(merkit hukassa)

Adventures in Korea

Tag Archives: yuk… YUK!

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.

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 :>

“But you should see the other guy…!”

I was in a fight, look:

Just kidding. I went to get rid of my wisdom tooth, but they took out two. With the painkillers (I even managed to find a pharmacy and get my prescribed medicine) it cost me 300 000 won. Maybe 250 euros_ Thank you Visa. (Message for my mom: kantsii kohta kertoa paljonko oon velkaa ennenko mennee rahat risasiin hampaisiin) They even gave me an antibiotic shot – after allergy tests. They never bother with tests in Finland. I like Korean system. So efficient.

And my life is a musical! I’m not sure if I already mentioned this, but when I need to get stuff done I go to my Club’s room in New Student Union Building (Yes, building. They have not only one, but two student union buildings – for clubs and student activities. In Finland we barely have a basement cupboard for the student union). There is always somebody – people doing their homework quietly, playing piano, chatting. Then suddenly someone starts a song and people join, singing harmonies, spontaneously. When the song ends they just keep doing what they were doing like nothing happened. And that happens all the time. (Well, it’s GLEE Club so that explains.) Yes, I too join spontaneously now that I know the songs they sing.

And I got my work done too… sat there for whole day working on my mind map and flowcharts – which apparently overwhelms my classmates. They told me Koreans are not good with holistic views but details – in which I suck hard. My mind works in pictures, so I need to process everything through flowcharts and mind maps to actually understand. Tomorrow I have a presentation and I’m still a bit confused.

I took some very random pictures. Here goes:

My Biological Wastewater Treatment handbook. Very heavy, very big, and very boring.

Wrist bands from Everland and Big Show. And Pizza ads.

I’m bored of orange juice and allergic to nestle IceTea, so I switched to this. It’s good, but the pink one tastes like childhood antibiotics. Yuk… YUK!

One very cute Lotta and our dorm room. Check Lotta’s blog too if you haven’t already. In Finnish or in English.

And a postcard to my friend who has her birthday soon. Hope it gets there on time. Yes, that’s only one word there. Saying happy birthday. So Happy Birthday Kemppu <3

PS. I bought PhotoShop smudge effect from the cosmetics store nearby. It’s just foundation, but it gives the exact same effect that photoshop. ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ

I accidentally tourist hell

A stream near Euljiro 3-ga

I only had one think on my shopping list when I came here – an acoustic bass. And I heard there is this place called Nakwon Arcade in Insadong. Insadong’s main street is Seoul’s souvenir hell, offering everything from traditional costumes to genuine crafts (most likely made in Thailand). When trying to locate the arcade I accidentally ended up in that whirlwind. It was kinda good though, I needed to buy chopsticks and they had plenty.

Nakwon Arcade was really hard to locate. Mostly because it wasn’t open – Sunday, who closes a mall on the best shopping day of the week? I’m going back there tomorrow, but first I need to check the store in our Subway station. One of the lodgers recommended it.

While walking around I had time to think quite a lot. Here’s what I thought:

  • It was almost +15 Celsius and they are still wearing  winter jackets.
  • The girls wear such high heels they need a boyfriend to keep them from tripping over all the time. That same boyfriend also carries their handbag – which IS NOT what men are supposed to do. Except if they share cosmetics, which might be the case here. Men here are beautiful.
  • There are maps everywhere, especially near subway stations. They don’t operate with street names, more with landmarks. Distances on maps look scary, but are in fact not that bad. Sometimes it’s easier and quicker to walk to the next subway station than try to find the right platform for your transfer train. The stations are endless. Especially Euljiro 3 -ga, never transfer there if you don’t have to.
  • Korean city layout is not meant for Finnish mind set. I would go crazy if I needed to call for directions every time I wanted to visit a new store or company. That’s what Koreans seem to do. And they use landmarks. And the little alleys seem to either not end at all or they just end where you least expect.
  • At least those parts of the city I’ve visited can’t really brag with architecture. The blocks look almost organic – this house grew to fit this place and that house there grew a bit too much…
  • Koreans can park in amazingly narrow alleys.
  • The air in Seoul is really dry and the sun is bright. My nose is full of sand and I couldn’t take decent pictures with the light today.
  • I can’t stop admiring the amount of good fashion I’ve seen by far – both men and women dress really well (and they have an expensive taste). Of course there are other country pumpkins like me, who don’t care what they’re wearing.
  • Recycling here includes blue plastic bags on the streets and cars with loudspeakers.

Also, just to be mentioned. I had the most awful “dinner” tonight, in the form of revolting cheese flavored noodles. Here’s a picture and in the picture blog there are more. yuk
I’ll also update yesterdays entry with a picture from Sisha bar gr8, first thing tomorrow. Yeah, the jet lag kicked in. I’m a mess atm.