Edit: So, I wrote most of this a week ago. And then I procrastinated. And procrastinated. And procrastinated. So, this is a week old but most of it still applies. Well, the majority of it still applies, except perhaps the weather. It’s gotten a little cooler; the temperature is now sitting at 30 degrees.
It’s a Monday night. Monday nights are probably the second most depressing time of the week, barring Sunday nights. Monday nights, you’ve already had to deal with Monday work, and you’re looking at the rest of the week like, “Man, this week is going to be another long one, isn’t it?”
Thankfully, today seemed to go by faster than I thought it would. After having a weeklong vacation, I was dreading returning to work this morning. “Is it over already?” I asked myself on the subway this morning, squashed between two sweaty businessmen. But then walking into the school, and seeing the kids, brightened my mood instantly. “Teacher was where?” they asked, running over and hugging my legs. I really wanted to hate today, but it’s pretty damn hard when you work with kids. Well, when they’re sweet, anyways. They made the transition back to work easy.
It’s currently 35 degrees here in Seoul. No, I’m not making that number up. I wish I was. This entire week has been anywhere between 30 and 40 degrees. 40. Degrees. That is pretty much enough to melt your face off. Think of walking into an oven, and that’s what it’s like all the time. Everyone hides in cafes, restaurants, malls, or underground. If you don’t have AC, you may as well not go home at night; it would be smarter to sleep in a Love Motel or jimjabang. You walk outside, and sweat through your t-shirt and shorts in a matter of minutes. We’re a city of sweaty, annoyed people who cling desperately to our iced coffees and move from café to café. Ice cream has become a little reprieve from the heat, but if you don’t devour it instantly, it melts down your hands in a sticky mess. Even the Koreans complain that this is abnormal for their country. The food prices on vegetables have gone up here quickly as crops die out. Korea is supposed to have rainy summers and other than a few thunderstorms, this summer has been very, very dry. Global warming at its finest, I suppose. It really makes me feel like as humans, we’re literally cooking ourselves to death in a huge fucking microwave. There’s nothing like 40 degree weather to get my head out of the sand, and finally realize, “Holy fuck. This world may not exist in 100 years.” Depressing, but once you’re living in this kind of heat for days on end, it’s hard to keep pretending that something isn’t terribly wrong with our Earth.
Anyways, depressing portion of the post over.
I had an amazing vacation, and saw some lovely places. As I said in my last post, Em and I put off going to Jeju Island, and instead headed to the beach town of Sokcho and the mountains of Seoraksan on the East. Both of us were feeling like we needed to get the hell out of the city, and I’m really happy we finally did. In my opinion, nothing is more refreshing than hiking in the mountains. In fact, the more hiking I do, the more I’ve started to love it. And even just being able to escape the stress of city life was something I desperately feel I needed to keep from going insane. I like the city – love it, sometimes. But without being able to escape the people…it slowly drains you. I swear that once I’m back in Canada, I will never complain about anything being busy, EVER. Live in a city with over 11 million people in it, (5x the population of Toronto), and it really changes your perspective on what constitutes “crowded.” Honestly.
So, we ran away from Seoul. Well, bused away from Seoul. Both of us carrying two huge bags, we stole away on what I’ve decided to call a “VIP bus.” It was basically like riding first-class on an airline (well, what I assume that would be like, anyways…). We paid about $17 to catch a ride to the coast, and it had leather seats, a television playing the Olympics, and tons of leg room. Emily and I lucked out and ended up being at the back of the bus, and our seats were above all the other seats so we could look out the windows much easier.
The landscape outside of Seoul is surrounded by farms, and then also lush green mountains speckled with Pine trees. Korea is a very mountainous country, and even the city of Seoul has many hills popping up in the middle of it. Because of this, most of the trip to Sokcho was spent going through long tunnels. Admittedly, I fell asleep on the way there, and woke up just as we got into the city of Sokcho. As soon as we got into the city, there were noticeable differences. Everything was smaller (not surprising, really), the streets were quiet, and there was just a laid-back feel in the air.
When we got off, we went and decided to walk to the other side of the city – in the direction of the beach, and the bus stop taking us to our hotel. Our hotel wasn’t in Sokcho, but instead it was up in the mountains in a little cluster of hotels near Seoraksan. We walked along the ocean, the water quiet and looking like a glass plate. The sun was hot on our backs, but we persevered with our backpacks and bags. We crossed a bridge, and had a beautiful look at Seoraksan mountains and the entire town. We walked until we got to the beach.
It was busier than we had expected, but amazing nonetheless. Street vendors selling all types of ridiculous deep-fried foods lined the main entrance to the beach, and coloured umbrellas spotted the beach itself. The water was a nice blue, and the sand a straw-yellow. We walked into the water, and the water was surprisingly warm. I’m so used to the blistering cold of the ocean in Victoria and Vancovuer, that it caught me off guard just how warm the ocean really could be. We relaxed there for a little while, and then left to E-mart to pick up sunscreen and wine.
One thing that was definitely different about Sokcho was the staring. Emily and I both noticed that we got a lot more stares from the locals – along with many more “Hello’s!” from young Korean teens. When I first got to Korea, I felt the staring everywhere I went. It threw me off guard. Now that I’ve lived here 6 months (6 MONTHS), I often forget that people are staring. Sometimes I’ll look up and someone is staring at me and I’m like, “Oh yeah, I look different.” Despite the staring, many more people were willing to talk to us and help us out. We had a nice guy help us catch our bus, a few more adjossi’s up on Seoraksan mountains talked to us for a good 15 minutes about where we were from, etc, etc. One woman asked me if I liked K-pop, and when I said “Yeah! I like Big Bang!” she asked me who my favourite singer was. I replied “Top!” (because that’s the only one I know, and I only know him because he has blue hair), and she gave a hearty laugh. Things like that would never happen in Seoul. People also wore normal clothes. Women weren’t made up in high-heeled stilettos, with 10 pounds of make-up caked on, and wearing the latest designer shit. They wore t-shirts, sneakers, and shorts. Easy. There were also far more ‘normal weight’ people in Sokcho – not obese or even fat, but not ridiculously pin thin girls like in Seoul.
Going to Sokcho made me realize just how out of touch I’ve been with Korea…and all because I live in Seoul. It’s like if I went to New York, and judged the rest of America on it. Seoul is a metropolis. It is cosmopolitan. That’s why I often feel trapped in such a vapid society – like any massive city, the rich and the fake rich flourish here. This is not an indication of the entire country, and I’m thankful I traveled outside of Seoul so that I could finally see a different perspective. It was really refreshing.
So, anyways, after the beach and E-mart, we finally found our bus up to our hotel. We got off the bus, and headed in the direction of our hotel. We walked for about two minutes, and then before us stood our “Youth Hostel.” Now, don’t get me wrong – we had rented a cheap room and we weren’t expecting much. But, our hotel looked legitimately like a haunted house or insane asylum. The windows were all closed, the grey exterior was dirty, there was a creepy maroon coloured roof. The inside was dark, and it looked like no one was there. To the left of our hostel was another hostel that had shut down, and had vines climbing up the sides and broken windows.
It was scary.
But, just like every victim in every horror movie ever, we thought it would be a good idea to investigate. And instead of meeting a serial killer wearing someone else’s face, what greeted us was a nice lounge with nice leather couches, and the hotel owner….who looked like a Buddhist monk, and who spoke English well. After paying, we went up to our room and found it to be small, but clean and nice. Nothing special, but nothing terrible. It was kind of cool, actually. Our Haunted House Hostel. Looks can be deceiving.
We went out for dinner, and devoured a traditional Korean pizza and Bimbibap. Traditional Korean pizzas are made of egg, flour, chives, octopus or squid tentacles and pieces of seafood, and tons of other vegetables. They’re cooked with oil on a skillet (at least, I think so), and they pretty much just taste amazing. They sound gross, but they’re pretty damn delicious. So we ate that, and then went and cracked open our bottle of wine and sat outside and chatted. Some Korean family had opened the back door of the hostel on the fourth floor and was BBQing in the back of the hotel until late that night, so we went back there also and enjoyed the warm summer night and the almost full moon.
The next day, I woke up early (as per always), and went to use the bathroom.
I walked in, half-asleep, and looked at the sink. Probably the biggest spider I have EVER seen up close, stood there in our sink. A MINI FUCKING TARANTULA. He was just standing there like, “Whatcha gunna do now? Huh, huh, huh?” I gave a little scream, and jumped back, and ran into the other room and was like, “Emily, Emily, OMG OMG EMILY OMG THERES A SPIDER! OMG I DON’T EVEN EMILY OMG WHAT DO WE DO?!” And Emily mumbled something, and then turned over and went back to sleep.
I didn’t know what to do about the situation, so I did as I always do when there’s a problem… I ran away. I put on my shoes, and in the early morning hours, I went and explored our little cluster of hotels. It wasn’t too hot (still like 27 degrees, but bearable) , and I made my way quite far down the street. I ended up finding a creek, and so I sat down with a few other early-rising Koreans, and soaked my feet in the clean water. As I sat there, I pondered life and death and God and love and hate and why wars and child slavery exists but mostly…I just thought about how I would kill that fucking spider when I returned home.
When I got back, I crossed my fingers that he would be gone. Well, kind of. The thing about spiders is that they’re more terrifying if you can’t see them. It’s almost better if they’re visible. At least then you know they’re not on you…
When I flicked on the lights, he was still there. He hadn’t moved. My weapon of choice was water (because he was in the sink), and so after mustering all of my courage, I flicked on the tap and tried to drown him. He spun around and around, and I left him in the water there for…a long time. When I was finally satisfied he was dead, I turned off the tap and all the water drained. His body was too fat (!) to go down the drain, and I was too afraid to touch him, so like a good friend, I left his carcass in the sink for Emily to deal with.
Emily finally woke up, and decided to go for a shower before we went to the beach. Like a –truly- good friend, she decided to dispose of the body. Suddenly from the other room, I heard “Cass! Cass! Cass!” and I thought, “This is it. He has a spider family. They’re everywhere. In the walls. In the floor. HE HAS A NEST AND THEY WANT REVENGE. THEY ARE COMING.” And so I ran over, and the goddamn spider was SWIMMING IN THE TOILET. Seriously, swimming. He had been pretending to be dead, and was actually an aquatic spider. Just paddling around like it was his backyard pool. Em had picked him up with a piece of tissue, and dropped him in there, and he was still alive.
We flushed him, but sitting on that toilet for the rest of our vacation was all kinds of terrifying.
We decided to have a day to just relax at the beach before our hiking adventures. We took the bus back down to the beach early, and claimed our little spot on the beach. We spent the rest of the day roasting ourselves. Every few hours we would re-apply sunscreen, but the weather was something like 35 degrees, and it ended up being useless. We both ended up looking like lobsters, and my back and shoulders are still peeling today. Pretty sure that I can blame my future skin cancer on that beach trip. We spent a lot of time in the water, just swimming around. We ended up meeting some other foreign guys, and so we spent a few hours talking to them about Korea. One of them had been here for 5 years, and he shared some of his experiences. Every so often, a motorboat playing loud 80’s music would zoom by dragging a water-skiier behind it.
For lunch, we splurged on some fried foods from vendors. Emily had wanted to try the deep-fried shrimp, and we’d also learned there were (get this!) deep-fried-french-fry-corn-dogs that we could buy. Also, deep-fried sweet potato.
The corndog was amazing, and the potatoes were predictably OK. The shrimp was basically just a complete shrimp…with eyes, shells, and…uteruses. I took one bite of mine, and orange eggs gushed out. I put it down and said, “I think my shrimp is pregnant.” Emily, in the middle of biting hers said, “Yeah, mine too.” Needless to say, we didn’t eat the rest of them. For supper we had Squid Sundae. Squid Sundae (pronounced soon-day) is the cut up body of squid packed full of noodles, vegetables, and rice (I think?), wrapped in egg and deep-fried. It’s delicious, but I felt kind of guilty about eating them because the chefs literally go outside to the tank full of squid and pick one, and kill it right before you eat it. It doesn’t sound horrible, but squid are actually really cute and I kind of love to watch them swim around. They have human eyes…
After boiling ourselves, we went to the bus stop to get back up to our hotel. We saw a guy we had seen in the lobby of our hotel, and he looked lost. We went over, introduced ourselves, and asked him if he wanted to join us for wine and cheese at the hotel. He told us he was trying to go to a huge Waterpark, but if it didn’t work out he would come and find us. We parted ways, and jumped on the next bus.
Emily had said she missed live music, and wanted to listen to more of it here in Korea. Clearly The Secret works, because when we got off the bus, there was a concert being set up in our parking lot. We went and grabbed some beers and watched some traditional Korean drummers, a traditional singer, a random Korean band, and then finally…a Mexican Korean band. The guy from the bus stop came and joined us, and we danced and had a great time. The Mexican Korean band was by far the most fun and impressive, and they played loads of different instruments.
After it was all over, we went and sat on the steps in the front of the hotel and talked. The guy (N, from here on out), was from New Zealand and he was teaching in Japan. He taught us a lot about how the JET program works in Japan, and the differences between Japan and Korea. We were also joined by some girls we’d talked to in the lobby, and they were from Slovenia and were here on a college exchange. They had just finished their studying, and were now free to travel the rest of the country before heading home. To say I was jealous was a bit of an understatement. So we all stayed up late, drinking and eating bread and chips and sharing stories, before finally going back up to bed. N would be leaving to Seoul the next day, so we said our goodbyes.
We woke up the next day later than we’d intended for our hike. The weather was cloudy (thank God!), because we were both varying shades of red and probably wouldn’t have survived if it’d been sunny and hot. We packed our things up, and headed out. We took a bus for about 15 minutes, but it was so busy that we ended up getting off early and walking the rest of the way.
Seoraksan is a HUGE National Park. I’m not exaggerating when I say it is mindblowingly huge. There are tons of different trails – anything from easy to expert. You can hike throughout the mountains (there’s more than one), and sleep overnight if you want. Or you can just hang out around the massive Buddha, eat at the restaurants all day, and generally just meander around. Emily and I are both…pretty decent hikers. We’re not experts, but we’re also both in pretty good shape. We decided to start with the hike to one of a million waterfalls. It was considered ‘easy’ and it was about a 2 hour round trip. We set off, and made a note to try to stay as far away from the swarms of Koreans. Even on the mountain, there was a crowd.
The course was surprisingly hard, and most of it was made of uphill bridges and stairs that crossed over a beautiful small river. The water up there was crystal, crystal clear; blues and greens around the edge, and so clean you could see the rocks at the bottom of the pools. It was unlike any water I’ve ever seen. More than once I wanted to just jump into the big pools. Though it was cloudy, it was still around 28 degrees, and I ended up sweating through all of my clothes. The water was almost taunting; it just wasn’t fair that we couldn’t swim in it.
After we got to the top, we decided to go back and grab some food. There were restaurants on the course that had offered us samples (of Grape Juice mixed with Soju …’Korean style’), and we went back and got some expensive Bimbibamp. It was weird to see cabins of restaurants in the middle of nowhere, and we both wondered how they managed to get the food and supplies up the mountain every day. And where did the employees live? Did they hike up the mountain every shift or did they live in the restaurants? We never did find out.
So, we maoed down our food as fast as humanely possible, and then headed out to see the huge Buddha before going on our second course. The Buddhist temple in Seoraksan Park is incredible, with old wooden buildings with flaking paint, beautiful and creepy statues depicting scary ‘Gods’, and stone carvings of flowers and dragons. It also has a really legitimate feel to it, as Buddhist monks walk around on the property with their grey robes and bald heads. The main attraction is the huge Buddha, and just like the temple across from Coex, there are slabs of marble at his feet where you can pray and burn incense. To get to the Buddha, you have to cross over a river on a stone bridge. It was really beautiful, and something I’m happy I’ve experienced. It was really quite amazing.
After hanging out at the temple (where some random Korean lady asked us to take a photo with her son, because we were ‘foreigners’), we trekked out. We didn’t know how far we wanted to go on the second course, but we planned to get to another huge waterfall. We hiked and hiked, stopping only to have a snack beside another crystal pool and feed a few chipmunks some peanuts. The course was even steeper than before, and it crossed high above the river many times. Yet again we wondered how they had made the bridges that hung precariously over the deep ravine. How many people had died creating this crazy trail? I guess we’ll never know.
We hiked for about 3 hours, and the further we hiked, the fewer people we met until it seemed to only be us on the trail. We hiked over trees, up large boulders, and across long bridges. After climbing a huge set of stairs, we found a map. To get to the waterfall, we still had another 1.5 hours to go. We looked at our watches, and decided that it would be dark before we got back and we would have had another 3 hours in front of us. We contemplated going because we had made it ¾ of the way there, but in the end, practicality stopped us. If it was dangerous in the daylight, hiking on the trail at night would be really stupid. We didn’t really feel like dying on some mountain because of our own stupidity.
It took us a lot less time to hike back, simply because it was downhill. Even so, after getting to the bottom, our feet ached. All in all, I estimate we hiked about 9 miles, give or take. Not too bad. We went and sat down and put our tired feet in the river under the stone bridge and relaxed after our long hike, before heading home.
When we got back, we showered, slapped on some aloe vera, and went out to eat. We were boycotting one of the restaurants that was abusing two of their dogs, so we headed over to the other one. I don’t remember what we ate (I was really tired!), but afterwards we went and watched another concert. One of the old ladies in a seat in front of us won a dried squid, and turned around and gave it to Emily. It was really sweet and nice, and kind of hilarious. Afterwards, we met up with the Slovenian girls, grabbed some wine, and ate and drank in the lounge. One of the maids offered to cook the squid, and she brought us grapes and yellow melon to eat with it. Honestly, that kind of stuff never would have happened in Canada. I mean, you can’t even drink wine in the lobby in Canada – never mind have the staff bring you free food for you to eat with your wine! Amazing! Sometimes Korea is really just amazing.
Needless to say, we went to bed early.
The next morning we left early for home. We jumped on a bus and said goodbye to the little town of Sokcho and hello to Seoul, where it was a balmy 40 degrees. I walked off the bus and pretty much just died right there. Heat unlike anything I have ever experienced. We basically scrambled for the subway, headed underground to live like rats. Thank God they decided to pump the subway full of air conditioning, otherwise I honestly wouldn’t have left my house for the next week. Unbearable heat that was so hot there were health warnings, and warnings of power outages.
The rest of the weekend was pretty much the usual kinds of things. Em and I went and watched Batman, which I enjoyed, and then went out clubbing at Papa Gorillas. Sunday night, I went and hung out with Jess…and we went and grabbed supper and got our nails done. I’m not a huge nailpolish fan, but it was fun and easy and relaxing before school started on Monday. We watched a Korean drama in the nail place, and the other Korean women explained the plotline to me.
Anyways, below are some photographs of the hike, the beach, and the trip. I also threw in some pictures of the amusement park, Lotte World…where I went with some friends of mine. Lotte World is the amusement park in that huge mall (Jamsil), and it was just an awesome, awesome day. The lines were terrible and it was like 32 degrees with 60% humidity, but the rides were really fun. One of the rides, a mountain-like ride, was probably one of the best rides I’ve ever been on. I had a blast, ate some great food, and enjoyed the day. So, there you go.
OH, my facts!
1. At some Daiso’s (Dollar stores), there are signs saying they won’t sell make-up to elementary school students. When I asked why, my friend couldn’t explain it other than to say that make-up is banned in most schools.
2. Korean dramas are really popular in Japan, and this is apparently because Japanese women want to live vicariously through the ‘outspoken’ Korean women in the dramas. Japanese woman are generally quite meek, whereas many Korean women will rip you a new one if you piss them off.
3. In the E-mart in Sokcho, there were lockers where you could put your small dogs when you went shopping.
4. On the beach in Sokcho, the life guards would get so bored that they would take turns pretending to drown so the other lifeguards could go and ‘save’ them.
5. Yogurt Soju cocktails exist. I don’t dare try them because I think that’s probably the easiest way to get me to vomit, but they’re supposed to be pretty good for you.
6. Eminem is playing in Seoul this weekend.
7. Korea came in 5th place for number of medals in the Olympics, outranking countries such as Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, and Spain. North Korea won 4 gold medals. Korea will be getting the 2018 Winter Olympics, and it will take place in Pyeongchang.
8. It was really, really hard to watch any of the Olympic events because of the time difference. Em and I only managed to catch one men’s soccer game at a bar, one soccer game on the bus, and I kind of half watched one at 4:30am when out at the bar (and by half watched, I mean I didn’t watch it at all, just kind of noted that it was playing in the back of mind. Hey, stop looking at me with your judgey eyes!
) South Korea beat Japan in men’s soccer for a third place medal, and Koreans were damn happy because they hate pretty much everything about Japan. (Generalization, but just barely).
9. Many of my students are right-handed. In fact, out of all the students I teach, only one student has been left-handed. I asked my Korean friend why there weren’t any left-handed students, and apparently they still try to switch them over to right handed. Go figure.
10. There is a new popular song here in Korea, called “Gangnam Style.” All my kids have started singing it in class, and when out at the clubs in Hongdae, they’ve switched it to say “Hongdae Style.” Apparently it’s getting popular in America? It’s pretty damn catchy. Check out the crazy music video by clicking the link below…
Alright, friends and family. I should update this more. I know I should. I’m going to desperately try to keep this thing up-to-date. I’m starting a writing contest over Labor Day Long weekend, where I’ll be writing a novel in 3 days…so, forgive me if I’m a little tired of writing after that. Hopefully I’ll get up to something before that so that I can post beforehand. The pictures are mostly off of my phone, and also Emily was nice enough to take a ton of photos. I –still- need to fix my camera.
I love you all, I miss you all, and I hope you’re all having the time’s of your lives. Take care, all you crazy people, and I’ll try to do the same!