First trip to Busan

Early Saturday morning, Andy, Kaylyn and I caught the Mugungwa (Korail) train to Busan.  It cost 7,700 won (6.75 USD)  and took about 1 hour 30 minutes.  While not the most luxurious train, I would definitely recommend it and you can’t beat the low price.

As soon as we exited Busan Station, we could smell the sea and I was pretty happy! We took the subway to Jagalchi fish market, the largest fish market in South Korea.  After securing a delicious lunch for Kaylyn, we walked around admiring the beautiful and tasty seafood swimming around in buckets.  I was familiar with some of it, like crabs, oysters, and flounder, but other creatures were new to me.

Fish and other creatures for sale
In America, this is just decoration.  In Korea, it’s food.

 Jagalchi Market is a sprawling, outdoor market, but it also has a few large buildings.  In these buildings you can choose your seafood and they’ll cook it for you on the spot.  All of the vendors were eager to please and hopefully entice a few new customers.

Posing with a baby shark… yum?

On top of the main building, there is an observation deck.  (Also included inside… market, restaurants, guest house, noraebang/karaoke room, screen golf, wedding hall… Korea is odd sometimes.)  Look how pretty Busan is on a clear day!!

Busan Port

After the market, we took the subway to Haeundae Beach.  In the summer, every inch of sand is covered with Korean beachgoers.  Luckily for us… it’s still spring! There were still a good amount of people on the beach, either sunbathing, throwing a frisbee, or walking their dogs.  I found it ironic that all of the Westerners took off their shoes, yet the Koreans kept theirs on… since in Korea, you have to take off your shoes in any number of locations.

Haeundae Beach

Later that evening, we visited another beach – Gwangalli.  Gwangalli has the pretty Diamond Bridge which lights up and changes colors at night.  It just so happened that a fishing festival was going on (Gwangalli Eobang Festival), so we watched some of that ridiculousness and even got to see some fireworks! In October, Busan holds a tremendous fireworks festival in that same spot, and I would definitely like to come back for that.

Gwangalli Eobang Festival
Diamond Bridge from Gwangalli Beach

That night we wandered around in a group, checking out the local restaurants and bars.  The next morning was overcast, so we didn’t do much other than wander up and down Haeundae.  Andy and I took the KTX (high speed) train home, which took only 40 minutes and cost 11,000 won (under 10 USD) and was a considerably smoother and quieter ride.  Both trains were great but obviously the KTX was nicer and more luxurious, not to mention faster.

Our group, from left to right: Claire, Emily, Kaylyn, Keir & me on top of course!
Somewhere between Busan and Daegu, taken from the KTX

Some details for any expats reading this:
– Stayed in the Story Guesthouse in Haeundae, would recommend for the price, level of service, and excellent amenities.
– Korail and KTX were both great, although Korail offered standing room and some guy sat on my armrest.  Negative points.
– Cabs in Busan are expensive and the subway takes forever! This is more of a complaint than actual advice.

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Korean Catholic Wedding

Typically when there is an event in a Korean person’s life, he will invite all of his coworkers.  Last month, I went to Mr. Kim’s daughter’s first birthday party.  Today, I went to my coworker Kim Bum Soo’s wedding.

Bum Soo and Mi Jin’s wedding portraits!

Bum Soo’s wife is Catholic, so there were some differences in the wedding I attended and the weddings most Koreans have… not that I can really speak to that effect.  It was in a Catholic church downtown.  There was a mass (in Korean), a chorus singing hymns, all the typical stuff.  That being said, it was definitely different than the Catholic weddings I’ve been to at home.

Catholic church

For one thing, as soon as I walked into the church, I was directed towards a table where people were collecting gifts (usually money).  Beth, Jess, Andy, and I found some seats and waited for the ceremony to begin.  Even after it started, people continued to chat with their neighbors, speak on the phone, or text friends.  In the US, people are generally pretty respectful during a wedding ceremony, but in Korea apparently you can socialize and it’s not rude… or at least, no one says anything.  At first I compared it to a movie theater – but I think fewer people talk in movie theaters than at this wedding.  It was more like a middle school assembly.  Some people listened, some people didn’t, no one seemed to care.

The reception lunch was at a Korean restaurant a few blocks away, and our staff rightfully guessed we would not be able to find it without a guide.  So, at some point during the ceremony, we got up and left the church.  People had been doing this the entire time… So no, I didn’t see the I do’s, the kiss, any of that – although I don’t even know if they do that in Korea.  But it didn’t seem to be a big deal.  The restaurant was traditional and the food was excellent.  Our dining room was filled with fellow coworkers (as well as Mr. Kim’s wife and adorable baby!).  After eating to excess Andy and I headed home, where I promptly changed into comfy sweats.  It was rainy and windy today and all around nasty outside.

Later we are grabbing dinner with friends and checking out some live music at a place called Sugar Joe’s… will report back another time.

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Video: How to Move in South Korea

This morning I was rudely awakened by a loud, mechanical noise.  By this morning I mean the ungodly hour of 9:30 AM, so don’t feel too bad for me.

It turns out my next-door neighbors were moving out.  Every so often, I see a family moving in or out of a nearby apartment.  Since almost everyone in South Korea lives in high-rise apartment buildings, moving is not the same as it is in the States.  Instead, people pack up their belongings in crates and lower them onto a platform via the balcony.  This is the same for larger items, such as furniture or televisions.  The platform then descends on a track to the movers, who expertly pack up a truck.  Then the empty platform ascends once again, sometimes with empty crates on top.  This whole process can take a very long time… but no one has to carry a sofa down 20 stories, so it’s worth it.  When the next neighbor moves in, the process is just reversed.

Here’s a short video demonstrating what I’ve described.  Remember, this goes on for hours.  Normally I don’t mind, but when it’s my next door neighbor and I’m asleep… well, I might be a bit grumpy at work today.

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Video: Korean Apartment Tour

Despite living in Daegu for nearly 2 months, I’ve only just filmed my apartment tour.  Better late than never, right? I remember looking at similar videos when I was still a prospective English teacher, and they certainly helped me prepare for the possibilities.  I think it’s also a great way to share my place with friends and family.

So, without further adieu:

Oh, and did I ever mention that as part of my contract, my rent is free? Because it is – that’s the best part!

If any prospective English teachers have any questions about my place or position, feel free to leave a comment!

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Shabu Shabu

Today was a gorgeous day in Daegu, with weather in the 70s.  The best way to celebrate the weather, of course, is to head downtown for dinner and drinks! Andy and I met Keir and Emily at Buy the Book, a foreigner-run bookstore and cafe.  They also sell lots of goodies from home, have board games available to play in-store, and offer alcoholic drinks at their bar.  It’s a cozy little escape from bustling downtown Daegu.

The four of us met up with another couple, Justine and Stefan, and went to a nearby restaurant for shabu shabu.  Shabu shabu is basically Korean barbecue… in soup form.  You add vegetables and meat to broth and let it cook that way.  As you continue to eat, the broth becomes more and more flavorful.  When you’re almost finished, you add some noodles and they soak up the meaty/veggie goodness.

If you want to learn more about shabu shabu, check out this video from Eat Your Kimchi:

It’s a bit dorky and long (I recommend starting at the 1:00 mark), but this Canadian couple has been making videos on Korean topics for several years and there’s definitely some good information in there.  This is how I actually learned about shabu shabu for the first time.

After our extremely filling dinner, we headed to a local makgeolli bar (where I went about a month ago) for drinks and pajeon.  It was really fun to be out with two other couples, especially since these two happen to be from England and South Africa.  Always interesting to note the differences–and similarities–between these three countries!

Outside the makgeolli bar – thanks photographer Keir!

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Video: Buddhist Monks at Donghwasa

While I was at Donghwasa, I took some video on my digital camera.  It’s not the best quality, but I wanted to record some of the unique moments and capture the gorgeous temple grounds.

It’s one of my first forays into recording.  Hopefully you enjoy.

In case you missed my post about Donghwasa Temple, you can find it here.

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Video: Election Season

On Wednesday, Korea is having elections for assemblyman.  In anticipation, candidates have had dancers, car bowers (people who stand on the side of the street and bow at passing cars…), trucks with loudspeakers and/or dancers on them, and many other organized events in Daegu.  It’s quite amusing and quite annoying.

Today while teaching, the local market had lots of representatives for all candidates.  Candidate #6 had an entire crew of dancers, as well as a truck.  Later in the day, the dance numbers got more intense.  This went on for about 8 hours… while I was teaching.  In between songs, there were also some loud speeches.  It was definitely a distraction!

I took a short video, but sadly the dancing is extremely tame.  Hope you enjoy this unique part of Korean election culture…

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Donghwasa Temple

Today Andy and I visited Palgongsan (Palgong Mountain) on the northern border of Daegu.  Palgongsan is home to nature parks, popular hiking trails, and many cultural sites.  This post has many pictures – you can click each photo to make it larger.

After trying (and failing) to find the cable car to the peak, we walked to nearby Donghwasa. Donghwasa is an ancient Buddhist temple that is still in use today.  The first temple was built on the site in 493, but since then many new buildings have been constructed.  Most of the current buildings seem to be from the 1700s or later.

Here’s a map of what you can visit.  Admission is 2,500 won.  English (and other language) maps/brochures are available for free at the information center.

We arrived fairly late in the day, and were worried many things would close (not sure if they do…), so we didn’t see everything.  There are halls all over the property, but many were closed off because monks were worshiping inside.

Not being able to know what everything was for didn’t detract from the buildings’ beauty at all.   It’s incredible to realize that some of these buildings are almost 300 years old.  They are extremely well-preserved and the colors are absolutely vibrant.
Seolbeopjeon Hall

Daeungjeon Main Worshiping Hall
Donghwasa may have an ancient history, but it is constantly evolving with new additions.  One of the most breathtaking is its massive Buddha statue.  Lanterns lined the path to the statue.
 The Tongil-daebul (Great Reunification) Buddha statue was erected in 1992, and at 33 meters tall, it is one of the largest stone Buddhas in the world.  Tongil-daebul was created to save the wishes of devotees for the reunification of the two Koreas.  Inside the statue are two relics of the actual Buddha’s cremated remains, as given by the government of Burma (Myanmar).
Tongil-daebul (Great Reunification) Buddha
The temple grounds were incredibly peaceful, and I felt privileged to be able to visit.  Many practicing Buddhists were worshiping in front of the statue, and monks were worshiping and meditating in the halls.  There was so much detail in every stone carving… I wish I could capture it all in a blog post, but it’d be impossible.  It absolutely needs a visit.  I wish I knew more about the Buddhist religion, because I constantly saw things I did not understand and would love to learn more about.
After visiting the Buddha, we walked back to the main halls.  Several monks gathered in a pavilion and began to beat a tremendous drum.  They lined up and seamlessly took turns, never breaking rhythm.  After this concluded, an equally tremendous bell began to chime, and the monks began to beat this hanging wooden fish and metal plate.  It was amazing, but sadly I have no idea what it symbolizes or why they do it.
Buddhist monks beating a drum

My visit to Donghwasa has inspired me to learn more about the Buddhist religion and traditions.  Since we did not have time to visit all of the temple grounds, I hope to make a second visit.  Maybe next time I’ll be able to understand it all better.  Donghwasa also offers temple stays for the interested.

Edit: I have added a video of the drumming on another post.  To see the monks in action, check it out here.

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