Currently I am loving my life in Saipan…Oh the joys of being in Asia and able to travel to so many amazing places. I just landed again on this tiny island after spending the best week in South Korea. We had to cancel our trip to Tokyo because, well it’s pretty much coming to an end over in those parts and I wasn’t really into dodging aftershocks, worrying about food shortages, and basically growing a 3rd leg due to radiation everywhere. We stayed in a great part of Seoul at one of my students parents condos…let me tell you it was pretty nice being carted around in a luxury car instead of catching the subway everywhere…don’t get me wrong though, that’s usually the most exciting part of my world adventures. I was surprised though...Korea so so clean.
My favorite part of the entire trip was in the North in the Searoka Mountains...it tooks us about 3 hours of straight switchbacks (well..not straight) in a coupe to get to...winding over mountain upon mountain=car sick. BUT once tucked into our quaint little hotel, where I got my first taste of sleeping on the floor and fear of bed bug invasion...we stumbled across a national park. I found quite the massive Buddha hanging out under the mid-day sun in a valley down past a temple and he stood at about 200 feet. Insence and big bags of rice were stacked sky high praising this giant and prayers scribbled on chalk-board type roofing lined the perimeter of the holy ground. This place was tucked between some of the most beautiful, snow capped mountains I’ve seen. Chanting and Mantras could be heard after we were at the top of one of these giants looking out over this massive South Korean Valleys.
As I was walking to the top of the last mountain I took in the chanting-echo through the valley, felt the chilled air on my skin (for the first time in a while) and just though…WOW, my life is amazing at this exact second. I love being free…I love traveling…I love life.
Seoul is basically the biggest city I’ve been to so far, I know there are others…but wow was it big. There were sky scrapers that just went on...forever. It was pretty new to see all the smog and pollution as well. App. This yellow wind, or as our host May called it “yellow-weendee”, comes from China and makes ahella of a mess around the Korean parts. We went to temple after temple…Beoksyun…Geongang…so many…seeing all the ancient architecture. The green and red roofs were so amazing to see. Most were restored and the paintings around them were really bright. Dragons lined every building...every street. .. Seeing statues of guardians on the roofs of all the local houses and tea houses were pretty bizarre too. I loved the street food and seeing little old men at their "chop-stick" carts.
I definitely got my fill on Bulgogi and Bibimbob (beef heaven…) and every other rice-stuffed dumpling kimchi-soy sauce-doused dishes ever made. The mochi there was to die for as well…not a fan of red beans and dessert, but I give it up for the Asians for perfecting the rice-paste candy. If you’re one of my many Korean friends reading this…know that I’m sorry for being the worst speller ever. Lol.
We dared to venture into Northern Korea which basically put me in my American shame chair. I’ll admit I wasn’t nervous at all until we reached the USO and hopped in our military led tour to the De-Militarized Zone in Northern Korea and up passed the tourist tunnels and into the real military boarder zone. Which by the way can only be reached by the military..and you can’t be South Korean and go to the Northern most part. We got lectured on the importance of NO showing anything remotely close to “propaganda” or “free the North Korean” shirts. Also, if we gave the finger…which would have been as bad as the peace sign…we would have been tackled and carted back to the city… before being shot by the other side. It was medieval to see this actual line drawn between two countries.
The North Koreans loomed on the other side of the boarder in their Nazi-like uniforms looking all intimidating, while the South Korean and American troops were all decked out and pretty serious on our side. Knowing that people lived on the other side of that radio/tv/cell phone blocked country made me so mad..considering they are pretty much stuck there forever until the communists decide to not be…well communist. BUT I’m not going to go on a tangent because I really don’t know much about it other than what the United Nations filled us in on. The happiest part of the trip was eating lunch with this French guy, Clausier...and we discussed the rediculous steriotypes of Italians and the French. I made my first real French friend that day.
Otherwise, the rest of the trip was full of visiting local markets, tea houses, and fish towns. I went to my first legit. "sauna" as well...(2 actually...) The first was a warehouse type get-up that I feared for my life at first..you sit in these clay, charcoal heated domes on wooden floors and wear the finest mix of orange and cotton jail suits. lol..the second was pool upon pool of hot-steamy water just kicking the stress out of every part of my body. I know the Europeans are known for their spas-but I give it up to Korea. It was freezing outside, but that made it all the better....
Oh, Korea...as a friend would put it...how you torture me! Until Thailand!!!