Archives for posts with tag: South Korea

One of the things I love about Korea is the sense of community built around food and the interactivity that happens right at the dinner table.  Many meals are “family style” where dishes are shared and cooked on your tabletop.  Korean barbecue is one of those meals and one that I never get tired of.  Samgyeopsal, which is pork belly, is the quintessential cut of meat for Korean barbecue.  It’s ordered by the gram, usually 100-200 per person, and is brought to your table raw, unseasoned and un-marinated.  That may sound a bit boring, but once it starts sizzling on the gas or charcoal grill built into your table, you won’t be disappointed.

Samgyeopsal is always served with ssamjang (a thick dipping sauce made with red pepper paste and fermented soybean paste) and either a little bowl of course salt or a sesame oil and salt combination.  Once the pork is nice and crispy on the outside, I like to dip it in the two and wrap it up in a lettuce or perilla leaf which are also always served with samgyeopsal.  I also like to add garlic, cloves of which are grilled at your table alongside the pork.  Sometimes grilled kimchi is a nice addition as well.  Like all Korean meals, an array of banchan (side dishes) will be brought to your table along with the samgyeopsal, kimchi, garlic and lettuce.  Typically you’ll get a soup, pickled radish, onions, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and some marinated seaweed, among other things.  It varies from place to place, but they’re always free with your meal and refillable at no extra cost.

Usually one person in your dinner party takes charge of the grill at your table.  I’ve had a few different experiences in terms of how much the staff help out, however.  The first time David came to visit I was so excited to share a traditional Korean barbecue meal with him, but we were both disappointed when the woman working there wouldn’t leave our table.  She just stood there, manning the grill until all the meat was cooked (at the time I was still fairly new to Korea and didn’t know how to politely ask her to leave and let us grill our own meat).  That is the only time I’ve had the staff babysit the grill like that, though.  Most of the time they leave you to do it on your own, or they might step in and flip your meat over if they see you’ve left it too long on one side.  Either way, if you feel like you do need help or a refill of some sort, you can call the staff over by simply pushing a button at your table.

I suppose some people might not enjoy the aspect of cooking your own food at a restaurant.  Isn’t not having to do the cooking the point of going out for dinner?  For some, maybe.  I happen to love the communal, interactive dining experience, and the fact that I don’t have to wash any of the dishes afterwards makes it even better.

A Korean barbecue experience with samgyeopsal.

A Korean barbecue experience with samgyeopsal.

When ordering samgyeopsal, it's served raw for you took cook on the grill at your table.

When ordering samgyeopsal, it’s served raw for you took cook on the grill at your table.

This not a picture of samgyeopsal, it's beef, but it's cooked and consumed in the same way samgyeopsal is. Notice she's using scissors to cut the meat. Scissors are knives in Korea.

This not a picture of samgyeopsal, it’s beef, but it’s cooked and consumed in the same way samgyeopsal is. Notice she’s using scissors to cut the meat. Scissors are knives in Korea.

Korean barbecue usually goes hand in hand with soju and beer. Soju is a distilled, vodka-like liquor that is usually made from rice, and a 375ml bottle only costs $1-3.

Korean barbecue typically goes hand in hand with soju and beer. Soju is a distilled, vodka-like liquor that is usually made from rice, and a 375ml bottle only costs $1-3.

A perfectly crisp piece of samgyeopsal.

A perfectly crisp piece of samgyeopsal.

Depending on the type of grill at the restaurant, you can order rice to be fried up with the lefter bits and pieces of meat, kimchi and garlic. It's so good!

Depending on the type of grill at the restaurant, you can order rice to be fried up with the leftover bits and pieces of meat, kimchi and garlic. It’s so good!

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Shabu Shabu is not a traditional Korean dish, it’s Japanese.  Actually, the idea originates from Chinese hot pot dishes, but it is very popular in Korea (not to mention delicious and healthy), so I had to share.  There are various kinds of shabu shabu, but what you will always find at these restaurants is a pot of boiling stock in the middle of your table, to which you’ll add an array of vegetables and then cook your meat in it.  Sometimes there is also a grill along the outside of the pot for cooking meat, and at Vietnamese style shabu shabu restaurants you’ll find rice paper on the table to wrap up your meat and vegetables and then dip in various sauces.

The important thing to remember when going to a shabu shabu restaurant is you must bring a big appetite because you will eat a lot (the first time I experienced this meal I could barely walk home, I was that full).  This is because there are several “courses” involved, and it’s hard to stop eating when it tastes so good.  You begin by choosing a set of meat which will automatically come with loads of vegetables, plus noodles and rice.  You’ll also get a variety of traditional Korean side dishes (called banchan).  Originally, this dish was made with thinly sliced beef, which you only need to briefly dip in the stock to cook, but you will also see pork, duck, and seafood listed as options in meat sets.

One of the things I love about this meal is how beautiful it is, especially right when they begin arranging all the dishes on your table.  I tried to capture it on camera, but I found that a little hard to do because I was so distracted by the deliciousness.

The beautiful spread.

The colorful spread of vegetables.

The pink water is for softening the rice paper. I have yet to find out what they put in the water to make it pink.

The pink water is for softening the rice paper (I have yet to find out what they put in the water to make it pink). You can also see the meat set we ordered at this restaurant which is thinly sliced pork and beef.

The choice of meat for this occasion was thinly sliced beef and duck.

On another occasion, we chose thinly sliced beef and duck.

A Chinese version of shabu shabu. We had two different broths at this restaurant, one of which was really spicy.

This is a Chinese version of shabu shabu. We had two different broths at this restaurant, one of which was really spicy.

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The name shabu shabu is said to be an onomatopoeia for the sound the meat makes when being cooked in the broth. Here we cooked the duck on the grill and the thinly sliced beef in the pot.

After dipping this rice paper in warm water to soften it, you pile on some meat and vegetables of your choosing.

After dipping this rice paper in warm water to soften it, you pile on some meat and vegetables of your choosing.

Then you wrap it up and dip it into one of the sauces. So good!

Then you wrap it up and dip it into one of the sauces. So good!

After you finish the meat, you add noodles to the remaining broth.

After you finish the meat, you add noodles to the remaining broth and enjoy some noodle soup.

Finally, you add rice and an egg to soak up the last of the broth. Now you are extremely full.

Finally, you add rice and an egg to soak up the last of the broth. Now you are extremely full.

The beautiful spread.

Ready to do it all over again?

Its been a long time since I was in elementary school, but I don’t I recall anyone ever saying they were looking forward to their school’s lunch.  I hear they’ve improved since I was kid, but I’m guessing you still can’t really call them balanced, nutritious, or delicious.  In Korea, since all students, staff and teachers eat together, school lunch is something I actually look forward to as I find them really tasty and quite healthy.  While there’s variety in what ingredients are used each day, there’s always a soup of some sort, a vegetable, a protein, kimchi, rice, and either a piece of fruit, fruit juice, or yogurt.  In other words, a pretty balanced meal.

Perhaps part of the reason public school lunches are better than American lunches is they aren’t free (with the exception of Seoul, where after much controversy in 2011, free lunches are now provided to all elementary and middle school students).  As a teacher in a rural school, 3,000 won (just under $2) is deducted from my paycheck per meal and students pay roughly 40,000 won per month.  Eating the school’s lunch is not mandatory, but I really don’t see how I could pack a lunch that would be just as good for any cheaper.  I also think it helps that the smaller of my two schools has a large vegetable garden, providing the freshest ingredients.

Rice cakes, spicy red pepper paste for the bimbimbap, kimchi, yogurt drink, bibimbap, and tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Sweet and spicy rice cakes, spicy red pepper paste for the bibimbap, kimchi, yogurt drink, bibimbap, and a tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Sauteed tofu, kimchi, a slice of Korean melon, green beans with dried shrimp, rice and kimchi and pork soup.

Sauteed tofu, kimchi, a Korean melon, green beans with dried shrimp, rice, and a kimchi and pork stew.

Kimchi, fried fish fellets (they don't ever debone fish here), pickels and radish, grapes, bibimbap and tofu, egg and green onion soup.

Kimchi, fried fish fillets (they don’t ever de-bone fish here, by the way), pickles and radishes, grapes, rice and a beef and vegetable soup.

At both of my schools, students are served by "lunch ladies" and each homeroom class sits together with their teacher in the lunch hall. Some schools have a buffet style and eat in their homeroom classrooms.

At both of my schools, students and teachers are served by “lunch ladies” and each homeroom class sits together with their teacher in the lunch hall. I have heard some schools serve lunch buffet style and eat in their homeroom classrooms.

Summer Vacation Part 2

Seoraksan is one of Korea’s most popular parks and it’s easy to see why.  Its  impressive crags are among the tallest in the country and the lush valleys are beautiful year-round.  Located just 20 km west of Sokcho, Outer Seorak is really easy to get to by bus.  There was a stop right outside the guesthouse David and I were staying in, and it only took about 30 minutes to get to the park entrance.  Thankfully, after a few days of solid rain, we woke up to the sun shining and a brilliantly blue sky which made for an extremely beautiful day.

We decided to hike the popular Ulsanbawi trail because we heard the view from the top, especially on a clear day, was simply amazing.  It certainly proved to be and the hike wasn’t too difficult.  The ascent was gentle until the last few kilometers, followed by about 800 stairs leading to a breathtaking view.  If we hadn’t had so many things on our to-do list during our two week trip, I think we would have spent a few more days exploring the rest of the park.  Perhaps I’ll make it back to witness the red, orange and gold bursts of color that cover the park in the fall.

Giant Buddha near the entrance in Outer Seorak.

Giant Buddha near the park entrance in Outer Seorak.

Seoraksan National Park

David, testing the water at Seoraksan.

Seoraksan National Park

We couldn’t have asked for a better day to explore Seoraksan. With July and August being the rainy season in Korea, we were lucky to have such beautiful weather.

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park, somewhere on the Ulsanbawi route.

Seoraksan National Park

The granite peaks of Ulsanbawi.

View from the top of Sokcho and the East Sea.

View of Sokcho and the East Sea.

Ulsanbawai,

Ulsanbawi, Seoraksan National Park

We made it up the 800 stairs

We made it up the 800 stairs!

Seoraksan National Park

Seoraksan National Park

There are snack bars and places  to eat on the trails

There are snack bars and places to eat along many of the hiking trails in Korea. They seem to appear out of nowhere and I keep wondering how they haul all the supplies and equipment up the steep, narrow trails.

Seoraksan National Park

Sinheungsa Temple nestled on the mountainside in Seoraksan National Park.

Korean rooftops and craggy peaks.

Korean rooftops and craggy peaks.

Outer Seorak

Outer Seorak

We enjoyed haemul pajeon and makgeolli after the hike.

We enjoyed haemul pajeon (a savory pancake with seafood and green onions) and makgeolli after the hike, both of which are popular “snacks” sold near hiking trails. Makgeolli is a traditional Korean alcoholic beverage made from rice and is typically served in bowls.

 

Summer Vacation Part 1

You can’t always trust guide books.  If it weren’t for Sokcho’s proximity to Seoraksan National Park, I might have skipped over the city entirely.  The book I picked up before coming to South Korea makes Sokcho seem like a drab little port city with nothing to offer besides a base for visiting the extremely popular national park nearby.  On the contrary, David and I found it to be extremely pleasant and really enjoyed three nights there.  It was the first stop on our two week summer adventure.

Sokcho is a smaller coastal city in northern Gangwon Province.  We took a bus  from Seoul which took just under 3 hours and cost us each about $16.  Since summer is peak travel season in Korea, we booked a few nights at Afterglow Guesthouse prior to arriving and I’m really glad we did.  I highly recommend staying there if you ever find yourself in Sokcho.  A private room with our own bathroom, TV, air conditioner, clean towels everyday, non-fluorescent lighting and a comfortable bed was only $33 per night.  It was the coziest, cheapest and cleanest place I’ve stayed in Korea.  (Outside of Seoul and Busan, guesthouses or hostels like this are hard to come by in Korea.)  The owners are extremely kind and graciously helped us out with anything we needed, including umbrellas when we got caught in a rainstorm and walked in soaking wet, as well as hand drawn maps and weather updates.  They are a younger married couple who have done quite a bit of world traveling themselves, therefore know exactly how to make everyone’s stay as convenient and comfortable as possible.

The Afterglow Guesthouse owners were very excited to have our picture taken with them.

The Afterglow Guesthouse owners were very excited to have our picture taken with them.

We enjoyed dinner at a fish bbq restaurant on our first night in Sokcho. It was delicious.

We enjoyed dinner at a fish bbq restaurant on our first night in Sokcho. It was delicious.

A young man working at the restaurant spoke a little bit of English and was able to tell us the names of most of the fish as he manned the grill at our table. One of tastier ones was simply called "the most delicious". He was right, it was the most delicious, whatever it was.

David can hardly believe his eyes. 😉 A young man working at the restaurant spoke a little bit of English and was able to tell us the names of most of the fish as he manned the grill at our table. One of tastier ones was simply called “the most delicious”. He was right, it was the most delicious, whatever it was.

On our first full day in Sokcho, after enjoying free coffee and cheese toast provided by Afterglow, we headed out with a map to wander the city with no real agenda.  It started out as a cloudy morning and turned into a super windy, rainy day which required a pit stop at 7-11 for a rain poncho.  That didn’t stop us from having a blast exploring, however.  We took the gaetbae boat to Abai Village, a spit of land between the East Sea and a harbor that was supposed to be temporary housing for North Korean refugees during the Korean War, but it turned permanent after the DMZ was established.  It’s now filled with lots of tiny restaurants known for ojingeo sundae (a type of Korean sausage made with squid, rice or glass noodles and vegetables) so we stopped for lunch to try some.

The gaetbae boat.

The gaetbae boat.

The small man powered ferry, or gaetbae boat, taking us to Abai Village.

The small man powered ferry, or gaetbae boat, taking us to Abai Village.

Many older North Korean residents fled to Abai Village during the Korean War, waiting for things to settle before returning to their villages and farms up North. After three years and no sign of settling, the DMZ was established and they were stuck in the South.

Many older North Korean residents fled to Abai Village during the Korean War, waiting for things to settle before returning to their villages and farms up North. After three years and no sign of settling, the DMZ was established and they were stuck in the South.

Abai Village rooftops.

Abai Village rooftops.

We stopped for lumch to try some ojingeo sundae, a type of Korean sausage made from squid, rice and vegetables that is known to be the best in Sokcho.

We stopped for lumch to try some ojingeo sundae, a type of Korean sausage made from squid, rice and vegetables that is known to be the best in Sokcho.

Lunch break in Abai Village.

Lunch break in Abai Village.

After taking in views of the wild, stormy sea and exploring a few lighthouses, we decided to stop for an afternoon green tea latte and a game of cards to catch a break from the wind and rain.  It was then that we noticed how many people were carrying the same box of fried chicken (yes, fried chicken is big in Korea).  David and I decided we should probably figure out where these boxes were coming from because all the Korean tourists seemed to be carrying them.  Thanks to our friend Google and my ability to read Hangul, we were able to locate the famous fried chicken place called Manseok Chicken and decided that’s what we’d have for dinner.  To build up our appetite for this gigantic fried chicken feast, we did some more exploring and walked to the other side of the city and stumbled upon Sokcho Beach.  Unfortunately, the weather was so bad at this point we were told we couldn’t even be on the beach.  We got in a few rainy snapshots beforehand, however, and instead of enjoying a beer on the beach in our rain ponchos like planned, we found a nice park bench surrounded by trees, shielding us from the wind and the rain (there are no open container laws in Korea, by the way).

Lighthouses in Sokcho.

Lighthouses in Sokcho.

Looking down at the Abai Village ferry crossing.

Looking down at the Abai Village ferry crossing.

View of Sokcho from Abai Village.

View of Sokcho from Abai Village.

Not quite beach weather but still beautiful.

Not quite beach weather but still beautiful.

Dried squid is everywhere.

Dried squid is everywhere.

Wild waves on Sokcho Beach.

Wild waves on Sokcho Beach.

We were able to snap a few photos before being kicked off the beach. Apparently no one is allowed on the beach in really stormy weather.

We were able to snap a few photos before being kicked off the beach. I guess they “close” the beaches in really stormy weather.

Nearly all the Korean tourists were carrying these boxes of Manseok Chicken, an apparently famous chicken stand in the Jungang Fish Market. After enjoying a large fish dinner the night before, we decided we had to see what all the chicken fuss was about.

Nearly all the Korean tourists were carrying these boxes of Manseok Chicken, an apparently famous chicken stand in the Jungang Fish Market. After enjoying a large fish dinner the night before, we decided we had to see what all the chicken fuss was about.

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We opened the box to discover a large amount of fried chicken drenched in a spicy, sticky sauce. Is this much chicken necessary for two people? Probably not.

Magically, we woke up the next morning to a beautiful, cloudless day which was perfect for exploring Seoraksan National Park.  Deserving of its own post, I’ll more about that later.  In a nutshell, it was stunning and only a 30 minute bus ride from of Sokcho.  Thankfully, our third and final day in Sokcho was also gorgeous and since our bus heading to our next destination didn’t leave until the afternoon, we had time to check out Sunrise Pavilion which we weren’t able to see before due to the bad weather.  The water was the most amazing shade of aqua and the sunshine created a completely different view of the East Sea.  It was the perfect way to end our stay in the cute port city before moving on to Gangneung.

The brilliantly blue East Sea.

The brilliantly blue East Sea.

Sunrise Pavilion, looking out to the East Sea. Unfortunately, we didn't get our lazy butts out of bed in time to enjoy the sunrise.

Sunrise Pavilion, looking out to the East Sea. Unfortunately, we didn’t get our lazy butts out of bed in time to enjoy the sunrise.

Enjoying a beer in the sunshine near Sunrise Pavilion before heading to Gangneung.

Enjoying a beer in the sunshine near Sunrise Pavilion before heading to Gangneung.

Sokcho on a sunny day.

Sokcho on a sunny day.

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Next stop, Gangneung.

Bibimbap was one of the first traditional dishes I had after arriving in Korea (I even had an airplane version on the way over,  and though it was quite tasty for airplane food, it didn’t compare to the real deal).  It basically translates to mixed rice and traditionally consists of warm rice topped with seasoned vegetables, an egg and a modest amount of thinly sliced beef.  Bibimbap is famous in the city of Jeonju where it was first found in a cookbook—Siuijeonseo from the 19th century—and is believed to have been a royal dish/snack from the Joseon Dynasty.  (I was lucky enough to enjoy a large bowl of traditional Jeonju bibimbap during my EPIK orientation, but unfortunately didn’t get a picture of it.)

Usually, bibimbap is served either cold with a fried egg on top or in a sizzling hot stone pot with a raw egg which cooks when you mix everything together.  The latter, called dolsot bibimbap, is my favorite. The stone pot is lightly coated with sesame oil and because it’s so hot, the bottom layer of rice gets slightly crispy.  Gochujang (spicy red pepper paste) is typically served right on top in the bowl alongside the vegetables and the egg.  Once mixed together thoroughly, you’re in for spoonfuls of deliciousness (yes, Koreans eat bibimbap with a spoon, not chopsticks).

Dolsot bibimbap is served in a sizzling hot stone pot. The raw egg starts to cook when you mix everything together.

Dolsot bibimbap is served in a sizzling hot stone pot. The raw egg starts to cook when you mix everything together.

Before eating bibimbap you must thoroughly mix everything together.

Before eating bibimbap you must thoroughly mix everything together.

David's first time enjoying bibimbap, which was of course accompanied by an array of side dishes (banchan), as well as beer (maekju) and soju.

David’s first time enjoying bibimbap, which was of course accompanied by an array of side dishes (banchan), as well as beer (maekju) and soju.

The air has become hot and heavy, rainstorms are frequent and monster mosquitoes seem to be everywhere I go.  That  means the first semester has ended and two weeks of vacation are just around the corner.  As I look back on the past five months, I can’t decide if my first semester teaching in Korea flew by or dragged on at a snail’s pace.  There are times when it feels like only yesterday I stepped off that incredibly long flight on that bitterly cold day in Incheon, not having any idea what I was getting myself into.  Then there are times when it feels like I’ve been here forever.  Either way, I’ve learned a lot since arriving in February, both about myself and Korea.  Here are a few brief and random thoughts on the experience so far:

Living and working in Korea has been much more challenging than I’d anticipated.  So much so that I’ll admit there have been days I’ve wondered how I’ll make it through a year here.

This whole experience has been nothing like I imagined it would be.  It seems that all EFL teachers’ experiences here greatly differ depending on where they’ve been placed (big city versus rural town) and how they are treated by their school and co–teacher.  I have to remind myself not to compare my situation to those of others.  I’m where I am for a reason, and that reason may not have shown its face yet.

My co–teacher thinks I’m strange for not eating rice at least once per day, every single day.  However, I am suddenly finding that I miss it if I go several days without it.

I will never get used to having cockroaches as roommates.

My students get very excited when they see me outside of school (well, most of them anyway), and that makes me happy.

When I hear a Korean say maybe I now know that means yes.

I still need to work on not being a perfectionist.  I find myself not posting on this blog as often as I’d like because I’m worried about making each post perfect, and sometimes I just don’t have the energy for that after a long day at school.  Clearly, they’re not perfect anyway.  Nothing is so why worry about it?

The homesickness that I thought would go away after a month of arriving is still lingering, heavily.  I feel that has something to do with living in a small town, which can be quite isolating at times.  That being said, I still can’t say I would rather have been placed in a large city.

Learning foreign languages is not my forte. I try to study at least a little Korean everyday, and it’s just not sticking (the speaking part, at least).  It’s amazing how much you can still manage to communicate with someone even if you don’t speak the same language, however.

I really do love kimchi.  I think I need to learn how to make it for when I return to the States.

That’s all for now.  This week and next I am busy teaching summer camp, which tends to be more relaxed than regular classes (more games and less grammar), and then I have a full two weeks off.  I am very excited, as David will be visiting from Denver and we’ll be exploring the eastern coast of South Korea, as well as Jeju Island.

I knew living and working in Korea for one year was not going to be easy, but there are times when I still automatically reach for the easiest, most comfortable route. When I was asked to go on an overnight trip with the staff at my school, I will admit I immediately tried to find a way out of it.  Staff dinners on a school night are one thing, but 2 days and one night with 26 Koreans who don’t speak English sounded a bit uncomfortable. I was wrong though. Despite the awkwardness, I did have fun and am happy I experienced the Korean version of team building.

The trip started off at 1:00 on Friday afternoon.  We boarded a bus at school with our overnight bags, all the Koreans whooping in excitement.  I, on the other hand, was busy looking around and noticing how the bus looked an awful lot like a noraebang.  Turns out that’s exactly what it was–a noraebang on wheels.  As soon as we left the school parking lot, the disco lights came on the serenading began.  Wait, really?!  I though I’d at least be tipsy for this!  Each time the song book and remote was handed to me, I quickly passed it on hoping no one would call me out to sing a song.  Seriously, I needed soju if they were going to make me sing.  No such luck though, they demanded I sing and after taking too long to look at the song book they decided I should sing a Beatles song (among the English songs this generations of Koreans know, I assume).  So, Hey Jude it was.  It was terrible, but I think they were very entertained.  They didn’t ask me to sing again though.

I was given an itinerary for the trip right before we left, however it was all in Korean so I really had no idea what we doing or where we were going (information is rarely passed down to me, I’m really learning to just go with the flow).  I just knew there would be lots of hiking, eating and drinking involved.  After an hour on the noraebang bus, we arrived at Goesan Lake which was absolutely beautiful.  It was a very hot, humid afternoon and after being handed a frozen bottle of water, I followed the group for a “hike” around the lake.  About halfway around the lake we stopped for makgeoli (a slightly carbonated alcoholic drink made from rice and wheat) and pajeon (a savory pancake with vegetables).  Makgeoli and pajeon are typical snacks along hiking trails at any hour of the day, and both are quite tasty.

Goesan Lake

Goesan Lake

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Crossing strange suspension bridges at Goesan Lake.

After downing makgeoli out of traditional style bowls and walking away with a pretty good buzz (apparently makgeoli is gulped, not sipped) we hopped on a boat the took us across the lake and back to where we started.  Then we boarded the mobile noraebang for more singing and arrived at our housing for the night 20 minutes later in Mungyeong.  The bus was unable to make it up the steep hill to the houses, so we walked up to the unique-looking vacation homes–one for all the females, one for all the males–that had a beautiful view of Saejae Valley.

Chestnut trees surrounded the lake making chestnut flavored makgeoli popular in this area.

Chestnut trees surrounded the lake making chestnut flavored makgeoli popular in this area.

The boat that picked us up to take us to the other side of the lake.

The boat that picked us up to take us to the other side of the lake.

View from the boat on Goesan Lake.

View from the boat on Goesan Lake.

We quickly toured the house and chose sleeping spots.  As I admired the view, wondering what was up next on the itinerary, I turned around to see all the women sitting in a circle on the floor doing yoga-like stretches.  They waved me over to join them, which I did, and followed their stretches, continuing to wonder what all their conversations were about (my co-teacher speaks a decent amount of English, but she wasn’t joining us until later).  It was suddenly announced that it was time for dinner, or at least that’s what I assumed, and we once again boarded the bus.  I thought we were going to a restaurant, but instead we pulled up to a spot by a river where BBQing had already been started by a few teachers who drove all the supplies there.  Tons of pork and sausages (aka hotdogs) were passed around along with rice, kimchi, garlic, onions and some sort of salad with zucchini and onions covered in spicy dressing.  This was of course chased down with soju (a distilled, vodka-like rice liquor) and beer.  I was thinking how full I was when suddenly more food appeared on the grill and I was encouraged to keep eating.  Grilled eel and more pork, followed by grilled mussels, clams and corn on the cob.  I was so full, but I pushed through.  It’s very hard to say no to Koreans when they offer you something.

Our interesting looking vacation house.

Our interesting looking vacation house.

View from the house.

View from the house.

Dinner being prepared by the river.

Dinner being prepared by the river.

My co-teacher who goes by Chloe.

My co-teacher who goes by Chloe.

Grilled eel.

Grilled eel.

After the pork, eel, hotdogs, and corn, they threw on a bunch of shell fish.

After the pork, eel, hotdogs, and corn, they threw on a bunch of shell fish. (Notice the grill master holding a bottle of soju…can’t cook empty handed!)

My co-teacher finally showed up, and I was a bit relieved to have someone to communicate with (even though she’s not much of a translator).  After enjoying dinner beneath a nearly full moon by the river, we headed back to the house.  At this point it was close to 9:00 and I wondered what was next.  More drinking, I assumed, as three tables were set up in the middle of the living room.  Soju bottles and beer cans were placed on the tables, followed by plates of watermelon, bowls of chips and nuts, huge plates of cold noodle salad and platters of pork, along with the most disgusting smelling raw fish that is apparently eaten on special occasions.  So I guess this was going to be dinner number 2?  I was already stuffed from dinner number 1, and the pajeon and makgeoli.  They were very insistent that I keep eating, though, and I guess that’s a good thing with the amount of alcohol being consumed.  The next 3 hours consisted of chit chat around the table, endless speeches, soju shots and cheers…all in Korean.  Suddenly I heard my name and everyone was looking at me.  I guess it was time for me to give a speech.  At least I had soju in me now.  I stood up and babbled on about how appreciative I was for the experience, and thanked them for welcoming me…something along those lines.  They had no idea what I was saying so I suppose it didn’t really matter what I said.  I raised my glass and said cheers, expecting my speech to be over, but they all just kept staring at me.  I looked back at them, giggly and confused, wondering what they wanted me to do.  I looked at my co-teacher, searching for an answer so I could sit down, and she finally said they wanted me to cheers to something, I think…so I yelled “Champions!” and everyone cheered and clinked glasses.  No idea why I said champions or why that made them cheer, especially when I’m not sure they even knew what that word meant, but it worked.

Dinner, round 2, accompanied by many shots of soju and speeches that I didn't understand a word of.

Dinner, round 2, accompanied by many shots of soju and speeches that I didn’t understand a word of.

The drinking and eating finally wound down around 1 am and I was happy to escape to my blanket and pillow on the floor to get some sleep (most Koreans sleep on the floor, not on comfy Western style beds), as I was told we’d be climbing a mountain at 7 am the next morning.  I woke up with a slight headache and a stiff body from an unrestful night of sleep and was immediately offered breakfast, which consisted of ramen (ramyeon), kimchi, corn on the cob and watermelon.  I took a piece of watermelon and a bottle of water and called it good.  I do like kimchi, but still can’t bring myself to eat it for breakfast, especially that particular morning.  As I sat sipping on terrible instant coffee that is so popular in Korea, I wondered if I’d misunderstood the part about climbing a mountain.  All the women around me were diligently doing their hair and makeup while wearing quite fashionable outfits.  I came prepared for hiking and was not looking my best.  My c0-teacher even asked me where my earrings were.  I told her I didn’t wear any because I thought we were going hiking.  She then confirmed that we were.  Hmm, I guess I am just not a fashionable hiker.

After cleaning up the rest of last night’s mess, we finally headed out for the mountain I thought we were about to climb.  Turns out it was more like a long walk in Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park.  It was really beautiful and I was slightly relieved to not be climbing a mountain at that moment in time.  All signs were in Korean so I’m not sure about the history of the park, but it was a lovely walk.  We stopped for a break after a few hours and enjoyed some more makgeoli and pajeon (yes, more alcohol at 10 am).  Then we headed back to the entrance to get on another bus which would take us to have lunch (thankfully it wasn’t a noraebang bus this time).  We drank more beer and enjoyed grilled yakdol pork for lunch (Mungyeong specializes in this brand of pork, which comes from pigs that are fed germanium and selenium, supposedly making it healthier and tastier) and then went a ceramic museum that happened to be next door to the restaurant.  To wrap up the afternoon, we toured an omija berry farm that is famous for it’s omija sparkling wine.  The omija berry (red in color and translates to five tastes) apparently has many great health benefits including boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure.

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

My co-teacher drinking omija flavored makgeoli.

My co-teacher drinking omija flavored makgeoli.

Pajeon and omija flavored makgeoli (regular makgeoli is milky white in color).

Pajeon and omija flavored makgeoli (regular makgeoli is milky white in color).

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park

We ate yakdol pork for lunch.

We ate yakdol pork for lunch which was grilled at our table.

Omija berries, which turn red when they're ripe.

Omija berries, which turn red when they’re ripe.

The bus ride back to our school was pretty quiet.  I think everyone was exhausted from all the eating a drinking.  I certainly was, but not just from that.  Trying to communicate with a huge language barrier can be very tiresome.  Walking into my quiet apartment, I felt a wave of relief for having survived my first overnight trip with the staff at my school.  I was hesitant to go mainly because I had no idea what to expect and it meant feeling quite awkward at times, but I am very happy I went and am grateful for the experience.  Champion!

I stumbled upon this amazing gallery made out of shipping containers in Seoul. On display was an artist named Lee Gil Rae who makes tree-like sculptures out of metal.

I stumbled upon this amazing gallery made out of shipping containers in Seoul. On display was an artist named Lee Gil Rae who makes tree-like sculptures out of metal.

View of Seoul from N Seoul Tower.

View of Seoul from N Seoul Tower.

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Sunset in Seoul.

My small school plants its own vegetables. We will soon be eating a lot of squash.

My small school grows its own vegetables. We will soon be eating a lot of squash.

Yesterday's school lunch consisted of spicy kimchi soup with pork, rice, green beans with dried shrimp, kimchi, tofu dressed in a vegetable tomato sauce and a slice of a Korean melon.

Yesterday’s school lunch consisted of spicy kimchi soup with pork, rice, green beans with dried shrimp, kimchi, tofu dressed in a vegetable tomato sauce and a slice of a Korean melon.

Rice fields in Eumseong.

Rice fields in Eumseong.

Hanok village rooftops in Jeonju.

Hanok village rooftops in Jeonju.

Hanok, a traditional Korean style house in Jeonju.

Hanok, a traditional Korean style house in Jeonju.

You see a lot of t-shirts and hats with English writing in Korea. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes the words are spelled correctly, other times not so much. I found this one in my local grocery store.

You see a lot of t-shirts and hats with English writing in Korea. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes the words are spelled correctly, other times not so much. I found this one in my local grocery store.

Poppies are everywhere in Eumseong!

Poppies are everywhere in Eumseong!

The trail that runs through Eumseong.

The trail that runs through Eumseong.

A beautiful wall at a restaurant in Jeonju, a city known for bibimbap and paper crafts.

A beautiful wall at a restaurant in Jeonju, a city known for bibimbap and paper crafts.

Making paper in Jeonju.

Making paper in Jeonju.

Sungnyemun Gate in Seoul

Sungnyemun Gate in Seoul

View of Gyeongbok Palace from a coffee shop in Bukchon Hanok Village which is located in Seoul.

View of Gyeongbok Palace from a coffee shop in Bukchon Hanok Village which is located in Seoul.

Ceiling at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul.

Ceiling at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul.

View from Munjangdae in Songnisan National Park.

View from Munjangdae in Songnisan National Park in April.

Lanterns at Beopjusa, a temple in Songnisan National Park.

Lanterns at Beopjusa, a temple in Songnisan National Park.

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

Chungju Lake

This giant Buddha is in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from where I live.

This giant Buddha is in the middle of nowhere about 15 minutes from where I live.

View from my apartment in Eumseong.

View from my apartment in Eumseong.

Cherry blossoms in Eumseong.

April Cherry blossoms in Eumseong.