Terrans, Zergs and Joseon-era Swordsmen

Last Thursday was the final exam of my Korean language class, which was a total walk in the park by the way, and a day of big relief as it marked the end of the era of mandatory class attendances. Woohoo! 🙂 Of course this important event had to be celebrated in all the appropriate ways, so we headed out clubbing in Hongdae and also went for a round of drunken screaming in a rather nice Nurebang (Karaoke room). The absolute jewel for the night came later in the morning though, when we decided to go to our favorite jimjilbang to relax in a hot tub before dozing off in the sleeping area. What seemed like an absolutely brilliant idea at the time didn’t deliver all of the expectations, because instead of magically removing the impending hangover, sleeping in the hot and sweaty room resulted in further dehydration during the few hours of sleep and eventually, to a killer headache. Worth trying anyway! 🙂

Guard at Deoksu Palace

On Saturday we went to a guided tour in the Deoksu Palace just next to the City Hall station. This Joseon-era palace has been totally rebuilt and in the current form uses only a third of the original area, but is still big enough to offer a nice escape from the urban concrete jungle surrounding it. We also saw a reenactment of the change of the guards at the main gate, which was a nice addition to the tour. What’s more cool than guys with bows and swords dressed in purple gowns? 🙂

A guard changing ceremony and a big-ass drum

This palace was not even close to the size of the Gyeonbok palace where we went earlier in September, but this time size really didn’t matter, and at least I found this one much more interesting. In addition, you didn’t have to walk forever to see all of the buildings, so it was more effective sightseeing as well! 🙂

Tri-color trees 🙂

After the palace we took a quick look in the Museum of Arts nearby, but left rather soon for the day’s main event, the final game of Sony Ericsson Startcraft 2 League, which was held at Jang-Chung Gym near the Dongguk University. I knew that Koreans have a special passion towards computer games, and towards Starcraft especially, but I was still amazed to see an event like this created around what basically is just two guys playing computer. Of course there’s so much more to it, with many different leagues and professional players who can earn up to a few million USD a year if they are at the top of their game, but still.

Koreans really love their Starcraft heroes 🙂

I had prepared for the event by watching a few games on the internet beforehand, so I knew a little bit about the tactics and overall gameplay,but still it was somewhat confusing experience. I was really hoping to get some English commentators on the scene, and actually there were quite a few non-koreans in the audience, but we had to do with the super energetic Korean commentator trio. One of them was so into the game that at times he couldn’t even sit on his chair 🙂

All in all, a very nice experience and at least something you can’t experience in any other country (as far as I know). But actually I’m sure the e-gaming industry will experience tremendous growth in the next five or ten years and will replace/supplement the traditional sports we tend to watch nowadays, also outside of Korea.

The next four days I’ll be busy with school projects, but then, next Thursday we are off to Shanghai with Tommi and Kasper!! And it’s just going to be a little bit a-w-e-s-o-m-e =)

-a

Hiking on the Gwanak mountain

We had been planning of going hiking on the nearby Gwanak mountain for many weeks now, so now that we did it, it felt like something big was fulfilled 🙂 This weekend must be one of the perfect times to go there as the nature is showing all different shades of yellow and red, and we truly weren’t the only ones who had figured this out. The mountain was full with middle-aged Koreans, equipped to the tooth with very professional looking climbing gear. Out gear was mostly jeans, sneakers and a camera, but it seemed to be sufficient 🙂

Beautiful foliage colors

I have to admit that we chose the easy way since we took the campus shuttle bus to the highest point on the campus and started to ascend from there. It took roughly one hour to get to the peak, but the way was quite steep and sometimes not so easy to walk, so I could really feel it in my legs when we finally got up there.

Rocky passage between two peaks

Of course, on the top there was  a Korean lady who had set up her own canteen where we had some hot noodles, gimpap and kimchi. We washed this generous meal down with a bottle of soju which Kasper had brought with him. I know it doesn’t seem like all that much, but after the climb, it tasted awesome!! 😀

Local wildlife

Truth be told, I didn’t expect that much from this trip. Rather, I thought it was something one should do when studying at SNU, given that the campus is located on the side of the mountain. But how wrong was I! The scenery and the climbing produced one heck of an experience. Now I can understand why the thousands of Koreans escape to the mountains weekend after weekend 🙂

"Hermitage" overlooking the areas south of the mountain

-a

Jimjilbang and DMZ trip

Last Thursday, after my Korean language class, I finally went to a jimjilbang, a Korean spa/sauna, and oh boy it was awesome! Actually, it reminded me very much about the capsule hotels we tried during our trip to Japan. The concept in both facilities is basically the same: you go there to relax and possible to sleep as well. One could even say that the capsule hotels are just jimjilbangs with a sleeping capsule 🙂 In the place we went on Thursday, they had a few pools with different temperature (one of them was labelled “Event Pool”, but we couldn’t figure out the deeper meaning of that), a cold pool, a jacuzzi and two different saunas, a dry one (80c) and a moist one (60c). After soaking yourself in pools and relaxing in saunas, you can put on a robe and head to the common area, where you can continue relaxing by lying down on hot rocks, watching tv, sleeping or by trying out one of those massage chairs (the foot massage machine was surprisingly good!). They also had an igloo room with a temperature of 3 Celsius, in case you wanted to do some shock treatment 🙂 Oh, and they also had a restaurant where which served some delicious noodle soups and some other dishes. I think we spent some 3 hours there, and I can assure you that after coming home I slept like a baby!

Barbed wire covered in prayers for peace

On Saturday I attended a trip to the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas, despite the overall bad feeling I was experiencing due to the long previous night that extended to the very morning (it turned out that some of us didn’t even make it to the bus ^^). I think it was really interesting to visit the DMZ since even though it’s only one hour bus ride from Seoul, you just don’t feel the presence of it from inside Seoul. Of course there is no ongoing warfare between the countries, but occasionally shots are fired between the troops of both sides, and the chances of turning the current armistice into an actual peace treaty seems very slim even in the long term.

The remains of a military locomotive at the DMZ

Our tour bus took us to many spots inside the DMZ, but I think visiting the 3rd infiltration tunnel was perhaps the most exciting part of the trip. Roughly 70 meters underground, the North Korean troops tried to dig a tunnel from NK to Seoul so that they could make a surprise invasion there. Four tunnels have been discovered by SK troops so far, and the longest of them would have been 120km in length, if it would have been ever completed. I don’t even try to guess the number of hours the poor NK soldiers have had to spend in those dark tunnels making their way forward, meter by meter. But at least one can conclude that the want to attack the South has been extremely persistent in the northern side. Unfortunately taking pictures inside the tunnels was not allowed.

Me and a Kim Yong Il look-a-like guard on the right

Generally, the possibilities to take photographs were limited, and usually in the places it was allowed there was absolutely nothing interesting to capture. One of the last stops on the tour was a place were you could actually see the North Korean villages inside the DMZ and the world’s tallest flagpole with the NK flag”waving” in the wind. Apparently there is also one South Korean village inside the DMZ, where the farmers earn some serious money because they get the land for free and also some government subsidies for residing there. The land is also virtually pollution free, and boasts a variety of wildlife not seen in other ares in Korea.

The tracks are there but the train connection has been suspended for the time being

The temperature in Seoul has dropped dramatically in the recent weeks and the campus area is gorgeous with the foliage as the leaves are turning red and brown. We are planning to hide the Gwanak mountain under which the campus resides, and enjoy the piece of art offered by mother nature 🙂 I took some pictures of the places I usually walk by when going down to the Business School and I’ll upload a few of them here:

Tall Burgers and Fast Cars

Some time ago Kasper found a nice blog post about the top-10 burger places in Seoul, and we so far we have covered two of them in order to supplement the kimchi and rice dominated Korean diet. Yaletown in Sinchon offered a tasty and good-sized burger (with a little bit of an unorthodox patty) and unlimited curly french fries to go with that. You can guess if we ate a good, moderate amount of them or perhaps a ridiculously huge pile? Suffice to say, I didn’t feel like walking too much after that 🙂

The second place we tried, and the place that holds the #1 spot at the list, was Jacoby’s burger in Itawon (where 8 out of the 10 places are), just next to the US army base. They had a nice selection of very different kind of burgers, and you can customize yours by choosing your favorite kind of bun, cheese and extras and how well your patty is cooked. I tried the Fresco Burger with a load of grilled onion rings, and I have to say that I don’t remember eating a better burger in a long while. The size of it makes it a little bit difficult to eat, but actually it wasn’t even close to the biggest burgers on the list.

 

The Fresco

 

Last Saturday we went to the Asia Song 2010 concert in Seoul Olympic Stadium where some of the biggest stars in the “K-pop” genre performed. The tickets were free but we had to exchange our ticket vouchers for the tickets hours before the concert started, so we decided to spend the remaining time in the Lotte World just a few subway stops away from the venue.

 

Ice skating rink inside the Lotte World

 

Lotte World is a weird combination of shopping mall and an amusement park, with half of the park inside the mall and half of it outside on a small artificial island. The mall also has an indoor ice-skating rink and a movie theater. What more could you ask for? Some of the rides on the island seemed very exciting but I think the part inside is mainly for smaller kids (and not for us bigger kids :P).

 

The indoor part of the amusement park

 

 

 

You can take a mini-train from the mall to the island

 

The concert itself was a little bit disappointing. Not that I had very high expectations about it anyway, but somehow the setting of the stadium contributed to a lack of atmosphere in the audience. The stage was situated so far from where we were _sitting_ that it was quite hard to see anything, and the music, which by itself was a lame torture, blurred into a boring bass driven porridge of sounds during the time it reached us. Well, props for trying. Afterwards we went to an “arabic” bar with dirt-cheap beer and shisha, and the night was saved 🙂

 

The concert stage (before my camera ran out of battery)

 

On Sunday I woke up early to participate in a trip to the first Korean F1 Grand Prix, which took place in southern part of the country near a city called Mokpo. They had some major difficulties getting the track ready for the race because of the heavy rainfall during september and I guess this also meant that they didn’t have the chance to finish the audience facilities. It was difficult to find something luxurious from walking in a muddy yard, eating overpriced 7-11 hamburgers and hand-warm beer from the can. Not really the Formula experience I was looking for, but in the end when the race actually started it all felt good 🙂

 

The safety car was on the track too damn long

 

The race officials had to halt the race after just 3 laps because of bad weather conditions, and it took a good 50 minutes for the race to continue. Sitting in the audience with rain coming down on us, wondering if the race is ever going to start didn’t really feel so exciting but then after then engines started roaring I didn’t even notice the rain or coldness. All I could sense was the amazingly loud and penetrating sound of the cars as they drove pass our spot with incredible speed and precision. And the wet track offered some additional enjoyment for the audience in the form of spins and curves driven too wide. In the end, the 11 hours of sitting in the bus that day didn’t feel like a steep price to pay for that experience 🙂

It's me!

-a

A little bit of campus life

After the Japan trip I finally settled at the dorm and started the casual student life here, or at least that’s how it felt like. Even though travelling was fun for sure, it had denied me the possibility to get to know most of the other exchange students since I had missed all but one of the events organised for us. I guess life is a long series of trade-offs 🙂

Also, I’ve had more time to get in touch with the studying part now. Most of my classes are actually very interesting and I’ve found a genuine motivation for studying, which came as a slight surprise. On the contrary to my expectations, the workload for the courses seems rather light, a short paper here and there, or a group work once in a while. I had the impression that the Koreans would be studying their asses off, which they of course might be, but at least for me the courses don’t feel very demanding. Maybe it has something to do with the efficiency of the Koreans’ study methods. I mean, for sure they wake up early and spend their days at the library, but you don’t have to be a detective to realize that most of the time they are just playing with their laptops/iphones or just outright sleeping.  Right now, I’m sitting in a study room in the College of Business, and after a quick calculation I would say at least one third of the students are sleeping on their desks. Maybe it’s the Korean siesta? 🙂

On Tuesday we went to see a football game between Korea and Japan. I guess it’s the local Finland vs. Sweden pair, but with a little more tension behind it. The game was played at the Seoul World Cup stadium with capacity for some 64000 enthusiastic red-wearing fans. The stadium was almost full and in general the Koreans did a good job cheering for their team, but it wasn’t enough for a victory this time as the game ended like most of them, 0-0. Anyway, it was a nice experience, even though both goals and Vuvuzelas were missing 🙂 Oh yeah, and after party was in Hongdae, but I didn’t see so many red shirts there. Maybe it was unofficial? 😉

-a

 

Japan adventure wrap-up

It seems that I can’t get myself to finish this Japan blog series, partly because I’m busy studying and partly because I haven’t felt like contributing hours of my scarce spare time for it 😉 Anyway, I’ll wrap it up now, in a sort of concise manner, so I can bring this blog up to speed with the current events.

School kids at the Peace Park

So, after Fukuoka we traveled to Hiroshima and spent one night there. The city is totally rebuilt after the bombing of 1945, except for one  pre-war building which has been left there as a remainder of the horrors of war. Just a few minutes away from the central Hiroshima lies a huge green area, the Peace Park, where you can find the war museum and statues erected for the memory of those who died in the bombing.

The flame that will be put out when the earth will be free from nuclear weapons

Overall, the city has a peculiar atmosphere, somehow slow-paced and a little bit sad. Perhaps the awfully gray weather during our stay contributed to that feeling, but I must say I couldn’t live in a city like that. The downtown is semi-vibrant in the evenings, but the city seemed to lack the same kind of youth culture we experienced in Fukuoka and especially Osaka.

The A-bomb dome: A post-war building that survived the explosion

Me and Tommi enjoying the famous Japanese arcade (games were probably from the mid 90's)

On our second day we made a trip to Miyajima island, a 50 minute tram-ride away from downtown Hiroshima. The island boasted a number of Shinto shrines and an exceptionally nice Buddhist temple. Or at least the temple was in an exceptionally nice location, high up on a mountain with beautiful views.

Torii gate at Miyajima island

The largest of the Shinto shrines on the island, called Itsukushima, has a very interesting detail to it. The torii gate, which can be found in front of all Shinto shrines, is actually located in the sea (at least on a high tide). This seemed to be the major tourist attraction there, in addition to the cute bambi-deer, which the island was full of.

A beautiful Pagoda in Miyajima Island

Precise instructions

Domesticated small deer, or "bambi" in Miyajima Island

A gorgeous Buddhist temple on the mountain of Miyajima

The Hiroshima castle, restored in the 20th century

From Hiroshima we took another night bus, this time towards the city of Osaka, the third largest city in Japan. From the places I visited during the trip, Osaka was by far the most interesting one. Dotonbori, a former “pleasure district”, is an area filled with shops, restaurants and neon signs. There’s also a canal with a sightseeing boat going about regularly. On the boat, a super-energetic middle-aged travel guide was yelling to her megaphone and clapping her hands wildly, while the passenger sat back in the boat looking quite apathetic. A sight to remember 🙂

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle, which was built in the sixteenth century is one of the most important castles in Japan. It’s surrounded by a wide moat and sturdy walls which probably made it a safe place to live during that era 🙂

Whale sharks in Osaka Aquarium

Osaka Aquarium is one of the largest in the world, and the main tank, which is absolutely huge, is full with small sharks, rays, other fish and whale sharks 🙂 They also have penguins and other animals there (separate tank :P).

I think the owner hasn't heard the phrase: "moderation in everything" 🙂

Running man, the famous Dotonbori landmark

From Osaka we flew back “home” to Seoul, and it didn’t take a long time before we found ourselves enjoying some delicious Korean food in a local shabby restaurant 🙂 Japan was great, but it truly felt good to be back in Seoul! =)

-a

Japan adventure, part 2

After spending a few nights in Busan (see the earlier post) we took the Miraejet hydrofoil ferry to Fukuoka. We had already visited the ferry terminal the previous day to compare the prices of the different ferry companies, and we decided to pay a little bit more for a much faster connection. We also considered taking the overnight ferry to Osaka, but there wasn’t any service on Sunday when we were leaving. A one-way student ticket for the hydrofoil costs around €60 when bought from Korean side, and as we learned later, about €110 when bought from the other side of the Korea Straight 🙂

Japan awaits

As we boarded the ferry, I was a little bit surprised because I didn’t realize the hydrofoil is so small vessel. In practice, it’s like taking a short flight. You board the plane, go to sit in your designated seat, buckle up and wait for take take-off. The ride only took around 3 hours and I have to say that it was extremely comfortable. Because most of the ship is on top of the water at cruising speed, you don’t feel almost any swaying or waves hitting the hull.

The hydrofoil flying on the water 🙂

Since we hadn’t made any specific plans for the trip, we decided to visit the tourist information as soon as we arrived in Fukuoka terminal. We were a bit shocked to find out that all of the hostels were full because on the following day the Japanese would have a national holiday when they pay their respect to their elders and grandparents. After a long bit of phone calls and negotiations (and angry looks from the people in the queue after us), we found a hostel that had one vacant bed. We agreed that Irina would stay there and us guys would go to a capsule hotel, which didn’t seem such a bad option. Most of the capsule hotels don’t accept females guests, and I really wanted to experience one, so for me the situation was pretty good.

Capsule, Japan's gift to the travelling people

After we had dropped our bags in our respective lodging venues, we headed towards the Tenjin area, which is the one of the city’s downtown areas, the other being the Hakata area. We were all very hungry and Kasper had been talking about the infamous Hakata Ramen (noodles) the whole trip, so naturally we had to try them in the local way, in a yatai, a mobile street kitchen with small benches around it. The noodles, which were served in a pork rib broth, were really tasty, and proved to be one of the only dishes we could afford during out trip there 🙂

The Japanese really like their vending machines

Hakata Ramen in the making

Later we went to explore the city by foot, especially the Nakasu area, a district separated by two rivers from the rest of the city, forming a some sort of island. We found a cool spot near where the rivers combine with some talented local guys doing all kinds of tricks with their bicycles. We sat the for a good hour or so, enjoying some beers and tetra-packed sake which we found in the local convenience store.

Kasper just finished his McBreakfast 🙂

After the long day we headed towards our capsule hotel, eager and excited as small buys going to the toy store. I have to say that I really like the whole concept of the capsule hotel, and I’m puzzled about why there aren’t anything even remotely similar in other countries. The concept is pretty simple: after checking in you go to the locker rooms to change in to a, very stylish, bathrobe which you will wear until checking out the next morning. Then you go to the spa to soak yourself in hot and cold baths, relax in saunas or to take some massage if you like, after which you dive into your own small capsule, equipped with radio and tv, and sleep there. I slept like a baby in the capsule and started the following day with a visit to the spa again. I can’t think of any better start to a day 🙂

Ohori park in Fukuoka

On Monday we spent countless hours trying to plan our remaining trip, but because of the holiday, all of the buses to Hiroshima, where we wanted to go, were full. Most of the staff at the bus station and tourist information were eager to help us, but because of their lack of language skill, the whole thing proved to be very difficult and tiresome. In the end we decided to spend another night in Fukuoka and take a night bus to Hiroshima the following day. The rest of the day we spent in a hot spring near Futsukaichi, some 30-minute train ride away from the city.

Seagulls lined up for their daily quarter-mile flying competition

On Tuesday the weather was extremely hot, and it was total agony to do any proper sightseeing, but we still managed to see some spots like the Ohori park a few metro stops west from Tenjin area. At some point we had to take a small siesta in a internet cafe, in where you can actually sleep and enjoy free slush and juice-drinks, take a shower or just browse some Japanese comic books.

Fukuoka tower might be the nicest radio tower I've seen

In the evening we went further west to see the area with Fukuoka tower, the new Fukuoka Yahoo! Dome and the Momochihama beach. We also planned on visiting the Robosquare, where you can some of the latest crazy Japanese inventions, but unfortunately it just closed its doors when we got there. We waited a bit to see if the robots would have started a party after the staff left, but sadly I have to report that nothing happened 🙂

Tommi found a moment of Zen at Momochihama beach 🙂

Before our night bus to Hiroshima, we ate a couple of Quarter Pounders in our local hotspot of Japanese culture and cuisine: McDonalds, which was our main supply of nutrition (at least in solid form) during the trip. In fact, we were devastated in Hiroshima when we found out that the promotional campaign of 200 Yen Quarter Pounders was over, and was replaced by some weird Tamago monstrosity 😀

After Seoul and Busan, Fukuoka seemed a little bit quiet city with wide streets, few people and in general very clean and sleek looks. Of course some of the areas in Tenjin were more lively and the younger Japanese were hanging out there, but perhaps because of the holiday the city seemed a bit deserted in certain areas. The Japanese people are really nice and helpful, and most of all, really really polite. Sometimes the amount of politeness goes to almost ridiculous proportions, at least from a Finnish point of view, and also the way the Japanese people communicate, both in English and especially in Japanese, is so different from what I’m used to. I guess the underlying idea is that you must not appear rude in any situation, so even a simple answer, like “no, im sorry, we don’t have any free rooms” must be veiled in a 1-minute monologue of politeness 🙂

Again, I have to stop writing here, but I’ll pick up from this point later on, perhaps as early as tomorrow. HAI!

-a

Japan adventure, part 1

On Friday 17th we finally got our passports and everything was set for a trip to Japan through South Korea’s southern city, Busan. Everything went surprisingly smoothly in the immigration office, and soon after going there in the semi-early morning, we were standing proud with our new alien registration cards and passports. As I mentioned in the earlier post, we had reserved tickets for a high speed KTX train to Busan that Friday afternoon, so we headed towards the Seoul Station, and before boarding the train we had time to check out the Namdaemun market with thousands of small shops and street stalls selling almost everything under the sun.

Harbor view from the Busan Tower

After the smooth KTX ride, which took us practically through the whole country in just 2 and half hours, we stepped out of the Busan main train station shocked by how different feeling the city had, compared to Seoul. Throughout the day, as we checked in to our hotel and started heading towards one of the livelier ares, I was liking the city more and more. The atmosphere in the city is much more laid-back than in Seoul and the streets are wider and much less crowded, surrounded by buildings oh which some had very distinctive style. Sure it had many similarities to Seoul: restaurants, hofs, bars and street stalls were plentiful and the city lacked a proper downtown, different districts rather served as places for certain kinds of activities.

Gigantic Heundae beach

On the first night in Busan we had dinner in the Seomyeon area, after which we consulted our Lonely Planet and checked out a couple of nice bars in the party district. We also met two guys from South Africa, who worked in Busan as English teachers. The guys showed us some good local places, and I liked especially one place where they offered “Sours”, which is a soju based fruit drink. Devilishly delicious and also deceiving, as the fruit taste totally covers any hint of alcohol in the drink, making it easy to not realize how much alcohol you are actually pouring down 🙂

Beer selection at Wa-bar

On the second day we headed towards the famous Heundae beach, which is located in the eastern part of the city, some 20-minute subway ride away from our hotel. The beach, which stretches over 2km long, was almost empty as September is not any major holiday season, but apparently during August the place just goes crazy when Seoulites go to the country’s most popular holiday destination. During that time, there can be more than 500,000 swimmers and sunbathers simultaneously at the beach, probably fighting over sun covers and, my guess, oxygen as well 🙂

But as for now, the place was quiet and the sea was surprisingly warm. Apart from the large concentrations of jelly fish in the shallower waters, the place seemed perfect for swimming and relaxation, but for diving the beach was totally useless. It was also amusing to follow some local guys showing off with their water jets, trying to pick up girls swimming near the shore, and the local beach patrol blowing in their whistles trying to stop the activity. There was a also a big lifeguard speedboat, which was constantly spurting across the beach, changing places without any apparent reason, other than creating nice waves for us who were in the water. Good use of taxpayers’ money, for sure 🙂

A street filled with street stalls and restaurants near Seomyeon

After a few hours at the beach, we took the subway to the harbor area, where we reserved tickets for the hydrofoil ferry to Fukuoka on Sunday. When that was done (it took quite some time), we headed towards the Busan tower, optimistic from our South African friends’ promise that there wouldn’t any queues (had some bad experiences in Soul N Tower :P). In fact, we didn’t have to queue for a minute, which seemed weird in this country, and soon we were some +100m up admiring the view of the city. We waited some time for the sun to set and for the city lights to lit, and it was definitely worth it. Somehow, the view of the city was to my liking, because it’s not uncomprehendingly large, like Seoul which is basically just a field of lights as far as you can see.

Soju+fruit+ice=Sours, tasty!

After the tower we went shopping to the Lotte Town mall, a gigantic complex of which only the first part is constructed as of now. The first phase include a department store, mall and a cinema, and the second phase includes a 510-metre skyscraper, to be the 3rd tallest building in the world in 2013 when it’s ready. In the mall, they have a 4-stories high open space with a huge waterfall combined with a light show. They had also some Russian acrobats performing on the ground floor for the shoppers’ amusement. It seemed kind of lame to us, but the locals were liking it 🙂

Lightshow/waterfall at Lottetown mall

After some light shopping action in Lotte Town we headed towards the endless shopping street just nearby, which has all the designer stores and clothing brands you can imagine (the same you can find in the mall), plus hundreds of smaller shops and boutiques. Even though I didn’t buy anything from that area, it was nice to observe the waves of local youngsters spending their Saturday night shopping and getting ready for night’s parties.

The two days we spent in Busan were really enjoyable, and I’m sure it wasn’t the only visit to the city during my exchange. In October, the city hosts the Busan International Film Festival, during which the city will be filled with all kinds of activities and a load of interesting cinematography 🙂

On the following day, our journey continued to Fukuoka, Japan, but unfortunately I have to cover that adventure in a following post. The clock reaches 2:00 a.m. here in Seoul now, and I still have to finish a paper for one of my courses, and to wake up at 8 tomorrow morning for a lecture.

Check back for updates in the near future!

-a

Tomorrow to Busan, and Japan after (hopefully)!

The last few days I’ve been mostly studying and arranging some practical matters, such as opening a bank account and setting up the wireless internet on campus. For a reader residing in Finland, these issues might seem rather trivial, but here the people have made a little bit more complicated. I had successfully opened a bank account in a bank which has a branch on campus, but when I tried to make a Cash Management Service (suoraveloitus), which is mandatory if I want to pay my rent, the bank insisted I would have an alien registration number for it. Fortunately my helpful SNU buddy, Eenhye, came to help me and we went to another bank on campus, where I was able to do everything with just a copy of my passport (my passport is still at the immigration office).

The next step was the internet connection. In the dorm room I have a really fast internet connection with a cable, but I wasn’t able to access the campus Wifi, because my laptop runs a 64-bit Windows 7 (I don’t think I’m the only one). Because of this, I had to go to the computer centre, located on the other side of the campus, where they would magically make the Wifi work. After a brief conversation with the janitor, I could enter the building without a student card, and  finally I was in the evil’s nest, the SNU IT support office. Well, after waiting a short while, a person started to assist me and after filling out a couple of forms he sent some emails and faxes, and it was done! There I had it, a Web-key to the campus wireless network. How hard can it be??! Ok, now it’s in the past so everything is fine but it makes you think how easy these things are in Finland.

A beach in Busan. I hope it will be sunny when we go!

Anyway, two days ago I went to a local shoe store and bought the cheapest pair of Chinese sneakers, even thought the shopkeeper was insisting I should buy a Korean brand because they were “premium”. On that night, I ran two laps around the SNU campus, after which my feet started to feel sore from the new shoes. After almost three weeks of drinking beer and eating barbecue food, it was good the get some sporting action, and I must say It felt amazing to run around the campus. The terrain is certainly challenging: starting from the dormitory, I would say it’s at least 1km of modest uphill, after which it changes in to a very steep uphill around the Engineering school. That steep uphill goes on for about 200-300 metres, but after that it’s a long downhill through the western side of the campus. After perhaps 1km, the downhill slowly fades and a level road follows it until the Main Gate. From there, you go up again bypassing the College of Business, all the way until the dormitory intersection again. In total, one lap is just under 5km, but because of the terrain, it feels like you’ve ran a bit more.

A view of busan

Today was the last day of school before our extended Chuseok-holiday. Tomorrow we have a 13:00 train to Busan in southern Korea, before which we must go to the immigration office and, if the god so decides, we will get our passports again! In Busan, we have a hotel room reserved for two nights, and on Sunday night we plan to take the ferry to Fukuoka, Japan. Our plan doesn’t have any more detail than this, but I guess we will spend around 5 days in Japan and then fly/ferry back to Korea. I only have one must-do thing in Japan, the capsule hotel. Mark my words, I won’t be coming back without sleeping in one! 🙂

Next post is probably going to be after Japan (if we ever make it there)!

-a

An awesome weekend in Jeju-do

On Thursday afternoon we packed our bags and headed towards the Gimpo International Airport, the second biggest in Seoul and the city’s main airport before Incheon Int´l was built in 2001. Gimpo is situated much closer to downtown Seoul, so it was only a 50-minute subway ride from SNU station and we were there, ready for our 1-hour flight with the local low-cost carrier, EastarJet. The company flies with modern Boeing 737’s and the flight went smoothly but mostly in a shroud of clouds, which prevented us from admiring the scenery.

In Jejudo, the island’s main airport is located just a few kilometers from Jeju-si, the island’s largest city. It only took a 10-minute taxi ride for us to reach our hostel, YEHA guesthouse, where we held our base for the whole trip. The hostel was really nice with English speaking staff, clean rooms with good facilities, free breakfast, free beer (one bottle) every night, and most of all with awesome atmosphere!

Fishing boats on the sea catching squid

When we arrived in Jeju-si, it was already evening and we didn’t have the time to go outside the city, so we took a walk towards the city center where the two most important streets lie. On the Pork Food Street you can actually fill your stomach with various kinds of dishes, but as the name suggests, pork (and more specific, the Jeju black skinned pork) is the name of the game in most restaurants. On the Beer Street you can enjoy some refreshments in a number of bars, hof’s and clubs, if there is any space left after the pork street 🙂

A ray swimming its last swims before ending on a plate (not ours)

We chose a Korean BBQ place (for a change), ordered the usual set of pork and beef, a few 3-liter pitchers of beer and a bottle of soju, and feasted away the hunger that had been gaining power since we ate lunch around midday near our campus. After the delicious dinner we hailed a cab and signed the driver to steer us to the harbor area, not exactly sure what we would find there. I guess we seemed like a jolly sort of a group because the driver stopped at the local amusement park. Well, nothing wrong with that, we thought and took a ride in the Viking Boat and had a blast charging each other in the bumber car arena! 🙂 After, we walked in the harbor area where the locals were playing basketball, roller blading and playing some sort of fusion between soccer and volley ball.

Funny local statues used as souvenirs

On Friday we woke up just in time to grab some of the hostel breakfast, gathered our thoughts and made a plan for the day. After getting some instructions from the helpful staff at the hostel, we took a bus along the coastline towards the eastern part of the island. We got off at Gimnyeong Beach, unrolled our beach towels and jump into the sea. The beach was rather small and the sea water wasn’t too warm but the weather was hot and sunny, the sand was white and we all felt like relaxing, so it felt like a perfect destination. Kasper bought a pair of goggles, which we used to explore the waters around a little rocky reef just off the shore. I’ve seen more exciting stuff, but it was still nice to follow the schools of fish and the small crabs hiding between the rocks just under your nose.

Healty lunch a the beach

After the beach we took a cab to the Manjanggul lava tube, the world’s longest system of lava tubes and a UNESCO World Heritage site. When you think about it, it feels amazing how the flowing lava has created this huge (13-metres high at some parts) tunnel deep inside the volcanic island, but in the end we were rather pleased that most of the tube was closed from the public because of extensive rainfall a few weeks before. Walking 1 kilometer back and forth in the cold, dark and moist cave was very much enough for us, and climbing back to the surface was by far the best part of that experience.

The magnificent Sunrise peak

Next on our agenda was Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak) near the town of Seonsang. After walking the endless lava tubes, we were very hungry and enjoyed a late lunch in Seonsang with some Jeju specialities, such as orange flavored Makgeolli (fermented rice wine), sea urchin soup and rice porridge with abalone. After eating, we started to climb on top of the Sunrise Peak. The climb was surprisingly hard, and after catching our breath we enjoyed the view from the top of the 200-meter high volcano.

Lazy-ass Iguana

On Saturday we headed the other way and took a bus going along the west coast towards Hyeopjae beach. Again, the weather was hot and sunny, so we spent a few hours on the beach swimming and snorkeling (there was absolutely nothing to see), during which i managed to burn my neck and shoulders so bad I couldn’t carry my back bag the following day. After the beach, we walked to the nearby Hallim Park, which offered a botanical garden, Jeju folk history exhibition and lava stone and bonsai park, to name a few. The park was huge, and we spent at least two hours exploring it, even though we skipped many parts. Tired from all that walking we took the bus back to Jeju-si, hit the showers and went to have dinner with a nice British couple we met at the beach.

Hyeopjae Beach

Lava stone at Hallim Park

On Sunday we headed south and went to see the World Cup Stadium which was built for the 2002 WC. After visiting probably the lamest sex museum on earth, we went kart racing in the nearby track and showed the locals which is the Maailman nopein kansa. After going around the track with the kart cars, we took the bus to Seopgwipo, the second biggest city on the island. There we went to see the Cheonjiyen on waterfall, which was nice and flowing since it had been raining on the Halla mountain during that day. We ended the Seogwipo tour by batting some baseballs in a pitching machine close by. That was a lot of fun! 🙂

Cheonjiyeon Waterfall

After the 1-hour bus ride to Jeju-si we hit the Pork food street again and sampled some Mexican food, which was surprisingly non-koreanised, and tasted very good. The rest of the evening we spent playing pool and drinking beer.. what else is there? 🙂 We also tasted the fire chicken, supposedly the most spicy dish in the country, but were disappointed by the fact the chicken “leg” was actually the chicken foot. Spicy? Yes. Good? Nope. But I’m not giving up so easily, I’m sure there is some fire chicken made from the better parts of the animal 🙂

All in all, we were really lucky with the weather, since in Seoul it was raining the whole weekend but we didn’t get a drop in Jeju. The island is truly great and the 3 World Heritage sites (of which we saw 2) are worth seeing. But most of the nicest places are scattered throughout the island, so it would have been much more convenient if we could have rented a car, but since we didn’t have an international driving license, we were forced to use the bus and taxi (a lot of that). Also, it would have been if we had climbed the Halla-san, but the 10-hour hike just didn’t fit our schedule during this extended weekend.

On top of the Sunrise Peak

Great weekend behind us and now it’s time to study for a few days before the Chuseok holiday! 🙂

-a