Ok, so I figured I would use this blog to continue the chronicles of my international travels...since those are the only ones worth reading about;) I am in Seoul, South Korea with a girl I was in Peace Corps-Burkina Faso with. She is here teaching English at a school. Also here is another guy we were in Peace Corps with, Marius - who is also teaching English, but at a different school.
So the interesting part of the story starts on the plane about halfway from Chicago to Tokyo. The flight attendants came around for our mid-flight snack, and it was nothing other than a bowl of ramen noodles!! How funny. They gave us the bowls, then came by with pots of hot water and poured them in and told us to let them simmer for 4 minutes then enjoy! I was cracking up!
So after a 12 1/2 hour flight from Chicago I had a layover of 2 hours in Tokyo. Perfect amount of time to enjoy quite literally the best sushi I have ever eaten in my life! Wow! Then it was off to Seoul. I arrived without incident and my bags even made it with me!! Minh was waiting for me outside of the custom area. It was so exciting to see her after 9 months! I got in at 9pm and we took the bus to her house. She has this cute little "studio" apartment in a really nice area of town. She has internet, her own bathroom with shower and flushing toilet, and her own washing machine. This is not Africa my friends. It's so cute. Marius came over that night and we all stayed up talking until 2am, which on any other night would have been no problem. But we had to be up and ready to go on our white water rafting trip by 6am. Hello? I was in wonderful condition. I know, you're probably thinking, who goes to South Korea to go white water rafting? I do, that's who. We went with 2 of Minh's Korean co-workers and 2 American co-workers. So 7 in all in a mini-van. Talk about comfortable. And of course one of the Korean girls was driving, and I swear every time I looked out the front window we were on the left side of the road (they drive on the right here). That's when I started praying that I just make it through the day alive. We arrived 3 hours early (yes, 3 hours - apparently Koreans are not so great at timing) so we decided to go visit a Buddhist Temple that was only an hour away. This was really cool. It was located along a river and it was really serene, especially compared to the chaos of Seoul (a city of 24 million including the burbs).
Ok, here is me, Minh and Marius on the bridge to the Buddhist temple. The mountains are really beautiful and green. The river (or bubbling creek in the background) was really serene and comforting. I can see how Buddhist monks chose this place to try to reach the enlightened level. Puhlease do not talk trash about my chosen attire. We were supposed to be going white water rafting!! I had on shorts and a tank top and had to throw on my scrubs and sweater. I was not making a fashion statement;)
Me and Minh in front of the main temple. It was really ornate. You can see a monk praying right behind me.
A closer look at the monk praying. Noice the gold Buddha. The guy on the left is just some guy praying.
This is a humongous bell (on the right) and a drum (left) that was (or maybe still is) used at the Buddhist temple. I can only speculate what they are used for...maybe dinner? That's a heck of a dinner bell. Maybe it's used to call people to prayer. ;)
Later in my blogging I will have a list of observations I have made here. One is the fact that people here, when describing pretty much anything, really abuse the word "famous."
For example, all on Saturday one of the Korean girls showed us a famous restaurant in Korea, a famous temple in Korea, an area famous for when the leaves change colors, etc. Well, she described the man portrayed here in statue form as a "very famous" poet. So I took a picture. He actually was instrumental in leading Korea to independence back in the 1940's, and was also a poet. This statue is on one side of the temple.
So after a while at the temple we got hungry...enter my first Korean meal of my life. YUMMY. We had baked fish and kimchi (the cucumber kind and the cabbage kind) and eggplant and seaweed and rice and soup.
This is a pic of a typical meal here. The little dishes are all different and they keep refilling them whenever you finish. The big plate is baked fish that we shared. Please take notice of the scissors on that plate. They use scissors to cut meat. I'm just giving the facts here people.
Then it was off to the white waters. One note I should make is the fact that the temperature outside never really got above, I don't know...68F, and it was overcast and rainy all day. I'm pretty sure I could see my breath at various points throughout the day...maybe it was an illusion, but I was COLD. And it was funny because I was the only person raising concern about the fact that we were all probably going to get pneumonia. So when we arrived at the place, of course we were the only people rafting that day. What the heck? Who goes rafting on a day like that? We do, that's who. Oh yes, many wise decisions were made this day. No filling out any waivers or forms or anything, I don't even know the name of the company (not that I could pronounce it anyway). Just jump on the rapids and go. I don't know if you have been rafting before, but in order to make it through alive you generally need a good guide and some people in the boat that aren't completely without sense. Well, we had a good guide. And we made it out alive, even though Minh busted her ass on some rocks we went climbing around about mid-way through the trip down the river. I know, why were we climbing around on rocks when we were supposed to be rafting down the river. It's Korea my friends.
So we finished and changed into dry clothes. We were all pretty tired and the trip was only halfway over. The Korean girls then decided to drive the rest of the way across the country to the coast to have seafood. South Korea is only the size of Indiana, but the middle of the country is mountains. So it took a really long time (another 2 1/2 hours in the minivan filled with 7 of us) to get to the coast. Please remember that the girl driving favors the wrong side of the road, and now we are driving through the mountains. Wow. Still praying to make it through the day alive. I know this blog sounds cynical, but at the end of the day I saw a lot of South Korea and it is really really beautiful. Really. And I got to be with Minh and Marius and learn about their time here. So we made it to the coast almost at sunset and it was really beautiful. The thing about the beaches here is that they are lined with barbed wire fences, to keep the North Koreans out. That was a sight I haven't seen before. So we stopped for dinner...another awesome 5-course meal including raw fish and tons of vegetables and seaweed and kelp, etc. 5 of us shared this meal that could have easily fed 10, and they say 2-3 Koreans usually eat it. How are all these people not walking around obese? Because the meals consist of the good stuff, not McDonald's. Point taken. After dinner we jumped in the van and headed back to our side of the country. In total we drove 9 hours yesterday. Coming off of 22 hours of traveling across the world by plane, I am happy the we went on this trip, but oh so happy that we are back.