Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 8

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Ok so it’s already October, that means only two more firsts of the month for 2017, let’s not panic. I luckily (or lazily) have a couple of stories that happened in early months that have yet to be told, so let’s distract ourselves with some dinners and festivals that happened back in July before getting into what went down over the October holiday on Jeju Island…

Thur 20 July: Teachers’ Dinner
Sharing meals and drinks is a significant part of Korean culture. This applies to work life too and makes for quite anticipated dinner events among the teachers at my school. So far this year we’ve had a pork BBQ Dinner, a Hike + Duck Galbi Dinner, a Shabu-Shabu Dinner and last week we had a Hike + Raw Fish Dinner (that was an interesting one). But because this is a belated post, we’re skipping back to the July dinner which was probably the most delicious and “eventful” one: Shabu-Shabu. This meal is “a Japanese nabemono hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water,” and also includes (to my demise) a buffet of everything from sushi to fried chicken and pizza.41_Teachers-Dinner

The main hotpot soupy dish sits bubbling away in the middle of the table (with crab legs sticking out of the broth) and you add in all the veggies and interesting things, then dip the really thin slices of meat in with chopsticks for a couple of seconds only. You can use the round rice papers soaked in water to make a little meat, sauce and lettuce package which you shove in your mouth and try deal with the size and deliciousness of it. All this plus being fed beer and soju by colleagues and later the principal and vice.

It never ends there either, there’ll still be a post-dinner dish served, which should be the dessert course, but is a soup and rice serving of sorts instead. And more drinks. And then… you might just land up in a noraebang i.e. a karaoke room which involves singing, more snack foods (including fruit and dried squid, which is the Korean biltong of choice) and more beer and soju. And mind you, all of this on a school night. On vocals for a number of songs was the principal, a dignified 50+ man. Alongside him stood the vice principal, a similarly aged and mannered lady singing Korean ballads with my one co-teacher as the backup dancer and tambourine player. I unfortunately got coaxed into  singing an English song for everyone, by myself. We’ll leave it there. 

Sat-Sun 22-23 July: Mud Festival
Just days after our teachers’ dinner, I was off on a bus with a bunch of friends to Boryeong (about a 4 hour bus trip) to go and get covered in mud, go on mud slides etc at 보령머드축제. The mud is said to have beneficial minerals for your skin, so basically it’s an excuse to go wild for the good cause of skin enrichment. However, the event was packed. The queues to the mud slides and all the fun things in the mud park were too long and we ended up only doing mud wrestling, during which I got tackled too enthusiastically by my friend. We did leave the area fairly muddy, but it’s a rather watery covering which isn’t unpleasant. Luckily the mud park is right next to the beach so we joined the many others taking a natural bath in the magically warm sea, while floating a large plastic beer bottle amongst our group.52_MudfestThat night included the most spectacular fireworks I have ever seen. The ships were anchored off shore, shooting off the fireworks of different designs to the rhythm of the music playing, the lights reflecting on the water while we stood in awe on the beach. This was the definitely the highlight of the trip. There were also Kpop performances on the main stage on the beach and other festivities going on.

 

Tues 19 Sept: Baseball
This was possibly the most fun I’ve had on a Tuesday night in a long time. I’m not much of a sports fan, but it was the end of the baseball season and when next would I ever get the chance to watch this very non-South-African sport? 53_Baseball.jpgWell to be honest I spent very little of my time there watching the game. It was way more fun watching the cheerleaders and mascots in the front while chanting the individual player’s chant with the crowd when they scored. One of the chants was for “Andy Bonzoo” (the American playing for Busan), which I only found out the next day that his surname is actually ‘Burns’. Ah, Korean pronunciation! But our pronunciation of the Korean players’ names was suspect too and we relied on the big screen to try decipher how to say their names during the chants.

Near the end of the game, orange plastic bags are distributed to the audience for trash collection. However, it is customary to take the bag, catch air and tie a knot then put the bag balloon on your head and hook each handle over your ears to make a nifty head-piece while everyone sings the Lotte-Lot-te-Lott-tehhh-Looooooooooh-teeeeh song.
I left the stadium without realising that I didn’t even know who had won.

Fri 22 Sep: Just another day in 6th grade
I’m now used to the kids throwing pencil cases around, tackling each other, erasing things off the board, knocking over chairs, ringing the desk bell and going through the papers on the teacher’s desk. But this story will beat all the other incidents of them being wild between classes:
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Disclaimer: They are better behaved during the lesson, but in the 10min between classes, these types of behaviours can be expected, especially with this grade.

CHUSEOK HOLIDAY
Tue-Sun 03-08 Oct: Jeju Island adventure
Who wouldn’t love a 10 day holiday to look forward to? So after a few free days to play around in Busan, a couple of friends and I went with EnjoyKorea , a great English tour company (free advertising right here) to the honeymoon island of Jeju – a mere 9 hour, 2 bus trips and a ferry worth to get to this large island south of Korea for 5 nights. 55_Jeju-intro

Might I add that we left at 1am in the morning from Busan to get there by 10am, which we used the rest of the day to lie on the beach, eat chips and nap. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite warm enough to convince me to swim as I sat there in jeans and a hoody, I mean it is Autumn here. Our hotel was pretty sweet with a lovely big pool (once again, no swimming for me) with the ocean in view. We were in a room of 4, but luckily there were two single beds, and only 2 “floor beds” ondol style. Beds are a bonus in Korea!

We had a really decent itinerary over the 6 days, which included enough sightseeing to let us see what Jeju has to offer (things are rather spread out over the island though) and balanced with a lot of down-time to chill or explore or find restaurants (and craft beer shops). We also played a lot of cards on this trip, just FYI.

Day 1-2: A temple, Gold Buddha, little Holland, 3 waterfalls and a tequila night with water slides and ball pits:56_Jeju-1

Day 3: Love Land
The sex theme park full of humour and pleasure…

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Day 4: Craters and Caves
We missed seeing the diving ajummas that day because of the bad weather but we did get to hike up the stair-cased mountain to see the large crater and then later go into the volcanic tube caves. 
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We did a good few hours on the bus that day and I can say Jeju has a lot of horses. Random fact. And it’s known for its oranges. And the many dol haraubang stone statues that look like penis men. 

Day 5-6: Free day, beach day.
We spent a lazy day wandering around the nearest town (Hyeopjae), looking at hippie shops (odd for Korea), and chilling on the beach. We also found a rather hipster container yard of shops and restaurants. 
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Namhae Oktoberfest:
After an early start of bus-ferry-bus and about 6 hours later, we made a slight detour to Namhae and its little German Village for the Korean edition of OktoberFest.

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What a random and magical little German-themed town kitted out with beer stalls along the streets selling great German drafts, people in lederhosen and dirndlsworst and of course Korean music for the occasion (?). The closest we can get to Europe right now.
We got home around 9pm and still had the Monday off to recover the next day. A fantastic Chuseok break, I’d say.

Thanks for scrolling! Part 9 to follow soon…

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 7

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I’m not sure which is better, just the thought of a holiday (i.e. a proper break from work) or the thought of an adventure to a new country. But on the morning of 14 August, it was finally time for our 8 Thai-night adventure to begin! With bags and boyfriend packed, we were Phuket bound and excited!

*HEADS UP: There are a lot of beer references coming up…

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Mon 14 Aug: Busan > Kuala Lumpur
Our first flight that morning was a 6.5 hour sitting test, but with an extra seat open next to us and the approaching adventure, the time went fairly quickly despite no on-board entertainment.45_Fly-there.jpgBam! In Malaysia with 5 hours to kill, filled with coffees, curries and delayed flights (helps when you have someone to spend it with though). By the way, they use Malaysian Ringgits here. I’d never heard that word before. Ringgit.

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We had booked and paid for a taxi to pick us up in Phuket at 10pm, but after the delays we were surprised and extremely relieved to see my name still held up by a tired driver at midnight. It was pouring with rain, but we were happy to finally be in our new room by 1am (3am Busan time = more tired). Sleep. 

Day 1: Tues 15 Aug
We woke up to the strong continuous rain. We had prepared for this though, I’d been watching the weather forecast for a week prior, annoyed as persistent rains were exacted for our entire stay. After a big-ass hotel breakfast we put on our rain-friendly slops, grabbed the umbrella and went exploring.

47_Stay-there.jpgOnce we got to the beach, the winds were trying to turn my umbrella inside-out so I succumbed to the weather, closed it and was soaked in no time. Prefect excuse to seek refuge in the beach bar and get some cold Thai-brewed Singhas. I also got to fulfill my green curry cravings and go to one of the many markets down the street to buy couple’s matching Chang Beer shirts so we could look like proper tourists from the start.

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Naturally, we had to earn the right to wear these Chang shirts and made sure to stock up with lots of the beer to drink on the balcony while watching the rain, reading and drawing.

Day 2: Wed 16/08: Putt-Putt and Patong
This was a busy day. The rain had pretty much subsided, although still overcast it made our missions much easier and enjoyable. We decided to just walk in the general direction of the next beaches, along the way we found the Dino Bar (something out of the Flintstones, made out of rocks and open nearly right onto the road) and a dinosaur-themed mini-golf course. Yes, we played and yes it was fun (and yes, I may have won…). I’ve been really wanting to play it for months now as I have yet to find a putt-putt course in Korea.
We walked next to the road to Karon Beach, along very narrow and often non-existence side paths, dodging cars and dodgy dangling wires before deciding we needed a tuk tuk to get to Patong Beach. We found out during the ride that it was separated from our current location by mountains – good call.

50_Tuk-tuk-ThailandArriving at lunch time, we spent the whole afternoon exploring the Patong Beach area and its streets, the food and beer and as the sun was eventually thinking of setting, along with our energy and patience (from all the walking, crowds, no paths and the heat), we stumbled upon “Soi Bangla” or Bangla Road. Suddenly we had energy again. A long party street, an-almost-red-light-district that is closed to vehicles at night and is made up of impressive bars with stripper poles, and bars within bars, neon lights and people, more people, Aussie people and sales people trying to sell you suits, glowing toys and infamously… ping pong shows (ask Uncle Wikipedia about that one rather). Once we were finally tired and all beer-ed out, we caught a jamming tuk tuk the 10km back home – with neon lights, wind blowing our hair around in the open-air back seat, blasting some Sia’s Cheap Thrills etc while we took in the lights and energy of night time on holiday in Phuket.

Day 3: Thurs 17/08: Beach day
We spent this day enjoying the much improved weather (and now uncomfortable humidity) on the beach with blue skies and water, swimming in our awesome hotel pool, sipping cocktails, eating lobster for the first time and exploring our area of Kata Beach.

Day 4: Fri 18/08: Big Buddha and Wat Chalong 
Definitely one of the key adventure days, a lot of walking, a lot of melting (my boyfriend may want to add “grumpiness” on my part) and a lot of catching tuk tuks and taxis to get to places the map made us believe were “close”. We started off by catching the slowest, surely-not-roadworthy Blue Bus for 40฿ which supposedly stopped at many various points all the way to the north of the island. It didn’t. After half an hour in the direction of our destination it stopped, and we seized the opportunity to stumble over the other passengers to get off quickly. Just us two. With some broken communication with the driver, we left and carried on with our journey by foot.
Fast forward the heat and walking along busy roadsides for way too long, we made it to the base of the path up to Big Buddha. 49_Big-Buddha

Luckily there was one tuk tuk available at the bottom who took us up the mountain (walking clearly not an option), waited for us for 40min while we enjoyed the scenery at one of Phuket’s main attractions, and then took us down again for 700฿. Big Buddha and the stunning views of the bays far down below were awesome!
“Close by” was the other site to see: Wat Chalong, the largest temple in Phuket, so we made another tuk tuk stop there and wandered around the temple grounds, but by then we were hot, bothered and ready to just be back in our hotel pool. So we did just that, grabbed a taxi and relaxed the afternoon away with piña coladas in the pool because… pool bar!

One lesson learnt today is that tourists don’t really walk long distance here because they ride scooters everywhere and we missed out on a lot by not renting one: energy, money, fun and sightseeing! There are so many hidden gem restaurants, shops, elephant places and viewpoints along the roadsides that your taxi speeds past.

Day 5: Sat 19/08: Snorkeling
Another item on my Phuket bucket list was to experience the turquoise water of Thailand by boat and snorkeling. Phi Phi Island was too time intensive, so we opted for an afternoon trip to Raya Islands to snorkel. 51_Snorkeling

We were picked up at our hotel, taken to the port and suited up in life jackets for about a 35min boat trip before getting to jump off and snorkel in a designated area next to the island. The fish had also apparently gone away on holiday and there wasn’t much to see, but it was a nice experience. Oh, and despite being given sea sickness pills before leaving, there was one dude parting with his guts all the way to the island (just keeping the story real here). We were then dropped off at a small beach around the corner dotted with other tourists, few amenities and an hour to sit unimpressed.
We awarded our adventure efforts that evening with pool swims and a big Thai dinner then beer on the balcony – our evening ritual.

Day 6: Sun 20/08: Beach and beer
I’m that person who sits and peels off beer labels because I really enjoy collecting them and filling odd pages in my journal with them. By Sunday I think I can say we had sampled all the Thai beers we could find and successfully documented them in my book 
forever. Chang took most of our money, so they win hands down as the best. And I’m a big fan of their logo too. 

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ANYWAY! Sunday was another designated beach day, but first we went on a mission to Karon beach to go parasailing. You know, that thing when they strap you in an uncomfortably tight harness, hook you to a large sail with just two clips so your whole body dangles in the air once you’ve had the 5-4-3-2-1-run moment before lifting up to a scary height above the water towed by a tiny boat far down on the sparkling turquoise ocean below. Yes?
Well. It. Was. Awesome!!
I was holding onto the straps near my head for dear life, it was hard to make my hands just let go to put my arms out and trust the clips keeping me suspended. But what a thrill! We celebrated our experience afterwards by sipping on a fresh coconut with a straw in it, and later I had mango sticky rice for the first time. Tropical, much?

Day 7: Mon 21/08: Last day blues
Today’s objective: enjoy the last day to its fullest. How? Watch the sunrise and set. Then just blob on the beach, swim and eat while the sun plays above. 

We also did our shopping for curios for little Thailand gifts, elephant-print pants and the likes. I made sure to get my last Thai green curry fix before going to the beach to watch the sun set slowly and gloriously golden over the ocean to end our last day in Phuket. A spectacular ending.

Day 8: Tue 22/08: The end? Not so fast!
Flying day. You sit alone with your packed bags and itinerary in hand after the seriously hard good byes are over and you think you’ve got it all planned out from this point on. Cue airline disruptions. It’d been 7 hours sitting around at Phuket International as a teary-faced lone traveler holding onto the thought of my boarding time soon approaching, only to find my flight had been delayed by 2 hours! Argh!

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With a 5 hour layover at my next destination I luckily had extra time to compensate for this. Time ticks by. WHAT! From 17:10 to 19:10 and now delayed till 21:00!! In between this, there is uproar with fellow travelers who are now going to miss their connecting flights home. We are moved to an empty boarding gate at the end of the airport. The discarded passengers. Time ticks by. You have got to be kidding me. Further delay to 22:00. And then to 23:00. One has to laugh at the absurdity.

I’d been at the airport for 12 hours before we finally depart, and fortunately an hour earlier than expected, at 10pm. I knew I would have to ruuuuuun to the next boarding gate in Kuala Lumpur to make my connecting flight back to Busan. So I did. We landed and I ran. When I got to my gate… delayed 2 hours. Oh. My. Tired soul. And at 3am, at a chilly and somber boarding gate in Malaysia we eventually boarded, finally I could sleep and know that I’d be home before lunch the next day. 

Thanks for scrolling! Part 8 to follow soon…

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Illustrated Travel Journal: Part 5

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As things have started settling in the land of foreign-going-on-familiar for me, I’ve started to spend more evenings and weekends at home, or doing things I’ve done/ seen before. This is usually most apparent when I haven’t had anything ‘newsworthy’ to add into my journal for a while. Although I may be slowing down, I’m not stopping. Here’s what’s been happening in June-ish…

27 May 2017: Buildin’ sandcastles, buildin’ buildin’ sandcastles
For the Sand Festival over the weekend, Haeundae Beach was transformed and remolded into several huge impressive sand sculptures. 30_Sand-Festival

There were scenes built around themes like family (apparently The Simpsons is a good example…?), travel, love, smile, couple and passion (cue a sandy Elvis on guitar here). There are also areas to sand board, build sandcastles and dig for treasure. 

15 May: Teachers’ Day
This is teacher-appreciation day in Korea and it can be expected that your kids will flower you with love and maybe some gifts/sweets etc. While many of my teacher friends at their schools were posting pictures of their bounties on Facebook, I sat with nothing. Sad face. The next day my co-teacher brought me a teacher-love note from one of my gr 3s. It wasn’t in person or on the day – but this one goes out to you, little dude 김ㄱㅣ완 (I hope I typed that right). Thank you!
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06 June: Rainy Tuesday off

Whoop! Another public holiday (Memorial Day this time), and it was raining. So… off to the movies with friends I went to watch “Get Out” (great/suspensy movie by the way). A mega popcorn at Mega Box followed by some post-movie beer.

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P.S. All the English movies have Korean subtitles.

8 June: It was a Thursday evening
Yup, basically just some or other Thursday evening in my apartment. Except that I was feeling really upset about the devastating and still raging Knysna fires back home in SA at the time, so I decided to draw to take my mind off of things.34_skyline-e1497358426891.jpg
The sun was setting over my area of Deokcheon as I stood looking out over it from my kitchen window. Korea in its tangled beauty.

10 June: Saturday outing for one
Korea has an amazing stationery-&-more store chain called Artbox (which has taken a LOT of my money already haha), but I’ve needed to find a proper art supply shop for some time now. Enter Jisung Plaza in the PNU area – 3 stories of arty stuff. 1st floor is a variety store, 2nd floor is for the stationery lovers (hold me back!!) and then 3rd floor has all your oil paints and specialist art supplies. So yes, I had a lot of fun! I didn’t just find the watercolour paper I was looking for…
Turns out the PNU (Pusan National University) area is pretty darn cool too, so I ambled around for some time afterwards, browsing and shopping until it was time for lunch.

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It can be very intimidating going into a restaurant here by yourself. You have the issue of the menu being in Korean (so you sit there like a twat taking photos of it to decode it in Google Translate), sometimes things are self serve (like, do I just go and take out a drink from that fridge by myself? Right?), or you see a picture of food on the other side of the room and try pointing at it when the waiter comes. And also, what if you don’t actually like what’s on the menu but you can’t leave cause they’ve already dealt your table with all the “service” (free stuff/side dishes). Oh, and often all the items are big and meant to be shared (because Couple Culture be strong). Ok – so that’s the grounds for why I’ve never done it by myself before until this Saturday. I looked at some pictures on their outside menu and decided I would gingerly make my way up the stairs and deal with whatever came my way on the other side of the door. I awkwardly sat down and to my relief, was handed a menu in English WITH pictures too. “Oh, English? English! English! Ne!” is all my waiter said. The menu included various salad options (a rarity, or way over priced usually) and everything was pretty cheap too. A great day out for one.

Sunday 11/06: Igidae Coastal Walk
I took myself for this beautiful walk/hike along the water’s edge, up and down stairs, through the trees, and often stuck behind/in groups of hiking ajummas also enjoying the scenery. 

I happened to come across a snake near the beginning which was definitely an unexpected shock. A lovely Sunday morning worth the +- 2 hour commute time though.

Kimchi: How do I love thee
I’m not particularly a fan of this spicy cabbage side dish staple, but I eat it every day at school because you know, do as the locals do! So I wrote a silly poem about it based on “How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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Thanks for scrolling! Part 6 to follow soon…Follow-me.jpg