Embarrassing yourself in Korea – Spa Etiquette 101


Embarrassing yourself in Korea – Korean Mysteries

When you don’t speak the languge – and can’t read the signs – it’s pretty easy to make mistakes. My latest embarrassements were Spa related. The Kensington Resort in Sokcho is reputed to have one of the nicest Spa’s in the area – so naturally – I had to go. The cost was a measly 6000 Won – $6, clearly a deal.

I’ve done Spa’s before in various countries – Japan, Laos, Vietnam, Fez – so I’m not a complete idiot where Spa Etiquette is concerned – but somehow I manage to mess it up anyway.

In the case of the Kensington, I really only made a few major errors. But let’s start at the beginning.

My first Spa attempt was on Wednesday – I mention this because I think Wednesday must be a down day at the Spa – only about 5 people there – all in separate areas. Wonderfully private. My ‘oops’ – I wanted to wear my bathing suit. Heads-up people – Spa’s in Korea are ‘nudu’ – that’s nude. They have complete separate facilities for men and women – kids don’t count – so it’s not like you are suddenly visiting a nudist colony – but bathing suits are a definitely no-no.

Stripped to an approrpiate state – I could now enter the Spa. There were 2 large saunas – one labeled ‘Finnish Style’, the other called ‘Yellow Ocher’. There were also 4 large ‘pools’, each with a digital temperature display – 37.9, 40.0, 41, and 31.5. The 41 degree pool was hot sea water – and it felt great. The 31.5 degree pool was ‘cold’ water – and I ended up between these two. But first you must shower. Good news – been in Japan – know how to use a Japanese bath.

In the Korean version – you had 2 choices. You could do a standard Japanese bath – you sit on a low stool in front of a mirror, and use buckets of hot and cold water and soap to get everything clean. Or you could opt for a western style shower – which is what I took. The floor was particularly neat – it was made of large flat stones, with narrow sections that were deeper and led to the drains. So the flat stones, while wet, didn’t stay soapy and slick – all the soap was washed down into the narrow sections and from there to the drains.

After a good scrub down – I was able to enjoy the hot tubs. They weren’t very deep, just right for sitting in – and there were slabs that connected the sections that you could perch on to get out of the hot water. The view – despite the name – Ocean Spa – wasn’t much – the windows were frosted to maintain privacy.

Overall – a lovely experience. So of course – I wanted to do it again. This time on Sunday.
Well – Sunday is bath day amoung the local 20 to 40 year old crowd apparently – and the place was packed. I counted at least 40 women – plus 5 kids ranging from about 3 to 12 years of age. The 2 massage tables were filled, the saunas were in full use, and I had problems finding a quiet corner that didn’t get splashed when I was soaking in the hot salt water. Not that the noise level was high – but there was conversations here and there as friends caught up on the news (all in Korean) – and kids playing in the warm water pool. Quite the lovely scene – and easy to imagine it as a painting. Korean women are slim and have quite nice figures. The only older people were myself, and one elderly ‘auntie’ with a severe dowgers hump. The rest were young and very attractive. Most striking to me was the hair color – I know of course that Asians have black hair – but I guess I hadn’t really thought it completely thru.

I made two oops. One when I walked in. I had noticed that they had little plastic pads available – and I thought they were for people to use to sit on if they didn’t care to sit on the stones. I was right on the purpose – but I found out later that they were for sale. Oops. No money. I handed it back. The Spa lady gave it back to me. I handed it back to her – no money. She threw it in the laundry. Hope they wash it and put it back on the counter to sell.

My second oops was dress related. I knew that the Spa was ‘Nudu’ – so I wore my bathing suit and a largeish t-shirt down to the spa. I guess the gal running the spa didn’t notice when I walked in – but when I left – she got very concerned. Turns out she thought I was still ‘Nudu’ under the T-shirt. I had to show her my bathing suit before she’d let me leave!

I think this place should write up an English guide to Spa Appropriate Behavior. If they ask me – I’d be glad to help. But given the number of ‘foreigners’ I’ve seen – probably a non-issue. Or like the Leonard Cohen song – “Every one Knows”.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler (who refuses to go into Spas – I think she’s not into ‘Nudu’!)

PS: Sorry – no pictures for obvious reasons. Just use your imagination – you’ll be fine.

Getting Grannie Time – Even if it means traveling to Korea!


Today’s reality is that families don’t live near each other. Well, some families are blessed by being close – but more and more families are dealing with long distance relationships, particularly grand-parents and grand-kids.

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I’m among the blessed – my grand-kids (2 so far – always routing for more of course) live relatively near by – a 30 minute drive. So we can get together for dinner and a home movie – even grab them for a ‘grannie’ weekend, without having to make serious arrangements. But not all families are so blessed, nor all kids so willing to share.

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My friend the Intrepid Traveler has 6 grand-kids, 2 of whom live near by but seldom visit, 2 of which live about 40 minutes from her house but she sees a lot and has a close relationship with – and 2 of which live in Tiawan. That’s 12,000 miles from her home. So spending quantity or quality time with them is near to impossible. That’s a large part of the reason we’re in Korea. It was easy for her kids and grand-kids to get to, and not insanely expensive for us. Plus we were able to score timeshare weeks at the Kensington Beach Resort. So we’ve spent the last 10 days living next door to her kids, and since they are not ‘at home’ either, they have had no distractions – no work, no other friends – just us, the kids, the grand-kids.

So – quality time to the max.

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Is 2 weeks enough time to really get to know your kids and grand-kids? Well, it can’t hurt of course. And it’s a ton better than nothing. For the Intrepid Traveler – it’s meant time for conversations with her son and daughter-in-law. Conversations that don’t get cut short by other friends calling, TV blaring, or the needs of husbands. Instead our focus has been on the kids – helping them color in pictures, cook, play in the playground or even just sit on the beach. It’s been amazing.

So why am I muttering? Well – as more families are separated by significant distance, the issue is – who makes the move to get together. I’m of the opinion that the responsibility – at least during the hardest child rearing years – is on the grand-parent. If you want quality time with your grand-kids – you need to make it a priority – or it won’t happen. It’s too much to expect kids to break their routine and drag themselves to you – so you have to go to them. It’s seriously nice of course that the kids of the Intrepid Traveler were willing to meet us part way – and more importantly – take 2 whole weeks off work to just relax with grannie.

Now I know all the excuses – I’m too busy, I have a job, the kids don’t like the way I treat their kids, the kids are worried I’ll spoil the grand-kids, my daughter (or daughter-in-law) doesn’t make me feel welcome. But these are excuses, not reasons. Anything can/should be worked out if it makes lives better for the kids – right?

Here’s another thought – what do the Grand-kids think? My daughter is just turning 30 so I asked her what her memories of her grand-mother (my mother) were. We lived 1000 miles apart – so time together was determined by us committing to visiting them rather than they visiting us. To my surprise – my daughters recollections were extremely strong and very positive. Granted we tried to make sure that my kids got time with their grand-parents – but we were rarely able to spend 2 weeks at a stretch together – even a week was a long time. So clearly it’s more about repetition in my daughter’s case.

An issue – there is only a few years when Grand-kids are even willing to spend that kind of time doing ‘nothing’. Once they hit age 13 – all bets are off on spending time with grannies. So – do it now – no one has ever been sorry they spent too much time getting to know their kids and grand-kids.

My questions to you – my readers – One – how far do you live from your parents/grand-parents/grand-kids. Two – what are your memories of your grand parents? and Three – do you try to get your kids together with your parents – or if you are a grand parent – do you try to get to spend time with your grand kids? Or – if you are the kid – have you called/talked/chatted with your grand-parents lately?

My challenge to you – In the next 12 months – get some quality time with your grand kids/grand-parents – and comment to me about it!

Signing off to spend more time with the grand-kids – The Soup lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Lessons from South Korea


Having been here for several weeks – the intrepid traveler and I agree that there are somethings that Koreans just do a whole lot better than we in North America do – and what would a ‘blog’ be if we didn’t let you guys in on the facts? I hereby challenge us in North America to beat the Koreans at this game!

1. Greet your incoming guests – as soon as they walk in the door. Here in South Korea you never walk into a restaurant or a shop without someone immediately greeting you with a smile and hello and welcome. Not a snarly “how can I help you”, but a sincere sounding “Welcome”. Makes you feel glad you walked in.

2. Stand up when people walk up to you. Here in South Korea, if we walk into an information booth or up to a hotel reception desk and the staff is seated – immediately all the staff stand up, bow, and say welcome. It’s really nice. There’s eye contact – and you know that they are attentive to your request. Even if there are 2 gals – and clearly only one is going to respond – both stand up – and stay standing until you leave. They don’t chat on their cell phones, pretend to be busy on their computers, or keep their heads down to ignore you. Nope – they stand up. Every time!

3. Say thank you when people leave your place of business. On the buses, when you walk out the door, there is an automated ‘thank you’. When you press your pass to the machine – it says – ‘Thank you’ to acknowledge receipt. When you leave a shop – even if you didn’t buy anything – the staff says ‘Thank you’. How nice is that!

4. During a wedding ceremony – thank the guests, and thank your parents. I’ve seen 3 weddings so far – and in every single one, at the very beginning the mothers of the bride and groom walk down the aisle first – and light candles to thank the ancestors. And at the end, before the ‘you may now kiss the bride and run down the aisle’ part – the bride and groom – together – officially thank their parents – who stand, face the crowd and are applauded. And the Bride and Groom also bow and thank the guests. How nice is that. I’ve been to weddings where one side or the other was ignored because they didn’t feel comfortable about making a speech. By officially thanking them – no speech is required – it’s just a formal acknowledgement that without the ancestors and without the parents – no wedding would have take place today.

Another Beautiful and Unique moment in a Korean Wedding – the groom kneels in front of his bride – and presents her with a bouquet of flowers… not a dry eye in the house – trust me!

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5. Smile at strangers. We’ve been at the Kensington – a big and basically Korean only Resort – for over a week. And while the guests change – the politeness doesn’t. People here smile when you walk past – they don’t just shove you out-of-the-way – or worse – ignore you. They take a second to smile, and if you smile back – their smile goes all the way to the eyes. It’s nice.

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6. Clean up after yourself – Even on the Beach. There are not a lot of trash cans, and those they have they hide (check under the cash – see the flap – that’s the trash!) – but there isn’t a lot of trash on the ground either. People come prepared to gather their garbage – and because everyone cleans a little bit, the place in general stays clean. Now it’s not like Rwanda (where the President mandated no plastic bags and a monthly – everyone must clean – policy) – but it’s pretty nice.

7. Men shouldn’t be afraid to carry ladies purses. We’ve seen guys – and I mean older men – in their 50’s and 60’s – cheerfully carrying their wife’s purses. It’s the in thing. (Ok – I agree – shocked me the first time too.)

Just little things – but things you notice – and remember – and they add up to a wonderful place to visit.

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Korean Attractions Smack-Down – What to see – and what NOT to see!


Ranked from our least favorite to our trip highlight – these are the attractions in Korea that we loved and thought – Boring! Check it out.

10. North of Sokcho – Fisheries Museum – Charge (Getting there – take the #1 or #1-1 Bus from Sokcho – and just keep going and going and going. It’s about an hour ride, plus a 10 minute walk). We wanted an outing – and that’s what we got. Best part were the two 3D movies, otherwise the fish looked sad, and the tanks were too small. But the building is really neat looking, which kinda sucked us in. Go for the Maritime Museum in Busan if price is important, or the Busan Aquarium if you want to see fish. Forget this one.

9. Seoul – Namsangol Hanok Maeul (traditional Village) – Free. Best part – it’s open on Monday when almost everything in Seoul besides shopping is closed – and there’s a ‘costume’ rental on site. Koreans love to rent costumes and walk the village dressed in traditional clothes – and it’s a lot of fun to watch them. Plus – when we stayed in a traditional house in Gyeongiu – these traditional houses made more sense. There are English signs – and some of the rooms are ‘furnished’ – but most are either used for other purposes – like a ‘pay for’ tea ceremony or costume rental. Nice place to visit when everything else is closed – but that’s about it.

8. Seoul – Jongmyo (Royal Shrine) – Charge. We lucked into seeing this during the yearly Confusion ancestor Ceremony. If it hadn’t been for the costumed ceremony going on while we were there – I would rate this even lower. But meeting the ‘re-enactors’ after the performance of the rite was a hoot and a half as you can tell from the pictures.

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7. Sokcho – Seoraksan National Park – Charge. (Getting there – Bus 7 from Sokcho goes to the main gate – and costs just 1100 Won ($1.10)). There are apparently 4 entrances to the Park – the bus from Sokcho takes you to just one of them. To get to the others – you’ll need to take a taxi. We decided that the main entrance was fine for us. We rode the Cable Car (Separate Charge) up to the top of Gwongeumseong. The guide book warned of long waits – but it was empty when we were there – no wait at all. At the top there is a lovely little temple down about 200 stair steps, and up from the Cable Car Station is a 20 minute hike to the peak of the Mountain. Marcel (5) and his Dad did that hike, I visited the temple. We then came back down and did 3/4 of the walk to Biryong Falls. Unfortunately, the path which was rated as easy walking, isn’t easy for a stroller – and that meant carrying baby Sophie. No fun. So we turned around and went back. The park is lovely – by Korean standards outstanding, but not up to standards of a Jackson Hole, Telluride, or even Stowe. Never-the-less – it’s a fun outing with kids. I particularly liked the tiny temple I visited, and there’s a huge Buddha near the main gate that hides a wonderful temple underneath. That was also worth a visit. I think the Park would be a lot more fun without a baby in a baby stroller. Maybe in a few years we will get to return.

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6. Busam – UN Memorial cemetery, Peace Park, Sculpture Garden – Free. I actually really liked this – the movie is a tear jerker – but it does goes a way towards explaining one version of the history of the Korean War. And since my Dad was a Korean War Vet – that definitely added a sense of drama to the location. The statues are in very good taste, the ‘Peace’ Garden lovely, and I liked the sculptures from artists around the world. We didn’t get to walk in the adjacent ‘park’ – but it had bridges and ponds – and seemed quite the in thing with a much younger (kids) crowd.

5. Seoul – 5 Palaces and the Biwon – the Secret Garden. We visited all 5 palaces, and I can tell you – don’t. Visit just 2 – Start with Deoksu which is right across from City Hall, and do the tour. That will give you a very good grasp of the history of the Joseon Dynasty – and a peek into what was going on right before and during the Japanese occupation starting in 1905. See the changing of the guard. Then walk North to Gyeongbokgung Palace, check out the guards – but don’t bother to tour. It’s huge, crowded, and just a much larger version of Deoksu – then walk East to Changdeok Palace – and my personal highlight – the tour of Biwon – the Secret Garden. It’s stunningly beautiful. You don’t want to miss it. You must take a guided tour – but it is well worth both the money and the time.

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4. Busan – Haedong Yonggung Temple – Free (Getting there – Subway to Haeundae Station, then take bus 181. Attached to the temple is the Fisheries Museum – a must see in my book). This was the absolutely most commercial temple we saw. Lining the stone pathway to the temple proper were various Buddha’s with signs – in English and Korean – explaining their benefits. There was a Buddha for traffic problems (including a flat tire), a Buddha for male children, plus many other’s – each with its own collection box. But that didn’t really detract from the absolutely outstanding location of this temple. It is perched on cliffs hanging over the sea – with sub-temples tucked here and there. I particularly liked the gold painted Buddha that sits out on a promontory – all alone. The most fun we had here was people related – of course. Jill got approached by a young student, who explained that her teacher had sent them on a mission to get a picture with a foreigner. Would that be ok with Jill? Once Jill proved that she didn’t bite – the word spread like wildfire – every single one of her classmates come over to get their picture taken too. Bet that teacher is going to be surprised to get 30 pictures of the same pair of little old ladies! Touring hint – To the left along the sea from the temple is the back entry to the Fisheries Museum which we loved.

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3. Busan – Beomeosa Temple – Free (Getting there – Subway to Beomeosa Station, taxi costs under $5 to take you up the hill to the temple. Getting back, it might be easier to take a bus – we were very lucky to flag a taxi.) Looks exactly like a temple should look – and feels like a temple should feel. Because we were there just before Buddha’s birthday – there were huge – and I mean giagantic lanterns shaped like animals, dragons, lions, monks, etc. on the grounds – all waiting to be paraded thru the town. The main temple is in 3 halls – each more beautiful than the last. The wooden carvings on the ceilings must be seen to be believed, twisting dragons, flying birds – you name it. I absolutely loved this temple – and I know now that they have a temple stay program. If I ever return to Korea – I definitely would like to stay here.

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2. Seoul – Cheonggyecheon Stream (Getting there – you can’t miss it – the stream (river?) runs through the center of Seoul) This is a beautiful bit of city planning – a lot like the new High Line park in New York City – it’s a stunning example of taking a problem, and making it into a positive urban renewal project. The Stream/Park/Walking trail runs most of the length of Seoul, and there are skipping rocks to cross the stream, wide paths for walking, benches for sitting – and at night they float lighted lanterns – some really really big – down the stream. Lovely. (The Insight Guide gives you some of the history of this new – 2005 – renovation – a remarkable story to read in itself.)

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1.Busam – Aquarium – Expensive (Getting there – walk from the Haeundae subway stop). An amazing aquarium – and I’ve seen lots. They have shark feedings several times a day – a tank of weedy dragon fish – which I’d never ever ever seen before, the jelly fish section is outstanding on it own, they have a giant walk thru tank that besides the sharks – contains the largest manta rays I’ve ever seen – even scuba diving in the Caymens. They have turtles, they have eels galore, and everything, including all the descriptions, is in English and Korean. Afterwards there’s a free hot springs foot bath to the right along the Haeundae Board Walk. And if you are lucky – Korean bathing beauties to admire. So much fun.

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Korean Museum Smack-Down


The Intrepid Traveler and I love Museums – in fact that’s a big part of the reason we became Visitors instead of Tourists – guided tours never give you enough time in the Museums. We can easily spend 3 to 4 hours in a museum – we get the audio tour, we read every sign, we examine every display carefully. I mean – we love museums.

Now I know that not everyone likes museums the way we do, people don’t even like Aquariums the way we do. So instead of a blog on every museum we visited (it would take way too many days) – I’ve decided to rank them – from worst to best – and defend why.

8. Our least favorite Museum – The Sokcho Beach Nature Museum (Walking distance from the Express Bus Station). Size matters – and this one was a single large room on the 3rd floor of a building full of restaurants. The stellar attraction was a model of a dinosaur that was sensitive to movement. When you got close – the jaws moved. Marcel (age 5) loved it. The rest of the museum was a taxidermist dream come true. There was a mock-up of an aquarium – poorly preserved fish with a paper ‘sea’ background, no explanation in English, I’m not even sure there was an explanation in Korean. Most of the ‘fish’ were plaster models – I think. The next big section was a series of land animals – lions, tigers, wolves, coyotes, polar bears (?), and the like – again – either poorly done plaster models or really badly done taxidermy. The highlight, besides the view and the moving dinosaur, were a series of animal skeletons and 3 large models of sailing ships. I didn’t get the shell collection at all. For free – it was a fun way to entertain a 5-year-old, if I’d had to pay – it would have been a complete waste. Lots less fun than building sand castles – trust me.

7. Busan – Museum of Art (Modern/Contemporary) – Free. (Has its own subway stop) Modern art is always a challenge to the viewer – and while I always enter museums like this with a feeling of excitement, I often walk out wondering what the world is coming to. The current exhibit contained some really interesting pieces, and some really strange stuff. Highlight – art that ‘stripped’ the clothes off the people in the paintings when you stood in the right place. Bottom line – the price is right, and if you never go – you’ll never find out how artists are seeing the world we live in.

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6. Busan – Museum – Free. (Ask for directions – its right next to the UN Cemetery – and not hard to reach.). Best parts of this museum were the life-sized re-creations – including a street from 1900 (when they first had barber shops in Korea – before that men wore their hair long and never cut it), the amazing video footage of the aftermath of the war, and some of the displays from earlier periods. Free Audio tour is a must of course. I liked the use of walk over displays too. In one, the first street car in Busan drives down the road. This museum is a must on the school tour circuit – and I got trapped between an exhibit and a stream of about 300 3rd and 4th graders walking through the museum. Trust me – I’m not sure they stopped anywhere – they just walked straight from the entrance to the exit. Tour Done. But then there was this foreign lady to see – I got hi, hello, hi from about 80% of the kids – so not only was this my personal highlight – I think I was theirs!

5. Seoul – National Korean Folk Museum – Free. (Close to the Gyeongbok Palace – walk around the outside of the Palace keeping the wall to your left – you won’t have to pay to enter) This was the very first museum we saw in Seoul, and what I remember most were two sections – a life-size traditional home, furnished as if the family had just gone out. You could see the kitchen area, and imagine the bustle as food was being prepared. The other part I thought was neat was the Children’s Museum – basically a space attached to the main museum but kept for just parents and young children. There were holes to stick your hand in, there was a large egg that you sawed in half to reveal a treasure (I’m guessing this is a Korean Fairy Tale). The kids got extremely excited to have the opportunity to do the sawing. We plan to go back with Marcel (age 5) to check this out.

4. Gyeongiu – National Museum – Free – (Ask for directions) (in 3 parts – Shilla History, Stuff found at the Anapji Pond Historic site, and Buddhist Collection). We opted for the Audio Tour (1000 Won = $1) and it was well worth it. Even though they had moved the collection into a smaller building while they ‘earth-quake proofed’ the larger museum, seeing how seriously old the culture in Korea is was stunning. On one wall is a timeline of what was happening in Korea vs what was happening in the world – puts things into perspective fast. I also particularly loved the Buddhist collection – which since we saw this following our temple stay at Haein-sa – made a lot more sense. This is also the place we met the ‘English’ Teacher/Tour guide who confused rice and lice. But the collection of Silla remains is worth seeing. Over 1000 years old and still so beautiful.

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3. Busam – Maritime Museum – Free (Getting there – take the 66 bus from the Nampo-dogg subway stop). The building is worth the visit – a gigantic stainless steel Ship sailing off into the future. The exhibits were excellent as well – including a full-sized mock-up of one of the ships that the Josen rulers sent to Japan to try to keep peace – in the 1600’s. There’s a huge walk thru sea tanks – this one had a very friendly turtle. The video footage of the port of Busan in operation is definitely worth seeing as well.

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2. Seoul – Women’s Rights Museum – Charge. (Getting there – it’s walking distance – sort of – from the Hongik University subway stop) This is a small, but extremely interesting museum devoted to the ‘comfort’ women (starting at age 11!) effectively imprisoned by the Japanese to ‘service’ their soldiers during the occupation from 1905 to 1945. What is most interesting is the amount of ‘evidence’ they have collected about what was happening, including numerous stories by ‘comfort’ women who have openly and painfully revealed their past. The history is shameful, but the effort put into this tiny museum is worth seeing. Highly recommended. Picture below shows the ‘memory’ or ‘butterfly’ wall outside the museum – visitors were encouraged to sign a ‘butterfly’ dedicated to the memory of one of the ‘comfort’ women and pin it to the wall. Lovely thought, eh?

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1. Busam – Fisheries Museum – Free (Getting there – walk 2 minutes from the Haedong Yonggung Temple – makes it definitely worth visiting the Temple. They are connected by a red bridge and a seaside path. To get to the Temple – take the 181 bus from Haeundae Beach Station.). I liked this Museum for several reasons – there were lots of fish in tanks to look at – they made the path ‘up’ to the main area look like you were swimming thru an underwater cave, and the exhibits were very good at explaining the different types of fishing nets – without a word of English. There was even an entire section devoted to how pearls are made in oysters, another about women breathe-hold divers, and another one on harvesting abalone. Plus there were 2 interactive sections that were quite unique – one showed you the nutritional values of different foods on thermometers – the other allowed you to spin a dial and point and ‘shoot’ a fishing area off the coast of Korea. Your reward for hitting the target – a picture and description of the type of fish you’d find there. Fun museum – great location – and you can easily walk from there to one of the top temples of Busan – the Haedong Yonggung Temple. Plus – if you like fish – there were several quite reasonable restaurants nearby. A win, win, win!

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The picture above is taken from the highest point in the temple – looking towards the fisheries Museum – that blue wall you can see in the middle distance. All the lanterns are strung to celebrate Buddha’s birthday – which was the day after our visit. Lovely, eh? Very peaceful scene, wonderful temple, great museum.

But it’s not all about Museums! Check out my next blog for our ratings of ‘Not a Museum’ must see attractions in Korea. Our favorite…. well you’ll just have to wait to see

Amazing Mushrooms – and Great Looking Plastic Food!


I just can’t resist sharing these pictures with every one. We went to an eMart – which is the South Korean version of a Walmart – it was huge. One giant floor of just food stuffs – you name it – they sold it. I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the Mushroom options – just a few of the bigger bagged versions. I mean these mushrooms are sold by the gram in Montreal – if you can find them. Here they are sold in bulk. And they are huge. What are they feeding these guys – steroids? Amazing.

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Attached to the eMart was a korean style fast food restaurant. You looked at the models of the meals – and then gave the number you wanted to the hostess. When it was ready at one of the 5 or so stations around the room (each station was a different style of Korean cuisine) – you picked it up.

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Pretty yummy for an eMart meal I’ll tell you. Not the best food I’ve had in Korea, but think about it – under $5 per person – and these are meals – not hot dogs!

Speaking of which – they do hot dogs too!

Signing out – the Soup Lady and the intrepid Traveler

Ya win some, Ya lose some – Kensington Resort – Seorak Beach


We’ve been spending the last few days in the lap of luxury – a timeshare resort just 32 km (18 miles) from the DMZ in the far North East of South Korea. When we arrived here – after a 7.5 hour bus ride from Busan – I have to admit to being conflicted. On one hand – the resort had polished marble floors – and the check-in counter had 3 staff – in uniform. Honestly – I thought the taxi cab driver had taken us to the wrong place.

The ‘resort’ is huge – 5 floors of suites – mostly 1 bedroom, some 2 bedrooms – 2 restaurants, a tiny CU (Korean Convenience store that sells some groceries and veggies along with dozens of different brands of instant noodle soups and ‘chips’), an Ocean Spa, and a conference center. Quite the change from where we’ve been staying, I’ll tell you. The resort is directly on a soft sandy beach. Our suite is on the 5th floor and features a partial kitchen – which in Korea means a 3/4 size fridge, a sink, and a 2 burner hot plate. No microwave, no toaster, no dishwasher (but that’s ok – there are only a few dishes anyway), and a tiny garbage can. The bathroom is a palace in comparison to what we’ve been enjoying – the shower has a glass pane that separates it from the toilet and sink. Oh Luxury! Our generous sized bedroom even has a closet – something else we’ve been doing without for the past 3 weeks. Our balcony overlooks the East Sea – and we’ve been enjoying the sound of the waves as we go to bed each night.

So why the conflicted feelings? Well for starters – everywhere we’ve stayed up till now has provided shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, unlimited towels, and a fully stocked kitchen with salt and pepper, oil, butter, jam, and chili paste. At Kim’s House we even had plastic wrap, at the Agit – there was ham and eggs, even the traditional house provided unlimited white bread and coffee. But here – nothing is provided besides little bars of soap, 2 frying pans, and dishes for 4. It’s pretty bare in comparison – and that’s a shock. And the location is great for the beach – but a long (1 km) walk into the village if you don’t want to eat at the restaurants at the hotel. And they are, in Korean terms, quite expensive. And worse – they are buffets – ie: All you can eat. My least favorite option. A large grocery store is a 30 minute bus ride away, as is the town of Sokcho. So we feel a bit isolated.

Worst thing is the internet – its free – but you have to go to the ‘library’ to use it – the signal doesn’t reach the rooms. Quite a shock from free high-speed all thru the house like all the other places we’ve stayed.

But after a few days – the pleasure of enough space, and a private kitchen, a private balcony, a private bedroom and a private bathroom make the annoyances feel less important. The walk to the village for a delicious BBQ lunch seems just part of the fun, and exploring the largish fish market a hoot. The fish market features crabs, octopus, and flounder in huge numbers – all fresh and swimming around. If you don’t buy them today – they just feed them, and you can buy them tomorrow! This is really fresh fish. It looks great. We just need to figure out how to get some to eat at home!

And the beach is wonderful, particularly now that we are traveling in a much larger group – Jill’s son, daughter-in-law, grand-son Marcel (5) and grand-daughter Sophie (3 months) have joined us – and the trip is now one of family not traveler. But still fun!

The weather has been strange – hot, than cold (I wore everything I brought – at the same time), wet and rainy, then sunny but seriously breezy. But we’ve gotten in a walk every day – and eaten some amazing Korean take-out including a sweet and spicy fried chicken the defies description except to say I love it – but it makes my mouth burn! One night Blanche and Chris even treated us to deep-fried Shrimp (cooked complete – including the head and shell)), deep-fried peppers stuffed with pork, and the very traditional Korean Sundae – a sausage made by stuffing Squid with pork and rice. Don’t ask me why it’s called a Sundae – it’s one of many mysteries here in Korea.

So good food, good company, amazing fireworks every night – and lots of space. I can learn to enjoy this.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady

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Korean Fireworks are the best!


And on top of that – they have Floor Heating.

Koreans don’t heat their homes – they heat their floors! And they’ve been doing that since around 71 AD – so it’s not exactly a new technology – but it sure is an effective one. Basically the system is very simple – either hot water or hot air is circulated thru pipes under the floors of the living space – not the bathroom, and often not the kitchen’s – and the rest is high efficiency heating and a cozy warm living space. Got to Korean creativity.

On the other hand – we are currently at a resort on the beach – and fireworks are a huge thing here. I love setting off fireworks on the beach in Maine – but we’re not talking sparklers here. Oh no – we’re talking rockets that fire 30 separate shots out of one tube, and depending on the price – you either just get a series of flying sparks and a bang – or you actually get a flowering display. I’ve even seen colored bursts. It’s way cool.

But people here go crazy. In the states and Canada there are really strict rules about lighting fireworks – here it’s a free for all. Last night a family was literally standing next to the resort sending off their fireworks – which go at least 60 to 100 feet in the air – with no idea where the sparks were flying! And another family stood on their 5th floor balcony – and just held the firing sticks in the hands – pointed out from the building at least.

Every morning you can see the remains of at least 5 dozen fireworks – just from the night before.

All this said – We absolutely love it. And of course I had to go buy a box – $10 (10,000 Won) at EMart will buy you a box with 17 different fireworks – 5 of the 30+ shooting stars, plus a series of smaller ones including fountains that shoot up about 8 feet high.

I keep trying to think of a way to bring a box home – but I think the custom agents would have a field day – not in a good way either.

Signing off – The Fireworks Madame…

Thinking about Thinking – more info about Korean Buddhism


Before you read this blog – be sure you’ve read my blogs about the temple stay at Haein-sa – this blog will make a lot more sense then.

One of our guides at Haein-sa summarized Buddhism into 3 rules.
1. Do not do all evil things
2. Do do all good things
3. Clear your mind

Our Monk suggested the following mantras:
1. Think about thinking
2. Share your thinking with others – not what you know or have read – but what you think
3. Walk slowly and be silent. It is in being silent that you can hear yourself thinking.
4. Focus on this moment. On Now. Only what you do now affects your future. The past is gone, the future yet to be written. Only Now counts.

At one of the temples I visited it was suggested that to be a Buddha you must eliminate 3 things:
1. Greed
2. Anger
3. Foolishness

Heady stuff, eh? How often do we just stop and think about thinking unless forced to by some outside force. Even today – Buddha’s Birthday here in Korea, people are consumed with material things – selling their apples or onions or cakes, playing their computer games , or in my case – writing my blog. Are any of us thinking about thinking? Is even thinking about this wasting time?

It’s hard to say from my perspective – I love wandering around markets, if every one was doing mediation, what fun would that be? Maybe it’s enough to know that there are people out there – Priests, Monks, Rabbis, Imams – who ‘job’ it is to think about thinking so we don’t have to.

Signing off so she can do some thinking – the Soup Lady.

Are you a Tourist, a Visitor, or a Traveller?


At Kim’s House in Busan, South Korea, the Intrepid Traveller and I met up with Alfonso – a young (36) Doctor from Spain who asked us if we were Tourists, Visitors or Travellers? When pressed further, the discussion got very interesting.

Tourists have plans, they know where they will be every evening, they know what they will see every day. They join tour groups, eat in ‘safe’ restaurants with English Menus and familiar foods, and they stay in ‘comfortable’ surroundings. You see them at all the major attractions, but rarely at the minor ones – not enough time in their schedules. They arrive in a city in the morning, and leave the next evening, enabling them to check that one-off their list. If there’s an important festival – they plan to attend. They prefer to talk to other foreigners, or among themselves. They often either ignore, or never learn any words in the language of the country they are visiting, again – not enough time.

I think we have all been tourists – sometimes in our own home towns We structure our day to be sure to capture the important ‘stuff’, leaving no time and no room for chance.

Visitors spend more time in each place they go. Because they have more time, they can afford to take a chance on different kinds of food – street food or meals in local restaurants. They may hit all the ‘top’ attractions, but they will also visit lesser known temples, museums, shopping areas, sections of town. Having more time means seeing fewer destinations, but makes it easier to see more of the ones you do land in.

The Intrepid Traveler and I are visitors. We chat up locals – even if only a few words, we exchange favorite foods on the metros with our seat mates. we spend time in religious meeting places, letting our feet relax, and our minds wander. We accept gifts from strangers – a taste of ginseng from a lady on the subway, cookies from a vendor on the street, a cake from our seat-mate at the bus station. We smile and wave at everyone – and get rewarded by becoming the ‘mission’ for a group of Korean School kids – asked by their teacher to talk to a foreigner. We are Visitors.

Tourists take Cruises – visitors take boats.
Tourists fly – Visitors take trains or Buses.
Tourists make plans – Visitors rely on the kindness of strangers.
Tourists and Visitors stay in all kinds of lodging – it’s not the lodging that makes the difference – it’s the time, the need for planning, the openness to adventure that makes the difference.

But what is a traveller. Alfonso was basically referring to himself. He is extremely fortunate to have the ability to work, and earn a very good income, any time he feels the need. So instead of taking a long-term position, he takes short-term contracts when he runs out of money, and otherwise – he travels. Many times his destination is unknown, even to him. The wind of chance blows him as it will, allowing him the opportunity to wander the streets of a district without a plan, without a goal, just the desire to experience the life there before he moves on.

To me – being a traveller sounds wonderful on the surface, but consider the downside. Like a rolling stone, a traveller by Alfonso’s definition will never get married, have kids, have grand kids. They will never have a place to call ‘home’, a garden to worry about missing the azalea blooms, friends to see month after month.

Nope – I don’t want to be a traveller – being a visitor is good enough for me.

Signing off – Korean Visitors – the Intrepid Traveller and the Soup Lady.