A Travellerspoint blog

South Korea

MAY 2007 Buddha's Birthday

A Lotus Lantern Parade and another visit from London and Malaysia

sunny 15 °C

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Lotus Lantern Festival is held every year in spring to celebrate Buddha's Birthday which falls on the eighth day of the forth month of the Lunar Calendar. It is an official holiday in South Korea and festival includes many programs for Buddhist as well as non -Buddhist locals and tourists to enjoy like - making lanterns, sampling temple food, traditional Korean games etc.

Although only 15% of Korean population (according to most statistics) consider themselves to be Buddhists at the moment -The Lotus Lantern Parade was definetely the most bright and colorful event we had seen in Korea. It attracted crowds of people of all ages,
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from Korea as well as other countries,
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that marched joyfully through the central streets of Seoul bringing the sounds of drums, dancing and chantings for enlightment and peace.

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The parade was a real race of lanterns that came in many shapes and sizes, home made or state of the art ones representing different temples and Buddhist groups in shapes of the Buddha or Buddhist monks

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scary dragons, animals and other creatures.

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We only wished we knew more of what they were symbolising.

Our favourite however was a group with instruments made out of recyclable materials. They were definetely the most original and enthusiastic ones amongst the parade!!!

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We ended the evening with the dinner in the restaurant near the temple where all the lanterns where going to, so we could still watch parts of the parade and enjoy the noise.

Just a few days before the festival, our friend from London Kai and his girlfriend Wisky arrived in Seoul for their holiday in Korea and Jeju Island.
Although they had their own itinerary and understandably wanted to spend as much time as possible in their own company, we managed to hook up with them a few times!
We all went on a cruise on the Han river, to celebrate our birthdays with a buffet dinner, some drinks and "live entertainment"! Although it was cheesy and as the average age of other cruisers indicated most popular amongst the elder Koreans, the food was good and so was the company so I think we all enjoyed it although we all lacked in courage ( or drinks consumption) for the boogie on the dance floor.....

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Posted by Bulls 04:32 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

MARCH APRIL 2007 Springtime in Korea

Time for Korean blossoms and good-bye to Maja's teacher

semi-overcast 13 °C
View Seoul to Japan part I on Bulls's travel map.

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We always associate Japan with beautiful cherry blossom trees but Korea can be proud of them too.
When spring arrived blossoms seemed to be nearly everywhere but they looked most impressive in big spaces, attracting people back to the parks with their families, mats and picnic basket. It was an awesome view when the petals were flying in the air blown off the trees by the slightest wind.

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Spring was my second favourite season in Korea, if not in the same place as autumn. It seemed as if it came overnight swapping shifts with winter, painting the city with colour, bringing warmth and fresh breeze of a not so fresh here air.So apart from our routine life of work, school etc we also took every opportunity to go to parks and enjoy the outdoors.

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We also walked the streets again but usually without the camera, so haven't got many great snaps but here are some of my favourite:

"Spring" - a shell shaped sculpture in the centre of Seoul
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Some street performances:
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An original display of Korean dresses:

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And a shop with some pretty fancy shoes (awaiting your orders):

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With the winter over Maja had to stop her weekly acrobatics on ice but we soon found a replacement - a ballet class in the nearby centre. It is all conducted in Korean so I wasn't sure how Maja would find it but she didn't seem to mind and just followed the teacher and the other kids.

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She also had to say good-bye to her school teacher who was leaving Korea and doing some more travelling in Asia. She'd been really good to Maja and Maja had grown very fond of her, so as a farewell, we all went to dinner in a Buddhist restaurant that served "vegetarian temple food".

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This month we didn't like:

"the yellow dust/cloud or sand dus/cloud" - the unpleasant side of spring in Korea and other Asian countries, it originates from the deserts of Mongolia, China and Kazahstan and is carried eastwards over Koreas, Japan, Russia as sometimes as far as the US . The clouds components include many toxic pollutants from solphur, ash, carbon minoxide, heavy metals such as mercury, copper, zinc etc, and also different viruses, pesticides, bacteria and what have you. As the cloud comes and goes sporadically the warnings are issued on TV, radio as well as sent to you mobile. Depending on the scale of the wind you are either advised to keep your outdoor activities to a minimum and while outside to wear a mask and shower properly from head to toe on your return or in the extreme cases refrain from going out, stay at home and keep your windows shut.
The list of side effects is probably as long as the list of its components so won't go into the details here but the main ones are -decreased invisibility (as its nickname indicates -the air looks yellow and leaves a layer of yellow dust on everything after the rain -best seen on cars if you brave enough to draw a line with your finger...), variety of health problems from sore throats to asthma and could be fatal for those who already have respiratory problems,harmful to wildlife, farmlands....and so it goes....

Posted by Bulls 04:08 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

JANUARY 2007 - Maja's 4th Birthday @ Sn'K

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAJA !!!!

semi-overcast 3 °C

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As we were going to be in New Zealand for Maja's 4th birthday, she had celebrated a few days before with friends and teachers in her kindergarden. Although we couldn't be there with her, I designed a cake for her (that had to be baked by someone else as we don't have an oven here) and made "a hedgehog" out of watermelon and fruits.

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It looks like our little princess had a lot of fun!

Posted by Bulls 14:08 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

OCTOBER NOVEMBER 2006 Autumn in Korea

Autumn colours, first visit from the UK (via Mongolia) and Halloween party at Maja's school

sunny 15 °C

Autumn felt like the best season to be in Korea. With nice weather and the sun shining most of the days, it remained warm until nearly the end of october, mosqitoes made their way out of the country and it was a pure pleasure to spend time outdoors.

We had our first guest from the UK -Jim (hello Jim -thanks for the postcard)who stopped by on his way from trekking in Mongolia. It was good to see a friend from the UK and spent a couple of days sightseeing and catching up:

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We also made a few trips to the parks to check out the reds, browns and yellows of the leaves. The autumn colours here are awesome !!!
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To keep the little one happy we also made a trip to one of the biggest children leisure parks in Korea -Everland, which proved to be heaven for Maja and hell for us. Although we loved watching Maja having fun we struggled pushing through crowds and refusing to buy "the goodies" that seemed to accompany every attraction. We came back with headaches and Maja asleep in our arms which hardly ever happens.

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It was coming up to Halloween so this was the main theme in the park. Halloween has definetely made its way to Korea - celebrations are in full swing in many places -including Maja's nursery.

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We also made a little effort although the biggest out of all the parents:
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Posted by Bulls 20:17 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

APRIL 2007 Happy Easter! Wesolych Swiat!

While we are catching up with the past months....

sunny 10 °C

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.....we wanted to wish all our family and friends Happy Easter. Although Christmas celebrations are big here nobody really talks about Easter -fair enough although even Korean Christians that we know don't seem to be celebrating which is a bit strange.
Instead of hunting Easter Eggs which we couldn't find anywhere Maja had to look for a chocolate bunnie following the trace of colorfully wrapped sweets. Maja and Nick are off to watch a football game at the World Cup Stadium later on,while my ticket goes to waste as I stay in bed trying to get rid of a bug I must have caught somewhere right in time for Easter!

xxx

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Posted by Bulls 19:31 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

DECEMBER 2006 Trip to Gyeongju and Korean Xmas

Nick's mum and dad came to visit

sunny 3 °C
View Seoul to Gyeongju on Bulls's travel map.

GYEONGJU_D..nd_pots.jpgWe've been warned that Korean winters are very cold and not particularly pleasant. It proved to be quite chilly and miserable on windy days but to be honest the weather didn't seem that bad at all.
The sun kept shining most of the days and December was an exciting month for us as Nick's mum and dad were coming to visit and we were also leaving Seoul for a few days and going down south to check out what else Korea had to offer.
Nick's mum and dad flew over at the beginning of the month and stayed with us for a little over a week. We were all very happy to see them, especially Maja who was looking forward to grandad's stories,gran's songs and even more attention.
We also benefited getting some sweets and mags from England and Xmas presents that wouldn't normally fit in the envelope.

After their jetlag settled and they had a w/e sightseeing with Nick, the following week they had to explore the city on their own as I fell ill and Nick was busy working.
We both felt sorry we couldn't spent more time together but they've managed to see quite a large chunk of the city by themselves and by the end of the week we were all ready for our w/e adventure out of town.


We went to visit Gyeongju -Korea's cultural heartland,so called "museum without walls" and in the past a capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom. We set off early in the morning and travelled there comfortably by bus which took about 5 hours.
It was during this journey that we saw the snow for the first time and also the last time in these quantities although once we got to Gyeongju it all cleared and the weather looked more like autumn then winter.
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As we only had 2 days there we planned the visit very carefully to try and see as much as we could without too much of a rush.
Once we arrived in town we checked in to our hotel (our bathroom had a jacuzzi!!!) and without wasting any time we hit the town.Thankfully the wood and stone reminders of Gyeongju's past are easy to find and just about anywhere in town within the walking distance.
At first we visited the hilly burial mounds of ancient kings in royal ground called Tumuli Park and a stone tower located nearby which is known to be the oldest exsistent astrological observatory in Asia.
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The royal tombs can be found throughout the town but that was the place with the largest collection of them and of the tomb that had been excavated and it's now open to the public.
Then we made our way to The National Museum of Gyeongju and its surroundings and had an interesting conversation about Buddhism and how it that some refer to it as religion when the others call it a way of life....

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The second day we fully dedicated to the Bulguksa- a true gem of Gyeongju ,a head Buddhist temple and a Historic and Scenic Site number 1 in Korea (all sights in Korea have a registration number...to be explained some other time).
We took a taxi from downtown to get to the temple. On the outskirts of Gyeongju,on the slopes of the mountain and hidden amongst the woods it offers an extensive view of the province and its perfect location serves as the best retreat. We spent some time wandering around its famous spots although we felt we were being watched all the time:
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On the way to the temple we passed over some beautiful ponds filled with fish and lilies and spanned with stone bridges leading us eventually to the main temple building:
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Spot the Golden Buddha through the window in the pillar:
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If you can't here is a close up:
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Once we checked out the temple we decided to walk to the Seokguram Grotto which according to the guide was located near the temple. Without any further investgations how far it was we followed the sign and strolled up the hill. After some time we realised that the walk has become more like a climb. We didn't mind as it was a beautiful day and views along the way were stunning!We kept on climbing but haven't met many people on the way and if it wasn't for signs showing the distance (total of 4kms as we found out later -doesn't seem much but it was a bit of work keepig Maja going although meeting "Buddha hiding in the cave" kept her motivated!)we could have doubted whether we were following the right track. Once we were getting closer we could see more people gathering in places and then we saw a bus! As the grotto was located high a top Mt. Tohamsan there was another way to get to it then walk. You could take a bus and be there within 10 minutes drive from the Bulguksa Temple -but what's the point of that???
We were happy we've done the walk and once we got to the top not only we had to pay a visit to the Buddha in his grotto but we also had a stunning view of the East Sea (according to Koreans) or The Sea of Japan (according to the Japanese) stretching in front us and behind the trees. Thinking the grotto was located just "by the temple" we did not expect to be on the top of the mountain so we couldn't get over the scenery

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It was awesome and we definetely felt well rewarded for our climbing efforts.Only later we found out that although it was all blue sky and sunny it was also -4 C. Once we delighted our eyes and warmed ourselves with a cup of hot choc and a sweet waffle we took yet another this time short though climb to the grotto.

Unfortunately we could only look at the Buddha for a few minutes and from behind the glass but it just added the flavour to it. The statue was sitting in the granite artificial cave, carved so finely that it appeared almost real. Maja put her lips together in astonisment as if to whistle. I can only imagine looks on our faces as we were all equally impressed!
Here is the picture of the grotto and I borrowed the picture of the Buddha from another site as at the time I respected the request of no photogaphing in the cave!

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Once we left the grotto and started making our way down we notice the bus that was just about to leave.
It took us a second to look at one another and silently agree to jump on board.

We were going back to Seoul the same night so it was good to have some spare time in between the bus journeys.

We all really liked our short break away and will plan to do some more of these in the future. I have a feeling Maja might want to go back to Gyeongju to see her prince:Maja_with_.._Prince.jpg
Nick's mum and dad stayed with us for few more days before heading back home and it wasn't just the tourists attractions they've enjoyed. Maja had a few of her "shows" up her sleeve (I'm very proud of the costume I crafted out of old pjs and tights):Maja_circus_show.jpg

**xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas*xmas**

Back in Seoul the preparations for Xmas were in full swing and the city was twinkling with lights and festive decorations. It looked like any other city in Europe -there were Xmas trees, presents, Santa's images and Xmas carols anywhere you looked and at first it felt just like being back home in the UK.
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Although the spirit of Xmas is well present in Korea, people view and celebrate it somewhat different. Korean background differ from generally Christian West and with 46 percent of people of no religious affiliation and 26 percent that follows Buddhist traditions the Xmas hype seemed suprisingly high. But as we found later only few people regard it as a religious celebration while the rest enjoys it as a day to celebrate the end of the year. Unlike in western countries where if celebrated Xmas is spent in a family circle, here it is a day to be with your boyfriend or girlfriend. I remember reading that while people in the West grow stressed with shopping, preparations and facing other family members (not sure about that though...), Koreans are under pressure to find a date if they do not have one already.As for presents it is not customary to exchange presents on Xmas although boyfriends usually buy presents for girlfriends and vice versa.
As for us - we bought a small Xmas tree, decorated the flat with Xmas cards we've received and some decorations Maja's made at school and at home.We spent Xmas eve at home and had a dinner - sort of Polish Wigilia traditional dishes prepared out of Korean ingredients, opened some pressies and listened to the carols. We also manage to skype our families and have a quick chat.

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On Christmas day we went to Lotte World theme park. We started with the ride on the baloon with the view of different attractions the park had on offer:
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After that we watched Xmas Parade joined by all the Xmas characters you can only think of. Here are Maja's and my favorites........

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.......while these two definetely caught Nick's eye:

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During the festive seasons we also went to Grand Park on the city outskirts where Maja had a go at sledging on the artificial snow

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and checking whether she enherited a fear of heights while riding and down the Vertical Drop:

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December was also a beginning of our skating season. Once we found that the ice rink was 10 mins walk away from our house and the skating session with skates cost less then 50p per as long as your legs allowed you, we were there nearly every day. Maja has learnt how to skate and by the end of the season was doing rounds by herself with the big grin on her face and no falls. Nick has also tried skating once again since his fall when he was 12 and looks like he enjoyed it:

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This month we liked:

all of the above +

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Restaurant Mad about Garlic and its starter dish of full garlic bulbs baked in the oven and dipped in melted cheese-mustn't forget to try it at home (once I have an oven again) -success guaranteed for all garlic lovers out there

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware" Martin Buber

Posted by Bulls 03:05 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

OCTOBER 2006 China !!!

sunny 20 °C
View Seoul -Beijing on Bulls's travel map.

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October is a very important month for Koreans.Chuseok -the second biggest holiday in Korea is here and we are off to China! Chuseok celebrations are mainly about remembering, paying respect and honouring the life of family ancestors and relatives who had passed away (idea that I could in some ways compare to All Saints /Souls Day although the rituals are different).During this time, apart from having a bit more time off,there isn't much to do for foreigners here. We decided to take advantage and make our first trip out of the country to see the first western neighbours.We picked a 5 day spin around Beijing, its surroundings and The Great Wall Of China. But just before we boarded the plane we decided to have a picture taken (we did not pay for this) in traditional Korean clothes -what do we look like?Go on have a laugh!!! Korean people continue wearing simplified versions of their traditional clothes for special occasions such us birthdays, weddings etc and you will find posed family photographs of people wearing those clothes in every house.
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As 5 days isn't very long we went on a package tour thinking we'd try to see the maximum of places at the nice pace without the trip being too hectic for Maja. Once in the van with our Chinese guide Sophie we met our "group" - 2 other people -1 American guy (whose grandad was Polish) and a Korean American girl who lived in America for most of her life so wasn't very familiar with Korea. We were slightly suprised to see that however small our group was we all had different itineraries -including Maja who was going to see the Chinese Opera while we were to enjoy the famous Chinese acrobats! We quickly agreed what we did or did not want to do or see but it was a bit difficult to communicate to the guide who seemed a bit confused about everything even the question about when and why Peking had its name changed to Beijing . We soon found out that there wasn't much information we would get out of her so we dipped our noses in our bookguides to find out more about places we were seeing.

The drive from the airport to the hotel allowed us a quick overview of Beijing. The city gave an impression of a land of concrete filled with great monument like buidings with ribbons of neon lights mainly red streaming through. We were driving on one of the serpentine highroads that run through the city which led us nearly to our hotel door. After the evening drive Beijing seemed to me to be grand, overweight with colossal buidings and tired-just being there and trying to take it all with the same speed as the one of our driver, left goosebumps on my skin. Having arrived in the evening there wasn't much time for anything else but a bath and some time on the balcony looking at the city! If it wasn't for Maja I believe it would be a different story and we would be down there with the city lights!!! But we didn't mind -being able to float in the bath tub and stretch out in bed without falling out were attractions to us as well as we don't have these luxuries back at home , well back in Seoul.
When we woke up I made my move to the balcony to see the city in the daylight. To my suprise it was very foggy and felt like I needed glasses. It wasn't until later in the day,when I asked the guide whether it was often foggy like this and not understanding my question she kept saying it was typical autumn weather, that it occured to me and the others it wasn't the fog after all but the pollution. It seemed so bad to me and I felt relieved that we were only there for a few days, at the same time I felt sorry for the Chinese people who have no other choice but to breathe it all on daily basis and daft and thoughtless for asking the guide about it.
It seems so unfair that the country pays for its economical growth with fresh air!
Anyway apart from the "fog" it was totally different view to the one I still had from the night before. Although it was still very early in the morning the streets were lively and buzzying with noise of bicycles' rings.Thanks to hundreds of people cycling slowly on their bikes to work etc city lost its weight and felt somehow airier.
After a fully enjoyable breakfast of anything you wanted (eggs and bacon was Nick's first course -remember we came from Seoul, a variety of cereals and fruits for Maja and unfamiliar looking things for me) we were ready to go.
We met the others and headed to Tian'anmen Square. I'm not even starting to describe the size of the place but just so you know it's the size of 63 football pitches put all together!
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It wasn't just in Korea that people had time off work, also here Chinese people were celebrating "Moon Holiday" -second only to the Chinese New Year in significance -the moon on this day is the fullest and largest to the eye,viewing it by the whole family while feasting on good wine, fruits and moon-cakes is the night's main event. There is also a beautiful story behind it. Children are told that there's a fairy on the moon living in a spacious but cold crystal palace with her sole companion, a jade rabbit. A heavenly general and friend would occasionally pay her a visit, bringing along his fragrant wine. She would then dance a beautiful dance. The shadows on the moon made the story all the more credible and fascinating to the young imaginative mind.
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It was also the 57th anniversary of the creation of People's Republic of China[/b] and Tian'anmen Square was packed with local, domestic and international tourists. It was a great time to visit as we could see it at its best - in full glory with flowers, flags and unity of Chinese people -some well dressed looking like they just popped out of the office, the others a bit tired and "worn" seemed like they had travelled from far away provencies to be there on that day. The place overwhelmed us not just with its size but also with the dignity and importance it had to people. Until 1949 even looking in its direction was strictly prohibited!
We read that it was a tradition to fly a kite on the square so we bought 1 for Maja to fly which was a bit of a mission amongst the crowds but she did it! Nick and the American guy bought "Mao waving watches" after the long bargain with the guy! We also wanted to visit Mao's Mausoleum but the queue was far too loooooooooooooooong.
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After that we went to visit The Forbidden City - a place isolated for over 500 years and first opened for the general public in 1949 allowing others to step into somewhere what used to be the secret world of emperors, eunuchs, ceremonies and splendour although we found major parts of it in restoration.
Again words that keep flooding my mind are the ones to describe the size of it. It is massive. Thinking of it now I suppose the size of it strikes you first simply because it was never designed to be walked through in a couple of hours as we did. It was a city just like any others (???) where different aspects of life had to be accomodated -from daily pleasures and routines of the Emperor within its palaces walls to the army presentations outside the palaces but still within the city walls. To cut it short I'll put it in a few words -vast, spacious, red, exceptionally well preserved, lots of roofs to look at and so so different to the world outside it!

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Having marched the length of the Tian'anmen Square and wandered from wall to wall in Forbidden City it was time to have lunch. As we were in Beijing we had to try the famous Peking duck. She arrived in one piece on a big plate,all shining brown, richly glazed with white paper cuffs around its legs and apparently very tasty.
Here is how to do it if you want to have a go at home no need to buy the whole bird though :http://www.videojug.com/film/how-to-make-peking-duck

I had to do with spring onions and other vegetables (yammy chinese mushrooms)wrapped in rice pancakes and dipped in different sauces.

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After lunch we continued exploring and toured my favourite place The Summer Palace and its surrounding grounds with beautiful gardens and the lake. It just had a wonderful feel to it and would serve me just fine as a summer residence - while in my dreamland I forgot to take any pictures of it except for
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My fondness of it began while walking through its different halls and reading up their names (here is a little taste: Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Hall of Virtue and Harmony, Hall of Jade Ripples, Hall of Joyful Longevity, Hall of Dispelling Clouds (!!!!), Hall of the Sea of Wisdom...and so it continues....just imagine saying "I shall have my cup of leaf tea in the Hall of Dispelling Clouds today"). And then there view of the lake that suddenly opened in front of us with its boats and the reproduction of The Marco Polo Bridge.We just had to have a ride....and what a ride it was -on the dragon boat,in the gleam of the setting sun and to the gongs striking for a prayer in the temple that was rising on the hill as we were passing by...........

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After the palace we had dinner and went to see An Acrobats Show in Chaoyang Theatre. The show was truely amazing-death defying and at times ridiculous-picture 4 girls riding around the stage on one bicycle and another 8 joining in one by one as the bicycle passes by, jumping on the frame or colleague's knee and keeping the bicycle going and if that wasn't enough juggling the plates and what have you!!! Maja was captivated, during the intervals entertained the crowd with her own balancing display and clapped her hands forever at the end of the show.

Once it had finished we went back to the hotel and sunk in the bathtub!

We got up "with the birds" next morning to start another exciting day and visit one of the 7 wonders of the world (Middle Ages) ,the world's longest man made structure (over 6000 kms long), the only structure that can be seen from the Moon (which had now been proved untrue) or less popular name "world' longest cemetry" or "the long graveyard" due to amount of people that died or were buried alive while buiding it - The Great Wall of China.Built to defend borders and withstand the enemy attacks the wall continues to impress. It is suprisingly narrow and steep in places and it takes time to climb some parts of it due to popularity amongst other travellers but while on your way you're being rewarded by fantastic views stretching at 360 degrees and a feeling of being somewhere you -for some unexplained reason- always wanted to visit.
And of course we were so proud of Maja who kept climbing the Great Wall with lots of enthusiasm but also wanted to get to the top and back to the bottom as fast as she could for her ice cream and "I climbed The Great Wall" T-shirt - promised to her in difficult moments of her "climb" and so well deserved ! Well done Maja!!!

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After our adventure with the wall we went to see just recently excavated Ming Tombs but didn't have a lot of time there as the guide kept rushing us in order to go and visit some "emporiums" selling traditional Chinese souvenirs. We wanted to skip that part of the itinerary but the guide told us she had to take us there and get her book stamped to show to the agency she was employed by and if we didn't go she would be in trouble ...well...
There were few issues in between sightseeing : the driver not wanting to drive unless we tipped him,the guide complaining about not being paid for doing her job, the driver and the guide undoubtedly not getting on,not enough food for all of us while it was all supposed to be included in the package and so on but we won't go into details as we still had a great time.dragon_1_.jpg

We had one afternoon free and decided to go and visit hutongs - very old alley ways where people continue to live in very basic conditions. Although you are free to walk anywhere as they are just small streets and the life goes on ,we felt like we were intruding in someones backyard although noone seemed to be bothered by us.
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We also visited The Temple of Heaven -known to be the largest sacrificial complex in the world, architecturely representing Chinese thought of the times that the Earth was square and Heaven round. We were not very lucky with the weather on this day as it kept raining but we still manage to see a fair bit. Bad_weather.jpg

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We also visited nearby park and observed how wonderfully the local people went about their day

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We could also see some signs of China's preparations towards 2008 Olympics as well as many buiding sites around the city and many attractions being worked on and restored.

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This month we liked:
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Chinese proverb:
"Walking ten thousand miles of world is better than reading ten thousand scrolls of books."

http://www.videojug.com -brilliant for Asian cooking recipes and more!!!! Am I getting old?

books:
"Kite Rider"-by Geraldine McCaughrean
"The river at the centre of the world - a journey up the Yangtze, and back in Chinese time"- Simon Winchester

"The art of travel"- Alain De Botton

films:
documentary about Yinzheng and his visions
"The Last Emperor" -great for viewing the Forbidden City
"Curse of the Golden Flower" -as above


*********
While reading up about traditional holidays in China I was astonished to find out that there are few official holidays celebrated same in China as well as in Poland. I guess they were established by communist party in both countries and whatever opinions of them we have now (in Poland many people don't like them simply because they were labelled 'communist' but remembering it through my child eyes I seem to have very fond memories of them)

International Women's Day (March 8)
China -"interestingly, women employees will get a whole or an half paid day-off on the day while the men are at the mercy of their employers"
Poland -celebrations vary, but from what I remember women used to receive pair of tights or chocolates at the entries to their work places, men would usually buy flowers for their female family members and friends (there is also a song "Marzec, marzec pieknie sie wystroil....."

International Labor Day (May 1)
China -"no less celebrated than the New Year's Day. Employees will enjoy a paid day-off. Celebration parties in parks took the place of parades today."
Poland- paid day off and celebrations, parades around the coutry, speeches, live shows and entertainment with communist or labour related themes-often performed by school kids etc -that's what it used to be like when I was a child. I think it is still a day off but there are no celebrations as such.

Children's Day (June 1)
China -"It is the most memorable day of Chinese kids all over the country. Almost all entertainment places such as cinemas, parks and children museums and palaces are open free to them. Elementary schools throw celebration parties while parents shower them with presents."
Poland - same as in China although called International Children's Day which made us think -that we were celebrating the day with all the children of the world! I can still remember the taste of the ice creams my mum and dad treated us to on that day! It is not that they would not buy as ice creams on other occasions but this was a special day out to "kawiarnia" - where the word "ice cream" took on totally different meaning -Polish guys will know exactly what I mean :)

Posted by Bulls 11:50 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

SEPTEMBER 2006 "a bit of daily routine"

Maja starts school

sunny 28 °C

Maja_ready_for_school.JPGDuring the past month we have been having lots of fun exploring all the new places and learning about Korea, Koreans and their daily lives. But in the meantime we have been also trying to find a suitable nursery for Maja so she could continue learning and be in the company of kids her age. As much as I tried every day to fool and mess around with her I know that she would much prefer to have fun with other little girls rather then her mum pretending to be one! I must say that finding a place for her proved to be a bit more difficult that we first thought. The assistance from Nick's school was very close to nil and after visiting a few places we were getting a bit worried -there were either international schools established with rich people in mind (children of businessmen, diplomats etc) whose fees we couldn't simply afford or ones that were still expensive but didn't seem to offer much and had kids that could hardly speak English. It was just by pure coincidence we found Story'nkids as they were advertising in the same magazine as Nick's school did. We went to visit and loved it straight away as the place was full of smiling people (little as well as big ones) and shelves wallpapered with colorful books. Again the fee was quite high (especially that it was only for half a day what wouldn't allow me to work many hours and earn it) but Nick's school manage to negotiate the discount as having Maja would be a good source of marketing for them.
The nursery is located about 20 mins car drive from our place and it provides a mini bus service for the kids. It seems that most of private schools or so-called academies provide the transport either free on included in their fees. I am not sure about the state schools but I would have thought that it's the same case. Dropping Maja at the pick up point and collecting her from there once the school session had finished was totally opposite to our routine back in London where Nick would drop Maja at school on his way to work and I would pick her up on the bicycle on my way back. Apart from spending the journey with her we would also be in direct contact with the teachers and see how she was getting on there. Here we don't have that any more and have to rely on the reporting system - where Maja has a little folder and at the end of a good day she gets a stamp or a sticker.

Anyway, the day had finally come and Maja joined the Moon Kids group for kids aged 5 onwards.

Although at the time she was only 3 years and 8 months according to Korean age she was 1 year older -4 years and 8 months. We knew about the difference and those who know me also know that I was always of the opinion that when once the child is born he/she is already 9 months old so when talking about the age we should be adding these months on, but as the years keep on adding on I am quite happy to stick with our way and be happy to be back in the UK and able to say that I am 1 year younger that I was in Korea (wish it was that easy:) but poor Maja seemed a bit confused when she was suddenly told that she was 5 in Korea and 4 in UK.

It was a big relief to have Maja join the school. She quickly settled in and made some new friends although her talks about Henri, Amy and other London friends still go on.
The activities at school are based around stories and books and children as young as Maja or even younger are learning phonics, writing and reading as well.Reading_at..y_nkids.jpgReading_time.jpg

Not being used to the classroom routine, Maja was bringing home mixed reports at first which would usually say
that she was friendly, expressed herself very well in English but didn't follow directions and had a disruptive influence on her class. At first we thought it was a matter of a new enviroment and once she's settled her behaviour would improve but the report didn't seem to change for a while and at the end she was moved to a lower class. This is when we found that she was put an older class to start with as her speech was very well developed but due to her age she wasn't able to follow the teacher's instruction that well. Since then her reports have completely improved as she's been through some sort of metamorposis from a naughty trouble maker to a girl who enjoys the activities and listens and respects the teacher. We are so proud of her!

She loves doing arts

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She also enjoys the outdoors

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As well as posing for magazine adverts:
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And of course a bit of learning as well as being a cheeky monkey with the others:

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This month we liked:

"I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost eveything." Bill Bryson

Books:
"Living with the Enemy -Inside North Korea"by Richard Saccone

Films:
Welcome to Dongmakgol - very good film showing that things are not black and white and easy to explain for Koreans let alone other nationalsposterphoto7608.jpg

Food:
Asia -tofu - so different to tofu that we know back in UK or Poland. This stuff is all fresh swimming in the water, tasting of nothing much and falling into pieces when touched,but after some further enquiring I found the ways to handle it and make it
delicious! all you need is patience and a clean cloth.

Maja -kimbab -although there are different kinds of it Maja loves the most simple dish there is -rice wrapped in or sprinkled with seaweed! nice, easy , healthy and served in all restaurants!

Visits to Seoul Forest:
Seoul_Forest_1.jpgMaja_on_bike_.jpgSeoul_Forest.jpgpigeons_2.jpg

Posted by Bulls 01:01 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

AUGUST 2006 "first outs and abouts"

Buddhas, penguins and creepy crawlies

sunny 30 °C

Having unpacked and sort of organised ourselves it was time to go out and face the music -although Maja & I were to dance to the opposite tune to Nick's. While he was straight to work doing long hours and getting used to the fact that things are never black and white here we were quite the opposite -the feeling of not having to be in any particular place at any particular time was fantastic and ever so easy to get used to. We knew that our utopia wasn't going to last forever (Maja would soon need to carry on with her nursery routine and I would have to start working to earn my keep) we opted for the active daily schedule.
August is one of the hottest and most humid months of the year and you are better off anywhere else but outdoors. After 5 minutes of being outside we would be dripping with sweat and gasping for water, so we tried to look for things to do indoors. We didn't need to look too far as the world of children's entertainment was at our doorstep.

The first few days we spent looking closer at what was around us and decided to walk around with the map and visit all the nearby attractions. As mentioned before we are surrounded by skyscrapers and office buildings so didn't think there would be that much to see but it was still good to get to know the neighbourhood.Crashing against the waves of suited bankers, businessmen and other office workers rushing to work we would eventually find a piece of greenery - a little park with some royal tombs, pagodas etc. Lovely place to come and spend the morning walking around and hiding under the trees with some pack lunch once it got hotter.
Our neighbourhood  .JPG Our neighbourhood   2.JPG Our neighbourhood .JPG

Another peaceful place we discovered was Bongeunsa Temple originally built in 794 but reconstructed after it was burnt down in 1939. Situated right opposite the very modern COEX complex and being the contrast to the speedy financial district I bet we were not the only ones pleased to find this place of peace and tranquility right where it is. As it was the first Buddhist temple we had visited we were not quite sure what were the customs for ordinary passers by but we found a leaflet in English informing that although there were prayers and chants taking place in various temple buildings around (there is 11 of them just there) we were welcome to walk around and observe or join in if we wished so. Not knowing what we were going to see we wandered around and suddenly we saw a huge Buddha face "poking out" through the tree trunks. We couldn't believe the size of it and that was just his head! We quickly chaged our walking pace into a sort of curious run as if we were about to discover the 8th wonder of the world! Forgot to mention that it was late in the evening and candle lit which definetely built up the atmosphere.
We had followed the path amongst the trees and after a few minutes we came to a wide open space with the 23 meters tall Buddha standing in front of us guarded by two lion statues.
Despite our attitudes towards different religions (mainly not being able to understand it all) it felt very special to be there. Maja wasn't sure what to make of this "giant man" but understood that he was important to people as they kept on coming and going, bowing and paying their respects. We've been back to see THE BUDDHA plenty of times since then!
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During the summer holiday COEX exhibition center was packed with children's exhibitions, theatres, activities etc.

The first was a Bugs' Festival where kids were invited at the entrance to hold a stag beetle on their arm ( as found out later stag beetles are being sold as house pets here).It was packed with all sorts of insects alive as well as stuffed :( and small reptiles.

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We were able to see how the silky cocoon expands to become a beautiful butterfly.
Apart from observing the creepy crawlies, kids were getting a paint tatoo (Maja's choice was a pink butterfly) as well as could take part in a drawing competition, where Maja represented London quite well.My butterfly.jpg

We didn't have to go to any exhibitions to be able to see cicadas
(cicada |səˈkādə; səˈkädə| noun a large homopterous insect with long transparent wings, occurring chiefly in warm countries. The male cicada makes a loud shrill droning noise after dark by vibrating two membranes on its abdomen) that seemed to be everywhere around us. Their size could be that of the middle finger and they made the noise that gave you instant goosebumps.I would have never thought that I could be brave enough to walk under the crowns of trees that were giving shelter to hundreds of them! Check them outcicadis.jpg

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Next visit was to meet 1 of the most popular kids cartoon characters -Peroro and his friends. Although Maja wasn't familiar with the story she had lots of fun and is now very fond of the little penguin and his gang.
PORORO SHOW.jpg

Before you start thinking that all we did was kids' stuff I must quickly add that we have also visited some adult friendly places:

The National Museum of Korea

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The Family Park

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This month we liked:

"Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routines, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes - with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That's not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating." Michael Crichton

Books:
"Korea- a walk through land of miracles" by Simon Winchester BRILLIANT, A "MUST" IF YOU'RE COMING TO KOREA

Films:
"The King and the Clown" - moving, informative and very funny!

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Food:
Asia-we were taken to the posh Japanese restaurant serving sushi, where every type of sushi had its own designed chef preparing it in front of us - fresh, colorful, tasty little masterpieces definetely won my heart although I did enjoy sucking on the crab legs too, Nick and Maja kept on going back and forwards for more and more of the other little dishes called "desserts"

Posted by Bulls 12:05 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

JULY 2006 "good-bye London hello Seoul"

The journey and our first impressions of The Land of Morning Calm and Korean people

sunny 30 °C
View LONDON - SEOUL on Bulls's travel map.

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After some months of preparations and a very hectic couple of weeks of packing, spring cleaning our London flat and handing the keys over to the estate agent, saying good-byes to our family and partying with friends, on the 27th of July we were finally set and ready to board the plane heading in the direction of The Land of Morning Calm . Although a bit concerned at first about the weight of our luggage and Maja's ability to remain seated in the same spot for more than 2 seconds we soon found out we didn't need to worry - a friend from Korean Air had kindly given us some extra luggage allowance and Maja thoroughly enjoyed the flight looking out of the window for her new home .
Seoul welcomed us with heavy rain and flooded roads which meant we had to take a longer route home. We didn't mind as although it was nearly 6 p.m in Seoul we were still ticking according to the UK clock and felt like the new day had just began ....and so had our new adventure.
We were met by Cathy -one of many (as we later found) managers of the school Nick was to teach in, and driven to our apartment south of the river. Slightly disappointed with the apartment at first we decided that a safe and convenient location was more important that an extra room and situated further out. After some more scrubbing (sorry I can't just skip the fact that the apartment wasn't very clean and prepared for the family to settle in) we were ready to go and explore the area.
Our neighb.. center.jpgAfter following a busy, side street full of local bars and restaurants we joined the main road and found ourselves staring up at the high buildings that seemed to line the road. We were in the centre of Seoul's financial district -5 minutes walk from Seoul's Trade Center Tower and Asia's biggest exhibition hall and our frequent dining, shopping & entertaining destination COEX.Nearby str..t night.jpgWe had had 2 days together before Nick started his work at the college and although the jetlag had already kicked off we were determined to make most of it.
Our first impressions were very good - however distant Seoul had seemed to us back in UK we found that it was extremely easy to move around and find any facilities that one would like to use on a day out. Korean people seemed extremely nice and helpful but most of all very keen on Maja. Having got used to it now I remember our first days and people coming up to look or even touch her. We were not sure at first how she was going to react to all the attention she was suddenly receiving but soon we found that she was as curious of them as they were of her so it worked out both ways. Although she is usually very friendly and joyfully accepts various gifts - from sweets to hairbands -we caught her a few times sneaking her tongue out after a long day.....fair enough. We are just hoping that she won't be too disappointed when we are back in the UK and people don't pay any attention to her any more and definetely won't give her their seat on the crowded underground train as they do here.

We found very quickly that Seoul has plenty to offer and is a great place for adults as well as kids to enjoy! It doesn't look like we are ever going to get bored...

Here we are having swapped fork & knife for a pair of chopsticks. We are not just confident in using them, we have our preferences - I find it easier using trendy heavier metal chopsticks when Nick & Maja like traditional wooden or plastic ones :)

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This month we liked:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails" Mark Twain

books:
"Culture Shock! Korea- A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette" by Sonja Vegdahl and Ben Seunghwa Hur
"The Koreans-Who They Are, What They Want, Where Their Future Lies" by Michael Breen
"Explore Korea - Essence of Culture and Tourism"

food and drink :
Asia- green tea, green tea cornflakes,any green tea products,kimchi (rotten cabbage according to the expert Nick)
Nick -Dak Galbi (chicken cooked with dok-rice cake in spicy pepper sauce)

Posted by Bulls 22:53 Archived in South Korea Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

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