Monday, May 28, 2012

Weekend Warriors

WOW! (Whirlwind Of a Weekend)
Weekends are normally seen as a time to rest and recharge your batteries for the upcoming week.
I have subscribed to this meaning of weekend quite a few times during my time here in Korea.
However, this was not the case two weekends ago (May 18-20).
Talk about one Whirlwind Of a Weekend!

The craziness started Friday night.
The Gyeongbokgung Palace complex had extended hours for a short period of time (about 5 days) so that people could take in the area at night, all lit up. A group of about 20 of us met at the palace and had an awesome time taking in the sights and sounds of the palace at night. There were jumping pictures, "Titanic" shots, and general enjoyment with cameras. We met a family from Indonesia that had the cutest little kid that kept us all throughly entertained the entire night! After the palace, we headed to a Japanese restaurant for some delicious grub and then parted ways, bracing ourselves for the rest of the weekend.

The entrance to the entire complex

The main palace building

My little buddy for the night!

One of the shrines inside the complex
 Saturday started out bright and early.
I, along with about 15 other volunteers from Mannam, headed to the House of Hope, where we have done previous volunteer activities for the residents that live there. Unfortunately, I was not able to spend the entire morning there, as I had to leave early (along with Donna and Myheshni) and head to another large event that Mannam was hosting that day: the Ultimate Challenge. After all of the volunteers and staff had been briefed on what was expected of everyone, we headed out, caught the subway, and made the hour trek across Seoul to the Ultimate Challenge venue.

Demonstrating one of the games, Hula Hoop Relays, with the help of Donna
The Ultimate Challenge was an experience that I will not soon forget.
I was asked to be the MC (Master of Ceremonies) for this event, with the assistance of Donna. We hosted the event at a middle school and had the use of their soccer field, track, basketball courts, and other facilities to help make this a very successful and enjoyable day. What was truly special about this event was the fact that members from the other branches of Mannam across Korea attended and partook in the events of the day. I even saw some of the members fromt he Busan branch that I met while in Jinhae for the Cherry Blossom Festival! That was really cool that they remembered me and we were able to cross paths once again!

Despite the bumps and last minute changes that occurred during the course of the event, it was a huge success. The main feature of the day was the soccer and basketball games. However, there were lots of little games that were going on throughout the entire day that participants could play and enter their names into a drawing at the end of the event. Another couple of highlights of the day were the large Tug-o-War games and Paper Jet War that happened towards the end of the day. All in all, it was such a fun experience and was my first true time MCing a large event like this!

Tug-O-War in action!

Myheshni, Donna, and Rachel chilling in the MC Booth

Taking a short break from MC duties

Paper Jet War!
Sunday brought lots of sun, fun, and hard work in the fields.
The destination was Ganghwa Island, an island just north of Incheon. There, Doraemi Village is nestled among the hills and rice patties. This village is comprised of about 495 families, with a large majority of them being elderly. May is the ideal time to plant sweet potatoes, which is one of the staple crops of this area. About 100 volunteers headed out to the village to help plant some sweet potatoes, de-bud some grape plants, and take in a different area outside of Seoul.

The work was a bit tedious and the sun definitely helped turn up the heat on all of the participants. By the end of our time, we had managed to plant an entire field of sweet potatoes, "groomed" a large amount of grape plants, and helped weed another field of sweet potatoes. It was really great to see all of the new faces of participants and to hear that they really did enjoy themselves. Following the planting, a group of us headed into the town, enjoyed some ice cream, relived the weekend, and then headed home to our respective areas.

My friend Tae Hooie working the field


The sweet potato field that we helped weed and to the left where we did our planting

Family shot!
It was quite an exhausting weekend, but one in which I had lots of fun and created some pretty awesome memories from. Hopefully it'll be a while before I experience another WOW moment!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Operation White Buddha

The sun was showering it's rays upon Seoul. It was an absolutely perfect day.
5 adventurous, good-hearted compadres decided to take a trip to a special destination: the White Buddha.
What laid ahead of them was both unexpected and unforgettable...

The day started out as normal as possible. I met my fellow companions near Insadong, a very popular traditional Korean district of Seoul. We wandered over to a tourist information booth to get directions to our final desitnation. We were informed tha we actually had to travel a bit further north (3 subway stops) and it would be about a 30 minute walk from the station. No problem.

As our stomachs cried out with hunger pains, we headed to a cute, little hidden restaurant and enjoyed a great meal. We relived the events of the night before through pictures and stories (my friend Donna had had a Mexican themed dinner night at her apartment and everyone had a wonderful time) and indulged our lunch like it was our last meal. We watched some small children play Angry Birds, a huge craze here in Korea, on their parent's phones and headed out back into the crowded streets of Insadong.

We strolled up and down the area, stopping for random pictures and some very, very delicious ice cream! The guy serving the ice cream acted like a flirt with the females in the group, but luckily didn't demonstrate any loving feelings towards myself. The ice cream hit the spot and gave us the needed energy to head out to our destination to find the infamous White Buddha.

We boarded the subway again, rode it three stops north, and disembarked. As we let the platform, we stopped to inquire about the location of this conclaved, non-robust Buddha and were met with some blank stares (either due to the language barrier, a genuine lack of knowledge, or both) and decided to just do a bit of exploring to see what we could find out.

As we emerged from subway station to the busy streets of Seoul above, we were greeted with three or four monstrous mountain peaks. It was quickly decided that we would not be hiking as not everyone was properly prepared for that type of an endeavor (Donna was in a sun dress and flip flops and I was also donning the coveted flip flops as well). I typed the name of the monument into my phone (we luckily had the Korean translation) and discovered a rough path that we needed to take. Off we went.

We quickly realized that our earlier statement regarding "NO HIKING" was going to be overturned. As we progressed towards the red dot on my Google map, the incline started to steadily increase. Left. Right. Left again. We followed a maze of streets until we reached this cluster of apartment buildings. We had reached an apparent dead end. Not to fear though, because there was an older Korean man sitting in this little booth that pointed the way: UP!

And so the long, trechorous hike up some random mountain in Seoul began. Our first encounter was with a stone path that was composed of boulders that were confused as to what their role really was. They couldn't decide if they wanted to be a smooth walking path or a dissarayed collection of stones that did whatever they felt like. Then we encountered some stairs, which was a nice little break. Those steps quickly turned into climbing up smooth faced rocks (with the assistance of a rope) and then turned back into the jagged, confused path. This was all within the first 10 minutes of walking up. We were in for a long climb.

Laughs and curses were shared as we continued our journey up this mountain. Unstable footings, water breaks, and cries for tissues all helped pass the time. The entire trip up we never had any idea if we were actually getting closer to the White Buddha or not. But we continued our trekk, determined to get to the top.

Slowly, we managed to make it to the top. We slipped, slid, grabbed, and pulled our way up to the top of that mountain just to discover that the White Buddha was no where in sight. Glancing over at the other moutnain peaks in the area, we speculated that it was actually on another peak and we had just chosen the wrong mountain. However, this little bit of disappointment could not take away from the breathtaking view that we were treated to. From our mountain top, we could see the entire Gyeongbokgung Palace complex, the Blue House (president's residence), and a vast array of the greater Seoul area. It made our trials and tribulations to the top totally worth the trouble.

Upon the realization that our ultimate prize was nowhere to be found and with the sun quickly setting, it came time to reverse our journey and head back down. This proved to be more of an adventure than the hike up. Normally the hike down takes less time than the hike up does. Not necessarily true in this case. Between Donna and myself in our flip flops, Alex going on and on about her desperate need for tissues, and Myheshni's constant falls/slips, it was a riot watching us all try to get off this mountainside. We all managed to make it safely down to the bottom of the mountain in one piece, enjoyed some delicious waffles with ice cream, and saw the movie The Avengers. It was a perfect end to such an unexpected day.

The White Buddha may eluded us on this one, fateful day. But we plan to continue our quest until this legendary, mystifying sight has been seen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jeju Island - Korea's "Hawaii"

The middle part of my parents trip was spent on the island is Jeju, located just south of the Korean peninsula. Touted as the "Hawaii of Korea," we had a great time soaking up the sun and enjoying the sights that the island had to offer. Here's a quick day-by-day recap!

Wednesday (May 2)
- Headed to Gimpo Airport here in Seoul to fly down to Jeju
- Arrived in Jeju and boarded a bus to Seogwipo, a town on the south side of the island
- Checked-in to our hotel and got some shut eye.

Thursday (May 3)
-Woke up around 11 am (Glorious!)
- Headed to Cheonjiyeon Waterfall, which was just down the road from our hotel!

- Ate lunch near the waterfall and had an assortment of fish, pork, and Korean sidedishes

- Took a boat tour around the southern portion of the island

- Headed to the Teddy Bear Museum, which was a part of the Jungmun Resort, the largest resort in all of Korea

- Went to the Cheonjeyeon Waterfall and had the whole park area to ourselves! Pretty neat

- Took in the "Volcano and Fantastic Show" at Hotel Lotte on the Resort

Friday (May 4)
- Once again slept in until about 11 am
- Ate lunch and wandered around town trying to find the Bus Terminal (ended up being a parking lot with about 3 buses parked in it with a small little hut to purchase tickets)
- Caught a bus to the Manjanggul Lava Tubes
- Dropped off on the side of the road and walked about 4 KM to the caves from the main road

- Explored the caves for about an hour

- Taxied back to the airport, caught the bus back to Seogwipo, and called it a night

Saturday (May 5)
- Woke up at a half-way decent time of about 9:30 am
- Headed back to the bus terminal to catch a bus to the Sangumburi Crater
- Waited and waited and waited for a bus that would take us
- Had to switch buses at Pyoseon and decided to a bit of exploring
- Headed down to the beach so Mom could put her feet in the water

- After being denied by three different buses, finally decided to just taxi to the Crater

- Taxied back to the Resort to check out the beach there and have a Kraze Burger

- Back to the hotel for a good night's sleep

Sunday (May 6)
- Woke up bright and early (around 5:30 am) to catch the bus back to the airport
- Flew back to Seoul and did some more sightseeing around the city

To see what else my parents and I did during their time here in Seoul, please click here.
For more pictures from our time in Jeju, click here!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Familial Faces in Seoul

For the past 10 days, I have been very, very fortunate!
Some friendly, familiar faces paid me a visit here in Seoul.
Those faces belonged to my parents!
It was quite an eventful 10 days and I'm going to do my best at re-capping all that we did and saw.
Here goes!

Friday (April 27)
- Parents arrive in Seoul (so great to see them after 8 months here!)
- First subway ride back to 홍대역 (Hongdae University)
- Wander around the area looking for hostel/ask some strangers/find hostel
- Checked-in and found out bed is on the floor (oops!)
- Grabbed food at a restaurant in Hongdae
- Parents call it a night!

Saturday (April 28)
- Headed to my apartment (it barely was big enough for all three of us!)
- Walked to Seoul National University and walked around campus
- Ate lunch with my friends Rachel and Tae Hooie (delicious Thai food!) in Itaewon
- Moved stuff to a new hotel (this time the bed was on a frame and not on the floor!)
- Rested for about 2 hours
- Headed to my friend Donna's apartment for an Indian Curry themed dinner! (Introduced my parents to many of the people that I volunteer with through Mannam)

Sunday (April 29)
- Headed up to Suyu Station in northern Seoul to do some volunteer work
- Ate lunch at a traditional Korean restaurant (sitting on the floor and all!)

- Wrapped trees on Bukhan Mountain (first family event (minus Matt) in a long, long time!)

- Enjoyed a delicious dinner of grilled duck and other Korean dishes

Monday (April 30)
- Went to school and met my co-teachers
- My parents sat in on two of my classes and were able to watch me teach (that was a really cool experience!)
- Went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant with some of my co-teachers
- After school, we rode bikes along the Han River (this was something that Mom was really looking forward to and really enjoyed!)

- Met up with Andy and Emma for a delicious dinner at one of our favorite restaurants (chicken galbi with rice, cooked right in front of you!)

Tuesday (May 1)
- Was given the day off from school (my school absolutely rocks!)
- Headed to Gyeonbokgung Palace, but found out it was closed due to Korean Labor Day

- Witnessed a large scale protest with droves of police officers protecting/monitoring the protesters (found out that the protest were regarding recent lay-offs by the Korean government and a lack of benefits for those being laid off)

- Ate lunch at a wonderful little buffet called The Place
- Went to Insadong and did some shopping

- Made our way to the Olympic Park, site of the 1988 Summer Olympics

- Rented a 6-person bike and rode it around the park (was a bit more of a struggle than originally anticipated!

- Met my friend Steve in Gangnam for some Mexican food at Dos Tacos

Wednesday (May 2)
- After lunch at school, met up at the Korean War Memorial in central Seoul and took in the sites of the museum (very well done and informative)
- Headed to Gimpo International Airport for our flight to Jeju

Thursday (May 3) - Saturday (May 5)
- Jeju Trip (further details regarding this trip in a future post!)

Sunday (May 6)
- Flew home from Jeju and arrived back in Seoul
- Had lunch at a fantastic Korean BBQ place
- Headed to Cheonggyecheon Stream near City Hall for a leisurely walk through downtown

- Walked to the cable car service for the N Seoul Tower and headed up for a spectacular view of the city as the sun was setting

- Ate dinner at a cute little panini shop near the base of the mountain
- Headed back to the subway to part ways until August!

It was SO amazing to have my parents here to see what my life is like in Seoul.
Really glad that you made it out here!
Here's to a safe flight back to the USA!

Next visitor: my brother in July!
That will be another adventure that I'm very excited for as well!

For more photos of my parents time here in Seoul, click here!