I need your help; I’m submitting some photos for a Korean Tourism Photo contest and can’t decide which photos to use! I narrowed it down to 10 choices but can only submit 5 photos. What are your favorites (pick up to 5)?
Dinosaur Ridge, the name alone tells me that Seoraksan’s main ridge will likely be my favorite hike in Korea. After a 3 am start I found myself at the first of MANY peaks just before lunchtime and suddenly wasn’t so sure. But there I go, getting ahead of myself again.
A few weeks ago I hopped another midnight bus with Seoul Hiking Group (Thanks Warren, Breanne, Tom, Ashley and the other helpers!). A few short hours later we awoke at 2:30 in Seoraksan National Park; gates opened at 3:00am sharp so we got in the line with 100’s of Koreans.
Yes, you read that right. At 3am there were literally 100’s of Koreans lined up to hike this amazing trail. The moon shone nearly full above and when the figurative bell tolled we “sprinted” up the steps. Okay, so maybe 100’s of people clamoring along rocky steps with an absurd incline isn’t exactly sprinting. It wasn’t too bad in the pitch black outside of the occasional ajusshi”forgetting” that their headlamp was on when they blinded you.
After a few hours of darkness we found ourselves on what we could only assume was the first ridge. The view below eerily brought images of the River Styx with dark clouds floating through shadowy valleys to my mind. Suddenly the moon came out from hiding behind the clouds. A little illumination was all we needed to begin making out the stunning greenery below. The muted colors pushed us onward promising a better view in the coming hours.
Stars and a magnificent moon provided enough light that we began switching off our headlamps. Or was that the sun creeping over the ridge ahead? Either way the scene kept growing around us as the climb settled down. The first push upward was rough but along the ridgeline the elevation changes were minimal.
Reds, and oranges crept over the Eastern horizon mixing with the deep blue above Donghae (동해.) The sun began illuminating what Koreans refer to it as Donghae (East Sea) while most maps label the beautiful body of water as the Sea of Japan.
We continued our trek as that orange glow spread through the mountains and trees before us. The trail shone wonderfully as a few small climbs created a small bottleneck. We welcomed the respite happy for a water break and a moment to enjoy the growing scene beneath us.
The sun now climbing above its first hand we soon found ourselves at the first rest stop. This lodge lay just beneath Daecheongbong, the tallest peak in Seoraksan. Gauging our time my group decided to save Daecheongbong for another day, we took a quick pit stop to refill our water before taking the fork back towards Dinosaur Ridge.
Back on the trail we caught our first glimpe of Dinosaur Ridge! Well, we thought it must be Dinosaur Ridge anyway. Now well into the morning hours the true beauty of Seoraksan presented itself for us to take in. Breathtaking views were all around us with endless mountains to the west, spectacular ridges, the East Sea and Ulsanbawi in the distance!
I can’t believe I’m already into my third month here in Seoul! It feels like only yesterday that I was sitting at Forte’s pizzeria eating my favorite two slices, Bacon Chicken Ranch and Caeser Chicken Salad pizza. Man those would be delicious right now. I mean the food here is out of this world; both in tastes and “creativity?” but in many ways it doesn’t compare to what we have back home.
I’ve tried creepy meals and dined with new friends, sang my heart out at 3am in a Noraebong, danced until the subway started running again at 5:30am, hiked to 4 different peaks in Bukhansan National Park, visited Buddhist temples and 3 Royal Palaces. I fenced my heart out and beat up a bunch of Koreans, enjoyed my brother’s visit with hikes, great food and learned about the Korean war while crossing into the DMZ. The list goes on and on. Its all been a great 2 months and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I’m already feeling like I’m going to stay on for at least a 2nd year although I am pretty certain I want to find an international school instead of a hagwon. We’ll see what happens with my new administration in the next few weeks; so far I met the new director and she can speak English at least ten times better than Mrs. Yi; she also seems to be much more knowledgeable about what an ESL classroom really needs like oh I don’t know, phonics?
My apartment is mostly set up but I am still looking for a few things. I’m hopeful that today’s paycheck will arrive before I leave for the day so I can start scouring what the expats are leaving behind on craigslist as they leave this lovely country. I figured out how to use a “dehydration” cycle on my washing machine that cuts down drying time from 3 days on the rack to about a day and started cooking my own meals too!
So far I mostly just eat cereal for breakfast & make omelets. I’ve got some frozen dumplings & bulgogi burgers that I’ll throw together with ramen. I’ve learned how to make a few Korean dishes by teaching Cooking class in school and will start expanding my palate at home.
My after school classes are going well. Clinic on Mondays just got a new student so I’ve gotta revamp the lessons a little; my Tues/Thurs book club finished their 4th book and I’m helping them with their writing and studying techniques before we start Judy Blume’s Fudge-a-Mania & Doublefudge. Its a little odd that I asked for more advanced books in September and was given 2 easier Magic School Bus chapter books for October and then jumped 3 grade levels to the fudge series for November. It’ll be way more challenging but I think they are up for it!
My Wed/Fri clinic is a lot of fun. I’ve got 2 K-7 kids who are really enjoying the lessons we do and they are actually excited about getting homework! We do a lot of conversation and just started talking about comparative adjectives. My “shy” student is coming out of her shell as she realizes she has a better grasp of English grammar than my “bossy” student who keeps trying to cheat at phonics hangman. All in all I really enjoy all my students I just wish I didn’t have to teach 2 hours everyday after a full day of Kindergarten.
Speaking of the full day Kindergarten they are reading & writing better already! We put up a sight word wall, a phonics wall and have been working on creating our own sentences rather than just copying from the board. They love centers which I do 3x a week and even my girl who is ran away from me in the beginning of the year will laugh and smile with me.
I still have so much to explore around Seoul and about Korean culture. I’m planning on heading to the east coast this weekend to go hiking in Seoraksan National Park in the last few days of fall foliage. I am excited to try the winter sports out here as it gets colder and still need to find a gym & jingabong (Korean Bath House). I start my language exchange classes in the next few weeks and am excited to be able have more Korean than simply being able to order a meal!
I can’t wait to start traveling around the region and taking weekend trips outside of the city too. Japan & Hong Kong sound like they are affordable & worth taking a weekend to and I just started planning a longer trip into Vietnam. I was accepted into the beta for a crowd funding travel website, http://www.Trevolta.com, and am putting together a team to try and get a sponsored tour of the amazing country, including Son Doong Cave. I’m looking forward to my trip to Boracay for New Years and joined another website called http://www.Couchsurfing.com to connect with like minded travel enthusiasts who will help me experience life like a local wherever I go.
Thanks for following my journey these past few months. I hope you’ve enjoyed the updates and I will certainly keep them coming! Keep reading, commenting and enjoying as I keep living, learning, traveling & teaching.