Traveling Korea: Andong (안동) & Pohang (포항)

On a sunny October weekend, I was lucky enough to take a trip to two new places in South Korea, Andong and Pohang. The trip was an overnight adventure planned out and taken by my school, so on a cold Saturday morning, I boarded a large travel bus full of students and those who work in the offices downstairs and headed to Andong, a small city about three hours away from Jinju.20170601_130817

Andong is located in the North Gyeongsang province in Korea, and is a cultural center in the country. One of the famous places in Andong is the Hahoe Folk Village, a traditional folk village located just outside of the city. Andong is also famous for its traditional folk masks, which were abundant in the folk village. In fact, part of the trip was making our own masks in the village! After completing the masks, we were given time to walk through the village before heading to lunch. After lunch, it was time to get back on the bus and head to our next destination: a Confucian temple. If I haven’t made it clear, I have a fascination with temples and Eastern philosophies, so I was happy I got to see another temple. The final stop in Andong was the Woryeonggyo Bridge, the longest wooden footbridge in Korea. The bridge was definitely a beautiful part of Andong and a great opportunity to take some photos.

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Following our excursion to the bridge, it was time to head toward our hotel in the city of Pohang. We drove for over an hour, stopping off to eat dinner. The food at this restaurant was fantastic. The cook prepared me a vegetarian-friendly soup with a spicy broth, plenty of veggies, noodles, and tofu. After dinner, it was time to get back on the bus and drive to the hotel. This was my first overnight stay somewhere other than Jinju since arriving, and I was curious to see what the hotel would be like. My room reminded me of the rooms I stayed in night after night as an admissions counselor when I went from one Hilton brand hotel to another.

After settling into the hotel, myself and the others set out to find a cafe, finding a cute place down the road with an outdoor seating area on the roof. It was the perfect place to have a latte and get some writing done.

In the morning, we boarded the bus once again and went for a hike. The views were spectacular and the weather was sunny and cool. At the base of the trailhead was another Temple (woo!) and a small festival. It was a great way to spend the morning. The afternoon was spent beside the ocean at the Homigot (호미곶). 20170602_150743They’re in the shape of two hands, one on land and one in the sea and symbolize the coexistence of humankind. It was an incredible afternoon and my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean. Being able to touch the Pacific Ocean may not seem significant to many, but to be able to see and feel something that always felt so far away was significant for me. I feel that my moments spent next to the ocean were symbolic of just how far I have come, and that I am coexisting in a new way.

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Every opportunity I have to travel Korea reinforces just how at peace I feel in making the decision to come here. Those who took the same journey told me how transformative this year would be for me, and I feel myself changing slowly and in small ways every day. I can’t wait to see what the rest of Korea has in store for me as I continue my travels in this amazing country I now call home.

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Traveling Korea is a series of posts about my various trips outside of Jinju. All posts on these travels can be found under the tag #travelingkorea.

Traveling Korea: Haeinsa 해인사

Despite living in another country without a car and with little working knowledge of the language, I have found that it’s quite easy to venture outside of my city and explore Korea. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Haeinsa (해인사), a temple founded in the year 802 and one of the three jewel temples in South Korea. Various national treasures are enshrined inside the temple. Perhaps the most notable is the Tripitaka Koreana, which are woodcarved blocks that make up the entirety of the Buddhist texts. There are over 81,000 blocks which took 16 years to complete. The temple has housed these texts since 1398. Despite this temple holding so many precious items, it is still an active temple.

해인사 sits atop a mountain in the Gayasan National Park (가야산) about 45 minutes outside of the town of Hapcheon (합천). Getting to the temple involved taking two buses, one from Jinju to Hapcheon and one from Hapcheon to Haeinsa. Hannah and I had about three hours after arriving in Hapcheon until the next bus to Haeinsa, so we decided to explore Hapcheon, only to stumble upon a smaller temple where an active service was taking place. This temple was also on a small mountain along the river that runs through Habcheon. Sitting along the river and listening to the Buddhist chants was calming and peaceful, despite my inability to understand what was being said.

Following this short walk, we decided it would be best to get some lunch and head to the bus terminal. Hapcheon is by far the smallest place I’ve gone in Korea so far, and the options for food were limited, so we settled on instant ramen in a convenience store. Then, we were off to Haeinsa. Our bus to Haeinsa took us through winding roads and even deeper into the mountains, reminding me of various scenes from the film Okja. When we made it to our stop, the bus driver was kind enough to tell us to get off the bus with a simple English phrase “Haeinsa, get off here.” We exited the bus only to find that the temperature in the mountains was noticably cooler, which I found to be a relief after a warm walk in the sun earlier.

Walking around the temple was an experience unlike any I had before. Throughout the property, there was different sculptures and buildings, all with their own purpose and function. Many of the smaller buildings housed statues of Buddha and it seemed that people could go into the buildings to spend some time in meditation and reflection. Walking throughout these buildings, I was overwhelmed with the sense of peace that often comes with visiting somewhere so sacred.

Despite the various obstacles that Hannah and I faced in getting to Haeinsa and the bus we almost missed to get home, our trip to Haeinsa was beyond worth it. Along with deepening my understanding of the new country I call home, this trip really sparked my interest in Buddhist teachings and philosophies. It only seems fitting that I find some books on Buddhism and make plans to visit the other two jewel temples hiding in the mountains of Korea.

 

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Traveling Korea is a series of posts about my various trips outside of Jinju. All posts on these travels can be found under the tag #travelingkorea.

Traveling Korea: Suncheon 순천

Chuseok is a Korean holiday that most western websites describe as “Korean Thanksgiving,” as it is a celebration of the Harvest and a time when the younger generations leave their homes in the city to visit their families in the countryside. This extended holiday meant that I got a five-day weekend, which presented itself as the perfect opportunity for me to venture outside of Jinju and explore more of Korea.

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I had planned on camping over Chuseok, but ended up getting a sinus infection just a few days before the trip, so instead, I turned to Google to find some day trips near where I live. After quite a bit of searching and multiple suggestions from other people, I settled on going to Suncheon ‎(순천). I was drawn to Suncheon’s Wetland Reserve area. The photos of the reed fields captivated me, and I wanted to see it for itself. I think in a way, it reminded me of the landscape where I grew up: natural beauty just beyond the edge of a city. After doing more research, I pinned down some prices and found out that along with getting into the Reserve, my ticket for the hike would also include a trip over to the National Garden. Between the hike and the garden, I had a full day planned.

So I scoured bus time tables and packed up my backpack, ready to hop on the bus at 9:20 the following morning. Looking at my map, the bus station looked closer than it was, but something pushed me out the door at 8:00 that morning, and I made it with time to spare. That time to spare was used jumping from window to window to buy my ticket because I wasn’t pronouncing the name of the city perfectly, but in the end I did get my ticket because I had written down where I was going in Hangul that morning and was able to show it to the woman at the bus station.

After I arrived in Suncheon, I spent the next hour waiting for another bus. It wouldn’t have been so long had I not questioned if I was at the right bus stop and walked to another one, only to miss the bus I was supposed to be on. But when the bus finally came back through, I was on my way to the Wetland Reserves.

The Reserves were even more beautiful that the photos. The walk through the reed field was peaceful, the sound of wind rustling through the tall reeds while crabs scurried around on the ground below the walkway. The journey through the reeds was a few kilometers, leading to a winding path up a mountain. From each overlook, you could see the reed fields, rice paddies, and wetlands. I even got to talk to some people along the way. A nice older woman asked me where I was from and if I was traveling alone. When I told her I was a teacher in Jinju, she got incredibly excited. Throughout the day, people would continue to ask me where I was from and share a friendly smile.

After making my way through the Wetland Reserves and sucking down an iced Americano while I charged my nearly dead phone, I boarded another bus to the National Gardens. Although a lot of the flowers were no longer blooming and boasted only their deep green leaves, it was still something to behold. Each section of the garden was dedicated to specific plants–some by type, others by the kind of garden you would find them in, and some by the region of the world where they came from. The gardens spread out in all directions, and after a long day of walking on my blistered feet, I did not get to venture through the whole garden, but I am determined to go back in late spring.

While I was nervous to venture outside of Jinju on my own, I’m glad I found my way to such a beautiful part of the country. It won’t be long now before I hop on another bus and journey somewhere else.

 

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Traveling Korea is a series of posts about my various trips outside of Jinju. All posts on these travels can be found under the tag #travelingkorea.

Life in Jinju: Into the Woods

When I was moving to Korea, one of the things I was incredibly excited for was the hiking. Growing up along the Appalachian Trail, it was hard for me to stay away from the outdoors after discovering a love of hiking at seventeen. After being in Korea for a little over two weeks, I have finally made it out to the mountains that have been hiding in my backyard.

Approximately 70% of Korea is covered in mountains–that’s a lot of green peaks lining this beautiful country. My city, Jinju, is nestled in a river valley between mountains. Saturday when I was out with the various new expat friends I made, one was talking about going for a hike Sunday morning. Loving a good hike, I asked if I could tag along. I hadn’t realized that about 15 minutes from my apartment there was a trailhead.

Here is Korea, the trails are incredibly well-kept with bathrooms, gazebos, and even outdoor gyms along that paths. What was even more amazing to me was the view I was able to get of my new city along most of the trail. To one side, I saw endless countryside, and to the other, a view of Jinju like none I have seen before.

Although I was eager to hike, I hadn’t taken into consideration that the temperatures are rising again after a cloudy, rainy week. While I wake up every morning hoping Autumn has finally arrived, I am disappointed day after day as the thermostat climbs. This morning it was nearing 80 degrees Fahrenheit and was quite humid by the time we got the mountain, but I was able to push through the steeper inclines and made it out with only a tiny bit of sunburn on my face.

While today’s hike was only a couple of hours, it was great way for me to gear up for my backpacking trip next weekend over Chuseok, a Korean holiday celebrating the Harvest. Chuseok will also be my first venture outside of Jinju since I’ve arrived, and I am beyond excited to be spending it in the mountains surrounded by my new friends here in Korea.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Beauty in the Green Mountains

Vermont is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Everything about my time in Vermont was breathtaking. The air was fresh, the hikes were incredible, and the small town of Bennington was vibrant.

I visited Vermont back in June with my friend Lindsey, another avid hiker and childhood friend. Knowing that our lives were taking us in drastically different directions, we decided we needed a weekend getaway, and both of us really wanted to visit Vermont. Both of us knew that the Green Mountains were perfect for a walk in the woods, and both of us desperately needed one. We headed out on the road for our four hour road trip, arriving in Vermont around dinnertime on a Friday. The night was spent exploring the small town of Bennington, particularly the local brewery. They had a wide variety of craft brews, my favorite of which was named the Nor’beaster. After a winter full of Nor’easters, it only felt right to try that beer.

Southern Vermont in early June is perfect for hiking. The temperatures are mild and the mud season is mostly over, making for optimal hiking conditions. Saturday we spent the day in the mountains. The Bald Mountain trail was near our hotel, and had promising online reviews. So we ascended, tackling the different challenges that came about on the trail, which would suddenly turn from a gradual incline to a steep mountainside. Once we found an acceptable overlook, we slung up our hammocks and enjoyed the view.

When we came back down the mountain, we spent the rest of the day exploring other sights nearby, including the gift shops in town, the covered bridges hidden in the back roads of Bennington, and North Bennington, a town nearby. Sunday would also encompass exploring, this time in the form of another hike from Lake Paran to the home of American poet Robert Frost. This hike was much simpler than the one Saturday, and we enjoyed views of the lake, wildflower fields, and and lush green forests Robert Frost once enjoyed. We wrapped up our trip by visiting the Bennington BattleMonument, which offered stunning views of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

Life in Vermont seemed simple and quiet, which is the kind of life I enjoy for a few days, but never longterm. My retreat to the woods was refreshing, and needed after a few high stress weeks. What made the trip even better was the friend I got to share the journey with.