Good Bye Korea

I never actually wrote a last post before leaving Korea because the last weeks were pretty busy. And, well, the movers took the computer about a month before we left which was a big hindrance. Turns out typing a long post on a phone with no real word processor doesn’t work out that well. Siting in a hotel room, I tries to squint my way through it but it just wasn’t working. Then we spend 10 days in Thailand, and well, it was Thailand..beach, ocean, delicious food…yeah. Blogging wasn’t at the top of the to-do list.

Anyways, I am in Japan now! Woo-hooo, new country to explore. And boo-hoo, I miss Korea. The food, the language, the people, my friends, my students, the old grannies on the bus, the markets…..*sigh*. It is all too much to list, but this pic below sums up my wonderful year. Dear Korean people, thank you for a fantastic year!

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Dancing on stage at a festival in a village somewhere in the south

Anyways, I hate it when I go to a blog I like reading and the last post is from months ago …no goodbye , nothing. So this post is to say I have moved. There will be no more Korea posts. Unless I visit, which I most definitely plan to do since I am only an hour flight away. We still didn’t make it to Jeju island so I hope we can one of these summers.

I will be starting a post blog called, yes you guess it: afrogirlinJapan.wordpress.com. This blog ended up being a great way to show my family and friends (the non-Facebookers) what I am up to, so I will carry on writing as I explore mostly Northern Japan. The boonies. But from what I have seen so far, the beautiful boonies!

P.S. Sometimes people I don’t know land on this page. If that is you, hello! Feel free to ask if you need advice, tips, or help planning a trip around Korea. Hubs and I traveled easily and cheaply with no car and limited ability to speak Korea and made it just fine. Our motto: Just go! 🙂

9 month travel map

Our 9 month travel map. We did a bit more before we left in July. The east coast is gorgeous!

Goodbye to my Students

Teaching in Korea has been such a huge part of my day-to-day life and I will miss it so much. Last Friday, I said farewell to my students and my lovely co-workers, and let me tell you, it was hard. I have become so attached to those little people and it was very emotional to say good-bye to them.

First, a little birthday celebration for me.

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Happy birthday to meee!!! July is birthday month!

Lovely ladies I was blessed to work with. We had so many laughs through the year.

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Cake!! We decided on an everything cake! Thank you Paris Baguette!

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The chocolate didn’t last long.

And now my cuties.

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My boy vs. girl class. Baseball sporty boys and quiet but intelligent girls.

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My next level class who were very active. We had a lot of fun in this class as well. These kids are so talented. One of them drew incredible anime art. She’d always ask me to help her think of English character names.

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My biggest group of fun ones. There were at a great level in that they could speak English well enough to be able to chat and do many activities in class.

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Class party Go Fish card game

Now this next group just brought tears to my eyes. They are my pre-teen girls who I have so much fun with. I’ve seen them grow this past year and it is juts so sad to say goodbye. They surprised me with a little party;cake , gifts and all. I was given strict instructions to show up 15 minutes late to class so that they could decorate. I adore these girls.

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surprise teacher!

 

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Hugs and tears

 

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My girls

My littlest bunch who are also my rowdiest. The Princess gang. They are all about pink and purple, and hugs and bunnies. This class was easy my most exhausting. I bow down to you pre school teachers. They had boo boos, and complaints. It was half baby sitting and maybe a little of “A, B, C”. They were cuties though. And very well-behaved.

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My highest level child below. She is very intelligent and aspires to be an entomologist. I had to get her an insect book in English. We laughed a lot in this class because her level was high enough that one term we completed a debate syllabus. She always had an opinion and wouldn’t hesitate to express herself. She is so sarcastic and loves puns in English which was very impressive. She was definitely one of my coolest kids. I will miss her a lot.

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20150626_191905They went all out to buy balloons for the last day. Ever thoughtful girls.

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I truly had the best students a teacher could ask for this year and I thank God for the experience. I came to Korea not having a clue what I would do all year and even more anxious because I knew practicing IT was going to be very hard to do. Then I found this position where I was able to meet wonderful co-workers ( and now friends) and enjoy teaching smart well behaved students.

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Presents from my students

 

Gangwon-do Beach Getaway

I am totally skipping the things we’ve done in the past weeks and writing about this because. WOW! I loooooved this trip! Okay, I love just about everywhere we go in Korea, but this was beautiful! Who knew Korea had crystal clear blue waters! Even my Korea co-worker was stunned when I showed her the pics!

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And it all started off because I wanted to see a Korean sunrise. When you wake up at noon on a daily basis, sunrises aren’t something you normally see.  So after a day of pandas, Africa Freedom day celebrations, and looking at  gardens of rooftops in Seoul, we jumped on the midnight train to Jangdongjin in Gangwon-do province to arrive just in time for the 5am sunrise.

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Pandas….

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Dancing away with fellow Zambians

Kissing gardens on rooftops in Myeong-dong

Tending to gardens on rooftops in Myeong-dong. It’s actually pretty cool. They are promoting sky scraper gardens to help prevent fires and reduce stress. Cafe on a rooftop garden after a bad board meeting? Count me in!

I digress. Back to the trip. What kind of sunset is worth skipping a night of sleep for 6 hours on the slow Korail Mughunghwa train? Well this one:

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Seeing the sunrise is a Korean tradition that I am so glad to have witnessed. Traditionally, seeing the east coast sunrise is done on New Year’s Day when families travel to see the first sunset, eat rice cake soup, and with that receive good luck for the new year. This wasn’t New Year, but there were still a good 100 or so people who jumped off the train and walked the literally 20 steps to the beach. Jandongjin station is the closest station in the world to a beach. Pretty cool.

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We were not the only crazies who made the trip. The train was actually full and even more people were at the station when we arrived.

 

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Panda alert! I saw this sweater in Seoul and HAD to have it!

 

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We walked out 20 steps and sat on the closest bench to enjoy the beautiful sunrise. Lots of selfie-sticks made an appearance as we all took impressive view in, smiling at each other like we had just witness something great together. I love the community feeling in Korea. Even with strangers, you can sometimes feel like you are with aunties and grannies.

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Looking like a hobo no the beach. Suitcases and all. Just for a sunset! hahahaha

 

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Before this I’d only ever been to the west coast beaches and while nice, the sand on the west coast tends to be muddier (hence Boryeong Mud Festival), and the waters not clear blue. The beach in Gangneung blew my mind. Where was I, Hawaii!!?

 

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One tends to feel “smoochie” on the beach

 

Like most places in Korea, there is always so much more to do once you get there. Basically, there is beach, history, trails, and delicious fresh seafood.  After a busy month of May, relaxation was the only thing on our to-do list.  We chose to stay in Gangneung on Gyeongpo beach because there seemed to be enough to do there- Beach, a large lake, bikes, a nature park, a historical site ( related to the woman on the Won50, 000 note), water sports and restaurants (99% seafood).

Jangdongjin, about 30 minutes away, has similar minus the lake. It also has the famous cruise ship hotel and the Hourglass Park which is famous at New Year. It takes a full year to empty sand, so on N.Y.E, it’s quite special to observe the last grains drop through. R.O.K. soldiers walk the beaches patrolling for N.K fishing ships. It’s a bit odd, but just go about your way and disturb them.

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One of the first things we did the first day in our sleepy state was to go on the Korail Sea-Train which is a modified (large windows and window-facing seats) viewing train that goes from Jangdongjin down to Samchoek. The trip is about 1.5 hours and the views are beautiful.  For some portions of the trip, you are a bit far from the beach, but overall it was definitely worth doing. It’s a bit of a party train in that there is an MC/DJ on the train commenting on what you can see outside and playing songs in-between. You can text message to request songs too, which is fun. There is also a “car-cam” in each car. We danced and sang with new friends as the camera displayed our dancing selves on the TV screen.  The Sea-train sells out fast too. We got lucky. Ideally, you should book ahead, but unfortunately the site is not the regular Korail site, but a Korean only website, so ask a friend or buy tickets in person at a KTX station.

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It was a bit hard to capture what you can see from the train, but the pic below gives an idea.

 

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Kiss cam??

 

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One famous attraction you’ll see if you Google Gangneung is the cruise ship on land. It’s a full-sized cruise ship in Jangdongjin built on land to be a hotel. I can‘t lie, it’s pretty cool. It was way overpriced over the holiday weekend we visited, but it is usually reasonable ($90 +). So we settled on paying the $5 to tour the grounds.

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So the bus from Gangneung, where our hotel was,  takes you directly there, but we decided we could get off at the bottom of the mountain because it looked close. Yeah right! Cruise ships are huuuuuge! And even from a distance can look close. So….

 

We walked, in the heat, up the windy sidewalk-less road to hopefully reach out destination without melting away or stripping all our clothes off and getting deported for nudity. The bus driver, after making a u-turn at the hotel, came back down the mountain and waved at us, presumably thinking “dumb tourists”.

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We made it.

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OMG! We found it. I was starting to think it was just a mirage

 

 

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Happier times. All cooled off enjoying the grounds 🙂

 

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I thought it would be corny, but i can’t lie, it is impressive. I ‘d almost fork out the $250 to stay. Maybe next time.

 

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There are way too many photo ops in Korea. But you don’t see us complaining! Just enjoying creating memories!

 

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Out of the hundreds of photos I take, he finally asks for one of himself of something he likes. Okay honey! 🙂

 

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There are 2 glass bottomed overlooks which are not for the faint of heart. One seemed sturdier than the other, but the wooden precarious looking one was more spectacular by far. You walk down the wooden staircases until you get to the glass overlook. I must say, the wood hammered into the sand didn’t look too secure, but there was no way I wasn’t trying. All I can say is thank God Korea has no earth quakes! I am pretty sure we’ve all be gonners.

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Don’t be fooled by the smile. I was scared sh**less.

 

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Things in Korea are meant for smaller Koreans, so I was worried for him! Last time we zip lined he just about brought the thing down! hahaha

 

Some areas on the ship are closed off to non-guests, but the top decks, tiny museum, cafes, gift shops, and rotating lounge bar at the very top is worth seeing.  In the rotating lounge, $9 for a Corona is a bit much but hey, when you are on vacation a little splurge is worthwhile for the experience! There was even a duo playing piano and singing old English folk songs. Other than the sunrise the day before, sitting up there was definitely the “Aaah” moment of our getaway, when all the stress just melted away.

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We only noticed the lounge was rotating after a few minutes when the musicians were no longer in front of us.

Views from the bar lounge.

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Pretty nice view of Jangdongjin and Hourglass park

 

After that, a stroll through the gardens…..

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This is the sign you make with someone to make a promise. My kids taught me that! When they make me promise that we can play a game on Fridays! haha

 

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There is a koi pond down there too

The grounds of the hotel are well kept and really pretty.

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I am carless, so Korean bus schedules have been my friend since day 1. Gangnueng and Jangdongjin are about 30 minutes drive apart and I’d say are the main attractions in the area. Samcheok is a fishing village, and I didn’t see too much in Donhae. If you have a car, there are several beaches and camping spots all along the coast that looked perfect for a restful weekend with family and friends. As we are carless, and were only there for 2 days, we settled on Gangneung and Jangdongjin. Note that the bus (city bus, not from the intercity terminal) between these two places runs every 2 hours so plan accordingly. Or you could be left sipping beers at a CU to pass the time. Never a dull moment for us , I swear God looks down and chuckles at the situations we get ourselves into!

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All we needed was ramen. Boy have we assimilated!

 

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It doesn’t get any more Korean than this!

Moving on…..

Even though it was perfectly sunny and hot, no one was in the water! Even at the Cruise hotel, the pool was completely empty! All weekend, I saw one Australian guy jump into the crystal waters. I told this to my co-worker and she said simply, “We’ll, it’s not summer yet”. If I can wear a t-shirt and no jacket, it’s summer.  Summer season officially begins in mid/end of July here so if you go before then, you’ll beat the crowds and have these crystal blue waters and all the sand you can imagine all to yourself. And yes, they do sell fireworks on the beach for added nighttime fun!

Next time , we will stay in Jangdongjin, probably at the ship hotel, but Gangneung was pretty beautiful too. Our hotel room had a balcony and beach view. No complaints.

 

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If you get pizza here say No onions! They chopped at least 2 large onions for our CHEESE pizza. Boooo! And we were starving too.

 

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Look at that water!That is not Photo-Shopped. Real deal!

 

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Gangneung is known as the Pine City. Pines grow everywhere and even right next to the beach. It’s really petty. Gangwondo province is a little bit like California in that there are snowy skiing mountains in the winter, and a few miles away there is a white beach. The 2018 Olympics will be just some 50 miles away from here in Pyeongchang.

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Songtan-Gangwon-do- gyeongpo- Sibo Lungu

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Gangneung Lake  at sunset was beautiful too. We rented the bike at an hour before sunset. The lake is quite huge and the patrons emphasized that we needed to be back before sunset. Man, we cruised! When we rolled back around, they laughed and exclaimed in shock how we  made it saying “WOW! Best bikers” because most people don’t go around the Lake at all! But me and my baby, we got this! Heck, we even had time for some selfies!!

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Songtan-Gangwongdo Beaches- gyeongpo lake-Sibo Lungu

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Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival

Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival is a celebration of Buddha’s birthday. There are many Christians in Korea, but also many Buddhists. The day is a public holiday

While there were  fewer lanterns than the Jinju Festival, it was very beautiful. What was really interesting to see were the monks from all over Asia!  Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Mynamar….you name it! Even monks were taking selfies! The funniest moment, was me taking photos of the monks in their colorful robes and then having one of them walk towards  us and ask for a picture with us! Sometimes I forget we are a minority here and for some of the monks, we may be the first black people they had ever seen!

The celebration is two days long in downtown Seoul near city hall. There is a lantern parade on the main day. Getting a glimpse is easy because the parade spans a couple of blocks from Dongdaemun to  Gwhanhwamun square area so you can easily find somewhere to watch. Furthermore, after the parade, they are “park” so one can take even better close-ups or selfies with the floats.

I’ll let the photos do the talking on this one.

First a little gallivanting around Insadong area and Cheongyecheon stream:

 

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And then the parade…

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The next morning , there were more cultural things available concerts, crafts, and booths from different countries.

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Trying some food from Mynamar

 

 

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Thsi Buddhism

 

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And then this random guy! Korean people are always so excited to see us. I am not sure why but we get photos taken ALL THE TIME! We were even video taped by some tourism company. Crazy, but funny!

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Random dude

 

 

A slow but productive May 2015

As the title indicates, May has been rather slow in terms of traveling, but super busy in terms of getting ready to leave Korea. Hubby has been super busy at work during the week and weekends which left us no time to venture out. Still, it has been nice to relax at home in between his schedule. My schedule same ‘ol same teaching my kiddies Monday through Friday. It’s sad it all ends soon. This month has also been busy because we have started to organize ourselves about leaving Korea. I completed my medical clearance and we have scheduled our movers, so the reality of leaving has finally hit. Sometime in August we will be at our new home!  I am so sad to leave, but will be so happy to be in one place for the next couple of years. This year has gone by way too fast.

So this month has been a random compilation of work, to-do lists, and also eating.

First up, Korea Desert Cafe: Just look at the photos and drool! This place has been our April and May addiction. I love the food here so much, I think I may starve when we leave. 😦

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Full post here:

http://koreaye.com/korean-dessert-cafe-sulbing/

Seoul Cherry Blossom Festival

Wow! Mid May and I haven’t posted in a while. How is time flying so fast! May has been rather busy though as we wind up out last two months here. I can’t believe it is almost over. I forgot that I never wrote  post about this event so here goes.

Anyways, this post is about the Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival in Seoul. This is one festival I’d penciled in since we arrived last year. So even if my coworkers had said it was going to be incredibly crowded, I still wanted to go. Blossoms were in full bloom even in Pyeongtaek, so I knew it would be stunning in Seoul along the Hang river.

We headed out on a Saturday morning and the subway station was INSANELY crowded once we got to Seoul. The escalators were broken. Talk about claustrophobia! And we were Lord knows how many floors underground. NOT fun.

20150411_152440That’s how crowded it was. No parking even for the little ones. On another note: They start young learning how NOT to park!

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We got out eventually and it was such a lovely day! There were still huge crowds, but being out in the open air made it bearable.

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All the crowds were for these pretty little things. They truly are beautiful though.

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The festival area itself covers a big area. It is in the Seoul National Assembly grounds. There is one main road where all the Cherry blossoms are, but the road winds around the many government buildings, so you can walk in a loop and enjoy the air and views of the river and flowers. Along the river are trails for walking or biking, and grassy picnic areas.Koreans love to picnic and they sure come prepared with baskets of food and blankets. It’s very sweet to see families spending a day outdoors together.  I love the green space Seoul has in place for people. There  is even a public pool by the river. It wasn’t open yet as this was late April and still considered spring.

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Selfie time!

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20150411_160107There were other flowers all over the grounds. These were so vibrant, they looked fake!

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And hearts. There is never a shortage of love and hearts and cutsey stuff in Korea.

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Then a familiar  boom boom boom beat fille dteh air waves and I knew at once it was Jamaican music. But how!Why! Really??? In Korea?! We ventured forth and without a doubt it was a Reggae-Korean band! What kind of an oxymoron that is!. Those two places couldn’t be farther apart, but there it was. And it was damn good too! The guy could have been Shaggy for all I knew. The crowds were so excited and we joined the fun!

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Let’s play Count the Selfie-Sticks

Korea has some funny quirks and mirrors are one of them. So in subways and many other random places, you will see mirrors. I guess it’s goo to be able to make sure you look okay, but it always makes me chuckle when I see a large mirror, other than in a bathroom. Here we  have several large block mirrors on a street. As you can see, many people are checking themselves out. Not a bad idea actually. We followed suit!

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Okay, looking good, Check. Keep it moving.

 

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We passed through this park on our way to the IFC mall. There are bike rentals, a basketball court, benches and grassy areas for picnicking, and I am sure other stuff I didn’t see. It is a really nice park to relax in the city. I have never been to New York, but I imagine Central Park looks similar.

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I am not one to miss a photo op! Bye bye,  until next time, Seoul!

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Seonyudo Island Trip

Spring sure has been the season of islands for us because no sooner than we had returned from our Yeosu trip did our realtor plan a trip to Seonyudo island. It’s an island off the coast of Gunsan, which is a small town that has another US military base. That’s all I know, but with words like “island”, “boat”,  and “bbq”, I was sold! I actually thought it was a lot closer, but turns out it was a 3 hour bus ride from Pyeongtaek, and then an hour boat ride.

Having only been here 9 months, every month and the weather that comes with it, is new. I thought spring was dry because of all the reports about forest fires. But in late March the rain arrived, and stayed. The Wednesday before our trip, the forecast looked bleak and that outlook lasted until Saturday morning when we left. Still, my spirits were high. It was going to be good company, a new destination, yummy food as usual, and we weren’t driving. So there really wasn’t much to whine about.

It did take about 3 hours for us to get to the port. I slept most of the way so there isn’t much to say about the drive there.

The first stop was the boat ride. It was drizzling a little bit, but the air was actually pretty warm so we stayed on the top deck to check out the view. Though rainy (we had hoped for sunshine), it was still beautiful. The boat was full of our group and another large group of Koreans. They were having a party in there..music dancing and all! If there is one thing I can say about middle-aged Koreans, it’s that they know how to and love to have a good time! I love it! No suburban prissy tea parties here, these folks get DOWN! You’d think it was spring break in Mexico!

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Bye bye main land. It was about a 45 minute boat ride to the island.

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Koreans are  very creative. If you don’t have a barge, just put the car on a boat!

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No barge? No problem!

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I honestly don’t remember seeing this. Hubby took the pic.

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Once we got off on the island, it was actually a little sunny. Even though we’d just been on a bus for 3 hours, us lazy people decided to jump into a small van to tour the island. Others decided to walk. It actually worked out better because where we went was pretty far (at least an hour to walk there), so it was nice to sit back and enjoy the views. The only funny thing was that the driver tour guide was explaining everything in Korean. Except for our landlord, we were all English-speaking. And my landlord’s English is not good enough for him to translate so the whole scenario was odd. No one can say he didn’t do his job though! We did get out at one end of the island for a little walk. For as gloomy as the sky looks, it was actually warm.

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This is definitely the fewest people I have ever seen in Korea at a touristy destination. I guess for most people, spring hadn’t hit yet. This place must be packed in summer!

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Bet it won’t look this empty in a few months!

After a nice little tour of the island, we hopped back onto the boat and  headed back to the mainland. We were supposed to eat at the shore, but it started to get cloudy and drizzle again, so we went to another location for the BBQ. Unfortunately it started to drizzle, but we still had a good time under the gazebo looking at the ocean right next to us. All the Korean goodies were there…meat, various kimchi’s rice, raw fish (my favorite), and other stuff.  By the time we were eating, the rain was coming down steadily so, sadly, I didn’t take food pics. Too busy eating. And chatting! Mostly chatting.

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Rain or shine, fire it up!

Bulgogi (beef), or any Korean food for that matter, is incomplete without soju. Notice the cranberry juice bottle that my landlord was drinking because ” it has vitamins”. Yeah, true, but when you mix it with a whole lot of soju, I am not sure the health benefits are retained! So funny!

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The infamous green bottle that is Soju. Just $2 a bottle and trust me that’s all you need!

Stole hubby’s phone to goof off using the selfie -stick with our landlord.

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After we were done eating, we hurriedly packed up and thought we were going home, but no. Our wonderful realtor who is intent of giving us a diverse Korean experience had planned for us to visit a very old temple (Naesosa temple) . By old, I mean originally built in the 600’s AD. Yeah. Amazing. It was raining, but they organized rain coats for everyone, and I had an umbrella! Surprise surprise, I feel like a girl scout. Prepared.

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Just imagine what the air smelled like. Ah divine freshness!

Boo! Rainspot or steam or something on my camera lens. 😦

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And then we were hungry again. Or not really, but our realtor always feeds us. So….makkeolli (rice wine) and pajeon ( squid and spring onion pancake) appeared! Korea always has food everywhere. You never starve here. It’s unexpected, but very welcome!

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Pancake- pacheon

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Lonely bottle of rice wine (yellow bottle)

After the having that snack, we loaded back into the bus and headed home. With snacks and karaoke on the bus, the 3 hours flew by and we were home sweet home in no time. Another wonderful trip in Korea complete. Love it!

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