Haedong Yonggungsa: Temple by the Coast

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was originally built in the 14th century, burned down during Japanese invasion in the 16th century (actually, one or another Japanese invasion is why most Korean historical sites are not exact originals) and rebuilt in the 20th century.

It’s a functioning Buddhist temple so among the tourists, monks were conducting daily rituals and others came to light candles and bow three times.

I managed to throw a 100 won coin into the “lucky coin divination” bowl which I’m sure was not an original feature of the 1376 construction.

As it is a popular tourist attraction, many people on the last day of the school holiday were here to sightsee, say prayers, and climb rocks to pose with golden Buddhas for Instagram.

Fish cake and hotteok were plentiful and there were several good luck charms I just barely managed to avoid buying.

It’s a sight worth seeing, though I recommend you go on a weekday!

Palace Detour: Changdeokgung, Changyeoggung, and the Secret Garden

UNESCO world heritage feels, a secret garden, an overly friendly caterpillar, more walking than I’ve done all year.

I see now why Gyeongbuk Palace is the most well known and first shown palace in Seoul because if you brought me to Changdeokgung first, the former would be a disappointment.

Quite accidentally and even without reading every placard I spent 4 hours lost in the palace grounds. These palace grounds are less than half a mile away from Gyeongbuk and served as a secondary residence to the King’s family. As such, the planning didn’t have to follow such strict royal architecture rules and instead the buildings flow with the landscape.

There are some very intriguing architectural and historical notes such as one building of the Changdeok Palace burned down in 1917 so upon its reconstruction more western features like glass windows and elevated seating were used. During the last Japanese occupation, the second palace was turned into a zoo and was only recently reclaimed and refurbished.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t as careful as I usually am to read every placard; my haste was driven by seeing the Secret Garden where many dramas have been filmed and possibly getting there early enough to video chat my parents and show them the grandeur. Unfortunately they were asleep but I enjoyed the views nonetheless and I did gasp aloud several times.

It was so beautifully green and smelled like nature which is something I realized I have missed during these times of pollution, yellow dust, and continuous mask wearing in addition to the general lack of nature in very tightly squeezed city living. I sat in the shade on some moss where no one was around, took off my mask, and listened to the birds while smelling what was essentially a reminder of my evergreen hometown.

Inside a greenhouse, certainly not historical, one little boy in a hat stared at me so I waved. He waved back and his family and I laughed. Another cute toddler caught my eye and his dad saw me smizing and said “hi”. And even though I was in the middle of Seoul, one elementary boy tugged in his dad’s sleeve and urgently whispered “Dad, a foreigner!”

It was a good day.

If you find yourself in Seoul, I recommend all three. Go out of exit 3 at Anguk station and follow the signs. General admission for Changdeokgung is 3,000 won, the secret garden is 5,000 won, and Changyeoggung is 1,000 won. You can buy together at the gate or buy individually; there’s a ticket stand at the entrance of each attraction in case you change your mind. If you’re debating between the hugely famous Gyeongbuk Palace and this, I will contentiously say that this should be your first choice.

Seollal Pyeongchang Trout Festival

*For context: I joined a four day foreigner ski trip to the home of the 2018 Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang.

A good trip overall but I’ve learned that going forward tour groups are not and have never been my forte. I had a few odd moments this weekend where I was thrust back into my early college days when not socially drinking amongst strangers marked me as a weirdo.

“Am I still an extrovert? Am I bad at making friends now? Why isn’t this fun?” I thought to myself, watching strangers get cozy playing drinking games.

Today I said good morning to two of the men and they looked at me like “why”. The unfriendliness knocked me off balance a little.

It only took a decade but I finally realized: I don’t like this type of social drinking with strangers if alcohol is the only thread holding our tenuous new relationships together. I don’t like when the camaraderie we share over beer evaporates in the light of day.

(I mean, still invite me to parties. I like hanging out with my friends and meeting new people.)

But all those thoughts were knocked away at the small trout festival:

A tiny girl demanded that she carry the caught trout and proudly trotted along as the giant fish flopped in its final death throes in the clear plastic bag. Her mom caught my eye and grimaced and we had a shared moment about her daughter and the fish.

In the communal eating tent I peered into 4 separated bins to determine which was recycling only to be thwarted by the trash in each one. An older woman working in the tent looked at my confused face and we both laughed.

There was also a small market in a greenhouse like tent. The following proceeded in Korean:

One woman offered me tea but I told her my stomach hurts. She guided me to a another table with medicinal tea. The new plan gave me a cup of brown bitter sludge and told me to drink it all then drink hot water after. I sipped the concoction and another woman filled my empty cup with delicious hot tea.

The medicinal tea woman complimented my Korean but was not in the mood for further conversation so my tea and I perused another table. The woman there, in her late 30s and the youngest seller by far, had a horse shoe shaped smattering of freckles from her eye to cheek. I asked her about her items because they were all foreign to me.
“This is fermented soy bean paste.”

“It looks like a hamburger. Ah! I ate this in Japan! The taste was…not good.”
She laughed. My first and only impression of that terrible invention is that it looked and tasted like baby diarrhea.She also had bottles of tea with a woman’s face.

“Who is this?”

“This is my mom.”

“Ah. She. Her face. Is looking nice. Um she is kind.” I had forgotten how to say “she looks kind” but my point was made.

“Thank you,” she replied sincerely in such a way that makes me think her mom has passed.

She explained some other things and gave me a sample of jam.

“Is this honey?”

“It’s honey mixed with beer and fruit and other things.”

“And this. I see this vegetable everywhere.”

“Yes. You receive energy from it.”

“Ah! So you ‘lack energy’ but the opposite phrase is ‘receive energy’?” In Korean you receive energy rather than energy being given.

“Yes! That is correct.”

She handed me an apple sample from the table to her right and told me it is 일등. “일등? What is that?”

The Apple table seller came over and the woman introduced me:
“She speaks Korean well!”

“I don’t, really.”

The Apple lady added, “this is 일등! Best. 이등 is best two. 삼등 is best three.”
“Aha…” I then told the two how korean numbers get me and when I go to a restaurant and see “3set” I have no clue which number system to use.

“Korean is difficult.”

“Yes, there are so many numbers! 일 니 삼 사 (Chinese 1 2 3 4)… 하나 둘 셋 (korean 1 2 3…)… 첫번째 두번째 세번째 (first second third)… and now 일등 (best).”

“Yes! “ the Apple woman clapped once in approval of my understanding.

“Well. For numbers, I am always wrong.” We all laughed. I thanked them for my samples and rejoined the group.

The honey lady is just one of those people who gets it. Uses simple language, breaks things down into categories of plant/animal/fruit when I don’t know the food, and was so kind

That small moment blasted me out of the funk and reminded me that it’s okay to value connection over company, and that these are the memories that keep me warm, much like the one of the two Korean children with whom I played a wordless made up little game between budget seats on a short flight.

The day reminded me of the fantastic poem “The Invitation” which I encourage you to read in its entirety:

…It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…..

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy….

Sokcho’s Bad Boy

At first I thought this resistant boy was a stray but then I saw his owner, an older man in a jumpsuit and hunting cap, squatting in the road saying 들어가 들어가 “go in, go in” and gesturing to the open warehouse where another man was working.

The pupper sat stubbornly in place so his owner could only laugh helplessly.

To Sokcho

I woke up this morning and said to myself, what shall we do today?

But when I checked the pollution air quality, as I do every day, I decided to NOPE straight out of Seoul.

Seoul AQI PM2.5 was 163 and Sokcho was… 25. Most small US cities are between 20 and 50.

I immediately booked a hostel for the same day in Sokcho. Then I did laundry, went to the gym, and headed directly to the bus terminal where I was able to book a ticket for the bus coming in 30 minutes.

The bus terminal has changed much since 2016 when my friend and I visited: The floor has been re-done, the squat toilets swapped out for Western, and most importantly there are automatic ticket machines with an English option.

I could see the pollution thinning out as we headed east and once we made it to town I was really blown away by the view. I wandered down to the lighthouse, which is the closest beach access point, and also meandered around the fishmarket. The local sellers were quite kind and one lady patiently explained the price of sea cucumber as I was so curious how much it costs in a beach town.

The hostel gave me directions on how to access the building and room and I have yet to see any other patrons or the owner. I guess I’ll pay… Tomorrow?

Speaking of tomorrow, I’ll wake up early to see the sunrise. There’s a famous beach about 40 minutes walking from here.

I’m just so happy to breathe.

Jeju Island, Part 2

I visited the Jeju folk village which is a recreation of 1800s style Jeju living. As it’s not tourist season, there were few visitors and at times I was the only person around with only Joseon era mannequins to keep me company.

Only mildly creepy.

Some of the dummies even chanted which is not at all terrifying.

Later I found a petting zoo with an emu and goats and around the corner were real women shucking corn that were not a part of the exhibition. But we smiled and nodded at each other in a fitting end to a strange but informative experience.

Jeju Island

I’m currently on an island for a mini break before teacher training begins. After eating with a new hostel friend we parted ways and I entered one of the many hipster cafes on this side of town.

As I waited for my tiramisu cafe latte two older men, decked in the classic middle aged gear of a fishing vest and hiking shirt, waved hello at me. I waved back and said in Korean “aren’t I pretty?” with appropriate cutesy hands.

They were momentarily shocked into silence and then conspired amongst themselves, countering in English with “American?”. I responded in Korean “Yes I’m American” because someone on this island is going to have to speak to me in Korean. My latte arrival interrupted any other conversations we may have had so I simply said 잘 지내세요~ and went on my way.

4 hours on Jeju and it’s kind of the best.

Have you ever wanted to worship a mountain?