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