Jeju – Life-threatening jobs on the vacation paradise

Seogwipo in dawn

Three days in the vacation paradise of South Korea, the island of the little grandfathers, the hallabong fruit and Haenyo – the free diving women of Jeju-do.

cliff and sea on Jeju-do
cliff and sea on Jeju-do

💡 Facts about Jeju
Jeju (제주, or actually Jeju-do, because the abbreviation “do” stands for the 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 the city) or simple Jeju City. The island is built up of volcano rocks from the mountain Hallasan, which is 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 is a national park. The island has a 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.
From little grandfathers and new fruits
Grandfather souvenirs
Granfather souvenirs

Dol 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 these little sculptures also in any variations of souvenirs. Those versions remember me actually a 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.

Hallabong fruit

I think hallabongs and tangerines are the most sold fruits on Jeju. Hallabong 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.

Dol hareubang

Haenyeo – a dangerous occupation in the seas of Korea
Haenyeo statue

Haenyeo (해녀) means literally translated “sea women”. This old traditional occupation is just running by women who are free divers to reap seafood from the ground of the sea. They dive just with a wetsuit and flippers – up to 20 metres deep. Since they do not use compressed air cylinders they have special trainings to retrain their breath. Researchers found out that they actually expanded the capacity of their breath by using their spleen as a store for oxygen. The profession of the Haenyeos is not only physically demanding but also life-threatening in terms of the deep dives. Since the women run the risk of getting unconscious while emerging from the water they usually dive in pairs. That way they are able to render first aid.

New prestige and climate change

In the 18th century, women and men were both diving in the seas around Korea to earn their subsistence. Later it became purely an occupation for women. Reasons were probably that many men died at sea due to war but also that the state upraised the taxes, especially for men. However, the occupation as a free diver got very popular with its time and also received prestige. Haenyeos got more rights and freedom in difference to the women who lived on the mainland. Haenyeos were able to get divorced and remarried. Often it was common that men had to watch out for the children and the woman became the head of the family.

Woman sells seafood

Nowadays, the occupation is in danger of extinction. Rarely young women start the hard training to become free divers. Most Haenyeos are older than 60 years. The profession is not only a very arduous one but also the climate change plays an important role. The seas around Korea are getting warmer which destroys the natural habitat of the sea animals. The women have to dive every year a bit deeper to find enough seafood to meet their demands. In December 2016, UNESCO inscribed the occupation of the Haenyeo on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

🚌 How to reach Jeju
Most people take a flight to reach Jeju. The distance from Jeju to Seoul is the busiest air route in the world.
But of course, there are also ferries from Busan, Mokpo, Haenam, Wando, Goheung, and Yeosu. The benefit is that you can bring your car and enjoy the ride over the sea.
In every case, you will arrive on the Northside of the island in the same-named capital Jeju-si. The different places and sightseeing spots are reachable by bus. There are eight express bus routes which bring you from the airport in under one hour over the island. The Airport Limousine Bus stops at the more expensive and frequently booked hotels.
For more information about the bus system click here.

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

First written on Sunday, October 30th, 2016, you have read the blog post Life-threatening jobs in the vacation paradise on My Travel Journal-Blog.

Jjimjilbang – One night in a Korean sauna

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What is it like to spend a night in a Jjimjilbang? I have given it a try, together with Lea from France and Xiao Ying from China – two of my fellow students from Seoul. We got to know the differences to conventional saunas, slapped eggs on our heads and made a “sheep head”.

Street of Seoul at night
💡 What is a Jjimjilbang?
A Jjimjilbang (찜질방) is a Korean public bathhouse with various saunas, pools, showers, and a relaxation area that is typically open 24 hours. Usually, the place has a larger common area with lounges and TVs, exercise rooms, restaurants, sleeping quarters, and of course different temperature saunas. In these areas, it is mandatory to wear clothing that is handed out at the entrance. There are also areas divided into men and women with hot tubs, steam baths, showers, and sometimes massage tables. Here it is intended to be naked.

As soon as our semester abroad ended, our university was kind of in a hurry to get rid of us. We already have had our graduation ceremony ten days earlier – with a little celebration and handing over of the certificates, although we had not even written our final exams at this point. The last day of the university also meant that we had to move out of our dormitory rooms – meanwhile, some of us still had to take their final exams, as my roommate Jazz. The university’s hurry was also due to the fact that the new students who had rented the dormitories during the semester break should have the chance to move in immediately.

The next day, I was planning on taking a bus to Busan, the second biggest city of South Korea with around 3.4 million inhabitants. But there was (so far) one more night left in Seoul. – And where could we have spent it any better than in a Jjimjilbang.

Lea, Xiao Ying and I met in the early evening in Sinchon – a district for students in Seoul – for having dinner and to spend the end of the day in a Korean bathhouse in the neighbourhood. The Jjimjilbang was comparatively small. At the entrance, we were given clothing – a t-shirt and short sweatpants as well as two small towels. Mine was in light pink. After we left our bags in a locker at the entrance we were ready to explore the Jjimjilbang.

Jjimjilbang as a replacement for taxis
Inside one of the saunas

Jjimjilbangs are one of the cheapest possibilities to stay overnight in South Korea. Depending on the size it usually costs between 10,000 and 12,000 Won (8.50-10.50 USD) per visit. It gets even a little cheaper if you do not stay overnight. During the day, Jjimjilbangs are a popular destination for families. At night time they serve as cheap accommodations after work or in favour of party people (either way because they are too drunk to find their keys or the taxi for going home is just too expensive – because Korea has no public transport at night).

A sauna for chatting, reading, and relaxing

The saunas of our Jjimjilbang were housed in bright coloured igloos made of stone with small windows facing the common area. On the ground of the saunas were pebbles covered with thin mats to prevent burning the soles of one’s feet. The igloos have dim lighting. The atmosphere is calm and relaxing. At least the main sauna where we were sitting was not too hot in order to comfortably last for some time. Actually, Jjimjilbangs are designed for longer stays and differ from a conventional sauna in its temperature, which is usually between 40 and 70 degrees Celsius (between 104 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit). The stay reminded me of a very hot summer day. Those days where you already start sweating while sitting around. Someone was even lying next to us and reading comfortably. Jjimjilbangs are often used to chat with friends or just relax a bit. The kind of saunas I know from Europe, dry saunas and steam baths are way hotter. Usually, they have temperatures between 50 to 100 degrees Celsius (between 122 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit).

An oven as a sauna

A few weeks later I visited a way larger Jjimjilbang in Hongdae, another student district in Seoul in the neighbourhood of Sinchon. There they had a much bigger selection of saunas. Including some which work as a sort of oven (한증막). These are significantly hotter with temperatures up to 135 degrees Celsius (up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit). In the Jjimjilbang I had visited, existed a small rounded stone house which was formed like an oven with a narrow passage to keep the heat indoors. Inside it was comparative dark. On the other end was a walled-in fireplace for burning coal. It was absolutely silent. Talking takes too much energy in the heat. Every visitor had to bring an hourglass inside to make sure to not exceed the prescribed maximum time in order to not overload one’s body. I was sitting close to the exit because the heat was increasing towards the back.
Unlike the Finnish saunas which are the most common ones in Europe, the saunas in Korea (normally) do not have benches. Instead, all visitors sit on the floor – the material is mostly stone covered with mats or planks. In Korea, it is common to take a sauna in clothing (except in the gender-segregated areas).    

The sheep head – the fashion trend of the sauna

Lea, Xiao Ying and I got quite fast into a conversation with three Korean women in our age – here in South Korea going to a sauna is definitely also a common evening activity instead of karaoke or watching a movie. We noticed that the three had folded their towels in a special way by rolling the ends up. I have read that this trend gained national attention in 2005 introduced through a K-drama (My Lovely Sam-Soon) and since then it has become a cute fashion trend in saunas. Because of its look, it is called sheep head and even has a practical purpose. The towel around the head is supposed to ensure that you sweat more but also protects the hair from the heat. The three Korean women willingly taught us the correct folding technique.

💡 Dressed vs. naked
As already mentioned, Koreans take their saunas in clothes. The Korean etiquette prescribes to stay dressed in front of the opposite gender. It appears way looser in the gender-segregated areas. There it is common to show yourself naked. This applies to both saunas as well as for example changing rooms of public swimming pools (read more about my visit to a water park in Seoul in my blog post about Daily Life in South Korea Pt. I).     
Why my friend hit soy eggs against her head …

Every Jjimjilbang has at least one kiosk if not even its own restaurant. The most popular snacks are eggs steamed in soy sauce and Sikhye, a Korean rice drink that is served in cups with straws. I have read that some eggs even get cooked by taking them into the oven-like and therefore hottest saunas. My food decision was rather unusual because I bought ice cream and a Korean beer. But my friend ordered the famous eggs. She wanted to try opening the eggs by slapping them against her head (but I am afraid she would not recommend this technique). She got the idea from a K-drama which aired at the time (The Legend of the Blue Sea). In this drama, the main female character Shim Cheong (Jun Ji-hyun) spends a night in a Jjimjilbang and cracks her eggs with the mentioned technique. Anyway, this does not seem like a common way of peeling eggs since in the series the main lead handles a lot of things a bit extraordinary. But in her defence, she is a mermaid.

Steam bath and whirlpool

Little by little, we tried a steam bath as well as a whirlpool in the women’s area. I also let myself kneaded by a massage chair. The latter was actually quite pleasant the only thing was that the chair also massaged my calves and feet which was rather uncomfortable. That is why I cheated a bit and changed my seat to cross-legged to avoid the massage on my legs. After all the sauna visits we were finally tired enough to go to sleep. There was a common igloo for men and women to sleep. Since my fellow student did not want to sleep in the same room as foreign men we decided to sleep in one of the rooms in the separated area for women. The sleeping rooms are equipped with thin mats and hard pillows. The next morning ended with a shower and the checkout.   

You have read the blog post One night in a Korean sauna on My Travel Journal-Blog.

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 of 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”, which 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 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 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” which 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 a soft 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.

apeach
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 like 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-ageing-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 for 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 labelled 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 for three days and around autumn. Furthermore, Koreans celebrate a special New Year called Seollal (설날) after the Chinese calendar. This holiday is at 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 like 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 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 completely 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 is 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 also hits from Japan and China and of course, world hits in English. Every group gets its own room with a 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

Snorkelling 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 about 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 at the end of August. During my semester I travelled 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 the places piece by piece. So hang on and read about all my crazy, funny and adventures stories.

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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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). Honour 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 like “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 to 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 on 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 like “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 the 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 with 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 to book a return flight right away. That’s why I would recommend searching 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 piece of 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 bit of 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 of 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 one wants 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, at an age of 20 or older you should be able to organise your daily routine on 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.