Sunday, September 14, 2014

Chuseok 2014 (Korean Thanksgiving)

This year I spend Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) in Suwon at my in-laws house. We didn't visit the graves of their ancestors like last year (you can read about it here) because it was too far away and traffic was so horrible. It would have taken at least 4 hours to drive there, then another 4 hours to drive home... if we were lucky. 

So, what is Chuseok? Here is a quick re-cap. 

Chuseok (추석) is a major harvest festival and 3 day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. Up until only a few decades ago Korea was still a heavily agrarian society so celebrating a good harvest is still an central part of Korean culture. During chuseok Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and share a feast of Korean traditional foods.  

There are a couple of theories on how and when chuseok originated, but the most popular theory is that it started 2000 years ago as a weaving competition when two teams would go head to head in a month long weaving competition. The team that had woven the most cloth was declared the victor and was treated to a feast by the losing team. 

In modern South Korea, on Chuseok there is a mass exodus of Koreans as they return to their hometowns to pay respects to the spirits of their ancestors (I joined my in-laws for this last year). Early in the morning (before breakfast) people perform ancestral worship rituals and then later in the day visit the tombs of their immediate ancestors to trim the grass and clean the area around the tomb. They also take some food and drink to offer to their ancestors to show their thanks to their ancestors for blessing their harvest. 

This year because my in-laws had moved to Suwon (last year they were in Iksan) so Jihyeon and I caught the train north to Suwon. 


To save some money we caught the Mugunghwa, which is one of the original passenger trains in Korea. The carriages are really old and rattly, but it is about half the price of a KTX (the high speed modern train that does 300km/h). 




The country side still looks quite green and the rice fields are almost ready for harvesting. 



Even though population growth in Korea is slowing, there are still a lot of apartment buildings getting built. 



Once we arrived at the in-laws, we were put to work helping prepare the food.  



Handmade Mandu (Korean dumplings). 



Later, we took the dog for a walk around the park. 



Cheese.





Lots of people stopped us and wanted to pat Haru. 






The next morning we were put to work again preparing food. 





Later that night I went back to Hwaseong fortress again (for my 4th time) to walk around the last part of the wall I had not seen and take some night time photos. You can find photos from my first three visits here, here and here

In ancient times the Hwaseong Fortress wall surrounded the town center of Suwon (Suwon city is about 30km south of Seoul) and was built in 1794 by King Jeongjo to house and honor the remains of his father Prince Sado, who had been murdered by being locked alive inside a rice chest by his own father King Yeongjo after failing to obey the command to commit suicide. 

We started at the southern gate of the fortress wall which sits in the middle of a chaotic roundabout.  





We then started walking around the section of the wall we were yet to explore. 




A watch tower. 



We then crossed to the inside of the wall. In the distance you can see the huge church that sits in the middle of Suwon. The church is ginormous and is easily the biggest building in the center of the city. 




View from another watch tower. 




This is the outside of the eastern gate. 



And the inside of the eastern gate. 





This is the command post for all the important people. It has a good view of inside the wall. 




Another watch tower.



Another watch tower.








I wanted to keep going but they turned all the bloody lights off at 10PM. 

The next day was Chuseok. We got up early and set the table for the offering. 




Haru looked on in envy at the food. 



and then did what she does best once the food was put away. 




Later in the afternoon we went for a bike ride around the huge park and lake near by. Suwon (at least this part of Suwon) is really well designed. You don't see it from the road or the train, but all the apartment complexes are joined by a huge network of parks, bike-ways and footpaths. It's really great having such a large green space close by. 




We then packed up and headed back to Daejeon.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

East Korea - Gapyeong and Chuncheon

It's taken 18 months, but Jihyeon and I finally started exploring the eastern part of Korea. A large proportion of South Korea's population lives on the western side of the country because it is mostly flat. The whole eastern side of the country (about 70% of the land area) is covered in mountain ranges which makes construction and transportation more difficult. The good news is that, other than a few tourist hot spots, this makes the eastern side of Korea more peaceful. We caught the ITX train from Seoul to Gapyeong, a small town 45 minutes (by ITX) east of Seoul. 


If you want to save a few dollars, the subway line from Seoul actually extends all the way to Gapyeong, but it will take you about 2 hours by subway. When you are not passing through tunnels (of which there are many on the way to Gapyeong) you get a sneak peak of the mountain ranges and waterways the region is famous for. 




Gapyeong is a big new modern station. Out the front were a locals selling their wares. 



Across the road from the train station are rice fields and a small supermarket.



Once we bought what we needed, we called the pension owner (for your Aussies, pension is the word used in Europe for guesthouse. Korea has adopted it) who drove down to pick us up. This seems to be a common service provided. While we were waiting we saw many young people who had just gotten off the train with us get picked up by other pension owners.



After a short drive, we arrived at our pension (guest house). 



And we were greeted by a very happy dog. 



There were 5 or 6 different rooms to choose from, each with a different styling and furnishings. This is the room we chose. It was well decked out with a small kitchen (plates, microwave, kettle, utensils, electric stove), TV, air conditioning and computer.





Next to the pension (guest house) was a rice field. One thing that has bugged me immensely about living in Korea is the constant noise of cars, people yelling in the street at all hours, neighbours stomping around and slamming doors...... It was very nice to sit and listen to nature.



We also had a closed in balcony complete with a Korean BBQ and...



A spar!



The bathroom was bright and cheerful and.... had a window too! I didn't realise how much I took having a window in the bathroom for granted in Australia. This is literally only the first time I have used a bathroom with a window since moving to Korea. 



We had arrived late in the evening, so we had noodles and mandu (dumplings) for dinner before hitting the hay. 

The next morning we had pancakes for breakfast before walking up the road to find the bus.



About 400m up the road we found the bus stop for the shuttle bus that stops by the major tourist attractions. It is 5000won ($5) per adult per day. It runs every hour, but is often late on weekends and holidays because of bad traffic and locals and tourists parking on the side of the road making the 2 way main road a 1 way main road. 



Gapyeong shuttle bus timetable. 



Gapyeong shuttle bus map. 



By the time we made it into town it was almost lunch time and we were hungry, so we stopped by this place for lunch. 



Gapyeong is meant to be famous for its chicken dishes. It was nice (we ordered the non spicy chicken dish which turned out was still a little spicy), but imo not good enough to earn it a famous reputation. As is often the case in Korea, the food was brought out uncooked....



and we cooked it at our table before being able to eat. 



With full stomachs we headed towards Nami Island and the huge zip wire/flying fox tower. 



We booked some tickets on the zip wire and then chilled out by the water while waiting for our allotted time slot. 





There were a lot of power boats on the water towing what seemed to be the latest watersport craze in Korea. These huge yellow inflatable rafts (called flying fish) would catch the air and fly up in the air while the passengers were on the back of them. 





Finally, it was our turn to head up to the top of the tower. 


The tower is 80m high. 



Cost is 38,000won ($38) and includes the ride on the ferry back to the main land. 



There are two zip wire/flying fox courses you can do. You can go to Jara Island, which is a 640m wire, or you can go to Nami Island, which is a 940m wire. 



The waiting area was packed.



After a short elevator ride to the top we had some time for photos before our safety briefing began. 





The couple before us getting buckled in.



Here is a quick video of the ride down the wire. They let your take photos/video's while you are going down the wire as long as you have a wrist strap on your camera. 


Finally, Nami Island. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the island and relaxing by the water. The island is a real hodge-podge of different activities/attractions. 



Some bonsai. 





A water fountain with some melted and warped soju bottles on top.





There are lots and lots of squirrels on the island. I tried taking some up close photos, but they are very skittish. Given that they spend half their day running away from Korean children, I'm not surprised. 











The zip wire tower in the distance. 



Some random wood carvings along the path around the island. 













There is a lot of weird artwork on the island. 







Another squirrel. 



Dotted around the island are free to borrow books and seating.



The view from the southern end of Nami Island. 





The eastern shore of Nami Island. Blue skies for the win :)



Another squirrel. 











A small building filled with books to read. 





A small temple. 





Swimming pool.



I wasn't expecting this. An exhibit of artwork from Australian children's books. 









Reading room.



This is the traditional setup for cooking rice, soup and other things in Korea. Jihyeon's grandmother had a setup just like this one. 



Here they are cooking bread. The bread is filled with a sweet read bean stuffing and is steamed in the pots. 



Some strange monorail bike. We didn't have time to try it out. 





Jumbo goldfish.



Lotus Lilly garden. Most of the flowers have died, but I imagine it would look really nice in June.





The eclectic theme continues, this time it's ostriches. 



Time to return to the main land and catch the last bus for the day. 



Annyong (bye). 



Back in the pension we had a Samgyupsal BBQ.



Nom nom nom.



Fire!



Afterwards, we relaxed in the spar. 



The next morning we were up early to catch the shuttle bus to "The Garden Of Morning Calm", a privately owned collection of 20 different gardens in the mountains west of Gapyeong. Unfortunately... since it was the weekend the traffic was terrible. Our bus was late and moved at a snails pace.

On the way to the garden we passed a large dam that keeps the reservoir full of water all year round. As our bus putted along I watched ski boats operate inside the clearly marked danger area by the floodgates of the dam.....







About 2 hours later, we arrived at the garden of morning calm. 







There is a main path you can follow around the garden, but along it are small paths that take you to different areas of the garden. 























It was a little hot in the valley, but as we climbed we found a cool breeze. 



Korea's national flower. 



The garden is full of small gazebos to rest in, unfortunately they were all occupied.










Crazy tree. 







A train!

















The "Korean" garden". 













Because of the bus delay in the morning, we didn't have time to do anything else today so we headed back to our pension (guest house) and had Samgyupsal again. 





On day 3 we packed up our things and headed to the neighbouring town of Chuncheon. It is just a short 5 minute ride on the subway. Chuncheon is a really small town, but it has an interesting attraction. There is an old section of railway line that has been turned into a tourist attraction. You can hire a rail bike and cycle along the railway for 7.5 km. 



It was raining, so we waited around for a taxi at the station. After waiting 15 minutes, we gave up and decided to hoof it in the rain. It was only 1.5km up the road. 



The yellow arrow points to the railbike tourist attraction. 


I kind of wish I lived in a town like this. It was so nice and quiet. 



Flower by the side of the road. 



Some cows in an intensive feed shed. Raising cows is very different in Korea than in Australia and I guess follows the American model of farming.



A very old abandoned farm house on the side of the road. 



walking...



Misty mountains. 



Almost there. Just 300m to go. 



We arrived!



We had a little time to spare, so we picked up our tickets and checked the place out. 





It is a really professional operation. They have a nice shaded waiting area. 



and a cafe to order food and drinks. 



There was also an artist drawing charactertures of people. 





After a short safety briefing, we were off and rolling. 







Short video. 



Before leaving the pension this morning, we cooked some mandu (dumplings) and packed them in our bag to have with some noodles for lunch. In Korea, convenience stores are everywhere. Often in cities, you can stand in a street and literally throw stones at two or three of them they are so close. They all have a large selection of instant noodles you can buy and eat in the store for about 1000won ($1). If you are traveling on a budget or are in need of a quick feed, they are a good option.  



They have an instant hot water dispenser for making noodles or instant coffee. 



Many of them will have a seating area out the front too. This convenience store was slightly larger than usual and had seating inside and out. 



The noodles are ready... nom nom nom.





Once you are finished, make sure you tip the dregs into the correct bin. There will be a special bin for handling the liquid. 



There are lots of other instant quick meals that you can heat up in the store microwaves. Chicken burgers...



Spaghetti...



Meatballs and rice...



Japanese style meat and rice dishes.



Even a spam and rice burger!



and of course instant coffee. Just 1000won ($1) a cup.




Boys will always be boys... no matter what country they are from.



We wanted to get the artist to do our charactertures, so we headed back to the old train station where the railbikes were.



The kids were fascinated by the artist drawing a westerner. 



While he finished off the colouring, we snapped a couple more photos at the old station.





The back room of the station is filled with notes left by visitors.



We stuck our own on the wall. I couldn't find any other English notes on the wall, so I'm going to say mine was the first. 



The finished masterpiece!



What do you think?



It was then time to start the long trek back to Daejeon.




If you have the time, definitely check out the eastern region of Korea.