Thursday, March 29, 2012

Scariest Steps in the World

Here's the rest of my weekend adventure in Geoje Island.

Sorry for the delay, I've been a little under the weather, but more about that in another post.

Sunday morning came with a cool breeze and lots of clouds.  Our rooms got really hot overnight so we had the balcony door open while we were all getting ready.  Nothing quite like a cold sea breeze to wake you up.

The little tourist village we were in.
These pictures just don't do the place justice.
The pension next to ours.
After we were all up we proceeded to eat more.  We finished up almost all of our food from the night before in a series of mini-feasts.
Snacks - I introduced them to the amazingness that is Goldfish.
Kimchi Stew
Ramen with the rest of our mushrooms.
Last of the sausages.
After the feasting we packed up, brushed our teeth and got out of there after MY and I finished the dishes.

We left the pension after saying goodbye to their adorable dog.  This guy only paid attention to GE and me, he had no use for the guys, hehe.


We ended up stopping at the main beach in the village.  It was a very nice beach, but a little different from the beaches in Destin...
What's the difference?
So pretty...
Need a pebble?

After spending a bit of time at the beach we hopped back in the car and went driving along the coast.  We were looking for a supposed tourist attraction spot of some sort.  We thought we found it when the road ended, but all we found were some stray cats.
Yummy...fish head...
A helpful local though directed us down a road and up a hill.  They said it was about a fourteen minute walk.

It was a steep hill and GE was in heels, but we figured that it couldn't be too bad if it was only fourteen minutes, so off we went.

We climbed the really steep hill and found ourselves at another pension.  Back behind the pension was another path.  Before heading up the second, rather steep, hill I took a gorgeous shot of the cove.
So pretty, though cloudy.
We kept climbing until we had definitely passed the fourteen minute mark.  Every time we saw a turn and though we got to the top we'd arrive to only see that it went farther up.
It never ended...
Eventually though we reached the top.  Thinking that this was the special tourist place, we looked around only to find grass, a graveyard, and another path.

We took the path through the graveyard and found a delightful staircase.  A staircase entirely cast in shadows and made of uneven stones just stuck together.  Stones that were quite wet from the recent rain.
Down
Up
There were parts where I wouldn't even call them stairs anymore, it was more like a slide.  I don't know how GE did it in heels.  I know she spent most of the time holding on to SH's hand.  I spent most of the time holding MY's hand.  My converse are very nice, but they have almost no grip on wet stones.  I slipped a couple of times.

Somehow we all made it to the bottom.

There we found a farm.  A flower farm.


Continuing through the farm we finally found the tourist spot.

A beautiful beach.




Lone fishermen.
I think we just sat there in silence for about ten minutes, trying to build up the strength to go back to the car.

Eventually we headed back and I really have no clue how I got back up those crazy stairs and down that steep hill.  Sheer force of will I guess.

I did get an awesome shot of the cove again when we came back.  You can see the difference in the weather.
Pretty and pretty sunny too.
When we got back to the car we drowned ourselves in gatorade and water.  We also ate some of our leftover snacks.

We went to the Geoje Island Shipbuilding Museum next.
Supposed to look like a ship.
Lots of interesting things there, though most of the modern stuff didn't interest me.  I much preferred the historical sections.

I think Apple Jack or some of my engineering family members would find it fascinating though.  All the displays were in Korean and English, so no problem understanding things.

After the museum we went back to the main town and chilled at Mr. Pizza for a couple hours.  Just talking over pizza and sodas.  My fourth time having pizza since coming to Korea.

After that we ran by ATMs and MY and I paid our share of the food and board costs from the weekend.

Total cost: 280,000
Cost for MY and me: 140,000

We split the cost and I think that for everything we did that weekend and how much fun we had that was a very reasonable cost.

Next weekend we're going to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae with Casey, Claire, and Jesse.  Well, that's the plan right now.  Who knows if it will stay that way, plans can change fast here.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hump Day

Six months ago today, at this very hour, I was landing in Incheon Airport.

It's amazing how much has changed in that six months.

Then:

  • It had been less than a week since I'd buried my mother.
  • I was arriving in Asia (and Korea) for the first time.  A place I'd only ever learned about from second-hand accounts.
  • I was moving away from home to live on my own for the first time.
  • I had everything I wanted/needed from Florida in two suitcases, a backpack, and my laptop bag.
  • I was going to a place where I knew nobody.  In many ways I was entirely alone, despite technology.
Now:
  • I miss my mother, but I can finally think about her without it hurting.
  • Asia (and Korea) no longer feels like a foreign land.
  • I've found that I can live on my own quite well, though it does present difficulties sometimes.
  • I now own more than would fit in those bags, but most of the extra things I wouldn't need outside of Korea.
  • Now I know quite a few amazing people here.  I have amazing co-workers, a couple good friends, and an awesome boyfriend.  I feel even farther from being alone than I did back in Niceville.

When I arrived here I knew I was embarking on an adventure and opening to a new chapter in my life.  I didn't know what to expect and so every second left me breathless with anticipation and surprise.

Now, things have settled down, but I still feel that wonder and amazement.

Just last weekend I went to Seoul again and as I walked through Itaewon with MY it started snowing, in March.

It was beautiful, awesome, romantic, and unforgettable.

Moments like that just make me so glad to be here.  

Sure, I miss my family.  I miss just popping in at my dad's or grandparent's and just chatting for a little while.  Or stopping by Uncle Jerry's shop to say hi.  Or going out to grab lunch or go shopping with my sister.

Despite all of that I know that I'll see them again and that even though it won't be the same, we're family, I love them, and I know we'll always be there for each other.

I also miss Florida a little.  I miss those beautiful early spring days when the weather is so perfect.  Or the sight, sound, and smell of the beach.  I miss driving across the Mid-Bay Bridge and seeing a world of water spread out around me.

Yet I know that if I left Korea I'd miss the rocky beaches, the gorgeous mountains, and the beautiful days like today.  Today the sun is shining, a soft breeze is blowing, and it's a perfect 66 F in the sunshine.

So, I've given up a lot of things to be here, but I don't regret it, because what I've gained has been so wonderful.

I can quite easily say that after six months of living here I don't regret my decision to move here.  Living here has had its ups and its downs, but so did living in Niceville.

Also - A happy half-birthday to Apple Jack and SK.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Saint Patrick's Day

I don't exactly have the best memories about Saint Patrick's Day.

My first memory of this ancestral holiday of mine is from Kindergarten.  I wasn't wearing green and the the two big kids I sat between on the bus saw this as the perfect excuse to pinch me all the way from my home to the school.

For most of the rest of elementary school I never knew when it was and due to my home life I constantly didn't wear green.  This never went well.

My only memory of it from middle school involved the fact that my mother started smoking again on Saint Patrick's Day when I was thirteen.

All the rest of my Saint Patrick's Days were nothing special.  I usually spent the day in class and I've never gone out to party or celebrate the day.

So Saint Patrick's Day 2012 was a novelty for me.

A really, really good novelty.

Especially since I didn't have a spot of green on me.

For the past month MY has tried to arrange it for us to go to Geoje Island and spend the weekend with his best friend, SH, and his best friend's girlfriend, GE.  Due to either SH or me having to work on Saturday we've had to reschedule or put it off several times.  This past weekend we finally were able to arrange our schedules, but it almost didn't happen due to the threat of rain.

Despite worries about the weather we went for it anyway, and I'm so glad we did.  

So, so glad...

MY and I got to Geoje Island at a little past noon.  SH picked us up from the bus terminal in his car.  Then the three of us went and grabbed lunch.
Sort of Bibimbap, but with lots of sides and some barley with the rice.
After lunch we went to the batting cages and proceeded to make fools of ourselves.  MY and SH did pretty well, they at least got a few really good hits in.  As for me...I'm just glad I managed to hit the ball twice - especially since I've never tried to hit a baseball with a bat before...

After baseball we did basketball.  All three of us did much better there.  Though MY and SH did the best.  I'm still not ashamed of my performance though.

We ran by SH's dormitory (Samsung provides dorms for their employees) so he could pick up his things, then we took an impromptu hike to a waterfall.

Apparently this place is really crowded in the summer, but we pretty much had it to ourselves.  

It was awesome.
See?  Just us.
Korean version of a picnic table.  Much cooler in my opinion.
The waterfall.
Me with the waterfall.
We went for a drive after the waterfall and I saw some more beautiful things.
Pretty Harbor
Yes, that's me saluting with a potato person thingie...
A closer view of the harbor.
We then headed back to the terminal and picked up GE.  The four of us went off to Homeplus and picked up supplies for the evening.

Now, Homeplus can be a scary place on the weekend.  Usually there's a long line to park in the parking garage and the place is more packed than a can of sardines.

We got rather lucky though.  There was no line in the parking garage when we arrived.  The actual store was still crowded, but wasn't too bad.  We even found a completely empty food aisle...

Creepily empty aisle...
Our supplies! 
We then ran by the market to get fish for sushi.  GE and I stayed in our illegally parked car with the hazard lights on while SH and MY went to get the fish.  Turned out there was a crazy line though so the ten minute stop took forty-five minutes instead.

During this time GE and I looked at pictures from earlier and conversed in hand gestures, kindergarten English, and baby Korean.  A bit of an adventure there.

When SH and MY got back to the car we were all excited to get going, but soon found that it was impossible.

The car battery had died.

I'm sure Apple Jack would be proud that SH turned the key once, I heard the noise it made, and promptly declared it was a dead battery.  After hearing it once more MY agreed with me (his company makes thingies to test car batteries), but SH didn't seem 100% sure.  He called his car repair service.  The guy got here, looked at the car, declared it was a dead battery and two minutes later we were on the road.

After a dark ride down twisty mountain roads we were on the other side of the island and at the pension we were staying at.

It was a cute little place:
Our dinner table with the hard earned fish.
Bags and cute vanity.
Two futons and a bed.
The rest of the upstairs room.
The place had two floors and a standard sized Korean kitchen and bathroom.  GE took over the food preparation.  SH helped her while MY and I set the table and turned on the heaters.  The kitchen wasn't really big enough for more than two people.  It was barely big enough for two.

After a little bit we sat down for the first part of our feast.

GE with the first part of our feast.
We drank beer and ate sushi wrapped in lettuce with raw garlic and various sauces that ranged from semi-spicy to burn your mouth off spicy.

It was awesome.

Afterwards we played some Rummikub.  We did teams since SH and MY had never played before.  MY and I won.

We won a turn or two later.
After Rummikub we went out to the common balcony area.  The pension owner set up a grill for us and we prepared the second part of our feast.

Or, rather, GE and SH did most of the preparations.  MY and I were on cleanup duty mostly.

There's nothing quite like grilling garlic, meat, and mushrooms over a charcoal grill under the stars while the cold sea breeze whips around us.

Also, there is nothing tastier than hot meat fresh off the grill coated in chili pepper paste and wrapped in cold lettuce.  There really isn't.  Especially when you're washing it down with a cool beer.  (Hey, I'm Irish, what else am I supposed to drink on Saint Patrick's Day?)

Food!
More food! (GE loves mushrooms..)
Scissors doing what they do best.
The view from the public balcony.
Second part of our feast.
 After the second part of our feast I got to watch in amusement as MY taught GE and SH how to play Set in Korean.  Then the four of us played.

They all did really well, but I still won.  I've been playing that game since I was fourteen and I have yet to lose.  Even the adult Mensa players I played against in high school couldn't beat me.  MY keeps trying to beat me, he actually tied me once, so we'll see.  Maybe he'll finally end my winning streak.

We played another game of Rummikub after Set (GE won) and then we were all off to bed at about 1am.

Sunday was another big day.

To be continued...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Seodaemun Prison

Back in 1907 the Korean government under the Joseon Dynasty built a prison that they named Gyeongseong Gamok.

It was opened in 1908.

When the Japanese invaded and took control in 1910 they used this prison quite a bit since it was located right in Seoul.

In 1919 it was rather famously used to house those captured in the March 1st Movement that I mentioned here.

After that event it was used to hold an ever increasing number of political dissidents.  Most of these people were men, but they even had a building to hold females.

In 1923 the prison's name was changed to Seodaemun Prison (서대문 형무소) by the Japanese

There were originally fifteen buildings, but only seven remain now.  These include the execution building, work building, and command center.

In the basement of the command center is where they conducted torture.  They used a variety of means that would fit right in with the Medieval Torture Museum I went to in Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Germany.

The entrance and the watchtower.
What it looks like now.
What it used to look like.
Inside of a prison hall.
Solitary Confinement.
Regular prison cell.
A handy device for prisoners to summon the guards.
Rather forbidding, right?
New surrounding the old.
Exercise area.  I'm standing on the guard's platform.
The holes in the prison cells down near the floor where for human waste.  No bucket or chamber pot was provided.  Considering conditions of European prisons that used the bucket system this was a lot more sanitary.

This prison was also used to manufacture goods for the Japanese government.  In times of peace this meant prison uniforms and such, but in times of war this meant war supplies.

The prisoners chosen to manufacture goods usually worked 13-15 hour days in terrible conditions.  Also, on their way to and from work they were made to jump over a pole naked to make sure they weren't hiding anything on their person.

I'm sure conditions improved at the prison after World War II, but it was still in use until 1987.

In 1992 it was dedicated as the Seodaemun Prison History Hall, a part of Independence Park.

It was a very creepy place, but I'm glad I got to see it.  I learned a lot of Korean history this past weekend and I hope to keep learning more.