Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Our Weekend: Happy Halloween

Fireworks over the Diamond Bridge
The weather on Saturday was perfect for the creepy halloween festivities that we had planned. It was stormy and windy, and from Katie's apartment in Dongbaek whenever lightning flashed we could see the waves crashing onto the rocks below. It was no surprise that the fireworks on Saturday night were cancelled. This worked  for us and gave us more time to experiment with our costumes.

When we got to KSU the halloween atmosphere was fantastic. So many people had dressed up and there were hundreds of people milling about on the streets and taking pictures.

Dead Riding Hood

Pooh bear and grandma catching up over a cigarette

Wolf and frog kigu

Two face

Luckily Sunday was a lovely crisp day, perfect for Busan's big firework event. We headed to the beach early, grabbed some food and played card games. The fireworks were all so pretty and the flying birds were definitely my favourite.

Add into the equation the best banana makeolli that I've tasted on Friday, a week of lots of cancelled classes and needless to say I fell into bed exhausted but happy last night after a great weekend.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Kawaii Coffee in Korea

I've learnt to love coffee in Korea. Not just because it keeps me awake through long hours of desk warming, but also because I love discovering the tiny details that makes every coffee shop that's hidden away on the side streets somehow unique. I've become a sucker for the novelty cute messages scrawled into the froth of my cappuccino, the bowls of pink sugary snacks, the cats that will curl up on my lap and sipping my drink whilst sitting amongst giant stuffed bears...

 Here are my favourite three places to drink in Nampodong when I need a fix of cotton candy colours, coquettishly sweet and kawaii cute...


3. The Pink Elephant Cafe (NOW CLOSED 26/08/2013)

This was the first place I discovered how amazing coffee and cake could be in Korea.

It's a crisp, clean, white-washed cafe, with faux grass on the floor, big stuffed bears sat on benches and paper flowers on the walls.

It serves amazing cakes that are light, chocolatey, sickly and topped with lots of fruit, and the drinks are topped with cute animal faces. I loved the caramel macchiato here.

A sickly chocolate cake with a happy message scrawled in chocolate sauce
Kiwi juice and fruit
Mum and I
My mum and I when she visitied
Cute Cafe

The stairs leading to the cafe

Tasha looking super happy
Big bears and faux grass

How to get there: This is on the high street, on the second floor and is pretty hard to miss. Walk down the road with Lotte behind you, continue past the statue with the ABC Mart on your right, and it is close by on your left hand side. The sign is bright pink with a white elephant on it, and the stairs tell you they love you as you walk up.


2. Coffee 2F

This is a cute little wooden cafe where people ponder their futures after cracking open complimentary fortune cookies and leave little wish notes on the walls. It's the perfect place to wile away some time with a good book.The white chocolate latte is really good.

Coffee 2f
Inside Coffee 2F
Coffee 2f, Nampo

Fortune Cookie
Korean fortune cookies. My coteacher said that this said that if I face my problems with courage
then I will be successful.

How to get there: Again, walk down the high street with Lotte behind you. This time, when you come to the statue with ABC Mart on your right, veer right, onto the road with The Pho and The Pan. Stay on the same side of the road as The Pan, and the doorway is just after the first bag shop on the road. If you get to the fancy restaurants with the wooden terrace then you've gone too far. If the name doesn't give it away, it's on the 2nd floor.


1. The Vintage Cafe

Last but not least is the Vintage Cafe. This feels like you're taking a drink in your nan's wardrobe, with intricate knick knacks all over the walls and a rail of vintage and reworked clothing you can browse while sipping your delicious hot chocolate served with flumps! They also have big books of blank paper and encourage people to leave your arty mark in the book, using the crayons that are stored in a copper kettle. It's a perfect place to rest after hunting for hidden gems in the vintage shops in Nampo.

Inside the Vintage Cafe
Thick hot chocolate served with flumps
This couple spent hours colouring and drawing their picture
I loved the decorations in here
My Little Pony bedecked in jewels
Sonny Angel dolls
Even the menu was cute
Browse the vintage clothes while you bask in the cuteness of the place
How to get there: It may be easier to get here by leaving Jungang station at exit 9 or 7, whichever one means you come out with a main road directly to your left and one right infront of you called Daechong-ro. Turn right and head down Daechong-ro. Cross the road so you are on the same side of the road as Nampo tower, with the tower to your left. Keep walking a fair distance until you see a small Paris baguette. Turn left just before this, you'll have entered Gukje market and the coffee shop is maybe 10 meters down on the right with a big green sign outside.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Poster Girl

The other day I was sat at my desk happily minding my own business when the vice principle shuffled in and smiled at me. He paused at my desk as if preparing to say something to me, thought better of it and turned to my coteacher.

I heard my name mentioned a few times and when I turned he did another suspicious smile at me. Then Grace, my coteacher, translated the message 'You must look pretty on Monday'. I was sat with unkempt hair, in an outfit I had thrown on in 2 minutes that morning, so wasn't quite sure how to take the comment, but I just smiled at him and he looked relieved and left.

So on Monday the pressure was on, not really knowing why I'd had to get up so early, I brushed my hair and put on a dress. When I got to school I was ushered into the library where there was lots of photo equipment set up, and three immaculate children who'd had almost a bucket of water thrown over their heads to smooth all the stray hairs down. Then I was told to stand on the desk.

Here's the result of the bizarre photoshoot. Apparently it's a poster to recruit new students for next year. It was pretty awful when I noticed that the poster was going up in every classroom, but I've just been told that each child in 4th, 5th and 6th grade has been given a poster to put up in public. Great.

So see how many you can spot over the next few months and try suppress the urge to deface my awful grimmace.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Care Package V6

I need to say two big thankyous for some amazing gifts I've received in the past month.
Lou care package

Firstly my lovely ex colleague sent me a package with a skull and crossbones scarf inside which it's actually been cold eough to wear this week. This came along with a packet of Yorkshire mix to remind me of home and Curly Wurlys, chocolate I haven't eaten since I was about 8!
lizzie care package

It's always a good day when you're sent Marks and Spencers' Percy Pigs (the very ones that inspired me to get me up to the top of Mount Seoraksan), accompanied by a dark mark lollipop and angel delight. Angel delight always reminds me of children's parties back when I was young

Thank you Lou and Lizzie for bringing out the Harry Potter loving child in me.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

How NOT to climb Mount Seoraksan

Mount Seoraksan

There was the choking back of tears, lots of grumblings mixed with fits of delirious happiness and elation on the way up, but I can now say that I actually climbed right to the top of  Daechongbong  peak of Seoraksan mountain! Hurray!

Mount Seoraksan is in Seoraksan national park in the North of ROK. I'd heard that it was really beautiful in the Autumn when all the trees that cling onto the mountain sides begin to turn to red and orange, so I was really excited about the mini adventure that we planned. Although I had a really great weekend, there are a few things that I'd tell others to do a little differently...

This is where I spent alot of this weekend
Many an hour was spent on the buses
Getting There. 
The night bus wasn't quite the magical, wizarding Knight bus from Harry Potter, but the driving was pretty much on a par, and the stopping and starting meant you would probably get the same amount of sleep. We caught the bus from Busan's Dongbu station, which shares the same building with the Nopo bus station, which caused a little confusion to start with. The pre booked ticket cost slightly over 40,000 won and left Busan at 11:50 at night. My coteacher had helped me to book the ticket online, before I found the link to the English site here.

Although it was really spacious and comfortable, I wasn't expecting the bus to be stopping every hour or so, the driver to abruptly flick the lights on and off and aggressively shout at people. People were on and off the bus constantly, it's not the straightforward trip that we'd had on the way to Gwangju. At one point he even stopped in the middle of a busy road because he realised that he'd driven off without shutting the luggage door below. Obviously the latter was just him being incompetent, but I'm not sure if this is how it is on most of the night trips.

We were told that the journey would take 9 hours over night, but we arrived into Sokcho at 5:30, over 3 hours ahead of schedule. I think if I was to do it again I would either prepare to leave earlier on Friday and invest the money in having a few hours of undisturbed sleep in a motel, or not plan to do the hike the morning following the travelling. This takes us right onto point number two...
Kipping on the luxury bus
Some people had little problems kipping on the bus...
I guess it was bad timing that I left school after event day and caught the bus the same night, meaning I'd only had a few hours sleep. The bus didn't help things either, so when we started the hike at 9, I was feeling ok, but by lunch time I was having all sorts of mood swings, being incredibly happy to be out in the fresh air turned to being really grumpy after 3km as I realised that the peak was only half the journey and I'd have to come back down. Cue lots of self doubt and the niggling thought that I might not make it, it was only because of all the ajummas and a friendly old guy that took a liking to us that I carried on at a snail's pace.
Inappropriately dressed for a mountain hike
I know how good I look right now...
 I'm not a hiker and I don't have the necessary gear. I decided to just layer up as much as possible so I could add and remove layers whenever I needed to. I also wore my running trainers. Much to the amusement of some of the hardcore hikers. I stopped at one point to let a group pass me that were shoving their sticks into the ground like they meant business, and one man decided to point out the inpracticality of my shoes, just as he decked it. In your face with your hiking boots, sir!

The trainers worked fine, although on the way down it was a little slippy at times, if you have boots, or if you can borrow them off someone then do it, if not I think trainers are ok if you're extra careful on the way down.
Breakfast Ramyeon
A nutritious pre-hike breakfast
We put little thought into the food before it was time to have breakfast in Osek just before the hike. I'd quickly packed some Percy Pig sweets sent across from England, some Capri Sun drinks and some crisps. The shops in Osek had lots of snacks, but nothing really substantial that would have been good to have for lunch. I'd read that the shelter at the top of the peak had a small selection of food, so we had ramyeon for breakfast and bought some oranges and water to take up with us, planning to buy from the shelter. But, by the time we got to the top we didn't have the time or energy to walk even further to get to the shelter, so we had to suffice.

Nick used the Percy Pigs to entice me up the mountain, and we polished off everything we had when we reached the top, but it just wasn't enough. I looked on enviously at all the Koreans with their picnics of gimbap, ramyeon, fruit and coffee and was incredibly jealous.

By the time we got to the bottom I was so hungry I would have eaten a scabby horse. I was happy to see the little square of restaurants when we got into Osek and we celebrated by feasting on samgyupsal, rice and chocolate that night. I've never appreciated Korean food more than I did that night.

I'm incredibly proud that we did it, and have to merit Nick with his patience as he encouraged me whenever I was teetering on the brink of quitting. It was a learning curve for us both!

That said, we did do lots of things I would strongly recommend. I previously mentioned that we stayed in a small town called Osek, which you can get to by catching a bus from Sokcho to Yangyang and then to Osek from there. It had a really European mountain resort feel to it, and it was so nice to be in fresh air. There were mountains surrounding us on every side of the little square that was home to many restaurants, motels, convenience stores and even a hot spring spa. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go in here, but I imagine it's perfect to soothe your aches after the walk.

The people were all super friendly and helpful, and the local corn makeolli that we tried in one of the restaurants was delicious.
Autumn colours
Pretty colours
Over the bridge
This is while things were still pleasent
Autumn colours
Still in pretty good shape
2km down, 3km to go
1.6 down, 3.3km to go, cue my first wobble
Intrepid Explorers
Intrepid explorers
Mountain chipmunks
Mountain chipmunks
Hating the mountain hike
This is how I felt 3km up
Happy about the mountain hike
How Nick felt 3km up
At the head of Mount Seoraksan
Finally at the top
Resting at the top of Seoraksan
Feeling jealous of the picnics and seeing how far down we had to go
Sorak Spa Spring Motel
Our motel
Motel view
View from the motel room

Our second leg of the trip on Sunday was also pretty successful. We left Osek at 10:30am and headed down the coast to Gangneung, which is known as the Pine City. There are many beaches close so we hopped on yet another bus to Gyeongpo beach. We didn't actually make it to the bus though, as something bright and shiny caught Nick's eye and I couldn't drag him away.
Our pedalo
Our pedalo
That's right, he couldn't resist the pedalos lined up on the pavement, calling to him like sirens. It was 20,000 for one session, although at first I was really dubious about it, I have to admit that it was a pretty good idea. There was a 4km track specially designed for the tandems and pedalos that went around Gyeongpoho lake. It was lined with sculptures and art work, which we later found out was supposed to depict a love story, but we didn't quite get that part.
Pedestrians had better watch out for the pedalo

Ready to roll on the pedalo

Racing kids on a pedalo
No shame in racing the other pedalos
Racing the cars
Before our near death experience on the road
Apart from the near death experience of when we had to take the pedalo onto the wrong side of the road with oncoming traffic dashing past us as we tried to return it, this was a lovely relaxing end to a weekend I doubt my aching calf muscles will let me forget for a long time.