9 Days in Taiwan 2/2: City Scenes & Foodie Dreams

Taiwan part 2: In addition to beautiful natural scenery and a wide variety of temples, I meandered around some of the more famous urban settings such as the “old streets”, night markets, subway stations, urban parks, and street art. Winding through every Taiwanese experience is the food, unique and delicious. I often forget to eat while out doing tourist activities, but here the food IS the tourist activity, so come hungry!


City Scenes

Taipei

Shifen Old Street 十分老街
I went here as part of a day tour which also included the Geo-park, the waterfall, and the other famous old street, Jiufen. Old streets are very heavily curated quaint “old timey” feeling places that are actually tourist traps, but they’re fun tourist traps, with good food and excellent instagram photo-ops, so very worth going to. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying inauthentic-yet-fun attractions.

Shifen is famous for it’s train-tracks and the lanterns. It’s one of the only places you can send off a flying lantern, and probably the only place you can do it while standing on working railroad tracks. It’s a very small place, you won’t spend a day there, but it’s fun to walk around and see the small shops, specialty local foods, and of course, the lanterns.

Jiufen Old Street 九份老街
My views this day were severely inhibited by a very dense fog. This is advertised as the place that inspired the art of Spirited Away, but my guide told me that Miyazaki said he’s never been here. When I followed up later, what I found was this interview he gave (sorry, it is NOT in English) where he says he bases the scenes of his movies on his own surroundings in Japan, not in Taiwan.

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Jiufen does bear a striking resemblance to the city scenes in Spirited Away, but it is purely coincidence. I actually find it very sad that the Taiwanese tourism industry is promoting this untruth to attract visitors because Jiufen is amazing in it’s own right both because it is beautiful, and because of all the amazing food. People who go only because of it’s nonexistent connection to the movie come away disappointed instead of just enjoying Jiufen for what it is.

If you’re in Taipei, it’s certainly worth the visit. We took a city bus to the top of the road and walked back down to the tour bus parking lot. It’s about 200 stairs and only one way, so you won’t see different sites walking both up and down. I have a lot more to say about Jiufen in the “Foodie Dreams” section of this post below.

Taichung

Xinshe Castle 新社莊園古堡
This is a fantasy resort designed to look like a European fairy tale. It’s a little piece of Europe for those who can’t visit. When you think about it, it’s not that different from a Western country having an Oriental garden with little Tang Dynasty style buildings and pagoda gazebos. Sometimes you forget that other people are watching us while we’re watching them. I probably wouldn’t have gone on my own, but I was invited along with an ESL teacher who was also on holiday from Korea that I met in my hostel. She used to live in Taiwan and spoke quite highly of the garden and grounds. She was most excited about the swarms of fish in the pond that practically shove one another out of the water to get at the fish pellets tourists drop for them.

Most tourists go there to take pictures. Asian cultures really enjoy posing in photos, so much that there are often lines to stand next to famous landmarks or views. People will respect the line, but if you only want a photo of the view with no people it can be a real challenge. Since it was winter, there weren’t too many people in the park and I got a lot of photos, but I still had to wait strategically to get the best views free from posers.

Houli Forest Park 后里森林園區-天上掉下了一顆種子
After Xinshe we went to a flower garden which was less flowers and more interesting visuals including a really immersive video of pollen and a giant globe light show. I’m still not sure we went to the “right” place, because while everything on the internet says “go to the Houli Flower Farm”, what they actually mean (and show pictures of) is the Zhongshe Flower Market, which is in Houli, and probably very pretty, but reported as very small.

I on the other hand ended up in the Houli Forest Park which doesn’t turn up if you search in English (you can copy paste my Chinese above, or use the link). We had to park a ways out and there were shuttle buses into the park. If you take transit to the Houli Station, it’s less than 1km to walk from the station to the park.

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The Houli Forest Park is gigantic with displays of flowers and garden styles from around the world. It’s got a bit of United Nations through plants thing going on. There weren’t too many flowers because it was winter, but the garden displays were still fun and interesting. After dark, the large sphere puts on a lights and music show that is visually hypnotizing.

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Kaohsiung

Dome of Light 光之穹頂 at Formosa Boulevard Station 美麗島站
This is the world’s largest public art installation made from individual pieces of colored glass. It also just happens to be in a subway station in Kaohsiung. There’s no reason not to see this stunning work of art if you are in the city.

Pier2 Art Center 駁二藝術特區
I heard about the amazing street art of Pier2 and set aside a full afternoon to visit. I was pretty disappointed at first because, although I found what was clearly a very artsy area, it was much more artist work space than art on display. I enjoyed everything I saw, but I couldn’t understand where all the photos on Google Image search of Pier2 were hiding.

Only after a bubble tea break did I finally figure it out! All the signs point you to the right (if you’re facing the water). However, if you go left, away from all the “pier 2” signs and across the street and around the corner– there are all the warehouses filled with cute artist shops and restaurants!! Along with more murals, crazy street art, and giant art installations. The local street signs and maps of the area were very confusing, but it was worth it in the end.

Food

Before going to Taiwan, I asked people what they recommended I eat. I scoured the internet for recommendations of “must try” foods, and while I did find things that people ate, there wasn’t any kind of definitive “Taiwanese Food” list. Now that I’ve been, I realize that this is because you can go anywhere and eat anything and it’s going to be awesome. There are just too many wonderful variations and local/seasonal limited editions that it’s impossible to compose a full list, but if you are looking for some definitive items: bubble tea (boba), pineapple cake, beef noodles, pork rice, and dumplings. Here’s what I ate, and I can recommend all of it, but if you can’t find it, don’t worry because you can’t miss out on delicious dishes as long as you eat at any non-franchise place.

Taipei

Theif Chen Tea House 大盜陳茶飲 (the name is only in Chinese on Google Maps)
On the day I got my SIM card, I was just wandering around the neighborhood, and happened to spot a sign in the window for smoked oolong rose milk tea. Milk tea and boba (bubble tea) are absolute must haves in Taiwan, and there are lots of chances. The flavors are the fun part. This was made with smoked oolong and rose syrup and it was entirely dreamy! Smoky and dark, floral and sweet, creamy and cold.

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Lin’s Wagashi Confectionery 滋養製菓
Just down the street I spotted a confectionery shop with  fresh strawberry red bean rice cake. A traditional mochi style rice cake with sweet red bean paste, a combination I already love, with the added bonus of a fresh ripe strawberry. Heaven!

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Food Stalls near Taipei Station: not on a map
There are things like semi-permanent food trucks, but not all the way to “night market” status. Walk up, buy some food, walk away, zero seating. My Google Maps history says I got out at exit M5 and headed toward my hostel (We Come Hostel), so somewhere in that area there are amazing dumplings. I got pork and cabbage, good alone but awesome with the spicy sauce ($1.25), and the winner of savory food that day was the pork bun. I thought it was a little plain at first because my first bite was bun and juices, but the meat filling was amazing, tender, and a little lemongrass flavored (.50¢).

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Literally any convenience store:
It’s not only local food stands and tea houses that have food adventures. I got a ginger Twix at the corner store. It’s basically a Twix with a gingersnap core. I do enjoy trying local variants of global brands. If you pop in for a bottle of water, take a look around and see if there’s something unique on the shelves.

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Shifen Old Street
While reading about the Shifen Old Street, I discovered a recommended local delicacy of chicken wings stuffed with fried rice. There is one small shop which takes the bones out of chicken wings and stuffs them with fried rice. It’s absurd and delicious. Walk all the way up (it’s not far) and look for this cart.

Jiufen Old Street
This is a foodie bonanza. Other than the night markets, this was the greatest concentration of interesting foods in one place. I didn’t even have time to sample most of it because I couldn’t eat enough! Of what I did get to try, the winners were pineapple cake and peanut ice cream. Pineapple cake is another super famous Taiwan treat. I did not understand what the big deal about the pineapple cake was until I ate some. I had an idea of western style pineapple upside-down cake, which is a bit like a fruitcake and not a thing I’m very into. The Taiwanese pineapple cake is nothing like this. It looks like a very plain beige square, but holds a taste explosion. The middle is a perfect pineapple compote and the outside is a crumbly rich butter cookie.

The peanut ice cream (above) is actually pineapple and taro ice cream with shavings from a huge block of candied peanut wrapped burrito style. It’s a wonderful mix of sweet, salty, fruit, and creamy. I also tried an award winning nougat cookie. The coffee flavor was rich and well balanced with sweet, salty, and bitter. I understand why it won awards. The most interesting was a kind of thin pork jerky (paper thin) spiced with cinnamon and wrapped in seaweed. I would have never thought, but nori and cinnamon go well together. I mostly ate samples because a lot of the goodies were only sold in large gift boxes, but I’m glad I got to try so many things! Taiwan food is epic!

At the Underground Mall at Taipei Station
Somehow I was still hungry after all that food in Jiufen, so I got some beef noodles and onion pancake for dinner when we got back. The beef noodles are another famous item, and you can find them just about anywhere. It’s nothing different from what you’d expect, beef broth, noodles, beef and spices… it’s just… yummy.

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Taichung

Yizhong Street Night Market 一中街夜市
I chose a less famous and more local night market at the advice of my hostel, and ate so much food! I had fried squid for dinner and candied fruit for dessert. This type of candied fruit was something I first had in China and love love love. I was only sad they didn’t have the tart haw fruit version, but strawberries are a good substitute. While exploring, I kept seeing signs for black sugar bubble tea, turns out “black sugar” is basically molasses. The tapioca pearls are cooked in the molasses mixture and then mixed into the milk tea. SO GOOD!

Across the street from No. 65, Zhongxing Street, Dongshi District Taichung City
While I was hanging out with another ESL teacher and her local buddy, he drove us to a small hole in the wall restaurant. Google Maps doesn’t have the place I went, but in street view, I can see it’s across from No.65. Look for the teal awning, not the red sign. It’s a Kejia restaurant (Kejia are a local minority people) and I ate so many delicious vegetables.

The Uptowner  雙城美式餐廳
The ESL teacher I met on my trip invited me out to brunch at a local American influenced place. I got these beautiful Florentine Bennys, perfectly poached eggs, and delicious sauces with spinach and tomato added. I know it seems strange to go to Taiwan to eat American, but remember I don’t get this kind of food in Korea.

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Miyahara Ice Cream  宮原眼科
While I was looking online for famous food spots in Taichung, the Miyahara Ice Cream factory came up. It’s a top of the line gourmet ice cream and chocolate place that is in the old remains of a Japanese ophthalmologist’s building. Today it has a magical atmosphere that reminds visitors of Hogwarts. The building alone is worth a visit, but since you’re there, be sure to eat the ice cream too. They do sell single cones and cups out front (no seating), but if you come in, you can get one of the amazing 4 scoop sundaes as I decided to do in place of a normal dinner that night.

The 4 flavors I chose were 44% chocolate (light and creamy), 80% chocolate (dark and smokey), black tea and green tea. When they bring your ice cream to the table, they wheel out a toppings cart and you can choose 5. I went for cheesecake, pineapple cake, fruit candy, butterfly and bear cookies. While I was eating, the staff brought by a bonus raspberry flavor fluffy cheesecake dream to taste, so I ended up with 6 toppings. The ice cream was a bit gelato-like, very smooth, and dense, creamy not icy. The flavors were strong but balanced, and there was so much variety in my sundae I never got tired of combining different ice creams and toppings together. Taiwan really is foodie heaven!

Kaohsiung

Liuhe Night Market/Liuhe Tourist Night Market 六合夜市/六合觀光夜市
The night markets are the best place to get dinner if you’re willing to forgo seating (and it’s worth it to eat standing) At this one, I got baked scallop for an appetizer, Aboriginal style wild boar ribs for the main dish, and Chinese style candied sweet potato for dessert (also one of my favorites from China). It was so much fun to see all the foods on offer and to talk with the vendors. There’s less tourism in Kaohsiung, so they were more excited to have a visitor try their food.

Bonnie Sugar 駁二店 (at Pier2)
Another great example of serendipity. I was just feeling a little hungry after hours of walking and taking photos, so I popped into a cafe in the art area. I was rewarded with an amazing fresh fruit tart that the Parisians would be proud of and a carafe of fancy tea with fruit ice cubes. Too posh!

Near the FlyInn Hostel
Kaohsiung is much more industrial than either of the other two cities and there was very little to eat near my hostel, so I ended up with some strange food choices including whatever this chicken thing is and a random place where the old lady called her son out to help me because my dictionary won’t work on the menu. I really don’t know what it was… mystery dinner!

Just goes to show that no matter where you choose – the 5 star Yelp reviewed restaurant or the soup shop down the alley, you’re going to find Taiwan a gastronomic delight.


If you want to end your view of my Taiwan travel here on a high note, I certainly don’t blame you, but I continue to post stories of my physical/mental/emotional limitations during my travels because I want people with invisible limitations or chronic illnesses to know they aren’t alone and that your limits don’t have to stop you from seeing the world. 

Invisible Illness & Love of Travel

In Taipei, a day of temples and a full day tour wiped me out in the warm weather. Far from being “warm winter”, the unusually hot weather and high humidity (25c + 85% humidity is unseasonable) combined with hours of walking and hiking. By the third day I had to cancel additional sightseeing because the body said no. 

In Taichung, I met some fun people to spend the day with, another teacher who in lives Korea and her local friend. The local friend had a car and offered to drive us around and we had a lot of fun taking photos and being silly tourists together, but at some point I ran out of spoons and had no idea how to explain or adapt with these friendly strangers.

Trying to explain a few of my limitations and the accommodations I’ve made for myself (not expecting anyone to do for me, just the way I’ve come to manage my issues) I got a lot of push back from the girl who invited me along. Don’t get me wrong, it was 90% a good day but it was so hard to get her to understand why I was in pain and tired at the end and why I wasn’t going to be up for more the following day. She’s 13 years younger than me and basically said everything in the “you don’t look sick” playbook. I love meeting people and making new friends, I know I had more fun and more experiences with them than I would have alone, I just hate that I have to push myself beyond my limits just to be the slowest one in a group.

In Kaohsiung, going to Maolin and Foguang Shan on the same day was a lot. I got on the road at 7am, hiked all over a mountain for several hours, navigated the bus system on my own when Google turned out be a liar, hiked more at a mountain monastery (so. many. stairs.) and navigated back to town without relying on Google which is frankly crap about Taiwan public transit info. It was a 13+ hr day, and about 5-6 hrs spent hiking the hills and stairs.

By the end, I was tired, and my feet hurt like hell, but my legs were fine. It’s not a matter of being weak or out of shape because the parts of my body complaining (feet, ankles, lower back, hands) aren’t the muscles used to climb. I slept hard and long, and while not fully recovered the next day, I mentally/emotionally felt better than I did after the tour group day in Taipei or the day in Taichung with the other teacher and her friend.

It seems I just handle the challenges better when I’m on my own time table rather than trying to keep up with others. Being on my own still isn’t 100% guaranteed to be “at my pace” because sometimes I still have to hurry to catch a bus or something, but it definitely has less negative impact on my well-being. It makes me a little sad to think I’m just going to have to turn down invitations hang out with fellow travelers on the move, I love meeting people, and I get lonely quite often, but knowing I can achieve my travel goals if I’m patient with myself is something that can help me out while I’m on the road. 


That was my reflection at the end of the Taiwan trip a year ago. I still think it’s very much true. Even just walking to dinner with friends from the office, I struggle to keep up. In Ireland, I could see that some terrains I pulled ahead and in others my travel companion did. I had one good “hiking” day in Korea last fall, but mostly because we all agreed to go super slow and stop often for photos and the weather was awesome. Here in Spain as I write this I can tell that some days I have more or less brain fog, or that my ankles or knees are more or less able to handle the stairs. It’s not fun, but I can handle my body and brain most of the time, even the bad times. The hardest part is the isolation I feel when I get left behind because other people can’t. I ask if you have a friend or relative who is fine one day, but can’t do anything the next, don’t make a fuss. If they are a little bit slow, just slow down, too, but don’t say anything about it. It means more than you can imagine to be included without being made to feel like a burden.

The Long Weekend: Part 3 – TULIPS! At Last.

In this final installment of The Long Weekend, having survived the farmland walk and been rescued by a kind movie producer, our heroes finally meet their happy ending. See the stunning sunlit flowers and marvel at the moonlit fairyland display! Find out what happens when they arrive at the pension they actually reserved, and see what happens when they try to use conventional transportation! And please, don’t forget to visit the Facebook page where you can see all the photos that wouldn’t fit here. 🙂


Tiptoe Through the Tulips

Finally, we arrived at our goal, a mere four and a half hours after we’d left our hotel that morning! The ticket gate had the prices listed, including a foreigner’s discount. When I asked for two tickets (in Korean) she actually asked me if we were foreigners (also in Korean). I managed to keep in my giggles, seeing as how we’re about as Caucasian as it gets and replied that we were. It was fairly obvious from the parking lot and the tents surrounding the park that this festival was a big deal, and we began to get excited again as we passed through the gate. Our ride-givers had evaporated, but I had seen them buy tickets too, so I was glad that they would at least enjoy the festival after having driven us out to it.

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Xi’an Botanical Gardens 2012

The last tulip festival I went to was at the botanical gardens in Xi’an, China in 2012 and it was really lovely. I have a small vault of pictures of the tulips, and of the other natural beauty of that park which upon review has made me question my recent camera choices. Phones are really convenient, but not as pretty for taking picures. Sigh. Anyway, under normal circumstances, I expect everything in China to be bigger (it’s like the Texas of Asia). The Jinhae cherry blossom festival had been amazing, but they didn’t have a cherry park that even came close to the one in Beijing. The splendor came from the fact that the whole town was basically converted for the festival. The tulip festival in China had been in a park that had taken us hours to walk around, but the one in Taean was bigger.

20160507_133020I don’t know if it was actually bigger in square meters, but it was definitely a better show. Not only were the paths lined with labeled examples of countless species of tulip, there were also beautiful scenes created by planting the flowers by color to paint a picture on the ground that we could view from a central platform on a hill. Not quite as intense as the Miracle Garden in Dubai, but a close second. There were structures all around us that were composed of wire, and I began to notice that they were covered in strings of lights that were not yet turned on. The website where I had found the festival said that it ran from 9am to 6pm, but I could not fathom why there would be so many strings of lights if they didn’t intend to have a night show.

20160507_133333Our original plan had been to depart before sunset (well, I thought it closed at 6pm after all) making any challenges to get to our (second) hotel slightly easier, but remembering the awesome difference at Jinhae from day to night, I began to lay the groundwork for our staying after dark. Throwing caution to the wind, I carelessly suggested that we didn’t need to worry about transportation yet, and that we would never forgive ourselves if we came all this way and then missed the night light show.

As we walked around the park, we got to see a wide range of flowers, mostly tulips but also plenty of foxgloves, pansies and some kind of very shiny nearly neon daisy-looking flower I’d never seen before. We saw the form of the giant Trojan horse, as well as many more displays of animals, giant plaster mushrooms, hearts, wings, fantasy islands in the lake, a tunnel of love prayers, and a giant Mona Lisa picked out in tulips. I can’t even possibly fit all the amazing pictures here, so please go see the rest on the Facebook album. The whole time the air was a mixture of the heady perfume of the flowers and the mouth-watering scents coming from the cooking tents.

20160507_143323We found an international food tent where we got some doner kebab (which is apparently the Turkish word for Shawarma). They had booths from several different countries, although the food was not always what I consider representative. Italy had some kind of deep fried “pizza” wrap. England was corn dogs and fried potatoes. Argentina had some serious meat kebabs (the kind on skewers), Japan had takoyaki, and I think America had coconuts. We found some ladies making fresh squeezed sugar cane juice at the Vietnam stand and in a fit of childhood nostalgia I got us a couple of these breezy decadent treats.

20160507_144004There were also several areas selling random stuff, not necessarily souvenirs, but just random stuff. The native Americans from Jinhae (or more likely a totally different group of native Americans, since they didn’t really look the same) were there performing. We stopped and listened for a while before I realized they were singing in Spanish, which just about made my head explode from culture clash. They were selling dream catchers, CDs of their performance, and other knickknacks that were a mishmash of native American jewelry styles. There were also some booths from Peru, India, and maybe Senegal with their vendors, clearly as foreign as we were, selling goods that must have seemed exotic to the local Koreans that made up 99.9% of the festival goers.

As we continued around, I found some shockingly orange tulips. The kind that make you go, “wow, does that color exist in nature?” and as we got closer, the answer turned out to be “no”. They were plastic. I couldn’t, at first, understand why there would be plastic tulips at a tulip festival until I began to notice the thin wires on the ground between them. Looking inside one, my suspicions were confirmed, there was a small light bulb in each one. They were LED tulips. From this point on, I began to notice more and more places that were hiding lights or LED displays until it became apparent that the whole park was set to light up after dark.

20160507_160024On one side of the festival, we came across a small menagerie with goats the kids could feed, an aviary with peacocks, geese and chickens, and a few adorable bunnies that reminded me of my own China-born furball of yore. Next to the animals, there was a tent filled with orchids and antiques. I’m not really sure why these two things went together, but we admired the antique armoirs and old-timey farming equipment alongside the beautiful hothouse orchids, including a room where the orchid pots had been artfully arranged to create a heart shape on one wall.

We’d arrived at the festival around 1:30 in the afternoon, and although we were taking our time, pausing for lots of photos, exploring every nook and cranny and taking regular snack breaks, we just barely felt that our daytime exploration was complete in time to have a short rest before sunset.

Walking in Fairyland

Some few of you have had the good fortune to visit Disneyland at night and you have an inkling of what we were about to witness. For the rest of you, I can only wish that one day you will have the magical experience that is walking through a giant beautiful park that is entirely lit up in colors.20160507_193328.jpg

We’d started walking at about 9-9:30 that morning and it was after 6pm when we decided to sit down for more than a quick break and wait for the sunset. It turned out to get chilly rather quickly when we weren’t moving or having the sun shine down on us, and soon we were grateful for the little cafes that popped up around the perimeter. When the first of the lights came on, we fetched ourselves some hot coffee and tried to plot the best path to see everything. Having explored the park by day, we had a pretty good idea where things were and how to get from one end to the other so our night walk didn’t take nearly as long, but it still took several hours.

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When we started, the sky was still shades of blue, pink, orange and purple with high stratus clouds reflecting the sunset back at us. The dusky hues made the balance between the flowers bright colors and the lights themselves striking in a way that full dark could not achieve. We oohed and aaahed at the lighted structures set up all around us. We paused every few steps as we walked around the lake, admiring the LED islands and the glowing reflections in the still water.

We walked into a circus tent of light strings and felt as though we’d stepped inside a meteor shower. We watched the glowing swans and flamingos nuzzle their luminescent mates in the lake. We skipped under trees wrapped in lights like giant’s wands branching to the sky. The tunnel that during the day was filled with paper love prayers became a river of lights by night, enchanting us for far longer than the daylight beauty had. A train that had been nothing but a wire frame by day became a full engine with hearts forming a tunnel behind it by night. The boats glowed, the windmill shimmered in rainbows, and the Trojan horse lit the sky like a beacon.

The bridges we had crossed by day were ribbons of light over the water. One was a miniature suspension bridge that the Korean fathers took great delight in shaking and swaying to entertain or pretend frighten their wives and children. The wings we’d seen earlier were now glowing as though they were the very wings of angels and we dutifully took our turn to pose with them. A vast wire structure shaped like a folded paper crane shifted through a whole color spectrum. There was a lighted carriage like the golden pumpkin from Cinderella, pulled by a giant white bird in flight.

Every fresh step brought some new delight and I could not help but feel like I’d somehow slipped through a door in space and time to some Neverland or Fairy Country. The lighted flowers, the shapes of wire and light, the towering structures and the islands of light reflecting in the water, birds of light flying, indistinguishable from their reflections, the tulip Mona Lisa picked out in lights along the ground, and the viewing hill itself glowing as if lit from within from the LED tulips lining it’s sides.

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Just as we managed to make our way to the last corner of the park and began to head back to the entrance, we spotted some strange lights off to one side, visible only partially through the trees. Neither one of us could remember having seen anything on that side of the park during the day. We felt sure that we’d explored every part possible, and yet in front of us, near the peacock’s cage, was a giant glowing arrow, pointing our way off to the right and into the woods.

As we followed the path, we found ourselves walking through a tunnel of lights that began to make me feel like I’d entered a psychedelic Alice style Wonderland. Islands and palm trees made of light stood out against the dark forest, pillars of light that swayed as we moved among them made me feel as though we were floating, or at very least, riding along the tracks of a semi-spooky ride in Fantasy Land. At the end of the path we encountered what had to be, at one point in the year, a giant Christmas tree, but it was not lit. Instead, we contended with a small menagerie of glowing and somewhat gruesome animals including a star turtle, some kind of death bunny (or maybe kangaroo), and a couple of who knows what’s trying to be a part of Kiss. Much like the daytime flowers, there are too many beautiful pictures to include here, so hop on over to Facebook to see them all.

The Only Taxi Ride

The final part of the mind-blowing spectacle having revealed itself to us, we noticed it was nearly 10pm and that most of the food stands had closed up and many of the other patrons had left. The parking lot had emptied quickly, and there was no line of taxis or buses waiting to take people away. This reliance on cars was another strange part of rural Korea. I’d become so impressed with and dependent on the excellent public transportation in Busan, it really hadn’t occurred to me that we could be stranded in Taean, especially when the Korean tourism branch of the government gave bus instructions on it’s website.

But, I was simply in too overwhelmingly good a mood for this to worry me any longer. I approached the security guard at the gate and asked her where we could find a taxi. She informed us that taxis had to be called, and with a little more help from Google, I managed to ask if she could call one for us and she agreed. It took about 3 minutes for a taxi to arrive, which was astounding considering how long it had taken us to find the place that afternoon. The driver dutifully plugged the address of our pension into his map app and drove us there. About halfway through the drive, I wondered why we weren’t having another awkward not quite bilingual conversation before I realized it was because we were paying him to drive. Blissful ease. It cost about 15$ and was worth every cent.

Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people, and the Koreans we’d met were all exceptionally kind folks. Plus, we’d been chauffeured around free of charge since we’d arrived the previous afternoon, but it’s HARD to have a conversation when neither of you really speaks the other’s language, and at this point in the night it was a relief just to sit back and relax.

Mong and Mong

When we arrived at the pension that I’d booked (for the first time), we realized it too was pretty far off the beaten track. I couldn’t see anything that looked like an office or front desk area, so I called the pension lady on the phone number provided in my booking confirmation email. I used my very limited Korean to ask if this was the correct pension, and to say we were the foreigners and that we were here. They weren’t artful sentences, but they got the point across and she came out to greet us quite quickly.

She expressed massive surprise that I could speak Korean (because we’d been using a translator the day before, aka Mr. Awesome) and I tried to reasure her that we had now exhausted all my Korean. She showed us to our room, which was totally adorable and had a lovely comfy bed. It looked quite like the pictures from the website, which was a relief, and there was even a cute little balcony that was all set up to barbecue on.

Another thing I’ve learned about pensions this weekend, aside from their apartment-like qualities, they are not particularly aimed at car-less people. The nearest place to buy food was not a comfortable walking distance, and it was clear that people here were having great family meals and not bringing in restaurant food. Had we known, we could have done some shopping in Daejeon, or even in Taean before we left the main bus terminal, but I’m so used to holiday resort areas being flooded with restaurants it just didn’t occur to me that we were basically renting a fancy cabin in the woods.

However, pension lady and Mr. Awesome had talked at some length about meals being provided if we needed them, which we did. And the duplex host (or more accurately his wife) had fed us the day before. So I asked rather timidly about the possibility of dinner as she led us out to her car where she’d been storing our luggage during the day. I felt bad because it was really a great deal later than we’d meant to be coming back, but the food stands at the park had all closed and I’d been unable to find any restaurants online that I could direct the taxi driver to. And we’d been walking all day on some ramen, kebabs, and coffee. We were hungry.

She seemed a little taken aback, but recovered quickly and asked if we’d like to come to her home where they were making samgyeopsal. Her small apartment was filled with her friends and two tiny dogs. They’d obviously been enjoying a relaxing dinner and some drinks just before we’d arrived, but they cleaned up the space and set the grill back out to cook a few more pork strips for us. The kimchi she served was cut on the spot from a whole head of cabbage stored in a glass container. I wondered if it was homemade and not store-bought. She filled up a bowl and I thought, there’s no way the two of us can eat that much kimchi, but we did. I tried really hard to use the lettuce wraps to eat the pork, but the lettuce was so huge and crunchy, I couldn’t take bites without it spilling out one end and I finally gave up and just ate the pork with rice and kimchi.

Again, there was no end to the surprise that we liked Korean food, and I’m optimistic that my messy lettuce wrap eating was just put down to ‘cute foreigner trying her best’. I didn’t even realize how hungry I was until we started eating, but a full bowl of rice, half a bowl of kimchi and a couple rashers of samgyeopsal later, I finally felt like a human again. Somewhere in the middle of eating, our hosts seemed to notice that we were a wee bit ravenous, and asked if we had not eaten lunch. This was mostly accurate, we’d only had a snack by Korean standards and they seemed more comfortable once they realized why we were so famished.

Part of the reason that we’d had so many linguistically challenging conversations along with our meals and rides is the deep cultural idea of company in Korea. In America (and I suspect in Canada too) if we were staying in a B&B or something like a pension, our hosts might feed us, but would not be likely to eat with us. In Korea, eating is very communal. At school, I can’t ever eat as fast as my co-teachers and I have to reassure them it’s ok to leave before me if they have stuff to do. If I forget to do this, they will just stay, making conversation with me so I don’t feel like I have to eat alone. So our hosts at the duplex and the Mong and Mong pension wanted to stay with us while we ate and tried their best to stimulate conversation.

I think in general, a lot of people I met were slightly disappointed my Korean wasn’t better until we got to the part of the conversation where they asked me how long I’d been in Korea and I said 2 months. I mean, I feel guilty I don’t do a lesson or review every day, but this trip sure made me aware of how much Korean I’ve really picked up in such a short time while not being enrolled in a class of any sort. And of course, how much more I really need to learn, like all the question words, a few more direction words, and the second set of numbers (cause you know, a language needs two ways to count).

After dinner, we discovered our sunburns in the bathroom mirror and added hats and sunscreen to the list of things to bring on our next rural Korean adventure. The bed was quite comfortable with an excess of pillows (a hallmark of luxury in my book), and our array of ersatz neighbors kept the noise down until around 9am, which is really late in my experiences here. As we were getting dressed and packed, our hostess came around with some ramen and kimchi which she cooked for us in the next room’s kitchen then served us and sat down to eat with us again. During our fumbled breakfast conversation, she indicated that we should return and spend some time with her during the summer vacations, so at least I know she didn’t totally resent our presence?

Home Again, Home Again Jigitty Jog

After breakfast, we packed up our things and tidied up after ourselves then headed outside where our hostess was prepared to drive us back to the bus station. I’m still of two minds on how to leave a review of this place. Double booking our room was a major customer service no-no, but she picked us up from the bus station, would have driven us back from the tulip festival if I’d called her, fed us dinner and breakfast, and drove us back to the bus station. All of which are well above and beyond the customer service I would have expected from a place I booked online. Calling us a taxi or helping us order some takeout would be about what I would have been satisfied with if I found myself too far from the bus stops or restaurants to deal with it on my own. So, yeah, she messed up pretty bad, but then did a tidy bundle of cool things too. I guess I’d recommend the place, with the caveat that you get someone who speaks Korean to call as soon as you make the reservation and double confirm it.

Once we reached the bus terminal, it was a straight shot home reversing our path to get there. We took the very lux bus back to Daejeon where we spent about 15 agonizing minutes outside trying to figure out how someplace so close could be so insanely hot and humid while the coast was still cool and pleasant light jacket weather. I am never moving inland. We’re going to Seoul in June and I’m already trying to figure out how to pack the lightest weight clothes I own for that nonsense. Then we stopped for lunch in the train station and found out everyone was out of ice cream. Seriously, that place was super hot. It’s early May and I can’t even begin to imagine what the inland cities will be like in the real summer. The final leg of our journey was a superfast train that brought us right back to cool coastal Busan and the familiar sights of my newest nest. There’s nothing quite like a crazy rural lost and found adventure to make your new digs feel like home sweet home.


I’m starting to feel like Korea is one giant festival season. I know it’s spring, and basically every new growth plant flower festival is happening, but the summer is full of summer flower festivals and fireworks festivals and beach festivals, and the fall has floating lantern festivals and harvest festivals, and I’m sure the winter has things I’ve yet to learn about too. Even on the odd weekend I didn’t expect to go to a festival, they’ve just turned up where I happened to be.

I’d be more apologetic that it takes me so long between posts, or that they are floods of events when they do happen, but the reality is there’s just too much! Talk about first world problems, oh no! Too many festivals! But seriously, any culture that takes their fun this, well, seriously has got to be doing something right. So here’s to you Korea, 건배! May we never grow weary of your charms.

Holi Hai & Beyond: April Adventures in Busan

Korea certainly keeps me busier than just about any other place. Before now, I intended to have one good adventure a month and be able to spend some time doing more local adjusting as well as reflecting on my most recent adventure and planning my next one. Since recovering from my arrival flu, I feel like I’ve been in a non-stop adventure here, catching only a day here or there for the more mundane purposes of laundry and catching up on my shows. Since the Jinhae festival, I’ve attended the Holi Hai Festival, visited the long cherry tree lined walk in Busan, tried Korean style raw fish for the first time, gone on a super windy sailing adventure, witnessed a (rare) Korean bar fight, tried out the norebang, visited the Busan Canola Flower Festival, and done some mini-car racing. I keep meaning to sit down and write, but most of the time, everything else seems more fun. Finally, here I am on a lazy Saturday afternoon hiding from the late spring chill and rain, in a desperate bid to record some of the adventures of my last two weeks.


Holi Hai (April 3)

holi-flyer2016-logoIn India, the Hindu people ring in the spring with a festival known as Holi. It is often called the festival of love or the festival of colors. The main activity is throwing colored powders at each other until we all look like crazy rainbows. There is a huge mythological background involving gods/goddesses and heroes, and it seems like various regions within India each attribute some slightly different details to the history, but you can Wikipedia it if you want to know more about that part as I did for myself before attending. I’m here to talk about how a bunch of foreigners from more than 20 different countries (Indian and other) celebrated Holi here in Busan.

20160403_105807A group of Indian expats organized the event to take place at Haeundae beach. They set up a stage, a DJ, and tents where we could collect our colors, store our bags, and enjoy some delicious samosas. They started setting up at 9am, but since it takes me about an hour to get to the beach from my place, I opted to join a little later on. It was supposed to rain that day, so we had a lot of clouds in the sky, but when I showed up the beach was still dry. To abide by the Indian tradition, we were all asked to wear white to the event, and most people complied. In India, everyone would be wearing all white versions of their traditional styles, but we had to make do with what we could find here. Some girls were wearing white sundresses, and lots of guys (ok and me too) were wearing cheap white men’s undershirts.

We all lined up to sign in and receive our color packets, and several folks found some liquid paint that we used to paint pretty and colorful designs on each other’s faces. This turned out to be almost entirely pointless once the festivities started in earnest. I ran into a bunch of people from Orientation, including some of the girls that had been sent to Daegu instead of Busan. It was really nice to see everyone and to realize that even if I go to a big foreigner’s event on my own, I won’t stay that way for long.

The organizers moved up the first color throw a little just to make sure that we got one in before the rain hit, so we all gathered up in the sand near the stage and proceeded to dance like crazy people to the Bollywood beats until the countdown began. 20160403_121555_2When the announcer reached one, everyone threw handfuls of powder up in the air, creating a sandalwood scented rainbow haze above us that settled down on our hair and shoulders. After a few minutes of ecstatic throwing of colors, people got down to the more serious dancing. It seemed another major part of the ritual involved hand painting people with paint or powder as you wish them a Happy Holi, so my face and shoulders quickly started to acquire more colors. All of the revelers were very respectful of body space, so the most popular targets for strangers were cheeks and arms/shoulders to avoid any uncomfortableness.

20160403_131021I went through two such countdowns while staying in the core of the dancing area, I didn’t have my powder yet for the first one, so I made sure to be in the middle for the second one. Then I started wandering around the rest beach area to see what else people were up to. Some folks had built a sandcastle and decorated it with colors. Some had decided to take a dip in the ocean, causing their colors to take on the gentle fading effect of watercolor paintings. Lots of people had broken out bottles of beer and soju, and everyone was getting more and more colorful, happy, friendly and generally frenetic.

Religious rituals like this (and secular ones too, as it turns out) where people bond over a common experience, dance, drink or imbibe other substances (not at this one, but often throughout history and around the world), and generally lose themselves in the crowd and the experience have been a really major part of human culture for basically as long as we can tell. More recently, scientists have taken a look at some of the effects of crowds on our emotional state to explain what happens at political rallies and sporting events. The point is, participating in something like this isn’t just about what one person feels, it becomes more than that, and you feel like a part of something bigger and more amazing than just yourself or a collection of individuals. I’m not saying it’s a “religious experience” per se, but I think that the feelings celebrations like this engender help to bind a community together and could easily be a part of what keeps followers devotional.

20160403_125153I hadn’t actually had anything to drink at all at this point, but the atmosphere of excitement and the music combined to make me feel like I was floating through some kind of happy dream land. I met tons of new people, in addition to running into familiar faces, and I got more and more colorful as the afternoon wore on. Some folks had found the face paint and started making paint splatters and dribbles on one another, while others coated their hands and left hand-prints on their fellow revelers. Even as those hand-prints started drifting away from just shoulders and upper backs, I noticed that consent was always obtained. Lots of people of both genders turned up with hand-prints on butts and breasts, but every time I saw someone touch or get touched it was with respect, consent and Happy Holi. This was even more amazing, since such a party with free flowing booze and an excuse to touch people would have likely ended up with a good deal more unwanted groping in other places. And who knows, maybe someone here did experience that, but I tend to be aware of such things, so at least I can say the overall mood was of respect and not abuse.

20160403_140043People started conga lines, crowd surfing, or just lifting and tossing each other up in the air. I headed up to the grass line above and behind the stage to try to get some pictures of the crowd and hopefully to see the countdown color throw from outside, now that I’d seen and participated from in on the inside. While up on the sidewalk area, I noticed a fair number of locals out for a Sunday stroll who gave us a wide range of interesting looks from curious to downright horrified. Some stopped to take pictures, and I was even asked to pose a couple times. Plus, although we were several hours into the event, it had not rained even a little bit.

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Pictures taken, I headed back down into the crowd to dance again. I got handed some more powder by a late-coming young reveler who’d gotten too many extra bags and I taught him how to toss and hand apply the colors before we parted ways. I ran into more friends. I took photos of and for others. It seemed that photobombing had become a favorite hobby of the festival. Any time anyone took a candid photo, this was barely noticed, but if a group was seen to be posing, they instantly attracted a huge number of extras who did everything from pop up in the back row to throw themselves into the air in front of the group. Again, this behavior was taken in good fun by everyone I saw, and even when a group wanted a photo-bomber free photo, they simply asked the bombers to wait their turn, and they did.

20160403_132116After the last countdown, we gradually started winding down. The music didn’t stop, but the announcers asked everyone to help clean up the beach, which had become littered with empty plastic bottles and empty color packets. At the risk of sounding like a jaded broken record, pretty much everyone still there at this time did as they were asked and began gathering the rubbish in to large piles where it could be picked up by staff more easily. I’m not sure when I stopped believing that masses of young partying people could be polite and respectful, but I am really glad to have been so pleasantly proven wrong. The event coordinators must have had a ton of food leftover, or they just brought extra because they were also giving away free delicious Indian food at the end of the event as well.

13016718_10101394817956241_1276198467_oSome of my new friends and I lingered around the beach for a while, and it eventually did begin to rain and get colder, so we headed back inland to the Wolfhound, an infamous Irish Pub where we proceeded to drink some very large pitchers of ale and dance to some of the best top 40 hits from the 80s and 90s. I headed home only slightly after dark, and despite my best efforts (not drinking any booze while on the beach and going home at a reasonable hour) I still woke up the next day with a magnificent hangover. Inhaling lots of powdered colors, forgetting to drink enough water, and not eating enough did me in and I got a chance to try my very first Korean hangover cure (sold at convenience stores everywhere). And, although I washed everything else, my Holi shirt now hangs on my wall as souvenir art of the wonderful day.

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Cherry Blossom Road & Hoe Restaurant (April 6)

Just as I was starting to recover from my weekend revelries, the school announced that the teachers would go on Wednesday after school to the nearby cherry blossom road, a famous walkway that is lined on both sides with cherries, creating a tunnel of blossoms. Due to the rains on Sunday, the blossoms were somewhat faded, but it was an incredible sight, nonetheless. What I didn’t know in advance, however, was that our fitness minded Principal had decided we would walk from the school, along the road to a restaurant several kilometers away. As it turns out, repetition even of beautiful things can get a little dull after about 2km. I believe it would have been a great way to spend an afternoon with some friends if we’d had more opportunities to stop and rest, take more photos, or even stop when we reached the end of the blooms, but it was a little rough to take at such a brisk pace carrying all my school bags (since we weren’t returning to the school that day).

The last part of our walk left the trees almost entirely behind and became increasingly industrial, and we finally paused for a rest in a small park that was still mostly brown. But our efforts were finally rewarded when we arrived at the restaurant where I got my first taste of the Korean style raw fish dish called “Hoe”. Hoe is similar to Japanese sashimi, raw fish served with sauces, but no rice. Like all big Korean meals, it also came with a huge number of side dishes that included a raw fish and vegetable salad, some cooked whole fish, candied sweet potatoes that were almost like my favorite Chinese treat basidigua, egg dishes, roasted corn, and of course kimchi. The hoe itself was quite different from sashimi. Sashimi is served in slices that are rectangular, similar to the slices you see atop rice for sushi, but hoe was cut in long thin strips that looked more like noodles. We dipped them in the sauces or mixed and matched them with the other sides, especially the white kimchi. It was quite a unique experience, and I enjoyed the meal immensely.

Sunday Sailing (April 10)

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I must either be the wimpiest adventurer or the most adventurous wimp because the exertion of these three events left me wiped out and I spent the next few days resting up to get my strength back so I could properly enjoy the sailing trip I’d booked a couple weeks earlier. Fortunately, the sailors weren’t morning people, so I didn’t have to start my Sunday too early either. I discovered early on in my stay here that Google Maps doesn’t work that well in Korea, thus quickly installed and learned how to use the Korean map app called Naver Maps, which allows me to choose a wide array of bus and subway routes to get anywhere as long as I know the Korean name for the place I want to go, which turns out to be good language practice too.

20160410_145643Armed with Naver, I headed down to the marina at Gwangalli to meet up with the sailing group. It was a good mix of the more experienced sailors (the crew) and first time sailors. Everyone was friendly and happy to be there, and once the whole group arrived, we got a short safety lecture and headed to the slip where our boat awaited. We were in for a great sailing day with clear skies and winds up to 17 knots. There were some issues getting the sails up, so we motored around the bay and under the bridge, getting some fantastic views before we finally got under way.

Our crew were kind and skilled, and also quite adventurous. They took advantage of the winds to treat us to a roller-coaster style ride, tipping the boat nearly 90 degrees to the side. The passengers clung to the side of the boat high up in the air, and we all got splashed regularly by the waves. 20160410_155906We sailed out past the small islands nearby before tacking for our return trip. Because of the strong winds, it was important for us to sit on the side of the boat that would be in the air, and we all had to change sides before the tack, while avoiding the boom. I let some of the first time sailors go ahead of me, figuring they would have a more difficult time, but this meant I was still on the port side when the boat tacked, and I got half dunked when the boat tipped up the other way before I could clamber up into the middle.The trip out had left most of us soaked, and several people started shivering in the high winds. We brought out some blankets from the hold, but in the end a some had to go below decks to get warm. I was chilly, but wasn’t about to miss a minute of the great weather and views.

I didn’t get very many pictures that day, because I could only bring out my camera when we were calm enough for me not to worry about holding on with both hands, or dropping it in the water. The few I did get were quite nice, and I had an absolute blast. I talked to some of the crew, and it turns out they go almost every week. They even do night cruises in the summer. I have to admit, I got colder than I would have liked that day, so I’m really looking forward to going out with them when the weather is warmer and a dunking is more refreshing than bracing. It took several days for my shoes to dry out, and I think next time I might have to learn how to use the dryer function on my washing machine. One crew member told me that in the summer, they often sail out and take a swim before returning, so I definitely see this as a repeat activity!

Out on the Town (April 12)

The following Wednesday was election day in Korea, and the schools would be closed. Take a brief moment to appreciate the fact that government employees get the day off to vote, even though early voting is available here. However, since we expats can’t vote here, it just meant a free day off, so I made some plans to go out Tuesday night with some of my newly acquired friends. Because I get up at 6:30am to work, I don’t get to go out much during the week, and this was a perfect opportunity to sample Busan nightlife. A bunch of people were getting together for a birthday party, and even though I didn’t know the birthday boy, I was invited to come along anyway.

I started out by heading over to a friend’s house about an hour away from mine. I’ve noticed that although my neighborhood is quite awesome itself, because it’s basically in the middle of Busan, it takes me 45min to an hour to get most places I want to go. We hung out at his place for a while, chatting, drinking, watching YouTube videos and singing Disney songs. I don’t know about other people, but this is one of my top ideas of a good time. Then, we got some burgers for dinner and then headed out to the bar to meet up with the group.

When we came up to the front of the bar, I was surprised to see several faces I recognized from the sailing trip, and we quickly reconnected. Inside, I saw more people I’d met at Holi and even one I’d met at orientation. Busan may be a big city, but the expat community seems to be pretty tight. After my experience of isolation in Saudi, it’s a huge relief to live in a place that not only has so many activities, but also has a friendly community of people I’m likely to run into again even without planning to. Inside the bar, however, it quickly became apparent that something was amiss.

I may have oversold this slightly as a bar fight. There wasn’t any physical violence. What there was was a Korean girl who was very drunk and very belligerent. I missed the beginning, but apparently she’d beaten on the bathroom door when one of the expat girls was in it, then burst out with a spate of anti-foreigner epithets, threw a bunch of stuff around in the bathroom when she finally got in, and generally yelled at everyone in a massively hostile way. Even though many of the expats there were long time regulars of the bar, it was still culturally difficult for the staff to treat her too harshly. Eventually I guess she called the police and we all headed out to avoid further confrontation. I’ve been reassured by basically everyone (foreigner and Korean alike) that this is really rare behavior here, and even the long time foreign residents seemed shocked.

Having lost the bar, we decided instead to head over to a local norebang joint. Norebang is the Korean word for Karaoke, and it’s set up very similar to the Japanese style where you get a room for you and your friends and pay an hourly rate to sing. The norebang we went to was significantly cheaper than the karaoke bar I went to in Japan, but also not quite as nice. No phone to order your food and drinks to your room, no soft drinks dispensers and no soft serve ice cream. You’re not supposed to bring in outside liquor, but they also don’t check to closely or make a big deal about it if an employee happens to see some in your room, so we had quite a bit to go around, and settled into some crazy singing fun. Norebang rooms also come with multiple microphones, and you just enter songs you want using the remote panel, so there’s no real rotation or solo singing the way there is in America. Most of the time, this is really not an issue, everyone just shares and has a good time singing and dancing, but every so often you get a mic hog (usually too drunk to notice). I do my darndest not to hold on to a mic for more than 2 songs in a row so I’m never that person.

Since we all had the next day off, we stayed out until about 3am. Private room style karaoke/norebang has the distinct advantage over the public American style in that you’re with people you choose, and everyone is more relaxed and comfortable, so it feels more like a house party than a public spectacle and time just flies. The subways and buses had all stopped running by this time, so I also got my first ride in a Korean taxi. Fortunately, I live really close to a landmark hotel, so it’s very easy to give directions and it’s a short walk to my apartment from there. I was pleasantly surprised at the taxi rates too. Even though I was clear at the end of the subway line, it still only cost about 10$ to get home. Not something I want to do daily, but it’s good to know if I stay out past subway time, it’s not going to cost me an arm and leg.

Canola Flower Festival & Mini-car Racing (April 15)

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The Nakdonggang Yuchae Festival is held near the Nakdong river in a huge field of canola flowers. These bright yellow blossoms used to be called by the unfortunate name of “rape flower” due to some cross linguistic issues. The Latin name for the plant is brassica rapa, so you can see how that happened in some non-English speaking countries. It is also the source of canola oil, and now more often called the canola flower once people figured out why English speakers were looking so horrified. Interestingly, the brassica rapa family also has lots of edible plants which is why you sometimes see ‘rape leaves’ on Chinese menus. It’s also the root of the name Rapunzel, who was named after the plant her mother so craved from the witch’s garden (non-Disney).

20160415_172337The girl I met on the bus back from Jinhae invited me to come with her to the festival and we decided to meet up Friday after work and head over. It was a long and winding subway ride, but we arrived with plenty of late afternoon sunshine to enjoy the flowers. The plants grow about 1-1.5 meters and there were little trails through the fields where visitors could walk among them, often chest high in yellow. Busan is a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains where it isn’t bordered by water, and as we crested the hill and the fields came into view, my breath was taken away by the expanse of brilliant yellow, bounded by the low mountains and a bright blue sky above.

D20160415_172111uring the weekends, and possibly earlier in the day, the festival has a variety of events and booths, but by the time we got there at 5pm on a Friday, there were only a few food vendors left. I didn’t mind this too much, since my primary goal was to see the flowers anyway. The fair food on offer wasn’t as interesting as what I encountered in Jinhae, but there were still some spiral potatoes and a tremendous amount of kebab vendors, as well as the sculpted candy floss. After a brief survey of the vendors, we headed into the flowers and were soon immersed in a fairy world. It reminded me of a sort of reverse horror scene. You know the movies where people are lost in a field of crops until the monster leaps out at them. But instead of monochrome crops by night, we were amidst the brightly colored blooms in glorious sunshine, and I felt that instead of a monster, we should expect a unicorn to leap out at us.

We sang songs to one another as we strolled around and paused often to take pictures. There were plenty of areas of interest to break up the sea of yellow including stone cairns, gazebos, a horse-riding area, platforms for posing, small irrigation ditches, giant pinwheels, and larger paths. We stayed until the last bit of the sun dipped below the mountain line, leaving the sky a beautiful orange and slowly draining the glow from the flowers around us.

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I’d also been invited to a mini-car racing night with some of the folks I’d met at Holi/Sailing/Norebang. I had expressed that I’d already planned to do the festival with Jinju, but would be happy to join afterward if I could invite her along (I hate ditching people I’ve made plans with). They said sure, so after the sunset, we got back into the subway maze to make our way across town again. I had suggested we pick up some dinner on the way, and only once we were looking at restaurants did it become clear to me that she didn’t realize we weren’t doing “Korean style”, by which I don’t mean Korean food, but the fact that often if one person brings food, they should expect to bring enough for everyone and share. I had to explain that as Westerners (mostly US and Canada) we were very comfortable with a more fend-for-yourself style and that if anyone else had wanted us to pick up something for them, they would ask and would pay us back when we arrived. I could tell she was skeptical of this change in etiquette, but once we arrived and the others all backed me up, she got comfortable enough to enjoy her dinner (bacon and tomato pasta, yum!).

13009731_10153334479315989_253832677_oKorean apartments are tiny little studios, comfortable for one, cozy for two and not actually terribly well suited for a party. On top of this, our host had set up his racing track which took up nearly the entire floor in the sitting area. We had to carefully step around and between the loops of the track to move across the room and there were only 6 of us. We watched the guys race while we ate, and then we got a crash course in how to use the track. It was a little like Hot Wheels on steroids. The cars were about three times the size of the Hot Wheels, and the track was equally sized up, which is why it took up the whole floor. In addition, it was linked into a video game system that measured our laps as well as our “fuel” so we had to not only drive the mini-cars, but pull into a pit stop when our fuel was running low or risk losing the race by running out and getting stranded.

Once Jinju and I learned the basics, we tried for a 6 car race, but ended up with too many wrecks, and settled into 4. I don’t even know how many years it’s been since I raced toy cars, but it was just as fun as it was when I was a kid, only this time we were also drinking beers and complaining about politics. I still think Mario Cart is the best drinking and driving option, because we crashed those mini cars too many times and may have damaged a wing mirror, but we made it through a 100 lap race and I came in a respectable second place behind our host.


As you can see, Busan is treating me very well. I’ve also done some more totally practical things like finally getting my medical reimbursements and setting up my Korean phone, and of course teaching adorable munchkins! I know I’m still in the “honeymoon” phase of life in a new country, but so far I honestly feel like this is a place I’ll be content and even happy to call home for quite some time. There’s always something to do, the locals are helpful and kind, and the community of expats is fun and friendly. I’ll do my best to keep blogging because I genuinely enjoy writing about my experiences, not just to share them with you all, but as a record of my experiences I hope to enjoy in my dotage many years from now. As always, thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out all the rest of the pictures on my Facebook page!