Friday, November 11, 2011

A Jeju-ful Weekend (2) - Sangumburi Crater

When you're a city bumpkin like me, being surrounded by nature and nature only is something to relish. The fact that you can breathe in air that smells of nature is itself a blessing. It's almost like medicine that takes away all the ills and strains that come from city life.

Jeju-do is abundant in untouched nature. I'll probably say this a million times over, but it is truly a beautiful island. Along with its numerous waterfalls, hills, caves, forests, and beaches, Jeju-do has volcanic craters here and there, among which Sangumburi (산굼부리) is the most famous. "Gumburi" means volcanic crater in Jeju-do dialect, and "san" is mountain.

To reach the crater you first walk through Sangumburi park by passing the ivy covered "Glorious Phoenix Gate".

Next to the gate is Jeju-do's traditonal stone "harubang" (돌하르방). Harubang is the Jeju-do dialect meaning "grandfather". Although the exact origin of the harubang isn't well known, they were set up at village entrances and fortress gates to act as a totem to ward off evil spirits and protect the people. In the old days, it also acted as a symbol of fertility; women who would touch the harubang's nose would be able to get pregnant easily. Somehow along the way this legend changed and now it's commonly said that rubbing the harubang's nose would give you a son.

The path up to Sangumburi was breathtakingly beautiful. It was a grey day that added to the ambiance, with the hills in the background peeking through watercolor clouds. The reedlike plants called eoksae (억새, flamegrass) swayed in the breeze, creating soft waves of sight and sound. We took a picture, of course.
(Links to everyones' blogs are here.)

The eoksae up close:

When you reach the top, you can look down into the crater that doesn't look like a crater at all, because of the foliage. It's like looking into a large sunken botanical garden. Photo from's Flickr:

Trip to Jeju Island and Seoul

Also on the top of the hill is a deer statue:

Legend says the Jade Emperor of the Heavens ruled all the sky and earth, all the stars and galaxy. It came about that a star named Hangam fell in love with the third daughter of the Jade Emperor, which was forbidden. The two met secretly but were soon discovered and were banished to live on earth. They descended upon Jeju-do's Hallasan (한라산), rich in wildlife and plants. However, while the Jade Emperor's daughter relied on the bounty of fruit and vegetables the mountain provided, Hangam enjoyed hunting game and feasting upon the results of his efforts. This created a divide between the lovers and they went their separate ways. The Jade Emperor's daughter settled near a village with a hackberry tree (currently situated near the South Gate of Jeju city) and Hangam settled in Sangumburi to look after the wild animals. The statue is a tribute to him and the animals of the area.

The walk down is as beautiful as it was on the way up. The park is quite large and taking your time is definitely worth it. You can also enjoy frolicking on the empty ground like Eleonora:

So much greenery! Having rained a bit, the fragrance of the trees and earth and flowers and plants were lingering delicously in the air. Alex and I kept on saying we wished we could bottle it and take it home with us. The "nature fragrance" room fresheners smell so chemical and fake.

Me, being the dolly geek that I am, had brought along a Pinky Street figure to accompany me to enjoy the sights:

I also took a short video :

More of the Jeju trip to come.
And I know I've been blabbering about it all over the place, but it's the last day to vote for Jeju!

*Jeju-do trip sponsored by KOCIS, the organization running the Korea Blog.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Jeju-ful Weekend - Vote for Jeju!

I've been blogging all year long for the Korea Blog, the accompanying blog for, the official site for the Republic of Korea. (Sounds rather heavy written down like that.)

At the end of October, several of the Korea Blog's Worldwide Korea Bloggers and I had the chance to visit Jeju-do (Jeju Island), courtesy of KOCIS (Korean Culture and Information Service) who runs the websites.

Jeju-do was chosen as a finalist for the New 7 Wonders of the World (Nature) and our visiting the island matched the timing of the last few weeks of voting.

I've been to Jeju-do multiple times: on school trips, with family, with colleagues, with friends. However, every time I visit, I'm always amazed at the amount of things yet to see and experience. The scenery itself is breathtaking, the local food absolutely yummy, the tropical tinged air is crisp and clean, the lack of high-rise buildings give you such an ample view of sky your heart soars, and the surrounding ocean both lulls you and excites you depending on the season and weather. It's a beautiful, beautiful place.

Upon our arrival, we were invited to the government office for a brief meeting about the efforts of Jeju-do for its quest to become one of the 7 Wonders. (I was very happy with the provided Vita 500 drink, by the way, because the members of SNSD are on it. I traded mine to get my favorite member Taeyeon. Heh.) Being Korean, I certainly know why Jeju-do should be selected as one and I'm quite sure that anyone who had the occasion to visit would know as well, but some of the reasons that were stated in the pamphlet were:
Jeju-do is a geopark. Dubbed a "volcanic museum", Jeju-do is an island covered with small hills and the large mountain Halla which are volcanic cones. Lava tubes are scattered around the island and the botanical sights are amazing to behold. Mountains, hills, beach, forest, caves, volcanic remnants - Jeju-do has them all. UNESCO has already designated Jeju-do as a Biosphere, Natural Heritage and Geopark.
The island has natural swag, I'm telling ya.

Getting Jeju-do selected would do wonders for the island; it's not only the honor, but also the very practical economic effect caused by the boom in tourism that results from the vote.

How to vote? Either go to the website for the New 7 Wonders of the World and vote online, or if you're in Korea, text "Jeju" to 001-1588-7715. It's as simple as that. Voting is until November 11th!

We all voted. And with Mr. Kang Seong Hoo, the government official who headed the informative meeting, we took an obligatory (well, in Korea at least) "Fighting!" photo.

The bloggers who participated in this trip (not all in the photo above) and their blogs:

Alex -
Paul -
Eleonora -
Annie -
Asif -
Chris -

More to come. In the meantime, please vote for Jeju-do and also visit the Korea Blog.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Hangeul Day

October 9th marks the 565 anniversary of the proclamation of Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. The major portal sites changed their logos accordingly for the occasion.

Naver has an animated logo going on - something which I don't know how to capture.

Daum features King Sejong.

As does Nate and Yahoo! Korea.

And Google Korea opted for a simple logo in traditional tricolor.
I wrote a long post last year about Sejong Story, the museum at Gwanghwamun Plaza about King Sejong and the creation of Hangeul : here.

멋진 한글날 되세요~ ^_^

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sit and think

What I've been doing too much of during the past several weeks,
if only to hold on to my sanity.

"No Parking"
"No Drinking and Singing"

Don't stay still, keep on moving.
Don't play around, there's work to be done.

Sometimes I wish I wasn't a responsible adult.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer with Cocoa

...the spoiled rotten 11 year old family poodle.

I spent more than half of August at my parents' place doggysitting while they were on vacation. Cocoa spent more than half of that time either sleeping or napping. Both of us were pretty tired of the rain.

He finally got a haircut after my parents came back. I'm back home, trying to catch up on work, only to discover that my desktop is dying. Thankfully I have a laptop as backup but since my cellphone is dying as well, my finances are going to be hit pretty hard.
Murphy's Law. Such is life.

I'm looking forward to autumn.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's not raining, it's flooding

We have had more than a year's worth of rainfall in the past month. Half of it seems to have fallen in the past two days, and more is falling today. When the guerilla rains started most thought it would last for about a day but it has been storming nonstop, complete with thunder and lightning.

The first day I cancelled my evening appointment and hurried home to avoid the pelting rain. The next day I was on the highways of outskirt Seoul, while the city fell deeper and deeper into water. Worst rain in 100 years, they're saying.

The Sadang area where I was waiting for the bus in the video clip turned into this the very next day:

Subway stations are flooding, cars are underwater.

Landslides are happening, causing many casualties. This is in Daejeon; it's not only Seoul, the whole nation is under a storm cloud.

The extent of the damages are staggering. This photo says it all:

Flood warnings are still effective nationwide as I write. The National Emergency Management Agency has safety guidelines on their site for emergencies like this (English version) :

Among all the guidelines, I'd like to emphasize: "Avoid going near street lights, traffic signal lights, and power lines."  And even if it means going a long way 'round, try not to wade in water even if the water is shallow. You never know where an electric current may be.

All the major TV channels are broadcasting special weather reports all day. Be sure to tune in and be safe.

Photos from Yonhap News:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Urban poetry

Seoul Metro has poetry printed on most of the safety doors on the platforms. Some poems are good, some are puzzling, some are thought provoking. This one spoke to me that day. I wish I could translate it to exactly convey the feeling, but poetry really doesn't translate well unless in the hands of a brilliant writer.

"Empty Thoughts" by Jung Wijin
Upon the swift steed called time
I furiously ran

sometimes hastening to go faster
with whipping of my hand

Oh no
have I sped too much
before my eyes appears the divided path.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rainy day bus stop

Seoul Express Bus Terminal. (Yes, I go to that neighborhood a lot and not only because Shinsegae Department Store's wine shop has a good selection and friendly staff.)

It has been raining constantly for the past two weeks. Monsoon season gets pretty dreary but I find myself filming rainy moments more than any other.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sweet pudding at Les Fruits N*

When you're on a sweet kick and get tired of ice cream, there are many alternatives: cake and pastries, patbingsu, and puddings. Les Fruits N* is a pudding and dessert specialty cafe at the Samsung Town building in Gangnam.

There's a selection of various puddings,

cakes and pastries.

Sweetness paired with bitter coffee is the best.

The pudding is the chilled variety, not the creamy soft type, closer to the consistency of a hard panna cotta.
They come in little glass jars which you can take home. My friends use them to store buttons or use as pots for small plants. Most have caramel or sweet syrup at the base according to the flavor. Vanilla is on the left, green tea on the right in the photo below.

The cafe is quite spacious and bright. It is on the B2 level so you don't get an outdoor view but as it's in a large office building, people watching becomes quite interesting.

Reading the copy on their cups is equally entertaining. "Fruity life"? There are so many competent English speakers in Korea, why marketing consulting firms don't hire them to proofread things will always be a mystery to me.

How to get there:
Samsung Town is linked to the underground exit #4 of Gangnam station, metro line 2 .

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Seoul of my youth is fading away...

The underground mall at the Seoul Express Bus Terminal is closing for year long renovations on May 31st, 2011. The mall has been around forever; it's been over 30 years since it has opened and I have no recollection whatsoever of it ever having closed down for a long period of time.

Like the renovations being done at Gangnam Metro Station, the mall is certainly to resurface bright and shiny, all new and hi-tech, donning the face of Seoul in the current era. And somehow that makes me feel sad.

There are certain characteristics of Seoul that I would like to be preserved; I was immensely disturbed when they did away with all the food stalls lining the streets of Jongno, when the construction laws were loosened and modern high rise buildings started to spring up between the old and collapsing hanoks of Insadong, when the traditional antique street market in Dongdaemun was hauled away into another modern style building.
Modernisation isn't always the answer, especially if the charm of the place is lost in the process. Or perhaps I'm just an old fuddy-duddy who doesn't like change, who would like things to remain exactly as it is in one's memory.

I liked the underground mall at SEBT because it was the closest thing to a traditional market in the Gangnam area. The prices were cheap and flexible, you could banter with the shop owners like neighbors, it was the perfect place to buy basics and essential clothing items, and the abundance of merchandise available made for excellent window shopping.

I made a last trip before the renovations start. The shops are having major clearance sales as they will be back next year and stock has to go. I also went to take some photos. I had never ever thought of taking pictures of this place (during those 30 years) as it was a "constant" in Seoul life, but as it will never be the same, I wanted to take some images as reminders. Sentimental sap, I am.

Tons of photos:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Baskin Robbins Favorite * D café in Gangnam

It's getting hotter. Spring rains fell on the country during the long holidays from Children's Day to Buddha's Birthday, and after the rain completely evaporates I'm pretty sure spring will unceremoniously succumb to summer.

I'm currently on a sweets kick. (Lethargy makes me crave sugar like no other and if this isn't the season to be drowsy and lethargic, I don't know what is.) My current haunt when in the Gangnam area is Baskin Robbins, specifically the Favorite *D café on the second floor, where it isn't only 31 flavors that are being served.

Regular counter service on the first floor. Then you go up the stairs...

The second floor's atmosphere is bright and cheery (and looks like something Barbie would like).

I love the door handles here!

When you're seated the waitress hands you the menu with a separate flyer for Today's Specials.

Somedays you just want a simple drink, whether fruit juice or an ice cream milkshake. (cookies & cream)

Or you can go for more elaborate desserts like crème brûlée and ice cream. (pistachio)

Or brownies with ice cream. (cherry jubilee)


If the sweetness gets too sugary for you, you can always wash it down with coffee.

Favorite * D café is situated in Gangnam, a short walk from exit #7 from Gangnam metro station (Line 2).
It's right next to the City Cinema building, impossible to miss.