Friday, July 31, 2009

Days 5 -10: A Whirlwind

I have good news and bad news... I've decided I can't possibly blog about each individual day as it passes. Days of family vacation will be crammed together starting... now! It's both the good news and the bad news, I hope you like it!

We left off of Saturday the 25th, exhausted from a full day of going, so I'm proud to report that my family rallied again early the next day, Sunday July 26th, to head to Changdeok Palace & Secret Garden. It was home to a few kings during Korea's Joseon Dynasty, and was rife with exactly the traditional kind of Asian architecture and plants that foreigners love to see.

We even got a few glamour shots of Dad and Ricki to show off the incredible detail that goes into painting these palaces.

And the day didn't even end there! After our tour of the beautiful Changdeok Palace and it's even more beautiful Secret Garden, we headed out to do a little tourist shopping, in the shopping district of Insadong. Insadong is home to one particular very busy street lined, on both sides with traditional Korean knickknacks and souvenirs, and busting at the seems with people, vendors hawking their wares, food that you can't even imagine, and random live entertainment.

We shopped for souvenirs for quite some time, and just as we were finally about to call it quits and head home for the day, what should we stumble upon, but a street show with men and women, dancing, singing, and playing traditional Korean musical instruments. I couldn't have created a better ending for the day if I had tried!

We called it quits relatively early on Sunday, because we knew we were going to have a big day on Monday.
Monday was July 25, and another beautiful day. We had such good luck with weather this whole week! We woke up bright and early and hopped on the subway to Suwon, and the Korean Folk Village. There was a lot to see, and we were there nearly until it closed.

A word to the wise however: If you don't like Korean food, really Korean food, pack a lunch. You'll be glad you did.


Day 7: Tuesday, July 28, was a well earned recovery day for the family, without any major plans. One of my mom's bigger goals for the trip, aside from seeing me of course, was to find herself her dream leather jacket, at a very affordable price. We headed to Itaewon, otherwise known as foreigner-central, and the home of many tailors who will hand make anything for you, at a special price of course, because you have a beautiful family. We wandered around for a little while, took in the sights, enjoyed the ability to communicate in English and eat whatever we wanted, and I'm happy to report that Mom found exactly what she wanted at this little shop right here.



Day 8, Thursday, July 30, was one of the biggest days of all. After our relatively restful day on Wednesday we got up at the crack of dawn on Thursday to leave for the greatest place in all of Korea... Everland! It's of course no secret to anyone that I love amusement parks, so I was super pumped about spending the day there.

I won't write too much about Everland, as I already have, but suffice to say it was a rockin' good time. My mom even went on some of the rides. We also fed birds, very exciting!


Day 9, and my family's second Thursday in Seoul, boasts no pictures, as I forgot my camera. It was mostly a stay-home sort of day, and recover from everything that had happened thus far. In the early afternoon my parents went to Yeoido island and 63 building, while Ricki and I lounged and enjoyed not moving for a few hours. We met up with them that night for a breathtaking Han River boat cruise. You should do it if you get the chance.


On Day 10, our original plan has been to visit the Olympic park, but we were rained out and instead spent some time wandering around COEX mall, before meeting a friend from Home, Brian and his wife to have dinner. We ate at a Vietnamese restaurant and it was delicious!

The dinner was lovely, and Mom and Dad made plans to do something with Brian and Jenna while I'll be in school next week, which means I don't have to stress about that day. Excellent!
On our way home from dinner we were shopping a little outside in one of the markets, but it started to rain on us -- I think my Dad may have cleverly orchestrated this with mother nature, to covertly end the days shopping. And so ended Day number 10.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Day 4: A Large Day

The first Saturday morning of my family's visit to Korea dawned bright and early, and we looked forward to a busy day out and about exploring the sites of Seoul. We hopped on the newly opened Subway Line 9 that leads directly from my apartment in the boonies of Seoul, straight to just about everything important near the centre of the city. (Ah, the benefits of living close to the airport!)

Having little-to-no experience with subways, my parents were particularly impressed by the journey to our initial destination, and thus the day started off on a good foot, even before we had officially done anything. Its so easy to forget that the whole world doesn't have the convenience of using the subway, when you practically live on top of a subway station, and use it yourself twice a week. I am decided going to miss Seoul's public transportation when I arrive back in Newfoundland.

We arrived at our destination, a discount shopping district called Idae without fuss. The pictures don't really do it justice, but it is just streets upon streets of incredibly cheep, quality suspect, clothing, bags and accessories.

This stores entire stock was 10,000 KRW a pair, taxes included!

Every thing in this area is of course contingent on if you can fit into "Korean" sizes, which are of course much smaller than what the average North American would consider normal to be. As a reference for those who know me, I'm at the very top of acceptably large. I can buy shirts at most stores without a problem, and pants at half to 3/4 of those stores.

These particular pants are 'one-size'.. in this case meaning about a size 3.

Mom and Dad mostly watched and took pictures, while Ricki and I wandered around salivating over shoes, handbags and accessories for a good chunk of the afternoon. As it was around noon when we arrived, Idae had still be relatively deserted, which ended up being a good coincidence as my family was still overwhelmed by the number of people that we saw. They couldn't believe their eyes as the afternoon wore on and more and more people crowded themselves into the streets.

Next stop for the day was a complete turn around from the pedestrian charms of Idea's market area. We hopped back on the subway, and headed to one of Seoul's most ritzy areas, Gangnam.

There is some pretty stunning architecture lining the streets of the Gangnam area, which provided quite the contrast for my family when compared with the low, crowded and not so well kept stalls when we had been shopping in Idae. The prices and quality of merchandise was also reflected in this change, going from 5000KRW no name shoes in the early afternoon to $5000 Jimmy Choo's in just a 30 minute subway ride. Yikes!

Although we did do a little shopping, (Not Chez Jimmy!) it wasn't the main focus of the latter part of our day. Instead we came to Gangnam to experience the worlds greatest and most natural pedicure... Dr. Fish!

While the pedicure-like qualities of having one's feet eaten by tiny fish are pretty great in and of themselves, the most amazing part of the experience was obviously the facial expressions! Knowing what to expect myself, I calmly put my feet in the water and pretended it was no big deal... little did they know! Here are the results!

Ricki's and my mother's obviously being the most excellent!

My mom even managed to make some cool Korea friends over in the pool with the small fish. She's a Korean-friend-making-machine!

To commemorate the occasion, we had out picture taken at a camera that was on the side of the street specifically for that purpose. Those Koreans, they think of everything!

The rest of the evening was, in true vacation style, not what I had expected. I had done a famous job up until this point of neglecting to remember what my first in-country experiences had been like, and this evening was to be no different. I had been very excited to introduce my family to my favourite Korean dish, a spicy chicken stew called Jjimdalk, of course not remembering how low my tolerance was for spicy food when I had first arrived in Korea myself.

Here is a picture of the delicious, foreigner-offending beast.

*sigh* I think I'm in love...

My family tolerated the food for my benefit -- it was much too spicy for their Newfoundland palates, but were completely fascinated with the process of getting to the restaurant, which I of course was breezing right through, as I considered it just transit. Silly me!

It really is amazing how you can completely immerse yourself in another culture, and find it normal... completely forgetting how different your own is until someone helps you to realize it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 3: Lunch With My Boss


What another busy day! Whew.

The title of this post, I find to be rather self explanatory. In short, it was a Grande Affaire.

Starting on the left there was, my father, my mother, my sister, myself, Dan's sister, Dan, Dan's sister's friend, Kelly's Dad, Kelly, Kelly's brother, Kelly's mom and Susan... whew, I'm out of breathe. Also, my boss, Jane was there, but conveniently she was taking the picture.

Aren't we a fabulous crew?

Here's how the story goes: At 12:00 today we all met up at a traditional Korean restaurant that is really close to the school where I teach, to have lunch together as a welcome to Korea treat from Mr. Han, the school's owner. Not in the memory of anyone I work with have so many family's (three) come to visit teachers all at the same time! I guess it was a pretty big deal.

We walked into the restaurant and were let upstairs to a private room. Along the way we could hear Korean music being played on a traditional string instrument, and it really added to the atmosphere of the whole experience. Traditionally, Korean people eat at low tables while sitting on mats on the floor and today at lunch, that's just what we did. Although I have lived here now for more than eight months I have only done this once or twice since arriving, so it was a treat for me as well.

Lunch was served on a hotplate in the middle of the table where it cooks as people munch on appetizers and talk. Everyone eats from the same dish, putting a little of the main meal on a plate before them. Today's meal of choice was bulgogi, a delicious marinated beef dish, and it was a bit hit among everyone there.

As our lunch sizzled away, cooking itself to perfection, we had the opportunity to take a few pictures, and to investigate some of the side dishes that were present with our meal. As you can see from the picture below, there were quite a few. Some we quite delicious including a salad with yogurt dressing, and of course kimchi others however...

... were not quite so appealing.

I don't think I'm every really going to be able to bring myself to eat something that is looking at me as I am moving it towards my mouth. Perhaps that makes me a weak individual, but frankly in this case if I am wrong... I don't want to be right. Naturally my dad had a go at eating everything, as did Kelly's. Dads are always good like that for being adventurous.

My dad and I both enjoyed the ice noodles though.

While Mom, under no pressure to either be manly, or show how Korean she could be after living here for more than eight months, just took every thing in and enjoyed herself.

I can't say that I blame her, these eating pictures that amuse everyone else so much aren't exactly what I would call flattering. I've accepted not being terribly photogenic as my lot in life however, so long as no one makes too much fun. Please be kind. :)

Tomorrow, we're off to the wonderful land of Dr. Fish. I can't wait to see their faces when things that look like what we had for lunch today, make lunch of their feet tomorrow.

*giggles mischievously*

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 2: Watermelon Party

After finishing up Galbi last night Mom, Dad, Ricki and I went back upstairs to my now quite crowded apartment, and quickly fell asleep. We slept like babies until morning, at which point some of us --- the ones older than 25 -- decided that they couldn't sleep anymore, and got up at 5:00 am. To be honest, this also happened to me when I arrived here first, I imagine it has something to do with the time difference. Ricki however, was unaffected, and continued to sleep like the teenager that she is well into the morning.

We had decided that this first day dealing with jet lag would be a good day to relax and get familiar with our surroundings, so the very first thing we did was to take a little walk over in the direction of Homeplus. We were wandering around minding our own business, oohing and aahing over Koreaness and Fish heads when we couldn't help but notice a gaggle of older Korean women all but fighting over the contents of a large box.

Of course we were going to head over there and see if we could get our hands on some of that too, or at least figure out what was causing all the commotion!

Upon our arrival we discovered... watermelon; gigantic watermelon the size of... the size of, well, a gigantic watermelon, and on sale for W 5,ooo! We forged into the gaggle, and snagged our self a prize and the watermelon party was born!

That night Ricki and I lugged the beast downstairs to Fish'n'Grill where the Watermelon/ Tara's Birthday party was going down.

...and truly a beast it was. This is a mere 1/8 of the original size!

We chopped it up, posed for pictures and served it up to my wonderful fellow co workers at SLP.

Before I knew it, my family were virtually local celebrities! Clever of you parents, very clever.

If I'm not careful, soon my friends are going to like my parents better than they like me!


Hope you had a wonderful birthday, and that your trip to Thailand is awesome!
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