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!

Welcome To Foodie Paradise: A Day At Granville Island Market in Vancouver, Canada

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In addition to all the world renowned natural scenery that can be found all around the Greater Vancouver Area, another aspect that makes this modern metropolis attractive to people from all over Canada and the world is its food scene.  From restaurants (like the Indian place on Davie Street that is shown above), to public markets, the astounding variety of high quality cuisine and foodstuffs will blow the mind of even the most discerning foodie.

Of all the markets in Van City and area, the Granville Island Market is the most celebrated of them all.  From produce to cheeses, prepared food to fresh flowers, even casual tourists will find enough stuff here to make a trip to Granville Island worthwhile.

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To get here, either take a harbor hopper ferry across False Creek…

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Or drive in underneath the Granville Street bridge!

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All the best foodstuffs from farms across the Lower Mainland can be found here, including a bewildering array of cheeses…

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… the bounty of the sea, from shrimp to scallops…

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Maybe some fresh cut flowers for the missus, or that crush you’ve awkwardly eyeing up the past week or so?

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And no matter who you are, it’s hard to say no to some field fresh berries!

Overall, the food on display here is well worth it just to gawk at it, but come for the freshly prepared meals (sadly, not photographed on this site for some reason), and if you feel like cooking up a storm in the hostel kitchen, maybe you’ll get some ideas from here!

 

I’m Not Dead: Back After A Break

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Hey folks, sorry about the extended absence lately. Between spending time with family, getting buried under a ton of work, and getting settled in a new region in the world (hola from Mexico!), I took a bit of a break from the blog.

Coming soon: A continuation of content from Canada, Korea and Southeast Asia, PLUS new photos from where I’ll be over the next year or so: Mexico, Central and South America.  It’s been a blast being immersed in a new language (Espanol), and exploring new environments, and I can’t wait to share them with all of you!

Talk to you all again real soon, and pura vida! 🙂

Photo: A Fine Day At The Floating Mosque, Penang Malaysia

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Penang Malaysia is often a curious blend of the old and the new, with soaring condo developments overshadowing Chinese shophouses, food carts and establishments that crank out time-tested recipes, and ornately designed temples and mosques that testify to the faith of those that live on this lively and industrious island in the tropics.

Of the latter, the mosque with the most inspired architecture on Penang is none other than the Floating Mosque.  Located around the northeast corner of the island, it stretches out into a shallow bay, blending in with the surrounding landscape, yet standing out in its own special way.

If you do visit this landmark and wish to venture inside, don’t be like me and throw on a pair of shorts, which bars you entry. Instead,  don a pair of pants and a shirt with sleeves, which properly respects the cultural mores of the devout, and see this fabulous place from the inside and the view from its incredible deck out back.  I was not able to access it due to my dress that day, which limited me to just a single photo of its exterior.

Photo: Korea Is A Carnivore’s Dream (Unless You Like Beef)

Pictured above is the aftermath of a typical grocery trip in Korea for yours truly.  Before you start getting concerned about me dropping dead of a heart attack at 35, know that most artery inflammation is mostly the result of over-consumption of simple carbohydrates (sugars + white bread) and trans fats (often created when processed foods are made) with red meat ranking well behind on the danger scale.  Besides, I did buy spinach and onions before this grocery run, with remnants already in the fridge and cupboard, thank you very much 🙂

Grocery costs are well below that of Canada, despite the constrained land to raise livestock and grow crops … economies of scale work wonders, what can I say?

Prices of items above:

Boneless/Skinless Chicken Breasts (2) – 2500 won each = $2.27 CDN each
Pork, cut into stir fry strips (3) – 1180 won each = $1.07 each
Big pack of ground pork – 3520 won = $3.20
Big bag of frozen Mandu (Korean dumplings) – 4500 won = $4.09
12 eggs – 3000 won = $2.73
Tall can of Cass Beer – 2500 won = $2.07
The sole expensive buy … small but good-looking beef steak – 6600 won = $6

All told, this haul, which was a bigger trip than I normally made, added up to 28,660 won, or $26.05 Canadian, which is markedly less than my grocery bill in Canada for a lot less meat.  Not pictured or purchased on this run was spinach, which sells at Homeplus for about 1200 won a bag, or slightly more than $1 Canadian, rather than the $3-$4 it costs here at home.

Conclusion: Korea is paleo heaven (just learn to love chicken and pork a lot more, and request purple rice instead of the standard white rice at restaurants, and you’ll be golden!)

Readers: any killer grocery buys you’ve made in Korea?  Spill your guts to us in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver: A Flagship City For The 21st Century

Coal Harbour "condo village" in Vancouver

If you have not been to Vancouver, it can be hard to place how modern and built up this city truly is.  Everybody has their preconceived notions surrounding Canada as a largely uninhabited wilderness with charming yet somewhat backwater-ish people.  So when you walk through a scene like the one shown above (just steps away from verdant Stanley Park), it can be a surreal experience.

Still not convinced?  Take a look inside the Vancouver I’ve grown to love, a city that is very much a flag bearer for 21st century urban living.

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Despite this cities’ reputation for modern structures, it does manage to work some historic structures into the mix with great effect.  The Vancouver Art Gallery is a place that plays host to some of the best visual art displays in Western Canada, and also is a popular gathering spot for events.  On this day, I was strolling by on 4/20 … purple haze indeed!

Vancouver Public Library

Even rudimentary institutions like the public library get designed ambitiously here.  Styled after the Roman Colosseum, the inside is as impressive as the outside facade, which goes to show that if you want to get treated like a major city on the world scene, you have to do major city things … like doing a potentially tacky reproduction of a famous ancient ruin and totally pulling it off!

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The tallest building in Vancouver is the Shangri-la Hotel at a dizzying 201 metres (659 feet) above the street … like, literally.  Try standing at the bottom and staring up at the square dots … you’ll feel your head spinning and your feet starting to give out before you know it! 🙂

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With innovative, groundbreaking designs, water features that force you to stop and take in their magnificence, and the lush surroundings made possible by its mild climate, Vancouver’s skyscrapers and urban design are something that any self-respecting urbanite should experience at some point in their lifetimes?

What modern wonders does your city contain?  Feel free to share them with us below!

Photo: Tropical Dream Sequence in Malaysian Borneo

View from islands off Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

While most people travel to Kota Kinabalu only to continue on to climb one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia (Mount Kinabalu), lovers of tropical beach paradises take note: there are some idyllic hideaways lying just offshore of this frontier city in Malaysian Borneo.

Head to Jesselton Pier and purchase a ticket to one of the islands that comprise Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, which is a chain of coral islands that lie mere kilometres away from the core of downtown KK.

The one pictured above is Palau Manukan, but there are four other isles to choose from, with Manukan being the most popular, Sulug being completely undeveloped, and Gaya having resorts where you can stay overnight.

The water is unreal, and the SCUBA diving is supposedly quite good for being so close to a big city, so be sure to spend a day here if you’re traveling to Sabah in Malaysian Borneo.

Attack of the Engrish: South Korea Edition!

Optimized-IMG_0474For those that can’t see through the glare on the can: My fighting time! Let’s be cafe time!

In countries where the first language isn’t English, the populace has often attempted to insert education of the world’s most spoken language into their curriculum, with varying results.  Korea is one of those countries that has pushed hard to get their citizens educated in the use of this often confusing form of communication (2nd hardest in the world to learn after Mandarin Chinese), and for the most part, it has resulted in its economies’ rapid rise.

Of course, a culture with a different way of relating to self-expression is bound to come with a rather unique style of using the English language.  While this may include mistakes in grammar, most often, their use of metaphors and the like end up with light-hearted and humorous results, as shown above. Let’s go through a few more that I stumbled across during my 3 1/2 month sojourn in South Korea…!

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Every time I went to the PC Bang (gaming and internet cafe) next door to my apartment (due to my lack of stable wi-fi at my place), I’d buy one of these guys.  I certainly enjoyed my fruitful days, most likely because they would have quickly become my last, as these cafes are filled with cigarette smoke (yes, smoking indoors in many parts of Korea is legal)!

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Grammatically correct, but this phrase unfortunately has a negative connotation … so is it good.  SPOILER ALERT: it is!  Find it in the entertainment district of Cheonan (south of the Shinseggae department store in Shinbudong) and be sure to order one of their thin crust pizzas!

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Apparently this cafe is a meeting place for cannibals … I shuffled by rather quickly 😛 (just past this place in Buldong is a really awesome Mexican place called Cantina … check it out if you’re living here!)

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Coffee and pizza … such a killer combination, but I think I’ll stick to beer or Coca-Cola as my accompanying drink of choice, ok? 😛

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Ohhhh myyyyy …. I got nothing guys…!

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Bloody right I am … let’s get going! 🙂

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Found this on the subway. Note to self: avoid taking the train from 6 til 10 am/pm, lest I end up in the midst of a blood-soaked frenzy of Koreans taking their frustrations out in a homicidal fashion.  Mmmm, murder! 😛

What’s the funniest Engrish you’ve encountered on an overseas journey?  Tell us in the comments below!

Canada’s California: Palm Trees And More In Vancouver, BC

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Sitting on Canada’s west coast, the city of Vancouver, which sits at end of a low lying sliver of land in British Columbia’s southwest known as the Lower Mainland, experience considerably warmer weather than the rest of the nation as a whole.

Together with Vancouver Island and the North Coast, they are bubbles of mildness that endure through the vast majority of a harsh Canadian winter, with daytime highs averaging between 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (42 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit) at a time when the rest of Canada is in the deep freeze and buried under mounds of snow.

This temperate climate, combined with some of the best soil in the nation also allows a mind-boggling variety of plants to grow, and yes, as shown above, some of the hardiest palm trees in the world can indeed grow in Van City, lending the place more credence to its legendary status among weather-obsessed Canadians.

Here’s some more examples of horticultural brilliance that can be found in one of Canada’s best cities…

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With robust bushes of pink flowers and palm trees and a condo tower in the background, doesn’t this feel like Hawaii at first blush?  The water and the air might be a bit chillier, but use your imagination, people!

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Cherry trees are planted here in abundance and luckily for me, I was in town during blossom season.  Being in the mid to high teens Celsius (60’s in Fahrenheit) while Alberta continued to freeze also allowed the flower beds throughout public spaces like this one at the end of Davie and Denman to flourish in a truly spectacular fashion!

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Just a brilliant day to head to the beach, soak up the spring sun, and enjoy the beautiful bounty that such a horticultural and climatically rich part of the world has to offer to you.  Yes, Vancouver’s an expensive place to live or visit, but with surroundings like this, the pain is worth the struggle to experience what can only be described as Canada’s California! 🙂

Ever been to Vancouver, or any other freakishly warm place when the rest of your country was suffering in the cold?  Tell us all about it below!

Guide to Ghana: the Best Adventures to Take Part in

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The nation of Ghana is located in West Africa and is the perfect place to take part in adventurous activities. If you are planning to spend some time here it is recommended that you get a hold of a car, which is the best and most convenient way to get around the country.

If you check local classifieds onlineyou will find plenty of cars for both rent and sale. With that in mind, here is a short guide to some of the best things to do in Ghana.

Going on Safari

Ghana boasts a large number of enchanting national parks, which are home to a diverse range of wildlife. Taking a safari through
Ghana’s national parks offers visitors the chance to get close to safari animals and view them in their natural habitats. Safaris come complete with local guides, who will make sure that visitors enjoy a fun and safe experience while getting as close as possible to the wild animals.

Hiking and Trekking

The rainforests and savannahs of Ghana feature hiking and trekking trails that take visitors to areas of pristine natural beauty. Visitors can choose to go hiking either alone or as part of a group, although it is a good idea to take along a guide
on your trips.

Camping

Many of Ghana’s national parks feature campsites, which offer adventurous travellers the chance to sleep underneath the stars. Waking at dawn to find yourself surrounded by nature is one experience that should not be missed. Before your trip, pick up a tent at www.onlysportsgear.com so that you are properly protected from the elements…

Deep Sea Fishing

Set sail in the Atlantic Ocean for the chance to catch fish such as yellow and big eye tuna, barracudas, blue marlin and even marko shark. A number of operators offer deep sea fishing trips from parts of Ghana such as Miemia Bay and Ada
, and successful fishermen have the chance to keep their catch of the day.

Paragliding

People who have a real head for heights will be able to experience Ghana in a whole new way while they get their adrenaline pumping. Ghana’s stunning scenery makes this the ideal location for paragliding trips and several flying centres can be found around the stunning Kwahu Mountain Range.

Mountain Biking

Use peddle power to speed through the dry savannah while pausing to explore traditional Ghanaian villages along the way. This is an exciting experience for visitors who really want to get off the beaten track and mountain bikers will have plenty of time to experience the true natural beauty of Ghana.