May 29

So I’ve been back in Canada for 2 days now. I must say it’s been a bit of a rough transition. First of all, getting readjusted to the 13 hour time difference is definitely tough. It’s hard for me to fall asleep at a good time and even harder to wake up. On top of that, throughout the day I feel as if I’ve been walking into brick walls. Apparently after 3 or 4 days you hit an even bigger brickwall. Can’t wait!

Getting back to work has also been strange. It’s as if I’ve forgotten how to do my job, but that will come back in time and there’s nothing like workstress to get the blood flowing.

I’ve really enjoyed writing a blog about my trip. It’s a great creative outlet. I’ve decided that I will continue to write an on-going blog about my day to day life. Not that my life is anything too exciting these days, but hey you never know what kind of trouble I can get into. So please check back once in a while. I’ve updated the frontpage of my website. From there you’ll find links to this blog and my various galleries.

I’ve always been interested in photography and my recent purchase of my digital SLR has inspired me to pursue this hobby alot more. You can find a gallery of my favorite pics taken in Korea here. I will add more galleries over time, you can always find links at Chuck-Lee.com.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this and hope to see you soon.

Chuck

May 26

It’s 10AM Sunday morning here and I’m just finishing up packing. The last few days, I’ve just been doing alot of shopping and alot of drinking and now it’s time for me to go back to my life in Canada. While I’m happy to be going home, I wish I could spend more time here. I really enjoyed my stay in Korea. It’s great to see my country of origin developing so well and so fast. While some things could use improvement, overall, Korea and it’s people are on track to do great things.

I met some awesome people here. They were all so kind and so willing to help me in my travels. Jessie, Allyson, Lynn, Dave and Eune, thanks for everything. To my family, it was so great to meet you, I wish I had more time to spend with you.

Thanks to everyone for reading this blog. I’ll probably add another post later, hilighting my favorite parts of the trip and will add more pics. See you all soon.

May 24

So today I went to the De-Militarized Zone between North and South Korea. This heavily fortified area marks the temporary cease-fire signed over 50 years ago.
Started off the tour by taking a bus from Seoul to Imjakin. From there we headed to the 3rd Infiltration Tunnel.

This tunnel, was dug by the North Koreans under the DMZ and penetrated about 600M into the South Korean side of the border. This tunnel was built to allow up to 30,000 troops/hr to walk into the South and was only discovered after a Russian defector told the Koreans about it. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pics here as we were not allowed. But really all we did was walk about 200M down and about 300M into the DMZ then came back up. Place was crawling with hundreds of school kids yelling and screaming too. We then had to endure this 10 minute cheezy movie about reunification.

After the tunnel, we headed to the Observatory post where you could see the whole DMZ and into the North Korean side of the border. Again, taking pictures here was very limited as you could only take pictures behind this yellow line that was so far back you couldn’t really take very good pictures. They had troops manning the line to make sure you didn’t go past it. But if you used the telescopes, you could get a good look at the South Korean “Freedom village”, the North Korean “Propaganda” village and a joint venture factory where cheap North Korean laborers work for South Korean managers to create goods like pots, pans and clothing to be sold in the South.

We then headed over to Dosan Train Station. This is the last train station that connects to Seoul and there is a hope that one day this train station will start service to North Korea. They actually reconnected the railway 2 years ago and last week they sent the first train from North Korea to Dosan Station. At the station, they had a display of George W Bush’s visit to the station where he had attended the ceremony beginning construction of the railway to reconnect the Koreas. Funny that in the pic they have of Bush, he’s signing a railway tie but the pen is upside down. His handwriting is also pretty funny too.

So after this, we went for lunch and then headed off to the Panmunjeom, which is the village that straddles the DMZ. It’s in this village where all peace talks are head in little buildings that straddle the Demarkation Line. Again, it was hard to take pics because there were so many freakin restrictions on where you can take pics. You also couldn’t wander off by yourself or you’d risk a soldier yelling or confiscating your camera. It was funny, because part of our tour group were this big group of Greek Korean War vets who didn’t speak english and who were constantly breaking the rules. I thought our tour guide was going to have a heart attack.

I have to say this tour was a little anti-climatic. There was only 1 North Korean soldier and he was so far away and not face to face with the South soldiers. I was hoping someone would make a run for the border or something. Despite the supposed “tension” there really wasn’t any.

So after we visited the village, we went to some monument that commemorates the murder of 2 US soldiers by North Korean troops. Apparently before, the DMZ had troops on both sides in the same area and some US troops had gone to trim this tree because it was blocking the view between checkpoints. After this attack, the US/Korea sent 6,000 troops, supported by gunships and F16s to cut the tree down. This altercation almost started the 2nd Korean war and after this incident the Demarkation Line was created to separate North and Southern troops. Reason I know this story so well is because it was told to us about 10 times during the tour :P

So after that, we saw the Bridge of No Return which was the last bridge used to trade Korean War prisoners of war. Prisoners were basically taken to the bridge and told to choose a side, once they picked a side, they were not allowed to go back, thus the name.

So that was the tour. It really wasn’t all that. Would’ve been way cooler if they loosened up some of the stupid rules and restrictions they had. But anyways, I can at least say I’ve stepped into North Korea and I have a stamp in my passport marking my trip into the DMZ.

Decided to end the day by going out for drinks in Gangnam. Me and a friend decided to down a few bottles of daetonchu, which is basically some kind of bamboo wine. It was really tasty and went down really smooth. Didn’t think I was that drunk until we left and hit the streets. For some reason, I really wanted a hotdog and went a big mission to try and find one at the dozens of street food vendors in the area. But this wasn’t Toronto and no hotdogs were to be found, so I had to settle for a Pogo-stick (which is very tasty by the way!). Also got propositioned a few times for “sex massages”.. tempting, but I had to take a pass.

Anyways, I’m down to my last 3 days here. Not doing anymore tourist type stuff, hoping to go out with a bang. I feel like I’ve been here forever, though while I’m glad to be going home, I also wish a could have a couple more months here.

May 22

Monday – Masan to Seoul

Woke up early on Monday to take a 1.5hr bus ride to Masan. Masan is another port city, where I was to take a 4.5 hour train ride back to Seoul. The one thing I realized about the south of Korea is that it is truly beautiful. It reminded me alot of BC in the summer time, with endless green mountains as far as the eye could see, largely untouched by man. The next time I come to Korea, I will be sure to spend more time in the south.

So I got on the train to Seoul without really eatting because I thought there was food service on the train. WRONG! By the time I got to Seoul (9PM), I was soooo hungry, I decided to eat McDonald’s. Unfortunately, post-McDonald’s stomach problems also happen in Korea like they do in Canada. I made it back to my hotel and crashed out.

Today, I’m pretty much taking it easy. Tomorrow, I’m off to the DMZ and will go right to the North/South border (under military escort). Really looking forward to seeing this. Then, since Thursday is a national holiday. I’m planning on ripping it up tomorrow night!

It’s my last few days here in Korea. I’m starting to miss home a bit (definitely not missing work though!), but I also really wish I could have another month or two here

May 21

Sunday – Goseong and Jinju

Woke up early and headed out to Goseong which took about 2 hours by car. Goseong is where both my mom and dad grew up. My dad actually grew up in a small village outside Goseong, which is where we headed first. Met up with my aunt (dad’s brother’s wife), her son and another cousin (and his adorable dog) and went to the burial site for my grandfather and grandmother.

My grandparents were Buddhists, and by Buddhist burial rites they were buried up in the mountains. If you travel the Korean country side, you will see burial sites (or sanso) all over the mountains. I’m not sure how these Sansos are designated but once buried there, the site is pretty much considered sacred. We hiked about 10 minutes up this mountain to a small clearing where my grandparents are buried. My father built a monument to his father about 10 years ago which describes his life as the village doctor and leader. Then the men followed the ancient Buddhist ceremony for honoring the dead which included:

1) clearing weeds from the burial mounds to signal that we were there
2) kneeling in front of the burial mount and offering a glass of traditional rice wine
3) bowing head to earth once for my grandfather and once for my grandmother

Once we were finished, we shared some drink and food and shared this with the dead by pouring the wine on the ground and leaving food on the burial mounds.

This was all new to me and was quite moving. My name is also included on the monument and when I have a son, it is my responsibility to ensure my son’s name is also included on the monument, so that the family legacy can continue to live on. It is quite an honour and responsibility.

After we paid tribute to my grandparents, we continued to my great-grandparents Sanso. These mounds were very old and unmarked, I’m not sure what will happen to these down the road. But anyways, we repeated the same rituals and then left the mountain. We all went back to the house my father was raised in the village of Gohwang, which I had visited 20 years earlier and was now being run by my father’s sister for a traditional korean lunch.

After lunch, I walked around the village which is surrounding my rice fields and mountains and visited the village school and Buddhist temple. Until 50 years ago Buddhism/Confuscius was the predominant religion in Korea and is still very much present in the country side. It was really cool to walk around the village because it was pretty much hasn’t changed in 100 years and it was like walking around a living piece of history. There is also a monument to the famous Admiral Yi, who is a hero in Korea for repelling a Japanese invasion using iron clad turtle ships.

Around 2PM, it was time end my visit with my dad’s side of the family and to begin my visit with my mom’s side. My mom’s older brother came to pick me and drove me to Jinju where we picked up the rest of his family. Surprisingly his wife and daughters (my cousins) spoke pretty good english. We started off the visit by going to a Buddhist temple. The 24th of May is Buddha’s birthday and is a national holiday in Korea, so many of the Buddhist temples are preparing by stringing paper lanterns everywhere. The temple I visited, was different in that the Buddha statue was not in the sitting position but rather Buddha was lieing on his side relaxing. I have no idea what this signifies but it was cool nonetheless.

Then we drove to Namhae island which is the 3rd largest island in Korea and toured the seaside. The whole time my family had many questions to ask me and I was happy to oblige. My cousins are both interested in studying English in Canada and I was more than happy to answer their questions about Canada, including our crappy winters :) It was great to spend time with them, like my uncle’s family they were genuinely so happy to see me and wanted to know all about me.

We finished the tour by going back to Jinju where they checked me into the nicest hotel in town called the Dong Bang hotel. This hotel sits on the Nam River which runs through town and was really beautiful. The best part of the hotel is the top floor which has this Royal Cuisine Buffet. I could best describe the food offered here like eatting at a buffet prepared by the Iron Chefs! Amazing appetizers and foods which I had never seen before but tasted so good. Fresh sushis and caviar, truffles, and little dishes which were all super good. My other cousin and his family also joined us for dinner. We sat around and drank and ate til I couldn’t eat anymore. By far the best meal I’ve had in a long time.

After dinner, we went to Jinjuseong or Fort Jinju which was an ancient fortress built to fight the Japanese and Chinese invaders and was commanded by the famous Admiral Yi. At night it was truly stunning, as you could see the lit up river and bridges throughout the city. After touring the castle, I said goodbye to my uncle and his family and decided to head back to Goseong with my cousin for a surprise visit to my aunt. When I arrived at my aunt’s house she was so shocked to see me as I guess she didn’t know I was coming. I hadn’t seen my aunt in 20 years, so it was great to see her and her husband. We could only hang out for a bit where my aunt called my mom to bitch her out :) , then we headed back to Jinju where I crashed really hard.

It was really great to see my family. I have to be honest, I was dreading it before I came but in the end I was really happy I went. I wish I had more time so that I could spend more time with them. This short visit really made me appreciate how important family really is. One thing they kept pressing me on though was getting married! They all couldn’t believe I wasn’t married yet and they all hope I get married soon, so as my aunt put it.. “I can bring her to Canada for a visit!”. Anyways, great visit and I hope to keep in touch with my newly acquainted cousins.

May 20

Saturday – Busan/Ulsan and My Uncle

I arrived in Busan after sleeping the 2.5 hour train ride from Seoul. Busan is Korea’s largest port city. I wish I had more time to explore this city but unfortunately I could only stay long enough to transfer to a bus to go to Ulsan to see my dad’s brother and his family. Once in Busan, I had to take an hour subway ride to the north end of the city from which I had to take another 1.5 hour bus ride to the city of Ulsan. Since I was still really hung over, I pretty much slept the whole way.

I arrived in Ulsan where I was happily greeted by my uncle, his wife and his son. My uncle looks exactly like my dad, so it was easy to find him. However, none of them could speak any english. The son, took some english in school but really couldn’t speak it well enough to speak. Since my Korean is borderline horrendous, as you can guess, communicating was quite humourous. Surprisingly, I was able to understand most of what they said. They took me out to this delicious dinner of BBQ pork and duck, then we went back to their place and “talked” over tea. It was great to meet them, they were genuinely so happy to see me, even though we couldn’t communicate that great I really felt the love. Meant alot to me. We all crashed early as we were going to the village where my father grew up the next day.

May 19

So it’s been a while since I’ve been able to update my blog. I’ve been away visiting my relatives in Korea and returned late last night. I’ll start with my Friday night in Seoul (crazy), followed by my road trip to visit family over the rest of the weekend.

First a few more facts about Korea:

1) Koreans really respect their elders. Elders are treated with the utmost respect in Korean society. Subways have separate seats where only elders or the disabled can sit. Even if the subway is full, you don’t sit in their seats.
2) Koreans can be the nicest most helpful people. When asked a question, Koreans generally will go out of the way to help you and make you feel comfortable.
3) Do not get in the way of a Korean when they want to get somewhere. Getting to an exit or if going from A to B, watchout! It’s a free-for-all shovefest, usually led by the ajumas (elder ladies)!.
4) Koreans are deftly afraid of the sun. While most people don’t mind the sun, some take extreme care not to expose any of their skin to the sun. This includes wearing a massive visor that sometimes covers the whole face, a face mask, jacket, scarf and white gloves plus using an umbrella.
5) Family means everything to Koreans. I found this out firsthand this weekend.

Friday in Apgujeong

So it’s Friday night and I was really itching to hit the town. I cruised over to Apgujeong (the Yorkville part of Seoul) and met up with a friend for drinks at this bar called Traibecca. This place was gorgeous. Great layout, great interior design, very comfy and was able to order any type of drink that you usually can’t get at other korean bars. Mind you the prices for drinks were about $15 each.

Had a few drinks there, then headed over to one of the biggest clubs in Seoul called Circle Club. My friend Allyson was there and has the hookups, so were able to avoid the $30US cover and head inside. The club was awesome, very unique design. The main bar sits up on this circular platform that is surrounded by seating areas (for bottle service) and the platform slowly turns in a circle through out the night (at about a foot a minute). So if you’re standing there talking to someone, you’ll look up and see something completely different. Pretty cool.

Started pounding back drinks (at $10US each) and was feeling great after about an hour. The best thing about going out in Korea is that there’s no last call, so it’s easy to get totally wrecked. My friend Allyson took me to the VIP room where I met, one of the most famous stylists to the stars and had a few drinks though drinks there were $20US each. Apparently some big TV star was there too but I had no idea who he was. Women were super hot too. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pics and the pics I took sucked, so I won’t bother posting them.

So before I know it, it’s something like 4:30AM and I’m a complete waste case. Allyson suggests we go get some food and I of course was totally in! Went to this place full of other drunkards and ordered some Galbi-Tang, which is this soup with rice and noodles and Galbi-beef. Wish I could say I loved it, but quite frankly I don’t remember even eatting anything (hehe). So then it was like 5:30AM and it was time to go home. No idea how I was able to get the cab driver to the right intersection to drop me off but by some miracle I arrived at my hotel. Ran around for about 20 minutes looking for a bankmachine so I could buy 1 cookie, 1 donut and a popsicle from the 7-11 (I had to use my credit card in the end), made it home and passed out.

I was supposed get up at 9:00AM so I could catch an 11:00 train to Busan but I didn’t wake up until 10:30AM. Managed to call my uncle and tell him there were no more trains til 1:30PM. So I managed to get myself together, packed and out the door to make it to Seoul Station for the train to Busan. While there, I went to this fast food chain called Lotteria which is like a McDonald’s (I actually thought I was at McDonald’s until after I got my food). The menu there was quite crazy. Had no idea what to order, settled on the Shrimp Burger which was actually super good. Anyways, now I’m off to Busan to start my family tour.

May 17

Unfortunately I have no pics to add to this post but this post must be made.

After listening to Colin rave about this place Hongchu Buldak in Itaewon I decided to head down and check it out. I brought my friend Allyson with me as she had never tried it either as she was too scared.

So anyways we order the Buldak which directly translates to Fire Chicken, and anxiously waited. The dish arrived and at first glance didn’t look that bad, the sauce was nicely coated but not dripping in sauce. Chicken was all chopped into little pieces so it was easy to eat.

I took one morsel… hmmm.. wasn’t that I expected, I felt a little heat but not too much. Now those who know me, know I love my spicy food. I need to sweat when I eat. So after a few bites, I could start to feel the heat come on. A few bites after that, my mouth caught fire and the sweat started to come. A quarter into the plate, my mouth was completely on fire and I was sweating like a madman.

My friend then decided to order these spicy ricecakes, figuring it’d be less spicy and would help absorb the spice. Man was she ever wrong. I took one bite and my head literally blew up. Unlike the chicken which had a slow lingering burn, this spice was a like an A-bomb going off in your mouth. I downed like a pitcher of water, with sweat coming out of my eye sockets. I looked over at my friend (who doesn’t like spicy food) and she was in even worse shape! But as painful as it was, I couldn’t get enough, I had to finish it!

Finally was able to finish it. What a meal, definitely ranks up there in the top 3 spiciest meals I ever ate. I need to bring this shit to Canada, it would totally go over with the drunkards crowd. Thanks Colin! If any of you go to Korea, check this place out!

May 16

Well, I’m at day 14 of my trip, a just over half way done. I’m starting to miss home alot, but I’m still really enjoying it here.

So anyways, I decided to leave Seoul for the first time. I got signed up on this 1 day tour to Boseong which is in the South West region of Korea. Boseong is famous for it’s green tea as it’s one of 3 areas in Korea where green tea is grown. Funny thing about this tour is that it was an all Korean tour, so I pretty much had no idea what was being said and just kind of tagged along for the tour. Luckily my friend Jessie came with me and she was able to interpret for me.

My journey started off 7:15AM where we took the KTX which is Korea’s version of the bullet train 2 1/2 hours to a town called Jeongeop. From there, we boarded a bus for a 2 1/2 hour drive to some coastal town (don’t remember the name). It was a pretty quiet little fishing town where the most exciting thing was these people clamming on the beach. Had an hour to eat lunch and then we were off to Boseong.

The Boseong Green Tea Plantation is one of the most stunning places I’ve been to. Nestled in this valley, I’ve never seen so many shades of green in my life. Rolling hills with rows upon rows of green tea shrubs could be seen as far as the eye could see. It was truly stunning. We spent about 2 hours there roaming around then hopped back on the bus for a 2 hour drive to a small town outside Jeongeop where we chilled, then checked out the Bamboo Park.

The Bamboo Park is this forest made up entirely of bamboo trees. It was pretty cool but got boring after a while.

Had a nice walk around then checked out this river across the street that was really beautiful. The river had a bunch of fountains that sproated from the water. Hung out there then hopped back on the bus for the drive back to Jeongeop, where we boarded the KTX back to Seoul. Arrived back around 10:30PM, totally wiped and exhausted. Pretty good trip all in all, but looking forward to taking some other road trips.

Today was really shitty, rained all day. So ended up just sitting in a coffee shop all day. This weekend, I’m on the road again to visit family on the east coast of Korea. This should be interesting, since they speak NO english! Like none! And my Korean is at about a grade 2 level, so it should be an interesting couple of days to say the least! Wish me luck!

May 13

Just a quickie post. Nothing major happend in the past couple of days, highlight being me going to Seoul (Namsang) Tower at night. I’ll start with a few more random facts:

1) In Korea, every block has the following: a 7-11, a Starbucks and a Golf Shop! Koreans are crazy about their golf apparently, though I have no idea where in Seoul they could possibly ram a golf course. I’ve never seen so many golf stores in my life.
2) Koreans do not use knives. Instead scissors are readily available to chop your food (forks aren’t really used either).
3) Koreans share foods. Meals mostly consist of share plates, the weird part, they share soup too! It’s a little un-nerving seeing someone spoon up some soup then expect you to eat from the same bowl.
4) Koreans drink ALOT of Soju. It actually goes really well with some foods.
5) It is customary to cheers everytime you drink and to never leave your eating partner’s glass empty.

So anyways, on Sunday night met up with my friend Lynn and went out for a wicked dinner of different BBQ’d meats wrapped in lettuce call Samgyeopsal. Had 3 different types Galbi-Samgyeopsal which is the cut pieces of galbi wraps, Woo-Samgyeopsal (my fave) which is this thinly sliced beef you bbq, then dip into this sesame oil/sea salt sauce and wrap in lettuce, and regular Samgyeopsal which is thick cuts of back pork. So good!

After dinner we decided to hit Namsang tower which is a huge tower that sits ontop a small mountain in the middle of Seoul. Namsang tower is only about half the height of the CN tower but if you take the mountain it sits on into account, its probably close to the same height. We hiked 20 minutes to the bottom of the tower, which is really well lit up at night and has nice views of the city.

So we went up and checked out the views from the observation post (pic #1, pic #2, pic #3, pic #4). Gotta say, the CN Tower has a much better observation post, like the see-thru glass, but it was kind of cool to take a pee while checking out the view.

So after that we just drove around, saw the Namdaenum Gateway at night which I had only seen during the day. It was much nicer at night. And we cruised around by the Han River which is really cool at night because each of the 12 bridges that cross the River is lit up in different colours (sorry no good pics). Then I called it a night.

Tomorrow, I’m off to the South-Western coast for a mini-roadtrip. Stay tuned.

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