09 June 2011

Back to the Land of the Rising Sun

This weekend was Memorial Day in Korea, so we had Monday off and I took a vacation day on Tuesday to give my self time to visit Japan.  I had dedicated myself to the western portion of the country when I visited back in February, so this trip was all about the middle of the country.  My stops were Osaka, Himeji, Kyoto, and Nara.  All of these places are less than an hour from each other by train, so moving from place to place was relatively easy and cheap (at least by Japanese standards).

OSAKA ( 大阪 )

I started off the trip by flying from Busan to Osaka, which only takes a little over an hour.  I got into Osaka late in the afternoon, so I really didn't have anytime to explore during the day.  However, I did spend the night in Osaka and I was able to check out Umeda and Namba, which are two of the most popular nightlife spots in the city.  I was particularly impressed with an area called Namba Parks, which is an amazingly designed shopping and dining complex in Namba.  I wish that I could have spent more time in Osaka, but I really wanted to dedicate as much time to Kyoto as I could, so everything else on the trip kind of took a backseat.

Umeda Sky Building
Namba Parks
I woke up around 6:30 on Sunday to catch an early train to Himeji to see Himeji Castle, which is generally considered to be the most famous castle in all of Japan.

HIMEJI ( 姫路 )

Himeji Castle ( 姫路城 , Himeji-jo )
The castle dates back to 1333 when a fort was constructed at the current castle location.  Himeyama Castle was then built on the site in 1346 and finally Himeji Castle was constructed in the middle of the 16th century.  The castle underwent expansions in the following years, but was essentially completed in 1618.  The castle was designated as a World Heritage site in 1993.  

Why is it Famous?
Himeji Castle is the largest and best preserved castle in Japan and it was also home to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was responsible for unifying Japan.

Unfortunately, the main keep of the castle was closed for renovations when I visited.  This was pretty disappointing, but I enjoyed touring the rest of the complex.

Rating: 2.5 Stars
This place very well could have been a 5 if it hadn't been under construction.

View of castle under construction

I caught a train to Kyoto at noon and arrived about an hour later.  I started out my time in Kyoto by wandering around the Imperial Palace for a little while.  The palace itself wasn't open, but the surrounding park was beautiful.

KYOTO ( 京都 )

Kyoto Imperial Palace ( 京都御所 , Kyoto Gosho )
The Kyoto Imperial Palace has been located at its current site since the late 12th century and served as the Emperor's residence until 1869, when the capital was moved to Tokyo.

Rating: 2 Stars
This obviously would have been more exciting if the palace was open.  However, the surrounding park is still a great place to relax and walk around.

One of the entrance gates to the palace
Nijo Castle ( 二条城 , Nijo-jo )
The castle was originally constructed in 1601, but has been destroyed and rebuilt since that time.  The castle was built on the command of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The grounds also contain Ninomaru Palace ( 二の丸御殿 , Ninomaru Goten ) and Honmaru Palace ( 本丸御殿 , Honmaru Goten ).

Rating: 3 Stars
Not a particularly impressive castle.  Ninomaru Palace is the highlight and is a really nice place to tour, but you can't take any pictures inside. 
Heading toward Honmaru Palace

Temple of the Golden Pavilion ( 金閣寺 , Kinkaku-ji )
The temple dates to 1397, but the current structure was rebuilt in 1955.  However, it is said to be an exact copy of the original.

Why is it Famous?
It's painted gold!

Rating: 4.5 Stars
This a truly impressive and eye-catching structure.  The only problem I had with the place is that there really isn't anything too exciting around the pavilion itself.

Fushimi Inari Shrine ( 伏見稲荷 , Fushimi Inari-taisha )
The shrine dates to 711 AD, but the main shrine wasn't constructed until 1499.

What is it?
Fushimi Inari is a shrine built on Inari Mountain and was constructed in honor of Inari, the god of rice. 

Why is it Famous?
The shrine is particularly famous because of the over 10,000 torii, which are Japanese gates, that lead up Inari Mountain.  It is also the head shrine of Inari.

Rating: 5 Stars
This is one of the coolest places I have ever visited.  Granted, you're a little "toriied out" by the time you leave, but it's a pretty awesome experience to follow the seemingly endless tunnels of torii up the mountain.

The light at the end of the torii
Shrine after sunset

And that was that for my first day in Kyoto.  I headed to my hostel near Gion to rest up for my next day of touring.  After all, I had to get up 6:45 in the morning in order to get to all of the places that I wanted to see.

Kiyomizu Temple ( 清水寺 , Kiyomizu-dera )
The temple dates to 798 and the current buildings were constructed in 1633.

Why is it Famous?
It is famous for the main hall, which sits atop the trees and provides impressive views of the entire city.  Another interesting tidbit is that not one nail was used in the entire construction of the temple.  It was also picked as one of the 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World list, but alas was not selected.

Rating: 5 Stars
A beautiful temple that I would recommend seeing early in the morning (it opens at 6 am) because it is one of the most popular temples in Kyoto.

Kiyomizudera Niomon
Main hall

I then took a bit of stroll through southern Higashiyama on my way to Kodai Temple.

Wandering the streets of Kyoto

Kodai Temple ( 高台寺 , Kodai-ji )
The temple was established in 1606 by the widow of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Rating: 2.5 Stars
To be honest, I wasn't too impressed with this temple.  It was a nice place to walk around, but there are far better temples in Kyoto.

Walking around Kodaiji
Bamboo forest in back of the temple

Maruyama Park ( 円山公園 , Maruyama koen )
What is it?
Maruyama Park is located just east of Gion and is in between Kodai-ji, Yasaka-jinja, and Chion-in.

Yasaka Shrine ( 八坂神社 , Yasaka-jinja )
The shrine dates to 656 and is located in the eastern part of Gion.

Rating: 4 Stars
It's not a very large shrine to tour around, but it has a convenient location and is a beautiful structure.


Chion Temple ( 知恩院 , Chion-in )
The temple was founded in 1234, but the current buildings date from the mid 17th century.

Why is it Famous?
It is Japan's headquarters for the Pure Land sect of Buddhism.

Rating: 3.5 Stars
An interesting place with a very impressive gate.  Overall however, there wasn't anything too extraordinary about this place.

Sanmon (gate)

Shoren Temple ( 青蓮院 , Shoren-in )
Constructed in the late 13th century and was temporarily used as the imperial palace.

Rating: 5 Stars
It doesn't have the impressive structures that you will see at some of the other temples, but it honestly might be the most relaxing place I have ever visited in my life.  It's not one of the main tourist draws in Kyoto, so you have time to just wander around, take in the scenery, and listen to the birds and the waterfalls.

Walking around the garden

Heian Shrine ( 平安神宮 , Heian-jingu )
This is a relatively new shrine that was built in 1895 to celebrate the 1,100th anniversary of Kyoto.

Why is it Famous?
The torii in front of the temple is one of the largest gates in Japan.

Rating: 5 Stars
I really liked this place.  The torii was obviously impressive and I just really enjoyed the whole layout of the shrine.

Torii before the entrance to Heian-jingu
Heian shrine

Nanzen Temple ( 南禅寺 , Nanzen-ji )
Nanzen Temple was established by Emperor Kameyama in 1291.

Rating: 2 Stars
Not too impressive when compared with the other temples in Kyoto.  It is however right at the beginning of the Philosopher's Path, so it's convenient.

Temple of the Silver Pavilion ( 銀閣寺 , Ginkaku-ji )
The main structure was built in 1482 and sought to emulate the Golden Pavilion.  The original plan was to cover the pavilion in silver foil, but this was never realized.

Rating: 4 Stars
The surrounding area is more enjoyable than area around the Golden Pavilion, but the structure itself is much less impressive than its older brother.

The Silver Pavilion (bit of a misnomer)
Togudo (Togu Hall)

Sanjusangen Hall ( 三十三間堂 , Sanjusangen-do )
The original temple was completed in 1164, but was burned down in 1249 and rebuilt 17 years later.  124 statues from the original temple were saved and are housed in the current temple.

Why is it Famous?
Sanjusangen-do is home to 1,001 Buddha statues (that's not an exaggeration).  1,000 of these are human-sized statues that are called the Thousand Armed Kannon and who all supposedly have a different facial expression.  There is also a large statue of the temple's main deity in in the middle of the hall.

Rating: 4.5 Stars
This definitely deserved a 5 star rating as it is a truly impressive sight.  The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars was out of spite for not allowing pictures inside the building.

Got a quick picture of the statues from outside of the hall

Tofuku Temple ( 東福寺 , Tofuku-ji )
The temple was originally constructed in 1236 and later reconstructed in the 15th century.

Rating: 3 Stars
I'm not sure if this rating is completely fair because I was pretty exhausted by the time I got around to Tofukuji.  It was a pretty cool place, but after my day of touring I wasn't too impressed.

Main gate

And that was it for Kyoto.  15 stops in a day and a half.  Not too shabby.  I hopped on a train to Nara and spent the night there so that I could get an early start the next day.

NARA ( 奈良 )

Todai Temple ( 東大寺 , Todai-ji )
The temple was originally constructed in 728, but the Great Buddha Hall ( 大仏殿 , Daibutsuden ) burned down in 1180 and 1567

Why is it Famous?
Great Buddha Hall is the largest wooden building in the world and it contains the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.  To give you some perspective on the size, the Buddha's ear is over 8 feet tall.

Rating: 5 Stars
Definitely a must-see if you are in this region of the country.  The Great Buddha Hall was awesome.  The rest of the complex has some nice sights, but the Great Buddha Hall is without a doubt the centerpiece.

Largest wooden building in the world

Virocana Buddha

Kasuga Grand Shrine ( 春日大社 , Kasuga-taisha )
The shrine was established in 768, but has been rebuilt since that time.

Rating: 3.5 Stars
I probably would have given it a better rating had I explored the primeval forest behind the shrine, but I simply didn't have the time.

Shin-Yakushi Temple ( 新薬師寺 , Shin-yakushi-ji )
The temple was constructed in 747 and the main hall still survives to this day.

Why is it Famous?
It is famous for the Yakushi Nyorai statue and the statues of the Twelve Heavenly Generals inside the main hall.

Rating: 4 Stars
Not a big complex, but the statues are awesome.  You can't take pictures inside, but I sneaked one in.

Twelve Heavenly Generals

Nara Park ( 奈良公園 , Nara koen )
The most famous part about Nara Park is the deer.  Like the deer on Miyajima, these deer are not afraid of humans because they have been considered sacred and therefore never hunted.  Killing one of these deer was actually punishable by death until 1637. 

Nara National Museum ( 奈良国立博物館 , Nara kokuritsu hakubutsukan )
I only got to see the Buddha sculpture section of the museum because the other part was closed for an event.  There were a lot of cool sculptures, but you weren't allowed to take pictures of most of them.

Standing Tamonten - 11th century
Seated Aizen Myoo - 13th century

Kofuku Temple ( 興福寺 , Kofuku-ji )
The temple was established in 669 and moved to its current location in 710.  Like most temples in Japan, it has been rebuilt many times.

Rating: 3.5 
Very cool pagoda, but the rest of the complex is pretty average.


Horyu Temple ( 法隆寺 , Horyu-ji )
The first temple is thought to have been built in 607.  It is believed that the original burnt down in 670 after being struck by lightning, but this is not known for sure.

Why is it Famous?
It is one of the oldest wooden structures in the world (and quite possibly the oldest).

Rating: 4.5 Stars
It's outside of Nara, so it's a little out of the way, but it's definitely worth the trip.

Entrance to Horyuji
Yumedono (Hall)

Central Japan Top 10
1. Fushimi Inari
2. Todai-ji
3. Shoren-in
4. Kiyomizu-dera
5. Heian-jingu
6. Kinkaku-ji
7. Sanjusangen-do
8. Horyu-ji
9. Ginkaku-ji
10. Yasaka-jinja

And that brought an end to my time in Japan.  I got the train back to Kansai Airport in Osaka and jumped on a plane back to Busan.  Not a bad way to spend 4 days.  I'm still planning one more trip to Japan, which will be to the Tokyo region and I'm thinking of doing that trip in August.

05 June 2011

Imjin War (1592 - 1598)

The Imjin War (임진왜란, which literally translates to "Japanese invasion of the Imjin year") is the name for two Japanese invasions of the Korean peninsula that took place in 1592 and 1598.  The word "Imjin" is the Korean name for the 29th year in the Chinese sexagenary cycle, which was the year that the first invasion took place.  This was an absolutely devastating war for Korea as it resulted in the deaths of around one million soldiers and civilians, the loss of over half of Korea's workable farmland, and the destruction of an innumerable number of cultural assets. 

So why did the Japanese decide to invade Korea?  Well Japan has always viewed Korea as a sort of stepping stone to the mainland and anytime Japan has found itself with imperialistic ambitions Korea has been its starting point for expansion.  Of course, Korea was not the grand prize for Japan is this scheme.  That distinction belongs to China and this was not the only time that Korea found itself utilized as a pawn in the chess match between the region's most powerful states. 

Prior to the invasion, Japan had recently risen out of the turmoil of the Sengoku Period, also known as the Warring States Period, and had been unified by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590.  As it turns out, decades of fighting amongst themselves had turned the Japanese into battle-hardened warriors and that, combined with the element of surprise and Joseon's ineffective defense policies, resulted in an amazing display of power on the part of Japan.

In stark contrast to Japan, Korea had experienced a period of relative peace since the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392.  Korea also viewed Japan as an inferior country and felt that they had no reason to fear an attack by Japan.  This was in spite of the fact that Japan had demanded that Korea join Japan in its fight against the Chinese or face the consequences.  After multiple diplomatic attempts were made to convince Korea to join his campaign, Hideyoshi decided that force would be the only way to convince Korea to join his cause.

Japan Attacks
The first Japanese fleet, commanded by So Yoshitoshi, departed Tsushima (island) on May 23, 1592 and after asking for safe passage through Korea (and of course being denied) they attacked Busan on May 24.  The siege took the Koreans completely by surprise and the city, along with nearby Dongnae, fell to the Japanese invaders in three days.  By June 3, Daegu, Gyeongju, and the rest of the Gyeongsang province (basically the entire southeast portion of Korea) had fallen to the Japanese (just 11 days after the start of war!).  The Japanese continued their relentless assault northward at the Battle of Sangju ( 상주대첩 ) on June 5 and the Battle of Chungju ( 청주대첩 ) on June 8.

The Japanese arrived in Hanseong (modern-day Seoul) on June 10 to find it already abandoned by King Seonjo ( 선조 ) and General Kim Myong-won ( 김묭원 ) and already looted by the infuriated inhabitants.  The capital was captured just 18 days after the start of the war.  

The Righteous Army ( 의병 )
Things were certainly looking bleak at this point for the Koreans.  Given the government's incompetence and lack of preparation for the Japanese assault, the defense of the country fell into the hands of the citizens.  This gave rise to righteous armies, which were made up of normal, everyday citizens who resisted the Japanese invaders.  The righteous armies utilized guerrilla tactics and were extremely successful in their attempt to undermine Japanese authority on the peninsula.

China Intervenes
Despite the emergence of righteous armies all around the peninsula, the Japanese continued their assault and were successful in conquering almost the entire country.  Keep in mind that Japan's original goal was not to conquer Korea, but rather to use Korea as a stepping stone in its eventual quest to challenge China.  China obviously saw the imminent threat posed by Japanese troops stationed along its border and decided to intervene in an attempt to avoid this fate.

China began to mobilize troops at the end of 1592 was ready for an attack on Pyongyang (which had also fallen to the Japanese) at the beginning of 1593.  The battle took place on January 8 and marked the beginning of the Japanese retreat.  After a few more battles, the two sides reached a stalemate between Gaeseong and Seoul, which oddly enough also happens to be around the area that the peninsula is currently divided between North and South Korea.  

Given the impending threat of the Chinese military, the near continual uprisings of the Korean population, and the disrupted supply chains caused by Admiral Yi's successes at sea, the Japanese had no choice but to negotiate with the Chinese and accept a cease-fire agreement in the spring of 1593.  The Japanese began to withdraw their troops from the peninsula and by May of 1593 troops only remained in the Busan area.  However, Hideyoshi was not happy with the terms and the negotiations eventually fell apart in 1596. 

Japan Attacks Again
The Japanese once again arrived on the shores of Busan, this time in 1597.  However, this assault was much less successful than the previous attempt made in 1592.  The Koreans were much more prepared and China mobilized troops almost immediately.  The Japanese were for the most part restricted to Gyeongsang province ( 경상도 ), which is the southeast portion of Korea, during their second invasion.  They did hold Jeolla province ( 전라도, southwest part of Korea) for a short time, but quickly retreated back to their stronghold in Gyeongsang.  Admiral Yi again disrupted Japanese plans and the death of Hideyoshi on September 18, 1598 brought about the withdrawal of Japanese troops from Korea. 

Admiral Yi
Admiral Yi Sun-sin ( 이순신 ) is among the most venerated heroes in Korean history and for good reason.  His record in naval battles was an amazing 23-0.  He is also well known for his use of the turtle ship, which were quite simply beastly ships.  They held close to thirty cannons and featured spikes extruding from the roof to prevent enemies from boarding.  He participated in four campaigns during the first phase of the Japanese invasion.  His success on the sea was one of primary factors that eventually forced Japan to retreat. 

In the time between the two Japanese invasions Admiral Yi was actually the victim of a plot meant to undermine his authority.  A Japanese spy provided a tip to a Korean general about a naval attack by Japan and the General commanded Admiral Yi to set up an ambush and fight the Japanese.  However, Admiral Yi refused because he was apparently aware that the area was littered with sunken rocks that would threaten his ships and because he did not trust spies.  As a result of his refusal to follow orders, Yi was arrested and sent to prison in Seoul.

The Japanese attacked following Yi's arrest and in a true testament to Yi's amazing seafaring ability, Joseon was soundly defeated in the ensuing naval battle and Yi's replacement was killed during the fight.  Yi was released from prison and was put in charge of the 13 ships that had survived the previous battle. The following battle would go into the history books as one of the most lopsided victories in world history.

The Battle of Myeongnyang ( 명량대첩 ) took place on October 26, 1597 and pitted Yi's 13 ships against a Japanese fleet that consisted of 333 ships (granted only 133 were warships, but still).  Yi began the battle by luring the Japanese into Myeongnyang Strait, which is an extremely difficult naval passage for ships to traverse and many of the ships were damaged will attempting to pass through it.  Admiral Yi and his 13 ships were waiting to ambush the surviving ships at the end of the straight.  33 Japanese ships were destroyed and another 92 were damaged beyond repair, while the Koreans did not lose any ships and only lost a total of 10 men.

In what seems like a fitting end to the admiral's life, Yi died on December 16, 1598 during the final battle of the Imjin War.  He was struck by a stray bullet as he pursued the Japanese. 

Negotiations: Part Two
Negotiations were a difficult process for Korea.  After all, they wanted Japanese troops and Chinese troops off of their land.  Negotiations actually continued for 10 years after the end of the war, but eventually life returned to a certain degree of normalcy. 

The end result of this war was absolutely devastating for Korea.  The total number of casualties that resulted from the war is estimated around one million and the vast majority of those casualties were Koreans.  The Japanese also laid waste to most of the land, which meant that Korea endured years of famine following the war.  Numerous historical artifacts were also destroyed and very few important buildings survived the war.

02 June 2011


I took a little time off from writing last month, but I would like to provide a quick recap of events that happened in May.

Trip Home
Well the big event for me was my journey across the Pacific to visit some friends and family.  For anyone contemplating this kind of trip, 6 days is definitely too short when you have to spend a total of 28 hours in a plane.  My sleep schedule was completely messed up in the U.S. and it took me more than a week to get back to a normal sleep schedule in Korea.  Nonetheless, I had a great time visiting as many people as I could.  I even spent a night in a suite in Atlantic City with 15 or so people from college.  It was a pretty epic trip and I'm glad that I got the chance to get home because I won't be home again for almost a year.

My First Student Threw Up In My Class
This was certainly an interesting experience.  In hindsight, I really should have seen this one coming.  One of my students had thrown up on the bus before coming to school and he thought it would be funny to breath in the other students' faces.  Well one of the kids apparently had a pretty weak stomach cause he threw up almost immediately after the kid breathed on him.  Unfortunately, we don't have a janitor in our school so I got stuck with the clean up and my room had a slightly funky smell for the rest of the day.

Attended My First (And Probably Last) Korean Wedding
This was one of the most interesting cultural experiences I've had in Korea.  One of my buddies tied the knot and I had the privilege of attending.  I was the only white guy other than the priest (who I think was German) and therefore I got my fair share of stares.  Overall, it wasn't too different from normal weddings in the United States.  It was a Christian wedding, so it was obviously held in a church, and the bride and groom wore typical Western wedding attire.  One strange difference was that everyone clapped while the bride and groom were walking down the aisle.  People were also talking throughout most of the service.  So overall, it seemed a lot less formal than most weddings that I've been to in the United States.  I also got to attend a brief ceremony that took place after the main wedding ceremony.  The bride and groom switched their clothes and wore hanbok, which is traditional Korean attire.  I think it was basically just a well-wishing event.

Trip to Seoul
I wrote about this trip in much more depth in one of my previous posts.  It was basically notable because of my visit to the DMZ and my consumption of sannakji.  The DMZ is one of the biggest attractions in Korea and is the most heavily fortified border in the world.  I even got to go into one of the buildings that straddle the border between North and South Korea and therefore I technically got to go to North Korea.  I followed this day trip up with a night out in Seoul and I of course started the night out with some food.  My food of choice was sannakji, which is baby octopus.  The interesting part is that the octopus is cut up right before it is served and therefore the arms continue to move and the suction cups continue to function for about five minutes after it is served.  There were even a couple arms that tried to make a getaway across the table. 

So there's my May summed up in one short post.  What are my plans for June?  Well this coming weekend I'll be heading over to Japan to explore Kyoto and Nara.  I've gotta keep on moving.

01 June 2011

At the Halfway Mark

Wow.  Six months.  It's gone by pretty quick and I'm sure the next six months won't be any slower.  After spending half of a year here, I think I can provide a fairly accurate assessment of life in Korea.  At least in a smaller town.  I'm going to use this post talk about some of the differences and similarities and also just some of my most memorable moments. 

Top 5 Travel Spots (So Far)
1. Seoraksan - One of the most beautiful places I have ever visited.  The hike to Ulsanbawi can be a killer, but it's worth every ounce of energy.  I'm planning to revisit Seoraksan at least one more time (maybe two).

2. Seoul - Of course Seoul has to be on this list.  It has everything you would expect from an ancient capital and a modern metropolis.  The palaces are absolutely beautiful and some of the modern architecture borders on the bizarre. The nightlife is pretty awesome and definitely better than anywhere else that I have been in Korea.

3. Gyeongju - The ancient Silla capital has loads of historical buildings.  Most of the sites in the town are within walking distance of each other and the World Heritage sites of Bulguksa and Seokguram are only a half hour bus ride away.

4. DMZ - The Demilitarized Zone is a truly unique experience in Korea.  You're not going to find this anywhere else in the world and for that reason alone it really is a must-see.  I found the tour to be extremely interesting, but not quite as intimidating as I was hoping.

5. Busan - The second largest city in South Korea and its largest coastal city.  I really like the atmosphere in Busan and I'm looking forward to visiting Haeundae Beach. 

My teaching has certainly been coming along and I've enjoyed the opportunity to teach virtually all age levels.  I teach a kindergarten class and an adult class once a week.  The school is mostly made up of elementary and middle school kids with a few high school students mixed in.  So the only level I haven't had experience with is college (which happens to be the level that I would like to teach the most).  Overall I've really enjoyed teaching and I've worked out many of my original problems.  I would have to say that one of the most memorable experiences thus far was when a kid threw up in my class haha.  First time for everything I guess. 

As I have previously reported, I've really enjoyed the food in Korea.  I had never eaten Korean food at home, but I generally like pretty much anything.  The most interesting food I've had so far?  That would have to be sannakji.  Sannakji is baby octopus that they cut up right before they serve it.  The result of this is that the arms continue move around and the suction cups continue to function for about five minutes after they serve the food. Definitely the first time I've ever eaten anything that was still moving. 

Cultural Experiences
There have been two instances in which I feel I was truly immersed in Korean culture.  The first of these happened at a Silla Tea Festival in Gyeongju.  I wandered into this completely by accident, but ended up spending the next half hour or so drinking tea with Koreans and watching the festivities.  One of the Koreans then brought me to the rice-bread making expedition and let me have a go at it.  I wrote about this more extensively in my post on Gyeongju.  The other cultural experience was a Korean wedding.  One of my good friends in Korea got married in May and I had the chance to experience this event.  Overall, it wasn't too different from our weddings.  After all, it was a Christian wedding so it was held in a church.  The ceremony however seemed much less formal than the weddings that I have attended back in the states.  While the bride and groom wore normal attire for the ceremony, they later switched into traditional Korean garb, known as hanbok, and I was able to attend a brief ceremony after the actual wedding.  

Itaewon (Seoul) - Largest foreigner area in Seoul that is loaded with clubs and bars.

Sungkyunkwon University area (Seoul) - Much more of a Korean crowd, but it is located right next to a university so it has plenty to do.

Daegu Downtown - This is where I have spent the most time and this place has plenty of bars and clubs (only a couple foreigner bars though). 

My Favorite Part
I gotta say traveling.  I've been to every corner of the country and I can't wait to see what new sights I discover in the next six months. 

My Least Favorite Part
Hmmm.  Always a tough question.  I would probably say the lack of activities around Waegwan.  I would much rather be living in a city than in a small town. 

What do I still want to do?
1. Jeju Island - September 10-14 - Finalist for the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World List.  I think that says enough.

2. Boryeong Mud Festival - July 16-24 - Pretty much a huge mud fight that attracts over 2 million visitors every year.

3. Explore Gangwon-do - Probably in September - One of the more rural provinces in South Korea.  I'm looking forward to hiking some mountains and exploring some caves.

4. Daegu IAAF World Championships - August 27-September 4 - Pretty much the Olympics in the years that the Olympics aren't held.  Should be a pretty cool experience, especially considering I only live 20 minutes from Daegu.

5. Jirisan - Probably late October - Considered one of the two most important mountains on the mainland of South Korea (Seoraksan being the other).  The fall is said to be the best time to visit.