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Friday, October 28, 2011

A good conversation

Just a quick yip here. I want to write this down so I remember my first real conversation in Korean (plus a little showing off never hurt anyone!)

Anyway, I was doing a lil exploring by myself because Deborah isn't feeling too well. I went to a coffee shop to order some coffee because I was rather lost and needed a pick me up. I had a kind of real conversation with the woman working there. Here's the Korean conversation translated into English. 

Me: Hello. One American style coffee please.
Woman: Ok…… You just want one hot coffee?
Me: Yes, one hot coffee. 
Woman: Yes, ok….
Woman: Do you want (some word for liquid sugar that I didn't know) in the coffee?
Me: Sorry, I don't know what that is. 
Woman:…. uhhh, sugar. Do you want sugar?
Me: Oh, sugar. Yes I want sugar, but just a little bit please. 
Woman: Yes I understand… Here you go. 
Me: Thank you. 
Woman: Thank you and goodbye.

Tada! I did it! I know it's really not that exciting, but it's exciting to me! Next thing you know I'll be understanding the people at the grocery store and being able to figure out what people say to me at Kumdo class. One baby step at a time. 

Thanks for reading, 
Yip yip

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Isn't he cute!
Things are going well here in Korea. It's starting to get cold (which I'm not happy about) but it's not that cold yet. Last weekend Deborah and I were able to do two awesome activities courtesy of her uncle. He is high up in the Korean military and apparently is able to get free tickets for almost anything. On Saturday we went to Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition. You can probably tell that it was awesome just by reading the title. We got to see a lot of big things, killing things, and flying things. I also got to hold hands with an infantry exoskeleton,  pretend like I was shooting a surface to air missile, and touch a Predator drone (unfortunately this predator didn't have dreadlocks).

I was really surprised and amused to see that all of the Korean super corporations make these killing machines. There were a Samsung 105mm howitzers, Doosan armored personnel carriers, Korean Air remote controlled missiles, and Hyundai anti-submarine guns, just to name a few. At any given point in time South Korean corporations could start an apocalyptic war with one another. It's not hard to see who really runs the show here in South Korea…

What a Slogan, "Not your father's 105mm Howitzer: Samsung" 

On Sunday we went to a soccer game. It was a lot of fun and it was neat to see people who were actually into soccer. We had to sit in the caged visitors side because we got there a little late, which surprisingly didn't make me feel any safer. I hear things can get ugly between soccer rivals but unfortunately there were no soccer riots. I guess I'll have to wait a little while longer to check "Partake in a soccer riot" off my to do list.

Notice the fence

After the game we went back to Dragon Hill Spa with our friend Chris. This was the first time I walked around naked with a good friend. It was fun and surprisingly not that awkward for me. I believe I'm getting use to hanging around with a bunch of naked guys, which is a good thing?

It was back to work on Monday, but it's almost Halloween which will be fun. We are making a haunted house with specific instructions to make the children cry.  Hopefully that will be fun and I hope to be able to get a few good pictures out of it.

Thanks for reading and check back next week!

Yip yipyip yip

How-to-kill-a-commie training starts very young.

A moment before these two planes collided in mid air. I just missed the shot…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kimchi museum

A quick yip,

This weekend we went back to dongdaemun market with some our friends from work (Jessica and Chris). Chris was looking for a nice modernized hanbok to wear while Deborah and I were looking for a present for someone. It was a very successful shopping trip.

After shopping we went to a nice little tea house that had about a dozen birds flying around the room. They had the birds trained to pooped just in one spot, which seems pretty amazing. Someday I would like to have a few trained birds hanging out inside my house.

Sunday we went to Coex mall and the Kimchi museum. Yes there is a whole museum devoted to Kimchi and yes it is amazing! It's not a very big museum, but it is only about kimchi. You can find this museum on the B2 level of Coex mall, right near the movie theater. Just walk up to an information desk and they will point you in the right direction. Here you can learn about all kinds of kimchi. I always assumed you were limited to vegetables, but it appears that you can make anything into kimchi. Vegetables, meats, fruit, and flowers, nothing is safe from Koreas amazing ability to allow things to rot in a pot. I learned that the hot pepper used to make gochu-jang (Korean red pepper paste that is on almost everything) was introduced to Korea from Mexico only around 300 years ago! I assumed that Koreans had been using hot peppers since the beginning of time because that seems to be one of the only ingredients they like to use. I wonder what Korean food was like before it got a slap in the face by the big ol' Mexican gochu….

Thanks for reading,

P.S. Here are a few random pictures

Kimchi is good for pooping…

A shirt I found at Coex mall. It reads " I went on vacation, came back on probation." It's funny because I know she has no idea what that means.

Playing Starcraft in the middle of the mall…Gotta love it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Korean mountain walking

Korean's like to hike. Korea is a very mountainous place and Seoul is no exception. A decent sized mountain is only about 30 minutes away no matter where you are in the city. Seoul is very busy and crowded so it makes sense to hop a bus or subway and head off to a beautiful mountain to get away from things for a few hours. Hiking is also good exercise and is a fun thing (depending on who you ask) to do with friends and family. This easily and rationally explains why so many people go hiking in Seoul, but unless you've been to Korea then you probably don't know what it's like to not just go hiking, but to go Korean hiking.

When I first arrived here I would notice random brightly colored middle aged Koreans who looked like they were about to tackle Mount Everest. At first it made me laugh a little bit, but I got over it. Then the weekends rolled around. Instead of seeing a few over dressed middle aged Korean mountaineers, I saw large numbers of over dressed middle aged Korean mountaineers.

You can also add "pup in a bag" to the list of accesories

Most Korean hikers take their outfits to the limit of obnoxiousness, then blindly jump over the cliff. A beautifully over dressed person will have the following: a huge mountain pack (filled with mostly alcohol and food as far as I can tell), nice clunky boots, a safari hat and/or neon colored plastic visor, a loudly playing radio, a large carabiner or two, gloves, pocket sized butt pads so they don't have to sit on the rocks (god forbid), fanny packs stuffed with fanny pack stuff, and finally expensive and matching (bonus points for husband and wife matching) under armor shirts, wind breaker jackets, and swishy pants with a few eloquently place neon stripes. The one absolutely most important thing every Korean hiker must have is two sharp ski poles like walking sticks, just incase things get messy. It's pretty funny to see a few hikers on a subway, but you will be in for an even more amazing sight if you follow the trickle to the mountain…

Very very popular...
This is what you may find on a busy day. The few trickles of pushy and rather disoriented Korean hikers merge to form the hoard. Once the hoard is formed, there are no more individuals, there is only the hoard. Be ready to stand your ground and to take a few elbows from people who could easily be old enough to remember seeing their first car. 
Once you begin the march upward you will notice what seems like hundreds of vendors and stores selling food, alcohol, and hiking gear. The food consists mostly of dried sea creatures, ramen noodles, chestnuts, and the infamous bondeagi (boiled silk worms). The silk worms have a very unique smell, but are surprisingly not that bad. The food stands and the alcohol are nice, but my personal favorite store is The Redface hiking supply store. You can get all you Korean hiker gear at The Redface.

Many Korean's are redfaced before, during, and after hiking

I have a feeling that many people don't make it to the mountain because there are so many distractions along the way. Drinking, walking around poking things with ski poles, eating boiled bugs, and shopping probably derails many people before they actually do any real hiking. It can be quite fun if you manage to avoid the distractions and you start to mountain walk (I prefer the direct Korean to English translation). It is crowded but the people are generally friendly and the trails are pretty clean considering how many people use them. Another very important thing about Korean hiking is that it is customary to drink while doing it. One type of alcohol on the way up (Makgeolli), another at the top (Soju), and whatever you have left on the way down. Of course once you get off the mountain you must always remember to blow the dust off with and industrial strength air gun. The line can be quite long, but its worth it…

Thanks for reading, 
yip yip yip

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Good Karma

Bodhisattvas statues at Cheonchuksa temple
What a great weekend! It started off with Deborah and I leaving for Odaesan National Park which is a mountainous park with many trails and temples east of Seoul. We headed out on Saturday morning with no real plan and no place to stay. We knew we wanted to go hiking and we kinda knew how to get there, but that was about it. After a 3 hour bus ride we arrived in a small town near the park and began to figure out where we were going to stay. When the figuring was all done we hopped on a bus and headed out to find our lodging, but of course, we missed our stop… When we finally got off the bus we were at a large temple called Woljeong-sa that we wanted to check out anyway, so we decided to explore a little before back tracking and finding a place to sleep.

Kids poking around
The temple was very beautiful and large. While walking around Deborah found a pamphlet (in English) that was all about a temple stay program. As she read the pamphlet I decided to poke around. During my poking a monk saw me and slid open his little door and asked me if I needed help with anything. We needed help with several things but first on the list was finding a place to stay. We sat down, asked about the temple stay program, and had some tea with two monks. One thing led to another, and next thing we know we are changing into funny clothes and getting ready for evening chanting with the temple community.
The Sang-Sa (Monk) druming for the mountain spirt to awaken

The people at the temple decided to let us stay there for the night! I love to travel with little to no planning because I always seem to end up in beautiful little messes like this one. We really weren't planning on staying in a temple (you normally can't just stay there) but we couldn't pass up an opportunity like this one.  We were able to eat, do temple stuff, and chat with the monks. We learned a lot about temple life by talking for a few hours to the same helpful monk who helped us earlier. The best part was waking up at 4 in the morning to chanting monks ringing bells and beating on drums. They do this every morning to wake the mountain sprits, the temple community, and who ever else is in ear shoot of the temple. We were amazed as we stepped outside into the pre dawn night and looked up. I never knew there were so many stars in Korea! I'm accustom to light gray night sky of Seoul and seeing so many stars in the crisp night air sky was such a shock. Before we knew it we were off to listen to more chanting in the main Buddha hall followed by morning meditation and breakfast. Hearing so many monks chant at 4:30 in the morning is something that I will never forget. After breakfast we got to make a bead string while also doing 108 prostations (bowing by getting on your knees and putting your head on the ground, standing up and repeating) followed by a nice walk. Not wanting to overstay our welcome we headed out after lunch.
Now a few temples do a thing called "temple stay." This is where you call ahead and arrange to do a little Buddhist bootcamp thing for a few days. These are getting really popular in Korea, especially with Korean people who want to take a break from their busy lives. I hear that the temples near Seoul are filled with a lot of foreigners, but we were the only two foreigners that I saw the entire time we were at this temple. That definitely helped to make all this feel that much more authentic.
Seongyojang tea house.
Our friendly monk attempted to hook us up with another temple, but when we got to this other place it didn't work out as nicely as our first time. We had to leave the mountains and ended up pretty far away from where we wanted to be. I'm not sure if we even ended up at the right place. We arrived at a very beautiful and very old aristocrat compound called Seongyojang in Gangneung province.  We couldn't figure things out and we just decided to head on back to Seoul and do some hiking around the city on Monday (Monday was a holiday so we had off).

Beautiful Cheonchuk-sa

And hike we did…We went hiking on Bukhansan. It's a very very popular and crowded trail but it is also very beautiful and peaceful if you can get away from the crowds of old Korean people. I'll have to have a special post about hiking in Korea because it is quite a thing to talk about.

The peak of Bukhansan
Anyway half way up we found my new favorite temple called Cheonchuk-sa. Anyone in Seoul has to go check it out. I have no idea how they build these huge temples way up in the mountains. Every temple in Korea is ornately decorated, but one had some of the most amazing art work inside and out that I've seen so far. After a quick meal (it seems like most temples provide food if you know where to look!) and we were on our way to the top. We followed an old grandpa up some "short cuts" which was interesting. When we finally made it to the top it was packed! I mean I was surprised people weren't like falling off the sides in droves. The view was beautiful which made it all worth it. Deborah didn't even complain and I think she actually had fun! We tumbled back down and I fell asleep on the subway. Everything after that was a blur.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

Yip yip

The view from the top