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Friday, 23 October 2015

A Brit living in Korea...

Living in Korea as a British expat has introduced me to many different personality traits that I was unaware I even had. So far I have learnt a lot about myself and about my own countries culture too. I have also gained a better understanding of what the rest of the world actually thinks of the Brits, and how we react in different circumstances. What is sometimes okay for me, is sometimes not okay for others and I’m not just talking about the Koreans. I think when it comes to the human race its safe to say that one rule definitely does NOT fit for all. Those HSBC adverts had a good point!

Adjusting to this has been a real challenge, and I have to admit that for the first time I don’t think it has really helped being from a Performing Arts background. At university we were literally taught to be as open and honest as possible and this has sometimes gotten me into a bit of trouble here. I think its important to remember not to change who you are when moving abroad, but just to judge certain situations you may find yourself in and act accordingly. There have been moments here when I have realised just how British I actually am, and below are just a few of the things I've picked up on so far...

 

 1. Getting overly excited about wearing a raincoat!

 

In England I HATED the rain, here its just another thing that reminds me of home and so I have learnt to absolutely LOVE IT! It doesn't happen that often but when it does you can be sure that the smiles will come out with it! Say YES to the RAIN!

2, Any time I see a Mcvitie's digestive or rich tea biscuit...

 
 
It genuinely excites me and although the tea isn’t up to scratch and there isn’t a crumpet to be seen, this is certainly one thing that is guaranteed to turn even the dullest days back around. Its all about the home comforts you see.

 

3, Becoming annoyed at myself for saying things like elevator and zucchini...but secretly loving it!

 

Being surrounded by different nationalities day in and day out has meant that my vocabulary has definitely started to change. I catch myself saying some of the weirdest things sometimes...take the classic dressing gown for example, in America they call it a robe and in Canada, they call it 'A HOUSE COAT'! Hilarious!

4, The queuing system...

 

Oh wait...there isn’t one. Ajummas (older people in Korea) get prority over EVERYTHING! None of them queue and it genuinely drives me insane. I can’t help but to release several tuts and huffs every time this happens. Steam usually starts to protrude out of both eardrums and if I had a bow tie it would no doubt be spinning, mark my words - queing is NOT a thing here!

5, Taking your shoes off...

 

When you walk into restaurants, someone else's house and even the changing rooms of clothes shops, you take off your shoes. I have gotten use to this now, but I do sometimes like to reminisce about the good ole times when I never had to do this. Ah memories.  

6, Public Bathrooms...

 
 
If you’re lucky you’ll get a hole in the ground and soap that resembles... well its just bizarre. Using these facilities is something that I now refuse to do, thankfully it isn't all that bad though. There are usually normal toilets too and sometimes even a ‘flush sound button' - for those moments when you just don’t want people to hear your movements! Classy! But always remember to take toilet paper with you - the stuff is rare and hardly ever available. Pop some hand sanitizer in your bag aswell and you'll be just fine.

 

7, The weather...



From day to day (unlike the UK) it doesn’t really change much, so therefore conversations about the weather are kept to a minimum. Sometimes I find myself going a whole day without even mentioning the weather. Its strange and very un-British.

8, Understanding sarcasm...

 
 
Sometimes people don’t get it and it genuinely hurts my feelings. I have nothing more to add on this...its too painful.
 
And finally...

 

9, My white legs...

 
 
 I know its Halloween soon but they really are too horrendous to show! Funnily enough having white legs in Korea is actually a massive benefit. The Koreans love a bit of pale white skin and I’ve even received compliments! I knew there was a reason I’d been hiding them for years!

So there you have it, just a few of the things a Brit notices when living in Korea. Its a funny old world but one that is thankfully packed full with diversity and constant surprises, so 'here here' to that! Oh and one final thing to clear up for anyone who isn't sure...

...we don't all eat BOILED MEAT!!

Friday, 9 October 2015

Seoraksan Mountain

After a less than comfortable night sleeping on the beach, we woke up and threw some grilled cheese sandwiches on the Barbecue before heading off to Seoraksan National Park. The park itself is huge and covers an area of about 163 square kilometres. It is listed as a World Heritage spot and was made into a nature reserve by the South Korean government in 1965. Situated on the east central Korean peninsula, the park itself has many different peaks to climb, and it is a great location for novice and experienced hikers alike.
 
It’s also a great place for people who aren’t that keen on hiking, as there are some fascinating gardens, temples and of course the good old faithful cable car if you’re feeling a little lazy. It was quite easy to get to from our base (on the beach) as the number 7 bus which departs from opposite the main bus station on the other side of the road, takes you directly there. The journey took about 20 minutes too, so it was super convenient. However, be prepared for the bus ride (especially on the way back) as it can get quite busy at times.
 
Seoraksan Mountain
 
Once we arrived at the foot of the mountain, it was clear to see why this place draws such a crowd. The stunning surroundings on this gorgeous sunny day were breathtaking and I couldn’t wait to pop on my sunglasses and start exploring. Admission to the park itself is about 3,000won, and once inside there is so much to see that you may find that one day just isn’t enough. We decided to hike up to the Biryongpokpo falls, which was about a 2 hour round trip and totally worth it. On the way up, there were many different sights to see and spots to relax in. The guided pathway leads you through forest land, rocky terrain and at one point across a pretty impressive suspension bridge. For the most part stairs have been put in place along the way, however there are some areas where you have to navigate around a couple of huge boulders but its not too difficult. Seeing the beautiful waterfall at the top makes this the perfect place to just sit down and take everything in. It's totally mesmerising.  
 
 
 

The main attraction of the park is of course the peak of Seoraksan mountain itself. We decided (due to time restrictions and part laziness) to take the cable car up to the top and that was definitely a highlight in itself. If you’re thinking of going I would suggest getting your tickets for the cable car as soon as you arrive, as you may have to wait up to 3 hours for your allocated time slot. You ARE able to go off and come back again though so it's not really too bad at all. The price for the cable car is 10,000won, and if you’re going to Seoraksan then this is something that you absolutely do not want to miss.
 

 
Once we got to the top, the view was just spectacular. The rolling mist and incredible scenery made it look like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster, and I imagine that this would be the perfect location for perhaps the sequel to a film like Cliffhanger. Due to the high altitude it did feel slightly nerving at times and my ears definitely did pop once or twice, but I hardly noticed as I was very much in awe of the entire place. After some time we eventually returned to the bottom of the mountain, and made our way to the mahoosive bronze Buddha of Sinheungsa. This is perhaps the biggest Buddha statue that I have ever seen, but then that’s not really hard as I haven’t seen many. The whole place felt quite spiritual at times and it was wonderful to see so many Buddhist monks wandering around the area.
 
 
 
Seoraksan National Park and Sokcho truly are two beautiful places to visit in Korea, and I would totally recommend them to everyone and anyone who has ever lived! The whole trip was rounded off the next morning by watching the glorious sunrise on Sokcho beach at 6am. Looking out at the horizon over the East Sea after an absolutely epic Chuseok weekend away, I wondered when my next adventure would be and where it will lead me. Until then...
 
Sunrise on Sokcho Beach

Friday, 2 October 2015

Chuseok weekend on Sokcho Beach

Last weekend it was a national holiday here in Korea. Chuseok (as its called) is a major harvest festival that is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Traditionally most Koreans spend this 3 day holiday by travelling back to their home towns and sharing a huge feast with family and friends. Yum. Most also wear the traditional hanbok (dress) and play various folk games, so its similar to Thanksgiving in that it’s a great opportunity to spend some quality time with your nearest and dearest. Others (especially the foreigners) use this time off as a chance to travel around the country and even further afield too. So me and some friends thought what better way to celebrate this holiday then to do something totally Korean, and go camping for the weekend on the east coast.  

 Sokcho Beach
 
Sokcho is a small beach side town on the north east side of Korea. It has a huge military presence due to its close proximity to North Korea (just 30 miles in fact) and it was actually once part of the North right up until the end of the Korean war. Therefore most of the residence here have family that are unfortunately still in North Korea, but regardless of these circumstances I found most of the people here to be extremely friendly, happy and welcoming. We arrived in Sokcho after a 4 hour bus trip from Express Bus Terminal in Seoul. It usually doesn’t take this long, but due to the chaotic holiday traffic, we experienced a bit of a delay. As soon as we got there we headed straight to the beach, which is about a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal itself, and set up camp. The weather was literally perfect, not too hot and not too cold and the sky was completely clear. 

There were a few other people in the area that were also camping but for the most part it was pretty empty. There is a campsite that is set back slightly from the beach next to some red and white dome buildings that we discovered after the first night, but as we had already set up camp we decided to stick it out on the beach. It was free after all. That afternoon we mainly just chilled out on the beach and explored the local area. We found the cutest little café that served an ice cream beer that was beyond delicious. The people in this café were so friendly that we went back on more then one occasion over the duration of the trip. It can be found right next to the dome buildings on the main road so if you’re in the area be sure to pay them a visit.

 Ice cream beer! Yum!
 
 Exploring the local area
 
Footprints in the sand
 
As we eat out quite a lot at restaurants back in Seoul, we decided to grab some food from the local supermarket and have our own little Bar-BQ on the beach. We bought an array of different meats including pork, duck and chicken aswell as some Kimchi and lots of other vegetables too. After dinner and several bottles of the famous flavoured Soju, we roasted some marshmallows on the fire and stargazed whilst listening to the moving tides. There was a constant display of fireworks and lanterns to be seen and so we of course had to buy some sparklers to celebrate the Chuseok holiday. One thing I love about the beaches in Korea (or at least the ones I have been to) is that there always seems to be people setting off fireworks. This makes every beach visit seem like a constant celebration of some sort and one that I will gladly take part in. 

Sparklers
 
Sokcho Beach at night

Sokcho beach is the perfect place for a relaxing weekend away, not only because of the amenities and natural beauty of the area, but also because of its proximity to the famous Seoraksan Mountain. The next day we had planned to take the short bus trip up to Seoraksan National Park itself to do some hiking, and so off to sleep we went with a head empty of thoughts, and a heart full of happiness ready for the next days, mini adventure.


To be continued...


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