Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thanksgiving with a side of kimchi

This weekend is thanksgiving weekend in Canada.  It is the time when families come together to be with loved ones and give thanks for what they have; to say what they are most grateful for in their lives.

In the last 6 months that I've been away from home, I have come to appreciate all of this so much more.  So please let me share with you what it is that I am most grateful and thankful for in my life.

I am grateful to have had had this once in a life time opportunity of living in a different culture; in a different world.  While the experience did not end in the way that I thought it would, I am nevertheless immensely thankful that I've done it.  I finally feel ready to move onto the next stage of my life without a feeling of regret...that wonder of "what if?".

I am thankful for having met the many wonderful people I did while I was here.  There have been so many (both foreign and Korean) that I have had the privilege of getting to know.   I would not have lasted a month in this place without them, and so I thank them for their support and encouragement through my darkest days, and for sharing their smiles with me on the happier ones too.

I am thankful for my even stronger support network of family and friends back home.  I can only imagine how hard it has been for you to have me be so far from you when many of you know how sad I have been here.  Your continued love and support means so much to me.  When I was terrified to leave early, you were all there, ready to support me and encourage me and remind me that by following my heart, I will never be led astray.

Finally, I am so grateful for having an amazing man in my life and always in my corner.  Throughout my experience here in Korea (and even in the preparation for it), has been nothing but supportive and encouraging.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: if the shoe were on the other foot, I'm not sure I could have been as strong and as solid as he has proven himself to be.  He's put up with more craziness than I care to admit, and yet still hasn't gone running for the hills.  If anything, my time here has made me realize what a "great catch" he really is, and gives me confidence that we will be able to work through life's problems together.

So to my friends and family back home, and indeed to all Canadians, I hope you have a very happy thanksgiving, and eat a little bit more than you probably should!

*Gobble gobble gobble*

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Confessions from afar

Much of what I post on this blog is filtered.  It's filtered to show all the fun things I've done while I've been in Korea.  But it's time I confess the truth: much of my time here has been unhappy.  I've previously alluded to having a hard time adjusting here, and that certainly was the case at first, but as time goes on, I don't feel like it's gotten much better at all.

I can't say I haven't laughed or smiled while I've been here, certainly, there have been happy moments, and I have made many wonderful friends, but I have found most of my time feeling empty and sad.  And I certainly don't feel like it has been for lack of trying.  Up until recently, I had been taking Korean language classes to try to adapt better to the culture.  As you can see from previous posts, I've gone on many different trips and done many events to try to learn more about and see different parts of the country too.

But as I've now been here for nearly 6 months, I feel that I have more unhappy feelings than happy ones.  I sometimes find myself crying in the school bathroom because I feel so unhappy.  As one friend said to me "that is a red flag".  They're totally right, and it is.  This is not to say that I was particularly unhappy with my school - quite the opposite in fact!  I didn't mind going into work every day to see the kind staff and students.  But work is just a small part of my life, especially when it's not something I want to do long term.  I feel like I am getting to the point that perhaps it's best if I take this experience for what it was, and say "Korea is just not for me".

Korea is an extremely different culture from what I am used to.   I know many people have come here before me, and have dealt with their troubles in Korea in various ways and have learned to love it and went on to stay for many years.  The more that I think about it, however, I feel like I am wasting precious time here.

It's funny what you learn to appreciate when you are without it.  As the song goes "you don't know what you've got til it's gone".  I knew I had a happy life in Ottawa, but I don't think I knew just how great and happy it was until I was here in Korea.  I don't pretend to think that my life was perfect in Ottawa, but I certainly didn't feel like crying every day while I was there.  Maybe that's the lesson I was supposed to learn by coming here?  To appreciate my home and all that comes with it.

I also know many people who come to Korea are trying to run away from a difficult life back home (relationship and/or job issues) and stay in Korea, miserable for X amount of time for those same reasons.  Fortunately for me, I don't have those problems.  While I might not actually have a job waiting for me back home, I believe I will be able to find something.  And I certainly have a wonderful man waiting for me at home.  My friends, my family, my city.  They all made my life very happy - something I haven't felt since being here.

I have done what I wanted to do here:

  • I want to move and teach overseas because I want to have a different experience. *CHECK*
  • I want to experience living in a different country, in a different culture, with different challenges. *CHECK* 
  • I even want to experience culture shock. *DOUBLE CHECK*
So does that mean I should continue to feel sad and stay?  I don't think it does.

And so, I have decided to tender my resignation to the school effective November 1st.  Which means I will be home shortly thereafter.

I am so afraid of people viewing me as a failure or a quitter for not staying the year here.  I don't want to feel like I have let people down.  But, I am sure that there are those who will view it in that way (whether they are here in Korea or in Canada).  I am a person of tremendous self-pride and to make this decision is not something I have done lightly.  I have given it much thought, and a great amount of prayer.  I have talked with so many people and asked for a sign from above.  But I know that ultimately, the decision is up to me.

I'm sorry if you're one of the people let down by this decision, but I have to think of my own self happiness, and, sadly, it just isn't here in Korea.  I will always hold this experience in a very special place in my heart.  I don't regret coming here. While it is not what I expected to be or the result I thought would happen, I have learnt a great deal from it and from those I encountered on this adventure.

Go East!

In the short time I've been in Korea, I've visited parts of the southeast (Busan), southwest (Mokpo), north (DMZ) and central (wine tour).  So I had yet to see what the east coast of the country is like.  From what I had been told, it was quite nice.  Seoraksan mountain is famous for its hikes and spectacular views.  And the beaches and waters are supposed to be a beautiful clear blue.  So, my friend Natallia and I decided to hop on a bus and head out there to see for ourselves.

After a bit of a rough start (I went to the wrong bus terminal and had to take a rushed cab ride to make to the right station on time!  Only to then be stuck in traffic for the next 5 hours!), we finally made it to Sokcho in the early afternoon.  We checked into our charismatic hostel and then took the bus up to see Seoraksan mountain for ourselves.  In the busy summer months, there are so many visitors to this landmark that there are usually lines to hike up the mountain!  But, since it was the end of the season, there were far fewer visitors on the day that we went, which is just fine for me!  Since I had done a big hike the previous weekend in Wolchulsan National Park, I wasn't super keen to do another big hike on this particular day, so we took the cable car to the top of one of the mountains and soaked in the lovely views.

Once we had seen the view from the top, we came back down and explored the local Buddhist temple.

Once we got back to the hostel in the afternoon, we decided to wander around the famous local fish market - quite a sight to behold!  But, thankfully not as disturbing as the one I found in Busan.  After a Japanese dinner of pork cutlet, we spent the night at a really charming hostel - the only one in the city, I believe: The House Hostel.  It had quite a bit of character, lots of little knick-knacks and very helpful staff.  Definitely worth a stay if you ever decide to head out that way.

The next morning, we decided to the second thing Sokcho is famous for - its beach.  Sadly, mother nature was not on our side as the whole beach was roped off due to high winds and big waves.  I still managed to dip my feet in Korea's east coast when the waves came up high enough, but I guess I brought my swimsuit for nothing!  We still had a nice time people watching and saw a whole Korean family and tent get soaked by a big wave that came up far higher on the beach than they clearly ever expected. (hehehe)

Before we knew it, it was time to catch out bus home.  This meant, it was also time for every one else to head back to Seoul too.  So another ridiculously long and uncomfortable bus ride later, we made it home.  Another part of Korea checked off the list!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hiking through the clouds, swimming in the mud

Shortly after my return from Canada, I was invited to go on a hiking/beach trip exploring the famous "cloud bridge" in the southern part of the country (Mokpo area).  So, late at night on Friday, a group of people (both foreign and Korean) met up and hopped on a bus with Seoul Hiking Group that took us on a very long (well, for Korea it's long) bus ride overnight to Wolchulsan National Park. We arrived at 5am and started to get ready for our hike to the famous cloud bridge, and for those that were game enough, to the summit, to watch the sunrise.

Wolchulsan National Park

Hiking in the dark is always a little tricky, so I was glad to have brought my flashlight with me.  As we started to climb, it started to get lighter, and the rain started to fall.  This made hiking the large, now wet rocks that were our path a little bit slippery.  Being the bad hiker I am, I mostly stayed at the back of the group, taking lots of resting breaks.  Eventually, I caught up with the others as they ate a snack under a gazebo that's next to the cloud bridge.  I would say a good 2/3 of the group decided not to do the summit hike as it would take a good couple hours, and the weather was not being friendly.  Of course, I did check out the cloud bridge, that I had heard so much about people talk about.  Unfortunately, the clouds were a bit low to get what I'm sure would normally be a really fantastic view.  Maybe that's why they call it's "Cloud bridge"?

Wet hikers

Cloud bridge: true to its name!

Requisite jumping shot

The clouds did try to show us a nice view, if only for a few minutes!

As we hiked down the mountain, we were told that there was a really nice waterfall we would be able to see and possibly even take a swim.  I wore my bathing suit just in case.  That too, however, was not at its best that day, as they hadn't gotten much water in the area over the season (it has been particularly dry in Korea this year) and so wasn't flowing nearly as hard as it normally would be.  So my friend Melissa and I decided to continue to walk down the path while trying not to slip and fall on all the wet rocks and metal stairs we encountered.  I failed and fell once.

Crazy custom-made stairs

Waterfall along the way down

Once our group had all met up again and changed into drier clothes, headed to the town of Mokpo for lunch (seafood and floor sitting), to buy some supplies for the night (soju, naturally) and do a bit of sightseeing (or grab a quick nap for those that were so inclined).  We then went to the island of Jeungdo, which was our destination for the night.  As the tide was out, surrounding the island when we arrived was mud.  All 40 of us crammed into a really nice private pension for the night.  I made friends with others on the trip over a tasty BBQ dinner and a game of Mow.

The view outside the pension

I hope for this boat owner's sake, the water returns soon!

Home for the night.

Following our eccentric leader's morning wake up call, we went by bus to hang out for a few hours at the local beach.  Or at least, we tried to.  The roads the the area are terribly narrow, and our bus just couldn't turn on them.  The driver tried numerous times to turn left towards the beach, but he just couldn't make it.  So, we all had to get out and walk the 30 minutes or so to the beach.  I didn't really know what was going on when we got off the bus so I didn't have the sense to bring my towel, phone, money or sunscreen with me.  When we finally arrived at the beach, the tide was still out and was faced with more of this:

Beach: pre-water

You had to walk a bit far over the muddy ground to get to the water, but once you did, it was actually quite warm to swim around in.  But, without sunscreen, my pasty white skin was quickly turning a nasty shade of pink (soon to be red) so I headed for the shade of some beach umbrellas.  Luckily, one of the other girls had brought some money so that we could rent one to take refuge until the bus came.  Sitting there, chatting in the shade and watching the water creep towards us was quite nice.  Once the bus arrived, and I was able to gather my things, I layered up the sunscreen and went back in the water.  Next thing I knew, it was time to pack up and head back to Seoul.  Our weekend adventure was over.

**Note: many photos in this post are courtesy of Melissa**

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I couldn't buy any peanuts or cracker jacks!

Koreans love many things about the US, but quite possibly, one of their favourite things is America's national pastime: baseball.

Shortly after my return from Canada, my friend Natallia and I joined a group from to check out a baseball game in Seoul.  I don't remember the teams, but I know one was local (there are 2 baseball teams in Seoul, I believe) and the other was from out of town (Busan maybe?).

Go team!

Having been to many Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays games, I understood baseball and knew the game culture well.  Or so I thought until I experienced a Korean baseball game.

Being good Canadians, we don't usually make too much noise during sporting events.  Have you ever been to an Ottawa Senators hockey game?  As soon as the play is on, it's pretty darn quiet.

Korean baseball is the opposite of that.  Every one is out of their seats, cheering, clapping their noisemakers together and happy.  It was fun, but also a little weird.

He decided to give her more than just a baseball diamond ;-)

Also a bit strange: you can bring your own food and drink from outside to enjoy at the stadium.  A good thing for sure, but unheard of back home.  I also find they don't price gouge as much at the concession stands.  I went to one to buy a bottle of water, which I would probably have to spend a good $3 or $4 at a hockey game back home.  Here, it was the standard price of $1. Quite a nice change!

Then: home of the 1988 Summer Olympics; Now: partially used as a baseball stadium

There and back again

When I said goodbye to my family and friends back in April, I really didn't think I would see most of them again until the following year.  My plan was to leave Canada and not come back until my time in Korea was done and I had gotten the travel bug more or less out of my system (I don't think I'll forever be rid of it...nor do I really want to be!).  I thought for my summer and winter vacations, I would travel around Asia checking many of the life experiences off my bucket list.  But, as the best laid plans of mice and men so often go awry, so did that one for me.

I wrote previously about how when I arrived in Korea, I found it difficult to adjust.  Combine this with the fact that travelling to South East Asia from Korea is much more expensive than I first thought, and the fact that I am fortunate enough to have access to standby tickets at a reduced fare, I decided to go back to Canada for my summer break.

Part of me was very nervous about going back for a break.  I mean, I had only been in Korea for 3 months and was still in the transition phase.  Would going back home just make me feel more homesick?  Would I even bother to come back to Korea or just stay home where everything is comfortable and familiar?

Regardless of what could/would happen, I prepared to make the long flight back to Canada for a 2 week holiday.  First though, I had to teach 2 weeks of English summer camp.  Essentially English summer school, the camps are when the teacher has free reign to teach anything they want to and are not required to follow any textbook or curriculum.  It was suggested to me to teach something that I was passionate about.  Of course, the theme of my camps was "Exploring our world"...or more specifically, the countries of Canada, Switzerland and Australia - my top 3 favourite countries in the whole world.  We play alot of games, and did arts and crafts (making a passport; creating aboriginal art) and I think they all really enjoyed it.  I even got the grade 5 students to sing "happy birthday" to Switzerland, since "Swiss day" happened to fall on the national day - August 1st.

I had intended to leave on Friday afternoon, but when looking at how busy the flights were in August, I decided to try to leave a day early.  I had to beg and plead with my school to convince them that since I would just be sitting at my desk for the next day and a half, I'd be better off trying to get home since I wasn't really sure I'd get on any of the flights for the following few days.  They accepted, and so I packed my things and headed out to the airport.  Flying standby always has its good points and its bad points.  Main bad point: you sometimes don't know until the last second if you will get on the flight causing much stress.  But one of the good points can sometimes be this:

After a long, but comfortable flight, I was very happily home.  Oh how nice it was to see my Fabian again!

My favourite view in Ottawa

Back where it all started!

Since I was only going to be home a short time and still had a lot to do and many people to try to see, it was a very busy visit!  Filled with lunches and dinners and coffees and many laughs, it was a really great time!

I went back to my mom's for a few days to visit with family, who were all missing me as much as I was missing them.

Nap time in the car

Summer dinner in the gazebo - corn on the cob, hot dogs, and a "poutine-off" between two local favourites!

Staring contest!  Smokey vs. Fabian

We also spent a few days in Montreal, where Fabian got to attend his annual Metalfest, while I got to celebrate the last single days of one of my oldest friends (sadly, I would miss her wedding because I would be in Korea) and see other friends that we had in Montreal too.  A nice vacation within a vacation.

My sister was due to have her 2nd baby at the end of August, but since I was there in the first half of the month, we were all hoping that she would "pop" while I was still around.  It seems he will be a very obedient little boy...he was born just before I left!

Little baby Jake

A final dinner gathering with friends back in Ottawa, and before I knew it, it was time to get on a plane and leave again.  Of course, I was sad to leave, but this time, there were fewer tears at the airport.  Maybe because we had a better idea of what to expect?  Fabian and I have found ways to maintain close contact despite the miles between us.  Thank goodness for Skype, kakao and OTO Global!  I've said it once, and I'll say it again, I don't know how I'd do this without technology.

The flight back to Korea wasn't as comfy as the trip to Canada, but I was grateful to get on just the same.  The stress of not having a set flight can be pretty draining.  Part of me was wishing I wouldn't get on the flight so that I could have an extra day or two at home, but another part of me was wishing I did leave so that I wouldn't run the risk of not getting back in time to start the new summer term.  In the end (literally, the last moment before the plane closed its doors for take off I boarded), everything worked out and I was back in Korea, with all of my "Canadian supplies" to help get me through the next few months in Korea. :-S

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hot town! Summer in Korea!

To my dear loyal readers:

It's certainly been a very long time since I've posted anything on here.  Over 2 months, actually.  In this modern age of instant access to information, that's really unacceptable and I apologize to you who have been waiting patiently for an update from me.  I haven't fallen off the face of the earth, I'm just a horrible person...or at least regular blogger.  I really don't have an excuse other than being lazy and then that laziness becoming a fear of the giant blog post I'd have to write to update everything that's happened.  But, I can no longer run from my obligations.  I recently got an earful from a bunch of you (hat tip to Wadie, Allison, Sue and Alex) that I need to get blogging again, so here I am.

I should note that most of these events took place on the weekend.  I have been filling my week nights with dinners with friends, and Korean language classes two nights a week.  This in addition to lesson & summer camp planning has made my weeks here quite full!

So, how can I possibly post about the last two months in such a way that it won't feel like you're reading a novel?  Without further ado, I give you my summer in Korea: the Coles Notes and picture version! *warning: this may still be a long's been a busy summer!*

Back in May, to celebrate Buddha's birthday, I took advanatage of one of the very few long weekends I will have while I am here in Korea and went to the southern part of the country to visit Busan.  Since the other Incheon-ers had made alternate plans for the weekend, I decided to go down alone and met up with some of the other teachers I met during the Seoul orientation.  While in the city for 2 days, I saw Korea's largest fish market, the UN cemetery commemorating those that died during the Korean war, dipped my feet in the ocean along some of their famous beaches, was amazed by the thousands if not millions of colourful lanterns adoring the temples of the city, sung my heart out at norebang, helped save someone's life (keep it up, Ben!), and relaxed so long at the largest public bath house in Asia that I nearly missed my bus back home!
In celebration of Buddha - so many lanterns!
Some of the finds at the fish market of Busan
Requisite name in the sand picture
Requisite name in the sand picture - Korean version
Those of you in Ottawa might recognize this one.  This is the smaller version found at the UN cemetery in Busan.

A week or two later (it's hard to remember exactly as the weeks have started the blend together), I decided to try something totally new for me - I tried to become a Buddhist monk.  Ok, so it was only for a weekend, and it's a program geared towards tourists (or really any one interested in how a monk lives), but still for me, it was highly unusual.  I went with my friend Natallia whom I had met while making paper lanterns in Seoul (see previous post).  I wasn't really sure what to expect from the experience, but I tried to go in with an opened mind.  And boy, was an open mind sure necessary!  For the most part, I really enjoyed my Templestay experience.  We learned how to bow and participate in a Buddhist ceremony, made a prayer necklace with exactly 108 beads (I'm sure because that's how many times we had to bow while making the necklace), went on a nice nature hike guided by a monk, and tried to meditate (well, some of us tried to meditate, but it was a bit difficult by others who took that time to saw logs very loudly instead!).  For me, however, the most challengeing part of the whole experience was the food.  We partook in a traditional monk meal where silence is necessary and waste is forbidden.  I won't go into the full details of the experience here, but feel free to ask me about it sometime.  It has to be one of the strangest experiences I've ever had.  At the end of the weekend, I learnt 2 things: 1 - I have a lot of respect for Buddhist monks to practice such a lifestyle and 2 - I'm not meant to be a Buddhist.  I really wanted to kill all the mosquitos that kept biting me all weekend!
Inside the temple
The serving set for the strangest meal I'm sure I'll ever eat 
Morning meditation
Our monk guided hike

The following weekend, I once again went with Natallia to go hiking with a group along the Kimpo trail, which follows the river that flows down from the DMZ.  Much of the hike was on a concrete path next to the water that had a lovely view of miles and miles of barbed wire fence. But, the final part of it took us through a really lovely and peaceful rice field. The advertised hike was only supposed to take a couple hours, but I think some one got their info wrong because we were hiking for over 5 hours!  I think a highlight of the day, was being stopped by some South Korean soldiers who (from the translation I was given) wondered why we were hiking there and why we veered off the path to up another road.  Being suspected by the South Korean military of being NK spies always makes for an interesting time!  (Don't worry, nothing bad happened)
The "scenic view" during much of the hike
Random sculptures
A strange yet not unexpected sight on this hike
Being questioned by Korean soliders
The view from the top
A peaceful way to end the long hike
Sporting the latest trends in Ajumma sun protection

With next year being the big year in the soccer world, and with South Korea being as soccer crazy as so many other countries, I thought it would be fun to go with a group to check watch a game of the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup in Seoul one night.  Not being much of a soccer nut myself, I didn't understand how huge the turn out would be for such a game.  Having talked to Fabian about it before I went, he warned me that it would likely be the biggest stadium and sporting event I have ever been to.  He was right. I went to the winter Olympics in Vancouver, but I don't think there was a stadium this huge.  Attendance for that night's game of South Korea vs. Uzbekistan was over 60,000 people.  Easily dwarfing the sold out crowds I've been a part of at hockey games.  Korea won that night's game as well as the following one in Ulsan, which meant that they are now officially qualified for the World cup in Brazil. 대한민국!

Helping to lift the giant Korean flag during the national anthem
This is what over 60,000 people look like
We are the champions, my friends!

In June, I came across a group tour that really interested me - a Korean wine tour.  I had no idea that they made wine in Korea, so I decided to sign up to try it out.  I met up with the tour group and took the train down to the middle of the country to check out a winery as well as hear a traditional Korean music concert.  As I was travelling solo, I made fast friends while partaking in the open wine bars that were on the train (both there and back) and at lunch.  My verdict of Korean wine? It's no pinot grigio, but it certainly does the trick has I felt very dehydrated the next day.

While Koreans got wine one way, and watch a movie the other way during the trip (suckers), we foreigners had open bar wine both to and from Seoul!
Open bar wine all day long!
Wine foot bath at the winery.  Keep in weird, Korea!
Finishing the day with a traditional Korean music performance

One of my favourite holidays of the year is always Canada day and I was very much looking forward to see how Canadian expats and lovers of all things Canadian celebrated the country here in Korea.  I had heard about a Canada day event being hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Korea and another by the Canadian embassy so I decided to don my red and white and check them both out.  The first event was good - they had good Canadian beef burgers, lots of friendly Canadians to mingle with and I got to meet the Canadian ambassador.  The second event, however, I was more disappointed with.  But, my disappointment was counterbalanced with hanging out with some great Canadian friends I've made since I've been here.  I ended the night by drinking soju, lighting sparklers and singing the national anthem along the famous Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul.  I also made myself a celebratory poutine at home.  Always proud to be Canadian!
The drunk Korean guy in front of the stage kept trying the steal the spotlight.  Hilarious.
Happy Canada day!
O Canada!
Homemade poutine in Korea!

Many of you are aware of my life goal of visiting every country in the world.  Some countries are much easier to check off the list than others.  Case in point: North Korea.  Being one of the most isolated countries in the world, how in the heck would I ever hope to knock that off my list?  Well, that task was accomplished at the start of July when some friends and I took the trip to tour the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone).  This tour had been something I had been looking forward to doing since I arrived in Korea and has certainly been a major highlight of my time here thus far.  After looking at the numerous options available to tourists to visit the DMZ, we booked a full day tour that took us to the 3rd Infiltration tunnel, Imjigak park, the Dora observatory, Dorasan station and (the part I was most looking forward to) the JSA (or Joint Security Area).  It was in this area that you could actually feel the tension as both sides faced off against each other.  You're given a presentation by US military officials about the rules and the history of the JSA and are then escorted to the site where North and South soldiers stare at each other all day long.  I found it fascinating.  We then got to go into one of the conference rooms where both sides meet when they try to negotiate something.  One side of the room is in North Korea, the other side is in the South.  As soon as you cross to the other side of the table that runs through the middle of the room, you can check the DPRK off your places you've been to!  I, of course, was thrilled to be able to do that.  That said though, the whole day was a strange experience when you really thought about it.  Normally, when you learn about a war, it's at a museum and the fighting as long ended.  Where else in the world can you take a guided tour of an active war zone?  Only in Korea!
Our gang touring the DMZ
Inside the 3rd infiltration tunnel
Requisite jumping photo at Dorasan station
The future of Eurasian rail travel??
Imjigak Park
South side of the JSA.  The blue building are the conference centers.  Where the dark pebbled space becomes light between those buildings is the official border between North and South.
The table that divides two enemies - right side: North; left side: South
Standing in North Korea!

Koreans sure do love their festivals, and one that has been growing in popularity over the years in Mudfest.  This event takes place in a small coastal city in the east of Korea.  People travel from all over the country over a couple of weekends to cover themselves in mud, drink and have a good time.  I joined a group and went down to check it out.  I hung out at the beach with old and new friends and covered myself in mud (the point of which is to get nicer and softer skin - mission accomplished) and checked out some of the events and "mud zones" the town had set up.  But, after dealing with crazy crowds of people all day (including waiting in line for 2 hours just to go down a mud slide), I decided that this was really more of a day trip than a weekend thing, and caught an evening train back to Seoul.  It may be my 30 year old side coming out, but I'm just not into dealing with crowds and giant lines anymore...both of which can be hard to avoid here in Korea!
Doing as the locals do
Lines for hours 
I was disappointed the whole beach wasn't made of mud!
People taking full advantage of the buckets of mud
So. Many. People. - As my friend Mel would say: Ain't nobody got time for this!

So that's been my summer in Korea thus far.  I just got back from my summer vacation in Canada.  But that great trip is a post for another day.  And I promise to make it before another 2 months have gone by!

**Note: many photos in this post are courtesy of Anna, Natallia, Catherine, Heather and Reid**