Category Archives: South Korea

Daily Life in South Korea Pt.II

High-tech toilets, smileys which look like a butt, life jackets in water parks, funny holidays with black noodles and teaching videos in the metro, which show you how to use the escalator in the right way – that’s South Korea with part II. 

 

 

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Rarely items: tampons, sunscreen, and deodorant

That is actually a tip for whole Asia. Especially when you are “Westerner” you shouldn’t forget to bring tampons, sunscreen, and deodorant. Because it is hard to get and in most cases really expensive. Of course, I forgot my deodorant and had to buy a bottle in Korea. Funny thing, it was German deodorant. I was lucky and got a discount but still paid five times more than I would have paid at home. Most Asians don’t use deodorant since they supposedly don’t sweat as much as the rest of the world. Another thing you should know: the perfect beauty ideal is white skin in Asia (for Asians: the perfect beauty ideal in Europe is to become brown from the sun, I know really ironical). That is also a reason why you have whitener in many beauty products but also in sunscreen. Furthermore, the sun protection factor (SPF) is really high and the cream extremely expensive. You should be aware of it. So if you are more the type of “I want to become brown in my holidays” you should bring your own.

 

The silent place of Korea

Actually, that’s a German thing. We call toilets “stilles Örtchen”, what means something like a “silent place”. Nothing is more ambivalent in Korea as their toilets. On the one hand, they still have some really simple toilets with a hole in the ground and flush like they have almost everywhere in South East Asia (but then most times without a flush). On the other hand, they have this really luxurious toilets with an extra remote control. There you have different water flushes and shower. Once my toilet also had a button for water sounds what is really crazy, but also kind of useful. In some public places as restaurants or hotels, Koreans have extra toilet shoes for the general use.

 

Frodo, Ryan and Apeach – the first friends you’ll have
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Con and Muzi

I felt really often that Korea has from everything kind of his own company, product or version. Everything I bought seemed to be “made in Korea” what is really impressive how one country supports itself. Korea has also his own messenger app for cell phones to chat with friends. It’s called Kakao Talk and has its own smileys which are really famous here. You can also buy merchandise article from the famous Kakao Talk friends. There are seven and a half characters, a half because Con the small Crocodile is actually always stuck with Muzi. Muzi is a yellow radish in a rabbit-looking disguise and according to the official page was magically brought alive by Con – seriously, I’m not kidding.

Other Kakao Talk friends are the fashion-conscious cat Neo and the city dog Frodo (I believe the favourite movies of the creator of Kakao friends is Matrix and The Lord of the Rings), the choleric duck Tube and according to the creators a “stylish secret agent” called Jay-G, I would say it’s a bear with an Afro and sunglasses.

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Ryan – the lion as toy

Furthermore, there is Ryan, the lion, which looks (sorry Koreans) totally like a teddy bear. According to the creators, it is a lion without a mane. To be honest, I thought first that my Korean friends thought it is a lion since the “L” and “R” is really similar in Korean or actually for them it’s kind of the same letter. So when they say “Ryan” it’s more called like “Lyan” – but I took a look and unfortunately, the creator thinks really he drew a lion.

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Apeach

Oh yeah, and the last Kakao friend I want to introduce is “Apeach”. I think I’m not the only foreigner who thought (again, I’m sorry Koreans) that Korea has a pink butt as a smiley. But according to the creators, they draw a peach which actually likes to show its butt(s). But also the creators had to admit that especially the backside of this funny fruit reminds of something else than a peach.

 

Instructions in the subway – or how to use the escalator

I have the feeling Koreans really love to instruct others. A really good example is the videos on the screens of the metro stations in Seoul. There the government shows in little videos how to use an escalator in the right way – pay attention to your shoes, don’t run but use the handrail. Furthermore, you learn how to wash your hands correctly, what happens if you don’t buy a ticket, why it is important to pay attention when you leave the train (don’t hear music, sing and dance and fall in the gap between the  train and the kerb), what a pregnancy seat is, how to leave the train correctly or also how to stand on the train without being in the way of others. In my opinion, some of the videos are really funny but some also have a really important message as against suicide and for situations of emergency.

 

The secret of the fountain of youth Koreas

The last secret I share with you is the one about the fountain of youth Koreas. Many people think Koreans look in general younger as they are. Especially, Europeans and Americans think it is hard to estimate the age of Koreans. Okay, one of the reasons will be probably that Koreans are older in Korea than in (almost the whole) the rest of the world. In Korea age starts already by one when you are born and continues counting with every New Year after the Chinese calendar. This different system makes you one to two years older than you actually are in the rest of the world (of course, there are some exceptions in East Asia as parts of China, Japan, Mongolia or Vietnam).

By the way, the argument “I’m older” is a really important one in Korea and can help you in almost every conversation. Elderly people enjoy a really high reputation in Korea and have some advantages over young people. Besides, Koreans always talk really formal to older people.

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Kimchi

Furthermore, South Korea is really famous for its many beauty products as anti-aging-creams or also some plastic surgeries. But the mother of a friend told us she learned about the real reason by googling it. And Google says the secret of Korean women is the really healthy Kimchi which Koreans eat every day.

 

Click here to read part I:
Daily life in South Korea Pt.I

 

 

 

Daily Life in South Korea Pt.I

High-Tech toilets, smileys which look like a butt, life jackets in water parks, funny holidays with black noodles and teaching videos in the metro which show you how to use the escalator in the right way – that’s South Korea.

 

 

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I had the chance to live four months in Korea when I studied abroad. I already learned a lot about the huge differences between the Asian and Western cultures in my first week, or to be more specific between South Korea and my home country Germany. Here I want to share my experiences with you. Maybe you already went to Korea and find yourself in the stories. Maybe you are just curious, or you want to go and find one or another tip for your travels. If you’re Korean – you will see how I saw your country and what seemed funny to me (so funny I wrote a blog entry about it). Don’t take it too seriously because I love your country a lot.

 

Koreans love endings

Gu, Dong, Si, Gil, Do – Koreans use endings to describe places. First of all, it seems really complicated if you are not aware of the meanings. But if you know them, it is actually quite useful since it describes which places are “what”. The ending “do” markers the province you are in. South Korea has eight provinces and one special autonomous province. The ending “si” describes a city in this province. For example, the capital of the island Jeju has the same name as its island. In this case, Jeju-do describes the whole island as one province, Jeju-si is only the capital of the island.

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Jeju-do

Bigger cities have different boroughs with the ending “gu” (towns and the countryside have the endings “eup” and “myeon”) or rural districts “gun”. One level below is the district marked with “dong”. Villages are labeled with “ri”. Last but not least, is “gil” which tagged streets.

 

Special holidays

Koreans love to celebrate and give each other gifts. The biggest holiday is Chuseok (추석) which is equivalent to Thanksgiving and is a celebration with the whole family. The holiday is about three days and around autumn. Furthermore, Koreans celebrate a special New Year called Seollal (설날) after the Chinese calendar. This holiday is in the beginning of the year. Valentine’s Day is always on the 14th of February and a famous day in the whole world. In Korea, it is the day where women have to bring presents for their lovers. But Korea also has the “White Day” which is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It’s exactly one month later and at these days women get the presents from their partners. But Korea also has a special day for singles.

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Jajangmyeon

On the 14th of April, it is “Black Day”. All single persons wear black clothes and meet each other in restaurants to eat Jajangmyeon, Black bean noodles. Another commercial and unofficial holiday is “Pepero Day”. Pepero (빼빼로) are little sticks with different flavours as chocolate, berries or green tea. It is supported by the big company Lotte and celebrated on the 11th of November since 11/11 reminds to the pepero sticks.

 

Overnight in libraries

Since I studied in Seoul I already know Koreans are really diligent and have to learn a lot. Especially before midterm and final exams, the libraries are full of students. Some of them are so into their learning period they even sleep in the library. My friend accidentally stayed overnight in our library at my university. She didn’t know the doors close at midnight and since a lot of other students also stayed beside here she didn’t think of the closing hours. When she wanted to leave the doors were closed and she was forced to stay until 5 o’clock in the morning to get out of the library. The students told her that they stay by their own choices in the library to concentrate fully on their exams. If necessary, they take some naps or bring blankets to sleep overnight in the library to start learning early in the morning.

 

Free time in Seoul

If Koreans don’t study all night and stay in libraries they of course also enjoy some free time in Seoul. One of my favourite stories is my day in a water park in Seoul because I felt like I learned a lot about small differences that day. I went with three other friends to a water park in Seoul. We are all from Western countries, so for us, it was pretty in common to wear a bikini. The thing is wearing a bikini seems not so famous in Asia. In general, I also felt Koreans don’t wear low-cut tops (miniskirts are no problem). This is the reason why I felt a bit uncomfortable in my bikini. Most Koreans wore swimsuits made out of neoprene or long shirts. In general, I was really surprised how many people wore just normal clothes as jeans, shoes, sunglasses or shirts for riding a slide. I am pretty sure in Germany they wouldn’t be allowed to wear street clothes in a water park.
Another fact is that many Koreans (but also in other countries) can’t swim or aren’t the best swimmers. That is why many people also were lifejackets. Actually, that was another fact, why we attract attention. I wondered about the girls in the water park who wore nice makeup and lipstick. Because for me a water park wouldn’t be the spot where I would wear any makeup. But my Korean friend told me the water park is also a possible flirting spot so it is important to look beautiful even there. Furthermore, people had little transparent and waterproof pockets where they carried really expensive cell phones, makeup or credit cards. More stuff I wouldn’t bring in a water park so I really had to think about the difference. Another interesting fact is that in Korea it is totally fine to be naked in front of the same gender. In Germany, we have single changing rooms and most people would not show themselves naked not even under the public showers. On the other side, German television is more open showing naked people in movies or series. Whereas in Korea naked parts in movies and series are rare.

 

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A game place in Seoul

One other thing I really loved for our free time are the game places. There you find a lot of nice games you can play by yourself or with friends. Really famous is the Baseball game where the player plays the role of the Batter and hopefully hits a home run. Also famous are the machines with soft toys you have to grab in one shot with a crane to get the toy.

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Noraebang (노래방)

The most important free time activity is: Noraebang (노래방) – Korean Karaoke. It is a good opportunity to meet with friends and sing favourite Kpop music, but als hits from Japan and China and of course world hits in English. Every group gets its own room with big screen, microphones and party lights. Noraebangs are sometimes also a good opportunity to bypass the time until the first metro is running again.

 

 

Click here to read part II:
Daily life in South Korea Pt.II

 

 

 

222 days of Asia

Snorkeling with fishes, kayaking, Street Art, a lot of Buddhist temples, eating insects, public bath, vulcanos, motor rides, meditation with a monk, Full Moon Party, dolphins … 

 

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First of all, don’t get killed

“Oh, you really want to go to South Korea? That’s brave since North Korea has atom bombs and will for sure use them soon.”, “My uncle went to Cambodia but he died six months after this trip since he got cancer from there and the doctors couldn’t help him anymore.”, “I heard a lot of women get kidnapped in Vietnam.”, “Oh, you have really to pay attention. I heard a lot of stories where people got rob out in Indonesia.” Well, I heard a lot of stories like this when I told people from my plans to travel through Asia. I really don’t get why people can not just wish you a good time instead of trying to freak you out with the worst travel stories. Whatever, it couldn’t stop me and I’m glad I ignored most of the warnings and just enjoyed Asia.

Furthermore, a lot of – especially Asians – told me I am very brave because I travel on my own. But actually, I didn’t feel I’m brave at all at least not because of my travels. Nonetheless, there is a point where you need to overcome yourself and make the first step for your travel plans all by yourself. But fortunately, the curiosity was always bigger than any fear.  And in the end, most people were really friendly and helpful. I found people who hosted me, invited me for food or gave me a ride. It’s incredible and most places were not scary at all.

 

 

 

In 222 days I saw thirteen different countries. All started with my exchange semester in Seoul, South Korea in End of August. During my semester I traveled for four days to Tokyo, Japan and also visited different places in South Korea as the borderline to North Korea, the island Jeju, the second biggest city Busan and an island in a river – Nami Island. One day before new years eve I took a flight to Beijing and from there I started my travels through South East Asia – to Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapur, Indonesia and on my way back from Korea to the United Arab Emirates.           

But I will tell you more about all places piece by piece. So hang on and read about all my crazy, funny and adventures stories.

 

 

 

Jeju – The vacation paradise of South Korea Pt. II

After waterfalls, new fruits and a visit of the famous Seongsan Ilchulbong, I travelled to the Western side of the island. At the third day, I visited the Hallim Park and the Hyeopjae Beach.

 

 

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Day 3: Sea, K-Dramas and museums
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The Oedolgae Rock

At the third and last day of my trip on Jeju, I wanted to use my time to visit the Western side of the island. I met a Korean a day before and we decided to travel together. On our way, our first stop brought us to the Oedolgae Rock. From there one has a nice sea view. Different loop roads guide along the rock cliffs. The setting is really nice which is the reason why it is not surprising that this background was also used for some K-Dramas. In general, Jeju is one of the favourite places for shooting programs. Oedolgae Rock was also the setting for the K-Drama “Daejanggeum”. The TV series were broadcasted in 2003.

 

 

The second, really short stop, brought us to the “Jungmun Tourist Complex”. Here are several museums as Ripley’s “Believe it or not! Museum” which is a chain from the US and shows different curiosities, wonder of nature and records. Furthermore, there is a Chocolate Museum and a Teddy Bear museum. Visitors of the “Alive Museum” can make funny pictures and play with optical arts and  “Play Kpop” is a museum about K-Pop music with hologram- as well as 3D-concerts. But I don’t want to make too much advertise here. If you like museums, have a bit time and/or rainy days, this place is perfect for you.

 

At the Oedolgae Rock
 
 
 
 
 
Ripley's "Believe it or not - Museum" at the "Jungmun Tourist Colplex" - already the building looks a bit crazy.
 
The K-Pop museum at the "Jungmun Tourist Colplex"
 
At the  Hyeopjae Beach
 
 
 
 
 
Hallim Park – palms, caves, and tropical birds

Hallim Park is named after its location near to the Hallim-eup. The park was founded in 1971 and is a famous tourist spot next to the popular Hyeopjae Beach. Hallim Park reaches almost 100,000 square meters and has many different gardens with plants, animals, and caves.

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Feeding the small parrots

After the “Palm Tree Avenue”, visitors can see the “Wild grass & Flower Garden”, the “Jeju Stone & Bonsai Garden”, the “Stone Exhibit Hall” and the “Water Garden”. The “Hyeopjae & Ssangyong Caves” are known as the only two-dimensional caves in the world. The “Jae-Am Folk Village” dscn9745includes several traditional houses. Visitors get the chance to feed small parrots, see beautiful peacocks and ostriches in the “Bird Garden”. Here some birds are also allowed to walk freely through the park. In the “Subtropical Garden” live different types of animals as turtles, snakes, and lizards. I liked that the birds had the chance to walk freely. But – and I don’t want to start a long and tiring discussion now- but I had the feeling that the terrariums in the “Subtropical Garden” were a bit too small for the animals. And I think that’s a pity because the gardens are really beautiful but, in my opinion, visitors can enjoy their visit so much more when they have the feeling that the animals feel well in the park (whereupon I also do not want to impute something).

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Besides the listed gardens, there are also smaller ones which are open in different months as the “Cherry Blossom Garden” in April. We dscn9618were almost three hours in the park, I really underestimated the size of it. The entry fees were 10,000 Won ( ~9$). I would recommend the park, it was really beautiful and fun to see all the plants and animals. My highlights were feeding the small parrots, the avenue with the little Grandfathers at the beginning of the “Wild grass & Flower garden”, but also the “Bonsai Garden” with little trees which were several hundred years old, the “Palm Tree Avenue” and the little houses of the “Jae-Am Folk Village”.

 

White sand beaches and clear blue water

Our last stop for the day brought us to the Hyeopjae Beach (협재해수욕장). I already wrote in my last article about beautiful beaches with crystal clear blue water which look like they were stolen from a high glossy magazine. Yes, with this sentence I meant the Hyeopjae Beach on the Western part of Jeju. I don’t know how full the beach is in high season since we were there in mid of October. There were still several people relaxing at the beach. The coast is around nine kilometres long, has beautiful white sand and lava rocks. The water is for a long time very shallow when you walk in. I think swimming is only allowed with a life guard in high season.

 

Click here to read part I:
Jeju – The vacation paradise of South Korea Pt. I

 

 

 

Jeju – The vacation paradise of South Korea Pt. I

Three days in the vacation paradise of South Korea, the island of the little grandfathers, the hallabong fruit and beaches which look like they were stolen from a high glossy magazine.

 

 

Facts about Jeju

Jeju (제주, or actually Jeju-do, because the abbreviation “do” stands for province) is an island and the southernmost place of South Korea. Furthermore, it is one of the nine provinces of the country. The capital of the island has actually the same name, it is Jeju-si (“si” stands for city) or simple Jeju City. The island is built up of volcano rocks from the mountain Hallasan, which is with 1,950 m also the highest mountain in South Korea. The mountain is a dead volcano with a crater lake and located in the centre of the island. Nowadays the mountain and its environment are a national park. The island has subtropical climate and is a really famous vacation destination for Koreans. A few years ago, it was also the most popular place for honeymoon travels. Nowadays Europe is also a favoured aim for newly-married couples.

 

 

 

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From little grandfathers and new fruits

dscn9270Dol hareubang  (돌 하르방) is the Korean name of the stone figures which are everywhere in Jeju. Rather the word “dol” (돌) stands for stone and “hareubang” (하르방) for grandfather, so they are the (little) grandfather stones. And of course, they sell this little dscn9106sculptures also in any variations of souvenirs. Those versions remember me actually a little bit to the little trolls from the Disney movie Frozen. However, originally the figures are considered to be gods and should bring protection and fertility.

I think hallabongs and tangerines are the most sold fruits in Jeju. dscn9510Hallabong is a variety of mandarin and orange. The more widespread name of the fruit is “dekopon” and it is a hybrid fruit. But in South Korea, the fruit is named after the mountain Hallansan in the centre of the island, where it is primarily grown. Besides the fruits, the markets also offer freshly squeezed juice, chocolate and pastries made out of hallabongs and tangerines. Also, popular fillings for chocolate are blueberries, green tea and cactus fruit.

 

 

Day1 : Seongsan Ilchulbong and U-do

Seongsan Ilchulbong (성산 일출봉) is one of the must-see sightseeing points. dscn9033It is a volcanic tuff cone formed by an eruption. Seongsan Ilchulbong is also called “Sunrise Peak” because it is located on the eastern side of Jeju, so the view of the sunrise is perfect. The ticket office opens one hour before sunrise. However, the public transport doesn’t run before 6 am. That was also my problem why I couldn’t see the sunrise at the peak. Seongsan Ilchulbong is part of the UNESCO World Heritage, beside the mountain Hallasan and the lava caves Geomunoreum.

dscn9184Close to Seongsan Ilchulbong is another small island, U-do (우도). The island was also created by a volcanic activity more than 2.1 million years ago. U-do is named after its shape which remembers reputed to a cow, that’s why it is also called “Cow island”. The island is easy to reach by ferry. Many Koreans feed the seagulls with shrimp crisps. Some of the birds ate them out of their hands, others caught the crisps the Koreans throw to them out of the air. The seagulls seem to like the crisps a lot. So if you want to see them from near you should buy one package in the convenience store and give it a try. Actually, it gave me the chance to make some good photos of the birds.   dscn9160
Many people also bring their (rented) car to the island. Though the island is much smaller than Jeju it is still too big to walk everything by foot (unfortunately, I speak from my own experience). If you want to visit the island and don’t have a car or don’t want to bring it, you should at least rent a bike or better a quad. Otherwise, you won’t have the chance to visit the real beautiful places of the island. If you don’t want to rent a vehicle I wouldn’t recommend a visit.

 

Seaside in East-Jeju
 
 
On the way to the Seongsan Ilchulbong
 
View from the peak of the Seongsan Ilchulbong.
 
The stairs to come to the Seongsan Ilchulbong.
 
The try to make a nice picture - but it was a little bit windy...
Seongsan Ilchulbong
 
Korean women sell fresh sea food.
 
 
From the ferry to U-do.
The famous cow of the island U-do.
Beach on U-do
 
 
 
U-do is famous for its horses.
 
Day 2: Many waterfalls around Segowipo
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Jeongbang Fall

Segowipo is the second largest city of Jeju and takes the whole southern part of the island. Near the centre of the city is also the Cheonjiyeon (천지연폭포) and Jeonbang Falls (정방폭포). I visited both falls at the same time. Unfortunately, it rained the whole day, as you will see in the photos. Most Koreans wore rain capes which are, in my opinion, really useful, but still you feel like seeing the Teletubbies everywhere ;). To visit the two waterfalls, you have to pay 2,000₩ (~ 1.82$) for each.

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Cheonjiyeon Fall

The Jeonbang Fall is the only waterfall in whole Asia, which falls directly in the sea. Furthermore, some ajummas (older Korean women) sell fresh sea food at the waterfall.  The other waterfall, Cheonjiyeon, is near by the Saeyeongyo Bridge (새연교). A loop road guides the visitors to the waterfall. You also see other smaller falls and can cross the river by using flagstones. The translation of Cheonjiyeon is “sky connected with land”, so the waterfall falls from heaven to earth. In warmer seasons there is also the possibility to go to the Donnaeko Valley (돈내코유원지) and swim in the clear water under the Wonang Pokpo Waterfall. The water is ice cold because it comes from the Hallasan Mountain.

 

The Soeyeongyo Bridge at the harbour of Seogwipo.
 
The Jeongbang Waterfalls
Korean sell fresh sea food directly at the waterfall.
 
On the way to the Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls.
A little Grandfather
 
The Cheonjiyeon Waterfalls
A Mandarin duck
 
 
 
 
 
At the harbour of Seogwipo.
 
 
The loop way around the birds island.
Big spiders in the coppices.
 
 
 
At the Donnoeko Valley with the Wonang Pokpo Waterfalls.
 
The harbour of Seogwipo
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Saeyongyo Bridge is at the harbour of Seogwipo and lead to the Saeseom Island (새섬). The translation is simple, dscn9236“Saeseom” means “bird island”. Saeseom has a warm temperate forest consercatiom zone. A loop way guides around the island and offers beautiful spots. But be warned, if you have a spider phobia this way might not be the best for you because a lot of big spiders (the body has the size of your thumb) live in the coppice around. But of course the spiders are not poisonous and actually also stay in their cobwebs, so don’t worry. The bridge is illuminated by night and the major tower, which is designed after a sail from a ship, changes its colours.

 

Click here to read part II:
Jeju – The vacation paradise of South Korea Pt. II

 

 

 

Traditional Korea

South Korea is still full of traditions and folkways. Seoul by oneself has five old King Palaces and different Hanok Villages, where the old Korean traditions are still alive.

 

 

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Hanok Village

The different Hanok Villages offer the opportunity to visit old traditional Korean houses, to take  a look at the architecture and also a look inside of the rooms. The houses are preserved from the past and more than 100 years old. dscn7868We were in the Namsangol Hanok Village. The entry is free. This village shows again the combination out of traditional and modern life in Korea, around the beautiful houses are skyscraper. I was really surprised, how small the rooms and houses were. At the entrance gates are everywhere warnings that you should pay attention because the gates are so low. Even for me, it was a problem (and I really don’t know many people who are smaller than me). The architecture is totally incredible and beautiful. You will feel like you travelled back in time. The location is so nice that also many fresh married couples come to the Villages to take their wedding pictures.

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Samul nori

In the village, they also had little straw huts which remembered to tipis. In the past the function of the straw huts were to keep the Kimchi (traditional Korean food made out of Chinese cabbage), I was told, it worked similar to a fridge. In the center of the village, they have small games. At one game you have to throw arrows in a vase. – Really not so easy. But if you succeed the reputation from all bystanders is safe. We were also lucky and watched an old traditional dance, Samul nori. I already wrote a lot about this traditional music and dance in my last post (click here to read the article My first week in Seoul). But this time they also had headgears with long white ribbons and when they moved their heads the ribbons danced around their heads. That was really pretty.

 

In the Namsangol Hanok Village
Girls wearing Hanbok
 
 
 
 
 
Dancers of Samul nori
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The straw hut for Kimchi
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In the village of Bukchon
 
 
 
 
Feel like a Korean princess

Hanboks are the traditional Korean clothes. In Korea, you can borrow these clothes and wear them. To borrow the clothes you have to pay between 10,000-20,000₩ (circa 9-18.20$). Depends on which dresses you want to wear and how long you want to borrow them. dscn8051One of the most important holidays in South Korea is Chuseok (추석), it is a family celebration. And at these days the whole city was full of Koreans wearing beautiful Hanboks. Chuseok means loosely translated autumn evening. It is equivalent to Thanksgiving and takes about three days.

 

 

 

King Palaces
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Deoksugung Palace

In the Joseon Dynasty Seoul had six palaces. Today five of them are still preserved: The Gyeongbokgung (the biggest), the Changdeokgung, the Deoksugung, the Changgyeonggung and the small Unhyeongung Palace.  In my opinion, visiting a Kings Palace is a must-see in South Korea. The entries are really low (between 1,000-3,000₩, ~0.90-2.70$), Unhyeongung Palace is for free. Also, the architecture here is really beautiful.

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Me with the Aekjeongseo Sayak (key master) and the Seungjeongwon Juseo (delivers the King’s orders)

The roofs are painted in vivid colours. Furthermore, the Gyeongbokgung and the Deoksugung Palace offer free little shows for tourists. There they show the changing ceremony of the royal guards. There you can see the different persons of the king guard and get a feeling for Korean history. If you are a big fan of the Korean architecture and palaces you should think of buying the “Integrated Palace Ticket” it offers the entry to four Kings palaces including the secret garden and the Jongmyo Shrine. The ticket costs 10,000 Won (~9$) and is valid thee months after purchase (you save around 4,000 Won when you use all tickets). Furthermore, people who were a Hanbok get always free entry.

 

 

The king guard infront of the Deoksugung Palace.
The main entrance of the Deoksugung Palace.
 
 
 
 
 
The colourful roof of the palace.
 
Western architecture in the midst of the traditional Korean houses. The Seokjojeon Hall, you need to register before if you want to visit the rooms.
 
 
The Deoksugung Art Museum
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The king guard march to the main Gate.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

My first week in Seoul

South Korea and Seoul itself are full of new experiences, differences in culture, language script, food and even the everyday life. It’s a country full of opposites. The new-age Korea with all of its high modern technic versus the old traditional Korea with all of its Palaces and Hanbok .. This post is about my first week as an exchange student in Seoul.

 

 

Facts about South Korea and Seoul

The official name of South Korea is Republic of Korea. The official language is Korean and the official script is Hangul. In 1910 Korea was ruled by the Imperial Japan and after World War II it was divided into North and South Korea. Since then, North Korea is the only borderline to South Korea. The capital of the Republic of Korea is Seoul. It is also the largest city of the country and the 16th largest city in the world. Circa 50% of the population from South Korea live in the metropolitan area of Seoul.

 

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My first week in Seoul

Finally, my semester in Seoul started. I arrived after 18 hours with a little stop in Abu Dhabi in Seoul with seven hours time difference to my home country. Lucky me, I hadn’t to fight with a jet lag since I am in Seoul and the weather is also very nice. Something between late summer and early autumn.

 

 

I am studying at the EWHA Womans university which is really beautiful and even a little tourist attraction in Seoul.  dscn7825Rents and especially deposits are really high in South Korea, which is why I am happy to stay in a dormitory (if you want to read more .. click here to read my post Curfew. Woman’s University. Visa. And lots of preparation.) The running costs for a living are really high in Korea what makes the country so expensive in the relation to Germany (and many other countries in the world). Also, the food prices in supermarkets and Convenience Stores are high, especially, fruits and vegetables (for example, 5 apples cost approximately 6,000 ₩, these would be 5.45$). In my opinion, some restaurants are not so expensive in Korea and I love that you always get free water and can refill it as often you like. The cheapest way to eat is properly the street food (you pay something between 1.80-4.54$). Also really in common is to order food. Even McDonalds has his own delivery service. At public places as Han River it is easily possible to get 40 flyers for different delivery services. But I will write an own post about food in Korea.

 

 

Learning a new language script

Hangul (한글) is the official script in Korea. Although it looks really complicated, it’s not so difficult to learn. My university book for Korean classes said it’s the 12th widely used language in the world and ahead of Italian and French (sounds unbelievable, I know).

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King Sejong who invented Hangul

Hangul was invented in 1443 by King Sejong, the fourth monarch during the Joseon Dynasty. The new language script should help ordinary people easier to write and read. Because before Hangul, Korean was written in Chinese characters. One says a wise man could learn Hangul in one day, a stupid man could learn it in ten days. I have Korean classes twice a week, so I learned Hangul in seven days ;). The modern Hangul has 24 letters and 27 digraphs. But also if you don’t speak the Korean language, especially Seoul has many English speaking people who will try to help you and the metro signs and the station announcements are also in English.

 

 

The view from my university to the city
On EWHA Campus
 
 
 
 
 
At the Han River (Hangang)
We got 41 flyers for ordering food at the Han River.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The City Tour Bus of Seoul
 
Soju is the most popular alcohol in Korea, one bottle of it is even cheaper than a can of beer.
 
 
The pavilion at the Namsan Tower
 
 
An underground museum explains the story of King Sejong and Admiral Yi Sunshin. This statue shows the Admiral.
In the underground museum
 
Cultural Day in Korea

Since 2014 Korea has the cultural day every last Wednesday in the month.dscn7426 Then is the best time to visit museums and cinemas, because the cultural day offers discounts, sometimes even free entries and extended opening hours. Since I arrived in End of August, we have been using this day already to visit the Seoul Museum of History. The museum shows the history and culture of Seoul from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to the present day. It represents the living of the people in Korea, also during Korea under Japanese Control until the late 90s.

 

Seoul Museum of Histroy
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Samul nori – Traditional Korean Dance and Music

Samul nori is a genre of traditional Korean music and dances. Me and my roommate were lucky to see such a dance performed by Korean students at our university. Samul nori uses four different percussion instruments. They have a small gong (Kkwaenggwari), a larger gong (Jing), an hourglass-shaped drum (Janggu) and a barrel drum (Buk drum). The students were dressed in beautiful Korean dresses, called Hanbok. They had two students, which were dressed differently from the others. They had the small gongs and provided the rhythm.dscn7540 Some students from the audience ran to the dancers and clipped some banknotes under their hats. There was also a little ceremony in the beginning. We didn’t understand what they were saying (because it was in Korean), but one girl had a mask of a pig. Pigs count here as lucky charms. Some girls stand in a row, got something to drink, then they kneeled down and after standing up they gave some little papers to the pig mask. Perhaps they wrote down their wishes or something similar.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Namsan Tower
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Namsan Tower

The official name of the Namsan Tower is N Seoul Tower and it is one of the most famous attractions in Seoul. It’s a TV tower and has its name from the hill Namsan. When you go to Namsan Tower you can choose between using a cable car or many, many stairs. I would recommend the stairs because of the view. The tower is circa 237 meters high and gives a nice few over the city. For people which try to save money, I think it’s not absolutely necessary to get up the tower because the view is already really good from the bottom of the Tower. There is also one viewing platform which is adorned with many love locks.Actually, there is a little shop for love locks in the Tower.

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The view from Namsan Tower.

The entrance for adults is 10,000  (circa 9$), but the viewing platform is just inside and around the windows are many bright shining stalls which make it really complicated to make a good picture. I liked that the windows have flags from different countries which show how far away the capital of the particular country is. Nonetheless, it was a really nice view from the Namsan Tower and I didn’t repent to spend the money.

 

Deposit and free trips for foreigners

Why is it good to be a foreigner? South Korea is really interested in introducing their country to foreigners. They want to make K-Pop more famous in the world. So as a foreigner, you can visit some concerts which are especially (and actually only) for foreigners and (that is the best) for free.dscn7810
I was lucky to join a free trip to Jeollanam-do Provine deep in the South sponsored by the Korean government. It was a free trip also just for foreigners, two busses full of exchange students. We went to the Great Battle of Myeongnyang Festival and the Korean Minhwa Museum with traditional Korean paintings (also a section with erotic paintings). But the best was the trip to the little island 가우도 (Ga-u-do). It is really near to the mainland and connected by a bridge. We saw fisher boats and at the beach were beautiful shells and tiny crabs.
Sometimes foreigners also get deposit for free time activities. So that is the reason why it is good to be a foreigner in South Korea.

 

Free trip for foreigners to Jeollanam-do Province in the South.
At the Great Battle of Myeongnyang Festival
Many stalls with food and spices.
Beondegi (번데기) is a typical dish for Korean cuisine. Beondegi are steamed and  boiled silkworm pupae.
The bridge with thousands of flags of the Battleship Festival.
 
 
 
 
Traditional Korean music
 
In the Korean Minhwa Museum with traditional Korean paintings.
The tiger is one of the favourite motives of the Minhwa paintings.
A modern Minhwa painting.
 
 
At the islands of 가우도 (Ga-u-do). One bridge link the island with the mainland.
 
 
Fishing in the East Sea (Sea of Japan).
 
Tiny crabs between the stones at the beach.
 
And an important message in the end.

 

 

Curfew. Woman’s University. Visa. And lots of preparation.

In preparation for my exchange semester in Seoul …

 

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Why South Korea?

“Of all things, why South Korea?” This was a question I had to answer really often when I told someone I will make an exchange semester in Seoul. I never was in Asia before (once I crossed the Asian border of Istanbul – however, I’m not sure if this will count). But I was always really interested in the culture and people of Asia. I believe one of the main reasons are the cultural differences in the opposite of Western Europe. My first contact with Korea was through a friend a few years ago. She is a big fan of Japan and once she told me she had watched a really great TV series from South Korea and – for sure – I would love it. So I followed her advice and watched my first K-Drama (this is the abbreviation for series in the Korean language). The title of the series was “Playful Kiss” (or also “Mischievous Kiss”/ “Naughty Kiss”/ “장난스런 키스“) – a clumsy girl falls in love with a handsome and clever but also sometimes really rude boy. K-Dramas are really different from American, British or German series – I normally watch productions of these three countries.

The Korean culture is different, they have a variety of Dos and Dont’s which were really strange for me (… and they censor cigarettes on TV – because nobody will understand what a person holds in their hand when smoke is coming out of their mouth). Honor is an important value of the Korean culture and of course, the tribute and respect for older people and traditions. Korea has a high hierarchically system, which is especially striking in their language – Korean has five different polite forms. I also was really surprised that living together seems a really big no go for lovers in South Korea. However, I was really fascinated by all that – for me – crazy (but in a good way) new world in Asia. Later, I watched three, four other K-Dramas and heard some Korean Songs (it is called K-Pop).

The official YouTube channel of the TV series “Playful Kiss” – The producers created seven mini episodes for YouTube after the large success of the series.

 

Hangul and Coffee shops which sound as copy shops

However, when I decided to make my Master Studies in Berlin another aim was to make an exchange semester abroad because this was something I missed during my Bachelor Studies. You have three choices for the stay of an exchange, I thought I had to pick three countries (for real you have to choose three universities) – so I prepared myself for a counselling interview. I chose Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea. The consultant was happy I named Korea and totally ignored the other two countries. She encouraged me to go to South Korea and told me that every student, who was in Korea, was highly satisfied with their choice. That was the decisive reason why I picked South Korea and applied for three universities in Seoul. In 2010 – when I was highly addicted to Korea and watched the K-Dramas for the first time  – I would have given everything to get the opportunity to go to Seoul. So six years later I wanted to take this chance. Actually, the only reason I didn’t choose South Korea at the first side was because of Hangul (this is the Korean alphabet). I was afraid I wouldn’t understand a word and couldn’t even buy Ramen (Ramen is a noodle soup and a famous Asian dish) in a supermarket because of the missing vocabularies. To be honest, I still don’t speak Korean. I can only say some useful words as “saranghae” (I love you) or “keopi syob” (coffee shop but sounds as copy shop).

 

Much preparation stuff

After I wrote motivation letters, collected thousands of important papers and provided all kinds of evidence, I finally got my accommodation letter. I decided to go to the EWHA Womans University in Seoul because it has the largest and the best offering for my field of study – Media Studies. At this point started my preparation time: I needed a visa, a place to stay, a flight, inoculations, health insurance, apply for a scholarship and other financial facilitation, I had to freeze my contract of my cell phone, needed a backpack… thousands of stuff.

The visa is relatively easy to get for Germans because the countries have a good relationship to each other (and it’s free). The inoculations are really expensive and there are a lot of recommendations about immunisation protection. If you don’t want to pay more money for inoculations than for the flight, it is impossible to get inject against everything. The flight is one other problem. My plans are to travel a few months after my exchange semester that’s why I don’t know yet when I will come back to Germany. However, it is cheaper booking of a return flight. That’s why I would recommend to search for a flight with nice rebooking options. One other problem will be the luggage. I have to left some stuff in Korea while I’m travelling around. I also have just 23 kilogrammes of free luggage from Germany to South Korea. A friend gave me a really nice advice. She loves backpacking journeys so she is kind of an expert. She always takes some old or washed out clothes to her travels or just outfits she doesn’t like anymore, so she can throw them away and has more space for clothes, souvenirs or just food. I believe it is a really useful advice.

 

Immaturity in Seoul

Flats and rooms have – at least compared to Germany – really high rents. Some cheaper flats have a higher deposit up to 5000 Euros respectively Dollars. This is one reason I really wanted to rent a room in a dormitory (and there you still can pay over 500 Euros/ Dollars). Unfortunately, curfews are a common thing in the dormitories of Seoul. I knew that South Korea is more strict with the separation of sexes. However, the curfew shocked me a little bit. I read that not all universities have stringent conditions. However, one article (here) from October 2003 from the English newspaper of the EWHA Womans university – the university where I will study – discourage me a little. But perhaps something changed meanwhile because the article is 13 years old by now. The curfew is just in some of the dormitories in the EHWA, however, in my opinion, the rules are very strict. The curfew is from midnight until five o’clock  in the morning (12pm-5am). The article talks about black marks: Three for being tardy, five for staying out without permission – the students who collect ten marks have to leave the dormitory. If ones want to stay out, they need to sign up hours earlier. The process is even more complicated at the weekend. Then students need the permission of their parents.

I read that some reasons for the curfew are the responsibility to take care of the students. The curfew would help the students to go to bed early and stay healthy. And also to maintain their regular daily life.  Actually, to me, this sounds really unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, however, in my opinion, of an age of 20 or older you should be able to organise your daily routine by your own. But perhaps some don’t want this and it is one of the differences between the cultures. I also read that some people like the rules and feel more organised and save with them. So it perhaps depends on the person which dormitory is the best for themselves.

By the way, the International House of EWHA hasn’t a curfew and I’m so glad I got a place there. Because in my opinion, dormitories are in general a perfect decision to live for an exchange semester. The dormitories are near the university on the campus, you meet really fast other students, you already got the most important furniture, the period and costs are complementary. Therefore, we will see how it will work for me. I am very pleased to get the chance to study in Seoul. For sure I will tell more about South Korea from time to time because the adventure has just begun.