Friday, April 22, 2016

Korea Adventures Part 3

Second last post on my trip to Korea!

Week 5
Times Square | Sincheon | Kyochon Chicken

The weather wasn't too great that weekend so I decided to make time to browse the massive Time Square shopping centre at Yeongdeung-po. Got a much needed haircut in the mean time too! But I was most excited about exploring the massive bookstore KYOBO. It was the bomb! So much to see, had to hold myself back from buying all the drawing pens, brushes, paints, sketch books,... :'(

Same crappy weather hung around on Sunday. I took the train to Sincheon to look for the Kung Fu and Tai Chi Association of Seoul, headed by Master Men Gan Hong. It was recommended to me by Master Tang. I did find their old school, but it was empty and delapitated (like a haunted apartment YIKES!).

Abandoned :(

I later found out that they had moved to a new location a few months prior (there was a note in Korean on the door). It took a lot of clueing to find the active school on the 4th floor of the Terijium. They close on Sundays :(

Nice new school and decent amount of training space

Apart from a good dose of Malaysian food at a decent restaurant in Sincheon, it was a long and sad excursion to the East side of Seoul. To perk myself up, I went on a food shopping spree at the Hyundai department store next to my studio. I wanted bakery, I wanted fried chicken, I wanted dumplings, I wanted dessert, and I got them all!

Spoiling myself with food

Back at work, the awesome Mr Sohn brought in his bike and helmet for me to borrow. He said he had a spare and he would like me to experience bike riding in Seoul. It's a small foldable one with no gearing system but would do just fine for leisurely rides in the area as it was all flat. All I needed were bike lights which I eventually bought for cheap at Daiso :)

This orange wheelie will henceforth be known as Trusty

Wednesday turned out to be rather eventful as it was Pepero day! I got two boxes of chocolate from the ladies in the office and from the canteen. Mr Chan gave me his spare one cause he doesn't eat chocolate. Yummm!!!


Mr Sejin later gave me a run down on other special days which may not be celebrated elsewhere. Valentine's has become quite universal, but their tradition is for a person (usually female) to give chocolates to their crush or partner (same goes in Japan). Exactly a month after that however, 14th of March, is called White Day. This is a chance for the people who received chocolates on Valentine's to return the gifts with chocolate (usually white) or other candies and flowers. 14th of April, is called Black Day. This is for people who did not receive any gifts for Valentine's or White Day. So they have to sit in their lonesome and eat Jajangmyeon (noodles with black bean sauce). Poor things.

At the end of the day, Mr Danny was going to show me the way home on the bike trails (he even rode in to work in preparation for this). We discovered a flat tyre on my bike after spending 30 minutes setting up the bike lights. Mr Danny looked so defeated when we eventually relented to take the subway home instead. He was absolutely determined that I got that bike ride experience, he suggested that we take the bike to the shops to fix the tyre at lunch the next day.

So we had a quick lunch, brought the bike to an old shop where the guy fixed up the leaky valve in no time. When I got back to the office, Josh from PPI told me that Mr Chan had arranged chimek (chicken and beer) dinner at Kyochon Chicken that night. Josh remembered from my first week that I was looking forward to Chimek in Seoul the most but haven't had the chance. I was getting spoiled to no end by these guys, seriously.

Kyochon chicken's special honey sauce basket

They ordered 4 baskets of chicken for the 7 of us. That is 4 whole chickens for 7 people!!! Let's just say some of us rolled out of the restaurant. My excuse was I needed the fuel for the ride home!

Cycling along the Anyang stream from the company all the way up to Yangpyeong-dong

The bike ride was only 15 minutes with the main stretch of the ride along the Anyang stream on bike paths. It was quite enjoyable, save for the fact that Mr Danny was testing to see how fast I could go! He suggested that I join the company cycling team (sorry, but hell no! I know that most of them are beasts and I trying to keep up with them would mean certain death for me).

From then on, I continued to use little Trusty to commute to and from work on fine days. And I miss being able to do that so easily (pick up your game Melbourne!).

Week 6
Sincheon | Cheonggyesan | Tent restaurant

I decided to give the Wushu school at Sincheon another go this weekend. It was open this time! But Master Hong was in America for a seminar and a young lad from the Beijing Wushu Team was teaching the class Taichi instead. I did some warm up stretches and braced myself for the pain to follow (ugh my squeaky knees!). Unfortunately the school only runs Wushu classes on weekday afternoons, for kids... It was an hour each way for the trip anyway, so I decided to do regular training in the apartment gym for the rest of my stay.

Or go hiking every other weekend! Harry and Mr Chan arranged to meet with me at Cheonggyesan (south of Seoul) on the Sunday. I wanted to see how Seoul hiking trails compared to the ones at Seoraksan. No competition really, Seoraksan wins hands down!

We stopped at a grocery store to get kimbab and makkeolli for when we reach the summit of the trail. It is tradition to enjoy some makkeolli after a hike (and makkeolli is delicious). The sky was a bit grey but didn't open up on us. But previous rainy days had made the tracks wet and muddy, which made the climb a tad more difficult. Plus I saw squirrels! Harry wasn't too fond of them as these were not native, unlike the chipmunks I saw at Seoraksan. Which means the squirrels have been competing with the tiny ones for food and territory.

Base of Cheonggyesan

Danpung all around! 

A group of conifer trees going yellow and beautiful white flaky fungus 

It didn't take us too long to reach the top thanks for Mr Chan's pacing i.e. fast! The food and drinks were enjoyed, we had some hot instant noodles from a vendor set up at the summit. Apparently they had hard boiled eggs too, but had run out long before we got there!

 View from the summit (one of many)

Mr Sohn, who initially considered joining us for the hike, decided to meet with us for dinner instead. Harry had already made dinner plans with family so he left after Mr Sohn and his son came to the base of the mountain to pick us up in his Mini Cooper! He brought us to a quaint restaurant called Pungcheon-ga (풍천가). His son celebrated his 10th birthday there recently and they really liked the food and service. The place was beautiful too! We opted for a bbq at one of the deck areas outside the restaurant building.

Little vegetable garden with a CHUBBY AS dog guarding it!

Mr Sohn shouted us to a nice BBQ with lots of other side dishes. We finished the meal with a pot of hot noodle soup.

Yummy food~

I got a really good sleep after I got back to the studio. It was getting quite cold though, and the studio heater wasn't very effective.

When this business trip was first announced, I was really looking forward to enjoying autumn a second time in the year. Most of all, that meant that I could skip Spring season therefore hay fever in Melbourne. BUAHAHAHA!! What I was not counting on, was for my weak immune system to fall prey to the cold. I caught some bug mid-week with a headache, fever, sore throat, and the works. The company first aid box was in the HR department so Mr Danny had to take me there to get medication. They didn't have Panadol (they use Tylenol instead). I was given an assortment of flu and cold medication just in case. I decided to take the bottled herbal remedy and a flu tablet. Sis  later confirmed that the medication were OK based on the photos I sent her (pharmacist's approval LOL). Miss Jenny heard I was unwell so she made me a potent dose of ginger tea to make me feel better.

Ms Jenny slowly guiding me to wellness by killing bacteria with ginger 

Mr Jun (head of the marketing team) decided to have the fortnightly team dinner at a nearby restaurant after work. It turned out to be a mini tent set up equipped with heaters and mini stoves on the tables. I was feeling better after the ginger tea and all the meds so I decided to join in for the experience. There was grilled pork belly, kimchi jigae, and kimchi pajeon (so so good!) Mr Will from the PPI team also came to join us after he was done at the office. As we were not formally introduced, the age thing came up again and I was very surprised by how much older he was compared to what I initially thought.

He thought I was flattering him and I earned a light smack in the arm for that :P

The conversation about age must have carried on, as somewhere down the line Mr Sohn started pointing to his hair and I guessed it must been about balding. So I asked!

 I earned a smack from that too. Thank you, Harry, for keeping me in check!

Eventually, we decided a combination of genetics, work stress, and excessive testosterone as the cause of balding. With that, Mr Sohn proceeded to talk and act in feminine ways. I was dying from laughter.

Mr Sohn's feminine laugh

Week 7
Zoo | Snow flurries

On my trip to Cheonggyesan the previous week, I discovered a zoo nearby. Seoul Grand Park has one of the largest zoos in the world (not as big as San Diego obviously). I wanted to see what this zoo was like so I made a day trip out of it on the Saturday. It is a massive park all in all and great for a leisurely stroll.

Gorgeous landscaping within the zoo grounds

After exploring the whole avenue I felt the large landscaping and pathways could have been better utilised by making some of the animal enclosures bigger. From memory, the primates and the elephants were very confined and the enclosures were not well maintained at all. The other enclosures on the other hand were quite decent. Of course, I spent at least half an hour with the flamingos.

Long necks! Graceful flamingo and awkward giraffe

The big cats enclosures were some of the better ones. Though, I do question the idea behind keeping 16 adult male lions together in one enclosure, sharing food no less. Check out the poor guy on the right.

 Big cats, big cats, whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

I spent a good 4 hours at the zoo and had time left over to visit the Gwacheon National Science Museum which was in the same vicinity. The building was a beautiful piece of modern architecture. The inside had decent stuff, but nothing too special. I think I wasn't as interested as I normally would have been cause I was hungry. Sigh...

Spent a lot of time with the aquatic animals~ Hellooooo Nautilus!

I woke up feeling under the weather on Sunday. I was really really craving a big Aussie brekky with poached eggs, bacon, mushrooms on nice crunchy sourdough. I quick google showed me that cafes and restaurants which served this kind of food were all in the Gangnam area. That meant a 45 minute subway ride. Stuff that!!

I went across the river to the Omokgyo area to see if any other food would satisfy. I settled for Italian, and it was GOOD! I had to pick out a lot of whole garlic cloves though. I found about 25 of them in the sauce but the flavour was awesome. Who knew that was how many garlic cloves it takes?

Spaghetti with mushrooms and chunky beef in hearty red sauce for brekky

With the temperatures dropping more and more, I check the forecast before bed and decide on whether or not to ride in to work the next day. Let's just say I underestimated how cold 2 degrees could feel like. I rode in to work and regretted it very badly. I thought my nose and ears were going to fall off.

That didn't stop us from going for the lunch break walks though! That just meant more hot coffees and thicker jackets :)

Mr Chan leading the pack as usual!

Mid-week, I experienced first snow in the suburbs! It was actually just snow flurries but I was ecstatic nevertheless. Mr Sejin and Mr Chan informed me the moment they found out because they knew I had been hoping to see snow. We went to the rooftop of the company to enjoy it for a while before getting back to work.

We ended the work week with more food adventures with the PPI team. Lunch at a dumplings place and lots of street food for afternoon tea!

Bulgogi beef soup for lunch (with dumplings of course) and must have korean street food for the arvo

Week 8
Temple hopping | First proper snow

To be continued ...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tiny Trails

This article was recently published and it is something I am absolutely proud to share with everyone. Shout out to Alyssia Tedeschi for being such an incredibly amazing person to work with, and an extremely talented touch up artist! In her own words, this project was a labour of love, and a lot of hard work had gone into it. The tone, idea, and blending were all done by her, and the end results are just simply stunning. I am incredibly lucky to be part of this! See the link for the beautiful works of art :)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Korea Adventures part 2

This week deserves its own post as I took way way too many photos and I decided not to consolidate most of them :)

Week 4
Sokcho | Seoraksan | Hongcheon

It was hard waking up that Saturday morning. I wanted to get to the Express Bus Terminal early just in case I couldn't figure out where things were; I was forewarned that it was a large terminal. I got to the terminal with 15 minutes to spare and found the boarding gate to Sokcho with the help of a friendly local. I showed the bus driver my printed itinerary and he gave the thumbs up! I breathed a sigh of relief and made myself comfortable on the bus. Just before departure though, a young bus conductor started checking everyone's tickets and said mine was invalid................................... NOOOOOOOOooooOOOOOO!!! What do you mean invalid?! He told me I had to get a legit one printed at the ticketing counter. I bolted for it, but the lady said it was 2 minutes past departure time so she couldn't issue a proper ticket. After much persuasion, and giving the bus conductor Ms Jenny's number since she made the payment, he finally let me board the bus... Crisis averted...

The bus ride took 4 hours, arriving in Sokcho at noon. From the Sokcho Intercity Bus Terminal, I caught a local bus to the House Hostel; base bus fares were 1200won. I missed the stop the first time, but I got there eventually! The owner of the House Hostel, Mr Yoo, deserves a shout out cause he really knew how to make people feel welcome. He provided lots of info about tourist hotspots, good restaurants nearby, bus info for travelling to Seoraksan, everything you needed to know about the area! I left my luggage for them to look after, took my camera bag, and took the bus to Seoraksan straight away.

Small cosy room at the House Hostel

My colleagues weren't kidding when they said this week was peak season for autumn leaves viewing, the place was PACKED! This was only one of the staring points to reach the ranges. It was certainly the most accessible and the most popular spot. They had delicious chicken skewers and steamed corn on the cob too Yuummm...!

I had a few hiking options but very little time. I wanted to catch the bus back to Sokcho before it got dark, which gave me slightly less than 4 hours. Ulsanbawi and Geumganggul were my options at that point but I decided to go with Ulsanbawi as I wanted to see the rocky formations at its summit. I was fit enough not to feel too exhausted from the hike and reached the summit in 2 hours, even with all the constant stopping to take photos!

 Entrance to Seorak National Park

 Patiently waiting at the side of the track until people have passed for scenic photos

 Most of the track followed a small stream

 Stone stacks

 View from Heundeulbawi (Shaking Rock) - a sort of halfway point for the track

 Steel steps leading to the summit of Ulsanbawi from Shaking Rock

 At the summit!!

View of Sokcho from the summit of Ulsanbawi

Hann would have totally done the hike later just so he could watch sunset from the top but I didn't have a torch, or food, to sustain myself through the dark. The view in soft afternoon light was good enough for me. The hike down took me less than an hour! I practically ran down the steps and overtook huge groups of people at a time cause I was HUNGRY!

I got back to my room, showered, and found out I had roommates! They were a mother-daughter duo who came to conduct an arts and crafts workshop for the weekend. Mini was my age, she spoke very little English but we were able to communicate using Google translate (thank you Google!). I had to excuse myself for dinner half way through our conversation when my stomach growled... She laughed and told me we could continue our conversation later.

I whipped out the map that Mr Yoo showed me when I first arrived and decided to go for hotpot. I wanted something soupy and hot after the hike. It was getting cold too!

 Very useful and informative map for someone hungry

I got to the restaurant and the waitress told me they had only one item on their menu, seafood hotpot for 18000won. Perfect! I made myself comfortable on the floor mat, and was quickly served the banchan with the hotpot following soon after.

Beautiful seafood hotpot with some surprises

It was only after taking a photo that I realised something was off. THERE WAS MOVEMENT IN THE SOUP! Specifically, the ABALONE WERE ALIVE!!! *I cried a little inside* The waitress saw my horrified/confused/reluctant face and came over to help. "This," she held up a squirming abalone, "you put IN." With that, she dunked the abalone into the hot soup. The other abalone, I had to dunk myself as she had already walked off. As I ate everything else, I hoped the abalone had a swift demise. I left them in the soup til last, just to make sure they were deader than dead before I fished them out.

Verdict: Clean tasty broth, large serving, great variety of seafood, freshest I've had in a while, beautifully cooked, and a dash of guilt for dunking the poor guys into hot soup.

Walking around Sokcho night market - Statue showing fishermen with their catch

The night ended with me and Mini having translated conversations and us exchanging home addresses to keep in touch in the future. She's already sent me a Christmas card she made herself!!

I had an early night as I wanted to catch sunrise at Seoraksan. I was such a disappointment to myself. I missed the sunrise while on the bus to the National Park (fail). It was much much quieter than the previous day and it felt like I had the park to myself :D I decided to take a short trail to the Biryeong falls.
 Wood pecker and Asian Magpie

 Autumn foliage

 Quiet track all to myself

And encountered mini chipmunks along the way!! THEY ARE SO CUTE!

Another chipmunk!! 

Hanging bridge

 Beautifully maintained hiking trails

The Biryeong falls viewing platform which was under construction at the time

I wished I could stay at the National Park for longer, but I wanted to see the rest of Sokcho. Besides, the park was getting crowded again. The bus took me back to town where I had a massive bowl of Kalguksu for lunch (scrumptious!)

It was a massive bowl - I sadly was not able to finish it D:

I walked from the lighthouse to the beach and back to the House Hostel in the arvo. There is no way I would let myself miss the bus home!

 Shellfish market next to the dock

 Fauna in the rock pools at the beach

 Adorable wall art

 After a long 4 hour trip home, I dumped all my sweaty clothes into the washing machine and made way for bedtime.

Back in the office, my colleagues were very keen to know if I managed to catch the autumn leaves in Seoraksan and were asking to see photos. Autumn viewing or 'danpung' as they call it, is a yearly affair. They were kind of jealous not to have had that chance that weekend :P

Having said that though, the team had organised an overnight-getaway workshop in Hongcheon on the Thursday and Friday! They told me they didn't have the chance last year as the timing was just terrible for everyone. Again, I was incredibly lucky to be IN Korea, with THIS particular team, at THAT particular time. How did a graduate all the way from Australia get to work and hang out with all these cool people.

It was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about everyone in the team and how they worked together, in a very relaxing environment to boot! When the discussions were done, we just sat next to the campfire and ate all night. There was heaps of meat and kimchi and ramyun *so delicious* I will admit that I was the first casualty of the night. I just didn't have the stamina that they did to eat through the night :3

 The chalet we were staying in for the night

The Hong River aka Hongcheon 

Korean BBQ at its finest! 

Another chance to enjoy the autumn leaves 

Maeuntang for breakfast

The next morning we went to a restaurant famous for their maeuntang (spicy fresh fish soup) before we headed back to Seoul.

Week 5
Cheonggyesan | More Korean BBQ

To be continued...