This past week I flew out to South Korea for the Changwon Amateur World Championship. I’m not sure this particular World Championship was any sort of sanctioned world’s (they couldn’t provide insurance and no licenses were required), but they paid my way out there and the race had $13,500 of prize money, so it certainly had enough money for an Amateur World Championship.
My last few days in Korea were a whirlwind of activity. After we got back from our ski trip we went for one of the many hikes that were within a 5 minute drive of Derek’s house. We hiked up to what was known as Pig’s Gulch. As legend goes a pig climbed up the mountain and got himself stuck in a small space in the rocky outcrop on top of the mountain. A prince had to go up the mountain and rescue the pig and…..well that’s where Derek’s Korean failed us in reading the legend at the start of the hike.
It was a relatively short hike to the top, where we immediately hopped the fence to scramble over some rocks. Even though there were some metal hand hold’s installed or scrambling was made legitimately dangerous by the all the snow making the hand and foot holds pretty slick. Fortunately neither of us fell to our death and we made it to the pig’s gulch, where we hopped another fence and climbed through the gulch and almost got stuck ourselves.
After that it was off to lunch for Duck with Derek’s co-teacher, which was delicious and again cooked on a large central cook top.
Later that day we agreed to meet with a Korean who was studying for the GMAT with Derek. He took us out to eat in Icheon which is known for its rice. As Derek explained it the Korean version of George Washington only ate rice from Icheon, so we had to get rice. After dinner we went out for some Korean pizza and beer. As American as this may sound I still felt very much like I was in Korea. The Korean pizza was a little foreign, first the toppings were chicken and potato, and second there was no sauce. Additionally instead of the mixed nuts you would expect to have with beer we had a type of dried squid jerky which the old Korean dudes absolutely loved.
Friday started out with more skiing in the Yangji Pines ski resort.
That night we planned on heading out to Hongdae which is the clubbing area in Seoul. In order to replenish our man energy after a tough day of skiing Derek needed some boshintang, literally “invigorating soup”.
What soup could possibly give guy energy you ask? None other than dog soup. Yes fluffy, spot, Lassie, Beethoven, Balto, Snoopy, and Wishbone are all crying at my terrible act. I only really felt bad during the first few bites thinking of my poor dog Charlie and what he would taste like.
Then as my stomach rumbled again and I thought ahead to the prospect of staying up all night in Seoul, I dove in. The meat itself wasn’t too bad, neither was the dog stomach that was in the soup. If you’re wondering, it’s a dark meat (reddish brown in color), a little gamey and a little like lamb.
After we replenished our energy we headed downtown to meet up with some of Derek’s friends where he ate again at a meat buffet. The buffet served raw meat that we had to cook in the middle of the table. Thankfully the girls with us knew a lot more about how to cook the stuff and we didn’t have to risk food poisoning.
After that we went to what I thought was a bar….but really more a private room to eat and drink in.
We ended up in one of the clubs and it was freaking packed, there were lasers everywhere, and we got to drink Bud Light out of bottles….it was awesome.
After the club we went to a singing room or norebang. These are private Karaoke rooms where you can make a fool in front of your friends instead of the whole bar like America.
On Saturday we went to Wolmi Island which is a big boardwalk and amusement park area; think Jersey Shore without all the sleazy clubs or Guido’s. We rode what has to be the most dangerous park ride ever thought of.
Everyone sits in the circle of the “Disco” ride without seatbelts and the operator spins it around really fast and bounces it in an attempt to get people to fall down or create couples by literally smashing a boy and girl together.
After the “Disco” ride we got some local seafood, again cooked in the middle of the table.
On our last day we meet up with Derek’s girlfriend to go to see some street markets in Seoul, get some souvenirs, and see the Korean War museum. The Korean War museum was the place I saw the most Americans outside of the airport. The museum itself was pretty powerful reminder that only 60 years prior the entire country had been pretty much consumed by war, but was able to recover in a relatively short time to become the country it is today.
I was sad to say goodby to the country. I took one last shower/tooth brush/toilet combo shower in Derek’s all-in-one bathroom then said good bye and took the bus to the airport.
It was a great time overall, I couldn’t have even begun to figure out the bus maps without Derek, who was a great tour guide on top of all else. I definitely meet a lot of great people too that hopefully I’ll get a chance to see again sometime in Korea, America or otherwise.
After a few days of Seoul touring we had enough big city life and ventured into the country on a traditional Korean road trip. We first spent two days in Phoenix Park in Korea (or as it is pronounced in Korean: Poenixu Paku as it is pretty common in the country to Korean-ify English terms which American’s should be pretty familiar with). The skiing there was pretty awesome, as the only two times I’d been skiing prior was at Perfect North in Cincinnati and the literal garbage dump of Alpine Valley in the Metro-Detroit area. We had a good time hitting the slopes and playing up my foreigner card to try and get free refills of coke.
Derek also perfected his ski jumping skills:
Probably most importantly on Monday night I was schooled on the etiquette of Korean drinking which is unbelievably complicated. It could easily take an entire blog post to detail, but let’s just say I was well schooled that night.
The second day of skiing was only a half day. After skiing we dragged our half dead bodies into the car and drove to the Eastern Ocean. When we got there we ate some raw fish and shot off fireworks into the ocean on what was possibly the coldest night of all time. It didn’t help the crappy lighter we had didn’t really work.
The next day we woke up for our DMZ tour day. However first we drove around the coast to see some of the seaside cliffs that spot the eastern coast. We hopped the fence and climbed around some of the cliffs before heading to Yongyong (check??) where we got breakfast and checked out the fish market, which is filled with things that look totally un-appetizing.
Then it was to the DMZ! First of all, apparently Americans love touring the DMZ way more than Korean’s do. Second of all, the eastern portion of the DMZ is situated in the most naturally beautiful regions of Korea. We drove through (look up name of park), which is the Rocky Mountains of Korea just before entering the Punch Bowl which is a famous battlefield of the Korean war. We first got a tour of the 4th tunnel. Discovered in 1990, the 4th tunnel was the North’s most recent attempt to infiltrate South Korea by digging underneath the DMZ. The South discovered the tunnel and drilled a counter hole to stop the advance of the North, when discovered the North claimed they had been mining and ventured too far. Apparently some bomb sniffing dog found some TNT in the tunnel and saved the lives of 11 soldiers, so they were really lathering on the love for the dog in the tunnel tour. The tour guide talked about the dog, who was apparently promoted to Lieutenant in the Korean army, for about 20 minutes.
After the tour we toured the museum there and watched an informational video. While watching the video about 100 Korean soldiers queued up behind us to watch the video. It’s a weird feeling being a few white guys watching a video with a whole standing army behind you, anyway Danny dropped the ball on getting a picture with all of them, but I won’t hold it against him, but we did get a picture with our tour guide.
After the tunnel tour we went to the top of one of the mountains to see an observation post. On the observation post you can easily see across the 1 km wide DMZ into North Korea. It was a pretty impressive experience to look across the DMZ and see North Korean bunkers. We of course took a picture where we weren’t supposed to, and were all about to shit our pants in the picture since we heard someone coming up the stairs.
After a final expansive look at the punch bowl and almost barreling through an Army gate due to Derek overheating the breaks on his car, we finally headed back to the city.
That’s probably enough for this blog post. I’m on the Airplane back to America now and should probably get back to watching Man vs. Food and remembering all the things that make America great.
My Korean trip started last Thursday at 4 am. I arrived at the Tucson airport an hour and a half before my flight like a good traveler. Little did I know that the US Airways ticket counter didn’t open until 5:10 am, and couldn’t check in until just before my flight. From there it was a short flight to Phoenix, then over the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas to San Francisco. When I arrived in SFO, I only had one hour to walk/run about a mile to the International gate, check in, and go through international security. I got to the gate panting just as boarding was starting for the 747. I didn’t need to rush however, as boarding for the world first true Jumbo Jet took over an hour. It’s hard to imagine how large the aircraft really is until you spend five minutes walking to your seat at the back of the airplane past rows of 11 seats and two aisles. The 12 hour flight actually went by relatively quickly with the help of such great movies as, “Eat, Pray, Love” and “You Again” (my personal favorite). Actually the best part of the flight was the meals. Three full meals in addition to all the free pop to steal in the rear galley near the bathrooms.
Once in Korea Derek said it would just be a simple matter of catching a bus to Yongin. All I had to do was buy a bus ticket to a place I had never even heard of and was pronouncing terribly wrong, board a bus that lacked any English signage, and then ride it two hours into the ‘country’. However, the Korean idea of ‘out in the boonies’ is very different than in America. If America is the country of wide open spaces, Korea is the country of high rise apartment complexes…everywhere. When the bus stopped at the Yongin terminal I honestly though I had made a huge mistake, the area resembled more of a large city downtown the size of Indianapolis than anything remotely rural. Fortunately I didn’t screw up the bus and met up with Derek. We went to a blue collar Korean BBQ restaurant. Korean BBQ involves cooking your own food on a stone heated by gas burner. In America this would be an exotic $40 meal, but in Korea it’s pretty common and costs about $5. All of us arm wrestled the owner for Cokes, then went back to Derek’s hometown of Yongji for some drinks and lessons in the very foreign Korean culture of drinking.
The next two days we spent seeing some of the sights in Seoul. The sightseeing involved hours of bus and subway riding and about five meals a day. We met up with a bunch of Derek’s friends each day to see the sights. Seoul and Korea in general is filled with tightly packed mountains and several of these are within the city limits of Seoul itself. It should be noted that in Korea a city is similar to a county in America, so the city of Seoul contains many city centers that are known by their own independent names. On Saturday night we took a bus to the top of one of the mountains in Seoul to get a vantage of the city. The mountain is the romantic spot of the city and it’s tradition to take your girlfriend up there and put a lock on the railing to symbolize your never ending love or something like that. You’re even supposed to take the lock down if you break up so I don’t think this tradition would catch on in America since all the locks would have to be cut off at some point and it would end up just being a guard rail.
On Sunday we toured the Korean national palace that was inhabited by those ruling Korea until the mid 90’s.
Derek and I are both the year of the rabbit (1987), which is a whopping 25 in Korean age.
The actual presidential palace was situated right behind the old palace and was known as the “Blue House”.
I have a lot more blogging to do about this trip as we just got back from a big ski/DMZ trip so look forward to some blogging in the next few days.