Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Preparing for a Korean Wedding

-->As I prepare to marry in September, here in Korea, I thought I would share some of the planning process with my readers. Perhaps some of you out there may be curious about Korean weddings and perhaps others of you are thinking about your own wedding here in Korea. If so, this will hopefully give you some insight into the process of planning a Korean wedding.

 Western wedding or traditional Korean wedding?

Type of ceremony:
The trend these days in Korea is towards having western style ceremonies wearing your typical white dress and tuxedo. Interestingly, however, many multicultural marriages here opt for the traditional Korean ceremony. I, personally, opted for this choice as the lesser of two evils. The western style wedding here felt too contrived for me (cutting a cake without eating it and pouring a champagne fountain that no one gets to drink). That’s not to say that the traditional Korean ceremonies are any less contrived, but as I don’t know how they were conducted in the past, I can’t see their shortcomings. Plus, I look terrible in white ^^.

White weddings take place both in churches and in wedding halls. There is no dearth of wedding halls in Korea, so shop around and find the one that suits your taste best. Hotels tend to be pricier offering meals served individually to your guests during the ceremony. Wedding halls tend to be the more affordable option of the two, generally offering buffets where your guests will eat in a separate eating area, possibly with guests from other weddings as well as yours. Be sure to check out public facilities such as courthouses and even Seoul City Hall. These places tend to have very affordable rates for weddings (however, your guests may be eating in a cafeteria or you may need to find a restaurant to host your meal after the service).

Traditional weddings are offered in a number of places. In Seoul, Korea House, Namsangol Hanok Village and the War Museum of Korea tend to be popular locations, but do your research as you will find many others. Meal offerings will vary greatly between locations.

As for price, you will find that the sky is the limit for both types, however there tend to be a lot of affordable options for traditional marriages. If you are willing to hold your wedding in a public place, you could even have your ceremony conducted for free!

Perhaps you have seen some spectacular Korean wedding photos and wondered how anyone could take the time to take those photos on their wedding day. That is because they don’t take them on their wedding day! While weddings here will always have a photographer snapping photos, the majority of wedding photos that get shown off at house parties and on Facebook are actually taken before the wedding. Visiting a photo studio can be a full day affair which includes make-up and hair stylists and a variety of costume changes. Why settle for one wedding dress when you could get your photo wearing five different ones? 

For the photos of the wedding day, many wedding venues are able to provide their own photographer if you wish. The price may be reasonable, however the photo packages may be fixed. If you aren’t happy with your venue’s offerings, most photography studios also offer wedding day photography as well. Shopping around for different photographer’s styles and prices will help you get a better idea of what to expect.

For those who don’t like the idea of spending huge amounts of money on a dress that you will only wear once, there is good news. Women rarely buy wedding dresses/hanbok but rather rent them. Same goes for men as well. The bad news is that often times the rental price is often as much as purchasing a new one (albeit, the quality would be much higher).

Another option is buying a used hanbok. Hanbok, like wedding dresses and prom dresses, rarely are worn more than once, meaning that any used hanbok you purchase is like new.  I chose to go this route meaning that I could get a nice hanbok for half the price I would have paid for a new one.

The wedding attire is often supplied by the venue for traditional weddings. For my own wedding, the clothes for the ceremony are completely provided except for the skirt and shoes.

What’s paebek, you ask? Paebek is the formal Confucian portion of the wedding ceremony where the bride and groom formally greet their parents and parents-in-law. During this portion of the ceremony, hanbok is worn by the bride and groom, and often the parents will also dress in hanbok as well. There are several traditions which take place during the paebek including bowing to the parents representing fielel piety, carrying the bride on the groom’s back, demonstrating both his physical strength and parents tossing chestnuts and dates and the bride and groom catching as many as they can, as chestnuts and dates represent the number of children the bride would later bear.

This ceremony is viewed to be quite important in Korean culture; however these days some people choose to opt out of this tradition. It is an added expense and not all couples view it to be important. Most Korean parents, however, will probably expect to have a paebek.
More information here: http://www.mybridestory.com/paebaek/

Korean weddings do not typically have a reception as you may be used to in the west with music, dancing eating and drinking. Korean weddings tend to be short and sweet with just a ceremony and a meal. The meal may be served during the ceremony or guests may file into a buffet hall serving several weddings at once. If that isn’t sufficient for you, you may want to look into holding your ‘reception’ after the meal at another venue. Plenty of bars and restaurants are willing to open their space to group reservations and many small bars with low traffic on weekend afternoons will even allow you to book the entire bar without charge, as long as you bring a certain number of people. 

Photos and stories from my own wedding will be coming soon I hope! Just started teaching a new intensive course which will keep me busy for the next 7 weeks! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Behind the scenes at a Korean studio wedding photo shoot

These days in Korea it is very popular to not just take photos on the day of your wedding, but to shoot some photos, either in a studio and/or outside, and publish them in a big photo album (not to mention all over Facebook, KakaoTalk etc. etc.). Before getting these photos done myself, I never imagined how much work goes into taking these photos, especially as the bride, but last month I learned for myself how much effort it takes to make one little wedding album.

Preparing for the studio wedding photo shoot 

First thing on a Sunday morning, we headed to the photo studio by 9am. I was immediately put in a chair and the hair and make-up artist spent over an hour doing my make-up and hair. I've never had my make-up done professionally like this before. After layers and layers of make-up and fake eyelashes, I couldn't even recognize myself. Then came the hair. She expertly straitened, curled, twisted, braided and hair sprayed my hair until it looked just right.

They also spent a little time on my husband-to-be as well. They quickly brushed his hair and styled it into place and put some make-up on him too, however, they only spent about 15 minutes on him compared with over an hour on me.

A book showing all the dress choices
Then it was time to play dress-up. They had a whole book of dresses and they asked me to go through and pick out four dresses that I wanted to wear throughout the day. It was too hard to choose from the photos, though, and in the end another assistant who was to be my personal attendant for the rest of the day just picked out several dresses she thought would suit me and let me try them on myself.

 Trying on my first long wedding gown
After I had picked out the first long dress, and my husband-to-be had been given a tuxedo to wear, we were set up for our first shoot. The most classic pose, sitting on a sofa with some flowers. But, getting the perfect pose is no easy feat. I had my attendant on one side tugging at my dress here and there to make it perfect, while the photographer continued to give commands, "turn your head left, tilt your head up, point your bouquet this way..." I can't imagine being a famous person who has to have people saying these things to them all day! I realized that all those natural looking poses I had seen in my friends photos were not so natural at all!

Adjusting this way and that for the perfect photo
Sitting on the floor in a dress this big is no easy feat
After more photos with the long dresses, I put on a short dress and we went out to the patio of the studio to shoot some more photos. It's amazing how some simple props can make for such nice looking photos.
Some outdoor photos
I must say, after nearly four hours of shooting photos, I must say that there was no end to the tiny photo studio's creativity in creating scenes for photos. While each scene was quite small, the whole studio fitting into the size of one two-floor house, the photos create an illusion of being taken in a really huge, vast space. Not to mention all the props and scenery they use, everything from giant balloons, to bicycles, to picnic tables to chandeliers, in the end the photos look amazing and as if we really went to many different places.
 Strange, yet interesting props
Got to love the astroturf...
But after hours of shooting photos, we were certainly exhausted and ready change into our street clothes and not having people adjusting  our our clothes, position and make-up every 30 seconds. Now we are looking forward to picking up our albums from the photographer and seeing the final results. While this tradition of dressing up in a wedding gown before the official wedding is quite different from my own American culture, it was quite fun to dress up and have people dote on you for hours on end, and get a book of nice photos after it's all done as well. I recommend getting wedding photo shoot!

We were exhausted by the end of the day

For those interested in the cost,  I think we got a fairly good deal, though I think they can personalize your photo package to fit any budget. We paid 1,500,000 for four albums: One album of studio photos, one album of photos from our wedding day (which they also shot for us), one small album of family shots, wedding shots, and paebaek shots for his parents and one larger album for my mother including some studio photos, wedding photos and paebaek photos. On top of that, they also will give us two framed 8x11 photos for free. Or we could have chosen one giant photo for free (which is usually put at the entrance of the wedding ceremony). We opted not to get that photo since we had no idea what we would do with such a huge photo after the ceremony though! Please visit the studio where we got our photos done:   
85-17 Nonhyun-dong
 Gangnam-gu, Seoul
Tel: 02-511-7350
Email: info@aand.co.kr

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Long time no post

Hello world, it's been a long time, I know. I've graduated with my master's, gotten married, and spent a month in China (where Blogger is blocked)... I've been a bit busy. But now I'm unemployed (hopefully not for long, we'll see) and have a bit of spare time, so I'm hoping to get caught up on all that blogging I've been missing in the past few months. Hope to see you soon. 조안나.

Friday, August 23, 2013

신촌황소곱창-종로점 Sinchon Hwangso Gopchang- Jongno Branch

My my, it's been such a long time now since I left Seoul, but now that I have a little time, I'm going through some old posts I had planned and never got to write. Here is one about eating 곱창 (gopchang/intestines) at 신촌황소곱창 in Jongno. I have had gopchang several times before, but usually in Hwanghakdong where the most popular variety seems to be 양념곱창, a rather sticky sweet and spicy form of the gopchang, which I must say was pretty good as far as intestines go. However, one commenter, the author of The Seoul Patch blog mentioned, and I quote:

 "Technically, what you ate was gopchang. However, that gunk with the ddok, gochujang and sesame seeds on it is to gopchang as a Mickey D's burger patty is to a sirloin steak. I'm far from an expert, but I want to suggest you try again, and stay away from pojangmacha for it. Really, if you liked that okay, you'll love the unadorned item, cooked on the table grill, with other organ meat like liver and kidney, and onion, garlic and potato slices as well. Delicious!"

I always wondered about the validity of this statement after I read that, but never really was daring enough to try again until about a week before I left Korea. A friend of mine invited me out for dinner with her friend and they had already made plans to come to 신촌황소곱창. They asked me if it was ok, though I couldn't really have said no, even if I had wanted to...

We arrived here and were escorted to one of the only empty tables left available. Apparently this is a really popular joint for intestines consumption and they claim to be a 60-year old restaurant. However, it also seems to be a local chain, so it's hard to say how long this particular establishment has been around...

I let my friend order, since I'm clearly clueless about this particular cuisine. While waiting for our gopchang, out came a very interesting side dish: Liver (간) and tripe (천엽). While it wasn't terrible, it is certainly not something that I would order every day.


Next, they brought over our main meal beef gopchang with onions and green onions. The woman grilled it up for us on the table in front of us. I don't know why, but the thought of eating gopchang scares me a little, but I toughed it out, and, you know what? It wasn't bad.

This was certainly a dinner of new foods for me. They brought over another side dish of mussel soup. My friend laughed at me because I didn't know the difference between oyster and mussel. Apparently oyster shells are very bumpy and mussel shells are very smooth and black. I'm so clueless about seafood..

As usual, once we had eaten most of our meal, they then brought over the bap for some bokkum. Now who doesn't love a little bokkum bap, right?

신촌황소곱창 -Jongno branch is located in the Jongno nightlife area between Jonggak station and Jongno-3-ga station. From Jonggak station exit 4, turn left into the first street on right. Turn left on Samil-daero-7-gil. The restaurant will be on your right.

서울 종로구 관철동 12-23번지
 Gwangcheol-dong 12-23
Seoul Jongno-gu

View 신촌황소곱창 in a larger map

Monday, August 19, 2013

Bike Trips: Yeoido - Ara Canal - Incheon Ara Park

Entry point to the Ara Canal

Last fall we rode our bikes from our house to the start of the Ara Canal, which connects the Han river to the ocean in Incheon. Finally, we got to do the second half of that trip in May. Starting from Yeoido station, we followed the Han River to the Ara canal and then made the 21 mile trek to the ocean in Incheon. We were pleasantly surprised how nice the ride was, however we do wonder what good the canal does (besides provide us a fantastic bike ride) since the only boat that seem to use it is the Ara canal tour boat.

Map of the 21km Ara Canal

If 21 km sounds intimidating, it shouldn't. It's about a 1 hr and 30 min bike ride and, since it follows the river, is completely flat. The canal was built recently, finished about two years ago, meaning that all the paths are new and in great condition! I recommend riding on the north side of the river, as there are way fewer bikes and people over there. We, however, rode on the south side, so at times it did feel a little cramped on a weekend afternoon.

Bike supply pop up shops along the canal

Waterfall halfway along the Ara canal

There are a few sights to see along the way. one of them was this waterfall, about halfway through the canal. Another are the windmills at the end of the trail. The windmill at the end is located at the park at the Ara west sea lock.

Windmills at the Ara west sea lock

Don't forget to bring your 4 Rivers Passport with you when you ride, you can get stamps at the beginning and end of the Canal! Look for the sign below which indicates that a stamp center (they call it a "certification center") is approaching.

Certification center 1km away

The only problem here, is that there is no public transportation from the Ara park. To take the subway back to Seoul, you'll have to go back to Geomam Station, a full 6 km back along the canal. OR you could just ride your bike all the way home!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Wireless Electric Buses

 Test run of Gumi's wirelessly charged bus

While Facebook's newsfeed is filled with stories of a Hyperloop bullet train which is years away from being used by real people, Korea has recently just launched it's own form of electric public transportation. Two buses which are charged wirelessly at bus stops and parking garages have been launched in Gumi for testing until December. 
The main characteristic of the bus is that the vehicle uses electricity converted from magnetic force supplied by rechargers embedded in the roads at bus stops and parking lots. Using a smaller battery due to its real-time recharging, the vehicle is comparably light. It can also operate on regular roads. (Korea.net)
 If this bus is successful, knowing Korea, we could be seeing it on the streets of Seoul and other major cities within a few years. Imagine how much less pollution and fuel would be used if every bus in Seoul ran on this? And who knows? Why stop at buses? Perhaps someday this could even be converted into car technology!


Bus stop plus battery charging area

Monday, August 12, 2013

Getting my MA TESOL

It has been one very long year, but I can now proudly say that I am now a proud owner of an MA TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from St. Michael's College in Vermont. I was one of three students in their pilot program which combines a mix of on-campus classes during the summer with on-line courses during the fall and spring semesters totaling 36 credits without teaching licensure (not necessary if you don't plan on teaching K-12 in the US or international schools).

Why choose St. Michael's? Well, besides the fact that it was my alma mater, it really was the best option for me. I didn't want a degree which was 'on-line', as many employers shy away from these kinds of degrees, but I wanted a degree from an English speaking country, didn't want to quit my job in Korea, and didn't want to go in debt again. Miraculously, I was able to do all of that through this program.

Last summer I was able to take time off from work (impossible with many jobs, I know) to take a 6-week summer semester on campus of 12 credits. It was intense, but since I didn't have to worry about working at the same time, it was very reasonable. Then in the fall and spring semester, I took one 4 credit course on-line for each semester while working full time. For the most part, this was very doable, with just an occasional stressful week here and there when big projects were due. This summer, between one 5-week on-line course in early summer and another 6-week 12 credit summer session on campus I was finally able to graduate on August 1st with my MA TESOL.

The grand total cost of the courses was just over $20,000, factoring in plane tickets, rent and food for the summer, the cost was probably around $23,00-24,000 for me to attend this program. I was able to do this completely debt free as I had a bit of money saved up after finishing paying off my undergrad loans several years ago, plus being able to continue working full time while taking classes let me earn another year's worth of salary before returning for my second semester on campus.

Was it worth it? Well, that is still to be determined, but I am hoping to be better qualified for jobs, particularly for teaching university here in Korea or in other countries. I am going to be looking for university teaching jobs in Seoul starting in the spring semester of 2014. I don't know yet if I will be able to find one, but I am hoping that the MA TESOL should let me stand out from the hoards of applicants which apply for these jobs. If anyone of my readers out there happen to know of anyone hiring, please let me know!

I have just two weeks left in the States, then I'll be back to Korea with a lot of excitement with a wedding and honeymoon coming up very soon. I'd like to say that I'll be blogging more now, but unfortunately I can't promise that for a little while longer. Who knows, I hope I find the time and motivation to blog sooner rather than later!

For those interested in studying at St. Michael's, please see their website: http://www.smcvt.edu/Graduate-Programs/Academic-Programs/Teaching-English-to-Speakers-of-Other-Languages.aspx 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Les Militerables

Just 2 more weeks of grad school before graduation. But, I found a little movie to take a break from all the classwork. I hope you enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Morning Clam

I'm a little late in updating this, but several weeks ago Sanghyun and I were featured on a new podcast called 'The Morning Clam' talking about Wild Korean and learning Korean in general. Check out the video here, and click the links to see more episodes of 'The Morning Clam'! To purchase Wild Korean, click here!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Last days at YBM and a brief review of the school

After a year and a half of teaching at YBM, I've finally left. I'm leaving, not so much because I'm sick of working there, but because I just won't be around enough in Korea for the next 6 months to justify them trying to hold my position. I'm back in the states now, working on finishing my MATESOL, I'll be gradutating in August, then I'll be heading back to Korea for my wedding, then honeymoon in China, then traveling more around China, then coming back to Korea and starting the job hunt for the next job, then going home again for Christmas.  It's going to be a very busy next 6 months...

 The last days at YBM were rather uneventful, but we did have the ultimate game of Monopoly (4 hours long) with the students pictured above, and one of my favorite halaboji students took me and another teacher out for this octopus stew. They added the octopus in whole and live, then cut him up as the soup boiled. I guess I've been living in Korea long enough that this just doesn't phase me much, but this was the first time I'd tried this particular dish, so I took a few photos to memorialize the event.

I thought I'd sum up the pros and cons of working at YBM Jongno, for anyone who is intersted in working there in the future. 

  • Right downtown, basically across the street from Insadong
  • The 'Wow' factor you get when you tell Koreans where you work. It's often regarded as the best hagwon in Korea for adult learners. 
  • Foreign bosses.
  • Not necessarily on block shifts. Most adult hagwons keep their teachers on a permanent block shift. YBM Jongno is big enough that sometimes you may get to finish at 1pm or start at 2pm. Sometimes. 
  • A schedule which changes every month. If you don't like your schedule this month, just wait, it will change next month. Including classes and start and finish times. 
  •  A lot of overtime, which means that your paycheck can be quite high some months. 
  • A 50% discount on any YBM class (Korean, Chinese, Japanese). The Korean classes can be difficult to take with the English class schedule, but some people have made it work. 
  • Teaching. Adults. Yea, you can have a conversation that doesn't necessarily involve colors, food or numbers.
  • Lessons plans are pre-made so there's little prep work.
  • Low base pay. Especially for those without adult teaching experience. I started at the lowest rung despite my experience. 2.0 million. 
  • Low housing money. 200,000/ month. Kind of insulting considering rent anywhere you look in the area will be at least 550,000 but probably higher, nevermind management fees and utilities. But, better than nothing I suppose. They do not supply pre-furnished apartments for teachers.
  •  Foreign bosses. Yep, I put this in both categories. You will never have a supervisor pat you on the back after your lesson and say good job. Your boss is a native English speaker and actually expects you to do something more than just be a talking head. 
  • A schedule which changes every month. Yep, I put this in both categories. It's probably the biggest reason why I wouldn't go back to YBM. I am a pretty active person and I always have things going on. Working here made it impossible to plan my schedule more than 3 weeks in advance. It's the main reason why I quit taking Korean classes. 
  • Early morning starts and late night finishes. The first class starts at 7 am, which means you'll probably want to get there at least at 6:30am. The last class finishes at 10pm. If you're not on split shifts starting at 7am and finishing at 10pm, you're probably at least starting or ending at one of these times. Your first several months youWILL be starting at 7 am and finishing at 10pm. 
  • Not mandatory Saturday teaching. While technically in the contract you only need to teach 2 months of Saturday classes, in reality most people have to work most Saturdays. You do make 25,000won/ hour. Some people love the chance to pick up the extra cash. I personally have a life outside of work, so it wasn't great for me. That's one of the reasons why posting has been much lighter on the blog since I started working there.
Overall, though, I did really like working there, dispute the cons I listed here. The staff is a bit quirky, but so am I, so I think I fit in fairly well. I really loved working with the students, as I mentioned before, and the location was fantastic for me. I would recommend working at YBM if you get the chance, and they're often hiring, so check worknplay.co.kr often for their want ads.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wild Korean Textbook: 2nd Edition

The second edition of our textbook has been published on Amazon.com and is available for purchase there with worldwide shipping! The first edition is still widely available in bookstores around Korea!

Wild Korean: A Fieldguide to Real Korean Conversation

This book is best for
1. Advanced beginners who want to study more expressions, grammar and vocabulary.
2. Intermediate students who want to study conversational Korean or brush up on their Korean language skill.
3. Students who are sick of boring Korean textbooks.
4. People who want to know how real Korean people speak every day, not clumsy, overly-formal textbook language.

Buy it:

*Kyobo Online* (1st ed. only)

*Ebay.com* (1st ed. w/ free international shipping)

Kyobo Bookstores around Korea (1st ed. only)


At the Hangul Kongbubang (Level 2 class)

ISBN-13: 978-1484804872
ISBN-10: 1484804872

Friday, June 28, 2013

Cat drama

Well, Sanghyun's dream finally came true... three times in one week. Yes, that dream. The dream when a CAT actually FALLS INTO OUR HOUSE. (He figured it would be the only way I'd ever let him have a pet cat, but even still, I wouldn't allow it.)

How does a cat fall into one's house? Well, let me try to explain. If you don't know already, we live in a hanok (traditional Korean home), and our house is surrounded by other traditional Korean homes. Between our house and another house there is an alleyway that is technically part of our house because it's blocked off by a door and only we have access to it.

One night as I was trying to fall asleep, I heard a noise which sounded to me like that door opening and I got scared. I called Sanghyun to be manly and investigate. When he opened the door he gasped and started to sound excited. He whispered 'It's a kitten!' But, it wasn't just any kitten. It was an extremely cute kitten... it kind of looked like Puss in Boots (without the boots, hat and sword) and it also had a terrible attitude. We tried to catch it, but as feral cats tend to be, it was not too happy about us trying to catch it. Every time we put our hands near it it would hiss and spit at us. It took us a long time to catch it as it was very good at hiding and burrowing under things, but in the end we succeeded and put her in a tall shopping bag and brought her into our courtyard.

Sanghyun was sure that this was finally his chance to have his own cat. He rushed to the kitchen to find food and water for the kitten. I yelled and screamed that we couldn't keep the kitten... it's too young, too feral, too furry, but, as usual, he didn't listen. He wanted that cat. So, I conceded to letting him keep the cat in the courtyard for the night. Part of me expected the mother cat to come down into our courtyard and try to rescue her kitten over the night, or at least that's what I hoped would happen.

The next morning I left the house at 6:30am to head to work, but I couldn't see the cat anywhere. 6:30 in the morning was not the time of day I wanted to be dealing with lost kittens. When I called at 9am, he informed me that the kitten had somehow gotten itself stuck between our house and the other house which connects to ours. I had never noticed it before, but there is a very small space between our laundry room (which has stairs that go up to the roof) and the neighbor's house. The kitten had fallen between there and was stuck without any way out.

Rescuing the cat would not be an easy task, and it had to wait until we were both home from work that evening. Sanghyun had to jump down into that tiny crevice between the two houses (It was really just wide enough at the widest point for a thin person to get down there. I had no idea how he was going to get out again.) It took nearly an hour to catch the cat and bring it back out and our neighbors must have thought we were crazy.

The mother cat had been watching and waiting on our rooftop the whole day and she watched as we pulled her kitten out from the crevice. Sanghyun finally agreed that it was time to give the kitten back to her mother. We brought the kitten up to the roof where the mother was waiting and gingerly handed it over. The mother cat picked up the kitten with a 'get-to-your-room-you-pain-in-my-ass' kind of attitude and dragged the kitten off, as mother cats do.

And about five minutes later, we heard another crash-bang-clang in the alleyway to find the kitten there again. This time, we immediately returned the kitten to her mother and we thought the drama had ended....

Fast-forward to one week later. We were peacefully watching TV in the living room when we heard a series of scraping on the roof, the sound of something sliding and a thud at the window. Looking through the frosted glass we saw a dark shadow of something moving on our window sill. We thought it could be a rat or something vile, and we were a bit scared to open the window and see what was there.... but we should not have been surprised to see our kitten siting on the window sill looking rather traumatized.

It was then I finally grabbed the camera to document this ridiculous drama. First at the window. 

Now, despite already saving this cat's life three times already, it didn't make it any more friendly toward us. Just approaching it we though it would back its way off the windowsill and down to a new crevice between houses.

We brought it to the courtyard again and fed it and let it run around while we expected the mother to come over and search for her baby. We waited and waited... but the mother was no where to be found.

So, as we had to leave the house, and we were NOT going to leave it in the courtyard again to get stuck between the houses, we realized that the only safe place to leave her was in the bathroom. Which was fine, however, our Airbnb guest was not too pleased to find a very nasty, people hating cat in the bathroom several hours later...

When we came home, we let the kitten out in the courtyard again and FINALLY the mother cat arrived.

We brought her up to the roof to give her back. And, just as before, the mother cat grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and dragged it off again.

It's been two three since we have seen or heard the kitten.... but we keep wondering where it will appear next....

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Biking Ganghwado

Crane in a rice paddy, a common sight on Ganghwado

Ganghwado is an island just off the coast of the west coast of Korea. It's also chuck full of things to see, from fortresses, temples, museums, tombs, a pre-historic site, and the DMZ. It's not a small area to cover, and sites are spread out, but we did our best to maximize our time on a one-day bike trip around the island.

The story actually begins at about 7pm the night before. We were debating when and how to get there and though we originally planned to throw our bikes in the car and drive the night before, after examining some maps on the smartphone, we (and by we, I mean Sanghyun) decided that it would be quite feasable to ride our bikes there, as long as we left right at that moment. So, already dusk, we hopped on our bikes, fortunately we're fairly well rigged up with blinking lights on the back and flash lights on the front, and made our way to Seoul Station to hop on the AREX train to Geomam station.

Once at Geomam station, we followed the Ara Waterway to the last bridge which crosses the canal. I was worried about crossing the bridge at night, but I was pleasantly surprised to find everything connected by bike path. We crossed the bridge and followed the path north. Luckily, the bike path was well paved and well lit, because it was now after 9pm.

The well paved bike path continued until the city limits of Incheon. As soon as we crossed into the city of Gimpo, the bike paths dissapeared (also helped by the fact that there is a military base which comes right up to the edge of the road as well. Here was the scary part. Intermitant street lights and no sidewalks or bike paths on a narrow two lane road at 10pm. I have a flashlight on my bike, but I realized quickly that it was way too weak. Fortunately Sanghyun's was extra strong and shone brightly enough for me to see most of the potholes before I hit them. Again, fortunately, there aren't many cars on the road at this time at night, but I was very worried about people speeding or drunk driving at that time of night on a lonley country road. Thankfully we made it to the other end and we stopped at the first motel we found along the road, which was probably only 3km but felt like 20km from the end of the bike path.

We asked at the 7/11 out front whether it would be better to stop here at the motel or continue a little more to the island, but the clerk reminded us that motels on the island were significanlty more expencive than on the mainland. So, not really wanting to be on the road anymore, plus not wanting to spend any more money than necessary, we stopped at the first love motel called 프리존 ('Free-Zone', I thought it was 'Prison') and got our room for 35,000 for the night. We could have splurged and gotten a room for 45,000 at the 'hotel' down the road, but personally I don't see much difference.

Crossing the bridge to Ganghwado 

We got a late start due to getting in so late the night before, but we woke up and headed out. It wasn't too far to the bridge to get to Ganghwado, though sidewalks were rough and the streets were full of traffic, sometimes hard to pass. Once we got to the bridge we were traffic-free thanks to this handy bike/walking path along the bridge.

View as you arrive on Ganghwado

As soon as we got to the Ganghwado side, we found ourselves on this fantastic bike path. Separated from cars by a curb and well paved and well marked.

The biggest fortress we found

If you turn right after entering you'll quickly stumble upon the first of many fortresses. I recommend shelling out the big bucks ( I forget, but I think it was less than 2,000 won) for a pass to five fortresses. You probably won't want to visit all 5, but if you visit two or three, it will still save you money in the end. As you continue north you will continue to pass fortress after fortress, so you might be glad for buying that 5 fortress pass.

Typical road on Ganghwado

After visiting three fortresses, we decided to make our way to the DMZ at the northernmost tip of the island. To get there, you need to follow the signs for the 강화평화전망대 (Ganghwa Peace Observatory). Be aware that most of the signs pointing here are not in English, so it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention!

Just checking the map... 

Heading up to the DMZ and observatory there were bike paths for at least 50% of the ride, but even when there weren't bike paths, we never felt in danger. Dispite being a holiday and all the traffic we saw before getting onto the island, up here there were very few cars at all (as you can see on the road behind us in the photos).

This is about as close as we were able to get to the DMZ

Unfortunately, upon reaching the DMZ, we were not allowed to enter because we were on bike. Apparently, according to the guard, bikes and motorcycles are not allowed into the DMZ. The soldier suggested that we take the bus, but when we asked when it passed by, he said 'not often', so we gave up and instead decided to find the famous pre-historic dolmen.

Pre-historic Dolmen

A dolmen is apparently a pre-historic style tomb, and this one on Ganghwa is the most famous in Korea. Probably because it's pretty huge. There were no bike paths getting here either, but we took back roads and there were very few cars, and most of them were driving slowly as they were probably lost tourists.

Bike path back to Incheon

Finally, it was time to say good-bye to Ganghwa, though there is still so much left unseen. That just means, though, that we have a good excuse to come back again! So long for now Ganghwado!

Waiting for the train home at Geomam Station