Graduation Trip to 경주 (Gyeongju) Pt.2: Rainy Day Visit to Bulguksa Temple (불국사), Traditional Tea House (전통찻집), and Donggung Palace (동궁) 05/18/2019 (NSLI-Y Korea AY)

05/18/2019 Saturday

The rain did not let up as we ascended the mountain and continued on our path to visit Bulguksa Temple (불국사). Maybe because we were not so high up nor were we surrounded by such sigh trees and thick fog, the rain felt a lot calmer on the temple grounds. We walked around, ducking under anything to give a temporary refuge from the rain, and took lots of group photos because 민정쌤 was not going to let us get away with not taking any photos even with the weather conditions.

In front of the main hall of the temple, the two ‘hallways’ (if you can call them that) or more like open-air pathways with a overhead covering (Slowly forgetting how to sound coherent even in English…) that extended on either side of the main building had many many lanterns hanging above our heads. I believe there were so many because the Korean holiday of Buddha’s birthday was a few days earlier so usually there isn’t as much color as we saw.

One of our group photos was taken in front of the one of the twin pagodas that are considered national treasures. The specific one in these photos is called 다보탑 (Dabotap Pagoda) which is considered to be the more masculine one of the two? I am no expert in architecture and design but honestly… I do not really understand. Is it cause of the sharper angles? The shapes? Someone please explain…

We also visited the Hall of Supreme Hall of Bliss (극낙전) which is most famously known for the small golden pig statue that is resurrected in the front of the structure. I was really excited about this because as you may or may not know, my favorite animal is the pig and 2019 is actually the year of the pig! How fitting! 민정쌤 said that in Korean culture, pigs are seen as a creature that can bring good fortune and wealth and if you rub the statue (~superstition~), you too can become lucky! Do not doubt… I also rubbed the pig’s nose and behind his ears–I thought he’d like that.

After walking around and exploring for some time, we stumbled upon the souvenir store and right next to it, a traditional tea house (불국다원 전통찻집) which was halfway outdoors–not the best during this weather; however, I can only imagine how close to nature you would feel when drinking tea outside like that. I ended up ordering 냉오미자 (Cold Five Flavor Berry Tea) which is definitely one of the more traditional tea flavors, getting its name from the 5 different flavor profiles it apparently possesses. I cannot say that my tongue is skilled enough to distinguish such refined tastes but Kaitlyn (who brags about being a supertaster with more taste buds than the average person) agrees to its name.

The rain eventually came to a standstill and we got back on the bus and traveled to our accommodation so we could change out of our wet clothes and put our bags away and rest up a bit before leaving to have dinner which would be MEAT!!

For our only night in 경주, we would be staying in a traditional Korean style house (한옥) where we would also be sleeping on the floor in futon style mattress pads and blankets. The room the girls were staying in was quite big and even included a loft which Katie and I could not pass sleeping in (We love lofts! Always our first choice!) We hung up our wet clothes to dry around the room and sprawled across the floor to rest our tired, sore legs. I had gotten a hole in my poncho so I also gave it a farewell ceremony into the trash. 

When dinnertime rolled around, we all walked to the restaurant we would be eating at and Better World was gracious enough to buy us all meat! And not just any old meat, meat that we would be grilling ourselves. Once again we split up into three separate groups sitting at a long table with our respective grilling units. I sat with 민정쌤, 소영쌤, Addie, Jacquelyn, and Jenna. We ate so well and stuffed our faces with as much garlic lettuce wraps filled with meat as we possibly could. It was a nice way to end the night–or we thought. After eating, we were surprised with one more thing on our agenda for the day: visiting a palace!

By the time we arrived at the palace (동궁), the night was well set in so there was no light in the sky but luckily the castle grounds were open until late and there were lots of lights to illuminate all the structures and reflect on the pool surrounding the castle (월지) and the weather was only slightly chilly. It was a nice, early summer evening and lots of people were actually out and about too. I mostly stayed with Harmony and Kaitlyn as we hopped around to the buildings throughout the area. The palace ground was not actually that big (in comparison to other ones I have been to–in Seoul too) and that is because most of it was burnt to the ground. There was also a lot of natural bamboo growing alongside the perimeter which is always a plant I enjoy seeing up close.

At the end of the night, we took a group photo and then were told to all get in to taxis to make our way back to the house we were staying at because it was now pretty far from the palace and since it was late at night and dark, walking was not allowed. The 쌤s rode with some of us but others had to get in their own taxis and tell the driver the right directions. In my car, we put Liam in charge of this and well… lets just say we did have some walking to do back but we made it–on time too! There was a slight problem with two stragglers who became seemingly lost and would not pick up 민정쌤’s calls (nor mine as I was told to call them as well). It was probably the most drama we had had all program and it was not even anything too exciting.

Once everyone had gotten back to our 한옥, the 쌤s had us all gather into the main, biggest room and randomly turned off all the lights. We were all confused at first until she started pulling out plastic candles out of her bag. They were the small tea lights (perhaps that’s the name for them?) or the tiny candles often used for vigils I think. She instructed us to all light our own candles and sit in a circle around the perimeter of the room. In order to reflect on our time together and as an act of closing out our full year studying abroad in Korea. I would be shamefully lying if I said I did not cry multiple times throughout this little late night session.

We all went around the room and said whatever we were feeling and a lot of people found it very difficult to keep their emotions in check–including me. Literally, I found myself tearing up at every single person’s response and would try my best to stifle my sniffles and dry my tears but multiple times I was handed tissues from my fellow NSLI-Yians and Jacquelyn kept pointing out my inability to not be moved by the stories and sentiments being shared. When it came around to my turn to speak, I opened my mouth and all that came out was a depressing cry. I tried composing myself and basically discussed how besides for language improvement, the area I experienced the most growth in throughout this year was my confidence. I probably felt the most vulnerable in this moment but it felt nice being able to share this with the people who would probably understand my feelings the most in the entire world.

After we all shared our thoughts and said our goodbyes for the evening, I did feel a little empty. The little candle sharing session felt like an official end of a chapter and I was not ready for that. I was not ready to say goodbye. I thought I had been preparing myself to leave and I felt as ready as ever but now… I was not so sure. How can I say goodbye to all this? To all these people? To all these connections? At least this trip wasn’t over yet. We would have a great day tomorrow! That I could look forward to for sure~

And that is all for this blog post! I hope you enjoyed reading it~ I hope this one was a bit more interesting since we were bopping around a lot of different places in 경주. Till next time~

  • Emma 엠마

Wearing Hanbok at Gyeongbokgung, Tongin Market, and Playing Board Games {10/13/18} NSLI-Y Korean AY

10/13/18 Saturday

The first cultural activity/excursion of the NSLI-Y Korea Academic Year 2018-2019 Program! I had been looking forward to this day for so long because it was rescheduled about three times. Originally, we were supposed to have this excursion back in September; however, I am happier that it was put off till now because the weather was perfect, not too hot or too cold. It was a perfect day to be walking around the palace grounds wearing hanbok.

We all met at 경복궁역 early in the morning around 9 am. I did not have time to eat breakfast because my host family was still sleeping by the time I left the house and I decided to prioritize sleep over giving myself time to buy some breakfast on the way to the palace. When I got to the meeting place, 민정쌤 said I had 3 minutes to go by something. I ran down the stairs with Josh and Jack (as they wanted to buy coffee) but I decided to give up as I saw nothing in the direction they were running towards. As I was about to return to the group, I saw this small bakery around the corner and I went to scout out what I could buy for breakfast there. At first, all I saw were cupcakes but then I saw a 치즈크림번 (Cream Cheese Bun) and I ended up ordering that. I was technically one minute late when I returned with breakfast in hand, but the 인천 girls still had not arrived yet so it was not a big deal. Jack and Josh returned with no coffee and I told them I found a place selling coffee so they left to get some.

All 16 of us piled into the 한복 rental place and basically filled up the entire room. We put all our belongings into lockers and then got to pick out the skirts and tops we wanted to wear. We were picking from the traditional 한복 rather than the premium (more modern) dresses. Though, I definitely want to return to 경복궁 and the 인사동 area to take photos wearing those types of 한복. (Maybe during the spring? I would wear a brighter color like pink or blue~)

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At the Hanbok Rental Place

I really wanted to wear a red 한복 to match the architectural aesthetic of the palace and so I picked out this red skirt with some flowers lining the bottom. At first, I imagined a white/gold top to match with it but the lady that was assisting me picked out a dark emerald green top instead. I loved these two colors paired together. I was worried it would remind me too much of Christmas… but I thought that it was too pretty and very traditional. Later, Kaitlyn told me that I looked like a “cute little tomato” which I took offense at first. But honestly, I rocked that tomato look!

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Happy Laughing Tomato

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We took so many photos! I would not be surprised if our resident director 민정쌤 took several hundred photos. We took several group photos with and without our NSLI-Y banner. Not only would our RD have tons of photos just because of the sheer of amount of locations we posed at, but because she would also take photos by holding down on the button so that she took photos in bursts. We could hear the insane amount of shutter sounds and could not help but laugh.

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NSLI-Y AY 2018-2019

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One thing that I still find so weird when visiting such touristy places is how some of the other tourists react to seeing other foreigners– specifically some of the Chinese tourists. While we were posing for group photos or individual shots, many of them would come up behind our RD or whoever was snapping the picture to take photos of us. I was so confused as to why they were taking our photos– especially without asking. At one point, while I was walking around the palace with a group of NSLI-Yians, this one Chinese man came up to us and tried to take a selfie with us girls without even asking! He just came up to us and put his arm and phone in front of our faces. I quickly ducked and ran under his arm away from the group with Liam and Josh. I turned around to see him walking towards another student and getting her to take a photo with him. I do not know exactly why but this makes me feel so uncomfortable. Maybe I am over the honeymoon phase where pictures and stares are not a big deal– the attention might be liked; however, I do not think like that. I find this treatment utterly comfortable.

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3반 – Jacquelyn & Josh & Me! (My Korean Class)

Walking around the palace in 한복 was such a fun experience~ I got to hang out more with NSLI-Y students I do not see as often due to our different locations, host schools, and language classes and talk about how we have been. But also, just walking around and taking in the beautiful views of the architecture and feeling like I was transported back in time was amazing. I did not get a chance to do this during the summer program, so I was happy to have the experience today~

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Follow me around the Palace Grounds!~ ❤

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After we finished up our two-hour rental with the 한복s, we walked over to 통인시장 (Tongin Market) for lunch. I visited 통인시장 with my Korean class during my participation in the NSLI-Y summer program in 2016 and loved every moment of it: ordering food using traditional money, eating the delicious food, and being able to walk around and see everything the stalls have to offer. We were given 10 엽전 (Korean brass coins — an old form of currency) pronounced yeop-jeon which is the equivalent of 5,000 won or about $5. We were set loose to get whatever food we wanted and boy, did I get so much food. I tried to get a good variety that was different than what I ate last time. I think I succeeded!

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엽전 (Korean brass coins — an old form of currency)

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Left to Right: Alix, Josh, Jack, & Kaitlyn

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Spicy Chicken, 잡채 (Sweet Potato Noodles), 만두 (Korean dumplings), some kind of 전 (Korean style fried savory pancake)

Our cultural activity officially finished after lunch, so we were let loose to do whatever we wanted (while abiding by program rules of course!) I texted my host mom asking her if they had any plans for today because I did want to stay out a little bit longer. She let me know that there was nothing planned and that I could come home whenever was comfortable for me. I ended up going to 이대 (the area around 이화여자대학교– Ewha Woman’s University). We went to this cafe that doubles as a study cafe (there is another room on second floor that is completely quiet for studying purposes) called Waffle It Up. We ended up staying there for about two hours talking and playing card games. We played Go Fish and Flip (A new card game I never knew about previously: Jacquelyn taught it to us.) while enjoying our cafe orders. Katie and I shared some waffles and a scoop of gelato which was not badly priced at all! (It was about $7!)

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We walked from that Cafe in 이대 to 신촌 just to walk around for a bit as we had some energy left. While we were there, there happened to be this battle game championship in the streets, a market festival type thing, and live music. It was very interesting. We then walked from 신촌 to 홍대 where we split up. Jacquelyn, Liam, Josh, and Jack decided to keep walking around while Katie and I decided to go home. I was tired and thought I had been out long enough while Katie wanted to do college applications and study math. Before we separated to go on our respective train lines, I found a phone in the bathroom. I brought it to the station info center and asked this worker where the lost and found center was. At that moment, someone called the phone, so I gave him the phone to deal with it. I felt bad for leaving him with this problem but I was not about to answer that phone and possibly talk to the owner. I already had trouble explaining the original situation to the worker. I hope that person found their phone alright!

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I got home a bit before 5 pm and spent the rest of the evening catching up on blog posts (I finally caught up! I am back on track~) and bonding with my host family. For dinner, we ate fish that my host dad and host brother caught that morning! I guess it was their attempt to redeem themselves from catching nothing when we all went to 강화도. We also ate 회 or raw fish which was tasty when I wrapped it with lettuce and put some sauce and garlic on top. Later that evening, I played a board game with my host sisters and host dad that very strongly resembles Monopoly. It was called the Blue Marble Game (부루마불게임) which is called Blue Marble (even though blue marbles are never used in the actual game) because the Earth is kind of like a Blue Marble? To be honest, I have never heard of the Earth being referred to as that but you live and you learn I guess~ Basically, the board game had many famous cities from all over the world and you have to buy them for their property value in order to earn lots of money to by building hotels and such. The game was fun but confusing at the same time because I kept landing on spaces that required me to draw cards but most of the time I could not read the card. Additionally, Korean money over 5만원 (~$50) confuses me so much so this game helped me feel more comfortable saying and figuring out larger amounts of money in Korean currency. My host sister ended up winning while my host dad had to sell all his cities and became bankrupt. I guess that meant I got second place? It was a very fun game and I would love to see how it would be different to play once my Korean improves more.

That is all for this blog post!~ It is a long one because of how much I wrote (we did a lot okay!!) and because of all the photos I have added to it. Nonetheless, if you got through it all, thanks~ I hope you enjoyed~

And Happy New Year! I am posting this on Jan 1st in both Korean and America on purpose– just so I could say Happy New Year and genuinely mean it!~ I hope 2019 is filled with plenty of happiness and good people for both you and me! I have some goals that I want to accomplish regarding my time here and my language progress, so hopefully, those resolutions (if you will) will actually be completed!

  • Emma 엠마