ESL Games and Activities

A little off the typical subject for this blog, but I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about actually teaching ESL.  Teaching English is a great way to live in a new country, and experience a new culture.

Teaching can be full of challenges.  I have been very lucky this year, finding a school that I like, and a boss that has a similar philosophy to mine.  It makes it very easy to plan lessons.  One of the most important things I do is play games and make activities for my students.

For a game to work in my classroom it has to follow two general rules:

  1. There has to be a little bit of luck involved.  No class has students that are all at the exact same level.  So, I refuse to play any game that the smartest kid will win every time.  All games that I play have some bit of luck, chance, or strategy.  Similarly, I like to put kids in groups if possible.  Especially in Korea, I feel like group work is a challenge in itself for students.
  2. The games that I play are usually not focused on perfecting grammar or pronunciation.  For my classes, games are a way to have a good time, in a stress free environment.  It is a time students can try things without fear of being incorrect.

Ok, here are some games that I play a lot:


A delightfully easy game, that is especially popular with younger elementary students.  Every one of my classes premiddle school loves this game.  And my middle schoolers are 50/50.  This game is best with 6+ students.

Concentration uses a 4 beat rhythm (slap, clap, snap, snap) and has a tune to sing at the beginning:


Concentration has begun

Keep the rhythm

Don’t stop

Beat wise it’s:

con*cen*tra*tion/Concen*tration*has*begun/keep*the*rhy*thm/(pause) (pause) don’t*stop

The first beat being a slap on the table or lap, second a clap, third a snap with the right hand, and fourth a snap with the left hand.

The easiest way to play is with the students names.  So after the song, there would be a slap clap and then the first person says their name on the first snap, and another student’s name on the second snap, then, slap clap- the second person carries on choosing another student.  Once they understand the game pretty well, and do well with names, you can move on to any vocabulary set that you’re studying.

3 rules:

  1. If a student pauses or hesitates or breaks the rhythm of the game, they are out.
  2. If a student says the name of a student that is already out, they are out.
  3. If a student says the name of the student that said their name, they are out. (meaning it can’t so Suzy-Jerry, Jerry-Suzy)

Steal Swap Bust

This game is great for groups or single students.  You need 3-4 students or groups.


A board, markers/chalk, paper, small box or container.

Cut the paper into small slips.  On each slip write a number of points (5, 10, 15, 20, 25) or the words Steal Swap or Bust.  I usually make 3 or 4 each of the steal swap and bust pieces, and 2 or 3 of all the points.  Fold the papers and put them into the container.  Set up the board with the team’s/student’s names:


Each team or student gets asked a question.  If they answer correctly, they pick a slip of paper.  If it says “Steal” they steal all the points from the team of their choice.  If it says “Swap” they have to swap points with another team.  If it says “Bust” their point total goes down to zero.  If they choose a slip with points, they get added to their score. I usually start each team with 50 points.

Connect Four

Materials: Board, markers/chalk

This game needs two teams.  You can play it with three, but it is much more difficult to get a winner.  Two.

Draw a grid covering the entire board.  Along the top, write random letters from the alphabet, and along the left side, number the rows. wpid-20150724_165949.jpg

Teams take turns selecting a square (A1, N4, etc.) and they have to say a word that starts with that letter.  For older students, I make them use only words with 5+ letters.  To make it more interesting, give each team a time limit.  The first team that gets 4 in a row (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) wins.  OR, you can play to see which team gets the most “Bingos” in the time you have available.  I use either different colored board markers, or draw shapes in their boxes (usually stars vs. circles)

Board Scramble

This takes a few minutes to set up, but doesn’t require any materials other than the board and markers/chalk.  I use this with my phonics classes quite a bit, but also with more advanced students.

Basically, just make an alphabet/vocabulary word soup on the board.  I like to use different colors, and intentionally put words that are misspelled hidden in there as well.


This works with up to three students/groups.  Have the students stand behind a line on the floor (real or imaginary) and then call out a word.  First student that finds the word on the board and slaps it, wins the point.  CAUTION: this can get really competitive, so if your students are more aggressive, you can do the same thing on a piece of paper, and copy it for all the students- and play the same way at their desks.  Most points at the end of the game wins!

Baseball Game

To me this is a slightly more interesting version of hangman.  You can use 3 or 4 letter words (4 letters is much harder, for you and the students.)  Draw three (or four) blank spaces in the upper left hand corner of the board.  Like hangman, students take turns guessing, but this time they are guessing words, not letters.  If they guess a word that has a letter that is correct, and in the right position- it’s a strike.  If a letter is correct but in the wrong position in the word… it’s a ball.


The students continue guessing, until they figure out the correct word.  Depending on how difficult the word is- it can take a very long time.  (The word in the game below was VERY)



Kaboom is played by writing questions on slips of paper.  I usually try to write about 20 questions.  On 5 or so slips of paper just write KABOOM!!! The students pick questions one by one.  If they answer the question correctly, they keep the paper.  If they can’t answer it, it goes back into the container.  If they pull a slip that says KABOOM!!! they have to put all their slips of paper back into the container.

Hot Seat

Put on chair up against the board, facing the rest of the students.  Write a word on the board behind the student, making sure they do not see it.  The rest of the class has to give the student clues to help them guess the word.  You can also play this with teams, with two chairs at the board.  First one to guess the word wins a point for their team.

Change Chairs

This is a great game for learning the conditional ‘if’ and getting your students up and moving in class.  Move the desks as out of the way as possible, and put the students chairs in a circle.  Make sure there is one less chair than the number of students.  The student with no chair, stands in the middle and says “Change chairs if…” and makes something up.  For example, “Change chairs if you have glasses.” or “Change chairs if you are wearing sandals” Any student that has whatever they say must get up and change chairs with another student.  The person in the middle tries to steal a chair.  Whoever is left without a chair is then in the middle to make the next “change chairs.”  This game gets the same caution.  Because the students are at a higher level, they are usually a little less likely to hurt each other, but in their enthusiasm, chairs can tip, and students can fall over.  I only play this game with between 5 and 6 students.  Sometimes 7 or 8 if I think they can do it without hurting each other.

Those are probably the 8 games I play most frequently, other than flash card games or board games that I make.  Making board games and flash cards are my bread and butter though.  A little bit of card stock goes a long way in my classroom.

Dr. Fish, Korea

So, I had been trying to talk myself into going to get my feet gnawed on by tiny fish for a long time.  I was nervous about it for several reasons.  I really didn’t want to go alone, but most of my friends were not interested in having their feet chewed.  So I finally worked up the courage to go alone, and headed up to Gangnam, following directions I had found on the internet.  Jokes on me, that cafe was closed.  I took that to mean the universe was telling me not to go.

But I still wanted to.  While in Insadong for the Lotus Lantern Festival  we stood near a sign for Dr. Fish.  It’s a bit further than Gangnam, but definitely worth it.  Insadong is a great place to eat and shop- tons of restaurants, cafes, and independent craft shops.

Finally, four months later, I was talking to a friend about it, and she was also interested in going.  That weekend we headed up to Seoul.  We decided to start with the Dr. Fish, so we headed straight there.  Thankfully, it was very easy to find, even though it had been four months since I saw the sign.


The Foot Shop is a national chain of pedicure/foot massage places.  Not all of them have Dr. Fish, but luckily this one did.  For the low cost of just 9,000Won you could have fish nibble off your dead skin.

Now.  I said I was nervous for multiple reasons.  Really only two.

1) Because the fish are alive, the water can’t really be sanitized.  Which, I believe, is why it isn’t popular (or done at all?) in America.  I’m not exactly sure about this.  But, as a child that used to swim in a river, I figured my feet would be alright.

2) My feet are pretty ticklish, and I was very scared I would kick a fish, and kill it.  This was the biggest fear I had going into the shop.  I just didn’t want to kick a fish and then have it die.  Luckily, upon entering, the whole place was very calming.


Everything was very straight forward- we paid, we were told to take off our shoes, and shown a little sink to wash our feet and then she gestured to the fishy pool.  They weren’t the smallest fish.  I had envisioned them as being smaller.  They were intimidating, swimming around in the pool as we walked over.


In we went.


Pretty soon I had a ton of little fish nibbling on my feet.  It did indeed feel bizarre.  But not what I thought it would.  It felt more like my feet were vibrating than ticklish/toothy.  And I couldn’t tell if there was a particularly aggressive fish on the bottom of my foot, or if the bottom of the foot was just a little more sensitive than the rest.  But occasionally, I could feel an extra strong nibble.  More like a bite.


All in all, it was really fun.  And my feet felt amazing afterwards.  They honestly felt a little raw and tender.  It was wonderful.

After the fish feeding, we went to feed ourselves, and then to O’sulloc Tea Cafe, which serves delicious, mostly green, tea from Jeju Island.  I’m not a fan of green tea, so I wasn’t expecting to love the place.  But if that wasn’t the best tea I’ve ever had in my life, I don’t know what was.


(Iced red papaya black tea- If you were wondering.)  And my friend had the most beautiful tangerine green tea latte.


What a great day!

If you’re interested in going to The Foot Shop in Insadong, it is in a small alley across the main shopping street from Starbucks.  The sign I have at the beginning of this post is on the main shopping street.  Very easy to find.


Heyri Art village, Korea

I have wanted to go to Heyri Art Village for quite a while now.  I originally found it while looking at places to go during winter break last year.  It’s a really interesting village that is basically a space for different artists.  It’s jammed packed with museums, gallerys, cafes and sculptures. For a number of reasons, the trip kept getting postponed, and pushed back, and delayed, until finally I said enough is enough, hopped on the subway and went up north.  I’m so happy I finally went, especially since I was starting to think I never would.

First, getting to Heyri is super easy.  Which is a dream for me, because directions are not my favorite thing.  It’s in the northern part of South Korea, near Paju and only a few kilometers from the North Korean border.  As someone that has not been up to visit the DMZ (and has no intention to go at this time) this was probably the closest I would come to North Korea.  The only weird thing about it was the highway.  On the drive up to Heyri, the highway is lined on one side with barbed wire, and it has frequent guard stations spaced along it.  This highway runs along a river that makes up part of the border.


Getting closer to Heyri, the excitement started to build.  The buildings were noticeably more interesting.  I saw repurposed shipping containers, old busses, and lots and lots of color.

Gripe number one about Heyri.  (and there will only be one, so don’t be expecting a list, this place is wonderful.) There is very very little in terms of information.  No guide map that you can walk around with, and though there are some map signs posted around the village- they don’t have ‘you are here’ arrows, which makes them useless to me.  So I did a lot of wandering, which was lovely.  But it was hot.  “How hot?” you ask? So hot the dog didn’t want to move:


Now, one gripe I have with the Korean Tourism Heyri site.  They say that most everything is closed on Mondays, which is handy information.  A bit handier would be to say that most galleries are closed Monday and Tuesdays.  I went on a Tuesday, and while most of the museums and cafes were open, most of the galleries were not.  On the upside here, because there is little to no information about what to actually see there, there was nothing I was too excited about beforehand.  Mostly it was just a big unknown.  And while it would have been nice to know about the possibly closed galleries in advance, I was planning more with the weather than anything else.  It’s been a rainy monsoon season here the last few week… so I was basically going on the only day with sun.  (Even though it was so hot.)

Now,  Many fun things to see and do in Heyri.  I imagine it’s the kind of place that becomes more interesting the more time you spend there.  But first: lunch.

Most of the cafes seemed to be pricey for what they were offering.  I ended up choosing Eataly.  Mostly because it was there, and I was hot and lost, and the closed windows made me think they had air conditioning.  They did, and it was glorious.  They also had a free brunch buffet if you ordered food.  So I ordered, and thought the brunch buffet would be toast, or maybe some type of sandwich or omelet.  I suppose I have just gotten too used to free hostel breakfast.  But I was in for a surprise.


The free brunch buffet was seafood tteokbokki, and salad that was actually delicious, chips and assorted dips, and little mini semi deconstructed lasagnas.


I also got a black olive and rucola pizza that was huge.  But it was SO GOOD.  And since it was so big, I ended up taking half of it home with me and eating it for dinner.


Eataly also offers the brunch buffet for 5,000 won if you just order a drink.  If you’re not very hungry, I think that would be totally worth it.  Even if you’re pretty hungry, it would be worth it.  But the pizza was delicious, so I would suggest getting one of those as well. 🙂

After lunch, I headed out once again.  I was excited to head to the video game museum.  I was reading Ready Player One on the bus ride up to Heyri, so I felt like I had to go and at least check it out.  It was really fun.  They had so many games set up to play.  I beat a little kid in Mario Kart several times.  But mostly I just hung out and played Super Mario Brothers and Tetris.  Because I’m so hip.  Also had my first experience with a 4D game… NOT A FAN.  It was a 3D first person shooter game, and it would puff air at you to simulate bullets whizzing by your head.  NOPE.


After the video game museum, I walked around quite a bit.  Saw some really cool statues:



very cool architecture:




And tons of re-purposed vehicles, shipping containers, and odds and ends:





We want an ice cream shop, but all we have is an old foreign school bus… PERFECT!  And I have this pile of broken bricks… make a village!  Something tells me that bear does not have a drivers license, though.

And overall just a ton of cool little artistic touches that made the whole place feel rather wonderful… like this dog/cat condo:


This bridge:


This fence:


This cafe:


All in all, I would definitely suggest a trip up to Heyri to anyone living in Korea.  It was fun, easy to get to, and really distinct.  You won’t get an experience like it anywhere else.  Also, on the way to Heyri, you pass the Paju Outlets, which are HUGE and probably worth going to as well.

I’m going to include some directions here, in case anyone is planning on taking the trip, because the ones on the Korean Tourism website aren’t perfect.
Take subway Line 2 to Hapjeong Station, and then take Exit 1.  (The website says exit 2, but no.)
– Take Bus 2200.  It is just outside Exit 1, there is a big red circle sign. (And when I went- a line of people waiting for the bus to come.  It comes every 15 minutes.
– Get off at the Heyri stop. (It takes 40-50 minutes, and things will start looking more ‘artsy’ well before you reach Heyri Art Village.  Wait until she says “Heyri!”)

Then just have fun!  I have to note- easily my favorite place that I visited was the toy museum… I will be writing a separate blog about that (because this one is very long already) But here is one picture to pique your interest:


Cat Cafes, Asia

I am a big fan of cats.  So, you’d think cat cafes were pretty much my favorite thing in existence.  It’s literally a place you can go and just hang out with cats.  However, while I’m a fan of cat cafes, I hardly ever go to any.  But I have been to some in Korea, and I also visited one in Japan.  So I thought I’d talk a bit about my thoughts on the subject and then some of the differences between the experiences.

First off, the idea I had about cat cafes was vastly different from that the reality was.  In my dream cat cafe, you arrive with a book, order a drink and find a cozy table.  Then a cat comes up and jumps in your lap and snoozes.  And you spend a relaxing few hours reading while the cat snoozes and purrs.  Maybe it wakes up and you play some type of fun game involving a stuffed mouse.

In reality, you go into a room with tons of cats, and tons of people.  And the cats don’t seem like they really like people that much.  But they deal with it, because they have to.  Some of the cats were really active and playful.  Some of them were busy chasing each other around the whole time.

The cat cafe in Japan had some really exotic looking cats.  They were definitely the more beautiful than the cats in the cafe in Korea.


This cat was actually quite a sweetie, but the haircut.  Oh, who did that to the cat.  I think he could feel the other cats judging him.


Now, one big difference about the cafes was that in Japan it was $10 to get in, which got you a beverage of your choice and little plastic container of cat treats.  The cat treats looked like plain shredded chicken, but I wasn’t about to try and figure out if that’s really what it was.  This made the majority of the cats really excited to see you… but unless you were actively handing out treats, they would move on pretty quickly.  And they didn’t seem to really want to interact at all.  Treats or nothing.

Except this guy.


This guy didn’t care about your treats, he just wanted to take a nap in his mixing bowl.  As any cat owner knows, when you have a cat, everything you own becomes a cat bed.  They were pushing the boundaries on this at the cafe.


Wok, fishbowl, mixing bowl, colander… EVERYTHING’S A BED.

The other downside to the cat cafe in Japan (other than the greedy, treat hungry cats) was that there was a strict one hour time limit.  The upside of that was that they controlled the number of people that went in, so it wasn’t very crowded.  We actually had to wait for an hour before we were allowed in.  But once we were there, the hour passed by so quickly.

In Korea, there was no time limit. And it was only $8, but you didn’t get any treats.  The lack of treats made the cats less likely to come right up to you, but they seemed overall more interested in playing.


Overall these cats seemed a little less exotic, and a little more housecat.  But there were still some beautiful stand outs.


And the highlight of this cafe was the huge cat jungle gym that the cats mostly liked to sleep on, but some of them were having fun playing.


I was a little worried about the sanitation of this cafe however.  As we walked in, we noticed a cat sitting by the espresso machine, head inside the container for foaming the milk for lattes.


At least he wasn’t getting lots of hair in the milk?

One last note:  In the elevator to the cat cafe in Japan, we noticed there was a maid cafe just upstairs from it.  It’s basically a cafe for older men, where they go in and get served by young Japanese women in French maid’s costumes.  How wonderfully fetish-y.  ???


Beesket, Korea

Just a quick blurb about one of my new(ish) favorite things in Korea.  I have never been much of a juice bar girl.  And though I do love a good smoothie, my aversion to bananas usually severely limits my fruity drink choices.  Enter Beesket.  A new juice bar that opened in the mall near my city.  I love it.

At Beesket, you start out with a little honeycomb type thing.


You can choose three flavors for your drink from the huge selection of choices.  Just pick your three flavor pieces and stick them in your honeycomb and give it to the barista. (Are they still barista’s if it’s a juice bar?)  Pictured above are strawberry, raspberry, grape and apple, lemon, blueberry.  There were many fruits and vegetables available, from apple and orange to kale or carrot.


Watching them make your juice, you can see them grabbing fruit, cutting it up, and throwing it in a blender.  It was wonderfully fresh and natural.


When you finally receive your juice, it comes with a little tag, telling you not only the calorie and vitamin content of your specific drink, but also giving you a space to rate it, so the next time you come you can remember how much you loved that one, or maybe try a different flavor.  I had double-pear raspberry and it was delicious.


My friend had a blueberry, kale, mango juice.  She said it was good.  I said it was green, and therefore I was skeptical.  They sure did shove a lot of kale in that blender.  So I suppose, at least, it was healthy.

Update!  So, I’ve just been back to Beesket, and they have changed their fruit selections, I assume seasonally-





With all these new delicious options I changed it up and had a peach cherry pineapple drink.  It was delicious, but I thought it would be pink-er.




As I started drinking it, though, I fell in love.  And the fact that it wasn’t artificially colored made me feel super healthy.

Honey Butter, Korea

To say that honey butter chips are popular in Korea is a gross understatement.  Honey Butter chips have been around for a while now, nearly a year.  But it is still almost impossible to buy them.  At one point there was a black market for the chips, and you can still find them on Ebay for at least 5 times the original price.  The “honey butter chip” has become the unicorn of Korean snacks.  Luckily for honey butter fans, the chips have created a multitude of honey butter (or just honey) flavored snacks.  Seriously, everyone better start protecting the bees, because I’m not sure what will happen to Korean snacks if there is a serious honey shortage.

Honey butter snacks range from the expected to, what I consider, the bizarre.  You can get many things honey/butter flavored; honey lattes, honey butter fried pork, honey everything.  Here are a selection of options from my town.


Honey Butter bagel chips?  Probably delicious!


Honey Butter dried squid?  Maybe not so delicious.  (I’m not a fan of dried squid in general, however.) And in case you thought that was a one off- wpid-20150626_203538.jpg

There are, in fact, multiple brands of honey butter squid available.  Yumm.

Here’s a selection of three different kinds of honey snack.  All of them varying degrees of deliciousness.  None of which come close to the actual honey butter chips (in my opinion)  I mistakenly bought both the honey tong tong and the honey butter potato snack, thinking they were honey butter chips. Sorely disappointed.  But that’s what you get for not paying attention to what you’re buying.

honey snacks



Honey churro popcorn is one of my new favorite things in life.  Honey shower popcorn- also good.  But lacks the cinnamon-y delicious flavor of the honey churro.



An assortment of honey butter nuts.  Not sure if it’s just me- but honey butter macadamia nuts sound amazing.  Unfortunately, at almost ten dollars a bag, I wasn’t about to find out.




Honey egg bread.  (Not to be confused with the British Eggy Bread) (This is a picture of the plastic display food… but it pretty much looked like that.  Kind of a grilled cheese egg sandwich made with honey butter on the outside for the grilling.)




My personal favorite: honey cheese ramen noodles.  Caution: when opened, the noodle bowl contains a foil packet of powder and a clear plastic packet of (what I thought was) honey.  Again, with the not paying attention!  So I decided to use half of the cheese powder packet, and all of the honey packet… (you know me: healthy healthy- trying to cut the sodium.)  Now, the ‘honey’ packet was CLEARLY labeled “Jalapeno Oil”  and the front of the package also clearly says 할라피뇨 (jalapeno) But me with the paying attention- I dumped it in.  Holy cow!  It’s really intense if you use all the oil and very little of the honey cheese.  So now I use the honey cheese packet, and forego the jalapeno oil all together.  They’re pretty good noodles though.



If all the snacks are making you thirsty, but you don’t want to give up your honey taste- don’t fear! There are honey based drinks as well, more than just the honey lattes.  These juices are delicious. The iced honey tastes like… well, cold honey.  I thought the honey orange pineapple was WAY too sweet.  But I mixed it with some sparkling water, and it was pretty good!


And this would be where I would post a photo of the honey butter chips that started it all.  But seriously, they are no where to be found.  I’ve only ever been able to buy one bag of them, and it was months ago.  In bribing a student to study, one of my coteachers offered a student honey butter chips if he got a good grade on his mid term test.  She had to go several hours away to find a bag.  There is a high end import shop on the first floor of my school building.  They had honey butter chips once- but there was a waiting list for them, so you couldn’t just rock up and buy a bag.

I will, however, leave you with what I consider the best honey butter chip incarnation that I have seen in Korea- honey butter chip socks!


Suseong Land, Korea

Just behind the snow factory we saw Suseong Land.  A small amusement park of sorts, it was also nearly empty.  Now, there was an entrance with a ticket booth, and just next to it a gap in the fence.  Through the gap we went.  Not sure if it actually costs money to enter for real.  Look for the gap in the fence.


This is not the fence you had to sneak through… but I really liked it.  Each post is painted to be a different person.  Some of them are famous cartoon characters, and some are just anonymous.  Now pretty quickly after entering Suseong Land, we saw what might be the strangest thing I’ve seen in awhile.  From a distance, we both said, “Wait.  What? Are those kids?”  Because it really did look like there were small children hooked up to carts, pulling other small children and their parents/grandparents around.



There were many characters, hello kitty, angry birds, a bear… and they were all dressed in outfits, complete with sneakers.  They shuffled around in a way that reminded me of E.T.  It was truly bizarre, but thankfully, they were not real children.  The mechanical characters were controlled by the handlebar, and one pedal.  Even after knowing they weren’t kids though, it felt weird.  Why did people want to ride in a cart that looked like it was being pulled by a child wearing a hello kitty head?  It just seems kind of perverse.

From strange to sad, after that “ride” we saw what might be the saddest little ride I’ve ever seen. (And this coming from someone that went to an abandoned soviet amusement park.)


These characters could be ridden if you deposited about one dollar.  Someone, however, rode this one into a ditch and then left him there.  It didn’t look happy to be there.  Other characters were missing eyes or ears.  At least this one had all its pieces.  But at this point, I was thinking that nothing could be worse.  Except maybe a creepy clown.  Cue the creepy clown.


Nothing like going up and down with a clown.  But at least the clown had equally endearing (or creepy) friends:


On the upside, there were lots of actual rides, a viking ship, carousel, spinny-roundy thing…


Does this ride have a name?  There were also several booths to win prizes at.  We chose to try out the balloon popping darts.  And after two tries and five dollars, I won this Rilakkuma plush!


Which I then used as a pillow on the train ride home, and it was glorious. All in all, I really enjoyed the amusement park.  It was amusing.  I think for a kid, it would be great.  Everything was painted really bright colors.  There were lots of things to do.  Lots of places to take photos. Even as (basically) adults we ended up spending more time there than we had planned.  We used up all the duck boat time… and were even a bit late to dinner.  So definitely worth it.

Dessert Plane, Korea

While on my trip to Jeju and U-do I met some lovely people that live in Daegu, a town about 3 hours from where I live.  They were very nice, and I was keen to go and visit.  And then, I saw a post she made about eating in a cafe in a plane.  That sealed the deal, and I was on my way to Daegu.  Turns out Daegu is a really interesting place, with lots to see.  My favorite place that we went to was Suseong Lake.

I was only going to go for a day trip, so I got an early start.  We explored a bit of Daegu, had lunch, and went to a cat cafe, and then it was time for dessert.  We headed to Suseong Lake.  On the monorail!

wpid-20150704_093534.jpgThis was not my first time on a monorail, but it is still eye opening how much better this system is than the standard train.  Quiet, smooth, easy.  Now, like most big Korean cities, Daegu has a subway system that you can use to get around most of the city.  The monorail links up to the subway (by, at one point, the longest escalator in Korea*) Easily what I thought was the most interesting thing about the monorail were the windows.  They were regular windows most of the time, but when passing an apartment building, the windows went opaque, to preserve the privacy of the residents.  At first, I didn’t know what was happening.  The windows just turned white, I thought it must be fog or something… and then they snapped back to transparent.  I was floored.  Living in Chicago, I rode the red line frequently.  It’s silly how close it goes to people’s windows.  I thought this was such an interesting thing that they thought of.

Ok, enough about the monorail. (But I really liked it.)

We got to the lake and the first thing you notice are the duck boats.


We wanted to ride one, and planned on it, but ended up running out of time.  More pressing (for me) was the plane.  We rounded the lake and then BAM! airplane.

DSC_0301The Snow Factory, waffle and bingsu cafe. The interior is everything you would expect from a cafe in a plane.


The one thing I thought was really strange: the lack of people.  I feel like this should be a tourist draw just for the kitschy “plane cafe” (that was, after all, why I was there.)  But there were hardly any people there.  And this was about 4pm on a Saturday afternoon.  Even at my normal cafe, on Saturday afternoon I often have to wait for a table.  Not so with this spot, we had our pick of tables.


You could choose to sit in the cabin area, or a seating area that was built off to the side. It was decorated with palm trees, because naturally.  We decided to sit inside the plane.  Because, plane.


And we ordered a waffle.  Now, the waffle was both surprisingly good, and a disappointment at the same time.  Which, I think, is actually quite difficult. The waffle itself was perfect.  Not dried out as I have had so many times in Korea, and the ice cream was delicious.  But the lack of berries on the vanilla berry waffle was a little sad.  Also, for the price I think they could have splurged on more than 5 blueberries.


Had maple syrup though, so it’s all good.  🙂  They also had blood orange sanpelegrino.  So, win win. And to be fair, they had a pretty good selection of waffles, including savory waffles that sounded really interesting.  Perhaps I just picked a not so great one.

And then it was out to go explore some more.  And what do we see out the window?  Why, it looks like a children’s play area.  It is!  In fact, it’s SUSEONG LAND!  I’ll cover our time there in the next blog.


*This may or may not be true, but I read it online…

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Korea

In an exciting turn of events, this blog post is about two things!  First, my trip to Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul.  But also about the fact that I have a new camera.  Well, a new to me camera (I’m on a budget.)  There were a few issues, mostly with the fact that I don’t know how to process .RAW files.  But I am nothing if not a learner.  So here’s to hoping things smooth out.  I also tried photo editing a little bit, for pretty much the first time… (other than instagram) (You should follow me on instagram: Placestorunto) Now, onto the palace.  We planned on getting to the palace around 2:30, because there was a changing of the guard ceremony at 3pm.  I’m the only one that actually made it there by 3, but I am so so happy that I did.  The changing of the guard ceremony was really fun to watch, with explanations in Korean and English as to what was going on.  I mostly didn’t listen though- so I’m making this up as I go.  🙂 01.jpeg First, this guy banged the drum.  Because… well, because it’s his job.  I suppose he also needed to signal to the guards on duty that the new guards were approaching. 05.jpeg The new guard arrived to the gate complete with flowing banners and a band.  Because if you’re going to make an entrance- Make. An. Entrance.  I assume this type of ceremony would not have been effective if stealth were in anyway important. 06.jpeg Once the new guard was in place, it was time for the retiring guard members to be led away with the banners and band.  They marched back into the palace. After the guard ceremony, I was (finally) joined by my friends and we started to explore a bit of the palace.  Gyeongbokgung was the royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, and it is the largest palace from that time period.  It was damaged by the Japanese but has since been carefully restored back to it’s original beauty. After passing through the main gate, we came to the inner gate, which created a large courtyard in front of the throne room. 08.jpeg The throne room was really impressive.  What I found most impressive about it, was the detailing inside the room.  I’ve said it before about Korean traditional architecture, but the detail and painting are so intricate and beautiful.  Instantly recognizable as Korean, as well. 09.jpeg Near the throne hall, was the banquet hall.  It was used for throwing fabulous parties, and entertaining visiting dignitaries.  As such, it was spectacular as well. The name of the banquet hall is Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, which means: the king is capable of handling national affairs only when he has the right people around him.  I really liked that. 10.jpeg After the pavilion, we traveled around to different places in the palace complex.  The palace is so large that it now houses several museums as well as a folk village.  One thing that I really liked was that while it had a lot of traditional Korean things: 02.jpeg It also had a “street to the past,” where things looked like they did in the mid 1900s.  They had a printing shop, and a comic book shop, barber shop… all the things you would really need.  My favorite, though, were the old movie posters they had up. 04.jpeg   (In the background is an original model Hyundai.) There were so many buildings and pavilions spread around, it was cool to see this Pagoda.  Sitting atop a high platform (with enough stairs for us to think staying on the ground was the best idea) it was easily the tallest building. 11.jpeg   And now I leave you, with possibly the least threatening totem poles I’ve ever seen.  How jolly. 🙂  All in all it was a really fun afternoon, even if it was super hot.  I’m not a fan of summer.  But I’m into my last few weeks/months of living in Korea, so I’ve got a lot of stuff planned coming up.  Really excited to make a last push to see the varied sites of Korea.  Any suggestions are always welcome!  🙂 03.jpeg

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.


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.



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



(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.



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.



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




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



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



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



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.



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.



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



Seriously though, this tree was everything to me.



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




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! 😉