In appreciation of cherry blossoms

Before coming to Korea, cherry blossoms had always been something I’d heard about in Washington, D.C. Little did I know that come spring time, this country goes cherry blossom-crazy. Streets in seemingly every city are lined with the trees, and they’re planted all over parks across the country. They seem to be everywhere.

After what’s felt like a rather long winter, it was nice to see some flowers. And while there’s plenty of the trees in my neighborhood in Ulsan, the urban backdrop isn’t very picturesque. So I went searching…

———

First stop: Daegu

Cherry Blossoms
Walking through a park in Daegu on a Saturday evening, the trees looked quite nice lit from below.

The most popular place in the country to see the blossoms is the festival in Jinhae, a small city west of Busan. After reading reports online of four-hour traffic back-ups to get to the festival, I decided I’d just try my luck in Busan. But where? I referred to my tourist map of the city, and thought the green-covered islands in the south looked pretty promising.

Tourist Map of Busan

———

Stop #2: Yeongdo island, Busan

As it turned out, the island is really big – a small city in itself, really – and not quite the natural paradise all of that green on the map had me envisioning. Walking around, I felt more the quaintness of a small coastal town than the rest of metropolitan Busan. We followed some narrow streets up and down steep hills, where houses disappeared down tiny alleyways, their cement walls covered in many different brightly colored paints. After about an hour of trying to follow signs to the ‘Jeoryeong coastal pathway,’ I finally found my way to the green part of the map.

Yeongdo island, Busan

While the excursion was a total failure in terms of finding cherry blossoms, it was still a spring afternoon very well-spent. The pathway goes along the rocky coastline, up and down tons and tons of steps set into the sides of the cliffs facing the ocean.

Yeongdo island, Busan

Yeongdo island, Busan

On one of the beaches there were a bunch of ajummas selling raw fish and soju. Amongst the seafood being sold out of their colorful plastic buckets was something terrible looking called dog penis. Gross.

There were several other people hiking, including a group of Koreans behind my friend and I that had obviously been drinking (which seemed a rather unwise decision for all of the steep steps up and down cliffs they were navigating). One of the men kept offering to take my friend and my’s picture, even though we weren’t asking. He also wanted to take our picture kissing, which we weren’t too keen on. But he was persistent, so eventually we told him we were brother and sister. At that, they all seemed very embarrassed, and his wife bought us both an ice cream.

———

Number 3: Hakseong Park

This park is just down the street from my apartment in Ulsan, but for some reason I had never been. My first week in Ulsan, one of my co-teachers told me something about how “only old people go there,” and I guess it made me less eager to explore. As it turns out, it’s absolutely beautiful in spring and full of cherry blossoms.

DSC04552

DSC04549

Needless to say, I’m glad I finally decided to check it out.

DSC04562

DSC04567

A sunny evening in the park, surrounded by flowering trees and floating flower petals. What could be better?

DSC04578_2

———

Stop #4: Gyeongju, Bomun Lake

My final excursion to take in the cherry blossoms was to Gyeongju, Korea’s ancient capital and rather conveniently Ulsan’s neighbor to the north. Joining what seemed like a quarter of Korea’s population in Gyeongju on a warm Sunday afternoon, I hopped on a bus to the resort-y Bomun Lake.

DSC04726

DSC04728

The lake was crowded, but still beautiful. Most of the lake was lined with restaurants, motels, noraebangs, and places to rent bicycles and ATVs, which reminded me a bit of some Michigan towns along the Great Lakes.

Gyeongju World and the hot air balloon experience provide the fancy entertainment on the lake. The hot air balloon looked like a total rip-off to me, as you never actual detach from the rope holding you to the ground and just kind of float for a while.

DSC04710

DSC04711

DSC04714

DSC04718

DSC04721
Duck paddle boats filled one part of the lake. Please note the mommy duck in the back.

It’s been a very pretty couple of weeks, but the cherry blossoms in Ulsan are officially dead. There’s actually a site that tracks the cherry blossom progress across the country, and I hear they’re just starting to open up in Seoul. But I think I’m finished chasing them. At least after these past few weekends, I won’t be associating cherry blossoms solely with D.C. anymore.

Advertisements

An American Halloween in Korea

My first real taste of homesickness in Korea came with Halloween. I really don’t think there is any place in the world to be on Halloween other than New York City. The parade, the mobs of people on the streets and subways in costumes, the decorations.. no one does Halloween like New York (at least, not that I know of).

Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Korea. Very few kids dress up. There is no trick-or-treating. There are no decorations. It seemed like the main reason stores sold any costumes at all (the biggest stores had a stand or two of Halloween-y things) was because English schools celebrate the holiday.

In school, being ambassador of Western culture, I took it upon myself to spread Halloween festiveness. I made a big Halloween presentation for all of my classes, showing a clip from The Nightmare Before Christmas (which never got old – not even on the 19th time). I also distributed candy corn to some of my students and some teachers, in costume. It seemed that no one had seen or really heard of candy corn before, but the verdict was that it was quite good. My co-teacher and I dressed up for the Friday before.

Halloween in School

Halloween in School
With some of my 6th graders.

On Halloween, I headed to Daegu (Korea’s 3rd biggest city) with my English-teaching friends to join a bar crawl. As Koreans don’t really celebrate Halloween, the bar crawl was pretty much entirely foreigners. Most of the locals we encountered on the streets of Daegu seemed to know what was going on with the costumes though, and seemed mostly amused.

I believe the evening is best told in pictures (which I have borrowed from my friends).

Halloween in Daegu - heading out for the evening
Headed out for the evening.

We walk the streets at night...

...we go where eagles dare...

...they pick up every movement...

Mr. Muscle on the streets of Daegu
Mark aka Mr. Muscle (some British thing)

Alan from the Hangover
Dave aka Alan from the Hangover (apparently The Hangover is quite popular even in Korea)

Firework photo op in front of Gogo Party
The first bar we went to gave us sparklers and set off fireworks while they took pictures.

Halloween in Daegu

Cocktail a bag at Gogo Party
They also served drinks in bags.

Harlem Globetrotters

Halloween in Daegu
Eddie the vampire and Ellen the fairy

72792_544616317765_39400271_31993312_4349186_n

39553_544616687025_39400271_31993342_3195518_n
The best ajumma costume of the night.

Halloween in Daegu

Halloween in Daegu

We stayed at a ‘love motel’, popular to stay at because they are usually the cheapest option. They’re also rent-able by the hour and come ‘fully equiped’:
Love Motel - fully stocked and ready for action
Me and three of my friends decided it would be a good idea for all four of us to try to fit in one room, in one bed. This wasn’t the most comfortable decision, but it was definitely the cheapest.

The weekend ended at The Holy Grill, a western restaurant, for breakfast. Nothing beats an American diner breakfast after a night out!

So, while nothing can quite compare NYC when it comes to Halloween, celebrating in Korea can be very festive as well.