Saturday, April 23, 2011

Surprise Spring Break (Part 1)

My school may not believe in giving me a Christmas break, but somehow I scored a surprise spring break out of them! Assa!

Here’s how it all happened. As a part of my contract, I have seven total “days off” for the twelve-month duration of my employment. I say “days off” in quotation marks because it’s not like I can just take a day off here or there like a normal day off, no no no. These “days off” are always scheduled and rescheduled months in advance. As in I’ve gone five months between “days off” before. Kind of annoying really…

But then I lucked out. I found out Thursday that this year’s summer break, usually a four-day holiday in mid-summer, got scheduled to start on July 28. As in EXACTLY one day after my contract ends on July 27. Whomp whomp scheduling. As such, my school still owed me four days off at some point, and I decided to take two of them now, making this a four-day weekend and surprise spring break (hereafter SSB… you know how I like my acronyms).

As my SSB was a, well, surprise (hence the first S), I didn’t have the time or money to plan a super-awesome spontaneous trip to Laos or something (although never you fear, such plans are in the works) and instead, I opted to hang around Seoul and catch up on my touristy things here. And what an agenda of touristy things I’ve made up for myself! It just gets better and better over the next four days, so stay tuned!

Now without further ado, Day 1 of my SSB.

I started out my touristy adventures in the Southeast area of Seoul at Bongeunsa Temple in Samseong. Compared to the Yongmasan temple I stumbled into last weekend, Bongeunsa was huge -- as in formerly the largest temple in Seoul, huge! It was the main temple of the Korean Zen sect of Buddhism for almost 400 years, until the 1930's when a fire took out many of the buildings. Oh yeah, and the Korean war too. It's since undergone extensive renovations and repairs, and is just so beautiful and relaxing to walk around!

Like Yongmasan, Bongeunsa was preparing itself for the upcoming Buddha’s Birthday celebration on May 10th by decorating the temple grounds with lanterns…

Lots and lots of lanterns!

Just wow! If you’re looking to delve into Korean temple-going, late April would be the perfect time to start!

Like last time, I took the new camera and spent a lot of time fiddling around with AV mode... and forgot to take pictures of the important things like, say, any of the actual temples. Besides this one. Kind of. I'm sorry, I'm sorry...

GIANT Buddha statue -- literally 23 meters tall! Just awe-inspiring.

Looking out over Seoul.

What I love about Korean Buddhist temples is that they’re so intricate and ornately adorned and that even the most minute of details has symbolic meaning. I’ll try to write more about some of these in the future, I think they’re fantastic!

So Bongeunsa, check. My original plan was to head over to Banpo Hangang Park next to see this (Google picture, not mine)...

However, it was only maybe 3:30, and let's be honest, rainbow fountain bridges look best at night. So finding myself in Samseong with a couple hours to kill, I decided to head into the nearby COEX shopping mall/exhibit hall/convention center/aquarium/much more and visit the kimchi museum. That's right, there's a kimchi museum. (Like lowercase "k" kimchi, not the other capital "K" version.)

Oh dear. To put it mildly, COEX was crowded, confusing, congested, and not an all together pleasant experience. There's no reason I should ever need a pull-out map to get around a mall. To make matters worse, the kimchi museum was located one floor below all the chaos that was the ground floor, and only one special escalator hidden near the mysterious "Square 3" could take me there. It was an ordeal, to say the least.

But I persevered and eventually found the fabled kimchi museum. Such a hype. Everything I've heard about the kimchi museum told me you'd learn a lot, yada yada, and most importantly get to sample all sorts of kimchi. Which would have been awesome, had there been more than four flavors total, one of which is readily served at every Korean restaurant I've ever been to. Furthermore, the information was lacking, and even reading every word of the English translations, I was done in a half hour.

In conclusion, COEX was completely overwhelming. If I never end up going back, I'd probably be ok with that. I grabbed a much needed recovery latte, and headed for my final destination of the day, the rainbow fountain bridge at Banpo Hangang Park.

Now, I don't fully understand why, but for some reason, Korea doesn't seem to be in a hurry to get it's famous water features turned on in the spring. Last weekend, the waterfall. This weekend, the Guinness World Record holding Banpo Bridge. Sad sad.

Luckily, the Banpo Hangang Park itself was pretty and I got to catch a Han River sunset...

Now I just need an excuse to go back in, say, July when Korea will have hopefully gotten the water turned on. Seriously.

So SSB Day 1. Whew. Way more than I initially intended to do, but I'm glad I did it. Even though I can't feel my feet...

Stay tuned for SSB Day 2!

- Christine -

Spoiler alert, the furball's coming along :)

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