It’s been more than two weeks since our trip to Korea and I really should have finished this sooner. As it is, I’ve had to jump straight back to work the moment I returned to school. The summer magazine needed to be published, after all. Thankfully, the damn thing is done and is currently in the process of being printed. That is, of course, if nothing untoward happens in the coming week, which is extremely unlikely.
With that unnecessary info out of the way, here’s the second part of my family vacation abroad.
Day 3 – Kimchi and Everland
The day was still cold but at least it wasn’t raining anymore. It was still pretty cold though. Thankfully, we were out of the woods / deep countryside so it was relatively warmer. I didn’t have to wear my gloves and beanie that much anyway.
We only had two tourist spots to go to on our third day but, as our tour guide said, it was going to be a particularly long and tiring day seeing as we were going to the amusement park, Everland, later in the morning.
Our first stop though was at a Kimchi school.
As promised, we were taught how kimchi was made. The process is relatively simple and easy but the ingredients – particularly the spices and such – were so much more than we had initially thought.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to eat the kimchi that we made. All of the kimchi would be donated to a shelter. The cut on my lip had barely recovered so I really wasn’t up to eating anything spicy. Let alone kimchi.
After the brief lesson, we got to try on hanbok. It was pretty fun.
The dresses that we got to try on were quite heavy, especially the skirts. It was a struggle just to walk without stepping on the hem of my skirt. Though that’s probably because of my short legs.
After Kimchi school, we went to Everland!
It’s apparently a really popular amusement park in Korea – as was evident by the innumerable groups of people that flocked the place on a weekday – but I couldn’t really say I heard of it before. Some of the others in our tour group had heard of it, mostly by its notorious roller coaster, the T-Express. It’s one of the steepest roller coaster rides in the world and Everland’s most popular attraction. When I heard of it, I immediately wanted to ride it, long lines be damned. Unfortunately, my older sister (formerly a thrill ride enthusiast) has sworn off roller coasters and other such rides that involve getting scared to death due to her traumatic experience in Star City some years ago. She and her friends made the terrible decision of riding thrill rides in succession and, as a result, got a bit nauseatingly overexposed. My younger sister also didn’t want to join me in my quest to the T-Express because she has this irrational fear of getting her neck broken by whiplash. In the end, all I got to do was watch the T-Express from afar, listening to the riders’ screams of excitement and slight horror. What a shame.
So I contented myself with just exploring the other, much tamer parts of Everland.
There were a lot of pretty things to see there. Particularly the gardens.
Their rides though were pretty unsatisfying. Well, compared to the rides in Universal Studios and Disneyland, I mean. Still, they were fun. The lines… not so much.
My younger sister and I did try this one ride though, The Hurricane. That ride was just… intense.
From below, the thing didn’t seem all that impressive. It just seemed like a giant tire swing, with the tire place horizontally instead of vertically. As the giant tire gains momentum, it slowly spins in a half circle. The swinging and spinning goes on for about three minutes. It didn’t even look like it swung that high from where we were standing. And three minutes? That was too short!
Oh how wrong and foolish we were.
Even before the ride reached its peak, me and my sister were already screaming at the top of our lungs. Every time we reached a high point, we thought it was already the highest and that we were getting ready to slow down. We were wrong. Several times. Three minutes never seemed so long in my entire life. I felt like my stomach was threatening to drop every time I looked down. Or anywhere, for that matter. It was awesome. Y’know, after the dizziness and nausea went away.
One thing that I really liked about Everland was the buildings. They looked so quaint and vintage and adorable.
At around 5 in the early evening, we left Everland completely exhausted. After a nice barbecue dinner, we made our way to Seoul City where we’ll stay for the remaining two days of our vacation.
Day 4 – City Tour, City Life
We spent our fourth day in the city and I actually learned quite a lot from the trip. Our tour guide gave us some really interesting information about the history of Korea. Did you know that Korea’s current president is the country’s first female president? And she’s the daughter of Korea’s former president/dictator too. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it? *coughBBMcough*
Our first stop for the day was the Blue House, where the South Korean President lives. We didn’t actually get to go inside the Blue House though. Tourists were only allowed near the gates of the presidential residence.
After the brief look-around the Blue House premises, we went to this Ginseng Center where we learned that ginseng is THE ultimate herb. No pictures though because of copyright reasons. The thing is hella difficult to grow but is extremely worth the work. It takes six years for a single ginseng plant to reach full maturity. The fully grown ginseng even looks like a human! It’s weird but super cool.
Oh! And the guy who showed us around the Ginseng Center was a Filipino! Who spoke Bisaya! Not from Cebu though but from Davao. It was so nice to see a Filipino face and hear Bisaya from someone other than those in our group. Most of the representatives of the museums and centers we’ve visited either barely spoke English or couldn’t speak it at all so being able to fully understand the Ginseng Center’s representative was a real treat. I didn’t realize how much I missed hearing Bisaya until then, I think.
Then we had lunch. On the menu was chicken ginseng soup. Not a coincidence, I’m sure. Our tour guide then surprised the birthday girl in our little group with this adorable cake from the bakery next door. It was a really sweet gesture and a really delicious cake.
Our next stop was the National Folk Museum and the Gyeongbokgong Palace nearby. I adore museums so I really enjoyed the time we spent on our third stop. Unfortunately, most of the parents in our group didn’t really like museums that much, specifically they didn’t like walking too much that much. So our tour guide gave us a rushed version of Korea’s history.
Walking around the palace – not the original palace though since none of the buildings of the old palace survived – was like going back in time. The colorful buildings and the ancient architecture were all so beautiful. It really was a shame that majority of the grown ups in our group were so easily worn out by walking. Though, considering how the other families had little kids with them – kids who literally have too much energy to burn – I guess it wasn’t a surprise that they were already exhausted before mid-afternoon. Thankfully, our youngest family member is already a teenager so we had no problems in that department at least.
Also, according to our tour guide, if you wear a hanbok, you get a free pass to the museum and to the palace. No wonder there were so many people wearing the traditional dress!
After that educational visit, we went to see this cooking musical show, the Bibap Show.
None of us had a clue what the show was all about. All our tour guide told us was that there was going to be singing and dancing and cooking… and comedy. It was difficult to picture how such a show would go since, y’know, the combination of food and music isn’t exactly that common. I imagined that the characters would be ingredients of bibimbap and that they’d kind of just dance and sing on the stage… while teaching the audience how a bibimbap dish is made. As usual, I was wrong.
The show was about twenty times as great and as hilarious as our tour guide promised it would be. The characters weren’t ingredients but chefs who sang and danced while making a certain dish. There wasn’t much dialogue so we didn’t get too confused, thank goodness. It really was such an awesome show. The performers were absolutely brilliant. I loved every minute of it.
Before we went to our hotel and called it a night, we spent about two hours in Myeongdong, a popular shopping district in the city. It was… crowded.
It was ok, I guess. I’d have preferred not to have gone there but… they wouldn’t let anyone stay put in the bus.
Day 5 – Souvenirs and Goodbyes
Finally, the last day! Though it didn’t seem possible at the time but we actually spent five whole days in Korea. That’s the longest my family has ever spent in another country. Usually, our out-of-the-country trips last more or less three days. So it was pretty weird – and exciting – to know that we spent that long in foreign grounds. We were almost accustomed to the cold Korean air. Almost.
We didn’t do much on our last day. Mostly we were taken to shopping centers and the like. Our flight was at 8 in the evening so we took it easy in the morning and in the afternoon. In the end, our luggage doubled, may have even tripled, in size and number.
We did visit a little amusement park in the afternoon though. It was a very brief visit and we only got to go to one part of the park. We went to Onemount Snow Park where there was this huge ice rink that kids and adults could slide around in.
My siblings and I tried ice skating but the ice was really, really, really rough. And thin. Not at all like the skating rink in Singapore. I couldn’t find my balance at all not matter how hard I tried. And I really, really, really tried. I nearly broke my ankles trying! It was the ice that was the problem, not me. Hmph!
I suppose the ice was meant mostly for kids to push around sleds in. I guess we should have known considering the fact that there were very few people who rented skating shoes. What a waste of time and money and effort.
Eventually, it was time for us to head to Incheon Airport. Honestly, it was a little bit sad driving to the airport. The week had been so fun and exciting. We were just getting used to the cold, freezer-like air and the kimchi meals – ma had even told us that our breaths started to smell weird. We were going home, which I had missed, but we were also going to have to face reality once again, which I had been trying to ignore.
I suppose I was just feeling melancholic because I had kind of liked being a carefree tourist. Though I missed the Philippines badly – it got uncomfortable, not being able to understand a word anyone around us was saying – I guess I was just stubbornly denying the reality that awaited me. It wasn’t South Korea that I’d miss but the easygoing life I had in the country. How pathetic am I, right?
At around half past 8 in the evening, the plane that we boarded took off and sent us back to our little Pearl of the Orient Sea. I couldn’t help but crane my neck to catch a few last glimpses of the country that I had been staying in for nearly a week. The night was dark and the city lights were shining so beautifully. It was a wonderful week. One that I hope I won’t ever forget.