MRK-euh Part 2

we met our friends danny and katy in korea, quite randomly in fact…playing farkle in a hotel room on the west coast of korea while on a cultural tour. from there, we spent every possible hour with them, visiting each other in our different towns on weekends, and travelling with them whenever possible. and they just kept going on about what a great place colorado is, and that we had to let them take us around…so we did.

our 2 weeks with them began at fort fun in fort collins, where we hit up some mini golf and then had the 2nd best burger of my life (the best would come later in new york) at five guys. now there are a few five guys naysayers, but i am not one of them. my mouth waters just thinking about that burger. you tell me…

mini golf at fort fun

five guys happiness

that night we headed to denver, to see a concert i’d booked months in advance – needtobreathe!! with ben rector opening. but first we strolled around denver and sampled some amazing ice-cream and watched the sunset over the mile-high city. the concert was quite easily the best concert i’ve ever been to. american live shows are on another level compared anything i’ve seen in south africa…and ben rector blew us out of the water. his songs would become the soundtrack of our epic roadtrip, and still take me back to colorado when i listen to them. that night we spent at katy’s grandpa’s epic and wonderful house in denver.

little man ice cream

denver

what a show

the next day we spent wandering the streets of denver, checking out all the little shops along 16th street, and even hit up an elk-jalapeno hotdog from a stand which featured on anthony bourdain’s “no reservations” show. it was epic. that afternoon we made our way to katy’s parents’ house in a quaint little mountain town called monument, an incredible house nestled in a pine forest. after a couple of sloppers and the best margueritas i’ve ever had, courtesy of katy’s dad.

just getting the bare essentials

elk jalapeno hotdogs

sloppers!

fire, blankets & snow at katy’s parents

the next day we took a hike to palmer lake, which was totally frozen over, and after some shirtless tebowing, we drove into colorado springs and wandered the streets at sunset, followed by dinner at the craziest pizza joint i’ve ever been to in my life – fargo’s. it’s done up like an old saloon, with animal heads everywhere and rootbeer on tap. so cool. after that we drove to the broadmoore, a massive hotel famous for giant brunches, and then it was onto the golden bee – an epic singalong bar. the piano player sits up front, and everyone has a songbook on their tables. you write your song request on a piece of paper with a dollar and toss it on the jar next to the piano player, while everyone sings along. awesome.

shirtless tebowing on a frozen palmer lake

fargo’s! craziest pizza place ever

the golden bee

the next morning some other friends we met in korea arrived, all the way from minnesota, seth and anna and their newest arrival, ethny. we packed the cars and began our journey to ‘the ranch’…katy’s grandpa’s cattle ranch hidden in the rockies near vail ski resort. on our way there, we stopped off at walmart to pick up the bare essentials for the weekend – beer, bacon, other meats and ammo. yes, we bought ammo for the shotgun, .22 rifle and .22 handgun that we took along. at walmart. right next to the blow-up pools. i love america.

the weekend was such a great time of catching up and chilling – hiking to hanging lake (up a neck-breakingly slick ice-covered path, seth with their baby strapped to his chest), plenty of bacon, shooting guns at anything we could find, boulle, foosball and lying in the sun sipping on brewskies.

apparently hiking isn’t all that exciting for babies

crazy amounts of snow on the trail

hanging lake

just kickin’ it on the ranch with guns & beer

gunslingin’

the crew on the ranch

we bid farewell to seth, anna and ethny and headed back to denver for another friend’s 30th birthday, dan. we met him and wife georgie in korea, where their band came to perform at our church. they’re awesome, “the ineloquent“. one thing that all people from colorado mentioned that we had to check out was casa bonita…and this was our night. the plan was to have dinner there and then head to the grizzly rose for some country line dancing, but we needed the right gear to bring dan to the big three-oh. so we hit every thrift store we could find and bought the crustiest cowboy/redneck clothing we could find…and definitely turned some heads. at the entrance of casa bonita, you’re hit with two distinct smells – cheap mexican food, and chlorine. from the giant diving pool surrounded by fake rocks in the middle of the restaurant, complete with diving girl and crazy man in a gorilla suit. there is no way to fully describe the experience of casa bonita. after dinner, we line danced and mechanical bull-rode the night away to a live country band, an experience i won’t soon forget.

casa bonita baby!

the pool at casa bonita

the following day we strolled around the colorado springs zoo, hit a restaurant where katy used to work for some brewskies and italian nachos, and finally strolled through garden of the gods – a huge park full of crazy rock structures and beautiful forests. the following morning, we did something stupid. but worth it. pikes peak, a peak over 14,000 feet high in colorado springs, used to have a cog railway going straight up it, until someone decided it was a better idea to turn the railway sleepers into a mile of stairs. and so, we climbed them. slowly.

danny smooching a bear at the zoo

garden of the gods

one. mile. of. stairs.

we made it!

after all that exercising, it was finally time for some barbecue…ribs, brisket, sausage, corn bread, coleslaw, fries, baked beans, onion rings, and an ice cold, dark irish beer. perfect. we then headed back to fort collins, where we hit up numerous micro breweries and also took a tour of the anheuser-busch brewery.

beautiful barbecue

beer tasters at odell’s in fort collins

and then, it was time to leave the mountains of colorado and head to the east coast.

photo links:

MRK-euh! Part 3

MRK-euh Part 1

i can lie. it’s been a dream of mine to see america for myself since i was about 8 years old. it’s such a BIG country, with such a crazy history and has such a massive influence on western culture, sports, art, music and so much more. and after making a LOT of american friends during our 2 years in korea, plus having a brother and sister-in-law living there, it was a no-brainer.

the first part of our trip comprised a sad goodbye to korea, our home for the last 2 years. i never thought i’d ever even travel to asia, let alone live there. it’s impossible to sum up our time there, but the people, culture, food and country crept incredibly deep into our hearts. it’s a time of our lives that we’ll always treasure.  so it wasn’t without a few tears that we got on the plane at incheon airport, handed in our residence cards and said a final goodbye to the land of the morning calm.

we flew to through a snowy beijing to LAX, for a 21 hour layover before reaching denver, where my brother and sister-in-law stay. we checked into a b&b and strolled around the neighbourhoods of LA, trying to take in suburban america that we’d only ever seen on tv. we popped into an italian place that our host recommended, and gorged ourselves on real bread, pizaa and pasta for the first time in a few years. having not had to tip in korea, i was quite awkward in tipping…following the waiter to the cash register, standing arbitrarily around waiting…in the end, we strolled home and flopped into bed. let me just mention that we left china at 9:30pm and arrived in LA at 7:30pm on the same day…after 14 hours of flying. kind of messes your brain (and sleep patterns) up.

the following morning we rented some (shaky chinese) bikes from our host and cycled to venice beach, which he assured us was “about 25 minutes away”…after just over an hour of cycling, we finally arrived at a windy venice beach. it was quite epic seeing the pacific ocean, foreshadowed by kids skating over graffiti-covered concrete, just like in the movies. we couldn’t stay long, as our flight to denver was in the afternoon. on the way home, gabi’s dodgy bike broke, the entire crank fell off. fortunately, right next to a payphone, so we called our host who gladly came to fetch us with his car, and got us to the airport in time.

venice beach

gabi’s busted bike

the first part of our US journey would be a 2 week stay with gabi’s brother, robert and his wife carrie, in loveland, colorado. but the first week would involve an epic roadtrip through colorado, utah and arizona, to the one and only grand canyon.

we arrived late that night in loveland, and after punishing a qdoba burrito the size of my head, we hit the hay…only to be awakened at 5am, ready to take to the road. first, we were heading to ski cooper resort to do some snowboarding! heading over the loveland pass, we hit some snow…now i thought i’d seen snow in korea, but this all changed in an instant. visibility went from 30 meters to 5 meters in a matter of seconds…but we kept on driving. now we went snowboarding in korea at one of their top resorts, but even that couldn’t compare to a rather small resort in colorado. especially when the small blizzard made it way to the slopes…the sheer wildness of it all was just so awesome. pine trees, a foot of powder, tearing down the slopes of the rocky mountains with about 10 meters visibility as the snow was pounding down – priceless.

driving over the loveland pass through a small snowstorm

making our way to ski cooper through a winter wonderland

after only (just) managing to get our car out of the parking lot, we made our way to a little town called fruita near the colorado/utah border where we spent the night. we were up early the next morning and headed through utah and arizona. the landscape change from snow-covered peaks to earthy-red clay and sand is quite dramatic. little outcrops of stone & sand called ‘mesas’ dot the horizon, only disturbed by the straight black highway splitting it down the middle. and then, we were there.

the open road

according to ron swanson, the grand canyon is the only place a man is allowed to cry, and i could see why. it’s strange how beautiful a mile-deep hole in the earth can look, and how insignificant it can make you feel. i could easily have just sat there on the snow-covered rim for hours, stunned. i think we did.

our first view of the canyon from the south rim

and then we checked into our lodgings for the night in little town outside grand canyon national park, called tusayan. due the large amounts of snow all around the canyon, we decided not to do a hike down into the canyon, as it would have required crampons or yak-traks on our shoes. so we did the rim trail, which follows the south rim of the canyon for about 6km. and it was also covered in about a foot of snow, which made for some pretty epic photos. we spent the day just staring into the canyon, and woke the next morning around 5:30am to watch the sunrise over the canyon…it was easily the coldest i’ve ever been in my life, and it got to -20 celcius in korea a few times. with icy winds was howling up the walls of the canyon and no sunlight, we didn’t stick around too long.

one of the viewpoints littered with tourists

sunrise over the grand canyon

on the road back to colorado we stayed in moab, a little town outside arches national park, where we watched the sun set on the same day through utah’s famous delicate arch. the next day we checked out another park, colorado national monument, which was also breathtaking. after 14 hours of driving and only going through 3 states, as well as seeing some unbelievable natural wonders, you kind of get an idea of just how big the US is.

the south window arch at arches national park

gabi and i in the delicate arch

sunset at arches national park

back in colorado, we spent the next week eating copious amounts of good food, and had one more epic snowboarding experience at loveland ski area, where robert and i snowboarded down from the top of the actual american continental divide, at 13,000ft, from top to bottom, on a clear blue sky colorado day.

the colorado burger at smashburger

culver’s – butter burgers and frozen custard

the one and only – chipotle

rocky mountain national park

tebowing in the rockies – rocky mountain national park

standing on bear lake in rocky mountain national park – totally frozen over

and then, our crazy friends danny and katy came to fetch us for the next leg of our american adventure.

photo links:

MRK-euh! Part 1

MRK-euh! Part 2

hong to the kong

after 2 long weeks of winter english camps at school, we finally got some long-overdue vacation! and so we decided on a trip to hong kong, mostly for food and shopping.  we found cheap tickets which went through beijing, and in good ol’ air china style, our flight was delayed by 3 hours…this caused us to miss our connection in beijing, but we were fortunately put on a later flight. we ended up arriving at our hostel in hong kong around midnight, after leaving our home in korea aroun 5am that morning. but we made it!

the first morning we decided to sleep in. after having to go to work all of december and the first week of january, plus the fairly arduous trip the previous day, it was fantastic waking up at 11am. after a somewhat difficult shower in our shoilet (asian style shower-over-the-toilet), we picked up a few egg tarts from the little bakery on the corner and took the subway to the harbour.  the british history of hong kong makes it rather unique compared to korea (which is very american influenced) and mainland china, which is, well, china. so people drink tea with milk, read the newspaper, eat toast, and drive on the left. felt like i was home. kind of.

the legendary hong kong egg tarts

we hopped on the ferry on hong kong island and went over to the kowloon side. it only takes about 5 minutes, so very short. the views are kind of hazy, but the skyline was still impressive, lots of tall building bearing the names of every major electronics company in the world. we walked around the kowloon area, which is mostly high-end shopping and tons of fake watches, bags and cameras. and then, twas lunch time. and little did we know what we were in for.

victoria harbour from the ferry

our good friends pete and sarah suggested we try and find a place called din tai fung, which they had eaten at in seoul in korea. we sat down and ordered a few things – pork dim sum, shrimp spring rolls, green beans with pork mince, and some beef brisket noodles. the food was beyond phenomenal. i wish we could have stayed there all day and tried everything on the menu. we had only heard good things about coconut desserts in hong kong, so we ordered a melon and coconut sago dessert, which began an addiction. it’s hard to explain how good coconut and sago with ANYTHING is. so good. we walked out satisfied and amazed. that night we stayed around the harbour area for the laser display, and to see the skyline come alive after dark. the laser show was far from spectacular, but the skyline was pretty cool at night.

pork dumplings, green beans with ground pork, and shrimp spring rolls

beef brisket noodles

coconut-melon-sago dessert. phenomenal.

harbour sunset

night time skyline

day two was one we’d both been looking forward to – DISNEYLAND! we got there early and waited in the queue for about 40 minutes…after scouring the map we thought space mountain would be a good ride to go on first, seeing as most people would probably be riding it. or at least we thought. as the gates opened, we booked it to space mountain…and rode it alone. nobody. pretty cool. we the rode another super lame ride, autopia, which is marked as one of their ‘adrenaline’ rides…i drove a car around a track at 5km/h while doing self-portraits the whole time. we also did buzz lightyear’s space blasters or something, which was super cool. nothing like zapping emperor zurg. and then, toy story land.

disneylaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand!

gabi in main street USA before the crowds

it seriously felt like we were in andy’s world, and that we’d been shrunk to the size of ants. it was epic. we started out on andy’s racer, kind of like the ship that goes back and forth. i rode it 3 times in a row, definitely the best ride there. we then rode the toy soldier parachutes, which fall down quite slowly but give you a good view of the park, and our last ride in toy story land was slinkydog. pretty lame, but looks really cool. the detail of the place is just phenomenal, down to benches made of giant used lollipop sticks. after that, it was off to fantasyland, where we got some hotdogs and corn on the cob, and took the disney express, a train that goes all around the park. the rest of the time we walked around main street USA, saw a 3D show and went on the winnie the pooh ride. obviously.

entrance to toy story land

the one and only - t rex

we felt like bugs in andy's room!

not being ones to just put our feet up on vacation, we decided to head to an outlet mall, which was super disappointing. we then decided to take the NP360 cable car. it is an amazing 25 minute ride over a river and plenty of mountains, with great views all around. we hopped out at the end and strolled around the top, there is a buddha (which we skipped, coz we’ve seen enough of those in korea), but all really pretty and worth the trip. that night we walked around the central area of town before heading to bed.

cable car ride, only about a third of the way

buddha at the top of the hill

day three was made for shopping. we met jorike for lunch, a south african living in hong kong and a friend of a friend. she took us to an all-you-can-eat sushi place for R48 each (around $6USD). BOOYAH. it was sooooooooooo good. she then took gabi to all the craft shops in the area (sham sui po). it was pretty incredible, even for me, being a male person and all. fabric, ribbon, buttons, lace, and anything you could imagine, entire streets full of stores stacked to the teeth with it all. needless to say gabi was freaking out, and we promised to make a trip back there later in the week. we then took a walk to the goldfish market and sneaker street. but before we got there, we discovered the drug. a chain store selling coconut-based drinks. and the mango, coconut and sago one was possibly the greatest drink i’ve ever had. and definitely the best drink that gabi has ever had. because she had two. per day.

jorike and gabi in the craft area

the addict. the drug. mango-coconut-sago delight.

the goldfish market is really a pet fish market, with tons and tons of fish in plastic bags hanging outside the shops. it looks really cool but it’s hard not to feel bad for the little guys…lots of them seemed like rare tropical fish which were no doubt plucked from their homes and bagged for sale. sneaker street was epic. it was overwhelming how many shoe stores there were, but also how many shoes were in one store. i could have easily bought 20 pairs of shoes. but i only bought one pair. okay, two pairs. after all that walking, it was time to eat again, and so we had some dinner. gabi had some duck and pork over rice, and i ventured on a beef brisket and tripe soup with noodles. it was surprisingly really good. after that, we strolled around the mong kok area, supposedly the most densely populated place in the world. and it was easy to see why. people EVERYWHERE. after one more mango-coconut-sago hit, it was time to head home.

goldfish market

mong kok area

day four was a day for the outdoors. we had been wanting to do a hike called ‘dragon’s back’ all week, but the weather hadn’t been great and the forecast had been predicting rain. we decided that it was now or never, and it was a great call. we took the subway to the end of the line, and then a little public bus up a super steep hill. after another steep climb, we found the trail signs. the walk meanders through a forest on the side of the hill, and eventually comes out on top of the dragon’s back, a a series of ups and downs before reaching the highest point, shek o’ peak. the views were great, a little windy, but clear skies. as we reached the top, we heard a brass band playing in the town down below, and were again reminded of the britishness of hong kong as we gazed over the seaside golf course with the band playing.  we saw the little town of stanley on the other side of the bay, and decided to try and get there by bus.

walking along the dragon's back

we made it to the top!

we managed to question a few locals at the bus stop to find out exactly which bus to take. the trip was beautiful, the road meandering along cliffs overlooking the bay, before crossing a dam wall and then winding down into the town. very different from downtown hong kong. we’d heard from sarah and pete about a man who sold some legendary hong kong toast in stanley, and so we scoured the town for it. for hours. probably two hours, but it seemed like days. in the end, we sat down and had lunch and asked around. no one had heard of him. we decided to head into a little local place and ask for hong kong toast…well. we got two perfectly toasted slices of white bread with a little condensed milk in between them. i guess i let the whole day of searching get to me, but i struggled to see the funny side of it all. gabi thought it was hilarious. and so, we headed back home.

gabi at stanley harbour

the non-hong kong toast...

day five we headed up the famous victoria peak, despite the weather going from bad to worse. it was really cool riding up the hill at about 40 degrees in a really old tram car, and seeing the (hazy) views of hong kong, as well as the ridiculously huge summer homes which the british built on top of the peak back in the day. apparently they were carried up the hill on sedan chairs by servants…i got tired just thinking about it. the wind was howling up there, so we took a few photos and headed down. we then went back to the craft area, so gabi could have one last look at it all. and get another couple of mango-coconut-sago drinks no doubt. we also hit food republic, a food court selling any and all kinds of asian foods. mmmmmmmmm.

view from the top of the peak

we also decided to make one final effort to find the legendary hong kong toast and milk tea. we had seen an old guy eating it at a dodgy-looking street-side establishment, and so we pulled in. gabi had a photo of the toast on her ipod, so we showed it to the cook and asked for two. he nodded. we sat down.

and then it came.

and it was gloriously terrifying. pretty much a deep-fried peanut butter sandwich covered in condensed milk and butter. and the tea was great too. we felt our hearts slowing down with every bite of the toast, but it was great. i was somewhat relieved when we finished it, thinking that that was surely two portions, when the second one arrived. deep breath. blood thickening. heart slowing. but we finished it too. i’m sure you are only allowed to eat two of those in a lifetime.

heart-stopping toast and milk tea

we spent the rest of the night wandering through the ladies market, a place made for tourists. they sell anything and everything you could think of, and are always willing to bargain to give you the best price on their ‘authentic’ goods. dr dre beats headphones were going for around $20. authentic i tell you.

day six was rainy, and we’d pretty much done all we’d wanted to do, apart from ride the tram. and so we hopped on outside our hostel with no destination in mind. it’s a great experience, sitting upstairs and watching the people on the streets and the tram following the tracks down the main roads of hong kong. we got out near a mall and decided to watch the new sherlock holmes movie, which was FANTASTIC. after that we hopped back on the tram and rode it to the end of the line, and dodged in and out of the rain just checking out shops and little alley markets. after a bowl of legendary japanese ramen, it was time to head home and pack our backs for the 5:30am bus to the airport…

riding the tram around town

fortunately on the way home, none of our flights were delayed and we got back to our home in korea around 11pm. we went to bed dreaming of all the amazing food we’d eaten that week, and i’m sure that gabi had nightmares about not being able to have another mango-coconut-sago drink for a while.

photo links:

hong to the kong!

winter wonderland, Christmas and camps

so korean winters are great. if you love the cold like i do. unfortunately, gabi does not. so she has a ball in summer while i lie on the bed with the door closed and the aircon on sweating, and in winter i’m outside running around while she lies on the floor with the underfloor heating on. anyhow, it snows. sometimes. that’s probably why i love winter here. it’s just magical.
i often go skating at a skate park near our place, and i have to get there via a road alongside a river. one afternoon i was heading home from the skatepark and noticed some kids. on the river. sliding around with sticks, hitting a soccer ball. ice hockey isn’t big in korea. but the river was frozen solid! naturally, i looked around for a stone and found a brick, which i threw onto the river (a safe distance from the kids) and it bounced off as if it had hit concrete. fascinating. needless to say i threw a go0d 10 more rocks before heading home. the following day i decided to walk around the area with my camera and get some pictures of the frozen river and surrounds.

one of the bigger rocks i threw

the frozen river

korea doesn’t really celebrate Christmas the way we do back home, so it feels kind of weird. no one really gets time off from work either. BUT it’s cold, so it kind of feels like Christmas as i saw it in all the american movies i watched growing up (and still do…i’m still growing). so that’s kind of cool. there are a few decorations and things downtown, so gabi and i took a wintery stroll to check them out.

gabi riding the sleigh downtown

fortunately this year Christmas fell on a sunday, so in the non-Christmas celebrating country, we still got the day off. whew. we were invited to our good friends the letts for a Christmas weekend extravaganza.  now, it must be said, that i had been waiting for this weekend for a good 3 months. not because of eggnog, presents or the dr pepper glazed pork tenderloin which we were going to eat, but because the men were going to head into the mountains and cut down our own Christmas tree. i had envisioned us trudging through a snow-covered pine forest to find the perfect one. but alas, Christmas brought no snow. it was still freezing as taylor, myself, anthony, danny and corin piled into taylor’s car and headed up the mountain with me first and the gimme gimmes pumping on his car stereo. also, a $3 hacksaw from a corner store.

the men: anthony, danny, taylor and corin

after scouring the forest, we found our tree. we thought it best to take turns in sawing, so we could all have a part in it. taylor sawed through a little and then handed me the saw. i must admit that i was way too pumped up for this whole event. so i went at it with far too much gusto and snapped the blade on the saw. but we were not to be stopped. we reverted to caveman instinct and found some sharp rocks and began hacking at the tree. after a few manly blows, we were loading our tree into taylor’s boot! the ladies back home were suitably impressed with our kill, and we proceeded to decorate the tree with anything and everything, including a string of old cheese balls.

taylor going at it right before i broke the saw

going caveman on it with a rock

voila!

we awoke the next morning to a snowless and very brown Christmas. nothing like the movies. but it was time for presents. seeing as we were all leaving korea quite soon, we decided on a gift steal game with a $10 limit. and the presents were pretty epic. itunes gift voucher, a big can of hot chocolate, wine, an epic t-shirt and chocolate-covered bacon. believe it. after the gift stealing, we were treated to lindsey’s cooking…and it was nothing short of dr pepper-glazed pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes, and some epic sides. ’twas indeed a very merry Christmas.

corin on Christmas morning

this is what people should look like on Christmas morning

chocolate. covered. bacon.

round one of the dr pepper-glazed pork tenderloin-infested feast

we did eventually get some snow here, and it came on new year’s day. it wasn’t much, but it was something. but a few days later, we were out to dinner with some friends. as we went into the restaurant, it started very, very lightly coming down. hardly enough to notice. by the time we were done eating and had to walk the 10 minutes back to our friends’ apartment, it was nearing on a snowstorm. visibility was low, but spirits were high. i was running around like an elf on red bull, covered in snow. it didn’t last long, but it was enough to stay on the ground for a good few days.

the road outside our apartment

the road we walk to school

the soccer field at my school

we also had to teach winter camps at school, something all english teachers have to do here. so we try to make it as fun as possible…but after a good 6 months of teaching without a break, it’s hard to find interesting material. nonetheless, i think the kids had fun. and once we finished our camps…it was off to hong kong!

grade 3 and 4 mixed class

grade 4 and 5 mixed class

one of the grade 3s with her box monster

photo links:

winter wonderland and Christmasfest!

winter camps at school

EPIK trip to gyeongju

every year the daegu metro department of education organizes a cultural trip for all the teachers in the city.  we decided to sign up!  this year we went to the historic “museum without walls”, gyeongju.

80 of us met downtown on friday morning (no school – YAY!) and hopped on the buses for the hour-long drive.  on arrival, we received a short lecture about the history of gyeongju, and how it was the capital of the shilla dynasty before the unification of the three kingdoms.  we then had a (not too tasty) lunch, and then it was time to make soap. yes. we made soap in the shape of famous gyeongju landmarks, then we traced famous gyeongju landmarks onto hanji (korean paper) and then we made mirrors and pencil holders out of korean paper.  i surprised myself with how crafty i am…i guess my wife’s skills are rubbing off on me.

my pencil holder

we then made our way to the famous king’s tombs – giant green hills.  korean graves are giant mounds, and the bigger the mound, the more important the person.  and so, these hills are big.  the deceased were placed in a box about the size of a small room, with all their treasures, and then covered with layers of stones, clay and dirt.  amazingly very few of the tombs have been excavated even though there could be countless treasures in them, out of respect for the kings.  we got to go inside one of them, and it’s huge in there.

royal tombs

going inside one of the open tombs

one thing you can’t help notice in this amazing season of fall is the leaves on the trees.  maybe i just haven’t lived in the right parts of south africa, but i’ve never seen fall leaves with the bright reds, yellows and oranges that korea has to offer.  it’s breathtaking.

fall leaves (gingko tree)

red and orange and brown

after the tombs we walked to an open park in middle of the city, where we were given traditional kites, each bearing our chinese zodiac animal.  gabi and mine is the pig…1983.  we were told to write our wishes on our kites and “send them into the sky”…there was very little wind, so sending our wishes proved to be rather tough…it was like running laps around the park with your kite in tow.  after a lot of effort i actually managed to get mine quite high up…not without sufficient amounts of perspiration.

my kite...alas, my wish did not come true

gabi flying her kite

our jam-packed day continued as we were rounded up into the buses and taken to a confucian academy on the outskirts of the city.  we were entertained by a quintet of korean musicians playing some crazy instruments.  one was on the gayageum, kind of like a harp, another was bowing one of those like a cello, one on drums and one on keyboard, and then one on this crazy violin-type thing.  it has two strings, and the bow goes between the two strings.  there are no frets or even a neck.  the player simply pulls the two strings while bowing them in order to change the pitch.  ridiculous.  they played some epic tunes by the beatles, which was kind of surreal, considering the setting.

playing the gayageum

the strange korea 2 -stringed violin thingy

drumming it up

we then played some traditional korean games – throwing sticks into a pot, and another one which was kind of like hackysack.  we also enjoyed a traditional tea ceremony in traditional korean clothing (hanbok).  after all that, we made some rice cakes by pounding rice with a giant wooden pestle & mortar, and enjoyed the fruits of our labour.  and then, it was time for a korean buffet.  mmmmm.

toss the stick in the pot game

korean hackysack

ready for tea in our hanbok

traditional tea ceremony

and we weren’t done yet.  after dinner, it was back onto the bus, where we found candle lanterns in our seats.  again, we had to write our wishes on our lanterns.  we got out at the famous observatory (cheongseongdae), constructed during the shilla dynasty, it was used for determining the seasons by the stars.  we then walked from there to anapji pond, which was just amazing at night.

anapji pond

my lantern at anapji pond

and then, it was time to check into our hotel.  our friends jonothan and lizzi (judy kim?) and joanna also made it onto the trip, so we spent most of our time with them.  lizzi was put in another group on our arrival in gyeongju, so she switched places (and nametags) with judy kim, so she could be in gabi’s group…anyhow, after a ridiculous card game (egyptian ratscrew aka screw the camel (???)) we went to bed.

the next morning it was time for the highlight of the trip – the buffet breakfast.  and while my wish for bacon didn’t come true, i did some amazing french toast, egg and coffee.  not bad.  for korea.  once we had stuffed ourselves, the planners decided it was time for a 2 hour session of taekkyeon, a traditional korean martial art.  yes, i was also not impressed.

it was, however, a lot of fun.  we got to learn some cool takedowns and attacks, which i have now totally forgotten.  i guess they would have been useful if people still attacked each other with their hands and feet.  after the taekkyeon, it was off to bulguksa, the most visited temple in all of korea.  the fall leaves there were UNBELIEVABLE.  i couldn’t actually take it all in.  the temple itself was cool, but temples in korea are pretty much “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”  mostly.

leaves around bulguksa temple

bulguksa temple pond

bulguksa temple

it was then off to another monument, and then the beach!  we got to fly our kites one last time in some decent wind, which was a lot more successful.  some apparently professional korean kite flyers had put out the longest kite i’ve ever seen.  i’d estimate it at about 400 meters.  i mean, the kites at the top of the line were barely visible.  it was just crazy.  pictures can hardly do it justice.

the mega kite

kite-flying on the beach

anyhow, after many tangled kite lines and a few that got dumped in the ocean, it was back to daegu.  not a bad way to get off school and see some of the country.

thanks DMOE!!

photo links:

EPIK DMOE gyeongju trip

mom & dad visit korea!

last year my parents planned on coming to visit us in korea.  the dates kept getting pushed back, as my dad wanted to combine the trip with a business trip he needed to do to the east.  eventually after much rescheduling, disappoints and hopes…they made it!!

korea is a strange and wonderful country.  when we first arrived, we were overwhelmed with how much we didn’t know, how differently everything is done here and how friendly the people are (mostly).  so after living here for the past 20 months, we were definitely keen to show some family around this place we call (our second) home.  my folks could only stay for about 10 days, and we couldn’t get time off school so we had to maximize the weekends for traveling.

they arrived on friday at incheon airport where we were waiting for them (at the wrong exit gate -FAIL).  we decided to hit seoul the first weekend, so we headed back to seoul station on the uber new subway line.  my mom was a bit worried about being underground, so we told her it was a “train”…but she was just fine.  after checking into our (humble) lodgings, we denied any form of jet-lag and hit the town.  it was my parents’ first time in the east (apart from a trip to bangkok which my dad had done), so we kind of deep-ended them to start.  straight to a korean barbecue place, which was easily the loudest restaurant i’ve ever been to in my life.  louder than i remember springbok pub in stellies ever being.  in the middle of the dance floor.  they managed just fine with the chopsticks, and then it was off to bed.

downtown seoul

we let them sleep in (until 8:30…) and then had a quick starbucks breakfast before heading to gyeongbokgung, seoul’s biggest palace.  we walked slowly through the grounds, watched the changing of the guard ceremony, and also lay on the grass under the warm autumn sun.  aaaaaaaaaaah.

gyeongbuk palace

we then went to namdaemun market, which was just crazy on a saturday.  people. everywhere.  it was then time for lunch and an afternoon nap.  post-nap, we took a stroll through the little park across the road from our (love) motel, and walked through nakwon arcade, the biggest music store on the planet, and my favourite place to waste hours in seoul.  once the sun had gone down, we made our way to insa-dong, the street art hub of seoul.  as my dad says, my mom “sharpened her credit card” at a few stores before we had some traditional korean rice porridge.  oh so good on a chilly night.  then we took a walk along the little river that runs through the city, bought some makkeolli (korean rice beer) and chilled by the river.  then, it was bed time.

makeolli time

another early morning and a starbucks breakfast later, we were on the subway to yeouido, an island in the han river, which runs through seoul.  we rented some bikes and cycled along the river.  little did we know there was a marathon going on right on the same path we had to cycle on…needless to say it was less than relaxing.  we got quite good at weaving between runners.  after the cycling, we had a rather fruitless shopping experience at yongsan electronics market, and then almost got lost on a crazy and terribly marked section of the subway line…it was then off to seoul station to catch a train back to daegu on sunday afternoon.

we arrived at our place in daegu just before sunset, and managed to squeeze in a walk in our area through the farmlands.  we also showed my parents a traditional village they could go to while we were at school during the day.

cycling on yeouido

dodging marathon runners

on the train back to daegu

look how korean they are...walking through the rice fields near our place

throughout the week they did a few trips around our area, but otherwise stayed at home as my dad had work to take care of.  during the week they got to meet some of our good friends, pete & sarah, as well as an unexpected visit from lindsey & taylor.  lindsey was 9 months pregnant, and little hank decided to arrive during the week, so my parents got to meet him too!!  we also had a braai on the roof of our apartment block (obviously), and introduced my folks to some of our favourite korean food in downtown daegu – stone pot bibimbap (돌솟비빔밥) and spicy fried chicken and rice (닭갈비), where they also got to meet pete and sarah.  they also came to my school and i gave my one grade 5 class a chance to ask them some questions.  the kids loved it.  they also met the principal who can’t speak a word of english.  interesting.

braai time

on the subway in daegu, on our way to andong

working it - public korean exercise equipment is everywhere

crunch

their final weekend we (only just) got a bus to andong to visit our friends danny & katy & check out the mask dance festival.  we got in friday evening and had some grilled mackerel from the famous mackerel man of andong, whose face is plastered all over the town.  we actually got to meet the guy, and he eerily just hovered at our table staring at us while we picked at the mackerel with our chopsticks.  i’m not quite sure what he was waiting for.  but the food was great.

mackerel time with the doerksens

the next morning we took a bus to hahoe traditional village (하회마을), which was okay but i wouldn’t go back.  i think we’ve been to so many traditional villages since we’ve been in korea that they all look the same…either that, or they actually do all look the same.  from there it was back to the city to roam the mask dance festival grounds.  we stumbled upon a bonsai exhibition, and an old korean man gave my parents the full tour of every single one of them, which was great.  my dad used to keep bonsais when i was young so i think he was in his element.  we also happened upon a korean food exhibition, which was pretty cool too.  after some amazing cinnamon pancakey things and a turkish kebab, we made our way back home to get our things before taking the train to busan!  but not before some kimbap and ramen, two korean staples.  and then it was a loooooooooong ride…

hahoe traditional village

korean toilet?

bonsai

kimbap baby

we eventually got to haeundae station around 9pm and took a (wayward) taxi to the bridge motel at gwangalli beach.  it has become a favourite of ours after spending a long weekend there earlier this year.  it’s right on the beach with amazing views of the bridge which goes over the ocean.

the following morning we were up early and after (another) starbucks breakfast, headed to jagalchi fish market.  it was just crazy.  every animal, creature and organism that has ever been in the ocean can be bought there, although these baby eel-type things took the cake.  the lady would drive a nail through one, pegging it to a wooden board, and then skin them alive.  she would then throw them onto a hot grill while they squirmed around oozing blood and a delicious clear goo.  appetizing?  i almost saw my breakfast bagel again the first time i saw them squirming.  this is korea.

jagalchi market

the squirming things

from starfish to sharks, minute bait fish to giant crabs, they have it all there.  we decided not to eat there (mostly after seeing the squirming, skinned, bloody, oozing baby eel things) and headed to hunter burger, probably my favourite burger place in korea.  after an afternoon nap, we made our final outing to haedong yonggung temple (해동용궁사).  the only way to get there was by bus, so we took a taxi to the correct bus stop and waited.  i couldn’t help but notice that there were quite a few people at the bus stop.  and when our bus arrived, they all got on the same one.  we piled in and stood cramped against everyone else for a good 40 minutes.  and when we arrived, it didn’t get any better.   i might have missed something, but it seemed that this was the day that every korean on the peninsula and every chinese tourist in korea should go to this specific temple.  huh.

needless to say it was a rather unpleasant experience, as amazing as a temple build into the rocks on a seaside cliff is.  we had to queue just to get in, and fight to get out again.  and then we had to get back home.  after deciding it wasn’t worth the awful bus experience again, we tried for about 20 minutes to get a taxi before one finally stopped for us.  and the traffic going back was awful…and so, after a long and expensive ride, we got back to our rooms.  whew.  that night we took a leisurely stroll along the beachfront and had some great pasta and wine as the ocean lapped the shore behind us.  and THEN it was time to noraebang.  we had tried to get my parents to go with us since they arrived…and decided that they had to do it on their last night.  basically a private karaoke room, and a massive part of korean culture.

the crazy bus to the temple

yonggungsa temple

noraebang!

gwangalli beach

the following morning it was go go go as we took the train back to daegu, got my parents packed and put them on the bus back to incheon airport.  it was (as it always is) a sad goodbye, but it was so great being able to show them this country which has crept into our hearts over the past 20 months.  they had a great time, and so did we.

see you soon mom & dad!

photo links

mom & dad come to korea!

howzit my china

well it has been FAR too long since i’ve posted anything.  i blame it on the relentless heat of the korean summer.  it’s finally cooling down now so i can type again.

we went to china!!!

let me just say that our friends danny and katy warned me that china was hotter than korea.  considering that i start sweating just thinking about going outside in summer in korea, i was terrified.  in fact they gave me a few portable ice packs and a bottle to fill with cold water to use to spray my face so that i wouldn’t spontaneously combust.

i.

was.

terrified.

after booking flights a while back and organizing our visas, we decided to go to guilin on recommendation of our good friend kelly.  it was amazing, and if we ever go back to china, we’ll go back there.  we flew there from seoul and were picked up at the airport by our tour guide, david.  he didn’t waste any time, even though we only landed around 1am.  straight into the car and he was telling us all about the town of guilin, his home.  we were not really in the mood for it, so i don’t remember anything he said.

we awoke the next morning in our hotel for breakfast and hit the ground running.  first stop was elephant trunk hill park.  basically a hill that looks like an elephant trunk going into the river.  there was also a store with some seriously strange alcohol…i had a sip and almost spontaneously combusted.  there were giant vats filled with clear liquid, and a few choice items which were giving this liquid flavour.  amongst flowers and plants, there were snakes, and also a baby deer just chilling at the bottom of the clear vat.  freakish.  come to think of it, i do remember one think david said in the car – “in china, we eat everything except airplanes and table legs.”  enough said.  dead baby deer and snake wine anyone?

after that, we headed to fubo hill, named after a famous chinese general.  it’s the highest hill in guilin, and we got some awesome views of the li river and the town from up there.  after the hill, we hit the pearl market.  i was somewhat skeptical, but we actually got gabi a nice pair of freshwater pearl earrings for a really good price.  and an ice cold coke.  after the pearl market we went to reed flute cave.  it’s quite a long series of caves, all lit up with coloured lights.  it was quite cool but if we went again i’d give it a skip.

view from fubo hill of guilin and the li river

inside reed flute cave

we then had some amazing lunch with david and lucy (our extra tour guide…) and then headed to seven star park to see some kung fu pandas.  apart from the awesomely cute red pandas, the giant kung fu panda, and some old dudes playing chinese chess, the park was pretty lame.  there was actually also a cool calligraphy cave which was really interesting too.  that night we took a stroll around our hotel, and found out that is was some buddhist holiday where they believe that ghosts come to earth for the night.  so in order to keep the ghosts away, they light fires and set off fireworks and crackers all along the river in order to scare the ghosts away.  in any event, it made for some cool photos.

adorable red panda

the dragon warrior

some old schools playing chinese chess in the park

fires & firecrackers next to the river

the next day we hopped on board a 4 hour river cruise along the li river from guilin to yangshuo.  this was one of the things i was REALLY looking forward to on our trip, seeing these mystical ‘finger mountains’ i’d seen in pictures.  kind of looked like a mixture between avatar and isla nubar from jurassic park.  we pretty much just stood there with our mouths open for 4 hours.  it was awesome.  we arrived in yangshuo just after lunch and checked into our hotel.  after a brief lie down in front of the aircon we were out again!  we rented some bicycles and took to the country.

river cruise up the li river to yangshuo

after some crazy chinese traffic-dodging, we made it into the countryside.  we visited a farmer’s house in the area which was a great experience.  we sat in her lounge and ate peanuts (her produce) and took a tour of her place.  then it was back on our bikes, and we cycles through some amazing rice fields, with the crazy avatar mountains in the background.  we also came across a lady with a water buffalo who wanted to charge us 2 yuan (2 rand for the south africans, about 25c for the americans) for a photo with her buffalo, which we did.  it’s not every day you take a photo with a water buffalo in china.

rice fields and crazy mountains

buffalo soldiers

after all the cycling we’d built up a serious sweat, and so our guide took us down to the river for a swim with the locals.  this was also just such an awesome experience.  women and children were washing their clothes in the water, while an old farmer with a straw hat lead his water buffalo into the water for a bath near us.  surreal.

swimming in the li river

that night we went to see a show on the river.  it’s kind of hard to explain how unbelievable the show was.  the cast included mostly local farmers, about 2,000 of them, performing on a 2 kilometer stretch of the river, with the crazy-looking finger mountains as the backdrop, lit up with giant, multi-coloured lights.  kind of made me realize why the 2008 beijing olympic games opening ceremony was such an eye-boggling spectacle.  the show told the story of the 4 minority people groups in the yangshuo area, where they came from and how they have lived together over the years.

after the show we walked around town and ate some beer fish, recommended by our tour guide.  i basically pointed to the fish we wanted in the tank, the lady scooped it out, cut off its head and fried it in beer for us.  it was friggin amazing.  so tasty.  the next morning we strolled through a little market and saw some crazy stuff for sale, including frogs in a bag, chicken feet, dead ducks, and many other weird and wonderful plants and animal parts.  we also got to take a photo with a cormorant fisherman.  they tie a string around the bird’s throat, and let it catch fish.  they it comes back to the fisherman, and because it can’t swallow the fish, he takes it out of its mouth and keeps it.  genius.  it was then off to guilin airport to catch our flight to beijing!

gabi with the (rather short) cormorant fisherman

we were greeted by jenny, our beijing tour guide, at the airport and taken to our hotel.  the next morning (at 7am) we were back in the car and off to tiannanmen square, the forbidden city and the temple of heaven.  all pretty cool, but i doubt i’d do them again.  i think we’ve seen a lot of temples and palaces in korea, so we were possibly a little too accustomed to them.  but jenny told us some really cool stories about the people who used to live there, which made it all worthwhile.  for some reason the chinese tourists in the forbidden city wanted to take photos with us ALL THE TIME.  literally.  someone would say “PHOTO” and then we’d take one with them, and by the time we were done, there was a line of 5 more people waiting.  i don’t think they see foreigners too often.  especially tall ones.

entrance to the forbidden city

temple of heaven

we then ate something for lunch which did not agree with my system.  in fact it took an entire day for my system to come right again.  needless to say i was up all night and we had to postpone our trip to the great wall, as i was experiencing a personal great wall of my own.  i spent the next day in bed drinking powerade and watching tv.  gabi on the other hand, had an adventure of her own.  she was intent on finding a fabric market which was “within walking distance” from our hotel.  she got her map mixed up and walked over an hour in the wrong direction, only to walk all the way back, and then another hour in the ‘right’ direction…and then walked up and down a series of narrow streets trying to find this place, which no one there had heard of.  but she did find the biggest shopping mall i’ve ever seen in my life.  i felt pretty bad for her after all that walking.

the following day i felt good enough to walk, so we headed to the great wall.  we initially wanted to do the jinshanling section of the wall, which is harder to walk and also not refurbished.  but due to my health and limited time, we decided to go to the mutianyu section, which was a much better call.  we took a ski lift-type thing up to the wall and walked around on top.  it is just amazing.  the wall goes on forever in both directions, as far as you can see.  after plenty of photos, we made it to the tobogganing…the only way to get down.  well, it would have been awesome had it not been for the old dude in front of me who was going like 5mm per second…needless to say everyone bunched up behind him and we had to go at snail’s pace all the way down.  boo.

great walling it up

we then had lunch at 10:30 (i will not go into how much we didn’t enjoy the beijing tour guide’s planning…but if you’re ever in china make sure you book with china highlights, our tour guide in guilin was awesome), and made a quick photo stop at the bird’s nest and the water cube.  we then hit the summer palace, which was…another palace.  it does have a really nice lake in the middle, which was cool.

we then had 3 days to ourselves, in which we hit a LOT of markets and stores.  we also went back to the hutongs, a great area with lots of quaint little shops and alleyways.  we also had some amazing lamb kebabs there, and discovered a really great musician by the name of zee avi.  do yourself a favour.

lamb kebabs!!

another highlight was the food street and food market…crazy amounts of people and crazy amounts of crazy food.  we did each try scorpions, which tasted mostly like soy sauce.  not too great.  we did eat tons of grapes coated in melted sugar.  kind of like toffee apples but grapes instead of apples.  sooo good.  we did see a lot of weird stuff on sticks – spiders, starfish, sea horses, sheep testicles, sheep kidneys, worms and sharks.  yes, baby sharks on sticks.  to eat.  welcome to china.

scorpions on a stick

food street

one last thing that was extremely weird was the babies.  people in china don’t use diapers.  we confirmed this after asking our tour guide.  we asked her because all the kids under the age of about 4 that we saw wore these crazy pants that either had nothing in the crotch area, or a flap which could be opened.  mothers then hold their babies out over trash cans and just let them pee or poop right there.  if there’s no trash can around, they just go on the floor wherever they are.  i almost got peed on in a shopping mall the one morning – a lady was sitting on a bench holding her son with outstretched arms as he shot a warm stream of pee in a perfect arch which splattered on the ground next to me.  this was INSIDE a shopping mall.  enough said.

in the end we had a cool time, apart from my illness and the constant haggling…we realized on this trip how nice korean people are and how we’re not used to people trying to take advantage of us anymore.  i feel bad for koreans who’ve never traveled abroad and have to deal with that kind of stuff after growing up in a country where people expect the best from you.  also, tipping sucks.  unless you’re a waiter.

photo links:

howzit my china part 1

howzit my china part 2

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