Saturday, January 29, 2011

Merry Christmas Korea (25 December)





 
An Early Start

Despite a late night and a very early start, we’re all in good spirits as we leave the hostel at 7:00am the next morning.  The sun’s not yet up and it’s really cold but, wearing our Santa hates, we’re eager to continue spreading Christmas cheer in a country where Christmas doesn’t seem to be as big a deal as it is in Western countries.   At Hongik station, we relieved to see that it’s relatively quiet and it’s easy to find people willing to take group photos of us and wish us a Merry Christmas.

On the subway, we continue the merriment and I somehow find myself standing at the end of the carriage singing Christmas carols and dancing while taking photos of my friends. The Koreans on the subway don’t seem to mind – they seem to find it all rather amusing – and KiwiKat cheekily takes out a 100 won coin and throws it in my direction in mock appreciation of my impromptu ‘busking’ on the subway.  This, of course, prompts much laughter and false protestations all around. 

Airport Antics

Before long, we arrive at Gimpo Airport where we are to meet the entire tour group outside of Starbucks.  We have approximately 30 minutes to have breakfast and I end up eating yoghurt and granola with impromptu chopsticks from Starbucks.  KiwiKat and Catfish play the sliding game while the group slowly increases in size and Seokjin, who runs Adventure Korea (the company through which we do almost all of our travelling), starts organising the masses.  We’re soon checking in our luggage and queuing up for the security check where KiwiKat’s friend’s bag is thoroughly inspected in a bid to find the scissors that are unknowingly hidden somewhere in her backpack and definitely strong contenders for the 2010 Hide-and-Seek Championship Award considering it takes three people nearly 15 minutes to search her tiny backpack. 

While we wait, we snap photos of Catfish in her ‘naughty Santa’ hat which is currently standing up straight like that of an elf.  We don’t even think about the fact that she’s standing right in front of security so an airport official tells us not to take photos but, strangely, doesn’t make us delete the ones we’ve already taken.  Either she’s realised we’re harmless and were only taking photos of our friend or she thinks we’re just downright stupid – either way, we don’t seem to pose any immediate threat.

The antics continue in the departure lounge where we attempt to get the perfect photo of four people clicking their heels in the air simultaneously which, naturally, is almost impossible.  These unsuccessful attempts make the time fly by and we’re soon boarding the most awful flight I’ve ever taken.  Although the flight is only an hour, the cabin pressure and constant fluctuations in altitude make me quite nauseous and I’m not in the best mood by the time we finally land in Jeju. 

Merry Christmas Jeju

When I see that it’s snowing and we’re having a white Christmas after all, however, my mood improves considerably and we’re soon laughing away on the bus as we head to the restaurant where we have a traditional Korean meal of Jeju’s famous black pork.  Lunch is a fairly quick affair as we hungrily gulp down delicious traditional food and the snow outside is just too perfect to resist.  It takes Catfish and I only a few minutes to discover a patch of undisturbed snow behind the restaurant and I need little encouragement to immediately make a snow angel that Catfish documents. 

Seokjin sees us making snow angels and having a mini snowball fight and shows us a flower that only blooms in the snow.  After seeing this flower, we resume our snowball fight which quickly escalates into a fight involved roughly eight people (naturally all six of us who are travelling together, Seokjin and one or two other people).  Not even the arrival of another tour group entering the restaurant stops this fight – they’re simply another obstacle not to hit and we continue pitching snow balls over their heads.  A snowman is even attempted by someone in our group.  After about 20 minutes, everyone has finished eating lunch and we’re soon back on the bus and heading to the Trick Art Museum where we spend an hour taking ridiculous photos that create a rather realistic effect.  In the cafeteria area, Catfish and I can’t help but chuckle over the “Phohibition of Taste” sign!

 
The rest of the afternoon passes fairly quickly as we have a very short horse ride and take even more cheesy photos followed by an “easy” walk (according to Seokjin at least) up Seongsan Ilchubong which is also known as Sunrise Peak.  There are several man-made caves here that were created by Japanese soldiers to store ammunition and weapons during the Japanese occupation of Korea.  I can’t help chuckling every time I see stairs leading up the side of mountains – it’s even funnier to see mini-restaurants set up half way up the mountain and I can’t help but wonder if the delivery guys hate having certain customers since they have carry all deliveries halfway up a mountain for this particular restaurant.  It’s even more amusing to find arrows at certain points along the path just in case we’re not sure which side of the path leads to the top of the mountain and which side leads down.

In every hike, someone has to be last so I usually volunteer.  It takes me nearly an hour to get to the top of the mountain and I can’t even remember when I last saw someone from my tour group.  At this point, I’m puffing up the mountain solo completely oblivious to the fact that I’m all alone wearing a Santa hat which many Koreans seem to find amusing.  The views up Seongsan Ilchubong are incredible and it’s definitely worth the workout to get photos from the top.  I proudly take the last step, ecstatic that I’ve finally made it to the top and can now start looking for my friends when NZ2 and his sister greet me with: “You made it! Time to head back down or we’ll miss the bus”. 

Party Time!

Back on the bus, we head to our hotel where we sort out the room assignments and head straight to dinner and the Christmas Party that Adventure Korea has been kind enough to organise.  We have a proper turkey Christmas dinner, with cranberry sauce, and various more Korean side dishes – all eaten with chopsticks, naturally.  Our table is lively and Christmas cheer is all around.  Unfortunately, 'domestic violence' ensues between NZ2 and Catfish who, after only 24 hours of marriage, file for an immediate divorce!

  After dinner, it’s time for the gift exchange which involves each person choosing a gift, table by table, from under the Christmas tree.  Since our table is the last one to choose gifts, we’re allowed to ‘steal’ gifts that other people have already opened and that we like.  Catfish decides to steal the bottle of wine someone received and can’t conceal her smugness over this minor coup.

Once the gifts are all gone, it’s time for Karaoke.  The OzKo (Australian-Korean) and I kick off the karaoke with a few Christmas carols and proceed to line up several more before handing over the microphone to the people standing nearest us.  Catfish is looking rather glum at this point and sitting at the piano which is located on a very cool looking alcove above the bar.  Before long, we’re sitting side by side at the piano, singing along to the karaoke below us at the top of our voices.  Each sip of wine makes us a little happier and a little happy but, hey, it’s Christmas and someone has to liven things up from time to time….




1 comment:

  1. Love the mountain! Had me chuckling through your climb :)

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