Monday, May 27, 2013

Temple Stay at Magoksa Temple (마곡사) and a Trip to Independence Hall (독립기념관)

When I first came to Korea, I learned about doing a temple stay. Temple stays, as I was told, offered a more unique and intimate experience with the history of Korea and Buddhism. 

Some buildings at Magoksa Temple
How to Sign Up

Basically, there are some temples in Korea where you can do a temple stay. There are options of staying for just a day, or staying for a night or two. In theory, you can sign up and go on your own, but that might be tricky if you're not fluent in Korean.

We all had a chance to bang this drum
A common option is to do what I did, which was sign up for a temple stay with other foreign tourists and residents through a travel group or agency. These sorts of agencies make everything simple. I was able to sign up and send them money to confirm my spot. After that, all I had to do was show up at a location in Seoul at a certain time, and board a rented bus going straight to our destination. It's much easier because you don't have to deal with figuring out how to get there or even simply communicating with temple representatives due to the language barrier. A popular agency is Adventure Korea. There are also groups available on Meetup that do similar trips and organize temple stays.

One of the Shrines
I did my own Temple Stay at Magoksa Temple (Korean: 마곡사). It's located in Gonju city in the Chungcheongnam province. I went with an agency now called Wink Travel and Culture Group with William Cho as the organizer. I actually wouldn't recommend them, as I've had a couple of negative experiences with the group related to two different trips. I'll explain that later. The Magoksa Temple, however, was wonderful... I would certainly recommend doing your stay here. To clarify, I went when I first arrived to Korea back in 2010. 
To learn more or organize your own trip yourself, go here for contact information and instructions on how to get there. It's a bit of a trek from Seoul, but it's not too bad or complicated.

The Program

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Buddha Needs Love Too!

First, I'll admit that I don't know a ton about Buddhism. I've learned bits and pieces from my university and I also did a temple stay as soon as I arrived to Korea during my first stint. About 23% of Korea's population is Buddhist.

I think it's appropriate to note that I'm personally not religious. My family's of a Christian background, but you could say that I'm atheist today.

Today there are more Christians in Korea, although Koreans tend not to use "Christian" as much and use either "Catholic" or "Protestant." While I'm sure many are nice people, these Christians can be quite aggressive and even rude in their recruitment efforts.

If for nothing else in my experience, Buddhism offers a good religious break from the Christians in Korea.

Scenes from the Lantern Parade 2013
The past week Korea has seen some tributes to Buddhism to honor the Buddha's birthday. Over the last week, there was the Lotus Lantern Festival. This has events that include the exhibition of lanterns, the lantern parade, a rally and celebration.

The Lotus Lantern Festival has been held at the same place in the years I've been here. That's in the Donguk University/City Hall area: Or near Jonggak Station (Line 1) on the Seoul subway. Once I get there, it's hard to go wrong with the crowds of people going to the same place.

I last attended the lantern exhibition in 2011. It was gorgeous! Basically, you see pretty, traditional lanterns along the Cheongyecheon stream. It's better at night for obvious reasons. There were lots of people though, which can be a turn-off knowing how rude your fellow picture takers can be.

This year I saw part of the parade, which was equally nice. Lots of folks attended this too, so getting a good spot would mean coming early.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Enjoying Colombia's Coffee Region

Going to the coffee region in Colombia was one of the most memorable parts of my travels in that country. I went there when my mother came to visit me in July 2012. I can't believe it has almost been a year!

We traveled to this part of Colombia after exploring Bogota, the capital city. This was the most challenging leg of our trip, hands down. That's because we ran into a major problem not long after arriving. I'll talk about that later.

My mom posing by the shuttle to Salento

In the morning, we got our things ready and took a taxi to the bus terminal in Bogota. We had booked a place to stay in the tiny town of Salento. However, there were no direct buses, so we had to take a bus to Armenia, the closest big city.

The trip took about 9 hours and the ride had impressive views of the mountains in Colombia. It was windy/loopy, however. Headache medicine if useful for those who get dizzy!

From the bus terminal in Armenia, we had to go to the back of the terminal and go outside where we could take a smaller shuttle to Salento. For a few bucks, we could take the shuttle and arrive to Salento in about 40 minutes.

Salento, Quindio, Colombia

The shuttle took us to the main square of the small town. It looked very simple and had a beautiful backdrop of the mountains surrounding it.

Exploring the main square
When we got there, we went to find the hostel since we arrived in the evening. We eventually snapped some photos of the main square and in front of a statue of Simon Bolivar. Looking around, it was very touristy and there were a bunch of shops, restaurants and bars around the main square and along the side streets. You could see plenty of tourists among the locals.

We did just a tad bit of shopping. I knew I would need a pair of sneakers, so I bought one pair of those along with a pair of sunglasses. They sold all of the typical stuff that you'd find in touristy shops in South America, including the clothes, souvenirs, etc.

We didn't interact with many locals, but they were certainly warmer than the people in Bogota.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo and Friendship!

Last weekend has been an eventful one for me.

At first, my heart was broken by someone and I was a bit upset, but luckily for me I was able to recover and I had a great time.

Cinco de Mayo at On the Border restaurant

It started with a simple Cinco de mayo get together at the On the Border restaurant located by Apgujeong Rodeo station. On this particular night, a group was able to buy out the restaurant for a get together. We were able to have all-you-can-eat tacos, burritos, chicken wings, salad and nacho chips. Not to mention a seemingly endless supply of margaritas! I tried a bit of everything, and I'm happy to say that the food was all great! 

On the Border, taken from their website
To those who might be concerned about the quality of the food, On the Border served us our tacos, burritos and salad with real salsa, sour cream and guacamole. The servings also had an acceptable amount of meat. Don't worry, I've been to my fair share of Mexican restaurants in Korea and have gone through the tragedy of paying a fortune to receive substandard food. Imagine paying more than $20 for a plate only to receive more lettuce and tomatoes than carne (meat/beef)? At On the Border, this is not so. I was also cynical about the margaritas ("Oh, they'll probably run out then serve only cheap beer...") but these surprised me as well. They truly meant all-you-can-drink and the drink was strong. They kept those coming too. 

To check this place out, keep in mind that the restaurant is located in Seoul by the Apgujeong Rodeo station on the Bundang Line. After coming out exit #6, walk straight and make a left onto the first small street. Then, make a right into the first little alley way and walk down. The restaurant is located on the left.
Here I was able to meet some chill people and have good conversations.

Club Answer

Our next stop was club Answer in Cheongdam. 

We took a taxi there, so I can't be sure of the exact directions, but the internet tells me it's close to Cheongdam station on line 7.