Tuesday was a great day. School on the morning, Samsung D'Light in the afternoon and Cooking Nanta (Click here) in the evening. Cooking Nanta is a Comedy stage-show rooted in traditional Korean drumming. It is truly remarkable. Then home to Seong-bok, dinner at the Chinese restaurant and Happy Birthday to Thalia. Good times!
Samsung D'Light is a futuristic technology showcase. It is very difficult to recreate it in 2D images, but you need to know that those students wearing the VR goggles think they are on a rollercoaster. They don't think they are in a VR machine which is simulating a rollercoaster, they think they are ON a rollercoaster. I have seen people scream, cry, even get motion-sick on this machine. It is unbelievably realistic. There is a very good reason they make you wear a seatbelt when you put the goggles on.
Yesterday was our first day at Lexis for the study section of our journey. We arrived early after a pretty crowded subway ride and got stuck straight into it. The students all seemed to have a good time and by the end of classes Anna, their teacher, seemed pretty impressed. After classes the students were set free to explore and find their own lunch. This was the first time they really had absolutely free and they all seemed to revel in it. After lunch we all went to Gyeongbokgung, the ancient royal palace (click here). You can now get in for free if you wear a Hanbok (Korean traditional dress) so every third person is wearing one and there is a thriving business of Hanbok rentals surrounding the palace nowadays.
After the Gyeongbokgung we all went to Insadong. Insadong is an area of Seoul famous for its artists and traditional crafts. Yesterday it also happened to be the site of a BTS exhibition. BTS (click here) are a boy band from Seoul who addressed the UN last week and spoke about peace, compassion, social justice and human rights, and absolutely no-one laughed at them (Trump Joke!) While we were walking in Insadong we met a famous TV actress who asked us to have our picture taken with her (shouldn’t that be the other way around?!?) Anyway, a great day and a good night had by all. Any night that ends with pork belly BBQ is a good night :-)
Yesterday we did a tour of the DMZ. We bussed up to Cheolwon and into the permit-only-zone between South and North Korea. Although Parky and I have been to the DMZ on numerous occasions we had never been to this part of the border and we had never been into the restricted zone. In the restricted zone we visited the 2nd infiltration tunnel, the Peace Observatory and saw much of the border area. We had to be passed through multiple military checkpoints on the way. We were turned back at one because we didn’t have the correct paperwork and we had to drive 20 minutes back to a checkpoint to get it sorted. At that point we picked up an official chaperone to help us navigate the rest of the journey. It was much easier with her on board our bus.
We visited the 2nd infiltration tunnel, which was found in 1975 when a soldier patrolling the DMZ heard a large explosion from underground. When he reported it to his superiors the military launched a massive investigation that found 4 tunnels the North Koreans had dug under the DMZ in anticipation of launching a ground assault on Seoul. Through whizz-bang underground scanning technology it is estimated that there may be as many as 12 tunnels started from north of the border, but construction ceased when the first few were discovered. The North Koreans denied digging the tunnels and insisted at the UN that South Korea had in fact dug the tunnels, even though they were complete at on the northern side, but had not emerged in the south yet. Obviously we are meant to believe that the South Koreans had dug the second half of the tunnels first and were later going to finish them by connecting them to strategic points around their main civilian population points.
After that we moved to the Peace Observatory and got to look over the border to North Korea through massive binoculars which they had installed. I have done this on about a dozen occasions from various points on the border, but this was the first time that I could actually see North Korean military instillations, with flags flying high and soldiers standing in the windows (about 2 – 3 km away) staring straight back at me through their own binoculars. I have to admit, it was quite unsettling.
Everyone was super tired on the bus on the way home and we spent the rest of the day getting across Seoul with our suitcases and settling into our new homestays. Unfortunately we were extremely limited in the areas we were allowed to take photographs yesterday, but I’ll post what I have including one when my camera must have ‘accidently’ gone off going through a military checkpoint.
On the second day in Korea we all woke up in a pretty timely fashion at 8am and headed down for a hearty breakfast of rice and noodles. At 9am we jumped on the bus and headed for Seongnisan. Seongnisan is a picturesque mountain just south of Seoul and home to Beopjusa, the temple housing the largest gold Buddha in Korea. Leading up to Beopjusa is a quaint little town with lots of people setting up street stalls and selling the herbs and other ingredients they have picked in the forest that covers this amazing mountain range.
We could not help but stop and have a play in the mountain stream that has been the lifeblood of this temple for the last one and a half millennia. It was a warm day, 26*c, and the sun was shining and the air fresh. We arrived at the temple and spent a coup-le of hours taking it all in. The golden Buddha statue is covered in 3mm of gold plating, 80kg of pure gold in total. The temple is also home to a famous 5 story Pagoda, a 1300 year old stone lantern and many other treasures.
At the moment the monks are restoring an old run-down section of the temple, and to be able to afford it they are selling the roofing tiles at about $15 each. The catch is thst when you buy the roofing tile, you don’t get to keep it, you just get to write your name on it and then donate it back to the temple and they will use it to re-roof the old buildings.
After visiting the temple we had a San-chae Bibimbap (Rice hotpot with mountain-foraged vegetables) and then jumped in the bus to head back to Seoul. 98% of the trip back to Seoul looked like the first photo, 2% looked like the second, and the students experienced their first real-life Korean bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. We covered about 80km in an hour and 10 minutes and then it took about and hour and a half to drive the last 8km to the drop-off point. That’s life in a city with the populations of Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane combined!
We left Adelaide at 8:15 Thursday morning and began the long journey to Korea via Malaysia. It was a long journey as we had a 10 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. You don't always get the best connections out of Adelaide. But we got out in Kuala Lumpur and had a short look around. It was certainly interesting and nice to be back in a warm climate after our winter. We landed in Seoul at 7am Friday morning and were picked up by the Lexis buses and brought to our Guesthouse. Unfortunately we couldn't check in due to the early arrival, so we headed out and had some breakfast, bought our SIM cards and had our first look around Seoul for a bit.
After a shower and a short nap in the afternoon we headed out into Seoul proper. First stop was the majestic Han River, upon which we decided to go for a cruise. It was an unforgettable time, as in we will never forget the wildly excited half a dozen people that just could not get quite enough photos of themselves with the visiting group of foreigners. At last count, I think we probably were the motivation for about a thousand photos during the tour.
After the Han River tour we visited Myeongdong, Seoul's most famous shopping district. Myeongdong is full of fashion, music, street food, and lots and lots of people. It was a pretty nice evening that ended with Spicy Chicken stew and in bed by 10.
I can’t believe the final day has come!
This morning started with a 4:15 am alarm sound in order to meet everyone and their host families at the bus stop at 5:30 am. Everyone said their goodbyes and thanks and we headed off on time bound for Madrid. After arriving in Madrid with plenty of time to spare, we cleared customs before seeking out some lunch and making some last minute duty free purchases. We then boarded the plane, ready to take on our first leg to Dubai. Much to everyone’s excitement, new movies had been released on the Emirates in flight system since the last time we flew. After touching down in Dubai, we made the quick transfer to our awaiting Adelaide bound jet. What an amazing experience the last 3 weeks have been!
Thursday 26th April: last day of lessons at Enforex! All the students received a well deserved certificate to acknowledge their progress in Spanish over the last few weeks.
The free afternoon (for last minute purchases, sightseeing and packing) was followed by our farewell dinner at a local vegetarian restaurant; where we also celebrated Bella’s 17th birthday.
Then home to bed, for a very early start to our journey home tomorrow
We all arrived at school this morning, probably a little less enthusiastic than usual due to being quite tired after the late flamenco show last night! We soon picked ourselves up and went to our two classes covering more grammar and confidence in the fluency of making conversation. After class had finished we had our free time, some of us stayed at school and relaxed and others went into the city to do some shopping. We returned to Enforex and we’re taught a flamenco routine. It was really fun to experience, and it was certainly more challenging than we thought it would be. After the lesson we did some of our own dances and tricks and had a great time. We said our goodbyes and headed back to our homestay for the evening
We started the day with a Segway tour around Granada. After arriving at enforex the students were split into two groups. The first group was then lead to Ensegway were we were greeted by Mark our tour guide. We each had a quick turn riding the Segways before starting the tour. On the tour, we were able to quickly reach the top of a hill to see some of the beautiful sites of Granada. After the tour we were given free time to enjoy Granada or rest. We later meet up at 8:30 to catch a bus which took us to a flamenco show in the caves of Sacromonte. At the flamenco show, the dancers were dressed in traditional flamenco attire and we watched in amazement as the dancers clapped and turned with a fast rhythm. After the show, we all returned home for much-needed sleep.
We had a big rush hour in the morning with our made lunch from the hotel that we stayed in as soon as we got the train station. Then we had a 3 hour train ride to Matsumoto (which i was really excited about cause i can relax). Then we went to Matsumoto hotel for a little break and then we went to the Matsumoto castle for a tour (which i was interested about even though i didn’t really show it cause i was still tired). Then we went back to the hotel to relax for a bit and after we went to dinner at a nice restaurant (yummy food)
Today we went for a serene walk through the Matsumoto Alps Park to view the distant snow capped mountains, followed by exploring the surrounding sakura and exciting outdoor adventure park. I enjoyed viewing the wildlife and listening to the woodpeckers. Not long after, we made our way to Agatagaoka Highschool for a full day of fun activities the students had prepared for us.
I learnt about Japanese highschool life, practiced tongue twisters, participated in New Year's games, tried calligraphy and performed a tea ceremony. I was sad to say goodbye to the students but I'm looking forward to seeing them again when they come to Australia. Spending the day with Japanese students allowed me to improve my language and communication skills and has enabled me to gain a wider understanding of Japanese routines and daily life.