So, the past 6 weeks have been totally crazy. The fact I am getting closer to the end of my contract, it’s now a mere 3 and a half months before I am back in Korea, means that I starting to ‘panic’ in regards to assaulting Korea’s tourist industry in the manner which a fat kid attacks cake…
April started with a trip to Jeju Island with Adventure Korea. It was an intense weekend but it allowed an opportunity for me to get a real taste of the Jeju way of life.
So, Jeju started the month on a bit of a high, it followed with trips to the amazing Dragon Hill Spa in central Seoul in order to celebrate Shauna Teacher’s birthday followed by an amazing dinner at VIPS in Ilsan. The spa, well actually a high class Korean Jinjabang was my first Jinjabang experience, and in many ways I was spoilt but it has also prepared me for the ‘dodgier’ establishments (i have yet to actually set foot in another jinjabang yet). Nudity is a big part of the Korean spa experience and as westerners, Koreans tend to gawp. Korean women when naked, surrounded only by other Korean women, have no issues with modesty and tend to flaunt, wiggle, bend in any which way they please which can be a tad awkward especially when putting socks on first! However, it only took a short amount of time to get used to it and get used to it I did. The baths, the saunas, the steam rooms, the bodyscrubs. WOW! We spent around, 6 hours in the spa and it was pure heaven. After we headed to VIPS. VIPS is an all you can eat steak and salad restaurant, the salad bar was one of the best I have ever seen. It had everything that a westerner in Korea is craving but just can’t wine, some amazing salads, chicken, fish, it was, well i guess you had to be there and had to have been eating rice, kimchi and rice for 7 months!
Dragon Hill was a great, if not rather late introduction into a past time that is a big part of Korean life on a daily basis and I was very glad I made that step. Another big part of Korean life is Buddhism.
Buddhism has always intrigued me, i like the concepts, the belief systems, the idea of meditation. I studied Buddhism at School and during the brief moment i embarked on a Religion, Philosophy and Ethics degree at Kings. The main thing that attracts me to Buddhism, is that the monks always look so unbelievably happy. Which for me says alot. Buddhism is the main religion in Korea, although today there as many people practicing christianity, Buddhism is somewhat more obvious and more celebrated. There are temples scattered all over Korea and of the three major holidays celebrated in Korea Buddha’s Birthday at the end of May is one of the Big 3. . (The other two are Chuseok in October and Lunar New Year in March, Christmas gets about as much attention as St George’s Day does in England) The opportunity for ‘foreigners’ to embrace Buddhism is readily available and in mid April, myself Jenny, Mary and Shauna headed to Jogyesa Temple in central Seoul to take part in their ‘Templelife’ experience.
The Temple life experience came at the perfect time, just two weeks before the Buddha’s Birthday commenced. the date celebrated this year is the 21st of May, however the festivities commenced the weekend before. I headed into Seoul with the usual crew plus Samy and Katie to have a wander around the street festival and watch the infamous lantern procession.
As well as the lantern procession on 16th May, the 5th May was Children’s day and Korean’s love their children so much that all the schools have a day off! Instead of getting intoxicated and nursing a hangover, I decided to take it slowly and on the Wednesday we headed to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the biggest and the most highly regarded of the five palaces in Seoul. Gyeongbokgung was immense, both in size and the amount of people that also decided to spend Children’s day there as well ( we thought we were being clever not going to a theme park!) but alas Korean’s like and want and push their children to be cultured and the Palace promotes this by laying on free cultural entertainment, although i am not sure what magicians and breakdancers have to do with Korea’s cultural history!.
After a nice 5 hour wander around the palace and the attached Folk museum, we headed to Itaewon to have dinner at one of my favourite restaurants ‘The Flying Pan’, which unfortunately was packed so we had to change venue and ended up in an Italian nearby which was good, but they just weren’t quite as excellent as ‘The Flying Pan’. As well as visiting Gyeongbokgung on the wednesday, the week had already been quite cultured with a nighout in Ilsan the previous Friday and a walk down the stream on the Sunday.
The following weekend was a tad more reserved, another trip into Seoul ( I told you I was in an attacking mood) to see the Steve McCurry photography exhibition near Gwangwahmun Plaza and a wander into Meyong dong where I went minorly crazy in H&M buying sundresses as well as managing to find some sandals that actually fit me in Forever 21!. Sunday was far more relaxed with atrip to Homeplus in order to pick up some Baskin Robbins ice cream and other general things to go in my fridge. It actually turned into a cultural excursion in itself, as Jen and myself decided to investigate the deli counter and come home with various containers of pre made galbi type stuff. I also bought a great seaweed salad, pre-pared in a little foil bag which is set to be my new addiction, if i actually manage to get myself to Homeplus again!
In other news, the hamster has grown alot, i may even be able to take a photo of it soon. Also after about 6 weeks of asking and nagging our school FINALLY confirmed our holiday dates and i have since booked a trip to Hanoi and Ha Long bay in Vietnam for the end of July. I am very excited, but don’t want it to come too quickly because less than a month after I am back in Korea, I am leaving Korea and starting my PGCE at London Met and I have far too much reading left for it to come too soon. (Persuasion check LOVE IT!!, have also read Henry James’ Daisy Miller, which was intriguing and have Great Expectations next to my bed)