Doekjin Park

A few weeks ago, my friends and I made our way to a place called Doekjin Park. There are small parks all over Korea; I have one almost across the street from my apartment. But Doekjin Park is much bigger than the average Korean park and known to be quite beautiful in late spring/early summer when the lily pads are in bloom. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. There was quite a lot to see and do there, and it was absolutely beautiful. Of course we had our customary traveling debacle, and only a moment after we arrived. Joe and I assumed (foolishly – you KNOW what happens when you assume) that there would be a multitude of places to eat near such a popular destination. WRONG! We ended grabbing some random snacks from a convenient store because there was zilch in the vicinity of the park. We joined our other friends who were smart enough to pack a lunch and had a picnic of sorts. Then we wandered around the park taking in the sights. First up was a walk across a small suspension bridge that took us to an island in the middle of the giant pond. Em’s not a fan of bridges, so she didn’t care for that quite as much. On the island, we discovered a tucked away picnic area hiding in a thicket of trees. We also discovered a restaurant, at which point we face palmed ourselves. The pond itself was full of the largest lily pads I have ever seen. It was really quite cool. Then we made our way over to the area where you can rent dragon and swan pedal boats and pedal them around the lake. The four of us got in a swan boat where I foolishly volunteered to sit in a pedaling seat. As we pedaled our way around the lake, we had many Koreans pointing at us and talking about us. Then we had a few trying to ram us. It was mostly instigated by children, but occasionally the parents were encouraging them. Trying to out pedal those devious children is probably the greatest workout I’ve ever had in my life. Once we’d made our way to safety, we stopped to enjoy the scenery and noticed some fellow waygooks taking a stroll in the park. We were staring at them, trying to figure out if we knew them and they, in turn, were doing the same.  After several minutes of this, I started laughing because I thought the whole situation was utterly ridiculous. And that’s when one of the unidentified waygooks said, “Oh, it’s Megan!”  Apparently I can be identified from 50 yards away by my laugh. Which then made our entire group start laughing. The waygooks on land, however, remain unidentified. I kind of expected someone to Facebook me about it or say something one night while I was out, but it has never happened. It remains a mystery for the ages. After our epic swan boat ride, we continued our exploration of the park discovering the random workout equipment that all Korean parks seems to have, the saddest little waterfall known to man , and several random, mostly depressing pieces of art spread throughout the park. We also found a super awesome, over sized swing. I REALLY wanted to ride it, but felt too guilty about potentially kicking some kids off of it to get a chance. Some of my other friends were not at all bothered by that prospect and took at turn. It looked like a lot of fun. Maybe next time… All in all, we had a really great day and I took a lot of great photos. I am looking forward to going back again because I hear there is a really awesome water and light show at night.  And that swing is calling my name…

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Fun in the Sun

*Note: I have been informed by my mother that this post did not meet her comedic standards and I have updated it in attempt to please her. Oh the things we do for parental approval.

*Note 2: I don’t think I’m that funny, I’m just following orders.

The last weekend in May was a 3-day weekend here for us, too (thanks for being born, Buddha!), which coincided with my friend Emily’s birthday, so we decided to make the trek to Busan for the weekend. It is about a 3 1/2 hour bus ride, but totally worth it. Busan is the second largest city in Korea and has the added appeal of being right on the beach. And also the world’s biggest department store. No big deal. We stayed in what they call a love motel. I don’t even want to think about what the implications of that name mean, I just tried to spend as little time there are possible. After we dropped off our stuff, we began our long, arduous trek to Nampo (a neighboring area that turned out to be not quite so neighboring) to do a little shopping and check out the super mega huge fish market. Shopping was interesting, as always in Korea. We saw pants that would fit the Incredible Hulk at a store that boasted selling “American sizes.” That is what the world thinks of us, folks. There was a shirt covered in lion faces with these really creepy piercing blue eyes that looked fitting for a member of the wolf pack. I considered purchasing it because I thought I could use it during my inevitable future as a crazy cat lady. There were also some frightening mannequins that looked like giant Bratz dolls and what Joe so eloquently described as a “little girls’ S&M bathing suit.” While we were shopping for sunglasses for Joe, an ajumma shooed us away from her stall because she did NOT care for us trying on the sunglasses before buying them. How else are we supposed to tell which ones make him look like an alien and which ones make him look like a pedophile? While we were waiting to meet up with the rest of our party, we stopped for a pick-me-up in a bar with beer bottles the size of my upper torso. After a few drinks and some obligatory “hey, look at me with this giant beer bottle” photos, we ventured to the super mega huge fish market to stare at some seriously weird fish and take oodles of pictures. We bought some prawns the size of my face and some overpriced but delicious looking crab. We took it to the restaurant upstairs that cooks it on the spot for you. The crab was delicious, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it. Tragically, the prawns were a bit bland and overcooked, because I had been expecting big things from them (pun totally intended, albeit lame).  After that, we ventured back towards our hotel and got ready to paint the town red. Unfortunately, this was not to be. There must have been an axe body spray convention in town, because I have never seen so many popped collars in my life. And I grew up in the 80s. The ridiculous levels of testosterone and douchbaggery were making it difficult for us to have a good time, so we found a small, weird Korean dive and set up shop. We ordered the weirdest (read: grossest) nachos I’ve ever had. Koreans do a lot of things well, but Mexican food is not one of them. We spent the rest of the night there, drinking, eating weird food and people watching. We witnessed a group of VERY intoxicated men dressed as Catholic school girls trying to hail a taxi for, like, 15 minutes. They finally got one by jumping out in front of the taxi. I’ll have to try that method the next time I’m having trouble getting a cab. On the plus side, they consistently forgot to add our drinks to our tab so I think I spent $8 that night.  The next day was mostly spent chilled out on the beach, which was amazing. Korean beaches are ripe for people watching. There were multiple women trying to walk down the beach in high heels. I appreciate how difficult that must be, but come on ladies! And there were several guys in full on suits. Koreans don’t like to show a lot of skin, so most people were  covered from head to toe and looking at us like we were weird for wearing bathing suits. There was an awesome guy in a bright blue speedo parading up and down the beach on his jet ski flexing his muscles. I assumed he was just your run of the mill tool. Turns out, he was the lifeguard. Sometimes I love Korea. In the late afternoon we headed to the aquarium because not only do I freaking love aquariums, but my friend Emily was diving in the shark tank and we wanted to watch and take pictures.  And to see if a shark would go rogue. None did. BUT, we did get a bunch of super awesome photos of fish and Em. Afterwards, the birthday girl wanted to spend the night hanging out on the beach, so we did. We met up with some other friends from Jeonju that were in town for the weekend and had a blast. There were definitely some roman candles involved, and I may or may not have pretended I was Harry Potter while playing with them. There was some beach tag, which is hilarious to watch grown-ups try and do. And there were a bunch of really amazing sandcastles because they were gearing up for a contest the following weekend, and we got to see a little boy poop on one. Some Koreans came and took pictures with us simply because we were foreigners. Okay, not all of us. Mostly just my blonde friend. But I’m going to go ahead and piggyback on her experience. An inebriated group of foreigners not far from us spent a decent chunk of the night singing Disney songs. It was a great night. Monday was spent vegging on the beach, soaking up the sun, and dreading going back to the beach-less Jeonju before our long, frightening bus journey home. Have I mentioned recently how terrifying driving in Korean can be?

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It’s a Zoo Out There!

A few weeks ago we took the kinders on a field trip to the zoo, but we only looked at a few animals before we just let them run amok for the rest of the trip. I wanted to wait until I had a chance to properly explore the zoo before I did a post about it. Fortunately, Mom’s trip was the perfect opportunity for such an adventure. I had heard really bad things about the zoo before I went there. People were saying that it was really depressing and that the cages were really small. And while I definitely encountered some cages that were a bit small for it’s inhabitants, overall it was a really enjoyable experience – both with the kids and with Mom and my friends. The trip with the kids was great because kids are hilarious when they see animals. Every time we saw a new animal, the kids erupted in oohs and aahs and, “Megan Teacher! Megan Teacher! Look! Look!”  I have a great photo of Angela showing me her hippo face. Then we played tag under the cherry blossoms ( which were blooming much nicer than at the Cherry Blossom Festival). Then, a couple of weeks later, I went with my mom and my friends Joe and Emily (basically, my partners-in-crime in the ROK). The weather was beautiful, and I think we wandered every square inch of the zoo grounds. There was a gorgeous pond that we had lunch at. We wandered through the cherry trees and up through all of the animal cages. Korea definitely has an interesting idea of what constitutes a zoo-worthy animal. We saw a skunk, a “raccoon dog,” some guinea pigs and some actual dogs. I’m chalking it up to cultural differences. Joe got a little excited about the skunk because he’d never seen one before. He’s English, and apparently they don’t have skunks in England. Lucky bastards. I also found it interesting how close you could get to the animals. We could literally reach out and touch the zebras. If you were tall enough, you could reach up and feed the giraffes. And I don’t know if feeding the animals is exactly allowed, but it definitely isn’t actively prohibited. People were throwing food into many of the animal enclosures, and were ripping the plants out of the ground and giving them to animals.  I was shocked. But while I was too chicken to touch the zebra, I definitely got really close to it. After we finished taking  a millions pictures of animals, we moved on to the rides. Yup, their zoo has rides. They have an area specifically for the little ones, and another with a Ferris wheel, a couple of small roller coasters, a haunted house, bumper cars, a viking ship, a carousel, swings, and this thing that you pedal around a track, like, 15 feet up in the air. Mom didn’t go on any of the rides, but Joe, Emily and I definitely did. We started on the Ferris wheel and then moved on to the bumper cars where we gave some Korean kids a run for their money. Joe and Emily hit up the viking ship where a “who can scream the loudest” contest was started with the other side of the ship. Then Joe and I rode the up high pedal car things, where Joe kept trying to ram into the dad and kid in front of us because they were going to slow, and the little girls behind us tried to ram us because they thought we were going to slow. All in all, it was a great afternoon followed up by going to the movies to see The Avengers. Life is good. =)

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Cherry Blossom Festival

Last month, my friends and I ventured to the neighboring town of Soyang for the Cherry Blossom Festival. Korean festivals are not like American festivals, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just different. I was expecting lots of food, some booths selling nicknacks and handmade goods that I could waste money on, some games, maybe a few small rides and some live entertainment. The kind of event you can waste and afternoon at. It was not to be. Except for the food. But I didn’t know what most of it was, so that was kind of limiting. It took all of about 10 minutes to explore what the festival had to offer. There were a couple of games. Like, literally, I think two. BUT, I did get to see a nun shoot a gun at some balls, so that was pretty cool. And the entertainment alone made the trip worthwhile. Apparently clowns in Korea like to wear women’s clothing. One guy looked like a clown from, like, the 40s – except that he was wearing a red bra on his head. And the other clown looked like a street corner from the 80s had a prostitute missing. Somehow, amidst the gender-bending, my friends and I were the ones being gawked at. As the only waygooks in attendance, we stuck out like a sore thumb (more so than clowns in women’s underwear, I guess).  A Korean kid eyeballed us for a few minutes before reaching out and rubbing my arm. Maybe he was trying to figure out if I was real? I’ll never know. At any rate, it was a nice afternoon outside of Jeonju, even if the festival was a little lackluster. I suppose we’ll always have the clowns…

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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…

A few weeks ago, I was duped into going hiking. Well, not the hiking so much as the climbing to the top of a freaking mountain.  “It’s not that hard,” they said. “It will only take a couple of hours,” they said. If someone says this to you, do not believe them. I repeat: DO NOT BELIEVE THEM. We began our journey at about 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Moak Mountain is a 15-20 minute bus ride out of the city. We arrived at the base of the mountain and it was time to decide which trail to take: easy or hard. As one of our group has a heart condition and I am exercisally challenged, we opted for the easy route. We started up the path, taking in the stunning scenery and the occasional, obligatory facebook photo. As it turns out, easy trail is a misnomer. Several times during our trek to the tip of Mt. Hell I wanted to keel over and die. Or at least be at the base where I could catch a ride home. It took us 4 hours to get to the top because between me and Heart Problems, there was a LOT of resting. Fortunately, some older Korean women took pity on us and shared their food with us, because after a couple of hours we were starving. There were tons of people on the trail, and many of them wanted to talk to us and find out where we were from. Although not all Koreans are so friendly. There was also a group of women that told us to go to the next rest area because they didn’t want dirty foreigners to sit near them. They didn’t actually call us dirty foreigners, but there is a sizable portion of the population that believes foreigners are terrible, disease ridden people and should be avoided at all cost. Also, I’m pretty sure the Koreans have some super-human hiking DNA. Even the old folks were flying past us. It was a little embarrassing. Once we got to the top we went to the viewing deck where you could look down the mountain on the town below, and for a split second that awful climb up is more than worth it.  Then your legs start shaking and you remember that you still have to get down. It took us another hour and a half to get to the bottom. The entire way down is stairs which, one the one had, is nice because you’re not worried about losing your footing on some crazy boulder. But it’s also kind of a bitch to walk down stairs for an hour and a half. By the time we got to the bottom, I was exhausted, sweaty, smelly and wanted nothing more than to go home and take a shower and sleep for a week. But we missed the next bus out and had to wait around for another 30 minutes for the next one. I fell asleep at 8pm that night and slept for 17 hours straight. And my legs didn’t stop hurting for 3 days. Just in time for us to take the kids there for a field trip. Thankfully we only walked up for about 5 minutes, then walked back to the base and just let the kids run around for a bit. It really is a breathtaking place, and it makes me feel like a badass be able to say I climbed a mountain, but I really don’t feel the need to do it again for quite some time.

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