Pulling a Moses and Parting the Korean Seas

Parting of the SeasOne of Korea’s many odd festivities is the Parting of the Seas Festival that takes place every spring on Jindo Island.  Once a year the tides go down so low that the seas “part” and Jindo Island connects with another island.  While crossing the tidal flats probably wasn’t as dramatic as parting the Red Sea a la Moses, my trip to Jindo was entertaining nonetheless and gave me a chance to see a part of Korea I know I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Sea life! When we got to the Parting of the Seas Festival the sea was still a few hours from parting and we had just finished a grueling 6-hour bus ride on the world’s least comfortable bus in existence.  To stretch our legs and revel in the joy that comes with having room to move again, we set out and explored all the booths and had a few drinks by the beach.  From the beach we could see countless Koreans filling bags with seaweed.  As someone who detests the taste of seaweed, these giant bags looked about as appetizing as the mud that was slowly emerging as the tide lowered.

Stripper Rain BootsWhen it was about time for the tide to reach its lowest point, we headed to the spot the path to the other island would soon emerge from.  Before we could cross we had to put on thigh-high, neon orange rain boots as part of the crossing involved trudging through seaweed marshes.  Once we had our new, ever-so-sexy footwear on, we pushed our way through the crowd and raced across to the other island before the tide came back in.  As we got further out the ground became rockier and tide pools revealed starfish and octopuses that were bottom dwellers about a half hour prior to me seeing them.

In addition to seeing various forms of aquatic life slithering about the rocks and shells, I was also able to witness even more seaweed harvesters lining up the path from island to island.  Many of them had sailed to a spot they knew the water would be completely receded from and waited for their boats to eventually be lowered to dry land where they could maximize their seaweed scavenging without having to push past the thousands of other festival goers.  In the spirit of the festival, I took a piece of seaweed from the water but lost it somewhere in the crowd.  Somehow, I think I might find a way to live.

The tide was only out for about an hour and a half so we were only at the festival for a few hours.  Once we crossed back to Jindo Island, we had to get back on the Medieval torture device known as my bus back to Seoul.  Despite the short duration of the actual Parting of the Seas, the festival was well worth the long bus ride.  After all, any experience that involves a festival with a biblical name pun as a title is a-okay in my book.

Pulling a Moses


My Trip to a Park Centered Around a Very Specific Male Reproductive Organ

Penis ParkEver since I got to Korea I have thought of it as America in 20 years technology-wise but America in the 1950s when it comes to social structure.  Gender and family roles are much more visible in Korea, even in the ultra-modern Seoul, than I have ever noticed in the US.  With this in mind, I was shocked when I discovered that in a town a few hours outside of Seoul was a park dedicated to the penis.  Feeling that this was entirely too random of an experience to pass up, I headed to Samcheok with a few friends and went to Haesindang, the penis park of Korea.

The story behind Haesindang is almost as amusing as the park itself.  I’ve run across a few variations of the tale online, but I’m going to give my favorite version of why Haesindang exists.  Long ago, there was a couple engaged to be married who were madly in love.  The man was a fisherman who went out to sea a lot.  The woman loved to eat what he brought home and on the morning of their wedding, the man went to the beach to quickly fish up something to surprise his bride.  Unfortunately there was a storm and freak tidal wave took him out sea, killing him.  Filled with grief, the woman threw herself into the sea as she no longer had anything to live for.

Penis Park BeachIt turns out that not even death could contain her grief.  Apparently losing the love of her life was only part of her devastation.  As this was many years ago, engaging in certain physical aspects of love outside of marriage was a major no-no and she was also more than a little bit disappointed about not having been able to see exactly how her fisherman sailed his ship to shore, metaphorically speaking.  Because of the anger at her situation, the woman haunted the town after her death, blocking the fisherman from catching anything and, as a result, impoverishing the village.

HaesindangOne day a man passing by the beach the ghost woman killed herself at realized he needed to answer nature’s call.  Facing the ocean, the man relieved himself, catching the eye of the ghost woman.  After finally seeing what was going on below the opposite sex’s belt, the woman was able to rest in peace and fish returned to the village, letting it prosper once more.  To stop this from ever happening again, the fishermen built giant phallic statues on the coast.  Why Hollywood has yet to be turn this into a major motion picture is beyond me.

Regardless of whether any of this is based of fact or if it is entirely fictional, the park turned out to be an amusing getaway.  The coastal location was gorgeous and it was pretty close to a few caves we ended up walking through as well.  While it probably won’t be competing with Disneyland to become the next great family vacation spot, Haesindang was well worth the $2.00 admission fee.  Take that, Magic Kingdom.

Is This Miami? No, It’s Eurwangni Beach!

It’s been over a month since my last three day weekend and it’s going to be another month until the next one.  Needless to say, this isn’t exactly conducive to seeing Asia.  I’ve started developing a sort of cabin fever with regards to Seoul.  I’m seeing lots of the city but I’m really itching to get out of it and see something different.

Eurwangni BeachThis weekend I decided to head over to Incheon and check out the beach.  Incheon is either a completely separate entity from the Seoul metropolitan area or else it’s a gigantic suburb with a few million people.  I haven’t made my mind up about that quite yet.  Either way, it’s home to the international airport and there’s not much reason to go there unless it’s time to catch a flight.  One thing Incheon does have going for it outside the aviation industry is a coastal location.  Seoul is pretty close to the ocean but it’s just far enough to make regular beach trips pretty inconvenient.  I visited the beach in Busan, Donghae, Ulleungdo, and even Taiwan, but I went all summer without ever once visiting Eurwangni Beach, the beach in Incheon.  I hadn’t heard the greatest things about Eurwangni, after all the area is more famous for its enormous tidal mudflats than its white sand.  But my craving to do something outside Seoul coupled with Eurwangni Beach’s semi-convenient location had me all ready for a beach day in November with Paul, a coworker of mine.

To get to Eurwangni, I had to take the train to Incheon International Airport, which takes a little over an hour and a half.  From the airport I got on a bus and rode that about twenty minutes until the bus stopped at Korea’s best attempt at a beach town.  The beach itself was nothing special.  The water was a murky shade of light brown and the ground was more muddy than sandy.  The coast off the sand, however, was actually pretty interesting.  Paths along the shore led through rock formations and cliffs.  The tide pools. crashing waves, and cold air all reminded me a lot of the coasts of places like Scotland or Normandy but since I’ve never been to either of those places this comparison could be completely untrue.

Rocks and Tide PoolsAfter Paul and I had our share of exploring tide pools and rocks we headed back to the airport to catch the train back to Seoul and discovered a pleasant surprise waiting for us by the train entrance:  an ice skating rink!  Where else in the world besides Korea would there be a random ice skating rink in the middle of an airport?  Nowhere, that’s where.  Paul and I laced up our boots, took to the ice, and quickly realized this ice skating rink was made of fake ice.  The ground was some sort of mystery material that we tried our best to slide on but ended up mostly stomping all over.  I’m still not entirely sure why they gave us ice skates and not roller blades, which would have made much more sense, but that’s Korea and sometimes things over here are just a little bit different.

"Ice" Skating!

A Very Korean Halloween

Halloween BabiesHalloween isn’t the biggest holiday in Korea.  It really isn’t even a holiday at all in fact.  This means that I spent October without seeing pumpkins, costumes, or the witch-themed decorations that litter American stores for the entire month.  Because the school I work at is an English academy, there is at least some effort to introduce the kids to certain parts of Western culture and Halloween was one of those things the students got to see.

We had a Halloween party at my school and the students got to dress up.  Some of the costumes were interesting, to say the least.  I had many male witches, a bride, an elaborately costumed Spiderman, and a belly dancer with an outfit far too revealing for a ten-year-old.  One boy who came as a vampire even brought a bottle of “blood” to put on people when he bit them.  I came dressed as Harry Potter, a costume that consisted of a vampire cape, nerdy glasses, a magic wand, and a Gryffindor badge and lightening scar to complete the look.  The entire getup cost about $10 and took about two minutes to put together.  It ended up okay, everyone knew what I was but I don’t think I will be winning any costume contests this year.

Halloween!To get the kids excited at the Halloween parties I played them The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, and the Thriller video, all of which they loved, and I had them create ghost stories.  They did not quite understand the concept of making ghost stories scary, so those turned out to be completely unrelated to Halloween but they had fun nonetheless.  During each class we also went trick-or-treating to the other classrooms where the students got candy.  They were instructed to sing “Trick-or-Treat, Smell my feet, Give me something good to eat!” by their Korean teachers rather than to just say “Trick-or-Treat!” making this process take a lot longer than it should have, but the students were happy and it got me out of doing an actual lesson so I can’t complain.

Outside my school the Halloween atmosphere was nowhere to be found in the entire city of Seoul.  I wanted to celebrate the holiday anyway so I went on a Halloween boat cruise out around the coast in Incheon.  This boat was filled with other foreigners who also wanted more Halloween in their lives.  The boat itself was a almost like a gutted out ferryboat that was refilled with a nightclub.  It sailed around for a few hours while the sun set and then all the passengers were loaded on buses headed to Hongdae for a night of more festivities after they were done drinking at sea.  While it wasn’t quite the same thing as seeing trick-or-treaters wandering the streets back home it was oddly comforting celebrating a very big part of American culture.

Halloween Boat

My Trip to Some Islands You Have Never Heard Of

Monday on my side of the world was Chuseok, a holiday in Korea that is sort of a combination of Thanksgiving and Labor Day.  It is a big fall harvest feast people go back to their hometowns for and it marks the end of summer.  Since my family is on another continent right now I decided to leave Seoul and go to Ulleungdo and Dokdo, two islands halfway between Korea and Japan.  Ulleungdo is an island famous for two things: pumpkins and squid.  It’s an odd combination but that’s just Korea for you.  Dokdo is a rock way out in the middle of the ocean that is important for political reasons to both Korea and Japan.


The first stop was Ulleungdo.  To get to Ulleungdo my group took an overnight bus to Donghae, a town on the east coast about five hours away from Seoul.  The bus got to Donghae a little bit before 5:00 AM and our boat to Ulleungdo left at 7:00.  While everyone else stayed on the bus catching some sleep before we got to the island I decided to go out and watch the sunrise over the beach.  Donghae is apparently famous for it’s beautiful sunrises but the overcast skies unfortunately meant that all I saw was a black sky gradually turning into a lighter shade of grey.

After a three-and-a-half-hour boat ride from Donghae, we arrived in Ulleungdo, about a hundred miles off the coast of the mainland.  When we got off the boat, we were welcomed by a rainstorm.  The entire time on the island would be interrupted by on-and-off rainstorms.  Because we were all already soaking wet we went right from the hotel to the water.  The coast in Ulleungdo is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s not very beach-y.  Cliffs go straight into the water and there are trails carved right into the cliffs.  To get from the trails to the water there are bridges scattered about to jump from.  Because the water is so clear and blue it would be easy to assume it would be like the tropical water found elsewhere in the Pacific but, sadly, it ended up being freezing.  Thankfully there were plenty of distractions from the beauty of the rock formations and water that kept my mind off how cold I was.

Cliffs in Ulleungdo

The next day was just as rainy but we had a tour around the island scheduled.  The tour took us along the coast and stopped at various rocks that supposedly look like animals, lookout towers, traditional houses, and spots along the coast.  By the time the tour was halfway over I was just as wet as I was when I jumped into the ocean because of all the rain.  When the tour was over I dried off and went hiking up Seonginbong Mountain, the highest point on the island.  The hike started off on a paved road that made the hills of San Francisco look like the plains of Kansas.  The steep slope wasn’t short either.  It lasted for about a kilometer.  When it finally turned into an unpaved path it leveled off for about twenty feet until the seemingly 90 degree angles started up again.  After another four kilometers of torture, we reached the top and were treated to a near-360 view of the island.  As neat as the view from Dobongsan was, with all of Seoul underneath it, the from from Seonginbong was definitely the better of the two.  You could see all the mountains plunge into the sea and many of the trees beginning to turn colors.

Seonginbong View

After a disappointingly short night’s sleep, I woke up early with one of the other people on the trip and went to Dokdo, an island about three hours east of Ulleungdo.  Dokdo is disputed territory with Korea and Japan both laying claim to it.  The island itself is tiny and not much more than a giant rock sticking out of the water but it’s located in rich fishing grounds so both seafood-loving countries see the water around the island as economically important.

The boat to Dokdo is in no way able to handle big waves, and with the heavy rainstorms going on there were lots of waves.  I’m not being remotely sarcastic when I say that about three quarters of the passengers were on the floor clutching their seasickness bags for dear life.  I saw more vomit on this boat ride than I ever care to see again.  People were lying on the floor looking like death was imminent and others were leaning over the side of the boat letting their projectile drift away wherever the wind and water took it.  About an hour into the boat ride I started feeling like an Italian immigrant coming to Ellis Island in the 1800s.  I was on a crowded, rocking boat filled with seasick passengers who were all looking out to sea, hopeful for any trace of land.  Luckily, I was not one of the miserable majority although I did start to feel pretty dizzy towards the end.

Seasick in Dokdo

As luck would have it, land eventually popped up on the horizon and we docked on Dokdo Island.  There really is nothing to do on Dokdo other than admire the scenery.  It’s too small and steep for anyone to live there.  The fact that there is even a ferry that takes people out to the island is really just a symbolic “Screw You” sent out to the Japanese who also think they own the island.  From what I was told, the vast majority of the trips do not dock on the island.  They merely sail around it.  I think the captain realized his boat full of seasick Koreans would have probably organized a mutiny and decided he needed to let them touch solid ground before heading back to Ulleungdo.

Since the island is so tiny the short time we had in port was long enough to see just about everything.  This pretty much consisted of tall rocks, clear water, green moss covering everything, and lots of birds.  I had never seen an island quite like this.  As I said before, this is really more of a big rock than an island so it was just a different experience being on land that remote.  Any other time I’ve seen an “island” of comparable size, it was located right off the shore of a bigger piece of land but this was out at sea with no other land in sight.  It was a very Gilligan-esque feeling.

Dokdo Rocks

The ride back to Ulleungdo was a bit easier as were traveling with the current this time, although I did still see my fair share of people who did not look like they were having the time of their lives.  After we landed in Ulleungdo we went back to the hotel to get our bags and got on another boat to go back to Donghae.  Four hours later we were back on the Korean mainland and in a bus headed for Seoul.  I got back to my apartment around midnight, passed out, and had probably the best sleep of my life.  When I woke up I had rotated 90 degrees in my sleep, my head and arms were hanging off one side of my bed and my legs were dangling off the other side.  All-in-all, it was a successful escape from the crowds of Seoul that had the prettiest geography I’ve seen in Korea; even if the sky was spouting rain as the people around me spouted their breakfasts into the sea.


Busan is the Korean New Jersey

Haeundae Beach

Busan is the Korean New Jersey.  I don’t mean the Jersey Shore guido kind of New Jersey. I’m talking about the overcrowded stretches of sand that have been completely ravaged by man and no longer resemble their natural selves.  Now, I have never been to New Jersey so what I’m saying might be completely false.  For all I know the beaches of the Garden State might actually have white sand and crystal clear water, but in my imagination I picture brown sand and brownish-green water packed with New Yorkers on summer break.  Something tells me the New Jersey of my imagination might be a little closer to reality.

Haeundae BeachWhether or not the sardine can-esque beaches really are a trademark of New Jersey doesn’t matter because I know for a fact that everything I ever thought of as being quintessentially Jersey is in fact found in South Korea.  A couple of weeks ago I went to Busan, the second largest city in Korea.  It is also a favorite place for the people of Seoul to go on long weekends due to it’s nature as a beach city.  Korea isn’t especially well known for its beaches but all the guidebooks and websites kept saying the beaches in Busan were among the best on the peninsula.  I didn’t go to Busan planning on seeing something as pretty as St. Lucia or the Cayman Islands.  I went expecting something along the lines of Daytona or Cocoa Beach which ended up being a fairly accurate assumption.

The beaches themselves weren’t all that bad, but there absolutely nothing about them that looked in any way like they were a part of nature at one point in time.  Busan’s skyline goes right to the coast and then plummets into the water, a bridge connecting two sides of a bay runs parallel to the water in the horizon, and umbrellas completely cover the shore so there is no trace of sand left.  Not even the water is safe.  Bright yellow inner tubes form a line that closely follows the shore.  That being said, those annoyingly colored tubes were pretty fun to bob around in while drinking a beer and hitting Korean children when the waves rolled in.

Gwangalli Beach

When I wasn’t spending my time on the beach, I was able to visit the Busan Aquarium and a Buddhist temple outside the city.  The aquarium is located right on the beach so the whole area outside was more crowded than Disneyland in the summertime.  The crowds did not let up inside the aquarium either, but the inside was air conditioned and it housed some sharks and penguins so the massive amount of people didn’t bother me too much.  In addition to various sea creatures swimming about, the tanks also feature fake animal statues that just kind of hang out while the real ones swim around them.  So while it may look like an anaconda is about to pounce on you at any moment while you’re innocently looking at the piranhas, you can actually be assured that is in fact a fake snake.

The temple outside of Busan was just as crowded as the beaches but the scenery around the buildings was among the best I’ve seen in Korea so, again, I did not think much about the entire population of Seoul having followed me down to Busan.  The temple is right on the water and built up on the rocks on the coast.  Statues of Buddha are found scattered throughout the complex and the architecture is the stereotypical Asian style I love.  I only got to spend a little bit of time wandering around because I had to catch the bus back to Seoul but visiting this temple made me want to see more of the many scattered throughout this country.


Even though Busan might not be a Korean equivalent to Miami, it was fun nonetheless.  I actually think that if I did decide to do another year teaching in Korea I would want to spend it living in Korea’s New Jersey instead of Seoul.  That’s what Snookie would do at least and what’s good enough for Snookie is good enough for me.

Gwangalli Evening

Taiwan: The Tropical Paradise Your Toys Come From

Grand Hotel

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last updated my blog and in that time a lot has happened both at work and outside the office.  I’ll start off with the boring work related information just to let everyone at home know that I have not fallen off the face of the earth.  At school we have started what are called “intensives.”  Intensives are just extra English classes students take in the summer.  Students in Korea go to many different schools throughout the day, each one specializing in a certain subject.  In July and August their main school goes on vacation and a lot of those students fill up the time they would be at their main school by taking extra classes at another school.  My day normally goes from about noon to 7:30 but with intensives my days now start at 9:00 AM.  This schedule lasts for a couple more weeks, and even though it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would, I’m still looking forward to having my mornings back.

After the first week of intensives, my school had a week of vacation so I went to Taiwan with some of my co-workers.  In all honesty I didn’t really know what to expect when I went to Taiwan.  It’s one of those places I knew existed, but I never really thought that much about it other than when I saw that “Made in Taiwan” stamp on clothes or toys.  When the plane touched down in Taipei and the group left the airport, the only thing we could see were grey, run-down buildings that blended in with the grey, rainy skies.  After about half an hour or so the clouds gave way and a change of scenery showed that Taipei is actually a very pretty city that looks much more stereotypically Asian than Seoul does.  Asian architecture was plentiful and food carts lined the streets.

After a very brief first encounter with Taipei the group went to the train station and boarded a train to Hualien.  Hualien is a city about two hours south of Taipei nestled between cloud-covered mountain peaks and a clear, wavy sea with plenty of palm trees and tropical plants in the middle.  The first night in Hualien was spent at the beach playing in the pounding waves as the sun set.  After a couple hours of night swimming we went to one of Hualien’s night markets.  Night markets are very popular in Taiwan and they sell all kinds of food at very cheap prices.  Taiwan has amazing food, even better than Korean food in my opinion.  There were so many different fruits, vegetables, and sauces, and they even use lots of tofu which is something I have been missing in Korea.  When we had sampled as much as our stomachs would allow, we went back to the hostel and got some much needed rest before Taroko Gorge the next day.


Hualien is the gateway to Taroko Gorge, or the Grand Canyon of the Pacific as one brochure put it.  Taroko Gorge consists of mountains and cliffs all impressively cut away by a clear, turquoise river.  We spent our time at the gorge walking along the trails, playing in the water, and taking in the scenery.  Taroko Gorge is far and away one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen so just looking around at the geography was enough to keep me occupied.  That night after spending the entire day at the gorge we ate authentic Chinese food.  The owner of the hostel told me what she liked, which was a very spicy tofu and noodle dish.  It definitely was not Panda Express but I would probably go as far as to call it my favorite food from Asia thus far.

Taroko Gorge

The next day we hired a driver to take us a few hours further south to Kenting, a beach town on the southern tip of the island.  The drive between Hualien and Kenting followed the coast and the scenery was exactly what I imagine a desert island in the South Pacific looking like, with the soaring peaks falling straight into the ocean.  The group stayed in Kenting for a couple of days for some beach time.  The beach in Kenting was right by our hostel and it had golden sand and deep cerulean-colored water.  The vast majority of my time in Kenting was spent on the beach, soaking in the sun while Korea was being destroyed by massive rainstorms.  Seeing that big, blue sky was worth the price of getting out of Korea.

The second day at the beach was very wavy.  Apparently there was a typhoon in the Philippines and Indonesia which sent the waves north to Taiwan.  My co-worker Aliya and I decided to sign up for surfing lessons to take advantage of the situation.  Another co-worker of mine, Paul, is from San Diego and has been surfing forever so while he was further out on the bigger waves, Aliya and I were on surfing’s equivalent of the bunny slopes.  While I am most likely never going to be a pro-surfer, I did learn to keep my balance, paddle with the waves, and ride to shore without falling off.  In my book that is a major accomplishment.


After the second day in Kenting we took the high-speed train back up to Taipei where we did all the sightseeing we could fit in.  Taipei is much smaller than Seoul so it was pretty easy to get around the city in short periods of time.  As I said before, Taipei looks much more along the lines what I imagined Asia being like than Seoul does.  The red roofs, temples, and Chinese-style architecture were universal in the city.  During my time in Taipei I was able to see the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial (which was probably my favorite thing in Taipei), the Grand Hotel, Longshan Temple, the 101 Tower (the second tallest building in the world), and another night market.  Overall I loved Taipei and visiting the city made me regret not looking more into teaching in Taiwan as opposed to Korea, even though I still do really love Korea.  Most of the time.