We purchased our bus tickets to Gumi and had a little time before the next bus, so we sat outside for a while- the fresh air was wonderful after the long flight. We arrived in Gumi about 4 hours later and took a cab to meet Jessica for dinner. Luggage in tow, we navigated the narrow streets full of pedestrians, cars, and motorbikes. We enjoyed my first Korean BBQ in Indong, a neighborhood near Evan and Jessica’s homes. We ordered pork and Evan and Jessica cooked it on a grill right in front of us!
On Saturday Luis, Jessica, Evan, and I had breakfast at Evan’s apartment and then set off on our first weekend excursion. Evan’s boss, Kevin, picked us up at 10am and we traveled to Gyeongju, about 1 ½ hours away by car. We visited to the Seokguram Grotto; in the rotunda sits a Buddha statue carved of granite. When we first arrived, we all rang the Great Emperor Sung Duk’s Bell of Mercy. Then, we followed dirt paths lined with colorful lanterns hung for Buddha’s birthday overlooking a beautiful mountainside. We continued on to Anapj pond, a historic site that was home to the palace of the Shilla dynasty, with beautiful walkways surrounding the pond.
Kevin then took us to a traditional Korean lunch of galbitang (beef bone soup), naemyeon (cold noodle soup), bibimbab (mixed rice), and galbi (marinated pork). We picked up some bread the region was famous for and happened upon a gorgeous field of canola flowers near the burial sites of three kings of the Shilla dynasty. We then parted ways and continued on bus towards Gwangali beach in Busan. A bus, subway, and taxi ride later we arrived at the Press Hotel.
Sunday was a sunny day in the 60’s, so we had breakfast at a restaurant beside the beach, walked along the beach, and shopped among the local vendors. Then we began our way to Jagalchi with a taxi ride, including a stop at H&M along the way! The kids jumped out of the taxi quickly, super excited to see an H&M. We then jumped into another taxi to the Fish market in Jagalchi, the largest and oldest fish market in Korea. The fish market is still primarily run by women, a tradition which began when men left for the Korean War. We were able to choose the seafood we wanted and then go upstairs to have it cooked and eat it. We enjoyed crab, scallops, mussels, flat fish that was served raw, and live octopus.
Monday we checked out of our hotel in Gangwali Beach and went to another beach in Busan, Haeundae Beach. We had lunch, followed by coffee and a walk along the beach before heading back to Gumi on an afternoon train. Tuesday was a beautiful day so we headed to Gumosan. “San “ means mountain in Korean. We enjoyed a light lunch, with makkali (Korean rice wine), gamjajeon (Korean potato pancake), and kimchijeon (kimchi pancake) on a porch overlooking the mountain. We took a walk along the water and the boys took a ride in the swan boats. Next was an afternoon visit to Luis’ school- Beyond Advanced. That night we took Evan to get a haircut (he needed one bad) and we all enjoyed dinner together in Indong.
Wednesday was May 1st, “May Day.” We went to Yang-po Elementary School for sports day, a very exciting day with relay races, obstacle courses, and tug of war. There were lots of cheering students and we enjoyed a picnic of pizza, fried chicken, and kimbab with the family who runs Luis’s school. Next, we headed to Jessica’s school in the afternoon. We participated in her classes with questions and did a writing project for me to take back and share with students in the United States. Jessica’s boss also had a gift for me and had previously treated us to the seafood dinner in Busan. We finished the day off with tempura blowfish.
Thursday I went to school with Evan to meet his students. They were so friendly and welcoming to me. I participated in each of his classes and brought each student a Syracuse pencil and a bookmark. They were very excited to receive them. Many of the students also completed the writing activity for me to bring back home. Kevin purchased chopsticks for me to bring back to some of the students as well. That evening, Kevin took Evan and I out for dinner to a restaurant named Dotori, Korean for acorn, where we enjoyed a delicious meal of pork, duck, sausage, shrimp, and a plethora of side dishes. I so appreciate the hospitality I was shown.
On Friday we went to lunch with Kevin and all of the teachers from the academy at a newly opened Chinese restaurant owned by the parents of one of Evan’s students. We had noodles with squid and tang su yeok (pork and pineapple salad). I did a bit of shopping at a small boutique store owned by a student’s parent and then attended a full-day of classes, 2:30-9:30 pm. I was able to meet many students and truly enjoyed my time at the school.
Early Saturday morning we took a train to Seoul, the largest city in Korea and third largest in the world. During the three-hour train ride I was amazed to see how well the small patches of land are used for gardens. There are so many high rises everywhere, even in the areas considered “country.” We found our way to the apartment for the next few days, a nice two-bedroom with a spacious kitchen in Itaewon, the foreigner area of Seoul. I’m still amazed by the showers here, just a showerhead over the facuet with no space or curtain. Everything gets wet! We spent the afternoon shopping in the crowded streets of Insadong, which I enjoyed very much. Insadong used to be the largest antique market in Asia, and is still an excellent location to find traditional crafts, ceramics, and scarves. We stumbled upon a beautiful temple with at least 500 paper lanterns and three huge Buddha statues. By night time I was exhausted, but Jess, Luis, and Evan went out dancing until 4am!
We began my last full day in Korea with a brunch prepared by Luis. Then the plan was to see the traditional Korean village called Buckheon, but after leaving the apartment we decided we wanted a relaxing day after a week of being on the go, so we changed plans. We spent the afternoon at an establishment called the Bungalow, where we enjoyed a few appetizers, fancy drinks, and some sunshine. It was just what we needed. Later that night, we went to Myeondong, one of the busiest areas in all of Seoul, to do some shopping before going to see Nanta, a non-verbal comedy show that incorporates traditional percussion. Nanta was entertaining and made for a great evening.
My Korean experience was a jam-packed, awesome experience. Much thanks to my tour guides!