing like the shabby gas stations in Finland. There are similarities though – in Finland we have the ABCs, here they just have more chain stores. Fast, that’s the key word.

I spent most of my time in the bus taking pictures of weird things that interest me. Like construction sites and erosion prevention. And load securing on trucks. I wonder if they have any legislation to control it. They barely do it. I have to find out how it is…the girl next door is doing her masters in transportation engineering, I have to ask her.

We spent the night in Kolon Hotel (in the middle of nowhere). They had a sauna/onsen there so me and Lotta had to try it. We only had 40 minutes, but it was worth it. Refreshing. A.G.A held a talent show at the hotel and many groups had prepared something. I have to say I liked the Indonesian dances the most. Colorful, smiling, pretty and they are good dancers too. And they are friendly. I love friendly people.

It would have been fun to do something together with A.G.A people afterwards, but we had fun with our own little group too. I guess I’m getting the first symptoms of culture shock, since I’m starting to feel a bit irritated about stupid stuff. I need to get my ass out of the dorms soon, and do it alone, or I start nagging at people who don’t deserve it.

Here are some pictures of the sights and the people (and food):

Everland… and the Japan crisis

Yes, by far everything is okay in Korea, even though the earthquake in Japan was devastating and the situation in Fukushima nuclear plant is still extremely unstable. Luckily the wind is blowing towards the Pacific Ocean. I find it rather relevant to keep following the wind situation, but no one here is panicking over it. Finnish Embassy in Seoul asked Finnish citizens to update their contact information, so I let them know my local phone number. That’s all I’ve done.

I joined Friends Club and went to Everland with them last weekend. Everland is a HUGE theme park close to Suwon. HUGE. And so were the lines. The main attraction was this:

T-express

The T-express

On the first day we waited on a line for 70 minutes and on the second day for 90 minutes (because one of the cars was broken and they operated with only one car). But it was worth it… the first fall was almost 90 degrees and the ride was long enough. Everything else felt quite lame afterwards.

The weather was very nice so the place was packed with dating couples and families. The staff managed to hide their deep hatred towards the songs and choreographies  they had to do while operating the devices. Oh, I think this crew actually had fun, although it doesn’t really show on the picture:

We were hanging out with this group:

They are all really sweet and nice and they look especially cute when they try on cutesy merchandise like Tha here:
Tha

or me and Anouk here:

After the dinner we had a house party… they call it member training here. MT equals to lots of beer, soju, music and drinking games. They have a lot of games – most of them really fun. I’ll try to learn them and bring them home.

Here’s what Björn thought of the party: