Friday, May 27, 2005

Annyong haseyo!


Mmm.. spicy food. Kimchi at every meal. Even eating at roadside stalls didn't give us tummy aches. How brave we were. Getting lunch from a shophouse which doubled as the owner's sleeping quarters. And stir-fried seafood dinner from a roadside stall.

Koreans love their greens. Bimbibap is mostly mountain veggies with rice or barley (sometimes with a bit of meat), and it's surprisingly good. But they're no wimps when it comes to meat either. In Jeju, a seafood paradise, one can still find barbequeued bulgogi (beef, not intracellular structures). And the super 30-course meal that almost burst our stomach linings for only 20 USD each.


The palaces and temples really reminded me of the Forbidden City. But the interiors were furnished Japanese-style, with mattresses and mats on the floors of the bedrooms and studies. The ondol heating system is quite ingenious. Concrete floors heated from below by burning wood or charcoal, so that the floor and bed are warm, but the air is cool and not stuffy. Oh and the roof arches were frequently adorned with mini statues of various transformations of the Monkey King.

Oh and there wasn't any burning incense in the buddhist temple. We visited it on Vesak Day here, but the Koreans had theirs earlier, in April.

Natural sights

Jeju island is basically one big volcano. Korea's version of Sentosa. Only it's 3 times the size of Singapore. Lucky us, it was dormant while we were there. Oh yeah and the North Koreans didn't nuke us either. Hurray! Anyway so there was the whole package - fertile soil, lava columns, lava caves, calderas, crater lakes. Ms Lian would be proud of us. Bunch of physicists, chemists and EEs on a geography field trip and reminiscing about the good ol' times.

Decent waterfall on the island. Place where an emperor from China was supposed to have scoured for an elixir of life. When he couldn't find it, he scrawled his name on the rock wall and left in a huff.

And man that lava cave was cold. And wet. Yidong commented that the dimensions of the cave were very dubious - around human size. And the marks on the walls were suspiciously straight and horizontal. But then doesn't flowing liquid maintain a nearly horizontal surface? But he was still very suspicious of the near human proportions of the cave.


We decided to spend a day hiking up the central peak, Mount Hallasan. Ended up choosing the most challenging but scenic route - 8.7 km, 4 hours each way recommended timing, with an elevation change from 570 m to around 1500 m. Garang right? My 21-day OBS instructors would have been proud. Except that this time we didn't have 20 kg backpacks. But that didn't stop me from wheezing and feeling extremely winded at the top. The lower portion of the trail was filled with very annoyingly sharp and jagged rocks that threatened to kill us if we took our attention off the ground. And my knee and ankle joints were aching all the way down. Started up at 9:30 and back on the ground at about 5:30.


Koreans are generally extremely friendly and helpful people. Random passerbys would direct us to the correct bus terminals. Cabbies who were booked would help us dial for other cabs. And when our friend who returned to Singapore earlier didn't have enough cash to pay for the bags he had deposited earlier (didn't want to lug them around), the baggage guy lent him 30,000 won (about 30 USD) just like that. Luckily the rest of us managed to find him the next day and pay him back.

The people are always moving about in a hurry. Pedestrians will run across the road at a crossing if the light is about to change; people will push you out of the way in the subway stations. Drivers have a lead foot on the gas pedal. In the mornings, stragglers can be seen checking their watches and running.

But man, a lot of the Koreans are damn fit. Especially those we saw on Hallasan. And mind you, they weren't all young either. Alot of them were middle-aged and above, it was amazing. They had more endurance and stamina than us NSFs. The aunties and uncles were still walking when they reached the foot, while we all just collapsed on a bench nearby. And we suspect the young ones playing soccer on the field had their daily walk up the mountain earlier. Who needs ICT/reservist? Not them.


Perhaps not surprisingly, on the occasions when English failed us, my novice grasp of Japanese came in handy. Especially for talking to waitresses in restaurants. And communicating with older folk. Like finding out how long more we had to go on the hike up Mt Hallasan. Or asking for the price of goods. But I must say my Japanese is really rusting away. Only realized a waitress was using broken Japanese and that I was replying in kind after the exchange. An immersion in Japan will do me much good. But surviving on English and Japanese means that even after the whole trip I only know 2 Korean phrases, 'Hello' (Annyong haseyo) and 'Thank you' (Kum sa hap ni da).


Free internet at our guest house and at the airport. Free wifi for Spoon.


There was a TV channel dedicated to Starcraft. It was fun and scary to see the pros play. The mouse cursor teleports around the screen. Don't see it in transit, only where it stops. There were also alot of educational channels - learn chinese, geography and physics from TV! Good stuff, we should have that here too.


Hexagonal lava column site. When lava cools and cracks, it forms almost regular polygonal (mostly hexagonal) column structures due to the physics of cracking. Contrary to what some chemists may believe, it has nothing to do with the crystal structure of the solidified lava. But didn't realize we could see that there until we were about to return to the mainland.

Demilitarized Zone. Didn't have time for that.

Paragliding (gliding with a parachute) and snorkeling/diving on Jeju island. Think the others weren't too keen on these.

Oh well. Until next time.


Post a Comment

<< Home