Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend in Seoul for the Lotus Lantern Festival

We had been planning this weekend in Seoul for the big lantern festival for over a month. In celebration of Buddha's Birthday, the streets of Seoul (like many other cities in Korea) would be lit with lanterns and we had read it was quite the sight to see. At the end of the weekend, there would be a huge parade with larger than life lanterns making their way down the streets of Seoul. While we knew there would be a lot to fit into 2 days, we decided to make the 4 hour bus ride with a few friends and check it out.

In addition to seeing the festival, we had two other goals: make it to a baseball game and eat at a Brazilian charascuria. We don't get too many non-Korean food opportunities in our town and our stomach's growled when he first learned that there are at least 5 of the unlimited meat, eat-til-your-sick Brazilian steak houses in Seoul. In the end, accomplishing these goals proved much more difficult than originally anticipated, but worth the hassle nonetheless.

After arriving on Saturday morning, we found a hotel and immediately set out to find the Ipanema Brazilian steakhouse. After about an hour of subway riding and witnessing a changing of the guards at one of the old palaces, we stumble upon the restaurant only to find that they are closed for the day due to a wedding. After being up since 5am and it is now approaching 2 or 3pm, we are not pleased to say the least. Luckily, the iphone and free wi-fi at a nearby coffee shop come to the rescue. We decide Mexican food is the next best option and another cuisine we don't have the pleasure of eating back home in Geoje. A quick search of some food blogs takes us to Dos Tacos, aka heaven on earth (at that moment in time). Fresh guacamole, burritos, tacos, and awesome margaritas all place us in a much better mood. While it wasn't the typical fare we're used to back home in Austin, it hit the spot. With our bellies full, we headed off to make the baseball game.

We arrive at the Jamsil baseball stadium, also home of the 1988 Olympic baseball games, only to find that all of the tickets are sold out. It was a big game, Lotte Giants from Busan vs the LG Twins from Seoul. We heard tickets would be cheap (about $8) and that the rowdy fans and cheerleaders (yes, cheerleaders) would be a sight to see. Also having the option of bringing in our own food and drinks was very appealing. It was nice to see that going to a professional sporting event wouldn't set us back over $100 each like back home in the states. Determined to make it into the game, we searched for scalpers. Luckily, there were many ajumas selling tickets but wanting little to do with any foreigners. We found a little old lady selling tickets and ending up paying $30 for $12 seats. Once we made it inside the stadium, we realized our money was well spent. Our seats were not too far from the dugout and would have easily been three times that price in any stadium back home. The fans were extremely entertaining and we quickly picked up the chants (although I have no idea what I was actually saying). The cheerleaders and mascots kept the crowds entertained despite a huge loss by Seoul, 13-3. The die hard fans stayed until the last inning and did not stop cheering. We had a great time and are looking forward taking a trip to Busan to see the crazy intense fans on their home field.

On Sunday, Austin and I set off on our own adventure determined to find another Brazilian steakhouse. After a few phone calls to the restaurant and a confused cab driver, we made it. While it wasn't exactly on par with the steakhouses in the US we've been to, it was a great meal nonetheless. One of the side dishes that I will need to attempt to make was a a cold potato salad but whipped like mashed potatoes. Amazing. I think I ate more of that than I did meat. Austin was more daring than I and tried the chicken heart. I don't think he was too impressed.

Next on the list was finally making it to the lantern parade! While we missed a lot of day-time festivities and arts & crafts, we did get to check out the Jogyesa temple where the parade would end. It was first built in 1395 and is one of the chief temples in Seon Buddhism. There were hundreds of lanterns hanging everywhere. It was amazing to see. One thing we were not expecting was the large amounts of foreigners everywhere. There were more foreigners along the parade route and at the temple than Koreans!

Unfortunately Austin's camera decided to stop working as soon as the parade started, but we did capture a few shots. All in all, we had a great time in Seoul, but we were happy to come back to our little town in Geoje where we didn't have to be pushed and shoved into subways like sardines in a can and brave the crowds everywhere we went.

My sweet lotus lantern I purchased for the parade

At Jogyesa Temple

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Springtime in Geoje: Beaches and Booze Cruises

So since Austin and I got here, we've been talking about wanting to take one of the ferry cruises around the island. We weren't really sure what it would entail, but we saw something in the brochure about Russian dancers and food and drinks. So yesterday, a group of us spent the afternoon on the ferry cruise. We didn't see the Russian dancers perform, but we did get to see a lot of interesting performances by old, very drunk Koreans. We arrived on the boat around 2:30pm. Not only where we the only group of foreigners, but definitely the youngest and the most sober. Everyone else must have been partying since breakfast and somehow we missed that memo. It was a gorgeous day and we set up camp on one of the upper decks. After a few beers, we decide to join the dance party happening on the lower deck. Apparently that's where all the action was. We walked in to a dark ballroom with bright disco lights flashing and about a hundred or so old Korean men and women getting down on the dance floor. You would have thought it was a club at 11pm, but no, it was 4:00 in the afternoon. We were grabbed and pulled into Korean dance circles. Our beers were stolen by a middle aged Korean woman who thought it was hilarious. We were not so amused. Luckily she took the warm beer. Old ladies were downing shots of soju (korean rice liquor) on the dance floor and chasing them with bites from a cucumber. I didn't notice this until one of the women came charging at me with cucumber in hand and just shoved it into my mouth. I took a bite because I didn't know what else to do. She turned to Austin, who look disgusted and turned his head away. I don't know what it is, but that's the 2nd time food has been shoved in my mouth by a Korean since we arrived. I guess it's just their generosity? So as the ferry ride came to an end, we counted the number of people passed out in their chairs as we made our way off the boat. Never in my life, outside of New Orleans, have I seen people party like that in the middle of the afternoon. Koreans know how to have a good time. I can't wait for our next trip on the ferry.

Last Saturday, we spent the day at Gojura beach with Willow and Sean. It was about an hour bus ride and there was practically no one on the beach. A perfect way to spend a Saturday. The water was freezing, but Austin took the plunge while the rest of us looked on. Apparently Koreans really only go to the beach during the designated beach season, I think July 1 - August 31st. So on September 1st, you won't find anyone on the beach, even if the weather is absolutely perfect. Strange, but great for us since we won't have to deal with huge crowds.

We're looking forward to our 3 day vacation coming up near the end of May that we will spend on the island of Bijindo, outside of TongYeong. There are a few pictures of the island on this site:

Next time I'll try to post any new experiments with Korean cooking....