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korea

    Happy Pepero Day!

    Pepero Day is a kind of holiday in Korea on November 11 (aka 1111). The tradition is to give people Pepero, which are long skinny cookie biscuits dipped in chocolate. It’s similar to Valentine’s Day but has the underlying Hallmarkism of Sweetest Day. There are prominent displays at the grocery stores of the seven different flavors of the original Pepero brand.

     

    Pepero boxes

     

    Pepero is manufactured by Lotte, a multinational food, chemicals, and shopping corporation. Lotte seems to rule Korea… there’s even a Lotte World amusement park.

    People once exchanged Pepero with wishes to be tall and skinny (so says Wikipedia). However, now people give Pepero as a sign of affection. The tradition started sometime in the 80’s.

    David came home with a lot of boxes. Some students wrote cute messages on the back:

     

    Pepero box messages

     

    As someone who is a fan of 11:11 and chocolate, I can get down with this holiday. I don’t have a lot of hope that eating these will make me taller, though. Maybe wider.

     

    A Pepero stick

     

    Happy Pepero Day!

     

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    Sixth Grade Retreat in Daecheon

    Every year the school has a Week Without Walls where middle school students spend time learning outside the classroom. A friend asked if I’d be willing to help during the sixth grade trip.

    We traveled three hours south to a small retreat center on Daecheon Beach (대천) in the coast city of Boryeong. It was a short trip; we were gone three days and two nights. The place where we stayed was beautiful with fall colors and a porch that overlooked the Yellow Sea.

    My friend Ji and I were the cooks. The menu was simple, but I had never put together quantities like that before! We served around 80 people. I have a whole new appreciation for cooks and caterers. We made around 180 sandwiches, 300+ pancakes, and hard boiled 180 eggs in two batches.

    We spent most of our time in the kitchen, but were able to slip away twice to explore the beach. One afternoon we finished the sandwiches early and spent a couple of hours in a coffee shop a short walk away. We had the place to ourselves for a while!

    It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed myself. I always love time near the water.

     

    Fall trees

     

    Cabin room

     

    Room door view

     

    Retreat porch

     

    Beach view from porch

     

    Hard boiling 90 eggs

     

    Sandwiches

     

    Daecheon beach

     

    Daecheon coast

     

    Mussels on rocks

     

    Blue and orange starfish

     

    Rocks on the beach

     

    Rocks

     

    Wavy rocks

     

    Ji on the rocks

     

    People feeding seagulls

     

    Empty coffee shop

     

    Week without walls session

     

    We laughed at this sign on the trip back to Seoul… merge right, I guess?

     

    Merge right sign?

     

    I can’t find website information on the retreat center itself. We stayed in the group area that had the kitchen, 14 bunk rooms, and an auditorium. They also have small cabins available for rent. Our time there was the latest in the season they had ever stayed open and they had to do special work on the heaters before we arrived. If I find out the name, I’ll update the post.

     

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    Apartment Tour: Korea

    Here’s a tour of our cozy place in Seoul. We live in a villa, which sounds quaint and romantic, but in Korea, that means a small apartment building. Most villas we’ve seen have two to six apartments.

    So, flashback to July – we were in Ankara and I thought I would be efficient and pack our luggage in a way that we wouldn’t have to touch the majority of it until we got to Korea. That was wishful thinking. I had forgotten how stressful it is to pack most of your worldly possessions into a few suitcases. We went through MANY rounds of revisions and paring down. After three weeks in the States, we arrived in Seoul with five checked luggage pieces, two rolling carry-ons, one backpack, and one guitar.

    This is what our home looked like the first day we arrived. I am sharing this to remind myself to rejoice in how far we’ve come since then:

     

    When we first moved in

     

    We are fortunate that the school furnishes our apartment with the essential pieces. They also stocked our kitchen with new dishes, silverware, pots, and pans.

    Here is our entryway. The air conditioner is on the left. We keep our shoes in the built-in dolap. The hall tree and shelf are both from IKEA. The orange sticky notes around the place are my labels of Korean words!

     

    Entry

     

    Entry shelf - calligraphy plate

     

    I killed most of my first round of succulents. I’m blaming it on the low light. We have only three small windows. Here are my succulents take two:

     

    Entry succulents

     

    This is the view from the front door. The couch from IKEA (mentioned here) dominates so much space, but it’s comfortable and we live on it when we’re home. I like how it matches our Turkish rug!

     

    Entry view

     

    The walls are concrete and are covered in a textured wallpaper. We tried every kind of Command hook out there, but nothing stuck. (The only hooks that held were from Daiso. You melt a dot of glue on the back with a lighter and stick it to the wall.) I had to get creative and hung our map tapestry (from GMarket) by sticking sewing pins through the wallpaper. Isn’t it interesting how the Americas are on the right side of the map?

     

    Living room

     

     

    Tapestry hung with sewing pins

     

    Hanging photos

     

    Air plant in driftwood from Pida (피다):

     

    Air plant and decor

     

    Next to the couch is a door that opens to where our washing machine sits. We keep cleaning supplies and other storage items back here:

     

    Washing machine area

     

    Behind the dining room table is the main bathroom. There’s no tub or separator wall, so we use a squeegee to push the water towards the drain after a shower:

     

    Main bathroom

     

    Kitchen and dining area:

     

    Kitchen and dining area

     

    Stove and microwave:

     

    Stove and microwave

     

    Wedding photo and succulents

     

    Fridge

     

    Here’s the master bedroom. We call it the cave. There are no windows, so if we close the door, we could sleep for daaays. We are creatures of habit and purchased the same bedspread we used in Turkey from IKEA:

     

    Master bedroom

     

    Master bedroom

     

    This is the bathroom connected to the master. (I can’t imagine anyone taking a shower in this tiny space!)

     

    Master bathroom

     

    Also connected to the master is a storage room. It was really humid in here during the summer months, but we may move more things into this area once the cold weather hits.

     

    Storage room

     

    Off of the kitchen is a spare bedroom:

     

    Spare bedroom

     

    This bedroom has my wardrobe closet. We use the dresser in here for things like office supplies, electronic cords, and medicine. Our suitcases are in the corner for now so they don’t mold in the storage space. This room usually serves as our laundry drying area.

     

    Spare bedroom

     

    Spare bedroom

     

    While I can’t say I adore our apartment, I am very grateful for it and appreciate having our own space to call home. We have what we need and live comfortably here. I’m also thankful we live in a safe neighborhood that is conveniently located to the school, shopping, and public transportation. Our longing for natural light may push us to move next year, but that’s a ways off and we’ll see.

    What do you think of our new place?

     

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    Seoraksan National Park

    We spent an afternoon of our weekend in Sokcho at Seoraksan National Park. We did some unexpected hiking and climbed to new heights.

    Seoraksan National Park (설악산국립공원) is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage site. It was easy to get to the park entrance from Sokcho; we took the 7–1 bus to the end of the line. (For anyone visiting from Seoul, T-Money cards do not work on Sokcho buses. Bus fare costs ₩1,200 per person.) Park entrance cost ₩7,000 per person. The entrance gate was crowded with people visiting over the Chuseok holiday.

     

    Seoraksan National Park entrance gate

     

    Seoraksan entrance gate

     

    The bronze Jwabul Buddha Statue sits near the entrance at over 14 meters high:

     

    Seoraksan Buddha

     

    Buddha looking over Seoraksan National Park

     

    The park was beautiful. The weather still felt like summer, so it was a perfect day for a hike. First, we bought tickets for the cable cars. We scheduled our tickets for the 5:00 pm ride. (Tickets cost ₩10,000 per person. Buy ahead – they do sell out!) We vaguely heard about and decided to take the Ulsanbawi (울산바위) trail. It was around 4 kilometers long, and we figured that’d be a good distance to cover and make it back in time for the cable car.

    Our hike started out easy. We wandered by pretty mountain views and Buddhist temples:

     

    Seoraksan National Park

     

    Seoraksan temple

     

    We saw a lot of Koreans in hiking gear, which we thought was silly. The beginning of the path was paved and flat. There were even bathrooms along the way. After a while, the trail changed to a rocky path and our ascent really began. We understood the walking sticks after that.

     

    Seoraksan trees

     

    David in Seoraksan National Park

     

    In the distance, we saw the granite peaks of our destination. And then it hit me. We were hiking all the way to the TOP of Ulsanbawi. Afterwards, we found out it has an elevation of 867 m.

     

    Ulsanbawi

     

    The Gyejoam Temple (게조암) is a good halfway marker. There were some food vendors there, but we just topped off our water bottles from a spring. Also near temple is Heundeulbawi, the “rocking rock.” No matter how hard people push it, it can never be knocked over. If you have enough force, the rock does shift a bit:

     

    David pushing Heundeulbawi rock

     

    Ulsanbawi

     

    Then, we hit the stairs. The 800+ stairs that are strapped to the mountain and take you up the top. This one was of the steepest climbs I’d ever done. It didn’t help that we hadn’t eaten anything but half a muffin. Thankfully, we had some granola bars and nuts.

    After about 2.5 hours (the last hour was torture), we FINALLY made it! We were surprised to find a small souvenir shop at the top. There were men selling Korean iced tea for ₩5,000. At that point, it could have cost three times that price and I would have paid it. It was the best iced tea I’d ever tasted. It was a hard climb, but the views at the top – wow!

     

    Celebrating making it to the top of Ulsanbawi

     

    Ulsanbawi

     

    Leah at the top of Ulsanbawi

     

    David at the top of Ulsanbawi

     

    Ulsanbawi peak

     

    Ulsanbawi peak view

     

    Leah jumping on Ulsanbawi

     

    The climb back down the mountain took only 1.5 hours. We were booking it to make it in time for our cable car ride. Funny enough, we ran into some people who worked at the school we worked at in Turkey. Our time hadn’t overlapped, but we heard about them living in Korea from mutual friends. It’s crazy we had to hike a mountain in order to meet them!

    I don’t know how accurate it is, but my phone said we climbed 140 stories to get to the top. Here are the death stairs:

     

    Ulsanbawi stairs

     

    After we finished the trail, we had some time to spare. We climbed down to the stream and soaked our feet in the cold running water. It felt SO GOOD! A Korean man saw us, thought we were funny, and had to get a photo with us. (Us probably meaning David and his red beard.)

     

    Leah soaking her feet

     

    Posing with Korean man in a stream

     

    We (finally) got some lunch at one of the many restaurants near the entrance. And then we took the cable car up to the Gwongeumseong peak (elevation 670 m). There was a cafe at the top and we snacked on hotteok and enjoyed the view.

     

    Seoraksan cable car

     

    Seoraksan cable car view from the top

     

    It’s probably for the best that we didn’t do much research on the trail before we got to the park. If you do the hike, don’t be like us and eat a meal beforehand. There are several other trails in the park that we didn’t have time to do including one that takes you to a waterfall.

    I’m not sure if we’ll be able to, but I’d love to make it back to Seoraksan to see the fall colors!

     

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    Chuseok in Sokcho

    We took our first trip outside of Seoul! We traveled 200 km east to a coastal city called Sokcho (속초).

    Korea celebrated their harvest festival called Chuseok (추석) the last weekend of September. (The dates change from year to year based on the lunar calendar.) We heard people describe it as the Korean Thanksgiving. They also said it’s a bigger holiday than Christmas. People typically travel to their hometowns to spend time with family. Traditional customs include rituals to honor ancestors, but not everyone practices those.

     

    Sokcho bench

     

    We were a little nervous. It was our first trip in Korea and one on our own. We purchased bus tickets the week before at Express Bus Terminal. The lady at the counter spoke fairly good English, and David confirmed the departure times two or three times with her. We didn’t even think to double check the tickets themselves and when we handed them to the man to board the bus, we realized she had given us tickets for 3:00 pm instead of 7:00 pm. We headed back to the counter and hoped we could get another bus that night. Fortunately — and I don’t know if this was because of the holiday or not — buses were leaving every 10 minutes and we got on the next one. I was amazed! I was so worried they would be sold out. (We ended up changing our tickets again on our return trip to get back earlier. The process was easy and they didn’t charge us anything extra.) It took us around 3 hours to get there and it would have taken less had it not been for the holiday traffic. The return trip was 4.5 hours.

    Sokcho is a smaller city of around 90,000 people. Everything moved a little slower and the people were more tan (like me!). The area where we stayed was quiet. This may have been because of Chuseok and/or it being past beach season. The city is situated around the bay and the mountains and felt a lot smaller than it looked on the map. We loved the fresh sea air and gorgeous views!

    It was a great little getaway. We rented an electric motorcycle for $10 and road around the Expo Tower, saw the Tree of Hearts sculpture, stuck our feet in the water, and explored the market areas. We also hiked in Seoraksan National Park… I’ll do a post on that later! Our last day, we stopped by the Abai (North Korean Expat) Village for lunch.

     

    Sokcho Expo Tower

     

    Electric motorcycle

     

    Electric motorcycle

     

    David’s now shot a gun in three countries! America, Georgia, and Korea:

     

    David shooting game

     

    Being on the coast, we saw seafood and hatcheries everywhere:

     

    Fish hatchery

     

    Sokcho wall mural

     

     

    Sokcho tree of hearts

     

    Sokcho tree of hearts

     

    Sokcho tree of hearts

     

    The Donghae (meaning the East Sea… aka the Sea of Japan):

     

    Sokcho beach

     

    We saw a few foreigners swimming, but we just stuck our feet in:

     

    Sokcho beach

     

    Sokcho sea glass

     

    Like we saw in Turkey, Koreans sun dry a lot of food:

     

    Drying peppers

     

    Drying squid

     

    When you have stuff to dry, might as well string them all together. Socks, eggplant, and squid:

     

    Drying laundry and squid

     

    Flat White Sokcho cafe

     

    Door knocker

     

    A hand drawn ferry to the Abai Village:

     

    Hand ferry to Abai Village

     

    Under the Abai Village bridge

     

    Where we stayed:
    City Seoul Motel. We booked our reservation through AirBnB. It was very clean and in a good location. It was right around the corner from the Sokcho Foodtown. It took us about 20 minutes to walk to the beach area, but from what we heard from friends, cost about half the price of the hotels closer to the water.

    Where we ate:
    Matsu – a cozy Italian restaurant tucked away near the national park. We met up with some friends from the school who had eaten here before. A plate of pasta cost around $15 and included a free appetizer, salad, and dessert! I had a delicious seafood alfredo dish. I don’t know if there’s a great way to get to the restaurant by public transportation. It’s close to the entrance of the hill that goes up to Seoraksan National Park.
    Flat White – this was a gem of a coffee shop! We had breakfast here two mornings. The shop has its own roastery inside.

     

    Sokcho was a great location for our first Korea trip! I highly recommend it. I’ll share more about Seoraksan National Park soon.

    Any recommendations for our next excursion in Korea?

     

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    Jjimjilbang Korean Bath House

    To be honest, I’ve been hesitant to write about Korea. There are SO many expats here and nearly as many blogs and resources. Living abroad in Korea doesn’t feel as much of a novelty as living in the Middle East was. Plus, we are still figuring things out here and I don’t feel anywhere near qualified to share information! And on that note… maybe this post will break that cycle.

    We went to our first jjimjilbang (찜질방) this weekend! A jjimjilbang is a bathhouse. We adored the hamam in Turkey and were excited when we heard bathhouses were also popular in Korea. We were told before we moved here they were more intense than hamams because you’re completely naked! (No towel or swim bottoms in the bath area!)

    We met two friends this weekend to celebrate a birthday and they showed us the ropes. We took the subway to Ohmokgyo (오목교), had dinner at Burger Joint in the Hyundai mall, and then walked a short ways to Paragon Spa.

    First, we checked in and got our numbers, two small towels (three for the boys for some reason!), and clothes for the commons room. We took off our shoes, put them in our locker assignments, and got our keys. From there, the boys and girls split off to their separate quarters. There was a large locker area where we stored our bags and stripped down to nothing but our keys.

     

    Jjimjilbang braclet num ber

     

    Then we went into the bathhouse room! There were four different pools at four different temperatures. My friend said her family used to go to the 찜질방 once a week. Most Korean houses and apartments don’t have a tub, so they visit the 찜질방 for a good soak. There were massage jets in the second to coldest pool. The coldest had a waterfall jet from the ceiling that felt really good on my shoulders.

    There were also scrubbing services (to remove dead skin), which I did not do, but David did. He said it was a lot more up close and personal than the scrubbing at the hamam! No towel over certain areas. Ha!

    The spa included free soap, scrubbing salt, and toothpaste. You could pay extra for scrubbing, massages, manis, and pedis. There were also saunas. We peeked inside, but left quickly. I couldn’t breathe in the wet sauna. The dry sauna was slightly more tolerable, but it was 88 degrees Celsius (190 Fahrenheit)! I missed out on the cold sauna room.

    After about an hour of hopping between the tubs and showering off, we put on the spa clothes and met the boys in the commons area.

     

    Paragon spa clothes

     

    David and Leah in front of bamboo wall

     

    Bamboo reed wall

     

    I was amazed by how much was offered! TVs, a computer room, a play area for kids, a restaurant, a snack bar… Our friends had brought a board game and we hung out on the provided mats and played it. We also got some food from the snack bar. The plum juice was so good! Instead of using cash, we gave the cashier our bracelet and it recorded our purchases in their system. We paid at the counter before we left.

     

    Snack area

     

    Friends

     

    I thought we looked a little like inmates in the spa clothes:

     

    Leah at Paragon Spa

     

    I loved the commons area. It felt like a really huge living room! Everyone was lying around and relaxing. There were also sleeping rooms for guys and girls, but unfortunately we couldn’t stay the night because of a cross country meet in the morning. We left around 11pm, but a large group of people were just arriving at that time! This city seems to never sleep.

     

    Common room

     

    Water feature

     

    We loved it and hope to go again sometime soon!

    Address Info:
    Mokdong Paragon Spa and Sauna/Jjimjilbang
    917 Mok 1(il)-dong, Yangcheon-gu, Seoul
    Phone: +82-(0)2–2654-3387
    www.paragonspa.co.kr

     

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