Life in Seoul #10: Volunteer Work and Home-stay

Last weekend, I had a chance to experience two activities I hadn’t tried out in Korea: doing a voluntary work and joining a home-stay program. Let me start with the volunteering first.

I applied for this program through a link shared by a Korean friend about a week before, yet I only got the confirmation mail a night before d-day. The mail said we had to be at Digital Media City station at 2 p.m. I arrived there and met some other foreigners before the committee came and brought us to Eunpyeong district office. There, they already prepared raincoats, gloves, and other necessary tools for our activity. We basically just had to distribute briquettes to Korean poor families. None of us expected that the work would end in 15 minutes. According to the committee, they already distributed around 2000 briquettes earlier that day, leaving us with only 200 briquettes. Oh, by the way, there were 7 other foreigners and around 10 Koreans volunteering that afternoon.

Eunpyeong district office
The equipments

After the short work, the committee brought us to Jingwansa, a temple in the middle of mountains and hanoks (Korean traditional houses). One of the monks of the temple guided us around and explained the history of the temple, which was build over 1000 years ago. Surprisingly, she spoke really good English. She said, prior to being a monk, she was once a busy researcher on Indian philosophy.

On the way to the temple

We were then brought to one hanok where food and snacks were ready for us to eat. I personally felt bad because the amount of services we got was a lot more than what we did. Well, anyways, I ate a lot LOL. While eating we were shown a Chinese song and a Russian song sang by two housewives who married to Korean men.

Where the party took place
The Chinese “singer”

After the party, we were introduced to the president of Homestay in Korea, a volunteer association which organizes home-stay activities throughout the country. It turned out that I, along with one girl and one guy from Portugal, got her house as the home-stay place.

The view from our host family’s apartment

Our host mother was an energetic middle-aged woman. Her son was a second year university student who was part of the volunteers too. They could barely speak English, and the two Portuguese could not speak Korean, so I tried my best translating for them. My poor Korean was definitely not enough but I was pretty satisfied for trying my best.

It was already 11 p.m. when the mother brought us out to the World Cup Stadium. This is one of the stadiums where the 2012 Korea-Japan World Cup took place. The sky was not clear that night, so we couldn’t see the pretty night sky of Seoul from the stadium, so the host mother took us to the park at the back of the stadium. After that we went to Hongdae for a while then went to sleep. I tried the Korean-style sleeping mat for the first time. I thought it would be thicker, like Japanese futon, but it apparently was just a piece of cloth. It was find, though, because the floor has a unique heating system which kept it warm.

The next day, before the three of us left the house, our host mother prepared us a set of Korean meal for breakfast. We had tofu with chilli sauce, kimchi stew, fried fish, and of course the kimchi itself. As expected, the homemade food was very delicious. As a spicy-food lover, I felt really good that morning.

Busy host mother in the kitchen

 

Our breakfast

Alhamdulillah, the weekend was full of new experiences to me and other foreigners. I’m now hoping for another chance before leaving Seoul next month. (yes, I only have a month left)

Life in Seoul #9: Seoraksan, Seoul Lantern Festival

I had to queue for a pose with this statue

Seoraksan is a national park in Gangwon-do, South Korea. This place is famous not only for hikers but also for “usual travelers” who wish to see the beautiful scenery especially in autumn. I, of course, belong to the latter.

I took the Gangwon Shuttle Bus which only costs 5,000 won for a round-trip journey between Seoul and Seoraksan. This is not only cheap but also super convenient. The bus departs from Gwanghwamun at 8 a.m. and leaves Seoraksan at 4 p.m.

Seoraksan National Park entrance

The bus arrived at Seoraksan at around 10:30. After paying 2,500 won for the entrance fee, I took a long walk around the national park. It was raining but not hard so I could still enjoy the colors of autumn while being surrounded by trees. The stream with clear water that I passed by was also very calming.

Very autumn-ish
Simply beautiful

One of the attractions which is very close to the entrance of Seoraksan is Sinheungsa temple. The main point of this temple is a giant Buddha statue which is made of bronze.

The statue

I continued walking around until I found the cable car station. Even though the weather was not clear, I wanted to give it a try. A round trip ticket costs 9,000. Unfortunately it was too foggy that I could barely see anything on the way up.

Cable car ticket

I tried to look down from the observatory but it was still foggy. While waiting for the sky to be clearer, I sat down and had some ice cream. One random thing that I found, though, was an Indonesian coffee sack posted on the coffee shop wall.

“Selamat”

The fog started to go away when I rode the cable car back down. This time I could see a very beautiful combination of green, yellow, and red. Subhanallah. Oh, and what made the atmosphere inside the cable car more dramatic was probably the 70s-80s love songs being played inside. Too bad my company that day was a group ajumma (Korean middle-aged women) instead of cool guys. Oops, sorry ajumma!

The view from the cable car

I still had quite a lot of time to spend before the bus came, but since the rain had stopped, I sat on one of the benches near the entrance and had the convenience store kimbap that I bought in the morning. There were some restaurants and coffee shops in and around the park, but there were a bit pricy. Kimbap is like the best choice to save money without being hungry, lol.

One of the coffee shops inside the park

Around an hour before the bus was scheduled to come, I walked outside the national park area and saw some five-star hotels. One of them has a Double Decker parked on its front yard! It’s a bit random but yeah, at least people can try riding it without having to go to London.

Double Decker

Arriving back at Gwanghwamun, I crossed the street to Cheonggyecheon stream. That day was the first day of Seoul Lantern Festival which is located along the stream. Since it was a Friday night, the place was crowded by Korean young people and families. Alhamdulillah I still managed to take some pictures despite having to squeeze myself among the crowd sometimes.

Pororo!
Dragon Ship
The soldiers

Life in Seoul #8: Weekend Trip to Busan

Busan Station

This trip was not actually on my “2014 Korea Wish List”. However, knowing about the Asia Song Festival with EXO, Teen Top, and Henry as some of the performers, I started planning the trip. And here’s how I spent my 2 days in Busan…

Day 1

09:50 Seoul-Busan by Mugunghwa Train

Inside the train

Mugunghwa is the cheapest train going from Seoul to anywhere in Korea. The one-way ticket price to Busan was 28,600 won, which is around half of KTX’s. According to some information I read before buying the tickets, this train is actually as convenient as KTX. The only difference between the two is only on the speed. I didn’t fully believe it at first, but then I really did enjoy the 5-hour journey. The seats were comfortable, the air conditioning system worked properly, and there was enough space for my legs to rest. This one, I bet, would not be found in any bus rides. .

15:30 Arrival at Busan Station, check-in at Mr. Egg Guesthouse Nampo-dong

The guesthouse room

The train was late for around 10 minutes but I was okay with that. After going out from the main station and move to the subway station, I rode the subway to the next station which was Jungang Station. That was the location of my guesthouse. The guesthouse was pretty easy to find even though it was not on the main street.

I really recommend this guesthouse because of the location, the service, and the atmosphere of it. It is only a walking distance from Nampo-dong, the main district of downtown Busan. Most of the most popular landmarks of the city is located within this area. You can also ask for a map of this area at the lobby. Oh, by the way, here is where I found the information about this guesthouse.

17:00 Nampo-dong

One corner of Nampo-dong

I heard that this district is “the Myeongdong of Busan”. Well, both of them indeed have similar atmosphere. Not only clothes, there are also many shops selling food. Of course the street food sellers are there too.

18:30 Gwangalli Beach

The shining beach

So since I didn’t have a chance to see this beach last year, I went there on my first night in Busan. To be honest, apart from the shining Gwangan Bridge, there was actually nothing special in that area.

19:30 BIFF Square

The gate of BIFF Square

This is the site of Busan International Film Festival. Along the street I found soooo many food stalls selling toppoki, hotteok, and even kebab. The movie posters posted on some places were probably the only “movie-ish” thing I saw there.

From there I walked back to the guesthouse. The distance was really short and there were many things to see along the way. I could even see Busan Tower from afar.

Day 2

09:00 Taejongdae

Taejongdae Lighthouse

Going to this natural site was actually a sudden plan. I decided to go simply because I found the information about the bus on the map posted on the guesthouse lobby. The bus stop for city buses going to Taejongdae is located only 5 minutes away from the guesthouse, so I decided to give it a try. The supposedly 30-minute journey took me only 20 minutes because of the high speed bus drive, lol. Anyway, Taejongdae is the last stop for the bus (Bus No. 88).

After arriving at Taejongdae bus stop, I walked up for around 10 minutes and reached the Danubi Train station. This is a 2000-won circular train going to different landmarks around the site. I first got off at the observatory deck and walked to the lighthouse. These two are the main attraction of Taejongdae. I wish I could stay longer to observe more, but the fact that I was alone plus the heavy bag on my shoulder stopped me from doing so. :p

I had early lunch at a restaurant near Taejongdae bus stop. This restaurant is run by 3-4 halmeoni (Korean word for grandmother). I ordered Dwenjang Haemul Chigae or been paste seafood soup, and guess what, I got a huge portion of side dishes. I overheard the halmoeni talking about how good I am at eating kimchi, lol. Well I wasn’t sure that was what they were really talking about because Busan accent is a little bit hard to understand.

12:30 Busan Chinatown

Chinese ornaments

Arriving back at Busan station, I tried to find some interesting sites nearby. Then I found the gate of Busan Chinatown which is located right across Busan station. Interestingly, this area does not only have Chinese but also Uzbek and Filipino restaurants. Even some signs on the streets were written in Uzbek (I assume).

12:45 40-step Cultural Street

The 40-step stairs

From Chinatown, I walked all the way to 40-step cultural street. This street is full of displays about Korean people and their lives during Korean war. Its major attraction is the 40-step stairs which is said to be the place where people used to meet each other during the war.

14:30 Busan Asian Main Stadium

Right before the concert started

Here is the highlight of the day: Asia Song Festival! I thought I arrived too early to the venue, but I was wrong. I saw hundreds of teenage girls trying to catch a glimpse of the rehearsal being held inside the stadium. Some others went to the stalls selling accessories and light sticks to cheer for their favorite groups.

The gate itself opened at around 4 pm. I immediately found my seat, which was on the 3rd floor. After 2 hours of waiting, the show finally started. Even tough I could barely see the performers, I felt quite satisfied because of the amazing lighting and sound system. That was also my first time seeing real Korean K-pop fans, and I was totally amused by how they were so passionate about their favorite groups.

23:10 Busan-Seoul with Mugunghwa Train

I rode the same kind of train to go back home. I don’t usually sleep on train or bus rides, but I was so tired (and happy) that night that I slept really well until I arrived back at Seoul station at 5 am on the next day.