Saturday, October 31, 2009

JeJu Island

Early start today. We have a 10 day rail pass which we activated today. The system they use here for their transport is simple so we found our way to Mokpo at the southern tip of South Korea to catch a ferry over to the jewel of Korean travel. The train trip was free of hawkers, graffiti, animals of any description, as usually occurs in other Asian countries no yelling people. That was the most placid train journey we have taken. The country towns are still building huge apartment complexes 25 stories and more, rows and rows. While it is not the best solution it means that they leave valuable farming land alone to feed the millions. They are at the similar stage as far as sustainability I think. Today we went to our first bags for us to carry our goods. That’s great. Next, the ferry. Once we found the terminal we found that due to the typhoon the previous day there would be no ferry but to try the smaller fast ferry. .. aptly named the Pink Dolphin. It was all go, slightly more expensive but we were to cross in three hours to JeJu Island. The ferry was very small about third the size of KI ferry. It sure was a rock and rolling affair. We were amongst a handful of people not to throw up. I must admit it was good to see the island coming in to view after 4 hours.We saw our first English speaking tourists from Canada. Tourism mostly consists of Japanese and Chinese who come to South Korea to fish and golf and also to see the girls…or so it says in the guide books. The hotels are geared up for it though with condom vending named Love and Romance hire for one hour etc etc. It is a huge honeymoon spot so it is geared for that as well. It is great travelling off peak. The good hotels are the same price as hostels and have everything supplied and they are only W30,000 =$30. Seafood restaurants galore obviously because we were on an Island. It is very cheap. Raw fish dishes along with main meal and all the extras were W12,000=$12 for both of us. We are finding it about half of what we budgeted for… so kids a bit more of your inheritance is spared. We were shown around the island by friends of friends of Shon. How great are these people it certainly has made life easier here. Kim and Joe and their 4 year old dropped everything to take us around half the island to Seogwipo stopping at various special landmarks. It was one of those great days that you have unexpectedly. Seat belts are not a priority here. The lad would not sit in the back so she put him on her lap in the front.. no seatbelt hmm. They don’t have to use them in the back at all. Kim and Joe offered to take our luggage back to Je Ju city so we took the bare essentials to free us up to do some hiking. We caught a local bus to Mt Halla-san to see the autumn colours and sat people watching and enjoying the serenity. We had some food with us and had a picnic at the base of the mountain Korean style. No seagulls to join us only crows and pigeons. The crows were huge with huge beaks. No flies either just big beetles like lady bugs but bigger. They were flying around there and at The DMZ site. Never seen anything like it. The drive through to Je Ju city was wonderful the driver being very careful with his cargo of CHICKEN BUSES here. Off to catch the ferry over night to Busan. Kim and Joe dropped off the backpacks before we went. We were grateful for that. It certainly freed us up. The ferry trip is 11 hours hopefully it is not as bumpy as we are sleeping in a room with 8 strangers. We will see. A huge thankyou to Kim and Joe for their generosity of time and their great English.


At the very last minute Kwan and his son John (English equivalent) met us and decided to take us to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. It is a relatively new tourist complex and is proving quite popular with the locals. It was a high security train trip to the station and no photos were allowed, but because Nick could not read Korean it was only the approach of several army personnel that convinced him to lower the camera. We visited Tunnel 3 which was the 3rd tunnel discovered under the No Man’s Land. It was only discovered in the 1990s and is one of 5 tunnels so far discovered through which the South fears that the North will attack Seoul as there is no real agreed peace between the two countries. The tunnel was about 2 metres high and 2 metres wide and about 130 metres below the ground. We were only allowed to travel along it for about 300 metres. The north had painted the inside black and left bits of coal around saying that in reality it was an abandoned coal mine. The walk down was quite strenuous but certainly not as claustrophobic as The cu chi tunnels in Vietnam or under the pyramids. At least I am overcoming my phobia. It was interesting but felt they skimmed over the history and it was all a bit vague. Back in Seoul we managed to find coffee places, street food franchises by that I mean take offs of Mc Donalds Starbucks etc. We always make a promise to ourselves that we will eat local food as much as we can. Dolsot Bibimbap is my favourite Korean food it’s in a hot pot spicy and tasty.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

South Korea and Japan Our Next Adventure

Firstly the reason for travelling to this part of the world. We belong to an organization called Couch Surfers…it caters for travellers around the world to experience home life and the culture and food of the people in that country. It is a fantastic way to make new friends. In May this year we hosted a couple Yonghee from South Korea and Kosei from Japan. They certainly made an impact on us and our family. They stayed for a week searching out places for study next year then they travelled to Melbourne to stay with other CSers. Earlier this year we received an invite to attend their wedding in Seoul and then in Japan . Now we are here in Seoul. Our first impressions are of a very helpful and friendly people. We had our first bibimbap on the plane as we flew Korean Air. It arrived with a dish of rice and a bowl of finely sliced vegetables placed neatly around the edge of a bowl. There was a tube of red curry paste and a sachet of sesame oil as well…and a bowl of seaweed soup. The attendant gave us a leaflet to explain how to eat this very traditional dish. Basically you mix everything in the bowl together a bit like fried rice and drink the soup. It was a different experience. Every meal we have had has been very different even though the concept is the same. You never know what extras you will get like fried fish and fried calamari and you never pay for it. The Koreans eat a lot of vegetables mixed with a lot of chilli. They are a healthy race mostly…though western food is creeping in to their diets especially the younger ones. They are eating a lot more beef and pork as well which is not good for their metabolism or for the environment. Our first couple of nights were booked in a hostel near to Insadong and to train stations so we were all org with the next two nights to stay with cousins of Shon another CSer who stayed with us this year as well. Our accom was with Holiday In Korea and was a stark contrast to the night before at the holiday Inn at the Melbourne Airport where they had a pillow menu to choose from. The Korean Hostel had what sounded like lolly wrappers in Nick’s pillow ….we have since found out it is rice husks. It made for interesting nights every time he moved. They have nearly all their heating in Korea under the floor. The first night we stayed there we could not believe how hot it was when we touched the floor. Certainly the way to go. They have been doing that from centuries ago as we found out when we visited one of the palaces of the king. With open fires to do the cooking and the heat being funnelled through under the floor. Waste not, want not.

Sightseeing with friends
Our first few days in Seoul have been taken up with being shown around and being fed by Yonghee and Kosei and then the next couple of days by Hwang. our most memorable meal was in a very traditional eating house and had the best hot pot. It certainly helps to have someone to show you how to use the subway which is easy when you have been shown. It is a huge city of 10 million people so the public transport needs to be able to get people around efficiently and it certainly does that. This place would be a great intro in to Asian culture for most and particularly for kids. It is a very peaceful city considering people are courteous, don’t stare and help you always. The food itself is fantastic and of course that is always the best reason for travelling. We have been in a traditional village and the main palace been up to the Seoul tower where we were lucky to experience a show of military and combat while we were there. There are thousands and thousands of locks and padlocks with messages of love attached that have been placed at the bottom of the tower..never seen anything like it. I bought a belt made in Korea and the man cut it to the right size to fit. I will treasure that belt. The next two nights were going to be spent elsewhere when we found out their children had contracted H1N1. We tried for hours on line and over the phone to find accom in Seoul in vain and went to bed not knowing where we were going to sleep. Next morning I asked again at our hostel if they had a room and would you believe our luck they had a cancellation at the last minute and we could stay in our room as about karma.
The season is autumn and is a delight to behold. The weather is awesome. We are usually lucky to have great weather when we travel. T-shirts and jeans even at night. Tonight is the wedding… the reason we came.

The Wedding
With great anticipation we left the Hostel with only 45 mins to travel the subway all dressed up in my uncomfortable shoes ..up and down stairs. We made it just in time for the ceremony. We were greeted at the door of the wedding room on the 22nd. Floor of the Seoul Plaza by Yonghee and soon to be husband Kosei. Nick and I felt overwhelmed to see them so happy. A few tears were shed. She looked divine in traditional dress and he in a suit. There was a bit of conjecture as to what he should wear. He wanted to wear traditional Korean but as he is Japanese his father did not approve of him doing so .They had photos taken earlier in the day with him in typically Korean dress for a wedding. The ceremony was very short and sweet at the reception in front of us while we sat at our tables. Both fathers gave a speech in their own language and they were both interpreted in each other’s language. They exchanged rings attendants just them. So uncomplicated and sweet. The tables were wonderfully decorated with silver service and great wine. The people on our table all spoke English in varying degrees. They were cousins of the bride. The other couple to our surprise were the CSers from Melbourne that they stayed with as well…that was a huge surprise as neither of us knew the others flew over for the wedding. They were fantastic company over with coffee. The wedding was over in 2 hours. We wished it was longer. We felt very surreal being there as did the others. We also feel blessed to be asked to share in their special day. They will be married in Japan in December. We met both sides of the family and have been invited to stay with them when we go to Japan next time. We are also going to see one of Yonghee’s cousins in Pohang in a few days. The families of both were wonderful to us..very friendly curious and grateful to us for looking after them in Australia. Particularly as they are coming back to Adelaide next July to study. It was an experience we will never forget.