Chuc Mung Nam Moui!

6 03 2010

It was hard to top our first anniversary celebrations, which was in Ireland. But Randy pulled it off. We didn’t get to go to a different country, but we spent the weekend in Seoul. Our anniversary falls on the day before Valentine’s Day and apparently this year, the day before Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year or Tet [in Vietnam] or Seollal [in Korea]). Chinese New Year is on a different day each year. But this year, we were lucky to have three full days to celebrate these holidays and a very special occasion.

During Chinese New Year or Seollal, which is what the Koreans call it, Koreans spend time with their families. The holiday is similar to Chuseok. Families get together, cook traditional foods and pay respects to their ancestors and elders. Chuseok and Seollal are similar to our Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, it’s also similar to one childhood memory, Tet, which is what the Vietnamese call Chinese New Year. We did all of these things, but would also receive “pockets,” or red envelopes with money inside for good luck from our elders. Although I didn’t receive any “pockets” this year, I received a great weekend with my favorite person in the world and good friends.

Because our anniversary was in between two major trips this year (Vietnam and Japan), we needed to save money. It’s somewhat hard to do in Seoul, but I think we accomplished it and also had star treatment. We arrived on a Friday night as usual and stayed in a jjimjilbang or sauna. Although the overnight jjimjilbangs are nothing like Spa Land in Busan where you cannot stay overnight (click here to see the entry about Spa Land). In Seoul, we stayed at the Hamilton Spa, which is located in the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon. It costs about 10,000 won ($8 USD) per person per night, which is a lot cheaper than even the love motels, which costs around 35,000 to 80,000 won ($70 USD) per night. You get a shirt and shorts and a blanket to sleep on the heated floors. It’s definitely an experience to try once. We’ve slept at a jjimjilbang several times though, mostly in Busan at Vesta Spa.

After a refreshing early morning spa and sauna, we checked into the star treatment hotel that Randy picked out. Hotel Elle Inn, although tucked away from the main street and standing out from all of the other buildings, was a little treasure. The room wasn’t massive, but the details and Jacuzzi were amazing. For a really nice hotel, the price tag wasn’t too terrible. It would probably be around $200 in the states, but this hotel was only about $100 USD per night. He also surprised me by picking out a place with a beautiful night view of Seoul. We had dinner in the Jongno Building on the 33rd floor at a restaurant called “Top Cloud.” But the most surprising event was that Randy had his first steak! I was so proud of him. Of course, from working at the American Meat Institute, I know how to enjoy a good steak, and I’m glad that Randy and I could enjoy the same entree that night. It’s really great to get to see each other grow as a person while in a foreign country, whether it’s with trying different types of food, interacting with people or learning both from each other.

As we keep learning from each other and seeing each other grow as a person, we continue to learn about Korea as a country. The War Memorial of Korea is a place we need to revisit. It’s a museum that shows the 5,000-year-old history of how Korea has with stood many foreign invasions. There is also a magnificent display of how the world came together to help South Korea during one of the most tragic wars in history, the Korean War. What’s best about this museum is that it’s free. It’s a five minute walk from Samgakji Subway station, near Itaewon.


Bathing like a King and Queen

11 12 2009

The best thing to do after hiking is to find a jjimjilbong (찜질방). A jjimjilbong is a spa and sauna that is divided into male and female bath houses. They give you shorts, a shirt and a few towels, and then you go into the respective locker rooms and get naked. The first thing you must do before you step into the steaming jet stream bath is take a shower. Although everyone bathes in the same bath, Koreans don’t want you to contaminate the water, so you must wash off before entering any of the baths. Koreans also scrub each other in jjimjilbongs to get all of the dead skin off. After this, you are able to bathe in the hot bath, cold bath or salt bath. But, a jjimjilbong is much more than openly bathing with other people. After you’ve scrubbed your body to full freshness, you relocate to the sauna area in the clothes provided to meet other people, males and females. There are thousands of jjimjilbongs in Korea. But, one of the best jjimjilbongs we have visited is located in Busan.

Anyone who visits Korea and does not visit SpaLand in Shinsegae is doing a great disservice to your Korean experience. This place reminds me of how kings and queens must have lived. What we didn’t expect was for it to be so different from any other jjimjilbong we have visited. It has a variety of different baths and so many different saunas. Within your four hours, you can watch a movie in the DVD room on huge recliners, watch TV in the relaxation room, enjoy the sun from the indoors, go outside in the freezing cold and be warmed by stepping into a bath of hot water and you can experience all types of saunas to relax in or even take a nap. They have snack bars everywhere and you can pay with your key! Your ticket to pure relaxation will cost you 12,000 won for a visit on a weekday, 14,000 won on Saturday or Sunday with a 4-hour limit.

Meeting area for men and women

In the bathing area you’ll start to notice the stark beauty and opulence of the place with many small baths, each of a different temperature. In the center of the room is the naturally-fed hot springs. One is sodium chloride (salt, benefiting the muscles and joints, as well as other body systems), the second is sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, said to “improve beauty of the skin”). There is a massaging tub (38 degrees C), a cool tub (25 degrees C), a cold tub (18 degrees C) and four dry sauna rooms. After you are finished bathing with your respective gender, you can put on the provided clothes and go to the “Meeting Area,” where you can meet the other men or women. Below are the different saunas that you can experience:

Charcoal Room -참숯방

Ice Room – 아이스방 / 어름방

Yellow Ocher Room – Hwang-to / 황토방. Hot, but dry, comfortable.

Hammam Room – 하맘룸, meant to replicate a Turkish-style bath sauna.

Bali Room – 발리룸, an open area with soft reclining floor mattresses where you can congregate with your friends and loved ones and talk freely.

Pyramid room – angled walls for a relaxing mood.

Roman Room – 로만룸, replicates the feeling of a traditional Roman sauna room.

Body Sound Room – fake bamboo along the walls and raised platforms that vibrate with the bass of the calming background music.

Body Sound Room

Wave Dream Room- place to lay along the sides, and from the middle lights are reflected through water waves for a meditative, colorful view on the ceiling.

SEV Room – therapeutic ions emitted into semi-private, wooden 2-seater benches lit by dim colored lights.

Relaxation Room – an amazing 3-tiered arc-shaped space with reclining leather chairs together in pairs, each one equipped with its own mini TV!

Spaland also includes a massage and therapy room, nail salon, cafe and beverages, a restaurant, DVD, PC and business rooms. This is one of our favorite Korean experiences and we highly recommend making the trip to Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, the largest department store in the world.

After a few months of living in Korea, we are beginning to learn about the Korean way of life. Everyday we learn a little bit more on how Koreans enrich their lives by incorporating healthy habits in their lifestyle. When will the rest of the world catch on?

How to get there. Take line 2 on the subway toward Heaundae and stop at Centum City, exit 12. Spaland is on the first floor next to Prada in the Shinsegae Department Store in Busan, South Korea. Click here to see a map.

Hiking as a Pastime

9 12 2009

The food is only one part of the equation on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The geography of Korea is 70 percent mountainous. What do people do when their country is covered with mountains? They go hiking! Because hiking is such a popular sport, Korea has many hiking clubs that offer weekly group outings for its members. Sunday is the biggest day for hiking because most people work Monday through Saturday. Unless you like crowds, avoid the mountains on Sundays! This is especially true during the autumn, when the entire country goes to admire the changing colors of the leaves.

In addition to hiking, the mountains or any park in Korea will have work out stations. This was a blessing when we first got here because we didn’t know have a gym membership. These work out stations are essentially like weight rooms in a gym or fitness club. They usually include a place to do sit-ups or crunches, standing push-ups and stretching machines. Some nicer parks or mountains will have all kinds of machines like weight machines that you use to lift your own weight, ellipticals, a bench press, a large hoola hoop and much, much more.

Hyundai Tigers and Mobis Phoebus

7 12 2009

Attending a sports event in Korea is definitely an experience. Of course, you’ll have the hardcore fans, the pride of a city and a good sports team or a not-so-good sports team, but what is different about going to a sports event in Korea is the entertainment and cheering props.

Our first weekend here, we went to a soccer game; Ulsan Hyundai Tigers versus Busan I’Park. The game took place at Munsu Stadium (AKA Big Crown Stadium), site of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The stadium wasn’t full on that Sunday night, but the fans made up for it. Instead of a marching band, they had huge drums that filled the stadium with a roaring sound. The soccer team didn’t have cheerleaders and the halftime show was a surprise. They had women dressed in some sort of traditional Hindi/belly dancing costume and belly danced for a few minutes. Then, little did we know that we were sitting next to the fireworks set up! Huge fireworks shot to the sky and the ashes and remains fell on us. The only time there are fireworks for halftime shows in America are for the Super Bowl. Koreans go all out for things that seem so minute to us.

A basketball game is something to experience as well. A few weeks ago, the Ministry of Education (MOE) set up a semi-sports day for the foreign teachers. We went a gym at an elementary school and played basketball, foot volleyball, hoola-hooped, had a three-legged race and pretty much played like 7 year olds again.

After our day of games and prizes, we went to the Ulsan Mobis Phoebus basketball game. As we walked in the stadium, we could feel the energy of the fans. The basketball players were as tall as ever but the cheerleaders were very unique. Their uniforms didn’t even match those of the basketball players. They wore hot pink tops and skirts with high-top white shoes. After half-time, they changed their clothes to white t-shirts and a pleated jean skirt. They had fake eyelashes and held their pom poms loosely. The MOE scheduled a photo shoot with the cheerleaders after the game, but we haven’t seen the pictures yet. We had a special section for all of the teachers. They gave us their version of hand clappers, two long balloons that make a lot of noise when you bang them together.

The major difference I noticed at the basketball game was when the players started to play. If Ulsan had the ball, they would play loud music until the other team had the ball. In America, it’s okay to cheer while the game is going on, but it is disrespectful to play music while the teams are playing. Sometimes, I didn’t even know they had started a new play because the music was so loud. But, Ulsan won! And we got more prizes! I won a ferry ride from Busan to Jeju Island.

Korean Fashion

30 11 2009

Fashion. As far as fashion goes in Korea, we now know why Korea doesn’t have a fashion capital like New York City, Tokyo, Milan or Paris. Although they might dress well in Seoul, the rest of Korea has a distinct fashion. Members of ShineeLet’s start with the men. Korean men love shiny suits and sparkling ties. The men here are so slim anyway that their skinny jeans and tight-fitted suits make them look thinner than the girls. Men also wear the high-top Reebok shoes with the skinniest pair of jeans.

Another fashion statement is the ‘Konglish’ and Mickey Mouse shirts. Randy bought a shirt that says “Slow Life.” Some shirts just don’t make sense. Sometimes kids will wear shirts that they have no idea of the meaning, even though it may have a curse word. I think they buy the shirt because it has English. Both men and women wear baggy Mickey Mouse t-shirts. I’m not sure what the obsession about the Disney character is, but they love it. And of course, they love anything with Hello Kitty or any other Sanrio character.

As for the women, looks are very important. There are two types of looks that women go for. Some women dress to the tee every time they go out, whether it is to work, school or the grocery store. They wear short skirts, high heels and ruffle blouses. They always carry a mirror and make up with them. As in some parts of the states, some women here must have the latest designer bag or shoes.

The other type of style that women wear is the baggy t-shirt and stirrup tights. I’m not sure if they think it is flattering or if they think they should be as conservative as possible and cover their whole body with a large piece of cloth. In addition to the garbage bag look, they wear converse shoes with tights or skinny jeans.

My take on the fashion. Some of the fashion has grown on me. I’ve always liked ruffle shirts and high heels. It’s taking me more courage to wear the short skirts though. And surprisingly, I like the skinny jeans and tights (not stirrups, these still make me feel like I’m in the early 90s) and the long shirts (not the huge garbage bags). But, I will not be caught wearing Converse shoes with skinny jeans. But, one unique item for shopping in Korea are their shoes. Korea is shoe heaven! There are so many shoe stores and each store has a huge variety of the cutest shoes. And they are for reasonable prices! For my first month here, I bought four pairs of shoes (two flats, tennis shoes and heels) for under 50,000 won, which is equivalent to about $45 USD. Unfortunately, for some westerners, it’s hard to find shoes here because the shoe size here doesn’t go past size nine.

Fashion. Entertainment. Sports.

26 11 2009

by Shauna Vo

It seems that Korea is about 10-20 years behind that of America or any western country in the pop culture scene. Boy bands, girl groups, tights with stirrups, baggy t-shirts, high-top Converse or Reebok shoes are still in existent in Korea. These are not necessarily bad things; it just takes me back to being in junior high or even elementary school again. The following three posts are just my observations and again, I apologize for any generalizations and stereotypes.

Entertainment. KPop, or Korean pop music, is a phenomenon here. Teenage girls go crazy over boy groups who are just a couple years older than them. Shinee, 2PM, 2AM, Big Bang and Super Junior can all be compared to the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and all of the other lost boy band groups. The Kpop bands all have that certain type of beat and to some extent, they sound the same. Each song has a dance that the teenage girls love to learn and will naturally “bust the move” whenever they hear the song. The number of members in each group is anywhere from five to 13! Who knows how long these boy bands will last.

Check out Shinee’s latest song:

The students go crazy when they know that as a foreign teacher, you know some of their most popular songs. It’s definitely another way to connect with the students. Some of the students are so close to their teachers. Teachers in Korea are there for their students for more than just homework. For example, some Korean teachers give students advice about everything, such as how to deal with their parents and where to apply for high school. As a foreign teacher, we are unable to connect on that level with the students. So, KPop will have to be the common ground, which is fine with me because it would be really hard to leave after a year if I was that close to my students.

My take on Kpop. I love Kpop. There are some boy band groups that I would rather not listen to. But I appreciate all kinds of music, even if I can’t understand the lyrics. And if helps me connect with my students, it makes teaching even more enjoyable.

Hyundai City

25 11 2009

(Drive your way)

by Randy Pulayya

Ulsan is a unique city that is located on the south eastern coast of Korea and is also know as Hyundai City. Hyundai is the heart of Ulsan and Korea. Hyundai is everywhere from Hyundai cars, Hyundai Bus, Hyundai department store, Hyundai health care products and etc. Hyundai put Ulsan on the map for being the wealthiest cities in Korea.

The majority of the cars in Ulsan are Hyundai. Rarely do you see other car brands. Every now and then you’ll spot a Mini Cooper or Honda. I saw a BMW once and an orange Lamborghini at the Hyundai Department Store.

The drivers in Korea are very aggressive. They remind me of New York City Yellow Cab drivers. Police officers hardly ever pull over drivers for speeding or running the red light. You really have to stop and look both ways when crossing the street. Pedestrians do not have the right of way. Also, when you’re walking on the sidewalk you have to watch out for those crazy guys on the scooters. There are no laws in Korea that forbids scooters to ride on the sidewalk. It’s like a video game out here. First you will see a guy on a scooter driving on the road and as soon as he hits traffic he drives on the sidewalks and goes through the red light.

The other day I was walking to school and I saw a young lady driving her small hatchback car and was driving through the side street and she scarped the side of the power line post. She had at least 10 inches to make it to the street and all I heard was errrhhhhhhhh erhhhhh! The side of her car was completely damaged. One word of advice for people who plan to visit Korea, stay out of their way!