My wonderful parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary this past week! (I didn't forget... I just wanted this to be a suprise. Suprise!)
Mark Twain said that perfect love is a work of time and he thought that after 25 years of marriage love is perfected. While this may not be true you two have a love that I would gladly duplicate in my marriage and I hope that in 24 years we are still as happy as you two are. We love you two so much!
We had been looking forward to Gyeongju as it is one of the top spots in Korea (so we'd heard) and it's only an hour away by bus so Saturday morning we hopped the bus for two days of exploration (one of a couple weekends we want to spend there).
Upon arrival we headed to Tumuli park where the ancient kings and queens of Korea are buried. Gyeongju was the capital of Korea for about 1000 years starting B.C. and ending around 900 A.D. During that period all the Silla kings (the ruling group) were buried in Gyeongju in the tumuli.It's the Korean equivalent to the pyramids though maybe a little less overstated. There are tons of them around and in this park there were 30 or so of them surrounded by a peaceful park filled with flowering trees, ponds and walkways. It was gorgeous and so incredible to see all this mounds rising into the skyline. One of them was open to the public to go into and you could see some of the relics that had been excavated from them. Crowns, ancient saddles, pottery and paintings. Some of them have been dated to around 6 A.D. and show evidence of Korea trading with other countries in Asia. It was neat to see because although Korea has a really long history most of the evidence has been destroyed the gajillion invasions since. And these mounds are big! Here's a scale picture.You don't even realize just how big they are until you are at the base looking up. The circumference of the largest single mound (there are double ones where king and queen were buried together) is about 250 metres.
So after tromping around in the ridiculous heat we found ourselves a hotel on the edge of the park and then headed off to see some more. We had passed a lotus pond on the way into town and Nolana wanted to go check it out. It was pretty impressive, flowers everywhere.
And we hit the good time of year to see them because they bloom in summer.
After dinner at a Japanese restaurant close to our hotel we took a taxi out to the lake area of Gyeongju where all the resorts are and also a cultural performance we wanted to take in there. The lake was really nice. After a boiling day in the sun an evening with a cool breeze off the lake was incredible! People everywhere taking paddle boats on the lake and riding little motorized scooters everywhere. We walked around a bit and then headed to the outdoor theatre which was pretty cool looking in its own right.
They were having a traditional arts performance and we caught some cool dances and performances. My favourite was the drum dance. Think the movie Drumline but with ancient Korean dance and costume. These ladies banged out some intricate rhythms all the while throwing in dance steps and twirling around. It was pretty darn cool.
The other amazing one which Nolana really liked was the Korean fan dance.
They dance with the fans and create all these shapes and swirls with the fans. It was visually quite the feast.
We took a cab back and crashed, planning on sleeping in for another day of exploring on Sunday. We did sleep in but when we left the hotel we found rain. Not the drizzle we have grown used to in Victoria but the downpour we are slowly getting used to seeing here in Korea. So we called it a day. But we had to walk from our hotel to the bus station and in that 10 minutes got thuroughly soaked.We got on the bus only to arrive in Busan, not Ulsan. Even though I double checked when we left and more than one man told us it was the right bus we did not end up back home. So an hour later we eventually did get back home and we are going to spend the rest of the day curled up with some tea (or a bottle of wine) a book (or Friends) and enjoying each others company. Pretty good weekend if you ask me!
Now, Koreans wear alot of crazy t-shirts. Lots with random English words that do not mean anything, lots with English words spelled wrong, some with incredibly vulgar sayings (that they have no clue what it means) and some that match. Boyfriends and girlfriends wear them so they don't lose each other in a crowd. Really, it's supposedly because public affection in public is frowned upon here and it is their way of publically proclaiming to everyone, "I have no sense of fashion" (or "I am with him/her"). They can be the exact same shirt, matching logos in different colors, the more subtle matching hats or shirts like this with catchy (but in no way subtle)matching slogans...
The front says "We are in love, loving each other" with one shirt having an electrical plug and the other a socket. Clever.
The backs say... well, you can read it. We had to take a picture. (Props to my wife for getting the pictures, both sides!)
Kinda like matching track suits back home but way more popular and for the young - who you would think would know better. Guess not. Just let it be said, that we are SO catching that train and riding it all the way back to Canada. Mom and Dad (both sets), that's what we're bringing back for you. Jani and Lori, we're bringing a set back for you too, don't worry.
We started off tamely with a movie and a fantastic meal of Korean BBQ topped off with some soju to get us all in the mood. In the mood for what you ask? In the mood to be disco stars!
We stopped first at the "Princess Club" and as we walk in they make sure to warn me that no self-respecting guy would go in there without a girl so it's a good thing I have Nolana with me. Here I am thinking, "no way, guys don't go into a store called the Princess Club alone? Unbeleivable!!" There we don some... costumes to get us into the mood.Of course we're the only white people in the place and we get laughs when we place our costumes on. Or maybe it was because we were hamming it up. Heck, when you're in the middle of a store called the Princess Club and wearing a shiny, sequined jacket and a black fro how can you NOT have some fun?!
These are our Korean friends who we teach with and here is the results of our efforts...
Stickers! Now we have a keepsake to remind us of the night! It was actually fun because really there is no point in being embarrased or feeling awkward, it is far past that point. So lots of good, silly fun.
Then it was off for our first taste of an essential part of Korean culture. The noreabang. Think karaoke but in a small, dark room with just your friends. Really, a whole lot more fun than karaoke if you all realize you can't sing a lick and are just there to shake your booty and sing some fun songs. So that's what we did. When Nolana or I did a song they would both be up singing, dancing and... oh my, shaking tambourines. But it was kinda fun in a gong show type of way and this is something Koreans do a fair bit we hear... so bring it on! I sung some CCR and Bon Jovi, we did some Monkees (I'm a Believer) and some Maroon 5, Nolana did some Stevie Wonder and Van Morrison and they showed us some Korean tunes and attempted some Britney Spears!
So that was our night out on the town. Which has been all we've done with our weekend in Ulsan because the incredibly hot weather broke and we got rain. It's much cooler but it's been the tail end (or some other side part) of a typhoon that was coming through so it was really rainy and windy. It goes down to 20C at night!! So we are having a chill weekend at home. Nice to have every now and again.
Amidst the adventure of living in a different land and travelling to places you have never seen before, there are many little things that you do and find yourself enjoying. Here are some of the little things I have enjoyed in the past week or so.
This is my new coffee set up. It's pretty sweet. The Korea Lonely Planet said Korea is a land of coffee drinkers and there is a coffee machine on every corner. This is partially true. They do like "coffee" but their coffee is merely a coffee flavoured beverage, instant coffee. Blech. So on my recent trip to Japan I bought a pound of Starbucks to satiate my coffee longings. Picked up a little french press and this sweet, old-school looking coffee grinder was already in the apartment. So I made my first cup of real coffee the other day. My clarity of mind has returned.
My gorgeous and talented wife gave me my first Korean haircut. It was the first time she has attempted it and it turned out great! Nice and short to help me withstand the ever consuming inferno that is Korea.
We had a day off on Tuesday so we headed out for dinner. We tried to find a restaurant that had been reccomended to us but no luck. So we did Korean BBQ.
It really is a one of a kind experience where everything just grills right there at your table. Some kimchi, mushrooms, greens and pork (this time) wrapped up in a lettuce leaf and shoved in your mouth so that you look like a chipmunk. Stuffing your mouth is not rude here!!
And then tonight I walked around the neighborhood (or neighbourhood) and refound the Dunkin' Donuts and another sweet looking coffee/sandwich/sit down place. This is no big deal to people in Victoria where such operations can be found on every corner but in Korea, this style of coffee shop in a rarity. So when I need my "Timmies" or "local quiet coffee bar" fix there are some reasonable substitutes in the vincinity.
Oh yeah, and I finished Ravi Zacharias' "Can Man Live Without God", quite a solid, accessible look into essential questions of Christian apologetics. Nothing like reading a good book.
So that's been Korea for me the last little while. Keeping it simple.
Paid a quick moment to the Canadian flag on Goeje.Then we met back with the guys from Tongyoeng for a great Indian dinner which was scrumptious! Then off for a drink. They were a really cool, friendly bunch. A guy from Ontario, a girl from Halifax, a girl from Texas, a girl from Ireland and another girl from New Zealand. We had alot of fun with them. It was really good to have a good time talking with people who knew English and we got to compare experiences and get some good tips. Who knows, maybe we'll see them again some time.
Then we walked back to the hotel.
Korean nightlife is something else. All neon and so many people out on the streets even until really late at night.
Sunday we slept in, walked around a bit, tried to get somewhere where we could see/do something. The island was pretty spread out and not much public transport so things were tough to get to. I had a quick heat melt down. Just a little sick of being sweaty from 9am until you go to bed and always being hot. Anyhoo, we decided to call it a weekend and then took the ferry back to Busan and then the bus back to Ulsan.
Didn't see too much but we had a really good time just hanging out with new friends and with each other. And another place visited and another adventure to tell. Good times.
The next morning we caught the ferry back to Busan and then the bus to Ulsan, arriving back to an apartment that hadn't felt the cool breath of A/C for way too long. But back home, or at least some version of it.
I thought I would finish this off with Eric's:
Random Observations of Hiroshima and Ulsan (which he shall arbitrarily extend to all of Japan and Korea)
1. Japan's cities are more pleasing to the eye. Their buildings have an aesthetic touch while Korea is mounds of concrete apartment buildings. Not that they don't have those in Japan but there are actually houses in Japan and suburbs... not so much in Korea.
2. Japanese drivers are no where near as crazy as Korean drivers. Thus, biking is a legit form of transportation in Japan. In Korea only the incredibly stupid risk their lives by riding a bike on Korean roads.
3. Japanese transportation is incredibly effective. If Canada had a system half as good regionalism would be reduced. The bullet train is great!
4. Japanese food is SO mild. Give me that chili baby!!
5. Japan is unbelievably expensive and we weren't even in Tokyo. Pretty sure if we lived there we would spend much more money or travel less or eat out less or be eating instant noodles every day.
We loved our trip there and we hope you liked hearing about it. And that you liked the pictures which are a small sampling of the 900 or so that we came back with thanks to my wonderful wife.
Our third day in Japan was PACKED full and another cooker, 40 degrees, so while this all might sound pretty exciting we were beat when we got home. Though it was the good kind of beat.
Our morning started early and we were out of the house for 10am. Off to an island we had never heard about where there was something we were to see... we weren't really clear what it was.
It was this (view from ferry):Miyajima, an island that is supposedly one of the top 3 spots in all of Japan. The main attraction is the big gate you can see and the shrine behind it which, when the tide is up, appear to float. It was pretty amazing. When we arrived the tide was down and we were able to walk around the gate...... with a gajillion other people. Pretty popular place. Behind the gate is the shrine which is on stilts so the water can come underneath of it, giving it the look that it is floating. It is an maze of walkways and rooms to pray and admire.At a shrine people often write down their prayers and hang them (with an offering) so that they will come true. Also you can get your fortune told and then you might tie it on a string like this, especially if you got a bad fortune. I think the idea is that the gods might see it and reverse it or take pity on you. The shrine is all open air and looks out on the ocean. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and gorgeous.
Also, as soon as you step onto the island there are deer all over the place.
You can walk up and pet them or buy some food to feed them. Totally domesticated and supposedly visitors have to be careful because they are known to eat paper and fabric... including your purse or your clothes. Kinda weird to see them wandering out by the ocean.
We checked out a museum on the island which showed painting from the past 300 or so years which depicted the shrine and a battle that went on there. It was actually really neat to see these old paintings of the shrine and how it looked the same 300 years ago as it did now.
We then took a cable car up to a peak on the mountain where we had a great view of the island, the sea and surrounding islands and.... monkeys!
As you can see, they co-exist pretty well with the deer. The deer just sit there as the monkeys clean them and eat the goodies they find there. Pretty cool to see all the monkeys (first time seeing them outside of a zoo) and the baby ones. We had lunch up there and then headed back down to meet Junji (we had been with Yukiko all day). By that time the tide was up and we got to see the "floating gate". It was amazing to see this gate out there in the water.
When we met up with Junji he had somewhere he wanted to show us so we got in the car and he took us about an hour out of the city to this park by the river where the Samurai used to live. There was this cool bridge with 5 arches that was made about 300 years ago and then lots of old buildings where the Samurai lived and worshipped and ruled. And then when you looked way up on the hill, overlooking this ancient villiage, was the Samurai castle. Perfect vantage point and there for all to see and admire. It was pretty cool. I mean, who hasn't seen The Last Samurai and kinda wished they could dawn that cool armour and wield a mighty sword and be known for your honor. Pretty cool stuff.
To cap the night off they took us out for dinner at this unique Japanese resteraunt. The name was loosely translated to mean "mountian bandits" and the resteraunt was tucked back into a forest. Outdoor tables (the low Japanses style ones) with the forest all around and stream running through. Japanese lanterns all over the place and the smoke of a grill. Meat served on sticks to gnaw off and large glasses of beer. What a place! We both tried a chicken leg on a stick and a whole sweetfish, served head, gills, tail and all on a stick. Eat-what-you-dare style.
About 13 hours later we stumbled home dead tired from the walking and the heat but totally satisfied. The next morning we were taking off and we felt we had seen the best of Hiroshima and area. We had a great time!!
After a... restless... night on the futons (which are nothing like a real bed) we awoke to relentless heat. It would top out at 41 degrees on a day we planned to spend outside... all day. Heck, who doesn't like sunstroke.
We left at about 10:30 for Peace Park, the site of the atomic bombing and the subsequent memorials and museum. I am a lover of history and this was the precise reason I wanted to go to Hiroshima, to see this place which has such signifigance in history and especially in WW2. Upon arrival you see this, the atomic bomb dome. It is what remains of one of the few structures which survived the blast. It is a scarred shell where 37 died instantly. It is still there in the middle of a incredibly scenic park as a stark reminder of what atomic energy can do. It almost moved me to tears.
We wandered around the park and took in the many monuments that are spread throughout the park. The next couple of pictures are some of the ones that stood out to Nolana and I and a quick synopsis. A history major (ok, minor) can't pass up an opportunity to pass on some history to the teeming masses!
This first one is the memorial to the children who died in the atomic blast at Hiroshima on that fated day of Aug. 6, 1945. Many died instantly while the majority died soon after from massive burning or radiation related injuries. The girl in the picture was 10 when she died from leukemia (from the radiation). It was a belief in Japan that if you folded 1000 paper cranes then you could get better. So she did and kept folding after 1000. She never got better but now people from all over Japan and the world bring paper cranes to this monument in a show of peace. There were thousands upon thousands of paper cranes when we were there and new ones arrive every day.
The next one is the burial mound.
Immediately after the blast bodies were brought here and cremated. It was literally a hill of ashes. As more bodies were found and collected they were brought here. Eventually a crematorium and and mausoleum were built underneath. Today there are still the ashes of about 70,000 unknown and unclaimed people.
Lastly is a memorial to the Koreans who died in Hiroshima. The tombstone is the same as given to royalty and special people in Korea (we saw some when we went to the temple, remember?). Many Koreans were conscripted by the Japanese (they controlled Korea at the time) and forced to come to Japan to work in factories and aid the war effort. More than 10,000 died in the blast and this is in memory to them.
There were other memorials such as a fountain for the souls that died crying "water, water" or for the students who died while mobilized in the war effort (most of them were 12-13). We then took a tour of the museum which was extraordinarily informative, though a little overwhelming at times. Tip one for withstanding the heat: air conditioned museums.
We took the advice again and headed off to the art museum so that we could look cultured. While I did take one art history class I think that's the first art museum I have been to. Recognized some names. Some guy names Picasso had some pretty colors. Not really our thing but it was cool so it was alright.
We headed for home and had a late dinner at a Japanese buffet. It was a good dinner, we got to try lots of new things and had some great conversation. Nice and laid back. We got to see our host sense of humor and how some things transcend cultures. All in all, a pretty great day.Lest we forget. 61 years ago, almost to the day. Pretty amazing to see how rebuilt and back to normal the city is.
Wednesday morning we awoke bright and early to the heat. Oh the heat. Every day has so far been around 36-40 degrees and it hits 30 by about 9am. So our short walk to the ferry terminal almost killed us before we began.
We made it through Korean customs with little time to spare because we had some paperwork issues that we didn't know about. Guess you have to pay for them to let you back in the country once you leave... so we figured we should do that. Made it onto the ferry with little time to spare and had a great 3 hr. trip by hydrofoil to Japan, mostly foggy but it was peaceful.
We arrived in Fukuoka/Hakata, took the bus to the main station and then the super speedy Shinkansen train (300 km/hr) up to Hiroshima where we were met by our amazing hosts, Yukiko and Junji. We stayed in their house, they toured us around, took us out and treated us like GOLD. Pure gold. They were such nice people.
That night Yukiko had already had tickets to the Hiroshima Carp baseball game and had asked if we wanted to come with her. Heck yah! A baseball game in Japan where they adore the game...what more could I ask for. Well, I could ask for free beer. But I got that too. The tickets she had came with all you can drink beer (I was good mom!), snacks, dinner and a spiffy Carp mug. It was a gorgeous warm night for a game, it was a close game and the fans there really get into the game.
But come the 6th inning the thunder started followed by lightning. And then the flood came. No really, the skies opened up and released what can only be described as end-of-times-rain. Check the field.
We got a little wet, even in the concourse. The water was running down the steps and the concourse floor had inches of water pooled on it within minutes. We temporairly lost Yukiko in the pandemonium but a kind soul lent us his cell and we found her. What a night, it was great!
Oh yeah, and they seemed to like us there and took our photo to put on the front page of the Carp website... which you can see here: http://www.carp.co.jp/ Pretty cool!
So that was our first day in Japan, see Day 2 for what we did next.........
Tuesday, before we headed off for Japan we spent the day in Busan, the second largest city in Korea. We had planned on taking the bus in but Susie (our head teacher) called us that morning and mentioned she was going in to Busan to see her family and we could come along. She was also going to the bath house with her sister and we were welcome to join. So we did.
The bath house is a very Korean experience. Most everyone does it and it eliminates all boundaries between friends. This one is quite new and boasts that it is the largest bath house in Asia, fitting 3000 people. Now imagine you, stark naked, with 3000 strangers. Sounds like fun right! That's pretty much what it is, with a boys side and a girls side (phew...or rats, depends on how you view it I guess). Everyone gets on their birthday suit and hangs out in the bath together. There are verying degrees of hotness of the baths, from quite cold to blistering hot. Also aromatic baths where you can bathe in green tea water, lavender, rose or some medicinal herbs. Even a mud type bath on the girls side I am told. Quite an experience and definitely relaxing. Took some getting used to though, I am not really used to seeing so many guys letting it all hang loose...if you know what I mean. No pictures for obvious reasons.
Then we headed off to the beach. Which is so not like a beach in Victoria! Check it out.
A little busy. There was some large festival going on but it is the most popular beach in Korea and is pretty much always like this in the summer. People trying to beat the insane heat.
Then we took the subway back to downtown where we had to catch the ferry the next morning and found ourselves a little yeogwan close by the ferry terminal (a hotel). It was a cheap, small place with just Korean floor mats to sleep on but hey, what more do you need! It was actually right beside this neat staircase in a neat area. All cobblestone type streets with bronze statues on all the streets of people doing various things like playing with children or lazing around. Lots of restaurants and shops. So we chilled in the evening and crashed early.
Check out the next installment for our time in Japan!!