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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Last Day for WKB Selection

Dear Korea Blog,

It's the last day to select this year's World Korea Bloggers (WKBs). And I say pick me.

I have visited your Facebook site and the Korea Blog everyday since entering this contest. I am by far the most active applicant in terms of comments, wall posts, and "likes." My application wall post on your Facebook page has garnered 29 "likes"! As you can see, I am very active in social media, and exactly the kind of person you want for The Korea Blog.

I'm currently on vacation, and I've managed to blog, make online photo albums, and "tweet" on Twitter during my entire trip. I am committed, and clearly up to the task of working as a WKB.

I'm trained in fine arts and art history, and I live in Busan. I am the perfect person to write about the exciting art events that so few are writing about - The Busan Art Biennale, BIFF, and everything art-related down on the South coast!

So on this last day of selection, please choose me Korea Blog. I've worked the hardest to earn it, and I will continue working hard.

Thank you!

Fingers crossed,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Terrific Taipei, Day 1

After a good few months of solid teaching work, I've finally taken a vacation.

I landed in Taipei late Monday night from Busan. My flight was fast and comfortable, and I had no problems navigating the airport. I grabbed a taxi, barely uttering my directions in (some version of) Chinese, and was on my way.

Taipei Airport
(Photo courtesy

I arrived at Xinbeitou, just on the outskirts of Taipei at the end of the MRT train line, and my good friend and host Jenna was waiting to pick me up. We grabbed a tasty noodle and rice dish to share before making our way up the hill to her apartment. The weather was breezy and warm, and exceptionally dry for the winter season, lucky me.

Jenna lives at the top of a large apartment complex about 10 minutes from Xinbeitou station. After a round of hellos with her room-mates and co-workers Phil and Asten, we had a chat and catch-up session before turning in to bed.

The next day I made my way to Shilin and to the Royal Palace Museum, an arts hall which certainly lives up to the name. After a 20-minute subway ride and a 15-minute bus ride, I arrived. The grounds were gorgeous, lined with tall palm trees and the evergreens decorated with lights for Christmas. Large dragon statues sat to the either side of the beautiful white, towering entrance gate. The museum sat perched atop several flights of wide white stairs, and nestled between the tress.

Stone dragon at the entrance of Taipei's Royal Palace Museum

Inside, sadly, no photos were allowed. The museum houses one of the world's largest and finest collections of Asian art. I was fortunate enough to visit during the run of the exhibit, National Treasures. 100 of the museum's most prized peices were featured in full display, including jade carvings, gold Buddha tributes, and calligraphy scrolls. A beautiful exhibit, indeed. By the time I'd finished, about three hours later, it was dusk and the perfect time to photograph the beautiful grounds.

Entrance to Taipei's Royal Palace Museum, lit up for Christmas

The Royal Palace Museum at dusk

After a few snaps, I'd managed to take all of the museum's offerings. I made my way back to Shilin to meet Jenna. I picked up a tasty green onion pancake with cheese and egg, made to order form a street stall on the way for 40 Taiwanese dollars (About 1,500 Korean won or $1.50).

Tasty green onion pancake from a roadside stall

Still peckish, we made our way to "Modern Toilet," a restaurant with a restroom theme.

Dinner, anyone?

Entering the restaurant, we see rows of toilets with novelty seat covers lining the walls, to be used as chairs. Large sinks with glass tops serve as table, and toilet paper holders on the walls dispense tissue. Everything was toilet or poop themed, from the serving ware (tiny toilet bowls and urinals) to the banister posts on the stairs (tiny golden turds). We order a curry chicken dish, cola, and ice cream desert to share. Each comes served in a decidedly disgusting (or funny?) toilet-themed serving dish. The ice cream, served to resemble a swirl comes in a porcelain squat toilet dish. Classy. The whole meal runs us about 297 Taiwanese dollars, about 12,000 Korean won, or $12.

Toilet seating at Modern Toilet restaurant 

Even the stair banisters keep the "toilet" theme

Dinner is served in a bowl... a toilet bowl, that is.

Ice cream in a porcelain squat toilet bowl. Tastier than it may look!

Full, and fully weirded out, Jenna and I called it a night. We made our way back to Beitou by subway, and Jenna drove us to her apartment on her scooter. We made use of the natural sulfur hot spring tubs in the basement of her building for a soak before heading off to bed. All in all, a pleasant and variety-filled day.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bokbunja & Black Raspberry Festival!

I took an Adventure Korea tour to see the Black Raspberry Festival in Geochang. Activities included picking berries & drinking the berry wine, touring the festival grounds (including live eel catching), a dance party, and shellfish collecting.

Basically, the 45 foreigners provided live  entertainment for the small town of Geochang for the entire weekend. We were followed everywhere by Koreans and their cameras. An amusing weekend, indeed.

After a 3-hour bus ride from Seoul, we landed in Geochang. We began the day by enjoying some traditional Korean games and sampling the local black raspberries, one of Geochang's best-known exports.

Playing a traditional Korean game,
throwing upright arrows into kimchi pots
Laura enjoys some hand-picked
black raspberries in the greenhouse

Next, we took a covered tractor ride and sipped on some delightful black raspberry smoothies! We watched the passing rice fields and mountains in comfort and awe.

Tractor ride

Black raspberry smoothies and a covered trolley ride - nice way to beat the heat!

Worker in the rice fields

After our refreshments, we took another short drive to a nearby temple. We strolled through the woods, on a cool footpath beside the river, and we could see the locals busy farming and fishing.

Ladies looking for fresh water shellfish and seaweed to sell or eat

Me, touring the temple grounds

After a nice visit, we finally made our way to the festival grounds. First, we had the eel-catching competition for foreigners. Any interested contestants were told to enter a large inflatable pool filled with black-raspberry-coloured water. When ready, the organizers emptied bags of live eels into the tub! We had to catch the eels with our bare hands, and any we caught, we could eat. it took me about 10 minutes, but I caught one!

Me, actually jumping for joy after catching a live eel with my bare hands!

With some tasty eel in our tummies, we toured the rest of the grounds, snacking and photo-snapping. We tried the variety of black-raspberry-themed drinks and snacks, including bokbunja, a famous Korean black raspberry wine.

Deep-fried ginseng root. Delish!

Bokbunja, with a twist: soju cocktail, makkeoli, beer, and wine, all made with bokbunja

Exhausted and happy, we made our way to the hotel. That evening, our tour group was treated to a free bokbunja wine and dance party, and all the locals were out to celebrate, too!

Free bokbunja? Don't mind if I do!

Cheers! Laura and I enjoy some bokbunja at the local dance party

Bokbunja wine & dance party in the tent, tourists and locals welcome!

A lovely evening was passed and all too soon it was the next day. For our final leg of the journey, we made our way to some mudflats to do some shellfish-digging, in the traditional Korean way. We drove on a large tractor out to the flats, and were given rubber boots and baskets with which to do our dirty work. It was a fun day's effort, and we were sent home with our catch to enjoy at home.

Adventure Korea tour group snap at the shellfish-digging mudflats

All in all, a wonderful trip and an eye-opening experience. Yet another fun-filled weekend in the ROK!

(Author's note: This blog was posted December 27, 2011, but the trip took place June 12-13, 2010)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Korea Blog - CHOOSE ME!

Dear Korea Blog,

I know my blog might not look like much, but I made it in just one day so that I too can be a Korea Blogger!

I am perfect for your blog. I am dedicated, passionate, and responsible. I am well-travelled and insightful, and I am hard-working. I understand the responsibility you will be giving me, and I am so excited to take it!

I make daily updates to Facebook, and update my Twitter several times a day. I have been writing about Korea for two years, and now I want to write for the Korea blog.

If you look at my post on the Korea Clickers Facebook page, you will see that many people have "liked" it. That is because they know I am the best person for the job. You will also notice that I am by far the most active new applicant on the Korea Clickers Facebook page.

So choose me, Korea Blog. You won't regret it!


Jessica on Facebook
Jessica on Twitter

Greetings from Korea!

Greetings from Korea! I can't believe how fast time flies here.

Visiting my first palace in Seoul, March 2011

I moved my life overseas to work as an English teacher at a private academy or hagwon. The first few days were definitely rough. Looking back, I think those first few days seem just as strange now as they did then. It was kindergarten graduation time when I arrived. The grad ceremony was out of this world. The kids wore gold sequined outfits and did sexy little song & dance numbers that would seem inappropriate for 16-year-olds, let alone 6-year-olds! The children wore grad robes, gave speeches and their parents had professional photographs done. Every teacher and every student received at least 5 or 6 bouquets and a handful of presents. Everything was over the top! Of course, the foreign teachers were the only ones who thought the whole thing was bizarre  :)   I still can't believe that was only my second day here.

I've learned since that "over the top" is probably the best way to describe everything in Korea. If you're gonna do something here, you do it to the extreme. Need a toothbrush? Sorry, you can only buy them in packs of ten. Wanna go out and grab a beer? Sorry, there's no such thing as one beer here - only 10 or 20. Wanna go hiking? Then you better buy special boots, gloves, socks, pants, hats, hiking poles, face masks, sunglasses... What's that? The hike is only an hour long? No, that doesn't matter - because hiking is extreme! And so is Korea.

Jagalchi fish Market, Busan. May 2010.

Aside from over the top everything - studying, drinking, eating - I've found Korean attitude to be rather trying at times. Koreans push their way everywhere. They butt in line, talk loudly, stare, grope and ask rude questions. Delightful. I've definitely become more assertive here ("Move it, Grandma! I was here first!") and faster at doing just about everything solely to survive. 

In many ways, Korea is very homogeneous. The dialect and cultural customs are fairly consistent throughout the peninsula and non-Korean nationals make up only 3% of the total population. So I stand out, even in a huge city like Seoul. I only mind when people are rude, but usually people are very excited to see me. People actually stop me on the street and ask to take their picture with me. Children talk to me. Old men and women will run across the street just to say good evening. Once, a kid even gave me two hard-boiled eggs on the street before running away with his mom. I have to admit, it's pretty cool, even if it's a little weird.

Elections, Korean-style. June 2010.

And Korea is definitely weird. I've eaten more strange things here than I can count, including squid, octopus, caterpillar, pig fat, dried fish snacks and quail eggs. I actually caught a live eel with my hands at a festival and got to BBQ and eat it. It was delicious, if you're wondering. 

I've done lots of traveling, too. I got tipsy on black raspberry wine at a berry festival. I got painted green at a mud festival. I went to a famous park known for its hundreds of penis sculptures. I've hiked beautiful mountains and some not-so-beautiful ones. I've swam at some of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen. I took pictures in an abandoned carnival and walked around in a phenomenal cave. I visited Korea's largest fish market and had nightmares about the creepy things that I now know are living in the ocean (before they're caught for dinner, that is!). I've ridden a scooter through rice fields. I've bungee jumped! I even went to Thailand on vacation, and it was so phenomenal, it merits another email.

Giddy after my first bungee jump in Bundang, Gyeonggi-do. June 2010.

I've seen so many things. Elections. Holidays. Parades. World Cup came and went. I'm having the time of my life here. I'm a totally different person than I was just 6 months ago. I do things I would never have done in Canada. I hike, for goodness' sake! I miss Canada, and I miss my family and friends. I miss understanding what's going on around me and I miss doing simple tasks like buying a coffee with ease (Oh, what I'd give for some Timmie's!), but I can't imagine trading all that in right now. It feels like I've only been here a short time, but in reality, my time is winding down. It's insane. I am really happy here. I've met some of the best friends I've ever had. And I've formed tighter bonds with people I'd already known. Every weekend here is better than the last. Well, except for that one where I was really hungover  ;)

Going green at the Boryeong Mud festival. July 2010.

Chuseok in Seoul. September 2010.

I hope all is well for my friends back home. If I had another year, I still couldn't tell you all I've seen.

With some of my academy students, September 2010.

Take care.