Awesome things about Korea: Kindness

By Heather Bucurel

Random acts of kindness. They’re something that most of us don’t really think about until it happens to us. Maybe it’s someone holding a door for you, giving you the last seat on the bus or subway, letting you share their umbrella for the short walk to indoors, picking up something you dropped, etc.

In Korea, random acts of kindness could be something given for service, a discount as a repeat customer, or an English-speaking Korean who stops to help you.bus

I always appreciate these kind gestures, and try to return the favor as best as I can. A “kamsa hamnida” goes a long way here.

Yesterday on the bus ride home, an older Korean gentleman got on the bus a stop ahead of mine.

He only had a 5,000 won bill and the bus driver couldn’t make change for the 1,000 ride.

The man really wanted and needed to get on the bus, but the driver was unrelenting without the proper fare. In that moment, I walked up to the front and used my bus card to pay for the man’s fare, much to his and the driver’s surprise.

The man tried to give me the 5,000 won, but I smiled and said, “괜찮아요 (it’s okay).”

The bus proceeded to my stop, where the man and I exchanged bows and farewells.

I could feel the eyes of all the other passengers when I departed the bus, wondering about the waegookin who had helped one of their own.

And no lie, the next song that came on my IPod as I walked the rest of the way home?

This wonderful cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” sung by British artist James Morrison.

Heather Bucurel
Heather is the author of The Kimchi Chronicles and is a monthly contributor to Say Kimchi News.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: One Expat’s Climb up Mount Halla

By Britton Inglehart

Place: Mt. Halla, Jeju, South Korea. Height: 1950 meters
Length: Gwaneumsa Route: 6.8km
Time: 8-9 hours. I did it in exactly 8 hours
Condition: Trail – grueling; Me – exhausted.
Trail: Straight up, nonstop. Rugged and ever changing.
Purpose: To see the Heavenly Lake that awaits those willing to risk life and limb.
Mission: Complete.

Mt. Halla, the highest mountain of South Korea and the one that dominates the island of Jeju, is not a mountain to take lightly. Located in the center of Jeju Island, Mt. Halla is a sight to be seen. But what is more than the mountain itself is what the summit holds. The crater lake. The sole purpose that draws many to attempt the climb.halla8

While I was preparing my adventure to Jeju, I came across pictures of the famed Baengnok (뱅녹) Lake. From the moment I saw it, I knew that I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

I spent a few days roaming around Jeju and seeing waterfalls and temples. I took a day of rest on Sunday and then on Monday, I got up early for the adventure that still has my legs fretting any type of climbing.

The climb started out relatively easy, but about half way there, the trail started to incline, steadily. And a short km later, I was huffing and puffing trying to catch my breath. But I was determined to get to the top, so on I pushed. And as I passed Koreans on their way down, I was greeted with smiles and cheers. When I reached the first check station, I took a 10-minute break for a snack of Snickers, an egg sandwich and some beef jerky and a ton of water.

Then, after talking to some Koreans about myself and why I was hiking, I pressed on. The trail really took a turn for the wicked. And the more you tried to go up, the more the mountain seemed to pull you back. Like gravity was trying to throw you down. And not to mention that the higher you go, the thinner the air. halla3

But not long after the first rest station you clear the tree line and a beautiful vista is revealed. At this sight, you almost want to say that it is enough. It can’t get prettier than this.

Let me tell you that it can. And it does.

This is not the summit. But we are on our way. Like something out of a fantasy movie or video game this stunning scenery hits you. And as you almost collapse from fatigue, exhaustion and overheating, the mountain throws you a favor and it starts to lightly rain. A welcomed sign from the Gods that they favor your endeavor. So I picked myself up and continued on, letting the rain cool my body and catching what I could for hydration.

Then I found a second gift, pure, drinkable, mountain stream water. It was perfect timing too, because my camel pack was dry and my water bottle was on its last leg. The clear, clean, crisp mountain water truly was a gift from the Gods. Because as I drank it, I could feel my energy return. I also came to find out that drinking this water adds 100 years to your life. Just like a video game.

The final push. Now, you are over 1000 meters high, you are exhausted from the 6km you’ve just pushed yourself up. And now you have .8 more to go. Do you decide that this is it, you’ve seen enough? Do you give up so close to your goal? No! The mountain is testing you, don’t let its ever increasing trails and thinning air detour you. Push! The reward is waiting!
Steel your resolve and swallow your pride, Heaven is waiting! This is what I heard in my head as I took one last break and gulp of fresh mountain water.

Cracking my neck and repeating Nietzsche in my head “What doesn’t destroy me only makes me stronger”, I got my final wind. And to Heaven, I climbed, almost could say I crawled.

But when I broke the summit, I could feel the grueling agony of the hike lift. All when I saw it.

There is it folks, the crater lake. The grand prize for killing yourself. I still feel like a part of me is still there, marveling.

Halla6

About the author
Britton is an avid photographer and monthly contributor to Say Kimchi News.

Cool off this summer with Patbingsu (팥빙수)

By Whit Altizer

Few things say summer to me in Korea like patbingsu (팥 빙수). Along with the humidity, rain, sweltering heat, sanakji, and beers at Mini-Stop, there is the refreshing and delicious bowl of patbingsu. It is one of the few desserts in Korea that seems authentically Korean.

Patbingsu means sweetened azuki beans(pat-팥) and shaved ice(bingsu-빙수). At one time this is what all the street vendors sold. However these days patbingsu includes red beans, rice cakes, condensed milk, fruit, cereal and a scoop of ice cream or yogurt. It almost has all of the ingredients an ice cream and cake westerner would turn their nose up at. “Beans? On ice? With fruit? Really?” patbingsu

When my co-teachers ordered us patbingsu delivered to school, I ate it out of ignorance. The beans looked and tasted a bit like chocolate. Even when I found out I was eating beans for dessert, I didn’t care, it tasted too good.
Now every summer, patbingsu, at about W5,000, has become a weekly indulgence.

Patbingsu can be found at almost any bakery, ice cream shop, coffee shop or Lotteria in town. Most servings are enough for two people so bring a friend. Mix it up or eat it in order, there are no rules when consuming patbingsu.
Some of my favorite places to get a good bowl of patbingsu include:
Rotiboy
Aqui Terme
Lotteria

Go out and find your favorite!

9 Things to do in Gwangju

By Khadijah Anderson

I’ve been thinking about what Gwangju has to offer its foreign visitors and citizens. So yesterday, I wrote a list of nine things that have brought me a lot of enjoyment in the ten months I’ve been here. The list has no real order, so pick what you want or try them all.
1. Take pictures in a photo booth with friends
Why?: It’s a lot of fun! Most places have costumes customers are allowed to wear. It allows the pictures to have more of an umph to them and allows the people in them to act a little sillier than normal. It’s 6,000 won well spent.
Where?: There are two in Gwangju that I know of. The first that comes to mind is the one near Holly’s Coffee. Basically you go down the main road (past Starbucks) until you hit Paris Baguette, make a right and keep walking until you see the booths. The other one, I’ll have to get back to you on. I can’t remember exactly where it is, but I know it exists.
2. Eat at The First Alleyway and shop at The Underground Grocers
Why?: The food is good and the atmosphere is fantastic. Mike Simning’s restaurant, The First Alleyway, is the place for foreigners to hangout and eat. The Underground Grocers, co-owned by Simning, is another place foreigners can find those things that they can’t at places like Home Plus, Emart or Lotte Mart. For example, Underground sells Rice Krispie treats, sour cream, cheddar cheese, guacamole, biscuits, Tim Tams and Quakers oatmeal.
Where?: Start at Starbucks on the main road. Make a right at converse and keep walking. Pass the Angel in us Coffee shop. Before you get to clothing store Evisu, go through the small alleyway, it’ll be on your left.
Site: http://www.ugfoods.co.kr/
3. Eat at First Nepal Restaurant
Why?: This is another foreigner hangout, but you’ll also find many Koreans like it too. The food is fantastic: Palaak Paneer, Alu Gobi, Mutter Paneer, Cheese/Butter/Garlic Naan, Mango/Banana Lassi, samosas and basmati rice–I’m hungry just thinking about it.
Where?: Still on the main road downtown, past Starbucks. Keep walking (pass the Burger King, the Paris Baguette, Seven Monkey’s Coffee). You’re going to get to an intersection, and you’ll see a bank on your left. Walk a little further, First Nepal will be on the left.
Site: http://www.firstnepal.com/
4. Join/Visit the G.I.C. (Gwangju International Center)
Why?: You’ll find that for 10,000 won you can get a membership which includes the renting of books and DVDs anytime you want for six months. Another bonus if you sign up, is a copy of the Gwangju News magazine–it’s delivered for free to your house each month . Plus, the GIC offers Saturday discussions about culture in Korea and around the world to help better inform the community.
Where? It’s straight across the street from the YMCA downtown. Go into the subway station and walk to the other side. Walk up the steps and walk straight, pass the KEB (which is on your left, and go into the glass doors. Take the elevator to the fifth floor, make a right, and you’ll see a sign that says Gwangju International Center, it’s open M-S from 10am to 6pm.
5. Have a Drink at the Ethnic Cafe
Why?: Have you just wanted to chill with friends or a sweetheart? Ethnic Cafe is the place to do so, grab a smoothie, shake, cocktail and even have hookah. It’s Indian style set up and many candles is not to miss.
Where?: Start at Starbucks, go in the same direction of First Nepal restuarant. Before getting to the bank, hang a right and walk. You’ll eventually see a white sign. To get inside the cafe, you must walk down the stairs lined with candles.

6. Bike Ride Along the River
Why?: Biking is a really great way to transport ones self around the city of Gwangju. It’s good for the environment and good for the body. Biking along the river is quite easy. If you don’t have a bike though, no problem. Sangmu station will let you rent a bike for free, if you hand over your ARC card.
Where?: All around Gwangju.

7. Take a Class in Something
Why?: If you are tired of nodding yes and smiling when you don’t understand what someone is saying, why not invest in a Korean class? Luckily, those in Gwangju EPIK are provided with free lessons at Chonnam University. If not in the EPIK program, no worries, there are other options available–paying for classes at the GIC, or taking up a language exchange. A
While in Korea, I took up swimming for one month. It was 70,000 won for the membership and I was allowed to use the pool when I wanted for free to 2,000 won on holidays and Sundays. The entire class was in Korean. I got along well with my class and instructor, and the women were really helpful in the changing rooms when I had no idea what to do.
Where?: Check the Facebook group Gwangju Tri Sports for more. All the information about swimming times, costs and numbers to call are there.

8. Visit the Damyang Sosaewon and Vegetarian Buffet
Why?: This place is so beautiful. If you’ve seen my blog with pictures, you’ll see exactly why you should go. The vegetarian buffet is amazing!
Where?: Go to the bus terminal. Wait for bus 225 on the Usquare side. It comes on the 50 or 55 on the hour.

9. Go for a Night on the Townnightlife
Why?: There are many places one can go for a drink, that has loud music and a dance floor on which to go wild.
Speakeasy, German Bar, Bubble Bar, Mix lounge, Soul Train, Houze (dance club), Volume (dance club).
Where?: Go downtown, ask around, someone is bound to tell you where these places are. People are quite friendly here, so they might even tag along.

My first World Cup

By Lindsay Nash

As you probably know, most Americans don’t watch the World Cup. To be honest, I was like, “Isn’t that rugby or something?” (Whit and my new roomie Chris have started a quote book of ridiculous Lindsay-isms on World Cup soccer. They either think it’s either hilarious or hilariously scary.)

worldcup2
I was never a soccer fan, though I did at one time in my youth have an awesome pink soccer ball, which I think I used as a basketball, my preferred sport. In high school, I went to a few games, but only for the eye candy, if you know what I mean.
So, needless to say, to be in a country where soccer is extremely popular and the World Cup is more than a 15-second news clip in the middle of the night has really been eye-opening for me.
And, most surprisingly, I LOVE it. I never realized soccer was so fun to watch. I have gotten into every game I I have watched so far. I have rooted for the U.S.; shouted at umpires (“Referees!” I am corrected again) for bad calls (Maurice Edu was robbed!); and dressed up in Korea gear to cheer for my adopted home.
Across the country, the Korean games are aired on huge outdoor big screens in parks, stadiums, restaurants, bars and city halls. We are lucky enough to live near Gwangju’s World Cup Stadium, built for the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan.
Normally, it’s a place where I go to shop, eat Dunkin Donuts, and go jogging, but last month, it transformed completely into the stadium it was meant to be.
Thousands, and I mean, literally, thousands, of red-clad fans piled into the stadium (free of charge, of course! This is Korea!) to watch the game on the big screen. They had already had a strong showing in their first game, and now they were up against Argentina, one of the strongest in the World Cup.

worldcup1
So we bought some T-shirts, a little Korean flag, a scarf, and some devil horns (Korea “Red Devils”) to wear and headed on down to the stadium.
Needless to say, I walked into the most lively stadium I’ve seen in my whole life. Fans screaming, fireworks bursting overhead, and every seat in that stadium filled. I had goosebumps just experiencing it.
Korea didn’t win this game, but they did score a goal, which was reason enough for another round of fireworks.
I couldn’t believe it, but this was the most fun sporting event I had ever been to. And no one was even on the field (“the PITCH,” Whit and Chris say, correcting me).
As Korea bested their way until the final 16, I was even more excited, and then definitely saddened when they lost.
But, don’t worry Korea, the spirit lives on!
Dae Han Min Guk!!!

Destination: Jeju (through photos)

Korea is Awesome (great things about life in Korea)

Awesome Things about Korea #8: Inexpensive Medical Treatment
By Heather Bucurel

Inevitably, at some point in your time in Korea, you will probably get sick. It might be from allergies, changing weather, exposure to kid germs while teaching, or from the yearly yellow dust invasion from China (화사). Whatever the cause, Korea makes it very easy to get back on the healthy side of things.awesome

Clinics are everywhere in Korea, and they all have various specialties: dental, skin, ENT, plastic surgery, eye, internal, diet, and women’s and men’s-specific. Going to a doctor for a cold or minor problem is as simple as going to the nearest clinic that caters to your needs. If you’re not sure which one is the best, it’s good to ask some other foreigners or Korean friends who they would recommend.

My first year year I had a lot of trouble with the different plants and the yellow dust in the spring, so my allergies gave me a lot of problems. Thus, my local ENT doctor and I became very familiar to each other!

He spoke a little bit of English, so it made it easier to communicate what was wrong with me. (Many doctors know a little bit of English, especially regarding medical terms/problems.) He was very helpful and always knew what medicines to prescribe to help me get better.

The other good part of visiting his office? The doctor’s fee! For a simple consultation, it would cost me around 10 dollars. No joke. Anyone who’s been to a doctor in the US knows how expensive and time-consuming it is. Here it is a relief.
After that, I would head downstairs to the conveniently located pharmacy (which are also located everywhere, and are called 약국). I hand my printout of medicines to the pharmacy tech, and ten minutes later, walk out with my little bag of wonder meds!
They make it easy for you to remember which drugs to take, too, by separating each dose into a little packet. So, you end up with this nice little strip of packets, marked with which meal to take it after.

No fumbling with a bottle and counting out the pills yourself! The price for this? Also amazingly cheap, compared to home. My prescriptions have cost me about 5-10 dollars on average anytime I went to the pharmacy.

Going to the eye doctor or eyeglass shop (안과 의사 or 안경 가게) is also less expensive than at home. I can get my eyes examined in the eyeglass shop and pick out a pair of glasses for about 80 dollars, even with my prescription!

At home, I would pay over 100 dollars for my lenses because the prescription is so strong.

The same goes for contacts. I can buy two boxes of contacts for 60 dollars that last me about 5-6 months. At home, the same would cost twice that.

And a trip to the dentist (치과) for a cleaning? Only about 40 dollars.

It’s just one of the awesome things about Korea!

About the author
Heather is the author of The Kimchi Chronicles and is a monthly contributor to Say Kimchi News.

Temple Explorations: Observations from a Korean traveler

By Lucy Kweon

JIRISAN –Since I started exploring all over my country, and I realized that there are so many beautiful mountains, islands, beaches, and towns to explore, I’ve been addicted to traveling around my country.Lucy3

Especially because I live in a big city, and it’s hard to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, I love being in quiet and peaceful places, like mountains, small islands, or the countryside.

So when recently planning a trip for my birthday, I felt I’d found the perfect place. Mount Jiri National Park is a vast area, which can take three days to cross. But if you’re looking for something a little less strenuous, you can explore the mountainside villages that are connected by old trails and new roads.

My only previous experience of these valleys was as a youngster, on day trips with my family – an escape from the hot sun where we’d paddle in cold river waters, eat cooling chicken soup, and gorge ourselves on watermelon.

When I checked the National Park’s website, I discovered you could visit these villages and sleep in the home of a local family. I found a village in the middle of the mountain where the chief (all Korean villages have a chief, who is in charge of village) had a reputation from travelers of being very hospitable.

When I talked to him and his wife on the phone, I struggled to understand their different dialect, but I liked it and finally I made a reservation.

As we left Gwangju, it was such a lovely day outside that I could enjoy even three bus transfers to get to the nearest place to start hiking.

I could tell I was almost near the area of Jiri National park by the crazy bus ride, it felt like I was on a roller coaster surrounded by big green mountains, there was a river with lots of rocks between the road and the mountains.

Soon we were off the bus, and wandering through the valley. The road to the temple we wanted to see was incredibly steep, and at that point cars were going past, so we decided to hitchhike to get to the top.

The small truck (we call them “Bongos”) stopped and the driver was a bit shy, he was the first of many ‘angels’I met on my birthday trip – people who made my experience all the more special.

The temple grounds were filled with rock carvings of all shapes and sizes, from tiny Buddhas and flowers to huge dragons and sword-holding warriors.
Lucy4
Normally you can see colorful statues of warriors at an entrance to a temple, but here they were carved into the mountain rocks as we approached, which gave the whole place a more mysterious feel.

But most amazing was entering the temple, which was just a small door from the outside. Walking into it though, revealed a cave, covered with different rock carvings.

Floor to ceiling it was covered in dragons, flowers and mysterious-looking men, – the centerpiece being a huge, beautiful statue of Buddha himself.

This, along with the hundreds of candles and people bowing to the statue, made it one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever been.
On the way out, I met the men I’d hitchhiked with, and when I told him I planned to hike to a Zen Buddhist temple, he offered to take me there too.

The temple, named Baeksongsa (Baeksong temple) is almost at the peak, so it has an amazing view down to the mountains.
Maybe because of it’s high location, there weren’t as many people around, which made the atmosphere quiet, peaceful and truly serene.

The ‘song’part of the temple name means “pine trees” in Chinese characters, and you can see beautiful big fine trees in the grounds of the temple.

The temples aren’t painted with any colors, just plain, natural wood, that’s why they look more beautiful to me.
The driver of the bongo confessed to me very shyly that he’d made all the wooden calligraphy-style carvings on the temple, after I mentioned how much I liked them. He said he’s not an artist, he does it just as a hobby.

But they looked just like art, and I was very surprised by his work and his attitude. I love people who don’t know they are amazing but they are amazing. He was a guy like that, and I really liked him.

I met a monk and actually he was the first monk I ever had a conversation with at a temple. He amazed me by his saying that “Buddha is not a God, but simply a great teacher. A lot of people even Buddhists worship him or know him as God, but he was a person who had realized about life, and tried to teach how to take a view about it.”

I was quite absent-minded when I first became interested in Buddhism. Even though I knew Buddha was just a person like me, I had never questioned who he was, what he did, or why lots of people honor him.

–Part 2–to be continued next monthLucy2

Lucy Kweon is an English teacher who lives in Gwangju, South Korea. In her free time, she loves to travel her native country. Read more about her temple explorations in part two section next month.

Restaurant review: Seoul’s Margarita Splash

By Na Hoang

Don’t be fooled by appearances.margarita splash

Although it could easily be mistaken for a giant hole in the wall, the Margarita/Splash eatery in Hongdae more than compensates for its size by the upscale quality of its drinks, professionalism of its bartenders, and the scrumptious food it dishes out.

It is easy to miss when you’re stumbling from bar to bar in Hongdae, fitting only four tables in its shoebox-like design, but once you squeeze into its brightly lit tables and take a sip out of the long straws served in funky colourful plastic cups, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how tasty their iced cold margaritas are.

The décor is vibrant, hip, and funky, with a window that opens up onto the street and a plasma screen that hangs over the bar displaying the menu.

With a small menu serving snack foods like burritos, nachos, and onion rings, it’s easy to neglect altogether.

But that would be a big failure as the beef burrito easily out-sizes many of the kebab stands competing nearby and is jam packed with juicy flavor.

The onion rings aren’t your typical golden yellow, battered rings either, but are large, brown and breaded, and served with a delicious sauce.

Although the place can fill up quickly and gets a bit crowded when it does, it is definitely worth a try as you bar hop on a Friday night.

Read more from NA HOANG
Na Hoang is a Canadian who currently teaches English in a rural town up north in the middle of nowhere. Although her apartment is tiny, she continues to fill it with animals, including her two dogs, Keiko and Alma, and her cat, Beatrice. She likes climbing mountains, drinking heavily, stargazing, sarcasm, and blogging (na-and-keiko.blogspot.com).

Restaurant review (take 2!): Busan’s Breeze Burn’s

By Na Hoang
So you’ve just arrived in Busan, the coastal city about a three hour train ride south of Seoul, and you manage to get yourself to the most popular beach in the area, Haeundai Beach. You spend the morning there, soaking up that Vitamin D, and getting sand in places you’ll never get out. breeze3

At around noon, you pluck yourself up, roll up the beach towel, and start walking into town for something to eat.
In just ten minutes, as you walk down a street that would eventually take you straight to Haeundai subway station, you see this restaurant.

The front opens up into a patio, the décor is a calming black colour, and with a name like Breeze Burns, you’re already enticed.
If you get there before the hungry Saturday crowds come and order their brunch special, you will be happily met with a western style platter of breakfast foods served from foreign-friendly personnel.

A Brunch for Champions
The plate they handed to me was literally the size of two dinner plates. How else would they be able to fit two slices of brown and white bread, three sausages, two slices of bacon, scrambled eggs, some salad, tomatoes, green beans, hash browns (or wedges), and a waffle with real Canadian maple syrup on just a regular size plate!

All of this for just under 10,000 won would have done the trick for me, but the freshly squeezed orange juice with pulp and sweetness that can only come from natural juice hit the right spot.

Finishing the meal off with a café Americano coffee, hot or cold, made it the best vacation brunch I’ve had so far.

A Dinnertime Delight
Half a day later and a short subway ride away, near Gwangalli Beach with a view overlooking Gwangan Bridge in the distance, I found myself hungry and looking for a nice eatery when I came across another Breeze Burns restaurant.

Making such an impression on me in the morning, I decided to try out their dinner menu. As I walked into the establishment, I could see the servers behind the bar rolling out ground beef into sizable beef patties.The sight of fresh, not frozen, hamburger meat made drool almost dribble down my chin as I tried to find a seat.

The dinner menu had a nice selection of sandwiches such as ham and cheese and smoked salmon.

It also had a nice assortment of hamburgers with the vegetarian burger getting better reviews from my friends than the meaty ones. Dinner was for around 10,000 won for a burger and beer.
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Breeze Burn deservedly earned my e-mon-chon-won that day and the title of best vacation burger and brunch in South Korea.

Read more from NA HOANG
Na Hoang is a Canadian who currently teaches English in a rural town up north in the middle of nowhere. Although her apartment is tiny, she continues to fill it with animals, including her two dogs, Keiko and Alma, and her cat, Beatrice. She likes climbing mountains, drinking heavily, stargazing, sarcasm, and blogging (na-and-keiko.blogspot.com).