Friday, April 26, 2013

My Magical Adventure at Lotte World

One view of Lotte World, an Amusement Park
Last weekend, we were wondering about how we were going to spend our Sunday evening. I decided that it would be convenient for us to go to Lotte World! It was actually the third time I've been there, but it has been awhile since I've been. I last went to the park in 2011.

Taking in the Scenery

Lotte World (or 롯데월드 in Korean) is a small to medium-sized amusement park in Seoul. It's located in the eastern section of the city and can be accessed by subway. Anyone interested in going should head to Jamsil station on line #2, and you can enter the park without having to exit the subway station. It can also be accessed from the outside, behind or beside the large Lotte Hotel World. 

Lotte World has all sorts of games and rides, including roller coasters for all ages. As a result, there were tons of children, adults and couples there. They also give live performances every now and then. They have an ice skating rink, too. Visitors can buy pretty souvenirs, carnival-type junk food and there are plenty of restaurants. We decided to only have a snack at the park and we went to the nearby TGI Friday's for a real dinner.

I like this amusement park in particular mostly because of its size and convenient location. It's easy to arrive here, but it's more complicated to get to Everland. We only had Sunday evening, so it made sense to come here. And we managed to have a good time in a few hours. Another big plus is the fact that many, if not most attractions are indoors. That way, I can enjoy myself even in poor weather!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Unplanned Vacation

One of my most memorable experiences took place with almost no plan in place
Over the next few weeks, I have a few coworkers who will be taking holidays from work. I've just started with the company, so I'm not allowed to plan any vacation days yet ... but I can still think about them, right?

That let me to think about my past travels, and how I'll plan future vacations. The most memorable of those have one thing in common. They were all unplanned vacations.

By "unplanned vacation," I mean the type where you purchase a plane ticket to an exotic locale, and just go. This is without mapping out your activities for each day or tightly scheduling your sightseeing. You just go and do whatever comes to you at the time.

This isn't for everyone. I know many people who would be frightened at the very suggestion of forgoing planning. But the truth is, my experiences have showed me that things are just more fun that way.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chicken Ginseng Soup and French Toast ... A Food Post?

This week has been a good one in regards to food. I've cooked some good meals and had a chance to try out some soup at a famous restaurant in Seoul.

The front entrance of Tosokchon
After doing some shopping, I decided to try out a restaurant with some folks. The restaurant is called Tosokchon (토속촌) and it is located in northern Seoul, a couple of streets down from Gyeongbokgung station (line 3) exit 2. Walking straight out of the exit, it's about two streets up. After a left turn onto a small street, the restaurant is located a little down on the left side.

Tosokchon is famous for its chicken ginseng soup, or samgyetang (삼계탕) in Korean. Samgyetang is a soup dish of a whole chicken, stuffed with rice, cooked in a broth with Korean ginseng. There are many varieties, but this is the main idea of the dish. Aside from it being very delicious, this soup is also said to cure and prevent illness. It is even consumed in the summer months to restore nutrients lost in the heat.

After arriving, I ordered a simple dish of samgyetang, which comes with tea and few sides including cabbage and radish kimchi. They also give you a shot of a ginseng liquor. The soup itself was great and filling. The sides were good too. The ginseng shot was pretty strong and wasn't tasty at all -- but this obviously isn't the point! The experience set me back 15,000 korean won, or $13.28. Not bad!

The restaurant has a touristy feel to it, since it's aesthetically nice and they had a host dressed up in a hanbok (Korean traditional dress) seating people. It's also a restaurant where the patrons sit on the floor to eat. That's something that looks cool from a touristy perspective, but it can get uncomfortable. In any case, the food more than makes up for it. I would definitely recommend this place to others.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Korean Language Journey (So Far...)

Even though this is my 3rd year in Korea, I'll admit that I don't actually know much Korean. This is my fault, officially beginning with my waiting for more than 6 months to even learn to read the language. My life had changed and became much, much better after doing that one simple thing!
My textbook and a gift from a classmate!

I debated about how much effort I should put into learning the language, because I know that it would take years to just to become very good at speaking Korean. I also wondered how long I would actually be here. Would I put in an astronomical amount of effort, only to leave and never use it again? In the end, I figured that I should learn something, even if it's just to help me survive.

Lots to learn on the board
Eventually, in the fall of last year I --ahem-- picked up a copy of Rosetta Stone Korean. I worked on that for awhile and got through the three levels. I found it to be a good introduction for those that know absolutely nothing about the language. It isn't that comprehensive though, so I believe a serious learner shouldn't rely on it.

I knew that when I came back that I would at least sign up for a Korean class. There are many in the country. The best known courses are full time, fast-paced and offered by  universities here. Since I work and generally have other things to do, I knew that a comprehensive course would have been unfeasible for me.
My class all together

The good thing is that the Korean government provides funding for free Korean classes for foreigners. I was able to sign up for one of these in my area.

The specific course has many different levels, from absolute beginner to test prep-level. The first course was fun, but it wasn't challenging because I was placed with beginners who were unable to read or introduce themselves in Korean. I asked to move and they moved me to a slightly higher level. The classes have been good ever since, and our teachers are pretty friendly.

The book they gave us is pretty informative and it cost less than $20. The pace isn't too fast and the atmosphere is relaxed. My classmates are also pretty fun to talk to. So, I'll be happy for the time being.

I don't have a specific goal on my language-leaning journey, but rather to just keep putting in effort to improve and hope I like where I'll end up eventually. In the meantime, I'll still do my best to keep up with my Spanish and will continue to practice Portuguese when I have time.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So ... What Is Going On with North Korea?

Kim Jong Un and North Korea have kept themselves in the headlines lately
While reading the news, I've noticed that Kim Jong Un and North Korea have been stepping up their ridiculous rhetoric over the past few weeks. As a result, North Korea has been dominating the news, occupying the top story spot for most of the past two weeks.

As a result, people all over the world have been wondering what is going to happen next. After all, I and everyone else would rather have peace on the Korean Peninsula. 

As an expat here in Korea, I've known quite a few folks to be receiving phone calls, e-mails and even facebook messages from worried friends and family members. No one in my family has contacted me personally, but that's because they probably haven't been paying attention (they tend to get their news locally on TV, and my family's not known for following international conflicts).

In related news, I'm staying relatively close to the Osan Air Base.  Just about every morning I hear different planes wizzing over my apartment building.

The truth is that life has been continuing as usual. Locals and expats alike are still going to work and heading home. They still find their way to the bars to get drunk. They still eat out at restaurants, and so on. There isn't any sort of widespread panic or chaos, and on average, expats are more "worried" than the locals, who have been hearing flaming rhetoric from their northern neighbors their entire lives. People are calm because threats of total destruction are normal for the south. So they continue to do what they normally do.

That said, it doesn't mean that nothing will happen. North Korea could still torpedo another ship or shell another island. They could even shoot rockets or invade. However, it appears to be unlikely that a full-scale war will happen, since Kim Jong Un would have nothing to gain and everything to lose after such a move. At the same time, we still have to be alert -- which is what people are. All Koreans know what is going on and are paying close attention. They just don't let it disrupt their lives.

As for me, I'm ok. All I can do is sit and wait to see what happens next. Let's hope for the best, shall we?