Monday, March 28, 2011

101 Awesome Things About Seoul: Installment 3

It is common knowledge that Seoul is a neat place. To prove this to the few disbelievers who roam the hills and eat out of dumpsters, 101 pieces of evidence - completely subjective evidence, perhaps - have been compiled. The first twenty can be viewed here. The second twenty can be viewed here. The third twenty are recorded here.

(41) THE CASHIER AT EVERY CONVENIENCE STORE SAYS BOTH "HELLO" AND "GOOD-BYE"

Every time. It's not just convenience stores. This extends to bakeries, banks, and restaurants. If you are lucky, the bus driver will even greet you. No doubt it is company policy nation-wide to do this, but some folks, like the late-night clerk at the GS25 by my house, really get into it. I think he takes a certain pride in sounding alarmingly chipper at 2:30 in the morning. But: rest assured there is no need to feel lonely in Seoul. Just go buy something.

(42) N SEOUL TOWER

Looming over the center of Seoul like a teacher watching sweaty kids take Algebra II tests, this pinnacle is one of the more frequently visited tourist destinations in the city. The tower sits atop Namsan, which is this small mountain/large hill right in the middle of Seoul. To ascend to the top, there is a gondola that visitors can be boarded, a path that can be hiked to the top in about a half hour, a bus that can be ridden, or taxis that can be taken. Once there, the peak has many a distraction, like a teddy bear museum, arcade games, a million lockets that couples put on fences and trees, and other various money-wasting attractions, but do not be sidetracked by these; the true gold is at the top of the tower. An 8,000KRW ticket gives entrance to an elevator, which takes visitors to the large, circular observatory. From there, a magnificent view of the city of Seoul can be taken in at leisure. On the windows are the names of cities that the windows face, despite the thousands of miles that lie between said city and said window. There's no sign for Des Moines, sadly. A trip during the day is fairly cool, but make sure the weather is sunny and clear; it's no fun being able to only see smog and dust. That being said, a trip at night is more awesome, in my humble opinion; a better estimation of the city's true size can be made. And I think it's just prettier. Take pictures, sigh deeply, feel good. There is a restaurant up there that slowly revolves to give diners a panoramic look at the metropolis. There is a gift shop that slowly sucks won out of pockets. There is a bathroom from which - at least from the men's room - one can continue admiring Seoul while urinating. A better peeing experience I cannot fathom. Anyway. A trip to this fair city is not complete without a trek to one of its best vantage points.

(43) SHABU SHABU

Take us there, Megan "Run, Devil, Run" Schwartz. This is a mutation of hot pot from China, and I think it maybe found its way into Korea via Japan, but that crap doesn't matter. The fact is, shabu shabu is here, and it's a good meal. The ideas is this: you boil some water and chuck in a bunch of vegetables and let it go hog wild for a spell. Then you throw in thin slices of meat; I think it's beef, but I have never taken the time to investigate. ..so great has been my haste to consume. Mmm after a short time the meat that you've thrown in is cooked, so you add some sauce and devour it. Eat the meat, eat the veggies. Then when the water is beginning to run low, throw in some noodles and let them get good and hot and edible. Then - get this! - eat those! Lastly, rice is brought and put in the now empty bowl, so you get the residue of all that has passed through the dish. Sound good? It is. I am not going to lie; it is not in the running for the best item to eat in Seoul, but shabu shabu does taste fine and it is very healthy. Holler.

(44) PC BANG

PC="personal computer" (hopefully you knew this already) and "bang"="room" or "box." Basically this is an establishment - often a smoky, dimly-lit one - that has many, many computers in it. Individuals go get a code and use the computers and pay the 1,000KRW/hour or whatever the rate is when they are done. Different users of the PC bang will have different things to say about it. Those most acclimated with it, I would say, are Korean high school boys. The best anecdote I heard was one in which one of my favorite students "ended up standing on his chair, waving his computer monitor over his, and yelling swear words" in the PC room. Indeed, many of my own students - and even some teachers! - have been known to congregate at Good Day by the Haebangchon Ogeori and engage in Starcraft battles or World of Warcraft wars until their parents (the students' parents, not the teachers...I can only imagine...) come and drag them away. Which leads to another view of the PC bang, best represented by the parents of the Korean high school boys, who are probably wondering why their kids aren't at their hagwon like they should be. Other views, which will include mine, are maybe disinterested or amused by the PC bang. Perhaps there has been a time when one of us has needed to kill an hour and has ventured in in order to surf the net or stink up our clothes with second-hand smoke. But others - mostly the aforementioned - are not so lucky. The monetary rates at these places are quite cheap, so there are many other amenities made to further entice the PC bang-attendee to stay longer, type faster, and click stronger. One can order snacks and other delicacies. How convenient! Too convenient, perhaps; the Westerner may recall reading an article or two about the couple from Suwon who let their own infant die as they indulged in an online child-rearing game or the college student who died after twelve straight hours of gaming. As they say, all things in moderation.

(45) MUSEUMS

There is lots of history in Korea. There is lots of history in Seoul. There are lots of places to learn about history in Seoul. Scads of museums populate the metropolitan area. To name a few (read: the ones I have been to): the National Museum of Korea in Ichon, the Seodamun Prison Museum in - surprise - Seodamun, the Korea War Memorial in Yongsan, the Kimchi Field Museum at the COEX Mall, the Museum of Contemporary Art at Seoul Grand Park, the Seoul Museum of Art near City Hall, and the National Folk Museum in the Gyeongbokgung complex. Another more extensive list can be found here. Needless to say, there are about a million museums to peruse through, so bring on the cold days or the rainy weather. Information galore is available.

(46) EASY GARBAGE REMOVAL

In front of my apartment, there is often a pile of garbage out by the street. The contents of the pile varies. Sometimes it is food waste. Sometimes it is furniture. Sometimes it is stuff that looks new, stuff that I am tempted to take. And I don't handle temptation well. But: if you have garbage of almost any sort, there are about three steps you need to take in order to have it removed from your possession. The first: get some garbage bags. There are straight up trash bags, and there are food recycling bags, and there are normal recycling bags, and there might be more that I don't even know about. Integrity-lacking hint: if you skip this step, you will probably be okay, but if you get caught, you may find garbage strewn all over your doorstep someday. The second step is to put what you want to dispose of into the appropriate bag. And the last step is simple: bring said bag out to the pile nearest your home and leave it there, for it will be collected early the following morning. You may want to check to see what is already in the garbage pile. I have come home from walking past my garbage pile with new computer speakers. Another time Dawna saw a huge picture frame and grabbed it for me. And since Koreans get new furniture as soon as their current items accrue the least bit of wear and tear, you may find what you consider to be perfectly good chairs (see up and right), tables, couches, shelves, or mattresses out on the sidewalk, just waiting to be taken. By you. I scored a sweet chair in Mok-dong once, and then Robert Boyce scored it when I left. Anyway, everywhere else I have lived, garbage removal required registry and maintenance. Except in Niagara Falls, where we had to put our rotten food-filled bags of waste in the Bronco by hand and drive them to a nearby dump. Here, just get the bags and chuck the crap outside.

(47) FISH FILLED WITH BEAN PASTE (붕어빵)

Perhaps upon first reading this one you gagged slightly at the thought of a sloppy mackerel or a big whopping trout that you just reeled in from the lake filled with mushed up green beans or something. You silly goose. These fish aren't real; they're made of fried dough. And they're way better than anything from the ocean, except for maybe the Jaws film series. The paste filling the fish's innards is made of red bean paste. Instead of having to go to the ocean with your fishing pole yourself, bungeobbang can be purchased out on the street, maybe three for 1,000KRW. They make an excellent quick, warm snack, whether its a cold winter night or a warm spring morning.

(48) KOREAN IS EASY TO READ AND WRITE

The same cannot be said, perhaps, for listening, speaking, and understanding, but that's a whole 'nother matter. There are fourteen consonants (for those of you keeping score at home: ㄱ (g), ㄴ (n), ㄷ (d), ㄹ (l/r), ㅁ (m), ㅂ (b), ㅅ (s), ㅇ (-/ng), ㅈ (j), ㅊ (ch), ㅋ (k), ㅌ (t), ㅍ (p), ㅎ (h)) and ten vowels (ㅏ (a), ㅓ (eo), ㅗ (o), ㅜ (u), ㅡ (eu), ㅣ (i), ㅑ (ya), ㅕ (yeo), ㅛ (yo), ㅠ (yu))(thanks, Wikipedia) for a total of twenty-four characters, but get this: with a a few exceptions, each character makes the same sound every time! Unbelievable, I know, I know. Some combination of consonants and one vowel are put in a syllable block and are then read left to right, top to bottom, and then on to the next block. The characters themselves are based on Chinese characters and were organized into the written alphabet of Korean, a.k.a. Hangul, by King Sejong some five hundred years ago. And now they're everywhere...in Seoul. The characters can be learned in a couple hours, and when living in this city, one can be sure to be able to practice simply by walking down the street and reading the signage. There are about a million benefits to being able to read Hangul: the buses are easy to navigate, it's a great base for learning to speak and converse, food can be ordered, etc. Even my dad used it when he visited Seoul; my sink was clogged, so he looked up the word for "to be clogged" in my English-Korean dictionary, wrote it out, and took it to GS25, where the cashier understood immediately. Boom: my sink works now. Just one of a thousand reasons to learn to read and write Hangul.

(49) PHOTO STICKER BOOTHS

Disclaimer: the photo sticker booth experience that Cass and I underwent was hands down the most emasculating thing I have done while living in Korea and maybe while being alive anywhere. This is true even after having my nails painted several times and getting some curiously whack haircuts. Anyway. We went in and grabbed some accessories; we took big purple and pink bows, but there were rabbit ears and tiaras and crazy wigs and other hats available also. The two of us heaved ourselves into this small booth, like a photo booth you'd imagine elsewhere in the world, and choose some backgrounds for our pictures. The backgrounds ranged from unicorns to stars and from a autumn forest to a field of flowers. We chose and posed. After the pictures were taken, in rapid succession, we changed the tint and went to the outside of the booth. Computer images of the quite girly pictures came up on a screen, and Cass and I had the opportunity to decorate the photos with a wide variety of graphics. Words, icons, shapes; anything and everything was available to be drawn all over us. So we drew all over ourselves. Then the pictures printed and the cashier (or whatever she was) laminated and cut them craps up, and we left with 'em. If I had kept them, they'd be hidden in the bottom of my "gifts from students' parents" drawer. But I didn't. So when I run for an important government office someday, I suspect that those photos will make an incriminating appearance during my campaign. Until then: yeah, alright, it was pretty fun.

(50) RESTAURANT SEAFOOD ON DISPLAY

Having grown up in the Midwest, I have not found myself exposed to much of what lives in the ocean. I am familiar with fish, sort of. But any other species of sea creature is a new, exciting attraction for me, whether it be squid, octopus, shellfish, eel, crab, shrimp, lobster, or one of a hundred of water beasts that exist. I cannot say I love eating any of those animals, but I really enjoy looking at them while they are still alive. Seoul is the place for casually enjoying aquatic life. Many a restaurant has between one and several large tanks outside on the street to show off its wares. I was quite delighted upon discovering this form of advertisement and continue to take pleasure in viewing the soon-to-be-consumed sea life that lines many streets in this metropolis. Fun anecdote: among those of us living in the same apartment near Mok-dong Station two or so years ago, a wild and dangerous tradition existed. The tradition was the attempt to capture - with one's bare hands - a fish from one of these tanks. At first money was involved, but eventually everyone gave it a go: try to grab one of the fish from the tanks. It was surprisingly scary and surprisingly difficult. No one ever succeeded, as far as I can remember. Oh, well.

(51) NO GUNS

Right before I left Walden Hall off Dowling Avenue in northern Minneapolis in 2008, a shooting occurred less than a mile from where we lived. A suburban had been sitting at a stoplight (Fremont and Dowling) at 3 in the morning, and another vehicle had pulled up and shot the suburban's driver and shotgun (pun intended) passenger. The suburban rolled through the intersection and smashed into a house on the other side. My roommates and I witnessed the miles of police tape and the piles of smashed glass and the gaping hole in the destroyed home as we drove to and from our place to I-94. I definitely remember thinking, "Should I tell Mom and Dad about this? Probably not..." And then I moved to Seoul. Which is about as far from that corner of Fremont and Dowling as one can get. Imagine my delight, then, when I learned that no one was allowed to carry fire arms in South Korea! The only people who have them are the military (see upper left). Obviously violence still exists in this society (stabbing, domestic violence, people tripping in high heels) as it does in any, but I feel quite safe at night knowing that there is no chance of me getting shot.

(52) SOMETIMES PEOPLE SAY HI TO ME JUST BECAUSE I'M WHITE

First of all, to be honest, the photograph here was taken because this sixth grade girl thought Pete was hot (so at least this #52 should say "we" instead of "I"); I happened to be standing there, too, and she felt sorry for me and my ugliness. Anyway, this is also probably an obsolete item. In the Mok-dong Poly School portion of my life, I lived among the true Korean population, away from anything less than native to Seoul, in a blooming part of the city called Mok-dong. In the Centennial Christian School stint, however, I moved to Yongsan, an area dominated by Itaewon (foreign tourist central), Haebangchon (home to wide variety of foreigners), and the Yongsan Garrison (U.S. Army outpost). Thus, the folks in this gu are used to seeing white people around and mostly ignore them. However, in Mok-dong, in other parts of Seoul, especially the more residential neighborhoods and less frequently publicized areas, there is not an abundance of waegukin. So, on a good day, someone will greet me with a pleasant "hello" or a timid but cheery "hi." I wrote a blog post about this a long time ago.

(53) BASKETBALL

In so many shapes and forms it comes. There is the pick-up ball scene, which I think can be found all over the place, as long as you have a ball and know where some courts are. There are many outdoor courts that line that Han River; they are heavily populated with aspiring ballers during the nicer months of the year. There are courts elsewhere as well, such as public parks and certain university campuses. The only ones I have been to have been on Yonsei's campus. And there are gatherings inside, maybe at an international school gym or on base for the ex-pats. In addition to pick-up basketball, there are also organized leagues of various sorts. One such conglomerate, SIBL, was run by a fellow teacher of mine last year. Another one that Mark and I used to get to scrimmage was a women's league. Fun! We have also played with various city league from time to time. And if you are more into the watching element of basketball, as opposed to the playing element, there is always the KBL. Denounced by some because of its style of play differs from that of America's, the Korean Basketball League is a fairly entertaining and competitive league of ten teams. I want to list the names because the first time I heard some of them, I didn't (and still do not) know what they were: Ulsan Mobis Phoebus, Seoul Samsung Thunders, Anyang KGC, Seoul SK Knights, Changwon LG Sakers, Daegu Orions, Incheon ET Land Elephants, Jeonju KCC Egis, Busan KT Sonicboom, and Wonju Dongbu Promy. Who knows. They are located all over Korea. There are plenty of games to attend in Seoul, of course. I have been to one regular season game (where I met Joe Krabbenhoft), one all-star game (where the best part was the halftime show), and NBA Asia Challenge 2009, in which the best players from the KBL played some Developmental League guys, Vlade Divac, Tim Hardaway, Dominique Wilkins, and Robert Horry. The KBL dudes won by thirty points. Dominique Wilkins dunked once. Vlade couldn't make it up the court. It was pretty fun. All in all, the sport of basketball is alive and thriving here; it's accessible in a number of ways. Ballin'.

(54) KTX

Korea Train Express. The train starts in Seoul and runs to Busan and to Mokpo. It travels at around three hundred kilometers per hour (close to two hundred miles per hour). But when you ride, you don't realize that you're moving that fast, because the ride is insanely smooth. And insanely quick. By my count the trip from Seoul to Busan takes about two-and-a-half hours. On the slower, less expensive trains (saemaeul or mugunghwa), passengers can expect to ride for between five and six hours. Dang. I have ridden it two times: once to Daejeon, which is one of the multiple stops that the train makes on its way south (or north). And once all the way to that balmy southern city. Snacks are available for purchase. Windows are available for countryside viewing. Tickets are available for acquisition: get yours today! Only 51,000-55,000KRW, depending on the day o' the week.

(55) RAMYUN

Quick, easy, and unhealthy: that is how I like my food. Thus, ramyun is the dish for me. Most recognizable in its cup form, the conglomeration of noodles and other random items (my random item of choice is a packaged slice or two of cheese...oh, Lordy) can be made...instantly, even by the most incapable of cooks. I know everyone and their mother knows how to make instant noodles already, but I will go through the process anyway. I have heard multiple students give speeches on it, so I am an expert. Step one: put water in your cup of hard, crusty noodles. Don't rip the top completely off. Step two: put the cup in a microwave. Set to three minutes. Sidenote: one time I followed these first two steps carefully, only to have my cup of ramyun burst into flames. No joke. Step three: when the microwaving is finished, take the hot cup out and mix in the spicy powder that will give your dish its flavor. If you want to add cheese, this is the point at which to do it. Step four: close the top off again and let it sit for a while. Step five need only be followed if you are a sally like I am: take the top off and wait for the ramyun to cool down. Otherwise, eat that crap up. If you don't want to follow four steps to heaven, try this approach. Step one: go to Kimbabchunguk and order ramyun, cheesey ramyun, or mandu ramyun. Step two: when it comes to you, eat that crap up. It's easier and usually more delicious than whatever I can conjure up. Anyway, when all's said and done, 라면 might not be the most nutritious meal in the world, but its convenience and taste overrule any health risks. Order up.

(56) CHEAP FOOD PRICES

Even you are not comfortable buying food off the street and even less comfortable cooking something for yourself in your nice li'l home, meals at many Korean restaurants are dang affordable and surprisingly filling. The filling element is enhanced by the multitude of side dishes that accompany each entrée. The affordable part...who knows. I am not a picky eater and there are hundreds of restaurants that sell kimbap and cheesey donkkas and and all things delicious for between 3000W and 5500W. The main chain I am thinking of is Kimbap Chun-guk, which, according to several credible sources, means "Kimbap Heaven!" This restaurant is everywhere, and the prices are the same and cheap. There are many similar ones, and there are also various other places to eat that specialize in soup (which remains cheap) and seafood (haven't experienced this). So, the moral of story: you can eat out all the time and it will cost the same as buying your own raw ingredients and creating some wild gourmet feast, and it will take less time. Far less time.

(57) COEX MALL

First things first: the Mall of America in Minnesota is four times the size of this mother. Moving on. An insane memorial to consumerism, the COEX is the biggest underground mall in Asia. There are two hundred some stores. There is a Megabox theater that shows a vast array of films. There is an enormous aquarium. There are oodles of places to eat, both Western and Korean. There is the Kimchi Field Museum. There is a cool plaza (see upper left) that is situated between the subway stop (Samseong, Line 2, baby) and the mall itself, a plaza that also habitually smells like cigarette smoke. If one had a lot of dough and wanted to spend it, the COEX could be of some assistance; shopping there is expensive. If one didn't have a lot of dough but wanted to do a scavenger hunt or just go look around the ol' place, the COEX could be of some assistance; there are always scads of people there. Because it's a huge mall. And that is what happens at those.

(58) MANDU

Not to be confused with a pet cat that one of my students brought in as a speech prop one day, mandu is synonymous with "dumpling" and "deliciousness." If I were more well-acquainted with the kitchen, I could tell you this with more confidence: I think that mandu comes to eaters either fried (this is for sure), steamed, or boiled (these are not for sure). I like the fried ones better. Anyway, the innards are meat, or kimchi, or vegetables, or there are probably other alternatives that are delicious and nutritious. The insides are wrapped in dough and then fried/steamed/boiled so that the dough becomes slightly to quite resilient. Then the mandu gets eaten. Maybe some soy sauce is dumped on, or the mandu gets dipped in the sauce. No matter. It's so easy, and it's so good. Back in my first couple weeks at Poly School, before I had any friends, I would get plenty of meat mandu for 3,000 won and go eat it and read e-mails in the computer lab. But those days are over. These days are different. Note the picture up and to the left. The picture shows Mark in a sea of steam. Not just any steam: mandu steam. Every time the restaurant proprietor steamed up a batch of this fine delicacy, an enormous cloud would spill out into the street (which initially attracted us to the establishment) and into the restaurant's interior as well, nearly suffocating customers. With giggles. If you really, really need to know what mandu looks like, there is a sign in the upper left corner of the picture. On the sign are some pictures of mandu. Otherwise just relish the sight of Mark almost dying.

(59) YOUR CLOTHES WILL NEVER SHRINK WHEN YOU DRY THEM

Because there's no dryers in Korea. Oh, rest assured that people don't just waltz around in wet clothes. No, no. There are clothes lines and drying racks everywhere. But since the water in Seoul (or any large city, for that matter) isn't the purest, you end up with crunchy towels and shirts when all your laundry is dry. But this is a small price to pay for saving some electricity and alleviating stress about whether your new cotton couple t-shirt is going to end up being a size too small for you. Just be patience. And be sure to have an industrial-strength iron.

(60) HUGE BUILDINGS

I am a huge sucker for huge stuff. I had a conversation with a former boss by the name of Ben Capps about this once in Niagara Falls, a city that also has an enormous something in it. I wondered why I loved things that were enormous. Was it because I came from the prairies of Minnesota and Iowa and thus was not exposed to such large structures or formations? Was it because I felt that massive size exuded the greatness of God? Was it because I felt like I was a part of something exciting and gigantic when I was around these things? The discussion concluded when the size (or lack thereof) of something else got brought up. But. Seoul has immense buildings. There is the 63 Building. There are the skyscrapers downtown. There is the Doosan Tower. There is Hyperion in Mok-dong (pictured up and to the left). Heck, anywhere you go, there are massive high-rise apartments that dwarf the biggest edifices I grew up near (grain elevators) all over the place. I just think that they are cool to look at. Especially at night, when they're all lit up. You can't deny it. And if you do, I'll knock your block off.

To be continued...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trip of Smack Talk: Busan and Jeju 2011

Last week a number of us - namely, Mr. Mark Nola, Dawna, and I - found ourselves with nothing to do, as it was spring break for two of us and a season of unemployment for one of us. A plan to visit Japan was made and then abandoned five days before the departure time arrived; a new course of action was hastily devised in wake of the previous one. This new course was composed of a KTX ride to Busan on Saturday the 19th, a plane flight to Jeju Island on Tuesday the 22nd, and a return flight to Busan on Thursday the 24th.

Our 9 a.m. train ride landed us in this fine port city of 3.7 million by 11:30. We ate and scampered to Gwangalli (literally translated: "work this") Beach, which proved to be a perfect place to a) walk around in the sand c) take pictures with elementary school girls c) chuck a frisbee around d) smash cell phones in the sand while diving for said frisbee, thus causing said cell phones to turn off and on without notice throughout the course of the next six days e) meet K-Nat, a.k.a. The Nation, a.k.a. Kayse, a.k.a. the bomb.com.

K-Nat, a.k.a. The Nation, a.k.a. Kayse, a.k.a. the bomb.com. said we should go check out the biggest department store in the world: the Shinsegae (literally translated: "let's go deeper") store a few miles away. So we did. It is the biggest department store in the world. It had a skating rink. It had a million floors. It had a marvelous rooftop observational platform. And, it had its own area code.

Needless to say, we didn't fit in there, so we left for this temple out in the boonies called Haedong Yonggungsa (literally translated: "black is black"). And there it sat, on the coast, overlooking the sea in all its glory. Feeling much, much, much more at home at this juncture, we perused bravely around the area and took note of wide array of Buddha statues and other tourists populating the area.

Soon night fell, and off we went to eat burgers, transfer our luggage, hang out with some of K-Nat's birthday-celebrating crew, and fall into the deepest of slumbers. If only we had been able to foresee what the next day held.

Rain. Sheets and sheets of rain. As thick as the hair in my brother Michael's armpits it fell, drenching the generally-sunny city in a rug of gray. To counter this, we went to a friendly church called ICC, where we heard about human trafficking, and then we went and ate Japanese food with the church's welcoming committee. Holler.

The rain was not forgotten, however. Feeling that it was only fitting to do some sad stuff, we trekked through the United Nations Memorial Cemetery. Not only was the place quiet and dreary because of the rain and clouds, but all the grass was dead, along with the cemetery's permanent occupants. So the mood was just right; no one talked, and no one laughed.

But we did talk and we did laugh at the next destination: Busan Aquarium on the Haeundae Beach. Having been through the COEX Aquarium multiple times, I figured a cooler undersea experience would probably elude me for the rest of my life. And I was right, but there were things about Busan's aquarium that I greatly appreciated compared to the COEX's: it wasn't crowded at all, it didn't wear me out with its incredible length, and at the end there was a car full of one small ray and a slough of water. Which you'd think the COEX Aquarium would have, but I don't think it does. Anyway, it was pretty ballin'.

Then we ate tacos and talked about how awesome we were and rode the subway back to K-Nat's. A word about Busan's subway: it seemed to take forever to get anywhere. Maybe it travels at a slower rate than the one in Seoul, or maybe there are more stops, or maybe things are more spread out. It just took a while every time. But we did get to where we needed to go. Boom.


Kansas had a basketball game the next morning, so Marky Mark went to a PC 방 to be merry and watch that while Dawna and I went to the Jagalchi (literally translated: "crime story") fish market to watch that. We'd thought that we'd seen every sort of marine creature known to man at the aquarium, but we were stupid to think that. At the fish market, there was more. At the first market, there were more huge boats, There were more people casually slaughtering the animals we were so enraptured by right in front of our eyes, close enough to splatter gore onto our Midwestern clothing. And there were more old guys waving us over to drink soju and eat congealed cow blood soup with them at 11 a.m. on that Monday morning.

When we'd seen enough of the fish and Mark had seen enough of Kansas beating Illinois, the three of us regrouped and went to the airport to fly to Jeju. Jeju is an island about 110,808.876 baseball bats south of the southern coast of South Korea (I bet you never thought you'd see the word "south" that many times in a sentence, did ya?). There are two main towns: Jeju (literally translated: "pray") and Seogwipo (literally translated: "dancin' machine"); Jeju City is on the north coast and S-Town is on the southern one. And our hostel, Jeju Hiking Inn, was in the latter of the two towns. We landed on the island, boarded the 600 bus, and sped down and southward.

Where we discovered more rain. After a meal of barbecued pork and a throat-wrenching round of noraebang, we lay our heads to rest in the aforementioned hostel. A word on our accommodations for the trippy trip: since we only started planning our excursion a few days prior to making it, finding cheap places to stay proved to be a smidge difficult at first. Our initial plan was to couchsurf like possessed people, but only one kind soul responded to my requests (Rachel, you rock and will be given more praise later) before we left. In Busan we obviously stayed with K-Nat, a.k.a. The Nation, a.k.a. Kayse, a.k.a. the bomb.com., who was a friend of a friend and whom I'd never met before coming. Which earned her that last part of her nomenclature, the bomb.com. Anyway, in Jeju there a handful of hostels available, and the Jeju Hiking Inn proved to be worthy of bomb.com status. For three beds in a private room, we paid only 13,500KRW a night. There were computers there, the place was warm, our host gave us maps, directions, and his cell phone number, and my laundry was done for me. The buses we needed to take all stopped fairly near to the establishment, and I think there was as much going on in the area surrounding the Hiking Inn as there was anywhere in that fairly quiet town. Cool!

The next day was Tuesday, ya'll. With high hopes, we struck out east on a different bus bound for Udo (literally translated: "on your face") Island. We got there without much hassle but immediately discovered that it was absolutely freezing because of the wind. So much wind there was that the ferry that usually travels across the waters was not running. Too many waves.

Unfazed, the three of us bumbled over to Seongsan Ilchubong (literally translated: "help the children"). Sunrise Peak! A quick, balmy ascent left us breathless, not only because of the climb but also because of the beauty of the view from the top. The peak was a crater; I can only imagine that it looks eight or nine times more awesome when it is all green and sunny in the summer. But looking out to sea from the peak and also back over the island was incredible, even in the cold.

From the top we thought we saw a boat going out to Udo-do, so we went down, petted a horse, and tried to locate the ship's port. It was not to be. At this point we couldn't feel 90% of our extremities and our core body temperatures were hovering around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so we got a taxi to a bus stop and headed back to Seogwipo. And to a Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum, the most-recently opened one in the world.

What can I say about this museum that hasn't already been said about Matt Jones' love life? It was bizarre and irreverent. Off the top of my head (where else would any of this come from?), we saw a cardboard car, a moose made of nails, shrunken heads, eyeballs popping out of sockets, snakes sneaking through mouth and nose, a dress made of toilet paper, a painting brushed with nail polish, a family tree made of human hair, a mannequin that had been attacked by a shark, and me and Mark's decrepit faces.

Which was the primary reason for our group's next move: we split up. I walked out to this rocky point and watched the sun set and pondered my meager existence. It was great. Then I walked around the peninsula that our hostel sat above.

We reconvened around 8 p.m., destroyed a local Mr. Pizza, and went to watch "Takers" (starring T.I. and Chris Brown...so you can probably guess how good it was) in a DVD 방. Given the unnatural cold and the violent wind that we'd endured all day, the evening was a warm, pleasant, relaxing one.

On Wednesday we went to Cheonjiyeon (literally translated: "have you seen her") Waterfall, which was within walking distance of the Hiking Inn. There were 921,440,250,401 Korean middle and high school students there, too, so the true beauty of the falls may have been lost amidst the chaos. Which was fine. Dawna salvaged the morning by performing a stunning rendition of "L-O-V-E", which drew the attention of at least 78% of the aforementioned Korean middle and high schoolers. There was a JYP rep there, too, so after Dawna does her stint with YouthWorks! this summer, she's probably going to be joining 2NE1 (they need a fourth singer since Sandara is coming back to Iowa with me). Anyway, check it out:



Soon the Korean middle and high school students left, and so we did, too, and headed for the Manganggul (literally translated: "brothers hang on") Cave, the world's largest lava tube. It was alarmingly easy to get to. We perused through the ol' place at our leisure. I don't know what to say about it, really. There was big piles of rocks, there was hardened lava everywhere, there were layers and layers of history on the walls, and the end was a hardened waterfall of lava (or, a lavafall) from a gazillion years ago. We looked at it all and then walked back out.

We ate at a convenience store, which we'd done about forty times on the trip already, and the proprietor said that I was not handsome two or three times. We then went and threw the frisbee around until the bus came and took us to Jeju City, where we camped at a Tom and Tom's until 7. At that point Winnie and Joel, ex-coworkers of the late Pete and Kelly Freeburg, whooshed us away for an evening of laughter, conversation, and vegetarian food. A good time was had by all. At midnight or so we got a taxi that hauled us all the way back across the island to the inn of hiking, and we went to bed in a weary but satisfied manner.

On Thursday none of us had any desire to be with each other and, thus, we all went our separate ways and met at the airport in the evening before our flight left. I walked on an ollegil (literally translated: "too legit to quit"), which is a walking trail that takes walkers through picturesque places on the island. There are between fifteen and twenty of them on Jeju, I think. The 올레길 that I walked, number 7, took me up hills and along the coast and past beaches. Very nice, very nice.

At some point I veered off toward World Cup Stadium but couldn't get in it. Then I took a bus back to Jeju City, where Dawna and I met and went to the only beach o' sand that we'd get to experience on the island of Jeju: Iho Tewoo (literally translated: "do not pass me by") Beach. It was empty, cold, smooth, and unremarkable. The sunset was cool. The sand was just right for writing stuff.

After a while we headed back to the airport, where we calmly waited for Mark to rush in at the last minute, show us his money haircut, and board the plane with us. We flew back to Busan and went off in different directions once again, Dawna and I to find a couch surfer named Rachel and Mark to Busan Station to take the KTX back to Seoul that night. He ended up in Ulsan (literally translated: "this is the way we roll"). Dawna and I found Rachel's house and enjoyed tea and her company. And her floor.

The next day, Friday, I was all set to get up and go back to Seoul and spend some time doing absolutely nothing for a day, but all those dreams were shattered after Rachel advised us to hit up Taejongdae (literally translated: "here comes the hammer"), which proved to be this forest-riddled peninsula that latched on to Busan. Dawna and I hiked through it and enjoyed the lovely views of the ocean and the city that the area afforded. We climbed up and down rocky cliffs, we listened to some woman tell us all about flowery items in some art gallery, we actively did not ride the trolley, we discussed Bethel like crazy, and we looked at the ocean. We looked at the ocean a lot.

All good things must come to an end, however. The walk through Taejongdae concluded, the train left for Seoul with us on it, and a return to civilization commenced. Game over.

When all was said and done, I had this to say about the excursion (I don't know what Mark or Dawna have to say, but I assume that their thoughts are racist, sexist, elitist, chauvanistic, atheistic, and ethnocentric):

1) We went at a less-than-ideal time. It was freaking freezing. I am quite sure that many folks heard about our trip and thought, "Aren't those places that people go in the summer, when it's warm?" I acknowledge this.


2) That being said, we made the very best of the aforementioned circumstances. We laughed a lot and still checked out a ton of touristy crap, despite the cold and the wind. That being said, I think it'd be awesome to visit one or both of the locations we checked out during the summer months. Being there last week had its advantages: there were no crowds to combat and booking a room was super easy. But the warmth would have made the trip even cooler (a seeming paradox?). And I don't mind a lot of people.

3) For being pretty tourist destination-oriented adventure, we met a pleasing number of neat people. Kayse was a homerun; I hope she comes up to Seoul soon. Her friends (especially the ones from Iowa) and the individuals we met at her church were also good company. We knew that Winnie and Joel would be a fun time, and they did not fail to meet our expectations. And Rachel and her silent roommate were sweet to hang out and eat cookies with. Count it.

4) Mark and Dawna are pretty awesome. Even if they won't shut up when it's time to go to sleep, I'd hang out with them any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. Our threesome had a money balance in so many different ways. For instance, both of them had cameras but don't actually take that many photos; however, I love taking pictures. Our average bag size came out quite evenly as well, as Mark had two bags, Dawna had one and a half bags, and I had one bag. Furthermore, our conversations varied nicely between deep ruminations on life, pleasant stories, quaint observations, filthy smack talk, and utter silence. Even the activities we did included the exploration of nature, the examination of tourist attractions, and interaction with a variety of people groups. Last, we combined our talents in logic, assertion, and reading Korean to the trip in just the right combination whenever it came time to deciding where to go and how to get there.

5) Hallasan (literally translated: "u can't touch this"), which is Korea's highest mountain and the volcano that formed Jeju Island, remains unconquered by me. So I have to go back there and climb it.

6) We ate a lot of Pringles.