Oh hey, look! It's winter! What a perfect time to spend outdoors and go camping with friends! That's exactly what we thought when we signed up for a free trip around Ulsan with our Korean class. We toured around the "12 sights of Ulsan", or more accurately, we drove passed the sights and took pictures...but hey, free trip!
It was nice to be able to do something with everyone and our camping, or "glamping" experience wasn't as much of a nightmare as we had expected. Then again, I had on about 8 layers of clothes, was under an electric blanket and clinging to Helen for body warmth.
After driving around Ulsan, we were given a fabulous dinner of Korean BBQ with an endless supply of beef and pork! Not a bad night. While we cooked our own food, we quickly realized that they had overlooked one very slight detail. There was no ventilation where we were cooking. The smoke is what made us teary eyed...definitely not the fact that we were missing Paul, who was home sick...it was the smoke.
Winter just got colder and colder, and when it's that cold you might as well have some snow to justify the arctic temperatures. (Is it time for my trip to Thailand yet?) For this weekend, I thought I would cross off another item from the bucket list,
sky dive, scuba dive, zip line...snowboard. I've skied a few times in my life but as you may or may not know, I try to avoid cold at all costs...like I try to steer clear from evening opening the freezer incase I get a chill...so things that involve snow usually do not have my vote. But I thought why not!? Our resort, High 1, was beautiful and there were out door hot tubs, which were mostly the only reason I wanted to go on the trip.
Trust me, I did not look this cool on the slopes. Ashley was kind enough to stick with me for a few hours (or what felt like a few hours) and show me how to get the hang of it. Day 1...not great. I fell every 5 feet, was soaking wet and felt pretty confident that my tailbone, head and knees had all been smashed to pieces. I face planted continuously and lay defeated in the snow letting children blow passed me on their skis and boards as I prayed for the medics to drive by and pick me up out of pity. Day 2...less falling, pretty dry, and I added a helmet for extra safety. I eventually made it half way down the mountain without falling and have witnesses to attest to that!
The holidays were rapidly approaching and we needed to get in the Christmas spirit quickly! Seoul had a European Christmas market going on as well as a 12 Pubs of Christmas Bar Crawl - which was an added bonus to all of the cultural experiences we were about to delve into. Lucky for me, I have a fellow Thailand-er in Korea with me this year and I was able to meet up with Joel for a few drinks...unfortunately, they were just normal pints, not the bucket proportions we had grown accustomed to in the Land of Smiles.
Christmas events seemed to be going on everywhere and Busan was our next stop for the traditional LED Christmas tree and giraffe we all grew up with. Snacks of the Christmas variety were provided including larger than life cotton candy (which magically ended up on Wendy's jacket) and freshly made waffles! Just like Christmas at home, eh?
In expat fashion, we pulled together any food we could find and whipped up a Korean-Christmas dinner that we will never forget. Pigs in bacon, doritos, cheetos, and candy canes acted as appetizers. Now, stay with me here, it actually gets more civilized I promise. Dinner consisted of a variety of pastas, mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, a fabulous curry and several bottles of wine. We then grabbed every cake and box of cookies we could find and continued the feast until we couldn't move.
Santa found us in Korea and all of our names seemed to be on the Nice list, therefore he left gifts under our makeshift Christmas tree. But the gifts didn't end there! Nathan the Elf surprised everyone with their own stocking with their name written in Korean on it - no, mine does not say "Chili". Inside we found candy, hot chocolate and Santa in the form of a Soju bottle! To bring the year to an end, the always over-hyped New Year's Eve was finally upon us. We met at the Ulsan Grand Park to watch the Korean version of Cher and Louis Armstrong sing on stage, then we watched some great fireworks go off at midnight. But nothing compared to the burning of the Christmas tree.
Now, before you freak out, it's not a real Christmas tree. It's just the structure of a Christmas tree with New Year wishes and resolutions tied onto it. But at the time, I didn't know that. So as a firework propelled its way into a Christmas tree and it was engulfed in flames, my jaw dropped to the floor. I didn't understand why we were burning a Christmas tree or why this was a New Year tradition, I was just in shock.
After watching Christmas burn in front of my eyes, we went for a late dinner to start 2015 before we headed to Ganjeolgot Beach for the first sunrise of the year. What we thought was a 2 hour bus ride, actually wound up being a 30 minute drive, which on any other day would've been a great surprise! But we had strategically planned out our long night to include a 2 hour nap on the bus so we could make it until sunrise. Korean surprise! We're here! Wake up! It's 3:15! Sunrise is at 7:31!
While some napped on the floor, the rest of us sat under a space heater in a large tent and listened to music while eating snacks upon snacks. 7:31 was taking quite a while to get to us and we were starting to freeze. But finally, morning came and we ran outside so we could get a good spot on the hill!
As the sun started to rise, a countdown started to release balloons (and wishes) to enter in the New Year. It was worth it to stay awake all night and watch the sunrise come over the coast, but this eskimo doesn't need to spend another morning out on the water in January in Korea. Cold doesn't even begin to describe the weather we endured those 30 minutes. Once is enough.