Archive for September, 2009

New Glasses

Since moving to Korea, my eyesight has worsened.  I blame the insane amount of time spent in front of a computer screen. Overall, my eyesight isn’t too horrible, but it’s not perfect.

I get annoyed when I watch movies and they’re not as crisp as they once were, even while wearing my glasses.  This country has soo many wonderful things to look at: bright neon lights of the cities, mountains, Koreans doing whatever Koreans do… I could go on.  My point is that I need to be able to see these wonders without having to squint.


The entire glasses-getting experience was great. While sitting on a bench by the subway station, I spotted a 2nd floor store that sold eyewear. I convinced Seth to help me pick out some new frames.

When inundated with too many choices, I freeze and tend to do nothing.  This being Korea, I knew that over a million pairs of glasses would be there waiting, only to confuse me.

I was right.

The glasses store was jam packed with a rainbow of frames in all shapes and sizes.  I don’t know how anyone make a spectacle decision under these circumstances.

Not only did I need to pick out the perfect frames, I also needed to have my eyes examined.  I had no idea how these things were done here but I was hoping I could easily make an appointment or something.  Nothing could have been more simple.   One guy spoke English in the store and so he was assigned to help us out.  I told him I needed an exam.  Quickly I was placed in a chair and stared through tiny holes with a green image of a grassy hill.  The image kept going in and out of focus.  Then he placed these weird black glasses, with the left eye blacked out, on my head and had me read an eye chart.

On a funny note, the eye chart was half in Korean and half in English letters.  He first pointed to the Korean side and I sounded out what he pointed to which only made him laugh and then he said “Oh, sorry” and pointed to the English letter P instead.  Then he started dropping various lenses into the frames until I could read the entire chart.  Repeat for the opposite eye.

Then, as if a miracle, in under 3 minutes, I was reading signs outside of the window on the buildings across the way.  Never have I experienced such a strange eye exam.  Technically, it wasn’t an exam because; it didn’t test for things like glaucoma or stigmas.  However, a prescription in hand to pick out glasses is not necessary.  Wonderful system.  Even more spectacular is that the service is free.

Luckily, we picked out frames in a record time of only 15 minutes.   Another 15 minutes later, my new glasses were ready to wear out of the store.  In and out in about 45 minutes!!!  Lens Crafters has nothing on these guys.  I even received a nice hard case and soft cleansing cloth.  What’s even better is that my awesome pair of glasses only cost $80… total.

No insurance, no paperwork, no appointments, no hassle.  Walking in off the street and getting new affordable glasses.   Fabulous.

new glasses <— I just wanted you to see the green color of the frames.

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Time Flies

241 days.  That’s how long I have been living in Korea.  Wow.  Where does the time go?  Only 4 months remain on our contracts and then it’s off to see more of the world.

I’m very excited to be in the research and planning stage of traveling.  Nothing excites me more than to stare at maps and google cities to discover what I can get into in that particular part of the world.   Plus, I just found this amazing site for cheap airfare around South East Asia.  Jetstar Airways has a flight from Bangkok to Singapore for only $66!  This will make traveling soo much easier.  Not to mention less time on a bus for me to get motion sick.  I’d recommend this site to anyone wanting to travel around on this side of the world.  I’m just in the beginning phase of planning, and things will change a million times before we actually leave Korea.  Actually, I’d love some suggestions.  I’m open to about anything.

My travel ideas, in no particular order or preference:

Thailand– Food, that’s what tops my list of what I want to see and do in Thailand.  I love Thai food. But floating markets sound really cool.  I will not, however, be riding an elephant.

Panang Curry

Singapore – City of Lights… this is where my grandmother says I have to go, so I’m going.  Sentosa seems really cool.  It’s home to Asia’s largest aquarium.

St Andrew´s Cathedral, Singapore

Bali – canoeing in gorgeous waters, biking around volcanoes, lounging on beautiful beaches

Bali, Rethymno

Laos– Did you know it was settled by the French?  I didn’t.  The capital, Vientiane, is absolutely gorgeous.

Putaxai Monument

Cambodia – I want to visit Angkor Wat.  It’s a must see for everyone.

Angkor sunrise

China– Forbidden City would be amazing, Great Wall of China (of course), and I’d love eat Chinese buffet just because it’d be soo funny to me.

Great Wall of China, Mutianyu

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Baeksajang Beach

What goes better with flying than kayaking?        Nothing I tell ya, nothing.

There is a company called Korean Safari that has weekend getaway trips to various locations in and around Korea.  This was my first adventure with them, but a bunch of people I know have highly recommended them.

Our trip was a 2-part weekend adventure: Flying and Kayaking.


The Flying took place at Taen Airfield.  The Cessna 172 planes held 4 people and only one could actually fly.  Seth won ‘Rock-Scissor-Paper’ so he was the lucky one that took control of our plane for a while.  Flying around was a huge success.  I loved every moment.

The Kayaking took place on Baeksajang Beach.  Unfortunately this portion was Kayak-Fail.  Seth and I kayaked in the ocean for about 45 minutes, and we were some of the lucky few that spent a long time paddling around.  But the tour group leaders didn’t plan ahead very well, and they had no way of getting the kayaks from the airfield to the beach.  So they took 3 trips in someone’s car and brought only 6 kayaks to the beach.

This all took place in Anmyeondo region. Anmyeondo is a large island over 232.5 km long.  We stayed in a hostel-like place called Dream Beach.  It oddly reminded me of a 1950’s Myrtle Beach.  There were small carnival games, giant umbrellas, and a mini-mart that sold ice cream and beer.

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Taen Airfield

We got to visit the Taen Airfield and fly around in a plane.  Seth actually took control and flew the plane for a while!

The airfield was in the Anmyeondo region of Korea.  It is south-west of Seoul.  From Itaewon the bus ride was around 3 hours… not too bad.

No real instruction was given.  “Move your arms right to fly right, and move your arms left to fly left…”  The seat belts didn’t even work.  But our instructor pilot was amazing.  I have never felt a smoother landing, a baby could have remained asleep the entire flight.  (well maybe not during take off because we had the windows open and the wind was a bit crazy)

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… Marks the Spot

Recently I went to the National Folk Museum of Korea.  Located at Gyeongbok Palace, the outside scenery was gorgeous.  Most of the exhibit was in Korean and I had no idea what I was looking at, but the paintings and displays were amazing.  Not understanding the language has definitely made my trips to museums shorter than normal, but I still love going to look around.

Tall and scary, these carved wooden poles caught my interest.  I’m sure this sort of thing can be found in just about any country’s history.   The tallest poles were placed outside of a territory or larger region.  The smaller poles were made to mark individual tribes of people.  I do not know what colors represented what or what type of carvings on each of the poles mean, but I find them fascinating.   Poles inside the museum were some of the original markers of this region.

National Folk Museum South Korea_291

Anguk Station, exit 1.   3,000 Won will get you onto the palace grounds and then the museum is free to enter.

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This amusement park was fun and reminded me of home.  It’s fun to be silly and scream on roller coasters.   Everland is themed ‘Happy Halloween’ for September and October.  Decorated in pumpkins and ghosts, the place looked amazing.

Spooky fun houses, pumpkin parades, laser tag with ghosts… I don’t know how it could have been anymore fun.  American Adventureland displayed 1950’s advertisements and blared Elvis records.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Double Rock and Spin’ ride where I was flipped upside down and spun around soooo fast that I was thankful I took Dramamine.

On a non-ride side, the rose gardens were gorgeous.  Giant windmills towered over rainbow squares of roses.   People walked around all day wearing cat, bunny or tiger ears.  Even the guys were sporting some rockin’ faux-fur ears.   I loved it!

For me, the easiest way to get to Everland was to take the subway to Suwon.  From there, I caught a non-stop shuttle bus that took about 40 minutes.  It only cost me 4,000Won (~$4) which was worth every Won not to have to ride the city bus for 2 hours.

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Traditional Tea Ceremony

The tea ceremony was held at Gyeongbokgung (Palace).  This was the third tea ceremony to be held this summer.  It focused on the daily tea ceremony using powdered tea with a lecture on the health benefits of tea.

My favorite tea was the Hibiscus tea, it was red and sweet.  Everyone walked along the table sampling the various teas, most of which were cold, and several different rice cakes.  Beautiful table cloths in blues, purple and silver were covered in real flowers and gorgeous serving ware.  It is always fun to see the traditional hanbok outfits because they are just stunning.  Along with the tea lecture and tasting, there was traditional music being played.  I do enjoy Korean culture.

Palace grounds.  A very peaceful place.

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Good Mexican Food

Who knew?  Good Mexican food does exist in Korea.  I have had plenty of half-hearted Mexican dishes and a few pathetic imitations, but finally I know where I can get a great enchilada.  On The Border.   This place is in Sinchon off of exit 4, just around the corner.  It’s really close to the subway.  Prices were moderate to high, but when you haven’t had cheese in a few weeks, it doesn’t matter how much you have to pay.  Their margarita selection was quite amazing too.  I will definitely be going back.

Oh, and the best part was that they served cheese dip.  It doesn’t quite compare to the white cheese dip with jalapeno pieces, but it will do just fine.  This was more of a melted Velveeta concoction with a can of Rotel mixed in for flavor.

The chicken enchiladas were wonderful. Also covered in the cheese sauce, these hit the spot.  Now, add in some black beans and rice… it’s the perfect meal.  I didn’t realize how much I missed black beans until I had the option of ordering them.  Yum.

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My Friend was Attacked by a Taxi Driver

I was on my way to meet a friend of mine for dinner.  She had called to say that she would be late because her cab driver was lost, but that she was almost there.  I left when she called.  It takes six minutes for me to reach downtown, and there are 2 crosswalks along the way.  As I was waiting at the 2nd crosswalk I could hear someone screaming… the kind of screaming that you know isn’t fake.

“Help me, Please somebody help!”  From a block away I heard the terror.  Obviously this was someone speaking English, because I could understand the screams.

After hearing the screams, I walked along the building towards the commotion.  I know many of the English teachers in the area, and thought maybe I could help or something.  Once at the end of the block there were maybe 30 men, women and children standing around the corner and I could see the police in the middle.  Since the police were there I figured things were under control and so I maneuvered the mob of people and crossed the street.  Just then my phone rang.

My friend that had been in the lost taxi was calling.  When I reached to grab the phone out of my purse, I could see that there was a woman across the street with a policeman holding her arm.  It was my friend!  I answered my phone and told her I’d be right there as I was running towards her.  When I reached the scuffle, the policeman let go of her arm.  He reached out to shake my hand and told me he was with Seoul Police.  My friend was in tears saying that the cab driver expected her to pay 65,000 Won (roughly $65) for a ride that should have cost around 15,000 Won.  The policeman was wanting her to pay.

The seriously horrible part that I had missed was why my friend had been screaming.  The cab driver grabbed her, was almost hitting her and was trying to take her bag.  Her bag is now missing one strap completely and the other is torn.  She didn’t even realize that the man trying to help was a policeman because she was soo shaken up.  I use the word “helping” lightly because even he wanted her to pay the taxi fare and was holding her arm.   Obviously there was a language barrier problem but no one was giving her a chance to explain the situation.   She was a girl and they didn’t want to listen to a girl.

Worst of all, no one was helping her.  Not one single person tried to help her.  She was screaming and people just gathered around to stare.

Being a woman in America, I expect to be treated with respect.  I was raised to be happy that I was a girl, to stand up for myself and to do anything and everything I wanted to do in life.  There are still areas of equality among genders that needs some work, but at least I don’t feel like a second class citizen only to be pushed around and taken advantage of by taxi drivers.

Here in Korea, however, it is a different story.  Compared to other industrialized nations, women’s status in Korea is below men in every possible way.  Being a foreign woman, I am even below that status.  I ran across an article stating that Egypt is at the bottom of the barrel for women equality.  Among the bottom 10, we also find South Korea just above Pakistan.  Can you believe that?  South Korea ranks only one country better than Pakistan on how they treat their women… it’s awful.   Korean men stare at me constantly.  Blatant stares that border on being uncomfortable.  I tune these men out most days.  Seth has even said something to some of these eye-wandering passerbys.  Men also jump in front of me in lines and a few of them refuse to step aside when walking on the sidewalk.  Apparently men are also allowed to yell at and try to beat up women on the street.  That’s just how life is here for women, especially foreign women.

Tonight’s most terrible occurence has reminded me yet again of the serious lack of compassion, and I’d go as far as saying acknowledgement of existence even, towards foreign women in South Korea.   Thankfully my friend is ok, or will be after a goodnight’s sleep, but she will probably always be a bit edgey when she has to ride in a taxi.

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Hiking on Gwanak-san (Rock Mountain) in Gwacheon

Yesterday I made the trip up the 629 meter Gwanak-san (rock mountain) in Gwacheon.  In my mind, a 4 km hike up a 629 m mountain is a run up a mole hill, an easy feat accomplished in a couple hours.

I forgot I was in Korea.

When Korean hiking clubs map out and build trails, they go straight up the mountain, switchbacks be damned. The problem here is the most direct route is usually the most brutal, ass-kicking ascent you can possibly imagine. The mountains here aren’t high, but they are steep, and Gwanak-san is no exception.

That said, Gwanak-san has got to be one of the best hikes I’ve been on in years. Besides the physical challenge of all the rock scrambles, the summit is home to a cliff shrine and hermitage, some funky communications equipment, machine gun nests left over from the war, and, of course, at the top of the mountain, there’s a dude selling ramen noodles and makkoli (rice wine).

Yeonju-dae Cliff Shrine

The foundations of the hermitage date back to AD 677, but most of the temple was rebuilt in the 1970s.

Gwanak-san Communications Equipment

Rocks on rock mountain

Yeonju Hermitage

IMG_0051To climb this section you had to use chains and rope anchored into the rock. Scary but fun.

Gwanak-san Vistas
You can sort of see Seoul in the distance, but when I went the air was pretty bad. Visibility limited to maybe 10 km.

If you go: Plan to spend at least six hours. Take at least two liters of water and a few ounces of gorp. You’ll need the energy.

Getting there: Take line 4 to the Gwacheon stop and use exit seven. Cross the street and look for the brown signs. The entrance to the mountain is about 500m from the subway. When you reach an intersection, you have two options for going to the top.

Option 1: At the intersection, if you cross the street and head straight for the hill, you’ll be on the longer, more challenging trail. Because of this, the trail will be less crowded. On this  trail you’ll be  doing some rock crawling, but you’ll be rewarded with plenty of vistas.

Option 2: At the intersection, head left and follow the road for a few minutes. On the right you’ll see a parking lot and a bunch of outdoorsy-type Korean restaurants. Just follow the road up the hill and soon you’ll be on the trail. This trail is shorter and more built-up, having stairs, bridges and handrails.