Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The 8th Wonder of the World! Banaue!

The main reason for me coming back to the Philippines was to see the rice terraces in Banaue. Last time it wasn't in our itinerary, but I had seen pictures and heard stories about it so I knew I had to go. The main problem is getting there: even though it isn't that far, the bus ride takes some eight hours from Manila and all the buses are at night. These are not big, comfortable nicely air-conditioned buses. No, they are cramped and dusty and almost impossible to sleep in. I got a couple of hours of sleep, but when we finally arrived in Banaue, Catie and I were exhausted.
Upon leaving the awful buses, we were greeted by a handsome and friendly tour guide. For quite a cheap price he led us on an amazing tour through the rice terraces. He brought us up to the terraces and, on the way, we met some of the locals who you can see on the left. I don't really like taking pictures of people I don't know, especially when they are older and obviously from a very different culture, as I feel like a voyeur. They however prodded us to taking a picture and then asked for money. Fun. After snapping a picture we continued to the main attraction. As old as Christ, the terraces cover some 4000 square feet. I wish my step-dad, a hydrologist, could have been with us because the irrigation system was amazing. The one problem was the weather. Since we only had a day, we had to make do with a lot of fog, some light rain, and really muddy terraces. I wouldn't have been surprised if someone had ever been seriously injured on these treks since we were walking along these narrow stone and/or mud walls with a rice paddy on one side and a steep incline on the other. Catie did actually fall in at one point, but luckily we both came out of our three-hour trek alive (though muddy and exhausted).

Can you imagine walking on this for three hours? In the rain?


Last Day in the Philippines: the Beach and Clark Airport

Catie is amazing to travel with. We took a bus from Banaue back to Manila only to take another bus to the Subic Bay area for some beach time. Even though this meant a second night of hardly any sleep in a row, my travel buddy had such a positive attitude. Since we were exhausted, however, we spent the day on the beach reading. It was a lovely beach and I'm sure in the summer it was quite popular. In February, however, we were practically alone.

If our day was relaxing, our night was anything but. We had to fly out at 6:30 AM from Clark Airport which is near Angeles City (about an hour north of Manila). We arrived there to find the grungiest and seediest place I've ever been to in my life. Clark was once an American air force base so prostitution was, and still is, quite rampant. With the soldiers gone, however, the DOMs (dirty old men) came out to play. Every bar was a strip bar, and all the couples were old, old men and beautiful young women. I guess if both the man and woman are happy with what they are getting I shouldn't complain, but it was just not the best place for Catie and I; we definitely stood out. We were the youngest travelers there by far, and Catie was the only foreign woman. We still wanted a good time, however, so we spent the night at a karaoke bar, drank a few beers, and slowly became more and more confident with out singing abilities. I wouldn't recommend going to Angeles to anybody unless they need to fly out of the airport early in the morning. Or if you are a DOM.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Deaf Party in Manila

Catie and I didn't head out of Manila as quickly as we originally planned because we were invited to a Deaf party that a Gallaudet University student had prepared. The food was great and we had a good time playing a dice/gambling game for nickels and dimes. Our hosts were wonderful and from my experience I have to say that Filipino families are amazingly warmhearted.
Part of the meal included balot, which is a fertilized duck egg. It doesn't sound that appealing, right? It really doesn't taste that great either. I imagine if you ate it often you might come to like it, but its ghastly appearance and awkward texture (the duck by this time has formed feathers) makes for a not so delicious meal.
What a good guest
The party lasted until the afternoon and we ended up just driving around in the car for a while before buying tickets to our next destination. The last dinner in Manila was at a cute Chinese restaurant (getting ready for Hong Kong!). Manila has a pretty large Chinese population, and their Chinatown is pretty decent. It reminded me, oddly, of Boston, which has a pretty decent and fun Chinatown. Why isn't there one in Seoul!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Arriving in Manila

Back in October I spotted crazy cheap one-way tickets from Seoul to Manila. They were two dollars before taxes, and with taxes they were only about forty-five bucks. Catie and I snatched them up thinking even if we didn't end up having the right time for vacation in February, it wouldn't have been that great of a waste. Luckily, our vacations lined up and after some further planning we decided to go to the Philippines for four days before continuing our adventures in SE Asia.
I have a good friend in Manila that I met through BH. His father owns some chicken factories so we like to joke that he is the chicken prince. Part of being the chicken prince is apparently having a private driver, so Catie and I were picked up by the prince at the airport and brought to his brilliant apartment after a traditional Filipino meal.
Sour soup and oh so delicious sisig
Although Filipino food does not top my list of favorite ethnic cuisines, I love the sourness found in a lot of the foods and calamansi has to be my favorite citrus fruit. In the Philippines, they tend to use the unripe and green calamansi, which tastes like a slightly sweeter lemon. I love it on everything!
After dropping our bags off at the princes' palace, we continued our journey to Intramuros, the old Spanish town which I visited back in 2010. Intramuros means the area within the walls surrounding the historic center of Manila where, in comparison to other European colonies, all sorts of ethnic groups lived and worked. The weather was amazing, and after the brutality of a Seoul February it was just a pleasure to wander through the beautiful park near Fort Santiago, which was used as a prison for that Filipino national hero Jose Rizal. Part of Fort Santiago is a museum dedicated to the life and works of Rizal who was both an activist and writer. To the left, you can see Catie and Ace walking in the last footsteps of Rizal toward his execution in December of 1896.
Intramuros is also the location of a bunch of historic churches and some pretty great architecture. Although I had been to this part of Manila before, it was great to explore it once again.
Catie with a cannon in Fort Santiago

San Agustin Church (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)

The adventure around Intramuros over, we hopped into the private car and went for some pineapple-infused chicken at our friends place. Delicious. The evening was a little lackluster with a visit to the Mall of Asia (gigantic but a mall is a mall) and a fractured view of a huge firework event: Korea vs Malta. The show was alright, but in order to get a good view you had to pay a heavy price for front-row seats at a nice restaurant in the mall. Being cheap travelers, we watched it from a more obstructed angle. By this time, Catie and I were exhausted and headed home to some warm beds and a great sleep.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Haemuljeon at Hoegi Station

One of the best parts of this city are all the neighborhoods and particularly neighborhoods known for a particular food. Located near Kyunghee University, Hoegi station has bars and restaurants that could please any traveler, but the jeon food alley is what really makes it worth the trip.
Jeon is a Korean dish going back to the Joseon dynasty made with flour batter and various vegetables or seafood and then pan-fried. Bindedeok, pajeon, hwajeon and kimchijeon are all very popular jeons in Korea. We decided to get haemuljon, which is made with seafood.The meal came as a set, and we also had braised chicken, ddeokbokki, and a grilled filet of mackerel. 맛있어요! The best part is that this food alley is right next to the university so it was quite reasonably priced. Our entire meal with drinks came to 7,000 won a person. Not to shabby.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Jeongwol Daeboreum at the Bukchon Traditional Culture Center

Allies of Gye-dong
Saturday brought us to this lovely festival offered by the Seoul government. I didn't see much advertisement for it on any major websites, but saw a snippet of information on the Josun Ilbo. A couple of us decided to head over to the festival to see what it was all about. Well worth the trip.
Jeongwol Daeboreum is the festival for the first full moon of the New Year. There are a lot of traditions and festivities aligned with this holiday and we got to engage and actively participate in them. According to the Chosun Ilbo, over a quarter of Korea's 192 seasonal festivals are celebrated during Daeboreum, including "ganggangsullae, a circle dance symbolizing unity and cooperation between people; jwibul-nori, a traditional game that involves spinning a tin with fire inside to wish for a good harvest; bridge-crossing, a rite where people cross a bridge once for every year of their lives to guard against afflictions of the legs; and the burning of small effigies called Daljib, or "Moon Houses," made of wooden twigs wrapped with handwritten wishes calling for good luck and good health."
Another peculiar custom is the drinking of cold alcohol for ear health and hearing good news throughout the year. As a news reporter enjoyed capturing footage of us foreigners enjoying Korean culture, we drank a delicious aperitif and now hope that this year brings us good news. The Bukchon Traditional Culture Center also presented us with a feast of traditional foods served during Daeboreum, all of which had cultural significance which I have since forgotten.

Interestingly, dogs were not fed traditionally on Daeboregum because it was believed that if they ate on this day they could contract gadflies and get sick during the summer. ㅜ ㅜ
The location itself was superb. Bukchon Traditional Culture Center is located in Gye-dong, which is an area full of traditional hanok-style housing. Wandering around the alleys at sunset was beautiful, and would have been a great time to take pictures if my hands weren't so cold. Although I am more of a busy city type of person, Gye-dong's quietude was appealing as well as its numerous cafes and Italian restaurants. Like its neighbor, Samcheon-dong, I'm sure Gye-dong housing is ridiculously pricey. A boy can dream.
Pretty great gutter

Gwanjang Market

I don't know why I have only walked through this market and not eaten in it, but the other day it was FREEZING and Catie and I decided to go get some street food. Gwanjang Market (관장시장) is located pretty close to Dongdaemun, and would be most accessible from Jongo 5 Ga (I think exit 8). From there, you will see a sign for the market. Like most big markets in Seoul, you can find plenty of things to buy here, but my biggest draw to an area is always food, and one area of the market has stall after stall of bindedeok. Bindedeok is a type of jeon, which Koreans like to call Korean pizza but is more similar to a healthy pancake. Unlike other types of jeon bindedeok is made with mung beans. This dish was first made in the 1670s and literally translates to poor persons pancake. Thanks wikipedia!
We enjoyed our bindedeok with makgeoli and some hobak juk (pumpkin porridge). The stall we sat at was particularly full so we had to take the outdoor seating. Warming our hands above our pumpkin stew and enjoying our bindedeok with soy sauce and makgeoli was actually quite romantic and I'd recommend this market as an impressive date spot to bring a foreigner who doesn't have much experience with Seoul. Just try to stay away from the pork intestine smell. Because of the wind, every once in a while we'd get a huge whiff of this Korean specialty, which, no matter how much I smell it, I have never got used to.

It was about -10 C so there was a lot of steam

Makgeoli in the Midwest?

I love this story! They are going to start brewing makgeoli (Korean rice wine) in the US! Soju is definitely the more popular drink in Korea, but it tastes like death. Makgeoli is smooth and low-alcohol content and fun to drink with fried foods and fish. Hell, it is fun to drink with everything. The brewery is going to open in Chicago, so hopefully that means it will be easy to get my hands on some makgeoli back in the US? It will probably go for a pretty penny though... one bottle here is about two dollars, which is similar to soju. But a bottle of soju back home costs about twelve dollars; I should probably just stay here to enjoy my makgeoli.
For the whole news story, click here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How are these different?

Two advertisements, one political and the other touristic, but both with huge stereotypes bordering on racism. Do you see any difference?
This first one is from an American politician. A Chinese woman is in a rice paddy thanking the US, in broken English, for giving her jobs. Pointing our fingers at Asians for the problems we face at home. Right ...

Then there is this advertisement from the Korean tourism board. Featuring a plethora of national stereotypes this ad, if anything, points out how little the Korean ad agency knows about the world (or how people communicate... would you ever ask someone if their country was really the world's 7th largest exporter?)

So what is the difference? Well, in the US the first video has already started a dialogue. It is in the blogosphere, on Facebook and being reprimanded for using peoples fears and xenophobia as a political tool. On the other hand, this silly ad from Korea was shown to a test market and when the foreign audience responded that it wasn't the best crafted ad and that it didn't sit well they aired it anyways.
Now I need to find myself some bibimbap. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jeongdongjin and Tongil Park

After waking up in our cute little hanok, we spent the morning walking around the beautiful, and natural, lake in Gangneung and then taking a taxi to Tongil Park (Unification Park) . I'm not really sure how the sights at this park can lead to reunification, but they were sure fun to see. The first thing we explored was an American-built ship from the Korean war. Unfortunately, most of the information was in English, but they did have some very patriotic Korean war hymns playing in the background. At Tongil Park there is also a North Korean submarine that washed ashore with 26 sailors into it back in 1966. Eleven of the non-military crew-members were killed when the submarine became stuck on rocks for fear that they would leak classified information. The other fifteen soldiers tried to escape back to the North overland but were intercepted by South Korean forces. Thirteen soldiers were killed, one captured, and it is unknown what happened to the last. 17 South Korean soldiers also lost their lives in the chase. The new addition to Tongil Park is a wooden refugee boat that landed near Gangneung in the 2000s. It was too cold to really dwell on the boat, but could you imagine fleeing from a country across the Sea of Japan in a tiny wooden boat? Probably crammed to the brim with other refugees?

Catie in front of the refugee boat
We finished our travels in the Gangneung area by going to Jeongdongjin. Right on the coast, we had ample time to see the sea and enjoy another of the area's specialties: sundubu. The soup was delicious! Jeongdongjin's main claim to fame is the huge ship-shaped hotel overlooking the sea. After a long climb up the hill, and a rather steep fee to get into the hotel, we were on the viewing platform. There was a great view of the sea and the surrounding mountains. The entire area of Jeongdongjin has this very odd aura, but it is definitely a place to go to. I am planning to go back in the summer to play on the beach. Even though the weather was freezing, it was a great weekend trip to Gangwon-do. Our train back from Jeongdonjin to Gangneung even ran right along the water! Supposedly, it is the closest train station to the sea.

Shit that Korean Girls Say

Hilarious. And so true.