Things we love(d) about Korea

IMG_5333Here’s a rundown of what we loved about having lived in Korea for the past two years. We left in April and miss a lot of great things. We want to get this down finish this blog so we can move on to our Turkish blog.

The Short List:

Shopping in Korea can takes a little getting used to, but quickly became on of our favorite activities. We loved the outdoor street markets, especially the one in front of our home. We loved the varieties of cute merchandise in the Stationary Stores, the great customer service everywhere, and eating out was always an adventure and usually a treat. Here is a video of the outdoor market on our block. We loved this little market and miss it every time we go to a big grocery store.

Autumn in Korea

Autumn in Korea

Korea, for its being tiny – half the size of Minnesota – and highly populated, has an abundance of parks, mountains, rivers, islands, and coastlines. There are eighteen national parks, tens of thousands of islands with countless ferries between them, and well maintained hiking trails on every local mountain. If you’re into hiking, this is the place to be.  There were 3 small mountains within a 30 minute walk of our front door, and even the lesser known one offered a terrific view of the city after 20 minutes of uphill strolling. Also, Mokpo is surrounded on two sides by Shinan-gun, a county made up of 1,004 islands. We could take a bus, ferry, or our car and go poke around the islands for hours. (Quite the treat for a prairie girl!)

You can walk pretty much anywhere, any time, and feel safe here. Akasha has wandered Seoul after 11 looking for hotels and felt no fear at all. You can drink till the wee hours and hail a cab with little wait to whisk you home, usually for around five dollars. And if all that revelry puts you under the weather, the hospitals can get you back on your feet for a few dollars.

One of Mike's favorites - waffle fish with red bean paste. Yum!

One of Mike’s favorites – waffle fish with red bean paste. Yum!

Korean Food
We’ve been home for almost 4 months and would love some dolsat bibimbap, mul nang mien, Gamjiatang from the Yim’s across the street, and kim bap. Or any of the dollar ramiens from the Family Mart. Or hoduk pancakes from the street vendor. Mandu dumplings. Pat Bing Su The list goes on and on… I watched this feature on L.A.’sKorea Town last night and was drooling over the sundubu and bbq

At the Chrysanthemum Festival

At the Chrysanthemum Festival

Every village in Jeolla Province, and around Korea, has their claim to fame. Bamboo in Damyang, Bibimbap in Jeonju, lotus flowers in Muan. And for a week each year, every village gets to strut their stuff during their festival. Like county fairs that bloom in late summer of Minnesota, the festival season brings the flowers of local pride to light all across the peninsula. All the vendors come out and sell their version of the specialties, and you get to sample the local hospitality.

Internet Gadgets
Korea has lived up to its reputation as a gadget-friendly nation. Everywhere you go there’s some kind of free wi-fi, but even if you don’t know the password, the 3G is plentiful and fast, even on the tops of remote mountains. We’ve Skyped from our cellphones, listened to streaming audio while in the middle of a mountain tunnel, played poo-based smartphone games, and downloaded gigabytes of entertainment in minutes, rendering Netflix barely missed at all. For electronic toys, Korea is an A+ nation.

Great adventures!

Insert plug for our friend, Pedro. We miss Pedro’s Lonely Korea tours. Pedro is an amazing entrepreneur who started a great travel company in Gwangju (city 45 minutes north of Mokpo.) We miss our Pedro adventures. He took us on great explorations, we went to the first Buddhist temple in Korea, to a sea water spa, and river rafting. I missed a million great trips with him to Jeju, caving, fishing, jet skiing, festivals… the guy plans great trips.  He thinks of every little detail, and shows a new side of Korea to you.  He has just opened a guest house in Gwangju, Pedro’s Guest House. Go, stay there, say hi to Pedro for us.

I’m sure we’re missing some things. The bus system, for instance. Or the weather, which was mostly great. And the people, who were always friendly and helpful. Sunrises and sunsets, or the glow of neon on magic street that we could see from our window at night.

We’re moving on to Turkey now and have just put together a new blog. Thank you for following us for the last two years, and we’d be honored if you kept up with us in the future.


Here we go!

We just finished the Korea blog with a last entry on stuff we love and miss including a video of shopping at the markets in our old neighborhood.  Now we are moving to Turkey and are beginning a new blog for our time there. Mike will be writing and focusing on publishing and I will be teaching 3rd grade at BLIS in Bikent, Ankara.

Mike and I have been chilling out in Minnesota for almost 4 months. We have  been trying to soak up as much MN Charm as we can, and had a few adventurous side-trips along the way.  We had two great end caps on this trip.We spent an amazing week in Alaska with Jim, Mike’s dad, in May and we spent 4 days in the BWCA with Mike’s family in August. IMG_6917 In between Mike went to the Tin House writer’s workshop in Portland, OR, and I went to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, IL. We went to Duluth 3 times including a week at the cabin with Ari & co, and  lots of catching up with friends. Oh, and I finished my Master’s and walked. Not bad. IMG_6520


Next Wednesday we leave for Turkey. It will be quite the adventure. What about the pets, you ask? Well, as some of you know, most of the airlines have a pet embargo from mid-May to mid- September due to excessive heat in the cargo area of the aircraft. But, the German airline Lufthansa air-conditions the cargo hold that Remi will travel in, so we will be renting an SUV and driving 8 hours to their nearest hub in Chicago, IL.  Then we’ll fly to Frankfurt, the pet transit center of the EU, for an 8 hour layover before flying on to Ankara.  Finally, we’ll have a 40 minute long drive to our new apartment. Easy-peasy.

We are psyched for the big move. I’ve been studying Turkish, reading Turkish literature, and studying a bit of Turkish history.  Turkish history is so deep and broad that the more I read the more aware of how little I know.We’ve also been eating Turkish food at the 2 Black Sea restaurant locations, one in St. Paul and the other in White Bear lake.

Believe it or not, the Turkish language is very similar to Korean and my studies of Korean have been helping me learn Turkish.  They are both in the Altaic language family, verbs go at the end of sentences, objects go at the front, and there are politeness markers. Unlike Korean or English, Turkish has post-positions not prepositions and infixation (to form the negative of the verb you insert mi/mu between the verb form and the verb ending. Example: Koşyormek=to run Koşyorum I am reading (um=present perfect 1st person) Koşmuyorum= I am not running.  Sigh.

Once we get settled in we’ll post a bit about our apartment, my school, and life in Ankara.

Numbers in Korea

Before we get going, if your reading this because you are our friends and family and you’re thinking, “Geez, Akasha is a big geek.”  Well, you should know that already.  If not, welcome to my mind.  This is a blog entry I’ve been mulling over for a while.

Numbers in Korean are very different in many ways.  This has fascinated me and been a struggle for me as we have lived here.  Thinking in numbers and organizing things is such a cultural thing that it is very challenging to learn to group things differently.

Making Tally Marks:

Clustering in the United States groups 4 tally marks with a diagonal slash to represent five units. talley marksClustering in Korea comes from the Chinese tradition and the individual builds a character.  The five strokes build on each other and when completed represent five units. Korean hash My Korean peers scratch their heads when I tally things and it took me forever to figure out their system.  I can read it, but I can’t write it without copying. To me, it is jarring to start going across at the top and to mark the 4th unit as a disconnected stroke.  This system is used to keep score of classroom games and when ordering food at our favorite kind of Korean fast-food restaurants, Kimbap Naras.

Counting to a Million:

Counting changes with language.  I remember studying French and laughing because the French word for 70 is sixty-ten, 71 is sixty-ten-one.  Yup.  True story.  So, we move to Korea and discover that numbers are grouped differently here. how so?  Let’s start with counting to a million. We group numbers into ones, tens, and hundreds, then repeat.

1,10, 100,

1,000, 10,000, 100,000,

1,000,000, 10,000,000, 100,000,000

Not Korean. They group into ones, tens, hundreds,  thousands, ten thousands, then start again.

1, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000.  Okay easy.

Wait, I forgot to tell you that counting 1-100 is different too :

1 one                                  11 ten one                     20 two tens one

2 two                                 12  ten two                    22 two tens two

3 three                              13 ten three                 23 two tens three

4 four                                14 ten four                    24 two tens four

5 five                                15 ten five                      25 two tens five

and so on

Okay, so you’re counting to a thousand:

1 one     10 ten     11  ten one          21 two tens one    100 hundred

okay, clunky, but I’ve got it. Let’s count to 10,000

100 hundred        150 hundred five tens        550 five hundred five tens

555 five hundred five tens five                        1000 thousand

1,500 one thousand five hundreds

5,555  five thousands five hundreds five tens five

Now we are going to group in  ten thousands, which have their own word

10,000  ten thousand

100,000 ten ten thousands

1,000,000 one hundred ten thousands

till we get to 1,000,000,000 which gets its own word.

Okay.  So, imagine you are buying a cheap car.  After taxes and licensing fees it cost $1,200 or in Korean won 1,402,198 you would say  one hundred, four ten thousands two thousands, hundred nine tens eight. (or: bek-sa-ship-man i-chun-bek gu-ship pal.)  Or, that is what the person at the DMV would say in Korea. Yup.  Sometimes buying stuff makes my head spin.

Two number systems 

Korea and China have a long history together and there has been a lot of cultural sharing and borrowing that I am not knowledgeable enough to begin to explain.  BUT, Korea has 2 number systems.

The Korean numbers             and the     Sino (Chinese numbers)

1         hana                                                     1 il

2         dul                                                        2 i

3        set                                                         3 sam

4         net                                                       4 sa

5         daseot                                                   5 o

6       yeoseot                                                  6 yuk

7         ilgop                                                      7 chil  and it keeps on going.

Okay, so now the fun really starts.  Cause you need to know when to use each set of numbers.  Oh, and sometimes they blend them. Telling time uses Korean numbers for the hour and Sino numbers for the minutes   Ex: 5:30 is daseot si sam ship or five hours three ten.

I find this stuff amazing.  It has been like yoga for my brain, teaching me to find new ways to classify and arrange things.  I think that overall, understanding the Korean counting system has made me a much better teacher. When I was in my first Second Language Acquisition class we learned Chomsky’s theory that we are born with the capability to learn all languages, to make and distinguish all sounds.  Over time we identify the sounds and patterns of the languages spoken in our community and disregard the rest.  The same must be true for numbers.  There must be infinite ways to classify and organize things, but overtime we focus on the ones used in our community. Seems to me that the more ways you can express concepts the more ways you have to solve problems and understand others points of view.

Just to dork it up some more, I’m reading and loving Number: the Langauge Of Science by Tobias Danzig. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

This is blog post is based on our casual observations of the function of numbers in Korea.  We may have made errors, I verified the information with a Korean bilingual friend, but I did not do academic verification.  Do not cite our observations.

spring in Shinan

Non-numbers stuff- We’ll be home in less than a month.  We still have blog posts on some of our favorite things in Mokpo and Korea before we take of on the next adventure.  Can’t wait to see y’all soon.

Winter vacation: Island hopping in London and Dublin

Well, it is March, so we might as well share what we did in January.  Such is the schedule of blogging and living – always so much to do and much less time to record it in.

Korean public schools break for a few weeks every winter, and everyone gets a vacation. We get 24 days of winter break, which is a pretty good deal, more than the private school teachers get, which is next to nothing. And, since our time in Korea is drawing short, we did what American teachers who don’t have jobs lined up do – went to a job fair!

The nearest one was in London, and while England isn’t your typical winter vacation destination, we booked tickets, threw in a few nights in Dublin, and viola! An island-hopping winter vacation is born! True, the islands are Ireland and Britain, and the season is all wrong, but you get the idea.

Here’s a quick photo tour of the highlights:

Korean Restaurant

A Korean restaurant in Dublin – You can take the foreigners out of Korea, but you can’t take Korea out of the rest of the world. We did not eat here, since we can get Korean food in Korea, and because we wanted to sample all the other wonderful food the isles had to offer.


We were out of Korea, and jumping for joy at our beer options. This is on the Guinness Storehouse tour. Also in Dublin is the Jameson distillery, home of the smoothest whiskey in the world! Ireland, you may gather, takes its libations quite seriously, and we, being gracious guests, did our best to appreciate the local flavors.

Then we went to the Dublin zoo, a nice little zoo in the middle of Pheonix park. While it’s not as large as many zoos, the animals were in fairly large enclosures and seemed happy, except for the big gorillas, but then again gorillas seem pretty grumpy even in the wild. Here’s Harry, elder statesman of the gorilla paddock, having a chat with Akasha:

HarryA woman we met there said that this is one of Harry’s favorite things to do – squat next to the glass and socialize with the people on the other side. Not a bad retirement plan, when you think about it.

Irish history is long on oppression and invasion, none more important that the British occupation that ended in 1920’s. There were many frequent uprisings during that time, so it’s no surprise that Irish prisons played a great role in the planning of the new country that emerged. The most famous and well maintained of these old prisons is Kilmainham Gaol, a large building with expansions marking many steps in the evolution of prisons.

Kilmainham GaolIt’s also been used to film many movies, so if it looks familiar, that may be why.

Dublin is also famous for all the writers it produced, none more important the James Joyce:


Here’s that picture of Mike telling James Joyce he’s a pretty okay writer.

Then it was on to London.

London Tower Snow

This is what London looked like most of the time – cold and menacing. This is the kind of weather we saw most of our stay – snowy and cold. In fact it shut down the airport just after we arrived. We did our best to stay warm, but there was a lot of shivering going on.

London is of course famous for it’s musical theater, so we had to get some tickets for something. Luckily, this show was in town:

Palace Theater

Yeah, Singing’ in the Snow would have been a more accurate title. We found a half-price ticket booth and scooped up a pair of discount tickets, and, come showtime:

InsidePalaceThese were our seats. They sold oxygen at the concession stand. You can see the stage down there in the corner, somewhere.

The show was fantastic! It rained on the stage and the dancers took glee in splashing the front rows! (We weren’t in any danger of getting wet.)

Buckingham PalaceHere we are at Buckingham Palace, far from the massive crowd that had gathered to await the changing of the guard. As you can see, the Queen was not available to receive our visit, so we had to get our own coffee.

Akasha got a good chuckle that the Royal band was playing Dancing Queen during the changing of the guard ceremony.

Overall it was a wonderful stay, and then got we down to the business of the job fair. For three days Akasha, trooper and thrill-seeker, braved the crowds and elbows of six hundred other candidates to look for our next adventure. Long story short, we are going to be moving come next August, to Bilkent Laboratory and International School, just outside Ankara, Turkey. Hooray! I’m pretty sure that probably deserves a post of its own.

Sorry Mike, you missed one of the most important parts of our trip – the food! We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Korea has great Korean food.  If you want non- Korean food you’d better lower your expectations.

We ate well on this trip.  Our Dublin guest house, The Celtic Guest House, was fantastic.  They provided a full English breakfast and we ate like kings!  Their bacon was thick cut and delicious. Even better was the bistro next door, Le Bon Crubeen.  We like to try a variety of restaurants when we travel, but the food here was so good and affordable that we kept coming back.  Their head bartender had a warm personality that made us feel like we were back at Sen Yai Sen Lek chilling with Nicole.

One of our first meals in London was Ethiopian at Addis Restaraunt near King’s Cross.  Their Selata Aswad and Misser Wot were perfect and their Injira was moist and fluffy.

Our last week in London was my most stressful.  The Search Associates International Job Fair was worth the time, but it was a 3 day long 8 hour a day interview based job fair and I was on edge all day.  It was great to return to our motel neighborhood each night for r & r.

Two of our favorite places in Fulham were Chaam Thai and the Cock Tavern.  Chaam Thai was cozy, and relaxing and after a long day of interviewing it was so nice to enjoy a big bowl of Tom Yam and a spicy plate of Naam Prik Noom.  The staff at the Cock Tavern were super friendly, they had a great sampler menu and amazing beers.  Our last night in London we celebrated my job offer with a pub quiz.  The host was hilarious and teased us for not getting any of the answers.  We came in 2nd to last place, but had a great time.

Well, here’s hoping our next post is a little quicker coming than this one. We have about 50 days left in Korea, so we hope to pack in a few more baseball games and weekend outings. Then it’s back to the States for a few months before our new adventure begins. See you soon, America! See you soon, Turkey!

Teaching round-up

We really don’t post enough about our teaching activites here. It’s really a blast to teach elementary kids, because, well, the cliches are true. Kids are empty sponges soaking up stuff, and it’s fun to watch them squeeze knowledge back out once in a while. So, here’s a few things we did over the last few months.

Summer camp!
Akasha made a comic retelling an Anansi story for her students to read and had her students make animated gifs to retell the Anansi story, Why Anansi Has Long Legs. Here’s the link:

Mike did videos for “It’s a small World” with his 4th graders. Their illustrations turned out great, and the video was fun to make, though I regret that the pictures are a bit hard to see.

I (Mike) also worked with the fifth graders to make stick-puppet illustrations for “The Princess and the Dragon!” I’m pretty proud of my kids for being able to work through my bad instructions, and of myself for figuring out how iMovie works.

Field Trips

Several weeks ago, Mike went with his sixth graders to the ice rink in

Me, not falling down!

Gwangju. Now, Koreans aren’t known for their ice skating, (Kim Yuna excepted) and most of the kids hadn’t skated much, if at all. But, kids are troopers. So, we all got in a bus at 9 in the morning and made the 45 minute ride up to the World Cup Soccer complex, which has an ice rink, an archery center, and an equestrian pavilion. We skated for a couple of hours, where after getting my skating legs back (it had been a while) I showed off my Minnesota skate chops. Go Gophers!


Akasha also went on the 6th grade class field trip.  We began the day with a short ride on a very modified turtle boat into the bay and a walk along the estuary. Later we had a picnic and played in the park for over an hour of free play.  Finally, we went to this beautiful traditional motel that I’d love to stay at (hint. hint.) They were divided into two sections. One section had a tea ceremony class, the other half  had a how to make tea candies.  It was very cute.  I enjoyed watching and learning. I could pick up little bits in Korean.  If you’d like to try a tea ceremony, you can make a reservation at the Como Tea House. It is a Japanese tea ceremony, but there is a lot of overlap.

Fancy Tea Party on Akasha’s field trip

School Festival
We posted last year about the school festival, so this is to say, it happened again. It was just as cute and intense as last year, but this time Mike got out his video camera and recorded snippets from each of the acts. Here it is:

Class Projects

The whole crew

Halloween is not a real thing here. You can find a couple of masks and pumpkin shaped mini buckets at the markets, but they don’t have costume parties, dress up, trick-or-treat, or do any of that stuff.  My 6th grade book focuses on western culture by having an awkward chapter on inviting people to house warming parties, pajama parties, and Halloween parties. It is very strange to have 30 kids talking about party invitations when they don’t know anything about the party.  So I gave them a primer on Halloween parties, then we made invitations. Here are some of the top. (psst, if you ask my students about their birthday parties, they hung out with one friend. Very different.)

The new kindergarten teacher and I have been collaborating on teaching paralel themes.  She taught about Halloween this October, so I had a trick-or-treat party for them. It was great.  Some of my social 6th graders stopped by to visit that day and saw me making party favors and volunteered to help out.  They were priceless.  We made ghost suckers, witch hat cookies, treat baggies, pin the nose on the witch, and a bobbing for apples station.  It was fantastic.  Getting 22 Kindergartners to trick-or-treat and play two games would have been impossible otherwise. It was a fantastic, exhausting day.

Fall in Jeollanam-do

I love fall in Korea. It is warmer, sunnier, and drier than fall in MN. It is also beautiful.  We are also 12° south of MN , and in dry season so, unfortunately, we don’t have all the amazing leaf colors MN does.  But we have lots of other colors. It is beautiful here.  You probably remember my posting about how I (Akasha) walk past a fig orchard on the way to work?  Well, they are beautiful in fall.  Green, purple, brown, they literally burst open on the trees. It is so cool.  I’ve been learning to cook with them, making fig liquor, jam, figs and pork, fig muffins, fig bread…

fig brusting in the sun

There are beautiful flowers late into the fall/ early winter.  Roses and Camillas are still blooming.  There are lots of pretty white, purple, and pink flowers. I really love the orange flowers, they kind of look like California Poppies. Another fruit all over Korea that we don’t see in MN is persimmon.  I don’t think they taste like much, but they are beautiful. We had a few typhoons late in the year and they knocked the fruit off of most of the trees along our coast, but we saw some big trees full of fruit on our road trip.  Many farmers planted them along side the orange flowers.  They are so beautiful.  I wish I could bring this scene back home. If you look carefully at the pic on the left you can see the juice running down underneath the orange persimmon.

persimmon dripping with juice

Persimmons on the river bank

Chestnuts are everywhere too. They are falling off of the trees.  Vendors roast them on the street with what looks like chickory.  It smells great, but I’m not much for the taste.  Maybe if they were salted…


The markets are full of all sorts of great stuff this time of year. It is a great time to go shopping. Since you cant be here to see it, I thought I’d share some of our pictures.

A few more blogs coming up will talk about our favorite fall foods, weekend road trips, and more school stuff. We miss you guys.  We love it when you comment, it is like keeping in touch and motivates us to write more.

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Chuseok Road Trip Time!

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A couple of weeks ago (Spet 29 – Oct 3) we had a 5 day holiday to celebrate the harvest festival of Chuseok, and Korea’s National Foundation Day. So, what better way to celebrate Korean holidays than with an American tradition: Roadtrip!!! After much debate, the three of us (Mike, Akasha, and Remi) set out to see the sites of the east.  We had a few items we wanted to see and friends we wanted to visit, but no set agenda.  Our goal was to drive a bit (about 3 hours a day), sleep on isolated pagodas, see northern and eastern Korea, hike mountains, go to the beach and see a few festivals.  We did it and it was by far, one of our best vacations ever!

Our beautiful pagoda

Day 1 This was a Friday, so we had to work till 5 pm, at which point we finished packing the car, grabbed a quick dinner at the local Kimbop Nara and hit the road at 6!  We went a bit north first, and traffic was good until we got to Gwangju, where we hit some serious Chuseok traffic. Chuseok traffic can be paralyzing, turning two hour drives into nine-hour odysseys, but for the most part, we got lucky. A few minutes past Gwangu, we found our dream pagoda just around a sharp bend on a mountain road not far from the small town off of Namwon. It was around 9:30, and even in the dark it was obvious that we were going to wake up to a beautiful view of Jirisan.  We slept with the moonlight pouring through the tent.


Day 2 We woke up to a beautiful view of the valley leading to Jirisan national park. After rousing ourselves, we hiked for an hour giving Remi a stretch before heading out on the road.  We didn’t get very far because I (Akasha) was beckoned by a mural of my favorite Korean children’s book, Puppy Poo.

The first mural panel of my favorite Korean children’s book.

We walked along the streeets of Udang, also known as ‘the cutest town ever.’  It was covered in murals.  We poked into someone’s home business, watched them make rice cakes, and snuck pictures of their garden.  Then we  pushed on till we stumbled on to a nice little farmer’s market.  Here we found whole fried chickens, sompyeong candy (a Chuseok specialty) and fish, fish, fish. Finally, just past noon, we found a landmark that was on the map: Haeinsa Temple, one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Korea.

murals in Haeinsa

Nestled among the peaks of the Gaya mountains, Haeinsa was founded in 802 by two Chinese brothers. There are over ninety buildings on several levels, which makes for peaceful walking and beautiful views. It also has the Koreana Triptika, a collection of several thousand wood blocks that make up an entire set of Buddhist scriptures. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and amazing. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but we did get a print.

Finally, we met our friend Lisa in Andong, saw a bit of the festival, and had a dinner of Kim Chi Chi Ge. Then we drove out of town to find a nice pagoda by the reservoir. It was a beautiful campsite, but the night was cold.

Day 3 Once again we awoke to a beautiful morning, dripping in dew, the mountain valley cloaked in fog. We broke camp, fed the hound, and went into town to meet Lisa for some coffee at a great cafe in her neighborhood. Next we went to the Andong Mask Festival.

Misty morning pagoda

Andong has the reputation of being a very traditionally Korean city, and Mask dances are part of Korea’s traditional entertainment. They have also expanded the festival to include international dancers and masks, so there’s a lot of cultural knowledge there. There’s also tons of food and activities (like eating shwarma!).  We met up with some of our friends.  Akasha and friends  made a mask in one of the tents, and then we visited a booth that had traditional wedding garments. Here, they dressed us up in hanboks. Mine (Mike’s) was a simple affair, but Akasha had to dress in about four layers, which took almost ten minutes.

Finally, they took our picture as if we were being married in the traditional Korean way, which involves bowing to each other, handing over chickens, kissing with dates, and numerous stiff formal poses. It would have been very romantic, if not for the dozens of Koreans crowding around the booth, all very amused to see a couple of foreigners being dressed for a wedding.

After leaving the festival, we drove across the mountains to the coast of the East Sea (internationally known as the Sea of Japan). We drove carefully through the narrow streets of some seaside towns, not finding any pagodas, until we found a campsite that had beautiful cabins for rent. Akasha met up with a principal from Daegu’s Dongbu Elementary School, who was incredibly helpful in booking us a cabin.

She also insisted we come to her cabin for dinner, where we met her husband, daughter and son, and her grandchildren. Our own cabin was an amazing furnished two story beauty just feet from the shore, and we slept well on the ondol (heated floor) bedding.

Day 4 In the morning we watched the sun rise over the ocean and enjoyed the amazing view.

Our road trip goal of the day was simple: The furthest point East on mainland South Korea. (Hey, we’d already been to the southernmost point.) Along the way, we impulse stopped at whatever looked interesting, and this morning we discovered a gem: The boyhood home of Korea’s current president, Li Myung-bak.

President Lee Myungbak’s childhood home

Li was actually born in Japan during the occupation, but after the war he came here to Deokseong-ri for part of his boyhood. They are very proud of Mr. Li here, and have put up several biographical plaques that extoll his hard work, intelligence, and determination.

We pushed on to Homigot, the easternmost point of Korea.  We walked along the port and ate sashimi on the pebble beach. Our next goal was Jinju and we decided to take a twisty county road instead of the straight expressway.  It was a beautiful twisty drive between mountains following a river to a dam.  It took a really long time and was inspiring.  My favorite rest stop included an ancient ice house, which was a large mound covering a place where they stored the ice below ground.  It had access to the creek to keep it cool and let it drain. It reminded me (Akasha, of course) of the episode of Little House on the Prairie where Belinda gets locked in the ice house.

After hours of driving  we stopped by the Jinju Lantern Festival, commemorating a battle in the Imjin War. This festival was amazing, hands down one of the biggest, most ambitioius festivals we’ve been to. The entire riverfront was lined with giant paper lanterns, and more lanterns were moored in the river.

The fortress on the hill was decorated with hundreds more lanterns of people in every possible activity: skating, playing games, getting married, or carrying the emperor, for example. At 8:00 there was a fireworks show, the loudest and closest to the grounds any of us had ever seen. Then we had dinner, strolled through the high school’s ‘wish tunnel,’ and by 11:00 we had to force ourselves to get in the car and go look for a pagoda.

Picking a pagoda late at night can be an adventure. It took us a while to get out of town, and even longer to find a nice quiet pagoda, and in the end we weren’t too picky, but did find a nice place in another valley by a lake. At first we thought it would be a nice, quiet night like the other pagoda, but then the dogs started barking. One dog started, then another, and soon their barks were echoing up one side of the valley and down the other echoing over the lake, and we realized there would be no sleep that night. It even got a little bit scary, and Remi was anxious with all the noise, and then there was a strange rustling/flopping sound in the grass around the pagoda. So we got out of the tent, ran like scared teenage girls into the car, drove down the road, and napped closer to town until dawn.

Day 5 

We woke up in the car and drove back to break down the tent. We soon discovered that our scary sound maker (ie: ghost) was the world’s cutest puppy who had escaped his collar, and his owner was one of the friendliest Ajjumas (older ladies) we have met in Korea. Nothing like the light of day for a little perspective.

Our goal for the day was to Oktoberfest at the German village in Namhae. Along the way we drove down to Sacheon, a gorgeous coastal-village, and stopped for breakfast. We took a series of side trips as we jigged and zagged our way to Goseong, home of the Dinosaur Museum and the World’s Dinosaur Expo.

I love big statues

We knew we wouldn’t be able to bring Remi to the museum, but we thought we could walk him along the coast and see the footprint fossils along the coast. Unfortuatly, the walkbridge along the coast was damaged (it looked like typhoon damage.)

We crossed over the bridge connecting Sacheon to Namhae on our way to the Namhae Oktoberfest.  I set my hopes too high for the Oktoberfest. We had hoped for lederhosen, spaetzle, and polkas. But there was only one brand of German beer.  There was one very dry sausage with some yellow mustard.  There was a lot of Korean food, especially dried squid.  There was also a LOT of Korean music.  We only heard Korean spoken and only heard Korean music.  “Gangnam Style,” the current uber-hit overplayed everywhere in Korea (and around the world, we hear), was played repeatedly, to the exasperation of those who came for some good German fun and were dying for a Beer Barrel Polka.  Heck, I would have  settled for an Edelweiss, which my elementary kids play on the recorder.

Marina where we camped

We spent the night in Namhae, on the beach, with a campfire. It was fantastic.  We shared a campfire with a sweet Korean couple from Busan who came down for the beer. It was a beautiful pebble beach with a cute tribute to the wind breaks we were camping in and how windbreaks protect villages. It was a beautiful night for sleeping, a bright moon, clear skies, waves lapping the shore, and crickets singing.

Day 6 Our only plan was to have fun driving home. In the morning we discovered the marina where we camped was beautiful and has an amazing little cafe.  We indulged with another waffle breakfast and coffee. Mike saved several dying starfish that were drying on the dock (that Remi would like to have eaten.)  We poked along Namhae’s scenic coastal drive for an hour. We had hoped to do more exploring, but I think we were explored out, so we jumped on the express way and were home by 3 for laundry and a nap.  It was a long 6 days.  It was an amazing 6 days.  I’d love to do it all over again!

This was the monster who drove us from our tent

Lemonade Day – or, Hike the mountain you’re with

The Saturday before Sanba, the 3rd tropical storm/typhoon of the season, we went out with the intent to hike mount Wolchul. Wolchulsan is a national park just south of Yeongam. It’s tall and rugged, beautiful and extremely popular in the busy season. We’ve heard stories that describe peak season as you going up nose to butt in a line of thousands of other hikers. Well, six hours of standing behind someone’s butt didn’t sound too great, but we figured it was 1) kind of off-season and 2) it was cool and threatening rain, what with a typhoon on the way. So off we went!

Che and Remi – Road Trip!

We went with our friends Amanda and Darryl, two nice folk from Wisconsin, which I (Mike) don’t mind because they don’t really talk football. We also brought the dogs, of course. We brought Remi, our trusty Springer Spaniel, and Amanda and Darryl brought along Che, a 2 year old Shetland Sheepdog. He’s smart, cute, well-trained, and almost as energetic as Remi. We arrived at the national park around 10:00 or so after getting a bit lost (a specialty of Mike’s) and started gearing up.

That was when an ajjashi (older gentleman) who was sweeping the park with one of those stick brooms approached, waving and talking energetically and pointing at the dogs. No dogs allowed, was the point. We were confused, then angry. Akasha pleaded our case. They’re nice dogs! She said. They don’t bite, and they’re on leashes! He didn’t speak any English, so Akasha called tourist information for help, and some nice bi-lingual Koreans came from the next car over to help, but there was nothing for it. No dogs allowed.

Signpost – which way to go?

Well, we were crushed. All dressed up, a pack full of sandwiches in the bag, and no mountain to climb. We felt like we’d packed all these plans and when we got there, all we had was lemons. We stewed it over for a while, got back in the car, and left, not even asking for our 2,000 won ($1.80) entry fee back.

We drove around, out towards Jangheung. Finally, Akasha, always the optimist, asked How can we make lemonade out of this? We didn’t know, but thought about it for a while. We drove around, looking at the brown signs for inspiration. (The brown signs, in Korea, have all the points of interest on them.) There were Cypress gardens, scenic drives, and mountains, mountains mountains.

Finally, we picked a mountain. On Daum maps Akasha figured out we were near Jaemsan National Recreation Area, so that’s where we went. We followed the signs up a lonely road till we came to a small, mostly empty parking lot with a pile of hay in the middle and a lonely SUV parked in one side. Off in the far corner a lonesome road, maybe a trailhead, went off into the distance.

Lifting the sign to look for directions.

We got out, geared up, watered the hounds, and stretched a bit. Soon a church van showed up and eight or ten Koreans piled out in their hiking gear, so we knew we were in the right place, or a right place anyway. Up the trailhead we went, and we were pretty happy. It was a beautiful trail. Like all trails we’ve been on, it was perfectly maintained. It had a babbling brook, and purple flowers were in bloom on the forest floor. We stopped in the saddle of a ridge that led off to peaks in either direction and had lunch on map of the region that had blown down during the last typhoon. When we were done eating, we lifted the map up to see where we were, and kept going.

Resting at the top

One of the best things was, we seemed to have the mountain to ourselves. No nose-to-butt hiking, or urgency to keep any pace but our own. When we hit the peak, a beautiful view of the valleys lay on either side. We took some pictures and rested. There was a festival on the valley floor, and we could hear the chorus of a Korean traditional “trot” song coming up to meet us. As I looked down I saw a single red firework blossom over the tents, then watched the smoke drift away. We waited for more fireworks, but they didn’t come.

We walked back down the way we’d come, the dogs eager and bounding. It was, all in all, some of the finest lemonade we’ve made out of one of the few disappointments we’ve gotten from Korea. And I’d like to thank Akasha for making it all happen, from the sandwiches, to advocating our dog’s right to hike Korean parks, to finding the recreation area, and for being generally the best ray of sunshine there ever was, she’s the best co-hiker a guy could ask for.  Smooch, baby!

A vacation home

Wow, that was a whirlwind trip.  I can’t even think of everything that happend.  It was a Fantastic F bomb of Friends, Food, and Family. We had wretched jetlag in Minnesota, and our friends who’ve done it agree: the jetlag is 750% worse going to the US than in coming to Korea.

The riverboat

First of all, we have a great visit with the family. We had plenty of time with Mike’s family, going to a Twins game (They lost), and on a riverboat cruise (it didn’t sink!) on the St. Croix to celebrate the publication of Mom’s book, which has been the results of years of hard work with her father’s memoirs. Congrats one more time, mom.

Just like old times

We also went out to the lake house for a fantastic barbecue. Mike got a long-awaited session behind the grill, flipping burgers and brats, and almost felt fully American for a while. Then, we sat back and drank a few beers while the boats raced on the lake. What a great relaxing day it was.

Cotton Candy attack

We also got to spend a bit of time with the Sweetpotato and my Corazone.  They are growing up so fast, it’s impossible.  The last time we saw Sweetpotato she was talking a bit but you really had to know what she was saying to understand her.  Now she is an eloquent and articulate 4 year old getting ready for pre-school.  Corazone was 6 months old when we left, but now she has a clear personality.  She loves animals, books, running, and is begining to talk.  Her first word was DOG!  She’s so classy.

Our friend Jenni was the hostess with the mostess.  We were so comfortable in her home. There’s no way we can thank her enough. She provided us with a bed so comfy, I kept looking for the pea. Her apartment was laced with MN products and WI beer to make us feel at home.  What a babe.

Speaking of FOOD, we had the best quick-tour of Minnesota quisine in our ten-day visit. Here’s a quick shout-out of the stops: Matt’s Bar, for Jucy Lucys. Kramarczyk’s Deli, both at Target Field and at their NE Minneapolis location. Drinks at Kieran’s Irish Pub and the 331. The NE Social, for a million bites. Victor’s 1959 Cafe for bistec cubano y cordaditos. And we couldn’t get by without a visit to the best Thai in Minneapolis, Sen Yai Sen Lek! Hey guys, thanks for the Mango and sticky rice, it’s unbelievable! I’m probably forgetting something, but there you go. Sea Salt at Minnehaha Falls! Wendys! Um, okay. I got a bit carried away…

Then, there was a whirlwind day at the State Fair! Thanks to Jenni, Buzzo, and Carson for their company. Also a big shout-out for Erik, Ari, Corazone and the Sweetpotato for coming out and showing us how modern kids still love the big giant slide! It was some mighty fine screaming! (Mike, you forgot how visiting I Like You at the fair made us feel like we’d never left.)

Corn feed!

And, later, Katie and David came for a corn feed and walk through the Eco building. In all we spent 12 hours poking around, eating pronto pups, meals on a stick, milkshakes, watching butter-head sculptures, and pretty much everything else you can cram into a 12 hour day at the fair.

Thanks to everyone who came out to visit us. We’ve settled back into Mokpo, where we just sat through Typhoon Bolaven, then tropical storm Tembin. You can watch footage of Mike walking to school through the storm on YouTube.

It was 24 hours of wind, rain, noise, and canceled school. Welcome back!

On a side note.  We were sad to leave MN, but happy to return to our neighborhood, Yeonsan Ju Gog.  Everywhere we went people asked us “Where has Remi been for the last 2 weeks?”  Man, that is one heck of a popular puppy.

We began and ended the trip up in Seoul/ Incheon so there are a couple of pictures from our trip to a 1,000 year old Buddhist temple, an junk art camp ground, and our first meal back in  Korea, seafood soup.

Minnesota, we miss you so…

… we are coming home for 10 days.  We will probably be groggy and jet-lagged for a few of those days, but that won’t stop us from seeing you.

We’ll be coming home on the 13th and leaving on the 24th, it is not a lot of time to see everyone and everything, so please be kind and patient.

Mmmm…. Jucy Lucy, we miss you.

What do we want to do on our vacation you ask? Well, we miss our burgers and parks, so we’re kicking off our return with jucy lucy’s at Matt’s bar at 5 (please be prompt if you’re coming- they don’t do reservations there.) Then, we’re off to movies and music in the park at the Walker till we pass out from hugs and jetlag.

We’re gonna get in some baseball, family time including a boat ride to celebrate Patsy’s new book, hang out with the the nieces and nephews, and all that. Oh, and of course we are going to the 1st day of the Great MN get together!

Princess Kay of the milky way

We’re staying with the hostess with the mostess, Jenni Hibberd.  Her place is o the light-rail, hwy 55, which can get us across a chunk of the city pretty darn quick.  We’d love to plan our meet ups to be near the line so we spend our time with you and

The hostess with the mostest

Other than that we’d love to:go tubing on the cannon river, picnic at the Minnehaha Falls, canoe/kayak the chain of lakes,

Just chillin

sit in your backyard and watch the fire pit, run through sprinklers, go to the MIA or history museum, have a drink at a local watering hole, picnic at the lakes/river, and a million other things we can’t think of, but you can.


More PhotoBooth fun

PhotoBooth SuperFriends

August is peak travel season for the US and Korea as both are on summer vacation.  The tickets home were a lot more than we expected.  So, whenever possible, we’d love to go low budget.  Parks, your back yard, n.e. patio bars are all within our budget.

Is there anything you want us to bring home?  Korea really doesn’t know what a souvenir is.  Good luck finding a postcard, snow globe, key ring, or other tchochkies.  But we could bring you green tea,  ramien in strange flavors, Korean candy, berry wine, semi-obscene socks, or K-pop cute stuff .

The zoo animals will be staying with some kind friends who will hug them, squeeze them, and call them George.