(merkit hukassa)

Adventures in Korea

Tag Archives: technology

Tips for Padawans: Awesome Naver!

When I arrived here I had only very vague instructions of how to get here or how the place looks like. I was lost because my trusted Google didn’t provide me streetviews. Now I understand why. It’s not Google they trust in Korea. It’s Naver and Naver 지도.

So for those who plan on traveling or living in Korea, I highly recommend learning hangul (the Korean alphabet) and trying to navigate with Naver. As long as you know how to read and write city names, you are good – it’s basically the same as Google and Google Maps – but better! It has ALL the information you need to know just about anything. It finds you a bus and calculates your gasoline consumption. Actually, when you travel in Korea and your guide book and tourist information people tell you that “there is no buses to that and that place” they are probably too lazy and wrong. Ask Naver, and it will find you your buses and schedules. Helped me a lot in Jeju-island.

So, if you want to take a tour through our campus, here’s a link that hopefully works. By clicking the little planes you can see pretty good aerial photos.


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):

Fast dentist is fast

In Finland I waited for six months to get an appointment with my dentist. It really sucks a big time, the queues there. Here my filling suddenly came off and after trying one private dental clinic down the street (they kicked me out, saying they don’t speak English) I went to the university hospital’s dental clinic.

After filling in some forms the dental hygienist walked me to the x-ray guy, click, “okay Leena, phinished!” and out to the dentist. She checked my teeth while waiting for the filling material and told me my filling came out because my wisdom teeth is putting too much pressure on it – and I need to have it removed. Is next month okay? Oh, and we need to finish your root channel treatment and put a new crown on your teeth, is next week okay? And do you want a golden or porcelain crown?” And all this took maybe 30 minutes.

I have no clue how much do I need to pay for all this, but it’s probably dirty cheap compared to private dentists in Finland. Which would be my only option, since it’s impossible to get in the public dental care. For this one round – emergency filling, one local x-ray and one panoramic x-ray and check-up I paid  83000 won –  58 euros. Let’s see how much does it cost for the rest. I don’t really care, I’m just happy to get my teeth fixed and I have my insurance.

I’ve been x-rayed quite a lot in these last two months – first full torso x-ray back in Finland when I had to stay in the hospital, then here my lungs and my teeth. I need no more radiation.

GLEE club started for real. It’s a mixed choir, rather big one. I was happily surprised of their talent and even the young conductor dongseng gets my approval. We started with this song (skip to 3:40) – medley of animation music. My choir back home should learn from Korean culture – no excessive chatting and stupid questions, just listening and doing until the practice was over. After that we had plenty of time to talk – it seems to be common to go to a bar after clubs. We apparently had fun – after two bars we came back to the club room to play some more drinking games – until 6 AM. Those games are totally awesome.

Then again, I caught a cold so today I’ve been staying at the dorms, trying to get better. My friend is coming to Seoul tomorrow so I want to be able to go and meet him there. Also, tomorrow we are meeting some other friends and I have a presentation to make and and and… Oh, some pictures:

First one is from my Ecodesign II class… we have to disassemble and analyze an existing product and design a better one.

The lower pictures are from our dorm room – our decorations. Poster of the play I went to see, Big Bang, Korean flag and a hentai poster we found on our way home.

Tech differences 1: Water automage

I decided I’m gonna post short entries about things we don’t have in Finland – tech and design wise.

First – machine that generates warm drinking water automagically!

Yes. We have drinking water automates in Finland too, but only in public places and only for cold water. Tap water quality in Finland is quite high and it doesn’t taste that much like chlorine – so we just  drink from the tap. For tea and cup noodles we use electric kettles or normal pot&stove combo.

As far as I know, the water treatment here involves quite a lot of chemicals (chlorine), so I haven’t seen people drinking tap water (I don’t know what they do in normal homes). Water automates are everywhere. Some connected to the water network, some using bottled water. On the right hand side there is the cold water tap and the magical hot water tap on the left.

Considering the amount of instant noodles and tea I’ve been consuming, it is the most convenient thing ever, but I wonder how much energy does one machine consume per day – there are cooling and heating elements that require electricity and they are on all the time.

Sore feet

Got lots done yesterday and a ton of blisters.

Me and this lovely French WWOOFer Luce went to get stuff done. First we hit the Nagwon Arcade to buy me the bass I’ve been talking about. The place was amazing – an endless maze of music stores.

After asking around for quite a bit I finally found a store that had few acoustic bass guitars on sale. The sales guy “Johnny” was really nice and didn’t question too much my first choice for bass being acoustic. He gave me a couple of options and, knowing nothing about basses, I purely based my decision on sound. He first gave me an offer of W400 000 (280€), but after seeing me hesitate ha dropped the price to W300 000 (210€) (case, strap and chord included), which probably still had quite a lot of air in it, but was still cheaper than stuff back home. And it’s Korean, it’s a souvenir!

Nagwon Arcade

Then we went to rent me a phone from Jongguk. It’s bloody expensive (W90000, 63€) a month, but it’s a must to have a phone here if you want to meet people. And I want to. The price is gonna go down after a month (from W3000 to W2000 /day and after a while to W1000 /day) but it’s still gonna be expensive. I hope there is a way to find a better long time deal.

Luce came here to wwoof so we went to the local office to find information. The building was the awesomest little house ever and I had my moment of serenity with their pet bunny while Luce talked with the staff. They have pretty interesting places to work at – everyone recommends Jeju-island.


We were in the tourist district so we did some touring on our way back. Walked the Insadong-gil, went to see Jongno tower and eventually tried to get in to the Museum of Art (too expensive) and Gyeongbokgung (closed for the day), but managed to see Gwanghwamun-gate – which was impressive.

And I got a T-money card – RFID based re-loadable ticket for public transit in Seoul and surrounding areas. It saves money and think it should  be able to get me all the way to Suwon. I got pretty good instructions from one of the AGA members – should take the subway to Sadang (exit 4) and change to red bus number 7000 to Ajou Dae Hak Kyo. I’ve been talking to other exchange students and they seem pretty nice and cool.

Tonight: Kiss of the Spider Woman. Yay!

PS. This country seems to have tons of traffic officers who just stand by the large intersections in case something happens…

People, watching

It was my first “real” day in Seoul and I had no idea what to do, so I just buckled up my shoes and started walking. It was a bit before nine, chilly, a bit of snow on the ground and very few people on the streets: the rush hour was already over. There is smog everywhere and the trees are bare – everything looks delightfully boring.

Smoggy mountains

My hostel is in Hongdae, which is supposed to be the center of nightlife, live music and cool kids. Well, the cool kids were hibernating – I saw none. The University vacation might have something to do with it.  None of the shops were open, except for cafés, so I went to see the campus. It seems Korean students are allowed to draw on walls and leave nightmare based sculptures laying around. (Hongik has visual arts department, that’s why.)

More pictures in my picture blog.

I got bored when I couldn’t find a guitar store, so I took my trusted companion (Lonely Planet), and picked something randomly. I ended up on the opposite side of Seoul, in COEX Mall, which is supposed to be THE Mall here. The ticket was 1700 won – pretty good price for half an hour ride. Yes, the mall was big, but it’s hard to impress me with fashion stores.

Nevertheless, it was a perfect place for people-watching. There is an aquarium in the building too and the visiting preschool kids were just precious. Tiny charcoal eyed mini Asians with big yellow backpacks, holding hands and walking in endless rows. One of them had The Awesomest Blinking Lights in his shoes! WHOA!

Later on the place filled with dating teenagers. The boys seemed really pleased visiting hundreds of girly-girly fashion stores and endless accessory heavens. They probably paid for everything. I feel for them.

I found a good bookstore. HUGE. Loads of English books. Bought myself Survival Korean Vocabulary (by some Korean Publisher).

I ate delicious traditional Korean delicacy, New York Fries’ Veggie Works. Veggie here supposedly meant half pint of cheddar gravy. But anyways, their queue system was the greatest ever – after I placed my order, they gave me a coaster-like plastic thing, with digital number showing my place in the queue. I went to find a table and when my fries were ready the coaster started vibrating and bleeping!

I wanted to go back to the hostel, but I had to gather my guts to face the human rush hour. I sat down for a while and realized two things: 1) girls don’t smoke (publicly) 2) people stare me a lot. Funny and disturbing. The rush wasn’t that bad really, I suppose the peak was a bit later.

I think I saw a gay girl couple in the subway. I can’t be sure since girls hold hands here a lot but well, the other girl was obviously butch and the glance she gave me said “step back you foreign bitch”. The other queer part of the day were the awesome yaoi/K-pop maniac roomies, who went to see a musical with beautiful guys and a gay scene. “It’s a musical and it’s kinda gay”, is how one of them described it. I have to admit the promo pictures were dangerously divine. I’m probably going to see it with them next week – they want to see it again.

I asked the hostel owner if I could stay here for the rest of my vacation, even though the place is full. He said it’s okay as long as I don’t mind sleeping in the male dorm, which I don’t – I’m a Finn. So yay! I’m exploring Seoul very throughly and saving Pusan for spring.

If Oulu was Seoul, the airport would be in Hailuoto

AHEM! Where to start? This is going to be a long post – so much has happened in these couple of days.

I went on my excessive farewelling tour around Finland. On Monday I went to pick up my 500,000 wons and had an ISIC card made for me (12 €, Kilroy) – just in case I want to get the Korea rail pass. Helsinki in winter is violently boring and slippery.

The journey itself was very non-dramatic, so I tried to concentrate on details and feelings… but to tell about it would bore you and me to death so here’s an outline of my boring two-part series of flights.

I checked myself in on-line the night before, so all I had to do in Helsinki-Vantaa was to walk through security check, wait and queue. Amsterdam from air looked interesting and the airport was way too huge. I saw an amazing frequent flier passport checking thing, where you just inserted your personal card and proceeded through a series of serious cyber gates by fingerprint or iris scanning. The other gates were organized poorly and the Chinese were unable to comprehend.

KLM used ridiculously big boeing-something. They entertained us with a funny remote control – phone – entertainment system. I was amazed when I got the vegetarian meal I had ordered. Usually I end up starving. Not perfect though, I think I asked for vegan food but got ovo-lacto. Still better than nothing. Flight was for 10,5 hours which was enough to get frustrated on stewardesses who kept pestering us every hour. I did sleep a bit but not too well. Against my nature, I actually chatted with the lady next to me. What the heck, that lady was a gorgeous Japanese girl, who wouldn’t have?

Then I got to Seoul.

First impressions:

  • The scenery in general reminds me a tad too much of Hailuoto. With mountains. The airport is on an island.
  • The airport has a nice shuttle-train, whee!
  • I was tired, hated myself and people were staring.
  • I didn’t realize I need to fill in another landing card for immigrations, in addition to that hard-questions-on-a-tiny-piece-of-paper given me by the flight attendants. Even the Chinese grandmas knew better. (You can find the papers on the little desks at the immigration gates, don’t forget!) After that I just walked through immigrations and customs (where I handed in the other little piece paper) and out of the airport.
  • Or not exactly –  the train station is in the airport. Just follow the Airport Train -signs downstairs and through the hall.
  • There are no policemen in Helsinki-Vantaa airport. In Incheon (horribly young) policemen wield assault rifles. In Amsterdam the only weird thing was that all the shop clerk girls seemed to cover their heads with a scarf and be feminists.
  • Buying a train ticket is surprisingly easy when a nice young info-girl does it for you. A ticket from Incheon to Hongik University was a bit over 4000 won. The train was clean, and at that time rather empty, with announcements in Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese. They also had very clear announcements for transfer hubs. More about trains when I know more.
  • Simple getting-there instructions can be made complicated.
  • People like to talk. Which is nice.
  • TOP is nothing. NOTHING. Compared to the guys that walk on Seoul streets. Or more like, the star style doesn’t really differ that much from the common people style – Seoul people at a glans seem really stylish. I, on the other hand, feel colorful. Were blue jeans a mistake=!=!!=????

I’m staying at Hongdae Guesthouse 2.0 Yellow Submarine, a couple of minutes walk from Hangik University station. The getting there instructions were hard to understand, so I did as advised and dropped by at the first Hongdae Guesthouse. The hostel owner Mary is a charming person: talkative and cute. I sat there for a while talking with her and the part timers and guests and then with Mary’s good instructions and a map I found my way to the second guesthouse. The price for two nights is 34200 won – thats 25 euros. Nice people, if a bit weird. The house is really warm, thanks to floor heating, and now they all think I’m some sort of arctic specialty as I walk around wearing a wife-beater.

So, from now on I have made detailed plans: gonna sleep pretty soon. Tomorrow I will do something. After that I’ll do something else.

PS. No hope for veganism at least for weeks. People were apologetic when I told them I don’t eat seafood. That seems to be the issue. I think I’ll stick with bakeries until I figure something sustainable. Oh, and the fried rice (don’t worry, it’s veggies) had fish in it :D

PPS. No pictures, suckers. I didn’t feel like it.

Now it hit me

You’ve got mail!” said my email app. Or would’ve said if it was able to speak. Good grief, I’d go crazy if it was. Anyways, Ajou sent me an email stating I should get tested for tuberculosis, get a health insurance, reserve housing, wave my light saber, do a rain dance and practice yoga. The health insurance part I got covered ages ago, hope they’ll accept my all-mighty Finnish insurance of win.

They also suggested I might be interested applying for visa. WELL YES! The ever-so-slight problem is they are sending the Letters of Acceptance this week. Gee, thanks!  For the letter to arrive to my school will take at least 3 workdays and for them to forward it to me will take another two days. Then I’ll send it to the embassy – 2 more days -, they process it – one week -, they send it back – two more days. If everything goes right.

I ordered books from Lonely Planet (LP Korea, LP Seoul and Korean Phrasebook) for 40€. Quite a good bargain, but I have mixed feelings about travel guides. You see, it would be lot easier (and less to carry) to buy a smart-phone with travel guide applications. Then again, the tech-freak I might be, I don’t trust the smart-phone technology yet and I find it huge waste of money to buy crap. I might change my mind if I find something fancy and blingy (with English OS) from Korea – the land of Samsung and LG.

Be as it might, I’m excited and bit scared now. I haven’t learn the language yet. I haven’t even started, to be precise. But I got some info about vegetarianism in Korea ( from this nice guy of Internets, thank you!) Good news is – I’m gonna get thinner. Bad news – I’m gonna get hungry. Seems to be quite hard to find vegan or even vegetarian food over there.  So better eat a lot now!