Monday, June 25, 2012

Yeongneung: The Tomb of King Sejong, Yeoju

Upon arriving in Yeoju, we had to find something interesting to do, so we followed the signs and found ourselves at King Sejong's Tomb. King Sejong, of course, is the most famous of the Joseon Dynasty kings. Most well renown for the invention of hangul under his reign, other famous deeds attributed to his reign were a new calendar that used Seoul as the center, rather than the Chinese capital, advances in agriculture among many others.

After his death in 1450 he was buried along side his already deceased queen in a tomb in Gwangju, but later, because the geomantic position (think: feng shui) of the location was not good enough, their remains were relocated here to Yeongneung 영릉, in Yeoju.

King Sejong

If you have some extra time while you're here, you can also take a little hike through the woods to find one more tomb, Nyeongneung(녕릉): the tomb of King Hyojong. King Hyojong doesn't usually make it onto the tourist/ foreigner's scope of Korean history, but he's a name that is known to most Koreans from their high school history classes. King Hyojong planned to conquer Northern Asia, and therefore reformed the military. While he never managed to control Northern Asia, he did have a rather intersteting life, having spent time as a captive of the Manchus and ordering some stranded Dutch sailors to build Korea's first muskets.

King Hyojong

If you're in Yeoju, there's no reason not to visit this place. It was only 10 minutes by bicycle from the downtown area, easy to find by just following the signs which are everywhere in town. Entry is only 500 won, so it's about as cheap as it gets. Is it really exciting? Not really, but you can impress all your Korean friends by telling them you have been within feet of King Sejong. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A hike on the 둘레길 around Bukhansan

 둘레길, Doolegil Trail Marker

A few weeks ago we took a little hike on the 둘레길 (Doolegil), a mountain path that goes around Bukhansan rather than up it. This path fully opened just two years ago and there is still a big loop that has yet to be completed, but as it stands now you can walk around the entire periphery of the mountain. Part of the course is in the wooded area, but there are parts that come out into the city, and that's where it can get a little confusing following the trail. Fortunately there are lines on the ground and many markers everywhere to keep you on course.

Exercise area along the trail

We started in Suyu, following the path north. My friend, who has done other sections of the Doolegil has told me that this was actually one of the least scenic routes, but I still saw plenty and got some good exercise in, so I was happy.

Slight hill along the trail. Trees are wrapped to protect them from insects who would kill them.

Information center near Suyu

There are several information centers along the way where you can pick up maps for Bukhansan which show all the main trails through the mountain, plus the doolegil. While we stopped here, they were filming what seemed to be a promotional video. They couldn't help but interview us 외국인 for their film, telling us about the wonders of Bukhansan. Keep a look out for a tall bald man next time you watch a Korean National Parks video, it could be my friend!

Grave of 광복군

Along the way we saw a sign for the graves of some soldiers of WWII, so we wandered down the path to check them out.

City Farming

Along the path you can see many small farms where locals grow food, presumably to sell in markets as they seem too big to be growing for only personal use. It's hard to believe that there could be gardens like this in the middle of Seoul, but here it is, and we probably passed at least 10 like this one  or bigger along our 4 hour hike.

Jongmu Temple

We also passed a number of temples along the way. This one was the first one, called 종무사, Jongmu Temple. We couldn't tell how to get in, though, so we continued on our way.

4.19 Memorial Cemetery from Above

Next, along the way we found the 4.19 Memorial Cemetery. I had never heard of this place, but after looking it up, it is the resting place for the 224 pro-democracy protesters killed on April 19th, 1960. They were shot in a protest against the president Syng-Man Rhee who rigged the election to secure his second term in office. While we couldn't reach the cemetery from the path, it made me want to check out this place another time as it has a museum attached to it as well.


At some point along the way we pulled out our lunch of kimbap. While kimbap is not my favorite food (always forget to tell them to take out the radish), it does make for perfect hiking food as it's cheap, light and easy to pack. And at 1,500 each, how can you find anything better?

Information Center in Ui

This was the second information center we passed in 우이. I like the name of this place because the romanization of it's name is awesome: Ui.  It's a good place to stock up on water at the vending machine or use the toilet as they are rather hard to come by along certain parts of the trail.

Oriental Dollarbird

One member of our group turned out to be quite the bird watcher and, while we didn't have any binoculars, we did have my 48x zoom which spotted this bird which we were able to identify as a Dollarbird. Good name for a bird.


After about 4 hours of hiking (with many, many breaks) we decided to call it a day and turn back. We headed back to Suyu by bus and I decided to check out 화계사 Hwagye Temple before heading home. This is also on the Doolegil, but just slightly south of where we started. It's a nice little temple and it was clearly decorated with some of the lanterns left over from the Lotus Lantern Parade a week or two earlier.

Tying a wish to the rope to make it come true!

A hike on the 둘레길 might just be the solution to what ales you. Whether you are looking for exercise, excitement, nature or escape, it's the perfect solution. It's not strenuous because it goes around, not up the mountain, so if you're not big on the whole hiking thing, it could be a good happy medium of getting outside without sweating too much. And for those of you who do like hiking, that's not to say that this trail is completely flat, it's a lot of up and down, but you'll never hike uphill for more than 5 minutes or so before coming down again.

To hike the Doolegil, there are many places to start and it would probably be impossible to do the whole thing in one day unless you are some kind of hiking machine. This is the best map I've found, if you don't understand the Korean, ask a friend to show you the closest starting point to where you live.  I started in Suyu. If you want to start at Hwagye Temple, get off at Suyu Station (Line 4) exit 5. Walk straight to the intersection and turn left. Turn right at the SK gas station up ahead. Follow the road straight for about 10 minutes and you will see the temple gates. The 둘레길 passes right through the temple. My friend recommends going south for a much more scenic view, but I went north from here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Working on our new Hanok

We knew before we moved in that bringing our new hanok home up to our standards would be no easy task, but I don't think we realized JUST how difficult it would be. For a month before moving in, basically the only thing me and the boyfriend were talking about was our new house and what we would do when we moved in. We decided that we would re-wallpaper the two bedrooms with hanji, a traditional Korean handmade paper. We decided that we would get some wardrobes, a stove with an oven (oh my), a water purification machine and a dish washer (small counter top size). We contemplated for weeks over what kind of table to get for the kitchen, how to arrange the furniture in the bedroom and whether or not we wanted a sofa for the living room. What we did not even consider was all the potential problems we would encounter with the house.

The tenants left the house in Sunday, June 3rd, and so we went by the house to check out how things looked. The house was trashed. It appeared as though the last tenants had never cleaned the place once. The walls were covered in dead, smooshed mosquitoes, and as the land lady went around with a broom I saw her sweeping up a few carcases of GIANT cockroaches along with all the dust and dog hairs from the previous guests. This was not a good sign. After inspection of the kitchen, the whole area around the stove was completely caked in grease, including the exhaust fan. We demanded that it be cleaned, so the landlady cleaned the fan for us. We went straight to the bathroom to try to see what we could do there.

We bleached and scrubbed for hours, which helped with the walls to a certain extent, but we realized that there was no hope for our bathroom floor. Unfortunately, the ultimate wisdom of the owner of our house, he had decided that using cement to tile the floors would be a good idea. So, basically, our bathroom floors, from a distance, look as if they are completely covered in black mold. The toilet seat also looks like it could be replaced... unfortunately, the only affordable toilet seat covers that aren't white that I can find are the cushion ones which I don't want because our old one got a small hole and then started to get filled with water and would squish whenever you sat on it. Gross. And white is no good because it will make our ivory toilet look like it's just dirty. We're still looking for a better toilet seat.

In order to fix the black looking tiles, we bought some grout whitening liquid, which the man in the home repair shop recommended. Upon trying it on our tiles it looked like this (ignore the huge white rectangle in the back, that's something else). But it looks seriously messy and unprofessional....

Note to self: grout whitener and cement don't mix well...

But then we gave it a shot on our wall tiles and it looked marvelous! Unfortunately, it's a lot of work... I think you just have to do 10 mins a day for several weeks, doing this kind of work for hours on end is tedious and depressing...

Tiles before and after the grout whitening liquid

Monday afternoon we went out shopping for hanji. We found the best place to buy hanji, and all other home improvement needs is Bangsan Market 방산시장 near Eulchi-ro 4-ga. While there were tons of hanji sellers scattered around the market, we found this particular one, which had a slightly more varied selection of paper and never turned back. While we originally decided to just wall paper the bedrooms, upon seeing the state of the paper covered in dead mosquitoes and slightly browned from water stains, we decided to just go ahead and re-wall paper everything. On our first stop to the hanji store, we got enough paper to do the walls and ceiling of the main bedroom and the kitchen. For the bedroom wall, we chose a paper made with small pressed leaves and for the kitchen a paper made with pressed clovers. They have a big machine there, too, that will cut the edges of the paper for you if they are too rough, or if you need smaller pieces. The price of the hanji was quite reasonable, we thought, about 800 won per sheet, meaning about 60-80,000 won per room. While it's more expensive than cheap Korean wall paper, it is much prettier and definitely within our budget.

As we got to wall papering we started to find more problems. As we pulled up the (ugly, plastic-y) flooring to bring the wall paper down to the base, we realized that all the wall paper under the plastic was completely covered in pink and black mold. So, then while the others wall papered, it was my job to go around the base, cut out everything that was moldy and then bleach it to kill any other mold that might think about growing later.

For some reason, the boyfriend thought that wall papering was going to be an easy task, something we could just whip up and do the whole house in one night. And as much as I told him it wouldn't he didn't really believe me until we actually started to get going. He thought we were going to even get to wall paper the ceiling, but after taking the entire evening and 4 different people helping us to do one room, he realized that trying to do the ceiling would  be too much of a task for us. Thank god.

The next night we moved on to the kitchen. Kitchen took us 3 days for some reason, not sure why since it was smaller than the bedroom. We also decided to solve the grease and bowing tile problem by covering everything with something Koreans call 시트지. I don't know what this is called in English, but basically it is a fake tile sticker that you can put over your walls to protect them. You can buy cheap ones in Daiso, but we went to Bangsan market again and picked up a little higher quality stuff and put it around the entire sink/counter/stove area, it cost 2,500 won per meter. Since the stove doesn't fit into the counter, we had to install it around the corner, therefore we needed to cover all that area, too. We originally bought 5 meters thinking it would be plenty, but it turns out we had to go back and get another 9 meters, and then we had to skimp a little on the area behind the stove since you can't see it anyway. I guess I'm not a very good judge of surface area... Even the tile stickers were hard to stick. You needed two people to align it properly since you can't let it stick to the wall by accident, otherwise the backing sometimes comes right off the paper.

Once the kitchen and main bedroom were complete, we were starting to feel better. We were able to fix up the living room in a jiffy. We wall papered but it only took an hour or so do complete everything. We put a bamboo mat on the ground which is super cool to lay on in the summer, put up my hanji covered table and called the internet/phone/cable guy to come and install everything. With a 3 year contract (which we carried over from our old place) we're able to get wi-fi, internet telephone, and  IPTV (lets you record programs and download videos on demand) we only pay 27,000 a month, plus they pay us 200,000 won as a bonus for setting up a contract. Not bad, I say.

The only problem in our living room is the ceiling. Well, it looks beautiful on the surface, but the more you stare at it, the more problems you can see. I had no idea that a ceiling like this was made from clay (painted white), but there are a few places where the clay has unfortunately started to crumble, causing occasional sprinkles of dust and bits from the ceiling to fall to the ground. Meaning that we need to sweep often.

The easiest was the courtyard 마당. I think it's my favorite part of the house. This was easy to clean, all we had to do was spray a hose and sweep!

That's as far as we got before our housewarming party last weekend. But, that's not the end. Of course, I alluded to our cockroach problem before as our landlady was sweeping up the dead carcases of cockroaches, I knew that was a bad sign. After spotting one or two as we were wall papering before we moved in, it was about another week before we saw another. The boyfriend woke up in the middle of the night to kill a mosquito. When he turned on the light, he never found the mosquito, but he found another giant cockroach scuttling across our bedroom floor. He screamed like a girl and sprayed it with the roach killer till it keeled over. That was a bit unnerving. We realized then we had to do something about this problem.

After some research online on various websites, I found that the most effective and (mostly) non-toxic solution is boric acid (which is 붕산 in Korean for future reference). It's available at Korean pharmacies and is super cheap, like 500 won for a box of it. It doesn't kill the cockroaches right away, it has to be absorbed by them and then it will kill them later, and hopefully their babies too since apparently baby cockroaches eat mommy cockroaches poop. First we sprinkled it all around, in the house and in the alleyway. A few days later I found a recipe for making bait using boric acid as well. Sugar, boric acid and flour mixed with water to make a dough/cake like substance. I put that all around the house, but it's hard to tell if those monsters have eaten it or not. Then our friend went out and bought us a 1,000 won spray bottle from Daiso and we dissolved it in water and sprayed that around the courtyard and the alleyway as well. We have to figure out some way to eradicate them from not just our house, but around our house as well... even if we get rid of them in our house, we can't walk down our alley without seeing one or two wondering around as well. As soon as we eradicate them from our house, they'll just wonder back in from the street. This, I think, will be a constant, never-ending battle.

The last problem we've encountered is all the past water damage. As Hanoks are supported not by the walls, but with the beams and columns, there are several wooden columns throughout the house. The ones in the living room have been kept in immaculate condition, but unfortunately the rest suffered water damage before the roof was replaced and, instead of restoring them properly, the landlord has just covered them with wall paper. We were curious how hard it would be to restore the columns, so we opened them up to see what we had to work with. This is what we found. We're still debating whether we should cover it up again or give it a shot and try to at least somewhat recover it. It will never look like the columns in the living room, but it could look better than covered with wall paper...

Today, as I write from the comfort of my cockroach free home in America, the boyfriend is working on finishing the last room of our house, the second bedroom. We chose two tones for the wall paper, white and beige, with a flowery chair rail of hanji to go around the middle. I feel sorry for the boyfriend who is now forced to finish everything himself with me gone for the summer, but I have faith he can do it. I can't wait to see how the last room turns out in the end!! I hope by the time I return in September that we'll have a completely finished, beautiful, and mostly cockroach free house!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rock Climbing at the Dyno Rock Wall at The North Face in Suyu, Seoul

A view from below of one of the most difficult climbs the gym has to offer

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to give one of my old favorite childhood sports a go again; rock climbing. If you've never gone rock climbing before, you may imagine it to be a really dangerous sport where people risk their lives to scale mountain faces, but in reality it's a very fun, safe sport when done correctly. Now, most people don't have the time to be scaling mountain cliffs all the time, but for those who want to practice this sport, the best place to do it is in a rock gym. We found Dyno Wall in Suyu on line 4 in the northern part of Seoul. It's operated by The North Face and is on the 4th floor of The North Face store in Suyu. 

 Our rental shoes. Remember that rock climbing shoes should feel small...

We opted for an hour lesson with equipment rental (really wound up being like an hour and a half). The price was 20,000 won per person which included all the equipment, plus the instructor. I thought the price was quite reasonable since a similar program at my old rock gym in Boston charges nearly $60 for a similar 3-hour program.

Our climbing route

It was the first time to rock climb for the two friends that accompanied me and it was fun to watch them climb for the first time. While one friend had no problems, another friend freaked out when she got about half way up. Perhaps she looked down and didn't realize that the rope would catch her if she fell. The most important part when rock climbing is loosing the fear of falling. The person at the bottom will have a tight grip on the rope, so even if you fall, you'll just swing in the air, personally, falling is one of the most fun parts of climbing for me. Our instructor also taught us three words to use when rock climbing (in Korean). When starting out, it's important to let the person at the bottom who is belaying know when you are ready to climb, so you must announce "출발", when you reach the top and are ready to descend, you should shout out "완료" which means "complete". Once you finish, it's time to come down. Take your hands off the rocks and put your body in a "ㄴ" shape, at 90˚ to the wall and then walk, or better, jump your way down the wall as the instructor gently loosens the rope.

Me scaling the wall
 Bouldering Area

After the lesson is finished you have free access to the gym for the rest of the day. Unfortunately for us, there was a children's class going on and they were bouldering (climbing without a rope on low areas) meaning that there wasn't much room for us to practice. My arms were feeling a bit achy though and I was alright with calling it a day and heading home.

 Really amazing boy bouldering

Whether you're looking for a place to practice your favorite sport, or just looking to try something new and exciting, The North Face Rock Gym is the place for you. Their prices seem quite reasonable to me considering that this tends to be a rather expensive sport to get into. I just recommend going before 4 pm to avoid the children taking their climbing class.

Directions: From Suyu Station (Line 4) take exit 1 and walk straight about 100 meters until you see The North Face store. Enter the store and take the elevator to the 4th floor.

Hours: Weekdays: 10 am-10 pm, Weekends 10 am - 8 pm.  

~ One day fee: 15,000
~1- hour program with instructor: 20,000 won. Better to make reservations, but you can show up before 3pm even without one. Minimum 2 people. Includes all equipment. 11-5
~ Beginner program: Two evenings a week 7:30-9:30 pm starting on even months (Feb, April, June etc). 8 Week program. 200,000 won.
~ Intermediate Program : Two evenings a week 7:30-9:30 pm starting on even months (Feb, April, June etc). 8 Week program. 200,000 won.
~ Membership: 6 months: 400,000 won, 1 year: 700,000 won. Free use of the gym at all times of the day. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

quick update

While I have lots of things to blog about and several posts in the works, this is just a quick update.

First, realized today that I have finally been published again on the Korea Blog, here's the link if you're interested:

Second, I'm leaving for the States tomorrow morning and I won't be back until September. But, that doesn't mean no more posting. I have some posts I need to get finished and I'll be studying TESOL in Vermont, which means that about half my class will be exchange students... therefore the cross-cultural experiences never end! Here's to more exciting experiences this summer!

Jirisan Moon Bear IPA... hopefully a precursor to many more good beers to come this summer in Vermont! 

Monday, June 11, 2012

집들이 Housewarming Party

 Our guests in the beginning of the evening

Now that we're more or less moved into our new house, this weekend was dedicated to housewarming parties. We were really overwhelmed by the number of guests that showed up, but we had a really great time. I figure this would be a good time to write about a traditional Korean 집들이 and how ours was similar and different.

Our guests as the night wore on

Generally, when a couple moves into their new house, a housewarming party is thrown. This is supposed to be where the bride shows off her cooking skills to her guests, though I hear nowadays it's more like the mother-in-law showing off her cooking skills instead. We would have loved to provide food for everyone, but we only had our gas hooked up hours before the party and we had almost no food in the fridge, so for party number one, we basically provided nothing for our guests. We're so rude... But, our house seemed to be the perfect place for an awesome party. We had over 30 guests at our house, though, not all at the same time, and we had tons of fun... actually a little too much fun for me as I spent most of the next day non-functional from all the alcohol from the night before.

Festivities spread throughout the house

We were a little better for party number two which we held for my co-workers. Much fewer people and much more time to prepare, the boyfriend was able to wow them with his amazing 궁중 떡복기 (Royal Ddokbokki), 김치전 (Kimchi Pancake) and 잡재 (Chap chae).

 My coworkers feasting on 궁중떡볶이 (Royal Ddeokbokki)

Another great thing about housewarming parties is the gifts.  Now, we told people not to bring gifts as they weren't necessary, but that didn't stop people anyway... We got loads of Korean traditional gifts plus a few more western-style ones too. 

First for the traditional Korean gifts. Koreans tend to give gifts that you tend to need around the house and they each represent something. For example, toilet paper represents tied up problems to unravel smoothly and detergent represents wealth bubbling up like soap suds. Not quite sure about the tissues though...

 Alcohol set

In America, we tend to give another sort of housewarming gift. Usually things to use in the house too, but more like reusable things like plates, table cloths, furniture, etc. Here are a few of the non-traditional gifts we got, too. 

 Framed Korean Masks

A set of shot glasses with pictures of traditional scenes on them 

Framed original copies of the illustrations from Wild Korean, thanks to our illustrator, Douglas Holden, plus a beautiful woodblock print

So, I just want to thank everyone who came to our two parties and I hope things continue to go well for us in our new home! To read more about traditional Korean housewarming parties, see this post on the Korea blog.