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Archive for the 'Travels in Korea' Category

Hey guy, can I use your house tonight? (Korean hotels, lodging)


Korea has got to be best place to immerse yourself in the culture. Where else can you knock on someone’s door and ask to stay the night? Oh, and not get shot trying to do so?

Well of course Korea has hotels. Big ones. Expensive ones, but we don’t want to talk about that. Those are no fun. And overpriced. They offer a high quality product with a high quality product price that is to be expected in any major city or country. But thankfully, Korea has other options that have more character and are definitely something unique that most visitors are hard pressed to find elsewhere.

Regardless of where you stay, as long as you can hold your own without blushing from Western embarrassment, you can almost always talk down the stated price if you are staying for an extended period of time or traveling with a decent sized group. Also, these descriptions are for one person for one night. Not a whole lot changes if you’re traveling with others. In most cases, the prices don’t change unless there are three or more in your party.

Korean hotel 여관

Let’s start with the highest priced and we’ll work out way down.

Hotels 50 000₩ - 400 000₩ - Expect nothing unique and be prepared to pay Western prices. Might as well have stayed in Boston.

Temple Stay 30 000₩ - 50 000₩ - No accommodation guide would be complete without mentioning a stopover in a Buddhist temple. Relax, you don’t have to be a card-carrying member to stay :). Typically, arrangements are secured via phone. It is customary to give at least a week’s notice before staying so as to help gather resources to better make your stay enjoyable. Price includes three meals a day and various guided activities. Do not be frantic about disturbing the natural order of things - not all monasteries have temple stays and those who do offer these services are good about advertising it. Do yourself a favor and research these if you are interested.

여관 (Yeogwan) 20 000₩ - 40 000₩ - These are the meat and potatoes of Korean accommodation. They are plentiful and vary somewhat in quality so expect to get what you pay for. Practically every single city from Seoul to 퍼든그 (get it? no?) has at least one 여관 so prices can be quite competitive. Payment is generally required in advance but viewing and/or picking the room beforehand is normal. Feel free to shop around for a place that suits you (and your wallet). Expect the room to have three things: a cotton mattress, a cotton/synthetic quilt, and one pillow. Also, expect the room to not have three things: a Western style bed, a kitchen, and central heat or air conditioning. Fear not! Most have Western style toilets, hot tap water, and some newer facilities have private bathrooms. Most have heated floors, shared bathrooms, a TV, and one oscillating-style floor fan. As far as extra amenities, count on some of them having adjacent 목욕탕 (bath houses). Some even offer Western beds, “free” breakfast, and wireless internet access but are few and far between.여관 are cheap, safe, and reliable.

민박 (Minbak) price negotiable - These private homes are rented out in high numbers during tourist season and are generally located away in rural areas. Get out your eagle eyes and make it a point to stop in at least once. No other experience is quite like it. Prices fluctuate depending on the season and location but are comparable to 여관. Take advantage of whomever in the home cooks and agree to pay extra for diner and breakfast. Expect to have your own room but don’t be shy - this family has opened up their home for you for the night. The least you can do is play a game of 화투 before you turn in for the night.

여인숙 (Yeoinsuk) 15 000₩- 20 000₩ - The jealous younger sibling of 여관, 여인숙 are generally less maintained, less glamorous, scaled down versions of 여관. Some are even converted from traditional houses (think Flip This House). These are for the confident Korean speaker and adventurous backpacker alike who are looking for a cheap place to stay when all others are booked or otherwise unavailable. Perhaps for the greater good, they are steadily decreasing in number and often overshadowed by their more popular sibling.

유스호스텔 (Youth Hostels) 10 000₩ - 20 000₩ (and up) - These Hostels recognize international Youth Hostel cards issued from any country. For non-members, prices are higher and availability is sometimes limited. About sixty of these operate in Korea and are generally located in less populated, scenic destinations such as lakeview properties, beachfronts, and ski resort locations. Accommodations include up to eight person bunk-bed rooms, family suites, and most have on-site currency exchanges.

Love Hotels - price varies - Okay, so I should probably mention these if only to help squeamish travelers avoid them. Here’s some hints: They have hourly rates, they’re obvious, and they’re exactly what they sound like. If you see a bunch of calling cards out front, keep walking and start giggling to yourself or loved one.

찜질방 (Jjimjillbang) less than 10 000₩ - These 24-hour saunas are the Cadillac of bath houses. In addition to having everything under the sun, they also have overnight sleeping facilities. Though sometimes loud and crowded, these are frequented by business people too tired to make the long commute home (well, that’s his side of the story). Don’t expect much more than a small bunk bed or communal room, but for cash-strapped travelers, nothing is better than falling asleep in your favorite bath house.

산장 (Mountain Huts) 3 000₩ - These hiker stops are dotted along mountain trails and contain the bare essentials. Bring your own sleeping bags and pillows and curl up on the wooden floors and call it an adventure. Make sure to check availability before setting out on your hike.

While this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, it does cover the basics. Although the biggest culture shock probably comes from 민박 (well, actually Love Hotels are pretty shocking to some foreigners), I would encourage those traveling abroad to take advantage of Korea’s group mentality and treat yourself to the experience. Of course we don’t have anything similar to 민박 in America and perhaps that is part of the charm. For that matter, overnight stays in general such as in 찜질방 are pretty foreign too. We’re also used to paying quite a lot more for a room.
I’m curious as to my fellow KC101 students’ experiences with the accommodations listed. Good? Bad? Worth it? Recommendations?

For that matter, here’s more on key money.

Stephanie on Fashion

What I noticed about the fashion in Korea was that most of the women wore high heeled shoes. The students, however, wore tennis shoes, preferably some ridiculously expensive brand name such as Le Coque, Adidas, Nike, or puma. I never saw a student wearing high heeled shoes. Also the students uniforms are usually altered. The girls that I lived (중삼) with told me that they gave their skirts to the launderer and asked them to shorten them, because only losers wear their skirts long, according to them.

As for the boy’s fashion, there was one boy who had one pant-leg shortened and rolled up partway, but when I asked about it, I was told it was just his own fashion. Boys in Korea are also more conscious of how they look, one other foreigner told me that she was surprised at how often they looked in the mirror. All the students , boys and girls, wore really cute socks with cartoonized singers heads on them or cute smiley frogs. I even saw the waiters at 도내누 restaurant wearing them.

Also my cousin told me that boys and girls wear the same clothes, regardless of whether or not it was made for their gender (and I know they do that here too, but maybe not as much). And I also noticed that when couples go out on dates or whatever they wear matching outfits, meaning they wear the same thing, usually boy style though, so like baggy long shorts and a guys T shirt.matching. Seriously. So I like Korean fashion better. It seems like Americans wear ugly clothes. Sad.

Stephanie, generally speaking.

Stephanie will be back home in two weeks.  This coming week will be her last week to volunteer in the school, so she got many gifts from the children she’s been around. Her favorite foods in Korea are 삼겹살, and 장어 샤브샤브 so far (I’m not really sure what that is but I guess it is popular among the people she is hanging out with).

Last week she went to the market place and saw a 아줌마 killing (filleting) a big live fish on the cutting board. That was really was an interesting sight for Stephanie. She said that the fish didn’t die until the 아줌마 cut the other parts too.  She sent a video but it was broken so I can only tease you with her description. Sorry.

She wanted to buy 상 (table) and 가스레인지 for 삼겹살 요리. She thought it would be cool to sit on the 방석 on the floor and cook 삼겹살 on the 가스레인지. We have one of those 가스레인지 and a 돌반 but we haven’t used it in quite some time. We had some friends over and used it for dinner a while back, thinking it would be cool; they thought it was very 촌스럽다.

Stephanie has been very busy so I really don’t get too much news from her. This coming week after she finishes up her lessons at school she will be headed for 부산 to visit some family. She will probably be doing some other touring as well before heading up to 서울. I will keep you posted.

Rainy Season

Stephanie says it is raining every day and she feels like she is in a 찜질방 all of the time. I am not sure if she likes the weather in Korea or not but she is not complaining about it. Sometimes she mentions that she would prefer to live in Korea. She is getting better at teaching English and the children like her a lot. They like her so much that someone made off with her shoes the other day. I understand that this is a common problem at this particular school because everyone wears expensive shoes. Hers were Converse. She was happy to get the opportunity to go shopping. She picked up some Adidas shoes to replace her Converse.

She admits to having caught 공주병. She says we won’t like her when she comes home because she is so spoiled… She has three more weeks to go… She has settled into a routine that includes some late-night studying of her own. She has been studying Korean quite a bit (I sent her with a mp3 player full of KClass lessons). When she IMs with her mother her Korean typing is pretty good. It makes me wonder how much texting she is doing in Korean…

She had the opportunity to go yachting last week. I don’t think that is helping her with her condition (공주병) but it sure sounds fun. I wonder if she got seasick. She didn’t say. It was probably a nice break from the rainy season weather though. The humidity is the worst part of rainy season. I recall times when it was sunny one minute and before you could get your umbrella up you were wet from the rain. But then the sun would come out again and heat up all that moisture on the ground and create a sauna. Yes, that is Korea in the summer time. Life sounds interesting for 우리 공주님.


Stephanie on Studying

Last week Stephanie experienced some interesting cultural differences.

She has been staying at a house with twin girls about her same age. One day, after breakfast, she was helping to clear and wipe the table and the twins stared at her like she was doing something wrong. It turns out that the twins don’t do any sort of housework or chores. They were amazed that she would help (like it wasn’t her place).  She has noticed that the school children don’t get home until late and then stay up even longer doing homework. But they don’t do housework.

We have noticed with the children that have stayed in our house too, especially boys, that they don’t do chores. Now it may be that chores have disappeared from American society too and I am just a relic but we have had homestay children do chores here. In fact, the boy who just went home said that he was helping his mother dry dishes (but I think he may have been joking).  The “gentlemen first” attitude seems to be fairly normal in Korea, as opposed to “ladies first” here in the states. But Stephanie was somewhat surprised to find that children are not expected to do chores at all.

Another thing Stephanie was impressed about was that Korean children’s study habit.  She amazed that even seven to ten year olds would study until 10 o’ clock at night without much parent superivsion, and that middle school students (중3) wouldn’t get home from 학원 until after 11:00pm. She really has a hard time understanding how they do it every day.

One parent wanted Stephanie and her son to go out to the movies together; he is one year younger than her. Stephanie thought that is felt like a “date” and it worried her a little. We had to explain that it wasn’t a date, just that his mother wanted him to get some more opportunities to practic his English.

Despite all that she really enjoys life in Korea. This past week she has gone to 노래방, made 김밥, had 산낙지 and 개불, and taken a tour on a sailboat. I think she is doing so many things that she doesn’t have much time to fill us in on everything.

Stephanie Teaching English

I am going to try to get Stephanie to post about her trip experiences. Here are some of her thoughts about teaching English in Korea: 

So, after I got out of the hospital (the surgery went great, actually, the IV hurt more than the surgery itself) I went back to teaching little kids at the elementary school. They all stared at me like I belonged in a zoo and when I spoke korean they looked at me as if I was like a talking zoo exhibit. They all find it rather amazing that I understand anything at all. It’s really different how they all go “우와” when i say something in Korean. When our exchange students speak English, no one here (in America) is really that amazed at their “wonderous ability” to say hi and where’s the bathroom and I’m hungry.
So I had my first “class” with “John” who is 10, I think, and “Shell”, two students that I tutor. I had Shell, who is 8, change her name to Shelby because I explained to her that Shell might be a little weird. I could see how a name like Shell would be pretty in Korean, like 나비 or something but I have a Hmung friend whose name is Honey and her sister’s name is Butterfly and her other sister’s name is Angel (which is a normal name, but next to her sibling’s it’s kinda weird), and when you hear your teacher call someone ‘Honey’ it’s a lttle weird. So there was my American culture lesson. I also gave them some vocab words including ‘weird’ and ‘cool’ and ‘kind of’, because since those are the words I pretty much say the most, I thought it would be important for them to know.
Halfway through the lesson, this moped man came in (helmet and all) and delivered 김밥 and ramen. It was like exactly how the delivery guys in 궁  looked like!! I thought it was just some random thing incorporated into the drama… “Anywho” that’s pretty much the only cool thing that happened during my lesson. I also taught a few other people and sat in with some lessons that my aunt taught. What I noticed most among the kids was that they were all super shy. Like, they would say stuff but they would either whisper it loudly or whisper it in my aunt’s ear. What one of my students did was stare at the table while he was talking to me, and I thought that was weird too. I noticed that the kids who are not shy usually learn the best, or are better at English, maybe because they get more practice, or I never hear the full capabilities of the shy ones. My first lesson with the kids is usally just a “don’t be shy, lets just chat” lesson.

So, that is all for now!

Stephanie in the Hospital

Stephanie has been in Korea about a week and a half now. Before she left she dislocated her knee. It popped back in but left behind a lot of swelling and a loss of function. She didn’t appear to have torn any ligaments and x-rays didn’t show anything other than the obvious soft tissue swelling. Her pain was decreasing as her range of motion was increasing up until she left and we all felt comfortable sending her.

One of the sponsors for the school where she is teaching is a medical doctor who is the owner of a local private hospital/clinic. We sent her to the clinic for an MRI to rule out any significant internal derangement of her knee. Stephanie called us and asked why they were doing blood work and more x-rays at the same time. We just reassured her and told her to not argue…

The next day the head of the clinic spoke with us regarding the MRI findings. He said that it didn’t show much more than the x-rays but that there was some cartilage that was loose in the joint capsule and he recommended surgery to clean it up. In fact, he was prepared to operate in two hours!

Stephanie was stressed out about surgery but was reassured when they gave her the option of a local anesthetic. She consented when they told her that yes, she could video tape the operation if she wanted. (As it was, the surgeon emailed us about 50 photos from the arthroscopic procedure.) The surgeon said that the surgery would only take about 20 minutes; it took 40. He also said that she only be staying over night and would be walking around the next day.

As it turned out, she spent the next four days in the hospital, two days letting the knee drain and two more concentrating on rehab. She loved it! I know, you’re thinking, “What? How could she love it? She was stuck in a hospital for five days!” Yes, but she was treated like a queen. She was probably the most popular patient there. She had t.v. (of course) internet (만원 for her stay) and one roommate.

She got out of the hospital today (퇴원) and will get right back into the routine that she never got into in the first place. So far it has been an adventure for her (and her parents..).

Stephanie goes to Korea

This has been an interesting week. Last week we sent Michael home. He was ready to go. As soon as he got home he was headed for a week long field trip to 제주도. We Skyped with his mother before he left. She missed him a lot but it looks like she had to wait another week before she got to see him.

We, on the otherhand, just sent our oldest daughter to Korea. She will be there for the next seven weeks. She is doing a “service project” for school credit here where she will be volunteer teaching at an elemetary school, helping out with English instruction. Her first day will be tomorrow.

She is feeling a bit overwhelmed with the lack of English interaction already. Not understanding anything that is said around you can be headache inducing, especially combined with jet-lag. Typical for her though, she has commented at how fashionable everyone is, especially their shoes!

Hopefully, I will be able to post updates about her stay in Korea on a weekly basis. I am sure that her Korean will improve. It will have to. I should have a full update next week!

강원도 여행

I had a really long weekend recently and decided to take a short personal vacation. I headed off to 강원도 a province on the north-eastern edge of Korea. It is famous for the mountains and beaches, but I was just looking to get out of 서울. All of my long-distance travel within Korea has been by train or car, so I decided to take busses this time around. I boght a ticket for 강릉 and settled in what turned out to be a 4hr drive. It should have taken around 2~3 hours, but I guess everyone else had the same idea! I was hoping to speak as little English as possible on this trip, and since I was travelling alone, I stood a pretty good chance to getting to do just that. When I got to 강릉 the first thing I did was find a PC방. When travelling in Korea, it’s always a good idea to go there first. I used it to get my bearings in the city using Naver maps, and try to locate a good 찜질방 to spend the night in. With all my information, I sat out to get a taxi. I wanted to practice a particular pattern in the real world, something new from my class: It works out to “what’s a good thing to…….?” or “what’s the best way to…….?”

So, I started my conversation with the taxi driver:
저는 강릉에 처음이라서 뭐 하는게 좋을까요?
This is my first time in 강릉, what should I do?

He responded by listing all the things that were on my tourist map, so I guess I had sucessfully asked the question. He recommended going to the beach, seeing some old traditional houses and temples, etc. And of course eating 회 fresh, raw seafood. So he dropped me off at the 찌질방 and I went off to find dinner. I stumbled across a 왕갈비집 a few blocks away. They were advertising one serving for 8,000 원. However, I haven’t had much success at these places ordering by myself. They aren’t so into that, and usually require that you order two servings. But since I was eating alone, I had to ask the 아줌마 about that:

안녕하새요? 혹시 혼자서 주문하면도 돼요?
Hello, excuse me, but is it alright if I order by myself?

She turned around and looked at me and imediately responded with:
돌어오세요! Come on in!

I ordered a mamoth sized portion of marinated pork with all of the fixings. It was delicous and I had a really pleasant conversation with the 아저씨 who was cooking my meal for me.

In the morning, the weather was looking pretty awful. I went to a convienience store to have some yogurt and juice and get a recommendation about what to do.

ME: 오늘 날씨가 안좋아서 뭐하는게 좋을까요?
Today’s weather isn’t so good, so what is there that’s good to do?
CLERK: 어린이날이라니까 어린이랑 놀았으면 좋겠죠?
Today is children’s day, so wouldn’t it be good to play with your kids?
ME: 사실은 어린이 없으면…
Actually, I dont have any kids…
CLERK: 없으면은 그녕 여자친구랑 지내 보새요
If you don’t have kids, then just spend time with your girlfriend.
ME: 근데 혼자서 왔어요.
I came here alone!
CLERK: 혼자서 왔군요. 그런데 바다에 가보고 경포대에서 구경해 보세요.
Oh you came alone. In that case, go to the beach and also do some sightseeing at 경포대.

I didn’t really leave that conversation with anymore information than before, but I headed to the beach. (The weather cleared up just a short while later) That’s where the picture came from! There isn’t much more to say about the trip. I also went to the nearby town of 속초. But I really enjoy travelling around Korea outside of Seoul. It is where I can really see the benefits of my Korean study.

Korean in Taiwan

I usually write about my experiences with Korean orphans, but I’ve just spent a week in Taipei, so I decided to switch things up a little bit…

Of course, the language of Taiwan in Chinese, but a lot of Koreans travel there, and my Korean came in handy at least once. I was entirely unprepared for the Chinese… I should have spent some time with SurvivalPhrases.com before the trip. Alas, I was hopelessly lost, except for the precious few Hanja I understand and recognize.

In Taipei, there is a section of town called Snake Alley. It must have been much more exciting in it’s hey day, but now is just another street market. The name comes from store fronts where the guy will pull out a large (2m) long snake and bash it’s head to stun it, hang it by the “neck” and then slice open the main artery to drain all the blood. I guess they serve the meat as well - but I didn’t try. We also weren’t allowed to take pictures…which is where my Korean came in handy. I was standing in front of one such snake butcher, and recognized some Korean tourists. After living in Seoul for a while, Koreans can be pretty easy to identify. But they were also speaking Korean. I stepped over to one woman and said:

“혹시요..뱀고기를 목고 싶어요? ” (Excuse me.. do you want to eat snake meat?)

She responded by shaking her hand and head, and saying in English “”No.” She ran back to her friends, who must have said something like “I think he just spoke Korean to you!” She came back, and we proceeded to have a pretty standard conversation about how well I supposedly know Korean, where I live, what I do for a job, etc. Then she wanted to take a picture of the snake gutting. But the man behind the counter said “No Picture!” I guess these Koreans don’t speak English, because she kept right on clicking. So I stepped in:

“사진 찍지 마세요” (Don’t take pictures)

-”왜요?” (Why?)

“저 남자가 찍지마래요” (That man said not to take any)

So, you never know when your Korean will come in handy! Have any of you had some great experiences with Korean outside of Korea?