Andong to Gyeongju

I got a great night’s rest last night, as I am now able to actually sleep past 6 am. My train did not leave until 12:40 p.m. and since I had already seen everything this town had to offer, I lazed around the room, and watched an episode of Dexter online. I left, got breakfast at this really great bakery that would not have been out of place in New York or London, but was very cheap ($4 for a cheese scone, jelly donut and an espresso with mocha whipped pudding). Made it to the train station with 30 min. to spare so I chilled and ate my breakfast while watching little kids run around and play on a floor that probably would have killed me if I even took my shoes off.

Wrote the gear review on the train ride, then spent the rest of the trip listening to music from someone I had never heard of but somehow they made it on my iPod. I just sat and looked out the window at the beautiful scenery as it went by. I kept thinking about how I should go get my camera out of my bag, but I was full, comfortable and just sat and watched as bright yellow rice paddies and green fields rushed by. Every now and then there would be a farmer tending the rice paddies, and the contrast of their blue outfits was amazing against the sea of yellow grain behind them. Then I got off at the wrong station. I realized it about two minutes after I walked out. This place smelled like the underside of a Seoul sewer. And it was ugly. Gyeongju was not supposed to be ugly. I turned around, and ran back, and luckily the train had not left because the conductor was smoking a cigarette. ThankHill tomb god. I left Gungwon-ju and arrived at Gyeongju, which was the next exit.

I walked clear across town to the hostel, checked in, dropped my bag off, and left to go take picures of the tombs while I still had daylight. Got some good ones, met a group from Canada in one of the tombs who were in town for their sons wedding in Seoul. He runs a school and is hiring English teachers, so I got his number and will give him a shout.

I am trying to save money, and since I am here for two nights, I went to the store and bought everything (hopefully) that I will need for the next several meals. There is a kitchen here, so I cooked rice and ramen for dinner. I got some honey rolls and chocolate milk for breakfast and an apple for lunch tomorrow. I have not been eating large lunches, because they are inconvenient and I am always out in the country, or in a temple or something when lunch hits. Rice fills you up. As does some fruit. While I was eating, I met a girl from Holland, and we started talking. She got here last night, but she was the only one around, where as tonight I am here, as well as two guys from Spain, and a Japanese student. Tomorrow we are going to rent bikes and bike to either the temple that is 16km away, or to the mountain and then hike the trails.

-Side note, she has two books she has been trying to get rid off, Harry Potter #1 and the DaVinci Code. Unfortunately I have read them both, but I can re-read the DaVinci code. It has been a while. I’ll trade her my book which I finished on the flight over, but have been hauling around with me.

tree on tomb glowing lamp

Gear Review

Gear Review
I am on another train ride, which means it is time for a GEAR REVIEW! (Applause – cheers – the crows goes wild…) Heh, I know. Just thought I would talk a little about how my gear is holding up, what I find useful, what sucks, etc…

This is not all encompassing, just a few items that stand out.

Lets start with clothes. Most of my clothes are quick drying, moisture wicking fabrics that I got at REI or have accumulated over the years.

Pants

Exofficio Zip off Pants with Buzz Off – These have been my go to pants so far. They are comfortable, light weight, block the wind and hold up well. The pockets are large enough that I can put a full guide book in them without it bothering me. Inside the right pocket is a Velcro pouch for change, chapstick or anything else small you don’t want falling out. Inside the left pocket is a hidden zipper pocket that is decent sized and can hold a wallet or other item you don’t want pick pocketed. It is so well hidden I didn’t find it until two days ago. No cargo pockets on these pants, but both rear pockets have Velcro flaps for they hold things well. The Buzz Off is a built in insect repellant that hold up for 26 washings. There are loops for a real belt and the pants button shut with a double button.
REI Zip off Cargo Pants – Similar to the Exofficio, but different. I did not realize how different until I started using them for more than one day. Pockets are a little smaller, big enough for a language guide, but not for a guide book. These pants have cargo pockets covered with Velcro flaps however, and the right one actually zips shut underneath the flap. The left one has a small pouch for items such as change and chapstick, but the actual pouch does not seal itself. Both are big enough ,but the top inch of the guide book sticks out, which is less than optimal. The back pockets both Velcro shut. No belt loops, but there is a waist cinch band that works just like a belt and clips together along with a snap button on the actual pants. These did not come as insect rappelling, but I soaked them in a solution that made them insect repellant for 6-10 washings.

Underwear

I have two pairs of Exofficio quick dry breathing underwear, one boxers, the other boxer briefs. Both are very comfortable, dry fast, and breathe well. The boxer briefs ride up all the time and are uncomfortable while they are bunching, but once you are situated, they are fine. I also have two pairs of Patagonia Capelene boxers that I have been using since I was a sea kayak guide, and they are great. They dry fast, are soft as silk, and I love them. However, they don’t breathe as well as the Exofficio ones.

Shirts

Two quick dry t-shirts, one Columbia, one Mountain Hardwear. The Columbia one is a little tighter, thicker, and warmer. It is blue. The Mountain Hardwear one is lighter, thinner, looser and light brown. Both dry fast, roll up tight, don’t wrinkle, and are good.

I have an REI black long sleeve thermal shirt that is a half zip. It has a collar of sorts that can go all the way up like a mock turtle neck for warmth, or zip it down a little and it is a collar, good to go out in or to a nicer place. This is my favorite shirt here where it is often cold. It is soft, stretchy, and dries fast. Many Koreans where black as well, so I blend in better.

I also have a long sleeve Columbia quick dry button down. It is red, and soaked in the same insect repellent as the REI pants. It is vented everywhere and the sleeves roll up and button so they stay up. I have not worn it yet since I have been here.

Another shirt I have not worn yet is a short sleeve button down Northface that is quick dry, vented, and double layered for moisture wicking ability. It is more of a tropical weather shirt, which Korea is not.

I have a green REI jacket that I got a while ago, it is only an outer shell, but it breathes, has a roll up hood, a chest pocket, and is very light weight. It has been cold, and I wear it a lot. But as I am heading south, less and less, and in Southeast Asia I will probably only wear it when it rains.

Socks and Shoes

Standard light hiking socks of a blend of materials, they are all fine, just of different thicknesses.

I have my Chocos here with me, but have yet to wear them. I also have a pair of Merrell light hiking shoes with Vibram souls that are amazing. They stretch enough that I can slip them off when I enter a place that you have to take your shoes off (restaurant, room, etc…) I also have hiked a long way in them, and they work like a charm on trails, wet rocks, city streets, and palace paths. I haven’t got them soaking wet yet, but I bet they would dry. They are light, bouncy and great.

So much for clothes.

The rest of my stuff is a random assortment.

My laptop, a cheaper HP that has been working fine, but I wish the battery life was longer. I haven’t run out yet, but it eats it up. It is small with a 14 inch screen, but I download my pictures to it every night, and then upload them when I get internet. It has wifi and all the other trappings new laptops come with, including a card reader which is nice and a built in webcam with microphone, which is crucial for Skype calls back to the parents. I also type my blogs on it while I am traveling then upload later.

My Nikon D50 dSLR camera. It is big, and I am split on it. I often find myself wanting a small, unobtrusive camera that I can just keep in my pocket, but then I love the control this camera gives me. It takes great pictures, and I have had it for a while. I just feel like such a tourist (which I am) when I have it out. Because it has many options, I find myself spending more time at locations trying to find great shots. If I had a point and shoot, I might get more candid shots, but less composed ones.

My cell phone, which is basically a little computer. Touch screen, slide out keyboard, I have been using it to take the videos you see, and for the occasional photo when my big camera is packed away. I have also been using it to plan out my itinerary and budget on pocket Excel and Word. It is easy to just put in what I spend in the excel sheet then put the phone back in my pocket.

I have an assortment of random gear, including power adapters – a must, and a little bendable tripod I can position anywhere, even around a tree limb. Haven’t used it yet. Also my iPod nano, and a med kit, along with my dop kit, which has toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, Doc Brauner’s everything soap which I use for shampoo, body wash, shaving crème etc…

That’s about it. I keep everything in my back pack, which is a High Sierra 45 pack. It has been good, is the right size and is holding up fine. I have a wire mesh cinch bag that I can fit most of my gear in inside of the pack so that I can lock it to my bed in hostels, and so people can’t razor the bag and steal my stuff, but it is annoying, and I tend to use it only when I am in a shared room in a hostel, as Korea is safe in general. When I am in Thailand and Southeast Asia, I will use it all the time.
If you made it this far, you are way too interested in how gear holds up, and you should probably quit your job and meet me over here.

Mmm… Finally.

Korean food is notoriously light on meat. It consists primarily of vegetables, spices, and rice. If you know me, you know that I am definitely a carnivore. It has been weeks since I grilled out, and had I known I wouldn’t have my fill here, I would have overloaded before I came. I have been eating a lot of bread during the day, and getting these little corn-dog type fried things in the evenings to try to satisfy my cravings. Tonight I was walking to the Dunkin Donuts that is around the town square because they have internet and it is cold here, so it feels good to get a coffee and sit on my laptop while watching people rush by the window. I suddenly smelled the distinct smell of someone grilling out. No crazy hot spices, no odd dog scent, just good old fashions cooking out. I froze, and then proceeded to do a full block grid search to find the smell. I finally located it up on a hill. it was a restaurant with pictures of meat all over it! I have since been told that Koreans are known for their barbecued meat, but it is not always easy to find, and they don’t eat it as often. Could have fooled me, This was the first place I had seen. I went in, planning on ordering the cheap w3300 pork strips, but got talked into getting the grilled sirloin. I said I wanted one, but the kid insisted that I get two – thus doubling my bill. He was right, I ate it all. They bring a bed of coals to the table, and grill it for you on the table. The smell of marinated meat was overwhelming. As usual here, they also give you a plethora of side orders that no man could ever finish. Of this were some sauted peanuts, a mix between boiled and pickled, but they were great. There was also an entire apple cut up and in a sweet yogurt sauce. Also great. I had to get the kid to show me how I was supposed to eat the meat, because he had chopped it up into bit size pieces. You pick them up with your chopsticks, put them in a lettuce leaf, add garlic and sauce, wrap it up, and enjoy. Whenever he wasn’t looking I just stuffed the pieces into my mouth. He was laughing with some people because I was a silly American who didn’t even know how to eat. I may be a silly American, but he is a 17-year-old guy wearing pink Hello Kitty slippers. The world says I win on this one. I end this day of rest full, content, and ready to travel again.

A good break day.

Today has been about resting. I started the day off by walking an hour to a local folkPagoda Door village which was a disappointment. After the first few minutes, all the other tourists cleared out and I was the only one around. However, I think I have pagoda’d myself out. They all look the same, and these did not have much of a historical significance. The high point of the morning was when a class of school children, probably in the first grade or so, saw me and swarmed me. They were shouting “Hello! Hello! Are you Crazy?!” over and over again. They came up to me and started rubbing my beard and my arms, laughing at my hairiness. They had probably never seen a caucasian before in person, and Children playing on an field trip could not understand why my arms had hair and how I could grow a beard. Their teacher came up and haltingly asked where I was from, and when I responded, she told the class and used it to teach them for about five minutes.

I already bought my ticket to the next city and I leave tomorrow, so I am here until then. This is not all bad, as the night life here seems to be very good. There is a small college, and last night there was a great environment. I haven’t seen anyone who is western yet, but maybe one of the college students speaks some English and we can start a conversation.

I wandered around the local market for a while, which was much more interesting than the folk village, and I simply stumbled upon it randomly. Some of the stuff for sale was recognizable, the rest questionable. I cris-crossed the streets for an hour or so before I was convinced I had seen it all and made my way back to shave so that the next batch of children won’t think I am the Wolfman. (And because it is more in line with the culture… thus possibly allowing more friendliness and a chance at a discount from people I meet.)

I took care of finding my next place to couchsurf, and contacted  a man about interviewing for a job in Seoul on Monday. Other than that, I am just going to hang out and wait for the train tomorrow. Expect some random calls tonight as I get restless and want to communicate with people back in the states.

Out door market in Andong Out door market in Andong (Octopus) Out door market in Andong (Squid)

3 more years of school? Think about it.

Damn you LSAT. I just got my score back and did well enough that I now have to consider law school. That means dealing with the whole application process, deciding if I even want to work that hard for that profession, allocating six years of my life to 12-hour days… I had forgotten that there was a future past what I am doing right now. The score is good for a few years, so I can hold off, but it does change the current life plan a little. And my inbox is full of “We will waive the application fee if you apply now for the University of Blah Blah Blah.”

Just venting at a good situation that I don’t know what to do with yet.

A train ride of reflection

WARNING: Written on a five hour train ride. Just thinking out loud cause I have nothing else to do.

It is amazing how spending two nights in one location can make life easy. You can leave your bag in the room and not have to pack it out with you, and you get to know the town a little better. I spent my second night last night at Seorksan National Park, where I again roomed with Claude, the Belgian. It was a relaxing evening, as we both slept for about 3 hours upon our return from hiking. We woke up, got some pizza (Korean Style) and brought it back to our room where we sat on the floor at our fold out table and ate it. Since you never wear shoes in Korean homes, rooms, and many restaurants, the floor stays considerably cleaner. We went to sleep

soon after and woke up early this morning to catch a bus back to Sokcho, where he went on to Andong, and I went to a PC Bong (see earlier post) to update. I wandered around Sokcho for a while, unsure of where I wanted to go. Around noon I decided that Andong was as good a place as any, and got a 1.5 hour bus ride to a small town where I caught a train to Andong, some distance away. While waiting for the train I wandered around trying to find someplace that had wireless internet so I could upload all my pictures to Flickr. No such luck. I did come upon a restaurant that smelled extremely good, and had some food priced for w5000 on the front, so I went in and had my first real old style Korean meal. I have to say, I was impressed. IMAGE_225 After the cheap street vendors who over spice most of the food, and the foul smelling small fish of the mountain town Seork-dong, I was expecting the worst. As you can see, I got a ton of food for my won. At about $5USD, it kind of beats the big mac with fries and a coke combo. I was sitting on the floor without shoes, on mats, using chopsticks, enjoying the food for the first time, and I was able to order, pay, and thank the servers in Korean. A very cool experience. I think my stomach and taste buds may have just finally realized that spicy food is what they are going to get and decided to get over themselves.
It has almost been a week, and I have hit most of the moods that go along with traveling. Before I landed in Seoul, I was thinking that this was a retarded idea, and I should probably
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Back from the Park

The one advantage to having my internal clock still be set a few hours early is that waking up to hike at 6:30 a.m. is not a problem. By eight Claude and I had already gone a few kilometers and were well on our way to the first big rock of what would be a long day of hiking. We hiked 4.4km up to a giant rock face, with an elevation change of 873m. Most of this was in the last kilometer. (You have to hate that I just switched to metric, but it is what is used everywhere else, so why fight a better system?) At the top a Korean offered me a piece of candy, and I thanked him in Korean, which made his day. He then offered me some hot tea that he was drinking with his family, I declined, again in Korean, and he was ecstatic. I saw him again on the hike down, and he bought me some peanut and rice candy that you see in my hand. A poor man’s PowerBar.
After the first climb, we got tickets to the cable car, which had been closed in the early morning due to high winds. (They almost knocked me off a cliff, they were incredible.) We then hiked a few more kilometers to a waterfall and back before heading up the cable car to the most amazing view I have ever seen in my life to date. Click on image to see the panorama in a larger scale. It is breathtaking.
Seoraksan Range
Seoraksan National Park Range

Wow, so there is not internet access in the mountains other than when the
landlady sneaks you onto her computer when her husband is not looking. It
turns out that that is what the youth hostel lady did when she let me on
the first time because her husband would have none of it.
Don’t worry mom and dad, I’m still alive. I have about 150 more pictures to upload when I get some time online.


On the way to the Park

Yesterday was all about traveling and fighting jet lag. It was time for me to leave Nathan and Rachel’s place and head out on my own. Due to a combination of jet lag and the effects of the previous night, I wasnn’t feeling so great and really just wanted a place to go to sleep for a while. I was ready to leave Seoul as well, for as interesting as it was, it was a huge city, and I wanted to see the rest of the country. I made my way to the nearest bus station, which was about a 30 min walk, and with the help of a security guard who could tell I had no idea what was going on, I bought a ticket to Chuncheon . It is a smaller city, with a population of only 240,000. When I arrived, it was already dark, and I just needed some food, and a place to sleep. I walked down the street from the bus station and saw several buildings that were motels in a line. I stopped in the first one, and found it to be w39,000 per night, and decorated in an ultra modern, sharp edges everywhere , all glass and doors that retract into the wall theme. Not for me. The next motel I walked into was much better, with wood, an nice lady at the front desk who was so thrilled to see me that she called a friend out and we spent a few minutes having fun trying to communicate what I wanted. We eventually made it clear that I wanted a small, cheap room, and I wanted to pay by credit card. As I was walking away, she gave me a free toothbrush. When Koreans want to give something free to a foreigner, they give it, and say “Service, service.” This is true of toothbrushes, flaming 151 shots, and many other things. Being a foreign traveler here is difficult because of the language barrier, but the Koreans are extremely willing to help in anyway that they can.

I am currently struggling with the food a little. Everything is spicy, and nothing is plain. This is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to eat a meal, and not still be tasting it an hour later every time you burp. I bought a pack of assorted cereal at the E-mart, which is Korea’s version of Wal-mart on crack. Three stories, everything you can imagine, and extremely helpful people at the end of every isle to make sure you get what you want and thee place stays looking orderly. By orderly I mean the second I took the box off the shelf, there was a tiny Korean woman running towards me who jumped up as high as she could to grab a box off the top shelf and put it in the middle where I had disturbed the geometric precision of her stacking. They also give out samples of everything, including wine, in the store. I almost had a full meal while I was shopping.

I left Chuncheon pretty early and took a 10:30 bus ride to Sokchu, about 3 hours away. No help needed this time in buying the ticket, just in finding where the actual bus left from. In the process I have now learned the difference between the Korean letters for ?eat?and ?latform.?I am obviously a stupid American because I did not know this when I bought my ticket, or so the bus driver of the first bus I tried to get on thought. I wandered around Sokcho for a while, went and saw the beach there, which is the beach to what the Koreans call the East Sea, but the rest of the world knows it as the Sea of Japan. (Koreans hate Japan and avoid having anything to do with it, at least culturally, financial dealings are another matter.) I caught a w1000 (approx USD $1.00) bus ride up to the entrance of the Seoraksan National Park where I checked into the Mt. Soerak Youth Hostel. After the usual pantomiming and broken Korean / broken English conversation, I had a share room for w20,000 a night. A great deal in this very popular tourist destination. Originally the room was mine alone, but there were two bunks, and one of them was soon occupied by Claude, a well traveled older man from Belgium. He spoke a decent amount of English, and it was great to talk to someone in English again, even if we had to figure out what we were trying to say some of the time. Claude and I had the same game plan, to stay here tonight, then wake up early and start hiking. This meant that we both had to get the trail maps before the park office shut down for the night, so we headed out and walked to the office, then farther towards the entrance to the park to see the sun set over the mountains.

Out of Seoul

I left Seoul yesterday morning after saying goodbye to Nathan and Rachel. It was a little daunting to be starting out on my own with almost no understanding of the language, but so far I have managed to do alright. I made my way to Cheonchun, which is a town that is surrounded by lakes. No pictures from here as I did not get in until night had already fallen, and I was exhausted. I walked down the street, found a motel, and relaxed for a little while. It felt really good to have a room to myself after couch surfing the past two nights. There is just something about being able to throw your stuff everywhere and be messy. I was starving so I went to the E-mart, which is like Wal-mart on crack. It was three stories, with sample vendors all over the place and people at the end of every isle making sure things stayed orderly. By orderly i mean that the second I pulled a pack of assorted cereals off of the shelf, a tiny woman ran full speed towards me and jumped as high as she could to grab a replacement box from the top shelf.

I slept pretty well, but woke up at 4am because my internal clock is still messed up. I called home with skype, but the connection was bad so I just got to say hello to my dad before it went out. This morning I got up and went back to the bus terminal and caught a bus to Sokcho. I am heading to the Seoraksan National Park to do some hiking. There should be a good amount of pictures from this, so check back. Right now I am in a PC Bong, which is a darkend room full of computers that asians use to play video games on for hours at end.

More hopefully tonight once i check into the youth hostel.

Seoul in a Day. (or: One palace, a Market, and a Temple.)

Where to begin? Today was amazing. I woke up at about 9:30 a.m. despite the jet lag (which is hitting me now while I write this) and started planning my day. Nathan woke up soon after and made some coffee, which we both downed quickly in our attempt to clear the fog. Dough BallsHe got a call and was asked to speak for 15 min. on the differences between Korean and American education practices at a lecture tomorrow for $100. Pretty nice. I left their place and made my way to the subway where I picked up some dough balls for breakfast. Koreans don’t really eat breakfast, they just have more kimchi, which is a spicy mix of vegetables that I really didn’t want for breakfast.

016 I took the subway to the north part of the city and visited Changdeokgung Palace, which was built in 1405. I spent over three hours walking around exploring this huge expanse of “Secret Garden” that is in the middle of a giant city. Most of the pictures you see of pagodas and the like are from this palace. I got a little audio guide that walked me through it all. After I got tired of pagodas, I left and wandered down a street that is known for its trinkets and street vendors. This was very interesting because there was so much for sale, and I have no money to spend! This place was packed though, and I ended up getting lunch here (a hot dog… just like in America… not real dog) before heading to Jongul Tower for a while.Wall of 1000 statues

I had read about monks playing at a Buddhist temple closer to the center of city, so I got back on the subway and headed in farther. The temple was beautiful, and I felt like I was invading a sanctuary by pulling my camera out, but I did it anyway. There was a 45 foot tall Buddha, several worship pavilions, and a room with 1000 statues. I ended up catching the monks’ performance and have put a minute of it below. Check out more in the Videos Section. There are about 60 more photos in the Albums Page as well.

 

 

On the way home I picked up some food from a street vendor and brought it back to eat. Mmm… Delicious.