Taiwan Railway to Hualien

For my two week winter vacation, I got a little ambitious and decided to visit three countries.  It took a lot of planning, a dose of frustration, and it was all worth it because I had a fantastic trip.  I went to Taiwan (I’ve been there before) and got to visit Vietnam and Laos for the first time.  I started my trip by taking a train to Hualien.

When I arrived in Taiwan from Korea, first I had to take a bus to Taipei from the airport.  I took a train from Taipei main station to Hualien.  It was trains, planes, and automobiles that day.

I ordered my train ticket online.  All I had to do was go up to the counter at Taipei station and show the ticket officer my online receipt and she printed out the ticket for me.  Taipei station is huge but everything I saw was marked in Chinese characters and English.

Hello kitty!

Hello kitty! Of course, she is holding a cup of bubble tea

I took the Taroko express, the quickest way to get to Hualien from Taipei by train.  Not all of the trains are decked out in Hello Kitty cuteness, but this one was.  It took about two hours to get to Hualien.  The train was clean, had nice bathrooms, plenty of chair space, and the station announcements were in Mandarin and English.

img_3069

Why did I choose to go to Hualien out of all the towns and cities in Taiwan?  I’ll explain in the next post.

Hualien is a beautiful place

Hualien is a beautiful place

Posted in Taiwan travel | 1 Comment

2016 Reflections

Happy New Year!  2016 was an even busier year for me than 2015 and I thought 2015 was pretty intense.

I got to go home and visit my family for a few weeks in February and go on vacation with my parents, aunt and cousins, and grandparents to New York City.  I had never been to New York City before but I didn’t end up taking many pictures.  I was soaking up family time.  It was also bitterly cold and I didn’t want to sacrifice my fingers to take a picture.

NYC

NYC

I had my first visitor to Korea this year.  My mom braved the long and uncomfortable overseas flight to spend 10 days with me.  We got to tour Seoul and explore Cheonan.  I think she enjoyed herself, and I was sad to see her go.  She also helped me clean my new apartment which is always a daunting task.

mom in the Seoul subway

mom in the Seoul subway

My big international trip this year was Tibet.  It was incredible.  I loved the mountains, the friendly people, my brief look at a field of yaks, the Buddhist history, and the blue skies.  I wish I could have had more time, but I have a feeling I will be back =D

overlooking the city of Lhasa

overlooking the city of Lhasa

I was able to move to Seoul this year and experience life in the big city.  While moving and adjusting was stressful, I look back at my time in Seoul fondly.  I didn’t stay in Seoul for very long though, I moved back to Cheonan this summer for a new job.  I would not recommend moving between cities twice in one year.

temple right outside Cheonan

temple right outside Cheonan

I visited several Korean cities this year and while it was hard to pick my favorite one, I will have to go with Andong.  I liked it so much, I changed the banner picture on my blog to the folk village of Andong.

Hahoe folk village

Hahoe folk village

2016 was nothing short of busy!  I feel more adjusted to living in Korea and I feel like I’ve come to appreciate my life here more during this year.  Even though living overseas has always been my dream, it is impossible to escape culture shock completely and the stress of full-time jobs.  I needed to learn some hard lessons this year and while I can’t get into the details on this blog, I think I came out a little wiser.  I think that’s all anyone can ask for when they look back on an entire year.

I am thinking about moving to a new country sometime later this year.  Korea has been good for me but there are some new job opportunities I would like to pursue outside of Korea.  In the immediate future, I have my winter vacation coming up.  I’ll be going to a few countries, most of which I have never visited before.  I am looking forward to whatever 2017 will bring.

 

Posted in Korea travel, Ranting and Raving, Tibet Travel | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas 2016!

Another Christmas has come and gone.  I enjoyed a Christmas party, I had presents under my mini tree, and I ordered Chinese food for dinner, so I managed to fit in all the Christmas traditions.

Christmas in Korea isn’t the same as spending it with friends and family at home but we had a lot of snow this past weekend and Christmas music is played constantly around Cheonan.  I felt like I had a good dose of Christmas spirit.

I got out my mini tree

I got out my mini tree

I made Christmas cookies.  As you can tell it's not one of my talents XD

I made Christmas cookies. As you can tell it’s not one of my talents XD

We even had Christmas cake at school for lunch

We even had Christmas cake at school for lunch

the kids became maniacs when they saw the snow

the kids became maniacs when they saw the snow

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Korean schools, Slice of Life | Leave a comment

Gyeongju at night

The city of Gyeongju itself is not all that large, making it easy for me to walk from one end of town to the other.  One of the city’s biggest attractions are the burial mounds of Silla Dynasty royalty.  Many of them aren’t closed off from people passing by so hopefully no one tries to take a climb.

I was heading to a palace to see it lit up at night, and on the way there I came across an observatory tower.  If the Korean tourism website is correct, the Cheomseongdae Observatory is the oldest observatory in Asia.  It was constructed in the mid 600’s.

those grass mounds are ancient tombs

those grass mounds are ancient tombs

There were a ton of lanterns on display around the observatory.

img_2885

img_2886

The Cheomseongdae Observatory

The Cheomseongdae Observatory

I went to see Donggung Palace, which they light up during the night.  Cue the hordes of couples taking romantic selfies in front of the pond and the glowing palace.

img_2888

img_2892

I barely scratched the surface of Gyeongju and had a great time.  I’m sure a week in town would be even better 🙂

Posted in Korea travel | Leave a comment

The temples of Gyeongju

I probably could have spent a week in Gyeongju and still not seen every temple, museum, or palace in the city.  Looking at a tourism map of Gyeongju made my head spin, there were countless places to see.  When it came to temples, I chose Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram grotto.  Seokguram is a temple where a Buddha figure is carved into the rock of the grotto.

I took the KTX train to Gyeongju from Cheonan-Asan station.  I only had a regular weekend to see the city and I didn’t want to spend an extra five hours on a bus that would probably get stuck in traffic on the way there.

Gyeongju really goes out of its way to make it easy for tourists to get around.  A lot of the bus stops had maps in English and many of the buses announced their stops in Korean and English.  It took about 45 minutes to get to Bulguksa from Gyeongju by bus.

walking to the temple

walking to Bulguksa

img_2853

img_2855

img_2856

I love the colors

I love the colors

img_2862

img_2864

After I left Bulguksa, it was another short bus ride up a mountain to Seokguram.  Even though it was short, it was also…thrilling?  It was a good thing I don’t get car sick easily.  The bus driver actually yelled at some loud people talking at the front of the bus and told them to be quiet so he could concentrate.

Once you arrive at the top of the mountain, you walk along a trail to the tiny temple by the grotto.  Inside the building is a huge Buddha carved into the rocks.  There was an old security man sitting inside the temple sitting next to a huge sign that said “no pictures”.  It would be hard to sneak one in while security is sitting right there.

the little temple by the grotto

the little temple by the grotto

img_2878

You could see the ocean from the top of the mountain.  I’m so glad I visited during the picture perfect Fall weather.

Posted in Korea travel | Leave a comment

quick trip to Jeonju

Jeonju is only an hour away by bus from Cheonan but I still never managed to visit until this year.  According to my co-workers, it used to be a quiet place to enjoy a day trip looking at old hanoks (traditional Korean houses) and sitting in cafes.  They said in more recent years it’s been crowded with people wanting to take selfies while dressing up in Korean traditional clothing.

It was certainly crowded, partly because I chose to go on a Sunday, and just about everybody was indeed taking selfies.  Most of the hanoks have been turned into cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, and clothing boutiques.  It wasn’t a museum or a recreation of Korea in years past.

I thought it was a pretty place to look at, especially from the top of the hill next to the hanok village but I also underestimated how hot and humid it was going to be.  I figured it would have the same weather as Cheonan, after all it’s only an hour away.  Cheonan had cooled down and started to feel like Fall but Jeonju felt like a jungle.

I also wore long black pants and didn’t bring any shorts.  It was a bad idea.

img_2728

img_2733

the police mascot wearing traditional Korean clothing

the police mascot wearing traditional Korean clothing

img_2737

hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) for rent

hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) for rent

img_2735

going up the hill...

going up the hill…

...for a great view

…for a great view

Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson and next time I’ll check the weather before I go.

Posted in Korea travel | Leave a comment

My Mom’s trip to South Korea

After living in South Korea for almost two years, I finally had my first visitor!  My mom came to see me for 10 days!

We got to take a bus tour around Seoul and do some exploring in Cheonan.  I asked her some questions about her experience.  Since I’ve been in Korea for a while now and feel more adjusted to Korean culture, sometimes I forget about the practical differences between Korean and American culture.

me and my mom!

me and my mom!

  1. What were some of your first impressions when you arrived in Korea?

I was very surprised at how few non-Koreans I saw (*South Korea is around 96% ethnically Korean). I was shocked to have people ask to take a picture of me and to have somebody so excited to see me just because I wasn’t Asian. Everything was very clean. It was cool to see the juxtaposition of the old palaces and temples against the modern skyscrapers. I thought it was interesting that Korean women cover themselves from head to toe because they don’t want any sun (*tanning is not common here but it is getting more popular). I was really an oddity for having no sleeves on my shirt when it was 85° outside. I was surprised how openly affectionate girls were. They were holding hands as they walked down the street. Boyfriends and girlfriends dressing up in identical outfits was also weird to me (*I’ve seen many Korean couples wear matching t-shirts but sometimes they wear entire matching outfits, including their shoes and backpacks).

2. What were some of your favorite parts of your trip?

My favorite part of my trip was just being with my daughter (*I did not tell her to say that)! I enjoyed seeing the old temples and palaces. I thought the market in the middle of the city was fascinating. I enjoyed being able to eat a variety of foods, the pasta dish I had in the food court at the mall was some of the best pasta I’ve ever eaten (*we went to a mall in Cheonan). The red chili paste was a little too intense in some of the dishes for my non-spicy pallet.

Namdaemun market

Namdaemun market

img_2670

food displays

restaurant street in the market

restaurant street in the market

fabric store

paper store

3. What were some things that surprised you during your trip?

I was surprised to see local farmers selling their produce on the street corners. All the spam gift-packs fascinated me (*I mentioned the spam before here), as did the grocery cart escalator. I loved having all the little restaurants everywhere so that you had amazing food choices that weren’t that expensive. It was odd to have complete strangers talk to you because they wanted to practice their English. I did start consciously not making eye contact with people as we walked along the street because it does get a little disconcerting to be stared at. It’s very odd to be a minority because in American culture we see every race and color of people and don’t even think about it. It’s very bewildering to not understand anything that’s going on around you when you don’t speak any of that country’s language. I would never have felt comfortable being in that country without having a daughter that spoke the language (*I would like to point out that I am definitely not fluent in Korean but I can get by).

the wheels on the grocery cart stick to the escalator

the wheels on the grocery cart stick to the escalator

4. What are some things done in Korea that you would like to see implemented in the United States?

It would be nice to be able to leave your purse, your phone or your wallet in the United States and know that nobody would take it, but that doesn’t happen. It would also be nice to be able to walk anywhere or go anywhere and not have to worry about your personal safety in the United States. I also liked the ease of buses, trains, and subways in Korea that could take you anywhere. *She did not, however, want to bring the tradition of eating while sitting on the floor back to America.  She said her bones are too stiff after like that for a few hours.

5. If you get the chance to come back, what else would you like to see or experience?

I would like to explore some of the coastal cities, go to some of the islands. I would like to hike in some of the hills and see the DMZ.

we are eating samgyeopsal (pork barbecue)

we are eating samgyeopsal (pork barbecue)

mom in the Seoul subway

mom in the Seoul subway

Who else wants to visit me? =D

Posted in Korea travel, Slice of Life | 1 Comment