Monday, February 11, 2008

Playing in the snow in Gangwondo.

The biggest family holiday in Korea is 설날, Seolnal, or Lunar New Year. In America we pithily call this holiday "Chinese New Year" on our calendars because apparently everyone who celebrates it is Chinese (can you feel my eyes rolling?). Since the holiday marks the start of the lunar calendar year (this year is the Year of the Rat--have fun moms-to-be with your rat-like children), the solar calendar day varies but usually will fall sometime around the end of January. This year it was Thursday, February 7. We got off work the day before and after, so it was a nice long five day weekend.

Originally, I had wanted to take a trip out of the country to some tropical destination and make the most out of my holiday. My plan was flawed. Mostly because everyone and their mom seems to have had the same idea. You see, Koreans are a hardworking bunch and don't really take much time off, it seems, so the ones who like to travel all have to do so on the same five days as everybody else in the country. So all the flights were booked up months before for outrageous prices. I kind of gave up on the idea of leaving Korea at this time. I still was itching to do something really cool for the long holiday.

I have (you may have noticed) had several opportunities to improve my skiing while sojourning in the mountainous peninsula of Korea, so when I heard about a special ski trip through Adventure Korea, a tour company based in Seoul that caters to English-speaking foreigners, for the Lunar New Year, I thought, That sounds fun! My Canadian friend from Daegu, Sarah, and my Korean sister, Se Jin, came as well.

The trip began early Wednesday morning (Se Jin and I crashed Tuesday night in Sarah's love motel room near Seoul Station so we could catch the tour bus) when we left the city for Phoenix Park, one of the largest ski resorts in South Korea. The holiday traffic was so bad that we arrived much later than scheduled, but it worked out ok because we got night skiing passes instead of afternoon lift passes. While I did think the skiing at High One Resort was a little bit better, Phoenix had some challenging runs, powdery snow, and respectable heights.

Se Jin and I at the top of Phoenix Park, ready to tackle the black diamonds! (Yoinked from her camera).

By the second day, I worked myself up to skiing advanced slopes. I'm gonna come back from Korea so "sporty" it scares me... The accommodations at the Youth Hostel were good (bunk beds, 8 to a room) and we met some girls from Seoul who we hung out with for most of the trip. I went to the Korean sauna (jjimjilbang) at the resort for about $5, which was awesome. We ate at a nice Korean/Chinese restaurant one night and ordered Dominoes pizza the other night (which was its own little adventure in speaking Korean because Se Jin was napping when I ordered).

On Friday, we packed up and moved out to a remote mountain hideaway in Gangwondo for the rest of the trip. The place was amazingly serene and made Se Jin ache for Yeongcheon (and... I have to admit... I also did, though for different reasons... by this point on the trip, having been surrounded only by other foreigners for days was making me edgy an withdrawn, but more on this in a bit).

Se Jin makes a new friend.

This girl was the daughter of the owners of the mountain resort. She immediately latched onto Se Jin, one of the 5-6 Korean people on the trip besides the Adventure Korea staff. She seemed lonely. She was very confused when I spoke to her in botched Korean and referred to Se Jin as my elder sister.

That evening there was a yummy barbecue. There were also a lot of foreign people drinking soju. In retrospect, this was the most disappointing part of the trip. I had a great time at the noraebang in the resort where I was even serenaded with Paul Anka's "Diana" by the Korean staff. However, in one of the most awesome settings I've travelled to in Korea with snow and beautiful things, the partying and melodrama of the evening felt like a bad night in college. The juxtaposition floored me. I wanted to be very far away from all these foreign people who ignored the culture and the nature surrounding them, who spoke only English to each other, who talked about how "All Koreans this..." and "All Koreans that..." or about how much they drank or didn't drink last weekend and who they did or didn't go home with. I just didn't fucking care anymore, you know? This is why I stopped going to Dave's ESL Cafe... the attitudes of so many foreigners here suck.

Maybe it's just my introvertedness kicking in, but from that night, all I've wanted to do is curl up with a good book. And I have. I finished two in the last two days.

And this is why, though everything about my experience with the organization Adventure Korea has been positive, it is unlikely I'll be joining them for another round anytime soon. Actually, for newbies to Korea or folks here just a short time (a few months or weeks), they are a fantastic travel company with reasonable rates and lots of experience catering to foreigners. I just think it's not for me. Sorry, but I've had better experiences in Korea--nearly all of them when travelling or visiting with Koreans.

Or at least with foreigners who care about Korea. Foreigners who choose not to live in Seoul. There is something about the city...

But I digress.

After a horrible night of being kept awake first by drunken shenanigans and then by loud soju-induced snoring from a roommate, Se Jin, Sarah, and I woke up early for a trek along a frozen river. Definitely worth getting my shoes wet and nearly freezing to death!

We had to avoid stepping on the thin ice and air pockets that broke through to the freezing water below. Some were not as lucky as I was and froze on the ride back to the resort...

Hiking on a frozen river in a valley. Stunning.

After the hike and some tasty bibimbap, we piled back on the buses and returned to Seoul. Sarah, Se Jin, and I decided to stay the night once more in the city. Sarah was going to go shopping the next day with her new friend from Seoul and Se Jin and I would hit up some of the cultural sites. I'll blog about this tomorrow, because it deserves its own post.

Celebrating our sore muscles at a fine Italian place in Hongdae. Don't we look snazzy for a night out in the big city?

All in all, some wonderful times and a lot to think about. How different my experience here could have been had I taken that job in Kangnam... I cuddled Princess this morning before heading to taekwondo and knew I'd made the right choice for myself. I am renewed in gratitude for the kindness of Gwen and Samson, of my Sa Beom Nim, of the YMCA teachers and students, and especially of the Kwons--my Korean family.

Se Jin says her father is picking a Korean name for me. I cannot wait to hear what it is.

Adventure Korea trip to Gangwondo
Note that any pictures with me in them are provided by Se Jin and her camera. The others are mine from my nampyeon.


  1. Hey. I've lived in Seoul. It's not evil.

  2. recently, i've slightly altered my views on's a bit much. it has a bit of an attitude. daegu is much better in terms of social structure (it follows it more), and it is more traditional (something you probably like). i love seoul, just not as much as before.

    i need a new camera. your (and your friend amanda's) photos are so well-taken. canon powershot, you say?

    seollal is pronounced without the 'n' because of the ending 'ㄹ' in '설' and the beginning 'ㄴ' in '날'. the 'n' sound gets negated. it sorta makes sense cuz it's very hard to say seol-nal. i of all people shouldn't be 'correcting' you, but i'm sure you don't mind.

    you can post on anything i write. nothing is inappropriate.

    see you soon.

  3. Amanda,

    Sunday was the remedy to my anti-Seoulness. Seriously, I do like a lot about the city (including you and some of the other people I know there). You'd just have to have a personality stronger and more determined than concrete not to get bowled over by it. I am too influenced by place to live in a city that would change me that much in many ways that are negative. But this is why I tend to avoid large cities in the states as well. I have to think about it more.

    Of course the city itself is far from evil. Most of the people aren't even evil.

    Yeah... I found though that Koreans understand me better when I ever so slightly pronounce the n-sound (ㄴ). It gets swallowed at the back of the throat yes, but still.

  4. The reason many of us refer to it as "The Chinese New Year" is because it is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600BC, when the Chinese Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac.

    Like the Western calendar, The Chinese Lunar Calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year being based on the cycles of the moon. Therefore, because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each.

    The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart."

  5. diana ssi,

    correction from the bf: he says that it's pronounced 'seollal' without the 'n' sound because of the 'ㄹ' in both '설' and '날,' not because of the 'ㄹ''ㄴ' combination. sorry, i should never claim to understand this language.

  6. Um....with all due respect to your boyfriend, it IS because of the combo. When an ㄴ preceeds an ㄹ it sounds like an ㄹ. It has nothing to do with the second ㄹ in 날.

    How does your boyfriend explain 전나도? There's no second ㄹ in there. Or 신라? No second ㄹ in there.

    You WERE right.

    Diana, all of the shifting sound rules are in that book I told you about, page 60.

  7. Diana...I'm Eric mom~~Hi...
    아이들 개학하고,,,다이아나 조금 덜 힘들어서 좋은데..저는 만나기가 어려워 졌네요
    ~~연휴동안,,,좋은시간 많이 가졌군요..
    혹시,,한 살 더 먹기 싫어 '떡국'안 먹은거 아니에요?~~^^
    사범님이 다이아나에게 떡국을 좀 주라고 하시는데....ㅎㅎ 다이아나 떡국요리 못할꺼라고 내가 말했어요~~맞죠?
    한국생활 늘 바쁘고 활기차게 보내는 것 같아 보기 좋구요...좋은 경험,사랑스런 일 많이 생겼으면 좋겠어요
    아고,,,영어로는 도대체 힘들던데
    한글로 이렇게 쓰니까...넘 좋아용~~
    다이아나 한국이름 기대하며,,,,은숙♥

  8. Hello Diana,

    Nice blog, its interesting to read about Gangwon-do (where I am headed from the UK in March.)

    I have just started my own blog to log my progress and I wondered if you would be interested in exchanging links on our blogs? I am trying to get more people to view it. ou can view it here:





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