Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Second Spring in Korea: Seoul Adventures

Over the past few months I've made a few trips to Seoul.  These trips almost always include at least a little shopping--after all, it's nearly impossible to resist the $10 dresses that are for sale absolutely everywhere this time of year.

Aside from shopping though, here are a few of the other things I did during my time in Korea's capital city.

Bukchon Village
I first went to Bukchon last year when my friends were visiting Korea, but I remember at that point it was super hot and we were pretty tired.  This year I made a second trip back when the weather wasn't quite as hot, and we had a wonderful time exploring the traditional hanok houses, which are quite the contrast to the modern city buildings which occupy the rest of the skyline.

One of the other lovely things about Bukchon is all of the little shops around the area. We happened to choose just the right coffee shop to take a break at--we had an amazing view of the back of the palace as we enjoyed our refreshing beverages. 

Hello Kitty Cafe
Later in the afternoon we decided to do something we will probably never be able to do back in North America--check out the Hello Kitty Cafe.  I think Hello Kitty is actually something that originated in Japan, but is pretty popular throughout East Asia. This was a trip we made pretty much just because we could.  When you're in Asia, why not?

Overall, the cafe was an explosion of just about everything pink with some coffee and cake that was mediocre at best (and of course way overpriced).  Overall, one trip here was enough, but I'm glad I went once--just for the experience.

The latte art was cute, but the cake was about 90% frosting.  Pretty gross.

Lotus Lantern Festival
On a different weekend later in May we were in Seoul again for a friend's wedding reception.  The reception ended in the early afternoon, so afterwards we went over to Dongdaemun to watch the parade for the Lotus Lantern Festival.  The Lotus Lantern Festival is a huge festival that is held in Seoul each year before Buddha's birthday.  

Only Korea would make Buddha this cute
Fire breathing dragon.  Pretty cool!

The only bad thing about this parade was since we were at the beginning of thr route, it was still light outside as the lanterns went by.  It probably would have been cooler if we had seen them lit up in the dark.

Wearing Hanboks
My friend Jen and I have been wanting to try on hanboks, the traditional Korean dresses, for quite some time.  There are a number of places in Seoul where you can try them on, but unfortunately during our last few trips to Seoul, we've been having bad luck, either coming in too late, or finding that places had outdated websites with incorrect information. On our last trip to Seoul we made sure that we were up early and made wearing hanboks our number one priority.  We ended up going to a cultural center in Insadong, where we paid only 3,000 won (about $3) to try on the hanboks.

I'm glad Jen likes to play dress up just as much as I do because it's definitely something that is more fun to do with someone else.  I should note that while people don't wear hanboks for everyday life, they are still used for special occasions, such as weddings. At times you still do see people in hanboks in Korea, but you usually know they are going to some kind of celebration when you do. 

Kakao Talk Store 

Kakao Talk is the messaging system that Koreans use. It's pretty much a lifeline here in Korea, and is hands down the number one way I communicate with people here in Korea. It's emoticon characters are extremely popular, and easily recognized by just about any Korean person. Jen and I are also fans of these cute characters, so when we heard there is a store in Seoul that is all about Kakao Talk, we knew we had to visit.

The store turned out to pretty much be exactly what I expected. The interior is bright yellow and there are of course places to take pictures with the emoticon characters. Naturally, there's also a bunch of overpriced merchandise you can buy...and of course the overpriced part didn't completely deter us--Jen and I both bought a few items there.

Probably the cutest bags ever!

The inside of the store. 
One of my purchases. I think my love of Kakao Talk, its emoticons, and all things cute is evidence that Korea has really started to rub off on me.
When I first came to Korea it was kind of strange to me that absoltely everything is CUTE, but it's something I've come to love, and will actually miss once I leave.  I don't know if we'll go back to the emoticon store again any time soon, but I'm glad we at least went once!

So, there you have it--a glimpse of some of the things I've been up to this spring. There's still more to write about, but hopefully I'll be able to catch up soon because things are just going to get busier my last few months here!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Second Spring in Korea: Part I

After completely falling in love with spring in Korea last year, I was super excited about experiencing it for a second time around this year.  Overall this spring was cooler and rainier than last year, but I've still been enjoying overall comfortable weather and the lovely spring flowers.

Instead of writing in depth about everything I've been up to, I'll just give some of the highlights from the past few months.

Flowers, flowers, flowers!

I wrote about my time at the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, but I should also mention that once again, I got to enjoy plenty of lovely cherry blossoms all around Jeomchon.  Unfortunately, the river that is right behind my apartment is STILL under construction and we didn't have too many days with blues skies (the best background for the pink blossoms), but I still enjoyed every single day I got to walk underneath these beautiful trees, and much to my surprise they stayed in bloom longer than last year.

After the cherry blossoms fell down, it was time for the next round of flowers, the vibrant azaleas.  I love these bright flowers, and they are absolutely everywhere as you walk around town, which makes for lovely spring walks.

More recently, there have been lots of roses blooming around town.  These roses grow all over, especially along fences. These aren't the best pictures, but I'm too lazy to upload the ones I have on my actual for now you'll just have to settle for my poor cell phone ones. 

Of course, these aren't the only flowers in bloom in spring, but these are the main ones you can spot everywhere in Korea during spring.

Chasabal Festival
One of the famous festivals in Mungyeong is the Tea Bowl (Chasabal) Festival, which is held at Mungyeong Saejae.  This festival is full of local artisans, who sell their traditional ceramics.  We were lucky that this year the festival had PERFECT spring weather, so a few friends and I decided to spend the morning at Saejae.  Since they hadn't hiked the whole thing before, we went all the way to the third gate before coming back down for the festival.

Pretty waterfall at Mungyeong Saejae

The second gate of Mungyeong Saejae

Korea can make anything cute. I don't think any other country could make a tea bowl look so cute!

At the festival we even had a chance to make some of our own ceramics, something we naturally we eager to do.  

Overall, this was a really nice day right in our hometown. I will really miss Korea's festivals once I'm back home!

Weekends in Jeomchon
On occasion, we have weekends where we actually stay in town without much to do. Our routines on these weekends are somewhat predictable--dinner and drinks.  But when the weather is nice we also love to jump at the chance to have BBQs.  We typically have these on the rooftops of our apartment buildings, and it's always an enjoyable time to spend the afternoon/evening. 

My weekends this spring have also been spent doing a number of other fun things, but I'm realizing that the rest of the things all took place in Seoul.  If I write about them all in this post it will be way too long, so I'm make a separate post about my Seoul spring adventures soon (well, hopefully...)