Category Archives: South Korea

Dokdo bread

If you live in Korea you know that passions run high when it comes to Dokdo, that tiny rock near Ulleungdo that somehow got left ouf of the peace treaty between Japan and Korea after the Korean War ended. “Dokdo is Korea” as the slogan goes and although Korea currently occupies this tiny, unhospitable rock it officially belongs to Japan. I guess you can thank Uncle Sam for that one.

Someone saw a gap in the market and decided to start baking Dokdo Bbang (bbang=bread) here in Pohang. As it happens, the bakery is quite near my house so I couldn’t pass up the chance to buy my school leaving gifts there.

According to The Korea Times, owner Kim Ki Sun got well pissed off when he heard that a baker in Japan was producing “Takeshima bread” so he decided to retaliate!

I bought 3 boxes of ten, and was offered 2 samples and 3 freebies- pretty awesome! These madeleine cakes are orange flavour whereas Dokdo itself is blueberry. I liked it for the most part but it did have a slight aftertaste, like when you add too much baking powder.

You can order the bread cake, online or just pop into 소망 베 이커리bakery itself, located in Song-do dong (they’re open til 11PM and they also sell pizza).

They make the perfect gift for principals so they offer the perfect ending to a happy school relationship.

 

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Going to the gynaecologist in Korea (guys look away now)

I’ve been putting off this dreaded task for as long as I can.  Going to the gynae is intimidating enough without adding language barriers to the mix. My friend recently recommended a doctor with decent English and suddenly I had no more excuses.

It was interesting to compare a Korean gynae visit to an NHS UK one.

1. You obviously have to pay in Korea whereas the NHS visit is free. The prices are very reasonable though and I only had to wait 10 minutes (without an appointment). Some procedures are covered by your insurance but not all of them (take your ARC along anyway).

2. Along with the PAP smear, you can also ask for a sonogram. I have never been offered a sonogram of my uterus ever before and wow, it’s amazing! You can even see what stage of your cycle you’re in!

3. The results are processed within a week. I remember having to wait a month or more for my results in the UK.

You can also have STD tests done: some tests are covered by insurance and others are not. The full series of tests for HPV, for example, would cost 230,000 won. Pricey, but there ARE different levels of tests so don’t let that put you off. Remember, HPV causes cancer.

Overall, I’d say this was a “pleasant” experience, all things considered. So many cancers are treatable if detected early enough. Don’t become a statistic because of nerves and a language barrier.

**In Pohang, you can go to the Yoon Clinic, in Idong, above the Baskin Robins at Sageori (4-way intersection) on the 4th floor.

Freediving training February!

I’m in my final month in Korea and I’ve just started prep for the next step in my freediving journey. I’m aiming to become an instructor in March so I have to get back to my August form so that everything will be easy.

While I was stuck on a gondola ride at High 1, I came across this amazing video about Frenzel and equalization. I don’t really have an issue with Frenzel. My main problem is swallowing my air so I’d like to nip that annoying habit in the bud within the 1st few days of training in Cebu.

Since my two main goals for instructors will be to dive to 40m and achieve a static apnea time of 4:00 minutes, I decided to attend a very special templestay in Korea.  I needed a temple that puts a strong emphasis on meditation.

Golgulsa Temple is situated in Gyeongju, about 34km from Pohang.  “Golgulsa” literally means “Stone Buddha Temple” and it’s home to a 4m large Buddha carved into Mt. Hamwol, sometime between the 7th and 9th century.

Golgulsa is also famous for a form of martial art that was originally practised only by monks. Sunmudo means ““the way of doing meditative martial arts”.  It’s a unique combination of meditation, yoga and martial art. You can read more about the fascinating history of Sunmudo here.

I arrived on Saturday and had 3 meditation practices under the belt by the time I left the following day. I found it very helpful to have a refresher on what to focus on when meditating. Essentially, breathing and relaxation are intrinsically linked. It’s about acknowledging a distracting thought but letting it pass through as you return to breath. I also found moving meditation a really enjoyable activity. I’m hoping to use meditation and yoga not only for getting a good breathe-up but also to help me deal with contractions better. My training mantra is “contractions are your friend”. I hope that if I repeat this enough I’ll actually start believing it instead of being distracted by the discomfort.

Trying out Sunmudo is part of the templestay experience and it’s amazing how exercises that only use balance and bodyweight can cause such high lactic acid levels in your muscles! I thought I was relatively fit but I guess the training session targeted muscles that are not used too much in cycling and snowboarding. Two days later and I’m still stiff hahaha!

I met grand master Jeog Un Sunim during Sunday’s tea ceremony and I had a question for him (which has nothing to do with martial art, meditation or freediving). I noticed there was a statue of a Jindo dog next to a small, fat-bellied smiling Buddha on the temple grounds. When I asked him about it, he told me that he had a dog for 20 years and that she was like a daughter to him. After her death 5 years ago, he decided to honour her memory by erecting the statue on the temple grounds. She lives in through her daughter, who was happily snoring away in a corner while we were doing our 5AM meditation session.

There’s a lot we can learn from Buddhism and apply to freediving. Other than mediation and knowing the importance of breath and living mindfully (living in the now), it also teaches us not to attach to anything (other than the line of course. ALWAYS be attached to the line). Don’t attach to failure, don’t attach to nerves or negative feelings. Acknowledge that failure is part of the learning and growing process. Be aware of your body and your breath. Be aware of how your thoughts are impacting your training and performance. Be aware of where you tense up when you start stressing or when you feel discomfort (for me it’s my neck). Be grateful for your health and the beauty of the ocean.

By knowing yourself you can strive beyond your limits. This takes time, training and patience. I’d say the end result is worth it though 🙂

* You can find other useful articles about freediving here.

 

 

 

High 1 Ski Resort

I love winter in Korea! I finally got round to using my season pass for High 1 last week. I’ve blogged about snowboarding in Korea before but I’d like to re-iterate what an amazing deal you get with a season pass.

If you’re new to the game, start with these 2 steps: join Snowboard and Ski South Korea  and Korea-snow.com. This way, you will be notified when season passes become available on the internet – usually around September, after Chuseok. There are two rounds of season pass registrations, one in September and again in November. There is a slight price hike if you go with November.

What’s so great about a season pass? The price. I paid 238,000 won for a season pass that covers me from December to March- lift pass AND return bus shuttle from Pohang to High 1 Resort included. I don’t think you can get this deal at this price anywhere else in the world. I have my own gear now but if you have to rent a board and boots it works out to 30,000 won per day (from 08:30 to 16:00). NOTE: the season pass IS more expensive for guys… around 352,000 won I believe. Tour operators such as Enjoy Korea and Waegook Travel usually charge the price of a season pass for a weekend’s worth of snowy fun.

I highly recommend NOT going over the weekend. If you have a season pass, go during the week so that you can enjoy the non-existent queues, wide open spaces and uncrowded slopes. Weekends are just crazy busy- you’re looking at 20-30 minute queues to get on the ski lift. No thanks.

This past weekend High 1 held a Snow Festival, which included a Snow Tubing Festival. Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) offered bloggers the opportunity to attend the Festival and stay at High 1 CC Hotel. I’ve only ever visited High 1 during winter but during the summer months it’s actually known for being a Country Club! Playing golf country club style is a pretty exclusive activity since space comes at such a high premium in this mountainous country. Koreans love golf and screen golf and netted driving ranges are incredibly popular.

High 1 CC Hotel’s facilities include a sauna, conference rooms, restaurants and a golf equipment shop. There is also a casino nearby, the  only one that is actually accessible to Koreans and foreigners (it’s illegal for Koreans to gamble).

My room was spacious, comfortable and tastefully decorated and offered an exquisite view of the mountains. We were treated to a delicious buffet and a post-dinner show by Sachoom! Sachoom’s dance performance is funny, energetic and covers a range of styles from B-Boy to K-pop to ballet.

I didn’t have time to try out the sauna, but once I got back down to Valley Ski House and saw the carnage of Saturday crowds, I decided to try out the jimjjilbang Sauna instead. Located between the Valley Ski House and Valley Condominium, a soak, scrub and steam will cost you 7,000 won. If you choose to have the whole jimjjilbang experience (sleeping there) it will cost 10,000 won.

You can also swim at Mountain Plaza, use the outdoor sauna (you need to wear a swimsuit), play pool, sing at Rush norebang or play arcade games!

Bottom line, you don’t have to be bored at High 1! I’m really going to miss winters in Korea. Shout out to KTO for hooking us up with the good stuff!

 

 

101 List and 4 Rivers update

Just over a year ago, I wrote my “101” list:  the 101 things I’d like to do in the next 3 years. So far, I’ve been able to scratch 33 tasks from my list and this weekend I’ll complete #34. This is a biggy for me: completing the 4 Rivers Trail.

I completed the Geumgang on the first day of November, setting myself a new PB:  189km  in just over 12 hours.

I started in Gunsan, ended in Daejeon and I found the signage to be a bit crap in places so I’d suggest doing it the other way around (like the book advises). It was a one-day affair for me: mostly flat and easy but long.

I bussed into Gunsan from Pohang late on a Friday night, slept very soundly in  a motel behind the station (the bed was doubly inviting thanks to the electric blanket). I paid 50,000 won for the room, but I knew that the next day would be a long one so I allowed myself this little extravagance. After all, it had a bath tub and I scored 2 new toothbrushes for my bike cleaning kit! I was going to wake up at 6AM but it was so dark and snugly that I slept in until 8.

Riding along an estuary during autumn is pretty spectacular, with all the ducks practicing their winter flight formations. I saw hundreds of birds that morning. I met a Korean rider along the way who was finishing his last river. After we reached his final stamp booth, we posed for some photos and commemorated the occasion with a quick CU coffee and some Oreos.

He asked me if I wasn’t afraid of cycling alone. Lots of people have asked me this and yeah, if I were in another country, I wouldn’t cycle solo. I feel so safe in Korea. I feel extremely comfortable riding as a solo female in the dark, in the middle of nowhere and being lost. I have always found the Koreans I’ve met on my travels to be trustworthy, honest and helpful, despite my basic Hangul-skillz.

Soon after leaving the cyclist behind (at Iksanseongdangpogu Certification Center) I got horribly lost. I was following mile markers along the river when the path just stopped. I guess I crossed the river too early… I made a low-sugar decision to go by road until I found the next stamp booth… this lead to a stressful ride on a narrow road full of traffic and roadworks. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching the day fall away around you as you try to find your bearings. I was pretty relieved when I finally made it to Gongju-si. If I had more time I would have stopped for a look round, since there’s loads of cool history here.

As light gave way to dark I put my head down and the rest of my ride was pretty uneventful if misty. I had to cycle past  a slew of restaurants on the way to Daecheong Dam: torture to a cold, tired, hungry cyclist and at the same time, the promise of rest and warm, soothing Korean food makes you peddle just that little bit faster. I swear there’s nothing better than any jigae, rice and beer after a long ride.

Tomorrow’s ride will be on a tight budget: it’s the weekend before pay day. I’m pretty psyched to know that I am so close to achieving my goal. Cycling Korea has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

What’s next? SNOWBOARDING SEASON!!!

P.S: My MP3 speaker is great- it lasted the whole way!

Busan Film Festival

I’m a pretty big fan of indie cinema and foreign film. In terms of English movies, only the big Hollywood blockbusters make it out this way. One of the great ironies of living in Korea is that I can’t even watch local films because they don’t come with English subtitles. It’s easier for me to watch Korean film in London than it is in the very country the films are made. Crazy. You CAN watch these movies with subs in DVD bangs a few weeks after they’ve been released, but it’s not really the same, is it?

I was so glad to get tickets to this year’s Busan Film Festival– finally time to get my foreign film fix on! Ticket sales open 3-4 weeks before the festival. It’s worth having a couple of mates on computers at the same time as servers tend to crash and English web versions mysteriously turn into Korean ones! Have a native speaker on hand to help you out should the process become tricky, as the tickets sell out in no time. Please remember to add your email address and/or mobile phone number to each booking screen so that you can receive your booking confirmation! (I know this sounds obvious, but my mate rushed past this step and it took the lovely patient folk at Megabox 20 minutes to find his booking…not cool.)

We rushed to Busan after school on Friday to see The President by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, an intense and complex look inside a coup, dealing with themes of revenge, forgiveness, war crimes, innocence and innocence lost. I highly recommend this film. It’s worth noting that you will not be allowed to take food or drinks into the cinema so don’t bother buying popcorn.

Le Meraviglie (The Wonders) by Alice Rohrwacher is a coming of age film, and also deals with the decline of the rural way of life and the romantic idea of Etruscan civilization. This was my favourite- beautifully shot in 3 languages: German, French and Italian.

We saw The Homesman but I didn’t rate it at all. Out of the 4 films we saw this was my least favourite.

The final film we saw was My Man by Kumakiri Kazuyoshi, based on Sakuraba Kazuki’s controversial novel. It deals with loss and the fine line between relationships and incest. It is quite an intense, disturbing film but intriguing nonetheless.

It would have been great to have the whole week off and just geek out on films 24-7. Get yourself to Busan next year for an unmissable feast of international film.

Seoul Independent Film Festival will run from November 28th to December 6th. May I also add that Tenacious D will be in Seoul December 5th-6th which means it’s totally going to be a wicked weekend!

Tunes!

I bumped into one of my high school co-workers last night while she was taking her new MTB for a tame Pohang spin. Nice bike but what really caught my eye was the cool speaker/ light combo she had attached to her handle bar.

She bought one off gmarket for 19,000 won but so far, on the global version I’ve only been able to find ones around the 40,000 won mark.

Check it out. Or stick to one headphone on medium volume 😉

You can also buy a mobile phone bracket online but the price range varies quite a lot with cheap models retailing for just under 9,000 won. This number looks like a sensible price middle ground. Personally, I’m a bit wary of having my phone on my handle bars- I feel it’s slighty safer in your rear pocket in case of an accident. Let me know how it works out for you if you get one!

Adventures in Korean cuisine

When I dived Ishigaki (Japan) in January, the shop owner let us sample some 10 year old liqueur, stored in huge 5l plastic jars. The content looked pretty vile: rotten fruit and brown juice but boy oh boy, was it tasty!

During the hot summer months you can see large bags of green plums being sold everywhere in Korea. Curious, I asked my co-teacher about it and she explained that this plum variety, maesil, is used to make liqueur, maesil ju! Home made booze??! It was a challenge that simply had to be accepted.

I found a good recipe online for short-cut maesil ju- use equal amounts of plums and sugar and add 1 or 2 bottles of soju (I left out the honey). I filled 5 sterilized jars back in June, popped them in the back of my food cupboard and forgot about it until last week. You should let the concoction brew for at least 3 months.

Maesil has a few health benefits: it fights fatigue and aids digestion (good for a dickey tummy). It’s not just used to make booze though! You can also leave out the soju and just use sugar and plums, layered alternately and left for 1-3 months- maesil cheong.

On a recent cycling trip to Gyeongju I stopped off for lunch at a quaint Indian restaurant, Hawa Dhaba. The owner, ayoung Korean woman who spent some time in India, made me an amazing side salad, simple but punchy: shredded cabbage mixed with sunflower and pumpkin seeds, with a drizzle of citron syrup. It blew my mind. The next weekend, this citron syrup came my way again, this time in Busan. Our host made us citron tea in the morning and it was a sign that couldn’t be ignored any longer. I had to make citron syrup myself.

It’s the same idea: equal amounts of sugar and chopped lemon alternately layered in a jar and leave it for at least a month. You can also add honey to this mix. And hell, if you don’t like cooking and shit, just go to any supermarket in Korea and buy a jar, pre-made.

With winter soon approaching, this tea is a really tasty, hearty way of making sure you get a vitamin C boost your immune system.

I made my batch today so it will be ready just before winter really starts biting.

And since my inner ajumma took over today I also made ginger beer, because, why not?! 😉

I love these autumn days, getting everything ready for winter! I love the Korean traditions I’ve learnt about that I have been able to incorporate into my own life. Heck, I might even make good kimchi one day!

Cycling Jeju

My friend Pieter and I are trying to complete all the routes in our KTO cross country passport before winter kicks in and before we leave Korea next year. We have a few small river routes to complete but we just added Jeju to our list of DONE. Once we’ve completed all our rides we’ll qualify for the “Grand Slam” certificate and medal. Put that way it sounds a bit lame. We’re not doing it for the medals 😉  Using the cycle passport is hands down the best, most organized way to see Korea during your time here. It has only enriched the Korean experience for me and I feel I have gained a deeper understanding and love for the country as a result.

Getting to Jeju

You can fly or take a ferry. If you fly you should box up your bike (get one from your local bike shop). Since we were planning this ride for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) flights and ferry spaces were thin on the ground and expensive. Enter “Enjoy Korea” and their super affordable Chuseok 4 day weekender. Stacey Kim is American- Korean and she runs Enjoy Korea with the perfect blend of professionalism and partying. She is the missing link between Western and Korean culture and she makes tour planning seem effortless. I’ve used all 4 of the main Tour Groups for foreigners in Korea (Adventure Korea, Waegook Travel, WiNK and Enjoy Korea) and Stacey wins hands down.

You can take a ferry from Busan or Mokpo but the Busan ferry takes 12 hours (overnight) whereas Mokpo can take from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours (depending on the company you use).Our journey started from Mokpo and took around 4 hours. Load your bike into the cargo hold before joining the queue to board the ferry. If you’re not piggy-backing onto a pre-existing package tour it’s worth thinking about your way back since buses and trains tend to be booked out on public holidays like Chuseok.

The Cycle route

Once you’re on the island the cycling route is pretty straightforward. The terrain is mostly flat and most of the roads have a separate lane for cyclists. It was only in Jeju City  lacked a decent cycle lane/ sidewalk option for road bikes. I definitely felt uncomfortable and I’d say I’m a fairly experienced cyclist. We cycled anti-clockwise but usually most people go clockwise due to the winds (we didn’t know this). We were cycling into headwind most of the time but luckily it wasn’t strong.

The route is 234km long and has 9 stops for stamps. Heads up: there are no red stamp booths like the rest of the 4 Rivers Trail. This is still a work in progress for the KTO at the time of writing so you have to take photos in front of the stops as proof instead. You can easily circumnavigate Jeju in 2 days and see some extra sights along the way. We started both days at 07:30 and finished at 18:30 with a few stops and 1 hour lunch breaks.

We added two stops to our route: Jusangjeollidae (lava column-shaped cliffs) and the Haenyeo Museum (traditional Korean female freedivers). If you have time you can also add Cheonjiyeon and Jeongbang waterfalls to your list. Jusangjeollidae and the waterfalls are all in the Seogwipo area. The Haenyeo Museum is located in Gujwa, between Seongsan (the lava crater) and Gimnyeong.

The best

Gimnyeon. Make time to stop and swim here. I’ve seen many beaches in my life but  this ranks as one of my top 3 with its white sands and azure waters.

Jusangjeollidae: not on the map but it should be.

Seongsan:  Try to start day 2 here because the sunrise is definitely worth it.

The worst

Sarabong, Yong Du Am and Turtle Lighthouse

– Sarabong is great for sunset apparently but it’s not good for much else. It’s awkward to find and I didn’t enjoy riding there.If you want a beach sunset, go to Hyeopjae beach instead.

– Yong Du Am. Korean for Tourist Trap. Cue 100 buses and 10000 tourists vying to take photos of a rock. Local government needs to make the cycle route to this destination safer.

– Turtle Lighthouse. Ahhh, Turtle Lighthouse the bain of my life. The mysterious landmark that not even Tourist Information in Seogwipo could tell us the location of. So mysterious that not even the people in the surrounding area knew its name. Not located by googling No sign boards.  So you’re thinking “How hard can it be? It’s a lighthouse for  fuck’s sake!!” but actually there are many faux lighthouses and harbours along this part of the coast. From Jeju City,  with the sea on your right, keep to the coastal road, ride past a UFO shaped cafe and a harbour with entrance lights shaped like llamas/ dragons/ horse (one red and 1 white llama shaped building). Apparently they are called the Iho Hang Breakwaters. Anyway, it’s soon after that – keep your eyes out because you won’t be right next to the coast, but you can see it from the main road so just turn off and go through some tiny village roads until you hit the small harbour. The dark turtle is sandwiched between the base of the white building and tower. It would have been cute if it hadn’t been such a pain in the ass to find. After 2 hours of internet searching, I found that “Cheon nyeon hak” was filmed here and on this version of the Jeju map (which is not the same as the one in most Jeju Tourist Info centres) it shows the location as “Turtle Lighthouse (filming spot Cheonnyeon Hak)”- B2.

Roadworks

At the time of writing there was some major roadworks between Jocheon and the Jeju Folklore Museum. We rode a closed, half-built, empty, beautiful 4 lane highway as far as we could but then had to go back onto the 1132 which was also down to 1 lane being shared between cyclists and cars. Be very careful in this section, especially the part because it’s very messy. There is a very cool temple in this area called the Buddha Sharira Stupa for World Peace and Unification (평화통일불사리탑) and you can see the 1132 and the new road under construction (and where it stops).

Notes

– If you have time, try to cycle on the coastal “shore” road instead of the 1132. The 1132 is very efficient but mostly pretty dull and ugly.

– All tourist attractions have a minimal entry fee so take cash with you.

– Make sure you don’t over-pack and definitely take time sink your teeth into some juicy Jeju tangerines along the way.

– Signage for the Haenyeo Museum is pretty sparse so when you see the sign get ready to turn!

– There are plenty accommodation options. We paid 50,000 won to stay at a minbak opposite the beach with a great view of Seongsan.

– Great cheesy pizza and calzone to be found in Sinyang-ri.

– You have to eat black pig while you’re in Jeju. Unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case you must visit The Loving Hut in Jeju City or Jungmun area.

Other things to do in Jeju other than cycle

– Scuba dive: you can dive the lava tubes around Seonsan. Big Blue is one of the dive shops operated by English speakers, based in Seogwipo.

– SUP, windsurf and kiteboard. Zooty Club near Seongsan.

– Drink and play like a kid going down slides, climbing up poles, drinking buckets containing generous shots. A night you’ll remember because of the craziness at Monkey Beach in Seogwipo.

Loveland: strange if you’ve never been to a sex museum, mediocre if you’ve been to the one in Gyeongju.

– Jeju Museum of Art: located next to Loveland, 1000 won entry, highly recommended. I saw a great exhibition of works by Park Woo-sung, Victor Cho and Wee Young-il.