Monday, September 19, 2016

Pokemon Go in Sokcho

We had our first break last week for Chuseok (추석) last week and unlike last year, I opted to leave the island. One of my friends and I talked about going toward the east coast of mainland Korea since last April. We were originally thinking of camping, but with a lack of vehicle, it is kind of hard getting to any of the camping locations. So instead we decided we would head to the small coastal city of Sokcho (속초) for a couple days.
The bus was pretty comfy in comparison to the buses I've been on in N.A.
We drove through beautiful scenery as we crossed the country.
The town is not only on the sea, but also next to a chain of mountains. Even the bus trip to the city was stunning as we wove between and under. There are a couple lakes in and beside the town, too, making some stunning views.
I walked around this lake my first morning. I love seeing the mountains in the distance. 
Same lake as above, the next day. Such a stark difference.
We really didn't know what we were supposed to be doing. ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ
Being by the water, we saw so many seafood restaurants. As my friend had a seafood allergy, we didn't try any--and honestly we struggled a bit finding non-seafood restaurants. Plus, with the Chuseok holiday, a lot of restaurants and shops were closed at different times, making it even harder. ㅎㅎ But we did find things in the end.
We found these boats in a side lot. I thought they looked cool, despite being out of the water.
Heading toward the Expo-area. (Different lake from earlier pictures).
Heading down to the beach! Want to ride in a boat? 
Beach Selfie!
We stayed at the beach a couple hours until it got dark and got to see fireworks. People were setting them off up and down the beach. There were also lanterns for sale and you could write something on the thin material before releasing them into the sky. It was so pretty! (Although I wondered where the lanterns would end up landing later...).
Make a wish!
My friend, Gym Battling
Pokemon Go...

Sokcho is also the only place in South Korea that you can play the popular Pokemon Go, which has released in many countries around the world over the course of the summer. But not in Korea. Despite the fact that Korea is one of the leading gaming countries, Pokemon Go is currently in compatible because the game functions using Google Maps. A very basic form of Google Maps does exist in Korea--enough to give you a rough transit route--but not enough for the game. South Korea is still technically at war with the North, so no one knows if the government will agree to give Google what it needs to make fully working maps. Also, Naver and Daum are two Korean companies that currently monopolize the map software for the peninsula. If Google were to be added, they could also take a hit financially...

Me as a Gym Leader
How the game looks in Sokcho.
So how does Sokcho work? I don't know. It's a glitch, but one that has boosted tourism to the already popular tourist town. (For a while, you could also play in Ulsan, but I heard recently that it doesn't work as well anymore). Unlike when I opened the game in Canada, there are no streets marked. It's like your floating in a sea with random stops and gyms floating in the distance.

In some ways, it was really funny. While walking around, my friend and I saw so many people playing. Groups of friends and foreigners, yes, but also families and couples. We even saw a girl in Hanbok (한복, traditional Korean clothing) playing with her boyfriend. Near the beach, there were four Pokestops in close proximity. If you stood in the right spot, you could access three of them at the same time. People brought chairs and blankets and then camped out, setting up lures to attract more pokemon.
People crowding around the Pokestops near the beach.
Because Sokcho is the only place in Korea where you can play the game, I can see why people want to spend their vacations playing, making the most of the opportunity. But, I couldn't help feel a little sad and hollow at the thought of coming to such a beautiful town and spending all your time glued to a screen. There is so much more to see and do. My friend isn't much of a hiker, but just outside of Sokcho you can go to Seoraksan (설악산), which is one of the more popular mountains in the country. There is also a waterpark nearby (alas, no swimsuit this time), and a number of museums, too.

I'm glad I went, and I hope that I can go again to do more of the things just outside of the city. Three days was not long enough. ㅎㅎ.

And now... back to school, I suppose.

Love and Hugs

Friday, September 09, 2016

A Day in Busan

One of the first things we did in Busan was teach this Korean
 할머니 (grandmother) the purpose of a selfie-stick. 
I almost called this post, "Busan, Round 2" but I thought this title was more accurate since my friend and I were only in Busan for a day--not even 24 hours if you want to be more exact. We landed at 10 in the morning and were gone just after 9 the next day.

We bought the tickets last week on a whim and then planned out a rough itinerary the night before thanks to a quick google search. Both of us were keen to see anything and we knew would have fun because we were travelling together. Still, I did not expect our day to be so full and so... productive. I think that's the only word for it.

So, here are a couple more things that you can do in Busan. (Click for what I talked about last time)
Meeting up with Changho to start our adventure!
Markets: 국제시장 & 부평깡통시장!
Like many airports, Gimhae is not in central Busan and it takes a while to get into the city. So, we decided to head to Gukje Market (국제시장) first--arriving just in time to explore a bit and grab some food. If you have the time, it's a lot of fun perusing what you can get at a Korean market.
Welcome to the visual chaos at the threshold.
From food to clothes to odds and ends, there are all sorts of things available. Some joke that you can get everything except for a husband or wife at some of the big markets around the country. Plus, you can find some delicious food to munch on while you explore (like Hoddeok/호뗙 a sweet fried rice cake, sorta, and ddeokbboki/떡뽁이 spicy rice cakes). We weren't as hungry as we thought we might be so we didn't actually eat a lot at the market and soon moved on.
Get your ddeokbboki/떡뽁이and extras here! 
That's a lot of
ice cream...
Nampo (남포) & Yongdusan Park (용두산 공원)
Who doesn't want a picture with a giant
pikachu doll?
Changho said that the market was for "older" people (and it's true we saw a lot of middle aged women and older buying things for their homes and such), so he urged us onward to the "young" area. If you've been to Seoul, think Hongdae/Shinchon (홍대/신촌). There were a lot of restaurants and bars as well as the necessary cute knickknack shops. Naturally, we explored a couple.

Our exploration led to the foot of an escalator leading up to Yongdusan. Yes, an escalator. It went up to the park but then you had to walk back down the stairs. ㅎㅎ. You can pay to go up the tower on the top of the mountain (very small mountain, I should qualify ㅋㅋㅋㅋ) and I think it was under 10,000 KRW, but as we were there in the middle of the day and it was cloudy, we decided not to. Night scapes are sometimes better from city towers. It was a relaxing space and we saw many ahjussis (아저씨) sleeping on benches. There was also an outdoor platform that looked like it was for concerts. Très cute.
Riding up the escalator because we can.  
At the top of the mountain.
Dala 100% Chocolate: Bingsu 
Address: 부산광역시 부산진구 전포대로209번길 18
*We were near Seomyeon station (서면역), but I don't know if that was the closest subway station*
In the hot humid weather, nothing is better than enjoying a delicious, cold, bingsu with friends. Especially when there is a giant dinosaur egg sitting on top.
bingsu bingsu bingsu
If you don't know what a Bingsu is, it is a shaved ice dessert, so similar in some ways to ice cream. I think typically they are made with flakes of condensed milk, but you can also find them made with ice. Usually a scoop of ice cream is added on top along with other toppings depending on your flavour of choice.

I'm not really a fan of chocolate and ice cream things--I just find they are too rich for me--but this treat was too cool to not try at least once. They cave you a small meat tenderizer (yeah... weird... but still) that you used like a hammer to bash the dino egg. Inside was a... a secret. You could order all sorts of other chocolaty treats if you didn't feel like bingsu. Choices for everyone!

Haeundae* (해운대)
Let's go to the beach!
Walking along the beach feels so nice!
Beach season is "officially" closed, but there were still a few people out swimming in the water. In the heat, I wished I had brought a swimsuit for a dip, too. Wading felt so good! But you had to be careful where you stepped. There were a number of jellyfish washed up onto the sand. I don't much about jellyfish, but I didn't want to get hurt by mistake--even though I really wanted to touch one.
Diana playing in the sand. 
Centum City, Spaland (신세계 스파랜드)
And last, but not least... Diana's favourite part of our trip: Spaland. This Jjimjilbang (찜질방) is located inside a mall. There is a discounted price if you go after 8pm, so we ate dinner and killed some time before going in. Some of us could easily have spent a full day here... sleeping. ㅋㅋㅋㅋ.
Wearing my lamb ears!

After you pay, they give you a wrist band and you then use this to monitor your tab inside the spa (so food and spa treatments). There were multiple sauna rooms ranging in temperatures. My friend said he saw a negative one, but the coldest I saw was 14 degrees. The hottest was in the 60s. I don't really like hot rooms, so I didn't try any, but both Diana and Changho explored a few. I enjoyed the footbath area as well as the really comfortable chairs in the lounge room. (They also have a room for sleeping).

And then of course, there are also the baths. Various temperatures are again available and there are also numerous shower and wash stations. They even provide some soap and shampoo if you didn't bring your own!

We stayed until almost midnight (when they close) and then made our way across the city to beds. Well... I went to bed. Diana had slept at Spaland and had energy to spare. I did not. ㅎㅎ

Definitely a good day in Busan and I hope to go back for more adventures in the future!

Love and Hugs.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Go, Go, Go - The first 3 Weeks

Year 2 has begun.

I think I'm still alive. Mostly. Haha.

If last year was a marathon--long, exhausting, harder at times than at others, but with an overall steady pace--this year feels like a sprint. So far, it has truly been a mad-dash. From the get-go we have been busy in residence. With 40+ grade 12s working on their Extended Essays for the IB program, I have had a near constant stream of papers to read and edit. I don't remember last year being this busy--although last year we had less than 20 grade 12s at the start of the year in residence, and they were hesitant to ask for help.

The first few weeks after the returning faculty arrived were a little strange. So many people left at the end of last year and while I like making new friends and meeting new people, it was a little strange thinking about my friends who had moved on to other countries and other jobs. They were here a few months ago and now someone else is in their stead. But, Jeju is still Jeju with it's beautiful landscapes, crazy hot weather, and giant bugs (especially at this time of year). So it goes.
Sagye-ri, at the base of Sanbangsan (사계리, 산방산옆에)
To my friends and family back home, I've been taking the start of this year a little slower than last year. Facebook, with it's daily reminders "On This Day..." keeps showing me all the hiking and adventures I had last year and in comparison I feel like I really haven't done much since coming back to Jeju 6 weeks ago. ㅎㅎ. I suppose I should fix that soontimes. New adventures are on the horizon. (Like Busan/부산... again... tomorrow. ㅋㅋㅋ).

There is one week left before the Chuseok (추석, Korean Thanksgiving) break and I am looking forward to heading up to Seoul, visiting some friends, relaxing, and exploring new territory. Then, soon, I will have new stories to tell.

Until then, love and hugs.

Things I've learned about France (or at least Normandy)

Well there we go, my second European country. In some ways, very similar to England (a lot of meat and potatoes, fancy churches, pay toilets...