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?
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…
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.
Christmas 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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 😛 )
Steam 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.
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.