Last few days of our Korea trip (day 12, 13 and 14)

I have been a bit lazy keeping up this daily journal for my Korea trip this week. I’m writing this from memory while everyone is still sleeping. Right now it’s early Sunday morning in Korea.

We left the temple on Thursday and traveled to Muju. The drive was beautiful and we arrived at our destination, the Taekwondo Center

It was a convenient place to stop as we eventually needed to drive back to Seoul. I am really glad we did. It’s a fun place and we watched an amazing exhibition. The kids loved it and so did the adults. We also took a mini class with one of the instructors as a group.

The area is really extraordinary. The mountains and vistas are stunning. Mountains fill the entire landscape throughout this entire country.

We stayed Muju for one night and then left for Seoul the following morning (Friday).

The drive to Seoul was three hours. It was hard for the photographer in me to watch all the mountains, valleys, rice fields and small villages through the window of our transport without stopping to make a few exposures along the way. But I knew we were itching to get back to the city so we made the drive direct.

Arriving back in Seoul was initially jarring. I once again forgot just how massive this city of 20MM people feels. And the contrast to the ritual areas just beyond the city is dramatic.

The weather cooled off nicely here the last few days and made it pleasant to just walk and explore the city some more.

I had been reading about the camera market in Namedaemun. So we decided to make it over there after lunch. It hapoened to be quite close to our hotel. It is such a cool place for camera nerds. One small store after another selling vintage lenses, and cameras as well as new gear too. It was fun to check out all of the medium format film cameras I had never seen before.

The next day was our last full day in Korea. We decided to make the trip to the super trendy Gangdam district. It’s a huge area. If you visit I would recommend grabbing a quick bite at this place and then walking this very street. Its filled with cute shops, cafes and the people watching is fantastic. At one point my oldest daughter said, “I could live here”.

Lauren suggested we end our last night in style. So we rented a room in a Karaoke place and we sang along to one cheesy song after another. Lauren sang “Roar” by Katie Perry. The girls sang Taylor Swift and one of the songs from the soundtrack Frozen. My song that night was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” by Def Leppard. My mom sang the Beatles and Lauren’s mom sang Billy Joel. Thankfully I don’t think anyone recorded it :) We had so much fun and a great way to end the evening.

This afternoon (Sunday) we are heading home. We leave Seoul at 2:30pm local time and we get back to Boston at 10pm est tonight. I think we are flying a total of 18 hours on the air and a three hour layover in California. It will be a very long Sunday.

This trip has meant so much to me. This country is beautiful and the people are so kind. Having our family here to experience this together has been something I will never forget.

Korea, day 10 and 11 (overnight at the Buddhist temple)

This entire trip seems like one unexpected day after another.

We left Busan and made the 3 hour drive to the Green Tea Plantation in Boseong. It’s a gorgeous plantation and I shared a photo on Twitter that day.

I discovered a number of things about green tea. The first harvest in the Spring is considered the most desirable and the last harvest in the late summer/fall is the least desirable. The price difference is 7x and the tea is labeled by harvest date here.

After a few hours exploring we drove to Gurye to the Hwaeomsa Temple. This Buddhist temple is located in the southwest corner of Jirisan Mountain. It was constructed in the year 544 and then subsequently destroyed and rebuilt over the years from all the wars and invasions.

We stayed overnight at the temple. We were given simple clothes to wear and different shoes. We were divided into two rooms. Men/boys in one room and women/girls in the next. Each room was about 20’x15’ or so. Each of us had two blankets. One served as the “mattress” and the other was to cover. We each had a pillow. That was the entire furnishing of each room. There was electricity and a heated floor

Before dinner we had a 45minute orientation. We were taught how to bow, when to bow and all the additional rules of the temple.

When it was time for dinner, we quietly walked into a large room where we ate. It was sort of a simple cafeteria. Rows and rows of tables, a kitchen and all the food was on a large table to share. The rules in the cafeteria: complete silence, you must completely eat all the food you put on your plate and each person is responsible for hand washing their own played and utensils. The food was completely vegan which was fine with me. It was a little rough for James. The monks ate with us.

After dinner we had free time and then bed time at 9pm. At 3am we were awoken to drumbeats on the hill. We walked together in the dark through the grounds into various areas and then to the prayer room. The monks chant and we all bowed in unison at many many times throughout the service.

Free time from 4:30am until 6am breakfast meant we could take a quick nap and that is just what we did. By 6am we woke up and were starving. Back to the dining hall, again in complete silence.

When we finished breakfast we went on a hike up the mountain. A river to one side of the trail and unreal vistas in every direction. It was so beautiful.

We had a short one hour free time until 11am and then we met with a monk who taught us about Mala beads. It’s their prayer beads for bowing and meditation.

We learned the significance of the number 108 which I won’t go into right now. But to make our own beads we had to fully bow 108 times. A full bow starts from a standing position. Then you kneel and place your head to the floor. With each full bow we placed a single bead on a string. We did this 108 times. I think it took an hour. My knees were aching by the end.

By early afternoon it was time to depart the temple. All of us were exhausted and ready to find lunch somewhere. But it was an amazing and beautiful experience in so many ways. The life of a monk is something beyond what I can fully comprehend. They have a humble appreciation for the moment that is inspiring.

Korea, day 8 & 9 (two days in Busan)

Day 8

The drive from Gyeongju to Busan was easy, just 90 minutes or so. 

Busan is the second biggest city in Korea and is a very active port city. 

After a late breakfast we decided to spend the day at the Haeundae Beach in Busan. The beach itself is about a mile long and packed with Korean people enjoying the ocean and sand. I’m told the water is quite cold except during July and August.

The beach scene is quite a sight. There are umbrellas everywhere and lined up perfectly. Towels, umbrellas and beach chairs are all available for a daily rental fee. Most all Koreans (men, women and children were mostly covered up). We felt a little out of place since we had different attire. You can find drinks and light snacks on the beach or across the road is the Haeundae district where you can find almost anything to eat. 

One surprise is how much coffee there is here. I assumed this was a tea culture country but it seems like Koreans love their coffee even more. (I must say it’s sad to see Starbucks killing it here). 

For dinner we found a local Korea seafood restaurant. I’m a vegetarian so I kept to rice and vegetables but Lauren says the sashimi tastes completely different and amazing compared to the United States version. 

Day 9

We are staying in the modern area of Busan. The Gwangon bridge connects the new to the old, so this afternoon we drove across the bridge and explored the older parts of the city.  I’m very glad we did. The contrast was unreal. I really enjoyed exploring the Gamcheon Dong area. It’s a hillside village with art and artists and colorful homes built into the mountain. 

Afterwards we went for a hike in Taejongdae. It’s a beautiful natural park in Busan. The cliffs and ocean were stunning. I took this iPhone photo of my daughter Sophia as we made our way to the cliff’s edge. 

We were all starving so made our way to the Jagalchi Fish Market. It’s a massive market with fresh fish everywhere. You basically point at the seafood you want and then they bring it upstairs to the restaurant and make it for you. 

Half of our team was very adventuresome and the other half got pizza :)

After lunch we explored the area some more and had dessert at a place that served Patbingsu. I never had this dish before arriving in Korea and we are now totally hooked. I hope someone brings this dish to the United States. It is delicious. 

Busan is a really interesting and beautiful city. It’s filled with extraordinary contrasts and the people could not be any nicer. It’s also a special place for us since this is where my mom grew up. I am happy we could make it here together as a family.  

Korea, day 7

Yesterday we had overcast skies which made brought on a much welcomed slightly cooler temperature.

We started the day early and left Andong city and visited Gyeongju, the ancient capital of Shilla Dynasty for 1000 years.

Within Gyeongju is a famous Buddhist temple called Bulguksa Temple. It is amazingly beautiful to walk the grounds and imagine life as it once was. There are still people praying and meditating in various rooms in the temple.

Close by is Cheomseongdae which is the oldest astronomical observatory in Asia. It is a stone structure constructed in the year 647! It had been used for observing the stars and forecasting the weather. Next door was a garden with an endless sea of wildflowers and lotus blossoms. It was truly stunning.

We didn’t see a single American over the last three days. Funny enough I noticed it but lauren didn’t and I don’t think the kids have either.

After dinner I spent time on Twitter and Kakao catching up on the latest North Korea/South Korea conflict news. I am pleased the two sides have begun some level of discourse.

It may be blind optimism but I hope they can make peaceful progress.

Korea, day 6

We spent yesterday exploring some of the historic sights around Andong.

Our first stop was at Andong Hahoe Village. This village is over 600 years old. There are beautiful old traditional homes and the entire village is surrounded by the winding Nakdong river. Magnificent cliffs can be seen across the river next to the Hwasan Mountain.

We also caught a traditional performance in Hahoe Village that was quite unique to say the least. By the end of the show the actors grabbed Sophia and brought her on stage as the music and dancing played out until the end of the show.

We returned back to Andong City for dinner. After dinner we had this really interesting and delicious dessert. I can’t remember the name but it had frozen milk, ice chips, red bean and a rice cake thing on top. I loved it.

After dinner, night fell and a gorgeous crescent moon appeared, we went to the Woryeonggyo Bridge. This bridge is best experienced at night. I’m told it’s the longest pedestrian overpass bridge made of wood in Korea. It is quite a sight with a pavilion in the middle of the bridge with a reflective calm river underneath.

We made our way back to the hotel by evening and completely crashed for the night.

(I am sorry for the lack of links and typos. I wrote this post on my phone)