Monday, October 30, 2006

Korean Tripitaka festival at Haeinsa

As earlier indicated we went on a templestay trip to Haeinsa near Hapcheon, South Gyeongsang Province to visit the temple and see the festival. The group consisting of approx 60 people of many different nationalities set off by coach from the Jogyesa temple in Seoul.

We arrived in the afternoon and after a very good lunch we went to the temple
to receive our monks' robes and learn how to conduct ourselves around the temple; how to perform the Ju-doo (half bow) and the Oh-che-tu-ji (full prostration) and how to hold our hands in hap-jang and cha-soo. We then took part in the evening Yebul (ceremonial service) and followed the other monks in the ritual.

The evening activity was making lotus lanterns, gluing crepe paper petals onto paper cups. A simple activity which the group enjoyed a great deal; the variety and skill displayed was varied and impressive and it was very difficult to judge which was 'the best'. The men stayed in one hall and the ladies moved to another hall for the night. The electric ondol (underfloor heating) kept us warm and the blankets and padding were comfortable. Lights out at 9pm.

Woken at 2:30am we heard more drumming on the Dharma drum before going into the temple for the early morning Yebul of chanting and bowing. We performed the 108 bows (one for each of the sufferings encountered through the life stages) a physical challenge I managed without too much trouble but one that was too much for some.
Our meditation was done outdoors sitting on cushions on a large stone circle around a sculpture. The walking meditation around the circle in the starlight was quite mesmerising, I was just getting into a trance when we stopped. The atmosphere of calm and tranquility was then completely destroyed when we were told to relax and do what we wanted, so everyone started taking flash photos.

After a simple breakfast of rice and vegetables taken in silence in the temple canteen we heard a lecture on the history of the temple and the Korean Tripitaka. These 80,000 wooden blocks carved between 1237 and 1248 consist of Buddhist scriptures. Designated as a World Heritage artifact by UNESCO. The script of over 52 millions Chinese characters is so uniform from beginning to end that the woodblocks look like the work of one person but experts estimate they were carved by 30 monks.

In the village there were numerous stalls and we had some time to practice woodblock carving, making paper and printing from wooden blocks. The craftspeople on hand to demonstrate were very friendly and keen to let us try out these skills. There were also a lot of wood block prints and carved wooden objects for sale.

In the afternoon we discovered we would actually be taking part in the parade along with hundreds of the villagers and monks. We were given traditional clothing to wear including woven rice straw shoes for those very keen for authenticity. The festival is to celebrate the arrival of the Tripitaka in Haeinsa from Gangwha Island where the blocks were carved. We were each given a replica block to carry.

Luckily they were not as heavy as the real thing which weigh 3-4 kgs each. The simple strip of cloth to carry the block behind the back was comfortable but it was very easy to let the block slip out on the floor. The parade was regularly punctuated by the sound of a crash as another one hit the ground. The ladies balancing the blocks on their head were most unimpressed by our apparent lack of respect for them.

The camera battery died on me at the end of day just before I was able to take a good shot of the real Tripitaka, but luckily many others have already uploaded their photos on flickr here. It is quite remarkable how these wooden blocks have been so well preserved in such a simple looking environment for such a long time. We saw a video which explained how the windows are designed to allow the air to flow around the blocks. The floors have layers of salt, charcoal and lime underneath, which absorb excess humidity during the rainy season in the summer and maintain an optimum humidity level during the dry winter months. It is interesting to note that in 1970 a plan was formed to move the blocks to a modern facility with sophisticated humidity, ventilation and temperature controls. However mildew soon appeared on test blocks stored there and the plan was dropped. Modern science can still not explain why birds do not nest in the buildings nor spiders build webs there. [Though I did see one very small web in a corner of one window.] Lots more information on the Tripitaka here.

It was then back on the bus for the long journey home through the heavy traffic back into Seoul common on Sunday evenings.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Korea National Arboretum

I was looking for somewhere else to go birdwatching and Nial Moores of Birds Korea suggested the Korean National Arboretum (KNA). Consulting their friendly website it didn't seem too difficult to get there by public transport, so I set off on metro line 1 again to the penultimate station on the line: Uijeongbu.
Arriving at the station I searched in vain for the number 21 bus they so casually suggest will take you straight there. After walking around and scrutinising various bus stops I gave in and took the taxi option.
The KNA website also suggests just saying "Soo-Mok-Won" will be enough directions for the driver, not this one. After showing him the picture, various different ways of pronouncing it and some discussion with an other driver we eventually set off. [Note to self: Next time print out the KOREAN version of the 'How to get there' as well as the English] When I pointed out the meter was not running, he told me the price: 20,000 Won. Ouch. Slightly unnerved by this, as it was half the amount of cash I had in my wallet at that point, I watched the countryside go by. Cheered by the sight of a 21 bus, proving they do exist after all, and a signpost for the KNA that the driver pointed out, after around 20 minutes we arrived at a side entrance. He dropped me off and sped away.

The guard at the small shed waved me inside.

The setting of the establishment in the peaceful valley was very restful and I wandered around the sizable grounds. There weren't many people, except in the museum and greenhouse areas.

The museum has a number of large and bright exhibits not just on the many trees and plants of Korea, but also covering paper, furniture, dyes, fungi, history, geology and birds. They had an excellent display case with approx 30 stuffed birds and for each one in turn you could hear their birdsong over the loudspeaker. This would have been great if it wasn't for the noisy hoards of children that would come in waves and snake around each room. Led by an adult the classes of 30 or 40 primary school children would walk through the museum at a fast past with most of the children ignoring the exhibits completely or paying a passing interest. Still, I guess I would have been the same at their age if taken to a museum too.

The birdwatching was good. I saw two species new to me the Japanese pygmy woodpecker and a Japanese Wagtail.

I found the main gate where I should have paid an entrance fee, but I never did find the cafe that several signposts pointed to. I also discovered they appear to have a zoo with tigers, a fact not made clear on their website. But it only seems to be open between 10:30 and 2:30. I would like to go again with The Bat, but for some bizarre reason the arboretum is only open on weekdays!

The bus stopped just outside the main entrance and my U-Pass worked, costing a mere 1,450 Won for the journey back to Uijeongbu. The bus terminated at a small parking space in the middle of the city street with no signs as to where the metro station was, so following my instinct, I continued in the same direction and within 5 minutes was I rewarded by the sight of a sign for the station, which hove into view after another 5 minutes. After retracing my steps a little, to ensure I could find the bus again I looked for a restaurant.

My hunger was satisfied this time at a Barbeque Rib Food Franchise outlet. [Their domain registration seems to have expired so don't follow that link.] I've not seen one before, but the pictures outside it looked good. Pointing at the picture did the trick and I was treated to a small portion of tasty ribs with the obligatory small starter dishes (Cabbage again, pickled garlic, gherkin and that liquid Kimchi again) . With rice and a Cass (beer) it came to 14,500 Won.

For others attempting the same journey try these instructions:
Get off at Uijeongbu, take exit on the east side of the station. There are two roads meeting the main road at this point, you need to take the right hand one. You need to cross the road, but you have to use the underpass and the exits do not have numbers. At the first set of traffic lights, after about 5 mins, turn left, the road should be signposted Jaguem-dong. Walk for another five minutes and the 'bus stop' is on the righthand side of the road right beside a Dunkin Donuts outlet. The number 21 starts its route from here so there might be one waiting. Try asking for "Soo-Mok-Won" or offering 1450. When you get there, after about 30 mins, the KNA is on your right and there is a sign for it, but it should be fairly obvious.
[and if they don't work, please don't blame me, but help with any updates!]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

North Korea and the Sanctions

Two weeks after the, now confirmed nuclear test, the issue is still front page news in South Korea, of course, and still on the front page of the International Herald Tribune.

In the latest development this morning North Korea is now threatening South Korea with something, but it's not clear what:

"If the South Korean authorities end up joining US-led moves to sanction and stifle, we will regard it as a declaration of confrontation against its own people ... and take corresponding measures," the statement said.

Err, hold on guys, you are still technically at war with the South. The end of the Korean war ended in an Armistice, not peace remember?

I don't know what measures they can take against the South. It's not like they have anything South Korea can't get from somewhere else. Meanwhile the iron ore is still being trucked out of North Korea to the ever steel hungry China at the rate of 1,800 tons a day, umm, not going to get rich at that rate. (I can't find a link for that at the moment)

There are two major items the US is bitching about : The tourist centre that is Mount Kumgang and the industrial complex of Kaesong. South Korea is currently dithering about how to handle these two huge investments they have made. It's a tough one, if Hyundai Asan are forced to pull out by the government they will have lost a serious amount of money they have invested in it, but if they carry on, they are possibly funding the North Korean war effort. Likewise with the Kaesong a lot of smaller companies have invested in building factories and employing North Koreans to manufacture items. I don't have any answers but two ministers have resigned over the matter so far.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bukhansan National park, Second visit

I chose a different entrance to the park for my second visit to this park just north of Seoul and I tried to follow the directions for a suggested hike up to Dobongsan from the Lonely Planet guidebook.

Leaving the warm and cosy apartment I ventured out into the chilly autumnal air and caught the trusty 61 bus to Daebang metro station for a line 1 train to Dobongsan station. I had to change trains at Chang-dong as the one I caught did not go to the end of the line. (As predicted in the guidebook it was a 45 min journey from City Hall station.)

Following the other hikers through the market outside the station (I've never seen so many outdoor clothing and equipment shops) I came to the ticket booth and paid my 1600 Won entrance fee (approx 90 pence). Turning right at the first path junction I began my ascent. It was a good decision as the path was steeper and much less popular. As it got higher the path became very variable, sometimes very obvious, at other times I am sure I was completely off the path. There were occasional signposts to reassure you of the general direction, but often it was not clear at all where the path went and it was also difficult due to the heavy leaf fall obscuring the track.

The number of hikers, not huge to begin with, reduced the higher I climbed until at the top of the ridge I only met about five or six people in an hour. The weather brightened up a bit but the wind at the top of the ridge was fierce. The light was not very good so the photos have not come out very well. This was the best of a bad bunch but it does show the huge urban sprawl that is Seoul and the number of tower blocks there are:

However there is still not enough housing and they are planning on building a new town.

After three hours hunger, fatigue and strong wind I was persuaded to start the descent. I got fairly close to the top and the peaks were a difficult climb from that point onward. There was a suitable path that led down a different route back through a valley and I arrived back at the ticket booth after an hour and a half.

The wildlife count was not very high: I saw chipmunks again and a couple of squirrels. There were great tits, marsh tits, a thrush, crows, rufous brown doves and the ubiquitous magpies.

Walking down I had visions of a delicious bowl of bulgogi soup, but this was where my lack of Hanguel and Korean let me down. There are numerous restaurants right outside the park so after wandering round I settled on one that looked busy. When the waitress asked for my choice in Korean and I replied in English she smiled and shrugged, she pointed to the first item on the list and I blindly agreed!

The starter dishes were very good. For those not familiar with Korean food you are normally presented with three to five small dishes after you have ordered. In this case it was raw cabbage with mayonnaise, cabbage kimchi, another green kimichi with lots of stalks, a liquid kimchi and a brown bean dish. The main dish when it arrived was a brown bean soup with lots of green leaves that I've had before. It was tasty and very warming after the hike. I finished two of the side dishes and resisted twice getting them refilled, the third time I thought she was just going to clear them away, but she returned with them refilled which is normal practice if you finish a side dish! I've still not figured out how they decide when you've finished the meal and stop trying to refill the side dishes. I ate the refills anyway as they were so fresh and tasty and all this for 6,000 Won. (Less than £3.) Update:I should have read this first.

Suitably refreshed I returned to the metro and slept most of the way home through the rush hour traffic, waking up in time to leave the train at Daebang and get the bus home again. Of course the next day the weather was much brighter and sunnier. Ah well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Trip to Gangwha Island

I've been a bit late in writing up our weekend trip to Gangwha Island and I see one of the other guests on the trip, Tony McGregor, has written a very good summary of the day in today's Korea Times. It was another tour organised by Seoul Selection and Korea Arts Council, the last in a series of four. We really enjoyed the previous trip to Jeonju and this one proved just as good.

Gangwha island lies at the mouth of the Han river that flows through Seoul. It has been the scene of many battles between the Koreans and invading forces including the Mongols, who invaded 7 times between 1231 and 1258, the French and the Americans. The history of these battles is explained with maps and large battlefield dioramas in the Gangwha History Hall. It's an excellent small museum just the other side of the northern bridge joining the island to the mainland.

It was then on to Chondung Temple, one of several on the Island. It is surrounded by fortress walls and we walked around the perimeter to admire the view and hear of its history. After lunch, also at the temple, we were treated to three traditional musical performances.

I have to admit the Butterfly dance was not one I could really get into. The piercing horn music and the very delicate and subtle moves of the lady's feet were lost on me.

These two guys were good on the komungo and puk (zither and drum).

Yeom Gyeong-ae (Intangible Cultural Property No. 50) sang a romantic and tragic 'Romeo and Juliet' pansori.

The trip was originally planned to be a visit to Songgwang-sa and Seonam-sa Temples in the south of the country, but due to "a dispute between rival monks at Seonam-sa Temple" a change to the event was executed in very quick time by the organisers. Well done indeed for pulling together the day so well. Once again the organisation was spot on. We hope another series will be forthcoming.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Review of Korean Blogs Part 2

Since my last review I’ve read another 48 Korean blogs. Again the majority are written by Americans and Canadians. I found one Finn Juho, but he's left to go back to Finland; A Dutch couple who have moved back to Holland; a Welshman named Aled and another Englishman called Craig.

Almost all the blogs are written by ESL teachers, one exception is DramMan a lawyer who is one of seven nominees for the Asia Blog Awards Best Korean Blog. He also posts on the The Marmot's Hole. Robert's blog is not in the running this year as he is one of the judges. The other nominees are Oranckay; Jodi’s The Asia Pages she writes on the single life in Korea and life as an expat American; Jeff Harrison seems mainly focussed on motorcycling; David at Staypuff is an Australian ESL teacher I mentioned last time; Michael Hurt at the Metropolitician who has some good postings and Occidentalist a group blog which has included some very detailed posts about the issue of the Dokdo Islands and the debate about whether Japan or Korea should rule them.
The poll closes on Oct 17th so get busy voting. You need to register your email address with the site to receive a link to the poll, but it is very quick to fill out your vote.

The other non teachers are The Idiots Collective where Aaron's occupation is listed as Maritime, Andy the Christian professor and Gary who has some very detailed posts on Korean Language. I also found Cat at Seoullife another trailing spouse and two mothers who blog Buhay and I particularly enjoy Jennifer's long posts on Between Pee and Kimchee. There were a total of 15 female bloggers including Expat Jane and Kathreb who both post interesting and regular items on Korea, though Kath lives in the UK.

I found a couple of blogs with some great photos Gdimension and Max Watson and two excellent comedy blogs The Yangpa which posts satirical Korean news stories and Beloved Leader, the supposed musings of Our Leader Oop North.

I exchanged a few emails with Alan the owner of the Korea Bloglist and he has made a couple of changes to the site to make it easier to report broken sites and changed the latest blog page to show all the blogs in the order they were added.
He has now moved to Japan and has less time to dedicate to the site. I did volunteer to help him maintain the site but he was unable to give me rights due to technical difficulties. I hope he continues to maintain this very useful resource. I have found that up to 20% of visitors to my blog have come from there.

I also found three other lists of Korean blogs. The ExpatBlogs site has a list of 34, This wiki which only has a list of 10; Here at Galbijim which is another wiki with a list of over 100 Korea blogs. Since the latter is open to anyone to be able to edit and update I am considering uploading the list of blogs and fields I have been collating to that page. I think the fields would be name, gender, nationality, frequency of posts, number of links, RSS feed and a general description of the blog.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Temple Stay weekend Palman Daejanggyeong Festival

Just a short post in case there are any Korean based readers who are interested.

The Palman Daejanggyeong Festival happens once a year when the sacred wooden tablets of the buddhist faith are paraded. The festival is held in the temple Haeinsa in Hapcheon on 27th to the 29th October.

There are various programs for not only Buddhists but also for the general public and foreigners so they can become familiar with Buddhist culture. Korean website.

There is a two day, one night tour run by the Korean Buddhist Templestay organisation.
In Summary the tour takes you from Seoul at 08:00 on Saturday 28th morning to the temple, approx 5 hour bus ride. You visit the festival, stay in the temple and follow the monks ritual and leave on Sunday getting back to Seoul in the evening. There is a participation fee of 10,000 Won. It's a very good deal as I was looking into transport and staying overnight and it's not cheap or easy.
To participate send an email to the email address on the webpage. They would like name, age, gender, nationality, address and phone number. Please apply before 16th October.

I have not been on a templestay weekend before, it sounds very interesting, I am not looking forward to getting up at 3am on the Sunday though!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jirisan National Park and WWOOF

Since spotting a reference in the Lonely Planet guidebook to an organisation called WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) The Bat and I have been planning to try out the scheme where-by you do volunteer work on a farm in exchange for bed and board. We phoned the organisation and got directions to their office in Seoul to go and join up. The young lady running the show admitted the website is not up to date with the farms available and neither is the book she gave us, however at her suggestion we booked a stay with the Jiri Mountain BioLand farm near Gurye over the long holiday created by Federation day national holiday on Oct 3rd and Chusok on the 5th. Since Chusok is a variable date every year this holiday is not always as long. When we booked the train tickets on 5th September they had already sold out of tickets for the Saturday and Sunday, so we bought tickets to return on Friday 6th.

On booking tickets: Korail have a very good website for checking train times and availability. To be able to book tickets on-line you need to: go to Seoul Station, go to booth 23 with your Alien Registration Card and 7,000 won and you can get annual membership. This gives you a membership number for the site. It also gives you a 5% discount on tickets bought via the internet and upto 20% discount on tickets bought on the day "according to the ticket early phase" whatever that means.
I have not found anything similar for the Express buses, but the KNTO site has an excellent page where you can at least find out which of the five Bus terminals to head for, how long the journey is, how much it costs and how frequent the buses are for long distance trips.

Mr Choi greeted us at Guryegu station on Tuesday evening after our first train journey in South Korea. The farm is not far from the station and as he drove he told us he is a keen exponent of WWOOF and has had over 300 visitors from more than 40 countries. When we arrived we met another WWOOFER staying on the farm, a young Japanese student who spoke Korean. The farmhouse was clean, well maintained and warm. We were given a room with a decent double mattress.

Wednesday. Up at 7am (a bit of a lie-in for us, since we normally get up at 5am) and after Kimichi for breakfast, we started our job for the day: watering the radish plants. We soon figured out an optimal trajectory with the hose and it was quite a relaxing Zen like task in the hot sun. The leather gloves posted to us by a very good friend from the UK proved invaluable in saving the delicate hands of The Bat. You cannot buy decent gardening gloves for love nor money, all they sell here is cotton gloves dipped in a bit of red plastic!

Thursday. Mr Choi generously invited us to share Chusok with him at his parents house not far away. There we met his two brothers and their families, who had come from Seoul for the holiday. We visited the Hwaeomsa temple in the Jirisan National Park in the morning with the family and admired the large gold statues of Buddha and the famous five storey stone pagoda. In the afternoon we played a gentle game of 5 aside football and other games before taking a very brisk walk up to the top of Osan, the mountain that overlooks the farm, which, probably because it is not in the national park, was very quiet. We had excellent views over the valley just before sunset from the temple at the summit.

On Friday we left the farm thanking Mr Choi for his excellent hospitality, we felt like he had got a very bad deal out of us, as we were there for such a short time, but the WWOOF experience was very intersting and I hope to visit further farms.

We were still unable to change our train tickets for a seat at the weekend, but we were able to purchase bus tickets back to Seoul for the Sunday afternoon, so we got a refund on the train tickets (less an small admin fee) and headed towards the national park. We chose the Jirisan Swiss hotel from the Lonely Planet book, which had good things to say about it. [Though quite why having shower curtains was felt to be worth mentioning is a mystery to me. In fact our room did not have any shower curtains!]
We went bird spotting in the NP near the temple and saw three species new to us : a large flock of vinous throated parrotbills, one brown dipper and a flock of azure winged magpies. Just after sunset we were still in the temple and listened to some very powerful drumming by the monks on the enormous drum, it was an impressive performance of great skill and rhythm.

Saturday we were out of the hotel and into the NP before 8am, too early for breakfast at the hotel. Heading up the valley for the Nogodan pass the path of granite rocks was wide, even and not too busy, we paused at the Hermitage temple. From there on up it was a very hard slog up a much steeper more rugged path for 4km until we finally hit a wide gently sloping path where everyone who drove up to mountain round the other side was walking and we could make the final assent to the Nogodan Pass. The view looking east towards the rest of the mountain range was well worth the effort. It is a completely unspoilt vista of trees that were just starting to turn autumnal and in the distance we could see the second tallest peak in South Korea Cheonwangbong.

Sunday after the hard day we didn’t get up until just after 9am, too late for breakfast! Luckily we found alternative sustenance before going to the other temple in that area of the park the Cheoneunsa temple. It is smaller and quieter than Hwaeomsa. Our trip back to Seoul by bus was uneventful. There were a couple of short traffic jams at one point in the journey but the predicted heavy traffic did not materialise for us.

Due to an unfortunate accident I dropped our camera at the railway station just before we left, so I have no photos to share with you. It is going to take at least three weeks to get the part to repair it, but in the meantime the very obliging shop have leant us a replacement camera!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

North Korea tests Nuclear Bomb

As you have probably all heard on the news "our friends oop north" have just admitted to testing a nuclear bomb. They seem quite pleased with themselves, it's certainly one way of getting your country in the news. It's just a shame they cannot make more money out of tourism from it.

Apparently it was only a 1 kiloton TNT equivalent, Hiroshima was 13 kilotons. [correction from this morning]

Life carries on here as normal, however the leader of the opposition party did ask his members not to play golf (unless it was absolutely necessary). The students, having more time on their hands to worry about this sort of thing, are already worrying about their future unborn children, but all the adult students in The Bat's class were more concerned with getting on with work as normal.

Not having TV means we miss some of the news but Robert at the Marmot's Hole has summarised the events so far.

There is a good posting from the blog of the metropolitican about gallows humour in this situation.

The newspapers this morning are all full of the news, as I'm sure papers around the world will be, because lets face it, it makes a good story. Summary: China, North Korea's one and only friend has called it a brazen act; The Japanese and South Korean Prime Ministers agree the test is non pardonable, but were unable to agree on anything else at all, nor even make a joint statement after meeting yesterday; The KOSPI (Korean Stock Exchange Index) fell 2.4 per cent yesterday; The Korean won fell in value by 1.6 per cent against the US dollar; Seoul has suspended a shipment of 4,000 tons of cement to North Korea; There is unlikely to be any environmental damage from the test here in South Korea.

I think now would be a good time to buy Korean stocks, because the markets fall every time there is North Korean news, but they bounce back after less than a week.

As Robert says, we now have to wait to see what the American response to this is. If they start to get aggressive then things could turn ugly, but short of invading North Korea a very foolish move indeed considering the size of the North Korean army, I cannot see what military action they can take. Blockade the ports? Well there is hardly any trade anyway and it will only make the country more unstable.

More news as it happens.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Coffee morning at the Ambassador's

Being a House Husband; Trailing Spouse; or Gentleman of Leisure, as I’ve been describing myself, I thought it about time I attended a coffee morning. I discovered the British Club of Seoul had been invited to the British Ambassador’s for a coffee morning organised by the wife of the Ambassador in aid of Macmillan Cancer Nurses as part of their Worlds biggest coffee morning event.

The brick and granite building was built in 1890. Located beside the Toksugung palace in the centre of Seoul it is a remarkably quiet and tranquil spot. Admiring the grounds it was easy to forget you were in the middle of such a large city.

I arrived promptly at 10am at the Embassy and had my named checked off on the list of registered guests. Following another guest I walked round the modern Embassy building to the Ambassador’s residence. We were met by Pam, the hostess, on the lawn where there was a wide variety of cakes and fruit laid out. The butler serving coffee and tea has been working at the house for over 25 years. I met a number of ladies and several gentlemen and discussed life in Seoul; skiing; where else people had lived; other organisations etc. I also met several of the Embassy staff who came out to enjoy the cakes and the sunshine in the very well kept garden.

I was disappointed not to win anything in the raffle. The prizes included: Champagne, a jar of Branston pickle and some cuddly toys. Warwick Morris, Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador (as it says on his business card) dropped by for a short while. I was delighted to be able to speak to him and we discussed some of the delights of getting a job teaching English out here.

This week is Chusok holiday in Korea, a thanksgiving harvest festival where everyone goes back to their families, so The Bat gets some time off from the school and we are getting out of Seoul for a couple of days. Not as many days as we would have liked as we were not aware of the exact dates and significance of the holiday until quite late, so by the time we came to book our tickets all the train seats on the way back on the Saturday and Sunday of the weekend had already been sold. So we have to come back on the Friday.