Sunday, December 27, 2009


Snowy in Seoul.
Four days left at work - only one day of teaching.
12 days left total - I just bought a phone [Motorola Droid] for Portland.
Sara's making peanut-butter cups.
The bikes are packed.
All is well.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Busan and Jeju

Sara and I used our last week of vacation last week, when Sara's mother Karen came to town. We traveled to the South in Korea, to Busan and Jeju Island. The trip was overall quite pleasant, and it is always good to see Korea with a fresh set of eyes. The South of South Korea turned out to be very much like the northern part, just much less crowded.

We got to Busan by train and took a taxi to the hotel that I had booked on the Hostelbookers website, a website that has never let me down... until that day. The Hotel Elysee was not just a Love Hotel, but a really sleazy love hotel. In Korea, there are many of these establishments - a hotel that you go with your mistress or prostitute. Most have curtains around the parking lots so that people can get in and out of their cars without their faces being seen. As the taxi pulled up to the hotel, there were the curtains.

Now some love hotels are over-the-top, with circular beds, jacuzzi, theme rooms, etc., so Sara wanted to check it out, just in case we would have a great story to tell. I hesitated, but Sara knows her mother's comfort zones better than I, so I went along. Before we got to the front door, we saw a few pornographic business cards on the ground, presumably advertising the attributes and abilities of the owners of the women whose cards they were.

The lobby wasn't the nicest, and the clerk had some trouble finding my reservation. After turning to what I guessed was the "stay-the-whole-night" section of his reservation book, he found my name. He asked for a credit card, but we indicated that we'd like to see a room first. He took us up to the fourth floor, past a bookshelf full of porn VHS cassettes, and to a nasty smoke-filled room, without so much as a mirror on the ceiling.

We left and wound up finding a much more acceptable hotel, the Busan Tourist Hotel. It is nominally rated at four stars, which it very well may have been in 1982, but not much had been done to update it since then. A cleanish place to sleep, and no more.

We were very close to the central fish market of Busan, so we spent a day wandering around there, checking things out. There were so many strange fish there, and so many women selling these strange fish. Ice is the only form of refrigeration, and everything is open-air. I really wonder how many fish actually get sold and where the leftover fish go.

Can't get fresher than this

Lacking a certain ceremony

The bustle of the fish market. Pink seems to be "in" this year.

The uniformity of the sea creatures is strange.

Some blue fish - the most familiar fish I saw.

Eviscerated and drying fish of some sort.

Extremely disgusting sea creatures

All of my stay in Seoul I've been disappointed at the lack of hilariously written English mistakes on signs. While they are far from accurate, they just aren't funny. Busan and Jeju did not fail to deliver, so I'll let the signs speak for themselves.


Crotch steamed dish


Small octopus & sellfish broth

AROMA relax house

Let's come on the barista espresso taste world

Originally, we had planned to take a boat from Busan to Jeju Island, but it turns out that it is a eight hour overnight trip. We flew for around $50 a person for the 50 minute flight. We also found out that it is possible to fly domestically with just our resident alien identification cards - no passport needed.

Jeju is a volcanic island that is roughly an oval. We stayed on the south side of the island, since the weather looked better there, in a town called Seogwipo. Jeju is fair-sized and parts of it are set up resort-style with large fancy hotels. Not looking to spend that kind of money, we booked rooms at Hotel Napoli, which I'd rate at one and a half stars. I think in the future I'll spend a little more money on accommodations. Sara and I stayed in a Korean-style room, where you sleep on a mat on the floor, and Karen stayed in a Western-style room, where you sleep in a bed.

There were many mosquitoes in our room and I left at least a dozen new bloodstains on the wallpaper. I also got several bed bug bites. Come to think of it, the only other time I've encountered bed bugs, besides at the Hotel Napoli, was in Naples, Italy. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, Seogwipo is a nice-enough little town, with all the usual Korean things in it. Our first full day, we toured around the East side of the island on our way to some lava tubes. The only bus I could figure out that would take us there was the local bus, which turned out to be the all-stop bus. All in all, it only took two hours to get to the town close to the lava tubes, but it sure did feel like a whole lot longer. I wasn't sure how to get to the lava tubes, so I tried calling the tourist agencies that were on my map. I got a few answers of, "I can't speak English" (in English), when I saw Sara waving me over. She and her mom were standing in front of what turned out to be the taxi company's office. A driver had heard them talking, and offered to take us to our destination. Perfect!

The lava tubes were pretty neat - big tubes underground where lots of lava used to flow out of the ground. The path went for about a kilometer, all underground, dimly lit. At the end of the path was a lava column (?) that was dramatically lit.

After we walked back out, we decided to go to Cheju City, which is the main city on Jeju, and check out the tea museum. We were looking at a bus schedule when a taxi pulled up and asked us if we were heading to Cheju. He gave us a flat rate of W20,000 (about $17) and the bus would've been W15,000 for the three of us, so we hopped in. We gave him Sara's brochure for the tea museum, which he studied with his magnifying glass (while driving) and he had to make a call to figure out where it was. Turns out that it is in Shin-Cheju, or New Jeju, a city right next to Cheju. Anyway, we made it and he kept his word of W20,000, even though he had taken us to a different city.

The International Tea Museum was a complete disappointment. Before we went into the museum, we learned that all of the descriptions are in Korean only, so we decided to just have a cup of tea and look at the gift shop. We were served some pretty terrible tea in paper cups from the server, along with the imperative, "Money." Now not many people speak English in Korea (or if they do, they won't speak it out of fear of making mistakes), so I shouldn't be hard on people who do, but with all of the emphasis of being polite and respectful in Korean culture, what people do say can be surprising.

Tea cups.

After tea, we looked at our guide book to see where we should head next. Nobody felt like museums or the like, so we chose the place where the book said locals hang out outside. We got a taxi there, and wandered the deserted streets for a while, and took another taxi to where we could take the 50 minute bus ride back to our hotel. This taxi driver was notable - he corrected my Korean. Usually it is very hard to get anyone to do this - I know that I am saying things wrong, and I'd of course like to improve.

The next day we spent some time walking around Seogwipo and lay on the grass in the sun. This was the best moment of the trip - very relaxing. The rest of the day was spent walking around and at some point we went to dinner at a fancy restaurant at a hotel.

The ubiquitous grandfather statue.

Another night of killing mosquitoes passed and we got the plane and headed back to Seoul. It was my first time flying into Gimpo airport - it is a whole lot closer than Incheon. We got the new express subway on line nine and were back in the thick of things in 37 minutes.

Overall, a very nice trip. It really underscored how small Korea is - about half the size of Oregon. I've now been to the very northernmost point in South Korea and all the way to the southernmost point, and the landscape looks all very similar. We are very lucky in the US to have such a large country with so many different landscapes and eco-regions.