Category Archives: South Korea

Making A Pilgrimage To The Baebang Buddhist Temple

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While Christianity has a significant presence in Korea, Buddhism also has a large following as well.  On a typical weekend off from teaching in Baebang, I decided to seek out out local temple.  After hiking into the hills above my town through rice and kimchi farms, I finally reached its hallowed grounds. When you are faced with a view like the one displayed above, how could you not build a shrine to your deity of choice?

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Despite arriving at its doorstep on a weekend afternoon, all was quiet. Perfect for a spot of exploration and a rare moment of serenity in a nation as crowded as South Korea…

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Unlike more elaborate inner sanctums that one would find in halls of worship in places like Seoul, Beijing or Bangkok, Baebang has kept things simple, with a small idol of the lord Buddha accompanied by offerings of abundance and sublime style elements.

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One thing I wasn’t able to figure out during my time in this country was the purpose behind altars built in the honor of seemingly prominent Koreans. Not sure who this guy was, but I’m sure he was integral to the building up of this nation, or at least this community.

Ever visit a non-descript temple, church, or mosque that captured your heart?  Let us know below!

Gagwonsa Temple: A Chief Cultural Attraction In Cheonan, South Korea

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With South Korea having the rich past that it does, its not long after a foreigner arrives here before they go searching for relics of its heritage.  As such, I also went looking for the most vaunted cultural attraction in Cheonan, Gagwonsa Temple, within the first few months of being settled in South Korea (little did I know that it would be close to the end of my stay there, but c’est la vie).

Located up on the slopes of Taejosan above the rapidly growing industrial, high-tech and research city of Cheonan, this place is one of serenity and peace from the hustle and bustle present in the streets below.

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After taking a bus from the entertainment district of Cheonan, I arrived in the relaxing mountain village that lies just below the temple complex itself.  After a bit of a walk in the sweltering 32 degree heat (not counting the heat index), I finally made it to the most famous sight of Gagwonsa – The Bronze Buddha…

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Noted as one of the largest sitting Buddhas in Asia, it was a worthwhile sight to see on this day … but there was still more exploring to be done.

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To those not familiar with Asian religious history, the symbol of the swastika on these venerated temple structures may come as a bit of a shock.  They were used as Hindu and Buddhist symbols for thousands of years before the Nazis co-opted this icon for their own nefarious purposes.

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Heading down into the courtyard, I simply couldn’t come here without taking a look inside…

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Shoes off before going in!

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I wasn’t sure if cameras were frowned within the inner sanctum, so I snapped a pic before stepping inside.  Anyone in the know about this, please inform me on the proper protocol!

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I was going to go on a mountain hike on this day, but with the heat so overwhelming on this day, I thought better of it on this day and turned back at this point. Summer is a terrible time to go peak bagging in Korea, spring or fall is your best bet!

Do you have a favorite local temple in Korea where you live?  Have you visited one on holiday here?  Tell all in the comments below!

My 2013 In Pictures: A Tumultuous Year In Review

Christmas in Calgary 2012Christmas 2012 in Calgary … my holiday season had a much lower profile this year, but I had a lot to reflect and grateful for over the past 365+ days!

It’s amazing what can happen in the span of 365 short days.  This time last year, I was freezing in the depths of yet another Alberta winter, yet I had a renewed spring in my step, despite the darkness that early January brings with it.

I had hatched plans to dump my day job as a warehouseman (which I had never planned to be a permanent arrangement), as I had committed in my mind to pursue the next great adventure in my life … to teach English as a Second Language in South Korea.  I couldn’t head over straight away, though, as I needed to go through a Byzantine process to qualify and then, get hired.

Well, that’s cool.  But what was I doing in Calgary in the dead of winter anyway?  On that note, let’s get this party rolling, starting below!

January 2013 – Family Time in Calgary

My nephew Owen about to shoot off a rocket

One of my original motivations to seek a job in Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, was to enable myself to spend more family time with my nephew and niece, who are very rapidly growing up as I type this.  Owen (pictured above) just entered elementary school this fall, and Lauren at 3 years old isn’t that far behind. And as of this September, there was a new addition to my sister’s family, little Aaron.

As much of a globetrotter as I am, I am endeavoring to be there for them in the years ahead.  All the more reason to continue pursuing my efforts to fuel my life via the internet, a task now half completed, as I will reveal later on in this piece!

February 2013 – Just Quit Your Warehouse Job?  Time To Go Skiing!

After making the decision to go splitskis with my employer in my mind late last year, I began furiously saving for a period of unemployment, in much the same way I have saved for my travels in the past.  While there were many things related to the ESL application process that took up my time, as well as working away at causal web work and preparing to launch this standalone site, it left me a lot of idle time.

Calgary isn’t the most exciting place in the world during the winter, especially during the work week, so what to do?  Well, I heard that my former home Jasper, tucked well away in the Canadian Rockies to the northwest, was about to get pummeled with a massive snowstorm. With nothing holding me back, I hopped aboard a Greyhound Bus and an overnight ride and nine hours later, I was in Jasper on the eve of one of the heaviest storms to hit the area in a long time!

Powder day at Marmot Basin, outside of Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Over the course of three days, Marmot Basin, the local ski resort in Jasper (best kept secret in the Canadian Rockies!) got hammered with over 71 centimetres of snow (29 inches for our American friends), enabling those lucky enough to be snowed in to this friendly town to have virtually unlimited lines of knee to waist deep powder for the entire weekend I was there!  Sick times.  Want to see more?  Stay tuned for the post on this weekend that will live in snowhound history…!

March 2013 – House Sitting, Getting Hired For Korea, and Ramping Up My Online Presence

Nose Hill Park in winter, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

As March dawned and I went through random walks through parks in an effort to stave off boredom (my camera lens broke after this pic, hence the thin bench for images in March), I finally got enough of my documents together that I could finally post my application for employment on the web’s biggest ESL job site, Dave’s ESL Cafe.  Nothing could prepare me for what would happen next.

An avalanche of e-mails and phone calls from anxious and enthusiastic recruiters wanting to link me up with “the job of my dreams”.  While some disqualified themselves by barely being able to speak the language (oh, the irony), I eventually settled on a recruiter and so the process began.

During this time, I housesat for my sister, who was headed off on a well-deserved vacation to Mexico.  During the two weeks that I was caring for Autumn and the house, I went through about three interviews, the last of which was done over my cell phone with a Korean principal that spoke broken English with a thick accent.

In spite of all the frustrations, I got the JOB!  I was headed off to a place called Baebang 2 hours south of Seoul.  WHOO-HOO!

April 2013 – Korea Work Visa Run to Vancouver, The Best City on Earth

Skyline, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Before I could get on a plane though I had to do a bunch of document mailing and FEDEX-ing, which eventually turned into an old-fashioned visa run, as time was running too short to risk trusting my passport to the mail system.  As such, I hopped another Greyhound bus bound for Vancouver, leaving winter behind and landing squarely in the midst of spring…

Spring in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Yes, those palm trees are real, those blossoms really are breaking out in the middle of April, and the temperature in Van City really was 18 degrees Celsius (65 degrees Fahrenheit) when it was -6 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit) back in Calgary on the same day.

Granville Market, Vancouver, BC, Canada

I spent an entire week going on tours through Vancouver’s urban and natural attractions, such as the foodie paradise that is Granville Market, shown above, while my passport was being “processed”.  There was a bit of background tension, as the consular official that took my passport on the first day scolded me for the weathered state of my travel document, warning me that I might get refused my visa due to its condition (didn’t stop her from taking my money, though!).

Fortunately, all was well, so with my documents all straightened out, I headed back to Calgary to await my departure to South Korea!

May 2013 – Starting My ESL Career In South Korea

Rooftop view, Baebang, Korea

After arriving in Korea, the first few days involved random document signing and other matters too boring to comment on here.  The view you see above was from the first morning I was here … sick view, eh? While many parts of Korea don’t resemble Coruscant like this picture suggests, many built up places in the country do look this way due to a lack of suitable land, due to the mountainous nature of the land mass Korea occupies.

For those thinking that English teaching involves walking into a school for four hours, talking English to the kids, then leaving to party like a rock star, put down that application form right now … I’m going to break your little hearts (sorry).

Lesson planning, homework marking, and other admin tasks will grow to take up much of your “free” time at home, even parts of your weekend.  Being a good teacher (I tried my hardest, and despite what happened to me, I felt I did a great job) takes tonnes of planning, passion, and giving a $#!t.  So don’t waste your kid’s time, and your employer’s time and money if you’re planning to go over and just party the whole time! </rant>

Whew… I’m almost never like that.  Sorry guys.  Just know that this isn’t a vacation when you go, and you’ll be fine.  And go public, not private.  More on that in a second…!

June 2013 – The Sands of Daecheon Beach and Samgyeopsal BBQ’s

Daecheon Beach, Korea

OK … so like, summer is Korea is hot, right?  I mean, HOTTER than you’ve ever imagined it could ever get, anywhere in the world.  Unless you’re from the American South/Midwest/Ontario in Canada, you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.

So, be sure that your A/C works before mid-June swings around, and when it does … go to the beach!  Now, Korea may not strike you as a beach destination, and I won’t try to get you to come from halfway around the world to experience it.

If you find yourself in Korea come summer, though, Korea has some beaches that more than suffice for your cooling needs.  Daecheon Beach is Korea’s best west coast getaway, with tonnes of fine white sand, cool West Sea water, and oodles of fresh seafood cooked up K-style!  I’ll be writing a guest post on this subject very soon, so stay alert for when it comes out … it’ll be a dandy!

Korean BBQ in Korea

Ever since I started watching Youtube videos about Korean cuisine, I had always wanted to have some juicy Samgyeopsal (aka Korean pork BBQ).  I have affectionately referred to it as mutant Korean bacon, and late in the month, Sonya, one of my co-teachers, took me out for a family BBQ.

Hanging out with them outside of work was so cool, and it was one of those rare authentic cultural exchanges that we all crave as travelers.  When you stumble upon such an opportunity … seize it!

July 2013 – My Big Fat Busan Vacation

Haeundae Beach, Busan, Korea

Working in a private English institute (aka a hagwon) affords few chances for vacations in the traditional sense (you know, when you put in for days off, and you get 1-2 weeks off consecutively). You are on duty the vast majority of the year, but during the peak heat of the summer, even the most workaholic directors break down and schedule downtime to get out of the sweaty office.

My three days off (yes *3* days) plus the weekend saw me escape to Busan to see Korea’s second city.  From the Jagalchi Fish Market to the claustrophobic beach destination of Haeundae Beach and everything in between, Busan impressed me, even if the weather was typical for the monsoon season (humid and wet).  As with many other events that occurred this past year, posts are forthcoming, so be patient, my children 🙂

August 2013 – Leaving Korea for Thailand and the Unknown…

Word of wisdom, Korea

I won’t get into the dirty details of it, but effectively, months of confrontation over my bosses non-payment of health insurance and pension, ridiculous accusations concerning my teaching, and all the stress that comes with that all came to a head in August.  After the final straw was broken after a meeting filled with finger-pointing, innuendo, and raised voices, I had finally had enough.

With an orphan day off in the middle of the week for Independence Day, I made my move.  After eight hours of furious cleaning, packing, ticket booking, and creeping about Baebang surreptitiously in a manner that would have made Jason Bourne proud, I leapt aboard the 6:30pm bullet train bound for Seoul, the first leg on my journey to Bangkok, my selected place of refuge from the duress I was suffering.

Lonely Beach, Koh Chang, Thailand

I’ll be honest: I had no idea what I was going to do when I got to Thailand.  For the foreseeable future, I was done with teaching.  Totally burnt out.  I wasn’t exactly relishing returning to Canada so soon either, so I figured I’d take a month in the Land of Smiles to clear my head.

As it happens, the Universe had my back, as the web work I had been doing on the side presented me with a huge opportunity.  A friend of mine offered me the chance to do some writing for him for money, and so I ran with it.  At this point, I had no idea it would lead to me being able to support myself via the interwebs…

September 2013 – Finding my way in Malaysia

Butter Chicken and Naan, Penang, Malaysia

After getting kicked in the face by the death flu in Koh Samui, I continued down the Malay Peninsula to Penang in Malaysia.  I may have mentioned it before, but this country is the place where all the good foodies go when they die.  If you’re not dead yet, the flavors of the dishes here will send you to Heaven, if only temporarily.  It’s that good guys, for serious!

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From Indian to Chinese to Malay food, you could spend your entire holiday going from one foodgasm to the next.  Mom’s cooking just won’t taste the same when you head home, that’s for sure!

October 2013 – Exotic Islands and Subtropical Highlands

Tioman Islands, Malaysia

I spent a good portion of my time in Malaysia (5 weeks) in Kuala Lumpur getting the hang of working for myself (finding a balance is NOT easy … work too little and you hemorrhage cash, work too much and you feel like you’re not living the dream), but I also found time to do a little sightseeing and exercise my travel blogging muscles while I was here.  Above, the diving paradise of the Tioman Islands will tantalize you with its beauty when I get around to posting about it, while…

Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

… the lofty heights of the Cameron Highlands will refresh you like a strong fan on a stinkin’ hot day. Only this fan comes with a cup of Boh Tea and a slice of strawberry shortcake, ’cause that’s how they do it in Tanah Rata!

November 2013 – Moving to Chiang Mai to Make Bank

Pool at Huay Kaew Residence, Chiang Mai, Thailand

While I definitely did enjoy my time farting around the Malay Peninsula, it was time to get serious.  Off to Chiang Mai I went, securing an apartment (sick pool above included in the package!) for the princely sum of 4,500 baht, internet included.  Taken together with my utilities usage, my monthly living costs came to 5,500 baht, which equates to the budget-busting figure of … $185 USD a month.  Ohhh my God, I can’t afford that!  On another note, this was the first month that I turned a profit running my own multi-dollar corporation. Yayyyy! 🙂

Lantern art, Yee Peng Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand

It wasn’t all dull stuff that month though, as the famous Loy Krathong festival went on, fancy lanterns and all.  Not all of them were meant to fly, as the dragon one attest to … if you’re looking for a time to start your Thailand holiday, plan it so that you can take in this event!

December 2013 – Catching Fire

Thai Meal, Tops supermarket food court, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Despite it being the holiday season, I really put my nose to the grindstone this month.  Picking up two more clients and having a tonne of priority work hit your virtual desk can do that.  I did get out around the holidays with all the other fabulous travel bloggerati, but for the most part, the inside of my favourite restaurants/cafes, my room, and the Thai food court at TOPS supermarket (so good for so cheap!) was all that I saw this month.

All in all though, when you’re laying the foundation for a virtual life you can take anywhere in the world, sacrifices in the early stages have to be made before you can get the passive income stuff set up later.  I’m not sure how I’ll do that, but then again, I wasn’t sure what I would do after Korea, and yet here I am 🙂

How did the past year treat you?  Regale us with your tales in the comments!

Photo: A Park … In Korea?? With GRASS!?!

Park in Cheonan Korea

Throughout much of Korea, land is used to the maximum extent.  There are 50 million people living in a country that is smaller than the State of Ohio (or the island of Newfoundland, for my Canadian readers).

These people need a place to live, food to eat, and places to work.  Complicating things further is the fact that 70% of the land in South Korea is mountainous, severely limiting what can be built or grown there.

Parks as we know them in North America or Europe are very rare in South Korea for the reasons stated in the previous paragraph.

This makes the green space shown above that much more striking, as it contains an abundance of the parkland we take for granted back home.  Of course, this is South Korea, so signs of urbanity are never far behind.

The towers in the background is the new, dynamic Korea showing its much prettier face, a breath of fresh air from the commie block style apartments that litter just about every town and city in this country.

Cheonan is a rapidly growing area 1 and 1/2 hours drive south of Seoul, so the relatively underdeveloped land here made for an interesting experiment in cutting-edge architectural design, paired with green principles.

Not only is there a spacious park with easy walking distance of this mixed use tower, there are wind turbines and sports facilities on the other side of the hill, making this place the leading edge of a healthier way of life for people in Cheonan, and hopefully in the long run, for all people in South Korea.

The Tangle Falls Area: The Most Underrated Part Of Jasper National Park

The Columbia Icefield, located across from Tangle Falls

As you approach the southern border of Jasper National Park, the mountain scenery begins to get more epic.  After crossing the flood plain of the Sunwapta River near Beauty Creek, the road begins to climb towards the Columbia Icefields.  Before reaching this national park’s best-attended attraction, nature puts on a spectacle on the side of the road.

I’m not sure if parts of this are even accessible (the pull off from where I took the photo above) anymore without paying an admission fee to the newly constructed Skywalk (opening Spring 2014), but the views are no less stunning in spite of that.  Observe as the ice sheet of the Columbia Icefield spills over the side of the mountain plateau on which it sits.  Trips out onto the ice are available from guides in Jasper, but don’t attempt this yourself: guides have intimate knowledge of the crevasses that crisscross this area, which if fallen into can cost you your life.

Tangle Falls area, Jasper National Park, Canada

Views of the mountains are quite stunning in this area, so don’t be in a rush to get to your destinations further south: stay a while and breathe in the pine needle scented air and relax!

Tangle Falls

A little further down the road lies the lesser known Tangle Falls, despite being stationed at the side of one of Canada’s busiest tourist drives.  This beauty is just hiding in plain sight, begging you to come closer and experience its wild nature close up…

Afterward, it was time to leave and carry on down the Icefields Parkway to the next point of natural interest.  It was with some reluctance, though, as I was graced with this view as I made my way back to my oversized Dodge Grand Caravan…

Tangle Falls area, Jasper National Park, Canada

Ever been to Tangle Falls on your journey up/down the Icefields Parkway? What did you think?

Scaling The Steep Hills Of Itaewon, Seoul, Korea

The Steep Hills Of Itaewon will test the sturdiest of legs

After the rain of the previous night had cleared away, I returned to the foreigner district of Itaewon in Seoul, Korea to do some shopping.  I was in serious need of new shirts that actually fit me without them stretching to the bursting point as if I were a sausage, and the shirt was the casing.

After I successfully accomplished my mission where I dusted off my haggling skills in the basement clothing markets, I went for a wander, as I didn’t have to catch the train for several hours.  So I took to the labyrinth-like back streets of the neighbourhood, trying to find hidden gems and excellent views…

 Itaewon Seoul Korea

As I got into the part of Itaewon behind the business district, I got into the residential area, which is quite a bit older than the modern businesses most people associate with the district.

 Itaewon Seoul Korea

Popping out of the alley and onto the edge of Itaewon Hill, I climbed up this steep street to get a photo of the incredible vista you see above.  But trust me, guys, this climb was seriously tough.  If I had a car, I’d be very self-conscious about parking my car on this road.

You don’t have to take my word for it, feel my pain in the video below … it was brutally steep!

In Motion: A Rainy Night In Itaewon, Seoul, Korea

Itaewon Seoul Korea

Standing out like a patch of North America in the middle of South Korea, Itaewon is the preeminent foreigner hub in Seoul, and by virtue of this, the biggest gathering place for expats in the entire country. Western-style bars, restaurants, and stores with appropriately sized clothing are all available in relative abundance, leading to frequent trips to this area by desperate teachers from the provinces. Also, many Koreans find it to be the best place to experience foreign cultures in the whole country, made all the more significant by the fact that this country is very homogeneous (Korea is 98% ethnic Korean), making it hard to connect with all things international outside of this area.

Below, I make my first foray into this vibrant district, on a moody and rainy night in Seoul

Have you ever been to Itaewon?  Have a favourite bar/restaurant/shop you frequent there?  Let us know about it in the comments!

A Purrfect Afternoon In Seoul: Visiting A Cat Cafe In Hongdae

This Cat Cafe In Hongdae was heaven on Earth for me...

Seoul, Korea is known for many offbeat, quirky attractions in the expat community, but few places are quite as famous as the Cat Cafe. Located all over the city, with new similar businesses popping up all over the country (and internationally, I recently heard that there is at least one here in Bangkok), it exists as a place where urban dwellers that can’t afford or have a cat due to landlord restrictions can go for some feline de-stressing.

Or for cat obsessed people like myself, it’s a convenient place to surround oneself with the most awesome creature to ever walk the Earth … teh kittehs! (clearly, I’m a bit obsessed, but I don’t care 😛 )

To enter the Hongdae Cat Cafe, you need to buy a drink ... I got an iced chocolate

Upon entry, you remove your shoes and are presented with a menu and a list of rules to follow once inside.  After ordering your drink for 7-8,000 ₩ ($6.30 – $7.20 USD), you are admitted to the kitty wonderland, which boasts an assortment of feline subspecies to play with, feed, and to simply admire as they grace you with their awesomeness.  In case you’re wondering, I ordered an iced chocolate that was incredible, though it killed me to drink/eat the barista art on top of the whipping cream 😛

A sleepy tabby rests on a window at a Cat Cafe in Hongdae

A fluffy white cat sleeps high on a ledge

This cat doesn't want to be touched

I could just end the post here, as the kitties showed above trump anything I could ever write, but I got something better: video footage!  Enjoy 🙂

Want to know how to get to this specific cat cafe that I visited in this post? Check the map below and have a happy afternoon of connecting with man’s favorite master!

Map to the Cat Cafe in Hongdae

Love cats? Think they leave dogs in the dust? Jive with me below!

Instant Korean Foodgasm: A Mandu Feast In Hongdae, Seoul, Korea

The perfect place for a Mandu Feast In Hongdae, a hip neighborhood in SeoulSteam escaping from pressure cookers make this mandu shop in Hongdae easy to find

Prior to arriving in Korea, I had heard many great things about the food, so I was eagerly awaiting my arrival in Seoul to wander through an infinite selection of Korea’s culinary offerings.  A particular restaurant in Hongdae had my rapt attention, after being featured in a video on the K-Pop and culture blog, Eat Your Kimchi.

Map to super secret Mandu shop

The restaurant can be found by taking line 2 of the Seoul Subway system to Hongik University Station.  Leave the station through exit 9, and after making a hard left, walk on the street you emerge at for about 200 metres until you reach the end of that laneway.  Turn left again, and continue past the first roundabout you encounter, and keep going until to reach the second roundabout.  Turn right on to Wasuwan-ro 29 gil, and stick to the right side of the street until you see steam billowing into the air from one of the shops.  This is the restaurant in question, my friends!

Mandu in Seoul Korea

After arriving, I promptly ordered a platter of modeum mandu (combination plate of Korean dumplings), which came with a whole assortment of mandus, which are ably described in a video by Simon and Martina of Eat Your Kimchi (I had attempted to do my own video, but I botched it badly … leave it to the pros, I guess 😛 ) in the video embedded below!

I will say that they were every bit as flavorful and enrapturing as I had hoped they would be.  The fried mandus were especially satisfying, with the ball dumplings and steamed ones following closely behind in the pecking order.

Simply put: you gotta check this place out, guys … it’ll make full-blown mandu addicts for life, and that’s not a bad thing, as there are a lot worse things to be hooked on out there!

Ever tried mandu?  Share your experience with us all below!

In Motion: Safety? Who Needs That? Not Korean Kids…!

Back in Canada and in the West in general, we tend to take safety very seriously. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Every angle is covered. Even activities that seem safe for 99% of people have warning labels and safeguards against the 1% of Darwin Award candidates that might fall victim to an unlikely accident.

In Korea (and Asia in general) though? Safety, at least in the way that we think about it, is an afterthought. It’s as if most people tend to trust that other people will do enough on their own to keep themselves safe.

Still though, this? I guess they teach Korean kids not to be afraid of little things like gravity at an early age.

Liability lawyers, start your engines and head to Asia, the land of opportunity! 😛