Archive | September, 2013

Notes on Sharing a Laugh

29 Sep
When I saw this picture in Hongdae, Seoul I giggled like a little girl.  It is so simple.

When I saw this picture in Hongdae, Seoul I giggled like a little girl. It is so simple.


When I research a trip or a place I will visit trip advisor, tourism websites and blogs to plan what I am going to do.  I always want to see the big attractions.   I love museums, art galleries and if it says UNESCO somewhere on it, I will probably go.  These are the kinds of things that draw me to visit a place.

There is something special about some places that draws people in from all around the world.  Visiting somewhere as mysterious and Stone Henge, or as vast as the Grand Canyon are the types of experiences that many people in the world have in common.  There are the people who have visited, the ones who will visit and the ones who wish to go, but never will.

There are other experiences that can unite people from all around the world without having to leave home, like enjoying a beer or wine with good company.  Some aspects of culture are so old that they are shared all over the world.  They remind us that somewhere down the line we are all connected.

Laughter is universal but he idea of humour changes.  We are united and divided.

I went to an English comedy show in Seoul last night.  There were people from all around the world.  The comedians were a combination of Canadian, American and Saudi Arabian.  The audience was small and even more diverse than the talent.

We all laughed. We found things in common, we were all travelers.  Many of us had some of the same experiences of integrating into a new culture.  I have become aware that you will be hard pressed to find a traveler that doesn’t have a funny story in a taxi.

Usually it’s not the big attractions that are my fondest memories, but the interactions with the people that I meet that I remember.  I good laugh is always memorable.


Friday Photo: Hongdae Architecture

27 Sep
Friday Photo:Hongdae

This is the front of a bar in an area popular for it’s nightlife. Hongdae is near Honkik University, known for it’s art college. It has so many unique shops, restaurants and clubs. At any given time you might stumble upon a street performance or a festival. I always have a fun time in Hongdae.

This picture was taken in Hongdae area of Seoul, South Korea.  I feel like I escape Seoul whenever I come here.  Some of the city can become repetitive, many of the buildings look very similar.  Seoul does have it’s own unique beauty and I respect that it has been built from the ground up relatively recently.  Hongdae is a necessary escape from familiarity.



Hongik University Station, Line two or Airport Railroad


25 Sep Platfrom

In Seoul the train lines are mostly named by numbers number one being the oldest and number nine being the newest. This is a stop from the line one. Mostly the platforms are indoors. Sometimes you get lucky, or unlucky, and you wait outside.

Why I love travelling by train.

One of the great things about South Korea is that it is easy and relatively inexpensive to travel the country.   Also, since moving here I have discovered my love for trains.

There is just something special about being on a train. I grew up in a coal mining town.  While there were no passenger trains there was a coal train that would carry loads of coal from the mine to Sydney where it would be processed and shipped to wherever it was going.  I used to love watching the train pass by, lumps of coal falling out of the cars that had been overfilled.  I remember waiting to see the caboose, for some unknown reason, this would give me pleasure.

I saw my first passenger train when I was 19.  I remember being in a car with my friends, we were spending the weekend in Halifax, Nova Scotia with some friends. We were driving on the highway and  I saw the VIA Rail  train pass us.  I remember being surprised and, not thinking, I said, “That’s the first train I have seen that carries people.”  My friends rolled their eyes and laughed.  This didn’t bother me.

My first train ride was in Seoul.  I had just arrived and did not know how to use the subway system.  My friend who had lived there for six months already took me down to the subway to teach me how to do it.  I traveled one stop, it only took a minute.  It was so full, I didn’t think that we would fit. We did.  We traveled one minute and got out at the next step.  It was so easy!

The next week we traveled to Hongdae on the subway, a popular place for the nightlife in Seoul. This time we had to transfer to another line which was easy enough.  On the subway you are mostly underground so there is not much to look at.  Unexpectedly, we emerged from underground to pass over the Han River.  I looked out the window and saw the cityscape reflecting on the river.  It was so beautiful.

Seoul, Han River

Going over the Han River on the train is always a treat.

I don’t know if it was watching the coal trains travel through my town, carrying coal that was the town’s industry and history, or if it was being on a train and traveling over a river and seeing the city lights at night in a new place that did it.  I fell in love with trains at some point.  I am only new to trains, but a goal of mine will be to travel on as many as possible. A quantifiable goal is to travel across Canada on the VIA Rail, for starters.

In South Korea you can travel by the Seoul subway system which is convenient and easy.  Sometimes it is crowded, sometimes it’s pleasant.  The real train fun is in travel outside of the city on the KTX.  There is a high speed train that can travel up to 300km/h as well.  This is fun, convenient and comfortable way to travel as well.  This is how I traveled to Yeosu last time I went.

I have decided to begin a bucket list of travel things to do.  On it I am going to add:

-Travel across Canada on the VIA Rail

-Travel on a train in ten different countries

Wine Train Korea

This is the interior of a train I took to Yeongdong. There was unlimited wine and snacks served as you traveled through the country side. When you reached your destination, a winery in Yeongdong, there was an outdoor buffet with more wine and some cultural experience activities like learning to play a drum and a wine foot bath.

What are your favourite ways to travel? Does anyone have any interesting train stories, good or bad?




When you are Homesick – A Song for the Mira

22 Sep
I grew up looking over this river.  It is only a 40 minute drive from my home, but this is where my family would vacation.  We never went much further than here, but we didn't need to.

I grew up looking over this river. It is only a 40 minute drive from my home, but this is where my family would vacation. We never went much further than here, but we didn’t need to.

Living abroad has it’s ups and downs.  I realize that I am very lucky to be living a comfortable life and experiencing new things but sometimes I find myself wishing I was back at home.  I miss the Atlantic ocean and the fresh, clean air.  Mostly, I miss my family.

There are small things I do to ease this feeling.  Sharing stories from home is a favourite.  I like telling people what life is like for me back home.  I love to show pictures.

Another way is through music.  There are certain songs that bring me back home so quickly.  Tom Petty’s Free Fallin, instantly brings me back to my childhood.  My mom had a mixed tape with that song on it that she would listen to over and over.  I think because it was just a mixtape that she had.

I taught a folk song from home to a class of kindergartners last year. I wanted to share something from me, but I think I mostly just wanted to hear it. I want to share it here.

This song is called Song for the Mira by Allistar MacGillvary. The song is about a river in South East Cape Breton called the Mira River.  It has become a famous folk song over the years.

There are a lot of versions to choose from.  I like this clip from the movie Marion Bridge.  The women singing it have lovely voices and I just enjoy the video.

I would love to hear people share songs or rituals that bring them home when they are traveling.

Public Nudity and the Korean Bath House

22 Sep
Can you find it?

You will not be long looking for a jimjilbang in Seoul if you are not picky. They can be found all over the city.

Nudity is a funny thing.  I would describe myself as a liberal.  In university I became comfortable changing in the changing room at the gym.  I would wrap myself in a towel on my way to my locker from the shower rather than walking around completely naked, but I was still liberal enough to be walking around in my towel.  I learned to adopt of new definition of liberal when it came to changing rooms and nudity in South Korea.  The idea of nudity is just different.

Before I moved to South Korea I read about jimjilbangs.  They are Korean bath houses where it is ok to walk around naked dipping in and out of pools of different temperatures.  They are usually open 24 hours and you can stay the night, sleeping on a heated wooden floor in a communal sleeping area.  It is a cheap hotel alternative (6000-10,000 won a night, less than $10 CAD).

I had heard a few people talk about them and tell me I should try it.  I thought about it, but could probably go without the experience.  Then one night, after some soju and a few beers a friend of mine told me that it would be a fun way to end the night.  Due to the effects of alcohol my inhibitions went to the wind.  Why not?  It is on the way home, it’s only $10, it is really cold outside and I have no bathtub at home to warm up in after a cold night.  Might as well.

We chatted on the way to the jimjilbang about how in about 10 minutes it was probably going to get super awkward because we were going to have to get completely naked in the same room.  Also, there would be other naked strangers.  She had done it once before and said that it was a fun time and it was less awkward than you would think, however.

get naked

While in Korea, just look for this red symbol. Enter the building and you will find a jimjilbang somewhere inside!

She showed me the jimjilbang sign, like the bat signal.  It looked like a bowl of hot soup.  You can find them all over the country, just look for the sign and you know that there will be a jimilbang in the building. We chose a lesser visited one that was close to a subway station, it was in the basement of a large building. It was not like Dragon Hill Spa in Yongsan, it was small and dark.

We go inside, pay $10 at the desk.  We are given pink pajamas, a shirt and shorts.  We leave our shoes at a locker near the front then we move into the female section of the jimjilbang.  We move back to the lockers to remove our clothes and get into our uniforms.  This was the first naked obstacle.  It was no big deal, I change in front of people at the gym, it’s nothing.  It was nothing, did not bother me in the slightest.

Next mission, we go to the counter to buy beer.  It’s 3am, we are in a Korean bathhouse, may as well. We buy our beer then head to the hot tub area.  This is the next obstacle.  Taking off my pink uniform and just walking around.

The staff are there in matching lacy brassiere and panties, must be their uniform.  They are women around the age of fifty from what I could tell.  They give massages and clean the pools and tubs. The fact that they come to work and put on that uniform made me instantly relax.  I wanted to get into the mindset of: this is normal.

I slipped off the top and shorts, folded them and placed them on a metal rack. No problem.  I am honestly surprised at how fine I was with this.  My friend and I chose a hot tub, hopped in and cracked our beers.

Another favourite thing to add to my list of things to do:  Drinking beer in a Korean jimjilbang.  It was so warm and relaxing.  I had not been in a bathtub in about a year, not since I left Canada. This was not exactly the same, but it was comfortable.

There were various tubs with different temperatures, most were hot, others were warm, one was very cold.  Some had things like salts, or aloe vera in them, one of them had jets.  There was a hot room and a cold room to sit inside.  When you get bored with one tub, just climb out and walk to another.

This is not something I would do in Canada.  I am so happy that I did experience it in Korea.  It was a wonderful way to relax and warm up during the cold winters here.  Also, it opened my eyes to the way I perceived nudity and how it was directly shaped by where I grew up.  I think that this experience has helped me to become more comfortable with my own body, as well as others.

A few weeks after this adventure I joined a gym in Korea.  In the change room you can see the same attitude towards nudity that is evident in the jimjilbangs.  It is nothing, it just is.  I was not surprised when a woman struck up a conversation in the changing room while she was wearing absolutely nothing. My perception of nudity had changed and I was growing, I was proud.  Then I learned that blow drying your pubes with a communal hair dryer is a common practice.  Baby steps.


Dragon Hill Spa is very famous in Korea and popular among foreigners.  There is much more than just hot tubs here.




Friday Photo: The S. S. Kyle

20 Sep

The S.S. Kyle is a permanent fixture in the town of Harbour Grace Newfoundland. She ran ashore in 1967 and despite various owners and efforts to preserve her as a museum she has been a permanent fixture in the harbour ever since.

Friday’s posts will be dedicated to posting my favourite pictures from my life and travels.  The first Friday Photo is from a small town in Newfoundland called Harbour Grace. 

This is the S.S. Kyle in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, Canada. This ship ran ashore in 1967 and has been there ever since. She was built in 1912 in England and was used to ferry passengers between Carbonear, NL (a neighbouring town to Harbour Grace) and Labrador, NL. She was also used to transport soldiers during WWII from Newfoundland to Canada (Newfoundland was not a part of Canada until 1949) and was used as an icebreaker.

Harbour Grace, Newfoundland was  where the pirate, Peter Easton, operated from, as well as where Amelia Earhart departed on her trans-atlantic solo flight in 1932.

A Guide to Touring Yeosu in 30 hours or Less

16 Sep

 Earlier this month I traveled to Yeosu, South Korea for a weekend out of the city.  It was not what I expected it to be, but it was most definitely a worthwhile trip.  I did so many things in 30 hours that I am thinking about getting a fanny pack.

Get out of that hot Asian sun.

These were permanent shelters on Manseongeori Black Sand Beach.

Yeosu is a coastal city in South Korea.  It hosted the 2012 World Expo. The theme of the expo was  “The Living Ocean and Coast.”  I went with a group of friends earlier this month to check out the remains of the Expo and to get out of Seoul for a weekend.

Travelling in the “Off Season”

The reason for going a full year late instead of when the Expo was actually happening is that Korea can get very crowded.  I heard from Korean friends as well as foreign friends that Yeosu was very crowded last year and many people opted not to go because of this.  I was one of these people.

As of September 2013, the Expo was virtually empty.  At first, I was a little disappointed.  This quickly passed.  Yeosu has lots to offer travelers.

Gate Three of Yeosu World Expo

This is the entrance to the Expo as you leave Yeosu Station.  I have a suspicion that most of these cars belong to staff.  There were more staff than there were visitors.

Getting to Yeosu by train

One of the great things about Korea is that it is easy and relatively inexpensive to travel the country.   Also, since moving to Korea I have discovered my love for trains.

We chose to take the KTX (over taking a bus or renting a car).  In my opinion,  the KTX is the best choice.  It is relaxing and you can enjoy the scenery.  It’s a part of your journey that you can enjoy as opposed to endure.

Now that you are in Yeosu, what are you going to do?

As you leave the station and enter Gate 3 into the Expo grounds, you see massive pavilions on either side of you.  This area is almost completely empty.  You might be thinking, “Why did I come here?  I should have gone to Busan or Mokpo or Jeju.”

Do not worry my friend.  There are actually so many things to do.

Sky Tower

This houses the water desalination machine which was not running while I was there.

You will see the Sky Tower to your left as you leave the station.  Inside this tower is the water desalinator.  It’s on the main floor and it is not turned on, which is a huge shame.  From here, you can get a real view of Yeosu.  At the top is an observation deck and a cafe.

Yeosu World Expo 2013

The view from the top of Sky Tower. You can really get a sense that the Expo is over.


I don’t think there is a place in Korea where you cannot buy a coffee and a pastry of some sort. This was in Sky Tower.

Here you can see Yeosu and buy a donut and a coffee.  You can skip this part if my pictures are good enough. The real lesson here is that no matter where you are in Korea, you can always buy a coffee.

Big O

The Big O! It has a nighttime water show that starts at 7:30p.m. If you are in Yeosu, go and see it.

This is the Big O.  My advice would be to head towards this first.  There are a few fun activities in this area: The Big O water show, kayaking, the aquarium and Odong Island (Odong-do).

The Big O

I met a convenience store owner near here who loved the Big O.  He said that it was a better water show than you would see in Dubai.  He showed us youtube videos of Dubai so that we could be better judges.  To be perfectly honest, this was the only watershow I have ever seen and I really enjoyed it.  There were fireballs.  It was like being in Koopa’s Castle there for a little bit.


You can rent kayaks and paddle around the Big O.  They open at about 2 p.m.  This is not sea kayaking or anything, it’s just a quick paddle around.  But hey, maybe you have never kayaked before.  Also, I was told it would be canoeing.  It is not canoeing.

The Aquarium


The aquarium is one of the only remaining open venues from the World Expo 2012.

The aquarium was a good time.  I recommend it.  Also, after paddling around the harbour and viewing the beautiful fish if you have time you might want to take a break and eat on the sweet deck available from the the food court in the cafeteria.  It’s not fresh local cuisine, but it has a large outside deck.  There are western inspired and korean meals.  You can have fresh seafood later.  After that, relax and enjoy the 50 minute show from the Big O that starts at about 7:30.

Odongdo Island

This is close to the Expo grounds.  You can get to the island by walking, renting a bike or taking a train.  Our group decided to rent tandem bikes.  I thought this was a joke and laughed it off until I was sitting on the back of this one.  This is a great way to test a relationship.

How to test a relationship.

You can rent a bike to get to Odong-do. It is just at the entrance to the causeway to get to the island.

There is lots to do here including: hiking, seeing a lighthouse, seeing a turtle ship and watching a water fountain show.  The bike rental guy rents bikes by the hour.  You can easily see and do everything on this island within an hour.

Made for dates

Odong-do can be seen from the Expo grounds. You can rent a bike at the causeway to bike there, or you can walk or take a train.


A lighthouse on Odong-do.

Manseong-ri Black Sand Beach

Just North of the Expo grounds is Manseonge-ri Black Sand Beach.  You can take a cab here for under $10.

don't write it off completely

Manseong-ri Black Sand Beach was fun. It was not the cleanest beach and the sand was not very black. It did have some highlights though.

This beach is not really black sand and it’s not exactly clean either.  However, it would be a really fun evening because the water itself is clean and it was not very busy, as you can see.  On the beach you can relax, eat fresh local seafood and light some fireworks.


These were on sale at Manseong-ri Beach.

Eating outdoors is the best way to eat.

These little patios lined the street behind Manseong-ri Beach. All the restaurants had their seafood on display in tanks as well.

I liked it here because you could see the fishing boats out in the harbour.  I love looking at the fishing boats.  All along the street behind the beach were seafood restaurants.  They had their tanks out front where you could see the fresh food they were selling.   Eating fresh seafood outside, watching the ocean, playing with fireworks.  What more can you want?  You could easily spend an evening here and have a laugh.

Sail sail away

A Korean Dory

Let me out!

The local cuisine on display.

But wait, there is more to do in Yeosu

Go Rail Biking by Manseonge-ri:

I was the fastest.

After the KTX started going through the mountain to shorten the trip, this part of the railroad closed down. Now it is used for railbiking. This was a lot of fun and the views were beautiful.

600m tunnel

Emerging from the tunnel on the Rail Bike.

You will not regret coming to spend a weekend here.  I think this was the first place that I felt like a successful tourist.  I was taking pictures with my big camera around my neck, riding various new kinds of bikes and taking pictures in front of fountains.  We fit more things into a weekend in Yeosu than three days in Jeju. I didn’t think that was really me, but I was wrong.  I had so much fun.

Yeosu is a great spot to visit if you are in Korea.  The locals are very friendly, there are so many thing to do.  There was so much to do here jam packed in a small area.  It is a nice retreat with friends.  It is definitely very touristy but I like being a tourist sometimes.  If you get a chance to visit Yeosu, do it.