Friday, 31 August 2012

Goodbye, Camera

My camera has been through a lot. It's been knocked, bashed, rained on, snowed on, dented, dropped, used and abused for almost three years. It's been all over the world with me, from Korea to China to Japan to Italy to England, and it's taken thousands upon thousands of photographs.

But now it seems my trusty old camera has finally bitten the dust. It's been knocked one too many times, and has decided to give up the ghost. Time to say an emotional farewell to all our happy snappy memories together. Goodbye, clunky old camera! (I'll be trading you in for a newer, smarter, model!)

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Something Fun

This is something cool I bought in Daiso in Korea. It's a kind of play clay for kids:

Fruits 'n' veg set (과일과 채소) only 3000원 (£1.60)!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

둘래길 Pictures

Most mountains in Korea have signposted trails called '둘레길' (dule-gil). Rather than leading you up the mountain to the summit, 둘레길 paths circle the mountain's base.  This generally means that 둘레길 hikes are less physically demanding, but it also means you get to see the rich and varied sights of life around the perimeters of the mountain.


The most popular place to hike near Seoul is Bukhansan National Park (북한산국립공원), a massive area to the north of the city that encompasses Bukhansan and Dobongsan. I usually go there to follow trails up to the peaks, but when I decided to take the 둘레길 route for a change, I found some really interesting scenery. I got off the subway at Dobongsan station (도봉산역), walked through the market stalls and crowds of weekend hikers, and then just followed the 'Dulegil signs' ...

Monday, 27 August 2012

Know Your Onni from Your Oppa

Korea has a complex system of rules for addressing other people. Unlike in most English-speaking countries, friends and colleagues don't usually call each other simply by their names.

As a foreigner in Korea, people don't expect you to know all these rules, but it helps to try! How you address someone depends on their age, social position, relationship to you, whether they are male or female, and sometimes whether you are male or female, too. In particular, the importance of the 'respect your elders' rule in Korean culture means that you need to be careful about how you address older people.

I've put together a guide to as many of the various ways of addressing other people in Korean that I can think of ... Although, even after two years in Korea I still get totally confused by it and make mistakes! I usually call my friends by their first names or English nicknames, but try to use Korean forms of address for anyone else.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

막걸리나


My favourite Korean drink is a traditional rice brew called makgeolli (막걸리). It looks kind of like milk with a sediment at the bottom, tastes thick and tangy, comes in dodgy-looking plastic bottles and is often drunk by old men, but I love it.

Seoul Style


In Seoul, everyone dresses well. It's important. Even on the subway, you won't see ripped jeans or unwashed jumpers. Guys have super-styled hair, clean crisp shirts and man-bags, while girls have high heels, short skirts and fresh salon manicures. You can see them checking themselves, even posing to take sel-ca (photos of themselves) with their expensive smart phones. Having the latest smart phone in hand is an accessory must, and a trendy-coloured bridge camera or compact DSLR hanging from the neck always gets bonus style points.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

있다 or 이다?

Korean confusion warning: 있다 and 이다. These are two of the most important bits of language in Korean, yet they are easy to get muddled up when you first start learning.

있다 and 이다 correspond roughly to the English verbs 'to have', and 'to be'. However, the way we use the verbs 'to have' and 'to be' in English is quite different to the way we use 있다 and 이다 in Korean.  Don't panic, though - you'll hear both of these all the time, so it's easy to pick up when and how to use them.

Here are a few usage points to consider:

1. 이다 plus adjectives? X
In English we use the structure 'subject + be + adjective', eg. 'I am pretty' (yeah, very useful example).
In Korean, instead of using 'adjectives', we use 'descriptive verbs'. So the structure is:
subject + subject marker particle + descriptive verb
 eg. '예뻐'  ( + 는 + 예쁘다)

There is no '이다' in this sentence, as '예쁘다' already means 'to be pretty'.
So it's important to remember that '이다' cannot 'describe' a characteristic. You can't 'be' an adjective in Korean. When it comes to 이다, you can only 'be' a noun.

2. Location plus 있다
When you want to say 'Where is something?' or 'It's there,' in Korean, you usually need to use the verb 있다. For example, '학교어디에 있어요?' (Where is the school?). In this case, 있다 can be translated not as 'to have', but rather as 'to exist (somewhere)', so the sentence literally means something like 'Where does the school exist?' Here are some more examples:

'책상 위에  가 있어요? -- 이 있어요.'
'What's on the desk? -- There's a book.'
(Could be translated as 'The desk has what on top? -- It has a book.', or 'What exists on the desk's top? -- a book exists')

'친구들한강에 있어'
'My friends are at the Han river.'

Of course, it's not as simple as just always using '있다', because there are some cases when '이다' (예요/이에요) is used to talk about location (you'll hear '어디예요?' a lot). This can get a little complicated, but generally it's best to use 있다 to describe the location of an object or person, meaning of course that the object or person 'exists' in that location.


In order to understand the reason for all of this, you need to know that 있다 is a verb, but 이다 is not actually a verb, it's something else and has a specific function:

You can think of 이다 as meaning 'to be equal to', which may make it easier to distinguish when you can and can't use it. I think that the main difference between this and the English verb 'to be' is that in English you can say '(noun) is (adjective)' or '(noun) is (somewhere)', but in Korean when using 이다 you can only say '(noun) is (noun)' or '(somewhere) is (somewhere)', otherwise you'll have to use a structure without 이다. I'm still trying to get my head around this myself!

있다 on the other hand is not too difficult to understand really, but it has a few different functions - as I said before, it usually means either 'to have' or 'to exist (somewhere)', or something to that effect, and it's a regular verb. Makes sense after a while!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Korean Menus #4 - 포장마차

Today's Korean menu translation: 포장마차 (street food) !

Here's a look at some of the tasty fare on offer at a regular food stand in a regular Korean street.
Most of the items on this menu are quite common.

Useful vocab:

  It sounds more like 'hat', but this is actually the Korean way to write the English word 'hot'.
  Another English word. It means 'ham' but sounds more like 'hem' in Korean!
ddeok, or tteok. This is very common in Korea. The word means any kind of Korean rice cake, which come in many different shapes, sizes and textures. (In the menu below, however, the word 떡 is used as part of another food name, which is not made of rice but is kind of shaped like a rice cake).
맛살 If you search for this word in Naver's dictionary, it comes up as 'razor-clam meat', while '게맛살' comes up as 'crab-sticks'. Actually, both '게맛살' and '맛살' usually just mean 'crab-sticks', i.e. those processed pink fishy strips. Like ... the Spam of seafood. Very popular in kimbap!
 

All the items this vendor is selling are listed on the outside of her stand in big bold writing (read top-to-bottom). I like this stand for learning food names, because each item is written in a different colour so you can read and memorise it more easily!

오뎅 odeng (skewered fish cake strips)
핫도그  hot dog (not really a hot dog, but a vile kind of battered sausage on a stick)
햄소세지  ham sausage (I think this one is just a plain sausage on a stick)
핫바  hot bar (a kind of um, hot sausage-shaped something on a stick)
맛살 말이 crab-stick roll (crab-sticks rolled up in omelette!)
계란 egg (although I've no idea how the egg would come if you ordered just 'egg' ...)
떡갈비 ddeok galbi (Korean meatballs or meat patties)
아이스크림 ice cream (does she really have ice cream hidden back there somewhere??)
고구마스틱 sweet potato sticks (the yellow things in plastic cups you can see on the right)
솜사탕 cotton candy (솜 = cotton, 사탕 = candy)

I feel a bit sick just looking at all of these! Most of them I've never tried before, but I love odeng. One thing's for sure, Korean street snacks were not designed to be healthy!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Korean Menus #3 - 산에서

Today's menu sign: 북한산 만석장 - A restaurant at Bukhansan mountain park.

There are always lots of places to get food around the mountain trails in Korea. After a long and tiring hike, a good hot meal at a tent restaurant is the best feeling ever!

The items in black on this sign read from top to bottom, not left to right.



Sunday, 29 July 2012

Lotus

Lotus plants are spectacular. Their huge leaves, bigger than dinner plates, proliferate over massive areas of shallow water, and their fantastic bright pink blooms burst open in summer and then later leave behind those very distinctive seed pods. Although slightly resembling oversized water lillies, they look quite alien to European eyes, almost as if they're not real.

These plants are common throughout East Asia. In China, I was particularly struck by the plants at the Old Summer Palace (圆明园), Beijing, where they have been allowed to take over vast lakes. Japan, too, has some lovely places to see lotus plants, including Ueno park (上野公園)in Tokyo. In Korea, the small but beautiful Anapji pond (안압지) in Gyeongju is a scenic spot to wander through the pink and white blooms in summer, and elsewhere you can find them providing serene backdrops to palaces and temples.

While I've only seen lotus plants in the places I've travelled to in East Asia, there are no doubt even more beautiful locations to see them throughout the rest of Asia, and even further afield too.

Masses and masses of lotus stretching into the distance at the Old Summer Palace, Beijing, China

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Korea in London

There's actually quite a lot going on in London to do with Korea. Well, of course there is, it's LONDON! London has everything, because London is magical and amazing. If you think there's something you can't find in London, it's just because you haven't found it YET. But I guarantee it exists, whatever it is.

The place to go if you're in London and interested in Korean culture is the Korean Cultural Centre (KCCUK, 한국문화원), on Northumberland Avenue just by Trafalgar Square. They have a library and an art gallery, and also organise a number of cultural events on and off site, which you can find out about on their website or by popping in. KCCUK is also home to the Sejong Institute (세종 학당), a weekly Korean language course. This is a brilliant course, and I took a semester there when I was back in London for a few months last year. What's more, the course is free! To enrol at Upper Elementary (actually I think they call it 'Beginners 2') or Intermediate level, you'll need to take a placement test on a designated day, but for the Beginners level course there is a lottery system for enrolment, as unfortunately they do not have enough places for everyone who applies. So watch out for the application window, and good luck!

There's also the London Korean Film Festival, which is currently showing films every Thursday evening. I went to see last week's movie at the Apollo, which was a free screening followed by a Q&A session with the director. Although not quite all the seats were filled, the event attracted a diverse range of people and it was a big enough audience. It would be nice to see even more people going to the screenings - after all, it's free!

Summer is a good time for Korean culture in London because there's the 'All Eyes on Korea' 100 day festival, which has a broad programme of events ranging from pop music to educational lectures. That's happening right now and will continue until the middle of September, so again check the KCCUK website for details. It will also include a two-day event in September as part of the Mayor's Thames Festival, which will have a bunch of stuff going on by the south bank. I went to it a couple of years ago and they had some information stalls set up and a stage with some B-boys, a taekwondo demonstration and some kind of weird theatre piece, as I recall. Oh yeah and beer.

Of course, I've got to mention London's Korean food. This seems to be on the up, because when I left the UK last time there was a new restaurant in Holborn called Kimchee, and when I went back there the other day I saw a queue outside the place - at lunch time! So that's cool. Because it was so crowded we skipped it and went to Asadal instead, which is a restaurant just by Holborn station and it's been there a while. The food was pretty good. There's also a cute canteen-style place by Centre Point, as well as a Korean grocery store that does great freshly prepared banchan, and another Korean grocery store by Chinatown. In fact there are quite a few Korean restaurants dotted around central.

I'm also aware of an actual 'Korea town' further out in New Malden (where?), but I've never been there myself. Well, I looked it up on Google street view but for some reason it freaked me out a bit to see a bunch of Korean places nestled amongst the bookies, chip shops and estate agents of suburban Greater London. It just seemed like some kind of nightmarish culture clash to me and I can't really explain why! Of course, that's not to say you shouldn't visit, though.

Is there a noraebang in London? Yes, there's a Korean karaoke place above Corean Chilli on Charing Cross Road by Chinatown, and a number of other private Karaoke places that are billed as 'Japanese style' but are the same thing anyway, I just don't know if they have any Korean songs. Maybe not.

One more thing, I get quite a few hits on this blog from people searching for a Korean spa or jjimjilbang in London, so I tried to look through some Korean language info on the net to see if I could find one. Ok, well, you know when I said you can find anything in London? Yeah, well ... That might be a bit of tricky one. Of course there are loads of day spas, hotel spas, saunas and leisure centres, I just don't know of any specifically Korean spa in London ... yet. Your best bet to get a similar experience is probably at one of London's Turkish hamams, so search for that instead!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Korean Menus #2

This sign is for a 샤브샤브 restaurant. It's just a place I saw in my local neighbourhood when I lived in Incheon (인천). The name of the restaurant is 계양촌.

Under the red name, you can see in blue '찌개 / 전골 전문점', so this place must specialise in  찌개 and 전골. The word 전문점 simply means something like 'speciality outlet'. Then under that you can see in black another speciality, 샤브샤브.

찌개
Jjigae is a kind of stew ...

전골
Jeongol is another kind of stew ...

김치찌개전골
Kimchi Jjigae Jeongol
Well, it's a kind of kimchi stew, I guess!

부대찌개전골
'부대' (Budae) or 'army' stew is spicy and contains a random assortment of ham, spam, sausage and other mystery meats.

(You'll see 부대찌개 and 김치찌개 at many restaurants.)

해물 - Seafood

Korean Alcohol / 酒 / 주 / 술


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Korean Menus #1

I love translating things. Which is good, what with me being a language teacher and all ... it kind of helps to be obsessed with language ...

Anyway, one of the most important things - if not THE most important thing - you need to be able to do if you visit Korea, is read restaurant menus. Because there's soooooo much good food to try! So here are a couple of menus translated. Actually, I never took any pictures of menus inside restaurants ... these are the signs outside the restaurants ... But if anyone has any good pictures of actual menus, please send them my way and I'll put them up in my next menu post!

1. First, the sign for a  쭈꾸미 restaurant.


쭈꾸미
baby octopus

매콤
spicy

달콤
sweet

땡기는
slang word that means something you 'crave' or have a craving for. (Oh yeah, I''m really craving baby octopus so bad, mm-mm)




쭈꾸미 철판구이
Baby octopus grill

This is one of my favourite 'special treat' dishes in Korea. Why? Because it's one of the very few dishes I've ever tried in Korea that was actually SPICY HOT! Like, really spicy. Not 'spicy for wimps', which is how I would describe some other so-called 'spicy' food I've had in Korea, unfortunately. No, when I had this (at a different restaurant) it was really hot hot hot. It's a big hot pan full of a mixture of yummy things in spicy sauce, the star of the dish of course being the whole mini octopi.

2. Next, a kinda retro-looking sign for a fish restaurant.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Elderflower Season

영국에서 6월에 딱총나무 꽃피는 계절이다. 시골길에는 딱총나무 꽃향기가 가득한다

It's June, and the English hedgerows are overflowing with frothy white elderflower heads. Get up close to them, and you can smell that gorgeous, distinct elder fragrance.


Friday, 22 June 2012

茶 이야기 - Korea's teas





차 - 茶 - tea, 'cha'

A lot of people talk about Korea's food and alcohol, but often overlooked are the country's traditional teas, tisanes and non-alcoholic drinks (the encompassing Korean word for drinks is 음료). Korea has some really wonderful and unique flavours when it comes to traditional beverages, and there are loads that I recommend trying.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Snack of the Day: 연양갱

Oh my god. My mouth is watering so much looking at this. I want to eat it NOW! But it's my last bar left from a multipack I brought back with me from Korea ... and I don't know if there's anywhere I can buy these in the UK, so, I kind of want to save it ...


Today's snack is 해태 연양갱. It's a brand of 양갱, a sweet bean jelly that's popular in Korea. It has an unusual firm texture that is unlike any kind of Western confectionery I can think of. Although it's a kind of jelly, it's a different kind of jelly. And very, very sweet. Perhaps something akin to marzipan? It's made from 팥, the red beans that are often made into a paste and found in various other traditional Korean sweets.

Survival Korean: Excuse Me?!

Being British, I naturally say 'excuse me' an awful lot. 'Excuse me, can you take our order?' 'Excuse me, how much is this?' 'Excuse me, can I pass by' 'Excuse me, I'm sorry about that', etc etc etc. It's just terribly British, isn't it?


BUT HOW DO YOU SAY 'EXCUSE ME' IN KOREAN???

There isn't a simple answer. Because Korean doesn't have one word to fit all the situations that 'excuse me' covers in English. So if you're going to Korea and you want to be nice and lovely and polite and say 'excuse me' a lot but IN KOREAN, here are some phrases you need to know:

Monday, 18 June 2012

Korean Phone Input Method

Some phones (especially older ones) have strange input systems for typing Hangeul, and they can be a bit confusing. Here's how one of mine works:

This is a UK phone (although made by a Korean company), but it had Korean in the language options

Friday, 15 June 2012

Typing in Hangeul

For typing Korean on an English keyboard, you'll need to know where the keys are:


qㅂ      wㅈ      eㄷ      rㄱ       tㅅ        yㅛ       uㅕ        iㅑ     o ㅐ   pㅔ
  aㅁ       sㄴ      dㅇ      fㄹ       gㅎ        hㅗ       jㅓ        kㅏ     lㅣ
     zㅋ       xㅌ      cㅊ      vㅍ       bㅠ       nㅜ       mㅡ

Shift:

Qㅃ    Wㅉ    Eㄸ     Rㄲ     Tㅆ     Yㅛ     Uㅕ     Iㅑ    Oㅒ     Pㅖ

If you have a UK keyboard, the " and @ keys will switch places.

My laptop ... with children's letter stickers


How to add Korean input method in Windows 7:

1. Control Panel > Clock, Language, and Region > Change keyboards or other input methods
2. Change Keboards > Add > Korean > Keyboard > Microsoft IME
3. Click all the relevent OK, YES and APPLY buttons, etc.

You should now have a little bar somewhere on your screen that allows you to change between KO (Korean keyboard) and EN (English keyboard). When you're in KO, there's another button that switches between A (English) and 가 (Hangeul), because Korean keyboards have both options. You should also see another button that allows you to input Hanja.

Happy typing!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Korean Street Food - 포장마차

Ok so the first question someone asked me about Korea was, "Oh Korea ... Is that the place where they have all that street food?"

Well, I had to think about it, because although it's true to some extent, I guess there are loads of other countries where you can easily find street food, too. I don't know if Korea is particularly famous for its street food, more than any other country. Is it?

Heart attack-inducing delicacies for the cherry blossom tourists in Jinhae

That said, street food in Korean cities is cheap and abundant, and any busy Korean street without 포장마차 would be missing a vital feature. While there isn't always a wide variety of foods available, there are quite a few popular options that you'll often come across:

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Top 10 Hanja

Before you read the rest of this post, you'll need to know a little bit about Korean language. Here is a super condensed history of the Korean language in one sentence:

Long long ago, people in Korea used to read and write logographic characters taken from Chinese (and as you know there are lots and lots and lots of different characters so it's a bit diificult), but then in the 15th Century a famous, brilliant and genius king called Sejong the Great came up with a new super-simple phonetic writing system called Hangeul, which of course became very popular and eventually replaced the old complicated Chinese character system, and now in modern day Korea (both North and South) Hangeul is the official Korean script.

But what about those old Chinese characters? Can you still find them in Korea? Yep, you can. They are called Hanja, and there are a number of reasons why it might be useful to learn a few of them. Firstly, they can often be seen in newspapers, and sometimes on shop signs. Secondly, if you are interested in history, you can see Hanja in ancient texts at museums, palaces and temples. Most young people in Korea don't have a particularly in-depth knowledge of Hanja, but will have studied it at school and therefore know some. Here are the most common Hanja that you might see in Korea:

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Writing Korean (Hangeul)

Hangeul is the Korean writing system. After you've learned how to pronounce each individual character in Hangeul, you need to know how to put the characters together to write words. Because unlike English, where the letters follow on one after the other in a s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t  l-i-n-e, Korean consonants and vowels are grouped together in little blocks, each block representing one syllable.

The letters read from left to right, and from top to bottom. So in this example:

You can see the first sound (top left) is 'ㅂ', next (right) we have a vowel sound 'ㅏ', and lastly (bottom) there is the final 'ㅇ sound. In this word, the 'ㅇ' has a similar pronunciation to the '-ng' in English.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Noraebang Survival Guide

Noraebang (노래방 - literally, 'song room') is Korean karaoke. But you knew that already, right?


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Rotating Car Parks in Seoul


It seems obvious to say this, but there's not much space in Seoul. That's why buildings rise up to 20 or 30 stories high, and why the subway at rush hour has more bodies packed into it than you ever previously thought possible.

So where do people park their cars in this city? Well, as well as numerous underground car parks, another solution to car parking is a rotating car park. The car is driven onto the platform on the ground, and then the whole thing rotates like a ferris wheel, lifting the car up inside for safe storage until you want to bring it back down again later.

What you can see above is the skeleton of one such car park, before they had finished building. It looks like they can park six cars in that thing. Pretty cool.

Friday, 27 April 2012

English Eating Etiquette

Going to a country with a completely different culture can be daunting at times, if you don't know the local customs. And dining etiquette is one of those particular things that always seems to have a lot of confusing rules. Sometimes, you get so caught up in trying to 'get it right' with the eating etiquette of your new country, you forget that your own country has 'rules', too, which might cause the same kinds of worries for foreign visitors.

Remembering this, though, helps you to relax about making social blunders at the dinner table. While you might have read, for example, that stabbing your food with your chopsticks IS A CARDINAL SIN in Korea, give yourself a reality check by comparing this to a rule in your own country, and asking yourself if anyone would actually give a damn if someone flouted that rule in public. After all, people will always cut you some slack if you're foreign, and let's face it, do natives actually follow their own rules all the time anyway?

Monday, 23 April 2012

5 Korean Essentials

For anyone moving to Korea, here are five things you'll need!

1. Slippers
Not just for home, but you'll also need a pair for work. As a teacher I've always had to take my shoes off when I arrive at work each morning, and change into a pair of slippers for the day. It doesn't matter if they're a traditional slip-on, or a fluffy pair with teddy-bear heads, as long as they are dedicated 'indoor shoes'.

2. Bathroom shoes
While we're on the subject of slippers, you'll need a pair of plastic slip-ons for your bathroom. Why? Because most places don't have a separate shower, only a shower head that splashes water all over the bathroom floor, making it wet and slippery afterwards.


3. Kitchen scissors
Why don't we use these more in the UK?! Scissors are so much easier than knives! Particularly useful for cutting up whole kimchi, they can also be used for meat, noodles and long leafy veg.

4. Smartphone
OK, maybe this one is obvious. Smartphones are not just a Korean thing, smartphones are all over the world. However, in Korea, you HAVE to have one. The better your smartphone, the more your Korean friends will admire and respect you for your impressive phone-owning skills. They will be surprised when you send them amusing emoticons on Kakaotalk, or take photos of yourself on the subway.

5. Korean Chopsticks
If you think chopsticks are just chopsticks, think again. Korea has its own unique flat metal chopsticks. At first, they are MUCH trickier to get to grips with than the thicker plastic or wooden chopsticks you may have used before, for example with Chinese or Japanese food. However, once you've mastered them you'll find that their small size makes them much more convenient to use and store, and being made of metal makes them easier to clean and therefore more hygienic.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Why is a Mountain Like a Mall?

If you think that a trip to the mountains is a trip to escape city life, think again. Seoulites love to go hiking at weekends, and wherever you find a lot of people in Korea, you'll find a lot of other people trying to make money out of them. From small independent snack vendors to large international outdoor clothing brands, there are a wealth of businesses clustered around the bases of Seoul's popular hiking trails, serving the needs of hikers and capitalising on the extraordinary amounts of them.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Seoul National Cemetery

Seoul National Cemetery for Korean war veterans contains the graves and memorials of thousands of soldiers, police officers, and government figures including former presidents.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Surviving the Jjimjilbang

Do you live in Korea? Are you a foreigner? Do you need a bath?

If you answered 'yes' to the all of the above, then you need a trip to the JJIMJILBANG (follow link for a beginner's guide). But jjimjilbangs can be strange and scary places, to the uninitiated foreigner. So how do you deal with the ajumma stares, snoring and public nudity? Here's my ultimate guide to jjimjilbang survival.



1. Nudity

After stripping down in the locker room of the ladies' sauna a few weeks ago, I contemplated that my arse had gotten saggier since the last time I went to the spa. I suspect this had little to do with me gaining weight (unlikely, given my deplorable diet of cereal bars and milky coffee), but more to do with sitting on said arse for long periods of time, for example, now as I write this blog. A visit to the spa is for some an opportunity to peruse one's naked body in the reflection of a full-length mirror, and of course there are dozens of other naked bodies around to compare it with. As I put my clothes into the locker, a mother and daughter started stripping down next to me. When the mother lifted up her top, the young girl exclaimed, 'Oh, bet-sal!', the Korean term for 'tummy-fat'.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Ant Village 개미마을

'개미마을' translates into English as 'Ant Village'. This cluster of homes at the base of Inwangsan mountain (인왕산) in Seoul seems altogether rather shabby and drab, except for one thing that makes it special. Just like Suamgol in Chucheongbuk-do, this village has been brightened by the brushes of artists, who, at some point, decided to come along and paint all over the walls of the houses.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Beomeosa Temple, Busan


So last weekend I went to Busan for some sightseeing, and decided to take a look at Beomeosa Temple (범어사). I didn't know where it was, but checked my subway map and saw Beomeosa Station at the northern end of line 1. Coming out of the subway, I followed a trail of Sunday hikers up past a local bus station, through some scrubby allotments, and onto a trail at the base of the mountain. After walking for a while through the woods, it didn't look likely that the temple was anywhere nearby. Coming to a signpost with no mention of the temple on it, I was even more doubtful and decided to turn back. I almost decided to just skip the temple altogether, but I'd come a long way on the metro and it would be a shame to waste that time, so I sat down in a coffee shop and tried to find where I was on a map.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Two Days in Busan

This weekend I finally visited Busan, Korea's second city. How did I get there? I took the FREE bus. Yes indeed, it's possible to travel between Seoul and Busan for absolutely no money at all! The free bus is for passport-holding foreigners only, as part of a tourism boost for Visit Korea Year. There is also a service that runs between Seoul and Jeonju.

Thanks to the free, comfortable, 4-5 hour bus ride, this ultra-low-budget weekend away cost me less than 60,000 won in total, which is probably less than I'd spend in a weekend if I stayed in Seoul. Fabulous.

My first impression of Busan was that it is just as busy and hectic as Seoul, perhaps even more. On the subway or in the shopping centers, it's almost impossible to distinguish between the two cities, yet in other areas I felt like I was in a different country. The city is really large, and tourist attractions are spead out across it, so I spent quite a lot of time traveling.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Suamgol Painted Village

Hidden away in Cheongju city, Chucheongbuk-do,  is a painted village where every wall is an artwork. This is Suamgol (수암골), a run-down area of town that was given a new lease of life in 2008 by a posse of painters and art students who banded together to bring colour and charm to the neighborhood.


Surprising Bathrooms

I have, frequently, been rather suprised by some public bathrooms in Korea.

1. The first surprise, of course, was the squat toilet. If you've traveled in Asia before, you may have encountered this type of toilet. It's usually only found here in public bathrooms such as those at the subway, while homes and businesses have Western-style sitting toilets. Often you will find a choice of both styles, and a sign on the door of each cubicle will indicate what kind of toilet is inside. The squat toilet has pros and cons - On the plus side, your arse never has to touch the seat, but on the downside, you have to consider the splash-factor when peeing.

2. The second surprise bathroom I encountered was at a club in Seoul. I walked in, and there was not one, but two toilets, next to each other. I presume the idea is that you can relieve yourself at the same time as your friend, perhaps over a conversation.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Seongbuk-dong

Snow on the ground, sun in the blue sky, a perfect day for exploring the city by foot. I got off the subway at 한성대입구역 (Hansung University) exit 6 and took a stroll along 성북로 in the north-east of Seoul.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

속리산

Songnisan (속리산)  is a mountain and National Park in Chungcheongbuk-do (충청북도), with beautiful scenery all year round. I visited in Autumn as there are many maple trees which turn bright red in the fall, but unfortunately most of the leaves had already fallen when I got there. Nevertheless I found this mountain to be one of the most scenic and tranquil places to visit, and a perfect day trip away from Seoul.


Sunday, 29 January 2012

Hwacheon Ice Fishing Festival

To make the most of the icy weather, I traveled to Hwacheon in Gangwon-do for the winter ice fishing festival. For 8000won, you are given a little fishing line and can go out onto the frozen river, find a hole, and catch as many trout as you can. The whole day was really a lot of fun and a good break from the city.



Tuesday, 24 January 2012

새해 복 많이 받으세요

New Year (설날) celebrations at Namsangol Hanok Village (남산골 한옥마을), Seoul.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

국녕사


The Guknyeong Grand Buddha statue, nestled in the heart of Bukhansan National Park, is the largest seated Buddha figure in Korea. At 24m high, it also claims to be the largest in the whole of East Asia.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Fish and No Chips

There is some delicious seafood to be had along the coast of Korea. Last summer I enjoyed this raw feast with friends at a restaurant in Gangneung, Gangwon-do. We sat outside and stuffed our bellies as the sun set over the ocean.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Learning Korean, my way

When you're studying a foreign language, there's a limit to how much you can learn from text books. Here are my tips for improving your language skills a lot quicker:

1. Watch TV shows! It will really help your listening. But don't just watch them, study them. I listen back to parts and write down the dialogue to practice (see my notebook below lol).

2. Get people to speak to you in Korean, not English! And ask, ask, ask if you don't know something.

3. Text books are boring, right? So sometimes I read Korean fashion magazines instead. Newspapers are too meaty, but I can translate a flimsy celeb gossip article pretty easily with a dictionary and pick up some new vocab along the way.

4. Say things just for the sake of saying them. For example, if you go for a coffee and you don't really want an extra espresso shot but you know how to ask for one, just go ahead and order the extra espresso shot anyway.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Winter Wonderland

I hate cold weather. I really, really can't stand it, and here in Seoul it's well below freezing pretty much every day right now. But there are loads of good things about winter, too! Here's my guide to some of the winter activies I've tried around Korea.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Boseong Tea Fields 보성 녹차밭

One of my most enjoyable trips in Korea was to the green tea plantations at Boseong, Jeollanam-do. I visited during the rainy season and everything was lush and green and ... rainy.


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Korean Tradition

Last year at Chuseok time our school had a trip to a palace to learn about Korean traditional customs. Chuseok (추석) is a kind of harvest festival and a major holiday in Korea. The children wore their hanboks (한복), traditional Korean clothing. Children's hanboks are often brightly coloured with striped sleeves as you can see on some of the garments here. A lot of my little girls turned up in bright pink, but then again so did some of the little boys! I'm sure there was quite some competition between who had the most frills, flounces and butterflies on their outfit.


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Insadong

Insadong (인사동) is one of those places every visitor stops by when they first come to Seoul. It has everything a tourist in Seoul would expect: Old-fashioned-traditional-Korean-styley buildings; piles and piles of postcards, chopsticks and Big Bang socks; quaint little over-priced tea shops; Busy street food stalls and two or three Starbucks.