My South Korean Bucket List

With my time in Korea rapidly coming to an end I need to get checking things off this list!

  • Eat sannakji (live octopus) 

I’ve yet to get my head (and stomach) around this one but it will be done!

A vile experience that I plan on never repeating.

Again, a one time only occurrence!

  • Eat bosintang (dog soup)Korean chicken feet

Controversial I know, but it is one of Korea’s most well-known delicacies.

  • Learn Korean

While I am nowhere near being fluent I can at least hold a decent conversation in Korean so I’m going to count this one!

  • Visit EverlandKorean baseball game

We’ve visited South Korea’s largest theme park, albeit on the wettest day of the year.

  • Watch a Korean baseball game

Woo SK Wyverns!

  • Leave a padlock at the top of Namsan MountainNamsan Tower Padlocks

In true K-drama style I have left one padlock with my boyfriend and one with my Mum.

  • Sing in a norebang

I never thought I would enjoy singing in any place other than the shower but there is something about norebangs that makes it okay to grab a microphone and a tambourine and bust out your best rendition of Sweet Caroline!

And what an unforgettable experience that was…

  • Haeundae Beach, Busan

Way down on the south east coast, Haeundae is probably Korea’s most famous beach and I am determined to get there.Pajeon

Just one of Korea’s latest beauty fads, but I am now a convert!

  • Drink makgeolli and eat pajeon on a rainy day

Had plenty of opportunity to do this recently during Korea’s rainy season.
Makgeolli

  • Wear a hanbok

Korea’s traditional dress.

  • Do a Temple Stay

Still trying to find time to get in touch with my spiritual side and do a temple stay in Seoul.

  • Appear on Korean TVBoryeong Mudfest

I think I might have walked behind someone being interviewed at Mudfest last year but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

  • Get a photo taken with a Korean celebrity

Still working on this one, too.

  • Swim in the East Sea and the West Sea

Paddling counts right?Eurwangni Beach

  • Haggle at Namdaemun

Still need to work on my bargaining skills with the ajummas in this huge traditional night market in Seoul.

  • Watch a K-Pop concert

We saw Psy perform in Seoul last summer just as Gangnam Style was at its peak and it was epic!PSY concert Seoul Plaza 4/10/2012

  • Peer over into North Korean from the DMZ

Described as the most dangerous place on Earth, no trip to Korea is complete without going here.

As with most things, weddings in Korea are totally different to weddings at home, and we’ve been lucky enough to go toKorean wedding four of them.

  • Visit Jeju Island

South Korea’s answer to Hawaii and a favourite with Korean honeymooners, Jeju was recently declared one of the New7Wonders of Nature, and an absolute must-see.

  • Visit all 5 of the great palaces in Seoul

One down…four to go…

  • Visit Seoraksan National ParkSeoraksan National Park 

We went nearly two years ago in autumn and it was just so beautiful.

  • See the Lotus Lantern Festival in Seoul

This festival is held every May around Jogye-sa Temple in Seoul in honour of  Buddha’s birthday and is hands down one of my favourite memories of Korea.

  • See the Cherry Blossom Festival

Every spring Korean parks become awash with beautiful pink and white cherry blossom, and Yeouido Park in Seoul is one of the best places to see it.

  • Do the Gangnam Style dance in Gangnam

Many a time!Korean cherry blossom

  • Try kimchi soda

Yes, this actually exists. Along with kimchi cookies, kimchi ice-cream and kimchi cake.

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Seollal 2013: Year of the Snake

This weekend, February 9th, brings with it the Lunar New Year and the start of the Year of the Snake. Although often referred to as Chinese New Year, it is celebrated in many south-east Asian countries, including Korea where it is known as Seollal. While Koreans do celebrate the start of each year according to the Gregorian calendar on January 1st, Seollal is a much bigger celebration, lasting three days.

2013 Year of the Snake

2013 is the year of the snake, which is the sixth zodiac sign in a twelve year cycle. People born in the Year of the Snake (like me!), are said to be wise and thoughtful, people who approach problems logically and rationally. They are clever, but often conceited and egoistic. They are very insightful and naturally intuitive, sometimes said to have a sixth sense. People born in this star sign appreciate fashion and beautiful things. Determined and ambitious, they often take failures to heart. Not sure I agree with all of that…

Last year we braved the cold and spent Seollal at Namsangol Hanok Village in Seoul, experiencing lots of traditional Korean activities and games. This year however, we’re going to see how they do it on the other side of the Yellow Sea; we’re going to Shanghai!

Happy New Year!

Seoul International Fireworks Festival 2012

Last night saw over a million people line the banks of the Han near Yeouido to watch the Seoul International Fireworks Festival. The teams competing this year were Italy, China, America and Korea and they certainly did not disappoint; it was incredible! (For more amazing photos from my even more amazing boyfriend check out his Flickr page!)

Happy 4344th Birthday Korea!!

Today (October 3rd) is Gaecheonjol in Korea, often referred to as National Foundation Day. This day marks the creation of the state of Gojoseon, the first kingdom of ancient Korea.

According to Korean legend Hwanin was the Emperor of Heaven, and every day his son, Hwanung, would gaze down to earth and cry. He was worried about the fate of the humans and wished to bring peace, justice and order to them. So Hwanin allowed his son and 3000 followers to descend to earth. They arrived at Mount Taebaek, in modern day North Korea, and founded a thriving city. It was there that a tiger and a bear approached him, asking if he could make them human. Hwanung is said to have given them 20 cloves of garlic, telling them that whichever one ate only this garlic for 100 days would be granted the wish of becoming human. The tiger soon became impatient and gave up but the bear persevered, and on the 101st day the bear became a woman. Hwanung made the woman his wife, and they had a child named Dangun Wanggeom. On this day in 2333 BC Dangun went on to become the founder of Gojoseon, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Have a good one Korea, you don’t look a day over 4343!

The rabbit on the moon

Ever looked at the man on the moon? Well, in Korea, and other parts of far east Asia, people can see the outline of a rabbit in the dark patches of the moon’s surface. The story varies in Chinese and Japanese folklore, but according to Korean legend, the rabbit on the moon, known as daltokki (달토끼), can be seen pounding the ingredients for rice cakes with a pestle and mortar. Both the rabbit and the full moon symbolise long life and prosperity so when you see a full moon, it is custom to make a wish.

But why a rabbit? According to a traditional Buddhist tale, the ruler of heaven comes down to earth in disguise. He comes upon a fox, a monkey and a rabbit and in a test of their faith, he begs them for food. The fox brings him a fish and the monkey gathers some fruit. However, the rabbit offers himself as food and throws himself onto the fire, but somehow he doesn’t get burned. The man reveals himself, and in honour of the rabbit’s selflessness he takes it up to the heavens with him, and imprints his image on the moon for eternity so people can look at it and remember what he was prepared to do.

Chuseok 2012 추석

Chuseok (추석) is the Korean thanksgiving holiday to celebrate the harvest, and it is the biggest celebration in the Korean calendar. Chuseok falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, which this year was September 30th, and the day before and the day after are also given as holiday to allow city dwellers to visit their hometowns. Chuseok can also be known as Hangawi (한가위), which literally translates as the ‘ides of August’.

The origins of Chuseok are a little unclear, but many Koreans trace the holiday back to ancient worship of the moon. The full moon was considered a special and meaningful event, and so the harvest celebrations were always held on the day of a full moon. Even today it is traditional to make a wish to the ‘Moon Rabbit‘ on Chuseok.

Dancing beneath the harvest full moon

As with Seollal (Lunar New Year in February), Chuseok sees a mass exodus out of Seoul and Korea’s other main cities, as everyone heads to their hometowns in the countryside to visit their relatives and pay their respects to the spirits of their ancestors. For married women, that means visiting their husband’s family and relatives. In the days running up to Chuseok many Koreans tend the tombs of their ancestors, and on the morning of Chuseok a ceremony (차례) is held, offering traditional food and drink to the deceased. A good harvest is often attributed to the blessing of one’s ancestors.

Chuseok 차례 ceremonial table

Food is an important part of Chuseok, and can be very stressful for the women of the family as they have to prepare so much food. Japchae (잡채 is a dish made from clear noodles stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables and sometimes meat), songpyeon (송편 small, crescent-shaped rice cakes filled with honey, red bean paste or chestnut paste steamed on a bed of pine needles), seasonal fruits, baekju (a kind of rice wine), and freshly harvested rice are among the most popular Chuseok foods.

In addition to the 차례 ceremony, typical Chuseok activities include wearing hanbok (traditional Korean dress), playing folk games, singing, and dancing beneath the full moon.

Happy Chuseok everyone!

Lotus Lantern Festival 2012

According to Buddhist tradition, lighting a lotus lantern represents a devotion to performing good deeds and lighting up the dark parts of the world that are filled with agony.

Lanterns outside Jogye-sa Temple, Seoul

Every year hundreds of people take to the streets of Seoul dancing, singing, and carrying lanterns in celebration of Buddha’s birthday. This annual Lotus Lantern Festival took place on May 19th this year.

Lanterns at Jogye-sa Temple

The procession starts at Dongdaemun Gate in the north of Seoul and proceeds through the streets of Insadong before finishing at Jogye-sa Temple.

A coloured lantern is lit for a living person, and a white lantern is for someone who has passed away.

Dragon lantern

White lanterns

Jogye-sa Temple

Roses at Jogye-sa Temple

Incense burning

Putting the finishing touches to a lantern

Bosingak Belfry

Lotus Lantern Festival

Lotus Lantern Festival 2012

Lotus Lantern Festival 2012

Happy Birthday Buddha! 석가탄신일

This weekend is a time of celebration for many Koreans as it is the weekend of Buddha’s Birthday.

The actual date varies across Asia but in Korea Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month, which this year falls on Monday 28th May.

Almost a quarter of the Korean population are Buddhist so naturally it is a very important holiday, and many schools (yay!), universities and shops are closed for the day.

For the last month the streets have been decked out with colourful Lotus lanterns, and last weekend there was a huge parade of dancers, lanterns and floats through the streets of Seoul kick-starting a week of celebrations. Many temples will give free breakfast and lunch to visitors on Monday.

Happy Birthday Buddha!

St. Patricks Day 2012

It’s that time of year again, when anyone who’s Irish, or whose great-grandma’s sister’s cousin’s dog is Irish, uses March 17th as an excuse for a massive party.

Each year the Irish Association of Korea organises a festival in honour of the patron saint of Ireland, and this year it was held at Sindorim’s D-Cube City Plaza, just outside the subway station. The party started at 12.30, but most people had been on the Guinness for a while by then! The weather was beautiful, it’s finally starting to feel like Spring here, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many waygookin in one place!

There was live music all day including a Korean U2 tribute band (?), traditional Irish music, Irish dancing, face painting, a sad Korean clown (?), and a whole lot of Guinness! So much beer that by the time we arrived at 2pm all of the mini-marts in the surrounding area had sold out of beer and we had to trek to Homeplus just to find any.

The festival finished at around 6pm and we headed en masse to Itaewon to continue the party. At 3am, after 13 hours of festivities and far too much maekju, we decided to call it a night and head back to Incheon. All in all a great day, made all the better by a 30-9 victory over Ireland in the rugby!

Happy White Day!

So, White Day 화이트데이 is finally here! After a month of torment and sleepless nights I will finally find out whether my Valentine will reciprocate my gift and my love (we’re about to celebrate our 6 year anniversary so he’ll be in the doghouse until next year’s White Day if he doesn’t!)

Although the 14th of every month has some kind of romantic significance for Korean couples (see here!), the 14th of February, March and April are the most widely celebrated. The girls give chocolates to their loved ones or crushes on February 14th, and the guys then have a month to consider their options before giving a present to the girls in their life on White Day.

White Day is observed in several countries across east Asia, including Japan, China, Taiwan and of course, South Korea. It was first celebrated in Japan during the 1970’s, after the National Confectionery Industry Association proposed an ‘answer day’ to Valentine’s Day. Consequently, many people think of White Day as nothing more than an elaborate marketing ploy, created purely to boost confectionery sales.

The tradition began by giving marshmallows or white chocolate, but recently gifts of jewellery, cosmetics and even designer handbags have become popular. According to department store statistics, the spending on White Day is much higher than during Valentine’s week, and increases by 10-20% each year. Unfortunately for the boys, they are expected to splash out a lot more than the girls!

Happy White Day!