Travel Stories

A travel blog for a long-term expat, backpacker, traveler, ESL teacher, and photographer. 

Gyeongju

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Five years ago, I had the opportunity to visit to Gyeongju. My host family and I went to the world heritage site, Bulguksa, as well as numerous other tourist attractions. In December, however, my main school brought me along on their overnight teacher’s vacation which was again set in Gyeongju. Luckily, I did not retrace any previous steps.

We took a large bus lined with purple LED lights and a huge flat screen TV. They handed a goodie bag of snacks for the trip and made me incredibly happy. I've never seen a flat screen on a bus hence me feeling the need to write this.Our first stop was Bogyeongsa (보경사): a large park with a temple that was slightly outside of Gyeongju in Pohang (포항). It was two days after Christmas – freezing cold and with snowfall on the ground. We were given about two hours to do our “hike” and/or visit the nearby temples. Along the way were numerous waterfalls, rock formations, and overlooks. All of the trees were wearing tree warming outfits - how cutesy of Korea. ha ha.It was so cold we really didn’t want to walk so much. One of the gym teachers did a “cowie bowie bow” (rock paper scissors) with a few others to see who would have to go into the ice cold water, that was ridiculous and I got saved from participating when it was translated to me. Following the walk, we went to have “Korean pizza” for lunch, or pajeon. It has more of a pancake texture and its primary ingredient is onion but also normally includes flour, eggs, wheat, etc depending on which you order. In addition, there is a ton of oil and therefore a ton of deliciousness. Enough said.

We then checked into our Korean style hotel which houses normally four people with blankets on the floor. The beds are padded very well, however, so you aren’t really concerned when you’re sleeping on the floor. Plus the heated floors… oh yes, so many heated floors in this country… For dinner, we went to a Korean cow restaurant (bbq) where the majority of my coworkers got pretty drunk off of soju. My principal tried for thirty minutes to teach me how to use chopsticks as apparently my mad skills are indeed lacking skill. Then, they forced me to give a speech (my second speech on the spot now). I assumed nobody understood me anyways so I just quickly thanked them for including me yada yada. I did practice a Korean custom, however. If you’re younger than someone, you need to pour their soju for them. The older male teachers kept squatting down and hitting me up to fill up their shot glasses over the course of the evening.

Following dinner, we went to the noraebang (karaoke room) in our hotel. Upon arrival to Korea, I informed my co-teacher that I had a slight Korean skill – to sing La La La by SJ Wannabe in Korean. This came back to bite me in the ass as someone put the song on and said “Victoria Victoria” and well, I made a fool out of myself with 40 some coworkers' eyes gazing at me and my horrible, horrible singing skills. One of the gym teachers whipped out his whistle and stood on a chair doing Gangnam Style. It was pretty surreal – try this in an American workplace, haha. 

The next day we went by bus to a restaurant near the sea. I was served fish and shrimp for breakfast. I am not the biggest seafood fan in the world and I definitely did not expect to be served that – but, I guess this was my Korean surprise. Most of all, the shrimp (as most do here) had eyes. The teacher across the table saw that I was slightly disturbed by it and covered them up with eggshells and put the dish under the table. I also think fish is incredibly hard to eat with chopsticks, especially metal chopsticks. I quickly gave up and just ate my soup. Following breakfast, we went to a place called Herb Story. It was literally an herb garden with cutesy signs and bows and benches around the place. Probably the most random place I have ever visited. “Oh yeah, let’s go see an herb garden, that sounds fun?”

Next, we went to an incredible area on the coast (경주 주상절리 파도소리길 (my CT typed that)). We walked along the coast for a good hour or so with beautiful waves hitting the rocks. There was even a rock formation site that had been used in a variety of traditional Korean dramas. Words can’t describe the beauty of this place so I’ll let you decide from my photos. Along the walk, there were numerous ladies laying out squids to dry and numerous types of fish for sale.Our last stop for our two day trip was for lunch. We were served fresh squid. It was incredibly slimy and gooey and just the most unpleasant texture I can ever try to describe.

What did I learn from this trip? Don’t let Koreans pick food for you or you’ll be massively surprised with fish for breakfast and freshly murdered squid for lunch.