Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Gangneung Olympic Park (23. Feb. '18)

Before I get into Gangneung Olympic Park, let me set up the stage for you.

End of Term break

For those of you unfamiliar, Korean winter vacation is technically made up of January and February. There is just a 1-2 week period where students go to school, then they are off until March 2. Don't ask why; that's just how it is.

My original plan was to take my remaining 7 vacation days (doesn't count weekends) to explore Brunei and Singapore for about 10 days total. Because I sprained my ankle a week and a half before the departure date and the doctor said I needed to wear a splint/boot for 2 weeks, that plan was canceled. I ended up taking 5 vacation days and having all of 19.-23. February off (don't forget the Lunar New Year and the weekends).

That Monday, the doctor told me I could wear regular shoes again. I would have jumped for joy, but I remembered my weak ankle. 

On Wednesday, I went up to Itaweon (probably the 1st time in 5 years) to H&R Block, to see if they can help me report my income to Uncle Sam. I spent that night with a Filipina friend I met in Hoengseong (she appears in a few pictures here) in her place just outside of Seoul to the northwest. We got caught up as she cooked a delicious chicken dinner. It was nice to have it again for breakfast too (my favorite kind of breakfast: leftovers from dinner)!

Early on Thursday morning, it was off to my Korean friend and her family's place in the center of Seoul. I arrived for her 1st daughter's kindergarten graduation. Her mother had several errands that day. I either went with her and her daughters, or she went and I stayed home looking after the girls. I thought that was fair. During that day, I realized I had an open window of opportunity to check out the Olympics and soak in its atmosphere. I booked my bus tickets there and back.

Gangneung Olympic Park

Friday morning was a little nerve-wracking. The earliest bus I could get to Gangneung left Seoul Express Bus Terminal at 8:20. Getting there was a tad tricky, but it worked out. Three hours and 50(+/-) minutes later, my bus had arrived in Gangneung!
After a quick stop at the restroom, I was ready to head over to the Gangneung Olympic Park. I heard there were free shuttle buses, but where?

Ah, here it is!
I don't remember how long it took. Maybe 20 minutes, maybe 30. Either way, the bus was packed--as in, even the aisle was filled with people all the way up to the driver. We arrived at 11:50-something to the actual park. I needed to be mindful of the time, considering that my bus back to Seoul left at 16:00.

Looking back to my shuttle bus.

Coming to the pedestrian bridge.

Ah, they were ready.
It didn't click immediately that I needed to buy a ticket to get in. That is, not until I asked a volunteer about the 8 loop-deep line in front of the ticket box offices. 
How much was it?
Oh, 2,000 KRW (1.86 USD)? That's more like it.

Some of the line, from the final loop.

So close. Soon, it'll be my turn...

Here's a video clip of just how many people were there waiting to get tickets to enter the Olympic park.
How many foreigners did you see?

After buying my ticket and going through security, I was finally "in."
Time to walk around and soak up the "Olympic atmosphere."

Trading pins?

Can you see the name? Or is it too small?

Restaurant at 1 o'clock. Let's see what they've got.

The concession stand. There were several in the park and all were like this.

Overpriced menu

The line just to enter the store. I was later informed the wait was an hour.

Which sports icons do you see?

Very windy day. My hair was wild.

Wow, I'm afraid to see their prices. Don't like the line either.

I'm coming!

Good size, but where is everybody, in the stadium?

Video clip to give a better idea of the size (and emptiness) of the site.

Watching Kaetlyn Osmond (Canada) perform. 

Watching Alina Zagitova (OAR) perform

My overall feeling?

Yes, I was disappointed. I expected the Olympics to be "more epic," like the amazing footage I grew up watching on TV.

To be fair, I can think of a few factors that may have contributed to my disappointment:
1. I was alone. Events like these are more fun with other people (the right kind).
2. I didn't have a lot of time. I had up to 4-ish hours to arrive, look around, and not miss my bus out. I had to keep my eye on the time.
3. I didn't get tickets to an event. Those tickets were expensive! Even if I did, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the entire competition because of the short time I had, and it didn't coincide with the game schedule.
4. Comming here was a last-minute decision because it was a last-minute opportunity that presented itself.
5. The foreigners were mostly gone. Or they were all at the Ladies' Free Skate event going on live when I was there. Or they were in Pyeongchang for any of the snow events. Or all of the above.
6. The Olympics were almost over. I was there Friday, and the Closing Ceremony was Sunday night.

There may be more factors, but I can't think of any more right now.

If I ever had the opportunity to check out the Olympics again live (summer or winter), would I?
Probably not. I think I had it at its best: watching on TV in the comfort of my home.

Anywho, I made it back Seoul and met up with a friend I hadn't seen in about 3 years. We got caught up and had our own kind of "expat therapy" session in voicing our observations and being relieved in how mutual our views were.
Then, it was back to my friend's family's home. I slept pretty well. Saturday morning, I decided to return home, since I was quite exhausted. So return home I did and rested until Monday morning when I went back to (desk-warm at) school.

On Friday (2. March), the new school year will start.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Lotte World Tower (2. - 4. Feb.)

The first weekend of February, a friend of mine and I went up Lotte World Tower.
That building is no joke! It has a mall at its base, then a hotel, aquarium, residential apartments, offices, and then an observatory. Sheesh! This building is its own city! Like those futuristic buildings where no one ever goes outside because there's no need.

Olympics at Seoul Station on Friday night.

Did you know Lotte World Tower is among the 10 tallest buildings in the world?
You know how I love heights.
It's only a matter of time before I paid this tower a visit.
And to think they opened their doors back in April 2017! It's very new!

The elevator ride up. Look at the numbers. The top number is the floor, and the bottom number is the height in meters.

What you can see from that angle.

Lotte World, Korea's "Disneyland"

All of Olympic Park. I was staying just beyond this park.

Olympic Bridge (middle bridge) over the Han River.

Yours truly with Soohorang (tiger) and Bandabi (bear)

That's 486 meters (1,595 feet) above the ground.
I LOVED this!

Some funky light thing happening on the glass floor.

Christmas tree?

Oh! Outdoor section! Too bad it was closed. Probably too windy.

I liked the lines.

WHAT?! After 1 YEAR?!

Yes sir-y, after 1 year. At least they warn their customers.

"Christmas tree" with Seoul and Han River in the background.

The elevator ride down. Epic.

Lotte World Tower has 3 Guinness World Records!

Oh yes, this tower was definitely worth the trip!
This is one I'd definitely say I'd go to again. Of course, it's always better with good company.

I thought I'd share a short video made of pictures and videos I took while at Lotte World Tower.
Don't expect anything high-tech. It's really basic. The text is also in Spanish.

Weekend in Ulsan (26.-28. Jan. '18)

A while back, one of my adult students at SDALI SeoCheonan invited me to stay with him and his family in Ulsan for a weekend. The final weekend of January suited us both.

I arrived on the evening of Friday, January 26th. I met his wife and daughter. His son was away with friends for the weekend. The wife prepared an excellent dinner. Everything was soooooo delicious! That family is so fortunate to have a superb cook for a wife and mother!

Saturday, 27. January

First stop: Taehwagang River Park
The family took me to Taehwagang (Taehwa River) Park. It was vast and mostly empty, but just perfect for me. At the edge of the river is a 4km-long bamboo forest, Taehwa River Seepri Bamboo Grove.
Like being in a dream.

Clear curvy path
I couldn't walk the entire length, but being in it for a spell was good enough. I almost wished I lived in Ulsan . . . Almost.

After the park, we drove along the harbor until we reached Ulsan Bridge Observatory.
Once you park your car, you walk up a road for just shy of a kilometer. The hike was not challenging, even for my plantar-fasciitis-ailed right foot.

A sign to point you in the right direction (no pun intended).

Inside the elevator.
Inside the elevator, you can view the outside on every floor (4 floors). You also see signs that tell you how high you are and how many more meters you have before reaching the top.

Panoramic view of Ulsan Bridge and Harbor.

Panorama of the city that was established, thanks to Hyundai Motors (right).

In case you wondered about which direction you faced.

After checking out the heights of Ulsan Bridge Observatory, we drove along the black pebbly coast of Jujeon beach. We got off for a bit to enjoy the sound of the crashing waves (which were very high and strong that day) and the fresh air of the sea.

Oh, hashtags.

I thought a video would be a better representation of this beach than a few pictures.

A wave that scared my student and his family. Priceless moments.

Thank you, come again.
We went to a nearby restaurant and had a spicy fish dish (honestly don't know what it was called). It was great!
After this, we returned home and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Sunday, 28. January,

The family took me on another outing--and from there, to the bus terminal, so I could catch a bus back to my city. However, before I show you those pictures, I gotta show you this from when we left the apartment:


McDelivery is EVERYWHERE in Korea.

Alright, now to the highlight and main stop of the day: Daewangam Park.
The legend in Korean, English, & Japanese.

My former-student and his wife looking at the open-air restaurant on the shore.

Panorama of the main attraction: King Munmu's Underwater Tomb.

Sorry for the botched model in the foreground.

A fleet of ships in the background (not military).

The path to and from the rest of the park.


One more look at the main bridge.

One more look at the boulders in the sea.
Thank you so much, Charlie (not real name) and family! I really enjoyed my time with you all! The food, places, and weekend, in general, were all wonderful. I need to try to return sometime!