Lotus Lantern Festival, Korea

To celebrate Buddha’s birthday, most temples in Korea have some sort of celebration.  At Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, this takes the form of a weekend festival full of entertainment.  Due to some extenuating circumstances, my friend and I were not able to get to the temple on Saturday, when the majority of the events were planned, but we did make it on Sunday, to check out the arts and craft booths, and watch a lantern parade.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and I’m so glad we decided to go.

The trip to the temple was surprisingly easy.  It was located just outside a subway stop on my subway line, which made for a stress free journey.  (I tend to stress a bit, because I get lost all. the. time.)

We arrived and were greeted with a street festival.  The entire street was lined with booths.  There were arts and craft booths, social awareness booths, food tents, everything you could want from a street fair.

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We skipped the food tents in search of more substance from a nearby restaurant.  Luckily the Insadong area has so many great places to eat, it was pretty easy to find something.  We took the first small side street/alley off the main shopping street and came to a super cute restaurant that not only had seafood pajeon, but seafood chapjae as well.  De.lic.ious. Plus the restaurant was beautiful, and they sat us near an open window/wall deal.

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You know it’s a good meal in Korea when you don’t even eat the side dishes…

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(excuse the partially eaten pajeon… we couldn’t wait for pictures)

After eating we headed back to the shopping street.  I had only been to Insadong once, back when I lived in Korea a few years ago.  I was excited to see that my favorite place is still thriving.

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It is an entire shopping mall of independent, artsy crafty, shops.  It’s like a real life etsy.  And it’s wonderful.  We didn’t have too much time to look around, because it was almost time for the main attraction- the lantern parade.

Now, as I said before, I didn’t really have much context for what a lantern parade would entail.  (I feel like I say that a lot on this blog…)  I knew what lotus lanterns are, and figured it would be a parade of them.  No so.

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These lanterns were giant, lit, intricately painted, paper sculptures.  It was phenomenal.  But the artwork was seriously amazing.

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It was like watching the Rose parade, but paper instead of flowers.  Or the Macy’s parade, but on the ground instead of floating.

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In addition to the large lanterns, there were many groups of dancers, musicians, and children in the parade.

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There were also many different types of smaller, hand held lanterns.  My favorite were the moons.

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I also loved that their hanboks (traditional Korean clothing) resembled lotus flowers.  So pretty, and in my favorite colors as well.  If given a choice, I would have joined with the moons.

After the parade, we went up to the temple to see the lotus lanterns displayed there.

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One thing I loved here were the smaller lanterns that were popular characters in Korea. My favorite, was Neo, one of my favorite Kakao Talk characters.

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In addition to all that was the actual lanterns at the temple.  Which were stunning.

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Seriously though, this tree was everything to me.

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And then we saw the jolliest Buddha I’ve ever seen.  So cute.

 

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They had a lot of performers performing in front of the temple, but my camera battery died as we were leaving the temple.  So you’ll just have to imagine that part.  🙂  All in all, a great afternoon, and definitely something you should make the time to go see if you happen to find yourself near Seoul on Buddha’s birthday! 😉

 

 

Kinder Joy, Korea

I have a bone to pick with America.  Well, the things that I want to discuss with America add up to a pretty big list, and though this isn’t at the top… It’s important to me.

WHY WAS I DENIED A CHILDHOOD THAT INCLUDED KINDER SURPRISES.

I knew not to eat toys.  I never ate a toy that came in a cereal box.  And even if I may have been confused about whether or not to eat a specific toy, my parents were always there with the unequivocal “No.  Don’t eat that toy.”  I could have navigated the dangers of the Kinder egg, much like children ALL OVER THE WORLD have been able to do.

In case you are unfamiliar with the kinder egg, allow me to explain.  It is a delicious chocolate egg, with a capsule inside.  This capsule is roughly the size of my thumb.  If you imagine the “horse pills” you sometimes get prescribed by the doctor, several of them would fit inside this capsule.  Inside the capsule there is a small toy.  Usually this toy is in pieces, and you have to assemble it in some way.  They are questionably fun toys, but there is a lot of joy in getting one and assembling it.  For me, it’s especially fun if there are a lot of decorative stickers that you have to put on JUST right.

Kinder surprise eggs are outrageously popular in Europe, but are banned in the US.  They are delicious and fun.

Though Kinder chocolate is popular in Korea, I have not seen Kinder Surprise eggs in Korea.  Around Easter, I was checking in the local markets, and even the foreign food import stores, but to no avail.  I’m not sure if they are banned here, or if maybe they are just not popular.  And then this:

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Doth my eyes deceive me?  The boxes look like they have Kinder Surprises… There are egg shaped mascots!  I quickly bought a box.

Inside I found 3 Kinder Joy eggs that looked like this:

wpid-20150502_140600.jpgIt was soon apparent that though it looked like a Kinder Surprise, it was different.  The Kinder Joy is not a chocolate egg.  Opening it splits it into two pieces:

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It’s a world of fun!  On one side you get a toy, and on the other side you get delicious Kinder chocolate, with crunchy cookie pieces.  And a small spoon to eat the chocolate that is more like a ganache in consistency.

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First I ate the chocolate.  Yummmm.  Then it was time to assemble the toy!

wpid-20150502_141014.jpgThe little doll comes with three tops and six skirts.  She even has a little suitcase to store the unused “clothing”  The second egg contained a ring with a big yellow flower that spins when you blow on it.  JUST WHAT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED.

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So, it isn’t an actual Kinder surprise, but it does have Kinder chocolate and a toy.  And the toy isn’t inside the chocolate.  I feel like America should be jumping on this bandwagon.  Please let me know if they are available there as well.

 

 

 

Hyeonchungsa Shrine, Korea

Last weekend, I wanted to go on a day trip.  On a budget.  And what does that mean?  That means take the subway to the last stop, and see what’s there.  I did this last time I lived in Korea as well, but the subway line has been extended considerably since then.  To give you an idea of how far- here’s a handy map!

Asan Map

So, still riding the Seoul subway, it’s pretty far!  What a deal to be able to travel that far for less than $2.  Korea has figured out this whole public transportation thing.

Now, because it was a day trip, I planned on getting up early, and biking to the train station, and then spending the whole day exploring Asan.  However.  Because it was the weekend, I ended up sleeping in and then deciding just to walk to the station.  This ended up being to my benefit, because I met a friend along the way, and ended up having an exploring buddy.  Always nice.

The train ride to Asan took about an hour.  The best part of it was the fact that we had seats on the train the entire way.  Not standing for the entire hour?  The day was already a win, and we hadn’t even gotten there.

Now, in true me fashion, my planning for this trip was… lacking.  I briefly went on TripAdvisor, and looked at the major sites, and decided what I really wanted to go see was Hyeonchungsa.  It is a shrine in the north part of Asan, and from the pictures and comments, a beautiful place to relax.  So, that made up my mind, and i didn’t really see exactly where it was located.  Turns out, the shrine is about 6 or 7 Km from the nearest subway station.  But it was a beautiful day, so we decided to have a nice walk.  The first part of the walk was not too exciting.  Mostly through the city, it was pretty much like most other Korean small cities.  Though we did notice an abundance of bowling alleys, and that all of the sports fields and equipment were spectacularly well kept.

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Our path to the shrine took us to a lovely bridge over the river.

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The river here, like most rivers in Korea, had walking and biking paths along both sides.  But unlike in my city, this river was actually quite picturesque.

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Running along the river, there was a pedestrian street that was really beautiful.  I can only imagine how gorgeous it would be in the fall.

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After walking along this pedestrian street for awhile we came to a building with some really cool artwork on it.

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Even better news (for me) was that in front of this building there was a street busking festival.  So we stayed for a bit, and watched the band.

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Now, we didn’t stay long… because the late start, plus the hour train ride, plus the 5 km walk, meant it was already almost 4pm. Add to that, the fact that we were still at least a kilometer or two away from shrine, and that most temples close around 5pm, we had to get moving.  We finally arrived to the intersection outside the shrine and I was a bit dismayed to see the unending line of cars waiting at the light to leave the shrine, and NO cars going to it.  Fearing it was closed we walked up the long entrance way, and were happy to see that the gate was still open!

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In we went, and almost immediately, it was so unbelievably peaceful.  We walked around the grounds for awhile, and I was actually happy that we had gotten there late.  Most people had already left, so it was not crowded at all, but there were still some people around, so we felt like it was ok to still be there.

wpid-20150426_173721.jpgThere was a large pond, surrounded by different colored trees and flowers, making it really beautiful.  The pond was also filled with Koi fish, some of which were MASSIVE.  One interesting thing that I had not seen before, was the machine with fish food for sale.  50cents bought you a small cup of fish food pellets.  When you tossed them into the water, the fish freaked.

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By the time we got to the furthest part of the grounds, there was an announcement over the intercom that we didn’t understand.  Because everyone else started turning around, we assumed it was a temple closing announcement.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t yet seen the actual shrine.  So we quickly located a temple grounds map, and ran over to the main shrine.  (We didn’t run.  Too hot, too much walking… but we walked quickly)

When we got to the shrine, it was up a big hill, and the gate looked closed, and no one else was around, so we just took some pictures and headed home.

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On the way back to the subway station, we decided to take the bus, which was a much better idea than walking.  And we should have done that on the way there.  But all in all, it was a great way to spend the afternoon.  Really beautiful.  The air was clean and it was great to get out into nature a little bit.