An International Weekend

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, guys! I’ve had a really busy, really awesome weekend filled with food, music, and exploring!

On Friday, Steve and I spent the day in Seongnamdong (Old Downtown). It was a national holiday (Hangul Proclamation Day), so we had off from work. The streets of Seongnamdong were packed with families: children were carrying balloons and people were eating a variety of street foods.

Steve and I.

Steve and I.

We probably walked around for a few hours until we decided to have some dinner. We came across a dak galbi (fire chicken) restaurant called Yoogane, which is something we’ve been meaning to try, so we had to stop in. The place was so crowded, so it had to be good. We decided to get two servings of dak galbi with bean sprout fried rice (4,500 won/serving, which is about $4), one serving of ramyeun, and cheese to go with it. Oh my god. It was absolutely phenomenal!

Dak galbi.

Dak galbi.

After dinner, we made our way to JJ’s Bar, which was actually having taco night. You can’t say no to tacos, right? So, we got three of them with seasoned rice and refried beans. There was also a poker tournament going on, but we didn’t stay too long.

Tacos at JJ's!

Tacos at JJ’s!

On Saturday, we had plans to attend the Cheoyong Culture Festival at the Ulsan Arts and Culture Center downtown. The Cheoyong Festival is a huge outdoor festival featuring food, crafts, and musical acts from all over the world. Some of the food tents included Vietnam, Indonesia, China, Nepal/India, America, Canada, and (of course) Korean, among others.

Ulsan Culture and Arts Center.

Ulsan Culture and Arts Center.

We tried Indian samosas, Vietnamese spring rolls and banh mi, Turkish kebabs, grilled corn, grilled squid, red bean cakes, pajeon (green onion pancake), and even hamburgers! All the food was absolutely incredible.

Pajeon.

Pajeon.

The craft tents were impressive, as well. There was pottery, hand carved incense burners, handbags, trinkets, and other beautiful items from all over the world. My favorite was one pottery tent where the potter was letting kids spin on the wheel with him. There were also other tables set up with crafts for kids to do, like painting and drawing.

Music also filled the air all day, and there was everything from South American pan pipe performers to a rock ‘n’ roll band from Beijing. Later in the evening, there was a DJ set in one of the tents. Everyone was dancing and it was a lot of fun.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

Outside the arts center.

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Chuseok in Gyeongju – Part 1

Chuseok (추석) is a national holiday celebrated in Korea. It is a harvest festival which falls around the autumn equinox, on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. From what I’ve been told, Chuseok is most comparable to American Thanksgiving. Koreans spend this holiday with their families in the towns of their ancestors and eat traditional foods.

During this time, it is also customary to give gifts. For the past few weeks, I have been seeing many different gift baskets and specialty items popping up in the supermarkets. Some of the most popular ones I’ve seen include Spam (yes, that Spam), oil, and soy sauce. I’ve also seen stations set up selling what I think are little sweets (rice buns and something that resembles a brittle).

Chuseok also means that I get a four day weekend.

So, Steve and I decided to take a short trip to Gyeongju on Sunday, which is roughly an hour by bus north of Ulsan. However, it took nearly three hours for us to get there because of all the Chuseok traffic.

Steve and I on the bus.

Steve and I on the bus.

It was hot and uncomfortable, but we made it there in one piece. Our first order of business was to visit the Gyeongju National Museum and after jumping in a taxi, we quickly learned that the city sights are very spread out. We arrived at the Museum and, to our delight, there was no admission fee. There were also games set up for children and their families to play because of the holiday.

We weren’t there for ten minutes when a Korean man asked us to take a picture of him and his children. After, he asked where we were from and even asked us to take a picture with his kids. His English was very good and he said that his children have never seen foreigners before, so it would be nice for them. It was actually quite cute.

We parted ways and went on to explore the Museum, which was made up of several large buildings (with lots of stairs) and galleries. Most of the galleries were dedicated to Silla art. The Silla Kingdom was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea and was ruled for nearly 1,000 years.

Buddha sculpture at the Gyeongju National Museum.

Buddha sculpture at the Gyeongju National Museum.

Below the main complex, there was also a beautiful structure surrounded by a lovely little pond. We took a walk down there for a closer look.

At Gyeongju National Museum.

At Gyeongju National Museum.

After the Museum, our plan was to visit Bunhwangsa Temple, a temple from the Old Silla Era. However, we might have had a hard time trying to find a taxi. So we walked. And walked. And it was rather hot out. Finally, we saw a taxi approaching and we waved it down. Too bad it already had passengers and they waved and laughed as they passed. With no map and no WiFi, Steve and I had absolutely no idea where we were. So we just kept on walking.

In the distance, we saw a bridge. As we got nearer, we heard music. We couldn’t tell if it was a recording or live, so we just followed it until we stumbled upon Gyochon Village. Gyochon Village is a traditional hanok village that offers glassmaking classes, pottery workshops, quilting, and tea ceremony training. They were having a festival for Chuseok complete with live music performances, costumed performers, and more games. It was so wonderful! We spent a good amount of time there before grabbing some water at the cafe and trying to find our way back downtown.