Saturday, December 7, 2013

Short Stop at Seosan

Re: 2013/11/2-11/4

We flew from Jeju to Gimpo International Airport in Seoul. The next plan was to catch the bus to Seosan, Steven’s town. We were going to spend the weekend with him before we took off back to the US. We looked for the bus to Seosan at the stops in front of the airport, but we didn’t spot it. So, we stopped by the information booth to ask. Although they didn’t really speak English, they were able to help us find the correct bus. When the bus showed up, though, it was completely full. There were only 2 seats available, and we weren’t in the front of the line. It would be another hour and a half before the next bus, so we decided to go to the Nambu bus terminal, despite warnings from Steven. We actually didn’t find it to be too bad, and the bus was departing nearly immediately after we arrived. We rushed through the station and got on the bus. It must have been rush hour, though, as it took forever to get through the traffic and out of town. Other than that, it really wasn’t a bad drive.

It went almost directly to Seosan. At some point, it got off the main highway and stopped at a convenience store at a small town. We didn’t think this was our stop (we were expecting a bus station), but when I pulled out my offline map, it something about Seosan, and I was concerned we missed our stop. When the driver stopped for gas, I went up and asked him, and he told us we weren’t there yet. So, we went and sat back down. The next stop was in a big city, which was the Seosan for which we were looking. It stopped in a shopping district, but we didn’t get off (our previous experience told us to not get off until we were at an official station). However, as the bus took off again, it made a turn and went right through the bus station there and didn’t stop. Thinking they would stop again in town, we just stayed on. They didn’t, though. So we had to stay on until the next town and the end of the line, Taean. Once there (at a bus station, btw), we had to purchase another ticket back to Seosan. This time we got off at the shopping center, which was the front of the bus station.

DSC06549 They had cute manhole covers in Seosan.

Steven met us there and took us to a coffee shop to get some food. At this point, I had developed a sore on the tip of my tongue that made it difficult to talk or eat. So, we had a bread bowl of soup. Then, we went to Steven’s place. He had several friends there preparing for a Día de los Muertos party. I ended up helping to paint several people, including Steven. Then they all left to meet up with other people at a bar, then eventually go to a norae-bbahng (karaoke). Jonathan decided to join them for a bit, while I stayed at Steven’s and went to sleep. He later regretted it, mostly because there was too much smoke. It really aggravated his wind pipe, and he spoke huskily all the next day.


The next day, Jonathan and I left before anyone else was awake to get breakfast. We just grabbed a bite at the Dunkin Donuts. We wandered around a bit, then wound up back at Steven’s. Since everyone was still asleep, we just read for a while. We went for lunch next, at Pizza Hut. We got the BBQ Chicken Pizza, which was done differently than expected. They used normal pizza sauce under the cheese, then swirled the BBQ sauce over the cheese. It looked pretty. When the server left us after taking our order, she did a little jig as she walked. I interpreted it as she was excited that she figured out what the Americans wanted. Afterwards, we wandered around again and got a hotel for the night.

DSC06550 The menu is always interesting at American chains in other countries.

By then, Steven and May were awake and hungry. So they went out to eat and we joined them (not eating, though). We went to a park and met up with a few more people, before walking to the street where persimmon trees grew along it. We soon developed a method to catch the ripe persimmons without bruising or missing them.

DSC06552 At the park.

Catching persimmons! Catching persimmons. We didn’t want to bruise or drop them, hence the scarf. Plus, some of them were overripe and would explode.

After harvesting persimmons, we walked back to the hotel and Jonathan and I went shopping while Steven and May went back to his house to cut up the persimmons. I did manage to find an acceptable purse right before the shops shut down. No more off-centered, heavy, barely-hanging-on purse. Then, it was back to Steven’s to try the persimmons. Neither Jonathan nor I had eaten one before. I liked them. Kinda hard to describe, but maybe a mix between an apple (with its crispiness) and a mango or peach in flavor. Apparently there was one bad one that Jonathan managed to try. Next, it was time for dinner. This was a chicken meal, which is normally very spicy. We asked for the mild version, but it was still too spicy for me. So, afterwards, we went to a Mom’s Touch restaurant. Their chicken sandwich was spicy as well, but not nearly as much, so I could eat it. We finished the night off at a coffee shop, but by then, I was pretty tired, so we retired to our hotel.

DSC06557Dinner with our new friends.

Monday morning was the day we were flying out. However, our plane would not depart until 5:50pm, giving us plenty of time to get to the airport. We were uncertain of which bus we would need to take (I saw 3 different Incheon locations with completely different time schedules). So we got dressed and packed up in the morning to see Steven off. We took all of our gear with us and left the key in the room with the door unlocked, so that we could come back or get on the bus, whichever was needed. However, the landlady saw us leave and locked up the room after we left. At the bus station, Steven pointed out the bus and its timetable to us. We decided we would take the 11:30am bus. Now, we just had 2 hours to kill. We went to a coffee shop with internet and spent time. We figured we should grab a lunch to go with us, so we went to the nearby Mom’s Touch. Unfortunately, we had all kinds of mixups with them. They misunderstood that we only wanted 1 Combo #2. And instead gave us 2. I only caught it as I started signing for the purchase. I guess that meant that they couldn’t cancel it. They tried and tried and tried. So, I asked them to give us cash and only give us one combo. But then, I thought, what would we do with the cash? We were trying to get rid of all cash. Finally, I just let them charge me for two of them and give me both. However, we were short on time by now. They worked quickly to get them to us quickly, but by they time we got to the station, there was only 1 seat left. Defeated, we bought tickets for the next bus at 1pm, which would still get us there in time.

20131024_104321 I thought there weren’t enough pictures in this section, so here is a picture of my pretty new fan that I got in Seoul.

We went back to Mom’s Touch to eat our meal. When we opened them up, we discovered that they had put mayo on them despite the request to nix it. I took them back and they corrected the issue. By this point, I felt like it was already quite the disappointing and tiring day, but at least it went pretty well after that. We did get on the next bus and it took us directly to the airport. We made it inside. We hadn’t had a chance to print our tickets yet, so we had to stand in the very long line at the ticket counter, but we were given seats. We made it through customs without contestation. Then, at the gate, we were awarded first-class seats (not just business).

First class is especially nice, as every seat has aisle access and fully-flat beds. They even have a guest seat. Again, dinner was fantastic, with a glorious carrot soup. I managed to watch two movies before falling soundly asleep for 2 hours. Missed several meals and snacks. By the time I woke up, I didn’t even have enough time to finish watching my next movie. Oh well, that sleep helped a lot. We landed in DFW and our exotic trip to the East was over.


Sunday, December 1, 2013


Re: 2013/10/29-2013/11/2

On Tuesday we arrived in Jeju City (in Korean city is spelled as –si at the end of the name, e.g. Jeju-si) in the early afternoon. We used our transportation app (NaverMap) to figure out how to get to our hostel. For the first day, we decided to stay at B&B Pan, which had the cheapest rates we could find and was recommended by Leslie. After we finally found the entrance and were let in, we got settled in. They offered to provide us dinner, but they were already in the process of cooking, almost done actually, and I told Jonathan they might not have enough to include us. We declined, which was probably just as well, they didn’t look like they had much that we would eat.

My first impressions of Jeju-si was that it was smelly. Between the rotting, fishy smells of the ocean and the poorly-vented sewers, I was not impressed. B&B Pan was particularly smelly, even if they were friendly. For dinner, we decided to go find a restaurant. The owners of B&B Pan suggested a restaurant in the Black Pork street (Jeju-si has sections/streets where similar types of restaurants congregate. Near our hostel was Black Pork street, elsewhere there was a Noodle Street). So, we walked over. We went in, but shortly found out that they only serve pork and that you must order at least 2 servings, which was 400g (0.88 lbs). Jonathan didn’t think he would be able to consume all that, even with leftovers, so we left. After wandering around the blocks near our hostel twice, we decided on another restaurant. Jonathan got another pork cutlet, and I got a bibimbap (a rice dish with various vegetables on top). Trying to communicate with restaurant people is interesting. When your offline dictionary isn’t working, it is especially difficult to do custom orders. For example, I didn’t want egg. Apparently my Korean is just slightly off and she couldn’t understand my pronunciation of the word. Eventually, Jonathan’s phone worked, and I was able to show her the word. Later, this struggle caused me to come up with a chart for determining ingredients.

DSC06456 You can see the traditional Korean bibimbap rice dish in the foreground. Interestingly, in Korea, they always serve a pickled dish with your meal. PIckled radish is popular.

For our first adventure in Jeju Island (Jeju-do), we decided to check out Manjanggul Lava Tube. It is a very large cave formed by lava flows solidifying on the outside while the interior still flowed. It created many interesting geographical designs in the tunnel. We took a bus from Jeju-si city bus terminal to the bus stop nearest the cave. From there we took a taxi, but it was pretty expensive for the distance; definitely tourist extortion. The length of cave we traveled through was 1km long one-way; one of the top 10 longest lave tubes in the world, especially so accessible.

DSC06463There was a formation that is considered to look similar to the shape of the island.

DSC06464 This flow is a result of lava flowing through a hole in an upper tunnel into the tunnel below. The height of the lower tunnel is over 20 feet here.

DSC06468 Afterwards we grabbed a small meal of steamed manju (dumplings). Whenever I don’t think about it much, I was getting pretty good at chopsticks.

After the cave, we went on to Seongsan-ri to find a hostel. Our first effort was unsuccessful, apparently it had been shut down for repairs. Tired, we decided to try a hotel that was on the road. It was as cheap as anything listed on the internet, so we went for it. The plan was to go to bed early and climb up Seongsan (Sunrise Peak) before sunrise to catch the view at daybreak. So early to bed and early rise. We made it up the hill in plenty of time, unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy.

DSC06469 The fishing ships were still out. They use bright lights to attract the fish. This practice is actually a big concern, as it is extremely effective, greatly reducing fish populations, and it produces mucho light pollution.

DSC06474 The view from the top.

DSC06478 The sun just barely peaked through the clouds for a second.

DSC06479 The view on the way down.

DSC06483 The twisty-windy high climb up the mountain.

After our early morning journey, we went back to the hotel for a nap. Then we used the bus system to return to Jeju-si. Since I couldn’t stand the smell at B&B Pan, we decided to try another location. This time we settled at Backpackers in Jeju Hostel. It smelled a lot better and was conveniently located. To finish off the day, we figured we would make a trip out to the Jeju Love Land with a possible stop at the Arboretum. We took a taxi, since it was getting late in the day.

DSC06494 Jeju Love Land was very entertaining. This was one of the tamest scenes.

Afterwards, we were going to take the bus, but as far as I could tell from the timetables, the bus wasn’t going to show for an hour. We didn’t want to wait, so we walked back to the Love Land parking lot and picked up a taxi to the arboretum. The arboretum was scenic.

DSC06499 Learning to read these was a self-teaching experience. The top row designates the stops and I had to figure out the spellings. The left-hand column is the number of times the bus runs and the times are when it stops at the locations.  The yellow-boxed number represents the bus number.

DSC06498 I love maples.

The next day we decided to devote to hiking Hallasan, the highest mountain in South Korea. We were told the paths on the west side of the mountain were more beautiful at this time of year. I didn’t get to compare it to the east side, but it was definitely beautiful. I found the southwest path even more beautiful than the northwest. We got a bit of a late start, but we were there before they stopped letting people go up the trail (after a specific time, they stop letting people up so they won’t be on the trails after dark). We just wanted to make sure we made it to the next bus stop before the last bus at about 4:30. But we hustled, and we made it with 5 minutes to spare before the 2nd to last bus.

DSC06505 The colors were beautiful by now.

DSC06512 This was the scene as we flattened out at the top of the trail.

DSC06520 You can see why weren’t allowed to go to the peak from this side of the mountain—just straight cliffs.

DSC06522 As we crossed over from the northwest trail to the southwest trail, the clouds started rolling in, making it difficult to see past 20 feet in front of us.

DSC06528 At the view of the 500 Followers of Buddha, we were just looking out into a drop-off of cloudy nothingness.

DSC06530 These beauties decorated the southwestern trail.

DSC06546 Again, the color! Just beautiful.

After that very tiring climb, we got the very last available seats on the second-to-last bus. We arrived back at our hostel. I was craving American-style pasta; and fortunately, on the way back to our hostel, we spotted a restaurant that served just that. We had tasty pasta for dinner with real parmesan. Then the next morning we caught a flight out of town with Air Busan, a budget airline.