Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Return to Korea: Part 3

Please click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

We spent most of our summer vacation on Jeju Island, the popular tropical getaway south of the main peninsula. Honestly, we were kind of skeptical that this place would live up to its reputation as "the Hawaii of Korea," but it actually blew us away with its natural beauty and mellow atmosphere. One of the first places we visited was Jeongbang Waterfall.
Here we are at Oedolgae, one of Jeju's many cool-looking volcanic rock formations.
One of our co-teachers, Alice, was also visiting Jeju, so we met up with her and her boyfriend for dinner and night-time walking along the docks of Seogwipo City.
The next day we went to the beautiful Seopjikoji Pensinula...
...climbed Sunrise Peak...
...walked through a kilometre of volcanic underground tunnels.
...and wandered around a stone dolmen park.
The next day we continued our rampant sightseeing at Yakcheonsa Temple. We've been to enough Korean temples to know that they get pretty samey after a while, but this one blew us away with its massive scale and its gorgeous decorative design.

Here's the Museum of African Art. We didn't go inside, but we did catch this lovely view of the exterior.
More strange volcanic formations at Jusangjeolli.
Like temples, waterfalls are another sight that can get repetitive after a while, but Jeju has some really stunning examples that make them worth visiting.

At the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum.
On our last full day on the island, we went to Hyeopjae Beach, known as one of Korea's most beautiful beaches.
A perfect last day of vacation.
One of the last things we did in Jeju was visit Loveland, a sex-themed park with lots of statues of genitals and naked people. The next day we caught our plane back to Seoul, which was fittingly gloomy and bleak-looking to suit our moods.
Back to reality: strolling around Gangnam as we look for a place to eat.
I'm proud to announce that it's now been a year since Angela and I got married on a beach in Bali. I've never been so astonished by the speed at which time passes! What a great first year it's been though. We celebrated our first anniversary by eating at one of our favourite restaurants, Zelen's in Itaewon.

That weekend, we also took a bus to the mountains near Hongcheon, a couple of hours to the east of Seoul. Here we stayed in a lovely pension with our own private swimming pool.
A delicious Korean barbecue we prepared in our own private space.
We had our own private pool as well as a jacuzzi. Needless to say, we spent a good portion of our Saturday idling around drinking red wine in there.
We're planning on following the traditional western guidelines for our anniversary gifts, with paper gifts for our first year, cotton for our second, and so on. Angela made for me a framed picture showing maps of where we first met (Seoul), where we got engaged (Malaysia), and where we got married (Bali). For Angela, I prepared a bottle filled with scrolls, each one containing a memory from our first year of marriage.

That pretty much concludes our first 6 months. So far, this year's had its share of ups and downs, but looking through this blogpost reminds me that we're so lucky to be together and to have enjoyed so many exciting experiences. We're going to try to savour this last half-year as much as we can, since it may well be the last we see of Korea - and Asia - for quite some time.

I may make one more post summarising the second half of our year here, but that won't be until early 2016. If all goes to plan, by then we'll have started a new chapter our lives, living together on the east coast of the USA.

The Return to Korea: Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of this post if you haven't already.

On Angela's birthday, I woke her up with heart-shaped breakfast in bed.
We have an ongoing tradition of making each other treasure hunts on our birthdays. Last year I took Angela on a hunt through Hanoi Vietnam, but this year I led her through Seoul, via clues such as these QR-codes.
We also went to Insadong and made handcrafted rings for each other...
...returned to the pretty district of Bukchon...
...and watched a live drawing show.
That evening, we watched fireworks on the River Han near Banpo Bridge.
Drinking with our friends.
Probably our most exhausting trip this year was our cycle to Gapyeong along the River Han.
We saw some stunning valley scenery along the way.

In Gapyeong, we returned to Nami Island, one of our favourite places in Korea.
Another trip took us to Semiwon, a beautiful park not far from Hanam.

One of the places we were sad to have missed on our first year was Ulleungdo, a mysterious, rugged island to the east of Korea. This year, we finally paid it a visit, and were blown away by its breathtaking scenery and awesome cliff walks.
In late June, Angela spent a weekend in California to attend her friend Stephanie's wedding.
During our last year in Korea, we visited Seoul's Trick-Eye Museum, where visitors can pose for optical illusion-based photographs. This year we visited a similar museum called the Alive Museum.
Posing with the monster from 괴물 (The Host) by the Han River.
Another new experience: silent disco!
4am in Hongdae.
In the week running up to summer vacation, our school held three special event days, including a water day, during which Angela hosted a fishing pool, while I held a water fight.
Our school also converted into a petting zoo for a day, including pigs, birds, turtles, lizards, a snake, a deer and an ostrich.
And we held a marketplace day, during which Angela sold cotton candy...
...and I sold popcorn and slushies.
On our first day of summer vacation, we saw a temporary exhibition of 1600 pandas near Lotte World Tower.

Click here to continue the adventure in Part 3, during which we visit beautiful Jeju Island.

The Return to Korea: Part 1

Korea is the birthplace - or at the very least, the raison d'être - of this blog. It's the country where I met the love of my life, the country where I lived for a year and a half, and the country where I learned about a fascinating culture, and experienced a wealth of sights and festivities, including mud festivals, pink mountains, penis parks, palaces, puppy cafes, and excursions across the North Korean border. It was never our plan to return, but when we realised Korea would be one of the easier places to get my American green card, we started applying for teaching jobs immediately, and before we knew it, our planes were booked and we were all set for another year in this awesome country.

During my first year in Korea I think I wrote over a hundred blog posts detailing various adventures and experiences that Angela and I shared. This year, I just haven't had the time or energy, since I've been focusing on other writing pursuits, namely freelance writing and fiction. Nevertheless, we have visited some amazing must-see places that we missed the last time, including the beautiful islands of Jeju and Ulleungdo, so now seems a good time for a general update. Here's a basic rundown of our last six months.

This is Hanam City, our current Korean hometown. Located in eastern Gyeonggi-do Province, it's a pretty unremarkable satellite city of Seoul, and I can't think of many good reasons to visit. This is made worse by the fact that there's no metro station yet (it's opening in 2016, too late for us!), so the only way to Seoul is via bus or taxi. This has made life here feel isolating, and we pine for the days when we could just take a quick subway ride to the cool districts Seoul has to offer. We do still travel into the capital a lot - just not as easily as we would like - and Hanam does at least offer a decent range of restaurants and shops. The locals are also friendlier and less ostentatious than those in Gangnam and other parts of Seoul.
Probably the most interesting thing in Hanam is Deokpung Market, which is often abuzz with vendors selling battered vegetables, pigs feet, blood sausage and tteokbokki.
Our apartment here is pretty small compared to where we used to live, but we've gradually made it our own, decorating it with ornaments, maps and travel photos.
Pretty early on we bought ourselves bicycles, which we often ride to work via pretty canals and mountainous scenery.
Here's our current workplace: KEDLP (Korean-English Dual-Language Program). During our first two months our school was actually based in a different location, a stone's throw from our apartment, but now we're in a quieter part of Hanam fifteen minutes away. It's probably the prettiest hagwon I've worked in, but the fact that it's made up of several buildings does bring up some logistical issues that I won't go into it.
There are only two other foreign co-workers at our school. This is Maresha and Wade, who've been super friendly and welcoming to us. They've actually been in Korea for five years, and are finishing off one more year before returning home to Washington state. We've become good friends over the last six months, and they've introduced us to some great bars and restaurants in Hanam, particularly Dino Meat. Man, I could write a whole blog post about Dino Meat. Suffice to say, it's pretty much the best Korean food we've ever eaten: the reddest, most delectable beef, cheese-filled tteok, and the best kimchi, all unlimited. We were going there on a weekly basis for the longest time, but have tried to cut down recently as it's not the cheapest or healthiest of meals.
Here's Angela with one of her favourite classes at KEDLP.
Blowing bubbles outside during early spring.
One of the first trips we went on this year was to Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival. Unfortunately, stormy weather, poor organisation on the part of our tour operators, and terrible traffic resulted in one of the worst trips we've ever been on. We didn't even get to attend the festival, though we did at least see some cherry blossoms.
Just like during our first year, we've made a point of visiting Angela's Korean family as regularly as we can. They are doing well, and Angela's cousins, Eun-Young and Eun-Ji are currently working hard developing their own teashop business.
We also made a point of returning to our old neighbourhoods. Here we are in Cheolsan, my first hometown in Korea. Those lights in the background were one of the first things I saw in Korea upon arrival back in October of 2012.
Not a whole lot has changed in Seoul since we left, but one thing of note is Lotte World Tower, which is twice the height it was when we left. It's currently projected to become the world's fourth tallest building.
We had such a gorgeous, sunny spring this year that we regularly ventured into Seoul for some good old-fashioned sightseeing. I took Angela to the Great Wall of Korea, Hwaseong Fortress, in Suwon, which I'd previously visited in winter, though it looked much different in this warm, flowery weather.
Dongdaemun History and Culture Park was under construction when we left, but was now complete.
We were excited to return to our favourite mountain in Seoul: Inwangsan. When I originally wrote my list of top 50 experiences in Korea, climbing this was at number one.

Here we are drinking on the Han River with our old friends, Matt and Kimmi, who actually returned to Korea on the exact same date as we did. Adding to the coincidence was the fact that their school put them on the same flight as us. We shared a plane from the US to Korea, and we've continued to hang out with them on the weekends in Seoul.
On May 15th, Korea celebrates Teacher's Day. This year, our students' parents generously gave us a ton of gifts, including candles, vitamins, toiletries, and copious Starbucks gift cards.
Here's Noel on a strawberry picking field trip.
Here's Aiden on the same trip. I had to include a picture of him, since he's probably the most exasperating yet irresistibly enthusiastic student I've ever taught.
Another sunny weekend saw us return to Gyeongbokgung Palace.
Sitting by peaceful palace grounds on a sparkling, sunny day, colouring with the one you love. Can life possibly get better than this?
For Buddha's Birthday, we went to Jogyesa Temple, which was colourfully decorated with lanterns.
We even got to make our own...
...before taking them to the Lotus Lantern Festival.

Click here to continue the adventure in Part 2!