My 10 favourite things to do in Korea.

Someone asked me what my favourite things to do in Korea were.  I have a lot of favourite things to do so I narrowed them down to 10. Before we read, I think we should listen to Julie Andrews and her favourite things, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_PjaKkmTgQ

My list isn’t half as interesting as Wild Geese that fly with the moon on their wings but here it is anyway;

1. Drink tea with my friends; Monday to Friday is a haze of school and study and randomness so when the opportunity arrives to sit down, drink tea and have a laugh, I take it.  I have so many great memories that have stemmed from all of us in one apartment drinking tea and having the craic. Since your friends are your family here and thankfully I’ve got some great friends, tea time is a great catch up time.  As you can see in the picture, you never really know what’s going to happen at tea time……….

teatime

2. Play at a session; I love to play to my walls and I’m sure my walls appreciate it but there’s nothing like playing with real people. Having a few pints, a bit of craic and playing a few tunes is the most ideal way to spend any Sunday afternoon.

session

3. Be a  tourist; There are loads of places I’ve never been to in Korea. I love nothing more than heading off to some museum, exhibition or random city, getting lost, play the tourist and encourage the people to practice their English. ” This picture was taken at Chuseok when we all headed over to Paju Samneung to check out the tombs. Just us and our cameras and Spuddy.

Tourist

4. Fly Kites in Imjingak; Imjingak is an area with a park right before the border with the North. Tours to the DMZ usually stop there are there are interesting things to see like the North and stuff but the park there is fantastical. It’s a giant  green area with a stage, some statues and it’s an ideal place to pass a day. It’s an even better place to fly kites. My friends and I went there recently on our day off and spent a wonderful afternoon picnicking and listening to the free concert. No kites in the pictures below I’m afraid but we look like we’re having a great time anyway.

iMJINGAK INJIN

5. Eat Galbi; Has anyone ever noticed that the most epic conversations always start over some delicious Galbi? Delicious meat, lots of side dishes, good people, random conversations. Galbi is where it’s all at. The picture below is as close to a Galbi picture as I could find.

Galbi

6. Sing at the Norebang; I don’t know one person who doesn’t love the Norebang. Actually, I do, I just choose to ignore them (more singing time for me!) A night out is never really over until you’ve hit the Norebang. Cheap, cheerful, you can play the tambourines, dance, sing. You can sing in English, you can sing in Korean or Japanese or just play the tambourine. If you are at a luxury Norebang you can eat the snacks. Good times. I’d like to thank Cindy or Leana or whichever friend took this photo of our last trip to the Norebang.

norebang

7. Go to the cinema. For everyone who asks, yes the movies are in English. Well the foreign ones are. Apart from all that delicious popcorn in all those flavours, the thing I love best is being the only foreigners in the theatre. It’s 50 or so Koreans and 5 expats and you can tell because only we get the jokes (I guess they don’t translate well) so while we’re falling around laughing, the Koreans are laughing at us laughing.

8. Have random conversations; I’m not one for talking to strangers but sometimes you just can’t help it. You’re sitting on the subway and suddenly the person next to you wants to practice their English. I’ve spoken to some great characters. The adjummas who think I’d be a great match for their son, the old guys who tell you stories of the war, the adjusshis who are a little disappointed that you’re from Ireland and not somewhere they’ve actually heard of, the other adjussis who actually know loads about Ireland. The list goes on. Good times. Like the guy below. I met him in Malaysia, he was all over the red hair. Shame he knew nothing about “Iceland”

chinese man

9. Learning Korean; I do complain about having to memorise all the vocab and grammar and so on but learning Korean is a hoot. Koreans are so shocked that you can say 안녕하세요, Wow amazing! I said hello. Imagine that!  After 4 years, I can say hello. For my next trick I can speak an entire sentence.  When I do my homework on the subway, Koreans will chime in when I make a mistake making it look like I magically got all the answers right all by myself. More good times. No pictures because I actually study as opposed to taking pictures of my books and posting them on FB.

10.  Bombing around in Spuddy. I simply adore my car. Not because it’s a Porshe or anything just because it’s mine and it fits everywhere. Honestly, you could lift it up and bring it inside it’s so small. In fairness to Spuddy it’s deceiving big. On the last road trip to Daegu we fit 4 adults, 3 overnight bags, a harp, a whistle, a concertina, a bodhran in there.  That whistle really took up all the space……

spufdy

I also get a 50% discount because I drive an awesome yellow car ( or because it’s a 경자). Whatever,  my reason is better.  AND it’s yellow so I can find it in that sea of monochrome. Win win right there.

Then there’s Norecar. In the morning on the way to school, I throw turn on some music and just sing as I drive. Great times. (for me, not for anyone who may be unfortunate enough to hear me!)

If you live in Korea, let me know if there’s anything you would add to the list. Otherwise, leave your comments below!

Made in China- The October Challenge

A little while ago, I read an article about a family who had gone a year without buying anything that was “Made in China”. He is a link to an article about it. (In fact it’s a book) http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/06/28/us-books-madeinchina-idUSN2425061320070628

That got me thinking. With China as our closest easterly neighbour, how easy or difficult would it be to refrain from buying anything that was “Made in China”? How much of an influence do they have here and how many items that I use everyday are actually “Made in China”? After mentioning it to a friend, we decided to go without buying anything “Made in China” for the month of October. I honestly have no idea how easy or difficult this will be as I have never put too much thought into it before.

The other rule is that as far as possible we must support the home market, in this case Korea or if at all possible our own home markets, Ireland and South Africa.

So that’s it, the October challenge. I’ll write another blog on the results and observations of this challenge in November.

Shauna1

Paju Samneung- Three Royal Tombs in Paju

A few months ago,while on one of our “Let’s discover Paju” tours, Janet, Pratz and I happened by a place called Jangneung. We went along the lane to discover some renovations and further on a most beautifully kept tomb. Wanting to take a few pictures, we took off down the original concrete and suddenly the sound of alarms filled the entire area. So we ended up taking our pictures from outside the invisible line.

Jangneung

A quick internet search later, we found that not only was Jangneung NOT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC (oops) but that there was another UNESCO World Heritage site in Paju. Another! That makes two. Yes you heard it here first. Who would have ever thought that in the days of the Joseon Dynasty, Paju was where it was all at.

Jangneung 2Jangneung has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2009. It is the burial place of King Injo and Queen Inyeol. King Injo was the 16th king of the Joseon Dynasty.  After some tough times involving the Manchus, King Injo did have some successes during his reign.

This fantastically kept area has many stone monuments around the tomb. Unfortunately because of our little alarm problem, we couldn’t get far enough in to take pictures.

During Chuseok however, we made it our mission to discover Paju’s other UNESCO World heritage site, Paju Samneung. 삼 (Sam) being the word for three in Korean. This site has three tombs that hold the bodies of four members of royalty during the Joseon dynasty.

We found the tombs by accident. We were actually driving to see the Buddhas when we happened by the sign and wanting to get out of the traffic, we diverted to the tombs. Entry was free for Chuseok but the usual 1,000 won entry fee is affordable.  There are information leaflets in English, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

We first passed a small museum but with everything in Korean, we made it a short stay here. Don’t come here expecting to be bused from tomb to tomb, you have to walk. The grounds are very beautiful with the different trees labelled in English.  The whole area is really quiet so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon out of a city and into nature.

For photographers, this would be a great place to take photos anytime of the year but especially in autumn when the leaves change colour.

Samneung

The three tombs here are Gongneung, Sulleung and Yeongneung, the final being the burial place of King Jinjong and Queen Hyosun. You can look around the shrines and sheds but you can’t actually go on the grassy tomb area so to pick up the details of the statues at the back, a good camera lens needed.

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Samneung4

Samneung5

Al three tombs are away from each other with the paths providing beautifully shaded areas for picnics or resting. Indeed, during our visit at Chuseok, there were several families enjoying picnics and some quiet time.

Samneung 16

To get to Paju Samneung on public transport, take the 99, 760, 30,31 and get off at Paju Samneung then walk down the road opposite the bus stop for 10 or so minutes.

The best way is to take a taxi from Geumchon or Geumneung station and ask the driver to go to Paju Samneung.

The address for anyone driving is 89 Samneung ro, Jori eup, Paju si, Gyeonggi do.

For anyone interested in going feel free to email shaunabrowne87@yahoo.co.uk for more details.

Staycationing for Chuseok.

My friend and I have just bought tickets home for Christmas. Our other friend is leaving Korea soon. Combine this with expensive plane tickets, sold out KTX tickets and lots of traffic on the roads and a staycation really was our only option. Not that we were complaining. Doing and seeing all the tourist sites in Paju was on my to do list for a while and this was the perfect opportunity.

Of all the places to find expensive hotels, Paju wouldn’t have been top of my list but at 300,000won for a large room for the night, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course this was the VVIP room complete with jacuzzi and sauna and all the rest. After visiting a hotel called Vom, where rooms came complete with poles and the staff couldn’t understand why we didn’t want it for “short time”, we settled on the more affordable and normal “Great funny hotel bus”. I’m not making that name up. That’s really what it was called. Points deducted for the fact that there actually was no bus there but added for the fact that there was a circle bed, the room was huge and it was cheap.

pics

Next we found ourselves in Heyri. For the day before Chuseok, it was filled with young couples, families and groups generally having a great time. This is somewhere you could spend the entire day, but instead we found ourselves seeking shelter from the unforgiving sun and what better was to do that than to paint some cups and plates.

cups2

cup

 Thursday morning, we were on a mission. Some real sight-seeing was going to happen today. Off we set in the trusty Spuddy.

spuddy

First stop, Provence. Provence is a themed village with the most colourful buildings and the cutest shops. It also houses a famous bakery by Ryoo Jae Eun, where we ate breakfast and with rude staff and middling food, it was a little disappointing. Although most places were closed for Chuseok, there were several large tourist buses there and it was a nice way to spend the morning.

bakery

provense

While looking for the standing Buddhas and navigating some serious Chuseok traffic, we found ourselves at Paju Samneung or the Three Royal Tombs of Paju. These have been a UNESCO world heritage site since 2009 and somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time. The entrance was free for Chuseok (usually 1,000won). There is a little museum on the way in but everything is in Korean so we didn’t spend too long there.

The tombs , from the Joseon dynasty, Gongneung, Sulleung and Yeongneung hold the bodies of 4 royal members. You can get an information booklet in English at the gate and the grounds are incredibly well-kept. We must have spent over an hour here although in cooler weather, it would be possible to spend an entire afternoon exploring the vast grounds.

tomb 2 tomb

The Standing Buddhas were next. I was super impressed by these since I didn’t even know of their existence up to a few months ago. You can see the tops of the Buddhas long before you get to them.  The legend of the Buddhas is super cool and the temple and surrounding area is also very beautiful and peaceful.

buddhas

buddhas legend

temple2

Not too far from the Buddhas are other smaller tombs which we explored. Public transport to all these areas is possible with careful planning but ideally, one would have a car. Staycationing was definitely one of the best things I’ve done for Chuseok. We were able to get away but not go so far away that we need a holiday from our holiday.  I’m planning to do a more in depth blog on each of the sites we visited once I get my camera to work properly and have my own photos.

*All photos were from Pratishka Ruthun. Her blog can be found here; http://koreantimes25.blogspot.kr/

It’s not ALL fantastical……

Most of my posts are pretty positive. I do my best. But I thought it only fair to do the not so fantastical things also. A big shout out to the people who contributed to this on my Facebook page.

1. Puke Puddles– The absolute worst thing about living in Korea. Back in the day when I lived in my old apartment, I used to live next to a pedestrian street lined with little restaurants. Every morning, I would have to pick my way through the puke puddles to get to school. We used to call it Puke Alley. It was worse in winter when they were frozen. I hope no one was eating their lunch. Sorry. Enough. Disgusting.

2. Spit– Koreans love to spit and so there are little spit globs everywhere. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s everywhere, on the floors, in the elevators, on the stairs, in the toilet cubicle, in the toilet sinks, on the buses, subways, everywhere. Disgusting.

3. The pushy shovey adjummas– Some adjummas are so cool, we could be friends but other adjummas are a pure dose. They push and shove and not only are they rude but they bring giant containers of Kimchi on the bus.  헐!

4. The price of deodorant This is the most random thing but decent deodorant costs a lot. Most of the time, I stock up on foreign trips but what’s up with that?

5. Bread– If you’re looking for Mammy Browne’s bread over here, you’ll be looking for a while. It is most difficult to find a good decent bread. Or a decent sandwich for that matter.

6. When Koreans pretend they don’t understand what you said, even though you said it in Korean.

7. When Koreans think that because you’re the only white girl in town, it makes you 1) Russian and 2) a prostitute

8. Trying on clothes; When the store owner either 1) Tells you there are no “big sizes” and/or 2) Won’t let you try on the clothes.

9. Shoes; The utter lack of shoes from Europe size 7 (255-260)  and up is shocking. Just shocking.

10. Physical Appearances; Koreans are utterly obsessed with weight, dieting, white skin and the perfect face.

11. Toilet paper: You must bring your own toilet paper with you when you go out because there is always the chance that your toilet won’t have any. Then you must put it in the bin when you are finished because it is believed that putting it into the toilet will block the drains.

12. Messing around with food; Koreans love to put food where it doesn’t belong. Like sweetcorn on everything, mayonnaise on everything else. Stop! If I want either, I’ll ask for them.

13. Skirts; In Korea, it’s not ok to wear a low top but it is totally appropriate to wear a skirt so short, one might mistake it for a belt. This then results in the woman having to cover her behind with a bag so as to not flash her bum at anyone behind her. Surely she could have just worn a longer skirt?

14. Desk warming– The act of sitting at your desk, not teaching, just sitting. There are only so many movies to watch, books to read, Korean words to learn before you get bored and want to go outside.

15. Bins- I could rant all day about this. Why are there not more bins? Seriously, where are we supposed to put our rubbish and where do Koreans put it? If I eat something with a wrapper, am I really supposed to walk about 2km to find a bin? I think not. PUT MORE BINS OUT!!!!!!

16. Banks– For the most part, I love my banking experiences. However, it drives me insane when they insist on photocopying my id and passport when I send money home (KB*b). I gave you those when I opened the account and again the first time I transferred money. Surely you have it on record?

17-Public Urination– This usually happens at night but there is no excuse for randomly going to the bathroom. If it’s not the drunk people, it’s the children. You cannot just use this area as a bathroom. People are walking here. And you especially can’t use this area if it’s enclosed like a bus or the subway.

18. Points Cards– I have a points card for everywhere. But I don’t know how to redeem most of them because all the websites are in Korean. While I could go ahead and challenge myself to reading the Korean, I’d prefer to just do it in English. Would it really kill them to make an English language page? I think not.

This is a pretty long list but most of the things are small things that we thought we’d share. Leave your comments below with anything I forgot!

A look into North Korea- Odusan Unification Observatory

We are all guilty of taking what we have for granted. We ignore what is on our own doorstep in favour of what is further afield. For four years I have been living in Paju, home of the DMZ.  Apart from the major attractions like Heyri Art Village and the DMZ itself, I have simply passed by the tourist signs and ignored all other attractions on my way to the Premium Outlets.

Slightly ashamed of this behavior, my friends and I decided to rectify the situation by dedicating our entire free day to truly discovering Paju. What we expected was a fortress and a few tombs. What we didn’t expect was to find ourselves standing just 2km’s from North Korea.

 Odusan Unification Observatory was first on our list.   According to the internet this was a fortress but it soon became apparent that it was an observatory we were looking for. It’s pretty well sign posted coming from Geumchon and we found that the GPS in my car was pretty much useless in getting us there.   The car park (2,000won) for the observatory is the same one as for Kart Land and the drive-in movie theater, a little away from the entrance itself.  

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Statue of Jo Min-sik

From there, we took a free shuttle bus on a mere 5 minute ride to the top. The day couldn’t have been any more perfect. Sunny with a nice breeze, the sky was clear and the landscape was breath-taking. The entry was a mere 3,000won and for the lack of crowds alone, it was totally worth it. The Peace statue and Unification Drum are two of the first things to be seen.

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This observatory is the place where the Han and Imjin rivers meet and flow into the West Sea. It’s also the place where the Goguryeo and Baekje Dynasty fought in the time of the three states. Built on the ruins of the fortress it is a place of great history and  impressing from the outset. This is the Unification Wishing Drum, a hard find behind all the buses but none the less beautiful.

 

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The centre provides information in many languages and there are plenty of exhibitions and pictures explaining the Korean war and significant historical events.A short movie on the Observatory and it’s location in relation to North Korea is shown in Korean on the 3rd floor and English, Japanese and Chinese on the 4th. Usually not very entertained by these sorts of things, I found myself glued to the screen with interest. Not surprising, we were the only ones in the theater!

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Where to sit? Janet and Pratishka enjoying the show.

Between the observatory and North Korea was a mere 2km stretch of water. It’s 2 km’s at the furthers point and less than 500 metres at the closest. The water at high tide is around 5 metres but during low tide the distance is almost walkable.

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What is most fascinating from the observation post if the sheer difference between the two countries. On one side you see and hear hundreds of cars travelling along the Jayuro and the high-rise apartment buildings lined up like lego pieces. On the other side, propaganda houses, mountains and fields. No noise, no signs of life to the naked eye, almost as if you were staring at a picture.

 

SAM_9100                                  R.O.K.                                 

                                                                 

Using the binoculars, it was clear that the unfinished and run down propaganda houses were very much in use. Luckily, I spotted two people walking along a country lane. Both wearing black, they were the only signs of life. No vehicles, idle or otherwise, no animals apart a bird or two. Quiet, eerie, incredible.

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North Korea

Looking out at what is undoubtedly the most secluded country in the world, I was filled with the realisation that this was as close as I am ever going to get. To stand just 2km’s from North Korea brought it home to me how close I really do live to this fascinating country. This observation post, that is ignored by so many and indeed by myself for so long is one of the finest destinations I have been to in Korea. And it was right on my door step. To get here took less than 20 minutes from my apartment.  An educational and eye-opening day, the small crowds make any visit here enjoyable and one to remember!

How to get there?

From Seoul; Take bus number 2200 or 200 at exit 2 of Hapjeong station. Get off at Seongdong Sageori, walk for 10 minutes and take the shuttle bus.

From Paju; Take the Gyeongui Line to Geumchon Station. On the opposite side of the road to the station, catch the 900 bus which brings you to the shuttle bus pick up. 

I had the pleasure of sharing this great day with my good friends Pratishka and Janet. To read about Janet’s thoughts of the day, check out her blog here, http://janetnewenham.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/stunning-views-of-north-korea/